All Our YesterdaysGenre:
Character Study/AngstAuthor: templeremusWord Count:
PG-13. Semi-graphic descriptions of gory historical events and emotional trauma.Summary:
Forgetting is a human superpower. Trudging through the centuries, the girl from the Viking village comes to know that better than most. Spoilers
for The Girl Who Died
/The Woman Who Lived
The father of her first child worked in an iron foundry.
His name began with a T; or perhaps hers did. These diaries had not lasted well. In the early years - when she was still Ashildr - she had tried to make new copies every few decades, but the task was always growing. She needed to be clever about what she kept. Too many fond memories, and she might waste whole lifetimes looking back. Too much unhappiness, and she might finally end the truce with the part of her body that belonged to the Mire.
She could recall the birth, at least. She knew how it felt to be sick with labour-pains and to hold a newborn against her skin. If any of her babies had cried out, in any century, she would have recognised them. She told herself this because the alternative - that she had lost them all twice, first by death and then by forgetting - was unimaginable.
Later other children went to the plague pits, bundled up with their nightclothes. She had hidden her books in a cavity behind the stove, otherwise the corpse-haulers would have taken those too. When a month or so had passed she returned to the house disguised as a doctor, her face covered by the hooked mask that smelt of sweat overlaid by rosemary. Nobody stopped her as she entered or as she left. She crept the streets unremarked upon, and waited for some kind of release.
After that the gaps became more frequent. Several diary entries had been torn out with such violence that the surrounding pages had come loose. It was another six decades before the story picked up again. A blink of an eye, in the wider scheme of things, but though the years had left no mark on her, she knew herself to be changed. Her cleverness had hardened into brilliance. Her grief had collapsed under its own weight. It was as deeply embedded now as the alien cog that kept her blood moving, which meant (or so she chose to believe) that she could neglect it without much effort. All it took was a new diary, and with it another life.
By the turn of the fifteenth century she was a boy and a veteran of Agincourt, carrying weapons for a young English mercenary who had gleaned everything he knew about suffering from his father's library. Really she could have made it across France without him; she was quicker on her feet, and better with the longbow. After so much time alone, however, she found herself glad of another perspective. He was in love with ideas of immortality: Alexander who had cities named after him, Patroclus whose death had been sung about since history began. All through the march towards Rouen, and the six-month siege that followed, he had waxed lyrical about Troy, which held out for years without faltering.
Dysentery took him, in the end. She made her shield into a stretcher for him to lie on, and when he could no longer raise his head she explained how she knew what dying would be like. It was (she was almost certain) the first time she had told anyone that story. Impossible to be sure whether he heard her.
The garrison petitioned for mercy. Rouen's citizens, starved beyond endurance, were forced into the ditches that encircled the city. They lay there, breathing rainwater. It was the plague all over again; it was the end of the world. She made a note of the date, folded the page, and joined the king's advance on Paris.