Pelle sub agnina latitat mens saepe lupina
(Under a sheep’s skin often hides a wolfish mind)
In a world where mythical creatures exist and stories come true, a woman with untapped magic powers was still considered rare. The Count was well aware of the value of Miss Redley, to the degree that he kept the maiden close to him as he moved through the dim tunnels that led to the estate’s true secrets.
Were it not for the faint light emanating from the small stones embedded in the walls or the glowworms writhing blindly in the darkness, she would not be able to see anything, including the man who kept her moving quickly along a floor of mixed rock and limestone.
Wolfram did not have to tell her when they had arrived at their destination. As she looked up into an expansive cavern lined with numerous blue stones twinkling gently like stars, she stopped walking.
For a moment, Elanore held her breath before letting it out unevenly. She trembled, not at the chilly temperatures but at the ethereal beauty of the place. And then a troubled look spread over her face as she contemplated the treasure before her. “If the townspeople knew of this place—“
“They do not and shall not,” he answered with a chilly glance at the girl, reminding her of her promise.
“Of course not,” she responded indignantly.
Pacified, he kept a hand at her waist and used his other free hand to retrieve the chain from his pocket. As his fingers unfurled, he revealed a stone that had already begun to shimmer in response to the others. His eyes, too, seemed to shine as they turned to the ceiling.
A blue and white light danced about the room and Elanore watched, transfixed by the sight.
Her reaction appeared to please the man. And why should it not? After all the difficulties she had thrown his way, Miss Redley’s sentiments seemed to revolving quite rapidly in the Count’s favor. “At one time, I once resonated with these stones, enough so that I could use the one in my hand to to harness the light of all of these stones in order to turn back the shadow creatures we call the Unthings. However now, the stone no longer shines for me outside this room. ”
She stiffened slightly. “Why should the gift of magic leave you?”
“Why should it?” His face contorted strangely. Elanore sensed a tremendous amount of anger and hatred. Instinctively, she stepped back.
Her absence at his side appeared to startle him. Immediately the Count’s face resolved itself into a more neutral look as he brought whatever feelings of revulsion and fury under control. “I crossed a line,” he began to say. ”And when I crossed that line, I believe that the magic inherent in these stones began to reject me. Over time, the intermittent failure of the stone to respond to me became more obvious. And soon I could not use the stone at all.”
Elanore felt his explanation was lacking some important detail. Carefully she asked, “Did that happen at the same time when the lions were no longer able to speak to you?”
“Yes,” he set his mouth into a hard line. “As pieces of these stones make up the lion guardians outside, my inability to use the one I hold means the lions ceased to speak or move for me as well. Even so,” he squared his shoulders. “Even as powerless as I might be, I still am their guardian against whatever might come this way.”
She placed a reassuring hand upon his arm believing she now understood why the Count was so cold towards people in general. Suspicion and unfriendliness were some of the few weapons he had against other people. “Surely someone in your family might have known how to restore that magic. Or aide you.”
He shook his head. “There hasn’t been a magic user in our family for many years. While I have cousins aplenty, it appears the use of magic is a rare trait in our family line. None can use it.” Wolfram closed his open hand again, shutting off the light of the stone. “I had no one to guide me how to use the magic when I discovered I had the gift, and no one to guess what to do when it faded away.”
“But how have you learned that which you will be teaching me?” Elanore asked, more out of concern than curiosity. She wondered how would it be possible that he would be able to teach her anything.
For a moment he said nothing, and looked away while the stones shimmered around them.
As the silence lengthened, Elanore worried. He had convinced her so far of accepting his view of the world, one in which fantastic creatures and powers existed. But was the man even qualified to teach of this world?
“You need not be concerned.” His grave expression had relented slightly. “I was taught the basics by an elf from the west. She was a wisewoman in training,” his mouth lifted up into something like a smile. In his hands, he continued to turn the stone around in his hand. “Wisewomen blend magic, lore, and the craft of healing.” His eyes turned to look at Elanore, weighting that last statement.
She felt awkward at the silent comparison. Suddenly self-conscious, she withdrew her hand from his arm and clasped both of her hands in front of her.
Indeed, Elanore was very much like the woman from the Count’s vague past – the wisewoman from the village lost in the fogs that formed off the Silver River. It was because of this woman he now reached for her hand and entrusted her with the stone.
It made a sudden weight in her hands and Elanore inhaled quickly, wondering why it was so. Her eyes sought out the Count, silently asking him to tell her what to say and do.
He appeared to find some amusement in her situation. Why she did not know. His instructions were simply: “Do not look for magic spells or words to make things happen. The stone’s magic should respond to you as easily did the lion and the wooden gate.”
She squeezed her eyes shut, and the man cleared his throat. “That will not help,” he stated matter-of-fact.
Elanore opened her eyes as he continued to gently instruct her. “The magic of the stone and the other stones around you will respond to your body and your emotions.”
For a few minutes, she stood awkwardly, staring at the stone for some hint of response. With a sound of frustration, she tried to push the chain back at the man.
He held his hand up, his gloved palm signaling he would not allow her to give up. “It will not work with so little effort. Try again.”
Elanore was not an unteachable or even an impatient student. Simply put, she was not used to such an abstract and vague method of instruction. The discipline of healing required her to memorize and observe, to deduce and analyze. This teaching seemed to be entirely the opposite of everything she understood. “What should I be thinking of? What did you think of to make it respond to you?”
To his credit, her teacher indulged her question. Elanore wanted to succeed and was looking for any method to do so. “It is easiest to use it when you possess a strong emotion. Think of something that is powerful and meaningful to you,” he instructed her.
She closed her own eyes, avoiding the scrutiny of those silver eyes reflecting the soft blue light in the cave. Elanore tried to grasp for an important memory, her mind flitting about dancing through random past recollections.
She thought of her grandfather and his rocking chair, and how she perched on his lap while he read her stories in his deep, sonorous voice. As she delved into this memory, Elanore felt deep affection and a great sense of calm. She felt the stone warm in her hand for just a moment, as if to affirm the warmth of that image and her past emotions. But the sensation was weak and quick, and then it was gone.
Elanore opened her eyes to look up at her teacher. She was encouraged to find his expression bright and almost pleased. “Try again, Miss Redley.”
In response, her eyelids fluttered shut and she recalled a ritual in which she and her siblings sat outside, roasting chestnuts and sweet potatoes. A gentle smile played about her lips and the Count leaned in, likely fascinated by her expression and the slight flicker of light in her hand.
He changed direction without warning. “Think of someone you hate.”
Her mind drawing a blank, Elanore shook her head quietly. She could not bring any face or response to mind.
“Then someone you love,” he spoke. She felt a slight pulse of heat as the stone shimmered erratically to her touch. “A young man you might find attractive,” he pressed further and was rewarded with another, more intense scattering of light. “This man named Edmund—“
The light stopped as the young woman opened her eyes, affronted by line of questioning. She resisted this intrusion on her personal affairs. “Is there some other way of testing this?”
Her teacher frowned, displeased by the discovery of the boundaries the student had thrown up in front of him. “Fair enough,” he prompted her to close her eyes again. His voice was no longer kind or patient as he began to speak again. “Imagine your grandmother alone at home. It is dark outside and inside. Ill, she lies in bed.”
Elanore tensed, but was forced to continue to listen as she began to visualize her grandmother lying in her bed, her cap drawn about her. Vividly, she imagined her grandmother sleeping fitfully, turning and tossing.
Suddenly his voice floated in her ear, menacing and cold. “A shadow is creeping through the door. Another slides in through the chimneys.” The whispers continued, rustling her hair as his fingers circled around her wrists, holding her still. His words brought to life shadows, moving like snakes as they slithered up that short flight of stairs. The Count then cruelly halted his narrative, pausing the shadows at the door to the only occupied room in the home.
“Hungry are the shadows,” he breathed against her neck. “Like wolves they prowl about your poor grandmother lying defenseless in her bed. And you are useless because you stand paralyzed—“ He ignored her struggling. “You– a woman who fails at using her gifts of magic and a woman who has not learned to feel any passion.”
“No,” she spat at the man who would not let her go, the stone in her hand beginning to flare and burn with a hot and strong light.
“An emotionless doll,” he continued to tease. “Incapable of feeling true love or hate. Not even anger.”
“No!” She hissed as she burned her fingers and dropped the furiously blinking stone. “”I’m not useless!” She kicked against him, wanting to retrieve what she had dropped so she might throw the rock in his face.
Elanore flailed ineffectually for several minutes before he released her to pick up the chain for himself. Although still warm, he put it away carefully in one of his pockets. He did not acknowledge her fury or step away from her hand, raised as if to strike him. Instead, he took that hand and turned it over, inspecting the damage she had wrought to herself.
“You’ve done well, Miss Redley,” he said matter-of-fact, ignoring her fury and the hands shaking in his. “But next time, you’ll need gloves. As for these burns, they are not deep. Hastings will have something to soothe them.”
“I have my own medicines,” she glowered at him, snatching her hands away. This time he let them go. “I wish to leave now to tend to them.”
He stooped down to pick up several loose stones that ended up in his pockets. “Very well,” he responded, his tone flat and neutral.
She looked down at the angry red marks on her hands, accepting the truth of his claims about her. But she could not wholly rejoice; she smarted over the manipulation he had employed to make that truth clear.
In that moment, she missed the look that crossed her mercurial teacher’s face – possessive and calculating.