A/N: And that's it. This was fun. When I read World Without End, I – for whatever reason – fell madly in love with Godwyn, so I suppose I had to get it out of my system. Please leave a review if you liked it. ^^
Everyone was clustered around Caris and the infant. With the townspeople still bearing clubs and torches, the empty noose hanging from the broken gallows above, and the executioner standing at the ready a few feet away, it made for a very warped nativity scene.
The baby opened its eyes. They were bright green, with little flecks of more green. Its hair was light brown fuzz, the exact shade of Caris's – and everyone in her family. And on its cute little face was an expression of sanctimonious contempt.
Its parentage was more than obvious.
The father – no pun intended – of all awkward silences ensued. Everyone was staring at Godwyn, except for Caris, flushed with exertion and shame, who kept her gaze on the infant.
"Shall I fix the gallows, then?" asked the executioner at last.
"She clearly put poor Father Prior under a spell," said Elizabeth, glaring at Caris and the baby as if at a succubus and her offspring.
"No she didn't!" cried Merthin. "This obviously wasn't her fault. It must have been against her will. Did that son-of-a-bitch force himself on you, Caris?"
The thought of watching Godwyn hang was tempting, and Caris hesitated a moment just to scare him, but she was too exhausted to avoid the truth any longer. "No."
"See?" said Elizabeth. "She entranced him. Just like she did to you, Merthin."
"She never put me under a spell," Merthin shot back. "I just rejected you, because you're a complete slut."
"I am?" Elizabeth retorted, her cheeks pink as the newborn's skin. "Am I the one who just had an illigitimate baby with my own cousin?!" She turned to Godwyn, swallowing her fury and struggling to sound more respectful. "Are you entranced, Father Prior?"
It was Godwyn's only possible defense. He hesitated, thinking it over. He could, potentially, convince the townspeople that Caris had bewitched him, and she would be put to death – for real this time. But his eyes strayed to the newborn in her arms. The thought of someone else – probably Merthin – raising his son, teaching him to be a petty architect, made him furious. He hadn't fought and swindled his way up the monastic hierarchy to watch his only child become a worldly artisan. It was for his son's sake that he would spare her. Yes. No other reason.
"No, Sister Elizabeth," he finally said with authority. "I'm not entranced. And if I were, how the hell would I be cognizant enough of my condition to admit to it? That's like asking someone if he's dead."
Elizabeth flushed. "Then why? What do you see in her!? She's smug, and irreligious, and plain!"
"I wish I knew."
"I'm beautiful! Why doesn't anyone like me? What's wrong with me!?" Elizabeth sank to the ground and wept.
Mair joined her, her shrill, warbling cry making the baby whimper. "Oh, C-Caris, are you kidding me?" she blubbered. "I…I could understand you leaving me for Merthin…he's flawless…but for Godwyn?"
"Mair, for the hundredth time, I'm not into girls," said Caris. "I was just… experimenting. What about Elizabeth? She can't seem to attract men."
Mair and Elizabeth met each other's tear-filled eyes, and their hearts skipped a beat.
Merthin sighed, gazing at the child of his wife and his enemy. "Caris...why?"
"I don't know," she said honestly.
"Of all people...all the men in Kingsbridge...you picked the one who hated you the most? The one you had the least in common with – other than one-eighth of your DNA?"
"I'm sorry, Merthin."
"And you?" Merthin looked at Godwyn. "I thought you hated her."
"With a passion," said Godwyn.
"Then…what the fuck?"
"Opposites attract," suggested Gwenda.
"Yeah, when we're talking about effing magnets. Not people. If opposites really attracted, I'd have married Elfric." Behind him, Elizabeth and Mair had begun making out. He ignored the sound of their tear-wetted, smacking lips and continued. "How long has this been going on?"
"A while," admitted Caris.
"The whole time we've been together?"
"No! Just since you came back from Florence."
"Why should I believe you?"
"It's not as if you've always been faithful," Caris retorted. She knew she had no right to be defensive, but she was tired beyond belief, had almost died, and had just been through more pain than she'd ever imagined a person could feel and still live – so she was feeling a little bitchy. "There was Griselda, Bessie Bell, Lady Phillipa – "
"That one hasn't even happened yet!"
"And oh, yes, your first wife."
"I married her because you kept rejecting me! I couldn't wait for you forever. Do you know what blueballs is?"
"I'm sorry. I shouldn't have kept stringing you along. I know now we're just not right for each other, Merthin."
"And you and your heartless, scheming, bastard cousin are?"
"Would people stop pointing out that we're related? We try not to think about it."
"I just don't understand," said Merthin, now looking more bewildered than angry. "He's completely horrible."
"Women find bad men appealing," explained Gwenda. "It's part of our evolutionary endowment."
"Seriously? Well…how about Philemon, then? He's bad. Why aren't all the women swooning over him?"
"He has no power," said Gwenda. "Women don't like subordinate suck-ups."
"Standing right here…" said Philemon.
"Then how about my brother Ralph?" Merthin continued. "He has power, and he's a complete bastard. Do you like him, Caris?"
Caris crinkled her nose. "No. He repulses me."
"See, he's too bad," said Gwenda. "He has no redeeming qualities."
Merthin scratched his head. "So…women want men with power…but they don't want good men, or really bad men…what the hell do they want?"
"I know it seems complicated," said Gwenda sympathetically. "I can show you the associated equations in my PowerPoint presentation sometime."
"Forget it, I don't care," said Merthin. "I've been pining after her twenty years, and I'm not letting her go now. Caris, I can change! I can become a worse person for you! I'll be bad!"
"Bull," said Godwyn. "You've either got it or you don't."
"Shut up, you piece of – " Merthin started, but his words were cut off by a sneeze.
"Bless you," said Godwyn reflexively.
"Oh, fuck o– " Another sneeze.
Caris squinted at him. "Merthin…what's that on your neck?"
She peered closer; there was a series of purplish, bruiselike blotches arrayed in a row just above his collarbone. "Merthin! You…you have the plague!"
He sneezed again and toppled to the ground.
"This is impossible!" Caris cried. "I thought you'd already had it and recovered! You can't get it again!"
"That was just a plot device," said Merthin, his voice suddenly weak. "The only people who can die from the plague are those who are either unimportant, or standing in the way of the protagonists. And right now…that's me."
"It came on incredibly quickly," observed Godwyn. "How odd."
Merthin had already begun coughing up blood. "Y-Yes…also very convenient…Must be that new bacterial strain…Yersinia deusexmachinus…"
Caris handed the baby to Gwenda. Still very weak, she managed to drag herself to the sick man's side. "Merthin, please don't die!"
"One can't…argue with…the natural laws…" he hacked. "I forgive you, Caris…" He glared at Godwyn. "But not you."
Caris stroked his face and sniffled. "I'll always love you…in a platonic way…"
"I know…" he rasped, a fountain of blood pouring from his mouth quite gratuitously. "Goodbye, cruel world. Without end."
And Merthin Builder died.
"Is anyone else an obstacle to our relationship?" asked Caris.
"No," chorused the townspeople, and fled away.
"What happens now?" asked Caris, taking the baby back from Gwenda, whose face had made it start to cry.
"I can't be prior anymore, obviously," said Godwyn in a resigned voice. "Philemon, you're prior."
"Sweet," said Philemon. "Does this mean I might get some action?"
"I doubt it."
Philemon sighed and followed after his new flock.
"Come on," said Gwenda to Elizabeth and Mair, who were still tongue-kissing. "Let's get this body out of here."
She and the besotted nuns carried Merthin back to Kingsbridge, and Caris and Godwyn were left alone with their lovechild – if that was the proper term.
"I'm a widow now," observed Caris.
"Shall we get married?" asked Godwyn dully, resigned. There was no way he could remain a monk – much less prior – now that the scandal was out.
"You don't have to," said Caris. "You could go somewhere else, some other town far away. You're ruthless enough to claw your way up to prior or bishop or whatever you want to be."
"I can't leave the baby with you," said Godwyn casually. "You'd raise it to be some atheistic wool merchant."
She looked away to hide her smile. The baby squirmed, and they looked down at it.
"He is fairly cute," said Caris. "Perfectly formed, despite the inbreeding. Want to hold him?"
"I don't like babies," Godwyn started to say, but Caris shoved the swaddled thing into his arms, and his expression softened as he looked at it. "He has your eyes. Or mine."
"What should we name him? I've been calling him Parasite, but that would probably invite teasing."
Godwyn thought for a moment. "We could name him after Uncle Anthony."
"No, he was a dry, stuck-up bore. Let's name him Edmund, after my father."
"Your father wasn't even important enough to get a death scene. We should name him after my father."
"Your father? What was his name?"
"I don't know." Godwyn thought again. "How about Adolphus, after the saint?"
"Adolphus? It sounds like a kind of bacteria."
"Over my dead body," said Caris, quickly adding, "Just an expression."
"Well, we can decide later. The more important problem is what to do now. We can't go back to Kingsbridge. I can't live there as a normal citizen. The shame would be unbearable."
At that moment, there came the sound of a heavenly choir, and a brilliant flash of white light made them cover their eyes and the baby squall in protest. They looked up, blinking, and gasped. An oddly familiar apparation stood before them, its body draped in angelic white and shimmering like sunlit vapor.
"Tom Builder!" cried Caris. "Is it you?"
"Yes, my perverted, incestuous descendants," said the ghost in a stately voice.
"You left a baby to die in the forest," said Godwyn, "and you still went to Heaven?"
"Shut your trap," said Tom.
"Please," said Caris, "tell us what to do."
"You will go to the Dagobah System," began Tom Builder, then coughed and cleared his throat. "You will go to the coast and board a ship to France," he resumed. "You will travel to Paris. And there, in fifteen generations, one of your descendants will build the greatest tower in all of Europe."
"Shit," said Godwyn under his breath, "an architect."
"We'll do it, Tom," said Caris. "Thank you!"
The specter began to fade.
"Wait!" called Caris. "Please tell me something. If I don't figure it out it'll bother me all my life."
"What is it?" asked Tom, growing more corporeal again.
"Why the hell do I love Godwyn?"
"Two reasons," replied the phantom. "First, you're a physician at heart, Caris; you've always had the urge to heal people and bring them back from the edge of death. Godwyn was an epic failure of a human being. He would have caused his own downfall. You've saved him from himself."
"What the fuck do you mean by that?" interrupted Godwyn.
"Second," said the phantom, not taking his hollow eyes from Caris, "and probably more disturbing, he bears a resemblence to your dead father, whom you have not and never will get over."
"Oh…" said Caris softly, her eyes wide. "That makes sense…"
"What about me, Mr . Omniscient?" asked Godwyn. "Why do I l-…" He paused, then forced himself on. "-Love her, or whatever?"
"I don't have a clue," said Tom Builder. "You're probably just really fucked up." And with that his form dissolved away.
"Hey," said Caris, looking at the baby, who had fallen asleep, lulled by the unearthly cadence of the ghost's voice. "That's what we'll name him. Tommy!"
Godwyn shrugged. "That's not bad."
He helped Caris to her feet. Suddenly a sniffling sound came from one of the bushes nearby. A little girl came out hesitantly, holding Godwyn's black cat.
"Lolla!" Caris had entirely forgotten about Merthin's daughter, who seemed less detestable now that she was an orphan. "Godwyn, shouldn't she come with us? I feel responsible – somehow – for what happened to her father."
Godwyn shrugged again. "Whatever you want." He was no longer in control of the situation, but strangely it didn't bother him. The burden of his status, of constantly having to plot and scheme and spy and worry about his enemies, had vanished. He felt at peace for the first time since he'd become a monk. Christ, he realized. She has saved me.
Caris kissed him, then extended a hand to the little girl, who reluctantly approached and took it. And with all loose ends tied up, the four of them, Lolla holding the cat and Tommy napping peacefully in Godwyn's arms, set off down the path away from Kingsbridge.
Oh, and Philemon totally died of the plague too. Because I hate him.