How the evening passed for all of our intrepid heroes and heroines, one can only speculate. There likely was little sleep for Count Wolfram, watching the world from his tower while his loyal kinsman roamed the woods somewhere west and north of Winchester. Certainly much was on the mind of the young huntsman Edmund, wounded and puzzling over mysteries. Perhaps he lay in bed resting or contemplating the odd behaviors of several individuals in town while studying the books he had ferreted away from the Guild Hall. Or perhaps he was thinking of Elanore, the girl others would have him court and wed.
Elanore passed an uncomfortable evening, trying hard to find a way to start a letter to the mother whose red cloak she wore, a woman who she now realized she did not know all that well. Restlessly she slept, her dreams filled with jeering voices and whispers of the townspeople all talking of her and Edmund. The dark shadowy things were not forgotten either; the creatures danced at the edges of her visions, merging at times with the unkind faces of strangers who called her names before chasing her around.
She awoke the next morning with a sense of dread. Even though Elanore was well aware that what she had seen was simply a nightmare, she felt a lingering sense of unease about facing Edmund. This morning she would pass his home alone.
Her grandmother was not feeling strong enough to venture outside and face the elements; she asked Elanore to go to the Count’s estate without her. In doing so, she did not realize the folly of such a request. After all, her grandmother thought only as a mayor, wishing to deal with matters in an expedient fashion. Had she witnessed the exchange that had happened between Elanore and the Count outside her home a few days earlier, she might have withdrawn that permission.
Elanore left home on horseback with a basket prepared with herbs and other medicinal items. She looked the part of a traveler healer, visiting households in the area and administering remedies for winter ailments. Along the way, she performed her duties, dropping off various items at the inn and at the Ormond home. She did not press to see Edmund, who she was informed was resting. She did not want to unwittingly give the town’s watchful residents any more fodder for conversation.
She passed quickly passed out of the town, noticing that the road she had walked upon more than a week ago had been transformed. Wind and new snow had reshaped the environment, re-sculpting the trees and ground into strange shapes and figures.
As she cantered along on her horse, she listened to the sound of the aching and creaking of the shifting masses of snow that had made this land even more extraordinary in the past few days. She contemplated the continued reshaping of this place and how the novelty of the people and the experiences here contrasted sharply with the beautiful monotony of the climate at home. Elanore’s fingers clenched the reins. She would write of it somehow, once she figured out how to also address the matter of the guildmaster.
Her thoughts were interrupted by a wind blowing suddenly westwards. She braced herself against it, wondering if it were not chastising her for letting her mind wander. Turning her thoughts back to the summons she had received, she kept her eyes trained to the road and finding the gated opening to Count Wolfram’s property.
The gate was open this time. Elanore pushed her horse down the path that she had discovered earlier, not pausing until she and her horse drew up before the court of statues.
Her horse neighed quietly, perhaps unnerved by the realistic likenesses of lions. It was unlikely that the horse understood what the creatures represented, but they were many and lifelike enough to make any simple creature nervous. Whatever the horse did think, it refused to move. Elanore dismounted, taking the bit in hand in order to lead the poor thing down the center path that led to the entrance of the home.
The wind spoke again, provoking a sputter out of the horse. Elanore stopped, calming the poor creature. She murmured gentle assurances to the horse, promising a warm bucket of grain later.
Above the sound of the wind, Elanore heard the faint sound of tinkling. She frowned slightly, but continued to lead her horse between the statues. As she looked at the stone lions, she reflected again how wonderfully carved they were. She dawdled at one, thinking perhaps to reach out and brush off the snow that seemed to weigh upon it.
It was the crisp sound of footsteps that stopped her.
“I wouldn’t do that,” came a voice from behind her.
Elanore whirled about. Seeing the Count, she took a step back from the lion she had been about to touch. She reddened at her own foolishness. “I only wished to clean it off. It seemed like it would be a nice thing to do—“
His silver eyes bore into her. “That’s an odd thought, considering that snow has been there for some time. What difference does it make for yet another statue to be covered with snow?”
She looked back at it once, wondering why she had been compelled to try so. “Snow is of little consequence to stone,” she admitted. “But the statues remind me of live creatures, nonetheless. Call it woman’s fancy that I wish to do them the kind favor of allowing one to better see its brothers.”
There was a look of unabashed wonder on the Count’s face. Elanore was certain the man would chase her off the property at that moment. To her surprise, however, he bowed. “I shall not stop Miss Redley if that is her particular wish.”
Elanore realized then that he was not angry at her for interfering with his property; rather, he appeared to derive some sort of amusement from her peculiar statement. She hesitated for a moment, rethinking her position. Would it be silly to continue as she had intended or insulting if she should now pretend she had a complete lack of interest in touching the statue?
In the end, her impulsive side won over her sense of decorum. Somewhat tentatively she reached out with gloved hand to touch the base of the statue. She took that hand back when an odd jolt of energy shot down her arm. Wondering if she had imagined that sensation, she reached out and tentatively brushed at the base of the statue. Feeling nothing, she proceeded to clear the parts within her reach of snow.
As a shadow fell across the statue, Elanore looked up to find the Count reaching around her. She tried not to notice how closely he stood at her side, carefully working at the higher points that were out of Elanore’s reach. She willfully ignored the glint in his eyes, choosing to continue silently with her task until the man finally spoke.
“This used to be Hastings’ duty when he was much younger.” The Count’s face had grown less stern and more youthful in appearance as he recalled some memory of his own. “Like you, I used to pester him about how the poor lions would be so upset if we didn’t tend to them.”
She almost smiled in response, but caught herself. Elanore waited until she had moved around the side of the statue and put a safe distance between herself and the Count before she continued the conversation. “Hastings is a rather kind man, isn’t he?”
“He is,” Count Wolfram smiled slightly at her, and Elanore looked down for a moment, suddenly unnerved by the attention.
“Thank you for removing the snow.”
“You’re welcome,” she recovered from her temporary shyness and looked up at the man. “And thank you for indulging my rather inane request.”
The Count suddenly frowned at her. “What are you saying?”
“You’re welcome,” she repeated, confused.
The Count raised one eyebrow. “Miss Redley, I did not say anything.”
Elanore felt her sense of unease deepen. She had not forgotten his strange attack on Edmund, she had just hoped the attack had been an aberration. However, it was quite possible that the man was indeed a little bit mad.
“Silly girl. It is not the wolf cub,” a smooth voice sulked. “It’s me!”
She turned her head about wildly, trying to find the voice while keeping her eye on the Count, circling around the base of the statue.
It was then that there was a sudden shifting of the stone. The stone lion stretched and yawned, sending the startled Elanore falling into the Count’s arms.