Free Excerpt. The Caliph. Chapter 14

A gravelike silence greets the two women with the child and the young man, who are escorted by Captain Hannachi into the tent. An all-male domain in an Arab world and they know, they have been told of the reputation of this sinister man of steel who is the Caliph, the overlord, who sits as a Pasha of old surrounded by his personal handpicked fighters. The boy who is with them is tall, and strikingly good-looking. His young age makes him even beautiful with long curly black hair and moving lithely like a cat, he is dressed simply in a short white Kandora and pants, and he looks towards the reclining couch on which is ensconced the one man he appears to have picked out as likely to be the leader. The elder of the two girls is very attractive in a shy, diffident sort of way. The General notes her glancing, seeking the eyes of the various, the most attractive men in the pavilion. Typical of her age no doubt, but perhaps a little too voracious and yet, an air of appropriate shyness, the sort that engages in following the bashful approach to a man’s heart. The woman can only be described as regal, her stance, her beauty, and her enormous eyes; she is holding a small girl by the shoulders who also walks with a confident bearing and is stunning to gaze upon as her features are as of an angel: soft, cherubic, enchanting. At that precise moment, a ray of light––be it sunlight or an electric beam which has slipped––chances to settle on her face. The General glances around to locate the source but finds none, a superstitious shiver runs through his body, and he shakes it off. The captain takes a pace forward.

“General, may I present…” but he is not allowed to finish as the small girl wriggles out of her mother’s grasp.

“We’re not afraid of you!” she shrills out in her small voice, pointing her finger accusingly at the General, her mother rushing up. For a few seconds total silence reigns, all eyes are on Chenouali not knowing what to expect. He has gone cold all over. What is happening? He tries to think and then deep in his head come the screams, but he pushes them down. They are waiting, Khizr. He steels himself. Then the suspicion of a smile appears on his face.

“Malak! Malak! I am so sorry.”

“No, please, let her come, Madam, and tell me, Malak,” the whole tent is watching silently, enrapt by the scene between the little girl and the mighty General. “Why should you be afraid of me? I thought you were my guests and also my friends.”

 “We have never had any friends, and I have always had to fight to protect my sister, now we have clothes to wear and food to eat, but Jeedah tells me not to trust you until your eyes are true.”

He beckons Masuhun who rapidly approaches, “Who is this Jeedah?”

“She is dead.” The General looks at him, his eyes blank, softening as he looks back to Malak

“And are my eyes not true, Malak?” But she does not answer; she has come with childlike innocence right up to where he is reclining, his guards dare not interfere or perhaps do not wish to.

“He is true, the only one, him, and Latifa, and my teacher. He is our friend, Pete, but we don’t know where he is. He was sick on the boat when the policeman hit me. Look,” and she shows him her swollen eye. He leans over and very gently caresses it.

“No one will ever hurt you again. Farid!” he calls in a hoarse voice to a thickset man who leaps up. “Where is this animal?”

“But where is Pete?” insists Malak, and the General’s harsh tones again become honeyed as he hurriedly dismisses Farid and attends to the demanding child. He is sweating yet the tent is cooled by the air.

“Who is this Pete? I know of no person by any such name.” And then, as if in a moment of pique, the audience is at an end. He mutters to himself,

“Perhaps only I see it. It follows her. My God, forgive me.”