Previously: The Legend of Leonard Letterman Pt 3
Wilhelmina’s stride never wavered as she moved across the entryway, passing an outrageously large set of front doors, and into a series hallways off to the right. Leonard tried to catch her eye.
“You think she”-
“Please, not until after we’ve had something to eat, and I’ve had a little more time to think.” Her voice had a weary edge again. It was only then that Leonard remembered that she had been expecting someone else entirely, and that his own presence could mean any number of unsettling things to Wilhelmina, possibly the Ponds in general.
Leonard smiled in apology and they continued in silence, aside from Wilhelmina’s skirts, which occasionally sounded like wings flapping. He tried to focus on not stepping on the snapping hem as he followed, or the aged stone and various doors they passed, and not the teetering number of questions and thoughts threatening to crash through his clenched teeth.
“Let’s see now…” Wilhelmina mused as she entered a surprisingly spacious but homey kitchen. A fire flared beneath a voluminous cooking pot emitting an aroma that put Leonard in mind of his mother’s stew.
A window on the left side of the back wall flooded the room with light, casting strange shadows on the floor and walls due to the various vegetables, herbs, and cooking utensils hanging from the ceiling or scattered over flat surfaces.
The smells wafting through the space were divine. Leonard’s mouth began to water and his stomach sounded its desire to sample some of the promising selections. It took Leonard a moment to think past his stomach and note the anachronisms around the kitchen.
A turn of the century stove was tucked away in the far corner opposite the fireplace. The simple chandelier overhead had cloves of garlic draped over it and used electricity, though he couldn’t readily find the switch. The room was designed to produce instant familiarity, inviting you to pull up one of the hand carved chairs and sit a while by stove or fire, perhaps peel, slice, and prepare the next nosh worthy delight.
Though he felt warmth spread through his chest and the impulse to put his feet up and relax, a realization sliced through his head: he was in another world, this was not home, and he truly had no idea what to expect…or what he was getting into.
Wilhelmina turned as if she’d heard his thoughts and fixed him with another of her appraising stares.
“Would you like to sit?” She gestured towards a chair, but her eyes never wavered from his. Leonard felt like his every movement was being catalogued and saved for further scrutiny.
He slid into one of the four chairs lining a similarly hand carved table that was overloaded with fruits, a loaf of bread, and some scones and other pastries. Looking around at all of the food and the mostly empty room, aside from himself and Wilhelmina, Leonard started to wonder if there were any other inhabitants, and where they were. He had yet to see or hear signs of anyone else.
“Wilhelmina, where is everyone?” he asked as she cut a few slices of a loaf of bread to add to the spread on the table. She’d already added a variety of cheeses on a bone china plate to the table, along with a bowl of assorted nuts and a small plate of square chocolate pieces.
She froze a moment with the knife halfway through the loaf before continuing in one swift movement as she answered. “It’s just me and two others, now.”
“Where are they?” Leonard asked when Wilhelmina said no more. He was starting to get a little irked with the slow trickle of information when it felt like his head was on fire from all of his burning questions.
“Jerra is on the grounds, doing what he does best, taking care of them. Masha is probably still in the library trying to find a few things for me,” she answered as she sat down across from Leonard, placing porcelain cups of a mint scented beverage in front of each of them.
“Where is everyone else?” He may not have seen much of the house so far, but from what he had seen, it was far too large and elegantly designed to be a typical home. It put Leonard in mind of a castle, or at least an estate, and big enough to house at least twenty people without fear of falling over one another. The emptiness and the quiet was unwelcome and strange within the homey walls.
Preempted by a ragged sigh, she replied heavily, “at best, most of them are missing.” She delicately picked a few grapes from a nearby vine and popped one into her mouth. Leonard halted with a large piece of cheese near his, waiting for her to continue.
“Wilhelmina,” Leonard started, doing his best to keep the strain from his voice, but she silenced him with a look as she sipped at her tea. She’d asked for time to eat and to think, Leonard reminded himself, and he’d yet to give her much for either. So, he swallowed his cheese along with his questions, and waited.
“Your father never mentioned the Ponds? Or Palloria? None of the history or the post of Letterman?” Wilhelmina asked after another sip and placing her cup on the table. Her gaze burrowed into him.
“I would definitely have remembered my dad telling me about a world only a Letterman could get to through a pond,” Leonard replied as conversationally as a comment on the weather. As soon as he said it, the bell in the back of his mind from earlier chimed again.
“But…” Leonard’s voice trailed off and he pushed the heels of his hands into his tightly shut eyes in vain attempt to find the source of the ringing bell. “I told you that your name sounded familiar when I first read it. Well, every now and then, I get this chime in the back of my mind, but I can’t put my finger on it.”
Wilhelmina nodded absentmindedly before rising to refill their cups with tea. She looked older when she’d retaken her seat. In the face of his own uncertainty, the fantastical things he was being introduced to, and the knowledgeable and competent woman before him, it had escaped Leonard that she was more than worried, she was scared.
Somehow he had extrapolated her surpassing knowledge of her reason for asking him here, this world, and even the Lettermans to some degree, with knowing all of the answers; somehow, it was only just dawning on him that eventually, he was supposed to have answers for her; that eventually, they would both run out of answers and would be left with endless questions.
“I took a grave chance, reaching out to your father, not that I had many other options. Up until now, it’s been unclear if Gerard was”- here Wilhelmina halted and closed her eyes as if steeling herself for something.
“Things changed when Etta disappeared. We had no way to contact or travel to Krosis, which left us all vulnerable and uncertain. And then, things started to go wrong…
“I’m the only Pond here. My family and the rest are either passed or missing.” She stated it as a fact, her back straight, head regally held, but her eyes were on her fingers as they fiddled with the ring there, her voice the slightest tremor.
“I’m”- she sighed and started again. “I’m overwhelmed. There are so many things I don’t understand…I’m not the eldest! I wasn’t trained to handle the duties. Well, not until Etta disappeared. Then I received fleeting lessons, but that was before people started disappearing from this house. All I have now are histories, books and scrolls.”
With another heavy sigh, Wilhelmina leaned forward to rest her head against one of her hands while the other took hold of her teacup. “The level of ignorance and inexperience is overwhelming,” she muttered.
“You didn’t know if my father, or if I, was part of some plot, maybe feign innocence then make a move? Some other form of further treachery or disaster?” Leonard had a hunch that Wilhelmina was enough of a lady that, to make such an insinuation herself from someone she was simultaneously asking for help, would have been beyond rude.
She looked thankful and sat up straighter, lowering the arm she’d propped her head against. “Either purposefully, accidentally, or unwittingly, but yes.”
“Well, I can assure you that ignorance and inexperience, as you say, are your main worries with me. It sounds like there’s a lot that I need to know about and understand before I can even begin to be of help.” The sheer amount of knowledge he seemed to be lacking loomed over him like a mountainous foe. He had a feeling that time would be only one of their adversaries.
“You’ll really stay and help? Even with everything as it is?” The expression on Wilhelmina’s face was dubious, and it sounded like she’d had to stifle the hope creeping into her voice. The relief that swept across her face at Leonard’s nod of assent made the kitchen look like it was trying to contain a sunbeam.
“So, where should we start?” he asked, reaching forward to pluck a scone from a pile near him.
Click here for Part 5!