Slave to Fortune
Her black skin artificially burnished with sticky coconut oil, she cowered within the sad huddle of slaves in the squalid, claustrophobic Cairo market. The trauma of her brutal theft from her father's village in Tigre, the chained march, and the long dahabeyah journey down the Nile had taken their mental toll. Likewise the meagre diet of dourra flour bread, the primitive sanitation, the lustful violations by the slave trader Ahmed and his vile Greek overseer.
But as the older women had explained, Abyssinian girls, widely famed for their great beauty, were a highly valued commodity in the harems of the Ottoman Empire to the north. And she was greatly more beautiful than most.
There seemed a commotion within the circling crowd. And then he appeared pushing through, the same tall, pale skinned man she'd seen watching her yesterday whom someone called 'Englishman'. Behind him scampered a scrawny Egyptian wearing one of their familiar red fezzes. She lowered her gaze as the Englishman stopped before her.
Ahmed, the Greek overseer, and two other guards sauntered over. Ahmed salaamed extravagantly. “Effendi ...!” The Egyptian began jabbering away in a rapid Arabic dialect she could barely follow. Grinning, Ahmed pushed his fingers inside her mouth and forced her jaws apart to display her fine teeth. Then he ripped open her white cotton garment to expose her dark breasts, making his familiar cackle as he began fondling her nipples. At once the Englishman's hands slapped Ahmed's away before carefully recovering her decency. She looked up into his clear, sky-blue eyes, registering with surprised astonishment what she plainly saw there.
More jabbering and bargaining. The Englishman was holding up five extended fingers in front of Ahmed's face. Arms aloft, Ahmed cackled. The Greek and the others grinned. Overlaying scents of cooked meat, spices, and sewage assailed her nostrils as the crowd started to become resentful of the tall infidel. A Coptic Christian, she prayed silently to her one true God.
Three dark haired Berber warriors carrying circular shields and wickedly long scimitars moved in behind the tall Englishman and his nervous Egyptian companion. The Englishman half turned and spread the flaps of his jacket to reveal the plain butts of two heavy calibre pistols nestling in cross-mounted leather holsters, their primed frizzens closed, their cocks pulled back to the half position. The Berbers snorted, shuffling their feet in the dust.
Ahmed emptied out the leather bag the Englishman had handed him into his palm, counted and re-counted the five gold guineas. Finally he slipped them inside his striped yellow robes.
The Englishman's arm was tightly around her shoulders in an instant. Then the three of them were backing cautiously away from the sullen, murmuring crowd. At the corner of the narrow street the Englishman tossed the Egyptian a silver coin, then took her hand as they sprinted through the bazaar and on towards the Mosque of Sultan al-Muayyad.
She squeezed his hand clasping hers. Slave no more, and never again would be!
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