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A Girl of Filth and Death

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Fergus disappeared with a curse and a snap of his fingers, with Rowena’s last glimpse of him consisting of a scowl and flashing, angry eyes.  

They were his father’s eyes, no doubt, the eyes of a bastard, and that particular reminder soured her thoughts every time.

This conversation went like all the others always seemed to - it began poorly and then escalated into something even worse. Civil conversation seemed to be impossible with her son, the bloody King of Hell. Today, Fergus wanted her help to save the idiot Winchesters (again), which she refused to provide (because her time was better spent on anything else in the world) and before either of them knew, they were both shouting curses at each other (yet again). She was a terrible bitch of a mother, he was an ungrateful bastard of a child. The same song and dance they had done ever since Rowena made a reappearance in her son’s life.

However, something about this particular shouting match left Rowena off-kilter. The witch could not entirely pinpoint what prompted the feeling, but perhaps it was the accusations that Fergus was spitting at her. Today, he made an effort to include one of his favorites - his usual tirade about being traded for three pigs and his declaration that she had always been a vile, abusive, unloving witch, and she must have been like that since birth. In most other instances, Fergus’ words would roll off Rowena like water off a particularly cheerful duck. She had certainly heard much worse over the many centuries she had been alive. Being a powerful witch made for a grand number of unhappy critics.

Today, however, Fergus’ usual barbs, thrown at her with his usual amount of hatred and venom, brought back a memory that Rowena would much rather have kept buried deep in her mind.

She couldn’t help but remember, in stark clarity, her confession to Fergus, made months back when she was under the spell of the witchcatcher. He asked her why she hated him, the damned sod, and she had no choice but to speak the truth.

I hate you because, when I look into your eyes, I see the woman I used to be, before magic, before the coven, when I was nothing but Rowena, the tanner's daughter. A pale, scared little girl who smelled of filth and death.

Those words rang through her head and she massaged her temples, willing both the words and the burgeoning headache to disappear. Unfortunately, she had no luck with either endeavor as the echo of those words kept coming back over and over.

I was nothing but Rowena, the tanner's daughter.

Because that was all she was, before . When she thought back to her childhood, all that she could see before her mind’s eye was a pitiful, dirty waif of a girl, so slight and meek that a gust of wind would knock her over.

Like many others in 17th century Scotland, in a small out of the way village, she was a girl who lived her life in poverty and dread. Her father, a tanner and a drunkard, made only enough money to ensure his liquor did not run dry. Her home, an unseemly little structure, cracking at the seams and slowly falling to ruin, was always filled with dust, dirt, and animals skins that her father would turn into leather as he drunkenly slurred curses about the damn British and the damn wars.

It was in that home, between four decrepit walls, that Rowena watched the mother she barely knew die in childbirth, as so many did back then, when birthing her younger brother. The tiny babe died within those walls as well, succumbing to pneumonia and dying mere days later... as so many did back then.

So, as a child, all she knew was the stench of filth and death and she was keenly aware that she was tainted by it. Filth and dirt, the sounds of drunken slurs, and the specter of death permeated every nook and cranny of her being.

A pale, scared little girl who smelled of filth and death.

When she was living that life, in that forgotten village, between those four crumbling walls, she was nothing. She was a poor, weakly girl who had no prospects for the future and no power to affect her circumstances. Before discovering her natural abilities, the gift of magic bestowed upon her by the universe itself, she was…

Rowena, the tanner’s daughter.

She was less than nothing. A powerless child, drowning in filth and death.

It was no surprise then that she clung to the first man who told her he loved her. Fergus’ father was handsome and charming, with a confident, self-assured sparkle in his eyes and steady, sure hands. The thing about him that had truly ensnared Rowena however, were his words, which were as intoxicating as any wine and sweeter than honey.

Oh, the things he would whisper to her and the vows he would make as they made love in a dark little corner of the village or on the outskirts of the forest, away from the prying eyes of others. His words offered Rowena the things she craved most then - freedom, and life, and exhilarating, undeniable promise of love . She felt alive for the first time, filth and death forgotten, when he held her close to him and whispered those sweet promises.

Empty promises, as it turned out.

Because, as she lay there on that straw mat, her thighs slick with blood and a crying babe at her side, she realized that love would never be her salvation. Love would ensnare you and fill you to the brim with light and life, and then without hesitation drop you back down into the dirt, forgotten and unloved as you always were. As if you were nothing .

No, she knew then that love only held empty promises. If she were to rise up and free herself from those failing four walls, from the dirt and the blood and death itself, the thing she truly needed was power . She vowed to herself then that she would obtain that power by any means necessary, everyone and everything else be damned. Nothing would stand in her way… Even if it meant sacrificing everything else, including the newborn child softly crying on the straw mat next to her, still covered in her blood.

In the confession forced out of her by the thrice damned witchcatcher, Rowena told Fergus that love was weakness. That was a lesson learned through betrayal and blood, but it was a lesson that had carried her through centuries of life and brought her unimaginable power. Unlike the empty promises of a man who left her in the dirt, the promise to herself was a vow never broken. She sought out power and as if nature itself finally recognized her plight, she was bestowed with her answer - the discovery of her own innate magic.

No witch, no coven, and certainly no man ever stood in the way of Rowena again. It was no longer filth and death that filled her lungs and her veins, but rather raw, unadulterated power. Her being was filled with a magic so potent, it brought gods and mortals alike to their knees.

There was no sacrifice, however big or small, that Rowena ever regretted on her path through the centuries. The lives she took, the livelihoods she destroyed, the promises she made to others and never kept - none of it ever phased her.

She prided herself on always being above such things as regret or shame, but in the here and now, with her son alive and in many ways, just as powerful and so very similar to her, there were moments when she would taste remorse on her tongue.

Even her own magic was not powerful enough to turn back time, nor would she truly ever want to do such a thing, even if it were possible. The past was the past and her power and magic were the two things she would never sacrifice. However, there were moments now when, as she saw Fergus, as she spoke with him and gotten to know him, for mere moments, she would indulge in the possibility of letting herself love him, the way she was meant to as a mother those many centuries ago. Some small, forgotten part of her, a pale little girl, would beg her to reach out and give him the promises of love.

However, every time that temptation threatened to overwhelm her, the stench of filth and death would once again rise up and remind her of the one truth in her life. 

Love was weakness and she could never be weak again.