Sunday, July 19, 2009

Chapter 37 : The Battle for Tanger

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."

"Why not?"

"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. 

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