As night lengthened, four unhappy beasts of magic grumbled their way around greater Winchester.
Two moved away from the Northern Highway, their noses tracking unseen currents of energy deeper into the forests.
The stone beasts made for excellent trackers. They did not need strong arguments to do what they were requested. Nor did they care whether it was a warm night or cold day or require rest and feeding. Like the golems that they had been mischievously likened to, they were brutishly single-minded when given a task.
Uwaine and Galahad were commissioned to find the magical “guards” that their master had indicated were buried on his lands. Even if they told him they knew where most already were, he would not allow them to rely on the fragments of memories they had obtained from the remains of the souls buried in the earth. The master had said that the shape of the land continued to shift and that the knowledge they drew from could hold errors. They did not argue with the master for arguing was not in their nature.
They were diligent as they went about their way. They kept their backs to the elven road and moved in opposite directions from one another. Each step, each foray into the trees and brush taken by the creatures was an attempt to refamiliarize themselves to this new world they had woken to.
One broke ice several times, trumbling through a creek that zigged and zagged in a somewhat westerly direction. The other creature retraced its steps through the estate and beyond the slopes that defined its posterior, moving gradually downwards towards a series of rocky ledges.
They moved with enthusiasm, in spite of this chore being less exciting than what their two fellow lions had decided to do. Uwaine and Galahad would have gladly exchanged places with their other two companions who were to keep an eye on two of Winchester’s current residents.
Humans were a novelty to these beasts. They were frail and weak, unpredictable and oftentimes irrational. And yet, two of them had laid their hands upon their cold surface and breathed figurative life into them. It would be near impossible for any of the four wakened beasts to simply ignore the whereabouts of their benefactors.
One of four such lions was crouched behind a bush gathering snow (by the inch) many yards from the home of Elanore Redley. He had not been able to march right up to the backdoor and present himself for petting and adoration as he had hoped. An owl had taken up position on a tree that overlooked the home. Had it been an ordinary owl, the lion might have come closer and pounced on it, but there was something preternatural about it. Every few minutes the bird’s head swiveled around — its bright eyes circling the darkness with purpose.
The lion dared not move, dared not test whether the bird knew it was there. Gawain waited and watched.
As for the other lion, Lambegus, he was a bit more fortunate in that there was no such pesky interloper blocking his work this gloomy night. The magic creature stood and peered over the window sill to the young man’s room. He was not as impulsive as Gawain and would not have dared pushed his way inside the house. All he would do is observe, for his master had made it clear that was all they should do for now for the boy.
The master’s order did not make sense to the lions. If they were permitted to act according to instinct, they would have dragged the young man back to the estate. They could not offer a satisfactory explanation to their master as to why, so he had simply shook his head and informed them that humans were not cubs. They were full of contradictions like this. They could show traits that would make knights proud – and then revert back to wild, inhuman behaviors. But human they were not – for they were made up of things not of the living world and gifted with a perception that mortals lacked.
Among the things they observed was the silvery line of fate that connected the boy to the girl.
For now, Lambegus paid no heed to the thin silver thread. Instead he sat on top of what, in other seasons, might be a very pleasant flowerbed and studied “friend Edmund” through a small opening in the heavy curtains on the window. Although the master had forbade him from speaking to the boy, he had not said what protocol to follow if the boy should notice him. With a bit of mischief in mind, the beast breathed heavily on the window, attempting to shake it and force the boy to look up.
But the young man continued to read by the dim light of a lantern. Pages of a book were being flipped back and forth between his fingers.
The meaning of such actions was unclear to the beast. Human behaviors were still rather foreign to the statuesque monsters. And subtle expressions were clearly the domain of the living, breathing beasts of this world with flesh and bones.
When a new look crossed the human’s face, the beast was puzzled. He did not comprehend human feelings and emotions easily and could only guess what lurked inside Edmund Ormond. Based on its own observations, the creature concluded that the look was not a good one; the person did not turn up his mouth like when he was with the girl. The expression was more like what the master did when they did not follow his instructions.
The stone beast tilted its head as it understood the look was what humans called displeasure. Why the Edmund person was not happy was not evident. He watched for a while, wondering if it might be the fault of the book. Then he noticed the young man idly drop the book and reach for a small pouch sitting on the bedside table.
The young man fumbled with the pouch a bit before withdrawing an object from it.
To the creature, the object appeared to be like a strange nest of metal, a nest that was missing something. As the young man continued to look at the object with that same gloomy expression on his face, the beast noticed strange threads slowly uncurling from the metal object.
At first, the beast did not think it an unusual sight. Inanimate things quite often had memories or feelings associated with them. In particular, old objects with long histories could have thousands of threads in many colors. But as the threads begin to twist and wrap around one another, growing thicker and blacker as they did so, the lion began to growl. The threads began to resemble vines, curling about the room inside, wrapping inky fingers around Edmund Ormond.
The lion tried hard to tell the young man to cast the cursed object away. However, through the window and the haze of despair that surrounded that metal object, Lambegus’ tones were nothing but howls of a winter wind.
And so the roars of the lion went unheard. Slowly, the boy began to disappear under a twisting dark mass of threads.
A strange sound emerged from within the room, a sound that violently shredded at the threads. To the lion’s relief, the dark lines began to flicker.
The darkness cleared and a woman stood beside the bed, her hand outstretched. The young man cradled his cheek.
An iridescent dust clung to the woman, signaling to the creature that she was a being of enormous power. The dust moved outwards from her like a gentle cloud, settling over the metal object and flickering while it smothered the remaining quivering threads.
The beast watched as dust floated towards the boy. His curiosity turned to unease as he noted the particles coalesce into a small, white line that connected the boy to the woman.
The lion shifted on his feet uneasily, wondering what he had seen. Lambegus wanted to run back to the master, to ask him and warn him of this strange magic he had witnessed. But his movement had drawn the woman to the window. She pierced through him with her pale colored eyes as she thrust the window open.
The poor creature tried to look away, but could not. It was said that the lion could only obey one master, one King. And yet this woman’s terrible gaze pinned him to this spot and kept him from moving. It was as if it were she who was his master and not the Count in his castle.
“Do not speak of what you saw to anyone,” the woman said in a different tongue, the one that the lions only used with one another. “Do not tell your master of me until I release you to do so. Leave now. I must have more time undisturbed with this boy.”
She reached out to touch his head. He prepared to be obliterated into dust and returned to the ash that he once was. But, to his surprise, he did not cease to exist.
Her fingers were not rough or cold, but were not kind. She was not giving him punishment or reassurance. Instead, she was showing him the proof of her authority — and why he must obey her orders above even his master’s orders.
Surprised, the lion turned on its heels and ran.
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