Authors: Constance O'Banyon
Tags: #Historical, #Romance, #Fiction, #Nautical, #American Revolution, #18th Century, #Sailing, #Sea Voyage, #Ocean, #VELVET CHAINS, #Adult, #Adventure, #Action, #Pirate, #British, #Captain, #Kidnapped, #Ransom, #American Patriot, #Redcoats, #Captive, #Freedom, #Escape, #Spirited, #Will To Resist, #Abductor's Eyes, #Possessing, #Rebelled, #Linked Fate, #Bound
Table of Contents
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Velvet chains bind securely though they cannot be seen;
Velvet bondage holds me prisoner even in my dreams.
Upon the sea the wind does blow to carry me away . . .
I strive to find my life and soul at end of dying day.
I have no life besides this man who hides his face
I am obsessed with him—I love that which I cannot see.
I seek to find my freedom, I pray for my release.
Velvet chains—my bondage—will I never be at peace?
New York—January, 1779
Although it was still early in the evening, the cobblestone streets were dark and deserted. It was a cold, damp night, and a dense fog moved over the town, bringing with it the salty aroma of the sea and spreading a cloak of eeriness in its wake. Out of the darkness came a lone horse-drawn carriage. The sounds of the horses' hooves were muted and were soon swallowed up by the dense fog.
A dark, shrouded figure detached itself from the shadows and crossed the street toward the only pinnacle of light that pierced the ominous blackness. A sudden gust of wind picked up the man's dark cloak and swirled it out behind him, giving him the appearance of a sinister bird of prey. Sounds of lusty laughter came from The Duck and Hound Tavern, so the dark figure avoided the front entrance and instead made his way down the side street toward the back door. He kept well within the shadows so he wouldn't be detected by any passers-by. The man's boots made no sound as they struck the wet cobblestone street. His movement was as silent as the shadows that surrounded him.
Stopping before the back door of the tavern, he rapped three times, paused, and rapped three more times. He then stepped away from the door and waited in the shadows, impatient for someone to answer his knock so he could be admitted.
Hearing the rap on the door, Amos Duncan wiped his hands on the soiled apron tied about his ample waist. Anxiously he glanced over his shoulder, toward the taproom where many British soldiers seemed to be enjoying themselves. Hurrying through the kitchen and past the back stairway, he hoped fervently that the redcoats wouldn't ask for him in his absence. When the patriots had needed a place to hold their weekly meetings, he had gladly volunteered his attic. Lately, however, Amos had begun to wonder if he had made a mistake. If the men were caught in his establishment, there would be hell to pay.
Lord, not another one, he thought. He prided himself on being as good and loyal a patriot as the next fellow, but these weekly meetings above his tavern were beginning to play havoc with his nerves. There were a dozen or more redcoats in his taproom at that very moment. In the past it had amused him to attend to the enemies' needs. He had served them ale and laughed at their jokes, pretending to be loyal to the crown, when in truth secret meetings were taking place above the redcoats' heads.
A loud burst of laughter reached Amos and he smiled to himself, thinking that in their ignorance the redcoats were enjoying themselves.
By agreeing to allow the patriots to use his upstairs storage attic, Amos felt he was striking a blow for liberty and freedom in the only way he could. Of course, he was honest enough to admit that at first he had become a patriot out of necessity rather than from a sense of honor or outrage. The British taxes and tariffs were especially harsh on anyone who was in business for himself. Amos had only recently acquired his true patriotism, because the British were bleeding the Colonies dry for what they termed God and king. The colonists were treated with contempt by the Crown, and the injustice of it all made Amos' blood boil.
Removing a lantern from the hook where it hung in the dim hallway, Amos turned up the wick and walked to the back door cautiously. The meeting upstairs had been going on for well over an hour, and he was leery of latecomers—even if they knew the signal. He quickly, shot the bolt and opened the door, ready to face whoever waited, be he friend or foe.
At first Amos thought his eyes must be deceiving him! He gasped at the tall figure draped in black and wearing a leather mask to conceal his face. The man stood a good head taller than Amos, and with the black leather helm hiding his identity, his appearance was ominous. His full-length cape fell almost to the ground, concealing its wearer's shape among its generous folds.
The tavern keeper felt the hair on the back of his neck stand on end, and the hand that held the lantern trembled. He quickly fumbled beneath his apron and withdrew his pistol, pointing it at the man.
"If it be ale and a good time you seek, you'd best try the front door, stranger," Amos said, thinking his voice sounded far braver than he felt at the moment.
"I seek neither ale nor pleasure, my friend," came the raspy reply. "The eagle has flown."
Even though the man in black had just given the tavern keeper the correct password, and had known he must rap three times on the door to gain entrance, Amos was suspicious of him.
"You have the password, friend, but you come among us hiding your true identity. Who are you? How do I know you ain't a spy?"
"It isn't important that you know my identity, Amos Duncan, for I know you and I'm aware of your loyalty," came the deep reply.
Suddenly Amos' mouth fell open in awe. "Well, hell and damnation, I know who you are! You are The Raven!"
The cloaked figure roughly pushed Amos aside and entered the room, quickly closing the door behind him and shooting the bolt home.
"Amos Duncan, take me where the meeting is being held." The mask muffled the order.
Although the man had neither confirmed nor denied that he was The Raven, Amos knew he could be no other. Before him, in the flesh, stood the legendary hero that young lads worshipped and old men discussed in hushed tones. The Raven's many daring exploits had been told and retold. He was held in high regard by all true patriots, and was hated and feared by the British. Mystery surrounded The Raven. No one seemed to know his true identity. Yet somehow he always managed to acquire valuable information from the enemy, and he passed it on to help the cause of the patriots. Amos could hardly believe he was facing the famous Raven and actually talking to him!
"Forgive my caution, Raven. A man can't be too careful in this day and time," he said, as an apology. "What could be so important that it would bring The Raven himself out into the open?" he couldn't help asking.
"I didn't come here to pass pleasantries with you, nor am I inclined to answer your questions. Take me up those back stairs to where the meeting is being held," The Raven said in an authoritative voice. Amos could tell by The Raven's tone that he was a man who was accustomed to giving orders and to having them obeyed without question.
The tavern keeper replaced the gun in his belt and nodded his head. "Follow me, but have a care. The place is crawling with them redcoats tonight." Amos led the way up the back stairs, followed closely by the figure in black.
The shadows in the hallway flickered into light as the tavern keeper raised the lantern over his head to light the way. After they reached the second-floor landing, Amos led the way up another stairway, to what was obviously an attic room. He stopped before the doorway and was about to rap when his hand was caught and held fast by The Raven.
"It will be best if you return to your guests. We wouldn't want them to miss you and come searching for you, now would we?"
Amos was reluctant to leave. His curiosity was piqued and he wanted to find out what could have brought The Raven to his tavern. However, as he stared at the black mask, he became unnerved, knowing The Raven was watching him closely. So he nodded his head in agreement and quickly retraced his steps down the hall, thinking that The Raven's mission must be mighty important to bring him out into the open.
The dark figure watched until Amos disappeared down the stairs. The hallway was now in total darkness since the landlord had taken the lantern with him. Slowly turning the knob, The Raven opened the door and slipped silently inside. Once he was in the room, he clung to the shadows, not wanting to reveal his presence just yet.
The room was smoke-filled and dimly lit, with no less than a dozen men gathered about a table, talking in hushed tones. The Raven took note of each man as he stood in the shadows. Silas Dunsberry, a prominent merchant, was trying, with little success, to bring some semblance of order to the meeting.
"Silence, please, gentlemen," Silas said. "If you all try to talk at once, we shall never accomplish anything. Each of you will have your turn to speak. Wallace Tuddle has something of great importance to relate to you. I suggest we give him the floor at this time."
The Raven studied each man's face carefully, knowing many of them were prominent citizens—merchants, printers, farmers. The British would willingly pay a goodly sum to see any one of them uncovered as a spy.
Wallace Tuddle stood up and cleared his throat while the others waited for him to speak. "I have news which will sadden you all. I have been told that George Dale has been captured by the British and accused of being a spy!"
Tuddle's announcement brought an immediate outcry of protest and anger. A man named Harvey Bailey jumped to his feet. "Are you sure? Can there be no mistake?"
"It is the truth ... I have it on good authority. Dale is in the hands of the enemy," Tuddle answered with assurance.
"Will he talk, do you think?" another man queried.
"If he were of a mind to, he could name everyone in this room," another added.
"We don't know what he would do under torture. He might betray us all!" a third man cried out.
"I know Dale very well," Silas Dunsberry said. "I don't believe he will name any of us. He is a man of strong principles, a man of honor. Dale is as dedicated to freedom as any one of us in this room."
"I'm sure what you are saying is true, but under torture even the bravest man will crack," Tuddle said, studying his companions' faces closely.
The room became silent as each man contemplated what discovery would mean to him and his family. They were all so deep in thought no one heard the soft, booted steps of the cloaked figure who came forth from the shadows and made his way to the center of the room. No one knew The Raven was among them until his raspy voice swept across the room with the intensity of a whiplash.
"I can assure all of you that George Dale did not reveal any of your names."
An audible gasp escaped from someone as all eyes turned to the dark, hooded figure. The intruder was dressed all in black, and his leather helm and long flowing cape disguised his identity. The two slits in the helm that allowed the man to see gave him an ominous appearance.
Seconds passed and no one spoke. Tuddle's eyes darted nervously about the room, then settled on the newcomer.
"Who are you? What do you want?" one of the men asked, voicing the question that was on all their minds.
"My name is of no importance," the dark figure said. He seemed to loom out of the darkness in the poorly lit room, almost as if he were a part of the shadows.
"Are you friend or enemy?" someone asked.
As the cloaked figure walked slowly and deliberately toward the table, silence enfolded the room once more.
"If you stand for truth and justice, if you are a true patriot who wishes to see this land purged of tyranny and injustice, then I am your friend," was the raspy reply.
Wallace Tuddle stood up, clearing his throat. "Gentlemen, gentlemen, allow me to have your attention. I know this man. As he told you, he is a friend to us all. This is none other than The Raven himself. I circulated the word that I wanted him to come here tonight. Evidently he received my message."
The silence that followed Tuddle's announcement was tense. Each man stared at the legendary figure they had all heard of, wondering why he had come.
Silas Dunsberry stood up, being the first to find his voice. "Why have you come among us tonight, Raven?"
The Raven walked slowly around the table. Finding an empty chair, he raised his black-booted foot to rest it on the seat.
"I have two reasons for being here tonight. First of all I regret to inform you that George Dale is dead! He was hung this noon by the British. Rest assured he didn't reveal any of your identities."
There was an immediate outcry of disbelief and anger. Silas held up his hand to restore order; nonetheless he had to shout to be heard above the din.
"Gentlemen, keep your voices down! I have some questions to ask of The Raven." Finally the gathering quieted and Silas was able to speak. "Raven, are you quite sure Dale is dead?"
"I witnessed his hanging personally. There was nothing I could do to help him," the raspy voice replied.
"You are sure he didn't talk?"
"You have my word, Silas Dunsberry. Dale went to his death without betraying the cause."
Silas nodded slowly. "My friends, today we lost a brave and valiant ally. I know you all feel the tragedy as deeply as I do. I suggest we adjourn and go to our respective homes, since I'm sure none of us feel like continuing with the meeting," Silas said sadly.
"Wait!" the raspy voice commanded. "I said I had two reasons for coming here tonight. I have not yet revealed my second reason. What time is it?"
Silas pulled out his pocket watch, flipping open the catch. "I make it to be almost eight-thirty," he said, pocketing the watch.
The hooded man nodded. "I have come here tonight to expose a traitor among you! A man you call your trusted friend has betrayed you to the enemy!"
"How can this be?" someone asked.
"Surely not one of us!" cried another.
Again silence descended, and it hung heavy in the room as each man looked at his companions, wondering just who the traitor might be.