Written in the Stars 4/?
By Harmonie (firstname.lastname@example.org) Rated PG-13
Spoilers: During Season 1, perhaps shortly after I Robot, You Jane, but it doesn't really matter...you'll see. Disclaimers: Not mine, obviously. Rightfully belongs to Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy. Summary: The Master has found a sure way to get rid of the Slayer and take over Sunnydale...but he's forgotten about Angel. Notes: I used Buffy's middle name, Elizabeth (yes, I've found out it's actually Anne, but I started writing this when I first started watching the series, so let's let this one slide, kay? Alexander is Xander.)
Darkness nearly overtook them by the time they reached Harris Castle, lacking time to take Elizabeth to her aunt's home. Sheep ran, bleating in panic, in a solid mass out of the path of the horses and coaches. Geese honked a fierce warning at the intruders. The sight of the castle made Elizabeth's breath catch in her throat. Goodness, if this was how the second son of the Harrises lived, how splendid must the Great Duke's dwellings be? It stood against the indigo sky, a castle like those of old with turrets and towers at the corners of its low, sprawling shape. It was easy to imagine it as home to the romantic knights of Sir Arthur's time, of Lancelot and Guinevere...It must have been grand living in those days, when gallant guests quested for the honor of a lady's hand, seeking to win her love and favor with brave deeds.
Elizabeth stretched and stifled a yawn. Her neck ached from the constant jolting of the carriage. Alexander stepped out first then handed Cecily and Elizabeth out of the carriage. Feeling rather lost amidst the crowd of servants and family, Elizabeth shrank back near the coach. She tried to catch a glimpse of the strange man in the other coach, but could not see him through the crowd. Over the clamor of voices, horses whinnying and baggage being unloaded, she could hear Lady Harris giving out some instructions but couldn't make out the words. Despite the poor light she did see the man's limp shape being carried by several servants into the house. Elizabeth rose on her tiptoes, trying to see him.
A touch on her arm caused her to jump and whirl around. Alexander waited at her side, his implacable face staring down at her. He took her arm and said, "Come, I'll show you in."
As he began to lead her away she stopped abruptly. "Wait. I forgot my bundle." She reached back into the carriage and retrieved the man's tightly wrapped tunic. Tucking it under her arm, she then Alexander lead her into the castle.
Hollows were worn into the steps by the passage of centuries of feet. As ever, Alexander watched their feet lest they stumble on the uneven steps while Elizabeth gawked at the massive doors that opened through the wide stone walls. Inside her wonder increased. A fire, welcome after the chill and damp of the night air, blazed in an enormous open hearth, the smoke dispersing to the high, oak beam ceiling. Huge tapestries, their age apparent even in the dim light, hung from the walls beneath galleries that overlooked the immense hall. How small and poor her own family's manor home must have seemed to the Harrises! Indeed, her betrothal to Alexander was a feat to her father's credit. What possible advantage could this union bring to this rich, titled family? Could it be, the idea occured to her, that Alexander had influenced Lady Harris to approve the marriage? Could it be that in his quiet, unassuming way, he actually loved her?
In the flickering light she studied her future husband. He sat by himself, unmindful of the activity around him, staring into the fire. Elizabeth noticed that Alexander played with his fingers in a distracted fashion. Perhaps it was just the odd feeling of the missing ring. Certainly she was mindful of the heavy ring's presence on her hand. Then she realized that his other ring was missing too. What had happened to the smaller ring, the silver one with the tiny emerald? Had he lost it, perhaps?
Lord Harris held a low but angry conversation with a head servant, gesturing often at the abundant fire. Elizabeth could not make out the words, but Henry Harris' annoyance was clear. It was a grand fire, burning well. Elizabeth didn't see how the servants could have prepared a better one. At Lady Cecily's direction, servants brought cups of wine and platters of meat, breads and fruits. Much of it was leftover's from the house staff's evening meal, apparently, for Elizabeth overheard Lord Harris grumble that they'd been eating well in his absence.
While they ate, Elizabeth sought out Lady Harris, weaving her way between the long tables and benches. She bobbed a brief curtsy. Lady Harris smiled at her. "No formalities here, my dear. You must think of this as your own home."
"You are kind."
"I am sorry that we were unable to take you straight to your aunt's home as were your father's wishes, but the delay made us late. You shall be brought there as soon as possible. It may be a few days, however, my husband tells me." Lady Harris said. "Servants and peasants, when not constantly directed by a firm hand, tend to be slack and lazy creatures. Much work has fallen behind. He is planning to leave for London, to the Court, soon, and so must make ready for that. Like as not he'll take you when he goes there."
Elizabeth nodded. "Please think nothing of it. My father simply did not want me to be a burden on you by imposing on your courtesy." She bowed her head, gathering her courage. She believed she'd been guided to this point, she must not shirk now. Meeting Lady Harris' gaze steadily she asked, "May I ask a favor of you?"
"Why, certainly. I should like you to think of yourself as my own daughter."
"Thank you." Elizabeth took a breath. "Whilst I am here I wondered if I may help in tending to the strange man we found. I...I was intrigued by your healing skills. Though I am but a girl, I would like to learn more, if I may."
Lady Harris frowned. "Your father and mother have educated you well, haven't they?" Elizabeth nodded. Her father and mother thought it wise to educate daughters as well as sons. She'd been tutored in Latin and French since she was a baby, as well as the maths and sciences. Her father constantly added to his library, never forbidding her any book, even those of dubious content. Many a fond memory floated through her mind of the pleasant evenings passed between she and her father debating some new work.
"My husband found that a thing strongly in your favor," Lady Cecily continued, "weighing as highly as your good health and pleasing appearance. Though it is not truly fit work for an unmarried maiden, I know how the craving of knowledge seeks fufillment. Very well, you may help me."
Elizabeth beamed happily. "Oh, thank you, milady." Whatever doubts she may have with Alexander, Elizabeth was certain she liked her new mother-in-law. A niggle of guilt swept through her. Lady Cecily was being so kind to her and here she was lying to her. It was not the learning of Cecily's healing arts that Elizabeth truly sought, but nearness to the strange man...a man she had been led to by a star.
The maid who showed Elizabeth to her bedchamber left the stub of a tallow candle upon the bedstand. Elizabeth set down her bundle and pinched it out. There was light enough from the moon coming in through the narrow window, she'd as soon not have the smell of burning tallow about. The room was as overwhelming as the rest of the castle. The bedstead was of dark oak, four posts rising to support the canopy. The bed hangings and coverlet on the high bed spoke of opulent wealth, richly embroidered. The rest of the room was sparsely furnished, one straight chair near the fireplace and a small table by the bed. Her trunk had been set by the wall. As with the other portions of the castle she'd seen, there was none of the fashionable wood paneling that covered many of the walls at Giles Manor, only bare, cold stone. This room could have come from any preceding century. To Elizabeth it gave a sense of strength and continuance untouched by the whims of the day's fashion.
After feeling for the trunk containing her nightgown, and draping her clothes over the chair, Elizabeth settled into the bed's softness, ignoring the slightly musty smell of the sheets. She waited for the bedding to grow warm and sleep to come. As with yesterday, this day had been long and filled with events. Tired though she was, Elizabeth found it impossible to sleep. From a star streaking across an otherwise ordinary sky, to finding a man who stirred her soul in a manner she'd never known before, her thoughts raced. She rolled over and tugged at her twisted nightgown. How much the world could change in the span of a single day...Yesterday morn she had been a carefree maid putting flowers in her hair at the May Day festivities. By this night she was a woman bethrothed...and in love with another man.
Stop it, Elizabeth commanded herself. Such a thought was the vaporish nonsense of an addled mind. One meeting with the eyes of a stranger could not create the love that a true man and wife build over the course of years. One half-remembered dream could not rechart her future.
Flinging back the covers, Elizabeth left the warmth of the bed to stand on the cold stone at the window. The moon cast its silvery light off the gardens that stretched behind the castle. Her eyes moved beyond the paths to the land beyond. Fog traced ghostly patterns in the nearby marsh. The high yips of a fox echoed against the ancient stone. For a long time she contemplated the stars, so ordinary tonight. Was her destiny described in their mysterious movements? A wish upon a falling star had led her to this place, to that unknown man, had it not? Or were coincidences filling her mind with fantasies?
Somewhere in this mammoth maze of stone the man from her dreams lay, possibly dying. Somewhere else lay her betrothed, the man with whom she'd soon be sharing her life and bed. She recalled the raptorous shudder that encompassed her body when she gazed upon the stranger. This should be what she felt for her husband, not a stranger.
Sighing, Elizabeth leaned against the wall, the stone cool and hard through her nightgown. Closing her eyes, she hugged herself tightly with her arms and pictured Alexander, the way his body moved with easy grace as he rode, the wind through his dark hair...She built the images in her mind, each one of her future husband at his very best, his perfect manners and untarnished morals, the strong surety of his hand on her arm ready to save her from her follies...The vision complete, and a fond smile on her lips, she slowly, sensuously, peeled away his shirt with her thoughts and sought the same wild sensation that had so enveloped her with one mere glance from a stranger.
It wasn't there. It wouldn't come.
An unbidden tear slipped down her cheek. Angrily she swiped it away. God's teeth, she cursed silently, was she a child to expect instant love and passion to come with marriage? Such things grew slowly through the years, if at all, as the two came to know and regard each other. Wifely duties in the bed were a thing to be done for the getting of children and to content her husband. If the couple found it pleasant, so much the better. So her mother said. So all women said.
Elizabeth returned to the bed, running her hand over the costly coverlet. Even in the dark she could tell that this weave was not as fien or tight as the stranger's simple tunic. She took the bundle of cloth up from the floor. Sitting down on the bed, she fondled the shredded clothes, marveling at its texture and perfect seams. Sleepily, she cradled the bundle. The scent of it, the stranger's scent, teased her nostrils with its heady, masculine smell, neither perfumed or rank, but clean and musky. Dizzied by it, Elizabeth held the bundle closer and sank back against the soft pillows.
Closing her eyes, she sought to lose herself to the whirl of dreams, but sleep would not come. Her fingers touched the bundle again. She loosened one of the knots of the binding and felt something spill out. A clatter sounded as it bounced off the bedframe, then a faint rustle as it landed in the rushes.
Elizabeth bounced out of the bed and squatted on the floor. She felt among the rushes for the object that fell. She couldn't find it. Cursing the darkness, she reached for the table and the candle but found neither matches nor flint. Kneeling again, she swept her hand back and forth. After a frustrating minute her fingers brushed something hard and angular. She grasped the tiny object and stood.
In the dim moonlight it glittered in her hand, a jewel, clear like a diamond but larger than any gem save those worn by the King. She turned the crystal over and over, watching its sparkling reflections. Her questing fingers felt a clasp at one end, a place where a ribbon or cord might be attached.
Shivering in the chill of the night, Elizabeth climbed back into bed, pulling the covers over her. She held the crystal over her, twisting the clasp slightly. A rosy light began to glow from within the crystal.
With a gasp Elizabeth dropped the jewel, squeezed her eyes tightly shut and prayed. After a moment curiousity enticed her to look again. She eased one eye open, then both. The crystal lay upon the coverlet, its facets still beautiful in the moonlight but otherwise quite ordinary. Picking it up, she tried to repeat the precise way she'd turned the fob. After several failures the glow from within began again.
This time Elizabeth didn't flinch but held the strange man's crystal closer, peering into the surface. Inside, appearing as real as if they were alive, moved tiny people. A man with graying hair turned and stared at her, his eyes twinkling in a wise, paternal way. There was a brief glimpse of a young woman, with blond hair piled up behind her head. She saw no face, but her garb was strange, but eerily familiar. A strange feeling swept over her, a feeling of displacement, of nostalgia and fear. But before she could gauge what she felt, the image changed and the strange man appeared instead. He swept his fingers through his short, straight hair, smiled and laughed at someone she could not see. The image changed suddenly and a ugly, white face with fangs of a wolf and slanting, intense eyes stared out at her.
With a frightened squawk, Elizabeth dropped the crystal again, the demon spirit immediately vanishing. Crossing herself fervently, she prayed for protection from the ghost images. After a long time spent in prayer, her inquisitive nature got the best of her and she picked up the diamond. How insidious is temptation, she thought, even as she gave into it and twisted the clasp. The people and the images, save the demon, seemed so happy, so innocent, so...familiar. She was an educated woman of an enlightened time, she thought boldly. She didn't believe, as the primitive peasants still did, in evil spirits or ghosts or all those other superstitious remainders of the pagan past.
Elizabeth watched the images in the crystal until sleep pulled her down and into dreams where she walked arm in arm with the stange man beneath a night sky that swirled with luminous colors.
Morning came with sullen grayness. A drizzle fell outside, filling the stone fortresss with a frigid damp. In her bedchamber, Elizabeth woke at first light but remained still, unwilling to leave her warm nest. Water ran down the wall near the window leaving a dark stain. In the first light of day, Elizabeth could see the chamber more clearly. Mildew stained the wall and ceiling by the window and moss grew from a crack in the mortar. The coverlet, she now saw, was worn and faded, as were the bed hangings.
With a force of will, Elizabeth climbed out of bed, shivering when her feet touched the icy floor. There was no basin of water for her to wash, but it was so cold she didn't mind. As quickly as she could, she dressed into the warmest gown she had with her, a light gray wool, the fabric brushed into velvety softness. She combed and braided her hair, putting it up beneath a pearl-edged, three-pointed gable hood with a long, gray drapery hanging to her waist in the back. With no mirror to check her work, she must trust that she looked presentable. After a moment's thought, she took a length of lace from her sewing kit and strung it through the crystal's fob. Then she put it around her neck, hiding it beneath her clothes where it rested cool against her skin.
No one came to fetch her so she set out to find her way back to the Great Hall. It had been night when the maid had led her, with only a dim candle to light the way, through the labryinth of stairs and passageways to the bedchamber. She soon realized she didn't know the way and didn't know where any of the others slept.
Feeling more foolish than afraid to be lost in her in-law's home, Elizabeth wound up and down stairways and through halls, until she finally came upon an open door. Calling a tentative, "Hello," Elizabeth slowly entered the room and found herself once again staring at the sleeping face of him.
The stranger's dark hair lay close to his head on the pillow around his peaceful face. Her feet drew her nearer, her eyes never straying from him. He looked better, she thought, less pallid then when Lady Harris was stitching his wounds. The cover, pulled up to his chin, hid that magnificent body, but Elizabeth could see it clearly in her mind's eye.
Elizabeth stood by the bed, gazing down at him, breathing in slow, deep breaths. She didn't know how long she had been watching him when his eyelids fluttered.
"Good morning," she whispered unsteadily, into eyes that were deep pools of night.
He blinked hard, at the sunlight that shone through the window. It was almost as if he were...afraid of it. He turned to look at her, staring at her hard. Elizabeth could feel herself blush. He opened his mouth, tried to speak, wet his lips, swallowed and tried again. "You've...Your hair..." he said, his voice low and dry. His accent was odd, not English, though she understood the words well enough.
Elizabeth's hand flew to her hair, tucking a wayward strand under her hood. Her cheeks flushed. She reached for the flagon of wine by the bedstand and poured a cup. Her hand shook so that she spilled a bit on the table.
"Here," she said, "drink this." She handed him the cup. Seeing that he needed help, she slid her hand beneath his head and helped raise his lips to the cup. At first, he nearly choked on the taste, but after a brief hesitation, started to drink. Her fingers twined through his hair and the heady nearness of him threatened to send that peculiar and wondrous quivering sweeping over her again. She chided herself and focused on keeping herself in control. It almost worked.
After he drank a few swallows, his head fell back against the pillow, but his eyes never left her. She pulled back the cup, clasping her hands around it, clenching so hard that the ruby ring cut into her finger.
"I've never been in a hospital where they served wine before," he commented. The liquid had soothed his voice. It was low and resonant, pleasing to her ear, still with that curious, foreign accent. Though Elizabeth had never heard the tone before, she was sure it was American. But, there was a hint of something else. A lightness in the vowels that made him sound a bit...Irish? The man surveyed her up and down. "And I've never been awakened by an angel before," he added, then stopped suddenly, staring at her face with wonder. His brow wrinkled for a moment as he appeared to hunt back in his memories. "Are you..." He laughed lightly and Elizabeth heard music in the sound. "I thought that was a dream."
A glimpse of her own dream came back to her in a flash. She'd danced to the music of unseen musicians in the green woods, naked in the starlight, her hair streaming out behind her, while a dark, beautiful man laughed, reaching for her with his strong hands...
Elizabeth shook herself. Her blush must be as red as the ruby on her ring. "Who are you?" she asked in a voice barely audible.
He seemed to ponder that before he answered. "...Liam."
Her lips repeated the name without sound. So odd did this all seem that she might still have been caught within the nebulous threads of a dream. Perhaps she was, perhaps it was not yet dawn and she still dreamed beneath a coverlet with her betrothed family's crest, not speaking to a strange, foreign man whose eyes set fire to her very soul. Elizabeth shivered.
"I must leave," she blurted, setting the cup down the bedstand abruptly.
"Wait!" Liam reached for her. Or tried to. He gasped and fell back. He closed his eyes, gritting his teeth.
Elizabeth didn't know what to do. She reached for him, pulled back. Then she dashed to the door, leaned out and called to the empty, echoing corridor, "Lady Cecily! Lady Cecily! Come at once!"
When she returned to the side of Liam's bed he took a deep, rattling breath, relaxed and opened his eyes. Weakly, he grinned. "I wish I hadn't done that." His expression became puzzled. "But it shouldn't hurt. Why does it hurt?"
"You've been badly injured, waylaid by bandits it's thought. Lady Harris stitched and bound your wounds. But 'twill take time to mend," Elizabeth said, anxiously studying him, wondering what she would do to help.
A dozen expressions played across his face in an instant. He whispered, "Something's gone wrong. Very wrong. Stitched? Bandits?" He shook his head slowly from side to side. Finally he focused on her again.
Before he could speak, footsteps rapidly approaching distracted them. Lady Harris entered in a sweep of skirts.
"Ah, there you are, lass." She displaced Elizabeth at Liam's side, reaching to feel his forehead with a practiced hand. "Only a trace of fever. That's a wonder. Still the wounds may putefry yet," she added judiciously. Liam gaped at her. Lady Harris turned back towards Elizabeth. "Come, girl, we'll return here after breakfast and the morning Mass."
"He's in pain," Elizabeth said.
Lady Harris nodded, glancing at Liam who stared at her as if she were an apparition. "No doubt, no doubt," she said. "We'll return with a tea of willow bark and other medicines. That will give you some ease. For now you sleep."
She started toward the door, Elizabeth trailing obediently behind her. Liam's voice made her pause.
"Wait...What's your...name?" he asked and she thought there was a hint of panic in his tone.
Be a wonder if he wasn't afraid, she thought, waking to a strange place and unknown people. She gave him a quick, encouraging smile. "Elizabeth Giles," she answered, then hurried after her hostess.
Outside the bedchamber she paused, some of the tension his presence distilled in her draining away. She pressed her hand to the hidden crystal. He'd appeared so helpless and uncertain toward the end that she no longer felt so overwhelmed by the fire of his presence, nor frightened by the curious images within his crystal. He was only a man, not a marvel, not a mystery. She'd been guided to his side to aid him, nothing more, she told herself with stout resolve. If it was God's will he would soon be on his way again, and she on hers to the marriage that awaited her. The mixing of their paths would fade into distant memory, a flighty fantasy of lost youth to bring a quiet smile to her face in old age. That's all this man Liam would be, nothing more.
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Title: Written In The Stars (Chapter 4)
Series Name: Written in the Stars
Author: Harmonie [email]
Details: Series | PG-13 | gen | 22k | 04/11/04
Characters: Buffy, Angel
Summary: Angel encounters a new world, and meets people he thought he knew.
Notes: Season 1, around I Robot, You Jane, but it doesn't really matter.
Disclaimer/Other: Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy. They own it. So there.
Sequel to: Written In The Stars (Chapter 3)
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