Edmund understood her intent quite well. She wanted to wake them all – even if the energy that would be required might kill her.
That she would even consider such an idea represented how they fundamentally differed from the other. She often acted without having thought things through in great depth, often without regard for the consequences. In contrast, he was careful, methodical and rarely impulsive.
But Edmund cast aside decorum, pulling at her hand. He knew that there was no true privacy in this parlor, but he guided her to a corner to pretend to admire some portrait. His voice was quiet, not scolding as he spoke. “Tell me what you’re thinking. Why is this important?”
“They’re fearless,” she answered softly. “They don’t have flesh or blood to be destroyed. They can fight the things we don’t understand without worrying about broken bodies or failed magic.”
Edmund was surprised by her answer. At the very least, it was a pragmatic statement, something along the lines of what he might have concluded himself. But coming from her it seemed unnatural. “But to encourage the people to allow others to fight for them — isn’t that idea at odds with what you would wish?” He was paraphrasing her words now — she who had told him she wanted him to stop trying to protect her.
Elanore swallowed. “No, that would be wrong. I don’t mean to exploit the lions. Nor do I mean to say that the people should rely on others.” She paused, feeling her way around for a better way to explain herself before she started over. “The lions are different from us. They are the sort of creatures that were made with great strength — strength enough to overpower a man like Giles. And yet they are gentle when needed and happy with so little. They can fight one moment and then play at the end of the day, reminding us about things like friendship and love.”
She blushed slightly as her eyes wandered to the window. Wistfully, she continued to speak. “I’d rather have a hundred of those kind monsters fighting alongside me and the people I love than anyone or anything else.”
A seed of thought planted itself in his mind but he dared not entertain it. “In spite of the risk to you.”
“It’s not the risk to me that I worry about,” she said. “What of you?”
He glanced her way, noting how she had tilted her head to look at him. “Elanore, don’t worry about those kinds of things. My life is yours.”
Elanore’s eyes widened for a moment as she studied him.
“Really!” Mrs. Winchester suddenly exclaimed. “They’re like puppies.”
“Yes, indeed,” Lady Tala concurred.
The young lady colored for a moment at the apparent condemnation. They both turned about to address the women. But both were standing at the window with their backs to them, hissing and shaking their hands at the beasts piled atop each other and staring inside.
And in that one stolen moment of privacy, Elanore’s arms curled about his waist as she silently thanked him for everything he was about to do.
* * *
Hand in hand, they emerged from the front door to find the snow dancing across the ground, lifted by gusts of wind that came from the sounds of lions shouting.
The Wolframs that worked outside watched as four stone creatures nearly crashed into the young man and young woman.
Elanore greeted them affectionately as they dropped a tangled ball of ribbons at her feet as if it were a present for a queen. While she spoke to them, Edmund puzzled over the sound of wind, his brow crinkling as he realized that buried underneath the sound of Lambegus’ voice he could hear other faint whispers.
Whatever sounds he heard faded as Elanore dropped his hand in favor of inspecting the items the lions presented to her. While she attempted to separate the skeins of ribbon, Edmund cleared his throat. “Elanore and I cannot play this afternoon.”
Lambegus shouted mournfully, “WE KNOW.”
The snow dust picked up a little as the lions yawned. This time, he heard nothing. Edmund frowned, wondering at the tricks his mind continued to play with him. Outwardly he was fine. But he felt off kilter.
The phantom pain in his right arm flared again as he touched their noses to quiet them. He ignored it as best as he could while he shared with the lions what he and Elanore had wished from them.
They murmured amongst themselves for a moment before Lambegus was in Edmund’s face, scolding him. “DID WE NOT TELL THE CUB WE WOULD TEACH YOU USEFUL THINGS? BUT YOU BOTH THINK TOO SMALL AND FEAR TOO MUCH.”
Edmund took Elanore in hand as the lions circled about them and sat down. He could feel her grip tighten as they lions continued their internal debate. And the whispers returned — forming sounds of disagreement and exasperation.
“They are ashamed by how little we know,” her voice seemed small in his ear. “I think we have offended them because we do not appear to trust them.”
He had known that somehow. The voice in his head continued to speak in aggravated tones. “He walks like a human, talks like a human, thinks like a human!”
Edmund sighed. “But what is wrong with thinking like a human?”
His unexpected response drew several long stares. Five heads swiveled in his direction, perplexed, delighted, and mortified.
The young woman that stood next to Edmund gasped. “Did you hear that?”
Edmund looked about the circle once before he confessed that he believed he had.
The lions exploded to their feet. They pressed close to them — putting their cold noses everywhere and smelling his mitten-clad hands and his boots. He clasped Elanore’s hand, trying not to flinch as sharp eyes stared right through him.
He heard a voice pour forth from one of the lions — silky soft, old and rich. It sounded like a name and a greeting.
Edmund studied the creature, noting the prim manner in which he sat on the ground. He hesitated, not sure still what he heard. “You are Galahad? Is that what you say?”
The lion seemed quite pleased. “Yes,” he purred. “I’m the least silly of the bunch.” This remark drew a few indignant swipes from the others, but he calmly batted their paws away. “So we realize how urgently we must give your first real lesson. This land upon which you stand holds a power left behind by the old ones. The young lady’s power woke and grows. It ripples outward, changing other things that are susceptible to magic. Therefore, we have woken. But you, also connected, also were not untouched. Each time you have passed through these grounds, you should have known something was changing. Your body even now feels it! Yet both of you continue to only see your human limits.”
“ASKING US TO AGREE TO WAKING ONE LION IS NONSENSE,” Lambegus interjected. “IT IS LIKE ASKING THE OCEAN TO RESOLVE TO BE ONLY A POND.”
Gawain added indignantly. “And we need more lions!”
Galahad swiped at Gawain to silence him before he looked back at Edmund. “You aren’t Elanore, Edmund. You are not healer or changer. You are one we cannot agree upon. Very many strands run through you, for reasons we cannot wholly untangle. But for now, we ask you both to accept the role needed at this time and place. You should know us, Edmund and Elanore. Trust us implicitly as we have trusted you! Wake our brethren so we may aide you!”
The lions’ vehemence surprised the couple they addressed. Elanore and Edmund exchanged looks before Elanore spoke plainly. “Will we die?”
“Change is sometimes like death. But do not fear it. Uwain will explain it to you all. We would not sacrifice lives for lives.”
Something about their response bothered Edmund still, but Elanore squeezed his hand. He knew she had already agreed to what they asked. Reluctantly, he also voiced his acceptance of their request.
The lions turned about in glee once at this response before they settled down. With a scratchy, quiet voice Uwain asked Elanore to hold his head.
She stepped forward, uncertain why but complied as she placed her hands upon the creature.
This time when he began to speak, the wind did not move, it did not rattle. This time — all who hid around them heard the words that dropped from the lion.
Lif and Lifprasir:
Draw from the stones and the wood from which you sprang–
From the guardians of this land and
Through the earth filled with fallen stars.
Lie with the lions and the lambs.
Restore those broken ties.
Weave our thousands into strands of light
to be reborn after night.
When the words concluded, the lion fell silent. In the confusion that followed, Wolframs of all ages and sizes came forth from the woods and rocks to openly stare at the lions and to speak to one another.
Lambegus jumped in their midst, speaking to be heard. Its voice thundered off the stone walls of the courtyard and the buildings around them. “MAGIC AND BLOODLINE HAVE SPOKEN. FETCH YOUR MASTER AND GATHER ALL. IT IS TIME FOR THE WAKING.”
Men began to scatter about the property, responding to the urgency of the creature’s voice. But the lions kept Edmund and Elanore close.
Once again Galahad spoke but this time only for Edmund and Elanore. “Now for our second lesson!”