For some time after the Count’s henchman left, Elanore sat in the parlor with a book upon her lap. Her dark eyes had long abandoned the books’ pages to look outside for signs of passersby upon the road.
Eventually she abandoned all pretense of reading and came to stand at the window. While she looked at what the outside world had to offer, she traced her finger along the surface of the cold glass.
“My dear.” The thin reedy voice of her grandmother interrupted Elanore’s odd behavior. Mrs. Winchester frowned as she looked at the pattern of circles on the parlor window. “You should come away from there. It’s cold and drafty isn’t it?”
Elanore obediently returned to her seat but did not answer the question. To confess any hint of weakness could mean being ordered to spend another day inside the house. She smoothed down her skirts, making every effort to calm herself before she spoke. “I was watching for Mr. Gregory.”
The old woman peered through her glasses at her young charge. “You know he won’t be by until at least two or so.” The elderly lady hesitated, wondering if she should mention that it was unlikely Edmund would be by either. But something about Elanore’s expression made her decide against it. “Don’t tell me you are reconsidering the Count’s offer?”
The young woman’s fingers floated to the cord at her neck from which dangled a pouch of stones. A rare frown flitted across her face as she discovered the bag was warm. “I don’t know if I should. Perhaps I don’t feel as certain that this is the right thing to do.”
Each delay, each additional piece of information that came her way added to her sense of unease. The inconstancy of the Count’s behavior had eroded her trust in his words. But for every misgiving she had about the Count and his people, she did not doubt the lions. They were incapable of deceit. Of that she was certain.
Her grandmother rocked her chair back and forth. “I’ve also thought a great deal about whether it is wise to relocate to a stranger’s home. In light of these uncertain times, it is better to be doing something than nothing. I’ve resolved to use this opportunity for us to learn what we can. We must press for more information about this boundary that you spoke of.”
Elanore pressed her palms together and bowed her head. The Count and his family possessed far more information than any other person in the area. She had already decided that she would learn what she could that might help against unknown dangers that might come this way. But the map he had shown her hinted that he held some other knowledge, something that might be used to protect the town. And yet here she was still idling at home, unable to access that knowledge.
“So this Mr. Giles seems intent to warn you against this family. Do you really fear this family and what they might say?”
“No,” Elanore answered emphatically. “Except for the delay they cause. I am well enough to begin work again. And I fear that our luck is soon to run out. We have not had any sightings of unusual creatures. It’s only a matter of time.”
“We are much fewer than we were a week ago,” Mrs. Winchester sighed. “The families with young children go south for the winter, which perhaps is best. Without a schoolteacher and a friar, there’s not much to offer.”
It was a blessing in disguise. And yet there were still a few dozen people in town who would not move. Aside from those within the guild, those families who stayed behind were too old or frail to make any substantial journey.
“Do not fret, Elanore,” the Mayor smiled. “If this Count has lost interest, we still have ourselves. We can continue to work with Gregory. I am certain he has made progress in his research.”
Elanore picked up the discarded book and turned it over in her hands. She knew that while she had rested, the man had been pouring over a large number of records and books. Although many of the regular journals had not offered much, he had rummaged through the personal collections of the older townsfolk and thought he would find something useful.
He read day and night, it seemed. He would arrive at their house and read some more, examining those books and papers her grandfather had left behind.
Her grandfather had believed in the old magic, in the tales of elves and the old races. She hoped that Gregory would find some proof among his belongings that would convince the people to stand guard. But even if they did, what could a few old men and women do against the unknown?
“Should we not try to speak to the guild leader?”
Elanore’s question surprised the mayor. Ultimately the guild was the most valuable protection the town had against the unknown. They were able bodied men, used to violence and extreme conditions. It was a logical query and yet Adele Winchester shook her head. “My dear, that man will simply dismiss any talk you have of shadowy creatures as fancy. Short of him seeing one for himself, nothing will move him.”
Perhaps it was youthful naiveté that caused Elanore to look doubtful at those words. The girl had Edmund and Mr. Gregory on her side. They were guild members in good standing. Surely if two of their kind had come to believe, others could also be persuaded.
She said nothing further of the matter, however. Instead she waited for Old Gregory’s arrival and the opportunity to ask his advice. Such was the kind of friendship they had formed as of late. Even though he was a loyal guild man, he spoke honestly with her as a peer. Somehow her stories of the lions and the stones had made it safe to talk about anything.
The sun had already begun its descent when he arrived. He apologized profusely. “Had to see to a restoration matter,” was all he said as far as an explanation as he dropped a handful of notes onto the table in her grandfather’s study.
He spread them out, explaining their origins. They were draft sketches put together by the first guildmaster and his men during their earlier explorations of the area.
Elanore viewed these items with great interest, making great pains to copy the notes for herself.
Gregory was pleased. “Usually these things are burned later as scrap. Once the more formal maps are drawn up by the journeyman, we don’t bother with these. But sometimes the details differ on these early drafts. Remnants of paths no longer of interest or wells long abandoned — one does not usually care about that sort of thing when your primary client only seeks hunting grounds.”
“Grandfather worried over those wells and paths,” Elanore paused in her transcription of the notes to reflect on what he had said. “He seemed bothered by who might have been here before we came to live here. I think later he came to believe that they were left by elves who had all but disappeared and wisely let the matter drop as few would believe in them.”
“Aye, or it could be remnants of other men who once lived this area hundreds of years ago. There were stories that man came this way once, back when there were dragons. But some of our old folk think these things belonged to inhuman things. Witches. Serpents. Goblins. Mr. Smith who lives with his daughter Abbie across from the inn talks of ghosts and possessed birds. He’s the one who reminded me of the wells.”
Elanore shook her head. “Grandfather never said anything. He just wanted them all plugged but the others simply said to cover them. They did not care much about them.”
“Yes, yes,” the man nodded. “I do remember that bit of argument. He was quite scared by what happened to you. He said he didn’t want it to happen again.”
The young woman twitched slightly. She had not meant to cause her grandfather such grief. But she had been too headstrong, too determined to follow Edmund everywhere he went, even when he told her she was not supposed to pass over the creek. Elanore did not want to be left behind, so followed as quickly as her little legs would take her. The uncovered hole appeared out of nowhere, swallowing her up unexpectedly.
If it were not for her screams as she tumbled down the hole Edmund might not have circled back to look for her.
“Poor Edmund did not either,” Gregory laughed. “I suppose he was tired when he finally got back to town, but he sported such an awful bruise for weeks afterward. You were not all that grateful to him, if I heard correctly.”
Elanore colored as she looked down at the table. “I was a terrible child,” she confessed. After she had been freed from the well she had pounced upon Edmund the first opportunity she had. “I was still angry at him for leaving me behind.” It was her grandmother who made her apologize after trying to explain all that Edmund had done for her.
The old man chuckled. “It’s still a funny story in hindsight.”
She was not certain she would agree. Gently, she changed the subject. “But why did Mr. Smith bring up something so old?”
The book keeper pushed the papers around on the table, thinking. “He’s generally a suspicious sort. He has some wild ideas about those holes being snake holes. Something about serpents. It was nonsense. But his interest did pique mine. And I thought you might be able to recall what the well was like.”
Her brow creased slightly, wondering what he was driving at. “If Mr. Smith were right and those holes hid monstrous snakes, I would not be here today. It was a straight hole, but I do not trust my memory to tell you more than that. You should talk to Edmund.”
“Edmund?” The man wondered aloud.
Elanore glanced down at the table where the man had spread all his papers. She fiddled with the corners of those papers closest to her for a moment before she confessed another embarrassing detail to the story. “I was too panicked to be able to hear any instructions and take the rope they fed down into the hole. Eventually Edmund was lowered into the well on the rope to help me out.”
With a mild “oh dear,” he nodded. ” I do wonder if he might have seen something of the wall. I’ve been thinking that they might be remnants of extraction sites for those stones or of some odd elven trap.”
Elanore thought of the map she had seen — the one that Count had shown her previously. Her eyes lit up as she pondered that idea further. “You are brilliant!”
“What?” Gregory looked up from his papers and stared at the young woman.
If he was hoping for some clarification on exactly what he was supposed to have discovered, he would not receive it. Elanore paid him no heed.
The woman’s gaze had suddenly shifted to the window. Before he could turn to see what had caught her attention, she had fled the room.
A few moments later, the door to the kitchen slammed shut and a gust of wind rattled the house.
“Elanore?” Mrs. Winchester hurried down the hall. “What was that?”
“Outside,” Gregory pointed at the door. “I heard the kitchen door close. She went outside.”
They nearly stumbled over one another as they reopened the kitchen door to look outside. Another rush of wind swept past them while a flash of scarlet fluttered in the breeze.
“By the heavens light,” the old man exclaimed as he saw Elanore perched on a great catlike beast. “What is that thing?”
The young woman smiled as she rounded her mount to address them. Her face glowed bright with amusement and purpose — a stark contrast to her mood earlier in the day. “This is a lion, made of magic and stone. He was the first of his brothers to wake and the first to speak. Until now, he has only come here at night.” She reached down to pet the beast on its head. “It would seem he’s rather tired of skulking about.”
The lion purred in agreement.
She, too, had become weighted down by the advice of others, trapped into doing nothing while she waited to be directed. As she sat in her grandfather’s study and spotted the lion lurking in the trees, Elanore had suddenly realized that she did have options after all.
“Miss Elanore Redley!” Her grandmother looked quite angry. “Do get off that thing! You cannot mean to ride that about in this cold? Like that? On that thing?! ”
“I do,” she laughed as she readjusted her grasp on the temporary reins she had put over Gawain’s head.
“But it’s almost nightfall,” Mrs. Winchester protested.
The lady nodded. “I know. Forgive my disobedience just this once. I believe you were right when you said we must do something. It is time to send a message. One that demands a response.”
And then before Mrs. Winchester could object again, the girl in the red riding hood was gone.
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