Monday, 29th May 2023 - 16:13:21 pm

Kincaid stood up cautiously, the rifle ready. The APC across the road was burning fiercely. He walked toward the trail looking for any of the soldiers who might be playing dead. None of them was playing.

His left hand was bleeding badly at the meaty part behind the little finger. He had no idea when that had happened. He hadn't even felt it until he noticed the blood.

Yasin and his three Kurds rode down to the trail. The APC that had blocked the trail to the north was totally demolished. Seven or eight dead soldiers were strewn out behind it.

Kincaid sat down and pulled out his first aid pack. It was awkward trying to bandage one hand with the other. He heard exclamations of surprise and looked up. The three Kurds with Yasin were staring at him in disbelief. Yasin seemed amused. He said something to the men. They got off their horses. All three tried to help him at once. They were making a mess.

Yasin said something else and two of the Kurds backed off. The one remaining finished wrapping the wound. More than a little too tight maybe, but neat.

"You surprise them," Yasin said. "They see you are a man like them. You bleed."

"What did they think?"

Yasin shrugged.

Kincaid lit a cigar. The elation was gone. It was more like a letdown. It was great to be alive, but he actually felt bad for the guys he'd had to kill. Sure they were there to kill him, but it was all an accident of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. It was the same in Vietnam. People got moved to certain places and are told to fight, not even knowing what the hell it was all about. Sometimes they just happen to get on the wrong side.

That didn't mean the winning side or the losing side. Hell, he'd rather lose on the right side than win on the wrong side. But sometimes it was events after the fact that proved the right or wrong of a thing. If proof were necessary.

Take these poor bastards today. It's a tough world, still uncivilized. A man either has to take a stand or go along like a sheep. If they didn't believe in what their leaders were feeding them, they should have stood up. Sure they would have been killed, but would they be any more dead than they are right now? If enough of them had stood up, they could have pulled it off. They'd be alive.

He didn't mean a half-assed protest. In an uncivilized world you either fight for a country or you fight against it. If a country was worth living in, then it was worth fighting for. If it wasn't worth living in, you either fought against it or got the hell out and found a place that was worth living in.

Kincaid had made his choice. The Kurds he was riding with had made their choice. These guys today had made their choice. So be it.

The tribesmen were there on the road a long time, just looking around. One of them said something to Yasin. Kincaid heard Yasin say, "Colonel Steve Kincaid."

Kincaid lay back on the grass and watched a cloud. He puffed his cigar.

Another tribesman spoke to Yasin. It sounded like a question.

"Colonel Steve Kincaid," Yasin said again.

The man tried to repeat it, not coming very close.

The sky was darkening. Kincaid puffed on the cigar and closed his eyes.

He heard the sound of horses hooves walking toward him. When he opened his eyes the six tribesmen had formed a semicircle around him.

One of the tribesmen raised his right hand with the palm forward and said, "Colonel Steve Kincaid."

Yasin was behind the men. "They salute you," he explained.

Kincaid shifted the cigar to his bandaged left hand and made the same gesture in return.

One by one the six tribesmen did the same thing, coming as close as they could to pronouncing his name. Kincaid returned each salute.

"You now warrior," Yasin said. "You in tribe." He wasn't smiling.

It sounded strange. "Can they do that?"

Yasin nodded. "Only they," he said. "Not Khan, only they."

"Thank them for me," Kincaid said.

Yasin spoke to them. The men grinned at Kincaid.

"Would somebody get my horse?" Kincaid asked.

An argument broke out among the Kurds after Yasin had relayed Kincaid's request. The fiercest looking of the tribesmen shouted the others down and set off after the horse.

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