A year or so ago I began a long fantasy novel that was going to include a couple of genres; urban fantasy, comic-book style storytelling, and epics of the like of Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene. If I ever get around to finishing this it will be my Magnum Opus. Several characters from this work have appeared in some of my shorter fictions, like this short story. I’m only posting the beginning here. This is one that’s going for submission in a couple of places.
The Saint & The Eagle
by Desmond Manny
The little French village was not deserted in spite of appearances. As the woman walked down the slope of a low hill that was the main approach the first light of dawn crested the hill behind her. Sunlight warmed her shoulders and the back of her neck while her surroundings were bathed in reds and golds. It brought a smile to her lips to think of it as the eye of God turning toward His creation.
It was odd, thought the woman, to not find at least some of the villages inhabitants up before the dawn and tending to those necessary chores they had learned from their fathers and mothers, who in their turn had learned them from their fathers and mothers. An unbreakable chain of tradition that could endure even in the face of the Wehrmacht. Shifting the weight of her burden, a linen-swaddled object about three feet long which was slung over her left shoulder, the woman passed through a gap between two low stone walls that marked the boundary of the village.
Like many French towns and villages in the area this one had been razed by invaders and rebuilt again and again across the centuries. It’s layout seemed haphazard but was inspired partly by necessity and partly by expedience. The buildings were old, built in a time before the horrors of modern warfare and the seemingly inevitable march of the Nazi war machine.
Finding herself walking a wide lane that ran the length of the village the stranger realized that it intersected with a small square at the village’s center. The stranger turned herself full circle, twice. No soul stirred. Somewhere, goats vied to see who could bleat the loudest. The villagers were watching her no doubt. War made a wariness of things that seemed entirely harmless a necessity. Not that she would consider herself entirely harmless, so she begrudged them nothing.
Cupping her hands around her mouth the stranger called in perfect French, “Hello!”. Her voice rang out clear in the early morning. With luck the confirmation that she was a woman and alone would ease the mistrust of these people.
After a moment the door of one of the homes opened and a man who had long since left the vigor of his prime to memory tottered on legs that clearly pained him to join her in the square. His hair was as white as snow and he had the fearlessness of the very old. In his eyes were a question and the promise of defiance. If she should turn out to be a threat, well, so be it. This was a very pretty stranger and the old man blessed himself his eyes were still good enough to appreciate the sight. Not likely German, her dark brown hair peeking from beneath a gray traveling cloak and the darker complexion of her smooth skin marked her as neither Fraulein nor Mademoiselle. As a much younger man he had traveled east, first as a soldier with the army and then as a young man given to wanderlust. He had been as far as Turkey. This strange woman reminded him of those times and those people.
“Mademoiselle,” he began, “We have no love for the Germans here, but we are of little use to the Resistance. You will find little use for le fusil here.” the old gentleman indicated her wrapped package. “There are no garrisons and very little in the way of troop movements these days. Only the small group up at Le Maison. They are all fools and madmen.”
“You may call me Margaret,” said the woman. He thinks I am a sniper for the Resistance, she thinks, sent here to poke holes in unwary Germans. “And as for this,” she unslung her burden and deftly removed enough of it’s swaddling to reveal the hilt of a sword which gleams with unparalleled brilliance in the morning sun. It was a thing of unearthly splendor, a relic of the bloody past that seemed untouched by time. Which was fitting.
The man was transfixed and puzzled. Other faces had appeared in windows and doorways. “What is this, Marguerite?” the old man reached out with one knotted, speckled hand as if to touch the hilt before catching himself and allowing the hand to drop to his side. Margaret re-wrapped the blade and swung it back over her shoulder
“A relic of another time, Monsieur.” she said.
“The Holy Wars?”
“Much older than that.” Margaret smiled. “This is the sword of Sigurd, called Gram.”
Margaret had been invited into the old man’s, named Jacques, home. There his daughter and two grand-daughters had shared what remained of the morning meal with her and implored her not to continue on her task. There were the rumors many had heard of how the Nazis scoured the most obscure sites relating to myths and legends, uprooted cemeteries, and defiled spots once held sacred to pagan rites. More proof of their madness if the War was not enough, Jacques opined. Jacques, who would not let go of the opinion that Margaret was Resistance and the blade part of some ruse, assumed that Margaret had parachuted into one of the open fields surrounding the small town some time during the night. Dangerous, as it would not be a full moon for three more days. Margaret was impressed at the depth of his perception. She had in fact jumped blind and he admired her bravery. Margaret wondered if it had been that brave. After all it held little danger, not for her. That was the whole reason SOE had chosen her for this particular mission.
In London the phone had rung at nearly half past eleven. Margaret had picked up the receiver without speaking and the voice on the other end had spoke briefly, “St. George? You are a go.”
Her codename was something of a joke and made her the only Special Operations Executive agent who was not known by number alone. She had found herself shortly on board a plane with her brief, making way across the Channel.
Smiling at Jacques’s concern and that of his family Margaret remained on task. “Tell me about the house, my friend. I will be going up soon enough. I know there is an SS Officer there and a contingent of Luftwaffe engineers in that big hangar they have constructed. What are they flying up there?”
Jacques could not give her very much information. “They keep to the grounds of the house and allow locals very little access. There are twenty men, half as many engineers, and the SS Officer.”
Copyright Desmond Manny 2015