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The Lass and Cutlass

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Elisabeth Leyser, the Unwilling Corsair [Mar. 25th, 2004|11:10 pm]
The Lass and Cutlass
Here it is. Not too good, but hey, I tried.

1647, the Mediterranean.

“Allah smiles upon thieves,” the Macedonian said, chucking her under the chin and giving her earlobe a cruel twist.

Elisabeth Leyser, clad in greasy overshirt and loose trousers, tore away from him and scuttled off on raw bare feet. She knew enough of the Turkish tongue to grasp what he was saying, but it was the way the Macedonian said it that frightened her. During the six months she had been among the galley’s crew, he had watched her jealously, ready to kick her and pinch where it hurt: the upper arm, the nape of the neck. She had bruises all over her scrawny body.

But she was lucky, of course, and she never forgot that.

She paused for the merest moment to watch the brown, scarred backs of a line of oarsmen and the play of muscles under their skin. The Macedonian’s words rung in her mind like a cracked gong, and she translated them into English with a terrible effort, moving her lips silently. Already English seemed strange to her.

God smiles upon thieves. It must be so, she thought. How else? These men are alive, and my father is dead.

It was a hollow feeling in her chest, now.

“What are you doing here, boy?” said Ghazali. He had a well-trimmed beard (used a pretty buskin, his pride and joy), a countenance that might have been handsome had it possessed a whole nose and not the purplish pattern of new scar tissue beside the hairy lump of mangled flesh in the middle of his face. Sometimes he shared his rations with her. But he had done has the others had with the women of the merchant sloop they had captured only half a month ago. There had been a Dutch girl of no more than thirteen, the captain’s daughter. There had been the captain’s wife, and the grey-faced, thickset wife of one of the seamen. Only the last had survived the journey to Algiers—perhaps to her sorrow.

Elisabeth had survived, too. And meant to yet.

Under a veneer of careful eagerness to please, Elisabeth had a fiery determination to survive.

“Nothing wrong, sir,” she said, ducking her head respectfully and hunching her shoulders. Turkish came rather easy now, but she hesitated prettily when hesitation was the proper course.

She had not hesitated when they had boarded the sloop. She had fought as fiercely then as the rest of them. She had killed a man—a boy, really, not much older than she. She wore his shirt, and would have worn his shoes were they not too big. She rolled his britches into a ball at night and used them as a pillow. They still had the faint smell of human filth on them. She had scrubbed and scrubbed at the blood, the shit and the piss, but the smell still saturated them.

So at night she sometimes dreamt of her home, of her baby sister and their nurse Hannah who had slept beside them on stormy nights. Her warm body with the huge breasts to nestle into, her flat nose and wide grey eyes. Hannah leaned over with a candle in her hand to little Elisa, whispering hoarsely: “You’ve wet the bed again, Bess, you silly thing.” And Bess had. It had been warm, then cold, and Maria had wriggled away, squealing.

That was what she dreamed of, pillows and piss.