• ERIC BUTLER

The Ephraim Godwin Chronicles - The Early Years: The Awakening Part 4

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 4 contains Chapters 7 & 8.


CHAPTER SEVEN


Ephraim sat at the kitchen table in Vicar's cottage. His brother left him to handle pressing business at the church. Tanner left to gathers some supplies he said they would need, and so Ephraim took a much-needed break to think. He hadn't known exactly what to expect when Henry sent for him. He assumed it was a misguided attempted to help him, maybe even talk him out of continuing the search for his wife and son.


Their father still refused to acknowledge him since he left to join the Army, and Ephraim knew that would stop their oldest brother from reaching out. The old man must be mortified that his middle child is out there making a fool of himself. Ephraim shook his head as his hands balled into fists. He resisted the urge to slam them on the table. No...a fool of the family name. That would be the thing to drive Thomas Godwin to action.


"I will need to verify with my dear brother," he said, hoping the act of speaking would relieve some tension.


"Pardon?" Ms. Morris asked as she slipped into the room.


Ephraim stood, offering a slight bow of his head in greeting and motioned to the empty chair across from him. "Nothing, I was just talking to myself," he replied with a slight smile. He found acknowledging when he did such things helped put the others at ease, though on occasion it had increased their worry. With Ms. Morris, he hoped it the former.


She nodded and after hesitating a moment, slipped into the offered chair. Ephraim sat as well and wondered where Ms. Morris might take the conversation. He studied her face, spotting the beauty that once captured Mr. Morris's eye. Ephraim wondered if the years or her husband's death had aged her so. A little of both most likely. If I ever discover my family's fate, will my reaction be the same?


"Why did your brother send for you?" Ms. Morris asked, breaking into Ephraim's thoughts.


"Honestly...?" Ephraim asked hoping to use the time to gather his thoughts. He had no desire to share it all with this stranger, no matter the circumstance.


Ms. Morris released a heavy sigh. She glared at Ephraim a moment, before working to soften the anger from her face. An encouraging smile flickered across her lips as she nodded.


"Sorry, of course," he said, covering his embarrassment with a cough. "When I returned from the War my family was gone. I have been searching for them non-stop and this is his way to distract me. In my search, I have solved a few mysteries and Henry must think I have something to offer here."


Ms. Morris stared at Ephraim, the smile returning but this time reflecting the sadness in her eyes. She nodded to herself and stood, stepping to the bank of cabinets against the far wall. She opened one, moving items around until she found what she was searching for. As she turned around, Ephraim noticed a roll of paper clutched tightly in her left hand.


"The night before my Alfie died, someone slipped this under our door," Ms. Morris said, her voice barely above a whisper. She moved towards Ephraim, her steps hesitant, while indecision battled upon her face. He stood and quickly met her halfway.


She placed the paper in his outstretched hand and hurried to her seat, burying her face as tears of sorrow sprang forth. After handing her a handkerchief, Ephraim unrolled the parchment.


This is the last warning


Stop searching


Or else.


Ephraim reread the few lines and moved to sit down. This note combined with the attack made no sense. Obviously, a wolf did not pen this warning...but the wounds pointed to such a beast as the attacker. Was it all a coincidence?


"Does anyone know about this?" Ephraim asked. Ms. Morris shook her head, seemingly unable to speak. "Do you know what this is about?"


After a moment's hesitation, she shook her head again. Ephraim studied her face, noticing her red cheeks grew darker under his gaze. His mouth shut as his brother's voice called out from the front of the house. She relaxed when he asked nothing further. Now was not the time, but he would press her later on.


CHAPTER EIGHT


Thaddeus Hall sat on the floor wearing only his trousers. The cold from the stone soaked into his backside, and crawled through his legs and lower back. His teeth chattered, but he ignored them as he ignored everything when he held the skull.

The skull rested in his hands, too heavy to be held by just one. He leaned closer as if to get a better look, but in truth, he knew every inch of this treasure with his eyes closed. Instead, he leaned closer hoping its commands made it to his ears; to feel its power as it slipped off like wisps of smoke. Long ago he was told a lesser man would only observe the skull and nothing else, but Hall discovered its powers early on. Now he studied the hazy smoke rising from the skull, hypnotized by the lazy vapors as they moved closer to his face.


A low hum emitted from the skull as the smoke rolled together into two thin woven strands and slithered up his nose. Hall choked before fighting the urge to try to blow the mist from his nostrils. Instead, he held it in, growing light-headed as he refused to breathe. The hum increased, the skull vibrating in Hall's hands forcing him to tighten his grip. The edges grew dark, and he wondered if he would ever be one with the master.


Soon, a voice spoke but whether in his head or out loud Hall could never tell. A smile broke over his lips, and he released his breath, knowing he no longer had to worry the smoke might disappear. He listened carefully to the skull's instructions, nodding and smiling as the plan began to take shape.


***


Ephraim stood outside the cottage, smoking his pipe. Ms. Morris's dinner had been fantastic, and Ephraim was sure it was the first home-cooked meal he'd had since his return from the Continent. His heart ached, as his thoughts went to his wife and her wonderful cooking. He puffed on the pipe as if a locomotive but it did not distract from the ache in his chest. Although five years had passed, the sting was still fresh. His eyes watered a bit as the smoke rose up, drawing his attention to the full moon.


A lone howl pierced the quiet, and Ephraim shivered at the long, soulful cry. Tanner stepped from the shadows and glanced back towards the forest.


"Thank God I made it back," he said, a bit out of breath. "From the sounds of things, tonight is a bad night to be strolling through the trees."


Ephraim nodded in agreement, "I need you to expand on your earlier claim." Tanner stared at him, puzzlement on his face. Ephraim gave him a moment before saying, "Morris isn't the first one."


"Oh, aye that's true," Tanner said, spitting to the side. "By me count, he is the third, but the first body to be discovered."


"What do you mean three?" Henry asked as he slipped out of the cottage and joined the two men.


Ephraim glanced at his brother," You mean you didn't know?"


"Of course not, otherwise I would have sent for you earlier...although did I hear you correctly, there are no bodies?"


Tanner nodded, "That's right Vicar. Morris was the first one found but not the first one gone. Cora and Patrick disappeared two moons ago after the howls began."


"And they were?" Ephraim asked between puffs.


"They are two wool headed idiots who thought they should run-away from their duties," Henry said, sadness in his voice taking the sting away from the biting words. "They were in love, and wanted to marry but Selina...Lady Farkus order me to refuse them. Which was odd since she rarely lets me precede over anything dealing with her people."


Tanner nodded at this and produced a cigarette case from an invisible pocket. He slipped the paper between his lips and motioned for a light. Henry dug in his pockets and pulled out a box of matches. He handed it over to the colorful man.


"Thanks to ye, Vicar," he replied as he lit the cigarette. After a few long drags, he let the smoke out slowly before saying, "They were lovers, and their love would not be denied by her ladyship. They made off to the south, but the moon appeared and the howls began. We had people waiting on the other side...those lovers simply vanished."


"Still why wasn't I told?"


"Because ye weren't ready to believe, but now...well after seeing Mr. Morris...ye have no choice."


Ephraim studied his brother, grateful for the brightness the moon was providing. He witnessed the understanding blooming on his face and recognized the anger at being left out of the others' fate. But if Ephraim was right, it wouldn't have mattered. The first two were Romanis, and they took care of themselves.


Another howl issued from the dark and Ephraim shivered, wondering just who this beast might be after tonight.

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