|Primary Characters:||Morgan Adams, William Shaw|
|Spoilers:||Just watch the movie, ok?|
|Warning:||adult themes, m/m. violence|
|Description:||On the way to Madagascar, the Morning Star is attacked and Morgan is taken prisoner. She antagonizes the man who wants to put her into his harem, and is due to be tortured and killed. Shaw and Trotter launch a rescue operation.|
The dark skin glistened wetly in the flickering lamplight. Mr Glasspoole’s face betrayed nothing of the pain he must feel, after having his skin ripped open during a storm. Shaw cleaned the cut, then applied some rum to numb the pain. During this procedure, the black man never as much as glanced at the fair haired younger man.
Shaw finished off by fastening a bandage around the muscular arm.
“There. That should be sufficient. If the humors aren’t disturbed -”
Mr Glasspoole nodded briefly, then got up and left, still without saying anything. Shaw turned to the next patient. The crew man had twisted his wrist and now the hand dangled uselessly, cradled against the man’s chest.
Shaw bandaged the wrist too, telling the man to avoid heavy work for the next couple of weeks, and to drink rum for the pain. Again, the man barely acknowledged Shaw.
The final patient was King Charles. A rat had bitten the monkey’s tail and Shaw performed the same procedure he would have for a human patient. This one too, refused to thank him for his work, but Shaw didn’t take that personally. The monkey was always a cheeky one but everyone appreciated the little rascal and knew of their captain’s affection for the animal. No one would dare to harm him.
Shaw put away the tools of his trade, watched from under dark brows by the crew man who had hitherto performed the same service for the rest of the crew. According to Morgan Adams, the Captain of the Morning Star, he hadn’t been very good and she preferred to take advantage of Shaw’s skills.
Shaw was beginning to get used to the fact that he had failed to earn the other men’s respect. Only Bowen and Trotter would speak to him. Of the others, only Glasspoole would treat him with even a little courtesy, not because he felt any respect for the slave, but because his mistress loved the man. That was good enough for Glasspoole.
Shaking his head, Shaw decided to return to the Captain’s cabin. At least there, he knew he was wanted and respected. Even young mr Bowen, who knew of the slave’s past, had never given any indication of having lost his respect for him once he learned the truth.
Trotter, the former British officer, always spoke cordially with every man on the ship, and that included Shaw, the Captain’s slave.
Shaw knew that Morgan didn’t wish to be reminded of their formal relationship. At the best of times, he managed to put the memory of his status aside and enjoy his relationship with the lovely Captain.
It was only when the cold welcome among the crew reminded him, that Shaw took his situation to heart. But then he had always been lonely, since he’d been parted from his family.
He climbed upstairs and was about to enter the Captain’s cabin, when he saw her coming through the door.
“Will. Is everyone tended to?”
“Yes. Weaver will have to rest that wrist of his for a few weeks, that’s all. The others should be fine.”
“Excellent. I was going above decks to watch the sunset. Will you accompany me?”
Shaw smiled and nodded. He caught sight of young Bowen and handed his case to him.
“Will you put this away for me, please?”
The boy took the case and vanished inside the Captain’s cabin, then returned almost at once and ran upstairs.
Shaw saw him join Bess over by the railings. The girl was his only living relative and it was purely through Morgan’s kindness that the girl was aboard the Morning Star. Her lack of respect for her uncle, didn’t bother Shaw much. He was far too pleased the girl was safe and close to him. She could think what she liked. Still, it hurt that his own flesh and blood had so little respect for him.
He shrugged the matter off, and stood, by the railings, his arm around Morgan, and watched the sun drown in the sea. It was a spectacular sight and it made him feel that his long and tortuous journey had been worth it, despite everything. Especially to be standing thus, with Morgan pressed against him.
The following day, Shaw happened to overhear a conversation between mr Glasspoole and mr Blair, who in many ways were the most trusted members of Morgan’s crew. He had missed the beginning of the conversation, but it wasn’t long before he noticed that the two men were talking about him.
“My grandfather was a chief. My father told me that if the traders hadn’t come and taken him away, he would have succeeded him and I would have been his heir. I will not bow down before a pleasure slave like Shaw.”
Blair’s reply was spoken so softly, Shaw could only catch a few words of it, then came Glasspoole’s voice again, loud and sure.
“She is smitten with him, and who can grudge her that? I am happy for her, but she can not expect me to show him any respect. A thief and cutpurse. Oh, well. As long as Morgan is happy -”
The two men moved away out of Shaw’s hearing. Their words were wounding, but they hardly surprised him. He had already sensed their feelings towards him.
Head filled with melancholy thoughts, Shaw made his way back to Morgan’s cabin. His cabin, too, or just a temporary haven. He knew not which.
Morgan appeared to be in excellent humor, unlike himself.
“There you are, Will. Look. We are at last approaching the Canary Islands. Within the week, we will be able to take on new supplies for the next leg of our journey.”
She pointed at the chart, spread out across her desk.
Shaw saw the small dots representing the Canaries and rejoiced with his lover. They had been at sea for many weeks now and though he felt at home on the Morning Star, he would enjoy seeing foreign shores. He was wondering if the large dogs said to inhabit the Canaries were still there and if they would pose a threat.
Morgan laughed boomingly and pulled him into a hard embrace. His lips sought out hers and for a moment, the charts were forgotten. Far too soon, she withdrew and regarded him with a stubborn look on her face. He was wondering what she had set her mind on now, but knew that whatever it was, if it was within his power to give it to her, he would.
“Will, that beard will have to go. I have no doubt that some simpering little ladies find it irresistible and perhaps it gives you respect among other men, but I cannot abide it. It will have to go.”
Shaw started. It was as if Morgan had sensed where his mind was going, before she’d distracted him with kisses and talk of landing expeditions.
“What? You do not wish to indulge my whim?”
“On the contrary, my love. I will be happy to oblige you.”
Morgan leaned over and planted a light kiss on his forehead. A sure reminder that she would not let her smooth cheeks brush his thornier ones until he’d shaved.
Despite the risk of cutting himself, Shaw resolved to begin that very evening, before going to bed. It would be a shame to keep his love at a distance at such a time.
Morgan sat, leaning comfortably in her chair, watching him lay out the shaving utensils, then, after calling on mr Bowen’s assistance for the hot water and the rest, smiling as he put the knife to his skin. Shaw had a deft hand and dexterously proceeded to remove all traces of the offending facial hair.
Once he was finished and had put the utensils aside, Morgan rose, strode over to his side of the desk, then again pulled him into a hard embrace and this time she did what she had not wished to do the last time. She only pulled back after both their lips were bruised and smarting slightly.
“I believe we are ready for bed now, wouldn’t you say so, Will?”
“I do believe you’re right, my love.”
As always, his heart fluttered like a captured bird, each time she expressed her love for him. It seemed far more than he had ever dared to hope for, to be loved by this forceful, mystifying woman. He had had his share of success with the fairer sex, since his arrival in the New World, but none had filled him with the same passion and affection. She was the most bewildering female he had ever laid eyes on, and her very appearance belied the normal perception of what made a lady. Not that Morgan was a lady, strictly speaking.
They made landfall on Gran Canaria, a week after Shaw had sacrificed his beard. It was late one evening, and the night had fallen so suddenly and completely, they had no choice but to wait until the following day to begin their exploration and search for supplies.
In the morning, Shaw was forced to admit that there was no sign of any dogs of a more impressive size than an ordinary spaniel. The natives spoke Spanish, a language a smattering of which Will had picked up in Jamaica. Morgan made the men rely on Shaw for translations. It caused a minor outbreak of discontent, but as the men were giddy with the excitement of exploring new territories, nothing came of it.
They stayed on at the island for almost two weeks, taking on supplies and allowing the men to explore as much of the island as the natives would let them. At the end of that time, they set out for the long journey down to the Cape of Good Hope and beyond.
The winds drove them firmly east, and instead of progressing steadily south, before long, they found themselves close to the shores of Africa. After consulting the charts, they found that the territory they were approaching was called Morocco and was inhabited by Mohammedans.
All accounts of these lands were terrifying and Morgan, though never one to back down from a challenge, found it safest to avoid a confrontation, if at all possible. They strove to break out of the adverse winds and currents making them drift closer to shore with every day.
One day, close to noon, they spotted a strange vessel against the horizon. It was so far away, they hoped they could avoid being detected by the other ship’s crew. However, before long they became aware of the other ship gaining on them.
Towards late afternoon, they could just make out the outlines of the crew of the other ship. They wore strange garb, akin to monks’ habits, which hung loosely about them. Others wore next to nothing. Their skins were so dark they showed up merely as stick creatures against the sun, as they darted up and down the rigging.
Trotter had heard of these fearsome warriors. He hastily began to confer with Morgan, Glasspoole and Blair. They had almost no time left, before the attackers swarmed over their railing.
Trotter caught sight of Bowen and Bess Marsh, William Shaw’s niece. He called them to his side, a grave look on his face.
“You must hide. Here on deck. I fear that the ship might be lost and if so, try to make your escape as best you can. You must not fall into the attackers’ hands. Do you understand what I’m telling you, boy?”
Bowen’s face was very white and rigid, and Trotter realized that the boy had no idea of what he was implying. He’d heard about these warriors and their taste for women, girls and boys. Still, he had not the heart to kill the two youngsters who, if he was not mistaken, were experiencing the sweet intoxication of first love.
To his astonishment, Bess Marsh nodded grimly and he could see her gripping the dagger at her side. She glanced determinedly at her young man. Trotter thought he could read in her countenance, a vow to end her sweetheart’s life, rather than letting him fall into the hands of these barbarians.
“Do not concern yourselves. Just hide and hope for the best.”
The two youngsters crept away, King Charles hanging on to Bowen’s shoulder. Perhaps the Moroccans might consider the monkey part of the loot, if the battle ended badly. Trotter had to remind himself that the pirates had fighting skills equal to those of British soldiers. They might still expel the enemy.
Though the Morning Star was pushed to the limit, it was soon obvious that their attackers were catching up and by evening, the first of them were latching on to the railing and began to swarm across.
Morgan’s crew fought desperately, each man well aware of the price of failure, and soon the deck was slippery with the blood of attackers and defenders alike.
Despite a lucky cannon shot, the other ship did not sink or even show signs of becoming innavigable. Instead, the stream of new attackers taking the place of the ones who had fallen, seemed endless. The dark-skinned men fought cruelly and efficiently, all the while screaming bloodcurdling curses or perhaps calling on their god.
So many of Morgan’s crewmen fell. They knew that even if by some miracle, a few of them survived, there would not be enough of them to sail the ship, let alone perform the repairs. If they were to stand any chance, they would have to return to the Canaries and there find new crewmen to man the ship.
However, it appeared that once the attackers had caught sight of Morgan, they began to focus their attack on her and her few most loyal defenders.
Shaw fell, a gash across his forehead. Glasspoole bled from multiple wounds on his arms and chest. Trotter went down, after being hit by a tumbling beam.
Morgan renewed her efforts, but even her strength was waning fast. She, too, was bleeding from a multitude of smaller cuts on her arms and one on the thigh. The attackers were trying to avoid harming her, and that more than anything, warned her of their sinister plans for her. At last, when she knew she was beaten, she wished she had taken the opportunity of ending her own life. Now it was too late.
Four of the brutes rushed her and though her swift kicks to their groins caused two of them to double up in pain, four more took their place. Faced with six attackers and no weapon in her hand, Morgan knew it was only a matter of time before they overwhelmed her. She cast a glance across the railing, into the crashing waves. This far to the south there would be sharks and perhaps other unknown beasts, waiting to end her life for her.
She made one last supreme effort, and tried to slip out of their grip and dive into the sea. A blow to the back of her head made her black out. She knew no more.
Slowly, Shaw came too, feeling dizzy and nauseous. He was lying in a sticky patch that smelled sickening. Once his eyes had fully adapted to the sharp sunlight of early morning, he realized that the sticky patch consisted of blood and vomit. Slowly, the events of the night before returned to him. With the recollection came a desperate struggle to get to his feet.
After struggling and failing, he finally managed to get to his knees. He stood thus, rocking back and forth, desperately searching for his love. His hands reached out and found a wooden crate that seemed solid, despite looking a little worse for wear, and he steadied himself by leaning on it. He still felt dizzy, but after a while, the nausea passed.
The deck was a scene of carnage. Dead pirates lay shoulder to shoulder with fallen enemies. Shaw recognized many faces among them.
He was used to seeing death in all its forms but this – this sickening spectacle – looked like a scene from hell. Trotter lay only an arm’s-length away from him. The former officer looked less badly injured than the others and the medicus in Shaw awoke. He pressed his fingers to the side of Trotter’s neck and at first could not believe his senses when he felt a beating.
His fingers continued their exploration of the fallen man’s head and face and found the cause for his immobility. There was a lump the size of a plum on Trotter’s temple and some dried blood, but the injury did not seem grave enough to be fatal.
Shaw was reminded of his own injury and hastily felt the most painful spot on his forehead. It wasn’t deep and though it must have bled profusely, he didn’t think it was cause for alarm. The dizziness must be caused by blood loss, not concussion.
Again he made en effort to rouse Trotter and to his relief, the man began to make sounds that indicated he might be on the verge of regaining consciousness.
Shaw took a few unsteady steps and found Glasspoole lying a few feet away. He bent over the dark-skinned man and felt for a pulse. Again, he was rewarded. Despite the many injuries on Glasspoole’s arms and chest, the beating under the skin was strong and steady. Shaw could not help but admire Glasspoole’s strength and stamina.
Shaw found a spot on Glasspoole’s right upper arm which seemed less injured than the rest of him and shook him lightly.
A hand shot out and grabbed his wrist.
“Steady on, mr Glasspoole.”
“Morgan? Have you seen Morgan, Shaw?”
Shaw’s eyes stung. He knew, though he had not seen it happen, that his love was gone.
“No. I believe those brutes took her.”
Glasspoole got to his feet, his agility belying the apparent gravity of his injuries.
“We must search for her.”
Shaw bowed his head in acquiescence. Trotter too was able to get up, with Shaw’s aid, and together the three men began a search on deck. They moved bodies and looked over the side of the ship, but nowhere did they see a single trace of their captain.
During their search, they found that Blair had made it, albeit with a wound that was bleeding profusely. He’d been run through by one of the curved sabres and though it appeared to have missed all major organs, the wound would need attention.
Glasspoole ordered Shaw to see to it.
Shaw went below decks to see if his instruments were still safe. He found the case lying where he’d left it. Apparently, the attackers had not stayed to ransack the ship fully. On his way back up, he snatch up a bottle of rum.
Meanwhile, Glasspoole and Trotter continued their search. They found a few more men alive, none more seriously injured than Blair, but nowhere could they find Morgan.
Trotter remembered Bowen and Bess, and hoped that the two youngsters had survived unscathed but had not fallen into enemy hands. He began to call their names.
At first he heard nothing, save the wind, the sea birds, the lapping of the waves and moans of pain from the injured.
Then he heard the light sound of footsteps. To his relief, first Bowen, with King Charles on his shoulder, then Bess climbed out from behind one of the water barrels. It appeared that the attackers had not believed the area of the ship important enough to search more thoroughly. A grown man could not have fitted into the tiny space, and perhaps they had not thought to look for anyone smaller.
On seeing the bloodshed, Bowen turned whiter still and promptly threw up, over the railing, a fact for which Trotter was grateful. Bess looked rather pale too, but she appeared to have her emotions under control.
“There you are. Are you injured?”
Bess shook her head. She gently stroked Bowen’s neck as he was retching and coughing, his belly too empty to produce anything more.
“Good. Bowen – will you see to King Charles?”
The boy mumbled something which Trotter took as acquiescence.
“Bess, please come with me. We shall have to clean up the deck. If I and a few of the others throw the bodies into the sea, will you pour some water over the planks?”
“Of course. But I can do better than that. I will help you toss the cadavers into the sea first.”
“That won’t be necessary, but thank you for the offer.”
“I’m strong enough.”
Trotter changed his mind. There were so few of them, that if this slight girl felt she could help, he would not turn her offer down. He knew that she must have seen her share of death, even at her young age and even the blood only slightly perturbed her.
“Very well. We shall all have to do our part. As you can see, we have lost most of the men. And the Captain -”
“Is the Captain dead?”
Bowen turned and faced Trotter, a look of horror on his face.
“No, lad. She has been captured.”
“We must get her back.”
“We shall do our best. Now go, boy. We have work to do.”
“I want to help, too.”
Trotter regarded Bowen skeptically, then relented. They could use every pair of hands, except King Charles’.
“Very well. Take King Charles below, then you can help pour water on the planks.”
Bowen nodded and ran off to do as he’d been told.
It took them nearly an hour to throw the last of the fallen into the sea. So far, there had been no trace of the attackers.
Blair would not heed Shaw’s advice to get some rest. Before long, he and a few of the others were hard at work trying to put the ship back into working order. It appeared that while there was much superficial damage, the main structure was still sound. The sails were hanging in tatters, but they could worry about that later.
If they had to, they would row against the current, but there would be replacements below. They might still be able to replace the torn sails. Worse was their lack of hands to man all stations. Even if they could presume Bowen skilled enough after his years at sea, Bess was not. Shaw had little or no seaman’s skills and Trotter, while capable enough, was no sailor either. Still, they would make do. With instructions, they could all lend a hand.
Even Shaw, whose first impulse was to take a boat and row ashore to find Morgan, realized that the ship must be put back into working order first. Besides, he knew he would be no match, on his own, against the seasoned warriors who had abducted her.
They worked all day, with only brief pauses for rest and meals. Bowen and Bess were sent below to find what provisions were still left intact. Most of them were stolen or overturned, the contents trampled and spoiled. They found some bread, nuts and dried fruit and along with what little clean rain water they had, they made do.
Towards evening, they had to face the fact that they had done what they could with what little they had. It might be possible to reach the shore, but after that, repairs would be necessary and somehow, they had to find a way to take on new provisions.
Trotter, Blair and Glasspoole discussed at length the risks involved in such an undertaking, but they all knew that it was a risk they must take. Out here, alone, they would not last long. In the end, it was decided that they try to make landfall under cover of darkness.
Eventually, they found a spot suitable for landing. The coastline was difficult to navigate and the only reasonable harbor turned out to be surrounded by low, square buildings. If the natives were as hostile as the attackers, they knew it would not be long until they were finished. In their weakened state, they could not hope to put up much resistance.
However, it turned out that the villagers were more peaceful than the warriors. In exchange for a piece of gold, they not only agreed to part with some simple food, but also supplies for the repairs.
Trotter turned out to know a little Arabic and one of the villagers had some knowledge of Spanish. Between them, Trotter and Shaw were able to communicate their needs to their hosts.
They could only conclude that Spanish fishermen sometimes came into contact with the villagers.
The following day, they went to work on the repairs. Shaw was impatient to go off in search of Morgan, and after a fierce debate with Glasspoole, he was grudgingly given permission to leave. Trotter stated plainly that he would go with Shaw and reluctantly, Glasspoole agreed. Bowen expressed a wish to come along, but was voted down.
The villagers had described for them the road to the town where the ‘Sharif’ lived. Trotter claimed it meant leader, anything from clan leader to a sort of petty king. After listening to more of the villagers’ talk, he concluded that this one must be similar to a mayor, back in England.
They had purposely avoided enquiring about Morgan. It stood to reason that such humble fishermen would not keep such a prize, as a white woman must be, in those parts.
The road to the town was a mere dirt track, but at least it wasn’t far. Many villagers would walk there in the morning, with their catch, to sell it in the marketplace. They would set out at dawn and arrive around midday. Since it was now well past dawn, Shaw and Trotter knew they would arrive in the afternoon, but that should be time enough to make their enquiries and if possible, to free Morgan and take her back with them.
Trotter had demanded a share of the gold and Glasspoole had agreed. They did not yet know how that would help them, but once in the town, they could take stock of the situation and make new plans.
The sun burned hotly and before long, they felt impelled to adopt the villagers’ garb – pieces of cloth covering their heads, rather like veils.
Though they had been provided with waterskins, the road felt long and their injuries still ached, but neither would allow themselves any rest beyond the slightest possible. Foremost in their minds were thoughts of Morgan. What would these brutes have put her through? Would they be able to find her? Was she still alive? The questions haunted Shaw most of the way to the town.
They first caught sight of the hills, rising up from the coastal plains, then the buildings, little different from the ones in the village. It was a bare, stark place, with little or no adornment, save for a building topped by a dome, akin to a church. Trotter claimed it was a place of worship. A little distance from the domed building, a slender tower stood.
Just as they walked into the town, a man began to call out a long sequence of words. It sounded like an odd tuneless song. Trotter told Shaw the man was calling the faithful to prayer.
“How do you know these things?”
“I have a cousin who is a sailor. He has visited Constantinople twice and Egypt and Tangiers a few times as well. He has told me about the Mohammedans and their customs.”
“Like the Moors, their leaders treasure exotic women, do they not?”
Trotter nodded gravely. Shaw had already guessed as much. Why else would those brutes focus their attack around Morgan? He was only hoping they would not be too late to save her from a fate worse than death, or to stop her from being sent along, to some more powerful ruler further afield.
The townspeople seemed to be heading into their place of worship and the town square emptied of most of the people milling about. There were simple stalls, where a few men were still plying their wares. One of them spoke to Trotter as he passed by. Trotter listened without comprehending. The man studied them more closely. He said a few words in Arabic, and Trotter thought quickly. The Sultanate was not at war with the British. It should be safe enough to answer truthfully.
“We are English.”
The old man nodded.
“Can I help you?”
Trotter hesitated. Information would be valuable, but how could he know if this man was to be trusted or not?
As if the old man sensed his reluctance to confide in him, he bowed politely.
“My name Isaac. I am a Jew.”
Trotter nodded. Jews were at least more familiar. It did not tell him more about the old man’s reliability, but he sensed that the man might be honorable.
He turned to Shaw. Shaw might have a good eye for who might be trusted. After all, Trotter had a feeling Shaw had lived by his wits for most of his life.
“What do you think? He says he’s Jewish and offers to help us. Can we trust him?”
Shaw, too, studied the old man intently. There was greed there and he had the impression the old man was by no means as helpless as he looked. However, he sensed no evil intent in him.
“We do not have much choice. Let us risk it. We are in danger each minute we stay here.”
Trotter once again turned to the old man, weighing his words carefully.
“We seek one of our own. A woman. We were attacked and she was abducted. Do you know if any white woman has been taken here?”
The old man nodded, thoughtfully.
“She was brought here last night. Their lord, the Sharif, has a great partiality to women.”
Trotter’s face hardened. If only they would be in time. Already he knew Morgan well enough to guess that she would rather die fighting than submit to any man not of her own choosing.
“Is there any way we can get into his house?”
A look of pity flew across the old man’s face.
“There are only two of you?”
“Our companions are repairing our ship.”
“No matter. Even with a full legion of men, you will not defeat them. You must attempt to gain access to his stronghold by cunning, not might. I will try to help you, but I must tell you that most likely, the woman is lost to you.”
“We can not turn back without trying.”
The old man told a younger man to mind the stall, then took Trotter and Shaw to a house a few streets away. He offered them water and some bread, then gave them garb similar to that of the townspeople. It resembled a monk’s habit, but was made of less coarse cloth.
While the old man had a young boy lay out the garments on a table, Trotter explained what the old man had suggested.
Though it irked them to have to have to wait until nightfall, the old man strongly advised them to wait. Towards evening, once again, there would be more comings and goings up to the stronghold. On most nights, unless it was a religious festival, the Sharif would serve dinner to those of his men who lived in the town.
The waiting wore on Shaw’s nerves. He could imagine all manner of horrors befalling his love, while he sat idle.
At last the old man beckoned to them to come along. He sent one of his many sons with them to serve as guide.
The Sharif’s stronghold was a simple structure. Bare walls facing the town and an inner courtyard, where there was a spring and some yellowing, withered plants. Many doors stood open onto the courtyard and the young Jew led them through one leading into a kitchen. There he proceeded to hand over certain goods, then began to talk animatedly with the young men working there.
At one point, he gestured towards the two newcomers, and Trotter reached for his pistol. One of the three young men opened a cupboard and brought out pieces of bread, then a jar of some kind. Another of the young men began to brew some concoction on the stove. The remaining one placed glasses on the table. Once the concoction appeared to be done, it was poured into the glasses.
Trotter regarded the brew suspiciously. It was quite clear and smelled of mint leaves. He concluded that the fluid would be safe to drink. His guess was confirmed when the Jew sat down and gestured for them to do the same.
The jar contained honey and their guide began to smear some of it on a piece of bread. Shaw picked up another and placed a dollop of honey on it. He sniffed the contents of the glass and ventured to wet his lips. It had an odd taste, but it was not unpleasant. He recognized the smell. Mint. The physician he’d served had used mint leaves to make an infusion against bronchitis.
The visitors finished their bread and tea in silence, then bowed politely to their hosts. Now their guide herded them towards a part of the building which turned out to be a stable, containing a dozen or so graceful steeds. They shied and kicked, when they sensed the arrival of strangers, but soon settled down.
Their guide handed over new merchandise to a man who smelled strongly of horse. The young Jew seemed to be questioning him at length. The man grinned lecherously and made some lewd hand gestures. Shaw clenched his fists. That vile, stinking man had to be referring to Morgan. How he longed to wipe that smirk off his face, but caution held him back. Time enough later, if they were successful. Besides, words could not harm Morgan. He forced himself to be patient.
Their visit in the stable appeared to be at an end. Again, their guide ushered them outside.
“The woman is here. In the Sharif’s quarters. I know of a way inside, but we must be very quiet.”
By now, dark had fallen completely. Fewer people were moving about in the courtyard, but no one questioned their right to be there. Apparently, this was a place where many people came and went. Once inside, their guide bade them wait in a small, almost empty room. There was a chest, some mats and a folded pile of cloths, that was all.
Shaw didn’t like this. What was to stop that young man from returning, with the Sharif’s warriors in tow? Even if their guide did not intend to denounce them, he might make some mistake and give them away. Shaw guessed that these Moors would be ruthless in their methods of questioning.
But it wasn’t long before their guide returned, bearing news.
“I know where to find the woman. We have to go outside and find another way in. Come. This way.”
When she came to, a whole crowd of them were standing over her, grinning and pointing their fingers. One, bolder than the rest, attempted to touch her, but another, who appeared to have more authority, pushed the hand away.
She studied the apparent leader closely. What would his intentions be? If he took her somewhere, to be alone with her, she knew she could deal with him. The question was, would he be aware of that? If so, what precautions would he take? Morgan knew that some men even liked to take an unconscious woman. She tried to get up, but the man put his hands firmly on her shoulders and held her down.
He shouted a few words of command, then four of his men grabbed her and dragged her into what might be the captain’s cabin. They left her there. Alone. She was on her feet almost before the door closed behind them. There was a small window, high on the wall, but it was far too small for her to get through. She scanned the room for anything she might use as a weapon, but she wasn’t surprised to see it virtually stripped of its contents.
Discouraged, she settled down to wait.
Some hours later, she sensed that the ship had entered a harbor. The swell of the waves instantly grew calmer and before long, she felt the bow hit a dock. So they had landed.
Not much later, the captain returned, bringing four other men. They moved in on her and despite her desperate efforts, they were able to tie her seurely. Two of the men hoisted her up on their shoulders and carried her outside.
They brought a huge white gelding and placed her on top of it. One of the men got on the horse’s back and it wasn’t long until he kicked his heels into the horse’s flanks. The horse set off at a swift pace. They stopped twice to let the horse drink, then arrived at the gates of a small town.
The rider proceeded up a narrow, but straight street, leading up to a building of some proportions. He urged the horse to go through the entrance and all the way up to a number of steps leading up to double doors. Here he dismounted and after he called out in his strange tongue, more men arrived, who helped lower Morgan to the ground.
They carried her through the doorway, across a manner of hallway, then into a large room. She was placed on a pile of carpets. The men stepped back and left her there.
Another voice called out a few commands and a man moved up to her and cut the ropes tying her legs together. She strained against the other bonds, but she was too tightly tied to be able to work the ropes loose.
A man past middle age, with a striking, dark face moved forward and began to inspect her. She recognized that look. Dawg Brown had looked at her that way. Her own uncle. This man was perhaps of the same age. As he bent over her, she spat in his face. An angered yell greeted her action. Before he had time to move back, Morgan followed up with a swift, hard kick to the groin. She had the satisfaction of seeing the man double over in pain.
Another man, this one younger, appeared, and began to punch her repeatedly. He stayed out of reach of her legs, but battered her face and arms, until another string of words from the older man stopped him. Two other men moved forward, grabbed her by the arms and began to drag her out again.
Morgan swore under her breath. She’d been hoping to provoke the old man into killing her. Apparently, her plan had failed. She was hoping they wouldn’t just throw her down on the dirt and ravage her until she lost consciousness.
Her fears were not realized, at least not instantly. They carried her down a flight of steps, into some sort of dungeon, then threw her to the ground and left her. Her body ached, but at least she was still alive. After she’d had a little rest, she would get to work on the ropes.
The Sharif’s best and oldest friend was a scholar. He had traveled extensively throughout the world of the faithful and learned much about the infidels and their lands as well. The moment he saw the woman, he knew she might hold some useful knowledge.
Once his friend had calmed down after the unexpected assault by the woman, the scholar approached him.
“What are you going to do with that woman?”
The Sharif’s face was twisted into a mask of hatred. No woman had ever treated him thus.
“I shall have her tortured and killed, naturally. Why do you ask?”
“May I ask a favor, my friend?”
“You may ask.”
“She might hold knowledge that would interest me. About their strange faraway lands and bizarre customs. Will you let me question her before dealing with her?”
The Sharif considered his friend’s request. His friend was very dear to him, and what harm could it do, if he let him question the woman for an hour or so, while he arranged for her torture?
“Very well. You may have an hour. If you believe you can make sense of her odd tongue. I have heard that these infidels do not know the words of the prophet.”
“If you remember, my friend, I have studied many strange tongues. It may be that I have knowledge of one she might understand. At the very least, I shall bring a map and make her tell me where she is from.”
“I wish you luck. I doubt if this barbarian woman will help you, but you may try.”
The scholar wasted no time, lest his friend change his mind. He hurried down the stairs into the dungeon, bringing his maps and a scribe with pen and paper.
When the hour was up, the scholar was not much the wiser. The woman appeared not to understand Hebrew or Greek. His few words of Italian were greeted with a blank stare. He was forced to conclude that she knew no civilized tongue. Almost defeated, he rolled out his maps and pointed at her, then at the map.
At first he believed he would be forced to leave with nothing. However, after a long moment of hesitation, the woman pointed doubtfully at the islands west of the European continent. England, as the barbarians who lived there referred to it. Something about her reaction made him bring forth other maps to show her. Though he was old, his heartrate picked up as he realized she was now pointing at the maps of the New World.
Her fingers hovered above the islands in between the two continents, then straying north again, vaguely gesturing towards the northern continent. A barbarian from the New World. She did not much look as the natives did in the drawings, but he had heard that the Europeans and the islanders had colonized the continents. Most likely she was a descendant of such colonists.
Now he wished he had been able to obtain more of a reprieve from his friend, but he knew the Sharif never forgave a slight. Reluctantly, he gathered his possessions and bade the scribe leave.
The scholar thanked his old friend, who nodded in recognition, then sent a man to beat the woman, to avoid any escape attempts on the way to the site he had designated for her public torture and execution. It would take place the following day at noon. He furthermore gave orders that no one feed the woman or give her any water. There must be no repetition of her earlier attack.
The man who was sent to beat her, took great pleasure in doing so. He was wondering if it would be permissible to enjoy her, now that the Sharif did not want her. In the end, he deemed it too great a risk to take. The Sharif had wanted her himself, even if he had now changed his mind and taking a woman meant for the Sharif’s serai would mean placing his life at risk.
Once the woman lay prone, on the berth, the man could not contain himself anymore. He opened her strange garment in front and grabbed the unnaturally pale, generously sized globes that rose there.
Fixing all his attention on what was in his hands, he failed to notice that a hand was moving and before he had time to react, it grabbed him around the neck and squeezed. Taken by surprise, he wasted precious seconds struggling. By that time, the other hand had joined the first and after a few last quivers, the body lay limp on top of her.
She pushed the unmoving body off her and began to rearrange her shirt, to cover herself. Her mind was already at work, trying to find a way to escape the small, enclosed cell she was in.
The Jew took them around the back of the stronghold, then showed them a low door. There were no guards outside, and the door wasn’t locked, so Trotter ventured to open it a crack and look inside. The passage leading slightly down, appeared to be empty. It was lit by torches fastened to the wall by rings. Their guide remained on lookout outside.
Shaw and Trotter set off down the low passage. There were only three doors leading from it. Two on each side and one at the bottom of the passage. The two first were standing open and clearly empty. The last one must be the one holding Morgan.
Here at last was a guard. He was sitting hunched over, his back to the wall, apparently asleep or at least dozing.
However, his inattention was deceptive. When they moved closer, he got up, his hand reaching for his dagger.
Trotter grabbed his pistol, but Shaw, sensing his gesture, put a hand on his arm.
Shaking his head no, he put a finger to his lips. Trotter nodded.
Shaw’s own hand squeezed the hilt of his rapier, but something held him back. He knew he had been no match for the fierce warriors who had attacked him. There was no reason to believe this one would be any less skillful. Even the fact that there were two of them did not give them enough of an advantage.
All this had taken place in the space of a heartbeat. Suddenly, Shaw knew what he must do. If force could not help him now, perhaps his wits could? He considered how to alert Trotter to his plan and realized he could not.
“Wait for me outside.”
Trotter could not understand Shaw’s reasoning. Surely two would stand a better chance than one? But he respected the other man’s wits and did not argue. Slowly, he backed off.
So far, the guard had not raised the alarm. He seemed puzzled by their presence.
When the door had closed behind Trotter, Shaw pushed off the habit he was wearing and smiled invitingly at the guard. It had been years since he’d last drawn on these skills, but he hadn’t forgotten and he knew from experience, that the foreign sailors appreciated his fair hair and light-colored skin.
He had not been mistaken. An avid look came into the guard’s eyes.
Slowly and deliberately, Shaw opened his shirt in front and let the man study his smooth, hairless chest. Again, he smiled, letting the tip of his tongue show momentarily. His entire being cried out in protest, but he forced himself to ignore it. There was nothing he wouldn’t do to get Morgan back. Nothing.
The guard’s face was split by an avid grin and he reached out a grubby hand to fondle the fair locks.
Shaw dropped to his knees, gazing guilelessly up into the guard’s dark eyes.
The man fumbled with his habit and pulled it up, to reveal his naked body underneath. Shaw crawled closer, then lowered his head as if he intended to make good his promise. His left hand moved up and began to stroke the filthy skin of the man’s thigh.
He could feel a hand grab his neck and push his head closer. This was the moment. He could not abide to wait any longer. His right hand found the hilt of his rapier and while his left hand still fondled the man’s skin, his right hand moved swiftly and surely. Recalling Morgan’s instruction, he ran the man through. At the last second, he looked up, and was able to aim for the heart.
The man only made one muffled noise, which might have been surprise just as well as pain, then he dropped forward, pinning Shaw under his dead weight.
Close to panic now, Shaw pushed the body off him, and cowered back, shivering as in cold, though the night was balmy and mild. Only the thought of Morgan made him struggle to his feet. Filled with revulsion he searched the guard’s body for the key to the cell, where Morgan had to be. He would not contemplate any other possibility.
At last, he felt the cool metal against his skin and he pulled the object out. He had guessed correctly. It was a key. Eagerly, he pushed the key into the lock and turned it.
He stumbled across something lying in his path and he went down. His hands moved faster than his mind and he was able to break the fall. As he was about to turn and make sure the body he’d stumbled across wasn’t Morgan’s he saw her.
No reply. He hurried forward, filled with a sense of foreboding. After all the lengths they’d gone to, would it still be too late? He grabbed her shoulder and shook it. Suddenly, a hand shot out and grabbed his arm.
“Morgan. It’s me. Are you injured?”
“Will? How in god’s name – never mind. Injured? I’ve had worse.”
He bit his lip, rather than give free rein to the laughter that threatened to burst forth. She was still alive.
Gently taking hold of her arm, he placed it across his shoulder and helped her to her feet. She stumbled and could not quite carry her own weight.
“What have they done to you?”
He didn’t think she would tell him if the worst had happened, but he couldn’t keep himself from asking.
“Nothing broken. No, wait. A few ribs, that’s all. Some cuts and bruises. I will be fine. Let us make haste out of here.”
He was wondering if she was telling the truth. There was no time to examine her injuries. She would just have to hold on until they were safely back on the Morning Star.
Trotter was waiting anxiously outside, but when he saw Morgan with Shaw, his features relaxed slightly. Their guide now urged them on, taking them by a different route back to the young man’s father’s house.
Isaac told them gravely that he was sorry he had no horses to lend them, but if they pleased, he could let them have the use of two donkeys and a cart. That would at least help them move faster than on foot. The talk in the town indicated that the execution of the woman would not take place until noon the next day. That would give them almost twice the time needed to cover the distance between the town and the coast.
So they set out, on the flat, bare cart. The same young man sat in front of the cart, urging the donkeys on, as fast as they would go. They were larger than any donkeys Shaw had seen in England and seemed strong, if not particularly swift.
Through the night they bumped along on the rude track. When the sun came up, they saw the outlines of the village, against the sea. Their guide urged the donkeys on and it seemed they would reach the harbor before any pursuit could catch up with them.
Trotter glanced anxiously over his shoulder. He had a bad feeling. Once or twice before, usually before going into battle, he’d felt the same sensation. It never boded well.
The village was so close by now, they could just as easily reach it on foot.
He attempted to make this clear to the young Jew, when they heard the sounds of hooves pounding far too close by.
Their guide pulled in the reins and bade them get off. He turned the cart aside and following an even smaller track, he vanished between what looked like sheds or storage buildings.
Trotter and Shaw, supporting Morgan between them, began to run, as fast as their burden allowed them. The first houses were only yards away. From behind them, they heard the sounds of men shouting. Had they been spotted?
Shaw strained his neck and looked behind him. No. There was still no sign of their pursuers, but judging by the sounds, they could only be minutes away.
Now they were under cover of the houses. They turned aside and began to make their way towards the docks.
Shaw turned to Trotter, over Morgan’s head. She was nodding, and he thought she was more or less unconscious.
“Go on ahead. Make sure the ship is ready to sail. We have no time to waste.”
Trotter looked as if he was about to disagree, but thought better of it and let go of Morgan and began to run.
Shaw took Morgan’s full weight and continued on, as fast as he could. There were people looking out of their houses, but no one was about. They must have heard of the pursuit and rather than end up getting in their way, chose to remain indoors until the matter had been resolved.
Finally, Shaw could see the sea. There was no sign of the Morning Star and he was wondering if he’d remembered incorrectly. Or had the ship been moved? He turned to the left and looked along the shoreline. Nothing. He looked the other way and to his relief, the ship was lying at anchor not far from where he was. Only a few more minutes and they’d be safe.
Their pursuers must have reached the outermost buildings by now. Shaw knew that even the short distance to the ship might be too far. But he had no choice but to struggle along.
He could see that they’d raised the anchor and the remaining crew was hard at work to get the ship under way. To his dismay he now saw the ship move away from shore. Were they leaving without them? But almost at once, he saw that the boat was still on shore. Someone was in it, manning the oars.
They were now only a few steps away from the beach. Morgan, who had felt the salty air, struggled against him.
“I want to walk on my own.”
“My love, this is no time to -”
“I’m going to walk on my own feet. This is my ship. I won’t be carried like a sack of wood.”
She was still bracing herself against his shoulder and he could tell that she was still unsteady on her legs. He did not deem her capable of walking even the few paces to the boat.
“Morgan, please. We’re wasting time. If you let me help you now, you can carry me the next time.”
Morgan’s face, covered by bruises and dried blood, was split by a grin.
“Carry you? You think I couldn’t do it? Fine. Carry me. Then we’ll see.”
He lifted her up and ran the last few steps to the boat, lowered her gently into it and ignoring the hoofbeat approaching them at a far too great pace, he jumped into the boat and sat down, his arm around her.
Trotter began to row furiously. The little boat clove through the waves, but they could already hear their pursuers splashing through the water behind them and when Shaw turned around, he saw that the first of the warriors were only a few yards away.
“Trotter. Give me your pistol.”
“Take it. I can’t let go of the oars.”
Shaw pulled the pistol out of the waistband of Trotter’s breeches, turned around and took aim. To his astonishment the leader of the warrior’s fell into the water. He raised the gun again, but the others fell back, brandishing their curved blades and yelling in impotent rage.
Shaw stared at the pistol in his hand. He had not had much practice firing a pistol and until now, he had not been able to hit anything smaller than a tree even at a relatively short distance. Of course, this man had been large and he’d been only a few yards away.
Trotter was smiling amiably.
They were catching up with the Morning Star and someone was lowering a rope for them. Shaw glanced anxiously at Morgan. She would not be able to climb the rope on her own. They would need something else. Even a rope ladder would most likely be beyond her at the moment. Could he climb, holding her with one hand, only holding on to the ladder by the other? He thought not.
Against Morgan’s wishes, they made a noose, fastened it around her chest, right below the armpits and though she was cursing and spitting worse than a wild cat, two men pulled her up. The rope came down again and Trotter climbed up it, after taking his pistol back.
Finally, the rope came down again, and Shaw climbed up, after having tied the boat securely to the ring to which it was usually secured.
Again, they set sail for the Canaries. With the supplies the villagers had sold them, they just might
make it back again. Unless their pursuers caught up with them first.
Morgan determined that the next time, they’d come better prepared. Perhaps they could wait for other ships heading this way. If they did not fly the British flag, they could perhaps form a convoy. In the meantime, the Canaries was an interesting enough place. They might use the time to learn Spanish and perhaps Arabic.
After Shaw had tended to Morgan’s wounds, she lay on her bed, perusing the charts again.
“Perhaps we were wrong to try and reach Madagascar this way. We might have done better sailing steadily west, across the Pacific. Or better still – let us return home.”
“So you think we shall never see China or India?”
“Who knows? Still, all I really want is a good fight and some loot at the end of it all.”
“Is that all?”
Morgan smiled, her face regaining its natural color, after a sip or two of rum and a thorough cleaning adminstered by Shaw.
“No. As long as I have my love, I suppose I could get used to the dull life of a landlubber. What would you have me do?”
“Perhaps one day we shall settle down and set up shop somewhere.”
“As merchants? Perhaps.”
“Perhaps I could open a surgery.”
“Why not? I find your skills perfectly satisfactory.”
“You flatter me, my lady.”
“In the meantime, I shall try to recover my strength swiftly and make good my promise.”
“I will carry you, of course. Did I not say I could?”
Shaw chuckled delightedly at the image this conjured up.
“We shall see. And once you’ve lifted me up and carried me off, what else would you do?”
“Oh, I’m sure I’ll think of something.”
“I’m looking forward to the day.”
“Now, did I thank you in a seemly manner, for getting me out of that stinking cell?”
“I don’t believe you did, my lady.”
“In that case, I will have to do something about that.”
She lay stretched out on her side. Shaw, who knew that the ribs on her other side were broken, inched closer and stretched out in a similar fashion, facing her.
As he removed his shirt, his mind touched momentarily on the guard outside the cell. But lying like this, with Morgan was utterly different from what he had found himself constrained to do, so he pushed the thought out of his mind.
Morgan smoothed back his hair then closed the distance between their faces, and kissed him lightly. He inched closer still and felt her warm body press into his. Gingerly, trying to avoid pressing too closely into her broken ribs he let his hands move down her body.
“Will? Thank you. It was a lucky day when first saw you at that slave market. A purchase well worth the expense.”
“I’m glad you think so. It will be my pleasure to strive to perform my duties to your satisfaction.”
“Mm. You already have.”
He kissed her again, a little more intensely this time. She deepened the kiss and let one finger move down his back. He shivered pleasurably.
“Will. Listen carefully. I don’t say this much, but I will make an exception in your case. I love you, Will.”
“I love you too. You have no idea how much.”
Morgan pushed herself a little closer and began to rub herself against him, ignoring the pain.
“I think I do. If we could find a priest that can be trusted, I might even marry you.”
Shaw drew in breath. He hadn’t expected that. Once the first astonishment had faded, a warm feeling of anticipation settled inside him. It really didn’t matter where they were heading. He’d go anywhere with Morgan and do anything she asked. At last he’d put his old life behind him. He could hardly wait to see what the future would hold for them. As long as he had Morgan by his side, he didn’t think he could go wrong.