There are many paths not chosen, one leads to a different world, a darker England, one steeped in blood and terror. Ten years have passed since the atrocity that was Bewl Water. There is no United Kingdom; Scotland and Wales went their own way, Northern Ireland reunited with Eire and gave that country a headache in the way of terrorism verging on a guerrilla war. The English Parliament remains dominated by a coalition of candidates selected from the Army Councils and is brutally authoritarian in nature, if you aren’t a patriot ... for given values of patriotism naturally.
People were poorer and old skills of make do and mend had emerged, fewer cars, no new TV’s or computers as modern tech was far too expensive for your average citizen, though there were ways and means if you had certain contacts. The NHS still exists, though there are no fat cat middle managers, it’s still inefficient and underfunded and the waiting times for attention stretch credulity, again though, if you have the means, the waiting times don’t exist.
Still at least the mass denunciations have finished, though a network of informers remains policed by enforcers, often ex-army NCO’s who are slowly bringing sanity back to a land that went mad with anger, horror and grief by enforcing the new compact between the people and the Parliament, a sort of new Magna Carta.
England had almost become a pariah state when it started hunting down its Muslim citizens and driving those it did not hang or execute out of hand into exile, save only there were few civilised states that wanted so many suspect new citizens thrust upon them. Muslim children were seized and re-educated under the Coalition Party Youth Faction before the young men became janissaries or slave soldiers in the new Patriot Brigades who were perhaps the finest light infantry on the planet led by officers of the once proud British Army. For the girls ... well there was always a need for new janissaries.
Desperate for foreign currency to buy new technology, fuel and food to keep the country running, the Army Council hired out their Brigades to any who could use them against the various Islamic terrorist groups around the world. Keeping to the most brutal adaptation of the laws of war, the Brigades cut a swath through the likes of Boko Haram, Hezbollah and Isis, often hiring out to Muslim countries to deal with their insurgents. Some ended up being used against Argentina during the second Falkland’s conflict; invading the Argentine mainland and ensuring that during the peace negotiations the Argentinians waived any right of sovereignty to those small islands ‘In Perpetuity’ Their country was wrecked with rebellion and ruin.
The Taliban in Afghanistan were next, nor did the Brigades stop at the border with Pakistan or Iran. Unlike the civilised powers, the insurgents were pursued unto death in their mountain fastnesses and despite attempts by the Pakistani and Iranian armed forces to intervene, the Taliban were almost extirpated root and branch and were now a shadow of their former selves. The English threat to remain on their soil after decimating their armed forces and forcibly depopulating the areas they held allowed the Brigades to withdraw unmolested from Iran and Pakistan. A wave of fear washed over any Islamic countries that supported terrorism when the English government pointed the finger and told them to cease and desist or you’re next. Even the proud and manipulative Saudis pulled their neck in and stopped the spread of Wahhabism via mosque building when Riyadh was threatened despite their treaty with the USA who were secretly pleased that the English were prepared to bleed rather than their troops. Discrimination against non-Muslims living in Muslim countries also receded to next to nothing as the natives knew that their victims could (and had) called in the Brigades and their special forces adjuncts to assist them; the assassination of the Muslim Brotherhood leadership in Egypt after attacks on the Christian Copts being a case in point.
Many in the civilised world decried the use of such brutal means of fighting, yet were unwilling to either put feet on the ground themselves or afford to pay their own armies to do it. Then again, the ever pragmatic ‘civilised’ French had no problem with hiring the Lepanto and Cerami Brigades to rid themselves of the population of the Banlieue of Clichy sous Bois when Islamic extremists took it over and threatened insurrection. This also opened the gates for other European countries to do the same for their troublesome Islamic populations and their enablers.
So the years turned and eventually new problems emerged as those who led and fought with the Brigades reached retirement age and came once again to England to see what they had been fighting for...
The day started with the dream again. I can’t for the life of me remember the name of the village in Nigeria anymore. I can only reason that it was early in the campaign. We had been tracking an incursion of Boko Haram via drones and human resources in our scout troop. Somehow they’d gotten wind of our approach and had melted into a small village cum town, hiding amongst the populace and thinking that we’d be constrained by normal civilised rules. I had two companies under my command and we’d gone in as taught, moving swiftly in jumps and starts as one section overtook the other and started dragging out anyone in the various huts and shacks to a guarded area. Anyone who resisted was shot, any armed were shot, in short we were smoking out any enemy, not just Boko Haram. The drones had also managed to get some pretty good photos of the insurgents and yes, any identified were given a quick trial and shot. Soon the commander of the insurgents gathered hostages and holed up in the village mosque. I believe he thought it was like a hospital and we’d treat it with respect. His men opened fire at our approach and we took cover. We were told that if we allowed them to escape, they would release the hostages after they thought they were clear.
Our reply was simple, every tenth man was a sniper, every third man carried an RPG or a shoulder held SAM, we simply turned them on the mosque and levelled the place and normally followed up with a charge. This time though the building caught fire and we could hear clearly the screams of those inside. Some tried to run, we simply gunned them down, hostages or not. In the end my dream focussed on a young girl, clothing aflame who ran screaming from the ruin directly towards me and I raised my rifle...
I had barely been back in the country a week when I saw them as I returned home from shopping and a beer at the veterans centre – two young girls begging outside the fast food café. They couldn’t have been more than ten or, in the case of the youngest, eight. I’m no stranger to beggars; I’d seen many of them in my ten years of military service in the Patriot Brigades, though it was unusual to see them in England anymore. The authorities could always find something for you to do and no one wanted that. What set them apart was their dark Middle Eastern looks and complexions, also the fact that they were neatly, even prettily, dressed. To my attuned senses, there was simply something wrong with the whole situation.
Things became worse when they were spotted by one of the ‘monitors’ to give them their official title or snitches as they were commonly known. They were mostly young thugs given a small stipend, having failed their school assessment and were fast becoming a major nuisance to any who crossed them. He strutted across from hanging about on the street corner and supposedly keeping order as well as an eye out for trouble, backhanded the eldest with a brutal slap and sent her skidding into the road narrowly missing an ancient passing delivery van. He was just about to follow up with a kick when he found himself flying through the air courtesy of my good self and to the amazement of the rest of the people on the street. Not that I was terrified of the little thug, just that everyone else tended to be very careful in case they were denounced as a ‘muzsymp’, a nasty little word that had entered colloquial English and meant that they harboured Islamic sympathies, or more generally these days were simply not patriotic enough.
“You fuckin’ twat!” the thug screamed at me and drew his extendable baton to attack. He was joined by the rest of his little gang as these bullies never went out alone anymore, for damned good reason.
He swung hard at my head, only for me to block the swing and use a move I’d used time and time again in Nigeria to dislocate his shoulder and disarm him. This gave the rest of his little gang pause as he screamed and passed out.
“What’s all this then?” came a voice used to command.
“We wuz just clearin the street of these muzzie spawn and this gadgie interfered with our rightful pursuit,” yelled someone from the back of the snitches.
“Don’t be stupid! England’s been muzzie free for goin’ on eight years now,” came the voice belonging to an enforcer dressed all in black with the ubiquitous Cross of St George armband on his right sleeve and a machine pistol strapped to his belt in a quick draw holster.
“We has the right to keep the streets safe,” the voice replied no longer sure of itself.
“By abusing kids?” I asked.
“They’s beggars. We has a right,” came the reply.
“No you ain’t. Beggars are my business, not yours. Read the fuckin compact. Now get out of here before I decide you need a spell in a re-education centre and take your trash with you!” came the barked command.
The snitches recoiled in terror at the man’s threat and grabbed their fallen accomplice, making him scream in agony as they dragged him off. Like as not to the local hospital and a very long wait.
“Veteran?” asked the enforcer as I went out and picked up the still stunned and sobbing girl from the road.
“Aye, Lee Rigby Brigade,” I replied.
“Brave lads, really took Boko Haram and the Janjaweed militias apart,” he replied. “Tizona Brigade here.”
“The scourge of Puerto Belgrano,” I replied, mentioning a raid against the naval base during the second Falklands conflict. “You also annihilated the al-Harakat al-Islamiyya. Tough buggers they were,” I replied.
“Aye, we were tougher though,” he chuckled. “Still are.”
“Honoured,” I said and raised my arm to show the tattooed black stars of my campaign resume and the names of the countries and organisations my Brigade had a hand in extirpating ... At least till I retired and the soft civilised world still tried to put a halt on what they called mercenary groups, to no avail. The Patriot Brigades of England were still in demand for dealing ruthlessly with many a nation’s Islamic ‘problem’. Hell, we even hired out to Jordan, the Gulf States and Lebanon to deal with their Islamist infestations.
“They’ll pay in blood,” he replied giving the standard veterans oath.
“Till they exist no more,” I answered.
“You going to deal with these?” he asked, pointing to the subdued but clearly terrified girls.
“Considering the options, I guess I’ll have to,” I sighed.
“Party Youth Faction if you don’t and probably turned into breeding machines,” he spat out in disgust.
I grimaced in disgust myself, most of the Brigade I’d led had been ‘orphans’ from the Party Youth Faction, in other words children seized from Muslim parents before said parents were ‘deported’, a euphemism for the mystery of what actually happened. No, I didn’t know and asking was singularly unhealthy as one of my mates found out when the Army Council investigators caught him snooping and crucified him after cutting out his tongue at the camp gates.
My Brigade, named after a hero from before the change were fearsome lads, brave as lions and destined to live, fight and die for the cause. The likes of me, good English stock could retire, the lads however were still tainted by the sins of their fathers and the English had never forgotten or forgiven Bewl Water. The biggest tragedy was the girls; they were unpaid washerwomen, servants, cleaners and baby-makers. Turned out the world wanted what we had to sell, conscienceless killing machines ... Well, mostly when it came to Muslim men and adult women, with added rape for the women ... and some of the men, a few of the lads were inclined that way and we had been told not to object ... or else.
As the enforcer strolled away I knelt and looked at the two children.
“Don’t you know how dangerous it is to beg?” I asked in a kindly if gruff tone.
“We’re hungry and mama is ill and needs food too,” the eldest sobbed out.
“Well, let me get you something. Then we’ll see to your mama,” I said taking them both by the hand and leading them to the café.
“I’m Zena, my sister is Tahira,”
“I’m Alec. I’m surprised, you don’t see many of your...” I stopped, clearly floundering.
“Our parents were Iraqi Christians,” Zena said, clearly quoting something drilled into her. “We were left alone during the change as people vouched for us, but now our papa is dead and mama is ill, our landlord threw us out,” she finished.
I bought several pastries and a couple of burgers and handed them to the girls and they devoured them hungrily, if neatly.
“Where’s your mama?” I asked eventually after using a wetted kerchief to clean up the scrapes on Zena.
The girls led me into an alley where a good few household belongings had been tossed carelessly. What I had first thought was a bundle of rags startled me when it moved slightly and I hurried over to find a thin sleeping woman, clearly the children’s mother. Whatever was wrong with her was burning her up and her survival on the street could be measured in hours ... or indeed minutes if the snitches happened by.
Stooping I picked the woman up and told the girls to gather what valuables they could and I set off for my rooms with them trailing in my wake.
I could tell my landlady was spoiling for a fight when she saw who was following me.
“I ain’t havin no muzzie spawn here. This is a respectable house!” she almost screamed at me.
“They aren’t Muslims. They’re Christians and more Christian than you as like,” I said calmly.
“How dare you!”
“Good Samaritan mean anything to you?” I replied. “Or perhaps you’d like the lads from the veterans club to come around and have a chat.”
Paling, as she knew the veterans looked after their own, she simply spun about and slammed her door behind her.
Opening my door with difficulty, I carried the woman into my digs and put her onto the bed. I then went to my lockup, still showing the signs of my landlady’s attempt to pick the lock and took out a standard combat pack. Pulling out a field meditab I searched for a vein in the woman’s arm and injected a full dose of a powerful antibiotic and painkiller into her and prayed to a god I didn’t believe in that she wasn’t allergic to it. Leaving the needle in place I then hooked up an osmotic filtration baggie to a tube and poured some sugar/salt solution into it before filling it with water to act as a drip. All field expedient medicine, but highly effective as my years in the Brigade had taught me.
“Will mama be all right?” the youngest, Tahira, spoke for the first time.
“I don’t know. But what I can do, I have and if I took her to a hospital she would wait a lot longer,” I replied knowing fine well the wait might have killed her.
The girls nodded and simply stood next to the bed holding their mother’s hand and looked lost with haunted expressions in their eyes. I couldn’t imagine that life had been easy for them in England, yet somehow they’d been brought up to be polite, neatly dressed and from their words, well educated.
“What happened to your father?” I asked.
“He went out to the shops and never came back,” Zena replied. “The police found his body the next day. Mama wouldn’t say what happened but she cried a lot.”
I rather suspected that their father had fallen foul of the snitches who were becoming a serious problem in their unrelenting aggression against any who didn’t fit in and had been the primary reason for the Army Council’s acquiescence in the government’s proposals for the new compact.
“And your landlord threw you out?” I asked.
“Yes. Mama said he denied getting the rent despite her having proof and threw us out yesterday when mama got sick,” Zena replied, eyes downcast.
“Where did you live? I’ll go and see him,” I said.
I got the address and phoned up a mate from the veterans club and agreed to meet in half an hour.
“When I go, you lock this door and leave the key in so my landlady can’t get in. Don’t open it for anyone other than me,” I instructed and pulled my greatcoat on and filled the pockets with a few unreturned items I’d borrowed when leaving the Brigades along with the extending baton I’d appropriated today.
It didn’t take quite half an hour before I was joined by Jimmy, my friend, and two others from the veterans club. I had also been joined by the enforcer, who seemed to know about anything going on in his patch, who nodded to the men and simply told us that he’d be forced to do something about murder, anything else he’d quash.
A large brutish man opened the door at our knock and seemed surprised to see us.
“We came to see why you threw a woman out on the street with two young daughters,” I politely enquired.
“Fuck off scum, you don’t frighten me, I have contacts on the local Council,” he snarled.
“You may, but that doesn’t answer my question,” I replied calmly whilst slipping my hand into my pocket.
“What part of fuck off don’t you underst...” his answer was choked off as my combination knuckleduster-taser rammed into his guts, dropping him to the floor whereupon the veterans swarmed over him and into his house grabbing his startled wife and proceeded to beat the crap out of what appeared to be a card school cum drugs den of three other men.
I put a few careful kicks onto nerve points on the sprawled man before dragging his sobbing vomit covered carcass to the sofa to be hunched next to his wife.
“You won’t get away with this,” he moaned.
“I think you’ll find we will,” I replied with a cheery grin. “The veterans are coming home and your likes will be brought to heel.”
“Like fuck!” he gasped and then cowered back when I lifted my weapon.
“Now, if you want to avoid some serious discomfort you’ll tip up the stolen rent you took from that woman. Otherwise the price of it is coming out of your bloated gut,” I said, glancing over at Ted, a man whom I’d never seen before until today who was stropping a razor sharp knife on the back of the sofa with a weaseloid grin on his narrow face.
“Give it him Terry,” squealed the woman. “I told you she’d have friends. The muzzie bitch culdn’t have survived long wivout em,”
“Listen to your wife,” said the enforcer, as the landlord and the other men in the house cowered before us.
“All I got left,” he moaned as he threw a few hundred Anglo-Dollars onto the floor in front of me.
The enforcer picked it up and grimaced. “Where’s the rest?”
He pointed a shaking hand at the card table.
I picked up all the cash on the table then forced the men to tip out their pockets.
“Ere that’s ours!” one objected only to receive a vicious backhander from Jimmy.
“Talk to your mate. He’s the one dropped you in it by robbing widows and kids, plus it’ll cover her deposit too,” I said in bleak tones, getting a nod off the enforcer.
“Best you go now,” said the enforcer. “Drug squads on their way, doubt any Council connections gonna save this lot from the firing squad.”
The men paled but the enforcer simply drew his machine pistol and glared them down as we quietly left the flat.
I handed out a few notes, enough for the lads to buy a pint each before hands were shaken and oaths exchanged.
“Let us know how she gets on,” said Jimmy before they quietly left with approaching sirens sounding off.
Back at my rooms the landlady was waiting for me with her sons to back her up. I said nothing at first, but simply raised my arm to show off the tattoos as well as the knuckleduster.
“I want you out,” she finally spluttered as she realised her sons were backing away from me.
“Rent’s paid by the Brigade retirement fund. You sure you want them enquiring as to why you put a veteran onto the streets?” I asked sweetly.
“Contract says no women or pets,” she said weakly.
“It says I’m allowed dependents. They’re depending on me. So go ahead and explain that one,” I replied calmly. “You’ll also have to explain your fingerprints I lifted on my lock-up come to that, if you really push it.”
“Step out of line and you’re out,” she finally muttered over her shoulder with an empty threat as she beat a hasty retreat.
My door opened immediately when I knocked and Zena threw herself into my arms.
“She kept yelling and the two men wanted to break the door down,” she sobbed.
“It’s sorted now. She won’t harm you,” I said as I cuddled her in, feeling emotions I’d thought I’d forgotten years ago.
Maryam drifted in and out of consciousness, she felt so weak and tired, yet now the pain had miraculously gone. Finally her eyes fluttered open and she wondered where she was.
“Yes mama, I’m here,” came the reply as her daughter came into view.
“Where ... where are we?” she croaked, her throat dry and tight.
“Alec brought us here,” Tahira replied.
“Who is Alec ... a ... a ... and why is he doing this?” Maryam asked almost panicked by the thought of a stranger having access to her daughters.
“He stopped a man attacking Zena and bought us food, he then brought you here to make you better, mama,” Tahira replied solemnly.
“Where is he?”
“He’s gone out with Zena to get more of our things from where those men threw them,” Tahira replied. “Are you going to get better now?”
“I do not know, I feel so ill, but I think so.”
“Alec said to watch you and add the special water to the drip if it runs out,” Tahira said solemnly. “He said he’d change your nappy if you had an accident too,” she finished with a giggle.
That was the last thing Maryam remembered before drifting off again.
With Zena’s help I gathered as much of the family’s belongings as we could and put them on a small cart I’d ‘borrowed’ from the landlady, though I doubted she’d notice. I believe I had her sufficiently cowed now.
I also bought more food. My veteran pension wasn’t much, but compared to some I was well off and jobs were easy to get, providing you didn’t mind working for the state on their enforcement and compliance schemes.
Once back we were greeted by Tahira who was almost bouncing with excitement. “Mama woke up and spoke to me,” she exulted.
“Well, that’s good,” I replied. “I’ll give her another shot of Teixobactin tonight and with a bit of luck she might be able to get up for a while.”
Zena’s eyes had lit up when Tahira gave the news and she hurried through to the bedroom only to find her mama was still sleeping.
“I need to check on your mama to make sure she hasn’t soiled herself,” I told the girls as I came into the bedroom. “I’m also going to put a plastic tarp under her so she doesn’t ruin the mattress if she has an accident.”
“Can we help?” Zena asked.
“Yes, I’ll need you to hold your mama whilst I turn her and you Tahira have the most important job of making sure the drip doesn’t get pulled out,” I replied solemnly and giving Zena a hidden wink over my instructions to Tahira.
Owing to dehydration the girls’ mama was still dry, but I knew that couldn’t last. Still we managed to get her rolled around and the waterproof tarp under the sheets and safely in place. Other than a few moans, there was no other response from my patient for which I was grateful as the whole matter was undignified and potentially embarrassing as hell, both for her and me. Finally, with Zena’s help, I slipped her mama’s briefs off and we put a large kiddie’s trainer nappy on her and used some spare duct tape to help hold it in place.
“Ok, who’s for dinner?” I asked getting smiles and nods from the girls.
The kitchen was small and the equipment old, but had the advantage of all being in working order, even the microwave. I was soon able to rustle up a filling meal of spaghetti Bolognese with slices of bread infused with butter and crushed garlic. A far cry from the garlic bread of my youth, but still tasty and a wonderful surprise for the girls.
Afterwards with their help I sorted out clothing for washing and bed time arrangements, giving the girls my queen sized bed and making arrangements for myself to sleep on the sofa. We then played a board game as I had no TV and the radio was simply a conduit of the state, playing ‘patriotic’ tunes and propaganda.
Drooping eyes and stifled yawns told me that my guests were in need of a good night’s sleep so I sent them to the bathroom for a quick shower and handed over a couple of my longer tee shirts to act as nighties as the ones they had were in need of washing. Finally both were squeaky clean, having washed their hair too and I sat on the sofa and dried it with a towel then combed it through before sending them off to bed.
I was surprised to get a kiss on my cheek from each as well as a ‘goodnight Alec’ as they went to their room and hopefully to have a good sleep in safety for the first time in days.
Maryam awoke to the presence of someone moving her arm as well as a cool feeling running up it. Her eyes flickered open to see a dark shape removing a drip and sliding the needle from her skin.
“Who are you?” she croaked.
“Alec, try not to speak. The infection you had caused a constriction in your throat and it’s still inflamed,” the man answered.
“My girls?” she asked in fearful tones.
“Asleep, you can see them in the morning,” Alec replied.
“Tahira said you fed them, how much do I owe you?”
“Nothing. After the snitch attacked Zena I took responsibility for you and yours. The local enforcer will make sure I do as he doesn’t care for the alternative,” came the answer, though Maryam couldn’t understand the why of it.
“My name is Maryam and thank you ... I hope.”
“You’re welcome. The antibiotic has done its work. You need only take the tablet form for a week now.”
“Redemption from what?”
“Another time, get some sleep. The answers will wait till morning at least. Just rest assured, you and your girls are safe now. You have my word.”
Though she wanted the answer, Maryam also understood that this was not the time to push; besides her eyes were beginning to close despite her attempt to stay awake. Indeed she was asleep before Alec had even closed the door.
Morning came early as two small human missiles leaped upon me and roused me from my slumbers.
“Wake up Alec. Mama wants to see you!” came the excited demand of Zena.
“She can wait a minute as I need to go to the loo,” I moaned, as I’m definitely not a morning person ... well, not when my life does not depend on being awake instantly.
“Ok, but hurry.”
A quick relief and a wash of my face later I knocked on the door of the room Maryam was in and entered at a “come in”.
“Good morning, Maryam. You’re looking a lot better,” I greeted her as she lay in the bed, cuddling her two daughters.
“Yes, thank you, I’ve never known an antibiotic to work so fast,” she replied.
“It’s a new one. The government gave it out for the Brigades to test,” I replied, watching her face fall at the mention of the Brigades.
“I thought the bar ... Brigaders weren’t allowed to live amongst ordinary folk,” she said.
“Ordinary Brigaders aren’t. I was an officer,” I answered. “I also realise that people’s opinions of the Brigades aren’t good and yes we did some barbaric things, but please don’t believe the hype that they are all barbarians. They aren’t ... really.”
“But the tales we heard...” she began.
“Some true, many exaggerated, some just propaganda put out to make our enemies fear us and believe they’ve lost before a shot is fired,” I broke in.
I could tell Maryam was now afraid for herself and the girls. She hid it well, but I’d learned to read people well as an officer.
“You are in no danger from me and I will make sure the veterans look out for you if you choose to leave,” I said. “I also got your money back from your landlord including a good chunk of your deposit,” I added, placing the wad of notes onto the bedside cabinet.
“Thank you, Alec,” Maryam said quietly, looking somewhat embarrassed, as if questioning her prejudices.
“Breakfast?” I asked.
“Yes please!” came cries from two happy girls which made me break out into a smile myself.
“I can help,” Maryam said struggling to raise herself and get out of the bed, then pausing to look down at just what was covering her nether regions.
“Er ... we put it there in case of accidents,” I said blushing to the roots of my hair.
“I helped, mama,” said Zena.
Maryam said nothing, simply raised an eyebrow Spock style whist looking directly at me.
“Not going to dig myself in deeper,” I said feeling the blush deepen.
“I understand. Now please let me use the toilet to remove this ... thing,” she said in neutral tones.
She was still pretty weak, but with Zena’s help I got her into the loo and the door closed, I could almost swear I heard a giggle, but surely not? After five minutes I heard a flush and sent Tahira who was sitting quietly as Zena helped me whisk some eggs to see if Maryam needed any help.
“She needs something to cover herself a bit more than the robe we put on her,” Tahira said after a whispered conversation at the door.
Fortunately I had just the thing. I’d acquired a galabeya in a Sudanese souk from an Egyptian merchant and although a bit long and big for Maryam, it would cover her modesty easily.
Five minutes later Maryam called to the girls to help her and they led her to the table and a waiting cup of tea. I had to admit she looked a lot better in a galabeya than I did, though still painfully slim, more I suspect from using her funds to keep the girls rather than herself fed.
“You mentioned redemption last night Alec,” Maryam finally said after sipping her tea and nibbling on some toast as the girls tucked into scrambled eggs.
“Yes, I have much to atone for,” I replied.
“Yes, we did some terrible things and I have difficulty sleeping at times. I need to prove to myself that I’m human and civilised as I have grave doubts now,” I answered carefully.
“Yet you rescued my Zena, surely...”
“For every Zena, there are hundreds of others killed by the Brigades by various means. Do not doubt for a second we were butchers,” I broke in.
“Are we safe with you?” she finally asked after a long pause.
“Even if we surprise or shock you?”
“Alec will protect us, mama. I can tell,” said Zena with all the irrational belief a ten year old can bring to a statement.
“I ... I think you may be right Zena, but I need to be certain,” Maryam said.
“I will help you find a new home if or when you’re ready,” I said. “But for the meantime you need to stay here and get well.”
Maryam simply nodded and ate, whilst asking a few questions about my past whilst I asked a few about hers and the girls. I did avoid asking about her deceased husband as I suspected that wound was still red raw. Still, if there were something I could do to help there, I would.
Despite her calm outer self, Maryam was deeply worried. Yes she was grateful to Alec for taking her and the girls in, but that didn’t make him any less of a monster in her eyes. She was almost certain he was of the same stock and sympathies of those who’d murdered her husband and left his beaten corpse to be found in the street with a cardboard sign around his neck with the single word ‘muzzie’ scrawled upon it along with an official seal, which the police had told her was fake, despite it being about as real as it could get because no one in their right mind faked those.
Yet there was also something else. Something that stayed her desire to get as far away from him as possible. It was his eyes. He looked both haunted and so gentle at the same time, along with flashes of self-deprecating humour. There was also his blush of embarrassment at having to explain a necessity, which made him look quite delightful and young and she knew that she found him attractive. It had been over a year since Aprem had been murdered and she felt so alone and fearful for her daughters. Yet could she trust him?