Written In The Stars 1/?
By Harmonie at firstname.lastname@example.org (feedback, please) Rated PG-13
Spoilers: Around Season 1 perhaps after I Robot, You Jane, but it doesn't really matter...you'll see.... Disclaimers: Not mine, belongs to Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy Summary: The Master has discovered a sure way to be rid of the Slayer after all, but he seemed to forget about Angel...(I used Buffy's middle name, Elizabeth, as it would better suit the time and Xander is obviously short for Alexander)
Whenever they walked together, Alexander watched the ground and Elizabeth watched the sky. Thus it was, as the twilight of that particular May Day spread its shadowy cloak of darkness, that Alexander saved Elizabeth from falling down a steep enbankment and very likely, in his retelling at least, from being killed.
But Elizabeth saw the shooting star.
Alexander clutched at her arm, trying to pull her back from the brink and maintain a gallant propriety as to where he touched her. He mumbled a series of contrite apologies for the immodest placement of his hands mixed with chastisements at Elizabeth's lack of caution. Elizabeth scarcely noticed, so taken was she by the marvel in the sky.
When the bright streak appeared among the first stars of night, Elizabeth cast a quick wish toward it. The falling star didn't vanish after a brief moment of glory, however, and Elizabeth caught her breath in wonder as it continued its radiant plunge.
"Merciful God," she whispered, fingering the cross on her throat.
"Indeed," Alexander continued his muttering, "'tis by God's mercy you were saved from this..."
Elizabeth blocked Alexander's voice from her hearing. Surely she only imagined it, but Elizabeth was certain she could hear the falling star. Amidst the night sounds of the forest, the soft rustling of leaves and creaking of tree limbs, and the revelry from the village green, an alien sound reached her ears, one of muted thunder far distant, though no storms were nigh.
Alexander's insistent tugs at her elbow, and the intervening trees, blocked her view of where the fiery wonder came to earth, but she was sure she could feel the faintest of tremors under her feet. Craning her neck to see through the trees, Elizabeth thought she detected a glow towards the west, near the direction of Salisbury. With bemused introspection, she marked the direction in her mind.
"Yes, yes, milord, I will take more care where I step," she murmered the placating words to Alexander. She let him guide her back towards the path and lead her along again. Around them, in the forest, an occasional squeal marked the love-nest of some couple taking advantage of the license of the May Day festivities to play Maid Marian and Robin of the Green Wood. Many a babe conceived on this night would bear the name of 'Robinson' for the presumably unknown lovers who came upon the innocent unwitting lasses in the woods. Or so was the tale they'd later tell. Elizabeth pondered the mysterious activities in the bushes that caused both those babies and and the coy smiles she knew she'd see on the faces of the village maids next morn. How she wished to once look into her mirror upon rising and see such a smile upoun her face.
Elizabeth blushed deeply at her thought, glad that the darkness hid her face from Alexander. He'd not entice her into anything so bold and improper. He was a stalwart soul, her Alexander was, with a gallant courtliness beyond the usual in most brash young men his age. She was lucky their parents had chosen them for each other. He would be a good husband, solid, reliable and steady. Lucky, indeed, she told herself again.
Elizabeth suppressed a sigh. In her secret heart she wanted to know of the passion and love that drove men and women to great risks, and daring deeds. Any love she would hope to have with Alexander would be the companionable kind, comfortable and placid. She glanced towards the sky, but no further stars fell for her to wish upoun.
They skirted the village on the way to the manor of Elizabeth's family. On the village green older folks still swilled great tankards of ale as they laughed and talked, gathered around the Maypole and a huge bonfire. Around the edges the younger children ran about, many without clothes, enjoying the extra bit of freedom this night.
Elizabeth glanced enviously towards them. She'd always been the daughter of Sir Rupert, one of the gentry, and thus not allowed to run and play with the village urchins. Ah, what might it be like to shed her encumbrances and bare herself to the night?
Alexander seemed uninterested in the festivities. His firm hand on her arm and his resolute steps guided them onward without further distraction. In a low monotone he clucked disaproving comment toward the revelers, like an old hen to wayward chicks.
Candlelight shone warmly through the diamond-paned glasses of the manor. Less than a castle, but more than the average merchant's house, Giles Manor had a small, enclosed courtyard built onto the original house. The first Sir Giles, Elizabeth's great-grandfather, had earned the King's notice, and so his knighthood, at the Field of Agincourt more than one hundred years earlier. Private family history, repeated with a chuckle late at night, told of their land being purchased with gold taken from the body of a French nobleman killed in that great battle. Another tale, told after the youngest were to bed, said he'd actually seduced the Frenchmen's widow, or perhaps his wealthy courtesan, guiling her with his charms. It was for this mythical lady of France, Lisbeth, that Elizabeth was named.
Her family was ambitious, that Elizabeth knew without doubt. Each marriage was arranged with the most exacting care to draw the most prestige and wealth into the family. Should the final negotiations go well, Elizabeth's marriage would be her father's crowning achievement, for Alexander was a member of the mighty Harris family whose power tread close to that of the throne of England itself.
Elizabeth glanced at the profile of her bethrothed in the scant light. Like his mighty uncle, Edward Harris, the third Duke of Buckingham, Alexander bore the stern face and prominent nose of the family. His hair and eyes came from his mysterious mother. She was said to be the daughter of a prominent Welsh lord with whom his father, in his youth, had the bad taste and bad sense to fall in love with while tending his brother's properties in Wales. It was rumoured that Alexander's father had not been wed to his mother, but Elizabeth chose not to believe that. The Welsh blood gave a saucy handsomeness to Alexander's otherwise plain face. When a smile could be coaxed from his grave features, Elizabeth thought him quite handsome.
A maid could do far worse than Alexander for her man, Elizabeth considered. They'd met each other once as children, playing together in the meadow while their fathers thrust and parried in negotiation over a wool sale. Solemn even as a child, Alexander had taken care even then not to soil or muss his clothes. Judging from the state in which some 'gentlemen' kept themselves, cleanliness was no small consideration. And, after all, he had all his teeth. Elizabeth smiled up at him with honest affection, causing Alexander to look away in embarassment.
The great door creaked on its hinges as Alexander pushed it open. Homey smells and sounds spilled out into the night. It was a good home, stout and comfortable, Elizabeth thought, with fine wood panels carved by a master craftsman, and rich imported tapestries warming the stone walls.
"Ah, join us," Elizabeth's father called to them from the Great Hall where Elizabeth's and Alexander's families gathered around the hearth blazing with fire to drive back the evening's chill. "Thought you two might be gone a while yet, out in the woods alone," Alexander's father, Henry Harris, Earl of Wiltshire, said with a sly wink that sent peals of laughter throughout the company.
Elizabeth felt a flush creeping up her cheeks. Alexander's firm hand, unwavering on her arm, steadied her. She glanced admiringly at him. Untroubled by, or indifferent to, the innuendo, he cooly met the eyes of the revelers. Stout and dignified, her Alexander, always mindful of her honour. Or, could it be, the thought chased unbidden through her mind, did he not understand the bawdy humour?
"Come, daughter, Alexander, have some wine." Ever the proper hostess, Joyce, Elizabeth's mother, bustled toward them, the hem of her best velvet gown making a soft rustle on the floor fresh-strewn with rushes. She urged them to sit near the fire, which Elizabeth did gratefully for the spring evening was cool and damp through the light silk of her gown. Lady Giles pressed silver goblets of warmed spiced wine into their hands. Elizabeth noticed that her father drank from a goblet of glass, and Alexander's father as well. Showing these Harrises his wealth and taste, Elizabeth thought, all with the hopes of magnifying it even more, buying power and position with her blood.
Elizabeth sipped the wine, listening idly to the chatter and gossip around her. The men spoke of the renewed treaty with France and speculated on how the new French king would fare. They remembered the last May Day, The "Evil May Day", and hoped London would not again riot against its sucessful foreign merchants. Both Henry Harris and Sir Rupert Giles did business with many of their like. Sincere prayers were murmured when news that Queen Katherine was once again with child was told. How poor King Henry did long for a son and heir, as did all his kingdom with him, Elizabeth thought. The King, it was rumoured, was writing a book in response to the rantings of that heretical German monk, Martin Luther. In the prescence of his elders, Alexander spoke not a word but sat unmovingly by Elizabeth's side.
For some reason, Elizabeht found her attention drifting again and again to the strange streak of fire in the sky. Some wished upoun falling stars. Others said they were portents of death. She wondered why she'd been chosen to see it and what it meant for her. Like as not she was just letting her sometimes too bountiful imagination have its way.
Just as Elizabeth was stifling the first of many yawns, her father stood up and stretched. Alexander's father stood by Sir Rupert Giles facing the young couple. The chatter in the room ceased and all attention turned to them. Though she knew what to expect, had known for months, for some reason a hard knot formed in Elizabeth's stomach as she examined her father's proud face and realized what he was going to say.
"Children," Sir Rupert addressed Elizabeth and Alexander, "I'm pleased to say we have concluded our negotiation of terms and dowry to our mutual satisfaction. No need to keep you in anxiety any longer. You shall be married in one month's time." His face bore the satisfaction of a cat with a new-caught bird.
Henry Harris raised his glass. "Let us toast the new couple and this joining of our two families." Everyone scrambled to their feet and faced Alexander and Elizabeth. "May this union be fruitful and prosperous, adding many children to strengthen and fill our families."
After the toast had been drunk, Alexander's father leaned toward him and commanded in a loud whisper, "Kiss her, boy."
Light laughter rippled through the room as Alexander obediently turned Elizabeth toward him. Willing herself not to blush, she tilted her face upward. Alexander leaned toward her, raised her hand to her lips, barely brushing it against them.
"So chaste a kiss," Lord Harris chided. "I dare say he'll be bolder come the wedding night." Now Elizabeth blushed in earnest as the laughter grew louder. Alexander remained stoic. "Give her a love token, lad," his father ordered.
Alexander hesitated a moment. He wore two rings, one of silver, dainty with a small emerald in it. It was the one Elizabeth thought the prettier of the two. The other was of thick gold with a twining pattern surrounding a large ruby. Reaching to pull off the small silver ring, his father pointedly cleared his throat. Alexander hesitated. With a reluctance painfully obvious to Elizabeth and, she thought, surely to all those watching, he took off the costlier ruby ring, studying it for a moment before slipping it onto Elizabeth's finger. The love token was heavy on her hand. Surely her cheeks must be as red as that ruby. In the awkward silence, broken by feet shuffling uneasily on the rushes, Alexander bowed to her politely and wished her a good rest.
"All will be well, daughter," Henry Harris' wife whispered to Elizabeth. "My step-son is a good lad and I know he'll treat you kindly." Lady Cecily Harris was much older than her husband, appearing now as fifty-eight as though she might be mother, rather than wife, of her thirty-nine year old husband. It spoke much, Elizabeth considered, of the lesser value placed on second son of a noble family that Henry had been forced to marry so. But such, she sighed inwardly, were the burdens the nobility and ever-striving gentry must bear. Marriage was a thing woven of the black threads of politics and business, not of the gossamer cloth of love and passion.
"I shall be proud to have you as my daughter," The Lady Harris added. A widow, Cecily had five children from her first marriage to the Marquess of Dorset but regarded Henry's only son Alexander as warmly as any of her own. She hugged Elizabeth fondly as the gathering broke up and everyone retired to their bed chambers.
"It's so exciting, don't you think?" Elizabeth's younger sister Willow chatted eagerly while she helped Elizabeth brush out her long hair. From the needlework stool upon which Elizabeth sat the wavy length of her hair, freed from its coils, nearly reached the floor.
"Exciting," Elizabeth repeated in a non-commital tone. She studied her face in the dim mirror. The candlelight and coppery tone of the wavy mirror gave her blonde hair a golden sparkle. It framed a smooth oval face with eyes of rich, deep green. They were less the green of an emerald, spoke not of jewel-like wealth, than the earthy green of a forest or a sun-drenched meadow. Elizabeth turned this way and that, examining her features. She had a pretty face, better than most, but it was not a face that would cause the heart of a prince to burn with lust, nor inspire a valiant knight into acts of valour to win her favour. No man would spend sleepless, tormented nights writing poetry about her. Still, if she smiled just the right way...
Willow sighed as she stroked the ivory-backed brush through Elizabeth's silky hair. "I do so envy you this," she said wistfully.
Elizabeth squeezed Willow's hand tightly then released it. Her sister did not look much like her, pretty in a natural, docile way. Her hair was a deep auburn that Elizabeth found she was jealous of. But where Elizabeth's features were narrow and healthily coloured, Willow's poor face was soft and pale. Under the linen cap she always wore, her hair was cropped as short as a boy's.
"Don't worry," Elizabeth soothed, "your hair will grow back as long and thick as before. 'Twas said that the doctor cut it off for the fevers, but you're well now and that's more than worth the price." The sweating sickness had swept through the country the last summer, not abating until nearly Christmas. Willow nearly died of it, and was left much weakened, maybe permanently, the doctor thought. Their elder sister Cordelia had miscarried her latest baby and lost one of her younger children as well.
In Cordelia, Elizabeth saw her future, and it didn't please her. Married two years ago to a sucessful wool merchant, Cordelia lived comfortably with a husband who was kind enough to her, beating her seldom, discrete in his alliances and affairs. Each year she had bore him another child. Since her loss of the baby and her younger child, she had only one now, a sickly two year old girl. Cordelia herself looked worn and aged, far beyond her young age of 16.
"We've not much longer to do this," Willow said. "In another month you'll be a married lady sharing your husband's bed." She giggled. "I think Alexander is quite handsome. Can't you just see him in knight's armour on a white horse come to sweep you away and take you to his castle?"
"Yes," Elizabeth agreed dully while thinking an emphatic no.
"Do you love him terribly?" the younger girl persisted.
"Terribly." Elizabeth looked up at her sister and smiled. "Now leave off your romantic imaginings and come to bed. It's been a late night and a busy day, and another is yet to come."
The feather bed and fine linens welcomed them, urging them quickly to drowsiness. Elizabeth licked her fingers and pinched the candle wick sending the small chamber into darkness. A sliver of moonlight slipped through the window making dark shadows in the larger darkness. Through the open windowpane Elizabeth stared at the stars.
"I saw a falling star tonight," she whispered to Willow.
"Did you make a wish?" Willow's sleepy voice asked.
"Yes, I did," Elizabeth answered. "I certainly did." But she knew, as certainly as dawn follows the night, that wishes never really come true.
In a scene from a nightmare, two demons strode through a shattered city. A pall of smoke hung over the dark buildings. Car sirens and distant screams, marked that the battle still waged but there were no defenders. Sunnydale had been easy prey. The dull thud of another fire waging and the cut off of hurried footsteps was attest to that.
One of the demons stopped. He appeared to be no more than a child, pausing to glance at the destruction around him and peering through the smoke. He was small, with a pinched face and constantly darting eyes taking in the world around him. The other was large, more disfugured than the rest, with a face that bore no expression but eyes that surveyed the destruction with cool satisfaction.
"No word yet on Angelus...We have word that he has hidden himself amongst the destruction," The Annointed One said.
"We'll find him," The Master answered coldly, "There's nothing he can do, nowhere he can hide. Now that he doesn't have the Slayer to hide behind."
A third vampire, in black garb, ran up to them, calling, "Master! Master, I have a message for you. Something bad has happened... Angelus..."
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