Saturday, July 18, 2009

Chapter 28 : Taking the Turban

Tangle sat alone in the dimness of his shattered cabin. His steward had cleaned up the broken glass and put things to rights. The carpenter had boarded up the shattered window. Tangle still had side window to let in late afternoon light. Sailing west, the stern was in shadow and the cabin was dim. He sat in his loose white damask clothes with his wounded leg propped up on the opposite chair. His dinner was untouched before him. Thorton knocked once, then twice, but received no answer. The marine on duty assured him that the captain was in there, so Thorton opened the door and stuck his head in. Tangle did not move.

Thorton came all the way in and shut the door behind him. He crossed quietly and stood next to the brooding captain. Tangle stirred a little and looked up at him with bitter eyes. "Never before have I presided over a massacre, Peter."

Thorton bent and kissed the top of his short-haired skull softly. "I know, Isam. You are an honorable man." Although it seemed odd to him, he felt an urge to protect the redoubtable corsair.

"It is an ill thing and will tarnish my name."

Thorton said softly, "So it will. Many things diminish us in the eyes of others that are no fault of our own."

"What will my wife think when she hears it?"

It hurt Thorton to think about his wife, and it hurt him that Tangle was thinking about his wife, too. He forced himself to say, "If she knows you and loves you, she won't believe it." 

Tangle gave him a weak smile. "She will think it a Spanish lie." He sighed. "The men of this crew are not the men I would have chosen. They were condemned to the galleys for their crimes after all. There are some men of quality among them, but in general they are ruffians and knaves."

Thorton rested his hand on Tangle's shoulder. "That they are."

"We must review the muster roll. The men who participated in Hizir's slaughter are to get a black mark. I cannot tell the innocent from the guilty, so we will let them go at Eel Buff. The rogues will find employ there. We must recruit some decent men to replace them, if any can be found in that den of thieves. If not, we must run as fast as we can south past the Iberian coast. We should be able to raise Sallee within a week of leaving Eel Buff. I will put in at Tanguel, disband the crew, and sell the ship. I have cousins there who can be my agents for the sale. We will go overland to Zokhara."

"You will not keep her for yourself? You can hire a new crew."

Tangle shook his head. "I want a xebec, Peter. I want a hand-picked crew. But not soon. I want to spend time with my wife and children." 

Thorton's hand tightened reflexively on Tangle's shoulder. Tangle felt it. "By Allah, you have been a help to me, Peter. I love your stiff English neck and righteousness. You have self-control. You would not have let bloodlust overwhelm you." He put his arm around Thorton's waist. Thorton stood stiffly in the circle of his arm.

"What about me? Will you cast me off with the rest of them?"

Tangle looked up. "Is that why you've suddenly gotten so cold with me? No, of course not. I plan to take you and Maynard and Kaashifa and Foster and some of the others with me to Zokhara. Traveling in the interior is not safe. We'll go together. You'll be my guest at my home just outside of Zokhara. If you want go to sea, I'll help you find a berth. But I was hoping you'd wait for me to acquire a vessel of my own. With my reputation I ought to be able to find investors willing to advance me the money to get a new vessel. I can rebuild my fortune from there."

Thorton sighed. His future was not under his control, but then, ever since he'd gone to sea, it hadn't been. He owed it first to God and King, and now to this corsair. Only if he obtained a vessel of his own would he be able to set an independent course. But what course? Raiding the enemies of the Sallee rovers, bringing home loot and captives for ransom?

"Is that what you will do, go back to being a corsair, Isam?" There was a note of disapproval in his voice.

"Don't tell me the lapsed minister is trying to reform me!"

Thorton pulled out a chair and sat in it. He looked very earnestly at Tangle. "Isam Rais Tangueli, you are better than that. You could be a great admiral in a mighty navy. You should consider enlisting. Join the French if it pleases you to fight the Spanish." 

Tangle shook his head. "Sallee is my country and Islam is my religion. I fight for Allah and the Dey. It is what I believe in." He knitted his fingers together. "I will propose to the Dey that we should mount an expedition and drive the Spaniards from our shores. We have tried before and lost, but not since I have been a grown man. My father was killed the last time we tried to take Sebta. His death was for nothing. I want to set that right."

"How old were you?"

"Twelve. He performed my circumcision and confirmed me in submission to Allah the day before. I went to battle as a man that day and saw my father torn to pieces by Spanish grape. He died with his guts on the quarterdeck beside him and there was nothing I could do could stop it. I want to take Sebta for my father's sake."

Thorton wrapped his hands around Tangle's. He held them tightly. "I will stay. But not to turn corsair. Driving the enemy from the shores of one's homeland is an honorable thing. If Sallee is to be my home, then I will serve Allah and the Dey as I have served God and King."

"You will take the turban then?"

Thorton squared his shoulders and sat upright. "I will."

Tangle spoke softly. "Then repeat after me, Allahu Akbar; Ash-hado allaa Ila-ha illallah; Wa Ash-hadu anna Muhammader Rasoolullah. Allah is the greatest; I testify that there is none worthy of worship but Allah, and Mohammed is his messenger."

This was the greatest step that Thorton had ever taken. With it he severed all connections to the old world and committed himself to the new. He had no doubts at all about it. He spoke the Arabic words in a rolling voice and it rang in his ears. 

Tangle's dark face split into a broad grin and he wrapped Thorton in a bear hug. He pounded him on the back and said, "Well done!" 

Thorton felt light-headed but happy. The terrible torment was over. He had become a new man on a new course. "I believe Mr. Maynard may wish to convert as well, sir. He is enamored of everything Sallee." 

"Well then. We shall ask him. Let us go to him. I will not make him get up when he is still convalescing."

Maynard had overdone it and was back in bed. He was grey and drawn, but happy to have visitors. He smiled at them. 

Tangle gestured to Thorton. "Mr. Thorton has some news to share with you."

Thorton took a deep breath. "I have converted to Islam, Archie. When we get to Sallee I shall apply for citizenship. I hope to acquire a post with the Sallee navy. Not a corsair."

Maynard listened to this with a quizzical expression. "Are you going to wear a turban?"

Tangle replied, "That he will. It is the symbol of our faith. It is part of the dress uniform. No more of that Christian tricorn, Mr. Thorton! It symbolizes the Trinity and that is polytheism."

"I want to take the turban too," Maynard announced. "You have a much better way of doing things than the English navy, sir."

Tangle administered the profession of faith to Maynard. The lad recited it in his piping voice, then Tangle taught them how to wrap a turban. Wrapping it was easy, wrapping it so that it held together and looked good was difficult. As they practiced, Tangle instructed them in the five pillars of Islam.

"The profession of faith, that there is no God worthy of worship but Allah, that Mohammed is his messenger; prayer; charity; fasting during Ramadan; and the pilgrimage to Mecca once in your life if you are able. Everything else flows from that."

It was simple enough at the root. Tangle's baritone continued. "I have been remiss about the prayers," he said. "But if a prayer is missed it can be made up, or substituted with some other meritorious deed, such as the freeing of captives, feeding the hungry, or donations to charity. The Qur'an permits us to omit prayers entirely while traveling, if necessary, but we can fit them in as long as there is no emergency. You two must learn your prayers. You will add Arabic lessons and instruction in the Qur'an to your duties. I will tutor you."

The next morning the crew as awakened by Tangle's sonorous baritone. "Allahu Akbar. Allahu Akbar. Allahu Akbar. Allahu Akbar." Allah is great. Allah is great. Allah is great. Allah is great.

The ululating cry, never before heard on the deck of the Santa Teresa de Ávila, caused heads to turn in astonishment. The Christians aboard shivered at the strange melody, but Muslim hearts were glad. 

Tangle continued to sing out, "Ash-hadu alla ilaha illallah. Ash-hadu alla ilaha illallah." I bear witness that there is none worthy of worship except Allah. I bear witness that there is none worthy of worship except Allah.

The Muslim hands started hurrying, swiftly hauling up buckets of salt water to wash and purify themselves before prayer. 

"Ash-hadu anna Muhammadar Rasulullah. Ash-hadu anna Muhammadar Rasulullah." I bear witness that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah. I bear witness that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah.

Tangle smiled as he watched them scrambling to get clean. Some of them had already bathed and could come directly aft to stand on the deck below him. Checking the sun, they made their best guess as to the direction of Mecca and formed a line diagonally on the deck at the foot of the stairs. The men arriving later filed into orderly rows behind them. There was not much space. Some entered the coach while others filled up the bridge as far as the mainmast. 

Maynard and Thorton in their turbans were first in line to form the congregational prayer. Maynard had difficulty; with only one good leg he could not easily perform the changes in positions required. Thorton helped, but Maynard decided to stay seated for most of it. He bowed and turned his upper body in an approximation of the motions.

Afterwards, Tangle sat on the bottom step of the leeward stair and spoke to them about the divine revelations received by Mohammed and the absoluteness of the One. Thorton and Maynard were surprised to discover that Islam accepted the authority of the ancient prophets Abraham, Moses, and Adam, and that they likewise accepted Jesus as a prophet born of an immaculate conception. What Muslims did not accept was the divinity of Jesus and the Holy Ghost. Thorton was glad, he had never been able to understand how there could be such a thing as a 'three-personed God' when the First Commandment said, 'Thou shalt have no other God before me.' 

Tangle quoted some verses from the Qur'an (he was especially fond of verses having to do with the sea) and his melodious voice rolled over them, "He it is Who enables you to journey through land and sea until when you are on board the ships and they sail with them with a fair breeze and they rejoice in it, there overtakes them a violent wind and the waves come on them from every side and they think that they are encompassed, then they call upon Allah, in sincere submission to Him, saying, 'If thou deliver us from this, we will surely be of the thankful.'" 

He paused for a moment overcome by emotion, then said softly, "And so we worship Him who has delivered us from the hands of our enemies, the Spaniards, and sent us a fair wind to speed us home."

To that there was no argument. Thorton and Maynard joined the crew in saying, "Ameen."

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