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.


31. 27

Khadir tried to remain positive. He tried not to panic. He tried to shun the worst-case scenario from his mind.

But it couldn't be helped.

After receiving the disturbing news that Mariqah had been captured in Khulna and publically chastised - Khadir couldn't help but worry and panic and dream up nightmares of the worst-case scenario.
Callum did what he could to calm Khadir - but Mariqah's anxious, over-protective not-so-blood-brother was impossible to calm down. It quite literally terrified both Callum and Captain Rigby, listening to Khadir ramble on and on about how slow the ships were moving. Amaal was tougher (that, or she had some training in being deaf), but all of Callum's nerve-ends were fraying away with all the jump-scares Khadir was treating him. Still, he was much better off than Rigby and Amaal - mainly because he was on a different ship to Khadir.
“How much farther!” Khadir insisted at regular intervals, “How much farther, for God's sake!”
“Khadir,” Amaal would always say, the tiny woman turning the helm skillfully, “Why don't you go to the captain's cabin and rest there?”
“Rest? I can't rest!”
“Khadir,” Amaal would sigh, “Go. No matter how many times you ask how much farther we have to go, it makes no difference to the remaining distance. Take a nap. Maybe then I can give you an answer that might satisfy you.”
Her resolve, though, was always: “Go or shut up.”
And Khadir would glare at her with that murderous stare of his, but would mutter under his breath and keep quiet for a few minutes.

Callum was glad Khadir wasn't on his ship. He could sail in peace for the most part, with the exception of the times when Khadir decided to climb aboard the Tyrant and rampage for a while - and it gave Callum a lot of time to think.
The other mercenaries were much more resolved than Khadir.
Most of them just wanted to go home. But both Callum and Khadir wouldn't hear it (- the one thing they could actually agree on). Both of them were fully determined to find Mariqah, dead or alive.
As he sailed, Callum wondered how they would find her, and in what condition.
Would she be happy, relieved to see them? Or would she resent them, for coming so late after so long?
It was clear that Mariqah wasn't going to leave Bengal unscathed, but Callum wondered to what degree. He hoped for the best. And, of course, he wondered what his reward from her might be for his heroic deed. Not that he was expecting a reward, as such - but... well, it was just another thing he hoped for, something to cling to and keep him driving forward. A delicate embrace, perhaps, or a peck on the cheek: some form of affection and acknowledgement from the woman he loved. Maybe it was a little pathetic and fantastical for him to believe, but he couldn't deny he felt it.

“Captain,” called his quartermaster's voice, pulling Callum out of his fantasies.
“Aye?” Callum replied.
The quartermaster trudged up the steps to the helm and passed Callum a spyglass, “There be white sails yonder. British flags.”
Callum put held the glass to his eye and, indeed, saw British ships - but not merchant vessels.
“We're close,” Callum whispered. He left the wheel to his quartermaster and paced the main deck, “But how do we get passed that?”
He could attack them, but their strength and size (and not to mention, their number) would cripple his modest brig and merchant vessel. There was no advantage that he could see, so Callum needed to make one.

It wasn't going to be an idea Khadir would be happy with.

* * * * *

They kept their distance from the British man-o'-wars and floated upon the water, waiting for night to fall. The plan was simple in its conception, but probably more difficult to execute.
They needed to steal two British flags.
They couldn't fight their way through or sneak past, so they had to disguise themselves as friendlies. Callum paced about his cabin, waiting for Amaal and Khadir to arrive. The merchant vessel they had captured originally had a British flag, but it had been recklessly, thoughtlessly discarded. When Khadir swung the door open, slamming wood against wood until they rattled, Callum almost leapt out pf his skin.
Khadir looked haggard and pitious - with his hair in tangles and his beard in knots, his face stretched and dried, but also somehow angrily dejected - almost as if he had lost all hope.
It was a feral, senile appearance.
Callum tried to ignore the thought as he went behind his desk, Khadir's trained gaze boring into Callum's back as he walked - as if noting every movement of his body, every flutter of his apparel.
God forbid that Callum should make any sudden gestures.
Amaal stepped in after Khadir, somehow nonchalant by Khadir's appearance and behaviour. Maybe she had convinced herself that Khadir wouldn't attack her (although, Callum doubted the truth of that idea). He looked at her dark choppy hair and her flawless tanned skin - the roundness of her face throwing off a childish innocence.
How tragic it would be to have something so monstrous attack something so delicate.

“Well?” Khadir growled, “We've waited the whole day. You'd better have a plan worth wasting that time.”
Callum hesitated, gulped and then started slowly, “We need t'take two British flags. Since they're not just lyin' around for us, we'll need to cut 'em down from the masts o' those ships. But...”
“But what?” Khadir barked.
“Will you calm down?” Amaal said, shaking her head in disbelief.
Khadir glowered at her.
“How do you expect to rescue Mariqah in this state?” Amaal asked him, folding her arms, “I'm afraid you might just kill her as soon as you see her, the way that you are.”
Callum looked at them uneasily. He raised a hand, “Leave him be, Amaal.”
“No,” she snapped and shook her head, “He's been verbally abusing every man I have on deck. He's been verbally abusing you and me as well. It needs to be said - he needs to get it into his head that we're trying to do everything we can in the shortest possible time, and he's not doing anything!” she looked Khadir in the eye, standing tiptoed before him, her fists balled, her face flushed, “Did you hear me? You aren't doing anything to help!” she knotted her brows together and said, “How long before you turn hollered curses into thrown punches?”
Callum set his jaw, putting his hands down on the desk and leaning forward, “He might just start now,” he hissed through his teeth, “Leave him alone.”
Amaal frowned and became defensive, “I'm more than capable of taking care of myself!” she said, ignoring Callum's instruction, “Because Mariqah made me this way - and Khadir should know that Mariqah is more capable of taking care of herself and the better portion of nearly half-a-thousand rowdy men at the same time! This would be a thousand times easier, if he would just sit in the bloody hold and let us do our jobs!”
Khadir observed Amaal for a moment, his eyes narrowing and his lips curling - but he made no motion to speak. He simply looked away from her.
Callum sighed, “Are ye done?”
Amaal wheeled around, aghast, “What is your problem? Why do you let him do this to you?” she demanded.
Callum glanced at Khadir - so morose and distraught, unable to do anything but worry, “Please, lass. He's right there,” Callum said in a soft voice.
“Oh, like he cares!”
“I don't blame him, alright? I understand him,” Callum said, almost spitting the words. Khadir, not wanting to hear anymore, left the room.

Callum flushed with anger and shouted at Amaal, “It's Mariqah! Someone he cares, maybe, the most about - and he can't do a thing t'help her! Can't ye understand that?”
“I don't see why that allows him to be mean to everyone else! Mariqah wouldn't stand for it!”
“Of course it doesn't allow him, but he's frustrated! And he's hearin' all these things about her - things that may or may not be true - and it's killin' him! How can't ye see that?”
“I'm sorry, but it's easy for you to say. You barely ever have to see him, Callum! He's not on your ship all the time, throwing abuse at everyone-”
Callum cut in, snarling at her, “Oh, my! If dealin' with him - listenin' to him voice his troubles - is so hard for ye, just leave him on my ship from now on, aye?”
“That's fine by me! But watch it, captain: soiling your breeches is going to cause you a great deal of embarrassment!” Amaal retorted.
“Maybe,” Callum said, holding his head, “Just maybe if ye offered him more than just... dismissal, he might choose t'be more bearable. But all you've done is shun him!”
“He didn't deserve my ear,” Amaal countered.
“Aye, well - sometimes we have to be fair to people, even when they don't deserve it,” Callum said.

Amaal looked away, not quite believing her ears, and said, “What did you want done?”
“Two British flags to sneak past the galleys,” Callum said, his voice taut and stiff, “Think ye can manage that?”
Amaal sneered at him, “I'll get you your flags, just keep Khadir away from me,” she turned and stomped out of the cabin. She didn't see Khadir watching her climb into a small boat and order for it to be lowered. He stood in the shadows, pensive and hurt, as nearby sailors came forward to help the boat down steadily.
“Oi,” said a soft voice and a finger tapped his arm.
Khadir looked at Callum and felt the need to look away again. He didn't say anything.
“We all know this is hard for ye, mate,” Callum said.
Khadir shook his head, “How?” he asked, “How can you possibly know?”
“We just do. I do. We'll find her, we will.”
Khadir said, in a voice that barely constructed a whisper, “She's dead.”
Callum shook his head wildly, “No, Khadir-”
“Of course she's dead!” Khadir snapped, his voice cracking into a howl, like a wolf baying at the moon. He clamped his mouth shut and turned away.
“No, she's not,” Callum insisted, “You can't afford t'believe that she's gone and I refuse to. We are goin' to find her - or, at least, I am. I've come this far for her and I am not turnin' back now because you don't seem t'have the stones to see her again.”
“We're taking so long, Callum!” Khadir howled, his face a mask of sadness.
How strange - the sincerest of smiles and the saddest of sorrow. It took only one look to know what Khadir was, what he felt; and Callum's fear of Khadir melted away as he did. No wonder Mariqah kept him close and called him brother. Khadir would go to the ends of the world just for her.
“I know!” Callum yelled and then in a softer voice, “I know. But when we find her - alive! - there's not goin' to be a thing in the world she'll be happier about! You know that! You've known her longer than I have, ye must know that!”
Khadir covered his face with his hand and let out a shaky sigh.
“She's not gone,” Callum repeated, grasping Khadir's shoulder, “She's out there waitin' for us, and we owe it her to find her.”
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