Chapter 3 : Chapter two
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The Earl Ceinnech of Buchan was a very pragmatic man. He was a successful politician, working for the King under the pretence title of a King’s Herald. In truth, he was the wizarding representative at Court, and given the fact that it had taken him years to reach this position of power, the last thing he needed was a scandal at his own castle. Only seven years old, his daughter Rowena knew no boundaries and even less respect. The Earl would have very much liked to ignore this unfortunate occurrence, as he had for the past 3 years, ever since his daughter’s first display of magic, but he could do this no longer. Rowena was drawing curious glances from the entire household, and the Earl knew that had he not been as revered and feared by his household (as well as his frequent use of memory-obliterating spells), she would have long been deemed a witch by now, oddly enough.
No, he needed a handle of the situation, and he needed it now. Something had to be done. The Earl had no sons, a vagabond brother he would gladly pretend did not exist, and had virtually no friends. There was only one man he could turn to, and as much as he disliked Lord Slytherin and his way of practising magic openly, he needed his help desperately.
The narrow path leading to the Thetford Castle was damp from the rain. The rain had stopped sometime in the morning, and was now followed by a small drizzle. He had passed the river a few minutes previously, and he knew the Castle was not far. The Earl had planned on apparating closer to the motte, but his memory did not serve him well, and he had missed the Castle by a mile. He pressed on towards the Castle and soon reached the twin ditches of considerable height and depth.
Thick mist had descended upon the hillside, engulfing the Castle, barely showing its front door. It was not a big castle, the Earl remembered, in fact, it was barely even called a castle. It had no servants, just house-elves. Had it not been for the tall hillside, the fortification and the deep ditch, it could be taken easily. But Lord Slytherin was no fool. The Earl knew that there had been put powerful magical protections around the hill, there was no doubt about that. He knew that the only reason he was able to find it was because some of the protection had been lifted for his arrival. No wizard alive knew protective spells as well as Slytherin, the Earl mused.
As soon as he neared the ditch, the wooden bridge lowered, the clank of the chains ringing down the motte, echoing back from the mists. It soon revealed the enclosed courtyard, or bailey, and there stood Lord Slytherin, garbed in finest wools and garments of emerald green, closely accompanied by his wife. The Earl scoffed under his breath as he approached them. No wife could stand equal to her husband, and yet there she was, audaciously equal to her Lord and husband. But she was of Avalon, the Earl remembered, and those women from that Isle were not known for following common rules; they were vile and inappropriate.
After the formal greetings between the men, followed by the Earl’s barely visible nod to Lady Slytherin, the three of them entered the Castle. The smell of food made the Earl’s stomach rumble even before they reached the Great Hall, and once they did, he noticed the roasted chicken, the boiled potatoes and the seasoned wine.
They all ate, making small talk. There was no music, and the Earl could hear no other sound save the clanking of plates they made, and the echoing of their voices. If he listened carefully between two bites he would hear the turn of the wind, perhaps the flap of a bird wing and the creak of the fire burning steadily in the Great Hall’s hearth. Otherwise, it was eerily quiet.
Once they were finished, the food and the plates disappeared, leaving only the wine and their cups on the table. The Earl waited the Lady to leave; after all, this was not a woman’s business.
She remained seated, giving him a daring, and rather infuriating smile.
Lord Slytherin finally decided to break the intense silence.
“How did the treaty go?” he finally asked, taking a sip of his wine. He was referring to the goblin’s rebellion after their King, Ulric had died. Now, his two sons were fighting over the title.
The Earl shook his head in the air of someone who has been wearied by politics, when in truth, he had only been dealing in the King’s affairs for little over a year. “Dismal, my friend,” he said, although they were far from friends. “Dismal! I could barely convince them to sit on the same table, let alone make them talk.”
“Rongok the First and Rangok the Second are both as stubborn as goblins go,” Lord Slytherin nodded in agreement.
“And you have no idea how true that statement is. At least they finally signed the treaty, much good that is,” the Earl waved with his hand, leaning back in his chair.
“Yes, they are bound to continue fighting,” Lord Slytherin said. “That treaty would be thrown to the wind. There can be no two goblin kings, everyone knows that.”
“Alas, there has to be,” the Earl spoke, as if hoping that saying it aloud would make it true.
“And the terms?”
“Rangok the First rules York and south, and Rangok the Second north of York,” the Earl explained, and even as he spoke he knew that Slytherin was right. The north was much poorer with metal mines. Rangok the Second would never be happy with that arrangement.
“It will not last. Not under those terms. Not when Rangok the First gets the better mining sites,” Lord Slytherin seemed to be reading his mind.
“Peace between those two will not last under any terms,” the Lady Slytherin spoke for the first time. She seemed composed and at ease, but the Earl knew that she must have been dying to speak up. “You are wasting your breath and paper and ink. It cannot be.”
“Well, the treaty will hold them for now,” the Earl felt obliged to contradict her, even though he knew she was right. “Rangok the First has the better claim, and stronger force, so he gets the better of the arrangement. His brother would have to gather more goblins to his cause in order to break the treaty, or face losing the mining he already has.”
The Lady shook her head, ready to argue back, but then she changed her mind, and smiled pleasantly. Her long black hair fell in loose curls down to her small waist, as her dress of soft cloth moulded perfectly to her body. She was a beautiful woman, and that in addition made the Earl even more uncomfortable.
“In your letter you spoke of your daughter,” Lord Slytherin finally brought up the real reason for the Earl’s visit, who nodded, averting his eyes from the Lady.
“Yes. Yes, I did.” He took a deep breath, and exhaled heavily. “Rowena is barely seven years old, and she already has a mind of her own. She walks around the castle, performing tricks on the servants! A week ago I caught her stealing my wand and she confessed to it, saying she wanted to transform a goblet into a raven! She told me she had even been spying on ravens in the courtyard to be able to picture them vividly into her mind and do the spell! It’s impudent, and vulgar and –”
“- and ingenious,” Lady Slytherin finished, leaning towards the table, beaming.
“Ingenious?” The Earl seemed outraged. “I have to go around, performing memory spells on the servants daily!”
“You have Muggle servants,” Lord Slytherin reminded him sternly. “It was a risk you were willing to take. A vastly unnecessary risk.”
“An official of the King cannot have a servant-less household, and when I am entertaining other Court officials I must be sure that none of the servants performs a spell on them. It is a risky business, but a necessary one, nonetheless.”
“The child wants to learn,” the Lady spoke, trying to sound patient, but she sounded slightly angry. “You cannot stop a child’s curiosity, merely indulge it.”
“Well, I cannot indulge it,” the Earl was firm, now fixing the Lady’s gaze. “I do not have the time, or the nerves. And, obviously, she is a girl.”
“And she will grow up to be a fine woman one day,” the Lady Slytherin said. Apart from being annoyed, she was also offended. She was a witch, and a powerful one at that. Being a woman did not make her less magical. That ignorant coot was oblivious and stupid.
“Indeed she will,” the Earl agreed, “but until then I am afraid my hands are tied. I have no tact, or patience in the matter. Her mother was so different, if only she had been alive she might have known how to deal with this, but I –” the Earl stopped mid-sentence, and when he continued to speak, it was in a lower voice. “I have even contemplated placing her into a nunnery, but–”
“You will do no such thing!” Lady Slytherin interrupted loudly. She was livid beyond words.
“Of course I will do no such thing,” the Earl sounded offended, “but I had been forced to look for a solution.”
“A nunnery is hardly a solution for a young witch, especially a high born one,” Lord Slytherin reminded him. “She is no Squib.”
“That she most certainly is not.” There was a note in the Earl’s voice that Lord Slytherin did not like. It sounded almost as though the Earl thought that being a Squib was a better option for him and his political aspirations. He chose to ignore it.
“There are places and ways your daughter can learn magic and not disgrace you,” the Lord spoke, “you must know this.”
“She will not step a foot in Avalon,” the Earl was firm. He had thought about that and had decided against sending his daughter on that damned old Island.
“Better there than in a nunnery,” Lord Slytherin reminded him. “My own daughter is fostered on the Isle.”
“Never.” The voice in which the Earl spoke did not suffer any objections. He had decided. “However,” he went on in a tone of an experienced politician, learned to getting his way, “she could be fostered here. I would pay a fair compensation, of course,” he hurried to add.
The Slytherins had been prepared for such a turn of the discussion; they knew the Earl, and knew that he did not pay random visits for a mere advice.
“How fair a compensation?” the Lord asked nonchalantly.
“Fair enough to pay for best education and for the best living conditions. Rowena is accustomed to a rich life, and I must insist that she is continued to be brought up in such a way.”
Even though the Slytherins were decided on taking in the girl (the Lady Slytherin had insisted that they take Rowena for fostering, and her husband knew she was trying to compensate for the daughter she had sent away to Avalon), they had to appear as if they were being persuaded.
“If I had it my way, she would be taught basic spells and home charms, knitting and such womanly matters,” the Earl continued, much to the Lady Slytherin’s dismay, who was already looking at her guest as if he were a foul dog leaving filth on her table, “but that is not the life she is meant to have. If she can be taught obedience, all the better. I expect her to marry a wizard of my choosing one day.”
“As is her duty,” Lady Slytherin spoke poisonously.
“Indeed,” the Earl pretended not to notice. “Until such a time, I would that she stayed here. Is that possible, or do I have to look for another option?”
“No, she can stay here,” the Lord nodded. “She will want for nothing, that we can guarantee.”
The Earl nodded, pleased. That was one worry off of his back. Then, he asked: “You have a son, yes?”
“Two,” the Lady contradicted him. “Salazar and Godric.”
“Oh,” the Earl opened his eyes in mild surprise. “I thought one was a fosterling.”
“Yes, Godric,” the Lord continued, “but he as good a son as Salazar is to us. We do not distinguish between the two.”
“Unless it concerns heritage,” the Earl reminded them. “And why shouldn’t it? Unless his parents are powerful and can provide?”
This curiosity touched upon an old wound deep within the woman. She had been angry before, but this little and seemingly innocent remark burned tears of rage in her big dark eyes. She dared not even look at the Earl of fear of clawing at him.
“There has been talk,” the Earl continued in an air of indifference, but no one present believed that, “that your fosterling comes from an old and royal line of Avalon.” He stopped, and studied the faces of his hosts, but he could read nothing from them. Lord Slytherin was as cold and composed as ever, and the Lady, while not exactly answering his question, seemed ready to curse him.
“Whose talk?” The Lord asked.
“No one important,” the Earl waved his hand, making a visible effort to smile. “I was simply wondering –”
“You are very much mistaken if you believe I will divulge unto you any political or any other information about Avalon, or my son, for that matter,” the Lady spat, and her voice shook violently as she spoke.
The Earl gave a small bow towards the Lady as he rose from his seat, closely followed by Lord Slytherin. The Lady remained seated.
“I should part,” the Earl said. “Once again, thank you for accepting Rowena to be fostered here, I am immensely grateful. I shall send her here as soon as possible.”
With that he left the Castle, and then apparated. The Lady was watching him from one tall window from the Great Hall, sending silent thanks to the Goddess for it. She did not wish to spend any more time with that foul man. He was bringing out the worst in her, and now memories she refused to remember, feelings of betrayal she had buried were surfacing with such a force that she was unable to control them. The way her own sister had sent her off of her home, given her to a man she barely knew then, like a mere cattle.
She had hated it here, had hated her husband, had hated the empty Castle with nothing but gloom and dark. Some of that hatred was still there, and would probably remain, there was nothing she could do about that. But then Morgaine had been born, and she could suppress her hate, and direct all of her feelings towards loving that child. That had not lasted for long. Morgaine never cried, nor was she a noisy child. Other parents would bless the Gods for such a gift, but not her, because she knew, from the moment that the little black haired girl fixed her with such a gaze that had made her uneasy, Morgaine was no ordinary child, even in wizarding terms. So, she feared her. She feared her own daughter, and distanced herself from the little child. She always loved her, but was relieved when her sister, the Lady of Avalon, had taken her away.
Then, she realised that she missed the little child more than she had thought she would, and for some reason that had come to her as such a surprise that she could barely believe it. And it shouldn’t have had, because she was a mother to her as much as she was to Salazar, even to Godric. But those two never frightened her as much as that little girl did.
“Elena?” her husband’s voice had banished her flowing thoughts. She turned around to face his inquisitive stare. He only used her name when there was no one else, and that made her smile. She had learned to love this tall and handsome mad, past his youth but not old, with greying hair and trimmed beard in the Roman fashion. And yet, despite his years, which were nearing fifty, he moved with grace and elegance and strength. And he had loved her from the day he had laid eyes on her.
“I hate that man,” she finally spoke, her voice breaking. It was as if this very statement had weakened her, for she slumped against the window, holding herself up with her hands on the sill. “That foul, evil, disgusting man and I do not want his whelp in this house!”
This came as a hard blow to Lord Slytherin. They had already agreed to taking the Earl’s daughter, they could not decide otherwise now, and his wife had to know this. But she was angry, angrier than he had ever seen. In fact, anger was something she rarely showed. She had been grieving when Morgaine was taken away, but she had never been angry. Finally, he spoke, taking a step towards her: “You know I cannot do that. My reputation –”
“Damn you and your reputation!” she walked past him and slumped against a chair, burring her face in her hands, sobbing like a child.
Her husband did not know what to do. Usually he was good with dealing with his, somewhat tempestuous, wife. But such a character was to be expected, she was of Avalon, after all, and if there was one thing they did teach the women there, it was to never be submissive to their husbands, or to anyone, ever. Fortunately, Elena was a smart woman and the Lord valued her opinion on all matters. But this was something he had not encountered before.
“Elena,” he spoke softly, taking the seat next to her, but careful not to touch her. “It is settled. It is done.”
“Then, keep that brat away from me, because if I see her, I - Goddess help me!” with these poisonous words the Lady got up, her face wet, and stormed out of the Great Hall.
Her father did not know it (or, if he did, he never showed it), but Rowena was a very unhappy child. She was always alone, for one thing. The servants were prohibited from approaching her on father’s orders. Rowena knew it was for her own good, because her father feared that she might accidentally do magic in front of them, but that still meant that she was utterly alone. Even her father was rarely home.
Growing up in the Cainnech household was never easy, mostly because it was so crowded that if Rowena wanted to try something new she had secretly learned, she would get scolded, maybe even punished. Last time she took her father’s wand to bewitch the cook’s soup (it had simply refused to boil, and the chunks of meet had bounced up and down the entire length of the kitchen) she was prohibited from leaving her chambers for a week, and was even made to weave, which she had always hated.
But it was not the constant chastising she got that she learned to hate; it was the way her father always evaded answering her most potent question ‘When was she going to get her wand and be taught magic?’
So, when her father told her that day that she would be fostered in Slytherin’s court she was happy beyond words, for she knew she would be taught magic. Rowena remembered Lady Slytherin – that beautiful woman – allowed to practice magic to her full desires.
And yet, why did her eyes fill up with tears as she was packing? Why could she not look at her father directly as he accompanied her to the Slytherins? And why, by God, could she not stop weeping silently as she watched him leave the Great Hall, Lord Slytherin taking her hand and showing her to her room.
It was already dark outside when a small house-elf entered her room. Wobee, it was called. The elf offered her food. Rowena refused. She went to bed, barely falling asleep. The next day the elf came again, and Rowena refused, again. And she would have continued refusing, until two boys, older than her, entered the room. They looked like they were sneaking in.
“What are you doing here?” she asked. She was sitting on her bed, but was now crawling towards the edge.
“Who are you?” the older one asked. He was tall and blond and just short of manhood.
“I’m Rowena Cainnech,” the girl answered proudly. “And you? Who are you?”
“I am Godric, and this is my brother Salazar,” the older boy answered, pointing towards the shorter, dark haired one, who had the ill look of a sickly child, underdeveloped for his years.
“You’re lying,” the words came out before Rowena could stop them. Why on Earth had she accused them of lying?
“Foster-brothers,” Salazar corrected the older boy, boldly holding Rowena’s gaze. “What is the difference, in any case?”
Rowena shrugged, and shifted her head from one to the other, judging them both from head to toe. Were they real, proper wizards? They could not be, for they were too young. But they were being taught, surely. Like she would be, she thought with a jolt.
“Where did you get your wands?” she blundered before having the time to think out her words. She was nervous.
“Got them off of Olivander’s, of course,” Godric replied yet again. “You?”
“She is too small for a wand,” Salazar spoke in the same moderate tone. His voice was just as small as his appearance.
“I am not too small for a wand, I am almost as tall as you are, and I bet I can do a whole lot more magic than you can,” Rowena spat, angry at the boy.
“And what is it exactly that you can do?” Salazar challenged.
Rowena was not confused, and answered the moment Salazar had finished the question.
“Once I made the meat bounce off of the kitchen walls, the other times I did not let the soup boil, and I can change a cup into a raven,” she bragged, realising her answer was only half true; she had never really tested the last spell, but they did not need to know that.
“And where did you get your wand?” Godric asked again.
Rowena sulked. “I did not. I have no wand. I used my father’s.”
“Well then, I am certain Father will get you a wand,” Godric smiled. He seemed pleased to hear this girl could do magic. “Olivander’s is the best, you know.”
Godric proved to be right. She did get a wand. And what a wand it was!
Learning came easily to Rowena, just as it did for her two foster brothers. She loved them dearly, and they loved her back. Perhaps it was because she reminded them of their sister, Morgaine who was in Avalon. Or perhaps it was because they knew they were destined for something great, as well as eternally bound to one another.
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