I can remember the days of my childhood vividly. Each moment as if it just happened. The fields of grain scattering the quaint French countryside, as local farmers hauled their wares to town to sell, just to make enough money to buy bread and oil for a few days. I was one of the privileged ones. I was 22 and belonged to a good family. I had 4 siblings, all of them my junior. There was myself, Dorien, my brother Leon, and my sisters Marie, Celeste and Delphine, who was the youngest at age four. My father was a wealthy merchant, selling silks and silver, spices and incense. He would sail along the coast, stopping in many of the free ports. I never knew him as well as I wish as I did, but whenever he returned, he always brought gifts from far off places. Those were happy times, filled with love an laughter and a lust for life and everything that it offered.
Our peaceful existence would soon change however. Since 1562, there had been an increase in the number of Huguenots, later called Protestants, which in turn led to religious conflicts between these and the predominant Catholic Priesthood. Man, woman and child savagely slaughtered in the name of God, a god whom supposedly blessed both sides in one bloody conflict after another. The snark cynicism and sheer hypocrisy of the local leaders soon turned my father against the church and god. In the months to follow, my father would return home amid the constant conflict, where he seemed happy, yet, enervated by those who struggled around him. To look at him, I could see the pressures wearing him down.
In the winter of 1579, from the port in Calais, he sailed off upon his ship, the Ciel de Matin, or Morning Sky, a double mast schooner, which he had inherited from his father. It was a proud ship, with white canvas sails and red trim lining every deck. My father would wave to my brother and me as we watched him from the pier. We waited until we could no longer see the merchant flag moving along the coast. My brother, Leon, remained silent as we walked home. In the distance I could see the storm clouds beginning to gather, the cold, rainy season drawing ever closer. We arrived home to the usual fanfare, chores and more chores. We were wealthy, but father believed that it was important for us to learn responsibility and so he never hired help. Looking back I suppose it was good for us. We became strong and self-willed with our own determination, not afraid to look at a problem and face it head on.
I was walking home one night along the streets of Calais. I had just left the tavern, where my friends and I had celebrated my twenty-third birthday. Needless to say I was quite intoxicated. I decided to walk down to the port to try to walk of some of the wine from the evening, and I simply liked looking at the ships. I was going to be a captain one day. It was my plan to join my father as a deck hand, working my way up to a captaincy, and eventually my own ship. I loved the ocean. Many a time had I been granted the privilege of joining my father as he sold his good up and down the coast. The wind, the smell of the salt on the breeze and the gentle rocking of the water. It was as close to heaven as I ever hoped to get.
I stopped to lean against a stone piling, feeling quite unsure of my balance after a few moments. It was good to be out in the fresh air. “A bit late to be out by yourself Young Master.” Startled I turned around to find a well-dressed man sitting in a horse drawn carriage. I found it odd that I hadn’t heard him arrive. “Just getting some air before I head home Sir.” I said, as I looked my Inquirer. He seemed to be in his mid-forties perhaps, obviously of some importance. And the ring on his left hand. Now there was a piece of art. It must have weighed a ton on his pinky finger. Absolutely beautiful craftsmanship made of gold with a rich red ruby in the center. “Well Dorien, you best not linger too long.” He said with mild concern. “This isn’t the place for any respectable young man to be wandering about at this hour.”
I looked at the man for a moment, the wind tousling his graying hair, which helped me see his face in the dim light. “How do you?” I started. The man laughed heartily. “By no foul means I assure you, young sir.” He smiled and extended his hand. “Come my young friend. I shall take you home, as you look as though you may not make it of your own will.” Skeptical I took his hand and joined him in his carriage. It was very comfortable, with padded seats and back. Not like the hand crafted ones my family owned. The ones we had were quite nice, with intricate scrollwork carved into them. They were nowhere near as comfortable as this though.
We sat in silence for a few moments before I noticed that he seemed quite intent on examining me. I looked away pretending not to notice until he spoke up. “My name is Albion. Lorne Albion. You must forgive my lack of manners earlier as I was quite surprised to find you down by the pier.” I looked back at him, a kind, and warm look upon his face. I extended my hand formally. “Well you seem to already know, but my name is Dorien Gris. Pleased to make your acquaintance.”
Again we sat quietly as we moved leisurely through the French countryside. The stars were bright and the moon was high, shining iridescent beams over the fields of grain. I loved the nighttime. I felt most alive in the silence, where nothing, and yet, everything could be heard. “Are you familiar with a group of people who call themselves The Amaranth?” Lorne said, breaking the still and making me jump. I quickly tried to gain my composure, although the alcohol hampered my doing so. “No. I’m sorry I’ve not heard of such a group.” I said somewhat slowly. “Are they a new political group?” I asked, trying not to sound ignorant. Lorne looked at me grinned, chuckling under his breath. “No my boy. They have no interest in the politics of men.”
Silence again overtook us as we continued on. Before long I could see the lights of my house. Mother was probably up waiting for me although I had told her I would be late. She tended to worry too much, although, considering the trouble I was usually getting in when I was younger, I suppose I couldn’t blame her. I found myself lost in thought until we suddenly stopped. “I must ask you something of some importance young Dorien. Do you believe in Immortal beings?” I was taken somewhat aback by the strange question but I decided to humor him. “You mean like the undead, Dracula and the like?” I asked, laughing a little bit. “No. How could I believe in such a thing when all around us we see people dying in the countless wars caused by Christendom? Or even all the people dying from the recent outbreak of The Black Death that’s been drawing ever closer. No I don’t believe in Immortals, but pray God be with us in these darkening times.”
Lorne sat quietly for a few moments. I had since stopped laughing, noting how serious he seemed to be. After collecting his thoughts, he spoke once again. “Do you want to know how I knew your name Dorien?” he asked. The expression on his face worried me. “Yes. Tell me.” I breathed. Reaching into his jacket pocket he pulled out single feather. “You wear a down-filled coat, do you not?” he asked. He now had me curious. “Yes of course. One must this time of year if not to catch pneumonia.” I answered. “Well,” he started, “this feather is the answer to how I knew who you were. Having been in close contact with you, it carried a great deal of information about you and your life. I can tell you that your middle name is Amon, you have a scar on your shoulder, where you fell and were stabbed by a broken tree limb, and that today you celebrated your Twenty-third birthday.”
I could have fallen out of my seat at that moment. “How the devil can you tell all that from touching a feather?” I demanded. I was now frightened of this man. I stumbled to exit the carriage as quickly as possible. Lorne stepped down after me touching my arm. As we made contact I quickly saw violent visions of bloody battles fought with swords. Pictures of romance and betrayal, flooded into my mind, lifetimes of experiences and stories screaming to be revealed. I pulled away from him, falling to the ground and kicking to distance myself from him. I wasn’t just frightened; I was now terrified by this man. He seemed kind, yet there was a darkness locked within him that overwhelmed me.
“Please, Dorien don’t be afraid. If you’ll just let me explain,” Lorne pleaded. “Stay AWAY from me,” I screamed at him. “I want nothing to do with you.” The man slowly turned and climbed back into his carriage. “Then I shall leave you here. Your home is within sight, and I shall not pursue you. I only pray that your turning will be quick and painless.” With that he turned his horse and headed back for the city.
In the days to follow, my mind continued to revert back to that night. What had he meant by “turning” I wondered. And the fact that he mentioned it being quick and painless had me on edge. I found myself constantly looking over my shoulder, expecting to see him. Often if I was alone, I felt as though I was being watched from a distance, and uneasiness, which prevailed above all else. I wished at that time that I had never met that man.
Several weeks later my father returned home. At the first opportune moment, I pulled him into his study and told him of the events that had unfolded on what was supposed to have been an enjoyable night out. My father being the serious and reasonable man he was, deduced that I had indeed drank more than my share and had merely hallucinated it all. That would have been the logical conclusion had I not still been able to see the mans memories in my head.
The following day, my father and I headed into Calais to buy goods for the household. We were still a full league from the city when we could see smoke and hear the faint screams of the towns folk. As we drew closer we could see people running, piles of burning food and other goods. As we proceeded through the chaos, we noticed the bodies. Corpses lined the streets, filling the doorways, leaning out windows. Everywhere we looked, women crying over dead husbands and children. My father began to drive the horse faster as we got closer to the dock. Running aboard his ship, we gathered what supplies we could in a few short minutes, and then turned quickly for home.
As we hurried through town, a man collapsed in front of our carriage. Startled the horse darted to the left. Surprised by the sudden movement, I was thrown to the ground. Trying desperately to climb back in I tripped over a corpse. Looking back I was horrified to find that it was one of the young men that a short time ago, I had been celebrating with. Stricken, I climbed into the carriage and we headed out of the city. The next few days were a blur, as people were seen fleeing the city in grief and terror. For days, bodies could be seen littering the countryside, where having succumb to their ailments, they died. Even animals could be seen rotting in the fields and on the roadways.
Some days later, I remember feeling somewhat ill myself. Immediately I was hastened off to bed. As I lay there, visions of death and pain haunted my sleep. Images of the man who had offered me a ride home terrorized my dreams and I would cry out in sweaty restlessness. A traveling physician stopped by our home, looking to see if any were still living. Urgently he was ushered into my room to examine me.
“How long has he been sick like this?” he asked of my mother. She wept as she answered him. “He felt ill yesterday, he’s been here since.” Pulling my mother aside, he spoke in low tones, as if trying to make sure I would not hear. “Madam, from what I can tell, your son has the Black Death. There have been three different varieties noted and I’m afraid he has the worst. He will no doubt be dead by nightfall.” Upon hearing his words my mother crumpled to the floor bursting into tears. I could say nothing; I could do nothing. Just cry. Then nothing.
The following morning I awoke as normal. I had to admit that I felt much better. I guess the physician had been wrong after all. I felt amazing. I stood, and dressed. Checked myself in the mirror and then walked out my bedroom door. As I walked down the stairs to the kitchen I heard a tray drop, and dishes shatter. There stood my mother, white as a ghost, as though stricken with leprosy. Upon seeing me she screamed, calling for my father. He came to her call, carrying with him his rapier. He’d kept it close in case of looters and bandits. He too upon the sight of me stopped. “Father?” I asked. “Why do you look as though I’m a stranger to your eyes?” “Leave this house.” He said firmly. “I know not of what magic or demon you are here, but my son died last night. I shall not warn you twice.” I looked into his eyes, which had become cold and harsh and took a step towards him. “But father, I’m alive and well before you. Can’t you see that?”
Without warning he lunged at me, his sword slashing my chest. I screamed as pain seared through my body and I ran through the closest door. Following behind me, my own father chased me from my home, his sword close enough to bite my flesh time and again. He soon relented and watched me run from him. Tears streaked my face as I ran from the only life I had known. I didn’t understand why he treated me so, nor did I understand what had happened. Looking back I realize that I should have listened to Lorne more carefully. For he would become my father. Someone I could trust when things went dark. I’m not sure how long, or how far I ran, but I soon collapsed with exhaustion.
I awoke a short time later to discover that it was now dark and that my wounds had healed. There was no way that I should be in this good of condition. Confused and alone, I managed to find shelter under a nearby oak tree. It was very old; its roots could be seen several meters from the base, stretching out in search of water. The night was quiet, but it was different. The smell of death lingered in the air. In the far distance, I could see the city of Calais, the fires still burning, scented with the stench of burning flesh. What had happened? As I sat under the protection of the great tree, I tried desperately to piece together the events of the past day but could think of nothing and eventually drifted into sleep once more. Thus began my new life. A never ending quest to find out who I was and what would become of me.
© Copyright 2016 Aiden Mondeley. All rights reserved.