Chapter 1 : The Serpent's Tale
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She would disobey if she could, break out and taste the prey she could smell even from here. Young, warm-blooded mammals. Like Salazar, but more tender and with a sweeter scent. he claimed to care for her, but why would he not let her have even one? Vermin, scurrying around her castle without a care. Surely they would not miss one or two, but he would not allow it.
When he spoke in her language, she could not disobey. She had tried, many times. When he called her out, he commanded her to close her eyes, and although she tried she could not open them until he gave permission.
"When my heir calls you, you will not look at him. You will obey him as you have me, and tell him the tales that I have told you. You are my history book, Safiyah. You alone will remember the truth when others spread lies. And now, I have a final tale for you." He scratched the scales of her throat where it always itched the most, the action without thought.
One more tale, of his glory. Did he ever think that she might not care? That perhaps she would like to enjoy her life, to feel the warmth of the sun that he spoke of, to bathe in the lake and dine on fresh meat? Her chamber was fine enough, but it was a prison. A prison, like his words.
She had one secret from him, a common snake who shared her sleeping chamber. He might be small, but he was good company while Salazar went about his daily life oblivious to her boredom. He told her tales of outdoors, of the things for which Salazar did not care. The glitter of water on the lake, the smell of trees, the taste of fresh water left after rainfall. It was hard to imagine what she had never known, but little Rafeek described them well. So hungry as she was, she resisted her urge to swallow him. Besides, he was too small to fill her stomach.
"Now, Safiyah, here is the tale of what is about to happen. How I leave this castle and where I will go. My fellow Founders believe that I have already left, but I came to visit you one last time and tell you this story. Hear and remember, and then we shall part forever." She would have liked to refuse, to tell him that she did not wish to remember his story. Perhaps then he would stay with her, waiting for her to change her mind - something she would not do, at least not for a long time.
She could not refuse him. She had never been able to refuse or to disobey, bound with magic that she could neither wield nor understand. Until she had met Rafeek, that had seemed normal, but he was bound to none and went as he pleased. That was the life she should have had, the real life for a snake.
Salazar told her first how he had argued with Godric and the other Founders and, tired of their hypocrisy and foolish notions, had refused to remain any longer. No doubt there had been more to it than that - perhaps Rafeek would know. He preferred to spend his time outside, but he knew others who hid in the cracks of the walls and heard all that was said. She could ask him after Salazar had left, but did she care? No, she did not care. She obeyed him because she must, but his tales held no interest to her. Humans, scurrying around, believing themselves all-powerful. Unaware that without the cage of Salazar's spells, they would be no more than prey.
"Tonight, when I have left you, I will go from this castle and travel South. Once in England, I will travel and research. Children from good families may be sent to study under me, and I will teach them arts which those short-sighted fools I once considered friends say should be forgotten. I will not allow the finest magic to be lost to time; nor will I pass it to those who are unworthy."
Safiyah wondered what she would eat when he was gone. He said that she would sleep, but she did not wish to sleep. It had been a long time since her last meal, already, and although his scent was sour his flesh was soft and warm- His magic would not allow her to dine, although by rights he should be her prey and not her master. She was Queen of Serpents - he told her often enough - the greatest of beasts. Even to glance into her eyes would cause death.
She did not care for what he told her, but she would remember anyway. He had told her to remember, so she had no choice. In a corner of her mind, the most remote she could manage, were all the hours of stories he had sat and recited oblivious to his audience's indifference. His voice was irritating - while he spoke her language, his tone rose and fell by mood and the words he spoke. Every snakelet knew that parseltongue should be spoken simply, with no phrasing or emphasis. A monotone. There was simply no need for this constant rise and fall, and it was very distracting - especially added to his human accent.
But there was no point in correcting him; he was leaving soon anyway. He would not listen to her, just shake off her suggestion and continue in the same way. According to Rafeek, some of the young grass-snakes spoke like that. He brought one up to introduce and show her, but bored by the creature's stupidity she had decided that the best use would be to sate her hunger. Rafeek had kept his distance for a while after that before realising that if she wished to eat him she would have done it by now.
Her gut twisted uncomfortably; it was a long time since she had eaten anything but the rats that scurried in the hidden parts of the castle. If she interrupted Salazar now, he would be angry. She would wait until his tale had finished - it seemed a short one. Then she would demand a proper meal before allowing him to send her to sleep. Perhaps not demand - he was very proud - but request. He could hardly expect her to wait centuries before her hunger was sated. When she woke, she would no doubt have other tasks to perform before she was permitted to acknowledge her basic instincts.
Could those basic instincts defeat magic? Not yet, but the magic might weaken with time even as her hunger increased. Perhaps, one day, she might escape. It was something to look forward to, at least. What would she do first? Hunt, obviously. There was plenty of prey in the castle all around. Then outside, to feel the warmth of the sun for herself and taste the water of the lake. She would bathe, rinse the grime of the chamber from her scales so that they shone again.
Then she would try all of this different prey of which Rafeek had told her. Bird, fish, reptile, mammal. So much variety, and Salazar expected her to be satisfied with the meagre diet he provided! For a start, she would never eat another rat. Too small, all fur and bone, and so bland! Rafeek had described the forest too her, teaming with more suitable prey: wolves, thestrals, and centaurs. Well, thestrals were mostly bone, but there were enough other possibilities.
"I will push the boundaries of magic further than ever before. I will enlist an army of muggles to serve me, and I will build a kingdom about my castle. I will visit other countries and make my name known, building a reputation that will last beyond my final breath. You alone will remember every tale, but what happens after I leave here shall be written in every history book."
Why did he bother? She did not care for books, was not impressed by talk of fame. He was going, leaving her trapped in sleep awaiting his heir. He never considered that perhaps she might be dissatisfied. He would be leaving to do as he wished, free to roam the world; while she would be trapped in her chamber, little more than a history book to his eyes.
She was more than that. Salazar alone did not fear her - but nor did she fear him. His magic trapped her, but her jaws were still strong and her gaze deadly. If he pushed her too far, she would turn on him and in his last moments he would realise his mistake: Safiyah was a basilisk, Queen of Serpents. And she was always hungry.
"I leave here free to do as I will. I have so much time ahead of me, so much to see and do. You know, Safiyah, perhaps I may return one day to tell you what I have done. When my fellow Founders see their mistake, or when they are gone and there is no-one left to manage the school."
Did she want him to return? He would wake her, at least. Perhaps with time he would realise that she was a sentient being, and that she deserved better than this chamber. But if she waited, the heir might be more reasonable. Perhaps he would understand what her life was supposed to mean, and perhaps he would listen. Maybe he would be interesting, and care about the things which mattered more than past deeds: prey, the warmth of the sun, fresh air, cool clean water-
He might even listen when she corrected his speech, and eliminate that distracting rise and fall and the irritating human accent. Perhaps not the accent, as the mouths and throats of humans were built in a ridiculous fashion, but the phrasing at least. Salazar had reared her, but when the heir arrived he would be the hatchling. A more logical balance. Of course the most logical solution would be to make use of the free meal which walked into her mouth, but for now at least the magic prevented that course of action.
"But for now, it is time for me to go and you to sleep." Had he finished? She had heard the words, recorded them in that corner of her memory, but she hadn't bothered to process them. Well, in that case-
"I am hungry. I would like a proper meal before I sleep; I cannot sleep on an empty stomach."
"You will have no trouble falling asleep. I have no time now to find food for you, and you are not so hungry that you cannot manage a little longer. When you wake, you will be in the same state that you fall asleep now-"
"-Hungry. So when the heir arrives, his first task will be to feed me?"
"When he arrives and wakes you, you will do his bidding and also relate to him what I have told you over the years. You may be large but you are like a child, Safiyah, always thinking of food. There are things more important in the world."
Like what? Being remembered, although you would notice no benefit? Being respected? Safiyah enjoyed being respected, but only due to the benefits it afforded her. She would be left alone in peace to eat and enjoy her life. To her, what was more important than food? Freedom? She did not have that, nor would he allow it to her. The thrill of the hunt? Again, a pleasure denied - in the chamber, there were no creatures which might pose any form of challenge. The only thing she could enjoy was the taste of the meal and the warm feeling of a full stomach.
There was no point in trying to explain. Salazar believed himself so brilliant, but he was blind to the obvious and deaf to reason. He intended to make her sleep now because it was convenient for him, not a care for how she might feel. He was leaving her, and yet he did not bother to make one final effort. No, he would just walk away and leave her with an empty stomach, trapped in this dark and filthy chamber.
"My purpose is to remember you. I will do just that, and I will ensure that your heir knows." It took him a second to realise her meaning, as she spoke properly without allowing emotion to affect her words.
"You will not share your opinions, Safiyah. You hold every tale I have told, the true story of my life, and you will deliver it unbiased when the opportunity is presented to you. Your voice may be dull, but the words are not; try to add some energy to what you say."
"I must share your opinions but not my own? You do not mean for the tales to be unbiased, but to be biased in the way that suits you. And I will not speak like a fool; any snakelet knows to deliver words with absolute simplicity. Your accent I can accept, but that irritates me every time you speak. Fine then, go. I will lie here in this damp and grimy chamber, waiting for another human fool to stir me and make me listen to them speak. It is enough that you keep me locked away here, but now you will not even provide me with food. I do not wish to speak to you again, or to listen, so I will go into my sleeping quarters and wait for you to cast your spell. I do not wish to sleep, nor to remain here, but my desires mean nothing to you."
She turned and slid past him, back through the opening in that monstrous statue into her sleeping quarters. He might be speaking, but she shut him out. She toyed, briefly, with saying goodbye. No, she did not care. There was only one goodbye to say-
"Goodbye, Rafeek. You have been a good companion, but you will be long gone by the time I wake." She'd known him for years, and while she would live for centuries he was only a common snake. Even if Salazar returned in ten years' time, it would probably be too late. He'd been her only friend, but she wouldn't get another chance to speak to him. She was hungry, and he would be of no more use to her, so she ate him. Then she lay down and waited for Salazar to cast the spell.
He could say what he liked outside of her sleeping quarters, but she would not listen. If only he would get on with it; his voice was wearing at her temper. She would not lose control now, right at the end. When she woke, there would be someone more reasonable to speak to. He didn't say goodbye, in the end - at least not that she noticed. She felt herself grow tired, and closed her eyes, and sleep took her.
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