“Then you’d best be heading on, as quick as may be,” Micah said. “That ship will fail to arrive and someone might come looking. You need to be away from here, and on your way.”
“He can’t leave yet,” Payter stated adamantly. “He’s not strong enough.”
Micah’s dark eyed gaze turned to Payter. His heavy jaw clenched, but he said nothing. The two men stared at one another for well over a minute. They seemed to communicate in silence, though their faces betrayed their emotions. Payter was stubborn, sticking up for Raven. Micah was just as stubbornly wanting him gone.
“When I am able to walk on my own, more than a step or two, I’ll leave gladly, putting this place far behind me. You have my word.”
“How do we know your word is good?” Micah demanded.
“You’ll have to trust me. If I betray your trust, you’ll kill me. Why would I risk that? I like my skin.”
Micah inclined his head. “You may stay, until you are well enough to leave. Not a moment more.” He stood, heading out the door. “Heal quickly,” he cast over his shoulder.
Raven watched him go, a smile tugging his lips. Micah was more growl and grumble than anything else. Though he knew Micah could kill him with ease, he sensed the other man would give him a small amount of leeway. He wasn’t a murderer, but he was a killer. It was a fine, distinct line, one he knew well. Raven read in Micah, what he saw in himself—a man who did what needed to be done, but tried his best to be fair about it.
Payter gave him a bowl of fish stew that was incredibly good. With another cup of herb laced wine, he settled down to sleep.
Two days passed. The weather was miserable, the sea rough. Raven was glad to be on dry land and not on a ship, pitching about on the water. He’d known it was a risk, traveling so late in the season, but messages from America had made it imperative that he leave immediately. Just his bad luck to be on a death ship. Even now, he was uncertain what had happened, but his dreams were tortured by wild, nightmare images. A man who wasn’t a man, teeth dripping blood—Raven’s blood—tearing at his skin.
That night, Raven lay in bed, the soft furs covering him. Glancing out the window, he saw the full moon. It called to him like a lover, asking him to join in a cosmic dance, older than the earth, ancient as the stars. Rising from bed, he dressed in his breeches and shirt. Soft boots shod his feet, and a warm cloak swirled around his shoulders. The cottage was silent. He’d expected to find Micah and Payter sleeping in the front room, but they were nowhere to be seen. Easing the door open, he drank in the moonlight, opening his arms to embrace it. Clouds skittered across the sky, but suddenly, the moon, in all her glory, shone fully in his face.
Sharp pain stabbed his chest. He could see his bones and muscles rolling and tumbling beneath his skin. A sound like a wounded animal, escaped his lips, seeming to rise from his toes and through his skin, ripped from his lungs with another surge of agony. Falling to his knees, he clawed at his clothing, shredding it in his desperation to remove the confining cloth. Another scream escaped him. And another. To his horror, his hands changed to paws, his forearms grew hairy, roped with thick muscles. His body shuddered and convulsed as he became something no longer human.
“What is happening to me!” he cried. But instead of his voice, it was a long, high, piercing howl of a wolf.
He heard a shuffling in the bushes behind him. A huge, black shape emerged, shambling toward him. Even in his new guise, Raven recognized Payter, who was a bear. Moments later, a wild hog joined them. This, he knew, was Micah.
“What’s happened?” he tried to say once more.
Micah and Payter nudged him with their snouts, guiding him away from the house and his pile of tattered clothing. Together, the three of them went to a cave in the woods. A fire crackled in a pit and two neat piles of folded clothing lay to one side. Settling on their bellies, the other two invited Raven to lie down. The warmth of the fire and the companionship of the other two, lulled him to sleep.
A sliver of morning light woke Raven. Cold and naked, he yawned and sat up. The piles of clothing were gone, the fire had been banked. A crudely printed note was scratched in the dirt on the cave floor: Fire out. House. An arrow indicated direction, for which he was grateful. He had no recollection of how he’d gotten here.
After smothering the fire, he headed back to the cottage by the sea. A wisp of smoke rose from the chimney, inviting him with the promise of warmth. He walked in the door to find Micah and Payter, fully clothed, preparing breakfast. A pile of his clothing, neatly mended, sat on a stool. He dressed before sitting down to talk.
“I was afraid of that,” Micah said as Raven took his seat.
“Afraid of what?”
“That it bit you. The wolf.”
“You knew? And didn’t tell me?”
“We had no way of being sure,” Payter said softly. “Without scars….” He pulled the neck of his shirt away, exposing a bite mark. “I was mauled by a bear as a lad. I turned the next full moon. I was eleven.”
“And you?” Raven turned to Micah.
©2021 Dellani Oakes