Chapter 1: A boy and a Girl
Once upon a time, as I remember it, I was walking home late from work when I heard a vehicle approaching from behind and turned to see if it was my very late lift home. It wasn’t. It was a Landrover filled with Filipino workers going home to their barrackslike accommodation. As the vehicle passed I turned to face it, tripped and fell backwards headlong into a stormditch and clouted the back of my head loudly and very hard on something a hell of a lot harder than my head.
I saw stars! No! really, there were stars. So there should be, it was late evening in Tabuk, Saudi Arabia (NO! Not Tobruk! Tabuk) up towards the North of the Saudi countryside. Countryside? Hmmm, Desertside maybe. I was working for the Saudi Army as a civilian British expatriate which means that the UK was still my home and I was there living and working as an Electronics Technician having trained in Electronics firstly as a TV Engineering Apprentice (4 out of the five years required to complete) and then with the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers of the British Army (REME) which was probably why I got the Saudi job in the first place as my colleagues and bosses were mostly ex REME.
Stars!! Yes, there were stars in a black night sky but surely it was only late evening. In the Middle East night begins around 600 pm and hangs about till 600 am but it seldom got this dark as I knew only too well having worked through a few in my time. This was a star filled sky, I’d never seen the like but more strangely I was on a white horse and riding along without a care towards a distant light which seemed to be from a small fire, maybe a campfire in the middle distance. As I approached the fire atop the small hill, it was a fire, I saw figures in the firelight, there was no moon.
Two young children, one, a boy, was about 6yearsold while the other, a girl, smaller than the boy, was also around 6yearsold with the girl standing in front and slightly to one side of the boy, both with dark hair and Mediterranean good looks with olive coloured skin, dressed in thigh-length skirts and animal skin sandals. The boy, was facially disfigured with a fierce looking dark red scar on his right cheek from beside his right eye to mouth level which did not detract from his good looks. Both held the reins of horses, one pale and one red, in their left hands with their right hands resting on the neck of a large black dog. A hawk circled above their heads. The boy cradled a lamb in his folded left arm whilst the girl stood alert with her bow in her left hand and a quiver of arrows showing over her left shoulder.
They were atop a rise in the landscape which afforded them a clear view of the surrounding countryside. Now this was countryside! Not desertside! grass, trees, sheep, aha yes! many sheep indeed. From close up the dog was no longer a dog, it was clearly a wolf, not that I could recognise a wolf in the normal course of events, but there was no mistaking this one. It was a wolf beyond question. The children turned to face me and the little girl, for little she was, made a burring noise with her lips and the wolf settled down and walked closer to her side where she roughed his neck fiercely which the wolf appeared to enjoy.
They all appeared silhouetted with the firelight behind them but they presented no threat or danger so I dismounted and looked around for any other sign of life, human or animal and saw only the bird circling in the sky above, visible against the starlight. “Hello!” I said, and received silence and puzzled glances in response. It soon became apparent that they didn’t understand me but they gestured to a log near the fireside as if to invite me to sit. I did so. The girl sat on the only other log while the boy led my horse to stand by their two horses among some trees and returned to sit on the grass. Nothing seemed odd or out of place at all. The girl handed me a piece of what turned out to be cooked meat which I accepted gladly. It was a strip of lamb, roasted in the campfire and it tasted exceptionally delicious. The wolf stood guard, looking out over the surrounding countryside and paced in a circle around the hilltop. My eyes were by now accustomed to the dark and I observed that both children were armed with a knife each, a short sword each and bows and arrows, both carried water pouches made of skin from which they drank sparingly and offered me a drink when they drank. I accepted gratefully. I gestured to the fire and said “fire” a few times until they grasped that I was trying to get them to tell me what they called it. I repeated their word and they both fell about laughing at my pronunciation and I tried again, pointing to my horse, “Horse!” they repeated in their own tongue until I grasped the word and could repeat it without them laughing. By dawn I could say four words without doing them, or my pride too much damage. There were sheep and lambs everywhere I looked and it became apparent that they were caring for the sheep. Shepherds children I assumed wrongly, they turned out to be the shepherds themselves in time, with responsibilities to their villages which were in opposite directions to each other and not together as I had thought. In fact, they were not just from two villages but after some effort I understood that they were from different countries which bordered each other at the river which ran Northeast to Southwest about two and a half miles away. All that however, was for the future. For now, the nurse was calling my name and shaking my shoulder. I woke up to find myself in a hospital bed in the Tabuk Military Hospital just outside Tabuk City, the children, the fire, the horses and wolf, even the bird circling in the sky faded from view. I hung a while between the dream and wakefulness.
A doctor visited me in my bed and a nurse’s aide brought me food on a tray which was nowhere near as pleasant as the children’s fare, the memory of which was slowly fading. My work colleague Dave brought grapes and books from the library at the compound where we had family Bungalows. Dave’s wife and son were with him but my wife sadly, had written to say that she would not be joining me in Tabuk. This was a fact of which I needed to inform my boss who was an exREME warrant officer second class or WOII Artificer. I would almost certainly not be allowed to keep my job as it was an accompanied post and the colonel of the regiment we worked for said that he preferred family men with their families. Another doctor came late in the day to examine me and shook his head. My head only hurt when he poked at it so I assumed there wasn’t much wrong with me. A nurse gave me a tablet to help me sleep and the two children were cleaning up the campsite.
The boy pointed to the North by the sun and placed his hands above his head to indicate a roof and said his word for “Home!” six or seven times before I caught on that he meant he lived in that direction, then he pointed at the girl and did his “Home!” pantomime again to say that she lived there. I couldn’t make them understand “How far?” which was just as well as I would probably never have understood his answer so I dropped it as they kindly fed me again. The bird flew close to their heads and circled them before landing in a nearby branch of a tree. The girl held out a piece of raw meat for the hawk to eat from her hand. It flew to the boy with the strip of lamb hanging from its beak and the boy held out his right gloved hand for it to perch. By nightfall I had learned four more words making nine in all so by now I could phrase a small sentence which set them off laughing again and bruised my pride a bit. The boy’s face was a mess all down one side where the skin had been ripped off and never replaced having healed raw as it continued to look. He assured me as best he could that it didn’t hurt and didn’t bother him, nor did it bother the girl who appeared to think a lot of him as he did of her.
With a hand on his facescar he approached the wolf and put his arm around his neck and gestured what I thought must be something I was not understanding, he seemed to indicate that the wolf had caused the scar but that couldn’t be correct. It transpired that the wolf was called wolf in the boy’s language and scar in the girl’s language which I discovered to my surprise were different languages to each other. They curled up near the fire next to each other and talked a while to tell me more words that I would need to learn if I was to communicate with them. Fortunately, even though they spoke different languages they shared a linguafranca which I thought could have been their own invention. Morning brought breakfast and water and a ride to the river to replenish the skin water bottles together with the water bottles from the horses packs which I hadn’t previously noticed. We rode amongst the sheep as if we were a troupe, three horses and riders, a large wolf and a hawk constantly shadowing us as we searched for sheep in difficulty which we failed to find. I learned five words on our ride and stopped counting as the words mounted. Learning and saying got easier so by teatime I could converse quite proficiently without causing them to fall off their horses laughing at me.
As they drifted off to sleep they faded from my view and a nurse woke me to give me food from the hospital kitchens. As I awoke a hawk flew over my head for a few moments before fading from sight. My boss, the ex REME WOII arrived with forms and grapes and a message from the colonel to the effect that I wasn’t to worry over my job but to get well soon. Dave called in the afternoon and it transpired that his wife was a nurse in the hospital so he was killing two birds with one stone as it were. I listened to music on the ward record player as a nurse put records on but it was not really my taste in music as it was mostly Arabic. Another nurse, the same as last time, brought a tablet for me to take and the children woke from their slumber near the fire. We talked, we talked about many things as I tried to expand my vocabulary, it was all simple really as we only had the hilltop location as reference.
The boy’s name was Skyta and the girl’s Seruba. their horses were named Takari, and Ferado but I had to admit that I didn’t know the name of my horse as it was only my dreamhorse so the children named him Sennal. The wolf I already knew was Wolf and Scar and the Hawk’s name Serral. The boy was an Amalekite he said and she was an Amorite as those were the names of their countries and their people. Skyta told me a little, as much as my vocabulary allowed, that Wolf had attacked him when he was out shepherding with his father years earlier and he had stopped his father from killing him, the pantomimes needed to tell me that little tale made Seruba laugh delightfully a lot and I had to smile too. My understanding of their talk progressed after that by leaps and bounds, certainly faster than any previous effort. The day was fast approaching when they would be relieved by other village shepherds and go home to family and hearth but before they went I met them once more and we became good friends.
The nurse who brought my pill told me I would be released from hospital in one week and I spent more time listening reluctantly to records I didn’t really like and eating kitchen food I liked even less.
I rode my horse towards the hilltop fire and recognised the two youngsters sitting on their logs. Seruba waved and Serral flew over me all the way and by now my language skill had greatly improved and was told a tale of wandering Nomads having been seen in the locality and was informed that the two were to run home and tell someone immediately if they saw them. “they have been attacking towns and villages and some isolated farms had been burned to the ground less than a hundred leagues to the Northeast. Tales of these wandering marauders had circulated for almost fourty years and people feared them enormously. We soon settled in to our usual routine of sitting, talking and learning about each other with me of course expanding my vocabulary of mostly Amalekite words and phrases. For such young children they were well informed about their people and customs. Both races they said, were peace loving farmers and workers in the arts and crafts. A meal in Skyta’s home might consist of many different types of meats and vegetables from many different places plus fruit and herbs and sometimes they would have spices from afar. A brother of Skyta called with some homemade pie for us and he greeted me as a friend, we talked and I thought I could see in him a shade of Skyta in a few years’ time. Skyta was strong, intelligent to my ears and apart from his facial disfigurement, a truly handsome lad whereas Seruba was a future beauty of great renown and already a strong hard working woman with little in the way of fear or dependency. She handled a knife and a fish with equal skill and could kill, skin and dismember a lamb within moments. They knew the night sky, the stars to navigate by and each other’s homelands like natives born. They told tales from their own homes and tales from far off places that had been told to their families by travellers to their villages, “I will go to them one day when I become a man” said Skyta.
She spent time training Serral to her wrist and to eat from her hand and was obviously as attached to him as he, Serral, responded favourably to her every command and touch, whilst Skyta spent time training Wolf to herd sheep instead of eating them for which he was well rewarded ironically with mutton and lamb.
The kitchen food was little better and the music quite uninspiring as the time to leave drew closer. Dave called with some non hospital food and drink and some cassette tapes and a tape player to relieve the boredom of my waking hours although the lingering memory of a hilltop and two youngsters compensated enormously.
“I’m telling you they have been seen a few leagues from here. There are thousands of them and they crawl across the desert sands like a moving city” “our village elder said we are to run away from them if we see them” Seruba said that she wasn’t afraid but I suspected that she was, a little. They looked confident in the firelight, as if thousands of marauding nomads were a daily occurrence. Skyta whittled at a piece of wood and Seruba sewed some skins together to make an article of clothing. Wolf ran off to the East at a fast speed so Skyta quickly mounted Ferado and rode after him. Something had alerted Wolf so Seruba cleared up the campsite in case a hurried retreat was called for, they moved swiftly and with practiced confidence. We both sat our horses and peered in every direction. Serral skittered overhead crying aloud and diving in the direction that Skylar had ridden off. I rode a short distance in that direction and looked back. Seruba sat, alert, watching the surrounding countryside just like the Hawk above her. Skylar rode ferociously towards us from a distance away, I could hear him urging Takari on so I walked towards him thinking to assist him if he needed it. Serral screamed above my head and I looked instantly and saw him with an arrow through his chest, falling, Seruba rode to where he would land and Ferado screamed and fell forward, an arrow through her neck, throwing Seruba over her head in a heap. In a flash Seruba regained her feet, stood up straight and took an arrow in her shoulder, then one in her eye and another in her stomach. I knew she was dead before she hit the ground without a sound. I spun Sennal as best I could and raced off to intercept Skyta. As we met I caught him and ripped him out of his saddle. He fought me, struggling to get back on Takari but I kept him down and forced him to the floor. Seruba, Ferado, Sennal, and the Hawk Serral were all dead, Takari ran off towards the hilltop before either of us could stop him and died under a hail of arrows, only Skyta and Wolf remained, and of course me. Two men, shadows in the twilight, rose out of the ground in front of us, one put an arrow, then another arrow into Wolf and the other threw a spear at Skylar, hitting him a hard glancing blow to his skull and Skyta fell to the ground. A mist covered my eyes as the nurse shook me for my breakfast.
I was riding Sennal toward the hilltop in the dark, starfilled night. All was still and silent, without any suggestion of life, or death. Dawn broke as I reached the hilltop where it became apparent that there were no sheep or lambs in the surrounding countryside, in fact ‘all was still and silent’ as I made my way cautiously Westward across the plain towards what appeared to be a ridge which fell away further Westward to a lower plain. I glimpsed a shadowy figure lying amongst bushes facing towards the lower plain. I dismounted and crept forward until I recognised Skyta, he was spying, no other word for it, ‘spying’ on the lower plain which held an awesome sight. Thousands of people as far as the eye could see in a massive encampment with tents laid out in military fashion, row upon row of tents and cooking fires laid out precisely as you might expect an army to make camp. Men in what appeared, from my distance, to be military type uniforms in the midst of the uniform tents. Women and children were scattered amongst the men who were mostly marching or training, practicing one manoeuvre here or another tactic there. Shields glistened and spears flew towards target whilst archers refined their skills at a designated range in the front centre of the encampment. One tent stood out in the very centre of the encampment being at least five times the size of the others and completely white. Soldiers stood on guard and men, only men I noticed, mostly dressed in white I also noticed, entered and exited the centre tent as if on urgent business.
From my perspective, at the rear of this encampment, were horses, again thousands of horses corralled with men grooming or saddling or otherwise caring for the horses. I became aware of a fact that I felt could have been salient, the tent city was laid out in eleven compact compartments, with corridors between them, keeping them separated in the manner of regiments. Scattered throughout were another group of men, only men, in white robes with hoods lying loose on their backs or sometimes covering a head. They were obviously different, I wondered if they might be officers of this army but I wasn’t convinced. Skyta caught my attention as I heard him riding off Eastward on Sennal as fast as Sennal could run. There were now few options open to me. I could stay and continue spying, I could find somewhere to hide and keep safe or I could make my way back to the hilltop on foot. The sky darkened as I pondered my options and the nurse brought breakfast. I was reluctant to wake up and tried to continue the dream for a long time whilst hospital business busied itself. “You will be discharged on Thursday” the doctor told me, In Saudi Thursday is like our Saturday, being the day before the Sabbath day of rest or the weekend. That was now three days away. A nurse came with a pill but I refused it which the nurse wrote in my notes before fading from my view.
I was standing right in the middle of the encampment facing the huge central tent whilst soldier types marched or walked around me paying me no attention whatsoever. Now I could see who were obviously officers by their markings and the white robed men came and went busily. Officers were being challenged by white robed men at the tent entrance when they attempted to enter the huge white tent. On an impulse I moved towards the entrance but went unchallenged by anyone. On entering I beheld a sight that at some level of my consciousness was very familiar although I knew I had never actually seen it before. The floor was overlaid with skins while in the central area the floor held a low platform of what looked like gold. In the centre of the platform sat a table also of gold and on the table at its centre sat a box made of gold with the most elaborate decoration. Four corner rings supported two carrying staves and the lid of the box stood open. All around it knelt men in white robes praying with hands and eyes turned upwards with a fervour I recognised from films of evangelist type Christians from America. An officer entered, accompanied by four white robes. Accompanied? Or guarded? I couldn’t tell. He spoke in the direction of the box in a strange language but simultaneously, words impinged onto my consciousness in translation. “Father God, my men stand in readiness and we await only your command and pleasure” he stood silent for a few moments then bowed and backed away to the door where he turned and walked out of the tent. A man in black robes and hood entered then and approached accompanied by another in grey and at least twelve white robes and stood before the box with heads bowed when a loud booming voice entered my head. “here! As promised, the land that was promised to you, now go out and take it. And remember, Kill all of the men and all of the women, kill the children and importantly, kill the babes in arms, leave no survivors” black robe bowed, waited then turned and walked straight towards the entrance. White robes closed the box and all left the tent leaving me alone and presumably unnoticed. As I left the tent I saw eleven groups of soldiers, six groups mounted and five on foot marching off fully armed towards the ridge where they divided into two with three mounted and three on foot heading Southeast by the sun and the remainder heading Northwest. Only white robes, women and children remained in the encampment. All was orderly as I would have expected from a military organisation.
“I’m sorry Mac but the prince of Tabuk province has instructed that you be repatriated back to the UK on Monday from Dammam Airport. Transport will be provided” my exREME WOII boss was speaking as the tabernacle faded, “I’ll be driving you Mac” said Dave and he handed me some plums. “From my wife!”
Standing in front of this huge tabernacle I observed troops returning triumphantly in various stages of relaxation. They congratulated themselves and each other for their victory over this peace loving agricultural arty crafty cowardly fools who had apparently offered little or no resistance. Then the entire contingent began making preparations for their move into their promised land. The last tent to be struck was of course the tabernacle and, as I watched, black robe, grey robe and twelve white robes approached dragging a man in chains who was thrown down before the box by black robe. “this is the king of the northern land my Lord” I sensed his voice while he spoke that foreign tongue and then in booming tones “I said no survivors! Kill him now” “My Lord!” black robe pierced the king with his sword and he fell dead before the box. “Not in here!!” Sorry Lord, too late” and white robes removed the body while other white robes set about what I assumed to be a purification ritual. Within half a day the lower plain was deserted with no sign that such a large body of people had recently occupied it except for the grazed and flattened earth and some patches of ash circles here and there. I walked back to the escarpment where I had last see Skylar and found him there weeping bitter tears. “Gone! All gone!” he cried. “all of my people and Seruba’s people dead! Murdered!” I tried to comfort him but he would have none of it. “All gone! Forever!” we set off towards the hilltop for no particular reason and, as we crested the hill an arrow struck Skylar down, dead! And so the scene faded slowly from my consciousness as the nurse said “Breakfast!” I felt a sadness I had never before experienced as I sat on my bed eating my grapefruit and cornflakes. ‘Well!’ I thought, that was short and sweet, whatever it was about. I spent the day being told instructions for my departure on Monday. Dave and his wife visited but my sadness never dissipated as I struggled to keep my composure. I slept late that night, later than usual even for me.
Stars!! Yes, there were stars in a black night sky but surely it was only late evening. In the Middle East night begins around 600 pm and hangs about till 600 am but it seldom got this dark as I knew only too well having worked through a few in my time. This was a star filled sky, I’d never seen the like but more strangely I was on horseback and riding along without a care towards a distant light which seemed to be from a small fire, maybe a campfire in the middle distance. As I approached the fire, it was a fire, I saw two figures in the firelight, there was no moon. Two children sat facing the fire and each other, one, a boy, was about 6yearsold while the other, a girl, smaller than the boy, was also around 6yearsold. Two horses stood quite near with reins trailing while a dog, huge and black in the firelight faced me snarling. They were atop a rise in the landscape which afforded them a clear view of the surrounding countryside. It was countryside! Not desertside! Grass, trees, sheep, aha yes! Many sheep indeed. From close up the dog was no longer a dog, it was clearly a wolf, not that I could recognise a wolf in the normal course of events, but there was no mistaking this one. It was a wolf beyond question. The children stood and turned to face me and the little girl, for little she was, made a burring noise with her lips and the wolf settled down and walked over to her side where she roughed his neck fiercely which the wolf appeared to enjoy. The boy’s name was Skyta and the girl’s Seruba. their horses were Takari, and Ferado and the wolf’s name was Wolf. I sat astride Sennal while Serral flew in a wide circle overhead. “Hello Skyta! Hello Seruba!” I cried as recognition dawned. They looked at me as if I were crazy, “Skyta?” asked Skyta, “Seruba?” muttered Seruba, “you mistake us Sir, there is noone by those names here” Skyta looked at least sincere, I laughed, “You!” I said. “You are Skyta and Seruba” “You mistake us Sir, I am Ta and this is my companion Se, we welcome you to our fire, please, sit and have something to eat and drink” I did as I was told, a little baffled. We chatted in the language they had taught me as their story unfolded while I listened in amazement. “I am Se!” explained the girl, “Se means first in my father’s tongue, Amorite, as I was the first of my people to die and the hands of the Marauders” “My name is Ta,” explained the boy, “Ta means last in the language of my father, Amalechite, as I was the last of our people to be slaughtered by the Nomads” we have waited here for what you would call four millennia, waiting for someone, maybe you, to come so that together we may be your guides” “Guides?” I enquired, “Why would I need a guide?” “That is for you to decide Sir. I am Se Sir, and together Se and I are SeTa also Alastor Amalech from a foreign name meaning Justice for my People the Amalechites or Amalekites’. we are to take you where you never thought to go to show you things you never thought to see! If you wish to go and you wish to see”
My nights were mostly dreamless thereafter for some longish time while I travelled homeward to a hotel in Richmond, London where a company driver took me in a company car. He saw I was booked in and presented the hotel receptionist with a letter, I was informed that my hotel bill was paid up for a month by my employer company and that someone would call to talk to me. I changed into clothes I had carried in my suitcase since I arrived in Saudi without wearing as I’m not that keen on dressing other than casual. My dreamless nights grated on me as I became impatient for them to start again while my days were practically filled with daydreams recalling the dreams of earlier nights. Before I boarded my flight home Dave had said, confidentially, “Lucky sod, the Saudi Compensation for your accident should be a hefty sum. Thousands certainly but it could run close to a million quid! They have deep pockets eh?” “I hadn’t thought about it” I hadn’t, “Oh? I bet! Well, best of luck with that” apparently I stood to become very rich but for the moment my poverty was rampant, I was almost penniless which meant I relied on the Hotel Cuisine which wasn’t that much better than the Tabuk Military Hospital Cuisine. My dreams did not rematerialise (if materialise is a word you can use about a dream) so I was left to my own devices apart from one little peculiarity, my reasoning was at the worst, I couldn’t think for myself and began to rely on people pointing me in one direction or another before I knew where to go or what to do. I found myself scouring library bookshelves for hours and sitting in the library to read them as I couldn’t join as a member with a hotel address. A man called from the company and introduced himself as a manager though not, apparently, The boss. He informed me in no uncertain terms that I could forget about compensation because Saudi law demands that a claimant against the Government or Government sponsored company meaning the Saudi Army must remain in the country to pursue a claim and, as I had left the country I would need to return to proceed with a claim but, my passport record in Saudi would be endorsed as a possible claimant which would make it almost impossible to reenter Saudi Arabian territory and then he said that therefore my services with his company were terminated.