13. Intended

Chapter warnings: this chapter contains brief description of bloodletting.

London, England
May, 1667

“It is a joy, Elizabeth, to see you here with your intended,” the woman said, smiling.

Elizabeth smiled back, squeezing Carlisle’s upper arm so firmly that it was almost painful. He beamed anyway. It was comforting, the way her hand squeezed around his. The warmth of her skin against his own even in the wet June air made the fine hairs on the back of his neck rise. Between them, Georgie looked up and giggled.

This was their third time to market together. The first time they’d come, they were met with surprise, a few confused nods, and requests that Carlisle introduce himself. But now there were smiles, friendly whispers, and greetings to them both.

“It is a joy to be here with a man like Mister Cullen,” Elizabeth answered, smiling up at him and causing his cheeks to warm. She paid for the bread, then gave a light tug on his arm as they moved toward the stall of a man selling vegetables. The baker smiled and waved as they left, and Carlisle had to twist around to return her gesture.

“It is his wife who tends the garden,” Elizabeth whispered as they approached the grocer. “Mrs. Jefferson. I buy from her directly most often.” She smiled at the man, greeted him cheerfully, and then began discussing with him the things she wanted to purchase.

The grocer had two chairs at his stand, which Carlisle recognized at once as coming from the Tyne shop. In fact, he was fairly sure he’d made them both, as he looked over the legs and the back ladders.

“Are these from Mr. Tyne?” he asked after a moment.

The grocer looked around, bewildered, and then, lighting on the chairs, smiled. “Ah yes, they are. And now I recognize whence I know you. You are Mr. Tyne’s apprentice.”

Carlisle nodded. “I believe I made these for you.”

“Well, they are quite finely crafted. I thank you. Will you open your own shop when you come of your apprenticeship?”

He shook his head. “I intend to study the law.”

“Study the law?” The grocer stopped his progress in loading Elizabeth’s satchel bag.

“And my father wishes me to become a minister.”

To say nothing of the edict issued by Christopher.

The man looked from Carlisle to Elizabeth and back again. “The world is full of solicitors and ministers, but has few excellent carpenters.” He ran a hand over the back of one of the chairs appreciatively. “I would hope you’d reconsider.”

Elizabeth beamed. “I’ve said the same. Carlisle is quite gifted in his craft.”

“No doubt,” the man answered. “It is always useful, I find, for a husband to be good around the house.”

Husband. It made his heart jump.

“I am not her husband,” he corrected.

“Thou art not yet my husband.” Elizabeth stood on her toes and brushed his cheek with her lips, bringing a fresh round of giggles from Georgie. “An important distinction, to be sure.”

The grocer continued to smile as he filled Elizabeth’s satchel with vegetables. He handed the bag back to her, and she fished in her purse for coins to pay him.

Carlisle heard her mutter something less than ladylike under her breath.

Looking up at the grocer, Elizabeth gave him a wide smile. “Sir, it seems my brother must have needed to collect some of my money for the household. Might we negotiate a credit, or perhaps we can take fewer things this week.”

Carlisle reached for his own purse at once. “Allow me,” he said, pulling out a small fist of coins.

Elizabeth made noises of protest, but he gently laid a hand on her arm. An odd feeling bubbled in his stomach as he paid the grocer. How many times in his lifetime would he do this, he wondered? Give Elizabeth money for something they would need? Thinking of this, he slipped a halfpenny to Georgie, whose face alighted.

“What shall I buy with it?” he asked cautiously.

Carlisle gestured to the rest of the market. “Something thou would like.”

Georgie looked to his sister for approval, and, when she nodded, a wide smile spread across his face, and he danced off toward a meat pie cart. Carlisle watched as the dark hair bobbed and weaved through the crowd. When would that be his child, he wondered? Running off into the marketplace with a tiny bit of money—not from the man courting his sister, but from his father.

Elizabeth tried to shoulder her bag, but Carlisle took it from her, slinging it over his own back instead. “I’ll need to repay thee later,” she said, sliding her arm into his.

Carlisle shook his head. “I suspect delicious things will come of these goods. Repay me with them.”

She laughed and poked him in the side. “Thou thinkest only with thy stomach.”

Better than with some other parts of his body, he thought, although he didn’t dare make this comment aloud.

Besides, he thought with that other part often enough, too.

They wove through the crowd awhile, keeping an eye on Georgie. Now he danced in and out of the market-goers, pausing occasionally to look longingly at boiled sugar plums, pies, and berries on display.

Was this what having a family was like? Strolling arm-in-armthrough the market, watching a child’s wonder?

“What thinkest thou?”

The voice startled him a little, and Elizabeth giggled when he jumped.

He didn’t answer right away.

“I think about what it feels like to walk with thee, and with Georgie,” he answered a moment later.

“I imagine walking feels much the same, whether alone or with us, does it not?”

“Thou knowest what I mean.”

This time it was Elizabeth’s turn to be silent. Eventually her head found his shoulder, sending the odd chill through him again.

“Thomas marries soon, does he not?” she asked at last.

Carlisle nodded. “A fortnight hence.”

Elizabeth went silent.

“What will you do?” she asked at last.

“What will I do?”

“About Christopher. And thy profession.”

If that wasn’t the important question. Carlisle threaded his fingers through Elizabeth’s, feeling the way they gently filled the spots of softer skin between his own, and the warmth of her palm over his.

He wanted this. He wanted Elizabeth. He wanted a boy like Georgie, and to go shopping at the market. The desire for all of it burned in his stomach, a hunger that had nothing to do with food.

“The grocer is right, about thy craft,” she murmured. “It is a gift.”

Mr. Tyne said that also, every time Carlisle completed a project. He smiled, squeezing Elizabeth’s hand, even as her brother’s image swirled in his mind. “I should think, Mr. Cullen, that it not be proper for my sister to marry a carpenter. But she would be an excellent wife to a solicitor. Or a minister.”

Law would mean disownment by his father. But the ministry would be giving up everything he fought against. He was not William Cullen. He was William Carlisle Cullen, and that difference seemed as wide as the Thames…

Could he negotiate with Christopher? And even if he could, would he have his father’s blessing if he stayed in his trade?

Georgie materialized out of nowhere, his face smeared with juices and bits of pork from his hastily eaten pie. Elizabeth cleaned his face with her apron as he squirmed and whined, then suggested they turn themselves toward home.

They said nothing about the issue of which they had just spoken, losing themselves instead to Georgie’s chatter about the different things he’d found at the market—the berries, the lamb pie he couldn’t afford, the pork pie he’d eaten, the summer vegetables and the herbs, the way the fresh bread smelled from the baker’s and how it was different from his sister’s. They reached the small home before they knew it. Mrs. Bradshawe had also gone out for the afternoon, and Christopher was likewise nowhere to be found.

“Georgie, will thou go outside and feed the hens?” Elizabeth asked, earning a distinct pout from her brother.

“I am to stay with thee and Mister Cullen.”

Of late, Elizabeth’s mother had substituted one brother for the other in the way of chaperone; which was probably to her advantage, as Georgie was nosy and far likelier than Christopher to stay at his sisters’ side and report on Carlisle’s every gesture.

“It’s only in the yard. Do as I say.”

He looked from Carlisle to Elizabeth and then back again, his eyes narrowed. But ater a moment of scrutiny, his expression relaxed, and he skipped out into the yard. They both watched him go.

“He is a joy,” Carlisle said, and Elizabeth laughed.

“Thou sayest that only because he lives not with thee.” She took his hand again, leaning her head on his shoulder.

“I think I shall go speak to Thomas,” he muttered finally, letting out a little sigh.

“Speak to Thomas?”

“About my profession. And my father. And thy brother.”

“My brother? Georgie won’t oppose. I believe thou bought him quite thoroughly with that pie.”

They both chuckled. Out in the yard, they could see Georgie sprinkling grain for the hens, who followed him around like feathered babes.

“Georgie is not the brother I mean,” he whispered, and she threw her arms around him, pulling him to her and melding their lips.

When they pulled away, neither spoke for a minute or two. Finally, Elizabeth gave him a little shove. “Go,” she said firmly. “If thou intend to ask for my hand, thou ought go. Plan. Then come back.”

He still didn’t move.

“I love thee,” he mumbled.

Where the words came from, he didn’t know, and he would have clapped his hand over his mouth in surprise had Elizabeth’s lips not gotten there first. Her fingers entwined themselves in the thick hair at the base of his skull, and she pressed herself against him from shoulder to waist, causing his whole body to flush with heat. It was several moments later that she mercifully broke the embrace, and he found himself short of breath.

“I love thee also,” she said. Standing on her toes again, she kissed his cheek, then gave him another shove. “Go, inquire with Thomas, and come back and inquire with my brother.”

“I thought thou said I’d won Georgie?”

She smacked him playfully on the chin.

“Go, my husband. Go so that you may come back to me swiftly.”

My husband. His stomach jerked again as he leaned in for one last kiss.

“I’ll return as soon as I’m able,” he said.

~||x||~

“Could thou provide for thyself, were thou to study the law?”

Staring down at the cinder and iron filings which littered the floor of the smithy, Carlisle shook his head furiously.

“Myself, perhaps,” he answered dully, “but not a wife and child.”

Thomas’s chuckled. “A wife and child? Is that not a bit fast? I believe thou were the one who wished to maintain propriety until marriage?”

Of course he did. But once he was married, all those restrictions would be gone.

“I wish to be a father, and she a mother,” he answered.

They had talked about this much, when they walked with Georgie. Elizabeth would regale him with stories of what her brother had been like as a child, and Carlisle would laugh with her, all the while imagining those antics not to be coming from Elizabeth’s brother, but from their own son.

“It will be my desire to get her with child.”

His friend’s laugh was more robust this time. “Getting her with child will go from thy thoughts quickly enough, my friend. I promise thee that you both will forget the reason you couple the moment you do so.”

Carlisle looked away, which only caused Thomas to laugh even more.

That part was true, too. Elizabeth was bolder than he, and took risks he dared not. It had been the week before that her mother had left with Georgie for an hour, leaving them blessedly alone. It had taken no less than five minutes before he found himself with her in his lap as they kissed, her legs straddling his as she rocked their bodies together. He made feeble protests about what he’d promised her brother, and she reminded him that they were both still fully clothed—a fact for which he was grateful ten minutes later when her movements got the better of him and he spilled into his hose.

That was yet another reason marriage would be wonderful.

He stared down into his hands, which were rough and dry from the woodworking he’d been doing that week.

Christ was a carpenter,” Elizabeth’s voice seemed to sing to him.

“Carlisle?”

He pulled himself back to the present.

“I don’t see…” He shook his head furiously. “How will I have this union blessed by my father and by her brother?”

There was an odd scratching noise as Thomas shifted uncomfortably on the trunk on which he sat. He said nothing.

He didn’t need to.

Carlisle gritted his teeth. “I know.”

“It would appease them both.”

But it would kill him, he thought. To join in everything he struggled so hard against…

As though he knew Carlisle’s thoughts, Thomas said, “Thou would not have to serve in Aldgate. Thou could serve outside London completely.”

“I know this!” The force of his own voice startled him. Carlisle stood and began to pace, his shoes scuffing a clear path through the filings on the smithy’s floor. His friend watched him for several minutes.

At last, Thomas stood and placed a hand on Carlisle’s shoulder, stopping him mid-step.

“You are not your father, Friend” he said quietly. “Serve from who you are. Serve God not as William’s son, but as Elizabeth’s husband.”

Carlisle didn’t move. Was it possible it could be that straightforward? Go to seminary. Have his father’s blessing, and Christopher’s. And then leave this place with Elizabeth. He would forgive the wicked, bring them back in repentance instead of hanging them at Tyburn. Perhaps they would serve a parish in the countryside, and his children would run in the fresh air…

“Ah, see?” A smile slid across Thomas’s face as he watched Carlisle. “Not here. Not as thy father. As thyself.”

When Carlisle still didn’t answer, Thomas shoved him. “Don’t be a fool, Carlisle. Elizabeth is worth more than thy pride.”

And Carlisle found himself abruptly on the stoop, the door closed at his back.

~||x||~

It was shortly after dusk when Young William returned. The younger Cullen had been acting strange lately, disappearing from the house for long stretches of time with no explanation, but coming back looking sanguine and deliriously happy. Yet it seemed this happiness did not extend to his home; if anything, Young William seemed even more agitated every time the two of them spoke. They argued often; first over food, then over the cleaning, then over their housekeeper, and his chores in the sanctuary and grounds. Little, niggling arguments that seemed to amount to nothing, but which taken together seemed to indicate that something was bothering his son.

Today, however, his son was whistling, a strange minstrel song coming from his lips and a broad smile on his face. The smile disappeared, however, the moment he laid eyes on his father.

The boy nodded curtly. “Father.”

“William.”

His son’s body went rigid.

“Where hast thou been?”

“With Thomas,” his son answered, not looking at him. He laid down his shoulder satchel and began unloading some vegetables. It was early in the growing season, but there would be enough for them to have a few dinners.

“I needed to seek his advice,” the younger one went on.

“Regarding what?”

“Nothing of particular consequence.” The vegetables made a pith pith pith noise as they landed in the baskets on the floor.

William stared. His son reached into his bag one more time and removed a loaf of bread, from which he tore a chunk before handing the remainder to William. The stool on the opposite side of the table creaked a little bit as he sat.

Tearing a chunk of the loaf himself, William set the bread between them on the table. They both nibbled in silence. It was several minutes later, when William was on his second tear from the bread, that he noticed that his son was no longer chewing, but instead was simply watching William eat.

He set down his own bread.

“Speak thou to Thomas about his marriage?”

His son’s posture stiffened, and for a long moment, he didn’t answer, choosing instead to stare at the half-eaten loaf on the table. It wasn’t unusual. The boy had never been forthcoming; he and William rarely spoke about such things as his friends.

“William?”

“If I go to the seminary, will you cease referring to me as William?”

It was as though time stopped. No chewing. No creaking of the stool. No tiny scratch of cloth against cloth as his son straightened his legs. William suspected it was possible that even his heart had stopped its function. His jaw worked frantically a moment, trying to reposition words in his mouth. But all he managed was, “The seminary?”

“I do not wish to serve in Aldgate,” his son added at once. “The church here should not be passed from you to me. I would raise my family outside of London.”

My family.

He was thinking of a family?

William’s mind raced forward. The church at Aldgate had been his thoughts as long as he had brought up his son. That he would grow to manhood and attend the seminary, and do the Lord’s work right here.

But then his son had grown to manhood and wanted nothing to do with the seminary at all. If he led some church, did it truly matter if it was this one?

He swore he felt his heart jerk. He’d waited for the sign that his son was one of the Chosen; that he would work as the Lord directed him to. How long had William watched, hoping that his child would show some indication of wanting to follow the path laid for him? Some glimpse that the Lord had smiled on him and would accept him into His heaven? His health might be failing, but his that his son would join him in the afterlife now seemed surer than it ever had.

William wanted to say that he was excited. He wanted to share the utter relief that flooded through him. But instead, he moved to what he felt was the next logical step.

“I will be going out this evening.”

The blue eyes—Sarah’s eyes—narrowed.

“And you expect I shall accompany you.”

“I expect you will behave as one of the Chosen.” Which he now assuredly was.

For a long minute, his son did not answer. Instead, he picked up the loaf of bread, turning it over in his hands as he thought.

“We are called to do this work, my son,” William prodded.

For a long moment, there was no answer. And when it came, it was spoken not to him, but to the loaf in his son’s hands.

“I do not desire to kill people,” he mumbled.

William felt himself stiffen. “I do not kill people, William.”

“You as much do.”

“I behave as one who is Chosen ought. As you will. As you choose to. Or is the talk of seminary a ploy?”

From across the table he watched the shadow on his son’s jaw change subtly as the boy gritted his teeth.

“No ploy, Father,” he said darkly. “But do you not think that perhaps the Chosen might be best shown by our good works than by routing out the bad?”

“God calls us to rout Satan and his demons where they lay,” William began, but his son cut him off as he abruptly stood from the table.

“And Christ calls us to be fishers of men.”

He didn’t have a good answer for that. “William—” he began, and the boy whirled, his eyes suddenly dark. The boy looked unbearably angry, but also…sad?

“Father, my name is Carlisle,” was all he said.

~||x||~

“Oy! I could use a blessing, minister,” came the slurred words as a hulking body stumbled toward William. He wore the clothes of a sailor, his breeches and shirt untidy and slopped with ale.

William snarled, and the young man chuckled.

“Or did you come down ‘ere to join us?” The mouth opened wide with the drunken laughter. “I could bet you did. Seen the bad side of piety, have thee? C’mon, then, it’s warm inside.” He gestured toward the tavern across the street, from which issued lamplight and loud, drunken singing.

“No, then? Well, suit thyself, minister!” Laughing uproariously, he lurched back toward the tavern. William watched him go, thankful that they had not come into physical contact but still feeling strangely as though he’d been drenched in mud.

Except for the taverns, of which there were far too many for such a short stretch of road, Ratcliffe Street was entirely empty. It was just on dusk, and anyone who lived in the nearby homes had long since settled in for the night.

His son’s words still hung with him as he walked. Christ calls us to be fishers of men. He was right, of course. After years of schooling, the younger Cullen was as well-versed in the scriptures as was his father—perhaps even more so, as William suspected his child paid attention to passages he did not.

Love, compassion, service. Those were the things Young William found in the Word. Somehow, even without a mother’s care, William’s son had grown up assured of his love, focusing on the passages which redeemed men instead of condemned them.

He wished to attend seminary. To lead a church, even if it was to be outside of London. This was wonderful, even if not quite what William wanted for him. But if his son didn’t wish to rid the world of evil, did that mean the boy was not one of the Chosen?

The thought sent a chill down William’s spine and caused him to walk faster. He wanted that. No, he needed that. If he was to lose his life, he needed the assurance that his son would be received into Heaven.

He was so deeply lost in thought that he nearly ran sidelong into a young woman, walking sanguinely up Ratcliffe street the other direction. Her satchel was full of something—herbs it seemed, as he caught a whiff of them.

“I am terribly sorry, sir,” she said at once. “Please.” She gestured to the street beyond her, and beckoned him to go on.

William frowned. A woman, out here, unchaperoned? He looked her over. He looked her up and down again. She was young, perhaps in her twenties, of marriageable age. Her dark hair fell over one shoulder in a long braid. Underneath her arm was a basket of something. She did not appear to be one of the whores who so freely roamed Ratcliffe looking for beer-emboldened sailors. If anything, she looked like a young wife.

“What brings you out at this late hour?”

She looked downward. “Nothing of consequence, sir.”

A quick glance over her shoulder toward a house with darkened windows.

“Surely you are escorted?”

Shaking her head, she answered, “My father passed away in the sickness, and my brother…well, I provide what he is unable to.”

“Your husband?”

“I am merely promised.”

“And your intended? Does he know you are here?”

“He—” She gave William an uncertain glance. “He is at his home.”

He frowned. “You should not be here. It is an area unsafe for women.”

Cocking her head slightly to the side, she narrowed her eyes. “I was merely running an errand. I was on my way returning, but” —she gestured to him— “I have encountered a delay.”

He had just barely opened his mouth to upbraid the woman for her cheek when he saw the barber-surgeon lean from his doorway and look up the street. The other man beckoned him, causing William’s face to flush. The woman’s back was to the barber, and she would not see him, nor know the reason William himself came to Ratcliffe, as long as he sent her on her way.

Waving a hand, he said, “Go then. Before it is too dark. But in the future, bring thy intended. He should accompany thee to a place like this.”

“I go with him wherever it is possible to,” she said, eyeing him warily once more. “Goodnight, sir.”

It wasn’t his imagination, he thought, that the woman moved more swiftly up the street as she walked away from him. When she was far enough away, he turned, striding quickly himself toward the barber. The two men acknowledged each other with a nod, and it was only seconds before William sat in the chair, his shirtsleeve rolled to his upper arm.

The barber approached with the lancet and bowl, taking his usual perch on the stool. “And your health, Reverend?” he inquired.

But that was not William’s concern this evening.

“Do you know the woman?”

The barber shrugged his shoulders as he tugged the tourniquet tightly around William’s arm. “She is here more often of late, I see. She goes to the widow’s across the street. Arrives with a basket and leaves with another. As you noticed, she is never escorted.”

“Do you know her business?”

“Only suspicions, sir.” He began to rub his thumb in circles over William’s forearm, so as to expose the vein.

“Suspicions?”

The barber’s fingernail stung as he snapped it against the skin. Nodding at his own handiwork, he reached behind him to take his instruments. He said nothing as he readied them.

“What are your suspicions?” William pressed.

“The widow meets with a number of women,” the barber answered carefully. “They come and go. At dusk. Like that one did. Sometimes in groups. Sometimes alone.”

William’s intake of breath was sharp. So it was as he’d thought. It made sense; the woman as forward as she was. Brazen with him, really.

Of course.

“And that one I met?” he asked. “Know you her name?”

Holding the lancet up to the candlelight to be sure it was positioned correctly in his fingers, the barber then laid it against William’s skin, the cold metal causing the minister to jump.

“Her name is Bradshawe, I believe,” he muttered.

There came a little shove and a searing sting, and then William began to bleed.

 

§ One Response to 13. Intended

  • soonermom says:

    I may have already said this, but I’m going to say it again anyway. You make me care about Carlisle. Don’t get me wrong…I never disliked his character. I just never cared or thought much about him. This fic has definitely changed that. I find myself invested as a reader in his story.

    The thing I can’t stop thinking about after reading this chapter is how masterfully you’ve made the priest (who are typically cast as a “good guy”) the villain and the vampire (or in the case of this chapter, the soon to be vampire) the good guy, the sympathetic one. It’s truly wonderful.

    Thanks for sharing! I can’t wait for the next update!

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