At the end of the month I shall be going off line for a time, how long is not certain; the reasons are many but the short version is I am not sure my work is valued and I need to re-evaluate my work. I have been pushing myself to get a few sales and a little recognition for two years and feel jaded. I think I deserve a rest, especially as none of the e-books are selling.
Here is the start of one of the newer stories I may work on during my absence:-
THE RISE OF THE PROSPERO
I stood atop the hills overlooking The Ship Inn at Saltburn-by-the-Sea in Teeside, England. I watched the rolling waves as my thoughts wandered and thought, “It’s easy to see why the bay had once been a smugglers hideaway-you have an easy slope to sail into with few currents and your hideout is easily defendable-with an open field of fire in all directions enabling you to withstand a siege.”
I was viewing the flat and pebbled approach to the Inn-when I witnessed a strange sea mist rolling but this mist was different from the usual sea mists. This mist had a denser consistency.
I was about to satisfy my curiosity about the mist, when a hand touched my shoulder and a friendly voice said, “Tha don’t want to down to there, laddy.”
I turned to see the person who had gave the warning and was greeted by the sight of a sailor in a cloth cap and a ragged rope-knit sweater, “What do you mean?” I gingerly asked.
The sailor replied, “You think, yon mist is from the sea; if you look and listen, you’ll find out.”
“I did wonder why the mist is denser than any I had seen.”
I did as the old sailor asked and listened to the sounds reaching us; the main sound reaching us was like the roar of a racing tide but having been told to listen, I opened my mind, “Is that cannon fire I can hear?”
I watched as two ships came around the headland. One flew a flag which was unknown to me and the other flew the flag of the crown; which meant the ship was from the excise men. The King’s ship came around the headland with cannons firing and forced the other vessel into the shallows. Knowing how treacherous the shore is, I waited and then heard the sound every seaman fears-no matter which flag he sails under-the sounds of his ship running aground and the timbers tearing apart as water floods the lower deck.
For a time I viewed the incident unfolding before me, and as I watched the ship that I assumed was a smuggler’s vessel -- the only reason for it to have been run aground was the ship was smuggling -- five men came wading through the waters and the King’s ship sent two longboats ashore.
The men stumbled up the pebbly beach, feet slipping on the wet rocks, and as they stumbled, they met a hail of musket fire from the excisemen. In a short time, all five lay dead on the rock-strewn beach, their blood rippling in the foamy waters and staining the rocks red.
“We got you, Harrison,” the captain of the guard called.
The soldiers were met by a volley of pistol fire from the inn as they returned to their longboats. The ensuing fire fight lasted only a few minutes: The men inside were not going to expose themselves to musket fire, and the soldiers could not possibly take the inn without a siege as the Ship Inn backed on to the steep cliffs behind, and the men inside had a clear field of fire. Any form of assault other than a siege would be futile.
“That was the end of the incident,” the old seaman said.
“How do you know this story?” I queried.
“I ran the inn for the next forty years, and my ghost is still here.”
“So you are…”
“Yes. I am John Andrew, ‘Big Jack,’ ‘King of the smugglers,’ and the most feared smuggler in the area.”
The sea is in my blood, and I never tire of watching the sea and all her ways. A week later, I once again looked out across the bay, and once again I saw what I thought might be the sea mist rolling in.
“Not again,” I muttered as I viewed the mist, which appeared to be thickening into the same grey, cloying fog that last week had hidden the ghosts of the past, as they had chased the smugglers ashore. “It can’t be happening again,” I muttered.
“Aye laddy, the fogs do come in bursts,” I heard a voice behind me reply. “We call them 'Smuggling fogs.' They cling to the shoreline; only a seaman from here -- or somebody desperate -- would try to get to land in these conditions.”
Out of the shadowy mist, I made out the shape of a vessel approaching the headland. “If I’m not wrong, isn’t that The Prospero heading ashore?”
“You’re right, lad, she’s coming in.”
“Her story said she was lost at sea in a storm that only John Andrew survived.”
“The story as told by John Andrew to hide the truth.”
“What did happen?”
My friend and I gazed into the mists as The Prospero sailed closer inland, still wide of the headland and under full sail. There was a terrible wrenching sound as she hit the hidden rocks and keeled over. Men trying to get to the boats were overshadowed by a tall figure with a ragged beard and long coat. In one hand he held a cutlass and in the other he held a grappling hook, the sort used to grab ropes as you board a ship. “Mad Jack” made an impressive figure as he stood on the gunnels and shouted to the crew, “Any man that follows me will be killed!”
The Prospero’s crew had sailed the seas and knew this to be no idle threat even though they out numbered him. They had seen him take four or five men down at a time in a fight.
Mad Jack leapt for the only boat and made for land; guns fired on the ship, a man fell to the floor, and from our distant position it was hard to see exactly who had been shot. My friend turned to me and said, “The dead man is Patrick Forrester, one time friend of John Andrew.”
Mason Friggett, mate on The Prospero called out, “We can’t get you today, but mark my words, Andrew, we will return to claim what is ours.”
“John Andrew; may you and you your family be cursed by the Ship Inn and may your spirits never leave the house,” Richard Jacklin, the coxswain yelled at the back of the rowing boat.
With the mist clearing, I could just make out the shapes of men climbing the rocks on the headland and coming around the point. The misty shrouds now moved towards the inn and engulfed the bay.
“What is happening now?” I asked.
“History is unfolding, and you are getting a chance to see the real John Andrew.”
“Andrew, we want our share,” called one voice.
Another yelled, “If you don’t give us our share, we’ll take the money by force this time.”
A voice from the inn yelled, “Simon Miggins, you always were a hothead, you can't get me.”
“This time John Andrew, we came prepared for your treachery.”
“Jacklin, I might have known you would be here; I never did trust you.”
The next instant we heard an unearthly roar as The Prospero let off a broadside. The four cannons fired and although landing short of the target, the cannonballs had the desired effect of unsettling Andrew for a short while, while adding to the mists a powdery haze that hid the men as they crawled up the pebbled beach. The windows were rocked and cracked by the shockwaves as the men, firing at will but with deadly accuracy, opened fire at the front where Andrew held his ground. One shot caught Andrew in the shoulder and forced him to drop his pistol as he spun to the floor.
“Right, get him!” shouted Jacklin.
The crew rushed forward and dragged the bleeding and severely wounded Andrew from the house.
“Where's our share of all the loot, Andrew?” asked Miggins. “We took the risks and did the fighting; all you did was plan the attacks and come in at the end to gain the victory and take our money.”
“Captain’s privileges, Mr. Miggins, and everything is tied to the house now; you can't get it,” Andrew laughed.
“Right men, we can’t have the money he owes, so we’ll take it out of him!” called Friggett. “Rope him up and we’ll take him to The Prospero.”
Jacklin remembered the strength of his former captain and set to beating him about the body and arms to weaken him, making sure that Andrew was semi-conscious as the crew tied him up and dragged him to the boat, heading out to sea and The Prospero.
The boat made oars for the ship, bobbing up and down in the surf despite the extra weight of the struggling John Andrew. Even from a distance, we were able to hear the curses as they drew nearer The Prospero. As the men neared the ship, Friggett yelled out, “Okay me hearties, let’s keel haul him!”
A small thin boy stepped forward; no older than fifteen but two years on the seas had aged him beyond his years. One length of rope was handed to young boy and he dived deep under her bows, rising on the other side with a smile. “Tis a fine swimmer you are, Paul Marler,” said Miggins as the boy climbed the ropes to get aboard again, carrying the rope in one hand.
The flailing figure of Andrew was beaten more as the crew tied both arms to the ends of the rope and then they dragged Andrew to the gunnels where they pushed their injured former captain overboard.
“Heave to lads,” called Miggins. “We don’t want us to be outdone by him dying on us.” The laughter from the crew that I heard was like an evil wind going over bones of the long dead. I watched in horror at this cruel punishment, which involves the man been dragged under the keel of the ship, barely able to breathe.
Andrew did seem to be breathing despite the gunshot wounds and the keel-hauling. I think the crew were counting on his immense strength to get him through as part of the punishment. Barely breathing, he was dragged out the last time, untied, and then sent ashore in his boat. When it reached the beach, the boat hit the pebbles and tipped him out onto the beach. The battered and beaten John Andrew crawled up the pebbles to his inn, leaving behind a trail of blood that covered the rocky slopes. When he got to the front door, he hauled himself up, took a breath, and then watched as his former crew made sail again.
My friend continued to tell me what was happening on board as we viewed her sail out of sight, “Right lads, set her sails for the seas, we have had our day,” Friggett called.
The Prospero rounded the headland and vanished from sight. I turned to query what had gone on, and all I saw was a whiff of pipe smoke as the old sailor disappeared.
I had become so engrossed in the action below I had not seen a number of local people gathering around me. One gent seeing my puzzlement, said, “You were talking to Paul Marler.”
I asked, “What did become of The Prospero after she left?”
“We never found out as there are no family names in the area of the crew members and no records of the ship at all. She could have changed names, been involved in a fight and lost with all hands, or gone down in a storm; we will never know.”
“Is the curse true?”
“There are records as late as 2009 of a presence in the inn. One is of a young girl, and the other is of a pirate in search of his daughter. Records show that Andrew had a daughter, and she died of diphtheria, aged 4. I leave the judgement to you, my friend.”
My story may be fiction based on fact, but John Andrew did live and had a daughter die at the inn of diphtheria. Here is a link to a recent investigation.