David Ruff squatted in the sand and waited. He shouldered a machine gun, shivering from the cold night. Men similar to him wearing the same NATO uniform of khaki complete with army boots surrounded him. His green eyes widened as he took in the surrounds of the city of Ramzah the capital of al-Raman, a tiny kingdom sandwiched between Iran and Turkmenistan. It was the peacekeepers mission to keep the USSR out and stop them from invading this country where the people spoke a language that was a combination of Farsi and Arabic. Much of the city had been reduced to rubble from the bombing of Soviet fighter jets.
He took off his helmet and ran a hand through his blond hair. He’d almost lost a finger to frostbite in the unforgiving beginning of winter. He shook his head and put his helmet back on as he clasped his hands together and blew into them for what little warmth his breath could offer. Suddenly, there was movement in his line of fire. He readied his gun and aimed it at the shadowy figure when he heard a voice.
David lowered his gun and looked closely at the figure as the person moved closer, hands in the air.
That’s when he saw her in all her glory as the sun was rising with a palette of pastel pink and pale amber rose in the sky behind her. A ravishing beauty stood before him with a fair complexion, wistful dark eyes, and a few strands of long, coal-black hair that had escaped from her chador, a large half-moon-shaped cloth entwined around the shoulders, forehead, and chin, to reveal only eyes, nose and mouth; the effect was reminiscent of a nun’s habit in times past.
It was this magnificent sight, which caused something to shoot right through him and stir his blood the moment he clamped eyes on her.
‘Assalam alaikum!’ he greeted her.
‘Wassalamualaikum warakhmatullahi wabarakatuh,’ she replied.
‘Ana asmy Corporal David Ruff,’ he said.
‘Ana asmy Princess Shahreen,’ she replied. ‘My father and mother are Emir Hassan and Emira Jasmin.’
‘Well, what on earth are you doing out here?’ David demanded.
‘I’m working with the Khameer underground not only to kick out the Soviet army but also to depower the royal family who oppress them.
David knew about the Khameer people who believed they were the true inheritors of the land. They spoke a dialect completely different and lived a culture completely alien to mainstream Ramanis. He knew how much they hated not only Russians but also the royal family of al-Raman.
But what was this young, beautiful princess doing helping them?
David, who’d only just turned twenty a month ago looked at her intensely. She couldn’t be more than eighteen-years-old. He signalled for his fellow men to fall back as he took her aside and spoke with her. Looking at him through lowered lids she told him that she had four siblings: a sister called Fayza and three brothers – Omar, Hakim and Malik. Her sister was betrothed to a much older royal cousin and Shahreen did not want to share the same fate.
She pursed her lips and pointed to her nose. ‘Do you like it?’ she asked.
‘What – your nose?’ he asked looking at it. It wasn’t the same hooked nose that many Middle Eastern women had.
‘Touch it,’ she said.
‘Touch it! It’s hard as a rock. I had to have a nose job after my brother Omar broke it because I supposedly flirted with someone.’
David shook his head unsure of what to say. There was silence for a few moments and then he spoke again.
‘So, what are you doing here?’
‘I’m here to give you a message. The Soviets are planning an air strike tomorrow in the mountains near Quasim.’
‘Isn’t that where most of the Khameer people are located?’
‘They have moved southwards into the caves. And now I must go to be with them.’
‘No! Wait – will I get to see you again?’
‘That depends on how well you and the NATO forces get your act together and help us,’ she said giving him a woman’s smile of promise as she said goodbye before turning and walking away.
* * *
The counter attack on the Soviet army was a success and David had managed to meet the renegade princess again. They arranged to meet again at an abandoned church now in ruins after centuries of battle. Extremists who wanted to seize control of the tiny kingdom had scratched off the ancient Aramaic writing on the walls.
David took off his jacket and laid it on the ground. He invited her to sit next to him on it. The previous night the soldiers had feasted upon Chelokebab, an Iranian kebab consisting of lamb served on a mound of rice. He’d saved an orange and brought it with him, which he took out of his bag, peeled it and gave her a piece. He then took a piece for himself, chewing on it slowly and savouring the taste before swallowing it. He then took another piece and gave it to her. She chewed on it before spitting it out as far from her as possible. She turned towards David.
‘Spit a piece out further than that and I’ll let you kiss me.’
David smiled. ‘You’re on.’
He popped another piece into his mouth, and chewed on it before spitting it out. It landed about an inch in front of Shahreen’s piece. David grinned wickedly before turning to her and cupping her chin in his hands. His fingers were long, like a piano player’s. He inhaled her sweet perfume before kissing her fully on the lips. He felt a feeling like an electric shock as she kissed him back. He put his arm around her and drew her close to him. Shahreen leaned her head against his chest.
‘There’s a proverb in the Bible that reads:
“There are three things that are too hard for me,
really four I don’t understand:
the way an eagle flies in the sky,
the way a ship sails on the sea,
and the way a man and a woman fall in love.”’
Shahreen looked up at him. ‘Are you falling in love with me, David?’
David looked down at her and smiled. ‘I feel in love with you the moment I saw you.’
‘There’s an entire book in the Bible dedicated to love. Some say it is a demonstration of the love between Christ and the church and some say it’s a fine example of Middle Eastern erotic literature:
“Put me like a seal on your heart,
like a seal on your arm.
Love is as strong as death;
Jealousy is as strong as the grave.
Love bursts into flames
And burns like a hot fire.
Even much water cannot put out the flames of love;
Floods cannot drown love.
If a man offered everything in his house for love,
People would totally reject it.”’
‘That’s thanks to thirteen years of Christian education,’ he said squeezing her hand.
Shahreen hummed a tune and he asked her what it was. She told him it was her favourite Lebanese love-ballad, which she began to sing at the top of her lungs much to his amusement.
* * *
David crouched in the sand and waited. He shouldered his machine gun and wiped the sweat from his face. Surrounding him were men ready for action as they were about to close in on a town that was about to be ambushed by the Soviets. The sun was hot on his back and there was an eerie silence.
Suddenly, shots rang out as the Soviet army made an appearance and advanced on them. David was about to take aim when he felt something pressed against his temple.
‘Drop it,’ the Russian said. ‘And I urge you not to fuck with me. This here’s a real big gun.’
A bigger one leaned out of nowhere and pressed against the Soviet’s temple, followed by a female voice David recognised. ‘And I urge you to drop it. This is an even bigger gun!’
David looked at Shahreen straight in the eye. ‘What the hell are you doing here?’ he howled.
Shahreen was looking awfully proud. ‘Saving your ass, azzi zam. You can thank me later.’
David slapped a hand to his face, and dragged it down it. ‘You think I couldn’t take this fucker?’ With that he snatched the soldier’s gun, twisted it in a direction his trigger finger would not like, and jerked it viciously away. The Russian found himself minus the gun and two-thirds of his finger, a wound so new it would not begin to bleed for twenty seconds. The Soviet yelled in pain and swore in Russian.
Shahreen went into a swift spin-kick, and shattered his jaw before he hand time to think, catapulting him backwards. David turned and was about to show his gratitude when he heard her yell out, ‘Look! Behind you!’
The last thing David remembered was being struck in the head from behind.
* * *
He awoke hours later in a dark cave. His knapsack supported his head and he was covered in an old coat. Beside him was Shahreen who was knelt in the dirt looking down at him. She looked even more beautiful, almost translucent, an angelic creature not made for this universe. Her dark eyes dominated her face and he saw love and compassion in them. She mopped his brow with a damp cloth.
‘What happened? How did I get here?’ he managed to croak.
‘Khameer rebels came to our rescue and brought us here while your men escaped after beating them and reclaiming the land for our people.’
‘Your men are coming back for you soon.’
David sat up. ‘Then let’s not waste anymore time. Shahreen, you know how I feel about you and I know you feel the same way. Come back with me to Australia – as my wife.’
Shahreen cocked her head to one side and thought about his proposal for a moment. ‘I don’t know… the Khameer people need me here. We have a huge battle to fight!’
David held out his hand. ‘But I need you, too.’
‘We are from different ends of the earth with different religions and different cultures.’
‘But we have one thing in common. We love each other, don’t we?’
Shahreen took his hand in hers. ‘Yes,’ she said. ‘Yes, we do.’
* * *
Six months later with the help of the Khameer people after the conflict was over David smuggled Shahreen out of al-Raman and together they landed in England while he was on leave. Before he knew it, he found himself standing at the altar next to a sympathetic Church of England minister who had agreed to marry them. As his bride glided up the aisle in a vintage, white dress he felt as though his heart would leap out of his chest.
The rest was a blur until the minister asked, ‘Therefore if any man can show any just cause, why they may not lawfully be joined together, let him now speak, or else hereafter forever hold his peace.’
There was an awkward silence for what seemed to go on for an eternity. David turned and looked at the doors just waiting for Shahreen’s father of brothers to come bursting through the doors.
Presently, the minister continued on with the ceremony. David looked at his bride and gazed at her eyes, which dominated her chiselled face. There was no end to them and he could see into her soul through her enormous black pupils. He saw his love for her reflected there.
He was in a happy daze as he slipped the ring on her finger and recited the words, ‘With this ring I thee wed, with my body I thee worship, and with all my worldly goods I thee endow: In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.’
When they were finally pronounced husband and wife and the ceremony came to an end David wanted to jump for joy. Instead he led his new wife out and up to the hotel where he loved her intensely and tenderly and again and again. He vowed that never again would harm come to her as they fell asleep in each other’s arms.