She shook her head, not wanting to hear those words. 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 the man once loved her mother, but the idea that her mother might have loved the guildmaster in return gnawed at her. Elanore desperately wanted to stop feeling as if her mother had betrayed her father and Elanore’s siblings.
Elanore’s face betrayed her inner angst. Edmund grasped her shoulders. For a moment, she thought he might attempt to shake some sense into her. But instead, he clasped her to him, cradling her gently.
With her face buried into his chest, she finally dropped her guard and 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 and speak to her until whatever fit of emotion had passed.
He comforted her now.
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. Promise—”
She answered again, “I promise.”
He brushed a strand of hair out of her face. “Good.”
Elanore blushed, 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 quickly, paying little 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, the woman covered Elanore in a large embrace.
Elanore was startled to be greeted in such a familiar and warm fashion. As she caught sight of the fancy rings on the lady’s hand, she recalled meeting this woman many a time before. Mrs. Donovan was a woman who used to sit with her grandmother frequently for tea when Elanore spent her summers in this town. She vaguely recalled that 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 that drew everyone’s attention towards them. Her response was quiet and reserved. “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, uncertain whether it was rude to decline the offer, she found herself nodding.
“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. 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? For a while they’ve had some kind of cold.”
“Of course.” Elanore promptly kneeled by the two children listlessly playing with some dried beans and a set of cans stacked in the corner. They quietly turned to look at this guest. Elanore furrowed her brow before reaching into her basket to procure a listening tube and 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 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 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.
“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.”
Much too late Elanore realized she should have not said anything about Edmund. She gave the nosey woman a polite smile, ignoring the attempt to bait her for information. “He’s young and sturdy enough without my help.” She offered a polite farewell and made her way back out to the front room.
The crowd had grown in size and in relative levels of intoxication. Elanore carefully made her way around the tables and chair, waving goodbye to Mr. Donovan who was fussing over a female customer seated at a table 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.
She swung her basket back and forth as she walked towards her grandmother’s house. 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.