When: Age 12
Where: A path near Salazar's home
Summary: Salazar and Rowena's first encounter.
It’s cold in the shadows of the trees, the puddles in the hollows of roots still covered by a thin layer of ice from the night’s frost. Salazar walks quickly, head bowed, the worn cloak drawn tight around him. He is almost at the village, though the prospect has little relish for him, alone as he is.
Abruptly he halts and looks up, the sudden awareness that he is no longer alone freezing him in his steps. Among the trees, away from the path but quite close by, a girl is perched on a rock, the pale sunlight slanting down through the trees and teasing bluish highlights into her hair. He stands absolutely still, watching.
Rowena hears the sounds of someone approaching, but she does not look in the direction of the sound; her gaze is fixed on some distant point in front of her, through or beyond the trees.
Salazar remains standing, uncertain for the moment whether what he is seeing is real. The girl certainly seems out of place, pale and beautiful like a vision of a water spirit among the naked branches and grey rocks, and quite as still.
He is watching her; she is acutely aware of it. A long silence passes; finally, without turning her head, Rowena speaks. "It is impolite to stare." There is no reproach in the words; she has the air of one simply stating fact. Her voice is soft, and rather absent.
Salazar starts as the soft words tears the dreamlike sense of the moment, and he takes a hesitant step forward. “I am sorry,” he replies, also speaking softly. He wants to be offended at the words, but something in her voice strips them of arrogance. He hesitates a moment, then, “Are you alone?”
"Always," Rowena says. "Most people are, in the end. Still, I don't suppose that was quite what you meant." She finally turns to look at him, still distant; her pale eyes seem faintly luminous in the weak light. There is a long silence; something about her gaze is indefinably appraising.
Salazar narrows his eyes a little, taking in her features and the faint light in her gaze, and meets it steadily. His heartbeat has sped up; he can feel it against his chest in a quick rhythm, and he has no idea why. “It may not have been what I meant, but it is true. You’re different,” he says, a sharper note in his voice. It isn’t a question.
"So are you," Rowena says, but does not expound further.
His eyes flicker for a moment, a faint colour dusting cold-white cheekbones. “I want to be,” he answers, lower than before. After a moment he adds, in tones too formal for a village boy, “May I join you, please?”
She blinks. "You may." There is something almost like surprise in her tone, and she shifts over, making room on the rock with a soft rustle of her skirts. Once she has settled herself again, she is very still, her posture poised.
Salazar crosses to the rock, avoiding the worst of the icy puddles and slides into the vacated space next to her. It is impossible for both to fit on to the stone without touching at hips and shoulders, but oddly he feels no discomfort, not even from the fact that up close she is obviously finely dressed. He watches her, quietly fascinated. “You look like a spirit,” he murmurs, voicing his thoughts.
"Have you ever seen a spirit before?" she asks him. "Many of them don't look human at all. Which, of course, they are not. Then again, that doesn't mean much; I have known many people in whom I found very little humanity."
He frowns, looking away for a moment. So she is like Godric. It isn’t even a surprise. When he speaks his voice is cool with resentment, though not directed at her. “No. I can’t.” There is a pause, then he adds in a softer tone, “I dream about them, though. And you shine.”
A slight frown creases her brow; there is a hint of confusion in her eyes. "Why can you not see them?"
Salazar drops his gaze, tensing against the unwanted question. “I am not a mage,” he answers, curtly and precisely.
There is a moment's pause, and then her expression breaks into a sudden, brilliant smile, and she is laughing, the sound lilting and carrying through the trees.
The entirely unexpected reaction makes him turn swiftly and stare at her, momentarily too startled to be offended. The frustrated anger only takes a heartbeat to catch up, though. “It is not amusing!” he hisses at her, rather heatedly.
Her laughter ceases after a moment, but she is still smiling, utterly unruffled by the ire in his voice. "It is. Of course you are a mage." Her tone is that of one stating something very obvious.
For a moment he just looks at her, trying to keep his expression neutral in spite of the sudden, wild leap in his pulse. “I am not.” He answers quietly, forcing the words to be calm. The edge of bitterness is too ingrained by now to be quite avoided. “I am almost twelve and have shown no sign at all, even though both my parents–“ he bites off the sentence and looks down at his hands, closed into fists in his lap.
"You are. I can always tell." Rowena tilts her head slightly, looking at him, and absently pats his shoulder. "I've never been wrong, you see." The words could easily have sounded arrogant, condescending, but she sounds instead like one confiding some hidden secret, something that ought not to be shared.
He looks up into her eyes and before he can think about it, reaches out and lays cold fingers against her jaw, lightly, locking their gazes. Her skin is soft to the touch and the thought occurs to him that she is strikingly, breathtakingly beautiful. It is the first time he has ever felt the word about anyone. “I shall pray you are right this time also.” It comes out almost as a whisper.
"I know I am. Perhaps you have simply been trying too hard; magic does not like to be forced, you realise." She reaches up and catches his hand, turning it over and peering intently at his palm for a moment before looking back up at him, her eyes suddenly, intensely focused. Their gazes hold. "You remind me of false dawn," she says after a moment. She has not let him go.
He can hear his heart again, the rush of his blood, and thinks she must be able to see it. He brings his other hand over, catching hers by the wrist and leaving them thus, tangled between them. “You remind me of the full moon on snow,” he replies with soft intensity. “What do you see when you look at me?”
She smiles, very slightly, and there is something enigmatic about the expression. "Passion," she says. "Creation, and destruction. Ice over a river. The heat-shimmer of the Bombay sun at high noon. Tangled knots of string, and silver-grey satin. Yearning. Power. Intellect." The words are spoken quietly, but there is a veiled intensity in her tone, and the sense, again, that she is telling secrets. Talking of sacred things. Her eyes are piercing; they seem almost to look into him, rather than at him.
Salazar almost forgets to breathe. The words, utterly unlooked for, call on deeply buried images that unfold in his mind, vivid and chaotic, and her quiet voice soothes the deepest ache he knows. His grip on her hand has tightened unconsciously, his eyes wide and shining, and he doesn’t look away.
Rowena looks back at him, perfectly calm, and his grip on her hand makes her think of anchors. Holding on, holding on. Softly, so softly, she asks, "What is your name?"
“Salazar Siederin.” He would bow to her, but that would mean looking away, letting go, and he doesn’t want to do that. A part of him is almost certain she would vanish, melting away like the mist just now rising from the forest. “Tell me who you are.”
A pause. "I am... one who searches," she says slowly, "and one who thinks, and one who questions."
“And you found me.” His voice is low and mirrors her earlier tone for intensity.
"You found me," she tells him, "or perhaps we both found one another, or found something entirely different. I am not yet certain." Another slight smile. "I shall be sure to tell you which it is, someday."
“I shall hold you to that.” He rises, unaware of their surroundings, of the strange picture they must present; a thin boy and fey girl, as if out of some tale. Though, perhaps this is a tale. He speaks the thought. “You’re like a spirit of the old stories, come to call me to my way.” There is a quiet conviction beneath the words, frivolous as the idea sounds.
"There is a reason in everything," Rowena says, watching him, "although life is often tragic. You are terribly alive, Salazar." The syllables of his name linger; it sounds almost as if she is tasting the word, drawing out of it everything it can give her.
“I want to be. I don’t care about tragedy. If it hurts, I know I am living.” There is something almost careless, almost like triumph in him. He smiles, for the first time, bright and sharp, and it changes something about him. “Tell me your name.”
"Rowena," she answers softly. "My name is Rowena."