"They soujourned there a sennight, and were well eased of their wounds, and at the last departed."
Le Mort d'Arthur, Sir Thomas Malory, 1485
Alec wasn't sure of the welcome they would receive when he and Bond stumbled into the Serbian village. Two foreigners, rough-looking and bloodstained, were unlikely to be taken as friendly in countryside that still remembered conflict, but they had little choice. Bond was bleeding heavily. Alec was fairly sure he had broken ribs on his right side and he was pissing blood from one too many boots to the kidney. They left the downed corpse of the helicopter to burn and headed for the closest thing to civilisation they could see.
The villagers watched them like silent ghosts as they limped along the main street. It wasn't much of a street. A few shops. What looked like a bar and a cafe. Two wizened old men drank strong black coffee from tiny cups and followed them with rheumy eyes.
Alec leaned against a stone wall to rest, pulling Bond against his side to stop him from sliding to the floor. "Need to find shelter. They'll trace the chopper in hours." Bond simply grunted, too weak to articulate his thoughts.
"пођи са мном. пожури"
Alec startled when the light feminine voice spoke urgently from the corner of the building. A young woman with light hair and dark eyes urged them to follow her into a sand coloured building. Having little choice Alec half dragged Bond with him.
It was dim inside and cool. The woman, little more than a girl really, led them through the house and out the other side to an outbuilding with a cellar. Two men dressed in the typical local farming garb, met them inside. One pulled a handgun from the back of his trousers and Alec cursed, reaching for his own weapon, but found he was limited by his hold on Bond.
"No, no," the girl placed her hands flat on Alec's chest, pleading eyes begging him to understand. "сигурно. Safe."
"Safe? Here?" Alec demanded, trying to shift Bond in his arms to be less of a hindrance while still keeping him upright.
She glanced at the men. One nodded. Realising they had little choice with their injuries and two weapons trained on them, Alec limped toward the gaping maw of the cellar and cautiously felt his way down the steps a foot at a time, bracing against the almost dead weight of his fellow agent.
A commotion occurred and the voice of a young child babbling excitedly reached them. the shorter of the two men looked down at Alec and made a shushing gesture. The door closed and they were left in the dark.
Somehow Alec lowered James to the floor without causing him to cry out. Just in time if the angry shouting that began above them was any indication. "something about a car..." James murmured. "we stole it... drove away from... couldn't stop us..."
"They're helping us. Why?" Alec whispered back.
It was several hours later and both agents were dozing when the grating of the door announced the return of their benefactors. The two men from earlier lifted James between them and Alec stiffly followed them back to the house in the early evening light. A room had been prepared for them, furniture pushed back and two mattresses on the floor. The young woman waited with a bowl of warm water and medical supplies.
"See to James first," Alec said gruffly.
"James?" The girl questioned, pointing at the agent supported by her menfolk. Then she pointed to herself “Mila.”
“Great. Introductions done. Can you help my friend now?” It came out more harshly than Alec intended and the girl turned wide frightened eyes his way. He felt ashamed, even before the taller man reprimanded him with a sharp “we help. Be gratitude.”
Mila worked in silence then, carefully stripping James’ clothes away to better examine his injuries. The clothes were bundled up into a hessian sack. “Yours also,” Alec was ordered, and his shame at his earlier abruptness had him obeying without question. He waited mostly in silence, stripped to his underwear and watching her small deft hands stitch and dress James’ wounds. She made comments in Serbian to the men and one added notes to a written list. Finally she was done and turned her attention nervously to Alec.
The tall man left with his list and the shorter stepped up protectively. Alec offered her his hand with a careful apologetic smile. Pointing to himself he said “Alec. And I’m sorry.”
It was late when they were finally left alone again. They had enjoyed a warm filling meal, several cups of strong black coffee and Mila had forced bottles of water on them at regular intervals. Alec had been allowed to shower while Mila had wiped James clean with yet more bowls of warm water, avoiding his dressings.
They didn’t seem to be prisoners. No locked doors, windows opened a crack to let the fresh night air in, but he still didn’t understand why this small group had taken them into their home, or what they gained from such benevolence. Bond had dozed off and on through their entire rescue so far, and now Alec felt the tug of sleep become impossible to resist.
Over the next few days they were made to rest and recuperate, enjoying simple but nourishing food and drink. Mila attended to their medical needs and the tall man, whose name was Matija, brought them fresh clothing, and after some argument, shaved both their heads. “Hiding in sight,” he said, which Alec took to mean they were constructing a disguise.
They stayed a sennight, until Alec was satisfied James was fit to travel. They hadn’t managed to contact HQ in that time at all, and they both knew Q would be inwardly frantic, even if he managed to maintain his outwardly calm mask. Matija and Mila had been good hosts, even if the language barrier had remained and when it came time to leave they led the two agents out to the street and to a car.
Granted, it was more wreck than car, pitted with rust and filthy, but in his broken English Matija explained that it was sound and would get them to wherever they needed to go. He wouldn’t let them give their destination, but there were papers in the car that would allow them across the border. Alec shook his hand warmly, and James hugged both Serbians.
“I Still don’t understand why they went to all this trouble,” Alec puzzled when they pulled over to stretch their legs. They could see the Macedonian border from the road, and somewhere beyond lay Skopje airport.
“Just be glad they did,” Bond replied looking towards home.