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Authors: John Pilkington

Marbeck and the Privateers

BOOK: Marbeck and the Privateers
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Table of Contents


The Martin Marbeck Series

Title Page



Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-One

Chapter Twenty-Two


The Martin Marbeck Series




The Thomas the Falconer Series








available from Severn House

John Pilkington

This ebook is copyright material and must not be copied, reproduced, transferred, distributed, leased, licensed or publicly performed or used in any way except as specifically permitted in writing by the publishers, as allowed under the terms and conditions under which it was purchased or as strictly permitted by applicable copyright law. Any unauthorised distribution or use of this text may be a direct infringement of the author's and publisher's rights and those responsible may be liable in law accordingly.


First published in Great Britain and the USA 2014 by
9–15 High Street, Sutton, Surrey, England, SM1 1DF.

eBook edition first published in 2014 by Severn House Digital
an imprint of Severn House Publishers Limited

Copyright © 2014 by John Pilkington

The right of John Pilkington to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988.

British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data

Pilkington, John, 1948 June 11– author.

Marbeck and the privateers. – (A Martin Marbeck mystery ; 3)

1. Marbeck, Martin (Fictitious character)–Fiction.

2. Great Britain–History–James I, 1603–1625–Fiction.

3. Spy stories.

I. Title II. Series


ISBN-13: 978-07278-8372-8 (cased)

ISBN-13: 978-1-78010-517-8 (ePub)

Except where actual historical events and characters are being described for the storyline of this novel, all situations in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to living persons is purely coincidental.

This eBook produced by
Palimpsest Book Production Limited,
Falkirk, Stirlingshire, Scotland.


n the sweltering heat of Algiers, the prisoner was led through a dark passageway into a sun-drenched courtyard. He was bound, clad in a filthy loincloth, haggard and emaciated after weeks in the fetid, crowded bagnio that had been his prison. When the guards on either side of him halted he too stumbled to a halt, blinking in the harsh light, and found himself staring at a high wall: part of the battlements, of the city's defences. One of the guards grabbed his hair and pulled his head back, forcing him to look up … whereupon intense fear gripped him, like a cold hand on his stomach. In spite of the heat, he began to shiver.

Protruding from the wall were a number of large iron hooks, set firmly into the stonework, their points facing upwards. But it was the figures atop the wall that the prisoner stared at, for he saw what was about to happen. There were three men, ragged and bound as he was, surrounded by guards and shaking with fear as they contemplated their fate. Though his mouth was dry as dust and his tongue swollen with thirst, he swallowed, then started as a voice spoke from behind him.

‘See what they do to pirates – to all infidels who transgress against the pasha's law.'

Breathing fast, he looked round into a face he had not seen before. The man was neither Turk nor Moor, but a native of southern Europe, perhaps one of the many renegades who thronged the notorious slave city: the most lawless of the Barbary states. One of the guards spoke a few words in the dialect of the
, to which the European responded in his heavy accent. He was Spanish, the prisoner decided, trying hard to think of anything other than what he was about to witness – but the respite was all too brief.

There was a shout from above, whereupon he was seized by one of the guards and made to look up again. The other placed fingers about his eyes, forcing his eyelids apart. His throat tight, he watched as the first victim was thrown suddenly from the wall, to be impaled upon one of the hooks a dozen feet below, like a side of beef. The man's scream turned the prisoner's blood to ice, as in mingled horror and fascination he watched him writhe helplessly, his blood streaming onto the dust below.
, it was called; he knew that much. As he knew it was only one of many grisly means of execution at the pasha's disposal. His stomach churned and bile rose in his gullet … then came a chuckle in his ear.

‘How long you think he can stay like that?' the Spaniard asked. He took a step forward so that the prisoner could see him better: a heavily bearded man. ‘It is surprising to me … sometimes they live an hour, even longer. It depends how they fall; many try to avoid the spike – they don't see that the hooks are placed in such a way that one cannot escape impalement.'

Had his hands been free the prisoner would have stopped his ears. The impaled man's blood-curdling screams rent the heat-laden air, causing the others atop the wall to cry out in terror and anguish at their imminent fate. Only now did he notice that there were other spectators too, standing some distance away. Some were even laughing at the victim … and it was then that, with a shock, he realized why he had been brought to witness the events from this vantage point.

‘I … you want …' The words stuck in his throat. He coughed and gagged, trying not to listen to the cries of the man on the hook. He tried to swallow again, but could not.

‘You wish to speak?' the Spaniard enquired. ‘Why – you think to beg for your life?'

The prisoner turned to face him, and was not prevented. The guards even let go of him, though one held his tied wrists in a firm grip. Shakily, he nodded. ‘You want something of me,' he said hoarsely. ‘Or you wouldn't have brought me here … Whatever it is, you know I'll agree.'

, I know it,' the Spaniard replied calmly, seemingly oblivious to the carnage a dozen yards away. A second victim was about to be thrown off the wall; the prisoner felt immense relief that, this time, he might not have to watch.

‘The matter is …' The Spaniard paused as if thinking it over. He spoke good English, the prisoner thought. Perhaps he was one of those traders or ship-masters who enjoyed the pasha's favour. Though he hadn't the look of a sea captain or a merchant … he looked more like a soldier: one who had seen many battles, and was indifferent to suffering.

‘I do have a use for you,' he went on. ‘Though you're an Englishman and my enemy, yet the world is changing. Your government and mine will make peace soon. Already your king has ordered an end to hostile actions against our ships at sea. Though you, of course, know this.'

The prisoner drew a breath, but the next question was not unexpected. ‘How much would you do?' the Spaniard enquired, suddenly leaning close to him. ‘To escape a death like the one you see before you? I imagine you would do much – watch now.'

And at a glance from him, the guards forced the prisoner once more to look at the dangling figure, the sight of which made him gag a second time. The man had torn himself so much in his agony that he was almost disembowelled. His innards hung down, dripping gore; he would soon be but a carcass.

‘Sweet Jesu – ask what you will,' the prisoner muttered. ‘I'll not disappoint, I swear!'

There was a moment, while words passed between the guards and the Spaniard. Then came movement from the high wall, followed by a ghastly shriek: another condemned wretch had been despatched. Now two sets of screams rent the air; the prisoner gulped, but mercifully he was permitted to look away. Shaking and nauseous, he waited for it to be over.

‘Of course you swear,' the Spaniard said. ‘But that is of no import for us … I mean myself and my friends. We require a guarantee, since what we wish you to do will take place in another land. You understand?'

The prisoner understood perfectly. They wanted him to turn, to work for them against his own country. They'd known what he was from the moment he had been captured, passing himself off as a passenger on a Florentine galley, off the coast of Sicily. His mind was working fast, as he sensed the possibility of freedom. He exhaled deeply, and said: ‘I'll serve your government in any way I can …'

He broke off then, for the Spaniard's smile had faded. ‘I speak not for governments,' he said brusquely. ‘All you need know is that whatever I order, you do it. If you betray me, you will find yourself on a ship back to Algiers – to the
, where your fate will be even worse than that of these men here. And more …' The man's smile returned, as he delivered his final blow. ‘We know who your father is: that blind old man, in his house by the sea. His life rests in your hands – if you fail us, his death will be as terrible as yours. That, you see, is our guarantee.'

Dumbstruck, the prisoner gazed into the Spaniard's dark eyes, and saw that it was no bluff. He nodded weakly, while sweat ran down his neck in rivulets … The heat was stifling. The dreadful screams of the impaled men seemed to swell in volume … Suddenly his legs folded beneath him, while his vision blurred. His last memory of that terrible day was of being dragged by the guards, back to the passageway with his feet scraping its dusty floor, and into a welcoming blackness.


arbeck woke up in a sweat, in semi-darkness. As had happened often of late, for a moment he forgot where he was … then he saw a sagging beam overhead and remembered. He tried to raise his head, and found that he could: the fever had lifted. He struggled to sit up, as a voice spoke out of the gloom.

‘You've come to your senses. I'm glad.'

He blinked as a shape rose by the bedside, then recognition dawned. ‘How long have you been here?' he asked.

‘Three days. It's Monday, in case you wondered.' The woman's face was pale in the dim light. Marbeck looked to the window, saw that dawn had broken.

‘So you've been my ministering angel, Meriel.'

She had turned aside to strike a flame from a tinderbox. There was a candle on a chest by the wall, which she lit before facing him again. ‘For part of the time,' she replied. ‘Another was here. He said he would return today. He called himself Roger Daunt …' She raised her eyebrows. ‘But that's no more his name than yours is Thomas Fowler. That's the one you're using here, isn't it?'

He didn't reply, but glanced round the room: at his clothes on the floor, his basket-hilt rapier in a corner. His sick-bed was rank, the pillow and sheets stained with his sweat. He was unclothed but for a nightshirt, which stank. He had eaten nothing for days, he knew, though his memory was fuzzy. The sickness had come upon him suddenly, he recalled, though he barely remembered getting himself here. From the look of the poorly furnished chamber with its low ceiling, he could be in any one of a score of inns and taverns, though he recalled this one's name: the Three Cups in Botolph Lane, near to the Butcher's Hall. He thought he could smell offal, from the shambles across the street; the odour was nauseating to him.

BOOK: Marbeck and the Privateers
9.91Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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