A matter of life and … what’s worse than death? – Episode 1

It’s the story that was inspired by the Castello di Briolio, which had small aspirations when first conceived, but now it’s reached a point where we need to fill in a few blanks at the start.

Thus, a revised Episode One

 

“You have got the guards set up on the back wall,” I asked Jackerby, the officer in charge of the rearguards.

“Can you see them?” he said in a tone that dripped sarcasm.

I didn’t like Jackerby, he seemed far too sure of himself and his men, and so far, we hadn’t had to rely on them.

But I expected that time was coming, and sooner than both of us wanted to believe.

“No.”

“Then no one else will either.  Trust me; no one will be coming over the back wall.”

That was a matter of opinion, and, in my assessment of the fortifications, and the security precautions, about the only way the enemy could attack us, was from the sky.

And that was, given the current situation the enemy were in, practically impossible.  But, as my old commander used to say, ‘This is war, anything is possible, and when you least expect it.’

I’d survived four years of it, and didn’t want to be one of those who didn’t make it to the end.  For that reason, I trusted no one, and particularly people who said ‘trust me’.

I glanced along the back wall again, just to make sure, but it didn’t make me feel any safer.

“I’ll be in the command post if you need me, and it has a clear view of anything coming.”

“Excellent,” I said, trying to sound more confident that I felt.

 

We were in an old castle, though not strictly speaking a real castle, built only a few hundred years ago.  It was an enemy stronghold up until a month ago when, acting on advice from the local resistance that the enemy strength had dropped as they had begun to retreat, a strike force came and liberated it.

And, given its strategic position between the front line and the sea it became a gateway for anyone who wanted to escape the Germans and what was left of the Italians.

That also included departing boffins from the Reich, looking to bargain their way to a new home in England or the US.

To oversee that operation was a Colonel called Johansson, along with a dozen or so specialist soldiers, and the operation had been running smoothly.

Then came an attempted incursion, where a group of enemy soldiers who were fighting to the end, made a brave attempt to take the castle back.,  They failed, because of a twelfth-hour arrival of a Major called Jackerby, and a small motley crew of men.

When I read the report after the battle, it seemed odd.

As a result of his help, Jackerby was recruited by Johansson, in circumstances that seemed a little too coincidental for my liking.  Johansson was too easy going for me, and although he had not made a mistake, yet, I felt sure one was going to happen on my watch.

I came later, sent by Command to ‘lend assistance where possible’ to the operation, assistance the good Colonel took no pains to tell command he didn’t need.  But they didn’t give him a choice.

Except…

On my way there, my driver and I had almost reached the castle when we were caught in a roadside bomb.  The driver was killed, and I’d been saved by a dog, one we had found on the side of the road, badly in need of water, and food.

I had brought him with me.  The thought of doing so, at the time, had been on the end of a single idea, a dog could not betray me, men and women could.  And the fact its name was Jack seemed to me to be rather poetic, if not somewhat ironic in the circumstances.

 

There was a communication in my pocket, one I’d received earlier in the afternoon, sent in a onetime code no one but I could decode.

A warning of a second attempt on the castle by the enemy, but for reasons unknown.

Tonight.

 

Jack and I were in the guard tower at the south-western corner of the castle.  It overlooked the valley and gave a clear view of anyone or anything coming from that quadrant.  If I was going to retake the castle, that’s where I’d launch an attack from.

Of course, if it came by air, you’d expect to hear it.

I didn’t, but Jack did.  He suddenly stood and made a small moaning noise, as if he knew quiet communication was needed.  The stiffness in his body told me it was danger.

Then I saw it, just as I came out of the guardhouse onto the gravel path, the moonlight shining of very large wings, and for a moment it didn’t make sense until I realized it was a glider.

Silent.  It passed, and behind I could see parachutes, then the sound of boots on the gravel walkways just down from the tower.  A precision flight and precision landing of a dozen stormtroopers.

And Jackerby’s guards were nowhere to be seen.

 

© Charles Heath 2018-2019

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