Chapter 10 : Breaking the Rules
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On the night that Rowena Black met her fiancée she broke her mother’s rules. Twice. The first time was something she tended to do every night; she would go down to the stables to meet Cadmus. When they had been children, Queen Emma had accepted that Cadmus was a suitable companion as he was a similar age to her daughter. However, when both of them had hit adolescence, Emma had decided that the Princess Rowena would be more suited to her female attendants, such as Helga. However much Rowena loved Helga, she could not give her what she desired, male attention.
Rowena did not find anything in particular attractive about Cadmus. He was an average twenty year old man with a fondness of drinking, gambling and dancing. He was reasonably intelligent and witty and could keep her suitably entertained. Rowena supposed the main reason she kept up the stream of frequent dalliances was that he was so willing. The simple fact was that Cadmus adored her, and that was the reason she met him down at the stables at every opportunity. She was addicted to the attention.
As she made her way through the dark grounds in a borrowed woollen shawl of Helga’s to make her mix in with the servants, she thought of her future. She wondered about her fiancée. Rowena had never actually met him but she was perfectly happy to marry the man, after all, it would secure her realm. Rowena was hoping that he would come marching in and sweep her off her feet the way she longed to be, but she knew this was unlikely. The truth was she was very picky when it came to men. Cadmus was only allowed near her as she held some friendly affection for him. But, if the worst came to the worst and she hated him, she could still continue her tryst with Cadmus. She had been undetected so far.
The part of her that still held some youthful romanticism drew a hasty picture of Harald in her mind. She imagined him to be tall, fair, well built and in every way handsome. While she valued these physical traits his intelligence was the most important thing to her. His magic skill must be beyond compare and he must at least be a good match in a duel. Rowena was a ridiculously talented witch after all.
Soon, she found herself at the stables. There, as she expected, was Antioch, Cadmus’ elder brother. While he looked almost identical to his younger brother, the elder was a violent lout. Cadmus was sweet and sensitive, and this was the reason, Rowena assumed, she allowed herself to be with him. “My lady,” he said gruffly, an amused twinkle in his eye.
“Where is Cadmus?” Rowena asked, her nose in the air, trying to keep the superiority out of her voice as she spoke. Antioch squinted his eyes at her for a moment. Rowena knew she was being terribly stupid allowing someone other than herself and Cadmus into the secret, but she hoped that Antioch would keep quiet for the sake of his brother.
“He’s out in the paddock,” replied Antioch, signalling over his shoulder to the door behind him. Without saying another word to him, Rowena whipped her midnight blue cloak around her as she discarded Helga’s shawl into the straw, making a mental note to retrieve it later. The inky sky stretched above her head as she squinted into the darkness, looking for Cadmus. She eventually saw him over by the fence, gazing out into the forest.
She decided to creep up on him as she stepped silently across the grass until she reached him. His lean silhouette was dark in the moonlight and she could see he was leaning on the fence, his head lifted to the sky. Before he could react she wrapped her arms around his middle and held on tightly taking in his familiar comforting smell. “Good evening Rowena,” he said gently as he turned around in her arms. The moonlight caught his features and highlighted his grey eyes that had belonged to his mother.
“Is he here yet?” asked Cadmus with a disappointed sigh. The pain on Cadmus’ face was visible, but Rowena felt no sympathy. Did he honestly expect her to give up everything to run away with him? Her mother had been stupid enough to fall in love with a commoner, and even though Rowena loved her father with all her heart, she could never shake the feeling that her parent’s marriage was a mistake, that it wasn’t meant to be. Rowena sometimes suspected her mother had done something to her father to make him love her, but she did not like to dwell on that.
“He arrived an hour ago,” said Rowena gently, not quite looking Cadmus in the eyes, “my mother is just arranging where their enormous entourage will sleep. I’m sure the feast will begin in about twenty minutes.” Cadmus looked broken as if he had never heard such terrible news. Rowena surmised it wasn’t so terrible. Cadmus was constantly thinking to the future, and that annoyed Rowena. All she wanted to do was savour the moment they had together and not think about what was going to happen in the coming days, weeks months or years later.
“Let’s go,” he said to Rowena imploringly, “I know you don’t want this, don’t want this life!” Rowena had to stop herself from laughing. No matter how hard she tried she could never devote herself to Cadmus the way he could to her. He was a good friend, a friend with whom she could share an affectionate relationship. The strange thing was, she did not love him. She knew he expected her to, but she couldn’t. No matter how hard she tried Cadmus’ love for her would always be unrequited.
“Cadmus,” Rowena said in a tired way, as if she expected him to know her answer already, “don’t be ridiculous. I have to marry Harald for my country.” Cadmus’ tanned face was going red with a mixed of embarrassment and annoyance. Rowena couldn’t help but gaze at him sadly. She sometimes regretted getting into this relationship with him. But most of the times she just thought of the way he had begged her and how, even though she did not love him, how much she enjoyed their stolen kisses.
“No,” said Cadmus his irritation biting through with every word, “you don’t have to marry him. You are going to be the Queen one day, and Queens can make their own decisions!” Rowena smiled up at him with the same sad smile on her face, hoping that he would understand what she was going to say. He must know, she presumed, that deep down the princess could never belong solely to him. That was because Rowena could sense someone, just outside her vision who would claim her heart as his own.
“I want to marry him Cadmus,” Rowena said calmly, her hair fluttering in the gentle breeze, “It is my duty.” Cadmus’ face fell spectacularly, and Rowena felt slightly guilty for a moment. She had entangled him within her life; he could have been free to fall in love with someone else of his own station if it wasn’t for her. Now he loved her more than anything, and she was going to break his heart.
“You can’t do this to me,” he moaned, his head falling onto her shoulder, “you just can’t! I love you Rowena, can’t you see that?” Anguish was the prominent emotion sketched across his youthful face as he looked up, but Rowena had to ignore it. Her dalliance with Cadmus had to come to an end as they were not meant to be together. The truth was, they both wanted different things. Cadmus wanted a love that would endure for all time while Rowena wanted some harmless fun.
“I’m sorry Cadmus,” she said quietly as she turned away, walking back towards the castle, ignoring his pained shouts of protest. Rowena could not love him any longer. In truth, it was not just due to her upcoming marriage and their different social standing. In her heart, she was tiring of Cadmus. She had know him for years and now the chase was over, there was no fun in it.
Helga was distinctly irritated. Queen Emma, furiously trying to liven up the banquet before the Svalbard Party arrived from their sleeping quarters, had decided that she wanted every person she could muster to dance and preferably with the guests already in attendance. There were several foreign ambassadors who were here, from the Frankish king and beyond, out into Scandinavia and one wrinkled old wizard from as far away as Kiev. While Helga had not been forced to dance with him, she was dancing with the most loathsome person in the whole castle; Guillaume Malfoy.
He was the Frankish Ambassador and a well known bounder. While he had a large family back at home in France, he took particular delight in deflowering the young maidens of the Alban court. He had now set his sights firmly on Helga. His heavy hand rested on her waist as they circled gently around one another. Their palms were pressed together in front of them as the familiar modal drones of the music came from the various musicians dotted around the hall.
“My girl,” he said gruffly as his grey eyes met Helga’s green, “you do indeed look enchanting tonight.” He spoke with a thick slurring accent that Helga supposed many women found attractive. He was too well polished for Helga, she preferred a man that appeared a little more homespun, and she hadn’t met a man like that since she had left Dewsbury seven years previously. Suddenly, Malfoy was moving closer to her and she felt she had to act quickly, implementing a quick spin she flew away from Malfoy before moving closer again, putting him back at the distance they previously had been at.
“You are a divine dancer,” he said gently. The next thing she felt was his cold fingers running through her loose blonde curls. Trying to stop herself shivering with loathing she tensed her body at which Malfoy reduced his grip slightly. They kept dancing, slowly whirling around each other but Helga did not look at him but instead gazed round the room for two things.
The first was for Rowena. Tonight, she had been particularly elusive. Helga assumed she was down at the stables with Cadmus, her latest fling. Helga found it quite distasteful really. Cadmus had been Rowena’s loyal friends for years and she was willing to betray him in the most heinous way. He was head over heels in love with her and she was using him shamelessly. But Helga could not really be angry with her. For such an intelligent person, Rowena never thought. She could never see what effect her actions had on other people.
The second was for Rowena’s fiancée. She had heard lots about him and the rumours, which she made sure Rowena was not privy to, were worrying. Harald had an international reputation of being of limited mind and small physical stature. He did not sound like a man who Rowena would even be remotely attracted to. But Helga tried to press these thoughts to the back of her mind and keep her focus strictly on the present. And at that moment she was dancing with the loathsome Malfoy.
Then in one swift moment she was saved. The heralds sounded noting the Svalbard Party’s arrival. Helga was quickly pushed to the side and a scan around the room showed her that Rowena was not here. Queen Emma appeared to be looking for her daughter too, and when she caught Helga’s eye she made a discreet hand gesture which signalled for Helga to go and find Rowena immediately. Nodding respectfully, Helga ducked out of Malfoy’s view and managed to skirt round the crowd until she came to one of the windows. While everyone was distracted, she leapt through it and into the cool night air. Her skirt swished noisily as she ran down to the paddock, her curly hair blowing in the evening breeze. She felt frightfully cold in her thin silk dress but she kept running until she saw a figure dawdling towards her. The statuesque stance of the woman made it evident that she was Rowena.
“My lady!” shouted Helga as Rowena lifted her head up. Rowena seemed to pick up her speed on seeing Helga and soon the women were standing face to face. Helga had never been able to prevent herself marvelling at Rowena. She was truly beautiful, with lily white skin, midnight blue eyes that seemed to sparkle constantly and a voice as smooth as honey. She had rosy cheeks that gave her a spirited appearance and long dark hair that always seemed to catch the light. Rowena was the epitome of what a princess should be like; she was refined, elegant and graceful. In her hands she held the woollen shawl that she had borrowed and Helga took it back, wrapping it round her cold shoulders.
“Helga,” said Rowena slightly breathlessly, “I’m so glad you are here. I took your advice, I ended it with Cadmus, and it wasn’t fair on him the poor dear. Not when I am to be married so imminently.” Helga gave Rowena a gentle smile before shushing her. Helga was the only servant in the whole castle who could do that to the princess. She had the princess’ respect and she saw her as a treasured friend.
“We have no time Rowena,” said Helga quickly, putting both hands on Rowena’s sloping shoulders, “The Svalbard Party has arrived in the Great Hall. We’ve got to get you inside quickly, Harald is here.” Helga thought she saw her friends face go deathly white for a moment as if she was scared. That thought was ridiculous however, Rowena was never scared. Helga did not know whether she herself could cope with marrying someone she hardly knew, but Rowena was content to do it for her kingdom, to supply a future heir to the throne.
The two young ladies walked back up to the castle through the moonlight not speaking. Helga accepted that Rowena needed a moment to think before she saw her future. “Do you think I can love him?” asked Rowena gently. She was not looking at Helga, as if she could not bear to see her. Helga did not say anything at first. She hated lying, it was deceitful and never accomplished anything in Helga’s opinion, but in this case, to soothe her friend’s feelings, she felt she must.
“Yes, of course you could love him,” smiled Helga putting her arm round her friends shoulder, “as long as he lives up to your very high standards!” she joked. It was well known that Rowena was very flighty and seemed to have a different man every week. But, Helga supposed, she was a princess and in that respect she could do whatever she pleased. Soon they reached the window which Helga knew was the quickest way in. The two girls watched it silently for a moment knowing that after tonight, life would never be the same again.
Harald and Godric lurked together at the corner of the hall. Godric was not sure why they were doing it, normally they hated each other, but tonight they stood together to show a joined front. For once, Godric felt sympathy for his brother. He would be marrying a woman he had never met, albeit willingly, while Godric, after tonight, was free to do whatever he wished. Godric had noticed that Harald had been eyeing Godric’s more expensive silk and fur robe in comparison to his own, and Godric had been willing to trade. Tonight was the last night they would ever have to make amends.
“Have you seen her yet?” Godric asked gently. Harald shook his head. Godric knew he was nervous and no matter how much he hated his brother, the feeling of sympathy kept rising in his stomach. Godric could just imagine the type of woman Harald would hate. He would hate an intelligent wife as it would just make him jealous at his own lack of brains. His wife could not be too beautiful or too impressive to detract attention off himself.
“I’m going to find her,” grunted Harald, turning his back on Godric and walking away into the crowd. Godric thought nothing of his brother’s rudeness and instead picked a goblet of pumpkin juice off the table behind him. Putting it to his lips he turned round, but on catching sight of the woman in front of him he almost dropped his goblet. She was stunningly beautiful with cascades of black hair and smouldering dark eyes. He had never seen another woman like her in his life before.
“Hello,” he said gently as she walked up to him. He was transfixed, bewitched by her beauty. Her eyes were open wide and seemed to be consuming him. She was ethereal, not of this world, unlike anything he had seen before. Before ten seconds had passed he knew he was in love and this time it was not fleeting, affectionate love it had been with Kristiana. It was all consuming, darker and yet lighter than anything he had ever felt. It was uplifting, reaching him into high altitudes but at the same time crushing him into the deepest depths of hell. It was hellish, but at the same time heavenly.
“Would you like to dance,” she asked, offering him one of her ivory hands. He took it willingly and for a moment felt like nothing more than kissing her in front of everyone. Wrapping his arm around her waist, he began to dance with her. She must have been roughly his age, seventeen approaching eighteen and she had a youthful glow about her. She did not fight him as he led her in the dance, but instead remained by having her eyes focussed on him and a lilting smile on her red lips. He leant towards her and their nose touched. He could feel the soft skin of her face. They did not say anything but kept dancing. They danced through several pieces, ignoring every other person in the hall. Only the two of them mattered.
She spotted him instantly. The man in front of her was roughly her age with a mane of fiery red hair and emerald green eyes. He had an adolescent beard forming on his chin and his cheeks were red with life. To Rowena, he was entrancing. He was unlike anything she had seen before. He looked so alive, so different from the cold, domineering aristocrats littering the hall. He was natural, the most raw human being she had seen and she couldn’t keep her eyes off him.
He walked towards her, greeting her with a gruff voice with an absence of an accent. She could tell from one word that his English was good. This proved something else for her, he was intelligent, something deeply attractive in a man. She could not believe he was her future husband, as he was wearing the cloak that proved him that man. Rowena was overjoyed; she was going to have a good life with her husband, a man she could love whole heartedly.
“Would you like to dance?” she asked, the words getting caught in her throat as she said it. She offered him her hand which he took. His skin was soft, and she held on tight to his hand, almost fearful of letting go. Cadmus’ hands were quite rough, but his was perfect. She felt his hand snake round her waist and she almost shivered at his touch; it was intoxicating. They wove around each other through several pieces of music, his strong arms leading her. She usually liked to lead in the dance but she gave herself to him and refused to take her eyes off his for a moment. Their noses touched as they danced and she could feel his breath on her face as she shivered with delight.
Suddenly she felt a hand on the arm that was trailing down beside her. There was a strong tug and she was pulled away from him. Turning around she saw the livid face of her mother. Her face was red with anger and her usually immaculate hair was slightly messy. “What are you doing my girl?” she spat angrily. Rowena looked at her mother confusedly. Surely she did not have a problem with her dancing with her fiancée?
“I am dancing with Harald!” she whispered angrily to her mother. She did not have time for this, and wanted desperately to dance with Harald again. Queen Emma actually had the front to laugh out loud before picking up her left hand and pointing menacingly at two men who stood close to the imperial throne.
“The taller one,” she started angrily, “that is the Jarl and the shorter one is his son, Harald. Go and speak to them!” Queen Emma turned on her heel and marched defiantly away, her greying blonde hair swaying as she went. Rowena had her eyes fixed on Harald. He was a spidery man with dark shifting eyes and a downtrodden expression. Rowena realised immediately there was nothing special about him. Suddenly she realised he was still standing behind her. Pivoting on the spot, she looked back into his mesmerising green eyes.
“So,” he said, the emotion seeping through his words, “you’re the Princess Rowena?” She could barely bring herself to look at him, what they had shared in those few brief moments had been so intense she couldn’t quite believe it had been real. Nonetheless, she nodded her head slowly before looking at him once more. His smile he had been wearing only moments previously was gone to be replaced by a tortured expression. She so desperately wanted to know who he was and she moved closer so she could whisper to him.
“Who are you?” she asked a sense of urgency in her voice. She expected him to answer quickly, but he didn’t, instead taking time to deliberate over his words. It seemed as if he did not want to tell her his name, as if it was some terrible secret. He mumbled something and Rowena had to lean in slightly closer, but she heard it perfectly clearly the second time he said it. He said his name was Godric and he was Harald’s brother. The news hit her like a ton of bricks. The man she was convinced, even after their brief moment together, was meant for her, was to be her future brother-in-law. She wanted to curl up in a ball and cry. She had never felt this hopeless and wretched before, she was going to marry his brother due to her duty.
Her stream of thoughts was interrupted by a blood curdling scream. Turning round quickly Rowena instantly spotted where the noise was coming from. On the stairs leading up to the tower was a girl of fifteen. It was Odila, Cadmus’ half sister. It was well known she was a sickly girl but tonight she looked particularly shocking. Her hair was in tendrils round her face and her eyes were wide and bloodshot. It was then that Rowena noticed the red blotches across her face and arms.
“Help me!” she sobbed. The effect was instant and she plunged to the floor, rolling down the stairs and landing in a messy heap at the bottom. The crowd of useless aristocrats stood lifeless around her but three people immediately jumped into action. Helga, Godric and Rowena all raced to her side. Godric reached her first and held her in his strong arms as Rowena and Helga leant over her. Helga was talking to her, trying to get her to stay with them. Odila’s breath was becoming shorter and shallower as if she was hurtling towards the end. Rowena watched her, trying to work out what was wrong with her.
“Be careful,” Odila whispered staring straight at Rowena, “it’s coming for you too!” Then it was as if she had stopped working as all her power was taken from her. She dropped onto Godric’s arms, lifeless and still. Rowena stared at the girls face. She had been young, about thirteen years old. Younglings died, Rowena knew, but at this age you thought they would have got through the worst. The crowd that surrounded them gasped in shock and horror, there was no way the girl could have died so suddenly, was there?
“What’s happened to her?” questioned Helga, looking straight at Rowena. While both girls had leant magic together, it was Rowena who had excelled that little bit further. If anyone was to know, it was her. Rowena shook her head groggily; she did not understand why the girl had dropped so quickly. She looked at Godric for a moment. He had a look of utmost concern on his face and Rowena had to stop herself kissing him for his sheer compassion. Then a voice burst through the silence which answered all their questions.
“L'écoeurer,” said Guillaume Malfoy, his voice grave, “you would say ‘The Sickening’. It has already ravaged the fair fields of my kingdom and now it’s come for you,” he said, his words echoing Odila’s. The happiness that had swelled throughout the room previously had disappeared, replaced by a sense of fear. There was silence for a moment before Rowena’s mother pushed through the crowd and stared at Odila’s corpse.
“Get it out of here,” she growled to Helga before announcing to the crowd, “we have an engagement to celebrate!” The crowd immediately obeyed their Queen and returned to false cheeriness which shook Rowena to the core. A girl had just died and they were willing to celebrate. Helga followed Godric as he picked up Odila’s body and walked from the room. Turning her head back to her mother she could not help but seeing once and for all how cold hearted her mother was. If a young girl’s death wouldn’t soften her heart, nothing would.
I hope you enjoyed this chapter, its kind of the turning point for Rowena and Godric so...I hope you like it! Next Time...Salazar and Bess run away together by find the consequences to be fatal...
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