Chapter 7 : Helping Hands
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On the day of Princess Rowena’s tenth birthday; Rowena met a new friend. Condemning eyes stabbed into the young girl’s skin like knives as she walked towards the Great Hall to face her mother’s wrath. It was not a particularly pleasant task and Rowena knew she would be in deep trouble for this. Cadmus, her best friend, had tempted her to come and play with him outside the castle in the city streets, something that future monarchs were definitely not permitted to do by court etiquette. Rowena’s expensive Venetian dress was now muddy and ruined and she looked nothing like the angelic princess that her mother had cultivated her to be for the ten years that built her young life.
Courtiers, servants and heralds stared at her as she passed them. Normally she was their angel, a blessing sent to lead their country into a new future. She could almost hear them tutting in disappointment that she was not the perfect divine being they wanted her to be. Rowena however would not blush or appear inferior, especially not to these grovelling servants. Lifting her head high, she marched defiantly towards the great hall, ignoring everyone’s disapproving stares, oblivious to their snide comments. She was Rowena Black, a Princess of Alba and would never look weak or feeble at any time.
When she reached the Great Hall she swung the heavy oak door open viciously, her strength matching her annoyance. As she expected her mother sat at the other side of the elongated room, balanced on her gaudy gold throne as she usually did. Her mother was so ostentatious and pretentious that Rowena could not quite believe that she had been born from this woman. The Queen of Alba looked frozen, her perfect symmetrical face stuck in a look of disapproval and disappointment. Ringlets of her shining blonde hair tumbled majestically down to her waist frozen in their position, and perched on top of her head was her infamous diadem envied by every other European Queen.
“Rowena,” she said angrily the rage appearing in her eyes, “what did you think you were doing?” Rowena stared at her mother, her midnight blue eyes alive with anger. Her old battleaxe of a mother would never understand her daughter. Rowena was positive that this stuffy woman had never been young. “You are the future Queen of Alba, and your future subjects would not expect this kind of ridiculous behaviour from you!” Rowena did not move or say anything. It was best just to let her mother get angry and for Rowena to stay silent. She would nod and agree with everything her mother said and endure her humiliation until it was all over. After all, she still wanted to go out with her father and his entourage today.
“What do you have to say for yourself!” thundered the Queen, staring at Rowena angrily. Rowena swore she never saw her mother any more unless it was for an engagement like this when the two of them locked horns so viciously. Rowena answered immediately, her court etiquette that had been drilled into her all her life controlling her speech, but she did not want to be apologetic “nothing dear mama!” This however had the opposite effect to the one Rowena had intended. “You insolent child!” shouted her irate mother, standing up and leaning over her child in the most intimidating and threatening manner possible, “How dare you! How dare you!”
Queen Emma stared at her only daughter for a moment, livid with her and her truly despicable behaviour. She could never understand why her daughter always insisted on doing all the terribly outrageously things she did. “You will not be going out with your father today! Just go to your chambers and stay there!” Rowena would not show her emotions to her mother but internally she was outraged at how preposterously unfair this woman could be. She would cry in silence later. Turning silently on her heel she marched from the room, her head still held loftily high appearing every bit the unobtainable princess.
My dearest Bevan,
How it seems so long since I last saw you, even though it is just a week! My mama is being very kind to me here; I am eating so much wonderful food, unprecedented in this part of Alba! There are so many perks to living here. I don’t feel inferior to everyone here; no bowing or curtseying and there is no competition for anyone’s attention. But although I love my life back at home I cannot wait to return to the Black Castle to be with you.
I hope you’re having a good time with the King on his hunting expeditions. I am sure you will have seen a wonderful variety of game out in the forests. It must keep you away from the castle, but you get some male company which must be nice. No more “twittering women” as you so kindly say! Is little Princess Emma still staring at you over hedgerows? I think she has taken quite a fancy to you Bevan! She is such a sweet girl and she is young, I’m sure the infatuation will pass.
I have kept our engagement secret like we arranged. It will be so much better when we are reunited and can go and ask the King for his permission. I hope you have sweetened him up well on that hunting trip! I will be returning within the week, so I will see you then my darling.
It had been thirty years since Bevan had last read that letter. Thirty years since he had last seen her, her face flushed with joy at the prospect of them spending their lives together. Lady Diane had been so wonderful, so perfect. She was everything a man could want in a woman. He was not shrewish or obnoxious like his current wife. He had become engaged to Diane relatively quickly because he loved her so much. It had been an instant attraction and courtship and he had loved her whole heartedly, but then he did not know what happened.
Suddenly Princess Emma was there and he turned away from his darling Diane, vowing to marry the Princess. Bevan never knew what was quite so attractive about the spoilt and bad tempered Emma, but there must have been something. Once they were married Emma had banished Lady Diane from court and she had returned home, begging Bevan to see her one last time. That wish never materialised and he had been regretting it ever since. Diane had died when Rowena was five, some said of a broken heart. Recently, Bevan had been thinking more and more about Diane and he did not know why.
He was sure that Emma had hoodwinked him. He had believed that was true for many years. It was known she was an extremely talented witch and Bevan knew she would do anything to get what she wanted. Emma was definitely capable of it. He just did not know how she had done it, how she had ripped him away from his one true love. He had married her of his own free will, thinking he loved her, in reality he did not. But he could not leave her now, after all he had the fair Rowena to think about, his beautiful daughter. He could not abandon her.
Then it hit him, the whole murky truth: Emma’s diadem. That infernal diamond monstrosity that she always insisted she had with her. She never took it off, and refused to be seen without it on. Only once had Bevan ever seen her without it and that was when Emma had taken Rowena out and lost her in the bustling city streets. The whole court had searched the city for her and Bevan had marched into Emma’s chambers, ready to question her about where she had last seen Rowena, filled with concern for his daughter.
Emma’s long blonde hair was hanging down to her waist, and the diadem was not perched on her head. For once she looked relatively plane and Bevan could not see her in the same light as he had before. He had felt so strange, like he was confused and sick. Emma had screamed at him to get out and he had stumbled away, tears in his eyes. He had never forgotten that eventful day and he could not understand why his wife had appeared to him as a person he could never fall in love with, let alone marry.
Cadmus stood resolutely at the bottom of the tower, tapping his foot on the cobbles. He could see Rowena’s window and he knew she was inside. He also knew she was in big trouble with her mother, but he still wanted to see Rowena. She was his best friend, even though he was just a page boy and she was a princess it had always been that way. Two souls tied together as she always said. They went exploring round the castle together, ran round the streets and spent evenings in the kitchens together.
He was three years older than her, but she was the person closest to his age in the whole castle, apart from his younger brother Ignotus. He was boring and cautious unlike Rowena and for that reason; Cadmus preferred to spend time with Rowena instead. After all, being friends with Rowena was beneficial and he would be able to do more things without getting into trouble. “Rowena!” he shouted loudly, bellowing up to the little window, praying she would hear him and he would not be caught by some snooping courtier. Her dark head peered out almost instantly and he smiled happily.
Rowena had obviously cleaned up since her mother had expressed her disappointment and her wavy black hair was tied into a bun at the back of her head with wisps fallen loose and she wore one of her mesmerising smiles. His eyes were fixed on her and his mind was whirring with plans of their next adventure. “Cadmus!” she shouted gleefully, “my mother says I can’t go out with you and father, but I’m going to talk to father, he will let me out!”
“Good!” shouted Cadmus enthusiastically, tossing his hands into the air flippantly “I can’t go out to meet the people without you!” He couldn’t help but smile happily up at her. A veil of brilliant light enveloped her, and she seemed to shine from the window high above him. Her hair fluttered in the breeze as she gazed down at him a perfect smile on her face. Almost as quickly as she had appeared she was gone, evidently to speak with her father.
Cadmus waited patiently for her to return. He sat down at the foot of the tower, rubbing his chin which had evidence of a forming beard. He was no longer a boy but not quite a man. Cadmus was caught precariously between the two states; his limbs seemed to have grown longer and he had become gangly and found it difficult to control himself. His voice was playing tricks on him and sliding up and down the octave, disregarding how stupid it made his owner look. He felt out of place in the castle. The Black Castle itself was a momentous achievement – it was not a wooden construction like the multitudes of Motte and Bailey castles scattered throughout Europe. The stone was bound by magic and it remained the heart of the magical community that was Alba.
“Right!” came Rowena’s happy voice from the window, “my father’s talked mama around, I’m coming! My father says you should go saddle up Midnight. He said you can use one of the little ponies in the paddock.” Her excited face disappeared again as Cadmus turned round and sloped off towards the stables. He was glad he was able to go out of the castle with Rowena; many other servants like his brothers Ignotus and Antioch and his half sisters Odila and Aliena were never allowed out, only ever allowed to do their duties. It was because he was one of Rowena’s personal favourites and accompanied her nearly everywhere she went, on her insistence of course.
Soon he arrived at the stables, finding his older brother, the aggressive Antioch stroking the horses affectionately. He did not particularly like humans and found he had an affinity with animals. He lifted his messy dark head up when Cadmus entered, but did not smile. “What do you want?” he asked gruffly, patting the great stallion with a heavy hand. “The king wants Midnight saddled, as well as one of the ponies from the paddock for me.” Antioch raised one of his thick eyebrows and then ran one of his hands through his adolescent beard. “Still being the princess’ pet?” he grunted, an unfriendly smile curling across his lips. Cadmus said nothing; it was common knowledge that he and the princess were friends; no one else found it strange and it was only Antioch who made fun of his brother for it. He did not particularly like his older brother and his constant teasing.
“Just be quiet, I can be friends with her, can’t I?” Cadmus stormed out of the stable leaving his brother to his duty, knowing he did not want to talk to that dullard at that particular moment in time. He became easily infuriated; he had the famous Peverell temper after all. He inherited it from his long deceased drunkard of a father. His mother had always been kind and delicate but resiliently strong at the same time. It seemed strange that she and Sir Richard, his stepfather, had so easily fallen in love. Richard looked like a troll, but he had a kind heart and for that Cybele loved him. They now had two five year old daughters, Odila and Aliena, and they were the sweetest and bonniest girls to be seen. Rowena had particular affection for the both of them as did many other people in the castle. They were part of the princess’ entourage of female attendants. They were all either significantly older or younger than her and for that reason it was Cadmus who was her closest friend.
Rowena rode Midnight side saddle, the way befitting a princess of Alba. Cadmus rode a pony beside her. She had specifically asked that he be allowed to ride with her as he truly was her favourite person in the world, besides her father. He was busy chatting about something incredibly stupid and she wasn’t really listening, she just liked being near him. He was such a good friend, especially during the long lonely periods when her father left the castle and her mother refused to talk to her. King Bevan turned his shaggy head round and pointed something out through the dark trees of the wood; “that my friends, is where we are stopping tonight, Torvets Castle.” Rowena squinted her eyes through the darkness and could just make out the outline of a wooden building in the distance. Her heart leapt! She thought she would be returning home tonight. But no, she would be free for one night with the people she loved the most.
The entourage drew closer to the building, moving slowly due to its large size. Cadmus had now started babbling excitedly, happy that it was him here and not his brothers. Many of Rowena’s ladies were here, but they were the hunched over old crones who used to serve her mother in her youth. Only Cadmus was the breath of fresh air she always craved. Soon they nearing the gates of Torvets Castle and the entourage stopped. Peering over the heads of the people in front of her, Rowena just made out what was blocking their path, a large crowd of tiny beggars, each looking thing, straggly and tired.
“Please my lord!” came the throaty voice of one of the peasant women, “my babe is starvin’ if you’ll just get our good lord here to provide us with some food!” The other people chimed in with their own requests and King Bevan, being a kind hearted man, began to disperse the remaining food they had. Cadmus was early pulling food that was being carried on his pony out of his bag and giving it to the people who were engulfing the horses. Rowena turned her horse away and broke through the crowd to join her father up front. In front of them was the dominant Torvets Castle. The horns were sounded, signalling the royal party’s arrival. Immediately the drawbridge was lowered to reveal two figures on horseback. Rowena instantly assumed that they were Lord and Lady Torvets and this assumption was proved correct when they invited them into the warmth of the castle. Looking over her shoulder as she rode in, Rowena noticed the peasants still grabbing for food and one girl standing alone looking devastated. Knowing she could do nothing, Rowena turned and made her way into the heart of the castle.
“Hurry up Cadmus!” whispered Rowena. She had managed to nimbly jump down from the wall of the castle to the outside world and was adamant that Cadmus would follow her. She longer to explore the dark woods away from the castle etiquette she had left in the Great Hall. Cadmus managed to throw himself down beside Rowena and despite a few small groans he stood up and prepared to follow her. Taking his hand, Rowena began to run into the woods. She heard her and Cadmus’ rushed footsteps echoing around her. To her, that was the sound of freedom. Letting the darkness envelope them, Rowena ran as fast as she could and only stopped when Cadmus begged her to.
“Rowena,” he said breathlessly, “we have no clue where we are. Let’s just go back; I don’t like it out here!” Rowena despaired with Cadmus sometimes. He had no sense of adventure. “Why?” Rowena asked, “Look, the night’s beautiful, we don’t have to live in the court for a minute. What are you so scared of?” She watched Cadmus. He looked sickly pale in the waxing moon. Then Rowena noticed something; his eyes were full of fear and he was jabbering incoherently. He lifted his hand and pointed over Rowena’s shoulder. Turning around, she realised what he was so worried about.
There was a whole pack of wolves. Their greying coats looked silver in the moonlight and they looked almost majestic. But there was no mistaking the ravenous hunger clouding their vision. Counting quickly, Rowena surmised there must be about twenty of them. For her that was twenty too much. They stalked forwards, growling menacingly at their prey. Cadmus squeaked and turned to Rowena, “what the hell do we do?” They both scrabbled round in their belts, eagerly looking for their wands. Rowena cursed her stupidity; why did she think she would have been safe out here without her wand?
Then they all moved together. They all at once went straight for Cadmus and it did not take a moment for him to be shoved to the ground. He was trying to push them off and he looked wild, his fingers scratching and the animals. Rowena jumped back but she could hear Cadmus’ screams and she knew she had to do something. The tears began to roll down her cheeks as she lifted her hands towards the wolves in desperation and something strange happened.
It was like a gust of wind coming from Rowena’s hands. It propelled several of the wolves off Cadmus and they shied away, running back into the woods. Rowena tried again with the remaining wolves, but nothing happened. Her anger kicked in, why could she not do it again? Suddenly she turned round as she felt someone behind her. There was the peasant girl that Rowena had seen crying earlier. There was something very strange about her, she was glowing gold and her eyes were radiating sunlight.
“I order you, sons of the night!” she bellowed, her voice magnified around the small clearing, “you are to leave and never touch these people again!” The wolves seemed to quiver in fear at the sight of the girl and they turned on their heels and dashed off into the thick trees. Relief washed over Rowena, but when her eyes fell on Cadmus she felt as if her heart had been gripped by an ice cold hand. He was bleeding profusely from several heavy cuts and his clothes looked shredded. Screaming in horror she fell by his side. All thought of everything else was gone as she fell beside her best friend, the tears rolling unrestrained down her cheeks. Then, she felt a warm hand touch her shoulder. Turning round she saw the girl. Her blonde hair was whipping around her face despite there being no wind and her green eyes were shining more than humanly possible.
“I can help him,” she whispered. Rowena moved for her, trusting her instantly. The girl knelt down beside Cadmus and laid her hands on him. Not only did his cuts seem to re-seal themselves but his clothes mended to. Cadmus seemed flabbergasted as he looked up at the girl, blabbering incoherently until he could muster actual speech, “who are you?” The girl seemed about to answer but then suddenly something snapped. Her eyes rolled into the back of her head and she slumped to the floor; she was unconscious. Rowena acted immediately, “Help me Cadmus! We’ve got to get her back to Torvets Castle!”
The girl had just regained consciousness and King Bevan ordered a lavish feast to be prepared for her, due to her heroic actions in the forest. Rowena and Cadmus sat either side of her; half proud of her, half shamed with themselves for putting each other in such danger. King Bevan did not notice this however, he was just ecstatic that the girl had saved them. However, once she opened her eyes it became clear that she was not the same as she had been in the woods. The eminent glow and superhuman powers she seemed to possess were gone; now she was just a normal, if rather thin and scraggly, girl. She ate the food she was offered ravenously, as if she hadn’t eaten for months. Rowena attempted to be friendly to this unusual girl, so she attempted to initiate conversation.
“So, what’s your name?” she asked, looking at the girl with avid curiosity. The girl lifted her head up from her food, briefly looking at the people around them before whispering, “Helga Smith.” Rowena nodded before continuing, “so, are you a witch?” Helga nodded, albeit suspiciously. Cadmus smiled and then said enthusiastically, “so are we!” Pausing slightly he continued, “well, I’m a wizard...” Rowena waved at him to be quiet before she introduced herself. “I am Princess Rowena of Alba, and you have just made yourself a friend for life.”
Helga gave her a half-hearted smile before saying gently “well, I think I’ve infringed on your hospitality long enough.” Lifting herself up, Helga abandoned her food and turned away, ready to leave. “Did you not hear me!” thundered Rowena in the most authoritative voice she could manage. “I am a Princess of Alba, and you saved my life. You can infringe on my hospitality all you like.” Helga smiled gratefully and said, “oh, that won’t be necessary. I have to get some work, stand on my own two feet.” At that comment, Rowena smiled happily before saying, “you will be my new handmaiden. A job, a small allowance, a home and food. How does that sound?”
“Thank you!” said Helga cheerfully, retaking her seat at the table. Rowena joined her smiling happily at her new friend. The reason for keeping Helga by her side was not for the simple act of saving Cadmus. The truth was, Rowena was intrigued with this girl’s power. And she thought, by understanding this girl, she could understand how the future ruler of Alba managed to summon a gust of wind when she truly needed to.
Okay...thank you very much for reading this chapter. This one's a bit of a filler I known, but Helga and Rowena had to meet! Please read my old story "From Ancient Grudge" or my brand new story "The Chained Lady". Next Chapter...Salazar comforts Bess on the most difficult day of her life...
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