After years of battling the pirates of the Barbary Coast, Kit McQueen is shipwrecked on his return voyage before washing ashore in the steamy jungle of Spanish Florida, where the Spanish capture him and sentence him to death. On the morning of his execution, a Choctaw army storms the Spanish camp, led by the fearsome Iron Hand O’Keefe, an Irishman who has thrown in with the Indians. He saves McQueen’s life, returning him to the United States to fight a new war.
Pressed into the service of his young nation, Kit is sent to the last place he wanted to go: back to Indian country. His commitment to the cause wavers when he is given an order he cannot bear to fulfill—hunting down the Irish traitor who once saved his life.
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Sword of Vengeance
The Medal, Book Two
By Kerry Newcomb
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1991 Kerry Newcomb
All rights reserved.
July 4, 1811
Kit McQueen laughed as thirty-six inches of watered steel blade missed decapitating him by inches. He ducked, lowered his shoulder, and rolled against his attacker's legs. The Turkish guard's momentum carried him up and over the balcony railing. The guard cried out in astonishment and tossed his broad-bladed tulwar aside as he fought to catch a handhold on the railing. But luck had abandoned him, and the captain of Bashara al-Jezzar's janissaries dropped out of sight and crashed into the spring-fed pool below. Kit heard a splash of water followed by a sickening crunch as the captain's head slapped against the marble fountain built along one side of the spring.
Kit heard footsteps behind him. He swung around and leveled his pistol at Bill Tibbs, his fellow privateer.
"Please don't kill me, Christopher." Tibbs held out his hands in mock supplication.
Kit grinned and shook his head. "It's tempting," he said. "But I still might need your help before this night is through."
There came a hammering on the harem's bolted doors, and from the hall passageway sounded the savage outcries of the pasha's guards, who at any moment might break into the room and tear the two infidels limb from limb. Elsewhere in the city port of Derna, the rumble of distant cannon and rifle fire signaled the revolution against the pasha's rule was still in progress. Fortunately, the insurrection had drawn most of al-Jezzar's janissaries into the streets.
"Where are the jewels?" Tibbs asked, realizing for the first time his companion was empty-handed.
"I thought you had them." Alarm washed across Kit's sun-darkened features.
Tibbs looked horrified. "I took the lead to ensure our escape route while you pilfered the treasure house. Good God, have you lost what we climbed the cliff for?" Tibbs blurted. Then he knew he'd been set up as Kit roared with laughter and pointed toward the wall behind his fellow thief.
A large leather pouch dangled from a wall bracket that supported a heavy silk tapestry depicting the pasha in all his finery sitting a white charger and trampling his foes beneath the animal's flashing hooves. Kit did not feel the least bit guilty stealing from Bashara al-Jezzar, for the old brigand was one of the Corsican brotherhood who had been preying on American ships for several years. It was high time the thief got a taste of his own medicine.
Tibbs hurried over to retrieve the bag of stolen booty. With a sharp tug he worked the pouch loose and saw it drop to the floor. The pouch fell open and the ruby-encrusted hilt of a scimitar along with a necklace of gold clattered out onto the sandstone floor.
"The Eye of Alexander!" a man gasped from a nearby doorway. Kit looked around and noticed a bald, robe-clad eunuch staring at the scimitar from the entrance to the private quarters of the pasha's many wives. Several young women, dark-haired and doe-eyed, in various stages of undress, tittered among themselves and gestured toward the intruders. Such women were kept in seclusion and allowed only the company of eunuchs until they were summoned to al-Jezzar's bedchambers to await his pleasure—though there was seldom pleasure to be found in the nobleman's often cruel embrace. The women crowded the entrance despite the eunuch's efforts to force them back.
The aroma of incense, burning spices for which Kit had no name, wafted into the corridor and clouded the senses of the intruders, luring them to enter and lose themselves to desire. For here were two young men fit to fan the fires in any woman's heart, be she Turkish princess or slave.
Bill Tibbs, at twenty-eight, was a tall, strapping fellow, whose stark white skin was in sharp contrast to his pitch-black, shoulder-length hair. His eyes were deep-hued, his gaze often guarded and yet ever scrutinizing, as if he were always trying to gain the upper hand.
Kit McQueen stood several inches shorter than his towering friend. And yet it was to him that many of the women offered their inviting glances, for they had seen him move with catlike grace and quickness and they sensed an aura of power about him. His mane of scarlet curls was partly hidden by a bandanna of yellow silk, and his eyes were as bronze as his well-muscled torso. A gold ring glimmered in his right ear. He was younger than Bill Tibbs by a couple of years, but that didn't keep the larger man from deferring to his partner's judgment. It was an influence Kit tended to exude in moments of crisis.
He caught Tibbs by the arm as the man started toward the women, drawn by lust and a hunger for the forbidden and exotic fruits of the pasha's nubile garden.
"Bill, we don't have much time."
"I don't intend to be very long," Tibbs replied, a lascivious smile on his face.
"You must not take the Eye of Alexander," the eunuch interjected in his high-pitched voice. He placed his flabby body between the privateer and the harem women. "I don't know who you are or how you gained access to my honorable lord's domain, may he live a thousand thousand years and be blessed with the strength of a thousand thousand stallions—"
"Oh, shut up," Tibbs said, and shoved the pasha's servant aside.
"But you must hear me. The sword is the Eye of Alexander the Great, given to that most illustrious one by the priests of Persia after he conquered all the world. Cursed be the infidel who disturbs its rest among my lord and master's treasures. So it is written."
"Cursed be the fool who doesn't take it when he has the chance, old one," Kit said. "I do not blame you for trying to protect the pasha's belongings. But we are only stealing it from one who stole it himself. So the curse, if any, rests with Bashara al-Jezzar." Kit managed to catch the leather pouch of necklaces and gold anklets and the jeweled sword as Tibbs casually tossed it back over his shoulder. Tibbs caught up the nearest woman, a mere girl of sixteen, and lifted her into his arms. The silks and bangles she wore rubbed against him, and she pressed her small, pointed breasts against his lips as he held her in the air and then lowered her, running his tongue along her neck and up to her ear.
Kit shouldered the leather pouch. He could hear the wooden bolt begin to splinter in the courtyard below.
"You don't understand," the eunuch entreated, but no one was paying him any mind.
Kit hurried over to the balcony just as the courtyard door caved in and the pasha's guards who had been alerted to the intruders' presence crowded through the doorway. A wheel-lock pistol roared and blasted a fist-sized hole in the balcony.
Kit returned the favor and fired his heavy-caliber flintlock into the center of the janissaries, who were packed together by the door and struggling to untangle themselves and head for the stairway. Kit aimed low. He didn't want to kill anyone unless he had to. The heavy lead ball from his pistol took down three men with a variety of crippling wounds before its energy was spent. The fallen men only served to block the entrance. A pistol shot rang out from behind Kit, and the privateer spun around in time to see Tibbs standing over the eunuch. Blood streamed from Tibbs's ear. The eunuch was propped against the barren sandstone wall. He had dragged the pasha's tapestry down around him like a burial shroud as he slid to the ground, blood oozing from a nasty wound in his round belly.
"The bastard bit me," Tibbs said.
"You didn't have to kill him," Kit snapped angrily.
He had shipped with Bill Tibbs for the better part of two years. They had been friends and trusted shipmates aboard the sleek little Baltimore clipper the two men had pooled their resources to purchase. In all that time Kit had found only one thing to complain about with his friend, and that was Bill Tibbs's temper. The man had a short fuse, and he seemed forever primed and waiting for the right spark to set him off.
"C'mon," Tibbs said sheepishly, and clapped Kit on the shoulder. He blew a kiss to the harem women, who had recoiled in horror at the sight of the dying eunuch. Tibbs broke into a run.
Kit took a step toward the pasha's eunuch. The man's eyes were already glazed over. But he was still breathing.
"I'm sorry," Kit whispered. Then the clatter of swords and rifles below spurred him into motion. He charged the top of the stairway curving up from below.
The stairs were crowded with a dozen of the pasha's heavily armed harem guards. Their naked swords were thirsty for the blood of infidels. To the lead janissary, Kit seemed to come out of nowhere, a blur of motion like a pouncing tiger. The soldiers in the courtyard struggled to bring their guns to bear on the daring young thief. Kit never gave them the chance. He stiff-armed the balcony rail, and pivoting on his strong right shoulder, he leaped up and drove both booted heels into the lead janissary, a swarthy Turk in a black burnoose and flowing robes. The guard was hurled backward and began a chain reaction that toppled the entire column of men on the stairway. Weapons discharged into the air as the soldiers tumbled over one another all the way to the courtyard below.
Kit hit the floor running. Something slapped the pouch on his back and clanked against the metal inside. He nearly lost his balance but managed to reach the door hidden behind another tapestry at the end of the corridor.
Tibbs was waiting at the top of the winding stairway. The quick-tempered thief held a crudely drawn map that he had purchased from an old beggar in Constantinople, a withered relic of a man who claimed to have been in the pasha's service. The beggar had been a harem guard who had been discovered with one of al-Jezzar's wives. The poor soldier had been summarily castrated and driven out into the desert to die. However, he had survived and, remembering the location of al-Jezzar's own private escape passage, had furnished a map for the two Americans.
It was in Constantinople, too, that the privateers had heard the rumors of an impending assault on Derna by al-Jezzar's enemies. They had timed their own intrusion to coincide with the attack on the city.
"We promised we would leave the map with Salim's name upon it for Bashara al-Jezzar to find," Kit reminded his friend. Tibbs placed the parchment outside the corridor, where the guards and the pasha would be certain to discover it. The beggar of Constantinople would have the last laugh, after all. Kit removed the pouch and fingered the bullet hole in the center of the bulging surface. A gold anklet had turned the rifle ball and saved Kit's life.
Kit led the way down the stairs. He risked life and limb on the narrow tread as he descended at a run. Rough stone walls sped past as Kit circled around and around, as if burrowing like a corkscrew into the very earth. Only there was light, not darkness, at the end of his journey: yes, light and the smell of the salt sea air!
A few minutes later Kit emerged from the base of the villa onto a wide ledge carved into the face of a cliff overlooking the sparkling blue expanse of the Mediterranean, some three hundred feet below. What looked like an impossible sheer cliff face had, on closer examination, a narrow footpath chiseled into the stark surface. The narrow switchback was just wide enough for one man to edge along the wall, angling back and across all the way to the water's edge. Though a precipitous journey, it promised to be a far easier task in daylight than it had been in the predawn hours.
Anchored thirty yards offshore, the Trenton rode easy on the wind-rippled surface of the bay. The Trenton was a Baltimore clipper, only seventy feet from bow to stern and armed with a swivel cannon amidships. Half of the clipper's crew, six heavily armed men, waited by the johnboat on order of the clipper's captain. The landing party was ready to fight or run at a moment's notice, whatever the Trenton's joint owners required.
"The janissaries will probably start shooting at us from the walls once they discover what we've done," Kit said, dabbing the perspiration from his face on the sleeve of his loose-fitting linen shirt.
"But they are poor marksmen, these Turks," Tibbs said. His features were sweat-streaked and smudged with black powder.
"And they might even pry loose a few rocks to drop on our heads," Kit said in a sage voice.
"No problem, my good friend. The pasha's curse will be our good fortune." Tibbs lovingly stroked the bejeweled hilt of the scimitar jutting from the leather pouch. Then he reached inside his leather belt and removed a silver flask embossed with the family crest, a mailed fist holding a cross. He passed the brandy to Kit, who grinned and lifted the flask in a toast.
"To Alexander's luck," he said.
"To Alexander's luck," Tibbs echoed.
Nothing could stop them now.CHAPTER 2
Thirty-five days later, "Alexander's luck" played out. After a particularly violent and stormy night, the morning tides washed the wreckage of the Trenton onto the seaweed-littered sandy shores of northeast Spanish Florida, two miles north of the thriving mission of St. Augustine. Fragments of a shattered jib, several barrels, a freshly carved coffin, and patches of a sail littered the shore, along with planks of wood ripped from a reef-shattered hull and a section of mizzenmast as long as a man was tall. A johnboat had also been left by the storm-swept waves that had lashed the coast in the hours just after midnight. The rowboat now rested on its side and was rocked to and fro by the surf.
Two men lay as if dead in the bottom of the boat, and a third was sprawled in the froth where the waves played out upon the beach. A leather pouch lay at his side, tethered to his right arm by a single strap. His matted red hair was patched with mud and dried blood.
Little Maria, an eight-year-old, brown-skinned, hazel-eyed bundle of curiosity and courage, gingerly approached the wreckage the winds of fate had wrested from the sea.
"Go on, Maria," said the boy behind her. Esteban, her brother, was older by five years. He was already grown, as tall as many of the men in his village, but what he had gained in size he had lost in courage, and he held back. These Yankees had been touched by the sea, or worse, by the Angel of Death that the padre told of in his stories. Either way, it was best, Esteban decided, that he not touch such men. Far better to send his nosy sister to tempt fate, and if she withered and died on the spot ... well ... where was the loss? No doubt his mother would make more sisters. Maybe she even carried another sister for Esteban right now in her swollen belly as she baked the bread for the padre's noonday meal.
"Go on, Maria. What is there?" Esteban called out. "Are you afraid?" he chided.
"I am not!" the little girl retorted, taking affront at even the mere suggestion of fear, though to be sure her insides were about to turn to jelly and her bare legs trembled as she crept up to the johnboat and peered over the battered bow. She saw the two men up close, and yes, they were indeed Yankees, but as to whether they were alive or dead she could not tell.
One of the men was very big, with large hands whose backs were matted with black hair, and his black-bearded features were red and peeling from sunburn on his forehead and cheeks.
The other man was average in height, as best as she could tell; he lay curled up like a baby in his mother's arms, only his mother this time was the bottom of the boat. He was bearded too, with a thick brown beard, and his mouth was open and she could glimpse a line of broken yellow teeth. And his thinning brown hair was plastered to his skull. There was a knot on his forehead, a swollen, purplish mound that was flecked with blood. Both men wore torn shirts and breeches tucked into high-topped boots.
The larger of the two men had a brace of pistols jutting from the broad leather belt circling his waist.
"Señor?" the girl found her voice and spoke to the men in a soft whisper. After all, she did not wish to wake the dead. Neither of the men stirred, for which she was profoundly grateful. Esteban might like the Yankee's pistols, but then let him come and take them.
The girl backed away from the boat and crossed over to the red-haired man lying facedown in the sand. He was smaller than the others, only a little taller than Esteban, but she could see he was powerfully built, for his shirt was in shreds and his shoulders and back, even in repose, were corded with muscles. She knelt by his side, her eyes on the pouch whose strap was looped around his sun-bronzed right arm.
Esteban took a few tentative steps closer and repositioned himself, the better to see what Maria had found. He craned his neck, and his bare feet trampled a pattern of nervous circles in the moist sand.
Excerpted from Sword of Vengeance by Kerry Newcomb. Copyright © 1991 Kerry Newcomb. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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