Victor saves a Gypsy child, an event which will change his life forever.
Each and every morning - very early in the morning - Victor's first stop was the docks where the day's catch was brought in.
This part of his job usually took him a couple of hours, but sometimes he would finish early and have a little extra time before his driver returned with the carriage. On those days, he would take a walk further down the wharf and look at the ships moored in the harbor.
This morning there was a particularly interesting ship, a nice-looking three-masted schooner tied up at the dock and, being a finer specimen than most, it had drawn a small band of admirers who were standing around hands in pockets and talking amongst themselves.
Close by was a small gaggle of Gypsy children who stood out by their colorful costumes and by the reaction they were drawing from the group. It was not a positive one: Gypsies were wanderers and neither liked nor trusted by the locals.
There was a commotion from the group and Victor looked up to see what was happening. He saw nothing, but a few seconds later there was a loud splash, followed by the sound of scattered laughter.
Victor rushed over to the edge of the wharf. The Gypsy children were running back and forth panic-stricken, jabbering to each other in their strange tongue. He squinted down into the water.
"Drown 'em when they're small, and they won't steal from you when they're big," a voice called out from the crowd. More laughter.
My God thought Victor; it's a little kid! He dropped onto his stomach and reached out over the edge towards the furiously thrashing child.
"Aw, leave 'im in there," bellowed another, harshly indignant, voice. "Little beggar tried to steal my wallet!"
Victor ignored him and made his decision. He held his breath, reared up high enough on his knees and elbows to jump, and then leaped into the filthy harbor water. The impact of the freezing cold seawater was like a body blow and it took his breath away, but Victor forced himself through the water towards the drowning child.
He made a grab towards him and missed, then tried again and caught a handful of clothing. He pulled hard and with the other hand swam awkwardly back to the wharf. As soon as he was within reach, he pushed the boy out of the water, against the rough edge of the dock.
"Hold on to the side!" he yelled as the child scrambled for a grip on the wet slimy wood.
Victor clawed his way up onto the top surface of the dock, and then he reached back over the side and hauled the child up onto the rough wooden planking next to him.
The water in the boy's lungs made him cough and he fought to breathe.
"Cough! Cough it out!" Victor barked, and he rolled the child over and pounded him furiously on the back. That helped, and the Gypsy boy managed to finally get the last of the water out and to catch his breath.
Victor rocked back on his heels. "Thank good..." he started to say, when something slammed into the side of his head. The sudden impact knocked him over, and he saw stars.
A few seconds later, when he had regained his wits, he became aware of an angry young red-faced Gypsy man screaming abuse at him in his own tongue. The man snatched the child up in his arms and stalked away, still shouting back at Victor as he went.
"Now there's gratitude for you," Victor heard the wallet's owner remark. "Should have left him in the drink, I say."
Victor shook his head, picked himself up, and walked back to where his driver was waiting with the carriage. The man stared at his dripping boss and raised an eyebrow.
"Just a slight mishap, Mister Woodford" Victor explained. "Let's get going..."
Late that night there came a knock at Victor's door and, when he answered it, standing before him was the young Gypsy man from the incident at the docks, accompanied by an impressively wrinkled tiny old lady, the oldest-looking person he had ever seen.
"My son would like to apologize to you for his behavior today," she said by way of introduction.
The man mumbled something low-pitched and indistinct.
"That's okay," Victor said. "No harm done."
"We are very grateful to you for saving my grandson," the ancient woman said. She held out a withered hand. "Please take this as a token of our thanks."
"What's this?" Victor asked, looking down at her offering. It was a small silver amulet with a large pinkish-red stone set in the center.
She pointed to the stone. "It's called the 'Resurrection Stone'," she said.
"The ... what?" Victor asked.
"This is a charmed stone," she said. "One that will allow you to bring a loved one back from the dead. If you are willing to pay the price..."
Victor paused. The last thing he needed was another trinket. "No, thanks, I ..."
"Take it," she insisted. Then, without another word, she and her son turned and walked away, leaving Victor standing alone on the doorstep. He looked at the small silver object in his hand, and then he sighed, shook his head, and went back into his house, locking the door behind him.
The next morning came too soon for Victor, not only because of the early time, but also because he had slept very little. He could never remember a time when he had dreamed more, but had slept less.
Something about the odd couple from the previous night didn't make sense, and this bothered him: the old lady had referred to the young man as being her 'son', but she had to have been at least ninety, probably older. The young man, on the other hand, couldn't have been older than maybe thirty, which would have made her no less than sixty years old when the son was born.
Victor had always known that the Gypsies were a strange folk, but even for them this was hard to believe...
After work the next day Victor paid a visit to Pastor Galswells.
"Ah, Mr. Van Dort," the old churchman said. "What can I do for you today?"
"I have something that I'd like to ask you about," Victor answered.
"In that case, come in, come in," the Pastor said. He herded Victor to a large comfortable chair in the church study, then sat down on another and leaned forward. "Now ... what is that you wanted to ask me about?"
Victor pulled the silver object from a pocket and held it out for the other man to see. "Well, I got this from an old Gypsy lady last night and ..."
The Pastor's face turned gray and his eyes bugged out in horror. "What is that - thing - doing here?" he croaked.
Victor was startled by the other man's reaction. "Wh-what?" he stammered.
"That ... that ... that abomination!" the Pastor sputtered. "It doesn't belong here in the house of God..." He leapt to his feet, flailing his long arms in Victor's direction as though he were shooing away stray flies. "Get that evil thing out of here - immediately!"
Quickly, Victor gathered up the amulet and fled outside. The Pastor followed him as far as the door of the church and then stopped. "Where did you get it?" he asked in a loud, agitated tone of voice.
"F-from an old Gypsy woman," Victor stuttered. "The one that came by my house last night."
"Take it back to her, then," the Pastor thundered. "Can't you see that it's cursed? We cannot keep something like that here. In this village..."
"Do it now! Take it away from here - as quickly as you can, Mr. Van Dort. And forget that you ever saw it!" The Pastor then slammed the door in Victor's face.
Stunned, Victor could only shake his head. It was not quite the interview that he had had in mind. However, Pastor Galswells was not one to be dismissed lightly and he had been Victor's only hope for more information on the amulet.
He quickly made his way down to where the Gypsies had been camped - perhaps he could get more information from them. Victor turned the last corner on the narrow path, then stood mouth open in mute surprise.
They had been there, all right - there was plenty of evidence of that - but no sign of them now. Sometime during the night, or maybe during the previous day, the nomads had pulled up and left.
Victor sighed. This wasn't a mystery that was going to be solved any time soon...
He poked around the old campfire site and checked out the debris that they had left behind, but there were no clues as to their next destination.
Eventually, he gave up and left. He had thought of simply leaving the thing there but, if the amulet really was cursed as the Pastor had claimed, then leaving it lying around wouldn't be a very good idea, either...
Back at the house, he shrugged and popped the amulet into his strongbox where it would be safe until he could figure out what to do with it.
That night the dreams returned, somewhat the same as before, but more prolonged and much more vivid. By the time the next morning arrived, poor Victor was a wreck.
The dreams continued the next night, and the next, followed by the next. They were quite intense, at first seeming to be a random blend of scattered events and unfamiliar people but, after a while, the dreams started to show a common theme.
They seemed to feature a magician or wizard who was always at war with some kind of unseen monster. There was also a large cast of supporting characters, each of whom had some kind of relationship with the main one.
Finally, after a week of this, there appeared a supporting character he did recognize.
"Elder Gutknecht," Victor said. "Am I glad to see you..."
"My boy," the Elder replied. "We have to talk."
"I was hoping you'd say that," Victor said. "Does it have to do with these dreams?"
The Elder nodded. "And with that amulet of yours," he said.
"Is that why I've been having these strange dreams?" Victor asked.
"Of course. And that's why we have to talk."
Victor was confused. "We are talking..."
Elder Gutknecht shook his head. "You will have to come back with me to finish our chat."