• ERIC BUTLER

The Ephraim Godwin Chronicles - The Early Years: The Awakening Part 5

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 5 contains Chapters 9 & 10.

I appreciate your patience in this week's delay.


CHAPTER NINE


The room was dark when Henry gently shook Ephraim awake. A single candle offered a bit of light, and Ephraim recognized concern on his brother's face.


"Whatever is the matter?" he asked as he sat up, rubbing the sleep from his eyes.


"Mr. Tanner is here," Henry whispered as he placed the candlestick down on the dresser before leaving the room. "I'm afraid there's been another attack."


Ephraim stood, dressed, and stepped to the bureau. He filled the basin with water from a pitcher and quickly washed his face and teeth. Another attack and since Tanner is here...another body left behind? At the very least, some type of evidence must be present. The thoughts rushed through his head as he slipped on his coat and grabbed the candlestick.

He moved to the kitchen, walking towards the only other source of light other than his own. Ephraim found Tanner and Henry sitting at the table. A cock crowed from outside.


"Awfully early for such unpleasantness," Ephraim said as he leaned against the kitchen wall. Henry nodded at his declaration but said nothing.


"Ye couldn't be more correct," Tanner grumbled as he stood. The scowl on his face deepened, emphasizing his scars and giving him a most sinister appearance. As he moved to step outside, Ephraim put out his arm and slowed the man. He studied him for a moment before offering a nod.


"Friends or family?"


"Both," Tanner said as he slipped from the house to disappear into the darkness.


"You need to hurry," Henry said with a grimace. "Once the location is discovered...you won't be allowed to investigate."


Ephraim stepped outside and found Tanner waiting on horseback. He held out the reins to the horse Lady Farkus had loaned Ephraim. He patted the mare on the nose and whispered a few words of comfort before swinging up and getting settled.


The men rode in silence, following the country path with the moonlight's help. After arriving where Ephraim met Lady Farkus, Tanner led them off the path and straight into the trees. Once they entered the forest, Tanner stopped and slipped from his horses back.


"Best to do this on foot," Tanner said over his shoulder. "The horses know the way but better safe since the dark..."


Ephraim hopped down and followed the man as they made their way deeper into the woods. The trees overhead obscured the moonlight, but the darkness slowly began to melt into the gray of morning. Another hour and the sun would be up.


As they pushed deeper into the forest, Ephraim realized they were on another path. There was no undergrowth in the way; each step clear of all forest debris.


"So is this a poacher's trail?" he asked wondering if Tanner would tell him the truth.


"Aye," Tanner replied, offering nothing else. Ephraim smiled, not sure if he was more amused by the honesty or the lack of any explanation. Not only was poaching frowned upon here, but it was also a capital offense. Something the landowners wouldn't hesitate to carry out. Of course, that never discouraged anyone.


Tanner stopped at a post, cleverly cut out of a felled tree. Ephraim followed his lead and secured his horse. Producing a lantern, Tanner lit the wick and held it out for Ephraim before lighting a second one. He patted the horse once more before following Tanner through the forest on foot.


As they slipped through the trees, the stink of death grew stronger and Ephraim found he had to concentrate to stop from gagging. An opening in the trees above allowed the waning moonlight to illuminate the forest floor, and Ephraim gasped. They stood at the edge of a slaughter.


The two men stepped into the clearing, lanterns held high.


CHAPTER TEN


"What am I looking at?" Ephraim asked not actually expecting an answer. The clearing was a ten by ten square, the ground cleared away except for the occasional pile of leaves. A fire pit sat in the middle, a circle of blackened stones around its edge. A makeshift spit leaned over the pit. As Ephraim moved closer, his stomach tightened.


A young boy, stripped of his clothes, hung from the spit. Ephraim let the light sweep over the child, refusing to linger on the open wounds or charred flesh. Red hot coals still smoldered in the pit. A deer carcass lay off to the right, covered in deep slash marks and gouges. Its belly torn open, chunks of its stomach and intestines lay on the ground. He leaned closer, noting the bite marks on the innards and around the beast's neck.


Tanner stayed near the edge. Ephraim wondered if it was out of deference for the deceased or unease from the amount of blood soaking into the earth. He hadn't seen anything like this since Alma...except in his nightmares.


"Three...no four bodies, torn to pieces and scattered," he said to Tanner, more a statement than a question.


"Aye," Tanner replied, his eyes staring blankly ahead.


Ephraim returned his attention to the carnage. His lips pursed, something wasn't quite right. He clicked his tongue against the back of his teeth as he glanced at the remains. Their faces are unmarred. He shook his head at the thought. That can't be right...the level of pure violence here and to somehow miss damaging all the faces...impossible.


Each body had the limbs ripped away; the torsos covered in rents and gouges. Two of the bodies were missing their heads, but the violence done to the other two stopped before reaching the chin. Ephraim stumbled across the two missing heads, thrown off to the side and resting near the clearing edge; while one had been gnawed on the back, neither had any damage to the faces. A warning or a simple coincidence?


"You found them?" Ephraim asked although he was sure of the answer. A soldier like Tanner may not be totally numb to violence, but his reaction reflected a familiarity that made Ephraim sad. No one deserved to discover families or friends in such a state.


"Aye," Tanner said once again, and Ephraim wondered if the man had slipped into shock. "I warned tem to skip tonight, that we'd make do with what we had but tey insisted. Said tey'd be protected."


Tanner spit off to the side, his scowl deeper than usual. Ephraim nodded, he understood Tanner's distaste. No matter what faith you took with you on the battlefield, it didn't take long for you to realize it was all a roll of the die. Maybe when it was all said and done, you returned to your faith but in the back of your mind, the questions always lingered. Fate, faith, or dumb luck...which really kept you alive on that field of carnage?


"I assume they were out here to actually poach," Ephraim said keeping his voice neutral, understanding the touchy nature of the subject. "Whose land are we on?"


Tanner stepped closer, "Aye. We try to wait for the beasts to slip over to Lady Farkus's land as she doesn't care, but there are times we have no choice and come here to the Baron's property."


"It's time to pay the Baron a visit," Ephraim said with distaste in his voice.

Tanner shrugged and stepped back to the edge, "No man did this."


Ephraim shook his head. He was fully aware of the terrible things Baron Hall was capable of...glancing around the square he shuddered. This would be the least of it.


As they stepped from the clearing, the howls began.


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