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Moth to the Flame

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TE Lawrence's journal
Jeddah, 16 October 1916:

'Military intelligence' is often a contradiction in terms.

The British consulate is still intractably of the opinion that the Arabs have absolutely no sense of co-ordination amongst themselves, and that the only certain method of protecting Rabegh from a sudden Turkish assault would be the assignment of a British unit. Ronald Storrs, my Cairo colleague and a most decent character, disagreed, saying that the Arabs would consider the arrival of Christian troops a defilement of Muslim soil, and thought that the tribes in the area sympathetic to the Hashemite cause would be likely to abandon it altogether. After Emir Sherif Abdullah, Hussein's second son, arrived to meet with us, the conversation grew even more heated, as he immediately set about berating us for the non-appearance of the troops - not to mention the ten thousand pounds in gold - already promised by the Allies.

I sat through all of this as the junior officer there, pencil-pushing and listening. Occasionally, I let myself focus for a few seconds on the noise of the street below the open window, the indigenous East that I had sought out when I boarded my first ship for Syria, and which seemed very far away from our great cool rooms.

It became clear that what we were talking of here was not the technicalities of combat so much as plans and politics, the fields on which Abdullah was most enthusiastic. He wanted to know where the Turkish units are at present, and I rose to the occasion by pinpointing all of their locations to within a mile. It was not difficult, as I have them all locked away in my head, along with the size and strength of each battalion, and its proximity to the Arabs. A pleased look came over Storrs' face that said, 'This is why he's one of us', which did not escape my attention, nor, apparently, that of Abdullah. At any rate, he became much more inclined to consider my suggestions. These included a trip to the Hejaz to perform a reconnaissance for myself.

***************

I returned to my hotel room early on the 17th with the intention of getting a good night's sleep before sailing for Rabegh in the morning. We were inclined to sojourn around the bazaars in the evenings - as was the usual practice in the Arab climate, shops and street peddlers began business early, and ended in the early hours of the afternoon before the most intense heat set in, to commence again as the streets began to cool towards nightfall. Today, the flapping cloths and rugs and prattle seemed a sham to me, and the only reality lay beyond the walls of Jeddah where Abdullah's brothers waited for me. I had a really good bath, and unwound with copies of the last fortnight's intelligence reports and maps of the country North of Rabegh, all of the conspiracies, covenants and grand designs that I had spent the last two years surrounded by and hungering after coming alive under my hands.

Storrs came by a little before 10.30, and we discussed my journey, and the need for the Arabs to be seen fighting their own wars independently of the British forces. He looked over the maps, by then covered with my ink and pencil route markings, and was greatly amused by the extent to which I was already familiarizing myself with the Hejaz, inquiring, "Are you planning to become Commander-in-Chief of all Arabia, or just one small part of it?"

"Tomorrow, Rabegh - next week, Mecca, and then, the world," I replied, and laughed.

He joined in, then paused, and said, "I believe that you could do it, too, if anyone could. You've got just the right degrees of arrogance, clean-living, and pure bloody mindedness that they love over here." He raised an imaginary glass. "To little Lawrence - conqueror of the Arabs from here to Jerusalem."

"I'd drink to that. If I drank. And we're all arrogant in our own way. Adam and Eve were arrogant," I added, "they thought that they could live outside God's rules."

"And since when did you live inside anyone's rules?"

We grinned at each other, because it was a compliment.

"Cairo tried to get rid of me once before," I said. "Perhaps they're hoping that someone might shoot me and save them the trouble."

Storrs gave a snort. "You're here because I asked for you. And you're going to Rabegh because Abdullah likes you, and because you spend so much time with your ear to the ground and your nose buried in letters to London that you've got more opinions than you know what to do with. The Arabs might just reach into them and pull out a few plums."

"That's rot, and as for Sherif Abdullah, I wish the feeling were mutual."

We argued the point good-naturedly for hours, so that by the time he left, I was only able to catch a short doze before morning.

***************

TE Lawrence's journal
Wadi Fura, 21 October 1916:

Less than five hours outside Rabegh and already so well into blank, shifting desert terrain that in spite of my walking around Aleppo a few years ago, I should know little more than East from West but for Tafas. My guide and his son do not recognize much of written English, and so I spent a time when we stopped to rest taking fresh paper and spelling out 'Lawrence', 'Tafas', 'Abdullah', to their great interest; 'Ali', 'Feisal', and 'al Hamra', our destination, repeating the names aloud each time. When I printed 'Damascus' - I think that I might have done it just to observe their reactions - they grew very sober.

"You do not watch the Turks fleeing from Damascus in your dreams at night, Tafas?" I asked.

He was quiet for a few moments. Then he replied, "When I dream, I see the men falling before the Turkish guns at Medina, and Fakhri Pasha dancing on the Prophet's tomb."

"Medina is not Damascus. He'll dance to another sound there, the sound of the Hashemite army coming through the gates."

"You talk like a great warrior, Sayyid," put in young Abdullah.

Tafas grunted. "The English man's words are brave, but his stomach is as tender as his skin. Men cannot fight carried by words alone."

"They'll have more than words. There will be guns - and a thousand of the best camels." I leaned forward, looking into the little fire that we were nursing; Robert Louis Stevenson's phantom armies marching therein with Arab skirts. An affirmation not to my companions of the moment, but to myself.

***************

The camel that Emir Sherif Ali, Hussein's eldest son, had provided me with at Rabegh was so sure-footed that riding her gave a meaning to the expression 'ship of the desert', for we sailed along with just the occasional roll that might have been a wave as easily as a hole or hillock. I was bundled up in a cloak and headcloth to conceal my uniform on the road, and my view was from a miniature tent, over sand that shimmered gently in the heat and made me blink and blink again to avoid being mesmerized. The camels' lazy rock was very conducive to daydreaming. After a time, I began to fancy I saw the dark spots of tents in the distance, and the shapes of what might have been men and beasts.

"Abdullah," I said. He was at my side, whilst Tafas rode a little way ahead. "I can see a camp or a watering hole. Are they loyal to the sherifs here?"

He laughed. "Only to the death. Those are Emir Feisal's men. We are in the Wadi Safra."

I laughed too, suddenly full of relief. We had arrived with our skulls intact, and as we descended into the settlement of al Hamra, and I began to breathe in massed men living shoulder to shoulder and their still-wet mounts, I felt truly alive for the first time in months.

We were received, myself somewhat hesitantly, by Sherif Nasir, Feisal's second in command, whose proud bearing and bright, fearless eyes I thought boded well. He was opposed to a British presence among the Arab forces, and told me so, but I replied congenially, saying that I valued his honesty, and would make every effort to show the same to him. Empty words, when we had already manipulated the Arabs, filling them with false hopes for our own gains and stalls. But diplomatic and necessary at this moment in time. Nasir inclined his head with an equally hollow smile that did not reach his eyes. We made, in a way, an agreement in those few silent seconds.

"You must understand," he said, as he escorted me through a labyrinth of little leafy groves, "that the Bedouin are not British soldiers, nor even the bodyguard that ride with the sherifs. They will not respond to commands for the regimented charges that you live out in your mind. Their strength lays not in order, but in disorder, in the oneness with their desert home and the knowledge of it that will bring them victory."

I felt suddenly uneasy. Nasir smiled thinly, and said, "You are surprised that I know your dreams, Sayyid? I know the British. You try to build an England wherever you go. You march the men in uniform and raise your flag with the hope that they will follow it with the passion that they follow their own. And when they do not, you call them the Oriental and the uncivilized and the heathen."

"Believe me when I say that raising the British flag was very far from my thoughts when I landed in the Hejaz."

"The Englishman," he said philosophically, "imagines that God is an Englishman also."

I found Feisal billeted in one of the village houses. He was in a rear room with latticed windows, shaded from the drying effects of the mid-afternoon sun, quietly drinking coffee with a small company that I would later be formally introduced to as Sherif Sharraf and Sherif Ali ibn el Hussein of the Harith. Even without these pleasantries, and stripped of their wealthy garb, I think I should have recognized them for the lords they were. Attractiveness was far from reserved for the sherifs of Mecca, but it was refined, polished and cultivated by their noble upbringing. In manhood, they were fine; in power, irresistible.

Nasir exchanged a few words with the group, so low and quick that I did not catch them all. Feisal seemed to be considering their implications for a few moments, then he turned to me and asked me to be seated. I took a place on the carpet opposite him, from where I could best study the man whom I had traveled this far to seek out, and of whom I had heard so many talk about that I sometimes sat at my desk, reading reports in which they wrote of him, and feeling that we were already comrades. He was finely built and willowy, but in a way that suggested elegance rather than weakness. His features were unusual, quite asymmetrical if inspected closely, but still oddly attractive, and he had the most beautiful, expressive eyes that I had ever seen.

All in all, I decided that Emir Feisal was a very handsome man.

I presented him with my letter of introduction from Abdullah his brother, which he read, and then passed to Ali whilst he fell to examining me with those beguiling eyes. I had not removed my headcloth, as the sporting of one was the usual practice for officers in the Arab campaign, and, observing this, he said in a full-throated, pleasant voice, "You come to us dressed in the kofia... I wonder if you understand the blood and bones as well as you wear the skin?"

Praise and flattery was seldom anything but the best foot to start out on, and so I answered, "What I do understand is that it is your army here in Wadi Safra that has halted the Turks' progress and kept them shivering in the North."

"Perhaps, but do you think that we do not shiver in return? When we engage them, it is like the camel when she walks into the sandstorm and is driven two paces back for every one she makes forward. We fight and retreat, fight and then retreat again, and every battle only leaves us closer to Mecca, where I still believe we are destined to make another stand before this is over."

"When you have been driving a camel without making any progress, it may be time to turn her head in another direction."

Feisal's face glowed as one who argues well and relishes it. "You are proposing an onslaught. As long as the greatest threats we can offer are the few guns of the Egyptian artillery, I cannot take a risk of that nature again."

"And you would not be respected if you did. Sherif Nasir told me that the Bedouin are not a regular army and can't be treated as one. So we will let them fight in the way that they know best. Keep them strong and ready to move quickly, and I promise that you will be able to gain the advantage."

"You make promises readily."

I seized the opportunity whilst it remained. "Let me go to your men and talk with them, and we can keep that promise."

Feisal exchanged glances with both Ali and Sharraf. Then he smiled, and threw up his hands, and said, "Enough. You have been traveling. You must have food and rest tonight, and tomorrow I will show you our men and weapons, and tell you tales of our woes. And, later, you will tell us of days still to come, when they will sing songs of how the Arabs emerged from the hills like rabbits and dug away the ground beneath a mighty Turkish army." His phrasing was ironic, but not bitter, and I returned his smile.

The sherifs' servants pitched me a tent, and brought me jugs of fresh water, and coffee, and a tray of rice, cracked wheat and vegetables, and Arab bread. I was the first European that they had had a chance to observe at close range, and they watched, wide-eyed, while I undressed as far as the waist and washed, marveling at my fair skin. Then one by one they melted away into the evening to spread the word to their friends of the pale ghost they had waited upon, while I sat, making notes for my report and doing great justice to my first proper meal since leaving Rabegh.

***************

TE Lawrence's journal
al Hamra, 24 October 1916:

Whilst I was exploring the plot around my tent shortly after sun-up this morning, I had a visit from Sherif Ali, the wiry, likable man of about my own age, who had much the same zest about him as I had noticed in Nasir. He came with a message from Feisal, saying that the Emir and a few of his lieutenants were preparing for a short ride about the hills surrounding the camp; they had been in retreat here less than a week before my arrival, and wished to inspect their new boundaries more thoroughly to assess routes of both attack and flight should the enemy make a sudden appearance. If I would like a tour of Wadi Safra's countryside, a good camel was waiting for me. 9.30 a.m., back on with the headcloth and riding along the perimeter of these curious red moon-mountains at the side of Feisal our paladin ally.

While our camels walked, he told me of the inconstancy of the desert people that make up a good proportion of his present forces. The most important thing to a tribe is the safety of the tribe, and they are inclined to support whichever side shows the greatest chance of triumph, be it Turk or Arab. Though many of them are pro-Hashemite, their sheikhs will remain very chary about declaring open allegiance until they can be assured that they are not fighting for a hopeless cause. Feisal believes that the Arabs must show successes, and soon, if men are not to begin drifting away.

We negotiated for some time, riding a short way ahead of the others, Feisal mostly asking questions about what arms the British intend to ship, and myself fielding them deftly and taking mental notes of the army's most prominent requirements. Between these times, we discussed ourselves a little, each of us being one of those cosmopolitan sorts who have a maddening interest in getting inside the heads of other cultures. As we talked, I thought him more and more one of the most delightful men that I have ever met. He would comment on any subject I cared to raise, and then begin one of his own with equal enthusiasm. Just as pleasing were the moments during our ride when Ali or one of the others would draw alongside us to point out an interesting feature of the landscape, or a vantage point that might be of use, and we looked on, each knowing at once the potential that the other was seeing. He also has a very pleasant way of looking at me from beneath his soft dark lashes, when I have made a comment to his satisfaction, that brings me both a warmth inside and a peculiar shyness.

In another two days, I shall be leaving for Jeddah again, and from there, I suppose, back to Cairo. I feel a sudden, childish resistance towards that idea.

***************

In sharp contrast to the lukewarm reception I had arrived to, my departure from al Hamra was a friendly affair, and when I rode back overland, this time to the port of Yenbo, it was with a protective convoy of Feisal's warriors. I felt very noble in their midst, and was on such a high from our great discovery. Where Abdullah the statesman was the prose of the Arab revolt, Feisal was the poetry, the song that men would rise up in their numbers to echo. Consequently, my arrival at Yenbo and boarding of a British ship where I was instantly transformed into a rather untidy little pseudo-captain, brought me down to earth with a violent jolt. After stopping to be debriefed at the British Residency in Khartoum, I was back at a desk in Cairo by mid-November, now officially attached to the Arab Bureau, but suspecting morosely that nothing had really changed. We were an interesting crowd, and I had my daily reports and, superb! an almost brand new, ingeniously procured wireless. It seemed a poor substitute now, however, to merely listen to what was going on in the Hejaz, though I hung on every word and scrabbled for snippets of news like a starving man.

Less than a week after my return, to our surprise, letters from Feisal came, to Sir Archibald Murray, General of the intelligence section in Egypt, General Clayton, chief of the Arab Bureau, and myself. My note was very charming. There was an official expression of satisfaction with my visit and proposals in all three letters, but below this, in mine, a few personal paragraphs in which Feisal spoke of his enjoyment of my company, and ended with half a dozen salaams and the hope that we might meet again before many more months passed.

In the event, I returned to him far sooner than either of us had expected, so quickly, in fact, that it made my head spin. GHQ had decided that there was no reason to waste valuable time introducing a strange field liaison officer to Feisal when there was already one available who knew the Arabs, and their ways, and had endeared himself once already to the Sherif on his home turf. I was not entirely sure whether to take my 'availability' as a compliment or not - I had fancied that my work there in Cairo under Clayton was invaluable - but after some thought, I decided that the opportunity was more important than the reason behind it, and went off again to Feisal's new base at Yenbo with a light heart.

***************

TE Lawrence's journal
Wadi Yenbo, 2 December 1916:

A person who has only managed thirty minutes of sleep in the last twenty-four hours - and those very damp and chill - can excuse himself for not being fully coherent in his account of things, but I shall do my best to sketch out the action that we have had here.

Five miles off the Hejaz coast, the ship on which I had passage received a half-garbled telegraph from Yenbo, and I was summoned hastily to the wireless room. My traveling companion, Bimbashi Henry Garland of the Egyptian army - a bimbashi being equivalent to a major - leapt up and followed me, fearing bad news about the port. He was returning to his own posting there, tutoring the Arabs in guerrilla tactics, or, as he puts it, "wanton destruction." His Yenbo was safe, at least for the time, but the telegraph was still not good. There had been skirmishes in the wadis, and now rumors were flying back thick and fast. Some said that Feisal's entire army had been massacred by the Turks, or that all of Sherif Hussein's sons had been taken, and were even now prisoners in Medina; others that Fakhri's forces were mere hours away from a defenseless Yenbo and Rabegh. Garland made use of his impressive collection of profanities in English, French and Arabic. I suspected that there might be some gross hyperbole going on, but admitted that even the panic that the Arab peasants so loved to stir themselves into rarely arose for no good reason. When the ship docked, Garland's aide-de-camp came with the news that sherifiate troops had begun riding into the Wadi Yenbo a little over an hour ago, so we commandeered two of the garrison's finest racing camels, and set out to meet them.

It was soft underfoot, and the going laborious; Garland's animal hopped about the mud, dainty as a ballerina, whilst mine, made of sterner stuff, merely expressed her distaste with the occasional grumbling bleat. Wadi Yenbo cut into the landscape like a wide, savage scar. Darkness fell, with a fine mist swirling around us that was neither rain nor fog, but the worst aspects of both, and we wandered away from the road so often that my mind began to insist that we were traveling in circles. Sometimes I thought that I saw a silent party of riders following us; sometimes the hills seemed to be alternately approaching and retreating. Our tension transferred itself to our animals, who grew nervous, tossing their heads and grunting at every shadow.

We had been riding for almost three hours without rest when Garland halted his mount, and, removing his headcloth - we had wrapped them around our noses and mouths to make breathing in the heavy dampness of the air a little less uncomfortable - said, "Lawrence, do you hear something?"

"Camels," I answered, after a moment. "And horses. About two dozen of them, I'd say."

"Hm. Ours or theirs, though?"

"You don't think there are Turks this near to Yenbo already?"

"God knows, but I don't intend to wait and find out with only a pistol to protect my rear. Get off the bloody road!"

We began to turn our animals about, fighting them every step of the way, but before we could make off into the hills, there came the noise of several shots, one after the other. Garland's camel, already skittish, lost her head, and, bucking and bellowing, lunged sideways into mine with all the force of her nine hundred pounds. Both animals went down in a tangle of legs. I curled myself instinctively into a little bundle as I hit the ground to avoid having my head kicked in, all the time hearing riders gathering around us. When I rose, very much winded and bruised, I found myself looking into the slightly dusty face of Sherif Ali of the Harith.

"Some day," he said, with a wry smile, "your army will give the same controls to their camels that they do to their motor cars, is that not so?"

I thought that it might be a very good idea at that moment in time, and said so in words that Garland would be better suited to. Ali laughed a little, and explained that in the darkness, some of the Bedouin, our supposed Turks, had spied our khaki uniforms from a distance, and, tense after their recent encounters, mistaken us for the same. Two of these dismounted now, and, with tugging and a few blows, raised my camel to her feet. I knelt to inspect her. At first, I feared she had broken a leg on her fall; closer examination revealed that this was not the case, but she moaned and stumbled and was obviously too lame to be ridden further. I was preparing, with reluctance, to double up with Garland, when I heard a low ripple of conversation pass through Ali's men, and their group parted to make a path through which rode Feisal on his mare.

My surprise must have shown on my face, for he smiled wearily as he reached my side, and said, "You look at me as though I were risen from the dead."

"Forgive me. We heard news from the North; it wasn't good."

"In times of war, Lawrence Bey, do not listen too closely to everything that you hear. Come." He leaned from his saddle and held out a pale-brown hand, as smooth as my own, and I took it and mounted behind him, turning my face once again to the eerie quiet rain as we spurred our animals for camp.

I did not realize until tonight that I have missed Feisal since our first, friendly parting at al Hamra. Around a good fire, picking at the last remains of a roasted calf and bowls of rice and cereal, he told Garland and myself of his men's fearful surprise at the hands of the Turkish forces, who had found an unguarded road into Wadi Safra and driven into the sherifiate lines as they were preparing to move. A frantic battle ensued which ended in the Turks' favor, and left them with a clear road through Wadi Safra and down the coast. He looked disheartened, but his beautiful dignity and inquisitive mind had not deserted him, and he made us tell him all that had happened since he and I last met, and news of Cairo where he had once spent a pleasant time years ago. He personally saw that we received clean, dry clothes. Complete sets of Arab robes were the only option; Garland grumbled half-heartedly about the voluminous skirts and looking like "the vicar's wife in Sunday best" on the battlefield, but I was rather taken with my new profile, the white cloth of which greatly increased my impact among the troops. Feisal arranged quarters for us, Garland with Zeki, commander of the Egyptian artillery and an old friend, and myself in his own tent, for want of a better place.

He is sleeping now, a short distance away from me. I am tired, but I think that I passed the point of being able to actually sleep some hours ago. So I write to pass the time.

What I have always disliked most about army life is not the filth, or the never ending degradation of being transformed from a human being into one of many faceless cattle, but the necessity of communal living. Anyone who has shared my personal space has always seemed too close, and the knowledge that we may have glanced across in the night and witnessed each other at our most vulnerable and undignified has been to me loathsome. Just now, though, I feel extraordinarily happy and peaceful, and really don't know any more. This evening, I thought to myself that I could remain constantly at Feisal's side and never tire of watching him, his warmth, and his gentle determination; everything quiet and strong and untainted that in its mirror in myself is a vulgarity.

***************

When we had been a day encamped in Wadi Yenbo, we were joined unexpectedly by Emir Sherif Zeid, Feisal's young half-brother, who had retreated with his men when word reached him of the Turks' approach. Feisal was all smiles, for Zeid, though eleven years his junior, was his favorite brother. He gathered the sherifs and sheikhs of both their armies, and, flanked by Garland and myself, held a council of war in the shelter of one of his personal tents. The wild tribal chiefs, their courage restored by their numbers, were for turning and riding on the Turks, but Feisal calmed them, saying, "We must be a wall around Yenbo. If Yenbo falls, Rabegh will follow. Then they will land enough supplies for soldiers to fill the streets of Mecca like rats, and I will not stand and witness that because you, Suleiman, and you, Masud, had already led your men to worthless deaths in the desert."

Zeid spoke. "And we can hold Yenbo with our armies, and with the guns of the British Navy behind us." He was a quiet, bright-eyed boy, who made me think very much of Feisal as he must have been at the same age.

The chief of the Hawazim bristled. His tribe had only joined the Hashemites after delicate negotiations, wary of Allied involvement, and the actual arrival of British officers had rendered their allegiance shaky. Like many of the other local tribes, they also lived in a perpetual state of fear of Turkish revenge upon their villages whilst their men were in the field, and had come near to desertion during warfare. "Are the Arabs now too weak to stand without a British spine?"

Ali, seated at his left, leaned close and murmured pacifyingly.

"You insult your men," I said. Garland, technically my superior, shot me a dire look, but I pretended not to notice, and went on. "But there are others who insult them already, and call them parasitic, pocketing the money of the Sherif of Mecca and filling their stomachs at his son's table, all the while planning the best direction to scurry in when he calls them to fight for his name."

A ripple of unrest traveled through our gathering. Feisal sat quietly, looking from one of us to the other with gleaming, curious eyes.

The old chief lifted his chin, and, with his voice quaking with suppressed anger, but his gaze steely, said, "By God's will, I am of the Hawazim. And I am the son of Abd al Haqq, who slew men by the dozen for lesser words than yours."

"And yet he fathered a son who only dares to show the same bravery to a single, unarmed man half his years?"

By this time, Zeid and Sharraf were staring at me as if they thought I must be insane. Nasir, the muscles of his strong, angular face tensed, appeared to be preparing to halt a massacre if need be. For a long moment, the thin, early evening air was so hushed that the soft squeals of the camels could be heard from the far side of the camp as they made ready for watering and rest. Then the Hawazim chief gave a sudden hiss, flew from his place like a roused bird, and landed before me, his hand flashing to his curved dagger and bringing it up to my throat so quickly that it was perhaps ten seconds or more before I realized that he had not actually cut into me; rather he was so skillful that, even after the speed of his motions, the weapon was merely being held to my skin so closely that I could feel the coldness of the blade and the slight movement of it that was caused when I breathed or swallowed.

He spoke, looking into my face, but addressing Feisal. "The English that you have taken to your hearth will kneel before me and beg forgiveness, or you will have a blood feud that will make the revolt seem a brotherly disagreement."

Feisal disappointed him bitterly. He did not rage or beseech, but simply drew himself up and, laying his fingers on the golden-hilted dagger at his own waist, said, "Masud, if you can swear by the Prophet's name that the Hawazim were not but a memory in Wadi Safra before we saw more of the Turks than dust on the horizon, or bring me two men to bear witness to the same, I will take both of the British outside and shoot them myself for your honor. But you cannot. This man loves the sound of his own words" - his eyes flickered to me - "but each time I have heard them, they have been true. I will not kill a man for speaking the truth, but I will kill another for treachery."

He was not a savage man, greatly preferring an evening of good conversation to fighting, but he was a proud and determined one, and the Arabs had told me that he never made a threat that he did not mean to carry through to its conclusion. Masud, the Hawazim chief, paled, and his face became set, for he knew that the accusation was right, and the Hashemite sherifs held authority throughout all Arabia. He sheathed his dagger and approached Feisal, then, bowing before him, began to speak very quickly and passionately, calling him Lord and Son of the Prophet, and declaring that before the sun had finished setting, his entire company of men should come to the Sherif one by one to make their salaams and vow allegiance to him.

Feisal listened to his speech very solemnly, but with sparkling eyes. When Masud was through, he asked the chief to stand, then rose to his own feet and embraced him, and said, "All is as well between us again as it ever was." Then he called for his servants and told them to bring coffee and cigarettes. Garland, mopping away beads of sweat, lightened the atmosphere with news of the batch of aeroplanes and artillery that had landed at Rabegh, and I added on my own initiative vague suggestions of as many sovereigns as each man could carry in his knotted headcloth waiting there to pay the Bedouin. This caused happy uproar, and the remainder of our evening was pleasant.

Whilst we were idling over some of the Arabs' black, bitter coffee that night, Feisal, toying with his cup, asked, "Is the gold that you promised for the Hawazim truly landed in the Hejaz?"

"The Sherif does not need a truthful English soldier to answer that for him," I said with a smile.

He laughed. "I think that you tell lies as easily as truths. But you also know the right moments to tell them. Come - tell me a truth now. How do you find my brother Zeid? He is as yet a boy, but he is courageous, and I think that, God willing, men will flock to him when he is grown."

"I like him very much, and he reminds me of you."

"And is that good?" he inquired with mock concern.

"Of course," I replied, without intending the words to sound as earnest as they did. And then I was newly glad of the folds of my headcloth, for it hid the sudden warmth in my face a little. How my body was inclined to behave in Feisal's presence was disconcerting, because it came accompanied by feelings that occurred very seldomly in me, and that I had never had much idea of how to manage. I think that I had only ever had such an experience once before, and that was a lifetime ago at Jarablus, when I knelt digging up Hittite relics from Carchemish, my hair bleached almost white by the sun and my entire being drinking in a donkey boy.

Feisal awoke me softly from my thoughts, saying, "And what is it that makes you seem so far away?"

"The way that the world changes. Four years ago, I was an archaeologist. I was obscenely happy... I thought that my life had all come right. I suppose I thought that it would last for ever."

"Only God is for ever. The rest is his will."

And I was reminded of how deeply ingrained was Feisal's faith, against which my own tenuous grasp on Christianity was a charade.

"When you speak of Carchemish," he said, "your eyes say more than your words, as if they hid a sweet secret. I think that you may have found someone there who for a time was very special to you."

"You are a seer, not a sherif," I replied, as lightly as I was able.

"And you are not a soldier, but a magician who has hopelessly bewitched us in order that we might carry out your plans." Then he paused, contemplating this pink faced little bundle of Arab laundry squatting on his carpet, and murmured, "You are an unusual man, Lawrence. You are too outspoken, occasionally insolent, but you are also very easy to love. Some would say that men like you should be loved very often, because it is the best way to keep them content and out of trouble."

My chest tightened, and I forced down unsteady, almost hysterical laughter. "Trouble may be my lot, because I am as clean as the day I was born." There fell a silence, and then I said, "I couldn't. I think that I wanted to, but I couldn't."

Feisal looked perplexed. Finally, he said gently, "I believe that you are missing an experience to be treasured."

The low voice of Sharraf came from beyond the tent flap, calling for a last audience before sleep. Feisal rose, his robes swirling about his tall, slender form, kissed my forehead through the fine fabric of my headcloth, and said, "Rest; tomorrow I will need your counsel." It was the most delicate touch, but all the same I shook for a while after he had gone; I who had once held up under a beating in a Turkish cell, but remained a coward when it came to intimacy with another human being.

***************

TE Lawrence's journal
Wadi Yenbo, 4 December 1916:

I said a temporary farewell to our old war-horse Henry Garland shortly before dawn this morning. As excellently as he gets along in the half-savage company of the Bedouin, he showed considerable relief at the prospect of rejoining the disciplined units of his regular Arab troops, and volunteered so hastily to return to Yenbo and begin sending the new field reports over the wire, that more men were amused than offended. So we shook hands fondly, for the short night's escapade that we had been on together, and Nasir sent him off with an escort, happy as a mouse in malt to be rid of his robes, the awkwardness of which had been reducing him almost to tears on an hourly basis, and back in uniform.

My garrison camel is still too unsteady for riding, and Ali presented me with Kariz, said to have been plundered along with the other personal property of a Turkish general, and aside from a slightly deflated hump after long and hungry weeks of traveling, a most stately creature. I took her on a short jaunt around the flat, arid valley, partly to get the feel of her movement and stride, and partly because she shines very pale in the light, and with a scarlet Hashemite flag tied onto her saddle and flapping in the breeze below my own robes, we looked quite a spectacle. I took a mischievous pleasure in weaving her in and out of the tents and resting animals, which brought grumbles and flying stones from their owners, and one man of the Juheina, losing a cooking pot to her great feet, leapt up to shriek at us. Kariz paused, checked, and spat. His fellow tribesmen, previously his supporters, now turned on him and howled with laughter, and he was left to wash the stinking stuff away as best he could and lament.

Once again I am an Englishman outnumbered by many Arabs, as it was at Jarablus, only then we were undisputed masters of our territory. Our Arabs, with few exceptions, were largely ignorant, and held us in a sort of awe; very gratifying to the ego, but as the days roll by, mutating into a cold, hungry isolation, a golden house that friends have built for you but will not come to dine in, the nomadic existence of one flung far from his fatherland, but unable to forge ties in the country where he has come to rest. They loved us and labored for us with a degree of passion that made it impossible for them to accept us as their own, because such a passion is unnatural, and contains none of the balanced loves and hates, the petty squabbles, the competitions, the comforts, and all of the hardships and victories undertaken and won together that makes for the relationship of brothers.

Then I came to al Hamra, and though peace was very far away, it was as if it were Carchemish with our men grown out of childish thoughts, and with their raising, and myself lowered and glad for it, we met on a level where we might embrace at last and take simple, undemanding satisfaction in one anothers company. I found my freedom once in Arabia, and I think that I could do so again; special for my victories, but the color of my skin and my interminable foreign-ness shrouded by the acceptance of those around me.

***************

We were tense, knowing that the Turks must be moving, and the Bedouin, for whom it was undignified to sit and wait for so long, grew restless. A Juheina man fought with one of the Bishah over a trifling matter, and the disagreement escalated until the entire tribe of each were shouldering their rifles and swearing death to one anothers leaders. The sherifs made threats of their own, but the Bishah and the Juheina were declaring war for five generations, and would not relent until Feisal took the men who had started the fracas and made them kneel at the top of a hill with his servants hanging swords over them, vowing to cut off their heads and make an example of them before the entire camp.

Afterwards, he returned to the tent and ate, looking tired, and said, "Fighting in the Wadi Safra was preferable to this. The Bedouin will not remain loyal forever without more promises and more gold. And when the gold runs out, what then?"

"When the British gold runs out," I replied, "they can make themselves rich from the pockets of Jemal Pasha's corpse in Damascus." I named this most loathed of the Turks specifically, for he was anathema to Hussein's sons, who had watched friends of theirs kick out their lives at the end of a rope under Jemal's orders.

Feisal smiled wistfully. "We have been singing the song called 'Damascus' for a long time, but when I hear it from your lips, I find myself believing once again that it can happen. You awaken old ambitions and new yearnings in me."

Then he grew quiet. We were seated very near to one another, and he reached out and slowly outlined the contours of my cheekbone and jaw, his fingers aromatic from the sweetbreads that we had been nibbling on, and so tender that all my composure dropped away at that simple touch and left me trembling.

"Perhaps one day I may please you as well as you please me?"

"You have pleased me since the moment we first met," I answered.

His smile grew warmer. And then I became a weightless thing moored only in his eyes, and a throbbing, burning chasm of what I supposed to be lust yawned deep within me as our mouths came together. A velvety and a very warm tongue stroked my lips, and a moan rose in my throat, soft and pleading, against the invader. He caressed once or twice more, then released me as if with great reluctance, and my moan too was, this time, of disappointment.

"Do you find that pleasing also?" he murmured.

I did not know how to say yes, and so I burrowed against his shoulder, breathing in the sweat and sand dust in his robes and the hot, musk-rose scent that was uniquely Feisal. He folded me into his arms, and when my comfortable body next stirred, the shadows were lengthening, and we were curled up together on the carpet with the familiarity of neither lovers or brothers, falling short of the one, yet still transcending the second.

***************

I woke suddenly one morning a few days later, a short while before dawn, and lay there in my little partially warmed bed-cocoon in full alertness, the sort that comes from the conviction that one has been disturbed by a sound, but returned to consciousness a fragment of a second too late to identify it. I held still without even drawing a breath, and after a few moments, it came again: the dull, rumbling sound of mountain guns in the distance. After that, I did not wait any longer, but flew out of the tent in bare feet, and ran directly into Sharraf, who had been on his way to fetch me.

"Zeid thinks that they are at Bir el Muria," he said, in response to my questioning eyes. "Some of his men broke rank during their retreat, and it is possible that the Turks have found them skulking like dogs in the hills." Then his disgust seemed to fade, and he added, "May God protect them."

We appeared to be safe from immediate danger, so I slipped into cloak and sandals and threaded my way through the stirring, chattering troops looking for Feisal, whom I eventually ran to ground at Nasir's tent, already wreathed in a haze of smoke, and deeply in discussion with Nasir, Ali and Zeid about the implications of our rude awakening. As soon as I shuffled in, he leapt up and made room for me on Nasir's huge and beautiful Persian rug (which was jealously guarded by its owner, and, on lengthy journeys, traveled on its own mule) motioning for me to sit at his side, and saying, "Sharraf has given you the news?"

"The Turks might be planning to skirt Masahali," I said, voicing our concerns, "and march on Yenbo from the South."

Feisal looked grave. "Lawrence, I fear for Yenbo. We are far enough away here for the enemy to come between us and the town if they should move suddenly. It would take Abdullah days to arrive with relief, and so I think that we must accept that we are alone and act accordingly."

Ali spoke, with the rapidity that revealed his hot Harithi blood impatient for action beneath. "Nasir proposes a move, to a position only three miles outside Yenbo. It is a wadi open on three sides, so that it will not be an easy task to take us by surprise when we are camped there. Also there is water, and it is very green, which will let the animals become fat and strong again. Not without reason is it known as God's Fingerprint," he added, and we smiled at the originality that the Arabs occasionally displayed when bestowing names and nicknames on their land.

The boy soldier in me thrilled to the picture of our massed armies on the march, with the tribesmen's' clothing bright hued against their dark gold skin, and columns bearing banners against the sky, and Feisal at the head of it all, fine and worn as a Greek statue; however, I realized that such a procession would be as good as waving and shouting to those whose attention we did not want whilst the Hashemite troops were so haphazard and demoralized. So I agreed with the move, but suggested that it be made in smaller units fanned out across country.

Zeid, looking downcast, said, "I cannot help thinking that if we let some of the Harb leave now, it will be the last that we shall see of them."

"Then let them ride without pay or more meat than they can catch themselves," interrupted Ali. "Most of them are far from their villages. If they know that food and gold is waiting for them there, they will make Yenbo fast enough."

"I wonder if it will ever come to something other than this," mused Feisal.

"Soon," I answered. He slid his hand between us unseen, and I felt the pressure of his fingers, warm and strong, around mine.

The army Imam called for the morning prayer a little way down the ridge where Nasir's tent was pitched, a clear, bell-like sound that pierced the mist. Feisal stood, and said, "Let us pray for a safe passage with a victory at the end." Then he stepped past the tent flap to tell the Imam to call again and announce that everyone was to undertake this dawn worship together in the open air.

The servants brought jugs of water for the sherifs' ritual wash before prayer, and they themselves then went for the 'dry' wash known as tayammum, the simple touching of clean earth and then wiping over the face and limbs in imitation of cleansing. We went out into the half light, shivering a little, as the wind cut about our shoulders like a knife. First, Feisal and Zeid laid down their prayer rugs, with their lieutenants just behind, then came the tribal sheiks, and finally the fighting men, so that even before the face of God, where all men are humble, there was rank.

I was in the habit of retiring discreetly to read or walk whilst the Arabs were at their devotions, but this morning, Feisal took my sleeve and said, "Pray with us, Lawrence?"

"But I am not Muslim."

"Then pray to the Prophet Isa," he replied, using Christ's Islamic name, "and through him touch God for a few moments."

It suddenly occurred to me that Feisal was trying to make me Muslim in his own mind, so that I might be closer to him, just as I praised his tolerance and liberal outlook in my letters, and thrilled unconsciously whenever he made a comment or action that seemed especially Western. A dull possibility to consider, that those who have the greatest potential to be our friends and loves are those that provide us with the clearest mirror of our own selves, and that I, in my search for a place in the world, had learned to become a chameleon.

A rug was brought for me, and the Imam, faintly distressed at this infidel before him in Arab garb, began the first lines of prayer. I closed my eyes, hearing the accompanying voices rise up over and over, swaying me with great waves of sound, the rustle of Feisal's robes as he bowed and knelt in accordance with the words: 'O God, all praise be to You, O God greater than all else.' There was a glorious sense of something more than community, a total relieving of individual vanity and desire as we became not many, but one, and in my last moments of separateness, I said a very earnest personal prayer before, for the first time in years, making obeisance under Heaven.