Disclaimer: The characters and situations of Lawrence of Arabia do not belong to me, nor do the rights to The Seven Pillars of Wisdom or any related material.
A/N: I've always wanted to write a Lawrence ficlet, so here it is: an experiment in characterization and symbolism. Enjoy and please review.
"In six weeks I can have Arabia in chaos."
Major Thomas Edward Lawrence was aware that his reputation was not one of honesty. He had on multiple occasions been accused, and not always falsely, of dramatization, exaggeration, and outright fabrication. In this case, however, no one could claim he hadn't lived up to his promises.
The ear-splitting scream of a train derailing sent shivers thrilling down his spine. The explosion had blown apart the locomotive, hurling fragments of metal in all directions like an iron sandstorm. The train cars, shying away from fire, derailed with a shriek, tumbling willy-nilly out of line and tossing up sprays of golden sand. Lawrence watched in fascination as the whole apparatus, like a swirl of melting paint, shifted and groaned before finally coming to a rest.
Sound perished as the dust settled, but only for a moment. As if to make up for the mechanical silence, the Bedouin war cry flew up, sweeping over the desert on invisible wings. Hundreds of bare feet pounded across the sand, robes flapped and rifles glinted in the sun as a wave of nomadic warriors crashed over the stricken train. Brown bodies clambered onto the roof, through the windows, and underneath the carriage, searching out every imaginable piece of loot. Passengers were killed, ignored, or plundered, depending on the inclination of the attacker.
Lawrence laughed wildly. An observer might have noted the odd gleam in his brilliant blue eyes as more than mere triumph at a job well done. He made a strange contrast to the wiry, tanned Bedouins, with his fair skin and bright gold hair, not to mention his lack of a beard. For all his Arab dress, Lawrence made sure he stood out. The desert had not eroded his sense of aesthetics, and it was no coincidence he wore only white and gold. Few forgot the white sharif once they had seen him.
"Come on, then," he told himself glibly, striding with comfortable slowness down the sand dune.
Behind the human spectacle of the looted train, the desert stretched out with beautiful indifference. Luminous hillocks of sand, red gorges, nightmarish volcanic landscapes, stony plateaus – it was a diverse and varied environment, at times surreal. Lawrence loved it for this reason, along with the fact that here, he was the authority. Here, no one gainsaid him. Here, they thought him a miracle. The desert had turned an oddball Englishman into a dazzling god of war. Sometimes the irony made him laugh.
He was laughing now as he climbed over a prostate train car. Occupied with the looting frenzy, his Arab followers paid him no mind beyond the occasional gesture of deference. The heated metal warmed his feet through the soles of his sandals. Sun flashed on the steel side, lighting him from beneath. The image would have made an outstanding photograph. Too bad the reporter wasn't here.
Lawrence leaped down on the far side of the car. The empty desert stretched out beyond. It seemed to hunger for fulfillment – merely his imagination, no doubt. A shadow of irritation crossed his mind. He allowed the shimmering sun of conquest to vanquish it. The faint smile hovering about his lips returned.
"Aurens!" someone called. He glanced up at the car. An Arab's teeth shone at him in happy excitement. "Aurens, look!" the man cried, flinging one bloody hand out to indicate the desert.
Lawrence turned to follow the gesture. He had to squint against the glare, but the reason for the Arab's enthusiasm quickly became plain. A number of dark figures were moving across the sand, struggling away from the incapacitated train. Turkish citizens, no doubt, perhaps even officers or administrators.
A group of Arab riders galloped after them, their whoops fragmenting and distorting over the distance. Arabs were the only people Lawrence knew who could swagger while on a horse, and they were doing it now. One couldn't help but admire their horsemanship as they arced gracefully around the panic-stricken refugees, puffs of sand billowing up from their mounts' hooves. They rode a diminishing spiral around their prey, drawing in tighter and tighter, until the leader shouted a command and each man reined in his horse.
Eight rifles rose. Lawrence didn't count the shots or bother to watch the doomed passengers fall. Something else caught his attention. All the windows on the train car's side had shattered when the car had tipped over. It leaned now at angle, affording a view of the interior. It wasn't the plush décor inside that Lawrence found interesting – it was the book lying in the sand below. The tome must have tumbled out the window after the impact.
He knelt and picked it up, smoothing golden grains off its cover. To his surprise, the title was in his native language, and read English Fairy Tales in faded calligraphy. Some foresighted national had been reading up on British culture, it seemed. Flipping through the pages, he discovered "Jack the Giant-Killer" and "The Bogey-Beast," complete with colorful illustrations.
The absurdity of it struck him all at once, and he began to laugh softly.
"You find this amusing?"
Lawrence looked up to find Sharif Ali standing over him. In his black robes, Ali might have been a desert devil, but concern boiled in his eyes where humor enlivened Lawrence's. Ali was looking not at the book of fairy tales but at the desert, where sand had already swallowed the blood of the Arab executioners' victims.
"They're heroes, Ali," Lawrence told him benignly, "Vanquishing giants. Chopping the heads off dragons."
"You should have more control," Ali replied, his dark eyes shifting to the crouching Englishman.
"No one controls chaos. We only unleash it."
Lawrence sobered. Leaving the book in the sand, he rose and touched Ali's shoulder lightly. "We," he said, "are the Arab Revolt." With that, he walked gracefully away, leather-bound feet making no sound on the all-consuming sand. His pure white robe fluttered inscrutably behind.
Ali's eyes followed him for only a moment before traveling thoughtfully to the discarded book of fairy tales. Sand had already begun to cover it; soon it would disappear completely beneath the suffocating power of the desert. Like so many before it.
A/N: What fun. I love Lawrence. Hope you liked!