Wolfram’s request barely registered in Elanore’s mind as she rushed outside with the gentleman butler chasing after her, her heavy red cloak in his hand.
She discovered the lion chattering at the hunter. The words it used were in vain, for they would resemble nothing more than gusts of wind to the hunter.
Edmund stood taut, apparently ready to fly at the beast with axe in hand. He had seen the strength of such a creature the previous day. He grimaced when he saw the two interlopers. Should such a thing turn its attention towards them, neither the butler nor the young woman had the ability to survive a trampling or collision with the beast. His voice was tight and clipped as he spoke, “Stay back.”
“Oh my,” was the response that Hastings provided, while Elanore continued her path forward towards both Edmund and the lion.
The monolithic creature turned its head away from the hunter and stared at the girl.
Edmund’s voice took on a nervous edge as he tried again to warn her away. “Elanore!”
“He’s harmless,” she continued to walk towards Edmund, pleading. “Please stand down. He’s my friend.”
At those words, the lion opened its mouth. A roaring wind blew, drowning out Edmund’s call to Elanore and transforming the loose snow on the ground into a large whirl of white dust. Only when the sound stopped did the air begin to clear. When all was settled, the creature was lying down, licking its paw while the girl stood beside it, coughing into her sleeve.
Edmund tightly clenched his axe in hand, ignoring the flicker of pain in his arm. He would have jumped in that very moment to snatch Elanore away from the creature had she not stopped him with a direct look.
Her eyes implored him to be patient – to not act in the way instinct told him to. His hands shook as she tested his trust in her, as she reached out to place a hand upon the mane of the beast.
“Mr. Lion,” Elanore ventured to pat the lion near its ear, much like how she might stroke a horse. She spoke softly, but loud enough that her words would reach Edmund. “That is my very best friend Edmund. He saw you fighting with Giles yesterday and thinks you’re quite a brute.”
The lion made a noise that to the untrained and unhearing ear might resemble indignation. And indeed the creature was uttering a long wheezing complaint to the polite young woman who could understand it. “I AM a brute. But that hairy man is too! I was just wandering around sniffing out some really good things and then he tried to get in my way and he told me to go home and I didn’t WANT to. And now that person with the sunshine hair is mad at me for no reason and I all I WANT is to be friends!”
Elanore continued to console the sulky creature who, under her gentle petting, put its head completely down and began to reluctantly wave its tail. “There, there, I understand.”
Both Edmund and Hastings drew closer, curious about the apparent tameness of the lion. “What is it saying?” the manservant asked.
“Well,” Elanore looked up for a moment. “He’s complaining about Giles. It seems the coachman got in his way yesterday.”
Hastings hid a chuckle behind a pristine white glove before he recalled his manners and his duties. He ventured forward carefully and draped the scarlet fabric over Elanore’s shoulders. “You should tell the creature that Giles always gets in everyone’s way.”
The giant thing looked at both the butler and the cloak with great interest before it yawned, exposing a rather impressive mouth. As it did so, both butler and hunter took one careful step backwards. The creature noticed and whined slightly to the lady. “I’m lonely and bored. And I’m cold too.”
With a great deal of patience and sympathy borne out of years of tending to her many younger siblings, Elanore stroked the ear and face of the affronted lion. The creature rewarded her with what appeared to be a tender look, a look that could not help but strike both gentlemen deeply.
Experience had taught Edmund to read creatures well. This one was not only oddly domesticated but unlikely to harm Elanore. He relented and crouched down alongside his friend to carefully touch the creature’s nose. There was an immediate response to this kind gesture, one in which the lion blinked and opened its mouth and displayed a rather interesting set of stone teeth. Edmund, bemused, opened his mouth and yawned in kind.
“Edmund,” Elanore was quite alarmed by the bizarre behavior. “Pray tell, what are you doing?”
“Ah, er,” he stumbled for a moment and stopped patting the stone. “I was trying to communicate.”
She responded with a pleased and delighted look — a look that caused Edmund to blink and lower his eyes. He smiled faintly to himself as he turned his attention back to patting the beast, who in kind was quite fascinated with Edmund.
It was a pity that Elanore could not hear the thoughts of the creature, for she would have understood why the thing suddenly began to make demands. “Do that face thing again,” the impossible beast started to chatter. “It makes both of us very happy.”
“Do what?” She said aloud, puzzled by the creature’s thought process.
The thing grumbled some incoherent phrase before sighing “Humans,” and closing its eyes in disgust.
Elanore misunderstood the request as well as the observation the lion had made. As Edmund began to withdraw his hand from the creature’s face, she reached over with her own and clasped his hand in order to guide it back to the beast. “He likes you a lot, I think,” she explained softly. “He likes the attention you give him.”
Together they pressed their hands to its mane.
“That tickles,” the beast giggled explosively, causing the earth to rumble slightly beneath their feet.
The sudden tremor caused Elanore to stumble. Without fuss, Edmund caught and steadied her before turning his focus back on calming the lion.
The beast continued to babble like a small child, pleased to have so much attention bestowed upon it. There were no more strange tremors, however. While he continued to stroke the cold surface of the creature, the hunter attempted to engage Elanore on exactly what the lion was saying. “Did he tell you why he’s so happy? I can only hear something that sounds halfway between a roar and mumbling.”
Amidst the pleased yowling, Elanore could discern only a few statements. The lion’s speech was either in another tongue or gibberish. She looked almost ashamed as she translated the most common request for Edmund. “I believe he wants to play.”
Edmund looked somewhat startled by her answer. He humored both beast and Elanore by speaking directly to the creature. If he was embarrassed about addressing the creature directly, he did not show it. “I’m sorry that I cannot. Miss Redley’s grandmother wants her home as soon as possible. However, I would be glad to offer my services in the future. I can’t play roughly like Giles, Sir Lion, but I am quite good at throwing a ball or stick if that would please you.”
To the hunter’s great surprise, the creature placed its heavy paws on the front of his thighs and gazed directly into his eyes as if to acknowledge his words.
Only Elanore could hear what it said – in a deep voice, unlike the one it had used previously. “Tell the cub I will teach him to play next time. Not childish things, but things that he will need to know.”
Elanore sat back on her seat, clearly surprised. Her mouth opened slightly, wondering if she had imagined those spoken words.
The cat wandered off and in that brief moment of opportunity, the hunter reached out to Elanore. “What is it?”
She clutched her cloak to herself, troubled and uncertain of what to say at this specific time. “I’ll tell you later after we’ve taken our leave.”
The butler cleared his throat from behind them and excused himself to see to “Miss Redley’s things.” As Hastings hurried off, Elanore stood and began to brush the snow off her skirts. “Mr. Lion,” she called after the creature. “I was asked to tell you to wait here for your master. He will have something for you to do. But he also commissioned me to wake several of your brothers. If you would be so kind to tell me how and who?”
The lion stopped chasing its tail and quirked its head. It looked upwards towards the watchtower once before it turned its head left and right several times. Then it shot off somewhere – in and out of sight as it began to weave around the statues in the courtyard.
The young couple attempted to follow its rather frenzied pace, but the creature was too quick to chase. Edmund supported Elanore as she stopped to rest, and they waited until the sound of crunching snow had stopped. Once it was clear the lion no longer was moving, Elanore gathered up her skirts and walked down to the point where she had last seen the lion disappear.
Edmund was right behind her, following her as they found the creature sitting on its hindquarters, grinning as it sat next to the base of a statue that was covered with both snow and debris from some nearby tree. “If you the clean the snow off this one, miss — it’ll wake up just fine!”
Elanore stepped towards the statue and took a deep breath, wondering if it were as simple as that.
Together the lion, hunter, and woman began to dig.
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