• ERIC BUTLER

The Ephraim Godwin Chronicles - The Early Years: The Awakening Part 12

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 11 contains Chapters 23 & 24.

CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE

The Vicar stood off to the side of the road. It would be night soon and still no sign of his brother or Mr. Tanner. His mind was a foggy mess, and the more he pressed the worse it became. Ms. Morris thought some rest would help, but he struggled to find enough peace to sleep while his brother was missing.


Lord Hall or Lady Farkus? He weighed each choice, neither seemed promising. Although when he thought of Lady Farkus a thread appeared, floating in front of him...a thread he suspected needed to be pulled. He reached out, swiping through the nothingness in front of him. What is wrong with me?


Henry stomped to the barn, saddled his horse and began the ride to Lady Farkus's estate. This time he was resolute to discover his brother's fate no matter the cost.


***


Ephraim stood in a circle of bodies, the ground slick with bloody mud and excrement. His saber in his right hand, and his service revolver in the other, Ephraim waited for the horde to descend. He was the last of the men Colonel Hall sent out. On a fool's errand. Ephraim spat at the thought. The death of every one of these men was simply to feed that man's vanity and greed. The ground shook with the thundering hoofs of the advancing army. Hoots and battle cries, carried over the wind meant to dispirit Ephraim had the opposite effect. He would not die this day.


Ephraim's eyes squinted in thought. Why am I so sure? The question hovered in his mind as he tried to come to terms with the absoluteness of this feeling. Today was not his day to meet his maker. And yet how could it not be? The enemy forces crested the hill, but it failed to fuel the doubt he expected to experience. Once again his resolve firmed.


Stepping over the bodies of his men, Ephraim began to walk forward. He would meet these men head on, not cowering in the corpses of his brothers. His pride would allow nothing else. The horsemen pulled up, circling their mounts, but staying out of range of his revolver.


"Why does he not cower?" one rider called out as Ephraim continued to stalk towards him. His mind so focused, he didn't register his understanding of his enemy's words. "Who is this man?"


"Major Ephraim Godwin at your service," he called out in their native tongue while slashing his sword back and forth. "Make peace with your creator."


As the last word left his mouth, Ephraim moved to a trot and as he advanced, raised his revolver and fired. His first three bullets struck true, and three men fell from their horses. As the last body hit the cold ground with a thud, the remaining soldiers spun to retreat. A rider-less horse wandered to a stop, bending over to eat the only clean crop of grass Ephraim had seen on the battle field.


"Hello there," he said in a calm even voice. "Are you friendly?"


When he was close enough to touch the horse, he froze and extended his hand near the beast's face. A moment later a cold nose nuzzled his palm.


"Hey there," he said with a smile, "I need your help." As he spoke, he slipped closer to the horse, and climbed into her saddle. The horse resisted him a moment, but Ephraim got her moving with a firm hand.


He angled the horse towards the retreating men and advanced to a quick trot. If he could capture or kill some of the enemy's forces, he would...if only for his men. As he rode, Ephraim let out a battle cry and pushed the horse to go faster. He fired two more shots, gaining ground on the retreating force.


"That a girl," he shouted as he leaned forward, his saber pointed straight ahead as if to guide the mount.


With each step, the ground began to explode. Dirt, debris, and body parts rained down on Ephraim as his horse began to rise in the air. The explosions were deafening, and Ephraim dropped his revolver and saber as he clapped his hands over his ears. He drove his knees into his mount's side, hoping to slow her but instead they continued to hurtle forward, rising the whole time.


Ephraim studied the ground, shocked as the battlefield shrank. The men soon disappeared as he continued to rise. His mount cried out in terror, its screams drowned out by the constant explosions below. His mind ached as he forced it to process what his eyes said was happening.


"Good God," he screamed as the mount exploded under him. He hung in the sky for a moment, suspended like a puppet before moving to the stage. The cold wind whipped around him, and the sun melted before reforming into a ball of ice. A sharp snap sounded above, and Ephraim fell.


A wordless howl slipped out as he twirled and tumbled through the sky, barreling toward the bloody ground below. And yet as he fell, time seemed to slow just a moment, but enough for him to make out two shapes. A giant horned man and an enormous dog locked in a battle Ephraim somehow understood to be eternal. As they spun around, inflicting harm to each other, Ephraim noticed the surrounding ground took damage as well.


Deep gashes tore into the earth; red ooze bubbled to the surface, and ran over the ground turning the battlefield into a lake of blood. Ephraim threw up his arms to block his vision as the ground rushed toward him.


CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR


"I apologize for the late hour," Henry said, his face turned slightly from the light. He couldn't explain why but something told him to avoid eye contact with Lady Farkus.


"Why Vicar," she replied with a sort laugh, "It is never too late for a visit from a man of God."


Henry flinched from the thinly veiled accusation but stayed quiet. She stepped back and motioned him to enter before spinning and gliding down the hall. He hesitated a moment, suddenly unsure of the situation. Remember Ephraim. He nodded at the thought and hurried to catch up.


"I'm wondering if you've seen my brother?" he called out, seemingly unable to catch up as she appeared to pull further away.


"Yes," she called over her shoulder, "you were there when we met."


Henry sighed in exasperation. He never enjoyed their conversations when Selina was like this. His cheeks flushed with heat when he realized his mind was wandering. The woman could play him like a fiddle, and both of them knew it.


"Lady Farkus," he replied, placing emphasis on her title, "As you well know, I am looking for him now."


She stopped moving and spun to face him. He pulled up; aware they were alone in the hall...quite possibly the house.


"Henry," she said, her voice honey, "are you cross with me? You only call me Lady Farkus when we are around people or you are angry and I see no one here."


She slid closer, reaching her hand out but stopping just before touching his chest. He shuddered, cursing himself for coming here alone. He would have been wise to bring Ms. Morris at the very least, but he hadn't wanted to endanger her.


"Dear Henry, I can feel your heart racing from here."


He snatched her arm at the wrist, stepping closer to force it to her side, "Enough with your games, woman. I must find Ephraim; if you truly have no idea his location I will need to go to Lord Hall's...something you are well aware I am loathe to do."


Forgetting himself Henry stared in Selina's eyes, his hand still clasped around her wrist. For a moment they stood frozen, an unseen tension holding them rigid. Selina licked her lips with the tip of her tongue, breaking the spell. Henry stumbled back, releasing her wrist.


"Forgive my forwardness," he gasped, struggling to catch his breath.


"Foolish man," Selina responded with a throaty chuckle. She slipped back into his space and rested her hand on his chest. "Must you always control your feelings around me?"


Henry closed his eyes and nodded sharply. Her touch was fire, and he suspected she knew just how close he was to surrendering.


"My brother?"


Selina stepped back, removed her hand, and sighed, "Yes... I know where your brother is but you must trust me."


"Trust...you?" Henry said confusion on his face.


She nodded, spun and hurried away forcing Henry to once again follow her lead. They traveled to the back of the house and then down flights of stairs. While Selina seemed comfortable with the shadows, Henry found he wished for the spacing between lanterns to be less.


"Where are you leading me?" he called out as they stepped upon the third flight of stairs heading down. "As a man of God, I have to admit I never thought I'd travel so far underground."


Selina's laughter cheered him enough to follow her, but he still wondered just where they might end up. At the bottom, she reached up and grabbed a torch, holding it to the lantern flame until it caught. Selina held it out for Henry to take. He paused, glancing around to see if there was more he might be missing but found nothing but a large room.


"The choice is yours," she said as her lips rose in a grin. "You can trust me and find your brother, or we can stand here an eternity waiting for you to make up your mind."


Henry's eyes narrowed, feeling manipulated but unsure where it was leading to, "Fine...please lead the way." He grabbed the offered torch and continued to follow behind her. They left the room, passing through a wide arch into a tunnel that weaved to-and-fro until spilling them back into a larger room.


A wall of bars split the room in half and Selina motioned Henry forward. He slid next to her and held the torch out. A gasp slipped from his lips as the light illuminated his brother asleep on the floor, twitching and groaning. To the right of him, Tanner lay so still Henry wondered if he still took breath. A glance at Selina confirmed his suspicions.


"Trust you?" he snapped turning to face her. "Tanner is dead and God knows what my brother is going through...did you poison him?"


With every word his voice gained volume until Selina flinched as if each one was a physical blow. She staggered back, her arm thrown up for protection as he stalked forward. He slapped her hand down, gripping her bicep to pull her closer. "What is going on?"


Selina's lips parted, the fear in her eyes shining bright in the torch light. Henry glared at her, waiting for any explanation when a shout from his brother came from the cell. He released her and moved to the bars.


"Henry, how ever did you find me?"


"Ephraim, what is going on?"


"I'm not sure but time is running out."



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