Now, for my haunted offering....
This is the story I wrote for the hl_challenge_co Halloween challenge. Hope you enjoy it.
Notes: Written for the Halloween Highlander fic challenge.
Thanks to em_kellesvig for beta duties. All remaining errors are mine alone.
While this isn’t a sequel per se to ‘Shattered’ it does take place a few months afterwards, and in the same house. It was a line from that story that gave me the idea for this ghostly tale. I think this is my first ever Halloween story! And considering how quickly I wrote it (last night!) I reserve the right to go back and rewrite it later. Really.
Methos, het, around a PG/PG13.
So, BOOOO! :) And thanks for reading!
'Lavender at Midnight'
She stood before the fire, looking into the flames that licked at the stone, her eyes following the embers that traveled up the chimney, recalling the line of his face, the light in his eyes. He would return safe to England, this she knew…
Triona stirred, the dream fading away like mist blown on the morning breeze. Still caught in the web of sleep, she tried to recall where she was... home, she was home. The heat of the fire burning in the hearth warmed her, and under one hand, the comforting presence of Munchkin, her beloved French Mastiff. Outside, a storm raged, the wind buffeting at the solid walls of the old farmhouse, whistling around the eaves. The winds had knocked out power hours before, but here inside she was warm and safe. She drifted back down into the inviting embrace of sleep, tendrils of the dream still brushing at her memory.
But a chill disturbed that journey into sleep, the sensation of fabric whisping past her face bringing her slowly back to the waking world. Cool fingers resting lightly against her cheek. Triona, not sure if she were truly awake, raised her own hand to her face, fleetingly brushing against the hand that touched her. Then it was gone and the prickle of goose bumps skittered across her flesh as she sat bolt upright, taking a deep breath, heart racing. Next to her, Munchkin stared down the hall towards the kitchen door, fully alert, a low warning growl vibrating deep in his throat. Her hand clenched convulsively around the dog’s collar as she took another shaky breath. This time, she breathed in the scent of lavender, cedar, and something else she couldn’t place; it was like a cloud around her.
Something – or someone -- had been here in the kitchen with her while she slept. This was more than the occasional sensation of two perspectives she’d experienced since moving into the twelfth century farmhouse nearly two years ago. Triona didn’t care if Methos thought she was crazy – this house was haunted. She was sure of it.
Munchkin shadowed her watchfully as Triona made her way to the stables looking for Methos. The ‘burr’ of his Immortal presence suffused her as she approached the doors. When she couldn’t find him, he was almost always to be found with the horses in the stables. Peering into the dimly lit interior, she shrieked when a hand came down on her shoulder from behind.
“Did I scare you?” Methos asked, contrition warring with amusement, amusement winning as he tried unsuccessfully to keep an impish grin off of his face.
“No, I always jump ten feet in the air when I come to the stables,” she sniped.
“Sorry?” he offered. Triona rolled her eyes. “I am, really.” Chuckling, he dropped a kiss on the top of her head. “What brings you out on so dark and stormy a night?” Taking her hand, he led her deeper into the stable, out of the gale-force winds that battered at the stone walls.
She took a deep breath, knowing how he was going to react. Methos had never been receptive to her belief that the ghost of Etheldrida haunted the farmhouse they lived in, his wife when he’d lived here in the twelfth century. “I was sleeping, dreaming, something woke me, and there was a hand on my face…“ she trailed off, remembering. “It happened!” she protested, seeing that look on his face -- the exasperated ancient one that clearly thought she was a silly child.
Sighing, he ran a finger across her lips. “I know you thought it did, sweet, but it was only a dream.” He pressed the finger against her lips when she tried to protest. “There’s a storm raging, the power’s out, it’s Halloween, and I told you you shouldn’t have had that second helping of curry; makes you have bad dreams.”
Stepping back, she planted her hands on her hips. “Stuff and nonsense! You don’t get bad dreams from eating spicy food! Silly old wives tale!”
“Oh? And just how many old wives to you know?” he asked with a quirk of one expressive brow.
Snorting, she tossed her head. “Only you, dearest.”
“So amusing, you are.”
“And anyway,” she continued, ignoring him, “Munchkin saw something too!”
“Dear gods, that poor dog; Munchkin,” he groused. “You don’t ever get to name an animal ever again, you know that, right?”
“Yeah, and if you’d named him, the poor thing would be saddled with something unpronounceable in ancient Greek!” she shot back.
“Well at least it would be dignified,” he replied loftily.
“Whatever! And you’re not changing the subject, damn it!”
“Alright, alright!” Methos held up his hands placatingly. “Tell me what happened.”
Triona wasn’t entirely sure she believed he’d let her tell her story. Though on reflection, he probably would just to shoot it down and shut her up. Fine! She was at least going to get him to listen this time, whether he believed her or not. “I had a dream, and in it, a woman was standing in front of the kitchen hearth. But it didn’t look like it did now, it was smaller, simpler. Her eyes were cornflower blue and she had long wheat coloured hair in three braids that were braided together in one long one down her back. And there was a gold brooch of some sort of bird on her gown. She watched the embers as they went up the chimney and she was waiting.”
“What was she waiting for?” Methos asked softly, startling her.
“She was waiting for you to come back,” she whispered in reply. Shaking her head as if to clear her thoughts, she continued, “And then I woke up, and as I did, there was a chill, and it felt like fingers brushing across my face, and when I reached up, I touched a hand, and then it was gone. But there was a scent, like lavender and cedar, and something else. I know you don’t believe me, but it was real!”
“Triona, I know it seemed real to you, but it was only a dream. There’s no such thing as ghosts. Sometimes, our mind plays tricks on us.” Putting his arms around her, he drew her close. “Etheldrida isn’t haunting you, love.”
Shaking her head against his chest, she sighed. “Forget about it.” She was an idiot for even trying to get him to believe her.
Holding her a little away from him, he kissed her gently, then said, “Get back to the house and go to bed. I’ll be in soon. I just need to finish closing up the stable. I promise we’ll talk about it in the morning when there’s less ‘atmosphere’.” He smiled at her reassuringly.
“Fine. Don’t be too long.” Shoulders slumped, she turned and headed back to the house, with Munchkin trailing loyally behind.
Methos watched as Triona went back to the house, more than a little unsettled by the details of her dream. If he’d believed in ghosts, specters, or spirits, he might have almost believed it was the ghost of his long dead wife, Etheldrida, which haunted the house he and Triona shared here in the Yorkshire Dales. But no, he certainly didn’t believe in such things. Not anymore.
Scattered wisps of memory, from a time so long ago when he’d been a child growing up on islands far north, teased at his thoughts. Stories told around flickering fires of what lay in the dark, of the Otherworld, and those that inhabited it -- of beings that were respected and feared. Tales that scared little boys into staying close to home during the long winter nights. But Methos wasn’t that little boy anymore. Indeed, memories of that child were more like the remnants of a book once read, or a story told by some old graybeard around a roaring fire in the common room of a roadside inn.
He hadn’t believed in ghosts, or anything that went bump in the night, for a very long time. Not since he’d become one of those stories. The monster that kept children close to their hearths when the north wind blew. How could you believe in evil spirits when you’d been one? No, whatever it was that Triona knew of Etheldrida was part imagination and part Blood Knowledge. That was all it was. Nothing more.
The stables secure, Methos made his way back the house, gratefully climbing the stairs to where his wife and his bed waited. He hoped she was asleep, knowing full well that she wasn’t likely to give up the subject of hauntings quite yet if she wasn’t.
Gently, he pushed open the bedroom door, the only light that of the fire flickering in the hearth. He could see Triona outlined in the soft light where she stood looking out the window. Coming up behind her, he wrapped his arms around her waist, and she leaned into him.
“I thought you’d be asleep,” he told her softly.
“You mean you hoped I’d be asleep,” she corrected him. He couldn’t see her face, but knew her eyes were dancing with laughter.
“Not a chance! If you were already in bed, I would have missed your very sexy lingerie!” he countered, turning her around. Much to his amusement, Triona was wearing a voluminous flannel nightgown covered in what appeared to be bunny rabbits, thick wool hiking socks, and his old grey sweater that was so big on her, it made her look like some sort of waif-like street urchin. “Did Mrs. Roberts down the lane loan you that very fetching nightie?” he asked, smirking.
“I’m freezing!” She pouted. “Is it a crime to want to stay warm?”
“No, but if you’d gone to bed like I told you, instead of standing in the cold room, by an even colder window, you’d be a lot warmer,” Methos scolded gently. “What’s so fascinating out there anyway?”
“I was thinking.”
“And I thought I saw something.” She didn’t quite look him in the eye.
With one finger under her chin, he tilted her head up t look into her eyes. “What did you see?”
“You don’t want to know.”
“Fine. I thought I saw a something, a woman, walking alongside the holly trees on the ridge. She was all in white and it was like the moon was shining through her – except there is no moon,” she said half to herself. “Yes, yes, I know what you’re going to say. It’s mist, it’s the wind, it’s my eyes playing tricks on me!”
Instead of answering, he kissed her, long and deep. “Warmer now?” he asked huskily as he broke the kiss.
“You’re just trying to distract me,” she protested, though not with much vehemence.
“Yes, and your point?” He kissed her again, before sliding his hands under the edge of the sweater and pulling it unresisting over her head.
“It’s cold,” was all she said, sighing a little as his hands moved up her body, his thumbs brushing over her breasts.
“Not for much longer,” he promised. “Not for much longer.”
Methos was dreaming. Etheldrida was standing by the fireplace, her back to where he lay on the bed, the firelight reflecting off her blonde braids. Then she spoke. “You could have told me what you were. Did I not love you enough for you to trust me, husband? Did you not love me enough?” Turning, she looked at him coolly, standing tall and proud. He’d almost forgotten just how lovely she was. In her hand she held a bough of holly. She’d always loved the holly trees, and had spent many an hour there in the grove on the ridge. “I waited all those long years, waited for you to return, as you promised me you would. Why, Matthias?”
“It was for the best, Dreeda. I did what I thought was best.”
“For you, or for me?” She tilted her chin, as if daring him to lie to her.
“For both of us.” It was the truth.
Nodding, she walked closer to the bed and he saw the brooch there on her breast, the intertwined swans of gold that had been his bride gift to her. “And the one you lay with now. She is like you?” It wasn’t really a question.
“How that must try you, my husband. To be bound to one who knows what you are; who shares your nature. No convenient death in battle in lands far away to separate her from you. No letter brought to her years later to the home you shared.”
“I am truly sorry, Etheldrida. I loved you, cherished the life we had together. I never meant to hurt you. You have to know that.” For some reason, even though he knew it was a dream, it was important to him for her to believe what he said was the truth.
Sighing softly, her eyes sad, she said, “I desired only to hear you speak those words yourself, Matthias.” Etheldrida had moved closer as she spoke. Now she leaned down, brushing cool lips across his. “Be well, beloved.” Her words whispered around him as she faded away.
Methos stirred, shaking off the remnants of the all too real dream as the hall clock struck midnight. Warm next to him, Triona was pressed sound asleep into his side, reassuring him that all was well. Letting out a breath, he began to relax. The last chime of the clock echoed softly and a deep silence fell. And in that hush, a perfume wafted around him; it was not Triona’s. He went still. Lavender, cedar, and the scent Triona hadn’t been able to identify earlier: vetiver. It was vetiver. Despite himself, the hairs on the back of his neck stood up. He chided himself for letting a dream affect him like this. There was a rational explanation for it all. There had to be.
The scented cloud only grew heavier, as if in counterpoint to his attempts to rationalize it away. Slowly, not wanting to wake the sleeping woman at his side, he sat up. As he did, something fell. Methos reached down, picking up the dark shape now on his lap, holding it up to the firelight.
It was a bough of holly.