This is the Prologue from MARABELLA; DISCOVERING MAGICS.
The clouds hung low and ominous in the East. Dark and angry, a grim line pushed its way closer and closer threatening violence. Two strong men helped the last farmer board the overloaded ferry. They both turned at the first faint rumble of thunder. “This doesn’t look good,” commented Geremiah as he surveyed the choppy waves on the river.
His companion eyed the sky. “Aye,” said Anton. “The wind is already picking up.”
The simple craft of thick, sturdy wood planks sealed with pitch resembled a long box sitting atop the water. The ferryman pulled hard on the thick rope which wound around the pulley mechanism midway of the ferry, propelling the boat toward the other shore.
Geremiah helped them push off, then stood facing the cold spray coming off the water. River and sky were both the same flat gray color. He adjusted the saddlebag on his shoulder. He was a big man clad in the heavy boots and leather breeches of a woodsman. His thick coat was fastened against late winter’s chill and stretched tight across his broad shoulders. A close- cropped beard covered his strong jaw and squared chin. His shaggy chestnut hair reached just below his upturned collar. He had a very expressive mouth (usually prone to smiling) and captivating green eyes. Today there was no smile. He chewed his bottom lip, staring anxiously over the waves.
The rope creaked and the ferry shuddered as the force of the river’s current buffeted the craft. They were hanging low in the water due to all the extra weight of passengers and cargo trying to make the last ferry of the season. Most days it carried ten to fifteen men and their cargo, sometimes as much as twenty-five. Today there were forty souls, counting children and cargo aplenty. Anton saw the tension in Geremiah’s clenched jaw.
The clouds moved in and the sky darkened. Flashes of lightening illuminated the swirling clouds and the rumbling increased. The ferry shuddered again.
“We’re too heavy.” Anton’s voice was filled with dread. He clutched his tiny son Wesley, barely five seasons old, and his nephew Benji tightly to his sides, his eyes glued on the north shore, so far away. The distance, an easy stroll on land, seemed a mighty journey across the menacing waves.
Geremiah laid a hand on Anton’s shoulder. “We’ve got to lighten this load.” Kneeling down, he faced skinny little Wesley and handed him his saddlebag. “Hold tight to this for me, little man. I’ve something very special in there to give my lady, Mara.”
Wesley smiled and reached for the bag. “The ring?” He whispered, leaning toward his father’s friend.
“Yes, the ring, very important. I’m trusting you with this solemn task. Hold tight,” He touched the bag. “To my most precious things.” The big man stared into the child’s blue-green eyes, then winked and smiled with his crooked grin.
“I promise.” The boy smiled back, hugging the bag.
Anton guided the boys to Broxton, an elderly tailor from the village. He looked again to the north shore. The ferry was creeping along at a snail’s pace. The wind seemed to bear down, pulling and grasping at the boxy craft. The current pounded the creaking wood and the blackening sky loomed heavy over their heads. Geremiah and another man were already tossing bags of seed into the now raging river. “Better my seed-corn than my family,” grunted the farmer glancing back at his worried wife and two young daughters. He had to shout over the roar of the ever increasing gale. The huddled passengers were mostly silent except for murmurs of concern and a few fitful children. They all tried to ignore the chilly water washing over their feet when the waves broke over the sides. Now near the middle of the river, the current beat the ferry and it shook more violently as it crept along.
Anton helped Geremiah as he strained against a large beer barrel. A stonemason by trade, Anton was tall and lean with corded muscular arms. His seemingly thin frame hid great strength. Putting their backs against it, the two shoved the huge barrel overboard. The rain began coming down in fat frigid drops but they continued, throwing barrels of whiskey and flour. The storm gained momentum. The wind howled like an angry beast attacking its prey. The gray waters pummeled the ferry. The terrified passengers clung to one another and clutched their belongings as if to protect them from the river's icy grasp.
Suddenly, the ropes propelling the ferry along groaned against the pull of the chilly waters and snapped, taking one of the ferrymen with them into the swirling current. His body was sucked under the turbulent waters before he could cry out. The ferry bobbed dangerously and began to spin downriver. Women and children screamed as water poured over the side. The timbers holding the rope mechanism splintered and ripped free, falling into the water and dragging with it, the farmer and his entire family. His yellow-haired daughters were both entangled in the thick ropes still clutching their new straw hats with pink ribbons. Amid the chaos, Geremiah pried the lid off of a small flour barrel with his hunting knife and quickly dumped its’ contents. A knowing look passed between the two friends.
“Wesley” was all Anton said. Geremiah grabbed for the child as the ferry rocked and spun out of control. Still clutching the saddlebag, Wesley stared bewildered into the big man’s kind face. Geremiah slipped his knife into the bag Wesley held and lifted the tiny boy into the barrel. Anton yelled over the din of screams and cries of the passengers scrambling to cling to the out of control ferry, “Don’t fear my son. Be brave.” Together the men pounded the lid back on the barrel. “Always take care of your mother.” Anton continued. “Don’t be afraid!” Steadying themselves and pausing for just the right moment, Anton and Geremiah heaved the barrel with tremendous force toward the north shore. Geremiah held his hand aloft as if willing the barrel toward the land. “Drifan.” His whisper was lost in the gale. The tiny barrel and its precious contents sailed northward over the turbulent waves.
The current smacked the ferry again and a torrent of icy water washed over taking several more passengers with it. Anton made a grab for Broxton but the old man’s arm slid through his wet hands and he was dragged over the side. “The rocks!” someone shouted. Geremiah grasped Benji around the waist just as the ferry was jolted, smashing into the first of the boulders jutting from the frigid swells. Geremiah’s broad back crashed through the railing and both went over into the cold gray surge. The remnants of the ferry spun again exploding into splinters on the rocks. Shouts of alarm sounded on the shore but already little was left, save debris swirling in the current and drifting toward the land; a plank of wood, a straw hat with pink ribbons, a small flour barrel bouncing off the rocks along the bank and several lifeless bodies.
Still, the seasons turned and turned and turned again.