When Giles swept through with a rather loud and enthusiastic greeting, Edmund immediately sensed something was amiss.
He had come to know Giles well enough to know when the man was in a happy mood. At the moment, the merry glint to Giles’ eyes was absent.
But if something was the matter, Giles took care to hide it. He had bounced into the room and offered Edmund’s father a friendly slap on the shoulder. As for Mrs. Ormond, she received an open wink as the accompanying servants flurried about the room with boxes.
Giles grinned. “I was sent down here to see to Edmund. On my way, I ran into a stream of servants who were sent by the Lady Selva.” He turned to Mrs. Ormond who looked as if she were about to kick the servants out of their small room. “She told me that Mrs. Ormond would understand. These items were for Edmund.”
Mrs. Ormond did not immediately respond. But she raised her hands to her cheeks and exclaimed, “All this?!”
Edmund glanced the elderly woman’s way. It was rare that his mother showed surprise and pleasure. In this instance, she appeared to be floating about in delight. She was so delighted that he began to worry. “Mother, exactly what is ‘this’ that you speak of?”
She did not answer. Instead she had her hands in every box and their contents. Mrs. Ormond nodded as she moved about. Every so often, she would glance Edmund’s way and smile. “Oh my!”
A few more “Oh my”s followed.
“Now, Mrs. Ormond,” Edmund’s father meekly interrupted. “What is this? Our spring order?”
“No, no!” The elderly lady waved off her husband who blocked her view of Edmund. “We had tea some time ago, the ladyship and I. Well it was more than just her and I. Mrs. Winchester and Elanore and Mrs. Caderyn were there as well. We thought we were there to talk about raising children as she was expecting. However, naturally the topic turned to Edmund and what his tastes were.” Mrs. Ormond winked at her son. “I thought she was trying to subtly educate Elanore on what Edmund liked. However, I think she also had Edmund’s birthday in mind! A perfectly timed present, I must add.”
Inwardly, Edmund groaned as he realized that the women had conspired to clothe him in some hopelessly inappropriate fashion. However, his mortification was outweighed by his curiosity. The boxes were numerous and full of a lot of clothing.
Giles snorted lightly as Mrs. Ormond began sifting through each box and deciding what ought to be presented to Edmund first. He muttered under his breath to Edmund. “When you have that many women together discussing on how to dress men,you ought to know to expect trouble. You, of all, are probably the easiest target for them because you are so damn nice.”
“They mean well,” Edmund tried to defend the honor of the women.
“Well, there should be at least one frilly blouse in there for you.” He added with a smirk, “And…yes. It seems your mother just found it.”
Edmund cringed as his mother thrust the silky garment at him and forced him to hold it up against his chest. He was relieved to find the arms sleeves rather long against his frame. Somewhat loudly, he offered her his assessment. “I do not think that will fit.”
She took a long time to study this garment before she would offer her own opinion. “Such a shame. Even if I tried to bring up the sleeves, the fabric would likely tear the first outing you take it upon. And yet it is such nice work that it is such a shame to pass it up. I wonder if the Countess would mind if we reworked this material.”
“Ma’am,” Giles interrupted with a grin. “I know no other Wolfram with clothing like that save our Count. Even that fancy Gareth would not wear puffed sleeves. And I believe the Countess would like the absurdity to disappear.”
To Edmund’s horror, Mrs. Ormond chuckled. “Yes. I could see why. I do believe I can help her.”
She looked at her son.
“I would not wear it.”
“Even if your wife liked it?” Mrs. Ormond peered up at him. “Ah, such a shame. Well, I still think we can put it to good use. Well, among these items must be something of a good coat or cover. And perhaps some shirtsleeves that might fit. It would be nice to have something more proper for your ceremony. You’re too tall to wear one of your father’s old things. And we have no time to visit the great city. Your older brothers would have something I am certain…”
Giles was kind enough to intervene before the conversation could grow even more uncomfortable. “Well, Mrs. Ormond. The rest of that box you hold might not be so helpful. My lord tends to wear only the most dark and gloomy things. Most likely you will find some absurd cloaks and coats with extremely long tails. The other boxes, however, came from my cousins who tend to be far more pragmatic.”
The woman deliberated for a short moment before she exchanged boxes with Giles. “Well! Let’s look through these quickly. Your cousins do dress neatly.”
But she was somewhat displeased with these options as well, exclaiming they were not formal enough.
Finally Edmund grew exasperated. “Mother, I thought we agreed we would keep things simple.”
“Well yes,” Mrs. Ormond gave her son a stern look. “But Elanore’s idea of simple is far different from yours. You would wear your hunting jacket and shoes if I let you. And you would be meeting your wife-to-be all dressed in her mother’s finery looking like we raised you to not have manners. Indeed,” she began to sound emotional. “What would the others think of your father and I?”
Edmund swallowed. He knew this would not be an argument he could win. Carefully he changed the topic. “You have seen Elanore today? And you know what she is wearing?”
“Oh!” Mrs. Ormond forgot her near bout of tears and smiled. “I saw her last night, son. Since her mother is not here, I took it upon myself to pay her a visit. I raised your sisters, you know. And I know how nervous they were that night before their weddings.”
Mr. Ormond suddenly interjected. “Oh there was a lovely dress Evelyn used to wear that we ordered from Capestown. It was some odd-named color. But you should have seen what happened when she wore it to that summer party.”
“Hush!” Mrs. Ormond glared at her husband. “You should not spoil it! Look through those other boxes and find our son something to wear! And you–” she turned to her son and to his sometimes friend, Giles. “Be useful and do the same!”
The men had no choice to obey such a monstrous taskmaster. They began to earnestly sort through the garments that came from various members of the Wolfram family.
At this particular moment, Edmund knew he small ceremony he had hoped to hold was rapidly being altered behind his back. But there was little he could do. He knew it was in his best interest to simply play along with the schemes of the women in his life.
Giles stepped next to Edmund and placed a box on a chair. He rifled through everything quickly, not paying much heed to most things inside that were not to his taste. He kept his eyes on Mrs. Ormond until the moment she became preoccupied with helping her husband. Only then did he begin to speak. “I had a chance to step out today and check up on the guild.”
Edmund’s hands were full of a few items that he thought passable enough to wear. He grimaced as Giles raised an eyebrow, signaling what might be disagreement with his choices. Edmund placed them on another chair for his mother’s eventual inspection.
Giles grinned, clearly enjoying rattling the younger man. He handed his box over to Edmund. “Maybe you might like these after all.”
“The guildmaster,” Edmund shot him an irritated look and prompted him to stop being foolish. “What did he say when he read the message?”
Giles shook his head. “He was preoccupied and just barely glanced at whatever you wrote. He didn’t say he’d have a response for you. Hopefully that isn’t a major problem.”
Edmund shook his head slightly and did his best to keep his disappointment from showing. “Of course not. It was just a message inviting him to attend the service.”
Giles raised his eyebrow. “I did not know you two had become friendly.”
Edmund did not wish to lie about his true reasons. Friendly was not how he would have described their relationship. But they might be family in some fashion if the man was Elanore’s true father. And even Wilhelm Caderyn deserved to be given some small opportunity at being a father. “You know the history between all of our families. But with my marrying Elanore, I hope it will change. This town… or what is left of it.. needs us to move on.”
He knew it was a naive act in the eyes of weathered, cynical men like Giles. But Edmund was not like him. He had slowly come to a realization of needing to be flexible and forgiving. Gracious. Kind.
There had been no epiphany or epic battle that had brought him to this point. Rather it was a gradual awareness of who he was and what kind of person he wanted to be that had led him to craft that letter.
The two men glanced out the window at the sun. The light filtered through trees that were barely covered by leaves.
Giles slowly nodded. “Not many people are left among the ones we used to know. The people of Winchester have been scattered by winter. Our neighbors are likely dead. Every watch we have sent to Crossroads comes back with no news save that of the stench of death. Our packs have wandered further north and found the small human settlements empty.”
“You make it sound as if they all perished in the winter. Perhaps most fled east.”
Giles sighed. “Perhaps. I never made any rounds up that way before the eclipse. But Wilhelm seemed determined to send a party to Capestown to find if any refugees came their way. If you ask me, he is up to some sort of scheming himself. My lord offered my services to help track but was promptly declined.”
Even if it were so, Edmund still believed in the innate good within Wilhelm and his fellow men. With the softest of voice, he disagreed with his friend. “Or perhaps he is just like us, wanting to believe that we aren’t alone.”