Chapter 8 : Feats of Bravery
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Rowena spoke from behind a large roll of parchment, her clear blue eyes fixed steadily on the lines only inches from her face. She nodded to no one, satisfied, and placed the paper back down upon the cushioned seat of the small carriage. Immediately, a quill decorated with a cluster of ravens’ feathers sprang to life, and it began to scrawl across the open space of the page in midnight-hued ink.
“Will the young man not be more inspired by the sight of his trophy?”
Helena looked to her right, where a pretty woman clad all in yellow sat with a peaceful smile upon her face, and frowned slightly. Given the tension between her mother and Salazar Slytherin, she had thought that inviting Helga Hufflepuff, a longtime family friend, would help to distract her. She longed to speak of something other than her new fiancé, however, especially with several more miles to traverse.
“Do not speak of her that way,” Rowena admonished. “She is worth more.”
“Oh, naturally,” Helga agreed. “I am simply answering your question, my friend.”
“He hails from Slytherin, and as such, should his ambition not be sufficient to propel him to the victory?” Helena cut in, looking from Helga to her mother.
“I should say so, particularly being a descendant of Salazar himself,” Helga said with a chuckle. “Fair Helena, you have spoken so little of him that I can hardly believe you to be in love. Can you tell me no more of his handsome features?”
“Oh, he is very handsome,” Rowena said, picking up the parchment again.
“My friend, I must hear it from Helena’s own lips,” Helga corrected gently.
“He is quite fair-skinned,” Helena said. “His hair is light as well.”
“I hear that they have little sunlight in the realm from which Salazar comes.”
“Of that I cannot speak,” Helena replied. “But I can say that he is handsome.”
“His features cast a sharp contrast with those possessed by my lovely daughter,” Rowena cut in. “I fear that the mixture will not bode well for their children.”
“Mother!” Helena blushed furiously. “We are not even yet married!”
Helga smoothed the silk of her dress, the goldenrod color of which stuck out against the blue attire of the carriage. “For me, dear girl, I find it a shame that you did not seize the opportunity to ask this young baron for his hand in earlier days. The practice has become quite popular in my land. You would wear the progressive attitude well.”
“The very idea is preposterous, Helga, though I beg your pardon,” Rowena said.
“I have never heard of a woman proposing to a man,” Helena added.
“The custom is fairly new, and I believe it requires the maiden to perform many rites of superstition,” Helga explained. “To find a man who would receive such an offer with gentleness, however, would be a prize indeed.”
Helena smiled. “I suppose you would want to prepare a bit of Felix Felicis, as well.”
Helga chuckled. “Oh yes, my lovely girl. One cannot toy with her own fate lightly.” She glanced over at the parchment, her eyes following the quill back and forth. “What is this that you are working on so steadily, dear friend?”
“I have been asked to write a biography of the Ravenclaw Family,” Rowena replied.
“If I may say so boldly, Rowena,” Helga stated. “You do not appear to be dictating.”
“Not with my lips, my observant friend,” Rowena said, smiling. “I have crafted a spell that allows the charmed quill to access my thoughts and memories. I merely have to direct it about my mental faculties. Naturally, the spell will have a place on the list of accomplishments that comprises my section of the book.”
“How interesting!” Helga said, nodding. “I would ask that you share the incantation, except that the Hufflepuff lineage is surely much less interesting than your own.”
Rowena waved a hand. “Of course I will reveal it to you. You may need it someday.”
Suddenly, there was a knock outside the door, accompanied by Witter’s jovial voice. “Fair ladies! I am pleased to announce that we have arrived at our destination!”
The carriage door opened, flooding the small blue space with light, and Helena felt for her father’s wrinkled hand in the brightness. When at last she found it, she stepped out of the carriage, placing one foot after another securely on the ground. To her dismay, however, her fine shoes sank almost immediately into the swamp.
“Goodness,” Helga observed, frowning down at the wet soil.
“Mother, am I to live here with Venn?” Helena asked, making a face.
“I am certain that you will find that every land has its charms,” Rowena said idly.
The ladies followed Witter around the winding garden path behind Selwyn Castle. Along the way, Helga and Rowena took to jointly admiring Edeline’s fine flowers, leaving Helena to ponder the events of the afternoon to come. She had never been to a joust before, given that her mother found violence distasteful, and it felt strange to now be the one venturing into unfamiliar territory. Perhaps it was fair, given the way in which Venn had accommodated her wishes thus far in their journey together. Do I simply sit and smile? Should I have brought some sort of well-wishing gift for him?
The path opened up shortly, and Helena took in the beauty of Venn’s estate for the first time. Edeline had left her touch in little garden patches all over the place, lining every staircase and seating area. All around Helena were beautiful, healthy blooms, and her girlish center could not resist feeling delighted by the sight of them. Off to one side, she saw a small stable area, and the closest stall to her stood empty. He must keep his horse there, she thought, glancing over to the other side of the grounds. There, a large empty space had been converted into a crude jousting arena, with several young men walking around it, leading their horses along behind them.
“The challengers,” a voice said, and Helena turned to find herself facing Salazar. He smiled coldly at her and placed a brief kiss on her hand. “Please, my lady, allow me to escort you and your guests, with my fair sister, to select the best available seats.”
Edeline was waiting at the end of their walk, clad in a beautiful forest green dress. She gestured to the seats next to hers in the front row of the temporary stands. “My friends, I hope your journey was pleasant,” she said, smiling brightly at Helena.
“Yes, quite,” Rowena said. “Edeline, I am pleased to introduce my friend, Helga Hufflepuff. She is another of the Founders of Hogwarts School.”
“Oh, a pleasure indeed!” Edeline exclaimed, curtseying to Helga, who returned it.
When they were settled in their places, Edeline turned again to Helena. “I must say, my son chose an ideal time for you to visit our home, with so many flowers in bloom.” She patted Helena’s hand. “Perhaps you will use some in your bouquet.”
“Yes, your gardens offer quite the selection,” Helena agreed.
“Have you commissioned your dress?”
“I have not,” Helena began, but her mother interrupted her.
“I think she will look most elegant in the royal blue of our household.”
“Mother, I thought that perhaps I would wear white,” Helena stated.
“White?” Rowena made a face.
“Progressive, just as I thought,” Helga said with an approving smile.
“I am certain she will look lovely in any shade,” Salazar commented dryly.
“There he is!” Edeline said, looking toward the other end of the arena. Out of the shadows around the other half of the seating, Venn rode slowly toward them, wearing chain mail and a dark blue tunic lined with bronze-colored thread. His horse, a black courser, wore a protective covering in his familiar Slytherin green. As he approached the group, Venn glanced up at Helena, offering her a timid smile.
Helena felt her heart begin to beat faster. She had never seen him look so tender, and this shyness seemed miles away from the arrogance she had come to expect. He seemed to stand before her for hours, and she worried that she might faint.
“My lady,” Venn said, reaching out to her.
Helena offered her hand, and he turned it over, placing a soft kiss upon her palm. Delicate shivers raced up and down her spine, carried along by her rushing blood.
When he had returned her hand to her, Venn simply stood there, waiting patiently.
“Helena,” Edeline said softly. “Do you have a token of affection to offer my son?”
Helena blushed deeply, cursing her unfamiliarity with this practice. Realizing that she had nothing of substance to give, she awkwardly reached down and tore a piece of silky gray fabric from the bottom of her dress. She nervously passed it to Venn.
He took it, tucking it between the chain mail and his tunic, right above his heart. “I will have one of my servants sew it into place,” he said. “I thank you for your affection.” With another unsteady smile, he guided his steed on past the stands.
Soon, it was time for the joust to begin. Helena kept her hands planted firmly in her lap, finding it difficult to understand why Venn would propose that such a crude and violent event be held in her honor. She looked over at Rowena and surmised that her mother was thinking something similar.
Salazar settled down next to Edeline, turning to look at his nephew’s bride-to-be. “My lady, I hear that many men from across the kingdoms have come to compete.”
“I have seen several, all of whom are handsome and foreign to me,” Edeline agreed. “But never fear, fair Helena, my son will outstrip them all in strength and courage.”
Helena smiled weakly. “Salazar, were you not invited to join in the joust?”
Salazar laughed loudly. “I would not want to embarrass Venn!”
Rowena frowned, looking away from the arena. Helga sighed audibly in response.
A trumpet sounded, and a short line of men rode out into the arena to display their colors and announce their names. Helena watched them go by one after the next, realizing that their names and faces had congealed as one in her mind, until it was Venn’s turn. As his name was announced, he looked over at Helena, and she could see the patch from her dress sewn right above his heart on the dark blue tunic. His horse pitched its mane, and Venn began to circle back toward his end of the arena.
The first couple of rounds went quickly. A portly young man from Helga’s kingdom rode forward on a yellow-clad steed, but Venn feinted at the last moment, causing the horse to throw its heavy rider. The second challenger was caught off guard by Venn’s sudden burst of breakneck speed and accidentally drove his lance into the dirt instead of his opponent. A Scotsman who had bragged of his speed during his announcement prepared himself for another feint. This time, Venn moved out of the way at the last moment, and horse and rider crashed into the half-empty stands opposite Helena and the others. Fortunately, it did not look as if anyone was injured.
“Cheat!” the man cried, wincing as he balanced his aching back against the wall.
“What say you?” Venn replied angrily, drawing his sword, the emeralds on the handle sparkling in the afternoon sun. Salazar stood up and moved to draw, too.
“I say you are a cheat, sir,” the opponent spat, glaring up at Venn as the other man covered him with his shadow. “The lady you are competing for today is a noblewoman from my land, and I say she deserves better than a dishonest man.”
To Helena’s surprise, Venn laughed loudly at this statement. He turned, walking over to where Helena and her family sat, carrying his sword in one hand and the reins of his horse in the other. “Rowena, my fair lady, do you know this gentleman?”
Rowena stiffened. “I cannot say that I do.”
“Helena, my fair bride – what say you?” Venn offered her a smile, but something about the coldness of his eyes and the flush of his cheeks was off-putting to her.
“I do not know him,” she replied shortly, resisting the urge to wring her hands.
“I have not seen you before, sir,” Venn concluded, turning back to his opponent. “I wonder if perhaps you are a peasant, attempting to live the life of a noble knight.”
A few people in the crowd gasped. Salazar actually did draw his sword. The man stared up at Venn, not saying anything for a moment.
“What is your coat of arms, sir?”
The man said nothing, but his eyes guiltily shifted toward the ground.
Venn put his sword away, folding his arms in triumph. “Servants, if you would, please escort this man from the grounds of my castle. He may never return.”
The man reluctantly allowed himself to be gathered up by several guards, but on his way out of the arena, he met Venn’s eyes one more time. “When you came to my land, the people found you charming and genteel, and they desired to see fair Helena in the arms of such a man. They will be disappointed to hear of your true nature.”
The arena fell silent, save for the sounds of the man’s boots dragging on the soil and the impatient scuffling made by the hooves of Venn’s horse. Salazar sheathed his sword, turning to his nephew. “Perhaps a short break, to enjoy some fine wine?”
“No,” Venn said, mounting his horse. “I do not want to bore my lady any longer.”
Helena looked down uncomfortably, staring at the pattern on Edeline’s dress.
The line of challengers continued to dwindle, and Helena began to see Venn’s Slytherin versatility in its true light. Having realized that overt cheating could only be deflected so many times, he resorted to concealing his wand within the sleeve of his armor and using it against Muggle and magical foes alike. Watching him attentively, Helena saw Venn summon a branch to fall in the path of one enemy, causing the man to look away long enough for Venn’s lance to strike his horse. Another man was surprised by a flash thunderstorm with high winds; after Venn insisted that they finish the fight, the mud became too much for the man’s horse.
His final opponent rode out into the arena to face him like all the others. However, he came to a halt before Venn and dismounted. He did not draw his sword but his wand. Venn stared at him, along with many of the others. Some of the Muggles present began to sneak away, afraid of the potential consequences of combining these strange powers with angry tension. A couple of the losing challengers drew their swords, watching the combatants closely.
“I am Antioch Peverell, son of Nentres,” the man, clad in black, announced to the crowd. “I entered this tournament seeking a new opportunity to demonstrate my skill, and I consider it a shame that I have been forced to wait for all of your other opponents to fall, for I have been disgusted by this gross display of cheating.” He looked hard at Venn, gripping his wand. “Thus, sir, I challenge you to a duel, in which you may properly display what powers you possess, before the fair Helena and all these witnesses. If you lose, you must forfeit your right to her noble hand.”
Helena began to feel ill. She looked from her mother, who harbored a slight smile, to Edeline and Salazar, who wore outraged expressions. Venn looked over at Helena, swallowing, and then drew his wand, putting his sword away and calling a servant to come and move his horse back to the stable. “It is a fair challenge. You may begin.”
His first shot was a stunning spell, which caught Venn roughly by the shoulder. Helena’s fiancé winced in pain, but he steeled his gaze and shot a Confundus Charm back at Peverell. Unfortunately, he missed his mark, likely because of his pain.
Helena stared down at her hands, refusing to watch any more of it. She found herself getting lost in thought about everything that she had seen and heard that day. Helena hated dueling to begin with, but to watch her fiancé cheat had been a cruel shock. It occurred to her that she did not know this man, not very much at all, and yet she was supposed to marry him. Then again, if he lost this duel – she heard him cast a Protego Charm back at Peverell, deflecting what sounded like flames – she would be left alone again, or worse, be faced with yet another unknown suitor. How could she marry a man she barely knew? It was all too much, all too soon…
She stood up, causing those around her to divert their attention from the duel to her. Venn, engaged in combat, did not seem to notice, nor did his opponent.
“Helena?” Rowena asked, reaching for her daughter’s hand, but Helena jerked it away. She looked over at Edeline, but she could not come up with anything to say. Salazar was gripping the wooden railing so hard that his hands were turning red. Helena grabbed her skirts and hoisted herself off the stands, breaking into a run.
She did not know for how many yards she fled, dodging Edeline’s perfect flowers and ignoring the frightened tears spilling down her cheeks. At last, when the wet swamp air filled her lungs one time too many, she stopped and looked around. She was standing in the castle vegetable garden, only a few feet from the back door.
Over in the makeshift arena, the action had ceased. She could not tell who had won.
Helena let out a quiet sob, for she knew what she had done. However, getting away was more important than having to endure another of her mother’s lectures about the importance of marriage. Perhaps this time, her mother would leave her alone.
With that thought and a small popping noise, Helena Ravenclaw disappeared.
It’s time for another round of “Did you know?: Medieval History Edition!”
As some of you might have heard, “leap day” has been touted as the one day a year that a woman can propose to a man. My research indicated that this tradition began around the time of the Founders. Furthermore, I learned that the reason for choosing “leap day” is because that day had no legal status and thus people believed that traditions did not have to be upheld for it, either.
Before Anne of Brittany (1499), white was not usually the color of choice for a bride. However, the bride still wanted to be the center of attention, and she would sometimes wear silver. Otherwise, she would put on her best dress. I imagine that Helena’s best dress would be a deep Ravenclaw blue, don’t you?
If a knight chose to ride in honor of his lady, he would usually take a token of hers, called a “favor,” and wear it on his upper arm to symbolize her affection. However, I romanticized it a bit more for Venn, as you can see in this chapter.
I love all of my reviewers, especially those of you who have returned for every chapter thus far. I continue writing this story with you in mind :) CloakAuror9 deserves special thanks this round, because her review inspired some of Venn’s behavior in this chapter. Thanks again to all of you wonderful readers!
Stay tuned for chapter nine!
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