Chapter 5, Part C: An Unintended Keeper (cont.)


The answer startled them both. Elanore, who had tended the young man after his rescue, immediately started to drift towards the lions’ newfound friend.

Edmund knew she wanted to see to Pip’s condition, but he did not rush over as she did.The younger man had become uneasy around people since his rescue and Edmund was not certain that his additional presence would be welcome.

As expected, the former patient stiffened at the girl’s approach. However, the lions were quite effective at keeping the skittish youth from running off. Elanore realized her error and avoided directly approaching Pip. She turned to the lion closest to her and began to pet the creature calmly.

The lion, likely Gawain, began to respond like a small cat by waving its tail erratically to comical effect.

Elanore dropped her voice conspiratorially. “Do you know they like to be scratched?”

The young woman’s cheer was hard to ignore as were the sounds of crooning from the creature. The lad reached over to another lion and began to imitate the girl. He was rewarded with a similar ridiculous reaction by the lion.

Pip coughed weakly, in amusement. “I thought they only did that for healers. I saw the woman in white do that too.”

Encouraged by the young man’s willingness to converse, Edmund approached the little crowd slowly.

Both men watched as Elanore put out her hand to another lion and begin the same process, leaving the abandoned Gawain to stare mournfully at all of them. She paid the lion no heed. “I don’t think they are particular. They love anything that pays them attention. But you don’t have to just pet them. They chase Edmund around or try to jump on him when they think he’s not looking.”

Pip’s eyes drifted towards Edmund before they looked away. Edmund recognized the signs of anxiety. Deliberately, Edmund moved to another lion further away. He focused on one such lion whose loosely hanging scarf around its neck needed care. The red thing was Elanore’s handiwork, knitted in between her sittings with the Lady Selva. She had made quite a few — nearly all the lions claimed to wanting one. Given their hard work the past few months, Lady Selva had somehow maneuvered to give the young girl enough to make very thin scarves for all who demanded them.

Edmund found himself being chased around nearly every day by some lion who wished his prized scarf to be retied. He knew very well that he had to take care when this close to a lion. One sudden movement by the creature could knock him over. Edmund took care to pet the lion first before he reached around the creature, searching for the ends of the scarf. He found them and sighed. The problem with such a task is that the lions’ activity always turned these things into knots.

Pepin had drifted over to watch Edmund struggle with what should have been a simple task. Several lions began to helpfully roar directions at the young man. The din did not stop until Edmund finished his task.

A whispered question followed from the invalid. “Why do they jump on you?”

Pip had yet to comprehend that he could talk directly to the creatures. Edmund kept his eyes fixed on the lions while he answered. “It’s fun for them. I asked Galahad that and he said they choose to treat me like a real lion cub.”

Pip seemed confused. “But how could that be? They are not lions.”

“We are made to be lions so that’s how we are,” came an indignant sniff from the neglected Gawain. “We do not eat and have children like real ones. But we are brave and fast. And we hunt things. Like Unthings.”

Pip stepped back at the mention of the monsters. The sudden motion caused him to waver unsteadily on his feet. Edmund and Elanore moved quickly to support him.

“Shush.” Elanore scolded the lions as she lent the quivering young man a hand. “You forget yourselves. We aren’t resilient like you. Talk of monsters frightens people.”

The lions bowed their head, contrite for the moment.

“I’m fine,” the young man cried out, shaking their hands off him. “I’m fine,” he repeated as he pushed away and rushed off back towards the rooms.

Elanore stepped forward, ready to chase him down. Edmund placed his hand upon her shoulder. She had been startled by his reaction and perturbed. But he knew it would be better to let Pip be. “He might not come back out if you press too hard.”

She turned her head his way, her eyes full of questions. That she listened to him and did not run after the boy spoke to the extent she trusted him and his own judgment.

Edmund squeezed her shoulder once before seeking out Gawain. He was fortunate that the lion was already right behind them, his tail flicking expectantly. “Will you and the others keep an eye on him? He should be back in the rooms but if he comes out– please mind him and be kind.”

The lions listened. They knew he asked this of them for the lad’s sake and also for the sake of the woman in front of him. Several departed quickly.

The other lions scattered, knowing that the two humans would leave shortly. Only one lingered. That one nudged at Edmund’s hand.

The hunter patted the head absently thinking it was Gawain again. However, the lion gently did not run off. It nipped at his coat. Edmund glanced sideways and realized his error.

“Young ones,” a grave lion began to address them. From the tone he took, it was clear this was not Gawain but Galahad.

Edmund knew very well that a fount of unusual wisdom had somehow ended up in Galahad.Neither Elanore or he knew how the lions exactly had come to be fashioned but whoever had handled his creation likely had differed greatly from those who had sculpted the other statues. When this lion spoke, they knew something important was to be imparted to them.

The lion gazed at them both, waiting until he was sure he had their full attention. “This is a cruel place to keep him. Sometimes the voices and conflicting desires of too many people makes the emptiness more profound for whoever is lost. This place is not good for him. He will likely worsen if not removed. Kill himself. Understand?”

Elanore’s sharp intake of breath startled Edmund. “That is a horrible thing to say!” Her voice shook with an unexpected feeling. “He has been improving.”

The lion blinked at her, its stone eyes watching her. Rarely did she anger, rarely did she raise her voice to them. “Those who survive the blackness of the Unthings are emptied of many things. They are stripped and made ready for death. Cheated of that death, most continue on in a painful state — neither alive nor dead.”

The sight of tears forming in Elanore’s eyes compelled Edmund to intervene. “We shall speak of this later, Galahad. I promise.” The lion looked displeased at this interruption but Edmund stood firm. Elanore was still a healer in her heart — and telling her that all efforts to help were fruitless offended and grieved her.

His fingers reached out to wipe Elanore’s cheeks – removing those angry tears before they froze on her skin.

He thought of what he could say to calm her spirits. But all he could offer her was his presence and his shoulder to cry upon.

* * *
When Elanore had composed herself, she tried to tell him to go on with his plans, But her unhappiness was so unsettling to him that he put them aside.The lions had told him repeatedly that to be her companion entailed great responsibility. Supporting her was more than simply providing for her and tending to her and her family’s needs. Given her gifts of magic, he had to be careful. Her welfare and those around her depended on her own emotional state.

Elanore’s mood did not improve after they ate. She was embarrassed by her brief outburst and troubled by the helplessness of Pip’s situation. Together, they sorted through the hunter’s situation and what could be done. Having arrived at one possible course of action that at least Edmund and she could pursue, Elanore’s mind eased and she seemed to return to her regular self.

He could have left her then, but Edmund ignored her gentle protests and led her through the doors to the estate library. In spite of all the things that occurred around them, he did not want her mind to lose focus of their own future.

Their abrupt entry startled the guild bookmaster, Gregory. The old man looked around several stacks of books to see who had interrupted his studies. Upon recognizing them, he waved them over excitedly. “Edmund – you’re late! Come here and see these. More of these bizarre books with strange letters. And maps, too, although they have no writing!”

Gregory held out a sheaf of papers like a child sharing an armful of toys. Gregory’s love for books and learning was well-known among the guild. He was the rare scholar in a town as rustic as Winchester. At times he would obsess over the smallest detail (like the color of the pigment on a map), boring most of the young guild members. But in a time where information had become valuable, an appreciation for him and his skills had finally taken hold.

In this latest batch of papers, he told them he had found some clearer maps with paths that he was certain marked different ways around the Northernlands. Edmund found promise in these maps.

Their talk drifted away from maps back to the elves. Gregory was bemused by a book he had found detailing the thoughts of a young hunter who had discovered a tribe of ice elves to the north and lived to survive. “Nasty creatures,” Gregory waved his hands about wildly. “They fought dragons all the time for the best caves. Then when they got bored they fought their cousins for fire.”

The young couple could not help but get caught up in such stories. Whether true or not, they hinted at a world that was far less ordinary than the one they had known a few months ago!

It was easy to lose track of time. Only when other people began to trickle into the library did the trio realize they had lost a few hours of the day.

These men who arrived did not look all that pleased to find them there.

“I shall put these back,” Gregory said suddenly, darting away with a handful of books.

Edmund rose from his chair and glanced at the men who stood there. He recognized them as Wolframs.

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