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.


7. 5

“So, are you going to pass this on for me or should I send it myself?” Mariqah asked, passing a leather pouch pinned with an envelope to Reynold.
“Honestly? I can't look at that thing without wanting to cross one leg over the other,” Reynold replied, taking the sack and holding it away from him as if it was a used tissue that stank of putrefaction.

They were seated on Masyaf's upper-walls, overlooking the stretch of desert ahead and the village off to a side. It was mid-morning, sheep and goats dotted the land in search of pasture, the shepherd-boys whistling and rounding them up if they tarried too far. The grunts of work and the ring of steel sounded from within Masyaf's interior as the mercenaries toiled and trained.
Mariqah say hunched over, her elbows testing on her knees as she looked over the land before her, and drank cold water from a flask, then sighed, “Is that a yes or a no?”
“That depends largely on how this conversation ends, Mariqah,” Reynold said, sitting straight-backed, with a hand to his hip, “I have a... request.”
Mariqah scoffed, “This about your ghosts in the village?”
“The Brotherhood, yes,” he paused a moment, to pat down his pockets until he found some tobacco. He took out a thin, clay pipe and put the tobacco in before lighting it with a match and breathing in the fumes. Smoke poured out of his nostrils and between his lips when he exhaled. He sighed a little, “Mariqah, I know you don't view them as much, but the Brotherhood are dangerous - if not by number, then by sheer conviction alone. The idea of unseating the King is a ludicrous one, one that could topple the entire world into chaos. I ask that you put a stop to them.”
“When you say 'put a stop to', do you mean 'exterminate'?” Mariqah asked.
Reynold scowled, “You might have grown these passed few years, but your cheek is by no means diminished. I mean, stop them. Subdue them. Imprison them. Kill them. Whatever you see fit, Mariqah - just don't let them flourish.”
“I can't pass judgement, Reynold. Not on your word,” Mariqah said, “but I understand your... concerns and the concerns of your ridiculous secret-society, so I will guarantee this - if the Brotherhood does exist and if their vision will cause problems in the long-run - global or local - I will subdue them. I will carry out an investigation as soon as I possibly can. You have my word.”
“Why do I have a lingering doubt about you?”
“Because, Reynold, if they're dream can create a peaceful world without the Crown - I will support them.”
Reynold paused and then looked at her, “You're joking, right?”
“I know it's a little far-fetched - but if it's possible: why not?”
“The Crown is necessary to maintain order and structure to the world as it is!” Reynold snapped, shaking his pipe angrily.
Mariqah raised a brow, turning to face Reynold, “By dividing nations, salting lands and raping innocent women?”
“I didn't say I would support them whatever their plan,” Mariqah cut in, “Only if it was a plan that made sense, that was realistic rather than ambitious.”
“Fine!” Reynold huffed, “Just... be careful.”

“Is that you developing a soft-spot for me?” laughed Mariqah.
“I've always had a soft-spot for you, Miss Khanom,” Reynold winked. He took a long pull his pipe and exhaled, “Ever since that day you walked into the recruiting centre, you've never quite left my thoughts.”
“That's extremely creepy,” Mariqah quipped.
“Perhaps,” Reynold conceded with a chuckle, “do you still stand by what you said to me, all those years ago?”
“Hmm...” Mariqah said, trying to remember what was said, “Admittedly, if I had sought shelter in a nunnery, they probably would have accepted me. The Army wasn't my only practical way out,” she shrugged, “They wouldn't know about my past crimes or whether I was actually Catholic. Or Christian at all, for that matter.”
“You know that was not what I was referring to,” Reynold said irritably.
Mariqah shrugged, “I know.”
Reynold sighed impatiently, “Do you still believe that the Father in Heaven has forsaken you?”
“I never said God forsook me,” Mariqah said slowly, the memory trickling back to her, “I said He had stopped listening to me. That's how I felt, at the time, being compelled or possessed to leave my own family as I had... But now... I don't know. I'm not exactly leading a virtuous life.”
“You regret this course?”
“Does it matter?”
“Doesn't it?”
“There's no turning back now, on this life... I think... I don't know. I searched and found this path with Khadir and his family. I'm not sure if this is a blessing or if God is just keeping me on a long leash. But...” Mariqah looked for the right words, “it feels right.”

Reynold nodded, as if this answered a question that had been gnawing at him, and spat debris from his mouth, before he asked, “And what of your inability to conceive?”
Mariqah looked offended, “Man! Concern yourself with the affairs of men!”
“Yes, yes - but men mostly concern themselves with the sport, not the consequence. And frankly, I've tired of hearing about the game, Mariqah.”
Mariqah laughed, “I don't suppose you play much then?”
Reynold snorted at her crude comment, “I'm a married man, and loyally so. That should be enough explanation.”
Mariqah elbowed him, “Achievement!”
“Oh, clamp it, you! Answer my question.”
“I don't want to have kids. I've made that clear before.”
“Not wanting to and not being able to: are two separate things, Mariqah.”
“I, for one, am glad the Army removed the bother of ever having a choice, Reynold,” Mariqah said firmly.
“You speak the words - but do you believe them?”
“It's easy for men to be condescending,” Mariqah said coldly, “Men who spend almost their entire time in the outside world, while women must cater to the needs of innocently insufferable and selfish brats with little or no aid, and pay with their goddamn sanity in the process!” she snapped, “I have seen it! I have suffered it! And I'll be damned before I even consider putting myself through it again!”
Reynold stared and blinked at Mariqah. He said nothing.

They sat in an awkward silence for a while, Reynold looked away and smoked, before Mariqah broke the silence with a sigh and said, “Go home to your wife, Reynold. You and your men. Your supplies and possessions are ready for transport. I suggest you go to a city to re-stock before heading to a sea-port.”
Reynold sensed her terse manner, though she spoke softly and responded by saying, “We'll leave soon, aye. I'm thinking perhaps after the sun has passed its zenith,” he turned to Mariqah, “If we are welcome for that long?”
Mariqah mumbled something and looked away.
Reynold straightened up, “My question was borne out of curiosity, Mariqah, not criticism.”
“Your question over-stepped a boundary, Reynold.”
“I... suppose. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to trespass on your insecurities. But Mariqah...” he paused, not knowing how to correctly phrase his sentiments, “I understand you do not wish to discuss the matter, but what the Army did to you... You couldn't blame them. We needed soldiers. Good soldiers, like you - even though you left us before we could send you out on the field. But that doesn't make what had to be done, right. I am sorry that it happened,” he put a hand to Mariqah's shoulder, “It's clear you have regrets about this... Denial won't serve a beneficial purpose, Mariqah.”
“You weren't the man making the rules,” Mariqah said, “You have nothing to apologise for.”
“You have my apology, all the same,” Reynold smiled sadly at her.
“What's done, is done.”

He emptied out his pipe and put it away, before strapping the leather pouch to his belt and stowing the envelope in his coat, “I will see to it that the King and his men receive these. I will do what I can to convince them not to attack and pursue you. I expect you'll honour your word and investigate the village - as you have said?”
Mariqah nodded, “I'll write to you of my findings as soon as time allows.”
“Excellent. Until then?” Reynold put out his hand.
Mariqah gave him a look, “Come on, Mr Evans!” she embraced him warmly, “I hope our paths cross again, Reynold - on the same side of the battlefield next time. Until then, God protect you,” Mariqah released him and took a long look.
Reynold laughed, “To you as well, Firdous Khanom.”
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