Edmund could not keep up as she moved from the kitchen to the hallway to better hear the sound. As the thumps began to fade, the floorboards in the house echoed the larger sounds, shaking and creaking in response. Both Edmund and Elanore recognized that the sound was coming from the back room where Giles rested.
Elanore was nearly at the door to the room before Edmund caught up with her and firmly grasped her shoulder. “Elanore. Wait.”
She opened her mouth to protest, but closed it quickly when the short sword in Edmund’s hand flashed.
A faint cold draft drifted from underneath the doorway. Edmund strained his ears for sounds from the other side of the door. Slowly, he felt the hairs on his neck stand on end as there came a faint scrabbling sound moving across the floorboards on the door’s other side. It was followed by a low, familiar moan.
“Stay behind me,” cautioned Edmund, his instincts telling him that something was wrong. “Let me be certain that the room is safe.”
To her credit, Elanore simply nodded, trying not to show any fear before she handed him the lamp. With his shoulder he pushed the door in roughly. His raised sword led the way inside, guarding against whatever might be waiting inside while the lamp in his other hand flickered briefly but held fast, illuminating the room.
Quickly, he surveyed the room for intruders. Although he found none, his eyes narrowed as he observed two things: the window curtains moving slightly in response to the wind and the body of the coachman on the floor.
Now certain that it was safe, he nodded at Elanore to step forward. As she did so, she went straight to the patient who lay on his side with legs and feet drawn up to his chest.
While she examined him, Edmund turned his attention back to the open window, drawing it firmly shut. He looked out through the glass for signs of an escaped intruder. This activity proved to be futile; he could see little in the increasing darkness.
Although the premonition of danger had passed, Edmund took care to doubly bar the window. It was in this process of moving things about that his fingers discovered sharp grooves and marks on the frame that surrounded the glass. He frowned for a moment at the unfamiliar markings, trying to recall if they had been there previously in the fall when he had last repaired these windows.
When Edmund turned back to see how the healer was doing, he discovered Elanore struggling on her own to put the man back to bed. He scolded her mildly as he came to her rescue and lifted the man from the floor for her.
Her face flushed slightly with embarrassment as he placed the man back on the bed. “I didn’t want to interrupt you,” she apologized. “I thought something might be outside.”
“I didn’t see much,” Edmund admitted. “I can barely see beyond the yard.” He looked down at Giles who was shivering and covered with sweat, wondering if the man had seen something. He pondered if some new thing had revealed itself to Giles at the window that so frightened him that he might have attempted to leave his bed. But as he considered Giles’ fearless behavior earlier in the day, he furrowed his brow in dissatisfaction. Would such a man do so?
Elanore rubbed her eyes as she focused her attention back on her patient. “At least whatever spill he took did not result in more injuries. But his complexion appears rather toxic.” She had a guilty air about her as she confessed, “I probably should have given him that medicine I was offered.”
“I’m sure you had good reason not to,” Edmund offered.
Elanore sighed. “I was instructed to give him that verbena after a good meal. But he seems rather poor in color that I wonder if I should wait.”
Edmund did not know how to respond. Medicines were as to him as foreign a topic as women’s fashions and he could not counsel her or know how to assist her as she fetched something from one of the neglected baskets sitting in the room.
He simply observed as Elanore prepared the strange medicine, pouring it into a wooden bowl and evaluating the medicine. “It’s not all that common down south, but it is generally valued as a cleansing purifying sort of medicine. It should help him rid himself of whatever it is that seems to be ailing him if I could manage to make him drink it.”
“I’ll hold him for you,” Edmund found her rambling charming.
She brightened a bit and then waited as Edmund lifted and maintained the man in an upright position. He watched as Elanore cautiously held out a small wooden bowl filled with the strange sweet smelling liquid near the patient’s nose.
The smell was powerful and calming. Giles’ groaning ceased and he did not resist when Elanore raised the bowl and poured its contents into his open mouth.
The man’s shivering gradually eased. Once it was clear that the liquid would stay down, Elanore carefully assisted Edmund with propping Giles more comfortably against a backdrop of pillows and cushions.
After a time, Giles opened his eyes slightly. He looked directly at Elanore, his voice was gravelly and rough as he coughed out a few words. “My thanks. I feel much better.”
She looked pained by his words, perhaps feeling undeserving of them. “I should have given it to you sooner.”
“No,” Giles clutched a blanket to him, looking uneasily at the window. “As helpful as it is for this chronic pain I have, it tends to deaden my reactions and my senses.” He looked pointedly at Edmund. “Things are lurking in the woods outside.”
“What did you see?” Both Edmund and Elanore asked.
“I don’t know,” Giles had squeezed his eyes again, clearly tired. “But I saw a pair of eyes at the window. Some feral beast.”
Elanore gasped softly while Edmund glanced at the window thoughtfully. “What manner of creature was it?”
It was not normal for most beasts to bother with humans unless they were particularly hungry. Granted, this year was a rather unusual exception.
“I don’t know,” Giles spoke tightly. “I’ve been half-delirious so I couldn’t really tell. Bear? Wild dog?”
“A lion?” Edmund gave him a grim smile.
“Hah,” Giles responded, but his voice did not sound all that amused. “No. As if I would be afraid of such a beast.”
Edmund would have preferred that Giles had answered otherwise. The growing numbers of bizarrely aggressive creatures with the tendency to approach humans was troubling. Edmund would have pressed for more information had it not been for Elanore’s fingers pulling on his arm. “That’s enough for now,” she looked up at Edmund with her large, brown eyes. “You said you couldn’t see anything so it must be gone by now. Let him rest until the morning then. We can discuss it then, after he’s had more sleep.”
Edmund nodded, unhappy to simply dismiss the topic of the alleged creature at the window. But he could not bring himself to argue with Elanore, instead resigning himself to pursuing his questions in the morning. At least then he could venture outside to examine the area outside the window further and make more sense of the situation, if there was sense to be made.
He was quiet as he followed Elanore back out into the hallway, mulling over Giles’ rather irrational behavior throughout the course of the day. He considered that Giles’ story could be simply the delusions of a half-ill man, hallucinating a creature at the window.
As for Elanore, she said nothing more of Giles as they drifted back into the kitchen. She was obviously thinking of other things, pulling him along in the direction of a leftover pie that had been left in the warming rack. She looked rather childishly pleased as she immediately took it out from its place and set to dividing it. With great enthusiasm, she thrust a plate at him and forced him to eat the majority of the pie. It was, like the other things she had made before, quite horrible.
But as unworthy a pie it may have been, he smiled as he ate it. He forgave her for its inferiority and she rewarded him for his forbearance with pleasant chatter and many smiles. They talked about books and random fairy tales and even the strange lady visitor to the shop while Elanore lovingly tended his wounds.
Edmund retired that night a much happier (although thoroughly full) young man. He would sleep well on the chair in the parlor, for no wild dogs, stone lions or random bears would disturb him. In fact, there was not a creature stirring outside the house save an owl, sitting in the treetops nearby.
Unlike Edmund, who could not see in the darkness beyond the window, the winged bird found no difficulty with seeing at night. It sat with one eye open as it watched the home as it had been instructed to do. Carefully it noted the various goings on of the home, including the event that had happened before the pale young man had come into the room and shut the window.
It sat on its perch long after the house had grown quiet. It sat until the bearded man returned to the window, his eyes again probing the darkness– eyes that changed from green to gold.