Excerpt from Monsoon by Wilbur Smith, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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by Wilbur Smith

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  • First Published:
    May 1999, 613 pages
    Apr 2000, 822 pages

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She had died of blood loss and exhaustion only hours after Guy had vented his birth cry. The boys had been raised by a series of nurses, and by their stepmother, who had been Dorian's mother.

He crossed to the marble coffin and knelt at the head. He read the inscription in front of him: 'Within this casket lies Margaret Courtney, beloved second wife of Sir Henry Courtney, mother of Thomas and of Guy, who departed this life on the 2nd of May 1677. Safe in the bosom of Christ.' Guy closed his eyes and began to pray.

'She can't hear you,' Tom told him, not unkindly.

'Yes, she can,' Guy replied, without raising his head or opening his eyes.

Tom lost interest and wandered down the row of coffins. To his mother's right lay Dorian's mother, his father's last wife. It was only three years ago that the cutter in which she had been sailing had overturned at the entrance to the bay, and the rip tide had swept her out to sea. Despite her husband's efforts to save her, the current had been too strong and had nearly taken Hal with her. It had cast them both up in a wind-battered cove five miles down the coast, but by then Elizabeth was drowned and Hal nearly so.

Tom felt tears welling up from deep inside of him, for he had loved her as he could not love the mother he had never known. He coughed and brushed his eyes, forcing the tears back before Guy could see his childish weakness. Although Hal had married Elizabeth mainly to provide his orphaned twins with a mother, very soon they had all come to love her, as they loved Dorian from when she had given birth to him. All of them but Black Billy, of course. William Courtney loved nobody but his father, and he was as fiercely jealous of him as a panther. Elizabeth had protected the younger boys from his vindictive attentions, until the sea took her from them and left them defenceless.

'You should never have left us,' Tom told her softly, then glanced guiltily at Guy. But Guy had not heard him, too intent on his prayers, and Tom moved across to the other coffin, which flanked his natural mother. This belonged to Judith, the Ethiopian princess, the mother of Black Billy. The marble effigy on the lid depicted a handsome woman with the fierce, almost hawk-like features that her son had inherited from her. She was in half armour, as befitted one who had commanded armies against the pagan. There was a sword on her belt, and a shield and helmet rested on her chest, the shield blazoned with a Coptic cross, the symbol of Christ that predated even the ministry of Rome. Her head was bared and the bush of her hair was a dense curling crown. As he looked at her Tom felt the hatred he bore her son rise in his chest. 'The horse should have thrown you before you had a chance to whelp that cub of yours.' This time he spoke aloud.

Guy stood up and came to join him. 'It's ill luck to speak so of the dead,' he cautioned his brother.

Tom shrugged. 'She can't hurt me now.'

Guy took his arm and led him to the next sarcophagus in the row. They both knew it was empty. The lid had not been sealed.

'Sir Francis Courtney born 6th January 1616 in the County of Devon. Knight of the Order of the Garter and of the Order of St George and the Holy Grail. Navigator and Sailor. Explorer and Warrior. Father of Henry and Valiant Gentleman.' Guy read the inscription aloud. 'Unjustly accused of piracy by the craven Dutch settlers of Cap de Bonne Esperance, and most cruelly executed by them on the 15th July 1668. Although his mortal remains lie on the far and savage African shore, his memory lives forever in the heart of his son, Henry Courtney, and in the hearts of all the brave and faithful seamen who voyaged the Ocean Sea under his command.'

'How can Father set an empty coffin here?' Tom murmured.

'I think perhaps that he intends one day to fetch back Grandfather's body,' Guy answered.

Reprinted from Monsoon by Wilbur Smith, a St Martin's Press publication, by permission of St Martin's Press. © 1999 by Wilbur Smith

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