A/N - yoo hoo, peeps! Long time, no post! This is a multi-chapter swan song for my Shep whump writer pals and betas on fan fic and original fics, JoaniexJony, shepsgirl72 and Elanthra. Thanks, shepsgirl, for being my beta on this one! This is also for sherry57, an avid reader and reviewer. Rumor has it she luffs herself a puddle jumper crash...*winks* I will be posting every other Sat to give myself time to twiddle, fiddle and faddle with the later chapters. Two or three of the earlier chapters might seem familiar to some of you in that they were my entries on a Shep whump round robin some years back on a now defunct site. I edited them some more, and incorporated them into this fic. Some serious Shep whump ahoy, but hey. It's also a birthday prezzie for Joanie. Happy birthday, poppet! Chapter One coming up on your birthday! Meanwhile, here's the prologue to whet some Shep whumpy appetites. Enjoy! XD
Offry Bindycolt collected hisself lots and lots of pretty seashells for them rich, land-locked off-world tourists what infested the beaches and markets of Blerry Bluff every summer, year in, year out, come rain or shine. Offry made sure he snagged hisself shells all through them other seasons, leaving hardly none for the tourists to pick for theirselves. Didn't even matter if the shells had holes or chips in 'em. Shells was shells, and the ones with holes in 'em could be strung on peelygut into necklaces and bracelets and other junk. Them'uns he sold to crafters as he didn't have the patience or even the eyesight to string 'em hisself. Sometimes he even found jewelry and coinage. Tasty! Them'uns wasn't as plentiful as the shells, but was well worth a drink or five down the pub. He even managed to catch crabs with his bare toes as he waded in rock pools, and them'uns was worth some ointment for his poor, nipped feets, and a decent hot meal down the pub, sometimes even a blerrymeat pie. Kept him alive.
Last thing he expected to catch was a man. Leastways not a whole one.
He crouched beside the man. Bugger was half buried in the sand. Looked chewed up and spit out. Either the crabs had got to him or the nibblefish had. He didn't know which, neither did he care. Offry scratched his head, and picked at a sunburn scab on his bald pate while he thought this through. What could he get for this'un dead or alive? He'd always fancied hisself as a bounty hunter for runaway slaves.
Offry had never had such a windfall before. He could barely think straight he was that tossed and turned. One thing was certain – he had to inform the sheriff or else. He didn't care for his home from home, the jail, much. Food was crap. Bread and water. Sometimes seawater and maggoty meat or broth with hair and flies floating in it if they was feeling extra mean.
Offry poked the man in his presenting shoulder. Yep, chewed up and spit out all right. Offry wiped offending blood and sand off his pointy finger and onto his breeches since the tide was out. He didn't care for dead'uns. Couldn't get nothing much for dead'uns. Dead'uns was fit for nothing but false teeth, scalp wigs, leather, soap, and respa bait. And who hunted respa these days? Had to buy the buggers now though the proper channels. Them'uns as had licenses, that is. Bloody conservationists from Skojo City. Just because that fancy lot on the big island had lost the skill of hunting shouldn't'a ever'a meant outer islanders couldn't snag a few for theirselves. That lot just got their meat all ground up, spit in, chilled, packaged, labeled and priced, and their fur coats right off a rack. All the outer islanders was allowed to hunt was a handful of blerries, and they was hardly large enough to warrant the effort of skinning 'em. Nasty, bitey, hoppity little rodents. Not that that stopped the poachers. Like hisself. Offry chuckled.
The man stirred and groaned, and Offry felt a tingly flood of excitement rush right through his whole self from his bald pate to his hammer toes. He was a live'un! Praise the Ancestors!
Offry couldn't believe his luck. He danced a quick jig around him, then plucked a bright red claim flag for bulk items from his pouch, stuck it into the sand an arm's length from the now worm-squirmy man, and dashed off to fetch the sheriff, not looking back to check how alert his catch was. Alive would do. Bugger could drop dead after he got hisself paid in full.
As he pelted along the beach as fast as his scrawny legs could manage, up the stone steps and across the way and into town, he thought about how he could look forward to a month's stay in an actual room with a bed as well as a hot meal sometimes even twice a day, maybe even a peelyfowl stew if he was lucky. Offry drooled. The man, whoever he was, could look forward to a life of servitude. He was most likely a runaway since he was badly marked, though most of his scars looked recent. He got hisself a good look at his back when the deputies dug him out of the sand. Nasty! Definitely a bad'un to warrant that kind of treatment. Looked like he'd taken a thumping great knock on the noggin too.
The sheriff's men tied the bugger's wrists together using a tow rope, and dragged him off to the jailhouse where he belonged, one leg splinted against the other. What was the island coming to in any case when runaway slaves washed up on law-abiding folks's beaches? Yep, he was a runaway slave all right. Had to be. He'd never seen hair that dark or that spiky hereabouts. Or features that pointy. Or maybe he was some exotic crown prince from the other side of the world, what'd fallen foul of a wicked, ambitious second son like in story books? The heir and the spare? Like their very own Prince Kelzeney and Prince Zrebney? Yeah, right. Nothing exciting like that happened on Skojo, at least not in Blerry Bluff. Respa Reef, maybe, but not in Blerry.
Later that afternoon down the pub, Offry thought about slaves and their lot and royalty and their lot long and hard for all of the time it took to slurp the scrumpy he'd been nursing, then shrugged it all off. There was more crabs to be caught after all. He'd spied a big'un sidling around his favorite crabbing rock before he got hisself all turned around and skew. It might even be Ol' Sly. He'd been after that bugger for years, but so far had only snapped off a leg or three. He'd cook 'im up in dribs and drabs, he would.
The sheriff had said with a wink and a grin that Offry could most likely buy hisself a beach shack with his takings, get to stay right there on the beach just above high tide instead of under a bench or a shop front awning, and look out for more handy runaways for him. Offry even had quite the posh shack in mind, made of solid wood without hardly no holes nor rot in it.
Ol' Ma Trinky had just snuffed it, and her one and only nephew, Leb, the sole heir to her estate, had been itching to sell her house and other assets for years, and couldn't wait for the old bag to drop dead, or so he often said down the pub after a jug or seven. She had antiques, he said. Paintings and jools and junk like that. Leb didn't need no beach shack no more when he could buy hisself a nice floating pub, he said. Offry would pay his respects at the wake tomorrow, and the subject of the beach shack would come up.
Yep, things was definitely looking up. He might even buy hisself a proper missus. Or at least rent one for a week.
Truth be told, Offry didn't really think the man was a runaway, but he would never let the sheriff know what he thought less he got hisself slapped in jail again for letting his mouth run away with him. Not that he was even halfway drunk yet. Offry kept a straight face, hefted his swag bag, staggered out of the pub, nodded knowingly to a drunken Leb who was toasting his own good fortune along with all his new friends, and waggled his eyebrows at the nearest tittering pub wench, hoping she was also a halfway decent cook as well as a good lay.
Offry jiggled his swag bag, reveling in the chinking sound of coinage. Aaahhh. Music to his ears. Offy promptly forgot about the poor bugger what'd just brung him the best windfall he'd ever had or was ever likely to have in all his born days. A particularly tasty redheaded pub wench came into his thoughts in his stead. Skankifah. Skanky was a good'un. He skipped all the way to the beach shack to stick his bright red claim flag in the sand, struggling not to fondle hisself in public.