He knew that Selva would eventually turn the tables upon him.
Wolfram had not known, however, it would happen so quickly.
She woke him the morning of their second day together with an announcement. She declared herself quite done with the study and handed him his robe. Before he could growl at her, she had taken him firmly in hand and dragged him behind her.
Somehow he slumbered his way through his morning bath with only Hastings to protect him from flying objects thrown at him by his wife. Hastings smiled, pleased to see his master and mistress so lively.
Selva delighted in tormenting him with things that made him uncomfortable. After dining in the great hall with a startled group of his cousins, he was forced to tolerate a visit to the children in the nursery where he was persuaded to tell an elven story of some sort. He had felt foolish in doing so, for none of the wolves or the humans had much exposure to either elves or tales. But at the conclusion of his stiffly delivered tale, the children clapped their hands and gathered around him, shyly offering him a wreath of paper flowers they had strung together that morning.
He was required to leave it upon his head in case the children would be offended by its removal. Wolfram shot his wife a baleful glare but the crown did stay in place, traveling outside with him when Selva insisted they must greet the lions. Predictably, they all promptly asked an excessive number of questions about the ornament on his head and then demanded crowns of their own. Several thought to serenade him with song, thinking this would convince him to honor their wishes. He grimaced as he endured a musical performance of questionable integrity until Selva, herself a little overwhelmed by the noise they made, took him back inside.
They wandered through the more lived-in parts of the estate, past familiar halls and rooms towards the older part of the home. For a while, he thought they might be heading towards the study. Before he could rejoice, she instead took a different turn and followed the wooden floors until they changed over to stone and dirt.
He realized, then, where they were. She had led him to the older part of estate where his grandfather and uncles had lived long ago.
She looked almost apologetic as she looked up into his face. Her eyes silently asked him if it would be alright to venture this way.
He nodded tightly and swallowed, a part of him uneasy about venturing into what he considered to be almost sacred ground.
They moved very slowly in this space. She misunderstood his pauses — thinking him overwhelmed by some emotion. Rather, he was watching the shadows that flickered in the periphery of his sight.
Since the time of the eclipse, many things had changed. He felt guilty for not having come back this way to see how it had fared.
As a precaution, he felt for the magic underneath his feet, his senses reaching out and checking their surroundings. He wanted to be certain that nothing dark or shadowy lingered here. But he felt nothing but warmth and light.
Her fingers tightened their grip, betraying her excitement as she led him down the path. He could not imagine why she cared so much about this dusty place. She knew what this was for she had discovered this place on her own when she was first a visitor to this estate.
He observed her, walking without uncertainty or hesitation. She walked as if there would be no cobweb or obstacle barring their way.
Again his suspicions grew. He then knew she had been here recently. “Where is it you’re taking me?”
His question remained suspended in the air, unanswered while his wife turned about. “It’s a surprise you’ll like,” she said, playfully swinging their clasped hands back and forth between them.
He should have demanded a guarantee of that but his attention drifted, caught up in a cool breeze that floated down the passage. He sniffed the air, smelling something mysterious and unusual lurking around the corner. He quickened his pace slightly, wondering what waited for them.
When they did round that corner, he froze into place.
He could only move his eyes. They wandered up and around, trying to trace out the remains of what had once been part of his mother’s old kitchen. A jungle of plants had overtaken it — turning that once warm kitchen into a temporary hothouse.
He gaped, aware that he had neglected this space far too long. Here magic did not lurk and hide from those who feared it. Instead it thrived without apology.
Wolfram pushed a large frond of a fern out of his face. He thought to demand answers from his mischievous wife as to how this garden had come to arrive here . But she had already waddled towards a shabby set of pots resting on what might have once been a table. Her lovely hands were already questing through layers of soil in order to unearth some prize that only she knew was hidden there.
“Potato,” she declared happily as she proudly held up some misshapen thing. She repeated this several times before she had the sense to find a basket.
Wolfram retreated to a makeshift bench in order to better observe his wife in action. He tapped his fingers upon the surface of his seat while he tried to find some explanation for this newest surprise. He knew very well she had already appropriated several small corners for her plants throughout the estate. But this was no mere corner.
She came back his way to deposit a basket full of fruit and vegetables on his bench. It had never occurred to him that this odd place might be the source of many of the fresh ingredients in the kitchen. “Selva,” he cleared his throat.
“Just a bit more,” she said happily.
He watched as she wandered off lightly — a fairy who seemed unaware of her peril as she stopped to inspect small flowers on a tree. She hummed to herself, evidently enjoying herself.
He was not sure if could say the same. He recognized the hand of magic but would not be quick to assume that this had been solely her doing. She would not have flaunted this place in his face if that was so.
She turned her head his way and smiled. “This is far better than I had hoped.”
He put aside that basket and drew closer to his wife, wanting answers. He filled in the space next to Selva, his arm reaching out to support her as she rested her own hands on her protruding stomach. “I am not a mind reader,” he reminded her. “How is this possible?”
She tilted her head. “Oh?” she teased him. “Well, if only you studied as hard as Elanore did. She’s not a mindreader but she gets her point across quite well.”
“Selva,” he warned her. “Are you saying this is Elanore’s doing? All of this?”
She blinked, confused by the hint of anger in his voice. “She brought the seeds in here and planted them. She would come see this little sapling every day during our lessons and talk to it.”
He realized she spoke of the tree. Moreover, an apple tree — something he thought particular to Miss Redley. “You don’t to mean imply that she planted it herself that recently!”
“I know!” Selva’s eyes danced in delight as her fingers reached for the budding flowers. “It’s such a lovely and clever tree to be able to do this much. We will have to find it a new place outside soon and coax it to give us some apples.”
He frowned at this unnatural thought. “This is like your magic, isn’t it?”
Selva furrowed her brow and stared vaguely off into the distance. “I think it’s not unexpected for a student to be mistaken for her teacher in some respects but no, I would not classify Elanore as merely an imitator. It limits her growth, my lord. You must never say that to her face.”
He sighed, not all that interested in a debate on magic. Selva had been born into it and believed it a mysterious almost unknowable concept. For him, who had been introduced to it late in his life, it had more the flavor of something to be learned and studied.
He studied his wife who was still dreamily gazing at the flowering tree. He cleared his throat, not quite as enthusiastic as she at the idea of a magic garden.The idea that his home was being overtaken by a jungle unsettled him. “Selva, as for the rest of this… greenery. I know you miss the woods but–”
“I did not do this, my lord,” she said carefully. “You said your home was my home, didn’t you? I think the house took your statements quite literally. Of course,” she laughed. “I might have said this place would be more homey if it had more plants. And you agreed with me!”
“And now you would have it that I did this?”
“Perhaps it woke up one day just like the lions did and decided for you that you needed a green sanctuary for your wife.” Selva swept his hand up with her fingers, caught up in some daydream of her own. “How wonderful. This house alive just like those lions. And it helping us feed so many.”
He sighed at her unboundless hope and her odd ideas. “Selva. I think you have been working too much. Perhaps we should sit for another meal.”
She smiled absently, her thoughts elsewhere. “No I want to get some fruit for Hastings. He has a cold and said something about a lemon tea. I think there’s another basket hidden by the wall.”
He had known she would resist his attempts to make her sit. But invoking the name of Hastings forced him to relent. “Wait here,” he said sternly.
Wolfram moved quickly about the twists and turns of the garden. He still knew these spaces — still remembered crawling about here with his grandfather and uncles. He expertly skirted the weathered edges of counters and hopped lightly over the small stones that sometimes interrupted the floors near the kitchen.
His feet led him to that old closet where his family had once dried herbs and flowers. Baskets still sat there outside the half-door.
He reached down to retrieve the two that he thought looked the most sturdy. When he stood, a ray of sun came out from behind the clouds and struck the windows. The light set aflame spots of dust lazily floating about the dusty interior of the flower room. The shadows flickered and danced.
Wolfram blinked and then saw them swirl about. Beyond them, he saw a dark-haired woman standing on her toes trying to put something on that top wooden shelf.
He leaned forward against the half-door, willing himself not to cry out at what was certainly a trick of the mind. But when he looked up, the flickering shadow was still there. Wolfram felt a strange sensation as she smiled at him. She opened her mouth when the sun disappeared behind a cloud and she, too, faded away.
How long he stood there he did not know, until the sound of rustling skirts shook him out of his daze.
“My lord?” Selva was calling to him. She moved slowly in his direction, calling him every so often. “My lord, are you alright?”
When she found him, she forgot to be coy or aloof. Her face openly betrayed her concern.
It was a sight that normally would have pleased him. Instead he answered her a bit too matter-of-fact. “I think I’m unwell and seeing things.”
She wiped her hands upon her skirts before she touched his face. “No,” she reassured both him and herself. “You don’t feel feverish. Perhaps it’s all this sun”
“No,” he echoed her firmly, unwilling for her to make excuses for him. “I’m afraid I’ve gone mad. I saw my mother inside that flower room.”