A Royal Achievement
Now that David and Jeremy had Timothy in tow, and had someone to show off to, they were beginning to be a bit of a handful. It was going to end in tears, and Lord Montagu had seen enough of that after the fire.
What he needed was to break the trio up for long enough for them to calm down. If he could do that by giving David a man’s responsibility then perhaps he would rejoin them afterwards with a more grown-up approach to life. With luck he might take on the task of controlling the excesses of his younger companions. Knowing the boys, that was a forlorn hope, but short of breaking them up onto separate ships, and all the sulking that would produce, he didn’t have too many choices.
Then it came to him… the prize ships.
Even an Admiral wasn’t allowed to simply take prize ships and sell them, and their cargos. England’s Law of the Sea required that prize ships, their cargo and crew should be sent to a recognised port and interned safely, while a properly convened court, under English Law, decided what should be done. The Prize-court would decide how much of the value should go the Crown, how much to the crew and captain that captured her, and… how much should go to the original owners.
It was a slow and tedious process, but it kept the Navy honest.
In reality, it was pretty inconvenient. The crew in particular were supposed to be well cared for and if the cargo was perishable, well… it had to be looked after as if it was his own, but perhaps at no profit to him, and certainly at significant cost.
Fortunately there was now a convenient solution at hand.
Just up the coast from Rabat and Salé, the fleet now had Tangiers. Tangiers was an English Town with a proper town charter and… courts. Lord Montagu could send prizes there for adjudication rather than to England. It was just a day and a half sail north from the Bou Regreg river and its pirate ports where most prizes were being taken.
Tangiers was at that moment just three days from where he was… a day and a half south of the river.
The fleet had a ketch that they had just captured. It hadn’t been much of a fight. She had been completely out-gunned and a couple of lucky rounds had taken out one of the oddly placed masts of her ketch-rig and damaged the other. Provided she didn’t meet any heavy weather she was reasonably seaworthy. The weather, was on the face of it, set fair.
Lord Montagu decided that he had a solution to David’s growing waywardness, and his need for distraction.
“David, I have a task you should relish. I need you to gather a small experienced crew and take a prize north to Tangiers. Look on it as an opportunity to show me what you have learnt. For three days you will have your own command. It’s only a ketch with not much of a quarterdeck, but it is a command. Gather a dozen men and take her in to the Prize-court in Tangiers. We’ll finish our patrol here and in a week we’ll come to Tangiers and pick up you and your men.”
“My own command… Good gracious!”
Just for once the boy was almost speechless.
David looked stunned and serious… But at least he was now paying attention and attempting to look the part of a commanding officer being briefed by his Admiral. This was not a boy being indulged by his father.
Montagu approved, his plan was already working.
“Go and talk to my secretary. He’ll give you the paperwork you need for the Prize-courts up there. When you arrive, ask the harbour-master in Tangiers to send for the Navy’s agent. He’ll look after things for you.”
David walked away, well actually he floated away. His own ship! A voyage under his command… a dozen men, plus the crew of the ketch itself. He was in boy-sailor’s heaven. This was going to be such an adventure.
Adventures involve risk and heroics, and heroics can involve death and destruction.
Beware what you wish for, you may get your wish.
Not all adventures end well.
They set sail just before dusk. That way they would enter Tangiers in daylight, the day after tomorrow.
At first all went well. The crew leapt to, sail was set on the remaining mast and before long the James was just a dot on the horizon… and then she was gone.
David was alone on the ocean, in command of his first ship. He had a compass and log, and not much time in which to get lost. Never had navigation been attended to with greater care.
All was well in his world. Midnight passed. Late tomorrow they would arrive in Tangiers and he would once again be a mere Kings Letter Boy, but today… tonight he was Captain of all he surveyed… well in command if not actually captain.
Unfortunately all did not stay well in his world.
Just after midnight his crew were fighting for their lives… a tropical storm had come in from the Atlantic and the wind and waves were now doing their best to take them.
With only one remaining mast it was difficult to steer, and then… the remaining mast gave a groan and parted at the junction of the upper and lower masts.
“Cut it free!” David shouted. The mast was dragging in the sea and rolling the ship on its side. It was threatening to cause the ketch to ship water. The men used their knives and cutlasses.
David breathed a sigh of relief as the last ropes parted and the huge timber disappeared into the waves.
Dawn saw them becalmed.
His bosun was standing ruefully looking at the confusion on deck.
“Not the best found of ships I fear.” David was trying for sardonic, but the bosun could sense that there was an edge of near-panic behind the humour.
“No indeed Sir. You did well to save her at all. The question is what to do about her now.” He was indirectly offering to offer advice, and David was not one to turn advice away unheard.
“Well bosun, the ocean is too deep to drop anchor and warp her north, and the ship’s boats are too small to make much way if we try to tow her to Tangiers. So, with no options so far, I would welcome any thoughts that you have.”
“Well Sir, beg pardon Sir, but… Your father, I mean the Admiral, will have experienced some of what we got last night. He’ll guess that this ship was in no state to survive undamaged and my guess is he’s sailing north with all sail, the fleet in line abreast to find us as quickly as maybe. That’s my thought Sir. Sit tight, and wait for him to get here!”
David thought about that, accepted the logic with a nod, found a flaw and said. “But the wind is onshore from the west. Eventually we shall run aground.”
“I reckon your… the Admiral… will be here long before then, and if we were beached, well at least we’d be safe from drowning… and from being spotted by pirates. We are a bit of a sitting duck out here.”
Indeed they were. The storm had overtaken them just as they were passing the mouth of the estuary of the Bou Regreg River… Renegade English pirates on its north bank and Arab pirates on the south. Not a good place to be becalmed.
Some fifteen miles to the east a pirate stronghold’s lookout had indeed already spotted them. With an onshore wind in their teeth the pirates sent a galley out from the Bou Regreg to see what the small vessel was.
Was its cargo worth their trouble in towing it home? Did the small dot on their horizon carry potential slaves? A cargo of wine or cloth needed a market… but there would always be a market for slaves as long as there were Arabs in North Africa.
Against the wind it was hard work for the slaves who were rowing, but no-one asked for their opinion. Their oars took them straight to their target, there was no need to tack.
“Oh dear, that’s all we need!” Was David’s only comment when the bosun tapped his arm and pointed at the ship on the horizon.
It was getting larger by the minute.
The pirate ship rapidly got closer, and the men on the ketch could now see that it was a galley. It had a bow-chaser gun and there was activity around it.
“How many do you reckon?” David enquired of the bosun.
“About a dozen that matter to us!” He replied.
“It’s the bow-chaser that worries me. This old hulk won’t take any more damage.” David said, as calmly as he could.
“It wont be ball Sir… grapeshot is what will do the most harm to us, and the least to the cargo, Sir!”
“That’s true.” David remarked conversationally. His time in the Navy had prepared him well for this moment… of icy calm.
“With that in mind Bosun… The men will need one of us alive after this is over. I suggest that you go to the bows and tell the men to keep their heads down, have them lie flat behind something solid. Once the bow-chaser has fired they can come out and repel boarders.”
“And me Sir? Don’t you want me to stay with you?” The bosun was not overly convinced that David had the stature to repel boarders.
“No bosun. If we stand together… if one of us is gone then both of us are gone.”
Outwardly he was calmer than the situation warranted.
“Their grape will have a limited spread. So, take yourself to the bows and lead the men from there. I’ll stay here at the stern.. The chances of both of us going down is limited. The men stand the best chance of having a leader afterwards if we separate. But… as you go, tell the men, for God’s sake… keep their heads down! The pirates will probably aim for the midships.”
“Aye aye. Sir!” The bosun was impressed. The boy might not have much in the way of stature but he clearly had guts. They were the calmest famous last words he had yet heard.
‘Guts! Let’s hope they don’t get spread all over his quarterdeck.’ He said to himself as he went to speak to the men and take up his station crouched behind the bowsprit.
The pirates did exactly as David had predicted. They aimed the galley amidships and fired grape from their bow-chaser, but late, at about ten yards. That was far too late to have had the best effect. Given enough distance, grape could have spread and cleared most of the maindeck. Perhaps they were trying to avoid killing too many potential slaves.
As it was, the damage was very local. Where it did hit, the damage was devastating. Two men who were crouching behind the gunwale simply disappeared when the wood they were sheltering behind disappeared. One of David’s men had the side of his face, his arm and part of his shoulder blown away when stray grapeshot balls came through a hole in the gunwale that he had not considered important when diving for cover moments before.
There was now blood everywhere.
David’s men had largely taken cover amidships so he had lost over half of them with that single shot. The spread of shot was less than it could have been, but the damage was concentrated. Men survived totally unscathed and men disappeared… it was a matter of luck. Amidships was where the effect had been worst and was now undefended as the galley’s bows met the ketch. Amidships was where the pirates swarmed unopposed over the remains of the gunwale onto the maindeck.
The fight didn’t last long. The small force of survivors was badly outnumbered. Some died where they stood and five wisely surrendered.
David was now isolated at the stern and the bosun was alone at the bows, both of them completely untouched.
Then something strange seemed to happen. The pirate leader made a comment in a language that David didn’t recognise and the fight went out of the pirates. It wasn’t that they gave up… they just stopped fighting and stepped back out of range of David’s small rapier and the bosun’s cutlass.
“Fight, damn you!” David had a red-misted blood-lust and the sudden quiet enraged him.”
The bosun made his way warily down the deck to join him.
As if understanding what he was doing, the pirates simply walked with him, still out of his reach but ready if he made a move.
“They want us alive!” The bosun said quietly to David.
The pirate leader bowed in a courtly manner… “Indeed we do young Sir. You’re more valuable to us with an intact skin… so please don’t make us reduce your value.”
David was outraged… “Value! Value? Damn you Sir. We are not for trading!”
“Oh, but indeed you are.” The pirate said with exaggerated courtesy.
“For ransom, or as a high class slave, either way, you are for sale… and, at this moment in perfect condition. Let’s try to keep it that way.”
“Now, shall you join your men on our vessel?… Your new home awaits you. First, your sword if you would be so kind… hilt first if you will. Please don’t be foolish… If you try anything, he will knock you down!” The pirate leader pointed at the biggest man that David had ever seen, he was armed with a quarter-staff.
Seeing that there was no real alternative, and the mention of ransom having reassured him… David prepared to comply. His future was to be a prison cell for as long as it took for money to transfer from London to Malta.
“Who do I have the honour of surrendering my sword to?” He asked, as he passed the pirate his sword, hilt first across his forearm, as requested.
“Let’s say Black Bartlemy. I had another name once, before Naseby, but that one will do, and you… who are you young-Sir?”
David thought quickly, it would not be a good idea to say Montagu, they might know his father was Admiral and that could end badly…
“My father is Baron St Neots of Cambridgeshire.” It was a very recent new title that the King had bestowed on his father after Scheveningen. There was no reason for the pirates to associate it with the leader of the fleet that was blockading them.
“I shall inform him through Malta that you are our guest, and that he should send a ransom. Behave wisely and you will be safely delivered to him.”
“Well Mr Bartlemy, first… my wounded. We cannot just leave them behind.”
“Indeed we cannot. The man with his hand gone can stay behind to deliver my message to your fleet when they pass by here next. He’s of no value on the block. Your walking wounded are already on our vessel. the other man can remain here, for your surgeons. I assure you a day here and treatment by your surgeons is a better prospect than two hours to shore and butchery by ours. Ours aren’t signed off by Barber Surgeons Hall!”
“What of Edwards?” David pointed to the sailor with half his face and shoulder blown away. “We can’t just leave him like that!”
“What did you have in mind young-man?” The pirate seemed genuinely puzzled as to what David wanted. “What would you have me do?” He gestured meaningfully with his cutlass. It did actually seem the only solution to the man’s suffering.
“Sit him up against the gunwale.” David said to the bosun. The bosun started to argue, perhaps that the injured man shouldn’t be moved.
“Don’t argue… Do it!” David growled. The bosun obeyed.
David spoke quietly to Bartlemy. “A favour Sir, May I borrow my sword for a moment?” Bartlemy looked serious. “Are you sure? I will do it if you wish.”
“No. He is my man, it should be me.”
“Ask him if there is anything he needs.” David said quietly to the bosun.
The bosun didn’t understand but obeyed… “Edwards can we get you water or …”
As Edwards attention was distracted and his eyes moved to the bosun, David lunged.
His rapier at full stretch. Left arm raised, leg straight and right knee bent. The point of the rapier entered Edwards’ chest just to his left of centre. A perfect hit, straight through the heart. Edwards looked startled, death was instantaneous.
“That was well done Sir!” The bosun said quietly. “But, you should have let me…”
“He was my responsibility. It was I who should have to live with it.” David said.
Tears were running down his face as he wiped the blade. He reversed his sword and passed it back into the pirate’s keeping.
“Please keep this for me, for when I am ransomed. It was a birthday present from my father. He will not be happy if I lose it.”
The pirate permitted David time to tear his shirt and use it to bind the severed stump.
The hours spent with Toby and the surgeon had been well invested.
Then David gestured to the bosun to lead the way. The ketch’s captain was going to be the last man to leave her. He spoke to the sailor they were leaving, now alone on the deck…
“Give my regards to the Admiral, and my apologies for the losses. Surgeon will look after your hand. Tell whoever gets to you that I want you treated on the James. He’s the best surgeon in the fleet.”
The wounded man saluted as best he could. “Good luck Sir, it was a good fight!”
As the galley pulled away… aboard the ketch there was only the one man left. His only company, the dead that littered the deck.
As the bosun had anticipated, the fleet came upon the ketch a mere six hours later.
Lord Montagu knew that her deck was virtually empty from the moment Jeremy in the crows-nest, searching for his friend, shouted down that he had her in sight.
“One man on deck… dressed as an able-seaman. No officer!” There was already a lump in Jeremy’s throat, it was hard to shout. When the boat pulled away to go to the ketch, Jeremy ignored instructions to stay on the James, and jumped into its stern.
On the ketch, the stench of death was already sickening. The man who had lost his hand was leaning against the remains of the mast, waiting with the bad news he was tasked with delivering.
“The pirates have them all. They left me… to give a message to the fleet. Tell the Admiral… his son is well, but captured.”
That brought Lord Montagu running to the orlop as soon as the rescued man was taken to the surgeon.
“You have a message for me?” Lord Montagu wasn’t in a mood for concern or false-sympathy. He had only one thought on his mind. “Young-Montagu is taken you say?”
“Aye Sir. The pirate… he said he was known as Black Bartlemy, said the lad’s family was to send ransom to the Lazarenes in Malta. Young-Montagu told them his father was Baron St Neots… have I got that right Sir?”
“Aye, man… He’s flying slightly false colours, but St Neots will do. Well done, Surgeon here will look after you.”
Lord Montagu didn’t hesitate.
“Get the fastest of our frigates, one that’s ready to sail. Have her come alongside. I’ll draft a letter for Coutts’ agent on Malta. Tell them to be ready to sail as soon as the ink is dry… no excuses!”
His letter authorised the bankers’ man to make contact and offer whatever was asked.
The demand would come to the Lazarenes, a religious order whose task on Malta was to care for the victims of Arab piracy. In practise that meant handling ransoms and charity, looking after those who had managed to purchase their freedom. Someone who had used the last of their funds to achieve freedom was often left totally penniless on the quayside when they were released. They needed looking after and the Lazarenes and Templers of Malta had taken on that task.
Having done the urgent things that he could… Lord Montagu returned to the orlop to find out what else was known of David’s fate and the brief action in which the ketch and its crew were lost to the pirates and the sea.
He spoke quietly to the badly injured seaman. His lower arm had been treated with care and skill, but he had lost a lot of blood. The cleaning up and sewing had taken a lot out of him, but he was keen that Lord Montagu should hear how his son had performed, and that the loss of the ship was inevitable.
… “I heard him telling the bosun to move to the bow so that after the pirates fired grape at us, one of them would survive to lead the crew. He was very calm.” Lord Montagu nodded his appreciation and replied. “There were many killed?”
“Yes Sir, almost all the men amidships. The galley left it very late to fire and the grape was very tight on the gunwale where the men were hiding. Many just disappeared.” He shuddered at the memory.
“My son was injured?”
“No Sir, he was at the stern and the bosun was in the bows, both were untouched.”
“Was there a fight then?”
“Aye Sir, but there were only a handful of us left. Five crew surrendered, there wasn’t much else they could have done. Then the pirates stood back and waited for young-Montagu to surrender… He wanted to fight but the bosun persuaded him to surrender. The pirate leader said he didn’t want to reduce your son’s value to you.”
“They know who he is? They know his father is Admiral?”
“No Sir, He said you were Baron St Neots… I’d not heard you called that Sir… but I kept a straight face, so did bosun.”
“Yes, quite right, sensible boy!” He paused. “… and of the crew how many lived?”
“Young David, the bosun and five seamen, and about half of the ketch’s own crew.”
“So many dead! And the wounded? What became of the wounded?”
“They let me live. David had some surgery skill and bound up my hand before he left. They left me to bring the message to you.”
“There were no other wounded with you?”
“A few walking wounded who would be useful when well again were taken… and there was Able-seaman Edwards Sir. He was terribly wounded, half his face and shoulder torn away… David…”
He couldn’t go on. This might be an Admiral, but he was also the boy’s father.
“Go on man, what about David?”
“Well Sir. He demanded that something be done for Edwards, but really all the pirates could offer was to end him, with a cutlass.” Lord Montagu shuddered, such butchery!
“So, they finished him off in front of my son?”
“Oh no Sir, that wasn’t what happened. Your son refused to allow that. He asked for the return of his rapier, asked the bosun to distract Edwards, and when he looked away… David ran him through… absolutely clean. Dead before he could blink. He said to the pirate that putting Edwards out of his misery was his responsibility. He was his man!”
He stopped to choose the right words… “That boy is something else. Sir!”
Lord Montagu sighed… “Yes…. He is. He’s my son!”
Timothy had missed much of what was going on. Jeremy was sitting alone in the crows-nest. Devastated at his loss, he had thoughtlessly snapped at Timothy when he sought to comfort him. Timothy, a child that was easily bruised, had retired to his hammock behind the panelling to cry in private, and to think of his own rescue.
There he heard the conversation between Lord Montagu and the captain of the frigate destined for Malta.
The only person on board with personal experience of pirate captivity was the only one not having his opinion asked.
He was also the only one aboard who was not convinced that waiting for the ransom to work was the best idea.
He wasn’t sure why, but he was sure.
He went to see the surgeon… A man who listened and diagnosed. He could think his way through a problem. Perhaps, Timothy thought, perhaps the surgeon could work things out and warn the Admiral… that his ransom wasn’t going to save David from the worst of the captivity.
Timothy was insistent… “Please Surgeon, please have them fetch the man who swam with Father and me when we escaped. It’s ever so important. He knows why Lord Montagu shouldn’t wait for the ransom to be paid. Father had sent to the Bishop of Truro for a ransom to be sent to the Lazarene monks on Malta. But then something changed, Mother died and Father changed his mind. That was when the three of us took the opportunity to run just as they were going to put us back in the Bagnio at dusk. I didn’t understand why we ran, but the blacksmith will… Please send for him!”
Surgeon hurried off and came back with the Master.
The Master asked him… “You are certain we shouldn’t wait but you need the Augustaine’s blacksmith to explain why?”
“Yes Sir, exactly Sir. It’s something I wasn’t old enough for. They whispered a lot.”
The Master looked grim, he had heard of the Barbary Coast. He made a quick decision, as ship’s masters do.
“Right, Surgeon, go and fetch the bosun, get a boat out to the Augustaine and bring back the man you treated. I’ll go and work on the Admiral so he is ready to listen to him when you get back. He’s strong for the ransom, so it may not be easy to get him to listen!”
“Aye-aye Master!” was shouted by the surgeon as he disappeared up the companion-way to the maindeck.
The Master was in the Admiral’s stateroom…
“So Sir, young Timothy is absolutely sure that you shouldn’t wait for the ransom. He believes that David will be in greater trouble the longer you wait. I can’t be sure what he overheard between his father and the blacksmith, but the man has been sent for. We should at least listen to what he has to say.”
A Marine stuck his head in…
“Surgeon and the blacksmith off the Augustaine Sir. They say they are expected. Sir.”
“Send ‘em in Marine.”
The blacksmith was still in his work-clothes, soot on his face and streaked from where he had tried to clean up with seawater as the boat crossed to the Royal James. Surgeon was pushing him ahead of him.
“Hurry man, tell His Lordship what you were telling me. There’s not a moment to lose if you are right.”
“Tell me what? Timothy tells us that the ransom won’t save David, but he doesn’t know why. Spit it out man… Can’t they be trusted to return my son once they’ve got the money?”
“Oh Aye Sir. They’ll return him alright… But not the son you knew.”
“They’ll beat him? Injure him, scar him?”
“No Sir, damage him? That’s the last thing they’ll do unless he fights them, resists when they…”
“Resists what, and why wont they damage him?”
“Because that would reduce his value when they sell him to the Pasha in Rabat.”
“But why would they sell him when I’m paying the ransom?”
The blacksmith shuffled his feet and looked embarrassed. Lord Montagu cleared the room and sat quietly in the window seat with the blacksmith in front of him.
“Now then, whatever it is I need to understand, just tell me, don’t tidy it up or make it pretty… why is David in danger if I trust to the ransom? Why would the pirates sell him, and where does the Pasha come into all this?”
“Sir. The ransom could take six months to arrive in Malta and even then the pirates have to agree a flag of truce to make the exchange. Your son would be in their hands all that time.”
“But the pirates would keep him safe, looked after, fed?” Lord Montagu was leading him gently.
“Sir, by then the pirates could be the other side of the Atlantic or up in the Mediterranean. What they need is money in hand before they go, to fund their voyage.”
“They would sell him at a discount, and the ransom would eventually go to the new owner… as an investment?” At heart Lord Montagu understood business.
“Not exactly Sir. They would sell him to a rich man, and the Pasha is the richest. The Pasha would pay over the odds for him, and would get some part of that back when he had to return him and take the ransom. The loss on the ransom would be a lot less than he would have otherwise paid … He would have had to pay a fortune for your son…I have seen your son… He’s a beautiful boy! The Pasha likes beautiful boys.”
“A beautiful boy…” David’s father’s voice trailed off. “You mean the Pasha would pay for him for…” He couldn’t bring himself to say it. The blacksmith saw a father’s shocked face and blurted out…
“Yes Sir, He’d buy him, to use him as a woman… That’s why we ran with Timothy. The pirates were arguing about the price the Pasha should be asked to pay for such a pretty boy. Timothy would have been safer than David… He was too young to fight. Your son is older and stronger… He’ll fight and the Pasha is said to relish a challenge. You would pay anyway, but you’d only get back what was left.”
“My God man! No crew would ever follow him, a man who had been bedded by an Arab pasha. He’d be ruined!”
“Yes-Sir, Ruined, and not just as an officer. After all that he’d never be able to look you in the eye, as a man, let alone as an officer.”
“What wife would want him?” Lord Montagu said, mainly to himself, the blacksmith already forgotten.
“Marine!” Montagu shouted at the top of his voice. The man came running.
“Marine. Senior officers to me. This moment. Flags to all ships. Marines to gather on Swiftsure and the James. Marine officers to me here!”
“Aye-aye Sir!” But he was already gone, his red-coated figure running for once. Clearly, their David was in more trouble than they had reckoned. He sensed that the Marines were going to have to get him back. He hadn’t been able to hear the conversation, but he saw the tears on the blacksmith’s soot-streaked face and the gaunt expression on the Admiral. Clearly something was terribly wrong.
An hour later, the Marine officers, the captain of the Swiftsure and Montagu’s own officers were gathered in the stateroom. There were raised voices. Lord Montagu was in a black mood, thinking hard while listening to the men discussing options. He had explained briefly that the pirates couldn’t be trusted to keep David safe and might settle for a quick profit by selling him to the Arabs.
That had their attention and the argument was not as to whether they should mount a rescue but where they should mount it. The assumption was the Bou Regreg River but which town held him?, the north bank or the south bank? Rabat or Salé?
Jeremy was insistent… “Listen to Timothy, he’s the only one here who really knows the pirate stronghold.”
He turned to the smallest person at the table.
“Timmy, we picked you up out at sea, which of the two did you swim away from?”
Timothy said “Well, I can’t be certain it was Salé, I never heard anyone say so , but I was once at the harbour and when you looked up at the midday sun the river was in front of you. I can remember another time looking out to sea along the river, and that time the river was to my left”
“In that case…” Jeremy jumped in. “You must have been on the north bank, so that was Salé, Rabat would have been on the other side. Did you hear anyone mention the Pirate Republic?”
“Yes.” Timothy said slowly… They spoke English on our ship, and kept complaining about how big a share The Republic was going to take.”
“That makes sense!” Jeremy shouted above the hubbub. “They were Englishmen and that means the Republic, and that would be Salé. Bartlemy was English… I’m sure he must be in Salé”
The other officers were still looking doubtful… One of them voiced their worries.
“We need to be sure we attack the correct town… We may not get a second chance. Why would the pirates be speaking English? Aren’t the slavers Arabs?”
“No, no!” Jeremy said firmly. “They would be if they came from Rabat, but they are more likely to be English privateers if they are from Salé. If they are then they are called Renegados… renegade converts to the Arab religion. They attack any nation that the Republic hasn’t a treaty with.”
“A treaty? Pirates signing treaties?”
“Yes of course, pirate nations negotiate treaties that allow them to prosper if they promise not to attack a country’s ships… Didn’t we just try to do exactly that with the King of Algiers?”
“Well, yes, I suppose we did.” Lord Montagu came out of his gloom enough to listen.
“But, how can you be sure that because they are English that they are Salé and not Rabat?”
“We can’t be absolutely certain but if they were from Rabat they would be more likely to be real Arabs!” Jeremy said firmly. “That’s what Uncle Samuel’s books tell me. The two lots of pirates have never got on well, so that’s why the pirates who weren’t Arabs formed the Pirate Republic of Salé.”
“Actually, it will be easier to capture Salé than Rabat. The Kasbah, the great brick fortress of Rabat is much more difficult than Salé. We can do a quick raid on Salé and if that doesn’t find him, we can still gather the whole fleet and go after Rabat, reduce the brickwork with gunfire.”
“He turned to the Captain of Marines… “What do you think Sir?”
“You say that if they speak English, and they talk of the Republic, and they aren’t Arabs, that makes their home port Salé, because if they were from Rabat they would be Arabs… and all that comes from Mister Pepys books, and Timothy who has been captured by English speaking pirates was held on the north bank of the river… and that would be Salé. It seems to me we had better trust the knowledge we have… and attack Salé. We should do it as soon as we can, we don’t want David bought and passed on… or sold to Arabs and moved to Rabat.” He turned to Lord Montagu…
“Tonight Sir, we have three first rates here and all their marines, as well as a number more from the frigates. I reckon we can muster nearly four hundred marines. That should be enough to take Salé. If that fails to find him, and we need to take Rabat, then we shall need to wait for the rest of the fleet anyway. So I reckon we should attack at once. We can only lose the initiative if they see us hanging about.”
“Very well, make course for the horizon. Get the fleet out of sight. At dusk we’ll kill all our lamps and make sail back towards the lights of the town on the left bank.” He turned to his right…
“Master, do you have charts for these waters?”
“Not charts exactly but young Jeremy here informed me… From the Pepys-library, the river is 275 miles in length with a broad estuary and a large harbour in front of Rabat, so I reckon with a man sounding the depth, it should be safe enough to sail right in to maybe a mile offshore, put the Marines in our barges and row ashore with muffled oars.”
“Good, do that then.”
“Aye-aye Sir!” The table chorused.
“Now, you two boys are to remain on board, no creeping off to try for heroics. I’ve one boy in trouble, I don’t need another two.”
The boys nodded seriously… and rushed off to find John.
David meanwhile… was being sold!
He was not happy about it, and was not pleased at the prospect of what the future held. The slave market was on the quayside, so they were taken straight down the gangplank to the sale. Being sold was not totally immediate, first David lost his clothes. He had tried to keep his breeches, but the loss of them seemed a matter of some importance to the slave-master who was handling the sale.
“Don’t be shy, we can’t afford to hide what will bring the best price! The Pasha will bid a fortune for that!” The master chortled as the breeches fell away.
“What, you mean you are selling me as a…” David wasn’t ready for the role he was headed for.
“Did you think you were going to be of much use as a field-hand or a galley-slave?” The man replied demonstrating that his finger and thumb practically encircled David’s bicep. He was enjoying watching David absorb the reality of his situation. The prospect of time spent waiting peacefully in a cell waiting for ransom, perhaps giving his parole and being allowed the freedom of the town… that was fast receding.
“I thought you ransomed captives, to religious orders in Malta!” David protested.
“We do, but it’s easier and quicker to turn a profit by selling you to someone who isn’t in a hurry and can enjoy you while the monks of Malta are getting round to having a ransom approved. Rich Arabs will pay a fortune, they aren’t just buying a pretty boy to warm their bed… they’re buying your ransom as well. So they’ll get most of their money back, so long as you are in good condition. Don’t worry, you’ll be delivered home undamaged. You won’t get beaten or starved. You need to keep your value, and it’s your good looks will keep you that way. Just make sure you keep the Pasha happy. He’s not averse to a good spanking, a spanking that leaves no scars and doesn’t show… he likes to hurt boys. So for your own good, keep him sweet!”
His hands quickly demonstrated what he had in mind by happy, and followed that indignity with a couple of swift and hard slaps to David’s bare bottom to show what else the Pasha enjoyed.