Timeline: Sixth Age, 46th Year, Spring
“Over here! Over here!” Emcorae yelled out to his friends. “Throw ME the ball!” He taunted. “You all know you can’t catch me anyway!”
It was now the beginning of Spring, and with the cold winter now a distant memory, Emcorae and his mates were playing a game of tag-ball. It was a glorious country day, as the pre-teens chased each other through the fields of Farmer Pryde – they laughed, they rough-housed, they cajoled with each other, and most of all they got dirty, mucking it up together without a care in the world.
Now tag-ball was a full-contact, physical sport – with the basic premise being that whoever was unfortunately tagged “it,” by virtue of getting hit with a homemade ragball, was then tasked with picking up the ball and trying to run to the opposite end of the field to safety – whilst everyone else had to try to him chase down before he got there.
It should be noted that most of the kids playing did NOT want to be tagged as the market man because they feared getting smeared into the ground by their peers in what could only be considered a painful reward for their efforts. Thus most of the boys preferred to be the Pursuers — getting their kicks out of inflicting pain on the unlucky runners.
Yet, Emcorae was different – since he lacked the physical size of most of the boys his age, he wasn’t that good at tackling anyone, thus he wasn’t much of a Pursuer. However, because of his god-given speed, Emcorae was one of the best Runners and he relished every chance he got to play as the marked man.
This is not to say that Emcorae never lost at tag-ball – for there were many time when the boy got tackled by his friends – with his best mate Curk being especially happy to bring him down, hard. As such, there were more than a few occasions when Emcorae went home with a bruise or two, and even sometimes a bloody lip. Always on these occasions would his mother Beckali forbid him to play “that terrible little game again.” And always would Emcorae disobey her – for tag-ball was a right of passage in Monthaven and the boy would not be denied his due.
Yet today’s game would witness a never-before-seen player enter the game.
Of a sudden, <WHAM!> Emcorae was drilled with the ragball from behind.
“Ha, you’re ‘it,’ Em!” Curk heckled. “We’re going to smear you!”
Emcorae scrambled to pick up the ball and get his bearings. Curk was already too close for Emcorae’s comfort – for while the bigger boy wasn’t as fast as Emcorae, still Curk moved well for a lad of his size and Emcorae knew he keep his promise to crush him if he got the chance.
“Get him!” yelled a group of boys to the left, quickly racing towards Emcorae.
By the time the younger Azop was able to pick up the tag-ball, Curk was already bearing down on him, fire in his eyes – the bigger boy now racing over the dirt, opening his arms, and making ready to tackle Emcorae with delight.
With no time to waste, Emcorae rolled away from Curk’s charge just in the nick of time – for what Emcorae didn’t realize was that another boy named Seth had also been coming at him from the opposite side, intent on helping Curk dislodge the ragball from Emcorae by pounding him with a “Monthaven Crunch.” When the speedy Azop escaped, his predators found themselves unable to stop short –colliding into one another with a loud <crunch!>
With a snicker, Emcorae got his bearings and was soon racing like the wind towards the opposite side of the field, rejoicing to himself as he ran, Ha! Those nitwits will never catch me!
Once more, it appeared that he would win another game of tag-ball – for he now realized that nobody anywhere close to catching him, and he could see the opposite fence rapidly approaching. Yet, even more importantly, Emcorae was just happy to be “one of the gang” again – for much had happened to the eleven year-old boy in the moons following his first nightmare about the gargoyle and his creeping mist.
For starters, Emcorae had continued to have ad dreams. Prior to last fall, he’d been no different than any other pre-teen – more often than not, his dreams involved the same hopes as any other boy his age and centered around the various fair maidens of the town. However, after his vision of the gargoyle, Emcorae’s dreams changed for the worse — although none of the nightmares were as “powerful” as the first one, they still frightened the boy.
Initially his nightmares involved him being ‘chased’ by an evil black mist — with Emcorae desperately trying to outrun the terror and (thankfully for him) always escaping. Yet the dreams changed as the winter grew darker – the soul-sucking mist was replaced by the gargoyle again – or at least what Emcorae assumed his demon to be — for the boy never actually saw the beast-man in these visions, instead he only sensed the creature’s presence or occasionally saw his terrifying shadow on the ground.
With his nerves frazzled, Emcorae sought his family’s advice – with varying results. His father Alboris initially told Emcorae to “grow up and stop acting like a baby.” When Emcorae continued to suffer night terrors, Alboris got frustrated because he realized his child was in trouble but there was nothing he could do to help – thus he avoided the issue by taking jobs away from Monthaven or else spent his time ‘forgetting the matter’ over some mugs at the Brandonale.
His mother Beckali believed Emcorae and a motherly pain for the plight of herson, but she too didn’t know what to do and her pity alone was thus little solace for Emcorae.
Sadly for Emcorae, his grandgather Alfranco also was no help. When the old man first heard about Emcorae’s visions, Alfranco gasped, “So, it’s happening to you too! Damn them!”
Yet what Alfranco meant by this, Emcorae didn’t know and his grandfather would not explain. The only thing the old man would say was that he too used to have nightmares and he admitted to the boy that this was one of the main reasons why he drank so much.
“Is that also why my da drinks, grandpop?” Emcorae wondered.
“You may be right, you may be wrong, Em.” Alfranco sighed. “But like as not, I don’t believe that’s so, for your da never complained to me about night terrors, and as I tol’ ya before, methinks he drinks for a different reason – dissatisfaction with life itself!”
While Emcorae initially took heart in knowing that his grandfather also suffered from nightmares, this potential spirit-lifting fact soon became a downer. For it quickly became apparent that Alfranco’s only means of coping with nightmares (drowning them in ale) was a resource (as yet) unavailable to Emcorae. Worse yet, once Alfranco realized his beloved grandson was at risk and there was nothing he could do to defend him, the old man began to frequent the Brandonale more than ever – if such was even possible!
In fact, the only member of the Azops who took any action to help Emcorae was his grandmother Paullina. It was she who, upon hearing of Emcorae’s “temptations,” immediately told Pastor Kastelli – the town’s passionate, yet overbearing, religious and civic leader. Together Paullina and the priest devised a way to help the tortured boy.
“Surely, Father, there must be something that he could do to help you while at church.” Pallina had pleaded with the church leader in the Winter of 45. “I’m worried about him – he says he’s having nightmares about demons! Why, Baal must be trying to take Emcorae because the boy is so very good. Please help him, Father — I don’t wanna see him end up like Alboris or Alfranco. You know as well as I how those two give in to their temptations far too easily. Oh Father, I pray for them every day with all my heart!” And gripping her prayer beads tightly theold woman went on, “but Emcorae, he’s all I’ve got now. He is my life! I want him to follow in YOUR footsteps, Father. Please, show him the right way and help rid him of these temptations.”
After pondering a while, Pastor Kastelli came up with a plan – he made Emcorae Azop the first alter server in the Monthaven Chapel! “Having him in the house of Yahway more often will surely set his mind to rights,” He told Paullina. “This will drive out any temptations which Baal is sending his way – if that is really the case.”
Thus, during the remainder of Winter and even now in the new Spring, Emcorae found himsself scurrying around behind the scenes at the church before the daily services began — always hurrying to make his preparations perfect lest he suffer the rebukes of the massive priest who towered over him like a giant. Never once did Emcorae complain about his new “job” – in fact the thought didn’t even cross his mind, for nobody in Monthaven would deny the command of Pastor Kastelli and the Mannah Religion. In addition – and more importantly from Emcorae’s point of view – the boy wanted to believe what the Pastor told him — if Kastelli said that working a little in the chapel would help him to get rid of the dreams, then he was all for it.
Therefore, when the church services began — with Emcorae dressed in his trimmed down, but still too big, white robes — the boy appeared as nothing short of a little angel, as he walked out of the sacristy in front of Kastelli, leading the way towards the alter through the crowds of people.
It should probably also be noted that Pastor Kastelli had always made sure his services were just as much “show” as they were substance, and the chaplain soon realized that Emcorae’s presence only added to that production. With Emcorae Azop soon doing all the little things for Kastelli — like pulling out his chair, washing his hands, or carrying books and chalices here to there – the big clergyman soon found that he was freed to play up the rites even further – much to his delight.
For his part, Emcorae had quickly grown to relish the time he spent on the altar. Oh sure, at first the boy had been nervous — having to stand up there in front of the entire town — but he soon got over that, particularly because he never had to say anything, and instead only had to concentrate on doing the silent tasks that were imparted him. In a short time, Emcorae began to feel a sense of importance – for he was doing something which no other boy in town was doing — and once he came to that realization, he grew to enjoy the spotlight – soon adding a little flair to his own movements to ensure that the people noticed him as well!
Unfortunately, what neither Pastor Kastelli, nor Pallina, or anyone else knew, was that Emcorae’s participation in the church services had NOT done anything to dispel his nightmares. It did seem to make them less frequent in occurrence – and for that Emcorae was thankful – but the dreams still occurred on a regular basis all through the Winter and now even into the current Spring.
For his part, Emcorae did not admit this to his family or the priest; whenever they asked him about it, the boy instead told them that he was “cured!” The reason – Emcorae wanted to continue to be an alter boy, for he now relished the spotlight, and the attention he was getting added some balance to the terrors his mind suffers from his dreams.
And while Emcorae knew that he was ‘sinning’ by lying to others about his ‘cure,’ the boy justified it by telling himself that the more he worked at the church, greater the chance something miraculous might happen by which he might become truly cured of his bad dreams. In addition, Emcorae well knew that Pastor Kastelli was often boasting to the townsfolk about his success exorcising demons, and Emcorae rightly guessed that it would be a bad idea to make the beloved church leader appear to be a liar.
And so, despite his continued nighttime terrors, Emcorae quested on. In fact, it should also be noted that none of this did anything to shake his faith in the Mannah Religion. Instead, the boy continued to believe what his grandmother told him — that Yahway made the world, his son Mannah was the Savior of the World, Father Enok had guided his people to safety here in Monthaven, and that he (Emcorae) should be thankful for all his blessings. Pallina had also told her grandson that he should constantly pray to Mannah’s mother, Maree for help that all would be well for his family and friends and for the future good of all mankind. And that’s what Emcorae did.
Yet, neither his religious obligations nor his nightly terrors were on Emcorae’s mind at present; instead, the boy had but one thing in his sights – making it to safety at the end of Farmer Pryde’s field and thus winning another game of gag-ball.
Ha Ha! I’m gonna make it! Emcorae rejoiced, while taking a moment to glance behind his shoulder as he raced on. Seeing his friends well behind and about to give up, he shouted back, “Fools! You really think you can catch me? Come get me if you can!”
And that’s when a new player joined the game – a player with rather sinister designs…