Author's Notes: This is my very first time attempting a Founders story, much less a Salazar/Helga one. (A strange pairing, I know. But I like it.) I don't know if I am pleased with it, but I hope that you are.
The moon, but a sliver that night, rested both high and low and every place in between, for it reflected upon the surface of the lake and the surrounding world was bathed in silver. Even the trees were not immune to its glow; branches stretched to meet the sky, the tips gleaming in the exposed air. Every so often, a delicate touch of warm wind rustled the leaves which adorned them, then sped off at a spiral across the water and up to the topmost tower of the castle.
It was here, upon the balcony of this tower, that a figure stood, surveying with great interest all that occurred above and below her. She leaned forward as it to breathe into the faces of the stars; were her hands not clasped tightly onto the sturdy railing, she might have fallen. Yet she was as reckless as she was careful, and so she was safe.
The figure enjoyed the company of the moon for only a few moments longer. Then, seemingly satisfied with something that no one save for herself could perceive, she turned from the panorama before her and reentered the tower's inner chamber. Once within, she touched a stone inlaid into the wall and disappeared down the hidden passageway this action produced, darkness mingled with torchlight swallowing her. She did not glance over her shoulder once more to lay eyes upon the room she had left behind.
"This weather is damnable," Salazar growled, irate. He put a hand to his perspiring brow and, as if to solidify his statement in truth, tugged at the collar of his shirt in an attempt to loosen it.
"Do cease your fidgeting, Salazar," said Rowena, her eyes not leaving the pages of the book she held before her.
Salazar frowned, yet obeyed all the same; his hand came to rest upon the tabletop, where it lay all but entirely still. It was far too warm a night to place any argument against her irritation. He would let it pass until the season took a more agreeable turn—and by then, the matter would have faded from memory.
To his right and askance, Godric let forth a chuckle and raised his empty flagon just slightly. "Nigh more damnable than the pair of you," he grinned, refilling the cup with his wand. Then he brought it to his lips and drank deeply until the contents were gone.
"And still you maintain your humor," Salazar muttered; so lethargic was he that he did not muse upon this fact in full, for come June he purged his mind of such category of thought.
"Godric's humor is more than a flighty temptress, I am afraid." Rowena chose this time to lift her eyes, startling both men with the vibrancy of blue within them. It was not often that they were met by such a sight.
"Does something ail you that you cannot concentrate, Rowena dear?" Godric patted the short wooden chair beside him as she stood, though she pointedly avoided acknowledgement of his gesture; instead, she sank onto the three-legged stool which was nearest to Salazar.
"Only your humor," came the predicted reply. "And if it is on debate I cannot pass by the chance to interject my opinion."
Salazar's attention withdrew itself from Godric and Rowena's farcical argument, away from the present, and to the inexplicable time and place that was his mind. This was not musing, nor was it remembrance of any kind. It simply was, and existed only as that which he chose it to be. Voices laden with wit and sarcasm faded into voices of silence. Such voices were cool breaths that he could nigh feel drifting into his ears. HE could liken them to the caress of winter for which he so longed…
His eyes snapped open, though he could not recall allowing them to close. His gaze was bleary; still, it was not too much so, for he could easily perceive Rowena's face near to his own, regarding him with concern.
"I was certain that we had lost you," Godric chortled, and Rowena shot him a withering look.
"As was I," she murmured. She touched her fingers to his forehead gently, feeling for a temperature that would only match that of the air which encompassed it. "What plagues you—?"
"What is it that plagues us all?" he snapped. At the curtness of his words, her hand jerked away from his flesh and her cheeks flushed.
"Salazar," Godric began, suddenly reproachful. He regarded Rowena's reaction with a wary eye.
"What else but this insufferable heat?" Salazar demanded, ignoring all signs that he should act to the contrary. "It must be nigh morning, and yet we sit as though it has long-since arrived! Can we not do something to rid ourselves of—?"
"Control yourself," Rowena sighed, weary and still affronted. "I do not wish to awaken Helga…. Your shouting could rouse even stone in the bowels of the earth."
He tensed and then felt his shoulders sag as he calmed. "She is lucky to not be affected," he muttered. His words were not without a trace of bitterness, yet this his companions seemed to willingly forgive. Godric drank in agreement and Rowena offered a somewhat begrudging nod.
The latter pursed her lips after a moment and regarded the two men intently, casting her eyes from one to the other until her gaze settled someplace in between them. "Now I do not know where to sit."
"Allow me to simplify your decision." The legs of the chair scraped against the floor as Salazar rose from it and to his feet. Without another word, he swept from the table and passed through the doors that led into the room just beyond the Great Hall. The remaining pair, left in the wake of his sudden departure, could only sigh and hope that he would return in better spirits.
Salazar did not often listen to the whims that his subconscious produced, yet tonight proved to be an exception. Before he realized the precise nature of his actions, he had already begun this descent to the corridors which lay just below.
He paused at the large, gaping archway which signaled his arrival at the kitchens, though he lingered only a moment. It was disconcerting that the vast chamber beyond so reeked of emptiness and silence. Its current state differed so greatly from the omnipresent mayhem September always brought. He supposed that he had taken such things for granted; yet, again, he did not allow this thought to remain present after the room had left his sight.
Helga's quarters did not lie much further from that point, and so once he remembered this, he quickened his pace.
It was no wonder that she could sleep so soundly whilst the others tossed in their beds, he thought; the heat had yet to penetrate this section of the castle. Cool air played at the moisture upon his skin and a smile tugged at his lips for the first time in many hours. Even the climate of his chamber near the dungeons had suffered from the weather; when he had left it, the air had hung nearly visible with thickness.
When he arrived at his predetermined destination, Salazar hesitated. Did he truly wish to wake Helga without solid reasoning? A portion of him desired to do so, the portion which could not help but envy her unhindered slumber. He furrowed his brow, beginning to regret that he had chosen to follow this whim out of all those which he had, at one point or another, had. He knew not what to say if he was to converse with her, for there was nothing that direly needed to be spoken aloud that concerned her in any way.
All the same, he found himself to be raising his knuckles to the door which led to her chamber, upon which he rapped thrice. After all, he reasoned, she would not berate him if he roused her, and perhaps she would even comprehend his need to do so—most especially when he, himself could not.
The knocks resounded within, yet no reply breached them from beyond. Salazar lay his ear against the door and repeated his nonverbal query; again, he received nothing in return.
"Helga?" he inquired, his voice muffled against the wood. Then, without thought, he grasped the handle of the door and placed pressure upon it until he was admitted into her chamber.
Inside, it was dimly lit as though she had yet to retire for the night, but was simultaneously considering that doing so was ideal. This struck him as peculiar though, for he—and Godric and Rowena as well—had seen her excuse herself early; she had claimed to be exhausted, but as this was nothing more or less than ordinary, he had had nothing to prompt him to believe that something was amiss. Yet something had to be amiss, for Helga was gone, her bedcovers in their customary disarray.
Salazar felt a sense of curiosity rouse itself within him, and this caused him to frown, displeased. Curiosity was reserved for those who had not the intellect to solve matters without experiencing them. Godric was a prime example of this, and perhaps Helga, too, though she was not a simpleton. Salazar's frown deepened, yet all the same, he began to follow another whim—one which, he was certain, would plague him for the remainder of the night if he did not listen to what it asked.
This whim drew him from the depths of the castle and onto the grounds, where the moon was startlingly bright in spite of the space it occupied in the sky. The air was warm and thick; yet, Salazar realized, it was not as unbearable as it was from whence he had come. Still, it was not cool enough that his skin did not perspire, for his tunic remained plastered against his form.
A mild breeze swept past, and his eyes followed this movement as if by default. He watched the grass, now nigh silver in such light as it was subjected to, flatten in waves like the surface of a sea he had seen but once before in his life. But then the wind calmed and all once more was still.
This occurred many times more as he stood in silence, thinking but not focusing upon his thoughts; and so when the grass began to rustle behind him for what could have been the hundredth time, his mind lingered upon it for but a little. However, the tepid rush of air never engulfed him, and the sound ceased in a sudden manner that did not exist naturally. Quickly enraged by the curiosity within him once more igniting, he turned.
He saw nothing that he had expected.
"I wondered if perhaps you were a ghost," she whispered, her tone not matching the impish smile that curved about her lips. Salazar blinked, for her words had echoed his thoughts nigh verbatim.
By the light of the moon, her hair was spun gold and silver, and her skin shone in pale perfection—perfection that could not be glimpsed in the hours of the day, it seemed. Her garb was simple and thin: a loose white dress hung upon her frame, hinting in murmurs of the flesh which lay beneath. Her feet were bare, and she had crowned herself with a garland of tiny white flowers—he was certain he had glimpsed these on a morning he could no longer remember. Such garlands were also draped about her neck and fastened to a single ankle.
"Helga!" he stammered. He could see naught of the woman he knew to have this name, at least at first glance; only if he gazed upon her long enough, he could perceive traces of evidence that they were one and the same. Her smile was not an uncommon one, and her eyes were the very same, if not a shade darker or brighter.
"I am surprised to find you here," he said, and his voice grew stronger as he recovered. "And at an hour when we thought you to be abed."
Helga tilted her face upward and closed her eyes, as though the light exuding from the sky had transformed into the sun's rays.
"I can't sleep just yet," she told him after a brief respite in their short speech. "For tonight is a magical one."
"But all nights here are magical," he said, feeling like a half-wit with his choice of words. Such ideas could only be conveyed as thus by Helga, for they suited her in a way that they were not meant for him. Perhaps, he thought whilst another brief silence passed between them, this was because she had once toiled amongst peasants in the fields of a master who provided nothing further from magic than was possible…
Helga shook her head. "There is no other night like this. I don't suppose you have ever…" Her words tumbled forth, then ceased. "In my village, we celebrate."
"This." She spun, her white skirt rippling, as she gestured to all that lay around them. "A summer night. I can't resist its lure. And neither," she added, coming to a halt, "can you."
"I?" he asked, taken aback.
She smiled once more, though he did not realize that she had ever faltered.
Suddenly, he felt her hand—her fingers slightly roughened from her labor in the gardens—grasp his own, and she pulled him forward with a slight laugh. "You are warm!" she exclaimed as they traversed through the grass.
"I have not been gallivanting about in mere underclothes all evening—"
His will gave way to hers and he allowed himself to be led. Only when he glimpsed to where he was to be taken did he resist.
The lake shimmered just ahead. Helga turned to him, questioning apparent in her eyes though it was still dark. The breeze returned to greet them; it toyed at the hem of her skirt as she stepped slowly into the water, her foot sliding beneath the surface so smoothly that no ripples did result. Yet in an instant, the remainder of her being followed then reemerged, one fluid motion as though she had been born doing that very thing.
Salazar found himself smiling, a gesture which she had long ago returned. Still, he remained upon the shore, not daring to venture further for fear that he would be overcome with the desire to do so.
As though she had read his thoughts—a strange idea, to be certain—she moved toward him. Slowly, she rose from the lake and held out her hand, though he did not take it, and neither did she once more grasp his. "Come with me?" He wondered briefly if she had meant to utter this request aloud.
Yet if she had been bewitched to speak, then he had been bewitched into temporary silence, for he nodded and bent to remove his boots. When he had done so, he tested the water with his foot.
"It is warm," he noted with a frown.
"No. That's simply the surface." She cupped her hands and filled them, then tossed the handfuls of water at his chest. The temperature was indeed cool, yet the shiver he felt course through him from whence it touched had little to do with this. "You see?"
"Yes," said he.
The liquid circled around his ankles and then his knees as he slowly began to vanish into it. Helga watched him with her eyes peering fro just above where the surface broke. The garland round her neck floated delicately amongst her hair, which fanned about her in the manner of a mermaid's. He stood, half-submerged, and simply looked upon her. Truly looked as he had never done before.
Salazar did not see her cheeks color as she averted her eyes, at last struck by a self-conscious wave.
"What is it?" she inquired. She pressed the petal of a flower between her thumb and forefinger, rolling it distractedly.
"Never have I seen you act as this," he remarked; his dark gaze did not lower.
"It's the moon." This was her immediate response. Her eyes raised, her lashes shyly unveiling them. "It allows us to… to do things."
This perplexed him. "'Things'?" he echoed.
She drew herself closer to him and the water rippled as she decreased the distance between them. Her garb clung to her frame, which was slender; he had not noticed such a thing before. He turned away, feeling as though somehow he had invaded a private manner; for indeed, she was clothed indecently now that her garments were damp.
Yet then she caught his cheek in her palm and brought his face to look upon hers. She hesitated, searching for something unknown, and then suddenly she captured his lips with her own.
Even through his surprise, he could hear the echoes within her mind: It allows us to do the things which we haven't ordinarily the courage to do.
Salazar smiled against her lips. This night was magical after all.