‘Small to Middle-sized village,’
‘With deference to your rank Sergeant, why do you Mitches have to be so precise?’
‘It’s the small details which keep you alive corporal,’
‘And being fretful over the unnecessary can get you distracted and thus killed. It’s a village,’
From the rise with the aid of binoculars the pair had studied the possible source of so much interest to travellers and locals alike. Aside from the occasional animal sounds usually the villages would be silent and mostly dark, folk at their beds. You could expect a few muted watch lights and some nocturnal comings and goings. Here with nearly every habitation illuminated and knots of people in communal discussion the pair agreed there were more noteworthy facts than scrapping over the official area designate of the neighbourhood. Corporal Jagerin concluded the particular part of the observation with a brief and humorous puff of breath.
‘Now I am pressed on small details. Most of the attention is going on around a small place, almost a barn,’
‘Perhaps those elders are in closed council discussing if the villagers should move before the fighting starts,’ as soon as he had made the suggestion Faigai was dissatisfied with it ‘Although why would they wait for visitors to make up their minds for them is another matter?’
‘Maybe local priests or similar,’ she scratched the back of her neck ‘When you live out in The Wilds or even just the farming lands you grow up accepting all sorts of conventions. You have to in order to get by. Poor folk, Life is hard enough without us,’ she gestured between them ‘Turning up,’
‘It could have been worse. We could have come in from opposite sides and started a fire-fight,’
She looked at him very thoughtfully, chewing on one lip.
‘Some maybe Sergeant,’ and shook her head ‘Not us, though. Not on this narkomanskiy night. Rogue star shells, old fellows out riding, shepherds quitting their flocks. Narkomanskiy,’ she repeated shaking her head again.
He had to admit she had a point, and maybe the freakiest part was the two of them acting as if they were on the same patrol with the same concern not for their own lines but a remote village and locals wandering across their paths. The situation had fixed them with an uncertainty, and he could not figure out the whys of it either. Something was nagging at their differing instincts born out of the experience of these nocturnal patrols.
‘It’s unusual,’ he concluded ‘We should look closer,’
And they made their way crawling down the slope and into welcoming cover which led to the trail into the village, the trail being guarded by four men, two of them the shepherds. Both soldiers kept their own opinion to themselves, one they shared. They could drop those four with barely any effort. Her hands shook at the fleeting thought, his stomach clenched. Neither dared look at the other for fear of somehow giving away a thought once a simple assessment now turning into a reminder of what they had become. The nerves had their say and Jergain whispered.
‘We will have to be careful. We don’t want to scare them off into shooting into the night,’
‘No. The sound would carry too far. Make our own think we had made hostile contact,’
A conversation which once would have been a laughable gallows-humour parody acted as a communal balm and the pair slipped into a settled observation, once more uncertain of themselves.
The sounds of conversations and unsettled animals were suddenly subsumed by a very loud scream scything into the night, at which Corporal Jagerin’s head would have shot up had not Banner Sergeant Faigai’s hand not stilled it.
‘Steady corporal,’ he warned ‘ I’ve never come across a helmet that was bullet proof at short range,’
‘Damn it Sergeant. Adjust your ears. That was the cry of a woman in labour. They’ve all gathered to witness a birth. An important event?’
He was struggling on how to respond to her question being a demand, bordering on an order form him to give his latest opinion in this tangled-up journey, when there came another sound, which still the murmurings in the village and caused the outpost of shepherds to turn.
A thin, but persistent cry of basic protest.
‘Birth,’ Jagerin’s certainty had her wriggling into a low crouch and fumbling into another of those pockets, one hand holding something, with the other she flipped a small stone a short distance. Before Faigai could reprimand her for this act of blasphemous giving away a position taking advantage of the light from the village, still tucked down she was waving one hand as the guards turned, only to turn the gesture into an index finger gesture of ‘wait’. What followed was something he could only describe as the dexterity of a puppet show without the characters as with only her hands raised and visible she tied a packet to a stick and threw it out. Slumping back down once more she pressed a finger to her lips.
‘What in hell?’ he nonetheless hissed at her, and was gifted with a blank face, until from the night came a local voice with possibly as much irritation as his but with a layer of bemusement, at least she seemed to find the challenge funny. ‘Corporal. You might enlighten me since you have picked up some of the local’s language,’
‘They said,’ she failed to stifle a snigger ‘Come out little sore arse,’
‘The name those shepherds gave me, when I made up the incident with thistles,’ she said, scrambling over the cover and walking out rifle slung again and hands raised, while whistling some tune of a jaunty celebratory air. He told himself the whole event was no more different than those times when filled with the fury of battle you simply charged the opposition, certain you could take the place, all rational thinking gone. Satisfied he had made the skewed sort of sense which only existed in places of conflict he slowly made himself visible, also with weapon slung and hands raised.
Not expecting for Corporal Jagerin to take off her helmet and shake loose shoulder length dark hair, while continuing to walk towards the group of men. Whatever expression the girl had chosen it had frozen the men’s collective response into one of surprise. Two more steps and she jerked back a thumb over her shoulder to him, stopped and sat down on a stone looking up at the group.
Not too sure whether she was a sharp reader of situations or simply prone to bouts of craziness he strode forward narrowing the distance to the group, two of whom were fidgeting with their guns, stopped by a loud click of the corporal’s tongue her index finger wagging slowly back and forth, her free hand resting on her still slung rifle. Fixing the men with a hopeless expression he nodded to her tapping the side of his head. This seemed to satisfy them as one said something to another who sped off to the village whose inhabitants’ voices were now drowning out some of the new arrival’s protests. Faigai meanwhile scowled down at Corporal Jagerin who was now wearing a faint smile and a wide-eyed look.
‘I would suggest Sergeant, they’ll be getting one of those elderly riders,’
‘You were chosen you to go out on single patrols because no one would work with you. Am I right?’
‘I am only required to give you my name, rank and military number,’ she replied ‘You should know that,’
He told himself he shouldn’t be that angry, everyone who spent too long out in The Wilds was prone to crazy spells. The hell of it was, she was right. Her performance had broken the ice. Of course it made a another piece of skewed sense. In this conservative land a skimpy girl soldier would defer to a tall well-built man, to them obviously her officer, she simply being the expendable one who sniffed the ground ahead. She’d effectively promoted him from Banner Sergeant to Officer on a liaison mission. Maybe she was actually from her own army’s military security the VRN and he was being played. What for, he would have to wait and see. Meanwhile she lit another of those foul smokes, sitting patient only like slovosskians could do.
He didn’t have to wait long, one of those elderly men was accompanying the villager and moving at a spry pace, attention on Fergai, giving him the feeling he was being reconned in detail.
‘Not a word,’ he warned the corporal.
‘Of course not sergeant,’ she replied with a sincerity so heavy it could only be mockery.
‘Banner Sergeant,’ the elder man said in Fergai’s native Brittonic and not so heavily accentuated as the corporal’s version ‘May I be of assistance to you?’
Fergai was about to open with a general civic address to anyone of some station when his attention was drawn to the man’s upheld palm, the frost of the clear night lending a sheen to the inlaid metal of the badge.
Now there was a badge of a security and intelligence outfit.
The local nation’s own Security police.
Jegerin’s eyes were of saucer dimensions and the cigarette dropped out of her open mouth, causing her to jerk one leg away from its descent.
After her recent antics Fergai was sorry he could not take some enjoyment from her surprise
To be continued…..