Samuel looked up from his rowing to peer across the choppy grey waters at the shore ahead. It had been a long time since he had visited his childhood home... a long time. The salty sea air brought back memories of the times he and his brothers had sat on the dock, eagerly swinging their fishing lines into the foamy waters, and, ocassionally, finding themselves neck deep in the salty sea as well, just as often unintentionally as not. Other times, they would march along the stony stream behind the manor, searching among the ferns and mosses for bull frogs to capture into mason jars pilfered from mums canning cupboard. They never lasted long in those jars, Samuel thought to himself. I guess some creatures just aren't meant to be cooped up, but they find themselves there nonetheless.
As he approached the dock, he noticed that it was deserted. Strange, even in this gloomy weather, there should have been at least a dozen skiffs full of crab pots readying to head out into the strait, but there was only his little row boat. Samuel hoisted himself up onto the weathered planks of the dock and lumbered down the pier to the harbourmaster's hut. After encountering a locked door and no reponse to repeated knocks, Samuel decided to hike up the coast to the old manor house.
Walking along the overgrown footpath and trying to avoid soaking his shoes in the occasional puddles, Samuel made his way through the hilly coastlands. He surprised himself by recalling the proper turn at each fork in the path and quickly arriving outside the entryway marking the bounds of his family estate. The tall brick pillars upon either side of the path cast ominous shadows in the pale morning light. Drawing closer he could just barely make out the peeling gilded letters spelling out "Le'Vuler", a name he'd been forced to abandon long ago. Passing between the pillars he caught his first glimpse of the manor. It was a charred ruin.
Samuel's breath caught in his chest. He always knew that there would be retribution for what he had done, what he had cost the Guild, but after so many years, he had begun to hope that he could escape it. Rounding the corner of the once imposing brick structure, he saw the tall elm tree that he once had giddily climbed and fetched cats from as a boy, and three shadowy forms dangling from a lower branch. Attempting to approach the hanging corpses, his legs failed him and he crawled until he could make out the faces. The first was William, his eldest brother. Two shaky paces up the branch hung his wife, Mary, and across the tree, their daughter. Unable to stand their deathly stares, Samuel hung his head. Why should his family be made to pay for his crimes? What twisted form of justice had the Guild's code wrought. Samuel lay there for some time, unable to comprehend the loss and the injustice. Eventually, a name popped into his head: Brandon. William had had a son named Brandon while Samuel was away. Where was Brandon? He couldn't have been old enough to have left the manor, but he hadn't joined the rest of his family on that tree?
Samuel latched onto the thought, the hope, that he might still be able to find Brandon alive and resolved to find him. He would save at least one person from the ghosts of his mistakes. But first things first: he had to see to these bodies.
TO BE CONTINUED