5) The Examination
by, 02-21-2010 at 02:24 PM (496 Views)
The morning sun shone bright in the east-facing windows of the Goodington house. Samuel had added the windows to the dining room with breakfast in mind and was never disappointed at that decision during this most early meal. He finished the thick slab of toast and was using his napkin to wipe the last of the butter from his hand when Cindy started to rise from the table.
She held little Samuel Junior in her arms and had indeed just finished feeding him his own breakfast. The little one had fallen asleep in her arms. “Let me put him down and I will clean up.” She said as she made her way to their bedroom.
“Nonsense! You already cooked breakfast this morning and I told Jacob to arrive early every day for the next two months. He will mind the store while I tend to you, my dear. Let me clean up while you rest.” He smiled at her and started clearing the table. He heard her say something in reply, but her voice was too low as she tried not to wake their baby.
He was pleased that she did not emerge from the bedroom as he finished with the dishes and stowed away the remainder of the bread. He looked forward to lunch this morning as he looked at the cheese and cooked beef in the Storage Box. That box was the most expensive thing in the house. Its magic preserved everything within, preventing it from spoiling. In fact, he still owed a little more than sixty gold pieces on it. But he had four more years to pay it off. And his recent commissions from the Earl of Settlestone himself promised so many years of work and so much money that the burden of paying off that debt was greatly eased. In fact, he looked forward to visiting Morgryn’s Magic Emporium to buy more lamps. That is, as soon as his next commissioned payment was delivered.
Sam then went to the bedroom and stood in the doorway as he watched Cindy lying down with the baby. They were both asleep in the dimly lit room and Cindy’s long red hair draped around little Samuel’s face like a halo of fire. The beautiful image stole his heart. The room seemed unusually warm, however, though it was certainly comfortable enough. Strangely, he remembered thinking the same thing during breakfast about the dining room. But the room seemed to cool down as he cleared the dishes and cleaned the table.
There was a knock on the door that brought Sam’s musings to a halt. He could not imagine who the caller might be. He closed the door to the bedroom as silently as he could and cringed as the hinges squeaked louder than he would have liked. He got to the door at the third attempt of their visitor to gain his attention.
Outside, standing on his step, was an elf. He wore a long traveling cloak and woodsman’s clothes of brown and green. His eyes were light green, almost hazel in color, and his face perfectly smooth with the sharp, angular features common to his race. Sam had met several elves in his time, but they tended to stay in their valley, keep to the forests, and out of the cities. But Sam’s home was on the very outskirts of Settlestone. He had a kennel of dogs that had thus far kept visitors, rogues and bandits away from their small farm and seldom had visitors of any sort. Looking around his front yard he could not see any of the three dogs that roamed his small homestead and suddenly became concerned for their safety.
Despite this possible problem, his spirits remained high and this person did not appear to be of a threatening disposition. “Goodmorn, traveler.” He left the greeting at that and waited for a response. Offering to help a traveler, a total stranger, could be dangerous.
The voice was not as he expected. Most elves he met had voices that were nearly musical and pleasant to hear. This one’s was much deeper, almost raspy and grating, as if he had suffered some injury to his throat. “This is the Goodington house?” asked the elf.
Sam only nodded. He was a man of few words to outsiders and strangers, though his voice was exercised plenty within his home and shop. He knew many who easily took offense at the slightest perceived provocation, and he was a cautious man by nature.
“You have a new child, a son born nine days ago?” asked the elf. It was almost stated as an observation, a given fact rather than a question. Sam’s senses verily tingled with suspicion and for some reason a wisp of fear crept into his soul.
“Yes, indeed. Of what concern is it to you?” He asked. Samuel was no fighter. As a highly skilled and talented carpenter he knew well how to use a hammer. But his use of it had never included engaging it in combat. In fact, the only fight he had ever engaged in was in a bar many years ago. It was a fight that cost him a tooth and a severe blow to his pride. The uncertainty of this elf’s intentions was eating at him. He knew he could not protect his wife and child as he should.
“I wish to examine the child. You may call me Gormand. I have been hired to examine all children born on that day within and around Settlestone. Luckily for me we have found only four such children. Yours is the last of them I must examine. May I come in?” The words were spoken with confidence in that horrible, grating voice. There was a hint of warning there as well. Sam had the distinct impression that violence would ensue should he refuse, though the stranger’s friendly disposition did not change.
“You know, your request is quite odd. I do not know you and have never invited a total stranger into my home before. Can you tell me why I should allow you to examine my boy?” His words were also filled with confidence. He stood there in the doorway, ready to defend his home and unsure of what to do. But his voice did not waver and his body stood firm. He gripped the doorframe with one hand and the edge of the door with the other.
The elf raised a hand and a small ball of orange flame appeared, seemingly out of thin air, to float just above his palm. “Put quite simply, I will burn your home to the ground. Your entire family will die as I will not permit any of you to escape the house.” The threatening words were not spoken with undue menace. The tone was even and calm with the total certainty of one who does not make threats but only states facts and eventualities.
Sam had never seen magic used like that before. He knew there were wizards and that the king himself employed many of them. Wizards, or one of them anyway, had made his kitchen storage box. They enchant the things at Morgryn’s Magic Emporium. But tales of their power were frightening. Without another word he stepped aside, pulling the door further open. His hand tightened on the edge of the door in a pique of fear. But then he released it, leaving it open as he led this Gormand to the room where his wife and child slept. “They are asleep. Can you do it without waking them?”
“She will not awaken until I am gone, I can assure you of that.” He said, lowering his voice to a whisper. “The boy must wake as I must look into his eyes for my examination. Before I go in tell me Mr. Goodington, what is the color of your son’s eyes?”
“Brown, like my own eyes.” He said in a whisper.
“Was there anything peculiar about your son’s birth?”
“Not that I know of. I was waiting with my wife’s parents in the other room during the birthing. She did not report anything odd. None of the midwives commented about it other than to say my boy was healthy and my wife would recover quickly.”
As the elf turned to the closed door and placed a hand on the handle, Sam considered the strange birthmark on Samuel’s head. The mark was now completely covered with hair and one would have to search carefully to find it. It was some sort of tiny symbol in what could be mistaken for brown ink, the same exact color as his eyes. It looked to be a tattoo, though that was certainly impossible. Brown, red and purple are common colors for birthmarks. He wondered if this was what the elf was looking for.
The elf entered slowly and Sam wondered that the hinge made no noise whatsoever. The elf approached the bed and reached down towards the child. He gently lifted an eyelid and the baby woke up. Little Samuel awoke, smiled, and a tiny bit of drool escaped the corner of his precious mouth. He looked up at the elf with his dark brown eyes and blinked. He made a slight noise, an off-pitch sound as he giggled, making Sam’s heart ache with fear for him. The infant’s eyes widened in delight as he took in the sight of the new face.
The elf nodded and left the room. Sam followed and closed the door behind them. Walking back to the open front door, the elf commented. “You have a truly beautiful boy there Samuel Goodington. I wish your family a safe and pleasant future.” He paused a moment on the step and turned back to Sam.
“Mr. Goodington, are you aware that on the day of your child’s birth there were twenty nine midwives working in Settlestone? Fourteen of them were employed that day to supervise or directly assist in the birthing of five different children. All fourteen of those women are missing. Just something for you to consider as you go throughout your day. Goodmorn, Mr. Goodington.”