I. Winter’s Visitor

Young Eleanor was but five when a strange thing happened: it was a dark, stormy night, just like how most scary stories her papa ever told her (at her request) began, with raging winds and spittles of snow. The icy breath of the wind crashed against the drawing room windows, preventing Eleanor from seeing much into the darkness beyond the breathing mass of white and forcing her to retreat to her mother, who kept her post by the fire.”Mama, why is papa so late?” As her mother arranged her ringlets of wavy hair this way and that and placed her onto her lap, Eleanor asked.

“Ellie, dear, it is only five past ten; he only said he should be back at approximately half past ten,” her mother was clearly testing her ability to process time. “You have got to be patient now.” She felt a teasing pinch upon her chubby cheeks, and she giggled and leaned into maternal warmth that coaxed her to sleep.

Eleanor woke up on the couch with her favorite quilt. A glance at the clock told of an ungodly hour, and thrill of being awake at two in the morning along with the death of the fire in the drawing room gave Ellie quite a chill. Wrapping herself tighter with the quilt, she ventured down the corridor to the front door, only to find her mother conversing with the head servant. Ellie easily tugged herself into the shadow of a corner to listen.

“Have you sent Penroy to find your master? Good,” at this the Mistress strode to the nearest window by the door, gazing into the cohesive mess of white as though her husband would be found if she frowned enough. “I would not forgive myself if anything were to happen to your master.”

“Do not fret, My Lady, I am sure Lord Canopus was simply delayed by the storm.”

Suddenly, a gentle rapping was heard at the door. The head servant grumbled as he went to answer, “The ice must have froze the guards’ brains for them to have not sent a message for the master’s return.”

He opened the door and froze, but not from the cold. “What is wrong, Elliot?” The servant disappeared briefly and her mother waited. He returned along with another blast of blizzard and an exclamation, “Of course, it was not the master!” Her mother’s (and Eleanor’s) disappointment was distracted by a bundle of rags nearly as large as little Ellie that Elliot dragged behind him. Ellie stood upon her toes to get a better peak.

“Oh,” was the first intelligent word uttered between the two adults after the howls of the winds were shut out.

Ellie beheld the bundle until it shifted, a bony hand reaching out from it in a silent plea or thanks towards Elliot, “I didn’t think it was right for this little one to freeze to his death at our door and thus made the decision without your consent, My Lady, but if it doesn’t please you I can deal with him accordingly…”

“My God, Elliot, why would I be displeased? I would have done the same: he’s just a child…” Eleanor took a few tentative steps to get a closer look at the curious specimen. “Tend to him, will you?” Elliot bowed and took the boy with him as her mother turned around, meeting her inquisitive looks and now fully exposed frame.

“Ellie, what are you doing up so late?” The Mistress swept down and picked up her daughter, banishing her to the comforts of her room with an order for the nurse to keep a close watch.

Eleanor later learned that the boy was housed in the guest room by the servants’ quarters, prompting her to rush there in search of a new playmate. However, she only met the consternation of Elliot as he insisted that the poor lad was too poor of health to be bothered.

“But, I just wanted to say hello…” She would have continued whining had she not detected the rush of servants preparing for their master’s arrival.

“Pa!” She forgot about the mysterious boy for the moment and joined the ebb of servants to run through the freshly shoveled grounds and wait for her father at the gate, who, in seeing her, happily began to make up his nulled promise of a good bedtime story with kisses on her brows after he spun her around.

It was not until a week full of her constant inquiries later when she met the boy: he was still bedridden, his eyes enlarged abnormally by the dark circles around them, his skin blanched of healthy colors. She was startled by the fact that such a sickly looking person existed in this world, but still introduced herself. He merely stared and ignored her altogether. This roused her temper, which then earned her more consternation, though this time from her mother. Feeling wronged, she reported the injustice to her father, but he told her that the boy was just shy and afraid, and Ellie being a true lady should not be so unreasonable.

So, Eleanor tolerated the abuse haughtily, periodically ensuring that their little guest was painfully aware that she was far more important and well-mannered than him with his brooding silences by occupying his time with long soliloquies of insight.

One day, around a month after the stormy night, Ellie applied the usual questions for the boy, “What is your name? Can you even speak?”

“…”

“You know, it is really rude to not speak when addressed…how old are you?”

“…”

She frowned, noticing for the first time the glint of a thin chain around his neck, “What is that?”

He shifted in his seat by the window (the maids insisted that he needed some sunlight as though he were a flower) before reaching into his shirt to pull out a pendant dangling off a silver chain. Ellie beheld the green lustre of a smoothed nugget slightly smaller than her thumb, simpler in design than all the jewelries she had seen on her mother and visiting aunts and ladies with long titles, but more beautiful in its unique opaque mystery that seemed to hold rays of sunlight that fell upon its captive. She reached out unconsciously, and the boy protectively hid the article back into his shirt. She hid her embarrassment for her unladylike manners with a pout, “I was only getting a closer look…what does a boy have to do with a pretty trinket like that anyway?”

“It’s not just a ‘pretty trinket’.”

The shock of hearing his voice for the first time distracted her from the necklace for the moment, “What, so you can talk and you just chose not to!”

The boy went back to communicating with a curt nod, a slight color that was not wrought forced by any sunshine came to his cheeks.

Just like that, she gained another person to chatter away with: it was as though the one retort in response to her joking devaluation of his necklace loosened the string that tied his tongue. She later learned to call him Soulran. A strange name to say the least, but she liked the sound of it. After Soulran recovered enough, Eleanor’s mother allowed her to bring him to the park after her lessons. During these afternoons, Ellie would ramble about anything that seemed significant to her five-years-old mind pacing around while he, who was still too weak to run very well, would seat himself on the wooden bench by her side and listen.

Eleanor counted three happy months with her new company before one warm afternoon, when they sat on the bench counting the number of colors they know.

“Hyacinth makes twenty,” he said in his usual quiet way.

She furrowed her brows to think of the next, but her eyes settled upon the approaching figure of her father, closely followed by a less familiar form.

“Papa! You are home early today?” She ran to him when he called out to her, taking his outstretched hand to walk by his side.

“Ellie, guess who I met today?” The Baron then stepped aside to introduce Mr. Dolor, the stranger that Eleanor previously noted.

Seeing Ellie’s confused expression in her little curtsies, the Baron went on to explain that he had been searching for her friend’s parents for the past couple of months, and with the help of a couple of friends, he came to contact with Mr. Dolor, whose six-years-old son had been missing for almost an year. He requested an audience with them earlier this week only to find that his son was indeed the same boy across from them on the bench at this moment. At this part of the tale, Mr. Dolor gave an exclamation well-timed.

“Oh, my dearest child, how I thought that I have lost you!”

Eleanor was happy for her friend for a brief moment until she met Soulran’s expression: the healthy color that the past months had finally nurtured dissipated into a deathly paleness as his small face twisted into a truly horrified tremor as he beheld Mr. Dolor. Ellie turned to her father, but he was too occupied with Mr. Dolor’s gratitude to see.

When it came for Mr. Dolor to leave with his rediscovered son, Ellie finally made up enough courage to tug at her mother’s skirt and whispered into her ear, “Mama, I don’t think Soulran wants to go.”

They were at the door, Elliot having fitted all the things the boy accumulated in his stay into a case along with some last scolding to hide his sorrows, and her mother was not amused with her petty tricks to extend the boy’s stay, “Ellie dear, I know that you are very fond of Soulran, but you mustn’t be ridiculous now, alright?”

“Please, I can’t go with him…” Hearing Soulran’s sudden plea, her mother became a little more conscious, but a slight tug from Mr. Dolor prompted the boy to add, “…until I tell Eleanor something.”

Ellie couldn’t really explain the effect that Soulran’s unexplained anguish had on her: her throat dried as he stepped away from Mr. Dolor, who, as Eleanor looked closer, did bear a strong resemblance with Soulran. The boy embraced her briefly, thanking her for being a true friend and bowing to both her and her parents for their noble generosity in saving his life before going back to his father.

Eleanor remembered starkly Soulran’s last look over his shoulder at the door, a rare smile stretched across his lips before he turned back to stare at his feet. She didn’t notice the absence of the silvery chain around his neck, nor did she notice the chain dangling out of her pocket now until much later.

The door closed and thus ended the little incident.

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