Ships that pass
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Ships that pass
  by Helen Hollick & Anna Belfrage

To celebrate Indie B.R.A.G's Book Blitz Week in 2015, Anna Belfrage, author of The Graham Saga time slip series and I, author of The Sea Witch Voyages, were asked to talk about sea travel in the late 1600's. After delivering our presentation, we wondered what would happen if Jesamiah were to meet Alex as she was crossing the Atlantic in search of Matthew.

As a special exclusive treat, here's what we came up with.


The second in Anna Belfrage's time slip series, Like Chaff In The Wind, features time traveller Alexandra Lind and her 17th century husband, Matthew Graham. Matthew committed the mistake of his life when he cut off his brother's nose. In revenge, Luke Graham has Matthew abducted and transported to the Colony of Virginia, there to be sold as indentured labour - a death sentence more or less.

He arrives in Virginia in May 1661, and any hope of someone willing to listen to his tale of abduction is quickly extinguished. He also realises that no one has ever survived the seven years of service.

Fortunately, Matthew has a remarkable wife who has no intention of letting her husband die. Alex sets off on a perilous journey to bring him home. She prays for a miracle to carry her swiftly to his side, but what should have been a two month crossing turns into a year long voyage. Will she find him in time? If she does, will she be capable of paying the price to buy him free? And will she survive sailing across the Atlantic Ocean?


Escaping the bullying of his elder half brother, from the age of fifteen Jesamiah Acorne has been a pirate with only two loves - his ship and his freedom. But his life is to change when he and his crew mates unsuccessfully attack a merchant ship off the coast of South Africa.

He is to meet Tiola Oldstagh an insignificant girl, or so he assumes - until she rescues him from a vicious attack, and almost certain death, by pirate hunters. And then he discovers what she really is; a healer, a midwife - and a white witch.

When the call of the sea and an opportunity to commandeer a beautiful ship - the Sea Witch - is put in Jesamiah's path he must make a choice between his life as a pirate or his love for Tiola. He wants both, but others want him dead. In trouble, imprisoned in the darkness and stench that is the lowest part of a ship, can Tiola with her gift of Craft save him.

But first she must brave the ocean depths to confront Tethys, the Spirit of the Sea, an elemental who will stop at nothing to claim Jesamiah's soul and bones as a trophy.

Somewhere in the Atlantic

"Who are you?"

Alex wiped at the wet hair that was clinging to her face. She knew for a fact she'd not seen the man standing beside her before on the Regina Anne - Captain Miles would never tolerate a sailor who looked so, so… dangerous? Her gaze slid over his cutlass - cutlass! - and the pistol tucked through his belt, up to his dark eyes. He was grinning, his gold acorn-shaped earring glinting in a sudden flash of sun. Beneath his three-corned hat he had thick, black hair, tied back with a sea-blue ribbon. Poncy, Alex thought, but then men in the here and now had a predilection for lace and ribbons. Not like the men of her time, who thought they were daring if they wore a pink shirt with their business suit.

The man removed his hat, made a slight bow. "Captain Jesamiah Acorne, at your service, ma'am. And who might you be?"

Captain? Alex thought boats only had one captain. And this captain didn't exactly look like the sort of person Captain Miles would comfortably work alongside. Fight against maybe?

Swallowing another threat of rising bile, Alex attempted to be polite. "I am Mistress Alexandra Graham, wife to Matthew Graham who has been abducted and sold into indentured slavery."

"That was careless of him," Captain Acorne quipped, taking a small silver container from his pocket. Un-stoppering it and putting the spout to his mouth, he took a long swig of whatever was inside.

"It was not carelessness at all!" Alex bridled, angry, her fists bunching. "He cut off his brother's nose. In revenge, the bastard has had Matthew transported to Virginia to be sold into indentured labour - a death sentence. I am intent on not letting my husband die, either there or bound in chains aboard one of these, these," she whirled her arms around indicating the ship, "floating coffins!"

Acorne wiped the top of the flask and handed it to her. Alex shook her head.

"It'll do your stomach good." he said, offering it again. "And if his brother is anything like mine, I think I like the sound of your husband."

Alex took the flask, wiped the spout again with the corner of her cloak and took a tentative sip. Spluttered at the taste of very strong rum. He was right, though, it was warming. Tasted good. She had another sip, said quietly, "I cannot bear to think of Matthew chained in dark squalor below deck."

"Ah." Jesamiah Acorne nodded. "I've no liking for men who carry their enchained brethren like so much cattle across the sea. I've suffered such myself." He took the flask back, gulped a mouthful of the contents down.

"You have?" Alex supposed she should commiserate, ask him about his experiences, but the man just shook his head, indicating these were matters he refused to talk about. The deck tilted. It tilted again, and Alex clung to the railing, cursing the wind, the sea, the goddamn boat and, most of all, Luke Graham.

"I am no sailor," she admitted. "I hate this bloody boat. I hate picking weevils out of bread that is as hard as iron, I hate having no private place to relieve myself, no fresh water to clean my hair or teeth - to wash. Nowhere warm or dry to sit or sleep. I hate the squalor, the stink, the fact that the bloody boat itself is as fragile as a walnut shell and might fall apart the next time the wind blows up!"

"Ship," Captain Acorne corrected. "She's a ship."

He pointed to the masts soaring overhead into the grey-blue sky, the wind-filled canvas sails creaking and groaning, the rigging humming like a discordant, badly rehearsed string section of an orchestra. "Three masts, fore, main and mizzen. That makes her a ship, not a boat."


He leant back against the rail, looked about with a critical eye - completely at ease with the ship's perpetual rise and fall and roll motion. "Sails set fair, cordage coiled and stowed neat, decks clear and tidy." He pointed to a nearby hatch that had been partly swung open to let light and air down to the deck below; "Secured correct. Looks like this vessel has a captain who knows what he's about, and a crew not made up of mithering landlubbers who don't like to get their fekking hands dirty. She's smaller in length and width than my ship, and her quarterdeck is higher. I don't have any poop deck aboard Sea Witch. My father had a ship like this one when he sailed with Henry Morgan. She was a sound vessel, from what I gather. As fast as a greyhound. Regina Anne won't be as good if she needs a turn of speed, but she seems seaworthy enough."

"I don't care if she's not the bloody HMS Victory," Alex retorted. "As long as she's not the Titanic! I hate the sea. I hate the way it goes up and down; I hate the cold, the wet!"

He looked at her quizzically, not recognising the ships' names. "The sea can be fickle, I grant, and you must treat her with the greatest respect. She can be all those things, but the sea and a ship, to some, mean freedom and dignity. You treat sea and ship like a mistress, with care and attention. And you put up with their squalls and the tantrums for what they offer in return."

Alex nodded, pretending she agreed. For all the passion he was expressing, to her mind he was talking fool nonsense. She did not care a bent binnacle, or whatever the nautical words were, for this ship or any ship, and she had no idea why she was listening to this rag-tag ruffian. She had no idea who or what he was, although that cutlass and pistol reminded her of the appearance of a pirate. Whoever, whatever, she had a suspicion that he did not belong to this boat - ship. There was something about him, something different yet familiar? He does not belong to this ship or this time, she thought. Like me. He shouldn't be here.

Somehow that helped, and she suddenly found herself talking and talking, letting loose all the fears that had been churning, heavy in her stomach - and had refused to be spewed up over the side with her seasick vomit. It all poured out, the whole story of Matthew and Luke, finding a ship to take her as passenger, the misery of seasickness, the horror of it all and the fear that any moment may be her last.

Embarrassed at her outburst she ended with the truth. "What if this ship sinks? I'm scared shitless!"

He answered her with a smile and equal truth. "Ships do sink - more often than us sailors want to think about. Wind, tide, storms, current, they can all take their toll." He gave a low, deep-throated laugh. "And then there's pirates."

Alex decided to ignore his last remark. She had enough on her over-full plate as it was. "Not the ship Matthew is on." She gave him a despairing look. "Not the ship with my Matthew. His ship is sturdy and fast and safe. He is safe. He is!" Jesamiah, Captain Acorne, did not reply. He just looked at her, and something in his eyes made her want to cry. "He must be safe," she said. "Without him, I…" Would die. Just like that. Alex bit her lip in an effort not to wail out loud.

The man, Captain, Jesamiah Acorne, put his arm around her shoulders and drew her to his side. For that brief moment Alex felt warm and comfortable. Safe. Despite the fact that he stank of unwashed clothes, sweat and tar. Matthew smelt the same, although without the tar. Tears of lonely grief filled her eyes, her heart and her soul.

"Believe in yourself, sweetheart," Jesamiah said as he kissed the top of her head, "and keep that vision of freedom in your mind. The blue sea, the white-capped rollers, the wind that is filling the sails. Touch a stay every morning for luck. And never give up hope. Once you do, you might as well head for the horizon with your arse on fire."

She blinked back the tears, shut her eyes, gripped the rail. When she opened them again, he had gone. But there, on the deck beside her foot, was a tightly stoppered silver flask, and, wound around it, a blue ribbon.

Copyright © 2015 Anna Belfrage & Helen Hollick