Chapter 1 : I
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'Hurry along, Eldritch! Surely those stumpy legs of yours can move with more haste than this!' Light, joyous laughter followed behind the adolescent sorceress as her own legs propelled her forwards into the wide expanse of the meadow laid out before her eager young eyes.
'The ground is less sturdy beneath my feet than yours, cousin, remember to take that into account before you accuse my legs of being stumpy and slow!' Eldritch's voice called after her as he urged his heavier body to move faster to make up the distance separating them.
'I need not accuse you of being slow as you run, Eldritch. You move just as slowly regardless of what you're doing at the time-'
'You best watch your impertinent tongue, Rowena, for if I catch you, you will regret mocking me!'
'Well, aren't I fortunate that the chances of you ever catching me are very slight indeed!' Rowena teasingly boasted, her laughter afterwards ringing like small pebbles thrown upon a watery surface. Eldritch's laughter soon joined hers, far deeper than her own, sounding more like large rocks been lobbed upon the same body of water as the pair raced forwards across the plains.
The day had passed the hottest part of its zenith, and the shadows that crept along the tree line had begun to stretch their long spindly arms across the path laid before the duo. They were revelling in the last days of sunshine before the long winter was due to commence which would render such frivolous activities impossible. Eldritch's heavy breathing could be heard as they pushed forward, accompanied by the grunts and heavy footsteps as their moleskin clad feet landed upon hidden thorns in their way. Rowena and Eldritch had challenged the other at racing from their home on the outskirts of the village, down the King's passage and into the neighbouring meadow to leap into the depths of the river since Rowena's seventh birthday. Eldritch had been victorious every year since they started the tradition, but now that Rowena was older and her cousin plump from the food his wife had been feeding him, the tables were about to be turned.
'Rowena, I curse your lithe and nimble feet, they have less bulk to carry! It is not a fair contest!'
'You've been ignoring my similar claims for the past seven years, Eldritch, so I have no sympathy towards you now!' Rowena exclaimed as her feet led her closer to the deeply flowing river. She reached her arms forward as she approached the embankment, and threw her small body forward into the swaying leaves of the willow trees lining the water like a tall crooked fence. Her hands clasped firmly onto the branches and with an elated call of victory, Rowena threw all her weight into the jump and was propelled through the air, guided by the reach of the trees low hanging leaves. As soon as she had cleared the shallow water, her hands let go of the grip she had upon her swing and she landed with a magnificent crash into the deeper waters of the river.
The current was not strong, but Rowena enjoyed the feeling of being pushed from side to side by the flowing river as she fought to resurface. Her head broke through the murky water with a boisterous laugh, her hands splashing about in elation as the full weight of her victory over her older cousin became apparent to her. It had taken many years for her to out run him, and the thought of her besting him at anything was something that filled her heart with joy, and her head with ideas, for if she were able to accomplish a feat such as this, she could now accomplish anything she set her mind to.
'Blast, you've already won! Rowena, I congratulate you for proving to me that my wife's cooking is doing nothing for my health, but keep my belly full.'
'Aye,' Rowena said gaily, looking up at Eldritch who stood on the high embankment with a broad grin upon her face, noticing a proud and contented look adorning her cousins features. 'Aye,' she began again, 'it is true that Morag feeds you far more than she ought too, but with such food to behold, she surely should be forgiven.'
'Agreed,' Eldritch said with a grin, taking a few steps back until he was beyond Rowena's sight. 'You best be swimming into the shallows, Rowena, unless you wish for me to land upon your head!'
Rowena laughed heartily, and then swam quickly to the riverbed, waiting for the famous war cry Eldritch was surely bound to do, like he did every year prior to this when he reached the river first. However, both the cry and the loud splash that would follow didn't come as Rowena expected them to. Instead, an eerie silence void of human intrusion invaded her senses, where she could only hear hawks flying high overhead, or snakes slithering in the bushes beyond, or the water rushing quickly over stones just beneath its surface. There was no sound of Eldritch, and it began to frighten her.
'Eldritch!' she shouted, turning around to stare at the place where she had last seen him.
'It's all right, Rowena,' came his belated cry, 'I've decided not to jump this day. Instead, I wish to show you something, or rather, someone. Climb up the bank!'
Rowena looked with annoyance at the high, muddy embankment she was expected to climb without any aid from her stronger cousin, and just as she was about to voice her annoyance at the situation, she bit her tongue to ensure silence prevailed. If she could outrun Eldritch, surely she could out climb him also!
And so, with that resolve in her mind, Rowena set forth in climbing up the muddy embankment, using slimy tree roots and natural foot holes where rocks would once have been to reach the top, her fingers scraping lightly over the grass beneath them. She thought her triumph was nearing completion, until her muddy moleskins snagged the end of her tattered dress skirts, tripping her in her efforts. With a startled yelp, she began to slide backwards, horrified at the thought of landing in the shallows upon her back with no way of preventing it.
She fought with tooth and nail to get a firm grasp upon safety, but as her hands began to slip, she was distracted by heavy footsteps drawing nearer to her, accompanied by a deep, unfamiliar voice. 'I've got you, lass. You shan't fall!' Just as her grip faltered entirely, and a scream became lodged in her larynx, Rowena found a tight, brutal grip about her wrist and was pulled roughly up the muddy embankment, until finally she was fully upon firm ground, and the pressure was released from about her wrist.
'Do forgive me if I harmed you, but you fell faster than I allowed time for,' announced the deep voice. Panting, Rowena staggered to her feet, Eldritch rushing to her side to help her stand up straight and to ensure her well being was in a decent enough state to be properly introduced to her saviour.
'My fair cousin, you nearly fell to your doom!' Eldritch said, worry evident in his voice, 'Morag would have slain me where I stood if it were so!'
'Alas, it is not so, and so you shall live to see another day!' Rowena said with good humour as she stood up straight and made a half-hearted attempt in fixing up her outer appearance before she was formally introduced to the tall, red haired man standing opposite her, fixing her with a bold gaze as he watched her movements with interest. Once she had done all she could to make herself more presentable to a gentleman she couldn't help but notice was of more wealth and higher stature than herself, Rowena fixed her blue eyes upon her rescuer with appreciation and intrigue clearly visible within the depths of them.
Eldritch, after ensuring his cousin was in a fit enough state to make a new acquaintance, took it upon himself to introduce her to his good friend. 'Godric, this fair maiden that you have rescued is my young cousin, Rowena Ravenclaw of Glen,' Rowena took this opportunity to curtsey in a manner that would be considered acceptable when greeting a person of higher rank than herself, despite her dress being simple and dirty, and her hair being tangled and crusted in mud. 'Cousin, this nobleman is Godric Gryffindor, a Knight of England.'
'I'm eternally grateful for your haste in which you used to save my life, Sir. I wish there was some way in which I could repay you,' Rowena said cordially, trying her hardest to sound proper and not let her thick Scottish accent impede upon her words too much as she stood up from her curtsey and fixed Godric with a pleasant smile.
Godric nodded his head in return, a gesture Rowena was not expecting from someone of a higher rank in society than she, and tried to mask the look of surprise that had crept upon her face. 'You are most welcome, Rowena Ravenclaw of Glen, for it would have been a loss indeed if no one had been there to catch you.' Godric smiled, a motion which seemed to involve his entire face, and raised a contemplative hand up to his chin, stroking his long bushy red beard and moustache in apparent thought. After a moment, he smiled again, removing his hand where it fell to rest lightly upon the hilt of a silver sword, hanging proudly from his waist. 'As for the debt you owe, I wish for it not to burden your mind. I'd much rather know that your mind was much more agreeably engaged...'
Eldritch and Godric share a brief glance, and with a short nod on Eldritch's part, Godric continued with his speech. He focused his kind gaze intently upon Rowena's before he continued.
'Tell me, Rowena, what is it you know about magic?'