Salizar stood staring moodily out to sea. He had rowed himself out to one of the tiny islets in the archipelago off the mainland because he wanted to be alone to think. He stared at the water some distance away, and several fish rose to the surface. They began jumping out of the water in a very peculiar manner. Soon they were launching themselves at one another, waging a kind of incongruous and unnatural battle. Salizar quickly grew bored however, and allowed the fish to sink back into the sea.
Since his mother’s death his discontent had been growing. She had had the seid magic, and as her son he had enjoyed some prestige in their small community. His own gifts had grown steadily, but somehow folk didn’t revere him as they had his mother.
His sister, the new seid woman hadn’t helped matters. She showed promise of being as powerful as their mother had been, but unlike their mother, distrusted Salizar, and showed him open contempt. As the Vala she was revered, and folk tended to believe what she believed. The more time went by the less there seemed to be for him here. The fact was he’d always felt like a bit of an outsider.
His father had come from lands far to the east, travelling with traders whose business took them past the southern coast of the land of the Fins. His father had dwelt for a season with the local seid woman, conducting a lucrative trade in dragon eggs, and eggs that grew into serpents the like of which had never been seen in those lands.
Their brief liaison had produced Salizar, a wizard of remarkable gifts, but a boy who garnered little liking. He mostly took after his mother in looks, but there was something odd about his features, a kind of mismatched inaccuracy, as though his face was the result of a sculptor with the palsy. If it had been only his appearance, the peaceable folk round about would have overlooked his oddity, but either as a result of feeling himself unwelcome, or because of some in-born character trait, he grew into an increasingly insular and occasionally morose person whom few sought out.
He spent long hours alone fiercely honing his magical gifts, learning to command the will of animals, and move objects without touching them. His control over snakes had come without trying, but he found he could command any animal if he tried hard enough.
Standing alone on the shore trying to look ahead into his future, he wondered where he should go. Living along a trade root was useful; it gave him choice. He was repelled by the idea of turning eastward. He had no desire to look backward to the place his absent father had come from. As there was nothing for him here, he determined to head west.
His decision made, he set speedily about implementing it. He tracked down a Gallic captain who was lately arrived and determined to depart soon. Salizar was a practiced oarsman and fisher, but he had no experience on the large sailing ships used for trade.
He Convinced the captain of his fitness as a deck hand by looking carefully into the other man’s mind, and pulling out the correct answers to the captain’s probing questions. Really he didn’t have to work that hard at it. All it really required was the exertion of a little force on the captain’s will, a nudge to make him do what Salizar wanted. Still, he would need to know a sailor’s lore, so he took enough from the captain’s thoughts to see him through the first few days of the voyage until he could learn.
Buoyed by his success Salizar’s mood lightened. He spent the next few days looking around the small settlements with more affection than he’d ever felt for his home before. Already he felt himself a man-of-the-world, and this place merely a backwater on his way to greatness.
He spent his last night drinking with the motley collection of sailors, traders and locals who frequented the only alehouse, entertaining them with magic. The Vala would never make a show of her skills in this way, so the people didn’t often get to see magic done. They were excited by his demonstrations, and vied with one another to refill his tankard.
With that jovial openness that can accompany the departure of someone whom most are glad to see the back of, they treated him with more friendliness than they had ever done before. He liked the feeling this gave him. He departed the following morning with a comfortable sense of superiority; this was not a bad place, but his destiny lay beyond it, he was sure.
The tasks of a sailor proved easy to mimic. The ship’s company bore men from many lands, and Salizar was cautious about using magic to accomplish his duties. He used it freely to conceal his snake though. He never considered leaving this favoured companion behind, and the business of magical deflection and distraction was child’s play to him.
Despite his pretensions he had never been more than a day’s journey from his home, and gazed about him wide-eyed all the time. He couldn’t really have been said to make friends in the months that followed, but, happy to be free of what now seemed a most limiting life, his spirits were high, and so if he had no blood brothers, he did have companions.
They’d been picking up information and rumors, so were not taken by surprise at the bustle of activity as they made their way into Norman ports. They found the coastal towns aswarm with men readying themselves to board a fleet of ships headed by the Norman Duke, who fancied himself heir to the English crown. Squeezing himself into a tavern overflowing with raucous soldiers, Salizar was exhilarated; this was life!
He found himself elbow to elbow with an extremely large blond man who was remarkable for his long hair, in defiance of local custom: a Swede, or possibly a Saxon. Salizar thought something about the man seemed familiar as they swapped stories, but since it was impossible that they had ever met, Salizar dismissed the notion.
Soon they were taking turns buying rounds. Salizar found that he needed to discreetly vanish ale from his tankard at regular intervals in order to keep up with the fellow, who gave his name as Godric. The feeling of familiarity persisted as the night wore on, and Salizar wondered if this was what it felt like to have a friend. Godric was a soldier. He was impatiently waiting to set out with William the Norman, to help his lord achieve his rightful place as king of England.
Salizar’s eyes were drawn repeatedly to the sword at Godric’s side. In Salizar’s home swords of any kind were valuable, and this one was the most richly ornamented he’d ever seen. Godric followed his gaze and squared his shoulders proudly. Salizar was ready to admit the sword was something special, but when Godric began to boast of his exploits, and to set himself as the most fearsome fighter in the whole of William’s army, Salizar let his skepticism show.
“Do you doubt what I say?” Godric blustered.
Salizar said nothing, but his eyes didn’t shift away. “There are many ways of fighting,” he said.
Godric’s face showed the beginnings of contempt. “I like you friend, I truly do, but surely you’re not saying that a fellow like you could challenge a fighter like me? I was nearly sworn a Housecarl to Harold Godwinson!”
Salizar didn’t like the way Godric was looking at him. Godric was comparing his own powerful frame to Salizar’s shorter and more wiry one. To Salizar however, the glance seemed to recall the distaste which many in his life had shown on seeing his unusual features. A lifetime of reaction, not to mention a considerable quantity of ale made Salizar straighten his own shoulders and say loudly, “I’ll say that! I wouldn’t hesitate to challenge you.”
Godric stood up menacingly. “Outside then!” He roared.
Salizar hadn’t meant things to come to this, and wasn’t at all convinced that his sketchy knife skills would serve him at all, but the arrogant, self-satisfied expression on Godric’s face made him fire up at once. He turned and strode determinedly out of the tavern to the courtyard behind.
Both men, fired by ale and by the general spirit of aggression all round them, began a flurry of parries and faints that was furious, and lasted longer than even Salizar had thought it could. The Fin’s agility served him well, for a time at least. Neither Salizar’s blade nor his skill was equal to Godric’s, but he was determined not to yield. Using magic, he sent Godric’s sword flying from his hand to fall on the cobbles some distance away.
Godric held up his hand. “It’s burned,” he said, showing shock rather than dismay. He went quickly to retrieve his sword. “This too!” He exclaimed. In the light from the tavern door Salizar could see that, in his anger, he’d carelessly caused part of the hilt to melt, distorting its shape.
“I didn’t mean to do that,” Salizar said quickly, and concentrated all his power on the hilt until it had resumed its former contours. Godric stared for a moment at the sword, then said in astonishment, “You’re a wizard!”
Godric’s grin broke out like the sun coming up. Battle rage forgotten, He let the sword leave his hand. It hovered for a few seconds, spun rapidly in a deadly whirl before coming to rest, point down, balancing improbably on the cobbles, from where he took it once more into his hand. Salizar grinned too and they clapped one another hard on the back, calling each other “brother,” their former fury transformed into exhilaration.
Salizar had known that there were wizards abroad in the world, not only himself and the seid women of his family, but he hadn’t anticipated how gratifying it would be to find one. He had had no real friends in his life, and he threw his lot whole-heartedly in with Godric. He cared nothing for the cause of William the Norman, but without a backward glance he parted company with his ship in order to accompany his friend.
Salizar had no interest in the life of a soldier. He would fight when he must, but fighting for its own sake didn’t draw him. Neither was he attracted by the trappings of the soldier. He had an ingrained admiration for fine weaponry, but the intricacies of the defenses muggles used to protect themselves from it bored him.
Nevertheless, they decided that it would be best if Salizar posed as Godric’s squire. It was a role that Salizar found slightly demeaning, but in this larger world full of people speaking strange languages and following strange customs, he was satisfied to accept the position of an inferior, for the moment at least.
Salizar’s chief nominal duty was the care and maintenance of Godric’s armor. It had to be thoroughly cleaned, oiled and polished after each use. Godric drilled with his company each day, and engaged in practice sessions of swordplay to keep his skills up. Without magic Salizar would have found his duties extremely tiresome and time-consuming. As it was, everyone complemented Godric on the shine of his chainmail and helm, and Salizar enjoyed long walks by himself outside the city, away from the throng of an army and its orbit of followers. He was unused to the proximity of so many people and found it burdensome.
One evening they repaired to their favourite tavern in search of ale and fish stew. It was crowded and noisy. Most of the patrons were troops in William’s army, but there were some merchants and town’s folk, and at a corner table, two hooded figures Salizar thought might be a hag and a werewolf; at any rate both were eating from platters of raw liver.
Both Godric and Salizar, for different reasons, stood out. Godric’s long hair and mustache marked him out as a Saxon amid the clean-shaven Normans, who also sported shaved heads, save for the distinctive tuft of hair left to cushion their war helms. Salizar was set apart both by his smaller stature and his unusual facial features.
Salizar saw that Godric was troubled. “It’s the Duke,” he said in response to Salizar’s query. “I dined with his grace at midday. He’s distressed by a lack of funds to equip and provision his army. He worries that if the winds do not become favourable soon, his plans may come to nothing if he can’t find aid. I greatly wish to help, but…,” he trailed off, gesturing vaguely with the small knife he was using to spear pieces of fish, then attacked his stew once more. At the corner table, the larger of the hooded figures drank from a goblet of something too deeply red to be any kind of wine Salizar or Godric had ever seen.
Salizar frowned. Godric’s armor and proud bearing bespoke wealth and position, and Salizar had never seen the like of Godric’s jewelled sword, but Godric would never give a straight answer about where the sword had come from, and never seemed to have much in the way of hard currency.
“Why does it matter to you?” Salizar asked.
“The Duke is my liege lord, you know this! I am sworn to him. I heard with my own ears the assertions of King Edward the confessor that the Duke should inherit his throne. I was with Harold Godwinson when he swore to support the Duke’s claim. The Duke has right on his side, and it is the duty of every man who owes him fealty to forward the Duke’s cause.”
Salizar shrugged. For him, kings and dukes were the stuff of stories and legends. Rule in his home had been by whoever was strongest in the village, and it was not uncommon for the folk to have some say in how they were governed. Godric’s words sounded lofty and poetic, but they had no real impact for Salizar. He could see his friend’s true distress though, and that was what mattered to him. At the corner table the smaller of the hooded figures was banging a goblet on the wood, demanding a refill.
Some days later Salizar sought Godric out. The Saxon had just finished a series of vigorous bouts on the practice field, and swung his step toward where Salizar waited. Even after so much exertion Godric’s step was jaunty, and he swaggered a bit, proud of his victories, even if they added only to his own glory and not that of his duke.
Salizar, though not a soldier, admired Godric’s skill and ebullience, and gave Godric one of his rare smiles. “I have something for you brother,” he said. Godric held out his hand and Salizar dropped a purse heavy with coins into it. The delicate clinking sound was an odd counterpoint to the heavy clang of steel on steel all around them.
Godric’s eyes widened and his face broke into a broad grin. “My brother!” He exclaimed in delight, “How came you by this?”
Salizar glanced around, but no one was in earshot. “You know I’ve been wandering round the countryside while you practice here. I came on a goblin family some days ago. When you told me of your desire to enrich your duke, I approached them. They set strict terms for its repayment, but the money’s yours.”
Godric’s grin faded. “Is that wise my brother? Goblins have their own magic which is not to be lightly dismissed, and they are not known for their charity, particularly when it comes to the repayment of debt.”
Salizar made a dismissive gesture. “You say your duke is bound to prevail in his campaign. War is a profitable affair for the victors. When this business is done you will have more than sufficient to pay them back.”
Godric frowned. “War is not about spoils,” he said rather sternly, “It’s about glory and honor.”
Salizar gave a cynical little laugh. “As you say, but glory and honor are usually washed down with a liberal draft of booty. You’ll have no difficulty with the goblins.”
“I do not fight for spoils,” Godric insisted.
Salizar shrugged. This wasn’t going quite the way he had expected. In his imagination, Godric had praised him for his resourcefulness and thanked him for his friendship. “You said you needed money, and I got it for you. If you don’t want it I’ll take the coin back to the Goblins,” he said defensively. “I don’t really care what happens to William.”
Godric dropped his eyes to the purse in his hand. “No,” he said, “I would like to offer this to the Duke. Thank you brother, you are a true friend.” He slapped Salizar on the back.
The big Saxon had a personality to match his size, powerful, impressive, compelling. To Salizar, who had known so little approval in his life, Godric’s praise was like strong wine. He would deal with the goblins when the time came, if it ever did. Soon they would be bound for England, far out of reach. Either way, Salizar knew there was always a way out of any tight spot, so long as you were sufficiently cunning to see it.