An Act of Kindness
The carriage sloshed through the muddy road towards the old and ghostly castle. The streets and its villagers were washed away and in desperate need in repair. The lampposts swung in the sharp winds and the tiny flames flickered and sputtered in the lashing rain and wind. The buildings were wooden and some were falling apart. Shop owners were frantically do all they could to keep their shops open while helping others avoid starvation and eviction. Police officers ran up and down the streets in an attempt to catch troublemakers and the desperate while street urchins laughed at them as they sprinted down the streets and women begged for help and change on the streets. The carriage raced down the road and its occupant sighed as the great and indomitable castle grew closer and closer. It had been built by the Shadow’s most famous of Kings, Mordred the Magnificent, and it stood in the middle of the city. No matter how the wind howled and the rain lashed, the castle would not bend. The castle itself was in the shape of a hexagon and at each corner was a tower. In the center of the castle was the tallest tower, also in the shape of a hexagon, and on top of this tower stood the limp Shadow flag. It was deep blue and in the center was a flaming circle, Mordred’s symbol. This particular flag was ripped and torn as it had been the flag from the Battle of Cryspin. The rest of the castle was connected to this tower by a series of walkways and on each side of the walkway was a blooming courtyard. The walls were made of a white stone found in the Kanas Mountains and were stained by the continuous rain and mud and the stone decorations groaned as the walls breathed with lost whispers.
The occupant’s cold brown eyes watched as raindrops rolled down his window and tried to ignore the pit that was growing in his stomach. Every time he visited this place it felt as if he was betraying his son, but it was necessary. Surely Isaac would understand that. The occupant of the carriage, Lord Abraham Hotchkiss, adjusted his gloves as they reached the castle’s gate. His dark and long fingers wrapped themselves around the silver Minotaur head on his cane as he tried to prepare himself for the ordeal. His carriage halted as his Minotaur driver opened the door.
“We are here, Lord Hotchkiss,” he said bowing.
He looked through the door, at the long walkways and vast gardens and frowned. His worn and beaten face was as hard as granite and as black as the darkest pits of Hell. Hotchkiss gracefully stepped out of the carriage and his long cane clicked against the stone walkway. The Minotaur closed the carriage door while a female Shadow, holding an umbrella, walked towards him. His two dimensional face twitched as he recognized the viper-Noelle Glasgow.
“Noelle, it is a surprise,” he spat as his Minotaur closed the carriage door.
Her long black hair blow behind her as the wind swept past them. A cruel smile crossed her invisible lips and her silver blue eyes glowed.
“I thought it would have been poor manners to have you cross in the rain without any form of cover” she purred as she shared her umbrella with him.
“How thoughtful of you,” he sniffed.
“Come now, Abraham, there is no need to be rude.”
He stiffened as she stood next to him under the umbrella.
“Please, forgive me, but the stench of second tier leeches always puts me in a foul mood.”
Noelle frowned, “It is good to see that you have not lost any of your wit or charm. We were worried that your son’s death had pushed you over the edge.”
Abraham tightened and his face darkened.
“If it is all the same to you, I would rather walk in the rain.”
He was prepared to take a step out from under the umbrella when she placed a hand on his chest and said, “And present you to our king looking like a drenched rat? I would never dream of such an insult.”
He fought back a groan and simply sighed, “Very well then. Let us get this over with.”
Together, they walked down the rain drench pathways and huddled against the teeming rain.
“I am assuming you are here because of the business with Eleanor,” Noelle said breezily.
“It is a tragic affair,” said Abraham.
“You would know.”
Abraham looked at her and hid a smile.
“It was not like you yourself did not have a part in her fall.”
“I do not know what you are talking about. I was simply looking out for my brother.”
“Such a dutiful sister.”
“But tell me, Abraham, what is your role today? You never liked to get your hands dirty so it surely isn’t to take care of Eleanor.”
They reached the main entrance, which were opened by Shadow guards.
“Thank you for the pleasant company and for your thoughtfulness,” he said gently kissing her hand, “But this is where our journey together ends.”
“That charm will get you into trouble someday, Abraham.”
Hotchkiss smiled as he walked down the cold stone hallways. The flickers of the candle flames casted dark shadows across his form as the rain caused the floor length stain glass windows vibrate and rattle. The great, wooden doors that lead to the throne room was thrown open, revealing, a large two level room. The top level was full of chairs and it was where the various lords sat during times of business. As of now, only the Farin family as well as Damon and Aaron Glasgow were in the throne room. Philip, the foolish Shadow King, sat in his throne fixating on the door. Standing next to the throne was Philip’s youngest son-David. He was only five years and Philip had already started to fill his heads with lies of glory and the sins of the world. That poor boy was doomed to a life of misery and the futility of trying to make up for a fool’s wounded pride. The worst part was that his end would be long and slow. To the right side of the ornate throne was a dining room table and at this table sat Eleanor with their son Geoffrey. Abraham’s eyes rested on the boy as he hovered between the doorway-wondering if he truly wanted to go throw with this. Eleanor was helping him solve a simply puzzle as the boy laughed and his blue eyes twinkled with joy. His squeals that echoed throughout the hall seemed misplaced and unnatural.
“Ah, Abraham!” exclaimed Philip, rising from his throne, “Why are you hiding? Come here, come here!”
Eleanor looked up aghast as Abraham obeyed his king. He slowly walked down the throne room and noticed the Glasgows slinking in the corner. Damon, the Glasgow’s son was the same age as Geoffrey, but Abraham could already see the wear of politics in Paradise in his eyes. Another one that was marked for life.
“Forgive me for being late, my Lord, but I was kept by the lovely Noelle,” he said, nodding his head towards Aaron, “Who I must say is a true lady.”
“I can hardly fault you for being distracted,” said Philip walking towards Abraham and giving him a hug.
Eleanor wrapped her arms around Geoffrey whose eyes widened as he stared at Abraham.
“I did not realize you were visiting, Hotchkiss,” she trembled.
“I am sorry, Eleanor,” said Philip pulling away from Abraham, “I forgot to tell you”
Eleanor stared at him, her eyes the size of saucers as she swallowed and tightened her grip on Geoffrey.
“Come, Abraham, sit down,” said Philip leading him towards the table, “Aaron, tell the servants we want some wine.”
Aaron nodded his head as he left Damon alone. The young boy stayed put, but his dark searching eyes were locked onto everyone at the table.
“Here, Abraham, sit here,” said Philip placing him next to Geoffrey.
Eleanor kissed Geoffrey’s head and said, “Go upstairs-”
“No, I want him to stay,” said Philip pulling out a seat for David, who climbed on top the seat.
Eleanor whited as she stared up at the Shadow king and Abraham had to admit that he almost felt sorry for her.
“Tell me, Philip, where is Luke?”
“He is out riding his horse,” sniffed Philip, sitting down himself.
“He is an excellent rider,” said Eleanor proudly, “You should go out with him sometime, Abraham. You would be impressed.”
“I am sure I would, but I no longer go anywhere near horses,” said Abraham smiling as Geoffrey looked up at him curiously.
“Oh, yes, I am sorry,” she said looking down at her son.
“Luke is lucky if he doesn’t fall off one of those damn things,” grumbled Philip, “It’s a miracle he can tell the difference between its ass and its head.”
Aaron returned with the wine and said, “Here you are, my Lord.”
“Thank you, Aaron. Come sit. Damon, come sit.”
Eleanor tightened as she realized she was being surrounded. She stared at Philip and for a second Abraham thought he was going to witness murder. He looked down when he noticed Geoffrey running his small fingers over the Minotaur head on his cane. He smiled and adjusted it so Geoffrey could get a better look at it. Geoffrey gasped and looked at him fearfully.
“It’s ok,” he chuckled, “You can look at it.”
“Geoffrey, put that a way!” snapped Eleanor.
“No, it’s all right. I don’t mind,” Abraham reassured as Geoffrey studied it.
“I must say, Philip, that Luke and David are progressing nicely, but what of Geoffrey’s education?” asked Aaron.
Eleanor whitened and nearly collapsed as she stared at a smiling Philip.
“Actually I was talking to Abraham about that,” he drawled, “And we decided it would be best if Geoffrey would stay with him for a time.”
“For how long?” mouthed Eleanor, tightening her grip on Geoffrey who was holding the cane and smiling.
“We hadn’t decided yet, but we determined a year would be a good starting point,” said Abraham, watching Geoffrey closely.
“A year?!” exclaimed Eleanor, close to tears, “Would I…would I be able to see him?”
“No,” said Philip sharply, “You would distract him from his education.”
David looked at his father, knowing that something important was being decided from the tone of his voice, but unsure what that important thing was.
“No,” said Eleanor holding Geoffrey’s arms in a pincerlike grip, causing Geoffrey to cry out.
He dropped the cane and looked at his mother surprised.
“You’re hurting me,” he said trying to pry her fingers off of his arm.
“You can’t take him,” said Eleanor ignoring her son, “I won’t let you.”
“You have no say in the matter,” said Philip coldly, looking at Aaron and Abraham.
Aaron rose and placed a hand on Eleanor’s shoulder and said, “It’s for the best, Eleanor.”
She fought back tears as she threw Aaron a deadly glare.
“Step away, Aaron.”
“Damon,” said Abraham, prying Eleanor’s fingers off of Damon’s arms, “help your cousin pack his things.”
Damon stared at him and Abraham could have sworn the young boy knew what they were doing and he would have bet big money that Damon’s lips were curled in a twisted smirk. The young boy rose and took Geoffrey’s hands.
“Come, Geoffrey, let’s go pack.”
Geoffrey looked at his mother, who was being held in place by Aaron and struggling to fight back tears, and slowly rose. He looked at his father who nodded his head and followed Damon out of the throne room. David furrowed his eyebrows and watched as his mother snarled at his father, tears streaming down his cheeks, “I hope you burn in Hell.”
“You brought this upon yourself, Eleanor,” Philip snapped rising.
“Then why punish the child?!” snarled Eleanor attempting to rise, but kept in place by Aaron.
“I will take good care of the boy, Eleanor, do not worry,” said Abraham taking a sip from his wine.
“Fuck you, Abraham! I know you are behind this! Just as you are the reason my Lord no longer trusts me.”
“Do not blame him for your own deception!” Philip screamed, “You were the one who whored yourself all over town!”
Eleanor’s retort was caught in her throat as Geoffrey and Damon returned to the throne room. Damon was carrying one suitcase while Geoffrey was struggling with a large suitcase that was ten times too big for him. Abraham rose and took it from him. The young boy looked up at him breathlessly as he realized how tall Abraham was.
“Geoffrey!” Eleanor called, struggling to escape Aaron’s grasp.
The young boy turned his head to look at his mother and made a move towards here when Abraham placed a hand on his shoulder. Geoffrey looked up at him and Abraham shook his head. The young boy’s eyes widened and tears threatened to fall as his mouth dropped open and he started to realize what was going on.
“Take him, Abraham,” said Philip, “There is no reason to stay.”
“Geoffrey!” fought Eleanor.
Geoffrey looked at her and shook his head.
“Come,” said Abraham taking his small hand.
The feelings of Geoffrey’s hand in his reminded him of Isaac. He frowned and shook his head to cleanse the thought.
“Geoffrey!” cried David jumping off the chair.
Abraham and Geoffrey paused as David ran to his older brother and hugged him. Geoffrey let go of Abraham’s hand and returned the hug as David cried.
“It’s ok,” Geoffrey told him, “We’ll see each other again.”
David looked at him and nodded his head, before squeezing him one more time. Philip walked up and pulled him away.
“He must go, David,” he said as Eleanor screamed Geoffrey’s name, “It is necessary.”
David held onto Philip’s arm and watched Abraham take Geoffrey away. Eleanor broke from Aaron’s grasp and ran in front of Abraham. She fell onto her knees and threw herself around Geoffrey-pulling him into a hug even though Abraham kept a pincer grip on his hand.
“Please, Abraham, I beg you. Don’t take him away!”
“Abraham is doing him a favor by taking him away from a whore like you!” sneered Philip as Aaron grabbed Eleanor around the waist and pulled her away. She started to scream as Philip urged Abraham to leave. He looked down at Geoffrey and frowned at the horror on his young face and he felt the boy’s grip slipping.
“Eleanor,” said Abraham, his clear and angled voice echoed throughout the hall, somehow penetrating her hysteria, “Stop it. You’re upsetting Geoffrey.”
Eleanor started and stared at him-ready to unleash another storm of cries and screams when Abraham cut her off.
“I will keep him safe,” he said, his dark brown eyes locking onto hers, “I swear I will protect him.”
She swallowed and slumped into Aaron’s arms.
“Now we must be going,” said Abraham as Philip shot him a narrowed glance, “Good bye, my Lord. Eleanor. Aaron. Come, Geoffrey.”
The young book looked up at him as Damon carrying the other suitcase, followed them out of the throne room-the great door booming shut behind them. They walked into the pouring rain; Noelle was no longer waiting for them with an umbrella.
“Give me a minute, my Lord, and I could find an umbrella,” offered Damon.
“No, that will not be necessary,” said Abraham eager to leave these damned and haunted walls. They walked out into the rain, Geoffrey blinking every time a rain drop fell on his head. Abraham and Damon raised their shoulders as the wind blew rain into their face and down their necks as Geoffrey hid his face into Abraham’s leg. When they reached the carriage the Minotaur opened the doors and took the bags. Abraham let go of Geoffrey’s hand and said, “You go in first, Geoffrey.”
The young stared at him with large blue eyes before turning to face Damon who nodded his head. Geoffrey frowned and looked down before hugging Damon.
Damon’s sharp eyes met Abraham’s as he returned the hug.
“Come, Geoffrey, enough with this sentimental nonsense. You will see him again,” he said placing a hand on his shoulder and pulling him away from Damon.
There was a sharp click as the Minotaur put the bags in the carriage. Geoffrey threw Damon one last glance before climbing into the carriage. Abraham looked at the young Glasgow who gave Geoffrey an encouraging smile.
“Thank you for your help, Damon,” said Abraham climbing into the carriage, “And tell your mother she has trained you well.”
The Minotaur closed the door as Geoffrey peered around Abraham as his young cousin who stood in the rain, shooting Abraham an amused glare. There was a creak as the carriage took off. Geoffrey craned his neck and watched the castle disappear through the back window. Abraham let out a sigh of relief as they rode through the castle’s gates. Thank God. He closed his eyes and rested his head against the carriage wall as Geoffrey watched his home disappear and the carriage thundered down the muddy road. The young boy turned around and slumped into his chair dejectedly as the castle disappeared from view and he knitted his eyebrows as he realized that the background was unfamiliar. He glued his nose to the side window and watched as the great and dying city turned into large and ancient evergreens. He smiled as he watched squirrels dance across the trees and gasped when he saw a deer run alongside them before turning right and disappearing into the deep forest greens. Abraham hid a smile as he watched the young Shadow.
“Have you never seen the forest?” he asked Geoffrey slowly turned around and his large blue eyes shook.
“Mom said it wasn’t safe for someone like me, sir,” he muttered.
“You know, sir…stupid,” he blushed looking down at the chair floor.
Abraham’s two dimension face softened and he said, “You’re not stupid, Geoffrey. You’re innocent.”
Geoffrey looked up at him and from this angle; Abraham could have sworn it was Isaac. Abraham gasped and his dark skin drained of its color. Dear God, all he needs is the silver blonde hair and he could be Isaac’s identical twin.
“I’m never going to see my family again, am I, sir?”
Abraham gave a start.
“You’re taking me away forever, sir…aren’t you?”
“No,” said Abraham shaking his head, “I will not keep you from them unless your father wishes it.”
“But you are going to keep me from mother,” said Geoffrey, his blue eyes staring at him like a lost puppy.
Abraham frowned, “Those were your father’s direct orders.”
Geoffrey’s invisible lips quivered as they tumbled into a frown and he crumbled into his seat.
“Why does he hate her, sir?” he whispered.
“She broke his heart.”
Geoffrey gave a start as the carriage halted. He jumped to the window and looked at the tall and ancient manor. The rain had stopped and the sun was filtering through the dark clouds, highlighting the dark manor.
“Come, Geoffrey,” said Abraham as the Minotaur opened the door. Geoffrey scurried after Abraham and grabbed his hand as he was overcome by the very size of the manor. It was an ancient piece of Shadow history built by Abraham’s ancestors, built from stones that had seen the birth of the world, and worn down by rain that had witnessed the creation of the Shadows. The windows were dark and stared down at them as Geoffrey marveled at how the house breathed. Abraham led him to the great oak doors as the Minotaur brought in their bags. The house was surrounded by tall and vibrant trees and down a small path, Geoffrey saw a smaller house made out of river rocks. He tightened his grip on Abraham as they walked up the stone steps and Abraham opened the creaking door. He gently pushed Geoffrey inside as he took the suitcases from the Minotaur. He placed them in the cool and dark foyer before taking a few coins out of his pocket and handed them to the Minotaur.
“Thank you, Master Hotchkiss, the wife will be up later tonight to cook dinner for you and the young one,” said the Minotaur nodding his head before walking back to the carriage.
Abraham closed the front door and saw Geoffrey standing in the middle of the hallway, his mouth open as he studied the foyer. The entire first floor of the mansion had marble floors and the walls were held up by marble columns. The house stretched for eternity and rose as high as the clouds. It breathed of Shadow history and Geoffrey could have sworn it was studying him.
“Come, Geoffrey,” said Abraham handing one suitcase to Geoffrey and taking the other, “I will show you your room.”
As Abraham lead Geoffrey towards the spiraling staircase, Geoffrey noticed a painting of a young male Shadow, in his military dress blues, with sharp brown eyes and silver blonde hair. Geoffrey stopped and stared at him as Abraham walked up the steps.
“Sir, is that going to be my new brother?”
Abraham turned around with furrowed eyebrows and nearly dropped the suitcase when he realized that Geoffrey was looking at Isaac’s portrait. His two-dimensional face softened as his lips quiver and a lump started to form in his throat. Geoffrey watched Abraham and slowly realized he had said something wrong. He bowed his head and muttered, “Please forgive me, my Lord.”
“It’s all right,” Abraham gulped to clear his throat, “It’s all right. Come.”
Geoffrey, dragging the suitcase behind him, followed Abraham up the marble stairs. They walked up to the third floor, down a long hallway, and took a right, walked down another staircase, until Abraham opened the door to a grand corner room. Geoffrey dropped his suitcase and gasped when he entered the room. It was as big as their library. It was round and had floor length windows which overlooked the vast forest. Geoffrey ran to the window, put his hands and nose on the glass, and watched as birds floated in the air, squirrels danced, and the branches swayed. Abraham smiled and moved Geoffrey’s suitcases closer to the large dresser.
“Make yourself at home, Geoffrey.”
The young boy turned around and stared at him.
“I will be downstairs.”
Abraham paused and stared at him expectantly.
“Do we live alone here, sir?”
“For the most part,” nodded Abraham, “Mr. and Mrs. Mumford come up to cook and clean and we have a number of servants, but we’re mostly left alone.”
Geoffrey frowned, “You must have been so lonely, sir.”
Abraham’s eyes widened in shock.
“There were times.”
Geoffrey nodded his head and went back to looking out the window. Abraham stood and watched, amazed at how much he looked like Isaac.
Weeks went by and, if truth be told, Abraham hardly remembered taking Geoffrey away from Eleanor and Philip. The young boy spent all day in his room, coming down only to eat, and never said anything at the dinner table unless directly spoken to. Abraham tried to entertain him with the baby grand piano, the library, chess, and walking around the grounds, but the boy would not open up. He was concerned but figured that it was simply the boy missing his family. He would grow out of it. One night, during a horrible lightning storm, Abraham found it impossible to sleep. He had tried reading, but that had proved to be more frustrating than relaxing, so he rose, slipped on his robe, and wandered the halls of the lonely manor. He absentmindedly traced old, familiar steps as his mind flirted through the past, remembering the beautiful and the profane, the meaningless and the meaningful. The lightning flying across the sky, striking trees, and highlighting the dark skies as earthquakes of thunder pounded against the air. Abraham wandered up the stairs, his joints started to ache. It was ridiculous how he could not even walk around his own home without his cane. Deep in thought, he walked passed Geoffrey’s room and would have kept walking if he had not heard someone crying. He paused and turned around surprised, honestly forgetting that Geoffrey was living with him now. He pushed the door open and called, “Isaac?”
The crying stopped abruptly and he watched something dive under the covers.
“Isaac?” he laughed as he entered the room, “What’s wrong?”
A crop of rich black hair and two wide blue eyes peered over the covers and stared at him. Abraham gave a start and paused halfway across the room.
“Geoffrey?!” he exclaimed, kicking himself for his stupidity.
”You foolishly sentimental old man. Isaac is dead.”
He walked to the foot of Geoffrey’s bed as the young boy disappeared under the covers again. Abraham smiled and sat down.
“What’s wrong, Geoffrey?”
“Nothing, sir,” spoke the shaking blanket.
“Why were you crying?”
Geoffrey peered over the blankets once more and said, “I wasn’t.”
Abraham stared at him knowingly. Geoffrey looked down ashamed and admitted, “I was sniffy that’s all.”
He chuckled, “All right, why were you sniffy?”
Geoffrey jumped under the covers and squealed as a flash of lightning streaked across the sky. Abraham looked out the window and smiled.
“Are you afraid of the lightning?”
“No,” mumbled the shaking blankets.
“Well…,” said the blob crawling towards Abraham. Geoffrey poked his head out of the blanket, on the side closest to Abraham, “It’s not just the lightning. It’s the thunder and I think there’s a monster in the corner over there.”
Abraham raised an invisible eyebrow and turned. He rose and walked towards the corner.
“No!” cried Geoffrey reaching out to him and nearly falling off the bed, “It will get you!”
“This monster,” said Abraham point at one of his jackets thrown over the chair that sat in the corner.
Geoffrey sheepishly nodded his head and hid again as lightning flashed across the sky. Abraham shook his head and returned to the end of the bed.
“How about this,” he told the shaking mound, “I will stay here until the storm ends and I will make sure to scare all of the monsters away.”
Geoffrey peered from under the covers once more and said, “Really?”
Geoffrey climbed out from under the covers and nodded his head.
“That would be nice, sir.”
“Good, now come here and stop calling me sir,” said Abraham walking to where his pillows were, “Call me…Abraham.”
“Ok,” said Geoffrey following him to the pillows.
Abraham pulled back the covers and climbed into bed. Geoffrey sat next to him awkwardly as thunder shook the house. He jumped and grabbed onto Abraham’s arm, causing the old Lord to laugh.
“Come here,” he said wrapping an arm around the young boy.
Geoffrey nestled into his arm and hid his face into Abraham’s chest. The lord smiled and gently rubbed Geoffrey’s arm.
“It’s all right. It is just a storm. It will pass.”
Geoffrey tightened his grip on Abraham’s shirt and buried his face during into his chest.
“It’s all right, Isaac,” he said absentmindedly watching the magnificent storm, “It cannot hurt us.”
Geoffrey looked up as Abraham continued to watch the storm.
“S-Abraham, who is Isaac?”
Abraham gave a start and looked down at Geoffrey, locking onto his wild blue eyes.
Abraham’s eyes widened as he gasped, “Did I call you that again?”
Geoffrey nodded his head.
“I am sorry,” Abraham moaned resting his head against the headboard.
“Who is he?” pressed Geoffrey.
“He was my son,” Abraham choked, fighting the lump and tears that were threatening to fall.
Geoffrey furrowed his invisible eyebrows.
“What happened to him?”
“He died during the last war,” said Abraham, facing the window so Geoffrey would not see his tears.
Geoffrey snuggled closer to Abraham and gave him a small hug. The old lord looked down and smiled bitter sweetly as he stroked Geoffrey’s soft hair.
“You should get some sleep, Geoffrey. It is late and you need to rest.”
Geoffrey nodded his head and made himself comfortable on Abraham’s chest. He closed his eyes and sighed contently as Abraham leant his head against the wall, thinking about his son and the war and everything that had been destroyed because of one man’s pride. He jumped as Geoffrey shifted. He had forgotten about the young boy. He smiled at Geoffrey’s sleeping form and didn’t have the heart to move even though the storm had passed and he himself should go to bed. Instead he shifted and rested his head against one of Geoffrey’s pillows. He held the young boy close, smiled, and fell asleep.