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Legend of a Thousand Winters by ad astra
Chapter 3: Godric
Rowena hadn’t realised how much she missed human company until she found it again. She was grateful to Salazar, not only for giving her a purpose to her travels, but simply for being there. He spoke little and disliked idle chatter; she had seen him fidget impatiently when spoken to at length by the villagers they sometimes stayed with. She found herself appreciating his quiet, self-assured manner, which was in stark contrast to the often loud, arrogant knights and noblemen she had come across in her previous life. It suited her too; she preferred silence and the company of her own thoughts. She required Salazar’s presence only to make her feel safe and to alleviate her sense of isolation; she had no need to converse endlessly with him, and knew he would not appreciate such discourse anyway.
That was not to mean their travels were made entirely in silence, however. Particularly in the evenings, over the scant meal they had managed to gather, they would exchange stories of their past lives. Salazar, it turned out, had no parents; his mother had been arrested and killed on suspicion of witchcraft, his father died in his attempt to save her from imprisonment. At the end of this tale Rowena was at a loss for words, but Salazar seemed not to expect sympathy from her.
“Such is the world we live in, Rowena,” he said heavily, and with a flick of his hand raised the flames of the fire ever higher. “Our only hope is to hide from those who do not practice magic. I long for the day when our enchantments are strong enough, and precise enough, to hide an entire village. Then our people will no longer live in fear.”
“You do not seek retribution for what happened to your parents?”
Salazar shook his head. “There is no point in retribution. If I used my magic to punish those who killed my parents, what hope is there that they may one day leave us in peace? I hate that we must hide away like cowards, but hide away we must, or die.”
He stretched his hand toward the flames, bringing them down until there was little left but glowing embers.
The next day’s travels brought them to a town, larger than the villages they were used to.
“We must find lodging for the night,” Salazar told her. “I believe we are far enough away from your father’s court for anyone to recognise you, but we should still lay low. If anyone asks, you are my sister.”
Salazar seemed to know where he was going, leaping off his horse and striding into a nearby building. It had no sign indicating it was an inn, but in moments he had returned, followed by a stooped old man who seized her horse’s bridle and leered up at her, revealing several missing teeth.
“Afternoon, m’lady. Need a hand gettin’ off your horse?”
“I’m fine, thank you,” Rowena replied stiffly.
“I will assist my sister,” Salazar said firmly, lifting her off the horse and setting her into the mud of the road.
“Thank you,” she murmured, following him into the dingy inn. She had never been inside such an inn, and she felt more than a little apprehensive at the prospect of spending a night here. She had heard many stories of the unsavoury characters who frequented such establishments.
“Are you scared, Rowena?” Salazar asked briskly, leading her through the inn and unlocking the door to their room.
“You have nothing to fear. You have used your magic against raiders and thieves on the road, you are capable of defending yourself.”
She gave him a small smile. “Is it not your job to defend me?”
“Would you prefer to be treated as a feeble, defenceless woman?” he asked pointedly. “I would not insult you by suggesting you need me.”
“I appreciate it,” she responded, taken aback, as she often was, by the difference between him and the other men she had known.
Despite her apprehension, Rowena declined Salazar’s offer to take dinner in their room. She was intrigued by the prospect of the tavern, and decided she was well overdue to learn more about the world. The last few weeks had been far from sheltered, of course, but she knew the best way to overcome her fear of such a place was to experience it. She would never pass up an opportunity to learn.
It was a crowded place, surprisingly warm and bright now that night had fallen and the lanterns had been lit. Salazar brought her to a table at the back of the tavern, collecting a tankard of ale and loaf of bread with cheese.
“It has been a while since we paid for a meal,” Salazar noted.
“Should we feel guilty about that?” Rowena asked.
Salazar smiled into his mug of ale. “Perhaps. Does it bother you, Lady Rowena?”
She mirrored his smile. “Not at all.” She glanced across the tavern, where a burly knight sat, downing a mug of ale. Beside him was a small, pretty blonde girl. When Rowena caught her eye, she quickly glanced away, twisting her hands in her lap.
“Salazar,” she whispered, “Who do you think that girl is, with the knight?”
“Probably his whore,” Salazar responded, glancing over, before whipping around to face her again, his earnest grey eyes boring into her own. “I’m sorry. Did I scandalize you?”
That was another thing about Salazar: she often wasn’t sure if he was joking or serious. “It takes more than that to scandalize me,” she assured him.
“Oh good. I mean, considering we’re sharing a room tonight.” He waggled his eyebrows. “That is the height of scandal, Lady Rowena. You ought to be ashamed.”
“And you are, naturally, without fault in the matter,” Rowena responded, playing along.
“Naturally,” Salazar confirmed, allowing himself to break into a grin.
“You are much improved by smiling, Salazar.”
He raised his eyebrows. “Is this the ale talking, my lady?”
“Of course. I would be incapable of saying such things without it.”
“I do not doubt it.”
Rowena glanced again at the knight’s table. She saw him check behind himself and snap his fingers over his mug of ale, which instantly refilled.
“Salazar,” she whispered.
“That knight. He just refilled his mug by magic.”
“By magic?” he repeated, furrowing his brow. “Are you sure?”
Salazar swiftly crossed the tavern, taking a place at the knight’s table. Somewhat reluctantly, Rowena followed him.
“Hello, friend,” the knight greeted Salazar, extending a large hand for him to shake. “I am Sir Godric of Gryffindor, and this is the Lady Helga.”
Salazar shook Godric’s hand, turning to Rowena. “Lady Helga?” he mouthed, and Rowena had to fight back a giggle.
“Salazar Slytherin. This is my sister, Rowena.”
“Delighted to meet you, my lady,” Godric intoned, taking her hand and kissing it. “To what do we owe the pleasure of your company?”
“It is a somewhat delicate matter,” Salazar responded coolly.
Godric leaned back carelessly in his chair. “By all means.”
“My sister observed you using magic.”
Godric’s response was immediate. He leaned across the table, his face inches from Salazar’s. “I assure you she was mistaken,” he said in a dangerous voice.
Salazar pulled away slightly. “You misunderstand me, Sir Godric of Gryffindor.”
“Please,” Godric said with a careless wave of his hand. “Tell me how I’ve misunderstood you. I would love to know.”
Salazar didn’t answer, merely focused his gaze on Helga’s mug of ale. In moments, it had refilled.
Godric leaned back again. “So. You have magic too.”
“And your sister?”
“I do,” Rowena replied. “And I am perfectly capable of answering for myself, thank you.”
“My humble apologies, Lady Rowena. To where are you headed?”
“Scotland,” Salazar replied. “I hear tell there is a colony of sorcerers there.”
“Then we will join you,” Godric said firmly.