Title: Winter's Tale
Rating: PG-13 for now
Plot: One witch's story of her downfall (chapter 1/?)
Forgive me if I've left anything out, I've got a massive headache/almost migraine and some of you know how incredibly retarded I am about lj stuff.
This is for the first ficathon at the Watcher’s Diaries under the new mods, OracleHolly and Slinkypsychokit. Since I adore both of them, and well, since the subject matter is both near and dear to my heart, I thought what the hell. So here it is. While using characters and information that is present in the Whedonverse, this is mostly original. However, the standard disclaimers still apply, I own nothing and gain nothing from the publication of this material. Names, while in historical context may or may not actually have anything to do with the actual historical figures involved. Translation: Just because I mention an actual historical person, that doesn’t necessarily mean that person has the abilities and/or attributes depicted in this story. Enter at your own risk. My thanks to Addie Logan, who did a quick line-beta of this for me.
Finally, after months of delicate negotiations and fancy diplomatic entreaties, the Vatican had allowed the new Council of Watchers admittance into some of the archives; specifically the medieval libraries. So now, armed with little more than stacks of empty notebooks, and an endless supply of pens and pencils, the representatives from England waded through obscure documents, searching for information that had been lost when the First Evil had destroyed the old offices.
For the most part, the Council operatives were bookish, staid researchers, well past the age of falling into distraction; save one. She was currently tapping her foot and her pencil, while flipping through priceless vellum pages, her mind clearly not on her task. Her long dark hair kept falling off her shoulder yet she did nothing to corral it. The priest in charge of this portion of the archives fought his growing disapproval of her presence, and on more than one occasion he’d made mention of her youth and indiscretion, and more importantly, her flippant disregard for the care of such old documents. He even made mention of how could she possibly understand what she was reading, because he doubted sincerely whether she even knew in what language the documents were written.
The senior Watcher, a bespectacled Englishman in his early fifties, replied quite acerbically “While I understand your concern, please understand that young girl you are complaining about yet again, is quite aware of the importance of these documents.”
The priest, a Spaniard by birth, looked very unsatisfied by the Englishman’s response. “Mr. Giles, these documents are priceless and she’s treating them as if they were Fleet Street publications.”
“Rest assured, Father Santiago, Dawn Summers knows exactly what she’s doing.” Relenting slightly, Giles smiled, trying to placate the jittery priest. “However, I will speak to her about the way she reads them. Will that suffice?”
Nodding his acquiescence, Father Santiago retreated to his office.
Giles walked slowly over to where Dawn was sitting, his mouth set in a grim line. “Dawn, please treat the records a bit more gently. The priest is exhibiting some concern about your lack of respect.”
Distractedly, and without looking up at him, Dawn shook her head and replied, “Sure. No problem Giles.”
Knowing she wasn’t really listening to him at all, Giles shook his head and left her alone.
So far, all this stuff she’d been reading had been no more exciting than reading stacks and stacks of boring business transactions; how many bushels of hay and barrels of wine and. .. . really who cared about all this?
The records were from monasteries located in the south of France, and they were catalogued backwards, so she was reading further back in time. Most of them were written in Latin, which Dawn knew as well as she knew English, so she was just skimming them. She’d just put aside one of the more boring pages, when something on the next caught her eye. Hey, this isn’t Latin. . . . . And it wasn’t a language she could read – at least not yet. Dawn started at the top of the small tattered piece of sheepskin, moving downward, then back up to the top again. On the third pass over the document, a synapse clicked in her brain and she was reading.
What she read had her sitting up straight in her chair, her attention riveted.
They have stopped looking for me, at least for now. I have fooled them. I am hiding in the last place they would think to look, for they consider me a heretic. I never followed their creed, nor their beliefs, and yet here I am.
The irony is not lost to me.
The abbess has accepted my tale and taken me in, so now I fill my days with healing the sisters. No longer do I look over my shoulder, yet I fear neither the Slayer nor her henchmen have forgotten me.
For I am not a Papist, I believe in no Christ.
I am a witch, a sorceress.
I was once known as Joan of Navarre. . . . .
And I am hunted.
My story, such as it is, is not a pretty tale. I cannot say why I have a need to chronicle this, but perhaps I do this for my child, so he knows. . . . . his mother.
Perhaps I should start from the beginning, from the point in time when I encountered the danger. My life before was as most, when one is the child of nobility. My father was . . . My father was a broken man, upon his return from Palestine, further broken when his friend Richard died at Chalus, in the year 1199. I carry the name of Richard’s sister, in honor of their connection.
My mother was brought from Palestine, as spoils of war.
I was forever different from the others, by virtue of my birth and my . . . . gifts. The priest refused to baptize me, saying no child of a Saracen should be welcomed into the church. I have not suffered for the lack.
All was well, until control was wrested from my father and his sister, Blanche began ruling. I was forced from my home, not by her, but by the priests who were gaining more and more control.
I took refuge in the Aquitaine, where I was welcomed by Richard’s family. His aged mother especially took pains to befriend me. To this day, I am grateful for her kindness and love. Eleanor was an exacting, demanding woman, who valued learning and intelligence. I was twelve when I went to live with the formidable Eleanor and learned much from her.
When she died, once more I found myself alone. This time, however, I was of an age and had sufficient resources, since Eleanor bequeathed to me a small holding in the Aquitaine.
That is where I met Enguerrand.
And where I finally fell afoul of the Church and the Slayer.
I was out riding, with a small escort, when we chanced upon an encampment of, what I thought at the time, were poor knights returning home from the crusade. The seigneur, a knight of some rank, approached my men, asking if they were currently on lands once belonging to Queen Eleanor. When the response was affirmative, he asked to be brought before the current demesne holder.
Roland, ever suspicious, brought him before me.
“My lady,” he greeted me, his voice deep and resonant. “We seek a night’s rest within your castle walls.” He gestured to his men, who showed clear signs of exhaustion and hard riding. “Have we your leave to rest and water our horses?”
I pondered him for a moment. He wore the Cross – the mark of a Crusader – and the plain tunic of the Templars. “What is your destination?”
“We seek her Grace, the Princess Joan of Navarre.”
Imagine my surprise. I had no contact with Churchmen for years, not since the Dowager Queen had died. Why now? And for what purpose?
“Why do you seek her?”
He removed the chainmail cowl from his head, wiping his brow of sweat. “Forgive me, my lady, my poor manners. I am Enguerrand, born of the house of Lusignan. My men and I are escorting . . . “ His voice trailed off, obviously discomfited by the thought of giving away the identity of his charge. I waited him out, hoping to see if he would confide his cohort’s purpose.
I had only moments to wait. “We escort the Lady Marshal from Rome to her home in the Marches.”
The Lady Marshal. . . . Time it was to make my own identity known.
“I am whom you seek. Bring my lady. You and your escort are welcome.”
The knight stared up at me, his eyes fixed on my face. His lips parted, as if to speak, but instead he shook his gaze from mine. “We are hunted, my lady, by forces you cannot fathom.”
I merely raised a brow and stared at him. “How came you to know of me?”
“Letters of conduct, from the Marshal himself.” He searched about for them, reaching for his saddlebag resting at his feet.
“No need my lord.” If the Marshal had sent him to me, there was reason for it. William of Chepstow did nothing without reason, nor much serious forethought. The old lion was dead, but his son did his name proud service. “The day grows late, my lord. Bid your men to haste.”
With that, I spurred my horse away, leaving Roland to act as escort.
It was hours later when I saw my guests again.
The Lady Eleanor, wife of William the Marshal, the youngest sister of Edward, King of England, was a fair and comely girl, scarcely into her sixteenth year. Her husband and brother were embroiled in yet another conflict with the French, desperate to regain lands lost by her incompetent and profligate father, the late unlamented John. She sat beside me, her blue eyes constantly ranging about my hall, seeking her men, no doubt.
I found it odd, that a Plantagenet Princess would be traveling alone, save with a single maid for the sake of her virtue . . . Odd, unless something threatened her that neither husband nor brother could battle.
Her chief knight, this Enguerrand de Lusignan approached the high table, seeking leave to send his men to their rest, once the meal was finished. Permission was quickly granted, and together, the Princess and I retired to my private solar. At her behest we were joined by two of my ladies, and Enguerrand.
It was then I learned the truth.
Eleanor was haunted.
I found it odd, that William would send his child-bride to me until I read his missive. William and I had known each other, when I was the same age as his bride. In the summer of my sixteenth year, he had been sent to the Dowager. He had just won his spurs and his father felt he could benefit from time with her. We became close, enough so that his decision to send his wife to me was a step I never thought he would take.
Both Eleanor and Enguerrand watched me read the missive. I could feel their eyes upon me, though I paid them no heed. With a deep breath, I addressed the one question I had of them both. “What else have I need to be aware of?”
Eleanor would not meet my eyes. Her gaze strayed to her knight, and it was he who answered my query. “The Church has sent men to follow us, my lady.”
“The Church.” I hesitated, wondering how much they had been told. “There are no priests here.”
For the first time, Eleanor spoke. “The priests will not help, your Grace. My lord William sought counsel from the Archbishop of Canterbury and he was told there was naught they could do.” She paused, looking down at her hands and her voice dropped to a bare whisper. “He claimed it was the sins of my father come to punish me.”
There was no answer for that. John Plantagenet’s sins were numerous. It had long been whispered of his dalliances with other men’s wives, his cruel treatment of prisoners and, his complicity in the disappearance of his nephew, Arthur. And the Archbishop was a known enemy of the King. No doubt he felt it fitting a child of John’s would suffer.
“Will you help me, my lady?”
How could I resist? The poor child, for all her beauty, showed signs of her current dilemma. Fatigue and fear chased themselves through her blue eyes and her skin was pale.
After assuring Eleanor I would do my utmost to help her, I sent her off to her chambers.
The poor child was exhausted, fatigued from both the journey and her affliction. Time enough to address her woes at dawn. As I was about to retire to my own chambers, Enguerrand bade me wait. “A word, if you please, my lady.”
I studied him, waiting for him to form his thoughts. He was tall, his head scraping the lintels, broad of shoulder and well muscled. I had thought earlier his eyes were dark, however, now, in the flickering light I could see their true shade. His words brought me from my scrutiny of his looks.
“I mean no insult, my lady, and my lord Marshal said you would find none if I spoke plainly and with honesty.”
“That is true.”
“I would be honored if you would allow my assistance. Much was said of your healing skills and any knowledge I gain cannot but be of an advantage.”
“My lord Marshal spoke of me?” At his nod I continued. “How is it that a knight of the Temple would deign ask a mere woman for assistance and instruction? And a heathen as well.”
He drew back as if I had struck him. “My apologies, my lady, if you took insult from my query.” He bowed low, his voice burnished with anger. “I will take my leave, with your permission.”
“Nay, my lord, I. . . . “ I hesitated, unsure of what I had said to upset him so. “I should be the one seeking your pardon. It is not often someone wearing the Cross seeks my company, much less my aid. I fear my manners are lacking.”
In my haste to make him understand, I had touched the back of his hand. A curious sensation stole through me and, I could see from his reaction, the same happened to Enguerrand. “Stay, my lord, please?”
Something in my countenance must have betrayed my uncertainty, for after a look into my eyes, he nodded, then resettled himself in his chair. Again, I took the time to study him. I had misjudged him perhaps, a bit too soon. I barely knew him, and yet I assumed like most of his brethren, he had no use for women and less use for a Saracen. I was soon to learn of my foolishness. Enguerrand was nothing like I had imagined. Firelight glinted off his hair and it took me moments to realize his was nearly as fair as Eleanor’s. Such fairness was strange to me, since most of my life I had been surrounded by those with dark hair and even darker eyes. He met my eyes and to my chagrin, I realized I had been staring at him for some moments, lost in my thoughts.
A smile twisted across his lips and Enguerrand’s eyes twinkled. Before I could speak, he waved off my apology, and began his tale.
I listened avidly, hearing all that he said and much he didn’t. Eleanor had never suffered the fits and ill-tempers of her father, nor of any other illness. She had been an unusually healthy and robust child. Until recently. Since Michaelmas, night-mares had plagued her sleep, increasing and gaining in depth and intensity. According to Enguerrand, the night-mares had begun to manifest during the day. I must have been lost in thought, because he seemed a bit alarmed with my inattention. But I had been thinking. . . . “Did you know, her father suffered so, as did his brother Geoffrey?”
“I did not,” was his answer. After a moment’s thought, he continued. “Perhaps that is why His Grace, the King felt this journey unneeded.”
“Perhaps.” Or perhaps it was otherwise. I had never met Edward, but I knew William the Younger very well. And if he thought it necessary to seek my aid, then Eleanor’s situation was dire. “Have you seen the Princess when she is afflicted?”
“I have and wish that I had not.”
“Tell me of what you have seen.”
“It is almost as if she were speaking with someone she alone can see. She pleads with them to leave her, cries and rends her attire.” He looked away from me for a moment, then caught my eye again. “We have had to restrain her, my lady.”
“She has done harm to herself?’
I let silence fall, needing to consult with my own thoughts, without interference from aught else. We stayed like that for long moments, until I reached a decision and, perhaps even found a solution. I was about to speak, when a knock sounded on the solar door. One of Eleanor’s guards bid for entry, a look of deep concern on his features.
Immediately, my companion got to his feet. “My lord,” his man started, when Enguerrand waved him to silence.
He turned to me, saying, “You wished to see, my lady, this affliction. I believe you have your wish.”
Presenting his hand for my assistance, Enguerrand ushered me from the solar.
The room was a shambles, bedding and clothing strewn about, stools upturned and one broken, laying askew by the fire. Rush matts lay perilously close to the hearth, smoldering from the heat. Puddles of spilled wine pooled beneath the small table and at first I could not find Eleanor, until Enguerrand’s out-stretched hand pointed her direction.
The poor child was crouched in a corner by the hearth, hair unplaited and disheveled, eyes wild and unseeing. She was huddled in on herself, rocking to and fro on her heels, muttering under her breath. Her maid was warily approaching her, when Eleanor struck out, punching and slapping at the poor girl.
“Halt. Leave us.”
The maid hesitated, looking to Enguerrand for direction, unsure of my authority in this matter. I could barely discern Eleanor’s words, but I had no need to. I could clearly see what was causing her to act so. Enguerrand hesitated a moment, and I turned my eyes to him. “I can help her, my lord.”
He repeated my command to the maid, motioning all the others from the room as well. With a glance down at me, he asked “Have you need for anything?”
Not wanting to appear over-eager to rid myself of all company, I nodded. “Fetch my maid, Amicia. Bid her bring my herbs, and a draught of wine.” I watched him turn from me, and I spoke softly, so none other than he could hear me. “Keep your men away. They will not understand what they might overhear, and I would not put myself in danger.”
His head reared back, and he looked me in the eyes. “I would not allow such a thing, my lady.” At my pointed look to the red Cross emblazoned upon his tunic, he relented. “I shall stand guard myself.”
We were alone.
Eleanor and I.
And her ghosts.