Palmer had some Afghan spies in his pay and they said the relief column was bogged down in snow and Major Havelock nowhere in sight. There was absolutely no reason to trust the bastards. We all told Palmer that. We swore we could hold out. We just could not believe Auckland was going to abandon us to the Afghans. But then we got news that Maclaren was snowed in at Kandahar. That was signed by a Political Officer in Peshawar. Political Officers were usually savvy.
The commanding bugger of the Afghans parlayed and he swore on Palmer’s copy of the Koran that he would guarantee our lives if we surrendered the fort to him. He would let us march out with immunity under his protection. We all pleaded we could hold out but Palmer said a Muslim could not lie on a Koran. The Koran, Palmer said, was sacred. Palmer said that on front of the bugger but I don’t think that bugger was impressed with religious honor. He had crossed eyes and a ratty beard and most of his front teeth were either rotten or missing. He kept smiling so that was why I could count how many of his teeth were rotten or missing. Palmer was a Political Officer. He was not HM. HM were stupid roosters who thought battle was some parade drill in front of Buckingham Palace. Palmer was ‘John Company’ and he grew up in India. He made a professional decision that has haunted me ever since. He nodded to the Afghan bugger. Palmer then said “I know the Afghan Code of Honor and I ask for Nanawati. You are obligated to give it.” Twenty minutes after we marched out of the fort into the town at the foot of the mountain we were attacked. So much for Muslim religiosity or Afghan honor.
In the attack I was separated along with Lieutenant Crawford and Burnett along with two companies of sepoys. We forced our way into a mud brick house and barricaded the windows and doors. The mobs attacked the front, setting the house on fire. I scouted from the flat roof as bullets whizzed by me. Then I saw Palmer with the rest of the men retreating into another house and barricading that. But the bullets were flying so I beat a hasty retreat. We retreated to the back of the house and used our bayonets to hack through the mud bricks, which felt like concrete, quite amazing that, and so retreated under fire. Somehow we fought our way through the maze of alleyways to where Palmer was regrouping. We fortified the mud house as best we could.
I and some of the sepoys set up a roof guard using salvaged wood and furniture. We sniped at them and they sniped at us from the other rooftops. When a bullet winged me I shoved my bloody hair, always unruly at best, back sodden with blood. Then I took the blood and painted the three horizontal lines of Shiva on my forehead and howled out a hymn to Shiva the Destroyer in less than elegant Hindustani. That so amazed the demoralized sepoys they joined in the communal howl of pagan defiance to the Religion of Peace. They painted Shiva’s strips on their foreheads too. I asked them how they could use Mleccha or Unclean Blood, which was to say my blood, me being an ‘once born’ which was just this side of an Untouchable. But they laughed manically and exclaimed it was a ‘Time of Distress’ which suspended Pollution Rituals and Castes Rites. They said Shiva the Wild God always ignored rites and defied rituals and howled in the wilderness like a demonic child or delinquent god thrown out of Paradise by the other gods. Then we snipped away right royal! We had to conserve our bullets of course but we made sure every bullet we fired killed a bastard of Mohammad! We howled out hymns of Shiva coupled with profanity describing the lack of morals of every mother of every bugger snipping at us so the enemy went ballistic which allowed us to snip away quite effectively! We got rather fey and I raved we should set up a game book of ‘kills’ and we did, marking every victim of our bullets. It is amazing how intoxicating violence can get. You find yourself doing things you would never do in normal circumstances.
The surviving women and children were put in the center room and the men took the outer rooms to keep up a steady fire out of the barricaded windows. We had brought our supplies with us but they did not last long. When snow fell my men and I tried to scope the snow up and take it down to melt so people could get something to drink. The kids wailed when they saw me. I forgot about the painted blood on my forehead. My hair which had oozed with blood, had dried into a rat’s nest so I must have looked the fright. Crawford shouted “God damn it Nicholson! Don’t go native on us!”
But Palmer just laughed and called me the Avatar of Shiva the Destroyer but he advised me to limit my constructive destruction toward the enemy outside.
We lasted two weeks under continuous attack. We lost over two thirds of our number. We had no choice but to stack the bodies on the roof where they froze. It was ghastly fighting alongside frozen corpses. We all had frostbite. Our faces were black with frostbite except where they oozed scurvy sores. Our mouths bled. Our joints swelled up. It was terrible. Another child died. Then a woman and her child. She had been nursing so when she died the child died too. At that point all we had left was snow and boot leather which we were boiling to eat along with some bones of a sheep we originally found in the house. We had long ago eaten it but since then we had gnawed through the gristle and tendons and now we were cracking the bones for any marrow.
Finally Palmer parlayed with the swine when he waved a white flag to approach us. I wanted to plug him. Typically, Palmer just cooly cocked his head and said “Interesting. He comes to us.” Then the ugly swine swore on the Koran a second time that it had all been a fucking misunderstanding and we had fired first! Fuck the bastard! He swore by all that was holy. I jeered he could only swear on all that was dishonorable because he could not swear on what was holy after defiling the Koran with his lies.
“You have already lost face with your Master in Kabul” Palmer said. “For what warrior can boast of a stalemate such as this? We are surrounded and attacked on all sides after a dishonorable betrayal yet we have held you off for weeks. If we fight to the death you will accrue no honor to boast off before any warlord in any durbar.”
“We have the fort.”
“Which you cannot hold, no less than we, for the fort is too large for any warlord other than an army to hold. And when you tried to fire the cannons in the fort directly down on us your shells died an ignorable death. My friend. As a professional I suggest you do not add artillery to your repertoire. You are lousy at modern technology.”
“Palmer Sahib” the bastard whined. “Are we not fellow warriors?”
“You asked for this parlay. What do I get?”
“Palmer Sahib. You need this parlay!”
Palmer said point blank “Do you give us Nanawati? Yes or no? We will fight to the death if you say no. If you say yes then Nanawati requires you as host to give us protection and sanctuary.”
The damned bastard said “Yay! Yay Sahib! Are we all not men of honor here? And warriors of valor?” Meanwhile we burned the colors. Then we surrendered. I guess we had to surrender because of the few surviving women and children. But we were under no illusions. The sepoys, all Hindu chaps, told us they would be killed. We all figured we would be killed. We hoped the surviving women and children might be held as hostages and ransomed at least. We figured we would be shot down flat. In a way it would have been better if we had.
The Afghans pointed their jezail matchlock muskets point blank at the heads of the sepoys and told them to convert to Islam the Religion of Peace or die. The sight just gutted me! The sepoys looked at me as they shrugged and shook their heads. One had time to say “Nicholson Sahib! Dance the Dance of Destruction over these buggers!” Then the bastards blew their brains out.
The surviving women and children were dragged away. Palmer was shouting at the commander bugger that he would go to hell for not only profaning the Sacred Koran but violating Nanawati which is part of the Afghan and Pathan Code protecting guests seeking sanctuary. But that bugger just laughed and laughed and laughed. I and nine other men, the last survivors of the entire garrison, were shoved into a tiny cell designed to hold only four prisoners. There was one window and a crude drain. That was it. Later the Afghans came and said they were going to murder us one by one until we surrendered the four lakhs of rupees the garrison had hidden. I told them what the fuck were they talking about! We did not have ten rupees between us. The guards then grabbed each of us in turn and tore at our uniforms trying to find anything to steal.
When they grabbed my locket with a strand of hair of my mother which was around my neck I spat in the bastard’s face which distracted him enough for me to kick him in his balls. They clubbed me with their muskets and when I fell to the ground they took turns kicking me. I rolled into a ball to try to protect my kidneys and head. It was all I could do. Finally they stopped and hauled me up and again tried to take the locket. The other men shouted ‘Just give the fucking thing to them Nicholson you asshole!’ but I had this god damn hatred for bullies. It had been kicked into me in school. I was always bullied in school. So I grew up hating bullies and being bullied. When I was bullied I always fought back . Then. Now. I fought back as they held me with my arms twisted around my back as they took turns punching me. I just spat on their ugly faces. Finally they laughed and just dumped me on the floor of the cell and left, locking the door, locking us inside a room scarcely 18 feet by 13 feet. That translates into 6 paces. They kept us in the Black Hole of Ghazni from March through part of August.
I don’t know if this journal writing is helping me. And it is near dawn. Perhaps I will try again next evening.