Blackbeard and the Indie Brig
By Helen Hollick (my usual Tuesday Talk slot on a Monday)
|Sea Witch on an Amazon near you|
The Sea Witch Voyages are swashbuckling nautical adventures with a touch of fantasy – if you enjoyed the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie, you’ll enjoy these books starring handsome scallywag pirate, Captain Jesamiah Acorne.
All the books carry the Indie Brag Medallion of approval, but I assure you, for their own merit – not just because Jesamiah is a pirate who likes anything gold.
In Sea Witch, the first Voyage of the series, there is a gap of what Jesamiah was up to for much of the spring of 1718. Well, now we know what he was doing: read on …
A full moon shone in through the five large windows spread across the stern of the ship, Sea Witch, her golden light vying with the flickering glow of candle and lantern within, her reflection glimmering on the sparkle of a calm Atlantic Ocean and the white-capped froth of the ship’s wake.
Finch was clearing away the remnants of dinner, tutting and muttering about gravy slopped on the white linen tablecloth and coffee left to get cold. He glowered at Jesamiah Acorne, sitting on the far side of the Great Cabin sprawled in his favourite chair, his feet propped on a stool, glass of rum in one hand, a book in the other.
“Oh it’s nice when them ‘oo ‘ave time as to sit on their arse and read, when us’n have bleedin’ work t’do,” he grumbled.
Without looking up Jesamiah answered, “We’re sailing in a fair wind. The crew knows what they are doing and Rue is a more than competent first mate.”
“’An you ‘as time t’read a book.”
“An I ‘as time to read a book,” Jesamiah answered. He peered over the top of the pages at his curmudgeonly steward. “As Captain of this ship it is my privilege to take my ease after dinner. Especially after a dinner that had a pudding stodgy enough to make a suitable anchor.”
“You complainin’ ‘bout my cookin’?” Finch growled with a frown as heavy as his pastry.
Jesamiah returned to his book. “Wouldn’t dream of it,” he lied.
An hour later Jesamiah strolled on to the quarterdeck, glancing at the compass bearing as he passed the binnacle box and surreptitiously checking the set of the sails out of the corner of his eye. All was well, as he knew it would be.
Claude de la Rue, his trusted French friend and second-in-command, stood at the helm gentling Sea Witch into the wind, his own gaze keeping an alert watch on the shiver along the edge of the great sails. He adjusted the helm a notch, bringing the vessel slightly more into the wind.
“I reckon we’ll make landfall an ‘our or so after dawn,” he said to Jesamiah. “It’ll be good to go ashore for a day or two, oui?”
“Oui,” Jesamiah agreed, but added, “might be longer if I can’t find a buyer for the cargo in our hold.” He grinned, “Not the contraband, I’ll ‘ave ‘em queueing up for that fine French brandy we’ve got stowed, it’s the legitimate stuff that bothers me. Why I got talked into carrying a hold full of fancy furniture I don’t know. I mean, who is going to buy a stack of Queen Anne English oak bookshelves?”
“A fancy gentleman wanting to build ‘imself a fancy private library?”
Jesamiah only answered with a grunt. He agreed, that was a good option – but how many rich gentlemen were there in Charleston, South Carolina, who wanted a library and could actually read?
They hit another problem a few hours after dawn when land became a smudge on the horizon, the smudge expanding by the minute as Sea Witch raced towards the South Carolina shore, the wind rattling in her rigging like a badly tuned orchestra, her canvas sails cracking and snapping. Jesamiah himself was at the helm now, most of his crew leaning over the rail or halfway up the masts chattering excitedly as they approached Charleston Harbour. It had been a long voyage across the Atlantic and sailors – pirates – were always eager to reach land, or rather, the taverns and brothels.
“Sail ho’,” Toby Turner called down from where he sat in the crosstrees. Jesamiah looked up, frowning, then stared towards where Toby was pointing. “There’s a dirt great ship blockin’ the ‘arbour entrance!” Toby called as he swung out on to the mast’s backstay and descended rapidly to the deck. “And another vessel moored alongside.”
Jesamiah signalled for Rue to take the helm, and walking to the rail pulled his telescope from the deep pockets of his faded blue buckram coat. Extending the interlocking pieces he studies the ship ahead of him. Then cursed colourfully under his breath.
“That’s the Queen Anne’s Revenge,” he said, “what is Teach doing here?”
The chatter increased as speculation ran riot. Edward Teach. Blackbeard himself. Looking again Jesamiah studied the other vessel alongside Teach’s flagship. A brig, looking in somewhat of a sorry state for her sails were in tatters and she had half of her foremast missing. Men were scurrying from one vessel to the other, swinging cargo from the brig down into the hold of the Queen Anne’s Revenge.
“They’re plundering her,” Jesamiah said, “obviously a captured Prize. He’s got some nerve attacking shipping this close to harbour.”
“Blackbeard always was a nasty piece of work,” Rue commented, his French accent growing thicker as the anger swelled within him. “‘E’s ‘olding the town to ransom do you think? ‘E gives us ‘onest pirates a bad name, that one does.”
Jesamiah made no answer, he was studying the Queen Anne’s Revenge’s deck. He swore again.
Two people were bound securely by rope to the mainmast. He ordered the guns to be made ready, but not run out, as a precautionary warning and his personal flag to be run up the mast. “That son of a serpent has two women prisoners,” he snarled as he snapped the telescope shut. “I can’t be allowin’ him to get away with that sort of outrage.”
An hour later, Sea Witch was anchored a quarter of a mile from Teach’s prized frigate. He had stolen the Queen Anne’s Revenge and made her his flagship some months previously and his reputation as a mean and nasty pirate matched his arrogance as he stood on the deck, arms folded, legs spread. Jesamiah stepped down from the entry port and deliberately tucked the edge of his coat behind the hilt of his cutlass hanging beside his left hip. A pistol was thrust through his belt, and a dagger protruded from the cuff of his boot. He touched one finger to his three-corner hat in acknowledgement, got right to the point.
“I heard you were in these waters, Teach.”
“Got big ears then, ain’t yer Acorne.”
“Now I see for myself the rumours are true.”
“Got big eyes an’ all then.”
“What are you doing here Teach? Blockading Charleston is an idiot’s game.”
“Apart from it ain’t none of yer business, Acorne, I’m ‘ere on me own business.”
“Holding the town to ransom and threatening them two women over there? That ain’t good business, Teach.” Now that he was up close, Jesamiah could see the utter terror in the faces of the two ladies, and he noticed there was a young boy with them as well, trussed up like a Thanksgiving turkey. Apart from that initial glance, however, Jesamiah paid the prisoners no more attention. “It is my business, though mate, when I can’t get into harbour to offload my cargo and let my crew ashore.”
“Too bad,” Teach growled, one hand caressing one of the four pistols dangling from ribbons hanging round his neck, the other twining fingers into his thick, black beard that he was named for.
“You goin’ to let me through?” Jesamiah persisted, “or do I have to fight you? We both know Sea Witch’s guns are superior, even to the Queen Anne’s Revenge.”
“You wouldn’t dare!” Teach snarled.
“Wouldn’t I?” Jesamiah took his hat off and circled it three times in the air above his head. Immediately Sea Witch’s gun ports snapped open and the gape-mouthed threat of her primed and ready cannons appeared in the openings. “Alternatively,” Jesamiah said with nonchalant ease as he leant one elbow against the rail behind him and smoothed the moustache that ran down either side of his mouth; “I could take that brig you’re plundering into harbour and negotiate a deal with the Governor for you.”
“Or,” Teach sneered, “you could just sail away an’ stop pokin’ yer nose in where it ain’t wanted.”
Jesamiah pursed his lips, nodded. “Fair enough,” he said, stepping back towards the entry port and preparing to descend the ladder cleats to the rowboat waiting below. “I’ll leave you to sort things with the Royal Navy then. Can’t say I want to tangle with three frigates and a man o’war anyway.”
Edward Teach, Blackbeard, visibly paled beneath his thick, bushy beard and eyebrows. “What frigates and man o’war?” he asked.
“The ones heading fast for Charleston Harbour. The ones that have been sent to blast you and your little scheme into tiny pieces. Shame, this was a good ship. Still, she’ll make fine kindling for the townsfolk when bits of her wash ashore.”
“You’re tellin’ lies, Acorne.”
“Well, this time tomorrow you’ll find out if I am or not, won’t you? Unless we can agree some negotiating terms?”
By mid-afternoon, the Queen Anne’s Revenge was several miles out to sea, the damaged brig was warped safely alongside Charleston harbour’s wharf and Sea Witch’s hold was empty of every one of the English Oak bookshelves (and the brandy). The little boy, who turned out to be the Governor of Charleston’s young nephew, had been safely returned to his Uncle, and the two ladies were smiling, and hugging and kissing Jesamiah.
“How can I ever thank you?” said Mistress Clouston, breathless with relief. “That scurvy ingrate attacked us as we entered harbour and stole everything we had on board!”
“Not quite everything,” smiled Mistress Hopkins, her companion. “He left all the boxes of books, and now, courtesy of Captain Acorne, we have the shelves we need to start our library for our Book Readers Appreciation Group.”
“My pleasure to help you. Ma’am,” Jesamiah said, touching his hat and giving a slight bow. “I think you’ll have no problem patching up your vessel, it’s all superficial damage. Teach hasn’t got very good gunners, for all his vicious bite and fancy ship.”
“Even so,” Mistress Clouston fumbled beneath the wide swirls of her blue silk gown and retrieved a small linen bag that she had hidden within the folds of her under-petticoats. “Take this with my blessing, and make good use of what is inside.” She kissed Jesamiah’s cheek, and linking her arm with Miss Hopkins, walked away towards the grand building that was to become their public library.
Jesamiah dropped the linen pouch into his pocket, aware that it did not chink, so it did not contain a reward of coin. He sauntered off in search of a bottle of rum and a pretty woman to share it with, sensing the atmosphere of relief that was already permeating Charleston now that Blackbeard’s blockade had been removed. Teach himself was going to be darn cross when he realised there were no Royal Navy ships within several hundred miles, but by the time he discovered it, Jesamiah and Sea Witch would be long gone.
Before he stepped through a door into the nearest tavern, Jesamiah took a quick look at his ship anchored in the bay, and glanced as well at the damaged brig – already her crew were starting to make her ship-shape again. The Indie Brig, she was called.
He pulled out the linen bag, opened it. Inside were fifty oval-shaped parchment medallions covered with bright, gleaming, twenty-two karat gold-leaf, and with the words B.R.A.G. Book Readers Appreciation Group etched across them.
He grinned, they would be most useful, he thought. Most useful indeed.
(Like I said, Jesamiah did not steal the Indie BRAG medallions that adorn my books!)
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