Chapter 1 : Chapter One
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Helga Hufflepuff, the Queen of Cornwall - Leelee Sobieski
Salazar Slytherin, a servant from the East - Joaquin Phoenix
Godric Gryffindor, high priest of the Gryffindor clan - Sean Bean
Gorgeous chapter image by Esperanza @ TDA
Helga sat her horse like a man, her slender legs astride the leather saddle instead of neatly draped over the pommel. Salazar thought the position suited her well, echoing with masculinity, but touched with her subtle feminine wiles. A man could destroy himself pondering over the idiosyncrasies of a woman like Helga Hufflepuff…most of England already had.
But Salazar was not a Saxon, nor was he a blue-painted Celt. He had been in Normandy when his cavalcade met with several Frankish warriors. After separating from his fellows, he traveled with them to the shore where he found passage across the Channel in a long-boat. Originally, he hailed from Constantinople.
Helga’s horse side-stepped into his, hitting his hip. He winced.
She pulled the reins taut with a frown. “Such a delicate creature you are.”
Salazar rubbed his upper thigh. “I cannot sit my horse for two days straight like you, my lady,” he replied, forcing a drop of servility to soften his otherwise lofty tone.
Helga raised her narrow chin and appraised him, just as she had the day he was brought before her for casting spells at several of her soldiers. And since then, she hadn’t let him out of her sight.
“I dreamt of my fortune last night,” she said in her strong, heavy Cornish accent. “All of Britannia and Alba lay at my feet, but I was devoured by a lion.”
Salazar exhaled sharply. “Consult your shamans. I am no Seer.”
Helga laughed, amused by his daring, But she was a warrior first and her attention was quickly stolen by the rush of arduous activity that rendered the countryside less than peaceful that morning.
“Look how industrious they are,” she said, directing his gaze to the valley below them, where men labored in the chill of autumn, digging trenches and raising earthworks to fortify her newly captured land.
Another six months and she would have Alba as well as England. Helga had plans to besiege and win Rowena Ravenclaw’s castle before winter settled in. The Queen of Cornwall was destined to become the Queen of Britannia. So foretold the shamans Helga often consulted.
Salazar himself wasn’t sure.
He glanced at the crude fortifications, his very core rejecting and reviling the Muggle work. Why would a witch like Helga resort to using their dirty, unskilled hands for her benefit? It was most unbecoming.
“How many trees have you felled?” Salazar asked pointedly. The sky was bruised with early sunlight, unappealing in its weakness and lack of warmth.
But Helga was rosy-cheeked, not fair but fierce. He supposed her distinct features served her well, marking her at once as the conqueror she had grown into at the tender age of twenty-six.
She had the aspirations of Alexander, but possessed one thing the Macedonian did not.
The word was an illicit thing still, sensual almost. And unlike Salazar, Helga had not sought to conceal her abilities from the world. No, she cultivated them, increased them and so began to claim all of England as her own.
He was only now by her side because of his own sorcery. Otherwise, he would be with the rest of the foreign servants, digging ditches with ungainly wooden trowels.
“There are enough firs in this part of the country to build ten dozen strongholds,” Helga remarked, her horse shifting uneasily. “Stop your fretting. I will not have my soldiers tear down the whole of the forest.”
But you could if you wished, Salazar thought bitterly. He had seen Helga do it before, ravage the land she was fighting to conquer. And therein laid another of her idiosyncrasies, which men lost themselves to and so were lain low by a woman….a woman.
“The forest is not yours entirely,” he muttered, ever so willing to pick at her pride.
Helga tolerated his antics. “That bothersome little tribe.”
“Viking filth. I shall see to them.”
“There are rumors.” Salazar sank deep within the musty recesses of his cloak, a piece of finery that was only afforded to him in deference to Helga’s favoritism.
“Speak to me of them.” She turned her head, her single, long braid dangling by her hip. Loosening the reins in her gloved hands, she let her horse drop his head and graze.
“The Gryffindors follow the old religion,” Salazar said slowly, “they have a high priest named Godric, so your Celt allies say.”
“A magician?” Helga arched a golden brow.
Salazar shook his head, his hair striking his cold cheeks. “A wizard.”
Helga looked thoughtful, her brow creased, the eager dawn light slanting into her keen eyes. “My mind is changed,” she said, smiling as she watched the progress of her soldiers in the valley below. “We shall treat with the Gryffindors after all.”
Godric crouched in a grove of yew trees, his skillful fingers holding fast the branches of a nearby shrub. Half a league from his shelter he noticed the muddy tracks of cart wheels snaking along a narrow woodland trail. Several Cornish men lingered, stacking the boughs of sapling firs onto their shoulders like pack animals.
“They are looking for kindling,” he muttered, his breath fogging the air with a humid vapor. “Queen Helga means to stay the winter.”
Wilfred, a young, but capable warrior of the Gryffindor clan knelt in underbrush beside him.
“She wants us dead,” he rasped.
Godric felt his hand tighten over the branch. “No, we are but cubs to her. She seeks the northern bear.”
Wilfred unsheathed his hunting knife and planted it in the bole of a yew. “Alba.”
“Our land has become her army’s breeding ground.” Godric glanced at the warrior, his brows jumping together in thought. “The clan must stay hidden until she passes through.”
“Impossible!” Wilfred shook his shaggy head, the tendrils of his tawny mane damp with frost.
Godric set his jaw. Youth. Oh to be young again, when the forest was still forgiving and lush with unspent years. Now his life lay before him like shattered trunks, splintered, decaying, ready for the pyre.
If only he had time.
“I will keep the clan safe,” he intoned, hoping that his simple words would act as a spell and guard them against the danger that every day drew closer…now felling the trees, now defiling the sacred groves and glens.
He shut his eyes to the sound of Wilfred’s laughter. The pup did not believe him, could not wrap his mind around a battle joined not with swords, but with the power that Godric alone possessed.
His magic, he was certain, could at least divert Helga’s conquering armies until the spring came.
Perhaps then the Queen of Cornwall’s armies would be too entrenched in their war with Rowena of Alba and she would overlook the small Gryffindor clan.
Godric prayed to the gods nightly for such a miracle and he offered up sacrifices of doves in the sacred groves to the goddess of war, hoping that for once, she would abandon the warrioress Helga and take pity on his people instead.
But his kinsmen, men like Wilfred and his own brother Bertwulf, the chieftain, put little faith in his abilities. They were preparing for war, as their Viking forefathers had done when they first came to raid England.
Godric was utterly alone and yet the only one capable of keeping the Gryffindors truly safe.
He lowered his head, pressing his brow for a moment against the dried leaves of the bush.
“The sun is near risen,” he muttered to his companion. “We must return to the hollow.”
But Wilfred continued to vent his scornful mirth, his heavy palm testing the bark of the tree, kneading the sap beneath until it oozed out onto his hand.
A single arrow came from beyond the branches and so killed him where he stood.
Godric whirled around just in time to see five of Helga’s soldiers come lumbering into the grove. He knew them from their leather hauberks, their furred helms and broken Cornish leers.
“Viking filth!” the foremost spat, his sword arm arched and ready.
Godric saw the flash of the blade in the dawn light. Shoving aside his shock, he dove to the ground, tucked his large body into a neat ball and rolled. Thrusting his hand into his tunic, he withdrew his wand and cast the first defensive spell that came to mind.
The foremost soldier twitched madly, his sword falling from a hand now withered to the bone.
“Sorcery!” Another shrieked, but Godric cut his scream off before it entirely left his throat.
Slashing his wand fiercely, he severed the man’s throat with a single hex.
Blood dampened the ground. Unclean blood.
Godric grimaced. The gods would be vengeful. But he had no time to rue the defilement.
Two soldiers lunged at him in unison. His knees buckled under the weight of the men, forcing him onto his side. A small, but lethal-looking hatchet dangled over his skull.
In blind rage, he jammed his wand into the ribs of one of the men and screamed aloud.
The curse was a foreign one that he learned from a traveling. Godric had never used it before, fearful, as he was, of its dreadful consequences.
A flash of green light illuminated the glade and the man directly on top of him went limp. Godric heard the death rattle shake his lungs.
The second man leapt to his feet with a cry at the sight, inarticulate now as he beheld his dead comrade.
He and the other soldier deserted the glade, leaving their fallen companions to rot miserably in the throes of death.
Godric gained his feet and turned, wrenching Wilfred’s hunting knife out of the tree trunk. His fellow clansman lay dead in a pool of his own stinking bile and blood.
And despite himself, Godric could conjure no pity within himself.
It was as the priests from Rome said. Those that lived by the sword often died by it.
What, then, would slay him?
Godric tucked his wand discreetly into his tunic. He was about to leave when the underbrush rustled behind him.
Godric glanced slowly over his shoulder.
There was a tall man standing on the edge of the clearing, the hood of his mantle cast back to reveal hair the color of burnt peat. His eyes were sharp and discerning and in his hand, he held a wand.
For the first time in his life, Godric froze.
Another wizard. Another man like himself, composed of flesh, blood, bone.
And he was with Queen Helga’s army.
The stranger smiled, an expression entirely different from the one he had beheld on the faces of the Cornish soldiers.
“So it is true,” he murmured, a hint of a foreign accent touching his voice.
With a faint crack, he disappeared.
Godric lurched forward in desperation. “Wait!”
But the glade was empty
Godric returned in haste to the hollow the Gryffindor clan called home. It was an unimpressive piece of land, with a small cluster of dwellings and several farms spread out over roughly fifty acres. The village itself had not changed much since their Viking forefathers had moored their boats on England’s shore. Only now, the long houses were considerably more permanent than nomadic encampments. The Gryffindors themselves were an inconspicuous people who still clung to their old religion while the Christ-God began to gain ground in surrounding regions.
Godric himself felt as though his position as high priest was endangered, more so now that Hegla’s army had crested the foothills only ten leagues away.
Things were changing. The world was becoming smaller. And Godric knew he could not hide his clan for long.
Arriving at the hollow, he made his way to his brother Bertulf’s dwelling, the hunting knife of the slain Wilfred still clenched in has hand and sticky with sap.
The chieftain’s house was in the middle of the village. Godric stepped into Bertulf’s long house, the scent of smoke and cooking meat making his empty stomach groan. His footfalls were instantly softened by the prized furs spread on the ground and the chill from the early fall morning dissipated, leaving his flesh moist with dew.
His brother was seated by the fire, picking apart a side of cooked venison with his large hands.
Godric tossed the knife at his feet. “Wilfred is dead. Helga’s soldiers caught us unawares while we spied upon them.”
Bertulf’s face darkened as he tossed a bit of fat into his mouth. “You should not have gone into the forest. It is theirs now.”
“Hers.” Godric growled. He paced the hut frantically, sunlight seeping through the roughly hewn beams above. “She has her men felling the trees. The forest will be lain bare in a fortnight. Nothing stands between her army and us.”
Bertulf swallowed, wiping his hands on his trousers. “Brother,” he said slowly, but then fell silent.
Godric offered him a firm glance. In his mind, Bertulf was too young to be chieftain, although his father had slighted Godric as the elder son upon his death. Now the gilded torc rested on Bertulf’s neck and not his.
He looked away, fighting the envy that threatened him.
His magic had taken many things away from him and bestowed little in return. Although not openly persecuted by his kinsmen, Godric had felt their scorn and disbelief more than once. Even as chieftain, Bertulf did not concern himself with his brother’s abilities although he was quick to take advantage of the skills that sustained the clan.
Now Godric felt he would barely be able to keep his people safe from Helga’s magicians. His usefulness was stunted and had grown stale.
Bertulf rubbed his long chin with his hand, his beard smudged with grease.
“We have no choice,” Godric said desperately, moving further into the shadows of fire at his brother’s feet. “We shall have to move the clan.”
Bertulf snorted, his large nostrils dilating. “To where? Alba? Hegla will have conquered that land by next summer.”
“Ireland, maybe,” Godric offered. “She will not spare us otherwise. Larger clans have fallen to her, powerful clans, Bertulf.”
“This is not a decision to be made in haste,” his brother muttered. A log in the fire cracked, sending ashes scattering near his booted toes.
“And there is more,” Godric continued, hoping to impress the seriousness of their situation upon Bertulf. The morning haze had rendered his brother unusually lazy, but Godric, who had already cheated death once that day, was eager for action. “Her soldiers are not the least of our troubles. I met a man in the woods who was with them. He carried a wand…a wand, Bertulf! Helga has knowledge of magic and if she knows the right spells, then my enchantments are useless.” He fisted his hand in his blond hair. “Gods, our last defense…broken.”
Bertulf stood suddenly, the movement disturbing the embers and stirring the logs. He batted away the rising smoke, his eyes narrowed. “She knows of magic,” he said softly, distantly. Cupping his hands together, he pressed them against his face.
Godric stared at his brother. Was the man so terrified that he was left senseless? He fought the urge to shake him roughly from his stupor. But then Bertulf’s wife entered the long house and Godric was stayed.
“Erna, well met,” he said by way of greeting as the comely girl placed a pitcher of fresh milk by the door.
She lowered her eyes to him and dipped her shoulders respectfully.
Godric’s eyes trailed to her full breasts and round belly. Erna was heavy with child, his brother’s child and yet still fair as a maiden.
He felt desire stirring within him and looked away.
But Erna crossed over the furs and took his hands in hers, kissing them. “Dear brother Godric,” she said, tears diluting her blue eyes.
“What is this?” Godric asked.
Bertulf shook his head, his face tight with emotion. “I received envoys from Helga a short time after you left. She is willing to treat with us, to offer us peace.”
“Peace.” Godric spoke the word in wild abandon. The gods were not shunning them after all! He could have fallen to his knees and wept.
But Erna was already sobbing quietly.
“She was very particular,” Bertulf continued, his voice a mere rasp now. “I could not persuade her envoys, could not bribe them with gold or kine…She offered us peace, brother, if only I would send the wizard to her.”
Godric’s jaw slackened and he felt Erna’s hands slipping from his.
“What do you speak of?” he managed to choke out.
“Helga wants you, Godric. She will let the clan alone if go to her as an envoy.”
Godric stumbled back, away from his treacherous sibling. “Why would she ask for such a thing?”
Bertulf did not answer, but covered his face with his hands again.
Wide shadows fell through the doorway and Godric saw several of the clan’s strongest warriors awaiting him, their swords girded to their thick bodies.
He guessed their purpose at once.
Trembling, Godric reached over the fire and tore Bertulf’s hands away from his face. “Never fear, brother,” he spat. “I go to Helga in peace and willingly so! May you live long and grow fat on your guilt.”
Bertulf pulled away from him, moaning. Godric, however, turned purposefully and headed out of the long house, but not before dear Erna had caught his shoulder.
“Take this, dear brother Godric!” she begged him, pressing a golden goblet into his hand, a treasure from her dowry. “Mayhap you will find favor with the Queen.”
Author’s Note: As you may have gathered, this is indeed an AU take on the story of the Founders. Also, this fic is not meant to be historically accurate. Rather, it’s an HP take on the Dark Ages. ^_^
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