This scene tore me up, to write. Part of me didn’t want to include it in the book, for fear of putting too much of my own horror at the concept of child soldiers and minesweepers into it. However, in the end, this scene is vital to the shift of Matt’s thinking, and provided very necessary information about Manara. I left it in, because the story needed it, and because awareness really does need to be generated for this deplorable kind of cowardice (the use of child soldiers and sweepers).
Excerpt from IN HER NAME (Project Prometheus, Atlantis Silver, Book #1) —
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” The words flew from Matt an instant before he realized exactly what she was doing. Manara was changing the bandages on the stumps that remained of the boy’s legs.
Even as Manara snapped around in surprise, illness assaulted Matt as he stared at the child’s mutilated body. It wasn’t the injury itself. He saw the effects of a landmine before. He’d watched grown men whimper and scream like babies from the terrible wounds inflicted by the heartless machines of war. He even saw children maimed by the deadly devices, before. But the idea of Manara viewing the same devastation… Protective anger flared full force for both the child and the woman who knelt at his side.
“What happened?” The answer was obvious, but he needed to know how. He needed an enemy he could fight.
Manara’s gaze searched his for a long moment and he got the distinct impression the sadness in her gray eyes was for him, not the child she cared for. She turned back to the child, after a moment, her touch gentle as she cut away the remainder of his bandages.
“Mahir lost his legs, below the knees. He is a Kurd and was forced into service as a sweeper for the Iraqi army.”
Matt’s throat tightened at the pain in Mahir’s eyes. The boy would never know what it was like to run and play again. Not in this area of the world, where proper treatment and prosthetics were reserved for the wealthy. Mahir was a Kurd. He wasn’t likely to ever see that kind of medical attention. “How did you find him?”
“Shahdi did. She often walks at night when her dreams trouble her. She found Mahir laying near death at the edge of the camp.”
Matt averted his gaze from the remaining stumps of Mahir’s legs. The paramedic in him appreciated the excellent job the women here did of stitching the wounds closed with the primitive equipment they used. If the means existed to get this boy prosthetics, those neatly stitched stumps would be easy to fit. But the draining shrapnel wounds still seeping across his legs, arms and torso were another matter. In camp conditions, those could easily become septic. If that happened, Mahir would die. He needed a properly sterile hospital. Normally, Matt would have him on the first plane to the States and medical attention. But this was not a normal situation. Matt was a dead man himself, and if Pete was right, he had to stay that way to see this through.
Fresh, helpless anger washed through him at the injustice. He knew what sweepers were. They were women and children – the very people an army was supposed to protect – sent out onto the front lines to run the fields for mines. They were innocents, thrust into the most dangerous area of battle without choice. It infuriated him. The most innocent were so often the most abused. One glance at Manara’s pinched expression told him his fury was nothing compared to hers.
She rose to her feet so abruptly he back-pedaled, putting more weight on his own wounded leg than was wise. He swore, leaning heavily on his cane as he fought to maintain his balance. Damn it, he hated being wounded!
Manara barely spared him a glance at his oath before heading to a central island of colorful, unlabelled glass bottles and clean bandages. She clearly needed a moment to pull herself together. Matt gave her that by turning his attention to her patient. He offered the boy a reassuring smile.
Mahir returned the smile weakly, though pain radiated in his eyes. His curious gaze drifted to Matt’s cane and his leg. “Amrîkâni?”
“Yes, I’m an American,” Matthew answered him in Arabic, wishing he could crouch down to the boy’s level. His injury frustrated him, but Mahir was a clear example of how much worse it could be.
“What happened to your leg?”
Matt glanced down at his leg and frowned. It was a question he hadn’t had the courage to ask, himself. “I’m not sure.”
Mahir nodded, as if he understood completely. An understanding no child should have. Before he could open his mouth to ask Mahir how he was being cared for, Manara was back, shooing him away so that she could clean Mahir’s wounds and rewrap them. Matt stepped back and watched her work, concerned. She still looked ready to crack. Manara was definitely not handling this well.
“She would save the whole world, if she could. She does not understand she is only one woman.”
The sudden voice, soft and sad, pulled his attention around, to find Shahdi standing beside him, her china blue eyes fixed on Manara. His concern skyrocketed. If Shahdi was worried…
“It is who she is, what she was trained to be.” Shahdi’s matter-of-fact response wasn’t comforting. He didn’t like to think that Manara would kill herself to save others. He couldn’t imagine a world without her in it, anymore. He caught Shahdi’s gentle smile. “You will do her good.”
Shahdi moved past him, crouched to converse with Manara and the boy, leaving Matt to digest her meaning. His gaze went to Manara and the furious glare she shot him told him she was pissed. What had he done now?