In spite of the past resentments that existed between her family and the guildmaster, Elanore could not help but feel that she and the older man were tied by a feeling of love — past or present– for her mother. She could accept that the man perhaps loved her mother, but the idea that the woman might have loved the guildmaster back gnawed at her. She wanted desperately to understand everything that had happened so she could stop feeling as if her mother had betrayed her father and Elanore’s siblings.
Although she said nothing, Edmund’s face suddenly changed as he watched Elanore’s face betray her confusion. “Elanore.” He took hold of her shoulders. She thought he meant to do so as if it to shake some sense into her. But instead, he clasped her to him, cradling her gently.
Her face buried into his chest, Elanore dropped her guard and finally began to cry. She pitied her siblings, all living without their grandmother. She pitied her grandmother for enduring this place all these years with conflict constantly at her door.
Elanore did not want to blame her mother, but with only half an explanation for the conflict that existed between two families, she felt compelled to do so.
She was grateful for Edmund, who somehow understood what she was truly feeling. When they were little, she cried often over small things much to the bewilderment of the crowd of boys that she followed about town. She could not help it – for she was a soft-hearted child. He used to comfort her much like this and speak to her until whatever fit of emotion had passed.
When her sobs had quieted, he spoke to her again. “I know you want to see more closely the man who your mother loved. But he is a man who angers more easily than he forgives. Wait until I’m able to find out more on my own and go with you—“
She answered again, “I promise.”
He stepped back to get a better look at her face. For a long moment, he studied her while helping wipe the tears off her face with his fingers. Elanore blushed as he did so, embarrassed to have cried in front of him once again. She had fought him so hard a few days before, insisting that he treat her like a grown woman! And yet she had to rely on him to help her cope with something she could not understand.
It was the sound of Mrs. Ormond’s cough that reminded them that they had an audience. Edmund’s face reddened as he promptly removed his hand from her face and let her go.
With a hurried farewell, Elanore left.
Elanore ran as quickly away as she had in coming. She paid no attention to her surroundings or the other people now on the road. It might not have mattered all that much, considering that she could not tell stranger from resident. After all, the warnings to her had come about people she had met, not those she did not know.
By the time she reached the heavy wooden door of the sole inn in town, she convinced herself if she looked worse for wear it might be excused by her exertions, rather than be attributed to her conflicted feelings. She tried her best to look calm as she pushed her way through the door and entered the large room that served as both dining area and waiting area.
To her surprise, there were already a number of patrons drinking and eating in the room. She blinked for a moment at the unfamiliar faces, and politely smiled. She forgot that with the weather that many of the residents likely spent most of their winter days drinking and dining as the hours dragged forward.
“Miss Redley,” a stout, middle-aged woman stood up from behind the bar and scurried over. Without warning, she covered her in a large embrace.
Elanore was startled to be greeted in such a familiar and warm fashion, but as she caught sight of the fancy rings on the lady’s hand, she recalled meeting this woman many a time before as a young girl. Mrs. Donovan was a woman who used to sit with her grandmother frequently for tea when Elanore spent her summers in this town. The woman was a friend of her mother’s from long ago. “Mrs. Donovan—“
“How is your grandmother faring today?”
Elanore tried very hard to ignore the loud volume of the woman’s voice. She was a bit reserved as she responded to the woman’s question. “She’s up and about. Thank you for asking.”
“Ah good,” the woman boomed for everyone to hear. “She’s just lonely is what your mother’s friends have been saying.” A few heads around the room nodded sagely. “Do you have time for a cup of tea?”
Elanore was mortified to have these things so publicly discussed, and became somewhat anxious to leave. However, she was not quite sure if she decline the offer, so she politely nodded.
“Jacob—“ the woman roared, summoning a sleepy looking man to her side. “You watch the front while I take Miss Elanore to the back.”
Elanore nodded politely at the man who she guessed was Mr. Donovan before following the larger than life woman to one of the back rooms where there was considerably more privacy. She reached for a letter in her cloak that was to be delivered to the proprietress of the inn. However, before she could complete her task, Mrs. Donovan spoke again, this time in a more constrained manner. “Your mother writes about you and your way with your siblings. Your grandmother also said you were studying how to take care of people. Would you look at my grandchildren while I fetch your tea? They’ve had some kind of cold for a while.”
“Of course,” Elanore promptly kneeled by the two children playing with some dried beans and a set of cans stacked in the corner. They turned quietly to look at her, and Elanore furrowed her brow before reaching into her basket to procure a listening tube. They were subdued as she listened to each of them breathe. After she finished her evaluation, she sent them off to another back room with their grandmother for a nap while she finished her cup of tea.
When the woman returned, Elanore spoke frankly, “This climate isn’t good for them. These long evenings and this air doesn’t help them recover. You will have to make sure they rest well—“
“Very hard, I’m afraid,” the woman answered. “Gertrude and Cai don’t sleep well at night. Quite often, they end up sleeping with me and their grandfather.”
“Ah,” Elanore smiled. “That can’t be comfortable for all of you.”
“No it’s not,” the lady laughed loudly, shaking the small items on the shelves around them. “But I’ll let it go until the spring, when the nights aren’t so long and dark.”
Elanore nodded. There was nothing she could do from what she could tell other than make sure that the children weren’t worsening. “I’ll be back in a few days to check on them.” Her grandmother might have some idea how to help them thrive more in this environment. “But before I forget, I had come here with this.” Elanore reached in to her cloak and handed the woman the sealed letter.
“That reminds me–” the older lady grinned and handed Elanore another letter in return. “Take that and give it to your grandmother. Normally I’d have the Ormond’s boy take over my letters to her, but the boy has been ill.”
“Yes, he has been but he should be better shortly—“ Elanore answered automatically. Much too late she saw she should have not said anything.
“You must have seen him then,” the woman’s eyes gleamed speculatively. “That is good news. I’m sure that under your care he’ll be much better, much more quickly.”
Elanore ignored the attempt to bait her for information and gave the nosey woman a polite smile. “He’s young and sturdy enough without my help.” With a polite bow, and exchange of farewells, Elanore made her way back out to the front room.
The crowd had grown somewhat in size and in relative levels of intoxication. Elanore carefully made her way around the tables and chair, waving a polite goodbye to Mr. Donovan who served a customer seated at separate tables in the back of the room.
It was only after she had continued on her way, that she realized there was something out of place about the pale woman sitting there in all elegant finery. As she walked toward her grandmother’s house, her basket swinging back and forth, she was so lost in her thoughts about the woman that she failed to notice the hooded figure that had fallen in on the path behind her.