A matter of life and … what’s worse than death? – Episode 24

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 with 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…

 

While waiting for Carlo and Chiara to return with the villagers, and taking some time to consider the plan that had almost formed in my mind, I went back to my room, which, I was guessing was once used for wine storage, because now that I had taken a moment to stop and consider my surroundings, I could smell the aroma of spilled wine.

With a little more light, I could see the arches within which the bottles would be stacked.  I’d also noticed while I’d been outside, that there were vines everywhere, albeit in bad shape as the people who tended them had either left, or been taken away, or shot.

Red grapes if I was not mistaken, though I had no idea what the variety might be.

If the war dragged on much longer, it would do a lot of damage to the wine-growing districts, and I doubted, when the Germans were here, they had any interest in tending the vines, but just drink the wine, and then probably not with the appreciation it deserved.

That had certainly been the case up at the castle before fate turned against me.  Perhaps that was where all of the wine from this cellar had been taken for safekeeping, once the locals thought the Germans had gone forever.  Maybe that was the reason why Leonardo spent so much of his time at the castle, the free wine.

Jack had returned from what I assumed was an inspection of our new quarters and was sitting on the ground next to me.  I wondered what he made of everything he had seen.  It was certainly not a dog’s life being caught in the middle of a war.  

“It’s a fine mess we’re in,” I said to him, and he looked back with uncomprehending eyes.  I would have to brush up on my German.  Or maybe Italian.  It only just occurred to me that he was probably someone’s dog from around here.  We’d only run into each other a few miles away.

“Yes, and I’m sure if you spoke English you could tell me a thing or two.  But, alas, you can’t, so a piece of advice.  Try to keep out of trouble, and by that, next time I go out, you might want to stay here.”

I shrugged.  Things must be bad; I’m talking to a dog.

Martina stopped outside the entrance.  “I heard voices.  Who are you talking to?”

“The dog.  He’s the only one who’s making any sense at the moment.”

“Are you sure he’s not a German spy.  Or, in fact, it’s a he?”

“You probably know as much as I do.  Anything happening?”

“Carlo’s back with a dozen or so of those who want to stay alive.  Chiara has a few more.  The rest have other places to hide if they need to.  We’ve told them to expect a raid.  Leonardo and a few of his men have been out looking for you and told everyone that you are a German spy and that he’ll pay them a lot of money for information about where you are or who’s hiding you.  He doesn’t understand everyone hates him, they always have.”

“Good to know if I run into him, he won’t be happy to see me.”

“This plan of yours?”

“Wallace will be getting edgy about the men he sent out, those men we ambushed at Chiara’s place.  It depends on who he sends, and where they go, but I was thinking we could prepare another ambush at Chiara’s.  All we have to do is wait because I’m sure they’ll get there eventually.”

“And if I know Leonardo, he’ll send them straight to my farm.  He knows that both Carlo and I, and the other two you’ve met were the other four who refused to join him in going up to the castle to make peace.  It seems he’s made a bad choice.”

“Wallace didn’t.  He needs someone like Leonardo to find us.  You’re probably right.  I was thinking Carlo and I could go.  No sense sending all of us, and if anything happens, there will be someone left to carry on.”

“You don’t sound too confident.  You are a soldier, aren’t you?”

“In a manner of speaking.  But I was not trained to be a commando, and not necessarily on the front line, or in this case behind enemy lines.”

“You’re not one of those rich kids whose father bought a commission, so you didn’t have to fight?”

Interesting the ideas foreigners had about elements of the army.  I was not sure if that was done anymore, at least not in this war.

“I have poor parents, that is if they have survived the bombs falling on London.  Refused to give in to Hitler’s aggression.”

I tried to convince them to go to the countryside, just to be safe, but one of the places they thought of going, had also been bombed, so as far as they were concerned, nowhere in England was safe.

“But yes, they did teach me how to shoot, and I know my way around several different types of gun.”  My mind flicked to the sniper rifle and the damage that could do.  

I’d be definitely taking that with me.

I saw her turn her head, and then heard the sound of new arrivals.  Chiara had returned.

“Time’s up for planning.”

I told the dog to stay, but as usual, he ignored me.  We went back into the main cavern where a dozen more people were settling in various places along one wall.  They looked as though they’d packed for a reasonably long stay.

But what worried me was the way they looked at me.  Those rumors Leonardo spread, I was hoping no one believed him.  Above the sound of voices, I could hear Marina speaking to them in Italian, hopefully, to tell them I was not a threat.

I found Carlo. 

“I have a small job to do.  After our last exercise at Chiara’s my old commander will no doubt send someone down to the village to seek answers, and I’m hoping you’ll come with me so we can convince them of the error of their ways.”

He smiled.  There was no mirth in it, and I knew I didn’t have to say anything more.

I saw movement coming from a group of people, and among them the boy I’d met earlier, Enrico.  He had jumped up off the floor when he saw me and came over.

“What are we going to do now.  I mean, we’re not going to sit here and do nothing.”

Boyish enthusiasm.  He had not been shot at yet, and to him, it was all a bit of a game.  I remembered back to the start of the war, and the number of boys who lied about their age, hardly waiting for the war to be declared.  They had no idea what a real war was, and if they had known, they would not have been so recklessly enthusiastic.

“You’re going to stay here and protect your family and all the others here.”

“No.  I want to be useful, fight the bastards.”

Carlo gave him one of his dark stares.  “You will stay here and help others if anything goes wrong.  Out there,” he pointed towards the entrance, “out there, if you’re not careful, you will die.”

Martina had seen him talking to us and came over.

“Enrico, we’ve talked about this.  Go back to your family.”

A last pleading look in case we changed our minds, then he reluctantly returned to his group.

Carlo handed me the sniper rifle and a pistol, a luger, probably captured from a German earlier, when they were in occupation.

“Good luck,” Martina said.

© Charles Heath 2019-2020

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