Drawing the Veil
By Stevie Woods
The exciting prequel to Beyond the Veil! Read how the young Malik was torn from his lover, Robert, and how he was forced into a life of pain, fear and violence following his capture by the Corsairs until he became the pirate captain who attacked the Windjammer!
Malik felt the pirate’s arm tighten around his chest even as the man’s other arm wrapped around his neck, tightening across Malik’s throat as the pirate forced his head back. He was totally immobilized and could hardly breathe, but he struggled to keep his eyes focused on the water beyond the opposite railing, praying.
Suddenly a large black man broke the water, a young slender man held close against his body. Malik’s eyes closed for a second and he felt utter relief. He soon opened them again to confirm what he had seen, gaze straining at the distance between him and the small figures in the roiling sea.
Not wishing to draw the pirate’s attention to his friends, Malik kept his reactions internal. Robert was so pale he looked half-dead, but Malik knew that when Aram had jumped into the water Robert had been very much alive, shouting in frustrated anger and thumping at his friend’s body. Malik sagged a little in his captor’s grip as he saw Robert coughing and retching, Aram holding him firmly above the waves. He was grateful that the pirates were too busy on board the captured ship to bother to look over the side into the sea.
Malik was aware that Robert hadn’t wanted to leave him behind, but he had been trapped on the other side of the deck. Whatever else Aram was, he was completely loyal to Robert Charteris and Malik knew he would do everything in his power to keep Robert safe. For that, Malik would be eternally grateful.
Even though it meant abandoning him to the Barbary pirates.
Malik felt tears pricking his eyes but he wouldn’t let the bastards believe he was afraid of them and he stubbornly forced the tears back. As useless as he knew it probably was, he renewed his struggles and only stopped when the pirate pressed his arm so brutally against Malik’s throat again that his vision began to darken.
“Be still!” Malik heard the pirate’s words as if from a distance. “I’d rather keep you alive, don’t make me kill you,” the man snarled at him and being no fool, Malik let his body go limp.
A deep voice boomed out, cutting across the noise on deck. “Sweep the dregs overboard, line up the rest.”
It didn’t take long for the pirates to dispose of the dead. Though Malik could not be certain, he thought they might have finished off a couple of badly injured sailors before throwing them into the sea with the rest of the dead. The ship had been damaged and even to Malik’s inexperienced eye it was obvious it was sinking. The ships had been grappled together when the pirates had attacked. Now a wide plank dropped onto the deck of the English ship so the prisoners could be quickly herded across onto the Corsair ship.
Malik was dragged over to the centre of the main deck and shoved into line with the other survivors. The passengers were mixed up with the crew as they were gathered together. As far as he knew only Robert and Aram had escaped from among the passengers. However, he had seen the body of Mr. Holmes lying crumpled up near the steps to the upper deck where he had fallen. It had been chilling to see a sword slice into the man as he tried to keep his teenage son safe; but it had perhaps been more chilling to watch as the poor man’s corpse was unceremoniously dumped into the sea along with the dead sailors, Corsair fallen along with the English dead.
Malik glanced over to where young Ernest Holmes now huddled, arms wrapped around himself, pale and shaking, gaze darting from one pirate to the next. Malik wished he could do something to comfort the boy but there were half a dozen men between Malik and Ernest. Most of them were sailors who were older than he was, let alone young Ernest, yet no one seemed to think about comforting the lad whose father had just been murdered in front of him. It seemed that only the few ladies on board were considered worthy of that kind thought. Perhaps it was his own recent abandonment, as necessary as it had been, but at that moment Malik admitted to himself that he wouldn’t have refused a little comfort if it were offered. With that thought in mind, he edged backwards a step behind the man next to him and then moved slowly but steadily towards the lad.
He had almost reached the boy, his hand snaking out to touch Ernest’s arm, when a sharp voice demanded, “And where do you think you’re going?”
A large hand shot out and grabbed Malik by the shoulder and yanked him forward. He looked up into one of the ugliest faces he had ever seen; it was a pity that Malik had seen him before when he had forced Malik’s head back with his arm across his throat. His had been the last face Malik saw before his sight dimmed. Not a nice sight, he mused, when it might have been his last.
“Captain, I think you might find this one of interest,” the pirate said in a particularly snide voice.
A man approached, swathed almost completely in dark green robes edged with silver thread. His veil trailed across his shoulder so his face was visible and the scar cutting across his face from lower left jaw to just below his left eye lent his visage a cruel air. He was not as tall as Malik but he was of a heavier build. His eyes were dark, and Malik got the distinct impression the darkness was more than merely the colour of his pupils, it was a darkness of his soul.
Malik wondered at his own fanciful thoughts, thinking Robert would have laughed at him. Robert. God, did he even still live? Aram had taken a terrible risk leaping into the sea like that, but he had sworn never to allow himself to be taken for a slave again. The ex-slave had tasted freedom again during the last few years and had preferred to jump into the sea, trusting he could find a way to survive. He entrusted his life and that of his charge to the waters—probably hoping to find a piece of wreckage from their vessel to cling to—rather than risk being enslaved once more.
Slavery, that was to be Malik’s future now. A fact he hadn’t really faced until that moment.
Malik hissed sharply as the captain grabbed a handful of his hair and yanked him further forward, away from the other prisoners. The captain roughly spun Malik around, looking him up and down from every angle. Malik almost fell before the captain grabbed him again and he was turned to face him. Malik became acutely aware of the gleam in his captor’s eyes and he was suddenly afraid for another reason entirely. The captain grinned and turned to the pirate who had captured Malik.
“Take him to my cabin, Ali. Secure him.”
“Aye, Reis,” the pirate acknowledged his captain, even as he took Malik’s arm. “Jabbar,” he called and another pirate approached, pulling a thin cord from his sash as he did so. The pirate tied Malik’s wrists together and pulled him forward by the rope, forcing him to stumble along as quickly as he could. Jabbar followed on behind, giving Malik a push to hurry him along, and Malik was totally unnerved and confused by what was happening.
Malik was dragged below deck and chivvied along to the stern where the captain’s cabin was located.
“Hurry boy, the captain needs us,” the one called Ali snarled at him as if he could go any faster in the narrow space.
When they finally reached the narrow door, Ali kicked it open and shoved Malik inside ahead of him, still keeping a grip on the twist of rope binding his wrists together. The rope had already rubbed the skin and Malik was convinced that if they kept jerking him around by the cord, his wrists would soon be bleeding. It seemed odd that his thoughts still dwelt on such simple problems when his whole life was falling apart.
He was shocked as a pair of hands clamped onto his waist and Malik went rigid.
“Ready?” Jabbar asked his colleague and Ali just grunted assent.
Ready for what? Malik panicked as a lump settled in his stomach.