Welcome to 1883 Labrador. Raven Willoughby is a self-made man. Coming from nothing, he has a fleet of ships which he runs between England and America. Many of his interests are also based in Canada. On his way to Maine, he and his shipmates meet with misfortune.
Rough winds tossed the ship over roiling, tortured seas. Icy waves broke across the bow, bathing the wooden planks. Shimmering crystals hung from rope, rail and wheel, glittering in the feeble sunshine. Raven Willoughby stood his ground, clutching the ship’s wheel with both hands, guiding the vessel by pure tenacity and determination. Concentration lagged as the ship went nearly vertical, tipping into the deep trough and he was swept off his feet. The ropes lashing him to his post were the only thing that kept him from going overboard. Raven watched the nose rise once more, as he made the steep slope of the next wave, fighting his way back to the wheel. Upright once more, he clutched the slippery wood and prayed.
How had he come to this? Alone on this death ship? He had no clear memory. Sounds of violence had woken him, rough hands snatched him from his berth, tearing at his clothing, seeking…something. Cast aside, forgotten, near death, he’d fallen into a black stupor. When he woke, he and one man remained. The other fellow, full of evil intent, sought Raven’s death, but met an uneasy end at the tip of Raven’s sword. His foe downed, Raven cut off the monster’s head, pitching him overboard.
The other bodies had joined the creature, thrown in the frigid drink, the evidence of their deaths sinking with them to oblivion. Raven sought only to near land, so he could abandon the ship, and swim to freedom. That desire seemed unlikely, as the cold fingers of the ocean grasped his vessel once more. Encouraged by a slackening of the wind, he squinted at the horizon. Was that land? Had he found solace after all? Could he survive the near freezing waters of the Labrador Sea? He had to try. To remain on the ship when it made port, was suicide. How had one man, alone, lived when all others were dead? He had no explanation, no memory, of the events leading up to now. He remembered that horrible night, and waking up a day later, barricaded in the hold with death pounding at his door.
He recalled the stench of blood. The sound of the door bursting open, the sight of the figure, outlined with the halo of the one remaining lantern limning his body in a ruddy golden haze. Unarmed, he faced Raven. What he lacked in weaponry, he made up for in pure savagery. It was a miracle that Raven escaped with his life. A lucky feint, a mighty swing, and the creature fell. The blow hadn’t killed him. It was the final cut with a sword, severing his head from his unholy body, which had ended the creature’s life. Raven could not call it man. No. It was more, and less, than human. It was an unspeakable sight, one he hoped he’d eventually forget.
Raven had killed before. He was a soldier for many years. It was impossible to face opponents on the battlefield, and not take a life. But this—this was horrendous, though not as dreadful as those others who had died at the creature’s hand. Throats torn out, belly’s ripped apart. Men, women, children, their deaths horrific. All but Raven.
It was not his imagination. The storm had passed, the ship floated on a far gentler sea. There was enough momentum to bring it nearer land, where he could swim. If luck were with him, he wouldn’t freeze to death before he reached the Labrador coast. Packing a few things he might need, Raven swung as close to a deserted strip of sand as he could, and dove into the sea. The shock of the cold water took his breath. Gasping and gulping, he rose to the surface. Once he got his bearings, he set off for shore, swimming hard and fast, praying that the motion would keep him alive. He could feel his pulse slowing, his vision fading. His head dipped beneath the waves—once, twice. Strong hands lifted him, pulling him into a boat. It was nothing more than a skiff, bouncing in the rising tide, but it provided a measure of safety. The same hands searched him with skill before feeling for a pulse.
“Not dead after all?” a deep voice, slightly tinged with humor. “Good man. Brave man.” There was a pause as the oars rattled into position and the boat turned. “Fool. Poor, pretty fool.”
Waking untold hours later, Raven heard the crashing of the surf. He lay on a springy and aromatic mattress. Something warm and soft covered his body and he found that he was naked. Lying there, he realized he needed to seek the privy and made to rise. His head spun, his ears rang, and he collapsed on the bed with a quiet, pain filled groan.
A door creaked open and a tall, broad shouldered man walked in. His beard was thick and black, his skin dark and leathery. His piercing blue eyes seemed to have the perpetual squint Raven had often seen on sailors. The giant of a man smiled down at him.
“You’re awake.” It wasn’t the same voice he’d heard before. That one rumbled to the depths of the sea. This one was higher, lighter, despite the fellow’s size. “Hello there. I am Payter. My companion, Micah, pulled you from the water. He thought you were dead. But you aren’t. Isn’t that grand?”
“Grand,” Raven croaked.
Payter held a cup to his lips and Raven sipped strong, almost bitter, wine. He realized there were medicinal herbs in it, so he drank deeply, despite the taste.
“Let me help you. I imagine you need a visit.” He nodded to the far side of the small, low ceilinged room. There was a crudely fashioned door made of wooden slats, with a toggle latch.
“Yes.” He didn’t sound quite as bad, but still nothing like his former self.
The next few minutes didn’t bear thinking about afterward. The pain was excruciating, but he managed to relieve himself, getting to and from the privy with Payter’s help. Glad the commode was inside, he sank back onto the mattress.
“Where?” Raven gestured around him.
“The coast of Labrador. Micah found you while he was out fishing, and pulled you in.”
“Don’t thank me. Thank Micah. Though he’s already sorry he saved you.”
©2021 Dellani Oakes