Part 3: Men

Chapter 1

September 1986

The sun was low in the sky when the truck arrived. A small truck, not supplies. Madari put down the book he wasn’t really reading and got up from a bench beside a barracks hut. He wandered over to the wire and stood, arms across his body, hands inside the opposite sleeves.

New prisoner? There had been many new ones over the last five months. Nearly three hundred men now occupied a space Madari knew had been designed to hold no more than two hundred. A few other men, starved of entertainment, came to the wire to check out the truck too. Ghaith and a couple of guards waited.

A young man was pushed out of the truck. He wore army uniform and Madari stepped forward at once, curious, looking closely, trying to see his insignia and regiment.

The soldier’s hands were cuffed behind him and he fell but was back on his feet in an instant. He turned back towards the truck, a furious look on his face. He said something, but was too far away to hear. Whatever it was it made Ghaith grab him and backhand him across the face, then shove him down to his knees. One of the other guards jammed his rifle against the soldier’s neck to make him stay down when he tried to rise.

“Feisty.” Madari jumped, startled, turned to see Noor had come up to stand beside him, then turned back to look at the new prisoner… who was looking directly at him. Madari felt as if the distance between them had suddenly shrunk. They were face to face. He gasped and with one hand grabbed the wire. Who was this man?

“Do you know him?” Noor’s voice broke into Madari’s thoughts. The distance rushed back.

“What? No… no…” The soldier was looking elsewhere now, looking at the guard towers. He’s just sizing the place up, Madari thought. “No… I don’t think so. He’s not Royal Guard.” He barely looked at me for a second. Why did it feel like an hour?

The guards pulled the soldier to his feet and dragged him off into the guard house. Most of the men at the wire drifted off. Madari stayed, watching as the truck drove off out of the gate. Noor took his arm suddenly and pulled Madari’s hand away from the wire as a patrolling guard aimed his truncheon at Madari’s fingers. Madari flinched back as the truncheon slapped the wire and the guard jeered at him. Noor led him away from the wire, a hand cupping his elbow, until Madari moved his hands behind his back.

“That makes us seventeen.” Noor said.

Seventeen officers. If the new arrival was an officer. “He looks a… useful type.” Madari said.

“He pissed Ghaith off and he wasn’t even talking to him.” Noor grinned, “I think I like him already. When he’s brought over here Idris and I will check him out, explain things to him.”

“Good,” Madari said, hoarsely. He cleared his throat, winced. His voice was better than it had been, but by the end of the day his throat was usually sore and his voice weak. “I’m tired. I’ll talk to him sometime tomorrow.”

“Yes, sir. It’s time for dinner.” They walked through the twilight to the mess hall.


The new prisoner was sitting on the end of a cot squeezed close between two others when Faraj and Noor came into the barracks. Bed covers and clothes were heaped on the cot behind him. He was out of his uniform now, in prison clothes instead. He sat forward, head in his hands. He didn’t seem despairing though, Noor thought, the hands entwined in his thick black hair were tense.

He must have heard them approach, because he was on his feet before either of them spoke. Defensive stance, Noor thought, he sized us both up in a glance. Noor sized the young man up in turn. Early to mid twenties, five foot nine, good looking, with large eyes, that were currently narrowed suspiciously at the two men approaching him. Cuts and bruises, most a couple of days old showed on his face.

“At ease,” Noor said. “Captain Noor, Captain Faraj.” They both offered their hands.

“Lieutenant Jahni. Southern Rangers.” Jahni shook their hands, still a little wary.

“First or second Lieutenant?” Faraj asked. Noor rolled his eyes. Worried about him snapping at your heels, Idris? He was good friends with Faraj now, but the man was a little overly pre-occupied with rank.

“First, sir.”

“So, why are you here, Lieutenant?” Noor asked.

Jahni scowled. “I don’t know!” He cried. “Those security police jackals arrested me! They said I’d been spreading sedition, accused me of anti-government activities. I never did any of that! I might have said some things, but it’s not a crime to talk.”

“It is now.” Noor said. “Someone informed on you?”

“I suppose. Some of the things they’ve been ordering us to do are wrong, and I’ve said that’s what I thought, that’s all. They won’t let me contact my CO, or my father. I…” A little bit of fear came into his eyes. “I don’t know what to do, sir.” He sat down heavily on the cot. “I don’t even know if my family knows where I am. Is there any way to get a message out to anyone?”

“Might be possible.” Noor sat on the next cot. He offered Jahni a cigarette. Jahni shook his head, didn’t take it. “Some of the guards are willing to post letters, if bribed.”

“Okay.” Jahni still looked downcast.

“Here,” Noor said, handing Jahni a small parcel wrapped in paper. It held bread and cheese and some dates. “You missed dinner and there’s no room service.”

Jahni smiled weakly. “That’s the last time I come to this hotel. Thank you, Captain.” He took the food and began to eat, hungrily. Probably hadn’t been given a proper meal since being arrested, Noor thought.

“Is, um, is one of you the senior officer in the camp?” Jahni asked, glancing between the two captains. Faraj still stood, towering over the other two men. “Among the prisoners I mean.”

“No, the senior man is Major Madari.” Faraj said.

“So he’s in command?”

Faraj looked at Noor, then at the floor. Jahni frowned, looking puzzled, looked back at Noor.

“No.” Noor said. “The major is… still recovering from the effects of his interrogation. I’m in command.”

“I… see.” Jahni said, hesitantly, though obviously he didn’t. Well it would be clear enough once he met Madari, Noor thought. Once he’d seen him go into a flashback, or wake sobbing, or flinch when a guard looked at him.

“You need to know,” Faraj said. “When you meet the major, do not expect him to shake your hand. His hands were injured.”

“Oh. Right, sir. Should I…” he frowned, looked puzzled.

Noor guessed what he was thinking. It had taken him weeks to break the habit of offering his hand to Madari the way he did to other men.

“Should I salute instead?”

“Just do what feels right at the time, Lieutenant.”


Jahni was too exhausted to stay awake much longer after Faraj and Noor left him alone. Although his mind whirled with worry and confusion at the sudden shocking turn his life had taken, he’d had barely any sleep for two nights and managed to keep awake only long enough to make his bed and collapse onto it, falling fast asleep at once.

He had no idea what time it was when he was woken by someone crying out. Not a loud cry, but enough to wake him. He sat up. Faraj was talking to another man in the cot next to his. The man seemed agitated. After a moment he got off the cot, grabbed a blanket and took off, to the shower block. Faraj watched him go then was about to lie down again when he saw Jahni sitting up.

“It’s all right, Lieutenant,” Faraj said quietly. “The major had a bad dream, that’s all, go back to sleep.” Faraj lay down and after a moment seemed to be asleep again. Jahni stayed sitting up for a moment. So that was Major Madari. In the dim light Jahni had seen little more than a tall, thin figure.

Jahni lay down again. Around him men snored or talked in their sleep. He lay staring up at the ceiling. What was he going to do? There had to some way out of this place. Ziyahd had given him a talk about how escape was futile, but Jahni wasn’t inclined to listen to that dog. He’d got the measure of the man from his reaction when Jahni started demanding to be allowed to contact his family and the big thug in sergeant’s stripes, Ghaith, had punched Jahni hard in the back with a snarled order to shut up. The punch threw Jahni forward against the general’s desk and the pain of it made him groan. And Ziyahd’s eyes lit up at that groan, an obscene smile of pleasure broke out across the general’s face.

Jahni felt bile rise in his guts at the thought of the sadistic enjoyment Ziyahd must take in seeing the men under his control hurt and abused. I can’t stay here, he thought. There’s a way to escape. There’s always a way. Or once his father found out he was here well he wouldn’t sit by idle. He’ll come for me somehow, Jahni thought, whatever it takes, he’ll help me. He sighed and put his hands over his face. If he could just get a message to his family, let them know he was safe…

He woke again with a start, body jerking with a sudden fear he was falling. No, he was okay. Hell, there wasn’t even room to fall off the cot, the ones beside it were so close. He sat up and looked across the room. Madari’s cot was still empty. Was he still in the shower block? How long had it been? Was he ill? Jahni considered waking Faraj, but decided he’d check on the major himself. If he was going to be stuck here for a while he needed to make sure the other officers could see he was reliable, an ally they could trust.

He slid off the bottom of the cot and padded along to the shower area, his bare feet chilled by the cold, cracked tiles. He had to walk all the way to the last cubicle before he found Madari, who sat in the corner, his knees drawn up to his chest and his blanket over his shoulders. His hands over his face only partially muffled the sound of the choked sobs that shook his thin body.

Jahni froze, horrified at having intruded on the man’s distress. Madari didn’t notice him standing there so Jahni unfroze and backed away, wanting to slip away quietly, unseen. So he could have cursed when he managed to kick over the mopping up bucket. A second later Madari flew out of the cubicle, eyes wide. He stared at Jahni then ran at him, grabbing him by the shoulders and pushing him against the wall. Jahni knew he was strong enough to get away, but he didn’t try.

“What do you want here?” Madari ground out, his voice shaking. “Are you spying on me?”

“No, sir!” Jahni said, shocked. “I… it’s just you were in here for a long time. I thought you were ill.” Madari glared at him but Jahni met his gaze and held it. At last Madari let go of Jahni and stepped back.

“You’re the new man. Jahni?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Well, as you can see, Lieutenant, I am perfectly well.” His red-rimmed eyes and the tracks on his face told a different story but Jahni wasn’t going to argue.

“Yes, sir, of course.”

Madari turned and picked up his blanket that he had dropped, draped it around his shoulders again.

“You see I have bad dreams sometimes, and afterwards… well it is best if I am alone.”

“I’m sorry to intrude, sir.” Jahni knew he should go, should leave Madari alone, he’d said he wanted to be alone. Well no, that wasn’t exactly what he’d said was it? Madari was shaking, Jahni could see that. Shivering with cold, or trembling?

Perhaps it was the cold because Madari pulled the blanket closer around himself and Jahni got a good look at his hands for the first time and gasped. His fingernails… horrible.

Madari instantly put his hand down, hid it under the blanket. He frowned at Jahni, spoke coldly.

“Don’t let me keep you from your bed, Lieutenant.”

“I…” Jahni looked at him. What had they done to him? The bastards. I should have done more than talk, he thought, I should have fought, long ago, stopped them before they hurt him… everyone that they’ve hurt. He spoke softly, compassion and sorrow mixed in it. “I’m so sorry.” He looked at the ground, ashamed of his initial repelled reaction.

“Lieutenant Jahni.”

Jahni looked up again. Madari was looking at him with a puzzled expression.

“What’s your name, Lieutenant?”


“Kahil. Have we met before?”

Jahni frowned. “I don’t think so, sir.”

“No. No, of course not.” He shook himself. “Well, I’m all right now, Kahil. Go back to bed.”

“Yes, sir.” Jahni said and turned away headed out. And in his mind was just one thought. You’re not all right, you’re very, very far from all right.


“Do you want to meet the new man, Major?” Faraj asked. He glanced over at the yard where Jahni was playing football with some other younger prisoners, then looked back to where Madari sat on a bench in the shade, his back against the wall of the mess hall hut.

“I already met him.” Madari said. “We spoke last night.” He watched the football game for a moment. “He seems sound.”

“Last night?” Faraj frowned. “When?”

“Late. During the night.” Madari didn’t want to go into detail, Faraj usually got embarrassed. He wanted to help, Madari knew, he just never knew what to say. Madari understood that. How does a soldier cope with his commander – his ex commander – sobbing on his shoulder?

Faraj clicked his tongue and scowled. “He should have left you alone. I will tell him…”

“It’s all right, Idris. He’s…” Madari trailed off. What? What is he? He saw Jahni get stuck in with a hard tackle on another player. Strong. Fearless. “Sound. We can trust him.”

Faraj still frowned and muttered something. Madari stood up, thinking he would like to get a cup of tea. Pain stabbed up his leg, from his still painful feet and

and Sevchenko’s voice was harsh in his ear. “…it makes the pain stop, Faris, when you renounce Islam. That’s not so hard. Then the pain stops. Say it now. Say it now… ”

Pain, burning pain on his feet. Sizzle of burning skin. Soldering iron. The smell of his own cooked flesh. Smelled like pork, like that butcher’s shop he used to pass as he walked from his lodgings to the tube station in London. He’d felt guilty when the smell of roasting pork made his mouth water. Go back there now, retreat into memories try to escape. Impossible so much pain pain pain. Screaming and sobbing and no point in pleading for mercy any more. He gave them the names and they still didn’t stop. What more could they want?

“Renounce your faith. Then the pain stops.”

The demon wanted his soul.

“I renounce! Please stop, please stop! Please!”

“Good, very good…”

“Good, that’s good. Now feel the sun on your face. Listen to my voice.”

Not Sevchenko’s voice, another voice, a new voice. A hand on his shoulder, not hurting him, moving gently. His skin was tender still from healed wounds and the sensation of the cloth of his shirt sliding over the new skin filled his mind. Until the voice started again. That voice, strong, yet like silk.

“Open your eyes. See the sunlight. Open your eyes.” He did. The light was bright, and he squinted. “You’re not there. You’re safe now. You’re not there anymore. Look around.” He obeyed, saw the yard, the barracks huts, the wire, smelled the cooking smells from the mess hall, bread, not pork, not flesh, felt sand between his toes. The darkness was gone. Sevchenko was gone. The pain was gone. He knew there were tears on his face.

He turned and looked into the face of the man whose voice had dragged him back from the hell of his memories.


Jahni smiled at him. He stood very close, one hand gripped Madari’s arm, the other still stroked his shoulder gently.

“You know where you are?”

Madari looked around, turned to look behind himself, where he’d come from. The shady spot by the wall that now looked cold as a cell. Usually he came back to himself in just such a cold place, with Faraj or Noor standing over him looking worried and calling his name. Those two stood there staring now. He gave them a weak smile, then turned back to Jahni. Where had he even come from? Oh, the football, he’d been playing football. The game continued, he heard the shouts and the scuffing of feet on the ground now. The world was coming back.

“Yes. I know where I am.” He scrubbed his sleeve across his face to wipe the tears.

Jahni took his hands away from Madari’s shoulder and arm and stepped back. Faraj and Noor came up to Madari and Jahni nodded to them both, them bowed his head to Madari and hurried off to rejoin the football game.

“What the hell was that?” Noor said.

“And who the hell does he think he is?” Faraj sounded annoyed. “He just grabbed you and pulled you out into the middle of the yard. Making an exhibition of you…” It was hardly the middle of the yard, Madari thought, though he noticed now that a few men were staring, as if it had all been a cabaret act. He winced at that. How many more times would he make a fool of himself in front of the other prisoners?

“It’s all right.” Madari said. “Don’t be angry, Idris. I think… I think he did the right thing.”

“I have to say that’s the fastest I’ve seen you come out.” Noor said.

So, Madari thought, I have so many flashbacks that Noor now knows how long it normally takes for me to come out of them. Noor was a sanguine man, who took things in his stride and Madari’s distress caused him less embarrassment than it caused Faraj, but that in itself upset Madari. That this was normal now. That the creature who woke screaming or sobbing, or might at any moment be engulfed by horrific memories was the only Madari Noor had ever known. He’d have liked Noor to have known him when he was strong. When he was still a man.

“Do you want to get some rest, sir?” Faraj asked.

Yes, that was normal too. That he should go away and be alone so they didn’t have to see any more of his pain. That was what he’d said he wanted, because he couldn’t take their pitying looks. And now he was trapped into that pattern.

That was the problem when you told people to leave you alone.

They did.

Chapter 2

Jahni walked into the barracks to find Madari sitting up on a cot, back against the wall, eyes closed. He hesitated for a moment, unsure if he should approach. but Madari must have heard him come in. He looked up suddenly, eyes wide for a moment, before his face became calm again.

Jahni went over and offered Madari one of the two cups he carried.

“I thought you might like some tea, sir.”

“Oh, thank you, Lieutenant. Yes, I would.” he took the cup from Jahni’s right hand and sipped the tea.

“Are you feeling better?” Jahni asked. Why had the others left him alone? After what happened they just left him alone? That wasn’t right. He sat on the cot beside Madari’s, slipping off his sandals and sitting cross legged.

“Yes, I do feel better, thank you. And… thank you for helping me. I hope that wasn’t too, um, disturbing for you.”

“No, sir.” It hadn’t disturbed him, it had made him angry. Angry at the men who hurt Madari so badly that he fell back into their clutches like that. And then angry at Faraj and Noor, who he saw trying to hold Madari down on the bench, in the darkness, shouting his name. Idiots getting it all wrong.

He’d run up and grabbed Madari by the arm, dragged him stumbling into the sunlight and spoke close to his ear, almost touching, in a voice… a voice he never knew he had. Where had that come from?

“Do you have experience dealing with… with that sort of situation?” Madari asked.

Jahni frowned. He didn’t.

“No. I just thought that I had to make the situation now as different as possible from what it must have been then, when you were tortured.” He saw Madari flinch at the word. “I thought that was the best way to make you come back from the memories.”

He sat looking down into his mug of tea. He’d been presumptuous he supposed. He’d only just met the man, how could he know what was right for him? He’d always been headstrong. He used to play golf sometimes with his father and he never remembered to shout “fore”.

“You… you don’t have to stay here with me, Lieutenant,” Madari said. “I’m sure you have things you’d rather be doing.”

Jahni looked at him. Madari’s eyes were bleak.

“Well, I did have a squash game scheduled, then I was going to go to the steam bath, but I think I might have to postpone.” He grinned and Madari smiled back. Jahni liked that. He drank the last of his tea and put down the mug. He leaned back, hands flat on the cot.

“It’s usually best if I’m just left alone.” Madari said, sighed.

Jahni scowled at that.

“Best for who exactly?” He almost bit his tongue. He hadn’t intended that to come out with quite as much vehemence as it did. Madari looked at him, frowning.

“I’m sorry, sir.” Jahni reached around for his sandals. “Of course you don’t want to talk about it.” Why would he talk to me anyway? A stranger? And why do I care so much? What is this man’s pain to me? I have enough trouble, I have to think about getting out of here, I have to think about my family.

“Kahil,” Madari leaned forward, caught his arm as Jahni started to move off the cot. “Wait. Please.” Madari let go, when Jahni stopped, but he didn’t sit back. His voice dropped low. “I do want to talk about it. Sometimes I think my head will explode if I don’t. But the others think if I talk about it too much, dwell on it, that will make it harder to forget it, that will make the memories come back more often.”

Jahni sat down again. There were tears in Madari’s eyes now. He was trying to hold them back, his voice shook with the effort, cracked until it was barely a whisper. And he reached out and took Jahni’s hand. Jahni was very careful not to squeeze the injured hand he now held.

“The memories don’t ‘come back’, Kahil. They never go away, they’re always there and then something, something tiny can make them overwhelm me. It’s like… like being in a lake or the sea and most of the time my head is out of the water, but then something drags me under and the water closes over my head and I start… I start to drown.” He choked off and put his head down, put his free hand over his eyes to catch the tears that were starting to fall now. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. You shouldn’t have to hear this. I don’t even know you.”

Jahni was silent for a moment. No, Madari didn’t know him. Well if knowing him was a requirement that could be arranged.

“I was named Kahil after my mother’s brother, who died when he was ten. Both my parents are still alive. I have two younger sisters, who worship me. My father thought I should join the army for a couple of years to get some discipline, I was lazy at university you see. But…” he smiled. “I loved it. Now he can’t get me to leave. My friends say I am the world’s worst driver.” Madari was looking at him now, eyes wide. What the hell am I babbling about? Jahni wondered. But he couldn’t stop. I want him to know me, I want him to trust me. I want him to talk to me. “I broke my arm falling off the roof of our house when I was nine. No other man in my unit can field strip an AR-15 faster than me…”


“Who the hell is this Jahni anyway?” Faraj paced up and down while Noor patiently shook out and folded freshly laundered clothes. “He waltzes in here, and suddenly he’s the expert on what’s best for the major.”

“None of us are experts, Idris.” Noor said. “But Jahni seems to have a way with Faris.” He shrugged. “He’s made a connection of some kind. Can you come and help me with this?”

Faraj scowled at the piles of laundry. Manual labour was not one of his things, Noor knew. He’d never washed so much as a sock before he came here. But he stomped over and started to fold garments aggressively.

“Idris, you have to admit that the major has improved, since Jahni got here. You must be glad about that. If Faris finds him comforting then where’s the problem?”

Faraj just scowled again. Madari had indeed taken to Jahni since the lieutenant arrived a month ago. Jahni had quickly joined their rota for taking care of the major at night and was better at it than anyone else. Noor had listened to him a few times, as he spoke into Madari’s ear. The voice he used was remarkable, almost hypnotic. It calmed Madari down faster than anyone else was able to. And if Madari went off to the shower after the nightmare Jahni always followed. “He shouldn’t be alone.” Jahni had insisted. Noor believed that too, especially after the suicide attempt. But Madari had asked them to leave him alone and since he didn’t seem to be about to slit his wrists again what could they do? But Jahni was apparently tolerated, even welcomed.

A week after his arrival Faraj had given Jahni a direct order to leave Madari alone when he went to the showers after a bad dream. Jahni had just looked back steadily at Faraj and said, “Not until he tells me to.”

“Idris,” Noor said, with a chuckle, “will you stop acting like a woman whose husband just took a second wife.”

Faraj looked at him outraged.

“Are you saying I’m… what? Jealous? What the hell are you suggesting?”

“Nothing, nothing.” Noor said, hastily, seeing the fury in Faraj’s eyes. Went a little too far there he thought. Jealous was exactly the right word though. Faraj’s aristocratic nose was a little out of joint over the way Jahni had connected with Madari. Aristocratic was the right word too. Faraj and Madari himself both came from wealthy families. Old money families. Jahni had told them about his family – he talked about them a lot – and his father was wealthy with very new money. Money he’d worked for himself. Noor personally considered that something to admire. Faraj on the other hand was less impressed.

Noor sighed. He didn’t want those two to feud. Jahni seemed to be a good officer, sharp, bold. They could use a man like that. Noor would have to try and work out a way to make them trust each other. They could all be a hell of a team, frankly.


Ziyahd was taking a stroll around the yard with Ghaith at his side when Faraj and Noor, under guard, came out of the laundry and headed back towards the prisoner compound, pushing a cart full of clothes.

Ghaith sniggered at the sight of them and Ziyahd smiled too. Noor gave the two of them a dirty look, Faraj a furious glare.

“Laundry duty, Captains? How the mighty are fallen, eh, sergeant?”

Ghaith sniggered some more, which encouraged Ziyahd. “I hope your hands don’t get too rough from the work, Captain Faraj.”

“Why don’t I put them around your throat and you can find out, you jackal fathered runt.”

Ziyahd heard Noor groan, before the sound was drowned out by Faraj’s cry of pain when Ghaith slammed his truncheon into the captain’s shoulder. Faraj fell to one knee and the truncheon fell again slammed into his back, making him drop to hands and knees. The two guards who’d been escorting them grabbed Noor as he tried to run to Faraj’s aid.

Ziyahd, flushed and breathing fast at the sight of Faraj moaning in pain watched as Ghaith pulled Faraj to his feet. Faraj was not cowed, he still glared with hatred at Ziyahd.

“A few hours in the hot box I think.” Ziyahd said, smirking.

“Yes, sir.” Ghaith summoned a couple of guards and tossed Faraj at them. “Hot box.” He ordered. They dragged him off struggling. “You,” Ghaith turned to Noor, “get that cart out of here before I piss in it.”

Glowering, Noor obeyed, pushed the cart back to the prisoner compound. Faraj was being dragged into there too and across the yard to the hot box.

“Not even noon yet,” Ziyahd said smiling. “Keep him in there until dark.”

“Yes, sir.” Ghaith slapped his truncheon into his hand. “Needs taking down a few pegs that one.”

Ziyahd nodded in agreement. “Any suggestions, Sergeant?”

“After he’s done cooking I’ll take him to the blockhouse. Me and a few of the lads will teach him what his place is.” He slapped the truncheon into his hand again, licked his lips. “Be a pleasure, sir, a real pleasure.”

Ziyahd was actually frightened of him in that moment. The big man was clearly hungry to teach Faraj the lesson he needed.

“You have my permission, Sergeant. Do whatever is necessary.”


Did they think this could break him? Hours in the box till every nerve ending felt like a flame? Heat and pain and thirst the only things his mind could know. What the hell did they think he was? Weak? He was Royal Guard. Come back in a month and maybe he’d be broken.

Ghaith came around every so often, stood outside the box drinking water and asking if Faraj wanted some. Faraj would never give him the satisfaction of begging for it. That animal would never hear him beg, even if he waited till the sky fell.

He couldn’t stand up when the guards finally opened the door and dragged him out. He hit the hot sandy ground hard when they dropped him. A boot in his side didn’t make him move. Play dead, he thought. If they thought he was unconscious they’d get bored and leave him alone. And then Javid would come and help him. Why had he shouted at Javid before? Javid was kind.

“Get him up.” Ghaith’s voice, not Javid’s. Just leave me alone, you bastard. Men grabbed his arms and dragged him up. He managed to crack open his eyes, guards all around him, prisoners watching. There was Noor, worry etched on his face. Madari stood beside him.

“Give him some water.”

Faraj was astonished when one of the guards suddenly shoved a canteen at him, pouring water into his mouth. He choked and then gulped it down desperately. “Enough.” Ghaith snapped. He grinned at Faraj. “Won’t do for him to pass out too quick. Bring him.”

What the hell? This wasn’t the usual procedure. Normally the man in the box was dragged out and left to the other prisoners to take care of. If he was still alive.

The guards dragged the stumbling Faraj out of the prisoner compound and across to the block house. A concrete block of cells. Sometimes men were put in there for solitary confinement. There were no windows. It was like another world in there. Dark, damp, cold as a cave.

They opened a metal door and shoved Faraj into a cell. He hit the cold floor almost gratefully. After the heat in the box it felt good. Footsteps behind him and someone grabbed the back of his shirt, like a man grabbing a cat by the scruff of its neck. He was thrown further into the room and now three more men were coming in after the first. The lights came on, quite dim, but they let Faraj see that Ghaith and three other guards were in the room now.

“Close the door.” Ghaith said and unshipped his truncheon from his belt

Faraj moaned softly, but steeled himself for the beating he knew was coming. He was strong. He was Royal Guard. He stared then as Ghaith dropped the truncheon on the floor.

“Hold him down.” The other three grabbed Faraj, who resisted, though still baffled. Then his eyes widened and a cry of horror escaped him as Ghaith started to undo his belt buckle.

No, he couldn’t be. It was impossible. The belt whispered out of the belt loops. He’s going to beat me with the belt, that’s all, Faraj thought, that has to be it. Please let that be what he’s going to do.

Ghaith dropped the belt.

“No!” Faraj cried, struggling in earnest now. “No! You vile pig! You can’t! You can’t!”

“Turn him over.”

Faraj fought wildly, but there were too many for him, and they turned him onto his stomach. The guards were laughing and leering. A sob forced its way out of him.

“Please, no, please!” A sound, a zipper. “Please, no!” Weight on top of him, cigarette tainted breath against his ear.

Faraj screamed.


Madari and Noor sat up awake all night, waiting for Faraj to be brought back.

“Why can’t he keep his mouth shut?” Noor asked at one point. Madari, sitting up on his cot glanced over at Noor.

“He’s a proud man.”

“Well his pride is what’s getting kicked out of him right now.” Noor said, angrily. He sighed. “You’d think he’d have learnt by now.”

Madari shrugged, it would take more than a few months to undo the years of training in haughtiness that Faraj had gone through. He hoped they didn’t hurt Faraj too badly, but there was no way Faraj would ever keep his mouth shut. A proud man, a real man of the type Madari wished he could be again.

He glanced at the cot on the other side of him. Jahni lay sleeping there. There was a man too. Strong and proud. Unbroken. He knew the lieutenant carried bruises from the fists and truncheons of guards that he never missed the chance to insult or sneer at. Noor called him headstrong and reckless and he was, but he had the kind of guts Madari knew he himself would never have again. Strange, he thought, how important Jahni had become to him in such a short time. His voice. His hands. The way he listened. Madari had heard the expression “a good listener.” He’d never really understood it until now.

“It’s almost dawn.” Noor said, looking out of the window. He smiled wryly at Madari. “Why did we sit up all night? They’re not going to bring him back until morning.”

“A vigil, Captain.”

“Right.” Noor dropped the blanket he had over his shoulders then slid off the cot and headed towards the bathroom.

Jahni stirred, perhaps from the noise or movement Madari guessed. He sat up, blinking, eyes still hazy with sleep.

“Did they bring him back yet?”

“Not yet. Go back to sleep, Kahil.”

Jahni lay down again and closed his eyes, Madari reached out and gently touched his shoulder.

“Sleep.” He said softly. Too many nights this one sat up with him then slept in the day. At least he’d got some rest tonight. Jahni sighed and his breathing became even again, as he dropped back into sleep quickly.


Madari, Noor and Jahni came back after morning prayers to find Faraj lying on a cot. His clothes were dirty and bloodstained. He was barely conscious.

“Find Dr Al-Hijazi now!” Noor snapped to Jahni who quickly ran off, calling the doctor’s name. Madari meanwhile shoved away cots so he could kneel by Faraj. He took one of the Captain’s bloodied and bruised hands.

“Idris, I’m here. The doctor is coming.” Faraj stirred painfully. His eyes half opened but he didn’t seem to recognise Madari, he didn’t speak. Noor stood on the other side of him, looking down, agonised.

“Bastards.” He muttered. He reached down and brushed a strand of hair that was crusted with blood off Faraj’s face. “The bastards.”

Dr Al-Hijazi came in then with Jahni. More of the officers followed them in. Other prisoners stood around the barracks watching. Madari saw Noor frown around at all the people, then catch Jahni’s eye. Jahni gave a small nod, turned.

“Let’s give them some space, come on. The man needs air, everybody out.” Jahni used his officer voice and even though he was the most junior of the officers currently in the room people obeyed him, even the officers more senior to him. In a moment the audience had been chivvied out. Jahni stood at the door on guard stopping anyone else from coming back in.

After a few minutes Dr Al-Hijazi stood up from examining Faraj, went up to Madari and Noor who stood a short distance off.

“Is he badly hurt?” Madari asked,

“He’s been beaten,” Al-Hijazi said. “But not too badly, there’s a mild concussion I think. I don’t think he has any internal injuries or broken bones.”

“That’s good,” Noor sighed with relief. “We get him cleaned up and he rests and he’ll be all right?”

“There’s something else, isn’t there?” Madari was looking at the doctor, who was pale and sickened, a look Madari had already seen too many times on the man’s face.

Al-Hijazi nodded, spoke in a low voice, leaning in close to them.

“I think he’s been raped.”

Madari didn’t even know how it happened but he was suddenly outside and leaning against the wall of the barracks throwing up. He had no memory of the intervening time. Gradually, as his heaving stomach calmed down he realised Jahni was beside him, staring wide eyed, looking frightened. Madari shivered. Cold sweat bathed him and he was trembling.

My fault, was all he could think. He’s here because of me. My fault.

Bangs and crashes sounded from inside the hut. Noor. Cots must be flying. Guards would come in a second. Madari straightened up. He could still taste bile in his mouth.

“Stay here,” he ordered Jahni, “assist Captain Noor.”

“Sir, what are you…” But Madari ignored him. He strode across the yard, right up to the gate.

“I want to see the general, now.” It actually physically hurt to put the kind of authority in his voice that he needed here, but he managed it, just. The guards instinctively responded and one raised his radio to ask permission. In a moment he got an answer and nodded.

They opened the gate and two guards escorted Madari to the guardhouse and into Ziyahd’s office. The general was enjoying a coffee when Madari was brought in. He smiled, actually smiled at Madari and Madari suddenly felt the anger that he had floated here on be replaced by fear. What the hell was he doing here? What the hell did he think he could say or do?

“Why, Major, how kind of you to visit me.” Ziyahd said, mockingly. “Is there something I can do for you?”

“That animal Ghaith sexually assaulted one of my men. I want…” Madari had to stop as his voice cracked. He put a hand to his throat then went on as best he could. “I want to make an official complaint.” Even as he said it he knew it was ridiculous. Such procedure didn’t exist, he had no rights, none of them had, no rights, no protection. They were at the mercy of these men. The only protection they had was each other. And he had failed. He had failed Faraj again.

“Well, let’s see what Sergeant Ghaith has to say shall we?” Ziyahd said. “You,” he ordered a guard, “send Ghaith to me.” The guard left.

Ziyahd gave Madari another mocking smile, enjoying the little charade. “Won’t you sit down, Major, you look quite pale. Perhaps some coffee?”

He’s gloating, Madari thought. He knows what happened and he knows there’s nothing I can do about it and he just wants to rub it in. And I came here alone and I’m helpless and these men are sadists.

Ghaith came in and it was all Madari could do to keep from flinching. Ghaith looked bigger than ever, as if he was puffed up with his triumph.

“Sergeant Ghaith, the major has a complaint, he says you assaulted one of his men.”

“Oh yeah? And what does he think he’s going to do about it?” He looked at Madari with a sneer.

“Well, the major is an old fashioned sort of man.” Ziyahd sniggered. “Perhaps he’d like to challenge you to single combat.”

“Oh yeah?” Ghaith said again. He stepped closer and Madari backed off at once, terrified. His hands curled into fists, but to protect his partly re-grown fingernails, not to fight. Ghaith kept coming and Madari kept backing off until he hit the wall, trapped into a corner. Ghaith came still closer and Madari shut his eyes as the man’s weight pressed against him.

“Maybe the major wants to be next?” Ghaith snarled, close to Madari’s ear. “Maybe the major wants to spend a night in the block house with me and a few of the boys?” He pushed against Madari who gasped in horror at what he felt against his hip, hard and… no, it was Ghaith’s truncheon. No less terrifying for that.

Ziyahd’s voice, close too. Madari opened his eyes to see Ziyahd had come over, was flushed and excited looking.

“Or perhaps your pretty new friend Mr Jahni can amuse the sergeant instead? Yes.” He smirked. “Don’t think we haven’t noticed how fond you’ve become of that one.”

“Oh please,” Madari begged, horrified at the thought of them hurting Jahni. “No, please, not him.”

Ziyahd gave a repulsive smirk. “Isn’t love a wonderful thing, sergeant?”

“Beautiful, sir.”

“Now, Major, are you quite finished bothering me? I have a lot of important work to do.” His desk was empty of everything except the coffee cup.

“Yes. Please,” his voice cracked, barely a whisper now. “Can I go?”

Ziyahd looked at him, expectant, an eyebrow cocked, waiting.

“Sir,” Madari added and almost threw up again.

Chapter 3

He couldn’t go back into the barracks. He couldn’t face Faraj. He needed to be alone and it was impossible, there was nowhere to be alone.

Somewhere, somewhere, there had to be. Somewhere all these men couldn’t see him. He found himself eventually in a supply cupboard in the kitchen. There were men in the kitchen, clearing up breakfast, starting on lunch, but Madari ignored their puzzled looks. He went as far back into the storage area as he could, sank down to his knees, leaning on boxes and finally the sobs he’d been keeping inside forced their way out of him, choking him.

My fault, his mind screamed over and over at him. My fault. He’ll never forgive me. Why did it have to happen to him? So proud so strong. Now he’ll be destroyed, just like me. Madari fought hard to keep the memories from closing over his head again, memories of men on top of him, his naked skin scraped on cold stone floor, the pain and humiliation and terror as they… no! Must not think about it! Close it off, shut it out.


Oh god, that voice, the voice that brought him back, like a rope thrown to a drowning man. He wanted to turn and be taken in Jahni’s strong arms and hear his comforting voice. But Ziyahd’s threats came back to him. They were watching him, they knew he cared for Jahni, knew he… what? Their horrible insinuations about his feelings for Jahni disgusted him, but what else could he call it when a man he never knew until a month ago had become the first face he looked for after he woke each day? What else but…

No, it wasn’t possible. He was a soldier, both of them were. Soldiers and men. Men? No, I used to be a man, not any more. So what did it matter if he had forbidden feelings for Jahni anyway? He couldn’t act on them. Not once, since his arrest, not once in over six months now had he had an erection or even sexual thoughts or desires. His sex drive had, it seemed, been destroyed along with his pride and his honour.

But Jahni is still a man, is still strong and I won’t let anything happen to him to destroy that.

“Leave me alone.” Madari choked out.

“Sir?” He sounded closer now. Don’t let him touch me. If he touches me I won’t be able to make him go. He has to go. I can’t protect him.

“Are you deaf, Lieutenant?” He made his voice harsh, almost growled. “I said leave me alone.”

There was a long silence from behind him then the sound of footsteps and the door banged closed and Sevchenko left him alone with the guards and they came at him, dragged him to the floor, quelled his struggles, ignored his pleas. The memories closed over Madari’s head and there was no-one there to throw him a rope.


Everyone in the camp knew what had happened to Faraj. Everyone knew and nobody would talk about it. Because he denied it. All they had done was beat him. That was what he said over and over.

So now no one talked of it to his face. Jahni wanted to scream, wanted to shake him and make him talk about it. What the hell was wrong with these men? “Best for him to just try to forget it I suppose.” Noor had said to Jahni. Like it was “best” for Madari to be alone? Damn fools.

And Madari wasn’t talking to him any more. Not like before. For a week now he’d sent Jahni away every time Jahni tried to follow him into the showers, or talk to him anywhere, comfort him when he was distressed.

Well so what? Jahni thought as he sat on the ground by a barracks hut, knees drawn up to his chest, arms resting on them and chin resting on his arms. He glowered around, his mood gloomy. Lieutenants Hoshel and Ishaq sat beside him and tried to talk to him sometimes but Jahni just grunted in reply.

So what if Madari wouldn’t talk to him? Why the hell should I care, he thought. I just wanted to help. If he doesn’t want my help then that’s fine with me. It was a distraction anyway, Jahni knew he should be concentrating on getting out of here, getting back to his family. The men here were nothing to him. Madari was nothing to him.

“Look at that swaggering bastard.” He heard Ishaq say. “I’d like to cut out his heart and feed it to the dogs.”

Jahni looked where Hoshel and Ishaq were scowling to see Ghaith indeed swaggering, thumbs in his belt, truncheon bouncing against his leg. He had come into the prisoner compound several times over the last week, something he didn’t normally do. He seemed to have no purpose in doing so now, other than to frighten the prisoners.

“Oh no…” Hoshel said softly. Jahni saw what he was talking about at once. Faraj was sitting on a bench, a few yards from the three lieutenants, his eyes closed, perhaps dozing, unaware Ghaith was now approaching him, a leer on his face. Ghaith kicked the bench Faraj sat on and Faraj opened his eyes, stared up at Ghaith. Ghaith reached a hand towards Faraj who cringed away from it, a look of terror and disgust on his face.

Red mist filled Jahni’s vision. He was flying, flying like a hawk straight at Ghaith’s throat, screaming his hatred, screaming vengeance, screaming for blood. On the ground now, on top of the bigger man, sun hot on his back, fingers clawed and reaching for Ghaith’s eyes.


Madari and Noor, playing chess in the rec room, heard screams and shouts start up outside. Hoshel burst into the room.

“Jahni just went for Ghaith!” He ran back outside. Madari and Noor stared at each other for a second and then ran outside after Hoshel.

It was pandemonium in the yard. Across by the barracks Madari saw Faraj standing staring at the men struggling on the ground. Jahni and Ghaith fought viciously. Other guards had rushed over and were trying to hit Jahni with their truncheons. At least half the blows hit Ghaith instead as the combatants rolled on the ground. Prisoners shouted, milled around, most of them yelling for Jahni to kill Ghaith.

Ghaith seemed to gain the advantage for a moment, his superior weight pinning Jahni, held the lieutenant’s arms down at the wrists. But Jahni snapped his head up sharply, slamming his forehead into Ghaith’s nose. Blood sprayed on both men and Ghaith fell off Jahni, stunned.

“Kill him!” Noor shouted, not the only man to do so. “Finish him!”

But the other guards took the opportunity to pile in now. Even as Jahni tried to go after Ghaith again they grabbed him and dragged him off, started pounding him with fists and truncheons.

“Curl up,” Noor hissed, not that Jahni could hear him. “Curl up.” Jahni did it anyway, instinctively protecting himself, put his arms over his head as blows rained down on him. Madari moaned and grabbed Noor’s arm. His knees were shaking, terror gripped him that they would kill Jahni. But after a moment they stopped the beating, grabbed Jahni and dragged him over to the hot box. Jahni didn’t resist as they tossed him inside and secured the door.

Ghaith was getting to his feet now, with the aid of a guard. He was unsteady and dazed and another guard came to help. They started to lead him off out of the prisoner compound. Thank god, Madari thought. Because he knew if Ghaith wasn’t stunned he’d be getting out his pistol and shooting Jahni in the head right now. As Ghaith was led away the chaos in the yard started to calm down. Men drifted away. Madari saw Faraj still standing staring, staring at the hot box now. Jahni started to shout. He started to curse out Ghaith with eye watering profanities that covered not only Ghaith himself but his entire family and every one of his ancestors.

“That boy can swear.” Noor said, admiringly. Then he shook his head. “But Ghaith’s going to kill him. Damn.” Madari set off across the yard, went up to Faraj.

“Come inside now, Idris, there’s nothing you can do.”

Faraj looked at him, his eyes completely baffled.

“Why?” He said. “Why did he do that?”

“He…” Madari didn’t know how to answer.

“He’s mad,” Noor said, coming up behind Madari, making the major jump. “Been out in the sun too long.” He shrugged. “That’s Jahni. I just hope he enjoyed it enough to get killed over, because there’s no way Ghaith will let that go.”

Madari feared the same thing. Felt sick with fear over it. He couldn’t let it happen.

“Come inside, Idris.” Noor said, taking Faraj’s arm.

“No!” Faraj snapped. He went and sat down on the bench again and watched the hot box intently. Jahni was still yelling and had moved on to accusations about Ghaith’s sexual preferences and practices, involving camels, goats, dogs and jackals. Faraj folded his arms. He wasn’t going anywhere.

Madari stood, thoughtful, for a moment, then said to Noor, “I want to speak to all of the officers.”


It was getting dark before they let Jahni out. Madari and Noor stood near a barracks. Faraj was still sitting on the bench. He’d not even left it to go to midday prayers. Ghaith, a scowl like thunder, a dressing on his nose and cuts and bruises all over his face came up to the box and banged on it with his truncheon. In his other hand he carried a short leather whip.

“Enjoying yourself in there, Lieutenant?”

Jahni’s voice came back, weak and cracked, but still defiant.

“It’s pretty dull. Why don’t we call your sister to come and entertain me?”

Noor groaned at the scowl on Ghaith’s face. Furiously Ghaith banged on the hot box some more until Madari feared the corrugated metal structure would collapse. The noise set the guard dogs in their kennels howling.

“You’re dead meat,” Ghaith snarled. He put his truncheon back in its leather loop. “Okay, get him out.”

This was their one chance. Madari thought. Ghaith would have Jahni dragged over to the post with shackles attached that was set up in the corner of the yard. And then he would proceed to flog every inch of skin off Jahni’s back, until the young man bled to death. They had to act now, before that could happen. He glanced around. Men were moving, his officers, other men they had talked to. In the twilight men moved towards the hot box in the centre of the yard.

Ghaith was too preoccupied to notice. A couple of guards opened the door of the hot box and reached inside.

“Don’t touch me!” Jahni snapped. They moved back more from surprise than anything else. Usually men needed dragged out of the box, but to everyone’s astonishment Jahni crawled out under his own power, then slowly, a look on his face of a man climbing a mountain, he got to his feet. Ghaith stared at him. Jahni stared defiantly back, then turned away. He had taken his shirt off at some point and his torso was covered in dried blood and sand. With half closed eyes he looked across the yard and his eyes met Madari’s. He took a step.

Ghaith raised a hand to stop him and Madari snapped “now” at Noor. They set off at once. Not running, a fast walk, were quickly at Jahni’s side. Each of them grabbed one of the lieutenant’s arms.

“Keep walking, Kahil.” Madari said quietly. Jahni stumbled as they started to pull him along, but he kept his feet.

“Stop!” Ghaith snapped, “Where the fuck do you think you’re going?”

“We’re taking him.” Madari said, turning back to look at Ghaith. “You want to try to stop us?” He nodded slightly, and Ghaith was suddenly aware that he and the two guards he had with him were surrounded by prisoners; all of the army officers, and many other men. Ghaith reached for his handgun and Madari went on in a quiet voice. “If you shoot me, you will die. If you try to stop us, you will die. If you come after him later, you will die.” It wasn’t the command voice, but the quiet intensity actually seemed to work better. Ghaith took a step backwards, looked around nervously.

“Right…” he cleared his throat, then spoke again, in a stronger voice. “Get out of here. In your barracks, all of you! Lockdown right now! Move!”

Madari turned away from the blustering sergeant and he and Noor continued to help Jahni toward the barracks. Men closed up behind them protectively and Madari smiled. We’ll pay for this later, he thought, but for now, tonight it felt good, almost like being a man again. I protected him. He’s alive.

And then they were in the barracks and the itch between his shoulder blades, where he expected a bullet, disappeared. They lowered Jahni onto a cot. Madari sank down to sit on the one beside him. His knees were shaking, he was sick to his stomach. Like combat again. The adrenaline rush that went with the fear ebbed away and left him feeling weak and nauseous as it always did.

Around them men milled about, most preparing for bed. Some of the officers stood guard, keeping people away from Jahni. Faraj came over, to the other side of Jahni’s cot. He carried a bowl of water and a cloth. He dipped the cloth in the water and wrung it out, then started to carefully wipe Jahni’s arms and torso, cleaning off the sand that stuck to dried sweat and blood. Jahni had fallen into a doze when he was put on the cot, but he opened his eyes now. They glanced over to Madari then fixed on Faraj. Faraj wrung the cloth out again and patted it around Jahni’s face. He bent close to the lieutenant and spoke softly.

“Thank you.” Then he looked agonised. “But why?”

They weren’t even friends, Madari thought. There had been tension between them since Jahni arrived, and yet, according to Ishaq and Hoshel, it had been Ghaith going near to Faraj, attempting to touch him that had provoked Jahni’s attack. So Faraj was asking why. And yet Madari wasn’t. He knew why.

Jahni sat up just a little and reached for Faraj’s hand. “He never touches you again.” Jahni ground out, a grim expression on his face. “None of them.” He flopped back down again with a groan, closed his eyes. Faraj shook his head, still not understanding. He continued to wash the blood off Jahni.

Madari looked away as someone cleared his throat, looked up to see Dr Al-Hijazi standing in front of him.

“I should examine the lieutenant.”

“In a moment, doctor.” Madari said, and glanced back at the two men. Tears rolled unchecked down Faraj’s face now. Madari turned away. “Give them a moment.”

Al-Hijazi nodded and sat down on another cot, waiting. Madari looked up to see Noor standing with arms folded and a serious, thoughtful expression on his face as he watched Madari. Then he nodded to the major and turned away, went off to the bathrooms.

Madari stayed where he was, watching over his men.


“Can I have a word in private, Major?” Noor asked. Madari looked at him slightly surprised at the formality of his tone and the serious look on his face.

“Of course.” He glanced across the yard. “Shall we walk?”

They set off together, at a slow stroll, circling the yard, like many other men there. Now he was stronger the lack of exercise had started to bother Madari. Perhaps he needed to join the men who exercised in a corner of the compound. Perhaps he could regain some muscle. Though he had put some weight on he was still too thin. His appetite remained poor, food gave him little pleasure.

As they passed each of the prisoner barracks and the other buildings he nodded at the officer that stood near the door of each. Appearing to hang about casually the officers watched each building. A guard couldn’t go into one without being noted.

And they had needed to watch for guards. Jahni had rested and slept for three days after the fight with Ghaith and Madari wasn’t willing to risk Ghaith or another guard getting at him while he was weak. Faraj barely left his side, except to bring him food or drink, but Faraj was too afraid of the guards right now to protect Jahni.

So Madari had organised the other officers into guard duty. And if they were watching one building they might as well watch them all.

Madari and Noor had done a full circle of the yard and were starting the second lap before Noor broke the silence he had fallen into.

“Sir, it’s time you took command of the officers.”

Madari stared at him and Noor went on quickly. “You’re the senior man. While you were still… ill, well I knew you didn’t need any extra stress. But now it’s time.”

“Captain…” Madari wanted to protest. Senior man? Senior he might be, but the man part was in dispute. Did a man spend half the night curled in a corner crying like a child. “I’m really not.” A man. “Fully recovered yet.”

“I know that, sir. I know. But you’re improving every day, I can see it.” He smiled. “I’m happy to see it.” His face went more serious again. “I know you have a long way to go. And I want to help you get there.”

“You have been helping me, Javid.” Madari said quietly. “I am grateful to you.”

“I’ve done my best. I’ve protected you. Now let me support you, as your second.”

“Why now, Captain?”

“The way you organised the officers. To stop Ghaith killing Jahni. And the way you reacted after the doctor told us Faraj had been raped. All I could think to do was throw things and break things. You tried to do something about it, complain…”

“That was pointless!” Madari protested. It had been instinctive behaviour. What he’d have done in the world he used to inhabit, where there were rules and procedures. For a moment he had forgotten that he had left that world behind. Forgetting that had left him exposed to unspeakable danger. How could Noor think that action was something admirable? It was foolhardy.

And organising the men to keep Jahni safe? Would Noor find that so admirable if he knew the more selfish aspect of Madari’s motivation for that? That Madari had come to rely on Jahni’s presence, his voice, his touch? Was it selfish to need someone like that? When allowing them to offer you comfort put them in danger?

“Sir,” Noor said. “It is time. If you don’t take command now the right moment may not come again.”

“The men like you, Captain. Most of them were here, with you leading them before I even arrived. If they think I am taking over from you…”

“The men like you too, Major. And if they know I’m happy with this they won’t object. Sir, it’s natural, it’s right. You outrank me. It’s…” he hesitated a moment. “I don’t want to pressure you, sir, but this is your duty.”

And he was right of course. For a moment Madari tried to imagine what Ahmed would think of all this. He’d ask why do you not jump at the chance to take command? He’d ask why are you still kowtowing to a worm like Ziyahd? You’re a Madari, you’re a warrior, take this camp and split open Ziyahd’s belly for the vultures to feed on.

Taking command, yes he could do that. He held out his hand, let Noor take it and shake it carefully.

Taking the camp. That was more of a problem. Noor had tried before. He was a smart man, a good officer and he had failed and faced horrible consequences. If I fail, Madari thought, they might… His mind simply stopped when it headed in that direction. He could not go through that again. It would destroy him for certain this time, destroy his mind forever.

He wouldn’t, he couldn’t risk that again. Not for Noor, not for Jahni, not for Faraj. Not even for the ghost of Ahmed that stood at his back and asked him when exactly he was going to go looking for his mislaid spine.