All that day they rowed. Constantinople slowly fell behind, first the walls topped by her many domes, and a ringing of bells which followed the ships far across the water as if sad and anxious to be remembered; then a smudge on the sky; at last, nothing. To port the waves glittered and chuckled, a gay noise under the creak and chunk of the oars. To starboard rose the Thracian hills, green in the young year. Towns and villages were passed, elegant estates, castles, farms and plantations; this land seemed richly at peace.
But the only sail was a strange red one in the distance, which had the look of a Turkish pirate. Every villa stood empty. Armed men paced all castle battlements. Late in the afternoon, Lucas spied smoke rising thick from a ridge. Something had been fired--by Catalan raiders?
“This wind is good,” said Djansha. It whipped a loose lock of her braided hair across the broad clear brow. “Why do they not raise the sails? There were sails up most of the way from Azov to Constantinople.”
“But that was a single convoy, in which all ships were exactly alike,” Lucas pointed out. “Here are many sorts together. Given sail, the smaller and faster craft would outrun the heavier, and we’d all become subject to attack.” He wrinkled his nose. “The breeze is useful all the same, to keep the air somewhat fresh on deck. I’d hate to be downwind of our oarsmen.”
She laughed, even at so poor a jest, and squeezed his arm. He let his own hand slide down her back until he clasped her waist. She leaned against him. Wide-eyed, she continued to stare at the passing scene.
Their two days together in Constantinople had been happy, Lucas thought. Not that they could talk much, since he knew no Circassian and she had little Genoese. But she was quick to learn from him--even though he was also working to convert her to the Venetian dialect--and already he could speak with her about more than the simplest things.
Anyhow, there were other languages than words. The way she cleaned and packed his gear, stood up at his entry until he pulled her down beside him, made a wry face at the hostel food and thereafter brought him meals she had prepared herself: this told him a great deal. As they walked about the city, her awe and pleasure, her sheer delight when he bought her a few cheap dresses, needed no explication. And finally, when they returned, her supple, fervent body in his embrace was enough to think about.
There was more than the famous handsomeness of the race to make Circassians much sought after on the slave market. Those tribesmen raised their daughters to be the opposite of their own fierce selves: sweet-tempered, skilled in every household art, submissive to the man who got them. But not spirit-broken. Unwed girls were gay, flirtatious creatures, and no doubt the wife of many a blustering warrior was the real power in the household. Well aware of the demand, Circassian fathers often sold their girls, though chiefly for Turkish harems. Djansha herself, however, had been captured when the Pshi , petty prince or warlord, of the Abbats, swooped down upon her own Chipakou in one of those tribal wars which the slave trade helped stimulate. She had seen her father and a brother slain, but they had fallen, sword in hand, with dead men at their feet. She was brought to Azov and sold to the Genoese, who kept her over the winter and then resold her to Gasparo Reni.
But all those dealers, Abbat, Genoese, Venetian, were after gold rather than girls. An unscarred virgin Circassian was worth far too much for anyone to molest her. She had been instructed in language to increase her value, but nothing else happened. In that long winter’s dullness, she had formed friendships with other slave girls; then in spring, she was taken from them. She had expected to continue to Cyprus and end as the concubine of a Frank or Turk; the latter, she hoped, for they were better liked in the Caucasus and Islamic law gave