His fingers stroked the cover of the book while he sifted through ideas and words. He knew very well that what he said could be perceived as manipulation as opposed to negotiation. But he gambled. “I shall let you read it yourself should you promise to give me your undivided attention over the next three days.”
Her eyebrows knit together. Whether she was puzzled or irritated, he did not know.
Wolfram gambled further, softly shading his words with promise. “I desire your companionship.”
Her eyes searched him for hidden motives and desires. Her shoulders relaxed slightly. “Is that all? I thought you would ask for more. Surely the others have requested I stop doing some other troublesome deed.”
He knew he deserved that question. He was not known for being one to reveal his intentions. Wolfram proceeded carefully. “It is true that your name has come up in several conversations. But when the others mention you, it is usually is to say that I do not take enough care of you.”
Her smile spread as she touched the corner of his mouth with her finger. “Oh, are you having trouble with Edmund again?”
His mouth twitched involuntarily.
She laughed again, a throaty sound that distracted him. “He does look out for me.”
Wolfram cleared his throat. “He has made it clear that he wishes your life here be easier.” But he also had to admit that Edmund was not alone. “The lions have spoken as well. They intimated again that my power depends on our situation. I cannot become stronger without you.
She opened her mouth as to speak and then abruptly closed it.
He knew she wanted to say something. “Go ahead, tell me what you think that means. I will not become offended.”
Selva did not look entirely convinced that would not be possible. But she relented. “I will but only if you help me sit up.”
With his help she repositioned herself. After a few attempts, she ended up leaning against his side such that her head rested near his shoulder.
Her body was warm and soft against his. Wolfram found a certain comfort with her there and was pleased she had chosen that place for herself.
She yawned once, evidently tired from this morning’s exertions. “Do you know how hard we are for them to understand? The lions see Elanore and Edmund and rarely any discord between them. Then there is us.”
He knew what she meant to imply. There was nothing simple about their relationship — nothing easy or straightforward.
Selva laced her fingers through his and continued. “You and I independently have magic that is much stronger than theirs. It would stand to reason that you and I should have been able to summon and wake the lions if power alone was required. But the lions hinted that there must be at least two standing together to fully unlock the estate’s deeper magic.” She spoke quietly, as if she was uncertain of how he might respond to the criticism implied in their statements. “They wanted a connection. In contrast to Edmund and Elanore, what we had to offer then was very much lacking.”
In truth, he was not offended or surprised by this statement. He turned over this concept in his mind and wondered how precise and how particular this kind of magic might be.
Her golden eyes turned his way waiting for the question she knew would come.
He tilted his head, sorting through these odd quirks of elven magic. “Should I treat you as he does his young lady?”
Selva reached over with her free hand and tucked a strand of hair behind his ear. She smiled at him as she gently shook her head. “We are not the same people as they are. As long as we are talking or fighting or sleeping together, I am content. It’s your absence or your withdrawal that I cannot bear.”
Twice she had told him this in different ways. He looked deep into her eyes, hearing and understanding. “Then I suppose we shall talk, fight, and sleep together for three days in great abundance.”
She tightened her hold on his arm,unwilling to make light of the situation. “I will share with you what I believe helps you use magic better. But when the three days have lapsed, I do not wish to simply be told about the book. I wish to amend it with you.”
He started, turning his head in her direction at the boldness of her request. He did not say no, but he did not say yes. “This duty was passed to me to carry out.”
She did not falter, did not let him tear his gaze away. “Your grandfather did not say you had to carry it alone, did he? You are apt to neglect it. I think he would not like that.”
He had known when she first arrived at the estate and discovered the book that it awed her. He knew this feeling came from her belief that fate twisted itself up in stories. She found his attitude towards his grandfather’s book to be cavalier and disrespectful.
He saw the challenge in her eyes. “He did not,” he admitted. “But why do you insist on this now?”
She did not hold back — for she was now his wife, his helpmate and his equal. Selva gazed at the dancing flames in the fireplace. “I do not think it was his intent to simply have a nice book to read. I think there’s something to be said about truth in that Book of Tales. At the very least, to have another true story in that book would increase its value to our children. And to have something to help them understand us would be a gift that only we could give.”
Her statement was remarkably sentimental but wise. He knew he agreed but masochistically teased her. “And what if I said that I preferred to amend it alone?”
She tossed her hair over her shoulder. She was not fooled. “I think I shall start writing my own story. I shall write a tale about a messy wolf whose food was always burnt and clothes remained unmended.”
“Hmph.” He smirked. “I suppose this messy wolf also would suffer from having books thrown at him. Or be locked out of his own room?”
“Yes,” she answered with a lift of her chin.
He knew very well she was capable of punishing him in her own way if he displeased her.
“The messy wolf would prefer to sleep in his own bed.” He chuckled as he reached out to touch her cheek. “As long as we tell no one what we are doing, I will accept your conditions.”
“I do enjoy it when we both get our way,” she covered her laughter with her mouth. “But why three days? There will be many discussions to be had among the townspeople. Do you intend that we miss them?”
“There is nothing we can say to them now. ” He began to idly toy with her hair. “They have their lives they want to lead– and the dangers will be forgotten as the days grow longer. If my cousins’ accounts cannot persuade them then no one can.”
She did not look pleased by this, so he offered her a small compromise. “I will come with you should you wish to speak to them. As for the conditions I set, the three days is simply to allow the patient some time. And it will allow me time to rest.”
“Oh.” She gave him a suspicious look as his hand traveled down to the small of her back. “So who better to line your bed with than your wife.”
He frowned at her openly. “Who else would I ask? You know I am not the sort of creature who simply takes anyone to his bed.”
He enjoyed studying the red flush to her skin underneath her tall, white collar. She colored beautifully when embarrassed or indignant.
But Selva scolded him instead for his apparent lack of knowledge. “If it is magic you intend to use then three days abed will not help.”
Wolfram leaned in and grinned, amused by her flustered state.“True. It is rather boring to lock ourselves up in my room. This place will also suffice. Do you not remember? It was here you removed my mask and here we–”
She turned her head aside. “You are trying to distract me, my lord.”
He leaned in again, his fingers running up her side. “You were so kind that day,” he whispered in her ear. “And too quick for me to stop you.”
“My lord,” she stubbornly ignored his amorous advances. “Had I not removed that mask — you would have kept your hold upon it. It did you no good.”
“It did not,” he admitted. “But it is the past.”
“Yes.” She gave him a crooked smile as her hands wandered to her stomach. “You have come so far, my lord. Perhaps even the great lady herself would approve if she heard of your story.”
She glanced at the portrait again, with something close to fear and reverence.
Wolfram’s fingers began to idly caress her neck, disinterested in the direction of the conversation. “We have plenty of time to discuss this over our next few days.”
“Ah.” She caught on to his impatience with her. But she showed him no sympathy. Her eyes sparkled with mischief as she feigned innocent confusion. “I thought you wished to reminisce.”
His eyes glinted dangerously in her direction. “I do admit that my time with you was among the most pleasant of all my memories. Particularly our first hours here after we became lovers.”
“Hours? You kept me here for days!”
“Exactly three days.” He corrected her.
* * *
Edmund felt a flicker of irritation as he sat inside the small temporary shelter set aside for the care of the mysterious halfling. He had been expressly asked by the Count to spend time in the company of the patient. He had been told to learn as much as he could about this creature — and yet, little could be observed for a creature that rarely woke.
He was not alone in this vigil at the halfling’s bed-side.
However, Elanore’s presence did not make the time pass any more easily. She had little experience with animals and seemed determined to catch up in knowledge to Thomas, Gerald’s protege. She had dragged her stool near the two guild men and took copious notes as they talked over all aspects of animal care.
Her husband-to-be did not share her enthusiasm for the subject. The smallness of the space weighed upon him heavily. But he tried to ignore that sensation. He sat by the bird, counting its feathers several times. He had decided that the owl was mostly brown with hints of gray. He had assessed possible names for such a creature but came to no conclusions.
Edmund had begun to memorize the varying lengths of the feathers on the owl’s wing when the guild men started yet another debate over the best type of wood to use to splint a wing.
His head pounded as the voices became louder and louder, filling up that enclosed space and ruining the silence.
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a feather twitch.
Without hesitation Edmund stood up forcefully, nearly sending his stool toppling in his absence.
The others stared as the young man pointed at the door. His voice strained in anger as he spoke. “You should leave.”
(Incentive: Magic systems and throwbacks)