ANNE CLEELAND

Writer

 

The Barbary Mark

Chapter 40

 

     The party left the companionway at the gun deck, instead of continuing on down to the brig, and headed toward the anchor chain, which would provide for an easier escape than jumping from a port hole. Looking up, Jamie paused. “Do you hear that?”

     Nonie listened to the sudden activity above decks—raised voices, and rapid footsteps. “It may be the Dey,” she guessed. “But we’ve got to stop the tainted shooter; do you think the mark understood me?”

     “I’ll go make sure, while you off-load them.” Jamie’s glance rested on Saba.

     “I’ll have them away in two shakes,” she assured him. “If you have a chance, create a diversion until they are out of range.”

     “Nonie, what is it?” asked Fatima, her smooth brow furrowed, as she looked from one to the other. “What is a ‘tainted shooter’?”

     “Too hard to explain, Fatima,” Nonie replied almost kindly, and then turned to Saba. “Down the anchor chain with you, my friend; now is a good time, while everyone is distracted by whoever is arriving on deck.”

    Jamie translated, then rested a hand briefly on Saba’s arm, before he trotted over to the companionway, checking his pistol as he went.  The girl watched him go, and then turned her pale face to Nonie, to speak in her halting Italian, “I am sorry, Nonie.”

    “Nonsense—it’s my own fault for meddling, and that’s enough said.” Carefully, Nonie poked her head through the cannon gun-port opening that was closest to the anchor chain, and took a quick survey of the immediate area below. “Good. Now, you’ve got to climb up into the gun-port, here, and leap out to catch the chain. “I’ve done it before—it’s easier than it looks, I promise.”

   After only a brief hesitation, Saba climbed through the iron-rimmed opening, and then launched herself to grasp the thick chain, wrapping her legs around the links before carefully sliding down toward the water. 

    Watching her, Nonie called out softly, “Good; now with any luck, there’s someone about—ah—there we go.” A fishmonger’s boat bumped up against the hull between the chain and the ship, the fishmonger maneuvering the oars while Jamil sat in the stern, quietly speaking words of encouragement to Saba in her own language.

    “What’s the commotion, above?” Nonie called down to them.

    “The Dey has arrived, and the Agha, as well.”

     “Naturally they have.  Lord, it’s a gathering of blacklegs, it is.  Hurry then, and get them away whilst everyone’s distracted.”

     The two men stood in the boat, balancing against the rocking of the waves as they reached for the girl, and brought her down safely onto the floorboards. “I’ll be needing a pistol,” Nonie called down. “Quickly, please.”

    “You must come with us to shore,” Jamil insisted, still standing with his arms raised. “Come, now.”

     “I will not, and I’ll have no more of your mutiny,” she replied.  “You are an unmanageable henchman, and I’ll be complaining to your master at the first opportunity.”

    “If you please,” Jamil amended in a more conciliatory tone.

     “No. Take Saba and Fatima straight to shore, and hide them in the safe house until you hear word from me. Now, where is that weapon?” The fishmonger carefully tossed up a pistol, but it fell out of her grasp, and disappeared into the waves. “Bloody hell—my fault. Do you have another?”

     Instead, Jamil grasped the chain, then climbed toward her—hand over hand—until he paused to swing his legs so as to gain enough momentum to hook his feet onto the nearest gun port opening, and clamber through it. 

    Watching this performance without comment, Nonie asked in a dry tone, “Were you not hearing what I just said?”

    “I must have misunderstood you,” Jamil replied, as he handed her a pistol.

     She shook her head in resignation. “All right—we’ll argue about it when Fatima is safely off.”

     The man raised his brows in surprise. “Fatima? Is Fatima on board?”

      Whirling, Nonie saw that the other woman had indeed left the gun deck for parts unknown. “Bloody hell, was there never such a place for double-dealing backstabbers—if Fatima is the shooter, I will break her in half, and then in half again.”

     But Jamil would not be shaken by the woman’s unexpected disappearance. “Impossible. She will do nothing to hurt our cause.”

    Exasperated, Nonie tucked the pistol into her undergarment, and pulled the kaftan back down over it. “Well, she’s mucking up my cause like nobody’s business.  We’d best go track her down.”  With a gesture, she signaled he was to follow, and then ran on light feet over to the companionway, only to be brought up short by the sight of Tahriz and Jamie, rapidly descending the stairway.

     “Lord,” she teased, happy to see that her husband remained in one piece. “Who’s minding the assignment?”

     With a quick glance up the stairs, the necromancer took her elbow, and pulled her under the companionway stairs, as Jamie and Jamil ducked under to join them. “The Dey has arrived, and Le Capitaine was necessarily required to greet him, so Mr. O’Hay and I came to seek you out.”

    “Is Saba away?” Jamie asked with some urgency.

    “She is indeed; but Fatima has disappeared—I don’t suppose you’ve come across her?”

    The necromancer’s black brows drew together. “Fatima has left?”

    “Could she be tainted?” Nonie hated to ask, but the possibility had to be breached—Fatima was French, after all.

     “No.” The necromancer shook his head with the same unshakable faith that Jamil had, and Nonie was hard-pressed not to agree with their assessment; a less likely turncoat could hardly be imagined. “She must have gone to find me.”

     “Yes—she was worried, when I spoke of the tainted shooter.” Reminded, Nonie asked, “You know your shooter is tainted, right?”

     “No longer a problem.” Jamie gave her a look that conveyed a familiar message—there was nothing quite so satisfactory as giving a turncoat a well-deserved comeuppance.

    “You’ve been busy, the both of you,” she noted admiringly. “I’m a piker, by comparison.”

     They all paused to listen to the sudden, faint sound of voices raised in anger above them—time was short, and it was imperative that the ship sail with Jamie and the pearls, even though events seemed to be conspiring against this outcome.  Nonie asked Tahriz, “Can you trust anyone else to kill you properly, or shall we make a new plan?”

     “Mr. O’Hay is the new shooter. He will be defending the Frenchman from my attack.”

     “Well—good plan, but don’t forget to remove the ball from the pistol,” she advised Jamie. “What is the timeline?”

     “You will proceed immediately to shore.” 

The necromancer’s gaze was implacable, and she could only agree; now that he’d been warned, she would only put the assignment at risk, if she stayed. “Believe me, I’m ready.  I’ll leave the three of you to worry about Fatima, then.”

     Nodding his head, Tahriz walked over to peer out the gun-port opening, to the water below. “You have men in the water?”

     She followed him over, debating whether or not to shed her kaftan. “I do—and recall I’ve swum this swim before. Don’t worry about me; I will meet you at the safe house, and good luck to the both of you.”

     Quickly, she placed a foot on the opening’s rim, and prepared to launch herself toward the anchor chain, hoping another fishmonger’s boat would turn up, before she had to swim very far.

     “Stop her!”  A shout rang out from the companionway stairs.

    “Go—go,” urged Tahriz, who turned to block any view of her.

     Scrambling through, Nonie gulped in a deep breath, knowing she would have to swim for a distance underwater, so as to hopefully avoid being shot, but just before she leapt out over the vasty deep, she heard the Agha’s voice shout, “Don’t shoot her—she has the pearls.”