21 January 2014 @ 10:17 pm
044. The Widow of Bells Brook  
OK so I was reading Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. And then I had a shower. Apparently showers are good for the plot bunnies. Because then this happened. I don't even know.

Title: The Widow of Bells Brook
Fandom: The Avengers/Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell
Rating: G
Pairings: Clint/Natasha
Wordcount: 4370 (with footnotes)
Warnings: none
Disclaimer: This either belongs to Marvel/Disney or Susanna Clarke.
Beta: none, all mistakes are my own
Notes: Hover your mouse over the superscript to read the "footnotes".

Here follows an excerpt from Female Magicians of Note by Mrs Arabella Strange, published by John Murray, 1826:

From the 1600s there is only one story concerning the use of Magic that seems to have any truth to it. Though there are always stories in the Northern Kingdom regarding the Otherlanders1 and their propensity for stealing away mortals into their Eternal Halls, the story of the Widow of Bells Brook is notably different, due to the fact that, from all accounts, the Widow went willingly into the Halls. What is more, it is unanimously acknowledged that she went at the request of a Fey to whom she eventually willingly bound herself (though the timing and nature of this biding is unknown).

Little is known about the Widow of Bells Brook, as the accounts regarding her life vary and are almost always conflicting. It is not known from whence she came before settling in Bells Brook, though many rumours speculated. All that was known was that she was not local and by the time she settled there, she was already a widow. Little too, is known of her husband, though almost all accounts agree that his death was natural and by no means orchestrated by any Otherlanders2.

Nevertheless, the Widow of Bells Brook soon became known in the area surrounding the village, not only for her youth and tragic loss, but for her beauty and known practice of Magical Arts. It is rumoured that is it was these attributes that brought the Fey to her.

The best account we have of the Widow of Bells Brook prior to her dealings with Otherlanders and Faerie3 comes from a letter written by the Vicar, a Mr Clancy4 (1625-1681), to his brother in Scarborough in 1654;

…It is curious that Mrs R---- should chuse to live here as there are few of the amenities to which she is accustomed (it is rumoured that she comes from close to Edinburgh and, before this, from the Continent and the fashionable coffee-houses and gaming-halls of Europe). However it seems to me that she is happy here, and that the quiet country life quite suits her. She is popular with the children of the Parish and the Winterbottom’s little daughter Lucy is quite enamoured with her. She brings small sweets for the children on Sundays and is often seen giving cloth dolls to little girls in the market. However, past this she is loath to socialise, and Anna’s attempts to engage with her are often met with cool looks. I confess I do not quite know what to make of her, but I believe she means no harm and am content to let her go about her business as she sees fit.

After this no concrete evidence can be found regarding the Widow, and what follows is, at best, highly disputable. Nevertheless, the story goes thusly;

The Widow, whose name is now lost, arrived in the village of Bells Brook in the early 1650s. She was uncommonly young for a widow, and possessed a great deal of grace and beauty for one whose life had seen such sorrow. Many of the young men of the village quickly became enamoured with her, but the Widow did nothing to either encourage or discourage their interests.

She had lived in Bells Brook for three years before anything remiss was thought to have happened. The first sign was the Widow coming to the parish church to ask why the bells insisted on tolling all hours of the day. When the church attendants replied that the church bells only struck the hour, as did all church bells for that was their purpose, she became quite disconcerted and went away apparently muttering to herself.

Later she was seen buying books on magic and Books of Magic and rumours, apparently originating from her staff at Brook House, started circulating that she was learning magic in an attempt to silence the bells and remove the wood from about her house; a wood, incidentally, that none in the village could see5.

The Widow worked tirelessly, learning spells of Concealment, spells of Awakening and spells of Disbanding and Disarming, and nothing changed until one evening in the Summer when she tried a spell from Pale’s Discourses6. This spell was widely known to not work, as it had been tried by a great many magicians throughout the years. It was thought that Martin Pale7, the spell’s author, had written it in an obscure Sidhe8 dialect and that none now could understand it. Furthermore it was believed that it was based upon an older enchantment that was invented by the Raven King9 himself, though none can prove or disprove this theory.

However, the widow’s attempt was successful. Or, more accurately, her various attempts to summon a Fey to her, to stop the bells and vanish the wood, had attracted the attention of the Otherlanders and they sent one of their own to discover what was happening. The person they sent was quite uncommon for a Fey, for he was known as one who it was notoriously difficult to bargain, persuade or otherwise converse with. It was assumed that this Fey would dissuade the widow from continuing merely by being obstinate and silent.

However, this was not what happened.

The Fey, whose name has also been lost but which is thought to mean in Sidhe something akin to ‘hawk’ or ‘falcon’, arrived in the room in which the Widow was ensconced, and found the Widow sat at a table by the light of three tallow candles. The room was well proportioned and each wall was covered in either a bookshelf or a large ornate mirror. However, the Widow did not see the arrival of the Otherlander as she was facing away from him, and the mirror which would ordinarily have shown the arrival of another in the room did not reflect the man at all. So it was that the Fey could observed the Widow quite unnoticed.

The Widow, thinking that her spell had failed again, grew quite upset and went about muttering and cursing, angrily throwing about books and papers and generally making a mess. When eventually she had calmed, she sat once again at her desk and began speaking to herself in distracted murmurs.

“Oh this will not do! It is well documented that one must be able to speak Sidhe to be able to converse successfully with Fey, but no one knows Sidhe apart from those rascally creatures and I cannot meet one to learn it! It is a damnable cycle from which I cannot break!”

And she began to sob once more upon the table.

Quite to the astonishment of the occupants of the Otherlands, the Fey whose name meant ‘hawk’ or ‘falcon’ in Sidhe returned to the Kingdom from whence he came10 with a desire to teach the Widow Sidhe so that he may converse with her. When asked why he would want such a thing, when there were plenty of beautiful women in Faerie with whom he could spend time with without having to teach them anything, he replied that the Widow’s mirrors had shown him the Widow wearing a dress made of spiders and a veil woven from cobwebs. In the Otherlands, this is a far more sensible reason than any you or I would consider, and the Fey whose name meant ‘hawk’ or ‘falcon’ in Sidhe was permitted to return to Bells Brook.

The arrival of the Fey whose name meant ‘hawk’ or ‘falcon’ in Sidhe in the dining room of the Brook House was a surprise both to the Widow, who was just about to sit down for her supper, and her maid Ginny who was waiting upon her. He appearance was surprising both for his suddenness, but also because he arrived in a flock of birds; the dining room, which had never housed birds in its long history, was suddenly filled with the smell of crisp air and thousands upon thousands of whirling black birds which suddenly manifested themselves into the form of the Fey whose name means ‘hawk’ or ‘falcon’ in Sidhe.

Ginny fell into a dead faint, while her mistress was altogether less hysterical and merely cried out in alarm.

Of course, in the beginning, there was much misunderstanding and confusion between the Widow and the Fey whose name means ‘hawk’ or ‘falcon’ in Sidhe. She, of course, could not yet speak Sidhe, and he refused to speak English for reasons unknown to anyone. However, he seemed to be quite enamoured with her and she, unlike with the young men of the village, was quite receptive to his advances, despite their various problems communicating.

All told he was a striking looking man. He was dressed conventionally for the times, and upon first glance there was little remarkable about him, though he could, of course, turn into a flock of birds, which was wholly uncommon. He also carried with him at all times a bow and arrows made from rowan11 and fletched with the feathers of a multitude of different garden birds. But it was his eyes that proved to be the most striking thing about him – they were the colour of the skies; all skies at all times and all shades of blue imaginable, from the eggshell blue of morning to the deep indigo of night. But what was more, they could look like the sky at sunset; oranges and purples and reds – and like the sky during a storm; wrecked ships and despair and a grey so dark you could drown. They were equal parts disconcerting and enchanting.

For many months the Widow was not seen around the village of Bells Brook. Ginny was sent out for provisions when they ran low and eventually ended up running the house, all the other staff save the cook and the stable boy having been dismissed. The Widow and the Fey whose name meant ‘hawk’ or ‘falcon’ in Sidhe spent long hours together in the library or the garden (the Fey whose name meant ‘hawk’ or ‘falcon’ in Sidhe always preferred to be outdoors) learning magic and Sidhe together.

It is true that some of the residents of Bells Brook were concerned by the fact that the Widow lived alone in a house with an unmarried man who was no relation to her, but most were willing to overlook this slight curiosity. And, as people were quick to point out, Ginny, Margaret (the cook) and Steven (the stable boy) also lived at Brook House12 – it was not like they were alone.

After a while however, the two of them ventured out into the village together and the villagers were much surprised by the change in the Widow. Her hair and lips seemed redder, her skin paler and her dress seemed to be made entirely out of small, black spiders. At first the villagers were disconcerted – and quite rightly so, a dress made of spiders is a frightful idea – but when it became apparent that the Widow was not much changed in temperament, and that the Fey whose name meant ‘hawk’ or ‘falcon’ in Sidhe  (whom the villagers ended up addressing as Mr Hawke) was rather charming, despite his disinclination to talk, the shock over the Widow’s attire faded until eventually Bells Brook was completely accustomed to having a woman walk around in a dress made of small, black spiders.

After this the tale becomes more garbled, as there are various different and contradictory stories about the years Mr Hawke spent in Bells Brook. However, all the tales share some common elements, as well as a story that remains constant no matter which version of the tale you may hear.

Common elements include the fact that Mr Hawke quickly became beloved by the children of the village, just as the Widow was. He would create birds from leaves that would revert back to leaves if a child were to touch them. He would cause the trees to grow into intricate patterns, or cause bonnets to turn into butterflies. He could make little girls dresses change colours, and little boys toy carts to run on their own. However, what particularly delighted the children of Bells Brook (and many of the adults as well) was to see Mr Hawke turn into a flock of birds. However he ceased to do this quite so much after an incident detailed below.

The Widow and Mr Hawke would also travel to some of the larger cities – London, Newcastle, York, and Manchester (the villagers of Bells Brook rightly guessing that the Widow missed somewhat the gaming-halls and coffee-houses of Europe). In these places both the Widow and Mr Hawke were very welcome; the Widow for her beauty and grace and Mr Hawke for his uncanny hand at backgammon. What is more, Mr Hawke seemed to have no trouble communicating with people, despite refusing to speak anything other than Sidhe and as such the Widow would often leave him entirely, letting Mr Hawke get by with hand gestures and sarcastic smiles.

The story that remains constant throughout the telling of the tale of the Widow of Bells Brook is much more exact than these small titbits of information as it concerns a young man and a great deal of magic.

As previously mentioned, the Widow of Bells Brook was much admired by the young men of the village, and many had tried, at one time or another, to court her. All were eventually turned down and, especially after the arrival of Mr Hawke, none tried again when it was so clear that her interests lay elsewhere.

All, that is, except one.

James Barnes was the miller’s son, and was by all accounts a rather handsome young man. However, he was unfortunate in that he possessed a rather jealous character which could be aroused altogether too easily, especially when attractive young women were concerned. Barnes had often attempted to court the Widow but, like all the others, was turned down. However, unlike the others, he did not desist in his attempts after this, nor did he stop when Mr Hawke arrived, despite it being plain as day that the Widow was rather enamoured with the Fey.

Barnes became uncommonly jealous and, knowing a little of magic, as most people did in those days, he devised a plot to rid himself of the troublesome Mr Hawke. With the help of the village blacksmith he set about building a small cage of lead13 and then one day managed to persuade a child in the village to demand of Mr Hawke that he turn into a flock of birds. As previously mentioned, Mr Hawke enjoyed the company of the children of the village and therefore was much more likely to agree to the child’s request than if it had come from an adult.

When the child – Katherine Bishop, the daughter of the Mr Bishop who farmed Ravenstone Farm – finally managed to persuade Mr Hawke to transform into a flock of birds, Barnes quickly set about capturing one of the birds from the flock in the lead cage, thus preventing Mr Hawke from being able to turn back into a man.

However, this endeavour – predictably – did not turn out quite as Barnes had hoped. In fact, it turned out to be quite disastrous for him; it is known that offending or provoking a Fey is very dangerous, and that doing the same to a woman in love can be even more so. Offending or provoking both at the same time seems to border on foolish, but clearly Barnes did not seen it that way. Or at least, he did not initially see it that way. I am sure by the end of it he was quite aware of his folly.

The first problem Barnes encountered was that while Mr Hawke could not transform back into a man, neither could the birds in the flock stray too far from each other. This resulted in the miller’s house, where Barnes lived, being entirely engulfed in a dizzying whirl of black birds, which in turn made it very easy for the Widow – who had been told of the events by Farmer Bishop and his near hysterical daughter – to find where Mr Hawke was being imprisoned.

The Widow, of course, could no more touch the lead cage than Mr Hawke could, she herself being now so close to the Fey and Faerie. So instead she worked a great deal of terrible enchantments upon the mill and the miller’s son with the intention of scaring him into releasing Mr Hawke; the panes of all the windows suddenly grew branches so great they blocked out all light inside the mill and the darkness was then made to be so complete that no light could pierce it, not by fire or lanterns or any candles that Barnes could light.

Then all the mirrors and windows in the house (those that could still be seen) began showing the most horrible visions; crawling dismembered hands, ghostly women downing in storm tossed seas, men who prised open their own chests to reveal their beating, bloody hearts. Coupled with the fearful shrieking of the remaining birds that were once Mr Hawke, the whole situation must have been terrible to behold. But the worst of it was that the house slowly filled up with spiders; small black spiders that Barnes, trapped inside the house, could neither hear nor see, but which he could feel crawling all about his person alarmingly quickly. The terror of these spiders quickly became so great that Barnes was near incomprehensible with fright and, after this enchantment was cast, it took no time at all for him to pull open the door of the cage which held the last bird of Mr Hawke’s flock.

As soon as the bird was released, the Fey whose name meant ‘hawk’ or ‘falcon’ in Sidhe appeared in the room with Barnes. He was a fearful sight to behold; his expression terrible and his eyes, oh his eyes! They were the colour of sunsets and thunder, storm tossed seas and the despair of sailors downed, lightning tinged and near glowing with rage. The Fey whose name meant ‘hawk’ or ‘falcon’ in Sidhe took from his back his rowan bow, and carefully nocked his rowan arrows and, by the time the Widow burst into the room (having released the house and man from her enchantments as soon as the flock of birds had disappeared), all that was left of Barnes were twigs and branches shot through with arrows and being feasted on by worms.

The reaction of the villagers of Bells Brook to the fate of James Barnes was mixed. It was generally considered, however, that Barnes should have known better than to try and trap a Fey with lead. So though the villagers on the whole accepted the reactions of the Widow and Mr Hawke as, if not entirely agreeable, at least understandable, they both thought it best to remove themselves from the village for a while.

The accounts of where the Widow and Mr Hawke went while they were away from Bells Brook conflict greatly. Some say they travelled to Europe while some that they took the Faerie roads14 to the Kingdom of Lost-hope in Faerie. Others say that they were received in the halls of the Raven King John Uskgalss and others still believe that Mr Hawke took the Widow to his own kingdom, though no accounts can agree on which Faerie kingdom this should be.

The Widow and Mr Hawke were away from Bells Brook for nearly two years, and when they returned to the village they did not stay long. The villagers, upon their return, noted a marked difference in the Widow; more so than when Mr Hawke – then only known as the Fey whose name meant ‘hawk’ or ‘falcon’ in Sidhe – first arrived in Bells Brook. She seemed even more ethereally beautiful than before, but just like Mr Hawke, she now possessed a dangerous air, and just like Mr Hawke, her eyes were now most unusual – the colour of the deep sea, of dark forests were spiders spin webs to trap small creatures; an ancient, timeless colour.

The departure of the Widow of Bells Brook and the Fey whose name meant ‘hawk’ or ‘falcon’ in Sidhe is the same no matter which account of the tale you come across. They took their leave of the inhabitants of Bells Brook on Midsummer under a high moon. They both settled matters with the staff at Brook House15 and then removed themselves to the field behind the church of St Bridget, where it had been long believed that an old Faerie road began.

And if anyone were to have looked out of their widow on that Midsummers Eve, they would have seen the Widow and Mr Hawke share a brief kiss and a smile, before he took her hand and the two became a flock of birds, and flew away.

Also on AO3
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( Post a new comment )
[identity profile] alphaflyer.livejournal.com on January 22nd, 2014 01:24 am (UTC)
Woman, that is bloody GORGEOUS. *hastens over to AO3 to leave a kudo and a more fulsome comment*
[identity profile] franztastisch.livejournal.com on January 23rd, 2014 07:30 pm (UTC)
Haha thank you! :D