Sunday, July 19, 2009

Chapter 35 : Map of Glory

Five hundred guests attended the banquet. Sheep, chickens, goats, and a camel were slaughtered and roasted. There was insufficient room in the governor's dining hall, so it was held in the courtyards and rooms around the courtyard. Female guests were kept separate from the male guests. The whole palace was very grand but in a state of decay. It had been built in the heyday of the corsairs when fleets of galleys brought home argosies of wealth. Now they were living in their own shadow. It was not that they had diminished but that the nations of Europe had grown past them. The Sallee Republic didn't know that it was in decline; the increasing wealth of Europe meant that the prizes their corsairs brought home were big and rich. When they brought them. Thus the elite lived in wealth, oblivious to their own inferiority. By Sallee standards Tanguel was a large and prosperous town of at least ten thousand people, but it was divided between rich and poor, and the rich were not as rich as they imagined themselves to be, in spite of their opulence.

There was a slower cadence of life here, even compared to the sluggish French of the Atlantic coast, and it was not due to the greater heat. It was early summer and the stultifying heat had not yet come to oppress them. Thorton recognized the feeling. He had had it himself. It was the sluggish despair of people who were aware that somehow they did not belong in the world which they inhabited, and that their best efforts were insufficient to bring them the rewards they ardently desired. They had no idea how to slip the bonds of tradition, traditions that had once served them well but which now held them back. This was the country of which he would become a citizen, the country for which he would fight and perhaps give his life. No wonder they fought for money and religion. Home failed to inspire.

For Tangle, the miasma was even more pronounced. When he was a boy Tanguel was in decline, but it had not been obvious to a child. Her entrance had not been silted so deep and bigger ships could be brought in; now Fezakh just over the border in Morocco was prospering and Tanguel was becoming a sleepy byway. Zokhara had long been the capital of the nation, gifted as it was with a good, deep harbor and an easy strike at the wealth of the Middle Sea. But Tangle had rowed a Spanish galley along the western coast of Europe for two years, and he had seen that the Atlantic traffic was very great. America  across the sea was sending her riches to England, France, and Spain. The Santa Teresa de Ávila's fleet number had been 112, and she was neither first nor last in the Spanish navy. The entire coast of Sallee could not raise even a third that number of warships. 

As for Thorton, even the Spanish coast seemed quaintly backwards compared to the densely populated towns and coasts of southern England. Had Tanguel been in England, there would have been mills all along the riverbank with bustling barges hauling raw materials to feed them. Coal fires would have sent dark smudges of smoke to hang in a pall over the city and the pace of life would have hummed with energy. Perhaps he would invest his prize money in a woolen mill with machinery imported from England. He would have to row along the river to inspect, but it seemed there was a spot above the old Roman bridge that might be suitable. There were plenty of sheep in the country, a small woolen mill would be just the thing to make a small fortune. So he daydreamed because he could not understand most of the speeches and toasts even when they were in his honor. He simply smiled and raised his glass when everyone else did. 

Tangle was given the post of honor, seated on a divan in the courtyard opposite the Bey of Tanguel, an aging gentleman with snow white hair and beard, a large belly, very rich robes and a large white turban. He was flanked by a dozen or more sons, viziers, and officers. Tangle was flanked by Thorton, Foster, and Maynard. Other officers were seated on cushions nearby. Kasim Rais and several local captains were the centers of their own coteries of officers and attendants. Black and white eunuchs waited on them hand and foot. The food was never-ending and dancing boys entertained them to the sound of Arab lutes and flutes. Tangle was obliged to regale them with the tale of his escape, the capture of the galleys, and the capture of the prizes. The crowd was very pleased to hear that two more prizes would rendezvous at Tanguel. 

Eventually the old man rose and departed but bade his guests to continue enjoying his hospitality. Part of his suite retired with him, and a few of the guests made their excuses and departed, but half the crowd remained to get drunk and stuff themselves to bursting at the governor's expense. Tangle got off his divan and stretched his legs. He excused himself for the trip to the necessary. He was gone a very long time. Thorton began to wonder what had happened to him. He was also tired of trying to converse in a language of which he had little knowledge. Some of the corsairs spoke Spanish or French, but mostly he was just plain tired. The courtyard was surrounded by a colonnade made of horseshoe arches in the Moorish fashion, so he excused himself and strolled it, looking in windows and doors. They all stood open. He discovered Tangle in the library.

The corsair was standing before a great and ancient map set in mosaic in the wall. It was an old map and it showed Sallee as the center of the world. England was at the very top of the map. Thorton studied it but did not feel homesick. England seemed very far away. 

Tangle heard him and turned around. "Peter Rais! I didn't hear you come in."

Thorton stepped forward. "Isam Rais, salaam." He pointed up at England. "What is that?"

Tangle smiled. "Your country."

Thorton slipped off his shoes and dragged a hassock over. It was the sort of furniture known as an 'ottoman' at home. He climbed up. "No. This." He touched the map. "Galleys pulled up on an English shore, that's what it is. I cannot read the name. 'Tis Arabic." 

Tangle was tall enough to stand on tiptoe to read it. He pronounced the name and explained, "That means 'Moor's Beach.'"

"Moor's beach? Moorshead! I know where that is!" Thorton exclaimed. He peered at the map and found more galleys. "That must be Penzance, and this is Falsmouth. And that is Landsea!" He marveled. "Galleys on the beaches of England!"

"A hundred years ago we were great mariners, Peter. We raided from the Canary Islands to Iceland. Many towns in England, France and Spain made us welcome." He tapped the map. "My father told me that in the old days there might be twenty galleys pulled up on the sands of an English beach. Some of your dark-haired Englishmen are blood of our blood—you cannot give six thousand sailors shore leave and expect them to remain chaste." He smiled at Thorton.

"Shore leave! Don't they desert?"

Tangle laughed. "Men don't desert gold, Peter. Victorious captains don't have any trouble recruiting and keeping a crew." Then he sobered. "Now we don't get farther than Eel Buff, and rarely that. Gabir Rais is accounted a great corsair by present standards." His mouth twisted in disappointment.

Thorton moved his hassock to peer at a new part of the map. He found beaches on both coasts of France and Spain with galleys on them. And islands in the Middle Sea, the coasts of Italy, and more. A Turkish fleet commanded the eastern Mediterranean. The Atlantic Ocean was studded with lateen sails.

Tangle stared at the map with a long face. He stepped next to Thorton and traced the northern coast of Sallee with his finger. "Look. Tanger and Sebta are Muslim on this map." Tanger guarded the western approach to the Strait of Gibraltar, while Sebta was right at the tip of Africa and commanded the Pinch. "They say you can see all the way across the Pinch into the harbor of Gibraltar from the hills of Sebta. I wonder if it is true. Sebta has been in Spanish hands all my life." 

A soft footfall entered the room. They turned to look. The new arrival was as tall as Thorton but with a slender build. He had curly black hair and a beard with a few strands of white in it, although he looked to be in his early thirties. He had a hooked nose and intense brown eyes. He wore a Turkish coat of elaborate brocade above dark blue pantaloons. The coat's overall color was oxblood, but it was covered in a pattern of arabesques in jewel-like tones. His feet were thrust into leather slippers decorated with jewels. His turban was dark blue around a dark red fez. A large brooch decorated with precious stones was fixed to the front of it. 

"Isam Rais. Peter Rais. Peace be upon you." The man spoke Arabic in a tenor voice with clear and pleasant diction. 

Thorton had met a great many of the local dignitaries. He could not remember which one this was. Fortunately, Tangle did. "Zahid Amir. Peace be upon you and yours." Tangle bowed deeply to the man, so Thorton bowed too. Then he climbed down from the hassock and put his shoes on.

Lord Zahid walked forward. He paused to look Thorton up and down., then he said in excellent English, "I have heard you are looking for a surgeon for your vessel, rais. As it happens, I am a doctor. I trained at Cambridge."

Thorton was astonished. He responded in English, "I am very pleased to hear it, sir."

Tangle was very curious and feeling a bit left out, so he moved closer. "Do you seek a position, my lord?" It took him a moment to assemble the English sentence.

"Perhaps. It is more accurate to say that I am seeking a man, rather than a position."

Tangle looked to Thorton to make sure he had understood the English correctly. Thorton translated into Spanish for him. "What sort of man?" the corsair asked.

Lord Zahid walked up to the wall. He stood staring up at the map of past greatness with his hands clasped behind his back. His carriage was very alert and unlike the fatalistic and casual slouch of so many of his countrymen. He turned around and spoke English again. "An energetic man."

Thorton glanced at Tangle who glanced back. They drew nearer. "We're interested," Tangle replied. 

"Tanger lies within my father's satrapy. He's an old man, a good man, a man who has grown accustomed to the burdens of fate. But I have been to England, and France, too." He switched to French, "Parlez-vous français, gentilhommes?" They allowed that they did. The conversation continued in that language. Thorton spoke it better than Tangle spoke English, and Lord Zahid spoke it better than either of them. 

"Spain has suffered her first great defeat. Now is the time to make alliances with the nations of Europe who are enemies of Spain and cast her towers from our shores. If we can do that, why not take Granada too? The French from the northeast, the English from the northwest, and the Portuguese will revolt in the west. Spain will be dismembered. The obscene riches of her American mines will no longer flow into Spanish coffers. And who is perfectly placed to replace her as the arbiter of the Middle Sea and Atlantic trade? Sallee. We occupy exactly that same place, with the same merits of climate and position as she does. We are her mirror image."

It was a grand, impossible plan. But a noble vision. Tangle could see it. He had his doubts, but he could see it. 

Thorton was a good deal more skeptical. He said cautiously, "Evicting the Spaniards from Sallee would be an excellent step, but money, sir. Where is the money to raise a navy and an army going to come from?"

"Spain herself. We shall raid her, but instead of dispersing the money as prizes, we will pile it up in a great war chest."

"The corsairs won't stand for it," Tangle pointed out.

"That is why we must have a navy. The corsairs must be promised preferment, of course. Estates and offices, pomp and honors. We must make gentlemen and officers of them. Is that not how your English navy operates, Peter Rais?"

"Aye, sir. But it is supported by a prodigious amount of money from Parliament. It does not support itself. England is a well-populated and prosperous country. Our American colonies supply us with raw materials, which our manufacturing establishments turn into finished goods and sell back. I admit I have not been here long, but I have not seen much industry in your country."

Zahid paced away from the map, then turned to look at it. "It is as you say, rais. I have introduced English methods of mining and that has improved our output. We produce a great deal of copper and I have no doubt that we could produce iron too. Sadly, our timber is in want. We must go far into the interior to get timber suitable for ships and the Zouave tribesmen are not friendly. Some of them are still pagans."

Thorton said, "Our colonies are in great want of iron and copper and other minerals, but they supply excellent timber, hemp, pitch, and other naval supplies. I meant to say, the English colonies do." He flushed to remember that he was no longer English so they were no longer 'our' colonies. 

Lord Zahid wagged a finger at him. "And England will not let anyone trade with her colonies unless they touch first in England and pay duty. When they arrive in the colonies, they must pay duty again. It is a slow and expensive way to do business. We must break it open."

"Smuggling is rampant among them, sir. My father was an American smuggler." 

Tangle threw him a sharp look, having never heard anything about his father before. 

Thorton's mind was beginning to work. "I do believe it would please the Americans to do business directly with you, since it would make the goods cheaper to them while allowing you a greater profit. The Chesapeake Bay is shallow with many winding roads and islands. It is a smuggler's paradise."

Tangle was listening intently to this. "Smuggling is a dangerous business, but it pays well. It takes a fast, agile ship, one that can defend herself. But she must carry cargo instead of men, so it is better if she not come to grips with the enemy."

"Your galleys are not that kind of vessel. You will need schooners and ships," Thorton replied. 

"We need xebecs," Tangle replied with conviction. "I admit you have no reason to be impressed with them so far, but that is because the Sea Leopard is ill-handled and has been poorly treated. Lord Zahid, I wonder if you could do me a favor?" 

Lord Zahid inclined his head. "If I can, I will." 

"I want my vessel back. Kasim has it." He deliberately omitted 'rais.' "How the Spaniards let a Muslim buy her, I don't know. Shakil Effendi must have arranged it through intermediaries. But I want her back. Can you help?"

Lord Zahid began walking around the room in deep thought. "Where did he get the money?"

"He borrowed it from all and sundry. He has investors. My wife and Murad Rais included."

"Then she must call a meeting of the shareholders and put it to a vote. The shareholders own the vessel and choose its captain."

"I don't want to be beholden to the shareholders. I want to own it, free and clear, as I did in the days before."

Zahid studied him. "I will buy it and give it to you, but only if you will accept the position of Kapitan Pasha of Tanguel and throw the Spaniards out of Tanger."

A slow smile grew on Tangle's face. "Done."

Lord Zahid turned to Thorton. "And you, Peter Rais. Will you sail under the Tangueli flag?"

"I go where Isam Rais goes," Thorton replied. "It would give me great pleasure to wage honorable war against the Spanish for the liberation of Tanger."

Lord Zahid smiled. "Excellent. Call on me at eight of the clock in the morning and we will establish the Tangueli navy." 

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