The Brothers Barbarossa 

The following is a dramatisation of events in the life of a historical figure, some artistic license was taken

Part 1: A Little Turbulence Never Hurt Anybody

“Have at thee, Crusader scum!” he roared, slashing violently at his foe with an abdominal strike. “Die, villain!” spat the other as he parried the attack. 

The duel brought the two to the edge of the cliff. White adriatic waves crashed against the gleaming shards of coral encrusted stone a great distance below. In a daring move, the former of the two dropped his weapon, lunging at the crusader and driving him into the dirt. “Any last words?” he said as he pinned his adversary, disarming him and preparing to strike once more.

The crusader sniffled, tears welled up under his doe eyes as he stared up at the one who bested him. “Don’t you dare,” hissed his vanquisher. The crusader’s lip quivered as he took in a heavy breath. “Please don’t… ” The victor pleaded as his fallen foe wailed. 


“Stupid baby,” said the eldest of the children, dropping his twig saber as he pulled his sobbing sibling up from the dirt, mud caking the back of his potato sack chainmail. 

“Boys!” a voice screamed from further inland, petrifying the little faux duelists. A woman peered from behind a garment on a washing line, fire raging in her eyes. 

“How many times have I warned you about playing so close to the…” a crack of thunder broke her maternal tirade, the clouds above darkened, and heavy rain began to drizzle. “Get inside, now!” She demanded, and her sons frantically ran towards their cottage.

The warmth of the indoors embraced the young brothers almost as soon as their muddied feet hit the landing, the modest hearth was enough to engulf the air of their tiny home. 

“Yakub…” their mother spoke, addressing the red-bearded man hunched over a potter’s table at the foremost wall of the living area. 

“They were playing by the cliffside again? I saw.” The potter responded in a gruff voice.

“That’s reassuring.” His wife rolled her eyes. “Allah Musta’an,” she sighed, retiring to the chamber at the far back of the cottage. Her sons followed suit, a trail of dirt emerging beneath them as they joined their other brothers in their den.

“Oruc, Khizr, have you been dismissed?” their father retorted. 

The boys halted, turning back in reluctance and approaching their father’s station.

“Firstly, and I shouldn’t even be having to tell you this, stop worrying your mother. Allah knows she does it enough. Secondly, Khizr…” He addressed the younger of the two, still sniffling, wiping a stream of tears from under his eyes. “Don’t beat yourself up over a game. It happens.” He said, ruffling the sobbing boy’s hair.

“And you, Oruç.” He turned to the elder brother, who still held himself up in a sense of victory. “There’s nothing to be haughty about, he’s half your size.” The boy’s pride deflated. “I don’t mind the two of you playing rough, but you need to learn sooner than later not to let any malice grow between you.” 

Yakub knelt to embrace his sons. “You’re brothers. Someday, when your mother and I aren’t here to remind you of what that means for you two, for Ishaq and Ilyas as well… it’ll be on you to look out for one another, with Allah’s help.” 

Another crack of thunder roared through the heavens. Yakub and his sons peered through the window above his work station, watching the storm rage on in the distance. “Pray for the souls foolish enough to set sail in this weather, if they make it out alive they’ll still have a lack of wits to account for.”

A flurry of rain and hail struck the turbulent waters like a score of icy arrows. It was a bleak day, not a shred of sunlight to break the charcoal clouds. In the midst of it all, a lone mercantile vessel persisted en route to Egypt, God permitting their fragile cargo not be rendered to ceramic shards by the rocking winds and other unwelcome forces. The ship’s crew were scattered about the upper and lower decks, some busying themselves with menialities to avoid rowing duty in the galley, others sat about nonchalantly. Among them one of the senior-most crewmates. “Here’s to our daring captain! Lord preserve his genius, scarce though it may be!” He toasted with an empty hand to a confused and unimpressed circle of subordinates. 

“I thought he was the captain.” one of them whispered. 

“I heard that!” the man said, his voice booming. “Why’s it such a chore to tell us all apart? I’m clearly the dashing one!” He said, sarcastically stroking his red beard. Not a moment later was he struck at his temple by a meaty hand. 

His near doppelganger looming above. “Alright handsome, go check on Ilyas, he’s been up on lookout long enough, I don’t need him dying of fever by the time we dock… or struck by lightning at this rate.” The crewmates shot up in salutation, “Selam aleykum, Oruc Pasha.”

“Va aleykum selam,” he saluted in response, hand across his barrel chest. “Many of you are new here, but I’ve told you before, no need for the formalities. This is a freighter, not a naval ship. Though I’d appreciate it if you’d spare me from your comedy once in a while, Khizr.”

“Just playing my part. This gloomy bunch needs something to lift their spirits, all things considered.” Khizr replied in a sigh as he stood up, nearing his brother’s height and hefty build.  

Oruç heavily patted him on the back. “In that case maybe you’d like to recount your sulking performance from when we told you your canary flew away?” He grinned. 

“I’ll go check on Ilyas,” Khizr replied. Oruç addressed the rest of the circle, “the rest of you, relieve a few of our friends of their misery and grab an oar.”

The floor of the main deck was slippery, looking above it seemed as though the previous night never ended. Ishaq stood on the upper deck, manning the sails with a handful of crewmates. Ilyas stood at the mast, hawkishly staring into the distance through a bronze spyglass. Khizr approached, slightly startling Ilyas as the floorboard creaked beneath his boot. 

“See anything exciting?” he asked. 

His brother wiped his eyes, blinking fervently to drown out the dry daze of prolonged vigilance. “I believe I’ve reached the point where you can’t tell where the sky ends and the sea begins.” Ilyas took another moment to gather his wits. “Aside from that, there’s a vessel east of us. I haven’t paid much mind to it. Seems small, and it isn’t flying any colours worthy of alarm. But it’s been on course for quite some time and hasn’t crossed our route yet.” 

Khizr took the spyglass to examine for himself. “It’s too far out to tell. Go send for Oruç.”

No more than a matter of minutes later did the captain arrive, Khizr passed the spyglass over, voicing his concerns as his elder brother assessed the situation for himself. “With the wind howling as it is right now, we can’t afford to change route. If we veer off course even a little, we’ll practically have our back to Egypt by the time the weather settles.”

“Agreed, it’s not worth prolonging the journey. We stick to our course.” Oruç replied, snapping shut the telescopic tube. 

“I’m just wondering how a little thing like that seems to move so slow, especially in this torrent.” Khizr added, to which Oruc retorted.

“For all I care it could be a ship for ghouls, so long as I don’t see a blood-red cross on the sail we move on as planned.”

He’d soon come to regret those words, so too would Khizr. Even more so perhaps, but for the next few hours or so, as the turbulence settled and the silver moonlight eventually broke through the ashen sky, there was some relief. In that time, the ship’s crew rotated duties once more between their congregations for the evening prayer, all but Khizr who would return again to the mast soon enough to see the two ships finally cross paths. 

It might well be a ghoul’s ship. He thought, at first, unable to see a soul about the main deck. Looking down at the side of the enigmatic vessel, seeing a large square notch within the hull, he quickly learned what was causing the ship to move so slowly…. a cannon, a wrought iron eye peeking out through the window, wide and dark, marking its pitiful prey.

Khizr could almost hear the fuse burning at its other end, and before he could warn his crewmates, it fired with a metallic roar. What happened next was a blur. Shards of timber flew up with the gunsmoke, there were screams, hooks and planks bridged the two boats, and a swathe of hospitaler men appeared like red and white phantoms, their eyes filled with fire and death. 

The clashing sound of sabers and cutlasses brought Khizr back to the moment. He fought mercilessly, hacking and slashing at the marauding men, but it was short-lived. 

It felt unbearably slow, watching from afar. Every pulse of his racing heart crashed against his ribcage like a charging bull as he, from the starboard end of the sinking vessel watched what no brother would dare imagine befall their siblings. Ilyas collapsed onto the rail at the portside, clutching at a dark red patch on his tunic. A templar thug stood over him, blood dripping from the sword in his right hand, with his left he lifted Ilyas who was too drained to protest, and cast him overboard into the black waters.

Before he could scream, or act or even begin to process what he had witnessed, Khizr was struck at the back of his head. He collapsed into a heavy drowse and the rest of the ordeal passed like a feverish nightmare. 

Khizr awoke under a burning sun and cloudless sky. Fighting to unwind his tense muscles he sat up, finding himself in an unfamiliar place in nearly still waters. He was in a small and narrow dinghy, it was one which had been mounted to the side of his family’s ship, and which he’d never imagined ever needing. He’d all but forgotten it existed. 

“I’m sorry,” he heard from a familiar but solemn voice behind him. He turned to find Ishaq, his youngest brother, hunched and disheveled, perched on a narrow bench, his hands blistered from frantically steering the shoddy oars of the small boat, his eyes dark and sleepless. “Ilyas. He’s -” 

Khizr leapt to embrace Ishaq before he could finish, feeling the pain of the previous night rushing through him all at once. “I know,” he answered tearfully. 

They sat in silent consolation for much of the morning, letting the grief pass through them. 

“Where’s Oruç?” Khizr eventually asked. 

“They took him and most of the men who survived. They didn’t touch the cargo from what I saw and the ship’s obviously drowned; I think they were slavers.”

“To hell with the ship.” Khizr snapped. His sorrow mellowed and gave way to rage and determination, “I want my brother back,” He spat with fire and vengeance.

Photo by Katherine McCormack on Unsplash

About the Author: Ibraheem Ali is a junior copywriter and contributor at Traversing Tradition. A graduate of English Literature with a Masters in Global Creative and Cultural Industries. His interests include Literature, Film, Cultural Studies and Islamic History.

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