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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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Raven Willoughby – Origins ~ A Fantasy by Dellani Oakes – Part 15

“I imagine not. What happened to my ship? Was it cut loose? Sold?”

“Impounded by the Governor. It’s in dry dock.”

“Come with me.”

“Where to?”

“The Governor’s house.”

“Can’t see him without an appointment. And it’s right hard to get.”

“I’m not worried.”

“As you wish.” He slipped on his coat, smoothed his hair, which immediately struggled free, and followed Raven. Taking a key from his pocket, he locked the door. “I’ve a spare in the bank. I’ll fetch it for you later.”

“Thank you, Master Haynes.”

“Governor’s this way.” He pointed toward town and set off at a brisk pace. There was more to Uriah Haynes than met the eye. His loose fitting clothing hung on a body of lean, hard muscle. the calves, clad in stockings, were sturdy. though he walked with stooped shoulders, his jacket bunched at the base of his neck, there was power there. Master Haynes bore watching—closely.

The Governor’s house was an impressive edifice, far fancier than Raven had expected. It had been his observation that the governor of such a small area, rarely had great wealth, yet here was an ostentatious display.

“How big is his territory?” he asked Uriah.

“About fifty square miles, mostly wilderness.”

“And the tax base?”

“That I don’t know, Mr. Willoughby.”

“Call me Raven. Is he a wealthy man in his own right?”

“Not as I’ve heard.” Uriah examined the house as they drew close. “He’s the third or fourth son of a minor lord. It’s rumored he has a large debt he owes back home, so he came here to escape it. Thus far, they haven’t felt the need great enough to pursue him.”

Raven nodded, taking in more details. This property, alone, exceeded what he, himself a rich man, could have afforded. Here in Labrador, it wouldn’t be as dear as back home, but still would be a hefty chunk of gold. Servants scurried around like bees. Workmen trudged back and forth, carrying heavy crates.

“Looks like he’s planning a party. Shall we?” Raven said, inviting Uriah with a sweeping motion.

He found it interesting, when faced with a challenge, Uriah squared his shoulders, revealing a more impressive physique than he’d previously shown. His hair was still wild and unwieldy, but broad shoulders and muscular chest filled out the innocuously clad form. He now rivaled Raven in height and breadth.

Uriah stepped ahead of Raven, ringing the bell, before taking his place a step behind and to the left of his employer. “I’ll introduce you. Men of means around these parts, don’t announce themselves. Once we’re admitted, you do the talking.” He said all this very softly.

Raven nodded, doing his best to look the part of haughty lord and merchant. Having grown up with them, he knew the mannerisms well.

A servant opened the door. His faded eyes widened when he saw the two men, but he didn’t invite them in.

“This is Sir Raven Willoughby, late of Wales. He presents himself to His Honor, the Governor, as befits his station.” Haynes spoke clearly, using a more sophisticated accent than he’d used in the office. His face remained placid, though there was a hint of superciliousness about his nostrils.

Raven did his best to equal his companion, in his level of detached aloofness. The servant looked them both over carefully, mouth working.

“His Honor is busy….”

“I don’t have time to waste,” Raven snapped. Despite what Uriah said, he knew he had to step in. “If you continue to tax my patience, your hide will pay the price.”

“I’ll see if he’s able….” He started to close the door.

Uriah stepped forward, hand on the door, foot on the sill. “You do that.” He made an inviting gesture to Raven. “After you, my Lord.”

Raven found it interesting that he’d received a new title, but didn’t let on that it wasn’t his. Normally, he’d have thanked Uriah, but he was playing the role of a snobbish, entitled man. He’d been on the receiving end of it often enough to imitate.

The servant scurried off, deeper into the house, telling them to wait. Uriah and Raven exchanged a glance and set off after him. Moments later, they heard a deep voice, raised in anger.

“You idiot! You let them in?” the smack of an open hand on a cheek, followed.

Uriah held Raven back, shaking his head. A man of his station wouldn’t rush to the aid of a servant.

“Beg pardon, my Lord. They forced their way in. How as I to stop them?”

“By shoving them back out again, you useless imbecile. Let them stew half an hour, then I’ll think about seeing them.”

“Yes, my Lord.” The servant didn’t see them right away, but froze when he did. Incapable of speech, he could only stare as the two men walked around him.

©2021 Dellani Oakes

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Raven Willoughby – Origins ~ A Fantasy by Dellani Oakes – Part 14

Holding his breath, Mr. Smith lowered the first dagger into the melted silver, dipping to the hilt. Once it was fully coated, he set it on the rack to cool. Marveling at the appearance, he exhaled slowly.

“A superior coating,” Raven said, after examining it.

Silver repeated the process with all six knives. The daggers weren’t the least bit damaged by the heat. Giving them a quick and loving wipe, Silver handed them back to Raven. Payment was made for a job well done.

“I may come across a few other items that need the same treatment, so please keep the rest for me,” Raven said, dropping another coin into the smith’s palm.

“My pleasure, sir.” He tugged his forelock.

“And you, lad.” Raven addressed the apprentice. “Don’t spend it all on spirits and doxies.” He gave Jimmy a handful of coppers.

“Thank you, sir!” the boy bowed. “If you’re in need of ought, and Master Silver hasn’t need of me, I be at your service.”

The smith looked on proudly as the boy used his best manners.

“My thanks to you both.” With a swirl of his coat, Raven left.

His next stop was a bank, where he left most of his money. Carrying a heavy purse was foolish and leaving it in his room, more so. With enough coins to do his business, he headed to the docks, whistling.

The town was large enough to attract many travelers, but few had the look and bearing of Raven Willoughby. Raised by poor relations, after the death of his parents, he was of noble birth. His maiden aunt was a gentile lady, though of meager means. She ran a small school for the wealthy. Raven was educated at the side of the sons of dukes and earls. He carried himself like a warrior he’d been, but with an aloof air. His shipping business was prosperous, or it had been. He was on his way to find out if his partners had betrayed and robbed him. Though his primary office was in Maine, there was a smaller one here. Remembering Sam’s directions he followed his nose to the sea. Asking specifics from a cart man, he found his office, tucked away near the dock. It looked shabby and run down, but it was open. A lone clerk sat at a high desk. He didn’t look up when Raven entered. Raven cleared his throat, loudly.

Slowly, the other man raised his head. Wispy, mouse-brown hair stuck out in all directions. Watery, pale blue eyes took in Raven. Pale skin, dotted with freckles, showed evidence of a man who avoided the sun. Though narrow shouldered and slender, he looked able enough.

Raven approached. “Your name, sir.”

The man straightened up. “Depends, sir.”

“On what?”

“On who wishes to know—sir.” His accent was coarse, common, his voice nasal.

“The man whose name is on that door, and whose picture is on the wall.” Raven pointed to the sign that said Willoughby Shipping, a portrait of himself above it. “Are you like this with everyone? If so, you’ll soon be out of a job.”

After staring several, long moments, the clerk swallowed loudly. “Mr. Willoughby, sir.” He scrambled from his stool. “Beg pardon, sir. We were told you were dead.”

“I was unfortunately detained. The ship I booked passage on, met with an unfortunate accident. Only I survived.”

“Most sorry, sir. May I get you some tea? Or coffee? A friend of mine brings it in from Jamaica.”

“Nothing, thank you. I need to book passage to our Maine office.”

The clerk looked uncomfortable.

“And you’ve yet to introduce yourself.”

He gulped. “Beg pardon. Uriah Haynes.”

“Well, Master Haynes, what’s the issue with passage?”

“We have no ships, sir.”

“In port?”

“Operational.”

“At all? We had a fleet of seven!”

“All met with dire accidents, sir. The last that came to port, brought death with it.” He stared, wide eyed, taking a step forward. “The undead that walk at night—they came on that ship. They were all dead when it was found at sea. It was hauled in, we buried ’em—and they came back! Rising from their graves!”

“Do they speak? What do they do?”

“No speaking. They shamble, like. And if they grab ya, it’s over. It’s said, they eat a man’s heart! And a woman—!” He blushed. “Other—things. And they rip the guts right out.”

“How many have died?”

“Six or seven the last fortnight.”

“Do they come back?”

“We burn them, sir.”

“Has anyone killed them?”

“We’ve tried. Swords and muskets have no effect. It don’t end well for the soldier.”

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Raven Willoughby – Origins ~ A Fantasy by Dellani Oakes – Part 13

“I’ll know if you don’t leave. I have your scent.” Impulsively, he took a step toward her. “What is your name?”

“So you can report me?”

“So I can savor it in my dreams.”

“Zulimara.”

And like the shadow she resembled, she was gone. Left with her taste and scent, Raven gathered his scattered belongings, inventorying them. She had taken a single gold piece. Chuckling, he tossed the full bag in his hand and went back to bed, the bag under his pillow.

“Zulimara….. Fair name for a fair lady.”

Unable to go back to sleep, he lay in bed, mulling over the strange event. He wondered if Sam knew a skilled thief frequented his establishment. If not, he would likely be appalled. However, if Zulimara left as he’d told her, it was of no consequence. But would she? Remembering her attitude, he rather thought not.

“All the better,” he murmured. “For it makes the hunt exciting, when the prey is wily.”

He rose and dressed at dawn, visited the necessary, and entered the taproom looking for breakfast. Thick slabs of bacon sizzled over the fire, a steaming, aromatic pot bubbled next to it. Fresh bread cooled on the bar. His mouth watered in anticipation, as he ordered his meal.

After eating, Raven walked down the street to the silver smith’s shop. The display in the window blazed brilliantly in the morning light. The sunny reflections teased and taunted him with their beauty. A strand of silver bells tinkled over the door, as he entered.

A sturdy, red face man, with thinning ginger locks, smiled warmly. “Good day, milord. Sam said to expect you, Mr. Willoughby.” He held out a thick, freckled hand. “Welcome. I’m Vaughan Silver.”

“Pleased to meet you, Mr. Silver.”

“And you, sir. What can I do for you today?”

Raven took out an oilskin bundle from his bag, unrolling it on the counter. Inside were a brace of wicked looking daggers.

“Handsome weapons, sir. But hardly my bailiwick. These are finest steel. May I?”

Raven nodded.

“Crafted in the Orient,” Silver breathed reverently as he picked up a blade. “Magnificent. You could shave with this. How can I possibly improve upon perfection?”

“I need the blades dipped in purest silver.”

“When?”

“Immediately. I’ll wait.”

“This could compromise the blades. The heat—”

“These blades are heat tempered. I very much doubt I need to worry. I’m most interested in the tip being serviceable.”

“May one inquire?” he left the question hanging.

“I hear the dead walk the docks at night. As I have business interests there, some of which may take place after dark, I wish to be armed.”

“I see. What manner of business….” He snapped his lips shut. “Not my affair.”

“Hunting,” Raven growled, chuckling. It was a very disturbing sound, even to his ears.

“The dead?” Silver squeaked.

“Aye. If dead they be. Nothing takes down evil, like silver.”

“I can get on this immediately. The forge is just heating up.”

“It must be pure,” Raven emphasized. “Add this.” He handed over the locket Zulimara had tried to steal.

“But this is gold.”

“Yes. It’s the only impurity allowed. If the silver is not pure, or the locket doesn’t make it into the blend, I’ll know.”

Silver smiled. “I’ve no doubt. To that end, would you like to watch?”

“I would be pleased to see the master at work.”

Silver led Raven behind the storefront, into the workroom. It was hotter than hot, with the coal forge lit. Taking a crucible from the shelf, he showed Raven it was clean.

“Brand new, never used. We add a bit of nickle to our usual blend, to give it strength. Pure silver is too soft for most uses. For your purposes….” He lifted a heavy bar from a cupboard. It bore a maker’s mark, labeling it as pure. “Will this do?”

Raven took the bar, scratching it with his thumb nail. First, he sniffed it, then tasted it. “This will do nicely.”

“Excellent.” Mr. Silver led Raven to the forge. “Jimmy, my lad. Take the pots out and stand the bellows!”

“Yes, sir.” The boy worked swiftly and deftly, removing the other crucibles from the coals. Following his master’s orders, he moved quickly, without error.

It was a bit of a wait, but finally the melted metal was ready. Raven unwrapped the daggers once more and the boy brought heavy gloves, tongs and a cooling rack.

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Raven Willoughby – Origins ~ A Fantasy by Dellani Oakes – Part 12

“Your laundry?”

Raven handed it to her, bundled in a bag he’d found in the bath house. “My thanks, Samantha.”

“When you’re ready, I can show you to your room.”

“Thank you.” He finished dressing with Samantha watching his every move.

She led him to a cozy room, the bed comfortable. The only thing missing was a lovely companion, but Raven made no move in that direction. He could tell that Samantha wasn’t the type of woman to casually warm his bed. He’d known doxies and whores aplenty, to recognize the difference. Though she wasn’t a lady of refinement, she was surely ladylike.

“Your clothing will be brought back after midday tomorrow, if that suits.”

“That suits well. I have these fine garments from Myra.”

“And me. I did the embroidery on your shirt.”

Raven touched the neat stitches, admiring them. “You do fine work, Miss Sam.”

“Thank you, Mr. Willoughby.”

“You are most welcome.”

“I’ll bid you goodnight, then.”

“Goodnight.” He couldn’t resist kissing her work worn hand.

Samantha blushed and scurried off. Raven closed the door, dropping the latch in place. Stripping to his under garments, he turned down the lamp and went to bed. It had been a long time since he’d slept so comfortably. Letting his guard down, he drifted off.

Movement in the room, woke him. Lying still, he listened as someone walked about. His eyesight, that of a night predator, saw the form easily, picking out details. Dressed in black britches and shirt, a dark cap pulled low over hair and brow, the intruder searched his bag with stealth born of long practice. Attention fully on the bag of Raven’s belongings, no notice was spared for the man himself.

Keeping his breathing deep and regular, Raven slid silently to the floor. Creeping up behind the thief, he grasped from behind, pulling the tall, lean body against his.

“I know I didn’t invite you in for a visit,” he murmured, his voice low and lethal. “So, if you’d put my things back, I won’t have to kill you.”

The thief trembled from head to foot. Raven’s fangs descended, slipping from his gums to touch his lower lip. Fear smelled delicious on this one, spicy, hot—female.

“I can do more than just kill you, lass. Or hadn’t you thought that through?”

“I’ll scream,” she whispered.

“Please, do that. How will you explain your presence, and interesting manner of dress?”

She opened her mouth, inhaling deeply, but his teeth raked softly on the skin of her throat. She shuddered, for a different reason entirely.

“What made you think I’d be an easy mark? Hm? Or do you visit all the rooms, hoping for chance?”

“Only the wealthy take these rooms,” she replied tersely. “I saw in the tap room, you had a full purse.”

“And you thought I’d wish to part with it? I’m flattered. Put it back. All of it. Or death will be the kindest thing you face.”

“You won’t kill me. Place like this, someone would hear.”

“No one said it would be here that I killed you. Back. All of it.” He released her enough for her to empty her pockets. A swift frisking assured him she had put it all back—except….”

“The locket too.”

“Sentimental?” she handed it to him.

“Something like that.” He snatched it from her, embracing her once more. “Don’t even think about it,” he cautioned as she tried to reach for his things.

Changing tactics, she turned to face him, her hands busy on his body, enticing and exciting him. His painful grip on her questing fingers, convinced her to stop.

“I’m not so easily distracted by your charms—nor as enamored by your scent—to fall for that. You don’t interest me.”

“Your manliness betrays you, milord.” She tried to wiggle free.

“If a man is touched there, expect a response in kind. But I have no passion for you. However, if you persist, I will relieve myself, to your dismay.”

“Are you poxed? Deformed?”

Raven’s deep throated chuckle was his only reply. The thief quit struggling.

“If you leave, with none of my possessions, I won’t call the Watch. Should you still be here come daylight, or you take my things, I’ll find you and you will pay. I don’t think you’ll much like the form of my retribution.”

“Why would you do that?”

“Like calls to like—we are predators, and must stick together.”

She eased away, unbelieving. “Thank you.”

“Don’t thank me, leave. I have a limit to my forbearance. You’ve reached it.”

The thief eased toward the window. Raven opened it for her, giving her a hand out.

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Raven Willoughby – Origins ~ A Fantasy by Dellani Oakes – Part 11

“A guest needs your help, Myra my lass.”

“Of course, my love.” Her voice sang of the Irish hills. “What would you be needing, sir?”

Raven told her. She sized him up with a professional eye, and went to a set of shelves, which sported labeled crates.

“These should do.” She handed him a shirt and underthings. A tiny closet provided a coat and breeches. “As to the great coat…. Were you set upon by dogs?” Her eyes widened as she examined the garment.

“Wolves, actually. One got the jump on me.”

“And you still here to talk of it? My land!” she looked the collar over well. “I’ll need to replace a piece, but I haven’t this exact fabric.”

“Something close. It’s purely functional. I’m not a fancy man.”

“I’ve a black that will blend well with the navy blue.”

“That is satisfactory.” He emptied his pockets, transferring things to his pack. “I leave it in your capable hands, my lady.”

Myra blushed, giggling.

“What do I owe you for the clothing?”

She told him the price, which he happily paid, as well as settling on the cost of the repair. He paid her for all, thanking her once more.

“May one inquire when your babe is due?”

“In two months time.” She beamed, her hand on her belly.

“Your first?”

“Aye. A girl, I hope. Himself wants a boy.”

Raven tipped his head, considering. His newly augmented senses told him much. “May I?” He raised his hand to touch her belly. “Back home, I acquired a talent for telling the babe’s gender.”

“Surely!”

Raven laid his hand on her belly. Concentrating, he smiled. “I believe you will have your wish. And, unless my senses fail me, so will your husband. For I suspect twins—a boy and girl.”

“In truth?”

He was sure. Not only did boys smell different from girls, he’d sensed a second heartbeat. “In truth.”

“That’s wonderful news! Isn’t it grand, Sam?”

“Aye, my love.” He kissed his beaming wife. “A bath now, Mr. Willoughby?”

“Please. Fresh water.”

“Always. We never make our guests share road dirt. I’ve my own well,” he bragged.

“You are a lucky man, indeed. A fair wife who can sew, twins coming, your own well…. The gods have smiled, Sam.”

He beamed. “Aye, sir. They have.” He led Raven to a small shack behind the inn. It had three doors, two had pictures of tubs drawn on them. the third was a symbol Raven didn’t know.

“A bath house and privy,” Sam explained. “Another privy is on the other end.” He pointed south. The building was long and sprawling. “Saves a walk from the south end, and keeps the odor from the kitchen.”

“Do you rent rooms by week or month?”

“Yes to both, for them can pay. Do you figure on being longer than a night?”

“It will depend on how I fair at the docks tomorrow.”

“Best of luck. Water’s hot. There’s lavender for those who wants it, no extra charge. Soap in a tin. Pull the plug when you’re done.” He saluted and went back to the inn.

Left to his own devices, Raven dropped the latch and disrobed. His dirty clothing fell to the wooden floor. He’d find out about the laundry later. Right now, the hot water called to him. Easing his tired body into the hot water felt wonderful.

“Just this side of heaven,” he sighed.

Later, as he dressed, someone knocked at the door.

“Yes?”

“Beg pardon, Mr. Willoughby,” a woman, not Myra, said. “Sam told me to collect your soiled garments.”

“One moment.” He pulled his trousers on and opened the door.

A pretty young woman, who shared Sam’s broad smile and golden curls, stood there. Her eyes widened when she spied his muscular, bare chest. Scattered with black hair, against his swarthy skin, it was a fair sight for a lass. Raven smiled. He’d seen that hungry look in the eyes of many women.

“Thank you. And you are?”

“Sam, his sister.”

“You’re Sam’s sister, or your name is Sam?” Standing with the door open, firelight behind him, he knew he presented a tasty treat. However, the sister of the innkeeper was off limits, in his mind.

“Both. Samantha, Samuel’s twin. Myra tells me we’ve another mixed set to welcome soon.”

“So my senses tell me.”

©2021 Dellani Oakes

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Raven Willoughby – Origins ~ A Fantasy by Dellani Oakes – Part 10

A noise woke him, and he felt a presence around him. Opening his eyes, he raised his head, sniffing, catching animal scent. It was strong, from all directions. His heightened senses told him wolf. Fully awake and alert, he moved slowly, so as not to startle the creatures. Six of them, both male and female, ringed round him, waiting.

“I mean you no harm, friends,” he spoke in a low, conversational tone. “Just passing through.”

The animals stirred, shifting uneasily. The lead male approached boldly, leaping to land at Raven’s feet. Snarling, the wolf drew near, his pack following him, pulling their circle closer. Fury, fueled by fear, buffeted against Raven’s consciousness. Unless he was very careful, he would die here. The alpha clearly felt that his territory had been invaded, and was taking action.

Raven drew a knife from his boot, moonlight glinted on the steel blade. “I don’t want to have to kill you,” he said softly, gazing into the silver-blue eyes of the alpha. “But I will. I’ll move along….” He reached for his bag, and the alpha struck.

Raven leaped aside, rolling to his feet, knife poised to attack. The alpha snarled, jumping at him again, jaw gaping, saliva dripping. Hungry for blood, he couldn’t control his rage. He landed on Raven’s shoulders, massive jaws struggling for the man’s throat.

Raven couldn’t bring the knife into play, but he could grapple. Glad the others hung back, he reached his left hand behind his head, grabbing the alpha by the scruff. The wolf growled, turning to bite Raven’s arm. The teeth sank in, drawing blood. The others, lured by the scent, growled, their circle closing even more.

Swinging the beast to the ground, Raven slashed at it, then stabbed. The alpha hung on. A younger male, with golden eyes, came near, ready to jump. Raven stabbed the alpha once more. This time, the knife stuck between ribs. As the second wolf sprung, Raven hurled the alpha’s body at it. Yelping, the youngster retreated.

Angry and in pain, Raven swung in a tight circle, roaring. Something twitched in his mouth. Roaring once more, he showed fangs far more impressive than theirs. With a ululating cry, he leaped at the golden eyed wolf, tearing into him. The blood was hot, musky, fresh. Although his victim struggled, Raven hung on, drinking hungrily. Casting the limp body aside, he raised his head, howling at the moon.

“I never drank wolf before,” he snarled at the pack. “But now I have a taste for you. Be gone, if you would live!”

Startled the wolves scattered, running into one another to escape. Raven watched, laughing. When they were gone, he drank again, draining both bodies. Dragging them away from camp, he dropped them in the woods. The wolves could do as they chose, with their dead.

Bathing in the crisp sea water, Raven washed the blood and gore from his body and clothing. His great coat was damaged, and his shirt torn at the throat. Having no needle and thread to mend them, he laid them on the rocks to dry.

Naked now, he took stock of his injuries, pleased to see they healed quickly, leaving no scars. At least he would nave no wounds to draw unwanted attention. Once the sun rose, his clothing dried quickly. He made a meal of trail food and tea, shook off the sand and dressed. On his way again, he whistled tunes from his youth, setting a brisk pace.

The remainder of his trip was uneventful. He arrived in town at dusk, stopping at a tavern for the night. Glad he’d been able to salvage his gold from the ship, as well as liberating that of the captain and passengers, he was well healed, and could eat a good meal. When he registered for his room, he asked the innkeeper for directions to the docks.

The man, who was about his age, gave him polite instructions. “Ain’t safe for a gentleman like you, this time of night, sir. Strange doings at the docks, this hour.”

“How so?”

The man looked furtive and leaned across the bar. “It’s said the dead walk at night, sir.”

“Surely that’s an exaggeration.”

“Not seen it myself, but customers talk! I’m doing a bang up business these days, as I’m the first establishment outside their territory. The tales I’ve heard, would fair turn your hair white!”

“My thanks, friend.” Raven turned to go, then faced the barman again. “Is there a silver smith about?”

“Three doors down. He opens at six o’clock.”

“Thank you,” Raven slid a coin to the man.

“Do you require anything else? A bath, perhaps? Laundry?”

“First, a clothier, if one is still open at this hour. Then a bath.”

“As it happens, my lady wife is the finest seamstress in these parts. What do you require?”

“A suit, shirt, linens. And my coat mended.”

“Not a problem, sir. this way.” He raised a portion of the bar, guiding Raven through to a comfortable room. A warm fire crackled and danced in the hearth. A pretty woman, stout with pregnancy, smiled at them.

©2021 Dellani Oakes

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