Helga fussed a little over Aidan, partly from concern that a long and active day had tired him after his illness, and partly for something to occupy her mind. He seemed fine however, if a bit more biddable about bedtime than usual. When he and Cadogan had finally settled, Helga sat with Emmeline by the fire.
Helga found Emmeline tractable most of the time, but a little aloof. The girl maintained a reserve, so that Helga was never really sure what Emmeline was thinking. Emmeline liked her too, but if she was honest with herself, Emmeline felt more at ease around Salazar. There was something ruthless and calculating in him that she understood, that she was used to. Helga was warm, kind, comforting: qualities Emmeline drew on, but with which she wasn’t entirely at ease.
Celina had left her work bag, and Helga found in it a reddish raw wool that wasn’t familiar to her. Deferring to Emmeline’s expert skill at spinning, Helga watched closely as the younger woman wielded the spindle, making a thick but even thread out of the stuff. They compared techniques for different types of wool they’d worked with, until they heard a step outside the door. It had grown dim in the corners of the room away from the fire, but when the door opened, they saw that the promised full moon was well up.
Godric strode in, looking weary, but oddly elated. Helga thought there were a few leaves in his hair. He dropped into a chair at the table, gazing at them, as if not sure what to say.
“Are you hungry?” Helga asked practically. He nodded vigorously, and she rose to find him some supper.
She returned, placing a loaf of bread, some cold chicken and cheese down before him beside a mug of ale. He gave a moan of longing, and pulled his chair up to the table to tuck in. He ate voraciously, pushed back his chair, patted his belly contentedly, and thanked Helga from the bottom of his heart. She smiled, but said nothing.
Sensing tension, Emmeline wound up her work, tucked it into Celina’s work bag, and bid them good night. When she’d withdrawn to a far corner of the large room and rolled herself up in a blanket on the settle, Godric looked a little sheepishly at Helga.
“Well,” she said with some asperity, “You’ve obviously had quite a day.”
He smiled a little dreamily, then seemed to notice her expression. “Are all well? Have I left something undone?”
“All are fine, but you did rather leave us here at loose ends. We couldn’t make any kind of plans without you, and with no idea where you’d gone.”
He exhaled, running a hand through his fair hair. He dislodged a russet leaf, which began to drift toward the floor. Helga caught it and flicked it dismissively into the fire.
“I’m sorry,” he said, “It’s Celina. We’re…, we’re old friends, and I was surprised to see her again.” Something flickered in his face but he said no more.
“Where is she? It’s an odd inn she keeps here. I had to feed everyone today, and do her work for her, and the outside work too.”
“She’s…, she’s got to be away for a day or so.” He looked around the shabby room. “She’s not a bad inn-keeper, a little haphazard maybe, but she’s always been like that.” His expression drew dreamy and far away.
Helga set down her ale cup firmly on the table beside her. “Godric what is going on here?” She asked resolutely. Whatever else they were, they were friends, and if he would leave them like that without a backward glance, she would know why.
He sighed. He hardly knew where to begin, but they were friends, good friends, and she had always had the gift for drawing the truth from him, no matter how strange or unexpected it might be.
“Celina told you where we are?”
“Æthelrand’s Hollow she told us.”
“Yes, but our direction, did she tell you we’ve come to the west country?”
“Yes, she did. Didn’t you once say something about….”
“I grew up not far from here, well some of the time. Celina did too. We…, spent a lot of time together. After my father died, my mother remarried. It was a good match for her, and an opportunity for me. Her new husband was close to King Harold. It meant that I got to learn soldiery, but it meant I had to leave Æthelrand’s Hollow. We were pretty sad about it, and I guess you could say that’s where it started.”
“Will you learn how to throw an ax?” Celina asked. They were fishing at their favourite spot, and he was leaving tomorrow.
“I already know how to throw an ax,” he replied indignantly.”
She snickered, then looked sad. She twitched irritably. “It’s not going to be any fun when you’re gone. It’ll just be me and Aunt Roomie.” Celina’s Aunt Brumhilda was an accomplished but fairly scattered witch who kept a lot of cats. She was kind enough, but not always enthusiastic about having a young child in the house.
Celina’s voice had slipped into that whine she made when she wasn’t getting her way. She never stayed like that for long though. That was why he liked her.
“Maybe I’ll learn clerking and write to you,” he said, trying to lighten the mood. He felt bad about it too, but he didn’t want to spend his last day here feeling sad.
Neither, it seemed, did Celina.
She sighed gustily, then looked up into the large bird’s nest in the tree across the water. It was one of the things they liked best about this spot, aside from the good fishing. The nesting site was something of a permanent home. Each spring, the white-tailed eagles who’d inherited it, returned to breed.
“I think the little ones are going to be able to fly soon,” Celina remarked. “Too bad you won’t be here to see it.” She turned slowly but deliberately to face him.
“Aunt Rumie showed me a spell,” she said. This wasn’t uncommon. Aunt Brumhilda wasn’t much of a parent, but she loved teaching what she knew. Celina was much less interested than Aunt Rumie in magic for its own sake, but Selina preferred a home with conversation in it, so she often pretended more interest than she felt. The upshot was that she got a semblance of parental attention, and learned things not a lot of other people knew.
Godric looked up from the hook he was bating. Something in Celina’s voice told him that this wasn’t just another incantation to make bread rise, or summon a swarm of bees.
Celina smiled. “It’s a binding spell. Aunt Rumie told me that if two people cast it together in the right way, they’ll be connected. The spell will make sure they come back together again if they have to be apart. We could cast it, then we’d be sure you’ll come back.”
“But of course I’ll come back, I live here!”
“You live here now, but people sometimes leave where they grew up, and they never come back.”
“That won’t happen. I’ll be back. My mother is bound to be with child sometime soon, and she’s said she’ll come back here to give birth, and her new husband has agreed.”
“That’s nice, but not very certain. Come on, do the spell with me!”
Godric shrugged, then peered closely into her face. “Will it help keep you from being sad?”
She smiled broadly. “Yes!”
“All right then,” he said genially, and put down his fishing rod. “What do we do?”
Celina clapped her hands together. “Good!” She reached into the pocket of her skirt and pulled out two white feathers. “Aunt Rumie said you start with feathers, one each from the tail of birds who are mates. Then you tie them together with the kind of grass the birds use in their nest.”
Celina showed him what to do, demonstrated the gestures required, and rehearsed him through the incantation, growing more and more excited. Godric followed along patiently. Celina got strange ideas into her head some times, but she was fun and adventuresome, and she was his best friend.
When they were ready, she took a deep breath, and hugged him hard. “Thank you for doing this with me, I’ll feel a lot better afterward.” She kissed him exuberantly on the cheek, and let him go. He touched the place a little wonderingly, then gave his attention to the spell.
In the common room at the Panting Wolf, Godric said to Helga, “We were still practically children. We didn’t really know what we were doing. I mean we really didn’t know what we were doing! Celina’s aunt is an accomplished witch, but she’s not the most thorough person in the world. When she told Celina about the binding spell, she didn’t think to mention that it’s meant to be done with the feathers of normal birds, who mate for a season, then part. When you perform the spell using feathers from birds who mate for life, strange things happen. And not only do white-tailed eagles mate for life, they sometimes return year after year to the same nest. At first we didn’t think anything of it. It happened that these two birds were shot with arrows soon after I left, by a herder whose lambs were being preyed upon by the eagles. Celina thought that would make an end of the spell. She was wrong, but it took us some time to figure it out.”
Learning to wield sword and bow suited Godric well. Though he missed his home, and especially Celina, entering the life of a soldier was a bit like coming home. His new father was a conventional man, and Godric’s mother insisted that their magical abilities must be kept secret. Godric found this hard to get used to at first, but it didn’t take him long to become aware of what sometimes happened to those accused of witchcraft. Before long, he rarely thought about magic at all, and grew accustomed to hiding what he was.
His mother didn’t in fact become pregnant, and it was a year and a half before Godric and Celina saw each other again. If not for the spell, they might not have.
Godric and his parents were on their way to visit his father’s family. They were about two days’ ride from Godric’s home village, just passing the road one would take if one was going there, when a horse in their party threw a shoe. They had to turn aside to find the nearest blacksmith, and there in the village was Celina. They were filled with joy to see one another again.
“You know how it can be with some old friends,” Godric said to Helga. “You can be apart for a month or a year, and when you’re together again, it’s like you were never apart. We thought nothing of it that time. The next time was just as unexpected.
‘I hadn’t intended on going home. I was on an expedition with a band of soldiers loyal to Harold Godwinson. As we passed within a few days’ ride of my home, we came on a messenger who’d been dispatched to find help. There were rumors of raids along the coast and inland, and my village had sent a messenger to seek aid. Of course, we turned aside to help. It was a false alarm, but there was Celina again. We weren’t so young this time, and we…, well, we spent a lot of time together.”
Even then, they hadn’t been sure. It wasn’t until the last time that they’d really begun to wonder in earnest. It was 1064, and Godric was soon to depart with Harold for France. Godric wasn’t one to pay attention to omens or premonitions, but he had a bad feeling about this voyage. Some time before they would leave, he asked Harold if he might make a last visit to his home, and Harold agreed.
Godric returned, not expecting to see Celina. She had married two years before, and was living with her husband’s kinfolk in the next shire. Aimless and a little sad, he wandered to the cottage where Aunt Rumie lived, with her many cats and wild magical experiments, and there was Celina, drinking mint tea at Rumie’s kitchen table.
Celina rose when she saw him, and though they were undeniably happy to see one another, they didn’t rush into each others’ arms this time. Celina had known grief and loss, Godric felt a pall of apprehension about his future, and now both of them felt that their irregular reunions were something more than coincidence.
They all sat down around Brumhilda’s table, and thrashed it out. Eventually, Aunt Rumie leaned back and said, “It’s the white-tailed eagles. That spell is meant to be a simple love charm, but you’ve made it into something else. White-tailed eagles mate for life, and quite often return to the same spot to nest. They may wander away for years at a time, but when they get within a certain distance of a previous nest, they’ll home in on it and settle there. I think that the two of you have bound yourselves to each other and to that place. Once you’re within a certain range, magic will draw you back.” Her expression drew together into the look of impersonal curiosity they knew so well. “I wonder what would happen if you two had chicks, I mean children!”
Feeling unequal to Brumhilda’s callousness, Celina and Godric left, under the pretext of catching some fish for supper. Without even discussing it, their steps turned toward the water’s edge, and they stood together, staring at the nest. There was a long silence, within which Godric nursed a growing conviction. Finally, he spoke with decision.
“I will ask Harold to release me, and I will come back here to be your husband.”
“We will marry. It’s what we’re meant to do. I’m sure Harold will let me go. Sometimes I think he’s looking for a reason to send me off. I think he knows I have magic, and he doesn’t like it. He won’t…, well, I think he’ll let me go.”
“What is it. Do you still grieve for your husband?”
“No, not…, I mean it was a year ago, and the worst has passed. It’s not that.”
“Don’t you want to marry me?” He lifted a hand to touch her cheek.
She smiled. The life of a soldier suited him well. He looked fit and strong, though with something shadowing his usual ebullience. Oh she could marry him, and be happy to do so, but she wasn’t the girl he had known, and maybe he had changed too, or maybe he hadn’t.
“Oh Godric, I’m different now.”
“I know, we’re both older, things have happened. You’ve been a married woman, I know that, but we could be happy together, I know it.” His finger traced lightly, familiarly down to her collar bone. He watched as several expressions crossed her face. He’d always liked watching her face. It was a mobile face which didn’t hide things. In fact, looking at her closely, he thought that her features seemed a little sharper, and was her nose perhaps a little longer? Her hair, yes, her hair was redder too. His smile was knowing and sweet, and hard to resist, but she tried.
“Godric, it’s not just that I’ve been married, I’m different now.”
“We’ve never been afraid to tell the truth to each other, why don’t you just tell me what’s on your mind. I know you’re not a normal kind of girl or woman, I’m used to it. I’ll still expect you to come fishing with me; it won’t be all spinning and weaving for you as my wife.”
“Oh Godric, I could be happy with you I know it but…, I don’t fish quite the way I used to.”
He knew her well, and knew she didn’t mean that she’d given it up. She meant something else, and he stared intently, waiting for her to say what she was thinking.
“Godric, every…, each…, when there’s a full moon…,” He waited for a bawdy jest about moonlight, but it didn’t come. “Every full moon, I fish by sticking my head in the water and grabbing fish with my teeth. Then I eat the fish raw.”
He started to laugh, but when she didn’t, he withdrew his hand and actually took a step back. “By the sacred oaks Celina! What are you saying?”
“I’m a werewolf.”
Godric felt dizzy. He wished he could have dismissed her words as a childish joke, but while Celina might wrestle you into the stream, or drop a trout down your tunic, she wasn’t one for tall tails or pointless deception. If she said she was a werewolf, she meant it.
Helga leaned forward in her chair. “Are you telling me Celina is a werewolf?”
“Yes.” Godric smiled at her reaction. “That’s how I felt at first too. I guess I’m used to it by now. It wasn’t tragic or frightening. She told me all about it. It was her husband. They had become fond of one another, and he confessed to her that he was a werewolf, and so couldn’t marry her. Celina’s never been one to be frightened off by the unusual. Instead of being horrified, she was fascinated. Finally, don’t ask me how, she convinced him that she wanted him to bight her, to make her one too.”
Helga drew back in shock. “She willed it so?”
“yes. She said so, and having known her my whole life, I believe her. She’s a good, kind person, but she’s always been reckless, and drawn to the strange and different. All those years living with Aunt Rumie weren’t lost on her. I see now that they’re more alike than different. Celina isn’t unhappy with her fate.
‘She tried to explain it to me, but I can’t really understand. I’m a pretty simple man, who wants pretty simple things. Celina is someone who will ever be pushing herself, wanting something more or something different. It’s not that she’s an unhappy or unsatisfied person, she’s just adventurous in a way that I, despite my love of a fight, am not.
‘And it’s not just the full moon either. She’s different in other ways too, even when the moon isn’t full. Somehow becoming a werewolf freed her from a lot of the ways most people think it’s right to live. She loves me, but she didn’t want to marry me, because she wanted to be free to, well, to…, to do as she wished, associate with whom ever she wished. You’ve seen how she’ll sleep till the sun is high, and generally do to suit herself. It’s like that in all things for her. She has associations with other werewolves, other men, and she doesn’t want a husband who will expect her to be…, well, she says marriage just isn’t for her. Knowing her and myself, I had to admit she’s probably right.
“We talked it all out that last time, before I went to France and Normandy with Harold. I can only have from her what she will give, and I love her truly, so that’s enough. We agreed that we’re probably bound for the rest of our lives by the spell, and that fate and seeming coincidence will most likely cause us to cross paths, whether we wish it or no, and we do wish.
‘I didn’t know where we’d come when the black dragon flew us here. I had just assumed we’d continued north, though I don’t know why. All during our journey from Sussex, I’ve been determined not to turn west, but here I am, again.”
“And today?” Helga asked.
Godric smiled. “We were shocked to see one another, as we always are. I forgot all about everything else, which is what usually happens, for a time at least. I’m sorry I just wandered off like that without a word. Once we were together, that place pulled us like salmon upstream. We went there and talked. We caught one another up on our lives for the past two years. I told her of Odo and our quest, and I told of our friendship, and how important it’s become to me. I told her about what I left behind, about the battle, about what it’s been like knowing you and Salazar and Rowena.”
“You’re still with us then? You’re not planning to stay here with her?”
“No. We’re not meant to be together permanently. I’ve accepted that we’re bound by love and by the spell we cast, but we’re not meant for a shared life. Were you concerned that I would abandon our oath to carry Odo home?”
Helga shrugged, ill-at-ease. “How could I know? I didn’t know who she was or what she meant to you, and I never could have guessed all that. I don’t know for certain what binds you to us. I…, I like her a great deal. I can see why she’s important to you.” Helga spoke truthfully, but her eyes were on her hands, clasped in her lap.
“Helga,” Godric said softly, “Look up.”
Slowly, she did. He was leaning toward her, his eyes on her face. He reached out and placed his large, warm, callused hand over hers. “I swore an oath, as did we all, to carry Odo home, but that’s not all that binds me.”
She held his hand between both of hers, feeling remarkably happy and unself-conscious. She traced the lines and calluses with her finger, hearing again his voice, low, only for her, “That’s not all that binds me.”
After a time, there was a sleepy rustling from a corner of the room, and they remembered where they were. “It’s so late!” Helga exclaimed. Where ever have Rowena and Salazar got to? They went out looking for Mooncaps, but that was hours ago. And Celina, why didn’t she return with you?”
But Helga saw the answer to the second question in the first, and in the quizzical expression on his face. She brought one hand to her mouth. Her eyes became the size of trenchers. “It’s the full moon!”
“Indeed. Celina is off doubtless in search of her own kind, and I suppose the Mooncaps must have come after all.”