English Encounter: The Final Story part 3 By Anne Azel
Disclaimer: The characters of Xena and Gabrielle are the property of Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement is intended.
Warning: This story is alternative fiction. Please do not read if you are under age or if it is illegal to do so in your end of the swamp.
To a very special friend who traveled with me through this story.
My grateful thanks to Lisa, Inga and Susan who work as a team to see that these stories meet a high standard of accuracy.
A final word: The Encounter series loosely reflects The Rift Arc. I wanted to end this series by taking the uber characters back to where the trouble all started and see if, this time, the characters could escape their fate. I've endeavoured as much as possible to make sure that the facts and cultures described in this series are a fair and accurate portrayal. I hope you have enjoyed traveling through this series with me. Because this story interrelates with both the Encounter and Seasons series, it would be best to read those stories before reading this one.
"Okay, that is it! Stop the car!" snapped Janet.
"I can't stop the damn car, I'm on this friggin roundabout!" Robbie growled back. In the back seat, Reb looked startled by the loudness of the exchange and Ryan looked upset. Ryan didn't like anything that threatened her family stability. She still had real fears about being rejected. She never told her Moms, but sometimes she had nightmares about being sent back to boarding school because she wasn't good. She chewed on her lip nervously.
Robbie pulled the car to the side of the road and got out, muttering to herself. Janet sighed and slipped over into the driver's seat and waited for Robbie to take her place as a passenger. Robbie thumped down and slammed the car door, folding her arms across her chest. "I don't know what you can do that I can't!" she complained. "There are too many damn cars and not enough road signs! I hate driving in the city!"
"Well, for starters, I thought I'd pull into that petrol station over there and ask directions. Then I thought I'd follow the directions without snarling, swearing and flashing my lights at the car in front of me," suggested Janet, giving Robbie a meaningful look.
"You have to flash your lights!" Robbie protested, humour starting to return to her voice as she felt the stress lessening. "They don't lay on the horn and flash the finger here!"
Janet laughed and shook her head, reaching over to squeeze her lover's hand. "How did you ever manage in Toronto?"
"I knew the way to work. On all other occasions I used a limo. That's why God made me rich, so I wouldn't have to abuse people out here on the road!"
Janet made a disgusted noise. "You are impossible, Olive Oil!" she concluded, putting the car in gear, signalling and pulling out into the traffic cautiously. 'Let's make a deal. I'll do the city driving and you can do the country stuff."
"This is good. I can do country driving!" Robbie agreed happily.
"Just as long as you don't fight," said a quiet voice from the back seat. The adults' startled eyes met each other's in surprise. A red wash spread up Robbie's face.
Robbie tossed the map over the seat at Ryan. "Here, you read the map. I think you'll do a better job than me. You know, Janet and I were not really angry at each other don't you, Ryan?"
"You sounded angry," muttered Ryan, resentfully.
"Obby mad!" agreed Reb, supporting her sister faithfully.
Robbie squirmed uncomfortably. This parenting thing was such a bitch! "Yeah, I guess I did. I'm sorry guys for upsetting you and Janet I'm sorry I lost my temper."
Janet kept her eyes on the road in the heavy traffic but she reached down and took Robbie's hand in her own, holding on as she gently stroked her thumb over her partner's hand. It was hard to know at times who hurt more, Robbie or Ryan. "It's okay, Love, I knew you weren't angry at me. I'm feeling quite stressed driving in this traffic too. I guess leaving London during morning rush hour was not the best decision."
The Williams had spent two more days in Central London and then had got the car that morning to head over to Greenwich which was only five miles away if one stops to ask for directions. Janet, feeling that the family needed to unwind a bit, went first down to the waterfront knowing that her family loved boats of any sort. There, down at the docks, was the Cutty Sark, one of the last of the fast and beautiful East India Clippers. These tall ships had once been the backbone of British trade.
"Isn't she gorgeous, Mom!" Ryan whispered.
"Oh, yes! Now this is a woman I could love!" Robbie teased and got a poke from Janet. "I bet she had a hull speed of fifteen maybe seventeen knots!"
They went aboard and looked around. Below deck there were two interesting displays. One was a history of the spice trade with artifacts and pictures from that era and the other was a collection of figure-heads that had once graced the prows of the old sailing ships. The family had walked around discussing and laughing about the things they saw. Janet enjoyed the section on the history of the spice trade but the figure-heads upset her, bringing back that all too familiar feeling of dread. Looming out of the darkness, the stiff, lifeless figures seemed macabre and sinister. She disguised her discomfort behind a happy smile, wanting her family to have a pleasant day and get over the tension of the drive that morning. What the hell is the matter with me?! Why do I keep getting these panic attacks?!
With relief, Janet climbed back up on deck with the family. Looking over the stern, Ryan laughed with delight. "Look, Aunt Janet, that's the Gipsy Moth IV down there!" Janet passed the squirming Reb over to Robbie and looked over the side. A tiny little sailboat bobbed at the side of the dock. "It's Sir Francis Chichester's boat. I read about him! He single-handed it in a circumnavigation back in 1966. It is still the smallest boat ever to sail around the world. Isn't that cool?! I'm going to sail around the world when I'm older," stated the teen.
"I go too, Ryan!" demanded the three year old of her big sister.
Ryan turned and ruffled her little sister's hair. "Sure kid, that way if we get shipwrecked or something I'll have something to eat!"
"Okay, Ryan," Reb beamed not understanding what Ryan meant.
"Ryan!" Robbie growled.
The teen shrugged and looked at her Mom with her eyes sparkling with mischief. Robbie smiled back and whispered into Reb's ears. "Tell you what, Reb. When you and Ryan get this boat of yours I'll show you how to get Captain Ryan here to walk the plank!"
"Like Captain Hook, Obby," Reb giggled.
"Yup, just like in the Peter Pan movie, Sweety," agreed Robbie with a smile, pleased at how quickly Reb caught on to things.
The rest of the day went pleasantly. They walked down the quiet streets passed the famous naval academy and had morning tea at a baker's shop. Then they walked up to the old observatory just as Sir Isaac Newton had done hundreds of years before while Janet explained about the formation of time zones by the Canadian Sir Standford Flemming and how the world's time was set from the observatory of this small community.
The Dedeman family had left a day earlier and had headed across country to the city of Canterbury. The countryside was beautiful! Small, irregular shaped fields looked like patch work quilts, each outlined by a hedge row or occasionally an old stone wall. Nestled in their midst, sometimes, were whitewashed cottages, some still with shale or thatched roofs. Pretty little villages could still be found amongst the urban sprawl and once, they saw horses tethered outside an old village pub.
At the last minute, Gunnul had changed the plans and there had been words between her and Teefo about it. "Peeti is here to help chaperone Christy and I am here to help protect you and Mrs. Dedeman," he argued stubbornly.
"I can take care of my family!" Gunnul had snapped. Teefo's words had hit a raw spot. Gunnul still felt embarrassed that Jamie and her daughter had been kidnaped and Jamie shot because Gunnul had left in a temper several years before. And only a few months ago, Gunnul had sat helpless by Christy's bed while a mysterious illness threatened to claim her daughter's life.
"As you say, General Dedeman," Teefo had said formally, realizing he had over stepped a boundary with his complex and moody boss.
Gunnul sighed. "I am sorry, Teefo. You are right but I need some time with Jamie. These dreams... I just want to create a safe, special place for her for a little while. Do you understand?" Gunnul explained awkwardly. She was not used to having to reveal her feelings, even to someone as close and trusted as her assistant Teefo.
Teefo nodded respectfully, realizing he had been shown a side of his employeer that few rarely saw. "Yes, I understand and respect your wishes, General."
"Thank you. I...I will be careful, Teefo," Gunnul reassured with difficulty. Teefo nodded again and tried to look less worried. He was well aware of how intelligent and strong the General was but he also knew that her one weakness was her family.
It was near sunset when the two cars approached Canterbury and the towers of the old Cathedral in the distance were silhouetted against the evening sky. "Imagine being a pilgrim in the Middle Ages, walking or riding here to pray at the shrine of Thomas Becket," Jamie commented with a sigh. "Have you read Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, Gunnul?" she asked her partner.
Gunnul blushed and admitted that in her student days she had studied the spicy tales from that epic mediaeval manuscript about a group of pilgrims entertaining each other with stories as they walked along. Gunnul, trying to change the subject, went on to tell them some stories of her years as a student and the three of them were laughing so hard that Jamie did not realize at first that Teefo's car had gone on towards Canterbury while they had turned off onto a side road.
"Gunnul, where are we going?" Jamie finally asked.
"I have a special treat planned for you and Christy," Gunnul revealed with a smug smile. "Canterbury straddles the River Stour and it is to the river that I now go. I have rented a houseboat for the night and tomorrow we will go down the river to Canterbury."
"Mommy! That is so nice! Will it be one of those long, narrow barges that are painted so prettily? Will it be motorized or pulled by a horse?"
Gunnul laughed. "It is a very old and pretty houseboat, Christy. You will like it, I think. It is run for tourists so, yes, it will be pulled alongside one of the old tow-paths. I am glad you are pleased."
Jamie had said nothing but had reached across and captured Gunnul's hand in her own. She saw the flush raise in her lover's face and knew that Gunnul was aware of how much the surprise had meant to her.
The barge was a pretty affair. Within the cabin there was an efficient galley, a saloon that also acted as a dining room, a head with a shower, and two sleeping cabins. In the saloon there was a small fireplace to keep the night chill off and Gunnul made a fire, while Christy brought their bags aboard and Jamie saw to getting them a light meal from the groceries they had bought earlier in the day.
Later that night, Gunnul slipped into bed beside Jamie and felt the small warm body immediately roll over to pull her long, strong frame into a close embrace. "You are wonderful!" Jamie said, her voice muffled by Gunnul's breasts. "I am so lucky you came into my life!"
Further talk was not possible as Jamie used her mouth to suck and nip at Gunnul's nipples until the tall woman squirmed with need. Jamie slipped her body over that of her lover and the sensual feel of the Turk's well toned body beneath her own made her body respond dramatically to its own needs. She started moving rhythmically against Gunnul's leg, mirroring what she was doing to her lover.
The water lapped softly at the hull of their houseboat. Their temporary home bobbed gently. The night was young and the lovers had many paths yet to explore.
Very early the next morning, Gunnul left the comfort and warmth of their bed to meet the horseman who was to pull their barge down into the town. At 5:30 a.m. the mist hung heavily over the fields of hops and grain. The only sound was the clip clop of the draft horse as it plodded along and the tinkle of the rills of water past the hull of their houseboat.
Gunnul brought Jamie hot cider and warm home-made bread for breakfast, bought at a local farm that they passed along the way. The two women sat on deck, in each other's arms and watched the sun rise over England as they enjoyed the natural music of river and trail.
A sleepy Christy climbed up on deck and snuggled between her mothers, eating the bread and drinking the cider her parents had saved for her as they drifted into Canterbury past the old Roman walls. They docked and the three Dedemans disembarked and walked to the outer gates of Canterbury Cathedral. They stepped through the Romanesque arch and then, suddenly, there it was, towering overhead, the seat of the Church of England and the cathedral of the Primate, The Archbishop of Canterbury. The cathedral sat bathed in the pinks of morning mist, a pastel jewel wrapped in clouds.
They followed the tourist signs that lead to the crypt. Down there, they found the Poets' Corner where some of the greatest artists of Britain are buried, including Chaucer himself. Stone arches stretched out into darkness beyond the reach of light. Off in the distance, they could hear the approach of singers; male voices harmonizing beautifully the ancient Gregorian chants.
The Dedemans waited quietly by a stone pillar. Soon they could see flickering candle light. Down ancient passages came a procession of young, hooded men dressed in grey. Each carried a candle as they sang to the glory of God on their way to Prime prayers. The music was mediaeval, a whisper from the past that reached to the very origins of the soul. Christy curled into Jamie's side and the woman wrapped her arm around her daughter as she in turn leaned back against the tall form of her partner, who stood in silent awe.
It was only when the last flicker of candle light had disappeared through the ancient arches and the sound of the male voices had echoed away that any of the Dedeman spoke. "That was a very beautiful moment. One I will remember always," Jamie stated. Gunnul nodded. She too had been touched by the quiet strength and beauty of faith. Christy said nothing. A chill ran down her back and she looked out into the darkness with hungry eyes. The time was near and the growing violence within a terrifying need.
They walked back up the worn stone stairs. Gunnul stopped to look over at the crypt, where the Huguenots had taken refuge after their escape from France. A gasp of fear brought her out of her thoughts just in time to catch Jamie as she tumbled. "Are you alright?" Gunnul asked in worry, holding Jamie close.
"Yes, I must have lost my balance. It felt like I was grabbed from behind. Oh, that was scary! I'm okay now. Thanks, Gunnul. You are always there for me. You have the most remarkable reflexes," Jamie pattered on with nervous energy.
Gunnul's eyes were fixed on her daughter's several steps farther down. "Did you see anyone, Christy?"
"No, Mom, no one," her daughter answered.
Gunnul frowned just before she had heard Jamie's gasp of fear; Gunnul thought she had seen a huge, dark bulk out the corner of her eye. Her blue eyes scanned the darkness and a feeling of dread forced her to hurry her family out of the crypt and back into the light. They wandered around some more stopping to see the plaque that marks the spot where Thomas of Becket was killed by order of Henry II and also the graves of Edward, The Black Prince and Henry III.
Jamie, feeling herself again, explained to Christy that Henry II was very upset that Beckett had been killed. He always maintained that he had never actually given an order for the Archbishop to be murdered. In fact, the King was said to have crawled from London to Canterbury on his knees as penitence to God for Beckett's death.
"This story is famous and was made into a verse play by T.S. Eliot called, Murder in the Cathedral," Gunnul noted, as they walked on into the town of Canterbury. "We will see to going to the play next time it is being produced."
They strolled through the narrow Tudor streets. Some of the houses were actually much older. Saint Augustine founded the abbey at Canterbury in 597 A.D. and in the sixth century King Ethelbert of Kent reigned from here. The Cathedral itself had been first built in 1067 and then rebuilt after a fire in 1374. Although Canterbury was still a very beautiful old city, some of the history had been lost when Canterbury's town centre had taken a few direct hits during World War II.
The Dedemans spent their day visiting the other tourist sites and shopping around the stores. Then they met Teefo and Peeti, who had picked up their car outside of town that morning and their bags from the boat and were waiting for them. The two cars headed off once again in the late afternoon to work their way down to Dover.
Civilization, the arts, social justice are all walls we put up to separate ourselves from the rest of the animals. It is, however, only that tissue-paper thin cerebral cortex, the outer layer of the brain, that gives us a veil of awareness beyond that of the other beasts. We are animals. The hairs on the back of our neck stand on end still when we feel fear. Our palms sweat and our eyes dilate. The heart races as our primeval instincts over-ride our civilized circuitry and we revert to the flight/fight reaction of our reptilian brain deep within us.
We still feel the heat come on us and seek mates to satisfy our needs, love often growing after a far more basic want has sent us out to prowl. Fear, anger, passion are catalysis that tap into our mammalian awareness and make us by far the most violent animal ever to evolve. Blood is the path of our history and the fear of our future. We are animals.
The presence lurked in the darkness, eyes watching. He had prepared for the coming and then a need so deep inside had driven it out once again. Red eyes glowed from within, as they watched the frail humans with interest. They were strange creatures, small and weak looking. But the creature now knew not to underestimate the soft, fragile forms. Humans could, in a split second, cast off their belief and revert to cold, unfeeling violence. The canines of the creature showed as a cruel smile spread across the distorted features. These humans might have noble souls but their hearts were as savage as its own.
The wind blew around the figures of the Watchers as they stood silently in a circle. Their cold stone was etched through hundreds of years with marks of history that no one could read. If anyone could, like the mythical Faust, their fragile souls would be lost in the horror of awareness. The Watchers waited, as they always had, for history to repeat itself. They were the neutral seat of power. They were the Guardians of the centre of the universe where time and place met and the spirit world could reach out and touch the living. They were the holders of the scales; balanced equally with goodness and evil. How often had they witnessed that scale tip?
"Damn fog!" muttered Robbie. "What is it with the English Channel and fog?! Every time I come down to see the white cliffs of Dover, they are fog bound! I'm getting a complex!"
Ryan laughed and Janet snorted as she unbuckled Reb from her car seat.
"Never mind, Obby. We can still see the castle. I've always wanted to see castles!" reassured Janet kindly, as she raced to grab Reb before the three year old could run across the parking lot.
Robbie did not look convinced. "Okay, let's walk up there. Maybe this stuff will burn off by noon." She leaned over and whispered into Janet's ear playfully. "You'd better wrap your arm around me, you know, so you don't get lost."
Janet rolled her eyes and gave her mischievous wife a bump with her hip. "I think I'd better hold on to our youngest daughter instead."
Ryan giggled. "Cool, Mom, what a loser!"
"Hey, I got her to marry me!" Robbie protested. They all laughed as they followed the signs towards the gate of Dover Castle.
They paid their admittance and got their tour pamphlets and entered into the grounds. "Well, here you are in the castle," observed Robbie dryly. "They are disappointing places really, just walled Keeps."
"Robbie, you can FEEL the history here!" Janet protested. "The brochure says that the tower over there to our right is really an old Roman lighthouse. The Pharos it is called. Dover was named Dubris by Rome. According to this guide there is a Roman house farther up the cliffs that is dated 200 A.D. It is called the Painted House because of the wall frescoes they found. Most of them were scenes of Bacchus, the God of wine," read Janet as she followed the others up on the parapet.
"If I had to live in this fog, I'd make my god the bottle too!" Robbie muttered, to Ryan who snorted. Janet gave them her teacher look and then laughed too.
At the top, they stood looking out into the fog. "Wow! What a view!" exclaimed Robbie, throwing her arms wide.
Reb scrunched up her little face in thought and looked out through the parapet and then up at her tall Mom. "It's white, Obby," she observed.
Robbie laughed and boosted her smallest daughter up for a better look at the white mist. "Yeah, well, so are the white cliffs of Dover, Reb, so we'll just pretend."
"We act!" Reb giggled.
"That's right, Reb!" smiled Robbie, giving her adopted daughter a hug. Reb liked to play act. They would romp around the lodge back home pretending to be African animals. Robbie showed Reb how to act like a pirate and the two of them were looking out for Captain Hook when they heard Janet cry out and a thump.
Robbie picked Reb up and hurried along the length of the walkway. There she found Ryan helping Janet to her feet. Janet had fallen down a small flight of stairs and had scraped her knees.
"Are you okay?" Robbie asked, as she lowered Reb to the ground. "What happened?"
"I don't know really. Ryan and I were walking along talking about British history when I felt this push and over I went," Janet responded shakily. She had not been seriously hurt but the fall had given her a shock and her knees stung and her shoulder felt bruised.
Robbie looked at Ryan. "You were here. Who did it?" she snapped.
"I didn't see anyone," Ryan stated honestly, a little bewildered. Was Janet saying she had pushed her?
"Ryan, damn it!" Robbie barked angrily. "Janet said she was pushed!" Robbie could feel herself losing her temper. She knew she was acting all out of proportion to what had happened but she couldn't seem to stop herself. Anger had flared up in her like a flash fire. She was back in the den of her parents' house and she was witnessing her father abusing her sister. She raised her fist to strike out at the bastard.
Ryan took a step back and looked really frightened. "Robbie?" Janet asked quietly, stepping quickly between Ryan and her mother. "Are you alright?!"
For a second, Robbie stood there, quivering in anger, then she turned and disappeared in a few bounds down to the castle courtyard. The three remaining Williams stood in stunned silence. Then Ryan choked out. "She was going to kill me! She thought I pushed you down the stairs!"
Janet pulled the shaking child into her arms. "No, Ryan. Robbie would never think that and neither would I! No, there is something else going on. Robbie took off because she knew she had upset us and your Mom has a really soft heart that she tries to hide."
"She sure has been quick tempered lately," Ryan muttered in annoyance.
"Yes, she has sometimes," agreed Janet. "Maybe the pressure of the film and all that has happened this year has caught up to her, Ryan. She has been really strong for us all."
"Mommy?" Reb asked with a little voice. She was not sure what had happened but she knew something had.
"It's okay, Reb. Mommy just fell and scraped her knees," responded Janet stroking her daughter's thick dark hair. She was going to be so much like Robbie! "Ryan, could you hold Reb's hand going down the stairs. I'll follow. I need to go slow. My knees are a bit stiff."
They found Robbie waiting by their car, looking absolutely miserable. When she saw her family she walked over and lifted the limping Janet up into her arms and carried her back to the car. Carefully, she lowered her wife to the seat and then kneeled to clean her scraped knees with a tissue and water from a water bottle. "I need to apologize to you for leaving, Janet. I ...I had this flashback...to the night at my father's house...I ...I haven't had that happen in years."
"You okay, now?" Janet asked, reaching out to brush Robbie's bangs into place.
"Yeah. You okay? The knees don't seem to be swelling."
"I'm fine. It was more of a shock than a fall. I'll buckle Reb into place if you want," Janet offered looking into Robbie's eyes. Robbie swallowed hard and nodded.
She stood and turned to face her oldest daughter, who was standing some distance off looking really scared. Robbie walked over slowly. "Did you hear what I said?" she asked her daughter sadly.
Ryan nodded, her eyes filled with tears like her Mom's, but said nothing.
"Ryan," Robbie's voice cracked. "I'm so sorry you had to witness that! I...It had nothing to do with you. I wasn't angry at you! I was back in that room and..."
"It's okay, Mom," Ryan cut in, feeling awkward and too wounded to carry on the conversation.
Robbie nodded sadly, realizing that she had managed yet again to build a barrier between herself and her daughter and to undermine Ryan's sense of security. "I guess we should be going now," Robbie stated.
"Okay." Ryan walked past Robbie, keeping at a safe distance, and got in the back seat of the car. Robbie came around and got in the driver's seat. Silently they made their way down into the town of Dover.
The Dedemans too had arrived in Dover and had spent the morning wandering around the many interesting sites in the fog. By late morning, the sun was starting to peek through. Gunnul had stopped on the 140' long stairway cut in the white cliffs to look down at Jamie, who she had been helping down the stairs. At the bottom Christy, Teefo and Peeti waited. "Why are you laughing, Jamie?" asked the serious Turk.
Jamie looked at her partner with love. Gunnul's English was excellent but she didn't always understand the varied colloquial use of a word. Gunnul smiled simply because Jamie was laughing. "What is so funny? It is true that The Shaft was made so the sailors could get up quicker."
Jamie started to laugh again and leaned against her bewildered partner. Composing herself she explained. "Gunnul in English a shaft can mean..." she reached up and whispered into her lover's ear.
The red climbed up the Turk's neck. "This is not what I meant, Jamie!" the conservative woman protested in embarrassment. "It is what the stairway is called! It was built in the time of Napoleon so that the sailors could get up into the town easier from the harbour below."
Jamie bit her lip and looked at her serious lover with eyes dancing with merriment. Gunnul blushed very red this time and raised an eyebrow. "Jamie! This is what I get for taking a partner who is an infidel!" she teased.
Looking up, she pointed along the coast where the fog had now burnt off in the noon sun. "Look, Jamie, there are the white cliffs of Dover! You can see them for miles out to sea, a white ribbon against a blue sky. They are made of chalk."
Standing behind her partner with her hands on her shoulder to balance Jamie on the steep chalk stairs, Gunnul pointed again. " This is a very good spot to stand. Do you see way off in the distance there, to those mounds on the horizon? They are bronze age chieftains' graves. Then there is the Roman lighthouse, the Norman fort and some of the remaining fortification from the Battle of Britain. From here you can see almost three thousand years of history. Is that not amazing?"
Jamie agreed, using the opportunity to lean against the tall, strong body of the woman she loved so much. She was always surprised at what Gunnul knew and didn't know. She had an amazing knowledge of European and Middle East history and was a power house in business matters and yet she would not understand the sexual connotations of a word. She could head a vast business empire, lead men into battle and yet be embarrassed by an off-coloured joke. The more she learned about the woman she loved the more she realized just how wonderful a person she was. Together they walked down the remaining steps and joined the others on the shore line.
After a pleasant lunch in town, the Dedemans picked up the A28 and headed along the south coast. There were some lovely marine towns along the way but they kept on the road until they reached Folkestone, where they stopped for afternoon tea. Here they took some time to visit Spade House were H.G.Wells once lived and worked. They also walked along The Leas, a pretty grass path that followed the cliff edge along the coast.
Refreshed they went on and finally, found a nice seaside hotel some miles east of Hastings. Over dinner, it was Christy who played the tour guide. On the way to the hotel, they had passed through the town of New Romney and the small village of Rye. "I read a story about this area. New Romney was a major sea port until 1287 when a terrible storm built up a huge sand spit and changed the path of the River Rother. The sea going vessels had to moved farther down the coast to find a safe harbour at Rye."
The adults looked at Christy not sure why this should be significant. "Rye," Christy repeated as if they had not heard her the first time. You know, Dr. Syn!"
"I think I've heard of him," Jamie responded, wrinkling her nose in thought in a way that Gunnul found absolutely adorable. "Wasn't he a pirate?"
"One of the worst!" smiled Christy. "They called him Scarecrow!
"He was born in England in 1768. His adopted parents died of plague when he was fifteen so he joined the merchant navy. While the ship he was on was trading in the Caribbean, they were captured by pirates. The crew was taken to the island of indoctrination, which was a nice way of saying become a pirate or we'll torture you to death!"
"I do not think this is good reading, Christy," protested Gunnul who was surprised by her daughter's blood thirstiness. Jamie smiled, realizing that twelve year olds loved these sort of tales, as do adults.
"All the crew died of torture accept for Scarecrow and his friend Meriweather. They turned against their fellow crewmen and became pirates themselves! By 1772, Scarecrow had mutinied against his pirate captain and taken over the pirate ship. Meriweather was his first mate. Together they terrorized the trade routes to the Caribbean. Soon he was wanted dead or alive so Scarecrow turned over his command to Meriweather and retired rich to Rye."
"Ah, the town we came through. That is where the pirate retired," Gunnul laughed, starting to see the point of the story.
"Not likely!" Christy went on with relish. "He forged some papers calling himself Dr. Syn and the local Squire hired him on as the rector at the local Anglican Church."
"That was very bad!" exclaimed Gunnul, who was very devoted in her faith.
"That's only the half of it! He acted as a respectable rector during the day but at night he was smuggling goods in and out of England! Wasn't he amazing!" laughed Christy.
Jamie laughed but Gunnul looked seriously at her daughter. "Christy, this is not the sort of person I would have you admire."
Christy looked at her adopted mother with eyes that revealed nothing. "It is just a story. A bit of local history," she said.
"Well, I rather enjoyed the tale!" responded Jamie, giving her serious partner a poke. The evening wore on and after Christy had said her prayers with her family, she was tucked into bed and soon fast asleep.
Gunnul took the opportunity to work on business at her laptop and Jamie read a book quietly by the window. Neither woman was really focused on what they were doing. Gunnul was being visited by her private demons. When Jamie had nearly fallen down the stairs, Gunnul had come very close to accusing Christy of having pushed her mother.
Christy would never do a thing like that, Gunnul knew. Yet, Gunnul's first reaction was to turn on her daughter. What would make her doubt Christy? At dinner tonight, this sudden interest Christy had in undesirables like Scarecrow heightened her fears over Jamie's near fall. It was a completely illogical connection. Gunnul knew that there was violence within her own soul and certainly that of her brother, who had been a weak and nasty man. Had Christy inherited that spot of darkness too?
Gunnul often wondered where her sudden anger came from that blocked out all logical reason. She had killed. And although the ghosts of those she had slaughtered on the battlefield haunted her, she had to admit that the challenge and danger of war had thrilled her. Even now, knowing the sacrifice she and the others had made, she would take command again and make the same decisions. What did that say about her? Unconsciously, she put her hand over her abdomen where the scar that had left her barren was.
Deep in her subconscious she heard Jamie's angry voice from two years ago; At least I had a child. I didn't have to steal someone elses!. The pain of those words shot through Gunnul and she placed her head on the cool desktop and closed her eyes. Jamie had apologized. Explained that she hadn't meant those cruel words but the fact of the matter was they were true. Gunnul couldn't have children of her own. She had willingly adopted her brother's child as her own even though she knew that Christy's birth mother was searching for her daughter.
Jamie stared moodily out at the darkening seascape. Her leg hurt badly tonight. She had not wanted to slow her family's sight-seeing down. The stairs had really tired her out and Gunnul, so strong and fit, had patiently helped her slowly down them. Gunnul was a beautiful, rich, and active woman. Jamie knew that Gunnul loved her but did the Turk ever feel restricted for having made a commitment to someone who was lame? Did she stay with Jamie out of guilt because it had been Gunnul's brother who had damaged her leg beyond repair?
The now familiar dread that had started as a depression tonight spread throughout her being. She turned to see Gunnul bent over, her head on the desk and her eyes closed. She looked so tired and sad. "Gunnul, I wouldn't want you to stay with me if you weren't happy. We could go our separate ways. I'm sure we could make some arrangement about sharing Christy."
Gunnul's eyes opened and her head slowly lifted and turned to look a Jamie with an expression of shocked horror. For a minute there was only the sound of the sea washing on the shore and the tick of the clock on the wall. Finally, Gunnul managed to clear her throat. "You want to leave me, Jamie?"
"No! I just...I don't want to restrict your life. There are so many things that you could see and do that I wouldn't be able to handle..."
Gunnul swallowed, then swallowed again. Her head felt light and her heart refused to beat regularly. Tears welled in her eyes. "I do not think I could live if I lost you or Christy. You are all I have. I am barren."
Gunnul got up, suddenly angry that she might be losing the only thing that meant anything to her. She wasn't going to let it happen! She couldn't! "If you wish to leave I will not stop you but you will not take my daughter! Never!"
Jamie looked like she had been hit. Awkwardly, she got to her feet and wrapped her cane in place. She limped across the room past Gunnul, who stood shaking with emotion. Stopping at the door, she turned to face her partner. "I love you Gunnul. I love you and I love Christy. Please don't make our separation something that will fill us all with bitterness and hate," she choked out.
Gunnul saw the tears rolling down her lover's face. She sunk to her knees. "Don't leave me, Jamie. Please."
Jamie limped over to Gunnul and threw herself into the Turk's arms. "Shit! How did we end up in this discussion?! I don't ever want to leave you, Gunnul! I just suddenly felt this dread that you might only be staying with me because you felt sorry for me. I thought I might be restricting your life," Jamie sobbed into Gunnul's shoulder.
Gunnul held Jamie so tight the smaller woman could barely breathe. "Oh God! Thank you Allah!
Jamie, I can't be rational when it comes to you and Christy! I love you both so much. No, you don't restrict my life, sweet one. You give it meaning."
Gunnul shifted around on the floor so that she held Jamie in her arms and they could look into each other's eyes. "In my culture, even though in many ways we are very westernized, the role and goal of a woman is to bear children. I f you can not it is a very great shame. People feel so sorry for you..."
Gunnul's stopped, her lip trembling with emotion. Then she collect herself and went on. "I was left a huge business empire to run because my brother could not. I was a woman who fought and killed as a man would in battle. My injuries were in the newspapers when I lay so close to death. Everyone knew that I would be barren if I lived. After...my family, business associates, they started to treat me as a man. It didn't bother me. It made it easier to not to have to face being a woman in a man's world.
"But always I felt incomplete. I wasn't a man. I didn't want to be a man. I knew that if I could I would want to have a child. But I could not physically and by then I had also accepted the fact that it was not men I was attracted to. Then you and Christy came into me life. I can not tell you how much that has mean to me."
"I love you so much, Gunnul. I did not realize...I thought your family and associates had always treated you that way."
"I find you a very beautiful woman, Gunnul, not a substitute for a man. And you are a wonderful mother and partner."
"Tonight, I felt this terrible depression come over me. I was afraid again that the violence that my brother and I had might be inherited by Christy," Gunnul admitted with embarrassment.
"Gunnul! How could you think such a thing? Christy is a wonderful person. She doesn't have a mean bone in her body and neither do you! There is a difference, Gunnul, between fighting for your people and killing for fun. Gunnul, I thought we had talked through this. You are not a bad person because you had to kill to save your nation and Allah did not punish you by making you barren. Allah rewarded your courage by giving you back your life and bringing Christy and me to you."
"Do you believe that, Jamie?" Gunnul asked.
"Yes." Jamie answered firmly meeting Gunnul's eyes with a steady stare. Gunnul wrapped her close. "I love you."
"I love you too."
Robbie passed up and down their hotel room. Janet had read her book in bed knowing that her lover needed time to calm down before she would be able to talk. The pacing was slowing a bit.
"Do you want to talk about it?" she asked softly.
"What is there to talk about? I lost my temper. Scared my kid have to death and ruined my relationship with her because I'm such a stupid shithead!" muttered Robbie, kicking the rattan wastepaper basket and sending it flying.
Janet slipped out of bed and came and wrapped her arms around the stiff body of her wife. She held on tight until Robbie started to relax despite herself. "That's better. Now we can talk," Janet sighed standing on her tip toes to kiss Robbie softly. "Come over here and sit."
Janet took Robbie's hand and led her over to a chair pushing her down in it. Then she knelt in front of her problematic partner and folded her arms across Robbie's knees. With a significant look at Robbie, she reached out and lifted the wastepaper basket up and placed it under the table out of the way. Then she placed her arm back on her lover's knee. "Okay. Today was a botch up. No argument here, but it is NOT the end of the world, Robbie! You and Ryan are doing really well. You have a great friendship and it is clear that you love and respect each other very much. But Ryan is a teen and they are very difficult people! She is also a teen who is struggling with her childhood feelings of rejection and with trying to define her role in a ready-made family.
"You on the other hand have gone from playing the role of debauched playgirl to being a mother and wife. You didn't even have a concept of true family to model your actions after. You are doing really well. But you have to accept the fact that there will be failures. Ryan will get over this, Robbie."
"What if she doesn't? I mean, teens run away or...or worse when their parents can't communicate with them."
Janet laughed and shook her head at her fretting lover. "Ryan is very happy with us. She is not going to do anything drastic. She is really a remarkably stable child considering her background. She just gets hurt and defensive really, really easily. Do you know anyone like that?"
Robbie blushed. "Should I talk to her again?"
"Yes, but not for a bit. Give her the luxury of having a bit of a snit then I'll give her a gentle dose of reality and send her in your direction."
"What if I say something to send her off again?"
"You won't. You are a natural mother. A rather unorthodox one but a good one never the less," reassured Janet.
Robbie nodded, feeling much better. The terrible feeling of dread that had been hanging over her lifted. "Thanks."
"My pleasure. Now come to bed. I need a foot warmer," teased Janet.
Robbie picked her wife up with a laugh and carried her back to bed. Stripping, she crawled in beside Janet and sighed as her partner immediately curled up to her. She knew that Ryan was going to be difficult tomorrow and that would probably make her feel awful again, but with Janet on her team she felt that she could get through this crisis after all.
Outside the white cliffs dropped to the English Channel below. An endless ocean, dark, deep and cold. Until the sun rose again tomorrow, the world belonged to those who dwelled in the darkness. Light, dark, good, evil, opposites of the same element. The key was balance: without it chaos ruled. The figure loped awkwardly across the countryside, returning to his home once again before the first rays of light. He had caused all the emotional turmoil he could among the humans, soon they would be his. The circle of stones noted his arrival, their dark faces refracting the first pink rays in the eastern sky. The time of reckoning was near.
Continued - Part 4 (Conclusion)
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