EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is an excerpt from Freedom’s Stand by Jeanette Windle (Tyndale).

1

Kabul, Afghanistan

“Why did you permit him to walk out alive?” Fury vibrated the cell phone’s speaker unit.

“I told you of the recording.” Afghan Deputy Minister of Interior Ismail swept the smashed DVD player into a waste receptacle beside the police chief’s desk he’d commandeered. “Perhaps such ammunition would not damage you. But it would destroy me!”

“And you are a tool I cannot afford to lose at this time. So perhaps you made the wise decision.”

Ismail didn’t find the other man’s chuckle so amusing. “It has not worked out so ill in any case. We have still advanced our objectives. And he is aware the price of his life is silence. He will not speak further of what he knows.”

“Which is little enough. Can he have guessed that wreaking vengeance on Khalid Sayef was not, after all, the end purpose of his mission? Could this be why he turned from his path?”

“There is no way he could know. No, it was the girl. To lie was a mistake.” Such admission was another mistake. Ismail hurried to fill cold silence. “In any case, he has made it clear his heart is no longer committed to jihad.”

“With the right leverage, he may yet change his mind. If only this had arrived in time, we would not have failed today.”

The same image filled both speakers’ cell phone screens.

“Who could have known it was under our noses all this time?” Ismail said.

“And his. You should have investigated earlier this American tenant and her doings.”

“Only chance brought the trail to my door.”

“Or Allah’s gift.”

The photo was not one a decent woman would exhibit outside her own family. But even in Afghanistan, mug shots required that more than a burqa be visible. Escaping, brown curls under a headscarf framed pale, oval features, an expression of combined despair and defiance incongruous in so youthful a face. But it was the eyes glaring at an unseen camera through a fringe of long and curling lashes that drew a murmur of satisfaction from both speakers. Scornful, a sheen of tears discernible even in JPEG, they glimmered the deep lapis lazuli of a Band-e Amir mountain lake.

***

Kandahar Province, Afghanistan

When Jamil had saved that burned child’s life, he hadn’t expected to find himself running for his own.

Jamil glanced back over his shoulder. He was pulling away from the mob. No, the mob had chosen to drop back. Though another hail of rocks hissed through the air, the throwing was halfhearted. But then the men weren’t trying to kill him. Only to drive Jamil—and his words—from their village.

All had b egun so well too. The village was like any other in southern Afghanistan, dirt cubes behind dirt walls on aparched plain. A riverbed that ran full during wet season was now only dry boulders, but a communal well permitted survival year-round. Jamil had been refilling his water bottle when a villager invited him to share the evening meal. The hospitality of the Pashtun tribes was as legendary as their ferocity.

And their poverty. Mud walls of his host’s reception chamber bore no whitewash. Threadbare carpet and tushaks covered a dirt floor. A platter set before Jamil and male household members held only rice with a scant topping of lentils. Thin faces and eager eyes of children peeking around a doorway to watch the men eat restrained Jamil’s own hunger. An injustice, Ameera would protest.