Part 8: Desperation & Dishonour

Chapter 1

Every night now. Every night. Days were better than they had been. He’d not had a flashback in months. In the days he could be strong, the strong leader the men needed. But every night the darkness took him.

Tonight, like all the others, he woke clawing his way into the light, grabbing at the only thing that comforted him.

Kahil. Clung to him, shaking. Talk to me. Talk, just talk.

Jahni talked. His words had little meaning, just words of comfort, soothing. The voice was what mattered, as always.

As the nightmare faded, Madari lay back on his bed, looking up at Jahni who sat at his side, bending over him. He left one hand resting in Jahni’s. Still needed the warmth of that presence.

How can he follow me? When he sees me like this in the night? So weak, so afraid. Yet he follows me into battle. Why would he trust me?

The room felt too hot, stifling him.

“I need air.”

“Should I open a window?”

“No. Outside.”

Jahni stood up and stepped back to give Madari room to swing his feet off the bed and sit up. Madari pulled a thoub over his head, stood up to shake it out and slipped his feet into sandals. Jahni was already fully dressed, he’d been on guard duty. Every night now, he stood guard at Madari’s door. Waiting for the screams.

Brushing his hands through his hair, trying to shake away the darkness, Madari walked out of the room. Jahni followed him and they emerged a moment later from the guardhouse into the yard.

In the quiet of the night, the footsteps of the guards sounded clearly. As they stepped outside, they met Faraj, who stood at the guardhouse door that night.

“Sir. Lieutenant. Is everything all right?”

How pale am I? Madari wondered, seeing the concern in Faraj’s eyes. Did he hear me crying out?

“Yes, thank you, Captain. I just need some air.”

“Sir.” Faraj stood aside and let them pass.

The night air hit his skin and Madari shivered. The summer had passed, bringing autumn nights distinctly colder than the summer ones. He walked across the yard, heading for the same place he always headed to when he came out here at night.

The east wire, outside of which lay the camp’s graveyard. When he reached it, he held the wire with one hand, rested his forehead on the back of his hand and looked at the graves.

A month now, since the battle and the deaths of so many of his men. And since the nightmares became worse. He didn’t dream of the battle though, at least not often. His interrogation still haunted his nightmares and he sometimes felt guilty about that. Shouldn’t he have nightmares about the loss of his men?

Perhaps training made the difference. Training and experience. Combat, he’d faced before, had lost friends, men under his command. But nothing had prepared him for what they did to him in the basement of the Security Police HQ.

After a moment, he felt Jahni’s hand touch his own and let their hands join before turning his head to look at Jahni, who stood quietly at his side, his gaze on Madari’s face. He’s been looking at me all the time, not at the graves, Madari knew for sure.

“Kahil.” He paused. He’d been thinking of saying this for several days now, but was afraid to. Afraid Jahni would actually say ‘yes’. “Kahil, it’s been some time now, and you’ve still not gone to see your family’s graves. Perhaps it is time you went?”

Jahni looked away, over the dark, cold desert.

“Would you come with me?”

The question took Madari by surprise. “I couldn’t really, no. I need to be here.”

“I know.” Jahni turned back to him. “I don’t want to go. I don’t need to go. They’re dead. I don’t need to see their graves to know that.”

“No, but… it might help you.”

He worried about Jahni, about the darkness he saw growing inside him, since the day he found out. Had he even wept for them since then? Or did he concentrate only on avenging them? Could a man live for revenge and keep his soul?

“I doubt it.” Jahni turned away again. “Later. When this is done. When it’s over. Then I’ll go. Until then.” His voice dropped low. “Until then you know where I belong.”

Madari smiled, only a small smile. Of course, Jahni didn’t only live for revenge. He lived to protect Madari. Perhaps his soul wasn’t in quite as much danger as Madari feared.

“I could not ask for a better guardian.” He gave Jahni’s hand a squeeze, but Jahni didn’t turn back to him, still gazed over the desert. His jaw tightened, but he didn’t speak. Madari turned to look again at the graves and they stood silent, hands still interlocked.

“I think I can sleep now,” Madari said, eventually, making Jahni turn to him. In the moonlight, Madari could see the dark circles under his eyes. He’s as tired as I am, he realised. They began to walk back to the guardhouse.

“Kahil, you are guarding my door every night now?”

“Yes.” Jahni confirmed.

“You need rest. You need to let others guard the door.”

“I can rest during the day,” Jahni said with a small shrug.

Madari shook his head. Not satisfactory and not fair.

“You need proper sleep.”

“So do you. And you say you sleep better if it’s me there to help you.”

Madari couldn’t deny this. But when he woke from his nightmares and Jahni comforted him he usually went back to sleep quickly. What did Jahni do?

They arrived at the guardhouse door, where Faraj still stood, watching them approach, still wearing that concerned frown. As Madari let go of Jahni’s hand, to go through the door, he nodded goodnight to Faraj.

At the door to his room, Madari stopped and turned to Jahni.

“I can’t let you overwork yourself this way, Kahil. You will make yourself ill. I insist you reinstitute your rota for guard duty. I can… I can manage.” The last part did not sound convincing.

Jahni looked at him for a while then spoke.

“I have an idea.”


“Javid, I need to talk to you.”

Noor looked up from the maps he bent over, to find Faraj looking at him with a worried expression. He smiled.

“Of course, Idris.”

“Not here.” Faraj looked around the room that had been the officer’s mess in the guardhouse and had long ago been turned into a planning and briefing room. A couple of other men were working there. “I need to show you something.”

He turned and walked out. Noor followed him, wondering what Faraj had a bee in his bonnet about now. The taller man’s long strides took him ahead of Noor and meant Faraj stood waiting, tapping his foot, at the door to Madari’s office, by the time Noor caught up to him.

Faraj knocked on the office door, and then peered inside and went in. Noor followed him to find the office empty. To Noor’s surprise, Faraj went on through into the small sitting room off the office. He shrugged and followed. Faraj checked the bedroom and bathroom before coming back to Noor. Wordlessly he pointed at the wall beside the bedroom door.

A cot stood there, some blankets folded on top of it, a box of belongings sat underneath it.

“That’s Jahni’s,” Faraj said.

“What?” Noor said, frowning. “He’s moved his cot in here? Why?”

“To help the major at night, apparently. With his nightmares.”

Noor nodded. He’d noticed Jahni doing guard duty every night for the past few weeks, and looking more and more tired. At least this way he’d be close by to help Madari, but he’d get his rest too. He turned to look at Faraj, who stood with his arms folded, scowling at the cot.

“Something wrong, Idris?”

Faraj turned and stared at him.

“You don’t think it… strange for Jahni to move into the major’s sleeping quarters?”

“Well, it’s not quite his sleeping quarters, is it? It’s not actually the bedroom. I mean this room is –”

“Are you being deliberately obtuse?” Faraj demanded.

Noor’s fists clenched briefly and he bristled.

“I don’t appreciate your tone, Captain.”

Faraj took a small step back, but he didn’t apologise and his tone didn’t change much.

“You have to admit people may find it odd.”

“We’re in a pretty odd situation, Idris. You know the major’s problems, you know Jahni has a connection with him, can help him.”

“And you really think that there’s nothing else to it?” An edge of sarcasm in his voice angered Noor.

“You’ve known the major for many years. I’m shocked that you would imply such a thing.”

Faraj turned away, stood looking out of the window, arms folded. Noor watched him. Faraj had known Madari for many years, many more than Noor. Perhaps he knew the man better. Perhaps something he’d seen in those long years gave him good reasons for his suspicions.

No. Noor refused to believe there could be any truth to the insinuation. Certainly, Madari and Jahni had a strong connection, but they were only friends. Noor had seen Madari in the grip of a nightmare, a horrible sight and he could only imagine the terror Madari felt. No wonder he clung so tight to the man who could help him get back into the light quicker than anyone else.

Still, they had all been here many months now, years in fact, when he added in their prison time before that. And in all that time, the only women they had seen were the Bedouin women at Halais’s settlement, who Madari had made it very clear were strictly ‘off limits.’ Sexual frustration could break down a man’s usual moral code. Frustration and… temptation? No one could deny Jahni’s good looks.

Oh, ridiculous, he chided himself. The major would never do anything to compromise himself that way.

“Last night,” Faraj said. “They were walking in the yard. Holding hands.”

Noor frowned. “So?” Faraj didn’t answer. Noor laughed, suddenly understanding. “Idris, you spent too long in England!” Prep school, Eton, Cambridge, Sandhurst. He’d have had the practice of holding another boy’s hand knocked out of him pretty quick. Any time Noor had tried to take Faraj’s hand he’d found it disengaged as quickly as politeness allowed.

“You’re an Arab, not an Englishman, Idris. So are they. If that’s all that makes you suspicious, I think you need to go and think about where we are and who we are.”

Faraj turned to look at him.

“Do you really think if that was the only thing that made me suspicious that I would have said any of this to you?” He sighed and shook his head, looking at the floor. “If you don’t want to believe me I can’t make you. But believe this.” He looked up. “This so-called ‘friendship’ puts the major in more danger than any of the missions we’ve been on. If you refuse to see that, you are failing in your duty as second in command.”

“A position you think you should occupy, perhaps?” Noor couldn’t help the words, snapping them out quickly and regretting them at once. Faraj didn’t rise to the bait though. He shook his head, bit his lip and then turned on his heel and walked out.

As the door closed behind Faraj, Noor walked over to Jahni’s cot and looked down at it. Faraj couldn’t be right. Madari was their leader and, Noor believed, a great man. A man of destiny. Such men often had a close friend, a confidant, who they could show their heart to. One man they didn’t have to put on a show for. That was entirely natural. Normal. Of course, there could be a danger of people misinterpreting such a relationship, but in this case, any suspicions were groundless. Noor felt certain of that. Quite certain. Almost certain.

Perhaps he should talk to… Well Jahni, not Madari. He glanced at his watch. When Jahni returned from his recon mission.


Reconnaissance missions bored Jahni. To watch and take notes, while his trigger finger itched and his pistol sat cold and idle in its holster, frustrated him.

But with their mission completed, the small team he led were driving back to the camp, by a long and roundabout route as usual. He sat in the back and dozed while the two men with him, both civilians, named Sabri and Rehm, talked quietly to each other. Sabri drove the car, which seemed to chase its own shadow along the road, as the sun sank into the west behind them.

“Lieutenant.” The nervous edge in Rehm’s voice brought Jahni to instant alertness. He stared ahead of them on the road, to see several military vehicles standing parked up and soldiers with rifles ranged across the road.

“A checkpoint.” Sabri’s voice sounded even more nervous then Rehm’s. “Do we…?”

What, crash through it and try to escape? Jahni shook his head. They carried forged ID papers and had a cover story. No need to do anything foolish. They could bluff their way past this.

“Remember the cover story,” Jahni said. “We’ve been to a family wedding. You two are brothers. I’m your cousin. From the better looking side of the family.”

His small joke made them relax a little and they slowed and stopped as the checkpoint soldiers flagged them down.

“Smile,” Jahni said, quietly as he and Sabri rolled down their windows.

“Hey, what’s wrong?” Jahni said as a soldier approached.

“Vehicle check, sir. Switch off the engine.”

“Will this take long?” Jahni asked as Sabri did as the soldier ordered. “We’ve had a long journey; we want to get home before dark.” The soldier ignored him and spoke to Sabri again.

“Get out and open the trunk.”

The trunk had nothing incriminating in it. Jahni nodded at Sabri in the rear-view mirror. Sabri went to pull the keys out of the ignition.

Movement caught Jahni’s eye and he looked over as a man climbed out of a small truck and walked towards the car. Jahni stared and a second later the man caught his gaze, looked him right in the face.


The big sergeant’s jaw dropped and a second later, he grabbed at his pistol.

“Stop them!”

“Go! Drive!” Jahni yelled at Sabri. He pulled out his pistol from under his jacket and fired at the man standing by the car, who had drawn his pistol at Ghaith’s order. As the soldier fell, the engine fired and the car leapt forward. Sabri swore as he tried to get it into the right gear. Jahni and Rehm ducked down in their seats as bullets hit the car. Then the engine roared and the car hurtled away.

“Ghaith!” Rehm gasped. “Fuck! Why him? Out of every fucking soldier in the country!”

Jahni looked out of the back window to see jeeps coming after them, gaining fast. Damn, they couldn’t outrun those. And firing on them with pistols from a speeding car would be a waste of ammunition. He wished for a rifle, for grenades, anything.

The back window smashed and Jahni ducked down again. Over the roar of their engine, he heard automatic fire and then the inevitable happened. The car slewed around as one of the rear tyres was shot out and exploded. Sabri fought the steering wheel, tried to control the skid, but the rear of the car spun off the paved road and into the sandy earth, turned almost 180 degrees to face their pursuers. The engine coughed and stalled.

“Move!” Rehm cried, sounding terrified as Sabri turned the ignition key. For a second the engine caught, and then the windscreen shattered and Sabri jerked in his seat, before slumping forward over the wheel.

“No!” Rehm cried. Jahni grabbed Sabri’s shoulder and pulled him back. Dead.

“Out!” Jahni ordered Rehm. “Use the doors as cover.”

Useless, Jahni knew, but he dived out of the door and crouched behind it, firing through the open window. Rehm did the same on his side. The jeeps halted and the soldiers in them jumped out, took cover behind them and fired at the guerrillas.

We’ll lose, Jahni knew. There are more of them. They have rifles and more ammo than we do. He’d already used up most of the clip in his pistol. Leaning back inside the car, he reached through to the driver’s seat, his hand searching blindly over Sabri’s body for his pistol.

Then he gasped, as Rehm cry out and Jahni saw him fall back. He slid back out of the car and dropped to hands and knees, to look underneath. Rehm lay unmoving on the road on the other side of the car, a bright splash of blood under his head.

I’m next, Jahni knew. He couldn’t find Sabri’s pistol and estimated he had only one round left in his own pistol. The best outcome he could hope for now was that the bullet had Ghaith’s name on it.

So he poked his head up over the window and tried to target his old enemy. The bastard who had violated Faraj, and would have killed Jahni, if Madari hadn’t stopped him. But he was looking into the dusk and his last shot didn’t even come close. The pistol clicked emptily in his hand.

Dropping back down into cover, he pulled his knife out and waited. They’d realise in a moment that he was out of ammunition and then they’d just stroll up and shoot him in the head. He’d fight them until that’s what they did. Nothing else would stop him.

After a moment, the footsteps came and he saw the shadows on the road as the soldiers approached. A voice ordered him to throw down his weapons and he tossed out the empty pistol.

“Stand up!” The order came. “Hands on your head!”

Jahni’s face twisted into a smile. He put his hands on his head, the knife held by his thumb, pressed against the back of his head, hidden from view. They’d shoot him the instant he tossed the knife, but with luck he’d be hit the ground dead at the exact same time as Ghaith.

Slowly he stood up. Half a dozen soldiers stood in front of him, rifles pointed, tense. Ghaith. Jahni searched for him, couldn’t see him…

“I’ll take that.” A familiar voice behind Jahni and then the muzzle of a pistol pressed into the back of his neck and a hand snatched away the knife. “See,” Ghaith went on. “I remember what a sneaky little bastard you are, Lieutenant.”

He moved, away from Jahni and to the front, so Jahni could see him and glare pure hatred at him.

“Finish it!” Jahni snarled. “I don’t want to look at your pig face a second longer than I have to.”

“Kill you?” Ghaith laughed. “Lieutenant, you’re too modest. You’re much too valuable a prize to kill.” Smirking, he looked around at the other soldiers. “I think we’ll be getting a bonus, lads. We just captured the bastard they call Madari’s Shadow.”


The message came to them through several go-betweens, but bore a code that told Madari it originated with General Sattan. He stood in the radio room as it came in.

Two unidentified men killed, one captured, identified as Lieutenant Kahil Jahni.

The message continued, but Madari couldn’t hear it. He had to grab at the back of the operator’s chair when his knees shook and his stomach turned over.

Alive, one part of his mind screamed. The part that had been a nightmare ball of terror for the last twelve hours, since the recon party had not returned. Captured, another part of him screamed back. And two men dead.

When the operator spoke, Madari managed to drag himself back to the here and now and looked at the man, blankly.

“The full message, sir,” the operator repeated handing over a sheet of paper. Madari took a breath and tried to get his mind working again. Tried to drag it out of a dark cell, tried to shut out the imagined sound of Jahni screaming. He read the message.

“Thank you. Please, have the senior staff report to my office.”

“Yes, sir.”

Madari walked out of the room, grabbing at the doorframe for a moment, almost losing his balance. As he walked, his breathing grew faster and his dizziness increased. He passed a man and couldn’t even recognise him.

At last, he reached his office, slammed the door and leaned against it. The message slipped from his shaking hand to the floor. His head fell back against the door, eyes squeezed shut, breath coming in gasps now.

This is my fault! I’m being punished, for my thoughts about him. My desire for him. My love. My sin. I’ve condemned him.

Someone tapped on the door behind him and his eyes sprang open, wide, staring. His men, his officers. He needed to get control of himself. His face felt wet and he scrubbed an arm across it, and then tried to flatten his hair down.

Control, he ordered himself. Control. You are an officer. You are a leader. A leader does not weep. A leader plans. Jahni doesn’t need my tears now. He needs my leadership. He cleared his throat and opened the door, then strode towards his desk as several officers and senior men from the civilians trooped in.

Dr Al-Hijazi took one of the chairs by the desk and Noor, who still limped from his battle wound, when it suited him and chairs were short, took the other. The rest stood around the room.

“Gentlemen.” Madari put a hand on the back of his chair to steady himself, but stayed on his feet. “We have received a message…” he realised he’d not picked up the paper; it still lay in a crumpled ball by the door. Never mind. “Sent by General Sattan. Our reconnaissance party was intercepted at a checkpoint. Sabri and Rehm were killed and…” Control. Keep your voice steady. “Lieutenant Jahni has been taken prisoner.”

The men stirred and looked at each other and muttered. Madari held up a hand and they fell silent.

“He’s currently held at the Al-Rasia military base,” Madari went on.

“Damn,” Noor said. “That place is big, there’s no way we can hit that.”

Madari wanted to smile, but controlled it. He didn’t even have to make the suggestion; Noor had done it for him. But what he said was right. The base was an impossible target for an attack. It would be suicide. But they had an alternative.

“According to the General’s message Jahni will be transported to the capital for interrogation.” His voice shook on the last word and he saw Faraj look sharply at him.

“Well, we have to get him out,” Noor said, matter of factly. “He knows too much, we can’t let them interrogate him.”

Others nodded and Madari gave a serious nod too. “He has a lot of information, not only about our operation, but the locations and strengths of the other guerrilla groups. And our sympathisers, Sheik Elahi, General Sattan himself.”

“If I was Sattan I’d be booking a plane ticket right now,” Noor said.

Madari frowned and shook his head. “To lose Sattan would be a terrible blow. He may be the most valuable man to the rebellion in the whole country.”

Faraj’s scrutiny started to bother Madari. Are all the rest thinking the same as him, Madari wondered. That he wanted to get Jahni out because he needed him. Nothing to do with Elahi, or Sattan or the other rebel groups.

“Of course, Kahil knows all this,” Noor said. He sighed. “I hate to say it, but he could solve the problem himself.”

Madari frowned at him, not understanding. “What do you mean, Captain?”

“Well, he only needs a few minutes alone, his sash and something sturdy and high up to tie it to.”

Madari sat down abruptly in his chair. He had to put his hands under the desk so the other men couldn’t see them shaking.

“Always practical, aren’t you, Javid?” Faraj’s words sounded bitter.

Noor winced and looked chagrined. He turned to Madari. “I’m sorry, sir. Of course, I don’t want that. I want Kahil back, I just…”

Madari waved a hand. “No, you make a good point, Captain.” And he loved Noor as a dear friend, a brother, but right at this moment, wanted to punch him in the mouth. “Jahni understands how useful his information would be to the enemy. But…” Will he believe that Madari would come for him? Will that keep him from taking that route to escape? Of course he knows. He must know. “I think he won’t do something so drastic until he is sure there is no other course.”

“Well you know him best, sir,” Noor said, and Madari frowned at him for a moment until Faraj spoke.

“Then we have to get him out.”

Madari looked at Faraj, met his eyes. Faraj found Jahni difficult, had never quite been sure how to deal with him. But Madari knew he’d never forgotten watching Jahni beat Ghaith to avenge him. He knew Faraj still felt he owed Jahni a debt.

“I will take only volunteers on this mission,” Madari said it suddenly, the words coming without much thought, but knew at once that they were right. Needing to prevent Jahni giving up the information was only an excuse. Jahni could know no secrets at all and Madari would still want to rescue him, he couldn’t deny that. Could it be right to order men to risk their lives on a rescue mission in that case? Only men who wanted to rescue Jahni because they cared for him too should come on this mission.

How popular was Jahni with the men, he wondered. They admired his fighting skill certainly, but did they resent his friendship with Madari? Madari had tried to be careful not to show favouritism, but he could have done so unconsciously. And while he thought Jahni never capitalised on their closeness, never used it to his advantage, did all of the men see it the same way?

“Do we know yet when he’s being moved?” Noor asked.

“No,” Madari said. “Not yet. General Sattan will advise us as soon as he finds out a route and time.”

“There’s at least half a dozen different routes they could take,” Darak said. “I’ve got family who live in that part of the country, I know it well. I’ll go on the mission.”

Madari nodded. The first volunteer. He glanced at Faraj, who gave a quick nod of confirmation. Of course. As men put forward their names and a squad formed, Madari looked at them and one question filled his mind. Would I do this for any of you, or only for him? He glanced at Faraj again. No, I would do it for you at least. If no-one else, I’d do it for you.


Jahni sat on the floor, the stone wall cool against his naked back. They had taken most of his clothes, left him only his trousers. He didn’t care too much about that, except for one thing. His sash. Madari had made it himself. Jahni had spent hours hemming the edge to keep it from fraying and he wore it even on a recon mission like the one he’d been on. Wound around his waist, under his shirt, unseen, but always there. And the soldiers had taken it and he wanted it back.

He moved, trying to get comfortable, favouring the bruises he’d collected since his capture. The manacles on his wrists and ankles clanked as he shifted. It was almost flattering, he thought. Cuffed and fettered, even while locked in a cell. They must be very afraid of him indeed. They should be afraid. He’d take any chance to kill Ghaith, even at the cost of his own life. If the man had still been in the camp the night the prisoners and the A-Team had taken over, then he would have been dead then.

If Madari had allowed it. He’d not allowed them to kill General Ziyahd and plenty of men would have stepped up to volunteer to do that. Rules, Madari believed in them, about how to treat a prisoner. Principles rather, since at that point there’d been nobody to punish him for breaking the rules, only his conscience to punish him for going against his principles.

A man of principle. Ideals. Jahni wished he had as much moral courage in himself. Physical courage he had plenty of, but he could never quite trust that he would choose the right course, the moral course. That he would let emotion rule him instead. Hatred, revenge, anger. Such feelings didn’t lead a man to do the right thing.

Those very feelings surged now as the door slammed back and Ghaith strode into the room, a smirk on his face that Jahni wanted to wipe off. With a flamethrower for preference. He came in alone, and closed the door. Jahni guessed plenty of men stood just outside.

Anger gained the upper hand as he saw Ghaith carried Jahni’s sash over his shoulder. The thought of the vile creature putting his hands on it sickened Jahni. He looked Ghaith over. Apparently unarmed. Interesting. They must be assuming Jahni could take any weapons a man brought into the cell. He guessed Ghaith had handed his sidearm over with an arrogant sneer, saying that he didn’t need anything but his bare hands to deal with Jahni.

“Afternoon, Lieutenant.”

“Idiot. You never tell a prisoner the time of day.”

Ghaith looked taken aback for a moment at the rather calm reply. Jahni sneered at him, but he hated where he’d got that knowledge. From Madari, from his account of how disorienting it had been never to know the time of day during those three weeks with the KGB.

“Shut your trap,” Ghaith snarled. “You’ll know the time of day soon enough when we take you out of here to take you to Az-Ma’ir.” He smirked again. “Yes, they’re looking forward to having a nice long chat with you there. I’m sure they’re getting out the pliers right now, waiting for you to arrive. Perhaps they’ll even use the same ones as…”

Jahni’s scrambled to his feet, his mind filled with red fire. Faris never talked of that. Jahni suspected he couldn’t. That to face that moment again, even as a memory would drive him to insanity.

Ghaith took a few steps back, breaking off.

“Touch me and you die, boy,” he warned.

“It would be worth it,” Jahni snarled. He didn’t move though. He’d have to cross the room in full view of the soldiers watching through the door. And they might shoot him before he even reached Ghaith. He needed to wait for a chance, for Ghaith to get close. To get careless.

Ghaith slid the sash off his shoulder and held it in both hands. Jahni watched him, with narrowed eyes.

“We’ve heard about these rags of yours. Wear it in a nice pretty bow, do you, Lieutenant? Perhaps you have matching ribbons for your hair?”

Jahni heard the other men sniggering outside the door.

“I’d invite you to try it on,” Jahni said, “but I don’t think you could get it even once around your fat gut.”

Ghaith scowled, face flushing dark, and took a couple of steps forward. Come closer, pig, Jahni thought. Come closer. Let me get hold of you. Snap your fat neck. He’d fought Ghaith before and though he’d done pretty well he couldn’t be sure he would have won in the end if the fight had gone on. Now he felt certain he could win. He had the strength and he had the moves. Snap his neck in a heartbeat. Come on, closer.

But Ghaith stopped, stayed too far away from Jahni to jump him. He looked at the sash again.

“Fond of this, are you?” Jahni didn’t answer. Ghaith frowned. Then he spat on the sash. Jahni’s hands curled into fists and Ghaith smiled. He dropped the sash on the floor and stepped onto it, with both of his booted feet, wiped them. Jahni gasped and sprang forward, knowing he shouldn’t, knowing he was acting in a fit of temper.

Ghaith was ready for him. He met Jahni’s rush, with a punch, that Jahni raised a hand to block. But with his hands cuffed that left Jahni’s other side open and Ghaith’s left slammed into his jaw. He staggered back, dizzily and dropped to his knees. The door opened and Ghaith shouted orders at the other soldiers.

A few seconds later they grabbed him, dragged him to his feet, and slammed him against the wall. Jahni shook his head, trying to clear his vision. Blood tasted of metal in his mouth. Something touched him under his chin and suddenly forced his head up. Ghaith had his truncheon out, forcing Jahni’s head up and back, until it pressed against the wall.

“I told you what would happen if you touched me.”

Jahni laughed, a harsh sound. “Don’t waste your time with your empty threats. I know you can’t kill me. Not if they have plans for me in Az-Ma’ir.”

Ghaith scowled, dug the truncheon in harder until Jahni choked and coughed and struggled against the men holding him, desperate for breath. For the first time he felt fear unmixed with anything else, no anger, no battle lust, nothing but the terror of being unable to take a breath.

Then Ghaith pulled the truncheon away and Jahni slumped, wheezing and pulling in huge breaths. A word from Ghaith and the other men dropped him to hit the floor on his hands and knees. Head spinning and ears buzzing Jahni heard their footsteps on the stone floor, moving away from him. With a huge effort, he managed to raise his head. Ghaith looked back, perhaps sensing the glare directed at him.

“See you later, Lieutenant. When we’re ready to go.”

“We?” Jahni coughed the word out.

“Of course.” Ghaith grinned. “You’re my prisoner after all. For capturing you, they’re going to give me a medal!”


Madari watched the small convoy approaching. The sun glared off the window of the small truck. One jeep drove in front of it, one behind. They had no choice but to do this in daylight. The message they received from General Sattan giving them the time and the route of Jahni’s transport to the capital gave them no choice on that.

But Madari felt glad of it anyway. Too much chance of a mistake in the dark. For the same reason he’d taken only those men he trusted to keep cool heads and not go “rock and roll” as the younger men called it when they set their rifles to fully automatic. Could he trust himself to stay cool? He’d managed to project an outward image of control since the initial meeting. Had managed to appear calm and determined. Yet inside, his mind still screamed. He lifted his radio.

“At my command. Remember, check your targets. This is a rescue mission.”

Bullets would be flying and Jahni would be defenceless in the middle of it. He may not even be able to drop to the floor, depending on how he was restrained. They had to reach him fast.

The vehicles drew closer and Madari and his men, lying in ambush in the cover of rocks and ditches by the road, grew tenser, waiting, waiting for their moment. At Madari’s side, Darak lay with one of the rocket launchers loaded and ready. Was the leading jeep far enough ahead for that, Madari asked himself. He didn’t want the explosion of that to make the truck catch fire. Yes, as they came still closer he judged the distance and it was enough. Ready. Ready.

“Now!” He snapped at Darak. The rocket streaked away a second later, low over the ground and smashed through the radiator grill of the jeep.

No radio signal needed for the others, the exploding jeep triggered them to burst from cover. Nobody ran for the leading jeep, the shell of it blazed and the two soldiers who’d been in it lay dead on the road. One squad, led by Noor attacked the trailing jeep. Madari led two men to the cab of the truck on the driver’s side. Faraj and another two approached on the passenger side.

The truck driver opened the door and pointed a pistol at Madari’s team, but Darak shot him before he could fire and the man toppled from the cab and hit the ground. Madari climbed into the now empty cab, Faraj’s team had dragged the passenger out.

No access to the back of the truck from the cab. Damn. He jumped back out. All the gunfire had stopped now and looking to the rear, he saw Noor’s team pulling two limp bodies from the jeep.

Excellent. He ran, the other two following him, to the back of the truck. A padlock secured the doors. The key would be around somewhere, but he had no time to find it.

“Bolt cutters,” Madari snapped at Darak who at once unhooked them from his belt.

“Let me, sir.”

Madari stepped back to allow the younger and stronger man to snip through the padlock with the bolt cutters.

“Stand back,” Darak said glancing around, making sure nobody stood exposed to gunfire from inside the truck. He lifted the handle and pulled open the door. No gunshots came out and Madari pushed past Darak, the cool head he’d kept so far starting to thaw. He pointed his pistol into the dark interior of the truck.

The dark and empty interior.

Chapter 2

Jahni looked up as he heard the bell calling the men to prayer. Then he dropped his head down onto his forearms again, where they rested across his knees.

He’d heard the call to prayer several times now. Idiots, they shouldn’t let prisoners hear it, any more than Ghaith should have said “afternoon” to him. And then he worried that he had no more reaction than that to it. He worried that he had not in fact prayed since he arrived here.

Well who was he kidding? He hadn’t prayed for months now. Washed in preparation, yes. Said the words, yes. Knelt and stood and prostrated himself in the same routine he had done since childhood and it meant nothing to him. He did it because the others expected it, but he felt nothing.

It had no meaning to him. When men said, “If God wills it”, he wanted to growl and ask if it had been God’s will that Jahni’s family be slaughtered. Had he ever really believed? Now he wished he did believe. Not because he could seek comfort in prayer, but because if he did then he would have the strength to do what he knew he should.

He raised his head and, chin resting on his hands, and through half closed eyes looked at his sash. It still lay on the floor, where Ghaith had dropped it and defiled it with the mud on his boots. Then Jahni looked at the small barred window, set high in the wall. About six and a half feet from the ground. Easily high enough for a man five feet nine to…

Jahni put his head down again. He could – he should – climb up to that window, secure the sash to the bars, then tie the other end around his neck and finish it. The information he carried would help the enemy when they forced it out of him. He knew the names of sympathisers, locations and strengths of guerrilla bands, supply routes. Eighteen months ago, he might have arrogantly claimed he could resist torture and would reveal nothing. He knew better than that now.

So he should finish it, to spare himself the suffering and for the good of the cause. For the safety of his fellow rebels and their sympathisers. And yet he sat here and just looked at the thing that gave him the means to do that and did nothing.

Because he had no faith. If he thought he would join his family in paradise and that one day he would see Faris there, if he truly believed that, then perhaps he would have the courage to do it. But he was afraid. Not, as Madari claimed to be, afraid of hell, but of oblivion.

He’d risked death many times now in the fighting, had even been reckless sometimes. But then he’d fought with Madari, and he’d protected Madari. For him, Jahni would risk oblivion. So why not for the rebellion? Wasn’t he a soldier of the king? A soldier for the cause.

No. He knew that, deep inside. Yes, he loved his country and he hated the usurpers that had dethroned the king. Yes, he wanted to see them defeated. But in his heart, he knew who he fought for. And he knew deep inside what he feared more than torture and more than death and oblivion. Most of all, he feared never seeing Madari again.

The feelings he had for Madari confused him sometimes. He found himself dreaming of and wanting things he knew he shouldn’t even think about and couldn’t allow himself to believe Madari would welcome. Such urges he suppressed as hard as he could. But even without those feelings, their friendship was stronger, deeper than Jahni had shared with any man. Their connection made the idea of a future that didn’t include them standing side by side unthinkable to Jahni. And, he felt sure, to Madari too.

Love. A word he’d only thought of in connection with his family before and, fleetingly, about a couple of women. Now he knew he loved Madari. And not only him, but Noor, a man who offered friendship easily, and even Faraj, someone far more difficult to touch, yet worth the effort. Love and brotherhood. He had lost one family and found another.

So one thing comforted him now. Not prayer, not God. One thought.

Madari would come for him. Perhaps he shouldn’t. Jahni, however valuable his information or his fighting skills, was only one man. But he will come, Jahni knew it.

Madari will come for me.



Madari stared for a second, and then scrambled inside the truck. Someone followed him, but he didn’t look back to see who. Definitely empty, no inner compartment or anything, just one small empty truck and no Jahni.

Madari turned, feeling his hands start to shake, knowing he must be pale. Noor had climbed in after him, the others stood outside, staring.

“It’s a decoy,” Noor said. Though his eyes were wide, his voice stayed calm. Calmer than Madari believed his own would be. “They must be moving him on another route, damn!”

“That doesn’t make any sense!” Faraj called from outside. “The…” he glanced to one side. “Our contact would know that, would –”

“It’s not a decoy,” Madari said, his voice calmer than he expected, as the realisation hit him. “It’s a trap.”

“A trap?” Noor frowned. He waved his hand around the interior of the truck. “Then why isn’t this thing full of soldiers?”

“Not a trap for us.” Madari didn’t go on, because he saw the uniformed soldier kneeling down beside Faraj, two men covering him. Not that it mattered much. They had just played right into the government’s hands.

The message from Sattan had been genuine, but someone had given the general false information. To test him. By acting on the message, they had confirmed Sattan was passing information to the rebels. They had condemned him. And Jahni? Perhaps the enemy had no plans to move him at all.

Now… Madari took a couple of deep breaths. Now he had to think straight. Not only for Jahni, but also for Sattan.

He made his choice quickly. He had ten men here, himself included. One he sent back to camp, to try to get a message to Sattan, warn him. That one would go in the captured jeep. Three teams of two would go in their own jeeps to contact the spies on the roads, in case Jahni was actually moved, by a different route. The spies were Bedouin; possibly they could raise ambush parties quickly.

And that left himself and Faraj and Noor and the captured soldier. And it left him with a horrible choice.

“You know about the prisoner on your base?” Madari said to the soldier.

They stood in the shadows behind the truck, the soldier on his knees, Faraj and Noor covering him. He didn’t answer the question, only glared.

“Do you know where he is being held?”

Still no reply. None of Madari’s people knew the layout of that base, and where the holding facilities were. If Jahni’s captors didn’t move him then that left only one choice. To attack the base itself. How, Madari hadn’t decided yet. It would take more than a guerrilla raid, to go up against such a large and well-defended facility. It would take every man he had, in a mass attack. It would be an act of all out war.

And he didn’t have the authority for that, to escalate the conflict in that way, and slaughter dozens of men for the sake of rescuing one. So he needed information from the soldier in front of him. Something to give them an edge, a way to get in there and rescue Jahni without a full-scale assault.

The soldier still glared back at him, silent and defiant. After a moment, Madari crouched down, bringing himself head to head with the prisoner. When he spoke, he kept his voice low, the tone almost sympathetic.

“Your bravery is commendable. But think of this. Your superiors sent you out here knowing we would ambush your convoy. And they didn’t warn you, did they?” A reaction flickered in the man’s eyes, covered quickly by a scowl. “They sacrificed you and your friends. Why defend them? Give us the information and I will let you live. You have my word.”

“The word of a… a bandit? A terrorist? I will die before I tell you anything.”

Madari ran a hand through his hair and passed it across his eyes. There had to be a way. Some way apart from… He tried another tack.

“Back at my base, I have gold.” It took a huge effort to keep any tone of pleading out of his voice. “Enough to make you wealthy. You can take it and leave the –”

“Sir!” Faraj protested. “We need that money for supplies!”

The soldier glanced up at Faraj, the interjection possibly convincing him that Madari told the truth about the gold. But it didn’t help. He turned back to Madari, glaring again.

“Kill me now. I will tell you nothing.”

Madari stood up and walked around the side of the truck. His hands shook and he couldn’t make them stop. They needed that information. Blundering in there blind would be suicide. If he wanted Jahni back, he had to have that information.

“Sir?” Noor’s voice came from behind him. “I don’t think he’ll tell us. He’s pretty angry. If we want that information we’ll have to –”

He stopped as Madari swung around to face him. “Yes, Captain?”

Noor took a step back, and hesitated before going on. “He will talk, if we force him to.”

“Force him.” Not a question, more an echo. Madari’s voice sounding faint and distant to his own ears.

“I know how to use the truck battery to –” Noor broke off as Madari grabbed his shirtfront and shoved him against the side of the truck.

“Major!” Noor struggled for a moment but subsided.

“You want me to torture a man, Captain? You want me to torture a man?”

“You don’t have to,” Noor said, in a low voice. “Idris and I will take care of it.”

Madari’s grip on Noor’s shirt grew tighter. “Do you not know me at all, Captain? How could you believe I would allow that?”

“I know you very well now, Major,” Noor said, his gaze still locked on Madari’s. “I know what you want. You want Kahil back. Nothing is more important to you than that. Nothing.”

Nothing. He is right. Madari knew it and it frightened and disgusted him. His honour and reputation had always been so important to him. Yet he would throw both away to get Jahni back. And not simply to keep him from revealing information, not simply to save him from torture and death. No, his motives were more selfish than that. If he lost Jahni then his honour and reputation could do nothing to fill the void at his side and in his heart.

“Sir? It’s not only about him. His information…”

Madari almost snorted. That meant so little now, he realised. With General Sattan perhaps arrested already, they might not even bother to interrogate Jahni. Sattan knew everything Jahni did and much more besides. Of course, if Sattan received a warning in time, then he could escape, and Jahni would still be useful to the government…

“Information.” He stepped back, letting Noor go. “Yes. Of course. His information.” He put his head in his hands for a moment, fingertips buried in his hair, and felt it tickle the scar tissue around his distorted fingernails.

Could he do this? Leave another man with the same nightmares he suffered. Nightmares. Nightmares he couldn’t imagine facing without Jahni to drag him out of the darkness.

“Sir?” Noor’s voice made Madari look up again. The question, unspoken, showed on Noor’s face.

“Proceed, Captain.”


Jahni sat up, startled awake as the door opened. A soldier came in with a tray of food, and a beaker of water, which he placed on the floor well away from Jahni. Very thirsty and hungry Jahni scrambled across to the tray at once, drank the water quickly and started tearing into the bread that constituted his whole meal.

So intent was he on the food, that for a moment he didn’t notice that Ghaith stood in the doorway, smirking. Jahni ate more quickly, expecting Ghaith to come in and take the rest of the bread off him at any moment.

But, Ghaith just watched, still with a revolting smirk on his face. Then something seemed to catch his eye and he pushed away from the doorframe and walked into the cell. Jahni grabbed the other piece of bread and scrambled away, back towards the wall. But Ghaith didn’t approach Jahni. Instead, he stooped and picked up the sash from the floor.

“Well, that was careless of me.” He looked at the sash, then at the barred window and then at Jahni. The smirk reappeared.

“No guts, Lieutenant?”

Jahni didn’t rise to the provocation, but produced some in return.

“Strange that you mention guts. I’ve been thinking about yours. Imagining them spilled on the ground and fought over by wild dogs.”

Ghaith laughed. “You’d do it, wouldn’t you? Slit me open?”

“In a heartbeat.” Jahni told him, voice low and serious.

Ghaith laughed again. “Of course you would.” He tucked his thumbs in a couple of belt loops and rocked back and forth on the balls of his feet. “You and me, Lieutenant, we’re the same aren’t we?”

Jahni stared at him, totally disgusted.

“In no possible way…” But Ghaith spoke right over Jahni, not listening.

“You know why old Ziyahd found me useful? Because I would do anything he asked me to.” He grinned at Jahni. “And I’ll bet your precious Major finds you useful for the same reason.” Then he laughed, sneering. “Of course when I say ‘anything’, I would have drawn the line at sucking his cock. So there’s where we’re different.”

“Fuck you!” Jahni snarled, jumping to his feet. “Didn’t draw the line at fucking the prisoners, did you?” He glanced at the still open door. “Do your fellow soldiers know about that? Know you picked out the best looking man in the camp?”

Ghaith scowled now and strode towards Jahni, who stood his ground.

“I may not be allowed to kill you, Lieutenant.” He spat the last word, as if it tasted bad. “But I’ve got news for you. You’re not taking a little trip to the capital after all. They’re coming to chat to you right here.” He backed off a step and unshipped his truncheon. “And I’ve been given orders, to start softening you up.” He raised the truncheon and brought it down hard.

Jahni lifted his still manacled arms to defend himself, and the truncheon slammed into his forearm, making him yell out in pain. He turned, trying to get away as the truncheon fell again, on his shoulder this time, the pain so bad it knocked him to his knees. Movement above him told him the truncheon was coming at him again and he dropped all the way to the floor, curled tight into a ball. Ghaith yelled and Jahni heard the footsteps of more men pounding into the room.

Faris will come for me. He clung to that as the beating went on, as he concentrated on trying to stay alive. Faris will come. And I will be alive when he does.


Madari’s team had taken the truck and the soldier and got off the main road onto a small track that led god knows where, then drove off that, and parked.

One last time Madari asked, almost begged the man to tell them what they needed to know. Gave them both one last chance to avoid what came next. The soldier spat at him.

After that, he could only walk away from the truck, from the nightmare. He walked along the track, the strong wind that had blown up snatching at his clothes, climbed a small rise in the ground and sat down. Perhaps he’d be lucky, perhaps he’d be far enough away not to hear, perhaps the truck would muffle the sounds, the wind blow them away. But he knew he didn’t deserve that mercy.

The first scream came after a few minutes and his gut clenched as if he’d been punched. When he heard the next, he almost jumped up and ran back, to order them to stop.

The third scream made him slap his hands over his ears, desperate to shut it out, and to shut out the echo inside his own head, of his own screams. He despised himself utterly. He despised the weakness, the sin, which had brought him to do this. Despised the desire he had chosen to sacrifice his honour to.

Even with his hands over his ears, he could still hear the screams. The wind blew fine sand into his face, until he buried his face in his hands.

Make it stop, he begged in his mind. Make him talk. He would do anything for this to be over, to find Kahil, rescue him and… What then? Because he knew now things could not be the same. He would not be the same. He’d lost too much. Perhaps Jahni would hate him when he knew what Madari had done. No. Jahni’s loyalty was unconditional. Madari wouldn’t have to ask his forgiveness. Jahni wouldn’t even think he had anything to forgive.

How long the screams went on, Madari didn’t know, didn’t dare to look at his watch and check the time, too afraid of how quickly it could be running out. How long could it take to break the man? How long had it taken Sevchenko to break him? He still didn’t know if that had been hours or days.

He lifted his eyes to the sky. To the clouds scudding across it. His hands and now his whole body trembled.

“Please!” He spoke aloud. “Make it stop. Make him tell us what we want. Let me save Kahil and I… I swear I will…” He swallowed, spoke in a shaking voice, not truly sure if he was praying or not, or just appealing to the universe in general. “Let me save him and I will send him away.”

He would give up Jahni, if it meant saving him from death. Life without him seemed unthinkable, but better to know he lived, even somewhere else. If Jahni’s capture was a punishment, as he’d thought before, then Madari had to change, he had to deal with the desires that had brought it about. He had to make a sacrifice.

“I swear, I will send him away.”

The screaming stopped.


The soldier gave them what they needed. It didn’t even take long, Noor told Madari, his voice reassuring, as he suggested that what Madari had said to the soldier, about him and his friends being sacrificed, had made an impact.

“What do we do with him?” Faraj asked, gesturing inside the truck. He had a bitter tone in his voice, his face pale and sick looking, and in his eyes, resentment.

The soldier lay on his side, shaking. Hatred burned in his eyes when he looked at them. They couldn’t kill the man, Madari knew, not after this. They would release him, to return to his unit, to go home and dream about what Madari allowed to happen to him. And for as long as he lived, to be a witness to Madari’s dishonour.

“Sir?” Noor said.

“We’ll leave him on the road,” Madari said. “Get the battery back in. We have to move.” He turned away from the accusations in the soldier’s eyes and found the same ones in Faraj’s.


They left the soldier, with water, his hands and feet unbound, on a stretch of road that while not busy, saw enough traffic that he would be picked up by nightfall, only a couple of hours away now.

“Where now?” Noor asked from the driver’s seat of the truck.

“Sheik Elahi’s.” Madari’s order made Faraj glance up from where he sat beside Madari on the long passenger seat of the truck. He’d not spoken since asking what they did with the soldier. He didn’t speak now; Madari went on before he could. “He may have news of Sattan.”

“If he’s still at home. He might have already left, since hearing about Kahil’s capture.” Noor speculated.

“We’ll see.”

The Sheik’s home lay only an hour away and they arrived to find him still there, but that he would not be for much longer apparently.

“My son is coming from Az-Ma’ir,” he told them, as they ate a hasty meal, standing in the kitchen, Madari and his men very hungry now. “He has taken his family out of the country and now he’ll take me and my guards.” He waved a hand at the two well-built young men. “I know Lieutenant Jahni is a brave man, but –”

Madari nodded. “I understand, sir. You are making the right choice.”

He’d had no news about Sattan he told them. And all of their other contacts at the defence ministry seemed to be unreachable.

“Whatever is going on in the capital, it is serious. Perhaps Amir, my son, will be able to tell us something when he arrives.” He cocked his head, listening. “I think I hear him coming now.”

Madari listened too, expecting to hear a car, but then he heard the sound Elahi meant. His heart leapt and a plan formed in his mind in an instant. Elahi started to move to the door, but Madari ran out ahead of him, to the back of the house. And he stood and grinned fiercely, a hand raised to shield his eyes from the whipped up sand.

A helicopter.

It descended out of the dimming twilight sky and Madari felt as if he were watching a magic chariot descend from heaven. He wanted that helicopter. With it, they could bypass all the security on that base and fly Jahni out of there.

Elahi arrived at Madari’s side and a moment later, when a young man climbed out of the helicopter, ran to greet him with an embrace. Noor and Faraj came to stand by Madari and perhaps they saw the hungry look he gave the helicopter, because they seemed to think the same way as him at once.

“I can fly that,” Faraj said. “It’s been a couple of years, but I can fly it.”

“I love it,” Noor said. “They’ll never expect it. Guerrillas making an air attack? I love it.”

Of course, the helicopter didn’t belong to them and Sheik Elahi intended to escape the country in it. Madari had to wonder if he had the right to ask him to delay while they made a raid. A raid, which could of course fail and result in the helicopter’s destruction.

He glanced around, seeing the two guards had come outside too. We could take it, Madari felt certain, if Elahi says no. He’s no fighting man. His guards are trained and armed, but no match for Noor and Faraj. Amir, an unknown quantity, Madari couldn’t recall if the young man was military or not.

And if we do that, he thought, if we attack an ally, a friend, and steal his helicopter? Then we truly are the bandits we look like. No, I have dishonoured myself enough for one day.

Elahi walked up to them with his son, who wore western style casual, though expensive looking, clothes. The Sheik had a serious and worried expression.

“General Sattan has been arrested. Amir says that several of the Defence Ministry buildings are locked down and nobody is being allowed to leave.”

“Damn,” Noor said, shaking his head. Madari barely reacted. He should, he knew that. The news could be potentially disastrous for the rebellion. But it seemed too distant. All he could think about now was the helicopter and how they could use it to save Jahni.

“We should leave, quickly, father,” Amir said. “It may take them some time to get names from General Sattan, but who knows what they will find in his papers and phone records?”

“Sir.” Madari took a breath as Elahi and Amir turned to him. “I would like to borrow your helicopter.”

“What?” Amir looked started. Elahi only nodded slightly, as if he’d expected it.

“To try to save Lieutenant Jahni?”

“We know where he is, but getting in to get him, on the ground, we have no chance, but from the air –”

“Out of the question!” Amir said, folding his arms. “There’s no time, we must leave –”

“We have other means of leaving,” Elahi said, looking thoughtful. “The cars.”

“It will be a lot harder to get across the border in a car than with the chopper,” Amir argued.

“We would return it afterwards,” Madari said, “You have my word on that.”

“Assuming it doesn’t get blown out of the sky!” Amir remained unconvinced.

“We will only take it for a few hours,” Madari said, looking Elahi directly in the eye now, appealing to him. “Please. This is the only way to retrieve the Lieutenant.”

Elahi looked back at him. Madari knew that now Sattan had been arrested, then part of the justification for why they must rescue Jahni had gone. Sattan knew everything Jahni knew and more. Elahi knew that.

“If I say no, Major?” Elahi’s asked, his voice soft.

“Then we will have to find another way,” Madari said. He meant it. He had to mean it, if he had even a scrap of honour left.

“You will still try, even if it will be suicide?”

“Yes. I will still try.”

Elahi nodded. “One of you is a pilot?”

“Captain Faraj.”

“Amir, give him the keys.”


“Now.” A hard edge came into his voice and, although glaring and clearly reluctant, Amir obeyed his father, dropping the keys into Faraj’s outstretched hand.

“My role in the rebellion is over, Major,” Elahi said. “At least here in Qumar, I will do what I can outside, of course. But Lieutenant Jahni is too valuable a soldier to lose, I think.”

“Thank you.” Madari pressed a hand to his chest and bowed his head to Elahi, truly grateful. “I suggest we agree a rendezvous, away from the house. We will meet you there later. If we don’t come –”

“Then I will assume the mission has failed,” Elahi said, looking steadily at Madari. “I will assume the helicopter is destroyed, and that you are captured or dead, Major. What else could I assume?”

Madari understood that Elahi’s words held him to his vow to return the helicopter. He could still escape if they didn’t return it, but if the helicopter were not destroyed, but not returned, then he would escape with the knowledge that Madari was a liar and a thief. One witness to his dishonour was more than enough for Madari.

“Thank you,” Madari said again. He held out his hand and Elahi took it. When they let go, Madari looked at the helicopter and he smiled. “Sir, do you have any rope here?”

“Rope?” Noor said, looking at the helicopter and then at Madari, his eyes wide. “You know I said I love this plan? I changed my mind.”


Jahni looked up from where he lay on his back on the floor. Ghaith stood over him, sneering. The two of them were alone in the room.

“I’m going to enjoy it, Lieutenant, when the interrogators start their work on you. I’ll watch every minute of it.”

Jahni didn’t answer, too exhausted and in pain even to move. His body was a mass of bruises and pain in his chest made him fear broken ribs. But they hadn’t injured him seriously; he knew that, they had to leave him alive for the KGB bastards that would arrive soon.

Ghaith kicked him in the side and he did move this time, rolled away from the boot, moaning. He had no strength left, and now he feared Ghaith. The memory of what Ghaith had done to Faraj preyed on his mind. If he tried that now against Jahni, then Jahni hadn’t the strength to fight him off.

He’d called Ghaith a pervert, but knew that Ghaith hadn’t raped Faraj for sexual satisfaction, but to break him. To shatter the defiance Faraj had displayed. And now Jahni, who had been even more defiant, lay helpless at his feet. When Ghaith had sent the other soldiers away Jahni had started to tremble, fearing what the sergeant had planned for him. So far he’d just continued to beat him and toss him around the cell, but –

The alarm started to scream outside the cell, cutting off Jahni’s thoughts.

“What the hell?” Ghaith ran to the cell door and banged on it. “What’s going on?”

Jahni heard keys rattling as someone outside unlocked the door. Gunshots sounded, making Jahni gasp and try to sit up, groaning for a moment at the pain in his chest and side. Noise came from outside, he couldn’t identify it, it sounded like a vehicle or something. Then automatic fire. Jahni grinned.

He’s coming for me.

Ghaith had run out into the corridor. Jahni tried to stand, but only got as far as his knees and sank down again. Damn, he had to get up, he had to be ready, Madari needed him ready to move.

Ghaith ran back inside and now the gunfire sounded closer, in the corridor outside the cell.

“Come here, Lieutenant.” Ghaith grabbed Jahni around the neck and dragged him to his feet. Jahni gasped, tried to get his feet under him, to support his weight. The pain in his ribs flared and he cried out, black spots danced in his eyes. No, not now, he thought, I will not pass out. Ghaith’s arm around his neck stopped him from pulling in a deep breath and his head spun.

A figure flashed across the open door. Only a half second, but Jahni felt certain he recognised Noor.

Ghaith fired a shot out of the door, the sound roared in the confined space, leaving Jahni’s ears ringing. No more gunfire came from outside now. That noise outside still sounded, though more distant. A dark figure moved into the doorway and stepped into the light, pointing a pistol.

“Faris.” Jahni choked out.

“Stay back!” Ghaith yelled. “I’ll blow his fucking head off! I promise you, Major!” He jammed his pistol against Jahni’s temple.

Jahni knew they hadn’t the time for a stand off, soldiers would be rushing to reinforce the guards of the cellblock and Jahni guessed the raiding party must be small. He found strength from somewhere, the last reserves of it still in him, and lashed out with feet and elbows, slamming into Ghaith’s shins and belly. As Ghaith yelled and doubled up Jahni used the manacles on his wrists, and smashed the metal cuff into Ghaith’s nose. Ghaith roared and at last loosened his hold on Jahni. Jahni’s knees gave out at once, but as he fell, he pushed Ghaith away from him.

A shot echoed in the stone cell. And another and one more.

“Two in the chest, one in the head.” Jahni whispered it like a mantra as Ghaith’s body slumped to the floor, his face twisted into a grimace, eyes wide and staring. Right now, Jahni really wished he still believed in hell. He lashed out and kicked the body. One last time, for Faraj.

Then Madari knelt beside him and Jahni looked into his face, his dark eyes that looked terrified now. Madari looked Jahni over and grimaced.

“Can you stand?”

“Not… Sure…” Jahni said, shakily. “No, don’t think so.”


Noor ran in and between them, they heaved Jahni to his feet.

“We have to move fast,” Madari said. “I’m sorry if we hurt you, Kahil.”

“Okay, just… move.” Jahni gritted his teeth then moaned as they lifted him, and his feet dragged on the floor as they moved out of the cell. Vision cloudy, he could barely see the bodies on the floor that they manoeuvred him past. Then cold night air hit his bare skin and he heard Madari speaking into a radio. Seconds later, light stabbed down at them and a rushing wind came from above.

A helicopter? Jahni would have laughed if he didn’t think he might puncture a lung. Where the hell had Madari found a helicopter?

Gunshots, automatic fire, came at them and they dropped to the ground. Noor knelt up and returned fire with his rifle. Jahni doubted he could hit much in the dark. The light from the chopper cut off now the pilot had pinpointed them on the ground. Madari grabbed at something and Jahni saw that ropes hung down from the helicopter. A second later Madari started manoeuvring rope around Jahni’s waist and chest like a harness.

“Keep still!” Madari snapped as Jahni tried to shuffle around to make it easier for him. He obeyed and then sat and waited as Madari shouted at Noor and threw one of the rope harnesses to him, took up the suppression fire while Noor got into it. Madari put his own on last, crawled back to Jahni and then lifted the radio again.


Jahni cried out at the pain as the helicopter ascended, pulling them off the ground and the harness took his weight. Just as their feet left the ground, Madari took Jahni in his arms and Jahni understood why a moment later as they swung helplessly in the air and Noor crashed into the pair of them. Madari gasped at the impact and Noor swore, but Madari kept the injured Jahni from being hurt further.

They climbed higher. Gunfire came from the ground and they couldn’t do anything to avoid it, only hope it missed. Jahni heard Noor’s voice yell over the roar of the wind and the noise of the helicopter rotor blades.

“I hate this plan!”

Jahni laughed. He loved this plan. The darkness started to close in on him now, pain and exhaustion claiming him, and his head slumped against Madari’s shoulder. Madari raised a hand to hold it in place, perhaps thinking Jahni had fallen unconscious. But he hadn’t. Not quite yet.

“I knew you would come for me,” Jahni said. He hadn’t the strength to shout it, so doubted Madari heard over the noise that filled the world. “I knew you would come.”

His eyes closed.


When Jahni’s eyes opened again, Noor and Faraj were helping him off the helicopter. They must have landed and got aboard after the escape he supposed, but had no memory of it. The chains on his wrists and ankles had been cut off, though the manacles and fetters themselves were still in place. Madari stood talking to a man that Jahni recognised, after a hazy moment, as Sheik Elahi.

“What’s happening?” Jahni asked.

“We’re giving the Sheik his chopper back,” Noor said. “We only borrowed it. Come on. Let’s get you in the car.”

They helped him towards a car, a Mercedes, which must also be Elahi’s he guessed, and manoeuvred him into the back seat. Too exhausted to ask anything else Jahni laid his head against the headrest and watched Madari and Elahi embrace then Elahi and three other men climb into the helicopter. Madari retreated, stood by the car and watched the helicopter take off. He waved as it vanished into the darkness.

“We’d better move quick, sir,” Noor said.

“Yes. Javid, you drive the car. Idris, the truck.”

Jahni twisted round to look out of the back window as Faraj ran back towards a small army truck that stood behind the Mercedes. Then he winced and turned back. His pain wasn’t too bad, but he felt light-headed and dizzy and suspected he’d been given a painkilling injection while unconscious. A moment later Madari slid into the seat beside him and Noor took the driver’s seat and started the car.

“Here.” Madari shook out a blanket and wrapped it around Jahni. The car moved off and Jahni groaned as it bumped over rough ground. Madari took Jahni in his arms, held him securely, to keep him from bouncing around.

“Try to sleep, Kahil. We’ll be home in a couple of hours.”

“The helicopter?” Jahni said, still feeling dizzy and wishing he knew the whole story.

“Belonged to Sheik Elahi. He needs it to fly out of the country,” Madari explained, in a quiet voice. “He loaned it to us to get you out first.”

“Wish we could have kept it,” Noor said. He sighed. “I didn’t like the dangling under it part. But we could have used it.”

“We had to give it back, Captain. I gave my word.”

“I know.” Noor sighed again. “I know. Still, he did give us this car, and it’s a beauty.” He sounded more cheerful.

“You gave it back, because you promised you would?” Jahni’s voice had dropped to barely more than a whisper as he spoke to Madari.

“Yes. Hush, Kahil.” Madari raised his hand and stroked Jahni’s hair in a soothing motion. “Rest. I’ll tell you all about it later.”

“Noble.” Jahni sighed out the word. “Faris.” He didn’t mean it as a name when he said the word, but the meaning behind it. Knight.

“Noble?” Madari’s voice only a whisper too. “I wish that were true.”

Jahni couldn’t resist the darkness any longer. His body felt limp and heavy against Madari’s and his head dropped once again to Madari’s shoulder. As his eyes closed, the last thing he saw was Noor’s eyes in the rear view mirror, looking directly at him.


The sun had risen by the time they reached the camp, and the men who filled the yard stared at the Mercedes and the army truck. Madari smiled. Soon they would have more vehicles than they could actually use.

“Help me get him out, Javid,” Madari ordered, as Jahni started to stir and wake up. “We need to get him straight to the infirmary.”

“Yes, sir.”

The door behind Jahni opened then and Darak looked into the car. Madari smiled to see him safe. He’d have to check that all of the men from the original rescue party had returned safely.

“Sir, what…” Darak trailed off when he saw Jahni. His jaw dropped. “Kahil?” He stared at Madari. “You got him?” He looked at Noor and then at Faraj climbing out of the truck. “Just the three of you got him out?”

“I’ll explain later, Lieutenant,” Madari said. “But he’s hurt. We need to get him to the doctor. Help me, please.”

Jahni moaned as they manoeuvred him out of the car, and then looked around, blinking, Darak hanging onto his arm keeping him on his feet.

“They got him!” Darak yelled to the men starting to gather around, as Madari climbed out of the car after Jahni.


“Madari!” Darak yelled, pumping the air with his fist. “Madari!”

A couple of men nearby joined in the second time and then more and they shouted it over and over.

“Madari! Madari! Madari!”

Madari stared as the men chanted his name. “Darak,” he said. “This isn’t really…”

“Darak,” Jahni said, voice still weak, but lucid. “He killed Ghaith.” Darak turned to Jahni, staring, as the chant went on. Jahni grinned and nodded. “Ghaith captured me. The major killed him.”

“The infirmary now,” Madari said quietly to Noor, who took Jahni’s arm from the staring Darak.

“The commander killed Sergeant Ghaith!” Darak yelled and a ragged cheer burst from the men. A few, Bedouin, or other men who’d not been prisoners here during Ghaith’s time, looked puzzled, but then joined in when the chant started again.

“Madari! Madari! Madari!”

Faraj came over and took Jahni’s other arm from Madari, who, despite knowing they needed to get Jahni to the doctor, felt frozen in place. They moved away, leaving Madari standing beside Darak. Men stood aside to let them through.

Madari regained his senses and started to follow. The chant went on and as he walked, the men nearest reached out, to touch him on the shoulder, or the back or arm, smiling at him.

He smiled back, though still felt as if he walked through some kind of dream. Is this what it felt like to be Ahmed? Is this how it feels to be… a legend? The Knight of the North. He laughed, exhaustion and adulation mixing and making him feel crazed. And one triumphant thought filled his mind above all the others.

I brought him back. I brought him back.


Noor walked across the yard in the cool night air. A tall figure stood by the west wire, looking out over the desert.

“Got a light, Idris?”

Faraj turned from his contemplation and after a moment he touched his cigarette to Noor’s until Noor got his alight.

“Thanks.” Noor stood beside him, not speaking. After a moment, he reached out and took Faraj’s hand. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Faraj stiffen, but he didn’t withdraw his hand.

“Can’t sleep?” Noor asked. The two of them and Madari had slept all day, recovering from their long day and night and the rescue. Jahni still lay in the infirmary, enjoying the attention apparently, as men came to him to ask him to relate the story of the rescue. Noor felt certain he would be adding many flourishes to it. Noor and Faraj had resisted most of the requests to tell their side of it. At least anything before their borrowing the helicopter from Sheik Elahi.

“What we did to that soldier…” Faraj started to say, but didn’t finish.

“We did what we had to do. If we hadn’t Kahil would be either dead or being tortured right this moment.”

“He let us. He let us torture a man.”

Noor glanced at him, his eyes stayed fixed on the horizon.

“Commanders have to make hard choices, Idris, you know that.”

“He didn’t make that choice as a commander, Javid.” Faraj turned his gaze from the horizon and looked at Noor. “You know that, don’t you?”

Noor didn’t answer, just went on smoking, eventually Faraj turned away and only then spoke again.

“Do you think he’d have made the same choice for anyone else?”

“You have to ask that, Idris? You of all people?”

“If you mean for me… Well perhaps you are right. But in my case it would be out of guilt.” He finished his cigarette and tossed it away. “Do you think guilt was the motivation for saving Jahni?”

Noor didn’t answer. He let go of Faraj’s hand and turned away to walk back to the guardhouse.


Madari sat on a chair beside Jahni’s bed in the infirmary. Jahni slept soundly, under sedation. He’d be in the infirmary for several days the doctor said, and would have to rest after that. He would hate that enforced idleness. Perhaps, Madari thought, smiling for a moment, he could spend the time hemming the edge of the newly cut sash that lay across the foot of his bed.

Madari couldn’t rest, not after sleeping all day. Now he sat up awake, not only to watch over Jahni, but because his thoughts strayed south, to the capital, to General Sattan, and perhaps to many of their sympathisers at the Defence Ministry. To what those men could be going through that very moment.

So he stayed awake in a vigil for them. And if he was awake, he might as well be here, beside Jahni.

Madari reached out and stroked the edges of the bandages on Jahni’s wrists, which had been rubbed raw by the manacles. The soft rough cloth tickled his skin.

A thought he’d been avoiding forced its way to the front of his mind. The memory of the promise he’d made. That if he could save Jahni, he would send him away.

Yet he felt as if a different man had made that promise. A half crazed man in the desert. How could he send Jahni away? His best soldier. His best friend. Jahni would simply turn around and refuse to go anyway. And Madari could never order him to leave. Could never order him to abandon his place at Madari’s side.

If he didn’t honour that promise, what did that make him? But had it really been a promise or only a desperate plea? Yes, he had done an appalling thing, allowing his men to torture that soldier, but he had kept his promise to return the helicopter to Elahi, despite the temptation to keep it. Surely that at least put him back on the road to redeeming himself? Surely?

His hand had moved from the bandage and rested on the back of Jahni’s hand, his thumb stroked gently over the skin.

“How is he?” The soft voice startled Madari and he jumped in his chair, pulling his hand away from Jahni’s. Looking up, he saw Noor standing in the doorway.

“Captain. I didn’t see you.” His heart pounded and he took a shaky breath.

“I’m sorry,” Noor said. Madari nodded. Strange how in combat the gunfire and explosions didn’t bother him nearly as much as a sudden sound in the quiet.

“He’s fine.” Madari nodded at Jahni. “He’s sleeping. The doctor says he’ll be his old self soon.”

“Well he’s a tough one.” Noor smiled. “The heart of a lion.”

Madari stood up and walked over to him, as it seemed Noor wasn’t going to come into the room, but stay standing by the door.

“Javid,” he said quietly. “Javid, I am sorry, for what happened, for what I asked you to do.”

“You didn’t ask. I suggested it.”

“Then I gave you permission, it was –”


“Perhaps.” Madari said. “But still… wrong.”


Madari looked at him surprised. Noor frowned.

“You think I don’t know it was wrong? I may be practical, Major, I may know when I have to do what is necessary. But don’t think that means I don’t know right from wrong.”

“Of course not, Captain. I didn’t mean to imply that you don’t.”

Noor nodded and turned to look into the room, at Jahni sleeping in the bed.

“Kahil is a handsome young fellow, isn’t he?”

Madari looked at him, startled. “What?”

Noor looked back at Madari.

“Permission to speak freely, sir?”

“Javid, you can always –”

“Permission to speak freely. Sir.” He repeated the words and emphasised the ‘sir’ heavily.

“Permission granted, Captain,” Madari said, making his voice as formal as Noor’s.

“Then I will say this once and I will never repeat it. In fact if you asked me, or even ordered me, to repeat it I will swear I never said it.”

Madari studied him. His expression was so serious it made Madari nervous.

“Go ahead, Captain.”

“Your relationship with Kahil has reached a point where it can be – where it is being – misinterpreted.”

Madari didn’t speak, but he took a step back, not nervous now, but afraid. He should be angry, not afraid, he thought. But what right did he have to be angry?

“Misinterpreted?” He couldn’t help but echo the word, but didn’t want an explanation. He knew exactly what Noor meant, and that ‘misinterpreted’ was a generous word, a word that let him keep some dignity in Noor’s eyes.

“I understand.” He said it quietly, knowing this would never, could never, be mentioned again. At least not in this way. If Noor ever felt he needed to say anything on this subject again, then it would not be so diplomatic.

After a moment’s silence, Noor turned to Madari and smiled his usual cheerful grin again, as if the conversation they had just had, simply had not taken place.

“Good to know Kahil will be well again soon. Oh, I meant to mention. Kahil’s cot is still in your sitting room. Would you like me to move it back to the barracks, ready for when the doctor releases him from here? I’ll do it now if you like?”

He held Madari’s gaze and Madari knew the answer he had to give.

“Proceed, Captain.”