Chapter One:

"Permission (to fight) is given to those who are being attacked, because they have been wronged. And surely God measures out help for them." (Quran, Surah al-Hajj, verse 39)

"So what did you get me?" Letitia asked, looking at her step-brother Auston mischievously.

He spread his tanned, roughened hands outwards and shrugged. "What did you want? A rock? There are plenty of those in my suitcase."

"Come on Auston, you must have got me something."

He smiled as he took two small packages out of his pocket and handed them to her.

Curious, she opened the smaller one first. It was covered in thin, gold wrapping and foil and had a strange smell to it.

"Erm… what's this?" she asked, holding up the yellow/brown, cuboid-shaped substance delicately and sniffing it.

"It's called halwa," he replied, laughing at her slightly repulsed expression. "I know it doesn't look great, but taste it."

She took off a small chunk and popped it in her mouth, not sure what she was expecting, but she was surprised by the sweet taste of it.

"It tastes like… brownies, only sweeter, and chewier," she stated as she swallowed it.

"It's nice, isn't it?" Auston asked, leaning back into the armchair and yawning.

"Where did you get it from then?" Letitia asked, a moment later. Auston had been travelling all over the world for some documentary he was doing for the BBC.

"I actually got it around the border of India Pakistan," he yawned and stretched, before massaging the back of his neck.

Letitia popped the halwa back into the packet, before reaching for the other, slightly larger package.

"Wow," she beamed as she took out a really beautiful necklace out of a red, velvet box. The necklace was huge, which a large black stone in the middle of it and matching earrings and ring.

"I got that from Dubai," Auston said, before she could ask.

"It's beautiful," Letitia said as she held the necklace against her fair skin. "Thanks Auston," she added and gave him a hug, before sitting down next to him.

"You're welcome Letty," he replied, ruffling her hair and looking pleased. "So what have you been up to anyway?"

"Oh, the usual," she shrugged, a glint in her eye.

"Ah, don't tell me you're still fighting with Emily all the time." Emily was Letitia's horrible step-sister, but Auston's blood sister.

Letitia rolled her eyes and didn't reply, her silence saying it all.

Auston felt a pang of sadness as he thought about Emily. His sister had always treated Letitia and Letitia's Dad, older brother Nathan and younger brother Keith with contempt, but she especially hated Letitia. From the very start, she had insulted her, sweared at her, and once, even beat her to a pulp. In response, Letitia had smacked her, burnt some of her favourite clothes in the dead of the night and put maggots in her bed.

Hiding his smile as he guiltily remembered the scenario, he rapidly diverted his thoughts.

"You haven't grown a bit," he said, looking at her.

"Hello, I'm eighteen," she replied. "I don't want to look any older than that."

"The youth of today," he shook his head, pretending to look old and wise.

"Oh, shut up," she laughed, before saying, "You look like you're thirty."

"I don't!"

"Do too," she insisted, pointing at his roughened hands and tanned face.

"This is supposed to make me look hard working and attractive," he said, wrinkling his nose. Just then, she noticed a huge scar running along his neck from underneath his chin down onto his ribs, disappearing due to his shirt.

Disturbed slightly, she asked him, "What's that?"

"What?" he looked down at the scar before immediately covering it. "It's nothing," he stated, looking slightly uneasy.

There was a pause, before she continued her rambling.

"Oh, so no luck finding a girlfriend yet? You're supposed to be cool and twenty five, not thirty and ugly! Don't worry Auston, I'll find someone for you," she patted his arm.

Just at that moment, Nathan entered the room, dressed in jeans and a t-shirt.

"Hi, mate," he said, coming over to hug Auston. "When did you get back?"

"Oh, just an hour or so ago."

As they talked, Letitia wandered into the kitchen to help her Mum. She was busy preparing all the food she could think of, in honour of Auston coming home after a whole year apart.

"Mum," Letitia said, as she helped her with the salad. "What happened to Auston? He's got a huge scar along his neck."

Her mother turned towards her, and wiped her forehead with her arm.

"Didn't he tell you Letty? He was attacked by a group of terrorists, or Freedom Fighters, whichever you prefer, somewhere in Asia." Her mother trembled slightly as she said this. "If it wasn't for some people passing by, he would have died."