Corsair

Corsair by Tim Severin Read Free Book Online

Book: Corsair by Tim Severin Read Free Book Online
Authors: Tim Severin
corsair’s captives, the consul concentrated on the steep climb back up the hill of Algiers.

 
FIVE

     
    H ECTOR STUMBLED THROUGH the next few hours. Numbed by his sister’s disappearance, he barely noticed what was happening as he was inscribed in the register, and he slept badly in the bleak holding cell where the captives were kept overnight. Again and again he wondered what might have happened to Elizabeth and how he might find out. But there was no opportunity to enquire. At first light he and the other prisoners were woken and, barefoot and still wearing the soiled clothes in which they had been captured, they were marched up the hill to the great building Hector had mistaken for the citadel. In fact it was the Kasbah, part fort, part palace. In a courtyard the men were mustered in three lines, and after a short wait the Dey’s head steward appeared. He was accompanied by three men whom Hector later knew to be two overseers from the public slave barracks and a Jew who was an experienced slave broker. The trio walked up and down between the lines, occasionally stopping to consult with one another or examine a prisoner’s physique. Hector felt like a beast in a cattle market when one of the overseers reached out to pinch his arm muscles, then prodded him in the ribs with the butt of a wooden baton. Finally, when the inspection was complete, the Jew in his black cap and black gown walked between the lines and tapped four men on the shoulder. Among them was the strapping young villager whom Hector had formerly seen going out to cut turf. As the four were led away by the guards, Hector heard the crazed grey beard standing beside him mutter under his breath, ‘Beylik, poor bastards.’
    The old man appeared to be in one of his more lucid moods, for he seemed to remember who Hector was, and announced his own name as Simeon. ‘You noticed, didn’t you?’ he asked the young man. ‘They took the strong ones. You were lucky not to be picked. Probably too skinny . . . or too beautiful,’ and he laughed coarsely to himself. ‘This is Algiers, you know. They keep their pretty boys close to home, not sent off to work as public slaves.’
    Hector was feeling light-headed in the heat. ‘What’s going to happen to us now?’ he enquired.
    ‘Off to the badestan, I expect,’ explained Simeon.
    The badestan proved to be an open square close to the Kasbah’s main entrance. Here a large crowd of Algerines had already assembled, and before Hector could understand what was happening, an old man had taken him by his arm in a friendly way, and begun to lead him around the square. It was several steps before Hector realised that he was in the hands of an auctioneer. There was a shouted demand from an onlooker. The old man stopped, then pulled the shirt off Hector’s shoulders so that the young man’s naked torso was exposed. A few paces further and at another request called from the crowd, the old man produced a thin, whippy cane and, to Hector’s shock, slashed it violently across his ankles. Hector leapt in pain. Even before he had landed, the auctioneer had repeated the blow from the other direction, so that Hector was forced to skip and turn in the air. Twice more during the circuit of the square, the cane was used and he was made to jump and spin. Then the auctioneer began to sing out what must have been his salesman’s patter, for there were answering calls from the crowd, and Hector guessed that they were making their bids. The bidding reached its climax and the auctioneer was making what seemed to be his last appeal, when a dignified-looking Turk stepped out of the crowd and came across to where Hector was standing. The newcomer was clearly a man of substance. His purple velvet jacket was richly embroidered, and the silver handle of a fine dagger showed above the brocade sash around his waist. On his head was a tall felt hat with jewelled brooch pinned to it. The man said something quietly to the auctioneer who

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