on board the Calliope
I made a promise this week to a man I had every reason to fear, but who I now know was a friend.
This report, before God and for posterity, tells the story of two lovers whom the fates conspired against, but who are now forever united in the life hereafter.
Yasmeen was stolen from her home in Somalia when she was aged but less than twelve years old and became, first an odalisque and then a concubine to Selim Omar, a cousin to Sultan of the Ottoman Empire. She had lived in his harem for at least ten years, for she was my age when I first met her in Sicily.
She tried to warn us about Selim Omar and his wife Rabia, but we did not know how thoroughly the trap had been set. Our story is recorded elsewhere in this journal.
Given charge of Yasmeen’s care was a black eunuch by the name of Malik.
It is not known how or when their romance began, but when when my cousin and I were abducted, it was clear they were very much in love. But they did not speak of it. In fact, I had believed that Malik could not speak at all.
They hid their feelings so well, it was only my cousin Laura’s keen observation of people that revealed the truth to me.
If anyone else knew of the love between the concubine and the eunuch, it would mean death for them both.
And death did come, but it came in a way none of us expected.
Every woman in the harem knows her fate rests on the indulgence of her master. She may be ordered to provide entertainment, she may be ordered to service her master, or his guests.
The man may be generous or he may be cruel. But the worst fate of all is to be given away to such a man.
That was Yasmeen’s fate.
But this remarkable woman decided to take charge of her destiny in the most dramatic and deadly way possible. In doing so, she gave Laura and I our chance at freedom.
The account of mine and Laura’s escape from Al-Min is recorded in the blue journal if curious minds wish to know it. I will not go into it here, suffice to say that our escape from the palace itself could not have happened without Malik.
I am ashamed to admit of having been afraid of this man and to think of him as my oppressor when he too was as much a slave as any of us.
I will never forget his words – the first he had ever spoken:
“Do not let her name be forgotten.”
This will be her record, Yasmeen and Malik’s.
And for as long as Laura and I live, their names will never be forgotten.
Signed this day by
Her heart fell when she saw the flash of red of the eunuch’s uniform cross her line of sight. Kit saw it, too. He handed her his knife.
“Use it if you have to,” he whispered, “and if I tell you to run, do it and don’t look back.”
She accepted the weapon and watched him pull a second blade from his boot. They cautiously opened the door a little wider. Kit eased her towards a large rosemary bush, tall enough to hide them both. The way before them was clear now.
Kit sprinted and she followed. They nearly made it to the external gate when a large man stepped in front of them. Kit pulled up short, the knife in his hand a puny defense against the two scimitars now wielded by the giant advancing toward him.
“Malik!” The man stopped, startled. Sophia swept back her head covering so he could see her. The wicked blades in each hand lowered. Sophia moved forward to stand by Kit’s side. Anguish was writ large on Malik’s face, the expression of torment she’d witnessed in the harem having only increased. She hesitated only for a moment before stepping forward and resting a hand on his arm.
“I’m so sorry about Yasmeen. I know how much you loved her and I know how much she loved you. My cousin and I owe her a great debt. I only wish I knew how to repay her kindness. But we cannot stay.”
The eunuch’s eyes shimmered with unshed tears. He sheathed his blades. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see tension leaving Kit’s shoulders. Malik turned to Kit and said the first words she had ever heard him utter.
“Are you the man who records the stories of the tormented?”
Kit stood to attention. Malik held out his hand and, after a moment, the men clasped forearms. Sophia was conscious of the size difference between them. Malik could squeeze the life out of Kit if he so chose.
“Do not let her name be forgotten.”
“You have my vow. You will both be remembered.”
Malik turned his back to them then without a further word and walked towards the palace building. Kit wasted no time in pulling Sophia through the external gate. And as they went through, she heard Malik’s loud cry of anguish. Tears streamed down her own face.
Bluestocking Sophia Green’s future is uncertain. Orphaned as a child and raised by the wealthy Cappleman family, she has become the companion to her attractive younger cousin, Laura, while harboring to her breast an unrequited love for Laura’s diffident brother.
Sea captain Kit Hardacre’s past is a mystery – even to him. Kidnapped by Barbary Coast pirates at the age of 10, he does not remember his parents or even his real name. All he recalls are things he would rather forget.
When Laura’s reputation is threatened by a scandal, Sophia suggests weathering the storm in Sicily with their elderly uncle, a prominent archaeologist.
Their passage to Palermo is aboard Hardacre’s ship, but the Calliope, like its captain, is not all it seems. Both have only one mission – to rid the world of the evil pirate slaver Kaddouri or die in the attempt.
Initially disdainful of the captain’s devil-may-care attitude, Sophia can’t deny a growing attraction. And Kit begins to see in her a woman who could help him forget the horrors of his past.
Sophia allows herself to be drawn into the shallows of Kit’s world, but when the naive misjudgment of her cousins sees Laura abducted, Sophia is dragged into dangerous depths that could cost her life or her sanity in a living hell.
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