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A Life in Obscurity for penhaligonblue

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Aug. 2nd, 2007 | 06:13 pm
posted by: rosemaryandrue in dh_predictions

Title: A Life in Obscurity
Author: rosemaryandrue
Recipient:penhaligonblue
Prompt: The Deathly Hallows and any member of any generation of the Peverell family
Words: 2145
Notes: Ignotus Peverell, Death, pretty much G. Gratuitous references to Arthurian legends. Albinum is based on the Roman fort of Burrium, which was unfortunately a little too far north and west to be a plausible candidate for Godric's Hollow.
Disclaimer: The story of the Deathly Hallows is not mine.



Ignotus did not take the cloak off, even when he reached the place where his teacher had sent him. Instead, he busied himself with building a crackling fire on the north side of the hill and crouched beside it, welcoming the chance to sit somewhere warm.

He had been travelling for a month, since his brothers died, and he had not dropped the hood of the cloak once. Now he sat on a strange, green hillside and looked down into an unknown country, west of everything he knew, beyond Londinium, beyond Astolat, beyond Glevum. There were mountains in the distance, already beginning to dim with the evening, and he knew he could not be too far from the sea, though he could not imagine Saxon raiders slipping up into these green valleys.

They had killed his brother's wife, and burnt their farmstead, despite every spell rooted in the land. They had brought wild wizards on their long ships, birch carrying, battle-scarred wielders of unknown curses. Even bold Antioch had fled before their onslaught, screaming defiance as he ran.

Ignotus and his brothers had been left with little but their wands and the red wool cloaks upon their backs, mementos of the days before the legions sailed south. They had flocked, like so many of the dispossessed, to Uther Pendragon's banner, but the king commanded the loyalty of too few tribes to force back the invaders, even with wizards at his side. He had sent them to Astolat, to plead for support, and there, above the flooded river, they had met with Death.

The wind whispered past him, making the invisibility cloak ripple against his bare arms, and Death said, “You cannot escape me forever.”

Ignotus stared across the fire at him, shivering. Death was not looking at him, but he seemed at ease as he lounged beside the fire. Tonight he was a fair-haired youth, slight and sharp-boned. Last night he had been a woman, dark-eyed and sensuous.

He wore a red cloak, the one Ignotus had abandoned on the bridge when he slung the Hallow across his shoulders.

“Are you pretending not to see me, Ignotus?” Death murmured. “Campfires do not burn of their own accord.”

Ignotus clenched his fists under the cloak. He did not want to die, not in blood and anger like Cadmus' wife, nor alone and betrayed like his brothers.

“You have cheated me twice,” Death murmured, gazing through the flames. “You will not escape me again.”

While you fear death, Merlin had said after Ignotus sobbed out his story at his teacher's knee, he can always defeat you. To master death, you must relinquish fear.

All those he loved, save one wily old wizard, had died too young. The thought that he might be next had won him the cloak he wore and sent him fleeing across the war-torn countryside.

Ignoring Death's arched smile, he curled up below the cloak and slept.

The next day, he trapped a rabbit for his dinner and started looking for a shelf or overhang which might give him some shelter when it rained. There was no settlement in sight, and he wondered why Merlin had sent him here.

I can hide you from Death, the old wizard had said, with a hint of a twinkle in his eyes, if you will also agree to perform a task for me.

He had agreed instantly. No task, however gruelling, could be worse than death.

Now there was a square of parchment tucked into his shirt, sealed until he could read it without Death peering over his shoulder. Merlin had warned him that he must neither entrust it to another a soul nor destroy it. The former would risk the kingdom and the latter betray him to Death.

Every step he took, however, was accompanied by a flash of red in the corner of his eye. Death could not see him, but he could stalk him by the very grass he crushed beneath his feet.

He spent two more weeks on the hillside, relaxing into the gorse-sweet, green scent of the valleys as Death paced and grumbled around his campsite. He was always the fair-haired boy now, sulky and graceful. Ignotus wondered where he stole his faces from - if they were some echo of the recent dead.

Then, on the fifteenth morning, he woke and found Death gone.

He didn't believe it at first. Then, as the morning crept on, he was gripped by hope. Swiftly, with shaking hands, he pulled out Merlin's letter and broke the seal.

It read, in the old man's precise writing, Uther Pendragon's son is in the care of Caius Ectorius in Albinum. Teach him.

Bewildered, and a little disappointed, Ignotus crumpled the note. He had been hoping for some incantation which would ward him against Death.

As he stared into the distance, however, the valley unfolded beneath him, a hollow full of fields and herds and a square grey fort. He could see men at arms moving along the walls, and women in the streets around the fort.

Baffled, he headed downhill, taking off the cloak.

Caius Ectorius, when he found him, proved to be one of those old Romano-British landowners who were more Roman than the Romans. He seemed quite uncomfortable with the idea of a wizard in his manor, until Ignotus mentioned that he knew how to till a field and swing a sword at great need.

“Well, then, you're welcome,” Ectorius said. “The old man obviously trusted you with his great secret, eh. Boy's my sister's son to most of the fort. Don't breathe otherwise.”

Ignotus agreed eagerly. Within a few days, he was settled into a barracks' room and learning the names of the other men. They gave him a cautious welcome, slow-spoken, quiet men, who knew the land as well as they knew each other. There were no more flashes of red in the corner of his vision, and he slept with the ache of loss cooling in his belly and the names of his dead finally settling through his mind.

A month after he arrived, the fort's steward, who was one of the few who would find his way back again, took the cart to Caerleon to trade. He returned solemnly with the news of Uther Pendragon's death, and Ignotus knew at last where Death had vanished to that day.

He waited eagerly for Merlin's command, but it never came. At last he understood that the boy was meant to grow to manhood here, where even Death could not find him.

Beyond Albinum, the country collapsed into civil war, blazing under the hunger of Britons and Saxons alike.

In the green valley of Albinum, Ignotus found a place. He worked in the fields and, if he sometimes murmured a spell to mend a broken plough or encourage good growth, Caius Ectorius would pretend not to notice and Ignotus would pretend he had done nothing, but his wage bag would be a little heavier at that month's end.

He married a British girl, a descendent of druids with magic in her blood. Their first son was born in the autumn, under a harvest moon.

One winter's afternoon, fifteen years after he had come to Albinum, he told his son and Ectorius' boys the story of the Deathly Hallows, smoothing off the corners for the sake of simplicity. Then, when he was done, he asked them which they would have chosen.

“The cloak,” said his son, whose name was Bedivere, with a note of smugness at knowing the right answer. “The stone,” said Ectorius' son Cei, who was just old enough to remember his mother, buried in the little cemetry on the hillside.

Ectorius' ward Arthur had looked at them all and laughed. “Only the wand,” he said, “is worth the cost.”

Three years later, Merlin sent word at last. Caius Ectorius took his boys to Londinium, and Ignotus stayed in the valley with his family and the fields.

He feel the magic rush through him when Merlin released his spell, a thrill like cold spring water and just ripe strawberries. When he looked up from the lathe he was polishing, a slim boy in a red cloak was walking across the courtyard towards him, lips twisted in a triumphant smile. Ignotus, who now had fears that mattered more than his own death, nonetheless managed to lunge for the invisibility cloak that hung behind his door.

He was under it before Death reached him. Through its folds, he looked into Death's eyes and smiled. He wasn't ready to die, but he wasn't a terrified boy any more. He had love and had created life and he would not quail.

But Death smiled and walked away.

When the news came that Arthur was king of Britain, he was one of the few in Albinum not to be overcome with wonder.

“You knew,” his wife said, laughing and accusatory. “You knew, you old fraud.”

Ignotus laughed and kissed her and did not deny the charge.

He saw Death often in the years that followed, a sudden flicker of red than made him reach for a cloak. It became almost a game – a test to see if he could exchange smiles with the pretty youth before he vanished below the cloak.

Three of his sons followed Arthur to war, but his daughters and his last son inherited his magic. He made their wands the old-fashioned way, by sending them into the woods on Beltane Eve to ask the trees for the gift of a twig.

He lived a long life, as wizards are wont to do. Five years after his wife's death, fifty after his arrival in Albinum, he dreamt that Death stood above a great field, with water rushing at his feet. He carried an elder twig in his right hand and a burning coal in his left, and the cloak he wore was as pale as bone.

Ignotus rose from his bed the next morning ready for his own death. He went about his chores through the frost and left the cloak on his bed, beyond arm's reach.

But Death did not come.

It was not until the end of winter, when his son Bedivere limped home, only survivor of Arthur's host, that he understood what he was mourning.

He nursed his son back to health and set about restoring what he could remember of Merlin's protections, casting the most complex spells of his life to guard his family and his friends. He constantly expected to see Death, but could not spare the time to worry about him. Instead, he created and enchanted, transfigured and charmed, until the shepherds complained they were losing sight of their flocks and he was forced to reweave the spells so they could find their way home again.

When the British armies came plundering or the Saxons surged west, however, they could not find Albinum. Instead they wandered through rain-damp hills, where valleys divided and intertwined in a great maze. Strange creatures plagued them and invisible foes peppered them with warning arrows.

One by one, the armies abandoned the hills. Their soil was poor and their valleys cursed and there was richer territory to be seized and defended. Albinum returned to obscurity, settling over the decades into a large homestead, whose farmers and shepherds appreciated the sturdy walls of the Roman fort but did not bother to restore them when they crumbled.

Death visited rarely, and when he came he always seemed satisfied, his cheeks pink and his steps hurried. Ignotus took to asking, as he drew the cloak on, “What news from the east?” and Death would answer, “A great battle at Catraeth,” or “A child in a well at Deva.”

At last, when his back was bent and his eyes dim and his memory beginning to fade, Ignotus folded the cloak onto his pillow and sat on the edge of his bed to wait.

When Death came his steps were tentative and puzzled. He paused by the bed for a long time, and Ignotus, looking up, saw that he was waiting, the red cloak hanging straight and still.

“Aren't you going to don my cloak, old man?” he asked at last.

Ignotus smiled at him and stood, reaching forward to touch Death's cold cheek. “I am leaving it for my son.”

“Leaving it?” he echoed.

Ignotus looked into Death's yellow eyes and smiled before he kissed him. Death laughed and drew him into his embrace.

When the old man's family found him, his head was resting on two cloaks, folded around each other. One was silvery grey and as fluid as water and the other was an old military cloak, its red wool grown dull with the years.

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Comments {17}

Ani

(no subject)

from: grubby_tap
date: Aug. 2nd, 2007 08:13 pm (UTC)
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Ooooh, I really liked this. First off, the way you wove it into the King Arthur legend was brilliant--and canon, too, innit, what with JK Rowling using 'Merlin' instead of God so often and having Morgan le Fay on chocolate frog cards?

Death was sexy, in spite of, you know, being death and all. The end with the two cloaks was great.

I liked Arthur's cameo, and his choosing the wand.

Lovely fic.

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AutumnHeart

(no subject)

from: i_autumnheart
date: Aug. 3rd, 2007 01:26 am (UTC)
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Very nice :) I really liked the way you've tied this into the Matter of Britain, and the short paragraphs give it the air of a story that has been handed down through the generations: like a fable, or parable that is meant to be a lesson as well as entertainment.

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Lyv

(no subject)

from: chiralove
date: Aug. 3rd, 2007 02:15 am (UTC)
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This is fabulous - I love it so much! Very skillfully woven together, and what a perfect ending. I'll be reccing this at my journal if you don't mind. :)

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Hannah

(no subject)

from: penhaligonblue
date: Aug. 3rd, 2007 07:54 am (UTC)
Link

Wow. I have to say, I'm a bit staggered by this, so you'll have to forgive me for a less-than-adequate comment. This is beyond perfect. The setting, the character development, the connections to Arthurian legend: yet again, you've achieved fanfiction at its best.

I admit I laughed a bit with surprise when Albinum appears to Ignotus - there's something very cinematic about that scene. I love that you worked in Rowling's theme of fearing death - I'd even say you wrote it more subtly than she did. Death's various avatars were intriguing - and I got a chill from Ignotus's thoughts about their source.

Death's final visit was just brilliant.

Thank you!

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Could that someone be Mack the Knife?

(no subject)

from: mizzmarvel
date: Aug. 3rd, 2007 12:40 pm (UTC)
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Wow, this is absolutely beautiful.

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(no subject)

from: mnemosyne_1
date: Aug. 3rd, 2007 01:31 pm (UTC)
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I'm stunned at how much intricate plot and character development you managed to cram into a couple thousand words. His game with Death was so interesting, and the ending was perfect. This is definitely something I could read again and again...

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anti-disestablishmentarianist

(no subject)

from: madeline871
date: Aug. 3rd, 2007 06:49 pm (UTC)
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Wonderful job of folding in Arthurian legend with the Peverell history. I loved it!

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Amy

(no subject)

from: such_heights
date: Aug. 4th, 2007 10:49 am (UTC)
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This is absolutely wonderful! You've meshed the different stories together beautifully. I love stories set this far back in history, and this one is especially good. A great read!

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Maggie

(no subject)

from: magnetic_pole
date: Aug. 6th, 2007 01:18 am (UTC)
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Oh, I love the way you've woven the stories and themes together here. Brava! Maggie

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melancholy in the rain

(no subject)

from: liseuse
date: Aug. 6th, 2007 10:27 am (UTC)
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This is absolutely stunning - not only a story spinning off from one canon, but including that other canon that makes up such an image of Britain and its past, history and future.

And I am always a fan of a fun sort of Death figure with a sense of humour and frisson of excitement and sex shimmering around him.

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mindabbles

(no subject)

from: mindabbles
date: Aug. 6th, 2007 08:42 pm (UTC)
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This is stunning. The language is beautiful and the weaving together of the stories and places and artifacts is really incredible.

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R

(no subject)

from: wanderlight
date: Aug. 6th, 2007 11:14 pm (UTC)
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This is fantastic -- and makes me want to go brush up on my Arthurian legends a bit! I love the way you've woven these two storylines together seamlessly, and the fic has a fantastic, pitch-perfect tone for the subject matter. :)

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mcmuffins_js

(no subject)

from: mcmuffins_js
date: Aug. 8th, 2007 04:48 am (UTC)
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Oh! Just... wow. Wonderful. Rich with legend and lore and humanity and language and a dim sense of history long past made real. Lovely.

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maybemabel

(no subject)

from: maybemabel
date: Aug. 15th, 2007 07:04 am (UTC)
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Oh, I like it. Tying the Arthurian myth in with it was very clever.

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halfway out of the dark

(no subject)

from: venilia
date: Aug. 23rd, 2007 04:12 am (UTC)
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Wow.

Your Arthur's awfully Slytherin, isn't he?

I love how Ignotus spells away Albinum, makes it unplottable. And I love how he kisses Death.

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Alexa

(no subject)

from: pheep
date: Sep. 1st, 2007 04:55 am (UTC)
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Wow, excellent! I wasn't all that excited at the thought of Peverell fic, which goes to show how much I know because once I got around to reading it this was nothing short of Fab-U-Lous. Honestly I enjoyed the whole thing, but I think my favorite bits of all were Arthur's response to choosing a Hallow, and of course the brilliant ending -- Ignotus/Death OTP 4 EVA! Literally.

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(no subject)

from: childofatlantis
date: Oct. 21st, 2007 11:54 pm (UTC)
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Random wandering has led me here, and I like this a lot - it feels very genuine. Also, your blond Death gave me instant-mental-image. :D *cough*

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