A future was lost yesterday
as easily and irretrievably
as a tennis ball at twilight.

~ Sylvia Plath, April 18

An Introduction of All Sorts

Being a real witch during the tenth century was not something that Rowena Partholain particularly enjoyed, nor did her female status bring her much satisfaction. The reasons for these disappointments were due to the fact that that was the beginning of the age of witch persecutions and the case of women not being given much credit by the Catholic Church.

In fact, if someone reported to a local authority that they had seen some suspicious activity (preferably witchcraft) around the area of a woman's residence, she would immediately be dragged out of her home and if she were lucky, would be presented with a trial as to whether she really was a witch or not. Most of the time, the outcome was not favourable for the victim and she was consequently burnt at the stake infront of the village crowd, whether there was any valid proof or not.

Rowena herself had come close to being discovered and burnt when her closest neighbour, the extremely sly and nosy Gretorix MacSpallane, had once spotted a birthmark shaped like an bird in flight on her neck during an amorous conversation between himself and Rowena, in which he attempted to persuade her to become his wife even though, according to the Church, women were the bane of humanity.

Rowena was perhaps the most beautiful woman in the little hamlet of Mulfaver with her curling chestnut hair, sapphire blue eyes and creamy skin, and one of the very few left. Most of the unmarried females had either been drowned in the village pond or burnt at the stake in the village square because they had been accused of witchcraft and none of them, Rowena suspected, had had any knowledge of magic at all.

So, of course, as the men of the village grew older they began to surreptitiously search for a young maiden to marry, simply for the reason of having a personal servant who would fulfill their selfish demands. And because Rowena was known to be the prettiest and most capable of all the women left, she was the object of desire for many suitors who were all ugly, uncouth and old.

Naturally, Rowena refused every proposal they offered her and soon became the most disagreeable woman of the village, in the opinion of the men. But one day, Gretorix MacSpallane decided to have his chance with Rowena after a very long and impatient period of waiting.

It was a fairly cloudy afternoon on which he plucked up his courage and strode boldly out of his front door, confident that he would be coming back a soon-to-be-married man.

The clouds overhead were dark and gloomy, exactly matching Rowena's mood as she sat slumped over her kitchen table, staring glumly into the quietly crackling fire.

She was quite poor and had no way of earning money, both her parents being dead from an epidemic earlier on in the year. She could not continue her father's business as he was a smith and there was nobody who would teach her the mastery of the smith, and even if there was someone it was too inappropriate an occupation for a young lady. She had also contemplated selling the fruit and vegetables that her garden provided her with, but there was barely enough to feed herself, let alone another person.

Hence Rowena lived in constant poverty and hunger, dressing in the same drab clothing and fixing her own shoes when the soles had been worn away. She did not mix much with the rest of the villagers, but kept to her house and tended her garden, absorbing herself in the ancient scrolls of writing her father had left her in his death.

Rowena thrived on knowledge; she couldn't bear stupid people and despised foolishness. Everything she did was performed in a careful and methodical manner, although she did make mistakes, like every other human being. And she always berated herself every time, even if they were the most minor errors. She never shifted the blame for anything on her parents, however, as some Muggle-born witches and wizards who resented their parentage were wont to do.

Both Mr and Mrs Partholain had been non-magic folk and seemingly two of the most ordinary you could ever find. They did not know about Rowena's magic because she never performed it infront of them and she never told them about it, for fear of their love not stretching to accomodate something they were unable to do and could not understand.

The only unusual thing about her parents was the large amount of scrolls they had collected and left for Rowena at their death, along with their shabby house and its belongings. They did not make much money before their death, but had been able to have proper meals and a new piece of clothing now and then. But now that the smithy had been closed at the deaths of the elderly Partholains, Rowena was thinner than she had ever been before, not to mention sadder.

And marriage was most certainly the last thing on her mind that day.

As soon as Gretorix MacSpallane reached the Partholain house, he brushed the dust off his ugly brown coat, straightened the collar of his coarse grey shirt, smoothed his greasy greying hair, and thundered on the door with his knuckles.

Inside the house, Rowena sighed in frustration and thumped her fist on the table, cursing whoever it was that was trying to break down her door. She stood up from her chair and strode briskly across the room, flinging open the door and fixing a frown on her face when she registered who was standing before her.

Gretorix's face split into a licentious grin as his eyes travelled over Rowena's body from her tousled hair to her bare feet and back again.

"May I help you, Mr MacSpallane?" asked Rowena through gritted teeth.

"Oh yes, Miss Partholain, you most certainly can help me!" laughed Gretorix. "Why don't I just step inside, hmmm?"

"Actually, why don't you just stay outside? Your sordid proposals are not welcome under my roof, and neither are you, for that matter!"

But Gretorix only laughed again. "Oh, how I love difficult women! It always gives me ever so much pleasure to see them eventually bend to my will. I quite understand that you desperately want me but find it too hard to admit, and I can help you in that aspect if you so wish ... "

"Go away, you boastful cretin! I don't want anything to do with you, and if I were stupid enough to desperately want you, I'd have drowned myself in the village pond!" snapped Rowena heatedly, tossing her hair off her shoulders.

At this comment, Gretorix's smile faded and his eyes darkened showing his anger. "I think you'd be a little bit more grateful for my offer of marriage, Rowena. It's time you settled down, and you should believe yourself to be lucky that I've still come for your hand, what with all the men you've - " He suddenly stopped, his eyes widening as they stared at a place on Rowena's neck.

"Wh - what is th - that?" he squeaked, pointing at a bird-shaped birthmark on the side of her neck.

Too late, Rowena realised that she had bared one of the things that could easily betray her. Birthmarks, freckles and warts were at that time considered as evidence of amorous relations with the devil and would therefore give the authorities the right to condemn the transgressor to a suitable punishment - namely, death.

Rowena hastily covered the offending item with her hair and smiled sweetly at Gretorix who seemed transfixed to the spot where he was standing. "It's nothing, Gretorix. Nothing at all, and don't you worry your head about it. Erm ... would you like to come inside?" Rowena offered, pleasantly.

"I wouldn't come inside if you begged me on your knees, you - you witch! That's a birthmark on your neck, that is, and God knows what you'd be brewing in that run-down hut of yours. And to think that I wanted to marry you!" gabbled Gretorix shakily. "I'll tell everyone! I'll tell the whole village and then you'll be burnt at the stake, you devil-worshipper!"

And off he ran back down the road towards the village square without looking back, screeching, "Witch! Partholain witch!" at the top of his lungs.

Rowena stared at his retreating back in horror, cursing her own folly. How could she have been so stupid as to toss her hair off her shoulders? Well, if Gretorix came back with the entire village carrying torches and pitchforks, ready to execute her themselves, then it would serve her right.

She slammed the door shut and bolted it fast, grabbing her only cloak from the hook next to the door and flinging it onto the kitchen table.

Pacing infront of the fire, Rowena tried to get her thoughts in order. If Gretorix was a fast runner then he would be back with reinforcements in due time, all of whom would be delighted to see what they termed to be justice, even if it was to be administered on the woman more than three quarters of the village had courted. But if she escaped now and ran fast, she wouldn't be caught by them and she would be free.

But the question was: where would she go? Rowena had no living relations that she knew of and no friends residing anywhere nearby; in fact, she didn't have any friends at all! She had always been too consumed in her father's old scrolls to bother with making friends because she felt that the ancient scribblings were the best friends any person could have. But she knew very well that writing could not save her now.

The only option that remained was the supposedly haunted wood on the outskirts of Mulfaver which everyone always travelled around and not through, because of the evil spirits rumoured to be residing in it. But it would have to do, unless Rowena had a sudden wish for her bones to become ashes, which she certainly did not.

And so, taking a log from the pile next to the ancient fireplace and lighting it with the flames, she threw it at the far wall where an extremely worn-out and ragged tapestry hung. It was instantly set alight, the flames licking away at the cloth and the wood under it.

I'll be damned before I let any of those bastards touch my property, thought Rowena as she threw a few more logs into various corners of the room before snatching her cloak, putting it on and hurrying out of the back door into the night.

~ ~ ~

While Rowena was sprinting madly towards Mulfaver Wood, Helga Turnlovey lounged in a plush velvet armchair in the dusty library of Winthroe Castle, fully emersed in The Rose of the Rounde Table, a somewhat fictional account of the tragic wizarding romance between Lancelot, one of King Arthur's knights, and Guinevere, Arthur's wife.

It was the only love story that Helga could find in the library of Godric Winthroe's home. She supposed it used to belong to Godric's long-deceased mother, Lady Eleanora, because of the note on the gilt cover of the book, written in very fancy writing with such honest love that made Helga's eyes leak with admiration:

To my dearest wife Eleanora,
May this book bring you as much joy as your love brought to me.
It is but a mere hint of my own adoration and devotion to your blessed self.
Keep it in memory of me,
your ever-loving husband,
Godfrey Winthroe III.

Helga sniffed self-pityingly as she read over the dedication again. Would anyone ever write her something like that? Would anyone even think of giving her a book as a token of their affection? Probably not, she thought morosely. For who would ever love a boring old maid like me?

Of course, Helga was not boring nor old, and not even ugly. She had formed this opinion of herself owing to the fact that petite dark-haired witches, all mysterious and foreign-looking, were the preference of wizards at that time. And Helga, with her fiery red curls, warm brown eyes and full figure, was usually dismissed as a dull-witted peasant lookalike, although she was of noble birth and had quite an inheritance under her name.

But unfortunately for Helga, buxom, red-haired, brown-eyed maidens were not the vogue then, and Helga had had quite a miserable courting period, which was technically nonexistent due to the lack of suitors pleading for her hand in marriage.

Now if only she were dark-haired and svelte like the beautiful Guinevere depicted on the front cover of the book, who was lying in Lancelot's arms looking deathly pale, her long dark hair falling in cascades down her back. Then she wouldn't be constantly rejected by men and she'd get rid of those damned freckles that had very nearly cost her her life.

It had happened five months ago, when Helga had a brief encounter with death. She had lived in the center of a sleepy town - Sulvanny - in Turnlovey Hall, the home her father had left her at his death from wizarding cancer, being 153 years of age at the time. The persecution of witches had not yet begun in Sulvanny, for which Helga and her elderly mother, Florensa, were very grateful.

But as with all areas of the British Isles, Sulvanny soon succumbed to the terror and chaos that pervaded many other towns in Britian. And Helga was one of the last women of Sulvanny to be accused of witchcraft, as most of them had already been burnt brutally at the stake, and the Turnlovey name was not then sullied by suspicion and commanded some respect.

But when news of freckles, birthmarks and warts being proof of sorcery reached the ears of Sulvanny's townspeople, any last signs of sleepiness vanished and a new force of righteous tyranny drove the inhabitants to purge the town of all who fitted the description of Satan's helpers.

Helga had watched, nervously hiding her freckles, as woman after woman, young and old, was convicted of the same crime as the one before her. Each was burnt, screaming for mercy, at the stake in the town square before a roaring crowd of men, who would feel no anxiousness about themselves simply because they were men and therefore, the Catholic Church's favourite sex.

And one day, it became Helga's turn to experience firsthand the terror of knowing that there was nothing that could save you from death that had not decided to come early, but was forced to.

It was after morning tea time, and Helga was knitting in one of the two drawing rooms of Turnlovey Hall on that fateful day, when several loud knocks were administered to the front door, demanding her attention. The butler, who was a wizard himself, had come running in, terrified, after he had answered the door and spoken with the authorities waiting to drag Helga out of her home and to the stake, if possible so soon.

And drag her they did, as Helga screamed, kicked and scratched the men with her nails, all the way to court where she was given a very short trial in which she screamed some more and called the judge a "repulsive stinking codfish" and was instantly ordered to the stake.

And Helga, entirely losing her mind, whipped out her wand and was on the verge of Stunning every single person in the room when the judge, a wizard who had abandoned the magical life, ordered her to his private chamber and led her out the back way so she could escape without being seen.

The judge's motives behind this were not that he had fallen in love with Helga's beauty and desired to save her from a terrible fate, nor did he pity her any more than he did his other victims who were all either burned or drowned. He saved Helga's life out of concern for his own self who would be blamed for everything that would ensue if Muggles actually saw Helga do magic with an adult wizard (no matter if he had abandoned his wizarding life) in the same room.

And when Helga bolted out the door of his chamber, he promptly hit himself over the head with a paperweight from his desk and collapsed on the floor, unconscious, as though it were all Helga's doing.

And thus, Helga evaded death. She deserted Turnlovey Hall and fled with her mother to Atlindle, which was Mrs Turnlovey's private estate. After notifying Godric, who had been Helga's playmate from her birth, she shifted to Winthroe Castle (leaving her mother at the woman's request). Godric firmly insisted that she live in the safety of his isolated home which was only visible to the eye of a magical being. So she took up residence at the castle with Godric and his terribly flirtacious and very pretty sister, Georgiana, whom Helga immediately took a dislike to.

It would be false to say that Georgiana seriously minded about Helga's disfavour towards her, because Georgiana was not at all bothered about it. In her opinion, Helga was definitely a "boring old maid" who didn't know "how to flaunt her looks" and who "wasted her time on books and day-dreams when she could be ensnaring men instead". And so Helga and Georgiana dutifully avoided each other's company whenever possible, and ignored each other whenever it wasn't.

While Helga lived in Winthroe Castle, it would have been expected and acceptable if a romantic interest had sparked up between Godric and herself, but what really happened was quite the contrary. Of course, Helga had developed a certain fondness for Godric that stretched beyond the boundaries of friendship.

But when, just a few days ago, he had told her that he thought of her as no more than a sister (having found out about her amorous prospects for him from Georgiana), she realised that all those weeks of trying to catch Godric's eye and seem extraordinarily pleasant and pretty were wasted. She then reverted to losing herself in worlds where she could forget about her grievances and pry into someone else's life. That is to say, she read books.

The castle's library was packed with them but was fairly dusty because of the deficiency of visitors interested in its ancient tomes. Both Godric and Georgiana did not experience excitement about reading - Godric being a man of action, and Georgiana not very literate.

So Helga spent hours, day after day, in the stuffy library of the castle, reading book after book of stories by wizarding authors of terrifying horror tales that kept her looking over her shoulder for insane murderers. Books of magical adventures in far away lands, of chivalrous deeds committed by brave knights, and ancient books of lore and legend that wholly mystified Helga no matter how many times she read through them.

But on this particular day, it was a book of romance that caught her attention, and she had been reading it for quite some time, eyes regularly clouding over with tears of pity, understanding, appreciation, and frustration, when a strong masculine shout drifted into the room.

"Helga! Where in hell are you? Helga!"

Placing a bookmark on the page she had been reading, Helga sighed and called out, "I'm in the library, Godric!"

Soon she heard the tell-tale thump, thump, thump of boots echoing in the hallway outside the library and seconds later, Godric's head appeared around the door, his face breaking into a grin as he registered Helga curled up in an armchair beside the fire, feet tucked neatly under her. "Sticking your nose in the books again, eh?" he said, his brilliant green eyes twinkling.

Helga bristled in vexation at this comment, as she always did when her appearance was mentioned in even the subtlest way. "For your information, they are extremely interesting and if I were you - "

"Which you are not, thankfully."

" - I would be sticking my nose in them too. They are your legacy and you ought to know your own property, Godric."

The black-haired man shook his head and sighed in exasperation. "Let's not turn this into a lecture about all my faults, shall we? I'd much rather ask you on the whereabouts of our dear delayed friend, Salazar."

"Oh Godric, he's probably just being held up for some reason. You know that he's always got many things to do, what with all that property he owns. Give the man some pity!"

"Pity! Why should I pity him? He's devastatingly wealthy and could have any woman begging for him in under a minute! And anyway, you know that he doesn't like being pitied, Helga. He's the kind of man who wouldn't accept pity if he was within an inch of death! And it's already been half an hour since our designated time. I'd say that this is not even fashionably late, as he likes to call it. If he's not here by seven o'clock then he'd better have a bloody good reason for it."

Helga stretched lazily like a cat and yawned unceremoniously. She had long since abandoned all formalities and coyness with Godric; he was now no more than a brother to her, and she had absolutely no intention of starting any romance between them, as it had failed miserably before. He was her primary confidante, always had been, and she was enormously grateful that nothing had changed between them due to their short-lived love affair. More like nonexistent, thought Helga.

"Georgiana's been after him for weeks!" said Godric, jostling Helga out of her thoughts.

"Him, who?" asked Helga irritably. She always assumed an irritated tone of voice whenever Godric's sister was mentioned.

Godric shot her an exasperated look and rolled his eyes. "Salazar, of course! Who did you think, Arthur of Camelot?"

"Well I wouldn't put it past Georgiana to raise the dead just so she could amuse herself with them."

"Ha! She can barely make a Forgetfulness Potion! And she'd probably go off to powder her nose before she was even through one stage of the necromancy process."

"Sometimes I wonder if she isn't a - a - " faltered Helga, "what is it you call a wizard who can't do magic?"

"A Squib, oh lovely being of no memory!"

"Well, sometimes I wonder if she isn't a Squib - what a vulgar word! - because of her poor abilities in magic," said Helga, ignoring Godric's previous comment.

"Hey, there's always the Muggle cabarets in France!" quipped Godric. "She ought to fit right in, and then I'd get free favours from her - ah - co-workers."

"Ugh! At times like these I couldn't think of more repulsive creatures than men," sniffed Helga.

Godric eyed her expectantly, a grin creeping around his face.

"Oh, all right, all right. Yes, I can't help but be fascinated about what goes on in them taverns. What an exotic life those girls must lead!" said Helga almost wistfully, as Godric collapsed into a chair in gales of laughter. "And what is so funny, may I ask?"

But Godric didn't answer for a while, as laughter kept bubbling up inside him and spilling out of his wide mouth. Finally - "Oh, I just imagined you in one of those costumes that they wear in cabarets. All frills and short skirts and lacy undergarments - "

"Right, that's enough from you!" snapped Helga, a wicked smile threatening to overpower her grimace of revulsion.

Godric smiled nonchalantly and, looking at the gold ornate clock on the mantelpiece under which a fire was burning merrily, he said, "Salazar has fifteen minutes to go before he's an hour late. Honestly, whatever happened to his punctuality?"

Helga yawned again and rearranged herself in her seat. "Leave the man alone, Godric. If he's late, he's late and there's nothing we can do about it. Now I'm going to carry on reading this book, as I was doing before you rudely interrupted me, and I suggest you get acquainted with one or two yourself while we wait for him."

So the heir of Winthroe Castle stood up, randomly chose a book from the shelf nearest him (Isle of the Sultans), and stretched out in his crimson velvet armchair, joining in with the tranquillity of the scene.

~ ~ ~

At about the same time as Godric stuck his head around the door of the library, Rowena finally entered Mulfaver Wood, snagging the edge of her cloak on a branch to her left. She was quite out of breath and full of hurting joints and muscles, not being used to so much strenuous exercise. So she slowed down to a walk and trudged, gasping and puffing, along the surprisingly well-trodden path that led through the heart of the wood and out into the next town.

The only sounds Rowena could hear in the wood were her own footsteps and ragged breathing; neither birds nor animals were anywhere in sight and there was an eerie gloom all around. She didn't dare take out her wand and cast a spell for light, in case there were any stray Muggles in the wood for some odd reason.

And then she heard the horse.

Actually, it was only the sound of the horse's hooves that resounded throughout the wood but nevertheless, Rowena panicked. What was a horse doing in Mulfaver Wood? They were the main means of Muggle travel at that time and there weren't any wild ones near Mulfaver, as far as she knew. Was it someone from the village coming to find her?

Instantly, her heart quickened its pace though she wasn't moving, and she pricked her ears in the direction of the sound. No, it was coming from the heart of the wood, away from Mulfaver, but it was coming closer to her with every passing second. She looked around wildly for a place to hide but there was none, so she resolved to peeking out from behind a thick oak.

The horse soon reached the clearing Rowena was in and stopped there, to her displeasure. She realised that it had a rider, but she couldn't see his face as he seemed to be swathed in the very shadows themselves. The colour of the horse was such a deep black that it was almost blue, but it was a strangely beautiful animal and Rowena suddenly longed to touch its brilliant mane.

Presently, it spoke ... or so it seemed to Rowena who was mesmerised by its beauty, but it was actually the rider to whom the smooth drawling voice belonged to.

"I know you are hiding somewhere, and I will not go until I have established who you are," the voice said, making Rowena jump and thus reveal her hiding place.

Not that it was much of a hiding place anyway, she thought grumpily.

"You know, it's quite ridiculous for you to still hide from me though I know exactly where you are," the man informed Rowena in a mildly amused tone. She was sure it was a man because no woman ever had a voice as low and sensual as that. "I am already quite late for my destination and one of my - friends - would certainly murder me before I had even alighted off my horse, if I were anymore delayed than I already am. Come now, don't make me dismount and drag you out myself."

"How do I know that you're not going to attack me for some obscure reason if I come out?" inquired Rowena boldly, surprising herself.

"Well, judging by the fact that you're apparently still alive, although I know the exact place where you are standing and have an especially sharp dagger on me, I won't attack you unless you attack me first ... madam. Now will you come out or do I have to fulfill my threat of dragging you out myself?"

Rowena was by now too hypnotised by both the man and his horse to resist the order, and tremblingly stepped forward into the patch of moonlight streaming from the canopy of the wood. She couldn't see the man any better but she understood that his horse was not actually black but midnight blue. And then she realised two more things - that she had never seen a horse like this one before, and that the man sitting astride it must have been very wealthy indeed. Or he could have been a thief.

After a rather long pause, the man asked, "Where are you heading at this late hour? And in those clothes, too ... "

Rowena felt a sharp pang of indignation. So what if her clothes were old and tattered? Her appearance was not the most important thing in the world to her and she wouldn't let this man or anybody make fun of her. "Where I am headed is my own business. And as for my garments ... well, they suit me just fine, thank you very much."

"Good, good. I like passionate women who can defend themselves; if not with a sword, then with the tongue. But even though I am supposed to be cruel and heartless by popular belief, I cannot let you go without knowing exactly where it is you are going."

Touched by the man's concern, Rowena softened; perhaps he could help her find somewhere to stay for the night and then perhaps she could find another village to live in. After all, he had what looked to be a very healthy horse, and she had tired blistered feet. She sighed wearily. "To be honest, I don't really have any idea about where I'm going - "

"Then it can't have been a very well-planned expedition," interjected the man.

" - and I was planning on sleeping in this wood - "

"Which wouldn't be a terribly good idea considering your condition, not to mention the reputation of this place."

" - but I will decide to change my mind if you would help me. And I don't appreciate being interrupted!" finished Rowena angrily.

And it was a few seconds before she registered that the man was laughing at her. The nerve of him! Why, Rowena could easily hex him and his devastatingly beautiful horse into oblivion if she wanted to! But somehow, the thought didn't really appeal to her at that moment and her anger abated slowly, as she watched the blue sheen of the horse's silky coat travel around the side of its body that was facing her.

"There's a little village just a little way out of this wood - Mulfaver, I believe - and if you like, I could drop you off there," suggested the man.

"No! There's a - a - a witchhunt going on there right now! And I don't think the villagers would take kindly to an interruption on so lovely a horse. They might think that you used sorcery of the wickedest kind to enchant the beast."

"Ah yes, Minuit is a rather handsome animal. The horses of the Nuit Foncée breed are very rare and therefore difficult to come by. My ancestors, however, have had a claim on them for generations and this one was passed on to me at the death of my father. And it's quite fortunate that I don't have any siblings, otherwise there would have been a most bitter feud, and all because of a pretty horse," explained the man.

If anything, he sounded quite proud and boastful of the legacy he inherited. But anyone would be proud to own an animal like that, as Rowena reminded herself. Then, a thought popped up in her mind. " Minuit ," (the horse turned its head towards her), "that is a foreign word, is it not?"

"Indeed. French for midnight, and quite an appropriate name, eh?"

Rowena nodded silently. Yes, the man was definitely very rich and probably came from a very old distinguished family. That is, if he wasn't lying. But if he was, then he was awfully good at it because it sounded so plausible and Rowena believed every word.

"Now, enough of this! I don't even know your name and here we are, in the thick of a supposedly haunted wood, talking about my family!" the man snorted. "How - "

"Positively delightful!" filled in Rowena truthfully.

The man contemplated her for a moment then shook his head, clearly amused. "Tell me, you wouldn't happen to be the witch that was supposed to be burnt in Mulfaver tonight?"

Rowena blanched.

"As I thought. Really, madam, you are quite hopeless at cunning plans, you know that? And don't you worry; I won't turn you in to the authorities. I happen to be a wizard myself. Lord Salazar D'Ornoir, at your service," the man said, giving her a short bow while still perching steadily on the horse. "And may I have the pleasure of knowing your name at last?"

Relieved to know that Salazar was not a Muggle and wouldn't be letting her burn at the stake for witchcraft, she finally told him, "Rowena Partholain, at your service, milord."

Salazar drew himself up straight on his horse and stared at her fiercely, a frown forming on his face, though Rowena could not see it. Was it her? Could it really be ... her?
A heavy silence hung between them as Salazar surveyed her face and strove to get a look at her neck for that one little sign that would prove the identity that she claimed was true, but her hair surrounded all parts of her neck.

Perhaps if he used charm and guile he would be able to force it out of her ... "Dear me, Miss Partholain - or may I call you Rowena? - You do understand that with one slip-up from a single witch, the entire wizarding world is put in jeopardy? Quite careless of you, if I may say so."

"Well, I'm very sorry for leading the wizarding world into danger, but I was not using magic at the time of the discovery at all! It wasn't my fault in the slightest," was Rowena's haughty reply.

"Ah, then it must have been that little birthmark on your neck that gave you away? It is shaped rather like an eagle, correct?" he quizzed, giving her a shark's grin.

Rowena's eyes widened with shock and her hand slowly travelled to her throat where the birthmark was still obscured by her hair, confusing her as to how Salazar could possibly know about it. "You're not related to me by any chance, are you?"

Salazar gave a short bark of a laugh. "Funny how I know more about you now than you probably ever knew about yourself. You've never seen me before and never even heard of me, and then all of a sudden, I know so much about you than you could ever have imagined. And I'm sure you don't want to be left in the dark so shall we get moving and inform you about it later?" he asked, and then paused. Rowena was sure that he grimaced as he said, "Ugh! That was a terrible pun, was it not? 'Left in the dark', indeed. Sometimes I wonder at my own sanity, not to mention my license in sarcasm."

Rowena laughed and a bright clear tinkling filled the wood. "Thank you for informing me of that. But where exactly are you going to take me? The road through Mulfaver won't be too good for us at this time, and I haven't got any relatives or friends living nearby, and you're atrociously late for your meeting now, and it's all my fault - "

"Honestly, madam, do you ever know when to stop talking? Or were you a parrot in your past life?"

"I beg your pardon?"

"Oh, I suppose you haven't travelled much, Miss Partholain? If you did then you wouldn't have to grovel before me on the ground as I'd order my servants to do."

The corners of Rowena's mouth turned down at this. "That is not a very pleasant way to treat the people who serve you. It would never be acceptable in my home. And no, I have not travelled much at all, and I think I'll allow you to call me Rowena, since we're becoming so well-acquainted."

"Well then, Rowena, can you ride? And I mean fully astride, not side-saddle, as it would be grievously uncomfortable for you and I would feel guilty for putting you through such pain!"

"Well, I - I honestly don't know. I've never ridden a horse, you see."

"It's not very difficult. We just need to keep you on top of him, that's all. Now, come here and give me your hand."

Rowena walked across the leaf-littered ground to the horse and offered her hand to Salazar. She was no longer afraid of him, and as he grasped her rough hand in his gloved one, slid the other round her waist, and somehow hoisted her onto the horse's back behind himself, an arrow of delicious warmth shot through her body, right from her toes to her scalp, and she shuddered.

"Are you all right?" asked Salazar with surprising gentleness, feeling the tremor go through her body.

"Yes," Rowena whispered back, savouring the heat as it tingled on her skin. "Yes, I'm fine."

"You'd better hold on to me, and don't loosen your grip. We've got a long way to go yet and I don't want you falling off and becoming a bloody mess," said Salazar. Then he heaved an exasperated sigh. "I did it again. Wonderful. I'm going insane. And I haven't even got an heir to the family name yet!"

"Oh I'm sure that won't be a problem for you. There must be hundreds of women just waiting to get in line for the conception of an heir to your lordly belongings," observed Rowena, snaking her arms around his cloaked waist.

But none of them appeal to me as much as you, thought Salazar with all the bitterness in the world. "En avant, Minuit! Onwards!" he cried aloud, and before Rowena could look behind her, they were off almost faster than the speed of light.

Enjoyed that? Thought it sucked? Tell me about it! (Ah, I meant review actually). For those of you who think that I was heinously cruel about the Catholic Church, I do apologise, but it did do all the things listed in this fic. My source was the following website: Prosecution or persecution? The real story of the witch-hunt