Once several of the lions departed, the small group walked back around the side of the building.
The lions did not follow, choosing to scatter instead around the estate.
Their master found their behavior puzzling;they were usually quite anxious to follow after him or the others. His usually inexpressive face darkened when he caught sight of the backside of a lion, disappearing behind a mound of snow. “What on earth is he doing?”
“I’d venture to say he is uprooting something,” came the dry response from the guildmaster who was not far behind him. “And I think he hasn’t been the only one.”
Maximilian had sharp words for the beast, who took one look at his master’s face before it ran off into the trees. The Count’s displeasure only became increased as he saw what Wilhelm Cadeyrn had said was true. His eyes surveyed what he could of the area that stretched back towards the road noting the signs of many different excavations. He turned back around, settling a hard look upon the young woman in his group. “Is this your doing, Miss Redley?”
Elanore, to her credit, did not falter under such severe scrutiny. “They were digging when I came out this morning for air. When I asked a few of them who had given them permission to do so, they laughed and ran away.
The fourth person in their party intervened. Edmund’s voice was equally stern as he addressed the lord. “I found out it was Galahad’s and Uwaine’s doing. I did not stop them for I presumed you knew nor would appreciate interference in your affairs.”
The young man’s sarcasm was not lost on the lord. Wolfram was careful to respond calmly, well aware that she would wish him to be civil. “While that is true, I don’t have the time to keep track of their constant activities. If you two would take a stronger direction as to their activities, it would help us enormously.”
Edmund and Elanore glanced at one another.
The young woman placed her hand on her companion’s arm. She spoke calmly to the Count.
“Of course. Did you want me to find out what they are up to?”
“For now, let me address this point and inform them of this shift.” He glanced sideways — well aware that the guildmaster was still there, watching. He had requested that Edmund not be assigned to Cadeyrn’s responsibilities and knew very well that the guildmaster could still demand him back if he suspected malfeasance towards his hunter. “You all should go inside and warm up. I’ll let you know what I discover.”
They departed, leaving him standing at the treeline. Once the humans were out of sight, he returned to the abandoned hole and made a great show of studying the ground that had been turned over.
He knew Galahad and Uwaine had to be close by. He could see lions wandering around in his periphery as he inspected their handiwork. Occasionally he would catch one as they ran up looking to help him. When confronted about each hole, they would stammer or grin that they were not the lions he was looking for before running off.
Finally he lost his patience, calling for Gawain. The poor beast was more than happy to see his master, but was not rewarded with the pets and scratches he so desired. Instead, Gawain bore the brunt of his master’s irritation after meekly informing him that Galahad and Uwaine were waiting to speak to the lord and his lady together.
The Count was displeased by the creatures’ defiance. “Now that is, of course, difficult! She is busy with the household affairs. The men from the guild still need to be settled properly and meals served. Of course we won’t be able to talk uninterrupted until well into the night.”
“I’m sorry master,” Gawain bowed his head again. “But the Lady made a promise to come with you. And they intend not to break it. Late night will be good. I will tell them to wait by the magic door. Remind her of her discussion with us and she will come with you.”
He stiffened slightly at the mention of a promise. Sourly he wondered what else they spoke of when alone. But he agreed anyways and hurried inside.
* * *
It would be well after dinner before he would find his companion alone. The Wolfram cousins could not wait any longer to meet and decide how to organize themselves to deal with the humans. They could not accept Giles in charge for his position within the clan was too low and his temperament felt to be somewhat unreliable. In the end,Marrok accepted the responsibility for mentoring Giles and working the humans.
By the time they finished for the evening, it was late. He left the meeting room and wandered off to the kitchens. There he was informed by a few giggling young cousins that his lady had already retired to their quarters.
He found her sitting on the edge of his bed, brushing her long hair with a silver comb. Her eyes lit up from within as he closed the door behind him. “You are early,” she scolded him. “I’m not presentable for my lord. I haven’t dressed.”
Her smile disappeared when the comb disappeared out of her hand. He was quick to cast it aside and bury his nose in her hair. He would like to tell her he could remedy her situation for her, but the lions were waiting. “I’m afraid I must ask you to dress much more warmly.”
The lord hesitated as he felt her fingers twist the front of his shirt. His voice took on a husky, gravelly timbre. “Why indeed?”
She was nearly as magnificent as she was yesterday. Her manners and haughty reserve had unsettled him while impressing the rest of his family by the way she strode into that library and ordered them all around. He knew they were afraid of her, not simply because of her magic, but because she was equally — perhaps more– capable than he of leading them.
He wavered, briefly considering making the lions wait while he tested her passion for him. But he did not wish to test the lions’ patience further. “Our friends have been very mischievous today. Two of them in particular will not appear unless both of us meet with them together as soon as possible.”
“Which two?” Selva distracted him, her fingers testing the buttons now on that same idiotic shirt.
He clenched his jaw as he tried to keep his thoughts under order, his hands reaching to stop her. “Galahad and Uwaine.”
“Oh,” she said softly. “They wanted for me to bring you to them. They have grown impatient, I believe.”
“And what is it that they want?”
“They are worried for us,” she closed her shawl about her nightdress. “Or maybe just for me,” she amended her statement. “I’ll dress, my lord. I promise to not keep you waiting long.”
When they found their way outside, he could see in the dark night that it was not simply the two lions, but quite a few. “Tell me,” he said to Galahad. “What are you all up to with these holes?”
“My lord, it will be obvious shortly. But would you indulge us for a few moments? I want to ask you and my lady to do something. If you would hold your stone in one hand joined with our lady and then place your free ones on my head, the questions shall be answered.
The request implied some kind of transfer of energy. If it was not Galahad asking, he would not have complied.
Wolfram tried to access the light of the stone, listening to the lions as they talked of the old days when they did not yet have names. They reminded him how he had named them all after the stories of legendary knights.
That was a time when he was young and happy, the only time he had been content.
The stone flickered once, twice, before he saw what the lions wanted him to see. A pale blue dust shimmered on the surface of these unsightly holes. The ground twinkled in strange, whorled patterns. The effect was not unlike the stars in the sky on a summer evening.
Selva’s hand tightened in his.
“We broke the earth to give them a chance to breathe,” Uwaine said. “We moved them too because they were aligned differently for a time before you were born. We moved them, too, because there is not one who uses the magic, but several.”
“How does it work?” Selva asked, fascinated by the magic that was unlike hers.
“The stone’s light ripples energy like waves on the water. The dust resonates with energy but using my lord as the means of passage. Others like Elanore can do this as well. She did the same with assistance from Edmund to wake our brothers. This same light will repel those that hate it. But she cannot do this all the time nor can my lord. But with two, much can be done in rotation. It might be enough with alongside other strategies of defense the others employ. And we can dispose of the Unthings.”
“But Edmund has no magic,” Selva frowned slightly. “How does he help the girl? Does he magnify her power?”
“Perhaps that or serve as a catalyst,” Galahad mused. “The assurance of his presence gives her focus.”
“Is that what our lord needs as well?”
“Even more so, right now. But a caution. Our ladyship is very strong in her own right, but the magic is not the same. The potential sum of your powers should far outstrip the young ones, but we can’t test it because you do not have a strong bond.”
They had not meant to inflict judgment or pain, but Wolfram knew that their words had wounded Selva. She did not cry in that cold night air, for it was too dry for tears. But she stiffened. “I see,” she said before she looked away from the lion and from him.
“My lady,” the beast prodded her. “It can change. Little by little, like this. You understand, do you not?”
He did not let her pretend to sleep. He laid his hand on the small of her back. “Tell me: What do you think of what they have done and said?”
She shifted uneasily to her side to address him. “I’m glad to see them acting independently. If anything, they are helping you when I have obviously failed you. I am a little less anxious now that I see you have power that can be channeled to help us live through this winter.”
He reached over to smooth down her hair. “This troubled you.”
She did not hear his teasing. “You can’t transform, you can’t shift. Against the Unthings or other monsters, I’ve worried that you wouldn’t be able to defend yourself.”
“I still remember some of the tricks the elves spoke of,” he told her. “Is that all?”
“Your rightful claim to this position has always been seated in having this magic. I have watched the others and know that Marrok is loyal, but I feel your position would not be secure without it. As for how to help you, the lions want me simply to be patient and work harder. But I am afraid I am incapable of being like Edmund.”
He narrowed his eyes, wondering why she was bringing up another man in this conversation. His hands tightened around her back and his voice took on a dangerous tone. “And how is it that chief among your concerns is that boy?”
“My lord,” she realized that her words had incited his jealousy. “Do not mistake my concern. I mean that I wish I were more like him so I could support you like he does Elanore. What he is able to do, I should be as well. As for his welfare, I know you think it odd how I’ve attached myself to him, but it is because he hails from my village.”
“Your village?” He was surprised. “I thought your village was gone.”
He could feel her recoil at such blunt words. He regretted saying what he did, for she seemed to withdraw even further inside herself. “It is. Unthings and fires took it all. Or so I thought until I saw him. I am bound to keep him safe, in order to ensure that the line from which our village descends does not die out.”
He saw her grief and her terrible loneliness. He wondered how he might assure her, keep her focused. “If that is the case, then we will take him in as we have taken you in.” He closed that gap between them, pulled her against him fiercely. “As for your line dying out, did we not make a promise that soon you shall be a mother?”
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