Part 11: Control

Chapter 1

“Sir.” Noor shook Madari’s shoulder to wake him. “Sir, they’re here.”

Madari blinked up at him, confused for a moment, then moved and winced. He sat up, pressing a hand to the back of his aching neck. He’d been sleeping on a row of seats, since that was at least marginally more comfortable than sleeping on a bedroll on the floor. Five nights he’d slept here now and he didn’t think his spine would ever be the same again.

He’d been taking a short nap after lunch, still exhausted, but of course fate would not let him rest. He knew the airport’s civilian management and security force were due to arrive today, so should have known they’d arrive when he’d only just dozed off.

“Bring them here.”

Madari stood up as he spoke, trying to stretch the pain out of his back muscles. Noor hurried off and Madari looked around the departure lounge at the men still encamped there. Only around a third of the men remained. Now the fighting had stopped, they needed only a small force to keep the airport secure until its management returned to reclaim it. So most of the men had already left, heading home. As the word spread among the remainder that they were coming to the end of their mission, they began to rush around, gathering their things.

Madari went to the information desk and found his pack, rummaged in it for a comb to pull through his hair. Thankfully the water supply had continued flowing and they were able to take showers, though he felt very conscious of his rumpled and dirty clothes. But now he could be only hours away from going home, where he had a wardrobe full of clothes to choose from. And his bed, his own bed waiting for him.

Enough, he told himself. Though the last report he’d had said his house was intact there was no point in counting on anything until he got back there.

Voices came from the direction of the stairs and he stepped out from behind the information desk, picking up a folder from the counter. A group of men in civilian clothes and police uniforms approached, accompanied by several of Madari’s officers. As he waited, Jahni appeared at Madari’s side and they exchanged a glance.

Almost time. Madari still had no answer to Jahni’s question. What happens next?

A man wearing a double breasted suit and a white headdress approached. The white of the headdress almost hypnotised Madari. Like snow, he thought, like the whitest clouds. Some of the garments Madari wore were theoretically white, but had long since turned grey in the laundry. I want to go home and put on all white clothing he thought, then smiled at himself. The man in the snowy headdress held out his hand.

“Major Madari? I am the airport manager, Mr Vali. This is the head of airport security, Captain Dhan.”

“I’m pleased to meet you both.” Madari shook their hands.

“I’m sure,” Mr Vali smiled, “I’m sure you are keen to get away from here.”

“I will admit five days is longer than I’d want to spend at any airport.” Madari handed him the folder he’d taken from the information desk. “I’ve made a report of the damage caused by the fighting. My men have cleared up and made what temporary repairs they could.”

The police captain, Dhan, was already looking around, assessing the state of the terminal building and Mr Vali did the same now.

“Oh, thank you, Major. I think we will be able to reopen sooner than I hoped. Frankly, I expected the place to be much worse.” He looked over at the men and their “camp”. Even that looked neatly laid out. The security shutters remained down over any shops the guerrillas hadn’t needed to access for food or other essentials.

“I expect discipline from my men,” Madari said, straightening up, putting his hands behind his back. Dhan, quite a young man, perhaps newly promoted, Madari thought, gave an approving nod.

“Then they do you great credit,” Vali said. “Thank you for taking care of my airport, Major.” He bowed his head to Madari.

“Sir,” Dhan said to Madari, “I officially request you hand over security of the airport to me.”

“Granted, Captain.” Madari took out the keys he’d been carrying around and handed them to Dhan, who handed them to the airport manager, turned back to Madari and saluted. Madari returned the salute, wanting to smile at the serious expression on the young police officer’s face. Definitely newly promoted.

Dhan started giving orders over a walkie talkie and Madari turned back to his men, who all stood nearby now. Those who’d been guarding doors or on patrol had come back to the departure lounge, as the police officers relieved them. Madari had one last order to give them.


A ragged cheer burst from the group, making him smile and then give a long sigh. When the cheer died down they turned back to gathering up their belongings and making arrangements to get home. They still had some of the vehicles, the jeeps and cars so those who lived far off could use those. Men who lived here in the city would just set off walking.

Some confusion reigned. What should they do with their weapons? Captain Dhan offered to secure them for the men who didn’t want to take them home.

Madari looked at his own weapons, his rifle, a Hechler and Koch G3 he’d picked up in a raid. Most of the men used M16s, but he’d grown quite fond of his personal rifle, liked having the distinction, perhaps. And he just liked Hechler and Koch weapons anyway. His pistol, a Sig Sauer 9mm, he felt less fond of. Reliable and accurate certainly, but he missed the Royal Guard’s standard issue Browning Hi-Power.

He decided, he would hang onto both the rifle and the pistol for now. Some of the men might be going back to homes with wives and children in them, where guns had no place, but Madari would return to a house that would likely be empty. He saw Jahni hanging onto his too. A bigger fan of the M16 would be hard to find.

More goodbyes now, on the concourse of the airport, in front of the bullet marred check-in desks. He’d said goodbye to so many of his men already, and now came the turn of the officers, those closest to him. Yassin looked nervous as he said goodbye to them all, perhaps worried about going home to the wife he barely knew. But he laughed as he invited all of them to drop by in a couple of months once the baby was born.

Darak of course had to put up with many warnings to be careful of exploding goats. Noor talked endlessly about the meal he would have his wife prepare, that he swore would take him a week to eat. Faraj was quite serious, saying he could have a lot of family business to sort out, and asking when Madari would be likely to report to Royal Guard barracks.

“A few days,” Madari said, not wanting to specify. Part of him wanted to rush there now, but only a small part. The majority vote, came from his aching head and back and feet and his exhausted mind, sick to death of conflict. That majority voted to go home and sleep and perhaps hide for a while.

One by one they left, Ishaq, Moshen, Mahran, the man who’d gone out and brought back all those first messages. He’d become a fierce fighter, with a cool nerve rare even among professional soldiers.

Months ago Mahran had brought back the news that meant one man still waited, when all the others had gone. The man who had no home to go back to.

Madari walked to Jahni, who sat on the counter of one of the check-in desks, head down, one foot swinging and tapping rhythmically against the bullet holed fascia.

“Kahil. Where do you want to go now?”

Jahni looked at him, looking down slightly into Madari’s face, from his perch on the desk.

“I don’t know. I didn’t expect to be alive at this point. I haven’t made any plans.”

“Do you want to go back to your regiment?”

“No.” The answer was hasty, breathless. “I mean, not yet. I know, I have to eventually, but not yet.”

“I think…” Madari hesitated, not sure if it was his place to suggest this, but he felt sure it would help Jahni. He placed a hand over one of Jahni’s where it rested on the desk. “I think you should see the graves of your family.”

Jahni turned his face away. “I don’t know if I… if I can go back there.”

“Kahil. It is important that you say goodbye.”

Jahni gave a stuttering laugh. “To what? To earth and stones? My family is not there.”

“No, they are in a better place, and they live in your memories. But it can give you a place to mark the end of this part of your life, Kahil. Perhaps then you can decide what you want.”

Jahni looked back at him, head still hanging forward, so his too long hair shaded his eyes.

“I know what I want.”

Madari stared back at him, felt the hand under his own grow tense. Then Jahni cleared his throat and spoke again, in a lighter tone, almost smiling. “But you’re right, I still have to decide what to do.” He jumped down from the desk and Madari stepped back from him.

As he always did now, Jahni waited for Madari to move before he fell into step at his side. I have to tell him, Madari thought, wanting to laugh suddenly. When he had said “Dismiss” before it meant Jahni was relieved of his duty as Madari’s bodyguard. However, Madari suspected Jahni would hold that job for as long as they were together.

Side by side, their packs and rifles on their backs, they marched out of the airport.


The Mercedes waited outside. Jahni took the wheel, and stayed quiet as he drove, clearly not inclined to talk, so Madari didn’t resist the urge to doze.

He was jolted half awake several times but finally awoke fully when the car stopped. They were in a small dusty town on the edge of the desert, an hour west of Az-Ma’ir, parked beside a burial ground. Without speaking to Madari, Jahni got out of the car and went into the burial ground. A low wall a man could easily step over surrounded it, but Jahni used the gate to go inside. Not wanting to intrude, Madari waited in the car and watched Jahni look around for a while and then stop. When Jahni knelt on the ground, his head bowed, Madari stopped looking at him. Instead he closed his eyes and prayed for his friend.

Jahni came back nearly thirty minutes later, his face streaked and his eyes red. Madari got out of the car and handed him a canteen, sure Jahni hadn’t drunk anything since lunchtime. After a long drink Jahni handed the canteen back.

“Thank you, sir.”

“Where now?” Madari asked.

“My house… where my house was.”

Madari let him take the wheel again and Jahni drove them to the outskirts of the other side of town. The houses here were large and prosperous looking. Jahni stopped the car by a gap in the row of houses. The ground of the open patch of land was uneven and grass has grown patchily over the rubble. What had once been a quite large garden had grown wild, and the sun had burnt the grass brown in exposed spots.

Jahni again got out of the car without a word. He didn’t go through the gate at once, stood by it for a moment, perhaps working up the nerve. Then he visibly gathered himself and went in. Madari stayed outside the gate and sat on the low wall. After a few moments a man emerged from the house next door, stared at Jahni for a few minutes, and then saw Madari. He approached the major, looking uneasy, probably scared of Madari’s rough appearance.

“Excuse me, sir, is that Kahil Jahni?” He smiled in a nervous way and held out his hand.

“Yes.” Madari stood and shook the man’s hand.

“I thought so! I can’t believe it. We heard he was fighting with the rebels, I don’t think anyone here expected to see him again.”

“He has been fighting. But the fighting is over.” He hardly needed to tell the man that. Perhaps he was telling himself.

The man looked curiously at Madari. “You were also a fighter?”


“May I shake your hand again, sir?” He did so. “We owe so much to men like you. I am Nadim Ruhul, I am honoured to meet you…” he left the question hanging.

“Major Madari.”

Ruhul’s eyes widened and his mouth fell open for a moment.

“Madari? The Knight of the North?” He clasped Madari’s hand for a third time and pumped it vigorously. “By the prophet, sir, it is an honour! An honour!’

“Thank you.” Madari disengaged his hand as politely as he could.

“Sir, you are a hero to the people, a hero!”

“There is your hero, Mr Ruhul.” Madari nodded towards Jahni. “Your local hero.”

Ruhul looked at Jahni. “Yes. Of course.” He looked very sober. “What happened to his family, it was terrible. We tried to stop it, tried to protest. But there were too many soldiers, no one could do anything.” Shame on his face, he hung his head. Then after a while he looked up again, looked at Jahni, smiled. “It seems no time at all since he was a only a boy. I remember he was always getting up to some mischief or other. Oh not in a bad way, sir,” he added hastily as Madari frowned at him. “I mean he was just curious and adventurous, like boys are. But he was always a good boy.”

Madari smiled. Yes, he could imagine Jahni being “curious and adventurous”. Jahni was heading back towards them now, but hesitated when he saw Ruhul, probably didn’t feel up to making small talk.

“I… let me fetch you some coffee.” Ruhul bustled off. Jahni came up to Madari, didn’t speak, couldn’t speak. Shaking, because he was trying to keep from breaking down. Madari needed to give him permission to stop trying, to let go and express that pain at last. He took Jahni into his arms.

“It’s all right, Kahil, it’s all right. Let it out.” Jahni buried his face in Madari’s shoulder and Madari held him as choked sobs fought their way out of his body. All the pain and grief of the past year, all the tension of the last few days poured out of him.

Stroking Jahni’s back and his hair, Madari tried his best to offer the same comfort Jahni had given him so many times, but felt sure it could never be adequate.

After a few minutes Jahni regained control and straightened up, pulling away from Madari. He scrubbed his face with his sleeve and managed a very weak smile.

“I’m sorry.”

“This is not easy for you. I understand.” Madari reached out and rested his hand on the back of Jahni’s neck, moving their heads close. His thumb stroked through Jahni’s hair. “Don’t apologise, Kahil.” His voice was soft, almost a whisper. “Not after all you have done for me.”

An apologetic cough broke the moment. They turned to see Ruhul there with cups of coffee.

“Hello, Mr Ruhul.” Jahni forced a small smile, a polite nod. “How are your family?’

“Well, thank you, sir. Please, have some coffee.” They took the offered cups and Madari noticed Ruhul stare for a moment at the his scarred hands, before turning away quickly, realising he was being rude.

Ruhul started to talk, nervous still at first, but warming to the subject, telling Jahni all the gossip of the village. Although Jahni nodded along, Madari could see his mind was elsewhere. After resisting an invitation to stay for dinner with Ruhul they headed back to the car. Madari took the driver’s seat and started the engine, but didn’t move off yet. He turned to look at Jahni

“Is there anything else you want to see here?”

“No.” Jahni shook his head. “I’m done here. I don’t know if I will ever come back.”

“Where can I take you?”

“I don’t… I don’t know. I don’t even have any cash.” Looking lost, he shook his head again.

“It’s getting late in the day,” Madari said, looking out at the lengthening shadows. “And you’re clearly exhausted. For now, if you wish to, we can go to my home. We can get cleaned up, get some rest. Tomorrow you can think about what to do.”

Jahni gave him a genuine, if tired, smile now.

“Thank you, sir.”

Madari smiled back and drove off into the waning afternoon.


It was almost dark when they reached Madari’s home. They didn’t talk much. Jahni had managed to doze during the journey, and when he wasn’t asleep he was huddled in on himself, silent and thoughtful. The gates to the compound were unlocked and they drove in. Madari was relieved to see the house still apparently intact and undamaged.

They approached a door and found it locked.

“Should we…” Jahni began, when a man’s voice, a shout, came from inside, from a window to the right.

“Go away! I warn you, I have a gun!” The barrel of a rifle poked out of the window shutters.

On instinct, Jahni drew his pistol, but Madari pushed it aside and stepped back from the door.

“Youssef? Is that you? It’s me.” He unwrapped his kuffiyah, then pulled it off, to show his face clearly.


The shutter banged closed and in a moment they heard the door being unbarred and unlocked. When it opened an elderly, weather-beaten man stood there, carrying an antique looking rifle. He gaped at Madari. Madari smiled back at him.

“Hello, Youssef.”

“Sir!” Youssef seemed on the verge of tears. “Oh, sir, I thought I’d never see you again.”

“I couldn’t stand another day without your lamb stew,” Madari told him, making the old man smile. After a moment, Madari laughed, realising he was standing at the door waiting for Youssef to invite him inside, into his own house. He turned to beckon Jahni and they stepped inside, straight into a large living room.

“Youssef, this is Lieutenant Jahni, one of my officers. Lieutenant, this is Sergeant Youssef Anbar, who served with my grandfather.”

“Sergeant.” Jahni shook Youssef’s hand. Youssef stared at him appearing surprised. No doubt Jahni didn’t look much like an officer, but then neither did Madari just now.

“Lieutenant Jahni will be staying tonight,” Madari said, stepping into the once familiar and now strange room. He wandered around, sometimes touching things, just connecting briefly for a second. Of course Youssef had kept everything neat and clean, but he suspected the old man never used the room himself. It seemed empty, vacant. He stopped and picked up the telephone receiver. Silent.

“It was cut off, sir.”

Madari nodded. No rush to have it reconnected.

“They came to the house after I was arrested?’

“Yes, sir. They searched, took away papers from your study.”

Madari shuddered at the thought of strangers pawing through his things.

“And they took…” He nodded at the wall, at four sets of padded hooks.

“Oh no, sir!” Youssef said. “I hid them, buried them in the garden, they’re safe. And the rifle is here of course.” He handed that to Madari, who checked the chamber and unloaded it.

“Safe?” Madari said, smiling.

“Safe, sir.”

“What is safe?” Jahni looked at the two of them, puzzled by their cryptic conversation. Madari smiled, enjoying teasing him, seeing the small frown on his face.

“You will see, Lieutenant. Youssef, we are very hungry, can you fetch us something?’

As the old servant hurried off Madari shrugged off his coat and tossed it to Jahni, nodding at a row of coat hooks on the wall behind the door. Jahni hung their coats there, then at Madari’s invitation he sat down on a couch. Madari sat on the other couch and stretched, feeling comfortable, safe now. Time enough later to think about the future. For now he had the familiar confines of his home. And Kahil to share it with him. Squashing that thought he turned to see Jahni looking around at the room.

“What do you think of the old place?”

“It’s very, um, spare I suppose is the word. Very functional.”

“Spartan.” Madari gave a small shrug. “I’m a soldier.”

“You have a lot of books, though.” One wall was lined with floor to ceiling bookshelves, all full. A step stool gave access to the higher shelves.

Madari nodded, then stretched again and yawned. “I feel ready to sleep for a week.” He doubted he’d be given that privilege.

“That rifle looks old.” Jahni said, looking at the rifle Madari had leaned against the sofa he sat on.

“It was my grandfather’s.” Picking it up, he stroked the smooth wood of the stock with his thumb. “A Lee-Enfield.303. He carried it in the Great War. He taught me to shoot with it. Here, take a look at it.”

Jahni came over and sat beside him, examined the rifle. “It still fires?’

“Oh yes. It is kept in working order. Though getting cartridges for it is becoming very difficult. It’s no M16, but it is a fine weapon. You’ll have to try it later.”

“Thank you, sir, I’d like that.”

Madari grimaced at the ‘sir’. Suddenly that felt too formal, it put too much distance between them. It didn’t belong here.

“Kahil,” he said, “please call me Faris.” He took Jahni’s hands in his own. “You already call me Faris sometimes.” Not enough, he thought, and usually in a particular situation. “At night.” He didn’t want to dwell on the dark times just now. “And technically I am no longer your commanding officer.” Jahni stared, then bit his lip, shook his head, not liking that apparently. “But we are friends. Friends call each other by name.”

That, Jahni did like. He smiled. Beamed.

“Thank you. Faris.”

Madari leaned back on the sofa, still holding Jahni’s left hand with his right. Jahni leaned back too and their arms pressed together, Jahni leaning against Madari. Life was good, Madari thought, for the first time in a long time, life was good.

“Dinner is served, Major, Lieutenant.”

And it kept getting better.


After dinner Madari remembered who else he had to say hello to and Jahni and Youssef followed him out to the stables. The three horses were safe and seemed well cared for.

“The man from the village has been every day, sir. He rides them too, to keep them exercised. I’ve used the money from the household account to pay him, I’ve kept a record of everything, if you wish to see the books, sir.”

“Hmm? Oh, of course, that’s fine.” Madari stood by the stall of his favourite of the animals, Aasifa, and stroked her nose, smiling at her. He’d only owned the mare for a few months before his arrest, she was still young. “My beautiful girl. I have missed you.”

She whinnied and tossed her blonde mane, making Jahni take a step back, giving her a nervous look. He’d learnt to ride from the Bedouin, but Madari knew he still didn’t trust horses. Well Madari would teach him to. That is, he thought, he hoped he would have the chance to teach Jahni to trust them.

After he’d checked the animals, Madari walked back to the stable door and looked out into the darkness. He and Jahni were both exhausted, they really should rest. And it was dark. Foolish to try to work in the dark. But no. His house would not feel like home, until what belonged on those hooks on the wall came back inside.

“All right, Youssef, show me where you buried them.”

“Sir, it’s rather late. And dark.” Youssef sounded doubtful.

“I know, I just need…” He held up the electric lantern he carried. “Bring two more of these.”

The old man took them behind the stables and found a spot marked with a small pile of stones.

“Here, sir.” Youssef turned away to fetch the other lanterns.

“Fetch a couple of shovels too,” Madari said as the servant left, carrying the lantern. The moonlight allowed him to see well enough, to see Jahni, already clearing away the little cairn of stones.

“Ready to do some work, Kahil?”

Jahni looked up and him and grinned.

“Always, Faris.”

When Youssef returned with the shovels, Jahni took one, then pulled his shirt off over his head. Madari wanted to laugh. A little too late to worry about your shirt getting dirty now, he thought. Madari took the other shovel and Youssef protested at once.

“Sir, what are you doing?” He sounded scandalised. “You can’t dig.”

“Actually, I can,” Madari said. “It’s considerably less technical than I was always led to believe.” He heard Jahni chuckle at that. “Hold up a light for us.”

The two officers started to dig in the spot that Youssef had marked with the stones. Youssef watched, holding the lantern and wearing a dubious expression on his face. Unsurprising, Madari thought. Two men, two officers, digging in the darkness. Jahni didn’t protest, although he must have been as tired as Madari. They had done stranger things over the last year. Ignoring the pain in his shoulders and back, Madari just went on digging.

About three feet down his shovel touched something solid.

“Careful,” he warned Jahni. “I think we’re there.” He scraped away the earth from what he’d found, revealing plastic sheeting.

“That’s it, sir,” Youssef said, leaning over, holding the lamp closer.

Discarding the shovel, Madari bent down and used his hands to brush away the sandy, dry earth. Then he pushed his hands down both sides of the object in the ground and heaved. Jahni helped him, and they pulled out a bundle about four feet long and perhaps two around, wrapped tightly in plastic. Nylon cord bound the plastic up.

They dumped it on the ground and climbed out of the hole. Madari took out the knife sheathed at his belt, but Jahni touched his arm to stop him.

“Why don’t we take it inside, so we can see what we’re doing?”

Madari agreed and picked up the bundle before either of the other two could do so. Striding ahead, carrying it in his arms in front of him, like an offering, he walked, smiling, grinning, into the house.

The small scullery beside the kitchen seemed the best place, with its easily mopped tiled floor, and he laid his burden down carefully as the others followed him into the room. Jahni knelt beside him and they went to work with their knives to free the bindings.

That took a few minutes, to cut the strong nylon rope, but at last they all fell loose and Madari unrolled the plastic. Inside that the bundle was wrapped again, in cloth, old bed sheets it looked like. These were tied with string and easily cut open, leaving the bundle’s contents unwrapped completely now. Three swords lay on the sheets, long cavalry sabres in their scabbards.

“Thank you, Youssef,” Madari said, looking from his family’s historic weapons to the man who had secured them from the thieving hands of the usurping regime. He turned to Jahni, who was looking down at the swords, but not touching them.

“This one is mine.” Madari rested his hand on it briefly. “My ceremonial sabre, worn with my dress uniform. That one was my father’s. This one is my grandfather’s.” He picked it up and drew it. The blade whispered out of the ebony scabbard revealing the engraved blade. Although the steel needed polishing, Madari could see no sign of rust. Youssef had done a good job of protecting them.

“Ahmed used this in war,” Madari said in a hushed voice. “It is the most precious thing I own. Or rather…” he smiled at how fanciful it sounded. “That I am the guardian of.” Did a man ‘own’ a sword if he had not fought for his life with it?

Jahni looked at the sword, his gaze travelling up from the jet inlay of the hilt, along the graceful curve of the blade, reading the poetry stanzas about love engraved in exquisite calligraphy. Then he turned to look at Madari.

“It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.”


They went to bed shortly after that, both exhausted. Jahni took the tiny room used mostly for storage, but that held a narrow bed. Madari instructed Youssef to take him some towels and some fresh clothes for the morning. Some of Madari’s clothes would have to suffice for now.

He retired to his own room, where Youssef had made the bed with freshly aired sheets and turned them down. How welcoming the bed looked. Madari said his night prayer and then undressed, put on a clean pair of pyjama trousers and got into bed. Sliding into the crisp linen sheets, he lay back, the good mattress supporting him, the pillow soft under his head. All so very different from the cot he’d slept on for nearly two years now. His own bed, after all this time. His own room, its familiar surroundings.

Like the rest of the house he’d kept his bedroom simple, the bed, the wardrobe, a low bookcase and a chest of drawers that held a hairbrush and other grooming items. A small mirror was screwed to the wall above that, adjusted precisely to Madari’s height. The bookcase stood by the bed and on top of it he had a lamp, a jug of water and a glass, an alarm clock and a small stack of books. A rug lay by his bed on the polished wooden floor. In the morning he knew he’d put his feet onto that, his toes would sink into the pile and it would feel like unspeakable luxury.

As he reached for the lamp Madari looked at the stacked books. He couldn’t even remember starting to read any of them, all that time ago now. This might be his own bedroom but it still felt at least a little like being in a guest room, or a hotel. Perhaps it would take a few days to feel like his own room again. He turned off the lamp and slid down into the bed sheets. For once he fell asleep within minutes.


Youssef woke him the next morning, the sun already shining strongly into the room.

“Coffee, sir.”

He placed the cup on the bedside table as Madari sat up, rubbing his eyes.

“What time is it?”

“After nine, sir.”

Nine. A ridiculous hour for a soldier to sleep until.

“I’ve taken Lieutenant Jahni some coffee and I’m preparing breakfast.”

“Thank you, Youssef.”

Youssef left and Madari lay in bed sipping his coffee. He could hear the shower running, knew Jahni must be in there, so waited until he heard that turn off and a few moment later the bathroom door closing. Then he sat up, felt that unspeakable luxury as his toes sank into the soft rug, and gathered some clothes together. White clothes, genuinely white and not the grey of the ones he’d taken off last night. Those had mysteriously vanished now. Madari suspected that Youssef intended to burn them. It was far too late for mere washing.

When he opened the wardrobe, the first thing he saw was his uniform. His spare uniform, he should say, the one he’d worn the day of his arrest had long ago been destroyed. For a moment he stood and stared, then reached in to lift it out, into the light. Reaching up he hooked the hanger over the wardrobe door, then stepped back.

Nearly two years had passed now since he’d seen a Royal Guard uniform. Yet he recalled every detail of it. How could he not, when he’d grown up with his father and grandfather wearing it every day? Should he put it on? No. Not yet. He could put it on just to remind himself how he looked in it, but that served no purpose. When he felt ready to go back to barracks and report for duty; then he would put it on.

Until then he would just be a man. Just be Faris.

He put the uniform back into the wardrobe, then went to the bathroom to shower.


After breakfast and despite a protest from Youssef, Madari took the old man’s shopping list and basket and he and Jahni walked into the village to buy food and enjoy some fresh air and sunshine. Jahni wore a shirt and trousers belonging to Madari. The shirt was loose enough that it fit his bulkier shoulders and chest, but he did have to turn up the bottom couple of inches of the trousers. He still wore his sash. Youssef had certainly not made that disappear.

Madari had always guarded his privacy in the village and even now most of his neighbours respected that, though many people stared at him. A few men did come up to talk to him and shake his hand, though it seemed more a welcome home than the hero worship he’d feared.

The normality of it felt rather startling, to both of them. Seeing women around, passing the small school and seeing the children playing outside, running and laughing. It had all become so unfamiliar. Handling coins to give to the shopkeepers took a huge amount of concentration, as Madari tried to remember the value of coins and notes that he’d once identified with a glance.

As they finally walked back towards his house, Madari glanced at his watch and laughed.

“That should have taken thirty minutes and it took two hours.”

Jahni grinned back at him. “I noticed. I’m the one carrying the basket after all.” He passed the basket to his other hand, making an exaggerated sigh as if it dragged him down with its weight.

“You insisted,” Madari said, teasing him again. “And after all you’re the one who’s already eaten me out of house and home.”

“Me? I eat like a bird!”

“Yes, one of those French geese they force feed to make pate from.”


Madari woke with a start on a couch in the living room. Youssef stood over him.

“I’m sorry to wake you, sir. It’s almost dinner time.”

Madari sat up, looking around. Jahni lay on the other couch, knees drawn up, also sleeping, a discarded book lying by his head.

“Dinner?” Madari rubbed his eyes. Then he’d slept since sitting down to relax after lunch, supposed Jahni had too. They both had so much sleep to catch up on. He stood up, stretching, then walked over to Jahni and shook his shoulder, until Jahni stirred and looked around confused.

“Youssef,” Madari said, glancing at the calendar on the wall. “It’s Wednesday today, isn’t it? If I recall correctly Wednesday and Friday are your days off.”

“They were, but…”

Madari shook his head, guessing what Youssef would say next, something about cooking dinner. On Youssef’s nights off in the past Madari would usually eat out. Well he didn’t feel much like going out tonight, but now he knew his way around a kitchen.

“Kahil and I can cook for ourselves tonight.”

“We can?” Jahni said, sitting up, yawning and trying to tame his rumpled hair with his fingers.

Youssef put up an argument of course, but Madari insisted, knew on those days off Youssef met his friends at the village’s coffee house to smoke the water pipes, drink tea and coffee, and talk about how much better things were in the old days.

So after Youssef left, Madari discovered his own kitchen. Though he decided he’d better leave everything exactly as he found it, because he might technically own the kitchen, but it was Youssef’s domain.

He and Jahni laughed as they cooked, joking about having to use only pinches of seasonings instead of cupfuls, as they used pans a man could lift with one hand and not have to call a friend to grab the other side.

By the time Youssef returned, they had cleared up, and Madari hoped the kitchen met with Youssef’s approval. If seemed to, as he smiled at it, and offered to make them tea before bed. After that they said goodnight.

Madari’s room felt more like his own now and less like a hotel room. Personal touches had started to return. He’d taken away the books that had been stacked by the bed and replaced them with one he’d started to read since arriving home. He’d not read very much of it yet, since every time he tried to do so he found himself falling asleep. Perhaps in a few days he’d have caught up on enough sleep to stay awake for more than a page or two.

For the second night, he fell asleep in his own bed. Tomorrow, he thought as he drifted off, tomorrow I must see about getting the telephone reconnected and maybe buy a newspaper or listen to the radio or turn on the television. Or perhaps he would leave that until the day after. No rush to rejoin the world. Surely he deserved some rest? Kahil did too. Why rush to change anything?


If nine had been a ridiculous time for a soldier to wake, then near ten was even more absurd. Madari found Jahni had already risen a couple of hours before and was sitting in the living room, reading. He smiled as the still sleepy looking Madari walked into the room, carrying a cup of coffee.

“If I go on like this I’ll be getting up just in time for lunch.”

“You need your rest,” Jahni said. He glanced at the window. “It’s a fine day, I was just thinking of going to sit outside.”

“Sounds good. The fresh air may wake me up.” As he followed Jahni to the door he noticed the swords they had dug up, lying on a table. “We should get those polished up and back on the wall. We’ll do it after lunch.”

In the garden they sat in a couple of lawn chairs and enjoyed the fine morning. In a few months it would be summer and too hot to sit out here in the sun without a canopy. But the weaker winter sun made it pleasant enough.

“Have you been sleeping well?” Jahni asked. “I, um, I haven’t heard you cry out, but, well,” he looked pained for a moment, almost guilty. “I’ve been sleeping pretty heavily myself.”

“I haven’t had any nightmares since coming home,” Madari said. “And I’ve gone to sleep quickly.” He smiled, shook his head. “And in case you’re wondering, I’m not taking the sleeping pills either. Perhaps being back in my own bed makes a difference.”

Jahni nodded. “I can imagine that. I always slept better at home on leave than I did at the barracks. Even with my sisters rampaging around, squealing.” He laughed softly, enjoying the memory, Madari guessed, seeing the dreamy look on Jahni’s face. I was right, Madari thought, to make him go to see their graves. He has moved on, can think about them in the past, and miss them of course, but recall the good times too. So I was right to take him there. And then to bring him home with me? And to feel so comfortable with him here in the house and to wish he could stay? That can’t be right, can it?

Jahni sighed and stretched his legs out, slid down in his chair, relaxing. The breeze stirred his hair and he closed his eyes.

Sometimes Madari wished a moment could last forever. This moment felt like one of those times. Nothing so special, but special because of the normality of it. No battle coming. No raid, or sabotage mission to plan. Just two dear friends enjoying time together. Nothing on his schedule except lunch.

The moment could not last forever, but it could last until lunch and he relished every second of it.

Chapter 2

After Youssef cleared lunch away Madari went in search of metal polish and rags to polish the swords. Probably they needed sharpening too, but he preferred to take them to a specialist for that. For now they only needed to gleam.

As he walked back into the living room, hands full, he found Jahni standing by one of the bookshelves.

“Looking for something new to read, Kahil?”

Jahni laughed. “Well, it would take me some time to run out of things to read in here.”

“A lot of them were my father’s books. He was a great reader. And a writer.”

“I saw…” Jahni rested a hand briefly on some small volumes. “These have his name on them, as the author, I mean.”

“Some of his poetry was published.” Dropping the polishing gear on the table he walked over to stand beside Jahni and took out a couple of the books his father had been so proud of, despite Ahmed’s scepticism. His father, the soldier poet.

“What’s this one?” Jahni had taken out a journal-like book, with no title printed on it. A red ribbon tied it closed and Madari saw Jahni frown at the rather complicated knot. Jahni wasn’t a horseman, so he didn’t recognise the knot and certainly couldn’t recreate it. He didn’t attempt to untie the ribbon.

“That is also poetry by my father. I found it in my mother’s effects after she died. It’s hand written, love poetry. For her.”

Jahni looked almost awestruck and he handed the book to Madari, who replaced it carefully on the shelf. The two of them walked over to begin working on the swords, first laying them on an old sheet to protect the table.

“My father wouldn’t have had any idea about how to make such a romantic gesture,” Jahni said. “Oh, I know he loved my mother, I think they were happy, but I can’t imagine him writing poetry!”

“People can surprise you,” Madari said, pouring polish onto a rag and reaching first for Ahmed’s sword.

“I know that for sure.” Jahni nodded, picking up Madari’s dress sword and starting to polish it, watching Madari’s hands as he did so, following the movements he made. “Do you still miss your father?”

“Yes.” It seemed impossible, the man had been gone almost thirty years, yet Madari still longed for a chance to speak to him just once more. Ahmed had ended up having more of an influence in him, on making him who he became. But he thought his father, Razaq, perhaps had more of an influence on his soul. “You must still miss yours terribly.”

Jahni went quiet, bit his lip. He spoke again after a while.

“Sometimes he could drive me crazy, all the ambitions he had for me.” He smiled. “Of course you know about what that is like. But I realise it’s because he knew what I was capable of, perhaps more than I did. Once he accepted that I wanted to stay in the army I feel sure he started picturing me as a general.”

Madari laughed. “Who am I to argue with him?”

“He was just so… Well, determined I think is the best word. And I admired him for that. He made things happen.”

“Tell me the story about his childhood.”

“Oh, you must have heard it ten times now.”

Probably more, Madari thought, all those months as prisoners with little to do but talk. “I enjoy it,” he said.

Jahni sighed, as if he felt put upon, but started to talk anyway.

“He was a foundling, left as a baby at the door of the village head man. Nobody could find out who his mother was, she might have been passing through rather than from the village.”

Or the head man might have been his father, Madari thought, though didn’t say anything. Chickens coming home to roost.

“An old couple, whose children had all grown up and left home took him in and raised him. But they both died by the time he was thirteen. Their children passed him around between their families for a couple of years, but he knew they didn’t want him. So one day he just decided to go to Az-Ma’ir and make his own way in the world. He said he walked a hundred miles to get there, on bare feet.”

Madari smiled. It sounded to him as if Jahni’s father could give Ahmed a run for his money when it came to tall tales. But he listened, enjoying it, as Jahni went on, relating how his father had started out trading in trinkets on the street and ended up with a successful import export business.

“All that money,” Madari said, “from his business. That’s yours now, you realise?”

“I… I suppose,” Jahni frowned. “I never really thought about it.”

“We can go to his bank tomorrow if you want,” Madari suggested, then laughed. “Perhaps we should go to a barber on the way though, so we won’t look like a pair of bandits there to rob the place.”

Jahni smiled, a rather wan effort.

“Yes. All right. I’ll need some money to get back to my regiment anyway. I’ll have to get a train, I suppose.”

They sat in silence for a few moments, went on with the polishing, making the steel gleam. Madari felt the oppressive weight of the future starting to press in on them. They had to face it eventually though. They couldn’t hide here forever. Jahni couldn’t stay here forever. People would notice that, start to question his presence. A few days, while they rested, that they could get away with. But eventually it would start to look suspicious.

And it was dangerous too. In the camp there’d been little privacy, but here, behind his high compound walls, when Youssef went out for the evening and they had the house to themselves? Privacy gave him too many opportunities for temptation. The danger of losing control became too great.

So to talk about the future now meant they took their first steps towards it, towards the inevitable parting. He wanted to cry “don’t leave!” to Jahni, and wondered, hoped, that Jahni longed to hear it. But to give in to the temptation to say those words would destroy the very future they had to face up to.

He couldn’t do that to Jahni. When he’d called Jahni his best soldier that had been the truth. And he agreed with Jahni’s father about what he was capable of. He had a limitless future in the Army. Madari had his own ambitions and they were, well, his own ambitions were his own affair, he could throw them away in a moment of madness. But to destroy Jahni’s too? He would never forgive himself for that.


Jahni awoke with a gasp when he heard the first scream. For a moment his unfamiliar surroundings frightened him, but then he remembered where he was. The scream came again. He knew it only too well. Scrambling out of bed, he ran to Madari’s room.

It was the worst he’d seen Madari in a long time. When Jahni ran in he found Madari off the bed and curled against the wall, his hands over his head, crying out, begging, pleading for mercy. Jahni dropped to his hands and knees, close to Madari, but not touching him yet.

“Faris, wake up. Wake up. It’s a dream, you’re safe, wake up now.” He heard a sound behind him and turned to see Youssef at the door, reaching for the light switch.

“No!” Jahni snapped. Too late. The harsh electric glare filled the room and Madari screamed, clawed at the wall.

“Turn the light off now!” Jahni ordered. “Turn it off!”

Youssef responded instinctively to the tone of command from the young officer and flicked the light off again.

“What’s wrong with him?”

“He’s having a nightmare. I can handle it.”

“Should I get a doctor?” Youssef sounded frightened.

“No, that’s not necessary. Just let me help him.” Just go away and stop asking questions, he wanted to yell.

Youssef did stop asking questions but he didn’t go away. Jahni turned back to Madari who still sobbed in terror. Slow, careful, he moved closer, until he held Madari, all the time keeping up a stream of soothing comforting words. At last Jahni managed to coax him back onto the bed, where he lay down beside him holding him from behind. Madari clung to Jahni’s forearms, as if afraid of being swept away.

“It’s all right now. I won’t leave you,” Jahni whispered. The room darkened suddenly and he looked up to see Youssef had backed out and closed the door behind him cutting off the light from the hallway.

On the bed, Madari’s body still felt tense against Jahni’s, still trembled.

“Sleep, Faris,” Jahni whispered. “You’re safe. I won’t leave you.” He rested his forehead on the back of Madari’s head, breathing in the scents of soap and sweat mingling now in Madari’s hair.

“Kahil,” Madari whispered, before his trembling body finally stilled. Jahni, careful not to move around too much, pulled sheets and blankets up around him, keeping him warm, keeping him safe.

I should leave, he thought. Now he is asleep, I should go.

I don’t want to leave.


Madari woke to soft words.

“Coffee, sir.”

A second later he heard the sound of rapidly retreating footsteps. He blinked, raising his head from the pillow, seeing the small coffee cup on the bookcase beside him, saw the door closing, and turning to his left, Jahni’s sleeping form beside him.

He almost leapt out of the bed, heart racing. Jahni, his legs tangled in the bed sheets, partly on top of them, partly under them, stirred as Madari moved. He turned onto his back, one hand resting across his stomach, but didn’t wake. After a moment he lay still again.

Madari stared at him, at Jahni, wearing only pyjama trousers, sleeping beside him, in his bed. The memory came back, of the nightmare, of Jahni’s reassuring presence, his strong arms encircling Madari and that voice speaking calming, soothing words. He remembered Jahni helping him back onto the bed, holding him as they lay there together. They had both fallen asleep, Madari realised.

Madari leaned back against the wardrobe where he’d backed up to when he’d jumped out of bed. He moaned softly and pressed the heel of his right hand against his temple, where a pounding pain had started up.

Nothing happened, he told himself. Nothing happened. He comforted you, as he has so many times before. And then you slept the rest of the night with him, in his arms and woke at his side, and something could have happened. In the darkness, how easy to let it happen, let the darkness conceal and deny it.

He should walk out of this room now, he knew. At the very least, he should stop looking down at the barely clothed body of a man he could no longer deny he wanted. Wanted to make love to, his mind insisted on forcing him to be honest. Stop trying to avoid the truth now.

You want him as your lover.

Since he’d been a young man he’d sometimes felt attraction to other men, as well as women. Such feelings were totally forbidden, so he’d never acted on them. But he wanted to now, more than he ever had. In the past, the feelings, the attraction had never seemed to be more than a passing madness, not worth indulging. Not worth the risk.

But what he felt for Jahni was so strong that he felt as if every moment of every day he was deciding if the risk of disgrace and dishonour might just be worth taking. Would it be? If it meant he could take Jahni in his arms, tell him what he felt, and, please, please, see joy and acceptance in his face? Kiss him? Not in his dreams, but here, in the light? Could he, both of them, risk everything for that?

What did he risk? Certainly if they were found out they’d be thrown out of the Army, stripped of their commissions. The king had outlawed the old punishments; in his grandfather’s day, they’d have been at risk of fifty lashes and then prison. But there’d only been so far even the king and his liberal views could take the laws. The lashing was gone, but the prison sentences remained.

Would I risk all of that, my future, his too? Our good names, our reputations, the honour of our families? For love?

Jahni stirred on the bed and Madari looked up with a gasp, saw Jahni lift a hand to rub his eyes, already nearly awake. Madari didn’t wait for him to wake fully, to open his eyes and see where he was. He walked out of the room, as fast as Youssef had.

Youssef. Madari froze as he closed the door. He had come into the room, had left coffee for Madari, and then retreated quickly. But he’d been there last night, hadn’t he? Madari felt sure he recalled the old man’s voice mixed in with the memories of his own screams and Jahni’s gentle whisper. Surely he understood, that their falling asleep together had, at least on the surface, an innocent explanation? Madari would have to speak to him, make sure he understood that.

He moved again, walked on into the bathroom and took a long, long shower.

When he went back to his bedroom, Jahni had gone.


Jahni sank down onto his bed, his knees shaking.

When he’d opened his eyes to find himself in Madari’s bed, it had taken a long moment to remember how he’d ended up there, and when he did remember, then for a second he had felt disappointment. Nothing had happened. Nothing inappropriate. Nothing illegal, unacceptable, against regulations had happened.

But he knew that he wouldn’t have objected if it had. If Madari had turned into his embrace, pressed close against him and touched Jahni’s lips with his own, Jahni wouldn’t have pushed him away.

That was wrong, he knew that, he’d been taught that, since he was a teenager, warned against men who might try to touch him with intentions that were… inappropriate. But he longed for it now. He refused to suppress the feelings any more, even if he had to suppress acting on them, he could no longer deny what he felt.

He couldn’t have acted on them last night though. If Madari had initiated it himself, then Jahni would have given in to the temptation. But in that state, so vulnerable, who knows what horrible memories filling Madari’s mind? If Jahni had made a move, initiated anything, he might have terrified Madari. So last night had not been the right time.

Would there be a time? Before they had to part? And would Jahni have the nerve to respond? Or if he had to, would he have the nerve to actually make it happen?


“I brought a newspaper, sir,” Youssef said, laying the paper on the table.

“Oh, thank you,” Madari said, not sure how sincere his thanks were. He glanced at the paper, but made no move to pick it up. Jahni sat across from him, not talking much, and not tackling his breakfast with his usual enthusiasm. He showed no interest in the paper either, just gazed off into space most of the time.

When Youssef hurried from the room Madari frowned after him. The old man’s demeanour had been awkward as he served their breakfast. When Madari finished his meal he took the plates and cups into the kitchen.

“Please, sir, there’s no need.” Youssef sounded nearly as pained as when Madari had started to wield the shovel. “I can get them.”

“I know, but I wanted to speak to you. About last night.”

Youssef looked away. “I shouldn’t have intruded, sir. But you sounded so frightened. I was worried.”

“Of course you were, that’s natural. Let me explain –”

“That’s not necessary.”

“I think it is. What you saw last night must have looked very strange to you. Must have shocked you, I need you to understand.” He paused a moment, looking down, then looked up again. “You have noticed my hands. The scars.” He had his arms crossed over his chest, his hands out of sight.

“Yes,” Youssef said quietly.

“I was tortured after I was arrested. My fingernails were pulled out.”

“Oh, master Faris.” Youssef’s voice cracked, as he used the childhood name.

“I was in their hands for three weeks before I was sent to the prison. And I still have nightmares about those weeks. And sometimes even during the day I have attacks. The memories overwhelm me and I relive events.” Flashbacks, he hated the word. He’d not had one of those for some time though, had begun to hope he never would again.

“I’m so sorry, sir. Would a doctor be able to help?’

“Perhaps. The main thing is time. I’m slowly getting better. Anyway, in the prison, and later once we made it our base, my officers helped me, supported me when I had the dreams and flashbacks. Lieutenant Jahni has been an especially important support for me.”

“I’m sure he is a fine young man, sir.” His voice still held a trace of doubt.

“He is.” Madari’s voice held no doubt. “We have become good friends. Please don’t think that what you saw last night was anything but him supporting me as a friend.”

“I understand, sir.”

“Good. Thank you, Youssef.”

Had he convinced him? Madari wondered and then frowned. Convinced him? That made it sound as if what he’d just told Youssef was a lie. Was it a lie? Youssef looked happier though, and Madari felt relieved about that, knew that whatever Youssef’s loyalty to the family he wouldn’t stay in the house if he thought there was something immoral happening. And though Youssef wasn’t a gossip, Madari knew he wouldn’t lie if questioned.

“We are going out,” he told Youssef. “Will be away at least until this afternoon. Would you see if you can get the telephone reconnected?”

Perhaps the time had come to reconnect with the world outside.


The first stop they made in the city was at a barber’s shop and they emerged looking almost entirely respectable now, Madari clean shaven again, both with neat hair and their clean clothes. They drove on towards the bank Jahni recalled his father using. The city looked nearly normal. There were some troops still on the streets, but commerce had resumed, people still had to earn a living.

At the bank the name “Madari” produced the miraculous effect of sweeping aside anyone waiting ahead of them. They were soon in the manager’s office, being served tea, while the chief bank officer brought them the information they needed. And it was what Madari had feared.

“It’s all gone?” Madari glanced at Jahni, who showed no reaction to the news. “The government took it all?”

“I’m sorry, sir.” The manager looked at Madari and not Jahni. “They emptied the accounts. We couldn’t stop them. I wish there was something I could do. The late Mr Jahni was a good customer of the bank for many years. If we could do anything to help the Lieutenant we would. But there is nothing.” He finally looked at Jahni. “I’m so sorry.”

“All right.” Jahni stood up. The other two men rose.

“If there’s anything else,” the bank manager said, “any business you wish to transact with us, I will personally ensure it is handled favourably.”

Jahni shook his head and started to walk out of the room.

“Kahil,” Madari called, making Jahni stop and look at him. “I’ll be a moment, please wait for me.” Jahni nodded and left the room.

“I’m sorry,” Madari said. “It is a difficult period for him. For all of us. This transition back to normality.” Normality. Reality. Yet this normality felt so unreal. Felt almost absurd. Airport managers, bank managers. He’d not had to deal with such people for so long.

“I understand, sir.”

No, you don’t. “My lawyer may contact you shortly, I will be instructing him to see if the money can be recovered. The bank will I’m sure give their full cooperation.”

“Oh. Um, of course.” The bank manager looked worried, but shook Madari’s hand when he offered it.

Madari found Jahni outside in the banking hall, waiting. Probably without realising it he was watching the area as if on guard for an attack. When Madari appeared he snapped to attention.

“Let’s get some lunch,” Madari suggested. Jahni just nodded.

Jahni barely spoke as they ate lunch at the tables outside a café. They ordered tea after their lunch and drank it in the shelter of the large, dark green umbrellas over the tables.

“What now, Kahil?” Madari asked that question again.

“I suppose it’s time to go back to my regiment. At least they will put a roof over my head.” He looked at Madari, into his eyes. His voice became almost a whisper. “But I… I don’t want to leave. I don’t want to leave you.” He reached across the table and his hand brushed against Madari’s for an instant.

He could have taken Madari’s hand. No one would have remarked on it. But that tiny, fleeting brush of skin against skin felt far more exciting, to Madari, more frightening and…

Fighting for control, Madari swallowed the lump in his throat and tried hard to keep his voice level.

“Well, you don’t have to make any quick decisions. Sleep on it. Come home with – I mean come back to my house for now. You are still welcome to stay as long as you need to.”

“Thank you, sir… Faris.” Jahni smiled. “I would like that.”

When they stood up Madari’s legs were trembling. They went back to the Mercedes and drove out of the city.


Jahni stayed quiet most of the journey back. He had come so close there to speaking, to telling Madari what he wanted, really wanted. Last night came to his mind again. He’d been prepared to let it happen.



When had he become so shy of the word? Perhaps when he started to seriously consider, to think about, dream about, sex with a man, this man. He’d never felt that desire before, yet now it filled his mind.

Could he really leave without ever experiencing that with Faris? Because after this, after he left and they only saw each other occasionally, spoke on the telephone, wrote letters, then surely they would grow apart. The intensity their relationship had now, the heat, would wane. This whole thing, the prison, the guerrilla campaign, had been a kind of insanity. Once he left would his head cool off, his sanity return, and make him start to wonder how he could have felt this way? Perhaps. But if that happened would he always regret not finding out what it would be like to pursue that side of their relationship?

If it stayed a secret forever then why not let it happen, he thought. Nobody else ever has to know of it. He knew the risk, the terrible consequences if that secret should be revealed. This was something forbidden by law, by their culture, their religion.

Religion. He snorted, making Madari glance over at him. Jahni didn’t say anything. Religion. That could be a problem. Not for him, not any more, but would it deter Madari? Just how sincere were his beliefs anyway? An intelligent man, rational, sensitive. Was his religious observance only habit and appearance? Jahni wished he had the courage to ask that.

The car sped on, eating up the miles, not far from the village now. The house, where he might spend only one more night. He recalled Madari saying that Youssef had tonight off and felt sure Madari would insist the servant took that time. They could have the house to themselves for several hours.

It’s going to happen, Jahni decided. I’m going to let it happen, make it happen. No, not ‘make’, that would be too aggressive. With his memories, the things they did to him, I can’t risk frightening him. I will invite it. Make it clear I welcome it. He glanced at Madari again, who had his eyes fixed on the road. I’ll let him make the choice to accept my invitation or not.

I love you, he thought. If one night, no, one evening, is all the time I have to show you, then I must accept that. I must make it an evening we will never forget.


“So it begins,” Madari said softly as they drove into the compound, to find it full of parked cars. In a moment they found the diwaniya full of men, most of them in uniform. Youssef darted around providing them with coffee and tea.

“Idris!” Jahni cried as they went in, Faraj’s height making him stand out from the crowd.

Faraj seemed surprised to see Jahni there, but embraced him and Madari. Like them, his hair was freshly cut. His clothes were of a more fashionable and elegant cut than theirs though. Probably new, Madari guessed.

“It is good to see you, Idris, and to see you looking like yourself again,” Madari said, happy to see Faraj return to the immaculate and elegant appearance he had maintained before their lives had changed so much. “Your family?”

“Home, sir. Safe and well. Mehdi…” He smiled, shaking his head. “He is so big now.”

“And as handsome as his father, I am sure.” This came from a short, slightly plump man in his fifties, with white hair and beard. He wore the uniform of the Royal Guard, the insignia of a colonel. “Hello Faris. His majesty told me about the strange company of bandits who greeted him at the airport. And the wild-eyed ruffian who led them. I knew right away that had to be you, my old friend.” He embraced Madari, and then offered his hand to Jahni.

“Colonel,” Madari said, “Allow me to introduce Lieutenant Jahni. Lieutenant, this is Colonel Rahama, I’ve spoken of him to you.”

“An honour, Colonel.” Jahni bowed his head as he shook the Colonel’s hand.

“The honour is mine. Your name is not unknown to me, Lieutenant Jahni. Your courage and daring are famous.” Jahni blushed, looking pleased and surprised.

“The king has named Colonel Rahama as Colonel in Chief of the regiment,” Faraj said.

Madari stared and then grasped Rahama’s hand and shook it again.

“Congratulations, sir!”

“Thank you, Faris.” Rahama smiled. “Old Ahmed always said I showed promise, I hope I am living up to that promise.”

“He would have been proud of you,” Madari said.

“And of you, Faris. Now come along, you must tell me first hand of your exploits.”


“You didn’t expect to be hosting a party today, did you, Faris?”

Madari turned from where he stood with a coffee cup in his hand, by the living room window, watching the sun setting. Rahama stood behind him.

“No, sir.” Madari sighed, but then smiled at his old friend. “So you know all about what I have been up to. Tell me what you have been doing for the last two years. I know you have been living in Paris.”

“Yes. His majesty was gracious enough to accept my counsel. I did what I could to help the resistance efforts here at home. Organised shipments of weapons and supplies.”

“Then you have my gratitude,” Madari said, bowing his head. “You must have enjoyed living in Paris.”

“Indeed.” Rahama sighed. “It is the only truly civilised city in Europe. “But,” he went on, “I have not spent the whole two years in art galleries and restaurants. Last year I made the Pilgrimage.”

“Then I must call you Al-Hajji.” Madari lifted his coffee cup in salute, but as he did he saw Rahama react to the sight of his scarred hand. Rahama looked into Madari’s eyes and Madari saw pity there. And something else. Guilt.

“I’m so sorry about what happened to you, Faris.”

“Don’t, Sharif. Don’t apologise.”

“I brought you into the conspiracy. If I hadn’t…” He looked away towards the setting sun and they were silent for a few moments, then Rahama turned back to Madari. “I meant what I said before. Old Ahmed would have been very proud of you.” He took one of Madari’s hands in both his own. “You will be rewarded, Faris, for what you have suffered, for how bravely you fought. His majesty is talking of all kinds of honours and promotion for you.” He laughed, forced cheer in it. “Perhaps I shall soon be calling you ‘sir’? Perhaps it will be General Madari?”

Madari shook his head. “I don’t see how I could accept any promotion that is not based on my regular duties.”

Rahama frowned at him, a stern look Madari saw only rarely, and let go of Madari’s hand.

“Major, you are an officer of Royal Guard. You serve the Royal House and if the king wishes to honour you then you will accept it graciously. If you refuse any reward you will look churlish and vain, and I don’t believe you are either of those things, Faris.” He lost the frown then and some of the twinkle came back into his eyes. “I can see you have changed, my friend. That you have lost some of that arrogance we all loved so much in you.” Madari winced. A fair assessment, he thought. “But do not make a vice out of modesty.” Rahama went on. “I will keep in mind what you said about promotion though, if you feel so strongly about it. If you wish to remain a Major for now then you’ll have your wish.” He chuckled. “Did you just have a new batch of stationery printed up?”

That finally elicited a smile from Madari and the mood softened. Rahama laid a hand on Madari’s arm, squeezed it for a moment, a small reassurance perhaps.

“Sharif,” Madari said, using the given name deliberately, calling on their long friendship. “I have another matter I wish to ask you about.” The idea had come to him as soon as he heard Rahama, his friend and ally, now commanded the regiment, had the power to help him, perhaps to make this happen.

“What is it?”

“Lieutenant Jahni. He is a superb officer and was one of my most valuable men. I know he is still young of course, but he has so much promise.”

The word ‘promise’ made Madari remember his first meeting with another young lieutenant with ‘promise’ so long ago. Taking a breath, he asked the question. The question whose answer would change so much in his life.

“Would you approve of him transferring into the Royal Guard? I think he could make a great contribution.”

Rahama nodded slowly. “I have heard glowing reports of him. From Captain Faraj for one.”

“I think he could become the best officer I have ever met.” He gave a short laugh then went on. “Except my grandfather of course. And you.”

“I have every confidence in your judgement, Faris. And given the way the king is talking about you at the moment, I think refusing you anything would be unwise and possibly illegal. Have you asked Mr Jahni yet?”

“Not yet.”

“What’s his current regiment?”

“Southern Rangers.”

“Ah, Omar Mohd, a good man. I shall telephone him tomorrow and put the wheels in motion, if Mr Jahni wishes to join us.”

“Thank you so much, Colonel, thank you.” He held out his hand and Rahama shook it, smiling at Madari.

“Well go and ask him then, no sense in delay.”


In the living room Jahni and Faraj were the centre of attention, as they recounted stories of the campaign. But Jahni fell silent, letting Faraj continue a tale alone as he saw Madari come back in. Madari caught Jahni’s gaze, as he passed through the diwaniya, then stopped at the door into the rest of the house.

He made a small gesture, for Jahni to come to him and Jahni obeyed the summons at once.

“Kahil, I have something to ask you,” Madari said, when Jahni reached him. He spoke quietly, his face serious. “Please come through here.”

They went into the living room and Madari waved Jahni towards a couch. For a moment, he hesitated beside the couch, but then didn’t sit. Instead he walked over to the wall, where the swords had been returned to pride of place. The scabbards gleamed, hiding blades that now shone after the polishing Madari and Jahni had given them last night.

Madari looked at the swords for a while, his hands behind his back, then he reached out and for a second touched the hilt of his grandfather’s sword. He seemed to straighten up, Jahni thought, as he touched the sword. At last Madari turned to him and smiled.

“Don’t look so nervous, Kahil.”

I look nervous? Jahni thought. With an effort he smiled.

“I have some good news,” Madari went on. “At least I hope you think it’s good news.” He nodded. “I think you will. I have asked Colonel Rahama if he’s prepared to let you transfer into the Royal Guard, and he has agreed.”

Jahni stared at him, his voice gone in his amazement. Transfer? Into the Royal Guard? To stay at Madari’s side.

It blew all of his other plans out of the water. If they had been about to part he’d have risked offering to share Madari’s bed tonight. But now, now they would have to continue as before. And that was… That was wonderful. Nothing could make him more proud, more happy than to go on serving with Madari, being close to him as a friend.

When he saw Madari look at him, worried, and start to speak again, voice faltering, Jahni realised he should have answered by now and not just sat there gaping like a landed fish.

“If… if you want to of course. I feel sure it would be a great opportunity for you. And I know you would –”

“Yes,” Jahni exclaimed, then grimaced at interrupting him. “I’m sorry, go on.”

Madari didn’t continue with what he’d been saying, seemed to forget it. “That is… You will do so well, I know it.” He gave a wide smile and it made Jahni smile in return.

Jahni started to stand up, but then sank down again as Madari approached and sat down on the couch beside him. Now he wiped off the smile and wore the serious expression on this face again. Madari took both of Jahni’s hands, both of them, in his own.

“Kahil, this is… Things will be very different now, than they were at the camp. We will have to be different. Do you understand?”

Yes, Jahni thought, yes I do. And I understand what this means. If we’re to serve together then anything I planned for tonight cannot, no – must nothappen.

“Yes, Faris.” He spoke softly. “I understand what you mean. And I… I want to thank you, for thinking I’m worthy of serving in the Royal Guard.”

Madari waved his hand, waved away the thanks.

“You are more than worthy. You are a fine officer and you honour me with your service and your loyalty. And…” he hesitated and bit his lip, seemed nervous. “And you touch me with your friendship, your love, Kahil… I… I value it deeply.”


Faraj’s voice came from the doorway through to the kitchen. They turned to look at him and Jahni felt Madari withdraw his hands, quite quickly.


“Your guests getting ready to leave, sir.”

“Ah.” Madari stood up, smoothed down his shirt. “I have good news,” he said to Faraj. “Kahil is going to transfer into the Royal Guard. We will all serve together.”

Faraj looked astonished. “Kahil?” He stared at Jahni, who smiled at him, nodded.

“I see,” Faraj said, frowning. Madari didn’t remark on that, just hurried from the room. Jahni went to follow him and Faraj blocked his path, stood with arms folded

“Idris?” Jahni raised his eyebrows with surprise at Faraj, who scowled back at him.

“This transfer is a mistake, Kahil.”

“Faris doesn’t think so.” Faraj’s eyes widened when Jahni used Madari’s given name. Jahni tried to lighten the mood, tried to joke.

“Worried I’ll outshine you, Idris?” Perhaps his tone had too much teasing in it, but the joke didn’t amuse Faraj. He still stood, barring Jahni’s path, his arms folded.

“Are you living here?” It sounded less like a question, more an accusation.

“For now.” Faraj still didn’t move and Jahni lost his patience, snapped out his words.

“Idris, if you have something to say to me, then say it. If not then let me pass.”

After a moment, Faraj looked away stepped to the side. Jahni smiled at him in what he hoped came across as a friendly way, but it didn’t seem to help. As Jahni followed Madari into the diwaniya he could feel Faraj’s eyes on his back all of the way.


Madari had no nightmare that night, because he barely slept. He lay awake staring at the ceiling. The joy of starting the process to bring Jahni into the Royal Guard had started to fade and doubt took its place. Had he made a mistake? They would serve together, as before. Outside of work they could spend as much time together as they wanted. In private places, where danger lay only an arm’s length away.

He sat up, unable to bear lying down any longer. A cotton robe hung on the back of the door and he put that on, then prowled the house, checking the doors and window shutters, moving silently on his bare feet. At one point he stood by the door of the small room where Jahni slept, fancied he could hear him breathing, whispering softly in his sleep. He laid a hand flat against the door. Should he go in and talk to Jahni? Say it had been a mistake, a bad idea, that Jahni should leave after all? And before he left, might something happen? Something that Madari couldn’t allow to happen while they served together, remained friends. He knew the choice he had to make.

Could he give up the time they could spend together in the future, give up his friendship, his comradeship, so that for one night they could share a bed?

Well not tonight, that’s for sure, he thought, glancing at the door that led to Youssef’s room. His chaperone. His conscience. Madari sighed and walked to his study, found his humidor and sat in a leather armchair, relaxing into the chair as if into the embrace of an old friend. The chair was ten years old, and had adapted to his body. Nobody else ever sat in it.

He sat in the dim light of a lamp watching the cigar smoke curl up.

The question was one of control. Self-control. Self-discipline. If Jahni came into the Royal Guard, served under Madari, if they continued their friendship then however careful they might be, opportunities to give in to temptation would crop up many times. Did Madari have the strength to resist that temptation?

Yet he had, for months now. Since the day before they took the camp he had known he loved Jahni. No, he had known long before, since the moment he saw him. Certainly that day before the liberation, he had finally admitted it to himself. But in all the time before and since that realisation, despite moments he could have given in to his urges, he had never done anything to act on those feelings. However close he had come he had always stopped, even at the last second.

Was that enough? After all he’d restrained himself partly because he feared Jahni would reject him, would be horrified by a sexual advance. Now he dared to believe that wouldn’t happen. He dared to believe Jahni felt the same temptation, felt the same love. But to know the approach would probably be welcomed made things worse, increased the temptation.

But did love, even romantic love have to find sexual expression? They could remain friends despite the desires they felt. Intimate, intense friends, certainly, but they did not have to be lovers just because they felt that desire.

Surely there were other ways to express love? They could express the strength of their feelings in other ways, other actions. They already did that, through their loyalty and kindness to each other. Through the things they’d done for each other. Not all of them kind. With a shiver he turned his thoughts away from what he’d ordered Noor and Faraj to do to that soldier, for Jahni’s sake.

A question of control, but also of priorities. Weren’t companionship and loyalty as important as sex? Perhaps more so? And sexual relationships… well, they didn’t always last. What if he dared risk everything, took Jahni as his lover and in a few months they broke apart in bitterness and even hatred? Would he not rather have Jahni’s friendship for the rest of his life than a brief affair?

Something else he had to face. Although he desired Jahni physically, he couldn’t deny that his sex drive had never returned to the same level as before he was tortured. Jahni on the other hand was a young, healthy man, whose physical needs might very well be more than Madari could meet.

He closed his eyes for a moment as shame washed over him. How could he sit here and think such shocking, forbidden things? But after a moment he opened his eyes again. Shameful the thoughts might be, but he had to admit. If he denied them how could he deal with them? Control them? They would control him and he would not even know it.

I can do this, he thought. I know I can control my urges. Any civilised man controls his urges all of the time, or else he’d simply grab whatever he wanted all the time, rampage around in a frenzy of lust and greed. I have been controlling my base urges all of my life. Now I have to work at it harder, but I believe I can do it.

It should be easier now, not harder. Back in the camp, the campaign, the rebellion, they had been so far removed from reality that looking back, it already seemed like a kind of dream. As if he’d been insane for a while. He laughed then, very quiet. For a while he had been.

When he saw Jahni in uniform, that would help, he thought. The uniform was a signal. Off limits. A soldier might be more than his uniform. But with a uniform a man became more than just a man.

No, he decided finally. He had not made a mistake. He had certainly given himself a challenge, but he had the strength to meet that challenge.

I am strong. I have discipline. I am a soldier.


At seven o’clock in the morning, Youssef found Madari asleep in the armchair in the study.

“Coffee, sir?’

Madari rubbed his eyes, confused for a moment, but then fixing on the important word he had just heard. Coffee. He took the cup Youssef was offering.

“Thank you. Make more. A lot more.”

“Didn’t you sleep last night, sir?’

“Not very much.” He sipped the coffee, then called out to Youssef, who had started to leave the room. “Youssef.”

“Yes, sir?”

“Please lay out my uniform.”