The bird’s words were drowned out by the sound of roaring.
Inside this makeshift infirmary, Edmund found himself unsteady as the ground vibrated under the sudden movement of several large stone lions close by. Something had stirred their anger.
The young man spoke softly, careful not to come across as demanding or eager. He did not wish to let the opportunity to learn what he was slip through his fingers. “Would she welcome a wolf?”
The owl’s head turned sideways, listening to his surroundings. For a moment Edmund feared that Sova would tease him just as the others had — telling him nothing conclusive.
Edmund’s fist closed at his side and he repeated himself. “I have been told that I am a wolf.”
The owl’s resulting cry resembled amusement. “Wolf?”
The young man nodded.
“Wolf?!” He cried aloud again, this time sounding mortified. The owl’s head bobbed around in circles. “What possible reason could make you believe that?”
“It is a thought that someone placed in my head,” Edmund stated, suddenly uncomfortable. He did not know whether to feel foolish or lost. He felt himself slowly slumping in his chair. “My eyes, maybe.”
“It is true you have those strange piercing eyes that many wolves have– but it is not so simple as that. Elves and humans also share those traits. Surely there’s more than that? Like an overpowering desire to hunt animals? Or a need for socialization? Or better yet, being affected by the phases of the moons?”
Edmund reached back into what few conversations he had with Count Wolfram and found very little evidence he could supply this halfling to support this idea. Eventually he inclined his head, admitting he had nothing.
Sova’s wing pointed at the floor. “Well short of changing into a wolf, there really is no proof. I’d say someone has been filling your head with wishful thinking and manipulating your loyalties.“
He wasn’t sure whether to be relieved or not by the halfling’s disbelief. Edmund took a deep breath. To his own surprise, he found himself defending Count Wolfram. “I think he was sincere. Nor do I think he is alone in his belief. The lions have said I am not like the other humans.” He frowned slightly, realizing they had not specifically stated what he was. Edmund had to admit he had allowed himself to be swayed by the wolf’s poor logic. “While the wolf’s reasoning was weak, I admit I felt it to be possible.”
“A wolf? Interesting.” Sova fluttered his one good wing. “We see what we want to see, sometimes,” is how the owl responded. “In your case, other creatures could feel kinship with you even if you are not their kind. Those from the house of the unicorn could bring others to heel. Influence is one part of your inborn gifts.”
“The unicorn.” The young man could only blink as a strange image of a horse came to mind.
“Now that is an underwhelming reaction! Surely you prefer that to being from the house of wolves?”
Edmund’s brow furrowed at the joke. “I had hoped for something more… understandable. An elf, perhaps.”
“HA!” cried the owl, molting yet another few feathers. “They are not very exciting. Perhaps they might be a great deal more popular with women because of their pretty faces. But other than a longer life they’re not imbued with such useful gifts! They aren’t special in the sense that they’re more able to change shapes like me or these wolves of yours. They need magic to become interesting!”
The young hunter was not swayed by these assurances. Instead, he covered his face with his hands.
Oblivious to Edmund’s distress, the owl chirped to himself. “No, as soon as I saw you I suspected you a unicorn! Your eyes aren’t the right color for it but if you’re not a pureblood that explains it!”
A storm of grain rained from the ceiling. The owl hooted, scolding the unseen gnomes for their unwelcome interruption. Once the grain had been cleared away, Sova turned his head back around to look at Edmund. “They agree.”
Edmund straightened up, trying to understand what this revelation meant to him. He felt annoyed and dissatisfied by the answers the owl had provided. Telling Elanore that he was essentially descended from a horse was not exactly something to look forward to. “If you are correct, why has everyone thus far not wanted to tell me? When I would press for information, they would act like it was too dangerous to know.”
“Dangerous?” The owl froze, his eyes not blinking while he accessed his own thoughts.
Edmund waited, ignoring the sound of the lions pacing outside.
“There are so many stories to think through. Ah!” the owl straightened up. “Yes, humans like hunting so many things. I do believe humans used to hunt for your kind. They would be silly not to, now that I think about it. There are so many things said about the use of unicorns that they probably couldn’t help themselves. If the unicorns hadn’t learned to change and fool them, I suppose they might have been chased or hunted out of existence.”
Edmund blanched, his horror obvious.
The obtuse owl soon realized he had said too much and began to mutter “oh dear,” over and over before he laughed nervously. “You really should forget we had this conversation! Just a few bad stories here and there!”
Edmund debated on the wisdom of continuing to seek out the advice from one so careless with his words. But something compelled him to press for more information, as nauseating as it might be. “What threat is there? Were these unicorns similarly despised?”
“Despised is hardly the right word. Coveted. Treasured. It depended on the eye of the beholder. A great many beliefs exist about unicorns and as they became halflings, the rumors about their powers persisted. There is and always was magic about them but the nature of their gifts were very unique.” The owl’s eyes brightened as they fell back upon Edmund. “They could see things others did not. For this clairvoyance they were often sought after by scholars and kings. It became almost necessary for them to avoid staying in one place too long unless they wished to be forced into slavery.”
He felt uncomfortable under the owl’s scrutiny. He somehow knew the bird was enthusiastically assessing him to see if he, too, might possess such fabled gifts. “What a curious idea,” Edmund spoke carefully. “It sounds rather fanciful, I admit. But I do thank you for telling me so plainly, Sova. I am honored by your offer on behalf of your queen.”
“You must consider it! You should leave this place– for it is too close to men who dabble in evil things. The wolves will not be able to protect you should the humans discover what you are. Worse, those you love would be used against you.“
Edmund narrowed his eyes, wondering if this might be true.
But outside the sound of steps warned him to speak no more of this topic. He listened as did he owl, trying to guess who approached. From their weight and quickness, Edmund knew who was coming before the lions outside announced her presence.
The latch on the door clicked and a fair face peered around the door. Elanore’s initial expression of concern resolved into a smile once she saw the owl awake and alert. “Hullo,” she said as she closed the door behind her. “So Mister Owl has awoken, has he?”
If Sova was offended by the use of such a title, he did not correct the new guest. His feathers puffed up before he tilted his head and crooned, “Hello, gentle lady.”
A pang of jealousy arced through Edmund as the owl’s attention shifted wholly to the advancing young woman. He cleared his throat. “Sova, this is Elanore. We are engaged.”
The bird’s head flicked in the direction of Edmund again, the sharp eyes searching the young man’s face before slipping back towards the young woman in the room.
Elanore, unaware of the owl’s curiosity or her fiancee’s discomfort, continued to carry on with conversation while she straightened out several items resting on a side table. “I am the one helping prepare your medicines.”
After she finished her task, she passed by Edmund. Her fingers brushed along Edmund’s shoulder in a familiar manner. She paused and smiled at Edmund, waiting for his reassurance that it would be safe to speak to the patient.
He nodded, thus releasing Elanore to her bedside duties.
She curtsied once before she spoke to the patient. “Do you feel pain, Sova? If so, I could make something to tide you over until those in charge of your care return.”
“No, miss,” the owl said very politely. “I do feel pain but prefer to have my thoughts clear as I converse with such pleasant company.”
She was too focused on studying her patient to note his flirtatious compliment. Instead, she picked up the bowl that had contained water and cheerfully returned to the pitcher to fill it. “I am glad you found Edmund so helpful! Are you hungry or thirsty?”
The bird turned his full attention back towards the woman, his pupils rather large as he watched her. “You are very kind. I have had my fill of mice and water, thank you.”
And as Sova continued to trill his compliments towards a clueless Elanore, Edmund frowned.