The Sheriff’s Catch – James Vella-Bardon
“Fast-paced, gripping and brutally honest” – Devaki
1588: Abel de Santiago has deserted the army and all but avenged his murdered wife, when he is captured and sold as a galley slave. As the Spanish Armada sails for England, there can be few souls on board more reluctant than him.
After a crushing defeat to the enemy fleet, the Spanish ships are battered by extraordinary storms and Santiago finds himself washed ashore in Ireland, a country terrorised by English troops that the natives call Sassenachs.
But Santiago’s faint hopes of survival appear dashed when he is captured by the brutal Sheriff of Sligo, who has orders from Dublin to torture and kill all Spanish castaways.
An unlikely escape has Santiago flee with a jewelled ring worth a King’s ransom. His flight leads to a desperate chase across a strange and stunning land, where danger lurks at every turn.
“In my mind, this book is a three-way cross between Ken Follett’s Kingsbridge series, Game of Thrones, and the Bourne Series. It’s an exceedingly well researched historical drama (Ken Follett) with a brutally honest depiction of the realities of warfare (GoT) at a relentless pace of never-ending action (Bourne)” – Jeanette Heidenberg
About the Author
James Vella-Bardon was born and raised in Malta, an island nation steeped in the millennia of history. As a boy he often caught a rickety old bus to the capital of Valletta, where he would hover around the English bookshops to check out the latest titles in fiction.
Growing up he was an avid reader and a relentless day-dreamer, with his standout subject at school being English composition. He also won a couple of national essay competitions. Although he spent seven years studying and obtaining a Doctor of Laws degree, this did not cure him of his urge to write stories. So after emigrating to Sydney in 2007 he resolved to have a proper stab at writing his first novel.
The result of this decision is an epic, sprawling five-part historical fiction series called The Sassana Stone Pentalogy. It is the product of nine years of intense rewriting and research, and tells the story of a Spanish Armada survivor who is shipwrecked in Ireland.
The first instalment in the series is a rip-roaring, myth-busting page-turner called The Sheriff’s Catch. It’s anti-hero protagonist, Abel de Santiago, is an Armada survivor who finds himself on the run across Connacht, whilst being pursued by English troopers who want him tortured and killed.
“Historical fiction at its best, with fast-paced action and a hero who is imperfect, but who we cheer on through his good and bad choices. If you enjoy historical fiction, The Sheriff’s Catch is a definite ‘Must Read’ book – you’ll learn a lot, and enjoy an exciting adventure at the same time.” – Di Paterson
When I stirred again a deep hunger tore through my belly, and my ears were filled with the howl of a wolf. Darkness engulfed me as I moved from side to side, causing a rustle of leaves. I found myself pushing even more leaves and brushwood away as I rose out of a small ditch. Above me a new moon shone in the middle of a star-filled sky, which was clear and without shadow.
‘What in Christ’s name?’ I muttered, spitting leaves from my mouth as I crawled out from the hole. ‘Who did this to me?’
It was obvious that someone had dragged me away from the tree, before covering me as best they could. Whoever it was must have been in haste, for my sword still hung from my side and nothing had been taken from my person. Yet I had no time to dwell on the matter, since low growling could be heard a few feet away from me, as well as the shredding of clothes and flesh. I got onto my right foot, then fell over with a loud curse as a burst of pain ran through its ankle.
‘Holy host of the Madonna!’
The growls ahead of me slightly subsided, and I froze as countless shining orbs appeared before me. After a few moments, I reached for the knife chained at my hip, then drew it from its sheath and held it before me. Two by two the orbs slowly vanished from view, as the wolves returned to the scavengers’ bounty which had been provided by the ambush.
‘Where is everyone?’ I muttered, then slowly crawled ahead until I made out a large oak in the moonlight.
After repeated attempts I managed to climb it using only my arms and one leg. I hugged the bough for dear life for the rest of the night, while rats scuttled through the branches above my head and the curs below gorged themselves on human flesh. My shock at being abandoned slowly turned to bafflement and then bitterness, for I could still not believe that someone had concealed me while I was unconscious.
The growling subsided well before dawn, when the wolves retired from the defile to their lairs. I scrambled back down the oak, feeling drowsy from the gash to my head and the sleepless night. A terrible fear was also upon me, that I might be found by bandits or other mercenaries. I slowly crawled towards the elm I had fallen from the previous day, desperate to find my Salado rifle. I spent close to two hours searching for it, all the while seeking to ignore the thick smell of blood and flesh which lingered in the air. At last I found the gun at the foot of a nearby tree, and I would have cried out in delight had I not been in such danger.
With the search for the rifle finally over, I crawled back towards the dead which had been heaped in the gully. The stench of torn bodies was almost intolerable as I cast my eyes over them, seeking to identify some other weapon that I might use. As expected the dead had been picked clean of everything before the wolves had got to them, and I moved further along the defile before crossing it, wishing to be free of the smell and sight of the corpses.
‘What happened?’ I kept whispering to myself as I hobbled and crawled towards the direction of Willebroek, keeping all senses alert for the slightest noise from any other being.
It was at a snail’s pace that I hobbled along, always wondering if I was heading the right way. At last my head was so light that I climbed back into another tree to gain some rest. I slept through the whole afternoon and night, rising again with a start at mid-morning.
‘Curse it,’ I groaned, holding my aching belly, ‘I need to find something to eat.’
After abandoning the tree, my slow journey resumed, and I limped on step by painful step, always throwing myself to the ground whenever I heard a distinct sound. A small feed of tree roots and earthworms followed, which slightly reduced my hunger as I made through the dells and sunbursts, wishing to leave the wood behind me.
I lay spent on the forest floor for long stretches, staring at the ring on my finger while I prayed that I might see Elsien again. Despite my huge weariness, it was the image of her that kept me trudging onwards, hoping all the while that I might soon come upon Willebroek. Yet another night was once more spent in the trees, followed by another day of crawling, as I was slowly overcome by despair.
‘Why did they leave me?’ I sighed, although a slight suspicion had begun to form in my mind, which I cast aside as being a result of my desperate predicament.
‘Surely he wouldn’t have. Surely not.’
I shivered upon hearing the sudden sound of hooves, and my skin crawled at the thought of an approaching band of Protestants. I rolled over behind a tree, afraid that they might discover me, before nailing me to the closest tree or beating me to death.
“So much is learned from reading history like this. It makes learning so enjoyable. I think a new author of note has been born, and it won’t be long before we sit down to watch the TV series. What a movie this will make.” – Paul Rubens