Jagerin without thought of Faigai’s rank, never mind being enemy impatiently signalled for him to stay still and get low. It was quite obvious, someone of slight build would do better surveying the road. She crept to one of the bushes not sporting thorns and making the best of the sparse cover while risking a serve crick in the neck peered towards the oncoming group.
There they were, horses ridden at a slow steady pace, no furtive glancing or the instinctive hunch of the suspicious. Yet, the idea of three locals simply out and about at night time in a remote tense land between two armies struck her being just plain implausible. As the group drew nearer she sensed a steady confidence about them which made her shrink back, one hand behind signalling for the sergeant’s benefit, three extended fingers for the number, then a slow side to side waggling of splayed fingers the universal indication for ‘Uncertain,’
If there had been the correct accompanying sounds, judging by the ‘khmuree’ ‘s reactions and apparent misgivings Faigai, would have thought she’d seen a small motorised column pop up. Three unknown riders she couldn’t figure out though? He shuffled up to get his own view, only to be greeted by a pinched expression and one angry finger to her lips. Trying not to feel chastened by this he still proceeded until they were both unprofessionally crowded in the same cover, stilling their breathing. Faigai trying to come to grip with the idea of two hardened veterans trying to hide from three…
Well dressed middle-aged to elderly riders? Out here, in sparse lands which could be fought over at any time?
‘That is disturbing,’ Jagerin said after the trio had passed by far enough for whispering to start ‘Folk of that age and some wealth have no business being out here that certain of themselves without a large escort. Who or what are they?’
‘Maybe they are,’ Faigai mulled for the right slovan word, not wanting to be the first to break their informal convention ‘Elders?’ her grimace of agreement encouraged him to continue ‘There’s that village, we are still sanctioned from. There is maybe some council of the local elders,’
Jagerin peeked up over the cover in the wake of the riders and tapped her teeth with the rag covered barrel of her rifle.
‘Old guys,’ she began in a passable version of The Mitch’s own twang ‘Doing a stitch up?’ and seemed quite pleased with her grasp of his native slang. ‘Work out some ploy, to fool our commanders into thinking they are buddies with us both? Keep us off their turf? Playing down the middle?’
And there it was. Thinking like that showed she too had worked out in The Wilds. There were always The Wilds. The places where conventional battles were not fought, where you carried Shield for The Cloaks as they wove their webs with the militias, gangs masking as volunteer police, village patrols and criminal cartels; Deal Making, Promise Breaking. A month in that fog and when back at base camp some ordinary rifle carrier said ‘Hi’ you straighways wondered ‘What did they mean by that?’ You could never brush that dust off. Sometimes it paid not to. It seemed here was a time.
‘I agree Corporal,’ he said realising she was actually looking to him for orders, there was some sort of universality going on here ‘ Whichever way they are choosing, it’ll benefit both our sides to know. After all locals will understandably work to their own advantage, and we are still uncertain about these lands. It would not be the first time fresh commanders have ended up doing fighting for locals,’
‘We’re going down there,’ she gestured in the direction of the village. ‘To listen in? You are used to the language yet?’
‘No,’ he drawled back ‘But if we hear some brief grim laughter, then we can guess schemes being worked out. Yes?’
‘Let’s take a walk then,
As she rose she suddenly wiggled her hips, half-held her hands out fingers rubbing together and her feet shuffling a quick dance while she murmured in a breathy musical chant
‘And the pretty girls, sing
La-dee-dah. La-la-la-dee-dah,’ **
Well, he thought to himself, that was unexpected. Good stuff she had in her slim flask.
To be continued……..
** With respect and thanks to the Legendary Late Lou Reed
And to Michael Herr of ‘Despatches’ fame, one of my valuable go-to-books