They ignored the cold, the falling snow, and the rumbling of an impatient magical beast. Both looked for answers to questions, answers they hoped the other would have.
The guildmaster’s face was no longer stern but revealed little as laid his hands on the beast. “You are nothing like your family, Miss Redley. You seem to just do whatever happens to be on your mind in spite of what others may say or what the prevailing belief might be. Some might call you independent. Others disobedient.”
Whether he meant to condemn or praise her she did not know. However, the assessment did not particularly bother her. She tried not to smile. “My parents seem to be divided on that issue themselves.”
His eyes narrowed slightly at the mention of her mother and father. “Surely they would not approve of our meeting.”
Gawain shifted in place, responding to the tension in the man’s voice. She could hear him grumbling, wanting to leave. But Elanore kept hold of the reins. “I know that you and my mother had a falling out. Even so, her feelings shouldn’t get in the way of the common good.”
“You may be able to discount her feelings, but you forget mine. Your mother ran away from our engagement without one word to me as to why.” The guildmaster’s voice was salted with anger and pain as he looked away. “I’ve been left wondering all these years what she disliked, what she thought I had failed at.”
“I’m sorry,” she blurted out, ashamed by her thoughtlessness. “If I knew, I would tell you.”
They said nothing for a few minutes, each dwelling upon their own emotions. Without information, she was helpless — she could not heal him or comfort him. As for him, he did not ask for either. Once he had mastered whatever sentiments had been stirred up by the girl, he withdrew. He took several steps back towards his home. “Then we have nothing further to say about this matter. Go home, Miss Redley.”
She opened her mouth to say something, but he waved his hand to silence her. Her expectations had exhausted him. Her persistent kindness perturbed him.
Without the guild leader’s hands to keep him still, Gawain bolted.
Elanore pulled at the reins to no avail. She called to the lion, urging him to stop. But the lion did not wait, not slowing until they had left the guild leader’s home far behind. Only then did he venture to explain his behavior. “I felt Elanore was not well.”
“I am not ill.” Elanore bit her lip, trying not to scold the lion for his well-meaning actions. Somehow the creature had sensed her pity and mistaken it for pain. “I was merely sad about the guildmaster.”
“Sad?” The creature did not understand sadness in its various shapes and forms. “I felt his troubles. It was not the same as you.” Somewhat cryptically Gawain added, “His touch is unpleasant.”
“How so?” Elanore frowned, wondering about how lions categorized their contacts with other creatures. “Do you mean compared to myself?”
“Yes. Edmund too.”
Her breath caught at the mention of her beloved friend. “Tell me, how does Edmund feel to you?”
“Familiar,” The lion sounded amused, as if she was asking an absurd question. “Edmund is like Elanore. Like us. Clear as the sky. As pure as the moon.”
His riddles and metaphors always perplexed her. She took a deep breath of the dry air, trying to focus her thoughts and think of what he might mean. It was then she noticed the lion had passed her home, continuing southwards. She realized that in absence of a request, the lion drifted as it pleased down the road. “Do you mean to take me to him now?”
“Hm. ” He sang in time to his steps. “Hm. Hm. Not to the hunter. Not to my brothers. Not to the master. And not to the lady.” He kept up this ridiculous talk until they found themselves in the middle of the town’s open square. “I go to the fountain,” he declared abruptly before walking up to the only fountain in sight and sniffing about its base.
Elanore could not help but wonder if the beast thought this was some kind of distant rock cousin. She wondered if she ought to explain that the structure was something built recently by human hands, not elves. But she kept her counsel in case this might be the Count’s business.
“Lambegus said this was a good fountain,” the lion informed Elanore after he had apparently finished his close inspection. “It has good stones.”
She would have asked him about those stones had their visit to the square not gone unnoticed. As young and old crowded around, Gawain eagerly greeted them. He was sounding pleased as he sang out a few hellos, sending caps and scarves flying with his enthusiastic greeting.
Once again she regretted that Lambegus was not at hand. But as the old man Mr. Smith and the innkeeper’s children came forward to touch the creature, it began to dawn her that they too, could hear the creature speak.
How this was possible, she did not know. But she kept quiet and listened to the exchange between the young, old, and the oddly bizarre creature. It would be them, not her, who would then tell the crowd of the news the lion brought about shadow creatures gathering in the woods.
The resulting murmur told her that there would be no consensus today. The faces spoke of disagreement. There were those who believed what they heard and those who did not.
Above the din of the resulting discussion, the pub master demanded her answer as well. “You ride the creature. Do you believe the lion as well?!”
Many eyes turned towards her, some friendly and others wary. She was a stranger to them and so her answer would confirm opinions about her, perhaps even draw their scorn. But she answered regardless. “I believe the lion.”
Those who did not believe her or the lion turned their backs and walked away first. They were shortly followed by those who had not decided and then, after that, those who believed her.
When only she and the lion were left with the old man, the children, and the children’s grandmother, Gawain spoke again.
“I think we should go,” he informed Elanore. “There is nothing more to be said now. And you are cold.”
“But how can they protect themselves?” Elanore looked around the square.
“I have told these ones.” The lion bowed his head to be petted once again by the crotchety old man and the children. “They know the truth already. The Unthings come from darkness and emptiness.” To them he spoke. “What is the answer to darkness? To emptiness?”
“Light,” the two children answered solemnly while clasping their hands together.
The old man and the innkeeper looked down at the children with a faint smile. Mr. Smith spoke as well. “There is also the strength we find in one another.”
Elanore offered the man a perplexed look, wondering what he meant. And what did they mean by each providing different answers?
The old man laughed. “Go home, miss and take care of yourself. If you don’t understand now you will when we meet again.”
They all said their goodbyes before scurrying off. Gawain looked fondly as they departed before he suddenly tensed. “Home. Home. Home,” he declared before he leaped, running away from the town with a bewildered Elanore on his back.
She remained bewildered as he deposited her at her doorstep a few minutes later. He offered her no further words, other than a hurried goodbye, before he slipped away into the swelling darkness.
Where he went from there she would not figure out until long after she retired, when at the dead hour a heavy knock came at the door.
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