Prologue: The 12th Century
The deep, ample voice rang out through the whole room of the French shelter home, as he shook her awake. The room was made of stone, filled only with two straw mattresses. A single, lonely window, barely large enough to fit an infant through, was the only source of light as the moon showered in through the space. A tall man, with dirty blonde hair and an untamed beard, stood over one of the mattresses – a women slowly opened her eyes, waking from the man’s voice piercing through her dreams. She looked across the room to the other mattress. Two boys, cuddled into one another, slept, unmoved. The women smiled to herself as the youngest of the boys hugged onto his brother, snoring loudly in his ear and drooling all over his arm.
In the still of night, under the clear, black sky – Alcide Benenati and his pregnant wife, Josephine Blackwood escaped the evil and destruction of their former Roman lives with their two sons, Nikola and Marcello.
Trading the life of a warrior for one of solitude and simplicity, Alcide fled with his loved ones to his wife’s homeland, England, in hopes they could live out the remainder of their lives in peace.
The family had been on the run for weeks. Held up in France, waiting patiently for a boat to take them to their own personal vision of utopia. Living wherever people would take them in. Living on the bare minimum.
For the children, Josephine kept telling herself while she watched her starving children’s pained faces day after day.
For them, Alcide told himself, knowing that after this despair, his family could live better lives; that he could give them something more.
The time had finally come. The boat arrived to take them to their new home. To a whole new world.
Alcide made sure they had all of their belongings together – which consisted only of the cloth they wore and the small wooden carving of a bird Nikola tried to carve for his new baby brother. Josephine crawled to her boys, kissing them tenderly on the foreheads until they woke. With big blue eyes, Marcello yawned and smiled, “Mama.”
She smiled back, feeling the love grasp at her heartstrings, “Babies, it’s time. We’re going home.”
Alcide raced ahead, mapping out the safest path, while Josephine held tightly to Nikola’s hand, and Marcello clenched his brother’s out of fear of being left behind. The sea was in sight, the salty scent of the ocean stuck to their noses. It smelt like home. Although home was just an idea at the time, this smell, this night, was all the beginning.
Standing on the deck in the crisp French air, Alcide grabbed his wife’s hand and guided her step by step until she was securely inside the wooden craft. She took a seat at the furthest point and watched Alcide pick Marcello up, swinging him in the air and laughing with him before he placed him beside to her. Nikola placed each of his hands on the edge of the boat, clenching his fists as hard as he could, breathed in the chill of the night, and jumped inside. Feeling proud of himself for doing it all on his own, he spun around to see if his father had seen. He was disappointed when he noticed Alcide was preoccupied with the rope, tying the boat to the shaky deck to have seen his accomplishment. Dragging his feet, he sat with his mother and brother, ready for this part of their lives to end.
Half an hour into the journey and Marcello had his head over the side, intently watching the darkness surrounding them. Clinging desperately to the side of the questionable boat as it aggressively beat against the ocean’s treacherous waves, Marcello felt anxious about the mysterious water and the things that lurked below. Feeling him shake with fear, Nikola wrapped his short arms around his little brothers trembling body and soothed his worries, “It isn’t long now, baby brother. I know we’ve been away from home a long time but we’ll make a new home, just like father said.”
Trying his best to stay calm, like his big brother, Marcello gulped down his nauseous fear and clung to Nikola rather than the boat. Despite the urge to push him off, Nikola grabbed hold of him, ran his hand through his hair and comforted Marcello until they saw land.
After a harsh and violent voyage, they made it to the shoreline. Marcello was asleep on his brother’s lap and their parents cradled in each other’s arms close by. Nikola refused to let Marcello go, not wanting him to worry any further, he held him close and let him sleep until it was necessary to wake him.
Alcide and Josephine were the first to step off the creaking wooden boat. Nikola and Marcello were to follow however, the smaller of the two was far away, lost in a dream. Nikola and Marcello are last. He placed a small hand on Marcello’s shoulder and lightly shook him. A near inaudible mumble escape’s Marcello’s thin, pink lips as he snuggled closer into Nikola. His brother’s sweet, innocent face laying on his arm looked almost cute enough to carry him out, just to allow him to sleep longer. Almost. The tingling numb feeling surging its way through Nikola’s arm was too annoying to ignore. Violently, he flung his arm up, flipping Marcello to land on the opposite shoulder, now wide awake.
Their new home was quite a walk from the water. Through sand and stone and hours of land. Half way through the hike, both small children complained so insistently over the pain in their feet, that Josephine wrapped one in her arms, and Alcide took the other, throwing Marcello over his strong, muscled shoulder.
Josephine was walking ahead, with Nikola hugged to her side, his head faced to his father. The sound of Marcello’s laughter erupted inside Nikola’s ears, forcing his eyes to remain glued to the image. The only thing that fought through the mountain sized envy, was his mother’s sweetened voice, dripping like honey from her rosy lips, “My dear boy, stop staring.” With a thwack to the back of his head, she hit him, forcing his gaze elsewhere.
It has taken them almost Josephine’s entire pregnancy to get them out of the warfare and to a safe place, yet she somehow managed to keep a genuine smile intact and permanently set in her beaming face. She’s kept the whole family positive, even in their darkest days, her light shone through everything, and kept their destination always in view; kept their hopes for the future seem attainable.
It took them almost a day’s journey from the shore, but they finally made it. They finally reached a lone house, unmoved by the wind. Josephine placed a hand to her belly and sighed in relief. The sight of the house and the feeling of her family beside her, was her happiness. A paradise long been dreamed about. Alcide’s face lit up with such glee, a booming laugh rumbled from the pit of his stomach and spread throughout them all. With a speedy pace, Alcide rushed to the front door. The house itself didn’t look like much. It was a solid structure, decent wood and stone sturdily held together. It stood without trouble. But certainly not a house fit for a queen – which Alcide longed to give to his beloved. However, the moment he saw her approach the building, with joy held deep in her iris’s as she ran her soft hands over the wooden door – her door – he knew that everything that led up to this was worth it. That the house’s quality can be altered, worked on and repaired. That it was safe and far enough away to keep his most treasured belongings safe. Finally, they had lost sight of the bloodshed and the destruction, putting behind them the war, the fear; leaving only hope and possibility.
To eliminate all aspects of the Roman Empire from their lives, Alcide gave up his name and they became the Blackwood’s. Their recovered lives gave them high spirits, and made them realize how many others were in need of help. The need to help others, as so many did for them, they felt a responsibility to give back, so they began building, adding to their single house, to create a village.
As Josephine was almost due to have her baby, Nikola enforced that Marcello was to watch over her, while he aided Alcide in the creation of the safe haven for lost souls and innocent families fleeing the chaos, just as they once were. For the last few weeks before her due date, Nikola followed every order given to him by his father, obeyed every rule and did everything asked of him. While Marcello ran around retrieving the things Josephine needed. She sat in the grass, Marcello playing with the little wooden bird until the baby was born. Hours were spent watching him run around his mother, making various chirping noises, pretending to be flying as high as the little bird, caged in his tiny toddler fist. As for Nikola, he spent the same time beside his father, watching intently at his every motion, trying his hardest to mimic the gestures. Both Alcide and Nikola as his tiny boyish shadow, worked up a sweat to have the first building finished by the time the baby came into their lives.
The first thing they built was a chapel. A place of worship. Alcide never had much belief in a higher power, he always believed that a man made his own fate. That was the way he was raised – his father had always told him to pave his own path into the future. And he did. But Josephine held God’s spirit close to her heart and wanted her children to grow up with the same faith. Alcide searched for a priest and had his sons, including their newborn baby boy, Phillip, baptized.
The day was hot, the sun’s rays washing over the small sacred land as the three boys prepared. Nikola stood still, his back straight and his blue eyes dead focused. His brown curls brushed back, out of his eyes for once. Marcello stood beside him, kicking his feet as his hands fiddled with the cloth he wore, his eyes never remaining in the one place for more than a few seconds. Nothing about the two-year-old was tamed or well-kept. Phillip laid peacefully in his mother’s arms, quiet and happy, staring only at Josephine. The service was quick – though Marcello will argue it lasted too long, simply because he doesn’t do well when made to stand still. The second it was done, Marcello ran out, clung to his father’s giant leg; playfully trying to wrestle with him. Phillip held onto the bird and in Alcide’s arms at this point. Nikola stood outside of the picture, staring in. Feeling as though he was not a piece for this perfect puzzle. As if his jagged edge didn’t match his father’s – at least not the way Marcello’s did or even baby Phillip.
Immediately, Josephine saw the situation, darting her head from one group of her boys to the one on his lonesome. She knelt down to Nikola, “My child, what brings you sorrow?”
With a buried head, his eyes to the floor, Nikola mumbled out words, “I do not think father likes me.” The words stung and Josephine resisted the urge to wince aloud. Doing her best to hold onto her composure, she continued, “What the heavens gives you this ridiculous idea?”
He looked inside himself and revealed the only reason the poor child had, “For I am not Marcello. I do not appear to be a good son.”
In an attempt to comfort her hurting son – and her own aching heart – Josephine gently touches the boys face and pushes a few runaway strands of hair behind his ear, “My darling boy, your father loves you deeply. He is honoured to call you his own. Never doubt that love. It is what brought us home. However, for the days like this, when doubt fills you, always know you have a father in heaven to bring you back to the truth.” Placing her hand over his heart she added, “This is where He lives. Next to your father and I. Always with you.”
The two stood there, and he felt his mother’s hand move with the beating of his heart, knowing she always could heal his pains, physical or otherwise. He pulled open his arms and leaned into her embrace.
The years passed and the village had more houses and felt more like home for the Blackwood’s, everyday. As it grew, more people stumbled upon its boarders to seek refuge. In the beginning, Nikola and Marcello feared the outsiders, both being used to their little world with only their family.
One day, when the village was particularly full to the rim with new and unusual strangers, Alcide found his oldest sons hiding behind their stone house, their faces buried, refusing to face the unfamiliar faces in the village. Before confronting them, Alcide breathed out a chuckle, finding himself amused by his children. He turned the corner, his heavy hands rested on his waist, and a stern expression plastered on his face. The sudden movement made Nikola and Marcello jump and release a squeal each. While they were young, Alcide knew they must grow up enough to find courage. He picked them up by the cloth on their backs and stood them in front of him. Taking a knee, he began talking, “My boys, don’t be fearful. This is a safe place, for everyone. We cannot be selfish and keep it only for ourselves. You both are very brave, help them. Show them how brave you are, so they can be brave also.” Rubbing their heads and leading the way, Nikola took Marcello’s hand and followed their father out to meet the others in town.
They both tried swallowing the fear, doing as their father had said and showing their bravery. Nikola was first to step up, always doing everything his father told him to. And as he watched, Marcello eventually followed also, doing as his big brother did. The two boys helped their father create something bigger than their family – it was a community. Built outside of fear, of war, of blood. It was a home.
In the middle of the afternoon, when Alcide was showing his children where to gather water from the river and which roads were the correct ones to take, a man missing his left arm limped over, seeking refuge like the others. The sight of the man’s lost limb scared Marcello enough to make him yelp and jump behind Nikola for protection. Holding his father’s words firmly in his head, Nikola looked at Marcello and assured him, “You are brave. Never forget. This man needs our help. Show him.”
Exhaling a few quick breaths, Marcello nodded his head slightly. He took the man’s remaining arm and led him to the shelter. Alcide watched how quickly his son’s had adapted to the new world and could not hide his pride. Nodding to himself, Alcide found faith in his family. Somehow he knew they’d be alright, no matter the fate of the world. Because he raised good gentlemen.
Nikola ran to his brother, who sat beneath a small tree that was barely a year old – just outside of the village. The small number of leaves that grew upon its branches were a vibrant green, and complimented the grass growing below its trunk. The flowers that swayed in the wind were beautiful purple’s and orange’s. This place was one Marcello always visited – he loved feeling close to life, to nature, the way he was under this tree.
“I’ve told you, it’s Marcus now.” He never looked up to meet his brother’s eyes.
“Sorry. It slipped my mind. What are you doing so far out?” Nikola’s body fell beside Marcus on a patch of grass.
“Look.” Marcus pointed out over the village they helped their parents build. It looked so different now, compared to the day they first arrived. Smiling people walked the paths and spoke to one another. Many people from not only here, but all over the world, all seeking a home. Their search had led them here, to this little village. To this community of people. To Alcide.
“It’s come a long way. Everything father had hoped for.” Nikola felt the pride whelm up inside of him. It took the family years to turn this village into what it was. It was already full of lovely memories and people. Nikola had the greatest of times growing up alongside all of it.
Marcus’s dreadfully serious tone cut through the montage of memories that played through Nikola’s mind, “Does it ever scare you?”
“What do you mean, Marcel…Marcus?”
“One day, mother and father will go with God. You’ll take over, as the oldest, it’s your right. Doesn’t the responsibility scare you? Even I worry that I will not meet our parents’ expectations.”
Nikola wondered the same things. Alcide has built a legacy around the Blackwood name. He will be remembered in the hearts of all those he saved, even long after he is gone. Nikola hopes to be half the man his father is, and worries he cannot honour the family name.
“As long as we do as father always tells us to, we have nothing to fear. Family above all else. And honour our beliefs, as mother has shown us.”
The two brothers remained underneath the tree and watched over their family, with their father’s words stretched across their chests. They look upon their mother helping those around her, and desperately try to engrave the image on the inside of their eyelids.