Chapter 7 : Chapter Seven
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Beautiful chapter image by chocolat. @ TDA
Disclaimer: I claim no ownership of Rowling’s work. Also, this story is a work of fantasy, not historical fiction. I have taken many historical liberties while writing this piece and most of it may be considered anachronistic.
Helga Hufflepuff - Leelee Sobieski
Godric Gryffindor - Sean Bean
Salazar Slytherin - Joaquin Phoenix
Rowena Ravenclaw - Lena Headey
Ailbhe, Rowena’s handmaiden - Bryce Dallas Howard
Riol - Steven Mackintosh
Conall, The Captain-General of Alba - Bernard Hill
Iagan, Conall’s son - Kevin McKidd
With Riol’s help, Godric fashioned a shelter for Salazar to recline in and recuperate from his wounds. Taking the largest animal skins and canvas he had, he anchored them against four spears and stretched them over the points to form a suitable roof. After building a fire within the tent, he helped Riol carry Salazar from out of the snow and laid him upon several cloaks near the flames.
“Will you have some water?” Godric asked as soon as the man was settled. Salazar could only look at him with one eye. The other was bruised and swollen shut.
“If it is hot,” he replied.
Godric poured some icy water from his flask into a bowl and stirred it with his wand until the liquid nearly boiled.
Salazar sipped the brew slowly and soon, his voice steadied, loosing its hoarse edge and becoming, once more, dangerously smooth.
“I assume our lady Helga has decided to campaign against the Ravenclaw outright,” he said, looking disgruntled as he showed Godric the great bruise on his chest.
“Your ribs are surely broken,” Godric replied. He murmured one of the healing spells his mother had taught him and the saw the painful discoloration begin to fade slowly. “How is it that you are still alive?”
“Yes,” Riol said. He was sitting across from them on the other side of the fire. “We were told you were dead.”
Salazar would not look at the man, who’s face waxen with malcontent. “I might have been,” he said. “But it seems as though Alba’s only defense against Helga’s force is spite. I took the diadem to Hogwarts as Helga bid me, but was accosted at the gates of Hogwarts and thrown into chains by Alba’s Captain-General. I never saw the Ravenclaw, though I assume she rejected my terms. While in the dungeons, I heard whispers of fear from the guards. They are weak, useless men, I will tell you. Helga might bend and break them as if they were saplings.”
“Is that how you escaped then?” Riol’s asked coldly.
Salazar ignored him. “One of the maidservants, Ailbhe, brought me food and told me that her mistress was fleeing to Ireland and that Helga might have Hogwarts for herself without a costly siege. Rowena is not loved by her people…they will not fight for her. I promised that Helga would spare Ailbhe’s life if she freed me, and, upon my turn, guided me into the castle.”
“So it took a youngling maidservant to save you?” There was deadly venom in Riol’s voice and although Godric could certainly sympathize with him, he could not afford to alienate Salazar just now.
Salazar took a deep breath and winced, but for some reason, Godric found he could not look at him. Instead, he stared at Riol, who had nearly disappeared into the deep hood of his mantle. But even the shadows cast by the fire and his own stoicism could not mask his sentiments.
He was not happy to have Salazar back.
“What fortune,” he said in a breathy tone.
Once more, Salazar ignored him. “We must inform Helga,” he continued, going so far as to press his spindly fingers against Godric’s forearm. “She will wish to change her tactics, I am sure. The natives will offer us no resistance, Gryffindor. The path to Alba is clear.”
Riol stood and left the tent.
Salazar sneered at his retreating form. “I see I am mistrusted yet. Have you been poisoned against me as well, Gryffindor? Has my absence soured your opinion of me?”
Godric was certain he was being tested by the man, poked and prodded until he might offer an opinion he did not wish to give. Feigning indifference, he stirred the logs with the tip of his sword.
“Ah, I see things have changed,” Salazar noted, his voice suddenly warm as he glanced at the blade. “A lordly gift that is indeed. Helga has made you a warrior yet. How easy loyalty is to win.”
“You make unjust insinuations,” Godric grated. He was distinctly irked by this man, and missed Riol’s company, however moody it might be.
“I will send word to Helga,” he said, rising and stooping to avoid the sagging roof, which was already heavy with the weight of freshly fallen snow. “But I will not move from this place until she bids me,” he added.
Salazar ran his tongue along his teeth, frowning before Godric could turn his back on him and leave the tent.
Riol was standing outside in the storm, his arms crossed, facing the flickering flames of the camp’s many fires. The eastern horizon, Godric noted, was a slightly lighter shade of blue.
Dawn was swiftly approaching.
“I will send word to Helga,” Godric told Riol. “Let her weigh the worth of Salazar’s tidings.”
“She is wise,” Riol said, without turning his head to look at his companion. “And yet, distance lessens vigilance.”
“Vigilance?” The sun was reaching towards the horizon and Godric hoped that, in spite of the snow clouds, its warmth would seep down into the earth. As it was, he was chilled to the bone.
“Forgive me, Gryffindor,” Riol said at length, drawing back his hood so that Godric could see the practiced hate that he held in his countenance. “But I would have that Salazar dead.”
On the third day after Godric had sent his messenger back to Helga and the skies had cleared to a milky, expectant blue, with a wind that promised snow coming from the North, the owl came to him. Godric, who had lived all his life in the small Hollow and had long watched birds of prey wing from their perches in the forest throughout the night, was surprised to see the creature in flight during the day. He said as much to Riol, who was standing beside him on the edge of their camp with a face that summoned thoughts of utter hopelessness. But when Riol saw the bird, he smiled.
“Do you not know your own mistress’s herald when you see it?” he asked Godric.
The owl alighted nearby on the lip of a crag, hesitating before it glided down into a ditch and then settled by their feet.
Godric looked at Riol, unable to mask his confusion. “The beast is Helga’s?”
“Not so much Helga’s,” Riol replied. He knelt in the snow next to the bird and, with little fuss, undid a length of leather that held a scroll of parchment to its leg. “Her family has long used owls to wing messages across all of England. Her father in particular found couriers untrustworthy.” He paused and stared at Salazar, who stood off in the distance by their poorly rigged shelter. “I should say he was right.”
After a moment of fumbling with his heavy gloves, Riol unfurled the scroll, glanced at it and then handed it over to Godric.
“This is for you, Gryffindor. Helga sends her blessings.”
Godric took the scrap of parchment from him and squinted in the meager sunlight. Her writing was small and there were blotches of ink in-between the words. He guessed that Helga had written the missive on horseback, as she commonly did.
“Can you not read?” Riol asked and, for the first time, Godric heard a hint of superiority mar his normally sycophantic tone.
“Aye.” Godric did not look up at the man, could not admit that his knowledge of the written word was limited to what his mother had taught him, tracing letters in the dirt floor of their hut so that her son might one day be able to read a spell book…if he ever came across one.
Helga, of course, was aware of his deficiency and she had worded her message simply.
I bid you take your men into Alba and go so far as you can without resistance. If that should take you to the fortress of Hogwarts, then so be it.
But if you should find the natives in opposition, then send word of such and await my arrival.
I trust your judgment, Godric. You have my love.
Godric read the note over several times and then tucked it within his haubrek.
Riol was watching him closely.
“We must proceed,” Godric told him. “Into Alba. And if Hogwarts be ours, we must take it.”
“Very well, my lord.”
They stood on the edge of the camp in silence and Godric felt the first of Riol’s prickling doubt.
The man had read the note before he and knew of Helga’s love for him. And that, in the end, made Godric worth more than all of Alba.
Before the dawn of the next day, Godric did as Helga bade him and broke camp, taking his advance guard past the border and into Alba. Together with Salazar and Riol, he rode at the head of the line, watching the countryside with nervous eyes.
The land was heavy with snow and most of the time, Godric and Salazar were forced to clear the blocked roads with charms meant to melt ice and frost. Mud hindered them often, and when they reached the open moors, where Godric hoped no natives of Alba were hiding in gullies in ambush, he ordered the men to dismount and lead their horses through the muck.
They reached the great forest by the first night and despite the marked exhaustion of the men, Godric forced them to press on. The high, dark trees provided suitable cover for any archers and Godric feared that the lack of resistance they had seen thus far would soon give way to a mighty flood of vengeance. And he, despite Helga’s confidence, was not a warrior and could not command men in battle.
But then he felt the sword she had given him by his side and remembered her distinct trust. What would that trust mean now, though, in the shadowed forest, with enemies hiding behind thick boles and mossy boulders?
Discomfort and unease settled into his gut and did not lessen until the tree branches thinned.
He first caught sight of the towers at dawn and with the rays of the sun glancing off the walls, he thought of fire.
But when he blinked, the image was gone and he saw only the pale, morning light streaking across the high gate.
Salazar stopped them at the edge of the clearing, his face rendered colorless by the light reflecting off the snow.
“Let me call out to the maidservant,” he said in a whisper. “She will come to us ere the rest of the household wakes. We might slaughter them in their sleep yet.”
Godric found himself looking hard at Salazar and the perfect joy the man took in the thought of killing innocents. And yet he knew had Helga been with them she would have agreed.
With some difficulty, he closed his mind to such thoughts.
Before Salazar could call the maid, Riol stopped him.
“You have no need,” he said, pointing out across the field to where a small woman was floundering in the snow, racing across the wide clearing to meet them.
Godric marveled at how such a slight creature, a mere girl, could dash across the expanse of land in plain sight of the towers and windows and any who might be awake to see her.
And how ready she was to meet them, moving without hesitance or fear. He decided she was certainly more courageous than most men and as he watched her run, he noticed she had a scarlet veil upon her head.
But as she drew closer, he realized it was not a veil. Only her wild, unbraided tresses.
She dropped to her knees when she reached them, trembling, the hem of her gown soaked with snow and ice.
“My lords, I pray you do not slay me,” she said in a rush.
Salazar was already off his horse.
“We stay our hands for your loyalty,” he said, not helping her to her feet as Godric would have, but watching her shiver instead. “What news have you of Hogwarts? Is the Ravenclaw…?”
“Fled to Ireland, my lord Slytherin,” she said, her words riding the edge of a sigh. “There are none within, save myself and two stable boys. I can vouchsafe for their loyalty, my lord, if you will spare them.”
“Of course,” Godric replied before Salazar could.
For the first time, Ailbhe raised her eyes to meet his and he realized, despite her obvious bravery, that she was still young and pale and frightened.
But then Salazar reached down and shook her. “And the Captain-General?” He pressed. “Has he marshaled his men?”
Ailbhe emitted another shuddering sigh, her breath coursing out into the air and forming a thin pattern of vapors. “No, my lord,” she said. “Hogwarts is yours for the taking.”
It was the land that Conall remembered, the same land that had birthed him and his wife, and then their sons. It was the land that he had farmed, scratching at the rocky soil until life could be brought to bloom in the heavy, summer months. It was the land on which he had helped lay the first stones of the great fortress, Hogwarts, watching as the walls grew and the sun warmed the rough layers of rock quarried from the earth. All of these things he remembered on a night when the land was frozen and one could not even bend a spade into the soil to bury a corpse.
The waited in a glen in the forest as the snow began to fall.
Conall sat between two great markers of stone and ran his hand over the runes. His eldest son, Iagan, stood watch beside him.
The snow was blinding.
And still, they made out the shapes of the men. Men who had come from distant glens and distant forests and distant moors but were all born of Alba. Men who were farmers and carpenters. Men who owned land and had full granaries and men who lived in caves, with only thin stalks of wheat and lean meat on which they fed their families. But in the cold, on the moonless night when the first of the winter storms bent the tree branches, they were all of them soldiers.
Conall stood to greet the men he knew and those he did not. The deference in their voices when they spoke to him thawed the frozen doubt in his gut.
He was still the Captain-General of Alba, even now, in this empty hour.
“Is it true?” they asked him, buried beneath their mantles and cloaks and darkened countenances.
Conall looked to his son. Iagan was a man, a broad shouldered, muscled warrior. He had hunted in the cold streams of the North and had battled barrel-chested raiders in the South. He had a wife of his own. And an infant son.
But Conall still felt the strange need to protect him, now, when he could not recognize the sky they stood beneath or the fleeting shadows that blackened the forest.
“Aye.” He could not speak without tears in his eyes. Tears which froze on his cheeks and dampened his matted beard. “Rowena Ravenclaw has fled the country. She has left her people to Helga of Cornwall and the great tide of ruin is upon us.”
He heard Iagan make a harsh noise, but the sound was carried far by the wind. Conall hoped that wherever their Queen was, she might hear it.
She had betrayed them all.
“But what would she have us do?” This from a man who was old, but had never been wise. He stood surrounded by his servants and men at arms that were paid with gold but still not loyal to him.
“Her last words to me were spoken thusly,” Conall replied. Despite his age, he could still remember all that Rowena had told him, the way her breath had come streaming out into the cold and the way she had shivered. Like a frightened child. “The people must not resist Helga’s armies when they come. They should lay down their arms and join Cornwall…or flee. So she said and so we have done. The Queen of Cornwall’s men have come to Alba this day. Now they sit in the halls of Hogwarts, feasting.”
The blow fell upon them just as the storm ended. And the sky eschewed the last of the snow clouds and opened the stars upon them. In the eyes of the men Conall saw disbelief.
“Hogwarts is taken?” one farmer said. “We are lost.”
A moan rose up from the glen, a feverish, mad thing that threatened to break Conall’s heart. But he stood fast in the snow, his hand finding the hilt of his sword. It had been forged by the blacksmith at Hogwarts and gifted to him by Rowena’s mother. He had always been faithful to her and her strange, sickly daughter.
“The man who is taken Hogwarts is not a warrior,” Iagan spoke up, raising one booted foot to rest upon an old log blackened by time and the decay of the forest undergrowth. “They call him Godric and he is from a small village in the south. I have heard that he is descended from a great Norse clan, the Gryffindors, and that his people now live in trembling fear of the world and of Helga. He is no warrior, but a wizard, and he took Hogwarts because there were none to safe keep it.”
“But he is a wizard,” a small man whispered, his voice echoing in the hushed absence of the wind. “Might he not have unearthly powers?”
“No more than Rowena ever did,” Conall said bitterly, imagining his errant queen in flight.
His hand tightened over his sword.
There was silence. Thoughtful silence.
Conall waited for the men to reach the point he had in his mind long ago, when he had remembered the land and his family and the first stones he had laid for the foundation of Hogwarts, that now was in the hands of Helga’s Viking lover and her wicked, cruel soldiers. Men who were, despite his misgivings, still very dangerous.
When no one spoke, he climbed atop the log and raised his hand.
The stars were upon them all.
“My brothers,” Conall said. “At this hour, the men of Cornwall will be bloated and drunk and asleep. And remember now, at this hour, that there are several passages within the castle that are hidden and unmarked and unknown to all save the Ravenclaws…and to ourselves.”
And without having to say more, the men, the soldiers of Alba, understood their Captain-General. And one by one, they drew their swords.
Author’s Note: Hmm, could there be a big battle on the horizon? Perhaps. ^_^ According to my calculations, there are three chapters left in this story. I’ll try my best to have the last chapters posted quickly and lessen the gaps between updates. As always, I truly appreciate the continued patience and support of my wonderful readers. Thank you all!
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