Corsair, p.1Clive Cussler
DIRK PITT ® ADVENTURES BY CLIVE CUSSLER
Raise the Titanic !
The Mediterranean Caper
WITH DIRK CUSSLER
Treasure of Khan
KURT AUSTIN ADVENTURES BY CLIVE CUSSLER
WITH PAUL KEMPRECOS
OREGON FILES ADVENTURES BY CLIVE CUSSLER
WITH JACK DU BRUL
WITH CRAIG DIRGO
OTHER FICTION BY CLIVE CUSSLER
NONFICTION BY CLIVE CUSSLER AND CRAIG DIRGO
The Sea Hunters The Sea Hunters II
Clive Cussler and Dirk Pitt Revealed
“…that it is founded on the Laws of their Prophet, that it is written in their Koran, that all nations who should not have acknowledged their authority were sinners, that it is their right and duty to make war upon them wherever they could be found, and to make slaves of all they could take as Prisoners, and that every Musselman who should be slain in Battle are sure to go to Paradise.”
—Thomas Jefferson’s testimony to the Continental Congress explaining the justification given to him by the Barbary ambassador to England, Sidi Haji Abdul Rahman Adja , concerning their preying on Christian ships, 1786
“We ought not to fight them at all unless we determine to fight them forever.”
—John Adams on the Barbary pirates , 1787
THE BAY OF TRIPOLI FEBRUARY 1803
No sooner had the squadron sighted the fortified walls of the Barbary capital than a storm struck suddenly, forcing the ketch Intrepid and the larger brig Siren back out into the Mediterranean. Through his spyglass, Lieutenant Henry Lafayette, the Siren’s First Officer, had just by chance spotted the towering masts of the USS Philadelphia, the reason the two American warships had ventured so close to the pirates’ lair.
Six months earlier, the forty-four-gun Philadelphia had chased a Barbary corsair too close to Tripoli’s notoriously treacherous harbor and grounded in the shallow shoals. At the time, the frigate’s captain, William Baimbridge, had done all he could to save his ship, including heaving her cannons over the side, but she was hard aground, and high tide was hours away. Under threat of a dozen enemy gunboats, Baimbridge had no choice but to strike the colors and surrender the massive warship to the Bashaw of Tripoli. Letters from the Dutch Consul residing in the city reported that Baimbridge and his senior officers were being treated well, but the fate of the Philadelphia’s crew, like that of most others who fell to the Barbary pirates, was slavery.
It was decided among the American commanders of the Mediterranean fleet that there was no hope of recapturing the Philadelphia and sailing her out of the harbor, so they determined she would burn instead. As to the fate of her crew, through intermediaries it was learned that Tripoli’s head of state was amenable to releasing them for a cash settlement, totaling some half a million dollars.
For centuries, the pirates of the Barbary Coast had raided all along Europe’s coastline, rampaging as far north as Ireland and Iceland. They had pillaged entire towns and carried captives back to North Africa, where the innocents languished as galley slaves, laborers, and, in the case of the more attractive women, as concubines in the various rulers’ harems. The wealthiest captives were given the chance to be ransomed by their friends and family, but the poor faced a lifetime of drudgery and anguish.
In order to protect their merchant fleets, the great naval powers of England, Spain, France, and Holland paid exorbitant tributes to the three principal cities of the Barbary Coast—Tangiers, Tunis, and Tripoli—so the raiders would not attack their vessels. The fledgling United States, having been under the protection of the Union Jack until independence, also paid a tribute of nearly one-tenth her tax revenue to the potentates. That all changed when Thomas Jefferson took office as the third President, and he vowed that the practice would cease immediately.
The Barbary States, sensing a bluff by the young democracy, declared war.
Jefferson replied by dispatching an armada of American ships.
The very sight of the frigate Constitution convinced the Emperor of Tangiers to release all American sailors in his custody and renounce his demand for tribute. In return, Commodore Edward Preble returned to him the two Barbary merchant ships he’d already captured.
The Bashaw of Tripoli wasn’t so impressed, especially when his sailors captured the USS Philadelphia and renamed her Gift of Allah. Having taken one of America’s capital ships, the Bashaw felt emboldened by his success and rebuffed any attempt at negotiation, save the immediate payment of his tribute. There was little concern on the Americans’ part that the Barbary pirates would be able to sail the square-rigged ship and use her as a corsair, but the thought of a foreign flag hanging from her jack staff was enough to gall even the most novice seaman.
For five days after the Americans espied the Philadelphia, protected by the one hundred and fifty guns of Tripoli’s inner harbor, the skies and seas raged in a battle as fierce as any aboard the two warships had seen. Despite the best efforts of their captains, the squadron became separated and drifted far to the east.
As bad as it was aboard the Siren, First Officer Lafayette couldn’t imagine what the crew of the Intrepid faced during the tempest. Not only was the ketch much smaller than his ship, coming in at a mere sixty-four tons, but until the previous Christmas the Intrepid had been a slave ship called Mastico. She’d been captured by the Constitution, and when her holds were inspected the Americans discovered forty-two black Africans chained below. They were to be a gift of tribute to the Sultan in Istanbul from Tripoli’s Bashaw.
No amount of lye could mask the stench of the human misery.
The storm finally abated on February twelfth, but it wasn’t until the fifteenth that the two ships rendezvoused at sea and made their way back to Tripoli. That night, Captain Stephen Decatur, the squadron commander, convened a war council aboard the plucky little Intrepid. Henry Lafayette, along with eight heavily armed seamen, rowed over to join him.
“So you get to wait out the storm in comfort and now come aboard looking for glory, eh?” Decatur teased, reaching out to give Lafayette a hand over the low gunwale. He was a handsome, broad-shouldered man, with thick dark hair and captivating brown eyes, who wore the mantle of command easily.
“Wouldn’t miss it for the world, sir,” Lafayette replied. Though the two men shared the same rank, were the same age, and had been friends since their midshipmen days, Lafayette deferred to Decatur as the squadron commander and captain of the Intrepid.
Henry was as tall as Decatur but had the slender build of a master fencer. His eyes were so dark they appeared black, and in the native garb he had donned as a disguise he cut as dashing a figure as the legendary pirate they hoped to one day face, Suleiman Al-Jama. Born in Quebec, Lafayette had crossed into Vermont as soon as he turned sixteen. He wanted to be part of America’s experiment in democracy. He already spoke passable English, so he anglicized his first name from Henri and became an American citizen. He joined the Navy after a decade working the timb
There were eighty men crammed onto the sixty-foot ketch, though only a few wore disguises. The rest were to hide behind her gunwale or wait in the hold when the Intrepid sailed past the stone breakwater and into Tripoli’s principal anchorage.
“Henry, I’d like you to meet Salvador Catalano. He’s going to be our pilot once we near the harbor.”
Catalano was thickset and swarthy, with a massive bush of a beard that spread across his chest. His head was covered with a filthy linen turban, and in his belt was stuck a wickedly curved knife with a red semiprecious stone set into its pommel.
“I assume he didn’t volunteer,” Lafayette whispered to Decatur as he moved to shake the pilot’s hand.
“Cost us a king’s ransom, he did,” Decatur retorted.
“Pleased to meet you, Mr. Catalano,” Henry said, grasping the Maltese’s greasy palm. “And on behalf of the crew of the USS Siren, I want to thank you for your brave service.”
Catalano threw a wide, gap-toothed grin. “The Bashaw’s corsairs have raided my ships enough times that I thought this is fitting revenge.”
“Good to have you with us,” Lafayette replied absently. His attention was already on his new, temporary home.
The Intrepid’s two masts stood tall, but several of her stays sagged, and the sails she presented to the wind were salt-crusted and oft-patched. Though her deck had been scrubbed with both lye and stones, a fetid miasma rose from the oak timbers. Henry’s eyes swam with the stench.
She was armed with only four small carronades, a type of naval cannon that slid on tracks mounted to the deck rather than rolling backward on wheels when fired. The men of the raiding party lay sprawled where they could find space on the deck, each with a musket and sword within easy reach. Most still looked like they were suffering the aftereffects of the five-day storm.
Henry grinned at Decatur. “Hell of a command you have here, sir.”
“Aye, but she’s mine. To the best of my knowledge, Mr. Lafayette, no one has yet called you captain in all your years of service.”
“True enough”—Lafayette threw a smart salute—“Captain.”
Another night would pass before the winds picked up enough for the Intrepid to make her approach on Tripoli. Through a brass telescope, Decatur and Lafayette watched the walled city slowly emerge from the vast, trackless desert. Spread along the high defensive wall and sprouting from the ramparts of the Bashaw’s castle were more than a hundred and fifty guns. Because of the seawall, called the mole, which stretched across the anchorage, they could see only the tops of the Philadelphia’s three masts.
“What do you think?” Decatur asked Henry, whom he had appointed his First Officer for the attack. They stood shoulder to shoulder behind the Maltese pilot.
Henry looked up at the Intrepid’s spread of canvas and at the wake trailing behind the little ketch. He judged their speed to be four knots. “I think if we don’t slow down we are going to enter the harbor long before sunset.”
“Should I order the topsail and jib reefed, Captain?” asked Salvador Catalano.
“It’s best we do. The moon’s going to be bright enough later on.”
Shadows lengthened until they began to merge, and the last of the sun’s rays set over the western horizon. The ketch entered Tripoli Bay and began closing in on the imposing walls of the Barbary city. The rising crescent moon made the stones of the mole, fortress, and the Bashaw’s castle gleam eerily, while the black gun emplacements dotting the fortifications exuded an air of menace. Peeking over the wall was the thin silhouette of a minaret, from which the men on the Intrepid had just heard the call to prayer moments before sundown.
And at anchor directly below the castle lay the USS Philadelphia. She appeared in good shape, and the Americans could see that her once-discarded cannons had been salvaged and refitted in her gunports.
The sight of her sent conflicting emotions through Henry Lafayette. He was stirred by her beautiful lines and sheer size, while his anger boiled at the thought of the Tripolian flag hanging over her stern and the knowledge that her three-hundred-and-seven-man crew were hostages in the Bashaw’s prison. He would like nothing more than for Decatur to order his men to swarm the castle and free the prisoners, but he knew that command would never come to pass. Commodore Preble, the commander of the entire Mediterranean squadron, had made it clear that he wouldn’t risk the Barbary pirates getting more American prisoners than they already had.
Clustered around the harbor and tied along the breakwater were dozens of other ships, lateen-rigged merchantmen and rakish pirate craft bristling with cannons. Lafayette stopped counting after twenty.
A new emotion tightened his chest. Fear.
If things didn’t go as planned, the Intrepid would never make it back out of the harbor, and every man aboard her would be dead—or, worse, a prisoner destined for slavery.
Henry’s mouth was suddenly dry, and the countless hours he’d trained with his cutlass seemed not nearly enough. The pair of mismatched .58 caliber flintlock pistols tucked into the sash he’d wound around his waist felt puny. Then he glanced down at the sailors hiding behind the Intrepid’s gunwales. Armed with axes, pikes, swords, and daggers, they looked to be as bloodthirsty as any Arab pirate. They were the finest men in the world, volunteers all, and he knew they would carry the day. A midshipman was moving among them, making certain the squad leaders had their lamps lit and their lengths of whale-oil fuse ready.
He again looked to the Philadelphia. They were close enough now to see a trio of guards standing at her rail, their curved scimitars plainly visible. But with the wind so light, it took a further two hours before they were in comfortable hailing distance.
Catalano called out in Arabic, “Ahoy, there.”
“What do you want?” one shouted back.
“I am Salvador Catalano,” the Maltese pilot said, keeping to the script Decatur and Lafayette had worked out. “This is the ship Mastico. We are here to buy livestock for the British base on Malta but were caught in a storm. Our anchor was torn off so we cannot moor. I would like to tie up to your magnificent ship for the night. In the morning, we will dock properly and effect repairs.”
“This is it,” Decatur whispered to Henry. “If they don’t go for it, we’re going to be in trouble.”
“They will. Look at us from their perspective. Would you be concerned about this little ketch?”
“No. Probably not.”
The guard captain scratched his beard, eyeing the Intrepid warily, before finally shouting back, “You may tie up, but you must leave at dawn.”
“Thank you. Allah has a special place in His heart for you,” Catalano called out, then switched to English and whispered to the two officers. “They have agreed.”
Lafayette stood at Decatur’s shoulder as the light breeze slowly pushed the Intrepid closer and closer to the side of the Philadelphia. The big frigate’s cannons were run out and the protective tampions removed from the barrels. The nearer they drew, the more the muzzles seemed to grow in size. If the pirates became suspicious, a broadside at this range would turn the ketch into kindling and rip the eighty men aboard to shreds.
Drawing nearer still, the pirates lining the rail were a good fifteen feet above the Intrepid’s deck. They began muttering among themselves and pointing as they made out the shapes of men cowering behind the ketch’s gunwales.
Ten feet still separated the ships when one pirate shouted. “Americanos!”
“Tell your men to attack,” Catalano wailed.
“No order to be obeyed but that of the commanding officer,” Decatur said evenly.
Above them, the Barbary pirates were drawing their swords, and one fumbled with the blunderbuss strapped across his back. A cry went up just as the oak hulls came together, and Decatur shouted, “Board her!”
Henry Lafayette touched the Bible he kept on him at all times and leapt for an open gunport, hooking one hand around the wooden edge and clasping the
Henry wasn’t fazed. The fear he had been sure would paralyze him had turned to cold rage.
He let the man come, and as the pirate began a hip-high cutting stroke that would have sliced Henry in half Henry stepped forward lightly and sank his blade into the other man’s chest. The force of the pirate’s charge ran the steel through his ribs and out his back. The heavy scimitar clattered to the deck as the corsair slumped against Lafayette. He had to use his knee as leverage to pull his blade from the pirate’s chest. Henry whirled at a moving shadow and ducked under the swinging arc of an ax aimed at his shoulder. He counter-cut back with his sword, the edge slicing through cloth, skin, and muscle. He hadn’t had the angle to eviscerate his foe, but the amount of blood that gushed from the wound told him the pirate was out of the fight.
The gun deck was a scene out of hell. Dark figures hacked and slashed at one another with abandon. The crash of steel on steel was punctuated by screams of pain when blade met skin. The air was charged with the smell of gunpowder, but above it Henry could detect the coppery scent of blood.
He waded into the fray. With its low ceilings, the gun deck wasn’t an ideal field to battle with a sword or pike, but the Americans fought doggedly. One of them went down when he was struck from behind. Henry saw that the corsair who had hit him towered over everyone else. His turban almost brushed the support beams. He swung his scimitar at Henry, and, when Henry parried, the power of the blow made his entire arm go numb. The Arab swung again, and it took every once of strength for Lafayette to raise his blade enough to deflect the flashing sword.
Corsair by Clive Cussler / Actions & Adventure / Thrillers & Crime have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes