(Starwort, Part One)
Please see the endnote for credits, disclaimers and all that good stuff.
a Forever Knight fanfiction
for the "We Love Female Characters" Ficathon
by Amy R. brightknightie
"Don't suppose I'm not grateful," the bruised and battered Namur coughed, lying on the riverbank, "but isn't this the wrong side?"
"I'm certain it is the desired side, Margrave." Lacroix wrung out his cloak as well as he could while holding it over his head. The sun would be almost straight up now, if it were not hidden by the dark clouds above this growing downpour. He was annoyed that he had not managed to salvage his hat, commissioned to his own design. He was not pleased to have lost the horse, either; Fleur seemed to value her beasts.
"But I can just see Castle Artois there, on the other side." Namur tried to point. His arm fell back, too weak to complete the gesture.
"Sir Baldwin," Lacroix politely drew the gentleman's attention. Then Lacroix let his fangs drop and his gaze go golden. Namur screamed, scrabbling weakly at the ground, his eyes wide with terror. Lacroix smiled.
He threw the empty body back in the river. After checking his clothing for any tears and making a hood of his sodden cloak in case of sun, he set off after Fleur.
At the copse, Fleur found a spot where the little trees clustered tightly, and hollowed out a space beneath them. She ground-tied her horse and loosened the girth.
"I'm sorry for leaving all that on you, dear," she told her mare, "but I doubt I could get it back in place in a hurry, if something happened. And you, Aspasia! I don't suppose you feel like fetching us something to eat in this shower? I promise to share better than I did your crane. No?"
Fleur started a fire with flint and tinder from her saddlebag, wrapped herself tightly in her cloak, and settled in. If the wind did not change, the fire should last until the rain stopped. She looked out over the plain and could just see the fire of her watcher on the opposite side of the river. She envied him; at least he had a task.
That was the most bizarre thing, more than the unseasonal flood and the storm's weird gloom that was neither night nor day. More even than the vampire. No, here she was, at what must be sext, the sixth hour since dawn, with nothing productive to do! Indeed, nothing to do at all but feed the fire and soothe her animals. She had no practice at idleness. Who did? But she knew it, in herself, as other than laudable diligence. If she could keep her mind full at all times, she could not fall into unwelcome thoughts.
Her hands covered her abdomen under her cloak. There was no way to know this one would not be lost like the last. There was nothing she could do. Pain was nothing to be regarded, but all these months, to end in death rather than life . . .
Fleur pointed her mind at the drowned vampire. She had not supposed such a creature could drown, but it appeared so. And all her unanswered questions with him! She sighed. How would she tell Nicholas? A letter, sent at great expense through many hands, would doubtless be read along the way, if it reached him at all. How could she phrase it discreetly? She wished she could deliver the news in person, as poor Geoffrey certainly would to Sir Baldwin's family in Namur. But Constantinople was too far; even if she were a man, no one would consider that journey to tell of a death not even of a family member.
With nothing to divert them, Fleur's thoughts rolled back again to the loss of her third child and fears for her fourth. She was not sorry when the rain began to drip through into her nest; it drew her to the present.
Fleur shifted out of the worst of the cold and wet, stoked her fire, and thought deliberately of the vampire's puzzle. Tall, powerful, with knowledge of so many things. She could well believe the appeal to her younger self. But understanding an attraction was not the same as accepting what she did not remember. He could have made it up, all of it, even the stories of Nicholas -- though she thought he must truly have known Nicholas, at some point, to so adroitly combine her brother's gifts and follies. Of course, it had been a lifetime since she herself had known Nicholas that well. She might be deceived.
But if one memory were indeed missing, how many more?
She wondered if she should have deeper sympathy for the two people he had killed at Castle Artois, for all that only one was her dependant, and a lower servant, at that. Did all look the same to a monster as to an angel?
Fleur stood to check on her animals, and spotted a figure rapidly crossing the plain, straight for her copse. It was hard to see through the rain and gloom, but the stature and stance fit Lacroix. Lucien.
Truly alone with him now, the danger of the game she had been playing this morning burst on her. And she had claimed she didn't flirt! But this had been for knowledge, not dalliance. Now, there was nowhere to run, and no one to call. Fleur made sure her stake and knife both came easily to hand under her cloak, then sat with her back against the widest tree.
When he reached her, he bowed low, as he had when Namur introduced them. "Fleur."
"Lucien." She noted the makeshift hood in place of his ingenious hat. "I'm relieved you did not drown; I didn't know . . . what was possible."
"I am only damp. I thank you for your concern." He looked down at her fire. "You commanded one more tale of your brother, Countess."
She inclined her head. "You're welcome to share my fire, to dry what little is possible while the rain carries on. Or -- does the fire harm you?"
"No more than it does you, though faster."
"Like the difference between a green stick and a dry one?"
"Indeed." That look returned to his eyes, that particular hunger, but he kept it banked this time. He settled into a relatively dry spot with the fire between them, crossing his long legs. "I wish I could restore your memories of seven years ago. That would solve . . . almost everything. But it appears I cannot. Does your head still hurt?"
"It is of no moment."
He snarled. "Does it still hurt?"
"If I say it is nothing, it is nothing!" She gritted her teeth. The pain was no one's business but hers. "And I will thank you to stay out of my head in the future." They glowered at each other. Fleur looked away a heartbeat before it could become a staring match. "Why did you take my memories then, if you would return them now?"
"I didn't take them!" He roared. They glared at each other again; this time, he looked away first. "Forgive me. It is . . . hard . . . that you do not remember. Nicholas took your memory. I would not demean your brother in your eyes, but I will not bear that error in his place. I could never have robbed you -- or myself -- of that. And it seems I cannot restore what I did not remove. The question had never before arisen."
Fleur shifted her cloak around her shoulders. "From the beginning, please. The last thing I remember clearly is jumping into Nicholas's arms. I was overcome with joy at his return at last, unharmed. Only our mother and I still held out hope."
"I was burned by the rising sun," Lacroix said quietly, his eyes on the fire. "You noticed my wounds. You brought bandages and a poultice before I slept. That night, by torchlight, you were reading in the rose garden -- was it Sacrobosco, by the way?" He looked up at her.
"It must have been Ptolemy." Fleur shook her head. "I was spoiled, as Nicholas may have told you. Henry -- the Duke my brother -- didn't know what to do with a little sister until he could marry her off, much less a clerkish one like me, but he tried. And so I had books."
"You set aside the book for me," Lacroix went on, searching her face as if her memory might yet emerge. "We spoke of my wounds, and your interest in the heavens. Then you pricked your finger on a thorn, and I . . . Nicholas said that from my first taste of your blood, you would grow cold, but instead I have grown warm. This bond between us -- forged by that one drop --"
"What happened after you tasted my blood?"
"Nicholas called us for supper. By the next night, I had ceased to fight it. I wanted you. And when you asked to go away with us, I would have kept you by my side always. I would have made you one of us."
"But you did not."
"Nicholas intervened. He contended that you would be better off as a mortal."
Fleur considered. "Was he right?"
"No! Let me do it now. My precious flower, let us finish what we started seven years ago. Let me give you a life that never ends, power none can match, pleasure beyond telling." Gold dappled Lacroix's eyes and his teeth began to extend. He leaned forward. "Those who do not consent do not always return from the place between life and death. Only consent, and I will give you a world that will kneel at your feet to unfold wonders of which you have only read -- and we will be together forever!"
"If Nicholas was wrong, why did you let him have his way?"
"What?" Lacroix blinked away the gold in his eyes.
"If I would be better off as a vampire, why am I mortal now, with a gaping hole in my memory? Why did you leave me behind?"
Lacroix looked aside. "Your brother can be very persuasive."
"What kind of lover abandons his lady against his good judgment and her dearest wish? Nicholas evidently thought he was doing the right thing. You say you believed otherwise, but you stood there and let it happen." She surged to her feet and stood over the fire. Rain pelted her face. "For what did you trade me, Lucien?"
He looked up at her. Moments passed. At last, he admitted, "Vengeance. The life of any mortal Nicholas comes to love as passionately as I love you."
Fleur reflected. It was hardly flattering, but she was not naive. "Is it me you want, Lucien, or is it my brother?"
"I have your brother." Lacroix spread his hands. "I thought his blood must quench this thirst for yours. I was mistaken." He stood. "You are not second to him in my eyes, I swear it. As magnificent a vampire as Nicholas is, you will be more so. I saw it in your blood seven years ago. Let me give you -- us -- eternity!"
Fleur looked up into his intent expression and considered. Physical immortality was not without appeal, to be sure. Being desired so desperately was intoxicating. And her curiosity panted after the answers this could bring.
A whole different life . . . Nicholas's life?
Fleur's baby kicked.
She looked down at her belly as if there were something to see. She knew that feeling, and no mistake. The rest of the world melted away.
Lacroix was asking something. She raised her eyebrows to inquire.
"I said, are you all right?"
"I felt the baby move for the first time." She laughed. She might have cried.
Lacroix's expression went carefully blank. He gestured at her abdomen. "May I?"
"Oh, it's much too soon for anyone but me to feel."
"I can hear his heart beat from here. I suspect I can feel him move from there."
She tried again to read Lacroix's face. Finally, she nodded. He looked up at the clouds still blocking the sun, stepped around to cast them both further into shadow, and then stripped off one glove before placing that hand on her cloak. She didn't feel the baby move again, but perhaps he did.
His expression opened, an enduring sadness. "I had a daughter. Long ago."
"So you understand that I am not tempted to trade this eternity for yours?"
He bowed his head as he replaced his glove, then pulled her into an embrace. After a second's stiff surprise, she found it comfortable. He was not much colder than she, in the wet gloom, and pressing her ear against his silent chest felt as familiar as he had told her it should. They fit.
He could bite her now. With her arms willingly around him, her scent a heady cloud, Lacroix could so easily soak his heart in her blood, sending her soul to the place between life and death. If she came back, she would be his. Entirely. Forever.
He knew what the girl of seven years past would do. But this woman in his arms had surprised him. Draining her risked losing her to the light, as he had nearly lost her brother to that accursed choice beyond command or control. Fleur was too great a prize to hazard until he could fix the game.
"I will return when you are free," Lacroix promised, holding her close. "I will bring your brother and make him put your memories back. And then we will see if you are tempted." He pushed aside her veil and buried his face in her hair. Even sated with the Margrave's blood, he struggled to keep his fangs in check. "It's an open offer, my precious flower. Anytime, anywhere. Wither to old age if you like; you will always have something I value."
Eventually, the fire needed tending. Fleur gently disengaged and added some of the underbrush she had pulled. They returned to sitting across the fire from one another, not quite out of the rain.
"What would have happened to the baby, if I had let you turn me today?" Fleur asked. "Would I be pregnant forever? Would the baby die, or be a vampire, or be fine?"
"I don't know."
He moved his eyebrows in a kind of apologetic shrug. Somehow, after everything, Fleur found that hilarious. She started to laugh.
Wiping her eyes, she noticed that the wind had shifted. "The rain is thinning. Your hood does not equal your remarkable hat. You'll need much better shelter than this if the storm ends before sunset."
"I will stay with you until your escort comes."
"That could be well into tomorrow. They have to wait until the water goes down enough to make the ford safe."
"Nevertheless, I will stay." He stood and began to unsaddle her horse. "What if that boar your husband wants to hunt finds you?"
"If I don't bother it, it won't bother me. Boars have to be driven to confront hunters -- unless you disturb their young, of course."
"If not boars, then, thieves, rogues, wolves, dragons, enforcers." His eyes roamed over her as if studying her for reproduction in stone or paint or wood. "I will fly away as soon as your lawful escort approaches. It will be . . . a long time before I see you again."
"Don't you need your documents for the Court of Flanders?" She fed the fire. "Meet me behind the mews, at star-rise, the night after I cross the river. I will bring you what I can. And what's an enforcer?"
"An enforcer is one who will kill you for knowing that vampires are indeed as real as some men think. Never let on that you know; anyone you tell may bring them down on you. Their mandate is to leave no knowledge in mortal minds, by any means necessary."
"Ah, to make you legend first, and disbelieved entirely later. I see. But that's abhorrent -- to suppress knowledge!"
Lacroix merely inclined his head.
Fleur frowned, then let it go. They had many hours before the water went down, and yet not nearly enough for all her questions. "You have told me of my brother. Tell me of yourself, Lucien. Tell me -- tell me about when your daughter was born."
His eyes went flinty and cast sparks. But after a moment, he relaxed. "In the days of Rome's legions . . ."
Lacroix found Fleur waiting for him behind the mews, as promised. A feeble tallow lantern sat at her foot. She wore a brown cloak; her red one was likely still drying. She held a packet wrapped in waterproof oilcloth and smiled when he landed in front of her.
"That is very impressive, monsieur. But aren't you afraid someone will see you?"
"Your attendant is lurking around the corner. She can hear from there, but she cannot see."
"Ah." Fleur handed over the packet. "I added two letters to Nicholas. They are the same letter, written two ways -- one with all I know now, one with only what I knew three days ago. I presumed you would break a seal in any case, so I decided to give you a graceful choice. Do I wrong you?"
"No, my lady." The corners of his mouth quirked. "You judge clearly. I will permit Nicholas to read one."
"They found Namur. I saw."
"Ah." He understood her meaning; she knew Namur had died at his fangs. "Well, his contribution sustained our long conversation."
Fleur winced. Then she turned her face up to his, the same gesture as when she had begged to go with him seven years ago. "And so this is goodbye. It's more awkward than letting my brother send me off to sleep and forget, isn't it?"
He kissed her forehead. "The offer stands. Wake and remember."
Then he flew away.
He hoped that her death would sever this blood-bond between them, if she did not let him turn her. He would not risk losing her by turning her against her will, while a chance remained that she would choose him. But this incessant longing was making a hell of his eternity.
The debt Nicholas owed mounted with every night his sister's blood called to Lacroix.
Lacroix would not fail to collect.
"You can come out now, Agnes."
Fleur felt Agnes's arm go companionably around the back of her thickening waist. "Every woman should have one such admirer to remember, my lady."
"No," Fleur accepted the comfort, but disagreed. "No one should. Believe me."
"I don’t understand, Countess."
"I'm so glad." Fleur laughed. "Let's go see if my lord is ready to retire, shall we? And then you find Clara and do the same. It's been a long week."
Edited 04-20-08 3:38 PM: I corrected a typo, changed a few words, and added the small scene from Lacroix's perspective in the middle of the embrace (his dialogue was there all along; his thoughts are the addition).
- Mr. Parriot and Mr. Cohen created Forever Knight. The Sony Corporation owns it. I intend no infringement. Please support all authorized Forever Knight endeavors!
- Characters and situations depicted in this fantasy fan story are entirely fictional. Aside from a few famous historical figures mentioned in passing, any resemblance to real people is purely coincidental. (Vampires don't exist. The summer fair at Troyes did, though.)
- Title. In the Victorian language of flowers, "starwort" means "welcome to a stranger." Anciently, "starwort" could designate any star-shaped flower, but especially the aster family, and was also called "Michaelmas daisy" for blooming through the Feast of the Archangels (September 29), when other flowers had given up for the winter. It was used to treat assorted ailments, including sciatica during pregnancy. Works by such classical Romans as Pliny the Elder and Virgil mention it. (It's in the Georgics Fleur was reading.)
- Episodes. Fleur appears only in "Be My Valentine," though some of her scenes recur in "Last Knight." She is discussed in "Fallen Idol," which is the episode with her son Andre, with whom she is pregnant in this story. I transcribed the relevant passages here, because I am a canon wonk.
- Spelling. All names are spelled English-style here, except Fleur's own and the children's. I normally use spelling to differentiate pronunciations of Nick's name, because Janette pronounces it French-style even when Deborah Duchene is speaking English, and Lacroix pronounces it French-style only when Nigel Bennett is speaking French, but it's a moot point when none of the characters are speaking English at all.
- Hunting. Hunting was the major preoccupation -- besides war and courtly love -- of the medieval European upper class to which Fleur belongs, and I happened to be reading a book about it when the ficathon prompt came. Everything about hunting and hawks in this story draws on the spectacular The Art of Medieval Hunting by John Cummins. (Brabant really did set the gold standard for falcon training in the middle ages, by the way. I stumbled on that trivia in Cummins's book and, suddenly: this story.) The hart's "heart bone" is actually a piece of cartilage, but medieval people thought it was a bone with the magical property of keeping the timid beast alive when it would otherwise die of fear; it was considered a potent charm for many things, including a healthy pregnancy.
- History. The Duke of Brabant in 1236 was indeed named Henry, and one of his sisters did marry a Count of Artois. Constantinople, ruled by John of Brienne on behalf of the infant Baldwin II of Flanders, was recently under truce, after having been in turmoil ever since the Fourth Crusade, sidetracked and broke, descended on it in 1201. And the works of Sacrobosco, newly written in Fleur's day, remained the standard astronomy texts in Europe for hundreds of years after.
- Works Consulted
- Cummins, John. The Art of Medieval Hunting: The Hound and the Hawk. 1988. Edison, NJ: Castle Books, 2003.
- Gies, Frances and Joseph. Daily Life in Medieval Times. Omnibus of Life in a Medieval Castle (1969), Life in a Medieval Village (1974), and Life in a Medieval City (1990). New York: Black Dog and Leventhal, 1999.
- Laver, James. The Concise History of Costume and Fashion. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1969.
- Tuchman, Barbara W. A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century. New York: Ballantine Books, 1979.
- Wikipedia: "Dukes of Brabant," "Artois," "Crau of Arles," "Peregrine Falcon," "1200-1300 in Fashion," etc.
- This piece would not exist without much_madness. She not only delivered a word-by-word, comma-by-comma proof, she listened to the story advance and retreat, day by day, week by week, over the phone on lunch breaks. Her support, patience and thoughtfully nudging questions are invaluable. I would also like to thank tv_elf for her reassurance that the story is worth reading, her ideas on how to post, and her identification of spots to polish. And of course falcon_horus for requesting a Fleur story in the first place! (Errors, of course, are all my own!)
- I wrote "Starwort" in February and March 2008. I posted it to the femme_fic "We Love Female Characters" ficathon on March 30, 2008. After the ficathon, I will send it to fkfic-l, and archive it on my own fansite. Please do not archive, post or otherwise distribute this story. You're welcome to link to it on my site!
- Thank you for reading! Your comments and constructive criticism would be valued. (This was my first ficathon. How did I do?) Though sometimes it takes a while, I always answer each comment I receive. Please write me (LiveJournal is set to email me a copy of any feedback you share here; alternatively, I'm at the same email address I've used on fkfic-l and forkni-l for over a decade). Again, truly, thanks for reading!