Chapter 14 : Devil in the Details
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As she considered an expensive fig, her father came down the spiral staircase.
“Good morning, Helena! Do you have plans for the day following breakfast?”
“No,” she said, offering him a tired smile. “Why do you ask?”
“I would like for you to meet with me in the hall after you finish your meal.”
Helena was struck with a sense of fear at his request. She worried that he had set up a reconciliation meeting between her and her mother, something for which she was not yet prepared. Holding back a sigh, she stood up. “No, let us go now. I have eaten my fill for now, and the food will not spoil should I decide to return afterwards.”
“Excellent!” Witter exclaimed. He put an arm around her tenderly, guiding her along to the main room in their castle. As soon as she passed through the doorway, Helena realized she’d been mistaken. Rowena was not there; she must still be upstairs in her chambers, actively trying to avoid human contact. Instead, a mixed group of servants and house elves stood in a line against the fireplace.
“Helena, my darling, I know that your spirits have been low in recent days, which is no way for a beautiful bride to appear. I yearn to see you smile again, and so I present you with a reminder of your upcoming marriage. You may have your choice of these servants to take with you when you leave our home for the Selwyns’ estate.”
Helena could not help but give her father the smile he so desperately needed. Like any wealthy young woman, she had need for servants to freshen up dresses that had been crammed into her wardrobe, style her hair, and sneak her bits of fruit and cheese well past dinnertime. But she sensed that Witter’s demonstration meant more than this—the servants would be a reminder of home, familiar faces in a strange new place. They would already know her routines, likes and dislikes.
She looked from one to the next, finding it difficult to choose. She had picked wildflowers with most of the young women, some scarcely older than her, as a little girl. As for the house elves, it had always been her privilege to name them, and she had learned their mannerisms well over the years even if they had rarely served her directly. She supposed she should also select a young man or two, just to provide assistance for any maintenance work and some healthy faux competition for Venn.
“I will take my two maidservants, Ainsley and Isobel,” she finally said, gesturing to the two girls standing patiently at the far left of the line. The sisters were barely as old as Helena had been when she had graduated from Hogwarts. Ainsley, the eldest, had chestnut hair that reflected the sun when she went outdoors and kind brown eyes. Her younger sister, Isobel, had inherited her father’s blonde waves and green eyes. At the sound of their names falling off her lovely tongue, the two girls smiled at Helena, nodding politely to her.
Helena glanced at the remaining servants. “I would like Kendrick as well. Eostre has always responded most kindly to his touch, and she will need someone to keep her healthy and clean once she is relocated to the marshland.” As she spoke, a handsome young man in his early twenties stepped forward, bowing slightly to Helena. The lady took in his dark hair and gray eyes with a girlish smile that she quickly concealed.
“As you like, daughter,” Witter said. “Would any of the elves be of use to you?”
“No, my husband-to-be will have plenty of them already in residence at his estate.” Helena had not grown particularly attached to any of the elves, and she saw no reason to take more than necessary. She looked forward to starting over afresh.
“So be it. Your chosen few will help you begin organizing your things tomorrow.”
“Thank you, my dear father,” Helena replied, embracing him and placing a kiss upon his cheek. “For today, I shall call upon Helga to come and assist me in my wedding plans.”
With that, she turned and moved back upstairs, immediately taking a seat in front of her writing desk. As she reached to move her bound copy of Tristan and Iseult, which was covering her supply of clean parchment, she noticed a letter laying against her inkwell. Her nimble fingers picked it up, smearing the fresh ink on the front just slightly and obscuring several letters in her name. She opened it, reading quickly through the neat penmanship, her eyes speeding along to the signature.
My son tells me that you and your mother are in a place of strife.
As I was never blessed with a daughter to make a lovely bride,
will you grant me the honor of helping to arrange your wedding?
With endless love,
Helena smiled, shooting the owl a sharp glance as it reached down to help itself from the small brass tray of food sitting on the windowsill. Then, she dipped her favorite raven’s feather quill in the inkwell, composing a reply to her ally.
The honor would be mine.
I will ride to your estate this afternoon, and we shall begin.
The air was unnaturally warm today, a hint of the spring that had seemed forever away during the past few frost-laden weeks. Helena was glad to have ridden her horse out to the Selwyns’ castle in lieu of a carriage, taken as she was with the gentle breeze and welcoming sunshine. As Eostre’s hoofbeats slowed to quiet in the courtyard, Helena dismounted smoothly and moved around back to meet Edeline.
As she turned the corner, her future mother-in-law greeted her with an embrace. The pair began walking amongst the flowerbeds, taking in all of the new blooms.
“There are so many beautiful flowers here, dear Edeline,” Helena remarked, walking slowly along the path and taking care not to drag the hem of her dress in the mud. As the two women traversed the garden trail, several house elves scampered from bed to bed, giving the flowers water and creating wet fingers of muck on the stone pavement. The falling sunlight caught the reflection of the moisture on the petals.
“Do you see any that you would like to include in your bouquet?”
“Yes, these,” Helena replied, gesturing to a small patch of speedwells. “They remind me so of my beloved family crest, and they will be a nice contrast to the orange blossoms. I cannot decide between catchflies and Parnassus grass for the white.”
“White?” Edeline inquired gently.
“Yes, to match my gown.” Helena smiled brightly. “You must see it; it is perfectly—”
“Do you mean that you are moving ahead with plans for a white wedding dress?”
Helena tried not to look disheartened. “Indeed, my lady.”
“You will look lovely in any hue, dear girl, and it will go nicely with the traditional orange blossoms,” Edeline offered. “I hope it bodes well for eventual grandchildren.”
Helena blushed brightly, wondering if Edeline had witnessed her passionate kisses with Venn one time too many. She quickly changed the subject. “I must say, Edeline, one of my greatest sources of intimidation in preparing to be wed is the thought of planning festivities for so many loved ones. I would greatly appreciate your help in reconciling my family’s list of invitations with those from my groom’s side.”
“Of course! Please, let us retire to the hall and discuss the matter over tea.”
Edeline and Helena entered the castle and seated themselves next to one another at the long dining room table. Helena’s eyes fell upon the empty seat at the head of the table. She briefly imagined herself sitting opposite it, the chair now occupied by her husband, a fire roaring in the hearth and an elegant meal spread out before them. She was still smiling when she realized that Edeline was speaking to her.
“I apologize, my lady, but your words did not reach my ears.”
“I only asked if you were still planning to hold the wedding at Hogwarts.”
“Yes, that is my understanding,” Helena replied. “But I have entertained private thoughts of moving it to a more intimate location. There is a beautiful wood near my home, with a lovely spring and green trees. There would not be room for many there.”
“It sounds very beautiful,” Edeline mused. “But you must know how many are looking forward to your union with my Venn. Since the death of poor Godric’s son, you two are the only heirs to the legacy of the Hogwarts founders. Do you understand why the wedding should be held at the site of their accomplishment?”
Helena nodded. “I suppose. Has my fiancé spoken on this matter recently?”
“No, but I am certain that he would agree. It would mean so much to Salazar.”
The younger woman looked back at the empty chair at the head of the table. Perhaps holding the wedding at Rowena’s beloved Hogwarts would help to appease her mother. Still, she felt disappointed to have been defeated so easily on the topic.
Edeline continued. “The selection of Hogwarts is also ideal for the guest list. Naturally, you will want to invite all of the nobles from your land and ours, and also those associated with Godric and Helga. Everyone must see how beautiful you look.”
Helena smiled, imagining a crowd of people rising to observe her grace and beauty as she proceeded down the aisle, just like Priscilla a few months ago. Her thoughts proceeded along with her, her imaginary eyes falling upon the handsome figure of her groom. He was waiting there for her in a scarlet jacket, smiling blissfully at her. “Yes, and only those closest to our families will join us for dinner after the wedding.”
“My dear, have you ever attended a wedding?” Edeline said, her smile fading slightly. “Everyone will want to witness your first dance with my son, and to break bread with you in celebration of your union. Why deprive them of such a blessing?”
Helena’s eyes fell to the table. “I apologize, my lady, I did not mean to offend you.”
“You have not, dear Helena, and never could,” Edeline said reassuringly. “You are young and have some unorthodox notions. I am here to help you sort them out.”
“I only feel as if my husband and I should work together to plan our marriage.”
“You are a noblewoman. There is, in truth, little to plan, only small details. Men never desire to be more involved than they must be, and that is very little, considering that your wedding—and marriage—will follow traditions as usual.”
It was shocking how words spoken in such a kind tone could hurt Helena so deeply.
“Do not worry yourself over this, my dear. Soon you and Venn will be together.”
Helena suddenly felt very claustrophobic. Edeline acted as if planning the wedding was a chore, when in reality Helena had dreamed of the day for years and years. Now that she finally had a face for her perfect groom, she was more excited than ever, even with the misery of her relationship with her mother clouding it slightly. A faint sense of discomfort rose in her chest as she heard the door close. Footsteps.
“Helena, are you all right?” Edeline inquired, looking upon her with a worried expression. With uncertain movements, she poised to stroke the girl’s hair.
She looked up, finding herself face to face with Venn. At once, her heart began to mend itself. Helena stood, smoothing her dress and putting a smile upon her lips. “My darling Venn! What an unexpected pleasure to see you.”
“It is interesting to see you as well. I have been out preparing a gift for you.”
Helena looked at him quizzically.
“I had planned to save it for the wedding, but our meeting today can be nothing but fortuitous.” He extended a gloved hand to her with a confident smile. “Come.”
Helena followed him outside, attempting to leave her worries behind with Edeline, and saw his horse waiting. The baron climbed onto the horse first, setting himself back into the saddle. Venn offered his bride his hand; taking it, she climbed aboard the horse, sitting in front of him. It was impossible to resist the simple ease of relaxing against his chest. When the horse began to travel with a gentle rocking motion, she almost felt like drifting off into sleep, returning to her girlish dreams.
After a few moments, the lady’s eyes fluttered open. “Where are we going?”
His voice came as a tender whisper directed straight into her ear. “I have a surprise for you. The journey will only be so long. In a moment, you will see it for yourself.”
Then, just as he had foretold, the path opened up and Helena could see the wide expanse of the Selwyns’ estate. The road they were on seemed to join with a hundred others, all of them cutting around the edges of endless, marshy fields. As they rode past the few servants still out working, the men and women humbly bowed their heads to the man who would soon take his place as their ruler. Helena imagined them bowing to her as well, the future baroness of Venn’s vast territory. She held her head up, the sunlight spilling into her hair, and looked ahead.
“Have you discovered the result of my planning?”
“No,” she replied, a smile gracing her lips. “I am beginning to feel like a dullard.”
“You could never be a dullard, fair Helena,” Venn replied, reaching around her and tugging firmly on the reins. The horse came to a stop. As her groom helped her dismount, Helena realized that they were standing at the intersection of several paths, none of which appeared to extend any further. Before her was a new-looking fence, and she could barely make out figures working on it at various points around the field that it enclosed. The tall wheat grass grew in solid ground, with little muck.
“We appear to have reached the edge of your estate,” she observed.
“That is correct,” Venn answered, getting off of the horse. “This morning, my love, the expanse before you was one of many fields, albeit the driest in my possession. There was nothing to distinguish it. The fence was installed this very afternoon, and I admit to you that I put in some of the posts with my own hands, as a demonstration of my affection for you.”
Helena looked at him, listening somewhat impatiently. A field? What unorthodox notion is this?
“When you are no longer a guest but a permanent resident in my home, you may journey to this sanctuary of quiet whenever you desire. No one will disturb you.”
“I am afraid that even my intellect cannot grasp your meaning,” she admitted finally.
“This is for your horse, Helena. It is yours and yours alone, much like my heart.”
Helena’s mouth opened slightly with realization. It was truly an unexpected gift, and yet it meant the world to know that he had paid attention to details of her life all along. In her mind, Helena returned to their first dance, to the moment when she told him how she loved to ride her beloved Eostre. He must have noted even the small moments in which her face showed her dislike of the muddy ground here. Venn was not only more intelligent that she had supposed; he had studied her.
“Thank you,” she murmured, smiling at him with a delighted surprise in her eyes.
“It is but a small token. I hope to offer greater gifts when we begin a joined life.”
Helena looked at him, sweeping her hair out of her eyes as the breeze picked up slightly around them, filling the satisfied silence. Venn moved to take the horse’s reins, to take her back to his castle and the mundane details of a traditional wedding. She stepped forward to follow him, but then she spoke up once again.
“Could I inquire about another favor, my darling?”
“Anything you wish, of course.” Venn adjusted the saddle, patting the horse’s neck.
“I feel a certain pressure from others around us in planning the day when we will make our courtship permanent. Though you have emerged as nothing less than the man of my dreams, I fear that the ceremony in which you and I are united will fall short of that which I have envisioned since I was a young girl.” Helena placed her hand softly upon his where it rested on the saddle. “I had hoped that perhaps you could speak for me, insist that I be given a louder voice in these preparations.”
He looked at her curiously. “I had not planned to participate in these formalities.”
“I beg of you, please consider my feelings on the matter. It would mean a great deal.”
“You wish for me to direct this process with my own voice?”
“Yes, I trust that you will communicate my wishes with perfect comprehension.”
Venn climbed into the saddle. “Helena, you must remember that I am poised to inherit all that you see here and more. I have been increasingly occupied with my inheritance. I do not have time to add to my own burdens with woman’s work.” He offered a hand to her once more. “I will speak to my mother on the matter. She cares a great deal for you, as you must know, and she will serve well as your advocate.”
Helena nodded, taking his hand and sitting still as they began to ride back toward the castle. Despite her future husband’s condescending verdict, she wanted to retain confidence in his soft tone and pleasant smile. She wished she could just lay back against him and enjoy the ride back to the castle, concerning herself with the wedding no more. Still, she could not shake the feeling that Venn was passing off her dreams just as easily as his mother, and in truth, her own. The idea troubled her. She had never anticipated that her almost-perfect suitor might not only fail to deliver precisely what she wanted but even show such a lack of interest in her request. In the context of her whirlwind romance, her marriage seemed frighteningly boring.
No, she thought, looking straight ahead. A good wife believes in her husband. Then, with her head held a bit too high, Helena settled back into the saddle—and her fate.
Hello, lovely readers! I’d like to thank CambAngst, patronus_charm, and ValWitch21 in particular for being such faithful reviewers of this story. There are so many wonderful people out there who help motivate me to write through those nasty periods of lacking inspiration, but these three deserve a special shout-out for surprising me almost daily with truly beautiful reviews. If I haven’t yet heard from you, here’s your chance—I’d love to get your feedback, and who knows, you could see your name in a future chapter!
A few notes about this chapter, as per usual: Ainsley means “one’s own meadow,” Isobel means “consecrated to God,” and Kendrick means “royal chieftan.” Tristan and Iseult was written by Joseph Bédier and published in 1900 under the title Le roman de Tristan et Iseut. However, it was inspired by the Tristan legend from medieval times, made popular by Thomas of Britain. As for Helena’s bouquet ideas, speedwells (also known as Veronicas) signify fidelity (particularly for females), white catchflies mean “I fall a victim” or betrayal, and Parnassus grass relates to the colors gray and bluish-green. All are native to Britain.
Naturally every story comes to an end eventually, and I’ve come to realize that I’m very attached to Venn and Helena and their tale. It’s shocking, because I thought this story would be such a challenge—and it is, but it’s one that I look forward to taking on with each new chapter. It’s become one of my favorites. That said, I’ve thought about the possibility of writing more in this world when this story is finished. We can’t really talk details until all is said and done, but I’d love to hear if anyone would be interested in such a project, which could take the form of a one-shot or potentially a longer story. I’d love to hear any thoughts you have about who or what you want to know more about, so please, won’t you share them with me in the little box below?
If you made it to the end of this author’s note, kudos. See you in chapter fifteen!
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