RIPPLES IN THE SAND -BOOK FOUR OF THE 'SEA WITCH VOYAGES'
Well, here we are at the fifth day and here the Voyage aboard the Sea Witch in the company of myself and Captain Jesamiah Acorne must end.
But to finish, a special treat - an excerpt from the fourth Voyage in the Sea Witch series – Ripples In the Sand. I hope to see it published early next Spring (2011)
Ripples In The Sand
the Fourth Voyage of Cpt Jesamiah Acorne
Excerpt : chapter 5
(unedited draft version)
At Sea – off the English Coast February 1719
Curiosity was not one of Jesamiah’s faults, especially when it involved taking onboard people he did not know and did not want to know. If whoever it was desired a free passage to Bideford he could bide his time on deck. There was no code that decreed a ship’s captain had to be polite to irritating and unwelcome passengers.
To add to his annoyance, as he stepped into his cabin Tiola was dressed and about to throw a cloak around her shoulders.
“You can take that off and sit yourself down, young miss. I told you, it’s cold out there, and you are not well.”
Ignoring him, she wound a shawl over her head and opened the door. “I need fresh air Jesamiah. I’ll stay in the waist, not go for’ard or on the quarterdeck. No steps or ladders.”
Sighing, Jesamiah retrieved his hat and coat which he had tossed on to the table, already cleared of the breakfast debris. “I’d better come with you then.”
Tiola reached up to place a delicate kiss on his cheek. “Don’t be silly, I will be perfectly all right. Look here’s Finch with coffee for you.”
She ducked out as Finch came in, pre-empting any more protests. Jesamiah meant well but she wanted to be alone, wanted the fresh, crisp, air that might clear her aching head and give her a chance to think.
“You fuss more’n a mother ‘en you do.” Finch stated. “ Leave the lass be, she needs a bit o’ space round her.”
“When I want your advice I will ask for it. Does that liquid you’re pouring actually have any coffee in it? Or does it taste as revolting as it looks?” For all his grumbling, Jesamiah took the proffered cup and sat at the desk shaped into the curve of the bulk head – light oak wood to match the rest of the panelling, with oak leaves and acorns carved here and there. This cabin was one of the things that had attracted him to the ship in the first place, that and she was the most beautiful vessel he had ever seen. He had won her in a card game, although he had ended up stealing her for the owner had gone back on his word. Water under the bridge now. The man was dead, and Sea Witch was unequivocally Jesamiah’s. As much a part of him as his soul.
Overhead, Rue was shouting orders and Sea Witch was under way again, the sound of the water rushing past her keel as she gathered way clearly audible. The passenger, whoever he was, was safely aboard then. Well, Jesamiah might be sociable when they neared harbour, but not yet. Let the bloody man get cold on deck, it would teach him a lesson about begging passage on an unknown ship.
Fetching the charts relating to the Bristol Channel and Barnstaple and Bideford Bay, Jesamiah spread them on the table, peered closely at the marked rocks and shallows between Hartland Point and Lundy Island. That sand bar as you came into the Torridge and Taw estuary was worrying. Would he have to wait for a pilot to come aboard and guide him in? Probably, damn it. More time idled away, especially if they missed the tide. The flood was essential in navigating those waters.
He reached for the coffee cup, took a sip and grimaced. The wretched stuff tasted twice as bad cold; heard the cabin door open and close. Assuming it to be Finch he did not look up.
“This tastes vile; dare I ask what else you are putting in it? Tar? Cat’s piss?”
The answering voice made Jesamiah splutter and turn abruptly.
“I have no idea, lad, but I can offer you a drop of brandy to improve things.”
Jesamiah took a moment to register the passenger’s presence in his cabin. A man in his mid fifties with a weathered face, a sailor’s crinkled eyes, calloused hands and a slight stoop to the shoulders from years of bending under low ceilinged decks. Henry Jennings. Captain Henry Jennings. He and Jesamiah went back a long way.
“Well bugger me! What in all the names of the Seven Seas are you doing here, Henry?”
Jennings removed his hat and boat cloak, indicated if he might sit, and gratefully sank into Jesamiah’s only comfortable chair, easing the ache in one leg as he did so. He produced a hip flask from his coat pocket, held it out.
Taking the silver container Jesamiah unscrewed the lid and sampled the contents before adding a generous amount to the insipid coffee. “Gout still bothering you? My Tiola will tell you drink’ll make it worse.”
He passed the flask back to Jennings who finished the remaining brandy in one swallow and chuckled.
“And she’d be right, but a drop now an’ then keeps m’temper sweet. Pardon me for saying lad; what be ye doin’ to her? She looks damned ill.”
The genial banter fading, Jesamiah’s face fell serious, his worry clearly showing in the ragged lines to the side of his eyes. “She is ill Henry. That’s why I’m hurrying to get ashore. I should never have left the Azores, but there was no buyer for the tobacco I’m shipping, and she wasn’t as bad as this then.”
“Get her a good physician. Sir Matthew Gillham knows what he’s about. You’ll find him a mile or so outside Bideford. Hartsford Manor. Big pink place.”
Pausing while sliding his charts carefully into their drawer beneath the desk, Jesamiah cocked an eyebrow. “And how would you, a man who has spent the last God alone knows how many years on the account in the Caribbean, and than fancying himself as vice governor of Nassau, be knowing this Matthew Gillham who lives outside Bideford?”
Jennings scratched under his grey-curled wig. “I know quite a few people in the West Country. I was born there. Lived in Appledore until Pa died in ‘01, but I had more interest for sailing ships than building them, so I took a nice little sloop he’d designed, sold the shipyard and went off to fight as a privateer in the Spanish War of Succession.”
Sea Witch tacked and healed over. Without thinking about it, Jesamiah lifted his empty coffee cup and its saucer before they slid off the edge of the table. As she righted herself, he set them down again. The light creeping in through the salt-grimed stern windows brightened as her course altered. The sun was high now, but the sky was louring into an ominous bank of grey. If they could make landfall before the weather closed in Jesamiah would be pleased - and relieved.
“But I thought you knew my father well?” he queried. “He passed away in ’08?”
Also noting the gathering clouds and threatening sky Jennings winced and eased his gouty leg. Cold, damp air did make it ache so.
“I knew him well, Jes. He used to offload his contraband in my father’s shipyard. I sailed from England in consort with him; we both fought in that war, and after, I stayed in touch through various intermediaries.”
Jesamiah scowled. Aye, he had, unfortunately, met some of them. “1701,” he said, calculating in his mind.
“I would have been seven. I remember him being gone a long time. He was not at home for that birthday, nor my sixth before it. When he did come home I had no idea who he was.”
“That’s the trouble with being a sailor and having a family. The one does not mix well with the other.”
“I did not know he had been fighting the Spanish, either.”
Jennings shrugged. “He hated the Spanish.”
Looking up sharply at that, Jesamiah protested; “My mother was Spanish. Another woman he had loved before her was Spanish.”
“Aye, del Gardo’s sister and then the lovely black eyed, black haired Dona Sofia Molina Calderón. Youngest daughter of the Marqués de Molina. You look very much like her, you know. Same eyes.” Jennings chuckled. “ It is because of them that he hated the Spanish.”
About to ask more, Jesamiah held his council as a quick knock on the door heralded Rue’s appearance.
“We are coming up on ‘Artland Point, Capitain. Do you wish to come on deck or do you trust me to steer ‘er?”
“Since when have I not trusted you, Rue? You’re as good a helmsman as I am.”
Rue disagreed with that, but merely nodded and left. For all his years aboard ship he would never possess the talent Jesamiah had for instinctively knowing the moods of the sea. It was almost as if the running tides were part of his blood at times, as if he were some sort of merman or sea creature. Nor did Sea Witch sail as well under Rue’s hands. She responded to his grip on the helm, she obeyed, but with Jesamiah? Ah, with him, she sang!
The door shut and privacy returned, Jesamiah fetched a bottle of rum and two glasses from the small cupboard, fitted like the desk, into the bulkhead. It was not yet noon but once round the point and heading for the estuary, there would not be time for a dram. He poured two generous measures, handed one to Jennings, put the bottle back in its secure rack and sat down.
“You never answered my question Henry. I cannot believe you managed to hail a Navy frigate and persuade her captain to chase me half way across the Atlantic. All so you could visit old friends who may well be dead by now. Why are you here?”
The rum was good stuff. Jennings pleasurably savoured its aroma and taste as it slipped smoothly down his throat before answering. “I had no idea you had been in the Azores. Purely by chance I met with one of your men who’d elected to stay ashore. Masterson? He told me you were heading for Devon; Bideford.”
Jesamiah nodded. Masterson. A good man; he had been sorry to lose him.
“I blagged a passage aboard the Josephine, and happened to catch sight of you. Sea Witch is pretty distinctive, you know.” Jennings grinned. “Of course you completely ignored the signals we made, although I grant we were maybe too far off for you to see them clearly, so we had to give chase. “
“Well,” Jesamiah conceded, “that explains one thing niggling me. You tracking me at night I can accept. The idea of some bloody ignorant naval bugger being able to do so scares the shite out of me.”
They laughed together, sipped the rum, listened to the sound of the sea thrumming beneath Sea Witch’s keel. She tacked again, turning as easily and efficiently as a dolphin; the rudder creaking and squealing, the shadows of grey daylight changing yet again.
His attention never leaving Henry’s face Jesamiah set his empty glass down. “But you still have not explained why you are here.”
Jennings stretched his leg. “Did I not say?”
“Ah, well; I have come to England on King’s business.”
“I have word to pass on of rebellion. The Jacobites have the support of the Spanish and have raised an armada. England is about to be attacked.”
Jesamiah laughed outright, head back, hands slapping his thighs. “Henry. Henry! Do you sincerely expect me to believe that you are making all haste to England to inform the government of something they must have got wind of months ago? Lord love you, man, it will be old news by now!”
Shaking his head Jennings leant forward in his chair, conspiratorially lowered his voice. “They intend to assemble at Cadiz, and no they have not yet sailed. The invasion is set for mid March. And I am not here to inform the government of this plot, but to inform those who ought to know of the traitors who reside in Devon. I have acquired their names.”
The contempt that swept Jesamiah’s face was rancid. “You are going to turn informer? Good God man, since when have you cared whether George or James sits his fat arse on the throne?”
Very quietly, looking down at his shoes so that Jesamiah would not see the truth in his eyes, Henry answered; “I have always been a King’s Man Jesamiah.”
Jesamiah also leaned forward. “Enough to turn in men who will hang? Enough to destroy their families? That sort of thing stinks, Jennings.” Abruptly he straightened up, snapped, “What is in it for you? And how do you know of these names? Is your informer reliable? God help you if you have the wrong information.”
Jennings’ turn to remain silent a while, then with a sigh he said, “The matter is personal. One of the names on the list means much to me, and aye, I respect the person who sent me the information. It has never been wrong before.”
“Huh. One of your damned spies I assume. Duped him to work for you did you? Like you duped me?”
“As it happens aye, a very good spy. The best there is in fact.” Jennings paused, as if choosing his words, then said quickly before he changed his mind; “Does the name Dynham mean anything to you Jesamiah?”
“No. Nor do I want it to mean anything.” Dismissing the subject Jesamiah returned to the one chart he had left out. This business smacked of things he did not want to become involved in.
Jennings fired the verbal equivalent of a broadside. “What about Chesham? Remember that name? Francis Chesham?”
Jesamiah looked up sharply. Aye, he knew Chesham!
Very quietly, very intently, Henry Jennings added; “He is the one who sent me the list.”
For a full minute Jesamiah sat motionless. He had never expected to hear that name again. He had last seen Chesham back on Hispaniola. As far as he had been aware Jennings, and everyone else, had assumed Chesham to be dead. Obviously, for someone’s convenience, Francis Chesham had been resurrected.
Add to that, Jennings seemed to have no idea that his precious informer spy was a she not a he. Frances, not Francis.
Jesamiah knew that for a fact. He had made love to her a few hours before they had parted company, and she had sworn him to secrecy about her true identity.
Everyone else knew her as Senora Francesca Ramon Escudero, the ex English actress and recent widow of a Spanish Don. Jesamiah remembered her as red haired, green eyed and extremely beautiful.
Due for publication Spring 2011
© Helen Hollick 2010
For copyright reasons there are some deliberate errors in this excerpt.
For Pirates of the Caribbean Fans looking forward to the release of the fourth P.O.C. movie, the story is to involve Jack Sparrow meeting up with that dastardly pirate, Blackbeard. In case you need a pirate fix before the movie is released though, my novel Bring It Close also features that most famous of pirates.
Only my story will probably be closer to the reality of history. I extensively researched the detail for this book – even traveling to Colonial Williamsburg. We know quite a bit about Edward Teach – Blackbeard - and his demise, because the records of his “last stand” and the trials of some of his crew have survived. The crew were taken to Williamsburg in Virginia, where they were hanged.
In Bring It Close, Jesamiah Acorne, Captain of the Sea Witch, has accepted a government-granted amnesty against his misdeeds of piracy, but old enemies do not forget the past. In particular Edward Teach - better known as Blackbeard - has a bone to pick with Acorne.
Following an indiscretion with an old flame, Jesamiah finds his fiancée, the midwife and white witch Tiola Oldstagh, has gone to North Carolina to help with an imminent and difficult birth. The problem; that is where Blackbeard now resides.
He must not discover that Tiola is Jesamiah's woman, she will have to hide her identity and her gift of Craft from the black-hearted pirate who has sold his soul to the devil. With Sea Witch damaged and himself wounded by Blackbeard, Jesamiah has to take stock of his situation at his old home in Virginia - but trouble follows him like a ship's wake and he is arrested for acts of piracy on the High Seas.
Too much trouble has come too close! How is Jesamiah Acorne to clear his name, overturn a sentence of hanging, keep Tiola safe, put an end to Blackbeard and deal with being haunted by the ghost of his father?
Bring It Close moves from the Bahamas to North Carolina and Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia at a swashbuckling pace. There is intrigue, misunderstandings, romance and adventure all wrapped up in a delightful blend of mystical fantasy.
My thanks to Andrea & Corrina for a delightful and highly exciting week. I hope everyone enjoyed it as much as I have!
Purchase Helen's books at Amazon, Amazon.co.uk, Barnes & Noble , Borders and many other online bookstores.
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AND …. A COMPETITION:
This is the LAST chance to Win a signed copy of BRING IT CLOSE – Featuring Blackbeard!
How you ask? Well its real simple, leave the correct answer to the question below on any of the posts featuring Helen Hollick and you will be in the running for a chance to win a signed copy of Bring it Close!
The winner will be picked at random once the SPOTLIGHT wraps up on October 1st!
What is Jesamiah’s lucky charm?