In hindsight, it should have been clear that the correct course of action was to get out of Essex as soon as the general strike was called. Of course it would be here, if anywhere in England, things turned into open rebellion, the county had been syndicalist stronghold for several years, a result of the population being largey working class for just about as long as the county existed. Lawrence had only lived there for a handful of mouths, did his best to keep his head in the clouds and out of matters of politics, but even he couldn’t help but notice the abundance of organized people chomping at the bit to reshape the order of the world. Was impossible to when they plastered and pinned up propaganda on every available surface, and made such a habit of speaking on street corners, atop shipping crates and statues and occasionally actual podiums, prattling on about great exploitation and greater futurers.
In all honesty, regardless of what was happening in Wales, Lawrence did not expect them pull this off anywhere in England, even with their large numbers. Perhaps a result of never really thinking to question the view that the heart of the British empire is eternally unshakable, after all, it had been drilled into him since longer than he could recall and he had long abandoned being the thinking sort. So, he was firm in his prediction that the general strike would be a short lived event with little gain, faring out before widespread violence even started. Well, before widespread violence from the strikers started, the retalianation the authorities would rain down on them was sure to be harsh, but they harsh to the radicals already. Lawrence had lost track of how many times he’d seen a street speaker beaten off his makeshift podium and into the cobblestones, dragged off to God knows where, not that he had been trying to keep track in the first place. If he had thought there was much of a chance of uprising, he’d have gotten out and avoiding paying witness to the whole ordeal.
It wasn’t that he was exactly morally opposed, but this type of thing was by nature a mess. He did not wish to be in the middle of a mess, not again.
As he scrolled back to his house it was these reflections that occupied his mind, the outing having done little to clear it. Motorbike would have been better, but in times like these it was ill advised to use petrol unnecessary. The syndicalists might have surpassed his expectations when it came to revolting, they’d more of less seized the entire county by now, but he wasn’t about to bank on their ability to maintain easy citivian access to resources. At very least not till the fighting over at the front stopped.
Pulled from his thoughts with a start, Lawrence turned to see the approach of a man with only one arm, the right appendage ending at the shoulder. With his left hand, his only hand, he adjusted his beret, to which there was fixed a grain and gear symbol, and in the waist of his pants was a handgun. Almost certainly a rebel militia member, evidently they weren’t all at the front.
“You got the time?”
Lawrence pulled back his sleeve just enough to display his watch, a silvery piece that had been gifted to him by a wealthy admirer before he had more or less gone into hiding. “Half past-”
The butt of the one armed man’s gun against his skull brought Lawrence to the ground in a daze, and after what must have been a good few moments passed he brought his hand to what had been inflicted on his brow. It was quite painful, he realized numbly, and there was blood flowing, hot and wet.
His assailant barked something, but all that registered was the anger in it, as hot as the blood he’d shed. Was currently shedding, really. Lawrence hardly felt the toe of the man’s boot when it lashed out at his ribs, although the motion was repeated several times. The gun was raised again, still backwards, intended to injure, not kill. Or at least, if it was to kill, to do it slowly.
It never came down, a high voice yelled for the beating to stop.
The man rolled his eyes with his whole upper body and a freckle faced woman, not more than a girl really, Lawrence observed as his his daze gradually lifted, stood by his side. She also wore a beret, and across her back was slung a rifle. Straight backed and very close to the other rebel, as if trying to diminish their height difference by energy alone, she spoke again.
“There you go wopping a defenseless civilian, it’s savage!”
Lawrence hadn’t noticed it before, had been to focused on his lack of right arm and the weapon held by his left one, but the man was very young as well. Not as youthful as his merciful comrade, but certainly not long out of his boyhood.
“Well fuck me if I think we’ve earned a bit of savagery! I’ve only spent half my life down the pit, lost my old man, lost friends, lost a bloody arm, lost God’s knows what else, because of people like him!”
He pointed with his arm at the him in question, who, not knowing what else to do, gave a little wave. Should have known to be more careful with symbols of wealth, but he hardly expected anyone to take so much offence. Reminded him of Auda’s reaction to being photographed, and he chased the thought away, as he did all thoughts of Arabia.
A flash of wide eyed realization took the girl’s face when her eyes followed where her fellow militamember was pointing, and Lawrence feared the beating would resume till she spoke.
“Oh my God, Ian, that’s T.E. Lawrence.”
The young man’s anger seemed to deflate out of him, replaced with genuine bemusement, almost meekness.
“You mean Lawrence of Arabia T.E. Lawrence?”
Lawrence spoke up, “If there’s a Thomas Edward Lawrence, or any other variation of T.E. Lawrence, besides myself, I haven’t heard of one.”
Ian waved his gun again, “don’t snark at me, bloody aristocrat!” but it was obvious the dangerous energy which had filled him just a few minutes earlier hadn’t made a return.
The girl interrupted, “for God’s sake Ian don’t hit T.E. Lawrence again, we need to ransom him or something.”
Of course they couldn’t just leave him alone with his pounding head and aching ribs, when was the last time anyone had been content to just leave him alone.
Ian turned back to her, “Right, right. Nancy, patch up his head will you?”
Her disbelief was clear from her face, which seemed to show any emotion she felt like a projector.
“Why? It’s your fault he needs to be patched up, you do it.”
He briefly glanced again at the man still on the ground “did do a right number on him I admit, but be a good lass.”
Once again, Lawrence spoke up. “Nancy, it seems to me you should be the one to prove medical attention. Not because of your sex, merely because you have two hands, and your compatriot does not, so the the task would be difficult for him to manage.”
Somehow unexpectedly, the compatroit took offence.
“I can manage just fine, you bougie wanker.” He stomped towards him, Lawrence noticed he moved with a slight limp, and plopped himself beside him on the ground. The young man slung his pack off his back, the motion surprisingly fluid, and pulled a battered canteen out, then a tin box bearing a red cross on the lid.
Holding the canteen between his tights to keep it steady, he unscrewed the cap while instructing his patient, “lean your head back, gotta rinse the wound before anything else. Don’t think either of us fancy dealing with you getting infected.”
Lawrence did what he was instructed, and only flinched a tad when the water was porched into the gash.
Probably growing bored of being the only one standing, Nancy sat down next to the other two, asking “Hey Thomas, your ribs alright?”
Lawrence pushed his hand over them and flinced again.
“Bruised, but not broken. They’ll heal in a matter of weeks without assistance as long I avoid strain.”
Ian paused from his shifting through the red cross tin, puzzled. “How’d you know I went for his ribs, Nance?”
She stuck her tongue out at him, relieving a gap in her front teeth. “You only know like three moves when it comes to fights, and he was on the ground already.”
Before he could respond, Lawrence interjected, “In future, don’t address me as Thomas.”
Ian pointed at him sternly, “Oi, we call the shots round here and Nancy’ll call you whatever she likes. Thomas.”
The tin’s lid fell shut and the youth cursed under his breath, evidently it was difficult to open one handed.
“Nevermind him, what’d you like me to call you?”
Lawrence smiled. He would have liked this girl, if she wasn’t taking him prisoner. She seemed to be in possession of an admirable mix of heart and spirit.
“Just Lawrence will be perfectly fine.”
Ian made a triumphant sound. “Right then just Lawrence, found the bandage I’ll use.”
The bandage was encased in a thin wrapper which Ian pulled off with his teeth before motioning for Lawrence to lean back again.
It was slapped on rather clumsily, but the edhesive ensured it stayed put, and they all were relieved for that. Especially Ian, who dreaded the possibility of being wrong about his ability to manage just fine. Closing the tin, he shoved it and his canteen back into his pack, which he put back over his shoulder.
Nancy was the first to rise, and after Ian ignored her offered hand and she offered it to Lawrence, who graciously accepted. They both pretended not to notice how the younger man stumbled on his first attempt to get to his feet. Her expression turned serious as she gazed up at him.
“We don’t have any cuffs or things like that, but we are armed, so don’t try to get away.”
Lawrence considered making a run for it, if they shot him dead they’d have nothing to ransom, but he doubted either had thought that far. Besides, he likely wouldn’t get far with his head like it was and withstanding another of Ian’s beatening would be unpleasant The boy seemed hotheaded enough to give him one as reaction to any attempted escape.
So, with an armed militant at each side (they weren’t bothering to hold his arms, probably hadn’t even occurred to them to do so) Lawrence was taken away as a prisoner of the British Worker’s Militia.
After a few minutes of self important silence from the both of them, Nancy spoke.
“Hey Ian, you hear Jess and Harry are shagging now?”
He responded with a gasp “Jessica McDoyle? And Harry Nelson?”
She raised her hands in mock surrender, “I would not bullshit a comrade, swear my family’s name on it.”
“But I thought they hated each other, and isn’t she Catholic?”
She giggled “Apparently not that Catholic! So, how I heard it happened,”
Lawrence sighed to himself, this was going to be a very long walk.