For a brief moment, he was seized by a sense of apprehension. Edmund had not forgotten his previous encounter with the man’s cane. A sword in such capable hands would be far worse as a weapon. But the young man stood firm, his lamp held aloft to illuminate Wolfram’s approach. He was not alone this time and not unprepared.
The lack of concern on part of the lions should have afforded him some comfort or even confidence. But Edmund’s voice was tight and chilly as he greeted the lord of the estate. “Is there a change of plans? I did not bring a sword.”
The Count paused to reevaluate the situation. With a certain gruffness he responded. “Put that lamp away. This is for you.”
The younger man said dryly. “I can barely see beyond my own hand without light. It will be difficult to use.”
The sarcasm made the older man chuckle. He had been a young man once, full of questions that irritated his elders. Wolfram slowly held out the sword and scabbard with both hands. “This is no ordinary weapon. It is one crafted by a different sort of blacksmith than the one your guild employs. My lady believes you will find it useful, particularly in conditions like these.”
Edmund warily looked at the gift. He was not naive enough to believe all magic good. His experience with the last gift told him that oftentimes there was a risk to ‘special objects.’
“She says you are her kind,” the Count persisted as he carefully sheathed the sword. “If she thinks it useful for herself, by her own logic it should be the same for you.”
The allusion to “kind” unsettled the younger man. He had not pressed for an explanation on what the specifics were about because he was not interested in speculation. Edmund was satisfied to be caretaker for Elanore and the lions. To label himself as different unnerved him. He had seen the Lady do peculiar things, some of which were not exactly skills or gifts he found desirable.
The lions sensed his resistance. It was Galahad who spoke. “She sees things very well, Edmund. That is her gift. If she thinks this is worthwhile for you, it does not harm you to accept the sword. It was made by those who made us and is like us. Therefore it is good.”
“What is the price for this gift?”
“None,” Wolfram spoke again. “She asked for you to be equipped like my cousins, for your protection is of particular concern to her.”
Edmund knew somehow that man spoke the truth. He blew the light out of the lantern, trying not to show any concern about the sudden absence of light. After carefully setting the lamp upon the ground, he straightened up and waited calmly for his eyes to adjust.
And then he felt a hand upon his arm and an object pressed into his hand. “Take it,” the Count insisted quietly.
Edmund felt the lions’ cold bodies brush against him as they, too, began to closely inspect the gift.
The young man felt a striking warmth as he unsheathed the sword. He waved the sword about gently, careful not to be fooled by its light weight into underestimating its quality. When the exposed blade began to shine faintly, he turned back to the other man. A hundred questions he could ask but did not, for he did not know where to begin.
The other man watched closely, his expression puzzled. “As she expected, it shines.”
Wolfram sounded subdued, contemplative. “It is resonating very faintly with the material it is made from –that which you stand upon now. It will shine as long as there is something it can respond to, whether material or magic.”
Edmund frowned as he noted the edge of the blade. “It hasn’t been used in a while.”
“No, it hasn’t,” the Count responded. “If it pleases you, I’m sure your guildmates can assist you with sharpening the blade tomorrow.”
The lions continued to press forward, whispering amongst themselves. Edmund could tell they were greatly pleased by the weapon and, as such, strung the weapon at his side. “I thank you both for the gift. It appears to be quite useful in conditions like these. Although I suppose it would be unseemly if I waved it around like a torch.”
“I don’t think there is harm in that if that’s your wish,” the Count answered gravely. “But it would probably be wasted. It cuts quite well — things of both a material and immaterial vein.”
“Yes.” The Count turned away abruptly, not in the mood for much further discussion. “The others are waiting.”
The lions fell in alongside them as they began to make the trek towards the gate near the road. Edmund’s eyes worked hard to make sense of the darkness. In time, he began to hear the sounds of others walking just beyond him, steps circling past them towards the gate.
He felt himself pushed gently to the side by one of the lions, avoiding the sharp branches of something strewn near the wall. He looked at these metal structures and realized they were the same types of items he had seen carried earlier. It was obvious now that they they were designed to frustrate and tear at anything that dared try to climb over the stone wall.
But he frowned at the door that now replaced the metal gate. It was a crude, ugly affair — a series of layered planks. While it was solid, it would not last very long against something very persistent or strong.
When it was opened, the lions streamed ahead, leaving the band of men in order to look at the conditions outside the estate. They returned a few minutes later to tell the party to follow.
Edmund walked with his hand upon Galahad’s side as they took a hard left along the road. Giles and several other men trotted swiftly past him. He would have picked up his speed if the Count was not in front of him moving more deliberately across the bridge.
The guardian at the end of the bridge awaited them. It looked south, as did they for a brief moment before they gathered around its feet.
Edmund took a step towards the great lion while around the men placed their pails at the foot of the statue. To his surprise, the Wolframs drifted away. When he had been asked to accompany the lord for this task, he had understood why the Count had wanted to leave Elanore and his lady behind. The removal of ice and snow and the repair of the statue was difficult work in such conditions. But he had thought the work would be shared. Instead, it would appear that Edmund would labor alone while the Count pressed his hands onto the statue.
The other men were simply there to offer support or protection to their lord. Edmund understood, then, that his role differed from theirs. He laid his hands upon the stone as the lions lay at the base of the statue. They would be part of that ritual through which magic was invoked. And so they waited patiently until a brilliant light appeared.
Fine cracks began to appear under magic’s illumination. Edmund felt a sense of dread, of true fear, when he saw the damage there.
The lions quivered. “It is wounded,” they said sadly.
“It is my fault,” their lord responded heavily as the light began to fade. With one hand the Count reached into the pail and used its contents to mark where the damage was. “What magic I possess is not strong enough to address many years of neglect. The best I can manage with help is a small fix.”
Edmund said nothing, intent on filling or covering the cracks that had been uncovered.
The Count muttered a few words over and over, repeating the ritual until they had addressed every crack they discovered.
In between each round of work, Edmund would wipe his face with his sleeve. In spite of the cold, the light had made conditions for working very warm. His right arm began to ache persistently.
One last time the Count pressed his gloved hands to the statue, testing the ability of the structure to respond to the energy he poured into it. The phosphorescent light of the statue shone bright.
A white hot pain flared up in Edmund’s right arm and he began to sweat profusely. He gritted his teeth as his fingers seized in pain. He pressed hard against the surface of the statue with his hands, unwilling to let go.
But when the pain passed and the light had faded, Edmund’s fingers found a place on Galahad’s side. He realized then that the beast had been holding him up for some time.
“Don’t worry. It’s alright,” he said to himself and to the lions as he straightened out his fingers.
But the looks on the faces of the Wolframs said otherwise.