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Legend of a Thousand Winters by ad astra
Chapter 2: In the Glade
Rowena had made for herself a makeshift camp about five minutes’ walk from the road she had been travelling on, in a small, lush green glade. After two weeks and a number of near misses with thieves, she had decided to lay low for a while. She was always conscious that a search party from the castle would be trying to track her, but she drew comfort from the fact that she’d seen no sign of them as yet. She had deliberately taken the most winding road she could think of, past villages forgotten by the world. She lived off produce taken from gardens in the middle of the night, and bread and cheese summoned by magic from the homes of those who appeared well off.
She awoke, as usual, at dawn, her limbs stiff and her neck sore. Nearly three weeks it had been since she left the comfort of the castle, yet her body still hadn’t grown accustomed to sleeping on the ground. She wondered if it ever would, or if eighteen years of royal life had ruined her for good, condemning her to a life of discomfort and dissatisfaction.
Her horse started, and Rowena leapt to her feet, wincing in pain at the sudden movement. Her eyes scanned the trees around her, heart pounding as her hand automatically went to her hip.
Of course. She’d taken the belt off to sleep. Keeping a careful eye in front of her, she bent to pick it up, freezing as she heard a twig snap. Abandoning the dagger, she went straight for her wand and raised it, pointing in the direction of the trees.
“Careful, my lady,” a smooth masculine voice said, and from behind a tree trunk strode a man, tall and thin with slightly curly dark hair. “Are you in the habit of brandishing magical wands to everyone you meet on the road?”
She blinked, temporarily dispossessed of her ability to speak. This man had recognised her wand for what it was, and yet showed no signs of fear or surprise.
“Who are you?” she demanded, ignoring his question.
“That is not important.” His gaze bore into her own as he strolled closer. “What is of importance is the large raiding party that will be coming along this road in less time than you, and myself I suppose, could hope to get to the closest village, or even get very far at all.”
“A raiding party?” she asked in alarm, deciding other details were unimportant.
“Yes, my lady. In all honesty, I am glad you pointed that wand at me. I was beginning to think I would have to do a lot of explaining.” The man withdrew a wand from within his clothing, beginning to wave it with a flourish and murmuring incantations she didn’t know or understand.
“What are you doing?”
“Something I have been working on for a while, my lady. An enchantment that will conceal our presence from the non-magical people.”
The man held up a hand to silence her, and she reluctantly abandoned her line of questioning. It was utter madness to trust this man, surely – but at any rate he seemed a safer option than the raiding party, which she could now hear in the distance and which was steadily getting closer.
“They should not venture off the road,” the man continued, stowing his wand and lowering himself onto the grass. “But if they do, I have cast a strong enough enchantment that they should not see or hear us. You may now speak freely.”
“Who are you, sir?”
“I am no sir. My name is Salazar Slytherin.”
“Where did you learn such magic?”
“I have had the freedom to experiment with my powers which you, my lady, have not.” He waved a hand to indicate Rowena’s clothing. “I take it you have run away.”
“May I ask why?”
“I daresay you already know.”
“Your family are non-magical?”
“No. They possess magic. But they dare not use it for fear their people will rise up and overthrow them, the fear of magic is so strong.”
“Their people?” Salazar repeated in alarm. “You are Lady Rowena, daughter of the king?”
Salazar was silent, standing stock still and staring out at the road through the trees. “Do you wish to make camp here, Lady Rowena?”
“No. We remain within the boundaries of my father’s kingdom.”
“Then with your permission, I will travel with you.”
“Where are you headed?”
“I have heard talk of a colony of sorcerers in the highlands of Scotland.”
“Scotland?” Rowena repeated. “You wish to make for Scotland?”
“There are few places less frequented by non-magical people,” Salazar replied. “I have been intending to find a colony for a long while. There are some in England; however they are too close to ordinary villages. It is not safe.”
“We have just met. Please allow me some time to consider your proposal.”
A smile tugged at Salazar’s lips. “I am not asking you to marry me, Lady Rowena. I am asking you to accompany me to safety. There are few sorcerers in this land, and we must band together.”
“You are asking me to go to Scotland.”
“Where else would you go?”
Rowena looked up and nodded, conceding defeat.
“Break camp,” Salazar said briskly. “I will be waiting for you on the road.”
Rowena moved deliberately slowly, packing her belongings and saddling her horse, in the hope the stolen extra time might allow her to process what had just happened. She had awoken with the belief that she was quite alone in the world, and now, before the birds of the dawn had stopped singing, she had met this young warlock Salazar, who knew magic far beyond her, and who wished to accompany her to Scotland.
She’d never been outside her father’s kingdom before, and the thrilling prospect of adventure was causing her to forget herself. She couldn’t go to Scotland.
Of course, the more she told herself she couldn’t, the more she wanted to go. A colony of wizards…living without fear of discovery or retribution. They could teach her everything they knew. She could learn to master her magic, to do the things Salazar could do. They could live in the forest, like the Druids. Or they could have a proper village, hidden forever by Salazar’s enchantments.
The future, which throughout Rowena’s life had shifted from dull and monotonous to clouded and confused, was suddenly thrilling. With a new spring in her step and a lightness of heart she hadn’t felt since she was a young girl, she mounted her horse and rode out of the glade, taking the time to notice how the dew on the rich green leaves sparkled in the sun, and the whole world seemed magnified in beauty.
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