By the time the two approached Edmund’s home, the young hunter’s shivering could not be controlled. Whatever he may have thought of being presumptively dismissed by his guildmaster, Edmund was evidently not in any condition to do any more traveling. When his horse stopped at the end of the pathway, he was forced to allow his guildmaster to help him off his horse.
Once they reached the front step, his mother quickly opened the door and ushered the men inside. Across the road, a pair of curtains in a window shifted slightly, signaling that Edmund’s homecoming had not gone unobserved.
“I think I’ve kept your son out too long in the winter air,” the guildmaster apologized politely as he shut the front door behind him. He stood back for a moment, watching as Mrs. Ormond relieved Edmund of his bags, hat, and scarf and then dragged her son to a well-worn sofa in the front room – the storefront’s receiving area for customers.
Mrs. Ormond disposed of her son’s damp boots before covering his legs with a blanket that normally hung on a peg on the wall. She took in her son’s flushed face and placed her hands on both of his cheeks. “Edmund, you have a fever.”
“I’m alright.” Edmund tried to sit up but was thwarted when the sudden pressure on his right hand sent a shooting pain up his arm. The young man faltered.
The owlish shopkeeper threw a stern look at her son, forcing him to lie back down. “My dear, you’ve been doing far too much today.” Next, she turned a steely gaze upon the guildmaster.
Wilhelm rubbed the back of his head, not knowing what to say. “We got caught up in a bit of business—”
“Neither of you are dressed warmly enough for the cold—” she muttered to herself as she tugged at the sleeve of Edmund’s outer coat. “You hunters may wear coats of hide, but it’s hardly enough for such weather.”
“I think he’ll be fine with some rest,” his leader offered, stepping in to help her remove the young hunter’s coat. As the sleeve caught around his wrist, Edmund felt another prickly sensation run through his hand. He brought his hand to his face, wondering why it was bothering him so.
Wilhelm frowned slightly as he observed Edmund, mistaking the action’s meaning. “Fever must be rising.”
“I see that, Wilhelm,” Mrs. Ormond said a bit tightly. “I wasn’t a mother and teacher for thirty years for nothing!”
The guildmaster wilted. “Yes, teacher — er ma’am.” He rocked back and forth on his heels for a moment, embarrassed by his slip. The only classroom in town had once been Mrs. Ormond’s domain, and Wilhelm had been one of her students. “Perhaps some hot water might be of help.”
While Mrs. Ormond and the guildmaster continued to chatter about treatments, Edmund paid them little attention. The youth lay on the couch, wondering why once inside the warmth of his home, his hand continued to feel so cold. He continued to ignore his mother as she fluttered about and then attacked the poor young man with a sadly mismatched set of woolly socks as a replacement for his soggy ones.
“Mrs. Ormond.” The guildmaster repeated her name politely once more before the woman turned her bespectacled eyes back to her guest.
“Oh yes. Hot water!” She dropped the retrieved socks as she suddenly recalled her manners. “Wilhelm, some tea for you?”
“No, ma’am,” he chuckled at Mrs. Ormond. “I have some business to attend to yet—”
“Yes, yes,” the woman nodded vigorously. “I shan’t keep you then. I know you have much on your mind with all this snow. And so did poor Edmund. Now he’s absolutely too ill to visit Miss Elanore. After I had baked all that food!”
The mention of Elanore had revived Edmund slightly. “Mother,” he called out as he tried to sit up yet again, only to be thwarted by a fit of coughing.
“Mrs. Ormond.” The guildmaster turned around, his brow furrowed. “I have a tisane that might help Edmund if you would bring that water.”
She nodded before running off to the other room. The guildmaster drew up a stool and sat near Edmund.
“Are you not in a hurry?” Edmund turned his head slightly in order to look at his guildmaster.
“I think it’d be better to wait and make sure your mother brings you your tea,” Wilhelm answered. Somewhat lightly he added, “She was always a bit scattered as a teacher. Besides which,” he continued more thoughtfully, “the snow is picking up again. I’m not altogether sure that it is good to be out there. Perhaps I should wait until tomorrow to do some more looking with several more men. I think we need to cover much greater ground.” He grinned as he turned his attention back to Edmund. “Of course, we won’t bother you with this tomorrow. Your lady friend awaits, I take it.”
Edmund instantly realized the reason the older man was dawdling here had less to do with the tisane but his curiosity about the aforementioned ‘lady.’ True to form, the man was likely probing for information. “Yes. I was to dine with her.”
“Sounds as if this is someone your mother has picked for you,” the older man could not contain his amusement. “I know how that is.”
Edmund drew the blanket around him and nodded.
“Ha!” The guildmaster laughed a little too loudly. “From your lack of enthusiasm, it’s as if the lady isn’t pretty enough for your tastes.” He dropped his voice conspiratorially and grinned. “I’d be happy to take a message with plenty of excuses enough to the inn, if that’s your wish.”
Edmund sighed. As much as it pained him to hear Elanore dismissed so readily by the guildmaster, he did not particularly have the energy to correct this misunderstanding. His sense of fatigue was deepening and he wanted to close his eyes. “Really – that’s not—”
“Ah, would you?” Mrs. Ormond interrupted as she came back out of the kitchen with a tray in hand. “I’ll write the letter for you, if you would be kind enough to take it.”
“Certainly,” the guildmaster nodded as she slipped the tray on a low table next to him.
Edmund felt a twinge of irritation as well as uneasiness about the whole thing. But to protest this arrangement would be suspicious. He could only help but watch as his mother disappeared off to her table in the corner of the front room. Then he turned to observe the guildmaster as the man began to fix the pot of tea using a packet of herbs drawn from his pocket.
As the minutes passed, the familiar smell of mint and lemongrass filled the room. When a cup was offered to him, Edmund took it from Wilhelm and dutifully drank as much of its contents as he could. He found himself warmed and comforted, although immediately his sense of drowsiness was enhanced.
It was all he could do to keep his eyes half-open and concentrate on listening as his mother and the guildmaster continued their conversation.
Through his feverish haze, he observed as Mrs. Ormond placed a letter in the gentleman’s hands. “Please take this for Miss Elanore, Wilhelm.”
“Yes Ma’am,” the guildmaster smiled at his former teacher quite agreeably. “I’ll have this off to the inn then—” he pocketed the letter.
“Oh, goodness no.” The woman looked out the window, observing the snow falling. “Miss Elanore is at the Winchester home.”
For a moment, it almost appeared as if the guildmaster froze. There was a flicker of some indiscernible emotion that passed over the man’s face before it was replaced by a polite smile. “I’ll take this, Mrs. Ormond,” Wilhelm continued lightly. “Good evening,” he bowed politely and then quickly departed.
As the wooden door shut loudly behind Wilhelm, Edmund opened his mouth. “Mother—
Mrs. Ormond came over and sampled the tea in the pot. “That is strong stuff,” she murmured to herself. “Better him than you, Edmund.”
“Yes, I’m sure he isn’t happy about running into that lady and all that business. Don’t forget that I’ve known that man since he was a wee lad. I know him far better than you do in that regard. He’ll figure out who Elanore is related to sooner or later.”
Edmund slid more deeply into the couch and closed his eyes. True as that might be, he had hoped to keep them all away from one another a bit longer.
As he fell into a deep sleep, all he could do was worry.