The woman was swift as she glided back towards the main house and its impressive entryway. As quick as Elanore might be, she was not as fleet-footed as Lady Tala and could not keep her in sight once Lady Tala reached the stairs.
Edmund had warned her about the very nature of the Wolframs, but only now did she grasp how different from her they might be.
By the time she found herself on the third floor landing Lady Tala had already disappeared beyond a small crowd of servants and ladies. And although Elanore was not a short woman, she had to strain as she stood on her toes to catch a glimpse of the door to the Count’s quarters at the hallway’s end.
Had not a familiar head of white hair poked out from a door close by, Elanore might have joined the group in waiting. But Mrs. Winchester’s frown drew Elanore to her chambers for a private conversation.
As they shut the door behind them, she found Edmund with them. She noted the way he sat. It was true that the chair was too small to hold him comfortably, for he leaned forward in the seat. The frown on his face equaled the one her grandmother wore.
She would have liked to smooth the lines on his face that such an expression created, but her grandmother would have scolded her for the impropriety of that act. Instead Elanore rocked back and forth on the heels of her boots and folded her hands in front of her primly. “What news do you have of the Lady Selva?”
“Not a word has been said of her condition,” Mrs. Winchester had taken up a seat as well. She sighed and shook her head. “Currently no one has been allowed entry, so no one knows what is going on.”
Elanore tried to understand why her guardian seemed troubled. She searched for another reason that might explain the severe look her guardian wore. “Is it the guild? Did they refuse the offer again?”
Her grandmother exhaled sharply. “It might surprise you that they did not. They will come.”
That news should have warranted a more positive delivery. Yet neither of the gentleman or the mayor’s face looked pleased.
“It will be trouble,” Edmund offered grimly as he sat back in his seat. “It is obvious that personalities will clash. Both the guildmaster and the Count have led too long and are used to having their own way. The discussion should have been more a negotiation. And yet while Wilhelm did what was expected, the Count did not. When the snow started to fall, he seemed to lose his patience all together.”
“It did not make for a good impression. I suppose the lord is not used to our ways,” the mayor took off her glasses and rubbed the bridge of her nose. “I really should have handled this differently as well. Had he and I had more preparation, perhaps he would not have made those concessions.”
The blonde youth disagreed. “You could not have helped the situation. His mistakes had much to do with his concern for his lady companion.”
Elanore started. She turned her head quickly to the window, to catch the sight of snow continuing to fall at a brisker pace. She understood then why she had shivered in the garden, why something had not felt quite right. How blind she was to not immediately recognize that the beautiful snow she had been admiring earlier might have been induced by magic.
Mrs. Winchester spoke in low tones, her mind still on the guildmaster and the arrangements that had been made. “Even if this was the Countess’ wishes to see the people of this town gathered here under his protection, there is no guarantee that it will be all that harmonious. He will not have an easy time with these guild men for they may not respect how easily he yielded to their leader and take advantage of his weak judgment.”
Elanore saw that her grandmother did not understand Edmund. Gently, she corrected her grandmother. “I think you overestimate the magnitude of his mistake. He is not insensible . After all, he was able to convince you to come here. I think that the snowfall triggered his suspicions that she was using magic. And if she has been using a great deal of it already, her condition would–”
She did not need to finish her sentence, for all three knew very well what the outcome might be.
“I see,” Mrs. Winchester murmured to herself. “You both believe his mistakes are due to worry where I was concerned about his overall judgment and capability to lead.” Her eyes flashed when they both appeared appalled by such a statement. “You don’t know how he spoke of Elanore previously. He is manipulative and selective in what he cares about. Even as much as the lady appears devoted to him, I do not believe him able to show her true affection.”
“He loves her in his own way,” Edmund answered. “I am certain he does. It is his pride and his nature that makes it hard to see.”
The old woman bit her lip as if to express some doubt. “I hope you are right Edmund. Even if you are though, I hope it’s not too late.” Mrs. Winchester looked grave. “What happens if her condition cannot be remedied?”
That was the question Elanore wrestled with as she looked at the snow falling outside. She turned away from the window to look down at her hands.
Beyond the wall, she could hear the man’s baritone voice mixing with the lighter tones of his cousin. The words were indistinguishable to her, but she recognized the sounds of desperation and anger, fear and helplessness.
While her grandmother distrusted the man, she believed that behind the impenetrable, aloof facade the Count was not all that different from her. He was also human.
That insight allowed her to draw parallels between herself and the lady, Edmund and the Count. In spite of how little she knew the woman and how difficult she found the Count, she found the ability to feel compassion for them both.
Her fingers closed shut, forming fists as she dwelled on those parallels. She came to see that the random experiences she had did not have to be useless, after all.
She who was moved, acted. And when she did, she left the room to boldly push her way to the Count’s quarters.
Elanore did not bother to even knock on the door. Instead she pushed it open in order to survey the scene. Tala leaned over the Countess lying on a bed.
The Count was quick to intercept and quick to guard. “Miss Redley,” he said coolly as his outstretched arm blocked her way. “I do not think this is the place for you or the others.”
Behind her, the servants barred Edmund and her grandmother from entering the quarters. However, the young lady stood her ground, unwilling to be intimidated by him or his status. She did not have the gentleman’s height or stature but she spoke as if she did. “Sir, I can help her. I am a healer.”
His teeth flashed as he tried hard to smile. He failed miserably, grimacing monstrously. “What besets her is not a normal thing, Miss Redley. She is not human like most of your patients.”
“I know that,” she touched his arm lightly. “I am also a student of magic, sir. A much better one now.”
As soon she spoke those words, she wished to take them back. He had been the one to first instruct her on magic just a few short weeks before. She was being impertinent now to imply that she was capable of doing something that he could not!
But her boldness gave her power she did not understand. When Elanore was determined to have her way, she who asked for little received much in kind. For the first time since she had settled here, he was watching her carefully, studying her as if he had not known her previously. “Have the lions been teaching you?”
“Yes.” She felt a great deal of relief to admit as such. “Although she may be more like you than I, she is still human in part. I believe I understand how to remedy this condition of hers. If you would allow me to just look at her, I might be able to confirm whether this is so.”
Lady Tala looked up from where she stood, her face concerned. “Sir, if the girl believes she can do something, I will not object.“
His nostrils flared at such a verdict. It was clear that Lady Tala felt she could do nothing.
Neither woman knew why he seemed so tormented. He paced the room once, twice, before he stopped in front of Miss Redley. “You claim to understand what ails her. What do you propose be done?”
The healer bore his questioning with patience and sympathy. She did not take insult at his questions. To her, he might not be at all unlike any other person who feared for the welfare of a loved one — protective, angry, and desperate in face of being powerless to change the course of someone’s illness. “Take her to the lions–”
“In the cold? I dare not move her!” He snapped, pacing back and forth again like a caged animal. “I can’t keep moving her body like this! I might as well kill her.”
The young healer might have pressed the matter, arguing that the lions could be brought inside. However, in their absence she could at least do something herself. “Please allow me to see her at least. Let me see if I can sense what has become of her magic and then consult with the lions.”
She pleaded slightly, enough so that he had to eventually relent. When he stepped aside, Elanore moved quickly to the sleeping lady, taking the place alongside the bed that Lady Tala willfully vacated for her. But as she leaned over the lady, the Count hovered nearby, watching as she placed her fingers upon the woman’s cheek.
She was not nervous under such scrutiny. The elderly woman who she had apprenticed with had been far worse when it came to supervising her healing studies. Elanore calmly applied the principles she had been taught time and time again. She listened to Selva’s slow breathing and held the lady’s wrist to feel the beating of the woman’s heart. Only then did she try to see what magic she could feel.
Elanore looked past the limp fingers that did not flex or curl, or even twitch in response. Instead she tried to use her last impression of the lady’s magic at dinner as a guide to compare the woman’s state now.
She was disheartened to find that what magic had once felt strong and warm was barely a whisper now – a weak ebb and flow that coincided with the slow beating of the patient’s heart. But the magic was still there, so she did not give up hope that something could be done.
The healer put the hand back on the bed before she sought out Edmund, who still waited at the doorway. “Please come here and help me.”
The Count bristled at the invitation but silently relented at the look on Miss Redley’s face.
Elanore asked for Edmund for he was a necessary part of the process that allowed her to transfer and control the flow of magic. Neither gentleman was aware of that deduction she had drawn for herself. In fact, her beau’s eyes were full of questions as she drew him to her side and offered him her hand. To him, she explained herself only this much: “Please help me like you did the other day with the lions. Please just stand with me.”
His fingers tightened around hers in response. He wanted to ask her if it was safe, she knew. So she squeezed his fingers back, telling him silently that it would be all right. That gesture was enough. He relaxed his grip and quickly bowed his head to press his lips to her hand.
She rewarded his trust in her with a smile, one that was returned.
The brief moment of intimacy brought calm and harmony to an environment that was otherwise tense. At its conclusion Elanore placed his other hand over one of Selva’s before she turned to the Count. Her hand was held out, asking him to join their circle.
As familiar as he might be with magic, he hesitated.
The girl did not wait. “Surely she will respond to your presence,” she spoke with confidence and reached for the lord’s left hand, dropping a few blue stones in his palm. Elanore did not doubt Edmund’s assessment of Selva or the Count. She believed in their love, as confidently as she believed in Edmund’s love for her.
She offered the older man a small, comforting smile as she closed his gloved fingers around the stones of light. His other hand relinquished the cane to take Selva’s other hand.
Elanore completed the circle, resting her free hand on top of the Count’s gloved one and then took one slow, deep breath and closed her eyes. Her mind focused, sifting through pleasant things and creating the connections between them all. The stones began to draw from power underneath the earth and the young woman began to imagine the power moving through the circle she had created.
Edmund had said once that he believed the lions capable of reading his thoughts, and she understood how. For the briefest of moments, the connection through magic allowed her to skim the thoughts and feelings of each of the men.
Not wishing to invade their privacy, she moved her attention to the lady. But when the flow of magic reached the lady she felt herself slammed into a wall.
When she recovered from her surprise, she realized she had tumbled into a bright snow-covered field. She floated as a small brown bird, hovering on a blue wave of light.
A pale woman sat on a rock, cradling something in her arms tightly as she looked up at the sky. The bird studied the flaxen-haired maiden as it flew closer and then realized it was Selva who sat there casting magic that would shepherd the snow to the ground.
Words did not form for Elanore. Had they, the lady would have heard her crying for the lady to stop the spell. But the bird song startled the woman from her half-asleep state. “What are you? Why are you here?” came the pained response of the lady.
She tried valiantly to tell the woman how the Count and Edmund waited for her to wake.
The woman tilted her head slightly to listen. She opened the blanket she held and allowed the unexpected guest to glimpse the two small totems — one black and white — she carried. “You are an odd figment of my imagination. They are already here. I have them here with me.”
Such a statement was madness to Elanore, who knew this was not so! She flew closer and inspected the items the lady carried. The bird knew instantly that the black obsidian stone depicting the wolf must be the Count. But the other was smooth and blank. The bird flapped its wings and tried to tell the woman she was full of nonsense.
“Now why do you fuss?’ the lady mused.
The bird sang noisily of rituals and spells gone wrong. She sang a picture of the Count – one in which he both glared and cried as he waited at the patient’s bedside.
The woman shook her head. The picture to her was far too ridiculous to believe.
And so the bird sang of herself, holding Edmund’s hand while he looked on with guilt.
Selva blinked slowly and then cautiously looked at her surroundings. It took her another minute before she noticed then the trail of magic that clung to the bird. “Little wren, you must be Elanore.”
“YES.” The bird cried, exasperated and relieved at the same time to find that the woman knew her. “I meant only to restore something to you, and it all ended up like this. I am not a piece of your dream, I am really here.”
“You poor thing.” The totems vanished from Selva’s hands as she held them out to receive the bird. She petted the fretting creature, receiving the magic that the little bird had worked so hard to bring to her. Then with great care, she placed the bird on her shoulder. “You have learned this much, have you?”
Now able to speak, Elanore did not care for pleasant exchanges about magic. Time was slipping away quickly. “They have done what you asked. The guild will come. Please do not keep doing this. While you sleep like this, they hurt. They do not know what to do.”
Selva patted the bird again. She said nothing for a moment, as if she was thinking through these words. The white woman stood suddenly. “If only I had been stronger. All of you might have been stronger. And you, bird, might not need someone to guide you out.”
With a resolute expression the woman clapped two hands together, creating a thundering sound that shook everything. The bird clung tightly to the woman’s shoulder, not willing to be swept away by the shockwave that resulted from the woman’s display of power.
The spell began to crumble, stemming the fall of snow. The white landscape began to fragment shortly after, its pieces scattering like moths that took a short flight before returning to Selva’s open hands.
As the patch of white upon which they stood grew smaller, the woman smiled absently. Elanore shivered, for there was something deathly about the lady as she hovered at the precipice of the white and black vision, between reality and magic.
The woman looked off into the blackness. “Little bird, something else has followed your trail of magic. Go now and leave me to catch this interloper.”
Before she could protest, the bird found itself thrust into the air. She went rolling away, like a leaf riding the wind.