Trying something new. Let me know what you think? xx

Freedom Has a Price

Raqqa, Syria

The sound of the water dripping into the bucket, in the corner of her cell, was all she could think about. The noise consumed her. Was this what they meant by Chinese water torture? She guessed so. Maybe she was just going mad. Almost two years of captivity and the torture both physical and mental had taken its toll, leaving her in a fragile state of mind. She had given up the idea that Cam would ever come for her. In the early months of her captivity she'd held fast in her belief that he and her parents would orchestrate her rescue but she'd long since realised that no one was coming for her. This was her life from now on, she needed to get used to it or find some way to end it. The regular beatings, administered for any imagined or manufactured wrongdoing, she could withstand. She was able to switch off mentally and use the pain to focus her mind. But the sexual assaults she had been subjected to were unbearable. Her skin crawled at the thought of any of them touching her. It was those assaults that would break her, be the cause of her demise, she knew that much.

###

Georgina Lane-Stephens had led a charmed life. The eldest daughter of Lord Maxwell Lane and Lady Grace Lane. Her father came from a long line of wealthy industrialists and her mother was an heiress of the Guinness family. Wealth and prosperity were all Georgie had known growing up. She had graduated from Oxford University with a first class degree in modern languages, speaking French, Italian and Spanish fluently with some Arabic and Mandarin. It was during an internship at the Foreign Office, as an interpreter, that she had met Cameron Stephens, an up and coming minister who was being groomed for great things by those in high office. Georgie's parents, seeing the potential of such a match encouraged the relationship and within months they were married. The marriage was a fairly happy one, they enjoyed each other's company and had a good sex life. There were no fireworks as such, at least not on Georgie's side, but she was content. She had been brought up to expect a marriage that was as much for political purposes as for love. Family loyalty first, that was the Lane family motto.

Two years into their marriage, Cameron was appointed as Deputy Chief of Mission to the British Embassy in Damascus, second only in command to the Ambassador. The appointment was considered to be a significant achievement for someone so young. Georgie and Cameron set off for Damascus with excitement. They quickly settled into the expat lifestyle and Cameron was able to make some significant contributions, earning him the trust and support of the Ambassador and also earning him a good reputation back home in the Foreign Office. But by early the following year, it was becoming clear that it was untenable for British Embassy staff to remain in Syria. President Assad had suppressed and violated the human rights of his people for too long, civil war was brewing and diplomatic ties with the UK were failing. The British Embassy staff were told they would soon be recalled to the UK.

Georgie, not being one to sit around looking decorative, had been volunteering regularly at Red Cross camps across the region, much to the dismay of her parents who felt it far too dangerous for her to be travelling outside of Damascus on a regular basis. But Georgie could see the death and suffering all around her and wanted to do something useful with her time and not just her money, to help these people.

It was on her last excursion to one of the camps, before returning to the UK, that she had been kidnapped. The Embassy car in which she had been travelling had been targeted and the driver and support vehicle staff murdered. Georgie had been dragged from the vehicle by her hair and the life of privilege, she once knew, had ended abruptly.

###

For several months she had been chained in the dark with little food. She had been moved from place to place for the first year but for the last 9 or 10 months they had stayed put in this compound. She assumed she was still in Syria but in which town she did not know. Eventually, she had been allowed some freedom to undertake menial tasks like cleaning and cooking for those who held her captive but she still spent many hours a day locked in a small cell with the dripping tap. Her Arabic had improved during her time at the embassy and she was able to understand most of what they said but she was careful to keep that knowledge from her captors. On the rare occasion that they spoke to her, they did so mostly in broken English. Other hostages had come and gone, some they had killed and some they had sold or traded on but for some reason they kept her alive and with them. The horrors she had witnessed whilst in captivity knew no bounds. She had seen innocent people beheaded, burned alive and stoned to death. Every day, she wondered if that was the fate she also would meet today. The men who held her were pure evil but she'd had to do her best to form a human bond with them. She'd read somewhere that, that was the best thing to do in a hostage situation, to bond with your captors, to make them see you as human. Although she was not at all sure that these men could ever be described as anything close to human!

###

Eshan was her guard today. Georgie was always slightly more relaxed when Eshan was on guard duty. Although he was one of them, she never felt threatened in his presence. He was relatively new, he'd been recruited from another cell about three months ago from what she could make out. For the first couple of months, Ghaazi, the cell commander, had been keeping him pretty busy, sending him out on patrols and recruitment drives. But more recently he'd been allocated guard duties at the compound. She saw him watching her curiously sometimes and although that should make her feel uncomfortable, for some reason, it failed to do so. If any of the others had looked at her the way Eshan did, it would have made her very nervous. He was English, she was fairly certain. He spoke some Arabic but was not fluent. He was one of a handful of British converts she had come across during her time in captivity. Quite often the converts were the cruellest though and she had given up trying to make small talk with them, after the first few beatings for talking without permission, so now she only spoke when invited to do so or when she was asked a question.

Georgie had been told by Ghaazi to prepare some food for the evening meal. It appeared that they were to be receiving visitors and he seemed keen to impress them. He had instructed Eshan to provide whatever help she needed in preparing the meal. Georgie was perched on a chair trying to reach a pan she needed high up on the shelf. The pan was wedged in tight and as she pulled, she lost her balance. Suddenly she was conscious of a pair of strong arms supporting her weight as she toppled towards the floor. Georgie looked up and found herself staring into a pair of warm brown eyes. 'Friendly eyes' if she was not mistaken. It had been so long since she'd received any human kindness that tears sprang to her eyes. "Thank you." She said, her voice breaking with emotion. Eshan nodded kindly and released her gently to her feet, making sure she was balanced before releasing her. As he removed his arms from around her waist, Georgie suddenly felt bereft. What was wrong with her? How could she be feeling so devastated at the loss of his touch? He was one of them, she admonished herself. It must just be a reaction to being starved of gentle human contact for so long. She shook herself out of her reverie and set about the business of making the meal. Punishment would be severe if she messed this up. She shuddered.

Eshan sat in the corner of the room, watching her. His scrutiny made her clumsy and uncomfortable but not for the same reason that it would, were it one of the others watching her so closely. After a while, he got up and went to the window to survey the scene outside, most of the men were in the ops room, presumably preparing for the important meeting later. He then went to the doorway and checked the corridor. Only when he was certain there was no one in earshot he asked quietly, in perfect English, "What is your name?" Georgie was so surprised at being spoken to that she nearly dropped the pot she was holding. She turned abruptly to look at him standing in the doorway. Could she trust him or was this some cruel trick? Understanding her dilemma, he said gently. "It's ok, you can trust me, I won't hurt you." He looked at her encouragingly.

"Georgie." She replied hesitantly. "Georgina Stephens."

He nodded, looking relieved. "I thought it was you, but I couldn't be sure in that get-up." He said, referring to her niqab. "And neither Ghaazi nor the others are giving much away about you." Eshan continued, checking the corridor again.

Georgie stared at him in shock. "Do you know who I am then? Do you know me?" She stuttered.

"Oh yes, you're the reason I'm here. I've come to help you. I'm getting you out of here Georgie, I'm getting you out of here."