From the time the lions had departed the estate the days would pass too quickly.
A sense of unease had already taken hold of many of the townsfolk as the moons loomed over the sky, as if to threaten them with their own kind of magic. The sun still appeared briefly, however — casting odd shadows as its light filtered around trees and objects.
If the people did not believe before that something unusual was about to happen, many began to mutter of the end of the world now. And yet the less superstitious among them were out and about this afternoon in the courtyard. A handful of children played while the guild members looked on, all enjoying that “last bit of light” Old Gregory had told them would be gone in less than a week.
Edmund cut a solitary figure — a lone man standing in the midst of a large circle of statues. He watched the shadows as did the lions, their eyes narrowed as they watched the treeline. The fingers on his right hand clenched as he looked at the mess of the garden before him, listening to the beating of the blacksmith’s hammer echoing on the grounds. Another few blades would be repaired. Another would be hastily forged. It was clear now they were preparing for battle.
His fingers unclenched as he watched Elanore nearby, exploring the grounds with loyal Galahad and Uwaine at her heels. She knew, as did he, that the lions had altered some plan they had otherwise known for hundreds of years — and that their reckless digging had been a means to accommodate the existence of two persons with the ability to move energy.
He could sense the young woman’s frustration as she marched along, trying to learn the new pattern they had created. She was tired; since the departure of the other lions her sleep had been full of strange images — not one ever quite the same.
Each morning she had related to him what she could recall. All of her dreams ended with a mass of shadows rising up to swallow the lion on the bridge and finding no resistance there, exploding through the estate gates.
The walls were a weak point. She knew it subconsciously as did the others. Beyond where she marched, both men and wolves were felling trees. In spite of the protests from some of womenfolk who lamented their loss, the clearing would be expanded and pushed closer to the road.
When the sun began to drop in the sky, torches and all manner of temporary lights came on one-by-one. The work would continue even in the dark.
“Edmund? Aren’t you going inside?” She stood in front of him, the lantern held at her side. The lions peered at him as well, their eyes echoing her concern.
Out of habit rather than necessity he took the lamp and offered her a distracted smile. “Not yet,” he said lightly. “I have a few more things to take care of. I’ll see you later?”
“Oh!” She seemed flustered. “I’m sorry! The Lady Selva said I must sit down with her for lessons. She’s going to test me on how well I’ve memorized the positions of the stones.”
Edmund reached out and placed his hand upon Elanore’s shoulder, now understanding why she had been marched around the courtyard all afternoon. Her shoulders were tense with anticipation but she smiled anyways. “Then tomorrow morning. Shall we dine together?”
“I won’t be too long,” she said shyly. “We’ll be in the library and if you wait for me there, I’m sure she won’t send you away.”
He, in fact, knew quite well the Lady Selva would not. The lady had told him the very same thing at the morning meal, winking at him in an embarrassing fashion. “The library it is. Don’t fail the test too many times. I don’t want to be waiting for you all night.”
She nearly smacked him then, but he caught her hand up in his.
“Hmph,” she turned her nose up in the air, still not exactly mollified. “You’re back to being a pain, Edmund Ormond. Just because you have a hundred or so lions at your beck and call you think you can tease me.”
“They’re at your beck and call as well, Elanore Redley. My teasing you has nothing to do with that. We have a book to finish don’t we? If your lessons finish for the evening, we’ll be able to read it together.”
“Ooooh.” The lions sighed and stared — very amused by this exchange.
“Ah yes,” Elanore’s face turned quite red as the lions’ mouths twitched expectantly. “I remember, Edmund.” She quickly pecked him on the check before she hurried inside, cold and too embarrassed to say or do much more.
Edmund smiled to himself as loitered in place. He was certain the lions would be at the window later, watching them as they read. His smile began to fade, however, as he watched the movement of the shadows in his periphery– not from shades of ghosts and monsters from her dream, but people illuminated by the flickering lanterns that made a safe path for travel.
He noted that these shadows all belonged to Wolframs. Most of the guild men and capable townspeople were inside likely warming themselves at dinner. He crept forward carefully, looking to see from where they came. He found the source — a side-door in the main building. From there they emerged, carrying strange artifacts brought up from deep within the bowels of the estate.
He knew there was something else underneath these buildings for the lions had talked often of strange deposits of stone underground. And some of what they brought up appeared to be collections of metal and crystal, twisted together for some purpose.
“What is that?” He asked the lion next to him.
“Elven talismans,” came the response from Galahad. “Quite expensive.”
Edmund squinted, for his eyesight in this darkness was limited. He wondered about the strange designs and configurations of the objects they carried. He wondered what these ‘talismans’ might actually do.
“Older than us,” Gawain added.
“Not as good!”The other lions mumbled, sounding displeased.
Edmund smiled at their complaints. He found their constant need to remind him of the superiority of their company and powers to be almost charming. He wondered idly if he should tease them, but kept quiet. The cold ground betrayed the approach of footsteps.
He turned his head in the direction of the sound. And he saw no lamp or lantern.
The young man sighed, knowing full well that this discourtesy could only mean that it was the person he was waiting for.
He held his lantern aloft and assumed his most stoic expression — matching what he was sure was a bland expression on that man’s face. It was only when a flash of light reflected back at him that he realized the gentleman approached him with a sword in hand.
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