“Edmund?” Her eyes widened slightly in response. When they were children, he would often take her in hand as they explored the woods beyond the town. However, this did not feel quite the same. Elanore waited upon him to explain himself. Unfortunately, whatever was on his mind was interrupted by the entry of a poorly thrown biscuit into the scene.
To be fair to the biscuit, it was not a simply warmed-up leftover but a rather fine, savory specimen of its type that met a tragic end as it hit the wall behind Edmund. Its demise was caused by a very purple faced Mrs. Ormond standing at the doorway. One could only guess what she might have assumed based on her son’s half-dressed status and her scolding words for her son. “For shame, Edmund! For shame!”
Elanore, who had been caught up in guilt over the ruined quilt, was not particularly quick to understand the subtext to the elder woman’s complaint. It wasn’t until Edmund averted his gaze and dropped her hand that she realized how things had been perceived by his mother. Her face flushed with embarrassment and she stood quickly, retreating to her basket. “Edmund asked me to look at his shoulder—there’s nothing to chastise him for.”
She stared into the basket while Edmund stoically picked up the crumbled biscuit and placed its remains on the side table.
Mrs. Ormond placed the tray down. “My apologies,” she laughed nervously and began to fuss with cleaning the bed and table. As she finished, she gave them both a tight smile, “Mr. Ormond will be wanting his tea. Is there anything else you need Elanore?”
Elanore shook her head from her corner of the room, where she stood holding a small bottle. She waited for the woman to leave before she came quietly to Edmund’s side again.
“Elanore, what my mother said— I’m sorry.”
“No, no,” she shook her head vigorously, not allowing him to finish his thought aloud. She was not at all under any illusion that Edmund harbored any feelings for her beyond brotherly affection. She changed the subject lightly. “If I was quiet, it was because I didn’t know what I could really say. I do not know what you have told her–”
Edmund did not look all that ready to change the topic but wisely let Elanore lead the conversation. As Elanore ministered to his shoulder, he spoke calmly. “She knows nothing. It’s likely she assumes that I had a spill.”
“Does the guildmaster know?”
“No.” Edmund’s voice hardened slightly. “And that must remain the case.”
Elanore’s fingers paused over his shoulder, noting the tone of his voice. “Do you mistrust him?”
“I can’t say, Elanore.” He shifted slightly as she continued to explore the bruised area on his back. “But I feel uneasy. There are things that he does not read the same way, there are things he doesn’t always admit. These things do not make him a liar but someone who is either blind or a schemer.” Edmund explained his suspicions that the guildmaster had conveniently forgotten to warn him about crossing the Wolfram property and how he had ignored the idea of Unthings altogether.
Elanore worried. “Edmund, I swear I saw one.”
“And I believe you,” he turned to look at her. “And I believe the Count, as odd as it may seem. Perhaps I can even believe that the stone lion on the bridge may be a guardian.”
“Edmund!” Elanore sounded amused as she went about returning the bottle to her basket. “That kind of talk is heresy in your guild isn’t it?”
“You think I joke, but I do believe there is something unusual about it.” Edmund paused in order to pull his shirt on. He struggled slightly, until Elanore had come over to help him. He gave her a slight smile. “Don’t think me crazy but earlier that afternoon I had touched that statue on the bridge. It was colder than anything around it, so much so that touching it had stung—”
At that she narrowed her eyes. “That thing has a rumored magic about it. I don’t think it would harm you, but—”
“Do you think that’s why my arm hurts?” He flung his words out casually, as if he didn’t really believe it possible. “Some kind of curse for touching the statue?” He grinned at her, perhaps trying to test her.
“You’re being too lackadaisical about this.” Elanore sat down beside him, calmly ignoring his attempts to bait her. She handed him the plate of food that his mother had brought in earlier on the tray. “The pain in your arm is likely collateral damage from your scuffle. You should be fine in a few days.”
“Good to know,” he answered as he tested his arm again.
Elanore hoped that magic was not involved. If that were so, her talents could do little for Edmund. As she helped him eat, she kept a close eye on him, her worry for him increasing by the minute. She did not mention her discovery about the guildmaster and her mother, hesitant to bring up something while Edmund was in pain.
Mrs. Ormond, however, convinced Elanore to stay while she cut her son’s hair in the kitchen. As Elanore stood watching them, she could not let an opportunity to talk to Mrs. Ormond pass her by. The young lady took a deep breath. “Mrs. Ormond, you knew my mother well, did you not?”
The older woman paused in her task. “You might say I have many memories of her. She was such a pretty girl,” Mrs. Ormond said absently while snipping at the locks of hair that touched the back of Edmund’s collar. “I always used to take some pleasure out of watching her run about town with the few girls we had here. She always seemed to love running about in her little red cape, carrying food to her father wherever he may have been at that moment.”
Evelyn Winchester, from what Elanore had understood and had confirmed by her mother’s teacher, was not clever but was diligent. She sat in front of the schoolroom, closest to the teacher who kept her away from the boys who would pull her golden hair and tease her.
“Evelyn was loved by them all, even the boys who teased her the most,” Mrs. Ormond thought aloud. “She would always walk home in a crowd of students,” she recalled. “The older boys would tag behind, kicking stones at the girls. That kept up for some time, until one day, a stone hit one of the girls quite hard and drew tears from that poor child.”
“Was that my mother?”
“Ah no,” Mrs. Ormond shook her head. “However, it was your mother’s friend, and the boy who kicked the stone was Wilhelm’s friend. That incident sparked trouble the next day. Little Evelyn must have been upset and suddenly started ignoring the boys in the back. And they were not too pleased by the slight, so young Will stole her pen, intending to make her talk to him. It didn’t work, however, so Will next stole her lunchbox, so as to make her eat with him.”
“Mother,” Edmund interjected. “You knew and you did not stop this?”
“Oh, Edmund,” the old woman chuckled. “He returned all the things right away when he saw it did nothing. The poor young man did all he could to try to make her pay attention.”
Elanore looked out the window. “Grandmother said his father came by with him in tow once he found out about the stealing and made him apologize. Actually,” she looked a bit sad as she continued. “At that point, they both knew how Mr. Cadeyrn felt about my mother.”
“Oh, yes,” Mrs. Ormond nodded. “That young man was quite persistent. Inevitably, though, he joined the guild and then began to spend more time away from town. So for a time, it seemed as if their little romance would quietly die. Evelyn’s parents began talking of sending her abroad.”
“Mrs. Ormond,” Elanore cast a troubled glance at the ground. “Did you know that he had proposed marriage to my mother? And she had accepted?”
The clipping stopped for a moment. Both Edmund and his mother looked at each other, surprised. “Surely she must not have — she was gone so quickly after Wilhelm joined the guild and married shortly after in some faraway town.”
Here Elanore fell silent. “Then you would not know the reason why it happened, would you.”
Mrs. Ormond shook her head. She gave Elanore a worried glance. “I may have been their teacher, but I was not their confidante.”
“Could it have been the guild?” Edmund offered. “Has your mother ever spoken of it?”
“Edmund,” Elanore looked uncomfortable. “How could she not? They have challenged my grandmother every step of the way, so she speaks quite often about it.”
“It wasn’t like that before,” Mrs. Ormond scolded the two younger folk. “Wilhelm was only a young new recruit like Edmund when your mother left. The guildmaster at that time did not have any issues with your grandparents. That said, Wilhelm was a very enthusiastic recruit. It’s possible that two young folk may have fought over it. Your mother was a very gentle soul, a bit of a pacifist. She would have hated the guild on principle for hunting creatures for sport. Certainly, she could not take his entrance to it lightly.”
Elanore frowned. The idea was certainly possible, but her mother had married a soldier in the end. Faintly she said to herself, “No — there must have been something else.”
The older woman continued to clip away at Edmund’s long mop of hair. “Whatever it was, though, your mother quit the village without telling Wilhelm. He was furious with rage once he heard about your mother’s departure south. Then came news through her friends that she had become engaged elsewhere. And without your mother here to explain herself, to face him—”
“The feud between him and my grandparents began,” Elanore rubbed her temples. “He saw their influence in this, even though my grandfather certainly would not have put forward his opinion. He was not that sort of man!”
“Your grandmother, though,” Mrs. Ormond shook her head. “She may have.”
“No,” Edmund interrupted. “I do not believe her capable of interfering as such.”
“Yet she blames him for my mother not being able to return here,” Elanore admitted sadly.
Edmund reached out with his hand. “Elanore — your grandmother is not that sort of woman. And it is possible that the only people who truly can tell you what happened are your mother and the guildmaster.” He hesitated. “But I do not think you should ask him.”
“Why not?” Mrs. Ormond interrupted.
Edmund’s mouth set into a firm line. “Wilhelm is a difficult man. He has a temper as well–”
“Mind your words,” Mrs. Ormond’s voice sharpened slightly. “I didn’t raise you to speak badly of others. He’s a good man – a very good husband to his wife, as barren as she is. He’s done quite a bit for the townsfolk as well. So you two children can stop talking about the man while I go about my business in the kitchen.”
Edmund winced. Elanore could see that he wanted to say more, but it was evident that his mother would not hear of it. As their eyes met, he shook his head slightly.
The visiting guest felt it best to let the matter lapse. With a polite bow to Edmund’s mother, Elanore politely excused herself. “I should not impose any longer upon you. I have more errands to conduct and then must hurry home to prepare the meal.”
“I’ll send the mister by later, dear,” Mrs. Ormond nodded. “But don’t be feeding him any sweet things when he comes by. Stay warm, dear.”
As Mrs. Ormond turned her attention to other things, Edmund followed her to the door and helped her with her coat.
“Elanore,” he said quietly. “Do not think to run off and talk to the guildmaster yourself.”
His friend saw the worried look on his face and attempted to give him her most reassuring smile. “I understand. I will…I’ll write mother when I feel ready to.”
“I’ll help find out what I can,” Edmund reached out and tugged at her hood, securing it firmly upon her head. “While my mother is convinced that he is harmless –whatever you hear, whatever sympathies you feel towards him — remember, don’t trust him.”