Elanore opened her eyes, only to find herself lying down in a room full of shadows. She felt a heavy weight upon her chest. Instinctively, she struggled against the restraints.
Her panic continued for a moment before she recognized the scent of lavender and vanilla clinging to those so-called restraints. She calmed, recognizing the familiar blankets draped heavily across her and the bed she lay upon.
Feeling foolish and exhausted, she lay quietly and looked up at the ceiling. As her senses adjusted to her mother’s former bedroom, she soon realized she was not alone. A sound of breathing came from across the room.
Her eyes shifted downwards and she discerned a slumped figure in a chair at the foot of her bed. She whispered, “Grandmother?”
The figure straightened. “It’s me,” Edmund answered. “She’s downstairs fixing you something to eat.” Quickly he added, “Shall I fetch her? Are you in pain?”
Elanore closed her eyes and tried to recall how she had come to be here and why he sounded unusually tense. But she could not get past the thought of falling headlong into the snow.
She wondered why she should feel so horrid. Slowly she stretched her arms and legs and moved her extremities, all the while looking for signs of injury. Finding none, mentally she counted numbers, recited the names of her many siblings, before she trusted that her mind also had not been affected.
Her friend drew closer, likely wondering why she said nothing. He leaned down to look at her. “Elanore?” He tried again, his voice gentler than before. “Are you sleeping?”
She opened her eyes to find herself gazing back at him. He had come so close that the air between them felt warm. Suddenly, Elanore recalled what had happened shortly before she had lost consciousness earlier in the day. Self-consciously she licked her lips. “I’m alright,” her voice cracked. “But I’m hungry.”
He leaned back and emitted a loud sound that was less exasperation and more a sound of relief. “I suppose if you have an appetite, you’re alright.” He laid a gentle hand upon her arm. “But you’re not to get up and move. Your grandmother forbids it.”
Elanore was too tired to argue. She did not think she could even stand had she wanted to. Her fingers reached for his hand and clasped it tightly. “Edmund,” she started to speak, but both her voice and her courage failed her.
The sound of footsteps closed upon the stairs and he relinquished her hand.
Elanore’s eyes followed Edmund. She wished she could tell him she was sorry for what she had done. But he had taken up a position at the window. She watched him as he looked outside, his profile cleanly and elegantly illuminated in the light of evenfall. He would stay there until the door creaked open and a woman peered inside the room.
“Is she awake?”
The chair scraped on the floor as he moved it out of the way for Mrs. Winchester. “She is, and she says she feels alright.”
The old woman’s shoulders relaxed. “I am glad it turned out better than I thought. Her mother had an experience like this once and she was in bed for days.”
Elanore’s head turned towards her grandmother at the mention of her mother. She opened her mouth to speak.
“Hush, darling.” The elderly lady set a lamp down on a nearby table and placed both of her hands upon her granddaughter’s face. “You look flushed. You should have some water.” She called to the young man. “Would you help her sit up?”
Edmund reached behind Elanore and lifted her shoulders up off the bed while her grandmother placed several cushions and pillows behind her. Once propped up, Elanore took the cup of water offered to her and drank it eagerly.
“My dear, what happened?” Her grandmother asked.
It took some time, but Elanore did her best to explain everything that had transpired. Few details were spared, including those pertaining to the lessons on magic, the Count’s offer of resettlement, her studies for the next week, and then the task that had led her to the stone lions.
Her audience was quiet throughout her narration. Only their faces hinted at their thoughts, their questions, and their worries.
When it came time to explain what she had done to wake the lions’ fourth brother, she again stole a glance at Edmund. “Those creatures understand magic but don’t understand people. I should have told Edmund what they asked me to do and why, but if I had I would have lost my nerve–”
Mrs. Winchester looked suspiciously at Edmund and Elanore whose faces betrayed much more than they realized. “What did they ask you to do?”
Elanore looked down at her hands, too mortified to speak further.
Edmund intervened. “Nothing to be upset about.” He offered Elanore a calm look. “I believe I understand. Without food, you had to draw energy from someplace or someone else, correct?”
Her chin lifted. She was relieved he had realized this. “Yes,” she admitted, worried how he would feel about that. But his grey eyes revealed nothing.
“You’re tiring again, Elanore.” Her grandmother patted her granddaughter’s hand in reassurance. “I won’t press for details.” Mrs. Winchester nodded at Edmund. “Shall we let her be?”
He rose quickly, bidding Elanore a good evening. He moved quickly out into the hallway before Elanore could even respond. Mrs. Winchester hurriedly tucked her into the bed and closed the door behind her.
Elanore was left alone in the dark room. She closed her eyes tightly, worried and unhappy.
There was something about Edmund’s departing look that unsettled her. His manners and words were as correct as they ought to be, but she was left with an impression that he was not happy with her.
Edmund’s dour expression did not escape the attention of Mrs. Winchester. She did not press him for his thoughts but watched him closely as they rejoined the guild bookkeeper in the front parlor of the house.
She had summoned Old Gregory on the hope that he would agree to help research Mr. Winchester’s records and books. But he was not easy to convince. The guild had changed too much. But Edmund’s arrival interrupted their conversation.
The sight of Edmund carrying Elanore while muttering about magic had startled the old man. The idea that Elanore could manipulate had secured his immediate cooperation.
Gregory was, as it turned out, a man who wanted to believe in magic and its presence in this world, whether good or bad. He threw in his lot with Mayor and vowed to search for lore surrounding the impending eclipse.
There was a sense of urgency as the three sat with warmed-over cider and rifled through the books that had been sent with Elanore. Each grappled with the implications of the Count’s belief that folklore and tall tales were more truth than myth. They wondered aloud which of the stories were true and which were not. More importantly, they worried over which stories if true would mean danger to them.
Edmund kept his silence throughout most of this conversation. As the sun disappeared for the night, a final gaggle of persons noisily rushed along the road outside to hurry home. Edmund stood suddenly as a familiar figure appeared walking alone.
“Do you leave, Edmund?” Mrs. Winchester stood as well. “After all you have done, I thought to feed you dinner.”
He ran his hand through his hair and did not exactly look her in the eye. “As Elanore is out of danger I should take my leave. I’ve been remiss in helping out at home and I see the Friar on the road. I’d like to talk to him.”
Mrs. Winchester blinked from behind her spectacles. “Yes, yes. Give your parents my love. And as the good man is due to leave any day now, best you catch him now.”
Edmund flashed the woman a genuine smile before he tossed his scarf on and quickly ran out the door while still putting on his coat.
The bookkeeper shook his head as he watched the young man start to run down the pathway before turning back to fetch his horse. “This is the most scatterbrained I’ve seen him.”
The mayor pursed her lips as she watched him disappear down the road. “I think the situation with Elanore must cause him stress. He feels responsible for her. He always has since they were young.”
Old Gregory sighed. “Since the incident with the well. ”
“Likely,” Mrs. Winchester chuckled. “Poor young man. He received such a tongue lashing from his parents for that. I do wonder if he still carries that memory with him.”
“Mayor,” the bookkeeper shook his head. “Something is eating him up inside. You should ask him what’s on his mind. Mr. Winchester could always pry things out of him that others couldn’t. Of all the people in this town, he trusts your judgment the most. Now,” he stood. “I’ll leave so I can work on my readings. Be back tomorrow to look at more books too.”
She did not argue for him to stay. It was dark and she knew the man probably had his fill of social niceties. Graciously she sent him off with food in hand and her gratitude for his willingness to assist her.
While she locked up her home, she mulled over what he said about Edmund. It was obvious to her that Edmund was brooding over Elanore. Exactly what the girl had done, she did not know. But as she wandered up to Elanore’s room, she thought to find out.
* * *
Edmund chased down Father Lorrence, concerned as to why the man was out in the rapidly increasing darkness. When he caught up the clergyman, he inquired after the novice who was usually with him. The friar revealed that Wyte was completing a few last calls while he returned home to pack his meager belongings.
Edmund glanced at the trees that surrounded them. “You should not be walking by yourself, sir. There are sightings of wild things in these woods.”
The clergyman shook his head.
Lorrence wasn’t a person who put himself out of harm’s way. If he died of old age or as food for animals, the man deemed it either as occurring within the will of the god he worshipped. “You know I don’t think of these things.”
Even so, Edmund’s conscience would not allow the man to continue on his way without an escort. The hunter followed the friar, pulling his horse behind him and listened to the friar explain his plans.
The old man brightened slightly. “One of the families just a mile north of here is moving south for the season. They have a bit of room in their wagons and suggested we travel with them. I hadn’t planned to leave early but the opportunity for conveyance works out well. I have received a letter this morning from my senior brothers asking for us to go down to Crossroads.”
The youth frowned slightly. “I had no idea that they cared about Crossroads.”
“Neither did I,” the friar shook his head. “Never had much interest from them on any of the things I wrote of all these years. But it seems the man who they wanted to send got delayed somewhere. Transports from the east are all messed up these days.”
“So this will be it for now. You’ll be back in a month or so?”
“I know I said so earlier, but I don’t know.” Father Lorrence shook his head. “I’m not young anymore. I can’t take these roads in the winter without transport these days. Much will depend on the weather and other factors. But don’t worry,” he reached out and patted Edmund affectionately on the shoulder. “You can always leave a message with the stagecoach owner in Crossroads. He will see I get your messages and perhaps help ensure I can get back here for any weddings.”
“Sir,” Edmund colored. “I assure you–”
The friar chuckled. “It’s too easy to tease you, my boy. I suspect that’s why the rumors keep swirling about.”
“It isn’t like that at all.”
It was the friar’s turn to sound uneasy. Clearly the young Ormond’s pride had been offended. “I’m sorry, Edmund. It seemed like from our conversation the other day–”
The hunter looked off into the distance, trying to figure out how best to address the elder gentleman’s questions. “Without a doubt, had we been reacquainted a year ago, things might be different. But Elanore’s eyes are set on something else.”
“Indeed.” The friar raised his eyebrow wondering if Edmund meant ‘someone’ instead of ‘something.’ He was aware of the girl’s repeat visits to a lord’s estate. A young man like Edmund raised in a town like this would believe himself nothing in comparison to a lord. “Have you talked to the young lady at all about what she wants for her future?”
Edmund sighed. “She’s laid up in bed at the moment. However, every time I thought might be the right moment to have a conversation, something or someone gets in the way.” The young man paused. “And at this point, I have the feeling that she only sees me as a brother. No,” he added after considering her explanation about the lions’ insistence that she kiss him and her multiple apologies that had followed. “Now I’m certain of it.”
“It will be what it will be,” the friar responded with a sigh. “But perhaps this is for the best. I’ve been thinking a bit since our conversation yesterday. I had thought that if you were to become entangled with her, it would have been unfair to tell you something that could possibly lead you away from her. But now perhaps,” he muttered to himself. “Perhaps this is the right time.” The older man studied him for another moment before he seemed to resolve something for himself. “I have something to give to you, Edmund. And something to tell you.”
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