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, misunderstanding, romance and adventure all wrapped up in a delightful blend of mystical fantasy.
Tuesday, 1st October
Jesamiah Acorne, four and twenty years old, Captain of the Sea Witch
, sat with his hands cradled around an almost empty tankard of rum, staring blankly at the drips of candle-wax that had hardened into intricate patterns down the sides of a green, glass bottle. The candle itself was smoking and leaning to one side as if drunk. As drunk as Jesamiah.
For maybe ten seconds he did not notice the two grim-faced, shabby ruffians sit down on the bench opposite him. One of them reached forward and snuffed out the guttering flame, pushed the bottle aside. Jesamiah looked up, stared at them as vacantly as he had been staring at the congealed rivers of wax.
One of the men, the one wearing a battered three-corner felt hat and a gold hoop earring that dangled from his left earlobe, leant his arms on the table, linking his tar and gunpowder-grimed fingers together. The other, a red-haired man with a beard like a weather-worn, abandoned bird's nest, eased a dagger from the sheath on his belt and began cleaning his broken and split nails with its tip.
"We've been lookin' fer you, Acorne," the man with the earring said.
"Found me then ain't yer," Jesamiah drawled. He dropped his usual educated accent and spoke in the clipped speech of a common foremast jack. He was a good mimic, had a natural talent to pick up languages and tonal cadences. Also knew when to play the simpleton or a gentleman.
He drained his tankard, held it high and whistled for Never-Say-No Nan, a wench built like a Spanish galleon and whose charms kept her as busy as a barber's chair.
She ambled over to Jesamiah, the top half of her partially exposed, and extremely ample bosoms wobbling close to his face as she poured more rum.
"What about your friends?" she asked, nodding in their direction.
"Ain't no friends of mine," Jesamiah answered lifting his tankard to sample the replenished liquor.
The man with the earring jerked his head, indicating she was to be gone. Nan sniffed haughtily and swept away, her deep-rumbled laughter drifting behind as another man gained her attention by pinching her broad backside.
"Or to be more accurate, Acorne, Teach 'as been lookin' for yer."
Half shrugging, Jesamiah made a fair pretence at nonchalance. "I ain't exactly been 'iding, Gibbens. I've been openly anchored 'ere in Nassau 'arbour for several weeks."
Since August in fact, apart from a brief excursion to Hispaniola - which Jesamiah was attempting to set behind him and forget about. Hence the rum.
"Aye, we 'eard as 'ow thee've signed for amnesty and put yer piece into Governor Rogers' 'and," Gibbens sneered, making an accompanying crude and explicit gesture near his crotch.
"Given up piracy?" Red Beard - Rufus - scoffed as he hoiked tobacco spittle into his mouth and gobbed it to the floor. "Gone soft 'ave thee? Barrel run dry 'as it? Lost yer balls eh?" Added with malice, "Edward Teach weren't interested in fairy-tale government amnesties, nor 'ollow pardons." He drove his dagger into the wooden table where it quivered as menacing as the man who owned it.
That's not what I've heard,
Jesamiah thought but said nothing. He had no intention of going anywhere near Edward Teach, better known as Blackbeard, though Black Heart would be as appropriate. Even the scum and miscreants who roamed the seas of the Caribbean in search of easy loot and plunder avoided the bastard of a pirate who was Blackbeard.
Aside, Jesamiah was no longer a pirate. As Gibbens had said, he had signed his name in Governor Rogers' leather-bound book and accepted His Majesty King George's royal pardon. Which was why he had nothing better to do than sit here in this tavern drinking rum. Piracy, plundering, pillaging, none of that was for him, not now. Now, Jesamiah Acorne, Captain of the Sea Wit
ch, had a woman he was about to marry, a substantial fortune that he could start using if only he knew what to spend it on, and the dubious reputation of becoming a respectable man of leisure.
He was also bored.
"You owe him Acorne," Rufus said. "Teach wants the debt paid."
Jesamiah raised the tankard to his mouth pretending to drink. He had been drunk but he had become stone sober the moment these bastards sat down at the table. Only he was not going to let them know it; safer to pretend otherwise for Gibbens, Teach's boatswain, and Rufus were trouble. Anyone who willingly sailed with Teach was either as crazed as a man who had quenched his thirst with salt water, or had brains boiled dry by the sun. In the case of these two dregs both instances applied. They were lunk-heads who punched first and asked questions after. If they assumed Jesamiah was drunk they were less likely to err on the side of caution.
Two more men slithered from the smoke-grimed shadows and sauntered up to stand behind Jesamiah. He could smell the nauseating stink of their unwashed bodies and the badness of their breath. He winced as one of them prolifically farted.
Gibbens sneered, showing a ragged half set of black teeth. "Our Cap'n wants what you owe Acorne. You sank our ship. You'll be payin' us for 'er. One way or t'other," He nodded, a single discreet movement towards the two men behind Jesamiah - and all hell broke loose.
As one of them went to grab at his shoulder Jesamiah was coming to his feet, his right hand drawing the cutlass at his left hip, slung from a bronze buckled strap aslant across his chest. The bench he had been sitting on tipped over, and his left hand lifted the table crashing it on to Rufus and Gibbens who were a heartbeat instant too late in reacting.
Jesamiah's reflexes were honed to a quick and precise speed. Half turning to his right in one fluid movement the cutlass swung upward and slashed the face of one of the men behind. Blood fountained in a gush of sticky red accompanied by a cry of pain and protest. He continued the turn, the blade, reaching the end of its arc, came down and forward again through the weight of its own momentum, amputating the arm of the second man as efficiently as a hot knife goes through butter.
Stepping aside, Jesamiah wiped the blood from his weapon on the coat of one of the fallen men, he dipped his head in acknowledgement to Gibbens and Rufus, who were scrambling, furious, from where they had been pinned behind the mess of the table.
"Tell Teach if he wants to speak to me he'll 'ave to come in person. I don't deal with his monkeys." Jesamiah sheathed the cutlass, bent to retrieve his hat from where it had fallen and, flipping a coin towards Nan, sauntered from the tavern as if nothing had happened.
In Bring It Close, Jesamiah is temporarily without his beloved ship, Sea Witch. He has to get from North Carolina to Virginia, so becomes an innocent passenger…
A week to get to Hampton Roads - an entire week.
The frustration had annoyed at first, but Jesamiah had employed the time wisely while waiting at Pilot Point near the mouth of the Pamlico River for a suitable Chesapeake bound vessel. The Point was expanding into a small hamlet, more than just an anchorage for ships awaiting an experienced pilot to take them up river.
Besides the pilot's house and offices, there were now chandlers' stores, two taverns, and a barber's. Jesamiah took advantage, had a professional haircut, shave and hot bath. Paid extra to have his clothes laundered as well, so it was a clean, fresh young man who paid his passage and stepped aboard the Judy James, heading for the Chesapeake, Hampton Roads and then to Annapolis in Maryland. He'd also had a stroke of luck while skulking in the pilot's office waiting for the fellow to sort a payment disagreement down by the jetty. Rifling through some promising looking charts, he had found an architectural plan for a house. He had slipped it into his copious pocket, along with several other items that could be of use in the future - old habits lingered for an ex-pirate - and realised he now had the perfect disguise for getting to Williamsburg unnoticed. No one would recognise him if he were to assume the guise of an architect eagerly seeking patronage in the blossoming town.
He purchased a leather bucket box, some more parchment and played his part well. Two people aboard the Judy James asked to see his designs; he showed them the one he had stolen and spoke convincingly of porticoes, cornices, foundations and load bearing walls - while having no idea what he was actually talking about. But neither did they so it was no matter.
The Judy James was a good little craft, short in the beam, but sprightly at sea. Jesamiah spent a while with the captain, trying not to show that he was an experienced sailor, although it must have noticed for Captain James remarked how at ease he seemed, even though the wind was not being kind and the Atlantic was somewhat rough. Jesamiah shrugged it off by saying he had inherited his sea legs from his father. A true-enough statement, but a low chuckle from behind his shoulder unsettled him. When he spun around, no one was there. He was still hearing his father's voice then.
Captain James had not noticed anything amiss and had continued praising his ship, explaining that the craft proudly carried his mother's name; a remarkable woman who had faced down a bear and an Indian, and as a girl had explored the forests near Jamestown. She lived in Williamsburg - the Captain offered to give the young, ambitious architect a letter of reference. "For you never know," he had said, "my mother may be able to help set you on the right path."
Jesamiah was gracious, thanked him; regretted that perhaps in other circumstances this Mistress Judy James would have been a delight to know. Privately, he doubted she would be keen on welcoming a man who, last time he was in Williamsburg, had been about to hang. Another delay had been the sailing time. Few ships sailed from, or entered, Pamlico Sound in the afternoons, only early mornings or at dusk, notwithstanding the run of the tide or the vagaries of the wind.
"Pirates, you see," James had explained. "Blackbeard himself lurks among the marshes of the Ocracoke. If he spots us then, pshht, we are goners." He had drawn his thumb across his throat in a gruesome manner. Jesamiah had added a suitable gasp of horror to those of the other passengers.
"But we'll be safe in the mornings and at dusk. The buggers are too drunk to wake with the sun and too busy getting drunk with its going down."
The pirate in him had immediately made Jesamiah realise that there was a fortune to be made by attacking at dawn or dusk. Still, he was no longer a pirate. He did not need the information. All the same, he looked with interest at another merchant ship sliding inward to the Pamlico as the sun began to warm the day and the Judy James skipped cheekily past the Ocracoke and the rabble of snoring scumbags.
"Bring It Close" by Helen Hollick
"Helen Hollick has it all! She tells a great story, gets her history right and writes consistently readable books!"
"In the sexiest pirate contest Jesamiah Acorne gives Johnny Depp's Jack Sparrow a run for his money."
"Sea Witch gives us everything we want in a grand pirate adventure - swashbuckling action, great villains, lovely women in distress, sea fights and adventures on land, all grounded in solid research that gives the book a real feel of authenticity. This is a terrific read for lovers of pirate tales, lovers of historical fiction, and lovers of great adventure stories."
James L. Nelson
"A wonderful swash-buckler of a novel. Fans of Pirates of the Caribbean will love this to pieces of eight! A fabulous splash of piratical adventure on the high seas. Prepare to be abducted by a devil-may-care pirate and enchanted by a white witch. Mayhem and magic, splendour and squalor, beautiful ships, dangerous pirates and wild women, Helen Hollick has written a fabulous historical adventure that will have you reading into the small hours!"