Dipping her toes into the cool brook that ran around the perimeter of the field at the back of the Manor, Helena tried to contain her miserable thoughts to her head; her mother was always reminding her that a stormy complexion never won the heart of a good man. How old would she have to be to prove to her mother that she no longer needed her guidance? She was a grown woman now, she knew her own mind, yet she was repeatedly treated like a child, like an animal who was not capable of making her own decisions. She would let her mother manipulate her and she was not going to allow her mother’s interference be something she would regret for the rest of her life. No, she was beyond that.
As she remained outside, banished, her mother would be preparing to entertain guests, guests seemingly so important that Helena herself was not allowed to be involved in the proceedings. Never had she been forbidden from such occasions; her father was always glad to involve her in household affairs. The mysterious air surrounding her mother's meeting this evening had sparked a small flicker of curiosity inside of her. She knew perhaps a little more than her mother had intended, but whose fault was it if Rowena left her door open when relaying orders to the messenger? It really couldn't be helped that some messenger boys were a little more receiving to bribery, how a quick flash of her ankles would surely secure the information she needed to know. If her mother underestimated her cunning, the onus was on her.
What her seemingly innocent smile and charming words had gleaned from the boyish messenger was that her mother's guests were indeed rather important. Their names were new to her, but no knight was worth his name unless he had earned the title, either through a noble bloodline or some victory of equal nobility. Sir Gryffindor might have indeed had important business to discuss with Rowena, but Helena was determined she should hear it too.
Checking the position of the sun in the sky, she gathered that enough time had passed in order for her mother to have forgotten about her troublesome daughter; she would never imagine Helena would disobey her punishment, no matter how bitter her feelings. Perhaps she wasn't as intelligent as she was renowned to be. No matter, all Helena needed was enough time to be sure that her mother's thoughts were far from her good self.
Withdrawing her foot from the brook and slipping on her boots, she wandered along the gentle bank. On the far side of the grounds by the rose garden, she could see one of the gardeners, no doubt pruning the bushes to a satisfactory shape, ready for the banquet. It had probably never occurred to her mother that the grounds of the manor should really be for their own enjoyment, not for the benefit of their visitors. Then again, she had never really understood why the lords and ladies of England regarded their reputations so highly, perhaps she never would. It surprised her more that her mother had succumbed to the requirements of high society. It had never seemed important while Helena's father was alive; he seemed to give them all an air of normality. In those days, knowledge in itself was an end as opposed to a use of making oneself more important. If her mother had been so wise, this knight and his lordly friend would not have discovered her talents.
The sun was beginning to crouch behind the horizon and Helena shivered briefly. She had left her shawl inside, not envisaging herself being outside for long. Rubbing her arms roughly with her hands, she tried to warm herself. She did not need to feel cold tonight, she needed to concentrate. The grounds were silent except for the occasional chirp of a bird nesting and the melodic voices of the monks carrying across the hills from the abbey not too far away. Sidestepping the gardener, she stole through the rose garden and made her way along the north wing of the manor; this was the side of the building least frequented by her mother, due to the utilisation of the South and East wings for the sunlight. She would be unnoticed here as she muttered a few chosen words and slipped inside the now unlocked door of the scullery.
One dim candle flickered as the breeze from outside caught it, the wick short and charred. No doubt some dim-witted servant had left the thing burning all day. Searching inside a nearby cabinet, Helena stole two fresh candles, pocketing them for later use. She had no idea how long this meeting of her mother's would last; if night should fall, she wanted to be prepared. As it was, she still had a good few hours before she even had to think about sneaking about in the dark. Locating a staircase hidden behind a smart tapestry, she crept slowly upstairs, listening keenly for the sound of someone who would report her to her mother. Though perhaps her mother had not thought to alert the housekeeper, it had happened before. Biting her lip to stifle a rueful smile, she considered how ridiculous she must look, concealed by the shadows of a back passageway when she was the heir to the grounds. Luckily, she came across nobody as she reached the top of the staircase, stealing a glance by pulling the tapestry back slightly.
Evening sunlight illuminated the skin of a tall man, standing proudly as he inspected the portraits along the wall. He was alone, clearly waiting for someone, and had not spotted Helena hidden behind the tapestry. From her viewpoint, she was ashamed to admit to herself that he was rather handsome, with neat hair and a strong jaw. From how he held himself she could tell he was strong, the sword in his belt proving him to be a warrior of some kind. This man was a knight, that much she knew, and the one who was waiting to meet her mother. Perhaps she could waver her plan to watch the scene from the sidelines; he was too dashing a man to leave to her mother's will.
Sidling out from behind the tapestry (which she could now see was an elegant depiction of some war, making it seem far less dangerous than she knew it to be), Helena approached Sir Gryffindor, clearing her throat as she went.
"Good evening, sir," she said meekly, curtseying as he turned to observe her. Suddenly, the idea of being bashful did not repulse her so. After all, this young man clearly knew the ways of the world; his eyes held evidence of greater knowledge, something she could never resist.
Bowing, he returned her greeting. "Would you happen to be Lady Ravenclaw? I must say, I have been most looking forward to our meeting."
No, she was not Lady Ravenclaw, yet... Perhaps being a little loose with the truth here would not hurt; a plan was rapidly forming inside Helena's head that would most certainly not please her mother. "I am. It is an honour to welcome you into my home."
"Forgive me," he began, most unapologetically. He had the most alarming sparkle in his eye, one that even a young Helena could not mistake for kind interest. It seem to whisper to her that he had forgotten all thoughts of his companion, who had not appeared as of yet. "But you are a little younger than I expected, though of course your skills precede you. I have no doubt you are as talented as proclaimed."
Helena's eyes explored his face curiously. "Forgive me, sir, but you appear no older than myself. Perhaps you might consider that my wisdom precedes my years?"
His mouth pursed, he accepted defeat. "My apologies. Let us start again. Godric Gryffindor."
He bowed as she curtsied. "Rowena Ravenclaw."
"It is a pleasure to meet you, my lady." His lips twitched in an amused smirk, clearly enjoying this rather peculiar encounter. "I have heard many great things about you."
Using a spindly hand to smooth down a flyaway strand of fair hair, Helena bowed her head graciously. "Thank you. I have been told that my reputation precedes me. Though I know very little about you, my good sir. Perhaps you would care to take a stroll around the grounds with me? I am sure we have much to discuss."
Perhaps he was taken aback by her forwardness, or how swiftly she seemed to deal with their introduction, for his eyes reflected curiosity and he appeared a little abashed. "That would please me greatly. Lead on."
Helena hesitated. There was absolutely no possibility of her leading Sir Godric through the house without her mother seeing, or a member of the household staff telling her mother. To take him down the passage she had used to sneak in would not appeal, nor give the impression of wealth and importance. She needed to impress him and to gain his trust in order to discover what it was her mother was keeping from her. He was surely going to suspect something if she led him through the servants' quarters... Seeing he was waiting for her to lead the way, she had no choice but to draw back the tapestry and step through opening. Maybe she could use the element of surprise to her advantage.
"Through here?" His tone was a little apprehensive, though she was pleased to discover that he did not seem to be rejecting the notion completely.
"Yes, this is the quickest way. You have no objection?" Her mother would cringe if she heard the familiar tone that Helena was using; she was being most forward, almost giving orders to a knight. She had never considered that her mother's wisdom might not extend to matters other than pure knowledge and logic. The abnormal seemed to have the upper hand in this situation as Helena kept him on his toes.
She let the tapestry drop back into place before squeezing past Sir Godric; there was little room in the passageway for two adults. She felt him shiver as she passed him and she had the slightest suspicion that she was starting to enjoy all this sneaking around. Smiling, she imagined what the look on her mother's face would be if she were to look behind the tapestry at that particular moment; she and Sir Godric would appear to be in a most compromising situation. Perhaps he knew that, because his breathing seemed to be much more shallow and sharp than it had been before. Biting her lip to stop a giggle escaping, Helena quickly descended the stairs with Sir Godric in tow. When she reached the bottom, darkness seemingly gathering there, she pressed her head against the wood panel, listening for any movement on the other side. Determining that they could safely pass through the scullery without detection, Helena slid the panel aside and led Sir Godric outside.
The sun finally sleeping, the grounds were bathed in an amber glow, little droplets of whiskey resting atop the bushes and trees. Stealing a look at her companion, she admired the way the light seemed to give him an ethereal quality, his hair golden and his skin glowing. He turned to face her, his eyes catching her before she hastily averted her gaze, knowing she had been caught staring. She hoped the pink glow in her cheeks would be masked by the dying sunlight.
"Shall we?" he prompted gruffly, covering up the awkward silence that was nestling between them.
"Yes," she mumbled nervously, not sure quite what she was going to do with him now she had brought him outside. "This way."
Striding forward with false confidence, Helena set off towards the rose garden, knowing that it was hidden from almost all windows, or in any case, the ones which her mother was most likely to use. She sighed, taking in the beauty of the pale roses mixed with the light from the sunset. Perhaps she could steal a few moments to rethink her plan if Sir Godric was distracted by the garden. She could feel him close to her, only a few steps away. Turning, she saw him admiring the pristine condition of the flowers. As he looked up at her, she looked away from him and hastily searched for words to cover up the deception she was creating. He was surely going to discover her true identity as soon as she spoke, there was no chance he would truly believe she was her mother. That would come to light once he attempted to discuss the reason of his visit with her. She cleared her throat nervously.
"So it would appear as though we have much to discuss," she started, hoping her voice reflected some kind of false confidence.
"Yes, I have a proposal for you." Was it her imagination, or did his eyes seem widen slightly at the mention of a proposal? Perhaps she was getting a little ahead of herself. The evening's antics had clearly gone straight to her head. She would need to sit down quite soon.
"My ears are open."
They walked on a bit further on, Sir Godric's hand occasionally skimming a rose petal. He was in no rush, it seemed, to deliver his proposal. Helena was almost on tip-toes, her breath baited as she waited to discover her mother's secret. Though, she had to admit, it did not appear as though Rowena and Sir Godric had had much time together to discuss these things. Maybe his companion (who was now surely somewhere inside the Manor making a nuisance of himself) had been more involved with the discussion.
"I am told you have knowledge of a fairly ancient art," he began cautiously, glancing furtively at her. He sounded almost apologetic. "That you have mastered it with considerable skill, though I hasten to assure you that this is only known in very limited circles."
He ran a strong hand through tousled hair, waiting for her response.
"I am not quite sure to what you are referring, sir. What is this art you speak of?" Luckily, she did not have to pretend she did not understand the nature of his conversation; she truly did not know what he was talking about.
"Sorcery," he whispered after checking behind a hedge and casting a glance over his shoulder. "You are not alone in your talents. I know of others."
It took a few moments for Helena to process what he was saying; was this a trick? How could he have possibly discovered their family secret? She would have to be very cautious; one wrong word could assure both her and her mother a date with the gallows.
"Is this an accusation?" Narrowing her eyes, she tried to sound haughty, almost offended; she needed enough of a tone to assure him that if he was accusing her of such a crime, she would not admit to it.
"No, I can assure you it is not," he added hastily. "I am not here to punish. As I said previously, there are others who share this gift. I am one of them."
Helena knew a trick when she saw one, and she did not believe this was trickery, but she had to admit she was affected in her judgement of him. If his eyes were a little less blue, his jaw a little less masculine then perhaps she could judge impartially. Instead of falling into his arms gratefully, having finally found another soul who shared her gift, she raised an eyebrow and looked him square in the face. Sir Godric flinched, almost certainly slightly scared of such a forward woman. "Prove it."
"Now?" He raised his eyebrows, shocked. She nodded. "Very well."
Looking around, he spotted a small rose that had fallen to the ground, one that the gardeners had clearly missed. He picked it up, wielding it in his palm like a droplet of water, delicate and fragile. Closing his eyes and murmuring under his breath, the rose began to grow, the petals extending fluidly like blood, red glowing in Sir Godric's palm. It bloomed, wide and expressive, fully grown. Handing it to her, she took it with a smile and held it loosely in her palm. He smiled, rendering her unable to tear her eyes from his.
"What now?" she asked foggily. "Tell me more of your proposal."
He cleared his throat, uncomfortable with the intensity of her gaze, and clasped his hands together. "I have plans to found a school, an academy to harness the magical talents of young sorcerers. I would very much be delighted to have your expertise and wisdom."
Helena couldn't help but to widen her eyes in curiosity. He was founding a school and wanted her, or at least her mother's, help? This was most interesting, though perhaps limited the time she had left until her trickery was discovered.
"In what way?"
"Our pupils will need instruction," he explained evenly. "Someone with your depth of knowledge and insight will make the perfect tutor."
Helena did not reply to his offer, averting her gaze to observe the beautiful rose in her hand. How could she possibly avoid the fallout when he realised that she had been fooling him? She needed more time to think of a plan, she was beginning to feel far too light-headed in his presence to think logically. What would her mother do in this situation?
"I would very much like to consider your proposal, my good sir." The words were smooth as she felt them roll off her tongue. Each word was caressed as though a fine piece of meat, each one was savoured as though fine wine. She wanted him to know that she was considering his offer very seriously indeed; she needed him to want to return to her. "Perhaps you could afford me a few days to decide?"
"Certainly," he said eagerly. "I shall return very soon, awaiting your verdict."
Batting her eyelashes a few times, she admired how handsome he appeared, his head haloed by the sunset, eyes sparkling in her presence. He nodded, understanding that his time was up. Sir Godric walked her to the scullery door, kissing her hand and tipping his cap. "Thank you, my lady. Your company has been a pleasure."
Blushing prettily, she slipped inside the scullery and crept upstairs. Oh, he was keen and when he returned she would be ready to defy her mother once again; this time she would be more prepared.