Moon Gold: The Auriano Curse
I remember little of my very early years, only running along a beach, splashing in the surf. I know only that the man and woman who raised me were not my true parents, but I was happy with them. One day, men came, caught me up, ripped me from my home and put me on a ship. I was thrown into the hold with many others. It was stifling and cramped and stinking. I was frightened, hungry and thirsty, but we had little to eat or drink. I learned our captors were Barbary pirates, fierce, blood-thirsty, and greedy. They yelled and whipped us if we did not do as they said. They raided other places, and added to our numbers, which made our lot more miserable. When we finally landed we were in an exotic city — Tripoli — and sold in the market like goats or sheep.
The man who bought me was cruel. The first day I was in his house, I was given the job of pouring milk for his children. I dropped the pitcher. My master beat me until I was senseless and I became very ill. I do not remember much of that time, only that Zayed, one of the older boy slaves, cared for me and gave me my name. He became my friend.
I left my childhood behind in that man’s house, as I learned quickly how to become invisible so my master would not whip me, and I learned how to placate and persuade with my words, telling my master what he wanted to hear. Zayed had formed an attachment to one of the girl slaves. He told me that one day he would run away with this girl and take me with them. But Fate had another idea. Zayed caught our master using the girl harshly, hurting her. The girl had barely become a woman. Zayed attacked our master, but others came and stopped him. My friend, who had saved my life and had become a brother to me, would be put to death for laying hands on our master. I could not let that happen, so I formed a plan. I became clumsy and unruly, making my master angry. One day, just as he was about to beat me, I convinced him that rather than have one bad slave and another that he would put to death, he could sell both Zayed and myself and make a profit. Being a greedy man, he liked that idea.
Zayed and I were both sent to the slave market again, but the guard was lazy and did not pay attention. We were able to trick him to make our chains loose. When he was laughing and talking to his friends, we escaped. And now we were free.
Zayed and I lived by our wits in the next few months. We stole what we needed and slept in stables and empty buildings. One night, we decided to sneak into a wealthy man’s house and swim in his bath. Silently, we slipped into the water and swam beneath the surface. When we emerged, I felt very strange. I could not feel the water dripping from my body, nor the stone beneath my feet. Zayed looked at me in horror. I had turned to darkness, a shadow. The talisman which I had worn around my neck for as long as I could remember had slipped off in the water. I remember being told by my parents never to take it off. Now I knew why.
Zayed retrieved it from the bottom of the pool, and I put it back on. As soon as I did, I became human again, but I wanted ― craved ― everything. Food, drink, the scent of flowers, the touch of a woman. I had never particularly cared about that last thing before. We left the rich man’s house in a hurry. Since we had neither a goat nor a girl, my appetites went unappeased, and I became quite ill. Zayed hid me away in an abandoned stable, and went in search of a cure. He finally returned with a hunk of camel meat and a young prostitute. Both cured me. I vowed never to remove the talisman again. But I broke that vow again and again, because as a shadow, I could sneak into places and steal what we needed. Then we made the mistake of trying to steal from Darwish al-Rafiq.
He caught us. Rather than punishing us, he took us as slaves. But he treated us more like sons. That was where we met Robert Thurgood, an English boy a few years older, who had been captured by the Barbary pirates and sold to our master. Years passed, and the three of us became friends. Darwish al-Rafiq educated us and taught us manners, for he had no sons and he wished to pass his business along to someone he could trust when he became too old to buy and bargain. He taught us his trade. I became his agent, traveling to far off places to sell his rugs. Zayed and Robert ran his warehouses. But that was not enough for Robert.
Our master was wealthy, and Robert wanted to steal from him and escape. When he saw the talisman around my neck, he suspected its magic and he wanted it. One night as I slept, he tried to cut it from the cord around my neck. I never trusted him after that. Several months later, in the middle of the night, he slit the throat of our master. I found our master, blood pumping from his throat, and Robert searching for gold coins and jewels. I fought with Robert, tried to stop him, but he sliced my cheek and escaped. Darwish al-Rafiq died in my arms, but not before he whispered to me where he had hidden most of his wealth. Zayed and I discovered a cache worth a king’s ransom. We were rich. And free.
We ran our master’s business, but that was not the life we wished. We sold everything, took our wealth and moved west to the city of Fèz. There, we found a poor rug merchant who could trade for us. He would buy and sell rugs for us, take a portion of the profits and save the rest for us. Zayed and I left him happy and wealthier than he ever believed possible, and we vanished into the desert.
I heard of Robert from time to time, of his sly cruelty and search for wealth and power. He called himself Al Jabbar, the Mighty. Zayed and I avoided him, traveling in another direction whenever we heard he was near.
We journeyed from oasis to oasis, staying with this tribe and that, raiding, guarding caravans, earning a reputation of fearless, fearsome men. I became known as Al Qarsan, the Pirate. We had settled with the Tuareg for a time, when a lovely English woman with a fierce heart walked into our tent and wanted to hire me to find an assassin.