In spite of Wolfram’s lack of appreciation for Giles’ joke, the coachman was not deterred from dispensing his usual share of wit and sarcasm. He continued speaking in a half-serious manner. “Well then, nothing like the use of a good fairy wand or two.”
This statement failed to earn an appreciative chuckle from the somber, gloomy Count. “If I still had the use of magic,” Wolfram muttered to himself, “How different things would be now.”
His face darkened as he considered that the blue stone lying in his pocket was nothing more than an elegant accessory. Once it had evaporated a mass of black shadowy Unthings and cast a light brighter than the two moons combined. But now it was no better than a glass sun catcher. It was not the stone. Rather, his ability to use it had gone quiet.
Maximilian’s loyal companion set his mouth into a hard line. He knew something terrible had happened to the Count long before they were acquainted. The exact details around that event were not shared openly by the Count or the elders of the family.
While the Wolframs had talents and traits unique to their bloodline, the ability to use other magic, as the Count defined it, did not universally run through the Wolfram family.
Wisely Giles chose not to argue the point about magic with his much older cousin. Instead he considered the true nature of the grounds, the secrets that lay within and underneath them. “Even if you cannot use magic — the soil and the stones in the caves each hold their own magic.”
The elves had lived here once and helped built this place. It was only natural that the very place they stood upon held onto some fragment of their powers. Even then Wolfram was not comforted. He knew that the elves were not infallible. They were just as susceptible to Unthings and to death.
“I hope so,” Wolfram said uneasily. “And I hope that they’ve not forgotten what lies on this land. We do not know if the elves will come. There are so few of the old ones left and even fewer who remember living here.”
“What about the girl?” Giles asked.
Wolfram gave his cousin a suspicious look. “What do you mean by that?”
“The red-hooded girl smells different,” Giles answered lightly. “There’s a scent of magic upon her. Faint but distinct.”
Wolfram was diverted from his anxious pacing of the room. For a moment, he stared at his cousin, wondering how the man had so easily come to that conclusion. “I had observed some strange things—”and he had suspected as such. “What makes you so certain?”
“I can smell quite a bit,” Giles looked rather smug. “People are unique in how they smell. And those who are gifted with magic or hold something in their hand have an added air to them. I can, for example, right now tell that you have some object of magic in your vest pocket.”
To know that he had moved the stone to his vest pocket was something unexpected. “Indeed, you do have a good sense of smell,” Wolfram spoke softly and thoughtfully.
That statement of admiration pleased his cousin. And although Maximilian had once been praised by his long-departed elven friends for his own acute senses, truthfully Giles was far better in that regard. Giles had youth on his side, as well as a purer Wolfram bloodline running through him.
It surprised him that Giles’ interest in the girl mirrored his own. “I’ve not seen her or received any message from her in days—even though I gave the girl every bit of incentive to come find me.”
Giles nearly spit out his pipe at that statement. The Count did not seek out interactions with others, let alone a young woman. There was a look of hungry curiosity as Giles interjected. “What did you offer her? Gifts of money or magical objects?”
The Count shook his head slightly.
“Well then, what the hell did you do!?”
Wolfram gave his cousin a mild look. “I did nothing except give her my very best impression of you.”
There was a long pause before Giles began to make a strained, choking sound. He continued to convulse silently for several minutes, before he coughed and then began to laugh, to howl. The Count increasingly became irritated as the laughter increased in volume and in duration.
“Oh, to see that sight!” Giles nearly cracked his pipe upon his knee as he began to hit it against his right thigh. “To see you flirting scandalously with a lass. How my grandfather would have love to hear about such an event. How it would have given Hastings a heart attack. Our Lord, our Count, condescending to show attention to a woman. But to think in spite of that, she has ignored your attentions!”
There was a long exaggerated sigh from the rogue coachman. To himself he continued, “I feel somehow as my skills have been questioned. Her lack of response is not just a failure of my lord but my own. Sir,” the man turned his attention fully back to the Count. “I’ll take her a message and an invitation of sorts.”
The Count cast a wary glance at the man, whose eyes were suspiciously dancing at the idea. “Do as you must,” the Count said coolly. “But see to the other things as well. Do not tarry for I want you back here as soon as possible. I’ll have Hastings prepare something for your journey.”
“There’s no need to bother the old man.” Giles shook out the contents of his pipe and then tossed it carelessly into one of the odd pockets on the side of his trousers. “It shan’t take all that long if I go without my horse.”
Wolfram raised an eyebrow. “You understand the risks of traveling that way—”
“Of course,” the man grinned. “But I hate formalities in times like these. It’s much faster doing things the old way.”
The Count’s face went blank. Giles had no idea, no clue as to how much Maximilian disliked the way his cousins sometimes so freely used their gifts. There was not only risk of these gifts being discovered but also the potential for things to go wrong. However, he was wholly dependent on these gifts. As such, he did not argue this point. “Be careful,” was all Maximilian said. “I hope they will listen.”
“They will if I prance in front of them,” Giles laughed heartily. “And if they still don’t yield to my scintillating personality, then I will appeal to their nobler sense of duty. And if that fails to move them,” Giles said sardonically, “I will ply the menfolk with promises of women and wine while flirting scandalously with our lovely womenfolk.”
Maximilian gave him a rather withering look. “You do know that I rely on you to actually want to cooperate with me. It seems you only wish to go to goad them into behaving like younger versions of yourself.”
We are what we are,” Giles said lightly. “When I am successful, their envoys will arrive soon enough. The task of convincing them then is up to you.”
“Alright,” Maximilian rubbed his brow. Giles’ confidence of his own success was almost reassuring. Some of the anxiety he had been feeling the past few days was alleviated, if only for a moment. “I’ll prepare the messages. Go seek out Hastings and let him know what is happening. He’s in the–”
“Tower,” Giles interrupted with a grin. “I know. I can smell that old man and his pomade almost anywhere.”
Before he could be chastised not to torment the ‘old man’, Giles took his leave, whistling a jaunty tune.