Normally, Elanore could be relied upon to show a degree of sensibility that many young ladies from her village did not possess. She was not the kind of young woman who gave herself over to thoughts of young men and fine clothes. Instead, she had chosen a path for herself that differed from most other girls, choosing a craft or trade that allowed her to be self-reliant and gave her a reason to wander about as wanted and needed.
However, at the moment she was not exactly behaving like a reliable sort of woman. While she walked the snowy path towards home, Elanore was not looking for icy patches on the road, but contemplating the strange woman at the inn. The woman was modestly attired but the cloth that was used on her gown was finely woven and patterned intricately. And yet, with all the interest there usually was about new persons in town, she found it odd to see such a woman sitting quietly at her table, ignored by the other patrons. Perhaps the woman’s ascetic appearance made her easy to overlook. After all, the more commonly admired women in these parts seemed to be busty and healthy sorts, loud and brave, not grave and quiet.
From there her thoughts turned to Edmund. Innocently she wondered if he would find the stranger as interesting as she did or if his preferences were much more like the other menfolk in town. Her cheeks colored slightly; she was ashamed to be so curious as to what kind of woman Edmund would find beautiful.
Elanore was lost in thoughts like these, the thoughts of a self-conscious young woman. She did not notice how crookedly she ran down the road, how dangerously close to emptying the contents of her basket she was, nor the hooded figure sloppily wandering through the snow on the path behind her.
It was not an ominous figure but a rather pathetic one that was not clothed warmly enough for the weather. And it was doing its best to catch her attention, calling repeatedly after her while she wandered in her thoughts.
It was only when it was nearly upon her that she broke out of her reverie and turned around.
“Hullo, miss messenger,” a young man squeaked as the two nearly collided with one another. “What news do you bring from the outside?”
Elanore examined the person addressing her, wondering who this stranger might be. He was a thin wisp of a man, close to her age. Other than his face, his entire being was covered either by hood or cassock. She recognized from his clothing that he was some sort of monk or cleric, but had not the faintest idea of what order or origin. “You must be mistaken, sir. I am not a messenger.”
“Ah,” blue eyes widened and lingered over the red cloak she wore, before the man bowed apologetically. The cleric stammered. “I made a mistake. I thought you were someone else.”
She wondered exactly who that might be, but did not ask. “I’m Elanore Redley,” she pushed her hand forward in greeting. “I’m the granddaughter of the mayor of this town.”
“Oh,” the timid creature responded, nervously extending his own hand. “I’m Novice Wyte. I will be assisting the Friar with his duties. He sends me to make rounds today.”
Elanore recalled something about how the elderly cleric in town was much overworked and saddled with too many responsibilities since the departure of the town’s sole schoolmistress. She made a bit of polite small talk for a few minutes, discussing the schedules that the young man had to keep and the families he had visited thus far. As their conversation came to a lull, she murmured “Good day” and turned to leave.
Again the young novice called after her. “Miss Redley,” the man stammered. “Would it be alright if I accompany you to your grandmother’s house? I meant to stop there later on behalf of the Friar, but would like to meet her now if it would not be too great an imposition on you both.”
Not comfortable declining a legitimate call on her grandmother’s behalf, Elanore could not do anything but agree. The novice clerk was timid and Elanore was not up to maintaining conversation after an exhausting morning. And so they passed a quiet walk to the house. Their contemplative silence was punctuated only by the occasional “hello” to the few people who passed their way.
The passersby stared at the cleric. Elanore did not realize one of the reasons why this was so until they were safely inside the Winchester home. She observed the novice shaking off snow every which way in the entryway. As her eyes came to the puddle on the floor, she frowned. “Your shoes are no good for this area whatsoever. Have you no boots?”
Her rather direct statement drew a rather disapproving “Elanore” from behind her. Elanore winced as she turned around, knowing full well that Mrs. Winchester was not pleased by whatever she had just said.
“Mr. Wyte is a friar, dearie,” clucked Mrs. Reyes, the henlike neighbor who stood next to her grandmother. “Sent from the much more temperate coastal area. Boots there are not all that common. They are a luxury.”
Novice Wyte bowed his head in agreement.
“Miss Elanore is not from here either,” Mrs. Reyes continued to chirp along. “Her southern manners are a bit more direct, aren’t they?”
In more polite society, Elanore realized that what she had said had been construed as insulting. With her comments, she had foolishly and inadvertently pointed out the man’s lack of material wealth. “My apologies, Mr. Wyte” she bowed deeply.
The novice shook his head.
“Well, a warm fire and meal should smooth things over,” Mrs. Winchester said kindly to the assembled group.
“Oh yes, ducklings,” Mrs. Reyes agreed and then continued to chatter along as she firmly escorted the captive novice along to the kitchen.
Meekly, Elanore followed, retreating to a corner of the kitchen where she could assist her grandmother with preparing a small meal for the cleric. She stayed well out of the way of the cleric and their neighbor. As for the novice, Mrs. Reyes had collared the young cleric and placed him on a stool where she had begun to pepper him with a large number of questions. It was obvious that Mrs. Reyes was determined to know everything and anything of potential interest in town.
Elanore attempted to fade into the background, not wanting to draw any further notice from the woman. She did not wish to be added to her list of topics de jour.
As the two of them continued along in a fairly one-sided conversation that neither Elanore or Mrs. Winchester could contribute much to, Elanore looked helplessly at her grandmother. Her grandmother shrewdly drew up a reason to excuse themselves. “Elanore – will you help me in the other room?”
Gratefully, Elanore followed Mrs. Winchester out to a small room in the back of the house. As they stepped through the doorway, Elanore recalled that this room had once served as her grandfather’s office.
“Do try to be nicer to the novice, Elanore,” Mrs. Winchester scolded her gently. “The Friar needs as much as help as he can manage. We should do what we can to make sure that Mr. Wyte is comfortable in our town.”
“I’m sorry, Grandmother,” Elanore shook her head. “I didn’t mean to say something so rude. My mouth opened before I could think.”
“It was the manner in which it was stated, not the actual observation. As you noted, the novice can not simply continue walking around in such thin shoes. Perhaps there’s something among your grandfather’s things that might do.”
The idea of reusing her grandfather’s things might be seem sacrilegious to others, but Elanore knew that Mrs. Winchester was not a particularly sentimental person. She did not question her grandmother’s instructions, and kneeled down in front of the trunk while her grandmother held a small lamp in place to provide better light for their search.
Elanore hefted the heavy lid of the trunk open and began sorting through several promising looking boots. As she placed various shoes on the wooden floor outside the trunk, she began conversing with her grandmother about the details of Edmund’s health and the illness of the children in town. Her grandmother listened with attention and concern.
“Winter brings sickness almost every season,” her grandmother closed her eyes in thought. “At least you are here now to assure us when it is something normal and when it is not.”
Elanore nodded. There were plagues and diseases that could take an entire town. She heard of such things much further south, where the weather was more temperate. Here, she feared that the illnesses had more to do with the cold and the food.
“Grandmother,” Elanore abruptly shifted the topic of conversation. “Regarding what you had told me yesterday… I did ask Mrs. Ormond about mother… and the guildmaster.”
There was a slight rattle as the old woman’s hands shook, unsettling the lamp she held. “Did she know what happened?”
“No,” Elanore paused in her search to look back up at her grandmother. “I suppose only mother and the guildmaster know.”
Mrs. Winchester audibly swallowed. “Evelyn has never said what happened to me, to your father–”
“Of course she wouldn’t,” Elanore shut the lid of the box abruptly in frustration. She had wondered how, in fact, she was supposed even ask her mother. This was not the sort of thing to write and ask about, knowing that any letter she sent while on her journeys was always passed around the entire family. As disappointed as she was, as angry as she was at her mother, she did not want to accidentally bring the rest of them into the matter. “And I can not ask the only other person who would know.”
“Elanore,” her grandmother gasped at the very idea of approaching the guildmaster.
“I won’t ask him,” Elanore shook her head. “Even if I summoned enough courage to stomp my way into the Guild Hall, Edmund forbade me from going to ask him.”
“Edmund?” Mrs. Winchester started. “He forbade you?”
“Not exactly,” the young lady spoke softly, twisting the cloth in her skirt slightly between her fingers. “Forbade is too strong a term for Edmund. I suppose I promised him I wouldn’t go. He was insistent about it, but kind.”
At that admission, Elanore blushed prettily and began to absentmindedly polish one of the boots with part of her skirt. Mrs. Winchester’s look grew quite stern as she observed her granddaughter further. “Elanore, you do realize that you are polishing the heel of that boot with your skirt, don’t you?”
The girl dropped the boot loudly. Mrs. Winchester sighed. She did not want to pry, but Elanore’s words and actions sometimes did not quite add up in her mind. It was not that Elanore was insensible, but that she was young and affectionate, as well as inexperienced when it came to affairs concerning young women and men. As a result, she tried to discern exactly what Elanore meant by calling Edmund ‘kind.’ “Did Edmund propose to you?”
It was fortunate that Elanore was not holding anything else in her hands to drop. “Grandmother!”
“Did he kiss you?” The woman pressed forward.
“No!” Elanore was rather loud and vigorous in her protests. “Edmund would do no such thing, he merely—“ And then Elanore’s voice faded, as she suddenly recalled that there were other persons in the house. In fact, these persons were not merely in the house, but drawn by her raised voice, had rounded the corner of the hall to catch the last part of the conversation.
As Elanore looked past her grandmother, she could see Mrs. Reyes out in the hallway, her eyes gleaming.