Brother Peran, he seemed to prefer to be called that rather than Father, saying he was still a scholar-monk at heart, was at the door beaming, holding forth an envelope, hand written, made out to ‘Sally Bowson, Mistress’; she couldn’t get used to the formality of the address. She let him in. Iltud was there in the sitting room, playing with Josey who had grown fond of the older man, calling him Uncle, to his obvious delight. Martha came through from the kitchen followed by Narin, attracted by the sound of his voice. The girl’s face lit up when she saw him, she went forward to kiss his hands, he was beaming at her, blessing her, all of them.
“The Byzantines, their embassy, arrived today, the Exarch of the West himself, momentous news indeed. The High Steward has summoned all the Council, you included Iltud, and you too Mistress Bowson, to confer and greet them, hear their news, share ours, the progress of our work in the world, our successes against the darkness, all in His name of course! And you too, little Narin, they may be able to help you return to your family, your land, do you understand?”
The girl nodded, but didn’t smile. She understood, her English continued to improve, certainly her comprehension. The others were all watching her, awaiting the reaction: no sign of joy, no sign of emotion. But what awaited her there anyway, had her family, her village just been wiped away like so many others, expunged from their ancestral homeland?
“I go he want, when Sam come. He go me.”
They were astounded; she had never shown so much of her ability to speak to them before, Peran especially. Martha recovered first, “But Narin, don’t you want to go home, to your family?”
“Family dead. I see. Them do.”
Sally was weeping silently now, all were mute, but Martha.
“But Narin, other family, your people?”
“You no want me, me go?”
Martha was upset now, she should have foreseen it. Iltud stepped in.
“Narin, you can stay here as long as you want. We want you here if it’s what you want, do you understand?”
She nodded, tears riming her eyes, shaking slightly, but the fear that had seeped away was back, trying to take hold once more, security gained threatened with renewed loss.
“But Narin, we don’t know when Sam will return. It may not be before the Byzantines, our friends who can help you, have left.”
“I wait, I work, wait. Then talk. I…”
She went no further, whatever she was going to say being washed away in a tide of deep emotion; she was shaking, sobbing now. No one knew what to do; she looked so small again, almost broken. She had grown in her time with them, her skin refreshed, its lines fading away, the bruises gone, even the scars fading. Girlhood was being replaced rapidly by young womanhood as her body, frozen in stasis by mistreatment and malnutrition, responded to its change in circumstances, as if determined to make up for lost time, but now it was seemingly shrinking again in her misery.
They looked at one another helplessly, and then Sally’s young son, uninhibited by adult reticence, went up to her and hugged his arms around her knees, trying to comfort this girl in her distress. It was enough, it broke the ice, released the tension with one person’s simple act of spontaneous empathy for another. Martha recovered herself.
“Narin, you’re welcome here. Wait for Sam, see if he can take you home, but we will see if our friends can send word to your people, make a road for you to go home if you want. Until then, be one of us, please?”
Later, when Martha and Sally were alone in the kitchen, she poured out her worries for Sam, her fears for the way he was changing, his bond with Narin, the future.
She couldn’t bring herself to say the words, but what if Sam chose to return there with her, stayed there? Martha, the normally capable resilient Martha, her love for her adoptive son was her Achilles’ Heel, thought Sally.
“Martha, I used to torture myself with imagined fears for the future, it almost cost me everything, and then I found this place. If I’ve learnt one thing here, it’s to travel into the future hopefully and with faith, so long as you are surrounded by people who care for you, like you all do. I think she’s frightened that we might take that away from her… He’s become a sort of saviour figure, a symbol of a better future for her. I’m not sure she sees him as a flesh-and-blood young man; she might start to if he were here.”
“He wants to strike out at those who hurt Narin, others like her, protect you all here, others in Logres like that American girl. He’ll return when he’s ready; he loves you like you were his mother. I don’t know how he feels about the girl. He wants to protect her, that’s clear, make her safe, happy again. There may be more to it, but I’m not sure he’s aware of it if there is. We just have to trust it’s all meant to be, that we’re gathered together here for a reason, and to get on with it, supporting one another. As for Sam, if there’s one man who can look after himself in the outside, it’s him, especially if he’s angry.”
Martha hugged her. “Thanks for coming here, staying, being our friend. Stay here as long as you want, please, and we pray every day that the Council will be able to reunite you with your husband.”
WEDNESDAY, SECOND WEEK AFTER EASTER
Ted Armstrong had been summoned down to London overnight for another COBRA talking shop. The estate grounds were still being combed, but the evidence of a fight was confined to just one part of them and around the house itself. That siege still floundered on. The house was sealed off now, even its residents could see that, and were making no sign of a move, just occasionally firing from a window or two. The army marksmen were claiming at least three hits since its start, but there was no way of confirming that until they could gain entry, and that increasingly seemed to depend on the strength of will of their political masters.
He entered the meeting with low expectations and came out with an even poorer opinion of how decisions were being made, or not made, at the highest levels. The Home Secretary was bickering with the Minister of Defence about how much force to use, and when, while the Foreign Secretary and Chancellor quibbled about the need for discretion: the impact on our allies in the Arabic world, especially the Gulf states, one of which seemed to be hosting a major terror facility a few dozen miles from Downing street itself. The PM wavered one way, then another.
He looked about the room at the others, the servants: the Directors of GCHQ, SIS, MI5, a few other more obscure agencies, departmental civil servants, his boss the Met Commissioner, the Chief of the General Staff, noting the various expressions of disquiet, even dismay, on their faces as the discussion circled round and round. He even found himself slipping glances at the newspaper headlines scattered on the table, ‘Get a Grip PM’, ‘Invasion’, ‘With Allies Like These, Who Needs Enemies?’ Demands for drastic crackdowns, almost martial law, exacerbated by reports of rising civil disorder in Muslim dominated localities, some native residents firebombed from their homes, churches vandalised, police cars burnt out.
Around and around they went, repeating the shibboleths of modern political and cultural discourse like a ritualistic mantra which would make everything go away: ‘community relations’, ‘de-radicalisation’, ‘preventing a backlash’, ‘containing Islamophobia’. What was that story, the emperor’s new clothes? They’re not interested, wouldn’t even understand if I told them, even if supported by the others. They’re just playing their games, hoping it isn’t going to blow up on their watch, derail their careers. Yes, I’m getting too old, but then looking at some of the other faces; I’m not the only one feeling like that today.
Finally, he’s had enough.
“Excuse me ladies and gentlemen, Ministers, PM. The situation in the Chilterns… We need a decision. We just can’t string it out without a strategy. We either starve them out, hoping they haven’t enough supplies to hold out for months, or we ask our military colleagues to settle it decisively. You should know though that we’re already stretched very thinly. A prolonged resource intensive siege is a huge distraction from our other enquiries, which you are aware have uncovered an unprecedentedly large conspiracy against the state and its citizens, hatched and supported by someone we believed to be our ally. We need to roll them up, not get tied down. It’s my belief that holding back any longer won’t enable us to find any additional evidence in the house to support our enquiries; those inside are almost certainly destroying it as we debate.”
The Met Commissioner and the Home Secretary were looking at him in shock, that’s not what they thought he would say. Why had he changed his mind?
He was tired, fed up: strike at the snake, kill it.
Hadn’t they learnt by now that these people don’t change, just keep coming at us? Be done with them; change the law to enable it… I don’t want any more of my officers on the receiving end of their malice towards our way of life.
He looked at the others, beseeching support silently. Gerald, the MI5 Director nodded to him, cleared his throat.
“I concur with my colleague: end this now, free us up to go elsewhere. The debate shouldn’t be about this, it should be about how to respond to those supporting these maniacs from abroad, how to crush those already here.”
The SIS man, the General too, they were nodding, body language pressurising the PM. The Minister of Defence, the Home Secretary too, seeing the way the wind was blowing, were positioning to be on the winning side. The Foreign Secretary beat a tactical retreat, withdrawing from the fight, the Chancellor was overwhelmed, the PM capitulated.
“General, how quickly and when? Have you everything you need?”
“Yes, Sir, just need clear rules of engagement. I don’t want my people being taken to court afterwards by some muckraking lawyer. Declare martial law for a mile around the house, a full legally water-tight indemnity for all service people involved, the police as well.”
“Ye Gods!” The Chancellor flickered back into life, but slumped again.
The PM assented, turning to the Attorney-General.
“Do whatever needs to be done, right away please.”
On the way out, Gerald came up to him with the GCHQ Director and Chief of the General Staff.
“Well done, it’ll be harder for her to move you on after that.”
He shrugged. “Where did it all go wrong? It just seems to have crept up on us.”
The GCHQ man, normally so reserved, smiled bitterly,
“Setting aside Adam and Eve, after the First World War if anywhere. We drew the wrong conclusions, that the values that had made us great had caused a terrible war and so needed to be discarded, their opposites embraced. The fact that the new ones led to an even more terrible war twenty years later no one seemed to notice; neither the fact that it was those older values that had won us the first world war, and then what was left of them, the second.” He blushed, “Sorry bit of a hobby horse.”
They broke up in the lobby, the General looking grim as he entered his car; it would his boys and girls that did the dirty work, exposing themselves to correct the follies of others.
© 1642again 2018