A prequel story to the Sea Witch Voyages of Captain Jesamiah Acorn
When the only choice is to run, where do you run to?
When the only sound is the song of the sea, do you listen?
Or do you drown in the embrace of a mermaid?
Throughout childhood, Jesamiah Mereno has suffered the bullying of his elder half-brother. Then, not quite fifteen years old, and on the day they bury their father, Jesamiah hits back. In consequence, he flees his Virginia home, changes his name to Jesamiah Acorne, and joins the crew of his father’s seafaring friend, Captain Malachias Taylor, aboard the privateer, Mer-maid.
He makes enemies, sees the ghost of his father, wonders who is the Cornish girl he hears in his mind – and tries to avoid the beguiling lure of a sensuous mermaid…
An early coming-of-age tale of the young Jesamiah Acorne, set in the years before he be-comes a pirate and Captain of the Sea Witch.
The Reverend Garrick was not in a congenial mood. Which was not unusual when the weekly composition of his lengthy Sunday sermon was not going to his liking. He had been called away that mid-morning to spiritually attend a sick man, one of the village’s poorer fishermen. The rain had soaked through his clothing, and on reaching the cottage – hovel, more like – he found the wretched man to be already dead. A fact he considered to be most inconsiderate of the man himself, and his newly-made widow.
“A wasted journey,” he grumbled yet again, as his wife began to clear away the remains of the family’s frugal bread, cheese and ale supper. The Reverend could well afford better fare, but considered extra expense to be gluttony and therefore unnecessary.
“These people have no respect for their betters,” he complained, frowning as his wife made no response to her husband’s comment, but handed the last piece of bread, spread with home-churned butter, to the youngest of her surviving brood, her daughter.
The girl, Tiola, thanked her mother, but tore the chunk in half to share it with her next-eldest brother, eleven-year-old Bennett, three years her senior. She should have kept her attention on the bread, instead, she said, “Would it not have been better for them to have summoned old Agnes Pollock? Her knowledge of herbs and potions might have been more useful than prayers and sermons.”
Within five minutes, the girl found her face to be red and stinging from the harsh blow her father had dealt, her mouth foul from the taste of salt water, administered to cleanse her tongue of blasphemy, and the door to her small attic chamber bolted, with the promise that it would not be unlocked until she mended her ungodly ways.
She did not mind her room, nor the prospect of several days of solitude – anything that meant she could avoid her father was always a boon. She had a window through which, when the shutter was thrown wide, she could gaze out across the cliffs to the sea, and wonder where the boy with the black hair was now, what he was doing, who he was with. She had these, and other, thoughts for company, and was well used to being confined to her room, welcomed it as an escape, not as a punishment.
Outside, the rain had turned to snow. Tiola snuggled into her bed, warmed by woollen blankets and a goose-down quilt, listening to the raised voice of her father seeping up from the kitchen two floors below. His words were always spoken loud, the volume increasing with righteous indignity. She knew that she was right about Agnes, but knew, also, that she should not have spoken aloud. The vehement statement of, ‘It is time an end was put to the devil’s witch!’ reached her ears, followed soon after by a crash of the front door as it slammed shut.
Wrapping the quilt around her shoulders, Tiola went to the window, watched as her father walked with long, purposeful strides, towards the village, his boots leaving dark prints in the settling snow. Heard, an hour later, the blood-stirred shouts of men, saw the bobbing lights of many smoke-streaming tar torches, and then the blaze of a fire up on the cliff height, red, orange, yellow and black smoke against the white flutters of snow.
There had been screams too, drifting on the wind, an old woman’s pleas for mercy. Mercy? The Reverend Garrick had no sense of the word, nor did the villagers when their blood was stirred by the false claims of a man who was the mainstay of the area and who they looked up to and respected. For all that the respect was mistakenly given. Nor was there respect for the law, not when the nearest judge was more than twenty miles away in Truro, nor when the old ways and beliefs of doing things persisted in the minds of bigoted people.
As she watched the fire on the clifftop, tears filled Tiola’s eyes. Witches, men like her father insisted, were the devil’s own, and the only way to cleanse a possessed soul was by the heat of fire. But an old woman, with wrinkled, brown-marked skin, who muttered to herself, who lived on her own with a cat for company and a goat for milk, who had knowledge of healing and herbs was not a witch, just an old woman.
Witches kept themselves hidden, for they were the Wise Ones of Light who healed and cared, not killed or maimed. The Craft of the White Witch was passed, in secret, from grandmother to granddaughter, and although her Gift was not yet full awoken, Tiola did not need the Sight to know that it was not old Agnes who was the witch, but herself.
Thank you, Helen Hollick and The Coffee Pot Book Club
About the Author
First published in 1994, Helen became a USA Today Bestseller with her historical novel, The Forever Queen (titled A Hollow Crown in the UK) with the sequel, Harold the King (US: I Am The Chosen King) being novels that explore the events that led to the Battle of Hastings in 1066. Her Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy is a fifth-century version of the Arthurian legend, and she writes a nautical adventure/fantasy series, The Sea Witch Voyages. She is now branching out into the quick read novella, ‘Cosy Mystery’ genre with her new venture, the Jan Christopher Murder Mysteries, set in the 1970s, with the first in the series, A Mirror Murder incorporating her, often hilarious, memories of working as a library assistant.
Her non-fiction books are Pirates: Truth and Tales and Life of A Smuggler. She lives in an eighteenth-century farmhouse in North Devon, runs Discovering Diamonds, a review blog for historical fiction, and occasionally gets time to write..
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