Fadla bint Tarriq sat next to her right-hand man, Mossad al-Xyz. In front of both of them, the general Abd Qajar was beginning to go red in the face with yelling.
"You must understand me, madam general," he was pleading with her, "We shall never have another opportunity like this. The Arabian Peninsula is far too small a place for us to subsist on forever. We are involving ourselves in but petty battles here, when there is a whole world at war just beyond the horizon!"
"General Qajar," bint Tarriq said with infinite patience, "The Americans and Mongolians are not paying us. The Iranians are."
"We have the Iranians in our pocket," spat out the lesser commander with contempt, "Today they pay us to fight. Tomorrow they will pay us not to fight. They would pay us if we were on the moon. They fear us."
Bint Tarriq raised herself out of her chair slightly looked to al-Xyz. He was sitting stone-faced and placid as usual. She relaxed back into her chair and continued to listen to Qajar prattle on. They were in Saudi Arabia, Fadla's homeland, where the mercenaries had special safehouse. It was more of a fortress, really.
Supreme General Fadla bint Tarriq looked very forceful, a severe and imposing visage. She had to be equally as hard in her rule as she looked. Most Arabs still believed women should be subservient, which was why she had left to become a mercenary in the first place. It seemed odd to her that rebels were always more accepting than established governments.
Still, most of the mercenaries sought to put a veil over her face and stick her in the back of the caravans for later. She would not have it. Fadla bint Tarriq did not serve anyone, and would never back down. She had clawed her way to the top of the massive Middle Eastern mercenary groups, and had to fight every day to stay there. She was often so harsh and adamant in her manner that few noticed what a beautiful woman she was.
She had brown eyes and dark hair, and skin that had been darkened by the sun but was not nearly so dark as some of the soldiers' under her command. She wore a typical khaki desert uniform, like that of a foot soldier, which made her figure less feminine and, in the soldier's eyes, more respectable.
General Abd Qajar seemed the antipode of his commander. He was an ugly little man with bulging eyes and a stupid mustache. He always seemed to be in consternation about something, and yelled constantly as if every word he said was important. It served only to make him seem pompous and less important than he really was. His only truly redeeming virtue was a battlefield prowess which was unparalleled except by perhaps General Mossad al-Xyz.
Unlike Qajar, al-Xyz's men thought him a man to be obeyed and respected. His men obeyed his orders without him having to constantly prove himself, as Qajar had to. He was a tall, imposing presence. While bint Tarriq evoked fear, al-Xyz immediately evoked awe. He said little, if anything, and always looked to be, as he was, in deepest thought. He was a hulk of a man, who looked as though he was filled with brute strength. His face was intense, wrinkled with years of hard work and deep pensive thinking. He had great hands, which he often clasped behind his back in perfect military stature. Al-Xyz always wore a scowl. He and Qajar were both equally capable generals, and very often rivals, though they were both regarded by their troops and their commander quite differently.
"Abd," Fadla said, "What are the Americans offering us?"
"It's not the Americans, madam general, it's the English."
Fadla's eyes narrowed.
"They haven't set a price, yet, madam general, but the English ambassador is here, and I really think we should take whatever offer they give and give up this silly Iranian conflict..."
"I will speak to him, General Qajar," she interjected fiercely, "And I'll take your feelings under consideration. You may go, and send him in."
She waved him off. There were two types of people in the world, Fadla bint Tarriq thought, those who could be waved off, like Qajar, and those that could not, like herself or al-Xyz. Everything else about a person was minutia. The genius or the fool, the dignified and the clumsy, the warmaker or the peacemaker, all added up to naught. Whether a man or woman could be dismissed was what it all really came down to.
The Englishman came in and introduced himself with some hideous European name. As a footnote, he butchered the pronunciation of both her own and al-Xyz's name, in typical fashion. She wondered if this man was the type to be dismissed or not.
"I am a woman of little time to waste," said bint Tarriq almost instantly, "What is the purpose of this meeting."
At his side, the Englishman's translator whispered into his ear. Unperturbed, the ambassador replied.
The translator said to bint Tarriq, "The ambassador says, His Majesty would like to hire the services of your mercenaries."
Fadla gave a quick glance to al-Xyz. He was still sitting stone faced, but had an aura of interest about him. She'd gotten down to brass tacks, so the ambassador had gotten down to brass tacks. This might be difficult.
"To do what?" she asked, followed by another linguistic exchange.
"To invade Egypt. Our intelligence bureau tells us that you have large forces all throughout the Middle East. An army like that could stand toe-to-toe with the Coalition."
She controlled hundreds of thousands of mercenaries. And she did have divisions spread throughout many of the countries the Westerners condescendingly called "The Middle East." Her army was stronger than that of many nations, but she preferred the profitable life of a soldier of fortune to that of political recognition.
"True," she admitted, "But I could also fight the Alliance with relative ease. Mongolia has already sent an emissary to discuss a possible invasion of... Let's just say that the Coalition has offered me an opportunity as well."
The Englishman smiled as the last words were explained to him.
"Don't think lying will convince me to raise your fee. I'm an experienced diplomat, and I can tell that the Coalition has given you no such offer."
"Explain first the specifics of what you want us to do, and then we can discuss a fee," undisturbed that he had pierced her prevarication.
Producing a map, the Englishman went into a long, drawn-out speech about precisely how he wanted the invasion to go, including how many troops would be needed, where the invasion would be, and when it would occur. When he had finished, he returned to his seat and watched Fadla ponder his proposition.
"It will be costly to my troops," she said finally.
"Not unusual in your line of work."
"It will be very expensive for you. Money is not primary in my mind, however. We are in need of supplies, ammunition, food, water, and weapons."
The Englishman raised his eyebrows, but said nothing.
"I will require a few tank companies, a leaper, several hundred crates of automatic shotguns and ammunition, including Executioner shells, and several thousand suits of armor. We will also need food, medicines, tools, water, and petrol. If you can provide us with these, the cost will be dramatically reduced."
"Obviously we can't give you any of our most modern technologies. We can give you an old leaper, old tanks, and early versions of the AS gun and bulletproof armor."
"Understandable," bint Tarriq said.
I don't know if I can allow the amounts you ask," he said through the interpreter, "My government's given me some leeway in negotiations, but not as much as you ask."
"Then let us try to reach a fair price."
The negotiations were fierce and long. In the end, the ambassador knew the price had been high, but as long as the mercenaries fulfilled their end of the bargain, he was satisfied. Fadla bint Tarriq was more than satisfied and broke into a smile once he was gone.
"This is fantastic, al-Xyz," she exclaimed, "We'll be resupplied for months, and be well paid, too."
"You did reach a fair price," al-Xyz said tersely, probably the first words he had said all day.
"You know, Mossad, to be honest I never would have considered any Coalition offer. The Mongols and Easterners are cheaters and fierce diplomats. I wouldn't have gotten half of what I did for the same job if Bleda or Igoumensita had been in that man's place. An Englishman, on the other hand would pay until he bled."
Al-Xyz got up from his chair.
"I'll begin preparations for the attack," he said, and started out the door.
"Don't forget to consult General Qajar, Mossad," she called after him.
She almost detected a shudder in the iron man as he stepped out the door. Let the old rivals hash it out, give them both a little aggravation. Her favorites would have to start learning from each other. They were both so extreme, al-Xyz so laconic and Qajar so agitated.
"So much money. Enough supplies for months," she muttered.
"Manuscripts don't burn"
- Mikhail Bulgakov
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