Saturday, 4th February 2023 - 4:06:25 am
It was dark before the entire group had reassembled. There would be no time to clean up the battle site. All they could do was pull the bodies off to the side. The back end of the burned out APC was sticking out into the road. There was nothing they could do to move it. The steel tracks were locked. The charred remains of the driver were still behind the wheel.
Two civilian trucks had driven up while the patrol was there. One, coming from the Iraqi border was turned back. The other one, going toward the border, was allowed to proceed.
The night was dark. A half moon was low on the horizon, too low to have an effect as yet.
Kincaid arranged the patrol as before, except he closed up the interval. Yasin and he were still on point with another fresh horse.
The patrol started again to the south on the caravan trail. The delays had hurt their progress in the daylight and now it could only get worse. Kincaid, consulting his mental map, figured they had covered twenty five miles that evening and still had another thirty five to travel in the dark. Much depended on Yasin now, even Yasin's own life. If he wanted to live he had better be able to pick out the tight spots in the dark.
Steve Kincaid had to set the pace much slower than before. A fast walk was as much as they could manage now. At that rate, he calculated, they would have trouble reaching Sanandaj before dawn even if they weren't delayed. It was important to get there while it was still dark. He didn't want to make a daylight attack if he could help it.
They had been on the trail more than an hour when Yasin, holding the reins of the fresh horse, rode up alongside him.
"Bad here," he said.
Kincaid pulled up. Yasin stayed at his side.
"You see something?" Kincaid asked.
"No," Yasin said. "Bad place."
Kincaid dismounted and checked his equipment. "How far is it bad?" he asked.
"Little way, very bad," Yasin replied. "Then, not so bad."
When he spoke to Yasin, Kincaid had to concentrate to keep his words simple to avoid a misunderstanding. "Stop the others here," Kincaid ordered. He pointed ahead. "If they shoot, come to help. If no shoot, come anyway." They would know in short order if anyone was on the trail ahead. There was no sense having the patrol wait here.
Kincaid changed to the fresh horse and started ahead at a walk. The half moon was higher in the sky. He could see by its light that the trail was still wide. There were flat meadows on either side.
He had ridden several hundred meters when the trail began to rise and get narrower. Then he saw ahead that it passed through a tight opening in a rock formation. It was only about three meters wide with shallow banks on both sides. Yasin had been right. It was an easy place to defend.
He slapped the horse's rump and got it into a gallop. He leaned forward until his head brushed its mane. The horse was quickly into the narrow opening. The sound of its hooves echoed off the sides of the back. The echo got louder as the banks steepened.
Then, gradually, the trail turned downward. It began to widen. The banks fell away and he was through.
He pulled the horse to a halt and looked around. Again, it was as Yasin had said, not as open as before but not so bad. If there were going to be an ambush in this area it would have been in the section he had ridden through. That section seemed to be clean.
In a few minutes the raiding party joined him.
"So that's what the fresh horse is for, old boy," Ahmed said.
"That's what it's for," Kincaid replied.
"A bit dangerous, isn't it? Busting through like that?"
"It beats walking through," Kincaid said. "We don't have time to probe every narrow spot on the trail. That would take weeks."
"Quite right." Ahmed thought for a moment. "Of course it's not our fight technically, but there is a certain sporting principal involved. Perhaps if we took turns. It is a bit like Russian roulette, old boy. It's a game you can't win every time."
"Seems fair," Kincaid said. "Ask for volunteers. First to speak up goes next. If no one wants to go, I"ll do it."
"I"ll go," Sabrina said.
"Not you," Kincaid told her.
"Why not?" she asked.
"You're a... You're too young," Kincaid quickly corrected himself.
She turned to Ahmed. "How old for one to be a warrior in your tribe?"
"Fourteen," Ahmed said.
"I am well past fourteen and I spoke first," she appealed to Ahmed. "You must hold him to his word."
"But you didn't wait for him to ask," Kincaid argued.
"The night is long," she said. "We must all take our turn. What difference if I am first or last?" She was still appealing to Ahmed.
"Because you are not going at all," Kincaid said. "First or last."
"I request for you to make a judgment, oh great Khan," she said.
"Colonel Kincaid is in charge. If I take orders from him then surely you can."
She jerked hard on the reins of her horse almost causing him to rear. She finally managed to control it and moved him away.
Kincaid watched Sabrina while Ahmed spoke to his Kurds.
The veteran soldier knew exactly what was happening to Sabrina. He had seen it many times in combat. She had built up a head of emotional steam. If he didn't find some way to vent off the pressure, she might blow up and do something that would jeopardize herself and the entire mission.
He had only to think ahead a couple of steps to realize what she would do. He was as certain of it as anything in his life. The entire scene played out in his mind. The point would stop at the approach to a possible ambush site. While they discussed the length and location, a horse would dash up from behind, swing around them, and run for the gauntlet.
The certainty of the scene faded there. Someone in the patrol might do something foolish at that point. Perhaps it would be him.
"Kincaid?" Ahmed had said something to him.
"Yes." Kincaid snapped back from his view of the future.
"We have all volunteered."
"Not you," Kincaid said. "Not Yasin."
"Let's talk over here." Kincaid led Ahmed and Yasin a short distance away from the others.
"We can't risk anyone whose loss will jeopardize the mission," Kincaid deliberately spoke loud enough for Sabrina to overhear. "We need you and your brother."
"Well, old boy, that would seem to let you out too."
"All right," Kincaid said reluctantly. He lowered his voice. "Sabrin is going to do something foolish. How far is it to the next place that is very dangerous?"
"Five, six kilometers," Yasin said.
"What is he going to do?" Ahmed asked.
"Good," Kincaid said. "Keep you voices down. Is there a place between here and there that might be a little dangerous?"
Ahmed had to interpret for Yasin. Yasin thought a moment before replying in Kurdish.
"He says," Ahmed interpreted, 'that there is one creek to ford about two or three kilometers from here. Men could hide at the banks but it would not be a strong position" too easily flanked. He is becoming an excellent tactician."
"Good," Kincaid said. "Tell him we will stop before the creek and send a rider through ahead just as if it were a strong position."
"Why would we do that, old boy?"
"You"ll see. Tell him," Kincaid said, "and keep your voices down."
Yasin nodded his understanding but Ahmed interpreted Kincaid's instructions anyway.