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When The Mermaid Sings

The swashbuckling world of pirate Jesamiah Acorne

I have a confession: I love pirate stories, I love high-seas swashbuckling, and I love fantasy. Imagine my delight upon discovering Helen Hollick’s Sea Witch Voyages series, which offers all three! Helen combines lovely writing with a true storyteller’s flair, and her pirate Jesamiah Acorne is an irresistible hero. Read on for a dispatch from Helen and an excerpt from her excellent tale When The Mermaid Sings, which tells the mesmerizing story of Jesamiah’s early days.

A dispatch from author Helen Hollick

A brief bit about the Sea Witch Voyages:

I wrote the first Voyage (Sea Witch) back in 2005 after thoroughly enjoying the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie. Like most avid readers, however, I wanted more than just the movie, I wanted to read something that was as entertaining and as exciting. A nautical adventure with a charming rogue of a pirate captain, written for adults (with adult content) but with a dash of supernatural fantasy as well – elements of which had made that first movie such fun to watch. I found many nautical-based novels, but they were all ‘serious stuff’ – Patrick O’Brian, Alexander Kent, C. S. Forrester … all good reads but without the fantasy fun, and barely a female character in sight. I simply could not find the book I wanted to read. So, I wrote my own.

The first Voyage led to more books in the series, and also generated several emails from fans who wanted to know how Jesamiah had become a pirate in the first place.

When the Mermaid Sings answers that question.

Excerpt from When The Mermaid Sings

Atlantic Ocean, June 1709

They chose Africa, but to take their time and aim, first, for the islands halfway across the Atlantic, the Azores, where trade and treasure ships of all nations – British, Dutch, French, Portuguese and Spanish, depending on who was at war with whom – headed to replenish food, water and cargo. Privateers and pirates alike lurked in those waters, eager for an easy Prize or two. With astute interest, Jesamiah passed his days by listening to all Captain Taylor could teach him about sailing, navigation, wind, weather and the ocean currents. Listened, as well, to Taylor’s knowledge of their intended destination.

“The Azores,” Taylor explained one evening in the comfort of his cabin, brandy to hand, “is a Portuguese-owned volcanic archipelago. Most Atlantic shipping, sailing east or west, head for the island of São Miguel – St Michael – to replenish stores, make repairs and sample the local wine. In between us, though, is a little over one thousand miles of unpredictable ocean. An easy journey if wind, weather and tide are clement, not so easy if storms blow up or a wind does not blow at all. I’ve been becalmed for weeks with food, water and tempers fast running out.”

With Barbados well behind them, the light winds became lighter, the calm seas calmer, Mermaid had been sailing sweetly, life aboard was pleasant and enjoyable, but with each hour, as the day grew nearer noon, their progress slowed. From her scudding through the great crests of white-capped rollers, Mermaid now ambled along, apparently unenthusiastic about reaching the Azores, let alone Africa. Even with every sail set, forming a pyramid of canvas from the largest to the smallest, even with the occasional drenching with buckets of seawater to stir a breeze among the spread of sail, Mermaid made snail’s-pace progress. Yet the windless days were no great alarm. They had water, even if it was green and brackish, and food aplenty: eggs from the hens – or meat if one shirked her daily duty too often – milk, cheese and butter from the three nanny goats. Fish in the sea to catch. Taylor continued to teach Jesamiah how to fight. Not the fancy footwork of the rapier schoolroom, but how to fight to win, to save your skin and life. How to fight dirty if needed. Lessons with cutlass, sword and rapier; with long-bladed knife and short-bladed dagger, fist and feet. Swordplay, dagger play, wrestling. Day after day, practice and practice with Taylor himself and the other men, until Jesamiah was as good as any one of them.

Their sessions were at dawn and dusk, when the heat was not so invasive, when the sails dripped with dew and the calm, blue sea was as smooth as a looking glass. There was nothing better, Jesamiah had discovered, when a vigorous sparring session was over, their semi-naked bodies slick, sticky and stinking with sweat, for he and Taylor to strip off their breeches and dive, naked, from the rail into that blue, blue sea, shattering the Mermaid’s almost-perfect reflection and the lazy stillness with their splashing and laughter. Among the men aboard, they were the only two who could swim. The others thought them a pistol short of powder, barking mad for enjoying the feel of the cold sea on their hot skin. Most seamen preferred to keep their bare feet firmly on deck. Who knew what was lurking beneath that deceptive calm?

When the wind did pick up enough to usher them forward with a slight curve to the sails and a faint cream of froth along the hull, they soon encountered floating mats of gold-coloured seaweed that enthralled Jesamiah. He had never seen anything like it.

“The Sargasso Sea stretches for several thousand nautical miles long, by several hundred wide,” Taylor said as they leaned over the rail, staring down at nature’s colourful spectacle.

“Will the rudder get snagged, or we get trapped in it?” Jesamiah asked, anxious. “Like a ship caught in ice?”

Taylor laughed, patted his shoulder reassuringly. “Nay, lad, the weed floats and parts before the bow as easily as does the sea. We will be fine – as long as we have a wind.” He added the last with a frown, pleased to feel a slight caress of breeze on his cheek.

Here, in the Sargasso, the sea was even bluer, even clearer. Looking over the side one afternoon, Mermaid braced aback and hove to for the men to haul in a turtle caught for fresh meat, Jesamiah could see his own face staring back at him: black hair plaited into an unruly queue, the fuzz of a beard along his jaw, an embryonic moustache trailing each side of his mouth. Frivolous, he waved at himself, and laughed as the reflection returned the gesture. He could see down and down into the depth well below Mermaid’s keel, twenty or so fathoms? A guess, of course, he had no idea. Fishes swam there, shoals flashed by full of swirling colour and movement. Then he drew back, his trance-like interest shattered by the shouts of his shipmates as they brought the hapless turtle aboard and called for Jesamiah to lend a hand to get it down into the stagnant water of the bilge. He was grateful for the distraction. He would not be looking, fascinated, down into the clear Sargasso Sea again. Would not be swimming in it, either.

His had not been the only face staring up at him from that depth of water, or the only hand waving. Pale skin, eyes as blue as the sky, golden hair – darkened by the water – floating in tendrils just as the Sargasso weed floated and swayed. A fish’s tail that shimmered and glistened as if covered in a million, shining jewels.

The mermaid.

 Learn the tru-ish story of how Helen Hollick met Jesamiah Acorne here:

A prequel short read story to the Sea Witch Voyages of Captain Jesamiah Acorne

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, Mermaid.

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 becomes a pirate and Captain of the Sea Witch.

Available on #KindleUnlimited.

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Amazon AU:

About Helen Hollick

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.

Learn more and connect with Helen




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  1. Mary Anne Yarde says:

    Thank you so much for hosting the blog tour for When The Mermaid Sings.

    All the best,
    Mary Anne
    The Coffee Pot Book Club

  2. Helen Hollick says:

    Thank you so much Amy, for hosting this last Port Of Call on my Voyage round the Blogs.
    Drop Anchor!

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