That smile drew the attention of the castle’s lord.
Wolfram sat in a chair out of his cousin Tala’s way as she administered to his wife.
While the women chatted amiably, he fiddled with his cane. He passed the silver wolf head back and forth between his hands as he watched the young man. He narrowed his eyes, waiting to see if Edmund’s thoughts might reveal themselves.
Edmund, however, did not do more than offer his greetings and a short apology for interrupting the women at work. To the Count’s consternation, he then deprived the lord of his opportunity for further study when he wandered off to the window.
The wolf’s eyes returned to the women, giggling over something that Miss Redley had brought to them to see. His better half told him to keep one stern eye fixed there watching over his wife. However, the afternoon sun drew his attention elsewhere.
A stream of light danced through the window, playing tricks upon the old wolf’s eyes. The golden hair on the youth’s head shone like a crown upon a king.
And he heard the song of the lions, warbling this time underneath the window. The sound was a chaotic mass of rhymes and stories.
Wolfram stood and followed where magic would direct him. He put his cane aside for the moment and went to secure the window. The corner of his mouth turned down at finding it shut.
He settled his palms upon the window sill and looked down at the dozens of raised heads, peering back at him. “They are persistent,” he stated drily.
“Indeed.” Edmund’s grey eyes did not waver as they greeted the lord. In wolf years, Edmund was still but a child — the same age that Wolfram was when he first left his parents’ side. But the eyes that looked back at him were not young.
If Miss Redley was the ghost of his mother, Edmond Ormond was certainly a striking likeness of his father with one exception — his coloring and the slight twinkle in his eyes. He fiddled with the scarf wrapped loosely around his neck. “They are excited. Your earlier visit gave them great joy. The Countess’ condition greatly cheered them .”
Wolfram took a step back from the window. His hand slipped into his pocket and fingered the thimble that rested there. “Her condition?”
The expression he made must have been inappropriate. The young man blinked and then shook his head. “I meant they were pleased to see her so happy and healthy. You as well. They always ask how the two of you look.”
The Count did not understand their obsession with him nor why the young man constantly reminded him of it. “I have many years before they need to worry over my health.”
Edmund’s shoulders rose for the moment and then he sighed. His gaze slipped back outside before he spoke again. “It is hard for them to forget what happened to you during the eclipse. And now with so many more lives dependent on your strength… they cannot help themselves. They said that the future of this place lies in those who live here.”
Wolfram continued to finger the thimble in his pocket. Selva had implied a similar connection between his welfare and the peculiar behavior of this place. He looked at the youth and wondered if he, too, believed in such an idea. “Very well. You and my wife look upon me every day. What do you think?”
Edmund offered him a tight smile. “I do not see what she sees. The world in her eyes is a far more mysterious place — full of threads and lights and delightful things. But I believe in the smile on her face and on those around you.” His attention drifted back towards the lions, still bellowing, below them. “As long as I see these things, I won’t give up believing that somewhere inside you is a good man.”
Behind him the women now settling into something that sounded like tea. He stiffened as he heard them whispering his name. In spite of the temptation to do so, he did not turn around. He did not want to be dragged into whatever it was they were doing.
So Wolfram closed his eyes and instead allowed himself to be momentarily pulled along by this young man’s belief. But he did not spend long dwelling on such flagrant optimism. It was an outrageous idea given his past.
The Count opened his eyes and studied this boy. He could not help but wonder if the children Selva now carried would share that same unreasonable belief that he could change so much. He worried as well as he thought of the two children in his wife’s womb. Would they, too, be golden children — as steady and noble — as this one? And would they suffer disappointment as they learned how cruel this world truly was?
With an uncharacteristic mildness, Wolfram corrected his would-be son. “I am not a man. I’m a wolf who aspires not to be good but fair.”
“Ah. A wolf,” Edmund mused aloud at Wolfram’s rejection of his human side. He crossed his arms over his chest. “I do wonder what that means when you say things like that.”
The Count did not respond, offering him only a cool look.
Edmund spoke again and filled in the silence with an observation of his own. “Wolves make good fathers, I’ve been told.”
The Count caught the strange, almost melancholy inflection in Edmund’s voice. He gave Edmund a sharp look, wondering if he meant to bring up his parentage now of all times. “It is generally true. Very few of us do end up with children. And those that do know the value of offspring.”
Edmund ventured another question. “Your father had only one son?”
The thimble moved in Wolfram’s pocket. “My mother could not bear him more than one child. Even then, he provided well for her and never took another mate. He was fair as the humans like to say. And he was even fairer to the humans we lived among for a short time.” Wolfram frowned and corrected himself. “He was more than fair.” His father had been terrifying capable as a hunter. His skill had pulled the humans out of starvation more than one season. And yet they did not treat him with the same respect he had given them.
Edmund sat on the sill and glanced the lord’s way. “Is that why you are reluctant to deal with humans?”
Wolfram felt a flicker of irritation at how easily his thoughts had been read by the much younger man. “I have no expectation of fairness on their part. We act for mutual self-preservation. Don’t attribute kind motives to me or to any wolf if you wish to survive this world.”
This harsh warning did not offend Edmund like it might his wife. Even so, the young man did not appear convinced by his words.
Wolfram knew that the lions and his wife had greater influence over Edmund. He knew they put great trust in her insights.
“I don’t think I understand you when you talk about wolves. But I would like to hear more about your father.” The young man looked down at the floor for a moment. “I mean… if you would be willing to tell me. I don’t want to ask if it’s too much.”
Wolfram blinked, taken aback by the quiet concession being offered to him. He threw a glance in his wife’s direction, wondering if she had influenced this evolution in Edmund’s attitude. “Perhaps when the patient doesn’t require so much of your time.”
The young man bestowed another smile upon him. Behind Edmund, the lions continued to pace under the window. They had renewed their shouting and singing.
They both winced at the noise.
Edmund stood up and moved out of their sight.
Wolfram did the same, taking the opportunity to pick up his cane. He was feeling uneasy again. The behavior of others towards him deeply puzzled him. He returned the conversation to a safer topic — to business. “And how does the halfling fare?”
The young man ran his fingers through his hair. “I have learned little about him. He rarely is awake and when he is, he is in pain. Elanore is not sure we should wait too long. The guild men as well.”
The Count knit his brows together as he heard the uncertainty in Edmund’s voice. It would seem that the outside world weighed heavily upon the hunter’s shoulders.
Wolfram knew the guildleader had an agenda of his own and wished to secure his own compound as soon as possible. He suspected that Wilhelm was putting enormous pressure on everyone in his sphere of influence in an attempt to control something in this strange post-eclipse environment.
But they were being foolish. Wolfram did not feel any remorse as he put the young man in his place. “Their timetables do not concern me. Halflings simply don’t fall out of the sky every day.” He knew very well the bird’s appearance might have some tie to the strange things going on in the woods as well as inside the town to the south. “Selva and I will resolve things to our mutual satisfaction. Neither magic or negotiations can be rushed. You must endure another day.”
The young man had no reason to listen to such a demand. The Count was not his master nor his father in any sense of the word. But Edmund did not reject his council outright he turned back to the window. Instead he appeared to think further before he finally spoke. “Is it truly wise to think you can tell magic what to do?”
Outside, the caterwauls had increased in both noise and energy. The lions had spotted Edmund’s fair head at the window.
Wolfram shrugged. “If by magic, you mean the lions. Then certainly. I will tell them and their magic what to do.”
Edmund sighed. “But listen to their music.”
The Count did not really care to spend time sorting through the meaning of their overwrought melodies. But he humored Edmund and stood at the window.
The young man blinked. “They are singing that your children will come before the fortnight ends.”