The Curse of Blood
Part One - Student
Chapter One - My Father's House
He watched in silent fascination as the eye gazed into his, ridges and slitted iris, glowing slightly blue in the light of the morning sun streaming through the window. He reached out with his left hand and gently scratched the ridge above the eye, seeing the inner lid close with pleasure as the serpent rubbed its head against his gentle palm. The boy smiled in joy as he caressed the snake, now using both of his hands to rub it's head on both sides at once.
"So soft," he whispered, entranced by the silken feel of the reptile's skin under his hands. Not dry, nor cold, a feeling of slight warmth and slick life. He gave the snake a last pat, then drew back, keeping his movements slow and careful, before rising to his feet and turning away from the pen. He picked his boots back up off the ground where he had laid them and struggled to draw them on, hopping from foot to foot as he pulled first one, then the other boot onto his feet.
Stamping his feet, the boy glanced at the snake, and saw it watching him, unblinking, its tongue flickering to the left of its mouth.
"Oh, what do you know anyway?" he asked it. "It's harder than it looks."
The snake moved its head up and down slightly, and blinked one eyelid.
"Perhaps later. It depends if father needs me," the boy said, then waved to the snake and walked through an arched doorway, entering a cedar-panelled hall. The boy walked down the hall to the left, then entered his father's study. Books were scattered around the room, and there was a shattered crystal glass in the corner, near the painting of his great uncle. The boy wrinkled his nose at the musty smell in the room, then walked over to the desk, and started carefully searching through the papers on top.
"Aha!" he exclaimed after quick search, lifting out a parchment scroll, bound with black ribbon and sealed with a rearing silver serpent with green eyes. "Here it is."
Excited now, the boy dashed back down the hallway, passing the snake arborium and heading to the guest rooms of the mansion. He knocked on one of the doors, and waited outside, his mien patient.
"Come in!" he heard a girl's voice call, and he grinned before turning the knob and walking into the sitting area. She was standing in front of the fireplace, her hands stretched out to the fire, her long black hair unbound down the back of her silk robes. He swallowed. She was beautiful.
"Going to stare all day, Salazar?" she asked, turning towards him with a faint grin on her face.
"At you? Always, Rowena," he replied, then with a flippant grin walked over in front of the fire and sat down in one of the armchairs. He waved the scroll at her, a twinkle of victory in his eye.
"Does he... does your father know you've taken that, Sal?" Rowena asked, her voice slightly nervous. "If he finds out you're reading through his old notes and correspondence then-"
Salazar interrupted her with an airy wave of his hand. "No need to worry. I can return it before he even notices! Besides, you did say you wanted to see more of my family history, right?"
"Your family tree, I said, Salazar!" Rowena said, exasperated. "I want to know exactly how we're related, since your father keeps mentioning it!"
"Yes, yes. I know," he grinned at her, then reached into his robe pocket and pulled out his wand. "Let's find out, shall we?"
He touched his wand to the seal, and whispered, "Adelante," tapping the seal gently as he did so. With a brief flash, the seal lifted, and he unrolled the scroll eagerly, his face hidden behind its unfurling depths as he hunted down a winding and twisted genealogical tree.
"Well?" Rowena asked, after he had been reading for several minutes. "Anything?"
"Well... it doesn't say..." Salazar replied, puzzled. "There appears to be large parts missing here... I bet you're listed in one of them..."
"Rowena!" a voice echoed from down the hallway. "Rowena, are you there?"
"Coming, Uncle Nekross!" she called back. She turned to Salazar as she left, and hissed. "Hide it!"
Looking around in panic, Salazar lifted the armchair and placed the scroll underneath it, before moving as quietly as possible to the door, and peered around it, down the corridor. Rowena and his father seemed to be gone, so he breathed out a sigh of relief and dashed off towards his quarters.
As he ran, he thought briefly about why Rowena hadn't shown up on the prime branch of the family tree. Maybe Father's trying to hide something from me, he thought, as he ran. I wonder what it is?
"It is for your own safety, child!" the man shouted, his moustaches quivering in his fury. "How many times must I say it?! Our lands are no longer fit for you to dwell in; you and your mother must therefore be protected!"
"I hate you!" the girl cried, then stormed from the room, slamming the door behind her.
"Don't worry too much, Avross" Jania said, her voice soothing, as she sat on a stool in the corner of the sitting room, her needle flashing in the firelight. "She will soon come around. And I'm sure she will enjoy visiting with Melor, I haven't seen him myself in almost five years."
Avross stared at the door for a moment, then shook his head. "You are almost always right in such matters, Jania... and yet this time, I think you're wrong. Helga has never been a very obedient girl... I shudder to think of the trouble she may cause in Prydein."
Jania stood and walked over to Avross, then tenderly massaged his shoulders. "There is no other way," she said, her voice gentle. "None of Germania is safe anymore, not even Hufelpuf. And if we cannot protect her here, then she must go elsewhere."
"I just..." Avross began, then sighed. "I've never understood her, Jania. Or you, for that matter," he turned, smiling at his wife and embraced her, his arms gentle. He held her at arms length, and looked into her eyes, his face serious.
"Promise me... that you won't teach her while you are away?"
"How can I not, Avross? It is what she is - what I am as well." Jania replied softly. "If I do not guide her, then she will experiment on her own, which is far more dangerous."
Avross sighed again, then pulled Jania back to him, and rested his head against her shoulder. Jania patted his back, her hand gentle, then hugged him tight.
"That's what I get for marrying a witch, I suppose," he remarked, his tone light, but still apprehensive.
"Yes," Jania whispered, "it is."
Helga stormed into her room, slamming the door behind her, and, spying a cushion on the rug in front of the fireplace, kicked it as viciously as she could, before collapsing onto her bed.
"It's just not fair!" she raged to herself, "I'm almost fourteen! I don't want to be sent away! I want to stay here, with Mother, and Father, and with my friends..." she burst into tears, crying into her pillow and drumming her heels on the carpet.
"It's not fair!"
Helga wept quietly into the pillow for a time, before hearing the door behind her open, a soft creak sounding into her chamber. She jumped up, ready to lash out again at her father for destroying her comfortable world, but stopped, her mouth open, at the sight of her mother.
"Well, child, have you recovered from your tantrum?" Jania asked, hands folded placidly in front of her waist.
"Mother... what are you doing here?" Helga stammered. "I thought that..."
"That your father would come? No. You know how he is, dearheart. Stubborn, never gives in, even when he knows that he's losing... reminds me of someone else, actually," Jania smiled, walking over to the bed and sitting down beside her daughter. "But you have to remember that he has only what is best for us in mind. We will be safer in Prydein, and I know you'll enjoy yourself there, if you give it a chance."
"You mean... you don't mind leaving?" Helga asked, surprised. "You don't want to stay?"
"Sometimes we have to do things we don't want to do, Helga. Come now. I'll help you pack your things."
Jania stood and walked to the wardrobe, then started choosing the dresses that Helga would take with her. Helga watched for a moment, then sighed, and jumped up to help her mother.
I guess it won't be so bad, as long as Mother and I are together, she thought. I just wish I could stay here. I wish I could stay home.
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