The young lady blinked once in disbelief at the image before she abruptly turned the delicate paper over to look at its other side. Seeing nothing, she was forced to turn the paper back over in her hands and contemplate what appeared to be a simple drawing of a spoked wheel.
It would have been easy on her part to believe that the Count meant to tease her or was insane; it appeared that he had provided her an expensive, but useless piece of paper. However, Elanore was of generous spirit and placed an extraordinary amount of trust in the strange man’s instructions. She sat in her chair diligently studying the image as requested, even going so far as to ignore the meek maid that had suddenly appeared with a tray of fragrant tea and biscuits.
As Elanore’s finger traced each line and curve she weighed out the possibilities for its meaning. She did not observe that as she did so, the flames in the fireplace began to burn blue. Instead she focused on counting the lines on the page — twelve lines that spanned the distance between two concentric circles.
She furrowed her brow, noticing that the inner circle was drawn slightly off center and wondered if the imperfection was intentional. She thought back to her own recollection of the wheels on the coach that had carried her this morning and realized that this diagram did not match. The image contained fewer spokes – twelve and not the fourteen that often typified the common wheels of this day.
Realizing that she may have misunderstood the image, Elanore weighed out the idea that what she was studying might instead be a cuneiform or character found in a foreign language.
Unfortunately, she had little to no experience with languages or the world beyond what was within walking distance of her village. Her journeys to Winchester were the furthest she had ever traveled.
Her mind wandered to her father — the only person who directly knew anything of foreign places. The flames began to return to an ordinary shade of orange and red as she forgot the paper’s image and thought about how her father and mother and how they might be faring on a day like today.
A wooden log in the hearth snapped, scattering hot dust towards her. She felt the sudden slap of heat and looked up from her hands, confused. She was abashed at how easily her mind had wandered.
Chastened, she again focused on the wheeled circle and allowed her gloved fingers to trace the pattern on paper. Her eyes began to dim as her mind meditated on the pattern. She lost all awareness of her surroundings, failing to note the flames in the fireplace beginning to bend and dance in a peculiar fashion. She did not feel the hair on her neck begin to stand on end. She did not hear the mechanical ticking of the clocks in the room begin to slow and the sounds outside the window of the parlor.
The blackbirds that had taken up residence in the village and its surroundings had come to roost in the trees outside, crowing insistently.
A stone lion began to whimper and paw at its pedestal.
But a voice broke the spell. “Elanore.”
The young lady blinked once at the sound of her voice, automatically putting down the paper on the table next to her. The chime and ticks of the clocks resumed as she turned her head to look at the door and at the man who had called her by her first name.
The Count crossed the room and quickly set the books down on table before reclaiming the piece of paper he had left for her study. He refolded it once, then twice, before he sat.
She did not perceive that this was an unusually hasty act on his part. Innocent and unaware of what had just happened, she looked at the pile of books on the table. Among them was the one she had the most interest in. “You’ve brought more than just that one book, I see.”
“For you to take and study on your own,” he offered, earning him a pleased smile on her part. But he did not smile in return. Instead, Wolfram’s normally placid face appeared to wrinkle for a moment when the young lady calmly reached for a biscuit and began to devour it. He watched her carefully as he asked, “Do you know what I gave you?”
The biscuit crumbled in her hand. “I’m afraid I do not know where to begin,” she admitted with a small degree of embarrassment. “I have no earthly idea what it means.”
“It means nothing,” the Count toyed with the folded piece of paper, turning it about on the surface of the table. “It’s a schematic left for me by my grandfather.”
“You mean a map?!” A slight edge of sharpness crept into the young lady’s voice. “Why did you not say so?”
He leaned back in his chair, choosing to bestow upon her a long, unwavering look of condescension. The Count chose to provoke her, calculating that an angry Miss Redley would be a more focused young lady. “Would you have studied it the same way if I had told you it was a schematic? You would instead be wondering what it was a schematic for, where it lead to, and what might be found at its beginning or end.”
The young lady reached for a cup of tea and took a long sip, after which she placed it down rather firmly. “Of course. That is generally what one does with a map.”
He bore her witticisms with patience and relief. “It isn’t a map of treasure or hidden passages. It depicts the large veins of stone that run underneath this property. The center circle specifically designates the cavern of blue stones. The lines that radiate outwards from that center mark where veins or deposits exist underneath this land.”
Elanore frowned. Her mind pondered not only how they had come to exist in that pattern, but for what purpose. “And who put them there?”
He turned the folded piece of paper over and over on the table’s surface while he continued to explain himself. “I do not know. The stones were already configured that way before this place was built by both elves and my family. Likely they were placed even before the elves that were buried out in the courtyard.”
“Do these then predate the lion guardian on the bridge?”
“I believe so,” the Count offered. “Compositionally it possesses the same stones and minerals that lie in this earth and it repels Unthings, similar to the blue stones. I believe that the statue rests on an endpoint of the outer circle shown in this diagram.”
To the gentleman’s surprise, she did not argue the point. Her look grew thoughtful as she consulted her own memories of the surrounding land. “Your theory suggests that there would be eleven other wards of some sort scattered around the area that serve a similar purpose. Would that mean that there is more than one lion statue hidden out in the woods?”
“No.” Wolfram tapped his fingers on the table, also aware of the implication of his idea. “I’ve not heard of any such thing. I suspect that if they still exist in some shape or form, it would not be obvious.”
As interesting as an idea it might be, Elanore’s grandmother had wanted her to focus her time and attention. The importance of the Count’s hypothesis was unclear to her. “Before we continue, I would like to understand what purpose studying this diagram achieves. More generally speaking, my grandmother wants me to clarify what my studies are meant to accomplish.”
The Count shifted uncomfortably in his seat, aware that he had wandered off on what seemed to be a fairly academic point — one that he did not quite know to be valuable or not for her to consider. He sighed, admitting to himself that the minutiae of the diagram and his concerns surrounding it would have to wait for the moment. “That larger circle is the outer periphery of an area into which Unthings cannot pass. Your task will be to fortify that outer circle when the time comes. You will stand on these grounds and in kind, the grounds will amplify your magic as needed, turning night into day.”