Mary ran that day.
That dreadful, dreadful day that Mariqah had died. Mary sat on the banks of the Guild, beneath a natural rocky peak, her face buried in her knees as she tried and tried to remember.
The short, raven-black hair.
The young-looking face that façaded the old intelligence.
The thick brows that furrowed and frowned often, but raised and smiled equally as much.
The full lips, the scarred bottom, which could form a terrible scowl but a pleasant smile.
The eyes – her eyes that never failed to be soft but also stern.
It was all gone.
Replaced by the image of the skull – the bleached-white bone, the gaping sockets where the eyes should have been, the raised cheek-bones and the missing nose, and the taunting smile formed by the naked teeth.
All are to dust.
That was not how Mary sought to remember her aunt. She shed more tears as the image continued to frighten and taunt her. Goad her, almost. She wanted to turn it all back, all the events, right up until whatever Britney had done to cause Mariqah’s death. She would have done everything in her power to kill her mother at that point, just to spare Mariqah.
Or would she?
Mary sniffed and sobbed, trying not to make so much noise as to attract attention to herself.
It didn’t work. Mary heard someone sit next to her, but they didn’t talk or touch her – for that she was grateful. When she regained a measure of composure, she looked up to find Khadir sitting next to her. He didn’t say anything as she stared up at him.
“Uncle Khadir…?” she said.
“I have been looking for you,” he said simply.
“How… how did you find me?”
“This is where Mariqah would have gone, if she needed to hide. Somewhere hidden, but plain in sight. Somewhere no-one would think to look,” he turned his head away, closing his eyes. On any other occasion, Mary would have felt awkward as she watched tears drip from Khadir’s eyes. Awkward was an understatement. She would have been aghast, bewildered, perhaps she would have wondered if the sky was falling down. But this was no ordinary occasion.
The universe could allow this.
“This is probably harder for you,” said Mary.
“Sadness cannot be measured, Mary,” said Khadir, “I have seen Mariqah close to death before. Many times. Perhaps… perhaps some part of me started to believe that she couldn’t die. Which is foolish. It only hits me all the more now, now that she is gone.”
Mary nodded, not knowing how to respond to the comment.
“She really loved you, Mary. I have watched how she is with you, and I have watched how she is with the other mercenaries… You are not the same.”
“I have no qualms over how Aunt Mariqah felt about me.”
“You wouldn’t,” Khadir conceded, “But I did.”
Mary gave Khadir a look, “What… what do you mean?”
“Mariqah hated children,” said Khadir, “maybe she was even a little scared of them.”
Mary furrowed her brows and waited for Khadir to continue.
“There is a reason she never had her own, Mary. It wasn’t an incapability. It was consequential of a choice she made, a long time ago.”
“She… she was sterile?”
Khadir nodded, “She and Darim had a huge argument over it. When she fell in with the Redcoats, they insisted that she be sterile to serve in their army. That was when she was twenty-years-old, or so. Long before she met Darim,” Khadir sighed, “We don’t talk ill of the dead, so I will only say this briefly – Mariqah believed that children had ruined her life, and would do so again should she have any.”
“So…” Mary paused, “So Aunt Mariqah didn’t really want me?”
“I am not entirely sure what was going through Mariqah’s head when she decided to take you. Along with her personal reasons, the barracks is no place for a child. I suppose… I suppose she wanted to prove a point. The others were convinced of the ridiculous notion that you were some kind of demon-spawn from Hell.”
“So there was no other option?”
“Of course there was. It just wasn’t an option Mariqah felt comfortable with,” Khadir sniffed, “If she was here, she would have said she had a lot of help raising you.”
Mary sighed, “Why… why are you telling me this?”
Khadir shrugged, “I don’t know.”
“So… what now?”
“You heard what Mariqah said. Now, we leave. We drop the campaign.”
Mary was surprised by this, “We’re just going to leave? Just like that? We’re not going to avenge her?”
Khadir paused and then gave Mary a look, “We respect the wishes of the dead, Mary.”
“Aunt Mariqah said what she said because she had to! She didn’t want to endanger us! It wasn’t what she wanted!”
“But she did not say what she wanted,” Khadir pointed out, “Your aunt only very rarely made the mistake of following her desires, Mary. Her duty always came first. And if she thinks we would be better off leaving, who are we to question?”
“We are the ones left behind!” Mary retorted, “Aunt Mariqah was cheated into a death! She was dishonoured, Khadir! We are supposed to restore that, aren’t we?”
“She is dead, Mary!” Khadir barked, “Regardless of how, or when, or why – she can never be restored!” Khadir took a breath and looked away, “Do you think this is easy for me? Mary? It is easier for me to traverse the wild for days, weeks, months! And hunt down your good-for-nothing mother and murder her with my bare hands! Mariqah was a woman I swore to protect, and now she is gone because of the dreaded woman who dammed you! But Mariqah…” Khadir sighed, “she asked me to leave it. To forget the campaign. And to take you home. And I will respect her wish.”
Mary looked at her shoes, tears congealing in her eyes again, “I’m sorry, I… I just…”
“I know,” said Khadir.
“You’re more like Darim, you know. The strange one,” said Khadir after a pause, “He was always one to rush into things. He was never much of a thinker.”
Despite herself, Mary laughed, “I think, of the pair, Aunt Mariqah was the weirdo.”
“Not as much as Darim. Have you never seen the way in which he acted when he was unable operate a machine?”
“Yeah, I never understood that. I think he cursed machines more than he ever did a person.”
“He was from a different dimension.”
Mary paused, “Why is this the first I’m hearing of this?”
“Would you have believed, if it was told to you before?”
“No… I guess not. But it still would have been nice to know,” now that she thought about it, many of the things that Darim had done had struck her as odd. His prejudice against racially White people, his annoyance at machinery and his queer friendship with the parade horses. Compared to the other soldiers, he was weird.
“He came from a dimension parallel to ours. Only, in his dimension – the Crusades had never ceased.”
“So he was a Saracen?”
“Something like that, I suppose. Mariqah would’ve been able to tell you about it, but…” Khadir sighed again, “There is another dimension, where there’s no British Empire, no colonies – like in our reality. Apparently, in that dimension there were two World Wars that broke the Empire apart. Machinery is much more advanced, no gunpowder and such,” Khadir scoffed, “We met a very different Mariqah over there. A non-violent, pretty, child-bearing Mariqah – one that still used her real name.”
“That’s not her real name?” Mary said, staring at Khadir questioningly.
“Mariqah de Saint-Omer. Think about it.”
“What’s her real name?”
Khadir laughed, “Mariqah kept a will handy at all times. The last time she had me review it, her journal was to be kept as part of your inheritance. You will know, in time.”
Mary paused, looking at her hands as she said, “She used to come to you for everything, didn’t she?”
“And I, to her for everything.”
They both huffed, until Khadir took a belt from his shoulder and passed a sheathed sword to Mary, “She would want you to have this as well.”
Mary raised her brows, looking down at the sheathed Damascus, “I… no. It’s too big for me.”
Khadir smiled, “You will grow into it,” he said softly, “We should start to pack up, though. We need to leave.”
“Can we… can we at least wait for Tostig to return?”
“The elf? Why?”
Mary hesitated, “Just…”
Khadir regarded Mary for a long while, before he said, “I would not get too fond of their kind, if I were you. But of course we can wait. We are in no hurry.”