There was a loud hammering on Shahrazad’s door. She froze.
“Adviser Sayyid’s guard, open up!”
She hesitated a few seconds. More hammering, more persistent now. They were going to break the door down… She went to the door and opened it to see a man standing in the doorway, fist raised, flanked by two other men in the same uniform. Shahrazad stared into his face defiantly. He lowered his fist. It was Mazin, leader of the guard. What could this be about?
“It has come to Adviser Sayyid’s attention that a boy from elsewhere has entered the city. We have reason to believe that you are hiding him here.”
Shahrazad went cold. They wanted Tommy? Why?
Feeling immensely grateful that he was out, Shahrazad tried to hide her shock. She met Mazin’s eye and said “Well, you need to make sure you have the right information next time. I’m not hiding anyone.” She tried to shut the door but Mazin held on to it. He had the blackest eyes she had ever seen. They bore into her, cold and unforgiving.
“We’re going to need to search your flat.”
“You don’t have the right to do that!”
“I think you’ll find we do. We’re on Adviser Sayyid’s orders. Now, you can let us in, or we’ll come in by force.”
Shahrazad gave up and stood back. “Fine, search all you like. You won’t find anyone.”
The men barged past her. She stood with her arms folded and tried to look indifferent as she watched Mazin fling open every cupboard, look under the table, the sofa. She hoped with all her heart that Tommy would be out for plenty of time, that he wouldn’t come back just yet.
“Anything?” he shouted to the other two men.
“No,” called one from her bedroom. “Nothing!” said another, emerging from the pantry.
Mazin’s eyes lingered suspiciously on the mess of blankets on the sofa which was where Tommy had been sleeping.
Shahrazad just opened the door and pointed through it, her mouth set in a determined line. Once out of the doorway, Mazin turned back to her, furious. “Don’t think that this is over. We’ll be back!”
Shahrazad wasn’t listening, She had spotted something over his shoulder. Tommy was standing a short distance away, staring in confusion at the backs of the three men. He looked at her and she tried to urge him with her eyes to go, to run, to get as far away from here as possible. But he stood still where he was, staring at her.
Shahrazad tore her eyes away, trying to regain her composure, but Mazin had seen where she had been looking and was smirking in triumph. “Well, look what we have here!” His two companions made towards Tommy, but Shahrazad ran between them and stood in front of him, shielding him behind her back.
“Get out of the way!” said Mazin.
“No, you can’t take him!”
“I’ve told you before; we’re on Adviser Sayyid’s orders. Now get out of the way!”
“But why? He’s just a child, he’s done nothing wrong!”
“He entered the city illegally. He could be a spy from an enemy kingdom. Adviser Sayyid only wants to make sure the city is safe.”
“From a child? That’s ridiculous!”
“That’s enough!” said Mazin. He stepped forwards and grabbed hold of Shahrazad’s arms, while the other two men rounded on Tommy.
“Run, Tommy!” screamed Shahrazad.
But Tommy ran towards them, shouting angrily, and flew at Mazin. One of the other men grabbed hold of one of his thin little wrists and though he writhed and punched and kicked and spat like a wild animal, the man held on, and the other man grabbed his other arm. Tommy sunk his teeth into the second man’s hand and he swore but held on.
Shahrazad aimed the hardest kick she could muster at Mazin. He grunted with pain and doubled up. She ran to the other two men and started to try and prise them off Tommy, but Mazin pulled her away again and hit her hard in the face.
Wild with fury, panting, she looked Mazin full in the face and said in a low voice “I’m warning you! I’m looking after him on the King’s orders!”
“Try me! Ask him yourself!”
Mazin examined her, unsure. She turned to the other two men.
“Get off him! I’ll make sure King Basir hears about this!”
“Leave him,” said Mazin reluctantly. With one last filthy look at Shahrazad, he turned and led the other two away.
Shahrazad stared after them until they had disappeared from sight around the corner of a building and clutched Tommy to her, still pulsing with anger and fear.