Part 7: Allegiances

Chapter 1

Madari watched his men unload the supplies from a small truck. The Bedouin men who had delivered them stood around smoking and watching the soldiers work. Halais, who Madari had been surprised to see arrive with the truck, walked up to him, carrying a mug of tea from the mess.

“Halais,” Madari said, “I have your payment here.” He reached into his pocket and took out a large chunky ring. They still had some of Sergeant Baracus’s jewellery left. Once that ran out, they’d have to find something else to pay for supplies.

Halais checked over the ring, looking at the hallmark and the gems.

“Thank you, Major.” Halais smiled. He had no faith in paper money, but gold and gemstones certainly seemed to please him. “I think this will pay for your next delivery too.”

“Thank you.”

“I hear you had a visitor last week, Major.”

Madari raised his eyebrows. One of his officers could have told Halais that, but there was no reason they should. He suspected either Halais had one of the men in the camp reporting back to him, or he had someone out in the dunes spying on them.

“Yes. From another guerrilla group.”

“He was injured?”


“He has left now?”

“Yes.” Madari resisted telling him more, wanting to see how much he knew already. He trusted Halais; he just wished he could make the man trust him.

Halais nodded, but didn’t press.

“I believe you are going to a meeting with some other guerrilla leaders in a few days.”

“I am.” Now he couldn’t know that from a sentry spying on them from the dunes.

“Captain Noor mentioned it,” Halais said.

“Would you like to come with me?” Madari offered. “There will be other guerrilla leaders, and also some of our sympathisers still in place at the defence ministry. We’ll be discussing strategy, the larger campaign –”

“Major.” Halais laughed. “I only bring you supplies. I am not a guerrilla leader like you.”

“You could be,” Madari said. Directness was the best way with Halais in the end, he’d learnt that now. “Your men are well trained, well armed. If they fought alongside my men –”

“And what of my tribe, Major, my family?”

Madari glanced around to make sure nobody could hear them, and then turned to look at Halais.

“Bring them here. Live inside the camp with us, or outside. But join us.”

Halais stared at him.

“Live here?”

“Yes. I give you my word that my men will protect your people, if your men fight with us.”

The proposal clearly took Halais by surprise. Madari had been considering it for some time now. The Bedouin men would make fine allies. He smiled, thinking what Ahmed would say. A cavalry unit. Horses might be old fashioned, but they could reach places vehicles couldn’t. Some of his men were already trained riders, and others could learn. And the Bedouin could teach them to shoot from horseback.

“Major.” Halais paused. “I am not sure I am ready to put my people in so much danger.” He glanced around. “You are making preparations, Major. Preparations against attack.”

Madari didn’t look around. Didn’t need to. He knew about the work his men had done. Their good fortune couldn’t last much longer. Attack would come.

“Yes,” Madari said. “But this is a defensible position, unlike your camp in the desert.”

“It is also a known position,” Halais said. “Fixed. My people can move on at a moment’s notice.”

Halais looked around again. Madari followed his gaze this time. He looked at the anti-aircraft gun and then at the blockhouse. Nothing short of a direct hit would crack that open.

“I will consider your offer, my friend.” Halais held out his hand. “Enjoy your meeting.”

“I will give you a full report of it.”

“That’s quite unnecessary.”

Very likely, Madari thought. Very likely.

Later he watched the small truck leave, the Bedouin waving their goodbyes. The truck drove carefully as it went out of the gate, stayed within a narrow channel marked by ropes.

As it vanished from sight, Madari turned back and walked slowly to the mess to find some tea. He sat with several of his officers as he drank it. They chatted but he stayed quiet mostly. The subject of conversation turned to the meeting Madari would attend in a few days.

“Raslan’s going to be there,” Faraj said, making some of the others smile.

Raslan. The visitor they’d had last week. Madari smiled too. He glanced over at Jahni, who did not smile at the name. Jahni looked back at him, then looked down and frowned. Madari looked down too, to see his left hand, which rested on the table, trembling.

Quickly he moved it out of sight. I’m tired, he thought. And I’d been pent up waiting to speak to Halais. Reaction, that’s all.


“Tell me about Madari.”

Captain Raslan glanced first at his commanding officer. When General Dasham nodded, Raslan turned to answer Sheik Elahi, a sleek looking middle-aged man, in traditional dress.

“I spent three days at his base. His operation is highly efficient. He’s turned civilians into soldiers and his results speak for themselves.” He saw General Dasham scowl. Elahi waved his hand dismissively. A diamond ring flashed in the early morning sun that warmed the three men sitting on the terrace, drinking spiced coffee.

“Yes, yes, we know all that, Captain,” Elahi said. “Tell me about Madari.”

“I can tell you about Madari,” Dasham said. “I can tell you that his whole damned family are cracked in the head. His grandfather… They might have called him a hero in the Royal Guard, but the rest of the army called him a madman. And his father…” He shook his head. “Man wrote poetry. Poetry! Cracked.”

“It seems, General,” Elahi said. “That you’ve told me about his grandfather and his father, but what can you tell me about Major Madari?”

“I’ve not actually met him,” Dasham admitted. He scowled at Raslan. “Well don’t sit there mute, Captain, we’re waiting for your report.”

“Yes, sir,” Raslan said, quite used to the general’s bark now. “He does seem slightly… Well odd perhaps is too strong a word. He is old fashioned, and his approach to guerrilla warfare is somewhat unconventional. The men are trained in ambush and sabotage, but they drill.”

“They drill?” Elahi looked baffled. “Drill for what?”

Dasham laughed. More a snort.

“No, sir,” Raslan said, smiling at the Sheik. “Military drill. Standing in ranks, marching.”

“He’ll be trooping the damn colour next,” Dasham muttered. “Thinks he can turn that rat hole in the desert into Sandhurst.”

“Interesting,” the Sheik said. “Old fashioned and yet as you say, Captain, his results speak for themselves.”

“Well he can’t be right in the head though, can he?” Dasham said. “After what they say the Russians did to him.”

Elahi glanced at Raslan.

“Do you have anything to add to that, Captain?”

Raslan shifted mildly uncomfortably in his chair. His mind went back to the scream that had woken him from sleep in the infirmary at Madari’s base.

Ten hours prior to that, he had coaxed his jeep, on bare fumes, up to the gate of Madari’s base. He knew what the place was, though the guerrilla band he fought with, led by General Dasham, had only had minimal contact with Madari’s group.

On the way back from a recon mission Raslan and the two men with him had run into government soldiers and the captain emerged the only survivor, but with a bullet gouge in his arm that he couldn’t get to stop bleeding.

Checking his map, he found Madari’s base was the closest friendly position he had any chance of reaching. He’d driven there, with his dead comrades in the back of the jeep, unwilling to leave them to the vultures. At the base he’d staggered out of the jeep, clutching his bloody arm and collapsed at the feet of a tall man he recognised from pictures as Madari. As he passed out, he cursed himself for forgetting to attempt to salute with his injured arm.

A few moments after the scream woke him in the infirmary later that night he saw a young man come in, looking worried. The man on duty in the infirmary spoke to him. They kept their voices down, but Raslan caught a few words here and there.

“Bad tonight… sleeping pill…”

“What’s wrong?” Raslan struggled to sit up, his head fuzzy with sleep and painkillers. “Attack?”

“Go back to sleep, Captain,” the medic said. “Everything is fine.” He turned back to the other man. “I’ll get something, Lieutenant. Wait a moment.”

“I have to go back, he needs me. Bring it in a few minutes.” He turned away and hurried out of the infirmary. The medic glanced at Raslan and spoke again, an echo of his earlier words.

“Go to sleep, everything is fine.”

Everything is fine? Perhaps not.

“Captain,” Elahi prompted. “Anything further to add?”

Raslan glanced at the general. He rubbed his still healing arm. “I think he is having problems related to his torture. Nightmares at the very least. He needs to take sleeping drugs sometimes.”

Dasham smirked, pleased. “Go on, Captain.”

“I spoke to a few men, they were guarded of course, but I’ve gleaned that he took months to recover after being taken there as a prisoner. That he’d suffered a total mental breakdown. Um, I’m not a doctor of course, but it sounds like he has Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.”

The sheik frowned, looking worried. “Does he seem unstable?”

“I wouldn’t say actually unstable,” Raslan replied, eliciting a tiny frown from Dasham. “But I wouldn’t say entirely normal either.” Now the general smiled. “Physically, well he seems fully fit, except,” he made a face, recalling the sight. “His fingernails must have been pulled off. They’re disfigured. He doesn’t shake hands as often as would be normal.”

The sheik glanced at his watch. “Well, I’ll be able to judge for myself soon, but thank you for your insights, Captain, very valuable.” He turned to Dasham. “How are you off for supplies, General?”

“There’s some things we need.”

“Give me a list and I’ll see what I can arrange.” Elahi looked at his manicured fingernails. “Interesting that even after we established contact and offered support, Madari has not asked us for anything except a few medical supplies.”

“He’s trading with the Bedouin,” Raslan said, though guessed the Sheik knew this anyway. The observation of this “interesting” fact was directed at Dasham.

“Of course.” Elahi looked out across the desert, at the road. A cloud of dust and a dark shape showed the approach of a vehicle. “It appears more of my guests are arriving.”

Guests. Raslan smiled at the word. That is what they would all appear to be, should someone drop by. Guests for a party. Not guerrilla leaders and their sympathisers having a meeting to co-ordinate rebel activity.

Elahi excused himself and left Dasham and Raslan alone. Dasham scowled at their host as he left the room. Raslan stood up and put his coffee cup on the table. He sat down again on the couch beside the general, who turned to him.

“You managed to ‘glean’ some very detailed information, Raslan, didn’t you?”

Raslan gave a small smile. “Well you know how it is, sir. People just seem to like to talk to me.”

“Yes,” Dasham said. “Indeed.” He looked into Raslan’s face.

Raslan controlled his expression tightly, just continued to smile at his commander.

“You read his medical file didn’t you?”

Damn, Raslan thought, but kept the smile in place. He’s starting to know me too well.

“I know you always like full information, sir.”

“Wasn’t it locked up?”

“Of course.” He smiled, trying not to be smug. Locked up certainly, but not in a serious enough way to inconvenience Raslan for more than a moment.

The general laughed now. “It’s fortunate you’re in the army, Raslan, because you’re too damn pretty for jail, which is where you’d be without me.”

“As you say, sir.”

The general sobered. “Your unexpected stay at Madari’s base was fortunate, Sayeed.”

“Yes, sir. I was lucky it was nearby.”

“Yes.” Dasham touched the Captain’s upper arm. “Is the wound still troubling you?”

The wound was on the other arm, but Raslan didn’t mention that.

“Only a little now.” It actually no longer hurt at all, but telling the general it hurt ‘a little’ seemed to convince the man he was bravely battling through agony.

“Who do you think Madari will bring with him today?”

Raslan thought for a moment. Dasham liked to know everything he could expect before he got into any situation. He considered reconnaissance the most vital part of mission planning. It made him a good commander. He still had his hand on Raslan’s arm.

“He’ll certainly have Lieutenant Jahni. He’s Madari’s bodyguard, so he’ll stay close. His two closest advisors are Noor and Faraj. I don’t think he’ll bring both. He’ll leave one in charge of the base. I think he’ll bring Faraj with him. Other than that?” He shrugged. “Anybody’s guess.”

“We will soon see if your guesses are right.” Dasham stood up as a battered looking car drove into the compound. Raslan came to stand beside him. They couldn’t be easily seen here on the terrace, hidden by carefully cultivated trees. Five men got out of the car.

“They look like bandits,” Dasham sneered.

“You should see them drill,” Raslan said. He pointed. “That one, that’s Madari.”

Dasham scowled at Madari, who was shaking hands with Elahi now.

“What are they all wearing around their waists?”

“Sashes, sir. They consider them a kind of symbolic uniform, Madari made them himself.” Captain Faraj had explained all that to him, Faraj had been easily charmed and flattered.

Dasham stared at Raslan for a moment, and then shook his head.

“Cracked. I knew it.” He stood in silence for a moment, and then spoke. “I want that base, Raslan.”

“Yes, sir.” Raslan had no doubt Dasham would personally and quite happily, throttle the life out of Madari to get hold of that ‘rat hole’.

“Can’t have a major running the best position we’ve got.”

“Absurd, sir.”

Dasham looked at him and Raslan met his eye. The general frowned. Raslan at once flashed him the most brilliant of his arsenal of smiles. Dasham chuckled and shook his head.

“Remind me again where I found you, Raslan.”

“At the end of the rainbow, sir.”


Madari looked around at the compound and then at the house. Made of white painted stone, it shone under the sun and had been visible from miles away as they approached in the car. Sheik Elahi, who Madari knew from photographs, approached from an arched doorway.

“Major Madari,” he called, holding out his hand. He held Madari’s own hand only briefly, his grip light. Madari saw his eyes flicker down to the hand very quickly, before looking up again. “Welcome to my home, all of you. Come inside now, come out of the sun.”

“Thank you.” Madari bowed his head and nodded to his men. As they approached the house, Jahni moved ahead and went through the door first. The Sheik looked startled. When they all moved inside, they found Jahni in a staring match with one of the Sheik’s own guards.

“Please excuse Lieutenant Jahni,” Madari said to Elahi. “He is my security chief.”

“Of course. I assure you, Major, we are safe here. I’ve prepared a room where you can…”

Madari glanced over Elahi’s shoulder and smiled as two men approached.

“Captain Raslan.” Raslan smiled back and bowed his head as he approached them.

“Major.” He saluted. “I am honoured to see you again. And you, Captain Faraj.” He smiled at Faraj, who smiled back, greeted him enthusiastically and shook his hand. Finally, Raslan shook the hands of Jahni, Darak and Yassin before he spoke to Madari again. “I have the honour to present my commander, General Dasham.”

“General.” Madari saluted. Dasham gave a small smile and held out his hand. Madari dropped the salute and took the offered hand. Unlike Elahi, the General gripped more tightly and held on longer.

“Major. So we finally get to meet the famous Madari.”

“Thank you, General,” Madari said. “But the famous Madari was my grandfather, not me.”

“You are too modest, Major. Your operations are becoming famous, so much success, and so far very few casualties. Eight I believe.”

Madari flinched at the mention of it. Yes, he had lost men now. Six of them from his civilian recruits, two of his officers. Captain Fahad, who’d made the vehicles run sweet as honey, Lieutenant Husam, who’d had a taste for cards and gambling, but had otherwise been reliable and trustworthy. The small graveyard outside the wire had grown over the last three months as high summer approached.

“All brave soldiers I will never forget,” Madari said, wishing Dasham would let go of his hand.

“Of course. We will pray for them later,” Dasham said. “I am looking forward to the meeting. We need to coordinate activities more closely between the groups, pool resources -”

“Ah, General.” Elahi interrupted. “I know how keen you are, but the rest of the guests are yet to arrive and the Major and his party look as if they would appreciate some rest and refreshment after that long drive.”

Dasham let Madari’s hand go at last and Madari unconsciously moved it behind his back.

“Of course,” Dasham said. “You look very tired, Major.”

Madari didn’t answer that last remark. He felt tired, his sleep had been especially bad lately, and he hated that this showed on his face, especially to this man. His instincts told him to mistrust Dasham and he happily turned away from Dasham’s smug face to Raslan’s smiling one. For a moment, he wondered how Raslan managed to shave so well while camping out in the desert. Even with their facilities at the camp, any of the men who had been clean-shaven before, including himself, had let their beards grow as the power to heat the water and the water itself were rationed. It contributed greatly to their villainous appearance.

“Captain, how is your arm?” Madari asked, briefly touching Raslan’s shoulder, on the right side.

“Healed now, sir. Thanks to the excellent medical care I received at your facility.”

“Yes,” Dasham said, bitterness showing through in his tone. “We should all be so lucky as to have a fully stocked infirmary fall into our laps.”

Madari heard Jahni gasp and Faraj took a step forward. Madari gave the men a glance to calm them. Faraj backed down. Madari wished he could command himself to stay calm as easily as he thought of the men who had died the day the camp had “fallen into their laps.”

“This way, Major,” Elahi said, taking Madari’s elbow, leading him away from Dasham, with excellent timing, Madari thought. “Let me show you where you can rest.”

Madari looked back over his shoulder at Dasham and Raslan, as the sheikh led him away. Dasham wore a thunderous frown and Raslan looked serious. But he smiled when Madari looked at him and Madari couldn’t help but smile back. Most people couldn’t, he’d noticed even in their short acquaintance.

When he visited the infirmary, the morning after Raslan had arrived at the camp, the young captain had been awake and sipping tea. He’d smiled and thanked Madari effusively for his care. Madari had found himself smiling back. He’d moved closer to the bed when Raslan spoke more quietly, about sharing information with him, to help the coordination between their groups of guerrillas.

Even still recovering from the blood loss he’d suffered, the captain insisted on thinking about his duty. That impressed Madari immensely. However, he had insisted Raslan continued to rest until the doctor told him otherwise, and then they could have a meeting.

“Here, Major, this room is at your disposal,” Elahi said, leading them into a large room, furnished only with a table, the floor laid with rugs and large cushions. A servant set out food and beverages on the table.

“Thank you, your Excellency,” Madari said. He gestured at the servant, who now stood by the table, ready to serve them. “We can wait on ourselves, thank you.”

“Of course. Someone will call you when the meeting is about to start.” The sheikh left the room, taking the servant with him.

As soon as the door closed, Darak and Yassin sank down onto the cushions with big sighs. Madari sat too, more sedately than his lieutenants had. Faraj sat beside him. Jahni made straight for the table of food and drink.

“Kahil,” Faraj called, as Jahni started tucking in. “I know it’s been nearly two hours since you ate, but do you think you could manage to stave off fainting from hunger long enough to pour some tea?”

“And don’t fill your pockets with food,” Madari said. “Or General Dasham will think I’m not feeding you all properly.”

Jahni’s snort told him all he needed to know about Jahni’s opinion of General Dasham.

Faraj seemed to share Jahni’s lack of regard for the general.

“I don’t know how Captain Raslan puts up with him,” he said.

Jahni snorted again. “Seem well suited to me,” he muttered. He handed out cups to tea to the others and sat down himself on a cushion, a cup in one hand and a piece of bread in the other.

“General Dasham is a good commander,” Madari said, trying to be fair to the man. “And he and his men live in much poorer conditions than we do.”

And at any time, we could end up living in the same conditions, Madari thought. If we lost the camp. If the government finally attacked. Only secret allies of the guerrillas still in place at the defence ministry had kept them safe from attack so far. That could change at any time. Dasham was to be admired for maintaining discipline in such difficult conditions.

Yet Madari still felt the urge to punch Dasham in the face and the stupidity of the urge annoyed him. Or rather, the fact it felt so hard to control it. All his urges and emotions seemed so close to the surface. Sometimes he felt that somewhere he’d lost a layer of skin and his emotions could escape too easily And that was when he was awake. At night, when the darkness took him, then he was raw, nothing left to hold in the terror and the pain.

He shook himself and sipped his tea, tried to focus on the room again. Faraj had gone to the table, Darak and Yassin talked to each other. Jahni watched Madari. Of course. Always. Some urges Madari had to control. The consequences if he gave into them he could only barely imagine. It had grown harder, not easier, as death had brought them closer. Madari offered Jahni comfort after the death of his family and in return, Jahni held him when he could not keep from weeping for the deaths of the men they had lost.

Bound by death, a morbid thought. Nevertheless, he’d think about death all day if it kept him from thinking about Jahni in the wrong way. In a way that could even lead them to death. His men respected him, were loyal to him, but if he betrayed them by doing something so unacceptable he could not imagine them forgiving him. He could not imagine forgiving himself.

Madari sighed and put down his cup. He lay back against the cushions and closed his eyes. His needed some rest. His mind spun in circles, and he needed to concentrate, he needed to be ready to hold his own in this meeting. Someone sat beside him and he opened his eyes to see it was Jahni and not Faraj. Jahni looked concerned.

“Are you all right?” Jahni asked quietly.

“Just tired. I’m taking a nap before the meeting,” Madari said, closing his eyes again. Jahni didn’t say anything else and Madari heard him move away, giving Madari some peace. He drifted off to the soft drone of the voices of his men.

Chapter 2

Men crowded into Elahi’s diwaniya for the meeting. Madari realised he had brought more men with him than any of the other leaders and felt rather conscious of that. Colonel Jumale, who had only a small band under his leadership anyway, smiled at the four men ranged behind Madari and Madari wondered if he believed it a show of force. He found it hard to look Jumale in the eye anyway, his name one of those Madari had given to Sevchenko. Thankfully Jumale had already fled his home before the security police came looking for him. He had only two men with him, as most of the other leaders did. Dasham had only Raslan. General Sattan had come alone.

Sattan caught Madari’s eye and nodded to him. Madari nodded back. He thought Sattan wanted to speak to him alone at some point, though the man had not said it yet. Sattan wasn’t a guerrilla leader, but rather still in place at the defence ministry, his rebel sympathies carefully hidden. Madari thought him the most valuable man to the resistance in this whole room. And courageous beyond any of them. If he was exposed and arrested, he’d suffer horrors Madari already knew too much about.

He noticed Faraj talking to Raslan, laughing and relaxed. For a moment, he enjoyed the picture, the normality of it, two friends gossiping and enjoying a joke together. Faraj somehow managed to avoid the bandit look the rest of them had, looked somehow neat. Raslan, similarly, though his hair was a little too long, looked like a young man that might be encountered on any city street. Madari glanced at his other men. Jahni’s hair was longer than he’d be allowed back in the army. Madari could order him to cut it, but saw no need to, actually thought it suited him.

“Gentlemen, shall we begin.” Elahi brought them to order and the meeting started. Faraj came back to sit beside Madari, Raslan took his place beside Dasham. They all sat on the floor on cushions, a few small tables scattered around held tea and coffee cups, sweets and dates. Nothing that would look untoward to an outsider, just men smoking, talking, taking refreshments. And talking about the recent attacks they’d made on government positions and personnel.

Each leader reported first on their recent operations, the number of men they had, the weapons and supplies they held, or needed. Madari had by far the largest group, just over one hundred men and the best supplies. Of course with a fixed base supplies were easier to store up.

“You are trading with the Bedouin in the area to bring you supplies?” Sattan said to Madari.

“Yes, sir. We’ve established an excellent relationship with them.”

“Have you thought of asking them to fight?” Sattan asked. Madari saw a few frowns around the room.

“Yes, sir, in fact I asked them only a few days ago. I’m awaiting an answer, I hope that –”

“They can’t be trusted.” Dasham spoke loudly, over Madari, whose voice had already started to fade and feel painful after giving his report. Dasham sneered. “Filthy nomads. They’re not reliable.”

“I’m sorry, General, I disagree,” Madari said. He kept his hands out of sight carefully, because he could feel them trembling. His voice rose as he spoke. “I trust them completely. Of course they have their own priorities, but they have not let us down so far…” He broke off, because he was nearly shouting, making Sattan and Elahi frown at him, and Dasham smirk, at touching a nerve. He fought for control. Damn, he needed sleep, needed some relief from the tension that he felt building in the back of his neck.

“He’s right.” Jumale put in from across the room, making them turn to look at him. “I’ve been working with some local tribesmen. They’ve gathered intelligence for me.” He smiled at Madari and shook his head. “They are reliable, and they are good spies for sure. But you won’t get them to fight for you, Major.”

Madari bowed his head to Jumale. “I hope I can prove you wrong Colonel.”

“Well, I think if anyone can it will be you, Major.” He smiled and ate a date. He waved a hand at Elahi to indicate he’d finished.

“I am sure it is worth you trying anyway,” Elahi said to Madari. “If you succeed and add to your already impressive force –”

“If the major needs more men there are easier ways to achieve that,” Dasham said. “I believe your camp has space for two hundred men comfortably. I could move to the camp with my group.”

Madari heard Faraj gasp behind him, and felt the tension come from all four of his men. He stared at Dasham, at the look on his face, at the hunger he read there.

He wants the camp. Madari knew at once. He wants my office. Madari’s men outnumbered Dasham’s band two to one, but Dasham outranked Madari. A general would hardly move in and agree to be under the command of a major.

Dasham kept on looking back at Madari, the hunger, the anticipation on his face. Madari glanced at the face to Dasham’s left. Raslan’s. Less hungry than the general’s, but as much anticipation there. It changed as Raslan met Madari’s eyes, became a smile, almost inviting.

“No,” Madari said, “No, the camp is…” He paused, not sure how to put it. The camp is mine, he wanted to say. My men will not serve anyone else. Am I that arrogant? Would they not serve Noor, Faraj, or even an outsider if I fell in battle? That would be different though. That would be a successor, not a usurper. He looked at Sattan and Elahi, the leaders here. They seemed to be waiting for his reaction.

“The camp has less spare capacity than you think. We haven’t got the accommodation, or supplies to take fifty more men in on short notice.” He looked at Raslan. “You saw that Captain, during your visit. One of our barracks is not in a usable condition.”

Raslan nodded slowly. “Yes, sir, I noticed that.”

Madari knew he had, because he had stood beside Madari in the yard and asked him why one of the barracks buildings had been stripped down, to no more than a shell, its wooden walls and roof gone, only support beams remaining and the bathroom fittings standing up incongruously in the open. Defensive works, Madari had told him and not gone into any detail.

“We have tents,” Dasham said, “and the supplies…”

“No,” Madari snapped again, and said it now, made his real objection clear, spoke in a forceful tone. “The camp is my command.”

Am I selfish? Madari wondered, even as he spoke. Dasham is a good and experienced commander. We do have enough spare capacity to take in those men. And more men means more defenders if we are attacked, as we surely will be. If I put my pride ahead of my duty, am I leaving the camp more vulnerable to attack?

“Would you put your pride ahead of the good of the resistance, Major?” Dasham could almost have been reading Madari’s thoughts. “Would you disobey the orders of your superiors, Major?” He almost spat the word ‘Major’ as if it were an insult.

“General Dasham,” Sattan said, intervening as the two men stared each other down. “At the moment your force is working most efficiently while mobile. You are most useful to us like that. For now. Please, let us consider this situation again another time. I see no reason to change the distribution of our forces at this time.”

A sigh went around the room, as men relaxed, including Madari and Dasham. Dasham forced an insincere disinterested expression onto his face.

“As you wish, General.” He waved a dismissive hand. “The major and his men would of course assist any of my men who were in the area and needed help, shelter, supplies, medical treatment.”

“Of course, as we already did for Captain Raslan.” Madari reminded everyone. He bowed his head, and then looked back at Dasham, holding his gaze steadily. “We are all on the same side after all, General.”


After the meeting broke up, Madari and his men went back to the room they had been allocated. Madari could hear them whispering to each other, but didn’t let the words sink in. The tone was clear though, they were unhappy. As the door closed behind them, Faraj spoke first.

“General Dasham wants the camp.”

“I think we’re all in agreement on that, Idris,” Madari said. He went to the table, where a fresh pot of tea sat steaming gently. He poured the tea into the clean tea glasses that sat beside the pot.

“Sir.” Faraj looked uncomfortable. “I know he is a superior officer and I want to serve the resistance as best I can, but I would…” He hesitated. “I would find it difficult to serve under him, instead of you.”

“I’d tell him to go to hell,” Jahni said. “And take his pretty friend with him,” he added

“Lieutenant!” Faraj snapped, scolding. Jahni looked unrepentant, Darak and Yassin both chuckled and Madari had to hide a smile. He handed cups to his men.

“Your loyalty honours me, gentlemen. I thank you for it. Now please, eat something before we leave.”

They all stood around the table picking out food when someone knocked at the door. Madari moved to answer it, but Jahni blocked his path and nodded at Darak to go instead. Madari rolled his eyes at Jahni, but let him do his job.

Darak opened the door to General Sattan and saluted smartly as the general walked in. They all followed suit and the general returned the salute.

“Gentlemen, don’t let me interrupt you. I would like to talk with you, Major, alone.”

Jahni didn’t look happy of course, but Madari allowed the general to lead him outside to the terrace, moved away from the windows so Madari’s men couldn’t hear them.

He offered Madari a cigar and lit it for him. Madari coughed as he took his first puff on it.

“Excuse me, sir, it’s been a while.”

“Would you like some to take home with you, Major?” Sattan asked.

“No, sir, thank you,” Madari said. Sattan smiled a little and nodded. He puffed his own cigar and turned to lean on the balustrade, looked out through the olive trees.

“General Dasham wants your base, Major.”

“Yes, sir, I got that impression.” Madari said in a dry tone.

Sattan laughed. “He didn’t exactly disguise his intentions, did he?” he grew serious again. “You will be attacked soon, Madari.” He stood up and faced Madari. “I have held them off as long as I can and I promise you that I will make sure as small a force as possible is sent against you. But an attack is imminent and I can no longer prevent it.”

Madari felt sick. He knew it would come. Nevertheless, to hear it like this, to hear confirmation, made it real. He was confident in their ability to fight, but he knew the kind of carnage it would bring.

“Can you give me any more details, General?”

“I can’t tell you exactly when. Within three weeks, most likely. I can tell you that it will be a ground attack only. No air assault and no artillery. Dasham is not the only one who wants the camp. The defence ministry wants to use it as a base to combat the rebel activity in the area. They don’t want to damage it too severely. So, ground troops only.”

Madari almost felt relieved. Air attack and artillery they had no real defence against. But ground attack. Well, they were as ready as they could be for that.

“I’ll try to convince them only a small force is needed, Major, that they will take the camp easily.” He smiled. “Please ensure that I look like a fool for convincing them of that.”

Madari smiled back. “I promise to make you look very foolish, sir.”

“Excellent.” Sattan puffed on his cigar some more. “Do you think you can hold the camp? With the men you have? Or do you actually need more men?”

“Dasham’s men?” Madari asked, becoming tense. Had Sattan just set him up to accept what he’d been clear he didn’t want. “Are you asking me if I’m willing to lose my command?”

“Are you?” Sattan asked him. “For the good of the rebellion, would you give up your command to Dasham? Or would you fight with an inadequate force and gift the base to the government to use as a base to destroy our forces?”

A test, Madari knew, a test of his loyalty. Only one answer was acceptable. But could it be sincere?

“You’re a proud man, Major, I know. But make this choice with your sense of duty, not with your pride.”

Damn, Madari thought, how can he know me so well that he knows exactly what to say?

“Yes.” He stuck out his chin, straightened his back, defying Sattan to call him a liar. “I cannot pretend I would be happy about it. But if it served the rebellion and his majesty best, then I’d allow General Dasham to take command of the camp.”

“I take you at your word, Major, and I hope it does not come to that.” Madari relaxed, deflating as the General turned away to look out at the desert again. “We want you in charge of that base, Major. Your victories are all the justification you need. And I believe you when you say you are well prepared to defend it.”

“You are welcome to make an inspection, or send someone –”

The general waved a hand. “I take you at your word and your reputation as a Royal Guard officer. However, understand this, Madari. Though you are valuable to the rebellion, that base is more valuable than any one man. If I think the force they are sending is too large for you to deal with alone, I will order Dasham to reinforce you.”

“I understand, sir.”

“If it worked out that way and I hope it does not, but if it did, and you could not serve under Dasham then I will find another role for you, another command, and any of your men that you wanted to take with you.”

“Thank you, sir,” Madari said, his voice flat. That would be something. Perhaps he and Dasham could swap places. Dasham at the camp and Madari leading a mobile force. Alternatively, perhaps he’d head a small group, of the cream of his men, like… he smiled suddenly, like an A Team. He made his expression serious again quickly, but Sattan caught the smile.

“I think you might enjoy roaming around in the desert perhaps, Madari?”

“I prefer having a bed to go home to, sir.” Madari responded quickly.

Sattan laughed. “Indeed. However, you are a fine commander in the field, Madari, very fine. Colonel Rahama’s praise of you is justified.”

“Rahama?” Madari stared at him, at the mention of his old friend’s name. “You’ve seen him? He is well?”

“Of course.” Sattan straightened up. “You didn’t know? He escaped the country after your arrest. He’s in Paris, with his majesty. I’ve spoken to him on the telephone, several times. In fact I almost forgot, he asked me to pass on his regards to you.”

Madari had to grab onto the balustrade as his knees shook and his head spun. Rahama was safe. He’d made it out of the country. Madari’s giving up his name had not left him dead or imprisoned. Safe. Madari’s eyes grew hot and a lump formed in his throat as the joy threatened to burst out of him, but he took several deep breaths and brought himself under control. After a moment, he looked up to see Sattan frowning at him.

“Are you all right. Major?”

“Yes, sir. Excuse me. I’d not heard this news until now.” He felt almost overcome and wanted to sit down, but tried to hold himself together for now.

“Well, I’m glad to bring you good news, Major. Now, I need to speak to the other men. If I don’t see you again before you leave, it has been a pleasure to meet you.”

He held out his hand and shook Madari’s hand quickly before both men moved back up the terrace and into the room where Madari’s men waited.


In a doorway near where Madari and Sattan had stood, Captain Raslan pushed aside a muslin curtain and lit up a cigarette. He stayed there for a while, processing what he’d heard into the parts he would pass on to General Dasham and those he would keep to himself.

The general might like to have the full information, but even the general didn’t always get what he wanted.


As General Sattan left Madari’s men turned to him looking expectant. Madari looked back at them. Should he explain to them what Sattan had said? Yes, he decided, all of it. In addition, he would give them permission to talk about it back at the camp. He smiled. Because who knows who it would get back to.

“Gentlemen, the general warned me that the camp will be attacked some time within the next three weeks.”

They looked shocked. He went on quickly before any of them could speak, explained about it being a ground attack only and then he explained that General Dasham’s men could be sent to reinforce them. They looked angry then.

“We don’t need reinforcements!” Jahni said, hotly. As head of security he’d come up with many of the plans for defending the base. “We can hold off an army!”

“I appreciate your confidence, Kahil,” Madari said. “Though the fact is that more men can only be a help to us.”

He knew they had no problem with more men coming to fight with them, but the man who commanded them, that’s who they had a problem with. Madari wanted to make sure they understood the stakes.

“Oh, can someone remind me what General Dasham said earlier at the meeting, about the Bedouin.”

They looked surprised at the apparent change of subject, but after a moment Darak spoke up.

“He said they are untrustworthy and unreliable, sir.”

“Idiot,” Jahni muttered. “He’s probably never –”

“Thank you. I think he called them ‘filthy nomads’ as well.” The men looked at each other puzzled. Madari spoke again. “When we return to the camp make sure every man knows the stakes, about the attack, but also that General Dasham, a man who hates the Bedouin, could take over the camp if we can’t show that we can hold it ourselves.”

They frowned again at the phrase ‘a man who hates the Bedouin’ being dropped in there, but they all said “yes, sir” after a moment’s hesitation.

“Good. We will have to go onto high alert.” He looked at his watch. “We’ll have to leave soon, so please, eat. We have a long drive. Oh, Idris.” He looked up, smiling. “The general gave me some good news too, about Colonel Rahama…”


Dasham grinned with delight after Raslan reported on the conversation he’d overheard.

“You just happened to be standing there, Sayeed?”

“By pure luck, sir.”

The general had to know that wasn’t true. Raslan never trusted to luck. He’d seen Sattan go into the room he knew had been allocated to Madari’s people. At once he’d found his way out to the terrace to see if he could hear anything through the windows. But he’d not needed that, as Madari and Sattan came onto the terrace and talked. Raslan had remained concealed in an empty room. He could hear every word they said.

“So, inside the next three weeks,” Dasham said. “And Sattan would be happy to see me in command of the camp. In fact he’d order me to take over if necessary.”

Raslan thought “happy” might be an exaggeration, but he didn’t contradict his CO.

“Well, we need to be ready, Captain. We will move the men closer to Madari’s camp. Just far enough out that his patrols won’t see us, but close enough that we can rush to the rescue after they are attacked.”

“After?” Raslan asked, a little surprised.

“Well, we need to make sure we come out of it as the heroes, after all.” He laughed. “And of course there’s always a chance the enemy will take care of Madari himself for us.”

“You mean, if he was killed in the attack before we arrived –”

“That would make things a lot easier for me.”

“General Sattan said Madari is a very useful man to the rebellion.” Raslan pointed out.

“The rebellion can survive without him.” He smirked. “The camp is as good as mine, Captain.”

Chapter 3

Madari dozed in the back of the car on the way back to the camp. Jahni had insisted he sat in the middle in the back seat so he had a man on either side for protection. Madari had asked if Jahni would prefer him to ride in the trunk and Jahni had just looked back coolly and said that since his duty meant he had to stay at Madari’s side the trunk would be a little too cramped. Darak and Yassin had chuckled but Faraj had frowned and snapped at Jahni to mind his manners. Madari had smiled.

“He made a joke, Idris, I am not offended.”

Faraj just frowned some more, despite the reassurance.

“What’s this?” Yassin said, from the driver’s seat, making Madari wake up fully and look out of the windshield. On the road ahead of them, a man stood beside a car. He waved at them as they approached.

“Do we stop?” Yassin asked.

“He may be stranded,” Madari said. “We should see if we can help.”

“But –” Jahni began. Madari waved him to silence. In the darkness Madari saw him draw his gun, hold it down by his side, out of sight.

“Everyone stay alert,” Madari ordered and Yassin stopped the car and rolled down the window. A moment later, he was gazing down the barrel of a pistol. Movement surrounded them as several more men appeared from cover behind the other car.

“Oh, great,” Yassin muttered.

Six men, including the one holding the gun on Yassin.

“Get out of the car,” that one ordered. Madari almost smiled then. If this were a targeted assassination, they’d just kill them all right there in the car. Letting them get out was a big mistake.

The attackers quickly found that out, when Madari’s men followed orders to get out. They exploded out, their guns drawn. Madari himself was the slowest to emerge from the car, having to take a second to slide across from the middle of the seat.

It appeared that only a couple of the attackers had guns and they were quickly disarmed. The others fought back hand to hand, but couldn’t match Madari and his men, none of whom used their guns, but rather piled into the men with fists and feet.

In a moment, the men lay groaning on the ground and Madari’s men stood over them panting.

“Well that was good exercise.” Madari looked around at them. Darak had a bloody nose and Faraj was rubbing his left ear and looking pained but otherwise they had no serious injuries. They grinned back, flushed and adrenaline fed. Jahni stayed serious though. He grabbed the first man that had pointed a gun at them and dragged him to Madari.

“Sir!” The man gasped, looking up at Madari from where Jahni had pushed him to his knees. “Sir, I’m sorry. We wouldn’t have hurt you, we just wanted the car.”

Madari looked at the other car. It was in fact a better car than theirs.

“Did it break down, or did you just run out of petrol?” Madari asked.

“It… it’s broken down,” the spokesman said. He was quite a young man, his hair trimmed very short.

“Yassin, take a look at it,” Madari said. Yassin nodded and moved to the other car.

“Sir,” Jahni said. “Should we be helping a bunch of bandits who tried to rob us?”

Madari just shrugged. The old desert traditions of hospitality instilled into him all his life wouldn’t let him leave even their attackers stranded out here. The spokesman protested against Jahni’s words.

“We’re not bandits!”

Madari looked at him. “You ambush innocent travellers and rob them. What else would you call yourselves?” He frowned suddenly as he looked at the man, at the edge of a collar he could see just under the loose robe he wore. He leaned down and pulled the collar, revealing the insignia of a sergeant on it. Jahni gasped and shoved Madari away at once, back towards their car.

“Stay back, Major!” He pointed his gun at the soldier.

Faraj grabbed another of the men pulling open his coat to see the uniform jacket underneath.

“All of them?” Madari said. He frowned. Government soldiers? That didn’t make sense. If they were on a secret mission they wouldn’t be wearing their uniforms at all. And they’d all be armed. And they wouldn’t look quite so exhausted and… hungry?

“Deserters.” Madari said, stepping forward again, a hand on Jahni’s arm, moving him gently aside. “You’re deserters.”

The young man on his knees nodded.

“Yes, sir.” He looked up. “Major?” He echoed what Jahni had said. He looked shocked suddenly. “Are you… are you Madari?”

Madari stared at him. “You know me?”

“Every soldier based in the north knows you, sir. The man who kills you is promised a years pay as a reward.”

Madari heard Jahni take the safety catch off his gun, not amused at all.

“A year’s pay?” Madari smiled. “Well, let’s hope it takes a general to kill me, so as to cost the government as much as possible.”

The soldier and a couple of his colleagues laughed nervously.

They all looked over at the sound of a car starting, to see Yassin had the deserter’s car started. He wandered back over looking smug.

“Why did you desert, Sergeant?” Madari asked. “All of you? Don’t like hard work?”

“No, sir! It’s not that. It’s just… well the things they’ve been ordering us to do, they’re wrong. I didn’t join the army to shoot at civilians.” Several of the others murmured in agreement.

“So, you oppose the government’s actions?” Madari said. They nodded, not surprisingly, with guns pointed at them. “Would you fight them?” Madari asked. “Or is running away all you can do?”

“Sir?” Faraj said, sounding amazed. “What are you –?”

“Would you fight?” Madari said again. “Would you stand with me and fight?” Now everyone stared at him. He felt amazed himself. Deserters. Unreliable men, possibly cowards. Or principled men who wouldn’t carry out orders to hurt the people they were meant to protect? Six men, six more trained men to fight with them.

The sergeant stood up, Jahni, stepping back to let him. He looked back at Madari, a determined expression on his face. He saluted.

“My name is Azma, sir, and I want to fight with you.” He dropped the salute and held out his hand.

Madari took the hand, shook it.

“Sergeant. Welcome. I can’t offer you anything but the chance to do what is right.” He kept hold of the man’s hand, frowned at him now. “Do not make me regret this impulse, Sergeant. Because I can promise you that if you betray us I will take you out into the desert and shoot you in the head.”

Azma’s eyes widened and Madari heard a couple of gasps around him. He ignored them. He knew his words were a bluff, but an effective one. He had a reputation with these deserters, not as an army officer, but as a guerrilla leader. A warlord. Different rules applied.

That reputation was the only authority he had now.

They split the new recruits up and crammed into the two cars. Madari sat in the front passenger seat of their own and Jahni drove. The men squashed in the back muttered and cursed each other when they bounced around and Madari wondered if having Jahni drive was the best choice. He seemed magnetically attracted to every pothole in the road.

Jahni glanced at Madari a few times in the rear view mirror and Madari caught him smiling.

“What?” He said, surprised, frankly, since he’d thought Jahni would be the least happy with taking along a bunch of unknown and possibly dangerous men.

“You always know the right thing to say,” Jahni said, quietly.

“Coming from you, I’ll take that as high praise.”

Jahni grinned at that.

“You aren’t worried, Kahil? You don’t think they’re a security risk?”

Jahni glanced back at the men in the back seat.

“I don’t if you don’t, sir.”

He meant it, Madari saw. He didn’t just mean the standard ‘whatever you say, sir’ response a junior officer gives his CO. He trusted Madari’s instincts.

They drove on through the night, heading home. As midnight approached and the camp came into sight Madari sighed with relief. A strange dread had taken hold of him the last few miles. That the attack had come already. That his men all lay dead, his command destroyed.

However, all seemed normal. Noor greeted him as he got out of the car and stared in amazement at the new men and the new car. Then he laughed.

“You leave with one car; you come back in a convoy. You never stop surprising me, sir.”

“Being predictable is never wise, Javid. Assign someone to find these men accommodations and then come to my office. There is something important I must tell you.”

Noor nodded, serious again and left to deal with the recruits.


Madari sat up late into the night. After he spoke to Noor and the other senior officers, he sent them off to their beds. He went into his rooms, but didn’t go to bed. He felt sure a dream that echoed the dread of the attack would soon wake him. That he’d see the bodies of the men he cared so much for littering the ground.

So he sat in the ready room and he wrote notes. Some notes about plans for the defence, but then he started to write short letters to some of his officers. Win or lose, there was every chance he would die in the attack. With a bounty on his head of a year’s pay then he would be a target not only because he was the commander. If he died then there were things he needed to pass on to those left behind. Advice and thanks to Noor, who would take his place, if Sattan and Dasham would let him. To Faraj, advice to follow Noor, and the same thanks, and the apologies he could never stop making to the man whose name he’d given up.

His head nodded as he wrote more of the notes and eventually his pen slipped from his hand and he fell asleep in the chair.

The dream was not what he expected. He dreamt he lay in his bed and someone was in the room with him. A warm presence, a strong young man, who bent over Madari, touched his face and spoke.

“I know what you want, Faris.”

Madari jolted awake as in the dream Raslan bent closer and Madari suddenly felt afraid of him.

Raslan? Why would I dream of him? Only from seeing him today, that’s all. He rubbed his eyes and looked down at the papers on his lap. He’d fallen asleep writing a note to Jahni. He couldn’t even remember writing it. His handwriting was shaky and he had to pick the paper up to study it closer to read it.

Kahil, I can hold you only in the darkness. I can kiss you only in my dreams. If I die today, make me only one promise. That you will find me in Paradise.

He stared at the words, read them over again. He wrote this? Well, he thought, it certainly shows I am the son of a poet. However, his father certainly would not approve of the subject. Of the insanity of it. Of how wrong such words and thoughts were. To talk of kissing one of his men. To talk of holding him in the dark as if the embrace had shameful intentions that needed concealed in the darkness.

He stared at the note for a long time. He could not believe he had put something so compromising on paper. He read the words until he knew them as well as he knew his prayers.

Then he stood up, found a box of matches and burnt the note to ashes.


Practice. They had finished building the defensive works, but they needed to train, to prepare for the attack. Madari ran drills every day, sometimes involving every man in the camp, sometimes with small groups who had particular tasks. He got them out of bed in the middle of the night three times, because he knew the attack would almost certainly come at night or just before dawn. He used small amounts of explosive to produce random loud bangs and lit fires to make choking smoke. Anyone watching out in the desert might think the attack had already started.

Several men were actually injured in the drills. Nevertheless, the injuries weren’t serious enough to make him tone down the practices. The civilians had to get a feel for the reality of a pitched battle. Even so, he knew it could never be close enough to reality. Nothing could simulate the real terror you felt as your friends died at your side and you knew a bullet or grenade could find you at any second. No man could be certain how he’d act in a battle. Only experience would tell.

As he helped the men clearing up after an especially gruelling drill, he thought about the plans he had made and the words Ahmed had taught him.

No battle plan survives contact with the enemy.

Attributed to several men, but he knew the name of the first to say it. Helmuth Von Molkte, a Prussian general. He may have been the first to articulate the principle, but Madari would bet he wasn’t the first commander to notice the effect.

Then why make a plan, he’d asked Ahmed. If it would never work.

You don’t make ‘a’ plan, Ahmed had replied. You make ten.

And none of these words could drive out the memory of the words he’d written himself and then burnt, fearing them more than a bullet.

Find me in Paradise.


Raslan lay on top of a dune. His clothes were the same colour as the sand. If he lay still enough a man could fall over him before noticing him. He lifted his binoculars to his eyes and scanned the camp and the surrounding desert.

Not ‘his’ binoculars actually, General Dasham’s own. High powered, expensive, and entrusted to Raslan for this important task. He could make out the figures of men moving around in the camp, though couldn’t identify anyone. This was a good thing, for them, or else he feared the general might have given him orders to pick out Madari during the battle that was coming. Pick him out not just with the binoculars, but also with the sight on the rifle that lay at Raslan’s side.

It counted as a good thing for Raslan too. He wanted the general to take the camp, but he also wanted to keep his options open.

He’d been watching for two days now, and two weeks had passed since the meeting at Sheik Elahi’s home. The general’s men were camped not far off, outside the range of Madari’s patrols, which Raslan had been monitoring. The patrolmen would raise the alarm when the attack came. And Raslan would radio the General to be ready to ride in to the “rescue.”

As the sun sank low, Raslan watched the men in the camp head into a building, going to pray. He saw a tall figure among one group of men and wondered if that was Faraj, who stood well over six feet. Faraj interested him. He suspected that of all Madari’s officers he would be the one most easily brought around to the idea of working under the general. Easier than Noor, who Raslan feared saw right through his flattery and charm and certainly easier than Jahni, who made no attempt to hide his hostility towards Raslan.

Raslan snorted. Jahni! The jumped up guttersnipe. The general might be happy to see Madari die in the battle, but Raslan would be ecstatic to see Jahni laid in the earth, leaving an interesting vacancy at Madari’s side.

He believed someone else had a low opinion of Jahni, though the other person hid it as well as he hid his own.

When he’d been at the camp, he had watched Madari’s men drilling, Madari standing at his side, looking proud. Raslan had noticed that the man shouting orders at them was the same Lieutenant he’d seen come into the infirmary the night before. When Madari left to attend to some business, Raslan stood with Faraj. He’d already listened hard to Faraj, to his accent, his formal way of speaking. He’d worked out Faraj quickly. Now he looked over at the men and their drillmaster.

“The major is lucky to have such a good sergeant,” Raslan said to Faraj.

Faraj frowned. “You’re mistaken, that is Lieutenant Jahni.”

“Oh, my apologies.” He made his expression amazed. “An officer? Well I would certainly have said a sergeant.”

Faraj didn’t answer, just watched Jahni, who was swearing at the men for not responding to a command fast enough. A moment later, he said something that made them all laugh.

“My general says a good sergeant is worth five lieutenants.”

“We don’t have any sergeants,” Faraj said.

“Well, it seems you have the next best thing.”

Faraj just looked at him, and then looked back at Jahni.

“You won’t find a finer soldier in this camp than Lieutenant Jahni.” Faraj said. Soldier, Raslan noted. Not officer.

Movement out in the desert caught Raslan’s attention. One of Madari’s patrolmen, two miles at least from the camp, watching the road even as it vanished into the deepening darkness. Raslan pulled his coat closer about him as the air cooled rapidly. He felt a kinship with the unidentifiable patrolman and wondered if he felt as cold as Raslan did. They both faced a long night.


Noor bent over the radio operator’s shoulder, which probably annoyed the hell out of the man, but they both hung on every word that came in over the radio.

“Five Jeeps, four men per Jeep. Ten trucks, big enough to hold thirty men each.”

“How long?” Noor demanded.

“Fifteen minutes out.”

Noor straightened up. He glanced at his watch. Forty minutes until dawn.

“I’m going to wake the commander, keep monitoring the radio until you get your orders to take your battle station.” The operator nodded to him, pale and nervous looking. The radio would not help them now. They could not call for help. Noor squeezed his shoulder and ran out of the room. He found Jahni standing guard outside Madari’s rooms.

“It’s starting, Kahil, I’ll wake him, you go and start getting everyone deployed.”

Jahni saluted and, though reluctant as usual to leave Madari’s door, he ran off on the double. Madari had given orders that, unless the attackers were two minutes out and all the men were still in bed, the alarm was not to be pulled. Let the enemy think they were about to catch the camp unawares. So Jahni hurried off, giving orders over his walkie-talkie to his security force.

Noor walked into Madari’s office and on through the sitting room into the bedroom. He sighed when he found Madari sleeping with a peaceful look on his face. Just when the man is actually getting a good night’s rest for a change. Feeling sorry for having to do it, he bent over and shook Madari’s shoulder. Madari’s eyes snapped open and in a second he recognised Noor. He spoke before Noor could and yet said the words Noor was about to say.

“They’re coming.”


Raslan was busy sending his own radio message. He heard the general chuckling as he reported the numbers of attackers. Just enough to make it difficult for Madari, but not so many that a sudden attack on their rear wouldn’t defeat them.

Sattan had done well, keeping the force small, presumably convincing his fellow generals that the three to one advantage was easily sufficient to deal with Madari’s mostly civilian force.

The general confirmed his group were moving out. Raslan settled down to watch the show.


As Madari and Noor emerged from the guardhouse, they found a group of men emerging from the armoury, all carrying rifles. Snipers. They split up to go to the three towers and to positions on the roofs of the buildings. Madari had picked out the best shots from the officers and the civilians and their orders were simple. Kill the enemy officers and NCOs. They’d be death from on high.

He nodded at some as they hurried past, faces grim and set. They started to climb the ladders to the towers. The watchmen came down to take up their battle stations.

“Captain, gather your trench squad and get into position,” Madari ordered Noor, who saluted and hurried off. Madari watched him go. Perhaps the worst job tonight, outside the wire. Nevertheless, he knew he could rely on Noor.

Reports came in over his radio, from the towers, reporting the enemy had left their vehicles now and approached on foot. His people reported in, signalling their ready status. He walked to the gun, where Faraj supervised the gun crew. The anti-aircraft gun wasn’t too much use to them here, but they could drop shells behind the enemy and scare the hell out of them.

“How many shells?” He knew the answer anyway.

“Ten.” A gunner said.

“Make them count,” Madari told him. “Faraj, they’re ready here. Take your position.”

“Sir.” Faraj saluted and turned to go, but then turned back a moment and held out his hand. Madari took it and shook it.

“To serve you has always been an honour, Major.” He disengaged his hand and hurried off before Madari could answer. Madari nodded to the gun crew and listened as his radio told him the enemy were five minutes away now.

He strode to the armoury, to find extra ammunition for his rifle and pistol. He found that and Jahni, also loading up on ammo.

“Kahil,” he said. Jahni looked back at him, saying nothing, his face half hidden in shadow. Other men were hurrying in and out taking weapons and ammunition. Madari held Jahni’s gaze for a moment. A moment of stillness in the tension and rushing. Only in the dark. Only in my dreams. He couldn’t speak and he wished for privacy, yet feared what privacy and the tension would lead him to say or do.

His radio crackled, a voice from a tower, from death on high.

“Two minutes.”

Madari nodded, spoke into his radio. “All units. Battle stations. Prepare for attack.” He looked back at Jahni. “Good luck.”


Raslan watched the enemy approach the camp. Though the camp was still in darkness Raslan could see dark figures rushing about. The attackers spread out, into groups, three groups each side of the square. They clearly planned to cut or blast through the wire and be inside the camp in seconds. As Sattan had said, they didn’t want to damage the camp itself, just kill the men there. The wire was easily repaired, the buildings not so cheaply. Raslan frowned again, thinking of the barracks he’d seen stripped down to its support beams. Where had the wood from that gone?

He found out a moment later. Enemy soldiers from each group approached the wire and – Raslan gasped – seemed to vanish suddenly. Others ran forward and in the dark misjudged the distance and they tumbled from sight too. The ground around the camp seemed to shake and suddenly gape open.

What the hell?

Then the lights came on.


The enemy soldiers tumbled into a deep trench lined and supported by wooden planks. The first group went down, dragging the thin lid of the trap with them, sheets of cardboard or cloth, or thin plywood covered by a layer of sand.

More soldiers fell down on top of the first ones even as they tried to get up, causing an explosion of swearing.

Then the lights came on. Hellishly bright lights glared down from the support pillars of the fence, shining down into the six-foot deep trench trap. The soldiers tried to pull themselves together, tried to help each other up out of the trench, but from both sides of each group of soldiers came a yell and men ploughed into them, knives and bayonets at the ready and the soldiers screamed and fought and died in the trench. Some shots came from enemy soldiers above, as likely to hit their own men as the defenders, but then the snipers in the towers and on the roofs began to fire and drove them back from the trench.

Noor tripped over a body in uniform and fell onto another, not in uniform, checked the dead face and knew the man and had no time to mourn him. He rose as a soldier came at him and plunged his knife deep into the man’s guts, tore it back out and stepped past the falling body, on to the next one. All the time he feared a bullet or a bayonet in his back and at the edge of his mind he heard his wife singing as she always did when cooking him something especially tasty, and he imagined that somehow he was fighting his way to her. I will stay alive, Kiana, I will come home to you.

Chapter 4

In the desert, the patrolmen headed back towards the camp. They saw the spotlights come up; they heard the gunfire and knew the battle had started and all of them wanted to get back to help their friends and serve the commander.

Turaif, a man who volunteered for patrols, saying he liked long walks strode quickly, slapping a fresh clip into his pistol as he went. In his head he went over and over the battle drills they’d learnt. Seemed such a short time ago he’d been learning not battle drills but atomic weights and half lives and the periodic table, for the chemistry degree that he’d never got to finish, after he wrote a piece for the college newspaper that got him arrested and thrown in jail.

Now Turaif was a soldier. Such a busy time in his life. A soldier, a prisoner, a student and before that…

He grinned as a dark shape loomed out of the desert. A black robed man on a horse blocked his path and looked down at him.

“The knight sends you out into the desert to spy on the road, Turaif? He doesn’t trust you to fight, perhaps?”

“Omar, you son of a goat, where did you steal that horse?”

Omar grinned and reached down to pull Turaif onto the horse behind him.

“The chief is waiting, brother. Will you ride with us?”

“You’ll get lost if I don’t.” He wasn’t Omar’s brother literally, but his grandmother had been a Bedouin and he never forgot those roots in the sand. “Are you ready to fight?”

“We are always ready. But tonight, we’re not the only ones waiting to join the battle.”

Turaif frowned. “What?”


Noor raised his radio and snapped.

“Lights off, we’re coming out.”

The spotlights went dark a second later and he sent his men up the ladders they’d had concealed in the trench. They dragged wounded up with them. The last man up each ladder pulled it up after him and they all ran for the gate. The towers gave them covering fire but more than one of the trench men fell. Those who made it came through the gate from left and right, scattered inside the camp to their posts.

Noor ran into the guardhouse. He found Madari at a firing position that had been reinforced with extra wood. Loopholes in the walls let the men at each position fire out of the interior. The windows, far too obvious for firing positions had the shutters closed over them, to keep out enemy grenades.

Madari was fielding reports over the radio, watching the situation outside through the loopholes. He gave orders and then turned to Noor, quickly suppressing his shocked look at the blood covering his second in command.


“Cleared the trench of enemy, sir. Six men taken to the infirmary, I don’t know the number of our dead.”

Madari nodded. He couldn’t expect him to stay and count. The time for counting would come later.

“They’re getting across the trench now,” Madari said, looking outside, seeing the shapes moving slow in the dark. They must have pulled up planks and started using them as bridges. A larger force moved towards the gate. The spotlights were back on, illuminating the enemy for the snipers. But they were firing back at the towers, forcing the snipers to take cover.

“You’ve not used the gun yet,” Noor said.

“I know. I’ll use it if they fall back out of range of the towers, to bring them closer.”

“Is the fence ready?” Noor asked.

“Engineers?” Madari said over the radio. “On my command.”

Madari watched, Noor beside him, Watched men approach the wire and start to fasten explosives to it.


In the machine shop, a man threw a switch and the lights over his head flickered as the camp’s generator sent electricity into the wire fence. The enemy at the wire either froze with hands locked to the suddenly electrified fence, or were thrown backwards.

Other men scrambled back in terror, some of them accidentally falling into the blood soaked trench in their haste to get away from the wire.

“Now they have no choice but the gate,” Noor said and saw Madari give a tiny grim smile. The gunshots started up again from the towers as the enemy fell back and started to regroup.


Raslan was standing up now. He’d seen the spotlights flicker and the enemy fall back from the fence and knew what it meant. Damn, Madari may not have any engineers among his officers, but he had a load of university students among his civilians, some of them studying engineering, all of them bright and ingenious and prepared to suggest things that no army private would dare to.

The enemy were moving on the gates now. How fast they got through them depended on what extra surprises Madari had for them. Raslan frowned. The approach to the gate couldn’t be mined. The men who’d emerged from that trench had used it.

However, as well as Madari had done so far, the enemy weren’t fools. A reserve force waited, in the cover of their trucks. At a run, it would take them two or three minutes to reinforce their comrades. At least fifty or sixty of them. Madari’s snipers couldn’t shoot them fast enough to thin that to a manageable number before they arrived.

He swung the binoculars around as the anti-aircraft gun boomed and an instant later, a shell exploded in the sand, well behind the enemy’s reserve position. Madari knew about the reserve too, but his gunners could only guess at the exact position. Guesses nowhere near accurate enough. A moment later another shell exploded, only a little nearer.

Raslan hoped the gunners didn’t get lucky, because that reserve force was General Dasham’s key to the camp. His force could fall on them preventing them from reinforcing the attackers and, as a bonus could capture their vehicles. Raslan grinned. The general was fifteen minutes away by his reckoning. He was nearly in Madari’s office already.

Movement to the east distracted him for a moment and he dropped to one knee, suddenly feeling like a target. He trained the glasses in that direction, squinting at the glimmer of the sun on the horizon.

Oh, shit, he thought. He saw dark shapes moving out of the cover of the dunes. How long have they been there? Shit, shit, shit. He raised his radio.

“Come in, General.”

“Go ahead, Captain. Report.”

“Trouble, sir.”

“Don’t tell me that snooty bastard is going to lose before we get there?”

“No, not at all, but if you don’t get here quick someone is going to beat you to the rescue.”

“What are you saying, Captain.”

“The cavalry’s coming over the hill, sir.”


The gate was the only way in now and the enemy were smart enough to stay back until three of them, from the cover of the jeeps they’d brought close, fired simultaneous rockets at them.

The gates disintegrated. At the same time, the spotlights went off and every light in the buildings went out. In the machine shop, the man operating the generator looked at it, and knew if he survived this day he had a lot of work to do. He unslung his rifle from his back and kicked open the door.

The enemy charged through the gates and were met with gunfire from the north west tower and the west side of the guardhouse. The guardhouse and the west wire formed a kind of corridor and as the men piled through it became a killing ground. But they were numerous and in seconds several of them ran into the yard, some fell, but more followed. The gun boomed again.

In what had been the guard’s barracks Jahni waited with his squad. He was no sniper. He’d volunteered for the trench, but Madari had given him a different squad, and their work would be just as bloody. Close combat, hand to hand, once the enemy got inside. Now they were inside.

He didn’t need to hear the order. He knew his time had come. He ordered his men, all itching to fight, into formation and, above the terrific noise of gunfire, he screamed the charge. They piled out into the yard and into the oncoming enemy, already wreathed in the mist from smoke grenades.

Now, Jahni thought, if it could be called thought, now I make as many of them as I can pay for my dead parents and sisters.

Madari, still in the guardhouse ordered all the men, bar the snipers, to the yard. He didn’t have the luxury of a reserve and could only pray that his snipers could hold off the enemy reserve. The gunners had wasted three shells so far and the only casualties they’d inflicted were on the local scorpions and beetles. So he ordered them to leave the gun and join the fighting in the yard. Leaving men at the guardhouse firing positions to help slow down those who made it past the sniper fire, Madari and Noor charged out with the rest of the men.

The yard roiled with a confused mass of men and smoke. Men flashed by through the smoke, illuminated for a moment by the shafts of sunlight that pierced the smoke. The sun was coming up.

He saw Faraj for a second, taking deadly aim with his pistol. Their eyes met, but Faraj was too far gone in battle frenzy to identify him any further than “friendly” and turn away from him looking for a uniform to kill.

Noor had vanished into the smoke as soon as they left the guardhouse. Madari fired at a uniformed men that loomed out of the smoke at him and ran past the fallen body, on into the battle, avoiding the bodies on the ground, of his men and his enemies.


Raslan was standing again, the tension making his skin crawl all over his body. He had a better view of the battle than anyone else, except perhaps the men in the towers.

As it stood, he thought, Madari would lose. The enemy outnumbered him too much. He’d slowed them down and killed a lot of them as they tried to get in, but now they were inside, they had started to gain the upper hand. And when the reserve joined the first wave, it would all be over.

But rescue was coming and now Raslan had done his duty and advised his general of that, he could watch it happen and he could grin like a maniac as it did.

Out of the east, the rising sun behind them a group of horsemen charged. Fifty at least, maybe seventy, Raslan estimated. They charged from where they’d been in the cover of the dunes and covered the ground at a stunning pace. Raslan, squinting through his binoculars into the glow of the dawn found himself clenching a fist and gasping “Yes! Yes!” as the Bedouin aimed their horses at the reserve force. The reserve started to fire on them, but too late and, aiming into the sunrise, too inaccurately.

The Bedouin warriors, deadly accurate shots from horseback fired on the reserve and scattered them, driving them from the cover of the trucks. Raslan gasped awestruck as the charge hit the infantrymen and tore them apart.

In only two minutes it seemed, the reserve was destroyed. Half the Bedouin riders split off and spurred their mounts again, heading to the camp.


Madari staggered, panting, sweat and blood falling into his eyes. He fell against the side of a barracks hut. He had to reload his empty rifle. He had lost his pistol, knocked from his hand by a bullet graze. Looking around, wide-eyed as he reloaded, left handed, without looking, he wished he could see Jahni. To know he was alive.

A uniformed man came around the side of the barracks hut, too close, and too soon. He reacted fast and knocked the rifle from Madari’s hands, kicked him hard in the knee, knocking him to the ground. The soldier stepped back, giving himself room to use his rifle. Does he recognise me, Madari wondered. Does he know he’s about to earn a year’s pay with one shot? The soldier raised his rifle.

Kahil, find me.

Then Madari scrambled back gasping as a huge shape loomed between him and the soldier. A horseman fired on the soldier threatening Madari, killing him instantly, and then turned back, gave Madari a salute and a smile and the horse leapt away.

Madari grabbed his rifle from the ground, got the clip slapped into it. He took the pistol of the man who’d not quite earned that bonus. When he stood he could hear the whinnying and sometimes, horribly, the screaming of horses among the screams and yells of men and the gunshots. The horsemen were clearing the yard.

Cavalry. Madari wanted to laugh, felt hysterical. Where are you, Halais? Let me give you every last piece of Sergeant Baracus’s jewellery I still have and it won’t be enough to repay you. The smoke started thinning. Madari, limping as he realised how much his knee hurt, headed back into the yard.


It was ending. Cavalry. Jahni hadn’t quite been able to believe his eyes as horses poured past him, turning the advantage back to their side against the stunned enemy.

He needed to find Madari now. His mind screamed at him to do that. The battle was over. Madari had ordered Jahni not to be his bodyguard in combat, but as the fighting ended Jahni had to find him, make sure he was alive.

Fear tore at his mind. Far worse than the fear that had come as he’d fought and before that as he’d waited to fight. The fear that Madari had been killed beat that by a thousand times. He had to find him, but would only look among the living, too afraid to look for him in the bodies on the ground.

Then he saw him, walking out of the smoke, a shaft of sunlight briefly showing up his face, blackened with smoke and bloody. He was limping and staggering a little, but he was alive, safe.

Jahni ran to him, fearing he had a leg wound and would fall. Madari gasped as Jahni grabbed him into an embrace. Neither spoke, but Madari put his arm around Jahni’s shoulders and kissed him on the forehead, then pulled back quickly.

“Your leg?” Jahni gasped, scrubbing a hand across his eyes.

“I’m not shot,” Madari reassured him. He stopped talking for a moment, to listen to the messages coming over the radio. The enemy in the yard had retreated, surrender or fallen. The reserve – no longer existed.

“Jahni.” Madari cleared his throat, as his voice cracked. “Jahni, regroup the men and mop up, secure the yard, secure prisoners in the blockhouse, get wounded to the infirmary.”

Jahni nodded. He didn’t want to leave Madari again, but he would never disobey Madari’s orders. He saluted and ran off, calling out for the men.

Madari watched him go, whole and alive. You found me, he thought. But this is not paradise. He looked around as the sun rose fully and the smoke started to blow away on a cool morning breeze. Madari looked at his battlefield, his victory. Thirty minutes, he thought, less even, and so many dead. Victory tasted like blood in his mouth.

He went to the infirmary. He wanted a bandage for his hand that the bullet had trailed a path of pain across. For a moment he was frightened to go in there, fearing it would be more horrible even than the yard. Nevertheless, he steeled himself and found his way through the smoke to the guardhouse.

It wasn’t as bad as he feared and he realised that was because there’d been no time to bring many of the wounded here yet.

“Made it, sir?” A voice said from near the floor and he turned to find Noor sitting against the wall, looking pale. He had a bandage around his left calf, the trouser leg torn open to the knee.

“Javid!” he knelt by his second. “You’re shot?”

“Right through. Just the fleshy part, missed the bone. I’ll be fine. Just need to wait my turn, think I’ll be here a while.”

Madari squeezed his shoulder, happy to see him alive and thanked god his injury was minor.

“Stay strong, my friend.” He stood up and went to the Dr Al-Hijazi who stood working on an unconscious man. Needing to stay strong himself, Madari deliberately didn’t look at the man’s face. He looked at the doctor’s instead and got a glare in return as the doctor held up a piece of blood-covered shrapnel that he’d just removed from the patient. He dropped it into a bowl making a clatter.

“The battle is over, doctor, more wounded will be here very soon.”

“I’ve no doubt.” He bent over the man again. Other men occupied the rest of the beds, with the field medics working on them. The room stank of blood. A few men sat around the walls, like Noor, and helped bandage each other’s wounds.

Madari picked up the antiseptic from the tray by the doctor and poured some over his hand. Al-Hijazi glared at him.

“How much of that do you think we have?”

Madari quickly stopped pouring. He cleaned off the wound and wrapped a bandage around it. It should hurt more, he thought, but adrenaline made a fine painkiller and he barely felt anything in the hand or his knee.

He looked down at the man the doctor worked on finally and realised with a shock that he wore a uniform. A government soldier. Of course, he thought. We must take the moral high ground. Nevertheless… Men started to come into the infirmary in ever-increasing numbers.

“Doctor. The enemy wounded. Treat only those whose injuries are life threatening.”

Now Al-Hijazi’s stare could raise blisters.

“You don’t command in my infirmary, Major. And if I have to I will throw you out myself.”

“We have limited supplies. Our men must take priority. I will send the enemy wounded away soon, and they’ll get treatment then. Our men take priority, doctor. I mean it.”

He strode out, hating the harsh tone he’d used.


Raslan ran down the dune where he’d spent the last three nights as General Dasham’s Jeep drove up. One of the men drove. Raslan went to get in, but Dasham jumped out and advanced on him.

“What the hell happened?”

“The Bedouin, sir. They were hidden in the dunes to the east, waiting.”

“And you didn’t notice them. In all the time you were up there, you didn’t spot a single one of the bastards?”

“I’m sorry, sir, they’re very good at concealment.”

“You fool!”

The blow, an open handed slap across the face, took Raslan by surprise and knocked him down. He sprawled on the ground, gasping, raised the back of his hand to his lip, tasted blood. The man in the Jeep stared and Raslan felt certain he saw a tiny sneer there.

He glared up at the general. You’ll pay for that, one day, you bastard. You’ll pay for laying a hand on me.

“Get up, you idiot,” Dasham ordered. “Get in the damn Jeep.”

Raslan stood up slowly. He didn’t make an immediate move to get in the Jeep.

“You’d prefer if I left you out here in the desert perhaps?” Dasham asked him, ignoring the fierce glare Raslan directed at him. “Perhaps you think you’ll hike over to the camp and join up with Madari instead?”

Well, why not, Raslan thought. At least he’s a winner.

“That’s where I’m going, fool. Get in. We might still get lucky. Madari might have died in the assault.”

We? There’s no ‘we’, General. Not any more.


Madari left the guardhouse and found Halais waiting for him. The two men embraced.

“Halais, I can never repay you for this. We would surely have died without you.”

“Come, Major, my men have the enemy commander prisoner. I’m sure you want to speak to him.”

They found the enemy commander just outside the gate, with a group of Bedouin men. He was only a lieutenant and Madari realised that he hadn’t been in charge an hour ago, but Madari’s snipers had seen to it that he was in charge now.

“Lieutenant.” Madari offered his hand. The young, terrified looking man stared, then took the hand nervously and shook it.

“Major. I cannot offer my surrender to these… men.” He looked around nervously at the Bedouin.

“You should. They beat you. However, I accept your surrender, Lieutenant. You’ll be held prisoner for the moment. You will not be ill-treated. When your wounded are ready to be moved they’ll be loaded onto your trucks, so will your dead. Once that’s done, the prisoners will be taken to those trucks and escorted away from here. Will you cooperate?”

The lieutenant stared at him. Yes, boy, Madari thought. I made a plan for victory, however unlikely my victory might have seemed to you, I prepared for it. I expected to win. He smiled to himself. Yes, because a commander who expects to lose somehow makes his expectation come true.

“Yes, sir,” the lieutenant said. “We will cooperate.”

“Thank you.” He looked at the Bedouin warriors. “Take him to the blockhouse. Remember he has my word that he will be treated properly.”

They escorted the lieutenant away. Madari sighed and rubbed his eyes, weariness overwhelming him. His knee had started to throb and he could barely put any weight on it now. He had to take Halais’s arm as the chief helped him back into the camp.

The yard was busy now, wounded being helped away, and the most gruesome task of all, collecting up the dead. He saw Faraj supervising them and sighed with relief at the sight of him safe. He ticked men off a mental checklist as he moved through the camp. Later he would find out who he had lost.

Some men moved among the dead collecting all of their weapons and radios. Madari thought that they would be able to keep at least a couple of the trucks and he’d have all of the Jeeps. Damn, all the weapons and equipment came at a high price.

He let Halais lead him back into the guardhouse, busy with men helping the wounded. The medics had already set up a triage centre in the mess and were sorting the men by how urgent their injuries were. Madari wanted to go and help, but Halais kept a firm grip on his arm, pulled him into his office, and on into the sitting room, pushed him into a chair.

“Rest, Major.”

“The men need me.”

“No. Now they need the doctor and each other. You need rest.”

Madari sighed and relented. He lay back in the chair.

“So you changed your mind, Halais.”

“A man who never changes his mind should not bother having a mind at all.”

“What now, my friend? Will you take me up on my offer to bring your tribe here to the camp?”

“What? Bring our women to live alongside a camp full of soldiers? Do you think I am a fool?” He smiled, and then went serious again. “No, we have a place we will stay.”

And you’re not going to tell me where, Madari thought. Which is wise.

“The men here today are not all my men. They come from other tribes I’ve spoken to. They’ve agreed to fight with you when they are needed. They will go home now and wait to be summoned again. Half of my men will camp here, half will stay with my people. They’ll be on a two week rotation, so all of them can train with your men.”

Madari blinked at him, barely comprehending his words now, exhaustion dragging him down. He’d had very little sleep for days, weeks now. He would close his eyes perhaps, for a moment.



Madari awoke and saw he was not alone. Someone sat near him in the shadows, their head bowed on one hand, fingers entwined in glossy black hair.


The figure looked up and Madari stared.

“Captain Raslan?”

“Major.” Raslan said. Madari frowned. Even in the dim light, he could see bruises on Raslan’s face.

“You’re here?” Am I dreaming? “Is the general here?”

“Yes. We were… passing.”

Madari considered this unlikely, but didn’t say so. He wanted to get out and see what Dasham was getting up. But when he moved, his knee, swollen up now, protested at once. He subsided back into his chair. Raslan frowned at him.

“You’re hurt?”

“It’s nothing.” Raslan was making him nervous. He had an intense look in his eyes. How ludicrous is that? I’ve just been through a battle and this one man, this ally, is making me nervous?

“Sir, I wanted to ask you something,” Raslan said. “That’s why I came in here. I didn’t want to disturb you, but –”

“Ask me what?” Madari interrupted. Raslan seemed less smooth than normal, seemed agitated. Madari began to wonder just how much of the smoothness was an act. Perhaps Jahni was right about Raslan, right to mistrust him.

“I want to stay here, Major, serve you.”


“I cannot serve the general any longer. Sir, I am…” He looked down, something like shame in his eyes. “I am afraid of him.” He touched the bruise on his face and Madari got the hint.

“Raslan… I…” Madari swallowed hard as Raslan looked up again. His eyes had a hungry look in them. I am afraid of you, Raslan, Madari thought. Because you know what I want.

“Please, Major.” Raslan paused and ran his hand through his hair. “Can’t I convince you? Would you have me… on my knees?”

Madari almost jumped out of his seat, his bad knee forgotten. He felt as if he was in a room with a tiger, a thing at once beautiful and lethal.

“You have to go, Raslan. Now.”

“But –” Raslan rose and Madari backed off.

“Now! Go to Colonel Jumale if you cannot serve the general any more. But you can’t stay here.”

Raslan lost the desperate, hungry look suddenly and straightened up.

“Very well, Major. I’ll go. But I think we’ll meet again.” He held out his hand and cautiously Madari took it. “After all we are allies. Friends.” The last word must have tasted very bitter in his mouth, judging by the expression on his face.

“Yes,” Madari said. “Allies.”

Raslan pulled his hand away and strode out of the room.

A moment later Madari limped out after him. He emerged from the guardhouse into the yard to find Raslan standing at Dasham’s side and giving Jahni who stood nearby, a very evil look.

“Ah, Madari,” Dasham said. “So, old Sattan was right.”

“Hello, General.” He didn’t salute. “Yes, it seems General Sattan was right.”

“Well, congratulations on your victory. Your casualties, thirty one dead I’m told, acceptable rate of loss considering the situation.”

Thirty-one. Madari glanced at Jahni, who nodded his confirmation of the number.

“General, we have a lot of work to do,” Madari said. “If you are not staying to help I must ask you to excuse me.”

Dasham scowled, but kept his tone polite.

“Of course, I’ll leave you to clear up.” He climbed into his Jeep, Raslan got into the back seat. His expression had gone blank now and he didn’t look at or acknowledge Madari as the General gave an order to the driver. The Jeep pulled away and drove out of the gate. Madari watched it go. Jahni came to stand at his side.

“What time is it Kahil?” Madari asked.

“Seven fifteen.” Jahni said, checking his watch.

“Right. I’d like the prisoners out of the camp today, as soon as all of their wounded can be moved.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Thirty one.” Madari said.

“That’s not including the Bedouin,” Jahni said. “They lost five men.”

Madari closed his eyes. Of course, the general hadn’t included them.

“Kahil, you didn’t like Captain Raslan did you?”

Jahni looked uncomfortable for a moment as Madari turned to look at him.

“Not much,” he admitted. “Or, well, it’s more I didn’t trust him.”

“Why not?”

“I’m not sure. Just a gut feeling I think?”



Like my instinct about the deserters, Madari thought, who stood and fought with us. He’d seen Sergeant Azma since the battle. Alive. Jahni trusted my instinct about them. I trust his about Raslan.

He turned and smiled at Jahni.

“Instincts are a soldier’s friends. I think we will see the General and Raslan again though.”

“Well, yes, they are our allies.”

“Our friends?”

Jahni looked back at him and shook his head. “Our allies.”

Madari nodded. Jahni understood the difference.

Madari took a step and winced. He knew it would be hours before he could ask the doctor to look at his knee. Meanwhile he put a hand on Jahni’s shoulder for support and they walked slowly towards the guard’s barracks. The bodies lay in there. Madari needed to mourn the friends he had lost today.