A face he would not forget .. the corsair’s promise. His sword nicked at the skin of Mitchell’s extended neck. Chin forced up, throat exposed.
This was it. Mitchell bit on his lower lip. Steeling himself .. for the worst. All it would take. One sideways thrust. Slicing open his throat. Gasping for air. Choking on blood. The end.
“You are right, though …… captain ……”
The way the pirate had hesitated before giving their captain his due title .. not one of the sailors could miss the tone. Putting the American officer down. Captain of nothing anymore. Prisoner himself, captive .. to be ransomed off. But at least, not a slave! Not like the rest of his crew.
“This pig must be disciplined.”
The pirate was sliding the tip of his sword down the length of Mitchell’s broad front. Keeping contact with taut skin every inch of the way. Down through the bony valley between solid plates of hardness on his chest. Snicking at the skin as it crossed from bone to the defined muscle in Mitchell’s upper belly. Down, moving with perilous slowness down one row of etched belly muscle to the next. The pirate’s eyes watching the threat of sharp steel travelling riskily over taut knotted muscle.
Mitchell had tensed his belly. He knew he’d stopped breathing. Hearing the nervousness thudding in his ear. Expecting at any moment a sudden thrust. Muscles contracted more when steel reached his belly button. It stopped there. Giving a slight inward pressure. A warning.
Now the pirate’s eyes were back on his. Mitchell was all tension. The tip of the sword threatening his gut. A stomach wound .. he knew, one of the worse kind. A long time dying. A long time knowing you were dying. His nerves flared. He bit on his bottom lip. Tension rigid in the strong muscles of his neck.
Even at this point of impending death, it angered him that the pirate seemed to be searching his face for signs of fear. Mitchell did not want to die. He wasn’t ready to die .. too young, too much to live for. But damn it! He wasn’t going to show it! That anger flooded the nervous fluttering in his gut. Swamping his fears. Angered that the pirate thought he could command Mitchell to fear. He WAS scared. But like hell was he going to grovel to this heathen. Look frightened? Give this fool the satisfaction? That he could make Mitchell piss in his pants? Like hell!
He stared back. He glared, strong. Feeling that steel cold against his skin. Feeling the pressure pushing into the muscle of his belly. Knowing it was going to take just one shove .. stabbed in the belly .. slowly bleeding to death. Painfully dying.
“Put this dog to the mast.”
The pirate hissed out his command. The tone was more for his contempt for the infidel dog who dared return his look. But his men jumped to and quickly had Mitchell facing the mast. His top was off in the blink of an eye. Rope appeared as from nowhere, one wrist deftly looped with tight rope. Hands slammed him between the shoulder blades. His chest thudded into the hard wood as his arms were wrapped around .. hands tied together behind the mast, his arms pulled tight .. pinning his chest immovable to the mast.
Mitchell twisted his head over at the captain’s words. He saw a burly corsair step forward .. big-chested, brawny and muscular. He joined the pirate captain by the mast. Mitchell could feel his heart pounding in his chest .. thudding into the mast. But his features were going to betray nothing of such fears.
“Tell this .. captain .. what a slave gets who gives his betters a bad look …..”
Mitchell saw the pirate lieutenant shrug his shoulders. With a curl of his lip for the infidel captain they had taken so easily, this Hassan sneered.
“Ten. Ten lashes. At least.”
Mitchell steeled himself. He’d heard his sentence. Ten. He could bear that. He’d seen his own captain discipline a sailor with much worse. And that self-same sailor had lived through the ordeal. He was still serving on this ship. Mitchell would survive ten lashes.
Mitchell caught a turn of the pirate’s attention. Looking Mitchell straight in the face.
“And a slave who raises a hand against his handler …..?”
The pirate’s cold glare reminded Mitchell he had done more than glare back in defiance. He had raised his hand against this corsair captain. More than ten, then? Mitchell had earned himself more than ten lashes.
“For the sake of these slaves …….”
The corsair captain turned his gaze of the ship’s crew .. stood around, disarmed .. surrounded by Barbary corsairs. The corsair captain’s newly captured slaves. Because their own captain had given in without much of a fight. Prisoners of Barbary corsairs .. condemned to being sold into slavery. The pirate’s gaze traversed the assembled crew. His freshly acquired slaves.
“ .. so that these pigs know what will become of them .. for any indiscipline …..”
The pirate captain’s gaze slowly encompassed the whole crew. Demanding their attention. Getting it.
“If one of these slaves is undisciplined enough .. if one of them raises his hand against a handler ….. “
The corsair returned his gaze to Mitchell trapped against the mast. Top off, muscular back prepared.
“ ….. tell this scum what they can expect .. for raising a hand against their betters.”
Hassan paused. Mitchell could see he was enjoying his moment. Invited into joining his captain’s little theatrical games.
“Fifty. Laid on good-and-hard. Fifty lashes.”
Internally Mitchell gulped. His punishment had escalated. But then he saw the pirate captain was not finished with him. Unexpectedly he grabbed Mitchell by the hair. He tugged his head backwards. Forcing Mitchell to look up at the top of the mast.
“AND .. supposing .. just supposing ……”
The hand in Mitchell’s hair twisted. A grimace slashed at his mouth. But he knew this was a signal. Whatever came next ….. that was meant for him.
“Let’s say the impossible happens? What about if …..? Hassan tell us …..”
Mitchell saw through all the play-acting. He knew his nerves were being toyed with. Dragging it out. But still every nerve in his body was screaming to know what the captain was going to ask.
“Let’s say a slave threatens his master’s life?”
Mitchell heard the pirate captain snort.
“IMPOSSIBLE .. I know. But …. Let’s just suppose ……”
There was a added scoff in the grip that sharply twisted in Mitchell’s hair. Making him grimace with the pain.
“Could a SLAVE be that dumb? To attack his master? He’d have to be an idiot ……”
The hand in Mitchell’s scalp tugged hard back. Have I got your attention, cur, it asked?
“But .. just supposing .. if some dumb-assed slave raised a hand? Threatened his master’s life?”
The tug had Mitchell’s head right back. Staring at the sky. This was HIS moment. Sentencing.
“How many lashes THEN?”