Slime. Sludge. A black inky depth loomed beneath him. Grey tentacles reached out from the infinite oblivion, grasping for him. A hideous odour of rotting fish and fermented fruit permeated his senses. Screeching, like that of thousands of people dying in fire, grated at his ears. An air raid siren pierced through the terror. It rattled around in his brain. Thump. Thump. Thump.
He shot up in bed, the alarm on his phone registering in his brain. Wrapped in cotton sheets, his skin was sticky and cold. His tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth. A throb wormed its way from his temple to his eye. He moaned, rubbing at the bridge of his nose. Today was going to be a good day for showing off. The closer he was to the dream, the better he performed.
He unwound himself from his blankets and made his bed. Running himself under a quick shower was enough to tame his hair. Mint toothpaste eased his dry mouth. He chugged down a bottle of water he kept available in the bathroom for rinsing off his toothbrush. He’d have to remember to pick up another pack at the market later that afternoon.
No one had said anything about formal dress for the morning. Fane had been given leeway to have Ajay set up the course how he wanted it. Given the reigns to set up a perfect situation. Even at the base, he had never had that much of a privilege.
He pulled on his black on black. Black cargoes that held more pockets than it looked. The black compression with its custom-made pockets. Then followed his over shirt and belt. Wrapped into his gear were a variety of harnesses that could hold more weapons than one would expect. Ajay had several larger guns awaiting him at the range. For now, he cleaned his Glocks once more and analysed each of his knives to make sure they were up to par. Five minutes later and he had his door locked, and he made his way down the dark stairs.
Rounding the corner at the bottom of the flight, he halted at the sound of footsteps. A second later and an overly groggy Shelly ran straight into him. She looked up at him, startled. Stuttering an apology around a yawn, she waved him a morning greeting. “Why did you have to make it for bloody four in the fucking morning? And why the hell are you cold? Like no, for real, I’m a foot away from you, and it feels like you stepped out of a freezer!” She grouched.
“You curse when you’re tired,” Fane quipped as they turned towards the hall that would lead them to the door nearest the range.
“Duh, no coffee,” she continued grouching. She looked up at Fane around another yawn. He was wide awake and calm. That same weird aura of death was wrapped around him, leaving the stairwell in a shimmering mist. She blinked at the apparition, rubbing her eyes.
“Dawn here is perfect for running these kinds of shows,” Fane answered back slyly.
“You’re having fun,” Shelly realised.
“I’m about to make them wish they hadn’t asked,” Fane replied.
“I heard that little Miss Tam asked. Are you really going to scare the crap out of a little girl this early in the morning?” Shelly followed him out of the stairwell.
“I’m about to make the king and queen realise that I’m the best and worst decisions their sons ever made.” Fane stretched his shoulders until one popped.
“What?” Shelly asked, confused.
“Abhi is looking for Prince Orlov to lose face in front of their father. I’m about to make that jack-ass piss his pants.” Fane opened the door leading to the barracks.
“Why do you use Prince Ishan’s second name?” Shelly stepped through.
“Orlov isn’t his last name?” Fane followed behind.
“It is his father’s last name. Prince Ishan’s mother gave it to him as his second name. The heirs don’t actually have last names. Like the monarchy of England before the wars.” Shelly ducked under a set of slouching palm fronds the gardeners would have to cut down later.
“I didn’t know that.” Fane studied the soft haze of dawn illuminating the city line over the wall. He thought he was being polite about the whole thing.
“It doesn’t matter too much. The Prince tends to treat his second name as a last name when dealing with the public. I didn’t know why you did it.” Shelly shrugged. Fane opened the gate to the range for her. They proceeded through to the lock between the royal compounds and the field where safety walls had been set up for observers. They waved their badges to the attendent at the other gate to get through the second gate to the range.
They walked toward the back field where Ajay had the men set up the equipment. The bodyguard met them at the front of the area, shaking Fane’s hand. He said hello in English, and Fane tried his best to reply in Punjabi. Ajay nodded, amused. Shelly stepped in to begin translating.
“Everything is set up like you asked. We didn’t have the large safety nets, but we did have the slack rope you said we could use if we ran out of stock. I’ll see to it that we get them ordered for training. I imagine you’ll want them for the men.” Ajay led them towards a table laid out with a variety of munitions.
“That’d be ideal. A complete form of exercise that leads to the entire body working in unison is more advantageous than a free weight system that seems to be employed in the gym. How far do the men usually run in the mornings?” Fane proceeded to inspect the guns laid out on the table. Ajay had the forethought to include a cleaning kit with the weapons. Fane relaxed. This would be a good working relationship if the man could already predict that he’d want the gear.
“On average, we have them do a mile in twelve minutes at the end of each week. It’s up to them otherwise to practice. If they fall behind the twelve-minute mark, they’re put on probation and not able to go out to the markets or leave the base until they can complete it.” Ajay watched Fane’s methodical fingers slip along the surface of an AK.
“We’ll be changing the regiment about a month after I start working here. I don’t want the men resenting me, but a mile once a week is unheard of. We’ll need them to complete at least a five-kilometre run each week, and I want to see them to ten kilometres at least once every three months. It’ll help them with their breathing and the amount of oxygen they get to their muscles. I want to see them take this course. It’ll give me a good idea on what they can and can’t handle yet, and I’ll be able to construct a regiment after that.” He left the cleaned guns and shoved ammo into various pouches. He ended up only choosing two out of the eight rifles Ajay had laid out on the table.
“All right, it’s five to four; let’s head on over to the starting point.” Fane turned from the table.
“You sure you know what you’re doing?” Ajay called after him.
“We’ll see.” Fane shouldered one of the guns. They walked to the shield wall of the range, where a small crowd lounging in the tree line in the safety lock. The King, Abhi, Param, and Abhi’s sleepy twins waited in padded lawn chairs. Prince Orlov sat on top of a portable fridge behind a long folding table. Fane glanced at the refrigerator, raising an eyebrow at his employer. Prince Orlov smirked conspiratorially.
The King rose from his spot and shook Fane’s hand through the fence links. Abhi and Param followed suit. Both had a relatively weak greeting by Fane’s analysis. The King and the Princes had already been shown through the course. They were made aware of where each of the targets was and grasped the difficulty there would be in hitting most of them.
Fane handed the King the stopwatch. “What’s the plan?” The King turned to his youngest son.
“A shot test. Ten minutes, 60 targets. 10 points for perfect bullseyes, 5 for out of ring, 0 for misses. Counting all forms of weapons,” Prince Orlov qualified his last sentence, remembering Fane’s propensity for throwing knives. He held up an air horn for Fane’s approval. His soldier nodded, smiling at the idea. There was no bell; this was not the base; what else was he going to use?
“Wanna take your mark?” Prince Orlov nodded to a massive structure. Fane bowed to the family before making a climb up a five-story cement tower. The building was design for rope rappelling and firefighter training. It lacked in windows and other burnables. At the top, he waved down to indicate he had reached his mark.
“Ready, father?” The Prince left his seat on the refrigerate to look at the stopwatch in his father’s hand.
“Is he good?” His father fiddled with the buttons for a minute, making sure he knew how it worked. He reset the time to zero.
“Pretty good.” Prince Orlov returned to his fridge and pulled out a box. Laying it out on the table, he opened it to reveal twelve shiny, chocolate glazed doughnuts. He waved up at Fane and pointed. Fane gave him a thumbs up. “We’re ready when you are.”
“Well, let’s start.” His father held up the stopwatch. Prince Orlov raised the horn into the air above everyone’s heads. Abhi covered Tam’s ears. Prince Orlov pressed down on the button, and the shattering blare marked the beginning of time. The King hit the stopwatch start button.
Ping. Ping. Ping. Three targets clanged in the first two seconds of the air horn going off. They watched for his descent. He rappelled down, allowing the rope to feed through his hands quickly, before swinging into the third story window. A rasping of wood and metal indicated another set of targets struck. A dark shadow shot out of the second window to a shorter building used as storage for most of the training gear. More shots. More thunks indicating bullets hitting their marks.
The black ghost tucked in for a front roll off the building’s back side. It dashed off to a ramp wall. That’s about when the royals lost track of Fane as the minutes raced by. More shots, more thunks. Prince Orlov moved over to his father to look at the stopwatch. Five minutes had passed.
“Think he’ll make it in ten?” Abhi smirked.
“I don’t know; I think I made it in six and a half.” Fane looked over the stopwatch, a doughnut in each hand, one already halfway gone.
“What the hell!” The King jumped, dropping the stopwatch. Abhi spun to look around, trying to figure out where Fane had come from.
“You couldn’t have hit all those marks. And that’s a fifteen-foot fence! You’d have had to hit at least 6 of those each minute. That’s one every ten seconds!” Param shouted, shocked. Fane blinked at him, the expression of contempt barely concealed on his face. “It was a new course that I hadn’t been on before. It would have been faster back at base. I’m sorry I couldn’t go faster.” He bowed slightly to Param. The second Prince trembled, flicking a glance between his father and the course.
“Shall we see for ourselves?” Prince Orlov pulled a doughnut out of the box as he waved his family over. They trekked through the range, knowing Fane had not had time to go through and taint the course. He hadn’t even seen it the night before. It was a virgin course to him.
At first, it was amusing; the first three targets they saw in the concrete tower were bullseyes. Rather than wasting the bullets, Fane had stabbed them instead. They were splintered and deep, showing that he had put quite a bit of power into his thrusts. It was after the tenth or twelfth target that his accuracy was undeniable. By the thirtieth, the damage level to the targets had increased, the accuracy level still high. Abhi had an attendant take the twins off the course. The royals tallied every target. Prince Orlov’s bodyguard hadn’t missed a single one.
Fane observed. Around the thirtieth mark, his Prince was smouldering with pride and the man’s brothers turned ashen. The King kept his emotions buried deep. Fane was having a difficult time getting a read on him. He suspected, though, by the man’s build and mannerisms, that he had not led a pampered life.
By the time they finished the course, the sun was beating down on them. They returned to the table to encounter a half-eaten box of doughnuts. Ajay, Shelly, the twins and their attendant were sitting at the table, waiting patiently. Prince Orlov and the King reached into the box, extracting a couple for themselves. Param and Abhi couldn’t seem to be persuaded to take one for themselves. They both excused themselves and left quickly, Abhi collecting his daughters on his way.
“What do you think, father?” Prince Orlov asked the King when his brothers left.
“I think you found a worthy individual who will prove useful in training our men and acting as a good bodyguard for you from now on.” His father watched the sunrise of the range. He turned to speak with Ajay. Shelly decided not to translate the conversation. Fane sat back, aware that he wasn’t supposed to be a part of this discussion if no one was translating. Instead, he took the time to pull out all the knives remaining on his person, take off his guns, and unload the ammo. He enjoyed the lightness in his joints after dropping his cargo.
Orlov reached over and toyed with one of the smaller throwing knives. He was listening to his father’s conversation half-heartedly. Fane wanted to ask Prince Orlov a couple of questions but wasn’t sure if he would be interrupting.
Once the dawn sun crept to the second-story window of the fire tower, the King turned back to Fane and Prince Orlov. “Mr Anson. As you are aware, you were brought in to both train my men and act as a bodyguard for my son. We have been planning for Ajay to take over the guard position for my grandchildren for several months now. You will make that possible for us. For a couple of weeks, we will still have Ajay accompany Ishan part-time until you are familiar with the runnings of the palace.”
A pit dropped in Fane’s stomach. How long am I expected to stay here? “I thought my work as a bodyguard was temporary at best while training your men,” Fane protested.
“Because you were never formally part of the military, Mr Abbadelli released your contract in full to me, with a provision that you be able to return to the base if the partnership failed,” Prince Orlov informed him.
Fane blinked at him, stunned. “Wait, so…?”
“Ajay will take over his guardianship of my grandchildren this morning. Accompany Ishan through his duties. I have been informed you are being provided with tutoring in New Punjabi. That’s very good, and I don’t want you missing it. Ajay will switch to watching over Ishan while you continue with your studies. We’ll have you do this the next couple of days, seeing as we didn’t intend for you to start training the men for at least the first week of you being here. I’d rather they become familiar with your face around the compound first and for you to glean some of the language and customs, if you will. We have a formal party of state the day after tomorrow. I want for you to work with Ajay in accompanying him while there. This would be a good opportunity for you to familiarise yourself with this type of situation, one that you will frequently encounter in the coming months.” The King excused himself from the table.
Under the table, a shake ran along Fane’s fingers. What am I supposed to do now? Do I have no way back home? Am I stranded? Panic scurried up the back of his neck. He sought out Prince Orlov’s eyes. They locked with his. The melted honey colour was warm and encouraging, brushing the rising anxiety attack to the side. It’s all going to be all right. If the Prince is looking at me with that much trust, then it’s going to be all right.
“Shelly, if you’d like to go back and catch up on some sleep, I don’t think we’ll need you for the day. Thank you for coming out for the morning.” Orlov dismissed the woman. She nodded her head, failing to stifle a wayward yawn.
“Good luck!” she wished them as she left the field.
“Shall we go get an early start on the day?” Prince Orlov motioned them back into the palace.
Chapel Orahamm (C) 2022-2023. All Rights Reserved.
If you would like to tip the author, check out the following buttons: