|Subject: Chapter 311 - Part 2 (end of chapter 311)
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Date Posted: Monday, November 05, 06:43:12am
In reply to:
's message, "Chapter 307 - Part 1 (16 and above)" on Monday, October 22, 07:10:11am
The first one came with more, shuffling footsteps and then the increased mooing of the cow which had been used to hide the trapdoor they crouched beneath. Finally, the hooves of the creature were heard being shifted slowly away--its mooing low and mournful. And then the door was lifted to reveal them to the world.
To Michael's utter relief, the face which looked down on them was Stephan's, trying to smile reassuringly. The airman nearly gave voice to his questions but remembered his situation in time. Just because they were being let out didn't mean that they were necessarily entirely safe.
Their protector looked a little grave but did nod, speaking softly out of habit. "They're gone." His sigh was quiet. "But they could be back." There was a very small shrug. "I don't play the fool as well as I used to."
There was no particular answer to this claim--assuring the man that he did only an insult. Instead, Michael translated to his comrade, causing Ackerman to finally clamber out of the hole. To the injured man's surprise, his companion immediately made for the cow, muttering under his breath. "She should have dropped that thing hours ago." He seemed to have utterly forgotten about their peril.
This was, for those around the airman, probably for the best. It gave Bill a distraction, kept him from questioning their hosts. Still, when Michael tried to follow him, he realized how weak he still was; he had to use just one leg and his arms to do the work--and even that was slow going. He quickly began to wonder whether he had any chance of getting out of this pit before tomorrow. But there was little to do except try on his own.
It was to his surprise, therefore, when Ackerman paused in his conversation with Sophie--or what there could be of it, given their different languages--and turned back to the hiding place. Two steps later, he was standing above the man, soon lifting him out, almost entirely on his own--thereby proving the strength he had always claimed to have. Michael sat on the edge of the hole, letting out a huge breath--more relieved than he liked. "Thanks," he nodded. But Ackerman had already turned back to the cow once more.
His comrade was a bit confused, wanted to ask a dozen questions, but Stephan kept looking back and forth between him and the cow, utterly distracted. It still wasn't him he was watching, as he said, "I need to change that dressing." But it clearly wasn't the cow he meant.
All of this left Michael feeling a bit like a booby prize, if not just an utterly unnecessary burden, but he was too relieved to see the older man alive--and apparently unharmed--to focus on it. Helping him further, Bill answered their protector unknowingly. "You take care of him. I'll look after Bessie." Michael translated, even though he knew the man didn't need it--wondering bemusedly all the while whether this were really the cow's name; Stephan nodded, looking grateful, helping him up. And thus, with the very important cow attended to, the airman's wounds also got the attention they needed.
It wasn't that the ex-actor really grudged his bovine rival the concern everyone paid her, though. He was well aware that--on a farm such as this one, especially--cows were important, expensive to replace. If the birth were successful, there would be a margin of security for the future; he remembered this all too well from his own youth. But to see Ackerman asking for water to wash himself, rolling up his sleeves, as he got into position behind the heifer, was not something he had ever expected in this place.
Thus it was, with Bill's arms half up a cow's nether regions, doing his best to guide out the misaligned calf, that Michael finally got both his wound looked after and the story of what they had missed in their hiding place. Although not as tragic as he had feared, it hadn't been pretty. But it was the least of the waste and cruelty this war was going to see.
Apparently, Stephan's stupid act for their pursuers had been successful--the soldiers believing that their hounds had followed nothing to this place, were only fascinated by the scent of dung. In fact, the gunshot had been for one of the Nazis' ill-fated tracking dogs--which Sophie and her father had been left to bury. It had been a predictably callous act--but it *had* managed to save the airmen's lives.
Michael tried to translate this tale to Ackerman soon after he was told it, but the only gruff answer he got--among talk of calving--was a gruff, "I know." Explanations were apparently far less interesting to him than animal husbandry.
The injured man stared wonderingly at his companion for a moment, until his earlier understanding came back; all those unpleasant thoughts in the dark had driven them temporarily away. "You speak German?" There was no response, except a grunt--which could well have been caused by a particularly tricky bit of calf-turning inside its mother. Michael almost didn't ask the next question but felt the need to know. "Why did you bring me along?"
There was a wet sort of thud a moment later, followed by some quite frantic mooing. Soon thereafter, a very small moo was also heard; Michael looked over to watch Ackerman squatting back with satisfaction to view the mother cow licking her newborn's face with an intense, worried sort of affection. "I don't speak French," he answered eventually, standing up--finally focusing on his companion, as Sophie and Stephan both rushed to the cows, attending to them like worried parents; Bill, unnoticed, quietly washed off his arms. "Besides, I don't *speak* German. I just understand a little of it."
He didn't say anything more about this, but his comrade gave a smile--the rest of the tale now obvious. Given Bill's last name, which the ex-actor had never thought about before, it was likely where the man's parents--or maybe grandparents--had immigrated from. A child could easily listen to such speech and continue to subconsciously recognize it, even long after the constant, adult use of English had worn away any verbal skills. Michael didn't question, glad enough for the help. Besides, he was beginning to feel that there was little reason to worry about being abandoned by his comrade anymore.
This change was immense, and odd; even now, he didn't fully understand. Perhaps it had been the strange closeness forced upon them by their escape and hiding. Perhaps it had been the apparently calming effects of Bill's return to his childhood farming skills. Or maybe it was just the open acceptance that the pair who sheltered them offered, their willingness to face potential death to see them safe. Whatever the reasons, Michael was relieved. With the airman's wholehearted help, they might have some chance of getting out of this at last.
He was just thinking this over, trying to imagine some possible escape plan--the odds perilously long--when Stephan turned to his daughter. "I'll tell them about it. You go get them something to eat." Sophie nodded, leaving both fugitives glad of the decision. Now that the terror had worn off somewhat, they were starting to feel the effects of those hours in the dark.
It seemed a wrench to the old man to leave his prized heifer and her calf, but he did manage to gesture Bill over toward his companion eventually. Michael was already seated on a small pile of hay, was joined by the other two men a moment later. Once they were all settled, Stephan started to explain. But the plan he outlined seemed almost too daring to ever be accomplished.
Both airmen watched the older man in shock, as he told them of it, of the intention to walk them back home to England--or, at least, as close to it as they could get, before a boat was required. It seemed impossible, would require a trek across mountains as well as hundreds of miles of land. Still, Stephan wasn't laughing, as he explained, his look perfectly serious. And Michael was forced to soberly consider hobbling across half of Europe.
It wasn't that the idea could be easily dismissed--as Herculean a feat as it would be. After all, if they stayed here, the Nazis would return; even if Bill might eventually be able to fit in--if they could teach him enough of the language he had so long despised--Michael was too well-known to ever be capable of it. He, at least, *had* to get back to their base. But to walk there with a broken leg . . .
"It's Sophie who thought of it," Stephan nodded, ending his tale. "She's the one who would lead you."
Only half-surprisingly, it was Ackerman who objected, once Michael finished passing on the details. "She's a girl," he pointed out--as though the fact had slipped by them all unnoticed. But Michael was surprised to see that his immediate rejection of this detail didn't seem to be entirely based upon his usual dislike of women.
Their protector nodded, however, bringing them back to the point. "Exactly. If she stays here, and the Nazis return . . ." He let the idea trail off, his look moving away, sadness and disgust warring there. "You weren't able to see how they looked at her."
It amazed Michael a little to see Ackerman bristle at this knowledge, when he translated it for him. Given his comrade's usual uses for women, the ex-actor wouldn't have put such a thought past him--especially if he were part of an invading army. Besides, as loathsome as it was, such acts were almost expected in war--every invader drunk both with power and the need to soil those he had forcefully taken over. Rape was only the symbolic and physical expression of the conquering army's other actions.
This fact was an accepted part of war, was shrugged off as unimportant by the men who fought--and certainly by the men who decided their next movements--showed the true evil which lay at the heart of every conflict. It was the physical expression of the idea that human life, and the human soul, meant nothing. And it was part of the very reason why Michael now fervently wished that he had never had any part in this hideous war to begin with.
Such a desire did little to free him, however. His only possible way out was to survive; something within him firmed, let him know his answer. "We'll do it." Ackerman looked at him, slightly aghast, but he only shook his head. "There's no way we can stay here much longer without endangering us all."
This truth ruled the day, let them know what they would do--however little some of them liked it; they began to plan, as Sophie brought them their meal. While it would take a few days, at least, for Michael to build back up the strength to even attempt such a journey, it would have to be done. The only way for them to survive was escape. The only way to freedom was on foot.
This course was agreed on, as they ate, the next few days critical in its planning. Michael and Ackerman would have to, somehow, sleep down in their hiding place--probably standing up, although it was vaguely possible that there was room to squat--since there wouldn't be the time to cover them, were the Nazis to come back at night. During that time, the injured man would try to heal as much as possible, while Sophie and Stephan collected supplies. Then, with a firm walking stick to aid him, perhaps with enough makeup to hide behind the guise of an old man--enough, at least, to throw the invading army off his trail, he would begin their trek. And maybe eventually, hundreds of miles away, he would be a little closer to going home to his Nikita again.
[End of Part 311]
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