Chapter 5 : Friendship
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“It would not be seemly,” he had explained. “I think of the Lady Helga’s honour.”
Rowena snorted, and Salazar, in his bored, drawling tone, had pointed out it had never stopped Godric before.
Salazar had wanted to stay in a small, derelict inn on the edges of the town, but Godric had other ideas. “Hiding in plain sight, Salazar,” he had explained impatiently, leading them to a large, crowded inn. “I am quite skilled at it.”
Salazar could only roll his eyes at this as a pair of stable boys came out to take their horses. He strode briskly into the tavern, not bothering to wait for her, and from this she could see the extent of his irritation. It was always best to leave him alone in such moments, though she feared Godric hadn’t picked up on this important lesson.
That evening, they dined in the tavern. As the night wore on, Godric abandoned their table to join a cluster of knights at the bar and was in high spirits, no doubt bouyed by the large amounts of ale he had consumed.
“How can he afford so much ale?” Salazar asked, watching Godric down another jug with unveiled fascination.
“He is a knight,” Helga pointed out. “Was,” she corrected herself. “Though he still thinks himself one. He is not short on gold.”
“I can see that,” Salazar commented wryly, causing a small smile to appear on Helga’s lips.
“Let us hope he does not get himself involved in a brawl,” Helga continued, her eyes not leaving Godric. “His character is such that he would quite easily turn the whole tavern against him.”
“Couldn’t imagine why,” Rowena commented, drawing a giggle from Helga and unabashed laughter from Salazar. It occurred to her that something had changed within the group – a sort of acceptance, perhaps – and her spirit lifted.
There was a loud crash from the bar, and almost immediately the atmosphere within the tavern shifted. Men were leaving their tables and drawing swords, and shouts of “Cheat!” and “Thief!” were heard. Godric’s voice carried over the others: “Are you insulting my honour?”
In seconds, the tavern had erupted into violence. Yells of anger and pain mixed with the sound of breaking jugs and upended tables as men, seemingly unaware of the grievance, joined in on the fight. A jug flew past Helga and shattered on the wall behind them; with a start, she cowered as best she could underneath the table. Rowena, in a similar position, risked a glance across the tavern to see several armed knights advancing on Godric.
In one swift move, Salazar leapt to his feet and crossed the tavern, taking his place at Godric’s side, but no sooner had she seen this than she had to duck to avoid a stray dagger that buried itself in the thick wood of the table, only inches from her fingers. She looked up to see Helga’s terrified face before scanning the room, looking for an escape route. The path to the rooms beyond was clear enough, and Rowena seized Helga’s wrist, dragging her to her feet and pulling her across the tavern and into the relative safety of their room.
She left Helga there, peering cautiously around the corner to see Salazar and Godric fully involved in the brawl. Godric was using his fists; Salazar, meanwhile, was bewitching objects to hurtle towards his attackers without use of a wand or incantation. Though aware of Salazar’s powers, Rowena had never seen them in action before, and watched on with awe and trepidation. There would be no sleep had in the inn tonight, and she and Helga slipped outside to ready the horses.
Once they were prepared for flight, Rowena bade Helga stay with the horses while she re-entered the tavern, searching valiantly for the men. Salazar was still by Godric’s side, now wielding a sword with surprising proficiency, however the clash and scrape of metal on metal set Rowena’s teeth on edge. It would only be a matter of time before there was serious injury.
Keeping her wand concealed within her sleeve, Rowena raised her arm and sent a spark of light towards the ceiling. It would have been unnoticed by anyone who wasn’t looking for it, but Salazar spotted her beside the door, nudging Godric. Now she had their attention, it would be easier for them to get out. She pointed her wand at the floor, and the floorboards between her and the men began to buckle and creak. The brawlers leapt aside in alarm, and Godric took his chance, bolting down the path she’d created. Salazar followed, sending his attackers flying with a mere flick of his fingers.
“Sorcery!” someone shouted. “Sorcery, it must be!”
Salazar grabbed her hand as he passed, nearly pulling her off her feet. They reached the horses, spurring them into a gallop and flying down the main road out of town.
They maintained a blistering pace for a good hour, lest anyone from the inn tried to follow them, until Godric bade them slow down.
“I hope you’ll forgive me for the danger I placed us all in,” he said in an uncharacteristically quiet voice. “Salazar, I thank you for your assistance. We may not see eye to eye, but in standing with me you have proven yourself a man of valour. I would be proud to call you friend, if you would accept the title.”
Without waiting for a response, he turned to Rowena. “Lady Rowena, I offer my thanks in protecting Helga, and your assistance in our escape. You are a lady of stout heart and nimble wit.”
“I fear we have been quick to judge, and slow to befriend,” Salazar replied. “Perhaps it is time to reconsider. Godric, I accept your offer of friendship, and hope our travels will be less frought with tension from now.”
Helga was strangely quiet as the night wore on. She seemed uneasy with the darkness, staring furtively about her and keeping a tight grip on the reins.
“My chatter irritates you, does it not?” Helga asked Rowena at length.
“Somewhat. Though now I’ve become accustomed to it, your silence worries me.”
“I am apprehensive, that’s all. Those men at the inn saw we had magic.”
“There are many miles between us and them. They are drunk; they would not have made any attempt to chase us.”
“Will we truly not have to hide anymore, once we get to Scotland?”
“That is our hope.”
“Do you believe it?”
“I must believe it. I would never survive otherwise.”
“You left family behind.”
Rowena glanced at her sharply. “How do you know that?”
“I see it in your eyes. I may be dumb in every other sense, but I understand people. How long have you known Salazar?”
“Not two weeks longer than you.”
“Why do you introduce him as your brother?”
“To avoid suspicion. And because this world is not one that understands why a woman would travel across country with a man whom she has no romantic involvement with.”
“Something I understand well.”
“I was under suspicion for being a witch in my village. Nobody had proven anything, but hearsay is enough for one to be put to death. I knew Godric as a childhood friend of my older brother, and he rescued me – ran away with me, I suppose. He told me he had magic – he was the only other person I’d ever met who did. I love him dearly and he is fond of me, I know – but we are not as we appear.”
“Not as you appear?” Rowena repeated.
“I have not lain with him,” Helga replied bluntly. “Nor will I, until we are married.”
“How old are you?”
“I have sixteen years.”
“Why let people believe you to be a whore?”
“For the same reason you let them believe you are a commoner. For safety.”
“What do you know of my background?”
“You are nobility. That much is obvious by your bearing. I don’t know your identity.”
“My name is Ravenclaw.”
Helga was silent. “You are royalty,” she said at length.
“You must swear on your life to keep this to yourself.”
“You have my word.”
Helga shivered, wrapping her cloak tighter around herself and falling silent once again, leaving Rowena to her realisation that she had thoroughly misunderstood the girl.