Last time on this story, Ember had found a collapsed young man while taking care of a neighbor’s farmhouse while the neighbor was out of town. Feeling there was something quite unusual about his case, she opted to bring him back to the castle rather than take him to the hospital.
Back at the castle, she had laid him on her bed, after much heaving and tugging to get him there. Then she had given him an ancient remedy potion she had discovered on one of her trips to Egypt. She had settled on the bed to read while waiting for him to come around only to fall asleep herself.
We had left off with the two of them asleep together int he same bed. Two total strangers laid together almost like lovers as the mystery fellow slowly recovered from whatever had left him unconscious in the field at the farmhouse in the first place.
Now, we continue our tale.
Ember awoke to find the mystery guy sitting beside her on the bed staring at her with a troubled expression. The windows told her that night had fallen long ago. She should have felt anxious waking to find this stranger sitting as he did, leaning so close. Yet, something about him made her feel oddly safe, even when there was a look of inner torment in his eyes. Those eyes were so oddly colored, part white, part amber. they looked like the eyes of a corpse that were starting to glaze over then stopped in transition to clear up just enough to see through. His skin still looked just as corpse-like with purple veins faintly splaying around his eyelids. Yet, he was quite alive and now awake looking at her as though lost with some sort of war going on inside him.
These thoughts passed through her mind in quick succession. She blinked then spoke as a warm feeling of relief filled her, “Hey. Look at you, you came around finally. I was so worried you weren’t going to make it, even after I worked so hard to drag you back here.”
The stranger frowned slightly, “You’re too kind of a person, taking in someone you don’t know. ”
“I had, and still have, a feeling that you’re not the kind of guy to hurt a lady. My gut is rarely wrong, and I’ve been to some strange places and seen some things even stranger than you are. Besides, I have a dungeon cell in this castle I can throw you in if you decide to be a dumb ass and pull something stupid. I’m not at all defenseless, you know,” she responded with a gentle grin.
“That’s good to know,” he said as he closed his eyes in shame and contemplation. “At least you know who you are. I’ve been sitting here for who know how long, trying to figure out how I got here. Trying to remember anything at all, for that matter. I can’t even tell you if you’ll have to use that dungeon or not. Everything before I woke up here next to you… is gone. It’s this big black nothing ness that threatens to consume me. I know there’s something very wrong, but I can’t tell you what it is that’s wrong. Nor why. I don’t want to be the kind of guy that ends up hurting someone as nice as you. I don’t want to hurt anyone. Yet how can I stop it if I don’t even know what I’m fighting against?””
“Hey, you almost died out there in that field where I found you. That’s enough to rattle anyone. The memories will return if and when they’re meant to. You just have to focus on what you want for yourself in the present. Let the past sort itself out in tit’s own time,” she said as she reached up to place her palm across his cold cheek. “Yes, there’s something weird about you. That’s why you’re here and not in a hospital. I’m good at puzzles though. We’ll figure it out.”
“In any event,” she continued, “my name is Ember Birchwood. You’re in my inherited fixer-upper family castle, thus the presence of a dungeon. I found you passed out in a field at a neighbor’s farm. I know you’re not from around here, since everyone here knows everyone else, and I knew whatever was wrong with you was something the hospital couldn’t fix. So I brought you back here. I just happened to have some ancient Egyptian medicine on had to give you. Whatever is wrong, the medicine is working for you.”
“I.. I don’t even know my own name,” he said as he got up to pace the room.
Ember quickly got to her feet and came to put her hand on his shoulders, “Hey, don’t fret about it so much. We’ll figure it out. Even if we can’t, you can always start over again. Make new memories. Everything happens for a reason. We’ll figure out that reason in time. In the mean time, just relax and focus on healing, even if you don’t know what you’re healing from. It doesn’t matter as long as you survive.”
“You are right. I may not like it, but this is the hand I’ve been dealt. I have to move on some how, even if there’s nothing in the past to guide me. I wish I could at least tell you my name, but I don’t even know that.”
“Then let’s give you a new one. You remind me of a character from a game I was playing the other day. He was a ghost named Luca. How about I call you that? You look like a Luca to me,” Ember smiled.
“Luca, huh? It works, I suppose.”
“Come, take a walk with me,” she said as she lead him from the bedroom to lead him down the hallway on a short tour of the habitable ground floor of the castle residence. “Most of the castle is still very much a work in progress as there’s only me here to work on it. But, the ground floor here has everything we need. There’s the study across the hall from the bedroom. There’s plenty of books in the shelves and a computer that you’re welcome to use. And we have a nice bathroom here. The kitchen is here and fully stocked. The laundry room is through that door beside the fridge. and then here we have the living room with a TV and couch that I never use. Then here is the foyer full of showcase stuff from my travels. There’s stairs to the rest of the castle, but the basement is really just a giant pantry and the upstairs isn’t finished at all. It’s only been structurally shored up so that it can eventually be habitable.”
As they stood in the foyer, he looked around in amazement. “Wow, you really have done a lot. And been to some wild places. This stuff from Egypt…. you weren’t kidding when you said you’d seen stranger things than me.”
“In Egypt, strange tends to come with the territory. Even when dealing with the modern culture. There’s a pretty hinky group there called Morcucorp that’s been trying to dig up stuff and sell it to launder money. I’m always having to watch my back to avoid those guys. Then, there’s visiting temples and giving offerings to the local gods to get permission from the spirits to dig so I don’t end up like those Morcucorp minions that are always getting cursed to death,” Ember said with a wry expression.
“Cursed to death, huh? I wonder if that’s what I did to end up like this. I mean,k it doesn’t take a genius to figure out there’s nothing normal about me. I mean, look at me! I scare the hell out of myself!” he said with a bit of self-mocking laughter that didn’t entirely reach his eyes. It was still enough for ember to feel there was progress being mad, even in this short amount of time he’d been awake.
“Dude, if that’s the case, then they went easy on you or your really damn strong of mind. You should see the things the tomb spirits do to those dirtbags in Egypt. It gets quite hilarious after a while watching them try to rob someone’s grave only to come out crying for mommy while clawing at things that aren’t even really there! I mean, it’s nothing they didn’t damn well deserve!” Ember laughed in reply.
“But seriously though, whatever has happened to you, you’re the good guy in it all. You’re fighting it off with a strength of mind that I don’t see in most people. That says a lot to me in of itself. Try not to worry about it so much for right now. Enjoy yourself. You’re getting to stay in a real castle! How cool is that?”
“You’re right. This place is really cool. You’re a really amazing person.”
“Bah! Enough about me! Come outside and see the rest. You’ve yet to meet the real stars of this place, the horses!”
“Yep. We have four adults, two adolescents, and two foals. The ones old enough for show are the ones that really help me pay for this place. They’re all really amazing.”
They went outside and Luca stared in amazement at the small but majestic castle standing around him. Ember lead him to the courtyard where the fountain trickled in the center, lit from every side by peaceful pathway lights. The towers here even still had battlement slots from the days when archers stood in defense of the castle! It was all so much like a fairytale brought into modern reality!
“This is my favorite place,” Ember said as she stood by the fountain listening to it’s pleasing sounds of flowing water. “It’s most magical at this time of night when the lights come on and cast a warm glow over everything. You wouldn’t believe the kinds of creatures have been seen appearing here too! It seems they like this spot as much as I do.”
“You’re right. This is a really cool place. This whole thing, I can’t get over how awesome it is. I mean.. look at those towers with the archer windows!”
Ember laughed, “Yeah, I was really happy when I found a blacksmith who was willing to help me make and install those. I have always loved the idea of bringing the past back to life. Then I inherited this castle, and ever since, I’ve been fighting to do just that with it. Bring it back to life. Keep the modern conveniences, but also restore some of the original parts to working order again too. I do the same with the horses. I’ve been training them to perform stunts that Equestrians did back during the old days when castles were still used.”
“Ahhh, look here comes the number one star attraction, my loyal steed Sir Turtle who helped start it all!” Ember grinned as Turtle came up to inspect the situation.
“Wow, he’s huge! Look at those feet!” Luca exclaimed in amazement at the massive horse approaching them.
“Oh, he’s no where near as big as some of the other’s I’ve worked with. But, he’s definitely on the large size for a destrier. People always think the Jousting horses were these massive guys that you now see pulling beer wagons. But no, they were all more of Turtle’s size, if not a bit shorter. The shorter they were, the easier it was for the knight to mount from the ground. It was absolutely crucial for knights to be able to leap into the saddle from the ground so they could get on their horses and go at a moment’s notice. Turtle has always known he was destined for the show arena rather than plowing fields and pulling beer wagons anyway though,” Ember explained, ending with a laugh at her equine best friend.
“Here, you can feed him this horse cookie. He’ll love you fir it. Now walk up to him and hold your hand out flat so he can eat out of it without nomming your hand,” Ember coaxed with a gentle tone as she passed Luca a horse granola then showed him how to give it to Turtle.
Turtle sniffed Luca suspiciously, then looked at the cookie. He looked at Luca, then to Ember, then back to Luca and that tantalizing cookie. The cookie won. Turtle happily took the cookie from Luca’s hand and munched it happily. Luca grinned in awe at the large creature taking the cookie from his hand so gently.
“This is too cool,” Luca said softly.
“I know, right?”
Ember giggled as Turtle munched away at he cookie and horses appeared from every direction. “See, look. You’re making a ton of friends already, Luca!”
Luca couldn’t find words as horses big and small walked over to surround him, each vying for attention.
“That little guy beside you is Sir Turtle’s very first foal, Lord of the Dawn. As you can see, Turtle is beside himself with pride over little Lordy,” Ember pointed out before giggling as Turtle held his head high and snorted to illustrate just how proud he was to be the father of such a handsome young colt. Meanwhile, Grace O’Malley stood elegantly behind Ember, waiting her turn to get introduced to the strange newcomer.
“Oh geez, he’s so small. Look at all this fuzz! He’s so cute. And colorful!”
“He was born just a few weeks ago. Over the next few months his mane will fill in and over the next year, he’ll double in size. Though, I doubt he’ll get quite as big as his dad here, he’ll get pretty close. He’s definitely sure to win a few ribbons for that coat, too. It’s not a common color at all, which I absolutely love. I’ve always been a fan of horses with wild colors. Though the glamour girl behind me wasn’t exactly planned. Grace O’Malley was born when her daddy, Cap Morgan, got in with a wild mare I was training to be ridden. Thus her dad is currently out at pasture back there along with his equally unplanned son. Cap is such a Casanova.”
Horses swapped places as Ember passed treats to Luca who passed them out one by one. One by one, the horses got their chance to meet him. Grace O’Malley was thoroughly impressed by this new fellow. She surprised him by giving him a nuzzle of affection. Luca was again at a loss for words. Though he couldn’t remember anything about his life before waking up here, he got the feeling he’d never been anywhere quite like this place, let alone interacted with horses. They were all so enchanting. It was like he woke up and real life turned out to be a dream he couldn’t remember and the dream turned out to be a life he’d never known. It was all so mesmerizing. He could see how Ember could be so enthusiastic about these creatures. But the fact that she care for them all and managed to make this castle livable was something miraculous in his mind. He had no idea how she managed to do all she did with her life. It humbled him to find himself becoming a part of it all.
“The foals both still need their evening bottle of formula. Would you like to help?” Ember asked with a smile.
Luca blinked with a stunned expression. “Sure. I have no idea what I’m doing, but I would love to try to help some how. You’ve been so kind to me. I have no idea how to repay you.”
Ember laughed. “You can keep me company while you recover, how about that? As for helping with the horses, I’m all to happy to show you how to do things. Though, I warn you, caring for these guys is addictive. Which is why I don’t get out much to make other friends. Friends always end up having to find me while I’m here at home.”
Luca followed and watched as Ember showed him how she prepared the formula bottles. Though he was sure he would never remember the different recipes she used for each foal. He was happy to play student anyway. Her cheerfulness and enthusiasm was infectious. Luca’s problems quickly became forgotten as he got caught up in the fun of bottle feeding foals with voracious appetites.
After Ember made them a meal of Fish & Chips, the two new friends sat down to watch a classic Gene Kelley movie on Ember’s equally classic TV. An incense burner filled the air with a pleasant smell that somehow soothed any remaining frayed nerves Luca might have had.
When the movie was over, Ember rose from the couch, “I need to get to bed. Morning comes early here and with it come morning chores of caring for one turtle, one python, one crow, and eight horses. I also have to go back to the Brown family’s farm house to take care of things there while they are away on vacation. But you’re welcome to stay up as long as you want. Come to bed when you feel like it. This is your house too while you recover, so make yourself at home.”
“I think I’ll just sit here and watch TV if you don’t mind. Otherwise I’ll toss and turn while too much junk plagues my mind,” he answered.
“Okay. Just tdon’t feel like you’re imposing, cause you’re not. I do have staff during the day to help get things done, so you don’t have to worry about anything. Just focus on staying alive for me, okay?” she said with a soft laugh.
“I’ll do my best. It’s kind of hard not to with this fairy tale going on around here,” he smiled back. He couldn’t tell her about the dark things creeping into his mind with the night. He would spend the rest of the night fighting them with everything he had. He refused to let her become a victim of the thing inside him.
-End of Episode-