the melody of ‘Tu scendi dalle stelle’ rising and falling as the
musicians wove their way through the crowded market place. The small band
of Zampognari, wearing traditional criss-crossed leather leggings, short
bulky trousers buckled below the knee, velvet jackets and peaked caps, disappeared
into the mist as the last notes of their pipes died away. From the distance,
a new tune called the two travellers onward towards the heart of the square.
The piazza was alive with movement and noise, the carousel at its centre
a blur of colour, brass poles glowing beneath a myriad of festive lights.
Sixty-eight horses whirled in unison, four rows of ‘gallopers’ rising and
falling to the rhythm of ‘Applesauce’ belting out from the Wurlitzer.
Around the perimeter, gaudily decorated stalls creaked beneath jars of
preserves, pots of poinsettias, bunches of holly, trinkets and sparkling
baubles. From the food booths came cries of "Il miglior torrone di Roma!"
and the aromas of spun sugar, roasting nuts, and porcetta.
On the edge of the toy-stall canopy a life-sized puppet of La Befana
dangled her legs over the side, resting her bare feet on the head of an
enormous stuffed bear. Children tugged at their parents’ sleeves, pleading
for another addition to their growing piles of purchases. A market trader
came out from behind the mountain of chocolate-covered nougat, pressing
small pieces of confectionery into the children’s hands. He motioned to
his assistant to guard the takings, studied the two strangers for a second
from under heavily hooded lids, and approached them cautiously.
The leather-clad male picked a wooden Angel from a stall peddling Nativity
scenes and examined the gilded halo and hand-painted robes, tracing its
ornately carved wings with his fingers. “Reckon a pair of these would have
come in handy with that dragon,” he told the statue, placing it back with
the other crib figurines. “Not sure ‘bout the dress.”
“Still don’t get why you brought me here to look for him, Blue.” Spike
called to his companion, shaking his head and waving the approaching street
vendor away with a glare. “Or, how you pulled off the teleportation
trick if it comes to that,” he muttered, scanning the upper windows of
the apartment block.
“Someone has interfered in that which belongs to the gods.” Illyria
turned and strode away from the stall, following the route the musicians
had taken out of the square.
“And that matters because?” Spike hurried after her, his gaze still
fixed on the lights emanating from the third floor. “Hang on a minute, does
this have something to do with…..umph!” he grunted as he collided with
a pedestrian laden with parcels. “Buffy!”
“Spike? Is that really you?” Buffy dropped her shopping and reached
out a gloved hand to his face. “Andrew told me. But I didn’t dare believe...”
She gazed into his eyes, her own filling with tears. “And then Giles
told me what happened in LA.” She gulped, forcing back a sob. “And I couldn’t
bear the thought I’d lost both of you. And then Ambrogio told me...
And now he’s gone and...”
“Hey. Slow down, Slayer, you’re making me dizzy with all the telling.”
Spike caught her arms and steadied her, narrowing his eyes, searching
over her shoulder for a glimpse of Illyria, then snapping them wide. “Who’s