Sunday, July 19, 2009
Thank you for reading this far! I hope you enjoyed your nautical adventure and the characters you met along the way. If you did, fear not, book two is on the way. I had so much fun writing the first one that I had to carry the story forward.
Pirates of the Narrow Seas 2 : Men of Honor
What happens when Lt. Peter Thorton is caught up in the war between Spain and the Sallee Republic, but Admiral Walters is determined to hang him for the crime of loving another man? More battles and duels, storms at sea, allies, schemes, and skullduggery.
The revision is complete and will post on August 1.
As soon as Murad Rais went in to the Dey and the door shut, Tangle crowed like a rooster and slung his arm around Thorton's shoulder. "We did it! He's on board! We will drive the Spaniards from our shores and the country will prosper!" He kept his arm companionably around Thorton's shoulder as they exited the chamber and retrieved their swords.
Thorton laughed and blushed. "Don't hang on me, Isam, people will think you're drunk!"
Tangle laughed and let go of him. "You're dining with us tonight, at my wife's house! And I shall get to see my children! I must get their presents!" He swerved down the steps of the palace to head back to the galiot. It wasn't far and he was soon burdened down with his sacks like Saint Nicholas bringing gifts to the poor people of his country.
Thorton followed him but demurred. "I do not want to intrude on your family life."
"Nonsense, Peter. 'Tis no intrusion. Do not argue with me! It is insubordinate. I will command you as your superior officer if you make me." His voice was cheerfully indomitable.
Thorton hung back for a moment. Tangle continued blithely down the road, unaware that the Englishman had fallen behind. From the rear Tangle's broad shoulders and long legs were obvious. The purple uniform looked uncommonly good on him. Thorton felt a surge of lust and fought it down. There would be no more of that for them. Not now that Tangle was home with his family. Where he belonged.
Still, it was not a felony in this country. Maybe he could find someone to warm his bed. That made him a little giddy. He looked with interest at the men they passed, but he could not tell if any of them were looking at him, or if they were just looking at the strange gaudy uniform. Yet Tangle had had male lovers. Maybe he could help.
He hurried to catch up to the corsair, screwed his courage to the sticking point, and asked, "Isam, I wonder if you might do me a favor."
Tangle stopped and faced him. "Whatever you ask, if I can do it, I will. I owe you my life and my freedom, and you have never taken advantage of that."
Thorton licked his lips nervously. "Since you know this city, and you're a man of the world, I wonder if you could help me. I thought you might know a gentleman who, ah, how shall I put this? That might like to meet me. And I him." He blushed terribly to ask it.
Tangle set down the sacks of toys and gifts as if they had suddenly become heavy. He was silent for a long moment. "I love you, Peter, but you've been cool to me ever since Jamila came on board. It pains me to think that you want company but won't accept mine."
"I don't love you. I like you, admire you, enjoy you, even lust for you," Thorton colored brightly as he admitted it, "But not love you. You are a friend, Isam. You have been good to me, and I have learned a lot from you. As strange as it sounds, even when you are angry with me, I am not afraid to speak my mind to you."
"I love you as a friend, too, Peter. But I love you as something more as well. I know that my love is engendered at least in part by the situation, but that does not change the fact that I feel it and you deserve it. I admire you highly. Even when you're stubborn and drive me to distraction. But there is something else about you. Something that completes me."
They stood in the busy street with bullock carts, horsemen, and peddlers going around them. Nearby a demi-galley was raising a cargo net full of supplies to her deck. The naval part of Thorton's mind kept track of all that was going on around him even as he stared into Tangle's eyes. "Yes?"
Tangle rubbed his hands on the skirts of his coat. "You're male. It was not easy for me to marry. I had to learn it. My natural inclination is for my own sex. Yours is too, so I think you know what I mean when I say that I desire your masculinity."
Thorton's heart beat faster. "Yes, I think I do. But still, you are married! And you love her." It was an accusation.
Tangle picked up the sack of presents with a sigh. "Yes, I do. And the children too. I must go home to them. On land, I am a father and husband. But Peter, we will go to sea again."
Thorton's pulse was pounding. "Yes, we will."
"Things will be different then."
"Perhaps they will." Thorton knew himself, he did not think he could withstand the corsair's advances if he pressed his suit on board ship far out of sight of land and wife. "But I would rather have some one of my own. Some one I didn't have to share. Someone to be mine and only mine."
Tangle rubbed a hand over his face. Finally he said, "I think you will like my brother-in-law, Shakil. He is a man like us."
They walked the rest of the way to the house. It was a Greek style farmhouse, low, with one story, white walls, and a porch across the front. Smooth Tuscan columns supported the architrave. Double doors let into hallway with a parlor to the left and office to the right. In the office was a thin man dressed in white about Thorton's age. He was working at a drop front secretary desk of French origin, made of birch and decorated with scallop shell carving. He had a simple white cotton cap on his head. He looked up and broke into a broad smile when he saw Tangle. The corsair set his bags down and embraced the man, kissed him on each cheek, then clasped him in a bear hug. At last Tangle made the introductions.
"This is my brother-in-law Shakil bin Nakih and a more honest man you will not find. If you left your virgin sister and a thousand ducats with him, ten years later you would find them both still intact. Shakil, this is Peter Rais Thorton, the man who saved me from the galley." He spoke Spanish for Thorton's benefit.
Shakil was about an inch shorter than Thorton and a good deal thinner. He had a sober demeanor, but he smiled at the effusive introduction. "Peace be upon you, Peter Rais. Thank you for bringing Isam Rais home to us." He bowed deeply with his hand to his forehead.
"I will let you two get acquainted. I have presents for the children. Where are they?" Tangle said.
"In the courtyard. Alexander is digging up the flowerbed again."
Tangle hurried out of the room and into the inner courtyard. A happy, girlish shriek sounded as soon as he was seen. "Baba!"
"Tahirah!" he cried with great delight. His voice came clearly through the open double doors.
They could see him grab the girl who was dressed in pale pink and whirl her around and around while she shrieked at the top of her lungs. A little boy ran up but hung back uncertainly. Tangle put the girl down then grabbed the boy to his bosom. The boy was dressed in thin blue and white stripes. The girl came back and must be hugged too. He wrapped them in his arms and kissed them as he knelt there on the black and white tiles.
A line of three—these must be the triplets—came on next, urged by their mother. One of the three was bigger than the other two and held back sulkily. Tangle let go of the oldest two, who were no more than nine and seven, and held out his arms. "Zaafir! Nakih! Naomi!" The two little ones, who looked exactly alike except one was a boy and one was girl, ran to him. Zaafir sulked a little longer, but at last got jealous of his siblings and flung himself into his father's arms. Tangle kissed them all and hugged them tight.
The last child was a toddler. He held onto his mother's hand and put his thumb in his mouth. He was still in nappies under his blue tunic. He did not know this stranger. Jamila knelt down and encouraged him with soft words. "He is your Baba. I know you don't remember him, but he loves you very much."
Tangle let the triplets loose and held out his arms and called softly, "Alexander." The boy hugged his mother and would not come. Tahirah wrapped herself around her father's back and announced, "My Baba!"
Jamila shushed her. "He's Hamet and Alexander and Zaafir and Naomi and Nakih's Baba too!"
Little Hamet went over to his smallest brother and patted his head. "Baba's nice!" He lead Alexander over, but the baby was still shy.
Tangle knew how to cure that. He opened his bag and pulled out a toy horse and offered it to the child. Curiosity overcame shyness and the baby came forward to receive it.
Nothing would do but for Tahirah to have a present too. She clamored and tugged at her father. "What did you bring me?" So the presents were brought out to the great delight of the children.
Thorton and Shakil stood shoulder to shoulder in the doorway watching. Thorton felt that he was intruding on a very private moment, a moment that did not include him. He turned away.
"Would you like some tea or coffee? You must be tired from your journey. Let me make you comfortable." Shakil's voice was a pleasant tenor.
"Yes, please. A cup of tea would be delightful."
Shakil disappeared for a few minutes, then returned with a teapot on a tray and a pair of cups. He served a cup of crisp black tea to the English guest.
Thorton was not sure how to strike up a conversation. He tried to remember Perry's social lessons from long ago and asked a question. "Are you married?"
Shakil shook his head. "No. Are you?"
"No, and I don't intend to to marry."
"Marriage is a happy state. Even Isam Rais has learned that."
"For some men, it is. But I'm not that kind of man."
Shakil looked at him more thoughtfully. "I'm not either." He glanced out into the courtyard. "I love my nieces and nephews, but I would not make a good father. I am too bookish."
"He seems very fond of them."
It was a stilted, awkward conversation, but Shakil was warming to the topic. He smiled as he added sugar to the tea. "He is a wonderful father. It was quite a change in him. I remember the wild corsair that Jamila set her heart on. I could never be such a man. Or survive being married to such a man. I don't know how Jamila does it."
Thorton smiled and took his teacup. "He's an overwhelming personality. I like him, but sometimes I feel invisible next to him."
Shakil nodded vigorously. "I know exactly what you mean! I am a quiet person. Everyone says I'm shy, but I'm not. I just don't have much to say, unless you're a scholar. Do you like books?"
"I do. And I am learning to read Arabic. Salaam."
"Salaam. I am glad to hear it. Arabic is a wonderful language. Are you reading the Qur'an?"
"I am trying to, but I know very little. I find it hard to pronounce."
Shakil smiled warmly. "I would be delighted to help you study."
Thorton's heart did a slow roll. He smiled back goofily. "I'd like that."
Shakil blushed and added sugar to his own cup of tea. "Maybe you could come tomorrow afternoon, then stay for supper."
Thorton's heart soared. This man was much more too his liking. He was gentle and pleasant, not overbearing like the corsair. "I have a lot to learn. Isam Rais teaches me, but he distracts me, too."
"Yes, I understand that. I felt much the same when I first met him. Now I am used to it, but still, he has been gone such a long time, I had grown accustomed to the quiet." Another girlish shriek sounded from the courtyard, followed by a bubbling stream of laughter. "Although it is impossible for a house with children to ever be truly quiet," he said humorously.
Thorton paused, then said, "I hesitate to bring up business, but there is the matter of the Sea Leopard. Lord Zahid said he'd buy it for him, but Kasim Rais won't sell it. Do you know anything about that?"
"Yes. I keep the family's accounts. I know exactly how much Kasim owes each investor. I was already at work on the figures when you arrived. It must be done quietly, or Kasim will be angry and try to block the sale. Murad Rais will be the difficult one, but Lord Zahid might be able to handle that one."
"I want Isam to have his ship back," Thorton said.
"So do I." Then his mouth curled into a smile. "So you're in love with him?"
Thorton blushed crimson. "I didn't say that."
Shakil didn't laugh, but his mouth quirked. "I was in love with him for two years when Jamila first married him. I survived. You will too."
Thorton was shocked. "You mean, you—"
"Sh. No, I didn't. I was terrified of him. Besides, I would never do anything to hurt my sister."
"I have nothing to get over," Thorton replied with dignity. "I have been very firm with him. I told him that I will not accept a married man as a lover." His eyes strayed to the window where he could see Tangle galloping by with one of the children on his shoulders. Shakil just smiled. Thorton sighed as he saw he was caught mooning. "I mean it. What was between us is over." He drank tea. "I must be fickle. It wasn't that long ago I was in love with Roger Perry."
"Who is Roger Perry?"
So Thorton told him the whole long story, starting with that rainy morning in London. It took a long time to tell. He was surprised to find it late in the afternoon before he was done. Shakil listened to it all. His hazel eyes were sympathetic, and he either laughed or shook his head at the appropriate moments. He put in a sympathetic word from time to time, asked a few questions, and stared intently into Thorton's eyes when he was speaking. What a delight to unburden his soul to such a good listener! No judgment, no fear of the law or court martial, no shame, no disapproval. By the time he had finished his story, he was in love with Shakil. When he took Shakil's hand in his, Shakil let him.
Thorton whispered, "I want to call on you. Not just to learn Arabic. To court you." He was blushing brightly. "Will you let me?"
Shakil blushed just as brightly. "I will."
Thorton slipped off the divan and knelt before him on the carpet. "I promise that you are the only one that I will ever look at. I will be true to you."
Shakil leaned forward and brushed a soft kiss across his brow. "You must prove it to me!"
Thorton lifted Shakil's hands and kissed them one by one. "I will have to go to sea again, but I will write. Will you give me a memento to remember you by?"
Shakil replied, "I know a silhouette cutter. We can have our pictures cut."
Thorton beamed. "Perfect! Would you like to see my ship?"
Thorton was deliriously happy. It had been a long strange journey from England, but he had found his place in the world. He had found a religion he could believe in and become a captain fighting for a worthy cause. On top of that, he had met a man on whom he could fix all his affectations without any of the complications of his previous infatuations. If that wasn't Paradise, nothing was.
If the reception of the French had been warm, that of Zokhara was delirious. Women waved their veils and threw flowers and several local bands turned out to play Turkish music. The clanging of the cymbals was a strange and exotic to Thorton's ears, but he recognized the martial spirit. Lords and laborers came down to the quay to see with their own eyes the return of the great corsair. Even some Muslim ladies came down in sedan chairs carried on the shoulders of their slaves. The curtains hid them from view, but jeweled fingers drew back the curtains enough to permit the occupants to peek at the scene.
In spite of the jubilation things were done in naval fashion in Zokhara. The harbormaster came out in his gig, inspected them, assigned them berths and collected his fees; the health inspector came out and permitted them to land at the lazaretto; and each of them bowed and smiled to the great corsair. Tangle received them with a grave majesty that suited his fame while Thorton attended to the business of settling the galiot. Well-wishers came out in rowboats and small lateen-rigged sailboats. Here, as in Correaux, there were reunions and glad cries for men returned as if from the dead. About half the Muslims in the Santa Teresa had come from Zokhara and its environs; their families, lovers, and friends crowded as close as they could get. As in Correaux, there was a great wailing when the news of the death of a loved one had to be given.
In the midst of all this, bumboats came along side to sell everything from live chickens to alcohol. In spite of Thorton's best efforts a goodly number of each got aboard. However, he did manage to intercept a pair of Zokharan strumpets with bare bellies and kohl-lined eyes. On the other galleys they were not so shy and the women found employment in spite of him. Likewise he found it difficult to hold the men and some of them leaped over the side to the quay or slithered down the starboard side into a boat rowed by friends or brothers.
Thorton bellowed, "Stand your posts! Stand!" A few did.
Tangle came to the foot of the outboard stairs and looked up. "Peter Rais. Let them go. We are home."
"But the ship! It needs a standing crew!"
"Ask for volunteers. Some of them will stay. And some of them will come back after they've seen their families."
With a sigh Thorton did as he was bade. In the end, he wound up with a skeleton crew of thirty-two men. Kaashifa came to touch his fez and ask for leave.
"Be back tomorrow at noon," Thorton told him.
Foster remained and so did Maynard. "Mr. Foster, I'll have a muster roll and quarter bill made up."
"Aye aye, sir."
Before Thorton could give any other orders, a fine figure of a Turk came along side. He was a well-tanned man of middle height, dressed in a short green coat decorated with curls of red braid on the front and cuffs in the Zouave fashion. A heavy gold chain supported an amulet set with jewels. Beneath the short jacket he wore a white shirt and below that red calf-length Zouave pantaloons with a dropped crotch. They were tied just below the knee with gold garters. White silk stockings went down to black ankle-high boots. His scimitar hung at his side in a jeweled scabbard. Rings weighed down his hands. His beard was long, black, and curly. He was accompanied by an assortment of men who were dressed in a variety of fashions from the European to the Turkish to the tribal. Half of them had visible scars. They looked both rich and dangerous.
"Salaam. Peace be up on you and yours," the stranger called up to Tangle in Arabic.
Tangle, looking over the side, replied in the same language. "Salaam, Murad Rais. I hear Allah has been generous to you. Congratulations." From this Thorton learned that the stranger was the man who had supplanted Tangle as the Kapitan Pasha of Zokhara.
Murad spread his hands and shrugged his shoulders. "You were taken in the galleys, and when the Spaniards refused your ransom, we knew that they intended you to die there. In the meantime, duty called. I was pleased to accept the honor of following in your footsteps. Allah is most merciful to return you to us."
The words from both men were as polite and insincere as any words spoken in an English drawing room.
Tangle smiled and nodded. "Allah has provided for me. I am now the Kapitan Pasha of Tanguel." He touched the insignia on his purple collar. Murad's eyes darted to it. Was that a hint of anger that flashed in his brown eyes?
"Congratulations," he replied flatly. "You must come to the palace and illuminate His Excellency the Dey with the particulars of your escape. He is eager to hear it. As we all are."
Tangle called, "Peter Rais! Join me, please?"
So Thorton gave the deck to Foster and said, "See that the ship is bedded down in good order, Mr. Foster." He descended the stair. With every step he took he felt Murad Rais' eyes burning into him. Every inch of the purple uniform was inspected, the insignia on his collar was stared at until he felt its shape burned into his neck, and the man's stare did not break until Thorton was standing next to Tangle.
Murad spoke first. "You always did have naval aspirations, Isam Rais."
Tangle's smile thinned a little. "I like it when things are done shipshape. Allow me to present Peter Rais Thorton, formerly of the English frigate Ajax. Peter Rais is our rescuer. It was by his courage that we were released from our chains."
Thorton gave a little bow. "Peace be upon you," he answered in Arabic. He understood only that part of the conversation that directly concerned him.
"And also upon you," Murad replied automatically.
"I have made Peter Rais the captain of my galiot Santa Teresa. I believe you already know my brother-in-law, Kasim. Allow me to also present Namin Rais of the Silver Star, Siraaj Rais of the Fortune, and Carlos Rais of the Pearl. They are all Tangueli men."
The other captains were on their own ships, but Murad Rais looked at their vessels and nodded. Abruptly he turned back to Tangle. "I wouldn't keep him waiting. You know his temper."
Zahid went with them, but Kasim, who had been careful to assert his independence as a corsair, was left behind. Thus did Tangle repay his brother-in-law for the slights committed against him. Murad Rais and his men escorted them, along with a suitable number of marines. They marched in formation and the people in the street waved and cheered as they recognized Isam Rais.
The palace was magnificent. It was even larger and grander than the palace at Tanguel, and it was in excellent condition and well-staffed. They passed through a glassed over courtyard filled with orange trees tended by Spanish slaves. They walked through a hall hung with the trophies of many wars: captured flags and weapons adorned every surface and hung over head. They passed a line of supplicants waiting to enter an office. All the people they met were well-dressed, even the slaves. Thorton realized that with surroundings like this, the ruler of the Sallee Republic had no reason to doubt his nation's puissance. In no way would he see himself as inferior to the hated Spaniards.
At last they arrived in the audience chamber. Thorton didn't know what to do, so he did what Tangle and Zahid did. He got down on his knees and bowed his head to the floor and stayed there. It was a posture humiliating to an ordinary Englishman, but not Thorton. He had made the same posture during prayers. He was submitting himself to the Dey, who was Allah's representative on earth. Even Murad Rais had to prostrate himself. The marines were spared the exercise; they had been left in the first antechamber.
The vizier told them, "Rise." He was a thin caramel-colored man in a long blue gown that showed only the tips of his shoes beneath. His turban was large and white, his beard was thin, pointed, and grey. His nose was long, his eyes small and blue.
They stayed on their knees but straightened up. The Arabic was impossible for Thorton to follow, but he gathered that the Dey was displeased with their uniforms and especially with Tangle's title. Zahid did most of the speaking. His tone was earnest and eloquent. Thorton spent his time studying the Dey.
The ruler of the Sallee Republic was a short man who sat cross-legged on a divan. He had short cropped iron grey hair under a pure white turban. A broach of pearls was attached to the front. His coat was in the Turkish style with a full skirt flared around him in a graceful way. It was black and severely plain, but made of extremely lustrous and expensive fabric with a refined texture. Pearl buttons fastened it. The chest had white facings in a ladder pattern. Thorton picked out the crossed scimitars and three stars of his rank. The insignia were apparently a topic of debate because Tangle pointed to his own and said,
"One star, Uncle," he replied, using the avuncular title that was the peculiar honor of the ruler of Zokhara. "I have no intention to usurp your authority. I am employed on behalf of the Governor of Tanguel and I have no intention of interfering with the operations of Zokhara."
"Bah. Why does a sleepy little backwater like Tanguel even need a Captain of Corsairs? "
"To unite the corsairs of Tanguel and make war upon the Spaniards. We intend to drive them from our shore."
Now that they were talking plainly instead of showering each other with convoluted Muslim flattery and dissembling, Thorton could follow them.
"Feh. Nonsense. If it could be done, don't you'd think we'd have done it by now? They are stubborn dogs, the infidels."
"We took Tanger on Thursday. Would you like us to give it back?"
The Dey paused. "No." He pressed his lips together and stared at Tangle. Then his glance moved thoughtfully over Thorton and the other captains and Zahid. He stared at them for a very long time. Finally he asked, "Do you think you could take Sebta?"
"Not by myself, but yes, I think the Sallee rovers can take it," Tangle replied.
A light started far back in the Dey's eyes. He turned and looked towards the elegant set of triple arched windows with a wistful look. "I would like that very much." He turned back to the guests. "Very well. I acknowledge your rank, provided that your funding comes from Tanguel and you confine yourself to the service of your native province. How they're going to pay for your adventures, I don't know, but that's your problem. Now tell me about Sebta."
Tangle talked. He laid out what they'd learned about the force and layout, then talked about the need for a joint assault. They'd need a large land force and a large naval force. "I think we may have to ask the French to lend us some ships of the line, or else join us for the bombardment. We don't have anything heavy enough to make the assault. Maybe the Sublime Porte will send help when he sees us try it."
The Dey was listening carefully. "The French are our friends, and now the English too. I signed the accord when Achmed brought it to me. However, the French and Spanish are engaged in heavy fighting off the coast of Cataluña. I do not think the French will be able to assist us. We will have to ask the English to prove their friendship."
Zahid was not able to keep still. "And once we have reclaimed all of Sallee for Islam, we can invade Granada!"
The Dey listened to Lord Zahid, then fixed his gaze on Tangle. "Do you think it possible?"
Tangle gave a blunt and unadorned answer. "No."
The Dey snorted. "Dreamer," he said to Zahid. "Haven't we been longing for that ever since Andalusia, the richest and most beautiful province in all the world, fell into the hands of the infidels?"
Thorton cleared his throat. All eyes were on him. His Arabic was not equal to the task, so he spoke Spanish. "I don't believe it possible any time soon, Your Eminence," (he was not sure how to address a Dey) "but I do believe that in time, if you develop the resources of your nation to a sufficient level, it might be possible, my lord."
The Dey looked at the vizier, who translated for him. "You must be Peter Thorton, the renegade. I've heard of you. Go on."
Thorton remained stiff as he continued kneeling there with his weight on his heels. He pressed his hands palms down very firmly against his thighs. "England is not a large country, but it is a prosperous one because of the industry of her people. You do not have industry here. Not much, anyhow. You don't have colonies. You don't have markets abroad. England, France, and Spain do. In the end it all boils down to money. Who can afford to fight? If you do as they have done, then you too will have money. That is my view, sir." The vizier hesitated, but translated.
"That's your idea? That we should become an empire with colonies? I point out to you, we are already part of the Ottoman Empire."
Thorton's jaw worked a little. "It isn't necessary to have colonies, sir. Just to trade with them. The Americans love a smuggler. 'Tis a dangerous business that requires fast ships and brave men, but there is a lot of money in it."
The Dey drummed the fingers of his right hand on his thigh.
Zahid spoke up. "The Americans have timber and hemp and other things we need. We have things they want, like iron and copper. It would be a profitable trade."
The Dey turned his head to the west. The rest of them saw only a wall, but he saw the great grey Atlantic Ocean and all the riches that lay beyond it. "We'd need a better port on the Atlantic side."
"We are dredging the harbor at Tanguel already, Uncle," Tangle replied.
"The Divan will debate it," the Dey replied.
Tangle remarked, "Don't they always?"
The Dey shrugged. "We are a republic. I am bound to listen to their views. You will have a hard time persuading them."
"Do I need to? You are the Dey. You can command the navy where you will. It is the corsairs that are touchy about their rights."
The Dey snorted at that. "And you and Murad Rais are chief among them. You know our navy is very small. I had to commission you and other corsairs to fight the pirates on our shores. Besides, if we raise a large navy, the Sultan will appropriate it for his own purposes at our expense."
Tangle said, "It is possible to both serve one's country and make a profit, but there comes a time when a man must stand for something more than money. Nobody goes down in history because he is rich. He goes down in history because he attempted something great. What could be greater than driving the infidel from our own shores? If the Sultan calls for our ships, inform him how you have already put them at his disposal by ejecting the Spaniards from Muslim lands."
The Dey steepled his fingers before his chin. He studied Tangle long and hard. Finally he said, "Make it so. Drive the Spaniards from our shores. And by Allah, figure out how to pay for it! You know the Divan won't raise taxes. They squeal enough as it is."
Tangle was satisfied. "We'll do it. You'll see."
"I will depend on it. Now, Peter Rais, I'd like to talk to you. Your friends will wait for you in the antechamber."
Tangle and the others gave him surprised looks, but Thorton had no idea why the Dey was singling him out. Tangle and the other captains bowed and withdrew, not turning their backs until they reached the door and could step out. The vizier, Murad, and Thorton remained.
"Take a seat, Peter Rais." The Dey indicated a piece of furniture known to the English as an 'ottoman.' It was a small divan the right size for one man only. Thorton settled himself gingerly upon it. He drew his legs up cross-legged. The full skirts of his purple coat fell around the seat. Murad and the Vizier remained standing. "Tell me about England, Peter Rais."
Thorton had no idea what the Dey wanted to know, but he began speaking. The vizier continued translating. "It is a small island country, but very industrious. Her colonies support her, and she supports her navy. If you examine the matter logically, you will realize that there must always be more merchants than privateers, for if there were more privateers than merchants, they would starve for want of prizes. Thus, if there are more merchants than privateers, it stands to reason that the nation prospers more from her merchants than her privateers. The merchants in their turn must have a navy to protect them. One or two frigates can protect a convey of forty sail. Thus we can conclude that it is more profitable for a country to engage in commerce than privateering, even with the expense of keeping a navy. The taxes paid by the merchants will more than outweigh the share of the loot the government receives from privateers."
The Dey's brow darkened like thunder as he stared at Thorton. Murad snorted and said, "You insult us with such remarks."
Thorton stared him down. "I've seen Zokhara and I've seen the harbors of England. The English Admiralty could put your navy in its pocket and count it as loose change. If this state of affairs offends you, you have only yourself to blame. If you want it to be otherwise, then you must enrich your own country through industry and commerce."
Murad stepped forward. His hand went to his side, but all visitors to the Dey were relieved of their weapons before entering his presence. He had no sword to draw. "Why you dog of a renegade!"
"Stand down, Murad." The Dey's voice was flat and hard.
Murad ground his teeth so hard his beard bristled. "Are you going to let him—"
"Yes. Now shut up and let me talk to the man."
Murad's eyes flashed. "He insults the honor of our country, our corsairs, and every man!"
"Whereas you waste my time, which is a far graver insult. You may go." The Dey snapped his fingers and his guards came out from behind the screen to escort Murad Rais from the room.
Murad left in a foul humor. He was barking at Tangle before the door to the antechamber even closed. What happened out there Thorton didn't know, but he didn't think it would be pretty.
"Do you make a habit of insulting your hosts, Peter Rais?" the Dey asked with some asperity.
Thorton worked to control his own temper. Yet he was gratified that the Dey seemed to want to hear what he had to say. He had to figure out how to say what he needed to say without causing any further friction. Finally he said, "Englishmen often take offense when I tell the truth, sir. My previous experience with Salletines had lead me to believe that they did not need to be dipped in honey to talk."
The Dey steepled his fingers again. He stared at Thorton long and hard. "You're as proud and stubborn as a corsair, Peter Rais. And if I know anything, I know corsairs." He lowered his hands. "Achmed has brought me a great deal of information about the English navy. So I know that what you say is true. By his measurements, the English navy is three times the size of the Spanish navy. Navies are expensive. Very, expensive. You tell me your country pays for your navy with trade and colonies. America is a very large land. It produces silver, gold, timber, grain, and every needful thing in abundance. My country does not. Zokhara contains a quarter million souls. London contains nearly three times that number. Half a dozen cities in England are as big as Zokhara, but Zokhara might as well be a city-state. The hinterland gives us little. It is disheartening to contemplate."
Thorton said nothing. He hadn't been asked a question. The Dey looked to the west again. "My people have long memories, but they do not have foresight. They will not believe you if you talk of such things. I suggest, Peter Rais, that you begin by driving the Spaniards from our shore. Then the Divan will be in a mood to listen to you. If that is the case, I am willing to enact decrees for the support and encouragement of our merchants. I am pestered on one side by corsairs and the other by janissaries. A third to balance them would be most helpful. But that is for the future. For now, go in peace. Please avoid fighting with Murad Rais. I must now pacify him."
Thorton rose from his seat, bowed deeply, and backed out. Murad Rais was summoned back into the Dey's presence.
The Santa Teresa de Ávila and her consorts sailed north then east. Kasim Rais had consented to travel in convoy with them, but he ran far ahead and snapped up a slog-bottomed snow to send into Fezakh—he would not have sent her into Tanguel even if she could have made the sandbar at high tide. Tangle hoped he'd get himself killed but not lose the xebec. It was a complicated thing to wish for and required some very exact wording in his prayers to make certain Allah understood what was wanted.
They put their heads into Tanger and saw very little force there—Spain had called everything she had home to fight the French. The fort fired on them and they retreated. They made a show of sailing past Tanger, but once they were out of sight of the headland, they hove to until dark. Under cover of night they returned. The main fort was on the height and commanded the entrance and had a good view of the sea approach. The lower fort was on the end of the mole that improved the harbor. Thorton was in charge of the landing party; Foster had command of the galiot.
Tangle knew something about the area, so he put the landing party ashore at the mouth of a stream. Under cover of darkness Thorton and his marines climbed the stream bed to its spring just below the summit. A path lead from the fort to the spring; the path was very clear. They crept quietly along it until they could see the fort. The land side wall was not very high. All the guns pointed out to the sea. The top of the hillside had all its trees cut down for a hundred yards around the fort. Creeping through the woods, Thorton distributed his men according to plan.
Thorton and his petty officers were dressed in Spanish uniforms taken from the galleys, and Thorton even had a tricorn with ostrich feathers and gold lace around the brim. His sword—good Toledo steel—had made its previous owner very proud. The ordinary men were dressed in white shirts, dark blue breeches and short blue jackets. They had their checked kerchiefs over their heads instead of turbans. He had selected men who knew how to stand up straight and march in formation, more or less. "Columns of two," he whispered. They formed on the road just below the crest, then at his command, marched brazenly along the road, over the crest, and into sight of the fort. Thorton's heart was hammering in his chest. It had sounded simple enough. Storm the fort. Overwhelm the guard. Turn the guns on the other fort. The rear wall was about twelve feet high and very thick. A dry moat ran around its base.
A pair of sentries looked down in astonishment. Thorton summoned up his best Castilian Spanish, and bellowed, "Reinforcements for the fort! Open up!"
That caused general consternation in the fort. No password had been assigned because none was expected to be needed. This required the commandant to be roused from bed. Meanwhile the rovers waited as patiently as they could manage, but they were not marines. The lines began to unwind as some of the men fidgeted. Thorton heard the rattle of equipment and turned around and yelled in Spanish, "Order in the ranks, you misbegotten sons of French whores!"
Up above a dozen men hung over the edge of the fort to try and see what the fuss was all about. The white crosses on their red hats made excellent targets and more than one of the Sallee men longed to put a musket ball through them, but restrained themselves. Thorton was heartened; if only a dozen men were on duty tonight the fort's garrison must be very small.
"Who are you?" The officer of the guard called down.
"What? I can't hear you," Thorton replied.
"Who—are—you!" the man bellowed back.
"Teniente Don Diego Arrellano y Menéndez of His Most Catholic Majesty's galley Santa Teresa de Ávila," Thorton replied, hitting the lisp on the 'z' and rolling his 'rr' to perfection, but not loud enough to be clearly heard.
"What? I can't hear you."
"What?" Thorton replied as if he couldn't hear either.
Inside the commandant came to the door in his nightshirt and breeches. "Oh, for God's sake. Open the door and ask them who they are."
The drawbridge dropped. Thorton advanced onto it with his men at his heels. When the gate opened, Thorton shot the first man he saw and rushed the breech. His men were hard on his heels. The men inside were taken by surprise so Thorton lived, but the man after him was shot in the face and killed. Thorton ran through the gateway as fast as he could go, screaming in Spanish. Men running up did not know who he was at first and were beguiled by the Spanish words, "Go back, get your weapons!" No effective defense was made at the gate.
His marines poured through the gap behind him. There was more shooting; Thorton felt a ball go whizzing past his ear. With all attention on the gate, the sentries did not see the bulk of the troops rush across the field with their scaling ladders made of saplings, throw them up, and climb the walls. The scimitars and cutlasses cut down the guards as they were firing into the interior of the fort. Thorton kept moving; a moving target is harder to hit. He knew that if he stopped moving, he would die. His Spanish sword was in his hand and he swung it wildly, slashing a man in the throat. A gush of his foe's blood splattered his coat. He was glad he wasn't wearing his own uniform. Bloodstains were hard to get out.
The fort proved to have only about fifty men in it. After a sharp but brief action, it was his.
"Get the drawbridge up!" Thorton bellowed. "Man those guns!"
The sound of gunfire woke the town. The guards in the lower fort were shocked when the high fort began to fire on them. Meanwhile, the galleys, having heard the gunfire, raced to assault the mole. They fired their bow guns to little effect against the solidly built fortress, but the fortress did not reply. The defenders were busy cowering under cover.
Galleys were marvelous amphibious devices. Their prows ran over the mole and held their place thanks to the oars. Tangle ordered his men across and the men from their consorts ran up onto the mole without opposition. Men threw up grappling hooks and scaling ladders to assault the walls of the fort.
"Bring the bomb!" Tangle called.
The bomb was a keg of black powder with a short fuse. It was placed against the gate and the men retreated around the corners of the fortress. A moment later, the keg blew. Tangle and his men charged through the smoke and the shattered door into the gateway itself. The portcullis blocked their way. Guardsmen in the gatehouse pointed their weapons down through the loopholes in the floor and fired them. The men trapped in the small space heaved at the portcullis and raised it an inch.
"You can't raise it from here! Out!" Tangle called. They retreated, carrying their wounded with them. They flattened against the walls outside the gate. More men went up the ladders and the sound of shots came from inside.
Meanwhile, Thorton's party was doing a terrible job of bombarding the mole fort. Balls were flying everywhere to pepper the interior of the for, but none of them was doing much actual damage. Thorton cursed roundly in English, then aimed the guns himself.
"Aim for the gate, ye damn dogs!" Thorton bellowed at them. His men were jumping out of their skins with excitement so it was hard for them to be careful with the guns. Somebody dropped a cannonball and it went rolling away. Thorton put a heavy hand on the man's shoulder.
"Breathe, man. Breathe." The sailor gulped in a deep breath and nodded. Thorton let him go.
The assaulting force gained the walls of the mole fort. A small party ran down the steps and fought their way into the gatehouse. They cranked the wheel and raised the portcullis. Tangle heard it creaking and ducked his head around to look. Seeing it rise, he shouted, "Come on men!" He charged into the gatehouse and threw himself on the ground to roll under the partially raised gate. More men followed him.
More cannonballs were crashing into the fort. Thorton had finally got his range and windage. It would be intolerable to be killed by friendly fire, so Tangle hastily ran up to the parapet and waved a white flag.
On the hill Thorton could see something white moving, so he pulled out his glass and studied it. "Cease fire." The guns stopped. "Reload and run out, but hold your fire."
Inside the fort Tangle bellowed, "Lay down your arms!"
A shutter opened and a Spanish voice shouted, "Who are you?"
Tangle grinned and bellowed back, "Sallee rovers! We claim this city in the name of the Bey of Tanguel!"
"What are your terms?"
"Throw down your weapons, depart, and never return!"
So the Spaniards threw their guns out the windows, then the commandant came out in his breeches and shirt. He was barefoot, having barely had time to put his pants on when the firing started. Tangle descended from the parapet and accepted his sword and parole. The occupants of the fort trooped out in disorder.
Tangle put a force into the mole fort to hold it then returned to the galleys. They rowed into the harbor with their bow guns bristling. Some of the people of the city were hastily packing up carts and donkeys to flee into the countryside. Others were burying their silver in the garden or hiding daughters in attics. The mayor came down to the waterfront under a flag of truce to parley. He had several other men with him. They were older men, portly and well fed, grey haired and respectable. They had even dressed properly, although very modestly to disguise their wealth.
The Terry came along side the dock and bumped gently. Oars backed and spilled, and she held her place. Tangle walked out onto the prow with his scimitar in hand. He'd bought it while in Tanguel.
"What are your terms, Sir Corsair?" the mayor asked.
"Thirty thousand sequins, or we fire the city. Deliver it by dawn. Any gold or silver, whether bullion or objects, are acceptable. The Spanish officials and all military personnel must submit to Islam and swear allegiance to the Sallee Republic, or be exiled and their goods forfeited. Civilians will not be molested, unless they molest us first."
"Who are you?"
Tangle grinned down at him. "Isam Rais Tangueli, Captain of the Corsairs of Tanguel."
The name made the man drop his jaw. "I thought you were captive in a Spanish galley!"
"Two months ago I was. Now I am in your front yard. Will you submit?"
"We accept your generous terms. If we convert to Islam and swear allegiance will we be allowed to keep our property?"
"Aye. We will occupy you in good order."
"And our positions in government?"
"Yes, if you swear obedience to the Bey of Tanguel and submit yourself to his authority."
"And if we don't convert?"
"You will pack up and leave the city immediately, taking whatever movable property you can carry, but forfeiting the rest. You will not be allowed to take any Muslims. If you behave yourselves, you will not be molested and your women and children will be safe. Raise a hand against us, and I will cry 'Havoc' and turn the corsairs loose on Tanger. They are eager for blood and booty."
The man made up his mind very quickly. "I testify that there is no God but Allah and Mohammed is his prophet."
"Excellent," replied Tangle. A conversion made under such terms wasn't valid and Tangle knew it. But that was a religious point. The imams could separate the sincere from the faithless when they arrived. The submission of the city was a political point, and he had gained it with remarkably little loss of life.
Tangle kept his men under control. There was no pillage or rape, to the great disappointment of some of the rovers. Tangle sent his agents to demand the names of the burghers who had fled to the hills, then let the rovers break open and loot their houses. Afterwards the houses were set on fire, hastening the cooperation of the others. The ransom was delivered by dawn. When light revealed how few the corsairs were, the mayor and aldermen regretted not making a defense, but the burning of more than a dozen houses warned them what the price would have been if they had tried it.
Tangle collected his men from the mole fort and set a fuse to the magazine. They piled into the galleys and rowed away, but not quickly enough. The Santa Teresa was peppered with debris from the explosion. Thorton did the same to the hill fort, but being further away from the city he could carry it out with more leisure. His men were safely in the trees before the fort's powder magazine blew. An hour later the galleys beached and picked up Thorton and his men. Casualties were only seven men killed and twenty-seven wounded. They laughed heartily, except for Maynard, who hadn't been allowed to take part in either landing party. Still, thirty thousand sequins in mixed objects and specie was a marvelous haul. The men were in a great good humor, and they toasted Isam Rais over breakfast.
After breakfast Thorton dismissed his officers, and they left to seek their beds. When they were alone Tangle moved to sit next to Thorton and kiss him. Thorton closed his eyes and felt the familiar tide of desire and reluctance wash over him. He slipped his arms around the man's neck and kissed him back. Tangle pulled him close and kissed him harder, but Thorton broke the kiss and pulled away. "Your wife is waiting."
Tangle sighed and looked away. "I know," he said quietly.
Thorton rose from the chair and walked to the other side of the table. He leaned on the back of one of the chairs. "I need sleep. I climbed up and down a mountain last night. My legs hurt."
Tangle came and knelt before him and bent to kiss his knee. His strong hand slipped down to lift his foot and draw the boot off, but before he could remove it Thorton pulled away. He shoved his foot down into the warm sweaty confines of the boot again. "No."
Tangle looked up at him from where he knelt. Thorton felt the familiar heat swelling in his veins. It would be so easy to resume their affair, but he shook his head. Tangle rose to his feet, trailing his hand along Thorton's leg as he did so.
Thorton pulled away and smoothed down the skirts of his Spanish coat. "No. You're very handsome and virile, but no."
"You know why."
Tangle's hands slid over Thorton's body. "I don't understand. You want me. Right now you can have me. Why worry about the future?"
Thorton pushed his hands away. "It doesn't matter. I sleep alone." He crossed to the door and opened it. The marine standing guard outside stepped out of the way.
For a moment it seemed that Tangle might not leave, but he finally picked himself up and ambled out the door. Thorton shut the door firmly behind him and locked it. The blond captain undressed and crawled naked into bed. He had to alleviate the heat in his blood, but as soon as that was done, he was sound asleep.