Archive | May 2021

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

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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

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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

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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.”

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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

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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.

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Raven Willoughby – Origins ~ A Fantasy by Dellani Oakes – Part 18

“We have come a long way, sir. Now, to business. Will you take Renard as a witness?”

“Yes, sir. One other would please me.”

“Renard, a second?”

“Yes. We can use my assistant.”

“Excellent. Shall we?”

Sterner led the parade, Raven and Renard behind him, with Uriah poking and prodding the Governor. A lean, tall man hopped off one of the ships, landing on the dock in front of them. To his surprise, it was a man that Raven knew well. He’d been captain of one of Raven’s ships.

“Carlos, is it you?”

“Raven!” He dashed forward, clasping his friend by the hand, before pulling him in for a hug. “My friend, we thought you dead! How have you survived? When the ship didn’t come in, we feared the worst.”

“There was a storm at sea. My own fault for traveling so late in the season, but I was summoned to Maine. I didn’t know myself for some weeks, when I remembered my business, I had to make my way on foot. Now, I come to find that my ships are in the service of another.”

Carlos frowned. “I’m assuming he’s not in charge of this inquiry?” he pointed to the Governor.

“I am,” Sterner said. “Your name?” He opened his book, pencil poised.

“Carlos Gonzalez Cortez Prientos Hermida, originally from Barcelona.”

“And your connection to Mr. Willoughby?”

“I was his first captain when he bought his first ship, The Annabelle, in a port in Cardiff. She was a fair and lovely ship, fastest thing I’d ever seen. I was her captain three years.”

“And why are you no more?”

“She was confiscated, as were the other ships of the Willoughby line. One by one, they came to disaster and were impounded by himself.” He nodded, gesturing rudely at the Governor. “Sat in dock a wee bit, then their looks and names were changed. They fly his flag now. This one here, she was the Heart Song, out of London. Next to her, that’s the Artemis from Greece. She’s a bit slower, but hell for stout.” He went on to name the other ships, pointing to each and telling the origin.

“Those aren’t the names upon them,” Sterner said.

“As I mentioned, Governor Blot there….”

“Bluth,” the fat man corrected.

Carlos shrugged, making it known what he thought of Bluth. “He bribed and finagled until he got what he wanted—best ships on the ocean. Runs his own docks now, as you see.”

“If you knew this was going on, why didn’t you report it?” Sterner asked.

“Who would I tell? Who would believe the word of a Spaniard over that of an Englishman? If I had come to you, would you have listened, or would I have been forcibly removed from your offices?”

Sterner had the decency to look chagrined. “I believe you now, Señor Cortez. And you’re right. None would believe your word over this puffed up, poor excuse for a man. Bluth, I don’t know how you pulled this off, but we’ll find out. Mark my words.” He turned to Raven. “My apologies, sir. It will take some time, but with fair witnesses….”

“I believe I can add credence to my captain’s words, Mr. Sterner. On each of my ships, there is a secret compartment, that only I know about. In them, I secured papers, not only to identify the ships, but to identify me. If you will follow me below, with Mr. Renard, I will happily produce these documents.”

“What of me?” Bluth bellowed.

“You’ll stay here with Carlos and Uriah, so you can’t sneak off. And if you’d be so kind to send our young friend for the constable, I’d be appreciative,” he said to Uriah.

“As you wish, my Lord.”

A nearby sailor was sent up to give Boris the message. The noise of his footsteps faded as he ran up the grassy hill.

Raven led the men to the captain’s cabin. Removing a poorly executed painting, which had replaced a portrait of the original ship, Raven took a knife from his pocket. This, he slipped in a concealed slit between the finely hewn boards. A sharp click and a panel opened. Inside, wrapped in oilskin, was a steel box, secured with a padlock. Raven reached further into the hole and produced the key.

“You keep the key with the box?” Sterner scolded. “Is that wise?”

“Since no one knew this was here but me, it was safe. Not even my captains knew.” He opened the box and lifted out another oilskin packet. Inside, there was a lithograph of the ship, another of himself, and ships registry. Sterner looked them over with a critical eye.

“You realize, this looks little like the ship we’re standing on.”

“If you take away the decorative items and look only at the lines of the vessel, she’s easy to identify. A shipbuilder could tell you, if doubt arises. I know each detail of my ships, Mr. Sterner. For you see the last six years of my life represented by board and tar, wheel and sail. I worked long and hard on my business, sacrificing home and family. These ships are my home, the men who worked them, my family. Aside from Carlos, I know not if they live. I mourn their losses and could tell you each by name.”

©2021 Dellani Oakes

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Raven Willoughby – Origins ~ A Fantasy by Dellani Oakes – Part 17

The Governor plotted and schemed, thinking of some way he could rid himself of this nuisance. Everything had been fine until Willoughby showed up. Making a mess of things, strutting around like a peacock in full tail. There had to be a way to win, for he always came out on top. If he had one thing to pride himself on, it was his ability to cover his massive rear end.

They arrived at a large quay, resplendent with an elaborate building which housed the Governor’s shipping offices and the harbormaster. This was separate from the town, set apart and private. Six fair ships bobbed at anchor. Raven looked them over with a knowing eye. Despite what Uriah said about this ships being destroyed, he knew that was a lie that the Governor had perpetuated. Here sat six of his seven ships. He’d worked too hard earning each, traveling from shore to shore upon them, as he built his business. He knew every inch, how they sat the water, the number of planks in the deck.

“You lying thief!” He sprang from the coach, rushing to the dock. “He’s stolen them all!” Raven pointed at the docks.

Uriah descended from the coach after the Governor, watching his master with a discerning eye.

“Each of these—mine!” Raven thumped his chest.

“The names are not those listed with your ownership,” the Governor oozed.

“They are mine, nonetheless,” Raven growled. “And I will have them back. Where is she? Where’s the Annabelle?”

“We have no such ship,” the harbormaster said, as he came to the dock.

“You have a ship with sleek lines, sits high and fair, who can outrun even the fastest warship. She’s mine. These are all mine. Your Governor,” he spat the word. “Has stolen from me.”

“That’s a heavy accusation, milord,” the harbormaster said, his hands on his belt.

Raven sensed he was an honest man, with no idea what his overlord had done.

“Can you prove it?”

“I can. Uriah, I need our solicitors immediately. Send someone.”

“Yes, Lord Willoughby.”

“I’ve a runner,” the harbormaster said. “Steady and reliable.” He turned to the building, waving. “Boris!”

A lively lad of about fifteen, joined them. His eyes were hazel, his hair a russet brown. Raven knew immediately, this boy wasn’t full human. If he didn’t miss his bet, Boris spent a night or two each month yipping at the moon. His other awareness told him, Fox. He had a sense of otherness about the harbormaster, too, but couldn’t yet place it.

“Yes, sir?”

The harbormaster pointed to Uriah, who stepped forward.

“You’re to go to town and fetch Mr. Sterner, or Mr. Hope. None of the subordinates, do you hear? Tell them Lord Willoughby needs them in an urgent matter.”

“Yes, sir.”

Uriah handed the boy something before sending him off. The lad hopped on a horse, bareback and set off at a gallop.

“While we’re waiting, can I offer you refreshment? It’s a hot day.”

“That would be appreciated,” Raven said. “I thank you, Mister….”

“Renard,” the man replied, shaking his hand.

Not only was Renard a fox, the boy was his son. Raven’s wolf said hello and Renard raised an eyebrow. Nodding slightly, he guided them inside. His office was spacious, with a sitting area. Tea and biscuits were brought.

As they settled in, there was noise outside. Boris had returned. Leaping easily off the horse’s back, he rushed inside.

“Mr. Sterner said he’ll be here post haste, Father.”

“Thank you, Son.”

Raven handed the boy a coin, smiling. “My thanks, Boris.”

“Anything you need, sir.” He grinned and stashed the money in his pocket.

Sterner arrived a few minutes later, descending from his own coach. This man was lean, hawk-like, dressed in a dark, foreboding suit and hat. He carried a leather bound book under his arm. His coachman leaped down, opening the office door with a bow. Uriah and Renard stood, bowing slightly. Raven stood, but didn’t bow. Instead, he extended his hand.

Sterner suited his name, or it suited him. His face seemed caught in a perpetual frown—or perhaps he was angry about being summoned so precipitously. He didn’t seem angry with Raven. His ire was focused on the fat, balding Governor.

“What are you up to now, Giles? The boy said something about a ship dispute. Is this true?” he addressed Renard with his last.

“Quite true, Mr. Sterner. This is Lord Willoughby, sir.”

“We’ve met. It was some time ago, you were just starting out then. I helped to draw up your business papers.”

“That you did, sir. You weren’t nearly as well known then, either.”

©2021 Dellani Oakes

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Raven Willoughby – Origins ~ A Fantasy by Dellani Oakes – Part 16

“I said, make them w—”

It was amazing, and rather alarming, how fast the Governor turned bright red, then purple, and finally white in the face. Gurgling slightly, he tried to sit, but there was something on his chair. This turned out to be his wig. His own hair, sparse and pale yellow, was scattered over his scalp in unattractive clumps. A heavy man, he spilled over the waist of his trousers, his coat gaped open around his girth.

“May I present Sir Raven Willoughby, milord Governor,” Uriah said. “He’s come to make inquiries.”

“He…oh…um….”

Raven strode forward, wishing he had a sword to add to his swagger. Instead of armament, he bristled with anger—very real, as it happened.

“You have my ship,” he said in a calm and lethal voice. “And I want it back. If harm has come to it while it’s been in your possession, it shall come out of your pocket.”

“Now, see here!” the Governor tried to regain control. “How do I know you’re who you say?”

Raven chuckled. “You’ll have to take it on blind faith, I suppose. Or take the word of my man, here, who sees my visage every day, when he comes to work.”

“You have no papers? No identification? No letter of introduction?” The Governor felt he was on solid ground now, falling back into bureaucratic territory.

Raven reached into his pocket, producing the papers. He kept copies in every bank where he had a business office. It proved useful at times like this.

“You’ll find it all in order, including a letter of introduction signed by Lord Sutherland.”

Taken aback, the Governor blinked slowly. Taking up a pair of reading glasses, he perched them on his long nose, and squinted at the papers. Shuffling them around, he saw they were all in perfect order. Annoyed, he handed them back.

“And proof of ownership of the boat in question?”

“Ship,” Raven corrected. “The Annabelle, a fair and lovely ship, she sits well in the water. A portrait of my late, lamented sweetheart graces her prow.” That was a lie, he’d bought the ship from another man, and it was that fellow’s dead lover on the prow. “As fair a lass as a man ever saw. Died of a fever shortly after the vessel was built.” Also true. He was able to conjure up a hitch in his voice and a tear in his eyes. “My other ships may have met their end. But I must needs have the Annabelle back. She was my first ship, and is dear to my heart.”

“She’s a ship of death,” the Governor sputtered. “Fit for naught but gathering rust in the dry dock!”

“I’ll have her back,” Raven said, dropping the sorrow. “And she’d best be in good repair, or you will hear from my solicitors. Who is it we use here, Haynes?” he cast over his shoulder at Uriah.

“Sterner and Hope, my Lord Willoughby.”

The Governor paled once more. Sterner and Hope were not only the most reputable solicitors in his territory, they hated him with a passion. This Willoughby must have deep pockets to keep them on retainer.

“My ship, sirrah,” Raven said, slapping the papers against his palm.

“I’ll have it seen to.”

“You’ll show me yourself—sir. I’ve lost precious revenue because of this.”

“You were dead!” the Governor blustered.

Raven’s predatory leer sent a shiver down the fat man’s spine.

Smelling the fear, Raven advanced. “You knew all along it was my last ship. No doubt, you took her to add to your fleet of illegal vessels, which smuggled in all these expensive knickknacks. She’s the fastest thing on these waters. I much doubt, death ship or not, that she’s in the dry dock. What did you do? Reoutfit her, change her name and put her to work under your own sail?”

The older man shuddered, clutching his chest. Raven grabbed his arm, leaning close, his face a mere inch from the Governor’s.

“Don’t die yet,” he said in a friendly, lethal tone. “We’re just getting things sorted. And what fun would that be for me, ravaging your holdings, discrediting your name, taking your possessions, if you’re dead. Not much to stop me, as it is. But I do so love having a man watch as his life is stripped bare. You’re a liar and a cheat. You’ve robbed your people, this territory, and who knows all else. It’s time you paid the piper, Governor. And if you haven’t noticed, I’m the man playing the tune. My ship. Now.” He shook the older man by the shirtfront.

Shaking and wobbling, the Governor led them outside, demanding his coach be made ready. They waited a few minutes on the porch before a coach and four matched geldings, rolled up. They were handsome beasts, all with glossy roan coats and black manes. All else he might have against the man, the Governor knew good horse flesh, and cared well for them. Raven couldn’t help wondering who he’d stolen them from, for he was sure the Governor wasn’t a man to purchase, when confiscation worked so much better.

“My docks,” the Governor told his coachman as they settled.

They rode for some minutes, in silence. Raven watched the Governor with a placid expression on his face, scenting the fear, the treachery, that poured off the man.

©2021 Dellani Oakes

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