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 can not 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 Elanore shook out the contents of the pouch. An amber pendant with a gold setting and chain, slipped out into the Elanore’s hand. Upon recognizing the object, she shook her head.
“She insisted,” Elanore moved her hand towards her grandmother. “Grandfather gave it to her 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 long-distant woods. “And did she ever show you what it did?”
“Ah, only once,” Elanore’s thoughts went faraway for a moment, her voice growing even more 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 was quite upset and told me not to say anything.”
“Elanore—” 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 with the hopes that you understand its usefulness and will 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 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 in 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.”
“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 Evelyn’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,” Elanore answered, and then fell silent for a moment.
They sat there for a while, contemplating that last point, until the sound of steam came from the oven. Elanore stood up and ran lightly to the stove to check the stew that was simmering in the boiler. As she stirred it, 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 grandmother watched her granddaughter as she continued her tour of the kitchen and dealing 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. Their guildmaster takes them away quite a bit. And with those new guns they have, they intend to go quite far–”
Elanore’s verbal slip had not gone unnoticed. She had included herself alongside her grandmother when mentioning Edmund’s attentions. Her grandmother poised, ready to ask Elanore more of what she thought about the young man, but Elanore pressed forward.
“Are there dangerous animals that require the use of guns?” Elanore asked softly.
Mrs. Winchester shook her head. Guns were a new commodity in the Northernlands. 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. “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. Her laughter rang like silver cathedral bells, long and loud, until Elanore’s face turned as scarlet as the dress she wore. “Oh,” she 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!”
“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— but— “ she had been too familiar with him! “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 think about that separately. I am so fond of Edmund. He’s a good young man, and–“
“Grandmother,” Elanore saw very well what her grandmother’s designs were. “You wish for me to stay here, I believe. And mama wishes for me to fatten you up and take you back to her and have us all settle together.”
“And you, Elanore. What do you want?”
The girl straightened up, her face suddenly unreadable. Perhaps she was considering the myriad of possibilities open to her. With only a small shake of her head, she answered. “It’s too soon to know. The answers will come in time.” Elanore smiled to herself. “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.
And her grandmother rocked her chair, watching the girl through half-shut eyes. Outwardly, there was a strong resemblance between Elanore and her mother, but inside they were wholly different. Elanore’s way of thinking confirmed to the old woman that the girl did not have her mother’s straightforward view of the world or her temperament.