Voyage of the Istanbul Tigress Ch. 02byEricCalder©
June 1799, Off Sicily
Hamilton woke up with a start. Someone was watching him.
"Nasira?" he tried to ask.
"You're going to be all right, Edward."
His eyes came into focus. Katherine Abington was looking down at him, and after a moment he realized she was speaking. Hamilton tried to sit up, but a surge of pain across his head put an end to that. Around him he could hear moans of agony, men asking for water, and then someone a few yards away cried "Hold him steady!" and there was a loud scream.
Hamilton was on the frigate Ariadne, the he knew. He had been brought down to the orlop deck, under the ship's waterline, where the wounded were sent during battle. Where the surgeon did his work. With a sudden panic Hamilton forced himself to sit up, ignoring the pulsating pain in his head. Like most men he feared the surgeon's knife far more than any cannon ball. He looked and felt to make sure his limbs were intact before collapsing again.
"You should lie still, Edward. You were hit with a splinter, but Dr. Maitland says he was able to clean the wound. You'll feel better soon, but you must rest."
He heard what she said, he understood it, but it seemed to be happening to someone else. Hamilton reached up and felt a bandage around his head.
"I need to return to my duty," he said, weakly.
"Stay here. The battle is over."
"I don't know what happened, Rachel and I have been helping the doctor. I heard Lieutenant Mabson say that both galleys were sunk."
"Mabson? On no..."
"He will be fine, Edward. Quiet yourself and lie back."
He couldn't see Rachel Palmer, but Katherine's voice was steady and reassuring. It seemed odd that such a flighty woman would take the horrors of battle so calmly.
"Rest, Edward." He felt something cool on his forehead and then he did.
He is standing on the walls of Massih Bey's fortress in the middle of Tunis. He looks out across the harbor, but this isn't the Lake of Tunis. He sees the Royal Dockyards in Deptford, along the Thames, crowded with warships and East Indiaman, wooden hulls packed together, a forest of masts and yards, oared boats and tenders and other small craft slipping between the ships. All of this is somehow before the white stone chaos of densely packed buildings that is Tunis.
Nasira is standing next to him. The wind is whipping her hair, streaming it to one side just as it had done when she stood on the deck of the Rose holding a cask of powder. Nasira is not wearing her uniform. She is wearing only a light wrap around her hips; the same simple covering worn by the household slaves of Massih Bey that are available for sex. He is walking toward Nasira. He puts his hand on her face. He feels her cheek and she smiles as he slides his hand down her neck, down the top of her breast, down to her nipple. He loves her breasts, the softness is perfect, they fit so easily in his hands.
"Nasira," he says. He wants to say something more but the words are not there. He tries and tries but all he can do is say her name.
"No man may be inside me," she says, quoting one of the rules of the Kocek Kapikulu, the female Janissaries of Massih Bey. He knows this rule, he knows it all too well. But when he was in Tunis, months before, those rules did not forbid him from touching her body, from caressing her ass and moving his hand slowly down along the soft skin of her inner thighs, from letting his tongue slide around and around her nipples, from tracing the soft folds of her pussy.
Hamilton dreams he is lying in bed.
Nasira is underneath him as he sucks on her left nipple. They are in a room at a boarding house in Portsmouth, one he used when he was a midshipman, on a soft feather bed, though much bigger and much softer than any he could possibly have afforded back then. He puts both hands on her left breast, squeezing her soft flesh and playing as his lips over her nipple. Nasira runs her hands through his hair. She moans softly. His cock is pressed against her slit. He moves his hips, just slightly, just the right way, and his hard shaft presses against the dampness. He knows that she wants him inside her as much as he does. He wonders if this time, just once --
"Never," she says quietly, even though he hadn't asked the question.
Hamilton dreams of Katherine Abington.
She is in bed next to them, naked, with her hands bound to an iron ring in a wall inlaid with geometric tiles. Katherine is struggling against her bonds, twisting her body, sliding her legs up and down on the sheets. Katherine is breathing faster, starting to panic as she pulls harder and harder on the soft silk wrapped around her wrists. The bonds look like they are going to rip at any moment. But they don't part. Katherine knows she is bound to the bed and at their mercy.
"Fuck me," Katherine says suddenly, urgently. "Fuck me like you fucked the slaves in Tunis."
He rolls off Nasira. He reaches out for Katherine but Nasira catches his hand. She is gently holding him back. Nasira rolls across the wide bed, she is moving over Katherine, her tongue slides across the bound blonde's torso, leaving a growing trail of slick dampness leading down, closer and closer, over her mount, and to Katherine's slit. Nasira uses two fingers to separate the her folds. She flicks her tongue back and forth over Katherine's clit. Nasira presses one finger up inside the bound woman's wet cunt as she licks and teases her clit. Katherine stops struggling.
Hamilton dreams he is in the antechamber of the Pearl Room.
Katherine is sitting inside a small golden cage. Her legs are drawn up and her hands pulled across her chest. Nasira is walking around the cage. She stops and reaches in to touch Katherine's hair. Katherine tilts her head and smiles. Nasira, now wearing the loose-fitting clothes of her uniform, opens the cage door. She reaches in. Katherine looks excited and then frightened, as if she can't decide which. Nasira drags her out by the hair.
He is watching the two women. He is wearing his naval uniform. Something feels wrong, and it isn't his cock which is pressing hard against his breeches. That feels very right. He reaches up expecting to find his hat but there is only a sticky wetness. He brings his hand down and sees it is covered in blood. He doesn't care about that. He wants to take both beautiful women into the Pearl Room, where there are iron rings and posts for securing slaves, crops and canes and floggers. He wants to see both women naked and bound. He wants to take the small golden chains and clamp them on their nipples, left nipple to left nipple, right to right, so that they are bound close together.
Hamilton dreams of the Pearl Room.
Rachel Palmer is standing against a wall with a shimmering pattern of geometric shapes. She is naked. Hamilton looks at her and then at Katherine and then Nasira. at Three women to play with! He is walking to them.
And he wakes up.
"Damn," Hamilton muttered.
Hamilton could see from shapes of the beams on the deckhead above that he was no longer in the orlop, but back in his cabin. He felt hot even though he was lying in his cot, naked, under a single, thin sheet. He closed his eyes for a moment and smiled when he felt the cool water on his forehead. He looked up.
"Yes, sir," Rachel said as she pressed the damp cloth against his head and then down on his chest. "Mr. Hopley and another man, they brought you here from that other place, sir. I am taking my turn in watching you. My mistress was watching over you earlier, but she had helped the surgeon and needed to lie down, would you like me to go find her?"
"No. Where is Mr. Mabson?"
"He was moved to another cabin, sir. One of the other Lieutenants he... I'm sorry sir."
"It was him sir, Mr. Galloway. They says he died quick."
"They always say that." Rachel looked down and nodded. He reached over and touched her chin. "It's all right, I'm sure he died bravely. Thank you for being here."
"My mistress tells me that I should be available, sir. If there is anything more..."
"Come up here." He guided Rachel up onto the cot, pausing for a moment to make sure the ropes holding it to the beams above were strong enough. They were, and soon she was lying on top of him. She was wearing a simple frock, but he could easily feel her thighs on his legs. His head was no longer pounding. "So, Miss Palmer, you will do anything Lady Dunsbrooke asks?"
"And why is that? Your duties go beyond those of the usual servant. Why do you let her treat you like her slave?"
"I don't feel like a slave, sir. She treats me well, she does."
Hamilton nodded as they swung slowly against the ship's roll. "How did you come into the employ of Lady Dunsbrooke?"
"When I was married off, sir, three years ago and two months, I moved from Langton Green, to Palmer's farm out by the Dornden Common."
"I am, sir, though by deed no longer. Mr. Palmer is a cruel man, though I didn't know that at first. One day, he was drinking, he was always cruel when he was drinking, but he pulls me from the kitchen and yells he don't want me."
"Then he is foolish as well as cruel. So you left this man and went to work for Lady Dunsbrooke?"
"No, sir. I mean, yes, sir, but not like that. Thaddeus, that would be my husband, he said I was having relations with Hugh Ramsay, he drew wire and nails for the coach builders, but that would be a terrible lie! Hugh Ramsay is a fair man, more fair than my husband ever was, and I should not deny my warmth when he came round, but that was all, sir, I swear it, and I never done any of the things he says."
"I'm sure you didn't."
"So then Mr. Palmer, he had brought home a yoke, he did. He brought it from Mr. Ephram's place, right across the commons. He, my husband that is, he pulls me down and puts the yoke over my neck. He used a belt on me, most cruelly, to make me lie still, while he bound my hands to each end, and then he fashioned himself a loop for my neck, and all of this had me tight to the beam." Rachel pressed her head down on Hamilton's chest. "He tied a rope to the hitch then, and all the while I knew what he was doing and I swore I was not wanton. He wouldn't listen, he just told me to shut up, that I was a dirty bunter and that I was unfit and then he done took me down to the Roebuck's, that being an inn on the Tunbridge Road." She tilted her head to look at him. "It's a custom, sir, in the country, you see."
"Yes, I know. It's an old-fashioned way of getting a divorce. So did this other man refuse to pay whatever token price your husband set?"
"No, sir. Hugh Ramsay did not want me as his wife. Thaddeus, he was pulling me in front of the men and then he tore my frock, he did, he ripped and pulled and exposed me. He had my breasts and cunt, excuse me, sir, he had all of my commodity on display and began to yell 'tis a penny gaff' over and again and that anyone could buy me."
Hamilton pressed his cock harder against Rachel's thigh. He wanted to be sympathetic, but the idea of this young woman stripped naked and being offered for sale was too powerful of an image.
"There were men, sir, they wanted me. They would keep me, they said, and use me, they said, and then sell me to a covey house in London and I'd be a right toffer and that I'd do what they told me or get the belt." Rachel smiled weakly, her hips moving against his cock. "They were not kind men, not like you sir."
"I may be many things, Rachel, but I am not kind."
"I think you are, sir." She looked embarrassed. "Lady Dunsbrooke was in a coach and four and by my good fortune she had her coachman stop. My mistress, though she was not yet my mistress, she paid Mr. Palmer a guinea and that stunned him so much, like he'd been knocked about on the head with a spade, that Mrs. Beedle was able to untie me. Then I ran for the coach and my mistress opened the door herself! I was let in and I have been in her service and debt ever since."
"In many other lands, a story like that would mean Lady Dunsbrooke bought herself a slave."
"She is good to me, sir. I do things. She has a liking for me. I don't mind. I do things others will not do, I know that, like I have done in your presence, sir, but I am not in misery. I like serving mistress and...I have nowhere else to go."
Hamilton would have liked to fuck her then and there, but they could hear Dr. Maitland moving awkwardly down the passage. Rachel jumped down from the cot and tried to smooth her skirt, not that it mattered, Maitland had far more pressing cases to deal with and looked in for no more than ten seconds. He ordered Rachel to leave and Hamilton to rest.
Hamilton slept again, more than he expected to. Feeling somewhat better, he climbed out of the cot, changed to his undress uniform and went up on deck. It was late, perhaps an hour before sunset. A new foretop yard was being hoisted in time to shouted orders. There were other signs of battle everywhere, gouges in the rails, small fragments of wood lurking about, and men repairing tears in the sails. But, as naval actions went, none of the damage to the Ariadne looked serious. As for the butcher's bill, Hamilton knew that smears of blood had already been swabbed clean.
Off the starboard quarter was the brig-sloop the Corsairs had been chasing. It was hove-to, under bare masts and riding a kedge anchor. Hamilton suddenly remembered the simple pleasures of sailing the Rose across the Lake of Tunis with a crew of beautiful sex slaves. But there was something slightly different about this brig-sloop. The bow was cut sharply, and there were eight guns ports on the side, the stern had a deeper bend. This vessel was very similar to the Rose, but it was clearly a different vessel.
"Mr. Hamilton!" the Captain called from the quarterdeck.
Hamilton stepped under the yard under repair and saw Captain Baynes next to the rotund figure of Pieter Van Schoonhoven.
"Ah, yes! Lieutenant Hamilton!" Van Schoonhoven said. He stepped forward and grasped Hamilton by the shoulders. "I am so very sorry to hear of your injury! You will be, as they say, fit as a fiddle, yes?" The Dutchman laughed.
"I'll be fine. Thank you." All pretense of politeness vanished and he asked, point blank, "Why are you here?"
"Why because of the Tigress!" Van Schoonhoven said, pointing at the brig-sloop. "The name came from Mr. Ghanashyam, oh you may call him Ganny, yes? He was most helpful in arranging the pecuniary details when the keels for these ships were set down in Tunis."
Hamilton just stared at Van Schoonhoven, a man he had never expected, nor particular wanted to, meet again after Tunis.
"Oh, my apologies, Mr. Hamilton. Not a ship! Yes, yes, a ships has three solid masts, oh you men of the sea are so exact, and my Tigress a mere two. A brig she is, yes, but the finest every built!"
"She looks most weatherly."
"If you will excuse us, Mr. Van Schoonhoven," the Captain said with more than a trance of irritation, "Mr. Hamilton and I have some matters to discuss."
The Captain stepped down to his cabin. Hamilton followed. Planks had been placed temporarily over the smashed stern window, and with only the skylight windows and a few lamps the great cabin was gloomier than usual. The lack of illumination was perhaps for the best, Hamilton suddenly realized, as he looked around at the deeply cut wood on the deck with traces of dried blood. The aft gun crews had been hardest hit by the raking shots.
"I trust you are feeling better, Mr. Hamilton."
"Yes, sir. Thank you, sir."
"You performed admirably in this action, Hamilton, and be assured that your name will be mentioned in my dispatches. The butcher's bill would have been significantly higher if you hadn't ordered the men to lie down between the guns."
"Thank you, sir. I only did my duty, sir."
"Of course. It pains me to report that Mr. Galloway was struck down."
"Yes, sir. I was sorry to hear that."
"Now. This Mr. Van Schoonhoven." Baynes stretched out the Dutchman's name. "You are familiar with him?"
"Yes, sir. He was the English representative in Tunis. Or, I suppose he still is, sir, as far as I know."
"Do you trust him?"
"Well, sir..." Van Schoonhoven had lied to him before. The mission to Tunis had been entwined with an internal power struggle in that city, something the Dutchman had neglected to mention when he arrived in that city. But perhaps, Hamilton thought, and not for the first time, that those omissions had been for justifiable reasons. Hamilton didn't like Van Schoonhoven, but the Dutchman had not deceived him out of spite or merely for personal gain.
"I think so, sir."
"Hmm." Baynes did not look happy. "He has in his possession a coded letter which is referenced in a set of sealed order I received from Sir Richard. Therefore, though with some reservations, I feel compelled to take Mr. Van Schoonhoven at his word. This means that you, Mr. Hamilton, have new orders." Baynes pulled out a chart and pointed to a location south of Sicily. "We are presently almost forty leagues from Palermo. You are to escort Lady Dunsbrooke on the Tigress and deliver her to the court of King Ferdinand."
"Lady Dunsbrooke has, apparently, arranged for this Tunisian brig-sloop to meet her off the coast of Gibraltor. There were delays, I am inferring, and so she took passage with us in hopes of meeting her at sea. Sir Richard had informed me of the possibility of an encounter with a small vessel flying a certain private number. Mr. Van Schoonhoven's brig was displaying those flags and so I am directed to transfer Lady Dunsbrooke to this sloop."
"Yes, sir. I will direct that presently."
"There is more, Mr. Hamilton," said Baynes as he picked up the canvas packet which had held his sealed orders. "Somewhat to my surprise, I am required to have you accompany her. Your presence is deemed essential, which I presume is due to your familiarity with this Tunisian design."
"Me? Uh, yes, sir."
"In yet another twist to this affair a second set of sealed orders was included in the first." He handed Hamilton a single double folded sheet with a bright red seal. "These are not to be opened until you are aboard that vessel. I have no idea why, in their wisdom, the Admiralty has seen fit to add these layers of secrecy, but there they are, and while I am not going to speculate on the nature of your commission, I suspect it is more complex that a simple cruise of forty leagues."
"Yes, sir. I understand, sir, and I will, of course, carry out my orders." Hamilton touched the bandage on his head, then quickly pulled his hand down. "However, if I might sir --"
"Ask why? Why has this woman contacted a Turkish sloop? I have no answers for you, Mr. Hamilton, other than to tell you that it is entangled with the business of the Foreign Office. Perhaps you will be enlightened when you read your orders."
"Yes, sir." The initial excitement of being given a command, however small the vessel, was suddenly eclipsed by a dread. After taking Katherine to Sicily he would return to Gibraltor, and from there to England, where he would be put ashore at half-pay until he could find a berth on another ship. If he could find one. "Sir, will it be possible for me to rejoin the Ariadne on my return from Palermo?"
"I hope you will, Mr. Hamilton, though I am not sure we will to cross paths. With this diplomatic mission no longer my direct concern, the Ariadne will be bending a course north towards Sardinia. However, as with everything in war, all is subject to change once we encounter the enemy."
"Of course, sir. I understand." Hamilton touched his hat. "It has been an honor to serve with you, Captain Baynes, and I do hope that I can return to the Ariadne quickly."