Chapter 1 : Taste of Salt
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Jealousy in romance is like salt in food. A little can enhance the savour, but too much can spoil the pleasure and, under certain circumstances, can be life-threatening.- Maya Angelou
He had travelled for many weeks across storm-ridden seas and frost-bitten shores to reach the dilapidated shack: all without the use of magic. Apparation over such a distance was impossible without the risk of losing a limb, and a Portkey was no use when he was so unsure of whence she had fled. Finally, after a string of disreputable bargains and the prolonged use of the Cruciatus Curse, he had tracked her down to a dismal forest in the mountains of Albania. He had encountered an old witch on the mountainous road, and implored her to reveal the exact location of the hamlet.
“Izgon’s no place for yer sort o’ folk, m’lad.” She wore her dirt-blonde hair high atop her head under a hearth-coloured bonnet. Her attire was basic and the dress was fitted so as not to offer so much of a hint to her shrivelled figure underneath. In her arms she carried a huge basket full of an assortment of nuts, some of which Erasmus had never seen before.
“What nuts have you to show?” He asked the weather-grizzled mare. She bared her toothless gums at the man with the broad shoulders and enviously eyed the splendid velvet gown that adorned them.
“These-” she handed him a handful of small shelled nuts. The shells were a brittle sand-colour and split easily when he applied pressure, revealing the light green flesh inside. He bit the small nut in half and was surprised to find that it was seasoned with the taste of salt. “’re rare in these parts. You won’t find ‘em on the market!” She waggled her finger at him. He nodded sceptically as he noticed some larger nuts without shells. They were like hard ellipses of brown bark with occasional white, soft patches.
“Pass me those.” He demanded. On tasting them, he found that they were altogether uninspiring and found he craved the salt of the green nuts again. He bid her to pass her some more, but she withheld her basket.
“I can’t just be given’ ‘em away, I’ve a trade to keep up!” She guffawed. He considered killing the woman for her insubordination, but thought better of it before reaching for his wand. Instead, he reached for a bag of sickles from his saddle-bag hung over the sturdy yet swift Granian he’d bought on entering the mountains. He preferred to travel by horse, but the treacherous landscape made flying a necessity. The tossed the bag of gold at the woman, who struggled to catch it. Her eyes lit up as she examined the heavy metal coins. The meagre amount would be but a drop in his pool of wealth but a fortune to the wench. He smirked to himself; the charm would wear off on the gold soon to reveal the rough stones that lay beneath.
“Yer a wizard?” She asked as rhetoric as she gathered up all the shelled nuts into a burlap sack. “Well, Izgon’s just th’ place for yer then! It’s jus’ o’er the way and bordered to th’ woods.” She passed him the sack and nodded down the uneven path. He nodded a polite farewell and rode to the dense trees on the horizon.
Helena was fair and radiant, but the forest was dark and dim and he couldn’t bond the two to each other. The middle of such a stygian forest was no place for such a woman of her calibre, he thought bitterly to himself as he chewed another of the salted nuts. What had driven her here? Why had she fled? Did she plan to stay? He wondered. It was of no consequence, he decided. He would take her home; and finally possess her as he had dreamt to so many times. To turn away empty handed, without her, would be as good as slandering his own reputation. No wife would take a man scorned, and no man would take him at his word without respect for him.
Her ailing mother had as good as agreed to the trade: he would bring her truant daughter and her antique crown home to the castle, and for his troubles and time he was permitted Helena’s hand in marriage. It was a match to rival any of his other prospective suits. Isabel was fairer than Helena, but no richer. Frances was richer than any Ravenclaw yet no fairer than any. Avis had a pure blood-line but no talent, whereas Parnell was an extraordinary witch with charm work to rival his own: but a muggle relation in her close family. No, Helena was the compromise that offered most appeal: fair as her own mother in her youth, as smart as her too, with purity of the blood that was undisputed and with the imminent death of her mother, riches to rival his own.
He would have to break her disobedient spirit first, of course. A wife was to be pure, unblemished, obedient and loyal: there was no place for revelry or flights of fancy. Helena’s latest flight had been to steal the precious jewelled diadem of her mother and escape to the hut that the Baron now examined. Her revelry had to end and it would end at his hand.
Helena stood in the simple hut that she’d begun to consider home, examining the precious headwear that had begun this new emprise. Her home rested in a forest bordering a tiny wizarding hamlet. She lived here with a girl from the village of her own age, who had been disowned by her parents after a love affair discovered and forced to live the life of a muggle without a wand. Helena tended to go without her own wand as a display of solidarity, although for medial tasks like cooking and chores magic was the paramount.
The cabin was humble and quaint compared to her Hogwart’s quarters, although she much preferred the life she led here. She was free from the pressures of her mother, as well-meaning as she may have been, and of the pressures to marry one of her suitors. They were all too simple or too poor or too brazen. Helena would rather die a spinster than settle for a man who could not enhance or enchant her.
Subsequently, her life in Albania was simple and uncomplicated with the prospect of a well-to-do marriage. She and Lettice, the girl who she now considered a sister, took turns to visit the neighbouring muggle market every week and bargain their hard-grown herbs for milk, bread and meat in meagre quantities that Helena would multiply to fill their slack stomachs for longer. Lettice’s unusual name reminded Helena humorously of the leafy plant that they used to make stews and salads at home, although in her Albanian hamlet is was simply called “marule”. When Lettice was gone to market, Helena would stay and care for her child. The boy, at only a year and a half, had begun to treat Helena with an air of contempt reserved only for the sterner carer.
Visitors were few and far between to the mismatched pair; the reputation of a tainted woman would keep those wishing for a virtuous reputation far away. So, when a visitor stormed into her sleepy little hamlet and through her oaken door, she assumed it was her room-mate returning from her market trip and hurriedly replaced the stolen diadem in the expanding velvet bag. It wasn’t that she distrusted her friend, but she feared that such an extravagance would be an irresistible temptation in their near-squalor.
“Oh, Lettice. I hope you got the chamois meat; I’ve all the ingredients for a fluxweed stew!” She informed her absent room-mate whilst beginning to peel a knot of the minty, bitter herb.
“I do hope you haven’t dirtied yourself by marrying a man of such...” the Baron smirked, placing the bag of what were now mostly shells on the floor. “...quality.” He finished as Helena span around, her simple blue dress billowing around her.
“Erasmus?” She exclaimed, the sprig onto the rough wooden floor in shock.
“My name is the Baron.” He boasted as she bent down to the floor to pick up the fluxweed strands. She became aware that the Baron was leering at her voluptuous cleavage, and stood with her arms firmly placed over her chest as a barrier between her bosom and his lecherous eyes. “I would prefer you to address me as such.” She bit back a growing sense of indignation as this pompous man attempted to control her.
“So be it.” She placed the sprig on the counter of their makeshift kitchen, and gestured for the man to enter the living quarters through an open plan door. Despite the humble appearance, the hut boasted three rooms and a cosy lounging area, where the child slept quietly during the day. The Baron examined the simple room with an air of supposed-grandiose. It was a far-cry from the plush towers and dank dungeons they had called their home.
“What can I do for you, Baron?” She felt ridiculous calling a man that she had known since her youth by such a term, but complied begrudgingly.
“Lady, I have come to claim you.” The ostentatious statement caught Helena off-handed.
“To claim me?” She cried in shock. “As what?”
“As my wife, and to proclaim you a strumpet if you refuse me!” He chastised her as he would a child.
“You have travelled all this way to claim me?” She asked in surprise. He seemed to mull over his next words carefully: to agree would be to preen her arrogance, but to dispute the claim would be to forfeit his suit.
“Your mother has been anxious to see your return.” He decided on a non-committal rebuttal.
Helena blinked in shock. “She would never give her blessing!”
“Her blessing is as good as given!” He flushed with indignation whilst embellishing the truth. Truthfully, Rowena hadn’t given him explicit consent, but it had surely been implied with his retrieval of her most precious possession! He took Helena’s alabaster face in his calloused hands, hardened with his sword training. The Baron was accomplished in not only wand-work but also the use of contemporary weapons. “A trade: I bring home her most prized jewel,” he told Helena as he examined her face closely. Her lips parted slightly as he applied pressure to her cheeks. “and in return I get her daughter.” He grinned cruelly as Helena tore her face away from his grasp.
“I’m not a commodity to be bargained with.” She bit back harsher words as she preened her gentle pride, which was being fanned by his pursuit. The Baron was growing tired of the banter.
“Accio case!” He cried, looking around for the case in which she packed her luggage. She scoffed.
“You can put your wand away, I don’t plan to leave.”
“What do you mean?” He roared at her. “I am a fair man, but vain with pride! To refuse me is to injure that pride, and I can assure you that any injury to me shall be returned threefold, my dear! It’s time to become a woman and a wife!”
“No!” She objected fiercely. “My life belongs here! I am a woman, I am-” She blushed as she saw the mocking intent fleet across his face.
“You mean to say that you have truly become a wife?” He sneered. “You keep a lover, here in this pitiful shack?”
“As a true woman, I can assure you that I do not!” She cried impetuously.
“As a true man, I believe you false! You left me,” he strode towards her. “you left me in the halls of Hogwarts, after promising never to leave!”
“I made that promise to my mother, not to a courter!” She protested.
“A mere courter? Helena, we were as good as betrothed!” She guffawed as he bellowed. “But no: you steal your mothers diadem and flee to some godforsaken hamlet!” His shouting stirred something in the sleeping child, who awoke with a frightened cry. The Baron, previously oblivious to the infant, turned with a venomous glare to the crib.
“Mother! I want mother!” The child cried, as the Baron’s face became aflame with assumptions and the jealousy that followed. Helena’s face whitened as she realised the prejudice, and began to protest.
“You want your mother?” The Baron roared. He roughly grabbed Helena’s umber-toned hair and yanked her towards the bare cot. She cried and clawed at his hands as he pulled her across the wooden floor, causing tiny fragments of pine to pierce the soft flesh of her knees. “Here is your mother!” He threw Helena into the wood of the cot, which rocked against her frailty.
“The child is not mine!” She wept, but he would hear none in his jealous rage.
“You are a strumpet, and a whore! Is this why you fled Hogwarts? To live in poverty with your bastard child?” He unsheathed his knife and turned to her with menace in his bistre eyes, the same colour as the soot of the fire with the same intensity as the burning flames. “You were so pure, so chaste. To lessen yourself like this would surely destroy the last slither of life within your mother.”
“This child is not mine!” She lifted herself, using the wooden bars of the cot to support her weight. The child wailed helplessly as his minder shook in terror. She had not the courage of Godric, or the power of Salazar. She could not fight without her wand, and did not have the strength to apparate without it. She cautiously eyed the bedside table where the ten-inch apple tree flesh wound around a delicate peacock feather. The hard bark of the apple tree had been carefully chosen by her mother, for apple connotated the beauty of youth, the magic of happiness and the immortality of a life-well lived. The peacock core inspires immortality and royalty. The irony of the immortal nature of her wand struck at her own core; she did not want to die here.
“Do not reach for your wand; I will kill you where you stand if you so much as try.” He threatened her after following her glance. Helena had been proficient in magic since her years at Hogwarts, and he was to take no chances.
“I am telling you, the-” He cursed her to the ground.
“You take me for an idiot! You mock me!” He yelled in his infinite fury.
“I do not mock you! It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock you, not I Baron!”
“The only monster is your insatiable lust! You are a strumpet and a beguilement to my damned eyes!” He wailed in a lament. Kneeling close to her, he took her face in his large hands. “You look like a Veela in your lustrous youth, yet you cry like a damned harpy!” He shoved her roughly aside as he stood once again, pointing his hazardous dagger at her bosom.
“I will come with you! I will return and be your wife!” She cried as a bargain, standing again and moving towards him. He took a step backwards to maintain their distance, as if contact with such an incorrigible force would taint him.
“I would not make a wife made of the same matter as that traitorous Venus!” She scoffed at his accusation.
“You mistake me.” She threw her arms into the empty air in exasperation. Her flamboyance fanned the flames of anger within him, so that he was consumed with a white hot anger. It moved his body to lunge towards her, knife in hand.
“I mistook you!” He roared, as the blade pierced her. She grew weak in his arms, and he found himself unable to thrust her to the ground as his moral head screamed at him to. Life failed her almost instantaneously, and her body went limp with only ragged breaths maintaining her. The child wailed miserably as he watched her collapse.
The Baron laid Helena on the couch as carefully as he his heavily trembling frame would let him. The taut muscles in his powerful arms shook with emotion as he surveyed his lost-conquest. Even in her quasi-lifeless form, she looked as peaceful as a sleeping babe. He knelt down to stroke her soft cheek and was shocked to find himself moved to tears. His mind couldn’t justify them: she’d betrayed him, and he’d spared her an isolated life raising an impure son.
The flimsy wooden door unfastened, and a women’s voice cried out that she’d managed to acquire the prized chamois meat. The Baron slowly rose to his feet and faced the open doorway. He had left his dagger next to the cot, so stood with his wand limply at his side as she moved from the kitchen to the living room. The sound of raw meat thudding against the wooden floor was followed by an anguished wail. The young woman stood clutching at the oak frame with a dark hand clutched over her agape mouth whilst her eyes darted between her seemingly dead friend and the lamenting child.
“I ha’ no wand,” she cried as he raised his to her. “Please...” She stepped forward tentatively as if she was testing the man. He remained still. “Please, le’ me take th’ child and I’ll be gone.” Round, fat tears ran down her hollow cheeks and into the crook of her collar. The Baron considered her for a moment, and relented with a sweeping gesture of his arm.
“Take the bastard, he hath caused such torment so early that he ist surely a demon.” He hissed, permitting the woman to run over to the cot and lift the child into her arms without a moment of hesitation on her part. “His mother was a whore, and he can grow up no better!” The woman blushed with furious indignation and made a cautious move for the wand on the bedside table. She could not control magic like Helena, but could easily hex the man enough for her to escape with the child. Instead of making a move to stop her, the man watched her with a quiet bewilderment.
The woman’s dark skinned matched that of the child, and her deep brown eyes were mirrored in his. Even the gentle frizz of his hair seemed to emulate that of the woman. The resemblance was so startling that he began to wonder if she was the aunt of the child, the sister to Helena’s absent lover. She made a move to leave, but the Baron caught hold of her arm.
“What claim holds you to the child?” He asked out of a morbid curiosity. “You live with his mother?” The woman’s eyes clouded in confusion and flitted to the doorway, as if the well-spoken wizard were playing a treacherous game and hoping to trick her.
“My claim is of blood.” She mumbled, refusing his eye contact.
“To what degree?” He tightened the grip on her arm painfully so that she yelped in discomfort.
“To the highest degree, m’lord!” She whimpered. The child threatened to wail again.
“What do you mean?” He bellowed: confusion and doubt dampening his brow.
“I am his mother!” She screamed, yanking her arm free of the mad man and fleeing her house without a second regard for her friend, who was quietly clinging onto the last tendrils of life. The Baron turned white with shock, as he looked at the comatose Helena. Her fair skin resembled a saucer, not the cinnamon of the child. Her eyes were precious pools of cool cobalt agate, whilst his were the colour of burning crystalline amber.
The resounding clarity deafened him, whereas earlier the haze of a jealous rage had blinded him. He fell to his knees, and crawled towards the helpless girl as if the injury were to himself. Her breath hitched as he raised her delicate hand to his rough lips.
“I have wronged you, sweet lady.” He whispered. Her lips formed words of horror, but they were lost upon the wailing wind that began to rattle the wooden panels of the shack. It seemed that the Albanian forest was bawling for the loss of such a fine habitant. He clutched her exanimate form to his chest as life failed her.
He had expected silence and stillness in her stead, for this hadn’t been the first life he’d claimed. Contrary to his belief, the very essence and soul of Helena seemed to ascend from her body in a convoluted veil of grey. Her eyes were hoary like the morning frost, and her skin seemed as if it were dipped in a pool of mercury. She was no longer a symbol of life and its vibrancy, but a greyscale reminder of his awesome wrath. Helena was now an ersatz of her glossy former self, doomed by her fear of death. The Baron paled as he saw the ghost rise in front of him, and was overcome with regret and torment.
“Grey Lady, my delirium hath condemned you so. Allow me to seek retribution for my heinous act.” His words were heartfelt, but the clarity and calmness of his speech moved her to hurriedly flee in disgust and hatred, away from her home, from the mountains and from Albania, back to the home she had fled years ago.
The Baron climbed, slowly and deliberately, towards the barren cot. He grasped the blood soaked dagger in his hand as he was overcome with an overwhelming sense of what he had done. The taking of a life, the act of murder, didn’t bother him much: but to take her life in a mislaid flaunting of his power and rage, in such a heinous way, was an unforgiveable act. The remorse that he was overcome with guided his hand towards his chest and the thin, white linen shirt that warmed it. With a powerful thrust, the knife dug deep into his chest. Blackness consumed him as he felt his lifeblood slowly seep away.
From that darkness into which he sank came the illuminate form of his lost love. She spoke no words and her mouth stayed still, but he heard her sweet voice emanate around him. In his death, he was given an inexplicable choice. He could spend an eternity proving his regret to this sweet, wronged girl in a horrific limbo, or leave her to walk alone.
So the choice was made.
Donning a heavy set of iron-cast chains, he vowed to follow the Grey Lady wherever she would go.
Credit to Galawen @ HPFFF for the brilliant summary help :)
JKR owns this tragic pairing, and the whole universe!
Possible questions I will answer now:
Q. Why is there no language barrier?
A. I dunno. Magic. Blame it all on the magic.
Q. Are you really going to “blame it on the magic”?
Q. What nuts were those?