Ring on her Finger

By Nickeltaffy

Disclaimer: I would like to thank Joss for the use of his characters. They are still his and will never be mine. (heavy sigh).

Chapter 34

"Great! Just great! Now, I am being accosted by flying blockheads! Could it get any better than this?"

Buffy muttered as she regained her feet. She kept her back to the prone figure on the wet ground and began to hurriedly brush the freshly deposited mud off the front of her heavy cloak.

Once the majority of the mud was removed, she began to shake her head as she reviewed the sorry situation in which she had found herself. Here she was stuck in the middle of hayseed central. On top of that, she was still feeling the sting of manhandled not too gently out that stupid inn when all she wanted to do was to use the telephone. What kind of yahoo establishment was this when they get irate on asking a simple question? And as a cherry to the cake of her day, she hadn't gone more than two steps before she was being knocked over by a flying beer soaked moron and getting reacquainted with the cold muddy ground. 'Hello cutie' who says that? To think that that obviously wasted lush had the temerity to use the lamest come on she had heard in a long while. Some days, it just didn't pay to try to save the world! It seemed to attract the most irritating people. Seeing little other option, she turned to address the sprawled figure a few feet away.

"Hey, drunk guy, could you tell me where the nearest telephone is around here?" Buffy groused, as she irritably looked over the prone form.

"My…my dear lady, ask of me an…any task, I will gladly ob…oblige." The inebriated young man sat up and twisted to place his hands on the ground to assist in his struggle to his feet. The mere act was similar to a high wire act as he balanced on the unsteady limbs. As he finally found the balance to stand, his body swayed as he rocked on his heels as he stood in front of her.

"Pl…please allow me to be of service in this quest for a…a….a what?" The rumpled, slightly muddy and wavering man questioned

"Yeah, I can see you're going to be great help. You might want to concentrate on staying vertical for the short time." Buffy mumbled as she looked away. Heaving a great sigh, she then looked back to the man and stated the following in a slow determined manner for his diminished capacity. "Look, I am trying to locate someone. I am hoping that information has his phone number, okay?"

"Wha..wha's a foo num….number?" The man's brow wrinkled in confusion as he unsteadily kept his footing.

"God, why do I always run into the village idiot when I need answers?" Buffy complained as she threw up her hands in frustration. "Can't anyone answer a simple question?"

"If..if you're looking for idi..idiots, I believe I can point you to a whol..whole inn full. The management can be most helpful. I would say with your looks, you wouldn't have any trouble getting the pick of the litter." The man inexpertly attempted to flirt.

"Hardy, har, har har. Already been in there and let's say I was dumbfounded with the wealth of choices inside." she replied smartly, her ego still recovering from her treatment inside the inn.

"Well, then. There's only one thing le…left to be done." The inebriated young man stated resolvedly as he stood up fully. He loftily asked. "I shall ..help you. Now, what's the name of the fellow you're looking for?"

"I know you think you can, Mr. Oh Notso Helpful, but I think I can continue on just fine without your help." Buffy griped.

"Mr. Oh Notso Help..Helpful? I don't believe I know the name." The wasted man seemed to be seriously considering the possible name.

"No, that's not his name!" Finally seeing the pitiful number of options facing her, Buffy decided to take a chance to see if the drunk could be any help. With another pained sigh, she addressed the young man. "Okay. I'm looking for a guy named Brask. Do you know him?"

The funniest expression appeared on the man's face in front of her. Buffy raised an eyebrow in response just before the man answered. "Brask, you say? To speak of an odd co.. ..cidence, my….."

In the next instant, the door of the inn swung open, allowing the yellow light to illuminate a square section of the courtyard in front of the door. An oversized dangerous figure was silhouetted in the frame of the door, with the heads of figures standing behind him. A loud gruff voice cut through the cold night air of the courtyard, freezing the occupants in place.

"BRASK! YOU AIN'T LEAVING HERE UNTIL YOU PAY US THE MONEY YOU OWE US!"

Looking over her shoulder, feeling the combative intent coming of the speaker in the doorway, Buffy's jaw dropped. Slowly turning her head back to the disheveled man she had been speaking with, she stared at him in shock.

Her eyes traveled over the staggering mud covered figure in front of her. What were the odds? She asked herself. Okay, maybe it was some kind of mystical set up, but the first totally sloshed dope she runs into turns out to be Bertram Brask. This was it? This pathetic character was Bertram Brask? This guy was supposed to put the world back in order only if she was able to keep him from getting killed? From the current interchange with the man in the doorway, it was going to be a lot more work than anticipated. Her eyes cataloged his appearance from head to toe. Overall, she was not impressed. He didn't seem to be the type to be a champion, but maybe the powers behind the ring were grading on a curve. What did she know? After all, they took Spike, didn't they? The young man before her was not that tall or even that coordinated as she watched his feet slide in the mud as he barely kept his balance. From the recent conversation, he certainly did not seem to be as clever as he thought himself to be. As far as she could tell, among the few talents he possessed was the ability to piss off people easily. Hmmm…Maybe there was some sort of resemblance with Spike.

"Eldri…ri…ritch, my good man, I was wondering what hap…pned to you." Bertram called out as he turned his head toward the ominous looking man and then turned away, dismissing the man. "I bel…believe that out accounts have already b…been resolved earlier this evening. I am currently in conburrrr..sation with this lovely lady. Now, go…go on and be about your business."

As a tipsy Bertram responded to the man, he did not notice that the courtyard was soon inhabited by the man along with three more rather belligerent rough looking characters that stood a short distance away. The leader of the motley group charged over and wrapped his hands in the collar of the young man and yanked him upon his toes till the noses almost touched.

"Brask! You better pay up all the money you stole at the game or it will be the worse for you." The brute growled, his breath appeared in chilled foggy curls about Brask's face.

"I won that money fair and prop…per. It was only your ale mud..muddled sight that lured you to believe that card on the floor was mine." Bertram breezily responded, nonplussed by the threat emanating from the larger man. "That card di..did not fall out of my sleeve, although it was perilously to your chair."

"Well, I say it did." Eldritch seethed through his teeth. He tightened his grip in Bertram's shirt and pulled him even closer. "Are you calling me a liar?"

"Pshah..No, No. Of course not." Bertram wrinkled his face and then stared Eldritch straight in the eyes. "Perhaps, ca..calling you a moron, a cheat or an oaf might be a better suit, but a liar? I don't believe that you have the cog…cognitive ability to lay claim to that title."

The growl that issued out of the brawny man as he balled his fists in Bertram's collar tighter was the only response heard, but a definite indicator of violence about to happen.

"I can't believe this." Buffy muttered to herself as she took a step forward. She quickly appeared at the elbow of the larger man, she placed supplicating hands in between the two men to separate them.

"Heya, big fella. Why don't we all calm down and talk about it. There's obviously some way we can work this out without anyone getting hurt." She appealed to the larger man as she tried to appease the situation.

The men did not take their eyes off each but they did seem to relax a bit as Buffy managed to increase the space between the two men and seemed to be successfully calming the situation down when the young man announced.

"Don..dont worry about me, miss. I can take on these miserable cre…cretins easily." Bertram pulled up his chin and stated with puffed up gallantry. Buffy gawked as he began to taunt his opponent. "I have honor on my side. They may cast as..asper..aspersions but you will see that they will qu..quail in front of my prowess."

Buffy and the large man stared stupidly at Bertram as he drunkenly launched his best intimidating glare while trying to keep his head up. Buffy rolled her eyes as she let out a small groan. In the next second, the larger man seemed to surge under Buffy's hands toward the drunk. Due to the awkward position, Buffy was not able to use her slayer strength to keep the two men maintain the space she had achieved. In a desperate move, she ended up placing her elbow on the ominous man's chest in an attempt to maintain her hard fought distance she had achieved. Despite her best effort, the distance was closing, she looked around to see the other men begin to enclose around the pair. Her feet began to slide on the mud as the man closed in on the young man, Buffy whispered over her shoulder at Bertram as the man pulled up once again on his collar.

"Hey, Sir Walter Knothead, did you think being a big dope was really going to help this situation?" Buffy sniped at the young man who was about to receive a pounding from the local throwback.

"Since we have just met, dear lady, let me ab..absolve you of any concern about my wellbeing. I can take care of myself." Bertram intoned as he gently attempted to push Buffy out of harm's way.

"Really, Brask, hiding behind a cheap trollop's skirts?" Eldritch sniggered. "Even the lowliest half-starved piker around here would lower themselves to that, but I would not expect anything lower from you, you misbegotten runt."

"Cheap?" Buffy echoed in a small yet highly affronted voice.

The hurt quality in Buffy's voice seemed to enrage the young Bertram as he began to scowl at the brute holding on to him.

"How dare you the character of this lovely rose, sir! Prepare yourself for fisti…fisti…Oh, defend yourself!" Bertram declared as he rocked on his toes as he raised his fists in rage.

"Real smooth-like there, Ivanhoe. You know it is easier when you don't tell em you're going to hit him. Kinda ruins the surprise." Buffy muttered as she skeptically looked at Bertram.

With misplaced alcohol soaked bravado, the younger man gently pushed Buffy aside and wheeled back to throw a fist at his oversized opponent. The coarse man smirked as he looked at Buffy who stumbled back. Bertram's awkward blow glanced across the ox like features of Eldritch. The blow barely made an impact on the homely visage, the only evidence was that mammoth man's mouth was slightly twisted to the side with the motion.

Fixing his eyes on his smaller opponent, the larger man calmly smiled while balling up a large fist. He slowly pulled it back to allow the stone like fist to follow its juggernaut path to the young man's face. Buffy gritted her teeth to imagine the impact of the forthcoming blow. It was that point when Bertram quickly kicked the imposing man between the legs. It became eerily quiet in the courtyard for a moment, as no one moved or even dare breathe. The gigantic man's eyes watered as he crumpled over, releasing his hold on the smaller man's shirt.

Bertram staggered back as he looked around to see that Eldritch's companions were now circling him like a pack of wolves. Buffy stood there watching the unkempt nefarious looking men surround the young man. A rather greasy looking thin man took a step forward, feinting a charge at Bertram to distract him so he could be suddenly attacked from behind by his stocky partner. The disreputable looking stout man jumped on the top of Bertram while trying to secure his arm so his companions could have an easy shot at him. Bertram fluidly doubled over, flipping the man over his back and toward the charging companions, knocking them all down. He bounced on his toes as he looked at the chaos he had caused amongst his opponents. He smiled an open mouth smile with his tongue curled up behind his teeth in victorious glee as he watched the men clamber over each other on the muddy stones.

Suddenly, a large grubby raw boned fist crashed into the side of the young man's face, knocking him off his toes and nearly down onto the cobblestones. Bertram staggered as he wheeled around to see Eldritch who had recovered and was rubbing his knuckles as he came forward. He followed the smaller man's path as he prepared to follow up the blow with another.

"Do you want any help?" Buffy called out to Bertram from where she was watching the conflict, her hands inside the cloak.

"Not to worry, sweet lady. Will ju…just be a minute." Bertram breathlessly responded as he placed his hands on his knees to recover while keeping an eye on his opponents.

Shaking his head, Bertram pulled himself up to a standing position. He staggered a bit and blinked to focus his eyes before settling into a fighting posture. Across from him stood the fearsome Eldritch and the other three rough men. The men looked across at Bertram with evil intent in their eyes.

Eldritch led the charge as his large fist came barreling again at Bertram who ducked out of the way. Bertram came up with a uppercut to the gut of Bertram. Two of Eldriitch's gang charged from either side of the large man, attacking Bertram from both sides. Kicking one and then slugging the other with a roundhouse, Bertram managed to knock them both down before the third man managed to surprise him with an uppercut followed by two shots to the gut. Bertram staggered back as he covered his torso with his arms. As he did, two of the men each grabbed one of his arms and twisted them behind him. He struggled to get his arms free but could not. Eldritch walked up smiling in triumph as he repeatedly clenched his fist. He then let an explosive blow to Bertram's midsection, lifting the man off his feet. Bertram let out a harsh sound as he doubled over from the blow, still pulling at the men who held his arms. Eldritch grabbed the young man by the neck, straightening from the bent position. With two finders under Bertram's chin, he lifted his head. With ominous glee on his face, he pulled back to let go a massive blow but just as he let the blow loose, he disappeared

The courtyard was filled with the sound of shattering wood as Eldritch crashed into the thin pillars by the doorway of the inn. The small wooden façade exploded as the body of the large man collided with the structure. His still form finally coming to rest amongst the remainder of the stacked firewood, most of which had been flung about like a child's toys with his impact. In the next instant, one of the men who held Bertram's arms also disappeared and was flying headlong over a fence and lay sprawled on the wet ground of the pen. The other man was cast back across the courtyard cobblestones on his back till he too came to a stop by a pole coming in contact with his head with a solid clunk sound. With the loss of the men holding his arms, Bertram fell forward onto his hands and knees on the cobblestones. The fourth man who had stood there, planning to watch the young man's destruction at the hands of his comrades, looked around at his partners. Realizing that he was next and very likely to receive the same treatment, he clumsily turned and ran down the road with a high shriek.

Bertram looked around for his opponents as he recovered himself. He was shocked to see Eldritch and his remaining companions laying scattered around the courtyard. He looked up to see the petite woman he had been speaking with a few moments ago standing there like some ethereal yet tiny amazon. The cape swirled behind her in the starry night, making him recall the romantic paintings he had studied in school. For a moment, he was entranced. Then he noticed something odd that drew him out of the spell. The cape parted and he noticed that she seemed to be wearing the strangest outfit he had ever seen on a woman. A muddy blouse with trousers and boots. It was hypnotic effect, yet slightly outlandish. Who ever heard of a decent woman dressing like that? Only fallen women or perhaps women on the stage dared to show their limbs like that.

"What did…did you do?" He asked hesitantly, suddenly sober, his face dazed and his eyes blurry.

"Yes, I know you wanted to handle them but you were taking a long time. I have a schedule to keep." Buffy replied in a brisk business-like manner.

"What…If you excuse me for asking…are you? I mean you threw those men like they weighed nothing." He asked bewilderedly as he came forward. His face lit up with an idea as he quickly added. "With the way you're dressed, are you with the circus? I've heard of strong men in the circus, but never a woman."

"No, I'm not with the circus…but my life has been a bit of a sideshow lately." Buffy smirked at the inside joke.

"I didn't get to finish introducing myself. I'm Bertram Brask of the Haimsworth Brasks." The young man announced.

"Yeah, I kinda figured that out with that guy calling you Brask. You're gotta come with me." Buffy stated as she waved him forward.

"Well, since I am indebted to you, please ask me of me what you will and I will be your willing servant. It is fortuitous that we ran into each here then." He said with a small smile.

"Yeah, it's just how my luck is going these days." Buffy replied, rolling her eyes.