'Tim's Halt' is a large farm in a remote valley at the southern base of the Sharten Mountains, the northern Berant border. One of many such valleys. The major crops are barley and hops. The only road through the Sharten Mountains is one hundred and twenty kilometres to the east, much further east than Darmore. However, there are several small passes in nearby valleys that let foot traffic pass through the mountains. Throughout history groups of brigands crossed the mountains to raid the farms and towns, the last raid was in 1932. Untouched during the civil war the area has known peace for over fifty years, apart from the incident in Darmore twenty-two years earlier. Recently there have been a number of particularly vicious brigand raids along the border. The Army and the Guards have increased patrol activity in the area.
On the move since dawn 6th Platoon, F Company, 2nd Claymore (The Foresters) enters a small farming valley at the base of the Sharten Mountains at 9:00 a.m. on 24th August, 2005. This is the twenty-third valley and farm they've checked since the patrol started four days earlier. The platoon commander is very young for his rank, but very well-liked and respected by the Swords. They know him from previous postings or from the grapevine. Many commanders feel these patrol checks aren't dangerous and are routine, he never sees them that way. He doesn't exactly run them by the book, but he does ensure full security and safety in doing them. Instead of two open field combat cars (mistakenly called Jeeps) and a troop transport he's using one Jeep and two transports. He justifies the changes with better fire power, combat flexibility, and the ability to safely remove more civilians if need be. Unlike the Jeeps used by the other patrols (they have a very comfortable rear seat in them) this one has a powered, twin barrelled, heavy machine-gun mounted on it. Because the two larger vehicles allow the platoon to carry more ammunition, food, and petrol, they're assigned the remotest patrol line.
Riding in the machine-gun's control seat is uncomfortable and very exposed while in motion. The troops don't like riding in it, but they don't complain, because everyone is taking turns in fifteen minute stints. At the valley entrance they stop to change gunners as the platoon leader hands over control of the machine-gun to Private Mason and sits in the Jeep's shotgun seat. When the patrol enters the large front yard of the farm 'Thistledown' the two troop transports swing out to the flanks and the Jeep takes the central slot when they head for the house. The leader senses something is wrong and calls a halt just inside the gateway; he studies the farm with great care, because he's not happy. There's no one in sight and he can sense only one person; they're in extreme pain. On full alert the vehicles move forward, stopping fifteen metres from the open front door.
Stopping the platoon Senior Lieutenant Mannheim dismounts, he enters the building with Corporal Emkara and 4th squad. Soon the sound of a single pistol shot rings out. The squad exits the building; moving to the side some of the Swords throw up. A pale faced Gerry walks to the lead transport and removes a digital video recorder, and he orders everyone to stay where they are. He returns inside the building. Ten minutes later he walks out again. Putting the recorder down he orders some Swords to fan out and see which way the brigands went.
Grabbing a twenty litre can of petrol from the troop transport he goes into the building and pours the petrol about the rooms of the farm house. A moment later he returns and puts the empty can back. After setting the house alight he radios a report to the company commander.
The scouts return. The attackers came from the north and headed west. Studying the map Gerry sees the attackers came via a little used pass up the valley, just north of the farm. Moving west they've two more valleys before they can cross back north. The signs indicate a group of over two hundred brigands, a very large band, and, from what he's seen, a very vicious band. Their next target is Tim's Halt, a large farm worked by thirty adults and with eighteen children living there.
Mounting up they leave at high speed, and some watch the burning house behind them. It's now a race to Tim's Halt. They're starting hours later and going the long way by road; are they fast enough, can they beat the brigands? Gerry tries to call Tim's Halt on his satellite mobile phone, no good. He uses the phone to call his sister and has her send the Mathesons, the owners of Tim's Halt, an e-mail warning.
Ten minutes later Isobelle calls back to tell him they've the warning and are acting on it.
After a hectic fifty minute drive the platoon pulls into Tim's Halt. Everyone is ready to pull out, as instructed in his warning message. They've waited until he arrives because they've insufficient transport.
He evaluates the situation. Women and children are loaded into the troop transports. The farm men, with their personal weapons, load up the few working farm vehicles. Each troop transport has a soldier to drive it, another in the back to operate its mounted machine-gun, and one corporal to command the detachment. Leaving him fifteen swords and himself to defend the farm.
Against his orders from the company commander Gerry intends to defend the farm and eliminate the band of brigands. Although it'd be uncomfortable they can overload the vehicles and everyone leave, but he isn't going to do that. He wants these scum to pay for what they did at Thistledown. While the troops take up position he tells them the full situation and offers them the opportunity to leave with the transports, if they wish. However, he's staying and fighting, even if it's by himself. The troops just move up to the wall and get ready for battle. He may be only thirteen years old, but they know he's tough and much more importantly, they know what he saw back there, 4th squad troops have talked a little bit. The Jeep is set up just behind a one and a quarter metre stone wall and covered with a tarpaulin, while the troops spread out beside it along this wall at the yard's eastern side.
The convoy is ready to move out with the farm vehicles sandwiched between the two troop transports when Shaun Matheson gets off. He says he'll stay to act as a medic, because he's a well-qualified medical technician. Patrick Matheson, the owner, isn't happy about his eighteen year old brother's decision, but accepts it. The convoy departs and is soon out of sight when it moves down the road.
Gerry radios the company commander with the current situation, and is promptly ordered out. He replies, "I'm sorry, Sir, court-martial me if you must. But I've a duty to the people to kill these scum. A duty to those these scum will harm in the future if they're not taken out now, and a duty to those they've already killed at Thistledown. I'd appreciate it if you can detach forces to 'High Reach' in the next valley and to Thistledown to ensure they don't get back over the mountains. I'd also appreciate any support forces you can send us. For the people! Out." The company commander can be heard swearing over the radio until Gerry turns it off.
Standing beside the Jeep, he says, "Listen up, everyone, this isn't going to be easy. I don't know if we'll win this or not. I do know, whatever happens, a lot of those bastards aren't going home." Drawing his sword he waves it above his head and sticks it in the ground while saying, "Here I stand, here I stay. The Amir stand and fight today." Thus declaring The Stand, letting the men know there'll be no quarter and no retreat in this battle. It also confirms what many have thought about why such a young man is an officer in the Guards, he's a royal prince and destined for higher things. They turn back to the wall and settle down to wait for the enemy. Gerry climbs into the heavy machine-gun's control seat; it's the most exposed position when the shooting starts, despite the light shield mounted on it. Shaun Matheson sits on the ground behind the Jeep, with two medical kits at hand.
After a thirty-five minute wait a large group of men emerge from the jungle edge and head to the farm house. They're looking about them while they slowly walk across the fields, it's clear they're concerned because they can't see anyone at work. The men take about twenty minutes to cover one hundred and fifty metres of the two hundred and forty metres from the jungle to the farm house.
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