A JEZAIL ball snapped off the rocks kicking up chips of stone and leaving Marcus FitzWilson ducking back under cover.
Several miles from Kabul in the dark and brooding hills East Indian Trading Company sepoys traded shots with Badmashes from a local village. They were horribly outnumbered and out gunned, but John Connery smiled slightly and leaned over the rocks to snap back a shot with his pistol. Marcus looked at him, watching the scattered sepoys laying down ineffectual fire as the Badmashes laughed and joked and slowly advanced.
“Now?” asked Marcus, his odd coat with its strange workings of black and purple swirled together in both Latin and sandscript covered in dust and a little blood where he had tried to drag one of the sepoys into cover.
Connery smiled like a fox.
“Aye, sir, now.”
With a movement of surprising litheness for a man of his size he leapt to his feet, bringing his second pistol to bear on a bandit and shooting him as he raised his jezail. Drawing his sword he filled his lungs and ordered the retreat in Hindi, yelling at the sepoys to move together and pulling them into ragged lines, their feet scuffling as they shuffled into place. He refused to let them edge backwards despite the vicious fire that swept round them until they were formed and then slowly, step by step, giving the occasional shot as they retreated. The Ghazis seeing their enemy fall back screamed and raced to the kill. After one ragged volley they broke and ran, jezail balls bouncing round their feet. And whistling close. The Ghazis were on their tail with Khyber knives raised and screaming for blood when a resoundingly British noise cut the air.
The pursuers hesitated a moment wondering what the strange noise might herald when a top hat graced the ridge followed by a man in a tailcoat. The Ghazis stopped a moment in consternation as he waved both a hunting horn and a long sabre in excitement, then they screamed in horror as a company of lancers broke cover, sweeping the open hills with lance and sabre. The sepoys yelled in joy and excitement and raced to join the slaughter catching the Ghazi and hunting them down in vengeance for their fallen comrades.
Miles Mulligan, the East Indian Trading Company’s civilian officer pulled his horse in a tight stop before Connery and Marcus, giving them a doff of his hat and a smile.
“Well it worked Connery, you old fox. Do you think we tempted them all down from that rock?” He gestured vaguely to the village that sat behind a low wall at the top of the hill.
Connery stood gazing at it a moment, leaving Miles casting worried and confused glances at Marcus who had given not a moments glance at the rangy mounted man, or the bloody murder that was happening round him but stared intently at the village, his hands rolling a sliver of wood between his fingers.
Connery grinned suddenly.
“I don’t know to be honest, Sah. I would gather the riders and sweep the north if I was you, case anyone’s trying to make a run with the child.”
Miles looked uncertain and gnawed his lip in consternation. Technically he was a civilian and this should be left to the Captain of the Lancers, but the chance to rescue the European child that FitzWilson had claimed was out here was too tempting. At last he nodded, swung his horse and cried for the Lancers to follow him sweeping to the north blowing his hunting horn like a lord in Yorkshire.
FitzWilson watched him go, smiled for the first time and nudged Connery. “Gather the Sepoys, he is in the village.”
Without even looking round he started to stride up the hill followed by an irate Connery gathering Sepoys in his wake with sheer force of personality.
The village was strangely quite, woman and children huddling inside. Fear and only a dog’s bark accompanied their march through the run down village. FitzWilson was transformed. From the strangely preoccupied man he had been for the last couple of days his stride had lengthened and his gaze was far away. The piece of wood in his hand was rolling and spinning seemingly by its own violation as it led him between houses and round corners. Suddenly he swung to the left, his hands stretched out before him and the children he pointed at scattered and ran. But the Sepoys chased only one, almost missed with his blond hair so grimed that he almost passed without notice.
As the child was grabbed and born to the ground biting and scratching, FitzWilson was already running, reaching into his long coat and drawing a bottle which he threw, not bothering to even open it but letting it shatter against the child. There was a moment of stillness then the child stifled pain, its eyes showing white as it grabbed a knife from the belt of a sepoy and threw.
It was some minutes before FitzWilson woke up, his eyes misted in agony as he managed to grab Connery’s hand before the sergeant could pull the knife from his shoulder.
“Don’t. If you do that I will lose too much blood. It has to stay in for a while. Where is the child?”
Connery looked at him deeply, worry etched into his face.
“Sir,” his voice was soft, “the child is in one of the basements, under guard. But you have to listen to me, sir. At some point that knife will have to come out, you understand that don’t you?”
FitzWilson nodded, as pale as the moon, his eyes bloodshot and the bandages around his ruined shoulder already seeped with blood.
Somehow, his head held high, he struggled to his feet and started to walk towards the house Connery wordlessly pointed to. At the entrance he stopped, said a few words in Hebrew and spat before entering. Connery walked with him, steady as a rock.
They found the boy in the low candle lit half light of the basement. He was standing watching them, his hands still red with blood. He smiled, teeth gleaming in the dark.
“Are you all right?” his voice was lilting, childlike, but FitzWilson was not fooled and his reply was the name of an angel, again in Hebrew, that caused the child to flinch.
His gaze never left the child as he muttered “Watch him,” and despite the blood that thickened and granulized it he began to walk around the boy scattering salt in a careful circle. The boy switched to Latin, pointing out his mistakes, and that he was bleeding to death. That he can save him if he just lets him go, helps him back to his parents. He is so lost and alone…
FitzWilson ignored him. His voice had become sonorous, deep and roiling causing the candles to flicker. The salt and blood now swirled together, marking the names of Gods, catching the essence of angels, with one hand he swept up the candle, etching the air with its flickering message.
By this time the child was laughing: “Do you think this actually works? That I can be trapped maybe, but captured? No, that is madness.”
Still standing by, Connery took the candles from FitzWilson’s shaking hands who, haggard and pale from loss of blood, still managed a smile: “Ah my dear fellow, things have come along a bit since the Babylonians released you from Heaven’s binding.”
He smiled as the child blanched. He took out a small jar, flies buzzing lazily round the inside which t child stared at, eyes widening.
“No…. you can’t do that, you would need a name of power, a sacrifice. . . No.. you wouldn’t…” He stared imploringly. “You might survive, you don’t know, you cant, you might survive…”
Connery whipped his head around: “NO!”
But FitzWilson was already reaching for the knife, grabbing the handle and pulling as he whispered: “I am Marcus FitzWilson, and by my name I bind you and by my sacrifice I call you and by your name.”
And as his whispers got thinner and he smeared his blood around the jar seal: “I keep you.”
An hour or so later, Miles rode back into town. Though he had caught and ridden down a number of Ghazis he was not in a good mood when he re-entered the village without the boy he was sent to find. His smile however was disarming as he saw the child held in the protective grip of Connery.
“You found him old boy, oh well done!” His smile was jubilant, but then he frowned: “Where is FitzWilson?”
Connery explained without mention of the ritual, or anything other than a terrible accident that had left FitzWilson dead. A lighter company, they headed back to Kabul.
Two weeks later Connery stood quietly in a town house in Calcutta. He had made his report in full, the jar sitting on the table that he stood before. A man was behind it wearing a pale suit and playing with a pen. His eyes never left the sergeant’s face.
“You think he was successful?” he said, standing suddenly and walking the room with a strong stride to a case with a huge collection of porcelain dolls.
“Yes Sah, he gave his life for the boy. I think he wouldn’t have done that unless certain of success and indeed, the boy seemed very changed by the end of it.”
The man reached strong thin hands into the cabinet and returned to his desk, this time rolling a hauntingly familiar doll in his hands.
“So we can release him from his contract, do you think?”
Connery nodded, watching his master in this very select area of the Company play with the doll.
The latter sighed.
“Very well Connery, I can’t see what further use he can be at this moment.” He raised his hand and brought down the doll of Marcus FitzWilson against the table.
“Marcus FitzWilson, hail and farewell….”