About The White City
Author: Julia Talbot
Word Count: 14500
Page Count (pdf): 52
Date Published: May 27 2017 (third edition)
Publisher: Turlehat Creatives
File Types available: pdf, epub, mobi
Jem is a well-known privateer, and he knows he’s in a lot of trouble. The White City of Algiers is a hotbed of human misery, and he’s being held captive there by a ruthless man known as Hakim Reis. Hakim knows that Jem will fetch a pretty price with the crime lord of Algiers, and he has every intention of turning the pirate over to his boss. Eventually. First, though, he wants his pound of flesh. Can one encounter feed his new addiction, or will he find a way to keep Jem alive and to himself? This story is previously published as a standalone and in the Galleons and Gangplanks collection.
If I were wealthy or somehow related to nobility, I might be able to buy my way out of this mess.
I am not, however, either of those. No, indeed, Jem Nettles is nothing but a sailor. First mate on the Adrianna Gayle, in fact. Cutting into the profits of a Barbary Coast pirate will normally get a man killed.
Why I am still alive and in chains somehow escapes me.
I know that the curse of Algiers is slavery. People are bought and sold every day in the streets, hundreds of them. I know too that able bodied men are a premium, as many of the Barbary pirates still need rowers.
The fact is that I am not a good bet.
So, while I am glad to be alive, and know I should not question it, I do. I question everything.
Why would anyone wonder how I managed to get impressed into the navy, hmm? Trouble is my lot in life.
Still, as captivity goes, this is not nearly as bad as the three weeks I once spent in a gaol in Naples. The accommodations are much cleaner, the guards less likely to hit first and ask later. And I will not begin to describe the fortnight I spent in the hold of a Portuguese galleon beyond foul.
The sun shines brightly beyond the slitted windows on the third day of my latest captivity. The two big guards I have seen when I receive food and water come to collect me. They grab me, one on either side, and drag me down a long corridor with many studded-wood doors. I can hear the sound of tinkling water; that, more than even the heavy woven rugs, tells me how rich my captor is.
Interesting. How novel, that I might be taken before the emir, or sheik, or whatever these people call their leaders, only to be killed.
Or perhaps they had just found someone who would take me on one of their ships. To spend an eternity chained to an oar. I can tell you how the thought thrills me.
Finally they bring me to a room with double doors nearly double the height of my own head, the sound of them as they open like a death knell. Bright. The room is bright and white and stark, with only a few of the profusion of rugs I might have expected. There was one large piece of furniture, a writing table, the likes of which I have never seen outside of the Barbary coast.
Writing is not a skill I admit to, though I did learn it in my youth. It seems smarter to let my fellow sailors view me as simple Jem, rather than Jeremiah Nettles, son of a vicar.
The man behind the desk surprises me. Oh, to start he looks no different than the two brutes who have dragged me into the room. His dark head, bent over his work, is close-cropped and curly, and his skin is sun-darkened to a deep bronze. His eyes, when he looks up however, are a blazing blue.
They give me a shock, freezing me in place when I should perhaps be struggling and making myself as unpleasant as possible, so as to be sent away. I will have a much better time escaping if I am where no one takes notice of me. This room is not that place.
The man rises, coming around the desk to appraise me, his hands clasped loosely behind his back. His long nose wrinkles and a soft spate of the Arab language issues from him.
I expect laughter, but what I get is two apologetically bowing servants, both of them all but groveling.
Those eyes meet mine again, one fine black brow rising above them. “You stink,” he says, in perfectly accented English.
“Indeed,” I agree immediately. “If you’ll only release me, I shall go and find a brothel forthwith, and bathe myself until my skin shines.”
His brows snap together for a moment, before he laughs softly, the sound much like his tinkling fountain. Musical.
“I think not, Mister Nettles. I vow, you are the most interesting thing to come through my doors in an age.”
He could have said that I had a monkey in a fez sitting upon my shoulder and it would not shock me. That he knows my name, however, leaves my mouth hanging open.
“You’re quite a wanted man, Jem. Did you know that? Sharim Reis alone has offered fifty gold pieces for your head.”
Well. I feel I have two choices: deny my name or brazen it out. “Really? How very entertaining. Dare I ask why? I am merely a sailor.”
“Merely? No, I think not. First mate on the one ship that always manages to elude our defenses. You have been responsible for the loss of over fourteen hundred Christian slaves. I fear that makes the Reis rather unhappy.”
“Is nearly in his dotage, as is well known, my dear.” Really, his complete command of my language is unnerving. I might have expected fluent French, or perhaps Spanish, but he sounds as though he attended one of England’s oldest schools. “Everyone knows it is your keen mind that plots the Adrianna’s course.”
“I fear you have me at a disadvantage,” I say, falling back upon old habits, taking the tack of an educated man, myself. Perhaps I can work something out, here.
“Do I? I apologize. I am Hakim Reis, to these people, at least.”
“You are not an Arab, then.” Surely not. Not with those eyes.
“No. And you are not simply a sailor. Now, what to do with you?” His hand comes up to tilt my face this way and that, and his thumb slips into my mouth in a most humiliating manner, checking my teeth. “You surprise me, being so young. I had expected to simply turn you over to Sharim Reis, but I might have other uses for you.”
“I should tell you that I make a terrible rower.” The temptation to bite the hand holding me all but overwhelms me. I resist, attempting insouciance instead.
“What a terrible waste of your… attributes that would be, my dear.” A man who does not share my proclivities might mistake that look. For one such as I there is no mistaking it. How very entertaining.
“I make a very bad whore, as well,” I say, inclining my head. “Far too much stubborn in my blood.”
A bright smile lights his face. “I do love a challenge. Yes, I think I shall simply fail to tell Sharim Reis that you are here. First you must bathe.”
Hakim snaps his fingers, letting loose a stream of orders, and the men holding me pick me up by the arms, dragging me out of the room, just like that.
His eyes are as a physical touch upon my back, and as my feet drag against the fine carpet beneath them, I wonder if I would not be better off in a galleon. I fear Hakim will be a far more attentive captor than the average whipping master.