• ERIC BUTLER

The Ephraim Godwin Chronicles - The Early Years: The Awakening Part 2

Updated: Sep 16

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 2 contains Chapters 3 & 4.


CHAPTER THREE


Five years. The thought repeated itself in the back of his head while he marched behind his brother. Five years since his last face to face with death. Five years since staring her in the eye, and willing himself to safety. Five years since that ill-planned attack at Alum and the slaughter of his men. He didn't even have to close his eyes to see their faces staring at him...questioning him.


Ephraim failed those men, and on returning home discovered he had failed his wife and son as well. Although he still held hope to one day make that right. A hope that slipped away a little at a time as each day passed with no results. Maybe Henry was right...this distraction might be the thing to save my sanity. Or finally, chase it away.


"It's up ahead," his brother said, turning his head slightly for Ephraim to hear.


Just up ahead...a body awaited them. Ephraim stared off to the side, slowing until he stood still in the forest. Henry pulled away unaware his brother no longer followed. Taking a deep breath, Ephraim studied the surrounding woods.


The trees were familiar; oak, ash, chestnut, beech, and maple. The path they walked upon was well-worn and wide enough for two men and a woman. The rest of the forest was filled in with wildflowers, ground cover, and a mish-mash of fungi and roots. He wondered if anyone could move through them with any sense of haste.


Ephraim took a few steps from the path and squatted. Running his hands through the growth, he found it an uneven tangled mess. Standing, he brushed his hands together and turned his attention back to the path. Henry stood a ways off, studying him. An impatient look flashed over his features, and Ephraim grinned in response. Never a good thing to keep Henry waiting when he was ready to go; a lesson the Godwin family learned fairly early in Henry's development.


"Sorry," Ephraim called out, hurrying to catch up. "I needed to check something before you force me to ogle a corpse."


"Oh stop being so melodramatic."


The brothers started to walk down the path, this time Ephraim found himself next to Henry. Easier to keep an eye on me if I decide to wander away, I suppose. His grin widened, and he fought the urge to slip his arm around his brother and hug him. Five years.


***

"Bloody hell," Ephraim spat out as he stared at the mangled corpse of Mr. Morris. He'd seen worse on the battlefield but barely.


The body lay on a long wooden work table. A cut piece of cloth covered the man's genitals but the rest of his body was exposed. Deep, ragged gashes covered his torso and arms. The man's neck was sliced open and Ephraim spotted his larynx. It dangled from the wound, and Ephraim fought the sudden urge to reach out and push on the flesh.


The man's face was quite the sight. The eyes were open, and his mouth stretched in a frozen scream that Ephraim thought he might be beginning to hear. Another series of gashes traveled down the left side of the head, one visible from the temple and down to the chin.

The rest simply tore away the hair and flesh, exposing the bone and teeth of Mr. Morris.


The stench was building but Ephraim knew the body and the smell should be much worse. He glanced at his brother, noted how pale he was, and wondered how often he had gazed upon Mr. Morris.


"This is only the third time," Henry whispered as if reading Ephraim's mind. "I've had one of the groundsmen deliver ice every so often, so we could try to keep the body in decent shape..."


He trailed off as the absurdity of his words sunk in. Ephraim nodded and turned his attention back to the body. Leaning closer to get a better view of the wounds, he tried to decide what the weapon might have been. Nothing popped into his head, so he straightened up and motioned toward the door. He didn't wait to see if his brother followed him out to the fresh air.


Chapter Four


"You said an accident," Ephraim said as Henry exited the small structure housing the body. "That was no accident."


"I am inclined to agree," Henry stated after taking in huge gulps of fresh air. "The Constable had other ideas. He called it an accident and ordered the body buried. There would be no investigation and more importantly no trial."


"More importantly?"


"I think the Baron would frown on any eyes studying this area too closely."


"Ah, so that is the Constable's role in all this," Ephraim said as he stepped closer to his brother. "And just who might this Baron be?"


"Baron Thaddeus Hall," Henry said but grew quiet when a shadow passed over Ephraim's face.


So I wasn't the only one to leave after Alum. Ephraim frowned as he compared his fortune to the man responsible for the slaughter of good British soldiers. If only his superiors had listened, but they were ready for this war to be over. So ready they went with a madman's plan; a plan Ephraim barely escaped. He sold his commission after much argument and left the Army. His only wish had been to return to his family and put the nightmare behind him. Five years later, he wondered if fate had brought him back to Thaddeus Hall.


"I knew this Baron...when he was a Colonel. Yet his decisions appear as questionable now as I found them then."


Henry nodded slowly, studying Ephraim closely.


"So any idea what really happened?" Ephraim asked anxious to fill the quiet. Henry nodded but held his tongue. Ephraim opened his mouth to press his brother for an answer when a woman called out.


"It was the curse of the wolf."


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