Read the opening pages of Silent Heroes by Patricia Furstenberg

‘Although this is a work of fiction there are truths to it that will tug at your heart. For anyone who has not read one of Patricia’s books then I would recommend this one. ‘ Mandie Griffiths, Book Reviewer

‘Wisdom is threaded throughout Silent Heroes. This novel is an intense, evocative and heart-wrenching narrative of destruction and hope. There is a philosophical exploration of the fragility of human life and the consequences of power struggles.’ Amazon Reader

‘I recommend that if you are unfamiliar with why and how the young men and women of our armies are involved in this conflict, that you read Silent Heroes.’ Sally Cronin, Author, Goodreads Review

Silent Heroes, When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting For, is the new novel by Patricia Furstenberg, the author of Amazon Bestseller Joyful Trouble.

How far would you go to save strangers in need? Military Dogs risk their life for their humans in a heartbeat, but can soldiers do the same when personal struggles and global affairs defy humanity?
When Taliban raids an Afghan village and discovers that girls can read, a woman accepts the blame to save the community. Her teenage daughter witnesses the sacrifice swearing revenge, her own life and that of her brother becoming intertwined with those of the Marines serving at a nearby military base.
Led by Captain Marcos who conceals, under a cool appearance, his lifelong disability to read human emotions, the solid team of soldiers is faced with the trauma of losing platoon-mates, both human and canine, with PTSD and with becoming estranged from families left behind.
When the Marines are instructed to accept a mysterious young Afghan as their guide the humanity of local population they come in contact with raises questions about the necessity of war. It is a race against time, fending off the Taliban lurking at the ancient Qala-e-Bost fortress and defending Bost Airport, a vital strategic point for the allies, while saving the kidnapped civilians at the same time.

Silent Heroes, When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting For

“They’re coming!” are the words synonym with death.

The war cry sweeps along the eastern snowy slope of Hindu Kush Mountains in an avalanche of hoofs. It conquers the empty streets of our village amplified by dark, bearded men waving Kalashnikovs above their heads, thirsty for blood.

Those who have heard it before know it brings terror and death. Those who have met them before remember the reek of slaughter that seeps through their long robes, the wild beards that swell from underneath their flat hats, pakols, revealing gap-toothed jaws. Even those too young to comprehend, the tots born after the last grown men of our village left for war, shrink from their sight.

The Taliban soldiers breeding in our mountains.

Their sulphur stench yanks us, women and children, from behind the fake safety of mud walls. It is execution time again.

A young woman stood in the door frame of a modest hut, holding herself tall in an attempt to shield her young brother who, transfixed, watched as a cloud of menacing smoke tumbled along the mountain slope, thundering and calling “Allāhu akbar”, “Allah is great.” The same praise women sang, with tear-stained eyes, whenever a healthy new-born arrived into their world.

Her mother still called her ‘girl’, although she already passed the threshold to womanhood. But a girl would still fit in her mother’s arms where she would be protected. A girl would not be expected to obey and cover herself with a burqa and a girl would not be forced to cease her learning because she is over a certain age.

A second woman, with eagle eyes and a guarded attitude, materialized behind. Adjusting her hijab over her head she kept to the shadows, yanking the young one inside. Only her hooded, dark brown eyes spoke. There was distress in them and a prophecy, words no one was allowed to hear.

Between their skirts, a skinny boy of eight moved along. The girl, Emma Dil, meaning ‘Dil ki khawahish’, ‘Heart’s Wish’, was thus named to illustrate her father’s pride in having a girl as their firstborn, instead of a boy. His heart’s wish. The same honour had glinted in their mother’s eyes the night their father decided to join the fight against the Afghan insurgents in the never-ending war versus Taliban; even knowing it might cost them his life.

“Come, my heart, inside. It has to be done. We must hurry, hurry,” the second woman said, her voice in check, yet Emma Dil’s strung nerves picked the rise in pitch, its agony and anguish. The mother pulled Emma indoors bolting the door, sealing out most of the light. A gleam of steel in the mother’s right hand caught the last of the sunshine. Hugging her daughter one last time the mother pulled the little boy between them, her free hand soft and warm on Emma’s wet cheek. The girl filled her lungs with the familiar scent of faded rose petals she had associated with love and safety all her life, knowing it was the last time she will. The three of them lingered in their embrace, the girl holding her breath, willing time to stop. Yet three heartbeats later the mother pulled away.

“Rafik, my clever boy, my pride, take your flying legs and run like the wind to the neighbouring village. Warn them,” her eyes urged him, “they’ve come again.” Her work-worn hand lingered on his face, cupping his childish cheek one more time. His eyes gleamed, his body all wired up, ready to please, yet his mother’s hand stayed on his face, drawing him closer for one more kiss. The woman pulled him near her chest while urging him to go at the same time, “run, child, run!”

When he was out through the back door the woman turned dead eyes towards the girl, scissors at the ready. “Swear, my girl. No one must ever find out.”

As a culmination of each one of their raids, the Taliban troops would round us all in the dusty centre of the village, my brother and I always trying to obstruct our mother’s presence. But today it is only me so I try to square my shoulders.

My aunt and her three daughters nestled themselves against us, eyes cast down, the young ones shaking like leaves, counting their heartbeats, “One – alive. Two – alive. Three – alive;” the small one wetting herself.

I never understood why we were held at gunpoint by men speaking the same language, only crazed for power, thirsty to kill in the name of Islam. Throwing menacing looks, their black eyes, heavily creased, glaring from behind filthy headdresses that would come up to cover their faces as soon as they entered the village.

Mother said such questions were not to be uttered, maybe, just maybe, raised in the back of my mind when I was alone in our bedchamber.

Then their leader would arrive, dressed in black pants and a black, long shirt, the traditional shalwar kameez. Wickedness personified.

“Allah is great!” they’d all yell. “May Allah give Davron a long life,” they’d welcome him. It is a call for joy. It is also a call to sentence us, innocent or not.

This time they found enough proof to kill another one of us, all in the name of Islam. A law had been broken by a child. Or a woman. Their bloodlust and fanaticism in reinforcing their dominance over us know no limits. To them, the Islam law stands above human life.

In the middle of dirt, in front of us all, lands a tattered book. A small cloud of dust rises as the book touches the ground. Its pages open by themselves to the part most enjoyed, a line drawing of a world map. In its middle someone had penned, in blue ink, a little star. It marks Afghanistan’s place on the map. The small star on a two-page chart shows how big it is, the world we are all a part of. So promising, this big world. A world I often dreamed of. A world that knows nothing of us.

The man dressed in black, the one they call Commander Davron, has a scar along his left cheek.

Once I asked mom if she thinks he was chosen as their leader because he is the ugliest man on earth. She watched me, amazed, then laughed so hard as I’ve never seen her laugh before. When she was done she wiped her eyes, hugged me, and asked me to never say those words again. But that she thinks I was right and that I had a brilliant intellect, and I must never forget that.

Their leader kicks the book with the tip of his stained shoe then tramps past us all, hands behind his back, his eyes boring into our souls even as we look down at our feet. His stench turns my stomach.

From the corner of my eye, I watch the book flying like a wounded bird, landing a few feet away, face down. A page is bent and my book-lover self winces.

He strides back, his black robe swaying with every step like a death flag, his beard nodding disapprovingly like it’s got a mind of its own. Halting near us he toots his lips and turns his head sideways, listening, making a show out of it.

A trickle of water echoes nearby. To the right, my little niece has wet herself again. Commander Davron’s mouth twists in a smile, yet his eyes frown. He bends forward, his beard almost touching her cheek, hot and wet, lined with dust. Her small hands are pressed against her mouth in a desperate attempt to keep any noise inside. I freeze. There is an ink stain on her index finger. The bearded leader pretends not to notice, but as he turns towards the rest of us his hand, as sharp as an eagle’s beak, fastens on the girl’s fragile wrist pulling it forward. She collapses near the book, her knees scraping the dust, her shoulder nearly dislocated. She lets out a sharp scream. He still holds her wrist.

“Proof! Again!” he bellows. “Islam’s sacred law had been broken! AGAIN! Girls, that read AND write?”

Should his shouts be visible, they would be a whip reaching each one of us, extracting any hope out of our hearts.

I grab my mother’s hand, willing her to stand behind. But it is too late. She would never witness one of the girls tortured. I feel my heart ripped from my chest as mother throws herself in the sand at the feet of Commander Davron, her arm protecting the little girl.

“Please,” she sobs through her burqa, “let her go. In the name of Allah, it is my fault, only mine.”

His tongue slithers over his bottom lip, like a snake pushing out of his hideout, and he lets go of the girl’s wrist turning, with greedy eyes, towards my mother.

“Take off your burqa,” he orders her.

All the women gasp. The law of Islam orders women to stay covered in front of any men outside their immediate family.

“I want to know who broke Islam’s holy law.”

If she shows her face, she will break a law; a different law, by Taliban’s standards.

My ears ring and tears burn my eyes, yet I dug my nails into my wrists, behind my back. I promised mother not to tell.

Not to tell a soul.

My knees shake underneath my father’s dark robe and a trickle of sweat rolls down my neck, escaping my short hair and my manly headdress, also my father’s. The tiny hairs stuck to my neck after mom’s hasty haircut itch, but not as much as my tongue. I want to yell the truth, but I promised.

The dark Commander turns towards me.

“You have a boy, I see. Almost a man. He doesn’t need his mother anymore. Take off your burqa.”

A guttural wail escapes my mother as she removes her headdress and face covers in front of Commander Davron and his army.

She had just sentenced herself.

They cheer in the name of Allah, crazed at the thought of another kill.

“This woman broke two of His sacred laws!” he bellows. “No girl over the age of eight is to learn to read or write, yet this woman taught reading and writing. And she has removed her face cover in the absence of her husband and in front of strange men! If you want lessons to learn, I’ll teach you lessons!”

His army cheers and they empty their guns towards the Heavens.

By the time he is done speaking our brave mother lays dead in the dirt, a bullet through her brain. Her open eyes are fixed on the book, yet she can’t see it anymore. All because she was willing to pay the ultimate sacrifice to save us. Her face is as beautiful as ever and I want to kneel and cradle her, but I cannot, I am a boy now and I promised not to tell.

Perched on a nearby eave, a purple sunbird watches us and my heart warms to her. Its lapis lazuli plumage is my mother’s favourite colour. I remember mother telling us an old Egyptian belief. When a person dies, a bird is sent from Heavens to escort its spirit home.

Silent Heroes: When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting for

Buy Silent Heroes from Amazon, available in Kindle format, paperback and large print.

Silent Heroes

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Silent Heroes, Large Print Edition
Silent Heroes, Large Print Edition
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