• ERIC BUTLER

The Ephraim Godwin Chronicles - The Early Years: The Awakening Part 3

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 3 contains Chapters 5 & 6.


CHAPTER FIVE


Ephraim turned to find a woman walking towards them leading a brown mare. She was of average height when barefoot he guessed, but the heels on her boots added a few inches. The woman wore her long dark hair in a loose ponytail that hung over her left shoulder. Her bright colorful clothes, while simple, seemed to be well-made and from expensive materials. He glanced at his brother with a raised eyebrow.


"Ah, yes...the local tarot reader," Harry said with a snort. Ephraim glanced back towards the woman who now stood a few feet away. The horse quietly pawed at the ground.


"Hello Vicar," she said, a smirk plastered on her lips. Ephraim could feel the tension between the two, and he struggled not to openly gape at them. This close, Ephraim could see the natural beauty in the woman's dark features and slender build. Exactly the type of woman that attracts my brother's attention...well not the fortune-telling part; his head tilted as if agreeing with his thought.


"Lady Farkus," Henry said, the disdain still coloring his voice. He pointed to Ephraim and introduced his brother.


Ephraim hesitated a moment and then stepped forward to take her offered hand. Her smile grew as he brought the back of her hand to his lips. Henry must be staring daggers for her smile to be so big.


"Pleasure to meet you Lady Farkus," Ephraim said as he stepped back, heat rising to his cheeks as she studied him. Her dark eyes sparkled in the sunlight and Ephraim never felt more like a mouse before.


"Oh I'm sure that will change after our beloved Vicar bends your ear," she said as laughter slipped out.


He glanced at his brother, noticing his cheeks too were darker but Ephraim guessed from anger, and not self-consciousness. Henry was always one to let the fairer sex burrow under his skin. Ephraim wondered if his brother's issue was one of rejection, his eyes unfocused as he remembered a time his brother was forward with the opposite sex.


The quiet hovering over them brought Ephraim's attention back. I believe I've missed something.


"Please forgive me, Lady Farkus," Ephraim said with a sad smile, "I'm still a little shaken from Mr. Morris's condition."


"Really?" she asked with open astonishment. "I would have presumed a soldier in the Crimean War to witness much worse."


Ephraim's head snapped to the side, his eyes glued to his brother who offered nothing more than a shrug.


"Oh, the Vicar didn't tell me... I read it in the cards," she said, her laughter once more filling the air.


"Enough of that," Henry growled as he stepped closer. "I've told you before and I'll probably tell you until one of us is in the ground...those cards tell you nothing."


Lady Farkus offered him a look of pity before holding out the mare's reins, "I brought this for the soldier to get around easier as he tries to investigate Mr. Morris's tragic passing. Although if you only listened to me, you could have saved so much wasted time, and quite possibly Mr. Morris."


"And how is that?" Ephraim asked as he held out his hand for the horse to catch his scent.

The mare tentatively sniffed around his palm and fingers before offering a lick. He took the reins, stepping closer to pat her on the neck. The horse offered a neigh and wicker before allowing Ephraim to lead her away from her owner. Once she settled, he did a quick search, running his hands over the horse's body and down her legs.


"Because men are too proud to recognize not everything can be controlled or even understood," she said as she turned around to walk back the way she came.


After a few steps she whistled loudly and a man on horseback appeared. He rode up to her, sliding from the saddle as the horse came to a stop. She stepped up and swung her leg over the saddle and glanced back to offer a smile; her hair shimmering in the sunlight. Ephraim's breath caught as he watched her trot away.


CHAPTER SIX


"Well there goes the parish's resident loon," Henry said, his voice lacking in humor. "Be cautious, they say she can bewitch a man if he's not careful."


Ephraim's eyes followed her as she rode away. After a moment, his attention changed to the man walking towards them. He was as tall as Ephraim but walked with a slight hitch that forced him to lean forward. While he had the broad shoulders of a man used to hard labor, his left sleeve hung loose and empty. The man flipped his cigarette to the side and stopped a few feet from Ephraim and the Vicar.


"Her Ladyship wants me to help ye," he said before hacking a bit and spitting to the side.


Ephraim studied the man, noting the long angry scars running down the left side of his face, pulling the corner of his mouth into a scowl. What hair he could grow on his face and head was short and used to hide as much of the scarring as possible. Like Lady Farkus, his clothing was bright and used colors not found in nature.


The man's dark eyes stared back, and Ephraim wondered what the man observed. Did he see a desperate man, a soldier, or possibly a grieving father? All the things Ephraim saw when he dared to glance at a mirror.


Ephraim glanced at his brother and sighed. Henry had already begun to walk away, heading to the church or his residence. Turning his attention back to the man, Ephraim nodded.


"How can you help?"


"Extra pair of eyes; people round here don't like questions, and I help make tight lips...looser," he said with a grin, making his appearance more sinister.


"Hopefully that won't be necessary," Ephraim replied, the memories of exactly how the Army obtained information from prisoners flashing through his head. He couldn't imagine such activities going over well in a small parish in England. "I'm Mr. Ephraim Godwin and I assume you've met the ass who is walking away."


The man chuckled and stretched out his right hand, "Don't know if I should offer a shake or a salute but I'm confident you'll put me in place quick enough. Stefan Tanner at ye service."


Ephraim grasped the man's hand, gauging his strength and noting the man's rough and

calloused skin. Mr. Tanner stopped just short of crushing Ephraim's hand, releasing only when the notable sound of his bones grinding filled their ears.


"Maybe next time, we'll stick with the salute," Ephraim said with a grimace. "Where did you serve?"


"All over, but I got these gifts near the end of the disaster in Afghanistan. Bastards took my arm, but left me pretty smile intact."


Ephraim nodded, understanding the venom in the man's voice. Many believed that war to be unnecessary and hastily put together, two things military men despised. To be injured in such a conflict... Ephraim sighed, happy to have escaped Alma relatively intact...physically at least.


"After meeting Lady Farkus, I suspect refusing is not an option," Ephraim said, waiting for Mr. Tanner's acknowledging nod before turning around to lead the horse after his brother. "Well then can you tell me about this curse of the wolf?"


"All I can tell ye is the curse is real, and Morris ain't the first."


The two men followed the Vicar in silence as Ephraim pondered what his brother had dragged him into.


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