Sunday, February 13, 2011

#SampleSunday: Renegade, Chapter One

Chapter One – The Village

Baltimore, West Cork, Ireland – June 1631

Murad Raïs sprang from the Spanish barca-longa into the swirling, midnight waters of Roaring Water Bay. Hours before dawn, a gray mist shrouded Baltimore’s harbor. In iron-soled slippers, he crept between rough, semi-submerged rocks, wet trousers clinging to his shins. At the shoreline, rocks gave way to shingle. He crouched and seized a handful of the weathered stones and pebbles. The midsummer wind rolled inland. A foul stench from a nearby fishery vied with the brackish whiff of the bay. In the near darkness, faint outlines of houses beckoned from the Cove, Baltimore’s hamlet.

Behind him, forty crewmen and their military escort came ashore from the barca-longa and two smaller, single-mast fishing vessels. Six others stayed behind, bobbing in a launch towed behind the Spanish ship. Other stood on either side of Murad. The black-haired Turk, Heyreddin Agha; Oruc Agha, the leader of the Turkish janissaries and the bash-raïs, Mathys van Bostel, Murad’s second-in-command, directed the crew with hand signals. The men fanned out along the shoreline, wielding scimitars with curved blades and daggers, and elongated metal bars with a bowed, two-pronged edge. Some also carried twisted and coiled ropes steeped in tar.

Oruc Agha owed his allegiance to Murad IV, Sultan of the Sublime Ottoman State. At his master’s command, he had sailed with Murad. Now, he deployed two hundred of his best warriors. He lifted the sole torch among the group and lit their way. The janissaries held bows and quivers of arrows, and hefted muskets at their shoulders. Their swords remained sheathed.

Murad gripped the pronged pommel of his short saber and drew the weapon. Kufic calligraphy etched into the damascened steel shimmered in moonlight. The janissaries carried the same curved sword. Unlike them, Murad had never used his to kill another human being. He kept it only for sentimental reasons. The familiar weight in his hand evoked fond memories.

Murad’s gaze scoured the woodland that edged the dirt track. He warily searched the darkness. With his crew and the janissaries readied, he looked to Mathys, Heyreddin, and Oruc. “Now, just as we planned.”

The janissaries spread out, their black boots soundless as they headed for the Cove. Oruc divided them into groups of eight or nine men, intent on the twenty-six houses looming before them. They took a position below the arc of windowless houses. Moonlight and Oruc’s torch illuminated their bright red waistcoats. The crew drew up just behind them. Oruc looked over his shoulder. With a wave of his saber, Murad directed him the beginning of the attack.

Oruc’s torch lit the coiled ropes covered in tar. The crew lobbed them on to the thatched roofs. Some rolled away, useless, and few layers of straw ignited. Enraged, Murad ground his teeth. He expected a different result. Others would pay for that mistake.

Oruc scrambled forward and shoved the torch against the roof of the nearest house. An orange glow sparked and crackled. Fire devoured the thatch. He repeated the action along the row until several houses were ablaze. Flames encircled the stone chimneys. Black smoke billowed. The janissaries drew their sabers and with a triumphant yell, descended on the Cove.

They bashed against wooden doors with the butts of their muskets. The fire on their roofs woke some of the occupants. Villagers streamed into the dirt road, coughing and covering their mouths.

Murad waved his crew onward, Heyreddin leading them. When they swept through the Cove, screams of terror filled the air. The crew snatched at the frightened people, who desperately ran back to their smoke-filled houses. Their throats strained with desperate pleas for mercy. Unrelenting, the crew dragged them out. Women and children flailed against their attackers. Their men defended their homes and families with anything they could wield.

Their opposition interfered with a well-laid plan, yet Murad almost admired their courage. Through varying experiences, he had once believed Englishmen only dealt in cowardice and betrayal in equal measure. Perhaps for these English colonists, transported to Ireland over two generations past, the hardy, bold character of the land and its people inspired them.

A villager brandished a scythe against the invaders. He struck a deathblow against one of the Turks, who manhandled a screeching woman beside him. The other janissaries stabbed their short sabers into the man’s chest. He fell and joined the warrior he had killed in death.

The woman wailed and hauled him up by his bloodstained tunic. “Great God. Timothy! Oh, Timothy, no.” The janissaries subdued and dragged her off, though she still screamed.

A single villager clutched his temple. Blood streamed between his fingers. He crumpled to the ground before two of the janissaries heaved him by his arms.

“I want captives! The dead and dying are no good to me!” Murad exhorted. He spoke Sabir, a hodgepodge dialect of Italian, French, Greek Persian, and Arabic. With his sword drawn, he advanced with the rest of his crew and a contingent of the janissaries. The Cove glowed in a fiendish blur of orange flames.

Heyreddin and another crewman wrestled with a woman who struggled in vain for her two, mewling children. Her belly burgeoned underneath her clothing, which suggested she would soon deliver another baby. When janissaries hefted the frightened children and bore them away, the woman’s desperation reached new heights. She clawed at the faces of her captors. Despite her pregnancy, she landed a solid blow with her shoe heel in the groin of one man. Heyreddin raised his arm threateningly, glaring at the woman.

Murad intervened, clutching his arm before the Turk struck. “I want her unharmed, Heyreddin. Are you too much of a fool Turk to realize she is twice as valuable as any other woman?” He gestured toward her distended stomach. “If she or her child suffers any harm, you shall die. Not even your master, Ali Bichnin, or his fellow council members of the Taife Raisi will protect you from my wrath. Now find Mathys, I entrust her to him.”

Heyreddin grunted and steered the woman before him, none too gently. She thrashed and fought him at each step. Her screams echoed through the Cove. “Stephen, where are you? God help us. Stephen!”

Raucous laughter pealed behind Murad. When he turned, a panic-stricken, young woman kept four janissaries at bay with a knife, held at her own throat. Her hand shook unsteadily. Loose hunks of blonde hair hung over her pale green eyes. Her rapt gaze remained on the janissaries who laughed and baited her with their weapons. She backed away from the curving blades. Two children with ink-black hair hid behind her wrinkled skirt.

Despite her foolery, Murad admired her courage. He closed the distance between them. Her nostrils flared for a moment, but she kept her gaze on the Turks, with no other outward sign that she had noted his arrival.

“Well then, you cannot take me children,” she whispered. “I shall kill them and me self first.”

The musical lilt of her English, slightly accented and tinged with fear, drew him. She seemed old enough for a family of her own, perhaps in her early twenties by his estimate. Yet, neither of the girls she protected resembled her. One of them almost reached her shoulder in height.

The janissaries edged toward them warily. The woman pressed the blade to the large vein beneath her florid complexion. The man closest to her raised his curved sword. Murad did the same. His blade dug into the man’s neck. The janissary gasped and turned. His eyes widened. Steel dug deeper into his flesh. He held himself quite still. His companions traded wary gazes between him, the woman with her knife, and Murad. Tension thickened in the air.

With a loud wheeze, Oruc appeared. “My lord, what is the meaning of this? Why do you draw your blade against one of my men?”

“Only you have the right to punish your officers,” Murad said. “But I swear I shall slice open him if he harms this woman and those in her care.”

Oruc raised his hairy hands in supplication. “Please, he meant no offense.”

“Then tell him to withdraw.”

The janissary hesitated. Oruc slapped his beardless face. “Do not dare to disrespect Murad Raïs or I shall kill you myself.”

The janissary lowered his sword, and backed away, shame-faced.

Murad lowered his weapon. Oruc bowed before him and led his men through the burning hamlet once more.

Alone, Murad stared at the woman. She met his gaze without flinching. He doubted she saw him as her rescuer, just another among the marauders.

“He shall not hurt you.”

She drew back. Shock registered on her face the moment he addressed her in English.

“There is no one else to help you against us,” he continued. “Best you and the children come with me.”

She pressed the blade against her neck again. Blood welled at the edge.

He shrugged. “Well then, you can kill yourself if you want, but I doubt you would ever harm the girls. If you die here, you shall fail them. Then, what do you suppose would happen?”

She shrank and clutched the smaller of the children to her side.

“Who are you?” Her breath escaped in a horrified whisper.

“I am no monster who kills women and children.” He sheathed his sword. “Tell me your name.”

She scrutinized his features in a long, searching look. “Moira Crosbie.”

He crouched before her and the children. Both girls recoiled. The younger one hid her face in her guardian’s black skirt. The other girl peered down her aquiline nose at him, her eyes murky like a clouded day. A spark of rebellion glittered at their center before she averted her gaze. He chuckled at her arrogance, for it was admirable, if also a little foolish.

The sight of her bundled with her charges also aroused unwelcome memories, buried deep. A woman and her children, their hands outstretched and tears in their ears. He shook his head, and banished the intruding thoughts to the past, where they belonged.

“You are not the mother of these children, then, Mistress Crosbie.”

Though he did not pose a question, the children’s bedraggled protector shook her head. “I am Dermot Meregey’s maid. These are his daughters, Alice, and the younger, Susannah.”

He nodded and stood. “I shall not harm you, but I cannot allow you to hurt yourself or your charges. It is a mortal sin.”

“Why should you care about sin? You are a godless pirate. Master Meregey’s warned us about your kind, how you raid villages along the coast, ravish the women, and enslave everyone.”

She probed his gaze, as though daring him to deny the charge. He offered her a smile only. She frowned. “Who are you, pirate? What would you know of sin or Christian souls?”

“I know more about Christians than you may think. Give me your knife. Come here to me now, Mistress Crosbie. I shall keep you and your charges safe.”

With her dubious expression, she weighed his words against the truth of her circumstances. She wavered, a sob caught in her throat at the spectacle surrounding her.

Murad’s men herded the villagers toward the shingled shoreline along the dirt road. Bewildered, the captives did not resist. The men secured them with ropes. A scrawny boy yelled for his father. A janissary thumped him with the heel of his musket. He quieted, slumped against the shoulder of a woman who cried as she hugged him.

A lanky young man sprinted toward Murad. He stopped short and grasped his knees, the breath torn from his lungs.

Murad clapped his shoulder. “Winded by such a short dash, Andries? You are too young for that.”

Andries gasped for air, blunt cut yellow hair falling over his eyes. “The smoke is burning my eyes. The bash-raïs wants to know about two of the prisoners.”

Murad looked beyond Andries’ square shoulders. At the shoreline, his second stood with his arms akimbo, booted feet splayed. His balding pate glistened in the torchlight. Two people crouched before him, set apart from the other captives. The aged man and a decrepit woman beside him, with limp gray hair around her shoulders, clasped their hands in appeal.

Murad shook his head. “Tell him to let them go. No profit can be made from such skin and bones.”

Andries returned to Mathys, who gave orders to the crew. They forced the pair to the ground, seated back to back, and tied them together. Eyes bulging red, they looked between the villagers and the wreckage of their homes.

“Your people have no shame, treating an old man and woman so.”

Murad’s attention returned to the woman, Moira. She had followed his stare. Her eyes watered and her lips trembled, but she gazed resolutely at the sight of her people in bondage.

He grinned. “I have released them. I showed mercy.”

“What about mercy for your other captives? We deserve as much.”

He extended a hand to her. “Come now. You have my solemn vow never to harm you or the children in your care. Now, give over.”

Her fingers curled into a tight fist around the knife, until the knuckles whitened. She clamped her eyes shut for a moment. Then she opened them again and her lips parted. Only a strangled whimper issued. In silence, she lowered her weapon. When he grabbed the knife and tucked it into his belt, she offered no struggle. She shepherded her charges down to the shoreline. The elder of the girls stood stubbornly still at first, but Moira goaded her.

“Best you both move on now,” Murad urged them, “Good girl.”

Moira glared at him over her shoulder, but she did not resist when his men appeared and shoved her forward.

He admired the square set of her shoulders. She would not break easily. He nodded, knowing she would require her strength for the trial of the coming days. A trial he recalled with perfect clarity, even after twenty years.

Renegade explores the history of one of the most daring and dangerous pirates to sail the Mediterranean Sea in the 17th century. In the summer of 1631, Barbary raiders kidnapped hundreds of people from an Irish coastal village and sailed away with them to the coast of Algeria. The leader of the pirates was Murad Raïs.

Murad, admiral of the Barbary corsair fleet is a man of many secrets. From his base in Morocco, he raids merchant vessels and deals in stolen goods and slaves. He develops a reputation as one of the most ruthless pirates of the Barbary Coast. In the greatest coup of his career, he storms ashore at a remote Irish village and enslaves its people, bound for the markets of North Africa. Years later, a beautiful young woman named Lysbeth arrives in Morocco. She challenges Murad to atone for his past. Some sins do not deserve forgiveness. Some secrets lie buried too deeply. It may be too late for Murad to undo all he has done.

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