What could a woman do?
History is fascinating, isn't it? So many lives. So many stories, many of them stranger than fiction!
But...one can't help but realise the pitiful plight of women and children in those periods of awful violence.
Imagine you are a woman and your home is within a medieval walled city. Mongols arrive and your fate and the fate of all citizens within, depend on the decision of the city leaders. The decision? To surrender to the invaders or die. The leaders are confident. They've never encountered Mongols. Their ferocity and cunning had no parallel. The outcome was often seige and then total anihilation of every man, woman and child. Well, almost. A few were released to flee to other towns and cities to spread the terror and often to spread disease. The Mongols were masters of both propaganda and biological warfare.
So, image being one of those women. How helpless you would feel. My novel, Agata, Princess of Iberia started with a dream of girl in this situation. What would she do? What could she do? What did women do? Mostly their fate was too dreadful to contemplate. The story of Princess Agata is not so gritty as the above might sound - promise! It is an adventure, more YA/NA than gritty historical but I wanted to share something different - a short story side project that happened during the writing of Agata.
During the research I came across another group of women, invaded and terrorised, living in modern times. I took up a challenge to write an under 1000 word short story about some women of Syria. These women have not surrendered to their opressors without a fight. They have been part of the Syrian Kurdish resistance fighting and their units have played a part in rescuing Yzidi refugees and Yzidi slaves.
Asia Ramazan Antar, a fighter in the Kurdish Women's Protection Units, became a symbol of their struggle against Isis and the following is a fictitious story based on her life and death.
The bullet whizzes past my head and slams into the adobe wall. A shower of dust and grit rain onto my hair. It stings in a couple of places. Like most villages and cities in war-torn Syria, the buildings here are broken and crumbling.
Cautiously, I peer through the gap in the thick wall. Out there, somewhere, they hide among the houses.
A thin wail rises from behind me. Huddled at the rear of the house are a cluster of women and children. A small boy's piping voice carries.
"Asia. I want my Asia!"
Don't worry, my sweet. Sister Asia is watching and while she watches no evil will befall you. Alas, not so for my older brothers. I wonder how my mother fares. From what Roxana tells me I hope she is dead also.
"Are you hit?"
Roxana's voice calls softly across the small, dark room.
"No. It was close but I still wait, ready to bring down fire on the head of any that stir."
She grins and peers down the dusty, barrel of her own rifle, searching the rubble below. Roxana came two months ago and already her body count exceeds many of the rest of us. She doesn't hold back. She has no caution. They robbed her of everything, now she fears nothing.
I think of my life before they came. Peaceful. Ordinary. I go to school, help my mother, quarrel with my older brothers. At night father sits with us to talk of our day.
My father. I remember - his eyes dart about. He finds places for us to hide. My mother screams as they drag her out. How she sobs when my brothers and my father kneel. Gunshots. Their blood waters the dust. I don't know where Mother is for they took her away. I emerge with little brother and all that is left is a broken home, broken bodies and a broken family.
But I have it better than Roxana. They didn't find me.
The door opens. Over my shoulder I see our commander. She is a short woman, once a mother, now a widow but the muscles bunch on her forearm as she lowers her rifle to the ground. Lines bite deep into her face. Her dark eyes are hard but our fighters adore her. We follow her through showers of bullets and when she says kill, we kill. We know she will lay down her life for us without hesitation.
"Time to move out, girls."
Her voice is clipped and gruff. No time for niceties.
"We've word the enemy is moving toward one of the villages. We intend to stop them."
When freedom's fight is over, I'm going to live in one of those villages. I'm going to tend my home and raise my children in safety. Little brother will live there too and we will be happy. It cannot happen unless I fight. I and my sisters-in-arms must defy this enemy that kills our men and destroys our women. The harsh ones who take our land and homes. An enemy rapacious and cruel.
"The intel is reliable?" Roxana asks.
The commander nods. I remove my rifle from the window and begin to follow Roxana out. I stare at the commander, a question in my eyes.
Her firm grip on my arm pulls me up short.
"The children are safe here."
I know the commander wants to reassure me about little brother.
"I want to kiss him before we go."
She shakes her head.
I sigh. Freedom's cause will not wait.
The jeep leaps and bounds. My teeth rattle. My bones rattle. The oily fumes turn my stomach. We will take up positions above the village and rattle the enemy when he comes.
My sister fighters and I move cautiously through the village. I see no one and wonder where all the people have gone. They help us with food and water. Sometimes they give gifts. My skin prickles. We climb above the road and hide.
I hear the engines and we see three jeeps roaring along. We know they contain deadly bombs. The vehicles draw near. Crack. I aim for the tires of one. My aim is true and the tires pop. It rolls and explodes. Roxana takes out another. Dust billows. I run closer to get the third in sight. Boom. I am too close! A thunder splits the air. It is on me, around me. A sudden searing pain and a bright flash, so bright my eyes burn. I hear women scream. Little brother's face rises before me. I wish I'd said goodbye. Slowly, everything goes dark.
I am Asia. I fight to protect my people, my country and I pay the ultimate price for freedom. Our sisterhood of women will fight on and on until the invaders are expelled from under Syrian skies. We will be free.
Emma C Buenen