This is a fairly short story based on Episode Four "Battlefield". I didn't plan to write a story from this episode seeing as Tom & Ellen's appearances were so brief, but afterwards I felt that their appearances were brief to the point of being completely unsatisfactory.
Now of course Rufus Sewell can say more in four tortured glances and half a dozen quietly spoken words than i can in an entire 3000 word story, but i still felt that this episode did Tom and Ellen a disservice and needed to be fleshed out.
I was also rather unhappy with the scene in which Tom went to Ellen to tell her of Jack's death. I don't believe that Tom would have told Ellen that it was God's plan for Jack to die even if he did believe it himself, and so i've taken the liberty of tweaking that scene a little to make it more true to Tom's nature.
As Tom stood on the scaffold and surveyed the progress of the day's work on the cathedral, he sighed with satisfaction. He loved his work. When he was outside working on the cathedral, whether supervising, organising, ordering materials, consulting, designing, or working on the tools himself, as he still liked to do from time to time; here he was content and happy and fulfilled.
But sometimes he wished the rest of his life made him as happy as the cathedral did.
He shook his head. Looked up at his half built cathedral soaring high into the blue sky. Looked up at the magnificent realisation of his dream.
He hated himself sometimes. Hated that he felt this way. He knew he should feel grateful for the blessings that God had bestowed on him. After spending most of his adult life looking for decent work to sustain he and his family, he now had better paid, more fulfilling work than he had ever even dared imagine. He was building the cathedral he had always dreamed of and was being paid well by Philip for the privilege, now that the Kingsbridge markets were prospering and generating good income for the priory.
He had been able to put a proper roof over his family's head, a substantial four room house in Kingsbridge, so they no longer had to live in the priory. Was able to feed and clothe them, and even had money left at the end of the month to save.
Alfred and Jack had both finished their apprenticeships, were now masons. He thought fondly of the two of them. They were still not friends. Still barely tolerated each other. But at least they were now both able to go into the world and make a good living for themselves with their trade, as he had been able to do. If they chose to leave of course. He was relying on them to stay and work on the cathedral for at least another ten years. They could set themselves up for the future with the money they would make. Find a good wife, raise some children of their own.
And Martha was fast becoming a young woman. He just wished Ellen were here to help him raise her. Sometimes he needed a woman's touch to handle her and it had been four long years since Martha had even seen Ellen, let alone talked to her about the things she needed to.
He sighed again. This was where his perfect life fell apart.
This was where he started feeling unworthy of God's blessing. Started feeling that he was living a lie.
Living a lie of presenting a happy, prosperous, contented face to the world whilst on the inside he was dying. Dying of loneliness and deceit.
He tried to be grateful. He was grateful. He was grateful that he had been able to live alongside his baby son. That he was able to watch him grow into a bright and happy little boy.
But it broke his heart that he wasn't able to tell Jonathon that he was his father. Broke his heart that he wasn't able to care for him properly, be a real father to him. Hold him and kiss him goodnight. Tell him stories, give him advice. Teach him how to be a mason. Pass on his knowledge of the world as he had done with Alfred. And it broke his heart when people talked critically about the boys' parents, how he was so much better away from them, so much better off being raised in the priory.
It tore at his very soul.
He tried to be grateful. He was grateful. He was grateful that Ellen had managed to escape that night. That she hadn't been burned at the stake as Bigod had intended.
But it broke his heart that after four long years she was still living in hiding in the forest. Broke his heart that he wasn't able to care for her properly, be a real husband to her. Hold her and kiss her goodnight. Tell her about his day, ask her for advice. That she wasn't able to teach Martha how to be a fine woman. Pass on her knowledge of the world as Agnes used to do. And it broke his heart when people talked about the crazy witch who used to live in the forest, how she must be dead by now.
It tore at his very soul.
He was lonely for a real relationship with his son, lonely for a real relationship with the woman he loved. The woman who would be, who should be his wife.
So despite all the good fortune in his life, things that he knew he should be grateful for, he was desperately lonely. Lonely and unhappy. But he never admitted it to anyone. Not Ellen, not Alfred, not Philip. He kept his heartbreak to himself because these thoughts made him feel weak and unworthy. Unworthy of God's love, unworthy of His blessing. There were so many people around far worse off than he, yet he was unable to shift this feeling of disquiet that constantly haunted him.
A disturbance nearby snapped Tom out of his reverie. He turned to see a dishevelled figure on horseback galloping towards him. The man drew his horse up next to Tom and dismounted, and a hurried conversation ensued. As the rider remounted and galloped off towards the priory, Tom stood with his eyes closed and his head bowed.
'Fuck,' he thought to himself.
As he rode his horse through the forest, along the now familiar secret track to Ellen's cave, his heart was heavy. Normally he felt happy when he made this trip. He still didn't make it as often as he liked. Generally just once a month, less often if he was busy on the cathedral, more often if things were going well and he was able to leave the building site.
He had no doubt that those close to him knew exactly where he went on his overnight trips. He maintained that he was going hunting in the forest to get away from the hustle and bustle of busy Kingsbridge for a while, and Ellen always had a clutch of rabbits or a brace of birds for him to take back with him as proof of his activity.
But they spent these precious nights in each other's arms; talking, laughing, sleeping, making love. Pretending for one night that they were in a normal relationship; that they were living as a normal couple.
They were the only nights he felt truly happy, but in the morning when he had to leave, he felt a sharp pang of regret that this couldn't be his real life. It cut him deeply every time they parted. Cut him to the bone that they still couldn't live as husband and wife.
But today was different. Ellen didn't know he was coming and he wished with all his heart that he wasn't making the trip. He was the bearer of bad news and he had no idea how he was going to tell her.
He knew she would be excited to see him. Would jump into his arms as she always did, kiss him, hold him. But then he would have to tell her. Would have to tell her that Jack was dead. And it was going to break her heart.
He hadn't dreaded any moment in his life quite as much as this. Hadn't dreaded any moment as much as knowing that he had to walk into that cave and tell her.
He was responsible for Jack, and if he hadn't let him accompany Philip to Lincoln then this wouldn't have happened. But he was more interested in getting his supply of stone from the quarry reinstated and hadn't given a moment's thought to Jack's safety when he agreed to Philip's request to take him for the week.
And now everything had turned to shit. Jack was dead, Philip was being held for ransom and Remigius had taken over control of the priory and closed down construction on the cathedral.
And now he had to tell the woman he loved, who trusted and relied on him, that he had let her only son go to his death. Had to stand before her and watch her heart break into a million pieces.
It was late afternoon, and as Tom approached the cave he looked around carefully to make sure that he hadn't been followed. He didn't normally make this journey in daylight and was nervous about doing so. Waleran Bigod had spies everywhere and Tom had been wary ever since he left Kingsbridge, but had seen no one. If he had been followed, it was by a master.
He slowly dismounted and tethered his horse. As he approached the cave entrance he took a deep breath, pausing before he pushed aside the branches that still disguised the opening.
The low fire was flickering away happily, warming the cave and giving it a fragrance of pine and woodsmoke, but otherwise there was no movement. Ellen wasn't there.
Tom wandered around, poured himself a cup of water from the jug and eventually sat down by the fire to await her return. He knew he should take this opportunity to gather his thoughts, decide exactly what to say to her, but his mind was an untidy jumble of thoughts and emotions.
He thought of Jack, his earnest face, his shock of red hair, those bright, intelligent blue eyes. What a talent he had. Tom glanced around at the cave carvings that Jack had done all those years ago. What could he have gone on to create in his life given the chance?
Tom often felt conflicted by the respect and love, yes it was love, that he felt for Jack compared to the feelings he had for Alfred. He loved Alfred with all his heart, he was his flesh and blood, but it frustrated him that after all these years of training, Alfred still couldn't feel the soul of the stone. He was a solid mason there was no doubt about that. He was hard working and reliable and could produce some good work. But he didn't have the feel for stone that Jack had.
When Tom talked to Jack about creating, about feeling, about listening to the stone, he felt as though he was talking to a kindred spirit. No one else understood his passion the way Jack did, and he would miss the opportunity to sit and talk, the way they often did. Just sit quietly and talk about the progress of the cathedral, about Jack's carvings, about Tom's dream.
And Martha would miss him too. She looked up to him like a big brother. His heart bled a little for his beautiful daughter. First her mother, then Ellen, and now Jack. All she had left was he and Alfred, and he knew neither of them could provide Martha with the friendship and guidance that she really needed.
And he hadn't even started to contemplate the effect of Philip being ransomed and Remigius running the priory. A temporary halt to construction of the cathedral whilst the priory was in upheaval was one thing, but Tom knew that if Philip wasn't freed and Remigius took over as permanent Prior, then the cathedral would be scaled right back. Would probably be finished off as it stood now, no more than church. And without the licences that Philip had gone to secure for the Kingsbridge market and for the quarrying of the stone, there was neither money to pay the workmen, or stone for them to work with.
It was a fucking mess all round.
He put his face in his hands. He was a firm believer that everything that happened in life was part of God's eternal plan, but right at that moment he was having trouble fathoming exactly what God could possibly be thinking, to put he and his family through yet more trauma. Was he being punished for not fully appreciating the blessings of his life? Was Ellen being punished for turning her back against the church?
Just as he thought of her, he heard a rustle of branches at the cave entrance and then she was there, in his lap, in his arms, kissing him passionately as she always did when he arrived.
"Oh Tom" she gasped, breathless from her dash into the cave. "I saw your horse, what are you doing here so soon? No don't answer that, I don't care why you're here just as long as you are."
Tom was moving his head trying to avoid her mouth on his. "Shhhh, shhhh, shhhh," he said, as she was speaking to him, holding his finger up to her lips.
"Ellen, listen to me."
She was holding his face, kissing his beard.
"Ellen." He spoke more sharply this time, trying to get her attention. "You must listen to me."
She stopped, frowned, and he took her face in his hands. Looked deeply in her eyes.
"Listen to me my love. You need to listen."
"What…?" she asked, and he felt her body tense as though she suddenly knew it was bad news.
"It's Jack," he said softly.
"Jack. What about Jack? Is he hurt? Let me go to him." She looked around wildly. Tried to free herself from his grip.
He held her face tightly.
Looked at her intently, his eyes brimming with emotion.
He shook his head. "Jack…"
She knew immediately what he meant.
Her eyes glazed over and she wrenched her head from his hands. He wrapped his arms around her, tried to pull her in, to hold her body tightly to him, to comfort her, but she started struggling.
She slapped her open hands sharply into his chest, pushed away from him, got to her feet quickly. She took a few steps in either direction, not knowing where to go, what to do, before she stopped in front of her work table, picked up a pestle and started grinding away at a mortar full of herbs.
She stood there for several minutes, pounding away at the herbs fiercely, silently.
Tom got to his feet, took a few steps towards her. "Ellen…" he said softly.
"He's not dead. I would know it if he were dead. He can't be dead. I don't allow him to be dead."
She stopped pounding with the pestle, dropped her head, started to cry.
"I dreamed this would happen and I didn't stop it," she sobbed.
She turned to Tom.
"Why? It makes no bloody sense."
'It doesn't have to make sense,' he thought to himself. 'It's part of God's plan.' That was what he believed. But he knew better than to say that to Ellen, not at his time. He knew those words wouldn't help her. Maybe he could discuss it with her later, to help her reconcile with Jack's death, but it wouldn't help her now.
He shook his head. "No," he said simply, "it makes no sense."
She started to cry. Stood before him helplessly, and his heart felt like it was going to burst. He walked over to her, wrapped his arms around her body and held her to him. This time she didn't fight him. Just stood there passively.
There was nothing he could say, nothing he could do that would make the loss of her only son any easier to bear.
All he could do was stand there and hold her. Give her a soft place to fall. A place to cry. A place to grieve.
She turned her face into his chest and sobbed uncontrollably, her body heaving with grief.
Eventually, when her cries had eased, he scooped her up in his arms and laid her down on her soft woollen blanket in her bed of ferns. He covered her with another blanket, poured her a cup of wine and prepared her a plate of bread, cheese and fruit from her pantry, and sat them both next to her. He stoked the rapidly dying fire and fetched some more wood in from outside, replenishing the dwindling pile.
And then with the sun sinking low into the horizon, he lay down on the bed next to her. Wrapped his big warm body around hers, and held her tightly throughout the long, long night.
And in the morning when the sky started to lighten with the impending break of dawn, when she woke from her fitful sleep and the realisation of Jack's death hit her once again, he held her whilst she cried and gently kissed the tears as they ran down her face.
"It's alright my love, I'm here for you," he whispered into her hair as her body was wracked once again with sobs. "I'm here for as long as you need me."