Caspian Hope – Written By Stephen Fahey. Part 10

“Sir.”

“I’m up.”

“Sir, this is your four o’clock wake up call, Sir.”

“Is that tea?”

“It is indeed…here, Sir.”

“Thanks, Thumbs. Everyone all right?”

“Everyone’s tip top, Sir. No contacts on watch so far. Great spot the lads found us, best sleep I’ve had in an age.”

“Oul’ Big Tits did well all right. Do you think we could just stay here a while, Thumbs?”

“Ha, I don’t think these Shining Light boys will throw us a party but we might manage.”

 “Ah, them bastards just don’t know how to have a good time. We’ll just have to show them how it’s done when we get across this sandbox!”

“First round is on me, Sir!”

“I’ll hold you to that,” I said as I stood and stepped into the heat of day, splashing the last slug of my tea onto the broiling rocks at my feet.

“I want you to gather six lads and bring them to that scrap of shade over there. We spotted a camp last night that we’re gonna head over to. I want to see what they can part with, so tell the boys to come fully armed and ready for a fight”.

Sir.”

Five minutes later seven pairs of eyes stared back at me, each of them hungry for some action. It’s always the way, trained killers with nothing to do but march all night get itchy for a fight, so the enthusiasm was potent.

“Gentlemen, if they haven’t moved on, there’s a camp north of here that we’re gonna pay a little visit. There are at least eleven men, onsite, but there are women and children too, so we have to play this one gently. We’re all professionals here and you know your drills, so let’s get in and get out quickly without any bloodshed, if it can be avoided. Sgt. Thumbs is gonna take half of you to cover us as we go in and the rest of you are on me. Follow my lead, and if you have to shoot; shoot to kill. Any questions?”

Silence.

“Good, top off your canteens and ammo and get back here in ten minutes. Thumbs, grab two of those awful looking creatures and some empty satchels in the meantime.”

“Sir. Yes, Sir.”

Ten minutes later we were on our way. Though it was well after midday the sun was still beaming down with a fury and burning the left side of our faces as we pushed on through the soft sand. It felt like a few hours in that heat, but in forty five minutes we arrived. Luckily the camp hadn’t been dismantled. After a quick reconnaissance by binoculars I gave Thumbs a nod and he pointed to three eager faces then all four of them took off for a higher crop of dunes some fifty yards to our west.

After time enough for them to get up the back of the dune, some twenty odd feet high, and spread out, I gave the order for the other three gentlemen with me to lower their rifles and follow me.

“Keep your rifles down lads, and don’t look at their weapons. It’s normal practice here for everyone to be armed,” I instructed, “so they won’t be alarmed unless they think you’re nervous. I’ll do the talking, just mind your manners, don’t walk in time with each other and stay sharp. We can’t get snuck up on here.”

And on we walked; our rifles over our forearms as if we were hunting on an estate somewhere in the countryside back home. God, I could’ve murdered a beer right then, I don’t know why but I got a sudden craving for a pint of crisp, ice cold beer. I never got cravings. I was happy to be where I was doing what I was doing. And with the exceptions of carrying my wife’s picture everywhere I went and propping it up as I wrote my reports each week, I almost never thought of home.

I caught myself then and focused on the camp ahead of us. There were no men and no camels, only a few small children in sight, running around the embers of the fires, but they bolted through the flaps of two of the big round tents as soon as they got sight of us. Screaming for their mothers, they announced our arrival. And with that, a head popped out of the flaps of either tent.

“Right, Gents. Remember to smile. Don’t give ‘em them pervy smirks your girls love back home either, ok!?”

“Heeellllooo…” I called, holding an open palm high in the air above me.

Greeted by suspicion and a reserved curiosity in the two women’s eyes, I waved my boys off and told them to stay put while I stepped forward and pled our case in universal sign language. Neither woman seemed to be understanding me until one of the children stuck his head out of the flap on the tent to my right and waved a wooden bowl of water at us. His mother kicked him back inside with a squeal and, realising the situation, singled me out with the point of a bony finger and then waved me over.

Stepping forward I looked around and double checked there was nobody else around and then entered the tent, leaving the boys where they were. Inside stank of dried dung that fuelled the central fire, the acrid stink of it filled the single dim room. I could taste it through my skin as it seeped into me. In the centre of the tent, around the open fire, bedrolls and cushions where the family slept made a ring on top of the rugs that carpeted the entire floor. On the outside of this ring of bedding all manner of tools, utensils and material were stacked up against the tent wall itself.

After a quick glance around I spotted three grubby children all stood in obedience next to a pile of empty reed baskets. The woman, covering her face with her sleeve, lifted an earthen vase of water with one hand and placed it on the ground at my feet with a decisive nod, then stepped back. I bowed and lifted the heavy vase with both hands, wondering how she lifted it with just one. She must have been strong as an ox.

In the unspoken language of the moment I thanked the mother and turned to leave. Sticking my tongue out at the children as I passed them and laughing to lighten the mood so they wouldn’t be frightened. I even got a giggle in return. It felt good to make those children laugh. I would have gladly paid for the water if I could have, or bartered for it, as was the custom, but I had nothing to offer the woman that I didn’t need for my boys. It was a simple and kind gesture for her to give me that vase and it’s a memory I cherish.

Stepping back outside the three boys were where I’d left them, blinking in the evening light. They looked parched so I handed them the vase and told them, “drink from this. I know you have your canteens but drink and smile and bow your thanks to that woman as if she was your own mother.”

And so they drank, and true to form they were careful not to spill any of it on themselves or into the sand. Despite their training, or perhaps because of it, they were sensitive souls, my boys, and they performed the ritual with dignity and respect. The nomad woman even managed a faint chuckle amid the glaring gawps. As we walked away I looked back to see the woman from the second tent wave off her counterpart with indignation, clearly unimpressed. From my limited knowledge of the nomads either woman could have taken offense at our arrival, so we had got lucky that one of them was amicable.

Getting back to the rendezvous point we met Thumbs and his boys as they were arriving back with the camels at the same time.

“No Joy, lads. Only got some water. The men were away with all the camels. If we had time we’d track them down, but we have to get out of here. It’ll be dark soon.”

Back at the cave my boys were mounting up as we walked into camp.

“Sid, divvy this out into everyone’s canteens. Al and with Big Tits, head out now. Drenten, you did a stellar job finding this cave, keep up the good work!”

“Here, here,” called out Longshot, while cleaning Lenore nearby.

And so, after a brief rest while my scouts got ahead of us, we moved out. Night four, five camels. Twenty three men, one heart.

To be continued…

© Stephen Fahey

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