Like an Angel in the Night
For an article on sickness/health/immortality in fan fiction about Alfred the Great, I am currently close reading this very interesting piece by Tumblr user BigHeartBigFart, which combines characters from The Last Kingdom and Outlander. Republished with the author’s permission.
Alfred knew that the end of his days was coming quickly. He could hardly recognize himself, when he caught his reflection. He had always looked sickly and thin, even when he was a child, but now he looked like the walking dead. To make matters worse, he could feel the eyes of his kingdom on him – like vultures waiting for their prey. Alfred had done so much for his Kingdom, for Wessex; however, he was barely prepared to leave it, no matter how much he trusted his son to take the crown.
As the daylight began to fade, Alred could feel his strength going with it, as if his soul was already halfway to heaven. If that is where it is to end up, Alfred thought bitterly. He staggered to his bed. At one time, he looked forward to its comfortable furs. Tonight, however, he dreaded climbing into bed, because those same furs now felt stifling on his clammy skin. Alfred began to drift in and out of consciousness, thinking how this would most likely be his last day on Earth, and it was a shame that he couldn’t cherish its earthly comforts, while they lasted.
* * * *
Claire woke in a cold sweat; the wind seemed to be whispering something in her ear, but before she could decipher the words, her legs began to carry her. Claire was running. She didn’t even stop to change into something more decent than a nightgown. Suddenly, she was out in the cold air, in nothing but her white silk slip. Claire couldn’t comprehend why she was running; her body seemed to know something that her mind did not.
The wind was carrying her through the forest, where the faint whispering, all around her, began to grow louder. The air became electric with unexplainable energy. After sometime, Claire came upon a circle of rocks, which looked similar to Craigh na Dun. She trusted the whispering wind to guide her, as she touched the cold stone. Claire held her breath and closed her eyes. She felt something calling to her, something strong. She focused on that energy, that calling. She trusted the wind, the rocks, and the energy to bring her through time once more, even though she didn’t know where, or rather when, she was going.
When Claire opened her eyes, she knew she was somewhere she had never been before. The pungent smell of sweat, manure, and blood assaulted her nose, and when her eyes were finally able to adjust to the blinding sunlight, Claire could see that she was further in the past than she had ever been. The scenery told her that she might even be in the Medieval times. Claire focused on the whispering wind, so it would tell her what to do. She could feel it calling her to the village in the distance. It felt important. It felt like destiny.
* * * *
Alfred woke with a start; there was a commotion outside his bedroom door. Before he could try to call out weakly for his wife or Father Beocca, a spectral image of a woman burst through the door with a powerful energy about her. He would have been sure that it was a hallucination, had it not been for the swarm of guards who were chasing her with their swords drawn.
“Lord, this wench, she -” a guard started.
“I can assure you that I am no wench, sir. I’m here… Well… I’m here for…”
* * * *
Claire wasn’t sure how she made it to these bedchambers or how she managed to evade the bloodstained swords of the barbarians surrounding her; and she still didn’t know what she was doing here. However, when she laid eyes upon the skeleton of a man, laying in bed, she knew that she was sent here to help him.
You cannot save the world, Claire thought to herself, but you might save the man in front of you, if you work fast enough. She sprung into action then, or she would have, if the guards hadn’t grabbed her.
“Oh, let me go, you brutes! I need to save this man, who I suppose is your king!” She yelled, and tried to break from their tight grasp.
* * * *
“Lord, what do you wish we do with this woman?” One of the guards asked, “She appears to be a wise woman… Although, I’ve not seen her as a healer in Wessex before.”
Alfred looked wearily at the woman in front of him, in her wisp of a white nightgown, unsure of whether he could trust her. Then he thought of something that had been on his mind a lot recently: the decision he had made to give his sickly son to Iseult, when he was hiding in the Marshlands. He remembered something that Untred had told him, advice, which now seemed more like a premonition.
You have this one chance to save your son, and you will have one chance to save your kingdom. The two are bound together.
Now, it appeared as though Alfred had one chance to save himself. He had sinned a lot in his life, and he had been unable to abstain from the temptations of youth, but now, standing in front of him, was an angel with a mission. This must be a sign from God that King Alfred was to reign for a little longer. He was not to be the king that went quietly into the night.
“Release her. Let her do what she must,” he said hoarsely, and closed his eyes.
* * * *
Claire wrestled from the grasp of the men holding her and ran to the man’s bedside.
“Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ!” Claire gasped, “He’s nearly dead!” She ripped the blankets off of him, and could see that his clothes were drenched in sweat, and he was clutching his stomach tightly. Claire gently removed his hands from his stomach and pressed lightly on it, which Alfred replied to with a pained groan. As she suspected, there was swelling in the abdomen. After asking Alfred his medical history, in a hushed voice, she had an idea of what ailed him. Claire had read about a disease that a medical team had discovered before the War; she remembered that it was called Crohn’s Disease, and it was connected to irritation with the digestive system. She guessed that his intestines had a bacterial infection, common with Crohn’s Disease, and it was what was causing him pain and fever. If it continued to go untreated, it would kill him.
Claire needed to think faster, if she was to save this man. She needed antibiotics. She racked her brain with medicinal herbs, thanking her lucky stars that she took the time to study natural remedies in her spare time.
“I need Garlic, honey, clove…” Claire began to shout. “I also need water, alcohol, and fresh cloth!” She turned around to see that the guards were stunned by her orders, and they had not made a move to fulfill them.
“NOW!” She yelled, “Do you want him to die?” The men shifted uncomfortably and looked at one another, unsure of what to do. Luckily, while Claire had been inspecting the patient, a man who appeared to be a priest had pushed past the guards and was carefully watching her work. When he saw that the guards were not following her orders, he spoke up.
“Listen to her! Get her what she needs! Whether she be a wise woman, witch, or angel, we must respect the King’s wishes.” The priest said firmly. The guards responded to his commands and scattered to find what Claire had asked for. Then he ran to the bedside and knelt by the king.
“King Alfred, I am here. I will pray for you.” The priest said, as he held Alfred’s hand.
“Father Beocca, I am grateful for your presence. I fear that I have not repented enough, and I fear for my fate,” King Alfred confessed in a whisper.
“My Lord, do not worry about God’s will, now. Your strength is needed elsewhere.” Father Beocca looked up at Claire, and an understanding passed between them. “I will stay with you, lady, and help in anyway that I can.” Father Beocca said to her, then he bent his head forward and clasped his hands in prayer.
As Father Beocca was prayed with King Alfred, the men came back with the things that Claire had asked for. First, she dunked the questionably clean cloth into the bucket of water and laid it onto Alfred’s forehead and chest; immediately, she could feel the heat radiating through it.
“Father, keep him cool and make sure that he drinks,” Claire said, passing Beocca the water bucket and cloth, to which he nodded and got to work. With Claire’s hands free of the water and cloth, she grabbed the mortar and pestle that had been brought to her with the herbs that she had asked for.
“Drink this, Alfred. Help him, Father, please,” Claire said, passing Beocca the cup of make-shift antibiotics.
* * * *
“May heaven have no more broth.” King Alfred groaned, but lifted his head and allowed Father Beocca to help him drink.
It felt like hours of Claire working with him – giving him sips of the ghoulish drink that she had made for him and massaging his abdomen tenderly, while Father Beocca worked tirelessly to break his fever. But soon, Alfred felt well enough to sit up in bed and sip from Claire’s cup without assistance. Alfred had never wanted to go down in history as a weak king, and he now understood the God was giving him one last chance to make his legacy. He could continue to spread God’s word and to prepare his son to take the throne.
Alfred could feel a change inside him. He wanted to live.
* * * *
Claire could see Alfred’s color returning, and she sighed with relief. She requested that a stew be made, because she knew the Lord would need sustenance to keep his strength. Just as Alfred’s fever broke, the soup came, and Alfred took it eagerly, which made Claire laugh.
“I am glad to be rid of that disgusting brew you’ve been having me drink,” Alfred said lightheartedly.
“Excuse me, but that brew saved your life, King Alfred,” Claire shot back.
There was a long silence between the two. Claire looked into the eyes of a man who appeared to have come back from the dead, and all she could do was smile. Alfred held her gaze and cleared his throat.
“My lady, may I ask you something?” He said quietly. Claire nodded. “Who sent you? Are you an angel from the Lord?”
Claire laughed lightly and held his hand. “Truthfully, I don’t know exactly what I am, or how I came to be here. But I knew when I saw you that it was you I was sent here for.”
“I am in your debt, lady, may I have your name?” Alfred asked.
“A strange name… For a strange presence, I suppose,” King Alfred said with a soft laugh. “How can I repay you? I have silver… and riches. Whatever you wish.”
“Please, my Lord, I ask for only one thing. I would like a horse, and a guide, to bring me back to the tall rocks on the hill. That’s all.”
“So it shall be done. I feel well enough, may I walk you to the stables?” Alfred asked, trying to get out of bed.
“No, you need your rest, and I trust Father Beocca will tend to you well. I must say goodbye now.” Claire said. She stood and lightly kissed Alfred’s forehead – thankful that she could feel no trace of fever on him. Claire turned to leave, her long white nightgown trailing behind her.
Just like that, King Alfred’s angel was gone into the night.
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