Friday, 18 April 2014

Any Means To An End - Synopsis & Excerpt

ISBN 9781781760048 
Publisher FeedARead
Synopsis
 In this prize winning novel (Rosetta Press 2012), diaries are uncovered detailing the life and times of Richard Buchanan. He is an English Navy officer leading a gang of sailors through the blue water Caribbean to the grey of the Baltic. They wreak havoc on enemy shipping, pirates and those who act outside the law. Donating their prizes to the Crown they are welcomed back to the fold and entrusted with more missions. Finding intrigue, murder and romance along the way, will Richard ever settle down in his beloved South Shields?
An Excerpt
Thursday 8th January 1680
It’s about time we were back sailing under our true colours.  When we left Tortuga back in October we went under a French Letter of Commission.  After the debacle in Guadeloupe, we have mainly been pretending to be Dutch.  Now we’re back as part of the blue squadron.  Not that the real blue squadron would recognise us officially, but I’ve a naval commission and I’m sure they wouldn’t turn down an offer of help if it were needed, just like when Morgan took Port Royal.
Anyway, that’s enough idle dreaming.  I’m sure the French have got a bounty on our heads now for the death of Monsieur Riviere.  With any luck we’ll be able to slip out of the Caribbean along the South American coast.
The day started cloudy and then darkened. Another storm was blowing up.  White horses charged across the ocean from behind us.  We have been able to run in front of the storm so far, but I’m not sure if we’ll be able to keep the two ships together overnight.  The Siren is bobbing up and down like a cork in these waves.  It feels bad enough in this ship, which is almost double the size of the sloop.  Bess knows where we’re headed.  I just hope that she can follow us through the night or rejoin us at La Blanquilla.  The standing order is this, “If you can, make it to the rendezvous.  If you can’t wait there, move to the next one and repeat that process until we meet up again”.
I’ve been along to see Hannah in her quarters this afternoon to see if she can calm the waves down a bit, but she assures me they’d be even worse than what they were already if she wasn’t doing her chants and candle magic.  Her cabin has a sword laid out on what appeared to be an altar with candles, goblets burning incense, and pentacle drawn out.  She asked for more space and so shifted her accoutrements into my larger cabin space. She then started moving the furniture about to her needs.  I left her to it.
Going out on deck, this looked like it was going to be worse than the storm that swept Charles Walters away on the eleventh of November.  What light had been available went at sunset, leaving just the lanterns swinging violently around their mountings on the Delft.  Off in the distance, unable to keep up with us as we ran before the wind, the Siren’s lights got further behind us.  After two more hours into the night, with most of the sails reefed and everything battened down, the storm seemed to swallow them up.
Amid all the shouting on deck, the lashing of wind, rain and sea, I’d quite forgotten what was afoot in my cabin and just went in as normal, blithely turning to hang my soaked sea coat on a peg by the door.  Spinning around to cross the room, I was confronted by the image of a tanned imp, calmly sat in the centre of a circle and pentagram marked in chalk on the floor.
“Close the door please,” Hannah commanded me and then, “You may observe.”
I sat down and watched in wonder as an eerie lavender glow appeared around this young lady and then bursts of light seemed to shoot out from her through the ships sides and into the night.  A lot of the rays seemed to go aft, as if after the Siren.  It was as if she was trying to pull the other ship towards us and at the same time calm the waves.
“I shall keep this up until the storm has abated,” she interrupted herself.  It was clear that I couldn’t help her and that she didn’t want to be stopped, so I sat down to write.

Friday 9th January 1680
I awoke this morning to glorious sunshine, shining in through the cabin window.  Hannah was still in the room tidying up.  Looking out of the glass, I could see the Siren sailing along just behind us, none the worse for the storm.
Up on deck, Dutch was using the astrolabe to check our position.  We’d gone about 50 miles overnight but had been blown past Orchilla towards La Tortuga.  He then corrected the course back to the northeast, towards La Blanquilla.
Albert Scott prepared a hearty breakfast to warm the crew up after such an arduous night, and also get them set up for a day of maintenance and repairs to the battered ship.  Signals from the Siren confirmed that they had survived and were starting repairs also.  The heavy swell continued in the aftermath of the storm. That continued to slow the progress of our journey.  In many respects, the storm and the repairs it caused are useful, as it kept an otherwise idle crew busy.
Saturday 10th January 1680
The wind continued to blow, but less strongly than yesterday.  Both ships moved along quickly, running at about ten to fifteen knots.  At this rate, we should be at La Blanquilla by tomorrow morning.  A couple of sails have been seen on the horizon but no attempt was made to chase and neither did they turn towards us.
More drilling took place to practice firing the guns, whereby first the Siren towed a target and then we on the Delft towed one.  The gun crews with the most accurate shooting were given extra grog with their evening meal.  The repairs to sails, rigging and spars are complete now.

Sunday 11th January 1680
As expected, not long after dawn, clouds on the horizon signalled the approaching island.  Not long after that, La Blanquilla came into view and both ships slipped through the waves towards it.
The Delft anchored a bit further off the shore than the Siren with its shallower draught.  On this side of the island there was just a shelving beach, though we could see over to the east, that there was a rocky outcropping and reefs breaking up the waves.
 Being only forty yards off the beach, and the Siren even closer, all the boats were quickly launched and those not in them were jumping overboard and swimming to the shore.  From his high point atop the main mast, Tranter called down that we were, it seemed, the only ones on the island.
Tyrell and Pierce were sent off with an armed party of ten to scour the island for any hidden supply or people hiding out here.  The remaining men on the beach were sent to hunt out driftwood and wildlife that might do for food and a fire.  After that, the crew divided into two teams, and had a game of football before the sun reached its zenith.  The fire was lit; birds and fish were prepared and roasted. Those who could swam in the warm water and the rest just splashed about.
I had decided to swim to the shore and, after hanging up my kit to dry out, I took a walk with Bess along the beach to discuss plans for the coming few days, as well as how I’d like attacks on shipping to proceed using both boats to full advantage.  Rather than putting anything down in writing, we sat down and drew the plans in the sand where the waves would soon wash away any evidence.
Returning to the main group, I noticed that Hannah had come ashore but slipped away from the main group into the scrub behind the beach.  Back with the others and helping myself to some snapper, the rest of the afternoon was spent on the beach, with the men practicing swordplay with each other and then races along the beach.
Eventually, the search party returned with a small chest of gold coins.  These were counted and recorded and sent on to the Siren.  It made sense to divide the prize monies into being stored on board both ships, just in case we lost one, but in proportion related to the numbers of crew on each ship.
Packing up and clearing the beach of clues to our presence, we departed before sunset to the east to head for our next stop at Los Testigos.

Monday 12th January 1680
The wind picked up from about midnight, and the Siren started to edge out in front of the Delft, as our tacks were longer.  By dawn, they were well ahead of us when a sail came over the horizon.
The Siren turned towards it, and signalled that it was going to have a meeting.  Through the telescope I could make out that the other ship had agreed to the meeting, but as in all instances in these waters, it could just be a ruse.  I hoped that Bess knew how to deal with this, and whether she was going to let Tyrell appear on deck and do the negotiations.  Her normal appearance may raise eyebrows on the other ship and cause them to think “Pirate!” straight away.   I was prepared to see how this all played out. After all, I had all of the plunder on board the Delft apart from the single chest put on the Siren yesterday.
The distance between the two ships shrank quickly.  Closing on them slowly, I could see that the other ship was an English corvette and that discussions were proceeding amicably.  Tyrell had kept the flags flying all the time.  Through the spyglass, I’d not seen Bess on deck at all, which was probably best.  An English naval commander would be surprised to see her in charge of what was supposed to be an English armed merchantman.
Having said that, I was surprised to see it so far south, on its own!  It had to be a trap!
We were only a couple of hundred yards away when I saw Tyrell look at me through the telescope and I ran up the black flags.
He had a stroke of brilliance telling the other ship’s officers he was being chased by pirates.  They, playing their part well, decided to take us on first and leave the smaller ship until later.  Moving back to their ship, and edging away towards us, Bess then appeared on deck barking orders to the Siren crew to open fire.  The other ship, “The Falcon” then had ships on either side of its hull start firing at close range; two guns from the Siren, five from the Delft.
The Falcon raised a black flag too.  No one would be taking prisoners. This was going to be a fight to the death.  Chain and canister shot raked the decks of all three ships.  Hopefully, being lower, the Siren was following agreed orders and firing ball and explosive shot into the Falcon’s side.  The Falcon seemed to be under strength in its gunnery teams, as only four of its ten possible guns were firing after the first broadside had gone.
Circling around the Falcon, the Delft was given an unprotected side to fire at, as they were reloading on the other side.  Bess hadn’t been following orders, the hull was untouched.  The canister shot kept firing and the Delft took a hit below the waterline. 
“We’re taking on water, Captain!” called Smith.
The Falcon got closer, so rather than stay on board a sinking ship, I yelled out “It’s time to board”.
Grapples were thrown, connected and the crew stopped firing.  The Siren came around, saw what was happening and thankfully stopped firing its main guns too.  They then went around the other side and joined in the boarding from their boat.
Once on board, it didn’t take too long to subdue the crew, the parley with the Siren had drawn most of them onto their deck and they had been cut down by the first few volleys of canister shot.  The deck was a mess, slippery with guts and blood.


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