Jagerin thought maybe she would not add any potato wine to her next ‘comfort’ mix, at least not to take on an empty stomach. Still, there had been fun in surprising the Mitch that slovosskians were not all dourly singing sad songs about never returning home and to be buried with the handful of earth from the Motherland. Something, apparently the Mitches believed every slovosskian soldier carried. Seriously, who would go through a war with a pocket full of earth? There was enough of the stuff on the outside. She drew in a long breath of the sharp night air to clear her senses.
Faigai was for just passing over the instance and getting with the task to hand. They would precede in a standard pattern. One at the fore for 100 metres, with the other covering. Stop the one at the fore covering as the other moved up and passed them for another 100 metres and so on, using judgement if there was suitable cover before or after. The signal to dive down in an emergency would be, in this place a fox bark. She had a good fox bark. Handing out these orders had at least driven out the urge to be whispering the old ‘Goin’ Down The Road’ folk song. He would have to get the recipe for that drink of hers. This was a crazy night.
They’d covered a klick without any issue, half way along they’d started to move under the shadow of that looming hill. He never liked hills, locals always made them their own, every dip, hole, rock and gulley they could vanish into. And here was another peculiarity, by all what was sensible and battlefield-right he should be letting her be bait, not sharp for her safety and scouring those hills for the slightest move. She might move like as well as bark like a fox, but those were not her hills.
Jagerin swung to look to the grim hill. And there they were. Four, moving down in a line, showing they owned the place. Locals, carrying rifles. Of course she took cover into another patch of scrub, only to catch a glimpse of dogs. And dogs would not be fooled by any human pretending to be a fox; they probably had her scent already. If there were dogs the men, must either be shepherds or hunters. A brief snatch of moonlight caught the metal, guns, probably hunters then, never ones to pause when something unexpected appeared. She was planning to stay low, but one of the dogs did their own barking out an alarm, they’d caught her. She hoped that sergeant was staying true to their truce, this was likely to end in an exchange of fire. Before she resolved to take aim at the first man, in the distance came a bleating conversation, causing the men to stop.
Oh Shepherds. She eased her finger from the trigger, although hoping the bigger of the two dogs was not feeling too bold to clear the scrub, you could not hate a dog for being, a dog.
Faigai tensed caught tight between the instinct to line up the targets and start taking them at the first instance, and the very strict orders not to be on the side which was the first to start killing locals. For the present politics was having The Say, and personally he didn’t mind, it beat being on the business end of an artillery strike. And there would have been the small problem of trying to explain why, he a noted veteran scout had broken a no-shoot order to save the life of a slovosskian. A fine time to be conflicted and stifled by a clutch of options flying through his mind. That damn star shell had spooked him; could happen to anyone going out night after night down unknown trails, one shove too many. He gave himself a stern order to hold still and see how she played it. The scene being viewed down the night sight of his rifle.
Seeing her casually standing up and seeming to be finishing the hitching up of her trousers, rifle slung was as much a surprise to him as it obviously was to the group suddenly halting, to be greeted by a nonchalant wave of one hand. He supposed slovosskians had to have clowns too. The dogs barked and growled around her which she ignored as she drew out a packet from another uniform pocket, from it took one of the long slender contents and with the flash of metal then flame lit it, drawing in smoke, having displayed apparent no more concern than bumping into other folk about their business she offered the packet to the men, who after the briefest of pauses accepted the gift, and the lighter. There followed some stifled coughing. She’d given out some of those foul ration cigarettes slovosskians delighted in. The theories amongst his own army as to what the contents were made from varied, none of the suggestions pleasant. Meanwhile without taking here eyes off of the men and letting the dogs caper about her sniffing and growling, from another of the proliferation of pockets she tossed the pair something out of her rations which they were swift to catch and chew on. Some sort of conversation was going on which the corporal peppered with vague hand gestures, shrugs and the general slouch of someone who really didn’t want to be out here, this included a lot of pointing back the way they had travelled and at one stage a general outbreak of laughter. At her mime of riders the party grew still, there was some gesturing towards the village and a shaking of heads and attendant waving of hands, to which she nodded, jerked a thumb back the way she had come and this time with rifle unslung began to walk down the road, turning around frequently to wave to the party, pointedly stopping until they were out of sight. At which point she sagged, this time in obvious relief.
‘Banner Sergeant,’ she said softly ‘I hope you were my guardian angle,’
‘You were dealing with the matter very capably corporal. What did you learn?’ now he was speaking to her as if she was one of his own teams, come to think of it, she was acting like she was.
‘They are definitely locals, those sounds,’ she nodded to to the bleating ‘Are their flocks, but for some reason those four were having to get back to the village. They wouldn’t say why. Nor would let me follow. Reminded me of my own home folk back in forest lands, Very careful with strangers,’
‘They didn’t notice you were a woman then?’
She tugged at her uniform.
‘Not with these dirty baggy rags. I lowered by voice and spoke gruffly, and its night. Just a short fellow. Ideal scout,’ she ended the explanation sounding somewhat proud.
‘You got a laugh out of them,’
‘Thistles,’ she replied dryly ‘Everyone laughs at someone complaining they had sat bare-backsided onto a thistle,’ she growled out the local word ‘One of the first ones you learn out here. Yes?’
‘Experience is always valuable corporal,’
‘Says one who has only half as many risks,’ her attention was then to the direction the quartet of locals had walked ‘ We are continuing? Yes?’
He was glad she couldn’t still her own interest in The Why of this night. Made him feel better about his own stirring enthusiasm. One sensation he had nearly forgotten about. Of course he would have to keep on telling himself this was all for military reconnaissance. It didn’t do to dwell on anything outside what you understood. This was simply part of the mission.
One brief nod in response to her question.
Damn, she took off like a hound on the scent.
To be continued…….