A young man of eighteen years, stood before the charred remains that was once his home. He remained with his mouth agape, just staring. He couldn't move. He could barely breathe. All Marshall could do, was stare. Passerby's would clap him on the shoulder and offer their condolences, as they returned to their own lives, that went completely undisturbed. That was not the case for Marshall Stoddard, however. The poor boy was still in a state of shock. They were gone forever. The twins Adel and Phil, his father David, his mother Cheryl... they were all gone, and nobody seemed to care. Nobody, but Marshall, that was. Was there anything worth salvaging from the house, burnt beyond recognition? Money? Marshall couldn't take that. It would leave him feeling like a total creep. Clothing? Anything that he wasn't currently wearing, had surely been consumed by the fire, that had so fatally ripped through his family's home. The scorched, wooden framework had been exposed, shudders were hanging by their hinges, roofing tiles littered the ground... his home was in shambles. Quite literally, nothing remained of the life young Marshall had lead only that morning.
A hot tear slid down his face, though he had no recollection of when his eyes began to water. He couldn't move, he suddenly realized. All he could do was stand, and stare at what used to be his home. Home. The word no longer held any meaning, for there was nothing that tied Marshall to this place any longer. His family...his mother, who always had a kind word to say...his father, who clapped him on the back as a way of saying he was proud of his son...and the twins, with their go with the flow attitudes...they were...they were...gone. The words stung like poison in the young man's mouth. Gone, forever. All that remained was charred pieces of wood, and a few items that were melted beyond recognition. With nothing but a broken heart, and a sack that held...his...what would have been his family's dinner...the eighteen year old sat on the still standing stone porch step. Propping his arms up against his thighs, the young man did the only thing he knew how to do at the moment. He buried his face in his hands, and cried.
Marshall dried his eyes with the back of his hand, smearing dirt and grime from a hard, honest day's work, onto his tear stained face. What was he to do now? Where was Marshall to go? The young man could think of only one thing, one safe haven. He would go to the home of his employer. Marshall wasn't exactly on close personal terms with Mr. Harding, but he did know that is boss was a good man. Mr. Harding would understand... give him a place to stay. What other choice did the boy have? Marshall would have to go see his employer at his home, unless he wished to sleep on the streets tonight. Marshall stood, and released his death grip on the sack, he was holding in his dominate hand, and the dead goose, his mother would have been cooking at that very moment, fell to the stone steps with a thud. His mind was still clouded in a thick haze. None of this seemed real... but the young man knew that it was. Marshall could smell the catastrophe in the air, the burnt wood, the burnt flesh... burnt everything. Shaking his head, he slowly snapped out of his depressing reverie, and began his trek to Mr. Harding's home.
The sun was just beginning to set, when Marshall finally reached the doorstep of the Harding residence. He exhaled deeply, before rapping against the pinewood door. Marshall's hands were still shaking from his ordeal. He waited for what seemed like an eternity, before he finally heard a set of soft footsteps approaching. It must be Mrs. Harding, Marshall resolved, because she was the only member of the residence who was so light on her feet. His assumptions were confirmed when a tall, slender woman answered the door.
"Oh, hello, Marshall," Mrs. Harding sounded surprised, "I thought my husband sent you and your father home for the night."
"H-he did... b-but..." the poor boy stuttered.
"You look like a wreck, Marshall," Mrs. Harding interrupted, "what happened... Oh, dear! Did you find out already? Mr. Harding was supposed to inform you and your father tomorrow."
"W-what?" Marshall's heart skipped a few beats. What was Mrs. Harding talking about?
"My husband found new employees who would be willing to work for half of what he was paying you and your father. Tomorrow will be your last day."
"W-what?" squealed Marshall, "but..."
"I'm sorry, Marshall," Mrs. Harding began, "but I have no say over the matter. You can talk to Mr. Harding if you like. He's still at the stables."
Marshall felt betrayed. Betrayed by God, for destroying his family, betrayed by his employer... he and his father had been loyal employees at the stables for years... since Marshall was thirteen, and his father long before that... How could any of this be happening?
"Yes, Ma'am," he managed to murmur, before stumbling off.
He wasn't going to the stables. Actually, the young man did not know where he was heading exactly, at the moment, but he did know, that it wouldn't be the stables. Marshall craved escape. He needed to find away out of this place, somewhere far away from the awful memories, but he didn't know how. Marshall had never stepped foot out of Shireland in all his eighteen years. Why, the boy had never even visited Westland or Tersia, and they were the nearest countries boarding his homeland. Marshall continued to walk, completely oblivious to where his own feet were leading him. He stopped only when he noticed a soft ruffling sound at his feet. Marshall looked down at his worn boots, hand me downs from his father, to find a newspaper fluttering past him. Oh yes, today was Thursday. New issues of the Shireland Gazette were strewn about, discarded by the individuals who had read them, and carelessly left the papers behind. Instinctively, Marshall bent down and picked up the newspaper. This is what it read:
Prince Elric is celebrating his eighteenth birthday this weekend...
Marshall quickly flipped to the next page of the newspaper. The young man was in no mood to read about the happy life, of a spoiled rich boy. Marshall had only recently turned eighteen as well, and look at where he was now. He had nothing. The prince had everything. That was the difference. His eyes halfheartedly scanned the words typed across the page, when something caught his interest:
Freighter ship leaves for France at six-thirty, Thursday night.
Six-thirty. Marshall quickly glanced up at the sky. It was still moderately light outside. He had just enough time to make it all the way to the docks. The eighteen year old dropped today's issue of the Shireland Gazette, and ran faster than he ever had in his lifetime. When he finally reached the docks, Marshall was out of breath, and panting. There was a terrible stitch in his side, but it all seemed worth it, when his eyes beheld that freighter ship. Marshall needed to find the freighter's captain. He was determined to board that ship, if it killed him. Marshall didn't have much time, so he desperately roamed about the docks, looking for anyone who might resemble a freighter captain. What did they even look like, anyway? Marshall wasn't sure, but during his search, he did over hear some ridiculous conversation between an older man, an a boy seemingly his age.
"Are you certain you want to go sailing on your birthday, Elric?" the knobby, old man asked, "you know I get seasick."
"Yes, Ghram, and you know how much I love the sea."
Elric? Birthday? Now, that was ironic, but Marshall didn't have time to eavesdrop. By some happy circumstance, Marshall spotted a man barking orders at a few sailors. This man had to be the captain.
Marshall hurried over to him and asked, "Excuse me, Sir, but are you the captain of this vessel?"
"Yeah," the captain raised his eyebrows, as if being called 'Sir' was the strangest thing he had ever heard, "and?"
"I'd like to get on your ship."
"No," the captain said simply, and commenced to barking orders at his crewmen.
"Please," Marshall begged.
"How much money do you have, kid?" the captain reconsidered for a moment.
"Nothing," the boy admitted, "but I can work. I'm not lazy. I'll earn my keep."
"Forget it, kid," the captain shrugged.
"Are you deaf or stupid? I told you to buzz off."
Marshall was about to prepare himself to reply to the captain's rude remarks, when the young, black haired boy he had seen earlier, intervened.
"Is there a problem here, captain?" the boy asked.
"No," the captain answered.
"I couldn't help but overhear you deny this young man passage aboard your ship. Why?"
"No money," the captain snarled.
The black haired boy rolled his eyes, produced a heavy looking money pouch and handed it to the captain, "That should cover his journey and his food, am I right, captain?"
"It should," the captain nodded.
"Good," the black hair boy turned to Marshall, "Elric Benson, and you?"
Elric Benson? No, Marshall thought to himself, this can't be the Elric Benson, prince of Shireland. He couldn't be.
"M-Marshall Stoddard," he answered anyway.
"Well Marshall, bonne voyage," Elric saluted to him.
Marshall didn't know what bonne voyage meant, but before he even had an opportunity to ask, both Eric and his older companion had already disappeared into the crowd. Perhaps there were good people left in this world after all.
"Come on," the captain grumbled, pushing Marshall up the ramp leading to his ship.
Before long, the ship set sail, and Marshall stood above deck watching Shireland, the place he used to call home, grow smaller and smaller, until it finally disappeared over the horizon.