Author Topic: A Mantle of Fire (First Draft) Any Suggestions Welcome  (Read 312 times)

Offline BarryW54

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A Mantle of Fire (First Draft) Any Suggestions Welcome
« on: January 04, 2019, 03:19:25 PM »
A Mantle of Fire

In the year of our Lord, thirteen eighty-one, Marcus Rolfe, a young tanner by trade, was out early on a snowy February Sabbath, trying to overcome a bout of drink and brawling he had engaged in the night before at the Redd Inn Tavern. The sky wore deeply quilted gray flannel, and large, lazy snowflakes were dropping and twirling from the low hanging clouds. Walking along, humming an old tavern song to himself, Marcus suddenly noticed a rather strange acting fox coming toward him through the snowy woods, and upon seeing  Marcus, it slowed its pace but became more wary. The closer the animal came, the better he could make it out. Its chest was an immaculate white, and its four black stockings stood in sharp contrast to the deepening snow. Slowly, the fox kept coming towards Marcus, and when the distance became no more than a few paces between them, the fox bowed its head and spoke.
“My liege,” the fox said, its shaggy head brushing the snow.
Marcus instinctively reached his hand inside his thick coat and grabbed the hilt of his knife.
“What manner of demon’s curse is this?” he muttered to himself, his words as little puffs of fog in the morning cold. He took a quick few steps backward, glancing around the snowy woods and preparing himself for whatever else may come traipsing along. He did not know what to do. A talking fox? Maybe it was cursed, he thought to himself. He was sure it wasn’t in nature’s plan for animals to speak, although he had heard old drunken men around the campfires tell tales about such things from ancient times. But, he took them to be just that, old drunk men telling tall tales. However, here in front of God and himself, this fox spoke. Add that to his aching head; this was fastly becoming one morning he wished he had stayed in bed.
“My liege,” the fox spoke again, its head still bowed.
Marcus didn’t know whether to run or stay to see what this talking fox was going to say next. After thinking about it for a few minutes, he decided to stay, although he still had his fingers firmly grasped around the hilt of his knife.
“What do you want, fox?” Marcus said, really not knowing what to say. It wasn’t as if a fox spoke to you every day. Then, a gnawing ball of fear started growing in the pit of his stomach. Was this witchery? He had heard of witches that supposedly haunted the grey hills that surrounded the area, and he had never wanted anything to do with them. Had they come to him for some ungodly reason?
The fox raised its head and looked at Marcus with coal black eyes.
“We need your help,” the fox said just before it collapsed into a furry heap in the deepening snow.
Marcus stared at the fallen animal. His head throbbed, and he was having a hard time making sense of the morning’s event thus far. The fox did not appear to be dangerous, even though it was a talking fox and as far as Marcus was concerned, that made it a cursed animal. Should he kill it? Or, was it already dead?
Ever so slowly he walked up to the animal, now with his knife out openly in his hand. When he got closer, he took his foot and gently nudged it. Nothing. This time he poked a little harder, sufficient enough to make the fox shudder and cough although it stayed unconscious. After a few more minutes he worked up enough nerve to examine the animal by hand. He was shocked when he found the fox was nothing but skin and bone. No wonder it had collapsed. It was apparent the fox was starved. So much so that Marcus was surprised it was even alive, much less talking.
What should he do? Something was telling him not to kill it. After all, it hadn’t attacked him or offered any apparent danger. The snow came faster now, and he had to go home and eat something before the Sabbath service. It wouldn’t start for another hour, but he had to figure out what to do with the fox. His father would be no help. Liam Rolfe would have it killed and skinned and sold to the furrier for a few pennies. Ever since Marcus’s mother had passed two years ago all his father thought of was money and how to get out of the tannery. Marcus couldn’t blame him for that, but the tannery was their station. Money might buy him a few fair-weather friends, but he would always stay a tanner. They were a step above the peasants but still considered low class. So, instead of seeing his father making a few coins from the furrier he decided to see if his friend, James Bigg, would help him but right now he had to hide the animal quickly. He suddenly thought of the perfect place.
“Marcus Rolfe, what are you doing at my door this early Sabbath morning and what do you have in that sack?”
Adelina Stone was the midwife of the village and was one of the very few among the five hundred or so townsfolk who would have anything to do with Marcus or the Bigg family. A true righteous gentlewoman among the tares.
“Addy,” a loving nickname used by the ones who appreciated the kindly old woman, “I need you to do me a huge favor if you would,” Marcus said, standing at the midwife’s door while looking up and down the snowy streets to make sure no one else saw him.
“Look at me, where are my manners,” Adelina said, shaking her head and pulling Marcus into her home all the while herself looking up and down the streets of Temes. Nosy neighbors, she thought to herself. “Come in Marcus and warm yourself. I’ll brew you a tea and fix you a fishcake, caught only yesterday.”
“No thank you, Addy,” said Marcus. “I’ll tell you what I need, and I hope you’ll understand…though I’m not sure, you will. I’m not sure I understand.”
Marcus walked over the fireplace and knelt before the hearth where he gently took the fox out of the sack and lay it before the warm fire. The animal was still breathing, but faintly.
“Oh my, a fox,” Adelina said, looking at the creature with wide eyes. “What in this world are you doing with a fox? Had you set a trap?” she whispered.
Marcus shook his head. “Addy, what I’m about to tell you is going to be hard for you to believe, it still is for me and, well, I think the ale from last night is still working on my aching head. But, you being the only good woman in this village…”
“Nosh now, enough of that,” but a little grin pulled at the edge of her lips. “You know they look at me with mixed feelings here in Temes. Some people would just as soon see me run out of town except I have delivered many of their young. They won’t allow a doctor around their pregnant wives, but they run to me only when they need to.” Adelina kneeled with Marcus and looked at the fox. “What is it about this creature that has you so upset?”
Then the fox, as if it heard them talking, moaned and tried to turn, the warm fire returning some strength to its frail form.
Marcus looked anxiously back and forth between Adelina and the fox. What if Adelina grabbed her fireplace poker and threw him and the fox out of her home? He wouldn’t blame her if she did. But now the fox was stirring a little more, and he had to tell her before it spoke and maybe scared the old lady out of her wits.
“This fox spoke to me,” Marcus said so low Adelina couldn’t hear him.
“What? What did you say?” the midwife said.
The fox coughed again and rolled to its side and set up on its thin haunches and looked at Marcus and the midwife.
Marcus decided to come right out and tell Adelina what had happened to him this morning and the words came falling out of his mouth.
“This morning, I was walking through the woods trying to walk off last nights brew when this fox walked up to me and started talking. It called me a liege or something, said they needed my help and then collapsed. I thought about killing it because it is no doubt cursed but I couldn’t, and then I thought of you, and…here we are.”
“No, no my young Marcus.” Adelina was looking wondrously at the fox and later on Marcus would swear it smiled at her. Adelina continued. “You must never kill these magnificent creatures of God.” She then looked at Marcus with a look of seriousness he rarely, if ever saw in her. “It has begun.”
“What? What has begun?” Marcus asked, wide-eyed and now even more frightened and confused than before.
“Marcus, listen to me carefully,” Adelina said to the young tanner, taking him gently by the shoulders, looking straight into his eyes.
“You must go to Sabbath service. You know if you miss they will send to your house and see what is wrong. They are strict in this village, too strict; you know that.”
“Yes Addy, but, what about you? And the fox, what has begun…?”
“Marcus,” Adelina said, strengthening her grip on the young man’s shoulder and giving him a stern shake. “Listen to me; everything is all right for now. They won’t bother me as much as they would you. One of their gossips has become with child, so they will go easier on me. But, you must go, do you understand? I will explain everything when you get back.”
Marcus looked at Adelina with a confused expression, but he gave in. He knew what had happened to a few young boys some months back that skipped Sabbath services. It was not good.
“Ok, Addy, I’ll go. You’re not afraid of that fox?” Marcus said, staring at the animal as he rose to leave.
“No Marcus. I’m more concerned with what news I am afraid he bears. I promise, I am ok, and I will explain everything when you get back, now go on with you boy,” she said, pushing Marcus toward the door. “The bells are ringing!” She handed him a stale piece of bread as he ran out the door. “Here, you must eat something at least.”
After service Marcus came running back to Adelina’s and knocked on the door. It wasn’t but a few seconds and the midwife opened the door and let Marcus in. The fox was sitting up now, seeming stronger.
Adelina looked at the fox and smiled. “I fed him, and he drank a brew I fixed for him. He’s doing much better but is still weak.”
“So, did the saints forgive you of your sins?” the fox said, looking at Marcus with a curious stare.
Marcus looked at the animal with an incredulous look and then glanced at Adelina. “He’s a somewhat disrespectful cur, isn’t he?” Marcus said, caught off guard somewhat by the fox’s direct question. “Doesn’t he know I was the one who saved its worthless hide? What have you found out about it?” Marcus said, still not convinced the animal wasn’t hiding something dangerous.
“Oh, Marcus, calm yourself,” said Adelina. “It's his way. He speaks straightforward and comes to the point rather quickly.”
“Oh, he does, ” said Marcus, staring hard at the animal. “Well, so can I. Look, fox. What’s your story? Why are you here and why did you come to me?”
The fox returned the stare of Marcus with one of its own. “I came to you because we need you, my lord. You are the prophesied one.” The fox rose to all fours and bowed to Marcus again, Adelina gasped and put her hand to her mouth.
“I was right,” said the midwife, her eyes like saucers. “I wasn’t truly sure before, but now I know.”
Marcus anxiously looked back and forth between the fox and Adelina. “Would someone please tell me what's going on?’ Marcus said, slapping his hand to his head. “Addy, you didn’t know of this? He didn’t tell you anything while I was at service?”
“He told me nothing but his name, Orion. He hardly spoke except to thank me for the food and the medicine I brewed for him. I suppose he was waiting for you.”
Marcus sat hard into a chair by the table. Adelina slowly sunk into an old chair by the fireplace that was her favorite. It was old and worn but looked comfortable. They both stared at the fox.
“I come from the middle regions, called the Realms of Origin,” the fox started. “An evil that has been prophesied from The Beginning has begun. Your mistress was correct,” Orion said, glancing at Adelina.
Adelina blushed. “No, no Orion. I am no mistress. Just a friend but you are right, I had read of the prophesy and when Marcus brought you in and said you spoke, my mind went there.”
“I am a tanner,” blurted Marcus, staring at the fox with a sullen look. “ I have always been a tanner, and I will die a tanner. My father is a tanner as was his father and his father. My children, if I have any, will be tanners.” He looked at the fox. “I am not your lord. I clean the muck and the dung from cattle hides and cut off their hoofs and horns. I soak them in urine and dog dung. It is a stinking business, but it keeps food on the table and positions us just a bit above the poorer peasants, and even they stay clear of us.”
Marcus now stared down into his hands. “I just came from being blessed by a priest that won’t even look at me. On the morrow, I will go and continue what I have been doing since I was ten years old. Sling piss and spread dung. What manner of lord does that?”
Orion looked at Marcus and then Adelina. “Please Adelina, put some more wood on the fire please,” he asked the midwife. “He has to be shown. Words will not work.”
“Shown what,” Marcus said. “A talking animal is one thing. When it tells me I am prophesied and then calls me a lord is quite another.”
“Please Marcus,” said Adelina, putting a few more sticks of wood into the fireplace. “Let Orion do what he has to do. Then decide.”
“But Addy, this is nonsense…”
“And maybe not. What if what he says is true? You owe it to yourself to listen.”
Marcus grunted and nodded at the fox. “Do what you must, then you can leave.”
The fire grew larger as Orion came and sat on his haunches in front of the flames. The fox closed its eyes, and a soft growl emanated from the throat of the animal then suddenly, he blew into the flames. The fire sparked and blew embers out onto the fox’s fur, but it didn’t burn the animal at all, not even a scent of singed hair could be detected. A soft voice then became audible from the flame, hardly noticeable at all but it gradually grew louder until they heard what it was saying.
“Lord Marcus, you must hear the words we are telling you.” The words sounded as if a bubbling brook was running through the house, many voices melded together. “We are of The Realm of Origins; we need you to come and fight this dark force that has begun. You will see that you are not who you think you are. Orion will explain. You are the Prophesied, The Leader of the Realm of Origins.” The voices dissipated as quickly as they came, causing Marcus and Adelina to stare into the flame as if a spell were cast upon them.
The fire suddenly burst out of the fireplace past Orion and whirled around the room. Adelina screamed, throwing her hands to her mouth as Marcus fell onto his back and elbows on the floor. As he watched in terror, the flame whirled and twisted around the room until finally, it slowed and gently glided to the young tanner and ever so gently wrapped itself around the terrified young man’s shoulders and became a bright red cloak on his shoulders and back.
Orion turned and looked at the trembling young man. “Now my lord. Do you believe me?”