He expected her to argue with him or tease him in response.
Instead, her fingers explored his troubled face. She did not tremble or waver. Nor did she draw back in fear or disillusionment at his confession. “My lord,” she spoke softly as she leaned against his chest. “I have seen your madness. Even then did I not comfort you? Did I not face you and tame you? I do not fear you and your so-called madness. I can fight this madness for you even if you cannot.”
He glanced at her face, wondering at this contradiction between her words and her gentle behavior. He lowered his mouth to hers threatening to kiss her before abruptly turning his head to whisper in her ear. “So you would beat me, would you?”
Her eyelashes fluttered in surprise at the unexpected humor on his part. She was slow to respond but eventually jabbed her finger into his abdomen. “Lock you into your room, perhaps. Throw things at you, maybe. But beat you?” She jabbed again. “Never. Our children must learn better manners than either of us possess.”
His lips curled up into the semblance of a smile. He valued her for her courage and patience. But it was her attempts at sarcastic humor that amused him. “I shall remind you of such a promise should you forget.”
With her husband comforted, Selva’s attention shifted back to the carved-out room in their immediately vicinity. “Why does the idea of seeing your mother in her storage room surprise you? You say you think it insane but for what reason? Did no other explanation occur to you other than it being a hallucination?
He felt distinctly uncomfortable with the direction of the topic. “I do not believe in ghosts.”
Her hand went to her hip. “You are such an odd one, blaming yourself before sorting through the other options. How did you not know it wasn’t an illusion or projection?”
“From where? From whom?” Wolfram interrupted. “Unless my wife plays tricks on me.”
Selva tapped her foot upon the ground. She was not amused by that statement. “There is no fun in playing tricks upon a man who has no taste for them. I meant that it could be your doing. Perhaps this place took your own wishes into consideration.”
He answered her sharply. “That explanation most certainly does not assure me.”
He set his jaw, prepared for her to continue the argument. Instead, she abandoned him for the moment and peered inside his mother’s little workroom. She horrified him when she shook open the door and wandered inside the small space. “It is so very warm,” she concluded as she turned around to address him.
“She did say the sun heated the stones.”
“I meant that the memories here feel warm.” Her fingers explored the surfaces in the room. “She was very happy, wasn’t she? And you as well?”
He begrudgingly nodded from his position, safely outside the room.
She cast an enticing look his way. “Will you not come here, my lord? I should like your arm for support.”
The back of his throat was suddenly dry. He swallowed as he gazed upon his charming wife, torn between that feeling of uncertainty and another conflicting need to be there beside her. In any other instance, he would have quickly wiped that coy look off her face. However, he could only feel uneasy as he stepped forward into the darkened room.
She sighed as she reached for his arm which he forgot to offer. “I do not think there are any such ghosts here, foolish wolf.”
He did not respond to her mild insult. Instead, his eyes explored the space for himself.
“I admit that I have looked in here more than once,” Selva said conversationally as she ran the fingers of her free hand along the cupboards in front of her. “I wanted to tidy this place but Hastings said not to do so.”
She cast her eyes his way, as if to see if he might explain why.
And he realized that he had no real reason to object. It was not as if anything had been left behind. For the most part, the cupboards were empty of seeds and herbs. There was nothing remaining except dust.
He found his voice again. “It does not bother me if you do.”
Immediately she attacked a shelf, intent on using the sleeve of her gown to clean it. Had he not swiftly removed a handkerchief from the breast pocket of his jacket, she would have willingly ruined her dress with many years’ worth of dust and dirt.
She was quick and soon had nothing save the parts she could not reach.
“Allow me.” He took the cloth from her hand and guided her to the small bench underneath the window.
Wolfram found a crate to stand on as he reached for the higher shelves. He was glad for his gloves as he pushed the cloth around. His mind absently wandered, recalling that upon more than one occasion, his father had made him do something similar when his mother was not feeling all that well.
He worked for less than a minute before a rolling sound caught his attention.
The lighting was not ideal but he looked towards the back of the cupboard, catching a small twinkling object among the other debris. He plucked it off the shelf and then stepped off the crate to look at it in better light.
Selva left her seat to see what he had discovered. She crowded against him to peer into his dusty glove. “Oh,” she smiled. “A thimble.”
He turned it over in his hand, recalling how often he used to play with these in spite of his mother’s wishes he not do so. He was always losing them everywhere.
His mother had forgotten that she had once told him they were often used by fairies as hats or cups. He thought to use them to capture some of the small tiny elves that his grandfather insisted had taken up in the dusty corners of the home.
His mother’s stories hinted at her exotic upbringing — full of mysteries and far off places. His father and uncles were so ordinary compared to her — even his grandfather had said so.
Wolfram gripped the thimble in his fingers, ashamed to admit such foolish fancies to his wife. “It could only be hers.”
To his consternation, water dripped onto his cheeks. Automatically he swabbed at his face with the handkerchief, only to find himself sneezing at the mouthful of dust he had inhaled.
Selva saw his near panic and the tears leaking from his eyes. Then she did the only reasonable thing she could think of. She offered him her sleeve.
He made a mess of it, ensuring that one of the servants would be later tied up trying to clean their mistress’ gown. Wolfram wheezed, simultaneously coughing and laughing at his folly. They were a foolish pair with all this talk of magic and without any apparent common sense. “Stop,” he told his wife as he pushed the sleeve aside.
She did not laugh with him. Her brow crinkled as she fixed a look upon his still wet face. “Are you alright?”
He realized his face was still damp. “I am sorry. For my weakness.”
She continued to use that sleeve to swipe at his cheek. “Why do you apologize to me? You have simply found another piece of your heart, my lord.”
He wondered at that dull ache within him — that emptiness. Sadness. Anger. And he thought about what she said. “Is that what this is?”
“Yes, my lord.”
He made a face, discontent with her diagnosis.
She misunderstood and tried to shift to support him but he waved her hand away and quickly placed the thimble in his own pocket. He wrapped up all these unwanted feelings inside himself. It took several minutes, however, before his breathing returned to normal. Then he spoke in a cool, dry monotone. “Woman, take the basket. We have more things to do.”
Selva was wise and did not argue. She took the basket in hand and waited for him to close the closet door firmly behind them. Then she led him towards a patch of dirt overgrown with vegetables.
He asked her what to pick and she teased him, asking him how he could have come this far in life without knowing anything about crops.
All the while he worked he also observed the garden, watching the way the plants’ leaves and vines gently swayed according to some unseen wind.
He knew magic flowed through this garden just as it stirred underneath the earth. And he knew the changes they wrought were inescapable.
* * *
The thimble was not far from Wolfram’s mind as he and his wife continued about their day. The small item weighed heavily in his pocket and filled his thoughts with memories.
The ghost of his mother found him again in Lady Tala’s chambers. This time it was not a shadow or trick of magic. Rather, it was Elanore Redley who interrupted the expectant parents in the middle of an unplanned call to Wolfram’s cousin .
Where Elanore tarried, Edmund was not often far behind. Unlike Miss Redley, he was not surprised to discover the Count and Countess in Tala’s quarters. Instead, when the young man spied Selva his mouth quirked into a knowing smile.