Reymond looks down the scope of the sniper rifle and curses God, wars and deserts. He watches the APC park at the solitary farmhouse. Definitely not a Russian patrol. Not locals either. One of the others has found out his plans? He taps his finger against his thumbnail and decides to sleep on it. Maybe they’ll be gone by the time he has to move. He takes a shallow gulp from his canteen, aware that filling up on water at the farmhouse is out for now. He performs his calming exercise. Long slow breaths, singing Frere Jacques quietly on his outbreath. The old, familiar anger simmers down from boiling point. Even then his nightmares are filled with the screams of women and children, the faces of dead friends, and so much blood. In his dreams he is an avenging angel, an implacable force. Even in his dreams a small part of him suspects this falsehood.
A gun battle wakes him and, as ever, waking is a mercy. Sounds like a bad one. With his luck, it’ll only make his next day’s travel more difficult. He grabs his night vision goggles and both rifles, and crawls from the cave. Following the rattle of automatic gunfire, the pop of small arms. The night is full of now familiar smells, goat from the cave, wild herbs, burnt dust. Reymond spots tribesmen below him in the small valley calling out in their harsh guttural language. Whoever they are fighting are making a stand in the farmhouse. It’s a tiny mud brick affair, providing minimal cover. In the eerie green glow the night goggles give the landscape Reymond can see that beyond the building another team of fighters are taking position. Reymond spots two black clad bodies outside the farmhouse, neither of them moving. The Afghanis have the men in the farmhouse pinned down.
He gargles a sip of water contemplating the situation. The fight is nothing to do with him, but if it drags on it will affect his onward travel. He’s already been tramping around this godforsaken place for too long without any human contact, and he’s so close to his goal; his hands clench and he expels a snort, before taking a deep calming breath. He may gain information. Yet it might also reveal him to one of the others, and that thought makes him shudder involuntarily.
The men in the Valley are dressed in tribal garb, loose fitting and in muted colours, with the ubiquitous felt hat. The men in the farmhouse seem to be special forces, dressed in black. Mercenaries perhaps, hired by one of the others? Sloth and Envy he discounts immediately, one couldn’t bothered and it wasn’t the other’s style. He crawls back to the cave. Picking up his radio, he flips through the bands until he finds the one the men in the farmhouse are using.
“Hey you arseholes, where the fuck are ya going with our transport?”
They speak in English, to his surprise and relief. His minimal Russian doesn’t stretch far. Unlikely to be Gluttony then, he wouldn’t reach as far as England from the Vatican.
“Sorry Fisher, there’s too many of them. You’re on your own now.”
“Come back. you fuckers!” There is a burst of static, and it clears enough for Reymond to hear the voice say, tightly, “You’re leaving us to die.”
“Sorry mate. Discretion is the better part of valour and all that. Hope to see you around.”
Reymond thinks he may regret this, but they will have information. He watches the APC pull away, until it vanishes behind the hill that obscures his line of sight. It is too far from the sea to be Lust. Pride seldom showed his hand. It must be Greed. The ones running obviously think money the better part of valour. Perhaps he could use this to his advantage. He thumbs the radio.
“A friend. I see you are pinned down. I could possibly alleviate pressure on one front. I am above the Afghanis in the valley to your six o’clock.”
“I see. Standby.“
Reymond lets them consider it.
“Hello ‘friend’, you still there?”
“Still here.” Reymond is staring down the sniper again, following the movements of the men in the valley below.
“How d’we know this isn’t some sort of trap. You have a funny accent. Where you from?”
“Lots of different places. You can call me Patience.”
“OK ‘call sign Patience’, we’ve got a wounded man here and two casualties. We’re low on ammo and the locals may be stalling so they can get hold of a RPG or sumthin’. What’s yer plan?”
Reymond considers how he could possibly do this without besmirching his soul further. He sighs, more deaths were unavoidable. Best to be as efficient as possible then. His simmering temper increases a few degrees. He has to run through his calming exercise. But is interrupted.
“Give me as much cover as you can and I’ll take out the men below me. That will give you an escape corridor.”
The team in the farmhouse fire from each of the windows but concentrate on the tribesmen closest to them, keeping them pinned down. Reymond draws a bead on the Afghani who appears to be the leader, and his head explodes in a spray of blood and brain. He calmly moves onto the next target and takes him out too with a shot to the chest.
Four more; he has a partial on one of them and takes it, he thinks he hits but the man drops behind the rocks and he can’t be sure. The survivors are now deep in cover. Reymond abandons the sniper, running at a crouch along the ridge until he is close enough to drop into the valley. One of the tribesmen is squatting beside a rock, and Reymond snaps a shot as the man raises his arm to fire. The tribesman is thrown back heavily, leaving a dark splash on the rock he was trying to hide behind.