Salazar strode into the room, unlocking the door with a mere flick of his wrist. He spun around to face Rowena as she followed him inside, closing the door behind her and crossing the room to stand by the window, fingers steepled.
“Any chance we could get rid of him?”
Rowena chuckled, relieved she was not the only one who had taken an instinctive dislike to Godric of Gryffindor. Not that there was any doubt of Salazar’s feelings on the matter, mind. Though she’d known him all of two weeks, she was perfectly aware when people irritated him. In truth, most people seemed to irritate him.
“We could leave in the night.”
“Believe me, I am tempted.” Salazar sighed. “But he is a sorcerer, and we must band together.”
“What of his…his—”
“Whore,” Salazar supplied, the shadow of a smile crossing his face. “Godric claims she has magic, though I saw no sign.”
“In fairness, I didn’t show mine either.”
“No,” Salazar agreed, turning to her. “Though none would suspect you of accompanying me for the reasons we may suspect the Lady Helga for accompanying Godric. Speaking of, you are giggling like a foolish girl, Rowena.”
“And you are just trying to hold it in.”
Salazar grinned outright. “Perhaps, in future, we should avoid the ale. It may befit our new travelling companions, but it ill suits our own characters.”
“I maintain your countenance is much improved by smiling, Salazar.”
He raised an eyebrow. “I shall take your word for it. Though forgive me if your womanly wiles do not pursuade me to smile more often.”
“My womanly wiles?” Rowena repeated, unable to contain her laughter. “Salazar, do you hear yourself?”
“And do you hear yourself?” he countered. “We should retire. I fear Godric and his companion will try our patience enough tomorrow, even after a good night’s rest.”
“Very well,” she replied. “I would ask you to turn your back while I undress.”
“I will do better,” Salazar replied. “I will bind cloth around my eyes.”
“Truly a man of honour.”
“I humbly thank your ladyship.”
She chuckled, hearing Salazar join in from the other side of the room. Despite her disappointment at their new travelling companions, she felt closer to Salazar now than she had previously, and she drew a strange sense of comfort in knowing that even in the face of other sorcerers, he would choose to ally himself with her.
They left at first light, deliberately not bothering to wait for Godric and Helga.
“We want to be off the road by the time winter sets in,” Salazar said briskly as he saddled his horse. “There is no time to wait for layabout knights. We told them we would leave at dawn, it is their choice if they do not rise in time.”
Rowena had her doubts about this tactic. No doubt Godric and Helga would emerge just as they were leaving, and bid them wait. She was only disappointed that she and Salazar had not had more time travelling together before meeting the others.
“Fine morning, isn’t it?” boomed Godric, and Rowena saw Salazar cringe into his horse’s shoulder. “All ready?”
“More than yourself, evidently,” Salazar responded.
Godric waved a large paw. “The stable boy is readying our horses. Though I am sure there is much honour and gratification in doing the work yourself.”
“You will have no stable boys on the road,” Salazar said coolly. “I do hope you are capable of readying your horses yourself.”
Godric merely chuckled, turning to Helga, who beamed up at him. “I believe we can manage.”
“If you say so.”
They moved out with a clatter of hooves and the chatter of voices, the noise of which surprised Rowena. She had gotten so used to the near-silence of travelling with Salazar, and quickly found that she preferred it.
Salazar had begun by leading, with Rowena at his side, but Godric steadily encroached upon him that by the time the dawn chill had begun to wear off, Rowena had been forced to drop back alongside Helga. Having gotten over her apparent shyness the night before, Helga prattled incessantly about her previous life (she’d been a servant girl) and her first meeting with Godric (Oh! It was love at first sight) and learning they both had magic (It was as if two souls had become one!) and his suggesting they travel together (She could be with her one true love forever!)
By the time they stopped for lunch, Rowena was truly regretting witnessing Godric perform magic in the tavern, and Salazar, judging by his stony silence, was no different.
“Now, of course, I have the utmost respect for those who travel from town to town, with no fixed abode,” Godric was drawling, “But, well. When one has magic, I believe the greatest bravery lies in living amongst those who would otherwise fear and persecute you. It is easy to run, Salazar. But to hide in plain sight? That takes a special kind of man.” He paused, inclining his head towards Helga. “Or woman.”
Salazar and Rowena exchanged glances, reminding Rowena to hold her tongue. Godric and Helga were still under the impression they were brother and sister, and though she didn’t know how long they would maintain that particular falsehood, she saw no benefit in destroying it now. Inside, however, she was seething. What did Godric of Gryffindor know about hiding magic? When she, Rowena Ravenclaw, daughter of the king, had spent eighteen years in hiding, under constant guard, never being able to practice her magic, and learning it all from spellbooks?
Though she had learned to cope with many hardships on the road, the worst of them all was maintaining the pretence of being a lowly traveller girl. It was beneath her, and she often had to fight the urge to reveal her true identity when people she met dismissed her as nothing more than peasant scum. Though her body became accustomed to long nights on the hard ground, little food and increasingly threadbare clothing, her pride did not, and the maddeningly superior attitudes of Godric and Helga filled her with resentment.
It was two days before Rowena and Salazar, making camp, found an excuse to get away from Godric and Helga, if only for a brief period. Despite Godric’s insistence that the two men ride together, as did the two women, Rowena knew the structure of the group was entirely different. Before they had met the others, Rowena had never thought of Salazar as a friend; now it was increasingly clear that a form of partnership had grown between them, even if its root cause was mutual irritation at Godric and Helga.
“I knew knights could be arrogant,” Salazar commented as they gathered wood for the night’s fire. “But I did not realise how arrogant. One would think having magic would humble him somewhat, make him less inclined to draw attention to himself. On the contrary, it has only inflated his ego more.”
“Not helped, of course, by Helga’s mindless adoration,” Rowena added contemptuously. “I envy you your riding with Godric; even he would be an improvement on that simpering girl.”
“Do you wish to trade?”
Rowena snorted. “I would much rather travel with you.”
“And I you, Lady Rowena.”
“There is no need to call me that.”
“There is,” Salazar replied with a knowing smile. “They have wounded your pride, and you are sick of being thought of as my lowly sister.” He held up a hand to quiet her. “I take no offence. I too am sick of being patronised.”
They returned with the wood to find Godric lying on the grass, his limbs splayed.
“It was good of you to help us,” Salazar noted, dropping the wood with a deliberate crash beside him.
“It has been a long day,” Godric replied unapologetically. “I must retain my strength. I am a knight; if we face bandits on the road I will be the one to defend us.”
“Of course, Sir Godric,” Salazar responded. “And of course, we sorcerers are powerless to defend ourselves.”
“I have sorcery and experience in battle,” Godric replied lazily. “It is no reflection on your skill, Salazar. It merely reflects your upbringing and lifestyle, and that of your sister.”
“What did you say of my upbringing?” Rowena demanded, eyes flashing. Salazar did not bother to warn her; perhaps he realised it would be fruitless.
“My dear Rowena,” Godric began smoothly, “You misunderstand me. I was merely saying you and Salazar have not been subject to the privileges I, as a nobleman, have received. This is no stain on your honour – the Lady Helga comes from such humble upbringings—”
Rowena pulled him to his feet, her dark eyes boring into his, and spoke in a low voice that shook with anger.
“Do not ever compare me to your whore again,” she whispered. “You have no idea who I am and if you did, you would not dare speak to me in this manner. I come from a nobler background than you could ever dream of, Godric of Gryffindor, and yet here I am fetching wood while you lay about polishing your armour.”
She released her grip on his tunic, ignoring the confused look in his eyes, and swept past Salazar without another word.
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