Part 28: The Price of Loyalty

Chapter 1

Autumn 1993

Darkness spread over the desert, like ink spilled over paper. The headlights of Madari’s car pierced the blackness, pointing the way north towards home. Could he see the lights of his village ahead yet? He hoped so; he was hungry. Lunch had been rushed and the day ended late, almost seven o’clock, so he looked forward to his dinner.

Alone though, which he didn’t look forward to so much. Sophia was busy tonight with her fundraising work. Kahil could have come out to spend the evening with him, but they’d had dinner together the night before. Perhaps they’d talk on the phone. He sighed, thinking for a moment that he could have been coming home to the welcoming smile of a child. Kibibi. Her face still came into his mind often, and he sometimes regretted his choice to leave her behind. Her laughter would have filled the emptiness of his home.

He reached the village and drove through it slowly towards his house. As he passed the last of his neighbour’s homes, he saw an orange glow ahead and gasped.

Fire? My god!

On instinct, he accelerated, but as he grew closer and the scene resolved itself, he slowed again. The fire was outside his house, outside the walls in fact. It was a large cooking fire glowing at the centre of a small campsite. Horses and camels were roped off in an improvised pen beside the camp. Dark figures moved around between the tents, some carrying lanterns that made pools of soft yellow light.

Madari braked hard beside the campsite and jumped out, staring as dark-robed men approached him, a tall, broad man leading them. Could it be…? When the leader stepped into the light cast by the car’s headlights and smiled, Madari gasped.


“Hello, Faris.”

Dignity momentarily forgotten, Madari embraced Halais, who squeezed him until he barely had the breath to laugh in delight. His feet almost left the ground, but then Halais let him go, and the other men crowded around, offering their hands.

“It’s so good to see you,” Madari said, turning back to Halais, after greeting the men he recognised, Halais’s sons and several youngsters he barely did. Grown so much since he last saw them. “What brings you so far south?”

“A tribal council,” Halais said. “Every few years we meet to discuss important matters. And to drink much coffee and arrange marriages.” He winked as he said the last part, making some of the youngest men, barely more than boys, look alarmed.

Madari shook his head at the teasing. He’d heard there was a Bedouin tribal council to be held near the city soon. The king intended to visit apparently. But Madari’s work had kept him too busy to wonder if Halais might be attending.

“You have only your family with you?” Madari asked.

“The rest of the tribe has gone on to the campgrounds outside the city,” Halais said. “We’ll join them in a few days. But I thought I would stop off and see our old ally first.”

“I’m delighted to have you here.” Madari glanced around the campsite. “You’re welcome to bring your tents and animals inside my compound.”

“Inside walls?” Halais looked at him as if he were quite mad and Madari smiled at the expression he suspected was an act.

“Of course. I understand. But will you at least come inside now and let me make you some coffee?”

“Only if you will then join us out here for supper.”

“I’d be delighted.” He wouldn’t eat alone tonight after all.

“A fine house,” Halais said, as he stepped over the threshold. “For you, my friend.” He handed Madari a small stone jar with a cork lid. “A spice that the women say just a pinch of turns a simple stew into a treasured memory.”

“Thank you, most kind,” Madari said, leading him into the room and turning on lamps. “Please, take a seat while I make coffee.” He hurried on through to the kitchen, set the coffee brewing and put away the jar of mysterious spice. He looked forward to trying that. Kahil liked his food spicy, Madari would surprise him… Was it too late to call him now? He’d come out at once when he heard Halais was here… No. Tomorrow.

He took the coffee cups into the living room and found Halais standing holding Ahmed’s sword, the long blade looking quite at home in his hand. In the lamplight the image of the tall, full-bearded man holding the sword, arrested Madari in his tracks and drew a gasp from him.

Perhaps misinterpreting his reaction as alarm, Halais lowered the sword. “I was admiring them,” he said, sheathing the sword and putting it back in its hooks. “That one is your grandfather’s?”

“Yes.” Madari shook off the sense of having seen a ghost and brought over the coffee.

“They are all fine weapons.” Halais took the coffee cup Madari offered. “And how are you, Faris? We hear of you, even out in the desert. A man going places. I already know that you are full colonel now.”

“I’m well. Busy.” He sat in an armchair and Halais took the sofa. “And I’ve been out of the country too. I did six months in Africa on a United Nations mission.”

“That I hadn’t heard.”

“I’ll explain more later, but while I was there, I met up again with our old friends – the A-Team.”

Halais grinned. “Ah, then I look forward to hearing about your adventures. My people still talk about Lieutenant Peck. Especially the women of course. They tell their daughters all about the golden-haired warrior with words like honey.”

“An excellent description.”

“And we hear much talk of the exploits of Captain Jahni. Is he still captain? Not major yet?”

“I’m holding him back,” Madari said, his tone dry. “His head had grown too big to get into the office.”

Halais snorted with laughter at that. “He has every right to be proud, from what I hear. I look forward to seeing him again.”

“How long will you stay here?” Madari asked.

“We need to move on to the campgrounds the day after tomorrow at the latest. Or all the best sites will be taken and we’ll be sleeping in the animal pens.” His dark eyes sparkled with laughter.

“In that case I’ll organise a small party for tomorrow evening. A few friends.” He’d invite Sophia too. That would certainly give Halais’ people something to talk about, and she’d never forgive him if he didn’t. “Some of my neighbours.” He waved a hand in the general direction of the village. “Talking of my neighbours, please don’t be offended, but they don’t know your people as I do. They may find their appearance… startling.”

He thought of the likely reaction to the dark-robed men with rifles on their backs and grimaced. He already had a reputation for some eccentricity. Inviting what looked like a gang of bandits to camp outside his house wouldn’t help to change that perception.

“I understand.” Halais nodded. “I will tell them that only the women should go into the village. The men should stay here where they won’t frighten the children.”

“And there’s no need to carry weapons here. Not in plain sight anyway,” he added quickly, at Halais’s frown.

“I’ll tell them. Now, where are those fine horses of yours that you used to boast about so much?”

“The horses?” Madari laughed. “Ah, now we get to the truth of the matter. You didn’t come to see me, you old rogue. You came to steal my horses!”

They strolled out to the stable, using an electric lantern. The horses were quiet, settled for the night, but showed no alarm when Halais patted their noses and spoke softly to them in a language Madari didn’t understand beyond vague threads of something familiar in it.

“You have a way with them,” Madari said.

“It’s in the blood,” Halais said. “Fine animals. I promise not to steal them, but if you were ever interested in selling…”

“You’ll have first refusal.”

“Very good. Now, I’m afraid I do have one small piece of business to raise with you. I hate to spoil the friendly mood.”

“What is it?” Madari said, surprised.

“I feel almost nostalgic,” Halais said. “I bring you information, as I used to when you were a knight, not a colonel.” From a pocket in his robes he produced a map of the north of Qumar. “I bought this on the way here. I know soldiers like maps. And ‘five miles past the olive tree grove’ isn’t precise enough a direction for you.”

Madari gestured him to a workbench where he could unfold the map. It had an area in a mountainous region circled. The contour lines showing the terrain were the only feature inside the circle.

“We were travelling in this region this summer,” Halais explained. “Passing over the mountains to some new grazing land and we saw… well, we thought it was a village at first. But it’s not.”

“What is it?” Madari asked, mouth going dry with anticipation, thinking he already knew the answer, feeling a stir of excitement at an opportunity he’d been waiting for.

“There were no women, children or old people there,” Halais said. “Only young men. All armed.”

“Bandits?” Madari speculated, hoping the answer was ‘no’.

“No,” Halais said. “Not bandits. They train. Just as your men did, back at your base. They train to be guerrillas.”

“Or terrorists?”

“Some people called you a bandit and a terrorist,” Halais reminded him.

“I was a partisan,” Madari said, frowning. But he shook off the irritation. Old business, no time for that. Work to do.

“How many men were there? What kinds of weapons? What about heavier weapons? RPGs? Rocket launchers?”

“Twenty-five men.” Halais took a notebook from his pocket. “I have notes. I knew the questions you would ask.” He handed the book to Madari.

“You’re absolutely sure of the location?”

“Quite certain.”

“When did you last see the place?”

“Just under three weeks ago. The men were still there.”

“Thank you,” Madari said, flicking through the notebook, actually a child’s school exercise book, traded for who knows what so Halais could bring him this information. Good information too. About weapons, resources, men. There were even small sketches and maps. “I know this will prove valuable. We’ll start to work on it at once. In fact, I need to make a telephone call right away.”

“Ah, it’s a shame the children are asleep now. Most of them have never seen a man use a telephone. It would be educational for them.”

Madari chuckled. “I’ll let them watch me use it tomorrow. Now, why don’t you rejoin your family and I’ll see you for supper in a few minutes?”

Halais left and Madari went into the house to call his duty officer.

“Take down these grid co-ordinates,” he ordered, reading them from the location on the map. “Call our liaison at Military Intelligence and ask him to call his American contacts to see if they can provide any satellite photographs of that area.”

“Yes, sir. Anything else?”

“Set up a meeting with Colonel Rahama as soon as possible in the morning. Captain Jahni to attend too. And compile all the information we have on that region and terrorist activity there.”

The wheels set in motion, he hung up and went outside to the camp, where he shared supper with Halais and his family. They talked late into the night, about all they’d done since they last saw each other. Madari told them of his adventures in Africa and they toasted the A-Team, Brigadier Drummond, the memory of Sergeant Abasi, and – with amazement and curiosity – that remarkable warrior woman, Karen Bennett.


“You have loyal friends and allies, Faris,” Rahama said as he waved Madari and Jahni to seats at the conference table in his office. The information the duty officer had compiled was already laid out there.

“I am blessed with such,” Madari said, adding the map and notebook Halais had given him to the papers.

“Not easy to approach,” Rahama said, looking at the map. “Either you climb up to it, or you come in by air.”

“Or on horseback,” Madari said. “That’s how Halais’s people passed it after all. We could get close and then approach on foot.”

“Horseback?” Rahama sounded almost as dubious as Jahni had when Madari mentioned the idea of horses to him earlier. “Well, that’s an option. What about helicopters?”

“It depends if we want to capture the camp or destroy it,” Madari said.

“And which do you recommend?”

“We want prisoners for questioning,” Madari said. “Frankly, any unit of commandos could destroy the place. My men can do better than that.”

Jahni smirked. “We can get in, tie their shoelaces together and plant mines under their pillows without them noticing. I agree with Colonel Madari, sir. We can get more useful intel by taking the camp intact with as many prisoners as possible.”

“We could do it with two thirds of the unit,” Madari said. “Leaving a squad here on standby. In addition, a company of infantry for backup once we’ve taken the camp. And air cover and medevac on standby.”

“You two have this well worked out already,” Rahama said, smiling at them both.

“Strike while the iron is hot, sir,” Madari said, glancing at the clock, which showed just after nine. He and Jahni had been working since seven to prepare for this meeting. “We just need your approval to put this in motion.”

“I will have to speak to the Defence Minister and the Chiefs of Staff of course, but when we have such good intelligence, it would be foolish to waste this chance. Tell me what your plans are so far.”

They went over it all with Rahama, making sure he had everything he needed to speak to the generals with. They had to take this chance, Madari thought. Yes, it would mean moving fast, but making quick plans to deal with new situations was what he’d created this unit to do. Usually the new situation was a crisis. But they should also be ready to deal with opportunities. To be active, not only reactive.

When the meeting ended, they walked back to the office, arms full of papers, talking of the plans and the suggestions Rahama had made to help refine them.

“Are you sure about the horses?” Jahni asked. “How many of our men can even ride?”

“Most of the officers can,” Madari said. He smiled. “We are a cavalry regiment after all.”

“But what about the men?” Jahni asked. “I doubt if many of them can ride.”

Madari smiled. “Then it’s time they learned. We have a few days. Organise it.”

“Organise riding lessons for forty men and horses for them when we get to the hills? Ah, sir, with the greatest respect, are you out of your mind?”

“Oh don’t worry about the horses for the mission. That’s in hand. Now, I expect you at eight o’clock tonight for the party. Would you bring Sophia? I hate having her drive the desert road in the dark.”

“Am I her bodyguard now?” Jahni asked with an annoyed grimace.

“Well, you were always so good at being mine.”

“Low blow,” Jahni muttered, just audibly. He rubbed the back of his neck and winced, making Madari glance at him. Was he stiff from exercise? Or lack of exercise, his morning session in the gym missed because of their early meeting?

“Okay, I’ll pick her up. Tell her to be ready at seven. No, tell her to be ready at six-thirty, then maybe she’ll be ready for seven. You know women.”

“If I ask Sophia to be ready for seven, she will be ready for seven.”

“What’s the weather like on your planet, Faris?” Jahni asked, giving him a dubious look and just barely hiding a smile.

Madari laughed at the teasing question, but stopped that and put on a serious expression as they reached the offices, where the clerks worked away busily on the logistics for the upcoming mission.

“Captain,” Madari said to Jahni, as he walked through into his office. “All the officers, thirty minutes in the briefing room. Organise it, please. I have some telephone calls to make.”

“Yes, sir,” Jahni replied. “Thirty minutes.”


Madari dodged a running child as he brought another tray of food from the kitchen. Halais’s whole family were in the house, since the prospect of a party meant there was no keeping the children out of there. The women had taken over the kitchen, allowing Madari to do no more than carry plates out to the diwaniya.

Several of the younger men, still teenagers, admired the swords on the wall, though didn’t touch them, until Madari gave his permission. As Madari passed through the living room he saw Rahama with the group, no doubt relating tales about Ahmed’s exploits to the impressionable boys.

In the diwaniya, he found Halais talking to Jahni and Sophia. They stood by the open door where a cool breeze wafted in.

“Ah, my friend,” Halais said, when Madari approached. “I’m delighted to meet this charming lady.”

Madari offered them food then set the plate on a table, thinking all the while what a strange picture it formed to see the fearsome-looking desert nomad and the sophisticated Western woman making small talk.

“I’m glad to see you both here. You bring parts of my life together that I thought would never touch,” he said, but saw those words make Jahni glance at him, his eyes narrowing, just slightly. He winced. Of course, Jahni already bridged those parts of his life. He was Madari’s constant in every part of his life.

“Who knew there was a lady out there who could tame the Knight of the North?” Halais said, making Madari roll his eyes and want to tell him not to lay it on quite so thick. Sophia just seemed amused though.

“I don’t think I can say I’ve tamed him,” she said. “Perhaps I offer him some quiet moments away from the stress of his work.”

“Indeed you do, my dear,” Madari said. Jahni still wore a frown.

Rahama joined them, finished spinning yarns. Complaining of the heat, he gratefully accepted a cool drink from Madari and sipped it, before speaking again.

“Ah, Faris,” he said, “I meant to tell you how interested I was to hear you’d become a Roman Catholic.”

“What?” Madari gasped out. The group all stared at Rahama, then turned to stare at Madari.

“Yes, apparently that’s the latest on the grapevine. You’re a Catholic now.” Rahama’s eyes twinkled, amusement filled his face and voice. But Madari felt no such amusement.

“That’s ridiculous!” he exploded, then lowered his voice. “Why on earth would anyone think that?”

“Something to do with some photographs that have been circulating,” Rahama said. “Also you supposedly made a large donation to the Catholic church, while you were in Africa. And you raise funds for a Catholic charity here at home. The evidence seems quite conclusive. Clearly you’ve secretly converted.”

“That’s ridiculous,” Madari repeated, still not amused. “The photographs… they must be copies of Karen’s pictures that she took at the orphanage.” He recalled that final day there, all of them posing for the pictures, holding Kibibi’s hand, standing beside Sister Raphael. The pictures had been included in his full official report, along with an account of the work they’d done there. “I did not make a donation to the church! I helped to pay for materials and labour for building work at the orphanage. This is all distortion. And I do not raise funds for a Catholic charity!”

“If that’s the charity I volunteer for,” Sophia said, “Faris has made donations, but he’s never been a fundraiser. Anyway, the charity is Father Fiera’s personal project, not an official church charity.”

“See?” Madari said. “Yes, I’ve made donations, but it’s a worthy cause, helping local children, I…”

“Faris,” Rahama said, raising a hand and looking chagrined. “Please, I didn’t mean for you to get so upset about this. It’s only foolish rumour. Character assassination. Nobody takes it seriously.”

Madari took a breath, trying to bring his anger under control. He caught Jahni’s eye as he did so, saw concern there. Of course, this rumour was absurd. Nobody would listen to it. But other rumours… On the other hand, was this latest rumour a distraction from those other, more damaging ones? Could it be a good thing?

“In fact,” Rahama said. “If donating to Father Fiera’s charity makes one a Catholic, then I shall need to order some rosary beads, as I feel inclined to make a donation myself.”

“That’s very generous, Colonel,” Sophia said, bowing her head to him.

“If I ever get my family’s money back, I’ll make a nice big donation too,” Jahni said. “But I don’t promise to become a Catholic,” he added, glancing at Madari.

“You family’s money?” Sophia asked.

“The old Soviet backed regime seized his father’s business and sold it off,” Madari explained, seeing Jahni’s reluctance to talk of it himself, but the small nod he gave allowed Madari to continue. “Seized all his assets. I instructed my lawyer several years ago to try to recover the money. He’s still trying.”

“Thieves,” Halais murmured.

“That’s terrible, Kahil,” Sophia said. “That’s your inheritance.”

“It’s okay,” Jahni said. “I don’t expect to ever see it again now. That regime’s long gone and the money with it.”

“But still…” she said. “It’s so unfair. You lost so much. Your family… I know the money can’t make up for that, but it’s not right.”

“Forget it,” Jahni said, with a shrug. “It’s the past.”

Chapter 2

Jahni lay in bed, morning light piercing his curtains, trying to summon the strength to get up and take a shower. Or perhaps a bath, to ease the muscles that ached from three days of intense training for the strike on the terrorist camp.

And he hadn’t even been doing the riding training! He was amazed not to be dealing with a dozen transfer requests from the men learning to ride now for the mission they’d fly out to tomorrow.

Perhaps he’d sleep for a while longer and then maybe go to the sauna for a long steam and a massage to get the aches out of his muscles. The men going on the mission had today to rest, before they reported before dawn tomorrow to board the plane that would take them north.

Just as he had closed his eyes again, his phone began ringing on his nightstand. If he’d been a praying man he’d have prayed as he reached for it. Prayed that it wasn’t an emergency call. Please, not now. Not a plane hijacking, or a call to flush a nest of terrorists here in the city.

“Jahni,” he said, his voice hoarse and sleepy.

“Good morning, Captain.” A man’s voice he didn’t recognise. Certainly nobody from the unit. “I hope I’m not disturbing you.”

“Who is this?” Jahni asked, rubbing his eyes.

“My name is Mr Younis. I work in His Majesty’s private office. We’ve met at the palace on two occasions, though I’m sure you have no reason to recall me.”

He didn’t. One of those forgettable grey men who quietly arranged things for the king. Not a celebrity like Captain Jahni of the Royal Guard. He grimaced. What would it be like to be one of those grey men? Did they long for a life like his?

“What can I do for you, Mr Younis?”

“I would like to arrange a meeting with you, Captain. The matter of the seizure of your father’s business was recently brought to the attention of His Majesty and he has requested that I expedite the release of the proceeds of the sale to you.”

In his sleepy state the bureaucratic speech almost went right over Jahni’s head, but he managed to grasp the essence of what Younis had just told him and sat up in bed abruptly.

“My father’s money?”

“Yes, sir. His Majesty has instructed me to make arrangements to see that you are paid back as quickly as possible.”

This couldn’t be real, could it? Had one of the letters from Faris’ lawyer finally hit the right desk after all these years?

“I see.” Jahni had no idea what else to say.

“His Majesty had instructed me to advise that you will also receive the entire amount in your father’s personal and business accounts at the time of the seizure and that you should be compensated for a further amount, to be determined by taking the average of the net profits of the business for the five years prior to the seizure and adding that amount for each full year that has passed since.”

“I… don’t know what to say.”

“I’m not quite finished, sir.”

“What more can there be?”

“The land on which your family home was built was also seized. That was never sold on and the deed for the land remains in the treasury and will be returned to you. No insurance claim was ever made for the destruction of the house, however a policy existed with up to date premiums. I am currently in negotiation with the insurance company to make a suitable settlement.”

This time Jahni didn’t speak at all, forcibly reminded of the day he’d gone with Madari to visit the graves of his parents and sisters and had seen the rubble that remained of their home. He hadn’t even thought about the house and the land for many years.

“Are you still there, Captain?”

“Uh, yes. I’m sorry. This is just rather a lot of take in. I really never expected to see the money again. A lawyer has been working on it, but…” He’d let the lawyer go on doing that because it kept Faris happy, but he’d lost hope about it years ago. “How much money are we actually talking about here?”

“It’s a substantial amount, and the figure is not finalised yet, as the insurance claim is still to be settled. Also the compensation for lost profits is still negotiable. That’s why I want to organise a meeting, with you and your legal representative.”

“I… yes, of course.” He’d engage Madari’s lawyer, he supposed. He deserved to see this finally settled. “I won’t be available for the next few days, so some time after that?”

“That will be fine, Captain. In a week perhaps? That will give me time to conclude the negotiation with the insurance company. Meanwhile, have your lawyer contact me directly and I’ll pass him the full details in preparation for the meeting.”

After he hung up, Jahni lay down again, staring up at the ceiling, seeing nothing. After all this time! Why now? What had made it happen? The subject had come up at the party the other night. Had Colonel Rahama said something? But he’d known about it for years. Could a reminder have spurred him into action. Sophia? But what influence did she have on the king? What about Madari himself? He’d been to the palace for a meeting a couple of days ago, to brief the king on the planned mission. Had he mentioned something then? It couldn’t be simple coincidence, surely.

He laughed suddenly. Well, now he could make a large donation to Sophia’s worthy charity after all. That should please Faris.


Madari grinned at Jahni when their convoy of vehicles arrived at the co-ordinates he’d specified. Jahni stared at the dozens of horses waiting for them.

“I told you I had it in hand.”

“You’ll have to tell me one day how you did it,” Jahni said, climbing out of the Land Rover and stretching. Other Land Rovers and trucks stopped and men began to climb out.

“Get everyone kitted up, and dressed,” Madari said, striding off towards the man in charge of the horses. Other Bedouin men started to hand over reins to the dubious-looking soldiers, as the soldiers donned long robes, most of them black like the nomads. If they were spotted, then they could hopefully pass for a tribe travelling over the mountain to fresh grazing land on the other side.

The men laughed and joked about which of them should be impersonating Bedouin women for the trip, but their disguises worked well, the voluminous robes hiding their body armour and weapons. Saddle bags took their helmets and the contents of the small packs they carried.

Seeing the preparations well underway, Jahni put on his own robes and walked to join Madari, who stood talking with an elderly man, a good six inches shorter than him, with skin like leather.

“Kahil, this is Amran. A cousin of Halais.”

“My respects, sir,” Jahni said, bowing his head as the man looked at him with sharp eyes squinted almost closed by a life in the sun.

“Captain Jahni. My cousin has spoken highly of you.”

“He honours me, sir.” They shook hands, but cut it short, with business pressing.

“I decided to miss the tribal council,” Amran said, turning back to Madari. “Lot of old men talking. Besides a man with a new wife shouldn’t stray far from home.” He smiled in a ‘pleased with himself’ manner.

“My congratulations,” Madari said, while Jahni boggled at the thought of the old man being a bridegroom. “And my thanks for organising the horses we needed.”

“It wasn’t easy,” Amran said. “But money talks. Try to bring all of them back in one piece.”

“You have my word.”

“I’ve chosen your guides. They’ll take you to where you can leave the horses and then lead you on foot the rest of the way.” He looked at the sky. “You’ll have to go within the hour to get to the stopping point before dark.”

Madari and Jahni glanced around at the men. Most were mounted now, the officers obviously more comfortable and easy on the horses than the more dubious looking men they circulated among.

“I will leave men here to guard our vehicles,” Madari said as he put on the robes Jahni handed to him. “If some of your people are staying, there is food and drink in the trucks.” His black robes fluttered in the breeze and Jahni found himself smiling at the sight of him in them.

The Knight of the North had come home.

The last arrangement made, they set out. A mile or two of near desert scrub land led them into the foothills of the northern mountains.

Thirty men on horses were impossible to conceal and they didn’t try, relying on their disguise to fool anyone watching. The hills were near deserted of course, but Jahni knew that if he was in charge of that camp, he’d have long range patrols to warn of anyone coming too close.

They took a route that most nomads would be expected to take; a steep, sometimes even treacherous path, but wide enough for the surefooted horses to negotiate. Another, narrower path led more directly to their target, the chief guide explained, but that would make it obvious where they were heading. This route would circle around above the camp and allow them to make their way down to it on foot.

Madari glanced back at the men strung out behind them on the path. The sun was sinking now and the shadows of men on horseback stretched long over the harsh rock.

“Our tribe,” he said to Jahni, who nodded.

Jahni thought of them exactly that way. Tribe meant family, and for Jahni there was no family but Madari and the unit. His brothers. And speaking of family, he still had a question to ask. He’d had no chance to tell Madari about the return of his money on their flight, and it wasn’t something he wanted to shout over the noise of the engines anyway. Now he had an opportunity.

“Faris.” He glanced around to make sure they weren’t overheard, and leaned across to Madari. “Did you talk to the king about my father’s money?”

Madari frowned. “What? No? What makes you ask that?”

“I’m getting it back.” He smiled at Madari’s amazed stare. “I got a phone call yesterday from a man on the King’s staff. I’m getting all of it back.”

“My God! Kahil, congratulations!” Madari grinned, pure delight on his face. “It must be a fortune! I suppose my lawyer’s letters finally got through.” His voice softened as he said the last part. Jahni still doubted the coincidence, but didn’t pursue that yet. “So, do you have any plans for the money?”

“Not yet,” Jahni said. “It still seems unreal.”

“When the money is in your bank account and the bank manager is falling over himself to be nice to you, then it will seem real.”

“Yes.” He smiled at the thought of that. It would be like when he paid in eighteen month’s worth of back pay. But that had been years ago. Between his car, and paying back Madari for the flat, there wasn’t much of that left and the bank manager had gone back to being merely polite.

“You could buy a house,” Madari suggested.

“In a fashionable district? Something more suitable for a Royal Guard officer?”

“Property is always a good investment. And you are a Royal Guard officer.”

Jahni shrugged. He found it hard to imagine himself in a sizeable town house, with domestic staff maybe. Faris would probably start up again with his suggestions that Jahni get married. Of course, there was the plot of land where his home had been and the insurance settlement that should be enough to rebuild a house. He could do that, live out of town.

Live in the place his family died.

No. He’d sell the land.

“I like my flat.” They rode on in silence for a while.

“There’s no hurry to do anything, of course. Take advice about it.”

“I suppose I’ll have to change my will,” Jahni said and in the dimming light, caught a grimace flickering across Madari’s face.

“Of course. That would be sensible.”

There wouldn’t be much to change. He only had Madari to leave his money to. The flat would revert to him too. There were a few charitable bequests in the will; he could increase the amounts on them. Glancing up the mountain, where he would soon fight, he thought it would be ironic if he died tonight. If he never saw the inheritance he’d waited so long for.

“I thought you’d be more excited about it,” Madari said. “It’s a lot of money. You’re rich.”

Jahni laughed. “Well, I don’t know about rich.”

“Invested properly, it can give you a comfortable income.”

“I already have an income.”

True, it would allow him to live a lifestyle more like most of his fellow Royal Guard officers, but did he want to? It seemed a frivolous way to use the money, fritter it away. Of course, not all Royal Guard officers had lavish lifestyles. Madari had some expensive hobbies, like the falcon and the horses and… he shouldn’t call Sophia a hobby. But he didn’t spend a lot of money on entertaining, or fancy clothes. And that damn Volvo would have to fall apart before he finally replaced it.

“I’m still thinking about what I’ll do with it,” he said. “One thing about this does bother me though.”

“What’s that?”

“The old regime were the ones who stole the money, yes? So the king really is under no obligation to return it.”

Madari shrugged. “I don’t know if that’s true. The money went into the national treasury. It’s not as if they took it and spent it all on drink and women.”

Jahni smiled at what he suspected was an attempt to cheer him up, but grew serious again a moment later.

“Perhaps that’s true. But still, I don’t think there’s really any legal case for the King having to give me that money back when he didn’t steal it.”

“Then he’s decided to do so on grounds of fairness. It’s the right thing to do.”

“Yes. Especially if he wants to ensure my continuing loyalty.”

Madari turned to him, staring. “That’s…” He lowered his voice when the word came out near a shout. “That’s absurd. If you’re suggesting it’s effectively a bribe, well, I’m shocked you could think that about the King. He knows you’re loyal. He knows he doesn’t have to pay you to continue to be loyal.”

“I think the King is a more cynical man than you, Faris. He doesn’t trust that people will do the right thing out of principle alone.”

“I’m not naïve, Kahil, but I know you don’t need to be bought off.”

“The King doesn’t know me the way you do.”

A flush rose in Madari’s cheeks, and he fixed an intense stare on the path ahead. Jahni held in a laugh. No, the king certainly didn’t know him the way Madari did. That would be quite… inappropriate.


They reached the place they’d leave the horses just as the light finally died, the sun dropping behind the mountains.

Madari ordered them to set up camp, knowing that they had to keep up their pretence of being a tribe of Bedouin on a journey, in case they were observed. Besides, the raid would not be for several hours yet and the men could take this time to eat and rest before they went into action.

They quickly established a camp. No tents, but blankets and bedrolls arranged around some fires to heat their food and keep off the chill of the night. Here in the mountains the harsh rocks gave up the heat of the day quickly.

Madari sat with their Bedouin guides, discussing their role in the night’s work. Two of them would guide the soldiers the rest of the way, while the others remained with the horses. As they talked, they ate, a simple meal of bread, cheese and cold meats, and a dense cake full of dried fruit. If anyone was observing them it would be something of a giveaway to be seen eating Army field rations. The ate what their guides would eat on such a journey.

Madari took his leave after the meal, strolling to look down into the sea of blackness that was the desert, and then at the sky. A clear night, moonless, the stars bright in the infinitely black sky. It had grown very cold now and he considered going to get his gloves from his pack, but for now, folded his arms, putting his hands into the wide sleeves of his robe.

“I don’t see the stars looking quite like that very often,” Jahni said, stepping up to his side. “Living in the city, with all that light.”

“Perhaps you should build a house out in the desert with your inheritance,” Madari said.

Jahni nodded. The small cloud of his breath showed twice in the chilly air before he spoke again. “Perhaps out in your village?”

The shiver that ran through Madari had nothing to do with the cold. The distance between their homes – their beds – was a barrier, just like their uniforms, the law and Sophia. If they were close enough for a short walk through the darkness, keeping to the shadows… so close, always calling to each other.

“That might not be a good idea.”

“I’m kidding.” Jahni didn’t smile. “I might spend a little of it. But I’m probably just going to invest it. You know… for the future.”

“The Guard does offer a good pension. Don’t deprive yourself now against your old age, when you will be well provided for anyway.”

Hard to imagine Jahni as an old man. Or at least as a retired man. Easier to imagine him in his forties, still handsome, with some distinguished grey hairs, wearing the uniform of a general. Think about that, not about the way he fills out the black battledress he’s wearing under the robe. Figure-hugging, flattering his fit, strong body…

“Well, who knows if I’ll get to the point of retiring,” Jahni said, with a shrug. “If I left the Army before then, I might need money.”

“You’d be provided for if you were invalided out,” Madari said. “And I can’t see you leaving for any other reason.” His smile at Jahni was a nervous one, trying to lighten the mood, fearing Jahni’s serious mood, fearing how closely their words skirted difficult subjects.

“Can’t you?” Jahni said. Despite the softness of his voice, it held a challenge. Madari flushed and hoped the darkness hid the rush of colour to his face. “Between your money and mine…” Jahni said, and trailed off.

Enough to live on, he meant, Madari knew. Perhaps at home, perhaps abroad. A simple lifestyle perhaps, no lavish home. But together…

“I think you should get some rest,” Madari said, cutting off the subject. No choice but to do so. They were already literally in dangerous territory. Foolish to go there metaphorically too.


They had discarded the robes now, left the horses behind and were slipping through the shadows. Silence too concealed them. This close to the enemy camp they had adopted radio silence and restricted themselves to long-memorised hand signals to communicate. Sound bounced from the rocks here in the mountains, travelled through chasms and cracks.

Jahni followed their guides, Madari close behind him and the men strung out in a line beyond that. They had a fair idea of the layout of the camp from the intel Halais had given them and every man carried copies of the maps, but they knew little of the terrain immediately beyond the perimeter of the enemy camp. Jahni wanted his men to come in from all sides at once, and hoped there was more cover than darkness for them.

Despite the cold, Jahni’s blood sang with excitement. His mouth was dry with the fear he still felt every time he prepared to fight, but that he had long ago learnt to control. He wanted to laugh as he recalled what he’d said earlier to Madari. Leave the Army? For any reason but injury or retirement? What an absurd idea.

He knew what he’d been thinking, that they could make a life together somewhere, probably abroad. But that was mere fantasy, brought on by the sudden appearance of his inheritance. He was unsettled that was all. This – soldiering – was his life. This was what he lived for.

The guides gestured and one turned back as they stopped. He pressed a finger to his lips and pointed.

It lay ahead of them, the enemy camp. Dark shapes of small buildings, nestled into a depression in the ground. No lights, or fires. No sign of movement.

The men all knew their roles and Jahni glanced at Madari for confirmation to begin. It bothered him that Madari was so close to the action here. He’d wanted to leave him further back down the trail, but Madari wouldn’t hear of it. He had to coordinate, he said, and could hardly do so if he couldn’t see.

Madari mouthed the word “Go” and picked up his night vision binoculars. At Jahni’s signal the rest of the men pulled night vision goggles over their eyes. Starlight had been enough for most of the men to make their way along the trail, leaving off the heavy and uncomfortable goggles for as long as possible, but now they needed to see as if it were day.

They moved out, surrounding the enemy camp, moving silently. With radio silence they had to rely on timing to co-ordinate the action. They had ten minutes to move into place and then the action would begin.

“I don’t see any movement at all,” Madari said quietly, watching the camp, speaking to Jahni, who stood ready to move out as the last of the groups left, leaving only Jahni’s group. “But be careful.”

Jahni rolled his eyes and spoke quietly. “Careful? We’re making a raid on an enemy base. If we were careful, we’d be back home hiding under our beds.”

“You know what I mean,” Madari said. “And don’t be insubordinate.”

“What are you going to do? Set your new friend the Pope onto me?”

Madari clicked his tongue in irritation at that. The banter calmed Jahni though. Not to the point of relaxation and complacency, but it pushed the fear a little further away.

“Okay, time.” Jahni signalled his men and they moved off among the rocks, towards their positions. One last look at Madari, and a wink. “Say a Hail Mary for us.”


Madari did pray. Not a Hail Mary, but still, he murmured a short prayer as he always did when he sent men into action. The two men who remained with him made no remark about their commander’s whispering. Perhaps they were praying too.

He glanced at his watch, pressing in the button to make the face glow. Almost time. The minute hand crept onwards and he heard the first explosion, gasped and looked for it. A flashbang, tossed into a building. Other men would use smoke grenades, all in the cause of taking as many prisoners as they could without a fight. But there’d soon be gunshots. He knew that.

More grenades exploded. Madari saw his men moving in, dark shapes, frighteningly insectile, with their goggles and gas masks. But… something was wrong.

“Sir,” one of his guards said, also looking down into the camp. “Sir, shouldn’t they be shooting back by now?”

Yes, the enemy should indeed have reacted. They should be rushing from their beds, either in panic, or ready to fight for their lives. But Madari saw none of that. Unless they were already cowed enough that they were refusing to emerge from the huts… but nobody stayed in an enclosed space with a smoke grenade when there was a way out.

Damn. Damn! He lifted his radio, the need for radio silence over.

“L4,” Jahni’s call sign tonight. “Report.”


Jahni’s back slammed up against a rock as he turned from the blast of a stun grenade into one of the small houses. He leaned back against the rock face as Madari’s voice came through his helmet radio.

“L4. Report.”

“No opposition so far,” Jahni reported. The men had run into houses they’d sent grenades into when nobody came out and so far nobody had fired a shot, because nobody had found anyone to shoot at. “We’re checking every building. They could be hiding.”

“Get men around the perimeter,” Madari snapped. Jahni understood why, suddenly fearing the enemy could have retreated to the rocks around the camp and were just waiting to start firing on his men. “And don’t show any lights!”

“Aye, sir.” He snapped orders into his radio to the men. No lights for sure. Don’t give anyone an easy target. With their night vision equipment they needed no lights and had to use that advantage. Despite that, his back itched at the thought a sniper could be targeting him right that second. Control that fear. He’d felt it before, in battles when the enemy were all around and you might never see the man who killed you.

He strode off to the centre of the camp, where a fire team was securing the largest building. By the time he arrived, they were coming out, shaking their heads and reporting no opposition. The men on the perimeter searching the rocks also reported back with no sign of ambush.

Twenty minutes after they entered the camp, Jahni radioed Madari with what they’d all guessed ten minutes ago.

“It’s deserted. They’re gone.”


The sun was peeking over the mountain as Madari picked his way down a rocky track into the camp. Jahni had insisted he stay outside until they’d completed a thorough search. But after an hour, had called back to confirm that the camp was indeed entirely deserted.

“It looks like they pulled out,” Jahni said, leading him towards one of the small houses. “The place is cleaned out. No weapons anywhere, they obviously took those with them.”

They approached a hut that a man guarded, still wearing his gas mask. That surprised Madari until the breeze shifted and he caught a smell of putrefaction. It stopped him in his tracks, involuntarily and he felt a wave of nausea. The loud buzzing of flies came on the breeze too.

“A body?”

“No,” Jahni said, “well not human. Goats and a couple of sheep. Just remains, heads and…” He stopped, looking at Madari’s face. “Live animals would be too much trouble to take away with them, so they butchered them for the meat and took that for their journey.”

Madari nodded, deciding he didn’t need to see the remains, he’d accept Jahni’s assessment. “And had no time or no inclination to clean up what was left.”

“Looks that way.”

“How long ago would you say they left?”

“Going by the rate of decay in there.” He nodded at the hut. “At least three days.” The breeze shifted again, carrying a fresh waft of the stench and Madari walked away, fearing he was about to see his last meal again. Jahni followed.

“Okay, get that cleaned up,” Madari said. “Bury or burn the remains. But don’t touch anything else. We may have no prisoners to show for this, but there could be a treasure house of intelligence here.”

Just looking around now gave him some. The neatness of the camp, with no garbage strewn about. The latrines and washing facilities as well set up as you’d find on any military camp. It had been an orderly withdrawal. All this told Madari that they were not dealing with amateurs here, but with men who’d planned and learnt exactly how to do this.

“Sir,” Lieutenant Raian approached them. “There’s something you need to see.”

He didn’t elaborate, just turned away and led them to a hut. Madari expected him to take them inside, but instead he lifted his flashlight to show them something painted on the wood beside the door. Words. No, not words. A name. A name Madari had seen before.


Sword of God.

The man – and he felt sure now that it was a man and not the name of a group – who had sent an assassin to kill him in his own bed. An assassin who’d failed, but whose leader was still out there somewhere. And perhaps had been here.

“Captain,” he said to Jahni. “I just want to repeat what I said before. Nobody touch anything else. I want a team up here from Military Intelligence. I don’t only want this place searched, I want it treated as a crime scene. Fingerprints taken.” He glanced around at the shapes of his men moving around in the dawn light. “Let’s try not to leave too many of ours here.”

Chapter 3

“Are you all right, Kahil?” Madari said, handing Jahni a glass of fruit juice.

Jahni looked around the marquee under which they stood, erected beside the Bedouin camp outside the capital. The tribal conference was over and the people would be leaving soon. But tonight they celebrated, and had invited some guests to help them do so, including one special one, who should arrive any moment.

“Kahil?” Madari prompted. Jahni looked back at him and Halais, both watching him, waiting for his answer.

“Sorry.” Jahni shrugged. “Just thinking about the mission. Kind of an anti-climax.” Despite all the valuable intelligence Madari said the examination of the camp would bring them, still Jahni felt a touch of disappointment that there hadn’t been an enemy there to fight.

Halais sighed. “If only I had been able to get the information to you sooner.”

“I don’t think that would have helped,” Madari said. “I believe they were tipped off that the raid was coming.”

“That’s a worrying thought,” Jahni said. “None of our men could be responsible, of course. But even a highly secretive mission like that, there’s still too many people who know about it.”

“Or Saifullah has well placed spies,” Madari said, making the other two nod at his conjecture. “But we’re picking up a lot of valuable intelligence from the search. The fingerprints may give us names.”

“You make it sound like a victory, but we didn’t even fire a shot,” Jahni said.

“That’s very impressive,” Halais said, making Madari and Jahni look at him in surprise. “The fact that despite the darkness and the excitement, none of your men fired at shadows, or a piece of cloth blowing in the breeze, shows excellent discipline.”

Jahni laughed. “I never thought of it that way. I’ll pass that on to the men, Halais. I think they’ll appreciate it.”

“Also, we’ve deprived the enemy of a valuable resource,” Madari said.

“You’re right,” Jahni said, appreciating their efforts to cheer him up and ease his disappointment. “Aside from the prisoners we hoped to take, every other part of the mission was a complete success.”

“And we had no casualties,” Madari pointed out. “Something I’m always willing to use as a measure of success.”

“True,” Jahni agreed. He glanced up as the babble of voices from another part of the marquee increased. The guest of honour has arrived.

“The King must be here,” Madari said.

Jahni finished his fruit juice and put his glass down. “Excuse me, I’ll be back later.” Before they could answer, he hurried away in the direction of the King’s entourage.


Madari watched with some surprise as Jahni left, heading for the people clustering around the King.

“Mr Jahni is keen to climb the social ladder?” Halais said.

Madari shook his head. It seemed unlikely. The King may have come and spoken to them tonight, but Madari would leave that to His Majesty’s discretion. He couldn’t imagine why Jahni would be so keen to get close to him.

“How are those horses of yours?” Halais said, making Madari turn away from trying to puzzle out Jahni’s odd behaviour.

“Oh, they’re fine. Quite well since I came back from the mission. If you have time to stop off on your way home, you’re welcome to come out riding with me.”

“Perhaps I will. You were right before, Faris. I covet those animals.”

“If you intend to try to steal them, I must advise you that I keep weapons in the house.” Madari kept his face as straight as he could when he said it, and Halais laughed and slapped him on the back.

“I want to buy them. I know you said you’re not ready to sell, but I’m in no hurry. Here.” He took something from a green bag that hung from his belt and put it into Madari’s hand. A piece of cloth, with something small and hard inside it. “Consider that a down payment against the day you decide to sell,” he said, as Madari unwrapped the cloth.

It was a diamond and Madari gasped and looked at Halais. “This is…”

“The last we have of the gold and diamonds you used to pay us with, back in the old days.”

“Sergeant Baracus’s jewellery.”

“And even if you refuse to ever sell the horses, well consider it a gift.” He leaned in closer, with a conspiratorial look on his face. “If you are as clever a man as you seem to be, you’ll have it set in a ring and give it to your charming Sophia.”

Madari stared from the diamond to him. It was about the right size for that. But still…

“Halais, I can’t take this from you, really. You need it more than I do.”

He waved a hand at that. “Nomads need only useful items, not baubles.”

“Then sell it. People find money to be useful.”

“I intend to feel mortally offended if you say one more word,” Halais said, and Madari had no choice but to stop his protest. He looked down at his hand again, amazed. “And it’s a down payment on the horses,” Halais reminded him. “Send me a message when you’re ready to sell.”

With a sigh, he put the diamond in his pocket. Sipping his drink again, he looked around for Jahni, who he saw talking to one of the Kings entourage.

This was turning into a very surprising evening.


“Sir?” Jahni said to one of the men who surrounded the king, and now and again whispered things in his ear. Messages, or the name of the man he was about to be introduced to, Jahni assumed.

“Can I help you, Captain Jahni?” the man said. Jahni blinked at being addressed by name when he hadn’t introduced himself. Of course he wouldn’t even have got this close if the King’s bodyguards didn’t know who he was.

“I’d like to have a private word with His Majesty, if he has a few minutes to spare.”

“Can I ask what you wish to discuss with him?”

“I just want to thank him for his assistance with a personal matter.” He tried to talk the way they did, hoping it would help.

“Of course,” the advisor said, with a smile. He probably knew exactly what the personal matter was, Jahni realised. “Give him a few moments.”

“Thank you.”

Jahni moved away, but not too far. He strolled over to where a group of musicians played and waited there, the music taking him back to nights in Halais’ camp, so long ago. Or when the Bedouin warriors had finally joined them, stationed men with them. He could almost smell the distinctive aroma of their cooking pots.

Actually, he could smell that aroma, wafting over from cooking fires outside. His mouth watered, though after what he saw at Saifullah’s camp, he hoped it wasn’t goat or mutton in those pots.

“Captain Jahni.” The King appeared at his side, and Jahni quickly turned, and bowed his head. The King shook Jahni’s offered hand.

“Thank you for agreeing to see me, Sir.”

“I’m always happy to make time for you, Captain. Walk with me,” he said, slipping his arm into Jahni’s and steering him away from the band, to where they could talk more quietly. Jahni gave him a quick glance, interested to see that he wore more traditional clothing tonight, rather than the Western suits he usually favoured. His head was still uncovered though. He wants to show respect for traditional people, Jahni thought, but he doesn’t want to appear to be trying too hard.

“Sir, I just wanted to thank you for helping with the situation over my father’s money.”

“No thanks are needed, Captain. I was glad to set that right. I’m only sorry it took so long. You should have raised it with me sooner.”

Jahni tried to picture doing that, but his imagination failed him.

“You actually have my wife to thank for bringing it to my attention,” the King went on.

The Queen. Suddenly he knew exactly who had put things in motion and a second later, the King confirmed it.

“Your friend Signora Giordano raised the matter with her. They’re old friends, you know.”

“Yes, Sir. Please convey my gratitude to Her Majesty for her help.” He was getting good at this diplomatic small talk.

“I will.” A man appeared at Atuallah’s side and whispered in his ear. “I must go, I’m afraid. I’ll see you next week at the palace. I’m eager to hear about your recent mission.”

“Yes, Sir. Thank you for your time.” He stepped away and the King left with his entourage, heading for another group of tribal elders, Halais among them. As Jahni watched him talking to them, Madari appeared at his side.

“I was just thanking His Majesty for his help over my inheritance,” Jahni said. Madari nodded.

“I guessed as much.”

Should he tell him the rest? That Sophia had essentially made it happen? Perhaps not yet. Perhaps he should ask her first. She had no reason to conceal it from Madari, but she wasn’t the sort of person to boast of it either.

“Let’s get another drink,” Madari said. “And some fresh air. It’s sweltering under here.” He glanced up at the ceiling of marquee, where smoke from dozen of cigars and cigarette lingered on the warm, still air.

“With ice,” Jahni said, “definitely have to have some ice.”

“Yes,” Madari said, an odd smile on his face, that Jahni didn’t understand. “More ice.”


“Ah, Colonel Madari. I was beginning to think you weren’t coming.” The jeweller smiled at him as he held the door open.

“I’m sorry, Mr Osman, I was delayed.” A meeting at the barracks had overrun. Jahni had been just as eager to get away, and Madari briefly wondered where he was now. He’d call him later.

“That’s fine. Please come through, I have your order ready.”

He led Madari through to the back room and had him sit at a table that held a desk lamp and a glass topped box. A young man appeared with a tray covered with a piece of black velvet and gave it to Mr Osman, who dismissed him and laid the tray on the table. He took away the black cloth to reveal a gold medallion, with a diamond in the centre of it and fine engraving in a circle around the stone.

“May I?” Madari reached for the medallion. It felt heavy in his hand. The light shone through the diamond in the centre.

“Here.” Osman placed the medallion back on the tray and slid it into the glass topped box. The glass was magnifying and fine details of the engraving showed up more clearly. Madari turned the medallion inside the box, checking both sides.

“This is fine work, Mr Osman, beautiful engraving.”

“It was a pleasure. It’s not often I have to make a gold piece for a man.”

“It’s for an American friend.” Madari felt a little bad that he hadn’t included a gold chain in the order, but he wasn’t able to afford quite that much gold to get a chain of the size BA liked to wear. But BA had plenty of chains he could put this on if he wanted to. Or display it in a case, if he preferred. But it seemed right in the end, to send his diamond back to him.

Madari could have done as Halais suggested and had it made into something for Sophia, which would have earned him a million points, as Karen might say. Yet he’d feel that was cheating. That he hadn’t earned those points, not really.

Halais might claim he wanted to buy Madari’s horses and that the diamond was a down payment, but he wouldn’t insist on having it back if Madari didn’t sell. It was just his way of giving him a gift. And of course, as he said, as a nomad he had little use for gems or even cash. The trading they’d done years ago, the money from that had probably lasted until now, and would into the future.

Satisfied with the medallion, Madari settled up with Mr Osman and left with it nestled into a black velvet-covered box. He had to arrange to get it to BA now. He’d have to make sure the shipping cost included very good insurance against loss!


“Kahil, this is a nice surprise. Come in,” Sophia said, opening the door to him and gestured for him to enter.

“I hope I’m not disturbing you.” He came inside, following her into the living room. A table looked set for a buffet and a servant came in from the kitchen then to put out some glasses. “You’re entertaining tonight?”

“Ladies only,” she said, with a smile. “Though I’m sure some of them would be delighted to see you here, looking so handsome in your uniform. Will you have a drink?”

“No, thank you, I won’t keep you,” he said. “I, um, just stopped in to say thank you. I know you told the Queen about my inheritance and she raised it with the King, so it’s all down to you that it’s been sorted out.”

“I hope you don’t think I was interfering,” she said. “But the injustice made me quite angry and I had the power to help you, so I did.”

“I’m not angry,” he said. “The money’s in the bank now. It’s all left me a little bit unsettled, I’ll admit. But I’m grateful to you.”

He bowed his head and, surprising himself and her, he took her hand and brought it to his lips to kiss it. She looked flustered for only a moment and then smiled. When he let her hand go, she touched his face briefly and spoke in a soft voice.

“You lost so much that nobody has the power to give back to you.”

“I’ve regained some of those things, thanks to my friends.” His soul. Hope. A reason to go on. “Please accept this.” He held out the rectangular parcel he carried in one hand. “Just as a token of my gratitude.”

“You didn’t need to.” She tore off the paper to reveal an art book, the price of which had shocked Jahni when he picked it up. “Oh, the new Manet retrospective. How thoughtful of you.”

“And this is a donation for your charity.” He handed her an envelope. Far too discreet, she didn’t open it to look at the cheque inside.

“Thank you. So generous.”

He looked around at the servants laying out food and drink on the tables. The party must be an early one, so he’d better take his leave, before any of her women friends showed up and giggled at him while whispering to each other in Italian. Probably plotting to introduce him to their daughters.

“I’ll let you get on,” he said and she accompanied him to the door.

“Have you made plans for the money?” she asked. “Faris wants you to buy a house, doesn’t he?”

“Yes. But I think I’m just going to keep most of it in the bank, for now at least.” He shook his head. “And given what happened before, maybe a numbered Swiss account where nobody else can steal it.”

“So, you’re going to save it?”

“Yes, I think so. I think that’s for the best.”

She looked at him, when they stopped at the door, her expression thoughtful. Did she suspect his motives? The ‘just in case’ scenario, he had in his mind? But her expression softened and she suddenly stepped closer and to his surprise, hugged him.

“I’m glad we’re friends, Kahil. And I’m even more glad that Faris has you. I know you’d do anything to protect him.”

Somewhat shocked, Jahni held his arms awkwardly for a second, but then put them around her.

“That’s my job,” he said, stepping back. “And I’m glad we’re friends too.”

The doorbell ringing, her guests arriving, told them it was time for him to go. Negotiating his way past two elderly Italian ladies, smiling and bowing, he left and decided to walk home in the cool evening.

Was protecting Madari his job? It had been a long time ago and he’d never really stopped thinking that way. Not a job, more a role. Or a calling. Or even something he should have stopped believing in, along with the rest of his religion.


Protecting Madari wasn’t just part of the past. He’d have to do it again, he felt sure.

His cell phone rang in his pocket and he groaned. But it wasn’t the duty officer, it was Madari.

“You’re not home yet, Kahil?”

“No, just heading there now. Are you still in the city?”

“Yes. I wondered if you’d like to meet for dinner?”

“Of course.”

“Good,” Madari said, sounding smug about something, intriguing Jahni. “I’ve got something to show you.”

“Oh? What?”

“You’ll have to wait and see. Let’s just say it’s going a small way towards repaying an old debt.”