Watchers Council – Lobby – Same Time
Willow rushed over to give Althenea a hug. “What are you doing here?” she asked. “Why didn’t you tell us you were coming? We would have sent someone to pick you up at the airport. You did come by the airport, I’m assuming? You didn’t teleport or anything?”
Giles coughed uncomfortably at Willow’s faux pas in front of present company. Althenea smiled indulgently and gave Willow a final squeeze before letting go.
“Yes, I flew good old British Air, but I caught a cab from the airport,” Althenea said.
“Who are you?” Gottlieb demanded, as if infuriated by the witch’s interruption.
“Good morning,” she replied. “I’m Althenea Dimmons from the Coven of Devon in England. And you are?”
“A witch!” Gottlieb roared as Father Dugan crossed himself.
“Really?” Althenea smiled. “So am I. Although I must confess it’s very rare to see a Wiccan wearing a clerical collar.” She turned to Willow and asked, “Is that something peculiar to you Yanks?”
Willow rolled her eyes and shook her head at her friend. Gottlieb’s face turned red as he sputtered.
Rabbi Shermann turned to Giles. “Mr. Giles,” he said. “We have come here to ask you not to hold your ‘celebration’ this Tuesday. The religious leaders of the community have decided it would be a terrible influence not only on your students, but on the many families of the community.”
Andrew made a small sound of dismay at the rabbi’s request.
“Excuse me, Rabbi,” Gottlieb said, finally getting himself under control. “Mr. Giles, we demand you not practice your pagan rites in this community!”
Giles looked at the three men one at a time. “Gentlemen, I assure you that our party will not do any harm to our students or the community.”
“We cannot allow it,” Gottlieb said. “It’s not decent!”
“We got the permits from the Cuyahoga Clerk’s Office,” Andrew protested. “It’s all legal.”
“It may be legal, but it’s not moral,” Dugan said to the young man.
“Mr. Giles!” Andrew whined. “Jeff and I have worked very hard getting this together.”
“Don’t worry, Andrew,” Giles said, putting up his hand toward him, while keeping his eyes on the delegation. “The May Day festival will take place, gentlemen. All of us here respect your individual beliefs and support the right for you to hold them, but under the U.S. Constitution, we have the right to our own beliefs and to practice in our own fashion however we choose, without interference. Our celebration will be conducted on private property and as our school is not government funded, we are not required to separate the secular from our religious practices.”
Gottlieb appeared ready to explode. “We’ll just see about that, Mr. Giles!” he said, then stormed out of the door. Dugan followed silently, but the Rabbi bowed his head. “Good day,” he said cordially and left.
Silence reigned for a moment in the lobby in the wake of the delegation’s departure.
“Seems I came at a most auspicious time,” Althenea quipped.
Giles smiled and came forward. “It’s so good to see you again, dear,” he said, giving her a peck on the cheek.
“And you,” Althenea said. “I’m glad to finally have a chance to visit. It’s been so long since I’ve seen you and Willow, and you too, Ro. You’re looking so much better than the last time I saw you.”
Rowena stepped toward the tall witch. “They take good care of me here,” she said.
“We try,” Willow smiled. Althenea’s eyebrows raised as a look passed between the two watchers.
Giles made introductions all around and Althenea gave a warm smile to each one. Everyone except Willow, Rowena, Xander and Giles returned to their duties and Becca followed Tracey and Andrew into the kitchen.
“What brings you to Cleveland?” Rowena asked.
“Willow,” Althenea replied. Willow looked surprised. “I bring messages from the High Priestess. Can we talk privately?”
“Of course,” Willow replied, picking up one of the bags sitting by the door. “I’ll show you to our guest suite.”
“Thank you,” Althenea said, reaching for the other bag. Xander darted forward and grabbed it before she could.
“I’ll help you with that,” he said.
“That’s all right, Xander, I can manage,” Althenea said, taking the bag from his reluctant hand. “I really need to speak to Willow for a bit, but I’d love to meet with you later and chat, if that’s agreeable to you?”
“Sure!” Xander said, smiling and bouncing on his feet. “I’ll be here!”
Willow led the tall brunette up the stairs as Xander watched, his head tilting down as his eyes followed Althenea’s progress.
“Xander,” Giles said.
“Xander,” Giles said louder to catch the young man’s attention.
“What?” Xander said, finally turning away as the two women disappeared upstairs.
“Don’t bother,” Giles advised.
“What?” Xander said guiltily.
“Althenea,” Giles said. “She’s not interested.”
“You mean I’m not her type?” he asked.
“I mean, she’s more like Willow’s type,” Giles answered.
“Oh,” Xander said, disappointed. “That true?” he asked Rowena.
“Yes,” Rowena answered.
“Great! Just great. Should I even act surprised by this news? The best gals are either gay, taken or demons. I can’t win.” He turned and headed off in the direction of his workshop.
Giles chuckled and also left. Finally, the lobby stood quiet with just Rowena looking thoughtfully at the empty stairs.
Watchers Council – Guest Suite – Moments Later
Willow opened the door to the guest suite and allowed Althenea to enter first. Her visitor looked around and commented, “Very nice.”
“Only the best for our guests,” Willow said, placing her bag on the loveseat. “How have you been, Al?” she asked.
“Well,” the brunette replied as she rummaged around in one of her bags. “And you?”
“Oh, fine,” Willow said. “A little tired, but that’s to be expected, I suppose. Between Council and Coven duties, there’s hardly any free time for private stuff.”
“Like private stuff with Rowena Allister?” Althenea asked, sitting next to Willow on the couch. She had a wrapped box on her own lap.
“With Ro?” Willow said. “Yeah, we’re friends, but –”
“Willow…” Althenea warned in a stern, but friendly voice.
Willow groaned melodramatically and leaned forward to put her face into her hands. “She’s driving me nuts!” Willow finally said.
“Good nuts or bad nuts?” Althenea asked.
“Good, bad, both, neither,” Willow said, then flopped back on the couch. “I never know if I’m coming or going with her. One second she’s flirting with me and the next, she’s running away. Just watch,” Willow paused thoughtfully. “You’ll see. She does it on purpose.”
“Have you asked her out?” Althenea asked. “As far as I know, Ro’s never had a relationship with a woman. In fact, as far as I know, she’s only had one serious relationship and it ended badly.”
“I know…I had the displeasure of meeting the bast…er, her ex,” Willow said. “We’ve gone out a few times, but never just the two of us. It always seems as if she arranges for someone else to come along. As if she needed a chaperone or something.”
“Rowena’s a wonderful person, Willow,” Althenea said. “But despite her sometimes seeming to have an easy time of things, life hasn’t been that good to her. She needs patience and understanding. Give her time. She might come around.”
“You think?” Willow said hopefully and Althenea nodded. Willow sighed and then changed the subject as she sat up. “So, what brings you to Cleveland? I’m sure you didn’t fly over an entire ocean just to discuss my disastrous love life.”
“Indeed, I have not,” Althenea said, then handed Willow the box. “I bring you a gift from the High Priestess.”
Willow smiled and eagerly tore off the wrapping paper. Inside was a thin leather garter with a silver clasp and the words Honi soit qui mal y pense embossed on it. Willow removed the object from the box and looked at Althenea with wide eyes. “The garter of a High Priestess?” she asked.
“Congratulations, Willow,” Althenea smiled. “I’m here to raise you to the third degree.”
“But…” Willow sputtered. “But…”
“But what?” the witch asked gently.
“I’m not sure what to say…am I worthy of this?”
“What do you honestly think?” Althenea countered. “The work you’ve done this past year has been exemplary. You’re leading a working coven…true, it’s small, but size doesn’t always matter. You’re teaching new students and your magic use has had a positive effect on you and the people around you. Not to mention the ritual you performed with Mr. Harris. That fact alone is…it’s beyond modern comprehension. Believe me when I say you’re ready, Willow.”
“Oh boy,” Willow breathed, looking at the garter. “Are you sure? I mean, you know everything that happened before I met you…the terrible things I did.”
“I know,” Althenea confirmed. “But that was before, Willow. You’ve changed and grown so much. The Coven feels you no longer need our supervision. You’ve earned our trust and respect.”
For the first time since opening the box, Willow smiled. “Thank you, Al,” she said, pulling the other woman into a hug. “That means so much to me.”
“Now, let’s get down to business,” Althenea said after a moment. “We’ll do the ritual on Beltaine night, at the full moon. I’m glad to see you’re holding a festival, despite what some of the local chaps are saying.”
“Andrew and Jeff’s idea,” Willow said. “Giles and I gave them the go ahead as a way to boost morale.”
“How is the boy doing?” Althenea asked. “Your last report said he was still somewhat distant.”
“Improving,” Willow said. “But it’s going to take time. He shows so much promise. I’m just afraid any more trauma he might endure could push him over.”
“Then he’s very lucky to have you as his mentor,” Althenea said. “You’re welcome to send him, or any of your other students, to me for special training, Willow. Just because you’ll have the right to break your ties with your mother coven doesn’t mean you have to.”
“I know,” Willow said. “So…Tuesday?”
“Right,” Althenea replied. “You’re familiar with the third degree ritual?”
Willow nodded. “Yes, I’ve studied it,” she said.
“And you have no problem with you and me and the Great Rite?”
“No, why would I?” Willow asked, and then laughed. “Hey! Did you volunteer for this?”
Althenea laughed heartily. “There were many priestesses and quite a few priests who volunteered to come to America for you, Will,” she said. “But the High Priestess knows we’re friends and she feels the love we already share for one another will only enhance the ritual and not detract from it.”
“She’s very wise,” Willow smiled.
“Which is why she’s the High Priestess,” Althenea said. “We can go over more of the details later. And I’d like to spend some time in your Coven Room. I’ll need to tune into the space and get used to the energies. That you’ve done a lot of work there will make it easier for me, however.”
“Okay,” Willow said. “Why don’t you rest for a bit and we’ll give you the grand tour later?”
“That’d be lovely,” Althenea said. “It’s my first trip over the pond. I never realized how exhausting it was.”
Willow gave her a small kiss on the cheek. “I’ll leave you then and get back to work.”
High-Rise Office Building – Afternoon
“The temerity of those people,” Gottlieb shouted as he paced around Bonnie’s office.
“Please, calm yourself, Reverend,” Bonnie soothed, leading the tall man to a plush chair and making sure he seated himself. “The community can’t afford you getting sick at this time.”
“She’s right, Werner,” Father Dugan said. “These are trying times. I simply don’t understand what’s happening in this country. It seems like evil is taking over everywhere, and now we’re fighting it right here in our backyard.”
“What shall we do?” Rabbi Shermann asked.
“We’ll need to contact the other leaders,” Bonnie said. “I think it’s time we brought this to the congregations.”
“But that Giles fellow was right,” Shermann added. “Legally, we cannot stop them from going ahead.”
“No, we can’t,” Gottlieb said. “But we have every legal right to protest. Bonnie’s correct. We need to alert the community. The more people we can get out there on Tuesday, the more chance we have of disrupting their nefarious plans.”
“I have a contact in the clerk’s office,” Bonnie said. “He wasn’t able to stop the issuance of their permits to hold their ritual, but he is working on getting us the necessary permits to hold a peaceful protest. The area outside the school’s grounds is public property. We have every right to be there.”
“Excellent,” Father Dugan said. “I’ll talk with the other priests in the parish and we’ll begin talks with the people.”
“And I’ll contact the other leaders who were here last night and advise them of what’s happened,” Bonnie said.
“Good,” Shermann nodded. “Those poor children. I can’t believe those seemingly nice people could be so cruel as to subject children to such perversions.”
“It’s not going to happen, Rabbi,” Gottlieb said, shaking off Bonnie’s comforting hand and standing up. “We’re going to put a stop to this. Come, we have work to do.”
As the three men filed out of her office, Bonnie’s smile turned sinister.
Watchers Council – R&D Workshop – Afternoon
“And I’ve saved the best for last,” Xander said as he led Althenea into the room.
“Nice,” the witch said appreciatively of the tidy and organized room. “I’m sensing this is your domain.”
“Indeed, it is,” Xander said proudly. “Andrew will tell you his kitchen is the heart of the Council, but this is where progress is made.”
“Have you done much research into creating magical weapons?” Althenea asked.
“Not a whole lot,” Xander said with a wry expression. “I’m really not one for the mojo. But Andrew and Jeff have been telling me it’s something we should consider. Willow already does most of the blessing for the stuff like holy water, but she’s way too busy and tired lately to take the time to work with me.”
“If Andrew could spare the time, I’m sure he’d be glad to assist you,” Althenea suggested. “From Willow’s reports, his training is coming along nicely. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’ll be ready to be raised to a priest by Samhain at the latest.”
“Now that’s a scary thought,” Xander said, then paused for a moment. “He won’t make me call him Father Wells, will he?”
Althenea chuckled. “Willow was right about you. You are quite funny.”
Xander smiled. “Actually, with all this priest talk, I am curious…”
“Willow mentioned that’s the reason you’re here. Again, not sure how that stuff really works. I thought she was already a priestess.”
“In many Wiccan traditions, there are no lay people,” Althenea explained. “A person will train with a coven for a period of time, usually a year and a day, and then they’ll be initiated as a first-degree priest or priestess. They’ll remain with the coven until they receive their second degree, after which they have the right to form their own coven, but they still are tied to the mother coven. And when the high priestess of the mother coven feels they’re ready, they’ll be raised to the third degree and the ties may be broken if they wish. But after that, they’ll be high priestess of their own mother coven and can hive off new covens. It’s an ever-growing and ever-changing religion.”
“So you won’t be working with Willow anymore?” Xander asked.
“I’m sure I will be,” Althenea assured. “Willow and I are good friends and, since we were trained by the same coven, we’ll always consider ourselves sisters in the Craft. And the Coven’s ties with the Council remain strong.”
Xander nodded thoughtfully and then said, “It seems Willow hadn’t been in England long enough to train with you for a year and a day.”
“Willow received her first degree from Tara Maclay,” Althenea explained. “By the time Willow arrived in England, she was already way beyond the requirements for the second, but as you know, she lacked proper focus. So after training with us and feeling she was ready, she was bestowed the second right before she left. We would have liked to have more time to work with her, true, but as you well know, events in Sunnydale required her presence in California. However, she’s proven herself, especially this past year. And you had a lot to do with that, Xander.”
“Me?” he asked, surprised.
Althenea gently touched his cheek and leaned closer to look into his odd-colored eye. “As I told Willow, this was a remarkable feat the two of you accomplished,” she said.
“It was Willow,” he said, his face flushing at her closeness. “I just…well, you know.”
“The magic came from inside of you, Xander,” Althenea said. “Willow was only your guide. However, when we received news of the ritual’s success, the Coven knew Willow was almost ready. We decided to wait until Beltaine, as it is a more auspicious time.”
“Yeah,” Xander said. “All the Wiccan types around here are excited and they’ve got most of the younger slayers in a tizzy. Getting so a guy can’t get any rest around here.”
“Beltaine is a wonderful time for Wiccans,” Althenea said. “It’s when we celebrate life and all the wonderful pleasures the gods gave us to enjoy.”
“Andrew was going on about something called the Great Rite,” Xander said. “I got the idea that it was pretty special, but he seemed glad that he wouldn’t have to include it as part of the celebration this year. What is it?”
“The Great Rite is the coming together of the Goddess and the God,” Althenea explained. “For ancient people, the performance of the Great Rite ensured fertility of their crops, which is why Beltaine is very special.”
“Oh…” Xander said thoughtfully. “Kinda like when Willow fixed my eye.”
“Yes,” Althenea said. “But that was sex magic. The Great Rite is more a reenactment of the Goddess and God’s mating.”
“So Wiccans only do it at Beltaine?”
“It should be done at Beltaine, but it doesn’t have to be, nor is it limited to only Beltaine. In fact, during each full moon Esbat, the priest and priestess will symbolize the Great Rite during the blessing of the wine.”
“How’s that work?” Xander asked.
“The priest will insert his athame into the cup of wine held by the priestess,” Althenea explained. “You look like a smart boy, I’m sure you can figure out the symbolism.”
Xander laughed along with Althenea. “Yeah, I get the idea.”
“And the Great Rite is also reenacted during certain rituals, such as the third degree initiation,” Althenea commented, casually looking through a box of tools.
“Interesting,” Xander said absently, then seemed to make a connection. “So that means that you and Willow…?” Althenea nodded and Xander looked vaguely troubled. “Um, Al,” he started, “I know we only just met, but you seem like someone I can trust…”
“I hope so, Xander,” Althenea said, looking up at him. “Please, speak freely. I’ll take no offense. Your friendship with Willow and your dedication over the years to fighting evil shows you’re an honorable man.”
“I…uh…I’m pretty sure that Willow is in…well, I know she’s very fond of Rowena,” he said, looking as if he was afraid of angering the witch.
“Yes, Willow is very fond of Rowena,” Althenea laughed. “And while I haven’t had a chance to talk to her yet, I would be very surprised if Ro did not feel the same way.”
“Then your ritual with Willow will just be the symbolic kind?”
“No,” Althenea said, but then seemed to realize what Xander was trying to say. “Oh, Xander,” she chided gently, “You of all people should understand how such rituals usually only serve to bring people closer together. I’m not a threat to Willow and Rowena’s blossoming relationship and if I even thought that for a moment then, yes, it would be the symbolic kind.”
“But what about Rowena?” he asked. “She’s not Wiccan and when Willow and I…I mean, I was so afraid that it would mess up her and Kennedy. And even though she said it wouldn’t…I still wonder if it was my fault it ended between them.”
“Is that so?” she asked.
“Yeah,” he answered with a nod. “But after seeing them every day these past couple of months… sometimes I kind of get the feeling it would have happened anyway. I’m not sure if that makes sense. ”
Althenea put a supportive hand on Xander’s arm. “From Willow’s emails, before your ritual and after her break-up, I don’t feel anyone can be blamed,” Althenea explained.
“Like I said, Ro’s not a Wiccan, so I don’t know how she’ll take it. I know Kennedy wasn’t very pleased, to say the least.”
“You’re right, Rowena’s not Wiccan, but I’ve known her a long time and I think any problems she might have can be worked out somehow. But thank you for your concern. I’ll be sure to speak with her.”
“Okay,” Xander said with a small smile. “Didn’t mean to insult you or anything. In fact, if you weren’t part of the Sapphic set, well…frankly, I’d be all over you.”
“Even though I’m not a demon?” Althenea joked.
“I’m gonna have to start censoring Willow’s emails to you. She is telling you way too much,” he said, throwing up his hands as Althenea laughed.
Watchers Council – Kitchen – Minutes Later
Xander and Althenea found Andrew and Tracey working on the dinner preparations while Rowena worked at her favorite table, tucked in the corner.
“Don’t you ever take a break?” Althenea teased the blonde.
Rowena smiled. “I think I can use one,” she said. “Want to take a walk? I’ll show you the lake.”
“I’d love to,” Althenea said.
Rowena closed the notebook she had been writing in and led Althenea from the kitchen.
Lake Erie Waterfront – Afternoon
Althenea and Rowena slowly walked along the quay, the afternoon sun providing warmth against the chilly breeze coming off the lake. The silence between them seemed almost comfortable, but every now and then Althenea would glance at her companion, as if expecting her to speak. Finally she said, “What’s up, Ro? I’m sensing that something’s on your mind.”
Rowena smirked. “Have you added empath to your job description?” she asked.
“Was already there,” the witch replied. “So, what’s going on? And specifically, what’s going on between you and Willow?”
“Wow, kudos to you,” Rowena joked. Then her voice grew wary. “She said something, eh?”
“She mentioned she’s getting a lot of mixed signals, yes,” Althenea confirmed. “Do you have feelings for her?”
“No!” Rowena emphasized, then sighed. “I don’t know. Maybe.”
“Then what’s the problem?” Althenea asked.
“Al,” Rowena stopped walking and turned to look at her friend. “I’m not a lesbian.”
Fade to Black
End of Act Two