This is the first chapter of what will be an on-going fic about Djaq and her first few weeks among the outlaws. It's set immediately after "Turk Flu", and although this first chapter is almost entirely introspective, there IS an actual plot in the works - I just needed to get her initial state of mind across first.
My ultimate goal is to give Djaq some credit (easily the most ignored character on the show) and reconcile some of the huge leaps in character "development" that poor Anjali had to cope with. It's also a chance to play with my beloved OT3 and explore how the three of them got to know each other (there's not much of that here, but it's coming - oh boy, is it coming!)
You can expect lots of Will/Djaq/Allan interaction, a mystery from Djaq's past, and her entire story in flashback, starting from her girlhood, through the invasion of the Crusadors, all the way up to her enslavement. The flashbacks are pretty grim, but hopefully I've managed to compensate by a reasonably light-hearted story concerning the OT3.
Chapter One: First Impressions
She was dreaming of her mother, the first dream she'd ever had since loosing her, and it was so vivid she could almost feel the fine teeth of the comb through her hair as Fatima sang softly in her ear. It was her lullaby, the one that had been crooned to her throughout her girlhood, and as she relaxed into the sound her dream conjured up the whispered lessons passed from mother to daughter. How to speak to a man with only her eyes flickering above the darkness of her veil, how to move with grace across a room when shrouded in layers of cloth, how to dance her fingers across cups and plates when serving food to the men-folk – all done with the sole intention to captivate a suitable husband.
"Men are intrigued by what they cannot see," her mother would tell her. "Their imaginations are your greatest tool. It is your task to draw their attention, and let their minds do the rest."
By the time she was twelve, Safiyah knew every trick known to womankind: how to lift her eyes beseechingly, how to expose the inside of her wrist as she poured beverages, how to tilt her head so that her hair swayed across her shoulders. It all bored her to distraction, and she could not help but feel silly when forced into the role of hostess (especially with Djaq smirking in the corner, knowing full well that her acquired grace did not come either naturally or comfortably) but these afternoons with Fatima in the women's quarters made it all worthwhile. Giving herself over to her mother's preening, Safiyah had quashed the voice of her internal mind that insisted on mocking her for enjoying this feminine pampering, and let Fatima fuss over her.
Now, in the dream, she could smell the sweet spiciness of her mother's perfume, feel her hands straightening her posture, her fingers stroking down her long dark hair, hearing her husky voice telling her that if she could make a man want her, she could make him do anything she pleased.
Abruptly, the dream dissolved and she awoke, so swiftly that had to resist the urge to grasp the space before her in the attempt to pull it back. In the space of a moment, the warmth of her mother's hands were gone, replaced by the cold air of this sunless country. She lay there, too numb with shock to even react to the pain of her mother's touch existing only in her mind.
Gradually, the reality of her life soaked into her: they were all gone, dead and buried months ago, and she had been reduced to chattel, informed by the loathsome Brooker that she was on her way to work the iron mines in a place called Nottingham. The idea of her using any of her mother's coquettish charms now would be laughable if the consequences weren't so horrifying to contemplate.
With every ounce of her willpower, she pushed herself up into the sitting position. She had trained herself to awake in the hour before dawn – it was the only safe time to use the privy, but as she blearily opened her eyes, she was struck by confusion. Had she shrunk during the night? For the bars of her cage now loomed over her enormously, as though they'd conspired together during the night to grow and thicken in order to assure her once and for all that she'd never again be free.
But no…the surrounding giants weren't metal bars at all, but trees…trees the likes of which she'd never seen before in her own country. Suddenly the events of yesterday crystallized in her mind…the men who had freed her…the fire in the mines…Robin of Locksley…
It had all happened so quickly and for most of it she'd been as edgy as a wild animal verging on the brink of panic.
I wasn't very polite to them, she thought ruefully, remembering the brisk, accusatory attitude she'd displayed. Still, given the circumstances, she'd had little choice but to be antagonistic – and how was she to know that these men were sincere in their attempt to free her and her fellow prisoners? She'd certainly never heard of Englishmen striving to help Saracens.
The moment the scruffy, blue-eyed youth had thrown back the canvas covering the cage, she'd weighed up the possibilities in her mind, feeling closer to escape than she ever had before. It was to those blue eyes that she'd first addressed herself as Djaq, saying her brother's name for the first time since his death, before raking her own dark eyes over what she'd supposed were highwaymen.
Within a few minutes, they'd all had her completely baffled – there were five of them, ranging from the superstitious to the enlightened, the simple-minded to the quick-witted, the cheerful to the surly. How on earth had this motley group of men come together as a unified gang? Having always prided herself on reading people, their squabbling team-work had bewildered and unnerved her, almost as much as it had impressed her once she'd seen it in action.
Cursing herself each time she lost an opportunity to use their actions to her own advantage, she had ultimately found herself standing by passively as Robin's plan had gone ahead without a hitch.
She'd felt so useless throughout the entire operation (not to mention ashamed that members of a primitive culture had saved her when she should have been more than capable of doing it herself) that she had jumped at the chance to repay them, first in lighting a fire for the lanky youth, and then in saving the large man when he'd tumbled from view down one of the mine shafts.
It was in the moment when she'd been struggling under his burly arm, lugging the semi-conscious man toward the forest alongside the younger man who'd pretended to be dying of the "Turk Flu", that she'd noticed her fellow countrymen fleeing the scene in the opposite direction. They'd abandoned her.
Along with the anguish, she'd felt an odd sense of relief. Confined in that dreadful cage with them, she'd been quick to realize that they posed the greater danger should her secret be exposed. Had it been discovered she was a woman, Brooker was too pragmatic to do anything about it himself – at best he would have left her to the mines, at worst he would have sold her to the nearest brothel. But the others – had they known they'd been travelling with a woman all that time – a woman with her face exposed and her body wrapped in boy's clothes...
She shuddered to think of the punishment they would have inflicted upon her had they ever found out, and as much as she hated to admit it, she realized quickly that she would be safer with these English outlaws than with her own people.
Her survival instinct had kicked in, and feeling bewildered among trees that were so tall she could barely see their tips, she found herself trailing the men to their campsite, and hiding herself away until she'd figured out what to do next.
She'd watched as the trickster had finally succumbed to the black root and had to be tied to the nearest tree by the big man – whilst the one called "Much" (such bizarre names the English gave themselves) alternated between laughing at him and moaning about food. Restlessly, she'd paced the forest, wondering how to best approach them.
She'd heard the sounds of shuffling in the forest, and uncovered a trap that had neatly captured two rabbits. Knowing men would hardly turn down the offer of food (and ignoring the fact that it was probably one of their own traps) she'd made short work of the animals, and bided her time until Robin returned.
How would Djaq do this? she asked herself.
She knew what Safiyah would do, and considered how easy it would be to instigate her mother's tactics in charming food, shelter and protection from a group of men who seemed prone to heroism and chivalry. But that was out of the question, for more than the obvious reason. She was Djaq now, and so it was to cheerful, mischievous Djaq that she must look for her answer.
And so when the opportunity had arisen, she'd played upon Much's proclamations concerning God's will, and used her precious lens to light a fire right under his nose before following up with the rabbits.
Feigning confidence and a devil-may-care attitude that would have made her brother proud, she'd hidden her panic when the dark-haired youth had suddenly revealed her secret, and Robin's eyes had run over her in amusement whilst the others gaped in astonishment. But the moment had passed without incident, they had agreed she could stay, and the evening had quickly drifted into night.
So there was no question that it was among these men that she would be safe. Safe among strangers, miles from home, in a country that was at war with her own. How strange life was.
Lying on the hard ground, she let the memories of yesterday drift over her as she pondered her next move. She was accepted, for now, into this group of outlaws. But her position here was far from secure. She sat up properly and gazed at the slumbering forms of her newfound companions in the growing light of dawn.
Last night, she'd observed them carefully, trying to gauge their thoughts concerning her. Robin had seemed all friendly indulgence, enjoying the chance to show off by speaking to her in stilting Arabic with pronunciation she'd fought not to cringe at. The one called John seemed a little sceptical, probably thinking she'd end up being a nuisance, a distraction, or both. Much had seemed nonplussed, though awkwardly conscious of that the fact that a woman was now in their midst. Hardly the most favourable first impressions she could have wished for, but she could work on them.
It was the other two that had her worried – the dark-haired youth and the blue-eyed man with the strange hair. Will and Allan. They were harder to read.
Will was almost completely silent, and had made a pointed effort throughout the evening not to look at her, and Allan…well, he had been twitching and retching uncontrollably under the effect of the black root for hours before she took pity on him and brewed him a sleeping draught out of the identifiable herbs that she'd found in Much's cooking pouch and the forest floor. He'd jerked his head away at first, but after Robin had pointed out that it was hardly going to make him feel any worse, he'd hesitantly let her pour the concoction down his throat.
Within minutes he'd slumped down into unconsciousness, and Much had – rather reluctantly, or so it seemed – cut him loose. It had been Will who'd dragged the sleeping figure to his bunk and tucked a rolled up blanket under his head, at which point she'd wondered if the two of them were brothers. Certainly they looked different, but things such as family resemblance could work differently for Englishmen. Her ignorance as to the situation made her uneasy, as hers was a mind that liked to have all the information possible at its disposal, and currently both of them existed outside her immediate understanding.
Even more troubling was the possibility that they didn't like her very much. Will had clearly been afraid of the Saracens on first seeing her, hesitant to even pass her a water flask through the bars of her prison, and she wasn't entirely sure how much he'd seen when he'd come across her bathing in the woods, or what he planned to do about it. And she hadn't protected her body all this time only to be thwarted by a teenager who was entirely too quiet at creeping about in forests.
Allan had been even less promising – scoffing at her claims that she had learnt the skills of a physician from her father, incredulously accusing her of wanting payment, and darkly muttering that her hastily-brewed blend of silver and acid was witchcraft. She had decided just before falling asleep last night that her best option was to keep her distance from both of them.
That plan seemed just as sensible now as it did then, and she told herself that she would follow through on it as she slowly raised herself up from the ground, revelling in the sense of the open space that surrounded her. No more shackles, no more chains, no more bars. After being confined for so many months, the freedom was a little dizzying, and not simply the freedom of being able to go where she pleased. Freedom came with the absence of fear, and now there was no more hiding every aspect of her identity, no more nights of paranoid half-sleep, no more having to control and stifle and dread every internal motion her body had been designed to make.
In the innermost part of her mind, so deep, even she herself was only vaguely aware of it, there was pitiful joy in the prospect of no longer being afraid to follow nature's course. Somewhere between Acre and Sherwood, Safiyah had lost the greater part of herself, replacing it with fear and hate and despair and the echo of her dead brother. Now, in this forest, among these men, she would find herself again – starting with her dignity.
I'll still have to be careful though, she told herself as she hunted through the trees for a suitable place to relieve herself. She knew that it would take some effort to prove herself, and was aware that the novelty of her presence could only sustain her place among them for a limited period of time before she was regarded simply as an extra mouth to feed. What she needed to do now was thus clear: as she was not here to cook food or warm beds, her purpose in life would be to make herself utterly indispensable to these men. As Djaq.
Next chapter: Djaq tries to make herself at home among the manly world of the outlaws.