Under different circumstances, a short ride might have afforded the young man some opportunity to engage the young lady in meaningful or intimate conversation. However charming an idea that might be, they were both deep in thought and said nothing while they sped down the white road back towards town. Their lack of attention to one another was understandable. They both were thinking of magic and mythical creatures — of things that did not make sense to most mortal souls.
It was a shame that Edmund did not notice how fetching Elanore’s looks were in the deepening twilight. If he clutched Elanore tightly to him while he pushed his horse along, it was only because daylight was ending earlier each day and he did not feel comfortable being outside in the dark
Elanore was not oblivious to Edmund’s desire to protect her. If she had been and been a silly sort of woman, she might have read the situation differently. She was not a romantic sort, though, and had already excused Edmund’s familiar behavior. Instead she kept quiet, choosing to dwell upon what she had overheard from Edmund and the Count’s terse and uncomfortable conversation on the doorstep of Lord Wolfram’s imposing hallway.
She said little as Edmund helped her off the horse, only flashing him a small, grateful smile as he handed her the baskets and she ran inside.
When Edmund followed a few minutes thereafter, he stumbled into chaos. Three women, each with a particular view on how the half-indisposed man should be treated, were in the midst of a power struggle. As for the patient, Giles lay on his bed as if he had passed out. Even so, the older women insisted on rousing him and forcing the undernourished man to eat.
“I’m going to remove his clothes,” Elanore finally threatened. “You best leave.”
“Shocking,” Mrs. Reyes gasped as she exited the room and fled to the kitchen. Mrs. Winchester simply raised an eyebrow and followed after her neighbor, while nodding at Edmund in greeting as she, too, passed him in the hallway.
Elanore motioned Edmund to enter the room. She turned her brown eyes thoughtfully upon him as she drew the door fully shut behind her. “I’ll need your help,” she said quietly by way of explanation.
Edmund stood by her as she took her place next to the bed and began to speak rather sharply at its occupant. “Unlike those ladies, I can’t be fooled. You’ll soon find out that it’s in your best interest to be honest with me. Open your eyes.”
After a moment the man did so, with a sly grin upon his face.
The lady was not amused. “Remove his clothes please.”
Both men stared agape at the petite woman who ignored them. She was retrieving something from one of the several baskets in the room. Edmund furrowed his brow and glanced somewhat uneasily at the coachman. Undressing a man was not exactly in his job description but telling that to Elanore would be unwise; Elanore seemed to be in a rather black mood.
Giles gave the girl a rather puzzled look and shook his head. He, too, could tell something or someone was on the healer’s mind.
With a small frown of pain, Giles raised his hands over his head and pretended he didn’t care that it was Edmund and not Elanore who pulled his shirt off of him. If he had any expectation of gentle motherly care, he did not receive it. The healer was rather unkind with all her prodding and poking.
Elanore stepped back a few minutes later, satisfied by her inspection. “You had an encounter with a stone lion did you?”
He looked first at Edmund and then up at the ceiling first before finally answering. “Would you believe me if I did?”
Emphatically, Elanore answered, “Yes. I’ve met one myself this afternoon.”
Her admission drew a pair of goggle-eyed stares from both men. There was a long pause before Giles cleared his throat and filled the silence. “I wonder how that might have come to pass.”
With a quick glance at Edmund, she seemed undecided on how much to say.
Edmund understood the meaning of these odd looks. ““I believe you,” he turned a kindly glance towards the young woman and then towards Giles to include him in his statement. “Both of you. It’s alright to speak in front of me, for I will not ridicule you or tell others if you wish to keep all this in confidence.”
It was a strange admission on his part, but apparently needed.
Giles heaved a sigh of relief, wincing slightly as he did so. “It might not be all that easy to keep a secret. I hadn’t been tracking it for more than a quarter hour or so when I met up with you, Edmund. I don’t know if you knew what it was when you came to my aid, but I had recognized it as soon as I caught sight of it wandering around the road.” He made a face of irritation and amusement. “Imagine my horror when I thought it came from the estate and what the sight of that thing would do to the townsfolk. I have no idea how long it wandered or who else might have spotted it. I followed it with the intent of driving it back home, but it was so quick. It seemed determined to either explore or track something-“
Edmund nodded, for he did recall it was rather fast moving.
“Could you not talk to it?” Elanore asked.
“No,” Giles gave her a puzzled look. “I do not exactly speak lion.” He grinned slightly. “Or the language of stones.”
She did not echo his smile. It was obvious to both gentlemen that she did not find the man’s attempts at humor to be funny. “I encountered an active lion earlier in the day while at the estate,” she stated. “Not harmful of course. It was quite tame, or as tame as one can expect from a magical anomaly. It was but one creature, however, and the others were not at all active.”
The meaning of the large tracks he had seen previously suggested itself to Edmund. He shared his idea aloud. “There were a set of rather odd tracks near the entryway. Probably from that same creature.”
“That cheeky thing,” Giles rubbed his beard. “Pouncing up to the gate where anyone and everyone could see it.” He grimaced, “What a mess I’ll have to deal with later.”
Elanore was still deep in thought. “Perhaps it did get loose and ran about after I had entered the house. However, that same creature was where I left him when we left this afternoon. Unless there are others outside the estate?”
“They’re unique to the property,” Giles argued. “It’s not impossible that others may exist, but it is a highly unlikely possibility there are more anywhere within the vicinity.”
“I’ve never seen such a thing before,” Edmund agreed. “Except on the bridge, but that thing is larger and older.”
Elanore nodded. There was a clear way for her to sort out the events, but it could not be done here. “Never mind then.”
“That infernal beast has a mind of its own,” Giles grumbled. “I do not know what it was doing out there, but I had to tell it to go home in as many ways as I could think.”
“I was wondering what language you were using,” Edmund interjected. “Or incantation.”
“I’m not a magic user,” Giles responded rather emphatically. “I was just using a bit of dialect, a few phrases passed around our family while I tried to keep it still. The silly thing kept struggling and so eventually I had to just give it good whack on the bottom and hope it’d go home like a bad disobedient child.”
“Was that what you were doing?” Edmund muttered under his breath. The way Giles seemed to have represented the situation was far better than how it appeared to him. “It looked more like it had the advantage on you.”
“I had the upper hand, I tell you,” Giles looked deeply offended. “If I were not so tired, I’d have been riding that stupid creature all the way back home instead of getting fists thrown at me by young whelps like you.”
“Edmund,” Elanore reached for his hand as if to inspect it but he waved her fingers away. “You could barely stand,” Edmund supplied with a traitorous smile. “I didn’t punch you all that hard. Only enough to keep you from taking my horse and chasing down that beast.”
Elanore gave an exasperated sigh. “Well here we are now, aren’t we?” Suddenly she loomed threateningly over the patient, her hands reaching out towards the blankets that covered the man’s legs. “I suppose I’ll have to reinspect you, sir, for other injuries. Edmund—“ she signaled towards the pathetic garb that passed for pants on the coachman, indicating that she wanted them removed.
Edmund grimaced before he did as he was asked, ignoring Giles as he began to curse up a storm.