(This is a retelling of a story my great grandma, Lucy Winborne Doughtie, told me about an ancestor from the middle ages. She told me quite a few stories about the strong willed women we descended from but this was one of my favorites.) Trigger warning: domestic violence and attempted rape- neither is described in detail but they are mentioned
Ali was a beautiful girl with a personality as fiery as her hair. She was the apple of her father’s eye and the darling of every man who met her. They all tried to catch her eye but it was her father’s business associate who captured her heart. She had a fairytale life until her father became sick. As her father lie dying and she heartbroken, she allowed herself to be seduced.
Shortly after her father’s death she realized she was in the family way and a wedding was planned. At first everything was great. Her new husband doted on her and indulged her every whim, including her desire to build an inn so she could run her own business. Something most women simply didn’t do in the middle ages.
Not long after her son was born things began to change. Her inn was successful and it became a popular spot with the nobility, especially the men. The more popular her inn became, the more jealous her husband was. It started out with a cross word here and there but soon escalated to punches and slaps. Poor Ali was miserable, her only joy her young son and evenings spent working her inn. For those few hours every evening she was once again doted on and she could pretend everything was perfect in her world.
One day after an especially brutal argument with her husband she ran to the woods crying. She tripped but didn’t have the energy to pick herself up. She lay there sobbing her heart out. A soft voice asked if she was okay. She looked up to see the most beautiful man she had ever laid eyes on. His skin was tan, his dark hair fell perfect around his face, and his eyes… his honey gold eyes were mesmerizing. Now Ali, her mother had taught her the ways of magic as a child, she recognized this man as Sidhe (Shee). She knew she should look away but his eyes saw into her soul and sucked her in. She couldn’t bring herself to break eye contact. He asked again if she was okay and when she just sobbed he gathered her in his arms and held her. He rubbed her back gently as she sobbed against his chest. With each touch of his hand she felt her sadness lessen. When her crying was done, he gently sat her on her feet and walked away.
The next day she went back to the same spot hoping to see him again and the next day she went as well. On the third day, just as she was about to give up and return home, he appeared out of nowhere. He sat on the ground beside her and stared into her eyes. She felt compelled to tell him everything about her life, her loveless marriage, her son, even her inn. She poured out her troubles until it was almost nightfall and she had to leave. As he was walking away, Ali yelled after him asking his name. He kept walking but a whisper floated back to her on the wind… Robin, son of Art.
Ali continued to see him every chance she had. She would meet him in a magical place where the “Three Sisters” met and there her troubles would melt away. On occasion she brought her young son and her maid, who was also her closest friend. She found it much easier to bear the life with her husband knowing Robin would be waiting for her. As time went on she and Robin developed a certain familiarity with each other. She found herself once again in the family way and unsure what to do. She hadn’t been close to her husband in some time as he had found interests elsewhere and no longer bothered her.
Before she could make a decision, it was taken out of her hands. Her husband followed her one day when she went on her walk in the woods. When she arrived home, he was waiting for her, rage in his eyes. He had seen her with Robin and was out for revenge. He informed her he was selling the inn and sending her to live in the country. She would not be taking their son with her either. Ali begged him to reconsider. She begged for his forgiveness but he pushed her to the ground and walked away. As she and her maid prepared his dinner that night Ali remembered an old recipe of her mother’s. Knowing her husband loved apples she sent her maid to purchase some while she went in search of the ingredients to her mother’s recipe. She would not be without her son.
Her husband fell ill and she spent days by his side nursing him. On the rare occasions he would wake she would make sure to have his favorite apples on hand. One night he took his last breath and made her a very wealthy widow.
Things were going well. She was wealthy enough to upgrade her inn, she was still seeing Robin every chance she had, and everyone assumed the babe growing in her belly belonged to her dead husband. She should have known things could never be that easy. A patron of the inn came to her one night to tell her he saw her picking certain herbs the night her husband fell ill. He thought it something the constables might be interested in but if she were his wife he would never testify against her. Seeing no choice, she agreed and they were wed not long after the babe, whom she named Rose, was born.
Her new husband was cruel and often abused his servants. One time she saw him run down a peasant with his carriage while laughing manically. He was never cruel to her or her children though. In fact he doted on her son and daughter and gave them everything they wanted. They grew to love him and he was careful to never let them see his cruelty to others.
The night before Rose’s sixteenth birthday, Ali left the pub early excited to give Rose the gift she had specially made for her. She was too excited to wait another day. As she entered the house, Ali heard muffled cries coming from Rose’s room. She hurried down the hall worried Rose was sick. There she found her husband with one hand over Rose’s mouth while he tried to take liberties with the other. Ali grabbed the nearest thing, a heavy vase, and hit him over the head. He fell to the floor and didn’t rise. Ali calmed Rose before she bent to check on her husband. He wasn’t breathing. In a panic she sent her maid for her son.
When he arrived, he took one look at the body and Rose’s wrinkled attire. His eyes turned cold as he reassured his mother he would take care of it. He staged the body to look as if his stepfather had too much to drink and wrecked his carriage. No one even questioned it as Ali’s husband was known to drink and drive too fast on the roads at night.
It was around this time that Robin disappeared. He no longer came to the woods or answered when Ali would call for him. She used every bit of magic at her disposal to try to find him but to no avail. Broken-hearted she threw herself into her work and tried to forget him. She put on a smile for the customers and everyone thought she was happy. Except one person.
An older man took to staying late at the inn and even helping her clean up. He tried night after night to convince her to confide in him. Eventually she did. Not everything of course but most of it. They became great friends and Ali found she was falling in love. But alas he was unavailable for romance.
One night a man visited the inn to present Ali with a document signed by her ex-husband. It seems not only was he fond of drinking and carousing but of gambling as well. He had used her family home and the inn as collateral on his debts. Ali took the document to her first husband’s brother who knew the law looking for a loophole but he couldn’t find one. Determined not to lose her home and inn, Ali formed a plan. She turned on the charm and wooed the man into falling for her. When he proposed she agreed on one condition, he sign her house and inn over to her as her own personal property. He agreed and they were wed.
While Ali wasn’t in love with him, she was happy. He didn’t have a cruel bone in his body and treated her like a queen. They were happily married for several years before a deadly sickness came to town and he caught it. Ali used every herb and recipe she knew to heal him and it seemed he was getting better. She stayed by his side getting little sleep. One night, in her sleepy state, Ali reached for the wrong potion by accident and he never woke. She knew it was her mistake and was guilt stricken. But what could she do? Confessing her mistake would help no one and possibly land her in jail so she pretended he died from the sickness. The only people who knew different were her maid and her great friend who still stayed late at the inn every night.
As it happened, her friend had recently become available. One of the happiest days in poor Ali’s life was the day he asked her to be his wife. Even though he was much older, they were very happy together and eventually Ali gave him a daughter.
Soon after her daughter was born, a new preacher came to town. He didn’t approve of Ali or her inn and made his opinion well known. Ali made it well known she had no use for his opinion and didn’t care what he thought. And so the war began.
The preacher looked for any way to make trouble for Ali but nothing ever worked until as fate would have it, the perfect opportunity fell in his lap. Ali’s husband had grown ill. His hair and toenails were falling out and Ali couldn’t figure out why. One day Ali and her maid were overheard by her stepdaughter. Ali was talking about her husband’s illness and how she’d suspect poison if she didn’t know better. The stepdaughter went to the preacher with her suspicion that Ali was poisoning her father. She even went so far as to accuse Ali of being a witch. That was all the ammunition the preacher needed.
He brought charges against Ali for witchcraft and ordered her arrested but her brother in law refused to arrest her. Instead he warned her and arranged for her to go stay with relatives in another city. The preacher became angry when he discovered her escape. He charged Ali’s maid with witchcraft and paraded her through the streets. He knew Ali would hear and hoped she’d return to defend her maid. She did. He had her arrested and thrown in jail. Ali refused to answer his questions or confess to anything. She had friends and relatives in high places who made it very clear to the preacher he was not to harm a hair on Ali’s head. So instead he had her maid tortured until she confessed to her crimes as well as Ali’s.
Ali’s maid told them about the potions they brewed and how Ali poisoned her first husband. She told them about spells and rituals she had helped Ali with. She even told them about Robin and how Ali had a relationship with him. The preacher and his congregation deemed Robin a demon and that was all the evidence they needed to convict both Ali and her maid of witchcraft and sentence them to die. On the eve of their execution as Ali sat in their cell holding her maid’s broken and bleeding body, a wind blew through the dungeon. The guards slumped at their posts and a man appeared. Ali looked up into Robin’s beautiful eyes once again. He was there to rescue her. She tried to lift her maid to her feet but she couldn’t stand. Ali begged Robin to carry her but she screamed in extreme pain when he tried to lift her. The maid begged Ali to leave without her. It killed Ali to do it but they both knew there was no way she could go. Her body was too broken. With tears streaming down her face, Ali gently hugged her friend goodbye and disappeared into the night never to be heard from again