The young lady of questionable cooking skills did not rise as early as might be hoped. It was only the smell of food floating from the kitchen that brought her to its door, her face red with embarrassment for being so late to the table.
Her voice was grave as she offered her greetings to two gentlemen lounging at the table and her grandmother, sitting nearby in her rocking chair. But her eyes danced while she sat down at the table – a hint of her delight at finding pancakes standing warm and ready for her on the wooden table.
For a few moments the kitchen was still while the young lady eyed her fork and knife with intent. She was a picture of tension — restraining herself from devouring the crisp cakes, covered with the maple syrup that could only be obtained from this part of the world. As Elanore deliberated between whether to use her knife or fork first, Edmund fixed his gaze on the lady. The look of fondness on his face provided both Giles and Mrs. Winchester with something to consider.
The sound of a teapot whistling on the stove broke the quiet. Elanore suddenly attacked her food with her knife, the young man turned his eyes abruptly to his own plate, and the man with a beard chuckled.
“Ah, the princess awakes.” Giles leaned back in his chair. His smile grew smug when he saw the young man next to him tense.
With her mouth full, Elanore’s senses were much too engaged to notice that the young man to her left was nervous. “You look well this morning,” she said amidst a lot of rapid chewing.
“I am,” Giles emphasized this point by tapping his chest with the palm of his hand. “Or at least well enough to go back home and spank some stones.”
Elanore nearly spit out her food while Edmund just shook his head at Giles’ choice words. “You definitely are better,” the younger man intoned dryly.
Giles shrugged off the subtle criticism. He was too old to care what young pups like Edmund said. He would be off home shortly, ready to tease Hastings a bit before his master had a new task for him to manage. But for now, he would have his bit of fun. “I think Edmund might be ill,” he said lightly as he leaned forward over the table and stared down the young man. “He’s rather red.”
“I’m fine,” the young man abruptly sat back in his seat, his eyebrows knitted together in annoyance.
“Edmund,” Elanore was quick to flutter over the young man. She stood closely to Edmund, causing him to redden even more.
“Really, I’m fine.” Edmund gently waved away the hand that Elanore had placed upon his forehead, ignoring the choked laughter from across the table.
“Young man,” Mrs. Winchester rose slowly from her chair. Her tone of voice and the stern look on her face caused all to squirm uncomfortably in their chairs. “Giles,” she said firmly. “You leave my young ones be.” She then turned her attention to her granddaughter. “Don’t be so distracted by the scoundrel here. Edmund is waiting for you to finish breakfast before he goes on with his morning tasks. And there is much to do.”
The mood in the room darkened slightly as the younger folks were suddenly reminded of more somber topics.
“Grandmother—“ Elanore started. “Do not worry, I will be there and back again—“
“It is my job to worry,” Mrs. Winchester stood calmly, regarding her granddaughter with a rather keen eye. “And it is my job to want to know what is it you will continue to do with the Count on when there appears to be a plethora of problem creatures building to the west of us and an ever increasing darkness unlike anything we have known before. This plan that this Count has that involves you must be made much clearer to all of us. We do not have time to waste. So ask him questions until he has nothing more to answer, my dear girl.”
“Yes grandmother,” Elanore responded meekly before burying her face in her plate, hurrying her breakfast along.
“Edmund—“ the grand lady turned her attention to the young man. “I know you think to keep me company, but I would ask you go home and check on your parents. And if they would oblige, ask them to look for any old books among their goods. We have not been here long enough to understand this impending eclipse. Hopefully there are records from adventurers or some stories that would provide us with a hint as to what is to come.”
“The guild has several,” Edmund offered quietly. “And if the Unthings are gathering, I should have left already to see that they have this news.”
“Would the guildmaster even listen to what you had to say?” Giles interrupted, seizing on the latter part of Edmund’s comment. “He’s not the type who cares much for information unless he trusts the messenger.”
“No, but the others might,” Edmund looked anxious. Certainly another account of the rumored creatures should have been reported. “I should have left before dawn—“
His gaze took on a distant look, before Elanore sudden put one hand on the arm that had pained him just days prior. Something about Edmund’s tone of voice had caused her to frown. “Remember you’re not well enough to do much, Edmund. You still must not overexert yourself.”
When he turned his head to look at her, his look was rather pained. “You would have me do nothing, would you?”
“Edmund,” Mrs. Winchester’s voice cut through, interrupting Elanore before she could respond. “Send the book master here if he is willing to call upon me. I should like to talk to him. Perhaps he can make sense of my husband’s books and offer some additional information then. Then see to the information, just as I asked.”
“I understand,” he answered tightly. “Excuse me. I’ll return shortly, Mrs. Winchester.” He bowed to them all and cast one unfathomable last look at Elanore before he hurried out the door.
His abrupt departure dampened Elanore’s enthusiasm for her food. She pushed away the plate of food that had given her such joy minutes before, her appetite obviously gone. “It was my fault,” Elanore spoke to herself. “If I hadn’t kept him—“
“It’s alright,” Giles offered sympathetically. “If they keep to the usual places, it’ll be north for a few days. Nothing of concern. And we should be ready to go soon, Miss Elanore. I expect the coach anytime now.”
She nodded absently as she rose from the table and excused herself. It was evident that her mind was still on Edmund and his strange moods.
As Elanore disappeared somewhere, Mrs. Winchester turned her attention back to Giles. “You make sure my granddaughter is returned after lunch. I do not want to be worrying after her safety as the sun begins to fall again. Even if you think the creatures are far away, there is still the matter of that one on the bridge now almost two weeks ago. I don’t want Elanore outside when it’s dark and moreover, I want her home.”
“My lord doesn’t listen to me—“ the coachman protested.
“He will listen to me. And don’t think of forgetting to relay my request to him. I’ll make it very uncomfortable for the both of you should you not ensure that she is brought back somehow. If you do not have her back here in time for afternoon tea, Edmund will be sent your way and I will make sure that you are served the worst possible ale and food in town for the next month. Your lord will find me sending a great deal many more people to your castle. Do we have an understanding?”
The coachman shrugged. “My master and your granddaughter are both difficult sorts of persons. They may be pleasant, but neither I guess bends all that easily to the wishes of others.”
“But she is still under my protection,” Mrs. Winchester gazed over the top of her glasses at him. “And she is a young lady who spent much too much time yesterday with a gentleman I do not know except by his status. He has not offered information enough for me to understand what needs to be done and what his plan happens to be. It is worthwhile if there is sufficient explanation but otherwise, I can only assume your lord is either a fool or man with other designs on Elanore.”
Giles sighed. “I got it the first time, Granny. I understand your position. If I had sisters myself, I’d be thinking and worrying the same way.”
“I’m glad we have an understanding,” the woman said sharply. “This isn’t a time then for all fun and games. We are weeks away from full and complete darkness.”