Chapter Two – Picked on
His shipmates came true. The heathens had kept Mitchell at the mast .. blackmail for good behaviour from the crew. The belt hadn’t fallen across his stinging back again. Mitchell had to believe his mates had done him that favour. Saved him from further beatings. Saved his life.
He felt guilty. It was because of him they were being herded down into the hold of the corsairs’ ship .. into the “slave quarters” .. not too appealing even for sailors used to cramped conditions on a naval warship.
Submissively they’d shuffled along .. because of him. Meekly to save his hide .. docile they’d crossed over the gangway. Tamely delivered themselves into the slavers’ hands. On the other hand …. What damned choice did they have, anyway?
Their own captain had sold them down the river. At least there was a loyalty among the crew. Mitchell’s heart swelled with gratitude. The crew had been steadfast to their shipmate.
“Not you, pig. That way.”
Mitchell had been released from the mast. Stuck there while his shipmates were shepherded past him into slavery. His back, sore and aching, throbbed in unison with his pulse .. spontaneous spasms seemingly criss-crossing the painful tracks burned into his broad back. His ropes released, his muscles screamed when he lowered his arms. He couldn’t see the damage. He wanted to believe it was only bruising .. that his own precious belt hadn’t ripped the skin open on his back. But he was relieved to grab his top and sling it back on before a pair of pirates shoved him towards the gangway .. moving him also over to the slave quarters on the pirates’ ship. Oddly, perhaps misplaced pride .. but he was glad to have his top back on, didn’t want his kind shipmates to see close-up the damage to his back.
His mates were roughly shoved aside to let him through. They’d been shuffling in a slow line of crestfallen men transferring from their naval ship to the pirate’s hold. From the naval vessel of a free nation into the slave quarters of savage pirates. Animals who had shown they’d stop at nothing. In dismay edging slowly forward. Slowed by the pace of men in front going down the steps into the bowels of pirate’s ship. Down steep steps into the stinking cramped darkness where these damned corsairs transported their slaves.
But it seemed Mitchell’s path lay in another direction.
“You stupid, pig? You deaf? THAT way.”
The Arab sailor who’d stopped Mitchell was pointing away. Not down into the hold. Not joining his mates. Mitchell’s gaze followed the corsair’s finger. Seeing rows of dejected men seated at their oars. Pointed him to join the galley slaves. In an instant his mates reacted. Defensively. Not wanting their friend separated. He’d gone through enough, they’d saved him.
But Mitchell saw the risk. If his shipmates resisted, the pirates would set about them. Any resistance would needlessly put them in danger. And …. that pirate had warned the crew .. Mitchell’s sentence still stood. The whipping would be reinstated!
Quickly he gestured them caution. Showing them .. this was OK by him. Indicating his willingness, he’d do as ordered. Spreading his arms out conciliatory. Better than getting strung up against the mast again .. that death sentence carried out. Reassuring his kind mates .. they’d done enough .. they’d saved him. Nodding. He’d go with this. It was OK by him.
Right now, hurting like hell, nothing he’d have liked better than the company of his mates. Even down in the cramped stench below decks. The comfort of old friends .. sharing this shame .. steeling themselves for the miseries that lay ahead. But the pirates were keeping him separate. All the more to keep up the pressure on the crew. They give any trouble .. the threat of their shipmate’s screams from the mast would be ringing in their ears. Mitchell would have liked their company. But he’d go for staying alive.
He reckoned anyway .. this was going to be his life from now on. All of them, all his shipmates .. galley-slaves, the lot of them. Or worse. So what if Mitchell was going to start his degradation a few days before the rest?
Made to abandon his shipmates, isolated from them, with heavy heart Mitchell walked down the centre aisle. Between row after row of well-built backs .. every single one of them black. Men whose bodies had been built up by punishing hard work. A lifetime of their upper bodies hauling on the oars. All bare to the waist. Most clad in just a few rags. And every back he passed bore the tell-tale marks of the slavemaster .. his whip encouraging more effort out of straining slave-muscle.
The faces that met his showed interest .. a white man, a stranger. Curious. But worryingly Mitchell read in those features a resignation. Whatever fire had lit up their lives before, it had been put out. Row-after-row of acquiescent bodies. Well-built, manful, strong. But not an ounce of manly fire in any of them. Muscular but unmanned. Was he looking his future in the face?