Intrigue and Treachery in a Sunlit Land
Pretenders War - Death, Betrayal, Intrigue & Treachery In a Sunlit Land
A novel of the 'Age of Sail' in an alternative history to the one we know.
It is Spring 1782. Saddled with debt, Lieutenant Randall Chastain of His Catholic Majesty's ship Audacity arrives on the Caribbean Station and sets out to obtain wealth by any means possible. But his activities soon attract the attention of traitors within the Navy intent on aiding King Carlos of Spain. Through siege, battle, rebellion and war he must enter this world of intrigue if he means to survive.
Released from duty, the starboard watch gathered below on the mess deck of Audacity. Here was where the crew ate, slept, fought and prayed. Matthew Makepeace and his mate, Jacob Varghese, were drinking small beer while smoking Trinidad leaf, well-pleased with the feel of the ship. They were heading home at last. Makepeace was a taciturn man, a former ostler and pot boy for a tavern outside Cirencester, bred to the land. But he was in his forties now and had been at sea for almost twenty years. While a young man he had taken a shine to the tavern-keeper's daughter, with predictable consequences. Unwilling any longer to suffer the wry comments of his customers over a belly getting too big to conceal, the landlord had forced his daughter to cry rape. Makepeace was taken up. But he escaped hanging by volunteering for His Majesty's Navy just in time to join the Carnatic War being fought along the Mughal Shore.
“Not that I would not be ashore right now,” said Jacob. “There was a fille de joie at The Pearl on Antigua” - and here he kissed his fingertips in universal admiration - “who would stiffen even the Pope, excusing my English.”
“Excused mate,” replied Matthew. “Excused.”
“But I was a sailor before that devil ship Colossus took me from home and family. And a sailor I remain, even if it is in foreign seas.”
Jacob had been pressed out of a Genoese merchantman many years before. He was a black-haired, black-hearted devil but Matthew liked him. Wicked of temper, worse with a knife. He had a crooked nose and a battered, simple-seeming face. Hairy hands but no beard, a limp from a broken bone that never quite healed. Stupid men thought a cripple no match. But it was his hands that did the damage, with one knife or two. Jacob drew on his pipe, held the smoke in his lungs and breathed it out through his nose.
“You never sailed the great oceans then?” asked Matthew. “Never saw the Cape nor the Carribee till now, the far northern seas?”
“I never did,” said Jacob, taking a swig of beer and grimacing. “But you never saw Genoa neither. Never drank wine during the festa dei fiore. Nor sat in the Piazza Raffaele seducing a beautiful girl. Saw dawn come up over the castello after making love to that girl.”
Matthew eyed his mate admiringly and drew on his pipe, filling the cubby in which they sat with aromatic smoke. Caribbean women were all very well, he thought. And women for rent were very necessary. But he had touched in Spanish ports before the war. And though years had passed he could never quite forget olive skin, dark eyes under full lashes, tanned legs wrapped around his body. If afterwards she said “una plata, senhor” and taken what she thought fair from the coins upon the table, it changed nothing.
“I never did,” Matthew admitted, getting up to fetch down the roasting pan from its hook, while Jacob reached under the counter for the coffee beans. “Why, you make me not to miss old London Town at all,” he grinned, “and that would never do.”
“So where do we go?” Jacob asked. He was a brave enough sailor and had no love for the French, he being Genoese. But Matthew knew he also longed to see his home again and had often talked of deserting in some port where he could work his passage back.
“Well, if I was an officer I would know for sure,” Matthew said, lighting a small stove in the galley next door. “Word is we go to New York. Perhaps to fight the Frenchies. Maybe Antigua, the long ways around. If we do, why next we will storm the forts on Martinique and set up as kings.”
“I will not,” Jacob replied, swirling the skillet to roast the beans evenly. “We Genoese care nothing for kings. And I do not like the girls in Martinique. They file their teeth.”
Martin Hilyard is the son of a Polish father conscripted into the German army and liberated during the Normandy landings. His father was an affectionate but distant and deeply religious man. Martin is an atheist but some of his earliest memories are of sonorous Latin chants, incense, the chime of quiet bells summoning the divine. He wrote poetry in school, science-fiction later, mostly (completely) for his own enjoyment.
He went to India as a teenager: the Mughal palaces and imperial reminders of the Raj. The high Karakorams, the timelessness of Srinagar. The bustle and drama of Bombay. Then university, a fairly sterile time but he loved the histories he discovered of unfamiliar countries and unremembered times.
He settled in Liverpool in the 1980s. There he learned that we can’t always change the world but in trying to the world may change us. He became interested in role-playing games, creating history-based sagas, realising how much he enjoyed shaping worlds then having his design overthrown by the characters that entered his world.
Martin has returned to writing to share through story-telling something of what he believes. He has a charming, homely, loving partner and they live in a forever home in Liverpool. He is personable, engaging, serious, a thinker and listener, gets on well with people, works hard and likes to write quickly and fluently. He likes nothing better than conversation. So if you're ever in Liverpool, stand him a pint on a Saturday afternoon.