It's good to be back, friends, and here at long last is the first installment of Volume Two: The Blood-Dimmed Tide. This volume covers 1915 and 1915 and is, like the first volume, twenty chapters long, with each chapter broken into several installments.
Now that things are rolling, I hope to have the next installment up within a week or two.
Village of Chateau Ducloux, France. February 16th, 1915 Through some administrative oversight no one was on the platform to meet the new German commandant as he stepped off the 9:18 train from Sedan, the ample stomach under his military overcoat giving him the look of a field gray ninepin. There was something ridiculous, something trivial, about this event in comparison to what had come before: the men called up into the army, the refugees streaming south, the Germans who had occupied the town and set up their headquarters in the town hall. There was no hint that his tenure would end under a cloud of accusations that his corruption and incompetence had led to the unnecessary execution of two of the town’s prominent citizens -- accusations of sufficient volume and gravity that the occupation authorities were forced to make a rare gesture to public opinion and move him to another assignment.
A freezing drizzle was falling. The new commandant’s orderly shouted and gestured at the station master while Major Spellmeyer himself stood with his umbrella, sheltering his luggage from the rain. It was new luggage, covered in tan leather and fastened with polished brass buckles. He had purchased them to celebrate his promotion to the temporary reserve officer rank of Major. The suitcases were of the same design and finish as the ones that he had seen the bank’s vice president use when he had arrived from Königsberg to visit their branch. And here, through the slackness of this first assignment, their pristine finish was being spotted with rain. He would bring some order to this posting, that he resolved.
When at last the station master secured some transportation for them it was not a car or a taxi, such as the Major had expected, but an open farm cart. By the time they reached the town hall Spellmeyer was furious, and his new luggage was mottled all over from the rain.
He tried to make this displeasure clear to Major Dressler as the two men met to hand over the command of the town, but the regular army officer who had been the town’s commandant since August and who far surpassed Spellmeyer in both experience and seniority, being a professional officer with the permanent rank of major (even if an old one recalled from retirement) raised a hand to silence the new officer. For a moment the silence drew out between them, and Spellmeyer had time to reflect on how imprudent it would be to offend this man who was doubtless destined for promotion and a frontline command.
“It was an oversight,” said Dressler, shrugging the matter away. “There is a motor car in town and we have requisitioned it for army use. You will have it at your disposal in the future.”
Major Spellmeyer gave a nod combined with a slight bow and tucked away the lesson for future use: An officer does not apologize to his inferiors.
He must remember that. At the bank even the branch manager had not been so secure. The eddies of politics within the bank hierarchy were unpredictable. The man who was under you today might be promoted to some higher place tomorrow. In Dressler’s calm reserve Spellmeyer saw something nearly regal. He must learn to cultivate this himself. He was in command of a bataillon now -- a depleted, picked over, reserve bataillon with well under a thousand men, but a bataillon nonetheless, and the responsibility for governing a town and its environs as well. There was far more scope here than deciding which merchant’s line of credit should be extended and which should be forced to pay up or provide more collateral.
Major Dressler was talking, offering those thoughts he had not thought it appropriate to put in writing: about who among the French administration could be trusted, about the tactics for successfully conducting requisitions, about the necessity of maintaining some degree of goodwill among the population to ease the difficulties of governing.
“Perhaps this will all come more naturally to you. I hear you’re a man of business, and no doubt that’s what’s required here.”
Spellmeyer nodded gravely and let the words flow over him. No, this would be nothing like business. This would be his kingdom.
Two Poem Drafts
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