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Chapter 17 : Runaway
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“Yes, my lord,” he replied, grinning nastily.
“Excellent,” he growled. “Did you kill the others?”
“Most that were inside,” he muttered hesitantly.
The king sat up suddenly at this, his eyes widening and his face falling. His brow creased as he stared at Benedick.
“What do you mean, most of them?” He demanded.
“Well, Sir,” Benedick said, trying to maintain his calm tone but failing. “There were…complications.”
“What do you mean?” He roared, his voice echoing menacingly around them. “You killed the boy, I hope!”
“When we searched through the wreckage we didn’t come across the bodies of either him or the youngest child. It appears they escaped the blaze before it got to them,” he explained.
The king let out an angry roar, pummelling his fist into the arm of his chair.
“I gave you specific instructions!” He snapped, spit flying everywhere. “I wanted them dead - every last one of them!”
“But Sir,” Benedick said quickly, as the king looked fit to explode with anger. “The main threat is dead! You can rule in peace and there is no one to take that from you,” he murmured calmly. The king stared at him, still looking angry but he had his eyes narrowed, as though he was listening closely. “The girl is no threat. Why, she’s just a child,” he said gently, moving towards the king and trying to keep his temper at bay. “And the boy is not foolish enough to cross you twice!”
“He is still a meddlesome fool!”
“But, sir!” Benedick laughed, making the king raise his eyebrows. “I hardly understand how you can see that pathetic little boy as a threat! To someone like you, it’s a positively preposterous idea!” He chuckled. This had the desired effect and the king looked flattered by this.
“I suppose you’re right,” he grunted. “But I’m still very disappointed!”
“Yes, sir. I’m most sorry.”
As Rowena strolled along the hallways that stepped directly out into the castle grounds she couldn’t help but feel that something was wrong. Her heart ached with some unidentifiable weight but she just couldn’t explain why. She jumped as a voice pierced the silence.
She turned on her heel to see Salazar rushing towards her, his long silvery cloak rippling along behind him.
“Have you heard?” He demanded, before she’d even spoken.
“Heard what?” She gasped, her lungs filling with dread, for she could tell it was bad news just from his tone of voice.
“Oh, Rowena,” he said, his eyes full of sympathy. “I fear you are not meant to know.”
“What is it?”
He took her hand gently and looked into her eyes. She could tell bad news was coming and, a second before he said it, she somehow knew.
“The castle of Hufflepuff has been burnt to the ground. I’m so sorry.”
“But…everyone’s alright, aren’t they?” She asked quickly, knowing what the answer would be.
He just stared, unable to speak to her, for his heart ached with sadness too.
“Salazar?” She pleaded, her eyes shining.
“There were no survivors,” he said at last, his throat aching with the effort of not crying.
Rowena immediately broke down into sobs, her face soon shining with tears of distress. She collapsed to the floor, where she sat weeping. Salazar knew not what to do except sit beside her and attempt to comfort her.
“How did it start?” She managed to gasp.
“I think,” he replied hesitantly. “That it was deliberate.”
This caused her to cry even more so that her eyes were soon red and puffy.
“No,” she murmured, the floor shining with her tears now. “Godric…and…and poor Helga!” She gasped. “She was my only friend…for years!”
“Oh, Rowena!” He muttered, pulling her into a tight hug, where she sobbed onto his shoulder. “I swear, we’ll find out who did this and I’ll make them pay if it’s the last thing I do!”
“Are you sure about this?” Helga asked warily, for what felt like the hundredth time.
“Yes!” He hissed.
Godric stopped their horse behind a large cluster of trees and peered through the branches towards their target - a fruit and vegetable stall that was laden with delicious-looking things.
“You remember what to do?” He demanded, feeling that this could not go wrong.
“Yes,” she said hesitantly. “But what if we get caught?”
Helga looked as though she was about to point out all the ways that they could get caught but, seeing Godric’s expression, she obviously thought better of it.
“Just keep him busy!”
“Okay,” she sighed, sliding down from the horse's back.
Pulling the hood on his cloak up over his head, he followed closely behind, waiting until she’d engaged the man on the stall in a conversation before he made his move. He was just thankful it wasn’t an extremely sunny day or he’d have looked rather strange in a thick cloak with his hood up. He tried to walk up to the stall as casually as possible, pretending to examine the apples and pears, whilst Helga spoke animatedly to the man behind the stall. In one swift movement, he grabbed a handful of apples and hid them in his inside cloak pocket. He walked away slowly, so as not to arouse suspicion. Once Helga had got the message that they’d done what they came to do, she bid good day to the stallholder and followed Godric at a safe distance.
“What a rush!” She gasped, looking both excited and fearful.
“It was only a few apples!” Godric laughed, handing her one.
They both ate hungrily, feeding the remnants to their horse because he hadn’t eaten for over a day either.
“Godric?” Helga said, once they’d finished eating and were riding away from the little village. “Where are we going to go?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, we can’t just keep sleeping rough, can we?”
Godric didn’t reply. He had been so busy making sure he kept Helga’s mind on things other than the death of her family that he hadn’t really considered this fact.
“I don’t know,” he murmured, after a long pause. She stared helplessly, looking very concerned. “But don’t worry,” he added quickly. “I’ll figure something out, I promise!”
He smiled, trying to reassure her but she still didn’t look convinced. He’d have to think fast because darkness would soon be upon them.
“My boy! What on earth is the cause for that sour expression?” Benedick demanded of Salazar, who was almost unnoticeable behind the pile of scrolls he was working on in his office.
“You mean you haven’t heard?” Salazar exclaimed, looking shocked.
“Heard what?” He asked inquisitively.
“About the castle of Hufflepuff?”
“Oh,” he said, his expression one of puzzlement for a split second. “Yes, yes, most unfortunate!”
“Unfortunate!” Salazar exploded, a few of the scrolls scattering from the desk and rolling across the floor. “That fire was deliberate!”
“My dear boy, do not be so foolish!” He chuckled.
“Benedick, how can you just stand there and laugh it away?” He demanded angrily. Benedick looked extremely shocked, never having seen Salazar this angry, especially at him. “People died in that fire! My friends died in that fire!” He said, fixing him with a bitter stare. “I’m going to find out who did this!”
“You are no detective, Salazar!” Benedick said coldly. “And nor will I let you be!”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“That you have better things to do with your time!”
“But my friends - ” He began hastily.
“Yes, yes, I know!” He cut in impatiently. “And I assure you, the culprits will be caught but you really must think of the duties you have to your people,” he urged, indicating the scrolls.
“You’re right,” he sighed, after a long and thoughtful pause. “But I really must go to pay my respects to their remains.”
Salazar picked up his quill from the inkpot, bending over the scroll he’d been working on.
Benedick looked at him with a very peculiar expression, as though weighing things up. He scratched his chin nervously.
“Stop that!” He said suddenly, causing Salazar to blot what he’d been writing.
“But you just said - ”
“I know what I said,” he muttered dismissively. “You’re in no fit state to work. I suggest you take a break”
“A break?” Salazar repeated.
“Yes. Go back to your family. They haven’t seen you in along time!”
“You do want to see then, don’t you?” He persisted, raising his eyebrows.
“There you are then. Oh, but you must do one thing for me in return.”
“What?” Salazar asked uncertainly.
“Promise me you will not go to Hufflepuff castle?”
Salazar stared, looking perplexed.
“Because, my dear boy,” he added, not wanting to sound to pushy. “They do not want to be disturbed!”
“The men who are carrying out an investigation into the most unfortunate deaths that happened there.”
“Oh…” He said quietly. Benedick stared eagerly. “Okay.”
“Good! Off you go then!” He smiled, patting him firmly on the back!
“What…now?” He said, looking surprised.
“No time like the present!” He beamed in reply.
“Right. How long have I got?” Salazar asked, turning back just before he left the room.
“As long as you need, my boy!”
“Are you sure?” He exclaimed.
“Yes!” He chortled. “Now get out of my sight!” He laughed.
“Thank you, Benedick!” Salazar smiled, dashing from the room, his footsteps echoing along the corridor.
Benedick stared after him and his smile quickly faded. He paced the room, a bitter expression upon his face. Salazar was growing suspicious and he just couldn’t afford to let that happen. He had too much power, both as a Lord and a wizard, to tamper with.
The sun had almost set upon the Irish countryside and Godric and Helga were exhausted - this must have been nothing to what their horse felt. He had carried them like a true trooper for most of the day without so much as a snort of complaint.
“We have to find somewhere to sleep, Godric!” Helga urged, sounding worried.
Night would soon be upon them and, as far as they could see, there was nowhere to go.
“I know, I know!” Godric murmured, trying not to sound too worried himself, even though he did, probably more so, as the pressure was on him to provide for and protect Helga now.
They walked on and Godric, finally seeing a sign of shelter, steered the horse towards it, feeling the muscles in his legs screaming for relief from the position they’d been locked in all day. They headed for a run-down barn in the middle of a field with no sign of a house nearby.
“We should be okay in here,” Godric assured Helga, stopping their horse just in front of the doors.
“I hope so,” she murmured, looking up at it apprehensively.
They were certainly sheltered from view. Trees, bushes and long grass concealed the fact that they’d be staying there, just as long as they were as inconspicuous as possible. It was just lucky that the barn showed signs of no one entering it for many years.
Once Godric had hopped down from the horse, he heaved open the barn doors with the little strength he had left. The strong smell of damp and old straw hit their nostrils immediately, taking them aback for a moment. Helga cautiously followed Godric inside, looking around apprehensively.
“Yes, this’ll be fine,” he nodded, seeing a great pile of hay in the corner that they could sleep upon quite comfortably.
“You don’t think there are rats in there, do you?” Helga asked shakily.
“I doubt it,” he smiled.
She looked unsure but decided, as she had nowhere else to lie down peacefully, it’d do. Once Godric had led their horse inside, closed the door and let it drink from a large trough full of rain water that had leaked in by means of a hole in the ceiling, he and Helga made themselves as comfortable as possible.
Now that Godric had time to contemplate his heart raced and an uncomfortable lump started to form in his throat. He knew they couldn’t go on living like this forever and this was the best they’d get if they stuck at it. He knew no one would take them in and, if he did go to anyone with authority, a lord or a lady, he knew he’d be found by the very man who wanted him and Helga dead. He couldn’t drag her into something like that - it wasn’t fair. But there had to be someone who’d take care of them, look out for them and help them.
He suddenly sat bolt upright and gasped loudly, causing Helga to jump, having just been on the verge of dozing off.
“What is it?” She demanded, looking worried.
“I’ve thought of somewhere we can stay, somewhere safe,” he explained, trying to think it all over again in his mind.
“Where?” She asked slowly.
“Remember the place I came from?”
“Lord Screiver’s castle?” She said, looking puzzled. “Of course I do!”
“Well, we’ll go there. I’m sure he’d be welcoming!”
“But,” she pointed out. “Didn’t he kick you out?”
Godric stared, trying not to look thrown by this.
“Not exactly,” he replied. “He sent me to you, didn’t he? I mean, if he didn’t care he would have left me on the streets!”
“I suppose,” she shrugged.
“We’ll make our way there in the morning!”
“But…” Helga said quickly. “Shouldn’t you send him a letter first to let him know you’re coming?”
“Helga, non-magical mail takes weeks to get delivered and replied to. Do you really want to be sleeping rough for that long?”
“No,” she said hurriedly.
“There you are then. We’ll set off at first light.”
“But I think we should travel like normal people. We don’t want to draw attention to ourselves, do we?” She added. “I know it’ll take longer but it’s better that than being caught.”
“Yes, you have a point,” he agreed, scratching his chin. “We'd better get some rest then!”
He lay back on the hay, hoping that Lord Schreiver would indeed welcome him or, in fact, even recognise him at all. It had been years since he’d seen him, after all.
“What is it, Benedick?” The king asked worriedly, as Benedick walked into his study, looking agitated.
“I have some news, milord,” he said awkwardly.
“Well,” the king said, after a long pause. “Bloody well spit it out, man!”
Benedick nodded gravely.
“Sir, I do believe young Salazar is growing suspicious about the accident at Hufflepuff castle.”
“Explain,” the king said impatiently, waving a hand.
“He has guessed the fire was started deliberately.” The king looked shocked and rather anxious at this. “He feels so strongly because his friends were in the fire.”
“Lord Hufflepuff’s youngest daughter and the boy, I believe,” he elaborated. “But I have sent him away from his duties to take his mind off things. We can’t afford to let him grow suspicious.”
“Damn right, we can’t!” The king roared, looking flustered. “The boy is still out there and if he’s such good fiends with Salazar that means he could contemplate contacting him! Salazar is friends with Rowena and it’d only be a matter of time before this whole incident is out in the open!”
“Of course,” Benedick said quickly, not having considered all these details.
“Whilst he’s gone it’ll give us time to put things in order.”
“It gives us time to find this boy and kill him. I want every city, town and village in Ireland to know who we’re looking for and anyone found to be helping this vagabond will be killed as well!”
“Yes, milord,” he muttered, I’ll inform the knights.”
“Just make sure he’s found, Benedick…and that girl too. I can’t afford for her to bleed poison into my daughter’s head!”
Benedick nodded and turned to leave, smiling in a very satisfied way.
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