Sunday, July 19, 2009

Chapter 36 : The Winds As Good News

Zahid Amir, son of the Bey of Tanguel, had a powerful vision, but almost nothing to build it on. He had Tangle, his reputation, and three galleys. There was little that they could accomplish on their own, so they must run the Spanish blockade of the Strait of Gibraltar to Zokhara and solicit the aid of the much larger and better funded force there. But there was one matter on which Tangle put his foot down.

"You must dredge the mouth of the harbor." Tangle and Thorton were sitting cross-legged on divans. Lord Zahid sat on the divan across from them with the skirts of his long Turkish coat spread around him. The sandalwood windows opened on the cloister and let in the breeze and sun. It was a very agreeable room. 

Lord Zahid hesitated. "I have spoken about this with my father. He says that if the harbor is dredged, the Spaniards will attack us here. As long as they cannot get big ships ino the harbor, we are safe." The conversation was in French as usual with the three of them.

"Nonsense," Thorton replied. "If you float a navy they must attack you because you menace them."

"We are not ready to withstand such an attack."

"Then you must make ready," Thorton replied. "Improve the fort, draft troops, stockpile supplies. Dredge the harbor. Tanger is in the hands of the enemy and Sallee City is dead and buried. Exactly where do you plan to establish your Arsenal if not here?"

"Well, I—It costs money. A great deal of money."

Tangle said, "Then you must dredge the harbor. Do you have any idea how difficult it is to bring prizes into Tanguel? Most of the corsairs pass you by in order to send their prizes into Fezakh instead. How many prizes has your prize court seen this year?"

"I don't know."

"I don't either, but I can tell not many because the snow generated quite a lot of excitement. She's just a tobacco merchant. A good solid prize, but nothing out of the ordinary. Look you, we can probably get the brig in by lightening her, too, but the ship will never make it. The ship is the best prize, and she's going to Fezakh. The Sultan of Morocco will get the share your father ought to have. That sandbar isn't very big and the channel isn't very wide. We can clear that in a few days if we work. It will be sufficient to float the brig in. When the brig sails into the harbor, that will prove that it is feasible. Then you can undertake the necessary work to widen and deepen the channel to let ships in."

"It isn't just the channel, the harbor is silted too."

"Then dredge!" Thorton replied in exasperation. 

"But it will silt up again and in ten years we'll have to dredge again."

"Then find what is causing the silting and put a stop to it," Thorton snapped back.

"It is Allah's handiwork," Zahid replied. 

"I hardly think so. In England I have noticed that when fields run up to the streams, they erode quite badly, but in forests it is not so. Tanguel has no forests. Plant trees along the edges of streams and forbid the fields to come right down to them."

Tangle was keenly interested. "There were trees, my father told me when I was a boy, but they were all cut to make galleys and xebecs. The river used to run deep and clear. It was navigable above the old Roman bridge."

"If you want a navy," Thorton expostulated, "then you must order your affairs on land to support it. How you can retake Granada if you are unwilling to defend your own headquarters!"

The last argument told on Lord Zahid. "Yes, you are very right. I have been entranced by the successes of the English navy without understanding how they were accomplished. I must study the matter further. Very well. I will order the dredging to begin immediately."

"I shall donate my share of the snow's prize money to the improvement of the harbor," Tangle said. Thorton gave him an alarmed look. Tangle said, "Don't worry. My share, as owner. The crew shall have their prize money to spend as they please. By the way, grant shore leave before we pay off. That way they won't run. They'll come back to the ship because they want their money."

"Aye aye, sir."

"All right," said Zahid. "Now that that is settled, let us move on to the matter of uniforms and insignia." He pulled out a sketch. "This is the uniform. Purple frock coats in the English style, white turbans, white shirts—waistcoats optional in the heat—buff trousers, and black boots."

Thorton stared in horror. Tangle studied the image. It was skillfully done, and he pondered it thoughtfully. "White facings? I think gold bars in the Turkish fashion would be better." 

"But that's how the English do it," Lord Zahid replied. 

"We are not English and should be distinguished from such," Thorton replied tartly. Privately he thought this business of aping the English would make them look ridiculous. But he was distracted by another fault in the design. "Falling collars? Those are for warrant officers! Commissioned officers need standing collars so that their insignia shows!"

"Oh, is that why they do it?" Lord Zahid asked.

"Perhaps short coats trimmed in gold piping and no collar," Tangle mused.

"I am attempting to design a dignified uniform that will make us look like officers instead of tribesmen," Lord Zahid replied. "Do you want to look like a Zouave?"

"The petty officers will. We ought to at least look like we come from the same country."

"Long coats," Lord Zahid said doggedly. "Long coats, but you can have your gold bars."

"Do you really think purple is wise? The color is very dear," Thorton put in.

"But the breeches are buff which is cheap enough."

"But a midshipman can hardly afford a long coat of purple!"

"We-ell, perhaps we could put the midshipmen in jackets . . ." Zahid replied unwillingly.

Tangle had another objection. "Must we wear stocks? That's all very well for the northern climates where they need to keep their necks warm, but we'll suffocate in the heat down here." 

Thorton replied, "Of course we should wear stocks. All gentlemen do, regardless of the weather. You'll look like a common laborer if you don't."

"I have never worn a stock and I don't intend to start!" Tangle replied with considerable spirit.

Thorton was not as fluent in French, so he switched to Spanish to carry the debate. Tangle was equally strong in his opinion. Thus the Tangueli navy was very nearly sunk before it was even off the stocks. 

Zahid couldn't handle the Spanish at all, but he understood the tone well enough. "Gentlemen, please!" he cried in Arabic. They stopped and mumbled apologies. Zahid produced a new sketch with the details changed, except for the matter of the stock. They studied it. 

"That's better," Tangle agreed. "It looks more Muslim now." 

"But clearly, something must be worn at the throat. It looks odd without it," Thorton added.

"Well then. Let it be the officer's choice. A stock, a brooch, a cravat, a gorget, whatever he pleases. Then you can suffocate in your stock and I can be left in peace," Tangle suggested. Thus the matter was settled. 

A few days later, the officers gathered around the Santa Teresa's table in the captain's cabin—Thorton's cabin. They had their new uniforms. Maynard was quite pleased with his new outfit, but Foster wasn't pleased at all. They had their insignia, too, on standing collars. Tangle wore crossed scimitars and star for his rank as Captain of the Fleet while Thorton had crossed scimitars as a captain. Foster and Maynard each had a lieutenant's star. Midshipman Kaashifa had nothing to distinguish himself, but he was allowed to wear the standing collar with gold braid. Bellini fared worse, he had no uniform at all because there was no Bellini present. The brig had not come in.

"Why did it have to be purple?" Foster wanted to know. He was back in his spot as first lieutenant. His ship had come in a day after Maynard. Or, more correctly, she had hove to off of Tanguel and her boat came in. The harbor was in no way fit to receive her. The prize court of Tanguel, unwilling to let such a prize (and its share for their coffers) be taken to Morocco, had convened on board her. The cargo was taken off in lighters and the ship assigned to a sailing master and agent (another one of Tangle's cousins) to take and sell in Fezakh. Foster would follow Tangle anywhere, even the assault on Tanger, but that did not mean he was willing to wear purple while doing it. 

Thorton rounded on him. "Leave the purple be." 

"That's all very well for you to say, Thorton. You're blond. You look all right in purple, but I look terrible." Foster was a redhead and starting to go grey. It was not a good color for him. "Blue is better. Anyone looks good in blue."

"I don't, " Tangle said.

"Then why did you wear it?"

"Blue is my favorite color."

"Shouldn't we be talking about Bellini and the brig? He's awfully late. What if he doesn't show up?" Maynard asked. 

That three grown men should be reminded of more important matters by a fifteen-year old boy shamed them. They looked abashed, shuffled feet, and cleared throats. 

"Exactly so, Mr. Maynard," said Tangle. "He's five days late. The galleys and the sloop will be ready shortly. We leave in two days, with or without him. We will just have to hope he made it into Fezakh. My agent there will send us word if he did."

"Is the xebec coming with us?" Thorton asked.

"I think so. Jamila has persuaded Kasim that we need his protection for our convoy." Tangle's lip curled in displeasure.

Maynard snorted. Foster huffed. Thorton was stiff. None of them liked the way they had to pander to Kasim's vanity. 

Tangle looked around at them. "How in the hell did I wind up with a pack of ferenghi for my officers?" With Bellini absent it was a mostly white officer corps. 

"I'm not, sir," Kaashifa reminded him. He was a swarthy man in his late twenties. The hair that had been shorn to his skull had grown just long enough to twist every which way and refuse to lie flat without being able to form into the curls that were its natural habit.

"Which reminds me. I have nominations for the midshipmen's berths, sir," Thorton said.

"Let's have them. Any Muslims among them?"

"Mr. Nazim. Age twenty-four, a Moor and a Muslim. The other candidates are Mr. Arellano and Mr. Gamarra." 

"Excellent. Make a midshipman of Mr. Nazim. Now tell me about the other two." 

Thorton was silent for a long while. "Sir, am I captain of the Santa Teresa?"

"Of course you are."

"Is it not generally the captain's duty in Sallee to select the officers and crew?"

A tense silence fell. Tangle drummed his fingers on the table top. As a corsair he had made his own officers as it pleased him. As the Captain of Corsairs he had called other captains to sail with him. Those who wished to join him answered, but they brought their own ships and officers with them. It was their prerogative. He could not dictate to them. Now that he was the owner and not the captain, the prerogatives diverged. 

"Captain Thorton, as the owner of the Santa Teresa, I have certain expectations. Therefore I would appreciate it if you would oblige me in the matter of the officers."

Thorton set his jaw. "Aye aye, sir." 

Foster had known Tangle a very long time. He'd even been chained next to him in the galley. He dared to interject, "What about Bellini?"

"He is late. The galley needs another midshipman, not to mention, another a lieutenant," Tangle replied.

"You know nothing of Nazim's qualities," Foster persisted.

Tangle barked, "Thorton Rais. Is Nazim qualified? I cannot think you would have brought his name to me if he were unfit for the duty."

"He is qualified, sir," Thorton replied.

"That settles it. If you bring me qualified candidates you have no cause to complain when I select one of them."

"Aye aye, sir," Thorton replied woodenly. He was thinking dark thoughts about being a captain in name only. How was he to get out of the notorious corsair's shadow and distinguish himself as a captain in his own right? The men would be constantly looking to Tangle to validate their orders. 

"Now then. Whom do you recommend for the remaining midshipman's berth?"

"I'd like Arrellano, if it pleases you, sir," Thorton replied. 

"Make it so. If Bellini shows up, I'll examine him for lieutenant. If he passes, you'll have your proper number of lieutenants. If he doesn't pass, I'll examine the others. If none of them pass, you'll be short a lieutenant and have to select one of the midshipmen as the acting third lieutenant. It should motivate them all to study hard."

"Aye aye, sir." Thorton's expression was sour.

Maynard had a question. "Won't the Dey be annoyed that you have raised your own fleet? Isn't he your king?"

Tangle shook his head. "Not exactly. The various satrapies, military units, naval units, merchants, landholders, religious authorities, and trival leaders have their representatives that sit on the Divan. They elect the Dey. Usually one of their own number. So you might say that he is first among equals. Getting them to agree to anything is difficult. The naval interests are the strongest, so they usually prevail in the discussions. During the winter, policies and plans are made for the coming year. During the summer, those plans are carried out by the bureaucrats. Each of the satrapies is largely independent, but pays tribute and receives protection from Zokhara, the capital. The Sallee Republic in turn pays tribute to the Sublime Porte in Istanbul and receives protection. In truth, we pay tribute and get drafted into the Turkish navy, which is why the Sallee navy has been allowed to fall into such a decline. It is better to be a corsair than be drafted into the Turkish navy."

"Can the Sublime Porte draft us, too?" Maynard asked. 

Tangle had to think about that. Finally he said, "No. We are corsairs. The Governor of Tanguel can draft us, but Tanguel is in turn the tributary of Zokhara, not the Sultan in Istanbul. Thus the Sultan cannot call us up directly. He can only call on the Dey of Sallee. The Dey in turns calls up those that are obliged to him and so fulfills the Sultan's demand. So he could call on Tanguel, and Tanguel could call on us, and so we could be channeled into the Turkish fleet. But it seems unlikely. Even if I was called to the Sultan's service, I wouldn't go. And the Dey wouldn't send me. I'm more valuable here than there." 

Thorton asked, "Even though Murad Rais is Captain of the Corsairs of Zokhara? I think it would please him to send his rival to Istanbul and far away from Zokhara." 

Tangle fell into a brown study. "I will have to discover the politics when I get there. I cannot think the Dey has totally forgotten me." He drummed his fingers on the table as he frowned, then rose. They rose with him. "Very well. I leave you to your duties, gentleman." 

Thorton escorted him to the door and stepped into the passageway with him. "Sir. If I am a captain, pray let me be a captain." He kept his voice low so that the other officers would not hear. 

Tangle kept his voice low as well. "You are inexperienced when it comes to command and lateen vessels. Not to mention, your Arabic is not adequate."

Thorton replied calmly, "Then you should not have made a captain of me. If I am not qualified, I would rather be a lieutenant and have the time necessary to learn my duties and earn my promotion."

"Having made a captain of you, I cannot unmake you. That would look bad."

"It will look worse if you are constantly treating me like a lieutenant when I wear the crossed scimitars of a captain. You have made your decision. You must live with it. Stop undermining my authority." Thorton's eyes were grey as steel as he locked gazes with Tangle. 

Tangle did not answer for a long while. Finally he said softly, "I want you to succeed, Peter." His voice was placating. 

"I appreciate your advice and instruction in private, but I will issue orders to the ship and make decisions about the ship's operations. Your duty is to coordinate the squadron and to give the orders necessary to achieve the strategic goals. Do we agree?"

Tangle gave Thorton a bemused look. "We do. Very well, do you have any orders, captain?" He kept his voice light, but there was an edge to it.

"I do. When you come aboard, you and Mistress Tangle may have the sailing master's berth. I will keep the captain's cabin. I realize it will inconvenience you, but you shall have to live with it. The men naturally presume that whoever occupies the captain's cabin is in charge."

Brown eyes flared as Tangle stared back at Thorton. "It is customary for the vessel's owner to have the best cabin."

"It is customary for the most commodious vessel to receive the master of the fleet. That would be the Sea Leopard." 

"You know Kasim will not receive me."

"'Tis not my problem. My problem is how to instill respect for my authority on my ship."

Tangle's eyes were snapping but he whirled away and paced a few steps. Thorton stood stiffly. He ought to have been afraid of his master's temper, but he wasn't. He knew in his gut that he was right. Why was Tangle angry?

Pride. Tangle had given up his right to command when he made Thorton captain, but he still longed to command. Kasim and the other corsairs could not be ordered, they could only be lead, cajoled, wheedled, and suggested. Once upon a time men would have done as he wished simply because he wished it. He had had that much influence. But that was before a Spanish galley had broken his reputation and politics had passed him by. He must prove himself all over again. 

Thorton walked over to him and put a hand on his shoulder. "Isam," he said softly. "You know I am right."

"I do. But that does not make it any easier."

"If you let me be a captain, it will be easier for you to be a commodore. You cannot direct your energies properly if you are always worrying about me."

Tangle drew in a breath and squared his shoulders. He straightened as much as he could beneath the low deckhead. "Aye. Very well. I will take the sailing master's cabin."

Just then the thin nasal voice of a man calling the faithful prayer sounded right over their heads. "Hayya alassalah. Hayya alassalah. Come to prayer. Come to prayer. Hayya alal-Falah. Hayya alal-Falah. Come to success. Come to success. Allahu Akbar. Allahu Akbar. God is great. God is great." 

A chill went up Thorton's spine. Come to success. He looked around the coach, out onto the deck, at his ship and crew, and back to Tangle, his commanding officer. Was this not success? Had he not grown as a man and officer these last few weeks? Tangle had made it happen. Bishop might have forced him to train his fortitude but never his abilities. Thorton owed Tangle a great deal. Suddenly he saw things in reverse perspective: it was not he who had rescued Tangle, it was Tangle who had rescued him.

He smiled and softly said, "Come to success, Isam."

Tangle relaxed and nodded. "To success," he replied. He went out on the deck. 

Thorton lingered a moment. He could see Tangle join men around a bucket of water, slowly passing his hands over one another, washing his face and ears in the prescribed manner. He noticed the way the man didn't hurry, the graceful, almost dance-like motions of the ablution. Tangle loved the ritual and he was grateful to his God. The God of the Muslims was the same as the God of the Jews and Christians, and He accepted prayers in all languages. They were all People of the Book. Of this Thorton was certain. He went out on deck and joined the congregation. 

The man leading the prayer recited a few verses from the Qur'an. "And He it is Who made the night a covering for you, and the sleep a rest, and He who made the day to rise up again. And He it is Who sends the winds as good news before His mercy; and He sends down pure water from the cloud, That He may give life thereby to a dead land and give it for drink, out of what He has created, to cattle and many people."

"Ameen," Thorton answered.

"Ameen," the men chorused with him. 

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