Fandom: Ivanhoe, by Sir Walter Scott
Characters/pairings (if applicable): see title
Summary: Years after she fled her country of birth, Rebecca learns of new turmoil in England, and finds herself confronting a ghost she thought she'd laid to rest.
Notes/warnings: Thank you, rynne, for the beta read.
Ferdinand: Here ’s my hand.
Miranda: And mine, with my heart in ’t.
The Tempest, Act III, scene i
Voices spill from taverns, fall into the narrow streets, and are carried to her by the heavy, stale wind.
The king is dead.
The English king, it seems. Richard of England. And his brother John now wears the crown. John Soft-Sword. John Lack-land. The last and least of Henry and Eleanor’s accursed brood.
She does not wonder what this will mean for Spain. She does not wonder what this will mean for herself and her father. She wonders about the man she left in England, whom she had to leave, whom she does not regret leaving, even when she lies alone in bed and feels the darkness and the minutes leeching her youth and beauty. A star in Richard’s court, he will not fair well in John’s.
If he still lives.
She hurries through the streets, past the whitewashed walls, her sandals clicking on the broken cobbles. The air tastes of smoked meats, of spices, oils, and human waste. She hears the rustle of silk and running water, the faint tinkle of bells. In the gardens of the wealthier households there are orange and olive trees, their branches heavy with fruit.
There is something she is trying to outrun, but it catches up with her inevitably and she knows when it does by the subtle change in the world around her. Torchlight does not fall upon this thing that is behind her. Air moves around it. It makes no sound, gives off so smell, and does not speak. She sees it and hears it only in her mind.
It calls her by name, and she stops where she is, her heart beating as quickly as any small animal’s when it is caught in a fatal trap. She does not turn, but says in a voice that shakes despite her efforts, “Begone.”
“But Rebecca,” the voice slides into her mind with the ease of a blade, “it was you who summoned me.”
“If I did,” she says, “it was unintentionally, and now I banish you.”
“Unintentionally or not,” says the voice, “I am here. You summon me when you are afraid, and at this moment I know that you are deeply afraid. I know the one for whom you fear. The one who killed me at Templestowe. He will not fair well under John. This you know.”
“This I know,” she says, “for he is a noble man, gentle and brave, unlike you and your former masters.”
In her head, he laughs familiarly, sardonically. She can see him quite clearly now, though she knows that if she turns he will not be there. Dark as the Saracens against whom he fought, his chain mail as bloody and battered as it was on the day he died, mouth curved in a cruel smile, eyes like fire-blackened glass.
“I might have done well under John Lack-land,” he says, around his laughter. “You might have done well to stay by me.”
“I might have done well to forsake my dignity, my pride, my people?” she demands, anger overtaking her fear. “You would have grown to despise me, though not half as much as I would have grown to despise myself.”
The laughter dies abruptly. “Not so, Rebecca,” he says softly, and though she still does not turn she knows that he has drawn closer, carving himself out of the night and stealing toward her.
“You would have had the books you so love, all that you wished, and you would have been allowed to practice your healing arts. You would have served the Knights Templar, not the poor of this city. You would have been provided for, clothed and fed…”
“I would have been your harlot,” says Rebecca, her gaze on the narrow street. She can not see them – all she can see, truly, are his eyes and his twisted smile – but she knows, somehow, that the lights are going out in the city. The people are going to their beds, going to their dreams, and leaving her alone, locked outside in the dark with her demon.
“I offered you my hand,” he says, his voice rustling through the years since their last parting. “With my heart in it, Rebecca.”
“I saw your hand,” she says. “It held a bloody sword.”
“I would have used it to protect you.”
“You would have seen me burned for a witch.”
“Not I. That was Beaumanoir and Malvoisin. I would have fought for you.”
“But you did not,” she says ringingly, finding strength in truth. “I prayed to God for a champion, and He sent Wilfred of Ivanhoe.”
“I died for you, Rebecca of York!” His voice vibrates dangerously.
“You died,” she replies calmly, “for your lust.”
He is quiet for a moment, but she knows he has not gone. It takes more than this to chase him away.
At length he says, in a quieter tone, “I loved you, Rebecca. And still do.”
“You are not real,” she reminds him. “Neither is your love. It never was.”
“Can there not be peace between us, now that I at least am at peace?”
“When you leave me in peace, then I will say that there is peace between us.”
She feels him sigh, but it is not yet a sigh of resignation. “A woman with your beauty should not be made to labor as you do, for the wretched and the sick. Even John saw your beauty. At Ashby he placed you first, above the Saxon, Rowena. A Jewess.” A rumor of that mocking laughter returns to his tone.
“Beauty fades,” Rebecca says simply. “Mine shall. And when it does I shall not miss it, for it has brought me nothing but misery. It brought me your attentions.”
“You may think differently in time. When that raven hair begins to grey and that perfect skin browns and wrinkles. You may wish then that you had chosen Bois-Guilbert.”
“If I do, if ever I do, then I shall deserve my misery.”
“The real misery is to come, Rebecca,” says the shade of Brian de Bois-Guilbert, weaving around her like a smoky serpent. “Think you that you are safe in this land? That your people will be protected here, as they were not under Richard the Lionhearted?” He spits the name. “They will be, for a time. But not forever. The flames lick at your heels still, my Rebecca. All they require is wind from the right direction. Hatred never dies, as you know well. Love and beauty turn cold and are snuffed out as quickly as a candle. As quickly as a life.”
He looms behind her, a solid piece of the night. “Not in this century, perhaps not in the next, but soon. The wind is coming. It follows you and your people everywhere. It will follow you to the ends of the earth. You can not escape it.”
“Do you threaten me?” she murmurs and feels not flames but ice brush her heart.
“The dead have not the power to threaten,” he chides her. “But I have seen what is coming. You would have done well to stay with me.”
“But better, perhaps,” she answers, “to have thrown myself from the parapet at Torquilstone and been done with this. No,” she says, before he can speak again, “for had I done that, I should not be here, and I am needed here. So I simply must live with you, or learn to put you from my mind.”
“Do so,” he says softly. It is a challenge.
Oh God, if only she could.
Unexpectedly, he says, “Do you ever pray for me, Rebecca?”
Taken aback, it is a moment before she replies, but when she does she says, “I do,” very low.
“Why do I never hear you when you are at prayer, praying for me?” he wonders. “Why do I only hear you and come to you when you are frightened?”
She is silent again, and he wavers behind her, hanging in the air like a question himself.
“I think,” she says, as slowly the answer comes to her, “you hear me when I am frightened because that is the only time I have need of you. In all my life I have feared nothing as I feared you. Or rather, I feared the things you inspired me in. There were times when I pitied you,” she tells him, her back to him still, “and I never wanted to pity a Knight Templar, whose sword had drunk the blood of Jew, Christian, and Muslim alike. There were times when I wanted you dead, and I hated that there was a part of me that could wish for the death of another human being. There were times,” she hears herself say, her gaze lifting from the mud-caked cobbles, “when I wished it were in my nature to give in to you. I wished I were naïve enough to believe you loved me truly.
“But I was never weak enough to believe your protestations of love. Or to forsake my people and my God and what I now know is my true calling. If the flames of hatred seek me here, where I wish only to lead a simple life aiding the sick, let them come. God saved me once before from the flame. He will save me again.
“You shall not. You did not in life, and you shall not in death. For you are not here.”
She leaves him then, without looking back. The air, the smells, and the sounds that moved around his person, never touching him, come together again like curtains swinging closed. In a short while she has left him far behind.
He watches her go without a word or a movement. He watches until she is gone entirely from his sight and hearing. Then he too disappears, like a shell sinking slowly into the sea, and the night ripples around the place where he was.