Naked Prey

by George Gauthier

Treasure of Carthage

Chapter 1. Trapani, Sicily 1156

"Off with your kit then, Eric." the bosun said with the authority of one used to being obeyed.

"Right here in the common room?" the nervous lad asked looking dubiously at the leering faces of the tavern's guests and a few sailors from the ship he hoped to sign on with.

"Why not, boy? This is as much privacy as you'll get aboard a sailing ship like the 'Alboran Sea'. Anyway, as I already mentioned, we don't hire anyone, man or boy, unless they check out first."

Nodding, though biting his lower lip in embarrassment, the tow headed boy slipped the linen shirt over his shoulders and set it aside. His taut torso displayed a wiry build with a well corrugated chest and belly, tiny red aureoles at the tips of his pectorals, and more muscular definition than one might expect of a lad a few months short of seventeen. Underneath he had just a loose pair of breeches instead of proper hose, the garment obviously a hand-me down rather too large for his small waist. They rode very low on his narrow hips, exposing his flat belly nearly to his groin and barely covered his rear cleavage, threatening to slip off entirely if the waistband ever lost its tenuous hold on the boy's pert rump. No small clothes on him either.

Just then the boy caught sight of the barmaid and stopped fumbling with the tie that (just barely) held up his pants. Impatient, the bosun reached out his big hands and swept the boy's breeches down to his ankles. Putting a booted foot on the garment the bosun forced the boy to step out of them entirely, giving him and everyone else a full view of his naked body. Not so surprisingly the boy's clothing vanished into the crowd, grabbed by one of the sailors, probably for the rest of the evening. It seemed his job interview and get acquainted session with prospective crew mates would be carried out with him in the nude.

Several of the sailors whistled at the sight of the now naked youth. Eric Sturluson was a comely lad though quite small for his age and very slender. He stood just shy of four inches over five feet (162 cm) and weighed only 110 pounds (50 kg). He had a fawn-like physique but with a wiry musculature, toned and taut and incredibly well-defined thanks to near zero body fat.

From his tiny red nipples to a deeply indented navel, to narrow hips framing a surprisingly ample manhood for one so slight of build, Eric was real beauty. His belly was flat though well rippled with small but firm pectorals and abdominals. Between the V of his Adam's girdle his flat belly showed a tracery of downward pointing veins just under the skin. The beat of his heart was visible on the left side of his smooth chest. He was sleek and smooth, with the deep even tan of someone who must spend much time outdoors unencumbered by clothing.

The boy was pretty as a girl with animated and intelligent features: a straight nose, high cheekbones, and large green eyes topped by a blond thatch, colors that reflected his Norman heritage. He had no hair on his body, not even wisps under his arms or at the fork of his legs, a naturally hairless boy then, a condition probably related to his failure to reach full height, as was his flawless complexion. It was obviously no razor had ever scraped his cheeks or had needed to. He was totally beardless, without even a hint of peach fuzz.

"Hmmn, no sign of disease down here." the bosun mused aloud, giving Eric's genitals a close scrutiny, weighing the hairless ballsac in the palm of his hand, rolling the spheres with his fingers. "Still if you are really at your full height and bare as you are everywhere, even here at the fork of your legs, it makes me wonder if these things are working properly."

The bosun punctuated his remarks by squeezing one of the boy's testicles between thumb and forefinger. He then turned his attention to the smooth cock, pushing back the foreskin and ran a thumb around the edge of the glans then over the helmet. Eric was mortified with the close inspection of his genitals and the doubts voiced about his virility, doubts that had been following him for some time. It was no secret that the boy had no interest in girls even at an age when the juices should be flowing. He spent his free time with other boys his age, mostly orphans and runaways from the drudgery of rural life, sometimes sharing a bed. The noises that emanated from his tiny room out back of youthful males in lusty sexual congress left no doubt as to what went on behind the closed door. Nor was it hard to conclude from Eric's small size, fine-boned features, hairless body and his mop of straight blond of hair that nearly brushed his shoulders which boy was on the bottom.

"What about his ass?", another sailor prompted. The bosun nodded then ordered Eric.

"Spread 'em, bend over, and grab your ankles, little one."

As the embarrassed youth complied with this latest humiliation, the bosun caressed the muscular halves of the boy's rump then squeezed them appraisingly. The flesh plumped up red between his fingers, living white marks on the buttocks. His thumbs slid into the whorl of the anus, pulling it open for a visual inspection.

"Hmmmn, nice and tight but opens up easily enough. No sign of piles or fistula either, nor any abnormal discharge."

He slid his right thumb far enough into the hole to touch the boy's joy spot, grunting satisfactorily at the reaction that caused as the boy gave out an "Urk!" and tried to straighten up.

"Head down, ass up, boy!" he remonstrated with a smart slap to the butt, then resumed his inspection. His rough hand pulled the boy's genitals back between his legs, tugging the balls to the bottom of their sac. He worked the boy's cock like a farmer works his milch cow's teat, feeling it start to plump up.

Poor Eric, under his tan, his skin turned pink from a full body blush. This frank talk and intimate examination in front of people who knew him was more than he had bargained for. He was terribly embarrassed at being examined so intimately in public, ashamed too that he was so complaisant, letting it happen, not standing up for himself, raising no real objection, stripping right there in the common room, bending over, letting a man's hands touch every part of his body, even his most private parts. It was almost too much, but he wanted the job badly.

Eric looked at the leering faces around him. What was next? Would the sailors throw him belly down over a table and give him a try-out there and then? He looked around for support but saw only amusement in all faces and more than a little lust in many. It was a look he was used to by then.

An orphan boy had few options, He had to earn a living as best he could, even if that meant bending over for men who liked pretty boys. So Eric had been selling his ass for nearly two years at the tavern, sharing the proceeds with the innkeeper. Eric had long ago realized that some males preferred their own gender, even when women were available and would pay for the privilege of a romp in bed with a young good looking male

As a tavern boy in a seaport he had some idea what happened to pretty lads like himself who signed up for long voyages, though he was unclear about the ground rules. Would he have to entertain the whole crew? Would he have any choice at all? Would he even get his clothes back or would they keep him naked while aboard ship? He'd heard of captains who kept their ship boys bare except when they went ashore. What about discipline aboard ship. Some captains were strict disciplinarians, relying on the whip to keep sailors in line. Others with a perverse streak liked to teach a boy to crave the caress the whip for sexual excitement. Eric wasn't interested in anything of that sort, as he had made clear to his own clients.

As for enforced nudity at sea, Eric did not mind going about entirely bare, not in itself. Why should he. Eric was rather proud of his trim little body and liked to show it off when he and the local lads went to the shore for a run along the sands and a swim, which they did almost every day. What fun the boys had splashing, racing, playing the grab ass games boys get up to, strutting his stuff. He especially liked it when his friends stood in water chest high and let him set his feet in their hands like stirrups. Light as he was, the two of them could lift him high and fling him up and away in a brief moment of flight. When he came down, he sometimes flopped into the water on his belly, but he usually managed to twist his trim body catlike to enter the water in a clean dive. Eric was an excellent swimmer, and he loved the way the water flowed over his body, touching him everywhere at once like a lover with a hundred hands. Afterwards he liked to stretch out on the sand to doze, letting the rays of the warm Sicilian sun turn his skin a tawny gold. If that allowed the other boys and passersby the chance to scrutinize him, so be it.

He had no false modesty about himself. He knew that for all his petite size, he was worth looking at: tanned to a pale brown like a native Sicilian, though in his case from the sun, blond as a Viking, his trim body spread out on the white sand, eyes closed, looking so very desirable and sexy: small, naked, hairless, with a trim and taut boyish physique and angelic features. He dozed on quite unconcerned that with his legs spread apart he was totally exposed: even his well formed genitals and the small whorl between his buttocks.

Still casual public nudity was one thing or even entertaining clients upstairs. Eric had never been taken sexually in front of a crowd. Nor did it happen that evening either. The bosun was thorough in his evaluation for good reason but was neither callous nor uncaring. He knew the boy would be utterly mortified by a public fucking, and he had no intention of putting him through one. No sense in rushing things, shaming this inoffensive lad in front of those who knew him. The boy would soon get used to being passed around every evening among the crew and even look forward to it. It was enough right then that he had showed he would not resist whatever use the bosun wanted to make of his luscious body, stripping him publicly, touching him intimately, toying with his most private parts. Eric was the best sort for a ship's boy, a natural submissive, a bottom boy anxious to please and willing to do it with his sexy body. With a little care to break him in gently, he would soon accept and even welcome his new role in life. Now the bosun had to clinch the deal, to get the boy to sign the papers that would put him under the authority of the captain and the bosun too.

"Please, bosun Caltrone. Will I be whipped aboard the Alboran Sea. I don't think I could stand to be marked or disfigured."

"Nay, lad. Ours is a happy ship, and discipline is enforced without brutality. The captain has a light hand with the cat. He thinks leaving stripes on a man is a permanent solution to a temporary problem, one that makes a bad sailor turn mean and never made a good sailor out of a bad one. Mind you, we don't tolerate trouble makers. The cat does come out of the bag in case of major crimes: theft, fighting, or striking an officer. Even then the offender is whipped but once then set ashore at the first port. Given your age, for any conceivable infraction you can expect no more than a slap of a tawse on your bare rump or maybe a light caning on these bare cheeks. Believe me, no one will want to spoil your pretty little body. We want to enjoy it as it is, smooth and flawless. As we shall."

"Does that mean that I have to ... well, share myself ... with everyone I mean."

"The captain and mate do get priority but yes, most of us anyway. We have a crew of twenty seven. You will get to know them well if you sail with us. Only a handful doesn't care much for boys. That's not so many compared to those you probably entertain in a week."

Eric flushed as the barmaid smiled ruefully nodding and answering for him. "At least that many, bosun. He is quite popular and takes far too much custom away from us girls."

The bosun laughed and told her. "That's because he is the prettiest thing around here, the loveliest boy I have ever laid eyes on, really. I am sorry if that makes you squirm there lad, but it is true enough."

"You mentioned my bare rump just now. Does that mean I have to stay like this all the time, stark naked?"

"Why yes! Who ever heard of a ship's boy running around in clothing. You will serve aboard just as nature made you."

With a smile he added, not unkindly:

"I have seen you running along the shore or swimming in the harbor, Eric, like a seal or maybe a mer-boy, then lying on the sands afterwards, so I know you are not shy, even something of a show-off. You will do just fine. If I am any guess of boys, you will enjoy being kept naked. Oh, we will lend you a loincloth to wear when you go ashore so as not to offend the locals. Otherwise you will serve just as you are now."

A friendly slap on his rump followed by a fond rub punctuated the bosun's remarks. Eric really did want to get away to sea, to travel to the distant lands he was always hearing about. He had no real future in Trapani as a tavern boy. It was just a small port on the western tip of Sicily. At sea maybe he might work his way up to seaman or even officer. He could read and write and figure well enough. Most sailors were illiterate, but Eric had been taught his letters by a local notary in exchange for his favors gratis. He signed the papers, rather than make a witnessed mark, becoming a ship's boy on the trader the Alboran Sea.

Named for the westernmost arm of the Mediterranean between Iberia and Morocco, the Alboran Sea was a merchant galley. Derived from the knarss, the merchant ships of Eric's Norse ancestors, it was clinker built with only ten oars on each side. All the crew including the rowers were free men. Despite his small size, Eric could expect to spend some time pulling an oar himself. Everyone needed to know how to row in tandem in case of emergency.

Though thee ship sailed with the wind in open water, it relied on its oars for propulsion into and out of harbors and anchorages or simply when the wind died down. With a new hand like Eric, the captain did not set the lad to the oars for the trickier approaches but trained him when the wind fell away and they had to use the oars to keep going. Some of the sailors were skeptical that a small nude lad like Eric, a beardless and virtually hairless boy, could wield an oar and keep the tempo with the other rowers, but he soon proved the doubters wrong.

Seated on his bench facing the stern, Eric's wiry physique went into action, bending forward as he lifted the oar out of the water, feathering the blade as his motion sent it toward the bow. He dropped the blade into the water with hardly a splash, then leaned back on the oar, legs braced on the block in front of him, pulling with the full strength of his legs and buttocks and back and shoulders, his rump almost coming up off the bench as he put his weight into it. All the sailors came to admire little Eric's work at the end of his big oar, the muscle bundles on his arms and shoulders and back outlined under his smooth skin, his abs heaving with his exertions and deep breathing, the long muscles of thigh and calf standing out like a classical sculpture of an athlete, and his pert buttocks rock hard as he braced himself and pulled on the oar.

Eric used his strength economically, without wasted motion, flexing forward and back like a long bow flexing in the hands of an archer. He moved in time with the others, careful not to entangle his oar with anyone else's. Maybe he couldn't impart as much impetus to the ship as the bigger males could, but no one could fault the lad for not doing his utmost.

As he rowed, sweat poured off him. Soon he was positively glowing in the sunlight, a shining vision of a male beauty at the peak of his physical powers. He worked away unselfconscious about his nudity and utter hairlessness, oblivious to the reality of his lubricious display of concupiscence and the effect it had on the lusty males in the crew. With his pretty face and sweat dripping off his taut body everywhere, the scene was just about the most erotic thing they had ever seen short of intercourse. They had never seen anyone in their lives, male or female, so physically desirable as this slender youth.

His fellow sailors soon warmed to the boy. This was one kid who really knew the meaning of hard work and did his best to keep up his end. He finished his shifts at the oar literally trembling with fatigue, muscles sore, too tired to feel real hunger in his belly though his energy was badly depleted. No one could say he did not give everything to his work, yet he never complained.

Eric soon found himself falling into the daily routine on the small ship. It was crowded but they usually put in to shore every night and cooked and slept on land. Medieval sailors had few navigational tools. Longitude was just a guess and latitude only crudely measured. Hence ships remained in sight of the coast. It was easier to navigate from landmark to landmark, it kept the ship close to ports for trade, and they could take advantage of coastal currents and and on-shore and off-shore winds different from the prevailing winds farther out. Another reason for galleys to remain near the coast was the need to refill their water casks for their large sweating crews. Although an open deck ship was more vulnerable to storms, its shallow draft allowed it to put in to small bays or beaches the ship, to travel up rivers, and to operating in water only waist high on a man.

If Eric's skin had been a pale brown ashore, months at sea in an open boat turned him nearly as brown as a Saracen. The sun shone high in the bright skies of summer in the Southern Mediterranean and the reflection from the surface of the sea kissed his bare hide virtually every day, turning it a tawny gold.

As for providing sexual services, yes Eric had to share himself with the crew, but it wasn't a free for all or an orgy every evening. The sailors took him in rotation and no more than five a night. Thereafter, the bosun made sure he got his full rest, both so he could recoup his strength and so he would look fresh and pretty the next morning. Putting out for the other sailors was no worse than what he had done at the tavern and these were all men he worked with daily. Not everyone was gentle or even nice but nobody got really rough with him either, if only because of what the others might say or do. They wanted the boy unspoiled for their turn at him, and some were becoming rather fond of the personable lad too. Once past his initial shyness at sex in public, the boy was uninhibited, happy to put on a show for those whose turn it was that evening to only watch and offer pointers and improbable suggestions.

The lusty sailors took him every possible way: on all fours, kneeling, on his back, astride a sailor's hips, sometimes at both ends at once, pumping for all they were worth into the warm depths of the sexy youth who had unreservedly accepted his role as everyone's boy, everybody's toy.

The men liked what he could do with his mouth as much as with the talented muscles of his ass. The boy often wound up at the end of the evening up on his knees sitting back on his heels, oozing cum from his anus, while his own spunk and that from five others glistened white all over his tanned chest and belly and face, a thread of cum linking the last cock to shoot with the deposit in his mouth, half opened in an embarrassed smile. Sometimes other sailors joined in for the final baptism of gism, spurting their seed across his exquisite features, leaving gobs and trails across the bridge of his nose, his cheeks, and his chin. Eric loved the smell and the taste of cum, licking his chops as it slid down his face or sucking cum off the fingers of a sailor who wiped the gooey gism off his skin and presented it to the youth's lips and tongue. Other hands rubbed the fluid into his chest and belly. Sometimes sailors shot their seed onto his back too, bathing his whole torso in cum.

All in all his life at sea was good for Eric: full of hard honest work that needed doing, decent food, fair treatment, all things considered, and plenty of recreational sex. He was very glad he had signed aboard. Aside from his personal adventures, he was seeing some of the dramatic coastlines and ports of call he had only heard about. He saw smoke erupting from the tops of volcanoes like Stromboli and gazed in wonder at the basaltic columns of the Cyclopean Islands off the east coast of Sicily near Mt. Etna. The ship stopped at the Blue Grotto on Capri. Not bothering with the normal approach in a rowboat, the boy had just dove into the sea and swam into what once was the private swimming pool of a Roman emperor refracted sunlight trough the water giving it a startling blue color. The Pillars of Hercules were dramatic not for themselves but because they represented the way to the limitless ocean beyond. Eric was glad they never took the Alboran Sea beyond the narrows. The huge swells, the open sea, and the tides of the Atlantic frightened him.

Still, for all his acceptance among the crew, he was younger than the other sailors and found it hard to make close friends because of his less than masculine role as a bum boy. Although the men indulged him and were kind in their rough way, he just wasn't taken seriously as a real male nor as one of them. The captain and mate and bosun liked him well enough, as a fine addition to their crew, and hard worker, pleasant shipmate, and in bed of course, but their positions would not let them get too close to a mere ship's boy.

Chapter 2. Archipelagoes and Islands

The good ship Alboran Sea traded from Gibraltar to Malta, stopping at the smaller ports and islands, especially those near Sicily and the North African coast. Just to the west of Trapani lay the Aegadian Islands an archipelago of small mountainous islands with an important tuna fishery. Around about the north shore of Sicily in the Tyrrhenian Sea lay the Aeolian Islands, eight volcanic islands which filled the gap between Etna on Sicily and Vesuvius on the mainland. These islands supplied volcanic pumice stone across the Mediterranean basin. South of Sicily lay the Pelagie Islands, not yet deforested as they would be in later centuries, covered with native olive groves and juniper and carob plantations. To the northwest, closer to Ifriqiya (Tunisia) lay Pantellaria, whose fertile soils were largely unexploited for lack of fresh water. Inhabitants could only store rainfall in cisterns. Volcanic in origin, it featured fumaroles and hot springs.

All these had been conquered in the past by the Arabs who had wiped our or deported their entire populations. Reconquered for Christendom by the Normans, like Sicily itself, they were more like stepping stones than destinations in themselves. The main trade was with the large islands of the Western Mediterranean: the Balearics, Sicily, and southern Sardinia though Corsica lay farther north than they usually sailed.

Galleys have to put in for water frequently. Sometimes they filled their casks from streams flowing into the sea at other times from village wells.

"What about that loincloth I am supposed to wear ashore, sir." Eric had asked the captain.

"Oh, no need for that lad. I am not sending you ashore on liberty where you would be on your own time. Filling water casks is part of your job. You are on duty, and your uniform of the day, every day is just that pretty tanned hide of yours. Now be off with you, lad."

A friendly slap to his bare rump told him the captain really did expect him to parade around the village in the nude.

Poor Eric felt rather embarrassed carrying or rolling a water cask through a village, while the villagers smirked at his naked body. With the bigger type of cask he had to bend over to roll it along the dusty street giving everyone a fine view of his pert rump, the crinkly whorl between his buttocks, and his dangly bits as they swayed with his movements between his slender thighs.

Inevitably this drew taunts from male teenagers centered at Eric's complete nudity, small size, and virtual hairlessness even at the fork of his legs. Unfortunately their dialect was enough like the one Eric spoke that he could follow their meaning. It bothered the boy, not because he was shy but because nudity in that context made him feel like he was barely a step above a galley slave, fearful that at any moment he might feel the lash of a taskmaster. More than one crude boy compared him to a farm animal or a dog, more specifically a bitch. Several made shrewd guesses about how he spent his evenings, using unflattering names and phrases like bum boy, whore boy, or catamite.

For all the occasional unpleasant episode, there were compensations, especially the exploration of the world beneath the waves. On one of his early voyages as a youth, the bosun Ricardo Caltrone had seen pearl divers at work in the Red Sea. He learned how they fashioned their goggles of leather and glass or horn that let them see clearly underwater, opening up a realm of wonder and beauty that few men knew existed. The pearl divers were slaves and took little joy from the dangerous realm they were forced to work, with hazards like sharks and drowning, but the bosun was a free man, able to enjoy his time under the surface. He did not dive for pearls which were not found in the Mediterranean but to explore this underwater kingdom for its own sake. With Eric such a fine swimmer, the bosun introduced him to the sport of diving, eager for a companion to share it with.

Of course the divers had no breathing gear, not even a snorkel, nor swim fins either. They swam with their goggles and a knife in a scabbard tied to the left forearm, entirely naked, like any other creature of the sea. Eric got the idea of strapping large scallop shells to the palm of his hands, using them much like a modern swimmer uses swim paddles. That improved their speed and mobility. He also carried a sponging trident reinforced with a spear blade at the other end for protection against sharks and to poke with at reefs and crevices you might not care to stick your hand into. Cork floats fastened near the ends of the trident gave it a neutral buoyancy. Even if he let go entirely it would not sink to the bottom.

Eric was a natural at swimming underwater. He could hold his breath for three minutes and could dive down to sixty feet. His slight build meant less resistance as his slender body slipped through the water. With his trident and long blond locks, he looked like a mer-boy or one of Poseiden's sons, a sea-sprite come to life. Indeed the other sailors soon took to referring to Eric as the mer-boy, much to his delight. He also concluded, or perhaps rationalized, the idea that his role as a mer-boy was another good reason for staying naked. Never mind clothing. Who ever heard of a sea-sprite or mer-boy who was other than naked. True he did not have a proper tail or scales on his lower body or seaweed for hair, but his trident, goggles, and swim shells, made him more of a creature of the sea than any other human boy.

Eric came to love the underwater realm, especially coral reefs. The schools of fish that swam around them displayed so many colors and shapes and markings in bold stripes and mottled spots. Corals grew in shapes as varied as deer antlers or big flat leaves or round loaves. Sea anemones which looked liked flowers but were animals, could retract their tentacles in an instant. Vicious eels and octopi lurked in holes and crannies. The variety of plants and shellfish was equally astonishing. Sometimes they found remains of sunken ships with the jars the ancients called amphorae scattered about. He imagined that ruins of buildings submerged in earthquakes were traces of lost Atlantis. No he did not find sunken treasure, no gold or silver or jewels, but this new world was a treasure in itself. Eric contented himself with bringing up choice shells and bits of coral though many of the latter lost their best coloration after exposure to the air.

As a result of their shared avocation, Eric felt himself growing friendlier with the bosun. He had always appreciated the man's hard body even if his dark looks were interesting rather than handsome. After a swim or a dive he would sit with the man within the circle of his arms, leaning back on his powerful chest, the man's member pressed into his cleavage, as Caltrone played lazily with his nipples and chest, and genitals. That was how they liked to watched the sunset, content to just lie with bodies pressed together, looking out over the sea at the remarkable display of reds and oranges that painted the western sky.

"So why don't we try looking for pearls ourselves, Ricardo." Eric asked one night.

"They don't seem to grow in these waters. No matter how many oysters you open up, you won't find a pearl inside. You wouldn't like pearl diving, Eric. It's a grim business. The oysters often lie in very deep water so it is easy to black out or to run out of breath and take water into the lungs by reflex. Then there are the sharks and sea snakes. I pity the poor souls I saw enslaved as divers. The owners kept them perpetually nude like you boy and were strict about segregation from females. It is 'common knowledge' in those parts that sexual activity increases buoyancy, so divers are kept locked up away from possible contact with women. Confined to male-only quarters, the inevitable result is that same sex relations were nearly universal among them, regardless of a boy's preferences. Not like when I hired you. Remember, I made sure you that you would be a willing participant. We don't rape our boys on the Alboran Sea."

At twilight, the bosun taught Eric the main navigational stars. The star patterns in the constellations were actually easier to pick out in the twilight because only the very brightest stars shone through the failing light of day. He also pointed out the constellations. Eric could identify some of them easily enough. The Scorpion and the Big Dipper and the head of Taurus the Bull were not hard to distinguish. He never could make out an archer in Sagittarius and wondered about some of the others too. The older man found his memory taxed to recall the stories behind the constellations, like just what was it that got Orion the Hunter placed into the sky in the first place. He did smile at the boy's curiosity and sense of wonder. Well that went with being seventeen, didn't it.

If their ship was docking for longer than overnight at an island, Eric might ask for time off to climb the highest point on the island and take in the view. The captain indulged his ship's boy's curiosity, knowing how much young males like to explore. The islands were small enough that he could not really get lost. So be it.

"Off with you then lad, and we'll look for you in two days' time. Remember not everyone will welcome a stranger but many will, if only to hear the news of distant parts. If you don't look like a threat, the islanders will treat you decently, especially if you have nothing for them to steal."

Some islands were mostly sandy and infertile with grassy hills and dunes along the coast. Others were volcanic with good soils and were laid out in fields. Some were forested, others were largely barren. Most islands were sparsely inhabited with just a single port and a village or two in the interior. Without sandals, the ground could be hard on the feet. Eric had only modest calluses on the soles of his feet so he had to pick his way carefully over stretches of volcanic rocks. He knew that in time his feet would toughen up.

To show his benign intent, Eric left his trident behind and set off bearing only a stick against dogs. He wore a skimpy loincloth, a narrow strip of cloth passed between his legs and over a cord tied low around his hips. A grown man armed to the teeth might have been perceived as a threat but not a slender virtually nude boy. Small for his age, he really looked two or three years younger than his actual seventeen, coming across to the islanders as an innocent lad, an errant youth rather than a lewd young man. With his sunny personality, physical beauty, and sense of humor, he charmed those he met. Everyone wanted to get on the good side of the lovely creature who had appeared in their midst and mingled so freely and unselfconsciously despite having only a scrap of cloth to cover his loins.

The older women might cluck at the sight of a nearly nude boy traipsing through their village, his butt cheeks exposed, but no one else really minded. Plenty of islanders of both sexes liked what they saw. Their eyes followed his progress along the path, entranced by the sight of the boy's perfectly formed buttocks dimpling fetchingly as he stepped his way across their small village square. The elders were careful to keep their young ladies at some distance from the young visitor. After all, the lad was next thing to naked. It would be rather improper then for them to be allowed to mingle, except at the harvest, which started the next day.

Still it was only hospitable to suggest the boy stay for with them overnight so the traveler might relate news of the outside world. They knew too their food, humble fare though it was, would be a welcome change from whatever he ate aboard ship.

To show his appreciation of their kindness, the next day Eric helped with the harvest, picking olives and almonds. For this work, village boys as well as Eric stripped naked to climb into the upper branches of trees to knock the olives or nuts off with a cane or stick. Without clothing, no one had to worry about snagging their garments or getting hung up. Besides this was a traditional way for the local girls to get a look at the upcoming lads without causing scandal. The girls bustled about on the ground, helping to police up the harvest into baskets and not so incidentally checking out a likely boy perched on a branch. In that way, the harvest doubled as the opening of courtship.

It was hot work, and scrambling among the branches did leave scratches, but it was a lot of fun too, a challenge and a chance to show off. As they reached the topmost branches the boys would yell out in sheer youthful exuberance. What boy does not love to climb trees? And if he also got a socially acceptable chance to posture and display himself for a potential mate, so much the better.

After sharing their evening meal Eric sat around the fire. Soon arms were thrown in a friendly fashion over his shoulders as bodies pressed him on either side. This was obviously a boy who liked to be fussed over and petted so his hosts indulged him. Several of the boys served as chaperones during the night. Desirable as he might appear to her, no village girl must be allowed to sleep with the young visitor. The best way to prevent a bastard birth was to engage the boy's sexual energies in other pursuits. His chaperones could see for themselves that little Eric was prettier than any girl in the village. He turned out to be a lot more fun and totally available. Eric enjoyed cavorting with the firm bodies of the village youths, even if he did leave the next day with a sore bottom.

Along the coasts, folks were more relaxed about total nudity. Fisher folk were used to the sight of males either fully naked or wearing only the briefest of loincloths or pouches. Their own men and boys went out on the boats in the nude, not wanting to get that fishy smell on the few garments they could afford. Also they were getting soaked anyway, so what point was there to clothing. If the nude blonde boy wanted to go sponging offshore or collect shells, then let him. He usually managed to spear a tasty fish which he donated to the villagers.

Still this was the Middle Ages not Ancient times when public nudity was much more common. Eric was lucky that he had found himself in a social niche along the littoral of the sea where casual nudity was not only allowed but often expected of young males. Naively, he sometimes wondered why clothes had been invented in the first place, or at least imposed on pretty youths like himself. Let the old and the ugly cover themselves out of shame and females of course, as defense from the attentions of overly aggressive males. Also those who lived in cold climates. In the Mediterranean, a pretty lad like Eric should be welcome anywhere to run around just as he was born. Why should he take more care about his raiment than the lilies of the field did. Was that not the lesson he had learned in church?.

Bosun Caltrone also taught Eric and another new sailor a bit of swordsmanship in case they had to defend their ship against pirates. The bosun did not bother with fancy fencing moves, just the basics. Regular practice would eventually make the moves second nature, giving the young men a reasonable chance in a fight. Eric had never handled a long blade before and was pleased to find that his small size and agility made him a natural with a rapier. All the rowing gave him much greater upper body strength than before. Being naked meant that no one could grab him by his clothing. Their grip would just slip on his sweaty nude physique. Indeed the boy's looks and nudity would distract an opponent in the first moments or a fight. The bosun advised Eric to use that and try to end the clash quickly while he still had that advantage.

Chapter 3. Tunis

"Out of the way, Norman scum" the Arab sergeant barked at Eric who looked over his shoulder in surprise then scooted to the side of one of the narrow streets of Tunis to let the patrol pass by.

"What was his problem, bosun? They had plenty of room to march by." Eric asked.

"Just taking out his frustrations. The emir's soldiers are worried that the invaders from Egypt will prevail, and they will either lose their livelihoods or maybe their lives in a final pitched battle. Try to look harmless and inoffensive and don't flirt with anyone, scrumptious though you look in your new outfit."

Eric rolled his eyes and tugged on the corners of the tiny vest he wore above low slung loose fitting white pants gathered in at the ankles. The vest did not close over his slender chest and reached no lower than his rib cage. Surely such a garment was merely decorative. It did not cover his chest or belly and hung open, displaying his pectorals and tiny red nipples. The trousers though were comfortable, loose -- not binding like regular hose would have been. For a boy who usually ran around naked, European style hose would have felt constraining.

As it was he felt insecure in alien territory without a real weapon, not even a common knife, but infidels in Muslim lands did not have the right to bear weapons. As Christians they were barely tolerated these days, mainly because the emir in his threatened capital at Kairouan did not want to add the Norman Kingdom of Sicily to the list of his active enemies. The king controlled the large island of Djerba just off the coast of Ifriqiya (Africa, meaning modern Tunisia). At least for now, that denied the enemy from the east a staging port between Alexandria and Tunis.

"Here is the coffee shop we were looking for Eric. Now attend me while I carry out the captain's orders. Keep an eye out for anyone who seems too keenly interested in our affairs. I trust you can tell the difference between those who gaze at you lasciviously and those who have darker intentions."

At the boy's nod, they stepped into the shade of the coffee shop. The arcade outside and decorative screens made the interior dark compared to the bright sun of North Africa. It also let cool breezes flow from one side of the large room to the other. At a corner near the rear exit was their contact, from his dress a Berber rather than an Arab. He was a tall man in his early twenties with a lean build, dark haired where it showed with only a close cropped fringe beard along the jaw line. His eyes were grey and his youthful features had a half smile on them as he looked Eric over, virtually undressing him with his eyes.

"Welcome to Tunis, Effendi." he said to the bosun. "I am Kabir. So this is the boy who provides the pretext for our rendezvous. He is perfect. Please sit next to me pretty one."

Rehearsed in his role, Eric sat down next to the big man and let his hands roam all over his body, as the bosun and the Berber negotiated their bargain.

"I hope we can reach a price acceptable to both of us for this lovely boy. He is experienced in the arts of pleasuring a man or indeed several at once," the bosun assured him.

"Indeed, I am not giving anything away to say that he is the most comely youth I have ever laid eyes on."

Eric flushed at this frank talk. Though the negotiation was ostensibly over Eric's sale into slavery, that was just their cover. Kabir had discovered clues as to the location of a lost treasure but could not recover it by himself. He needed allies and a ship, preferably a foreign one. That is where the Alboran Sea came in. As the captain's brother-in-law as well as bosun, Caltrone had full authority to commit their side. Kabir had to convince Caltrone that he had evidence solid enough for the risks involved and to justify the stake he claimed, one-third. He had to show his hand just enough to whet the appetites of the Europeans without tipping them off as to the exact location. The two men bargained over the actual split. Kabir also wanted the ship to convey him and the members of his household west to Morocco afterwards.

After some time going back and forth, the deal was settled and signed. In keeping with the cover story, Kabir asked to give his new purchase a trial run. To winks and jests from other patrons who had caught the drift of the bargaining, the big Berber lead the boy to his room upstairs. Eric supposed they might just spend some time together quietly, talking maybe, just pretending, but the Berber had no intention of passing up a chance to take the beautiful lad to bed, on that day or any other. A bargain is a bargain, and the boy's services were included in it.

"You do know that I am going to take you, boy, but rest assured I will not get rough. I have never hurt a pretty boy in my life, little one."

"The name is Eric, sir."

"Eric then. Better call me master. The paper we signed really does transfer you to my ownership as my slave, as a guarantor of good faith."

"Whaat!" the boy exclaimed in surprise. "You mean I am a slave boy now?"

"Temporarily yes. In the eyes of the law you are my slave, once I pay the bosun his silver. That way each of us has something of value, come what may. The captain and bosun will have my silver, and I will have you. Don't worry, little one. I can be a good master, as you will see in coming weeks. And if all goes well, as agreed, I will cancel the sale and destroy your ownership papers."

Eric stood there uncertain and nervous, not sure what to do with his hands. Kabir realized the boy needed reassurance, so he proceeded slowly. He liked surprising his boys with his gentleness. Kabir knew that with his size, strength, and strong features, he could intimidate a lad, especially a small youth like Eric. So he smiled as he put his hands to the boy's shoulders and squeezed reassuringly, then slipped the vest off him. How smooth and firm the boy's pectorals were, the nubbins in the center of their small aureoles just right for tweaking. With his hand on Eric's chin, he bent the boy's face upward to meet his kiss, pressing their lips together, then exploring inside with his tongue.

Eric found himself overwhelmed by the man's masculinity, the strength he felt in those long arms, the way his fringe beard rubbed Eric's bare cheeks, the insistence of his probing tongue. A sexual submissive and a bottom boy anyway, he melted into the man's embrace. Kabir's hands roamed all over the boy's taut torso. The older man smiled to see the boy look at him shyly as his fingers loosed the tie and let the trousers fall to his ankles.

Eric tried to step out of them, but the gathered cloth at the ankles hung up on his heels. Kabir smiled wide as he solved the problem by stepping on the pants and lifted Eric bodily, pulling him right out of the tangle about his ankles. There, now the lad was properly naked. Kabir was delighted that the boy's bronze coloring above the hips continued all the way to his ankles.

"You are as tawny as a Saracen, Eric, all over your trim little body. They must keep you naked aboard that ship of yours, exposed to the sun, don't they."

"Yes, master. I am allowed clothing only when I go ashore. And yes, they do take advantage of me every evening, a few at a time."

"The bosun said you had experience. Good. I want a boy who knows how to pleasure a man. My my, you are so slight and smooth, virtually hairless, not a hint of fuzz on your chin either. Yet you are what, seventeen?"

"Yes master."

Kabir continued with his exploration of the exquisite prize that had come into his possession. Had he put into port three or four years earlier, the captain could have sold the boy for a fortune as a catamite in the slave markets. Rich men would have paid a ransom for the lad at thirteen or fourteen. His market value at seventeen, though still high, was somewhat less since he had fewer years left for the bloom of his youth. Not that Kabir minded. He preferred a fully formed youth to a younger boy, both on aesthetic and moral grounds.

There was no doubt that the Norman youth was willing enough. His manhood gave that away: tumescent, sticking straight out, all purple and swollen, the very image of a healthy male in heat, cock proud and strutting his prong, whirling on command so Kabir could see him from every angle, his sexy body in a state of full arousal. Kabir liked the way the boy's hairless groin made his genitals look larger, though they were a pretty fair size for someone with his slight build. Eric looked so sexy with his ball sac pulled tight to the fork of his legs, engorged cock jutting straight out with a fleshy purpled glans shaped like an arrowhead at the end, a droplet of fluid glistening on its tip, a composition bursting with youthful male assertiveness. No shrinking violet here.

Kabir ran his fingers on the insides of Eric's thighs then over his belly. The boy trembled with eagerness and desire. He reached forward but Kabir slapped his hands away."

"No, pretty one. I control your body now, and your sexuality."

"Yes, master" the boy whimpered, shivering with the frisson of his pent up desires, shifting his feet to spread his legs farther apart, giving the older male greater access to his groin and his ass.

With that Kabir redoubled the fervor of his kisses, taking command of Eric's small body, tweaking his nipples and squeezing the em-purpled head of his cock, directing the boy's face downward. Eric dutifully mouthed and licked and nibbled Kabir's own large nipples, straining the chest hair on his pectorals with his teeth. Then Kabir guided the boy to the bed, himself stretching out on the mattress. Kabir guided the boy to kneel between his legs, presenting his long virile member for the lad's consideration. It was large but smooth not gnarly with veins and took both his small hands to cover the erection. No one gives better pleasure with his mouth than another male and Eric had had plenty of practice, licking and kissing and sucking the head of the big cock. At first it lay on Kabir's belly pointed toward the big man's navel, but thanks to the boy's expert ministrations it engorged even more, lifting completely off his belly, cantilevered out from the root, rigid but dipping rhythmically with the throb and beat of his heart, all the time leaking a clear fluid which spread in a limpid pool on his belly.

Eric's hands and lips caressed this strong young man, stroking the length of his legs, sliding along his flanks, tracing the old scar left on his hip by a knife blade, delving between his thighs touching the big man's proud cock only with lips and tongue. Finally he deep throated the member and swallowed him to the root, snuffling in his wiry bush, sucking, bobbing his own head up and down its length for a long while. He pulled off just in time. The ball sac pulled tight against the fork of the man's legs, its globularity in contrast to the cylindrical column of the engorged member. The head purpled, its tiny lips spreading open. Abruptly, with only a quick intake of breath and a tightening around Kabir's half-closed eyes, his proud cock engorged beyond its previous impressive girth and began spurting and spitting his white seed onto his chest and belly, mingling with his treasure trail.

Eric lapped some of it up then took the still turgid manhood back into his mouth, sucking and tugging on a cock that the moment before has spit his essence onto the man's belly. It felt so good, it hurt. Kabir shuddered as Eric teased his softening member, abdominals flexing as he practically sobbed with pleasure. Big as he was, Kabir whimpered, begging Eric to stop. Eric was happy too. He had so wanted his first submission to Kabir to be memorable.

"That was wonderful, little one, but I think we had better wait till tonight for the rest. After supper, prepare yourself properly." he said, stroking the curves of Eric's buttocks.

They went down and finalized their bargain, the Berber handing over a hefty purse of silver. They two parties agreed to meet in three days time at a secluded fishing village down the coast. Meanwhile, the Alboran Sea would secure the supplies it needed for their little expedition.

The Berber took his new boy to a large house near the city gate, surrounded by a high wall. It was his residence in town. His main household was at his broad acres in the country. To Eric it seemed understaffed. Kabir explained that fear of the invaders had induced many to flee into the interior or by sea further west out of reach of the enemy.

"Do you really expect Tunis to fall then?" the boy asked.

"Yes, and I would be very surprised if the emir manages to stay on his throne in Kairouan. That is why I have financed our treasure hunt. I can hardly remove my ancestral lands to safety. So I need a more portable form of wealth, and no one wants to buy land these days. The invaders are unlikely to respect anyone's title to land."

Eric knew nothing of the politics of the Arab Maghreb, but he could understand why a man would want portable wealth to be able to settle elsewhere and start over, not as a penniless refugee but as the man of means he had been in his home country. He also understood that there was little love lost between Arab and Berber. Eric himself expected to share in any treasure they found. His and the bosun' diving skills were the key to recovering it since it lay at the bottom of the sea. It seems that Kabir had chanced upon old journals reportedly telling where two ships fleeing the sack of Roman Carthage in 698 had scuttled themselves rather than let the treasure fall into the hands of the marauding Arabs.

That night Kabir addressed Eric's delectable ass. He was a young man himself, strong and with a healthy sexual appetite, but he was not selfish in seeking only his own pleasure. He enjoyed sex better when he gave as much pleasure as he took. Bottom boy that he was, Eric responded as always to a big cock pressing at his rump. A sexual submissive like him always gets a fire going in his belly whenever an large virile member slides along his cleavage, from tail bone to perineum, poking, prodding and playing with the anal ring, teasing him before sliding inside for the real fuck. Eric felt Kabir's manhood stretch the anal ring as the head of the cock pushed through the rings of sphincters. Then the shaft slid inside, slowly, an inch at a time to give him a chance to adjust to his master's impressive girth.

Kabir knew better than to touch the youth's cock. That might bring him off too soon. He wanted them to come together. Soon Kabir's shaft took on the familiar rhythm of penetration and withdrawal, their balls slapping together as he reached maximum depth. When the invader touched Eric's joy spot he felt light headed, his whole body shuddering helplessly in an internal orgasm. His lithe torso shuddered in a wave that started at the ass and traveled up the hips and back and neck to the head. The rapid shaking of the head was a reflex action, indicative of overwhelming lust as he surrendered himself to the good feelings coursing through him. The sensation became overwhelming. Eric lost the ability for rational thought, his slender body tempest tossed on a sea of sensation, pulse pounding at the temples, his own member poking stiffly from his groin.

Finally, Kabir came the wet warmth spurting from his cock inside Eric triggering the boy's own orgasm. The boy nearly fainted as he spent his seed on the sheet beneath him. Afterwards, they lay together sweaty and exhausted, drained but satisfied. It was a good beginning to their relationship.

Chapter 4. Djerba

"Watch your footwork, Eric. Don't cross your feet either front to back or when fading left or right. Above all stay loose and balanced."

Eric nodded, flinging sweat from brow and nose as he set himself for the next pass at arms. Kabir was continuing the youth's lessons in how to handle a sword. As a master of the blade Kabir judged Eric to be a talented amateur, right at that dangerous stage where he had more confidence than was really warranted by the growing skills. The trick of the instructor was to keep the student humble enough to take instruction while building up his pride in his accomplishments.

Just as on board ship, Eric trained in the nude. That way Kabir could see just which muscles his student called upon at every point in their match. Of course, he also liked the boy naked for aesthetic reasons. The teacher loved the way his student's taut and trim body moved gracefully in the dance of the sword as he thrust and parried and lunged, twisting his body this way and that. Swordplay engages the entire musculature of the human male, arms and shoulders to thrust and parry or for maintaining balance, legs and buttocks to advance and retreat, the chest and abdominal muscles heaving to fill the lungs with oxygen. Eric's movements were a kind of physical poetry, a celebration of the youthful male physique.

Each combatant used his preferred blade. Eric wielded a two edged straight blade. Westerners had always favored straight blades. Eric's blade was good for both slash and thrust, on foot or astride. It was just one more cultural difference between their worlds, going back to early history. Even mounted knights favored straight blades, probably a reflection of the Roman preference in swords: both the infantry gladius and the cavalry spatha were that way. By contrast Saracens favored single edged curved ones. Their scimitars and tulwars were more about slashing than thrusting, ideally from horseback.Saracens preferred to fight as cavalry from horse or camel slashing at their foes.

Eric ignored the dust they kicked up in the courtyard as the battled back and forth. Part of the training was in how to handle the fatigue which sets in rapidly in a swordfight. A fighter must maintain his concentration even when his breath comes in ragged gasps and his body trembles with fatigue. As the session wore on Eric's whole body glistened with the sweat that poured out of him lending an attractive sheen to his tawny hide. Kabir finally called a halt to their workout, satisfied with the boy's progress in the few days they had had in Tunis.

Just in that short time Kabir had started to bond with the boy. It wasn't just the terrific sex they could provide each other. He had found the boy was a delight to talk to. He soaked up knowledge like a sponge, listening to the older man speak of distant lands, poetry, or the various breeds of horses. Eric could appreciate the aesthetics of Arabic calligraphy even if he could not read the language and was excited by Kabir's exhibition of falconry. Unguardedly Kabir reminisced about his own coming of age and how he had discovered the joys of both halves of the human species, boys as well as girls.

The fact is that Kabir's life had been empty since the death of his wife in childbirth three years earlier. Although it was an arranged marriage when the spouses were both in their mid-teens, it soon turned into a love match. Both of them had hoped for a son, but the birthing went horribly wrong. The mother bled out, and the infant was stillborn. Kabir had not taken another wife since and thought he probably never would, not until he needed a nurse in his old age, or so he told his new friend. Eric was equally candid, admitting that he had never had the slightest interest in the female half of humanity, though he had been chaste friends with a number of girls who liked the fact that he wasn't always on the make like other lads.

Came the night and the Berber and his boy and a quintet of guards met the Alboran Sea as planned and set out south to the island of Djerba at the southeast corner of the Gulf of Gabes. Reputedly the island of the Lotus Eaters in the Odyssey, it was still in Christian hands. Blessed by a mild climate and good soils, it also produced the costly dye Tyrian purple or royal purple and had a rich sponge fishery as well. Though only 200 square miles (500 sq km) it was the largest island off the northern coast of Africa. Actually it was not a single island but one main island with several nearby islands acting as stepping stones to the mainland.

The two scuttled treasure ships were supposed to have gone down between a peninsula on the north coast and two offshore islands that extended to the west. Still that was not a precise location. They would have to find the wrecks before the bosun and Eric could dive them. Actually both Eric and the bosun had given some thought to that requirement. At the bosun's suggestion the ship's carpenter had fashioned a bucket with a panel of transparent horn in the bottom. That way a man in a small boat could peer through it to the sea bottom. It worked well enough for spot checks but the field of vision was too small. It would take forever to explore the entire area that way.

Eric's idea was for the divers to find the wrecks but not by swimming around, which would just tire them out and cover little ground. A diver could swim underwater at maybe half a knot. His idea was for the diver to ride a kind of sea sled that he had the carpenter make. It was a body length board the divers could lie upon and ride with stirrups for the feet. Hinged vanes at the front could change the pitch of the sled. Towed behind a long boat at a speed faster than a swimmer could maintain, the sled could move up and down in the water quite easily, letting the divers surface for air then go back down again for another look. To go left or right, the diver angled the whole sled by shifting his weight, letting the slipstream of the water push him to that side, no need for a rudder on so small a craft.

Eric was delighted with the success of his invention. It worked perfectly and was a lot of fun too. It made Eric feel more like a sea sprite than ever before, giving him the freedom to move quickly in three dimensions. With four sailors pulling on the oars of the small dory, he could move along at a speed of several knots scrutinizing the sea bed. Fortunately the depth of the water varied around an average of ten meters (34 feet) -- well within safe diving range. Typically the sled hovered halfway down, rising upward like a porpoise periodically so the diver could breathe. A diver gave two tugs on a control rope when he wanted the tow to halt while he took a closer look at something. In this way they quartered the area.

"Look at me Kabir," the boy called excitedly as he rode the sled like a porpoise, relishing his new found freedom to explore the sea.

The Berber waved at him, smiling at the repeated glimpses of the boy's curvaceous rump as he rose to the surface only to dive again. He really did look like a mer-boy cavorting in the waves. Still he was a human boy and his skin looked rather wrinkled after a long day in the water. Kabir had anticipated that and had brought along special oils to rub into the lad's skin. One went on before the boy slipped into the water, to keep his skin from drying out too much. The other was for afterwards, in the evening, after a sponge bath with fresh water and soap, a novelty to the Norman boy. Once bathed, the boy was ready for a well earned massage that helped his tired muscles as much as the fragrant oil did his skin. Eric loved the feel of his master's hands all over his body, touching him everywhere, squeezing and kneading and rubbing his musculature. It became as much a form of foreplay as a restorative.

The crew was rather disappointed that though their boy was back aboard, they no longer had access to his sweet body. He now belonged exclusively to his new master, the Berber who had financed the expedition. Every night the couple found a bit of privacy up the beach from the camp and made love. Their enthusiasm for each other was obvious from the sounds of lusty sexual congress that carried to the main group. Kabir also claimed some of the boy's time when he wasn't not diving on the sled to continue his lessons in sword play.

And so it went for more than a week. The first wreck they found was just that, an accidental sinking of a ship filled with amphora, large pottery jars of olive oil and wine. There was no gold amid the barnacle encrusted timbers, but they did bring up a few bronze swords and mirrors. The problem was identifying a ship that after five centuries was overgrown with coral and other sessile sea creatures like sponges and anemones and mollusks that attached themselves to any solid object on the sandy bottom. Fortunately the fact that the ships were scuttled meant they went down in one piece, not torn apart by storm waves or rocks, so the outline should be recognizable.

The crew of the Alboran Sea kept a watch for anyone who grew too curious about their activities including local fishermen and sponge divers. They also had a bowman posted against sharks though the small boat towing the divers was often not within range as it quartered the area. Eric kept his trident cum spear tied to his sea sled just in case. He had a healthy respect for sharks. The smaller ones that hugged the sandy bottom were wary of the intruder in the midst, unsure what to make of the strange combination of sled and human boy sliding through the waters. The real danger was the large sharks who patrolled the area and circled the ship or the sled itself, trying to decide whether to attack. These were the top predators in the sea and really feared nothing.

They patrolled the area, sometimes at the surface where their fin broke the water in a menacing fashion. More often they swam lower, moving slowly, propelled by lazy sweeps of their tails, ready at any moment to lunge forward at attack speed, propelled by the back and forth motion of their entire bodies. They watched to both sides at once with their dark unblinking eyes, though they could also sense prey by the lateral lines on their bodies, nerve endings that could pick up pressure waves in the water. Multiple rows of teeth gleamed white in their wide mouths allowing glimpses down the gut which they would like to fill with prey. Sometimes the sharks were so big and circled so intently as to make Eric afraid to stay in the water. He had the boat crew pull him aboard till the shark left the area. He hated and feared the way the sleek grey predators watched him, looking at him like any other potential prey in their underwater realm, not knowing or caring that he was a human being, gifted with reason and intelligence, not some dumb animal, for all that he was as unclothed as any wild creature.

It was all the same to the sharks, a naked boy was just so much naked prey, little more than a skinny fish strangely shaped with two tails and long bony front flippers. Not terribly appetizing to a shark really. They preferred plump prey like seals and groupers with lots of flesh and fat for the shark to gorge on. A slender nude boy would probably not be very tasty, too bony in fact. Still a hungry shark will eat anything, including a naked human boy.

One day a fourteen foot shark made an attack run coming at the boy from behind. Warned by the boat crew who spotted the fin and slapped their oars at the water, the boy turned the sled just enough that the shark's bite crunched the back right off it. He might have torn the boy's leg off otherwise. The shark turned away briefly, evidently not liking the taste of wood. Still some of his sandpaper hide had rubbed Eric's lower leg raw. With blood now in the water the shark's killer instincts made it renew its attack. He charged straight at the sled. Neither the diver not the boat crew had enough time to reel him up to the boat and to safety. Also, they were too far from the ship for the archer to help. His shot fell well short. Eric was on his own.

Though Eric had little hope of fending the great grey beast off with his spear, he thought he would get a better chance if submerged, so he took a deep breath and directed the sled to descend to six feet or so. That gave him room to maneuver up and down or to the side to position himself best to receive the attack. He straddled the sled and braced himself, his spear at the ready, trident end back, jammed securely into the wood of the sled, the spear blade at the other end pointed toward the approaching shark. That way, the predator's own momentum would work against him. It would drive the spear deeper into him than the muscles of Eric's arms and shoulders ever could.

As it closed the distance, the big fish gaped opened its maw, rolling onto its side as it bit at the boy. Eric directed the head of the spear right into the great maw, pointed at the roof of the mouth. As luck would have it, the spear point passed through the maw as the beast's own momentum pushed the blade deep into its brain, just about the only way to kill a shark instantly. Eric was knocked off the sled by the impact, but the boat circled back to pick him up.

It was a close call. Eric was badly shaken by the shark attack and by watching the feeding frenzy that ensued a while later as eventually eight sharks swam up to tear into the shark he had killed. He trembled as he spoke of his fears to the bosun, the captain, and Kabir.

"I felt like a rabbit confronted by a wolf or a lion. It was so huge and me so small. It must have outweighed me seven or eight to one. Its maw gaped open large enough to swallow me whole. I actually pissed myself as the shark closed in for the kill. I didn't feel very much like a mer boy or sea sprite today, not down there with that big shark. The sea is really his element not mine. I am just an intruder down there, so much naked prey for him to feed on. I ... I am not sure I can go into the water again."

He buried his face in his hands, ashamed of his cowardice. Kabir took the boy in his arms and comforted him, clasping him reassuringly to his breast. He did not try to persuade the boy to go back into the sea again. He just held him, letting the shaken lad feel his body warmth and his presence. That night they did not make love but simply slept spooned together. The next day nothing was said as Eric helped the carpenter repair the sled. When it was ready, they dropped it into the water. The boy's anxious face showed his fear, but he took a deep breath, looking over to Kabir for reassurance. At the latter's nod he dove into the water, to resume the search for the treasure ships.

This display of raw courage brought tears to the eyes of Kabir, the captain, and the bosun. What a brave lad Eric was to venture into the sea once again, so small and naked and vulnerable to its many dangers. He might be young and small and girlishly pretty rather than tough and masculine, but no one could doubt that the small nude body they saw dive into the sea housed the heart of a man.

One day the divers got lucky. Through the underwater gloom the bosun spotted two barnacle encrusted shapes half buried in the sand at a depth of twenty five feet. Aside from water jugs the divers did not find amphora. So these were not cargo ships. They had to be the treasure ships. What clinched it for the bosun were the skeletons of dozen men whose throats had been cut or heads bashed in. Presumably these were some of the crew whose silence was ensured by the most direct of methods.

No need for the sled after that. The Alboran Sea anchored just over the wrecks. The two divers resorted to diving to the bottom pulled down by heavy stones to save energy and breath. Sailors aboard the ship pulled the stones back up for the next dive. Meanwhile the two divers scoured the wrecks for valuables which they put into baskets hauled up at the end of ropes. These pulled the divers up for air too. In time they collected boxes of gold coins and bags of jewelry some in rich settings, others just raw uncut gems. Any silver the ship carried had long since been eaten away by the salt water leaving only a kind of black rust.

Sharks were not the only danger either during the recovery of the treasure. Sunken wrecks attract sea creatures from the lowliest of barnacles to the largest of predators. Just scraping one's skin against the barnacle encrusted wreck would cause cuts and bleeding that would attract barracuda and sharks. Also wrecks furnish nooks and crannies that are homes or places of refuge for animals like moray eels. Their bite can snap a man's finger off. Though the eels attack only when provoked, they were a constant danger because the divers had to probe the crevices and holes in the wreck looking for treasure. Another danger was the common octopus. If it could not escape with its water jet or by dispersing its ink, it would anchor itself with its tentacles so it could not be dragged out of hiding. If it got some of its tentacles on a diver's leg or arm and held on long enough, it could keep the diver from surfacing for air. Eric once had to abandon his trident temporarily when an octopus just wouldn't let go of it.

It didn't help that as he rose to the surface he was passed by a couple of barracuda on patrol. They swam with their jaws open showing sets of vicious teeth. Eric felt so vulnerable with no way to protect his belly, imagining that the dangly bits at this groin might attract the predators like worms attract pan fish. Indeed the predatory fish did angle towards him and swam right beneath his belly. On land Eric knew he was on the top of the food chain. Not so underwater where he felt like a prey item for this or that species. Fortunately before anything could happen, the bosun Caltrone, who was watching with his bucket device, plucked a couple of live fish from a pail, cut them with his knife then threw the wounded creatures into the sea. Their flopping and thrashing attracted the attention of the two barracuda, giving Eric a chance to swim to the ship.

Still the underwater world never lost its magic for Eric. Most days passed uneventfully, allowing him to marvel at the beauty and variety of the creatures who dwelled in the fantastic world beneath the waves.

When it looked like they had collected everything they could, the captain divided the loot into three equal shares: first share was for the captain and crew of the Alboran Sea, each man getting a share according to his rank. Every sailor would wind up with enough to buy his own ship or a farm or to start a tavern. Another third went to Kabir for financing the expedition and for showing them where the ships had been scuttled. The final third was split evenly between the two divers who not only had done the actual recovery but had risked their lives again and again. According to the customs of the time this was a fair division of the treasure. Kabir also burned the bill of sale, the only record that Eric had been even temporarily enslaved.

All that remained was to sail to their final destinations. For the Alboran Sea that meant Sicily though first the ship would have to sail back to Tunis to pick up Kabir's loyal retainers. He was evacuating everyone who wanted to go with him to Morocco. There were too many souls for the Alboran Sea to carry so in the end he hired a Saracen ship for the voyage. His loyal guards ensured that they all would arrive safely in Tangier where he intended to settle.

"What of you, little Eric? Will you come live with me in Morocco. Come along then as my friend, no longer a slave. I offer you my love and my protection. You understand that as a Christian, legally you can dwell in Tangiers only on sufferance as a dhimmi, a member of a tolerated religion but with many legal disabilities. Naturally I will extend my protection to you as a member of my household. Are you prepared to spend your days with me like that?"

"As your friend yes, Kabir as long as I am also your consort, and you must promise to let me run around stark naked all the time. I don't want to have to wear anything but flowers and a tasteful bit of jewelry. Oh and fragrances too," The boy laughed at himself for his naughty desires.

"I think that can be arranged," Kabir chuckled "at least when you are within my walls or on my lands. I can just see it now. For my visitors you will be a flesh and blood sculpture to ornament my demesne. Otherwise, when we go out, I shall dress you in houri boy pants, like those you wore when we met but made of the very lightest silk. That will scandalize some of the locals but will be within the law."

"I will also expect you to learn both Arabic and Berber. Berber so you can be my proper consort; I would speak words of love to you in my own language, not this bastard Latin I can hardly get my tongue around. With Arabic you can communicate from the Atlantic to the Zagros mountains and beyond, especially if, as I dearly hope, you will someday embrace Islam."

"Meanwhile we shall combine our fortunes and invest them in lands and commerce, but if ever you wish to go your own way when you are older, I will restore your funds to you. This is what I ask of you Eric, and what I will share with you. Will you come with me and be my love?"

"Gladly!" the boy said hugging his lover with all the strength in his small body. Finally he had found his place in the world. Life looked good from here on out.

Kabir's emigration to Tangier was well-timed. The very next year the Arabian tribes sent by Egypt overthrew the emir and sacked his capital at Kairouan. The nomads brought chaos and civilizational regression. As the tribes took control of the plains, the local sedentary population was forced into refuges in the mountains. Only scattered coastal enclaves held out for a time. In much of formerly prosperous central and northern Ifriqiya farming gave way to pastoralism and general economic decline.

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