LOVEDAY  REVENGE
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THE LOVEDAY REVENGE      extract

 

PROLOGUE

Adam Loveday was running hard. It was night and the moon gave little light through the foliage of the wood. The tree trunks were dark cathedral pillars, their branches linked overhead like a vaulted ceiling. He veered to avoid them, the ground mist swirling upwards blurring his vision. Around him the bracken was waist high, hampering his speed. Impatiently, his hands pushed the fronds aside and he cursed the closely packed stems that wound around his legs, threatening to trip him with every step. A man could easily hide here and a pursuer pass within a few feet and not see him. But this was not the time for hiding.
He paused briefly to get his bearings. Every sense was alert to danger. His heart was thundering in his chest, almost suffocating him in its intensity, and the night air fanned the sweat that drenched his body. No landmark was recognisable amongst the towering oaks. He swung round scanning the landscape. His eyes, accustomed to the darkness, detected a thinning in the trees to his right. On the wind blowing from the direction of the moor he could smell the dankness of peat and gorse. That way lay treacherous bogs that could suck a man into their cold embrace if he lost his way on the secret tracks.
Fear tightened his throat, tasting bitter as bile, and his rasping breath echoed in his ears. It was not caused by panic that tonight could end in his death, although that was a possibility; it was dread that retribution would be denied him. Defeat was not an option he would consider. Too much depended on the outcome of this confrontation. Loyalty to his family made his own life insignificant. He owed it to those dear to him who had sacrificed their lives to uphold the family honour and pride. Tonight justice demanded revenge.
Ahead of him the sound of a body crashing through the undergrowth was easily discernible. It was closer, the pace unrelenting, driven by desperation.
There could be no escape. Destiny had dealt its hand. The confrontation was long overdue.
He increased his speed. The mist thinned, revealing the figure of a thickset man. Adam raised his pistol and drew back the firing hammer. 'Stop or I shoot!'
The form lunged into the veil of surrounding bracken, diving to the ground. The thickening mist further obscured Adam's vision and an eerie stillness hung over the wood. Then a burst of coarse laughter was followed by a challenge.
'Loveday, are you ready to die!' his tormentor bellowed.
Adam clutched the pistol, his arm outstretched ready to fire as he slowly circled, searching for sight of his enemy.
Without warning the figure attacked from behind. Adam's legs were kicked from under him and he fell to the ground. Instinctively he rolled, but as he came up on his knee to rise, a pistol was cocked close to his ear. Time spun out and expanded with ethereal slowness. Harry Sawle's face was a foot from his own, the pistol barrel cold against Adam's temple. Hatred contorted the smuggler's features. They had been adversaries for years. Was this how it was to end? It was Adam's last thought before the trigger was pulled.
There was no blinding flash, just an ominous click. The weapon had misfired. Adam sprang to his feet, his hands reaching for Sawle's throat, and the two men fell to the ground with Adam's weight on top of the smuggler. His fingers pressed harder. Sawle's eyes bulged with terror, his hands on Adam's arms rapidly losing their strength. This was the moment of Adam's triumph. Sawle would die for his part in Edward Loveday's death, and for the brutality he had inflicted on other members of Adam's family.
'Adam, stop!'
The voice shocked him into loosening the pressure of his fingers. Sawle lay unmoving on the ground beneath him, but his harsh gasps for breath told that he was still alive. Adam stared at the shadowy figure emerging out of the mist.
'There is no honour in murder. This man is not worth you endangering your immortal soul. Only the law can judge him and claim his life.'
Adam cried out. He was shaking violently as he stared into the darkness where the vision of his father had been. But now there was no man. No mist. No trees. No body lying prone beneath his hands. Only a memory of mocking laughter.
'Good Lord, Adam, you look as though you have seen a ghost.' His wife Senara was gently shaking his shoulders as she sat up in bed next to him.
Adam groaned and shook his head. The dream had been too real. It haunted him still. 'I had hunted down Sawle. The time for revenge had come. I had his throat between my hands and the moment of his death was upon him. Then my father appeared. Real and solid and no ghost. He told me that was not the way. He was angrier than I had ever seen him. He told me that the law should deal with Sawle; that I must not have his blood on my hands.'
'Edward was a wise man. When revenge is governed by hatred, it can bring no good upon the perpetrator. The feud between Sawle and your family has raged for a decade. This dream is an omen.'
'You would say that.' He placed a trembling hand on his brow. 'You see omens and premonitions in everything.'
'You may mock my gypsy blood, but I am rarely wrong. I believe in an afterlife. This was Edward's way of warning you. If you kill Sawle, then you will be guilty of murder and will face the noose. Nothing will stop you pursuing the smuggler for his crimes against your family, but only the law can judge him and mete out justice.'
She gripped his arm, her eyes round with fear. 'Promise me you will heed this dream.'
Adam would give his life to spare the woman he loved suffering, but he would give her no false promises.
'I will remember the dream.'
He did not tell Senara that the dream had also shown that Sawle would do everything in his power to kill him.



CHAPTER ONE

May 1799

The black-painted hull of the cutter sliced through the waves with a speed few others of its class could match. The dozen sailors were hardened and experienced and kept a wary eye upon the coastal waters for any sign of danger. All but a single sail had been trimmed, for the sliver of moon in the midnight sky turned the canvas to ghostly spectres and could reveal the ship's position. And this was a ship whose illicit cargo needed to be landed in secret. Fortunately, tonight the banks of cloud would hide the moon for most of her voyage and the cutter would escape detection by all but the most vigilant of her enemies.
Since entering British waters, the crew of Sea Mist had been nervous, and extra men had been posted on watch to warn of any lights from a patrolling revenue ship. Captain Ezra Lerryn knew these Cornish waters well. He gave a wide berth to the headlands with treacherous undercurrents that could drive a ship on to the spikes of granite rocks hidden beneath the water, and navigated with expertise the shallows where a vessel could run aground. He needed no map to show him the concealed inlets and coves that were the salvation of their clandestine trade.
He scanned the dark outline of the land where small bays and jutting headlands were protected by high cliffs. His landing site had been chosen so that the pack ponies could reach the beach. It was a small cove they often used, but that made it more prone to excise patrols, on either land or sea, lying in wait to ambush them. This stretch of water from Falmouth to Plymouth was regularly patrolled. Sea Mist approached Gibbon Head with the stealth of a sneak thief, all lights doused on board.
Ezra Lerryn began to breathe more easily and wiped the droplets of spume from his bushy beard. Soon the longboats would be lowered to ferry their cargo ashore. Even so he remained vigilant, his deep-set eyes focused on the shore. The men had been ordered to silence; sounds carried great distances at night. The cove was almost within hailing distance but the moon was behind a cloud, concealing any movement on the beach.
Without warning, a flash of light illuminated the headland and the accompanying boom of a cannon startled him. He swore savagely, angered by the incident. This could be their undoing, but he had weathered other such attacks. All was not yet lost.
'Damn their eyes, the revenue bastards be on to us!' His gut knotted with tension as the moon was uncloaked and its light showed the silhouette of the vessel that had fired on them. This was no ordinary revenue ship they could easily outrun. He cursed their ill fortune. They had been sighted by Challenger, the sister ship to Sea Mist, built in the Loveday shipyard. Only Challenger could match the smuggling vessel in manoeuvrability and speed.
'Hard to port and get us out of these waters,' shouted Captain Lerryn, desperate to escape.
The sailors, aware of the danger, were clambering up the rigging to unfurl the sails. The tiller responded and the cutter began to turn about, but tonight both wind and fate were against them. Challenger, already under full sail and with the wind in her favour, bore down on them like an avenging fury. Lerryn would never concede defeat. He had the strength, physique and volatile temper of a bull. This was a duel of skill and tenacity that was long overdue. Reputations and livelihoods were at stake. Ruthless men captained both ships, and neither would yield until there was a victor and a vanquished.
Ezra Lerryn was a seasoned sea dog with thirty years' experience as a free-trader, and was confident in his ability to outrun the revenue ship. No excise vessel had ever come close to him since he had commanded Sea Mist.
The craggy features of his second-in-command, Walter Finch, were thrust close to his face as he shouted against the wind. 'Do we ditch the cargo, Cap'n?'
'Damn their eyes! I bain't lost a cargo and I won't lose this 'un.'
Finch shook his head, his voice whistling through the gap in his front teeth. 'She be gaining on us. Better to lose the cargo than the ship be impounded as a free-trader with the goods on board.'
Lerryn lashed out, swiping Finch across the mouth. 'Lily-livered varmint! It be you I'll throw overboard at any more such talk. No preventive men have got the better of me.'
'Then you'll get us all hanged.' Finch ducked another vicious punch aimed at his head, then yelped in fear as another cannon shot splashed into the water close to their starboard side. 'There bain't no outrunning that demon ship.'
'To arms!' Ezra yelled in defiance. 'To arms, men! They bain't caught us yet.'
A shout carried across the water. 'Heave to! This is the King's ship Challenger. Heave to, or we fire again!'
The command chilled Finch's blood, and as he ran down the deck shouting orders for the cannon to be run out, he saw that Challenger's lights were now ominously close. Several of the sailors were lashing brandy kegs together in preparation for throwing them over the side. They were weighted to sink just below the water. It was a common ruse by smugglers, for if there was no cargo on board there was no evidence to incriminate them. They would then return the following night to haul in the kegs.
'Leave the cargo be,' bellowed Ezra Lerryn.
With the force of fear of capture turning his guts to water, Finch lashed out at the sailors with a belaying pin. 'Forget the kegs! Get to the guns. Blast the revenue ship out of the water, or we be done for.'
Two of the cannon were fired but their shots fell wide of the mark. Ezra Lerryn screamed abuse at his men. The crew were terrified, making their movements clumsy. Arrest meant prison and either transportation or hanging. Those who were religious uttered prayers, others cursed the poverty that had forced them into this dangerous life. The nightmare continued as a shot from Challenger whistled overhead and shattered the mainmast. Sail and wood crashed to the deck and the air was filled with the cries of three wounded smugglers writhing in agony. Splinters from the mast, lethal as arrows, had speared the men.
As the moon scuttled behind a cloud, Captain Lerryn ordered: 'Get those cannon reloaded and man the swivel guns! They bain't taking us or our cargo.'
They were brave words, but Lerryn knew that if he lost the cargo he'd be a dead man anyway. The owner of this ship had warned him of such a fate when he took command, and Harry Sawle never made idle threats.
Lerryn was prepared for a long sea chase and if need be a bloody battle. However, he was not prepared for the next cannon ball from Challenger landing on the quarterdeck, splinting the planking. A shard of wood exploding upwards was driven into Lerryn's throat, puncturing his larynx, and another fragment blinded Finch, who fell screaming to the deck clutching his bloody face.
As the captain writhed in his death throes, the crew panicked. A cannon ball smashed through the ship's railing, mortally injuring another man. Without a captain, and with the second-in-command wounded, the smugglers were thrown into chaos. One man was dead and five were badly injured.
Under the skilful command of Captain Ambrose Pinsett, a local man from Helston, Challenger was brought alongside. Revenue men armed with rifles trained their weapons on the smugglers.
'In the King's name surrender, or you will be shot for resisting arrest,' ordered Pinsett.
The smugglers knew they were beaten, and only two of them put up any sort of fight as Sea Mist was boarded. One jumped overboard and was shot in the back as he tried to swim ashore. His body was dragged back on board with a grappling hook. The rest of the men were clapped in irons and put in the hold. The demasted cutter was then sailed in triumph to Plymouth by Pinsett and his men.
The repercussions of that night would unleash a storm of retribution that would wreak havoc upon the local communities for many months to come.

 

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