A matter of life and … what’s worse than death – Episode 18

For a story that was conceived during those long boring hours flying in a steel cocoon, striving to keep away the thoughts that the plane and everyone in it could just simply disappear as planes have in the past, it has come a long way.

Whilst I have always had a fascination in what happened during the second world war, not the battles or fighting, but in the more obscure events that took place, I decided to pen my own little sidebar to what was a long and bitter war.

And, so, it continues…

 

It was clear, however, that Marina was familiar with the man and very annoyed with the woman.

When I took a longer look at the man, I realised he was not a man at all, but a boy in his teens, blessed by the fact he looked older than he was.  My guess, about 16.  I was surprised he had not been conscripted into the war, there seemed very few young men in the area.

Marina went straight over to him and snatched the elderly rifle he was holding away from him, the glared at Chiara

“Are you stark staring mad.  Enrico is not supposed to be out in the open, hell, it’s been a battle to keep him hidden away.  What will his parents think when they discover he’s here?”

“Pleased,” Enrico said.  “My father said it’s about time I did something to rid of the Germans, of the English too for that matter.  None of you has any right to be here.”

Fervently spoken, and to the wrong person, it would earn him a bullet to the back of the head.  But I agreed with him.

“All well and good,” Marina said to him, “but now there’s no easy way of doing that.  We must be careful, and you must stay put with your parents.  What we’re doing isn’t a game, you are neither trained or equipped to take anyone on, except perhaps rabbits.”

Back at Chiara.  “Take him home, and never bring him back here.  You don’t want to be the one who has to tell his mother if he gets killed.  Now, both of you go now, before I shoot both of you myself.”

“This is not the end of the matter,” Enrico said.

“And when you’ve taken him back, come back here.  We need to talk.”

Chiara said nothing, just nodded sullenly.  I think she believed the less said the better and did as she was asked, nodding her head in his direction, and adding a few choice phrases in Italian to him that I couldn’t understand.  It also just occurred to me that she had not asked Chiara the questions about the two men from the castle.  I guess that would have to wait until the safety of Enrico was settled, and she returned.

“Make sure they’re safe,” she said to Carlo, and he disappeared, leaving us alone.

“I thought all of the young men had been taken away by the Italian Army.”

“Not all.  We managed to hide a few away, but as you can see, despite our best efforts, they don’t seem to appreciate the trouble they could get into.  We used to have about a hundred young men from 14 through to 20 at the start of the war.  Two have found their way back, casualties of war, the rest, we may never see them again.  Enrico just doesn’t see the trouble he could get into.”

“It’s called youthful enthusiasm.  In the first world war, joining up, or going to war, was a lark.  It was a little less so this time because most of the parents knew from firsthand experience what it was like and tried to shield them.  And if you didn’t join up, questions were asked, and quite often jail, except for some who landed cushy jobs away from the fighting.”

“You were not so lucky?”

“No, I was one of those mad buggers who thought joining up to fight would be an adventure.  That quickly faded when the enemy started shooting at me.”

“And now you’re here, and a spy to boot.  That’s what they’ll hang on you if you get caught.”

“Then I shall try very hard not to get caught.  Again.”

 

Chiara came back about an hour later.  It seemed to me it was a lot safer to move around at night with the blackout, and I doubted Thompson would spare any men from the castle to check up on the local farmers.

And while I was at the castle, I didn’t hear anything raised about the local resistance, which I thought odd at the time, but now I knew why.  Most of them had joined him.  Better that than be hunted down and killed.

Chiara still looked sullen.  A closer look showed she was not very old herself, barely out of her twenties, and surprising that the Italian army, or Thomson for that matter, had not rounded her up for ‘duties’ at the castle.

There were a number of the local women working up at the castle, but they were mostly staff, or more likely forced labour, though I had thought we, when I believed it to be a British outpost, would be fairer to the locals than either the Germans or their own Italian military.  It’s odd how you tend to look at certain situations because of who you are, and the fact you would not do similar things at home.  The Germans, however, we would always treat differently, because they were the enemy, and because we expected the worst from them.  At that moment, though, wouldn’t the Germans think the same of us if the positions were reversed?

Best not to think about that.  My view of the war and the people in it was clouded enough.

Chiara, however, clearly thought the worst of me, and of those in the castle, and certainly didn’t think I was as neutral as I appeared.  A gun always in hand, I was sure she would shoot me again with the least provocation.

We sat, both Chiara and Marina with their weapons on the table in front of them.  I wasn’t trusted enough to be given a weapon.

Marina’s first question was directed at Chiara, “I’m told there were two men from the castle following Sam, and that he told you about them.”

“He did.  We did not see them.  We didn’t take the path, because, as you know, it’s not safe.”

It was a reasonable answer.  If the men at the castle were unfamiliar with the area, as I’m sure they would be, because they hadn’t been there for very long, and I doubt Thompson would want to advertise the nationality of those at the castle unless he had to, they would stick to the clearly-marked roads and paths.

I had on my way to the castle, from a different direction.  It didn’t explain why I had not been met by the leader of the resistance as arranged, but that was now explained, both by the former leader trying to kill me in a roadside explosion, and then what I learned at the castle in the last few days.

“Even so, there’s not that much distance between the two, and it is possible to shadow them.”

“I keep well away from them.  Perhaps Leonardo saw them.  He doesn’t have to worry about what they might do because they use him to supply food.  Maybe he knows more.”

“Perhaps I shall ask him next time I see him.  We need to know who from the castle is about and when so that we don’t get caught.”

“I’ll remember next time.  Is that all?”

“Yes.”

Chiara picked up her gun, gave me an extra-long sullen stare.  “I don’t trust this one, Marina.  You 

need to be careful.”

“I will.”

We waited a few minutes until after she had departed, and then Marina said, “We should be going too.  This place is a little eerie at night.  There are far too many ghosts for my liking.”

I shuddered, then followed her out.

 

© Charles Heath 2019

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