Chapter 10: The Artists' Model
I think A'isha was being wildly optimistic if she thought Catherine, Sally, Elena, Ruth, Julia and I were going to make a good dancing troupe after only one practise. We were graceful enough, but coordinating our actions takes a lot of practise. If Hassan wants us to perform before his guests in a week's time, then we will need to practise for several hours every day. To do that, we'll need to be excused from our usual chores. Knowing A'isha that isn't likely to happen.
I leave the others and go to find Rebecca. She and I are on floor cleaning duty today. Rebecca is the youngest of our group of thirty two kidnapped women; victims of the vile slave trader Nathaniel Wickliffe. She's fortunate in that her father is wealthy, so it's only a matter of time before a ransom is paid to free Rebecca. I hold out no such hope for myself.
Rebecca and I have made a start on cleaning the wide corridor floor when Catherine comes looking for me. Catherine's a lot less prissy than when we first met, and she's a good friend to many of those here.
"A'isha wants you in the Rose Room, Jackie," says Catherine. "I've been sent to help Rebecca with the floors while you're gone."
The Rose Room is the closest thing A'isha has to an office inside the harem. If Catherine has been sent to help Rebecca, then whatever A'isha wants is going to take me more than a few minutes. Is it more dancing practise or has Hassan ordered me to write another story? I know better than to keep A'isha waiting.
"You are going to be a busy girl for the next few days, Zakiyah," says A'isha, referring to me by my slave name. "There will be dancing practise every afternoon for three hours, and Hassan wants a further two stories from you. In view of these demands on your time, I shall excuse you from your normal chores for the time being. So, find your writing material and make yourself comfortable."
"Two stories?" I query. "Both at the same time?"
"No; one after the other, but I'll let you decide which to do first."
"Okay. So what am I to write about?"
"Hassan wants a story about your time in France. He also wants to know what happened between the end of your second story when you were sold as a slave in Martinique, and the start of your third story when you arrived in Portugal over a year later."
"I spent over six years in France, and a lot happened during that time."
"Then pick out a story you think Hassan will like to read. You've attracted his interest so far."
Okay, so ...
January 1810 finds me crossing the border between Spain and France. It's a desperate journey but it is my best hope of survival. Spain is becoming too dangerous for me. The French army has orders to kill me on sight, and the English are intending to arrest me and ship me off to London to stand trial for crimes punishable by death, or, failing that, a lifetime as a convict. The Spanish guerillas whom I live with depend on the English for supplies, so I can never be certain of their continued willingness to hide me.
When I leave my friends in Spain I don't have a particular destination in mind. France is a big country and with most of its army and secret police busy in Spain, hiding in the backwaters of France sounds like a good plan. I speak French fluently thanks to both my parentage, and my adventures in the French speaking parts of the Caribbean on board the Zafiro. It's my parentage which suggests a destination for my travels.
My father was the Comte de Belleville and my mother was his Spanish mistress. She was nine months pregnant when they fled France during the turbulent year following the storming of the Bastille and the chaos which followed. When my father fled France, his wife Angelique was left behind to defend their home and possessions. What happened to her is a legend which I'm sure has bought many a storyteller a drink in a tavern. How much of the legend is fact and how much is pure fiction is a matter of conjecture. I decide that perhaps it's a good time to find out. Besides, I wouldn't mind seeing my father's château even if I will never have a claim to it. My only problem is that I've no idea where Belleville is located.
Adopting the name Jacqueline Lachatte, my travels take me to the city of Toulouse in south-western France. By now I need to find work before my money runs out. Sleeping rough and sweet talking farmers into allowing me to sleep in their barn has got me this far. But it's winter and the comforts of a warm room in which to sleep influence my decision to stay in Toulouse for a while. I find work as an artists' model for a small collective of artists. The pay isn't much and I get to take my clothes off a lot, but it's good fun and I make plenty of intimate friends.
That's where I meet an up and coming artist by the name of Émile Jean-Horace Vernet. Horace, as he likes to be called by those close to him, is about my age and paints military scenes ranging from a solitary soldier foraging for food, to a full scale battle scene. I'm not sure why he wants a naked young woman to pose for one of his paintings, but I'm happy to pose for any artist if the money is right.
"You have the look of a sultry Arab girl, Jacqueline," says Horace one morning when I ask why he's wanting me to pose for him.
"So is this to be one of your battle scenes where a poor helpless woman gets carried off by rampaging soldiers and ravished?" I ask.
"No. No. Not at all," replies Horace. "I'm trying my hand at a new movement of art form called Orientalism. Paintings set in the world of sheik's harems and Barbary slave markets. You'd make an ideal harem slave girl."
Hmm. Prophetic words, but I digress.
"Oh! I know about those!" I laugh.
"Really? Have you ever been inside a sheik's harem? Or seen an Arab slave market?"
"I was briefly a guest in a Turkish bey's harem, and I've seen more Barbary slave markets than I care to count. The bey's harem was a run down old building with more rats than women living inside. And the slave markets are sordid places, the horrors of which are impossible to describe."
"Hmmm. Well I'm not certain people will buy paintings showing such a horrifying scene. My patrons want a certain amount of romanticism attached to the scene."
"Oh! You mean like this," I say, lying back on a couch with my hands behind my head and my legs apart.
Horace likes the pose and only makes a few adjustments to the way I'm lying. He considers whether to keep me naked, or have a casually draped piece of cloth hiding my cunt. Of course he wants to fuck me, and I'm more than happy with the prospect of that. But he's a professional, and at least makes a start on the painting before deciding he needs to empty his balls before he can continue.
Fortunately I arrived in France with a good supply of herbs to prevent an unwanted pregnancy. Certainly Horace and his fellow artists exercise their cocks on a regular basis and I never lack for someone to keep me warm in bed at night. For now, Horace wants me to play the harem slave girl and he the lustful sheik.
"Dance for me, my pretty slave," sighs Horace as he works himself into his role.
Although he's unaware of my recent time as one half of the singing and dancing duo, Julieta y Jacqueline, I've never made it a secret that I can perform the sorts of dancing which entertain randy men. The absence of any music is only a minor hindrance as I begin a sensuous dance before him.
Dancing naked can be harder than dancing wearing clothes. Any form of clothing can act as a prop to entice the audience. Sometimes the allure of being allowed to peek at what is hidden can be more erotic than seeing the target itself. But I'm not a novice at exciting a man and Horace is masturbating furiously at the sight of me jiggling my tits and arse as I glide about naked. Of course, he has every intention of ramming his shaft into one or other of my holes, and I'm just as eager for him to do so.
Suddenly he makes a grab for me and spins me around so that he has me pinned facing the wall. His solid cock pushes its way into my arse. Four quick thrusts and his cock is fully embedded in my innards. His assault would have been painful had I not been fucked up my arse many times before. He's near to the point of no return and it only takes me reaching behind me and stroking his balls for him to explode inside me. His powerful orgasm triggers one of my own and I do my best to milk every drop of his cum before I release him.
"Stay with me forever, Jacqueline. Be my mistress and share my life."
I don't fail to notice that Horace wants me as his mistress and not as his wife. His father and grandfather were noted artists, so he must feel that a certain quality of woman is needed as his wife. A quality I clearly don't possess. I could feel offended, but I've no intention of tying myself down to one man. I've had years of practise at being nothing more than a man's toy when it comes to sex and I've come to accept that as my lot in life. I don't intend to become attached to any man ... or woman for that matter.
I politely turn down Horace's offer and he doesn't seem too put out by my refusal. We resume the painting and Horace once again becomes the professional artist. The end product is a typical male fantasy scene. The helpless slave girl is swooning at the sight of her lustful master as he is obviously preparing to ravish her. At least Horace omits my tattoo. It wouldn't do for some observant official to identify the girl in the picture as me.
By early April the days are getting warmer, and I decide to resume my journey to Belleville. Fortunately I've discovered that Belleville is not far from the city of Lyon in the Rhône valley, so I at least know where I'm going, even if getting there might be a challenge. My earnings as an artists' model aren't enough to do more than pay my rent and provide food and clothing. There's no reason for me to stay, particularly as Horace has left for Paris to sell his recent paintings. He's not sure if he'll return to Toulouse.
I happen to be wandering along the canal bank one morning and I notice the 'help wanted' sign propped on a barge called Fleur-de-Lis. The Fleur-de-Lis is a functional but unwieldy beast. She must be decades old and her battered trim shows every sign of a hard life carrying goods along the Canal du Midi between Toulouse and the Mediterranean coast. Ninon Beauregard and her son Valentin own and work the barge with the help of an overworked and rundown horse called Napoleon. I doubt the ruler of France would be impressed by sharing his name with such a sorry animal, but apparently the name was bestowed upon many a young horse a decade ago, so Ninon's Napoleon is by no means unique.
Ninon and Valentin have secured a full load of cargo and want to hire an extra hand for their next journey east. I'm hired on the spot as soon as I can show that I know which end of the barge is the bow, and which is the stern. I quickly grab my few possessions, say farewell to my friends and join the crew of the Fleur-de-Lis. My plan is simple. Journey to the coast on this barge and then find passage on a boat heading up the river Rhône as far as I need to go.
"Have you handled one of these before Jacqueline?" asks Ninon as she hands me a musket.
"Um ... I'm more familiar with a pistol, but I've fired a musket before," I reply. "Why?"
"These are times of hardship and the waterways are home to more than a few pirates. Usually they are opportunists working on their own, but more recently there have been organised gangs operating along the more remote sections of the canal. We need to be prepared."
In the interests of keeping up my disguise, I don't reveal my experience in dealing with pirates. There seems to be no immediate danger so I take the opportunity to stow my belongings in the cubby hole Ninon has provided for my use.
Napoleon seems to know the route by heart and needs very little supervision. Valentin walks along the canal path next to Napoleon, while Ninon steers the barge. For such an important waterway there's very little traffic. There are plenty of locks along the way, and my job is to work the lock gates. It's not a task a seafarer ever needs to tackle on board a ship, but it's easy enough to learn.
According to Ninon we are making good progress. Unfortunately Napoleon hasn't the stamina to continue for much longer today. Consequently, even though it is only late afternoon, we find a safe place to berth overnight. Ninon promptly announces that she's off to the local tavern and that Valentin and I are to feed Napoleon and then stand watch on the barge.
From what Ninon said earlier, Valentin is about my age, although his smooth face makes him look no more than sixteen. He has a habit of slipping his hand inside his rough cotton shirt and rubbing his chest. At first I thought his actions were because his shirt is irritating his chest, but as soon as we're alone I realise that he is, in fact, a she.
"Maman insists I disguise myself as a man," says Valentin, who is really called Valentine. "A young woman isn't safe travelling in these parts. Other barge owners are just as likely to take advantage of us as the brigands who steal and rob the unwary."
Valentine undoes her shirt revealing the tight wrapping around her tits. She loosens the binding and lets out a sigh of relief as her small but well formed tits bounce free. She washes the grime of a hard day's work from her face and for the first time reveals the attractive young woman beneath.
She shows no sign of embarrassment at moving about the cabin naked above her waist. It's almost as though she's goading me into some sort of reaction.
"Is your mother likely to be gone long?" I ask.
"The Loyal Patriot doesn't close for hours and maman is partial to strong drink. If she's not back by midnight then I'll go and fetch her from whatever ditch she's passed out in."
"Isn't she worried that her boat's cargo might get stolen?"
"We're safe enough here. Tomorrow is going to be another matter. We'll need to keep a good watch for most of the day. But tonight we won't be disturbed."
While I prefer sex with men I'm not adverse to the occasional romp with a woman. And that is precisely what Valentine has in mind. Before long we are entwined in each other's arms and busy arousing each other. I suspect that Valentine has been deprived of any sexual contact for a while as her actions show a certain degree of urgency despite her assurances that we won't be disturbed.
Valentine clearly likes to take a dominant role in a sexual coupling. I briefly wonder whether this is because she adopts a male persona for much of the time, or if it's just how she is. Either way she's practically forcing herself on me. If a man did this to me I'd put a stop to it fairly quickly, but today I'm content to wait and see how this plays out.
I'm naked in next to no time and Valentine goes to work between my legs. It's an unbelievable sensation and I simply lie back and surrender myself to passion. She has my juices flowing in no time and the series of orgasms which ripple through me only encourage her to delve deeper with her tongue. Then she starts teasing my clit with her hand as her tongue penetrates deep into my cunt. The effect is explosive and I can't prevent my juices from squirting over her face. Only when Valentine's lust is satisfied does she permit me to respond in kind. It's an experience I'd be happy to repeat another day.
All too soon it is time for Valentine to go and retrieve her mother. Out of habit I do a quick check of the barge while she's gone. After years spent at sea I've learnt that you never assume everything is alright with any vessel capable of sinking.
Ninon is lucky to have a daughter like Valentine who can look after their livelihood while her mother is totally plastered. I wonder how many times she's saved her mother from drowning in the canal. Ninon's wish to demonstrate her skills at walking on water suggests this isn't a new problem.
However, Ninon can certainly recover her senses quickly. Next morning she's back at the barge's helm and we're once more on our way east. Today's journey takes us through woods and sparsely populated areas. I don't need Ninon to point out the dangers of an ambush. We pass one barge whose owner tells us of a near encounter with a small boat manned by four armed men. But he didn't stop to find out whether they were pirates or a local hunting party looking for food. Nevertheless we keep our weapons near us at all times.
An hour later we see what is presumably the same group of men the bargee had told us about. There's no doubt in my mind that these are pirates. How do I know? Just put it down to a sixth sense developed from my years at sea.
Valentine is once again disguised as Valentin and her exposed position on the canal track with Napoleon puts her in the greatest danger. The men in the small boat make a beeline for her. A signal from Ninon alerts Valentine and she moves Napoleon closer to the barge. Ninon moves to the front of the barge with her musket at the ready. I ready my weapon and take up a position where I can cover both women should the need arise.
"What cargo do you carry?" calls one of the men in the small boat. Although we can see their weapons, they haven't threatened us so far.
"None of your fucking business," replies Ninon. "Now clear out of our way."
Whether a less aggressive reply from Ninon would have altered anything is a matter for speculation.
Chapter 11: Old and New Friends
"We're customs officers," replies the man. "Halt your barge and stand by for an inspection of your cargo."
His assertion is a clumsy ruse, but it gives Ninon a moment of doubt. She hesitates long enough for the men to train their weapons. I'm fairly safe where I am, and Valentine has moved behind Napoleon. But Ninon has little chance of avoiding being hit if we end up shooting it out.
"Put your weapons down or we'll start shooting," orders the man.
"Like hell we will," shouts Ninon in defiance, firing her musket at one of the men and then promptly diving into the canal.
Valentine and I also fire our weapons. Only one man gets hit although his tumble out of the boat spoils the aim of the others. Their shots go wide of their mark. Which of us scored the hit is impossible to say. These muskets are old and worn, so hitting anything is more a matter of luck than skill. Valentine and I promptly start to reload our weapons. The three surviving men in the boat do the same. It's a race against time. The first to be ready gets a free shot at their opponents.
My experience onboard the Zafiro gives me an edge. I'm ready first and I take aim at the man who had been doing all the talking. He's almost ready with his musket but he's a fraction too slow. My shot rings out but my wretched weapon misfires and sends my shot wide. I don't bother reloading and concern myself more with not getting shot in return.
Suddenly there's a commotion in the water and the men's boat starts rocking wildly. I soon realise that the source of the disturbance is Ninon. She must have dived underwater and found her way to their boat. The men are preoccupied with staying inside their boat, so stop paying attention to Valentine and I. I take the opportunity to grab my pistol from my pack. It may have a shorter range than a musket, but it's a much more reliable weapon. I grab my knife at the same time.
Valentine fires another shot with her musket. Her shot misses but it causes enough of a distraction to enable me to get near enough for my pistol to be effective. For the first time I'm able to see the men clearly. I recognise one of the men as a former sailor on the Zafiro who left the crew three years ago to settle down to a peaceful life as a farmer.
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