When Edmund took that pathway through the courtyard back towards the Great Highway, he looked back at the estate. His eyes caught Elanore waving at him from a window. With a smile, he raised his gloved hands in kind.
If the Wolframs stared, he did not care.
He was indifferent to the approval of those who belonged to the lord of this place, for he knew the land had chosen him. He and this place were not linked by tradition but by magic.
Edmund lowered his gaze, looking at the creatures that trailed behind him. Galahad and Lambegus blinked innocently, saying nothing of the growing line of other lions that followed them. He almost laughed as he reminded the persistent creatures that only two were allowed to leave with him. There was a great deal of consternation on their part at this news, but they obeyed when he told them that they were to guard this place and the girl he loved.
The Count stood in the courtyard observing the exchange. The moment the magic had been released to wake the lions, he had felt the alteration in himself. But he had not realized until this moment that the boy was evolving as well. Into who or what he did not know.
The weather teased him the lord, punctuating his uncertain mood. A fog began to roll in — created by the moisture that the heat of magical energy unlocked from the snow. Gawain shook his mane. “So difficult to control them. Had it been you to provide the requirements for waking, they would not wander around aimlessly between the three of you.”
“Why,” he asked the lion.
But he suspected he knew why. He had lost magic. He had lost her.
As Wolfram looked up at the darkening sky, he clutched his cane in his hand. Fear –an unfamiliar emotion– took hold. He heard the monster within whispering at him that he was irrelevant. Replaceable.
It did not matter that the sea witch and those like her could no longer touch him here. Even if his uncles and witches had allied to give him a new purpose — a new fate — this land’s spell was breaking. The Unthings were coming, he knew. And his hold on the lions was weakening.
He felt his mouth go dry, unsettled by the idea that the role he was to play was no longer the same. He heard a whisper– a voice teasing that stories had an odd way of recycling themselves.
Maximilian tried to find that voice, his feet taking a few more steps out into the oddly disorganized courtyard now full of empty stands and pedestals.
But the land betrayed him again.
The residual magic in the air took form in response to his thoughts. The fog began to thicken and darken, obscuring the lions, the Wolframs, and everything that was light and good. The night quickly advanced. And when he shifted his feet beneath him, he was standing in blackness.
A sound of water and a smell of rotting fish assaulted him as the Sea Witch’s laughter bubbled up from everywhere. He clenched his teeth as the insane sound set him on edge.
“The darkness still owns you, changeling. You will keep returning here until you die.”
He clenched the cane in his hand, pointing its silver tip at the darkness.
Unwelcome memories started to unravel, blooming vivid and clear.