Raven Willoughby – Origins ~ A Fantasy by Dellani Oakes – Part 28

“Do you remember anything I said earlier?”

Rose’s face grew stern, and her eyes filled with tears. “Enough to know you’re leaving us.”

“Not by choice. There is nowhere I would rather be, than here with you, raising our son. I love you more than my own life, Rose. I do this to protect you. Please, forgive me for lying with another.”

“I can scarcely condemn you for that. Before we met, I had more than my share. But you come back to me, while our child is still young, do you hear? I won’t have him grow up without his father, as I did.”

“As did I. Now kiss me, my beautiful Rose, and let me hold my son.”

“What shall we name him?”

“After your father?” he took the child in his arms.

“My mother has no idea who that was. After yours?”

Smiling, he gazed into his son’s disconcerting golden eyes. Louis Willoughby,” he made a sign of the cross on the small forehead. “You look a bit like my father, from the portrait I’ve seen.”

“In my eyes, he looks exactly like his own. See, even the honey colored eyes….” She sobbed, looking over Raven’s shoulder.

Without turning around, he knew that Osceola had appeared. He felt her presence like a surge of lightning in the room.

“This is the lad?” she stepped close, leaning over the baby.

Raven didn’t want her to touch his child, but knew he shouldn’t stop her.

“He is a fine, handsome boy.”

“Thank you,” Rose said faintly. “You won’t take him from us?”

Osceola shook her head. “I am ages old, set in my ways. What would I do with a child?”

“But you said—” Raven protested.

“My sweet Raven.” She touched his cheek tenderly. “What would I do with an infant? Though I’ve lived hundreds of years, I know nothing about raising a child. And honestly, my love, I am not the nurturing type.”

“You wanted to test him,” Rose said, a faint smile on her lips.

“Yes, gentle Rose. If he gave the child freely to me, he had no right to keep either of you. If he refused outright, then he was no better a man. But if he was willing to sacrifice, to save the two of you….”

“Then he was well and truly in love,” Rose said, her soft gaze focused on her husband.

“Yes. So, now, I give you a gift.”

“You’ve given the greatest gift of all, my dark and chaotic beauty,” Raven began.

“But I choose to give this one to your son. May I?” She held out her arms.

With a nod from Rose, he handed the child to the vampire witch. “His name?”

“Louis, after my father.”

“A second name, I think. We shall name him Louis Osceola Willoughby, and he shall be the greatest warlock the world has known. He has the blood of magical royalty in his veins, for I made you, and you gave him life. Don’t be afraid, precious Rose. Your son will use his powers for good.”

“Thank you,” Rose said. “This is quite a gift you bestow upon him. When it comes time for him to be trained, may we count on you to help him find his way?”

“Yes. It would be my greatest joy. And visit, if you would, from time to time?”

“As you wish.”

Osceola handed the baby back to Rose. Beckoning to Raven, she led him outside. “I know you think of me as evil.”

“Not entirely, but there is certainly chaos in your soul.”

Osceola laughed. “Yes, that’s true. But it is calmer now, since knowing you, and sharing your blood. You stand poised to do great things, Raven Willoughby. And if you ever have need of me, cast my name upon the wind, and I shall come. Now, one last kiss before I leave.”

He kissed both her cheeks before placing a chaste kiss on her lips. Osceola sighed, smiling.

“Your wife is a truly fortunate lady.”

“Thank you. And I am a fortunate man to have loved two such wonderful women in my life. If you have need of me, I shall come.”

“You must visit on his first birthday.”

“We will.”

The air parted and she was gone.

Louis grew quickly, able to do more as a toddler, than some children twice his age. As his first birthday approached, Raven took Louis and Rose on his ship, up to see Osceola. Her home had changed. No longer a blackened cove, it was ringed sunshine drenched beaches. A cozy cottage had been built near the beach, overlooking the cove.

Osceola greeted them, not dressed in a beautiful, ocean-blue gown. Her hair swept away from her face, held with combs made from seashells. Louis threw himself into her arms, and she carried him as she showed them around.

“This is your second home,” she said with a smile. “I ask that you visit at least once a year, on his birthday, until he is fifteen. When that time comes, he will stay with me, and I will begin his training. Can you do that for me, Rose?”

“Yes, Osceola. It will be hard to be parted from my son, but I can do that.”

“It is time for you to go now,” the witch said, giving each a kiss. “Raise him well.”

With that, she disappeared. They sailed back home, delighted, and surprised, to find that they hadn’t even been gone the full day. It was still Louis’ first birthday, and the town held a party in his honor.

Each year, they did as promised, taking Louis to see Osceola. As time passed, more children came along, and all were welcome in the sunny cove. When Louis reached fifteen, he stayed behind, and they sailed home without him. Though it was difficult to say goodbye, Rose had promised.

As they cuddled in their bed, Rose laid her head upon Raven’s chest. “He’ll be all right, won’t he?”

“Yes, my sweet. He’ll be home in no time. In the meantime, you can love and spoil the rest.”

“Will they go, too?”

“If you and Osceola want them to. That is not my decision.”

“If we had not met, where would you have gone?”

“In truth, I don’t know. I suppose I would have gone to Maine, and settled there. My place of birth held nothing for me. My aunt is long dead, my parents…. No one to care if I live or die.”

“I’d have stayed here, working until I was too old to be of interest.”

“My love, you may be assured, you will always be of interest to me.”

Kissing her goodnight, he settled to sleep. In his dreams, he saw his son, grown to a man, laughing in the ocean’s surf as he conjured water sprites. With a smile on his lips, he slept deeply, dreaming of summer winds and sunshine.

©2021 Dellani Oakes

To Buy Dellani’s Books

THE END

Raven Willoughby – Origins ~ A Fantasy by Dellani Oakes – Part 27

Everyone thought that a splendid idea, and they set about planning the festivities. Uriah sighed, glad he’d removed his meager belongings long ago. Once the embers cooled, he walked around, searching for anything which might have escaped the purging fire. A glint of silver caught his eye. Stooping over, he found a pair of silver daggers. He retrieved them from the ruins.

Of the bodies, nothing was left. The wreckage was cleared out that day and taken out of town to hallowed ground, to be buried. Every holy man in town was out there to add his blessings to the burial grounds. All this, and Raven slept.

Weeks passed and Raven’s ships were restored to him. The Governor was jailed in disgrace, and he was asked to take his place. He turned it down, suggesting Mr. Sterner in his stead. A unanimous vote put the solicitor into office. The former governor’s belongings were sold and the proceeds put into the town and its environs. Raven used the private docks for his fleet. The first journey his new flagship made, was to Maine to clear up the issues there. He returned to Labrador a few weeks later, to find Rose waiting for him.

She seemed thicker around the middle. It was with joy that he heard her news—she was with child. His child. A whirlwind wedding followed, and they moved into a house by the private harbor.

Months passed and her time grew near. One night, Raven had an awful dream about Osceola. She stepped from the air as she had before, snatching his newborn child from his mother’s arms. Stricken with grief, Rose flung herself in the sea. Waking with a stifled cry, he remembered Osceola’s condition for helping him.

“My son,” he whispered. “Please, my beautiful, dark temptress, do not take my son. I’ll come back to you. Father your own child. Just please. Please….”

Unable to sleep, he dressed, and kissed his bride upon the brow. Taking himself to the dock, he stood alone by the water. All the ships were out to sea, so he was alone. Standing there, he felt a presence beside him. Turning he saw the awesomely beautiful Osceola. Walking close, she took his hands, bringing them to her lips.

Raven fell to his knees, clutching her hands. “My love, you honor me with your presence.”

“I’m no longer your love,” she whispered, insisting that he rise. “You have given that to another.”

“No, I’m fond of Rose….”

Her finger touched his lips. “I do not fool myself into thinking that’s true. If you believe it, you’re a fool.” She gazed at him a long time. “Would you really come with me, give me a child?”

“If that’s what you wish. If it will keep you from taking this child.”

“Why is this child so special?”

“He is my first. My only.”

“He is the fruit of your union with the woman you love.”

He hesitated.

“You may say it.” Her face grew soft. “Say it.”

“Yes. The woman I love, had never hoped to love. This son….” He sobbed, nearly falling once more. “I will give you what I can, but I beg you, do not take my son, or my wife will surely kill herself. I cannot lose her, Osceola, or I will lose myself.”

“Would you lie with me for a year?”

“A year is a long time.”

“In my cove, a year is minutes. Will you?”

“May I see my son born? May I hold him first?”

“As you wish. And tell your wife, if you dare, what you do to save them.”

Unable to answer her, he watched as she glided back through the air. It shimmered and twinkled around her, and she was gone.

As he walked up to the house, he heard Rose scream. Mrs. Renard came out of the room, flushed and bothered.

“There you are! She’s asking for you. Don’t be long, it will be a while until you meet your son.”

Raven did as he was told. Seeing Rose’s face contorted in pain, he took her hand. Speaking gently, he told her about meeting Osceola, and the deal he’d struck with her. He wasn’t sure how much of it Rose took in, but the words spilled out.

Mrs. Renard returned with a midwife, and they shooed him out of the room. Hours passed and the screams continued. Raven paced and listened, hearing an increase in activity in the room. After a nearly deafening scream, there was silence, punctuated with the plaintive wail of a babe.

Rushing to the door, he pulled it open, nearly colliding with the startled form of Mrs. Renard. She smiled up at him.

“Come meet your son,” she said.

“It’s a boy? In truth?”

“Yes. A fine, beautiful boy, who looks just like his father.”

Raven sat on the edge of the bed, gazing at his son and his exhausted wife. Giving her a sweet kiss, he peeped around the corner of the blanket, at his little, mottled son.

“Do you wish to hold him?”

“In a moment. Give us a minute, if you would?” he asked the women.

Nodding, the went out.

©2021 Dellani Oakes

To Buy Dellani’s Books

Raven Willoughby – Origins ~ A Fantasy by Dellani Oakes – Part 26

Zulimara encouraged the dead to walk toward him. Closer they came, and closer still. Lunging at them, he struck down two before they reached him. Whirling and slashing, he continued to lay waste, but the stream of bodies was never ending. How many of the creatures were there?

Then, as if a message came to him on the wind, he knew what he had to do. Standing his ground, naked as the day he was born, he took careful aim, hurling one dagger at Zulimara. It struck her in the throat. A scream drowned in her blood, as it sprayed from the wound. As one, the zombies fell, shriveling to nothing as the blood poured out of Zulimara’s body.

Raven dressed hurriedly, cursing his stupidity. He’d let a woman get the better of him. Rather than dwelling on it, he found the lamps and candles in the place. Dousing Zulimara, he saw her body was showing signs of decay. Though not as advanced as the zombies, she was still far more than a newly dead corpse. Some dark magic surely lingered. Making his way out the front door, he left a trail of lamp oil. Striking a match, he lit the oil, watching the flames scurry toward Zulimara’s body. When it reached her, it sputtered with a sickly, putrid green flame, before rushing to consume the others.

Glad that there were few buildings beside his own, Raven watched the flames curl around the wood, the inky black smoke swirling upward. Did he see faces in the fire? He couldn’t be sure. Standing alone, he waited until the building was consumed, the bodies with it. No one came to put the fire out, too afraid of the zombies. He couldn’t blame them. They had no way of knowing he had brought an end to it. Or had he?

A part of him remembered that the Annabelle had not yet made port. Was she out upon the water, spawning another shipload of these creatures?

“Osceola, my sweet, will you help me?”

The air shimmered, shifted and split in front of him. Osceola stepped through, the air shifting like water around her.

“What need have you now? Did I not just help enough?”

“It was you who told me to kill Zulimara.”

“Of course, my love. What need have you of me now?”

“My ship. Is it cursed? Does it even now bring yet another load of monsters to land?”

She cast forth, breathing deeply of the wind. Dark hair coiling around her like living serpents, she rose from the ground. “Come.” Grabbing Raven’s arm, she pulled him close.

Horror replaced shock as she flew straight up, then out over the water. Below him, Raven saw the wine dark depths of the sea. The waves rolled and tumbled beneath them, splashing upward, trying to clutch him and draw him under. Not far away, he spied a ship. By the way she sat the water, he knew it was his beloved Annabelle and she was in distress. Listing to starboard, she canted sideways, nearly consumed by the trough, as the sea toyed with her. Not a sailor walked her deck, nor light graced her bow. She was lost, and alone at sea. It was then he saw them, the cold, heartless undead, stumbling up from the hold.

“Do you wish to land?” Osceola asked.

“No! Dear gods, no. Can we do something?”

“What something to you wish?”

“Set it on fire. Keep it from port. Let these people find their rest.”

“As you wish, my love.” Raising the arm which did not hold him, she conjured a flaming globe of purple fire. “This is what you desire, my sweet Raven?”

“Yes.”

Casting it downward, she watched it spiral toward the ship. Landing amidships, it burst into a blaze of red and purple, setting fire to anything which came near. Leaping and biting like a living thing, it set the ship and its unholy occupants on fire. The water of the sea closed over it, yet still it burned, sinking to the depths.

“Thank you, my beautiful, bestial love.” He kissed her longingly.

Suddenly, he was falling. Still over the sea, he prayed he would survive. His body reacted quite apart from him, and just as suddenly, he was flying. He couldn’t describe how it came about, and was sure he’d never again be able to repeat it, but there it was. He landed on the quayside, as if he were falling onto a feather bed.

“Thank you, my love,” he whispered to the wind. “Thank you.”

Stumbling with fatigue, he made his way back to the brothel, where he collapsed on the steps. They found him there at sunrise, sound asleep.

Smoke lingered and hot spots still burned in the wreckage of his office building. The townsfolk gathered, wondering what had happened to Raven. Uriah arrived a few minutes later, reporting that their hero was alive and safe.

“He’ll sleep the day away, no doubt,” Uriah said. “But if he’s right, this marks the end.”

“This is cause for celebration,” the dockside mayor said loudly. “When he wakes, we will have a party that has been unequaled in these parts!”

©2021 Dellani Oakes

To Buy Dellani’s Books

Raven Willoughby – Origins ~ A Fantasy by Dellani Oakes – Part 25

Lightning flashed, thunder roared, and the front door burst open. Pieces of wood flew in all directions. Raven ducked, throwing his arms across his face. He felt splinters sting him, like bullets. They drew blood, but nothing that wouldn’t heal quickly, given his nature. Despite the entry point, the zombies didn’t move. Instead, a tall, lean figure walked in.

Shrouded in billowing black, her hair snapping and snarling around her, stood Zulimara. Shoulders erect, chin raised defiantly, she strode into the room. Though her minions gathered outside, they did not come in, for which Raven was grateful.

“You could have stopped this, so easily,” she said, her voice rasping and low.

“How? This is not my doing. This began before I arrived.”

“The locket, you fool. You knew it possessed special qualities, but you kept it. Did you give it to your whore?”

Raven frowned. “How do you even know about that?”

“Not denying it, hm? That’s a unique approach. A man who doesn’t lie!”

The zombies trembled, shuddered. One put a toe through the door. With a wave of her hand, Zulimara shut the door on them.

“Well?”

“Well, what?”

“The locket! Give it to me!”

“I no longer have it.”

“What have you done, you fool?”

He said nothing. Crossing his arms, he glared at her. They stared at one another for a full minute before she advanced. He could hear her terrifying hoard outside.

“You brought this on us.” She pointed at the door.

“I did nothing of the kind. These are not my beasts, but yours.”

“The thing you met on board your vessel, the one that bit you. He killed the rest.”

Raven was still, wondering how she knew this.

“You threw their bodies overboard, didn’t give them a proper burial. Selfish bastard.”

“What would you have me do, Zulimara? Whisper prayers and set the ship on fire? I was nowhere near land, and loathe to drown.”

“Another ship picked up the bodies, taking them from the water. They intended to bring them here to bury them. Instead, they turned into those—things!” She flung her arm out. The hammering and pounding increased.

“I didn’t do that! It was not my magic, you must believe that.”

“The locket, you found it on board.”

“Yes. On one of the bodies.”

“And inside, was there a picture?”

“If there was, it was too damaged to see. Why?”

“My parents were on that ship. They were torn asunder by the beast.”

“How can you know that?”

“Because, I was there, too.”

“There was no other person on that ship! I searched every inch. No one was aboard her.”

“I hid well.”

“How did you get here?”

“I don’t know. I found myself here the night I came to your room.” She stepped closer, her hand resting on his chest. “You wanted me then, desired me.” Her fingers dropped, massaging his manhood. “Do you still want me, Raven Willoughby?”

“In case it has escaped your notice, madam, there is a hoard—” he gasped, biting his lip as her exploring got the required response. “…of zombies…just outside.”

“Charming, aren’t they? They want your blood. They want the gold you stole from them.”

“I didn’t steal it. They were dead. I gave them the burial I could, and saved myself. If that makes me a bad man….” He gasped as she grasped him, her hand working inside his breeks.

“Do you still want me, Raven Willoughby?”

Zombies be damned, he couldn’t stop himself. She knew just what to do to make him wild with desire. Grabbing her arms, he dragged her to him, divesting her of her garments. Determined to have her, regardless of the cost, he ripped her dress as she pleasured him with her hands. Soon, she had his clothing off, and she led him to the cot in back.

The banging and moaning grew louder, more insistent, as their passion raged. Wanting her more than any woman he’d ever met, he had the fleeting suspicion, she had him under a spell. He couldn’t find that he cared, when she grasped him, opening to him as she did.

The front door burst open once more. This time, the zombies struggled to get through. Naked, his knives nowhere near, Raven leaped up. Zulimara laughed nastily, as she stood and joined the zombie hoard. The first were halfway across the front room, when he remembered he had two more knives in his bag. They had been used and battered the night before, but he was not unarmed. Facing them, inside, with nothing but air surrounding him, he stood his ground.

©2021 Dellani Oakes

To Buy Dellani’s Books

Raven Willoughby – Origins ~ A Fantasy by Dellani Oakes – Part 24

“Nothing and no one,” Raven said. “The rain kept them away.”

“Too bad it can’t rain every night,” Robin said. “Well, one less stinking job of the day.”

Raven chuckled. “Indeed. Thank you, my friends.” He bid them farewell. “I cannot remember a time I was so tired! Too much more of this, I don’t know what I’ll do.”

“You need some time in the soft arms of a talented woman,” Uriah said. “And Lilly’s sister, Rose has volunteered.”

“Her mother is fond of flowers.”

“Trust me, they are as fair as flowers. Though Lilly bears a mark, she is as pretty as her sister.”

“Believe me, I would enjoy that. Do you think she’d mind?”

“My friend, she begged me.”

That settled, Uriah stayed at the office and Raven went to the brothel. Anticipating a good romp brightened his spirits and he whistled as he walked. Heads turned and folk smiled. It was a different atmosphere from a few days ago, when people walked in fear. Now, they had something new—hope.

Arriving at the door, he was greeted by a bevy of lovely ladies. Rose was easily picked out by the roses she wore in her hair and on her robe. Taking him by the hand, she led him to the back, where a bath waited. It was the most luscious, and decadent, time he’d ever spent in a tub. Once they were both clean, Rose led him, naked, to a secluded alcove that had a cushion cluttered bed. Raven lay upon it, enjoying the cool cloth against his bath-warmed skin. Sinking to her knees, Rose plied skillful lips to him, until he roared his release.

While they waited for him to be ready once more, she kept his interest with a variety of techniques. Each more delightful than the last, soon he had recovered. This time, he wanted more than just her lips upon him. Insistent, he grasped her in strong hands, spearing her from below. Rose moaned softly, closing her eyes.

“So hot,” she breathed. “So firm!”

Raven had feared that making love to Osceola had spoiled him for human women, but he’d been wrong. It wasn’t as wild and uninhibited with Rose, but it was surely satisfying. She worked him well for several hours, finally allowing him to rest. Content and surfeit, he fell into a deep sleep.

To his chagrin, Osceola visited him once more. “Is this how you repay me, lover?” she snarled.

“My love, might a man relieve his need with another, when the object of his greater lust is not around? Surely, you have not been without a man’s touch since we parted.”

She had no answer, but she covered him in kisses, getting him good and hot. Raven woke with a start. Rose was once again giving him the special treatment he’d found so entertaining the first time. This time, he finished the way he wanted, and both of them were satisfied.

“It’s five o’clock,” she said softly. “It will be dark in a couple hours. Can you stay?”

“As much as I’d love to, I dare not. The rain kept the beasts at bay last night, but there is nothing to keep them away tonight. But I go about my job with renewed vigor, thanks to you. I must go.”

“A meal?”

“There is food waiting for me there. If I can, I will be sure to stop again.”

He reached into his pocket, but she stopped him.

“I don’t require payment, this was something I could do, to thank you.”

“May I leave a gift?” He dangled a pretty silver bracelet in front of her.

Rose’s eyes widened as she gazed at the delicate piece. “It’s beautiful! Is that a tiny rose?”

“It is.” He had chosen it by accident, with the intention of giving it to his bed mate, whomever she might be. The fact it bore a rose was incidental, but he didn’t say so.

“This is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever owned.” She kissed him deeply. “Stay.”

“I dare not. I will return.”

“But you could die!” she teared up.

“If I do, I die happy, sufficiently loved by a beautiful woman. What more can a man ask?”

He finished dressing, gave her one last kiss, and left. He arrived at the office far later than he’d intended. The bar had hardly fallen in place when he heard the first shuffling footsteps. They were distinctly faster tonight. Raven shuddered. He had to find the source of these creatures, and destroy it. He didn’t know how many more nights of this he could take.

Even more arrived, battering at the press until he thought it would come down. It held, but he perceived cracks in the wood. Rather than tempting fate, he retired early. Like before, the zombies followed him. Unlike before, they beat at the door and windows relentlessly. Their moaning sent chills up his spine. Dawn could not come soon enough, but the hours slipped slowly by.

The clock was just striking three, when something in the atmosphere changed. A quickening, with flashes of heat lightning, though this was hardly the season for that weather. The battering grew louder, steadier, more focused as if something had taken them in hand. Guided by some awe inspiring power, the zombies hammered at the outer wall. To his dismay, they moved to the sides, beating against them, too. Glad that the men had seen fit to reinforce these as well, he sat in the middle of the front room, praying.

Raven wasn’t a religious man, though his aunt had insisted upon Sunday services in the small parish church. He’d given up on Divine Intervention long ago, counting instead upon his own skills to forge his destiny. But when the first glass pane broke and the zombies set upon the wood behind it, he found himself uttering every prayer he could remember, making some up, to boot.

©2021 Dellani Oakes

To Buy Dellani’s Books

Raven Willoughby – Origins ~ A Fantasy by Dellani Oakes – Part 23

“Yes, until the bodies built up. Then I came inside to keep them off my rear. How many of these beasties are there? I still haven’t gotten them all.”

“Far more than we’d thought,” Robin said. “Do you suppose they’ve gathered more to them?”

“I have no way of knowing. It’s pure insanity. I never saw such a thing.”

“Strong magic at work,” a dark skinned man, with the lilt of the islands in his voice, said.

“Magic?” Robin scoffed. “Not magic, Etienne, pure evil.”

The dark skinned man shook his head, insistent. “Magic! We deal with zombies. Someone skilled in the dark arts. You kill them, they make more.”

“How would we fight someone like that?” Raven asked without a hint of skepticism. “I have met a powerful witch….”

“This is very special magic. Dark.”

Raven couldn’t imagine anyone darker, or more chaotic, than Osceola, but he didn’t say so. He wished he could contact his former lover. If anyone could find the person making the zombies, it would be she. He knew she was dangerous, perhaps evil. Could she be doing this? He doubted it. It didn’t have her feel and taste. It bore the scent of another, one he couldn’t identify.

“You must get some sleep,” Robin’s wife said kindly. “You have worked hard on our behalf, Raven. We cannot thank you enough.”

“I do what I can, Mrs. Cooper. I’ll be back before sunset, my friends.” He bid farewell and went back to the inn.

News had traveled from the docks to the rest of the town. There were people waiting in the taproom, when he went in to ask for a bath. The Mayor, Mr. Morton, was intent on speaking to him.

“Sir, with respect, I’m tired and I stink. Take these folk, and leave.”

“But you’re a hero!”

“Perhaps, but even heroes need rest. Go. Sam, I’ll thank you to keep folk away, who have no business here.”

“As you wish, Mr. Willoughby.” Looking staunch and formidable, he folded his arms and glowered.

Raven had his bath, and went to his room. His other clothing was clean and folded on the bed. Beside it was another set of clothing, with a note.

“We thought you could use something more comfortable to fight in.” And it was signed Myra and Samantha. They had made him a pair of soft breeks and a shirt with less full sleeves, better for fighting. The breeks were longer, made to be worn with boots, not stockings and shoes. A pair of soft suede boots sat on the floor by the bed. He wondered how they’d discovered his size. Considering Myra’s discerning eye, she’d probably figured it out. He tried them on, and they were a perfect fit.

Again, he fell into his bed, waking when Uriah arrived with another update.

“The magistrate came by and inspected the ships. Cortez opened the boxes, as you told him to. The papers have been gone over, and a master ship builder came in to examine them. He confirms what you said to the letter. He aided in the refitting of one of the ships, though he had no idea what it was for at the time.”

“Any word yet on the Annabelle?”

“None yet. She should be back by now.”

“You don’t think…. Could she have…?”

“Could she be a death ship again, you mean? I don’t know. Nor can I conceive why someone would be so intent upon doing all this. What is there to gain?”

“I don’t know. If I could figure that out, I’d have more idea how to fight these things.” He handed Uriah a bundle with the first two daggers. “See to it that these are given the treatment by Mr. Silver tomorrow. He knows what they need.”

“As you wish, sir.”

“We need to go,” Raven glanced at the sky. It as clouding over, and he had no idea what that would mean in terms of the zombies.

Uriah parted ways, rushing home. Raven got himself barricaded in the office as the first drops of rain began to fall. Full night fell, but the dead did not arrive. Finding that an interesting side note, Raven made himself comfortable with a cup of Uriah’s good coffee, and waited. Dozing off in the small hours, he dreamed of Osceola.

“I need you my love,” he whispered. “I need your help….”

“You have but to ask. There is a price….”

“Name it!”

“Your son.”

“I have no son. And how could I give you a child?”

Suddenly, there was great warmth in his loins, and desire surged through him. Impossible to ignore, it woke him. The scent of Osceola lingered in the room, and he knew he’d spoken to her in his dreams. Would she really help? He could only hope so. Meanwhile, he had a burning desire he could not tame. Perhaps a visit to the ladies, on his way home, was in order.

Uriah arrived, the men behind him.

©2021 Dellani Oakes

To Buy Dellani’s Books

Raven Willoughby – Origins ~ A Fantasy by Dellani Oakes – Part 22

Raven shuddered. “Gods, don’t even suggest it! Can you conceive of those things smarter?”

“I can. If I could build you the Great Wall, I would.” Uriah also shuddered. “Do you want me there?”

“My friend, you are good and loyal, but no. You’re human, and might die. Besides, we don’t know if their condition is contagious. The men who handle their remains, are wise to use gloves, and burn them. If you became one of those shambling monstrosities, I couldn’t live with myself.”

“In truth, I’m just as glad. But I felt duty bound to offer. I stopped by the bank, and spoke with the manager. He assured me that your holdings are in tact. Though he’d heard you were dead, he’d had no confirmation, so even when my former boss tried to withdraw it, as his pension,” Uriah rolled his eyes. “He was refused. You are the only one who can request the balance of your funds. As it should be.”

“Indeed. Thank you for looking into it. Now, you need to go home. I need to repair to my battleground.”

They headed out together.

“You’ll find it well provisioned. The wives have been busy with food and drink, even as the men secured it. They’re calling you the Defender of the Docks.”

Raven chuckled. “An apt moniker, though I don’t deserve it.”

“But you do,” Uriah said solemnly. “Those in the better parts of town can move about after dark without fear. Those at the docks, the poorest of all, cannot. The true mayor cares little what happens there, as long as he’s well fed. The Governor has done nothing, either. The only reason the soldiers were called in, the ship captains got together and demanded them. Though we know how badly that fared. You are a hero to these folk.”

“Let’s hope that their trust is not ill placed.”

When they arrived at the brothel, the ladies were there to greet them. The proprietress presented herself, smiling.

“For the man who fights for our virtue….”

The ladies giggled, the men laughed.

“You may have your choice of my ladies.”

“My dear lady, I would that I could do so tonight, for they are very fair indeed. However, if I am to earn my keep, I must attend to this mission first. I thank you for your largess, though I shall find it very hard to pick which blossom is most fair.” He kissed her hand.

“Perhaps more than one?” She winked at him.

“I would not be averse. But tonight, I must spend in less pleasurable activities. I may sweat and roar, but not because of gentle hands and sweet kisses. Ladies, I must take my leave. I look forward to seeing each of you, once more.” He bowed, kissed the madam’s hand, and took his leave.

He’d left it a bit close. Dusk was gathering and he sensed something in the air. Letting himself into the office, he locked and barred the door. He saw the windows had been covered in stout timbers, the door replaced with three inch oak, and the walls reinforced. The press was sturdy and well made. Fashioned of hardened oak, it created a funnel where one or two could come in, but no more. He would have plenty of room to swing his knives. The wall, which had been barely four feet tall, now came slightly past his waist. He admired the workmanship and hoped the mortar was a fast drying sort. Satisfied, he repaired to the office, doors barred, to wait. He did not have long.

As if they remembered him, the undead things lumbered and shuffled toward his office, unerringly. Raven waited to see what they would do. As long as he sat still, they did nothing. Once he moved, they did too, countering his motions with their own. They were slower than he, but, he thought, a bit faster than the night before. That did not bode well. He did a count as best he could, with the shifting about. Another thirty.

“How many of you are there?” he said aloud.

A host of moaning voices answered, as if they tried to repeat his words.

“Jesus,” he hissed. “What matter of sorcery is this?” Wishing he had someone, anyone to fight at his back, he decided to beard the lion, walking out the back door.

By the time he’d arrived, two or three had already found their way to his battle zone. They died quickly, hewn down with his silver blades—fresh ones this night. He’d nicked and scratched the others. If this went on too many more nights, he’d have to revisit Mr. Silver.

The hours passed, blurring into one frantic dance of death. The stinking bodies piled up, in the press, but the others stepped upon them and he was glad of the higher wall. When it grew unsafe to continue, he went inside and sat in the front room, to keep their attention away from the rear. They mewled and snuffled, but seemed content to wait until the night passed. Once more, just before dawn, they repaired to their retreat. The urge to follow was great, but he sensed if he went out, they wouldn’t leave, but would turn on him. He kept himself inside, waiting.

At some point, he fell asleep and didn’t wake until Uriah arrived with the men of the town. Once again, they did the grisly job of picking up the pieces and carrying them away.

“Thirty-two this time,” Uriah said proudly. “Did the press help?”

©2021 Dellani Oakes

To Buy Dellani’s Books

Raven Willoughby – Origins ~ A Fantasy by Dellani Oakes – Part 21

“That is quite a tale, Raven. This creature, what was it?”

“A werewolf.” His eyes met Uriah’s.

There was a little fear, but mostly admiration.

“So, that is why you fight like a man possessed?”

“You saw me?”

“There is a fair view from Lilly’s room. I had in mind that if you needed me, I would brave the swarm myself. What I saw….” He shuddered. “No man can move like you. Incomprehensible.”

“No human man,” Raven added. “I’m glad you didn’t come. I couldn’t have attended to them, and protected you. Lilly deserves you hale and hardy.”

Someone banged at the front door. When they rose to answer, they saw faces peering through the glass. Raven finished dressing and Uriah answered.

“There’s dead things out here!” one man said, awe in his face. “Is it over? Are they gone?”

Raven came out, smoothing his hair. “Many of them met their ends. We need to clear the dross and burn it.”

“I’ve got men coming to do that. They had to get their iron tongs and heavy gloves. We don’t touch them unprotected.”

“Very wise. I’m Raven Willoughby.” He held out his hand.

“I know your face,” the man said, smiling as he shook the proffered hand. “I’m Robin Cooper, a barrel builder. I am the unofficial leader round here dockside.”

“Folks call him the Mayor,” Uriah added. “Mr. Willoughby is here to set things right.”

Raven flashed him a look, but Uriah pointedly ignored him.

“I’ll do my best,” Raven said quietly.

“You’ve made headway with this,” Robin said, pointing to the stinking bones. “Ah, here are the men.” He made quick introductions.

Raven nodded, knowing he wouldn’t remember their names. The men, armed with iron tongs and heavy gloves, loaded the body parts into a cart.

“We take it outside town and burn it, cart and all,” Robin told him. “Make sure you get the small bits,” he cautioned his men. “We don’t know if even a tiny piece will bring ’em back, but why take a chance?”

“Why indeed?” Raven replied. “There were more than I’d anticipated. How many to you think there are, all told?”

“I never counted,” Robin admitted shame faced. “More like to run away, than stop and enumerate.”

“No shame in that. I accounted for twenty.”

“Twenty-seven by my count,” Uriah said as he examined the skulls.

“If you’re not needed for ought else, you should go get some rest,” Robin suggested. “Will you be at it again tonight?”

“That’s the plan. I’ll go to my room, and sleep the day away. Uriah, if you’ve need of me, leave a message with the innkeeper.”

“I don’t anticipate it, sir. Questions, and such, can wait. I think we can all agree that this takes precedence to all else.”

“Can we help?” Robin asked. “My men are nervous, but you won’t find a hardier lot.”

Raven shook his head. “It’s a job that few can do, I fear. I don’t doubt your skills,” he said, noticing that the men took slight offense. “I also don’t doubt your courage. But I was a warrior before I took to being a merchant.”

“Even the King’s soldiers couldn’t take them!”

“I’ve had some special training,” Raven evasively replied. “It’s not something generally covered in His Majesty’s Service.”

That seemed to satisfy the men, and they continued their job, checking carefully to be sure all the bones and flesh were gone. That accomplished, they took the cart outside town, had a priest bless it, and set it on fire. They buried the ashes in blessed ground, salting the earth after.

Raven went to the inn and asked for a bath and a meal. That accomplished, he sent his clothing to be washed, and went to his room, where he fell on the bed, deeply asleep.

At five in the evening, before full dark, Uriah came to the inn and woke him. They took a meal together and Uriah brought him up to date on the events of the day.

“Magistrate will be coming tomorrow at three, to the Governor’s docks, to see the ships’ papers. Thinking it unwise to have them unsecured, Señor Cortez set men he trusted, to watch over them. The ships are in dock until this is settled. His Grace, the Governor, is warming a bench in the jail.”

“I hope he catches sepsis from a splinter in his fat arse,” Raven snarled.

“Aye. Lilly’s mum sends her regards. She said business during the small hours, as been well off, due to the undead. They count on the sailors, but the captains are making their crews stay in their bunks.”

“That’s wise. Though I love the arms of a woman, I don’t fancy it enough to risk life and limb.”

“Nor do I. With the help of the Mayor and his men, we fashioned a sort of cattle press for you to use tonight. It limits their access, but doesn’t limit yours. I stood and swung a branch around to be sure of the reach. The wall’s a bit higher all around, and we blocked all but the port you used last night. If these creatures have an ounce of man’s wits left, they’ll learn to climb.”

©2021 Dellani Oakes

To Buy Dellani’s Books

Raven Willoughby – Origins ~ A Fantasy by Dellani Oakes – Part 20

They did not come in, but seemed to sense the life’s blood pulsing in his veins, for they crowded around outside. The stench was horrendous, the sound of their wheezing, sorrow-filled sighs almost more than he could stand. Knowing these used to be people, perhaps former friends, filled him with regret. He could not, in good conscience, allow them to continue. He felt responsible, as they had come from his own beloved ship. Even had they not, he was uniquely equipped to deal with them, where mere humans could not.

Taking a deep breath, he rose and walked out the back door, coming out into the fenced yard. As if they sensed his movement, the creatures had started ambling sideways. One or two had made the corner of the building, but seemed uncertain how to proceed. There was a low wall, less than four feet tall, but it provided a boundary, of sorts. The half dozen undead crowded forward, each trying to reach him. Limp hands dangled from stiff arms, groping for him.

Uttering a prayer, Raven swung at the reaching hands, lopping them off, one by one. When separated from the body, they shriveled and lay still. The stumps of the arms hissed and smoked. The dead didn’t seem to feel it, but he could see tendrils of black snake up their arms. He took another swing, this time at necks.

One head, another, fell to the ground. The bodies dropped, trampled by the others who came forward to take their place. Dancing and whirling, Raven whittled away at the dead. There seemed to be no end to them. He lost count at a dozen. More came, the longer he worked. Drawn by his scent, the movement or the noise, he didn’t know. Tiring, even with his increased stamina, he decided retreat was advisable.

Dawn neared. He’d been fighting death for hours. Taking refuge inside the office, he barred the back door, watching out the window as the dead glanced at the sky. The first pale rays of the sun peeped over the water. Flinching from the sight, they flung up bony arms, beating their own retreat. Tempted to follow, he decided against it. He was tired. If they surrounded him in the open, he’d be done for. Instead, he washed the sweat of his activities from his body, and lay down on the cot in the back.

Some time later, he heard movement in the office. Springing up, he grabbed his daggers, dashing to the adjoining door. Uriah smiled at him.

“You look a disaster, sir. Care for that coffee?” He flashed a toothy grin.

“You spent a better night than I,” Raven said, slumping against the wall.

“Any night is better than fighting the undead. I see you made progress. There’s a heap of stinking bones and rotting flesh outside.”

“I wasn’t in the frame of mind to sweep it into the dustbin. My apologies,” Raven declared in a sarcastic tone.

Uriah chuckled. “My Lord Willoughby, I feel sure that it will be taken care of soon. Folk will see it, though likely smell it first. It will be sorted.”

“If you see them, tell them to burn it.”

“I had already thought of that. So, how many, do you think?”

“I accounted for at least twenty. I lost count. If the skulls are still in the garden, it’s a fair count.”

Uriah handed him a cup of strong coffee, thick with cream and sweet with sugar. Taking a sip, Raven sighed, closing his eyes.

“Ah, that’s good. Thank you.” He took another sip. “What’s her name?”

“Whose?”

“The lass who’s put that disgustingly satisfied grin on your face.”

“Lilly. She’s not one of the professionals. She works in the kitchen. Though a Lilly, she’s not considered fair.” He looked at his feet. “I think she’s beautiful, but she has a strawberry mark.” He touched his right cheek. “Nearly the size of her hand. Men don’t like that.”

“More fools they.”

The men sat at a small table in the quarters, drinking coffee.

“And this is how you are able to stay there?”

“Yes. Lilly is the daughter of the proprietress, who is delighted that her daughter has a suitor. We hope to wed soon.” He paused, staring at his cup. “My wages, Mr. Willoughby, have not been paid since the head clerk left. He was afraid of the undead.”

Raven’s head popped up. “Did he leave my money?”

“I don’t know. He drew cash for wages, but I have no idea of anything else.”

“We’ll go by and see. The bastard better not have stolen from me. I’ll hunt him down, and he’ll meet as bad an end as the undead,” he snarled.

Uriah recoiled slightly. Too late, Raven realized he’d almost let his true nature show.

“How is it you were able to end them, when others couldn’t?” Uriah asked quietly.

Raven sat with his head bowed, making a decision. “I’m not quite human anymore. The ship I came over one, was in a storm. But before that, it met with disaster. An evil man was aboard, and he attacked, killing every man, woman and child on board—save for me. How I came to survive, I don’t know. Was it by chance or design?” He shrugged. “When I came back to myself, I was the only person left, with this beast. It tried to kill me, but instead, I killed it. The dead went over the side and I made my way to the coast north of here, where I healed.”

©2021 Dellani Oakes

To Buy Dellani’s Books

Raven Willoughby – Origins ~ A Fantasy by Dellani Oakes – Part 19

Sterner nodded. “And you say there is a concealed hole in each cabin?”

“Yes.”

He nodded again. “I think we should wait for His Majesty’s Magistrate before we open more. Meanwhile, Renard, these ships go nowhere. They don’t leave port. Is that clear?”

“As crystal, milord. I’ll give the order and see to it personally.”

“Thank you,” Raven said, holding out his hand.

“For what it’s worth,” Renard said, taking his hand. “I believe you, Lord Willoughby. I can bear witness to some of the refits,” he told Sterner. “I didn’t see all, for I was hired after this place was built. But I did see the last two ships done over. This, and one other. I can tell you, without doubt, that portrait you hold, is what this ship looked like before she was done over.”

“Where is the other ship? The one Willoughby claims is the Annabelle?” Sterner asked.

“Not in port, but I’ll find out where she’s running.”

“Excellent.”

They trooped off the ship to find the constable present. He balked at cuffing his Governor without the word of an authority, but he held Bluth by the arm. Once he had the word of Mr. Sterner, he put heavy shackles on Bluth and led him to the police wagon. It wasn’t nearly as cozy and comfortable as Bluth’s carriage.

“You’ve raised quite a stink,” Uriah said as they watched Bluth ride off.

“Day’s hardly started,” Raven said. Cocky smile on his face, a confident bounce in his step, he walked up the hill to the harbor master’s office.

Renard had done as he said he would, securing the ships in port. He was going through papers to find the whereabouts of the Annabelle. “She’s now called Bluth’s Beauty,” he snorted. “Stupid name, doesn’t suit her a bit. But she’s on a run to the Carolinas. Should be back in a day or two.”

“Thank you, Renard. You’re a fair and honest man, and I thank you for your attention to detail.”

“You’re welcome, my Lord. May I offer refreshment? My wife is an excellent cook.”

“I could be persuaded. Thank you.”

He and Uriah stayed for a meal. Sterner, though invited, had to decline so he could deal with the legalities of arresting the Governor.

“Do you think you’ve a fair chance of getting the ships back?” Renard asked after their delicious meal.

“I have little doubt. It will take some time, but Sterner is a power to reckon with. Even when he was just beginning his practice, he was tenacious.”

“Some might say bullheaded,” Mrs. Renard said as she cleared the table.

“You’d be right there, ma’am,” Raven replied. “And a few other , not fit for the ears of a lady, such as yourself.”

She giggled, heading back to the kitchen.

“My lady wife is around sailors day by day,” Renard said with a smirk. “Not much she hasn’t heard.”

“Aye, I believe that. But I do try to behave like a gentleman, though I don’t always master it.”

“It’s a worthy goal,” Uriah said, raising his mug of ale.

“To worthy goals,” Raven added.

They drank to that, and a fair few more toasts. Feeling his cups a bit, Raven appropriated the Governor’s coach and four to take him and Uriah home.

“Do you live at the office?” Raven asked. He knew there were quarters in the building.

“I did, until the dead took to walking. I have a room at a congenial, but less than savory, establishment some blocks away.”

“Indeed?” Raven chuckled. “They rent rooms by the night?”

“If you’re on friendly terms.” Uriah blushed, swallowing hard. “Ah, here’s me.”

The coach drew up in front of a house not far from the docks, but out of the shuffling roaming of the undead. It sported red lights across the front, and a half dozen windows. In each, a scantily clad woman sat, displaying her—wares. They were pretty, voluptuous, and willing. It was a temptation Raven found hard to ignore. His night, however, would be spent in less enjoyable pursuits. Sighing, he told the coachman to take him to Sam’s inn. He took an early dinner and went up to his room to prepare for the night ahead.

By nightfall, Raven was armed with his silver daggers, ensconced in his offices by the docks. Where it used to bustle at night, the waterfront was silent. Those forced by circumstances to remain, barred their doors, and didn’t go out from sunset to sunrise. What he was doing was either very brave, or very foolish. Raven reflected that the two often ran together.

The first shuffling blunder sounded. Ears perked, Raven closed his eyes, filtering out the lap of waves and the creak of ships at dock. Below that, the sound of a dozen or so feet, shuffling, could be heard. A low, mournful sigh carried on the breeze, and he caught the scent of death. It was faint, but prevalent. Rising, he doused the lamp and sat in darkness. Drawing two knives, he waited until the wandering forms drew near.

©2021 Dellani Oakes

To Buy Dellani’s Books