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.


30. 26

Noel left Mariqah's bedroom still smelling of sex. She had warned him, but Noel said he could come up with something. 
Apparently, claiming to defile a nun wasn't as bad as exposing his affections for Mariqah. 
Mariqah rose from her bed, feeling sore and hobbled her way to take a quick wash in the water provided in an adjoining bathroom. When she was done, she examined her naked back in a full-length mirror opposite the bed. The ridges of torn flesh glared at her, scabbed and red, some still weeping streams of blood and puss. She closed her eyes, gulped, wishing she hadn't looked, but got passed the image quickly. She dabbed a linen towel gently over her back, and dried off the rest of her body. Mariqah looked around and found a large cotton sheet in the cabinet. She tied it to her back with the bandage, looping it around her torso tightly. She then dressed in her undergarments, her breeches and the tunic that had been provided. Mariqah then used the remaining water to wash out the bedsheets and the now-blood-streaked towel. 
It was bad enough she and Noel had committed an act against celibacy in a monastery - it didn't seem fair to leave the mess for the nuns to clean out.
Mariqah then looked in the mirror again, touching the ends of her hair. It had grown. She sucked her cheeks in and took a small knife from the bathroom - and trimmed her hair down. When she was satisfied, Mariqah tied up her short bob and cleaned the floor of her hair, leaving it in a waste-basket.
She put on her shoes, took up the wet fabrics and stepped out of her bedroom door.

She heard the delightful voices of reciting nuns and listened to them for a while before making it down a flight of stone steps to meet some of the mercenaries in the courtyard. They smiled at her, talking and laughing. She even managed to get slapped on the back accidentally a few times. Mariqah smiled back at them. It was nice to see them free and at ease. She set eyes on Noel talking to his brother, and he glanced in her direction for a second and (very awfully) tried to suppress a grin. 
Mariqah found a line to hang her washing and threw the towel and the bedsheet over it, standing tiptoed and reaching up to straighten them out.
“Madam?” called a voice.
Mariqah turned to find a mercenary offering her some water, “Thank you, Yemi,” she said, taking the flask and drinking thirstily.
“Are you looking for someone?” he asked.
“Yes. I don't know if you saw him, but his name is Reynold Evans? He's the Redcoat that gave me the letter on the day of our escape-”
“Oh, oh,” Yemi said, hopping from one foot to the other, “When you ripped that guard's throat out?”
Mariqah blinked, “I didn't-”
“He's in the monastery somewhere, near the actual church. I saw him sitting on the pews.”
“Thank you, Yemi.”

Mariqah crossed the courtyard and asked for directions to the place Yemi had specified. She didn't like this clear misinterpretation of what she had done to the guard. She might have fatally wounded him in the throat by biting, but his throat did not come out - therefore, had not 'ripped a man's throat out'. 
Mariqah couldn't say that such a take wouldn't work in her favour though.
She found Reynold sitting alone under an arched ceiling in one of the middle rows, looking at a huge statue of the likeness of the Virgin Mary. The rest of the church was empty, and the recitation of echoing hymns could be heard like a faint melody on the wind.
Mariqah took a breath and then stepped in, her shoes sounding on the polished wood.
Reynold didn't turn, he just waited for Mariqah to approach. He expected her to sit, but she just stood next to him with her arms folded. Reynold opened his mouth to speak, but a sharp slap whipped his head right around.
He grasped the side of his face, “I guess I deserved th- Aaaargh!” he cried out when Mariqah deliberately punched him in the groin. His voice echoed around the emptiness. That was sure to turn a few heads.
“Who does that!” he barked, his face flushed with pain and anger, his hands covering his affected member. He groaned a little.
She sat next to him and looked him in the eye, pointing a finger at his face, “Never. Ever. Do that. To me. Ever. Again,” she said, punctuating her pauses with a shake of her finger.
“I didn't want to!” Reynold protested.
“Don't make me hit you again,” Mariqah glowered.
“I got you out, didn't I?”
“You got me whipped!”
“After you went prancing away on your own and got caught!”
Mariqah jerked her head away, angry and unable to form a plausible response.
“I mean, what was I supposed to do?” Reynold asked, “I couldn't just burst in on a noble steed and rescue you, now could I? I-”
“I got your point, shut up,” Mariqah snapped.

They sat in smouldering silence for a while until Mariqah said, “We have a crazily unhealthy relationship, do you know that?”
Reynold shook his head, “Well, I have to work with a woman who has crazily unhealthy intentions all the bloody time.”
“You want to know what's crazily unhealthy for you, Reynold? That sound you keep making when you open your goddamn mouth!” Mariqah shouted, the echoes exaggerating her anger, “I think you've forgotten that that was the fucking thing that got me in this crazily unhealthy situation in the first fucking place!”
Reynold made a face like he was going to retort, but stopped when what she said registered. He stared at her for a moment, then looked at his feet.
Mariqah paused, not knowing what to say.
“That... that came out wrong,” she said in a smaller voice.
Reynold shook his head, “No, it didn't.”
Mariqah threw up her hands and cursed in frustration.

“What happened to Javed?” Mariqah asked at last.
“Flew the coop,” Reynold murmured, “On his way to Chittagong now to meet with... someone.”
Mariqah raised a brow, “Someone who?”
Reynold hesitated, “King Stephen.”
Mariqah stared at him, looking as though she had been slapped in the face, “The King is in Chittagong? Why?”
“He's leading an attack there,” Reynold looked at up Mariqah, “Javed Singh is going to warn him about Khulna. About you.”
Mariqah regarded Reynold, “You're not supposed to tell me any of this. Are you?”
“I know I haven't done much in the way to prove it, but my loyalties will always reside with you.”
Mariqah furrowed her brows, “That doesn't make any sense. Why would you be loyal to me at all, let alone above all? I'm not a king, not a country. Not an idea.”
Reynold took a deep breath, “That day William died, the day I ordered his death...” Reynold began, “The way you begged for his life... You're never going to forget it.”
Mariqah looked at her feet, the memory becoming fresh in her mind and emotion tightening her chest as Reynold's spoke.
“Maybe you'll never be able to look beyond it. Never heal from it...” he took a breath, “I know every detail of every sadness that has ever touched you because you trusted that knowledge to me,” he shook his head, “But I killed your first love and I betrayed all your secrets... And I have found no peace - in neither silence nor slumber - since. And... it seems, perhaps, I never will.”
Mariqah felt cold. She shivered and looked at Reynold for a long time. 
Reynold, the Man with Many Regrets.
But her oldest friend all the same.
“You have every right, every motive to take my life,” Reynold professed, “and I cannot understand why you choose to spare me.”
Mariqah embraced him, resting her head on his shoulder. She felt Reynold's hand brush her back, feeling every groove he was responsible for.
“You want to be free of what you've done to me?” she whispered.
Reynold said nothing.
“Help me end this,” Mariqah said, “We need to stop Javed before the King launches his attack.”

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