Read Tom Swan and the Head of St. George Part Six: Chios Online

Authors: Christian Cameron

Tags: #Historical, #Fiction

Tom Swan and the Head of St. George Part Six: Chios

Tom Swan and the Head of St George
Volume Six: Chios
 
Christian Cameron
 
Mytilini, Lesvos
 

It was the English ship that had brought the warning and sounded the alarm.

By the time the sun was high in the sky, Tom Swan had worked himself into a state of exhaustion. Working side by side with all the oarsmen, the mercenaries, the sailors and a hundred Greek fishermen, he’d helped to haul all five of the order’s galleys up the beach on rollers, and then, one by one, to haul the town’s fishing boats ashore.

The only ship still lying in the harbour was the very ship that had warned them. The
Katherine Sturmy
, an English vessel whose owner and captain were working stripped to the waist, at his side, was a round ship – her stern castle was almost fifty feet above the water, and her cavernous holds made her too big to beach in a crisis.

Out beyond the new-built breakwater in carefully dressed stone lay the reason for the near-panicked movement of the hulls – a two-hundred-ship Turkish fleet lying easily at anchor on a sea so calm that the west wind scarcely riffled it.

Swan paused and put a hand to the middle of his back like a much older man.

Richard Sturmy laughed. In English, he said, ‘I used to complain about the prices on Turkey goods – carpets and the like.’ He shook his head ruefully. ‘If I live to light a candle in St Magnus Martyr by the Bridge at home, I’ll never speak ill of the Turkey merchants again. These are the most violent folk in the world.’

Swan had to laugh. ‘The French say that of us!’ he managed.

But Sturmy saw nothing funny in it. ‘What do you expect from your Frenchmen?’ he said. ‘Sweet Christ, I was a fool to allow the goodwife to convince me to bring her on this fool expedition. And my daughter – by Saint George, Sir Knight, I fear for them more than for myself. Hannah is but twelve.’ His voice wavered. Sturmy was a strong man – but not in the face of the level of calamity facing him.

Down the beach, Swan could see Fra Tommaso giving orders to a dozen Burgundian archers, but the Turkish fleet, despite its vast size, was making no motion of immediate attack. Swan bowed to the English party. ‘I must see if my lord has further orders,’ he said. ‘It is very possible that the Turk will pass us by and your ship will be safer here than most places.’

‘Except that this place is ruled by the fucking – pardon me – Genoese, who are allies of the frog-eating French and hate us,’ said the mate of the
Katherine Sturmy
, who was called – with rare appropriateness – John Shipman.

Swan grinned. ‘I can’t drive away the Turks, Master Shipman,’ he said. ‘But I think I can promise that Prince Dorino will honour your firman and your letter from the Council of Genoa. He is …’ Swan paused, trying to imagine how to describe the Prince of Lesvos, who was old and not old, clever, witty, dangerous, effeminate and masculine, aesthetic and vicious. And very hard to describe. ‘He is a fair man,’ Swan said.

Master Shipman shrugged. ‘Gentle is as gentle does, eh? But I’d be most grateful, and so would my owner, if you was to put in a good word for us.’

Swan bowed, and then ran, half naked, up the beach.

Fra Tommaso and Fra Domenico stood side by side, watching the Turks. Fra Domenico managed a brief smile at Swan as he ran up.

‘Ah, the energy of youth,’ Domenico said. ‘Or perhaps you were snug in bed when the alarm rang?’

‘Someone’s bed,’ Fra Tommaso said. But his look was mild. ‘These English sailors are good men.’

Swan bowed. ‘The English are afraid that their cargo will be seized,’ he said. ‘And afraid of the Turks, as well.’

Fra Tommaso narrowed his eyes. ‘I’ll see to that. They’ve earned their keep with their warnings to us and their hard work.’

Fra Domenico waved at the Turks, the ring he wore flashing in the sun like a weapon. ‘Young man, can you swim?’

Swan’s heart sank. ‘Yes,’ he admitted.

‘Well?’ Domenico asked.

‘Well enough,’ Swan said.
Well enough to bathe in the Thames in February when the ice is running
, he thought.

Domenico looked at Tommaso. Then, as if they had but one mind, the two knights turned and looked at Swan.

Swan quailed and wondered which of his sins had been discovered. The illicit cargo of mastic?

‘He wants you to try something insanely brave,’ Fra Tommaso said. He shrugged. Swan didn’t like the look Fra Tommaso gave his fellow knight. It held … reproof.

Fra Domenico’s eyes sparkled like his ring. ‘It is not so insane,’ he said. ‘I want you to cross the island, get a fishing boat from Kalloni and land on Chios. You’ll have to swim to get into the city. With a message.’ He grinned. ‘Twice, if my little plan works out.’

Swan sighed. He heard a voice say ‘I’ll do it!’ with reckless enthusiasm.

It took a moment to realise that the voice had been his own.

Fra Tommaso pursed his lips. ‘The Turks may sail away tomorrow …’

‘In which case, we will not risk Master Swan,’ Domenico said. ‘But they have stolen a march on us, and a dozen galleys can hold us pinned to this beach, and the Pasha knows that as well as you and I.’

‘How will a message help Chios? If the truth is that we are blockaded here?’ Swan managed.

Domenico smiled. ‘Truth? Who said anything about the truth?’ He looked at his left hand, and put his right on his sword hilt. ‘
Quid est veritas
? Pilate was right.’

‘He wants you to tell Chios that the Genoese Grand Fleet is at sea,’ Tommaso said. He glared at Fra Diablo. ‘You sail perilously close to blasphemy.’ To Swan he said, ‘Do not take any foolish risks. Don’t get captured.’

‘Better yet, get captured and tell the Turks,’ Domenico said. He shrugged. ‘I am what I am.’

Bathed and dressed, Swan drank three cups of watered wine and walked down into the town. Many shops were closed, and the market was shuttered, but the silversmith was sitting in the spring sun with a wine cup between his hands.

Swan sat down. ‘My apologies, Kyrie. My day has been rather spoiled by the advent of the Turks.’

The silversmith laughed. ‘In this, Frank, you are forgiven. I saw you working on the beach – indeed, you helped haul one of my brother-in-law’s boats up.’ He looked out to sea. ‘My brother-in-law has another boat around the headland at Thermi.’

Swan leaned forward. ‘What I need is a guide …’ He paused. ‘I’m sorry? Why does it matter that your brother-in-law has another boat?’

The silversmith smiled. ‘Before dawn, my brother-in-law was among the Turks, selling sardines and lobster.’ His eyebrows shot up and a frown flickered – a complex Mediterranean facial expression the registered mock surprise that such a thing could even happen.

Swan nodded. ‘Ahh,’ he said.

‘Maestro Cyriaco paid me silver for such news,’ the silversmith said.

Swan nodded. ‘I can only make you promises. I brought no silver.’

The smith frowned. He looked away, as if Swan had embarrassed him.

Swan leaned forward. ‘I will pay. In a matter of hours.’

The silversmith was obviously offended.

‘I recognise that you do this mostly out of a desire to be a patriot,’ Swan said. He phrased it as carefully as he could, watching the man’s face.

Immediately. the other man smiled. ‘I do not like to talk about money,’ he said. ‘I do this for the love of my island and hatred of the Turk – understand?’

‘Of course,’ Swan said.

The silversmith handed over two sheets of good Egyptian paper. ‘Ship names and crews. A few officers’ names, and some important personages aboard. He sold to six ships and ended aboard Omar Reis Pasha’s flagship. He will sell more tonight. And the Turks will summon the town to surrender, and the island. What do you think?’ the man asked suddenly.

At the mention of Omar Reis, Swan stiffened. He felt his heartbeat increase. He looked out to sea with studied calm and scratched the base of his chin. ‘Dorino will never surrender,’ he said, wondering whether that was, in fact, the way the prince would behave. Wondering whether he was the silversmith’s only customer for information. ‘The information is … excellent.’ His eye caught a name, and he translated it several times in his head, sounding it out. ‘Is this an Italian name?’ he asked.

The silversmith frowned. ‘Draviero,’ he said with his Ionian pronunciation.

Swan looked at him. ‘There is an Italian gentleman with the Turkish fleet?’

The smith nodded. ‘The gentleman was rude to my brother-in-law while his steward bought lobsters through a stern window. And he demanded that my brother-in-law tell no one.’ The man smiled at the naive ways of the world.

Swan smiled. And had the glimmering of an idea, even while he tried to imagine how and why the Genoese ambassador was aboard a Turkish warship. ‘A captive?’

The silversmith nodded, obviously delighted at Swan’s delight.

Swan looked at the table a moment. ‘I need a guide to Kalloni tomorrow. And I wonder …’ Swan was trying to find a way to flatter the man, to engage his interest. ‘I wonder if you would make me a piece of jewellery?’

The smith nodded. ‘Business is not so heavy,’ he admitted.

Swan sketched what he wanted.

The jeweller frowned. ‘The stone engraving is beyond me,’ he said. He flicked his front teeth with his thumbnail. ‘In silver, you say?’

‘Gold plated,’ Swan said.

‘Oh.’ The man shrugged. ‘Silver gilt. Costume stuff.’

Swan shrugged in turn.

The jeweller looked about. ‘I will ask around. The head of Herakles in a clear crystal? It is not impossible to find such a thing.’ He flicked his teeth. ‘I’m thinking a hundred ducats here.’ He raised an eyebrow. ‘I know where there is a head of Athena in a crystal. Roman, I think.’

Swan rose and bowed. ‘For a hundred ducats I could buy half this town,’ he said. But then he shrugged. ‘Athena is too feminine. But if there is nothing else …’ He felt foolish, spending money on such a tenuous plan. On the other hand, it provided him with a painless way to repay his informant. He sat back. ‘I might find that much money,’ he admitted.

‘I have a boy who will guide you to Kalloni,’ the silversmith conceded. ‘He can show you the ruins as well.’

Swan’s intention was to make an excuse to return to the palazzo, but by the time he reached the hostel where the knights were staying, the Lord of Eressos had joined them – a Graeco-Scot lord, at home in Greek or Italian or slightly accented English or perfect church Latin. Zambale bowed to Swan.

‘The English prince. Madama Theodora sends her best wishes and a small token.’ He handed Swan a small envelope.

Swan bowed and looked at Fra Tommaso.

The older knight nodded. ‘The Lord of Eressos has offered to be your companion – all the way to Chios. He wishes to serve us as a volunteer.’

Swan bowed again. ‘I will be at your service,’ he said. ‘As soon as I pay my respects—’

Fra Domenico failed to hide a sneer. ‘No need, my boy. I’m sure that Prince Dorino understands the press of our business.’

Swan had an answer ready. ‘Sir – I understand, but I promised the English owner to represent him to the prince.’

‘And Madama Theodora, as well, no doubt,’ Fra Tommaso said. ‘Please allow me to protect you from yourself. There is no wind and likely to be none tomorrow, either. Please go and warn Chios, and put some heart into them.’

Swan cursed inwardly with a boy’s peevishness. At that moment, he hated the Turks for interrupting his lovemaking and the order for their own share in his endless chastity.

But he knew his duty. He bowed. ‘My lords,’ he said. He flicked his eyes at the Lord of Eressos.

Fra Domenico caught his gesture.

‘My lord, if you have any arrangements to make, I’ll ask you to set off after nones,’ he said.

The Lord of Eressos bowed deeply. He grinned with a minimum of offence at Swan. ‘You can ride?’

‘Slowly,’ Swan allowed.

Zambale laughed. ‘I’ll have a dozen men-at-arms and spare horses,’ he said. ‘I have friends in Kalloni with boats.’ He made a Greek gesture with his arms and thumbs. ‘Who knows? If God wills it so, perhaps we will not swim.’

Swan nodded. ‘One hour,’ he said.

Zambale bowed in all directions and left the inn.

Domenico waited until they could hear Zambale’s voice in the yard. ‘Well, lad?’ he asked.

Silently, Swan handed over the sheets of paper with the silversmith’s careful Greek letters nearly covering both.

Domenico’s Greek was apparently very good. His eyes moved rapidly, even while Fra Tommaso was sounding out ship’s names in Turkish.

‘Where did you get this?’ he asked Swan. He raised his eyes, and they met Swan’s.

Swan swallowed. It was not a tone he’d heard before from the pirate. It cut like a sharp sword.

Swan shrugged. ‘I have friends,’ he tried.

Domenico’s expression didn’t change. ‘I’m sure you know a great variety of attractive young women in every port, and it wouldn’t surprise me if you’d bedded three or even four since you arrived. This is a well-penned report by a professional, who notes even the number of archers on the Turkish galleys.’

Swan wanted to hold the other man’s gaze, but he couldn’t. Domenico had an almost magical ferocity that wilted him.

I did think about this before handing over the report
, he thought.

Fra Tommaso was still sounding out the names. He looked at Domenico. ‘You must know he works for Bessarion,’ he said quietly.

Domenico nodded. ‘I want to hear him say it,’ he said.

Swan looked at them both.

Domenico raised an eyebrow. ‘Well?’

Swan took a deep breath. ‘I collect information,’ he said.

‘And antiquities?’ Tommaso said. ‘For Cardinal Bessarion?’

Swan sighed. ‘If I were to concede that something of the sort was true, I would still insist that what I do is of no danger to the order and in this case is actually to the order’s benefit.’

Domenico whistled. ‘I thought you were a spy – but then you fought so well.’

Tommaso threw his hands in the air. ‘Why do we care? I like the boy. He’s got moments of honesty and honour to him, and otherwise he’s a poor sinner like the rest of us. Angelo, you cannot imagine he’s going to sell you to the Turks.’

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