A/N: Ok, so my Founder's Timeline officially makes no sense as of this chapter. Damn damn damn. Don't you hate it when a story runs off without you? People who have read the latest Twin Vice chapters will probably catch some links in this chapter. Pint of butterbeer to anyone who guesses who the messenger who came to Rowena was, haha!
Cheers for all the very kind reviews guys! Hope you enjoy this chapter.
Don't you think it right
I should go and see my mother,
Whom I left on her own
In the wood called the Waste Forest?
- Conte du Graal, Chrétien de Troyes
The snow was blinding, the wind a devil's roar across the field where swords clashed and giants thundered, tossing men like ragdolls over the battlefield. Magic was not always a weapon against steel, as many an arrogant young warlock had discovered to his end, blood spattering bright from their nostrils as they took the sharp end of a Norseman's sword through their gullet.
You had to have more than magic on your side in war, thought Godric. You had to have instinct, daring, courage, for all that he despised his enemy the Norsemen were no cowards. They were half beasts, charged full of bloodlust and savagery, but they were men born of the deep, dark places of the world – rough seas and ancient Thule – and that kind of magic bred a warrior to be reckoned with.
Godric tossed his head back and roared a battle cry that bled into the wind, and charged like a boar across an icy field of bodies stiff with arrows, his raw hands wrapped around the shaft of his sword: straight, broad, two-edged and pointed at a giant's Achilles' tendon. He slashed like a great cat, the sword an extension of his ferocity, and the giant toppled like a mountain, crushing unnamed soldiers beneath its vast weight. He kept moving then, charging and slashing in single strikes, dropping Norse raiders like leaves. Godric need not have spent the three hours that previous night lovingly sharpening the blade of his father's sword, Flambard; the sheer power behind his blows was enough to break a man's shoulder and crush his collar bone. Not one Norseman cowered under his charge; each gladly met him in battle, took his sword in their belly or his dagger in their eye and Godric grinned through bloody teeth, both hating and loving his enemy at once.
For three hundred years the Norsemen had been invading Anglo-Saxon Wessex. Godric was a Devonian, a Celt, and even now found it hard to think of Devon as a part of that Saxon Kingdom, despite the borders having fallen many years ago. Once the Danes had provided tactical support to the Celtic lands of Cornwalum and Devon by raiding Wessex, and weakened the authority of the Saxons. Those days were long gone and now he was part of a surge of Saxon Britons in their charge against the bloodlust and ferocity of the Norsemen with their ice giants and rune beasts born of the bitter northern wastes.
When the battle ended, the wind howl dropped like a slaughtered wolf. Steam rose from bodies half-embedded in the snow. Thurl quickly ordered the soldiers be stripped of their weapons and wares – swords, spears, axes, bows and arrows were all highly coveted, particularly in these times when there was always an enemy around. Wizard corpses had to be treated with more care. They would be gathered and cremated, and buried alongside their crudely carved wands with their toes pointing to the north so that their wandering souls could not return from death.
Camp was set up quickly. The Norsemen's wizards who had hailed the storm had not invited the cold and in the dead of winter the air was bitter as the grave.
Fat Eldred squatted beside him, cleaning his wet blade on a scrap of cloth, then with double care secured his wand in his belt beside his seax. He patted it with one large, hairy hand, the tip of the crudely oak-hewn wand sparking lightly in reply. He caught Godric's eye and smiled grimly.
"Fine sodding way to start a sodding mornin'. Not that you'd give a toss. Every time I saw you out there you were grinning your head off like a boy taking his first step into a whorehouse. I nearly had my throat bled dry five times back there, but you, young Godric, you fight like you was never meant to be off the battlefield," Eldred remarked sullenly. "You and that flaming sword, if you pardon the pun, ran through at least twenty-five men, not including that giant. Yes," he shot Godric a quick, sharp look that was not entirely bereft of humour, "I noticed. Pretty hard not to. I was almost under the fat bastard."
Godric grinned. "Sorry, Eldred."
"You need to be careful, young Godric." He lowered his voice, his eyes on the Saxon soldiers milling around the tents. "You've not done any good in impressing the Muggles. I'm telling you, if you was a soldier and not a wizard the army'd have you lashed fifty times for breaking ranks and charging head on like a reckless boar."
Godric raised his chin, unabashed. "Thurl was happy. And it worked, didn't it? I saw an opening. If we hadn't charged when we did we'd have lost the element of surprise and that's the only thing we have over Vikings."
Eldred shook his head and wiped a hand over his face with a groan. "You're going to die before you're a man."
"I'm already a man," Godric retorted firmly. "And dying on the battlefield is all I ever want." He fingered the amulet of Thor's hammer around his neck.
"Man indeed," the elder wizard scoffed and snorted. "Seventeen makes not a man."
"I could have been married four years ago!"
Eldred snickered. "Oh yes? And what would you have done with your fair bride at thirteen with your balls barely dropped?"
Godric flushed and scowled, and turned his back on the older wizard, cradling the Flambard in his lap, lovingly. "You were just born old, Eldred."
"Aye. And thank Merlin one of us was," said Eldred curtly.
Eldred Theodulf was a stocky grizzled wizard, short of stature and bravado, but steadfastly loyal. His grey eyes were mere creases from years of glowering at his young wards or staring at the horizon waiting for the raiders to come. He was a helmsman, tutor and friend, the dearest Godric had. He was also a giant pain in the arse. In comparison to Godric, Eldred was the flat side of a sword and had never understood why Godric rarely drew his wand in battle. He, like many others, believed Godric had developed a certain dislike of magic over the years. After all, tensions between magic and non-magic folk had been growing ever since Charlemagne's age, and it was this tension that had prohibited Godric from becoming a real soldier.
Thurl, his general, had conscripted Godric to fight against the invading Norsemen as a wizard. Nevertheless, in battle he rarely lifted his wand and never against a Muggle. A wand was one thing, but only through steel could you truly read your enemy and feel your opponent's strength as the dance macabre began – the hunter and the hunted, the devil and the knight. Who was who would only be discovered when the dance had finished.
That night they supped and swapped stories, Godric being well versed in the old tales, while the winter raged outside the camp. The mood was light and the fires burned brightly. They had only lost three men that day. Having caught the Norse raiders off-guard the battle had been a quick one, and Thurl hailed Godric for his instincts and courage. As the ale flowed and the night wore on, a hazy fog drifted over Godric's senses. Eventually, unable to fight it any longer, his eyes began to close and the sound of Fat Eldred attempting to sing became a distant hum...
"The foolish soldier sleeps by night when the wise man knows too many eyes are open by day and fair few by dark, when eyes are needed most," said a female voice, rich as cream and honey. "What can ail thee, knight-at-arms? So haggard and so woe-begone?" There was a mocking lilt in her tone.
Godric opened his eyes and wondered if he was still asleep. A tall unsmiling woman stood over him, full beautiful and light-footed, and in his haze he thought she might be one of the Fey folk. She wore a sword at her belt and a wand tucked close beside it. She was simply, but richly dressed and her skin was pale as the moon. Her hair was long, the colour of velvet night, and when she moved it rippled like a black pond. She was, without question, the most beautiful woman he had ever seen.
Wild, dispassionate eyes ranged over him, through him, under him. Her gaze was like something sold and real, gliding through his mind. Godric shivered with unease and struggled to sit up, feeling rumpled and uncomfortably aware of the crusted flecks of blood on his face and garments.
"Who are you?" he garbled through dry mouth. "Who do you owe fealty to?"
The woman tilted her pointed chin upwards. "I am Rowena Ravenclaw. I owe fealty to the Scots."
Godric blinked incredulously. "Rowena Ravenclaw?" he stammered. "The Rowena Ravenclaw? The greatest witch in all Scot-land?" He could barely keep the grin from his face and it took every ounce of pride he had not to shake her hand vigorously. "You've come a long way, my lady. My general will be happy to entertain you. What is your quest here?"
"To find you, it would appear," the woman said flatly, with a slight sneer. She did not seem impressed with her findings.
He frowned. "You know me?"
"No more than you know me."
"Then – how?" he asked, with the slightest slur.
Rowena looked at him almost pityingly, as though she had something very difficult and complicated to explain to a small child. She took a seat on a pile of skins across from him, her wild eyes never leaving his. "Three months ago a messenger came to me and my kin with a warning: Darkness is happening. The Unseelie Court are returning. With the fellowship of men and magic breaking, the people of this land are in grave danger. Find the sleeping knight-at-arms with flaming sword and hammer at breast, and give to him this grail quest."
Godric's heart drummed in his chest so hard that for a moment he was unable to speak. When he found his tongue again, he blurted urgently, drunkenly, "Of course! Tell me what your messenger wants of me and I shall take his quest!"
Rowena quirked her perfectly shaped lips at him. "You would take a quest before knowing its subject?
He nodded and grinned fiercely. "Doing what has to be done is the mark of courage."
"Or the mark of foolishness," she remarked, and then, as though she had noticed the tiny hint of emotion she had allowed expose itself, clamped her mouth shut. The slight pout had revealed her youth to Godric momentarily, who gazed at her with burning intensity. "Merely agreeing to this request is not enough. You must wish to. With all your heart. More than life, you must wish to."
And then she knelt close to him, her red lips so close to his ear that Godric could taste her breath on his tongue, and she said very softly, "Do you remember the tale of Percival, the wise fool, who left his mother to become a knight and sought the Grail from the Fisher King?" Rowena pulled back a little, her wild gaze questing, moving, exploring behind his eyes. Long fingers traced the hammer at his breast bone. "You have a long way to travel through the wastelands, Godric. There you will walk for fifty years through forests of lawless men. You will weep and you will bleed, and you will die, and you will have terrible thoughts in your heart." A strange smile was in her wild eyes now and as she spoke her hair drifted around her beautiful head like tendrils or fronds caught in a lazy summer breeze. "The way back to the Grail is long and hard, and fraught with dangers no sword can cut through. With this knowledge, do you still accept?"
He leaned forward, intent. "I wish it. More than life."
Hope you like it! Any and all crit is very welcome and very much appreciated.x