“They are the cargo and just the first of many of the stops we will be making!” Turk answered with a mighty laugh and shake of his head at her naïvité. “They are slaves to be sold at the market in Constantinople.”
Leigha’s mouth opened in unspoken protest and shock as she looked first upon his face to see the truth of his words and then sadly out at the now clearly visible misery upon the faces of the slaves.
Turk’s brows drew together in a frown at her reaction, for he had expected her to be pleased at the accumulation of his wealth represented by the slaves, but he held his temper in check, granting her the difference between her upbringing and his. It distressed him to see her unhappy, and he knew from the pity and the pain that he saw on her face as she gazed out at the boats that were now drawing alongside his vessel that it would be best if she returned to the cabin until after his cargo was stored safely below.
“Come,” he spoke solemnly, tugging at her arm to make her turn from the sight before them, “you must return to the cabin. We will have something to eat and perhaps rest for a while. Would you like to play a game of chess? You’ve taught me so well that I believe that I can now better the master!”
Leigha said nothing to his chatter and obediently walked along beside him, turning her head as they left so as to see the people that were now being brought onboard. She heard only the sound of the chains that bound the arms and legs of the men and the girdles of steel that held the women. The sounds of the chains and the muffled crying as the slaves were led below echoed through her mind as Turk closed the cabin door behind them, attempting to shut out the sight that had brought home the cold reality of Leigha’s plight to her, drawing its icy touch of fear tight around her heart, which no closed door nor the luxury offered to her by Turk could dispel.
Leigha sat in numbed silence, barely picking at the meal that had been set before them. Her mind raced around, all sorts of imaginings of what the future beyond Turk would be like swarming through her head. She could not bear the thought of being wrapped in chains and prodded cruelly with rods as an animal as she had seen Kashim doing to the slaves whose moaning and crying could now be heard from somewhere below in the bowels of the ship. She thought of Simon and of Robert, of the baby that she carried within her. The baby! Why, in the next few weeks, his life could be ended by the tightening of a steel belt about her waist or the prodding of the rod the slavers used so mercilessly on some of the women. Unable to bear the thought of losing her child or even what freedom she did have left, she dropped her head to her hands and wept bitterly, leaving a confused Turk to look on helplessly until the sudden wave of galling despair had wrung its last tear of defeat from her soul. She was left red-eyed and hiccupping before him, her hands still held tight to her face as if to keep her mind from exploding from its confines in utter helplessness against what she now knew the future held in store for her.
Unable to help her in any way or to even understand what was wrong, Turk rose from his chair and paced about the cabin, kicking at the scattered rugs and the great chests that held all of his worldly possessions. He turned pleading eyes towards her when she had stopped crying, only to be met now by the empty stare of green, limpid pools shining iridescently back at him. His anger and feeling of somehow having fallen short of the first person he had ever dared to love exploded within him, and he gave a mighty scream, cursing everything about him. Still the haunting eyes before him registered nothing, and he felt that the spirit that kindled such a blazing fire within her had been killed.
“Damn you, Leigha! It is our way!” He lashed out at her, trying to get some response. “It has been the way of our world since time itself began! The strong hold the weak and use them as their own! If a man is weak in body or spirit, he is better off having a master to take care of him! It is my way!”
Leigha sat mutely staring at the raging man, her heart cringing at his words though her features showed no sign of the turmoil within her. Slowly, painfully, she rose from her chair, and picking up the knife from the table before her, she placed its pointed tip to her breast, taking the heel of it in the strong grip of her hands.
“It is not the way of my life.” Her voice came softly to the stunned captain as he froze in unaccustomed fear at the sight of what she was about to do. “I cannot live in your world in such a way nor can I return to my own. I will not bear what the future holds for me, so I am making the last free choice remaining. I choose to have no future at all.”
“No!” Turk bellowed as his long legs carried him swiftly to her side. “You cannot! What of your child?” he shouted, trying to get through to her as he pulled the knife from her grasp though its point had already drawn blood before he could reach her. “You have no right to end its life as well!”
Leigha swayed and began to crumple to the floor, but Turk’s strong arms quickly enfolded her and carried her to the bed. Drawing gasping breaths of air into his fear-tightened lungs, he stripped the clinging cloth from the wound in her breasts and then took the edge of it to wipe away the blood he found there. She laid still, her eyes closed as if she were dead as he carefully searched the depth of the wound. Relieved to find that the blade had only penetrated a short way into the softness of her flesh, he cleaned and dressed the wound before gently placing a warm cover over her to guard her against shock. Bowing his head over the unconscious Leigha, he wept.
Lee, Virginia Dagon’s Blood Kindle Edition