Jiddy Vardy

2024 Young Or Golden Writer
Book Cover Image
Logline or Premise
Rescued at birth, Jiddy Vardy grows up in Robin Hood's Bay, a coastal community which harbours a dangerous secret that could get you killed.
Always the outsider, at sixteen, Jiddy is clever, brave and headstrong, soon risking her life and freedom to play her part in the Bay's clandestine activities.
First 10 Pages

Chapter One

The North Sea


Maria’s dress and underclothes lay in a crumpled pile and she wished someone would take them out of her sight. Gregory looked cross, like a little boy who’d been scolded. His copper brown curls fell over his eyes and his faintly coloured cheeks rounded into the hollow of his wide, voluptuous mouth.

If only the baby had waited until they’d reached land and then a midwife would have taken care of everything. A midwife would have bathed her and the baby and set them right and clean again for when the father re-entered the room, and he’d have been be able to lean over and kiss her forehead and the baby’s and she might even have wanted to kiss his full, smiling lips, instead of hoping beyond hope that he hadn’t been put off by the struggle and mess of it all.

She never wanted to go through anything like it again. The cabin so cramped, Gregory and his friend, Ryethorpe, half kneeling, part lying on the bed then standing. Sheets knotted, her dress, too tight, half on, half off, knees up, legs down, twisting until rigid, then twisting again. Her hair, freed from its tight coils, frizzed dark over her clammy skin. Her teeth, cheek bones, jaw, forehead, all seemed too close to the surface.

‘It’s all right,’ Ryethorpe had said. ‘We’re here to help.’

‘She could have waited until we docked.’ Gregory sounded agitated, hands all fingers and yanking jerks.

‘She can hear you,’ Ryethorpe said.

‘Through these shouts? Did Catherine make this much noise? Tell me your son was worth all this.’

‘I can hear both of you,’ Maria said.

‘What do we do?’

‘I’m sixteen. Do I look like I’ve had a baby before?’

‘Ryethorpe? What do we do?’

When she screamed, they jumped back like startled cats.

She wished she could sink through the belly of the ship as if it were wool, slide through the hull and plunge into the dark, buoyed by water that would let her drift painlessly into depths where octopus and strange fish would stare at her and the baby, that would slip out of her like butter and she wouldn’t have had to move a muscle or pant out a breath.

Maria’s dark eyes glittered like polished jet. ‘The baby is coming,’ she said.

Ryethorpe’s high cheekbones seemed to protrude further, his large eyes wider in their deep sockets.

‘Go away!’ she shouted, gripping the bedsheet.

The men looked at each other then back at Maria, neither moving forward nor away.

The thought flashed through her head: it must look disgusting. Her bottom felt as though it were full to bursting and she wondered what they’d do if she soiled herself. It was dreadful enough exposing whatever she had exposed – was exposing – in front of her lover.

Her stomach clenched again, pain travelling down, and she pushed and pushed, straining until she thought her eyes would pop out. She sucked in her breath, saliva dissipating through her teeth and she stung as though a huge, heavy cannonball was being fired from between her legs.

‘Give me your hands.’ She dropped back her head, pressing her skull into the pillow, ‘it’s here.’

She squeezed Gregory’s hand so tight that he shouted louder than she did. She pushed and pushed, hoping only the baby would show itself. Finally, when she’d given up hope of ever giving birth, a baby girl slapped onto the bed followed by a membrane of what looked like a bloody liver.

‘Placenta,’ Ryethorpe said, ‘and we need to cut this.’

‘Thank God you’re here,’ said Gregory.

Closing her eyes, she steadied her breathing and concentrated on obliterating the image of herself on the soiled sheets.

‘I’ll hold the baby, you help Maria into a clean nightdress,’ Ryethorpe said. ‘Careful.’ You mustn’t let go of the baby’s head.’

‘What about the sheet?’

‘Pull it back. Use the blanket.’

She didn’t care. Let them act like midwives. They’d forget it by tomorrow. She certainly planned to wipe it from her memory.

Ryethorpe sneaked away at some point but Maria didn’t notice, only that his voice had gone and the cabin became quiet. She opened her eyes. Gregory stood, holding the baby. Her dress and underclothes made a soiled pile in the corner of the cabin.

‘I want to call the baby Jianna,’ she said.

Gregory cradled the tiny dark-haired bundle. ‘Don’t I have a say?’

‘Did you give birth?’

He looked down at the baby. ‘Jianna it is,’ he said.

Maria adjusted her position and twisted her black hair over one shoulder. ‘I am looking forward to meeting your family,’ she said. ‘Your mother and I will arrange a beautiful wedding for us.’

He ran a finger over the baby’s round, brown cheek. ‘The baby is exactly like you,’ he said.

‘Where is that friend of yours?’

‘Should I call him back in?’

‘Was his wife as young as me?’

‘She is a few years older, but you’ll like her and she will love you.’

Maria closed her eyes again. She didn’t have the words in English for the strange cramps in her stomach and tingle in her breasts and she wasn’t sure she liked the sensations.

The ship creaked. Maria looked through a port hole at the grey sea and gold-tipped clouds blushing with approaching night. Gregory followed her gaze.

‘It’s a splendid sunset,’ he said.

‘What time is it?’

‘About nine.’

She caught the whiff of beef stew wafting through the walls. ‘Are you hungry?’ she said. She knew he would be. Both he and Ryethorpe were always ravenous and would eagerly devour the heavy food that the cook served up.

‘Starving,’ he said. ‘Do you want something to eat?’

‘I’ll sleep first,’ she said.

The bundle in Gregory’s arms stirred, making a noise like a hungry kitten.

‘It’s doing something,’ he said, and he held the baby out to her.

‘What do you want me to do?’

He brushed the blanket against Maria’s arm. ‘You’re its mother,’ he said, ‘it will come naturally.’

‘You are its father, has it come naturally to you?’

The baby mewed again. Sitting down on the edge of the bed, Gregory waited. ‘Why don’t you feed her and I’ll bring you something to eat and drink?’ he said.

Pushing the blanket back from the baby’s wrinkled face, she turned dark eyes towards him. ‘Giving birth was not so bad,’ she said.

Cupping his hand on the back of her head, he drew her closer. The baby pressed between them but his lips touched hers and, amazed she had the energy, she kissed him back.

‘You taste of salt,’ he said.

‘Save it to sprinkle on your beef.’

He laughed. ‘I hope she’s inherited your wit.’

He kissed her again, the baby a hard shape between them. She wasn’t ready for what happened next and, pulling back, clasped one hand to her breast. The tingling she’d felt earlier shot down her breast and a circle of liquid dampened her gown. Something odd was happening. That strange sensation from earlier was growing stronger.

She pulled one side of her nightgown. ‘Oh no.’

‘What is it?’


A prickling rush shot down her breasts again and larger circles of liquid darkened her white gown.

He screwed up his nose. ‘Is that milk?’

‘Well, it isn’t your horrible English custard! Hold her a minute.’ She undid the pearl buttons on her gown and held out her arms to take the baby back. ‘You go eat,’ she said, ‘then bring me back something that the cook hasn’t boiled to death.’

He paused in the doorway. ‘This baby will be the first of many,’ he said.

The force of suction made her gasp. For such a tiny creature it had an insatiable thirst. It pulled and swallowed and as it did so, her stomach sucked in and she caught her breath again. She’d never felt anything like the tingling in her breasts or the contracting stomach and as the baby drank, her other breast surged with milk, creating another damp patch on her gown.

‘Slow down,’ she said.

Touching the baby’s long fingers, she traced over the tiny nails and smiled at how firmly it curled its hand around her finger. In a week or so, they’d reach London and she would meet Gregory’s parents for the first time. She hoped they’d like her. She hoped she’d have the most beautiful wedding gown in the world. She looked down again at the baby, holding tightly to her finger, and at the mop of black hair. To think she was only sixteen years old and she’d produced this. She couldn’t wait to see little Jianna in pretty dresses and with flowers in her hair.

Outside, the sky had turned mauve with a sliver of red resting on the skyline and familiar noises from beyond the cabin door sounded comforting. The crew must have eaten and be back on deck. Gregory and Ryethorpe would soon return and Ryethorpe would want to hold Jianna. He never stopped talking about his little boy, Samuel, about his blond hair and blue eyes. He obviously loved children, but she couldn’t let him go on so much about his child now she and Gregory had one of their own. She looked down at the baby again and decided that her baby’s darker colouring really did mean she took more after her than Gregory. Shouts made her raise her head. A storm must be brewing after all. She stroked the baby’s soft cheek. In a moment, she’d move it to the other breast before all the milk leaked through her nightgown and was wasted.

The door banged open making her startle, and painfully the baby’s mouth broke suction.

‘Ow!’ She glared at Gregory but he ignored her, opening and closing cupboard doors. ‘What on earth are you looking for?’

‘Have you finished?’ he said, pulling a blanket off the bed and making a nest of sorts on the floor of the cupboard.

‘I have barely started.’ She tried to settle the baby on the other breast, but it wasn’t proving so easy on the right-hand side.

‘We need a hiding place,’ he said, walking back towards the bed. ‘Here, give her to me.’

‘What’s the matter with you? We are nowhere near done.’ Cradling the baby closer, Maria stroked its dark hair. ‘And my daughter is not sleeping in a cupboard.’

Gregory slipped his hands underneath the baby. ‘You’ll regret it if you don’t.’

‘No,’ Maria tightened her hold, ‘I am feeding her.’

‘Trust me,’ he said, ‘you will want to hide this baby.’

She loosened her hold and Gregory eased her away.

‘What is going on?’ she said, ‘is it a bad storm?’

He positioned the baby into the hollow of blanket. ‘Hush,’ he said, and closed the door.

‘Why are you telling her to hush? This is madness, she is a baby, give her back to me.’

‘Keep calm,’ he said. ‘We must keep quiet too.’ He tried to put his arms around her but Maria slapped him away.

‘Get off me!’ she said. ‘You cannot shut her in there, she will suffocate.’

Banging noises sounded above and they stopped to listen until heavy footsteps and shouts were followed by the solid crack of a gun.

‘What is happening?’

Gregory put a finger to his lips. ‘There are pirates on board,’ he said.

Chapter Two

Shouts and curses punctuated other unidentifiable noises. Maria grabbed Gregory’s arm. ‘What do we do?’ she said.

‘Keep quiet and pray.’

‘What about the baby? She’s still hungry. What if she cries out?’

Gregory looked again at the door. ‘She’s bound to fall asleep,’ he said. ‘Stay here, lock the door after me and don’t make a sound.’

He tried to disentangle himself from Maria’s insistent grasp but footsteps outside the door made them freeze.

‘Don’t you dare leave me and Jianna,’ she said as the door opened.

‘Well, well, what have we here?’ Standing in the open doorway, a tall man with a triangular hat and a black and grey ragged jacket pointed a pistol directly at them. ‘I think I’ve caught me a pair of lovebirds,’ he said, ‘and I think I’d like to see if these lovebirds can swim.’

‘A gentleman does not enter a lady’s cabin,’ Gregory said. ‘I must ask you to leave.’

‘There’s no treasure for you here,’ Maria said. ‘Go away.’

Looking around the room, the tall man walked into the cabin and Maria’s heart sank. A man like that had no sensibility about what was right and correct. He was a savage. Men like that ate babies for supper or offered them to the moon. She’d heard about them. They were evil but there was no way she would let a monster like that know she was afraid. Gregory’s jacket lay where he’d left it on the bedside chair and his pistol gleamed beneath it. He hadn’t seen it though. Cold air breathed through the open doorway and Maria shivered. The man laughed, a filthy sound of grime and soot. ‘I have this effect on ladies,’ he said.

‘Get out,’ Gregory said. ‘Leave Signorina Vardarelli alone and take what you want from elsewhere on the ship.’

The silence in the room threatened like thunder. Above, boots stamped, crashes and shouts rang out, but none of them moved. It was as if they were waiting for the baby to cry. Maria’s stomach clenched and a fine sweat beaded her skin. The damp patches on her gown began to soak through again as her gorged breasts filled to bursting. She felt completely naked. She couldn’t wait. Grabbing Gregory’s jacket, she scooped up the pistol.

The pirate prodded her pile of discarded clothes with his boot. ‘Do you want to put these on as well?’ he said.

The pile of cloth was almost unrecognisable as a dress. The white petticoats stained with brown patches looked like they belonged in a farmyard. ‘No thank you,’ she said, sliding her arms into Gregory’s jacket and hiding the pistol beneath her.

‘Captain Pinkney? We’re almost done up here. Do you need a hand?’ A voice from the corridor sounded close.

‘You know my name now,’ the pirate said, his pockmarked face tinged purple.

‘And you know mine,’ Maria said. ‘Now please leave us.’

‘Maria,’ Gregory said, ‘may I give the man your jewellery? You’ll go then won’t you?’

She looked at Gregory. ‘They are all I have,’ she said. ‘I will have nothing coming to England without them.’

‘A fair trade-off between gentlemen?’ Gregory held out his hand to the captain.

‘Take them then,’ Maria gestured to the trunk near the bed. Her heart beat fast. The baby wouldn’t stay quiet for much longer. She didn’t know if she could keep quiet either.

Gregory raised the trunk’s lid and revealed her best silk dress and a gold box intricately carved with the initials M.V. The captain merely glanced at them.

‘I thought pirates loved treasure,’ Maria said. ‘Please take them and leave us alone.’

Gregory’s hands shook as he rattled the key and clicked the box open. ‘Here.’ He held it out.

With one swipe, Captain Pinkney knocked the box from Gregory’s hands and it crashed to the floor, spilling sparkling emeralds, rubies and diamonds.

‘No!’ Maria tumbled off the bed and sat at Gregory’s feet, gathering the jewels together.

Gregory squatted down to help her while another man, thin and scrawny with trails of sandy hair, appeared in the doorway.

‘What’s happening with these two?’ he said.

Captain Pinkney didn’t answer at first, but raising his pistol addressed Gregory: ‘Move,’ he said, ‘we want everyone on deck.’

Maria pointed to the pile of soiled clothing. ‘You want to know why I don’t want to put those clothes on? It’s because my baby was stillborn,’ she said. ‘May God have mercy on your souls if you touch me.’

‘Throw the young soul overboard,’ the captain ordered, ‘and say a small prayer while you’re it.’

The sandy-haired man gathered up Maria’s dress and hurried with the bundle as best he could from the room. Maria could barely contain from screaming in the silence as they waited for sounds on deck.

‘You don’t frighten me,’ said Gregory, breaking the tension, ‘we are not leaving this cabin.’

It happened in a second. The captain punched Gregory in the stomach, sending him reeling backwards. Footsteps were coming back downstairs. Maria couldn’t hold the milk in any longer.

‘Take my jewels. Take them!’ she shouted.

‘I didn’t make myself clear, Signora Vardyelly,’ the captain said, ‘we want more than your treasure. We want the entire ship.’