Elanore and Edmund fell into a companionable silence as they worked. Neither of them complained about the cold conditions under which they toiled or scolded their companion who, in spite of all his noisy energy and enthusiasm, was actually not helping their progress.
Their lack of conversation did not imply a lack of excitement on their part. In fact, their eyes were bright and their fingers eager as they worked hard to uncover the statue’s surface. So intent were they on their task that they did not notice the sky above them beginning to gently drop more snow.
It was the lion who stopped their digging, singing “Enough is enough.”
Elanore gave one look skyward before her hands drifted towards her cloak to pull the red hood over her head. “You can stop now, Edmund.”
“I gathered that,” he responded wryly as he watched the lion chasing its own tail. He stood straight, his tall form towering over her. He pulled her to her feet first before he dusted at the powder settling on his own clothing. For a moment they looked back at the statue, cold and responsive. “Nothing appears to be happening. What now?”
Elanore glanced at the dancing lion, singing a nonsensical rhyme of lions and unicorns loudly enough to chase away the birds that had taken up in the nearby trees. “I don’t know,” she reluctantly admitted. Possessing magic did not automatically mean that one understood how it was supposed to be used in a circumstance like this. Everything she had accomplished so far had been largely done under the provocation of the Count. Without him, she feared she was useless.
The hunter shook his head. “So you need that creature to tell you how this works.”
Nearby that creature in question continued to sing, his paw beating at the snow three times over as he continued to repeat his odd little rhyme.
She worried aloud. “Unfortunately, he likes to play as much as he works and obeys when he feels like it. It may be difficult to ply that information out of him. I’m afraid he has the attention span of a cat or a small child.”
“Cats and children I can understand,” Edmund murmured. He put his hands in his coat pockets while he studied the frolicking beast. He drew something from one pocket and brought his hands out in front of him, holding one fist closed as if it held something important.
The lion stopped twirling about and fixed a sharp gaze upon Edmund. “What’s that you have there?”
“He wants to know what you hold in your hand,” Elanore translated quietly.
Both stone beast and girl waited for the explanation that must follow. But Edmund smirked and said nothing, choosing instead to yawn loudly.
“How rude!” The lion sputtered in annoyance and glared. However, instead of turning away in indignation the cat began to pace back and forth. Steadily, it crept towards the humans until it was sniffing at Edmund’s hand.
The hunter had caught his prey quite easily it seemed. “Do you want to know what’s inside my palm?”
The lion said nothing but its tail betrayed his interest by twitching back and forth.
Edmund chided the creature as it fixed its eyes upon his hand. “If so, tell Elanore what must be done to wake your friend. She will soon be stone like you if you keep her out in this cold much longer.”
“Mean human,” the creature grumbled. “I can’t smell to see if he even has anything at all! I bet it’s empty!”
“Mr. Lion,” Elanore pleaded. “We’ve cleaned off the snow as you instructed but it appears that something else must be done to wake your friend. You had asked me to wake one before for you, but I cannot grant your wish without your guidance.”
“Bah!” The creature answered, still keeping a sharp eye on Edmund. “It’s simple really! All it needs is more contact! You and the cub together. And you can’t give up until it moves or speaks on its own or you have to start all over again!”
Elanore closed her eyes, relieved to have at least this much instruction. She tugged at Edmund’s sleeve. “Show him what you have in your palm. And then let’s go back to the statue and lay our hands upon it longer.”
Edmund slowly uncurled the fingers of his fist.
To both the lady and the creature’s surprise, the hunter’s hand was not empty. A long, red ribbon slipped smoothly from the hunter’s grasp and floated towards the ground. The creature jumped upon the scarlet cord eagerly but its sudden movement pushed it away out of its grasp.
The two humans ignored him as he began to chase it about and instead returned to the statue to place their hands on its cold surface. As the minutes passed, the young man’s brow wrinkled slightly. “Elanore, I have no idea what this is doing. Do you?”
She offered him an explanation based on what she had gleaned from her lessons earlier in the day. “I believe this contact is part of a transfer of magic.”
“But why both of us then?” He shook his head. “Really, this should just be you— I have no business doing this.“
The lion suddenly appeared next to them, apparently having forgotten the ribbon. “You’re doing it all wrong.” The creature’s eyes gleamed as it addressed Elanore. “Hold your friend’s hand. Magic works better with two than one.”
She opened her mouth to ask what that meant, but the creature had already wandered off around the side of the statue. Elanore bit her lower lip as she reached out for Edmund’s fingers. “I’m sorry,” she apologized for her forward gesture. “But he said this was the way to go about it.”
Edmund glanced sidelong at his companion’s face, her cheeks red with embarrassment. He opened his mouth to say something, but then closed it quickly, perhaps not certain what to say. Instead, he clasped her hand tightly and turned to face the statue.
His stoic manner calmed her initial nervousness and her alleviated her feelings of self-consciousness. Suddenly she recalled the Count’s instructions to her about magic.
Before Wolfram had both frightened and angered her in that cave, he had said to think of something powerful and meaningful to her.
Elanore’s eyes fluttered shut and reflected. In that instance, the Count had manipulated her feelings for the people important to her to show her how to access the magic that he said she possessed. This time she tried things her way – breathing slowly and concentrating on the feeling of her fingers entwined with Edmund’s. She explored the sense of connectedness she felt towards the friend she adored and loved. As she placed her other hand on the stone in front of her. her thoughts were quiet and warm.
She felt a small cold prick in her fingers. After the sensation passed, she wondered if that had been a sign of magic.
Edmund’s hand tightened around hers suddenly. In a low, but strained voice he spoke. “Elanore—be still and open your eyes.”
She paid heed to his warning. She tried not to gasp as she found herself almost nose to nose with the statue.
The lion stared into her eyes and studied her. Satisfied by what it saw, it stepped off the pedestal in a grave, dignified manner and stretched. It might have spoken then were it not for its fellow beast flying through the air to pounce upon it.
The two stone lions wrestled for a moment before the newer one appeared to gain the upper hand. At that point, the newcomer began to speak in a language unknown to her.
Elanore blinked a few times, trying to make sense of the quick growling tones between the two stone guardians. When the conversation had gone on far too long, she tried several times to politely interrupt this longwinded reunion.
Sympathetic to Elanore’s situation, Edmund improvised. He swept up some snow and packed it together into a loose ball before tossing it at the lions.
“I do say, “ came the prim response of one lion. “What is this about, cub?”
Elanore looked uneasily at both lions — one lion stalking Edmund like an eager puppy ready to play and the other waiting for the human male to answer. “He cannot hear you, Sir Lion. Only I can. And he means you no harm, but we are in a hurry. I was requested by your master to wake up several of you before I return home. If you wish for our assistance, please make your decision quickly as to which creature shall be next.”
The lion was shrewd and quick to understand. He scampered off and ran headlong into his friend. The other creature, intent on reclaiming the discarded red ribbon from the young man was none too pleased to discover himself thwarted by a well-placed head-butt. They scuffled for a few moments before they both were calm enough to hold a conversation regarding their master’s wishes.
Yet as the minutes passed and the growling continued unabated, Elanore despaired.
Edmund drew to her side. “Tell me that they’re actually making some progress.”
“I don’t believe so,” she sighed. “They are in disagreement as to whichstatue should be picked. Our newer friend wants a more thinking type while our more excitable friend wants one of the oldest lions.”
“Both should be fine,” he shook his head. “We are wasting time.”
“That is true,” she noted softly. “Two would solve our problem, I think. How shall we stop them from their arguing?”
Edmund gave her a swift grin and mouthed the word ‘cats’ before he strode over to the two beasts. He dangled the red ribbon in front of them, causing both to immediately stop their bickering and eye the enticing item. “Now,” he twirled the satin about in his hand. “Each of you can pick one and we’ll help wake both. First to find theirs will get this ribbon and the second of you will get another piece when I come by this way again.”
The beasts fussed at the young man attempting to direct them. “Miss Redley is tired,” his voice took on a sharp edge. “Go!”
As they ran off, he returned to Elanore and offered her an arm to steady her. She looked up at him, grateful for the kind concern he always paid her. “Thank you. I do think I did not sleep well enough last night.”
His light-colored eyes turned back in her direction, openly studying her. “You seem pale, Elanore. That’s not the sort of thing that lack of sleep causes. Could it be this magic is making you so exhausted?”
“I’m not sure,” she answered faintly. “I haven’t used it enough to know. I should have asked about it but hadn’t–”
“I see.” Edmund’s fingers moved to retie the strings on her red hood.
Elanore glanced down at his hands, not understanding why he felt the compulsion to do so until she felt her legs suddenly move out from under her. “Edmund,” she began to protest as he picked her up, but quieted when he shook his head.
“Your yelling at me will simply waste more energy. Let me just carry you while we look about for one of these lions.”
She could not argue with his reasoning or deny her growing sense of fatigue. Elanore obliged Edmund by falling silent and listening for the call of a lion. When it came, she had to strain her ears. The summons was mild and polite, almost too soft to catch. She directed Edmund accordingly, offering a quiet “left here” or “right there” to guide him to the sound of their summoner.
“This one, Miss Redley” a lion announced gravely as they approached it. “We call him Lambegus, or Lamb for short. Gawain has gone to find Uwaine.”
“Such difficult names,” Elanore murmured as Edmund set her upon her feet. She laid one hand to rest on ‘Lamb’ and closed her eyes as Edmund’s hand found its way into her own.
“Our master chose them,” the lion declared respectfully. “I rather like the names he chose — mine in particular. I am called Galahad.”
“Ah,” she could not help but respond to the solemn introduction. “I am Elanore Redley, as you may have already determined. And my friend is Edmund Ormond.”
“HELLO EVERYONE.” The lion named ‘Lamb’ suddenly bellowed from above them. “WHAT ARE WE TALKING ABOUT HERE.”
The lion’s loud voice created a blast of wind. Edmund caught Elanore before she could fall over.
“WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU, MISSY,” Lamb continued to shout, stirring up a crisp breeze that caused Elanore’s hood to fall and her hair to fly.
The lion named Galahad started to growl something at this overly loud friend of his.
“HE CAN’T HEAR ME?” Lamb seemed rather disappointed. “OH WHAT? ONLY THE GIRL CAN? HOW TROUBLESOME.”
“I CAN hear you,” Edmund rubbed his ears. “For whatever reason, you are quite hearable.”
Elanore was both startled and puzzled. There had been little time for magic to act in order to wake this creature. And yet not only did he speak and act less than a minute or so after she had placed her hand upon the statue, but was apparently audible to Edmund. A thought occurred to her, one that seemed unlikely but possible. “Edmund, can you now hear Galahad as well?”
“Galahad?” Edmund looked at Elanore.
“The other lion here calls himself Galahad.”
“No,” he shook his head. “I hear only one voice.”
“His name is Lamb,” she whispered. “That’s what Galahad calls him.”
“IT’S BECAUSE I HAVE A STRONG VOICE,” Lamb proudly stated. “I’M ONE OF THE SMARTEST AND LOUDEST LIONS IN THE LAND BECAUSE I WAS MADE LATER. I WILL BE A GREAT TRANSLATOR FOR YOU, BOY!”
A moan came from the lion Galahad at this loud and pompous declaration. While the less excitable of lions patiently tried to explain the situation to boisterous Lambegus, Elanore and Edmund exchanged amused looks.
“OH WHAT’S THAT? GAWAIN IS AWAKE TOO IS HE? AND HE’S GONE TO FIND UWAINE. WELL PUT THE GIRL ON MY BACK AND LET’S GO FIND THEM AND SAY OUR HULLOS. WE MUST HURRY BECAUSE HUMANS GET COLD EASILY.”
As loud as this ironically named “Lamb” happened to be, he was observant. Both youngsters were cold. Elanore was growing steadily paler. However, Edmund was not exactly keen to entrust the girl to such a massive creature, particularly if he was inclined to run about like the other creature. But when Lambegus offered to also take Edmund upon his back, the hunter relented.
Riding a thing so tall and so stiff was an odd experience. But Edmund was an excellent horseman and quick to find his balance. He did not have trouble keeping his seat or a close hold on Elanore.
It turned out to be a good thing that Edmund had agreed to the arrangement. Not only did Lamb turn out to be a strong and capable ride, but thoughtful. As it turned out,
“Mr. Lion” or Gawain had wandered very far away from their original location, close to the periphery of the property in an area overrun with brush and bushes.
“GAWAIN.” Lambegus forgot himself as he spotted the other creature. He nearly leapt in joy on the lion not thinking of his particular situation.
Edmund firmly tapped the beast on its ear. “You have passengers!.”
“MY MANY APOLOGIES,” Lamb slowed but was not all too gentle as he sat down somewhat abruptly. Edmund and Elanore tumbled off him awkwardly and spilled onto the snow.
Gawain who had been running alongside the threesome came over to inspect the humans. It looked down at Elanore, sprawled rather comically over Edmund. “Are you damaged?”
“No,” she blinked, still not quite sure what had happened but aware that Edmund had broken her fall. “But I’m afraid Edmund might be.”
“I’m fine,” he sat up. “With all this snow underfoot, it’s not too bad a fall.” He stood and settled
Elanore on the back of the reclining Galahad. “Stay here and rest,” he ordered before moving to stop Lambegus and Gawain from wrestling.
She rested, watching Edmund knock the two lions on their noses. He treated them like he would little brothers, reminding them that they still had work to do and that a lady was waiting upon them. He returned to her once he had determined exactly what needed to be done and with Galahad’s support, walked her over to the statue that all called “Uwaine.”
Edmund nodded at her once before he clasped her hand. Together they each rested one hand on the cold stone surface.
After several uneventful minutes, Lamb worried aloud. “IT’S NOT WORKING VERY WELL. THE HUMAN GIRL IS TIRED AND LACKS FOCUS.”
The lions began to confer quietly.
“EDMUND,” Lamb suddenly spoke up. “DO YOU HAVE ANY FOOD.”
Edmund shook his head once.
Elanore’s thoughts drifted as she realized then she hadn’t eaten in some time. Idly she wondered what might be waiting for her at home, where it was warm and comfortable and her grandmother waited. Her grip on Edmund’s hand slacked as her eyes started to drowsily close.
His hand suddenly gripped hers tightly and Elanore realized she had lost focus. She fixed her eyes upon the statue and tried to resume clearing her thoughts. This proved difficult for the lions were arguing again. Galahad and Gawain were talking the most, with only a comment here or there from their newest companion.
Several more minutes passed.
“Elanore.” Edmund frowned as he removed his hand from the statue. “If this is too much, I’ll tell them I’ll bring you back again. I shouldn’t have volunteered your services like that. I had thought it would be easier than this. I had no idea—“
“It’s alright,” she smiled as she listened to the lions discussing how to boost whatever energy she had. They were talking about chasing down a rabbit for her to eat, a suggestion which Gawain did not like. Apparently during his wanderings the previous day he had not seen much wildlife to eat, a fact that they made them gloomy. “I’ll have a few days rest after this. Besides which I have a feeling that they really need this fourth one. They are trying so hard to think of ideas as to how to be of help to us.”
He touched her face. “Are you sure?”
She shivered slightly.
Edmund misinterpreted her sudden response and pulled her towards the statue. “Sit with me and rest a bit. It’ll be warmer here behind the statue, out of the wind’s way.” She closed her eyes as the young man cradled her against him and kept her warm while she rested. Neither thought anything of it until the nearby magical beasts stopped their talking and tittered as they caught sight of the two “younglings” nestling at the foot of the statue.
She was grateful that Lamb said little as Gawain and Galahad began to fiercely debate the true meaning of ‘best friend’ status that she had labeled Edmund with. (She wished now she had not used that title, for the creatures’ souls were not exactly human and familiar with man’s customs.)
Gawain began to speak to her directly after he had stopped arguing with Galahad. Her face
grew rosy as she began to understand the nature and direction of their new instructions on how to wake this last companion.
“Must I do that?” She asked him. Her mind might understand the logic, but her heart did not.
“It will work,” the lion sounded quite pleased. “I had forgotten about human peculiarities until Galahad had said something to us about it!”
“Edmund,” she spoke softly into Edmund’s chest, her voice so low that he had to bend his head to hear her. “After this, I want to go home and eat more pancakes. Will you promise to make them for me?”
To him she sounded terrified. He did not understand why, for he had not heard what the lions had told her to do. So he humored her. “Alright, although I can’t fathom why you’d want to eat them yet again. I take it that we are to try again?”
“Yes,” she answered softly. “It will be something slightly different this time. Galahad said this will work.”
It was more than slightly different, for this time the lions circled around them. They walked a efw times before they each stopped at different sides of the base of the sculpture, resting a paw or head upon their fellow beast. This time, they would assist.
Elanore clasped Edmund’s hand as they stood on the fourth side of the statue. She glanced sideways at Edmund as she thought through the instructions she had been given. The wind was blowing his fair hair about his face, bright as he looked up at the statue.
She worried that what she would do would temper his excitement. “Edmund, I—“ she started to tell him what the lions wanted. Her courage failed her as he turned his clear eyes upon her.
Mercifully, Lambegus intervened. “CLOSE YOUR EYES EDMUND,” the creature declared. “AND BE ABSOLUTELY STILL UNTIL UWAINE WAKES.”
Edmund’s brows knit together and he gave Elanore a quizzical look. With a sigh, he complied.
“NOW GO AHEAD, MISS.” Lambegus spoke kindly. “WE WON’T WATCH.” And true to his word, he closed his eyes without hesitation.
The other two blinked a few times, perhaps none too pleased that Lambegus had spoken for them. Unlike him, they wanted to see that the young lady followed through on their instructions, but eventually they both grumpily looked away.
“Forgive me for making you wait,” Elanore apologized to them all and took a deep breath. Before she lost her courage, she did what she was told to do. She stood on her toes, straightening up as far as she could go and pressed her trembling lips to Edmund’s mouth.
When her free hand managed to find the surface of the statue, she closed her eyes and tried not to worry how Edmund had stiffened slightly as she kissed him. She would have to explain later what the lions theorized about humans and magic and hope that he would accept her awkward apologies for her terrible behavior. But for now, she had done what the lions asked for, enforcing the circle between woman, man, and the stones themselves.
The resulting connection that had been created would amplify the magic she possessed before it passed to the stone they all touched. The dust of blue stones inside this statue would resonate with the power she pushed into it. The lions had every reason to believe the transfer would work and were correct. However, this time the transfer would not be a quiet one.
A soul within the stone vessel woke with a ferocious roar, a declaration that it was alive. The others greeted that soul in kind, their roars stirring up the snows around them as the beast leap off its base and four lions danced together.
Elanore smiled in spite of the pain their voices brought to her. She stepped back to look at the air glittering around her as small crystals of water in the air reflected a faint blue light. Something different had happened this time, something she would later learn to understand. But for now, she would have to be satisfied with this – the babbling laughter of a few peculiar magical creatures, the smile of her friend as he looked around him at the fairy-like scenery, and being able to finally believe that what the Count had said about her was true.
She became suddenly aware of the pouch of stones weighing heavily at her side. They radiated warmth through her woolen dress, responding to the outpouring of magic that had just occurred. In her exhaustion, Elanore faltered and her legs gave out beneath her. She sunk to the snow, unaware that the lions were chattering at her side.
She closed her eyes but clung tightly to Edmund’s hand as she fell asleep.
And she dreamt of pancakes.
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