Cleodna took it as Helga and Rowena had supposed she would. “Oh I’ll be so sorry to see you go,” she said warmly. “I have so enjoyed your company.”
“And we your hospitality,” Helga said, thinking of Cleodna’s art as a healer, and perhaps the bath house. “It has been wonderful to rest from the road, and you are an extraordinary witch.”
“You flatter me,” Cleodna said. “There is so much else I would like to discuss with you of healing. If you could only stay; you have as much to teach me as I you, but I understand, your road lies to the north, not into this place.” She turned to Rowena. “You know,” she said reflectively, “I would be honored if you were to choose a book from my library to take with you, as my gift.”
Rowena was dazzled. Ownership of books was rare, and she felt privileged to own one. The idea of owning two was dizzying. She was at a loss for words, which she hated.
Cleodna smiled. “I admit it, I’m not a true scholar, despite my library, not like you. To be honest,” she added confidingly, “I sometimes fear the books rather go to waste here with no one to appreciate them, read them, pass on their knowledge to younger witches and wizards.” Her eyes drifted to Emmeline, Cadogan and Aidan, who were at that moment using magic to have a spectacular water fight from a fountain.
Rowena rubbed her index finger on the bridge of her nose, watching the high-spirited play with mild disapproval. With access to such a library, she thought, those children should be spending every moment taking advantage of it, as she herself had been doing.
“I understand that your mysterious errand is one of honor, and I would never try to dissuade you from completing it, but is it an urgent matter, or could you perhaps stay some time longer? Learning is precious, and in turbulent times such as these, sanctuaries for learning are scarce indeed. Oh do forgive me, if you are truly ready to leave then of course you shall. I say these things because I myself wish you to stay.” She flicked a slightly disparaging glance at the childrens’ antics. “It would be a shame if you had to leave before Aidan mastered that exposition on Greek grammar; I know how eager you are for the children to get a basic grounding.”
Rowena considered. “Well, Aidan is coming along.” She looked inquiringly at Godric and Salazar. “It is a vanishingly rare opportunity,” she said persuasively.
“And I would like the chance to observe the entire distilling process of the bone knitting potion Cleodna has been brewing,” Helga said, “And that will take some days. Our errand isn’t urgent.”
“I thought we were resolved to depart,” Godric said a little mulishly.
Under cover of her wide skirts, Cleodna found Salazar’s foot with her own, and pressed it encouragingly. “A few more days can hardly matter I think,” he said complacently.
Just then Aidan ran to Cleodna’s side. He’d developed quite a fondness for her, and liked to be near her. He was almost dancing with delight. “I saw another grindylow in the pond! You didn’t tell me there was more than one!”
“You didn’t ask,” she said merrily, tucking his hand fondly into her elbow. “You didn’t use your wand on it did you?”
“No,” he replied regretfully.
“You’re to depart after all, she said sadly. His face fell. “But not until you’ve mastered that exposition you like so much, that one on Greek grammar.”
“That’s so boring! Can’t I study the book on Hebridean hexes?”
“That will have to be up to Mistress Rowena.”
Godric reached out and gave Aidan a solid thump on the head. “it’s Greek grammar for you my lad, and if I find you slacking off your studies I’ll hold your head in the pond till the grindyllows swim up your nose: you hear!”
“Aidan squirmed. “I hear,” he said, secretly pleased by Godric’s roughhousing.
“Helga,” Cleodna said rising, “I must see to the next stage of the distillation. Will you come?” As Cleodna passed, she brushed Salazar’s hand with hers. “I’ll be in the bath house before supper,” she murmured for his ears alone.
It didn’t take Cadogan long to discover the small armory. He was awash with excitement, and every morning found he and Godric in the courtyard practice-fighting. Godric was beginning to fear that Cadogan was irretrievably clumsy. Every day Godric drilled him in exercises for balancing the body, but they didn’t seem to help. The boy’s enthusiasm was limitless however, and Godric was patient, curious to see what persistence might achieve.
Helga was careful to be elsewhere when these lessons were taking place. This wasn’t difficult. Her work in Cleodna’s still room was absorbing, and they had an inexhaustible host of stories to share about maladies and injuries they’d cured, or failed to cure.
On one such morning, Cleodna looked at Helga with concern and said, “Your eyes are red. Are you not sleeping well?”
Helga looked away. “Well no, I’ve been troubled by nightmare. The day of the battle…, I tried to help as many as I could and…. It was terrible.”
Cleodna looked sympathetic. “I know,” she said quietly. “I have seen such things too in my years as a healer. It will get easier. Do your companions suffer likewise?”
“No,” Helga said, “At least I don’t think so. Rowena is so calm and controlled, and Godric, well, he said he once felt as I do, but that he, well, got used to it I suppose, just as you say.”
“yes, one can see that Godric is a man who’s experienced much in his life as a soldier.” Cleodna’s face clouded, and she hesitated, but then asked diffidently, “Do you think all is well between him and Salazar?”
Helga looked at her in great surprise. “Yes of course! What do you mean?”
Cleodna fiddled with her distilling equipment, looking ill at ease. “Perhaps I shouldn’t say anything. I just thought Godric seemed, well, I don’t know him of course, but I’ve heard you refer to him as a lively, merry sort, but he doesn’t seem particularly so to me. I just wondered if there was some difficulty between him and Salazar. I mean…, that is a great thing for Godric to forgive.”
“Forgive?” Helga asked, completely at sea.
“You know, Godric’s wound.” Cleodna looked suddenly shocked. “You knew of course.”
Cleodna looked uncertain now. “Oh dear, maybe I shouldn’t have said anything; It didn’t occur to me you had secrets from one another.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Oh no really,” Cleodna was fidgeting now. “You should ask Salazar…, I mean…, I shouldn’t….” She looked distressed. “I see so few people that I fear I’ve lost a sense for…, when to speak and when….”
“Cleodna, just tell me what you are talking about!”
Cleodna exhaled gustily. “Well, Godric’s wound, it was Salazar’s doing. I thought he’d told you, I mean the four of you are so close.”
“Salazar’s doing? Salazar takes up blade only to cut his meat unless he is forced to it. Godric was injured on the practice field, and the blade was poisoned, so that his wound didn’t heal properly.”
“Oh,” Cleodna said vaguely.”
“What is it?”
“That man’s hand didn’t slip by accident,” Cleodna said almost reluctantly. “Salazar made it happen with magic. He…, Godric wanted to fight, he didn’t care who. He was deeply troubled in his mind, and Salazar wanted a way to simply remove Godric from the field, to save him from a choice that might have destroyed him.”
“Salazar told you this?”
“No. We were speaking of Godric, and I…, I saw it in his mind. It is an ability that I can’t always control, and sometimes it shows me things I’d rather not see, and then sometimes I say things out of turn, as I have just done.”
Cleodna looked upset, and Helga was reminded forcibly of Odo, cursed to see too much and filter too little. She took a deep breath and let it out. “I didn’t know, and I’m sure no one else knew either. Godric will…, her face wore an arrested expression. “I know not what he will do.”
“I wish I hadn’t said anything,” Cleodna said, beginning to stack filtering cloths into a neat pile. “I’m sorry. Please try to forget it.”
“Forget it? How could I possibly do that?”
“Well at least say nothing about it. I don’t wish to be the cause of trouble.”
But Helga was deeply troubled. She detested knowing things that were secret. It had been the one dark spot on her friendship with Odo: the things he told her about others, which no one else, sometimes including the people themselves, knew. As she helped Cleodna to straighten things after their work, she puzzled over what to do. She wandered about until she found herself in the door of the library.
Salazar had taken on the responsibility of ensuring that Aidan was indeed working hard at his Greek Grammar. Pretending to be merely passing the time, but secretly studying with focused determination, Salazar spent his hours as Aidan did. Rowena, observing him in sidelong glances as she tutored the young ones, approved of his dedication. Though initially skeptical of scholarship, he seemed to have developed a true appreciation for it. Well, if he spent most of his time deciphering books of curses and hexes rather than treatises on philosophy or rhetoric, at least he was studying something other than Cleodna’s masterwork. Rowena flicked a contemptuous glance over at the book, which maintained its pride of place as the only permanent fixture of the table.
Helga passed on restlessly. She prowled around, thinking about what Cleodna had said. The druidess was right about one thing; Godric wasn’t his usual vital self. Surely he didn’t know, but shouldn’t he know?
She was startled by the sound of a harp being played in the music room. It didn’t sound like Godric, the only one of them who could play. Curious, she followed the sound. Peering in through the door, she saw, of all people, Emmeline, an expression of almost painful concentration on her face as she played a pretty ayr on the large standing harp. Helga let her eyelids drop and listened. The song wasn’t complex or elaborate, but the girl played it with admirable feeling.
When the song was finished, Godric, who sat near by, applauded. “That was beautiful! I had no idea you could do that.”
“It’s the only song I know,” Emmeline replied almost shyly. I sneaked into the music room of the knight Gervais sometimes, and one day the music master caught me. Instead of punishing me he offered to teach me if I promised not to let it get in the way of my work, and not to tell anyone. There haven’t been instruments around lately.”
“But there’s Helga’s harp! She’d be only too glad for you to play it.”
Emmeline was startled. “Oh no, not to play for people, I just like to do it for myself.”
“Well just as you say,” Godric said in his easy way, “But it’s a shame not to play at all when you can play like that.”
Emmeline felt colour come into her cheeks. She didn’t know how to react to Godric. He was a good looking knight that was sure, but he didn’t look at her the way knights usually did. He was kind, but in a way that made her feel confused.
Just then Godric looked around and saw Helga. “Ah,” I suppose you heard our secret harpist.”
Helga came into the room. “I won’t tell anyone if you don’t wish it,” she said to Emmeline, “But this harp is much larger and more beautiful than mine. It would be a shame not to play it if you could…, when we’re all off somewhere else if you prefer. I suppose that’s what you started out by doing?”
“Yes, Godric heard me and came, and persuaded me to continue. I’ll go now.” Bemused and embarrassed, Emmeline scurried away.
Helga flopped down with a sigh into one of the deep arm chairs.
“Still troubled by dreams?” Godric asked with a glance at her expression. “Well yes, but that’s not….” She sighed again, this one coming up by the roots.
“I’ve just had a disturbing conversation with Cleodna,” she said in her practical way. “She told me that she can see into the minds of others, as Salazar can do. She says it happens sometimes when she doesn’t expect it. She says she saw in Salazar’s mind that he was the cause of your wound. He wanted to keep you from fighting, and so caused the blade of your opponent to slip. He didn’t know the blade was poisoned, he only meant to….” Her voice trailed off as she saw the thundercloud forming on Godric’s face.
He sat quite still. Helga was suddenly reminded of the griffin, more specifically its lion aspect. With his golden hair, the leashed strength of his agile body, and now the expression simmering on his face, he resembled nothing so much as a dangerous cat in the moment before it springs. She watched in fascination as one of his baby fingers moved unconsciously, as a cat’s tail will twitch ever so slightly as it contemplates its prey.
Then, with the swiftness of a great cat he was on his feet. He strode purposefully from the room. Helga followed as he went into the armory. He chose a long dagger and an ax, turned on his heel, and went into the library. His thunderous expression brought immediate silence. He stood before Salazar and said authoritatively, “In the courtyard this minute if you please.”
“Godric,” Helga said warningly, but it was as though he couldn’t hear her. Without watching to see the affect of his words, he left them. Shrugging, Salazar rose and followed, the others trailing behind.
In the courtyard, Godric flung the weapons down and said formally to Salazar, “Choose.”
Salazar laughed aloud. “Choose what? What is this about?”
“It has become clear to me that you have no honor, but surely you are man enough to defend yourself: choose!”
“Godric I’m not going to fight you,” Salazar said, trying to keep his tone light in the face of Godric’s fury, “Tell me what this is about.”
Godric snarled, “This is about my wound, the wound that nearly killed me with fever, the wound I suffered on the practice field, the wound that I thought my fault, the wound that kept me flat on my back during the battle. Do you deny that you were its cause? Do you deny that you caused my opponents blade to slip?”
Salazar cleared his throat. “No, I don’t deny it.”
“Then choose your weapon and defend yourself, or are you too much the coward?”
Godric had deliberately chosen the most offensive words he could think of. Had someone questioned his own bravery they would have had a demonstration then and there, but Salazar wasn’t Godric, and so stood apparently unmoved, running fingers through his narrow beard. “It would not be courage that would make me fight you, but stupidity. You are my sworn friend, and a formidable fighter besides. I’m not going to fight you. But think Godric. If you hadn’t been injured, who would you have fought for? And if not for your wound, we would not have met Helga or Rowena. Do you wish you had fought with William’s army to invade your home? Do you wish you’d fought with Harold and been killed? Do you wish you still lived as a muggle hiding your true nature?”
Godric hissed through his teeth. “I give you three seconds to choose a weapon and defend yourself, or by all the gods I’ll choose one and…!” He lunged forward and seized the hilt of the dagger.
“Godric no!” Rowena shouted. She sprang forward and caught his arm. “You must not!” He froze in place with an effort that made his lips go white. “Whatever Salazar has done he did for a reason. I know you’re angry but you must not do this!” Her face was close to his, and she too was shouting in her distress. “He is your sworn friend, and you are mine. You cannot destroy what the four of us have made.”
“I?” He demanded incredulously, “I’m not the one who……., who lied, who manipulated….” Words failed him and he shook off her restraining hand, brandishing the blade in Salazar’s face. Even through his own fury, Godric registered that Salazar didn’t flinch.
“You speak of manipulation,” Salazar said implacably, but you yourself helped me to turn the wind so that William must wait to cross the channel. Was that not the same thing?”
“No it was not!” Godric said explosively. “You are my friend, or so I thought. You listened while I blamed myself for that wound and you said nothing. You deceived me, treated me like a child incapable of choosing his own actions. I don’t accept such treatment from my enemies, much less from someone who called himself friend.” Godric raised the dagger menacingly.
“Are you going to kill me?” Salazar asked calmly. “I stand before you unarmed.
Helga spoke from behind Godric. “Godric stop. Salazar is right. You were willing to shape events much more important than one man’s wound. You seized the winds and you enjoyed the power of it. Salazar may have acted unwisely, but he did so in your own best interest. None of us wanted you to bear the burden of which side to fight on in the battle, and all of us love you as our friend. How could you wish all of that undone?”
There was a terrible, tense silence. Godric spun to the side and hurled the dagger to the ground. “For the sake of the friendship that is between us four, he hissed, “I will not kill you, but hear me now Salazar. No one who is a friend to me will practice such deception twice. You cannot use thievery and deception to get what you want, and expect all around you to turn away as though we don’t see. I don’t like lies, and I don’t like steeling from the dead either.”
Salazar felt his own anger rising, a process aided by the discarding of the dagger. “You may keep your high principles if they please you, but if not for my tactics, we might both be dead by now.”
“What are you talking about?”
“You don’t even remember do you? All that gold you offered the Duke; where did it come from? I procured it, that’s where. You curled your lip when I told you I’d acquired it from goblins, but you took it. And when the dust settled you never even thought about it. Do you know what goblins do when you don’t repay debts to them? I’ll tell you. They start by threatening you, then they threaten the people you care about, even the wounded ones. If you don’t pay them, then they start by hurting your friends. While you lay recovering from that minor wound, I was trying to save us from being killed by vengeful goblins. While you kept your hands fastidiously clean, I found the means to repay them and make them leave us alone. You never even thought about that debt did you?”
“No, you’re right, I didn’t. I was never comfortable with borrowing from goblins.”
“And yet you took the gold, for your own purposes.”
“And how did you pay them back?”
Salazar hesitated, but the truth seemed the simplest course. “I found out where some valuables had been hidden, and liberated them.”
“You stole to pay them?”
“I merely beat William’s army to it. They would have uncovered the hiding place, the church had no strong box, the valuables were simply placed in a badly concealed niche. Where would they do most good, in the hands of William’s soldiers, or saving our lives?”
“Merlin’s beard!” Godric exclaimed. “You truly have no honor.”
“That’s not so,” Salazar replied with some heat. “I did those things to save your life, because you are my sworn friend. I laboured beside Helga to save men I cared nothing for, because it mattered to her. I am on this journey to honor Odo and carry him home, and I will lay down my life for yours, for any of you, without a second thought.”
“You know he speaks the truth,” Rowena said placatingly to Godric. “His way of doing things isn’t like yours, but surely you can see he acted from the best motives.”
Godric still looked thunderous, but he took a few steps away from Salazar. “Never deceive me again,” he said in a hard and bitter tone. “Never deny me the power to choose my own course, and I will try to forget what has been said here today.” He turned on his heel and, without looking back, strode angrily from the courtyard.