In her case, neither young man could say no.
So they followed her back inside the kitchens and through a series of twisting paths that spanned several connected buildings.
She did not want others to follow and took them through the less-trafficked parts of the estate. But where they were actually going, she did not hint.
Without warning, she stopped at a wooden panel and pressed her palm against a knot in the wood. A latch clicked and she stepped inside a door.
Edmund followed after her. A frown settled on his face as he discovered they were inside the study that belonged to the lord of the estate. The last time they had come through this room together was not a particularly auspicious occasion. He had pursued her here when she had left him behind in the catacombs that lay underneath the estate. “Should we be here?”
Behind him came Pip, whose eyes widened as he took in the peculiar sight. The Count’s study was not like the other rooms he had likely seen on the estate thus far. The octagonal rotunda confused him.
Elanore sealed the panel before she addressed Edmund’s suspicions. She offered him a smile she hoped did not seem too guilty. “I have his permission, I promise.”
He sighed as she began rifling among the chaos of books and odds and ends. “What exactly are we helping you with? Cleaning out this place?”
“No, silly!” She triumphantly held up a box of matches. “We’re doing an errand for his wife.”
Edmund’s brow wrinkled. Elanore knew if it were not for Pip standing there, he might have attempted to coax her to say more.
But instead, he remained calm as Elanore pressed the box in his hand and then followed it with an unlit lantern. “Then do we go into the caves?”
His voice betrayed worry. Elanore briefly rested her fingers on his arm. “I never go there without permission. Nor will we go somewhere as dark as that today. It will be someplace new and far more pleasant, I think.”
Still, he would not let her slip away so easily. He stayed close by when she moved past the portrait of a fine lady with blue eyes and fireplace, where the opening to the catacombs was cleverly hidden.
He and Pip watched as Elanore continued her way around the room until she stood opposite the handsome woman on the wall. She glanced behind her to confirm her position before she moved a sliding ladder into place.
“What on earth,” Pip blinked as another door began to swing open.
The three of them peered through it towards a dim, dusty tunnel.
Edmund’s lantern thrust forward. “We may need more than one,” he offered as he glanced at both Elanore and Pip. “It is dark enough you might trip.”
Elanore drew back and apologized. Pip’s fear of darkness was well-known. “Will you be alright? You can leave us here– take a right and it will lead you back to our quarters.”
The hunter peered down both passageways — gloomy with the lack of light. “It’s not all that bad.”
She wanted to praise him for his courage but wasn’t sure whether such attention would be welcome. It was Edmund who knew what to do. He retrieved another lantern and turned both over to his companions. “Elanore, please lead. Pip, you stay with her. I’ll bring up the rear.”
And so they made a quiet but lighthearted party as they walked for some time down the passageway that appeared to lead even further away from the Wolfram’s main residential building.
Eventually the unadorned hallway changed over from wood to stone,then to dirt. Here the two young men found something to note. The hunters saw traces of steps that had imprinted themselves on the soil before them.
Edmund cleared his throat. “Elanore are we going back outside?”
“Oh!” Elanore called back, too excited about what was coming to explain what to expect. “No. But it might seem like it. Don’t be worried when you see the greenery.”
Without warning, she ran ahead and through a wooden door-frame. Her shoes tapped out a cheerful sound as they rediscovered a stone-lined floor. She stopped short of a large urn and motioned at the large open space. “This is the Countess’ garden,” she said proudly.
Edmund ducked his head under the door and pushed aside a tall, leafy branch. He quickly attempted to grasp the details of his location. But for a long time he said nothing, lost in thoughts of his own as he studied the cheerful makeshift greenhouse. “Elanore?” His normally soothing voice sounded strained. “Was this hothouse here this entire time?”
Elanore’s fingers drifted towards Edmund’s hand, in spite of the impropriety of doing so with Pip standing there behind him. She was delighted to share such a place with the love of her life. “This building has been here a long time. It had once been a kitchen and dining hall in the Count’s original home when he was very young. It is hidden off from the rest of the estate by a wall.”
Both young men glanced around again.
Elanore misunderstood their silence and left them to wander about while she went to open several small windows. “It’s wonderful, isn’t it? It makes you see him in a different light. I mean, aside from the plants, it’s a happy place.”
“So this is where the vegetables and fruit came from,” Pip concluded. “I had been wondering.”
Edmund’s attention had drifted towards small trees that were angling towards the ceiling. Eventually he came to the small alcove where she fussed with a pot. He studied her until she was done. But he did not step aside when she stood.
He offered a grave look, one that made her stomach flutter. “To produce so much in short time suggests that magic and hard labor had to be involved.” He had deduced that the size of this makeshift greenhouse did not scale up to the needs an estate had. “Elanore? This garden–how did it come to pass? And at what risk to herself and the children in her womb?”
He was asking her how much she knew. He was not angry yet. But his trust in her judgment hung in the balance.
Elanore took a moment while she wondered how to explain everything. “Once she knew she was expecting, I did most of the physical work myself under her watch. As for magic I saw her use none. She said this place had its own kind of magic, as did the courtyard. I can’t see it for myself. But I thought you might.”
Pip turned a curious eye upon them both, standing so close together. What he had overheard, she did not know.
But Edmund was unaware of such study. He was satisfied by her answer for now and stepped back to examine the plants and the space in which they had taken up residence. “I am afraid I can’t help either. I see nothing. But what instruction do you need?”
She had not expected such an answer. She took his hand as if by doing so, she could will him to become just like Selva. The woman had some unique intuition as to the green things in this garden, some kind of secret knowledge that eluded Elanore. “Selva would decide where to place things or when to pick certain plants.”
Edmund offered her a half-smile, sensing her eagerness. “You would fare better if you asked my mother. She knows a few things about plants. Watering and tilling soil is probably the best I can do. Pip?” He attempted to draw in their silent companion. “What about you?”
“I know what’s edible and that’s it,” Pip apologized. “I can help pick and carry things.”
Elanore squared her shoulders, determined not to be discouraged. “Alright then. I’ll fetch you a watering can and a basket.”
Their conversation became very ordinary after that point. Edmund and Pip were not opposed to moving things about or digging in soil as requested.
By the time they had gathered a respectable number of vegetables and fruits, the afternoon sunlight had begun to pour in through the windows. Dust particles flickered with gold as they drifted around the air.
Elanore dropped her trowel at the pretty sight. She watched as the dust began to coalesce into a pattern. But without warning, they resumed their aimless drifting.
“Edmund, please come here,” Elanore wiped her hand on her apron and held it out.
His eyes did not leave the golden specks of dust as he sat cross-legged on the stone floor and laced his fingers through hers. “Are we to have a break now, Elanore?” He teased her quietly. “Have you decided I’m no longer angry at you?”
She rested her head against his shoulder. “I promise, I didn’t think I was doing anything bad. I wasn’t trying to hide anything.”
His fingers stroked her hair and she tilted her chin expectantly for a kiss.
But he did not give her one. Instead, he laughed silently at her. “No, I know that. But perhaps now isn’t the time to reflect. We are not alone, mind you.”
She flushed as he nodded in the direction of Pip, squatting nearby and staring vacantly at the rafters. “We are almost done. But I do need to hurry back to the kitchens. The Countess needs herbs and vegetables. But just a few more minutes. It’s so pretty. I didn’t think they would come without her. They appear so rarely as it is.”
“Why do you say they, Miss Redley?” Pip suddenly spoke up.
The dust began to swirl again. She smiled at the sight. “Because they react like that.”
Edmund watched as the specks moved about erratically. “The owl halfling said we had house gnomes living in the shed. Maybe these are the same thing.”
A cloud of dust spattered in his face.
“I don’t think so,” Elanore covered a smile. “They disagree.”
“They, hm?” Edmund placed the head of a flower in his hand and held it out. “I wonder then what you are. Will you show us? Our friends in the shed threw grains. Perhaps you can move this?”
His audience stared at his palm intensely waiting to see what would happen next.
A large speck of dust floated in from above and landed on his palm. The flower began to twitch before it launched itself off into the air and landed in Elanore’s lap.
“I felt that!” He choked out as a faint sound of giggling echoed from above. “Show yourself, creatures,” he scolded the air once before their surroundings exploded into a sea of colors.