Salizar slumped against the wall in the small room he and Godric had shared for the past several days. It was in one of the cleaner and more prosperous inns in the village of Saint-Valery-Sur-Somme, where Duke William of Normandy had assembled his fleet. The village was overflowing with soldiers, and Godric was unclear how they had secured quarters of such relative comfort, but he was learning that it didn’t always profit him to ask too many questions about exactly how Salizar made things happen.
Salizar was sitting on one of the straw pallets where they slept, letting his snake wind itself sinuously around his bare arm. Godric sat on the other pallet needlessly polishing his sword. It gleamed with its accustomed luster, but he needed to be doing something. They, like the rest of William’s forces, had been bottled up in this village for days, by winds which seemed determined to flout the Duke’s intention to sail across the channel and take England by force of arms.
The massed soldiers were beginning to move past restlessness into truculence. Brawls were becoming commonplace, and Godric spent most of his time preventing William’s soldiers from inflicting themselves on the local folk in the ways that soldiers too often did. Salizar was almost always intolerant of the chaos and bustle of an army, but even Godric, who was more used to it, had been glad to take refuge in their tiny but private quarters.
Godric’s attention was focused on the richly ornamented blade before him, but every now and then he slid a glance sideways to keep an eye on the snake. He disliked and mistrusted snakes, and it was only his deep fondness for Salizar, and the need not to give in to his fear that kept him from objecting to its presence in their room.
“You can’t get that sword any more highly polished even with magic,” Salizar said lazily. “Here, you could hold Madella.” He reached his snake-covered arm toward Godric playfully.
“No thank you,” Godric said with dignity, not allowing himself to flinch, “I’m well occupied.” But he laid down his sword carefully, sighed, and looked around the small room. “Perhaps you would care for some local wine,” he said neutrally, “I hear it’s quite passable.”
There was half a goblet full of the objectionable stuff sitting on top of the single chest that was the room’s only furniture. Godric caused it to rise up, and move smoothly toward Salizar. It was a game they played often, and that they both liked. Salizar smiled as the goblet neared his face.
“Oh no,” he said with a great show of deference, “Knowing how much you enjoy it, I couldn’t possibly deprive you of it.” Using his own magic, he exerted his force on the goblet to send it floating toward Godric.
“Oh, but you do look so thirsty. I beg you to refresh yourself.” Godric pushed back, and the goblet stopped a foot from him, then began slowly to move in Salizar’s direction. It stopped in mid-air between them as they both stared at it with expressions of intense concentration.
“No no,” Salizar said through gritted teeth, “You are a man of refinement, poorly suited to mere ale; this rare vintage becomes you better than it does me.” The cup wobbled a bit, but continued to hover between them.
“Out of courtesy to your more humble origins, I really think you need a bit of luxury more than I do.”
This jab, which had been meant entirely with good nature, sat uneasily with Salizar’s dignity, and instead of replying with words Godric could understand, he made a series of hissing and vowel sounds that meant nothing to Godric, but which caused Madella to slither off his arm and move slowly toward Godric. Godric clenched his own teeth together and hissed through them, “That is an unworthy trick my brother. Really, I must insist, have the wine.” And with a mighty effort, he not only refused to let his concentration waver, but exerted a final thrust of power, and sent the goblet forcefully forward and upward, then overturned it onto Salizar’s head. Salizar leapt up in shock, then burst into an uproarious laugh. He vanished the acrid stuff from his hair and clothing, then flopped back on the pallet.
“Well done!” He exclaimed. He had a rich deep laugh that seemed to come up from his belly, and it always made Godric smile to hear it.
Godric knew well by now that Salizar could be moody, sometimes even morose, but the Fin was also capable of a rich enjoyment of life, of jests, sport or games, and despite his unusual appearance, was also capable, when he chose, of an odd sort of charm. He knew how to make people like him when he wished to, and Godric was the first true friend of his life. Godric knew that most of their companions thought Salizar unapproachable, even sullen, but the swift intimacy that had grown between them upon learning that they were both wizards, had meant that Godric had come to know Salizar better than anyone. Godric knew there were depths in his friend that made him uneasy, but he also trusted Salizar’s loyalty, admired his skill, and enjoyed the vigor and insouciance Salizar showed to those he trusted.
There was a knock on the door, and Godric opened it to reveal the inn-keeper bearing a tray with their meal. He thanked her with a graciousness that brought a surprised smile to her tired features. She laid the tray on the chest and disappeared through the door and back down the stairs.
“That’s uncommon service,” Godric said. “She must be a very busy woman these days.”
Salizar shrugged, “I have a way with women,” he replied idly, poking at the tray’s contents. “She does make a passable bread, oh, and there’s some kind of roast fowl today!”
After they’d eaten together in companionable silence for a time, Salizar asked, “And how does His Grace the Duke fair? You sat in on his council at midday didn’t you?”
Godric frowned. “He’s unhappy. The winds do not favour his cause, and he continues to be stretched when it comes to providing for his forces while he waits for the winds to turn.” There was an awkward silence during which Salizar felt sure that Godric had more on his mind.
Salizar examined his friend’s face with a keen eye. “There’s more,” he said with conviction.
“Don’t try your mind tricks on me!” Godric almost snarled.
Salizar was taken aback. Though capable of being easily offended, he knew Godric well enough by now to know that his harsh words covered up deep distress. “I would not do that to you my brother,” he said calmly. “What troubles you?”
Godric took a deep breath, then exhaled through his nose, in a characteristic gesture denoting frustration. “It is too much to tell,” he replied lamely. “The Duke has many questions, uncertainties about what will happen. There have been rumors…, and he asks me….” His voice trailed off with unaccustomed vagueness.
Salizar watched him closely. “What do the omens say?”
Godric looked up, surprised. “Omens?”
“Yes. If you’re uncertain, surely you’ve consulted the omens for guidance.”
“No, I thought that a woman’s art. My mother….” His voice trailed off once more, suddenly apprehensive about offending his friend, but Salizar only laughed. “The omens are for anyone with the sight. You know nothing of reading entrails, or the movements of animals?” Godric shook his head. “If it’s answers you seek I can help you find them.” Godric looked dubious. “Do you doubt me?”
“No no my friend, I know you to be a wizard of surpassing skill. If you say it is so, then it is so. It’s only that I have many questions, and they aren’t all to be answered by augury, but if you think you can help me….”
Salizar rose, urging Madella up his sleeve to wind herself about his torso, out of sight. “Come,” he said holding out a hand to Godric, moved by his friend’s obvious distress. “Come and I will teach you a thing.”
The two wizards made their way down the stairs, through the crowded common room, out into the street filled with milling, restless men, and down a track that would take them out into open woodland surrounding the village. As they walked, Salizar told Godric to keep an eye out for certain herbs he would use to brew a tea that would aid them in interpreting signs. Godric tried, but in the end it was Salizar who found what they needed. When they had climbed to the top of a small hill that was covered in the thick grass of late summer but bare of trees, Salizar stopped. He conjured a small fire, heated the water in his flask, and dropped in the herbs he had collected. While the tea steeped, he told Godric to lie on his back and watch the sky. It was almost twilight.
As they lay side by side, Salizar began to explain some of the intricacies of ornothomancy. He described how the movements and calls of birds could be used to interpret events, present and future. Godric found he enjoyed hearing his friend speak thus. Godric knew Salizar to be a powerful wizard, possessed of much arcane lore learned from his mother. It was clear by the coherent and measured way the Fin spoke, that he enjoyed imparting what he knew, and had a gift for it.
After a time, Salizar said, “This is not a skill to be learned in a day, but if you know the larger patterns, you may yet see. The tea will help. It will also help me if you tell me what is the source of the uncertainty.”
Relaxed by the solitude and the quiet of the woods, Godric sat up. As they drank the tea together, he explained. “There are mercenaries from the north in William’s army. They tell that Harald Hardrada, King of Norway, also casts his eye upon England. There are rumors that he also will invade and fight Harold Godwinson for England’s crown. Without knowing where each of these armies rests, or when the winds may turn in his favour, William is distressed. He has sent out couriers, but they have not returned. He doesn’t know how long he can hold his forces here, or how long he should, or even whom he will be fighting, or where. If I had information for him to ease his mind….” Again, Godric’s voice trailed off in that disconsolate way that so ill became a man normally confident and commanding. Salizar looked hard at him and saw that there was still more, but forbore to press his friend.
“Drink the tea,” he said only, passing the flask to Godric. As he took it, Godric was reminded of their game with the wine goblet. As he took the flask, offered from the hand of his friend, he smiled, grateful for one person who was sure to stand by him in a world full of confusion and uncertainty.
After a time, they lay back once more, and turned their attention to the sky. Knowing that Salizar required concentration, Godric didn’t speak. He watched the sky keenly, trying to interpret as Salizar had taught him. He felt his consciousness expanding in a way he’d never experienced before, and thought he sensed patterns and vast sweeping movements of fortune, but couldn’t be sure what it meant.
Finally Salizar sat up slowly and rubbed his eyes. Then he closed them, and sat utterly still as though in a trance. When he opened his eyes, his expression was serene.
“I have seen,” he said quietly, but with an undercurrent of excitement, “Present, and some way into the future. The rumors are true. The King of Norway is even now readying to sail for the north of England. Harold Godwinson’s army is in the south however, waiting for William. The winds are about to turn in William’s favour.”
When Godric’s face brightened, Salizar said, showing impatience for the first time, “Don’t you see? If William sails now, he’ll encounter Harold Godwinson’s army encamped at full strength, ready for him. If he waits, The King of Norway will land in the north and draw him away. Then, William will be free to reach English soil unchallenged, entrench himself, live off the land, and wait for whoever triumphs in the north, to come south with their depleted army, to fight another battle after a long forced march. The worst thing William could do right now is to sail for England. If he wants a sure victory, he must wait.”
“When the wind changes, he will not wait. He’s impatient to be underway; he will sail as soon as he may.”
There was a tense silence. “Does your counsel carry so little weight with your Duke then?”
“How could I offer this counsel to my Duke? How could I tell him I’ve come by this information? By watching the flight of birds?” Godric’s frustration caused a note of scorn to enter his voice.
Always sensitive to perceived slights, Salizar’s voice hardened as he said, “Why does he keep you so close then, to consult on his wardrobe?” He had spoken on impulse, but the last thing he’d expected was for Godric’s expression to crumple, and for his friend to turn away. Before Salizar knew what he was about, Godric gathered up the smoldering remains of the fire with magic, and whirled them through the grass, causing the dry stalks to blow into quick flame. It was an act of undisciplined temper that shocked Salizar. He often didn’t bother with a wand, but in the haste of the moment, fearing a conflagration, he whipped it out and sent a jet of water around the clearing, extinguishing the flames. Dealing with Godric wasn’t going to be nearly so simple. He sat, alert but still and silent, as Godric leapt to his feet and prowled around the desiccated clearing. When Godric finally returned to Salizar and flopped down on the ground once more, Salizar still waited, not speaking until Godric’s reluctant gaze met his.
“Now will you tell me the rest my brother?”
Godric, the edge of his anger abated, let out an immense sigh that came up by the roots. “It would be a relief to tell it all in a way.” There was a long silence in which Godric tried to figure out where to start.
“My father died when I was very young,” he began finally. “My mother was a powerful witch, and we prospered. I am a wizard of course, but the life of a Druid or Mage didn’t appeal to me. I was drawn to soldiering, and found a place in the household of Harold Godwinson, one of the richest and most powerful men in the kingdom. He respected my fighting skill, and the occasional aid my magic could offer. We never spoke openly of my abilities, but we both understood that he valued them, and understood that it was unwise for him to openly harbour a wizard.
“I was nearly sworn a Housecarl, made one of his elite private guard, the highest rank of soldier in his household, but always he found a reason to delay. Then, I accompanied him on the journey that took him eventually into the Duke William’s household.
“Harold and I fought at the Duke’s side, were honoured by him for our deeds in battle, fitted out with the finest his armory could provide. Harold seemed to value the Duke’s favour. When he departed for England, he bid me to remain with William, to swear fealty to him, to remain as Harold’s eyes and ears in Normandy. I did as Harold asked. Having sworn myself to William, I’m now honour-bound to uphold his cause, to fight at his side. What he wants from me in council though…. There I sit, the only Saxon in a council full of Normans. What can he want from me but information to use against Harold. So what am I to do? Following the instructions of Harold has led me into the role of his betrayer. I try to tell William only those things that anyone would already know; how Harold fights, who will support him…. I am sworn to forward William’s cause, but does this mean I will face my own countrymen in battle? What am I to do?”
Godric’s voice cracked with emotion on the last words, and Salizar dropped his gaze, unsure what to say or do. He desperately wanted to help his friend, but such complicated matters of honour and obligation were out of his range of experience. Instead he chose to focus on practical matters.
Leaving Godric, his forehead resting on his up-drawn knees, Salizar prowled around the edges of the clearing till he found what he was looking for. When he returned, he produced another small fire, filled the flask with water, added the herbs he had gathered, and let it sit by the fire to steep. This was no tea for divination or contacting the other world, but simply a tea to soothe the nerves.
“What do you want?” Salizar asked into the silence.
“I want to be clear of all this intrigue, to know what right is, and to do it with honour.”
“But right now, right at this moment, what do you want?”
Without stopping to think, Godric answered, “I want to go home.”
“Well, that you will surely do, it’s just a question of when, and what you will find when you get there. How will Harold greet you? Will you be welcomed back into his household if you arrive in company with William’s invasion fleet?”
“I don’t know.”
“Did you never wonder?”
“I never thought about it. Harold asked me to stay, to swear fealty to William; it seemed like the simple and obvious thing to obey him.”
Salizar was reluctant to speak his next words, but felt that he must. “You don’t think Harold saw this moment coming?”
“What do you mean? He swore an oath to William, he swore to uphold William’s claim to the English throne two years ago. Since then…, well…, I can only think that…, he…, changed his mind, or something happened of which I’m not aware. Maybe the late King Edward had a deathbed change of heart. People do.”
“Did you hear Harold’s oath to William with your own ears?”
“Well, no. I was there, but the cathedral is large, and few actually heard what was said, but that is how Duke William tells it.”
Salizar sighed in frustration. He never ceased to be amazed at Godric’s belief that everyone held honour as dearly as Godric himself. “Does it not seem more likely that either William invented the contents of that oath, or that Harold simply said what was politic at the moment?” Seeing the anger on Godric’s face, Salizar added quickly, “Or perhaps it is as you said, and the late King on his deathbed decided to name Harold as next King. However it came about, you’ve been left in a terrible situation. Of course you don’t want to fight your own countrymen in the name of an invader.”
“But what am I to do? Either way I am a traitor.”
Salizar sighed again, but only inwardly. Talk of honour and traitors was of little consequence to him, but there was one matter that could not be lightly swept aside. “There is something else to consider,” he said. “It has now been three times that you have found funds to help William maintain his forces. There is now a considerable debt owing, from William to you, and from you, or more properly I, to the goblins. If you are killed in battle, they will look to me, who have nothing with which to pay them. If you are not killed by the defenders, might William not find it easier to see that you, a Saxon, are killed, than he would find it to pay you the money he owes you?”
Godric looked shocked. “He would not do such a thing!” He exclaimed, but his eyes slid away from Salizar’s. Both men knew how ruthless William could be. The Duke’s power was not handed to him; he had won it after years of fierce and unscrupulous fighting.
“If you come to him after he has triumphed in battle, and all England is his to parcel out, I have no doubt he will honour his debts, but battle may be something you should avoid.”
That brought Godric’s head up sharply. “Run out on a fight?” He said fiercely.
This time Salizar allowed his irritation to show. “All right then, which side do you wish to fight on? Who would you prefer to kill?” Godric slammed his fist onto the ground, but said nothing.
Salizar picked up the flask and held it out, saying more mildly, “Here, this will help. You can decide about the killing later, but there is one matter we should decide on now. The wind is about to change in William’s favour. If it does, he will sail, and encounter Harold’s army, fresh, well fed, rested, and at full strength. Then, the winner of that battle will have to deal with Hardrada of Norway. If William was forced to wait, Harold would have time to learn of Hardrada’s invasion, hustle his army up north to fight him, and not be there to greet William’s forces. William could land unopposed, and wait for the victor in the north, exhausted and depleted, to fight him. He doesn’t know it, but waiting will serve William far better than haste.”
“William will not be dissuaded. If the wind changes, he will sail, and I will not be the one to argue it with him.”
“You need not. We can prevent the wind from changing, keep it blowing as it has been, and ensure a victory for William, which will be a victory for us. You were right when you said the goblins will not let go of a debt, and I don’t fancy spending the rest of my life eluding their magic.”
Godric’s eyes widened. “Prevent the wind from changing? Have you then the weather-wisdom?”
“Yes. My mother was a powerful witch, the Vala for our village. She had wisdom in many things, and she taught me. You are a powerful wizard, I have good reason to know this, but there are many applications of magic that you have no knowledge of, just as there are many things about the wider world that I have no knowledge of. This is not a slight matter. This kind of magic, sustained as it must be for many days, would be beyond even my skill, had I not another powerful wizard to help me. If you will let me teach you, together we can do it.
Later, Godric would wonder whether it was the tea, or the clarity of Salizar’s arguments, or merely his own deep weariness of trying to determine the right course to steer in this confusing world, but finally he nodded. Part of him worried that he might be contributing to the invasion of his home, but massive forces were already moving in the world, and it seemed as though invasion might be inevitable no matter what he did.Feeling that he had allowed himself to be manipulated by too many, he was ready to act.
The days that followed were some of the most demanding of his life. He had endured rigorous and sometimes injurious training in combat and skills of the body, but they seemed to pale into insignificance compared with the exacting training he now received. Despite the profound moral ambiguity he felt, he took a fierce enjoyment in, for the first time in his life, bringing all of his considerable will and force to bear on the use of his own magic. It had always been something he could do, something that often solved problems or made things easier, but it had set him apart as well, and he’d always exercised caution about it. Now however, the demanding skills Salizar taught him brought out the full strength and power of his gifts, and he found it more satisfying than anything he’d ever done before.