There was a certain complexity to Elanore’s moods that was not easily understood by others. A rueful smile played across the girls’ face, one that indicated that the question posed to the girl held many different facets, and generated many different answers.
Elanore put her hand in one of the pockets hidden in her skirts and withdrew a pouch. Solemnly she continued. “I cannot tell you everything in one sitting, but the first thing I was commissioned to do was to return this gift to you.”
Mrs. Winchester leaned forward in her chair as her granddaughter shook out the contents of the pouch. An amber pendant with a gold setting and chain slipped out into Elanore’s hand. Upon recognizing the object, the old woman shook her head.
“She insisted,” Elanore moved her hand towards her grandmother. “Grandfather gave it to her for safekeeping when she moved south—”
Mrs. Winchester closed her eyes, recalling the unpleasant circumstances surrounding Evelyn’s departure. “I was there when he presented it to her, darling. It was his express desire that she have it—”
“Yes, she mentioned that it was a protective charm.” Elanore looked down at the stone somewhat fondly. “How often she would she would wear it around her neck while she took me about with her when I was small!”
“Did she?” The rocking chair continued to creak as the old woman wove her own picture of her daughter and young Elanore walking about in some distant woods. “And did she ever show you what it did?”
“Ah, only once.” The girl’s thoughts went faraway for a moment, her voice growing quiet. “She did not mean for me to see what it could do, I believe. But we were lost and she had to use it when we had a rather odd encounter with some wild animal. She thought I was sleeping on her back and had no idea I had observed her. When I asked her about the stone later, she became upset and told me not to say anything.”
Mrs. Winchester gently reprimanded her granddaughter. “And if she knew you were telling me this now—”
“She doesn’t mean you.” Elanore shut her eyes for a moment, perhaps trying to break free of the memory of whatever she had seen. Quickly, she placed the stone back in the pouch. “I’m telling this to you with the hope that you will understand its usefulness and take it.”
Again, Elanore tried to place it in her grandmother’s hands. Gently she was rejected.
“No, but thank you.”
A look of worry and mild frustration marred Elanore’s pretty features. “But you live alone. Surely you understand what she means by giving this to you.”
Mrs. Winchester sighed loudly. “I have lived here amongst neighbors for sixty years without magic and will live the rest of my life here without it.”
“Then please take it as a memento of grandfather.”
Mrs. Winchester leaned back in her chair, her head thrust back as she laughed at Elanore’s persistence. In their stubbornness, all women in this family were very similar.
“Grandmother?” Elanore reached out with her free hand to steady the chair which was on the verge of tipping over. As the elder woman’s laughs turned to coughing, Elanore’s face turned even more troubled.
“Oh Elanore!” Adele Winchester coughed a few more times, still laughing. She waved away a cup of water that Elanore had fetched from the counter. “No matter how many reasons you give me, it does not change that I lack the talent or interest in using that thing! It would be but a useless trinket to me. I have plenty of memories of your grandfather to keep me happy in these cold winter days.”
Elanore cast an uneasy look back down at the pouch. At the moment, she was caught between two women who she loved equally and whose wishes ran counter to one another. But away the pouch went, back into the folds of her skirt. “As you have refused the stone, she will renew her requests for you to move south.”
Her grandmother folded her hands in her lap. “Yes, I know how Evelyn thinks.”
“Even if there is no one to replace you at your post,” Elanore warned. “She’s worried about something in particular with respect to this area. She received messages from her old friends warning that there are threads of change being woven within this region.”
Mrs. Winchester narrowed her eyes at the allusion regarding the messages and her daughter’s old friends. Evelyn had given up her hood a long time ago, but it did not mean that she still did not actively seek out or exchange information with others like her.
“What exactly are in those messages, Elanore?”
“I wish I knew,” Elanore bit her lip. “But she did not tell me. Or perhaps she did not know. She insisted that I should simply tell you what I have, if only to warn you.”
The older lady shook her head. “With such vague warnings, it is not enough. And given that the perceived danger is general — what of the others? How could I leave these families here?”
“I know it is impossible,” Elanore answered before falling silent.
They sat there for a while, contemplating that last point until the sound of steam came from the oven. Elanore ran lightly to the stove to check the stew that was simmering in the boiler. As she stirred the soup, she finally spoke. “Practically speaking, your health here must be improved if you insist staying here. Your reliance on neighbors can only go so far. We have no right to claim all of Edmund’s time.”
“No indeed.” The old woman watched her granddaughter as she continued her tour of the kitchen and dealt with the rest of the evening’s meal. She was amused by Elanore’s statement for many reasons. “Certainly, we don’t have any right to expect his attentions once the weather improves for hunts. The guildmaster takes them away often. And with those new guns they have, they intend to hunt far from here.”
Elanore’s verbal slip had not gone unnoticed. She had included herself alongside her grandmother when mentioning Edmund’s attentions. Her grandmother thought to ask the lady more of what she thought about the man, but Elanore pressed forward.
“Are there dangerous animals that require the use of guns?” Elanore asked softly, her expression revealing concern.
Mrs. Winchester shook her head. Guns were a new commodity in the Northlands. Previously, they had only been seen amongst the pirates who skirted the ports of the region. However, the eastern adventurers had brought them with them as they came to hunt and often left them behind.
“I do not really know, Elanore. The womenfolk say that they go deeper into the woods and feel ill-equipped without them. I suppose even wolves and bears would be easier to manage with such weapons. Perhaps Edmund might know. Perhaps he would tell you.”
The girl’s face fell slightly. “I don’t think so. We argued today, grandmother. I don’t think we’ve ever argued before. He tried to smooth things over, as did I, but I’m afraid that there’s something wrong with things now. We’re strangers now.”
Her grandmother laughed, the sound ringing like silver cathedral bells, long and loud, until Elanore’s face turned as scarlet as the dress she wore. “Oh!” Mrs. Winchester observed her poor dear’s embarrassment. “I do not mean to make fun of you, but your situation makes me feel like a young woman again. And I must tell you,” she began to compose herself. “I know you both well enough to tell you that you and he have not changed much at all!”
The troubled look did not leave Elanore’s face. “Then why is it so horribly awkward?”
Adele wiped her eyes, finding her granddaughter’s innocence rather refreshing. “He’s at an age where he’s beginning to think about the future and finding a pretty lass may be part of it. Edmund’s family is after him to settle down. Your name has come up several times.”
As Elanore considered the words and reflected on her behavior throughout the day towards Edmund, she was deeply mortified. “Do you mean to say that he and I—” her voice trailed off. Her face paled as she recalled how familiar she had been with him. “But they have not seen me in years! And have you not told them that a healer does not stay in one place?”
“Oh many times,” the older woman sighed. “And he knows that as well. But I do wish you’d not think about that. Edmund isn’t as homebound as people think. And you know I am very fond of him. He’s a good young man. And he is handsome. And kind. And–”
“Grandmother!” Elanore saw very well what her grandmother’s designs were. “You wish for me to stay here, I believe. But mama wishes for me to fatten you up and take you back to her so we may settle together back home.”
The woman’s eyes twinkled. “Everyone must want for something. And you, Elanore. What do you want?”
The girl straightened up, her face suddenly unreadable lost in the myriad of possibilities open to her. She gave a small shake of her head and smiled. “It’s too soon to know. The answers will come in time.” Elanore stood up. “For now, I will try to live as fully as I can until those answers point themselves out to me.”
Cheerfully, the young lady returned to finishing the evening meal. But her grandmother rocked her chair, watching the girl through half-shut eyes and thinking.
Elanore’s words and way of speaking confirmed to the old woman that the girl did not have her mother’s straightforward view of the world or her temperament. In spite of how much they looked and sounded alike, there was a strength and assuredness to Elanore that her mother never had.