The sea hawk, p.18
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       The Sea-Hawk, p.18

           Rafael Sabatini


  Early on the morrow--so early that scarce had the Shehad beenrecited--came Biskaine-el-Borak to the Basha. He had just landed from agalley which had come upon a Spanish fishing boat, aboard of which therewas a young Morisco who was being conducted over seas to Algiers. Thenews of which the fellow was the bearer was of such urgency that fortwenty hours without intermission the slaves had toiled at the oars ofBiskaine's vessel--the capitana of his fleet--to bring her swiftly home.

  The Morisco had a cousin--a New-Christian like himself, and likehimself, it would appear, still a Muslim at heart--who was employed inthe Spanish treasury at Malaga. This man had knowledge that a galley wasfitting out for sea to convey to Naples the gold destined for the payof the Spanish troops in garrison there. Through parsimony thistreasure-galley was to be afforded no escort, but was under orders tohug the coast of Europe, where she should be safe from all piraticalsurprise. It was judged that she would be ready to put to sea in a week,and the Morisco had set out at once to bring word of it to his Algerinebrethren that they might intercept and capture her.

  Asad thanked the young Morisco for his news, bade him be housed andcared for, and promised him a handsome share of the plunder should thetreasure-galley be captured. That done he sent for Sakr-el-Bahr, whilstMarzak, who had been present at the interview, went with the tale of itto his mother, and beheld her fling into a passion when he added that itwas Sakr-el-Bahr had been summoned that he might be entrusted withthis fresh expedition, thus proving that all her crafty innuendoes andinsistent warnings had been so much wasted labour.

  With Marzak following at her heels, she swept like a fury into thedarkened room where Asad took his ease.

  "What is this I hear, O my lord?" she cried, in tone and manner more theEuropean shrew than the submissive Eastern slave. "Is Sakr-el-Bahr to goupon this expedition against the treasure-galley of Spain?"

  Reclining on his divan he looked her up and down with a languid eye."Dost know of any better fitted to succeed?" quoth he.

  "I know of one whom it is my lord's duty to prefer to that foreignadventurer. One who is entirely faithful and entirely to be trusted.One who does not attempt to retain for himself a portion of the bootygarnered in the name of Islam."

  "Bah!" said Asad. "Wilt thou talk forever of those two slaves? And whomay be this paragon of thine?"

  "Marzak," she answered fiercely, flinging out an arm to drag forwardher son. "Is he to waste his youth here in softness and idleness? Butyesternight that ribald mocked him with his lack of scars. Shall he takescars in the orchard of the Kasbah here? Is he to be content with thosethat come from the scratch of a bramble, or is he to learn to be afighter and leader of the Children of the Faith that himself he mayfollow in the path his father trod?"

  "Whether he so follows," said Asad, "is as the Sultan of Istambul, theSublime Portal, shall decree. We are but his vicegerents here."

  "But shall the Grand Sultan appoint him to succeed thee if thou hastnot equipped him so to do? I cry shame on thee, O father of Marzakl, forthat thou art lacking in due pride in thine own son."

  "May Allah give me patience with thee! Have I not said that he is stillover young."

  "At his age thyself thou wert upon the seas, serving with the greatOchiali."

  "At his age I was, by the favour of Allah, taller and stronger than ishe. I cherish him too dearly to let him go forth and perchance be lostto me before his strength is full grown."

  "Look at him," she commanded. "He is a man, Asad, and such a son asanother might take pride in. Is it not time he girt a scimitar about hiswaist and trod the poop of one of thy galleys?"

  "Indeed, indeed, O my father!" begged Marzak himself.

  "What?" barked the old Moor. "And is it so? And wouldst thou go forththen against the Spaniard? What knowledge hast thou that shall equipthee for such a task?"

  "What can his knowledge be since his father has never been concerned toschool him?" returned Fenzileh. "Dost thou sneer at shortcomings thatare the natural fruits of thine own omissions?"

  "I will be patient with thee," said Asad, showing every sign of losingpatience. "I will ask thee only if in thy judgment he is in case to wina victory for Islam? Answer me straightly now."

  "Straightly I answer thee that he is not. And, as straightly, I tellthee that it is full time he were. Thy duty is to let him go upon thisexpedition that he may learn the trade that lies before him."

  Asad considered a moment. Then: "Be it so," he answered slowly. "Shaltset forth, then, with Sakr-el-Bahr, my son."

  "With Sakr-el-Bahr?" cried Fenzilch aghast.

  "I could find him no better preceptor."

  "Shall thy son go forth as the servant of another?"

  "As the pupil," Asad amended. "What else?"

  "Were I a man, O fountain of my soul," said she, "and had I a son, nonebut myself should be his preceptor. I should so mould and fashion himthat he should be another me. That, O my dear lord, is thy duty toMarzak. Entrust not his training to another and to one whom despite thylove for him I cannot trust. Go forth thyself upon this expedition withMarzak here for thy kayia."

  Asad frowned. "I grow too old," he said. "I have not been upon the seasthese two years past. Who can say that I may not have lost the art ofvictory. No, no." He shook his head, and his face grew overcast andsoftened by wistfulness. "Sakr-el-Bahr commands this time, and if Marzakgoes, he goes with him."

  "My lord...." she began, then checked. A Nubian had entered to announcethat Sakr-el-Bahr was come and was awaiting the orders of his lord inthe courtyard. Asad rose instantly and for all that Fenzileh, greatlydaring as ever, would still have detained him, he shook her offimpatiently, and went out.

  She watched his departure with anger in those dark lovely eyes of hers,an anger that went near to filming them in tears, and after he hadpassed out into the glaring sunshine beyond the door, a silence dwelt inthe cool darkened chamber--a silence disturbed only by distant trills ofsilvery laughter from the lesser women of the Basha's house. The soundjarred her taut nerves. She moved with an oath and beat her handstogether. To answer her came a negress, lithe and muscular as a wrestlerand naked to the waist; the slave ring in her ear was of massive gold.

  "Bid them make an end of that screeching," she snapped to vent some ofher fierce petulance. "Tell them I will have the rods to them if theyagain disturb me."

  The negress went out, and silence followed, for those other lesserladies of the Basha's hareem were more obedient to the commands ofFenzileh than to those of the Basha himself.

  Then she drew her son to the fretted lattice commanding the courtyard,a screen from behind which they could see and hear all that passed outyonder. Asad was speaking, informing Sakr-el-Bahr of what he had learnt,and what there was to do.

  "How soon canst thou put to sea again?" he ended

  "As soon as the service of Allah and thyself require," was the promptanswer.

  "It is well, my son." Asad laid a hand, affectionately upon thecorsair's shoulder, entirely conquered by this readiness. "Best set outat sunrise to-morrow. Thou'lt need so long to make thee ready for thesea."

  "Then by thy leave I go forthwith to give orders to prepare," repliedSakr-el-Bahr, for all that he was a little troubled in his mind by thisneed to depart again so soon.

  "What galleys shalt thou take?"

  "To capture one galley of Spain? My own galeasse, no more; she will befull equal to such an enterprise, and I shall be the better able, then,to lurk and take cover--a thing which might well prove impossible with afleet."

  "Ay--thou art wise in thy daring," Asad approved him. "May Allah prosperthee upon the voyage."

  "Have I thy leave to go?"

  "A moment yet. There is my son Marzak. He is approaching manhood, and itis time he entered the service of Allah and the State. It is my desirethat he sail as thy lieutenant on this voyage, and that thou be hispreceptor even as I was thine of old."

  Now here was something that pleased Sakr-el-Bahr as little as
it pleasedMarzak. Knowing the bitter enmity borne him by the son of Fenzileh hehad every cause to fear trouble if this project of Asad's were realized.

  "As I was thine of old!" he answered with crafty wistfulness. "Wilt thounot put to sea with us to-morrow, O Asad? There is none like thee in allIslam, and what a joy were it not to stand beside thee on the prow asof old when we grapple with the Spaniard."

  Asad considered him. "Dost thou, too, urge this?" quoth he.

  "Have others urged it?" The man's sharp wits, rendered still sharper byhis sufferings, were cutting deeply and swiftly into this matter. "Theydid well, but none could have urged it more fervently than I, for noneknows so well as I the joy of battle against the infidel under thycommand and the glory of prevailing in thy sight. Come, then, my lord,upon this enterprise, and be thyself thine own son's preceptor since'tis the highest honour thou canst bestow upon him."

  Thoughtfully Asad stroked his long white beard, his eagle eyes growingnarrow. "Thou temptest me, by Allah!"

  "Let me do more...."

  "Nay, more thou canst not. I am old and worn, and I am needed here.Shall an old lion hunt a young gazelle? Peace, peace! The sun has setupon my fighting day. Let the brood of fighters I have raised up keepthat which my arm conquered and maintain my name and the glory of theFaith upon the seas." He leaned upon Sakr-el-Bahr's shoulder and sighed,his eyes wistfully dreamy. "It were a fond adventure in good truth. Butno...I am resolved. Go thou and take Marzak with thee, and bring himsafely home again."

  "I should not return myself else," was the answer. "But my trust is inthe All-knowing."

  Upon that he departed, dissembling his profound vexation both at thevoyage and the company, and went to bid Othmani make ready his greatgaleasse, equipping it with carronades, three hundred slaves to row it,and three hundred fighting men.

  Asad-el-Din returned to that darkened room in the Kasbah overlookingthe courtyard, where Fenzileh and Marzak still lingered. He went to tellthem that in compliance with the desires of both Marzak should go forthto prove himself upon this expedition.

  But where he had left impatience he found thinly veiled wrath

  "O sun that warms me," Fenzileh greeted him, and from long experience heknew that the more endearing were her epithets the more vicious was hermood, "do then my counsels weigh as naught with thee, are they but asthe dust upon thy shoes?"

  "Less," said Asad, provoked out of his habitual indulgence of herlicences of speech.

  "That is the truth, indeed!" she cried, bowing her head, whilst behindher the handsome face of her son was overcast.

  "It is," Asad agreed. "At dawn, Marzak, thou settest forth upon thegaleasse of Sakr-el-Bahr to take the seas under his tutelage and toemulate the skill and valour that have rendered him the stoutest bulwarkof Islam, the very javelin of Allah."

  But Marzak felt that in this matter his mother was to be supported,whilst his detestation of this adventurer who threatened to usurp theplace that should rightly be his own spurred him to mad lengths ofdaring.

  "When I take the seas with that dog-descended Nasrani," he answeredhoarsely, "he shall be where rightly he belongs--at the rowers' bench."

  "How?" It was a bellow of rage. Upon the word Asad swung to confronthis son, and his face, suddenly inflamed, was so cruel and evil in itsexpression that it terrified that intriguing pair. "By the beard ofthe Prophet! what words are these to me?" He advanced upon Marzak untilFenzileh in sudden terror stepped between and faced him, like a lionessspringing to defend her cub. But the Basha, enraged now by this want ofsubmission in his son, enraged both against that son and the mother whohe knew had prompted him, caught her in his sinewy old hands, and flungher furiously aside, so that she stumbled and fell in a panting heapamid the cushions of her divan.

  "The curse of Allah upon thee!" he screamed, and Marzak recoiled beforehim. "Has this presumptuous hellcat who bore thee taught thee to standbefore my face, to tell me what thou wilt and wilt not do? By the Koran!too long have I endured her evil foreign ways, and now it seems shehas taught thee how to tread them after her and how to beard thy veryfather! To-morrow thou'lt take the sea with Sakr-el-Bahr, I have saidit. Another word and thou'lt go aboard his galeasse even as thou saidstshould be the case with him--at the rowers' bench, to learn submissionunder the slave master's whip."

  Terrified, Marzak stood numb and silent, scarcely daring to draw breath.Never in all his life had he seen his father in a rage so royal. Yetit seemed to inspire no fear in Fenzileh, that congenital shrew whosetongue not even the threat of rods or hooks could silence.

  "I shall pray Allah to restore sight to thy soul, O father of Marzak,"she panted, "to teach thee to discriminate between those that love theeand the self-seekers that abuse thy trust."

  "How!" he roared at her. "Art not yet done?"

  "Nor ever shall be until I am lain dumb in death for having counselledthee out of my great love, O light of these poor eyes of mine."

  "Maintain this tone," he said, with concentrated anger, "and that willsoon befall."

  "I care not so that the sleek mask be plucked from the face of thatdog-descended Sakr-el-Bahr. May Allah break his bones! What of thoseslaves of his--those two from England, O Asad? I am told that one is awoman, tall and of that white beauty which is the gift of Eblis to theseNortherners. What is his purpose with her--that he would not show her inthe suk as the law prescribes, but comes slinking here to beg thee setaside the law for him? Ha! I talk in vain. I have shown thee graverthings to prove his vile disloyalty, and yet thou'lt fawn upon himwhilst thy fangs are bared to thine own son."

  He advanced upon her, stooped, caught her by the wrist, and heaved herup.

  His face showed grey under its deep tan. His aspect terrified her atlast and made an end of her reckless forward courage.

  He raised his voice to call.

  "Ya anta! Ayoub!"

  She gasped, livid in her turn with sudden terror. "My lord, my lord!"she whimpered. "Stream of my life, be not angry! What wilt thou do?"

  He smiled evilly. "Do?" he growled. "What I should have done ten yearsago and more. We'll have the rods to thee." And again he called, moreinsistently--"Ayoub!"

  "My lord, my lord!" she gasped in shuddering horror now that at last shefound him set upon the thing to which so often she had dared him. "Pity!Pity!" She grovelled and embraced his knees. "In the name of the Pityingthe Pitiful be merciful upon the excesses to which my love for theemay have driven this poor tongue of mine. O my sweet lord! O father ofMarzak!"

  Her distress, her beauty, and perhaps, more than either, her unusualhumility and submission may have moved him. For even as at thatmoment Ayoub--the sleek and portly eunuch, who was her wazeer andchamberlain--loomed in the inner doorway, salaaming, he vanished againupon the instant, dismissed by a peremptory wave of the Basha's hand.

  Asad looked down upon her, sneering. "That attitude becomes thee best,"he said. "Continue it in future." Contemptuously he shook himself freeof her grasp, turned and stalked majestically out, wearing his angerlike a royal mantle, and leaving behind him two terror-shaken beings,who felt as if they had looked over the very edge of death.

  There was a long silence between them. Then at long length Fenzileh roseand crossed to the meshra-biyah--the latticed window-box. She opened itand took from one of its shelves an earthenware jar, placed there so asto receive the slightest breeze. From it she poured water into a littlecup and drank greedily. That she could perform this menial servicefor herself when a mere clapping of hands would have brought slaves tominister to her need betrayed something of her disordered state of mind.

  She slammed the inner lattice and turned to Marzak. "And now?" quothshe.

  "Now?" said the lad.

  "Ay, what now? What are we to do? Are we to lie crushed under his rageuntil we are ruined indeed? He is bewitched. That jackal has enchantedhim, so that he must deem well done all that is done by him. Allah guideus here, Marzak, or thou'lt be trampled into dust by Sakr-el-Bahr."

  Marzak hung his head; s
lowly he moved to the divan and flung himselfdown upon its pillows; there he lay prone, his hands cupping his chin,his heels in the air.

  "What can I do?" he asked at last.

  "That is what I most desire to know. Something must be done, and soon.May his bones rot! If he lives thou art destroyed."

  "Ay," said Marzak, with sudden vigour and significance. "If he lives!"And he sat up. "Whilst we plan and plot, and our plans and plots cometo naught save to provoke the anger of my father, we might be betteremployed in taking the shorter way."

  She stood in the middle of the chamber, pondering him with gloomy eyes"I too have thought of that," said she. "I could hire me men to do thething for a handful of gold. But the risk of it...."

  "Where would be the risk once he is dead?"

  "He might pull us down with him, and then what would our profit be inhis death? Thy father would avenge him terribly."

  "If it were craftily done we should not be discovered."

  "Not be discovered?" she echoed, and laughed without mirth. "How youngand blind thou art, O Marzak! We should be the first to be suspected.I have made no secret of my hate of him, and the people do not love me.They would urge thy father to do justice even were he himself averse toit, which I will not credit would be the case. This Sakr-el-Bahr--mayAllah wither him!--is a god in their eyes. Bethink thee of the welcomegiven him! What Basha returning in triumph was ever greeted by the like?These victories that fortune has vouchsafed him have made them accounthim divinely favoured and protected. I tell thee, Marzak, that did thyfather die to-morrow Sakr-el-Bahr would be proclaimed Basha of Algiersin his stead, and woe betide us then. And Asad-el-Din grows old. True,he does not go forth to fight. He clings to life and may last long. Butif he should not, and if Sakr-el-Bahr should still walk the earth whenthy father's destiny is fulfilled, I dare not think what then will bethy fate and mine."

  "May his grave be defiled!" growled Matzak.

  "His grave?" said she. "The difficulty is to dig it for him without hurtto ourselves. Shaitan protects the dog."

  "May he make his bed in hell!" said Marzak.

  "To curse him will not help us. Up, Marzak, and consider how the thingis to be done."

  Marzak came to his feet, nimble and supple as a greyhound. "Listen now,"he said. "Since I must go this voyage with him, perchance upon the season some dark night opportunity may serve me."

  "Wait! Let me consider it. Allah guide me to find some way!" She beather hands together and bade the slave girl who answered her to summonher wazeer Ayoub, and bid a litter be prepared for her. "We'll to thesok, O Marzak, and see these slaves of his. Who knows but that somethingmay be done by means of them! Guile will serve us better than merestrength against that misbegotten son of shame."

  "May his house be destroyed!" said Marzak.

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