Written In The Stars 2/?
By Harmonie at email@example.com (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)
Something was wrong. Something was very wrong. Angel came to that realization out of a blur of surprisingly deep pain and confusion. A darkness deeper and blacker than any he'd ever known surrounded him. It should have frightened him, but he found it oddly comforting. Angel wished he could pull the darkness more tightly around him, so he wouldn't have to face the very real problems it obscured. With what he could not see he could not cope. He let out a rattling and painful breath and stopped short. His chest ached poundingly and he seemed to need to inhale and exhale breath more than anything. Maybe it was because of the pain. Before he could question it anymore, he sank into an even murkier place.
Angel wasn't sure how much time had passed before he woke up. This time his head was clearer and he concentrated on focusing his eyes, trying to see anything. Strangely, he was having trouble staring into the shadows around him. He lay in a contorted heap in a sticky pool he realized was his own blood. Things were twisted around out of position. Awkwardly, with his left hand, for his right didn't seem to work, Angel reached blindly for the lever, puzzled when he encountered only air. There was no light. Why was there no light? There ought to be.
"Brother Matthias?" he called, wincing at the effort. No one answered. "Are you here?" he asked but the elderly monk's voice did not answer.
Letting his arm drop back, Angel turned his head. To his side, just at the edge of his peripheral vision he could see a few points of light through the ragged crack in the blackness. If he could get to that breach...He twitched the fingers of his right hand, slightly moving the arm, and immediately regretted the action. Every nerve down the right side of his body screamed in protest. When he was able to breathe evenly again, Angel strained once more to see that tiny portion of sky.
The stars...that was it. That was the problem. That's where the wrongness was. It was in the stars. He'd seen something shocking in the stars, something that told him things had gone gravely wrong and he was again in terrible trouble. But what was it?
Despite the late night, Elizabeth woke as the first trace of dawn tinted the sky. She glanced over at Willow. Still sleeping, poor lamb. Elizabeth smiled down at the girl's drawn face fondly. Feeling guilty for the healthy vigour that made her want to leap up and embrace the new day, Elizabeth eased out of the bed taking care not to disturb her sister. Her feet bare on the chilly stone, she crossed the tiny chamber to the open window.
Already the day bustled with activity. The cows were milked and being switched out to their pasture by the barefoot cowherd. The milkmaid lugged a pail of the warm, fresh milk toward the kitchen, unmindful that he slopped it liberally onto her coarse spun skirt. A hound followed along, his head in the pail lapping at the milk. At the kitchen door, a sloped-roof addition on the north side of the manor, the cook kicked the dog away. Naked save for the stained leather apron he wore, the cook shouted angrily at the milkmaid as he did every morning. Elizabeth grinned as she listened to the familiar tirade. The milkmaid, as always, merely shrugged and stared at her dirty toes. Finally the cook's tirade wore down and he ducked back into the hot kitchen, returnign a moment later to hand the girl a thick slab of cheese and another of coarse, black bread. The girl grinned toothlessly at the scowling, unshaven face and dashed off.
The cook scratched his bare belly beneath his apron, staring after the girl, before disapearing back into the dark kitchen. Elizabeth shook her head. Her father would be angry with the cook over the lack of clothing. Since hearing that King Henry now required his kitchen staff to be fully clothed despite the heat for health reasons, Sir Rupert had followed suit. Always quick to adopt the latest ideas of the new learnings and sciences, Elizabeth's father found it a formidable battle, entreating the ignorant peasants to change their long-held ways.
Beyond the courtyard, over the outer wall, Elizabeth could see westward. The village lay out of sight to the south so within Elizabeth's vision was only the rolling checkerboard of irregularly placed fields and pastures. The round shapes of grazing sheep were scattered across the green. The bleating of the new lambs reached her ears, mixed with the low moos of the cattle.
It was a grand morn and a splendid world. She was blessed to have the part she did in it. The vain and selfish thing she had wished upoun the star was a thing of wish she ought to feel shame recalling...yet she didn't.
At the edge of the pastures the forest began. Even as she gazed idly at it, Elizabeth saw a young couple emerge from the trees and seperate. Their hands held a lingering touch for every possible moment before they parted. The woman kissed her hand and waved to the man. From her vantage Elizabeth couldn't tell who they were, but from the cut of the man's clothes it seemed likely that particular maid had enjoyed the pleasures of a man of high birth that night.
Elizabeth sighed enviously. Perching on the window ledge, she drew her knees up, hugging them with her arms, resting her chin upoun them. It was a fine morning, the dew already giving way to the sun's warmth. The ruby ring, heavy on her finger, gave her an unanticapated feeling of security, as if reassuring her that her future was set. Already her sixteenth birthday had passed. It was time for her to be wed and settled down. It was true, she thought judiciously, that Alexander was not the most exciting or adventuresome of men, but those were not the traits that made a good husband. He would be faithful to her, a pillar of strength in this uncertain world. The thought steadied her and caused a light smile to trace her lips.
The smile melted as memories of last night's dream tickled at her conscience. Try though she may to grasp them and remember the whole, the dreams eluded her. Elizabeth glanced at the sky. The star that fell to earth had blazed through her dreams, she remembered. A man had stepped from its brightness, his face and form were shadow, lost in the radiance. Glimpses of a graveyard and a dark stone tunnels toyed at the verge of her memory, with a flash of a monstrous white face. Then she saw him, saw eyes that burned into her soul. Elizabeth knew she'd seen his face, but could no longer summon up the image. Further memory of the dreams was lost in the eclipsing power of waking save for vague fragments, a heat burning through her body at a touch, a lover's lips on hers. A pink flush tinted her cheeks as the ethereal images flitted through her mind. Of only one thing she was certain; the dream lover had not been her Alexander.
A quiet rap on the heavy oak door shattered her reverie. The door eased open and Lady Giles leaned in.
"What? Not dressed yet?" she whispered with mock anger. Her gentle smile tempered her words. She too took care not to wake the still sleeping Willow. She rested her hand lightly on her younger daughter's forehead for a moment before turning to Elizabeth.
Elizabeth twisted the gold ring round her finger. "Did you love Father when you married him?" she asked impulsively, immediately regretting the hasty words.
Her mother looked tenderly at her, moving to stroke her hair. Her melodius voice low, she said, "Love will come, my dear. And if it doesn't, you must remember that a good marriage does not rest on flighty impulses and emotions. Be constant in your duties to your husband. Give all love and devotion to God and the King and all will be well with you."
Elizabeth leaned against her mother's shoulder as she used to when she was a child. "Thank you, Mother. I shall remember your words."
"You'll be all right, daughter," Lady Giles answered, kissing Elizabeth's cheeks. "Now, come. Dress in haste. Breakfast will soon be served."
After Lady Giles left, Elizabeth splashed water hastily on her face, rubbing a bit of creamy, rose-scented soap from France on her cheeks. She dried her face on the hem of her nightgown before dropping it onto the floor. With a cloth of soft linen she washed herself all over with the scented soap and clean water. Her sister Cordelia had often teased her for this ritual of washing, but Elizabeth preferred to greet each day scrubbed clean and fresh.
Invigorated, she combed out her long hair, dipping the comb into a mixture of rose oil and water. When her hair shone Elizabeth started to pull it back to braid and coil it but she stopped. No, she'd let her hair flow loose today. She was still an unmarried maid, after all, entitled to wear her hair free. Instead she chose a ribbon of fine, green silk and tied it around her head.
From a polished wood chest she chose a chemise of white silk embroidered at the neck and arms with threads of rich gold and green. Against her bare skin it slid on smooth and cool. Her finest shift, she chose it this morning for a particular reason.
Her gown she picked in matching colours, the underskirt a light brocade of green, gold and white. Only a bit of the underskirt showed in the front beneath the overskirt of pure forest green. The bodice fit snugly, tight over her waist and breasts, pressing them upward at a low square neckline that was edged with gold braid. The white silk of the chemise puffed up delicately to her throat. Her gown's tight sleeves were fashionably slit to allow more of the shift to show through.
Around her waist she fastened a thick chain upoun which hung a pomander filled with rose petals. Around her neck she put her small, silver cross on.
Once dressed, she turned back and forth, trying to see herself in the small mirror. She needn't pinch her cheeks to give them colour, her ready blush pinkened them often enough.
"You look wonderful," a thin voice behind her said, followed by a raspy cough.
Elizabeth spun around to see Willow watching her from the bed. "Good morning, sleepyhead," she said, smiling at her sister. "How are you feeling?"
"Oh, I'm fine," Willow yawned, struggling up out of the deep down mattress. She reached for a simple white linen shift, then paused. "Or ought I dress up too?" She asked Elizabeth.
Elizabeth laughed, "I was feeling fine and special this morning, that's all. Dress as you wish. But hurry. I suspect we're already late for breakfast. Come, I'll help you lace your dress." Elizabeth turned away from Wilow's questioning eyes again, afraid that she wasn't hiding her thoughts well enough. It was a foolish notion she had in mind...a foolish plan to indulge a foolish fancy. Still if wishes were real, perhaps they needed a bit of help to come true.
Elizabeth and Willow entered the Great Hall only minutes after the platters and mugs were served at the long tables. Alexander's father cast a clearly appreciative glance as he took in her form and dress. Alexander's own expression was more intractable. She couldn't tell if he was pleased by her appearance or disinterested.
So distracted was she by the poorly contrived scheme she had formed that Elizabeth took no part in the conversation and could scarecely eat. She barely managed half a pound of bacon and a few pints of the good, strong ale. Her father, ever keen, noticed and beckoned her with a discrete crook of his finger.
Stepping into the bright sunshine of the courtyard, Lord Giles went through the complex ritual of lighting his pipe. Like so many things, Rupert Giles' pipe was a proclamation of his sucess. Smoking tobacco from the New World was a very new thing, only the most fashionable and wealthy were likely to do so. Elizabeth sidestepped the plume of smoke, hoping this new fashion would die out quickly. Patiently she waited until he was ready to speak.
"You look quite fetching today, daughter," he began.
She murmured her thanks while she inwardly fretted, wondering how she should broach the subject of her plan.
"Quite fetching, indeed," her father continued. "Dressed up so fine as this must be for a very special reason, yet I see none." He grinned at her. "Save that your bethrothed is leaving this evening." He lowered his voice and studied her more solemnly. "Tell me truly daughter, are you aggrieved that your Alexander is leaving? You may speak plainly, I know you've had far too little time together and when next you meet it will be as man and wife. Shall I ask his father to permit him to stay a bit longer?"
Elizabeth bit her tongue so as not to blurt out that that wasn't at all what she wanted. Instead she blushed and studied the ground.
Sir Rupert put his hand on Elizabeth's arm in a protective gesture. "You're a woman grown, now. Speak plainly, girl."
"I was hoping to go with them," she said abruptly.
Her father frowned. "I could not impose on them for your board before you are wed, nor to chaperone a young couple while they prepare for their wedding and make ready your home."
"I was...uh..." she stuttered, "hoping, rather, that they could take me to Calender Manor. It's not far out of their way. I would like to stay with your sister, my Aunt Jenny, for a week or so. She said once that she'd make over a gown of hers for my wedding dress. And...and...oh, Father, I'm embarassed to say, but it's just, well, that there are things I can speak of with Aunt Jenny that I can't speak with anyone else, things a married woman should know." That was not truly a lie. Rupert Giles' younger sister Jenny was the grand dame of the family. A flamboyant, outspoken, independent woman, Jenny had married four times to wealthy widowers much older than she. She'd accumulated their lands, money and titles. Now the grown children of her husband waited, poised like scavengers, for Jenny to die so they could devour the properties. Elizabeth had always been a favorite of Jenny, and Jenny of Elizabeth. They'd spent many a happy hour discussing subjects far beyond the ken of most women. Unlike most women, Aunt Jenny refused to let her world be bound by husband, child, needlework or the Church. Shrewd in matters of business and managing her household, even men offtimes sought her advice.
"Things you'd not be comfortable discussing with your own mother?" Elizabeth's father asked. Blushing, Elizabeth shook her head adamantly. Rupert chuckled. "I'm not so sure my sister is the best choice to instruct an innocent maid in wifely matters, but I do see your point, my dear child." He thoughtfully stroked his chin. "Very well, I shall impose on Lord Harris to escort you safely there."
"Thank you, Father," Elizabeth said, standing on her tiptoes and kissing him on the cheek.
Sir Giles smiled at her fondly. "You've been a good, obedient daughter. I know you'll continue to do your duty and bring honour to our family."
"I hope so, Father."
With her quickly packed trunks tied down, Elizabeth and Lady Harris were handed into the carriage. Alexander, at his father's firmly whispered insistence, tied his horse behind the carriage and joined the ladies inside. The company started out from Giles Manor with faretheewells and Godspeeds ringing after them.
A second, open coach carried Lady Harris' maid and servants. Mounted on horses rode half a dozen gentlemen, a few of them Cecily's grown sons, the rest sons of other noble families for whom Lord Harris was acting as patron. All were well armed for the roads were dangerous with vagabonds and thieves about. Their squires and servants ranged about the carriages on foot. Before the road turned west, through the Buckholt Forest toward the Salisbury Plain, it wound through the village. The procession caused all activity in the village of Houghton to come to a halt as everyone came out to stare. Dogs and small boys risked a kick from a polished boot to dash out amongst the passing horses.
The fine new houses of the merchants and tradesmen gave way to the dillapidated shacks of the peasants. Elizabeth kept her scented pomander firmly against her nose until they passed the last dung heap and cess pit. Lady Cecily did the same with an orange spiked with cloves. Alexander, Elizabeth noticed, seemed oblivious to the noxious odours, staring intently out of the carriage at each peasant's dirty face.
Her attention sharpened when she saw his eyes widen slightly and his lips part. Turning to look at what drew his interest, Elizabeth only saw a gaggle of villagers staring at the coach. A glitter of a small jewel on the finger of one woman caught her eye, but they passed before she could see clearly.
Past the village green and the small stone church, the company turned west and slightly south. Savouring the fresh, clean air, Elizabeth leaned out of the carriage. She strained to see ahead, past the thick trees of Buckholt Forest to the point on the horizon she had marked in her mind as the place the star had fallen to earth. On that star she had cast her deepest heart's wish. There awaited a place, God willing, where fufillment of her most secret longings would be found.
A beam of light stabbed Angel, making him blink and turn his head away in terror. But...there was no pain. No burning, no scalding of his pale flesh. He opened his eyes to a squint. His mind was clearer now, but he was hurt, more than he had ever felt before. He was also thirsty, but not for blood, and there was an emptiness in his stomach he couldn't name. At least it was warmer, he remembered feeling cold during the night.
He had to get out, and find them quick. Where was the monk? He would be searching for him...but why hadn't he found him already? Angel shook his head. No. Matthias would not come for him. If anyone came it would be his pursuers bringing him only death. Something must have gone wrong...terribly wrong. Slowly, painfully, he worked his way toward the jagged crack through which the sunlight streamed. In the golden light he thought he saw a tint of green.
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