by Helen Hollick
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For two reasons, (apart from it’s a cracking good story!) I thought I would share a little of Voyage Three – Bring It Close with you.
Reason One: Blackbeard is on any lover of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies at the moment for the wonderful actor, Ian McShane plays him in the fourth episode – On Stranger Tides.
And secondly, I thought I would share with you how I blend historical fact with imaginative adventure.
In Bring It Close, Jesamiah Acorne, Captain of the Sea Witch, has accepted a pardon of amnesty against his misdeeds of piracy, but old enemies do not forget the past. In particular Edward Teach – Blackbeard himself – 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 a 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 gift of Craft from the black-hearted pirate who has sold his soul to the devil.
With Sea Witch damaged and himself wounded, Jesamiah must take stock of the situation – but arrested for acts of piracy how is he to clear his name, avoid the noose, keep Tiola safe and put an end to Blackbeard - all while being haunted by the ghost of his father?
From the Bahamas to North Carolina and Williamsburg in Virginia Bring It Close moves at a swashbuckling pace. There is intrigue, misunderstandings, romance and adventure – all wrapped up in a blend of supernatural fantasy and a sailor’s yarn of a good read!
I researched my facts for this novel – sailing detail, the hstory of the tobacco trade – Colonial Williamsburg – and Blackbeard.
I figured – who was to say that my pirate, Jesamiah Acorne was not the one who was responsible for the death of Blackbeard? As he says in my story: “Don’t you go writing my name in that logbook of yours. You can take all the credit, not me. Savvy?”
One of the “facts” about Blackbeard, he was on the wrong side of sane. He enjoyed making his crew suffer, and one of his exploits was to burn sulphur down in the closed hold and make the men sit there – a parody of hell.
So here is my interpretation of historical fact as historical fiction:
Chapter Twenty Six
Sunday 10th November
Hell, Teach maintained, was nothing to fear. It was Heaven, he claimed, that scared the shite out of him. All that praying and confessing. All those do-gooders and holy singing angels.
“Give me tha Devil,” he roared as he stood on the beach on Sunday morning, “give me tha lust and tha greed o’ tha Devil!”
Charles Vane had started the tirade. News of Stede Bonnet’s capture and hanging had unsettled them all, several of the men wanted to take a vote to leave the Ocracole, to sail across to Africa, lie low for a while.
“None of us fancy going to hell, Teach!” Vane had cried. “Not even you, were you to admit the truth.”
“I bain’t afeared of nothin’. ‘Specially not hell. It be a fine place for men who call themselves men.”
That said, Teach had promptly set about proving it.
Common practice to clean a ship’s hold of rats and fleas by lighting pots of tar and brimstone and leaving the noxious, sulphurous vapour to fumigate the closed space. Not common practice for men to sit there amidst the suffocating stink and smoke, but that was what Teach insisted on. To show them what Hell was like and that he, Edward Teach, Blackbeard, the Devil’s own, could tolerate the foul conditions better than they could. And when Teach got an idea into his head, no matter how ludicrous, his men did as he bade them. Or died.
Blackbeard sat there on a barrel at the head of the circle, like a king on his throne, his pistol – primed and cocked – was set across his lap, his threat taken seriously that the first one to run would be shot. One by one the pots were lit, began to burn giving off a red smoke.
Jesamiah frowned. Sulphur did not usually burn that colour, Teach must have added something else to the pots.
It was not too bad for those first few minutes; the smell was most unpleasant, but used to the acridness of gunpowder, to which sulphur was added, it was bearable. There was one lantern set on a keg in the centre of the circle, its flame a patch of yellow, but all else in the darkened hold was obscured as the red smoke began to turn into a heavy, noxious fug, burning like all the fires of hell.
Jesamiah grimaced as the smell became gut-wrenchingly putrid. It was like having a length of burning match stuffed up his nose. Seated a little to Blackbeard’s left he could hear rats squeaking and scratching, desperate to get out. They would not have much luck. There were no holes in the hull and the scuttle hatch was shut tight. They were all to suffocate down here, rats and men.
Loosening his shirt, Jesamiah pulled the collar up across his mouth and nose, held it there with his hand. It helped his breathing a little but did nothing to stem the watering of his eyes.
Several of the men had taken the faded bandannas from their heads and had tied them across their faces. Teach was just sitting there, arms folded. Was he human? Surely he could not be?
Shutting his streaming, stinging eyes Jesamiah tried to concentrate on something else, something pleasant. Tiola. He was beginning to think he was never going to see her again. What was she doing now? Curse Edward bloody Teach! Jesamiah wanted to be with his wife, to make love to her; did not want this constant killing.
Several of the men were coughing. Jack Rackham was muttering a prayer and whimpering. He was a good sailor and a fancy dresser, with his love of finery and the calico cloth, but he was not the bravest of men. Vane was swearing under his breath between gasped splutters.
Gibbens started up to his feet, but the click of Teach’s pistol made him sit again, his body bending over in great coughs.
“This is ridiculous, Teach! You’ll damn kill us all quicker than any bloody Navy battle! You enjoy your creation of hell if you wish. I have had enough of it.” Israel Hands. He had been with Teach from the first. From the days several years back when they had jumped ship from the Navy and started a more profitable life of piracy under the command of Benjamin Hornigold.
Hornigold had taken amnesty, was one of Governor Roger’s advisers along with Henry Jennings now. Perhaps they had been right to see sense? Israel Hands had been the only one to remain as Teach’s true friend, no matter what he did. But this was going too far. They were all going to die down here in this dreadful stink of brimstone. Someone had to make a break for it and Teach would shoot any one of his crew without a second thought. But Hands? Would he shoot his friend?
“Thee leave here, Israel, an’ I mean my word. I’ll shoot thee.”
His eyes running with tears, breath choking in his suffocating lungs, Israel shook his head, “Then shoot me Teach. I don’t particularly care anymore.” He went up the ladder and began pushing the hatch cover aside.
With utter calmness, with no apparent reaction to the stench or smoke, with no qualm of conscience or remorse for the ending of a friendship, Teach levelled his weapon and fired.
The bullet slammed into Isiah’s knee, shattering the kneecap. He shrieked – and every man leapt to his feet and bolted for the hatch, the first ones there scooping Hands up and carrying him out to the fresh, clean air. Jesamiah and Charles Vane among them.
“The man’s insane!” Vane spluttered through gasps for breath, his mouth opening and closing as if he were a fish. “Utterly stark, staring mad! If he thinks I am going to sail with him he has another think coming! Bugger knows what he will dream up next!”
He never even looked at Israel Hands who lay groaning on the deck losing blood and consciousness. Instead, Vane was gesturing wildly for his men to start climbing down into the longboat.
“Are you coming, Rackham? I am leaving. Teach can keep his hell to himself.”
Jack Rackham, Calico Jack, hesitated.
“You are welcome to stay with me,” Jesamiah said as he used his knife to rip a Spanish flag into strips to bind around Isiah’s shattered knee. “I’ll be leaving here soon too. Come with me?” Rackham was a little naïve, perhaps, a little too much in love with the simple life, but a good fellow. Fun.
Vane was in the boat, ready to give order to push off. The tide was on the flood; if they hurried they could set sail and negotiate the shifting channels and hidden sandbars without too much fuss. “You coming, Rackham?”
Apologetically, and with a grin that made him look more like a naughty boy than a fearsome pirate, Rackham spread one hand. “I’ll not get my own ship with you, Jes. I’m sorry. And anyway, you have your wife. You’ll not be wanting a whoremonger like me around her, will you?”
That was true. Jack Rackham could coax a woman into his bed faster than an anchor dropped. “You take care then, Calico Jack.” Jesamiah shook hands with his friend then turned his attention to saving Israel Hands’ leg.
He doubted he would be successful.
Except for the rats Edward Teach sat alone in the hold. The air had started to clear once the hatch had been opened, but there was still enough smoke and foulness to create the hellish fire and brimstone illusion he had intended.
“Thee bist all cowards!” he bellowed. “Lily-livered dregs! Not one o’ thee be fit t’sail with me! I be Blackbeard tha Devil’s own! Tha most notorious pirate on tha Spanish Main!”
“Except you are not, are you, Edward? Vane is more notorious than you. Few of your men are prepared to stay loyal, and your ship is a leaking hulk. You are finished, Edward. Finished.”
There was another in the hold. A figure sitting where Acorne had sat. Their appearance was alike, same facial expression; same build. For a moment Teach thought it was Acorne, damn him. He should have shot him long before now, but then, he did dearly want the Sea Witch for his own, and as much as it galled him to admit it, he was not going to get her without Acorne’s initial aid.
The man sitting there was not Acorne. It was his father. Charles St Croix Mereno.
Blackbeard chortled. “So, this be where thee ended up? In tha pits of Hell!”
“No Edward, I am not yet there. You are invited there ahead of me. The arrangements are made.”
“I ‘ave a pact with tha Devil. I bain’t goin’ t’ die.”
“I am sorry to disappoint you, Edward. You have been misinformed.”
Teach swore, slapped his thighs, started coughing, his face turning puce as he struggled for breath. He was choking but he made himself turn his back on the phantom, walk triumphant, with dignity, up the ladder.
Only in the privacy of his great cabin did he throw open the stern window and take in great gulps of air. He refused to notice that his hands were shaking.
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by Helen Hollick
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