Chapter 16 here … Chapter 18 here
It was almost as though it were on cue.
The first missile hit the Citadel, the second took out part of the eastern beach, as if they were expecting the inhabitants to be happily frolicking on the beach.
They were all quickly at what had been the clifftop but could still get a hand and foot grip. In the mad scramble down the rope to the pods, some of the party had got out of their order in sliding down and entering the pods, which annoyed Hugh intensely and the two who had done it were Adam and Mandy, queue jumping, trying to get into separate pods but Hugh and Laurence clapped a gun to the heads of each respectively and in fits of tears, Mandy was escorted back to Adam’s pod.
In fact no one cared about them any more, the others knocked the chocks away, the pods crashed into the half tide, they got into the own pods and launched.
Monitors showed that the fourth pod had launched and was following. More than one person was reflecting on what had happened, a bit puzzled.
Why not just one fission bomb and that would have been that? This looked very much as if the PTB either wished the islanders to see their home destroyed before their eyes or else the plan was to capture one or some of them.
Not only that but they'd attacked neither at high nor low tide, two vulnerable times but at the turn - the best possible variant. It felt suspiciously like a trap.
On the other hand, perhaps they'd only sent out their B-team but even a B-team should have known basic strategy. If they'd planned it, they'd have taken out the pods first.
But the enemy had not done that. They'd fired from off the eastern beach, possibly assuming they'd all be living in the lusher part. Who could tell? The taking out of Moran's seemed to give the lie to that though.
Did the enemy think they'd all become so complacent and secure that they'd not have an escape routine? And if the enemy had had one or two subs off the western coast, then surely they'd now have run slap bang into them, which he'd been expecting as well or at least sunk before they could disperse.
It was certainly a puzzle.
Now, as they went as deep as they could, no depth charges, no torpedoes, nothing seemed to prevent them making for a point about 25 miles, 40 km offshore - a ledge, a shelf they'd found on the way to the island.
They slipped under the ledge, allowed the pods to rise against the underside and there they waited.
The day wore on and still Hugh didn’t move.
What was he waiting for?
It was about mid morning next day when the world went dark and the most appalling buffeting hit them, violent waters rushing torrentially overhead. The bastards had nuked the island.
The shelf was protecting them but the currents were fearsome. It seemed the world was coming to an end and certainly theirs was. The torrent only abated about midday.
Night fell again, according to their watches.
About 10:00 next morning, Hugh briefly switched on his light and that was the signal to follow. They went lower and came out from under the ledges, one after the other but suddenly the whole sky lit up, he turned his pod violently to get back to the shelf, they all did likewise and that's when the current hit them, driving them wildly, madly, with no rhyme or reason, the stabilizers unable to bring them back to horizontal.
On and on and on, as if driven by fiends.
Until it began to ebb and finally they regained control.
It was hopeless.
Hugh looked at the two women and they at him - Emma had sustained a gash to her right temple to which Sophie now attended. From the cockpit, there was no sign whatever of the other pods but they did have their rule that whichever landmark they'd last pinpointed as an assembly point, that was where they'd all head if one or more of them went astray. In this situation, that still meant their island.
He didn't feel they'd drop a second fission bomb so quickly afterwards - they wouldn't have assumed the pods would come back to the island so soon, so perhaps it was the time to actually go back - straight away. The planes would not have hovered although spy satellites were a worry.
To find the others, they'd have to return.
Some hours later, they were hovering near where their island had been, the dosimeters were going off the scale but it seemed all right inside for now. Hugh's, Emma's and Sophie's pod did a circumnavigation and then there was another pod below them and off the starboard bow.
It was Sam who joined the circumnavigation then they set course for their shelf again.
They reached it just before nightfall, slipping underneath, ready to put in another night.
The whole of the next day was spent in place. 'Patience,' was the only word Hugh sent to the other pod via a sign in marker pen in the porthole.
Night fell again - almost routine by now.
About 11:00 the next day, Hugh flashed the light and they extracted themselves from under the shelf, once again making their way towards the island, such as it was.
It was late afternoon when they finally surfaced, the survey-meter and dosimeter were applied, they made the seven-ten calculation and it all indicated acceptable radiation for the moment, as long as they donned their suits, which they all now did.
They opened the hatches and took in the scene visually.
Parts of the island remained in place.
The whole of the south had been blown away and the ocean had poured in to fill the blasted hollow but what was left was now a triangular atoll, the whole of the compound obliterated, with no vegetation and with scorched pumice covering almost all.
Clearly, it could no longer support life.
Sailing around south into the new atoll, they were agreeably surprised that it was now like a safe harbour and they took the decision to moor not all that far from where the food had been stored in those fissures.
Hugh and Sam climbed out, threw down the ladders from the bows and dropped into waste-deep water in their rubber suits.
About seventy metres in from the shore, where the wells should have been, climbing along the higher ground, they discovered the holes were filled with pumice, except for one and they knew there was tinned meat in that. If anything had survived, it could only be a bonus. The cables they'd used to suspend the stores deep in the well seemed to be intact - at least two of them were and the two men began to haul one of them up.
Refusing to be discouraged, they were far more careful with the other cable and they felt the container coming up.
Slowly, slowly, they raised it, it did come to the top and Sam put the meter to it, registering a minimal amount of radiation. They started pulling out the tins, rather than risking hauling the container over the edge and once the sixty four 5 litre tins were sitting on the rock, the trek down to the pods began, four tins each at a time.
The women, suited up, took them, Janine indicating she'd accompany them now and so the shuttle, ten tins at a time, proceeded.
All the while on the horizon they could see, through their visors, giant mushroom clouds spurting into the heavens, one here, one there, little islands being blown out of existence on the orders of seriously demented people.
They finished up, the women inside had put the tins behind safe hatches built into the buffer walls in their pods and they were ready to go. Hugh indicated for Sam to follow, they secured the hatches and away they went.
20 km away, they surfaced, there was a swell but with the subs idling and with lines, they were able to tie the pods, open the hatches, take off the helmets, Sam, Janine and Miri stepped over to Hugh’s, Emma's and Sophie's pod and they hugged each other. Tears flowed for what they assumed were their lost colleagues, everybody understanding the finality and yet they still hoped against hope for a miracle. A short prayer was said.
All now looked at each other and Sam said, 'Speak, Cap'n.'
'The island's finished for us. I think they'll come back to complete it - we might have hours or even until tomorrow morning but methinks we'd best get out of here now.
We need to be back at our shelf. In a nutshell, we're alive and relatively well, only Emma seems injured, we're not diseased and I doubt the radiation is going to affect us all that much in the suits, we've enough fuel, recycled material and food for at least two years. We have light and as an added bonus, to supplement the hydroponic soy, there are 32 tins of meat each. Each tin will do three people five meals and in the fridge/freezer, we'd get four weeks from one tin, provided we'd cooked it up and eaten the meat once a week. So we're talking, conservatively, two years. We have vegetable matter.
The down side is that we'll go crazy cooped up in these cocoons. So, provided we can hide from the enemy, we can survive.'
'But?' asked Emma.
'We have to look at the world scenario - seriously we do. If the world's going down - if these really are the end times - then we'll die no matter what. We'll be just subsisting in these pods, eking out a way to live and no more. That's all we'll ever have, until the end. We'll have each other of course and the babies will maybe give us two years before we strangle each other.
Seems to me that we have two choices. First, a long, slow trek, at no more than 5kph, keeping to ridges and shelves, travelling at night and so on, in a quest to find another island or even a remote stretch of coastline. Even if we find it, we will still live in the pods but will come out at night, like nocturnal animals, providing there's a forest where we know where there's wildlife. We'll need to watch for marauding bands. In short, we'll be living for the rest of our natural lives that way until we're found.
There is an alternative. We can fulfil our Sophie-Fleury destiny, which we weren't doing on the island and as you saw, we went morally soft - we can do this by sailing right into the jaws of the enemy in, say, Israel and be present, helping out as best we can, in the final days for the world. We'd go out with dignity but that might not appeal to the ladies with babies.'
The ladies did not respond ... at this point.
'It might be only now we could do something useful,' Sam warmed to the idea. 'If we returned later, it might be too late and there might be carnage everywhere, madness, not life-supporting. At least we know the earth will still support life at this time, if we can only keep out of the hands of the madmen. We'd be on the earth where we were designed to be and we'd have food.'
'But the pods would deteriorate,' said Sophie.
'Why can't we do both?' asked Emma again. 'Why can't we go off and have the babies, wait until they're a certain age and then decide about heroics?'
‘That’s fair. For now, let’s return to the shelf and observe for two more days,’ suggested Hugh. ‘I still fear an enemy mop-up and besides, the others might eventually drift back to our ledge. When they don't see us at the island, they'll assume we're over there. We can't stay forever under that ledge because there is a chance they might have been - er - captured and might lead the enemy to us.’
They returned to their pod, hatches were closed, they made their way to their shelf again to play the waiting game.
Two mornings later, a third apocalyptic explosion rent the atmosphere, the now familiar torrential tide swept over them but they were used to it by now.
'This is insane,' muttered Sophie, 'insane.'
'These are the people you were with, Sophe. They obviously fear we might still be in some sort of caves.'
'I've made a decision,' said Emma. 'If we're fine for food and water and all the other things, then we can stay under this shelf for a long time as our home. I don't think they'd look for us here, now the island's totally gone. At least it must have gone. We have natural light down here, so why go anywhere, at risk to ourselves, when we can just live here? We know the shelf is safe, it's thick and won't break.'
'Go on,' he said.
'I love Sophie and she knows it but I want to say I was quite unhappy, very unhappy, to find the two of you in that tree together. I realize that you can't make love without affection and if I stop Sophie making love, there'll only be trouble. I’m sick of making the decision. You would never say no,' Emma was terse. ‘So you leave it to me, knowing I have to say yes and then you go through this pretence of weighing it in the balance and regretting it and all that rubbish.'
‘You want something which can’t be. The one who makes that sort of decision is always the partner of the same sex as the third person. So, if it was two men, I would decide.’
‘And what would you decide?’
‘No of course, there’d be no need for him to be doing that with you for the purposes of making a family. I can make that with you myself. In Sophie’s case, being a woman, that’s two women making babies instead of one.’
‘You’d reserve the right to do it with Sophie but would never let me do it with another man?’
‘In our past, did I ever let you go with another man for any reason?’ It was a genuine question perhaps as who knew how much of his memory was back and how much wasn’t?
Emma was caught in a bind. There was Thierry but Sophie didn’t go back that far, to Melun, when Hugh allowed Nikki to go to him. And he’d asked about Nikki.
There was an oppressive silence, broken finally by Emma. ‘All right, Hugh, you once did that with Nikki but it never arose with us. When I did get close to someone, you were angry.’
‘You mean Chris Jones, Emma? That was entirely different – that was behind Hugh’s back and without asking him. Not the same thing at all.’
Emma looked daggers at her.
‘OK,’ he said, ‘if there was a man without a partner and I liked him a lot, such as Sam but not Adam, say, then we might discuss something similar to Sophie – it all depends on that man and if it had been a tragedy. Let’s say Sam had lost his partner, although that’s not such a good example. Jean-Claude - I might too but that’s to let you have a French lover occasionally.’
‘Oh yes and for you to have Mademoiselle.’
‘Point is that it really depends on both the circumstances and the person. If it was really going to be an issue for that man and it was a tragic story, if it were vital for his health, well maybe.’
‘You want her, don’t you? Why can’t you admit it?’
‘Admit it? I’ve admitted it all along. Of course I want her. I love Sophie. You’re my wife and it’s right with you.’
‘But if I say no to Sophie and you, I’m the villain.’
‘All right, I’ll not make love with Sophie.’
‘Now you’re being silly.’
‘No, I’ve made a decision and now I’ve told Sophie.’
‘She and I both know that is a stupid decision. It can’t be.’
‘Well then Emma, darling heart, whatever are we arguing for?’
‘You said no a moment ago.’
Sophie sighed and was getting annoyed. ‘What if I say I don’t want Hugh?’
‘We know that’s a lie.’
‘I’m getting tired of this,’ grunted Hugh. ‘You wanted me to decide no. I did. You weren’t happy. So I decided yes. You weren’t happy with that either.’
‘I just want you to decide.’
‘No, that’s not it. You want me to refuse to have Sophie, as it would vindicate our marriage and you’d not make love to another man ever, in return.’
‘Something like that.’
‘All right, I refuse to make love to Sophie.’
‘You mean it? You won’t change again?’
‘Yes, I mean it. Sorry, Sophie but this is my wife.’
‘You can’t do that,’ said Emma.
He held his head in his hands and started groaning. ‘OK, why can’t I do that?’
‘Because I insist you make love to Sophie. There’s the propagation of our families involved here. You must.’
‘And that’s your decision?’
‘Yes ... but only if Sophie’s pregnant.’
‘OK, OK, now can we get onto something else?’
‘Whenever you like, husband.’
It was felt that it was now safe to venture out and time the visit to the island just before dusk.
The pods moved out once again and began their chugging towards the atoll.
There was no island, none, as Emma had suspected. They decided, by the usual note in the porthole, to surface for a conference.
There was quite a swell up top but it wasn't fearsome and so they decided to risk Miri steering one pod and Sophie the other, whilst the other four came up top, their life cords tied on to stanchions down below. The men sat on the pod itself.
Janine, whose speciality was international relations, spoke. ‘Personally, I feel we're being manoeuvred towards the middle-east, which is why I think we should go there. They will surely wonder about that, knowing we realize that.'
'That's a huge bluff.'
'Perhaps it's not a bluff. What I'm saying is that whatever we do, we must seem to be doing it with purpose, according to a plan.'
Sophie wanted to come up and Emma changed places with her. She was in no doubt about how the hidden power saw Albus and Belus. 'Just the fact that we miraculously survived three nuclear bombs is going to have a huge effect on the Seven - they're going to hesitate and wonder, they're going to not wish to step on toes until they can be sure. If we sail boldly to Israel, I think it might be to our advantage.'
Sam had been listening to all of this and so had Miri below. Sam now said, 'You might just have a point. Either way, I think we need to be bolder, rather than running like scared rabbits. I don't mean our tactics up till now have been bad - I think they've been necessary, Hugh - but don't forget we're rogue British Army and that is always something others need to be careful about.'
‘Right, that's sorted then - we'll surface once more the other side of Gibraltar and have a final chat. Hope it's not final, of course. It’s actually easier on the pods going down there, less fuel use, we can stick to the bed or near enough, difficult to track with our blockers, though the tech might have changed by now. Either way, I think, as you indicate, that they’ll be too intrigued to wipe us out. Gibraltar, of course, will announce our presence.'
Cords were pulled back in, the hatches were closed and they submerged.
The ship’s readout gave the time as 16:52 on the last Sunday in February, as Sam’s pod grounded on a sandbar, then Hugh’s, then Sophie’s and they made visual contact through the portholes.
Three weeks at sea, running gauntlets, hiding at times, lurking, slipping through - all of it had now brought them to a halt.
Peering through the forward visual ports, they could just make out a coastline and what appeared to be a bay sweeping kilometres out to sea to the south; there was a mountain of sorts just inshore and some sort of civilization over there.
They couldn’t make out anything to the north.
Of course, it was all blurry in three metres of sea water. They checked the dosimeters and survey meters but all appeared to be normal – no radiation of note.
Two kilometres away, deep in the hillside command post, Lt. General Helmut Mueller studied the screen impatiently. ‘We could take 'em both out now and save ourselves the bother.’
Colonel Paul Rabin, seconded by the Israeli authority to the International Peacekeeping Force stationed in Haifa, shook his head. ‘No, it would be as well to observe for the nonce. We want all the fish in the net before we move.’
Mueller looked across at the other man, puzzled. Didn’t the fool know that that those pods contained three of the most wanted insurgents in Europe? Didn’t he understand how much time, effort and expenditure had been wasted in plucking these three out, root and branch?
He sighed and returned to the screen.
Bringing the pods close to the surface and opening the hatches, Sam climbed out and Hugh popped his head out of his, was satisfied and now climbed on top of the hull. Sophie now popped her head out.
‘Does it look to you the same as it looks to me?’ Sam called across.
‘Ha Qerayot, הקריות,’ Hugh called back.
‘How do you know?’
‘The urban conglomeration to the south by the mountain.’
‘Could be anything.’
‘Could also be Haifa and I think it might be Qiryat Yam in front of us.’
‘You really think so?’
‘I think it’s a very real possibility. You want to know about it?’
‘Give me the abridged version.’
‘Urban area, conglomeration of five towns - Qiryat Motzkin, Qiryat Bialik, Qiryat Atta, Qiryat Haim are the others.’
‘I’ve heard of Qiryat Bialik. Large migrant population, no?’
‘Yep but I still think this one might be Quiryat Yam.’
They got down to the cleaning, the first blast of relatively fresh air reviving everyone’s spirits, then went up top.
‘So what else do you know about the place?’ asked Sophie.
‘We’re off the coast of the Haifa mehozot, I think. That’s Har Karmel over there.’
‘Mount Carmel. We’d best be careful about stepping into this water because it’s fed by the Kishon River, the most chemically polluted in Israel. Put a match to it and it would leap into flame.’
At this moment, through the forward port, Miri saw a boat motoring towards them. Hugh asked her to go below and switch on the scan, which brought up a zero – didn’t appear to be armed. A young man was wildly gesticulating, the boat came closer and closer and they all felt that this was it. A sick feeling in the stomach touched all bar Miri.
They all went below and held each other close, looking into each other's eyes. They felt the bow wave rock the pods and Hugh went up top.
The man spoke rapidly and was not understood, then switched to Hebrew, then to a faltering Russian and that’s when Hugh began to follow his train of thought. His face became grimmer and finally he nodded, turned to Sam’s pod and indicated for him to come out.
Precariously positioned on the slippery curved top of the pod, Hugh filled Sam in. ‘His name is Imad Azzam – second cousin of a prominent Ahl al-Tawhīd. He’s a Druze. They’re basically Arabic but they go for Taqiyya or التقية – they subordinate themselves to the local culture and even embrace it, in order to keep their own belief alive. There are two divisions – the inner, called the Uqqal, and the outer.
What I don’t like about the inner is that it seems a little like the occult orders on the other side. It might not be so but it may be so. They’re a secretive people. For now he’s a friend.’
‘How convenient,’ murmured Sam.
‘What else can we do, Sam? We’ve made this decision and I’d say it’s a fair surmise that they’ve been tracking us for days.’
‘Why would the Druze track us?’
‘Not the Druze. Them. Them. The Interim World Council, Near-Eastern Region, 1st Dan District. Imad’s just told me about it. Israel’s accepted their offer of protection against the Northern, Arabic and Eastern threats and against the cursed insurgency, of which we are one small, vermin-like part.’
‘Why would Israel concede its sovereignty?’
‘They haven’t. Elements in the Knesset saw Richard Japhet as the precursor to the long lost deliverer. He’s promised to rebuild the Temple for them and the cornerstone’s soon to be laid.’
‘Oh my goodness.’
The others now came up on deck and listened to what was being said.
‘The stumbling block, Sam, is the red heifer. The rabbis keep pronouncing against each new one as it presents itself and the other side can’t see their way round this. It’s the key to the whole business.’
‘Red heifer? What are you talking about?’ Sophie was non-plussed.
‘They have to find a perfect red heifer before the cornerstone can be laid. It’s written.’
Sophie was shaking her head. ‘Hugh, you’re truly mad. Too much learning has unhinged your brain.’
‘Now we’re here Sophie, you can ask any Orthodox Jew about it. It’s what they believe, according to Imad. Look, ladies, we’re in an ancient area of the world and there are things going down. The world did not destroy itself, despite our worst fears, based on what the maniacs were doing to random islands in the ocean, and yet it’s in the process of destroying itself. We need help.’
‘Come, come,’ the young man on the cruiser was now frantically begging, in faltering Russian.
‘Why should he care?’ asked Emma.
‘I suggest we go and find out.’
‘Hugh, are you crazy? Here we have weapons, defences, each other. If we go ashore, who knows what might happen? We’ll be separated, tortured, murdered. They could lead us straight into the hands of the authorities.’
‘I think they'll do the opposite. Let it be upon me if it's not so.’
'Actually, I get that feeling too,' said Sophie.
‘All right then, ladies and gentleman, Imad has three friends to help us with the loading - Samih Jumbalat, Fawzi Fares and Salah Arslan. Sara, wife of Fawzi, is at the other end. She and her sister Farida will take the pods to a location 72km north, in a neutral zone, or at least to a zone of some dispute between the authorities. We’re apparently close to that yellow line now.’
They asked Imad outright and the reply was frank. ‘Officially, we’re taking you to the local administrator’s office, where you’ll be documented and held for airlift. Actually, we’re taking you to our village.’
‘You have returned. We must.’
This was more worrying than anything up to this point. People who are willing to sacrifice themselves for you obviously have some agenda of their own and if you deviate even one iota from that agenda, it could spell a swift end.
‘We’re remaining there?’
‘You’ll meet Shaykh Mowafak Tarif briefly and he’ll recommend the next step.’
‘But that makes him an accessory after the fact.’
‘He must. Then you both will journey, next day, through Yesrael.’
Seemed as good a programme as any, as far as they could see.
Shaykh Tarif seemed to have approved of the travellers, for early next morning the documents appeared – passports and so on – and off Emma and Hugh went, dressed head to foot in Middle-Eastern attire, the rest remaining in the village.
It was the first real chance to see the village in the light and they saw a little of how the Druze lived. They were clearly farmers - olive groves and fruit orchards were carefully maintained on the hillside and Hugh thought he spotted cherry and apple trees, as well but probably not.
There was a flat area they walked past and he surmised it was a wheat field then, at the foot of the hill a battered old Jeep awaited them; they piled in and were taken to a junction on the main road a few kilometres away, where they connected with an Egged company airconditioned bus, en route for Nazareth.
It was unreal gazing over the infamous Esdraelon Plain, the Valley of Jezreel, listening to a couple of students from Jerusalem speaking in English about their coming stay in Kfar Masaryk kibbutz.
Hugh began to suspect where they were actually headed and in answer to Emma, whispered, ‘Har Megiddon.’ She mistook this for another Hugh-ism and shook her head. He couldn’t see how they would get through the myriad checkpoints on the dodgy Israeli passports they were on and yet, here they were, hurtling through the valley of so much bloodshed over the millennia, as if it were an everyday occasion.
‘No, seriously, Hugh – where are we going?’
‘I told you, darling – Armageddon. It’s our עלייה, our Aliyah, Hebrew for the ascending, for the homecoming.’
She decided not to pursue this and lapsed into silence. He took her hand and she asked, ‘What’s it all about?’
He grinned and said, ‘I have absolutely no idea. Take it as it comes.’
In the broad Esdraelon Valley, before them now, appeared a sort of sawn-off mountain rising from the surrounding land and it appeared to have some sort of construction near its plateau. Hugh knew this to be Solomon’s gate and also knew the hill to be guarded.
The van stopped two kilometres short of the hill and they transferred to a Daewoo.
The road was now relatively full of vehicles and the tourist buses from Jerusalem and Tel Aviv were the worst. The Daewoo didn’t attempt to join the multitude but swung off onto a side road which appeared to lead to a small gate in the hill.
Soon they were inside and greeted, by Shaykh Tarif himself. 'Albus, Belus,' he greeted them, Hugh coughed and Emma spluttered. They looked at one another, not believing their ears and now most uneasy.
The Shayk picked up on this and assured them the Druze were friends. Following him down a stone-walled tunnel, along a wooden walkway, they eventually came out into a small ante-room, where they were bidden to wait.
A personage now appeared from the far end, similar in height to the Shaykh and yet very different. It was a woman, and as she approached, they could see something ethereal and serene in the face. She was wearing al-mandīl, the transparent loose white veil, over her hair and around her mouth. Her shirt was black and her long skirt fell to her ankles.
‘Good afternoon, Albus, Belus. Welcome.’ With a sinking feeling they sat down as asked. She arranged herself on her long chair and smiled. ‘You are fearful, I see. Know that among our rocks is sanctuary.’
Hugh found himself asking, ‘For how long have you known we were coming here?’
Unsurprised by the question, she replied, ‘Since Belus conceived to Albus. They require our goodwill for just a time longer and so they must let you be for now.’
Emma asked, ‘I'm to have a child? You know that? I suspect it's so.’
‘Anyone with eyes can see that, my child but yes, we knew. You’re here to bear your son, are you not and time will then enter its next phase.’
Well, that was nice to know - they were going to have a son. ‘And next?’
‘You’ll return to Har Karmel and live in our community until your son is born and Magdalena's daughter, at which time you must flee.’
She smiled, rose, he also rose, and she took her leave. Two male uqqāl with long moustaches and shaved heads, in dark robes with white turbans, waited to escort them back to the main gate.
Word had reached Britain and at the regular Monday meeting, the news was seventeenth on the agenda.
Reginald Carrick turned to his cabinet and drily observed, ‘Well that saves us the job of looking for them - we can concentrate on the other insurgents now. We always knew they’d surface one day.’
He chuckled at his own little joke and the Chancellor of the Exchequer and Trade Minister also chuckled on cue.
‘Eighteen – measures to root out the Geordie uprising and this ridiculous little Toon Army. What’s been done, Madeleine?’
‘They’re hanging on gibbets at mile intervals along the A1 north, close to Morpeth.’
‘So that just about winds things up for today. Thank you ladies and gentlemen.’
Some distance away, in the Black Forest, Richard Japhet was addressing the Seven, who’d now been joined by six others for the Grand Council.
Under the blue-lit dome, all seated at their places, he began. ‘Albus and Belus have reached Har-Karmel. They will then reach Megiddo. It is all as written. They will have their space in time, skulking under rocks. Jannes, this other with them she must also arrive at Megiddo. You understand?'
Jannes inclined his head.
Back in the village again, Emma immediately took Sophie by the arms and told her about her daughter. Sophie was way ahead of her – she knew it inside by now and a slight thickening of the waist had begun.
It was a quick supper and into bed.
Next evening had been set down for the official welcoming of the newcomers, at Fawzy’s and Sara’s. A simple supper, they’d been told.
They’d heard of Druze ‘simple suppers’ before and when they arrived, it was beyond anything they could have expected. Bringing a few little nondescript gifts which their hosts received with pleasure out of all proportion to their value, they knew not to overly praise anything in the rooms because this would create an obligation on the part of the hosts to give it to them.
Hugh knew that the Druze only kill and immediately eat meat on special occasions and so the lamb which occupied pride of place on the table was an enormous compliment to them. On the table also were olives, pita bread, eggplant, cauliflower, cheese, and chickpeas flavored with onions, rice, burghul cracked wheat plus potatoes, a salad of cucumbers, tomatoes, parsley and, yogurt, baklava, and bowls of fruit.
As they ate, Janine commented to Emma about the garlic, sesame oil, various herbs, lemon and olive oil and it was clear that Sara and the other women had pulled out all stops.
They felt quite humble, almost confused.
They could also see the affection and esteem with which Sara and the other women were held in the household and Miri was the first to note that the woman was actually happy with her family - a feminist’s worst nightmare, Sam felt. Sara gave the impression that marriage to one partner was not only fulfilling – it could be fun.
They finished the strong coffee, bade elaborate farewells and went back to their respective homes and their new lives.
If Hugh and Sam were suspicious of all the bonhomie, the women were more than happy for calm and order to prevail. They wanted routines, medical services, schooling, a normal life for the children; and the fact that they were planning to do this right on top of the political and religious powder keg of the holy land was neither here nor there.
It was a warm Thursday when Hugh went out, a little later than usual, to get the water and having filled the two wooden pails, he rested for some minutes on a wooden bench behind the well, in the shade of a clump of bushes.
He saw Sara approaching from a cobblestone path from the other direction, watched that distinctive shuffle, and realized how much he really liked her.
Actually, he admired her greatly.
She saw him and checked herself, then made the irrevocable decision to continue to the well. As she went to fill the pail, he offered his help.
‘No thank you – it’s very kind.’
‘Let me carry your pail back.’
‘You have two of your own.’
He left it at that, picked up his pails and politely took his leave.
Dusk fell and Sophie prepared for the night.
Because of the hillside, they were basically on the ground floor and above them was another house, accessed from the road higher up the hill but it seemed deserted - at least, they couldn't hear any activity above.
Their part was low ceilinged, in mud brick, containing two corridors at an angle of about sixty degrees – it was a weird, ramshackle building, seemingly built by afterthought but spacious all the same.
As you walked in, you were faced by a two metre wide wall some three metres in and that had a brocade chair, sidetable and flowers. Then you could go right or left down either corridor.
If you went left, at the end was Sam and Miri’s room, to the left. If you came back this way, there was a kitchen and eating area. If you went down the right corridor, at the far end was Janine’s room on the right. Closer this way was an unused room.
In the centre, like a sawn off triangle, was Sophie’s room, accessible only from the right corridor and further towards the back, Hugh and Emma’s spacious room, also accessible only from the right corridor.
The sun duly rose the next morning.
All the way to the well, Hugh hoped against hope that Sara wouldn’t come; he wished her to stay away. He reached the place with its inviting bench under the canopy of trees, filled the two pails, sat and waited.
Twenty metres away, she appeared again, stopped, turned and started to walk home. Hugh silently determined never to come to this well again, not at this time anyway.
But she stopped, standing upright, looking up at the sky, turned and was slowly dragged back to the well. She reached him, he took her pail from her hand with the slightest of resistance, filled it, placed it on the bench and sat down again. She stood, glancing up and down the pathway, came over and placed her bottom on the bench beside him, facing slightly away.
‘Why do you come to this well when I am here?’
‘I shan’t come here again, not at this time of day. I’m very sorry, Sara.’ He got up and collected his pails.
‘No!’ Her voice was sharp. He stopped. ‘No,’ she said more softly. ‘I – I want to talk.’
‘Every neighbour will report to my husband that we spoke today.’ He went to pick up his pails again. ‘Stop. Please stop. I want to talk to you. Maybe you could invite us to your home or we could invite you again.’
He opened his mouth, it closed, he tried again, he gave it away. She looked hard at him. ‘Don’t come for five days … Hugh.’
She got up, took her pails and hurried away. He stayed there for some time, on that bench and knew there was going to be trouble, maybe terminal trouble over this. He might just have endangered the safety of all members of the party.
Picking up his pails, he made his way back to the house.
Preparing for bed, Emma suddenly asked, ‘When will you see her next?’
‘Not for five days.’ He never asked how she’d found out.
‘It’s too early, I suppose, to ask if you intend to take her from her husband and leave me.’
‘Such a thing could never be. I love you.’
‘And yet you timed those two visits to the well.’
‘Yes, yes I did. And because of that, I can’t see her again nor is it safe enough to speak with any woman alone in this village. Sara said wait five days. I can’t ever go back there to see her.’
Emma accepted that. ‘This woman got past your guard, didn’t she?’
‘I think even you would accept she is a fine wife and mother. I have an issue with fine women. I can’t resist them.’
‘A Hugh answer.’
‘I’m glad you got to me early, I’m glad you asked, glad it’s over.’
‘Is it over?’
‘Oh yes, you know me. It’s over.’
She accepted that, he knew what would happen if it continued.
Chapter 16 here … Chapter 18 here