Separated from his mates. Joining the slaves at the oars. Isolated, thrown back on his own resources. No comradely smile. Not manly hug around his shoulder. Left to fight this out alone.
A place had been made for him. Slaves had been made to shove up along the bench. Freeing up a place for the new white-man galley-slave.
If they were grateful for the extra help .. if yard-wide shoulders pulling on the oars were going to make life easier for them .. the new slave saw not one flicker of appreciation. In the faces turned to him there was only depression. A lifelessness .. dismay all around him. Seated with the living dead.
The pirate indicated he wanted Mitchell’s sailor top. Hands gestured ordering him to get himself out of his shirt. It was stinking hot anyway, Mitchell reckoned .. what the hell!. He stripped it off. And anyway every other back here was marked with stripes from a whip. In a manly gesture .. deliberately provocative for the pirate .. knowing his muscular torso spoke for itself .. he wriggled out of the tight Marine uniform .. using the chance to show that getting singled-out had not got to him. Deliberately flexing muscle as he stripped. Broadening his shoulders. Sucking in his belly. Brazen defiance .. declaring that here was not a man you could get to that easily . He flexed his upper arm .. seemingly by accident. Insolence and stubbornness muscularly expressed through his body not with his mouth.
Then .. as his head popped around, he spotted that face again. Staring down at him. That corsair captain. The one he had taken on. Maybe he’d have fought him to a standstill if his own cowardly captain had not intervened …..
The corsair was leaning over the forecastle railing. Ostensibly he was overseeing the loading of a new batch of male slaves. But seeing only one thing. His new slave bald-facedly showing off. A muscular display saying he couldn’t be unsettled.
The coldness of the stare bored into the slave’s insolent show. He’d had him picked out. He’d ordered the fool picked on, separated from his mates. Now he saw the pig’s insolent spirit come back to life. He’d spared this damned infidel’s life .. in exchange for the crew making no trouble. He’d ordered him picked out .. to keep him under pressure. Condemned the pig to the slave bench, his back exposed to the slavemasters’ whips. And yet .. still this infidel was strutting his arrogance.
What met Mitchell’s gaze … a fiery glare .. directed at him. For a moment Mitchell remembered how close he had been to an abominable death. And still this Barbary captain was breathing down his neck. Ordered isolated. Singled-out.
He had escaped death by the skin of his teeth. But nothing in his being would let him look cowed. Proud, full of his manly sense of himself, perhaps recklessly Mitchell returned the corsair’s glare. He stood strong and unbent at his slave-bench. Topless. His confident manliness clear to see .. the muscular power of his body standing up to that glare.
Instinctively .. like fitting himself up for a fight behind the saloon back home .. his solid-packed stomach sucked in. Showing himself off. Shoulders back, broad muscle-hard chest out .. he stared back. Undeterred. His muscular body was speaking for itself. That and his glower back gave out the message. This struggle .. that attack back on the ship .. this was not over, not till he was free. Mitchell was not beaten. And he was not a man who gave in to intimidation.
His defiant posing got interrupted. The slavemaster indicating his footwear. The pirate handler wanted Mitchell’s shoes for himself. He bristled when the pirate shoved him .. pushing him down to the bench .. ordering him to lose his shoes. But what-the-heck! If he was to spend his life seated at these oars, what was he going to need shoes for? He just hoped they were too small .. that they’d pinch. Inside he smirked at that damned corsair cursing his shoes to hell.
Conscious his moves were being observed, Mitchell insolently threw his shoes for the eager pirate to catch. In the same instant he caught sight of the power of that hostile stare from above. Still that pirate captain was leaning over the railing. Looking straight at him. Boring his gaze aggressively at him. He’d seen the move. It hadn’t made him smile. The look icy-cold.
What was it he had said? Glaring down his sword .. stuck menacingly into Mitchell’s throat.
“This face .. I will not forget.”