The Long March of Ares, Part 2

Written by Azmodi, Edited by E.A. Morrissey
Published by the Beyond Reality Fiction Group in

Characters are the properties of Azmodi
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The Long March of Ares
Part 2 of 3
Click here for Part 1 of 3

Frederick allowed Erlen several more days rest and recuperation, but finally he brought the private to Irwin and asked that he be put to work in the fields, to repay the villagers for their kindness. At first the farmer refused, but finally accepted Derych’s demand, not wishing to create a confrontation or make his guest uncomfortable.

Garrick protested the moment he saw the man who would guide him in the fields - a Jew. It took Frederick a moment, but he finally recognized the middle-aged man as the same one whom he had first barged in on upon arriving in Nachtholm - he seemed older in the sunlight. The sergeant ordered Erlen to cease his resistance and finally the private was led off into the fields.

His vision weary from nights of ill-rest, Derych desired more then comfort of sleep than the solitude of the forest - even if it meant a journey through the sea of alien faces and the potential for prying questions. Frederick ignored his basic desire - as he had so many times before - and forced himself out into the dark maw of nature once again.

Wearied from restless nights, the sergeant’s mind swam in images his eyes did not always perceive, and memories of the past mixed with the stark present. Trying his best to free himself from these torturous visions of collars and robes, blood and innocence, Frederick retreated into the very depths of the forest. Here the branches of trees dipped low under their own weight, green fingers trailing across the ground. Their trunks like iron rods, Derych sat, propping himself up against the reassuring stability of one of the great giants. He drifted off into dreamless sleep, glad for the quiet.

He was awakened by a thin voice, when the shadows had shifted and the sun sat balanced on the tops of distant peaks. Frederick’s eyes snapped open and he was ready, expecting to see gun barrels pointed at him, his hand slipping down to his boot, ready to draw the knife. He found a small girl standing before him, in a blue and red dress with wildflowers clutched in her hand. A shard of metal glinted on her chest - a silver crucifix.

Derych looked away, anger rising in him that he had been discovered. The child stared at him silently for a few moments, before asking why he was there.

"It doesn’t matter. Go away."

She told him she knew who he was - the soldier staying in the village. She told him his friend was not being cooperative in the fields. He did not reply, merely wishing her to be gone. She continued to talk the unending stream of words that comes from a child’s mouth. She never talked of the war - she seemed wholly unaware of it, though a soldier sat right before her. She talked about her brother, how they had grown up together and how he showed her how to fish in a nearby creek.

"Where did you grow up?"

Frederick breathed evenly, attempting to keep control, the rage within him rising.

"Did you have any brothers or sisters?"

He closed his eyes, curled his hand into a tight fist; he feared the bones would shatter. His mind cleared of thoughts, running like scared animals before the approach of the ultimate predator. His chest burned.

"What did you do before you became a soldier?"

He snarled like a beast and rose in a flash, blue-grey eyes shining in the fading light. With a single step, he had breached the gap between himself and his enemy, raising his hand to strike her. The back of his hand connected with the soft bone of her jaw and she fell, the wildflowers falling haphazardly to the ground.

Breathing heavily - the panting of a tortured animal - Frederick stared down at the girl. A red welt already rising on her face, a thin trickle of blood issuing from the corner of her mouth, mingling with the tear from her eye.

With incredible grace she rose, obviously fighting to control her emotions - winning - she looked at him again for a few moments. She did not bother with the wildflowers, their soft petals covered in dirt, their beauty irretrievable.

"You should get some new clothes - you smell like a dead dog."

The girl left, and Frederick did not follow. Again, he sat against the tree, this time unable to sleep. He saw with his eyes closed, until thoughts returned to his mind. With them, he found strange sensations, those he vaguely recognized; though he had not seen their shape for what seemed eternity.

Night falling, Frederick stood and left the dim heart of the forest. It was not until the journey back to the village was nearly complete that he at last remembered the texture of those feelings that washed over him, ground him beneath iron wheels.

He made toward the fields, his feet dragging, but slowed even further as he heard shouting. Carefully be crept up beside the barn, the stench of horses coming unabated to his nostrils, and watched as Erlen berated the man who had led him off at the beginning of the day. The farmer stayed silent even as Erlen’s rage grew, as he waved around a rake, even threatening him with it. Finally, the private gave up, snapping the tool’s wooden shaft across his knee, throwing it at the farmer’s feet and stalking off.

Frederick intercepted him on the way back to the house. He saw Garrick’s grey uniform was covered in brown earth now, stained - even his glasses were streaked with dirt, though he could obviously still see clearly. However, at his shoulder the brown and grey were giving way to red - his tirade had reopened the wound.

The sergeant chastised him for endangering the health that many had worked hard to preserve.

"My apologies sir, but the Jew - that Jew! How can anyone work in such a field for so many hours? It is not possible! Moreover, the tasks, so mundane that they are not worth my efforts! We must leave this place as soon as possible - I want this village reported and that one hauled off - I’ll shoot him myself!"

"You are not ready yet."

"But I will be soon - we must get back to Berlin soon, to help Herr Hitler stave off the American advances. Otherwise... No! We cannot be defeated - the Americans and Russians will fall before reaching the capital."

Before sleeping Frederick once again cleaned and bandaged Erlen’s wound. The dog was silent that night; the sergeant did not sleep well.

The following days were spent in a state of perpetual numb for the sergeant - not the imperviousness of iron, but the cold of ice that promised to either melt or grow stronger. Unable to sleep well in his bed or in the forest, Frederick wandered, the constant march his only source of comfort or rest. He remembered little specifically of his journeys round the perimeter of the village, his exhausted mind weaving in and out of awareness.

Erlen met with him every night in the small room, raging about his day of farming. His grey uniform had been replaced by simple brown trousers and tunic, and the same color as the earth he sew with seeds. Garrick seemed to grow stronger each day as his wound healed, while the sleepless nights wore on Frederick as combat never did.

The sergeant simply ate his evening meal as Erlen went on and on, paying little attention to the private’s mutterings.

"That Jew - I cannot stand him any longer! I must be rid of this place, no matter how quiet it is..."

"For someone so clearly inferior, it must have taken him years to master the techniques he teaches me... Not long from now I will be superior to him in every way."

"The old man, he seems to have no brain at all - he does not even grow angry when I make a mistake in plowing the field with oxen or break a tool! He did not even react when I fixed the shovel I snapped with a touch of concrete from the creek. Damn him. These people, they’re like old clay!"

"I’ve accomplished in a short time what Arnim couldn’t do in months. I can feel my skills growing, sergeant - I am a more skilled farmer than I ever was a soldier. A few more weeks we’ll have the whole field done."

"A shame I won’t be able to see the crop come up... The journey back to Berlin will be a long and difficult one. Have you noticed how quiet it is? There seem to be no planes in the sky at all anymore... Nevertheless, shouldn’t I be able to see the crops? I planted them all..."

"Arnim seems to grow weaker with each passing day - perhaps he is sick? I’ll have to finish the planting without his help - not that he was much help, of course. At times he looks like a dead man propped up on a stick..."

And each night Frederick attempted to rest, but could not - he was distracted by the barking of the dog, or a grey moth persistently beating at the window, or the rotten odor rising from his own clothes. He desired to bathe, change his uniform, but what would his commanders think when he arrived in Berlin?

Arnim finally died, no more than a handful of days after Erlen had mentioned his mentor’s increasing illness. The private joined in the funeral train, taking the wooden coffin up to the hill, taking off his glasses and bowing his head in respect as Arnim was laid in the ground, beside his brother Jürgen.

Frederick had stayed in the room, unwilling to help with the funeral. Yet, he had agreed to eat at the dinner in honor of the deceased farmer, to be held after the burial. Thinking it disrespectful to arrive for a such a meal in the shambles he existed in, Derych requested new clothes and soap so that he could wash himself in the creek. He arrived at Irwin Wenzel’s house in a brown shirt and tunic, his flat face clean-shaven and his blue eyes seeming to shine in their pits with newfound vitality.

Irwin sat at the head of the table, his wife to his right, her belly near bursting. All around the long table - taking up the entire common room - the village sat, the population so small that nearly everyone save the children could be seated comfortably; the younger ones sat at a small table nearer the fireplace.

Erlen talked at length regarding Arnim, describing how he had learned so much from the older man and how difficult it would be to complete the task without his help. He reached for bread when he was done, seeing well in the dim light despite his lack of eyewear.

Stories were passed around the table of how good a man Arnim was and the exploits of his life. There was talk of the great tragedy of the two brothers passing away in such a short span of time.

Erlen seemed surprised by this, "Arnim never told me he had a brother. What happened to him?"

There was some hesitation from the village as a whole, each member reacting in the same manner, but Irwin swiftly took the initiative and explained that Jürgen had died not long before - he had fallen on a piece of cutlery. The farmer had opted for death rather than a life without the ability to give life. His hands had become so crippled with arthritis that he had experienced constant pain and had been unable to aid his brother in the fields. A sad story, and one the villagers obviously did not enjoy speaking of.

"Sergeant, perhaps you can help me in the field?" Erlen asked after a long silence, "The other farmers are occupied with their own tasks."

A faint flicker of anger bloomed in Frederick’s heart, but he suppressed it, unconsciously looking over at the small girl near the fire, eating soup, the swelling in her jaw only now beginning to fade.

"It is not necessary, Erlen." Irwin said, "The sergeant does not know how - we can spare others from their tasks."

Frederick felt struck by the naked kindness of the man, and he found himself surprised to say, "I will."

Continued in issue #3

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