Your son, my lord, has paid a soldier’s debt:
He only lived but till he was a man;
The which no sooner had his prowess confirm’d
In the unshrinking station where he fought,
But like a man he died.
They left in mid-January after he visited one of the ROC arms caches near Avebury, where he retrieved a Remington shotgun and a Browning Hi-power, plus sufficient rounds for the Browning. He knew that Afarin still had a Glock, hanging in a shoulder holster in her wardrobe. The roads were still sometimes dangerous with groups of bandits prowling and pillaging the unwary. Near Bristol a van full of men showed them some unwanted attention, by attempting to force them off the road, but Afarin put down the window, held up the Glock for the driver to see it and the van fell back.
The Edges were delighted to see her and Guy and one evening she was helping Edge chop firewood. The house consumed rather a lot of it. She was quite dexterous and at least there wasn’t a hand to chop off any more. Guy and Moira were trying to play backgammon in the living room and once she had the knack, she became good at the game.
“Guy said he got everything wrong about you and Henry Morrison. He wasted his allegiance to the wrong person. I thought you were the bad and dangerous one, but I was wrong and so was Guy.”
Edge said nothing and continued to chop the wood methodically.
“I’m sorry for getting things so wrong. I wasted my life hoping that the wrong person would love and look after me. And the man I feared the most saved my life and Guy’s. Many women have loved you, Mark Edge, despite that protective shell you surround yourself with. They can see beyond the harsh, tough exterior to the decent, kind man inside. Somebody must have hurt you, but the women who loved and love you see beyond that.
“I read your citation for the Military Cross. You didn’t have to do those things, in fact you should have withdrawn. But you stayed and fought the Muslims to save lives. Corporal Murray should have got the hell out of it, but he saw through that protective shell as well. He stayed to look after you.”
Edge put the hatchet down and looked at her, “I first saw you in Iraq, just a little girl wearing a borrowed uniform that was too big for you. Just a kid, who had gone into the stronghold of the JAM to find a man before they killed him. I met you again in Libya. The kid was now a woman, so calm while we were scared shitless. You stayed with Guy for hours and as soon as you knew he would make it, you left. Why Afarin? You are the bravest person I have ever met. I once said to you: she who saves one life, saves the world. You found that loadmaster and now you’ve found Guy. Don’t waste this chance for happiness. You both deserve it”
“Did you have anything to do with that? It was rather fortuitous, me running across him randomly in a TV company.”
He smiled and he really could smile. It made him a different person, “Events happen.”
“I would like to move here. I don’t have anything to keep me anywhere else.”
“What about Guy?”
“He has nothing anywhere else. You went to that evil place where he was living?”
“Yes. It drove him mad. I should have burned it down when he was in hospital.”
“Thank you, Mark Edge. Thank you for looking after us and well… Everything else.”
She watched Monty, the Edges’ battered but loveable moggy slink past them with a mouse in his mouth. He would leave it in the kitchen for his Moira mother, who would shout at him. It was the way with cats.
“He is you, Mark. That little cat is your alter ego. You and he are the same: loyal, loving and murderous.”
Edge smiled doubtfully, “Why don’t you look for properties while you’re here? They can be a bit pricey but I reckon between the two of you, you should be able to afford something half-decent.”
And they looked and they did find somewhere that seemed almost perfect for their needs, if not a little run down. They put in an offer and waited while they sold their properties. Fortunately, the seller wasn’t in too much of a hurry, as he was abroad.
Afarin Khan made her first confession the night before her baptism, which was the night before Easter Sunday. Jarvis was there with love and support and couldn’t help but feel bemused at this facet of her he could never have dreamed of. She could tell that the priest was shaken by her confession and he spoke with her afterwards. The worst part had been confessing to the murder of Pia, the Christian girl in Syria.
“What a terrible dilemma to be put in. I have never been put in such a situation, thank God, but I honestly don’t see what else you could have done. It people only knew the terrible things that are done in their and the government’s name.”
“The Christian West should fight a lot harder for the persecuted Christians in the Middle East. Islam will come for us next, here and unless everyone wakes up, it will be too late. Will you tell anyone, despite the seal of confession?” She asked.
“Not unless I need higher council, but I believe in your case you are truly sorry and are no longer danger to other people. You are aware that Priests may not reveal what they have learned during confession to anyone, even under the threat of their own death or that of others. You have obviously undertaken penance by virtue of your being here.”
“I like to think that I was only a danger to bad people, but I guess that’s a matter of viewpoint.”
The following day Afarin was baptised a Catholic, but it was merely the beginning of her journey. The following day she asked to meet with Bartlett in the next few days and she took the train to London. She informed Jarvis she was meeting an old friend and her and Bartlett met over a coffee. When she told him of her news, he was both amazed and delighted for her.
“And you’re moving to the West Country?”
“Soon, well within two weeks and then I want to get married, properly if Guy will have me.”
“He’d be a fool if he didn’t
“There is something else I would like to ask you. I don’t have any family and you’ve been like a father to me.”
“Some father,” He observed bitterly looking at her artificial arm.
“Nevertheless, you have been there when I needed you. And sometimes when I thought I didn’t. Bearing that in mind, I would like you to give me away at my wedding.”
Bartlett was aghast, “But I’m not a Catholic.”
“So what? You don’t have to be a left-footer to give me away. Guy isn’t a Catholic. I don’t think he even believes in God, but he’s happy to stand next to me in a church. Would you please Alan? It would mean a great deal to me.”
“Then how could I refuse?”
Afarin finalised arrangements and Jarvis decided to escape for a few hours and talk with Edge.
“It’s like being caught up in a whirlwind,” He told Edge, “She is like something possessed. I keep wondering whether she’ll drop the baby before the wedding.”
“She’s nest building. Sorry mate, but your job is done for now. You’ll just have to bring home the worms once it’s born. Moira was the same. It’s not popular among the liberals, leftards and the wokearati, but women are programmed like that once motherhood is tapping on their shoulder. You’re bringing the next generation into the world, your slice of immortality. Good isn’t it, your big day tomorrow. Moira can’t wait to spoil your baby.”
“Am I doing the right thing?”
Edge looked at him, “Bit late now, isn’t it?”
“Look, I love her more than anything, but I’m not a Catholic.”
“It must be difficult for you, your being so religious.”
“But Catholicism. Do you believe in God, Mark?”
“I was brought up as a Catholic by my mother. It was just that me and the church parted company.”
“Because of the IRA?”
Edge shook his head, “No, because of what happened in Bosnia. The Croats were just as big a bastards as the Serbs and the Muslims. I nearly destroyed my own life seeking revenge. I joined the Regiment to seek revenge, and in the end, it was hollow and empty. It would never bring back to life the woman I loved. I killed a man, not so much for revenge but to prevent his destroying other lives. I never killed the lawyer, Henry did it for me. I began to realise that Henry was consumed with hatred.
“I atone in my way, living a simple life here with Moira, watching the seasons change, only taking what we need. I believe in God in my own way. He has given me solace throughout my life, God, Moira, Monty and Mr Skippy.”
“Who the hell is Mr Skippy?”
Edge smiled, “Mr Skippy is a little stuffed Koala bear given to me by my mum when I was four and sick with some childhood condition. Mr Skippy went into action every time I did, tucked in an inside pocket of my smock. And none of you even knew that Edge was terrified and drew comfort from a childhood toy.
“As for it happening so fast, yeah, absolutely. Twenty years, a mere blink in a lifetime. Best give it another twenty to make sure, eh? Go with the flow and stop being a prat.”
Afarin nee Khan and Guy Jarvis were married at the Sacred Heart Church in Bideford two days later. Moira was Matron of honour and Afarin was given away by Alan Bartlett. They had a small, quiet meal after the ceremony. Edge and Bartlett spoke at the bar.
“Good job, Edge. I’ve never seen her so happy.”
“Alan, I, we only want to be left alone. We’ve fulfilled the contract. We paid with blood and our sanity, and you now know where we live. You know what will happen if anybody else gets to know.”
“I only want the best for Afarin. She is the daughter I never had. We operated in a strange world, didn’t we Edge?”
“I’m glad it’s over.”
Afarin became deeply religious, not in the preaching, virtue-signalling way, in fact when she attended mass, she slipped in at the back and left as soon as the service was over. Her belief sustained her through life and her child’s illness and it was though she had been looking for Christianity all her life. But hers was a muscular Christianity and she was fiercely protective of her family. And every year she would take her Glock 17 to a remote area, either Exmoor or Dartmoor and fire 50 rounds to keep her hand and eye in.
Two years later, Guy and Afarin watched their daughter playing on Saunton Sands. They were using his surfboard as a wind break. Jarvis had decided to learn how to surf at a stupid age, where he should have known better. As it was, he spent more time in the sea than on the board. He made falling off the board seem so easy.
“I should take up windsurfing. I’m getting too old for hanging-ten and the youngsters look at me like I’m some geriatric hippy. Elia doesn’t care about the wind,” Jarvis said picking up a handful of sand and letting it trickle through his fingers, “Just like life. It slips away so quickly.”
“Do you still get nightmares, Guy?”
“Not so many now, although the pain is still there. I felt it clambering on that board, but I don’t suppose it will ever go, because of the nerve damage.”
“I still get pain in an arm that isn’t there, but it’s just the crosses we have to bear. Would you change anything, Guy?”
He thought about it. “Oh, so many things and the misery I caused people and myself. What about you?”
“Just one, small thing. I’d have got on that helicopter with you out to Kandahar, instead of wasting nearly twenty years. Life could have been so different.”
“Maybe we were still too young.” He thought about Hafwyn and a little Russian cleaner, whose name he couldn’t remember, “Perhaps it’s better this way and I don’t have to act any longer. Do you think we’ll ever have a brother or sister for Elia?”
She recalled her conversation, the contract with the Angel of Death, You have many things left to achieve. To love somebody and bring your three children into your world.
“I guess we’ll never know about the first and take what God gives us in the second,” But she knew there was another child, perhaps more than one developing inside her. She would tell Guy in a quieter moment. She looked out to sea and the setting sun.
Ensanguining the skies
How heavily it dies
Into the west away;
Past touch and sight and sound
Not further to be found,
How hopeless under ground
Falls the remorseful day.
“You will never cease to amaze me, Mrs Jarvis.”
She looked at him tenderly, “So many years wasted, but at least we found each other in the end. We saved each other’s lives.”
“I wish I had never killed those people. Twenty-one years of state sponsored killing,” he said, watching a family pack up.
“And the murder that causes me so much grief was the killing of that young, Christian girl in Syria.
“Could you have got her to the helicopters?”
“And she was sick wasn’t she?”
“Yes and I had nothing to treat her.”
“And what was the alternative?”
“Leave her behind and the jihadists would have given her a long pain, worse than death. The worst thing was she called me “Mama” while she was dying.”
“I don’t believe so, but it was like putting down a faithful pet,” she shuddered.
He put his arm around her, “The knack is being truly sorry and then forgiving yourself. Everything follows on from that…”
And we watch them walk back to the car in the gathering twilight, Guy carrying their daughter who is tired and fractious, Afarin with his surf board and their kit, sand martins wheeling above their heads. We think of those who didn’t make it, enemies as well friends, comrades, brothers in arms. It’s been a long journey. Thank you for sticking with it and now we’ll leave them alone, to continue their journey to its inevitable conclusion.
Inscribed on a monument at Sterling Lines, which is a memorial wall and clock tower is:
“We are the Pilgrims, Master; We shall go always a little further: It may be beyond the last blue mountain barred with snow, across that angry or that glimmering sea.”
Also inscribed on the monument are the names of members of the Regiment who were killed while on active service. In squadron parlance, they didn’t “beat the clock.”
There is no equivalent for members of the SRR. They were returned to their donor Service with a citation, on completion of their tour or tours. Those who were killed or went missing in action and if no bodies were found, there would have the charade of an empty coffin. Others were buried discreetly, the cause of death given was a training accident. There was an unwritten covenant that every murdered operative would be found and their murderers brought to justice, like for like. Afarin couldn’t have cared less. That life was over for her and she had her family and was loved for who she was and what she did for them. She maintained her pact with St Michael the Angel of Death and remained in a state of grace. For the first time in her life, she was truly happy.
Guy Jarvis and Mark Edge had beaten the clock.
Also from Blown Periphery now available on Amazon: War Crimes for the Political Elite
And from Matador:
© Blown Periphery 2021
The Goodnight Vienna Audio file