Dark clouds hovered menacingly over the mountains overlooking Larissa. The once thriving agricultural community, located between Athens and Thessaloniki, 150 kilometers to the north, was now in the ironclad grip of the Third Reich.
Helena strode purposefully up the slight incline. She glanced at the fields; fields that had once been sown with wheat or cotton but were now sadly neglected. Not that she wanted it that way, but the war had made life in Larissa overwhelmingly oppressive. She was not a farmer and she struggled without her beloved Nicholas to tend to the fields. She was an artist and sold her art in town to buy the meager food rations. She sold her work to the Germans or to the Italians who had been stationed in the town. Reluctantly, she had sold her favorite painting, one she had painted for her Nicholas as a present. It was now enjoyed not by her husband, as she had intended, but by the German commandant.
Helena stopped, lifted her head up to the heavens, and surveyed the coming storm. She shook her head and trudged up the hill to the small farmhouse she shared with her daughter Zoe. As she walked, waves of memories swept over her, as they had every day of her life since the beginnings of this hated war.
Helena was a widow, just another casualty of the war. Though only in her mid-thirties, she looked far older, a legacy of the long war against first the Italians and then the Germans. Both enemies had exacted their price from her family and her community. Her chestnut-colored hair had started to gray prematurely.
She was a strong woman with firm beliefs and a faith in God that gave her the strength to continue after the death of her beloved husband Nicholas, and sons Michael, Thieri, and Theodore. Her three beautiful sons, strapping young men, had died on the front lines defending Greece against the invading Italian army in Albania, a sacrifice that no mother should ever endure.
When the Italian invaders had been defeated, great jubilation had resulted in a joyous celebration that stretched for days. In the town, the pride over the news that the Italians had been beaten back flourished amidst the sorrow for the fallen.
But after the euphoria of the victory against the Italian invaders had faded, the Greek government realized that the Axis powers had not been defeated, only stalled. The government stumbled from one crisis to another, trying to starve off the inevitable. What they feared the most happened in the spring of 1941, a day that many Greeks had been anxiously anticipating for months.
As the sun began its rise over Mount Ossa, the rumble of German tanks and the sounds of marching feet disturbed the short-lived peace. Nicholas joined the resistance against the Germans; every able bodied man fought against the invaders shoulder to shoulder with the Australia and New Zealand soldiers. Her brave husband took the fateful decision to cross enemy lines with two Australian soldiers as the battle raged around them. War had descended on Larissa and she lost her beloved husband on that horrible night.
Her concern for the welfare of her surviving child prevented her from joining her departed husband and sons.
The men of the community who survived went underground to fight the Germans the way their forefathers had fought against the might of the Ottoman Empire. The subversive opposition in the countryside grew and, although the Germans scoffed at the news of the Greek Resistance, their numbers were bolstered with each passing day. For many Greeks, the notion of being an enslaved people was an abomination. The oppressive yoke of the Ottoman Empire had been overthrown in 1828, and many of the older men told tales of the heroic deeds of an earlier generation of Greeks that became part of the Modern Greek psyche.
The tragic deaths of her sons and her husband left Helena alone with Zoe. She hoped her daughter would get married and then she might be able to have a man around the farm, although that prospect was severely limited. Zoe was thirteen, nearly fourteen years old, and very capable of setting up a home of her own. Helena had seen to that. The girl knew how to sew and cook, to clean and take care of a household. Helena was very proud of her daughter and was sure that she would make a very capable wife. Standing in the way of that dream was Zoe’s reluctance to accept any of the men who were suggested by the town’s matchmaker.
Earlier in the day, the scenario had been repeated with Zoe, who once again dashed the hopes of her mother. Kiria Despina, the town’s matchmaker, had made the trek to the Lambros farm to inquire about Zoe’s availability. Once again she went away shaking her head and without a firm commitment. Helena was certain Kiria Despina would tire of trying to find someone who Zoe would accept.
Helena smiled when she saw her daughter waiting for her at the gate. "Have you finished your chores?" She asked, knowing full well Zoe hadn’t. Zoe was perfectly capable of spending the whole day reading or sketching.
Zoe nodded. "Some," she replied, although not very convincingly, since she got a stern look from Helena. "Did the pigs buy it?"
Helena sighed. "Yes," she said sadly. "Kiria Despina said they wanted it."
"Enough so we won’t starve." Helena ruffled Zoe’s hair. "Kiria Despina is worried about you."
Zoe leaned against the fence and looked up into the dark heavens. "I don’t care."
"Zoe, she is going to get tired of coming here and asking. She’s running out of boys! What was wrong with Dimitri?"
Zoe sighed. "He’s too tall and he’s old enough to be my grandfather."
Helena stared open mouthed at Zoe. "He’s too tall?"
"Yes." Zoe smiled. "I don’t like tall boys."
"You don’t like tall boys," Helena repeated. "You don’t like short boys, or boys with brown hair, or boys with black hair." Helena counted on her fingers the many variations of boys Zoe had rejected. "Child, are there any boys you do like?"
"One day you will have to settle on a boy because you’re going to be left alone and nothing is worse than being left on a shelf, especially for a young woman," Helena once again reminded Zoe, although she knew there were worse things. But she needed her daughter to get married, for both their sakes.
"One day I’m going to meet someone who will be just right." Zoe smiled. "You’ll see, Mama. Kiria Despina won’t have to ask twice."
"I hope so, I certainly hope so." Helena shook her head and walked inside to start on dinner. "Go and feed the animals."
Several hours later Zoe heard Helena’s exasperated voice. "Zoe Lambros, where are you, child?"
Zoe was fed up with feeding the animals and cleaning the house. There were much more interesting things to do. All she wanted to do was go down to the river, take a book, and read. Theodore, the youngest of her older brothers, had given her a copy of Oliver Twist that he’d found in Athens. It was one of her most prized possessions, a well-read book with dog-eared pages. Zoe had gone behind the chicken shed for some quiet time; it had a tiny overhanging shingle that protected her from the rain. She groaned when she heard her mother’s voice.
"Yes, Mama," Zoe muttered and got up from the ground, leaving the book behind in a small, safe cache so that her mother would not see it and yell even more. She rounded the corner to find Helena glaring at her.
"You know you have to help me get these chores done! Were you reading again?"
"I’m going to see the world one day," Zoe mumbled, repeating what she had told Helena many times before, much to her mother’s annoyance.
"The only place I want you to see right now is your room. Clean it up."
"Zoe, please, don’t argue with me." Helena let out a frustrated sigh.
"I’m going to leave here one day. You’ll see."
Helena decided to humor Zoe. "Where would you go?"
"Away, far away from Larissa and Greece. I’m going to travel and see the world. I want to paint, learn and become somebody."
"You are somebody." Helena put her arm around Zoe. "You are Zoe Lambros, a little too rebellious at the moment, but generally a good girl."
"I want to leave."
"And leave me alone?"
Zoe looked up into her mother’s eyes. "You’ll come with me." She smiled. "I want to see what’s over there." She pointed to the mountains. "I want to know what’s out there beyond Mount Ossa."
"What’s out there, little one, are the Germans."
"I want us to leave," Zoe mumbled as she picked up a stone. She looked at it and threw it against the barn.
"We can’t leave, my love. We can’t go anywhere."
"Why can’t we go to live with Aunty Stella?"
Helena sighed deeply. "You know travel is dangerous, especially for a woman and a child on their own."
"I’m not a child. I’m nearly fourteen. I’m old enough to get married."
"Yes, you are old enough but it’s not safe. I hear stories of what happens when women are caught by the Germans, and it’s not something I would like to experience."
"Why can’t Aunty Stella come here?" Zoe persisted.
"What did I just say about single travelers?"
"Aunty Stella is fearless. She travelled to Athens and she’s a doctor."
Helena put her arms around Zoe and laughed. "You are precious. Just because someone is a doctor doesn’t make them invincible."
"No, but Aunty Stella is."
"Oh, my precious child, I wish we could join Aunty Stella in Thessaloniki but that won’t happen," Helena said as she hugged her daughter. "Have you seen your cousin Stavros?"
"Not today. I’m going into town tomorrow. You haven’t changed your mind, have you?" Zoe looked at Helena, who had an anxious look on her face. Zoe turned to where her mother was looking and saw the reason.
A column of vehicles was passing through on the dirt road throwing up a cloud of dust in their wake. The distinctive and despised swastika of the Third Reich emblazoned on the doors heralded the arrival of more Germans.
"Who is that?"
"The new commander," Helena replied. "I heard he was coming in today."
Zoe grinned as she watched the procession pass through. "Helgberg got a very nice send-off by our boys."
"Zoe, you shouldn’t be happy about someone’s death."
"Yes, I can. If they are German pigs, I will dance on their graves with tambourines." Zoe started to dance a jig as she swirled around the courtyard amongst the chickens.
Helena shook her head and laughed. "My little one, war is not a dance."
"No, but this is our country. This is my country and they are invaders. We will beat them like we beat the Turks." Zoe looked at Helena and held her hand. "Don’t worry, Mama, once this war is over, I’ll get married to a nice boy and everything will be just fine."
Eva Muller gazed out of the window at the woman washing her clothes out in their front yard. The woman was dressed in black from head to toe. The new commander’s house was situated slightly on a hill overlooking several houses. Most of them were commandeered by the Germans as Officers’ quarters but a few were left to the villagers to remain.
Eva was Major Han Muller’s daughter, a tall, dark haired, blue eyed young woman of twenty two. She glanced at her cane, which was leaning against the wall, and shook her head slightly at her predicament. She watched the woman freely moving about and envied the villager’s freedom.
Eva turned at the sound of her bedroom door opening expecting her nurse to walk through. A smile spread across her face when she saw a friendly face instead. Nurse Frieda Ackman, a middle aged tall woman with blond hair and twinkling green eyes, walked in a crisp white uniform.
"Frieda!" Eva exclaimed as she grabbed her cane and walked the short distance to her former nurse.
"Well, there you are!" Frieda replied and opened her arms to Eva. "They told me you were up here. My goodness, why did they put you up the stairs?"
"My father’s idea to strengthen my back. What are you doing here?"
"Sit and I’ll tell you." Frieda put her arm around Eva as they walked over to the bed. "Now, how are you?" She asked and took Eva’s hand.
"You don’t look alright to me," Frieda replied and gently tipped Eva’s face towards the light. "You haven’t been sleeping."
"That hasn’t changed since you last saw me. I can’t sleep."
"You’re not taking your medications; that’s why you can’t sleep. You look very tired."
"It must be the Greek air," Eva replied with a slight shrug.
"Yes, people wanting to kill you wouldn’t be all that healthy."
Eva shrugged a little at the true nature of the statement. "What are you doing in this backwater?"
"I’m on the way back to Athens and decided to stop to see you."
"Are you staying long?"
"No, I’m leaving tonight because General Rhimes wants to be in Athens tomorrow," Frieda replied. "Did you get my letter?"
"I did." Eva nodded. "It was such a blessing to get it."
"I’m glad. I missed you so much." Frieda tenderly patted Eva on the cheek. "I have brought some presents for you."
"I went home with General Rhimes and whilst there, I dropped in to see your aunty Marlene."
Eva’s smile widened at the mention of her adopted aunt. "How is she?"
"Oh, she’s well. She’s missing you so much and wants to give you this." Frieda leaned over and tenderly kissed Eva on the cheek. "She also sent me some letters for you and a special letter from Willie."
"Is he well? Is he home? Where is he stationed?"
"Slow down." the nurse held up her hand and laughed lightly at Eva’s questioning. "He is well, he’s not home and he was stationed in Italy but has moved out. I’m going to see if General Rhimes can find out and I’ll let you know."
Eva’s face creased into a smile on hearing her friend’s name. "I miss him so much."
"Marlene gave me some photographs and…" Frieda stopped and took a handkerchief out of her pocket. She laid the handkerchief in her lap and opened it up to reveal a silver ring and a gold cross. She looked up to see Eva’s eyes glisten, a smile creasing her face.
Eva took the ring in the palm of her hand and gazed at it for a long moment. "My mother’s ring," she said in wonder and looked up at Frieda in amazement. "You brought it to me."
"I did. Marlene wanted you to have it as well as your gold cross. You left that behind after your accident."
Eva felt her stomach clench at the memory of how that gold cross had been ripped from her neck. The ornate silver ring in her hand was far more important to her than the memories. "Aunt Marlene had the ring?"
"Yes, and she knew you would want it. Marlene wants you home to care for you but she knows your father wants you here."
"I want to go home. Why can’t I go home, away from this war?"
"I know you do, sweetheart. Your father’s wish is for you to be with him, and being on your own in Berlin in your condition is just not the sensible thing."
"I wouldn’t in this condition if my father didn’t take me to Paris with him. I wouldn’t be in this condition if the French Resistance hadn’t bombed the house. I wouldn’t be on my own. There’s Aunty Marlene, my grandmother and Uncle Wilbur."
"Your grandmother has gone to Bonn and Uncle Wilbur is trying to keep AEMullerStahl in business--"
"We’ve had this discussion before, Eva. Your father wants you near him."
"In this god forsaken little hellhole," Eva muttered.
"Yes, in this godforsaken hellhole because he loves you and doesn’t want you to be alone."
Eva shook her head. "I’m sure he does."
"I know you think they don’t care, but they do. Let’s not go into this again."
"No." Eva shook her head. "Are you sure you have to leave?"
"Yes, I’m sure. Before I forget, I left instructions with your nurse--"
"Nurse Gestapo," Eva said with a little more venom that she intended.
"Nurse Gestapo?" Frieda laughed. "Your uncle has reviewed her recent notes about your progress. He wants you to walk--"
"Does he know where I am?"
"He knows that I’m in the middle of a war zone? In the middle of a shitty little town that just needs the opportunity to kill me?"
"No one is going to kill you."
"I’m in a war zone!"
"I know you are, but you are a civilian."
"Right." Eva nodded. "So all those people we saw lying dead in the fields as we were coming in were soldiers?"
Frieda sighed heavily. "Darling, you must stop talking like this. It is talk that will get you killed, but not by the Greeks."
"I know," Eva mumbled. "I’m more than likely to get shot by my own father."
Eva merely stared at Frieda. "I can’t run anymore. You know how much I loved to run. I can’t even walk properly without looking like a demented cripple."
"I know, but that’s in the past now. You have made a remarkable recovery from your injuries and you have to focus on the now. You can walk."
"With the help of my cane."
"You are not confined to a wheelchair like we thought you were going to be. Remember that? You can walk, and the more you walk, the faster your recovery will be. You were very lucky that bomb didn’t kill you."
"Yes, very lucky," Eva muttered under her breath. "Will I run again?" She asked hopefully.
"No, you won’t run again."
"So what’s the point?"
Frieda got up off the bed and took a couple of paces. "Why did you fight to live?"
"I don’t think I had a choice."
"Yes, you did. You chose to live rather than die. There is a reason you are still alive. One day you will find that reason."
"I’m a cripple in a war zone."
Frieda shook her head. "No, you are a young woman who has been recovering from your injuries after a bomb blast that almost killed you. Give yourself time to heal."
"I have a lot of time to heal here."
"Yes, you do, and you need to get out of this house. Your uncle wants you walking."
"Great, let Uncle Dieter come over here and walk through this village," Eva replied sarcastically. "What does Uncle Dieter want me to do?"
"He wants you to walk every day beyond this house."
"I don’t know, Evy. I saw a church on the way here. Why don’t you make it a goal to walk a bit further from the house and eventually get to the church and back?"
"Where is this church?"
"There’re two," Frieda said with a slight smile. "There’s one near the center of the village and another just out of the town."
"So I walk to the church."
"Yes, and you go in, have a bit of rest, speak to God, speak to the priest or the nuns and then you come home."
"It will help."
"I’ll have a talk to your father about that when I go downstairs and also about hiring a maid to help you."
"Good luck in finding one of those in this village. I think they would rather kill me than help me."
"There you go again with the talk about killing you."
Eva stared up at the ceiling in exasperation. "I know they want to. It’s not in my head. I can feel it."
"You are far too pessimistic. It’s not that bad and you will have your guards with you."
Eva shook her head. "To the church and back?"
"Yes," Frieda replied with a triumphant smile. "It will help your back. If you can find a swimming pool--"
"Frieda, this place is lucky to have running water."
"Is there a river?"
"There is, but I’m not swimming in it."
"Alright, no swimming. You stick to the walking for now."
"Can I have my letters?" Eva asked with a slight smile.
"I have something else for you as well."
Frieda took out a small package from her pocket. "Uncle Wilbur said that--"
"Chocolate!" Eva exclaimed as she ripped open the wrapped box.
"Chocolate." Frieda laughed as she watched Eva’s face beam with delight. "I know your addiction."
"Uncle Wilbur loves it too." Eva stuffed two squares of chocolate into her mouth and munched happily.
"Amazing what a little drug can do," Frieda said and then laughed as Eva hugged the bar to her chest.
Zoe sat outside the house on an upturned wooden crate and watched the soldiers coming and going from the house across the street. She had a white fabric in her hand, and as she embroidered a pattern, she would occasionally glance up at the soldiers and then back down to her handiwork. She had a great memory --she wasn’t sure how it worked, but she could recall everything she saw. She casually glanced down at the watch Stavros had given her.
Zoe’s attention was drawn to several soldiers nearly falling over themselves at the entrance to the house. Moments later a tall figure emerged dressed in a black cloak with a hood to cover their head. Zoe scowled and looked up into the heavens. It was a warm, sunny day and there were no clouds in the sky to forecast a weather change, and it wasn’t cold either.
"What an idiot," Zoe muttered. The tall figure talked with the guards for a few moments. It was when the cane was produced that Zoe stood up straighter. She had seen that cane before. Very slowly as to not arouse suspicions, she tapped the door behind her, where her cousin was sitting.
"Stav, come out here."
"Now. I want you to see something."
The door to the house opened and Stavros came out feeling his way with a cane. Zoe stood up and offered him her seat while she leaned against the wall. Stavros’ "war injury" provided cover for his activities in the Resistance.
"Who is that?" Zoe asked. She decided to sit down on the wooden floor and watch the hooded person.
"Clean your ears out. I said Muller’s daughter," Stavros replied. "Her name is Eva Muller; she’s 22 and a cripple."
"What’s her dress size?" Zoe teased Stavros.
"I’m not partial to German whores so I don’t know," Stavros joked under his breath, making Zoe giggle. "Kiria Despina told me."
"Despina’s nice although she is always trying to marry me off. Too bad she is forced to work there for those pigs. Why would you bring a woman into a war zone?"
"You’re a woman," Stavros reminded Zoe as he glanced down and smiled at her.
"I live here."
"I don’t know why the Nazi brought her here. Maybe Despina is wrong and she’s his wife."
"She doesn’t look like a cripple," Zoe muttered, but moments later rethought her assessment. One of the soldiers held out a cane which Eva took. "Well, look at that, she is a cripple," Zoe said a little louder than normal. She was more than a little surprised when her comment caused Eva to momentarily stop at the top step. The guards didn’t pay any attention to Zoe but Muller’s daughter did react. Zoe saw it and smiled.
"Zoe! Lower your voice."
"They’re Germans, Stav, they can’t speak Greek," she whispered.
"If they can’t speak Greek, why are you whispering?"
Zoe grinned and watched Eva laboriously coming down the four flights of steps. "Her shadows can’t, but the cripple can speak Greek," she said quietly.
Stavros glanced at Eva in confusion and then back at Zoe. "Zo, the sun’s getting to you."
"No. My head is fine." Zoe absentmindedly tapped her head with her hand. "She understood what I said."
"Are you sure?"
"Oh, yes, I’m sure." Zoe nodded and watched as Eva finally got down the steps. She spoke to the guards for a moment before they backed away from her and stood behind her. Zoe was intrigued by this new arrival. The new commander had only been in the village for a few days and Zoe had not seen his daughter at all in that time.
"No, I want to watch the show," Zoe mumbled as she helped Stavros get up and go inside. She resumed her seat on the overturned crate and saw that Eva had only taken a few steps. She sat up straighter when she saw a gust of wind rip the hood off Eva’s head.
"So now you have a face," Zoe muttered.
Eva’s long hair disappeared into her cloak. Zoe was mesmerized by the color. She was expecting Eva to be blonde, but she wasn’t. Her hair was midnight black with the barest hint of blue as the sun hit it. The artist in Zoe was amazed; the Resistance fighter was intrigued. Eva stopped as the guard put her hood back on and they resumed their slow journey.
Zoe followed Eva’s tortuous slow walk to where the house ended and the intersection began. "I wonder what color your eyes are," Zoe mused. "Not bad for a cripple."
Eva stopped and took a breath. She said something to her guard and for a moment Zoe thought it was about her. It wasn’t. A few minutes later they resumed their journey. Just as Zoe got up to go into Stavros’ house, Major Hans Muller appeared at the entrance. Zoe stopped and sat back down.
Muller was a tall, stocky man in his late forties. Zoe looked into his face as he stood on the landing, waiting for his daughter to come to him. She sure doesn’t look like her papa, Zoe mused. There was a coldness to him, even for a Nazi. He didn’t try to help Eva up the stairs but stood there watching her.
"What an ass," Zoe muttered.
Eva stopped and looked up at Muller. They exchanged a few words which Zoe couldn’t quite decipher. Muller did an about face and went back inside the house leaving Eva to walk up the stairs and follow him.
Zoe sneered as Eva’s journey up the stairs was taking an extraordinary amount of time. "I’m going to turn fourteen by the time that woman reaches the top step," she muttered and got up and went inside the house.
"So did you enjoy the show?" Stavros said from the window while he continued to watch.
"I thought you said you weren’t interested in German whores?"
"Why are you watching her? Has she reached the top step yet?"
"We should go outside and give her a gold medal. That’s an Olympic event."
"What is?" Stavros turned away from the window.
"Slow walking." Zoe giggled. "My god, that took forever."
"Do you care?"
"What did Muller say to her?"
"I don’t know." Zoe shrugged and sat down at the table. "I couldn’t hear."
"Why don’t you go home and pretty yourself up a little bit?"
"Huh?" Zoe stared at Stavros. "What did you just say?"
"I said go and wear a nice dress and do that thing you do with your hair. Apostolos is coming tonight."
Zoe continued to stare. "What do I do with my hair?"
"You know, that girl thing you do and it looks all nice and pretty."
Zoe smiled. "You are such a boy. Now why do I have to pretty myself up and do that thing I do with my hair?"
Stavros sat down heavily on the chair and rested his head on the table. "Zoe, can we not play this game all the time?"
"You’re the one who wants me to pretty myself up."
"Can you please go home and get ready?"
Zoe chuckled. "Mama’s going to find this funny."
"Your mama has the patience of a saint."
"I’ll let her know you said that." Zoe came round to where Stavros was seated and ruffled his curly black hair. She smiled at her cousin, who looked up at her. "You have to stop trying to match make."
"Apostolos is sweet on you."
"I’m not sweet on him. He’s too old."
Stavros let his head drop to the table. "Yes, yes, yes I know. You don’t like how old he is, nor his height, you don’t like his dark hair and you don’t like his blue eyes."
"He’s not right."
"He can’t help being eight years older than you."
"Not that, silly."
"If it’s not his age, nor his height, his hair color or his eyes, what is it this time?"
"He has an accent."
"What?" Stavros asked incredulously and started to laugh. He slapped his thigh as the giggles overtook him. "He doesn’t have an accent!"
"He’s from Athens."
"They have a different accent."
Stavros shook his head slowly, causing his curly hair to swing. "How do you know Athenians have a different accent? You’ve only met one."
"Zoe, go home and wear that beautiful dress your mama made for you. We have business to discuss tonight."
"Are we going out?"
"Not tonight, but maybe tomorrow night. There’s a new batch arriving tomorrow. That’s why Apostolos is coming over."
"Can’t he send a messenger with the information?"
Stavros smiled. "He is the messenger. He’s making a special effort to come and see you."
"Oh, joy," Zoe muttered as she raised herself up and kissed Stavros on the cheek before picking up her bag and leaving the house.
A low rumble thundered across the valley, threatening rain, and dark clouds hovered menacingly over the mountains. The sound of raucous laughing and curse-filled humor hung in the night air as Stavros and Zoe lay hidden in the brush. In front of them was the barracks that housed the officers of the occupying forces, the pride of the Third Reich. A car was parked outside the house, and a lone soldier leaned against the hood of the car, oblivious to any danger, his rifle slung over his shoulder. The smoke from his cigarette drifted a little as a light breeze rustled the trees nearby.
"What the hell, man, just take a piss and go inside," Stavros muttered quietly as he gazed at the German. His hair was hidden underneath a black beanie. He glanced to his left and winced. "Sorry, Zo," he said. His dark eyes turned back to stare at the soldier as he stretched out his body flat against the ground.
Zoe lifted her head just a little to take a look at the soldier. She had just barely got her eyes above the brushes when Stavros’ hand reached out and pushed her head back down.
"What the hell are you doing?"
"Having a look," Zoe whispered as she swatted away Stavros’ hand.
"If he had been looking this way… Your red hair could be seen from across the valley!"
Zoe stuck out her tongue at the impertinent way she was being treated. She also wore a black beanie, but it was insufficient to hide the unruly curly hair that peaked out.
"I’m going to shoot the bastard if he doesn’t move."
Stavros glared at Zoe and shook his head. He parted some brush so they could have a look at the soldier. They watched the soldier stub out his cigarette into the ground and for a moment he stood there looking out into the valley. Zoe resisted the urge to groan in frustration as the soldier hefted his rifle across his back and went back inside the house.
Stavros dragged his rucksack through the dirt and sat up, being extremely careful not to be seen from the windows of the officer’s quarters. He glanced at the house before turning his attention to the reason they were there. He took out four dynamite sticks with a timer attached. He shook his head and Zoe looked at him with concern.
"What’s the matter?"
"The car is too low; I can’t get under," Stavros whispered and pointed to the car, which would not be able to hide his almost six foot frame.
Zoe lifted her head and focused on the car. "I bet I can go under that."
"This is dynamite --you could blow yourself up."
"Now why would I do a stupid thing like that?" Zoe hissed. "I can be very useful, Stav."
"I know you can but this--"
"Well, I don’t see you getting any shorter or leaner." Zoe glared at Stavros. "We want this to happen, right?"
"Right, tell me what I have to do."
Stavros sighed and glanced down at the time bomb. "Go under the car and position it, and make sure it won’t fall off."
"How will it fall off if I make sure it won’t?"
Stavros shook his head slowly as he set the timer. "I promised Theo I was going to keep you safe."
"Well, that’s a silly thing to promise," Zoe replied. She gave Stavros a kiss on the cheek. "I promise not to blow us up so you won’t have to break a promise to my brother."
"That would be good."
Zoe took the bomb and started to crawl out of the brushes. She was hidden from view of the window for a good portion of the way under the car, except in one area where there was an unobstructed view. She watched the window and waited until the soldier that had his back towards her moved. She quickly crawled under the car, which indeed was just right for her slender frame.
Zoe took the bomb and began to fasten it to the undercarriage. She stopped moving when she saw a flash of light spread across the ground. She froze and tried not to move as several men left the house and congregated just meters from where she was hiding. She closed her eyes and tried to calm her galloping heart from escaping out of her chest.
Zoe felt the long excruciating wait drag on as the men lingered. At one point someone dropped a lighter which landed just near the rear tire, making Zoe’s eyes widen in fear. She tracked the man’s hand that felt along the tire and captured the lighter. His hand was a short span away from her head. She held her breath when the man dropped the lighter again, but this time he didn’t pick it up and kicked it under the car instead. The lighter hit the tire, ricocheted and came to rest against Zoe’s arm.
Zoe watched the booted feet of the soldiers move off and she exhaled. Her head was pounding from the anxiety. Without wasting any more time, she finished affixing the dynamite and began to crawl out. She flattened herself against the ground and looked up into the window from under the car. Seeing no one at the window, she crawled out and scampered back into the brushes where Stavros was waiting.
"Oh, god, Zo," Stavros whispered and smothered her in an embrace. "Are you alright?"
"I nearly wet my pants." Zoe giggled and glanced up at Stavros with a triumphant grin. "Fumble fingers nearly made my heart stop."
Stavros leaned in and kissed her on the cheek. Before he could say anything else, the door to the house opened and five officers spilled out into the night. The two Resistance operatives watched as the men went into the car.
"Good night, boys," Stavros whispered and tried to glance at his watch in the darkness. He could barely make out the time. He had set the timer for five minutes past midnight. It was now midnight and the officers were on schedule. "One good thing about the Germans --they are punctual."
The car spluttered to life and stayed motionless for a few minutes. Stavros motioned for Zoe to start crawling backwards as the time was counting down and the car was still there. Just as they had gone several meters away, the car began to move.
Zoe grinned and began to count down. A minute later the car exploded, sending a fire ball into the air. "Hope Hell is welcoming," she muttered.
"Amen," Stavros replied and crossed himself. "Come on, Zo, I promised your mama you would be back before midnight."
"You and your promises," Zoe said with a smile as Stavros ruffled her hair. He took her by the hand and they fled away from the explosion.
Six months later.
Captain Jurgen Reinhardt winced at the expletives that reverberated around the room. It wasn’t the first time he had heard his commander scream, but not at quite that volume. The ambush of the new squad had caught them by surprise, even though they were anticipating trouble from the Resistance. They were always anticipating trouble.
Reinhardt flinched when Major Muller came within inches and screamed. "What happened?" He yelled, waving a flyer in front of the captain’s face. Reinhardt watched as the veins stood out starkly against the redness that enveloped Muller’s face and neck. "Well, are you going to answer me or are you going to stand there mute?"
Muller had already read the flyer that the Greek Partisans had produced. It was indeed the same as the one he had flung through the window moments before in rage. It proudly accepted responsibility for the bombing of the train tracks. The major made a snorting noise and crumpled the flyer in his hand.
"We lost the train tracks again and the train fell down the gorge," Reinhardt stammered.
"How many did we lose?" Muller yelled.
"Fifty men and four officers."
Muller closed his eyes and continued to yell his abuse at the Resistance. He threw the door open, startling the two guards standing outside the office.
"Where do these men think they are? A resort? Why wasn’t there anyone on guard?"
"I don’t think--"
"Make sure that never happens again!"
"Actions speak louder than words, Reinhardt."
"Yes, sir," Reinhardt stammered, and then glanced towards the open door.
"Round them up and I will give the Resistance my answer."
"Round up the men?"
Muller glared at his second in command. "Round up the villagers."
"Where do I take them, sir?"
"The field near the town square. That’s a good place for it."
"Yes, sir. How many?"
"Everyone," Muller said and then left the office and headed to the next room down the small corridor. He knocked on the door and entered.
Nurse Edith Ratsger was seated at her desk in the small room that doubled as a bedroom and her office. She was a petite middle aged woman with deep set blue eyes behind wire framed spectacles. Her long blond hair was up in a tight bun under her white nurse’s hat. She and Muller were dear friends, and when Eva needed a nurse Muller thought of his friend Edith, who he knew was a very good nurse and was able to travel with them to France and then Greece.
"Edith, you wanted to see me?"
"Was that you bellowing a moment ago?" Edith asked with a slight smile.
"Yes, that was me." Muller sat down on Edith’s bed opposite her chair. "Did you hear about our men?"
"I did. Those poor boys. I heard that the Resistance has blown up that line a few times. It has to stop, Hans."
"I know. I’ll make them stop. Can you write to their parents and I will sign the letters?"
"I could but I think you should give that job to Eva; it will help with her recovery."
"How will it help?"
"It will give her something to do other than brooding in her room. Now, how are you going to stop the Resistance?"
"I’m going to send a message to the Greeks. They will be made to listen."
"Hm." Edith took off her glasses. "Would you like me to come with you?"
"Yes, if you want to. It would be good for Eva to see a strong woman standing up to these animals." Muller shook his head. "Now your note said you wanted to see me?"
Edith put her glasses back on and nodded. "It’s about Eva."
"What has my daughter done now?"
"I have been thinking about Eva’s care--"
"What about her care?"
"I think you should hire a maid."
"What’s wrong with Despina?"
"She’s the housekeeper and has enough to do around here without being Eva’s maid as well."
"Hm. She had one in Aiden and in Paris before the bombing. Unfortunately, she died in the blast. Does she really need one?"
"Eva won’t allow me to help bathe her," Edith replied. "She is quite adamant about it but I know she finds it difficult with her condition."
"Yes." Muller nodded. "I don’t know --that is something for you and her to discuss. I won’t force her to have a maid, especially here. You will need to convince her of that."
"There is my problem."
"Eva is a stubborn woman, but for this matter let her make the choice."
Edith nodded. "There is one more thing."
"I found quite a few pills thrown away in the garbage and I know they belong to Eva."
Muller leaned forward on the edge of the bed. "Are you sure they’re hers?"
"Yes, quite sure."
Muller sighed. "What was I saying about my daughter being stubborn? What medication is it?"
Muller shook his head. "She would rather be in pain than take the drugs?"
"She tried this in Paris and I let her get away with it."
"What happened then? You didn’t tell me about this."
"Hans, you don’t need to know everything. If it’s important I will tell you. It lasted a few days until she couldn’t hold out anymore and she started to take them on her own," Edith said with a smile.
"That won’t always work."
"I know, but eventually she does buckle."
"Alright, I will have a word with her. Other than her being stubborn, how is she?"
"It’s a difficult place for someone like Eva."
Muller nodded. "She will just have to adjust."
"She is trying and she has been exercising more with going out of the house. This is a good thing." Edith reached out and touched Muller’s hand. "Dieter wants her to move around, and walking will ease the pain in her back."
"Yes. She needs the exercise."
"General Rhimes’ nurse Frieda said she saw a church not far from here. She thinks it would be a good landmark for her to reach."
"I agree with Frieda. By the way there’s a nice lookout not far from here…"
Muller grinned as he held Edith’s hand. "You found a lookout after being here for a few days?"
"I didn’t find it on my own." Edith smiled at the look she was getting from Muller. "Despina told me about it. It’s called Athena’s Bluff --beautiful location overlooking the valley."
"Hm, maybe when the mayhem dies down a little, we could go up there and have a look?"
"Oh? When do you anticipate the mayhem dying down a little? You don’t even sit down to eat properly and you’re going on a picnic with me?" Edith teasingly asked.
Muller chuckled. "Yes, that’s true. That will have to wait. So you want to send Eva to this church and then to Athena’s Bluff?"
"Yes, it would be good for her to get out and it will strengthen her legs and back."
"Alright. I’ll have two guards escort her when she’s out." Muller got up to leave and started to walk away when he stopped. "Edith, have you noticed anything I should be worried about?"
"I would tell you if I did. There is nothing to worry about." Edith nodded. "Dieter’s therapy has worked, so that won’t happen again. Didn’t he tell you?"
"Dieter told me that the therapy worked and that Eva was cured. I don’t know though…."
Edith took off her glasses and regarded Muller for a moment. "Dieter has been experimenting with his method of eradicating unwanted personality traits for a long time. He has worked with some of the best. Now, many of us as little children stuck our hand in a fire, didn’t we?"
"Once we got burnt, we realized that sticking our hand in the fire wasn’t a good idea because it would hurt," Edith patiently explained. She held up her hand to forestall Muller’s question. "We know that if we continued to put our hand in the fire, we would cause ourselves pain."
"Unless you were a ‘useless eater.’"
"Hans! I really hate that phrase."
"It’s true," Muller responded with a shrug.
"Need I remind you that my brother was wounded during the Great War and was crippled? I dislike that phrase."
Muller sighed. "I’m sorry Edith, I wasn’t referring to Konrad. He is a war hero."
Edith dabbed her eyes with her handkerchief. "I love our Führer, but I dislike that phrase."
"I know." Hans moved to sit next to Edith and put his arm around her shoulders to comfort her. "I’m sorry."
"Where was I? Oh, yes, we don’t go around putting our hand in a fire. We learn by experience, and Dieter has perfected his conversion therapy so that Eva is physically very ill when…" Edith stopped when she saw Muller’s furrowed brow deepen. "Do you want me stop?"
"No." Muller shook his head. "Explain it to me."
"When someone like Eva is physically attracted to a woman it would be the equivalent of her sticking her hand on an open flame --it would hurt her. Eva’s interactions with women are fine as long as she doesn’t have any physical feelings for them."
"She can interact with you or any other woman without the hand in the fire reaction?"
"Yes. If Eva has any feeling of a sexual nature, then Dieter’s therapy will trigger the pain response."
Muller looked down at his hands for a long moment and nodded, feeling uncomfortable about discussing Eva’s mental lapse. After a long moment he looked up at Edith. "How do we know if this has worked?"
"Dieter tested Eva back in Aiden, she was married to Erik for two years and he believes she’s cured. It’s worked, Hans. I’ve treated a few patients that had similar mental problems such as Eva and they have been cured. It’s a mental problem that is easily fixed."
"What about here?"
Edith smiled at Muller’s reluctance to believe the conversion therapy had worked. "I will be keeping an eye on her and she will be tested. I saw Eva and Captain Reinhardt kissing yesterday. They have been flirting since he joined you after the bombing."
Muller smiled broadly at such good news. "Really?"
Edith chuckled. "The normal response to that revelation would be one of shock and dismay that your little girl is kissing a boy."
"Yes, it would be, but I don’t have a normal little girl."
"She is normal. She lost her way but she’s back now."
"Good, maybe I should--"
"No, you should not meddle. Let the young man court her without having her father looking over his shoulder," Edith gently reprimanded her friend. "Eva is finally jumping back into the pond."
"She can jump in the pond if she wants as long as she doesn’t jump in the other pond."
"That won’t happen."
"I hope you are right."
"Don’t worry, Hans."
"Good," Muller replied as he rose to leave.
"Are you taking Eva with you?"
"It is raining; maybe you should leave her here."
"No. I want her there. Having you there will show her what strength and courage is all about," Muller said as he opened the door and left to go find Eva.
The windows rattled as the wind got stronger outside. The unseasonably warm May weather of yesterday had deteriorated overnight. Eva sat in her desk beside the window and watched the rain splatter against it. She hated Larissa. She hated the backward villagers who didn’t bother to hide their hatred. She knew she would; that wasn’t the surprise. She wasn’t sure if the villagers pitied her or out rightly despised her on her sojourns outside.
Eva’s attention was drawn away from her thoughts of the humiliating ‘walk’ when she heard Muller talking to one of the soldiers outside. Moments later, he entered the room she had been given as a small office. She wasn’t sure why she needed an office when she had a bedroom, but she wasn’t about to question her father on that or why she was placed upstairs and not downstairs.
"Get ready. We are going out."
Eva mentally sighed as she got up from her seat. "Father, it’s raining--"
"I’m well aware that it’s raining. I can see it," Muller tersely replied.
"I don’t want to go outside," Eva mumbled as she looked down at her hands.
"That is not your decision to make."
Eva looked up at Muller. "Father--"
"Did you not hear what I just said to you?"
"Think of it as an extension of what you have been doing."
"It was dif--"
"Don’t show weakness." Muller grabbed hold of Eva’s cheeks and held her face in a vice-like grip. "You are a Muller, god dammit! Behave like one. We do not show weakness," he growled as he came inches from her face. "Do you understand me?"
Eva swallowed her fear and blinked back the tears that threatened to spill. "Yes."
"Yes, Father," Eva said as Muller released his grip. She dropped her eyes and stood with her hands clasped together in front of her.
"Your uncle wants me to give him reports on your progress. You will continue this regime, as I said, but you won’t do it piecemeal. You will walk to the church every day. If it takes you an hour or four hours, you will do that. If you have to stop every five steps, do it, but you will walk to that church and beyond. Edith tells me there is a nice lookout just out of town. I want you to aim to get to the church and to that lookout."
"Sergeant Franz will continue as your guard. You are not to leave the house without him. Do you understand?"
"You will not pull the same stunt by leaving on your own like you did in France. We have discussed this more than a few times but you seem to want to disobey me."
"I won’t disobey you."
"Good, because the next time you do it, I will have both guards shot. Their deaths will be on your head and you will have to write to their mothers to tell them why. Do you understand me?"
"Good. Now as for your walks, you can take as long as you like to get there and come back. Your uncle wants you to get stronger. You’ve spent a lot of time healing in Aiden and then France. It’s been a difficult time and you have resisted your uncle’s advice." Muller sighed and sat down on the sofa. He took off his hat and ran his hands through his short blond hair. "You are too stubborn, Eva. Erik was too much in love with you to follow Dieter’s instructions and you spent years doing nothing in getting stronger."
"I don’t see--"
"I don’t care what you see or don’t see. You will listen to your uncle’s advice. He is your physician and he knows what you can and can’t do. Had you listened to what he was asking you to do, you would be able to walk more easily."
"It’s a bit hard to do when I can’t move properly," Eva muttered.
"Whose fault is that?" Muller asked as he leaned back on the sofa and regarded Eva. "I know I said I wasn’t going to mention this again because you have been cured of this sickness, but you shamed me and your mother by being with that woman. Did you not consider that this would come to the light?"
Muller rose from the sofa and stood in front of Eva. He stared into her sky-blue eyes. "Your uncle tells me this deviant behavior has been cured and I want to believe him. If you give me a reason to doubt it, I will not be as merciful as I have been in letting you live."
Eva swallowed audibly and nodded. "I am cured, Father."
"I hope so. Now Edith has told me you are refusing to take all your medication."
"They make me sick; I feel funny when I take them."
"Are we going to have this discussion again? You will take your medication or I will be forced to have the medics give it to you with you strapped down to a bed. What do you prefer?"
"I will take it."
"Good. Now what is this about you not wanting a maid?"
"We are in the middle of a war zone--"
"I’m well aware of that. I just lost good men to the Resistance when they blew up the train line. What does that have to do with your reluctance for a maid? You had one back home. Never mind, I don’t have time for this. If you want a maid, tell me when you are ready."
Muller gazed at Eva for a moment. "A little bird has told me that a certain young captain is courting you."
"Yes." Eva nodded bashfully.
Muller nodded. "Good. I will tell him to behave himself."
"Father! Please don’t make him nervous; he’s already scared of you."
"Good, a young man should be scared of the father of the young lady he is courting. Now get dressed and wear something warmer."
"Where are we going?"
Muller stopped at the door and turned back. "To teach the Greeks a lesson."
"Yes, I know, I can see."
"Eva." Muller stopped at the door and sighed. "Get ready," he said and closed the door behind him.
Eva leaned against the desk and dropped her chin down to her chest as the pain from her back injury overwhelmed her. Standing up to Muller took a lot of effort. His threats were real. She was living proof that he could inflict the pain he threatened her with. He would kill her if he wanted to without any remorse.
Eva glanced back at the window when it rattled as thunder boomed overhead. Someone was going to die today and there was nothing anyone could do about that.
Eva looked up at the dark sky and waited for her guards to get themselves organized. She stood outside the house just under a tree which afforded her some shelter from the rain. A car was standing by to take them the short distance to the town square. They didn’t need a car, since the field where the villagers were being assembled was a few minutes’ walk. Eva didn’t think this was for her benefit. She smiled when she saw Reinhardt exit the house and put on his hat.
"You’re going to need a hot drink after this," Eva whispered when Reinhardt joined her at the bottom of the steps.
Jurgen Reinhardt was what Hitler envisioned the Aryan race to be --a tall, muscular young man of twenty five, blond-haired, with blue eyes and a devotion to the army; a career soldier. He had been Major Muller’s right hand man since joining him in France and now in Greece. He smiled when he saw Eva and put his arm around her. "Your father just had a chat with me."
"Hm. I think I need something stronger than a hot drink," Reinhardt said with a slight smile. "He’s given us his blessing."
Eva mentally sighed. "Remind him next time he yells at you."
"I don’t think I’m going to remind him of that," Reinhardt replied as he tenderly brushed a leaf that had fallen on Eva’s hair. "Why are you out here in the rain? You should go back inside. There’s no need for you to be here."
"Papa wants me to be there."
"Ah, well, that explains it." Reinhardt looked around at the assembled men. "I won’t be able to be at your side but I’m sure Franz will protect you," he said as he watched Eva’s guard heading their way. Sergeant Henry Franz was a giant of a man who towered over Eva’s six foot two frame. His helmet covered a bald head. He had thick blond eyebrows over deep-set green eyes.
"You are to escort Fraulein Muller when we get to the field. Do not let her slip, do not let her fall, do not let her get wet. You are to protect her."
"Yes, sir," Henry replied, causing Eva to smile. Henry’s quiet voice was in stark contrast to his size. Eva turned to Reinhardt, who had put on his hat and adjusted his uniform. "Go and organize your troops."
Reinhardt smiled, hesitated for a moment before he kissed her gently on the lips and walked away to assemble the men.
"It’s going to a very wet day, Henry."
Eva looked around at the soldiers and also at the villagers who were heading in the direction of the field. She wondered if they knew what awaited them. Would it make any difference if she told them to run, to escape? More than likely she would get them killed and herself. She turned to Henry, who was standing very close to her holding an umbrella. The umbrella looked ridiculously small compared to his size.
"You’re getting wet."
Henry smiled. "I’ll live."
"We’re going to be sloshing through the mud."
"I know, but if need be, I will carry you."
Eva nodded, well aware that Henry was capable of carrying her if there was any trouble at the execution of innocent lives. The thought made her sick to her stomach --innocent lives would be snuffed out on the say so of one man. She involuntarily shuddered at the impending deaths. Orders were being barked out and Muller had descended down the stairs wearing his gun holster. Henry held out his arm for Eva to hold as she slowly made her way to the car.
Riding with them was Major Bonhoffen, who had arrived in the afternoon. Eva felt nothing but a dread come over her whenever Bonhoffen was in her vicinity. He was brandishing his pistol and smiled menacingly at the villagers who passed him. He was a much-despised man, a violent and irrational German. Eva had witnessed his brutality first hand in France. She had seen people shot dead in retaliation for Resistance activities without remorse. It was Bonhoffen who insisted that the soldiers’ deaths in Larissa needed to be avenged, and Muller agreed.
Zoe and her mother Helena walked slowly towards the field. As she looked around the small farming community, Zoe carefully watched her fellow countrymen walking quietly to the town center. They were subdued. Memories arose of balmy summer nights walking along with her friends, memories of carefree days when the worst that happened was a boy yanking her hair and being generally a nuisance.
Those boys were no longer there, no longer part of her life. Zoe felt her throat constrict and tried to swallow the lump in her throat but couldn’t. Tears threatened to spill but were kept back by sheer will. She didn’t want those German bastards to see her cry. She didn’t want to show any weakness. It was also the last thing she wanted for her mama to see. Too many nights were spent crying over the deaths of her brothers and her father. Zoe mentally shook herself and glanced at Helena, who was talking animatedly with her cousin.
Zoe’s attention shifted as a group of soldiers passed by. She wondered when the nightmare would end. To the Germans, the Greeks were a stubborn people who refused to surrender when all was lost. To the Greeks, the Germans were going to know that the country was not going to be subjugated without a struggle, without exacting a heavy price from the occupying force.
The town gathering had become a regular occurrence with the German commander. Major Helgberg was a sadistic man who took delight in torturing the populace. News of his death was met with muted delight --they knew another monster would take his place soon enough. They were right and a demon had taken up Helgberg’s mantle for brutality, if the stories everyone had been hearing were true.
They arrived at Maragos’ Field, which was now an execution field --it was where many innocent villagers had been murdered and the soil was drenched in the blood of the Greeks. Zoe sighed and looked down at the brown sludgy mud under her feet.
The Κομμουνιστικο Κομμα Ελλαδας, the Communist Party of Greece or KKE, had established a formidable Resistance group and was active in the countryside surrounding Larissa. The Communists had years of experience in working underground and thus formed the best Resistance to the German occupation. The extensive cave system in the hills was used by the KKE to escape and hide from the Germans. Once organized, they hit back at the invaders by blowing up train tracks and disrupting the German supply lines from Athens to Thessaloniki. Other attacks were made by small groups of men descending from the mountains and raiding German troops when they least expected it. The KKE was soon joined by other Greek Resistance groups such Ethnikos Dimokratikos Ellinikos Stratos– National Republican Greek League or EDES — and Ethniki kaí Koinoniki Apelefthérosis — the National and Social Liberation or EKKA.
These attacks brought the wrath of the Germans on the civilians. The German policy of retaliation was to kill civilians and destroy their villages. Helgberg had directed these retaliatory actions in Larissa and the surrounding areas until the Resistance killed him.
Zoe glanced around her at familiar faces, faces that betrayed their fear. She saw old men and women barely being able to stand, huddled in the rain. The young children clasped their mothers’ hands. Some were too young to know what was to come. She felt sick as she glanced at her own mother, who had her eyes closed and was silently praying.
"I love you, Mama," Zoe whispered. She took hold of Helena’s hand.
Helena opened her eyes and smiled. "I love you so much, my child. Have faith in God; we will be alright. Saint Achillius will protect us," she said and leaned down and kissed the top of Zoe’s red-gold hair.
Eva’s shoes made that awful sloshing noise as she traipsed through the mud to get to the field. Henry held her arm and he was true to his word. Eva felt at times as if he was holding her up instead of her walking on her own. Assembled was a large group of women and children, their eyes darting back and forth, uncertainty and fear written on their faces. She could not look at them; she felt their fear and wanted to call out for them to run but there was nowhere to run. She kept her eyes down, not daring to look up and meet any of the villagers in the eye.
Eva was wet and cold. The cold wind penetrated deep into her bones and she shivered uncontrollably. Henry held the umbrella and shielded her from the drizzly misty rain that had now turned into a downpour. The wind had picked up and occasionally would turn the umbrella inside out. Muller and Bonhoffen were standing near the car and looked happy. Bonhoffen laughed as an old woman slipped in the mud, which only sickened Eva even more. She could barely breathe as she slowly made her way to where Muller told her to stand.
Eva swallowed and closed her eyes while Muller’s voice screamed orders as he came closer. He was enjoying the terror he was inflicting; she could hear it in his voice.
Eva opened her eyes and focused on the first villager that stared back at her --the girl that had called her a cripple. Fiery green eyes met her sky-blue ones. Defiance stared back at her, daring her to do something, but Eva was just as helpless as the girl. The young girl’s hatred was palpable --it almost reached out towards her and defied her to act. Eva looked away, unable to watch the heart-rending scene that was to unfold before her. She gazed out into the horizon and watched the rain come pelting down --anything but the ugliness she was going to witness.
Zoe’s gaze fell on their much despised commander when he emerged through the crowds, his pristine gray and black uniform neatly creased. Zoe looked at the mud, then back at Muller, and sneered. She was about to go down and collect some mud to welcome him properly when Helena’s hand held her.
"Don’t," Helena whispered. "You’re going to get us killed."
Zoe rolled her eyes and clasped her hands together instead. A wry grin formed on her lips as she envisioned applying the mud herself. She was abruptly brought out of her daydream when the sound of a gunshot pierced the air making her jump.
"As you have all heard by now, we don’t have a train line. The reason you are all here, is because I want you to send a message to the Resistance."
Zoe’s attention shifted from the murderous, ranting Nazi to the woman standing a few feet away from him. Zoe turned to Stavros. "That’s the cripple," she whispered as she gazed at the woman.
Eva’s long black cloak covered most of her body, and luckily for her, a soldier stood with an umbrella over her, shielding her from the rain that once again fell. Zoe shivered as the rain pelted her in the face. Her coat had long since been soaked. She kept staring at Eva, whose angular face was barely visible in the gloom and shadow of the cloak and umbrella, and she was surprised when Eva turned her gaze towards her.
Their eyes met and Zoe glared back in defiance. She was almost tempted to reach down and pick up the rock that she could feel under her foot. The woman just stared. Didn’t move, didn’t blink. She just stared at Zoe.
Zoe jumped at the sound of the gun going off. To her utter horror, this time the German’s aim was not in the air but directed at a feeble old man. In the blink of an eye, the old man crumpled to the ground, the blood streaming down his face. His eyes gazed up into the sky, unseeing.
Zoe turned to see that it wasn’t Bonhoffen who had fired but Muller. He was brandishing his pistol and stamping his barbarous authority. There was no rhyme or reason to the execution and Zoe wanted to disappear, to hide from the utter senselessness.
The villagers panicked, but couldn’t escape, as the field was surrounded by German troops. Those that tried to flee either faced Muller’s gun or the guns of his troops. Zoe watched in horror as the young and the elderly fell.
Then the unthinkable happened. Muller stepped in front of Zoe and her mother and looked at them. Blue eyes met green for a very long moment. Helena put her arms around Zoe and held on tight. All Zoe could hear was the sound of the beating of her heart. All she could see was the look of utter hatred in Muller’s eyes.
"So you see, Greeks will die for the soul of every Aryan hero who is killed," Muller was saying, but Zoe could barely discern what he was talking about, the sound of her heart was thundering so loudly in her ears.
Zoe’s gaze shifted to Eva, who had once again turned and was watching her. Zoe could almost hear a voice in her head telling her to keep watching --keep looking; don’t look away. She swallowed her fear as Muller came within inches of her head. The gun was so close to her face that she could smell the gun smoke, but she didn’t move. She didn’t look away from Eva, who was staring back at her. Zoe didn’t look at the monster that was a hair's breadth away from her.
Zoe wanted to hide her face from this madness. She held tight to Helena and prayed to Saint Achillius, hoping against hope. But she could not stifle the sound of the gun popping so close that she felt the bullet rush past her when it exploded in its next victim.
Zoe felt Helena’s arms release their grasp, and to her horror, she saw her beloved mother slump to the ground. A dark crimson stain spread across Helena’s chest. The madness continued around her as she held her dying mother to her chest, the blood mixing with the mud, caking her legs. Oh dear God, Mama!
Zoe’s soul was shattered that very moment. Everything that was, everything that she was going to be, perished as her mother’s life ebbed away. She held Helena, who was talking to her, trying to tell her everything in those few seconds that they had left.
"Be brave," Helena whispered, unable to breathe as the pain in her chest was overwhelming.
"I will take care of her," Stavros vowed as he knelt beside Helena.
Zoe was oblivious to everyone except Helena, but then a sound, something incongruous to the pain and death surrounding them, made her look up. To her utter horror Eva was chuckling as she walked away from the carnage along with the German butcher.
In that instant between life and death, Zoe’s purpose in life crystallized. She looked down at Helena’s face and rocked her back and forth. "I promise I will kill them. I will," she repeated, over and over. Nothing else had meaning any more. She was going to exact her revenge for Helena’s death and kill the woman that laughed as her mother lay dying. "I promise you, Mama, I will kill them. I promise," Zoe kept repeating as Helena passed away.
Zoe opened her eyes to find the village priest, Father Panayiotis Haralambos, his black robes covered in crimson stains, looking at her. "You can let go now," he said gently as he tried to pry the dead woman from Zoe’s arms.
"No." Zoe shook her head. "No," she murmured while Father Haralambos gently separated her from Helena’s body. He picked Zoe up, cradling her in his arms, and Zoe curled up against his chest. She buried her head against his neck and sobbed. Father Haralambos looked back at Stavros, who was kneeling next to Helena, and nodded before walking away from the carnage.
Stavros crossed himself, said a private prayer, and picked up Helena’s body. He closed his eyes for a moment before he stood and followed Father Haralambos, while thunder boomed overhead.
Six months later.
The sound of crunching leaves was the only distraction for Zoe as she walked purposefully away from the cemetery. She had dodged a few patrols --the last thing she wanted was to tangle with yet another group of soldiers. She was sick of them, sick of their superior attitude and even sicker of their machismo. She used to take delight in setting small booby traps for the soldiers and would often hide and watch her handiwork. Since her mother’s death, Zoe had a new purpose and it wasn’t to annoy the Germans but to inflict as much damage as she could.
Zoe pulled the coat collar tighter around her neck as the wind picked up and she hurried along. Her frequent visits to the cemetery had started soon after Helena had been killed. Someone had told Zoe that the dead could hear the thoughts of the living, mostly to console her, but she had latched onto the idea for dear life. She was a common sight in the cemetery, cleaning the graves of her parents and brothers, talking to herself and drawing as she sat for hours. Many thought she had lost her sanity and pitied her.
Zoe was lost in thought until a hand touched her on the shoulder and she jumped in surprise. "Whoa!"
"Zoe, where were you?"
"What?" Zoe turned to find Father Haralambos standing beside her, his long black robes reaching to the ground and his large gold cross glistening in the sunlight. His normal headdress was replaced with a beret, which looked a little out of place. "Nice hat," Zoe muttered.
"You were daydreaming again," Father Haralambos teased. He had become a surrogate parent to Zoe after Helena’s death. He had given her a place to stay, and he had cared for her during those long months when she just wanted to lie in bed and refused to move at all.
"Father," Zoe said as she bowed and kissed Father Haralambos’ hand in reverence. She may have lost her faith in God on that godforsaken day when Helena was killed, but she still loved and respected the priest.
"I want to speak to you."
"It’s an important matter and we need to speak inside." Father Haralambos indicated the church, which made Zoe scowl. She had not entered Saint Spiridon Church, the only church in the village, since Helena’s death. "Please?"
Zoe didn’t reply but walked up the stairs reluctantly. She stood still for a moment and, without thinking, crossed herself before entering. Father Haralambos smiled.
"Alright, I’m here." Zoe folded her arms and waited impatiently.
"We don’t see you at church these days. Is something wrong, my child?" Father Haralambos’ blue eyes bore into Zoe. He knew the answer to his question but wanted to reach her, to try to get her faith restored. He knew he had a difficult task ahead of him. He didn’t believe Zoe’s faith had entirely died --it was just buried in a very deep hole.
Zoe stared up at the icon of Jesus and then back at Father Haralambos. "I have no use for it."
"You have no use for your faith?"
"There is no God."
Father Haralambos nodded. "So sayeth the fool."
"What?" Zoe asked sharply.
"My dear child, the Bible says that those who don’t believe in God are fools."
"Well." Zoe sighed. "I’m a fool then. I have to get going, Father."
"I need to speak to you." Father Haralambos smiled and polished his cross against his black robes.
"Please, don’t go out tonight."
"Stavros has a big mouth. It’s a miracle he hasn’t killed himself," Zoe muttered.
"He confided in me and he was worried. He was a little--"
"Let me guess, he was scared?"
"No, he was concerned."
"It’s not the first time I’ve gone out with the Resistance."
"No, it’s not but--"
"Stavros doesn’t want me to go because he thinks I’m still a young child. That child died when my mama was murdered." Zoe’s brow furrowed as she glared at Father Haralambos. "What have you been doing, Father?"
Father Haralambos stroked his long beard and smiled. "I can honestly say I have never killed a man so I don’t know that is like, but you are losing your soul."
"I can’t lose what I don’t have. They took it from me."
"I love you and I don’t want to see you get hurt, or worse --get killed."
Zoe sat down heavily on a chair and gazed down at the floor. "What would it matter if I got killed? There’s no one left to mourn me if I do."
"Now that’s a silly thing to say. Stavros, myself, the village, your aunty Stella. So many people would miss you."
Zoe looked up and blinked in the glow of the candlelight. "I want to be with Mama and Papa. I don’t want to be alive anymore. I want to join them."
"Is that why you’re going out tonight? You want to get killed?" Father Haralambos gently asked as he pulled a chair and sat down opposite Zoe. "That’s suicide, Zoe. God hasn’t given you the right to take your life."
"It’s alright, I’ll let the Germans do it," Zoe flippantly replied.
"You will not go to heaven to be with your mama and papa if you do that. Suicide is a severe sin and one that should not be flippantly entertained."
Zoe looked up at the crucified Christ and sighed. "So no killing myself with the help of the Germans?"
"No. If you choose that path, God will know."
"So, Jesus didn’t kill himself with the help of the Jews?"
"What?" Zoe held up her hand and pointed to the icon of Jesus. "He let them kill him. He could have escaped but he let them. That’s the same thing."
Father Haralambos shook his head slowly. "Are you making out that you and Jesus are the same?"
"Well, he let the Jews kill him with the help of the Romans. Those…" Zoe stopped and looked sheepishly at the priest. "Those bad Italians, they are a terrible lot."
Father Haralambos laughed; he just couldn’t help it. His laugh echoed in the chamber. "You always make me laugh."
"You mean when I’m not exasperating you." Zoe grinned. She took a deep breath before she asked her next question. "Is it a sin to kill people, Father? Is it alright if I go out tonight and shoot these bastards--"
"Zoe! You’re in church! Please, don’t swear."
"Sorry," Zoe mumbled. "Isn’t it a sin if I kill these nasty men?"
"Those who kill by the sword, die by the sword."
"What does that mean?"
"It means that if you kill, you may get killed yourself and I don’t want that to happen to you," Father Haralambos explained. "Yes, it is a sin to take another human’s life, but we are at war. I believe God is on our side. We fight not for riches or glory but we fight for the greater good. We fight to save our enslaved brothers and sisters. This is a just fight."
"Even those without a sword die by the sword. My mama didn’t have a sword and she’s dead."
"Yes. Not everyone who passes away wields a sword, but this is war."
"Why don’t you join in the fight, Father?"
"Remember the scripture about not letting your right hand know what your left hand is doing?"
"You do not know what I’m doing. That’s how it should be. The less you know, the better it is; for your safety and mine."
"Are you saying you’re in the Resistance?"
"I’m saying you shouldn’t ask too many questions," Father Haralambos replied with a tiny smile. "Now I want you to promise me that tonight you won’t try to sin."
"Um—Father, I’m trying to kill Germans. That’s a sin."
"I’m talking about a far greater sin. Your eternal soul depends on you not committing that sin."
Zoe melodramatically sighed. "Yes. I promise I won’t."
"Good. I know you have been taught that your ‘yes’ means ‘yes,’ and your ‘no’ means ‘no,’ so I will take you on your word."
"Not that I will be around for you to tell me off." Zoe giggled and almost immediately stifled that giggle on seeing Father Haralambos’ stern look directed at her. "Alright, I won’t do it."
"Thank you. I also want you to take care of Stavros. He worries about you so much and you give him much to worry about."
". Stavros is a good man. I’ll try not to worry him too much."
Father Haralambos put his arm around Zoe and kissed the top of her head. "I love you very much, Zoe. God loves you as well. Now go home or else Stavros will worry where you are."
Zoe left the church and, walking quickly, rounded the corner toward home. She stopped and looked up into the heavens. "Why is it that my plans just don’t work out? A sin this and a sin that." Zoe was a little annoyed but also somewhat pleased Father Haralambos had taken an interest in her, and she walked cheerily back home.
The wind was blowing her long red hair into her eyes. She absentmindedly brushed back the strands as she turned toward the sound of a black car coming to a stop across the road from where she stood. A young soldier held the door open and Major Muller got out with a scowl on his face. He always wore the same expression.
Zoe was about to enter her small house when she caught sight of a familiar figure coming up the cobblestone street. A sneer curled her lips. The distinctive, tall figure of Eva Muller made its way slowly up the street, her head bowed. She wore a cloak; Zoe had never seen her without the garment on. Eva wore it even on hot summer days. On a few occasions she had seen Eva without the hood up but never without the cloak on. Now the hood covered her head, but it was unmistakably her.
Zoe’s hatred for Muller’s daughter was well known in the village and she had already been prevented twice from killing her, much to her disgust. The entire village was very much aware of what had transpired at the massacre six months before, even though no one could recall Eva except Zoe. Zoe tried to tell them that Eva had laughed while their families were dying. Many thought Zoe was still in shock and in grief over the loss of her mother.
Eva reminded Zoe of her brother Thieri --tall and slender with raven-black hair that surrounded an angular face and a dimpled chin. Eva’s blue eyes were mostly cast downward as she went about her business, not eager to make eye contact with anyone. Wherever she went, she had two soldiers shadowing her, ready to protect her in case anyone tried to harm her. Not that they could have protected her if the Resistance really wanted her dead.
Zoe continued to watch as Eva passed and, without thinking, knelt and picked up a small rock. She fingered the stone in her hand for a moment, and saw an opening in between the two soldiers. It was perfect --Eva’s head was in the middle and in a perfect location. Zoe drew her arm back and threw the rock, hitting Eva square in the back of her head. A thud echoed back to Zoe, who grinned and jumped in triumph as Eva stopped and slowly turned. Eva lowered her hood and stared at Zoe in surprise. Zoe continued to grin, oblivious to the very real danger that she could be shot where she stood. One of Eva’s guards, the one Zoe had nicknamed Goliath, advanced towards her, his rifle in his hand, and the other aimed his gun at her, waiting for their mistress’ signal.
Outraged blue eyes met stormy green and held for a few moments. Eva lowered her gaze but not before Zoe noticed, much to her surprise, that her eyes glistened with unshed tears. Eva turned back without a word, mumbled something in German to her guards and walked away. Her guards quickly followed her down the street. Goliath looked back at Zoe and glared before he turned his attention back to his charge.
Zoe stood transfixed at the doorway, watching the retreating figure. She was mesmerized by Eva’s demure behavior. Not quite the image Zoe had envisioned. "The cripple is really a mouse. Fancy that." Zoe chuckled and shook her head in amazement. She had barely opened the door to her house when she was pulled inside and the panel was forcibly shut behind her.
"What in the name of God are you trying to do?"
The door shook as Zoe was held against it by Stavros. His black hair and dark eyes made him appear malevolent but Zoe knew he had the kindest of hearts. At that very moment he was snarling at her, and despite the situation, Zoe couldn’t help but giggle.
"Stop laughing, woman!" Stavros implored. "I saw you hit Muller’s daughter. Are you mad?"
Zoe looked up at the ceiling with a grin on her face, savoring the memory of the incident. "Did you see me bop her on the head, Stav? Now that was such a great throw!" She said excitedly. "Whap!"
Stavros sighed. "Zoe..."
"I didn’t think I would hit her. It’s not my fault the rock hit the cripple on her thick head." Zoe chuckled.
"You could have been shot--"
"Ah." Zoe held up a finger to stop Stavros from continuing. "But I wasn’t."
"Keep that up, and one day you will be on the other end of the bullet."
"Well, it’s not going to be today." Zoe chuckled. "Whap!" She slapped her hand gently over Stavros’ head. "I wish Theo was still here so I could show him how my aim has improved." Zoe laughed.
Stavros shook his head. "Killing Muller’s daughter isn’t going to help."
"Are you going soft on the Germans?" Zoe teased only to get a scowl from Stavros.
"I’m not one to go soft on the Germans, but all your attacking his daughter will do is get us all killed. That demon is already demented. Do you want him to kill us all?"
Zoe looked down at her scuffed shoe. "It would be easier than living like animals."
Stavros hugged Zoe. "I’m sorry I got rough with you. I was terrified of what they might have done to you."
"Don’t worry about me, Stav," Zoe mumbled.
Stavros grinned. "Who else do I have to worry about?"
Zoe shrugged. "Find yourself a girl, and then you can worry about her."
"I’ll always worry about you, ZoZo." Stavros laughed as Zoe slapped him on the head for the use of a nickname she loathed. Her brothers had affectionately given their little sister the name and, to her utter dismay, Stavros continued to use it when he wanted to tease her.
Zoe tried to change the subject away from her and her stone throwing. "Major Kookhead didn’t look too happy."
"The new officers have arrived." Stavros made the sound effects of bombs going off, which had Zoe grinning.
"Very big kaboom." Stavros grinned.
"Does she go anywhere without Goliath?"
"Zoe, please, drop the idea. It’s only going to get you killed."
"I can’t," Zoe mumbled and picked at the cracked wood on the tabletop.
"Why can’t you? She’s nobody."
"I promised Mama that I would," Zoe replied solemnly. "If she’s nobody, why can’t I kill her?"
"Because if you do, Muller will kill a hundred of us, that’s why. Is she worth one hundred of your countrymen?"
Zoe shrugged. "No," she said reluctantly.
"Good, I’m glad we finally got that sorted out." Stavros sighed with relief. The relief was short-lived when he saw a mischievous look on Zoe’s face. "What?"
"Spill it. I know you want to," Stavros said as he was gently pushed away by Zoe.
"I had a chat with Kiria Despina and they are looking for a maid."
"You want to work for that animal? I thought you said--"
Zoe grinned, the edges of her green eyes crinkling in delight. "Once I get close to her, then I can kill her when the time is right," Zoe said and rubbed her hands together.
"Did you hear anything I just said to you?"
"Yep, I heard you. If the need arises, I’ll be in the right place at the right time," Zoe reasoned. "Kiria Despina thinks that they will be hiring someone soon. I knew that it was perfect. It’s a message from God."
Stavros groaned. "You don’t believe in God anymore."
"I’m beginning to see the light," Zoe said with a grin. "Stav, don’t worry. You already worry too much," she admonished him and walked away chuckling.
The room was in semi-darkness and a light breeze ruffled the thread-bare curtains. A golden glow illuminated the area from a candle as Zoe sat hunched over at the table and stared down at the paper. The pencil in her hand flicked across the page, seemingly of its own accord, and the shape of a woman’s face appeared moments later. There was something about the eyes that she found mesmerizing.
Zoe stopped and looked down at the drawing. The eyes looked lost and alone in contrast to the image of the woman; her presence. Zoe took a deep breath and let it out slowly. She looked into the eyes of a demon but saw no hatred. She wanted to see the hatred, wanted to see into the soul of the devil himself. She was certain that she was going to find Satan. But that evil was not there. She had wanted to draw the beast but instead she was staring down at the face of a lost soul. Her mama used to tell her that an artist could see a person’s soul through the eyes --you just needed to look and see the invisible become visible. She wasn’t prepared for the look of complete innocence that stared back at her. Eva’s eyes did not reveal a demon possessed soul. They didn’t reveal anything other than her feelings at being struck by the rock.
"What are you hiding?" Zoe asked the drawing. "Pah!" She hit herself on the head. "Stupid." She pushed the drawing aside, pushed back her chair and went to the window.
Zoe pulled back the curtain as she looked past her reflection in the window. Her attention was drawn to the soldiers who were changing guard across the street, and then to the top floor. She knew the layout of the house since she used to play in it before the war. The light was still on, which was unusual. The occupant went to bed early according to Zoe’s surveillance. The room next to the bedroom was dark. That was the study. Zoe had seen Eva reading by the window a few times. Her attention went from the still lit bedroom to the unmistakable figure of Major Hans Muller leaving the house and walking briskly towards the next house, where Zoe had figured out he slept. Eva, Despina and the a few select guards slept in the main house. Moments after Muller had left, a woman stepped out of the shadows and just as quickly walked to the same house as him. Zoe shook her head in disgust. Her attention was once again drawn to the upstairs room where the light went out.
"I’m going to kill you. I swear it on my mama’s grave. I’m going to kill you," Zoe muttered, and watched the swastika flag flutter in the wind.
Zoe glanced at the clock behind her and frowned. She could barely read the numbers on the clock face but she knew it was very late. Stavros had not returned from his meeting with Apostolos and the local KKE Resistance group. She turned back to the window and scanned the street anxiously, hoping that Stavros had not been stopped by the hated patrols. The Germans were enforcing the curfew, but Stavros found that if he acted dumb, sometimes the soldiers wouldn’t pick on him.
The unmistakable figure of Father Haralambos hurriedly walking down the street caught Zoe’s attention. His black robes billowed around his legs as he quickly made his way towards the church. Zoe wondered why the priest would be going to the church at such a late hour unless he was there to alert the village of more deaths. Zoe was sure she would be hearing those bells in her sleep for years to come.
Zoe hated that sound, for it meant that another mother had lost her son in the war. It was the practice of the church to ring the bells whenever a mother found out that her son had died fighting for the motherland. Larissa had lost too many of her sons and daughters.
Zoe stared down at the retreating figure of Father Haralambos. How those words were burned into her memory: God and country. She remembered the day so clearly. It was in May 1941. She saw her first German soldier and realized that God hadn’t listened to their prayers, nor would He. She had stopped believing. Whenever Father Haralambos asked her, she echoed the words of Metaxas and said, "No!" She found that rather fitting. That had been two years ago and many things had changed in those years.
"What are you doing?" Stavros asked as he came up beside Zoe and put his hand on her shoulder.
Zoe was startled and jumped. "Stav!" She slapped Stavros’ hand.
"Hey, I didn’t creep up on you," Stavros protested. "I made a point of being noisy coming up the stairs, since I knew you wouldn’t be asleep and I didn’t want to scare you."
"You’re lucky I didn’t have my gun in my hand."
Stavros smiled and kissed Zoe on the cheek. "Just what I need, a hole in the head."
"I didn’t see you coming down the street." Zoe pointed to the window.
"I didn’t." Stavros smiled. "I took the back way."
"The back way?"
"The less you know about it, the better." Stavros chuckled and ruffled Zoe’s hair. He set down the supplies he had brought before crossing over to the table and sitting down in the chair. He picked up the drawing and whistled in approval. "Pretty."
Zoe looked down at the drawing. "She’s the devil."
"Looks awfully cute for a devil. You are obsessed with Muller’s daughter. I like the dimpled chin."
"I’m not obsessed and I hate dimpled chins --they look silly," Zoe replied and turned back to the window. "I just want her dead."
"Please, can you stop thinking about how to kill this woman?" Stavros took the artwork and looked at it again. "Wow, nice eyes."
Zoe scowled. "Is that all you can see?"
"What do you want me to see?"
"No horns or tail." Stavros chortled, got up from his seat, and went to the supplies.
Zoe pursed her lips and went back to her drawing. Taking her pencil, she drew in the horns. "They don’t suit her," she muttered.
"Draw something nice," Stavros said as he cut the bread. Food was getting scarce for everyone but the occupation forces. As the war dragged on, the Germans were left well fed and the Greeks starving.
"Maybe," Zoe mumbled and put away the drawing. "Did you see Apostolos?"
"Yes. Apostolos met me and gave me a bottle of his new brew." Stavros uncapped the bottle and had a sniff before filling two cups with the liquid. Olives and feta cheese were the two items they could get their hands on easily. Zoe looked down at her meal and sighed. When the war ended, she was going to keep away from olives and feta cheese for the rest of her life.
"What is this supposed to be?"
"Well, according to Apostolos, it’s the next best thing to ouzo. He said it was his best brew yet."
They ate in silence until the church bells startled them. Zoe looked over at Stavros and they both crossed themselves. Stavros poured some of the alcohol into a cup and took a sip, making a face as he swallowed.
"Those bells, Stav. I’m going to be hearing those damn bells for the rest of my life. We didn’t know the horror that would come to us. Metaxas may have been right not to let the English land. Koryzis made a very big mistake," Zoe said quietly. Arxigos Ioannis Metaxas was the leader of the National Socialist Regime and the man who stood against Mussolini’s ultimatum to invade Greece and ensure Italy’s safety against an English invasion. It had been Metaxas’ refusal to bow to the Italian dictator and his fervent "NO!" that created a Greek hero in 1940. The Greeks stopped the Italians from invading and after that victory, Metaxas suddenly died. Zoe had seen him briefly while he was in Larissa for a visit, and she liked him on sight. Her brothers didn’t like his politics, but Zoe couldn’t be bothered with that.
"No. Metaxas was wrong, not Koryzis. We should have let the English come. We might as well have told Hitler to invade us."
"He was going to invade anyway." Zoe shrugged. "I never liked Koryzis. He killed himself. What kind of Greek kills himself?"
"I don’t know. We relied on God to save us as well," Stavros whispered.
"You know something?"
"There is no God."
"So says the fool."
"So I’ve been told. I’m a fool then and so are many others," Zoe replied. They sat in silence for a long time with the candle flickering.
"We are so bright and cheerful." Zoe smiled at Stavros and gently hit him on the arm. They laughed. "You know, Stav, we are way too depressed to be Greeks. I think we are Russians in disguise."
"Ah, but we are Greek and we do depression well. We’ve had a lot of practice. Joy is for another time and another place."
Zoe stopped smiling and looked at Stavros. "And you are too young to be without joy. It makes your black eyes even blacker."
"I don’t think that’s possible. As for the joy...we will find our joy after the war," Stavros mumbled. "Until then, we try and rid our country of the krauts." He picked up the glass and took a swallow. "I swear Apostolos wants to kill us with this brew."
"Maybe we can give it to the Germans and the war will end," Zoe said as she took a sip herself and didn’t know whether to swallow or spit it out. She winced as the burning liquid went down her throat. "This tastes worse than his other brew." She wiped her mouth with the back of her hand. "Did Apostolos have any news?"
Stavros looked down at the liquid and swirled his cup. "The Germans killed twenty men and women from Nea Smirnea in revenge for the truck bombing. We lost Andreas. He was..." Stavros threw the cup against the fireplace, where it shattered. "Apostolos thinks we have a collaborator in our midst-- maybe from the KKE." He ran his fingers through his hair in frustration.
"I don’t believe the stupidity of the KKE and, of course, all the other Resistance groups, such as EDES and EKKA. They were fighting amongst themselves, each trying to outdo the other. All the while, the Germans were killing our people and raping their country."
Zoe went over and collected the broken pieces of the cup and put them in the paper bag. She looked back at Stavros, who had his head down. "When is this madness going to end?"
"He also told me that they are rounding up Greek Jews. He said they are being shipped somewhere."
"Why?" Zoe asked, drying her hands with a towel and then sitting down opposite Stavros.
"I don’t know. Apostolos told me that the three British and New Zealanders they helped escape last week told him some stories when they were in Trikala."
"They say that the Germans are shipping Jews like cattle, that they have seen men, women and children in boxcars, heading I-don’t-know-where."
"Do you believe it?"
"There’s no reason for the Allies to lie about this. The Germans are capable of horrendous crimes; we just have to see what they do to our people."
"Are you going ahead with the bombing?"
"Yes, of course. We have to. If we can get the supplies in, we can go and play blowups," Stavros said and banged on the table, startling Zoe.
"If we have a collaborator in our midst as Apostolos thinks, won’t they know what you are going to do?"
"I don’t know, Zo. I know I can trust you and that’s the extent to which I trust anyone." Stavros looked at Zoe and smiled. "I know you’re not with the KKE."
Zoe gave Stavros a mock glare. "That’s not funny, Stavros Kalanaris! Those communists! Come on, do I look like a Stalinist?"
"No, you’re too cute to be a Stalinist," Stavros teased Zoe and tugged strands of her long hair. "Apostolos asked about you."
Zoe rolled her eyes. "Again? All that shooting must really affect his ears. I told you, he’s far too old for me."
Stavros chuckled. "He’s only eight years older than you."
"That’s old," Zoe replied and took a sip of the drink only to find she did indeed still hate the taste, but swallowed anyway.
"He really is a nice boy."
"I don’t want to get married. We have a job to do, and the last thing I want to do is get married!"
"I want you to get married and stop being involved in the Resistance. I don’t want you to get killed," Stav replied solemnly. "Apostolos has a huge farm near Trikala."
"Is that supposed to impress me?" Zoe asked.
"He really is sweet on you. It’s not the farm--"
"If someone wants to marry me for the farm, well, they are going to be disappointed," Zoe replied. A large dowry was a status symbol in the village and many girls tried to accumulate their "treasures" to impress their prospective husbands. Zoe inherited (by virtue of being the only remaining family member alive) the Lambros farm, her brother Theodore’s house, where she lived with Stavros, and a small cabin which belonged to her younger brother, Thieri. It was a large dowry and one that was quite impressive. Zoe was never fond of the idea that a woman should have a large dowry; it made her feel as though she was property herself.
"Apostolos is already impressed." Stavros grinned and winked at Zoe. "He knows you have a farm and well--"
"Mary, mother of Jesus!" Zoe exclaimed and shook her head. "I’m not interested in him. How many times are we going to have this marriage talk? I’m sick of it."
"I promised your mama that I would look after you. Anyway I told your mama that you would get married before I did," Stavros said quietly. "How about Yiannis?" He asked.
Zoe rolled her eyes. "He’s shorter than me!"
"You are a difficult woman to please."
Zoe smiled. "Thank you."
"That wasn’t a compliment."
Zoe continued to smile. "When I’m ready to get married, I’ll know."
"Will I be an old man by then?" Stavros teased.
"Probably." Zoe chuckled. The two cousins looked at each other and started to laugh. Stavros finally went to his satchel and pulled out some plans as Zoe watched him in the dim light.
"It’s too bad you have to bomb Kiria Vasos’ house."
"Well, she will forgive us. It’s not her house anymore. It’s a barracks. We will get to do some cockroach exterminating."
"I want to come with you."
"Why not? I came with you on the last one."
"You came with me because you are too stubborn for your own good and you hounded me." Stavros took the sting out of his words by ruffling Zoe’s hair and giving her a kiss on the cheek. "I don’t want to lose you, Zo."
"Didn’t I do a good job?"
"You did an exceptional job but I need to keep a promise. I made a promise to keep you safe and I can’t do that if you go on bombing runs with me."
"Everyone must pitch in."
"Yes, everyone must, but we all have our roles. Your job is to keep an eye on Muller and your meticulous recording of the guard changes will come in handy."
Zoe sighed deeply. "That’s a useless exercise."
"You really think so?" Stavros asked and brought his chair closer. "When the time is right, that house is going to get blown up and when it does, everyone inside goes up with it. Your spying will be one of the reasons it will be the end of Muller. Like we did with the other pig, his turn will come."
"And the demon’s spawn?"
Stavros looked up at the ceiling, brought his hands together and entreated the higher being. "Oh God, please, do something about my cousin!"
Zoe grinned and gently slapped Stavros across the back of his head. "Stop that, you silly boy. He’s not going to listen to you."
Stavros brought Zoe in for a hug and kissed the top of her head. "I want to keep you safe. Let me do that. What’s going to happen tonight will more than likely mean we fight these bastards close up. This is a man’s job. It’s no place for a woman."
"I can do that."
Stavros stopped what he was doing and looked at Zoe. "Zoe, sometimes just listen to me. I’m older than you and I’m a man."
"Well, of course, you’re a man so I must listen to you," Zoe responded sarcastically. "I never heard my papa talk to my mother that way."
"Your mama, bless her soul, didn’t want to go out and shoot German soldiers."
"You are not my head."
Stavros smiled and lowered his head to study the plans before him. "I pity the poor man who will have to control you when you finally decide on the poor fellow," he said teasingly.
"I pity the poor girl who has to put up with you," Zoe responded lightly, knowing the conversation had become too serious. "I still want to come with you."
"Clean your ears out. I think we have some olive oil in the cupboard. I said no."
"What are you not telling me?"
Stavros took out his home made rolled cigarettes and lit one. He offered one to Zoe, who shook her head. He took a drag of the cigarette before he replied. "I think I may know who the collaborator is."
"Who is it?"
"I can’t tell you right now, but I will know more tomorrow. Apostolos is meeting with Manolas and Vangellis."
"Someone from Larissa?"
"What happens to them?"
"They are tried, and if they are found guilty, they are executed." Stavros watched Zoe’s face carefully. "I don’t want you in the middle of anything. I want you to stay here. Can you do that for me?"
"Yes." Zoe sat down heavily in the chair and folded her arms across her chest.
"And I don’t want you to kill Muller’s daughter--"
"Are we back to that again?" Zoe scowled. "It’s not the same thing."
"Yes, we are back to that. This is different, these are soldiers."
"So is she. She was there when the lunatic Muller was killing us. She laughed when my mama was dying."
"I didn’t see that. No one remembers seeing that." Stavros took Zoe’s hands and held them. "You were distraught."
"I know what I saw. I know what I heard and that bitch was laughing."
"This is eating you up. You’re going to get killed." Stavros tried once again to convince Zoe to alter her plans.
"What’s eating me up is that she’s living the high life while my mama is dead, while my brothers are dead, while my papa is dead and while Greece is dying. That’s what is eating me up." Zoe clenched her fist and banged it on the table. "I’m going to kill that bitch. I know she reports what everyone does to the butcher."
Stavros put down the plans and looked incredulously at Zoe. "She reports back to her father?"
"Yes," Zoe replied and shrugged. "You never know," she said at the look Stavros was giving her.
"What does she tell him? How many candles were lit for the fallen?"
"I don’t know but she goes there so much, I bet she counts," Zoe replied.
Stavros shook his head and went back to the plans. "I’m worried about you."
"I don’t care if I die. I just want her dead." Zoe pushed back her chair. "I don’t care what happens to me."
"Do you care what will happen to those left behind?"
"We all have to go sometime," Zoe muttered and turned her back on Stavros to stare outside. He joined her at the window. He put his arms around her and held her close.
"I don’t want to go any time soon and I don’t want you to go," Stavros said quietly. "She’s not worth your life."
"I made a promise," Zoe whispered.
"I made a promise as well," Stavros replied. "I promised your mama that I would keep you safe."
"Why did you do that?"
"Because I love you and you’re my cousin. You are all the family I have left." Stavros kissed Zoe on the cheek. "Please, promise me that you won’t do anything."
Zoe sighed and shook her head. "You made a promise?"
"Absolutely." Stavros crossed himself and kissed the cross that hung around his neck.
"I’ll think about it," Zoe muttered.
"Why don’t you go to bed? I’ve got some work to do."
"You don’t want company?" Zoe asked and looked up into Stavros’ dark brooding eyes.
"No, that’s alright. Go to sleep."
"Be careful, Stav." Zoe went up on her toes and kissed him tenderly on the cheek. "I’ll see you in the morning," she said and walked out of the small kitchen.
"May God protect you, little one," Stavros whispered as he watched the door close.
Eva sat with her back to the window as a slight breeze blew in ruffling the white lace curtains. The smell of rain hung in the air as she stared at the open book in front of her. She had been "reading" the same page over and over but her mind was elsewhere. The lump on the back of her head made sure she wouldn’t forget the green-eyed girl in a hurry.
Eva looked up quickly at her father, who sat meters away from her. The last thing she wanted to do was aggravate Muller. He wore a scowl on his face, one she was very familiar with. "I called you twice! Are you going deaf?"
"No, Father," Eva replied quietly. "I was just thinking."
Muller grunted and went back to signing some papers. "Did you hire a maid, as I told you to?" He asked, not looking up from his work.
Muller stopped what he was doing and looked up at Eva. He took off his glasses and held them in his hand whilst not breaking eye contact. "Why don’t you ever listen when I tell you to do something?"
"I don’t want a maid."
"You need one."
"Despina helps me and she’s--"
"Hire a maid," Muller repeated before returning to study the report in front of him. After a moment, he stopped and looked up again at Eva. "Why didn’t you tell me about the rock being thrown at you?"
"I didn’t think it was important," Eva replied quietly. "You had your hands full."
"It could have easily been a bullet," Muller chastised Eva. "You are far too casual with the villagers."
"Next time something like that happens, your guards have orders to kill," Muller said and went back to his notes. Had he looked up he would have seen a very dark look being directed at him by Eva.
"Father, it was a simple case of a girl throwing a rock."
"Go to bed, Eva," Muller muttered.
"Yes, Father." Eva picked up her book and got up rather stiffly. Her back was aching and she gingerly began to cross the room.
Muller watched her over the top of his glasses. He pursed his lips. "What’s the matter?"
"Nothing, Father, it’s just a little stiffness," Eva replied as the ache in her back sent dagger-like pain shooting down her spine and down her legs. It made her sick to her stomach. But she wasn’t going to admit any weakness in front of Muller.
"Should I call Nurse Edith?"
Eva shook her head. "No, I’ll be fine. I’ll be going to bed."
Muller watched Eva leave the room and for a long moment he stared at the door. He decided it was time to contact his brother, Dr. Dieter Muller, to discuss his daughter with him. It had been a long time since he had talked to Dieter about Eva. He scribbled a note to himself and absently tapped the pen against the papers he held in his hand. His musing was cut short when Captain Reinhardt entered, saluted and waited for his commanding officer.
"Did you read these reports?" Muller asked, indicating the pile of papers on his lap.
"How reliable are they?" Muller looked at Reinhardt over the top of his glasses.
"Well, as reliable as the KKE can be, sir."
"That doesn’t tell me anything, Captain."
"I think they are reliable."
Muller looked down at the papers in front of him. "Let them."
"Are you deaf, man?"
"I said, let them. Get the troops out first, of course. Then have a reception awaiting the Greek dogs."
"You can go." Reinhardt turned to leave. "Reinhardt, don’t kill them. I have other plans."
"Yes, sir." Reinhardt saluted and left.
Muller sighed. He was tired of the war, tired of the Resistance movements. He picked up his wine and sipped it, contemplating life after the war.
"Anschlag oder ich schieße!"
The command was followed by gunfire and the sound of screams and abuse emanating from the street below. The commotion woke Zoe from her sleep. She was disoriented at first, as she struggled out of bed and pulled back the curtains. The tableau she saw before her made her blood run cold. A man lay on the road, his blood already staining the dirt, his life ebbing away. A German soldier stood above him. Zoe jumped when the soldier fired into the prone man.
Zoe was shocked and craned her neck to see further into the street. To her horror, she saw three men nearby with their hands above their heads, surrounded by soldiers. "Oh no," Zoe whispered in shock. "Oh, dear God, no," she uttered as she met Stavros’ eyes. They looked at each other and he nodded before being led roughly away.
Stavros was in the hands of the Germans and there was nothing Zoe could do about it. She could scream and holler until she was hoarse, but the image of the dead partisan, his blood staining the ground, was too much for her to bear.
"You don’t exist! It’s all lies!" Zoe cried out against the god who didn’t exist for her. "I’ll get you out, Stav." She had no idea what she was going to do but she was determined to try something. Even as she was getting dressed, she was forming a plan to break them out. She stopped and sat down heavily on the floor. "Who am I kidding?" She asked as she began to cry. She was helpless to do anything.
"Damn you, God!" Zoe yelled and thumped the floor with her fist. "I hate you!"
The sunlight filtered through the open window and woke Zoe, who had succumbed to her tears and fallen asleep on the wooden floor. She felt a little dazed and then the previous evening’s horror came flooding back.
Zoe got up and began to cry again. She dressed mechanically and walked out to the kitchen. There was a note on the table. Her hands trembled as she picked it up.
"You know what I want for breakfast? Fresh eggs, lots of honey, good Greek coffee, and to sleep as long as I want — but not in that order. Don’t worry about me, little one. Everything will be alright. Kiriakos came tonight. Apostolos couldn’t come --his younger brother Notarios was killed and he took him home. Kiriakos, Antonios, myself and Giorgos will be going earlier than planned. We should be back after things have calmed down in a day or so. While you are waiting, do something about my breakfast order."
Zoe stared at the note for a long time. She didn’t want to believe what she had seen during the night. She wanted to believe it was one huge nightmare, a nightmare within a nightmare. She went over to the small weapons cache they had and picked up a small handgun. She was going to kill that demon spawn and she didn’t care if she died trying.
Zoe closed the door behind her and listened to her own footsteps echoing in the quiet of the early morning as a light drizzle began to fall. She slowed when she approached the prone figure on the ground. The Germans had not picked up the body, leaving it out in the rain as an example of what happened to anyone who resisted them.
Zoe crossed herself despite her thundered admonitions to a god she claimed she no longer believed in. She pulled the shawl around her, put her head down and walked swiftly to her destination. She rounded the corner and slammed into Father Haralambos’ ample figure, which caused her to drop her bag.
The gun fell at Father Haralambos’ feet.
"I’m so sorry," Zoe said as she knelt to collect her bag and the gun.
Father Haralambos looked around and then helped Zoe up. "Where are you going, my child?"
"An eye for an eye--isn’t that what your precious Bible says?" Zoe spat, trying desperately not to scream.
"No, it doesn’t say that, little one," Father Haralambos replied. "Well, not exactly."
"Don’t. Call. Me. That." Zoe looked into father Haralambos’ eyes and ground out the words, regretting losing her temper with him.
"Alright, I won’t call you that. You’re a woman now," Father Haralambos said with a twinkle in his eye. "Come with me."
"You want to stay out in the rain? You can if you wish, but I’m old and I don’t think I’m going to get any younger or drier staying out here."
The drizzle had turned into a light rain and Zoe mutely followed Father Haralambos into the church. She halted for a moment and then crossed herself, more out of habit than belief, before going by the altar.
Father Haralambos watched her in silence for a few moments. "You still believe."
Zoe looked at the priest and shook her head. "No, I don’t. It’s a bad habit."
"Are you trying to convince yourself that you hate our Lord and to deny Him in your heart?" Father Haralambos asked quietly, watching the young woman as he lit a candle.
"What do you care, Father? You are wasting your time. There are Greeks dying out there. Don’t you hear them? You sit here and you preach about love and forgiveness. Who do I forgive?"
"We all do our part. We all sin, and we all need forgiveness."
"Do you know about loss? You’re not married." Zoe flailed her arms in rage. "You can’t know the loss of your wife or children. You don’t know what it’s like to wake up and find out your loved one has been captured by the enemy. You don’t know, do you?" She stared at Father Haralambos and then looked up at the statue of Christ on the Cross, shaking her head in disgust. "Will you be there for Samia tonight when Giorgos is six feet under? His blood has stained the ground. Will you forgive the animal that killed him?"
"Sometimes it is best if our left hand does not know what our right hand is doing."
"Are you going to join us to free Greece?" Zoe offered Father Haralambos the gun. "You can use both hands."
"I am doing my part. Now you have to do yours."
"I already am. You say that those who don’t believe there is a God are fools. You know, Father, I’m a fool. But I’m a fool who is going to do her part to save our country."
"Is that why you crossed yourself when you came in?"
Zoe didn’t answer for a moment. She fingered the gun in her hand. "I told you that’s a bad habit I picked up."
"Killing is not the answer," Father Haralambos said quietly as he watched Zoe.
"Yes, it is. Killing is the only answer."
"There must be an end to violence, and you shooting people won’t put an end to this war; it will prolong it."
"My only reason for living is to kill that damned bitch."
"Don’t swear in church," Father Haralambos gently admonished. "You can’t kill innocents."
"Innocent!" Zoe yelled. "That damned bitch isn’t innocent!"
"Zoe! Don’t swear in church."
"I can’t sit and watch. Someone has to pay. An eye for an eye, and I want to be the one to pay them back," Zoe said bitterly.
"It’s not for you to judge and not for you to be the executioner."
"Why not? Because you say so?"
"Don’t start killing." Father Haralambos took the gun from Zoe and pocketed it in his robes, much to Zoe’s disgust.
"You’re wrong, Father. I have killed and I’ll kill again. I’m following in the footsteps of Kolokotronis --he knew how to stand up to tyranny and he won. I’m going to stand up to tyranny."
"By killing an innocent woman? Is that how you are going to win this war?"
"That’s how I win my war. I’m fighting my own war and I’m going to win it," Zoe replied as she sat down on the floor and crossed her legs. "This is my war and there will only be one winner here."
"It won’t be you."
"What would you have me do? Lie down and let them do what they want?"
The church doors opened and a young man raced in. He knelt and crossed himself and then went hurriedly to the priest. "Father, Father!" The young man was breathless. He bent forward trying to catch his breath.
"Take it slowly, Phrixus."
"They are rounding up everyone and sending them to the town square! They posted an announcement that our brothers who were caught last night will be hanged! I was told to come here and tell you. Hurry, Father!"
"No! Do something!" Zoe got up from the floor and yelled at Father Haralambos.
"I can’t do anything, my child."
"Hurry up, Father, please! They want everyone to be there or else they will start shooting people."
The three of them hurried out into the busy street as the residents were herded towards the main town square. The German soldiers ringed the plaza and a scaffold stood in the center. The scaffold had become a permanent fixture in the plaza and was in constant use after every Resistance attack. The sounds of grieving and of babies crying could be heard over the murmur of the townspeople. Zoe looked around and froze when four soldiers passed by, flanking three shuffling men. She hardly recognized the prisoners --their faces were badly disfigured by bruises. Father Haralambos held Zoe in his arms as Stavros shuffled away from her. Stavros looked back and tried to smile at Zoe, but the attempt turned into a grimace.
The soldier coming up from the rear pushed Stavros along with the barrel of his weapon and he nearly fell into the mud. They slowly climbed onto the platform of the scaffold. The crowd fell silent; only the sounds of a dog barking and a child crying could be heard.
Major Muller walked through the crowd, his guards pushing people aside, and stood next to the scaffold. A guard held a black umbrella over him to keep him dry. Muller tapped his black boots in a small puddle, clasped his hands behind his back and looked out into the crowd. "I see Father Haralambos is here. Father, would you give these men the last rites? I am a God fearing man and I think that would be fair," he said as he gazed at the falling rain.
His arm still around Zoe, Father Haralambos whispered in her ear. He looked around and spotted Despina and beckoned her to be with Zoe. Despina came up behind Zoe and embraced her as Father Haralambos went up the steps to the scaffold. He began to administer the last rites. All three men bowed their heads. The youngest began to cry as the priest made the sign of the cross on their foreheads.
"Be brave, my boys, and know we will continue the fight for you," Father Haralambos whispered to each man as he placed a kiss on his forehead.
"Hurry up, Father, I don’t have all day," Muller commanded. Father Haralambos shuffled and deliberately slowed as he descended the stairs and went and stood by Zoe and Despina. He held Zoe’s hand.
"This is a warning to any who wish to defy me." Muller raised his voice and lifted his arm, then dropped it. The executioner saw the hand signal and pulled the lever. The scaffold ropes creaked as the three men hung lifelessly in the plaza.
Zoe closed her eyes and began to cry, Father Haralambos holding her. A tiny voice was heard singing. It was soon joined by all those assembled in defiance of the Germans.
We knew thee of old,
Oh, divinely restored,
By the lights of thine eyes
And the light of thy Sword
Zoe looked up, her face tear-stained, and realized the villagers were singing the Ymnos eis tin Eleftherian, The Hymn to Freedom, the soul-inspiring national anthem of the Greeks, their only way to be defiant as the rain continued to pour. She looked up at her dead friends and began to sing.
From the graves of our slain
Shall thy valor prevail
As we greet thee again—
Hail, Liberty! Hail!
Long time didst thou dwell
Mid the peoples that mourn,
Awaiting some voice
That should bid thee return.
Ah, slow broke that day
And no man dared call,
For the shadow of tyranny
Lay over all.
The voices swelled as one while Muller looked on, his face set in a scowl. He turned to walk off, then stopped and faced Captain Reinhardt. "Leave them up there."
"Yes, sir!" Reinhardt saluted as the villagers continued to sing in open defiance.
And we saw thee sad-eyed,
The tears on thy cheeks
While thy raiment was dyed
In the blood of the Greeks.
Yet, behold now thy sons
With impetuous breath
Go forth to the fight
Seeking Freedom or Death.
From the graves of our slain
Shall thy valor prevail
As we greet thee again—
Hail, Liberty! Hail!
The breeze coming through the window caused the curtain to brush against Eva. The strains of the song washed over her as she leaned against the windowsill. She closed her eyes and prayed for the souls of the men who had been killed. Yet, even more bloodshed. Her tears ran down her cheeks for the men she never knew but whose pain she felt. She listened to the anthem being passionately sung by the defiant Greeks. While thy raiment was dyed in the blood of the Greeks.
Eva stared out into the rain. Seeking Freedom or Death… There is no other option, is there? Eva thought. Her musings were cut short by the noises downstairs of Muller returning from the plaza and yelling orders.
Six Months Later.
A cock crowed as the sun made its slow progress to start the morning. Eva walked down the cobblestone streets, her cane echoing as it hit the ground. She was aware of the furtive glances and some openly hostile glares she was getting from the villagers. Most of them were used to seeing Eva, clad in her dark cloak and hood, her two very large shadows behind her. Henry was the taller of the two and he slowed his cadence to match Eva's slow walk. Next to him was Barkow, who stood at just over six feet but was dwarfed by his fellow soldier. With those two behind her, Eva felt somewhat protected. No one greeted her as she passed, not that she was expecting them to, and some spat on the ground before she passed making sure she noticed. Nevertheless she was a common sight for those who woke up early to tend to their chores.
Eva stopped for a moment to catch her breath and smiled when she saw their housekeeper, Despina, walking towards her.
"Good morning, Kiria Despina," Eva greeted her in Greek, aware that the villagers closest to her could hear her. She used the respectful Greek phrase to denote the housekeeper was married. She made sure she was using the phrase correctly.
"Ah, Miss Eva. You know the church is just a few meters down there." Despina greeted Eva with a smile. She pulled her cardigan across her body as the wind picked up a little, bringing with it a blast of cool air. Despina was a plumb older woman in her mid-fifties, with salt and pepper hair worn up in a tight bun. Her brown eyes crinkled when she smiled at Eva.
"Today is the day," Eva replied happily.
"It is, it is. You should be very proud of yourself."
Eva nodded her appreciation at Despina’s words. She lowered her voice. "Is it difficult for you to be seen speaking to me?"
Despina shook her head. "No, sweetheart, it's not. You are not the enemy."
"Your fellow villagers don't seem to agree with you."
"Don't you have enough to deal with at home without worrying about me?" Despina asked as she touched Eva's hand. "Don't worry about me. Now, you have just a few meters down that way to get to the church."
"Thank you, you're very kind to me."
"You're a very kind and gentle young woman. It's not hard to be kind to you. Now once you have mastered the church, you can go all the way to Athena's Bluff."
"How far would it take me to get there?"
"It takes me half an hour at a slow pace."
"That's my next goal once I reach the church," Eva said and smiled when Despina took her hand.
"I'm quite sure you will be doing that soon. Now I have to get going to get these eggs back to the house and get breakfast ready."
Eva watched Despina walk away and sighed. "Sergeant Franz."
"The church is just up the road there."
"I’m going inside once I get there."
"Alright. I haven't seen inside a Greek church---"
"No." Eva looked at Henry. "A German soldier inside a Greek church would anger many of the villagers; we don't need that happening. You and Barkow stay outside."
"Fraulein Muller, I must object---"
"Don't worry. Even the Communists, who don't believe in God, would never enter a church to kill."
"There's always a first time," Henry muttered under his breath, causing Eva to smile.
"You worry too much. If the Resistance wanted to kill me, they can easily do it here on the street," Eva replied and turned. She mentally sighed when she heard Henry’s aggrieved growl. "Your mere presence behind me is enough to scare Ares Velouchiotis," Eva added, regarding the Greek Resistance leader she had heard so much about.
"Velouchiotis is a coward."
"Let's hope you are right because I do not want to meet this fellow --a passionate Greek is always trouble," Eva said as Henry came up and walked next to her. "What are you doing?"
"We are coming up to where there are children playing. I do not want them to throw any stones at you," Henry replied. Barkow also took up his position on Eva's other side.
"I don't think the children will do anything."
"Other than call you names?" Henry muttered.
"Names can't hurt you."
Henry glanced down at his charge and shook his head. "Maybe I should put my helmet on your head?"
Eva lowered her head and concentrated on walking without falling over. "Yes, that would be a good look."
Henry glanced around and sighed as they walked past the children, who did indeed call out but they didn't throw anything.
Eva stopped when she turned the corner and the church stood before her. Its white facade was marred by bullet holes. The sky blue dome stood in contrast to the white with the white cross above it. Six stone steps led up to the ornate doors. Eva looked around but the street was empty.
"I'm going in."
"Please, stay out here. I told you I don't want the Greeks to feel more aggrieved than they are. I doubt the priest is going to kill me either."
"Alright, but I will have to tell Captain Reinhardt."
"I already told him I was going to visit the church," Eva said before she turned and slowly walked up the steps. The two guards quickly walked up the steps behind her and took their place on either side of the door. Eva shook her head a little, and lowered the hood of her cloak as she entered the church.
The light from the lit candles cast off a warm glow to the outer sanctuary of the church. Eva was surprised to see the seating wasn't regular pews as she was used to, but chairs. The floor was a polished marble all the way to the altar. The walls featured the saints and Mary, Mother of God, proximately. Above the stone altar was the Crucified Christ. Eva bowed her head and crossed herself as she approached the altar.
Eva sat down at the closest chair to the front. She rested her hand over the cane's handle and looked up at Christ's icon. A door opened next to the altar and she saw a man come out. Clad in a black cassock with a gold crucifix around his neck, his long beard and pillbox hat made it quite obvious who he was.
"Good morning, Father." Eva stood up and approached the priest.
"Good morning, my child," Father Haralambos replied without any noticeable surprise on his face that Eva was speaking to him in Greek. Eva bowed slightly and took his hand. She kissed it as was customary for the villagers on greeting their priest.
"Ach, you shouldn’t bend down like that with your bad back," Father Haralambos gently said. He led Eva back to the chairs.
"What do you know about my back?"
Father Haralambos' blue eyes gentled as he gazed at Eva. "A priest hears stories."
"Ah, yes, I almost forgot --‘the German cripple.’"
"I have heard that, and I have watched you take your early morning walk. It’s not an easy walk for you but you have managed quite well. Are you happy with your progress?"
"I’m a little proud of myself this morning," Eva admitted. "I think most of the village knows about me at this point," she said to Father Haralambos, who had taken off his hat. His black hair had slivers of white throughout and he had tied it back in a ponytail. "You're not surprised I can speak Greek."
"Not really. Kiria Despina has told me you speak Greek. She has very nice things to say about you." Father Haralambos smiled. "Would you feel more comfortable if I spoke German?" He added in German, which made Eva's eyes widen in surprise.
"You speak German?"
"I do. I can also speak Italian and French. I love languages."
"That is so surprising."
Father Haralambos chuckled as he clasped his hands. "Yes, you don't expect that from a village priest."
"No, I didn’t expect it."
"Most people don’t, so that’s alright."
"Father, what's your name?"
"Father Panayiotis Haralambos. I have the right first name for a priest, no?" He smiled at Eva, who gazed at him quizzically. "Panayios means Holy. I know your name and what it means. It's Hebrew for life and the first woman Almighty God created."
"I saw you when we first arrived."
"Hm, as did I. It was a horrible way to arrive into a town, especially for you."
"Father, do you listen to confessions?" Eva asked quietly, ignoring Father Haralambos’ recollections of the blood bath that followed her arrival. She looked around at the icons on the wall. "You must have seen a lot of death since the war started," she said, and turned to Father Haralambos to see his eyes glisten in the candlelight.
"I have seen a lot of death, yes. I listen to anyone who wishes to confess, Fraulein Muller."
"Please, call me Eva. I feel like I can talk to you almost like I’ve known you my whole life."
"Why do you say that? We’ve just met."
"I just feel it. I trust you."
Father Haralambos smiled. "Trust is earned, Eva, but I’m happy that you can confide in me."
"Can we talk here?"
Father Haralambos looked around the empty room. "You can. Sister Maria is not due to start her scripture class for another hour or so."
Eva stared up at the crucifix for a long moment before she turned her attention to Father Haralambos. Their blue eyes met and Eva looked down at her hands. After a few minutes she looked up again. "Father, are you in the Resistance?"
Father Haralambos gazed at Eva for a long moment. His face revealed nothing and Eva was worried she had just made a terrible mistake.
"Are you confessing to me or am I confessing to you?"
"A little of both."
"Ah. Why don't you tell me your confession?"
Eva nodded. "When I was in France, I had the opportunity to help Father François in Paris," she whispered and looked around the church hoping her guards had listened to her and stayed outside.
"Where are the two young men who shadow you?"
"Outside. I hope."
"Hm. You helped Father François, and what did you do to help him?"
"I forged my father's signature on identity papers," Eva replied softly. "I'm a very good forger."
"I see. How did it come about that you were helping Father François?"
Eva gazed at Father Haralambos, the edges of her mouth slightly curled before she looked away. "He was helping Jews escape."
"That is a very noble effort; the work of angels. Is there a need to confess such a good deed to me? I would think that it was a good thing what you did to help others."
Eva looked back at Father Haralambos, who was looking at her with a noncommittal gaze. "You do know what I just confessed to you, right?"
"Yes, I am aware that you just told me that you collaborated with the French Resistance. I'm not going to tell you that you are wrong, because it’s not wrong what you did."
"No, I don't feel bad about that."
"You do know what the confessional is used for?" Father Haralambos sincerely asked and smiled when Eva sighed and looked up at the ornate ceiling.
"Father, I think you are not making this easy."
"What am I not making easy? So what are you expecting me to say? Do you want to confess because you have sinned against God? Hardly. Do you want to confess because you feel bad about saving someone's life? Do you want me to be shocked that a German woman just told me she did the work of angels?"
"No," Eva said resolutely. "I want you to tell me how I can help you here."
"You want to help me in my church? I don’t think the villagers would be all that happy to see you helping out."
"Father!" Eva threw up her hands in frustration. "You are being---"
"Cautious?" Father Haralambos suggested. "How do I know you are not a spy? How do I know that your father didn't send you to me?"
Eva frowned before a smiled creased her face. "You already know or else you wouldn't have asked me those questions."
Father Haralambos gazed at Eva for a long moment. "Eva, you do not know me and yet you come to me and confess that you betrayed your country by collaborating with the French---"
"I didn't betray my country."
"You betrayed someone."
"I don't see it that way."
Father Haralambos nodded. "You collaborated with the French, and that is punishable by death. You are aware of that?"
Eva nodded. "I am aware of the penalty. My life is not worth more than a Jew nor is it worth more than a Greek. I did it because it was right."
"And you hate your father," Father Haralambos quietly added. Eva turned away from him but he gently turned her face towards him. "You are doing the work of angels no matter the reason."
"It is not because of my father. It is because of my guilt."
"Your guilt? What have you done to feel guilty for?"
"You have heard of Kristallnacht?"
"Yes. Even in a Greek village I heard about the dreadful night; unfortunately one of many such nights and days."
"I was part of it. I was there and did nothing. I didn't try to save an old Rabbi's life and stood by and watched. I can't stand by and watch people be killed and not do anything again," Eva quietly explained as her voice broke with emotion. "There is too much death. Standing by and not doing anything is the same as pulling the trigger."
"It is, but what if someone betrays you?"
"My life is meaningless. There is no happy future for me. I'm like a bird in a cage --no escape. I envy the villagers. They will escape once this war is over. I’m just stuck in a cage." Eva swallowed audibly and closed her eyes. "What's left is resistance. If I can help someone escape, then this gilded cage I am in has meaning."
"Oh, my precious child." Father Haralambos put his arms around Eva as she broke down and wept in his arms. His soothing words were totally lost on her while the emotional walls she had built around herself came crumbling down and lay at the priest's feet. Eva felt safe in his arms and was slightly embarrassed by the rush of emotions that overwhelmed her.
"I’m sorry, Father." Eva wiped her eyes with the back of her hand.
Father Haralambos caressed Eva’s dark head and then kissed it. "You are a brave young woman. It takes a special person to put themselves in harm’s way."
"I have to do something."
"I understand your reasoning."
"Can you help me?"
Father Haralambos nodded. "I can help you and we can help those who you want to help. There are many Jews in Larissa and the surrounding hills. They need fake papers. I have been trying but it’s very difficult."
"I can help you. Let me help."
Father Haralambos looked down at the expectant face of the young woman who was willing to risk everything for a chance at her own redemption. "Yes. We will work together."
Eva smiled. "Thank you, Father."
"What happened to Father François?"
"He's no longer alive. He was killed before we left for Greece."
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