Chapter 1 : Chapter I
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An Account of Downfall
It had been raining when it had all really begun. Raining hard. As though the heavens had taken a sudden offence to the lush green meadows of the south downs and decided in a fit of spite to turn the entire region into brown soup.
Fortunately they were all wizards and witches here, or muggles in the know, and part of the team had done some clever charms work which effectively shielded their immediate surroundings from the torrent. One perk of having the charms and curses department on hand.
Ozymandias Stroulger had stood in that field, under that magical umbrella, on that day, and despite the weather Oz had been in an exceptionally good mood.
Oz was a wizarding archaeologist, a post-grad, working for the esteemed Professor of Archaeology, Dr. Gulliver Goshawk, at the London Wizardry & Witchcraft University (LWWU).
That day he was involved in the team excavating a 7th century burial mound of magical origin.
They had already been working at the site for a couple of weeks now. It was clear that whoever had orchestrated the construction of this burial place had known what he or she was doing. They’d had to pull their entire team of ancient charms and curses specialists out to carefully un-weave the delicate tangle of curses designed to forever protect the burial mounds’ inhabitant.
Esther Jones, professor in the charms and curses department, had been typically grumpy when her team had been called out to the site. She and her team had apparated there and Esther had not been impressed with the working conditions. Not being an archaeologist she wasn’t all that used to what conditions were like working in the field in the UK. She had not had to undergo an entire undergrad which was designed to harden its students to all kinds of weather conditions.
Instead Esther had arrived in smart clothes and a jacket.
Her vocabulary had been very colourful in the minutes following her impact with the mud.
It had still been pouring down on-site then. Archaeologists weren’t exactly chosen based on their charms skills.
“I told you to wear outdoor clothes.” Oz had said, reaching out a hand to help her up.
“Hence the jacket.” She had hissed.
Esther had then started barking out orders to her team. They were very efficient. A handful of PhD and post-grads were told to “do something about that foul weather!” The rest of them joined Esther at the burial mound, where they spent the next hour trying to understand the tangled web of magic.
“It’s a good thing you called us on-site.” Esther had told him later, during her coffee break. She had by this point in time managed to acquire a pair of wellington boots and a proper raincoat – probably from some unfortunate PhD student who had the same size as her.
“The whole things a mess,” she said. “If any of you had tried to wade through that with your typical lack of finesse there’d barely be enough left of the lot of you to fill a shoe box.”
Oz had frowned. “I take offence to that. I’ll have you know I have a great deal of finesse.” He replied, puffing out his chest slightly.
In his field of work he was after all required to handle some very fragile objects and excavate some highly sensitive sites.
Esther had grinned. They had been lovers once, the two of them, but those days were now over and they had settled easily into the roles of friends. Only a few drunken pub crawls had broken the pattern and resulted in a temporary reinstating of old intimacies.
“So how is it going?” Oz asked, nodding over in the direction of the burial mound where the rest of her team were still at work.
“It’s difficult.” She had replied with a frown, “Usually there are patterns when you weave fabrics of spells. You can pick out a handful of keystone spells and the whole fabric unravels once you’ve unpicked them. This here is complete and utter chaos. No pattern whatsoever. Instead we have to pick out each thread and unravel it individually, and some of the threads have traps which are triggered when you try to unravel them.” She shook her head and took a sip from her cup of coffee.
It took a few weeks for the team to fully dismantle all the exterior spells of protection.
Those had been stressful few weeks. Everyone on-site had to be on permanent standby, ready to evacuate if something went wrong.
Fortunately, bar Salome’s abrupt growth of an additional arm out of her stomach, Patricks sudden lack of genitalia, and Dr. Crumbs rapid gender reversal and subsequent amnesia (all three were now residing at St. Mungo’s for in indeterminate period of time), there had been no serious problems.
Oz could still remember what he had been wearing that day when they were ready to enter the burial mound. During his undergrad he had taken to wearing muggle clothes whenever he was out in the field. It was seen as the hipster thing to do and back then Oz had firmly viewed himself as being in the hipster camp. He wasn’t so sure what his specific style was now. Unless one could count whatever is on sale as a certain style. Anyway, as a remnant habit from his undergrad he wore wellington boots, dark green, which squelched loudly with every step he took; brown hiking trousers and a thick grey sweater. He had unzipped his raincoat, oversized – he’d gotten it cheap on sale as a student and they hadn’t had his size, and it billowed slightly behind him in response to a sudden breeze.
Next to him stood Annie Garrow, Dr. Goshawks new PhD student, who looked much more glamorous than he (she had clearly not been in the hipster group), though inherently unarchaeologist-like Oz thought – it was his opinion that an archaeologist had to look somewhat rough about the edges.
The burial mound had been a treasure trove. Whoever had created it had practically soaked the very ground with preservation spells and thus everything within the mound was as beautiful and perfect as the day it had been laid there. Including the cow pat Oz had managed to step in which turned out to be over 1000 years old. It has still been soft and moist. Ew.
The vast majority of the treasures within the mound were made of wood. Small wooden cutlery had lain in a woollen handkerchief in a wooden carved box with golden inlay in the carvings. Esther had said that the cutlery had been veritably sewn with layer upon layer of intricate spells within them.
“An entire PhD project could focus on identifying the spells in just one of these spoons!” She had said with awe evident in her voice, as she cradled a little spoon in one gloved hand, holding it more gently than she would’ve a baby.
Intricately carved sculptures of what appeared to be very short soldiers lined the edges of the mound. Esther told him that they had been part of the protection spells on the mound, set to come to life and attack any intruders.
In the centre of the treasure trove was a small bed. It was wooden and plain in comparison the surrounding treasures. Upon it lay a creature so perfectly preserved that Annie actually squeaked when she saw it. The creature wore woollen clothing, incredibly elaborate for the time, of royal blue and forest green. A circlet was around his head. In its hands it held a scroll.
It was a house elf.
The life of an archaeologist is, unfortunately, not all play and no work. The cataloguing of the finds loomed drearily on the horizons of Oz’s schedule. Paperwork. Gah. He had taken a practical degree for a reason!
He played idly with the idea of fobbing his share off on Annie. That’s what PhD’s were for weren’t they? They were minions to their academic superiors.
He sighed, mentally discarding the tempting idea. He didn’t want to ruin any meagre chances he might have of getting her to agree to going out to the pub with him later.
He lifted his head slowly from his desk. His chocolate brown hair, which incidentally was in dire need of a trim, was dishevelled from his on-desk nap. A power nap, he liked to tell the other post-grads in the shared office, is vital for the mind! Oz rubbed a hand across his face, trying to wipe the sleep from his eyes. He could feel the imprint of his laptops keyboard on his face. He grimaced. How attractive.
He’d been up most of the night trying to get started on the dullest of all jobs, catalogue some of the finds. He powered up his laptop again and restored his previous internet session. He frowned at the numerous tabs open. Facebook, tumblr, youtube, twitter. Surely he hadn’t spent all night procrastinating? He opened his cataloguing document and groaned at the sight of its contents. Or rather the lack thereof. There was a title, a date. That was it.
There was a knock on the door. Oz quickly angled his laptop slightly to the left, so whoever stood at the door would be unable to see his embarrassing lack of work, and looked up with what he hoped was an exterior which looked suitably studious.
Gulliver opened the door, peering suspiciously at Oz through rimless glasses. He snorted at Oz’s look of feigned concentration.
“As impressive as your acting skills are, I know from Angus that you were passed out on your desk not five minutes ago.”
Oz frowned, mentally vowing to reclaim his honour by challenging Angus to a drinking duel at the pub.
“Anyway,” Gulliver said, a smile on his face, “Your PhD involved translations of some old Latin texts, right?”
“Indeed it did.” Oz replied.
“Well Oz, you’re in luck. The departments’ Latin literature specialist is currently on maternity leave, so as it turns out you are our current in-house Latin expert. Congratulations. I’m going to need you to do some translations of some of the texts from the site.”
Gulliver cast his gaze across the stacks of paperwork surrounding Oz’s office corner. “I’ll get Annie to take care of your share of the cataloguing.” He said, grinning at Oz, a twinkle in his eye. “After all, what are minions for.”
The finds were currently being stored in the basement of the department, excepting objects which Esther had deemed too risky to move due to the nature of the charms woven into them. The basement contained a series of labs and cool, dry storage rooms. It was in one of these storage rooms Oz had been sent to.
A small desk had been set up in one corner of the room. Oz sat by that desk, hunched over the scroll which had been found in the hands of the dead house elf. He wore latex gloves, dermagrip. To his right on the desk was his iPad, currently open on a Latin dictionary which he used occasionally for the odd word which threw him.
The scroll was made with incredibly fine workmanship. The paper was smooth and creamy, the writing fine and elegant. It was bordered with unfamiliar swirling sigils and symbols. They moved and twisted into and out of shape. They were scarlet in colour, and the idea occurred to Oz that it might not be too far fetched to suppose that this was some ancient form of blood magic.
The top of the scroll bore a word written with gold lettering.
Today at the conclusion of strife between Aelfadl & Man the undersigned have come to an accord as to the penance which the Aelfadl, henceforth known as Hostio aelf, must pay.
So shall your punishment be: Your lives are forfeit and ye must henceforth and forever serve wizard-kind.
Oz let out a low whistle. The very words seemed to pulse with magic.
He ran his fingers through his messy hair, eyes wide open in wonder. Could this document possibly be referring to the beginning of house elves? The word ‘Aelf’ was an old form of the word elf. ‘Hostio’ was latin for ‘to make even’. Hostio. House. Was it such a leap of imagination?
Could the burial mound they had discovered possibly be the resting place of the last free elf King?
My first piece written for a challenge.
Hope you enjoyed it. I've had this idea mulling around in my head for a while now so I certainly enjoyed finally getting it written down.
Constructive criticism and happy reviews are always much appreciated :)
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