Saturday, July 18, 2009

Chapter 33 : Family Quarrel

On board the Sea Leopard things were not going as well as Thorton imagined. Oh, Captain and Mistress Tangle were certainly pleased to see each other. Happy, delighted, thrilled, ecstatic, radiant—no words were sufficient to describe the joy of their reunion. In spite of anything that might be inferred about his character from his actions, Tangle truly loved his wife and she loved him. But there was another person who was even less happy to see Tangle than Thorton had been to see Jamila, and that was his brother-in-law, Kasim bin Nakih.

It began civilly enough when Tangle and Jamila mounted the quarterdeck and Kasim Rais said, "Peace be upon you, Isam. Welcome aboard." 

Kasim looked something like his sister, but his wavy hair was plain brown while hers was auburn. He kept it short under the turban. It was a black turban, worn above a black shirt embroidered with silver and gold and very costly. He wore a red sash with a scimitar hanging from it, black pantaloons, and red shoes. He wore a gold chain around his neck that supported a medallion set with rubies and diamonds. Rings adorned his hands. He wore a short curly beard and mustache trimmed close to his face. He was a handsome man but there was something hard and dissolute in his face. He was getting thick in the body and his face was fleshy, but he looked healthy and prosperous. He was ten years younger than Tangle and glowing with vitality. 

Tangle looked like a gangly and half-dead stick next to him. Had he let his bead grow there would have been a white streak down the middle (which was why he kept it shaved). His arms and legs were long, lean and ropy. A month of freedom had put meat on his bones, but his waist was still many inches narrower than it had been when he left Zokhara. 

Tangle replied, "Peace be upon you as well. I thank you for bringing my wife to meet me. I have missed her." His arm hugged tightly around Jamila's waist and he kissed her brow. "Although I would rather she had stayed home where it was safe, I am sure she would not. You pestered him, didn't you, Ami?" His tone was affectionate. 

Kasim shrugged. "Jamila has gone to sea before, as you well know." There was a sting hidden in his words. 

Tangle forced himself to be polite. "How are your wives and children?"

"They are well. I have married again and had another son while you were gone."

"Congratulations. I hope mother and child are well."

"They are."

"Congratulations on your marriage. How many wives is that for you now?"

"Three. Not counting the worthless one I divorced." His eyes blazed defiance. 

Tangle's jaw worked, but he turned to his wife and asked politely, "Are Shadha and the children well?"

Jamila replied softly, "Yes, she has been very kind to me in your absence. Ruwaydah and Thaqib are old enough to be a real help around the house now." 

Kasim spoke angrily, "It was wrong of you to make servants of them. People speak ill of me and claim that I wasn't supporting them."

"That's because you weren't supporting them," Tangle shot back.

"When I gave her money, she spent it on herself instead of the children!"

Tangle would have answered, but Jamila intervened. "Kasim, Isam! That is old business. Let it lie, I beg you." She took her brother and the husband by the arms and tugged on them, giving them each pleading looks.

Tangle took a deep breath and exerted some self-control. "You are right, habibi. All right. Let's go into Tanguel. I need to arrange for a prize agent. We took a ship and a snow last night, and a rum runner a few days before that." He gave his wife a peck on the cheek, then released her and took a step forward to look over the ship. "Loose grapples," he ordered.

Kasim snapped, "Belay that." The men on the quarterdeck hesitated. "I'm captain here. I give the orders. You and your wife may retire to her cabin. I'm sure you have much to catch up on."

"Kasim," said Jamila in a placating voice.

"Don't 'Kasim' me, Jamila! I'm the captain. He is my guest and he will do well to remember it."

"The ship is mine," Tangle pointed out.

"No, it is my ship. I paid her price. Not you. Once she was yours, but you were foolhardy and you lost her. I bought her. She's mine now."

Tangle gave his wife a look like a thunderstorm about to break. "Did he?"

"We organized a corporation of investors. I didn't have enough to buy it back by myself," she explained apologetically.

"How many?"

"Twelve shares, nine investors. I own two shares and Shakil owns two. Kasim and Nakih each own one, then there are the other investors. They are friends of Kasim." She looked nervous. "I'm sorry, Isam, but I couldn't afford to buy her without help. When the Spanish wouldn't release you, we bought the ship back and hoped that some how you would come home to us." 

Tangle's eyes grew hard and angry. He set his jaw. Several impulses went through his head, not the least of which was that it would feel eminently gratifying to punch the usurping Kasim right in the nose. 

"So you take advantage of my misfortune to advance your own? And you don't even know how to use it. Look at those stubby little antennas! You cut them down like a cowardly Christian!" he accused his brother-in-law.

Kasim's face went white. "I'm a better corsair than you give me credit for. Haven't I brought in prizes while you were gone? Tell him I have, Jamila. You know I have. Haven't I supported your family in your absence? You owe me, Isam."

A vein throbbed in Tangle's temple. Jamila squeezed his biceps frantically. "He didn't cut it down, the Spaniards did. We can talk about this when we get back to port. Please let us not quarrel. What matters is that you are back safe and sound!" 

Tangle longed to leap at his brother-in-law, but he couldn't with his wife standing right there. "I am Captain of the Corsairs of Zokhara, so you must obey me. You won't take my ship out from under me, no matter what ploy you try."

Kasim gave him an evil smile. "You aren't the Captain of Corsairs and haven't been since your ransom failed. Murad Rais was made Kapitan Pasha when you were taken. When the news came in that you were free, he hastened to the Dey to have his position confirmed. You aren't kapitan pasha anymore. Murad is. And he never liked you."

Tangle's face was white with fury beneath the mahogany tan. He bared his teeth in a snarl. He turned to his wife. "Is this true?"

She gave him an apologetic look so that he knew that it was, even before the words were out of her mouth. "I'm sorry, dear."

Kasim gloated with his arms folded over his chest. "You're the lord of nothing, Isam. You're in debt. You own nothing. You are nothing. Your career is over. A new generation of men will rule the seas."

Tangle was in the most furious rage of his life, but he had the self-control to refrain from doing anything violent. When he had mastered himself, he said, "We will transfer to the Santa Teresa." 

Tangle exited the quarterdeck and stormed over to the rail. His wife was nearly pulled off her feet as she ran to keep up with him. His dunnage was sitting on deck waiting for him, never having been stowed.

"Make ready a boat to carry Isam bin Hamet and Jamila bint Nakih to the galiot," Kasim ordered with great satisfaction. He deliberately omitted 'rais.' 

Thorton was astonished when Tangle, his wife and their luggage, or more correctly the vast heap of Jamila's luggage and the captain's sea chest, went over the xebec's side into the ship's boat. The sailors rowed strongly and the Leopard's Whelp bobbed over the waves toward the galiot. 

"Prepare to receive boat. Prepare to render captain's honors," he ordered. 

They piped Captain and Mistress Tangle aboard. Tangle hoisted Jamila up and she clambered onto the aft deck of the galley and looked around uncertainly. She wrinkled her nose. Was it the vinegar they'd used to wash the decks or had they failed to entirely eradicate the galley's infamous stink? The wrinkled nose gave Thorton another reason to dislike her. Tangle climbed aboard and the hands began hauling up the luggage. Ladies didn't have 'dunnage,' they had far too many clothes for that. Tangle lead his wife to the captain's cabin.

A few minutes later Thorton was knocking on the door. 

"Enter," Tangle called.

Her luggage was heaped all along the side next to the captain's desk. She was sitting in his lap and had her arms around his neck. Thorton politely averted his eyes. Tangle made introductions with the woman still in his lap. 

"Mr. Peter Thorton, Jamila bint Nakih, my wife. You must forgive our informality. We haven't seen each other in a long time." He spoke Spanish then Arabic to make certain they both understood. 

"Enchanted, madame," Thorton replied with formal correctness. He gave a little bow. "Salaam. Peace be upon you," he added in Arabic. 

"And also upon you. I'm delighted to meet you, Mr. Thorton." Her Arabic flowed beautifully for several more sentences, but he could only understand her greeting. Up close he saw that she was indeed beautiful, although her eyes and cheeks were hollow. She did not veil her face so he could see her features quite clearly: luminous large dark eyes, a slim straight nose, small rose lips. He had not paid much attention to women himself, but he was sure Perry or any Englishman but himself would have been enthralled by the creature.

Tangle smiled indulgently at her, then translated. "She says she's grateful to you for helping to bring me home. Achmed has arrived in Zokhara and so have my letters. The little minx—" his tone was fond in the extreme, "persuaded Kasim to bring her to meet me. They guessed that we would come in to Tanguel, what with the blockade and us with a shoal draft vessel."

"My pleasure, I'm sure." Thorton gave another bow. "You ran the blockade of the Straits?" He opted for Spanish as the common tongue.

"We did," she replied. "We flew a Spanish flag. Kasim said that with her shorter spars they would believe we were Spanish, and he was right."

The rage was swift to return. Tangle thundered, "That damn Kasim has stolen my ship and made a trollop of her! I never saw such an ill-favored lot of snivelers and look at the trim on those sails! She sails like a pig!"

Jamila had been studying Spanish ever since her husband was captured, but she could only keep up with part of his outburst. Between her conciliatory explanations in halting Spanish and Tangle's fluent rants in Arabic, Turkish and Spanish, the story was transmitted to Thorton. He thought the financial arrangements were nothing that the corsair should complain about; his wife and relatives had accomplished something quite remarkable in getting his ship back. His wife's other brother, Shakil, had even risked his life to go to Sebta and find agents that could help them. Being acquainted with Tangle's daredevil ways at sea, he harbored the theory that Kasim was a reasonably competent mariner, in spite of being rude to his brother-in-law. He wisely refrained from saying so. 

Tangle put Jamila in a chair and paced around the cabin. He had to keep his head ducked in order to pace. He put his hand against a beam. "Damn it, I had the Sea Leopard built with a seven foot deckhead so that I could stand up straight in my boots and turban! I'm tired of waddling around like a toad!"

Thorton ventured, "The Spaniards lawfully condemned and sold her. All you can do is buy her back. You're lucky she's in Sallee hands."

"Kasim won't sell," Jamila said anxiously. "I've already spoken to him. He likes being captain." 

Tangle fumed. "When Jamila and I were first married, he had only one wife. He was a butcher by trade. He was still paying his wife's dower. Kind-hearted, foolish man that I was, I gave him the money to finish paying her dower. GAVE it to him! See how he repays me?"

Jamila bit her lip again. She did not like to see her husband so angry, especially not now, and especially not at her brother. "Isam, habibi, you are free! That is what matters! We will go to Zokhara and you will see the children. They've grown so much since you've been gone!"

Tangle bent and kissed her cheek. There was still fire in his eye, but he banked it for the sake of his wife. "You are right. I have missed the children something fierce. Do you think they will remember me?" 

"Tahirah does and Hamet too. The triplets . . . recognize your picture. Little Alexander has no idea who that man is, but he repeats, 'Baba' when I prompt him. Tahirah has told them that Baba will bring them presents, so they are all looking forward to your return." She smiled tremulously at him. 

Tangle smiled at that. "Fortunately, I went shopping at Correaux. I have all manner of trinkets for them." 

Thorton began easing towards the door, but Tangle noticed the movement. He straightened up and accidentally smacked his head on the deckhead. He grunted and rubbed his turban. "Mr. Thorton, will you dine with us tonight?"

Thorton shook his head. "I think your wife has a better claim to you, rais." He escaped before Tangle could call him back. 

Safe on the poop deck, Thorton paced. His pacing was an agitated stroll from the front rail to the tafferel, stepping up next to one of the sternchasers, then back again. The other men left him alone. He was given the windward side as was customary for the commanding officer. He thought about Tangle's situation and was pleased that he himself had no such family entanglements. He was a bachelor and half an orphan; his father had died in Maryland and his widowed mother had returned to England and remarried. There was a large span of years between Thorton and his half-siblings, both of whom had died in infancy. He wondered if his mother missed him, her only surviving child, and felt a pang of guilt. He had not seen her in ten years and written only a few times. It had been years since he had had a letter from her. He wondered if she were still alive. He supposed he ought to write her and find out. For some reason he was feeling homesick, but not for her husband's parsonage in England. He missed Maryland and the cabins of the Shawnah Indians.

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