Character, Pairing: James Madrocke (Jamie Madrox)
Summary: A life in eight acts.
A/N (or, A Warning): This fic contains a blatant disregard for continuity, coherency, historical accuracy and/or plot. I doubt this is the last I'll be hearing from James, so take it with a pinch of salt (or snuff- whatever floats your galleon).
James Madrocke discovered he was witchbreed the day he fell from his horse.
It wasn't the first fall he'd ever had, nor- he decided in a moment of closed eyes and racing heart, as the world resettled on its axis- would it be the last. It wasn't even a hard fall- Dane had spooked at a rabbit early in the ride, and James had pitched over the beast’s neck as he lunged. He'd landed on his shoulder, but the ground was soft with recent rain, and there would be bruises tomorrow but no more than that. Still, it took a moment lying flat on his back, pressed against the swell of Mother Earth, before he could gather the wits (and the breath) to mutter:
'Well, there's a good start to the day.'
He often talked to himself. Being a thoughtful boy on the very verge of manhood, life presented many a problem that refused to be solved simply in the confines of his head. But until this day- until this moment- he had never received a reply.
'I don't know what you're doing, but it doesn't seem very good to me,’ said a voice to his right. It was a disgruntled-sounding voice, slightly pained in the manner of a person who has just been thrown a short distance against their will.
James started, his eyes flying open. He sat up quickly despite the sharp protest from his bruised side, and looked in the direction of the speaker.
His first thought was that he had hit his head rather harder than he'd first suspected, and addled his brains. Turning around to discover your double lying beside you, staring up at the sky with a distinctly unhappy expression on his face and grass in his hair simply didn't happen. Not normally.
His double pushed himself up on his elbows and squinted over at him.
'We shouldn't do that again,' he said, matter-of-factly.
James stared. He had seen himself in a looking-glass before, and reflected in the ornate pond in the West Garden, but this- this was some new evil.
'A-are you the Devil?' The words came out as a whisper, for his throat was suddenly dry.
'Lucifer. T-the Devil. The Wicked One.'
His double frowned, and then scratched his cheek in a pensive way. James recognised it as one of his habits- his own hand tingled oddly, and he had to think to keep himself from mirroring the gesture.
'I don't think so. Are you the Devil?'
James felt a little ill.
‘What is your name?’
‘James,’ his double replied. The boy- the other James- sat up properly, and winced. James felt another odd tingle- this time in his injured shoulder. He studied the side of his double’s head, thinking; so that is what my ear looks like. He swallowed, and gathered up the tatters of his courage (and, he feared, his sanity).
‘H-how did you come to be here?’
His double glanced at him. James wondered at the colour of his eyes. Are they really that shade?
‘You knocked me out of you. When you fell from your horse.’
His double sighed, now glancing to the sleeves of his doublet. ‘I tire of this,’ he said, picking a burr from the dark green velvet.
This is a trick, James thought, his mind scrabbling for answers like a rat caught in a rain-barrel.
‘It isn’t a trick.’
James blinked. ‘You hear my thoughts?’
‘Someone has to,’ his double replied, still studying his sleeve. He flicked off an invisible speck of dirt, made a satisfied noise, and looked back at James. A smile bloomed on his face, like a rose opening to the sun’s light.
‘Come,’ the other James said, pushing himself to his feet. He held out a hand. ‘We shall explore together.’
James, his gaze caught on his double’s face- on his face- reached up automatically to accept the boy’s aid. But as the other James’ fingers clasped his, the world gave a sudden lurch like a shying horse, and James felt a great force move inside him as if his stomach had been caught on a hook and pulled, and everything went black.
When he woke again, the sun was low on the horizon, Dane was browsing the grass at his feet, and he was quite alone.
His parents never knew. James thought his tutor, at least, might have suspected- but if he did, he was too shrewd a man to say anything.
He tested himself. The first time was the hardest. He sat on the grass, deep in the shade of an old yew, one faintly shaking hand wrapped around a stone the size of his fist. He stared at it for a full hour, eyes tracing the faint whorls and patterns, letting it grow warm in his palm.
Then, moving slowly enough to feel the creak and measure the length of every muscle from finger to bicep, he lifted it. He held it there, at chest height, his breath catching behind something in his throat.
He brought it, hard and fast, against his shoulder. There was a sudden, blinding pain from the still-fading bruise and a lurch somewhere deep in his belly, and he rocked backward with a cry that was borne of more than physical hurt. A foot kicked him in the hollow of his spine, and a voice- his voice- behind him swore, colourfully.
As his twin scrambled to stand in the dark, thick grass, James Madrocke pressed a stone to his forehead with both hands and sobbed, desolately, a truth that burned his very soul.
One claimed to be the part of him who liked only blackberry jam. Another, the part of him who hated bees. These were the quiet ones- the ones whose coming he could not predict, who stayed for an hour or two at a time before asking to return to him.
Some were more wilful- the first double had reappeared many times when James clapped his hands or stamped hard enough that he made himself stagger. He was petulant, confidant and sought adventure at every turn. He was different enough from James that he could convince himself he was a twin brother rather than some section of his soul manifest.
‘Who are you?’ He asked each double, as they stepped away from him.
He never got the answer he wanted.
‘I shan’t warn you again-‘
The Twin sighed, brushing a stray cobweb from his wine-coloured breeches.
‘Yes, yes, fine.’
‘Well? What have you found out?’
‘Aside from the fact that Ruthven is an utter bore and a cheat at cards, nothing.’
James, startled out of his caution, leapt as if stung. The back of his hand caught the rim of his goblet and it wobbled, spilling cheap ale onto the dark wood of the table.
‘Nothing? Six months and nothing?’
The Twin had the impudence to look bored. He eyed the room with a haughty eye, and James felt as if he might strike him. He wouldn’t dare- they both knew that. Striking a Twin only produced another, and they couldn’t risk such a thing happening in so public a place.
‘They are afraid,’ the Twin said, finally. His voice was lilted with the Scotch accent. ‘The balance is delicate- Bothwell is pushing for action, but Ruthven is cautious. He is leaving for Italy next week, to meet with the Grand Inquisitor.’
James frowned pensively.
‘Word in the royal court has it that King Henry of France plans to convert,’ the Twin added, with a quirked eyebrow.
‘Not so loud!’ James hissed, glancing about the dimly-lit inn. ‘We cannot know who may be listening.’
‘Now you sound like Ruthven,’ smiled the Twin. He lowered his voice, but still the words echoed loud (far too loud) in James’ ears. ‘Is it mortal man or witchbreed you fear?’
James looked at their hands.
‘Sin,’ one double told him, ‘is relative.’
‘Relative to what?’
‘How hard you believe in it.’
He had not prayed out loud for years, since he was a boy. He prayed in his mind, where he could convince himself that God did not care if he was witchbreed or not, and would listen even to the words of an abomination.
The man was a Catholic conspirator- a nobleman who had been making his voice heard too loudly, and too often. He had greying hair and a wife in Kent. He was dying.
James pressed his hand against the flank of his horse, soothing the beast and wishing he could soothe himself as easily. He stood in the shadows beside the road, staring out into the cold November air. Behind him, the inn squatted balefully, spilling light from its windows. Singing covered the low voices that were coming from beside the midden heap at its far corner.
It is done.
This, from the Twin who had looked James in the eye and claimed he was ‘the part of you who will do anything for his Queen.’ Who had soaked James’ hands in blood, and taught him the ways of the knife, the garrotte, and the slow, delicate art of poison.
James pushed out a breath of frosted wind, watching it curl and disappear in the black shrouds of oncoming night. He wondered what he was doing; what he was trying to achieve. Whether he acted for his country, or for himself.
Come to me.
Twins were stationed all over the country; watching for him, working for him. He was a butcher in Sussex and a footpad on the streets of London. He had ridden across the fens of Norfolk and crossed the Irish Sea in the same day. He had a Twin in Scotland when the Ruthven brothers were killed, trying to kidnap King James. He saw them die.
Or, he thought he did.
He rented a room above an inn in London- a large room, because he could afford it. He sat by the window, outlined in sunlight, and watched the people passing by below him, and wondered how many had seen him before.
His wife died in childbirth. The physician said the baby was stillborn, but James knew it was a monster.
He does not sleep. He dreams of inns and castles and the cold packed earth.
He does not eat. He dines on venison and wine and roasted swan.
He does not live. He lives a thousand times.
He has no name.
England is a horse that scents danger but can do nothing of it. The art of the politic goes red-gloved with blood. Witchbreed are being sighted all over Europe; being burned, hanged, buried alive. There are rumours that a child from the New World is coming to London, to be blessed by the Queen.
James Madrocke is found dead on a cold January morning, when the crying of gulls can be heard over the rooftops of the city.