Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Africa (03/05/09)
TITLE: A Pirate's Paradox
By Diana Smith
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In boyhood, our families had been expelled from beloved Spain and ended up together in Marseilles in 1610. “Mouristos” we were often called with a sneer. Despite the wealth of our fathers, their reluctance to convert to Christianity had become intolerable and along with 150,000 others, they were forcibly moved to France. As troublesome boys, we had discovered each other among the crowd, the seed of friendship planted in the field of uncertainty.
Our time there was transitional. Many of the Mouristo men were drawn to the North African coast, a land with ties to Islam and filled with the scent of a fresh start. But in Salé our wealth leaked away and Omar and I ended up sweeping floors in the dock taverns. Eventually the lure of the sea swallowed the familial responsibilities of our fathers and they sailed from there without us. Omar became my only family alive. Life tied us tighter with each passing circumstance and the knots would grow thicker yet.
When the enraged authorities combed the docks for Hasan Reis, the dreaded pirate, it had been Omar’s idea to drag the drunken man to our small hovel. Covering him with dirty bedding, Omar had lain on top of the misshapen bundle, feigning his own drunken sleep. The hunt had screamed by without suspicion. Upon awaking, the pirate would hear nothing but our assent to escape with him from our slum and poverty.
Off to Algiers we sailed on his fusta, triggering a new adventure throughout the Mediterranean. We became expert sailors under his teaching, learning naval weaponry and navigation, crew and slave treatment. The sailing felt brutal at times, the crew never gentle or gracious, but the love of the pirate life was contagious.
As the months went by, we both fell naturally into our place. Omar grew to a bulking man and could be found mostly at the oars. My mind bent towards details, and I became adept at navigation and strategy. While his muscles stretched to bursting, I soaked in the lessons of the great Hasan Reis and learned from his past mistakes.
Off the coast of Spain in 1619 our ships met the Christians and Hasan made several mistakes, paying the ultimate price. Short and stiff, the battle was a disaster - with waves bashing against us our cannon grew fickle. Hasan Reis stood tall throughout, bellowing orders as I grasped the rails at his side. Omar sweated with the men, his hands dirty and his own voice echoing Hasan’s bellows. But his strength and my presence could not save the Reis as enemy cannon ripped through our galley with a lurch. The wound was not fatal, but the suddenness rocked Hasan from his command post, hurtling his body to the deck below and impaling it on a broken rail. Our retreat from the battle was much faster than his lingering death, and later his final words seared our memories.
He praised the loyal crew and laid the blame for their defeat on himself. Without any further flowering words, he proclaimed me the new Reis. Tears hid the darkness that cloaked Omar’s eyes and I did not catch the flash between certain crew; looks of shock, betrayal and anger. I suppose some of them fueled Omar’s rebellion, but the seed of envy was alive in his heart.
After limping back to Algiers, the crew disbanded and I mourned alone, almost unaware of Omar’s absence. My fog of solitude melted away the instant I heard that he had sailed from there, taking 6 fustas and 2 galleys, manned by half of our entire crew.
Whispering denial at first, I sat in shock. On my knees, I begged that it was untrue, my memory twisting. Then finally I stood, my fists tightened, blood hot and heart hardened – the fuzzy flavour of grief was supplanted by the bitter taste of hate.
Years later, watching his ships – my ships - sail into the harbour at Algiers, my gut churned with emotion. My countryman and brother. My enemy. We meet again.
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