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Anachronisem (Solo)

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Drydock:
Shit!  Ok, ok, stabilized, look around.  Trim it out.  Oh Sheeeit!  Trim musta bin on the throttle column.  Airspeed-gone.  Atificial horizon-out.  Altimeter-out.  Needle ball, might be under that blood. . .Shit!  OK, can't let the damn wheel move at all.  Radio out,  squawk out.  No coms.  Mikes 'r gone. 

Oh god.  Something small and wet just hit the side of his head.  Something from what was left of that ensign co-pilot,  flung by the wind.  Calm down idiot, asess, assess goddammit!

Detach. . . breathe. . . lessee.  Little while ago you were Sky King in a P-40.  Now you're sitting in a dead mans bloody damn seat,  hands on maybe half an airplane that you ain't near half qualified to fly.  But you got lucky, got it under control for now.  Whaddya got?  No chutes.  Don't carry 'em on these birds.  Never get it on anyway,  back into the spin soon's you let go.  No coms.  Well, somebody'll miss the plane at Bahrain.  Can't throttle that engine, can you kill it?  Don't see how, either its gone or you just don't know how to find it.  So you ride it.  Navy made you wear a helmet, ear muffs and goggles, thank god.  Gloves and a coat at altitude before you slept.  Ride it.  Either that engine dies, fails or you hit something,  but you're alive until then.  And then?  Live for the present.  Hell, might be all you got. . .


Cold.  So very cold.  Cold like a physical presence,  next to him, breathing on him. "He's mister Snow Miser, he's mister snow, da-dum da dum.  He's mister icicle, he's mister 10 below."  Cheery little voice. His voice.  His voice?  He slitted open one eye,  instinctivly looking around to see if anyone was listening.
  Not much chance of that.  He shook his head,  reoriented.  Quiet, after those hours of howling wind and engine.  His breath hung before him in white puffs, final confirmation: damned if he was'nt still alive!

Overhead,  stars shown down into the torn cockpit.  A moonless winter night,  high in the mountians.  Remembering now, outlines of mountains in the evening twilight, growing, reaching for him. A high saddle between two peaks. Praying. Trying to pull back on the wheel just a little, lifting the nose, tail catching rocks, bellyflopping,  shrieking, grinding, tearing.  Propellor blades striking showers of sparks before the wing itself tore away.  Then nothing, waking up singing a childs song.

"God, I am too old for this shit."  The Chief let his head hang for a moment, then looked up to the stars  "You can take that as a prayer or curse sir,  either one'll work."

Releasing the harness, he stood, not quite erect, pain and dried blood bending him.  Stiffly he shuffled thru the wreckage.  Fusalage still intact, be good to hole up for a few days if he could get a fire going.  Grumman still builds 'em tough.  Get a little more light,  he'd see what he had to work with.  Now though, got to get that ensign out 'n buried.  Dried blood flaking from his soaked coat and pants,  he pulled the remains from the cockpit.  Gagged only once,  at the smell of emptied bowels.  A hundred yards or so from the plane he came across a shallow depression, laid the remains in it,  and began piling rocks.  The sky had the first streaks of morning in it when he finished.  "Best I can do kid".  Humping the rocks had felt like penance for the casual way he'd dumped  the pilot out.  "I'm sorry for that."  Sorry for all of it.  God forgive me, I had to do it.   

He sat on a rock,  eyes tearing.  Pile of rocks ain't enough for a mans life.  Got to have words.  Navy's got a hymn.  Don't sing worth a damn kid,  just have to say it. 

"Eternal Father
Strong to save
whose arm does bind the restless wave
who bids the mighty ocean deep
its own appointed limits keep
oh hear us when we cry to thee
for those in peril on the sea."

"Amen."  I don't remember the verse for airmen, sorry Ensign.  Reckon it works fine as is.

Time to tend to the living. Limped back, crawled inside the wreck.  Clothes first.  In the calmness of the morning he was too aware of the metallic stink of blood.  His coat, long wool, 2 dollars at a Norfolk thrift shop, was ruined, as were pants, underwear, hell, just burn all of it.  Need kindling anyway.  Working thru the fusalage, he found his seabag and garment bag, still webbed to the cargo pallet aft.  All his things had survived undamaged,  'cept what he had on.  Slowed by bruises, hurried by cold, the Chief stripped, rubbing flakes of blood from his puckered skin.

'Course it was most all historical stuff.  Hell,  mostly late 19th century military issue.   Make for some interesting looks when the rescue chopper showed up, what the heck.  Cotton long johns and a red shield shirt.  Wool cavalry trousers with a 1" red stripe.  M1874 5 button sack coat, red piped and striped, topped off with an M1872 caped great coat.  Wool socks and Jefferson bootees,  Barracks Kepi.  The last let him wrap his red wool scarf around his neck and over his head and ears.  By god, he was finaly warm!

And hungry.  Was that, yes!  2 boxs of MREs*.  Along with the case of bottled water found everywhere Americans went in the middle east.  Food first,  then he'd start on the mail bags, work thru the rest of the cargo.  Maybe a few wooden crates he could break up.

Scrabbling for his seabag had uncovered the guncase.  Maybe. . .no, not yet.  Got food,  no need to chance giving any locals the wrong idea, should any show up.   Maybe the SAR chopper 'd get here first.  Question was: where was here?  Chewing on a processed pork chop, the Chief turned the question over in his mind.  No mountians like this on the Arab penninsula.  Sun setting behind him when he crashed.  Iran.  Great.  Well, that ought to get 5th fleet out here fast.  No doubt Tehran would be howling about the Great Satan violating its airspace. . .


"No Track!"  Commander 5th Fleet was pissed.  "Explain this to me Commander!  We launch an airplane, and it fu^**^ dissapears!  This is God Damned Bahrain, not Bermuda!"  Admirals do not like bad news before morning coffee. 

The Commander had'nt had coffee yet either.  "Sir,  The aircraft had a bad transponder.  It was scheduled to be replaced upon landing in Bahrain."  How to phrase this. "Sir, they're old planes, stuff breaks, not a lot of funding.  They make do."  5th Fleet scowled. 

"Saudi Coastal command?"

"Out of range sir"

"AWACS?  JSTARs?"

"Sir, AWACs was on the ground yesterday."  Oh shit!  Well, some Air Force puke'll get yelled at.  "With the Iranian air force mostly grounded,  there's not much for them to track,  so they've been spending more time on the ground.  Saves operating costs sir.  JSTARs was over the Red Sea tracking Dhows."

"Oh just great.  Now I can tell someones Mother that I can't find her son, but I do know the position of every FU^*&^! wooden tub in the Red Sea!  GODDAMMIT!  Just what the hell do we know!"

"Sir, we have the planes flight plan.  We've got aircraft and ships searching the intended flight path.  It was a straight line from the battle group to Bahrain.  UAE and Quatar report no Radar track south, so we know they didn't overfly."  Calm down Admiral,  my hide won't do you any good no matter how good it'd look on the wall.

"Iran?"

"Not a word from them, sir."

"Well thank god for that!  Damn Mullahs be howling down the roof if the great Satan violated their damn airspace. . ."

Oblivious to all this, the night shift of an Iranian Navy coastal command radar station enjoyed sleeping in.  They'd done so for the last 2 weeks,  and had another week before going back on line.  The emitter tube for their 70s era station had burned out,  and it would be at least another week before the replacement arrived, custom made by a small Cinncinati company specalizing in parts for these old American systems. 

Their commander had, of course,  sent a memorandum to the local military council,  asking for the Army to set up one of their portable units to cover the gap.  He'd made the mistake of sending it in an envelope shared with his mens monthly Transfer Requests. (It was very boring, isolated duty)  The councilman overseeing this sector had pulled the first request, noted the contents, then "round filed" it,  as he'd done so many others. 

Ah well, nothing ever happened in this sector.


USS Bulkeley

"Combat, Bridge, Status."

Chief of the watch made a quick station check, picked up his phone. "No change Captian.  All sensor stations and PriFly report negative."  The Chief let his professionalisem slip just a little.  "Sorry, Sir."

"Bridge out."  Dammit!  No debris, no oil slick, nothing!  3 days steaming to Bahrain and back,  and nothing!

"Sir?"  The duty messenger held out a paper.  "Message from Flag, sir."

Thanking the seaman,  he unfolded the message.  5th Fleet to commanding officer USS Bulkeley.  Secure search,  proceed best speed to battle group.  Forward updated copy of members page 13 for processing. 

Dammit!  3 days.  Man gives us 23 years, we give him 3 damn days.  DAMMIT!  "Officer of the Deck."

"Sir!"

"Secure from search.  Recall the Chopper.  Upon completion of Helo recovery, set course and speed to intercept Battle Group.  I want to be on  station by first light tomorrow.  Luetenant, you have the bridge."

"Aye-aye sir.  I have the Bridge."  "Helm acknowledges OOD has the Bridge."

Captian McCoy turned "Messenger!  Have Chief Meyers Personnel Record brought to my stateroom."  He stomped out,  leaving the bridge personnel to relax, just a little.  McCoy settled in his stateroom, lit a cigar, and waited.  The polite knock came soon enough.  "Sir, the File you wanted."

"Thank you, Seaman."  Just a kid, straight out of High School, looked vaguely frightened.  "Have a seat son,  this won't be long."

"Sir."  He sat on the goverment issue blue vynel couch,  nervously fingering his hat. 
Ah well.  The Captian sat at his small desk, opening the record to Page 13,  Service members disposition upon death.  Parents, deceased.  Grandparents, deceased.  No Brothers, Sisters, no Family.  Disposition of accounts: SGLI* and all funds and property detailed in accounts listed on attachments 1 and 2 are left to the Monastic Community of Conception Abbey, Conception MO.  He flipped to Attachment 1.  Bank account, 5 (!) Mutual Funds.  SGLI alone was 1/4 million.  Ought to get him a nice stained glass window.  Attachment 2 listed personal property.  Clothes, guns, a Jeep, a Harley Davidson Road King.  Lord knows what the monks would do with all that.   He looked down at the file.  To Ranald S. McCoy.  One Shiloh Sharps #3 sporting rifle, SN #B2XXX.

That son-of-a-bitch.

He blinked. Once.  Then pulled the page 13 and attachments from the file.  Pulled a memorandum sheet: To Commander 5th fleet.  From Commanding Officer USS Bulkeley.  Reccomend offical notification be sent to the address's listed on Members page 13.  CO USS Bulkley will in addition send personal letters.  Ranald S. McCoy, Commanding.

He clipped the Memo to the Page 13, called for the Messenger.  "Take this to Com 1 for transmission to 5th fleet.  Upon acknowledgement, report back to me with the original."
"Aye-Aye sir!"  The kid scuttled out.  McCoy settled back, relit the forgotten cigar.



"They ain't comin'"  4 days, no SAR, no overflights, nothing.  The feeling was strangely familiar.  He'd felt much the same after the Chief selection board had passed him over for the 10th time.  Selected next year, it had taken the personel Chief all day to convince him it was'nt a joke.  "Sunsabitchs."  Quiet Ol' Luke Meyer done fell thru the crack of life one more time.   Like most cracks, it was full of. . .
What the hell was he complaining about.  Was'nt this what he'd wanted?  Alone on a mountain?  Wrong side of the planet, but heck!  The last few days had been enjoyable.  Small fire,  food, sleep. Listened to a wolf howl at night.  Did a little exploring, not too far,  did'nt want to miss that chopper.  Had a good start on that US Grant beard he'd always wanted to grow.  One MRE a day, still had 2 weeks worth left.  He laughed, loud sound on the mountian.  The Ultimate camping trip!
No locals had shown. No patrols,  no search partys.  Guess the plane had somehow gone unnoticed.  Wonder if the Navy had declared him dead yet. 

That could be bad.  Yep,  a serious consideration.  If the Iranian Military found him,  might not be worth the trouble to give him back.  Might just shoot him and be done with it.  One less of Satans Minions to deal with.  Might be time to start moving, work down the mountian, strike for the coast.  Find a place to hole up,  figger out how to live.  Steal a boat maybe?  Too far ahead.  THink tomorrow.  Tomorrow night he'd start down. Travel at night, use less water. The valley to the west had a hint of trail running thru it.  Fleck of green here and there.  Maybe even a stream at the bottom.  Thank God it was winter.  Place be bone dry any other time.  Even now it was fit only for bare subsistance herding, if he could judge.  Never had eaten goat.  Pack up, make a blanket roll.  Got a knapsack, and an 1870s field pack.  Going all out for the costume contest had paid off. 

The gun case.  Damn.  He sat,  ran fingers thru his hair.  You open that,  you've pretty much declared war on the state of Iran.  Patrol see's you with a weapon, you get shot.  Or. . . Go unarmed,  a state declared dead man, maybe get youself put in a cage for 20 years.  If they let you live.
 
Old argument.  Die quick,  die slow.  Slow way you still got a chance to get out.  Maybe.
No.  Some poet, Tennyson?  He'd wrote, the best any man can hope to end,  is a grave filled with honor,  wept over by beauty.  Well, there would be no beauty,  but he could fill it with some honor, if only his to himself.   Maybe. . .maybe he wanted it.  That grave filled with Honor.  He shook his head.  Gawd you can be a morbid bastard!  Too much thinking! Damn classical education!  Pick up your gun and go home!  Damn anyone who trys to stop you!  Home may be in the states, or a grave here, but you're going, damn you!  Chief Master at Arms Lucien T. Meyer rolled back onto his mail sack, laughing, mostly at himself.

He slept off and on most of the next day.  As evening came on he finished packing.  It would be a 19 century pack, filled with 19th century kit.  What few "modern" things he had provided no advantages, so he took none.  Full pack, topped with a blanket roll wrapped in his black rain poncho.  A dusty black slouch hat hung from a back buckle.

Went well with the guns.  The Colt Single Action Army .45 was still a reasonable weapon.  A powerful cartridge in a light, easily handled side arm. 7 1/2" barrel, cavalry spec.  Now the Carbine. . .By any measure the single shot Springfield M1873 "Trapdoor" carbine, Caliber .45-70, had been obsolete 100 years previous.  Still, it was light, simple, rugged, the round powerful.  The Chief knew it as well or better than any modern weapon he'd quallified with.  Ammunition was 50 rounds each.  30 Carbine cartridges in a tent canvas cartridge slide, over a sabre belt.  20 pistol cartridges in a fleece lined "Dyer" pouch hung on the belt.  Balance of the ammo in the pack.  A flap holster and Bowie knife finished the belt.  2 bits of whimsey, if you don't consider the whole exercise whimsical.  In the bottom of the pack lay a pair of brass military spurs.  Be damned if he'd leave those to scavengers.  The same for the Ames M1862 light sabre strapped to the side of the pack, the blade muffled with rags.  The 2 tins of Cornell and Diehl "Blockade Runner" pipe tobacco, with a couple of corn cob pipes, vital neccesities.  A canteen slung from one shoulder, haversack with food from the other.  Ready. One last look around the wreck in a deepening twillight.  Nothing left, but to go.

The first night he spent working down the mountian.  It was rough, barren, heavily cut by wind and storm.  What ever rain fell here, literaly cut and ran.  The great many arroyos and draws would make for good hiding, though he'd guess most were blind, shelter and trap together.  He'd spent the first day out sleeping in one such draw,  in the shade of a rock ledge.  No fire, a cold camp, haversack for a pillow, covered with a wool blanket and greatcoat. 

It had been a hard walk, but not as hard as he'd feared.  The gear weighed less than the body armour and pack he'd carried in the Tigris-Euphates Delta, running patrol boats during Gulf War II.  Long as he took  his time.  Time would be the key.  Time measured in water.  What he carried figured to last, 4, maybe 5 days.  He'd need a source before then.  Water ran downhill, had to collect somewhere.  Had to.  He'd seen no life other than a few tufts of dried weeds,  a lizard now and then.  But he'd heard a wolf cry that night. Wolves, lizards, weeds all needed water. 

The 2nd night he found a trail.  Narrow, running along the edge of a verticle sided wash.  The wash looked around 4 foot deep.  He'd jumped down, scratched at the bottom,  found some dampness, no liquid.  Water had passed here,  perhaps not long ago.  He climbed up, walked on, keeping just off the trail so as to not leave tracks.  It warmed some at the lower altitude, enough to roll the greatcoat into the bedroll, swap the scarf for a red neckerchief.

He'd lost track of time that 2nd night.  For a man walking with Death he was having a damn fine time.  Magnificent quiet, mountains sharp against a starry sky.  It felt like walking back in time,  perhaps he'd walk out of these mountians into the 19 century.  Fine thought, slipping into imagination of what that would be like.  So the first pale light of dawn caught him by surprise.  Oh hell, got to find someplace to hole up.  It was a bad spot, a long gentle slope leading down to the wash. A couple of miles back there had been a place. . . No, there!  A hole, a horizontal crevice really, rock strata seperated by time.  Just big enough to crawl in and lay down.  Close though, only 50 yards or so from the trail.  He'd pile a few rocks in front to sheild it.  It'd do. 

With his rocks set, blanket spread, the Chief crawled in,  lay his weapons close to hand, and slept.

Drydock:
He awoke to an argument.   Hell.  The Chief rolled over, checked his weapons, then peeked over his rock pile. 

100 yards or so down the trail forked, one path crossing the wash.  Some clever fellow had leaned 2 slabs of rock against each other, forming a culvert for water flow.  On either side of this inverted V he'd piled progressivly smaller rocks, finaly forming a roadway across, just wide enough for a small cart.  On the far side of this construct a small herd of goats milled about a donkey cart,  from which an old bearded man shouted, waving a stick.  Facing the cart was a soldier on a nervous stepping roan horse,  shouting just as loud,  shaking a finger in the old mans general direction.  Across the bridge another soldier sat a rather large black horse, pinching the bridge of his nose in the classic "I'm getting a headache" gesture.

Lovely.  A middle eastern traffic jam right on his front porch.  C'mon people, swap insurance cards and move on.  He slid the carbine forward, sighting on Nose Pincher.  Just to the right of the sight ladder,  Old Man hopped off his cart, advancing on Nervous Horse.  Nervous Horse oh SHIT pulled a pistol, shooting Old Man.  Old Man went down in a swirl of goats.  Nervous Horse moved forward, lining up for a finishing shot.

He never remembered shifting targets, could never recall making the decision to shoot, nor squeezing off the shot.  Suddenly there was a blast of powder, the slam of recoil, bloom of smoke.  Nervous Horse jerked, the pistol rolling out of his hand.  The roan reared, the body sliding off, bouncing, falling into the wash.

Hammer cocked, flip the breech open, smoking brass spins away, grab a round, thumb it in, slap the block shut.  Nose Pinchers big black is head down, charging, rider hanging on?  Sights center mass, time the horse head bob, squeeze it.  Nose Pinchers mouth opens in shock, then he slumps forward, head nearly on the blacks mane as the horse slides to a stop.   No more'n 10 or 12 seconds for all of it.  Damn!  He'd done it.  Shit!  What in hell had he just done?

He'd just killed 2 men.  Why?  For what?  Some old man who'd probably spit on him?  Oh hell, the old guy.   The Chief pulled a first aid kit from his pack and hurried down the slope.  Old son of a bitch better be alive.

The Old Son of a Bitch was setting up, holding a bleeding arm.  Eyes widening in fear (oh, NOW he's afraid) he groped blindly for his stick, never taking his eyes from the approaching man.  The Chief slowed, holding his hands up, palms out, First Aid kit in the right.  He pointed at it, then at the bleeding arm.  Holding the mans eyes, he slowly knelt, keeping his hands out front and visible, began to examine the wound.  Lucky man.  Straight thru, 9mm looks like.  Missed the bone.  Dampning a piece of gauze,  he cleaned the entry and exit holes, letting the fresh blood well up.  Sprayed on disenfectant, Old guy never winced.  Pads over the holes, wrap the arm with gauze, clips to hold.  Looking back into the mans face, he found fear replaced by suspicion.  Fine, the Chief thought.  Beats bleeding to death.

He helped the Old Man Up, gave him a leg up on the cart.  Neither one had spoken.  For a minute the Old Man stared at him, fear, suspicion, confusion passing across his face.  Then he shrugged, the gesture somehow ancient and all encompassing.  From his perch he made a slow survey of the landscape: Where did you come from!  Shrugged again, reached down with his good arm, pulled out a water skin, tossed it to the Chief.  He then held out his hand. Oh, the stick!  The Chief handed it up.  The Old Man nodded, then tapped the placid donkey.  Cart, man and goats rattled down the trail.

Turning, the Chief saw a small furry lump on the bridge.  A kid goat, horse stomped. He thought:  So thats What It Was All About.  Hands beginning to shake, reaction setting in.  2 men dead, another wounded, for THAT? I killed for that! 

Idiot!  Soft headed fool!  Could'nt let it go, had to jump in.  2 dead men, and a live witness.  Got nice and close, let him get a good look at you.  Dark glasses might help, shoulda covered his face.  Too late now.  Absently he'd drifted over to the wash, found himself looking down at the first dead man.   He lay on his back, front covered with drying blood.  Bullet had gone high, musta clipped the aorta from the look of all that.  Your fault.  Had to shoot that old man.  Bastard.  See you in hell.

Proably won't have to wait long.

How long he stood there, he was'nt sure.  Had to let the shakes pass,  swallow the bile from the back of his throat.  Learn to live with it.  He'd stood on a battleship, the Missouri, long ago, watched and felt those 16" rifles fire in anger,  killing at 20 miles.  That had been a job.  This had been personal. 

He walked back across the little bridge, back toward his hide hole, water skin tucked under one arm.  Got a few more days water out of it anyways. The sun was low, time to move on.  Should he try to hide the bodies?   Doubtless that old man'd be telling one heck of a story, and the horses would head for their stables. That would get the military searching.  Leave 'em be. Maybe the wolves would help him out.  Best use the time to get as much distance as you can.  For all the good it'll probably do. . .

A loud snort jarred his thoughts.  Up ahead, that big black still stood, dead man still in the saddle.  Except the black had turned to face him.   Damn, thats a big horse!  The Chief began sidleing off to the side, go around, give the animal plenty of room.  The big head swung, following him,  large black eyes unblinking.  As he reached halfway, the big horse knickered, stamped a forehoof.  The Chief froze.  If that big thing charged. . .The horse snorted, shook his head.  "What?"  Did it want something?  Lessee, If I was a horse with a dead man. . .Oh.  "Easy now."  He slowly walked up, hands down.  He'd read once that a raised open hand might frighten a horse, looks like a predators upraised paw.  "Easy."  The body still slumped forward, very little blood.  Looked like a center hit, right thru the heart.  Must've bled out internaly.  He eased the left foot out of the stirrup, slowly pushed up until the body rolled off to the right.  The right foot twisted out of its stirrup on its own, thank god.

The Black stood quiet.  The Chief slowly ran his hand over the massive shoulders.  A beautiful animal. Not a hair on him but coal black.  Big, did'nt know how much a "hand" was, but he was a lot of them.  Had some draft horse in him, had those lovely "feathers" on the legs.  Looked like a Shire he'd seen at a steam tractor show once.  That had been a huge beast, yet so gentle, giving rides to little kids.

It could use a good brushing.  Mane tangled, feathers dirty.  Dead man should've taken more pride in a mount like this.  He picked up the reins, looped them over the pommel.  Patted the massive neck.  "Git on home boy." The Chief turned back to his little camp.

The hole still smelled of black powder smoke.  Not much to pack at least.  Roll up the bedroll, pocket the used brass.  He'd clean the carbine at his next camp, if there was one.  Those soldiers had been carrying M-16s, should he grab one?  Had'nt done them much good.  Never liked the 16 anyway, he'd stick with what he had.  Foolish maybe.  Hell with it.  He looped on the haversack and canteen, shrugged into the packs shoulder straps.  Pulling a Tootsie roll from the sack, he turned, and found himself nose to nose with that big, black, horse. "Shit!"

They stood that way for a few seconds.  Maybe it wants some of that tack removed.  He reached for the headstall, only to have the black jerk back his head, snorting.  "Allright.  I ain't got time to fool with this.  GIT!"  The Chief stepped to the side, then moved off down the slope to the trail.  Where to go now?  Old Man went down this trail.  Logical thing to do is take the other trail, get distance from the witness and his stories.   Perhaps the expected thing.  To survive, seperate expectations from reality.  Right then.  He'd take this trail.  Follow the Old Man.  That old guy was  heading somewhere,  maybe somewhere with water, food.  Stay out of sight, let the shepard lead him in, let the story he tells lead the pursuit away.  Wonder what goat tastes like?  Absently he peeled and chewed his candy.

Behind him sounded  steady, repetitive thuds.  Horse that big does'nt clop, it thuds.  The damn horse was following him.  Following him!  He turned to find it maybe 10 feet behind him.  "Git!"  Of course it just stood there.  "Look, go home.  I don't know what you want, I've got nothing you can eat, go!"  Now he was trying to have a converstation with it.  Lovely.  "Hanging around me is a good way to get shot.  GO!" 

He turned and began walking.  Few seconds later, the quiet thuds began again.  Maybe if he ignored it.

For perhaps 1/2 a mile he tried to ignore the Black.  The horse ignored his ignoring.  10 feet behind,  massive, patient.  At every rise the Chief would stop, pulling an antique spyglass to check the trail ahead.  The Black would come quietly up, head nearly hanging over his shoulder, as if to ask: See anything? 

In final exasperation he turned.  "Goddammit, I'm a sailor!"  As if that explained anything to a horse.  The Black bared his teeth, as if pleased at getting a rise out of the stubborn human.  The Chief took off the kepi, slapping it against his leg.  He was literaly looking  a gift horse right in the teeth.  What the hell. Resetting his cap, he walked back to the Black, stuck his left foot in the stirrup, left hand barely reaching the Pommel, heaved the right leg up and over.  Right foot found the stirrup, he stood to check the length.  Little short, have to adjust them the next time off.  He settled into the saddle, noting the wieght of the field pack off his shoulders as the bottom came to rest on the cantle.  It was a mounted rig.  It all felt right.  The leather m-16 scabbard held the M1873 carbine as if made for it.  "All right,  but don't neither one of us get used to it."  Come morning he'd have to hole up,  he'd leave the Black free, maybe it would wander off.   

The Black knickered, blew.  The Chief lightly tapped his heels, and they moved off into the night.

Drydock:
"I do not know where he came from!"  The Old Man waved his good arm about  his head, as if to scatter the confusing thoughts.  He stood in the doorway of his village headman.  That worthy individual raised his own hands.  "So you have said, Reza.  Would it not be better if you were to come inside to say these things?"   Reza stumped in, awkwardly seating himself on the carpet.  A low fire burned on the hearth, bathing both men in yellow light and shadows.  The Headman sat. "It is late, and  you have traveled far, Reza.  Would you like tea?"

"Pah!  I need no tea!  There is great trouble.  Learned man, do you not see this?"  He indicated the bandaged arm.

"I await a better telling of your story." 

Reza leaned forward, the light of an exciting tale in his eyes warring with fear.  "I had bought new animals from the next village.  Lovely, one ram has color meant for the weave. . . Ah, yes, last evening, at the high wash bridge, I met 2 soldiers, both mounted.  Fine mounts, one especially. . ." The Headman held up one hand.  "Reza, was one a Roan?"

"Yes, but. . ."

"A Roan came down the trail a few hours ago, mane and withers covered in dried blood.  It is tethered behind this house now.  It has caused great concern here, as it bears the brand of the Army.  I take comfort in that it is not your blood?"

"No learned one, but that is little comfort.  It is the blood of a Soldier.  The one who did this!"  Reza indicated his bandaged arm.

"Reza, surely you did not. . "

"Most assuredly I did not!"  Reza settled back.  "Teacher, the Roan had stomped one of my animals, a kid.  I demanded fair payment from the rider."

The Headman shook his head.  "You mean to say, you argued with him.  Old fool!  You value your life so little?"

Reza looked down.  "It would have been for my granddaughter."

"Go on."

"I approached him.  He shot me as you see. I fell, he pointed his gun at me again,  to kill, of that I am sure.  Then blood poured from the bottom of his neck, and I heard a boom, much louder than that of the soldiers gun.  The Roan reared, throwing the rider, allready dead I think.  The Roan ran away.  Then I heard another boom.  I was down amidst my animals, and could see nothing.  I finaly rose, and saw a man coming toward me."

The Headman now leaned forward   "The other soldier?"

"That one was gone, I know not where, but I think the 2nd boom was for him."

"What of this man?"

"He came to me, hands held up, holding a medical kit.  He pointed at my arm, then cleaned and wrapped it as you see.  I was in great fear I admit to you."

The Headman snorted.  "Fear came late to you, I think."

"This I know well enough, Teacher!"  Reza snapped back.  It was his story, was it not? 

"Forgive me Reza.  Go on, what sort of man was this?"

"I would have to say, he was not from around here.  Tanned, lightly bearded, not an arab.   A western man perhaps.  He was dressed strangly.  It seemed a type of uniform, but I have never seen the like.  It was blue, trimmed in red, and he wore an odd, flat topped cap.   He wore a black belt, with a covered holster.   And, ah, there was a bright red cloth tied about his neck."

"You think it was a soldiers uniform?  Why is this?"

"It had stripes on the sleeves like that of a soldier, but much larger."  Reza considered.  "Learned one, I am an old man.  Long ago do I remember when the English were here, and I perhaps remember seeing a uniform such as this, but red, not blue."

"Indeed.  You think he was English?"

"I know not.  Neither one of us spoke." Reza looked into the fire.  "He helped me onto my cart, and I gave him water.  I drove off, not looking back."   Reza brought his eyes to those of the headman.  "Teacher,  Two soldiers are dead.  The Army will come, will it not?"

"Yes."  The Headman stood,  clasped his hands behind his back.  "They will come.  Perhaps they will find little.  You have strong sons?"  Reza nodded.  "Send them to the high wash bridge.  Find the soldiers, bury them deep.  When the army comes, we will say, yes, they were seen,  but we have seen them no more.  I think perhaps they were unlucky men.  It has been a hard year,  the scorpions plentiful, the wolves hungry.  I do not lie."

"And the other?  Do we tell of  him?"

"He saved you, did he not?"  Reza nodded.  "I do not think that he is an enemy.  I do not know that he is a friend.  Surely he has moved on.  We will say nothing.  May the one God shelter us all."

Reza moved to go, then turned. "What of the horses, learned one?"

"We will butcher the Roan tomorrow, destroy the saddle and tack."

"There was another, a Black."  Reza thought, then decided to say it.  "It was a Horse of Alexander."

"Indeed"  Surprising, the Headman thought.  "No doubt the Army stole it.   It has not been seen."   He considered.  "Such a horse will not act as others do.  We will wait, we will watch.  We will pray, no doubt."

No doubt indeed, thought Reza. 

 
For 2 nights the path had wound thru broken, jagged hills, gradualy trending downward.  As it did, plants became more numerous,  an occasional gnarled tree breaking thru the rocks.  No garden spot, but enough to support an passing animals.  Still the path remained narrow, offering no passage for any kind of modern vehicle.  That old mans cart must have been a tight fit.  He came to a small rise, beyond which the path dropped steeply into a cut, giving a glimpse to a valley beyond.  He dismounted, stretched, butt sore.  Not as bad as he'd feared.  20 years since he'd horsebacked this much.  Reckon some things you just don't forget.

The Chief left the black in a small wash, climbing up to the rim of the valley for a look.  A crescent moon offered some light, enough to see the path following the cut to a stream bed, then down the center of a gently sloping valley floor.  It seemed a bowl surrounded by rocks, into which centurys of weather had poured sediments.  There were faint outlines of fields,  a few flocks moving,  In the center, a small gathering of dim lights indicated a village. Thru the glass the lights had the yellow glow of fire, oil lamps maybe, no electrical power.  In the daylight he was sure it would appear pastoral, even idyllic.  Dammit all to hell!  No doubt the Old Man was there, telling his story.   Dammit!  Can't go thru there.  But down there was water,  other supplies.  Maybe he could find somewhere near to hole up,  Maybe the next night he could sneak down, fill canteens, steal something to eat.  MREs were not going to last much longer.  Resupply, then try to move around the valley.

As he came back down, he noted the Black where he'd left it.  From ground level the wash had appeared short, boxed.  But from a particular angle above he could see a narrow crevice running back into the rimrock.  Down in the wash he mounted, then moved back into the wash, feeling for the cut, there, a blind turn around a crumbling outcrop.  Very tight, maybe a hundred feet back, then suddenly opening to a circular opening overhead, with overarching rock forming a partial ceiling.  It was a sinkhole, back in the ozarks they'd called these glory holes.  Caves where the roof had collapsed. 

For the first time since the crash, he felt lucky.  Pure dumb lucky. Louis L'Amour lucky. There was wood!  A few dead trees, tumbled from  the holes edge when their roots broke up the rock beneath them.  A few patchs of grass,  a seep of water from limestone.  No sign of men.  Why come here, why look here, when the valley was just beyond.  It would do.

He stripped tack and saddle from the black.  In the saddlebags were, would you believe it, American MREs.  Surplus on the international arms market.   A nose bag, grain, comb and brush.    The grain was in daily ration bags.  He poured one in, then slid it over the Blacks nose.  Black crunched contentedly.  No brushing though.  "Sorry boy."  You need to look unkempt, abandoned.  He piled the tack on a limestone bench.   Rummaging in his pack he pulled a Ranger tomahawk.  Makes a good little axe. 

Sitcks, bark, deadwood made a small, smokeless fire.  Setting in the flickering glow,  he lit his pipe, watching the black, bag now off, ruminating thru the weeds.  Thought of, not home.  There had been no home, not since he'd left those Missouri hills 23 years ago.  Ships and barracks.  Good places, good living, but no more permanent than what he had here, now.  A fire, a pipe, a horse in the backround.  Like some old west encampments he'd been to.  The crash, the killings  were another world.   

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Drydock:
The Black loomed over him when he awoke that evening.  "Goddammit!"  Really the answer was obvious: It was raining.  The partial overhead gave good shelter here.  "Can't blame you for that."  He stirred the ashs of his fire, finding a few coals,  heaped on some twigs and bark to restart.  Good thing he'd made a pile.  Setting a tin cup at the fires edge, he poured in water and a pack of instant coffee.  A nudge in the back.  The Chief turned to the Black.  "Y'know, you don't have to stay."  He reached out, ran his hand down the long head.   The Black blew and chewed.  "Said I would'nt, but what the hell."   He picked up the brush and comb, began working the mane.  Something to do while the water warmed.  Yeah, right.  "Might be stuck here a while.  Won't tie you.  You leave any time"  Lonely men and horses.  Well, long as he don't start talking back.

It poured for a while.  This time of year, this side of the gulf, rain comes hard and dirty, mixed with the dust blown off the Arabian pennensula.  The dust carries on a hot wind, sweeping across the gulf, picking up moisture off the water, slamming into the southern mountains of Iran.  Any man with sense would be inside.

Some time later, the Black brushed and grained, the Chief sipped his coffee, watching the water tumble thru the cracked rock overhead.  Steady, dirty rain.  Grey light fading to black.  It would be a good time.   He belted on the holster, sheathed the Bowie.  Draped the black cavalry poncho over all of it.  The little fire burned low, he left it as it was, walked out into the wet dark.  Half expecting the Black to follow.  It did'nt, just stood there, watching as he entered the cut.  Smart, that horse.  He was'nt going to be the dumbass in the rain.

He worked down the trail into the valley.  The cut roared with water sluicing down off the mountians.  No need to hide or avoid tracks.  Not even to stay off the trail: no percentages in it.  Darkness, noise and rain would be enough.    It was just under a mile he reckoned, to the bottom, perhaps another mile to the village.  The trail was hard packed and rocky, little mud.  Still he could feel the wetness creeping thru the boot seams.  Well, water won't hurt you.  Could use a bath.   He walked on, peering thru the rain, until the first faint light wavered before him. 

From the glass he recalled the layout:  A road town, huts aligned along the trail as it widened to something of a street.  Shacks and fences behind.  The Chief left the trail, into the fields to the right, swinging around "Behind" the right side of the village.  It suddenly occured to him what a stupid risk he was taking.  You forgot about dogs!  These are a herding people.  Too late now, pray they're inside, pray the rain holds down your scent.  Move along, reconnoiter.  Look for a chance. 

Chance showed itself at the third hut.  The fenced area behind was filled with small sheep. Quietly bleating, standing miserable in the rain as he was.  He approached, shakeing out a rein he'd tucked into his belt.  Leaning over the low fence, he slid the rein around the animals neck, tying it off.  Then reached down and heaved the placid animal over.  The ewe let out a single, surprised bleat.  As if in answer, the sky opened to another downpour. Thank you God.  He moved off, the animal following without protest.  Maybe it thinks I'll get it out of the rain?  The Chief moved fast, jogging, counting on the rain to cover.  When it slowed, he'd slow. 

It gave him 15, maybe 20 minutes, before slacking off to a steady drizzle.  As the rain slacked, a foggy mist seemed to rise.  Fine, just keep raining enough to wash out any tracks.   How long to butcher a sheep.  Few days to cook and jerk what he could, then move on.



 
"Wife, I thought we drove 34 sheep in here before the storm?" 

"You thought!  The boy counted them for you!  He is 7, It was raining, a mistake was made.  Doubtless you could not count past 10 at that age."

"I could indeed. . .if I were barefoot."  They both laughed.  The boy pointed. "Look! Riders come!"

The man shaded his eyes.  Yes, 3 riders coming down the eastern cut into the valley.  Tiny figures, yet sharp at this altitude,  were they. . .he was almost sure of it.

Soldiers.

His wife percieved his worry before he spoke.  "Move the animals into the north cut.  I must go see the Teacher.  Stay until I come for you."


They called the Village Headman "the Teacher"  as long before his parents had sent him from the village,  all the way to the British University in Teheran, to learn of the world, and to escape into it.  He had done so for 20 years,  had traveled, seen much.  Only to return to this small village of his childhood, to teach other children, to give back.  Give others the chance he had.  Though intent on being a teacher, he soon found himself elevated to defacto mayor of his little community.  This he accepted with easy resignation: how could he refuse?

So another 20 years had gone.  Wife passed on, daughter in America now.  Perhaps when this goverment fell like so many others, she might return. . .

"Teacher!"  They had called him that so long, he hardly remembered his own name.  "3 soldiers, riding in from the east."

Ah yes, they had come.  Rather quickly at that.  "They will come to me."  Others gathered at the news.  "Be easy my friends.  I will speak to them, they will move on I am sure.  Be friendly, offer them food.  Go about your work."

The small group dispersed, he sat on the bench before his home.  Said a few prayers,  fiddeled with his ancient Meerschaum pipe, bought so long ago in England.  Ah, England.  It would be raining there now, cold and soft. . .

"You are in charge here!?"  Time had passed.  A leutenant, a sgt and a private if he remembered the insignia correctly.

"Nothing so formal as that, young sir.  They come to me, I tell them what they may do, sometimes they do it, sometimes they do what they want.  My power is just a little knowledge they may use."

The Leutenant dismounted.  "Old one, it is knowledge we seek.  Two men, a patrol, were in this area.  They have not reported in for several days.  Have they been seen?"

"Two men, mounted as you?"  The young officer nodded.  "I believe they were seen,  yes, a shepard mentioned seeing two mounted soldiers in the high valley, to the east, perhaps 4 days ago?"  He looked at the Lt. "Do you not have radios?"

"They work poorly in these mountains."  The Lt. pointed "To the east, where we have just ridden?  We saw no signs."

"Who can say.  Many have become lost in these mountians.  They did not pass thru here.  Why are you mounted?  Does the army not have vehicles for you?"

"None that can manage these trails."  The Lt. was starting to show some irritation.  "Old man, where is this shepard?"

"He has moved on with his flock.  Some valley out there."  He waved his hand at the mountains before them.  "Always a different one." He shrugged. "He is a sheperd."

"No one else has seen them?"

"No one.  You may ask, our  homes are open to you.  Perhaps you would like a meal?"

The Lt. spun, mounted, then looked down at the Headman.  "No, I think not.  We must ride on, make our own reports.  You will watch for them?"

"We will."

"Very well then.  Good day to you."

"And to you, Young sir."



They rode on, moving to the western end of the valley.  The village behind them, the Sgt turned in the saddle.  "That is all sir?  You ask no more, we do not search the village?

"To what use Sgt?  They have not been seen, we will find nothing."

"So that old man says sir.  You believe pagans!"

The Lt. kept his eyes fixed on the trail. "I believe they are sheep Sgt.  Sheep do not lie to the wolf, unless they are sure the lie will hold.  These are not bold people.  If they say we will find nothing, it is because they know we will not."

"And did we not lie too, sir?"  The Sgt dug in a pocket, retrieving a piece of 9mm brass. "We did find sign.  At that little bridge.  This was fired not long ago, You agreed it may be one of theirs."

"I did, and I do."

"Then why do we ride on!"

The LT. reined up, turning in his saddle to face his Sgt.  "Sgt!  We ride on to make sure that our men have not been seen further down this trail!  If this is so, then I will know that their trail ends here, with that piece of brass!  I will then take that knowledge to headquarters.  If the answer is here, it lies not in those peoples homes, but in their minds.  Higher ranking men than I will determine how it is to be found.  I have my orders, and you will obey them, Sgt!"



Atop a ridge to the east, the Chief slammed the antique spyglass shut.  "Dammit!"  Damn that greasy mutton that was taking so damn long to jerk.  Should have been gone by now.  What the hell was going on here?  Patrol comes in from the east, rides into that village, then heads further west?  Not back to the bodies?  You'ld think they'd found nothing, been told nothing.  Is that possible?  How could that be possible?  He was missing something here.  What? 

Whats the worst case?  Maybe the old man soups up his story with every telling, next thing you know there's a whole regiment of oddly dressed strangers ambushing patrols up in the hills.  Junior officer rides in, gets the wild ass version, rides the hell out for reinforcements.

Great.  Assuming thats the worst case (Well, the worst case is you get dead, but you allready assume that)  there may be an organized military sweep thru here in a few days.  Not just the local constabulary chasing a lone bandit.  Time to move.   Back down the ridge, back to the glory hole.  At least the food was about ready.  He was rather proud of that.  It was amazing how much he'd remembered from 25 years ago.  He'd saved all those salt and pepper packs from the MREs.  Cutting the mutton into strips, he'd kneeded the spices into the meat, then lay the strips out on a scrubbed, flat piece of slate, lain on the fire.  Another rock chip on top, then build a fire on top.  The whole assembly tilted just a bit for the grease to run.  It worked well, but it seemed to take forever for the grease to bubble out.  Venison would have been a lot faster.   Burn't in places, unevenly pressed, but edible, and it would keep long enough.  It had taken 3 nights so far, a lb at a time with his small fire, could not risk a bigger one.  Had to forage for wood a couple of times.  Be done by morning hopefully, he'd move out the next night.



Drydock:


"Wiiinnnssstttonnn!"  The young girl chased her disobediant black dog up the trail.  Her teacher had named the flat faced little mutt, having observed "an english looking face, with a lengthy opinion on everything!"  Well he was certianly was talking long and loud now.  Her parents would be very angry with her if they knew she was up  here.  Winston was in for a good spanking, if she could just catch him!

Following the barking, she rounded into a small draw. "Winston!  Bad do. . ."  She froze.  It was such a big horse.  By far the biggest animal of any kind she had ever seen. And so black, so dark.  It had swung its head to look at her, freezing her.  Now it returned its attention to the small black dog dancing about its hooves.  The great head lowered, nose to nose with the dog.  The little dog now stood, quiet.  They seemed to regard each other for a few seconds,  Then the great horse snorted, blowing in the dogs face, and stamped a great forehoof.  Winston yipped, spun and scrambled back to his mistress, fetching up behind one leg as the horse regarded them both.

She bent and picked up her trembling little dog. Wanting to soothe and protect it.  Yet when she straightened the black horse had turned away, walking back into the draw.  It went around a crumbling outcrop and. . .was gone?

Her foolish brother might have followed, but she was not that daring.  And it would be dark soon.  Winston wriggled in her arms.  "Silly dog!  We go home!"  She would tell her father of the horse.  It was like a horse out of the stories her teacher told of their ancestors,  so very long ago.

She ran most of the way back, as only a child can run.  Mother would be calling for supper soon, she must not be late!  As she jogged up the street she saw her teacher, on his bench before his house, smoking his odd shaped pipe.  Of course!  She would tell him!  He was the smartest man in the village, certianly the smartest she knew (though she knew her parents were very wise indeed.)  "Teacher!"

He looked up from his thoughts to see Pahlavi's daughter.  Such a lovely child.  Soon the boys would look at her and walk into walls.  Intelligent too.  Her parents hoped someday to send her off as he had been.  "Yes Child?"  He saw she held her little dog, the one he'd named after Winston Churchill in a lighter moment.

"Teacher, I was chasing Winston up the trail."  She frowned.  "He was being bad again."

"He was being Winston, I would say."  Winston, clearly knowing he was being discussed, whined irritably.

"Yes Teacher"  A flash of a smile, then another frown. "But teacher, I saw such a horse!  A great black horse, like the war horses of the storys!  A horse like Beucephalas, from the storys of Alexander!"

He sat up "A great black horse, child?  Where did you see such a horse?"

She pointed up to the eastern cut.  "Up there teacher, just up the trail, in a draw on the right side."  She hugged her dog tighter.  "Winston found him,  Then he looked at me, and dissapeared into the draw."

"Dissappeared?"

"Yes Teacher.  He went into the back of the draw, around some rocks, and was gone!"  She looked down.  "I did not look.  He was so very big, and I was afraid, and it was going to be suppertime soon."

He stood. "You did well child."  He bent and hugged her,  whispering in her ear.  "Tell no one of this.  It will be our secret.  I will go and see this horse, and see why it is here.  Can you do this?"  She nodded.  "Then go.  If you are late, tell you're mother I stopped you to talk.  It is true, is it not?"  She nodded again, smiling.  "Now go, peace be with you, little one."



The light was fading as the teacher moved up the trail, carrying an old oil lantern.  If this was the horse old Reza spoke of, it must be found.  He could only pray that it did not carry the brand of the Army.  A brand would only leave one solution: Destroy it.  Yet to destroy a Horse of Alexander did not bear thinking.  Pray that the Army stole it unbranded, pray that it would accept a harness, become an innocent farm animal.  Did not their ancestors break the land with plows drawn by such horses?

It was easy enough to follow the childs tracks, the paw prints of her dog.  Entering the eastern cut he paused to light his lantern, for shadows now darkened the narrow valleyed path.  Darkness would drop like a curtain here, with no moon this night to relieve it.

Curse the legs of a child, how far can it be.  I am too old. . .No, here, this draw,  let it be here.  Search the ground, yes, she stood  here, and further on. . .Dear God, the size of that hoof!

Old fool!  Would it not have been better to have brought younger arms and backs to handle such a beast?  Pah!  Too late now.  Holding his lantern aloft he followed the tracks back into the draw, only to have them dissapear onto hard rock.  Still, he had some knowledge of tracks, should not steel shoes leave some mark?  Yes, there, a lighter scratch on rock.  Perhaps past that outcrop.

Amazing!  It appeared to be a split in the wall of rock, a fissure perhaps, opened by some movement of the earth long past.  He'd never heard of this, he'd grant no one else in the village had either.  Clearly the horse must have passed this way.  If it was safe he must bring the Children up here.  The rock strata were so clearly defined.  Perhaps 100 feet or so in,  it suddenly opened up.  He stood at the entrance, seeing nothing in the darkness outside the small circle of his lantern, save for a few stars beginning to show overhead.  He lowered the lantern, letting his eyes adjust.  The remains of a fire were in his nose,  noise of an animals breath.  . . .Eyes, there, high and large.  He moved forward, slowly, speaking soft words.  The horse stood quiet as he approached.  He could see a halter now, reins hanging.  Gently he stroked the great, soft nose, then reached for the reins.

The Horse raised his head, took a step back.  "So, you do not fear me, but you do not trust my hand."  Who do you trust?  The remains of a fire were at his feet.  He bent, passed his had over, ashs still hot.  And a scent of. . .Tobbacco?  What is this, an empty tin with a picture of an old steamboat?  Someone had been here.

Was still here, judging by the knife at his throat.  A hand grasped the lantern handle, pulled it away.  "I mean you no harm"  No reply.  He tried again, in english.  At that he was pushed away from the circle of light, into the darkness where a voice whispered in his ear.  "I don't want to kill you, and you don't want to be dead.  So give me good reason to let you live."  The briefest hesitation. "Please."  American!   


Behind the old man, cloaked in darkness, the Chief groaned inwardly: Had he really quoted from "Silverado"?  Well at least it was Danny Glovers line, not that whiney Costner. 

He'd watched from the shadows as the old man had approached the Black.  Debated to act, or remain  hidden.  The saddle bags had just been loaded, everything on the horse.  Still he might have let him try to take the black. Let him assume the horse still carried a dead mans pack.  But dead men don't make cook fires, or leave forgotten tobbacco tins.  He'd moved, hardly thinking.  To hear the man speak the Kings English had surprised him, with his reply too quick, too glib.  Better had he kept his mouth shut.

"We hid the bodies!"  What did he say? "What!?"

"Up the trail, the two soldiers, we hid them!"

"Why?" Talk fast now old man. He relaxed his grip slightly, but stayed behind, bowie still to the throat.

"Because the soldiers would think we killed them!"  Huh?  "Why would they think that?"

"Because they want to!"  Now just a cotton pickin' minute here.  Back off a bit.  "And this concerns me. . .?"

"I am no fool, American!  You ride a dead mans horse!  You killed them, before they could kill an old friend of mine."  The old man took a deep breath  "Now it is for me to ask, why?"

Damn damn damn!  He pulled the knife away, let go.  The old man spun to face him as he slammed the bowie into its scabbard.  "Because they shot an unarmed man for no reason, were about to shoot him again."  He sought the mans eyes across the darkness.  "Now what?"

The man glared at him for a moment, then turned and stomped over to his lantern.  He picked it up, setting it on a rock shelf, then seated himself beside it.  Made a great show of stroking his beard, tossing off a few long whiskers cut by the bowie.  "Now, I should think, we talk."

The old man leaned forward, elbows on knees as he contemplated the darkness.  "You have asked: Why?  Why have we done these things?  An excellent question from a man in your position."  They both smiled, tightlipped.  " So I will tell you.  Iran, as you know, is an Islamic republic.  A theocracy, a state of religion.  Very well.  But we, my people and I, are not of that religion."  He leaned back, arms clasped across his chest.  "Does this surprise you?  There are not many of us I grant.  We are Zoroastrian.  A small sect, I doubt you know of us."

"You might be wrong, old timer."  The Chief still stood just outside the lanterns circle of light, features indistinct. "Followers of the Greek phrophet/philosopher Zarathrustra, postulated the existance of a single god some 3500 years ago.  Not too popular in Greece at the time."  He took off his cap, scratched his head.  "Was a religious student some years back.  As I recall,  some think Paul learned to preach to the gentiles at the feet of the Zoroastrian elders of Antioch."

The old man leaned forward, fingers steepled.  "Amazing!  You are Christian?"

"Catholic"

"The Church of Rome teachs this!"

"I reckon we're a lot more open minded than we usta be."

There was sadness in the old mans voice.  "The world moves on, it seems, everywhere but here."  The grey head shook. "There has been no such tolerance in Islam since the Mongols destroyed the Calphiate 600 years ago.  You at least are a Person of the Book, as they say.  We are Pagans, filth.  They wish us gone from these lands, or buried in them.  They seek only an excuse.  One you may have given them!"  He stood now, angry, shaking a finger at the man in the dark.  Anger flared, then died.  "You could know nothing of this."

Hat in hand, the Chief studied his boot toes.  "Don't make me feel any better about it."

"Pah!  An old mans ramblings.  You did what needed to be done.  Saved an old fool who should have known better.  Perhaps nothing will come of it."  The old man sat again.  "It is nothing new.   It has been so for centuries." 

"You ever think of moving on?  Just curious sir,  on account of religion, my family got run out of Germany some hunnert fifty years ago, found a better place." 

"No!"  The old man started to rise again, then sank back.  "No, some have left.  My own daughter is in America.  Some place called Texas.  You know of it?"

He laughed.  "Sorry sir, Texas is a real big place."

"Yes.  Some have left.  Most stay.  We are too stubborn, too proud."  The voice rose.  "We were here first!  We made this land our own!  We are the descendents of great men, soldiers of Alexander the Great!  Alexander himself gave our ancestors this valley, tribute for honored service.  3000 years we have strode this land,  yet these latecomers would have us gone, for not bowing to Mecca 5 times a day."  Suddenly the old man looked embarressed.  "I am a teacher,  I have no desire to give angry lectures."  He studied the dim figure. "So, I have told you why.  Now I would have your story."


"Not near as much to tell.  Was on a plane, went down in the mountians few weeks back, east of here.  No one alive but me.  Trying to get to the coast, get home.  The soldiers you know about."

"An American military plane, you are in the American Military?"

"Sir, I don't think my answer to that would do either of us much good.  Sir I am  not your enemy"

"No, I suppose not."  The old man stood, wanting a better look at this man. He must be military, to use "Sir" as he did. "Nor would your name be of any use to me, I gather."  The Chief shook his head.  "Do you even know where you are, the name of these mountians, this village?"

"If I remember right, these are the Zagros mountians.  Don't want to know your towns name. . . . nor yours. . . If I get caught . . ."

"A noble sentiment."  The teacher rubbed his beard. "Why no search,  no rescue planes?  Not even our own army seems to know of this crash?"

"I don't know sir.  I suspect my people think the plane went down at sea."

"Odd.  Perhaps we may be of some use to each other?"

"Sir?"

"You have helped one of our people.  We can help you.  You wish to leave.  We wish you to be gone."  A smile in the bearded face.  "We have friends, relatives in a few coastal villages.  Dhows and fishing boats are known to cross the Gulf in search of commerce.  One  more man would be no great burden to them."

The Chief walked to the Black, ran his hand along the great neck.  It sounded so easy.  "Sir, with all respect, I don't know you.  I don't know if I can trust you.  You tell a mighty fine story.  Seems to me you could solve a lot of your problems by turnin' me in."

"Indeed!  The thought had not occured to me,  though there is truth in it."  Suddenly the old man strode toward the Chief, stopping just before the Blacks nose.  "Would it not be well for you to kill me now?  Come, I am an old man, unarmed." He flung his arms wide. " It would be easy enough.  Gun, a knife, a rock if you would not bloody your blade."

The Black snorted, making the Teacher step back.  "Could just tie y'up."

"Bah!  Too risky, too much I can tell.  Of course, I might die before some one found me." The Teacher considered. " You cannot afford to let me live.  A rock would be best.  Look like an accident perhaps."

"Shit!"

Chuckling, the Teacher strode back to his rock shelf, sat down.  "No, you would not do this. Many so called soldiers have I seen.  You are not such. I think, perhaps, that you are a warrior, in the truest sense of an abused word.  The Horse alone tells me this. You would face armed men.  Kill in battle, kill to save another, kill in rightous, justified anger, this you could do.  Simple Murder is beyond you. Even to save yourself."  He rested his chin on his thumbs, steepling his fingers.  "I think you had better trust me."

Now, the Chief stepped fully into the light.  "Reckon so."  He slapped on the crushed kepi, pulling the peak low over hard eyes.  "A lie is a fine weapon old man. If you're lieing, I'll kill you."

"It is a fair exchange."  The old man had not so much as blinked.  A good sign?  He would not dare to hope. . .

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