Part 4 of The Raven’s Lady, the short story I wrote as a prize for Crystal Cox.
The planning session devolved into an argument over a different topic; first Felix against Joselyn, and then—when Joselyn convinced the others of the sense of what she said—Felix against the officers and part-time smugglers alike.
Felix did not want Joselyn taking her usual place down on the beach at the head of her women. Indeed, if Felix had his way, all of the women would be replaced with his trained soldiers.
Joselyn and her helpers agreed that the soldiers would form the main part of the workforce on the beach, disguised in skirts and with concealing shawls to keep their masculine features from giving away the ambush. But, Joselyn insisted, she needed to be there, head uncovered and face seen, so that the villains would believe they had her trapped. And her supporters insisted on joining her.
She was right. Felix knew she was right. He hated placing her in danger, but she was essential to the success of the plan.
Reluctantly, he had to agree.
By the time Cyril returned from his errand, all was prepared. Tonight, they would trap the Black Fox.
Cyril clearly expected an outcome much more to his liking. He could hardly contain his glee when both Joselyn and Felix claimed tiredness early in the evening and retired to bed. And they had to hastily conceal themselves behind trees when he came crashing noisily down the path towards the clifftops, muttering to himself about tonight being the last night.
Reaching the clifftops themselves, they watched him hurry away down the path towards the village.
“I don’t want you going down there, Josalyn,” Felix told her. He wasn’t going to stop her. She had as much at stake as he—more, given her love for these people. But he wanted her to know he was reluctant.
Had she been this frightened for him, knowing he had gone to war? If so, he’d have to spend the next fifty years making up for his unthinking cruelty in staying away so long. He smiled at the thought of that, and she smiled back.
“I will be careful. And if the smugglers come this way, you will be in more danger than I.”
In the event, the Black Fox split his forces, and attacked from the sea as well as the cliff top. For a few minutes, Felix was too busy to worry about Joselyn, but once the thugs on the cliff top were subdued, Cyril among them, he hurried down the path to the beach, where clumps of people wrestled in the moonlight.
As he reached the sand, a sudden loud shout stopped him in his tracks. “I have the woman, and I’ll kill her if you try to stop me.”
It was the Black Fox, his arm around Joselyn’s neck, brandishing a pistol in his other hand. He was backing towards the rowboat he had arrived in, two of his henchmen flanking him on either side.
“Not another step!” the Fox shrieked at the soldiers following him. The rest of his crew were gone, subdued by the soldiers or Joselyn’s women. But no one dared approach these three!
Felix’s heart was in his throat, blocking his breath and pounding like the French cannon at Waterloo. He couldn’t attack without risking Joselyn, but if he didn’t attack, they’d take her with them to who knew what horrid fate.
At that moment, there was a loud caw. Immediately, and so fast that Felix couldn’t afterward untangle the order, a large black feathery missile hurled itself into the Black Fox’s face, Joselyn gave a twist and vicious upward punch into a portion of the Fox’s anatomy that made Felix wince, two shots rang out, and the two henchmen fell.
Within moments, it was all over, the smugglers captured and the raven marching up and down the beach cackling his satisfaction at his timely intervention.
Felix, with difficulty. restrained himself from wrapping Joselyn in his arms in front of half his tenants and all his soldiers. He’d never been so frightened in all his life. Thank God she was safe!
The Black Fox was hauled off in custody, along with his surviving men and Cyril, his co-conspirator. They would face the magistrate on the morrow.
Joselyn and Felix walked home together through the dawn. The raven had flown off about his own affairs, and the housekeeper had gone on ahead, arm in arm with the farmer’s wife.
“Joselyn,” Felix said, “I have explanations to make, and excuses. I let everyone think I was dead because that was the best way I could serve in the war against Napoleon, but I didn’t think about how it would affect you. Dare I hope that you will forgive me? I will spend a lifetime making amends if you will permit.”
Joselyn was silent for a long time. He was wrong then. He had hoped she was beginning to like the adult him, at least a little. Eventually, she spoke.
“You seem very certain that we would suit,” she stated.
“I know we would suit,” he said. “Certainly you suit me. I did not think there was a woman in the world who so combined courage, intelligence and spirit with beauty and kindness. I wish for a chance to convince you I can make you happy. May I court you, Joselyn?”
She was silent again, but a quality in the silence gave him hope, and he waited patiently.
“I did not know there was a man in the world who valued spirit and intelligence in a woman. Certainly I have not before met a man who would allow me to lead my troops into battle, even though he wished to protect me.”
“I didn’t want you to go,” Felix admitted.
“But you respected me enough to agree,” she said.
She was silent again.
“I daresay, now that my last surviving relative is dead, my trustees will find me somewhere else to live,” she said after a while. “I cannot, of course, stay here as a unmarried woman in the house of a bachelor.”
That was true, Felix supposed, his heart sinking. He hadn’t thought of that. Would she leave him, then?
“I never knew… Felix, you really do want me, don’t you? Not just my money?”
“Joselyn, I’ve not taken my officer’s pay in eight years, and it has all been soundly invested along with my prizes. Believe me, you are the treasure I want, not your money.” He moved to take her back into his arms, but Joselyn stopped him with her hand.
“Then I wonder,” she looked down shyly, “if you would consider marrying me first, Felix, and courting me after?”
So it was that Joselyn Bellingham and Felix Maddox were wed as soon as the bans could be called. And if there were some who questioned the sudden change in Viscounts, and wondered at the reappearance of one who had been thought dead these six years the older servants and villagers soon put them right. And if some said the bride should not have lived in the groom’s house that last fortnight, Viscountess Maddox’s supporters told them to hush their mouths. And if some raised their eyebrows when the bride was escorted down the aisle by a large raven, Viscount Maddox didn’t care a jot. After all, he said, the raven had found him his bride and saved him his bride, and that was all there was to that.