Part 5: Goats, Guns and Uniforms

Chapter 1

“They’re coming!”

Jahni burst into Madari’s office, without knocking, startling Madari, who sat at the desk drinking coffee and reading an inventory. He looked up at Jahni’s flushed and grinning face.

“They’re coming! The trucks! Faraj!” Jahni collected himself and saluted. “Sorry, sir. The lookouts spotted them a few minutes ago. Definitely our trucks.”

Madari abandoned his paperwork and Jahni followed him as he hurried out of the room.

Madari had started getting nervous. The drive to the border should have taken about half a day. Allow some time to say goodbye to those leaving, get some rest and food and return perhaps under cover of darkness. They should have been back the next day or the one after. But five days had passed.

Madari worried both for his men and for the vehicles. They needed to get out in one of those trucks and get some supplies. Food and water was running low. And of course they were still feeding Ziyahd and his men. The sooner they got rid of that burden the better.

A cloud of dust trailed a small convoy approaching the camp. They were close enough now to identify three trucks and three jeeps. Two of the jeeps had been left here. As the vehicles approached the gate they started to honk their horns. Madari looked up at the lookout in the north-west tower. He was scanning the approaching convoy with binoculars. After a moment he leaned over and shouted.

“It’s them! Open the gate!”

“Do it,” Madari ordered.

In a moment the trucks and jeeps were sweeping into the yard. One of the trucks led the convoy and Faraj stood on the running board of the driver’s side, hanging on with one hand. He held out his other hand and Jahni was the first to reach up and slap it as he passed, making Faraj grin hugely.

Faraj jumped down as the tuck slowed to a halt just past Madari.

“Idris!” Madari embraced him. “I was starting to worry about you my friend.”

“Sorry,” Faraj said, still grinning. Noor came up and he and Faraj shared a back slapping embrace.

“Sorry, sir.” Faraj calmed himself somewhat and saluted Madari. “Reporting for duty, Major.”

“Report, Captain.” Madari returned the salute.

“Dropped all the men off at the border. The Americans dealt with getting them across into Jordan. They’re all safe.”

“What delayed your return?”

“Oh, that’s the best part.” Faraj laughed as he said it. “Come, let me show you.”

Madari and Noor looked at each other speculatively and followed Faraj. For the first time Madari noticed that Faraj was in different clothes than when he’d left. In fact the ten men who had gone with the convoy were all changed out of their prison clothes into civilian clothes. Nothing fancy, Madari could see, not the stylish outfits Faraj had worn when out of uniform back home. Nothing that would draw attention on the street.

Jahni was standing at the back of the truck they walked up to, along with a crowd of men. Faraj slapped him on the back in greeting and got the same treatment in return. The crowd of men chattered excitedly.

The truck was locked with a padlock and Faraj produced the key with a flourish. He unlocked the padlock and threw open the doors, revealing the interior of the truck.

It was full. Full of boxes and crates and baskets. Madari stared and then climbed into the truck. Faraj followed him.

“Supplies,” Faraj reported. “The other two are full as well, we’ve got water and fuel in them, this one has food and clothes and -”

“Boots!” Madari said, taking a lid off a box.

“We got enough for every man. Military surplus most of them,” Faraj said. “Hiking boots for the rest when we couldn’t get enough military ones.”

“Medical supplies?”

“Yes. What we could buy.” Faraj turned and helped Noor onto the truck. Noor started to look through the boxes delighted.

“Faraj, how?” Madari asked. “Where did you get the money?” He couldn’t imagine Faraj’s bank accounts were still accessible. Anyway he was sure Faraj had told him he’d sent all his money safely out of the country with his family.

“Sergeant Baracus,” Faraj said. “He gave me his jewellery.” He smiled, looked moved. “I couldn’t believe it. He just put all the chains and rings into my hands and said there was no sense in the trucks going back empty and we should buy what we need. It’s was all real gold, sir. All of it!”

Madari was astonished. That must have been thousands of dollars worth of gold and diamonds. And some of the pieces must have sentimental value.

“So we’ve been travelling around, to various towns. We’d sell the gold and then buy supplies and be out of town again by nightfall, before anyone started to get suspicious.” He laughed. “I think we may have seriously affected the price of gold in the region. For a few months at least! And we still have some left. We cleared out the army surplus stores in several towns. So I am sorry we took longer coming back than expected and that we couldn’t advise you.”

Madari offered Faraj his hand. “It was worth it, Captain. Excellent work. Excellent.”

“Any weapons?” Jahni, called from where he was busy organising men to start unloading the trucks.

“Sorry, no,” Faraj said, partly to him, but turning back to Madari as he said it. “Apart from some knives from the army surplus. Trying to get hold of guns… Well there just wasn’t time to start trying to make contact with gun smugglers.”

“Never mind, Captain. We have enough to be going on with. And I have some ideas on that score anyway.” He turned and climbed down out of the truck. “Lieutenant, carry on getting the trucks unloaded and everything stowed away, and then get a full inventory and report back. Faraj, bring your men from the convoy, you all look as if you need some food.”

Jahni saluted and started rousting the men into action. Madari and Noor set off to the guard house while Faraj rounded up the ten men who had been with him on the convoy. In the guardhouse mess Madari and Noor started to pull out cups and plates and food.

“Some good strong coffee for our returning heroes?” Noor said.

“Indeed, they look as if they haven’t slept much. You make that, let me see what there is to eat.”

“There’s stew left from lunchtime. Some of that and some bread should hold them until dinner.”

When Faraj arrived with his men a few minutes later he gave Madari and Noor an odd look. When Madari began to cut a loaf of bread Faraj spoke.

“Sir, let one of the men -”

“Sit down, all of you, you look tired. Stew will be ready soon.”

Still looking dubious Faraj ordered the men to the tables. They sat, though Faraj jumped up again as soon as Madari came over and started handing out bowls of hot stew to the grateful men. Noor followed him and began pouring coffee.

“Sit down, Idris,” Noor said. “We can manage.” Faraj did, still looking awkward.

When the men had all they needed, Noor went outside to check on the unloading. Madari sat down at the table, sipping a cup of coffee and let Faraj and the men fill him in on all the details of their shopping spree.


Faraj emerged from the guardhouse thirty minutes later, to see men still hurrying around with boxes and crates. Noor stood by the door, in the shade, smoking a cigarette and watching the activity.

“Idris.” Noor offered him a cigarette and lit it for him. Faraj nodded his thanks.

“You have been busy,” Faraj said, looking around.

The wreckage of the shelled tower had been removed. What wood remained un-burnt from it lay in a pile beside the building that housed the furnace. Broken windows in the barracks buildings had been repaired. But the most obvious change was that the wire that had created a compound within the camp, caging in the prisoners, had been taken down. The wire itself lay in large rolls, put aside for repairs to the exterior wire. The wooden support posts lay with the other wood beside the furnace house.

“Ziyahd and his men?”

“In the guard’s barracks,” Noor said, nodding in that direction.

“Any sign of attack?”

“Nothing so far. There’s bound to at least be some recon soon, they’ve not had radio contact for nearly a week. But I doubt this place is high priority. The deliveries that were due haven’t arrived though.”

Faraj nodded along with Noor’s report. Then he yawned.

“Keeping you awake, Idris?”

“Sorry, Javid.” Faraj rubbed his eyes. “I’ve not had much sleep the last few days.”

“Have a nap until dinner,” Noor suggested. “Or until breakfast,” he added, smiling.

Faraj smiled back. “Perhaps I will,” he said. He was quite exhausted. Sleeping in the trucks, usually while on the move had not exactly been restful. He set off for the barracks and after a moment realised he was unconsciously heading towards where the gate had once stood. Noor grinned at him.

“This way is more direct,” he said, taking Faraj’s arm and steering him in the direction of the barracks.

In a moment they stepped inside. A few men were there, some of them changing into the new clothes Faraj’s party had brought. They nodded their gratitude to him. Faraj sat on his cot and started to remove his boots. As he straightened up he glanced across at Madari’s cot to see a small stack of new clothes on it, beside what he recognised as a kuffiyah belonging to Madari. A pair of sandals lay under the bed. Faraj frowned. In a quiet voice he spoke to Noor.

“The Major has not moved into General Ziyahd’s quarters?”

Noor glanced over at the other men and came and sat by Faraj.

“No. He’s still sleeping here.” When Faraj gave him a sidelong glance he raised a hand, leaned close to Faraj. “I know. He shouldn’t be. But he’s worried about putting himself ‘above’ the other men.”

“He is above them,” Faraj said, frowning, not understanding the problem. “He’s the commander.”

“He said he doesn’t want to stay in quarters that are more comfortable than the rest of us.” Noor sighed. “Perhaps it is also, well, because Ziyahd is still here. The Major may have no respect for the man but he does for the rank.”

Faraj nodded slowly. That could be the reason. And he knew Madari still lacked some of the confidence he once had. He put on a good show, but Faraj knew him too well to be fooled.

“Then the sooner that worm Ziyahd is gone the better.”


Faraj’s wish came true the next day.

Right after breakfast they put food and water into the trucks and brought out the prisoners, split them into three groups and loaded each group into a truck. Then they loaded in the guard dogs after them. Some of the guards smiled and petted the animals and the dog’s tails thumped on the floor of the truck. Watching that, Noor smiled. He’d raised the issue of the dogs with Madari a couple of days ago. They were no use now, but Madari had ordered them fed and cared for and decided they would leave with the guards.

Before the doors were closed Noor stepped up to one truck.

“Doctor,” he said, “Come with me.” Dr Rachad glanced over at Ziyahd, who sat with his head down and said nothing. Rachad gave his commander a dirty look. One of the other officers spoke as the doctor rose.

“Where are you taking him?”

“Just to collect medical supplies, he’ll be back momentarily,” Noor said. He helped the doctor down out of the truck and took him towards the guardhouse. “Don’t worry, doctor, no-one is going to hurt you.” Rachad nodded, looking reassured.

They walked into the infirmary to find Madari leaning against one of the beds. Jahni stood nearby.

“Doctor Rachad,” Madari rose and offered the doctor his hand. Rachad shook it. “I wanted a chance to speak to you before you left. I want to thank you for the way you have treated me this last year. And of course all of the prisoners.”

“I was only doing my job, Major.”

“That in itself makes you an exceptional man in the current circumstances.”

“Thank you, sir. I will make it clear in my report that we have been treated properly while your prisoners. I will see that is on record.”

“Thank you.”

Rachad stepped closer to Madari and Noor saw Jahni tense and step closer too.

“Major… Faris. Good luck, to you. May God bless the course you take now.” Madari smiled at him and pressed his hand to his heart, bowed his head to the doctor. “Sir,” Rachad went on, his voice tight. “If I did not have my family to think of, if not for them, I would stay. I would ask you if I could -”

“Doctor.” Madari put a hand on Rachad’s shoulder. “I am honoured. I would be glad to have you stand with us. But go and take care of your family.”

They shook hands again then Madari glanced over towards Dr Al-Hijazi who had come to stand beside Noor, carrying a leather case.


Al-Hijazi handed the case to Rachad. “Your doctor’s bag. I’ve added any supplies you might need with you today.”

“Thank you.” The two doctors shook hands, “Good luck.” Rachad said again, to all of them this time.

Noor glanced at his watch, a Timex. Faraj had brought a case of them back. Noor smiled to imagine Faraj looking at the one on his wrist and missing his Rolex every time he did so.

“It is time to go.”


Madari left Noor in charge of the camp and they set out, the three trucks led by a Jeep, driven by Jahni and carrying Madari and Faraj. Madari’s officers in the trucks guarded the prisoners and kept in touch by walkie talkie.

“Ten miles from town, do you think?” Madari said to Faraj, consulting a map. He pointed at the town they were planning to drop the prisoner off near. “They can walk that before dark, on the road.”

“Sounds fair to – Lieutenant!” Faraj cried, grabbing at the side of the Jeep as they swerved suddenly.

“Sorry.” Jahni said. “Pothole, don’t want to blow a tyre.”

“He did once tell me he is a terrible driver,” Madari said. He glanced back. The trucks avoided the pothole more sedately. “Slow down a little, Lieutenant. Don’t get too far ahead of the trucks.”

“Yes, sir.”

An hour later they reached the coordinates. Madari stood up in the jeep and checked around with the binoculars. The road stretched on ahead, over flat ground. The desert was thin here, the terrain scrubby. Far off a dark smudge might have been the town, but it was hard to say with the heat haze shimmering. They’d seen no other vehicles on the journey. This was a remote area, and the nearby town was small and isolated. To the south hills rose, rocky and forbidding. Madari trained the glasses on those for a while. There was movement there. Goats perhaps. Goats, he thought suddenly. A few goats would be very useful to pick up. Easy to feed. On the other side of the road the desert stretched away until dunes rose a half mile or so off. Impossible to see anything after that.

Madari jumped from the Jeep, winced for a second at the impact of his feet on the road. “Let’s do it.” Faraj and Jahni joined him and the men in the truck cabs climbed out.

In a moment the guards and the dogs were assembling on the road. Madari’s men were giving packs to some of them, to carry the food and water.

“You cannot get lost if you stay on the road,” Madari said to Ziyahd, who stood there scowling at him and at Jahni who stood at Madari’s elbow, his rifle trained on Ziyahd.

Faraj was forming the guards up into an orderly column. Madari suspected there was little chance of them staying that way. One of Madari’s men came up to Ziyahd, with quite a small pack and offered it to the general, who just stared at him in apparent disgust. Madari dismissed the man with a wave of his hand.

“You will be destroyed, Madari,” Ziyahd said. “What do you think you can do with a handful of officers and a rag-tag mob of civilians who don’t even have one gun each?” He looked around at Madari’s men, sneering.

“Shut up,” Jahni growled.

“You will fail.” Ziyahd went on. “You are broken inside, Madari. You don’t have the stomach for this.” He glanced at the dogs that strained at leashes, more eager than the men for the long walk ahead. “If you did then you’d have shot those animals five days ago, not wasted food and water on them.”

“Take your place, General,” Madari ordered. Ziyahd glared at him and stamped over to the column. As he moved to the head of it he snatched the cap off one of the officers and put it on his own bare head, shielding himself from the fierce sun.

“Wrong place.” Jahni muttered as Ziyahd stood at the front, ready to lead the men. Faraj walked to the front, checking the men. He stopped on the way and gave his kuffiyah to the man whose cap Ziyahd had taken. Then he walked up to Madari and saluted.

“Ready, sir.”

“Proceed, Captain.”

Faraj gave orders and the column began to move, while Ziyahd hastily added his own orders to move out. The guards trooped away, out of step, heads down.

“Anyone want to bet that within two miles Ziyahd will be ordering them to carry him?” Jahni said, grinning. The officers laughed. Madari suppressed a smile.

“Alright, ten minute break, get some food and water and then we -”

“Sir.” Faraj interrupted Madari, his voice quiet. He was looking across the road, across the desert to the sand dunes. Madari followed his gaze. On top of a dune, outlined against the washed out sky, stood a horseman.

“He has a rifle,” Ishaq reported, studying the man with binoculars. “Slung,” he added as the men around him moved nervously. “He’s a Bedouin.”

“How long has he been there?” Madari asked. No one could give him an answer. A second later the man wasn’t there any more. He spurred his horse and rode off down the other side of the dune, vanishing from sight. Madari watched for a while. There were a few Bedouin tribes in the area. Ahmed had always said they were fine fighters, but they had their own loyalties. He shook himself and turned back to his men.

“Ten minutes,” he repeated and the men hurried off to get themselves food and water.

By the time the Jeep and trucks made U-turns in the road and drove off the column of guards was lost to sight in the heat haze.

Chapter 2

Madari woke on his cot with a sharp cry and sat up. Jahni sat up on his cot and looked at him in the moonlight.

“I’m alright.” Madari said, his voice low. But he didn’t prevent Jahni reaching a hand out to stroke his arm. He allowed that for a moment then the touch sent a thrill through him that signalled danger. He moved away. “Thank you, Kahil. I’m fine.” A few other men were stirring, Noor included. Madari got up, put on his sandals and slipped a long shirt on.

Jahni began to get out of bed too, but Madari said: “No, sleep, Kahil, please.” Slowly, not looking happy about it, Jahni covered himself up again and lay down. Madari smiled at him, trying to reassure him. “I just want some fresh air. Go back to sleep.”

Madari headed out of the barracks. The night air was cool and he breathed deeply. His mind wandered to the cigars that he knew were in a humidor in Ziyahd’s quarters. His nicotine cravings had died long ago. Cigarettes he could take or leave and hadn’t bothered with the trading needed to get hold of a regular supply while he was a prisoner. But sitting with Smith, smoking the cigar had brought back good memories of leisurely after dinner cigars. Of just sitting and smoking and talking or thinking.

Two minutes later he was in Ziyahd’s sitting room lighting a cigar. He sat on the couch and stretched his legs out in front of him with a sigh of pleasure.

He looked up at the sound of a soft cough from the door to the office. Noor stood there.

“May I join you?”

“Of course,” Madari said, sitting up. He picked up the humidor and offered it to Noor who took a cigar. Lighting it he sat in a chair opposite Madari.

“Kahil was fretting, I thought I should come and make sure you were alright.”

Madari sighed. “Kahil seems to have become my bodyguard, Javid.”

“I know,” Noor smiled. “Do you know what some of the men call him? Madari’s Shadow.” He laughed. Madari didn’t, in fact it worried him.

Noor became serious again. “Why fight it, sir? If protecting you comes naturally to Jahni then why not use that? Make him responsible for your personal security.” He blew a smoke ring and smiled.

Madari nodded slowly. Ahmed had always taught him that a good commander finds out what his men’s individual strengths are and uses them to maximum effect. “Yes, I think you’re right, Captain.”

Noor looked satisfied. He looked around the room.

“So when are you going to move into these rooms?”

Now Madari frowned at him. He valued Noor for his directness, but sometimes he found it uncomfortable.

“I wasn’t planning to.”

“You should,” Noor said. He held up a hand. “I know, sir, that you don’t want to live more comfortably than the rest of us, but you don’t have to.” He stood up. “Follow me.”

Madari was surprised, but did so. They walked through to the bedroom, with its large comfortable bed. Madari had spent one night in that bed, when he was too tired to resist, but since then had slept in the barracks.

“We need wood for the furnace, to drive the generator.” Noor said. “This bed is made of wood, so we chop it up and you move a cot in here. If you want we can rip out the carpet too.” He looked at Madari. “Sir, you’re the commander. That may not mean that you should have better conditions than the rest of us, but I do think it means you need to have a place where you can have peace and privacy, where you can think and plan.”

“I have the office.”

“You can’t relax in an office.” Noor said. “You need somewhere that’s your own space. That’s only sensible.

“Sensible. Yes. Yes it is.” He smiled at Noor. “You’re a wise man, Captain.”

“That’s what I keep telling people.”

They went back into the sitting room.

“This we can use as a meeting room,” Noor said. Or a ready room for you, or a combination.”

“Take that,” Madari pointed at the TV and video player, “to the rec room. And that radio -”

“Sir, there’s a half dozen radios on the camp. The men won’t begrudge you having one.”

“Oh. Right, well, yes, then I will keep the radio. The books you can take. I don’t exactly share Ziyahd’s taste in reading material.”

“I doubt many of us here do,” Noor said. “But, yes, we’ll take them too. Anything else?”

Madari looked at the humidor. He sighed. There were less than a dozen cigars in there, not enough to share out, and yet keeping them for himself would be selfish. Noor looked at the humidor too.

“Sir, there’s every chance we may have visitors. There are other guerrilla units out there that we must make contact with, make alliances with, you said that yourself.”

Madari had, a couple of days ago at dinner.

“The Bedouin too,” Madari said. Seeing the horseman today had reminded him of what Smith had said about the tribes.

Noor nodded in agreement. “Yes, they could be valuable allies.” He grinned. “Sounds like we’ll be hosting a few parties.”

Madari laughed. “Perhaps we should make this room into a diwaniya.”

“Good idea.” Noor laughed in return.

Madari folded his arms, hiding his hands up the loose sleeves of his shirt. Noor made a good case. Madari did need a place where he could have peace to think. And also… His mind turned to what brought him here tonight, out of the barracks. A nightmare, waking with, well, only a cry tonight, but how often was it a scream? Waking everyone in the room with him. Perhaps for everyone’s sake his having a private room was best.

But fear of that gripped him too. His nightmares were less horrific lately, he regained control quite quickly after waking, but was that down to the presence of Jahni, or, he added quickly in his mind, to whoever was watching over him that night? If he had to deal with it alone, if he had to lose that comfort, that voice…

“Sir?” Noor asked, making Madari look up at him.

“I’m sorry, Captain. I… I think you are right.” The men were the priority. They needed their sleep. They’d put up with his screams for a year, they deserved peace.

And then Noor threw him a lifeline.

“We have men on guard all night already. We should have one guarding your quarters.”

This time Madari didn’t object to this ‘special treatment’, because if Jahni was in charge of his security then at least some nights that guard would be Jahni. He smiled and took a deep breath. When he spoke again it was with the officer snap.

“Captain, ten o’clock tomorrow I want a meeting with all of the officers. We have plans to make. We need weapons.”

“Yes, sir. Some representatives from the civilians too, I would suggest.”

“Yes, excellent idea. I want those work rotas you are working on completed by then.”

“They’re done, sir.”

“And I want you to start thinking about where we might get hold of some goats.” He enjoyed the genuine look of bafflement on Noor’s face.



The only place large enough for the meeting was the mess hall in the guard house. Madari wondered for a moment if this should have included all of the men, but that would have to wait now. The offices and civilians sat around, wearing the clothes Faraj and his squad had brought back, impossible to tell from a quick glance who was a soldier and who was a civilian. But they were all his men, Madari thought, even if they all wore different clothes and not uniforms. He stood up.

“Gentlemen, welcome to our first briefing.” He paused a moment while some of them smiled and nodded. “I’ve a few announcements to make. Captain Noor has created a work roster and that’s pinned up there.” He nodded at a notice board. “Every man should check his duties there, please pass that on.” He glanced at the agenda paper in his hand. “I know many of you and the rest of the men are worried about your families and would like to contact them. So I propose this. I will send one man out with messages for anyone you care to write to. He will post letters and make telephone calls. Anyone he cannot contact he will try to visit personally. Once he has had contact with every family he will come back and report.”

The men exchanged looks and smiles, apparently liked the idea. Madari hoped it would help keep the men here. In the days while they were waiting for the trucks to return and the euphoria subsided, more than one man had come to say that he wanted to leave, at least temporarily to make sure his family were safe. Madari had asked them to wait and he hoped this plan would keep them here now.

“I’m asking for a volunteer from among the civilians. I need all of the officers here. Please pass that on and have volunteers submit their names, I’ll choose who goes.” He’d need a man he could trust to keep a low profile and that they could trust to return, especially as they would have to give him money to live on and to travel.

“Now I’ve designated each of the officers and some of the civilians with individual projects and responsibilities. Doctor.” He bowed his head to Al-Hijazi. “You of course are in charge of the infirmary. I believe we have three ex medical students among the other civilians?”

“Yes,” Al-Hijazi said. He gave a wry smile. “Not a large staff, but I will manage.”

“Good. You are also going to train the civilians in combat first aid and I want at least five of them trained as field medics.” Al-Hijazi looked slightly alarmed and Madari smiled at him. “I know you are not a military doctor, sir. But there are manuals and references in the infirmary.”

“I will manage, Major,” the doctor said, sounding as if he was trying to convince himself too.

“Captain Noor, you of course are my first office, Captain Faraj the second and my executive officer.”

There was a slight stir among the men and even a short laugh from someone. Madari looked up surprised. Did they have a problem with Faraj?

“Is there an objection?”

“No, sir.” Lieutenant Ishaq spoke up, “It’s just… Well we are guerrillas aren’t we?” He was smiling, but nervous.

“Yes, we are, Lieutenant.” Madari smiled too and Ishaq looked relieved. “But we are not living in tents in the desert. We have a well equipped military base under our control. And some of us are trained officers. We’re not a rabble or a gang. We are guerrillas and I know we will have to fight in ways that are very different to the way we were trained. But I think that if we combine the advantages of the guerrilla fighter with the training and discipline we have, we can become a fighting force of irregulars that the government will have no idea how to deal with.”

A murmur of approval rose from the men, rumbled around the room and died down again as he waited.

“All right. I’ll talk to each of you in turn to explain exactly what your responsibilities are, but let me run through quickly. Captain Fahad, you’ll be in charge of the vehicles.” Fahad nodded and smiled. The motor pool might not be a glamorous job, but the trucks and jeeps were their lifeline. And from talking to Fahad, Madari had learnt that, back home at least, he was never happier than when up to his elbows in grease tuning his car to peak performance.

“Noor is going be in charge of training the civilians and several of you will be assigned to help him…” He read out the names. He glanced at Jahni as he did so and saw some disappointment in his eyes as his name didn’t appear. “Captain Faraj will control weapons training, assigned to him…” More names and Jahni was clearly listening for his. When it didn’t come this time either he looked down. He was sitting on the edge of a table, one foot on the floor, the other swinging.

“Lieutenant Jahni.” Madari said and Jahni looked up at once, face expectant. “Will be in charge of security.” Jahni frowned, clearly unsure if he’d just been given a good job or not.

After he’d finished the assignments Madari reached for a glass of water and drank to soothe his sore throat. Some of the men bent over talking to each other quietly in the pause. He cleared his throat and they brought their attention back to him.

“We have some supplies, thanks to Captain Faraj, but what we don’t have is enough weapons. Our first mission is to obtain those weapons.” He walked over to a wheeled notice board and pointed to a map pinned up there.

“The Al-Kurandu army base. One hundred miles from here approximately. It’s the central supply depot for all the bases in the north of the country. Including this one.” He stopped and smiled. “Now I fear they’re unlikely to allow us to requisition anything.”

“Worth a try, sir,” Noor said, with a grin. “They’ve probably not had the paperwork through yet telling them not to.” The men laughed, Madari smiled, shook his head.

“I wish we were that lucky, Captain. But we are going to have to go in and take what we need. And soon. To train our civilian volunteers we will need guns.” He tapped the map. “This is where we will get them. In two weeks time.”

Now there was a stir of surprise, some nervousness.

“A small force, trained men only.” Madari said. “While the training of the civilians begins, starting with getting them fit, we will also be planning this raid. And in two weeks time we will execute it.”

He looked around at them, at their faces that were a mix of rapt and nervous.

“I will let you know later today who is going on the mission. Now please check the work rotas and, Captain,” he turned to Noor. “Arrange for each man to come and talk to me for more detail about his duties.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Dismiss,” Madari said, and his voice cracked and came out in a whisper.

“Dismiss,” Faraj repeated, his voice crackling with authority. Madari smiled and gave his XO a short nod of gratitude. The men rose with much scraping of chairs and filed out starting to talk amongst themselves. Madari nodded at Faraj and Noor who remained behind. Faraj was already writing in his notebook, presumably working out the talks Madari would have with each officer, or group of officers.

“I’ll be in my office.” Madari said, send the first man to me as soon as you’re ready.” He unpinned the map from the board and folded it. “Don’t forget to check the work rota.” Faraj frowned and appeared to be about to speak but then didn’t. Madari walked out.


Five minutes later Faraj marched into Madari’s office. The door was open as two men were manoeuvring out Ziyahd’s bed. Faraj stared at that, and then turned to Madari as the men left the room with the bed.

“Sir, I…” He hesitated. He was frowning, biting his lip.

“What’s wrong, Captain?” Madari asked. He picked up a folded cot that stood against the wall and took it through to the sitting room and onto the bedroom, nodding at Faraj to follow him. He noticed Faraj glance around the sitting room as they passed through, seeing the comfortable armchairs were gone, the television and VCR were missing.

In the bedroom Madari began to unfold the cot and Faraj hurried to help him.

“Sir,” Faraj began again. “I was checking the work rotas. I think there’s a mistake.”

“Really?” Madari suspected this would come. He knew what Faraj was going to say. “What mistake is that?” He smoothed out the blankets on the cot and thumped the pillow a couple of times.

“Well, the officers are on the rota, for job like – like laundry and cleaning and -”

“And why shouldn’t they be?” Madari asked. He straightened up and turned to Faraj. “Who else is going to do the work, Idris?”

“Well, the men, the civilians…”

“Faraj, can’t you see that there will already be a natural divide between the officers and the civilians. Do you wish to deepen that division?”

“No, but -” Faraj stopped and frowned and then stood so straight he was almost at attention. “I am an officer of the Royal Guard. Manual work is beneath me!” His voice rose. Not to a shout, but his outrage was clear.

“My name is on the rotas too,” Madari said. “Or did you not notice?”

“It shouldn’t be!” Faraj snapped. “You are the commander. The men need to respect you, look up to you. How can they do that if they see you… see you mopping showers or washing clothes?”

“You know my grandfather used to teach me that a commander should never order any of his men to do anything he was not ready to do himself.”

“With respect, sir,” Faraj said, stiffly, “I doubt that the Colonel was talking about laundry.”

“Perhaps not,” Madari said. “But it applies. I will not put myself above civilians who have volunteered to fight for me. I am their commander, yes, but by their consent only.” Madari realised his voice was rising, along with his frustration. He restrained himself, as much because of the pain that stabbed at his throat, as because he didn’t want to get into a row with Faraj. “Idris, you’ve been doing these jobs for a year now -”

“I had no choice!”

“And now you have a choice.” Madari said, meeting Faraj’s eyes. “If you stand with me it’s in battle and in the laundry or the kitchen.”

Faraj held his gaze for a while, and then looked away.

“I am not the only officer who feels this way.” His voice was quiet.

“Then they have the same choice to make as you.”

Faraj looked back at him. He really was standing at attention now, Madari thought. Back stiff and straight.

“May I be dismissed, sir?”

“You may, Captain. You will report later with the men assigned to you for weapons training.”

“Yes, sir.” Faraj turned on his heel and marched out. Madari sighed as the door closed behind him and he sank down to sit on his cot. He had been right, had known that would come. He worried that it wasn’t only a few of the officers who felt that way, but some of the civilians too. Many of them were from privileged backgrounds, unused to doing any kind of manual labour, of the domestic kind or otherwise. It wasn’t that they were lazy. Madari had seen Faraj train all day under the blazing sun before, but hand him a shovel and ask him to dig an emplacement and you’d get a haughty stare that suggested you were mad.

But there was no choice. The work had to be done; they were the only ones here to do it. Faraj and anyone else with objections would have to bite the bullet and start getting their hands dirty.


He looked up, at the sound of Jahni’s voice, coming through from the office. For a moment he thought of calling Jahni to come through, but decided that would be a mistake. He walked through the living room into the office.

“Am I disturbing you?” Jahni asked. “Captain Noor did say to come in and see you about my orders.”

“Sit down, Lieutenant.” He waved Jahni to a chair and went to sit behind the desk. But then he stood up again and came around the front of the desk, and leaned against it.

“Your duties as head of security are to ensure the camp is guarded, including individual buildings, the armoury, the guardhouse, and the vehicles.”

Jahni looked intent and serious. He had a small notebook with him. Madari noticed all of the officers seemed to have taken one from the stationery store. Jahni made fast notes as Madari spoke.

“You’ll draw up the duty rosters, for sentries, patrols and the towers. All the men in the camp are available to you for guard duty, including all of the officers. And myself.” Jahni glanced up, surprised at that, but went on writing.

“The other part of your duties concerns my personal security.”

Jahni stopped writing and looked up, eyes wide.

“We will have to make contact with other rebel groups, other fighters. When we do go to meet them I’ll need security. I want you to be in charge of that.”

“You mean to be your bodyguard?”

“Essentially.” Madari smiled. “Not just you of course, as we train up the civilians you’ll choose two of them to specialise along with you.”

“Yes sir.” Jahni looked back down, started writing again. He was trying, not very hard, to hide a smile.

“While we’re on the camp you’ll need to organise a guard for these quarters, day and night.”

Jahni glanced up sharply. “Day and night,” he echoed. “Yes.”

“One thing, Kahil.” He used the name deliberately, invoking the bond they had, temporarily doing away with formality. “When we are on a mission, actually in combat, then that part of your job stops, do you understand? I will fight like everyone else and you will fight without looking out for me. You are not my bodyguard on the battlefield.”

“I – I understand, sir.” He didn’t sound happy about it.

Madari pushed away from the desk, standing straight. Jahni stood up too.

“Get straight down to work, Lieutenant.”

“Yes, sir.” He passed the notebook into his left hand and held out his hand to shake Madari’s. Madari hesitated only for a second before he took Jahni’s hand and shook it. “Thank you for showing this confidence in me, sir.”

“You’re welcome. Ah, did you check the work rota too?”

“Yes, sir. In fact I need to get to the kitchens now. I’m already late.”

“You don’t mind having to do… that kind of work? I’m told some of the officers are not happy about it.”

Jahni shrugged. “It’s got to be done.”

Madari nodded, pleased. “Yes. Don’t let me keep you.”

Jahni turned smartly and marched out. Madari watched him go, then went and sat behind his desk. He took out the map and opened it on the table. Time for him to get down to work.


“Two weeks,” Madari said, and took a sip of coffee. “Two weeks since we took the camp.”

Noor stood beside him, a mug of coffee in one hand and a cigarette in the other. They were watching the morning PT session going on in the yard, several officers taking the civilians through a workout.

“I find it hard to believe we’re still here,” Noor said. “Every day I look south and expect to see bombers heading for us, then ground troops to finish us.”

“If they do that they have to acknowledge we are here,” Madari said, “that the prison was here and that the prison fell into our hands.” He smiled. “That may not be politically convenient at the moment.”

He drank some more coffee. “But keep working on the evacuation plans, Captain.”

“Yes sir. If we have to take our show on tour we’ll be prepared.” He smiled when Madari gave him an odd look.

“Your ability to put a cheerful slant on every situation can be highly irritating, Javid,” Madari said, in a teasing tone.

“So my wife tells me,” Noor said and then sighed. “I wonder if she has received my letter yet.” He looked off into the distance, down the road the man they’d chosen to carry their messages had taken. “I wonder how Mahran is doing.”

Madari didn’t answer. Mahran was a bright young man. A student, ordinary looking, even tempered and cool headed. Madari had chosen him and now fretted about him. If he was captured they’d try to extract information from him. To send a man to face that danger made Madari sick with worry. He knew he himself would sooner die than go through that again. His sanity would not survive it a second time. He had made certain preparations, in case he should be captured before he could escape or use his pistol on himself. He shivered despite the heat.

Noor glanced at his watch.

“Ten minutes for the briefing.” He tapped his coffee mug against Madari’s. “You want another?”

Madari looked down at his cup. “Have we much coffee left?”

“Enough for a month at least,” Noor said. “But some of the other supplies have to be rationed.”

“We will need to make a supply run soon,” Madari said. “But it is risky. We need to work out a way to get supplies coming to us.”

“Agreed,” Noor said. “And I’m still working on those goats you ordered me to get. I think there’s a way to solve both problems.” He looked out into the distance. “The answer is out there, isn’t it, sir?”

“Yes, Captain, it is.” Madari smiled at him. “It seems we are on the same wavelength.” He looked out across the desert too. The eye of his imagination let him think he could see it again, the black clad figure on horseback. They would make contact first. Pursue them and they would vanish into the sand. Wait for them and they would come. When they were ready.

They walked into the guard house mess. It was already set up for the latest briefing on the mission to steal weapons. Their training for that was going well. Noor strolled over and looked at the large plan of the Al-Kurandu base they had pinned to a notice board.

“Sir, there is something we should discuss,” Noor said, turned back to look at Madari. He sounded very serious now, that optimistic note gone from his voice. “Some of the men have not been in combat before.”

Madari frowned. “Of course they haven’t, they’re civilians.”

“I don’t mean them, sir,” Noor said, coming over to Madari and sitting down beside him. “I mean some of the officers. Ishaq, Ruhul, Yassin, Darak, Jahni.” He shrugged. “The night we took this place of course, but otherwise…”

Madari didn’t answer, troubled suddenly. He had not considered this point and that was foolish of him. The men were trained of course, but how a man would react when faced with live ammunition and live opponents could never be predicted. All of the names Noor had mentioned were on the mission. Should he start to reconsider?

But there weren’t enough men for that. And besides, they would have to go into combat eventually. A mission like this, more like a robbery, may be a good way to break them in. It could, if it went to plan, be a very similar scenario to taking this facility. They intended to sneak onto the base, overpower the guards on the armoury and spirit away what they needed. If possible Madari wanted to avoid a pitched battle. He wanted to be well away from the base before anybody raised the alarm.

“Thank you for reminding me, Captain,” Madari said. “I will reconsider the fire teams to ensure there is a combat veteran within each one.”

“Good idea, sir.” Noor finished up his coffee. “Excuse me, sir. I’ll be back in a moment for the briefing.”

Madari nodded at him, and then got up as Noor left the room. He walked to the papers where he’d written down the squads he was breaking the men into for the mission and started to make some adjustments.

Chapter 3

Five days later and they were ready. They had better be ready, because tonight was when they had to go. Moonless and, as luck would have it, cloudless, the inky blackness would hide the dark clad men who sat quiet and tense in the back of one of the trucks. A second truck followed, empty.

Fahad and his men had worked on tuning the trucks and had achieved miracles as far as Madari was concerned. He’d heard it said that the loudest sound in a Rolls Royce was the dashboard clock, but he never thought the same could be said of a two and a half ton truck. He smiled. Of course that was an exaggeration, but the trucks were remarkably quiet.

He glanced around at the men. Some were sitting with eyes closed, some gazed into the distance. A couple were using prayer beads. Three of them were playing cards. No different from the drives to a mission that Madari had been on before, except for the fact that they were in civilian clothes and not uniform. He was finding that hard to get used to.

Putting on his uniform had always been an act that made Madari feels different. Made him stronger, as it tied him by duty and honour to all those who wore the same uniform. Obligated him to live up to what the uniform demanded. Was that an indispensable part of being a soldier? Without it they could call themselves guerrillas but was that only a prevarication? What made a guerrilla different from a bandit? His motives perhaps, but not his clothes or his actions.

It was Madari’s job now, to hold these men together with no army authority to back him up. He wished he felt stronger. He wished he had his uniform. Perhaps Ziyahd was right. Perhaps he didn’t have the stomach for this. Did he really have the strength to lead these men?

He sighed and rested his head back against the wall of the truck, closed his eyes. After a moment he felt a hand touch his, where it rested on the bench. He knew it was Jahni, who sat on his right. Jahni was talking to Darak, his conversation continued without a break, but the side of his hand pressed against the side of Madari’s. Madari hoped that Jahni could be trusted to remember his instruction not to be Madari’s bodyguard while in action. He’d deliberately placed Jahni on a different team from the one he’d be leading himself. He hoped Jahni could maintain his concentration.

It was almost three a.m. when they approached the gate to the base. Madari, who had moved into the cab with Noor. One man guarded the gate, as expected. Doubtless tired and bored and seeing a couple of army trucks approaching, he showed no suspicion or alarm as he approached the truck.

Noor opened the door hard into the man’s face and the soldier fell without a sound.

Madari took a shaky breath. “Secure the gate house, Captain.”


One truck stayed outside; backup in case this all fell apart. The gate guard was concealed in the gate house and one of Madari’s men dressed in the guard’s uniforms took up position in the gatehouse. He kept a walkie-talkie. They had enough radios for this mission, but not many more. Madari had more walkie talkies on their little shopping list.

The truck full of men drove slowly through the silent sleeping base. A truck even at this time of night wasn’t a strange sight on a supply base so they aroused no apparent suspicion from the few people they passed, mostly guards on buildings.

The base wasn’t a garrison, the number of soldiers stationed here was small, but enough to make things very inconvenient if someone raised the alarm. So the men carried rifles, but Madari hoped none of them would have to use them.

“Armoury.” Noor said as they approached. “Two guards.”

Madari nodded. Two guards and one entrance. This was both good and bad. If the alarm was raised when they were inside they’d be trapped. On the other hand, they’d be very well armed.

Madari looked back into the truck at the tense and pale faces of his men.

“Ready? On my command.”


Five minutes later they were inside. The two guards, bound and gagged and stripped of their uniforms lay on the floor and Jahni and Fahad stood outside guarding the door and the truck.

The interior of the stone building echoed to their footsteps and Madari decided rubber soled shoes instead of boots might be a good idea.

“Spread out,” he ordered, the echo making him whisper. His heart hammered, seeming to be right in his throat. “You all know what we need. Keep the noise down as much as you can. Quickly now.”

They dispersed. Madari led his small squad, Lieutenants Ruhul and Darak, as they checked the crates. One by one they started taking the crates of useful items to the doorway. Some men found trolleys to help them move faster. There was a forklift truck and a couple of the men knew how to operate it, but Madari feared the noise would be too much of a risk. Even the noise of trolley wheels over the stone flags on the floor made him wince.

“Rocket launchers,” Noor said with a grin when Madari met up with him at one point using a trolley to carry six long crates.

“Excellent. Don’t forget the rockets,” Madari said. He handed up a box of frag grenades to the two men inside the truck stacking and securing the rather explosive cargo. “How many rifles have we picked up?” Madari asked.

“Sixty.” One of the men in the truck confirmed.

“Try to get thirty more,” Madari ordered Noor as he set off back inside.

Their luck held for almost half an hour as they loaded rifles, pistols, grenades, rocket launchers and as much ammunition as they could find, into the truck.

Then, as Madari was going through boxes, hoping to find walkie talkies, Jahni’s voice came over the radio.

“There’s a car just gone past. It slowed right down and went on again. I think it may be time – ” His voice was cut off by the shriek of the alarm.

“Retreat!” Madari snapped over the radio. “Everybody back on the truck right now!”

He ran, Ruhul and Darak at his side. At the door he chivvied them on, sent them climbing into the truck. He counted as the men came running from various parts of the armoury.

“That’s everyone,” Madari said when the last man ran past him. “Come on,” he ordered Jahni and Fahad who were still on the ground, rifles out, ready to fight the soldiers they could see approaching, but still out of range.

The three men climbed aboard and Noor yelled “Go!” at the driver.

Now the truck roared as it sped off. Men held down the crates and boxes, looking fearful of the firepower they were sitting on.

They had almost reached the gate when three jeeps screeched around a corner and began to pursue. Men stood up in the jeeps and opened fire on the truck. Madari’s men hit the floor, when they could find it between the crates.

“Return fire!” Madari ordered Jahni and Fahad who were beside him still at the back of the truck looking over the flap.

Their rifles and Madari’s spat back at the jeeps. More fire came from over their heads as men stood up behind them. The jeeps dropped back abruptly.

“Gate is closed!” The driver yelled from the cab, Madari recognised Faraj’s voice. “Hang on!”

They hit the gate going at least forty miles per hour and Madari heard the windscreen smash. They slowed only briefly as the truck shed the remains of the gate.

“Where’s the second truck?” Madari called.

Noor had gone into the cab and shouted back.

“Just raised him on the radio. Retreated as ordered, about ten minutes ahead of us down the road.”

“Tell him to keep moving!” Madari looked back. The three jeeps were still pursuing, but keeping out of range of rifle fire. “We need to shake them off,” he said.

Jahni nodded and turned back, scrambled among the crates and a second later was levering the lid off one of the long ones Noor had brought out. He heaved out the rocket launcher, with a grim smile on his face. Darak gave him a rocket from another crate.

“You know how to operate that?” Madari hoped so.

Jahni just nodded. Fahad on Madari’s other side had followed Jahni’s example and was extracting one of the other rocket launchers.

“I don’t know how accurate we can be bouncing around in here.” Fahad said.

“Just stop them following us, Captain, Lieutenant.” Madari glanced between the two men, both wearing army uniforms, but stolen ones, about to fire on army Jeeps. On fellow soldiers. For him, because he ordered them to. Jahni was kneeling up one knee now, the rocket launcher on this shoulder. It weaved around as the truck hurtled too fast along the bumpy road. Jahni was taking his time setting up his shot, Madari thought. Aiming as best he can. He’s sweating. He’s…

Jahni turned and looked at him, eyes wide.

“Faris.” Madari read his lips rather than heard the sound. “I…”

Behind Madari Fahad fired and Madari looked around instinctively as the rocked whooshed away. It missed, but not by much, striking the ground in front of one Jeep, and blowing a small crater in the road surface. The Jeep’s nearside front wheel hit the crater blowing out the tyre. The Jeep skidded to a halt. Madari turned back to Jahni, just as Jahni fired his rocket. His missed too, but the explosion on the road in front of the Jeep was enough to make the driver swerve right off the road. The last Jeep continued on briefly then slowed and reversed back up the road.

The truck sped on. Madari sighed with relief and glanced first at Jahni and then at Fahad. Fahad was calmly stowing the rocket launcher. Jahni though still knelt up holding his, staring back at the Jeeps. Madari leaned over to him.

“Kahil, look at me.” Jahni did at once. What was in his eyes was fear, Madari knew. Not fear of the fighting, of getting hurt or killed, but what he had almost done there, would have to do one day.

“Kahil, you did not kill anyone.” Madari said, softly.

Jahni turned away, closing his eyes, looked embarrassed. He lowered the rocket launcher and turned back to put it in its crate. Madari sighed and turned to go through to the cab. He squeezed past and crawled over crates until he got to the front.

“Call Husam,” he said to Noor, referring to the man driving the backup truck. “Tell him to slow and let us catch up.”

“Right, sir, in one second.” Noor said, sounding harried, and Madari noticed he was pulling dressings from the first aid kit. Madari looked at Faraj to see his left sleeve was soaked with blood. His face was pale and sweating, but set and determined.

“Captain! Are you hit?”

“Glass, sir.” Faraj said. “Just a scratch.”

Madari glanced back. No more sign of pursuit. “As soon as we catch the other truck someone else will take over the driving,” he said, looking ahead through the broken windscreen, watching for their backup truck.

Then he turned back to the body of the truck, to the nervous looking but relieved men sitting around and on their stolen supplies.

“Well done, all of you,” Madari said and got smiles in return. Except from one man. Jahni sat with his back against a crate, his knees drawn up to his chest and a thousand yard stare in his eyes.


The sun was high as they neared the camp. Most of the men were now in the backup truck. Madari himself sat, dozing in the cab of the truck carrying the weapons, enjoying the breeze through the broken windscreen. Fahad was driving.

“Sir,” Fahad said, rousing Madari, as he brought the truck to a halt. Madari sat up, looked at Fahad and then ahead, where Fahad was staring.

There was a horseman on the road ahead of them. Black robed, mounted on a bay horse. He had a rifle on his back and his face was almost entirely covered by his headdress.

The Bedouin showed no sign of moving. He gazed back at the trucks. After a moment Madari opened the door and began to climb out. The horse showed some reaction to the noise and movement, the man showed none except to watch Madari closely. Madari heard a scrambling sound behind him and glanced back to see Jahni climb out. He was about to tell Jahni to stay where he was, but remembered the job he had given Jahni.

“Keep you weapon holstered,” Madari said, as he saw Jahni’s hand move to his sidearm. Jahni, reluctantly by the look in his eyes, moved his hand away. But he followed when Madari approached the Bedouin.

As a horseman himself Madari knew to keep well out of range of flying hooves. But he got close enough that he didn’t have to shout at the man.

“Peace be upon you.” He bowed his head. “We wish to pass.” No response. “My name is Madari. I command the camp to the east.”

“The prison.” The Bedouin man said.

“No longer a prison. But I think you probably know that.”

More silence.

“We fight the government,” Madari said, “We fight for the king.”

The Bedouin shrugged.

“The government are your enemies too,” Jahni called. Madari glanced back at him and he shut up.

“We are interested in trading,” Madari said, turning back to the horseman. We need supplies. We can barter.” The man looked at the trucks. Does he know what we have in there? Madari wondered. “And we can pay. Cash. Or gold.”

That caused some interest. Gold was a word that got a reaction.

“That’s a fine horse,” Madari said.

It was hard to say, but the man’s eyes seemed to show a smile.

“You know where to find us,” Madari said. Never push them, Ahmed had said. Never try to pin them down or tell them what to do. The man nodded and spurred his horse. Madari smiled as the Bedouin rode off into the desert. He turned to Jahni who was frowning.

“I thought that went rather well.”


Madari stepped out into the cool evening air. He had a midnight to eight guard duty shift. Three days since their successful raid and Jahni had, without needing orders, increased the guard. Now they had more weapons was an attack more or less likely? The government may be taking them more seriously now, but on the other hand they could be more cautious of attacking.

Jahni had taken the proper precautions though and Madari approved the new rota at once. He glanced up at the guard tower he was assigned to. He was to share the watch with a young student, Amir Jehzen, who was rather in awe him apparently. Madari hoped he could put the young man at ease or it would be an awkward eight hours.

He nodded at other men on guard as he walked to the tower and then began to climb the ladder. When he reached the hatch he pushed it open and climbed inside. A dark figure was outlined against the sky.

“Jehzen?” Madari said, wondering if his partner had reported yet.

“No, sir,” the voice was soft. “It’s me.”

“Kahil?” Madari said, surprised. Not a question really, he could never mistake that voice. Kahil.

“I swapped with Amir.” Jahni said.

“I see.” Madari moved away from the hatch and sat against the wall beside Jahni. He was pleased. The two of them had not had many chances to talk over the weeks since they took the camp. It would feel good to talk undisturbed. He was afraid too, of being here in the darkness with this man, but he trusted his own self control.

“I hope we have coffee up here,” Madari said. “If I’m to stay awake all night I’ll need it.”

“You can sleep if you want.” Jahni said.

“Sleeping on guard duty, Lieutenant? I’m shocked. How would it look to the men if I had to put myself on punishment detail?” There was no response.

“That was a joke, Kahil,” Madari said, patiently.

“Oh. Very funny, sir.”

Madari frowned in the dark. Jahni sounded low. And Madari had been aware that he had been quiet since the raid. Something was troubling him, clearly. Was that why he had swapped his guard shifts, to get the chance to talk to Madari about it? If so then perhaps Madari needed to raise the subject first, to get it done with, or they’d waste the night in stilted conversation.

Madari picked up the night vision field glasses and scanned the surrounding desert. Nothing moved that he could see.

“Even the scorpions are asleep.” Madari observed. He put the glasses down. “How are you feeling, Lieutenant? About the raid, about our first, well almost a month, here?”

“I feel good, sir, the work is going well and –”

“Kahil.” There was a warning tone in Madari’s voice. He would not stand for any forced cheerfulness. “The truth, Kahil. I think we can tell each other the truth.”

“The truth.” Jahni’s voice was a whisper. He paused a long time. “I miss my family and every day I want to run home to them. Now I can do that it feels worse then when I couldn’t. But I know I need to be here, to serve you.” The words got faster as he spoke, they tumbled out. “But now I don’t know if I am any use to you!”

“No use?” Madari didn’t understand. “Your work has been excellent, the security details and, Kahil, you know you are important to me, personally. Your…” He swallowed a couple of time. “When we talk. Your friendship helps me so much, you know that.” He reached out in the darkness, a little afraid of what he would touch, but found Jahni’s arm, laid a hand on it. “I have missed our talks.”

Jahni was quiet for a long time, he made some gulping sounds and Madari kept hold of his arm. Talk to me, Kahil. Madari thought. Tell me your fears as I’ve told you mine. Let me give you the strength you’ve given me.

“I couldn’t… I was afraid to fire. I froze.” He was talking about the mission, about the rocket launcher.

“You hesitated for a moment. But you did fire.”

“I should not have hesitated!” Jahni’s voice was angry now, angry at himself. Abruptly he moved away from Madari, stood up. Madari stood too. Jahni paced in the small space, a dark figure and a scuff of boot soles. “And I didn’t try to hit the Jeep! I missed deliberately.”

“You stopped them following,” Madari said. “That was what you were meant to do.”

“I was afraid!”

“You were afraid to kill them. There’s nothing wrong with that.”

“I’m a soldier. I was trained to kill men.”

“But you’ve never done so before. The first time is… especially difficult.” He shook his head, shaking away memories of a border skirmish and an ambushed patrol in the dark and the terror and the stutter of machine gun fire. And the dead man he would never stop seeing. He looked up again. Jahni had stopped pacing, stood at the lookout. There was enough light to pick out only the edges of his features.

“To take a life is never easy, Lieutenant. Not for a good man. If you have the choice not to kill, then always take it.”

“What if…” Jahni whispered. “What if I can never do it? I will never be able to fight, and I will never be able to protect you.” His head went down. “You can’t rely on me. I let you down.”

Madari went up to him, though didn’t touch him. “You did not let me down. You are a brave man.” Jahni made a soft click and shook his head at that, looking away. “Kahil,” Madari said, with a smile. “Only a very brave man would have attacked Sergeant Ghaith.”

Jahni’s head came up, and he smiled too, and then actually laughed. “Now him I would have killed.”

“Perhaps one day we’ll run into him again,” Madari said, putting his hand on Jahni’s shoulder. “Now, please, Kahil, don’t worry about it. I know when the moment comes that you will do what you have to do.”

Jahni stopped smiling and heaved a heavy sigh. “I hope I can, sir.”

The moment had passed and they moved away from each other. Madari found the switch to put on the dim light.

“Now, where is that coffee?”

“Here, sir,” Jahni pointed at the low table with a small stove and coffee-making supplies on it.

“Right. You keep watch, I’ll make us coffee.” Madari ordered.

A few moments later he handed Jahni a cup, stood beside him as they both drank. After a while Jahni spoke again.

“One thing about the raid, it was interesting to be back in uniform.” He laughed. “It wasn’t my uniform. But still, it was interesting. To feel like a soldier again.”

“Yes,” Madari said, slowly. “A uniform is important, isn’t it?”

“Of course, sir. I know we can’t wear them now of course, but it would be good to have something like that, something to bind us all together.”

“Yes.” Madari frowned. “Yes. I will have to think about that.”


He was still thinking about it two days later. Madari walked into one of the store rooms, to find Noor there, armed with clipboard and pen. Regular inventories were essential, Madari had decided.

“Ah, Captain, I was looking for you.”

“Just stocktaking, sir.”

Madari looked around. This store tended to get forgotten about, not food, medical equipment or weapons, it held everything else. Spare kitchen equipment, stationery, furniture, blankets. Madari wandered around while Noor muttered to himself, counting.

Some of the furniture was broken and could be sacrificed to the furnace when the time came. He looked at packets of paper and hoped there was enough for the reports he was writing.

Some of the others found that amusing, he could tell. Guerrilla leaders didn’t write reports. But Madari did. Perhaps he was clinging too hard to his training. But it was important to him. It was important to record the progress the civilians were making in their training, to single out for praise any man who did especially well.

Because all too soon any of those men might be dead and it was only right that they were not forgotten. Madari may not be able to give them promotions or commendations, but he could see that their actions did not go unrecorded. They were his men and it was important to him to give them that respect.

He shook himself from thinking about paper and reports and turned to a long table against the wall. It held stacked blankets, and sheets. But something else poked out from behind them. Madari went and checked it out. A bolt of blue cloth. He frowned at it for a moment, and then recognised the colour. He’d seen it in various places around the camp, as tablecloths, as curtains, as patches on the beaten up armchairs in the rec rooms.

He pulled the bolt out. It was heavy and he had to let it stand on end as he pulled it off the table. Stood on end it was taller than him. He unrolled a little of the cloth. Rather coarse, cheap fabric. The dye was faded at the exposed edges even under the dim light in here. But something about it called to Madari. The blue was beautiful to him, darker than sky blue, but not navy.

“Captain,” he called. “Can you find me a strong pair of scissors?”

Noor looked over at him and frowned then turned away. A few minutes later he came up to Madari and handed him a pair of kitchen scissors.

“Thank you.” Madari laid the bolt of cloth on the floor, knelt down and unrolled it a few feet. Noor stood watching him, a puzzled frown on his face. He thinks I’ve gone mad Madari thought. Perhaps he is right.

First Madari cut off the faded cloth that had been the outside of the roll and tossed that aside. Now, about six inches wide, he thought, and cut again, letting the scissors tear along the grain to keep him in a straight line. Another six inches and he cut again, then put down the scissors and stood up, holding in each hand a strip of cloth six inches wide and over six feet long. He held one out to Noor, who took it with a polite nod, but still bafflement and a tiny bit of worry on his face.

Madari smiled. He took the piece of cloth he held and tied it around his waist, knotting it twice. The ends of the strip hung down almost to his knees.

And now Noor smiled too. He copied Madari’s action. Bulkier around the waist than Madari, the end of the strip didn’t reach his knees, but it worked, Madari thought. It looked good. And in that second, standing in that dim corner, the strips of cheap cloth became something else, not just sashes, but something priceless. Symbols.

Noor adjusted his sash and smiled some more.

“Good, sir, very very good. Useful too, can be a bandage, or a sling, or a head scarf, or to wrap something in…” He went on listing all kinds of uses for it. Madari had not thought of any of them. He smiled and was grateful to have a practical thinker like Noor at his side.

“Right,” Noor said. “Those scissors won’t last, let me see if I can find dressmaking shears, or if not a whet stone to keep those sharp.” He hurried off and Madari knelt down and started to cut again and again.


Madari gathered the men in the yard, after sunset prayers. He and Noor carried armfuls of the sashes. They had worked in shifts, as their hands cramped. Madari’s right hand ached and he never wanted to see a pair of scissors again. He had certainly decided that should the need arise for a career change he would not be going into the tailoring business.

But it was done and he and Noor began to distribute the sashes to the initially puzzled men. But seeing how Madari and Noor wore them, they started to put them around their waists. A few individualists made Madari smile by wearing theirs over the shoulder like bandoliers. He didn’t mind, he had no rules, they could wear them around their necks as scarves or make them into turbans if they wanted to. It didn’t matter. What they symbolised was what mattered. When the sashes were all distributed he climbed into the back of a jeep so he could address them all.

“You are soldiers, all of you. Whatever we are called in the future, Guerrillas. Saboteurs.” He took a breath. “Terrorists.” He saw some of them look uneasy. They need not be. Madari vowed he would not take them there, would now make them into those kinds of men. “Soldiers wear uniforms and we have none of course. Let these sashes be a substitute, a symbolic uniform. I am proud of all of you, proud to lead you.” He took a breath and swallowed a few times, determined not to let his voice crack or shake, however much it hurt to project it across the yard like this. “Please, wear these symbols with pride.”

The men cheered and Madari sighed with relief. He’d started to fear they would consider the sashes foolish. But they seemed to have taken to them. Symbols were powerful, he thought. I have to use that, I have to create unity. Literally make us into a unit.

“Dismiss.” Madari said, and started to come down from the jeep. Jahni appeared to give him a hand down.

“Thank you, Kahil.” He wanted to ask Jahni what he thought of the sash, but Jahni’s walkie talkie sounded suddenly. The north-west tower calling. Jahni had clipped the radio to his new sash.

“Go ahead.” Jahni ordered, after he unclipped the radio.

“Two horsemen approaching from the north, Bedouin they look like.”

Jahni looked at Madari wide eyed.

“Keep them covered, but do not open fire unless fired on. Over,” Madari ordered. “Come on,” he said to Jahni, excitement filling him suddenly. This could be it. The contact they had waited for.

They picked up Faraj and Noor on the way and other men watched, but hung back as the senior officers went to the gate. Jahni stuck close to Madari, in bodyguard mode, Madari knew.

“Open the gate,” Madari ordered. Two men opened the gate and the officers waited in the open gateway until the horsemen rode up. They stopped short of the gateway. One dismounted, spoke a few words to the other, too quiet for Madari to hear, then he walked up to the officers. He carried a rifle on his back, and Madari could see that was making Jahni tense, but the man appeared to be no threat.

He scanned the group of men quickly then stood in front of Madari. He uncovered his face, revealing a young man, bearded, with a deep tan. Madari tried to decide if he was the same man they had met on the road, but could not be sure. He seemed to know me, he thought.

“Peace be upon you. I am Ghulam. I come to speak for Halais, my chief and my father. He invites you to negotiate.”

And Madari smiled, both in greeting and in relief. Dealing with the Bedouin was a delicate matter, but he would manage it, he was sure. He had to, they needed friends. No, not friends, they needed allies. He touched the sash at his waist and just knowing it was there gave his strength, made him remember who he was.

“Peace be upon you, Ghulam. I am Major Madari. I command here.”