Caspian Hope – Written By Stephen Fahey. Part 1

“Just tell it as you remember it.”

“Yes, Sir.”


“It was damn cold. Up there at that altitude it gets below zero before dark, even in summer. We had been on the ridge for eight days and the snow had doubled from eighteen inches to just under forty. I’d never see such a harsh landscape. I’d been all over on my previous tours but there was nothing in that land other than mountains and goats. It stank too. You wouldn’t think it, but the rocks had the smell of death seeped into them. Thousands of years of war will do that.

The locals had been fighting over land and wells since before time began, slaughtering each other with daggers and rocks and their bare hands. We’d been warned not to get involved in any business with them, even for water, because they would drag us into their tribal disputes. We kept our distance and they kept theirs, for the most part, but every now and then it was unavoidable. In such an isolated place crossing paths with the herdsmen and the traders was inevitable, even despite our orders.

My unit had been assigned a border crossing in the eastern highlands. We documented every traveller in and out of the country and searched for weapons and money, but it turned up nothing. Even these stone-aged people could get around us, no doubt using back trails we didn’t know about. It was gruelling work; the heat, the pissed off locals, the lack of anything to show for our efforts. It wasn’t long before patience began to wear up and down the ranks even my CO voiced his opinion that we weren’t efficient enough in the use of our manpower, but we were professionals. We knew we were doing the job well, and we were true to our orders. It was a waste of well-trained men though, and we all knew it. Most of my boys hadn’t served abroad and in our downtime I organised orientation, hikes and we built a makeshift range to keep our eyes sharp. There wasn’t much of anything else to do other than stay fit and top up our tans. Not that they needed any topping up – after two weeks in that heat we were all as dark as the locals. Brintock and Glynn burned to a crisp on day one. Red as they come, both boys were fucked the minute they got there. The boys teased them to no end, of course, as to be expected, and I can’t say I didn’t join in here and there too. They were good sports though, all of the boys took flak over one thing or another, it made us feel human I suppose.

Every week I held a shooting competition and it was always the highlight of the week. Tony – followed by Bint and Grubber – held the top spots on the Springfield rifle from the off with Tyk, Junior, Hill Billy, Simon, Collins and Floppy middling and the rest of us crowding up the bottom of the table. There was only ever bragging rights up for grabs, but we all wanted to win. We were competitive by nature and loved few things more than to brag about how bad someone else in the unit was compared to our own selves. Even I competed, but rank has its privileges so I was always a nonentity on the table, which suited me just fine. As per his way, Tony, as unit champion never invoked his rights to lord it over the rest of us. It wasn’t his way.

My best men on a hike were Pretty Boy, our medic, Thumbs, Simon, Kegs, Bacon and Shelley, but none of them even came close to Donkey. Stubborn as the proverbial, he never knew when he was beat, and Jesus Christ himself couldn’t dissuade that boy once he was set on something. Murphy and Toddy were my best trackers and they were training up Sid and Al to follow in their footstep, so to speak. Baldy, Swanson and Ben were my engineers, not that they ever got to use their specialities, but they made damn good smiths whenever something broke.

So, one night, our teeth chattering up on the ridge, this caravan comes out of the dark and right up to the post. We didn’t get large caravans often but this one had a dozen camels, at least, so I sent for the rest of the boys in base camp a few hundred yards downhill to get through the loads as fast as possible. We didn’t want to keep people too long at the post, for the sake of the image of The Services; another order. With lamps out, big grins and slow hand gestures flowing, a short while later as I used my basic field-manual linguistics with their top man. He had to have been at least seventy – never ceased to amaze me, we bitch and moan about retirement age back home and out there we’d often see seventy and eighty year olds tending their herds or carrying pales of water most of us would struggle with in our prime. We all respected the locals for their toughness, who wouldn’t? Yet, hard as they were, there was always a certain softness in their voices. Even when they were angry they never screamed at each other, they just threw wild looks around and hissed with venom.

So the old man on the caravan, he’s telling me where he’s coming from and where he’s going when all of a sudden one of the boys shouts “…we’ve got a squeaker!” I leaned back and turned my head as the old man leaned forward and turned his. To be honest, he looked as surprised as I must have and we both looked at each other with one of those looks that said “what the fuck?!” Brintock gave chase but the little scamp was either fit as hell or scared out of his mind. With a big angry sunburnt ginger chasing me in the dead of night I’d be shitting it too. Ok, well I wouldn’t, but you would. It was looking as though the squeaker was about to make it beyond a dune when Big Brin let one off into the sky and it all came to an abrupt end followed by panting and hands on knees. As he caught up with him Brintock grabbed him by the neck and walked him back to the caravan. Pushing him to the ground, the squeaker groaned under his captor’s weight and strength and sat cross-legged in the cold sand.

He was tiny. At first I thought he was a kid but when the old man got a better look at him he recoiled and stormed over to him. Clap! I can still feel the slap he gave him; an angry-Sicilian-Grandmother-slap, it was fucking priceless. By the time the little shit sat back up even I had to laugh, albeit after turning my back. The old man grabbed the scamp by the hair and clattered him front to back and side to side, showing us not only did he know this poor wretch but he was somehow connected to him by more than circumstance. The locals never spoke much to people outside of their own tribes, not unless they were trading with them.

After about a minute of slaps and hissing, Brintock looked at me and I nodded, then he stepped in. The old man stood up and looked at Big Brin and me with genuine shock. Having forgotten himself, he brushed himself down and stepped back beside me to where he had been standing.

“Excuse my daughter, she has too much of her mother in her,” he said.

“Daughter!?” I gasped, my grin wiped right off my face with one word. I wasn’t uncommon for family to use violence amongst each other as well against other tribes, but the slap he had given the girl had crumpled her and my opinion of the quiet, tough old man sank right then and there.

“Why did she run?” I ordered in broken Kazakh.


“Why did she run!? What is she hiding??… ”

“I don’t know. She is my youngest and the last to be married. I’ve been looking for a man to take her off my hands for two years but she has run away from everyone I’ve found, that’s why we’re travelling to Astana. She has too much of her mother in her.”

“Where is her Mother?”

“Back at camp. My sons are watching her. She is my third wife. I should have stayed with just the two.”

I felt for him. We were in a different country and in what felt as though it were a different time, so I could empathise. With a son of my own finishing university I knew the worries of a parent, even if I came from a different background and personally found the concept of multiple wives disgusting.

“Let her up Brintock,” I ordered.

Her, Sir!?”

“Afraid so…”

“Ouch! Come on… up ya get miss.”

And with that she scuttled back to the caravan with her tail between her legs. As she passed me and her father she looked up at me and I got a look at her up close for the first time. She had anger in her eyes, the same anger I’d only ever seen in hardened soldiers. I could see she was a prisoner in her father’s care but she was lucky he had money enough to take three wives – I’d already seen starving kids in the few weeks we’d been in country. Still though I felt for her, she was old enough to have been my own daughter. Her face must have been throbbing but she did didn’t let it show. It was obvious it wasn’t the first time she’d received her father’s interpretation of justice.

As her father and I spoke some more the boys finished checking over his caravan and signalled to me that it was clean as I listened to the old timer’s worries about selling his daughter off to anyone who would have her. It wasn’t easy to listen to but I’d seen and heard enough on various campaigns to know not to question the ways of other cultures. As her father he had legitimacy in his own concerns over there but my heart has always been at home with my wife and I just couldn’t relate. So, smiling and nodding along I listened as he rambled. I found out early on it’s best to listen if a potential source of information wants to babble on, even if it’s a chore.

I didn’t get any useable intelligence out of him, but he was peaceful and compliant so we sent him on his way. Brintock and the rest of the boys watched as the caravan moved on before they returned to their bunks down below. It was just before sunrise.

To be continued…

© Stephen Fahey

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