Salazar picked up the heavy triangular wooden shield and approached Godric with it. He found the entire business of garbing for combat infinitely tiresome. Quilted gambeson, leather leggings, ring mail, helmet, shield, all unnecessary for a wizard, but Godric was a law onto himself, and Salazar was his true friend. The bond of friendship was strong, but Salazar had felt it strained by playing the role of Godric’s squire. Subservience, or even a show of it, was against his nature. Salazar’s only allegiance was to Godric though, and this seemed the most inconspicuous way for them to travel together.
Neither, thought Salazar, did Godric look any more interested in the proceedings than he himself. This saddened Salazar. Godric’s ebullience was one of the things Salazar loved most in his friend. This seemingly constant fighting practice had struck Salazar as utterly pointless, but Godric had always approached it with a fierce joy. Now, his expression was bitter and hard.
Their time waiting for the fleet to sail seemed downright playful compared to their daily life now that William’s army had landed in Sussex. Days of pitting their magical skills against one another in the privacy of their lodgings, or seizing the forces of wind and weather between them to affect change, had been entertaining and engaging. Now, camped with William’s army at Hastings, privacy was rare, and entertainment scarce.
Godric was committed to keeping their identity as wizards hidden, and living as muggles. Such a choice rankled with Salazar. He chafed at the need to live without magic, and more at the pretense of being a servant. Only profound devotion to the only friend he’d ever had, kept him where he was. But Godric, tormented by conflicting loyalties, unsure of the honourable course, and feeling himself without a true place, was no longer the companion he’d once been.
Accustomed to a life of ease and freedom, exercising his magical abilities in order to achieve his will, accepting the reverence of muggles who were in awe of him, Salazar found the web of honor and allegiance that bound Godric confusing and pointless. A Saxon, Godric now found himself as a soldier in the army of William of Normandy, a brutal and efficient conqueror who had vowed to invade and subjugate Godric’s home. Every decision Godric had made seemed right at the time, but now he found himself in the middle of a web he didn’t know how to escape from, or even where he wanted to escape to. For a man of boldness and bravery this was an intolerable impasse.
Then, Salazar reflected, there was the money. Always ready to use whatever means were to hand, (much like Salazar himself,) Duke William had been glad to accept the gold Godric gave him to aid in the building of the fleet. Seeking to support the duke to whom he’d sworn fealty, Godric was glad to give it. Of course Godric hadn’t had any gold of his own. The gold in question had in fact been procured by Salazar, from Goblins, who Salazar had found in the forest of Normandy, and who he hoped never to see again.
Godric lifted his shield wearily and turned toward the practice field. The bulk of the army had moved from their landing at Pevensey, to Hastings, where a castle had been hastily erected. Harold Godwinson, whom the English called King, and William called “usurper,” was in the north with his army, fighting for their lives against another invading army, that of Harald of Norway. William was firm in his decision not to pursue. His strategy was to stay where he was, live off the land, lute, burn and pillage the surrounding country, and taunt Godwinson to return, to fight at a place of William’s choosing. Many of the Sussex lands were owned by Godwinson’s relatives, and William was confident that once the fighting was done, Harold Godwinson and his army would return, depleted and exhausted, to fight William and his well-rested troops. Fattening themselves on the spoils of Sussex, William’s forces had only to wait.
For Salazar, such strategy made sense. To Godric, it was low, base, unbefitting the honor of a knight. He beheld the terrorizing of women, children and the elderly, (all who were left after the northward race of the Saxon army) as dishonorable, actions ill-befitting his sense of himself. All joy was gone from Godric. Any path he chose now seemed to lead nowhere he wanted to be, and some might be fatal. Watching the mock combat before him, Salazar thought hard, and came to a decision.
Godric lay flat on his back and fuming. They were in the common room of an inn which had been commandeered by William’s army as an infirmary. The wound on his leg was painful, but it caused him less distress than his fury. For the hundredth time, he reviewed the practice fight, trying to figure out how he had allowed the spear tip to reach flesh. Legs were certainly among the most vulnerable spots, protected only by leather leggings, but Godric, with due modesty, knew himself to be an exceptional fighter, and this seemed to him like the wound of an amateur.
Out of deference to the crowded conditions, Salazar refrained from using his wand, and he kept the purple salve he had made as unobtrusive as possible as he anointed and dressed the wound.
“Stop fretting,” he said as he wound the dressing around Godric’s upper leg. “Be grateful the spear missed the great artery, or you wouldn’t be here to berate yourself.” Godric’s face twisted into a most unaccustomed expression, then he relaxed into sullen silence.
In fact, things weren’t going exactly as Salazar had planned. He’d made his decision a bit too quickly perhaps, not having thought it through entirely, and it hadn’t occurred to him at all that his friend might receive a wound Salazar couldn’t heal. The laceration was mending as Salazar had guided it to do, but Salazar was coming to think that there had been some poison or corruption on the spear point of Godric’s foe, for there was an inflammation that Salazar couldn’t control, and his friend was beginning to show signs of an ominous fever. Salazar gave him a draft to encourage sleep, then left to search again in field and wood, for healing herbs.
The problem was that although he was expert in herb lore in his own land, many of the plants were different here. He sought for things he couldn’t find, and found things he couldn’t identify. His foraging had become more and more frustrating, and today it took a steep downward turn.
He was straightening from an examination of a plant that looked a little like something he recognized, when he was startled to see a goblin sitting still as a statue on a nearby rock watching him. Feigning indifference, Salazar shrugged one shoulder in offhand acknowledgment, and made to turn away. The goblin raised his hand and pointed its fingers at Salazar. A thin jet of fire flew from its fingertips right past the shoulder Salazar had shrugged. Salazar stopped dead. He believed himself to be the most powerful of wizards, but goblins had a magic of their own, that Salazar was reluctant to tangle with.
“You owe us a debt young wizard,” the goblin said in its rusty voice.
Salazar assumed an expression of mild confusion. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
The goblin pointed a finger at a nearby pool. The water had been still as glass, but as Salazar looked, it shifted and swirled, then settled into an image of himself taking a bag of gold from the hand of a goblin, indistinguishable from the one that stood before him.
“Will you play deception games with me young wizard?”
Salazar swallowed. He certainly would like to have done, but he felt the unpleasant sensation of the goblin’s mind reaching out toward his: a warning that lying would be pointless.
“That was far from here,” he said with an unconcern he didn’t feel. “What is that debt to you?”
“A debt to goblins is a debt to goblins. Our ways are no business of yours. Your only business is to repay us, and soon.”
“You’ll be paid when I’m ready to pay you.”
The goblin raised its hand once more. Salazar found his entire body ringed with dancing flames. They weren’t touching him, and they moved as he moved, but all the magical force he possessed was insufficient to douse or move them. He closed his eyes and brought all of his considerable magical energy to bear, but to no effect. He opened his eyes and looked at the goblin.
“I haven’t the means to repay you yet.”
Very slowly the flames retreated. “We will not wait for ever. We know where your friend lies, wounded, unable to defend himself. You know a great battle is coming. Perhaps you’re unaware of the host of magical creatures who are drawn to such things, the scavengers, those who feed on fear, injury, confusion. They are all our allies. If you try to escape away with your debt unpaid, we will know, and we will stop you, you and your friend.”
Salazar was shaken, though he did his best not to show it. “All right,” he said finally, “I will find some way to repay you.”
“In ten days’ time you will return to this place with the gold, all of it plus the agreed upon lending fee, or we will find first your friend, then you, and exact the vengeance saved for those who would cheat goblins of their right.”
Salazar stood still, watching as the goblin disappeared into thin air. He stared at the place where it had been for a long time, then turned away angrily to crash through the undergrowth in frustration, and not a little fear.
He hadn’t gone far however, before the air was pierced by a shrill voice, which nevertheless cracked a little. “Halt and state your business. If you be an enemy, then stand and fight!” To his amazement, Salazar found his way blocked by a boy, no older than ten or twelve he guessed, holding a crudely shaped wooden shield, and a long branch, whittled to a rather dangerous point. The boy’s skinny legs showed beneath the shield, and his arm shook with the weight of the makeshift spear, but his expression was fierce, his stance bold. Had he been in a less serious mood Salazar might have laughed aloud. The boy had spoken in Saxon, and Salazar replied.
“I’m no Norman,” he said pacifically. “Are you the defender of England’s shores then?”
Intrigued by the improvised spear, Salazar stepped forward to reach for it, but at his movement, the boy lunged toward him. Unbalanced by the shield and spear however, he fell headlong on the ground. Salazar did laugh then, but reached out to help the boy up. Ridiculous though the boy was, Salazar respected his bravery. “I’m not here to fight you,” he said, “I’d just like to have a look at your spear; it’s well carved.”
The boy let himself be helped to his feet, then they sat down together on a fallen log while Salazar gave his attention to the closely whittled spear point.
“This is nicely done,” he said disarmingly. Something about the boy’s looks appealed to him. The boy was skinny and ill-kept, as well he might be, living as a Saxon in the midst of an invading army. Somehow, to Salazar, he also had the look of one who is alone in the world. Probing gently with his mind, he confirmed this to be so.
“What is your name young squire?”
“Cadogan. I’m going to be a knight one day. My father is with Harold in the north, and when he comes home we’re going to fight together and crush the Normans.”
“You and your mother live near?”
“My mother died when I was born. My father left me with neighbours but…,”
From the boy’s mind, Salazar sensed a confusion of dark images best left unexamined, and knew the boy was truly alone. With his finely honed magical sense, he determined something else as well. “Share some bread with me.” He pulled a slightly stale piece from a pocket, and divided it so that the boy got the larger hunk. The boy grabbed it and ate eagerly. Salazar wondered when the boy’s last meal had been.
“You’re not a Norman you say, and you’re definitely not a Saxon,” Cadogan peered curiously into Salazar’s face. “What are you?”
“I’m a wizard from a distant land,” he said calmly.
Cadogan’s eyes got huge in his thin face. “Are you really?”
“Look.” Salazar pointed at the ground. A long twig began to wriggle, then to writhe, then lifted from the ground with no hand to move it. Quick as lightning it rose up and would have thrust itself up Cadogan’s nose, but just in time it was thrust away, again with no hand to move it. Cadogan looked stunned.
Salazar laughed his hearty belly laugh, which came so unexpectedly from such a somber and unusual looking man. “Yes,” he said cheerfully, “And you are a wizard from a very near land, this one in fact.” Salazar’s heart was lightened by his meeting with this brave but lost little boy, a wizard ignorant of his gift.
“I’m a wizard?” In his excitement Cadogan leapt to his feet and stood facing Salazar, his face alight. “How could I be a wizard and not know?”
“The gift often doesn’t show itself until you’ve reached a certain age. It seems you are at that age.”
Cadogan grabbed the twig from the ground and began waving it energetically. “What can I do?”
“Not very much yet. You must be taught, and you’ll do nothing with that flimsy twig. We’ll make you a real wand, then we shall see what you can do.”
“When? Right now?”
Salazar sighed. “No, not right now, there are many other things to think about.” And yet his spirits were buoyed by Cadogan’s exuberance, and by the prospect of helping a young wizard to hone his gifts. Salazar felt stumped by Godric’s wound, and by his own predicament with the goblins, but here was one thing he could do.
For the next few hours they sat together while Salazar showed Cadogan some simple spells and incantations that could be done without a wand. Cadogan was captivated, and would have gone on, but Salazar could see the boy was tiring, and he himself must get back to Godric. Salazar had taken a liking to the boy, clumsy with his body, but showing promise of magical power. Looking at the boy’s skinny frame and ragged clothes he wondered what to do with him. Such a one couldn’t be left to the vagaries of an invading army. A young wizard with no one to protect and guide him, and one so recklessly brave? No, something must be done. Salazar scratched his head.
“Where do you live?”
Cadogan’s face clouded, then he said blusteringly, “I live here in the woods! I’m not afraid of anything!”
“Hmm, I don’t doubt that,” Salazar replied judicially, “But you see, I am friends with a soldier. Until now I have been caring for his armor and gear, but I am neither soldier nor knight, nor do I wish to be. We could use a squire to help.”
Cadogan was instantly enthralled. “Really? I can do that! Who is your friend? Is he a great and noble knight?”
“Yes,” said Salazar feeling a rush of warmth, “He is a great, brave and noble knight. His name is Godric. Unfortunately he has been wounded, and I must return to care for him. Come with me and we will ask whether he will accept your oath of service.”
Cadogan was so excited that he immediately began to run, in the wrong direction, and tripped over a root and sprawled on the ground. Laughing once more, Salazar helped him up, and pointed him right.
Salazar had carefully refrained from telling Cadogan that the soldier in question was with William’s army. Trusting to Godric’s name, and uncritical of his new friend, Cadogan followed happily along. As they neared the Norman encampment however, his steps slowed and his expression darkened.
“What are we doing here?” He asked a little too loudly.
Salazar put a quelling hand on the back of his neck and propelled him forward. In a tone more forbidding than the boy had yet heard from Salazar, the man said, “This is where Godric is. Keep your mouth shut and your eyes open. This is your first true lesson as a squire and a wizard. Do as I say and don’t draw attention to yourself.” Feeling less sure of his new friend, Cadogan allowed himself to be propelled forward, arriving finally at an inn he had known when it was a meeting place for friends, rather than an infirmary for enemies. On entering, Salazar pointed to Godric as a way to reassure the boy. No one looking at Godric could doubt he was a Saxon.
Godric lay where Salazar had left him, but at his side sat a man Salazar didn’t recognize. As they approached however, Cadogan began to squirm with excitement, though remembering Salazar’s admonition, he kept silent. Hovering unseen behind a stack of tables, Salazar said quietly, “who is that man?” Godric and the man were talking together with an intensity that made Salazar uneasy.
“That’s Odo!” Cadogan said excitedly. “He’s…,” but what Odo was Salazar didn’t hear, for just then Godric looked up and saw them. Salazar moved forward between the pallets of wounded men and approached warily.
“Salazar my brother,” Godric said, his normally blustery voice made low and rough with fever, “Come meet this man. His name is Odo, and he’s an extraordinary…,” Yet again Salazar failed to hear about Odo’s virtues, for Godric seemed to lose the ability to find words, and lapsed into the doze of the very ill.
Salazar knelt swiftly beside his friend, touching his forehead and throat, then pulling back the dressing to examine his wound. What he saw and felt frightened him. He sat back on his heels.
“He needs Mistress Helga,” Odo said seriously.
“Mistress who?” Salazar asked without much interest.
“Mistress Helga. She is my friend, and a healer of great renown.”
Salazar looked around the room at the motley collection of Norman soldiers. “She’s not likely to find much welcome here.”
“Neither is your friend likely to find the healing he needs here. Helga knows much of herb lore and magic. We should take your friend to her.”
Salazar raised his eyes to look at Odo. He was a wispy seeming man, with the kind of face you forget ten seconds after you stop looking at it. At the moment, Odo’s expression was serious, intent on convincing Salazar. Salazar would learn that this was not at all Odo’s habitual expression, but in that moment, he felt a force coming from Odo that he was disinclined to argue with. Odo was right. Godric was getting worse, and Salazar didn’t know how to help him.
“I think there may have been poison on the tip of the spear that wounded him,” Salazar said wearily. “You think this Ilda can help him?”
“Not ilda, Helga!” Cadogan hissed unexpectedly. “I know her too. She can heal him, I know it!”
Odo showed no surprise at Cadogan’s presence, only nodded. “Your friend cannot walk,” Odo said to Salazar. “How may we move him?”
“We’ll wait till it’s dark,” Salazar replied, for once having committed himself to a plan, he was efficient in its execution. “I’ll make a sleeping potion to put in the cups of those guarding the encampment, and those in this tavern alert enough to cause trouble. Between us we can levitate him. Is this healer nearby?”
“Near enough,” Odo said. “Cadogan can help us too. We may need more of a distraction if you’re unable to give your potion to all.” There plans made, Odo slipped away to return when Salazar would send Cadogan to find him.
In the hours that followed, Godric slipped in and out of sleep, but even through his illness, Salazar sensed a difference in his spirit. During his lucid periods, Godric told of his long conversation with the odd, wispy Odo.
“There’s something about him that makes you tell him everything,” Godric confided. “I don’t really know who he is or why he was here. He’s a Saxon I’d guess, or maybe a Dane: no Norman, and yet everyone seemed to either know him or ignore him. Somehow I found myself telling him everything, all the things I told you about William and Harold. He has much wisdom. We talked about honor, and courage, and loyalty and….” Godric’s voice trailed off, but Salazar saw less trouble in his friend’s eyes than had been there for many days. He didn’t understand what Odo might have said to ease Godric’s spirit, but love for Godric caused Salazar to feel gratitude toward the strange unknown man.