• ERIC BUTLER

The Ephraim Godwin Chronicles - The Early Years : The Awakening Part 1

This story takes place 5 years before the first Ephraim Godwin Chronicle Serial. It will be longer than a simple stand alone story so I will be releasing parts of the tale every Wednesday. Part 1 contains Chapters 1 & 2.

Chapter One

1861...


The Vicar stood off to the side, his eyes studying the lone figure in the nave. Ephraim Godwin sat in the front pew, his eyes glaring at the statue of Jesus Christ hanging above the sanctuary. It was one of the Vicar's favorite, and he wondered exactly what was going through the man's head as he stared at Christ suffering on the cross. Is he comparing his torment to that of the Son of God or is he wishing to change places to finally learn what happened to his family?


"Ephraim, thank you for coming so quickly," he called out as he stepped forward. Ephraim shifted his attention to the left, a smile forming on his lips.


"Ah, Henry you old scoundrel...how could I refuse my little brother?" he said with a forced laugh. Ephraim stood and held out his hand which the Vicar grasped. The two men shook before Ephraim pulled Henry into a warm embrace. "It's been too long."


Henry patted his brother on his back, surprised by the show of affection. The Godwin family had never been one for hugs. He pulled away to study his older brother, frowning at what he saw. His brother's cheeks reddened under Henry's scrutiny. From anger or embarrassment, Henry couldn't tell but most likely it was a little of both.


Ephraim's face was haggard and reflected too many sleepless nights and a poor diet. The time in Crimean didn't help either. Henry shook his head, not ready to go down that particular rabbit hole just yet. Ephraim's decision to leave his wife and child to go fight in that war still baffled the Vicar.


"Good Lord, Ephraim," Henry said gazing closer at his collar, "Is that blood?"


His cheeks grew darker but he offered no reply. Henry studied him some more, finding his brother's state depressing. His suit was clean enough, but the jacket needed a good brushing. From the smell of things, Ephraim needed a bath as well. Where was his valet?


"I released him...some time ago," Ephraim replied. Henry gave a start, unaware he voiced the last thought. You really are rattled. The thought and his brother brought on a sigh.


"Well that won't do," Henry said as his arm wrapped around his brother's shoulder to guide him to the side exit. "Let's head over to the house. Once you're all cleaned up, we can discuss why I sent for you."


Ephraim offered a smile but said nothing as he let his brother lead him from the church.

Chapter Two


The Vicar lived in a small cottage just behind the church. He led his brother down the winding path, past the graveyard, and through the flowers which his housekeeper planted last year. He still pictured the odd expression on her face when she leaned closer and uttered, "Something to balance the forest." Whatever that meant? He'd lived here for four years, and Henry still found it a struggle to understand what many from the village were talking about.


As the two men approached the front door, Henry glanced back, aware the church would be hidden by the hill, but still hoping for a sign. A crow flew down and landed, scratching at the path looking for something to nibble on. It paused, its head turning to follow the two men as they walked away. The creature's beak opened up wide.


"You fancy a spot of tea?"


Henry paused, staring mouth agape at the blackbird down the lane.


"Vicar?"


He turned his attention back to the house and released a laugh of embarrassment. His housekeeper stood in the doorway. Her left eyebrow raised in question as she nodded towards Ephraim.


"Oh dear," the Vicar said patting his brother's shoulder. "Ms. Morris, this here is my brother Ephraim."


"Pleased to meet you," she replied with a skeptical eye. Ephraim blinked at the woman but a well-placed elbow from his brother opened his mouth.


"Ah...yes, the pleasure is all mine," Ephraim said as he battled to get his breath back. "Please forgive me...I'm finding myself a bit out of sorts these days."


Ms. Morris sighed and gave a quick nod before slipping back into the cottage.


"She likes you," Henry said with a smile.


"How can you tell?"


"She's going to let you in my house."


***


After a bit of fuss, Ephraim found himself sitting in a copper tub in the back of the house. The same tub our mother washed us in when we were young. The thought brought a smile to his face. Happy memories about his past were few and far between. His decision to enter the Army and spur his father's offer to take over the estates had left him ostracized from the family.


He slapped his hand down onto the water, splashing the hot soapy liquid to the floor. If his father hadn't been so pig-headed, his wife and son would still be...present. His thoughts lingered on the last word. He refused to accept the possibility they were dead; until he had actual proof they were only missing. Ephraim knew there was no other choice. That way led to madness.


"Foolish man," he muttered as he stood, the water flowing back into the tub. He grabbed a towel Ms. Morris had laid out next to a change of clothes. Ephraim eyed the clothing. He was taller than his brother and thicker in the chest and arms. He doubted anything of his would fit.


Ephraim hummed a nameless tune as he stepped from the tub. He'd never learned the song's name, but he still remembered the soulful baritone who sang it every day while they marched towards catastrophe. Shaking his head, Ephraim forced the memories away as he slipped on the clothing.


"A perfect fit," he said out loud in wonder.


"They ought to be," Henry said as he slipped into the room. "Her husband was a large man."

He carried a tray over to the table between two chairs next to the fire and placed it down. Motioning with his hand towards the opposite seat, Henry sat with a grunt.


Ephraim slipped into the seat and studied the tray with a pang of sudden hunger. He couldn't remember the last time he ate, but he fought the urge to grab a sandwich. He shifted his attention to his brother as he poured tea into two cups. His stomach grumbled in protest as he waited for Henry to offer the food.


"Are you hungry?" The words barely out of his brother's mouth, as Ephraim scooped up a sandwich and began to eat. He offered a sheepish grin before taking another bite.


The two sat in silence save for the sound of Ephraim's energetic eating. After completing his second sandwich, he leaned back and waited for his brother to share why he was here.


"The Lord works in mysterious ways," Henry said as he placed his teacup down on the tray. He stood, stepping closer to the fireplace, so he could lean against the mantle. Ephraim studied his brother who suddenly seemed lost in the flames.


"So they say," Ephraim responded when his brother didn't continue. Truth be told, it was a saying that he despised. The carnage at Alma and the search for his family had soured him on God and his ways...mysterious or otherwise.


"Yes...even those that don't believe or refuse to accept the wisdom of those words. I called you here to help you understand, to show you that even a man of God can be faced with unimaginable hardships. I called you here to help me solve a mystery...and quite possibly to save a man's soul."


Ephraim stared at his brother, unsure what he was talking about or the direction their conversation had taken. Hardships? Mysteries? What was Henry talking about?


The Vicar turned and at that moment, Ephraim no longer saw a grown man of the cloth. Instead, there stood his younger brother, fear in his eyes, and that little bit of hope his older brother might be able to help. It was a look Ephraim witnessed many times as they grew up. He stood and stepped to his brother, resting his hand on his shoulder.


"Of course, Henry, you know I am always here for you."


His brother patted Ephraim's hand and offered a sad smile, "And I have been and will always be eternally grateful. But you need to know what you are getting into if you agree to help."


Henry turned his attention back to the fire. Ephraim watched the flames' reflections dance in his brother's eyes. A haunted expression washed over the man's features, and Ephraim stepped back, confronted with a look he'd seen on many men's faces during a battle. His chest tightened in concern. He wished that knowledge on no one, especially his brother.


"Henry?"


The question hung between the two men, and just when Ephraim decided to pose it again his brother spoke.


"Ms. Morris's husband disappeared. All the evidence pointed to an accident, but without a body...we can't be sure. She has accepted it and has begun the process to move on, but I need to be convinced."


Ephraim continued to stare at his brother. His last sentence had been filled with a desperation that matched his own in the hunt for his family.


"Of course, what can I do to help?"


"You can lend me your military expertise...your training, as well as your skill as a hunter. You see a month has passed and the moon is almost full. I fear death will soon be upon us."


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