Female mercenary leader, Mariqah, puts faith in an organisation of rebellious world changers in an alternate history where the British colonialism still exists. These world changers seek to abolish all form of imperialism. Mariqah is in tw minds however, as she has friends in both camps. Things go horribly wrong when she sets foot into Bengal which is torn by civil war - where there seems to be deceptive conflict between factions.


26. 22

The next day was dreary, the rain just pittering on - not yet fully hammering down on the earth so far below its origins. It would be a peaceful sound were it not for the uniform thump-thump-thumping of marching feet (also accompanied by an uncomely squelching). Mariqah stayed ahead of the rest of her men, holding the reins of a short, strangely-orange-coloured horse that bore the weight of foodstuffs and other supplies; her feet and the horse's hooves sloshing through the thick mud. Reynold walked beside her, unsettled by the silence she maintained. He knew Mariqah was troubled or perhaps deep in thought, but the reasons for her silence were unknown to him and so puzzled him to the point of distraction.
“Mariqah,” he didn't want to - because he knew he would not get a straight or true answer - but Reynold asked, “Are you alright?”
Mariqah didn't appear to hear him, so Reynold tried to repeat the question, but she said, “We should rest.”

Reynold raised a brow, “What, now? But we're nearly within the city,” he protested.
Mariqah raised her hand and the company halted, scattering into groups to rest or eat, “Which is why I intend to scout ahead,” she said, taking the saddlebags and other loads off of the horse's back.
Reynold moved forward to help her, “Scout ahead? You? For what?” he dropped a load onto the ground and looked at her incredulously.
“You're forgetting that Brammer wasn't the only man in on the ambush,” Mariqah said, her blank face becoming serious, “he had rebel assistance. I need to find Javed Singh. He's the one I was looking for and he's the one I suspect told Brammer of my whereabouts.”
Reynold put his hands to his hips and shook his head, “You don't know any of that for sure.”
“I didn't. But remember the rebel soldiers that attacked us in the church?”
“Those could have been mutiniers, Mariqah, they could have joined the rebel army but backed the British. They didn't mention Singh, only Brammer - and we no longer have our informant, so I we can't make certain and we certainly can't just assume!”
Mariqah paused, “Is Singh part of the Order as well?”
Reynold looked away for a moment and then heaved a sigh, “Yes. And he happens to be a very loyal member.”
“You and Brammer tried to kill me,” Mariqah said, “Maybe he's trying  too.”
“I cannot allow you to kill him.”
Mariqah mounted the horse, “Well, then, it's a good thing I'm not asking your permission, isn't it?” 

Reynold grabbed her leg before she could turn away with the horse, “Firdous, wait!”
“What?” Mariqah snapped, irritably.
Reynold recomposed himself, as if thinking carefully on how to say what he was about to say, “Why are you scouting ahead? If your fears prevail, your army will be leaderless.”
Mariqah shrugged, feigning nonchalance, “I can handle myself.”
“I'm aware of that,” Reynold said, almost spitting every word. He then gestured to the rest of the army, “But they won't be able to handle themselves if you don't come back.”
“It's just a scouting trip.”
“Send someone else,” Reynold insisted, anger flushing his face.
Mariqah glared at Reynold, “My men have suffered enough. It's about time I hauled some of the weight.”
“Is that what this is about? Firdous... God, I knew I never should have left you alone yesterday!” Reynold pinched the bridge of his nose and then looked up at her again, “I don't think you realise how much you do for all of them.”
“Is this the part where you start comparing me to other generals?”
“Maybe I do more than them,” Mariqah said, “but that doesn't mean I do enough.”
“It will never be enough, Mariqah! Can't you see that?” Reynold exclaimed, swinging his arms around in frustration, “It's one thing to seek redemption, but this is insane! Nothing you do will bring your men back or heal their untimely wounds-”
Mariqah looked away, “I know that...” she murmured.
“Let - it - go!”
Mariqah paused, “Not yet,” she said, clicking her tongue and making the horse swing around.
Reynold sighed loudly, “And what do I do if you don't come back?” he called after her.
“Find a way to send my men back to Masyaf.”

* * * * *

Mariqah didn't intend to go back. 

She'd let a few days pass, to force Reynold and the others to believe that she was gone so that they could cut their losses and return home. Maybe she wanted to be gone - to just disappear and never return to the life she had chosen. It would never have been easy to do, but here was her window - her chance to bury Mariqah de Saint-Omer in some tragic accident during the Bengali Uprisings - and become someone else, some-thing else. It might even work out better that way - for herself and for all her living soldiers. 
Could it be so hard, to leave it all behind? 

To run away like she always had?

Mariqah squeezed her eyes shut, reining in the horse. She sighed and gazed upon the looming metropolis, Khulna. The night had crept in, the sky a sheet of black blotted with fiery constellations. Mariqah got down from the horse, her clothes damp and heavy, and patted the animal's nose, running her fingers through its long mane - catching the tangled knots between her fingers. 
She slowly took off the harness around its head and the saddle from its back. 
“I won't need you anymore,” she whispered.
The horses yewled, shaking its large head as if the removal of its bindings made it feel uncomfortable and alien.
“Find somewhere nice to eat,” she said to the horse, “No doubt, someone will find you and stick a rope around your neck again... But... but just live a little until then, okay?”
Mariqah took an apple from her pocket and left it on the ground. She saw the horse bend low to eat the fruit from the edges of her vision as she walked away.

Mariqah climbed on top of a squat building and rested there for a moment. 
What to do? Where to go? And why? 
Questions of great importance, indeed, but her train of thought was interrupted before she could begin to think of answers. Mariqah heard the clicks of several muskets and she looked around her.
How had she missed them?
Men in green coats posted on top of buildings around her had their guns trained on her person.
Mariqah understood threat, she knew when she was beaten - but she also knew that range and accuracy tended to lack in their particular brand of bayonets. She got up slowly, her hands raised. She watched as the barrels of the guns followed her every move. She stepped this way and that - the aim shifting, never distracted - and Mariqah began to wonder if they were going to say anything. Someone must have gone off to call a person of note, surely. 
That was okay. That was fine. She wasn't dead yet and she didn't intend to die any time soon. All she needed was-

Mariqah dropped down from the rooftop - grasping the walls to slow her descent - hearing the cracks of triggers and the swish of bullets just miss her. She landed in a crouch and hurried forward, trying to navigate the maze of back-streets and alleyways. She heard the shouts of men and the rush of boots on gravel. Mariqah stumbled into a dead-end and cursed under her breath. She looked this way and that, the sound of footsteps growing closer and closer, and found a back-door ajar. She slipped through and hid - standing stock-still as half a dozen rebel soldiers skidded to a halt in front of the stone wall she had just been cursing.
One man barked orders, sending some soldiers over the wall, while the others combed the street - looking through dustbins and scanning the buildings.
Mariqah didn't dare to make a sound.
She heard the slight creak of floorboards and the squeaking of un-oiled doors and spring mattresses - knowing that she had disturbed members of the household. 
“Please think it's nothing, please think it's nothing...” she murmured to herself hopefully.
She heard the soldiers outside pull away, heading out of the alley to search a new area. Mariqah sighed in relief, waiting for them to clear out.

“Ummi, is that you?”

“Shit!” Mariqah muttered under her breath, turning slowly to see a small child rubbing the sleep from her eyes. Mariqah raised a finger to her lips.
It changed nothing.
The child's eyes widened and she screamed. Mariqah shook her head wildly, but in a flash the soldiers returned and surrounded the doorway. The child's parents came rushing out of their bedroom.
Mariqah raised her hands, surrendering.
The herd of rebels parted and a man stepped through.
He wore the uniform green with red trimmings, but his status did not call for a difference in apparel. He was short, shorter than Mariqah, with dark closely-cropped hair and a thick black moustache. His skin was russet-brown and when he smiled, his teeth jutted out like they were too big for his mouth.
“Well. Isn't this a surprise?” Javed Singh said, coming forward. 
He snapped his fingers and two soldiers marched in and took Mariqah by the arms - leading her out of the house and into the street. She didn't struggle, but looked up at the windows, seeing frightened and curious faces behind parted curtains. She looked away, ashamed.
A foot connected with Mariqah's stomach and she grunted, driven back by the impact. She bent over in pain, the only things holding her up being the soldiers flanking her.
Singh grabbed her hair and yanked it back so that she was looking up at him.
“I thought, with all the commotion you caused in Dhanbad,” he said, sneering, “We'd have more company. I had the city under curfew and my men on alert just for you - and only you show up? Mariqah, you insult me.”
Mariqah spat in his face and Singh retaliated by punching her sharply.
Mariqah felt the crunch of her jaw, her teeth tearing into the insides of her cheek and blood spilling from her split lip. She licked the fresh wounds and bared her teeth.
Singh wiped his face with the back of his hand, “Tempting my anger is not something I would advise.”
“Funny,” Mariqah scoffed sardonically, spitting blood from her mouth and glaring up at Singh, “I was just about to say the same thing.”
Singh stared for a moment, before looking up and nodding once.

Something sharp hit Mariqah's head and she passed out...

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