Looking to the shore Phoebles could see movement within a copse that topped the hillside and a large contingent of mounted irregulars moved into the sunlight, a wolf pack waiting, watching. Black banners fluttered, there was the occasional glint of sunlight on gunmetal and one prominent figure on a tall grey raised binoculars to his eyes.
“That is Subcomandante Everyman of the Snake Pass Zapatistas.”
The ground effect craft skimmed across the mirror surface of the reservoir, skidded, engine still screaming, up a shingle beach and halted with a soft thud. Something important fell off the hull near the stern and the jet flame popped out.
The boys clambered, barely shaken, out of the cockpit and onto the beach. The pilot joined them and glanced back at his craft. The ekranoplan sat at an awkward angle and an oily scar stretched from its tail back to the water’s edge. Sensing an affinity between pilots and offering a fill of Ginsbergbear’s Navy Catnip Shag Ferdy tried to engage the pilot in conversation, none too successfully. However, he did get a response.
“It’s not a plane, it’s a boat, just happens to be a plane shaped boat. And I am a sailor.” He glanced across the water to the great Dornier and almost smiled, “Still, I suppose that is a boat too. Come on ‘comrade’, we have to walk as far as the road.”
On the hill a light horse drawn carriage detached itself from the Cossack group and careered down a farm track to meet the newcomers. It arrived at the roadside at the same time as they did. Its driver, wearing a grey Bolshevist budionovka chosen for its pretty blue and red star, was slender, hyperactive and profoundly impressed. She looked across the reservoir at the anchored, brightly glittering flying boat with its baroque tail icon depicting Ché slaying the capitalist dragon; then down at the boys.
Ferdy was the first to greet her. “Hello Snowdrop. What are you doing with this mob?”
”I’m M/C-Gunner Snowdrop these days. D’yer want a lift?” she replied, “I’m sorry it’s a bit cluttered, we haven’t really got any suitable transport for guests. You clamber up here with me,” to Boz, “and Ferdy, Phoebles and Mr Ginsbergbear, will you be OK in the back?”
‘In the back’ was indeed cluttered. A heavy machine gun was mounted where the rear seats should have been, there were boxes of ammunition, a bundle of political pamphlets tied with string, a black umbrella, folding unicycle and, scattered on the floor, a large number of crisp packets and empty soft drink cans. Ginsbergbear cleared a space on the forward bench and sat with Ferdy, their backs to the horses. Phoebles grabbed the machine gun and panned it around shouting “Ratatatata,” mowing down imaginary Chats Souterrains. They turned away from the water and set off along a steadily inclining drovers’ road, followed by the company of Snake Pass Zapatistas and with Snowdrop chatting excitedly to an unusually quiet Boz.
Before long the mounted guerrillas had caught up and were trotting past on each side, rough riders on tall horses, in leather double-breasted reefer jackets, sheep skin jerkins, bandoliers, budionovka pixie hats, Breton caps, many in well-worn jungle-green combat fatigues, khaki open necked shirts, olive patch pocketed cargo trousers and fraying forage caps. All wore ski masks. There was a seemingly infinite variety of exotic weaponry with a definite preference for the AK-47 and, almost universally, each carried a three or four string guitar.
As they passed by many of the brigands made jokey remarks to Snowdrop concerning her passengers’ discomfort. Subcomandante Everyman trotted up alongside and adjusted his pace to match the tachanka. He was flamboyantly clad in a black, heavily frogged hussar jacket, open over his blue striped t-shirt, midnight blue jodhpurs and glistening patent leather knee-high boots, with spurs. His face was hidden by a balaclava helmet topped by a Kronstadt peakless sailor’s cap with “CHAOS” emblazoned on the ribbon. There were bandoliers of ammunition crossed loosely over his chest, a Mauser machine pistol and Dragoon Colt at his belt, he carried a Royal Navy 1901 Pattern cutlass and, over his shoulder, an SMLE jungle carbine. The racket from bells hung from the horse harness and on bangles above his mount’s fetlocks threatened to drown out any lengthy conversation. Riding alongside him a young rider carried a black banner sporting a death’s-head of cat skull and crossed thighbones. He acknowledged Snowdrop with a nod and then addressed Boz.
“We’ll talk properly when we’re camped, but welcome. Is our machine-gunner looking after you?” He glanced at the crew in the back, who were bouncing about uncontrollably and hanging on tightly to anything that looked to be bolted firmly down. “This is not the best of roads.”
“Thank you.” Boz warmed to this imposing dandy. “Your men look magnificent.”
“My…?” Subcomandante Everyman laughed. “Do they really look as if they belong to anyone?”
As the cavalryman prepared to move away Boz looked searchingly into the familiar eyes that smiled behind the balaclava.