ANNE CLEELAND

Writer

 

 

The Barbary Mark

Chapter 9

 

     After a exchanging a glance, Nonie and Jamie followed the necromancer through a narrow hallway toward the back of the building, and then onto a laundry deck, complete with linens laid out to dry, and a washtub that smelled strongly of lye. At the other end of the deck, Jamie’s guard suddenly appeared, and motioned to him.  “Go,” said the necromancer. “We should leave separately.”

     Jamie gave Nonie’s arm a final squeeze of caution before he followed the other man, and then she watched as the necromancer leapt up to stand upon the deck’s wash rail.  Carefully balancing with a hand on the eave, he indicated he would help her onto the low, overhanging roof.

     “Quickly,” he whispered, and held out his other hand to her.  

     Nonie didn’t hesitate, as hasty and furtive escapes were her stock-in-trade. To this end, she clutched a fistful of his tunic to steady herself, and then stepped lightly onto the railing, peering upward onto the uneven roof with a practiced eye, so as to gauge the best handholds.

     “Go.”  He bent a knee so that she could place her sandaled foot on it, and then launched her upward, his hand moving to brace her foot, as she was heaved over the roof’s edge.   

     Carefully creeping away on her belly—the roof was patched, and creaky—she glanced behind to see that he followed, leaping up to catch the edge of the roof, and then swinging his torso so that the momentum brought him up and over in a smooth movement.  He’s done this before—and more than once, she thought, watching him.  Why the necromancer was adept at eluding pursuit was an interesting question, but she didn’t want to think about it just now, as she was still recovering from the feel of his warm hands on her bare legs—you would think she could manage a modicum of composure, instead of swooning like a Derry milkmaid. 

     “This way.” He scrambled past her, and she followed close behind as they traversed the roof, crouching low so that they would not be silhouetted by the moon.   Nonie was ready to cast off her constraining kaftan in frustration, but had to be content with ruching it up in front of her, as they leapt swiftly from one close-packed rooftop to another, the only sound being the occasional clatter of a dislodged tile, or the fluttering of birds who were forced to get out of the way. 

     Her companion halted upon coming to the edge of a roof that had a larger than usual gap between the buildings—she gauged it to be five feet across. 

     “I’ll go first, and catch you.” He leapt nimbly to the adjacent roof, and then turned with his hands outstretched. With a quick movement, she untied the strings of her kaftan, and pulled it over her head so that she stood in her shift; wadding up the garment to throw it to him. Then, taking a running start, she leapt across, catching his hands and standing quietly whilst he helped pull the kaftan over her head once again. “We are almost to a tunnel entrance.  Do you need to rest?”

     “No; but I do need some answers.” Carefully, she took a survey of the surrounding area for signs of pursuit. “How do you know it was not one of mine, watching us?”

     “It wasn’t. It was a French agent.”

     This was annoying, as she was intensely interested in catching the interest of any French agents who might be wandering about.  She remarked a bit crossly, “You keep telling me not to interfere with whatever it is you do, but you are constantly interfering with me.”

     “That is unfair,” he observed in a mild tone. “I was not aware that you wished to be captured by the French.”

     “For heaven’s sake; of course I don’t wish to be captured by the French.”  She could be forgiven for being short with him, he was showing no signs of having been affected by his handling of her winsome, shift-clad self.

     “Then why are you so interested in them, and what they do?”

     So; he’d been talking to Fatima, and she couldn’t fault him—he was wary of her, and with good reason. After debating how much to reveal, she admitted, “The English are concerned about this whole region—about the alliances and counter-alliances—and how they might end up causing them a few more headaches, on top of the ones they already have.”

      He gazed out over the rooftops for a moment. “Do you believe Napoleon’s people are planning to take a vengeance against the Dey? Perhaps replace him with another?”

     She glanced up at him, wondering how much he knew about who was watching whom. “Oh? Is that what you’ve heard? Or are you starting to believe my prophecies?”

     He ducked his head for a moment.  “The Dey is concerned, and with cause. You are no doubt aware that others have been assassinated as a warning—lesser members of his court. He fears that Napoleon has lost patience.”

     Examining a blister that was forming on her palm, she noted in a practical tone, “I imagine that the threat of assassination is an everyday concern, for someone like the Dey of Algiers.” She paused, then added, “And it wasn’t a very good idea to try and cheat the likes of Napoleon, in the first place. He’s not one to forgive and forget.”

     “No,” he agreed, and was quiet for a moment.

     It was no surprise to Nonie that the necromancer was worried about this alarming possibility; if the Dey was thrown over, his own dubious role in the pearl smuggling would no doubt be exposed, and the French were on a hair-trigger, nowadays.  The long knives could then be drawn out against him, and even if he fled, his easy days of grifting would draw to an abrupt close.  She could offer him little comfort, and shame on him, for getting himself involved with this cast of villains—it was well-beneath him.  “Well, they are definitely not getting along lately—Napoleon, and our friend the Dey.  I confess I wouldn’t be shocked if Napoleon came after him, would you?”

     He brought his gaze back to her, the shadows playing off the planes in his face. “No. I would not be shocked.”

      She shrugged. “Exactly. It’s the price one pays for consorting with the likes of tyrants and pirates; small wonder he feels a goose, stepping on his grave.”

     Considering this, he confessed, “I do not know what this means.”

With a smile, she explained, “It’s an old saying—to account for those sudden shivers one has, from time to time. It’s akin to a premonition of death, and there you have it.”

     His eyes warm upon hers, he said unexpectedly, “I very much enjoy listening to you speak.”

     This was an unlooked-for compliment, and inordinately pleased by it, she couldn’t contain a smile.  “I do it a lot, I do.  Although sometimes I put my foot in it.” She quirked her mouth at him in wry contrition, referring to her foolish outburst about his many marriages.

     “You needn’t guard what you say to me.”  He said it quietly, his sincerity unmistakable. “Please.”

      Oh, she thought, gazing into his eyes, as the silence of the warm night pressed in all around them; oh—I am in trouble, and if Jamie were here, he would take a switch to me.

     “We should go.” But the necromancer made no attempt to move, the attraction thick and palpable between them. 

     He is going to throw me down on this warm roof, and we are going to have at it, she thought, her heart thudding within her breast. And I will have no regrets—none at all.

     But he stepped back, and broke his gaze away. “Follow me, if you please.”

     “By all means,” she responded lightly. It was just as well—the tiles had sharp edges, and didn’t look at all comfortable. Besides, she was heartened to believe he would nevertheless have his way with her, sooner or later.  She could be patient, certainly; it was second nature to her, now.

     They descended from the rooftops near a market stall on the vendors’ street, and entered into yet another hidden hatch that led to the tunnel network, only this time they had no lantern, and so the journey home was pitch dark, and disconcerting. She held onto the back of his tunic as he made his way forward without hesitation, making turns at intersections before she was even aware there was one coming up.  He knows these tunnels like the back of his hand, she noted; it no doubt came from his pearl-smuggling adventures, and trying to keep one step ahead of all the villains who were vying mightily to back-stab one another.

     After a space of time, he finally spoke, his voice echoing in the darkness off the dirt-packed walls. “You will soon be called for an audience with the Dey—possibly tomorrow evening. I have advised him that you have been contacted from the afterworld by Nadia, who was his sister, and very dear to him.  It will enhance your value.”

     “I am always one to enhance my value,” she agreed readily. “Help me, then; whatever happened to our dear Nadia?”

     He hesitated. “She was seized in the Rebellion, and did not come to a good end.”

      Nonie winced. “Lord, it seems a bit ruthless, this necromancing grift of yours.”

      They’d come to her stairway, and he paused with her at its base. “Yes, it is ruthless. But if you make the reference, it will help protect you, and in turn, you will have a greater ability to protect Mr. O’Hay.”

     Why, I believe I am being manipulated, she thought with interest. I wish he’d make half as much effort to manipulate me out of my kaftan again.  “Mr. O’Hay is in my black books, if you will recall.”

     He tilted his head slightly. “He seemed fond, tonight.”

     “I spoke Gaelic for your benefit, did you notice?”

     Turning to continue on up the stairs, he made no response, but she thought she heard him chuckle. “Lord—did I make you laugh? It is a miracle—I should build a shrine, to mark the spot.”

     “Nonie,” he said. “Hush.”

     She obeyed, following him, and trying to contain her delight that he’d said her name.