Hearing the banging and voices, smelling the cooking breakfast, Sally came down leading her son. The atmosphere of the house had changed in an instant, Martha’s tidy home had almost been overwhelmed by dirty, smelly, tough looking men, their weapons and kit carelessly discarded, tired voices mixing with her hosts’ in the kitchen, and a young man snoring on the sofa, holding what resembled a child on his lap, rigid and clutching him tightly.
Martha came through with a cup of tea, glass of water and what appeared to be a bacon sandwich, she glanced at Sally and her son just standing there, not knowing what to do and feeling like intruders. She was in no mood for pleasantries, far too much to do, “Young lad, into the kitchen with you for breakfast, if you please.”
Then back into the kitchen, “Don’t you know any better than leaving those dreadful weapons lying about like children’s toys when there’s a little boy in the house? Come and put them away somewhere safe this instant.”
Back to Sally, “Come through, there’s some introductions to make.” Through to the kitchen again, “Iltud, get off your backside and make some more tea.” And finally, squatting before her adored Sam, “Tell me everything later, my love, all about it, your new friend, but first both of you, drink, eat.”
Sally could see Martha was loving every moment.
They all did as they were told and Martha went into the kitchen while Art and Alan put their weapons and kit away before returning. Iltud, clearly seeking to avoid another chiding, had made more tea, cut more bread, and was cooking more eggs, bacon and sausages, as well as handing out more cheese and apples, while trying to have a staccato conversation with Alan and the others. Sally and Josey, briefly introduced, just ate and observed, almost in awe of the presence of these friendly but alarming strangers. Meanwhile, Martha, with Sam’s help, was trying to persuade the girl with smiles and gestures to relent her grip on him, sit up on the sofa beside him, and take some water and food. The rigidity was leaving her now and the abject fear receding from her body as her uncomprehending eyes and ears sensed the warm and happy chatter throbbing around the small house, sounds she had almost forgotten existed, sounds that indicated no imminent danger and perhaps better times ahead.
Chaos reigned for an hour before Iltud took Alan to see the Seigneur to report formally, smiling at his Martha’s beloved Sam on the way past. The other two strangers smiled at her, got up and went back into the living room and stretched out on the floor rug and promptly lapsed into an exhausted, relieved sleep. Sally and Josey were left alone bewildered in the kitchen. Oh well, better get on. “Come on young man, help me clean up.”
Martha returned, snorting happily in mock disgust. “Those boys, lying asleep on my clean floor in their dirty things, what do they think this place is?”
She then explained to Sally who they were, that the girl was some sort of foreigner they had rescued, whom nobody could talk to and whom her hero boy had carried for over six hours at night through the hills.
“He’s just like one of the knights from ancient times,” she had laughed. He could clearly do no wrong for Martha, Sally could see.
Shortly afterwards Alan and Iltud came back with the monk-priest Brother Peran in tow, they had bumped into him as he was bicycling slowly up to the church for morning prayer from the little satellite monastery down the valley where he lived. Sally could see Alan was now at the limits of his capacity, talked and walked out but he was not done yet, he looked worried, almost tearful as he came up to her and asked her to sit in the kitchen with him the priest and Iltud; Martha taking Josey back into the sitting room on his nod.
“Mrs Bowson?” his soft Australian accent contrasting with his formal, almost sombre manner. “I have a confession to make to you…”
Her breathing paused; he was trembling, nerves, exhaustion?
“In the house where we rescued the girl we encountered three policemen. It was us or them; we were in the process of securing vital information from enemies of us all, when they entered the house. We had no choice, no choice at all…”
His voice trailed off.
“What are you saying? Andy? No?”
Brother Peran stepped in. “What Alan is trying to tell you, very badly I have to say, but we can forgive that given his adventures, is that they captured your husband, tied him and the others up and left them in the garden before they burned the house down. They know from the newspapers that your husband survived as they intended, is not seriously injured and is in hospital recovering, mainly from bruises and light burns, nothing worse.”
“I’m so sorry…”
“Andy, I need to go to him, be with him…”
“We’re sorry, we just don’t know what to say, but we couldn’t withhold it from you. it is your right now you’re becoming one of us.”
The meeting, in an obscure office in a suburb of Ankara had just finished and people were leaving, drifting out at intervals and using different exits, keeping it all very unremarkable. He was pleased, his thick moustache wrinkling, wriggling, as it responded to the broadening smile he permitted himself. From this consensus all other actions, to be communicated by further meetings over the next few days, would follow. Most of the key stakeholders were there, by far the most important of all being the Director of State Intelligence, set up and controlled by the party after their coming to power, initially to side-line the distrusted military intelligence services which had always served other agendas inimical to the party. Their remit was internal watchfulness, ideological coherence, but increasingly now the party felt much more secure, furthering their deeper external agenda, the things they never communicated beyond their most fervent and trusted followers.
Even so, some parts of the agenda were simply too sensitive to be owned directly by state employees, no matter how obscure and trusted; besides, they didn’t have the resources or broader regional and international support they needed, so these parts were outsourced to an informal network run by their own carefully chosen, ostensibly stepped down, people. Those who paid for it and supplied many of the programmable volunteers, the Arabs consumed with guilt for their wealth and corruption, believed they had the final say. Well, only because we let them. For now.
The events in England had dented his, their, credibility. How many more chances would they get before their backers looked to people they considered more effective, controllable, competent? Not for the time being at least, but he needed something to show for the resources invested. Volunteers, aspirant martyrs, were already heading in, as immigrants both legal and illegal, students on visas, even a few ‘business people.’ Lots were already there, some had been for years, some even born there but never native. Weapons were already coming into place in abundance. Their border security was a joke. It was now about research, information, planning, it had already started some time ago, and he was good at that. Soon enough something would happen, something bigger than anyone might ever conceive possible after recent events.
Sally felt defeated, the degree of absolution bestowed by Father Peran and her hosts blown away in an instant. There was no way out, no way to join Andy, apologise, make amends, she believed that now, they hadn’t been lying to her she was sure. One day, when her son learned of it, he would despise her, disown her, the worst dread of all. Father Peran looked at his hosts helplessly. Iltud left, fearing to add another injury by his inhibited clumsiness with words in his second language. Martha just looked and then nodded to the priest to pick up the thread.
“He brought you here for a reason, He brought Alan to see your husband and make sure he survived danger unharmed,” speaking poetically again, “perhaps it is His Will that your husband will join you here one day, in His time. That may seem hard, cruel now, but His Mercy is endless and His ways subtle and beyond our comprehension. There are no easy answers, when all else falls short, all we have is faith.”
Martha was biting her lip, that’s not the way she would have done it all; she would have talked of her son, his need for her to be strong and safe here.
Her first reaction was hogwash; no loving deity would do this to me, a believer and mother of a young son? Typical of a priest, trying to lever God into everything, why bring God into the brutal deeds of man?
But then she thought of the girl in the next room. She had been taken from her home, family and culture, probably thousands of miles away from here. Her family enslaved, brutalised, exploited and possibly even killed by her captors. Isolated beyond measure she must have given up all hope, despaired utterly, but found the courage and the faith to continue. Then one fateful night, after years of endless torment, four strange men, intent only on killing, had stumbled upon her and, out of pure mercy and compassion for a stranger, knowing nothing of her or what she was, had brought her out of her prison and at great risk to themselves carried her away to another world, into a stranger’s house full of kindness and hospitality. Circumstance or Providence: take your pick? Perhaps the priest was right, perhaps not, but again by comparison how much did she have to complain about? Andy had survived intact, that’s what mattered: he, she, they, would find a way.
She sat up and looked at the priest. “Father, I would like to go to your service and thank God for the deliverance of my husband, son and I, and pray that He will show us the way. Would I be welcome? I won’t understand much I’m afraid.”
His face beamed with delight, “Of course you are welcome, all we sinners are. His Mercy sustains and restores all, no matter how cast down.” He grinned again, pleased with himself she could see. “You will understand more than you think. We sing in our own tongue, psalms and hymns because we feel it a tongue more suited to lifted voices than English, but we read in English, the greatest of all for the written word, your St James’ Bible, your Cranmer’s Book of Common Prayer, as I told you before, we bring in for ourselves the best from Logres. Ah, if only Cranmer and Tyndale had sought refuge with us here, what other wonders could they have written in the years denied to them? And, in your honour, I will speak in English, the meaning of the first verses of St. John’s Gospel and their relation to Plato’s Theory of the Forms! And now I must go and prepare; Blessings on this house!”
Martha smiled at her after his departure. “I don’t know what it is about that priest, he always seems to say the wrong thing and yet you always feel so much better for it.”
And with that she returned to the living room to dote on her adoptive son and the girl, and to chide silently and fondly the snoring men. Sally, taking Josey, went to the church with Iltud shortly afterwards, leaving Martha on watch at home.
Alan, Art and Georgy couldn’t sleep through Martha’s persistent mothering and were up and washed well before lunch time. Their hostess insisted on feeding them before they left for their own homes down the valley. Sam was up, guiding his adoptive sister around the house, showing her to her room, which Josey had had to vacate; he would be sleeping with his mother from now on. They ran her a bath and closed the door on her, towels, Martha’s dressing gown, Martha’s daughter’s best old clothes from her teenage years laid out inside.
The priest came in after the return of Iltud, Sally and her son; it appeared he often lunched here after a Sunday service. In a social setting Sally could see his scholarly exuberance was translated into a hilarious bonhomie, a natural conversationalist with a fund of often tasteless jokes. It was obvious that Sam almost worshipped him, as if he had found a new older brother of whom to be proud, alongside his new mum; it was extraordinary sometimes how complete opposites could just gel like that. Alan, Sam and Art had both asked for and taken confession in Sam’s old room; Georgy just said there was no time and he would go to his home priest in St Joseph’s later.
They went through to lunch, the girl not having reappeared. Sam was becoming twitchy, looking at the door as a shepherd might, who, having recovered a lost sheep, had lost sight of it again and was fearing it had strayed once more. “Mum, do you think she’s alright in there, it’s been nearly two hours now?”
Martha got up and glided to the bathroom door and put an ear to it. She could make out the sounds of weeping. She turned to the others, “Leave her alone, she just needs time, sometimes you terrify me so what effect you have had on her…”
© 1642again 2018