In an instant, he found himself face down in the snow. The Wolframs were swift and they were powerful. He struggled while they held him down.
The lions complained. He could hear their whispers rise and fall as they tried to come to his side. Amid the shouts and the voices, only one was able to cut through to Edmund.
“Be still, old friend. Your fear only makes things worse. They will understand in time.”
Edmund closed his eyes and heeded the voice. And then he heard a loud strike upon the cold ground.
Maximilian Wolfram, leader and now user of magic, stilled the madness. “Give him space. All of you!”
The crowd obeyed and Edmund could breathe again. Giles had come to his aid, talking quietly to him while he checked for injuries. The man was angry, he could tell, but at who and why he did not know.
They could all hear the Count speaking. He was scolding a small group of men for their actions. They had panicked at the sight of magic and energy, thinking the hunter’s clothing had caught fire. They had acted to put the fire out, or so they thought.
A choir of lions murmured their disapproval from their position near Edmund. “Silly cubs,” they said.
“It was a trick of the eye,” the Count said with a sigh. “It will not be the last time you see something like this, particularly with him. You should learn to discern the smell of magic and think. Now, inside with all of you.”
The men began to scatter back to the road. The Count summoned the lions, intent on speaking to them as well. His words for them were a warning to have more patience. The Wolframs were not like the elves many of them had known long ago. As such, the wolves were themselves unfamiliar with displays of magic except those used by wandering witches and gypsies. Several of the beasts sighed, lamenting how this sad fate had come to pass. But the wiser among them understood and hushed their brothers.
Edmund found himself half-lifted up, half dragged for a few feet before he managed to calmly inform his helpers that he would rather walk unassisted. His declaration earned him a shake of the head from Giles who then released him to the lions.
Several of the kind creatures stayed close by his side as he walked back inside the estate gates. They watched him with solemn eyes, sometimes walking ahead of him to check the path for him, and others lagging behind to make sure he did not straggle. For once, they did not bother him with chatter.
When they bid him good night under the great wooden door that fronted the estate, he felt they were not themselves. They lingered, many of them, for a pat or a touch. Only Galahad, Uwaine, and Gawain spoke like they usually did, asking him to give their regards to Elanore.
He joined the others inside, watching as they stamped their feet and tossed their outdoor wear into piles on the floor. Edmund kept his things and chose to decline an awkward invitation from one of the older Wolframs to join them for a meal. He was tired and anxious to turn in – but he turned his steps towards the library, where someone important waited to see him.
To his surprise, Elanore was not alone with the lady. The Count was seated with them, tapping his cane against the floor.
“Here you are,” Giles muttered as he slipped in behind him. “They were wondering where you were.”
Elanore had made her way to greet the two of them, orbiting shyly as she peppered Edmund with questions. “Did it go well? Are you all right?”
He realized that she could not have heard all that had happened. And so with a tight smile, he simply nodded.
“No, it did not go well,” the Count interrupted. “I would ask that the both of you see to him.”
With the Count’s declaration, Elanore made a straight line for the young man. She caught his fingers softly between her hands and looked at his sleeve. “ You’ve burned yourself!”
Edmund could only down to look at his coat. He frowned, noting the material had darkened.
Selva joined them. She, too, studied him for a moment before she tentatively disagreed with the young woman. “No, it must be a residual of the magic that was used. Edmund, remove your coat.”
Edmund shrugged out of the cover and tossed it on a chair. He held his hands up and waited as the two women circled him slowly, looking for something. He tried to catch Elanore’s eye, to let her know that he was fine, but she did not see him.
They were deep in conversation of things that he did not understand. Selva drifted back to her husband, leaving Elanore still looking concerned. She was not one to always accept that everything was fine. “Come, sit,” she patted a spot next to her on a chaise. When he did so, she reached for his arm to inspect it again.
He inhaled sharply as her fingers repeatedly ran over the surface of his skin. Her actions did not cause pain, but triggered an unfamiliar sensation of warmth. Edmund clasped her wrist, willing her to stop. But instead he felt it again –a flow of magic that moved underneath his fingertips. It fluttered, like she fluttered inside.
“I’m all right,” he told her quietly. “Please stop,” he leaned forward, brushing her hair out of her face so she might look at him clearly.
She jumped every which way. He caught hold of her fingers and sensed that the anxiety she felt before had changed its reasons. He frowned to himself, wondering how he could possibly know this.
Abruptly, she pulled her hand away, scolding him to pay attention.
He looked up absently to find Selva standing in front of him. He refocused his attention on the conversation, listening as the woman apologized for the mishap outside. She was offering a long explanation about the practice of magic. “There is no prohibition on trying magic with more than one partner. And as my lord and Elanore have similar gifts, I thought a switch of partners would be easy. I presumed wrong.”
She paused expectantly, as if she waited for him to say something.
He stumbled a bit, not certain what she had asked. He glanced Elanore’s way, but she offered him no hint of how to answer. And so he said the first thing that came to mind. “It did work, however.”
His response earned him a sigh. Selva repeated herself. “Edmund, a pain like that should not have been dismissed so carelessly. When you and Elanore worked together, did you experience such a thing?”
He denied he had. But when he thought again, he changed his answer. “I have been injured at least once this winter. And my arm and hand have been bothering me on and off for several weeks.It’s hard to say what causes one pain or the other. But to the extent of my knowledge, the reaction today has no natural cause.”
“So I would agree,” Selva nodded. “There has been, however, at least one thing of concern that I forgot to consider. The gift you received from the Friar. You have not touched it recently, have you?”
“Of course not. I’m aware of the warning you gave me. It’s locked away in my quarters in a box.”
She seemed satisfied but Wolfram spoke up, displeased. He did not like the idea that any cursed or misbehaving magical item had found its way onto the estate. And he voiced that sentiment, until it was clear that he would not let the matter rest until he saw the object for himself.
Edmund could not refuse the lord this right. And so Giles was dispatched to retrieve the item. He returned, carrying a moderate-sized box that rattled when the contents inside were disturbed by movement.
Lady Selva took the box in hand and immediately put her ear against the surface. She then set it on the table and stared at it intently, as if her eyes were looking inside. She stepped back after a few minutes and was forced to conclude that something had altered.
“Is it safe,” the Count demanded.
She amended her statement. “I believe something has happened to make it safer. However, I would very much like to examine it further right now.”
None would decline her wish. Once again, Giles was prevailed upon for another favor. He returned with a galvanized tub and several staff to fill it with water.
The Count watched, brooding, as he tried to piece together Selva’s methods His face grew steadily darker as it became evident that she wished to arrange for the box to take on water. This water would allow her to both physically and magically secure the contents inside.
The presence of company likely kept him from exploding at her. “Selva,” he warned her. “You are going through quite a bit of effort to open a box. Is this necessary?” His voice tightened even more. “And what of the effect this tactic will have on you and the contents?”
At this moment, even Edmund felt sympathy for Lord Wolfram. While Selva appeared to be blithely embracing magic, it was he who thought of the consequences.
The lady gravely reminded Wolfram that it was his request that the object be brought out for inspection and that she had a duty to do so in a safe fashion. “It will not be hard for me,” she stated lightly. “I have frozen a great many things over the years.”
The Count rested his forehead on the top of his hands that covered the handle of the cane. He knew very well he could not exactly deny her this. He sighed once before he appealed to the owner of the box. “If we proceed like this, the contents may not be salvageable.”
Edmund realized he could withdraw his permission and force the issue to die.
But Elanore’s hand slipped into his and she spoke her mind. “I would like to make sure of Edmund’s safety. I would like to see it.”
Now, Edmund had little reason to side with the Count. He could only hope that, in hindsight, this decision would not prove to be either dangerous or reckless. “I will trust the Lady Selva. But as much as possible, I would ask that the item be left intact.”
“Of course,” she smiled angelically at them all.
Selva took off her gloves and daintily placed them on her husband’s lap. Wolfram’s eyes narrowed as he watched her place the box inside the filled tub. All were left to wait until she was satisfied the box had taken on enough water. And when it did, she shooed them all away from her as she quickly retrieve it from its watery bed and placed it on a cloth on a table.
They stood back as they watched her lay her hands upon the box. With a deep focused breath, she closed her eyes and then summoned the wind.
The window blasted open as she invited winter to her side. For a quick moment, it swirled about her, throwing her hair every which way, before it turned its fury upon the box. A white sheet spread from the top, to the bottom, enveloping the box with ice that would work its way inwards until it had no water left to change.
The box groaned eerily as ice took a firm grip upon it.
Selva spoke a word of thanks and the wind departed, slamming the window behind it. In its absence, her hair floated gently back to her shoulders and she folded her hands together for another moment before opening her eyes.
They were all speechless at this display of power, save her lord. He stood, as if to spring upon her. But he recovered quickly, offering her only a pleased smile and an observation. “Indeed, quick and vicious.”
She curtsied, accepting his words as praise. “I am glad my lord is pleased.”
He appeared disposed to offer the woman another compliment, but she was not inclined to hear it. “Now, my lord. May I have an axe to shatter the box?”
A stunned silence followed her request. Edmund and Elanore glanced at one another, mortified. It was Giles who had to break the silent spell, snorting and slapping his hand on his thigh. “Oh if only Hastings could see this now! His lord has not caught an angel but a beast for a wife! Ah the lady is a monster as well.”
Edmund felt a hand settle upon his arm. Elanore was trembling, not with fear or indignation, but laughter. Rather than be appalled, she was fascinated by what passed as evidence of domestic bliss in this home. They watched and waited to see how the Count might respond.
It was obvious that he, too, found her entertaining. His mouth twitched slightly as she came to him to retrieve her gloves from his hands. He did not let them go so easily. He held them fast, so she would have to listen as he had his say. “If this was your plan, wife, then the kitchen would have been a much better choice for this task. What you suggest is messy.”
He let the gloves go after he had made his point. She pulled them on slowly, adjusting their fit, as she continued to discuss the matter with her lord. “The sacrifice of a library is a far better option than the kitchen that feeds all these people.”
Behind her, the man’s eyes gleamed at her insolence. “It is one of my favorite rooms. If you insist, then we shall do things my way.”
“Very well,” she said, acknowledging she would not object.
With a dangerous smile, the Count turned to Giles and requested a specific sword. As Giles disappeared, the man stood to remove his jacket. “I’m sorry, Edmund. But I think the box itself may not be salvageable. We shall have to replace it, I’m afraid.”
When Giles returned with a battered scabbard, the man took it in hand. He looked at it with a great deal of fondness.
“It would be best if you all exited,” the lady spoke up. “Edmund – particularly you.”
“I would rather not leave,” Edmund said firmly. “I’ll accept the risk. It is my box, after all.”
Giles snorted at the polite refusal. In a show of solidarity, he, too, refused to leave. “After all this work I’ve done for whatever is in THAT box, like hell I’m going to bed right now.”
“I understand,” the Count responded, drawing a rather ugly sword from the scabbard and pointing it at the box. “After such a show from the Lady, I would expect nothing less from any of you. But as I am not as precise as she, I do recommend keeping your distance.”
Quickly, the others complied as Wolfram began to circle the table. Without warning, he sent the blade slashing cleanly through the top of the box. The top slid to the floor and shattered.
Selva wasted no time, moving to the box while her master tended to the blade. The Count reverently wiped it on his sleeves before he returned it to its humble scabbard. He cleared his throat and addressed the woman who had yet to say anything to all of them. “May they approach?”
The lady of magic did not look entirely herself as she gazed into the box. She nodded absently and a moment later all five of them were looking inside the box, studying a distinctly more solid object than the one that had been described before.
Edmund and Selva were both startled by the discovery that the pronged mass of metal had become something else entirely.
“It looks hollow,” the Count stated thoughtfully.
“A casing for a dagger perhaps?” Giles offered.
“It is hard to say, the ice makes it hard to see well. But it looks like elven work,” the Count mused. He glanced at the item’s owner, who had said nothing so far. His words sounded faintly accusatory as he addressed Edmund. “This is not something you can usually buy.”
Edmund felt annoyed by the unspoken implication that the item might have been stolen. “This was given to me by a man of the church. And if he had it, it was only because he was holding it for me all this time. It was supposedly among my possessions when he found me.”
Wolfram’s attention shifted to the woman next to him. “I did not know your village dabbled in elven artifacts.”
Her glance went to Edmund before she addressed her lord. “We had many things that passed down from family to family. The elves were good friends of our people and as such, they were generous with gifts.”
He gave Selva a long, careful look. “I see. Once you are certain it is harmless, we shall return it to Edmund.”
“Of course,” she said faintly. “Of course.”