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Anachronisem (Solo)

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Drydock:
"You dress strangely"  The Teacher waved a hand at him.  "I do not pretend to know western fashion, but this seems. . .odd? Archaic perhaps?"

"It is an historical costume, a hobby of mine.  Not much else survived the crash."  A reasonable explanation, mostly true.  No way he'd explain all of it.  "Now Teacher, " for the first time he used the title of his thoughts "Just what is it about this damned horse?" He pointed at it.  " I see the way you look at it, and speak of it.  You came looking for it, not me."  To his surprise the Black stepped forward, as if sensing the turn of conversation.  

"Ahh."  A smile lifted the beard.  "The war horse sides its warrior."  The Chief looked down, embarressed to be called, again, a title he did not feel deserved.   "The old man you saved, he told me of this horse.  With the bodies gone, the other horse, the roan destroyed, it could be evidence of the shooting, even should you be gone. It is a distinctive animal."   The teacher spread his hands   "You seem a well read man.  Do you know the story of Alexander and Beaucephelas?"  The Chief nodded.  "A legend, but based in fact.  The Macedonians, root stock of Alexanders armys, were great warriors.  As well they were great horsemen, and breeders of horses.  A 1000 years they bred horses, War Horses, to carry armored men to the sound of battle.   Horses such as this."  He indicated the Black.  "When Alexander granted his  men lands, their horses remained with them.  Such a horse eventualy comes to choose his warrior, and will ill serve another.   I suspect the man who rode this horse before you found him an unruly mount."

The memory flashed unbidden, the Black charging, reins slack, rider gripping the saddle with both hands just before the bullet hit. . .

The teacher had continued  "Like my people, the breed dilutes, the blood thins.  We are no longer warriors, but farmers, shepards, our horses small, simple draft animals.  But once in a very great while, the old blood rises, comes forth, and a horse such as this is created.  A Horse of Alexander, we call them.   A horse of war, seeking a warrior to carry to the clash of arms.  Oh they will do other duties, pull the plows and carts of our people,  But always they look for that one they were meant to bear.  This one has found his."

The Chief looked up, seeing his reflection in the great dark eye.  Spoke more to the horse than to the man.  "I'm no warrior."

"He thinks so.  And he is a better judge than I."  The Teacher stood.  "That is the story, I tell it well do I not?  Believe what you will.   I return to the village with much to do.  I would have you remain here. Not long after sunrise I will return, wearing a red shirt so you will have an easy target."   He picked up his lantern and walked into the darkness.

 
-Shiraz, Southwestern Iran-

The desk appeared to be teakwood, topped with gold inlayed italien marble.  Rather ostentatious for a Man of God, the Colonel thought.  The Colonel also thought descretion was the better part of survival, and kept his thoughts to himself. Atop the desk were but two objects: a leather bound, gilt edged copy of the Koran, and a fired 9mm case.  Across the desk sat the Iman.  Gaunt, white bearded, cold eyed, rotating a gold Cross pen thru long fingers.  The pen stopped, pointing at the empty cartridge.  "My compliments on the Luetenants report, Colonel.  Your thoughts?"

"He is a good officer.  He found what there was to find.  He speculates on what may have happened, but draws no conclusions.  That is for us to do."  The Colonel hid his irritation.  The damned Lt. should not have speculated at all.  Probably thought it was what the Imam wanted to hear.  In that he was probably correct.

"What would you do now, Colonel?"

"Sir, I can have an infantry company into that area in 48 hours.  Along with a helicopter to scout.  We will find them, or their remains, and can then proceed. . ."  He stopped at the Imans raised hand.

"An effective military operation Colonel.  But I think something else may be needed here."  The Iman stood, turned his back to the Colonel to stare out a window.  "You are aware of the situation in Teheran?"

"Sir, I have heard. . ."

"I know what you have heard.  It is far worse than that.  Apostates fill the streets, while our leaders cower in their offices, waiting for revolution to sweep them away.  The sword of Allah cries for blood, but they have not the courage to draw it!  So they will fall, and power will pass to apostates, pagans, infidels, aithests!  Even royalists proclaim themselves openly, crying for the restoration of the Peacock throne!  And the Americans sit on their ships and laugh! It WILL happen Colonel.  But Praise Allah not here!

He wheeled, pointing a boney finger at the Colonel. " I have told them to act, and they will not listen!  They banish me here instead.   So much the better!"  The Iman folded his arms.  "As the prophets went into the desert to purify themselves, so I have come here.  Here will I create an enclave.  Here will the pure come, the soldiers of Allah, to create an army to reclaim the land.  Here will the Caliphate begin again."  The Colonel nodded, thinking of his Swiss bank account number.  The south of France would be an excellent place to retire.  The old fool was still ranting.  "Long have I detested this pagan nest in our midst.  Teheran would do nothing, for fear of the West, of losing their dollars.  I have no more fear of Teheran, and you have given me reason to act!  I will make an example of these pagans, cleanse their filth from our land."

The Iman took his seat.  "Maintain your men in readiness, but look to the north.  I will use others better suited for this task.  Have the Kuh-e-Bari camp commander report to me."

THAT got the Colonels attention  "The Afgan Arabs!  They are no soldiers!  They are butchers, terrorists!"  The Colonel pulled himself back, fearing to have said too much allready.  "Sir, they will draw too much attention,  when discretion is needed to give time to build our forces."

"They are what is needed.  But you speak well Colonel."  The Colonel inwardly relaxed.  "I will instruct them to minimize, if possible, the blood shed.  Destroy their homes, drive them to the sea.  It will be enough."  A pause for breath.  "For now."



The Teacher had returned, wearing the promised red shirt.  With him came another, a large, bullet headed, smiling young man, of a type found bending horse shoes with bare hands in country fairs across the world.  "This is, well, we are agreed names are not important.  He will take you to the coast, to a cousin with a Dhow.  He knows enough english to get by, and hopes for you to teach him more."   He brought clothes as well, baggy trousers, coarse shirt, vest and head wrap universal to these lands.  A small donkey completed the party.  

They had packed the latter in sad silence.  There was no place for the Black on the trail to the coast, nor on the dhow.  Nor in his life, truthfully.  The one thing he would miss from this episode, that magnificent horse.  It would remain with its people.  

He missed it still, 3 days walk down the trail.  They had set an easy, rambling pace, the massive young man in no hurry, the donkey stolid, pokey.  At night they chewed dried meat and dates around a low fire, learning each others language.  Bullet head  had no interest in mountians, farms or religion.  The first night out he had shyly produced from his pack a much turned copy of "Surf Illustrated"!  God knows where he'd gotten it.  He wanted to know about California, palm trees, and yes, those were real women. . .

Third night out, meal finished, they sat pouring over their textbook.  "Hal-ter top.  Halter top.  You say it."  "Halll-terrr. . ." Bullet head suddenly turned, looking east.  Now he heard it, a rattle of hooves, a horse at a fast canter.  Bullet Head hurridly stuffed the magazine into a sack, then went to the donkey, where the carbine the Chief had taught him to shoot lay hid in a blanket roll.  The Chief slid back from the fire, into the dark, his hand in his pack resting on the butt of the Colt.

The hooves neared, slowed to a thudding trot.  Familiar sound.  "Son of a bitch!"  The Black stepped into the firelight, sides glistening with sweat, breath steaming in the cool air.  No rider, but saddled and bridled, the saddle old, worn, one he'd not seen before.

He went to it, catching up the reins.  Tired as it had to be, it held its head up, looking down on him.  It seemed, angry. "Look!  Look here!"  Bullet Head had come up, was pointing at the left rear hip.  An ugly red crease ran horizontaly across the hip.  He traced it, maybe 6 inchs, to an exit wound.  From there another 6 or 8 inches, to a puckered entrance hole.  Looked to be 30 caliber, 7.62.  Hit, ran under the skin, emerged to burn the crease.  Painful, but not immobilizing.  Angry himself now, he carefully looked the Black over.  A notch in the right ear.  Nothing else, thank God.

Someone had shot his Black.  With a Kalishnikov he'd bet.  Why? God damn you, you know why.  The Black trembled, wanting  to go, to run.  Back.  No, no, you need rest and grain.  He stripped the tack, began rubbing the horse down with his sleeping blanket.  Bullet Head filled a nosebag with grain, then began packing the donkey as the Chief walked and watered the great horse.  The wounds were washed and greased.  2 hours of waiting, preparing.

He rode all that night.  Bullet Head and the donkey left far behind.  At the canter, slow gallop, 10 minutes an hour walking alongside, easing his mount.  Beneath him the Black somehow radiated anger, accusation, no longer the friendly companion of earlier days.  How do you apologize to a horse?  Explain leaving it to face an enemy alone.  Now where would it carry him, to what future did they ride?  No future at all.  That much was certian when he'd let the Black head east, away from the coast.  Only a present of fire and death, on a path marked by a Kalishnikov bullets bloody trail.  He smiled in the dim light of an old  moon.  Such dramatic thoughts.  

The Black ate distance at a rate he'd hardly find credible.  8 hours found  them topping a rise, looking down into the valley he'd left on foot nearly 4 days ago.  To the east the first traces of dawn were beginning to chase the stars.  He could not make out the village, but the place felt different.  The Black pulled at the bit, wanting to go.  He let it.  What ever had happened here, had moved on.

15 minutes later he reined up in the center of the village.  Sadness became anger, turning to rage.  So little wood here, the houses had been made of stone, carefully cut and piled.  All gone, blown apart.  He could still smell the faint ammonia stench of explosives.  Perhaps thats what made his eyes tear.  "Ahh"  He wheeled, Colt hammer clicking back.  From behind a tumbled stone wall the Teacher emerged.  Dirty, face bruised.  "I suspected you would return, if the horse survived.  I am glad of that."  The old man limped forward, laying a hand, then his forehead to the Blacks neck.  The Chief holstered the Colt, dismounted.  "What happened?"

The Teacher shook his head, still resting on the Blacks neck.  "I should say, I am glad the horse survived." He pushed away from the horse to face the Chief.  "You should not have come back."

"He didn't give me any choice."  He looked up at the great head with its angry eyes.  "I'm startin' to think he mighta killed me if I didn't."  He took the Teacher by the arm, leading him to a boulder to sit.  "Now old man, my name is Lucian Tippecanoe Meyer.  Most folks call me Tip.  What happened here?"

"So now we have names?  Would you know mine?"  Tip shook his head.  "I would'nt risk that yet"

The teacher glared thru narrowed eyes. "You are too dramatic for one your age.  You think only to be remembered? I think you underestimate yourself.  As well I think you have no buisness being here!"

" I reckon you've done enough thinkin'.  Tell me what happened."

The Teacher stood.  "We will walk, and I will tell the story."

"Walk where?"

A grim smile. "I must thank you.  Your hiding place is now ours."

Tip jerked his thumb over his shoulder.  "Git on the horse."

"I am no Invalid!"

"GIT on the DAMN horse!"

For a second they matched stares, then the old man shrugged, and limped to the Black.  Tip gave him a hand up.  The Teacher ran his hand thru the mane.  "He is angry."

"Reckon you'ld be too if you'ld been shot in the butt."

The grey head shook.  "Americans"

Tip took the reins, leading the horse east.  "Your story."


"Yes, well.  There were 8 of them.  They came from the East, on foot, heavily armed.  They dressed like cinema bandits, festooned with bullets and grenades.  3 pack animals, at least one carrying explosives.  They walked into the village and shot the first man they saw."  A hand fisted on the pommel.  "It was old Reza, the man you defended at the bridge."

Tips oath was long, heartfelt, descriptive as only a sailor can make it.

"Yes, I quite agree.  They herded us into the street, to one end of the village.  Then began blowing up our homes.  Their leader lectured us on our sins,  telling us it was the mercy of Allah that we would live to move on."  An angry pause.  "With but a few examples to hurry us on our way."

"Examples."

"Reza was one.  For another they pulled a woman from our midst, to pleasure themselves.  Her husband charged them, and was shot.  They cut her throat after."

"GODDAMMIT!"  The Black sidestepped at the bellow.

"It does no good."  There was a tremor in the voice.  "They stayed one night, leaving late yesterday as they came,  with the warning to be gone lest they return."  Now came a grim smile.  "But they did not leave unmarked."  He pressed his hand to the Blacks neck.  "They found this one, saddled and bridled him to take.  When they opened his stall, he crushed the skull of the man before him, then galloped to the west.  They fired weapons at him, with no effect."

Tip smiled at the minds image.  "Will you go?"

"I do not know.  Our flocks, our fields are still here.  Our little group is devided.  Some would leave, some would hide in the hills.  Our ancestors have done so in the past.  Yet such casual cruelty is new to us."

"They were not soldiers?"

"No.  But we have heard of such men.  They are called "Afgan Arabs", from a camp north of the Kuh-e-Bari mountian."

Tip stopped, jerking the Black to a halt.  "Afgan Arabs" was a well used code phrase in military intelligence.  It meant terrorists, trained in the Al-Quieda camps of Afganistan, until driven from that land.  And that camp was known.  He faced the Teacher.  "You're sure of this?"  The old man nodded.  "Did any of them mention  "The Base", or "The Source?"

The Teacher cocked his head, wide eyed.  "Yes!  Their leader did say that "The Source" would know if we did not leave."

Tip turned, began the walk to the east once more.  "You have said I have no buisness here, Teacher.  You have said it's not my fight.  You're wrong.  It's not your fight." A teeth grinding pause.  "Its my war."

The Teacher made to speak, but remained silent.  The grim visage of the younger man made it clear his words would be wasted.  They walked on.  Their entry into the draw was marked by a sentry atop the rimrock, who ran back and signaled down into the glory hole.  Emerging from the fissure in the morning twilight they found themselves facing a small crowd of villagers.

Tips eyes swept the faces before him.  The men sullen, women sad, sleepy children bewildered, yet curious.  They stared at him, silent.  Disappointed.  This was no broad shouldered warrior fit for their great horse.  A little taller than most, slope shouldered, salt and pepper hair, crows feet under crooked brows.  Too common, a tired middle aged man.  And for this too common man their homes had been destroyed, friends killed?  They don't think I'm worth it, he thought.  Hell, I don't think I'm worth it.    

He was tired.  Anger and adrenline had carried him this far, but now his strength faded with the night.  He helped the Teacher down, then leaned against the Black.  Started to tug at the cinch when the old mans hand fell on his arm.  "Go, sleep, we will see to the horse."  

Pulling the blanket roll from behind the saddle, he walked to the familiar rock shelf.  Shrugged off the pack, rolled out the blanket, stretched out, head pillowed on the pack, and slept.

It was late afternoon when he woke.  He sat up, eyes still closed, back stiff.  Swinging his legs off the shelf, he rubbed his face in his hands, elbows on knees, then looked out between his fingers.  Before him stood 2 small children, staring.  A girl and boy, 3 and 5 respectivly, he'd guess.  American military men since the revolution have always reacted the same in these situations.   Tip looked about and saw his gear had been piled by his pack.  He pulled the haversack from the pile, dug through it and came up with 2 Tootsie Rolls from an MRE.  One for you, one for you.  Candy in hand the children dashed across the hole to a woman stirring a pot over a small fire.  She in turn snatched the candy from them, examining it carefully, before lifting her eyes to him.  Tip did his best to look harmless.  She stared for a moment, then smiled, a sad, lovely thing, and gave the children their treats.

Tip stood, stretching.  Seeing him, the teacher hurried over.  "Ah, you awake.  There has been much talk while you slept, and I fear. . ."  Tip held up a hand.  "Sir, tell them I'll be gone by sunset."

"You must not blame yourself."

"Sir, I do blame myself.  But there are others I blame more."  Over the mans shoulder Tip saw the Black, well rested now, head up, still proud, still angry.  "Sir, I need to change my outfit.  Would your folks mind saddling the horse?"

"Some of the men would do it just to hasten your leaving."  

Tip smiled.  "It'll do."  He shouldered his pack and walked to the back of the hole, to a partially secluded alcove, stopping to dip a cup of water from the seep.   20 minutes or so later he emerged, aware of the stares at his change of appearance.
He'd shaved, that had taken most of the time.  Back in his boots, red striped sky blue mounted trousers.  He now wore an M1859 Mounted Artillery Shell jacket: a short waist coat, dark blue, with nearly 20 feet of red tape edging, and 20 polished brass buttons.    A black campaign hat with a red worsted wool tasselled cord.  The usual red neckerchief.  Sabre belt, holster and sheath.  His "Dress" uniform.

Drydock:

They looked for a bit, then returned to the work of packing the Black.  They had saved the Military saddle and tack first used.  It fit better than the old rig he'd rode back on.  He stood just outside his alcove, pack at his feet, watching.  Became aware of someone next to him.  The woman who'd smiled at him earlier.  She smiled now, that same sad, lovely smile, and held out a bowl, stew of some sort.  He took it, nodded thanks and ate. It was very good.  She stood there, watching him in the way women have of watching men eat.

She was younger than he had first thought, 30s maybe. Quite pretty.  He finished and handed her the bowl.  "Thank you."

"You are quite welcome."  She smiled at his astonishment and walked away.

"Odd, I would have thought. . ."  Tip turned to find the Teacher on his other elbow.  Dammit, now everybodys sneakin' up on me.  "Sir?"

"She is the sister of the woman who was killed.  The children you gave the candy were her sisters as well."

They were both silent at that.  Then the old man faced him.  "Most impressive.  You wished to be buried in this?"

Tip said nothing.  One of the men led the Black to them, placing the reins in the Teachers hand.  His eyes swept Tip hat to boots, then he stalked off.  Tip slung his pack, then held out a hand for the reins. 

"You will pursue them."  A statement.

"Yep."

"I would not dissuade you."

"Nope."

The Teacher sighed, handed him the reins.  "Then God go with you."

"No sir."  Tip looked past the man, into the fissure.  "Hell goes with me."  He led the Black into the narrow opening.

Emerging into the draw, he stopped, stepped around to the front of the Black.  Anger still burned in the dark eyes. "Right then."  Unslinging his pack, he dug deep, bringing out those polished brass military spurs.  Strapping them on, he reslung the pack, then mounted.  "All right you son of a bitch, lets see you run."  And put those spurs to the great horse.  The Black cried out, leapt and ran.

In his anger he pushed the Black hard.  He knew the spurs further infuriated an allready furious animal, but he wanted that fury, feeding on it even as the horse converted its own rage to energy pounded into the trail. One full day afoot they were ahead.  One full day he wanted to make up, catch the bastards while still in the high mountians.  Catch them tonight.  He rested the horse to his tactical advantage, easing only where he could use his glass, walking to find sign.   His first dismount, he half expected the Black to try something, a kick or bite.  It did nothing, holding itself proud, aloof.  He thought he understood it.  Angry as it was, the Black knew he was taking it where it wanted to go, and at the end of this ride this man would prove himself, yea or nea.   

Prove himself how?  A blind charge into an armed camp?  25 years ago he'd been taught better than that.  25 years ago he'd been taught to ride, to fight.  How to kill, with knife, tomahawk and hand.  Read sign, but remain invisible, how movement draws the eye.  By some of the best.  Odd that he'd learned all that while studying for the Priesthood.

He laughed, though not with any joy, and let the memories come, drawing from them.  A student at a Seminary College, attached to a Benidectine Monastary in northwestern Missouri.  Wonderful men, those Monks, who also ran a misson among the White Mountian Apache of the desert southwest.  Students who so desired could spend their summers there, doing odd jobs, general help, maybe a little student teaching.  The monks were well liked among the Apache, as they tried to convert no one, simply taught the children,  and held open services.  Conversly they converted quite many.  The students in turn were encouraged to immerse themselves in the culture, and were often adopted by families for the summer.  He'd stayed with the same family 2 summers,  3 generations together on a small horse ranch.  Grandfather ancient, revered, wheelchair bound.  Son a silent Vietnam veteran,  superb horseman and manager, his wife an ageless beauty.  The Grandson in the Marines, saving for college, with a daughter allready in the University of Arizona on a barrel racing scholarship.  They raised Paint horses, beautiful spirited animals.  He'd asked, why Paints?  The Old man had piped up "White woman pay heap much for pretty horse!" and cackled.  The Grandaughter had admonished Grandpa for speaking TV indian.

But the real education had begun when he'd commented on the old Marine Ka-Bar knife hung above the mantle. Grandpa mentioned the 1st Marines, and Guadalcanal.  He was pleased when the white student wanted to know more.  He'd not had such an attentive audiance for a long time.  So he'd told the storys of the Teneryu river, of Bloody ridge.  A proud warrior, he'd killed many japanese with that knife, always the favored weapon of the Apache.  And he taught as well, how to carry, cut,  thrust, bring a sentry down in silence.  The son had observed the interest, and had shown him the moves the old man spoke of, and a few of his own, used in the jungles of Southeast Asia.  As well he'd been shown how the Apache of old could hide in plain sight, use movement, misdirection.  How to use the terrian, live off it.  Read sign, erase your own.  For a white man, he learned pretty good.  Or so they humoured him.   Visiting on leave, the boy had declared him "almost good enough to take his sister."  She in her turn had been playfully indignant. . .

Near midnight, a distant fire interrupted his memories. Them. Had to be.  Camped right on the trail.  There were a few trees here, a patch of stunted grass in the bottom of a narrow steep sided valley.  It ran north to south,  framed by a high peak to the east, the west side a narrow undulating ridge.  A careful man walking a sure footed horse could work along that ridge, to a position above their camp.  Tip would be a careful man. 

The night was moonless, the stars hid by clouds rolling in from the west.  So damn dark he probably could have walked along the peak of that ridge unseen.  Still he worked along the blind side, using the better part of an hour to get the position he wanted.  It was a saddle between two small hills, sloping down into the campsite.  The slope itself was hardpan strewn with boulders, leading down into the small copse of trees.  It was a natural campsite, probably used for thousands of years by passersby.  Might be a firering down there older than the Parthenon.  He ground tied the Black well back, moved to the crest of the saddle to observe.  7 men, 3 pack animals, around a too large fire.

As a campsite it was natural.  As a defensive postion it was tacticaly miserable, thank you.  Too easy to get close, too much cover an attacker could use.  The Afgan warlords who had once commanded these men (and who had profitably switched sides later) had commented bitterly on the poor military virtues of these "Afgan Arabs".  They could parade in front of a video camera, shouting slogans in admirable unison.  In a line of battle they had no discipline, no manuver capability, no stomach to face incoming fire.  They proved useful in one thing: They excelled in terrifying villages to obtain tribute/supplies.

He moved in slow, observant.  No pickets, no one looking outward.  50 yards away, peering over a stone outcrop thrusting out from a small bluff, he could see 3 men asleep.  The other 4 sat conversing, passing around cigarettes, a pot steaming on a rock next to the fire.  They faced inward, night vision ruined.  He watched for some 15 minutes, thinking of a next move.  Sweating in the cold air. Wiping his palms on his red neckerchief. He smelled. . .Urine?   Movement!  One man got up, began walking back toward the outcrop.  Said something that brought a laugh from the others.  Weaving a bit.  Maybe those were'nt exactly cigarettes?  Tip pressed himself back into the darkness,  froze hard against the rock wall.  Right hand on a wood handle.   The man stopped at the edge of the outcrop, dropped his trousers, braced one hand on the rock, and squatted.

A good throwing tomahawk has a counterbalenced blade, to give truer flight.  In most cases this counterweight is a spike, 3 to 4 inches long.  In Veitnam, Spec ops troops using these weapons called this spike a "Sentry Silencer".  Tip took one step out, swinging horizontaly.  The man looked up just as the spike drove into the left side of his neck, punching thru his jugular to dump most of his blood into his lungs.  His last act was to open his mouth, but nothing emerged save blood.  He fell forward, Tip using the still impaled spike to drag him fully behind the outcrop.  Yanking it out, he checked the group.  No reaction.  How long before someone comes to check?  Could he do this again?

Was about 10 minutes, someone called out.  Quietly, didn't want to wake up anybody.  A man got up, grumbling good naturedly, and stumbled back to their agreed on latrine.  Tip took a chance,  standing against the bluff face across the body from the outcrop.  He would be exposed as the man came round the outcrop, but he figured on darkness, complacency and ruined night vision. 

Sure enough, the 2nd man came around the rock.  Seeing his friend face down, he kicked him, bending over just far enough for Tip to drive the spike into the base of his skull.

Tip wiped the tomahawk on the mans shirtback, then moved back up the hill.  Maybe he had 5, maybe 10 minutes.  He crested the saddle, now running to the Black.  Grabbing up the reins he brought it forward, over the crest into the bouldered slope. Reins tucked into his belt he yanked out the carbine, dropping down, one knee grounded, elbow braced on the other, sight centered on the fire.  Perhaps 80 yards?  Another voice, quietly calling, then a figure stood up, fatter than the others. Tip centered the sight, squeezed the trigger, closing his eyes as the sear released.

In the still darkness of that night, 70 grains of black powder from a 22" Trapdoor carbine barrel must have looked and sounded like artillery fire.  Embers still drifted as he leapt to the saddle, the Black blessedly untroubled by the shot.  Throwing the carbine into the scabbard, he grabbed the pommel as the Black charged, not waiting for the spurs.  Tip recovered, leaning forward into the saddle as the horse bounded down the slope, pulling the Colt as they swept around the copse to the fire. Fat man was down, keening.  One man stood, trying to force a magazine into an AK-47.  Tip leveled, fired, missed clean as the man yanked on the bolt handle.  His 2nd shot struck mid chest as the muzzle came up, and the man fell back, 30 rounds ripping into the sky.  Two others had ran.  He felt the Black shift under him as he swung the Colt in search of the next man, only to hear him die screaming beneath the hooves. 

The last runner had doubled back as the Black swept past.  Tip reined up and kicked free of the stirrups, grabbing the carbine as he dropped off the slowing horse.  He moved back to the fire, reloading the carbine as he ran,  shouldering it, muzzle sweeping for a target.  One still standing, sobbing, bent over, beating on a rifle.  Jammed, too fixated to find another as Tip came up on him.

He saw Tips boots, looked up, eyes slightly crossed focusing on that .45 caliber muzzle.  Dropping the -47, he went to his knees, hands up, mouth open.  Beardless, a god damned teenager!

Enraged as he still was, Lucien Meyer had a message to send.  Jamming the front sight under the boys chin, he lifted him to his feet.  Held him there.  Take a good look at me you little bastard. The boy avoided his eyes, fixing on that bright red neckerchef.  Using the barrel Tip spun him around, searching for weapons.  With the muzzle between the boys shoulder blades he pushed him onto the trail, facing Northeast, and said one word, in clear,  Ozark hills English.  "Run."  The boy ran.

Tip stood there, listening to the footsteps fade into the night.  Run you. Tell them it was no villager that did this.  Tell them. . .Oh shit, thats only 6!

The 7th was back at the fire.  IN the fire. Luck again.  Damned if the bullet that gut shot Fatty did'nt pass through to punch #7 right in the face. Guess he'd been crouched across the fire, and had fallen into it as the back of his head blew out.  405 grain slug carries a lot of inertia.  The Fat man was still alive, but groaned and died as Tip walked back to the fire.  He stood for a moment, letting the stink of blood, offal and burnt flesh drive off the last of his anger.  Behind him he could hear the Black walk slowly in.  He faced it, and it stopped, 10 feet away.  Proud, silent, hooves shining with blood.  He went to it, slipping the carbine in its scabbard, then buried his face in the long mane, twisting a hand into it. "Damn you, is this what you wanted?  Is it?  Damn us both, Is it?"

The Black knickered, head lowered, submissive, anger gone.  Tip pushed off, ran his hand down the long neck a few times.  Bending down, he pulled off those brass military spurs.  The Black gave a low rumble as Tip heaved them into the darkness,  clattering into the rocks.  "Well, lets go find someplace to sleep."

Drydock:

"NIGHTLINE"

". . . Welcome  back.  Once again, we have with us the deputy commander 5th fleet, Rear Admiral Issac Paulding. 

Admiral, we've all seen the video coming out of Tehran, the mass demonstrations, the seeming ineffectual response of the Goverment.  But in truth we've seen this all before.  Why is this different?"

"Well Ted, we have some obvious differences.  With Iraq stabilized and the beginnings of the democratic process underway, Iran can no longer hold the threat of that regime over its people.  That our troop numbers are going down also mitigates any claim of an external threat.  This gives the Iranian populace more reason and opportunity to question the domestic policies of their goverment. 

But perhaps the most significant difference is we are starting to see indications of unrest in the countryside,  outside of the major cities.  The rural areas have traditionaly been a stronghold of the fundementalist regime, yet even they now show signs of breaking away."

Here the Admiral leaned back with just a hint of a smile.  "For instance, we have recieved some fasinating intercepts.  The information of a few I can share with you, as they were sent in the clear, no coding."

"Military Intercepts?  Radio transmissions?"

"Yes.  Plain language radio transmissions.  These in particular concern an area south of the city of Shiraz, in the Zagros mountians.  Seems at least one patrol was ambushed, with a follow on recconasaince party decimated.  And in conjunction with these incidents, there have been several references to someone called, (and here the Admiral smiled)  "The Redneck""

"The Redneck."

"Yes.  Initial reading of these intercepts seems to indicate a person acting alone,  but we think perhaps this refers to some sort of brigand leader, or perhaps to a group itself. 

The host had a somewhat strangled look "So you're saying that the Iranian Goverment is having trouble with a "Redneck" or "Rednecks"  in its  rural southern mountians?"

The Admirals smile grew broader.  "Yes, it does seem that way."

A voice from off camera.  "Well hell, doesn't everybody?"



"THE TONIGHT SHOW"

". . .Now I've sure you 've all heard by now of the "Redneck" trouble Iran is having in its southern countryside?"  A ripple of laughter went thru the audiance.  "Well the United Nations is very concerned.  Sooo, they've assembled a crack team of inspectors to go into Iran to investigate the situation.  Heading this team will be the former chief law enforcement officer of Hazzard County, Sherriff Rosco P. Coletrain. . ."

After the laughter had died.  "In his first interview, Sherriff Coletrain announced "Its them Duke boys, ah jist know it!"


-SHIRAZ-

"FOOL!  IDIOT!  Tell me, can you not HEAR the Americans LAUGHING!"

The Colonel thought the Holy Man in a fine high rage this day.  He was only too glad not to be the recipient of such glorious vitriol.  That honor belonged to the Al-Quieda commander now standing before the Imans impressive desk.  The Colonel sat to one side, basking in reflected fury.

"I have YOU send YOUR PEOPLE out to run off a few miserable PAGANS,  only to have YOUR MEN slaughtered like so many EWES by some COSTUMED BRIGAND!"

The Al-Quieda man was doing his best to appear non-plussed.  "Sir, we cannot be sure there was only one. . ."

"YOUR MAN reported only ONE!  And did it in PLAIN LANGUAGE over the FIRST radio HE came to!"

"He was young, inexperienced, he could not. . ."

"YOU seek to assuage me with THESE words!  YOU send out young, inexperienced FOOLS to do my bidding!"

The Al-Quieda man shook his head.  "Holy one, your anger is well justified,  but this leads us nowhere."

The Iman threw himself into his seat.  "And just where should we be going?"

"Sir, we seek resolution.  Swift and final."  The Iman indicated a chair, the Al-Quieda man seated himself.  "My man was young, inexperienced, this is true.  But one must gain experience somehow, and the mission described to me seemed ideal for such a purpose.  6 of the 8 sent were in fact highly experienced in these types of operations.  Obviously there were factors here that none of us were aware of."

"Factors."  The Iman leaned forward, elbows on the desk, hands clasped.  "And just who do you think this red neck clothed "factor" was?  Your "Boy" said he spoke english.  American?"

"He is not sure.  He has only heard Americans on the Television, and the accent did not sound as such.  But I myself think it most likely was an American, perhaps one of their "Special Forces"."

"Why is this?"

"My man said the first shot fired killed 2 men.  The Americans are well known for sophisticated and powerful weaponry.  He also said the weapon held on him was like nothing he'd ever seen.  He admits he mostly just saw the muzzle, but it seemed far too large for a simple rifle."

"And what of this odd clothing?"

"American operatives are sometimes noted for having eccentric dress in the field.  In recent campaigns, men of their so called "Cavalry" units have been seen wearing cowboy hats while riding tanks."

"Indeed.  So Commander, how should we deal with this man, or perhaps men?"

"I think perhaps we have a 2 man team here, Learned one.  I intend to send my best men back into this area. They will not be caught unawares as the first team was.  My organization has long considered these "Special Forces" overrated, and I believe we will soon run these to ground."

The Iman turned to his so far silent army Colonel.  "Have you anything to add, Colonel?  Any objections?"

The Colonel had two lines of thought:  First, the contempt which most any regular military man felt for such as the Al-Quieda commander before him.  2nd,  the American special forces community had an almost legendary, yet hard earned status.  He'd seen the British SAS, and the Americans were thought to be at least as good.  Particularly the Seal units most likely to be operating in this part of the world.  If this fool wanted to send his amatuer butchers after such men, so much the better.  "I have no objections to this."



Unaware of the furor brought on by his choice of neck wear, Tip had begun moving northwest, parrelleling the spine of the Zagros.  Before leaving the dead mens camp, he'd appropriated one of their pack animals:  A mousey colored mule with a disposition straight out of a 19th century army manual.  The animal had still been loaded; evidently these folks had been too lazy to unpack when camped, adding to the mules allready sour nature.  He could almost hear it sigh when he unloaded it toward morning.  It carried grain, meat, dates, more MREs!  (The damn things were everywhere)   They moved at night, guiding on the stars as he'd learned on so many ships bridges over the years.  He stayed to the hills, picking his way over the rough backbone of the land. 

He had a map, from the airplane, and a rough Idea where he was.  He wanted to go to Kuh-e-Bari.  By the map, Kuh-e-Bari was the higest mountian in this region,  50 miles or so south of the city of Shiraz.  There was his enemys camp, and there he would go, on the principle of keeping his enemies close.  Tip was'nt really sure what he'd do when he got there, but he figured he had a good little war going here, so he'd just keep coming on.

3rd night, toward morning, it had started to rain, so he'd found a rock overhang back in a ravine.  Long and narrow, the animals could stay dry if they stood nose to tail.  He took one end, the mule the other, the Black in between.  If the mule did not like him, it did seem to respect the horse.  Each got a grain ration, while he sat down with some jerky and his canteen.

Almost from the first he'd called the mule Sam.  For some reason he'd thought of Samual Langhorne Clemens,  a man who'd become embittered by the burdens of life.  Seemed to fit.     Seemed too the horse ought to have a name.  Other than "Black".  Horse like that ought to have a war name.  Tip got up, went to the Black, ran his hand down and thru the silky mane he'd brushed earlier.  "You want a name?"  The Black said nothing, just cumped away at his grain.  Cumped?  Odd made up word.  Cump. . .  Ol' Cump.  Tip grinned.  Ol' Cump.  William Tecumseh Sherman.  War is all Hell.  Named for the Indian warrior whose dream of nationhood had died at the battle of. . .Tippecanoe.  A battle one of his ancestors had fought,  who'd begun the tradition of naming a child after the greatest event of his life.  "Reckon I could call you Tecumseh."   The horse gave no sign of disapproval.  Tip dug through the MREs and found a pouch of spiced apple slices.  He gave a few to Sam, the rest to Tecumseh.


The next night they crossed a valley to the west, heading for the next ridge.  If he was reading the map right, this ridge would lead northwest , ending at Kuh-e-bari.  A sliver of new moon overhead watched his progress.  He caught himself humming, spent a few minutes trying to remember the song.  Oh yeah, Conway Twittys "Moon Song".  "I talked to the Man in the Moon. . ."  Yeah, Beverly had liked that song, before he'd enlisted.  Before she'd thrown his ring back in his face.   

 Now that was a hell of a memory to bring back.

He pushed it away, thought of the future, the next few days.  What would be sent out to kill him?  The Army, or another Al-Quieda squad?  He'd bet on the latter.  Terrorists had their pride like anyone else.  Or so he hoped.  He'd most likely end up dead either way, but he figured on trying to kill a few more of those bastards.  Tip was an honest man.  He was an amatuer, in someones elses country.  He had some skills, and had been shot with luck so far.  But numbers alone dictated he would lose sometime.  Hell, nobody gets out of life alive anyway.  What would it be?  A bullet, or would he get his head cut off.  Wonder what that felt like.

Tecumseh grumbled and bobbed his head.  Tip patted the great neck.  Do horses sense thoughts?  "Sorry,  old fiances bring out the worst in a man."  They were climbing now, angling up the slope to the north.  Had any pursuit been sent out yet?  So far every man he'd seen here had been trail bound.  If they continued that, if they stuck to the trails, the valley floors, maybe he could stay above, get behind them. 

People always think everyone thinks like them.  Here no one seemed to think anyone would travel off the paths, above the valleys.  It made sense.  The high country was rough, barren, slow.  Surely a hunted man would want to move fast.  If he had wanted to escape, he probably would be down there, running for the coast.  Even the military virtues of high ground were largely lost in an age of ariel recconisance.  Now there was something to be feared.  Especialy helicopters.   A few of those could mess up any plan.

Still, the Iranian air force fixed wing assets, as well as their helicopters, had shown little night capability.  Keep traveling at night, worry about other things.



As he made his way back up the trail, the Teacher could scarcely credit the storys he heard.  How much was truth, how much was the embellishment of bored travelers.  Still, even the wildest tale carries knowledge for those who can sift the words.  And she would want to know.

Most had left.  Some never to return, many to relatives or friends in other villages, to stay until this time of violence passed.  Only two remained in the Glory Hole.  Himself, a man with nowhere to go, no wish to leave, and the woman Helene.  She who's sister had been murdered.  The children had been sent on to the willing arms of their grandparents,  yet she remained.  Why he could only guess, but he feared he could guess accurately.  A woman of fierce will,  a nurse who could have been a doctor but for the predijuice of the current regime.  Like him, she had returned to the place of her birth, to teach and heal.  A woman also of rare beauty,  ivory skinned, red haired; a throwback to their greek ancestors.  At her birth, her mother had exclaimed with joy at her flame headed daughter, naming her for the Helen of  legend.  Yet for all her beauty she had grown up a serious, somber woman.  It was her dark, younger sister that had been the joyful light of their family.  One who had loved, been loved, made a family.  Helene devoted herself to studies, then service.  Stronger of will than any man who approached her, she had rejected them all.  She had made the village her life, her family.  Now it was gone.

She waited for him now, seated before a small fire.  He smiled at the sight.  She refused to let him cook, claiming not to trust a mans hand in the soup pot.  It was soup this day.  She ladled him a bowl, then waited until he sat.  "You have heard something."

She was perceptive.  "I have."  Arms crossed, she waited for him.  "But how much truth is in the story, I cannot say."

"Tell it."

"If the story is true, He found them."  They both knew who "He" was.  "6 of the 7 were killed.  He let one live, deliberatly by the story, disarmed him, sent him running back to his people."  The Teacher looked down into his soup.  "I should have thought he would have killed them all, if he could."

She stood, turning her back to the fire.  "No.  He would want them to know who did this.  He would have them pursue him,  leading them away from us."

"It may be as you say."

They said no more, finishing their meal.  Afterword he lost himself in his pipe and a book,  a recent translation of an American author, Mark Twain.  "Huckleberry Finn."  Such odd names. . .He looked up to see Helene lead out her white mare, saddled and packed for the trail.  She must have gone out this day, finding it in the fields.  And he knew. . ."My child, you cannot. . ."

"Teacher, I am no child,  nor am I yours."

"I would have you tell me why!"

"No one else will."  She mounted.

He grabbed a rein.  "You cannot know where he has gone."

"He goes to them.  He goes to Kuh-e-Bari"  She looked out over the mares head.  "He will seek to close with his enemies."

"Then he goes to die."

She reached forward, gently removing his hand from the rein.  "Then I will bury him."



It was near sunrise when he saw  2 small fires on the valley floor.  He'd bedded the animals for the coming day, beneath a rocky escarpment on the west slope, before climbing  the adjoining peak.  From here he could observe the land beneath as the sun came over the east ridge.  The tiny lights were still further up the valley.  They had flared up while he watched.  Breakfast fires perhaps.  Thru his glass he could make out shadows of men as they crossed before the lights.  Tip bellied down on his perch and waited for the sun to reveal more.  IF his estimate was correct, those below were a day's ride from Kuh-e-Bari,  which he took to be the impressive peak to the north-north west.  A big if.  He'd seen no other travelers yet, and if these were moving south. . .

Sunlight revealed a breaking camp.  8 men, mounted on small local horses, 4 pack animals.  Going south.   They moved out in two loose groups of 4, 2 pack animals each.  2 squads, military?  Hard to tell at this distance, but the clothes seemed to vary.  Lot of black though.  The "ninja" look seemed to be popular among the terror folks.  Irregulars then.  Al -Quieda, had to be, coming after him.  But no outriders.  No scouts.  They seemed loose, careless.  Probably thought him a lot further south.

He watched for another hour, straining to pick up details.  Definatly armed.  They rode single file, not bothering to spread out even when the terrain allowed for it.  Too bad he didn't have the Sharps.  He pulled back, back down the reverse slope to his camp.  Sleep now.

3 nights he tracked them.  He let them pull ahead as he slept, then came up on them in the night, finding their new camp in the small  hours before dawn.  In the 2nd day they turned east, deeper into the mountains, following the trail of the earlier group.  They also began posting a sentry, just one, in a position overlooking their camp.  The rotation appeared to be 6  hours.  Long time for a man to just sit there.  The whole outfit still seemed sloppy.  Probably tighten up when they reach the  first ambush site.  Well now maybe he just did'nt want to wait that long.

That 3rd night he left the animals maybe a mile back, well hidden.  The camp was in an open pass.  Well sited, hard to approach.  But the sentry, now he sat on a ledge halfway up a steep slope to the west of camp,  The ledge overlooked a good  75 foot drop to a rocky slope.  A fine position, a man up there had an excellent view of the north/south approachs, as well as directly across the pass.  Had the mountian to his back.  Tip was on that mountain, working his way down.  Slow,  the last 500 feet took at least an hour.  Tip figured he still had an hour until sunrise when he finaly came up behind the sentry.  The man was seated near the edge, slumped forward, staring down at the camp below.  A few feet behind him now, Tip raised a large rock over his own head, a good 5 pounder. He stepped forward, swinging the rock downward. . .

. . .watched openmouthed as it slipped from his hands to pass just over the sentrys head.

Tip grabbed for his Colt.  Had the gun half way out before realizing the sentry had'nt moved.  Then the clatter of the thrown rock in the boulders below caused a slight stir.  Instinct and desperation combined to plant Tips boot in the middle of the sentrys back.  Still half asleep, the sentry pitched into the darkness. his scream ending abruptly with a wet thud.   Tip scrambled up and back, maybe a hundred yards or so, checking only to see he'd left no tracks.   Here he bellied down on a narrow shelf, waiting.

The rock had been to ensure the sentrys death before he went over the edge.  He could only hope the fall had done the job.  Hope also no boot print was left on the mans back.  15 or 20 minutes had passed when another  figure appeared on the ledge.  This man picked up the AK-47 still lying there,  did a 360 degree sweep of his surroundings, shook his head, calling out something to those below.  He slung the rifle and headed back down.  Below, the gathering men began piling rocks on the body.

Damned if they had'nt bought it!  Tip levered himself up, began moving back up, another hundred yards would take him out of their line of vision.  He wanted to be over the ridge before the sunrise.


Advertising:

Drydock:


That next night he moved again to follow.  Here the landscape was severely cut, forcing him to move further down slope than he'd like.  Still he was well behind, had yet to see any sign of his pursuers looking over their shoulders.  Looked to be around midnight, and Tip was hungry.  He leaned back in the saddle, reaching for a piece of jerky from a saddlebag.  As he did, 2 Kalishikovs opened up to his left.

Odd what goes thru a mans mind.  Even as he kicked the left stirrup free, throwing himself off to the horses right, he marveled at the passing "FWIP" of the bullets.  Was that the sound Winston Churchill remembered when he wrote of being "Shot at without result"?  All this passed in thought as he fell, pulling his revolver free as it did.  Then thought stopped as Tips head bounced off a rock.

Could not have been out long. He was face down, head ringing, the Colt in his hand beneath him.  He became aware of the crunch of approaching boots.  Sam snapped at something, there was an arabic curse, followed by three rounds of 47 fire.  The mule screamed, falling heavily. Shit, what do you do, what do you do.  Then a boot toe slid under his ribs, rolling him over.  Tip simply extended his arm, shoving the barrel into the mans belly, and fired.  Dropping his rifle the man staggered back, clawing at his smoldering stomach.  As he did  he stepped on the boot of the man behind, also stepping back, to clear his weapon.  This man fell, then sat up, trying to bring his rifle to bear. Tip shot him in the face.  He got to his feet, head pounding.

The first man was on his knees, clutching his belly with one hand, reaching for a 47 with the other.  Tip kicked it away.  The man wore a ski mask.  Tip jerked it off,  revealing a young arabic face, light bearded.  Tip leveled the Colt on him.

The man spit blood at Tips feet, gasped.  "Go to hell."

"Where's your friends?"

"Fool!"  The man groaned. spit more blood. "I tell you nothing. . .you die soon enough. . .scream. . . like mule."  He bent over, one hand to the ground.

"Zat so."  Tip walked to Tecumseh, pulled the saber free.  "Got a message for your friends."   Hours of boredom and an oilstone had brought a shaveworthy edge.  It whispered thru the mans neck in a single smooth pass.

He'd barely realized what he was doing, and now stood shocked at what he'd done.   And yet the shock was only at the method, he felt nothing at the mans death.  Nor had he felt anything pushing that man off the shelf earlier.  What was he becoming?

You think too damn much.  He hurried to the dead mule, began stripping what he could from it.  "Sorry Sam, figgered you'ld end up pulling someones wagon."  He stuffed what he could into Tecumsehs saddlebags, slung a couple of sacks over his withers.  He mounted, surveyed his surroundings.  He could see no movement.  What had these two been doing here?  Maybe they'd been suspicious of the first sentrys death, left two to cover their back trail.  Maybe some one had figured out that, so far, everyone had died at night.  Maybe they were starting to move at night.  That would make sense.  Two up, two back, 3 with the pack animals. 

Surely someone had heard the gunfire, was moving back. So he'd move back now, back the way they came, see if they'd turn back.  Now they would know someone was behind them.  Down to 5 now.  2 to scout, 3 to hold the camp and animals. He could lay an ambush, maybe. 

So far, every mistake he'd made, someone else had died.  How much longer. . .


"Did you hear?  Did you hear?  We must go back!"  This man was inexperienced.   The detail commander raised a hand.  "This is true, but not before we have with us the lead scouts.  We will wait."

As if in response, a black clad man emerged from the darkness.  "Did I hear shots?"

"You did."  The commander peered over the Scouts shoulder.  "Where is your partner?"

"He comes."  The man grinned.  "He brings a guest."

Drydock:

Tip moved back, straight down the trail.  He needed distance, fast.   An hours hard ride, then, for what ever reason, he was through running.  He pulled Tecumseh into a side canyon, an east leading cut, off the main valley.  Here he stripped the great horse, stowing stores and tack among the rocks.  With the horse free he began to move back toward the valley, stopping when he heard Tecumseh follow.  How do you explain to a horse. . ."Stay!"  Lord, its not a dog.  He walked back, stroking the great, soft nose.  "Look dammit, I may not come back.  Just. . .wait.  But not too long."  Tip laid a hand between the large dark eyes, then turned and walked away.  Tecumseh did not follow.

The valley floor was a collection of huge, jumbled boulders.  It was a treeless, grassless Devils Den.  The original Devils Den was a boulder strewn field outside Gettysburg PA., where 2 opposing divisions had wrecked each other one hot July day.  One commander had been impetous and out of position, the other blindly aggressive.  Which was he?

He climbed one high rock pile, then bellied down to wait.  Before him he lay his carbine, cap and revolver.  In the cap were 2 carbine rounds, for easy, quick access.  He'd be lucky to get those off before he had to move.

He still lay there when the sun began to filter over the eastern peaks.  Where the hell were they?  Tip figured they'd be furious, eager for the chase, for vengance.  Yet nothing moved.  They had changed their pattern the night before.  Did they change it again?  Why?  They'd been successful, had flushed him.  Losing 2 men had been dumb luck on both sides.  Why had they not come in the night?

The morning light cast the valley floor into a crazy quilt of shadows.  That could be useful. . .there, on the edge of his vision, a shadow  moved.   He held it there, on that edge, where the eye best saw movement.  He tried to relax, hold down the adrenaline.  He wanted at least one more.  And there he was, almost dead center in front.  Just a flash of black, but after a month in these fields fear and paranoia had trained his sight well.  They were too close together he'd judge, probably thought they needed to support each other this way.  So very slowly he trained the carbine on the further of the two.  It was allready cocked, had been all night. 

They were smart, tacticly sound, moving from shadow to shadow, in quick rushes. Clearing the field.   But that made them predictable.  Tip slid the sight crossbar up the ramp to the 200 yard step.  He wanted 150, would hold low.  Had a slight left to right cross wind.  C'mon, move to that next rock.  Good, back to the rock, sideways to me, lay the sight blade on his butt against the boulder.  Squeeeeze. . .

The idea was that if he missed, he'd miss left, with a good chance the bullet would deflect off the rock into the man.  He almost did.  But almost turned out to be a hell of a shot, as it impacted the mans spine, the heavy bullet blowing one vertabrae clean out of the mans back.  He collapsed like a sack of wet laundry.  The second immediatly emptied a magazine at what he thought was his enemy, but the rounds impacted well to Tips right?  Tip figured it out as he reloaded the single shot carbine.  The stubid SOB was shooting at the cloud of Black Powder smoke drifting downwind!   Out and shooting, the man was a clear target around 100 yards.  Tip sighted and fired.  The man spun with an impact high in one shoulder.  Dammit!  The sight was still at 200.  He reloaded, held low, and caught the man before he could crawl back to shelter.

Slapping his empty cap on, he slid off his rockpile, Colt holstered and carbine loaded.   Trying to breathe steady, easy.  He would move lateral, look for a flank.  Someone was yelling. . .Yelling?

"AMERICAN!. . .AMERICAN!. . .YOU ARE VERY GOOD I THINK.  GOOD ENOUGH THAT I WILL NOT COME IN THERE!   I THINK INSTEAD YOU WILL COME TO ME!"

He moved left,  ignored the call.  Distraction maybe, still others might be in the rocks.

"AMERICAN!  WE ARE ALL FOUR TOGETHER!  LOOK TO THE SOUTH, ON THE TRAIL.  I WOULD MAKE A DEAL WITH YOU!"

Oh hell.  He went left again, to a shelf jutting from the hillside.  From here he could make out a group on that southern trail.  Snapping his spyglass open, he focused.  Four people.  Why four? There should not be four dammit!   One began waving, pointing at Tip.  At this a second pulled a scarf or headcovering from a third, then stepped back, pointing a pistol at her head. That hair, it could only be a woman.   Oh god.  I am so tired.  Of all this.  Tactics fought with misplaced backwoods nobility, and lost.  Tip got down off the shelf and began walking south.   Still, as he walked, somthing familiar, disturbing, beckoned in his thoughts.   Halfway through the field he climbed a large stepped boulder, peering over the top at the clutch of figures.  They were closer, clearer.

It was THAT woman.  The one with the stew. The Smile.  Hair disheveled, one eye blackened.  Clothes torn.  What in gods name was She doing here?  Dammit, why was'nt she back at the village, with those children. Goddammit!  He barely noticed the anger building.  But it did build, resolution building with it.  Got to do something.  What?  Bastards!  Trapdoor's too slow for this.  Grab a 47 off one of the two dead?  No, not selective enough, they'd never let him get close with it anyway.

And then he knew.  Risky.  Stupid even.  They could shoot him as soon as he stepped out.  But maybe not.  Maybe they wanted a surrender.  Alive, his head on a block.   Small chance, but a chance.  He'd probably get hit, but all he wanted was the woman clear.  A good, simple goal.

Toward the edge of the boulders he left the carbine.  He tucked the holster flap into his belt, then stepped out, hands up, walking slowly up to the little group.  To his left was a large fellow with a 47, paratrooper version with the folding metal stock.  On his right a smaller man, also with a 47.  Before him stood a bearded man, holding the woman before him, pistol at her right temple.  50 feet. . .. . .30 feet. . .20 feet. . .10 feet.  He stopped.  They stared at each other for a few seconds.   Beard spoke first.

"I thought, from the tracks at the mule, only one of you.  What are you?"

Tip kept his voice level. "Just a sailor."

"A sailor?  A SEAL?"

"No, I used to work down in the engine room"

Beard frowned, translated for the others.  They laughed, the weapons lowering a bit, relaxing.  Beard snapped.  "Well, no more.  I would have your weapon, now!  And very careful!"

Tip nodded, reached down, easing the Colt from the  holster.  It lay in his open hand, butt forward, as he slowly extended his arm to Beard.  The woman tried to catch his eyes, her own wide, and maybe angry?  Good, that was useful.  Beard fixed on the antique revolver, then shoved the woman at Short Guy, reaching for the Colt, lowering his own weapon.

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