Aleysha and the Pirates
Capt. Jack Sparrow: [to Elizabeth] “One word luv; curiosity. You long for freedom. You long to do what you want to do because you want it. To act on selfish impulse. You want to see what it’s like. One day you won’t be able to resist.”
Pirates of the Caribbean
One chapter has been omitted so far from the standard histories – that of the Barbary corsairs. The usual reason given for this is that since it deals with slavery, the subject is politically touchy. Yet there is another reason: the sheer scale of the story makes it hard to believe today, because it was not a single event but a drama that lasted two centuries.
Along the stretch of North African coast that is now Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya stood a series of well-fortified ports: Derne, Tunis, Tripoli, Tangiers, Salè or Sallee (Rabat), and most powerful, Algiers. From these bases, the corsairs soon ruled the western Mediterranean and routinely took Europeans captive for ransom. In 1585, Dorset’s MP, the Elizabethan courtier and sailor Sir Walter Raleigh, had reported English captives held for ransom on the Barbary Coast.
Altogether, an estimated 20,000 people would be snatched from the south coast of England – men, women and children. Most simply vanished, with no word as to their fate, but a few were ransomed by missionaries and returned to tell their tales. The men and boys were used mainly as galley slaves, around 200 per ship, chained to their oars till they died. The women and girls met a different fate, as servants or in the harems of the sultans or wealthy merchants.
(Taken from, and with special thanks to, ‘The Coming Of The Corsairs’ by David Stanton)
Almost 12 long months have passed since the events of this account took place. Only now can the full story of Aleysha’s latest adventure into the world of magic, myth and legend be told…….
The first full moon of autumn hung huge and low in the eastern sky. Silver beams of light shone brightly over the Amber Bay’s three tall wooden masts as her sails filled, billowed and cracked noisily in the night wind. The old wooden three-masted sailing ship was a Poulton trader and creaked as it rolled in the swell. High above, stars twinkled in the crisp clean air of the black night sky.
Captain Jack Thurnham was a merchant sailor from Sunderland Point. He had sailed his ship down across the bay and into Skippool that very day to pick up provisions at the local stores beside the creek in readiness for the voyage ahead. He and his crew were now ready to cast off on the full fast flowing high tide.
Aleysha has had a number of adventures but this one was very different from all the others – little did she know at the time that it would take her on a personal voyage of discovery, from the stinging drifting sands of Fleetwood’s shoreline to the baking hot desert sands of North Africa’s Barbary Coast.
Along Skippool Creek the warmth of the late Indian summer was coming to an end at last and there was the hint of a slight chill to the night air, so Aleysha was glad she was wearing her favourite pink fleece jumpsuit to keep her warm as she stepped carefully onto the deck.
Captain Jack welcomed young Aleysha aboard the Amber Bay and noticed that other than a small back-pack she had brought no luggage with her, but, tucked into the top of her suit were two little stuffed pink pigs, Peppa and George, their snouts poking out above the zip fastener. The ship slipped quietly away from the quay and out into the creek; frogs croaked a warning and in the moonlight dark bright eyes shone wildly, watching from the warren on the far bank. Aleysha was only just a tiny little bit scared but the Sandman swung his lantern to show that all was well.
A gaggle of geese winged their way overhead, invisible in the night sky but gabbling noisily on their annual migration flight southwards from snowbound Greenland and Iceland to the warmer climes and rich feeding grounds of the great tidal river estuaries along the west coast of England.
It was dark, the wooden deck was wet and slick from sea spray tossed up as the bow plunged into the next wave, ever onward. Aleysha held on tightly to the wooden rail while the experienced captain pointed out the lights of the ports ashore as they sailed quietly on down along the coastline through the night.
The Amber Bay stopped off in the port of Bristol to load more cargo and fill up the water barrels on deck in final preparation for the journey to Malta. Aleysha leaned on the rail watching and listening to the sounds of the old port; she looked around at the dozens of great wooden sailing ships bobbing at anchor as they were lined up bow to stern along the river below the cliffs of the Avon Gorge and she shuddered now as she thought of the infamous Bristol slavers.
Bristol is believed to be the place where Edward Teach – the infamous ‘Blackbeard’, one of the most famous British pirates, was born around the year 1680. He died in battle and is said to have had 14 wives.
Two days later they were crossing the Bay of Biscay.
The weather was kind. As the ship ploughed on through the waves, the crew shared their tales of pirates on the Spanish Main, around the islands of the Caribbean Sea. She listened, wide eyed, to the stories of a one-legged old sea-cook with a parrot on his shoulder who became one of the most famous pirates of all time. Other yarns were spun which told of buried treasure, Pieces of Eight and gold doubloons; Blackbeard, Bluebeard and Davy Jones’ locker.
Cap’n Jack told stories of even more pirates. John “Calico Jack” Rackham liked to wear brightly coloured clothing, and he is remembered for employing two female pirates: Anne Bonny from Ireland was said to be intelligent, attractive and quick-tempered. Mary Read from London joined Calico Jack’s crew and went on to become one of history’s most fearsome female pirates, she spent much of her time dressed as a man.
The crew sang songs of the sea and of their women folk waiting on the shore back at home. The line of one song in particular made Aleysha smile:
“Fifteen men on the dead man’s chest, yo ho ho and a bottle of rum”.
Aleysha told Cap’n Jack about her Grandad’s writings and the story of an adventure she had had a few years earlier with Draco the young river dragon. The captain laughed out loud at that story and he gave her a small sword as a present. For many hours on the voyage he taught Aleysha how to handle the weapon like a real pirate princess and she ran happily around the deck chasing dragons with her new plastic sword.
All was well on the voyage, and the crew was relaxed as their captain gave the order to change course and head east between the Pillars of Hercules and on in to the Mediterranean Sea, The great wooden wheel was turned, sails filled once again and the helm responded immediately as the ship moved from the cold grey rolling waters of the Atlantic Ocean into the warmer blue inland sea at the centre of the world.
On a Poulton trader: Mediterranean Sea, bound for Malta’s strand, 8th day of October – the day Aleysha’s life changed.
The Amber Bay was caught and boarded by a Moorish galley; there was no time for a warning. The battle was short and the outcome was clear. Only Aleysha was spared. A frightened Lancashire girl, plucked from hearth and home by a Barbary corsair, she was taken in chains and sold in a market in Tangiers.
The North African coastline was bathed in red in dawn’s early light as the merchants left the market square with their new slaves. Aleysha, with her bright blue eyes and long flowing golden hair was one of the youngest slaves and highly prized by Khimji the kind rich old Arab merchant who had bought her from the Barbary pirate.
Aleysha was taken on a journey southward through the hot desert sands. At night they stopped in a grove of flowering almond trees on the mountain slope and she shared the meal of fragrant couscous, bread, dates, walnuts, almonds and goats cheese, drinking glasses of hot sweet spearmint tea poured from an ornate metal pot. She slept in a tent.
Khimji spoke four languages: Arabic was his first language from his homeland of Oman far away to the east, Moroccan, some French, and a little bit of English so she was able to understand almost everything he said to her.
A celebration was in full swing when they arrived at Khimji’s house. Men in djellabas played drums, blew musical pipes and twanged strange looking instruments. Women in flowing black robes, dark eyes gleaming, hands hiding their mouths, sang wildly in high-pitched voices and they danced to the pulsing rhythms of the beat.
Aleysha was very lucky to be so well treated by Khimji and members of his household. A very fast learner, she learned to speak French. Dressed in the colourful flowing dresses of the local young girls she was soon able to prepare and cook spicy Moroccan food.
She watched in fascination as snake charmers performed in the garden; hooded cobras swaying slowly to the music of the pipes.
Although life seemed to be good for Aleysha, she was still a slave, and could not leave the house. At night she was locked in a tiny room furnished only with a small wooden cupboard and a rough lumpy mattress on the hard sand floor. She knew that she had to plan a way to escape and return to England.
Sayeed was one of the young boys in the household and he had grown very fond of Aleysha; when they were not working they would play together or sit and talk quietly to each other.
Aleysha remembered that in her adventure with the Witches of Wyre she had been given a magic box from the ancient past. She remembered the instructions from Netty, Annie and Rowena to keep it with her forever because inside the box was an invisible secret key which would open many doors for her in the future.
So now Aleysha had a key to unlock the door of her tiny room, but how could she return to England? The merchant would search for her in the desert, and the pirates still patrolled the coastline. Sayeed offered to help her and promised to come to the door of her room at four o’clock the next morning when everyone else would be fast asleep.
Aleysha did not see Sayeed at the evening meal, and after everything was cleared away she was locked in her room. She was worried now. What had happened to Sayeed? Had he told Khimji of her plan to escape? Had he been sent away?
He had gone to the souk in town where he knew an old man with long white hair and a pointy white beard. The wrinkled old man had a tiny one roomed shop down the darkest narrow alleyway and his little shop was full of brightly coloured rugs and carpets.
“I need small carpet please”, said Sayeed. “It has to be a special magic carpet for a very special friend of mine”.
“Ah, then let me see”, said the old man as he began pushing and shoving rolls of carpet around the store. “What about this one? This is my most special magic carpet.” He untied the string which was wrapped around the roll and laid the carpet flat on the floor.
On the carpet were bright pictures of moons, stars, pirate ships, swords, dragons, mermaids, witches hats, and little pink pigs.
“Perfect!” said Sayeed. “Can I buy it please?”
“Yes, of course you can.” the old man replied as he rolled up the carpet and re-tied the string.
Sayeed carried the roll in his arms as he walked back to Khimji’s household and he was surprised at just how light the carpet was. His fingers curled around the roll and he felt a tingling, vibrating sensation. He knew this really was a magic carpet.
He entered the house and moved silently along the darkened passage.
It was ten minutes past four in the morning as he scratched quietly on Aleysha’s door.
She was ready and waiting, why was Sayeed late?
Quickly she turned her invisible secret key in the lock and slowly opened the door. Sayeed entered her room and laid the carpet over the old mattress on the floor.
“What is that?” whispered Aleysha.
“It’s a magic carpet and it will take you all the way back to your home”, the boy replied.
“What do I have to do, how does it work?” she asked nervously.
“You have to sit on the carpet, hold on tight to the sides, stay very still, and make a wish of where you want it to take you. But hurry now, there is no time to lose”, answered Sayeed
“But what about you? Will you come with me?” she asked.
“No, I have to stay here. This is my home.”
“You have been so kind to me”, said Aleysha. “How can I ever thank you enough?”
“Just one kiss from you Aleysha, and a big hug, will be more than enough. Oh, and a promise that you will never forget me.”
“I promise,” Aleysha said as she sat down on the carpet, clutching the sides then, grabbing hold of Sayeed’s outstretched hand as a final thank you, she made her wish.
The carpet began to rise up from the mattress and she heard a soft almost silent humming sound. Very quickly she was flying high; riding the magic carpet out over the tree tops, across the desert sands.
The full moon was sinking in the western sky, shining brightly through Aleysha’s window as she woke up in the morning in her own bed and rubbed the sleep from her eyes.
Was it all really just a dream?
© Russ Morton 21/09/2014