"At times I almost dream
I too have spent a life the sages' way,
And tread once more familiar paths. Perchance
I perished in an arrogant self-reliance
Ages ago; and in that act a prayer
For one more chance went up so earnest, so
Instinct with better light let in by death,
That life was blotted out -- not so completely
But scattered wrecks enough of it remain,
Dim memories, as now, when once more seems
The goal in sight again."
~"Paracelsus" by Robert Browning
The air felt heavy and stagnant, carrying the scent of salt musk from the sea. Though the watchman had returned to the upper decks for the night and not a soul save himself remained in the cargo bay, he sensed the glare of invisible, piercing eyes. Darkness closed in around him; but inside the dark, inside the inside, a spark lingered. Desperately he tried to hide from it, to draw himself so tightly behind a row of wooden packing crates that perhaps his shaking body would simply vanish into dust, spilling useless bones and blood into oblivion. But nothing could shut it out.
He closed his eyes and she was there, just as she had been for all his waking life—and unwaking life. Even before his heart stopped beating long ago, he had dreamt of her. “My muse, my goddess” he called her. Visions, impressions, and memories would kiss his eyelids as he slept, but when he woke, he could never remember her face. The sweet smell of her hair, the warmth of her soft body curled over his, the whisper of her breath—these things remained with him. More than once in his endless lifetime, he’d believed that he’d found her only to discover that she remained an elusive phantom. But now he knew. He knew because of the spark, and he remembered. He saw what had been, and he saw fractured pieces of what might be; and everything jumbled together into a tangled heap inside his broken mind. All he knew was that he needed to find her again. Soon he would be back—back to America.
Crimson water flowed through her fingers and pooled on the floor like liquid rose petals. Horrified, he pulled the knife from her grasp and cradled her palm in both of his.
“No,” she said, “Look.”
He watched as she slipped the blade beneath his flesh and gasped in surprise when her hand clasped his.
“Your blood is my blood. We are bound to one another. They cannot take that from us.”
Together their blood will be powerful.
“Stop. Stop. Stop. You show me just to take it away. You let me see what I can never have again,” he whimpered and cried out to the eyes in the darkness as the sounds and flashes violently assaulted him, “I don’t bloody want it, do you hear me?! Let me forget. Please God, I just want to forget.”
“One more night,” she whispered, tears heavy in her voice. Tears she only let him see. “I don’t want to face tomorrow without one more night with you.”
“I knew you and loved you and forgot you …She’ll never love me like this—not after what I’ve done. William is a bad man. He hurt the girl. Take it back. Please take it back.”
He lay sprawled on the floor of the Quick Mart while his life bled out of him.
“Don’t cry, love. And don’t forget the milk,” was all he could think to tell her.
“Blood. It’s always blood…That’s all life is,” he murmured as he drew a small knife from the pocket of his black leather duster. He tore his shirt from his body, drew the blade against his chest, and tried to cut it out.
“For time is infinite, but the things in time, the concrete bodies are finite... Now, however long a time may pass, all configurations that have previously existed on this earth must yet meet, attract, repulse, kiss, and corrupt each other again... And thus it will happen one day that a man will be born again, just like me, and a woman will be born, just like you…”
“Today I came upon a stranger during my monthly journey to Wethersfield. For a fleeting moment, I thought her nothing more than a vision of my weary eyes…an angel meant to show me that purpose remains here, that light continues to balance the dark even if I have forgotten. When she saw me, I could plainly see a spark of recognition flare in her hazel eyes. We are the same, she and I. Strangers in this place…”
-~From the diary of William Wells; October 12, 1685
In her dreams, America had looked quite different. Elizabeth remembered lying awake in her straw bed at night and listening to soft whispers of the summer sea as pictures danced across her imagination. Behind her closed eyes, lush hills of emerald and amber stretched into the horizon. The town would be warm and friendly, and rows of colored cottages would have cheerful streams of smoke flowing from their stone chimneys. And there would be apple trees—of course there would be apple trees—bearing the brightest, most delicious fruit she’d ever tasted.
Dreams had forsaken her now, and the sting of reality brought tears to her eyes. Mother was dead. Her childhood was gone forever, but she did not yet know how to be a woman. The crystal blue skies and golden glow of Bermuda, her home since birth, had faded into memory in a matter of just a few short weeks. And now America, her beloved America, greeted her with dull browns and grays and heavy black clouds overhead. She shivered in response to the electric chill in the air, a totally foreign sensation, and pulled her shawl tightly about her slim shoulders. The garment was stitched together with patches of faded brown fabric, a perfect companion to the dreariness of her new world. Sullenly she glanced down at her plain, high-collared calico dress. It was like a costume, forcing her to pretend to be someone else. With a heavy heart, she thought of her last day at home.
Before packing her few chosen belongings for the long voyage, Nenna, the family cook, had grasped her arm and asked,
“What do you intend to wear, Miss Elizabeth, for your journey to Connecticut?”
In response, she had simply shrugged and gestured to her delicate gown made of crimson silk.
“Oh no, Miss. They think different up there. They’re not like us. I’ll make you something new, before you go—something right. ”
The old woman’s words had astonished Elizabeth. Why should anyone care about her dress? But now that she could finally see the land for herself, she began to understand what it meant to be part of it.
“Miss Summers? Beg your pardon Miss Summers, but it looks like rain’s coming soon. You should come below deck.”
She looked over her shoulder to see Alexander, the captain’s son, approaching. Of the ship’s few passengers, he had been the only one to bother speaking to her, and the two had forged a companionship over the previous weeks. With a sigh, she turned back to stare over the railing at the choppy, slate-colored water below.
“Miss Summers?” Alexander asked tentatively, now at her side.
“One moment, Mr. Alex. I am enjoying the fresh air…Will we be arriving soon?”
“I think ‘tis another hour or so up the river before we will arrive in Wethersfield,” he replied.
“Have you seen the town before?” she asked flatly.
“No, but I have seen the Bay Colony. I was born in Massachusetts and lived there a good while before my father got into the shipping business.”
“Does it always look like death?”
“Not always,” Alexander chuckled nervously, “The autumn here is actually quite lovely.”
“It is autumn now, is it not?”
“Well not quite yet. It’s only just past first harvest…You know you’re the only passenger we’ve had in a long time to spend the days on deck instead of below. Anyone ever told you you have good sea legs?”
Elizabeth smiled wistfully, inhaling deeply to enjoy the last bit of sea breeze before they traveled too far inland. “My father was a seaman. He used to take me sailing every day when I was a little girl.”
“That’s one thing you never lose Miss Summers, no matter how the years go by. Love of the sea, that is.”
“There’s no need for such formality, Mr. Alex. Please call me Miss Elizabeth. Or Miss Lizzie—that’s the name my mother called me.”
Alexander flinched at the mention of her mother, and his eyes shifted away from her gaze. “I’m terribly sorry for your loss—Miss Su—I mean Lizzie. In a way, I can understand—my mother passed away, several years back. At first I did not know how to go on without her, but you do…go on. Time makes it easier, I guess. I can only imagine how difficult it must be for you; first losing your mother and then immediately being uprooted from your home to live with an aunt and uncle you’ve never met. I—I’m sorry, you probably don’t wish to speak of such things. I’ll leave you to—“
“No it’s quite all right…I thank the Lord that Mother did not suffer in her passing. She was taken peacefully in her sleep. I hope you’re right—about it getting easier. My life has changed quickly, but…I suppose I will learn to be happy here. Mother always spoke kindly of Aunt Jenny. I’m sure she’s a dear woman.”
Icy, fat raindrops suddenly began to splatter across the wooden planks of the deck. Elizabeth took one last miserable look at the expressionless, wooded landscape beyond the riverbank and hurriedly followed the first mate to the chambers below.
Alexander offered his arm politely as Elizabeth struggled to lift the hem of her skirt and descend the narrow, slick steps gracefully. Once she stood safely on the dock, he retrieved her painted trunk from the deck, and with minimal grunting, hefted it to the ground beside her. The few other passengers that had remained after Saybrook Harbor had already begun to disperse up the hill toward town. Elizabeth took a few careful steps to see what America felt like under her feet and was soon surprised to find herself swaying beyond her control.
“Whoa easy there. Take it slow. It’ll be a few minutes before you get used to land again.”
“How strange…It’s almost as if the ground is rushing up beneath me. The horizon’s starting to spin.”
“I think you should sit down,” Alexander said, rushing to her side.
“No no I’m fine. I am not one of those girls, you know. Fainting all the time, requiring a man’s arm to steady her.”
“I would never think that about you.”
“I am just not used to living at sea for weeks on end. But I feel fine now, really. You may stop hovering.”
“Of course…Well we need to be off soon to make it to the next port on time, but I don’t want to leave you here by yourself. Do you know where you’re headed?”
Elizabeth’s heart thudded rapidly as her eyes scanned the bank for any sign of her relatives. She began to panic at the thought of being left alone.
“Shall I escort you in to town?” Alexander asked hopefully.
“No…thank you. They said they would be waiting. In the letter they told me they would be here when I arrived,” she said more to herself than to him.
Perhaps her new family had forgotten. What if they were not prepared for her arrival and never came for her? Elizabeth felt hopelessly lost and utterly alone. To make matters worse, a sprinkling of raindrops began to fall once more from the glowering clouds overhead.
“Aye, let’s go before a storm brews. We can find out where your aunt lives.”
“Elizabeth? Elizabeth Summers?” a shrill voice rang out from a short distance up the riverbank.
Elizabeth whirled around in surprise to see a young girl hurrying toward the docks. She looked about eleven or twelve years of age though quite tall for her youth. Her dark hair was pulled tightly under a lopsided white bonnet, and she wore a plain navy blue dress similar in make to the one Elizabeth wore and detested. As the girl began to run, she stumbled awkwardly in an attempt to simultaneously hold her shawl over her head as a mock shelter from the rain. The sleeves of her dress, obviously made too large for her bony frame, gathered around her upper arms to reveal knobby, bruised elbows. She skidded to a halt in the fresh mud and took a moment to catch her breath before offering Elizabeth a warm smile.
“Please forgive my tardiness,” she said with forced formality, complete with a rehearsed curtsy.
Elizabeth raised a curious brow, not wishing to be rude by posing her obvious question.
“I’m Dawn…Dawn Charlotte Redding? Your cousin. I guess Mother didn’t mention me in the letters. Well that’s not a surprise. Who’s he?” she asked, nodding to Alexander, “Your traveling escort?” she added coyly.
Alexander blushed, appearing flustered by the attention. “Oh no—I’m only—I work on the ship. In fact I should board soon so that we may keep schedule. I’ll take my leave, Miss Lizzie, unless you require assistance with your trunk?”
“I think we can manage it. Thank you for your help, Alex. I have enjoyed your company.”
“My pleasure Miss. Till we meet again,” he smiled shyly, removing his cap for a quick bow and nearly tripping over himself in the process.
“Goodbye. May your travels be blessed,” she waved as he departed in the direction of the anchored ship.
“Dawn—I’m sorry, I don’t believe your mother mentioned you in the letters; they were quite brief. But it’s a pleasure to meet you.”
“I’ve been waiting forever for you to arrive! I have no brothers or sisters, so ever since Mother told me you were to live with us, I’ve been terribly excited to have a companion. If you should wish to be my companion—I promise I know how to be a lady. I’m really not just a silly child, though I suppose you wouldn’t know that from my behavior. Please do not tell mother that I was late…or that I ran down the bank or that I yelled. She’s always telling me I shouldn’t call at people as if they were cattle. You won’t tell her, will you?” Dawn went on a mile a minute, scarcely drawing a breath.
“Slow down. It’s all right—I promise not to say a word. And I’d like very much to be your companion.”
A great clap of thunder interrupted their introductions. “I think we should get to your home now, Dawn, before the weather becomes much worse. Can you help me carry this?”
The young girl eagerly bounded to one side of the trunk, and together they lifted it and started a slow trudge up the hill.
Not surprisingly, the town of Wethersfield looked nothing like it had in Elizabeth’s imagination. Instead of cozy, bright cottages, the buildings were made of dull, dark wood with layered, thatched roofs. Dawn led the way past streets made of dirt and cobblestone and lined with clustered box-like structures, most of them identical.
“The center of town is back that way. When we go to church or to the market or the blacksmith, we go down the main street. The mayor’s family lives in a brick house in the center near Town Hall. That’s where Father is now—discussing important business. They have gatherings every Saturday night. We live on the outskirts, because Father owns a good piece of land. Since he’s the Reverend, he was able to choose where we live.”
“Oh,” Elizabeth remarked in surprise, “I didn’t realize your father was a reverend. I don’t even…what is his name?”
“Reverend Nathaniel Redding.”
As they ambled onward, the hems of their dresses dragging through the muddy streets, the buildings grew increasingly sparse until fields of crops dominated the landscape. A dull, nagging ache spread across Elizabeth’s back. Her arms grew weary as well, and she realized that she simply did not have enough energy at the moment to match that of her young cousin.
“Dawn, I think I might need to stop and rest soon if it’s going to be much further,” she said breathlessly.
“We can’t stop now with the thunder getting closer. And we’re already here. This way,” Dawn instructed, turning down a winding path through tall grasses that led to a two-story house. Elizabeth’s spirits lifted slightly upon first seeing her new home. It was dull, yes, but seemed quaint enough, and it looked more like her idea of a country house than those box buildings in town. Two picture windows adorned either side of the front door, and a large vegetable and herb garden expanded from the left side of the house. An attractive woman wearing a stained, flour-covered apron bustled through the front door.
“There you are! I’ve been terribly worried over the two of you. Come inside out of this wretched weather. Oh my, I did not expect you to have such a large parcel, Elizabeth. Did you girls carry this all the way from the river?!”
“I—I’m sorry…I did not realize. I should have brought less,” Elizabeth muttered apologetically, feeling like an unwanted burden as she looked down at her filthy boots.
“Oh no dear, of course you wanted to bring as much of your home as you were able. The blame is on me; I should’ve sent the horses to pull your belongings. No matter now—come inside!”
As Elizabeth tentatively stepped through the door, she became instantly relieved to discover that it was warm inside. Soft heat radiated from the hearth in the kitchen, and the stew boiling in the pot smelled divine. After weeks of eating nothing but salted meat and dried fruit aboard the ship, Elizabeth welcomed the promise of a freshly cooked meal. She stood awkwardly in the entryway for a long moment, her eyes sweeping the interior of the house while Dawn chattered to her mother in the kitchen. The starkness of the rooms struck her immediately; she observed no artwork or décor of any kind. Only a few pieces of furniture stood in the common room across from the kitchen: two simple rocking chairs and a long table with benches on either side.
“You will be sleeping upstairs in the loft with Dawn,” Elizabeth’s aunt broke her reverie, “When the Reverend returns, he shall carry the trunk up for you, so you may leave it where it lies…Dawn, go and finish mending your father’s trousers. They must be in perfect condition for wear tomorrow.”
“Yes ma’am,” Dawn answered obediently, skipping up the steps two at a time.
“Walk, young lady.”
“Yes ma’am!” she hollered from the top of the landing.
“Insufferable,” the older woman mumbled under her breath, “Elizabeth, I’m sorry. Life is not always so hectic here. As I believe you already know, I’m Jenny, your mother’s sister.”
“Aye...I am pleased to make your acquaintance,” Elizabeth replied, unsure if she should embrace her aunt, or if such a gesture would be deemed inappropriate. She opted instead to clasp her hands behind her back, because it seemed like the way a lady should stand.
“Your hair…do you not own a bonnet?”
“I beg your pardon?” Elizabeth asked as she self consciously touched her long, golden braid.
“You must wear your hair up in a bonnet at all times. You may borrow one of mine until you make one yourself.”
Elizabeth felt her throat tighten. She had never been taught how to sew. In Bermuda, Nenna had made her clothes and her mother had purchased her gowns from sea merchants. Jenny crossed her arms in front of her as she appraised her niece.
“You are very pretty.”
“Thank you,” Elizabeth replied softly, though the comment did not quite sound like a compliment.
“Come help me with the cooking, dear. We must have the table set before the Reverend returns.”
Author's Chapter Notes:
Categorizing this story was a bit difficult, because it deals with the possibility of a past life AU within canon. Individuals may be human who aren’t usually human, but vampires and demons do exist. Some elements from this story are based loosely on the novel The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare. Credit for the characters goes to Joss and Mutant Enemy. Getting to the Spuffy will take a bit of time, but it’s the core of the story, I promise! The NC-17 rating also will not come into effect for quite a while. The first several chapters will be pretty PGish...I've been reading this stuff for a long time, and this is my first attempt at Buffyverse fic, so any response, positive or constructive, is much appreciated! : )