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Almost nobody trusts Ranulf Fitz-Rufus. To the Mages, he's a traitor who sold out his heritage and responsibilities to become a servant of the Cainites. To the Cainites, he is, if not a Mage cuckoo in their nest, then a bogey-man who spent decades hunting and destroying their kind, now (perhaps) partially broken to the will of their Prince.
Nonetheless, as the architect of the Glastonbury Pact and almost the only individual who can move freely between the Mage and Cainite worlds, he's as indispensable as he's distrusted
A member of the Night's Bridge Chantry by default, Ranulf is tactful enough not to visit it too often, sticking mainly to Mithras' Court at the Fleet Prison - when he's in London at all
He does have a few friends, mostly Cainites at Mithras' Court, but also a few Mages. These few, he prizes beyond all measure, but if he's bothered by his isolation more generally, he has yet to show it.
King William II of England, called Rufus for his red hair, wasn't what anyone could call a devout man. He was wild, hedonistic, greedy, amoral, and naturally inclined to rebel against authority and convention. It was that, rather than any true interest in the Old Faith, which prompted him to become involved with one of the few surviving pagan holdouts of a land which had been at least nominally Christian for well over five centuries. But become involved he did, and on the night of Beltane in 1081, he conceived a son in the arms of a green-eyed witch with hair that shone copper in the light of the bale-fires.
Conceived during one pagan festival, Beltane, Ranulf was born during another, Imbolc. His mother, a minor member of the old Saxon nobility displaced by the Normans, was a Lady-in-Waiting at the Court of William's father. She made no effort to conceal her pregnancy from William, and neither of them hid the truth from William's father or the Court. The King was, in truth, delighted. He'd long suspected (correctly, as it happened), that his son preferred to receive men into his bed rather than women, and Ranulf's arrival helped to quell the suspicions that the King refused to admit, even to himself, that he harboured.
It was ironic, then, that Ranulf was named for one of his father's long-term lovers, Ranulf Flambard, who was then the King's Chaplain
Ranulf was raised as a Norman nobleman. As a bastard, he could never inherit the throne, but his father and grandfather made sure that he wouldn't lack for prospects. But when he reached his teens, his mother introduced him to the world of the Old Faith, a secret, enthralling society of magic and paganism. Ranulf proved a prodigy, swiftly surpassing his mother, a witch of fairly minor skill, and then all his other teachers. All his other teachers but one.
It was no accident that Ranulf was his father's only child. Although William Rufus was primarily homosexual, he was by no means averse to female company as well, and Ranulf's mother was far from the only woman he ever lay with. But William Rufus was naturally sterile. Ranulf owed his conception to an ancient magic, the Ritual of the Sundered Soul, which had quickened his father's barren seed and gifted him with a soul grown from a fragment of another. Ranulf was one of the avatars of the ancient mage Pryderi, the first in generations to be born with magical abilities of his own, and the first ever to be born in such a prominent, socially powerful position.
A coterue of powerful vampires had come to England with Ranulf's grandfather, displacing the old, Saxon Cainites who'd held power in England for centuries. This coterie, the triumvirate, was the primary obstacle to the ambitions of Pryderi's ancient enemy, the newly reawakened vampire Methuselah Mithras. The Methuselah played a subtle, behind-the-scenes game, helping the surviving Saxon faction against the Normans.
Pryderi began to use Ranulf against the Saxons, and Mithras, when Ranulf was just thirteen. Ranulf revelled in what he was doing, as any teenage boy might have done when introduced into a secret, magical conspiracy. To him, the whole thing was a vast, thrilling adventure, and his attitude infected Pryderi when their consciousnesses were merged. The elder mage grew reckless, sloppy, and overconfident. Mithras discovered what Ranulf was doing, and why, and struck back by sending assassins to kill the King.
The first two attempts were thwarted, but the King knew that it was only a matter of time before one of them succeeded. And after he was dead, he knew his son would be next. He went to Pryderi, and demanded that the old man find some way to protect Ranulf.
There was a way, Pryderi told him, but at a terrible price. The death of a King was a mystically significant, magically powerful event, symbolising rebirth and renewal. If William Rufus were willing to sacrifice his life, Pryderi could use his sacrifice to re-enact the Ritual of the Sundered Soul, granting Ranulf immortality. Rufus agreed.
Ranulf found out about the plot too late, and came upon his father as he lay dying in the New Forest, with Pryderi already intoning the ritual over his body. Ranulf sobbed and raged, demanded that Pryderi use his magic to heal the King instead, but William Rufus refused to be dissuaded. Ranulf felt the agony and ecstasy of his soul being torn apart and reformed as the last breath left his father's body.
Suddenly, the game wasn't fun any more. Guilt and grief and a lust for vengeance became the sum total of Ranulf's existence. Consumed with guilt himself for what he had blindly done to the boy, Pryderi left him.
Without Pryderi's knowledge and experience to guide him, Ranulf's first attempts to strike back against Mithras were absurdly clumsy, as he helped to stir up a mortal rebellion against his uncle, the new King Henry I. Ranulf worked principally through his beloved foster-"uncle", his namesake Ranulf Flambard, who was now Prince-Bishop of Durham. When Flambard was imprisoned in the Tower for his efforts, Ranulf came to his senses. He refused to allow his "uncle" to die because of him, as his father had done. He helped Flambard to escape, and abandoned his scheme. Then he returned to his uncle's Court under an assumed identity, having used magic to alter his appearance, to look for new opportunities.
He befriended his cousin, the young Prince William, without intending to. William reminded him of himself when he was younger, and Ranulf became a sort of elder brother figure to the Prince - until William was lost in the disaster of the White Ship, a disaster that Ranulf suspected had been deliberately arranged by Mithras. Ranulf interpreted the death as a warning from the Methuselah - back off, or see your family die one by one - and took it seriously. He abandoned the Court and went to Southampton, with vague thoughts of French invasions running through his mind. But in Southampton, he found a new solace - a daughter of the Fortyn merchant family. They married, and had three children together. The third killed his mother in childbirth.
His wife's death prompted a new realization in Ranulf - he was immortal, and doomed eventually to lose everyone he loved. The thought ripped open the half-healed emotional wounds left by his father's and cousin's death, and he returned to his campaign against Mithras with even greater ferocity. During the civil war in the reign of King Henry's successor King Stephen, he struck out more or less indiscriminately, slaying Mithras supporters almost at random, until a Blood Hunt in the 1150s caught up with him and left him burned to death in an abandoned barn.
It was the first time he'd experienced physical death, and the experience tempered him somewhat. He realized the opportunity he'd gained from Mithras believing he was dead, and he was determined not to waste it. He planned slowly, and carefully - establish his grandson as a London merchant, suborn a disgraced Templar named Godfroi to steal the Holy Lance, form an alliance of convenience with his kinsman John, and John's lackey Hugh de Nonant.
And then all his plans were wrecked when his avatar Philippe de Poitiers prodded his conscience into action, and two Cainites reminded him of everything he'd forgotten about compassion and honour. A renegade Tremere lifted away the memories of a century of hate and loss, allowing him to become the carefree young lad he'd once been, for a time. And when his memories were restored and he was himself once more, a pair of gentle, compassionate green eyes stared into his, and offered him friendship and sanctuary for as long as he needed it.
As fell into an exhausted slumber on the Devil's Night, the last thought in Ranulf's mind was that he had somehow managed to gain a circle of friends who would not grow old and die, who he need not lose.
The next morning, he opened his eyes, and started to laugh and cry at the same time.
It was almost two hours before he stopped.
Pondering his situation, he realized two things: first, that his hatred had almost eaten his soul, and second, that the only way to defeat that hatred was to deny it, absolutely. He went to Mithras, his better enemy, and offered to serve him - in exchange for certain considerations
Unable, for all his power, to either destroy Ranulf or control his mind, Mithras was willing to accept the offer as a way to bring a dangerously unstable random element under control, and perhaps even use it to benefit the fief. He accepted Ranulf's offer, and almost immediately sent him away from London, to the York Conclave. That proved the start of a pattern. Mithras proved quite adept at finding ways to send Ranulf away from London - to the Tiranul domains in Transylvania, to the Fiefs of the Black Cross in the Holy Roman Empire, and to the lesser fiefs of Britain.
The War of Avalon forced Mithras' hand. He might not like or trust Ranulf, but he needed him as a means to broker a peace with the Mages and keep an eye on their activities.
What Mithras remained unaware of for some time was that Ranulf had been more-or-less "expelled" from the Fellowship of the Old Faith. His static, unchanging nature was in any case at odds with the Old Faith's belief in death and renewal; that was one strike against him. His century-long campaign of revenge against Mithras, neglecting his responsibilities to living and dead alike, was another. For Ranulf to turn around and swear alliegance to one of the undead was the final straw.
The rejection hurt Ranulf, but less than he was expecting. He had, at last, found a place in the world, a measure of peace and closure, and a way - by helping to temper Cainite excesses - that he could actually do some good, instead of merely settling a festering grudge. And he was - reasonably - content.
Ranulf continues his association with his small coterie of Cainite allies right up to the present day. They work to help each other maintain the compassion and human values which the passing of the centuries threaten to erode
By the late twentieth century, he has become a Camarilla ally, working with Alastor Sebastian Moran against the Sabbat. He is also involved with his friend Lord Raguel's charitable organization, the Tiranul Foundation. When not otherwise occupied, he works part-time in a nurse in a cancer hospice near Glastonbury under the identity of "Randy Fitz", a wealthy American trust-fund baby with a social conscience
Eloise de l'Orne is 15. She is slightly built and rather ethereal looking. She has inherited the grey eyes and white blond hair of her paternal great grandmother. This is usually hidden by her coif and currently her hair is cropped due to the expectation that she will shortly be taking holy orders and joining her great grandmother, the Prioress, at Sele Priory
Eloise was born on 3rd March 1215, the 7th child of Sir Guy de l'Orne of Beeding, knight and vassal of William de Braose of Bramber and the 2rd daughter of his second wife, Mathilda. The de L'Orne family are blessed with hale constitutions - all 9 children born to Sir Guy have so far survived birth and childhood. This unusual good fortune is seen as a special mark of God's favour, no doubt due to the piety of the family matriarch, Eleanor de L'Orne, grandmother to Sir Guy and current Prioress of nearby Sele Priory. This venerable lady is much revered locally and remains a figure to reckoned with even though now well into her eighth decade. Eloise has 4 brothers and 4 sisters ranging from her oldest brother, Henry, now 27 and her youngest brother, Francois who is 9. In between are Eleanor, Marion, William, Leonard, Alice, Eloise and Margot.
The first Chevalier de l'Orne, originally came from Normandy as a knight in the De Braose train and fought alongside the first Baron in the Battle of Hastings. William I rewarded De Braose with lands in Sussex and on the Welsh Marches and De Braose in turn rewarded his vassal knights with fiefdoms carved from his newly seized English territories. There have been de L'Orne's in Sussex now for six generations. Eloise's great grandfather, Francois, was a crusader knight who had gone sufficiently native to marry an Englishwoman, Elaine Dene, whose family heritage had roots far older even than the now defunct Saxon dynasties of the area. On her marriage, Elaine became Eleanor, a model Norman noblewoman who capably held her Lord's lands in his stead while he was Crusading. Eleanor brought up two sons and a daughter although sadly, outlived all three of her own children. The death of her eldest son in 1207 prompted Eleanor to retire from secular life to the small priory she had commissioned to be built in her husband's name near the hamlet of Sele, not far from St Leonard's Forest. She nevertheless remains an active presence in the lives of her grandson, Guy, and her great grandchildren - of whom Eloise is clearly the favourite.
Guy de L'Orne is a reasonably kind father but like all noblemen of his era, sees his children, especially his daughters, in terms of how useful they are in promoting the family's fortunes through alliances with other noble families. He has organised several financially, politically and socially advantageous marriages for his offspring already but is now looking to increase his family's standing further. His daughters Alice, Eloise and Margot are all so far unwed. Alice at 16 is relatively old to be unmarried. Her betrothal to a local nobleman's son ended when the latter died of smallpox before the marriage contract could be completed. Alice was genuinely attached to the young man and Guy allowed his paternal feeling for his grieving daughter to interfere with his family duty in this instance. However, that was two years ago and it is now past time that Alice was suitably married. Margot at 13 is both lively and pretty - and well dowered - and this will certainly help Sir Guy's ambitions. Eloise . . . well. Eloise is probably destined for the Priory. It isn't that she lacks charm or looks - or indeed, again, a dowry - but her marriageable prospects are marred by her health. Eloise suffers from the falling sickness, her first seizure occurring when she was seven. Despite prayers and pilgrimages undertaken by her grandmother the Prioress, Eloise is still afflicted by occasional seizures. While these are relatively infrequent they are very unnerving.
Compline at Sele Priory, the last prayers of the day, lead tonight, as always, by the prioress. Hard to tell, observing Eleanor de l'Orne's flawless poise, that she is now several years past her allotted three score and ten. Her robes flow pristine as first snowfall about her as she kneels before the statue of The Lady, bracketed by tall, ornate sconces. A profusion of candles light the blue silk-draped altar and the chapel is full of light. Candlelight glows about the prioress in a fluid, buttery corona. She is the very image of a most devout and pious lady - much revered for her wisdom. Her advice and assistance is as sought after now as it had been when she was Lady de L'Orne of Beeding Manor.
Ave, Regina caelorum,
Ave, Domina Angelorum:
Salve, radix, salve, porta
Ex qua mundo lux est orta:
The words of the prayer wash over and through her like water as Eleanor turns her eyes to the face of The Lady she serves - has served most faithfully, her life long. Before she was Eleanor, she served as Elaine and it is as Elaine that the prioress now bares her soul in silent supplication.
Lady, Holy Mother, look upon me, judge my deeds in your service and find me worthy to continue with your work a little longer . .
And there is so much still to do before Elaine can slip free of this increasingly infirm flesh; before her bones can be enfolded in the peaceful dark; before she can return to the womb of the Mother. She waited so long for her successor, for the next link in a chain of blood that stretches from the forgotten times to now. She had begun to fear in earnest that the Legacy would end with her. Unthinkable. A failure so great it had haunted her dreams; sat upon her chest while she slept and leered at her in nightmares. The chain of blood must not fail. The Legacy - hidden for generations - must be preserved. The Mother understands that this sacred Duty has required sacrifices . . .
Gaude, Virgo gloriosa,
Super omnes speciosa,
An image of Francois de L'Orne slips into her mind as the antiphon prayer unwinds sonorously around her.
He lies on his tomb, in full armour; his hands folded in prayer; his painted eyes staring heavenwards. He was 45 when he died, of an infection of wounds sustained in the Holy Land. His embalmed body returned to his Sussex lands and to his grieving wife. And I did grieve, thinks Elaine. The husband I ensnared and controlled with Summer works. The husband I waved farewell to, knowing that farewell was adieu. The mists of Autumn told me that his thread would end in Palestine. I knew it a full year before he left. And I let him go to die alone and far away because . . . with him gone, I saw how I could rule the lands and the people that once belonged to my family - for centuries before his usurping Norman grandfather ever set his boot here. And I saw that I would control the fates of our children. His by name, mine by blood, although not one of the three with any sign of the Legacy.
Francois. Eleanor's gnarled fingers trace the beads of the pearl and garnet rosary he gave her on their wedding day. A symbol of her sacrifice. Her faith in return for his title and his worldly power. The one area where Francois de l'Orne could not be moulded - neither by her charms nor by her arts. He had been a boy, trying to be a Lord like his dead father, when he had first met Elaine, the girl from the Forest, as strange as she was fair. How easily he had fallen under her spell, how easily bent to her will - in all things but one.
Lady, I know you will forgive me for Francois. And for this sham of Christ worship. It was necessary in order to rule in your name - even if, for now, your true name is hidden.
Vale, o valde decora,
Et pro nobis Christum exora.
Unbidden, another memory surfaces. This time, it wears the face of Isabel de L'Orne, first and beloved wife of her grandson Guy, slick with sweat, her eyes fever bright and begging for help.
"I know I am dying, Madame. The bleeding . . . Oh God, please help me! I know that you can . . . I have heard tell of your arts . . . please help me live for my children's sake . . . "
And Elaine stares full into Isabel's frantic eyes, sees the knowledge, hears the desperation in her fading voice. Isabel de L'Orne is a good woman, a capable chatelaine and much loved mother and wife; witty and tolerant and kind. Elaine has only one quarrel with her - she has not, in five healthy births, delivered a great grandchild gifted with the eternal spark that Elaine is desperate to see born before she dies. Elaine is as desperate for this one thing as Isabel is to live to see her newborn son grown. And Elaine knows - for she has Seen it - that Isabel will never mother the Awakened child that Elaine longs for. But with Isabel gone, her grandson Guy can be steered toward a more fitting mate. One who will provide Elaine with an heir to Grey Mere - at last.
Elaine folds her hands in front of her white prioress robes and smiles sympathetically at the dying woman.
"I can do nothing, child," she lies in a voice as calm and smooth as milk, "but I will pray for you."
And Elaine had turned and left Isabel de l'Orne to bleed to death of a tearing of the womb. A minor childbed injury that Elaine could quite easily have healed.
Lady, forgive me for Isabel . . . who died, like Francois, because I withheld Your gifts. For Grey Mere. For Your Sacred Lake. To preserve your power in this world, ensure that it continues beyond my own life, which is falling into twilight . . .
Dignare me laudare te, Virgo sacrata.
Da mihi virtutem contra hostes tuos.
And in the twilight pricks a distant light which grows brighter and brighter until it floods the sky with dawn, with cool spring sunlight that glitters off the lake and the translucent mica in the fine grey sands of the lake shore. A child, a little girl, dabbles her small fingers in the ice-cold waters, trying to catch the sparkles as the gently shifting waters lap at the shore. She looks up at the crunch of footsteps across the sand, her small face full of pleasure.
"Grandmere!" Eloise de l'Orne, at 6 years old, Awakening but quite unaware that this is any different to any other game of make believe and hide and seek. "You found me! That was clever!" says the child dancing up to grab Elaine's ringed hand. "I thought no one would find me here! No one ever finds me here."
No, thinks Elaine. Because this is Grey Mere. And you are the first person able to enter this place in three generations. But I thought that I would bring you here. I didn't expect you to find your way in by yourself.
To the child she says, smiling, "Then we will have to keep it a secret, won't we, petite? Just you and me? You must never tell anyone else about the magic lake or it might disappear forever. It must be our very special - very secret - place."
Elaine smiles winter's smile at her small great granddaughter, a child of thistledown and the sparkle of spring sunlight on water - slight, insubstantial and elusive. Such a fragile new vessel to hold the ancient and weighty Legacy of Grey Mere, a vessel that requires constant vigilance; careful moulding. Had Eloise been Elaine's own daughter, been born in the Summer of Elaine's life, it would have been an easy matter to keep her close at all times, induct her into the Old Faith, instruct her in its arts. But Eloise is the daughter of a Norman baron who is already making plans to forge alliances with other landowners and merchants, using his plentiful resource of fair and healthy children to further his ambitions. Eleanor de L'Orne, the baron's grandmother, has no quarrel with this endeavour. It is a sound and practical way to extend the family's influence and wealth. Elaine Dene, however, needs this child to stay exactly where she is - within Elaine's constant supervision. She has waited too long for this, her true heir, to allow her to be married off at twelve and sent far away. Preposterous. Unthinkable.
Eloise at seven, the first attack of falling sickness and the air in her mother's solar is thick with terror and distress. Elaine observes the scene coolly as she enters. The de L'Orne household parts easily to allow the Prioress to approach the central drama. Guy de L'Orne holds Eloise whose small body jerks in helpless spasms, her eyes rolled up and showing just white, a thin froth of saliva drooling from rigid lips. Mathilda weeps and tries to hold her daughter's flailing hands that are clenched so tight blood drips from between her small fingers where her nails cut into her palms. Eloise no longer appears human; some broken facsimile of herself, mindless and drooling. The servants make the sign of the cross and mutter prayers. It is clear, at least to them, that the little girl is possessed. Eleanor de L'Orne sweeps past them, kneels by the jerking child and examines her. She has not bitten her tongue nor swallowed it.
"Do not restrain her," says Eleanor with calm authority. "Lay her down somewhere she cannot hurt herself."
The Prioress lays one cool hand on Eloise's forehead and it seems as though the child's body relaxes immediately. Her father places her gently on the floor ("On her side," orders Eleanor) and the girl lies still, breathing normally, her small face slack, unconscious. Eleanor strokes the child's cotton white hair.
"My lady - Grandmere - what is your counsel?" Guy de L'Orne's sang froid is considerably shaken, his voice thick. "Will she live?"
Eleanor smiles gravely at her grandson. "She will. But this will happen again. It is a terrible affliction and I know of no cure. However, it is a sickness that can be managed - with God's help." Lord de L'Orne's face is all the question that he needs to ask. Eleanor pats his hand. "Yes, my dear. I will keep her safe - and constantly in the Holy Mother's merciful thoughts."
Eight years later, Eleanor de L'Orne, Prioress of Sele, clasps her ringed hands together tightly and bows her head before the statue of Mary, Mother of Christ, modern face of Goddess more ancient by far.
Lady, forgive me for Eloise. But it was necessary.