Purple Pirate - Talbot Mundy - ebook

Purple Pirate ebook

Talbot Mundy

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Opis

Without exaggeration, a very good, rich, interesting event, an adventure and a historical novel in an epic style about the noble personality of the Tros of Samothrace. The page by page describes the incredible courage and dedication of the protagonist in the struggle for Greek freedom and independence while helping the British and Druids fight Julius Caesar.

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Liczba stron: 750

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Contents

CHAPTER I Alexandria, 43 B.C.

CHAPTER II Tros takes counsel with Esias

CHAPTER III “Betray me”

CHAPTER IV “When I swear to the truth, I swear by Lars Tarquinius!”

CHAPTER V “Lord Captain Tros!”

CHAPTER VI “Dirty weather for a battle!”

CHAPTER VII “Battle stations! All hands!”

CHAPTER VIII Gnaeus Ahenobarbus

CHAPTER IX “I gave you leave to die in battle”

CHAPTER X “Aye, a fine May morning!”

CHAPTER XI “Give these men their freedom”

CHAPTER XII “I prefer the Queen’s trap to that other”

CHAPTER XIII “It is your throne!”

CHAPTER XIV “One of these days you’ll be a valuable man”

CHAPTER XV The fly-by-night flotilla

CHAPTER XVI “Never again to speak of Boidion”

CHAPTER XVII “Bracelet maker!”

CHAPTER XVIII “Did you think to win Egypt with two dozen men?”

CHAPTER XIX “Tros! Tros!”

CHAPTER XX “What do you wish?”

CHAPTER XXI “You will obey me”

CHAPTER XXII “What burns?”

CHAPTER XXIII “Angry? Aye, Egypt, I am”

CHAPTER XXIV “The city will be in a bad temper”

CHAPTER XXV “You will obey, Lord Captain!”

CHAPTER XXVI “What matter a burned trireme—?”

CHAPTER XXVII “I am not she any longer. I am Hero”

CHAPTER XXVIII “One of the Queen’s ears”

CHAPTER XXIX “Say I will march at daybreak”

CHAPTER XXX “I suppose we shall all have to die for the woman!”

CHAPTER XXXI “Grapnels—Let go!”

CHAPTER XXXII “And now you, Cassius!”

CHAPTER XXXIII “He was kind to me. He tried to seduce me.”

CHAPTER XXXIV “Are you here to preach to me, Olympus?”

CHAPTER XXXV “Olympus, you may tell the Queen—”

CHAPTER XXXVI “You can’t save that bireme!”

CHAPTER XXXVII Captain Conops

CHAPTER XXXVIII “These are ridiculous terms!”

CHAPTER XXXIX “You crow like a dunghill cock, but wait and see!”

CHAPTER XL “Follow the flagship to sea”

CHAPTER XLI “The Lord Captain is well pleased!”

CHAPTER XLII “All great men are fools; and wise women worship them”

CHAPTER XLIII “Make haste, Herod”

CHAPTER XLIV “You, Tros!—clear the room!”

CHAPTER XLV “Man the fleet!”

CHAPTER XLVI “What does the Queen think it means, Olympus?”

CHAPTER XLVII “What a task to be worthy of Tros!”

CHAPTER I. Alexandria, 43 B.C.

Hither I have found my real goal unattainable. But I persist, since the attainable is no more than a rung on the ladder of life, on which a man may climb to grander views, though it will break beneath him if he linger too long. –From the Log of Lord Captain Tros of Samothrace

There was a murmur of voices from the huge throne-room; it sounded as distant as the murmur of the sea through the open window. Charmion and Iras, Cleopatra’s confidants, had been dismissed an hour ago. Olympus, the court astrologer remained, hugging his horoscopes in a corner. Tros, in his gold-embroidered purple cloak, stood staring through the window at his great trireme anchored in the harbor. Two deaf mutes, one by each doorpost, watched him; they were as motionless as mummies.

Cleopatra was heavy with emeralds because Caesar had liked her to wear them, but she was simply dressed in plain white. She sat in the ivory chair that Caesar had always used. Her elbow rested on the small table beside her, and her chin on her hand. Her eyes glowed with intelligence, but in that pose she was not very good-looking, and she was so small that she looked almost unimportant. It was only when she spoke that Cleopatra’s strength of character commanded notice. Her voice was quiet but it held astonishing vibrance.

Tros had to turn and face her.

“Tros,” she said, “you call yourself my friend. Perhaps you are. It is true you have served me well, when it has pleased your tempestuous heart–if it is a heart that beats within you, and not a battle-drum. But a queen has no real friends. It is for a queen to discover, if she can, why people wish to seem to be her friends. I would have made you admiral of all my ships–”

Tros interrupted: “As a friend, I am a free man.” But he noticed the smile in her eyes. “As an admiral, I should have to leave my conscience in your keeping, Royal Egypt. I have seen the skill with which you use men’s consciences!”

“Such as have any,” she answered. “Well, you fume and lecture me, and reject my offers. You appear to think I should be proud to obey your phantastic advice, as you call it, that you hurl at Me like something or other from one of your trireme’s catapults. But I know what you want, and you shall not have it unless you do what I want. Now, will you have a commission? See, I have it here, ready–admiral–”

“No,” he answered.

“Then begone without one!”

He bowed. She smiled, then laughed–a gorgeous, golden note, resonant with courage.

“And I wish I were coming with you!”

He bowed again. Not for one second did he doubt she was telling the truth about that. At seventeen she had led an army. She had been born to the game of lead-who-can and serve-who-must. Daring had cost her a throne. Daring had won it again, along with Caesar’s respect, which no one who wasn’t fearless ever had a chance to command.

“Good fortune, Tros! No need to tell you to be brave!”

He kissed her hand, and as he left the room she threw a cushion at him:

“Flatterer! You behave as if I were heartless. I am unworthy of the compliment!”

He went out laughing, which was what she intended. Olympus followed him. The long line of notables waiting for an audience, with their backs to the Babylonian hangings in the heavily carpeted marble corridor, exchanged glances. They bowed politely. Some of them hated Tros because the Queen almost never kept him waiting. And some were jealous because it was time for somebody to step into dead Caesar’s shoes, and Tros perhaps might be that man. Some of them even tried to overhear what Olympus was saying.

The astrologer-physician was a man they dreaded. He was too abstemious to be easily poisoned. He had all their birth-dates, all their horoscopes. It was said that he watched the stars and warned the Queen whenever any courtier’s celestial chart suggested probability of treason. If not, how was she so swift to discover treason, and for such a young woman so deadly competent to deal with it?

Olympus’s star-bespangled, black robes of office and his ominous tau-handled staff made them shudder. He looked as gloomy as a raven, as mysterious as death–tall, gaunt, solemn, shaven. But as a matter of fact he was simply showing his friendship for Tros in his own reserved way–a man of meditative peace encouraging a man of war, revealing, but not betraying.

“Are you wise thus to humiliate her? Tros, she wavers between magnanimity and anger. Half of her hopes she has dismissed you to your death, or that an error will bring you to judgment. Half of her hopes you will return triumphant.”

“And?”

“Who else is there whom she could trust to share her throne?”

Tros answered gruffly: “There shall be a mother of sons of mine, I hope, Olympus, when the time is ripe. But I will not breed lads to play this game of kinging it. If she were love itself, I would go my way nevertheless–aye, even though I loved her. She brought forth Caesar’s son, and one is plenty of Caesar’s get. He may become a prig like Brutus, or a bloody rogue of the Ptolemy sort, or he may be a man. Let her see to it. If she craves a man for her bed, there are dozens eager to accept the post of he-concubine. As for me–”

“Well, I merely warned you,” said Olympus. “Farewell, and beware of her pride. She is lonely. And in loneliness there lurk strange longings that beget cruelty.”

“Farewell, Olympus.”

Rumor credited Tros with being the Queen’s lover, but many doubted it, although he was supposed to be closer in the Queen’s confidence than anyone else except Charmion. He lived on his trireme, where he received all sorts of strange visitors, some of whom were undoubtedly spies. He could not be spied upon by Alexandrines because his ship was too well guarded. He knew as many languages as Cleopatra did–some said seventeen–and could always converse without an interpreter. If you can’t bribe or torture an interpreter there is not much chance of learning what a captain has discussed in the privacy of his own cabin.

So Tros was an enigma, and though it was known that he wished to voyage around the world, no one could imagine why, and his wish was considered impious. Everyone remembered his coming, in his great trireme, hardly three years ago, when Cleopatra was young on the throne and as full of youth as a kitten. Some said she was still a virgin then, and many believed it, because in those days she was deeply interested in religion and undoubtedly in touch with far-off Philae, where the Hierophants ruled a realm of mystery. In accordance with the terms of her father King Ptolemy Auletes’s will, and as a sort of traditional gesture, she’ had been formally married to her younger brother Ptolemy, an impetuous lad who hated her as thoroughly as she despised him.

At about the time of Tros’s arrival on the scene, the palace politicians had reached the sensible but dangerous conclusion that Cleopatra, though only about seventeen years old, was too clever for them. So she was. They couldn’t kill her. She escaped from Alexandria. They put her younger sister Arsinoe on the throne in her place. Cleopatra made her way to Palestine, where she borrowed a riff-raff army from her cousin Herod and his Arab allies. Shortly after the Battle of Pharsalia, when the defeated and fugitive Pompey was murdered on the Egyptian beach, Cleopatra was leading her army in person in an attempt to invade Egypt and regain the throne. But she was opposed by a much larger and better supplied Egyptian army, and she was having difficulties with her Arab troops and with Herod, a youngster about as clever as herself, who made no secret of his purpose to become King of Egypt, with her on the throne beside him or without her.

Meanwhile, Julius Caesar, in pursuit of Pompey, had swooped into the harbor of Alexandria with a small fleet crowded with a couple of Roman legions. He had occupied the magnificent palace and was enjoying himself with very practical dreams of conquest. His arrival completely bewildered young King Ptolemy’s and Queen Arsinoe’s adherents, but Cleopatra’s genius rose famously to the occasion. She abandoned Herod and her riffraff mercenary army. Tros appeared off the coast, and she accepted Tros’s offer to convey her on his trireme to Alexandria. Tros had had no hand in introducing her to Caesar. She contrived her own introduction. Apollodorus, a Sicilian, brought her ashore in a fishing boat, rolled up in some Syrian rugs, and unrolled her at Caesar’s feet as nearly naked as was necessary to arouse Caesar’s immediate interest.

Apollodorus had died a natural death not long afterward. In Alexandria, under the Ptolemies, it had never been unnatural that a man should die secretly and suddenly who boasted of having been the Queen’s lover. But Tros, who may have listened, certainly had never honored rumor even by denying that he and the Queen were on terms of amorous intimacy. He never even discussed the open secret, well authenticated, that the Lady Charmion, Cleopatra’s confidante and Mistress of the Robes, had offered herself to him, and now venomously hated him because he had bluntly rejected the offer.

There was not a notable in all that long palace corridor who had not heard how Tros built his trireme in an improbable country called Britain, but none of them knew or cared where Britain was. Alexandrines liked to know the news from Rome, because Rome was their greatest ready-money market and their deadliest political danger. They hardly ever even visited their Egyptian estates, whence their affluent revenues came. They didn’t know Egypt. Very few of them had seen the Sphinx or the Pyramids. They knew Alexandra, with its marble colonnaded streets, library, temples, lighthouse, theatres, schools of philosophy, chariot race, gardens, vivacity, women–and that was enough.

It was a symptom of Tros’s unfitness to be an Alexandrine, that he believed the world was round and wished to sail around it. The world could be triangular for all the Alexandrine courtiers cared. Tros’s interest in the world’s shape was a source of obscene jests, songs and belly-laughter. The Alexandrines prided themselves on their ready wit; people even trained their slaves to sing slanderous songs outside their neighbor’s windows. There were at least ten songs about Tros being currently sung whenever people gathered to amuse one another.

However, nobody laughed as Tros strode down the splendid corridor. He was a rather awe-inspiring man at close quarters. Alexandrines affected to despise warriors, because war was in bad taste and not worth the expense. But even to pretend to despise Tros, one would have had to be able to meet his gaze without flinching, and the people who could do that almost-liked him. Nobody had been able to poison him or to have him stabbed in the dark, because he was always well guarded by competent men. To kill him one would have to fight him; and not even among the officers of the Egyptian army–incredible collection of adventurers, soldiers of fortune and swashbuckling braggarts from almost every known country on earth–was there a man who would have cared to meet Tros in single combat. He was in the prime of life, probably something more than thirty years old; but it was difficult to judge the age of a man who had such thoughtful and mysteriously lambent eyes.

At the head of the magnificent malachite stairway a palace servant returned him his sword–a heavier, longer sword than any other man in Egypt could have used; when he had hitched that to his golden belt it was small wonder that men yielded him all the room he wanted on the stairs. He strode down, looking almost as if he owned the palace.

Whatever her motive, Cleopatra had seen fit to command that he should be honored; and there had never been a court on earth more capable than hers of wearing a man’s patience with the solemn nonsense of ritual. There were salutes and formal farewell speeches by bedizened courtiers, who made an art of insincerity and who could barb politeness with the sly smile that gives it the lie.

Palace officials, studiously dilatory because they knew he was raging to be gone, strolled beside him through the splendid garden to the guardhouse at the palace gate. There the Captain of the regiment of Royal Guards, Leander, commanded a brilliant ritual of trumpets and clashing arms. Final formal speeches, insolent handshakes, then away at last, behind a Macedonian officer and forty plumed stalwarts cloaked with leopard-skin. Eight drums. A dozen trumpeters. At least a dozen sarcastic exquisites to keep Tros company as far as the Royal Wharf and to irritate with their palace-sharpened malice.

But at the Royal Wharf they left him. Tros strode on with his escort of royal guardsmen. There was always a noisy crowd in Alexandria, especially on a fine spring morning along the magnificent waterfront. The guard made no effort to protect Tros from the crowd, now that the courtiers, who might have reported them for neglect of duty, were gone.

Even without that splendidly useless escort Tros would have been a show by himself, with his raven hair bound by a broad gold band, and his magnificent stride that was so unlike the effeminate gait of a fashionable Alexandrine. His cloak made him look like an ambassador from some foreign power, or perhaps even a king, although a king or an ambassador should have been borne in a litter. Everybody knew who Tros was.

But Tros had no exact official standing. It was rumored, and many believed it, that he was a high priest of some secret Mystery or other; but it was common knowledge, on the other hand, that the priests of Isis, Osiris and Serapis disliked him intensely. The only priests who did like him were the officials of the Museum and Library, the splendid buildings that were actually part of the Royal Palace, and that made the waterfront of Alexandria the most magnificent on earth.

Thousands of men and women on the long Great Harbor front, and all the slave-gangs and their overseers, and the sailors on the decks of the long-prowed Delta sailing vessels that lay nose to the key, sent up a roar of noisy comment and conjecture. Something big was afoot, but none knew what, although t was known that Tros’s trireme was ready for sea, anchored out in the middle of the Harbor of Happy Return–the western harbor, separated from the Royal Harbor by the Heptastadium seven furlongs of artificial causeway that connected Alexandria with the Island of Pharos. On Pharos, surrounded by a village and protected by forts, stood the colossal marble lighthouse, one of the world’s prodigious wonders. But in its own way Tros’s ship was as remarkable. It was a three-masted trireme, sheathed with tin, painted vermilion, purple sailed; and armed with the deadliest engines that had been invented.

Many of the pestering crowd were ex-Roman soldiers. Some were deserters. But the majority were destitute veterans whom Gabinius had left in Egypt to fend for themselves, in the days when he and a young cavalry officer named Mark Antony had led a lawless filibuster into Egypt to reestablish Cleopatra’s drunken father on the throne. When old Ptolemy Auletes died, people remembered what they had had to endure from those Roman soldiers, so they found employment difficult to get. They had been prosperous again during Caesar’s brief regime. But after Caesar’s death they were out of work again. Caesar had left two regular legions, under an officer named Rubinius, to support Cleopatra; but they despised the Gabinians, and would have nothing to do with them. Even Caesar’s legions had disintegrated. Hundreds of them had deserted. They were hardly better than a rabble, although their officers drew Cleopatra’s pay and were an arrogant nuisance at court.

The Roman soldiers wanted berths on Tros’s ship, no matter what his business might be, but piracy preferred. Anything for a leader, Anything for a few coins to jingle, and food, and the right to style themselves again miletes. Some of them displayed scars on their breasts in proof of bravery; one of them declared he had been the orderly of Pompey the Great. Tros advised them to join the Egyptian army, which welcomed all sorts of foreigners, deserters, and even runaway slaves. But the lower ranks of the Egyptian army were no temptation even to destitute men, who had once marched with the Roman Eagles. It was better to beg, although at that there was competition.

There were men and women of all nations with monkeys and parrots for sale. There were people of all colors, who offered to pray in the temples for the success of the voyage, at so much a prayer. There were vendors of magical charms for the cure of wounds and scurvy. There were map-sellers, who offered astonishing charts of unknown seas; and men who guaranteed to cast a fortunate horoscope for the voyage, as if a guess could guide destiny. There were women who wanted to touch Tros’s cloak, because it was common knowledge that he had held Caesarion, the Queen’s son, in his arms on the day the child was born. And was Caesarion not already accorded recognition as a god, as Caesar, his reputed father, had been? Surely, Tros’s cloak must be a charm for human fertility and fortune. There were women who offered themselves for the voyage, for the use of the crew; crimps, who knew of drunken crews who could be dragged aboard in broad daylight at so much a head: agents with slaves for sale; and merely curious people by the hundred. Tros kept his temper with them all, his eyes alert for the face of some spy who might have news of value.

And at last Esias, old and dignified, with two young lusty Jews to help him, struggled his way to Tros’s side. Reputed to be the richest man in Alexandria, and though he had privileges and a limited right of approach to the throne, Esias had to exercise discretion. There was no longer a Julius Caesar to treat Jews as Alexander the Great also had treated them. He would not have dared ride a litter or to be seen in public with a too-large following of slaves or personal attendants.

Esias wore the venerable looking robes of a Jewish oligarch, but his manner in public was modest; he was glad of Tros’s protection as they followed the royal guards to the southern end of the Heptastadium. There some of Tros’s crew were waiting–eight fair-haired Gauls, commanded by a Samothracian Greek named Conops, one-eyed, with a slit lip and hairy bow-legs. The useless royal guards looked on while Conops and his boat crew cleared the way. For half the length of the Heptastadium, to where the boat lay tied to an iron ring, the guards came last and unintentionally made themselves useful, since the crowd could not get past them.

But there was another crowd coming from the direction of the enormous Pharos lighthouse. And near the boat there were at least two score strumpets, popinjayed with carmine, the least gainly of them dressed in raggedly gaudy, semi-Oriental clothing and the better looking ones hardly clothed at all. Five of them claimed the one-eyed Conops as their debtor.

They were there to collect. Their bullies lurked at a discreet distance. They had their whole scandalous story thoroughly rehearsed and ready for Conops’s master’s ears. It was the ancient game of pay or be shamed in public. Conops stood them off with his knife, or they would have torn off his little gold earrings. Esias clutched Tros’s arm in mingled nervousness and indignation.

But then the royal guard did do its duty. It formed two lines and stood off the crowd from both directions, butt-ending the screaming harridans out of the way. The Gauls scrambled down the steps into the boat and tossed oars. Conops faced his master, standing to attention smartly as Tros rebuked him.

“You dock-rat! You wine-swilling tavern cockroach! You godless, impudent, ill-smelling wastrel!”

“Yes, master.”

“What have you done with your pay?”

“I got drunk. I was robbed. And now these wenches try to make out they were virgins and I seduced ‘em–me!–that could be trusted with a–”

“Silence, you leper!”

“Yes, master.”

Tros gave him a handful of silver coins and with an ominous growl commanded him to free the victims of his bestiality. He stood then to acknowledge the salute of the royal guard, and when the drum-roll and the trumpet clamor ceased he turned to help old Esias down the steps.

Conops pocketed most of the silver, somewhere up under his kilt, and thrust his arm between the guardsmen to give a small coin to each of the five obscenely screeching females. Then he followed Tros down the steps, let loose the painter and shoved off, taking his place in the stern at the steering oar. The Gauls, under Tros’s eye, rowed like one oarsman and seven copies of him, with one inseparable thump of oars on tholes and a swing that made the longboat leap. Conops leaned forward over the back of the stern seat, thrusting his head between Tros and Esias.

“Master.”

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