Fiction

Where the Past Laid

An autumn Saturday morning like this was my favorite time of the year. I liked the autumn sunshine waking me up in the morning, the yellow and orange leaves hanging on the trees or fell down the sidewalk, and, of course, no work on Saturdays! Not that I hated my job, of course. It was just nice to have free time once in a while.

On the table in front of me was a waffle with strawberry ice cream on top. I had a ritual every Saturday to have a movie or series marathon. Every Saturday was my lazy day and I liked it—doing nothing but watching people’s lives from other worlds on the screen while sitting here on the couch with my blanket and some snacks. Sometimes I thought about what my life could have been if I lived one of those lives I watched.

Anyway, my name was Tori Black. I was a 437 year-old witch who still looked like a 21 year-old girl. I have lived in this apartment in Manhattan for two years now, and had a job as a columnist of a lifestyle magazine. Far from the dark twisted sorcery practice people thought, eh? People really needed to get more creative in imagining witch and warlock’s life these days. We did not live under the rock, for goodness’ sake!

In the middle of the fourth episode of Game of Throne season 3, I sensed something came—magic, sorcery. It was just like when some witch, warlock, or another magical creature came closer. I paused the series with the TV remote, not my sorcery, and stayed silent. I could sense something familiar in whoever—whatever—it was to come. About five minutes after, right when I could remember whose magic I sensed, I heard a bell rang.

A voice came out of the intercom, “Dear, dear, Victoria. I can’t believe you haven’t opened the door and let me in by now. Where’s the manner I have taught you? I am old and standing outside in the breeze!”

I have already pushed the button beside my door to open the front door downstairs before he could finish his words. When I knew he has reached my door, I opened it.

I opened my arms. “Well, well, William Shakespeare!”

“Ah, my dear Victoria, I go by William Stanshield now. Haven’t you watched the television?” he replied and hugged me. I let go of his hug and kissed him on the cheek.

Shocking, wasn’t it? William Shakespeare we all knew by his works was a warlock. Many great and famous people were witches and warlocks too. Most of them had special human talents, and people called them the geniuses. Clever, that was what they were. Hiding their gift to be undetected by others after the witch-hunt in the Middle Ages. Some of them faked their birthdates and deaths after some point in their career and chose to have a peaceful life in the countryside with different names, like my Uncle Will, Franz Schubert and Coco Chanel had done. Some left mystery unresolved about their “deaths”, like Amelia Earhart and, of course, the Nicolas Flamel—who happened to be an old friend of Uncle Will. “To leave some dramatic legacy”, they said.

“How are you, Uncle Will? I’ve missed you. Please, do come in.” Instead of sitting on the couch, he walked around my apartment.

“I’ve missed you too, sweetheart. Still practicing, I assume?” he said as he glanced a bunch of white sage on the table near the kitchen—one of the common ingredients in most magical potions.

“Not as often as I used to. Nothing more I can do, you know. Technology these days is like magic already.”

He entered my kitchen. “It is such a… uh… nice place. Very simple.”

I laughed. “Even small apartment like this in Manhattan cost a fortune. And I know it wasn’t what you were going to say, Uncle. You don’t have to be that polite to me. I’m not a stranger, you see.”

He chuckled. “You got me there, Victoria. Seeing you for the first time in fifty years does paralyze me.” He walked toward me. “You have grown up. Look at you now! A beautiful young lady.”

I rolled my eyes. “Isn’t that shocking.” I left him to the kitchen to make him some earl grey tea, his favorite.

“Hey, now, don’t you be sarcastic like that. I know you’ve been a young lady for more than four hundred years now, but it’s different seeing you with your life here. Seeing you having your own place in the big city like this is different from seeing your places before. Something about you now seems different, so independent and… mature. So you must understand how this old man feels about any of this.”

I could hear his steps around my living room, probably looking at the photos hanging on the wall. “Quite a traveler, aren’t you, Victoria?” Before settling in Manhattan, I have lived in many countries—moving from one to another before people grew suspicious about how I did not age in their eyes.

I entered the living room and found him sitting on the couch. Strange thing, seeing him in neat suit but sitting on such a homey couch covered by a mess baby pink blanket.

“Well, a girl needs to grow up and be independent on her own, doesn’t she?” I poured some hot earl grey in two cups on the table. “Speaking of which, you’ve been different too. Your words are more human now, and less… dramatic. Age does you good, then. I can easily understand what you say now.”

He rolled his eyes. “Charming, dear. You have always been honest.”

I laughed. “Serious, now, Uncle Will. What makes you come here all of the sudden? You used to call me first.”

“And why is that? Can’t an uncle surprise his lovely niece? I’ve done that a couple of times.”

“Right. Go on bragging about how a great uncle you are—which is true.” I reached for a magazine under the table and opened the pages. “I know something is up, Uncle. I can see auras, remember? And yours is fading.”

“Ah, such a special gift you have—even among witches and warlocks,” he commented, amused.

I looked at his eyes with my eyebrows arched. “So?”

He raised his hands, made a gesture like he surrendered. “Okay, okay. No need to put some spell to get me into honesty, sweet Juliet.”

“I am not Juliet, and you know I’ll never do that to you, Uncle Will. I trust you.”

He smiled and put his and on mine. “I know. I trust you too. That’s precisely why I come here.”

He exhaled. “You see, we are not immortal. We are gifted by the ability to age very very slowly after we reached a certain age, yes. But we die eventually. Our organs will be too tired to function, then they will stop working. I am very old, dear. And I can feel that mine were tired to work. I weaken. Have you noticed that I came here by a car, and before that I used a plane to travel from London? I can’t use sorcery to travel anymore. I need to take a good rest.”

I lost my words. I did not want to lose Uncle Will. He was not my biological uncle, but he was the only family I have had since I was four years old. He helped me when I had no one in my life. My biological father had fled when he found out my mother was a witch. Uncle Will was my mother’s friend and mentor since the early of 16th century. He saved me when those villagers attacked my house and dragged my mother outside to judge her because of the sorcery she practiced, although she never did it for evil. But they wouldn’t care. They were blind barbaric monstrous murderers with cold hearts—if they had had any heart at all. Uncle Will, who was a friend of my mother, came that night because he got news of this attack. He wanted to save my mother and me but he was too late. My mother was dragged out already and he could not use sorcery to save her because he was too busy trying to get me out of the house unnoticed. Since then, I lived with him in London, even after he was married to Aunt Anna and had children.

“Don’t leave me, Uncle Will. I can’t lose you. You are my only family,” the tears started to fall.

“Hush, hush. Do not cry in front of me, young lady. No matter how I liked writing tragedies, I do not want to have one, neither for my loved ones.” He wiped my tears. “You are my only family too, Victoria. That’s why I came here in person, to ask you—no, to beg you to do this one small favor for me.

You know beside an actor, I am an entrepreneur too, right? I have some publisher companies in London and some countries around. I also have a library for public. Now I want you to inherit those, Victoria. Would you? I know you haven’t been back to England in hundred of years. I understand you don’t want to go back there. But you are the only one I trust to take care of my business in London. Would you help me, my dear Victoria? Would you forgive what our country had done to your beloved, come back there and replace me? Would you come with me to London in two days so I could teach you how to run them?”

 

***

 

Uncle Will has gone back to his hotel half an hour ago, left me thinking about what he asked me. This is not the kind of Saturday I expected. I love Uncle Will, I do. I liked to see him again, but he needed to get his priorities right. I mean, wasn’t that selfish, asking me to put aside what I felt about England for more than four hundred years and take care of his companies after he died?

But then again, this is Uncle Will. I loved him to death. Of course I did. I owed him my life. Beyond what he asked me earlier, I knew he also wanted me to accompany him in his last days. Like me, he also had no family left. Aunt Anna had died a very long time ago, and he never married ever since. Well, he had some relationships with women but it never lasted long enough to be another marriage. His daughters, Susanna and Judith, had also passed away. They were not witches, although their father was a warlock. Sorcery blood did not inherit from a father to his children, but from a mother to her children. That was why I was gifted with sorcery, but Susanna and Judith did not.

I reached a portrait on the desk next to my bed. It was a young man, painted by Susanna. She was a talented painter. There was a writing on the right corner below the portrait; “October 1592”.

 

His name was Nicholas Sherwood. We first met in 1592, when I was only 16 and he was 18, at the ball held by Lord Millthrope. His father was a Lord himself. Uncle Will was hired to hold a play in that party, and we were all invited. Like some old stories, Nick and I met each other, we danced, we fell in love. After we had seen each other for two weeks, I finally had courage to show him that I was witch. I did not want to be like my mother, being left behind after I was with a baby; or be afraid to open up myself and let someone in because of the tragic things in my childhood. I had wanted to be just me, without being traumatized by anything.

I felt comfortable around him. There was something about him that made me want to trust and open up to him. When I showed him, he was not afraid and left me, nor hated me and called people to burn me. He accepted me for who I was. He loved me against all odds.

One day, he introduced me to his family. I had been afraid of rejection from his family because his family was so high above mine. My fear became real. His father did not approve our relationship because Nick was to have an arranged marriage with a daughter of Lord Barlain. “A Lord deserves a lady,” Lord Sherwood said. “And this girl is only an uneducated orphan and a niece of a low conman.”

He was furious when Nick said he did not care what his father thought and was going to marry me anyway. It was shocking to me too, of course, since he had yet to propose to me. I saw his mother crying on the chair behind his father. I was angry he despised my uncle, but I could not say anything back because I need to keep Nick from punching his father for he was also angry. It was chaotic.

We still went out quietly, in the middle of the night, when the city was sleeping. I did not mind, as long as I was with him. The only thing that bothered me was only that he had to lie to his family. I felt bad about it, but really, no one could tell Nicholas Sherwood what to do. He had his own rules, his own perspectives. He did not mind what people would think about him, although his parents kept saying that he got a reputation to maintain. I adored him for that.

Uncle Will knew about this. He once asked me what I would feel if he re-wrote a story about Romeo and Juliet that was originally an Italian tale. “It was tragically sweet love story,” he said. He assured me that my story was only what inspired him to re-wrote that, and the whole story would be different from mine. Then I said, “Okay.” and there went the most famous love story in the world.

One night in November 1592, he sent me a note to meet him in the forest. When I met him, he was already there with two swords.

“Now I want you to learn how to use this,” he said.

“Why would I need to do that?”

“Because you need to protect yourself.”

“But I have you and I can do…”

“Shh. Do not say it, Tori. It isn’t safe. Here, let us sit,” he led me to a fell tree and sat on it. “You know there is a war¹, right? I have to fight for our country, my sweet Tori. I cannot let it be defeated without any effort from me to defend it. I am one of its people, too. So I am going to go. I will fight for Kingdom of England.”

No matter how hard I tried to make him stay, how I cried, I knew he would still go. He was the one who could make him to do anything.

“But listen to me. I need you to learn how to fight with sword, okay? I do not want to leave you defenseless, without protection. I will teach you before I go. Promise me you will learn. Promise me you will practice everyday after I leave.”

“But why? I have my… gift,” I said finally.

“I know. Tori, I know. And you are very good at it,” he smiled and touched my cheek. “But a physical defense would not hurt, would it? If something bad—God forbid—happen to you when I leave, I could still be able to protect you by preparing you like this. You understand me, my Victoria?”

“Yes.”

“And when I am back, Tori, the first thing I will do is coming back to you. And we will run away, far from here—anywhere you want. We leave this city for good. Wait for me until I am back, would you?”

The night before he left, we met again.

“Take this,” I gave him a handkerchief.

“A handkerchief? For what?”

“To keep you safe,” I answered shortly.

“Is there any… Have you put some spell on it?”

“Yes. Now will you take it?”

“But we cannot cheat Death.”

“And I do not. I just want to do what you did. You tried to keep me safe when you leave, and I want to keep you safe when you leave too. You are the one who goes to the war. You are the one who needs protection. And I am giving you one. Keep this for me, okay? Bring this when you fight. Do not lose it or leave it behind. Promise me.”

He took the handkerchief and held my hand tightly. “I promise.”

 

But he never came back. The Kingdom of England was defeated. Six months later the army came back; only a few of them survived. And my Nicholas was not one of them.

A few days later, August, his friend who knew about our secret relationship, came to Uncle Will’s house, where I lived. He said he was sorry. Nick was his friend and he said he was devastated too. He gave me the handkerchief I had given Nick, said Nick never left it in the camp, always brought it everywhere.

“But the day he died, I accidentally put on his uniform. I did not know. Our uniform was the same, you see. So I put his on by mistake and realized it when we were back in the camp after the battle. I also found something in the pocket of his uniform I was wearing, this handkerchief.” I reached the wall to keep me from falling. I felt so weak, devastated and lost. I never thought I could feel something like this again, not after my mother was killed. I felt useless. I could not save the one I loved. I failed.

“We cannot cheat Death.”

I heard Nick’s voice the last night we were together.

August’s voice brought me back from my thoughts. “I just want to bring this back to you, Tori.”

“No, take it. I cannot take it back, August. You are a good man. It belongs to you now. It is okay,” I gave him a small smile to assure him.

“What do you mean by that?”

“Nothing. It is just some silly old superstition, you know. That handkerchief was supposed to give you luck, to keep you safe. Of course, it depends on what you believe, I think. And I thought it would do Nicholas good, but… Just take it, August. You could throw it away or else, just… please do not give it back to me, would you?”

After Nicholas’ death, I moved out from England. I lived from one country to another. I traveled, never stayed in a country more than seven years. I avoided England and Spain. I have only been back there three times, for Aunt Anna, Susanna, and Judith’s funerals. I had been angry to England and Spain for taking away my love from me. I was so shattered and furious that I almost set both main palaces on fire if Uncle Will did not reason me.

Time has flown. They said time healed. It did. But there was the kind of pain you could not easily forget. I forgave, but I did not forget.

 

***

 

I put down the portrait. I could still feel his last kiss that night; how warm, sweet and soft his lips were, how wet my face was because of my tears, how tight he held my hand like he never wanted to let me go. There has not been a day passed without me thinking and missing him.

Camera has not been found yet in that year. I could only satisfy with a painting. At least I had something to remember from my love. Well, two things, actually.

I opened my closet and pulled out a blue velvet box. Inside, there was a sword, given to me by Nick. When he had left, I was practicing sword everyday. I kept my promise.

Now what should I do? I could not go back to England just like that. But Uncle Will needed me, my only family….

“I love my family with all my heart. Despite their harshness about our relationship, I know they love me too. We are family, after all.

When we run away, I will send my parents and my little sister letters every once in a while, to tell them how we were doing and to show them I never forget them.

You know what else I believe? Family above all. And when I met you in that ball for the first time, I did not only find my true love, but also my new home, my new family. I am a very lucky man.”

I could hear him saying those words to me, as clear as when I heard it for the first time, two nights before he went to war. I have lived for more than four hundred years, I have lived many lives in many countries, but I have never ever forgotten the words he said to me—it was a witch/warlock’s thing, you see. We hardly forgot anything. Perhaps it was what we had to pay, since magic always came with a price.

“Family above all.

…above my feelings too?

“Family above all.

Taking care of Uncle Will, just like he used to do for me? Of course, I would do that. But taking care of his companies? Going back to England—to the country that was responsible for my love’s death?

“Family above all.

I sighed. “For the goodness, Nicholas, will you shut up? Okay, okay. I get it. I love you, but you can be a little annoying sometimes, you know, even after you’re gone.”

I reached for the phone beside the portrait on the desk and dialed Uncle Will’s number. Before he could say anything, I spoke, “I’m coming with you, Uncle Will.”

 

***

¹ Anglo-Spanish War

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