Edmund quickly came to understand why Elanore had to guide him to the sewing room of Lady Selva. Magic, or some other form of trickery, would sometimes obscure a twist or turn needed to find a particular staircase or hallway.
Elanore gave him a half-smile as he loitered at a particular corner. “It will do you no good to try to memorize this path,” she said as she squeezed his hand. “This hallway wasn’t here yesterday. Likely it will not be here tomorrow.
When he did not budge, she touched his shoulder. “Somehow this is Selva’s doing. Either the things inside this house change for her or she has some peculiar way of making things seem different – like a dream or illusion.”
The young man blinked, trying to sort out how to respond to such information. She took Edmund’s hand and placed it on the paneling of the wall. “Like that door outside, I think it is magic.”
He thought back to the hazelwood door that defined the grand entryway to the main house. He knew it was enchanted somehow, for the patterns on its surface would change without warning. This was another facet of magic — its presence or interference could shift the shape of both objects and people. He tried to calm himself as he felt an energy thrum beneath their linked hands. The wood was responding as if it were alive — trembling and groaning as it began to change and form a knob.
With another few seconds, the outlines of a door began to reveal itself. With only a slight push, it began to swing open.
A sound of children singing and laughing greeted him. He hesitated, not certain this was a place for him. But Elanore was already inside, pulling him along.
When he crossed the threshold the door closed behind them. As his eyes processed where he was, he was struck by the explosion of color and shapes in front of him. He looked around at the haphazard mix of cushions and chairs of all textures and sizes. Familiar faces ran past him — the children of the innkeeper, a Wolfram youth, and some faces he recognized from weekly services.
Sitting quietly upon a high-backed sofa next to the Lady Selva were several children whom he had never seen before. He guessed that these children might be this morning’s new arrivals.
They clung to her skirts, hiding their faces in them. They were afraid, he knew, and he pitied them for what they must have experienced.
Elanore knelt down to look at the youngest of them, offering a smile and a cookie she must have hidden in her apron pockets.
Edmund nearly groaned to himself as he saw the other children suddenly stop what they were doing. They drew closer, their eyes fixed to the treat. “I think you may need more.”
His darling future bride made a peculiar face that betrayed that more she did have. Reluctantly she reached into her pockets again and brought out another handful of sweets.
The lady of the home exploded in peals of laughter as she saw the young woman mourn the loss of her treasures. “Oh Elanore, you should have not indulged them.” However, one look at the children and she relented. “But you have put a smile on their faces. Well done.”
The children grabbed what she had, eating with great noise and cheer. When they finished one of the young Wolfram ladies appeared from another door. The countess clapped her hands together. “Now off you shall go to school! You shall play later when you have all completed your lessons!”
It took several more minutes to corral them into an orderly line by the door. But the stern faces of the women eventually calmed even the most fidgety of children. Selva’s eyes crinkled with amusement as each one was marched out the door and the door drew itself shut before fading away.
If the Count was an aloof man, his mate seemed inclined to make up for his deficiencies. Edmund was surprised to see the woman pat the space on the sofa, urging the young couple to sit next to her. Elanore sat down eagerly while Edmund hesitated. It took both ladies staring at him before he perched at the far corner of the sofa.
The lady Wolfram turned her head to study him. He felt the nape of his neck grow cold as she looked at him closely. A question followed. “I hope my lord is not tiring you.”
“No,” he answered quickly — well aware that behind Selva sat Elanore, intently listening to his response. “It is not at all different from the usual activity we have with the guild.”
“I am relieved to hear that. I suspect so is Elanore.” She glanced sideways at the girl seated next to her. “You have good fortune, Edmund, to have her as your champion. We talk of you often. She is always happy to tell me of your good points.”
Elanore bowed her head, her cheeks stained with red. Selva gave the young woman a fond pat on her knee. “And now I’ve made her terribly self-conscious again.” The countess abruptly changed topics. “Do you like this room, Edmund?’
“I think it has a certain comfortable feeling that lends itself to playing. However, I do wonder what sort of magic did you use to make things here?”
The two women briefly exchanged glances before the countess answered. “There is no magic being used in this room. To furnish this place we simply borrowed items from places around the home. These were neglected items that no one would miss should we break them.”
He frowned. “But then how is it that this place is so difficult to find? Did I misunderstand Elanore when she told me that there was magic hiding this place?”
“Oh,” Selva reached out to touch his leg. “We are not trying to trick you. The room itself has nothing of value inside. However to find it, one has to understand the way I think and to look carefully. Perhaps Elanore can explain this better.”
“I follow a trail,” Elanore said somewhat shyly. “I sometimes see a light or hear a sound that seems out of the ordinary.”
“It is something I left behind,” the older woman added. “My lord should be able to sense these things as well, but he has yet to find this place using magic.” The woman covered a mischievous laugh with her hand. “By the end of the day he manages to find someone to follow here. And so I must change the trail every day.”
“But the children and your servants–” Edmund interrupted.
“Oh, women have little trouble finding my cues.” Selva laughed. “And children most definitely have a natural sense for the trail. And you? Did you feel it? Is that why you also came?”
Edmund shook his head. “No, I’m afraid I coerced Elanore into bringing me here.”
A look of guilt flashed over the younger woman’s face. Elanore apologized. “I hope you are not upset. We would like to both speak to you of a private matter, but without the interference of the Count.”
The woman looked at both of them keenly. “If he is not mistreating Edmund then perhaps this has to do with his offer to stay? Perhaps you wish to avoid the meddling of everyone and elope instead?”
The young lady squirmed. “Not exactly.”
“Yes and no,” Edmund said at the same time.
Selva laughed at their muddled responses. “I suppose though it must still have something to do with the future. Very well,” she addressed Edmund. “I seem to continue to embarrass Elanore with my guesses. Perhaps you might tell me what it is you wish to speak of.”
Edmund was relieved by her adoption of a more serious expression. He chose not to mince his words. “I want you to describe where the village you came from was. I want to know how to find it.”
The woman’s mouth formed a circle as she considered the statement. “You wish to speak of the past.”
“I want to address this idea you have that I might be your kin. I have heard a few different ideas as to who or what my parents were. From the way the friar speaks, they were ordinary folks. ”
Selva blinked. “Our kind… were not ordinary. We would not be very adapted to living alongside the humans here.” Somewhat coolly she added, “He must be mistaken.”
Edmund could see she was perturbed. “I asked the guild bookmaster to help draw up a map. Without access to our historical archives in the compound it will be crude. But perhaps if the friar and you could take a look at it and show me where these villages are that you speak of, we can determine whether there has been a mistake.” Gently he added, “Perhaps we all have been mistaken and are speaking of different places and different families.”
“Perhaps you think we are not related at all?” Selva finished the thought he was too polite to express. “Edmund, you are not like the humans.”
“But I am not like the wolves either,” he stated firmly.
She blinked at him. “I think you misunderstand what I told you about our kinship. I have a small claim to their blood through a very distant forebear on my father’s side. But my village and my mother’s people never belonged to the wolves. We were those who descended from those who served dragons. Over the years, it has become unclear what we were at the beginning of time but my lord believes he knows.”
“Will you not tell me what manner of creature that might be?”
She hesitated and glanced away. “I cannot. To speculate and freely speak its name when others might be listening would mean danger. There is no safe place for our kind anymore –except far west in the city of elves. It is far beyond the village, on the other side of this land. But if you ask me to take you there, I shall.”
Edmund and Elanore glanced at one another. “That we can’t ask of you.”
She countered. “I promised to show you what you need to understand our kind. I do not break my promises.”
Elanore spoke up. “But what of your promises to the Count?”
“It may take some time to fulfill my promises to him, but he cannot lock me down,” the woman shook her head. “I made too many promises but I intend to keep them all.”
And this was the sort of thing Edmund did not want. Selva would strain herself trying to be all things at once.
“He is whole with you here,” Elanore reached out for Selva’s hand. “This place seems whole. It’s happy to have you here. You can feel it. You might not understand it, but this place has changed. Without you however, what will happen to him? He might change –.”
The lady gave Elanore a patient smile. “He will have to change and learn what it is like to be whole on his own. I cannot allow him to believe I will be here forever for him as his wife. Once I stepped outside the path chosen by the Snow Queen to become a wife and mother to his children — I accepted that I am replaceable. If he were stronger, a true king with magic, perhaps I might be able to cheat death with him. But not like he is now.”
Her words shocked them both. “Are you dying?” Edmund demanded.
She shook her head. “I do not plan to, at least until I have fulfilled every wish I mean to grant and raised enough of my kind to ensure we do not disappear again.”
“To do that you cannot risk leaving again on a long journey,” the young man stated firmly. “Elanore and I can find another way to seek out an answer.”
“There might be another way,” Selva looked down at her lap. “There is a mirror that can show you answers, should you wish to see them. It reflects the reality of things as they are. But it belongs to a queen who cannot be easily approached.” She closed her eyes. “That woman has not been seen in a long time. I do not know why. But my lord might know something of her.”
“Does he know this queen?”
The lady responded with a weak smile. “That I am not sure of myself. But he keeps her portrait in his study.”