Elanore opened her eyes, only to find herself lying down in a room full of shadows. She felt the heavy weight upon her chest and instinctively struggled against the restraints.
Her panic continued for a moment before she recognized the scent of lavender and vanilla clinging to those so called restraints — blankets heavily draped across the top of the bed that she was lying upon.
Feeling foolish and exhausted, she lay quietly and looked up at the ceiling. As her senses adjusted to her mother’s former bedroom, she soon realized she was not alone.
A sound of breathing came from across the room.
Her eyes shifted downwards and she discerned a slumped figure in a chair at the foot of her bed. She whispered, “Grandmother?”
The figure straightened and responded. “It’s me,” Edmund answered. “She’s downstairs fixing you something to eat.” Quickly he added, “Shall I call her? Are you in pain?”
Elanore closed her eyes and tried to recall the reason why she was here and why he sounded unusually tense. Her thoughts wandered backward not just once, but several times, before she realized that the last thing she could remember was falling headlong into the snow.
At least two or three hours must have passed since then, but not enough time for her to feel normal. She wondered why this was – what deficiency she possessed that made her feel so horrid. Slowly she stretched her arms and legs and moved her extremities, all the while looking for signs of injury. Finding none, mentally she counted numbers, recited the names of her many siblings, before she trusted that her mind also had not been affected.
Her friend drew closer, likely wondering why she said nothing. He leaned down to look at her. “Elanore?” He tried again, his voice gentler than before. “Are you sleeping?”
She opened her eyes and found herself gazing back at him. He was so close that his breath warmed the air between them. Elanore suddenly recalled what had happened shortly before she had lost consciousness earlier in the day. She licked her lips before she spoke. “I’m alright,” her voice cracked. “But I’m hungry.”
He leaned back and sighed, a loud sound that was less exasperation and more a sound of relief. “I suppose if you have an appetite, you’re alright. Still,” he laid a gentle hand upon her arm. “You’re not to get up and move. Your grandmother forbids it.”
Elanore did not argue. She did not think she could even stand had she wanted to. Her fingers reached for his hand and clasped it tightly. “Edmund—“ She started to say, wishing to tell him that she was sorry for what she had done earlier, but both her voice and her courage failed her.
The sound of footsteps closed upon the stairs and he relinquished her hand.
Elanore’s eyes followed Edmund as he took up a position at the window and looked outside. She watched him, his profile cleanly and elegantly illuminated in the light of evenfall. He stayed there with his thoughts until the door creaked open further and a woman peered inside.
“Is she awake?”
The chair scraped on the floor as he moved it out of the way for Mrs. Winchester. “She is, and she says she feels alright.”
“I am glad it turned out as I thought,” the old woman said softly. “Her mother had an experience like this once and she was in bed for days.”
Elanore turned her head towards her grandmother and opened her mouth to speak.
“Hush, darling,” the elderly lady quickly set a lamp down on the nearby table and placed both of her hands upon her granddaughter’s face. “You look flushed. You should have some water. Edmund,” she turned back to the young man. “Help lift her please.”
Edmund reached behind her to lift her shoulders up off the bed while her grandmother placed several cushions and pillows behind her. Propped up, Elanore took the cup of water offered to her and drank it eagerly.
“Elanore, what happened?” Her grandmother asked.
It took some time, but she did her best to explain everything that had transpired. Few details were spared, including those pertaining to the lessons on magic, the Count’s offer of resettlement, her studies for the next week, and then the task that had led her to the stone lions. Her audience was quiet throughout her narration with only their faces hinting at their thoughts, their questions and their worries.
When it came time to explain what the lions had told her to do to wake their fourth brother, she looked at Edmund and faltered. “Those creatures are silly,” she hesitated. “They understand magic but don’t quite understand people. I should have told Edmund what they asked me to do and why, but if I had I would have lost my nerve—“
“What did they ask you to do?” Mrs. Winchester looked suspiciously at Edmund and Elanore whose faces betrayed much more than they realized.
Elanore looked down at her hands.
“Nothing,” Edmund intervened suddenly “Nothing to be upset about. I believe I understand. Without food, you had to draw energy from someplace or someone else, correct?”
Her chin lifted. She was surprised that he had realized this. She thought that perhaps the lion Lambegus had told him as much. “Yes,” she admitted, trying to discern how he felt about that. But his grey eyes revealed nothing to her.
“You’re tiring again, Elanore” Her grandmother patted her granddaughter’s hand in reassurance. “I won’t press for details as you have grown pale again. Edmund,” Mrs. Winchester nodded at him. “Shall we let her be?”
He bid a good evening to Elanore and did not dally for a response, instead moving out into the hallway before Elanore could even respond. Mrs. Winchester hurriedly tucked her into the bed and closed the door behind her.
Elanore was left alone in the dark room, her eyes closed tightly.
There was something about Edmund’s departing look that unsettled her. His manners and words were as correct as they ought to be, but she was left with an impression that he was not happy with her.
Edmund’s dour expression did not escape the attention of Mrs. Winchester either. She did not press Edmund for his thoughts, but watched him closely as they rejoined the guild bookkeeper in the front parlor of the house.
Old Gregory had lingered in the house at the Mayor’s invitation. He had initially been summoned to assist with researching her husbands’ books and records. She knew when she began explaining the situation that it would not be easy to convince him to assist her. After all the man was in a guild that did not generally provide favors to her. But she had hope he would anyways. The man was old enough to remember that her husband and the former guildmaster were on much friendlier terms. And she knew he was believed to be an open minded person.
He had seemed disinclined to assist. However, when Edmund had bounded inside the house carrying Elanore and muttering about magic, the man wavered. It was Edmund’s admission that Elanore could manipulate elven artifacts that secured his agreement to assist the mayor.
Gregory was, as it turned out, a man who wanted to believe in magic and its presence in this world, whether good or bad. And now he would throw his lot in with the Mayor and assist with the search for lore surrounding the impending eclipse.
As they drank warmed over cider, the three persons looked through the books that had been sent with Elanore. They grappled with the implications of the Count’s belief that folklore and tall tales were more truth than myth. They wondered aloud which of the stories were true and which were not. More importantly, they worried over which stories if true would mean danger to them.
Edmund kept his silence throughout most of this conversation. As the sun disappeared for the night, a final gaggle of persons noisily rushed along the road outside to hurry home. Edmund stood suddenly as a familiar figure appeared on the road.
“Do you leave, Edmund?” Mrs. Winchester stood as well. “After all you have done, I thought to feed you dinner.”
He ran his hand through his hair and did not exactly look her in the eye. “As Elanore is out of danger I should take my leave. I’ve been remiss in helping out at home and I see the Friar on the road. I’d like to talk to him.”
“Oh, my apologies,” Mrs. Winchester blinked from behind her spectacles. “Yes, yes. Give your parents my love. And as the good man is due to leave any day now, best you catch him.”
Edmund flashed the woman a genuine smile, before he tossed his scarf on and quickly ran out the door, still putting on his coat.
“That boy,” the bookkeeper shook his head as he watched the young man start to run down the pathway before turning back to fetch his horse. “This is the most scatterbrained I’ve seen him.”
The mayor pursed her lips as she watched him disappear down the road. “I think the situation with Elanore must cause him stress. He feels responsible for her. He always has since they were young.”
“Since the incident with the well,” Old Gregory sighed.
“Likely,” Mrs. Winchester chuckled. “Poor young man. He received such a tongue lashing from his parents for that. I do wonder if he still carries that memory with him.”
“Mayor,” the bookkeeper shook his head. “Something is eating him up inside. You should ask him what’s on his mind. Mr. Winchester could always pry things out of him that others couldn’t. Of all the people in this town, he trusts your judgment the most. Now,” he stood. “I’ll leave so I can work on my readings. Be back tomorrow to look at more books too.”
She did not argue for him to stay. It was dark and she knew the man probably had his fill of social niceties. Graciously she sent him off with food in hand and her gratitude for his willingness to assist her.
While she locked up her home, she mulled over what he said about Edmund. It was obvious to her that Edmund was brooding over Elanore. Exactly what the girl had done, she did not know. But as she wandered up to Elanore’s room, she thought to find out.
Edmund had chased down Father Lorrence, concerned as to why the man was walking alone in the rapidly increasing darkness. After he had caught up with the man and fell alongside him, the clergyman revealed that Wyte had been dispatched to complete a few last calls while he returned home to pack his meager belongings.
“You should not be walking by yourself, sir. There are sightings of wild things in these woods.”
The clergyman shook his head. “You know I don’t think of these things.”
Lorrence wasn’t a person who put himself out of harm’s way. If he died of old age or as food for animals… it was all within the will of the god the religious man worshipped. But even if Edmund could have that same faith as the friar, his conscience would not allow him to let the man continue on his way without an escort.
Edmund pulled his horse behind him, listening to the friar explain his situation. “One of the families just a mile north of here is moving south for the season. They have a bit of room in their wagons and suggested we travel with them. I didn’t think we’d go quite yet, but the opportunity for conveyance works out well. I have received a letter this morning from my more senior brothers asking for us to go down to Crossroads.”
The hunter frowned slightly. “I had no idea that they cared about Crossroads.”
“Neither did I,” the friar shook his head. “Never had much interest from them on any of the things I wrote of all these years. But it seems the man who they wanted to send got delayed somewhere. Transports from the east are all messed up these days.”
“So this will be it for now. You’ll be back in a month or so?”
“I know I said so earlier, but I don’t know.” Father Lorrence shook his head. “I’m not young anymore. I can’t take these roads in the winter without transport these days so much will depend on the weather and other factors. But don’t worry,” he reached out and patted Edmund affectionately on the shoulder. “You can always leave a message with the stagecoach owner in Crossroads. He will see I get your messages and perhaps help ensure I can get back here for any weddings.”
“Sir,” Edmund colored. “I assure you—“
The friar chuckled. “It’s too easy to tease you, my boy. I suspect that’s why the rumors keep swirling about.”
“It isn’t like that at all,” Edmund answered tightly before falling silent.
It was the friar’s turn to sound uneasy. Clearly the young Ormond’s pride had been offended. “I’m sorry, Edmund. It seemed like from your question the other day–”
The hunter looked off into the distance, trying to figure out how best to address the questions the clergyman likely had. “Without doubt, had we been reacquainted a year ago, things might be different. But Elanore’s eyes are set on something else.”
“Indeed,” the friar raised his eyebrow wondering if Edmund meant ‘someone’ instead of ‘something.’ Some folks already had been whispering of the girl’s repeat visits to a lord’s estate. A young man like Edmund raised in a town like this would believe himself nothing in comparison to a lord. “Have you talked to the young lady at all about what she wants for her future?”
His companion sighed. “She’s laid up in bed at the moment. However, every time I thought might be the right moment to have a conversation, something or someone gets in the way.” The young man paused here. “And at this point, I have the feeling that she only sees me as a brother. No,” he added after considering her explanation about the lions’ insistence that she kiss him and her multiple apologies that had followed. “Now I’m certain of it.”
“It will be what it will be,” the friar responded with a sigh. “But perhaps this is for the best. I’ve been thinking a bit since our conversation yesterday. I had thought that if you were to become entangled with her, it would have been unfair to tell you something that could possibly lead you away from her. But now perhaps–,” he muttered to himself. “Now perhaps this is the right time.”
Edmund’s brow wrinkled at the vehemence of the friar’s words.
“I have something to give to you, Edmund. And something to tell you.”
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