Digitally transcribed for the Gardner Francis Fox Adventure Library
It was the time of lamp lighting, one week after the day when he had killed Kefas on the street of Arcades, that Fletcher was summoned before the keeper of the house. He found Sinan ibn Ajaj seated at a teak-wood desk, its top inlaid with mother of pearl. There was a large leather bag in front of the bald Turk. At sight of Fletcher, Sinan dipped his brown paw into the coins that bulged the sides of the sack. He counted out a handful, and pushed them across the table top to the American.
“Your alaik coins, Stefan. There’s a slave tavern run by Niccolo Gritti the Neapolitan, beyond the Street of the Sail-makers. You’ll find your kind there, nasrany, Christian dogs, Maybe even some Americans. Have yourself some fun.”
Fletcher stared, aware that puzzlement showed in his slack jaw and wide eyes. The Turk leaned back, thumbs hooked at his sash, grinning.
“Surprises you, doesn’t it? All slave masters aren’t as stupid as Ali ben Sidi! That’s why we hand out alaik slave money. Matter of fact, there’s a little slave community right here in the heart of Tripoli itself. Gritti runs a tavern. Carapoulous the Greek owns an odd goods shop, where an Italian can buy himself some maccaroni, or a Frenchman some pastry. I understand they have little flags for homesick Americans, too. Buy yourself one. It’ll make you feel better. And work better, too. The smart masters give their slaves a chance to let off steam by meeting at Gritti’s Olive Tree, or the Coq d’Or. Do they lay, plans to escape, there? What if they do?”
Sinan leaned forward, and his dark eyes blazed with mocking pride. “Where can they escape to, eh? The desert? They’d dry up and blow away inside two days. The sea? The corsairs own the sea hereabouts except where the cursed Americans sail their frigates! They’d bring ’em back and torture them in public. No, it doesn’t do any harm to let the slaves meet. They can’t go anywhere. They talk a lot and make plans that never come about, and are happier and healthier as a result. Their owners get out of them. Everybody’s better off, all the way around.”
Sinan pushed the silver coins forward. “So take the money and enjoy yourself. You can get drunk on whiskey—mashallah! what an infidel concoction!—if you want.
Fletcher walked out of the palace to the street. Dusk was settling along the shore of North Africa, bringing the glow of lamplight from deeply recessed windows in the white walled shops and mosques. In the cool shadows he swiftly, passing a Berber tribesman newly out of the Fezzan desert sands, and a harem eunuch on his way to the sweetmeat shops.
There were a few corsair captains in turbaned helmets moving along the Street of the Sail-makers, readying equipment for fresh voyages upon the Mediterranean. Through the open doorways he saw the sellers of sails haggling over prices or displaying canvas to swarthy men with beak noses and spade beards, their left hands resting on the hilts of scimitars or curved daggers. American ships like the frigate Constitution and the schooner Enterprise maintained the blockade outside the harbor rocks, but the Mediterranean was a large sea, and the African shoreline boasted many little coves and inlets. Small feluccas and narrow barquentines could anchor unseen in the shelter of high rocks and tree-clad promontories. At night they could slip out into the sea and be a score of miles away by dawn.
The slave trade prospered at the hands of these ingenious sea captains. They brought their captives and their pirated loot overland from those hidden coves in camel caravans. Tripoli suffered from the patrolling of its coastal waters, by American ships, but not as much as it would have done without the hawk-faced corsairs.
They were anachronisms, these pirates-holdovers from the days of Barbarossa and Dragut reis. Time passes slowly along the coastal sands of Africa. Time forgot that in the outer world, robber barons were a thing of the past. Here under the lazy Tripolitan sun, men lived as they had lived during the days of the Holy Roman Empire. They did not know that men like Hargreaves and Arkwright were improving the art of spinning, and that James Watt and his steam engine were beginning to revolutionize a world. Their own world never changed. Their camel caravans were as they had been when Caligula was Emperor in Rome. Their stoves were a mere circle of stones, sometimes fastened together with a blob of mortar. The swords they used were the scimitars that had flashed against the Crusaders.
Yet these holdovers from a bygone day held the power of life and death over men who knew that civilization had left Tripoli behind in its little eddy of time. Chained in work gangs were men whose lips had tasted port wine in London’s Red Cowl, who had purchased bohea tea in New York City’s Hanover Square, or made bets at Ascot Downs on the horse races.
The big American grimaced, remembering Mariani Chamiprak. No man could tell that supple bit of temptation that her world was a lost colony in time! Her cat eyes would laugh at him, the way they laughed at Fletcher when she commanded him to stand guard on her person as her slave girls bathed her and anointed her with perfumes. To tempt him further, she had paraded her slave women before him, under the pretense of inspecting them for boils. Always she laughed at him, most especially when he turned away his face to stand facing the great double doors with their brass handles and kufic inscriptions.
Fletcher clenched his big hands into hard fists. Soon now, unless he could find some way out of this city, he would fall into the embrace that Marlani hungered for. And when he did that, and Yussuf Caramanli learned of it, as he would with the harem full of spies, he would be taken and tortured to death.
He shook his head against his gloomy thoughts, and lengthened his stride. Ahead of him now the wooden sign, bearing the likeness of an olive tree, creaked lazily on rusted chains. Beneath it was the doorway of Niccolo Gritti’s grog shop, lighted by half a hundred brass oil lamps. Nearing the open door, he heard the sound of harsh laughter spilling out into the night. He stepped inside and stood a moment beside the heavy wooden door hanging open on rusty iron hinges, letting his gray eyes move from the scar-topped counter that ran the length of the east wall, tiers of bottles and jugs behind it, to the refectory tables and benches that filled the big, wide room.
Men in rags sat cheek by jowl with men in satins and brocades. Men sat alone in gloomy corners to which the lamplight scarcely reached, or brooded sullenly over pewter mugs of rum and beakers of raw, hot whiskey. An Italian whispered fierce, oaths to a dark Spaniard beyond the first hanging brass lamp, while across the table from them, two Greeks with hoop earrings rolled dice with three Frenchmen. At the next table, four Englishmen murmured softly among themselves, homesick for the fogs of London.
Fletcher shouted, “Mark! Mark Avison!”
The men at the third table turned at sound of his voice.
One of them, a tall man with a scar running from his left jaw to his shaggy blond brows, stood up.
“It’s the lieutenant Steve Fletcher!” They came in a rush, hands extended to thump him on back and chest, to take his hands and squeeze them, their faces wrinkled in delighted grins. He heard a nasal New England twang mix with the hard syllables of a New Yorker, and the soft drawl of Jabez Plummer, who was from Georgia. They tugged him to the table and shoved him down.
“Fretta! Fretta!” shouted Mark Avison, whose father had been killed at Yorktown, “Gritti, damn your eyes Fetch us rum. Jamaica rum.”
Avison swung a leg over the bench, straddling it, slapping Fletcher on the back. He was a big man, thick-chested and tall, with long and powerful arms. In the little New England village where he had been born and raised, he had been a blacksmith. He pretended to be ashamed of the thick yellow curls on his head. In a hoarse, deep voice he asked, “What’s with you, Steve? Last time I heard you were breaking your back over quarry stone!”
He told them of his luck. At mention of his street duel with fat Kefas, they banged the table with their fists.
“No man as good with cold steel as you, Steve, in all the corps!”
“Nor the navy, either!”
“Ha! I’d give a year of my life to have seen it!” When Nicholas Gritti came with his battered copper tray and the beakers of oily rum atop it, he was introduced to Fletcher, and made to stand treat for the return of this man from the grave. Gritti put the pewter mugs down with a grin, but shook his head at the invitation to drink.
“Some of us must keep a clear head, in case of trouble. Drink my share, all of you.”
They cheered him and huddled among themselves. Now Fletcher learned for the first time how the Philadelphia came to be burned where it swung at anchor in the road-stead Less than four months after its capture, Lieutenant Stephen Decatur, with a command of sixty sailors and eight marines, had brought the sloop Intrepid under cover of darkness into the harbor.
“Sneaked up like a water snake!” said Avison. “Boarded her and put her heathen crew to the sword, every last man-jack of them!”
The New Yorker, Caleb Framingham, chuckled grimly, a rare smile lighting his thin, tense countenance. He was a tall man, lean and wiry. There was a Satanic turn to his dark, dramatic features. He had a habit of hunching forward and craning out his neck so that the man to whom he listened felt Framingham was mocking him. He said now. fiercely, “Then they put the torch to her! Near broke any heart to see her rigging go up with red tongues eating it away, and more flames at her cat-heads and the waist!”
A small man twisted forward on the wooden bench. His eyes half lifted, then fell shyly to the bare-topped table, moving his rum mug in small circles. This was Ned Brianner, ship’s carpenter. His eyes were a cold gray, and his smile was thin and derisive. His comments were often waspish, but his fellows liked him, for they realized it was mostly shyness that made him sharp and critical.
“I was glad and sorry, both, at the same time,” he said slowly. “Glad Decatur was burning her so the heathen couldn’t use her against her own kind, and sorry she had to go like that.”
“A good ship, she was,” nodded Avison. “A proud one, too,” smiled Framingham, who had been first mate. “She’d have been glad to die like that, knowing she’d not have to use her guns on Americans!”
“The Philadelphia!” said Brunner, lifting his cup high. They echoed him, and drank. Then they hunched closer, telling Fletcher of their experiences since the Philadelphia had run aground. Now for the first time, he learned that Captain William Bainbridge and his crew had been imprisoned in the castle and that they had been robbed of watches and coats and other valuables. Some had been given a house in which to live while others remained at the palace itself, to be held there for ransom. The English and Danish consuls had been most helpful, bringing needed food and clothing to them.
William Bainbridge was a heartbroken man, they told him. The letters he wrote home to his wife Susan had been filled with melancholia and anxiety. The money dispatched to him to care for the crew had cheered him a little, but his despondency was soul deep.
“Pasha’s asking five hundred dollars a head for us,” grinned Framingham. “Never knew I was worth so much!” Mark Avison chuckled. “He’s changing his tune a little. One time, he wanted three million dollars for peace. Now he’s reduced that to a hundred and fifty thousand.”
The men were philosophical about their capture and imprisonment. “Way I look at it is,” said Brunner seriously, “I’ll be here a few years. Make the most of it. Why not? They don’t treat us too bad. Let us walk around, even give us the money our folks send from stateside.”
None of them had any thought of escape, but then, none of them had a yellow-eyed woman waiting for him to make the one move that would put him irrevocably into her power. “We could all get away, you know,” Stephen said suddenly. “It wouldn’t be too hard.”
Their eyes watched him. No one moved. It seemed as if they stopped breathing. Fletcher drained the last of his rum and shoved the empty beaker out into the middle of the table. “There’s no place to escape to. That’s why we can do it.”
“You talk in riddles, Steve!”
“Our pagan masters are so confident we’re helpless that they let us meet in slave taverns like this one. They know we must talk of escape. What man wouldn’t? Yet they do nothing to stop us. There are no guards, no spies.”
“There’s the desert and the sea,” said Avison. “I’ve taken thought on it, Steve. Between the two, give me clear water and a keel under me.”
“Aye,” growled Brunner, “that’s for me, too. No dying of heat with only sand to swallow for my thirst.”
Fletcher hoped to be given more and more time to himself as he proved himself worthy to the pasha. His position in the castle gave him opportunities none of the others would have. He might even find a boat, a little tender with a hole in a thwart for a small mast, and a sail, he explained.
“How?” asked Framingham, his eyes gleaming. He told them of the armless Yuvaz. “I’m not so sure he’s as insane as they think. He hates the pasha. He might do something to spite him.”
Framingham scowled into his empty cup. “Something like finding you a ship, eh? And a cask or two of fresh water, and some food. It listens good, Steve. Real good. So good I’m almost ready to let myself hope.”
The Boston man stood up and howled at Gritti. “More rum, Nicco, lad. On the double! Now, with no excuses!” He sat down and stretched his legs. “It may take money,” he mused.
Fletcher took out his leather purse and showed them the gleaming silver coins. “A little pay to make a slave happy. Makes him feel more like a man, I guess. There’ll be more of this coming my way. I’ve no expenses. I mean to keep my throat dry so’s I can wet it in a free port.”
He put the coins back into the sack and drew the string taut. Then he thrust the pouch, under his belt and stood up.
“Take thought on it, lads. It’s a chance the good Lord’s given us. I mean to take advantage of it, when the tide’s ripe. If you’re willing to risk the public torture against dropping anchor, in a free port like Malta or Messina — join me!”
Marlani Chamiprak walked back and forth before the American slave who was now her personal bodyguard. She wore thin black silk trousers embroidered in silver and bound at waist and ankles with tiny gold chains. From her midriff to her throat, a thin gauze veiled her flesh, while a short jacket covered her bosom and upper arms. Slippers of crimson velvet were on her feet. She made a barbaric picture as she moved back and forth and around the rigid Fletcher, her unloosened veil fluttering from her head.
“You’ve been in Tarabulus al-Charb for one month, nasrany. Tell me, do you like your service?”
Fletcher said, “Why shouldn’t I like the hand that feeds me, and that gives me soft cushions to sleep on? The pasha is my little father.”
Already he spoke in the flowery manner of the court Turk. Hearing the guttural sounds of high Turki, his tongue unconsciously mimicked its inflections.
“Tcha!” exclaimed Marlani softly, coming to a halt before him. “Whose ears are those lies for? You must hate it here, doing my bidding. And I’m glad you hate it. Glad!”
Her laughter bubbled up, strong and confident. “How long will it take me to turn you from a statue into a man? Until you need the comforting I can give you? Until that need is so great you’ll forget Yussuf and his powers of life and death?” She came a little closer and her hand gripped his forearm. As he let his eyes meet her gaze, he saw the yellow eyes almost feverish in their hunger.
She pressed against him. “Perhaps we need other women to tempt you. You’ve seen nothing in the harem lovely enough to make you forget the tortures Yussuf will invent, when be learns you’ve made love to his favorite wife! Then we shall go to the slave market. I myself will pick out the new girls!”
Fletcher groaned inwardly. How many days had he stood at the harem door, while Marlani Chamiprak, laughing softly from the cushioned sofa where she lay stretched in indolent nakedness, paraded her female slaves before him. He had lost count of the nights when he had been forced to stand above the pool where the kedin bathed, her gaze always intent on his bronzed face. Her treatment of him was a kind of torture in itself. She could not guess how near he was to cracking now, how near to forgetting everything but this woman and her desires, how near to gratifying them.
He made himself say coldly, “It will be a waste of time.” The breath hissed between her lips as fury swelled the veins under her smooth, coppery skin. “Will it be a waste of time, Stefan? It will be an interesting experiment to see what a waste it will be!” Then she was whirling, striding away from him, clapping her soft palms together.
“Ibrahim! Saud! Attend me. The curtained palanquin!”
The sea wind was blowing from Italy across the dark blue waters of the Mediterranean as Fletcher brought the little cortege out into the Street of Arcades. Under the cool shadows of the arches, sellers of Mosul muslins and Egyptian cotton goods, Baghdad damasks and ivory from distant China vied here with men showing crystal ware from Syria and fine silver plate from Cairo. Fletcher knew that only half these treasures, had been brought overland, by camel caravan from Egypt and Morocco. Most of it had come from the holds of slow merchantmen and freighters worried into surrender by the corsairs of Tripoli.
The Street of Arcades was a wide avenue. Down its length, one could see the high white walls of the castle, and the glittering white column tipped in green with a gold crescent that was the minaret of the Caramanli mosque. The little group walked slowly, with Fletcher striding at point, the round shield at his back catching the sunlight, his Damascus scimitar jangling faintly in its scabbard chains at his every step. The palanquin carried by four gigantic Somalilanders was painted green and red and coated thick with gilt, its gold brocade curtains pulled back to let the salt breeze wash across the reclining figure of Marlani Chamiprak.
Ahead of them was the great square that was the bazaar. From its white walls, thick velvet truded, hung on long iron poles, extending out into the street. On raised stone platforms, some of which were perfectly round to allow more buyers of human flesh to crowd a the slaves were displayed, weighted down by iron ankle chains. Screened pens stood to one side, where other slaves waited their turn on the stone blocks.
A dellal was shouting his wares in a singsong voice the captives came into the square. Men turned idly to look at them. On seeing the Caramanli palanquin, they drew back, to afford the kedin of the pasha a good view of this sale of a naked Bantu giant.
“See the muscles on his arms,” droned the slave seller. “He is worth his weight in diamonds to a good master. Think of the stones he can lug for building. Think of the protection he will be when trained to use a scimitar!”
A lesser auctioneer came running to the litter. This was Fletcher’s clue to move forward, to interpose his bulk between the body of Marlani Chamiprak and any possible shamshir blade or dagger point.
Head bobbing, his dark face wreathed in a smile, the dellal cried, “It is the grace of Allah that brings you this day, most ardent of Kedins! Only last evening, Kaisar reis himself brought in two ships, laden heavy with captives.”
Marlani Chamiprak said lazily, “Allah have you under his eyes, dellal. I come seeking girl slaves. Strong ones. Women with beauty in their faces and in their bodies.”
The auctioneer kissed his fingertips and bent low, so that his red turban was in danger of falling off. “Women of paradise I have, rose of beauty Dark girls of Malta, and olive lovelies from Greece and Italy. There is also—“ the dellal slanted his eyes sideways at the big Fletcher—”a very pretty girl from America.”
Marlani did not miss the start that made Fletcher’s scabbard chains jangle faintly. She sat up among her litter cushions and, with the bare left arm of Fletcher to help her, came to her slippered feet.
Her thin yashmak fluttered to her breathing. “Bring out the women, dellal. Reserve the American until the last. I mean to have her.”
When the auctioneer was gone into the screened compound, she leaned closer to Fletcher, rich perfumes of Araby emanating from her braided black hair and from the gold brocade of her tight vest. “How would you like to see an American girl again, nasrany?”
Her laughter, as she moved ahead of him with taunting hips, was mocking.
It was then, as Fletcher was striding at her elbow, that he saw the face. It came up in front of him as it had come in dreams: the high, bridged nose, the skin like smooth brown mahogany, the bald head with the tuft of long black hair that lent a barbaric splendor to the man. Mustafa reis. The man who had come aboard the Philadelphia and singled him out for the stone quarries!
A flowing barracan of striped Decca muslin swathed his tall, wiry body as he pushed so easily through the throng about the trading blocks. There was an insolent pride in his dark eyes and in the casual recklessness with which he pushed men from his path. Between his curled mustache and spade beard, his lips were thin and hard. He looked with hate at the American, as he bowed to Marlani Chamiprak. “I gaze with pleasure on the kedin of my pasha,” he said softly. “Perhaps his favorite wife is wiser than Yussuf. Let me buy this American filth who has won the eye of our esteemed pasha, and—”
Marlani Chamiprak lifted her hand. “It was our eyes and not those of Yussuf he caught, Mustafa reis. Since then, he has behaved as befits a slave. Be assured, I will not sell him.” The captain bowed low, but the rigidity of his back told Fletcher he was not done. He moved away a little, and stood brooding.
The dellal brought out women from Crete and Greece, dark girls from Syria and blonde Milanese from the north of Italy. There was a pretty Frenchwoman, and three Spanish Senoras. Marlani Chamiprak bought them all.
The dellal said, bowing low, “We have for this last but best offering, an American woman. A girl taken off the Boston Lady less than a week ago by the great Mustafa reis.” He turned and waved a hand.
The pen screen lifted. A naked woman came out into the African sunlight, walking proudly with her head held high, long black hair forming a shawl that spilled down over slender shoulders and across her supple back. From under long black lashes her dark eyes lifted calmly to the sky. It was as if she walked in the privacy of her own boudoir. Black hair and white skin, the grace of long legs moving easily to the faint sway of rounded hips, made the stain Moslems cry out in admiration. When the girl came to a stop on the worn tiles of the slave block dais, the deflat swung her around to face the kedin.
A Fletcher started as he felt those blue eyes staring down at him. Their lashes flickered faintly, and for the first time, shame painted a slow flush upward from her round breasts into her throat and cheeks.
Eve Doremus felt a tiny chill of despair stabbing through the red shame that flooded her cheeks. For the first time since she had been dragged screaming and fighting off the fore deck of the Boston Lady, she realized what was happening to her. It was like waking suddenly from a particularly terrifying dream and discovering it to be true. Her entire life had been so prim, so sheltered and protected! There had always been the Doremus name on which to rely in Boston, and her maiden aunts to soothe her fears, and worry.
Now she stood alone and unclad before a hundred men, in the great slave mart of Tripoli. She thought, I should die, right here and now, of shame! But, she was not dead; in fact, she felt excitingly alive and healthy. As an awed hush fell across the buyers in the big square, the girl realized that it was in tribute to her beauty. Even as she wished for the ground to open and swallow her, something feminine inside her knew a touch of pride.
She shrugged faintly and tilted her chin high as the dellal cried exultantly, “How much am I bid for this houri out of Paradise? See the texture of her skin, the richness of her black hair! Walk, nasrany girl, and let them see the grace of your body. A—”
Marlani Chamiprak gestured. “A hundred silver dinars, father of windbags.”
A sigh went across the square. A voice called, “Two hundred aspers!”
“Five hundred gold aspers!” There was savagery and exultation in this last voice. Its tone drew all eyes, except those of Marlani Chamiprak and Stephen Fletcher, to Mustafa reis. The corsair was grinning wolfishly, letting his gaze assess the ivory flesh of this nasrany girl. Mustafa reis thought, If the man is out of my reach, the woman is not! He was allowing his imagination to riot over the coming night, when the pale girl with the black hair would be brought to the low, wide divan of his bedroom. She would be wearing golden anklets and dangling earrings, a rope of pearls and a gauze skirt. A tongue came out to lick his lips as Mustafa reis started forward to claim his purchase.
“A thousand gold aspers!” Mustafa reis whirled around. That was the voice of Marlani Chamiprak bidding against him. What in the name of Allah the Compassionate was she doing, bidding such a fortune on a girl slave? He came striding toward her, hand uplifted to halt the ecstatic dellal in his singsong incantations.
“By the beard of the Prophet!” the corsair hissed. “Has Shaitan stolen your wits, Marlani? What do you want with such a one?”
The kedin smiled faintly. “I have no American women in my harem. I want one as an—experiment.”
Mustafa fell back a step, his mouth gaping open with shock. “For an experiment you would spend a thousand gold aspers?” he choked out, his face darkening with anger. “It pleases the kedin to mock me!”
Marlani Chamiprak smiled more fully. Her slant eyes went from her Franka to the corsair captain. “Mockery is the furthest thing from my thoughts, Mustafa! But I will not let you buy the American girl, just as I will not sell you the American man.”
Mustafa hesitated, not knowing whether to beard the rage of his pasha by bidding up the price of the white woman, or to bow to the inner voice that counseled him that discretion was the finest part of valor. His wide shoulders shrugged elaborately, making the elegant gold braid-work of his white wool cloak rustle faintly.
“I bow to the wisdom of my pasha and to the beauty of his kedin,” he murmured. Then he swung on Fletcher. “As for the Christian pig—“
He spat full into Fletcher’s face.
For a moment, the American stood stunned. The he swung savagely, his big fist traveling only a scant eight inches. The blow caught Mustafa reis under his bearded jaw and drove him backward, heels scraping the cobbles of the square, to fall heavily. A fold of his kaften hung limp in the air a moment, then settled lazy, across his knees. Mustafa reis did not stir.
“You utter fool!” hissed Marlani Chamiprak.
Fletcher shook himself, his blinding anger fading before a sharp dismay. The high pride of him, born and fostered in Virginia plantation life and welded into a way of life during his years on the Constellation and the Philadelphia during his military service, was a parasite inside him, governing his actions. Too late, he realized what that pride had done. Yussuf Caramanli would give him now to this corsair captain, and probably add in the gift of the American girl as well, to soothe Mustafa’s injured vanity.
The Tripolitan merchants were assisting Mustafa reis to feet. His eyes were glassy and his knees shook under him.
“Wallahi!” whispered a gem seller who was here to buy himself a kalfa whose warm thighs and full bosom might make him forget his recently deceased wife.
“He struck with the speed of the hunting cheetah. Saw you ever such a blow?”
A man laughed. “I did not see it. Neither did Mustafa reis!”
“I am sorry for the nasrany. Mustafa will take the rest of his life to kill him! Only this morning he was telling me of a new torture. . . .”
Marlani Chamiprak whispered furiously, “You hear? You hear?”
Fletcher heard. And he reflected again on the fate that had made him first a slave, a carrier of heavy stones, then reduced him to stealing refuse of the streets for food. That same fate had chosen to put a sword on his hip, but denied him the chance to use it honorably. Now if a lingering death by ripping hooks and slow fire lay at the end of his road, it was only one last twist of fate’s cruel hand.
The dellal came down off the round block, bowing to the kedin.
“Gracious lady of our noble pasha, shall I close the bidding?”
They were leading Mustafa reis away from the square. Marlani Chamiprak watched him go a moment, then nodded. “Wrap her in some garments and bring her, with the other women, to the palace gates before sundown. The gold will be ready for you then.”
With a warm hand on Fletcher’s arm, the kedin moved to her palanquin. As she slipped onto the cushions, she hissed up at the American, “You fool! You’ve spoiled everything now. It was all right to play the soldier with me, and be proud as Shaitan, for I enjoyed the game—the bigger the pride, the more pleasure for me in bringing you to my harem sofa!”
She paused and her little brown hand trembled as she put it on his forearm. Her yellow eyes blazed hotly, and her supple body shook. “But now you’ll bed with hot irons and sharp hooks for the next few weeks. You fool!”
Sinan ibn Ajaj was only slightly less disturbed when he learned what Fletcher had done to Mustafa reis. “You’re a madman!” he declared, stalking back and forth in the selamlik antechamber. “All nasrany are madmen. With the life of a harem guard before you, with only the trouble of walking where the kedin walks to bother you the rest of your days, you hit a corsair captain! Insh’allah! Tired of life you must be, indeed!”
The keeper of the house grunted and shrugged. Muttering in Turki under his breath, he took Fletcher up a flight of tiled stairs to a small wooden door set with a brass latch, Sinan twisted the door handle and pushed the door open. A room with bare white stone walls and a ceiling seamed with cedar was flooded with red fire from the dying sun. A low bed, formed by short sandalwood legs and ropings of Syrian hemp, stood against the wall. It was covered with fat cushions, and a spread of worn and frayed silver brocade. A low table, inset with bits of mother of pearl, held an ewer of palm wine and a platter of figs.
“Your prison,” growled Sinan, “until Yussuf gives you to Mustafa!”
As he stared out over the bubble domes of the Tripolitan mosques from the recessed window of his little cubicle, Fletcher felt despair growing in him. He remembered his comrades at the Olive Tree, off the Street of the Sail-makers, and the hopes he had aroused. He had spoiled all that with his hot Virginian temper.