APRIL 9th, 1940

by Norsebard


Contact: norsebarddk@gmail.com





This World War II drama belongs in the Uber category. All characters are created by me, though some of them may remind you of someone.

This story depicts a romantic relationship between consenting adult women. If such a story frightens you, you better click on the X in the top right corner of your screen right away.

This story contains war-type violence, some of which is directed at women. Readers who are sensitive to such content may wish to read something other than this story.

Although this story is based on mission reports written by the Danish soldiers who fought in the skirmishes in South Jutland on the 9th of April, 1940, events have been amalgamated for dramatic purposes. Also, all characters depicted and names used in this story are fictitious. No identification with actual persons is intended nor should be inferred. Any resemblance of the characters portrayed to actual persons, living or dead is purely coincidental.

The registered trademarks mentioned in this story are © of their respective owners. No infringement of their rights is intended, and no profit is gained.





Written: January 20th - 29th, 2015.

- Thank you for your additional research, Phineas Redux, and for your help with the German dialogue, Boba71 :)


As usual, I'd like to say a great, big THANK YOU to my mates at AUSXIP Talking Xena, especially to the gals and guys in Subtext Central. I really appreciate your support - Thanks, everybody! :D


Description: In the early hours of the morning on April 9th, 1940, Anne-Katrine Jensen's life is changed irrevocably when the German Army commences Operation Weserübung, the invasion of Denmark and Norway. As a woman, she isn't allowed to join the hopelessly outnumbered Danish forces that struggle to put up a defense against the advancing army, but she refuses to let it stop her. Equipped with her ill brother's uniform and rifle, Anne-Katrine heads off to war - much to the despair of her sweetheart, Lydia Petersen…




The second, shrill ringing of the telephone mounted on a wall in the hallway of the Jensen farmhouse only added a moderate amount of disruption to the already chaotic scene. Loud, pained moans streamed out into the hallway from one of the bedrooms while a nurse in a white-and-blue uniform hurried the other way with clean rags to wipe up the latest mess. In the doorway, she nearly collided with another woman who was carrying a kerosene lamp.

The second woman put down the lamp on a sideboard underneath the telephone and took off the horn. "The Jensen farm, Anne-Katrine Jensen speaking," she said, brushing several beads of sweat off her brow.

While she waited for her reply to be acknowledged, further moans and groans came from the bedroom, and she tried to stretch the cord to see what was going on. At twenty past four in the morning, the hallway and the courtyard beyond the wooden door were still dark, but the kerosene lamp did its best to at least illuminate the narrow hallway between the bedrooms and the sitting room of the farm Anne-Katrine had owned with her brother since their parents had died in an automobile accident four years previously. Being a full-time owner of a farm at twenty-six was a challenge, but one she took on gladly.

'Hello Miss Jensen,' a gruff male voice said at the other end of the line, making Anne-Katrine snap back to the telephone, 'this is Sergeant Ernst Viggo Mehlborg. I need to speak to your brother at once.'

"I'm afraid Arthur is indisposed, Sergeant Mehlborg," Anne-Katrine said, baring her teeth in a worried grimace. To underline her point, further moans and groans came from the bedroom.

'It's imperative I speak to your brother, Miss Jensen. We've just been given our marching orders at the garrison. We're going to the front. The Germans have breached our sovereignty by crossing the border in four places a mere thirty kilometers south of our position. All leave of absence has been withdrawn.'

"Oh… the Germans- oh no…"

'Arthur Wilfred Jensen is to join his unit at once… do you understand me, Miss Jensen?  Your brother is to join the sixth regiment, fourth battalion, first company at once.'

"But Sergeant, my brother is very ill-"

'Bloody hell!'

"I'm afraid there's nothing I can do about it," Anne-Katrine said and once again tried to stretch the fabric cord. It was just too short for her to see inside the bedroom, but she had been in there often enough to know that her brother was in serious abdominal pain. "Sergeant Mehlborg, we have Doctor Meincke with us… do you wish to speak to him?"

'Well… all right. Put him on. Thank you.'

"You're welcome, Sergeant. Please hold," Anne-Katrine said and put the horn down on a shelf. She ran over to stand in the doorway and watched Doctor Meincke examine her brother's abdomen. It was clear from the moans and groans that emanated from Arthur - not to mention his ruddy complexion - that it was serious. "Doctor… Doctor Meincke, the caller wishes to speak with you…"

Doctor Edvard Sigurd Meincke had been working as a general practitioner in the next town over for nearly three decades. He was in his late sixties with an impressive pair of whiskers that had gone out of fashion a generation earlier, and his hair and eyebrows were as white and bushy as his sideburns. He had arrived in a dark suit and hat as any gentleman would, but he had shed the jacket and rolled up his shirtsleeves to reveal his arms that were far stronger than his gentlemanly frame alluded to. "Is it from the hospital regarding the ambulance?" he said over the rim of his metal-frame spectacles.

"No, it's from the garrison, Doctor."

"Mmmm. All right. I'll take the call, but it had better be important. Nurse Petersen, continue with the patient," he continued, showing the nurse what to do with Arthur's abdomen.

As the doctor went into the hallway, the twenty-two year old Lydia Petersen knelt down and moved over to tend to Arthur Jensen. She sent a long, warm smile at Anne-Katrine who was still standing in the doorway.

Whenever Anne-Katrine took her time to really look at the young, charming woman, she couldn't help but feel a wonderful pang of warmth in the pit of her stomach. Lydia had green eyes in the shade of the leaves at spring and strawberry-blond hair the shade of the leaves at fall. And better yet, she was hers.

The attraction between them had been instant when they had first met at the 1937 Harvest Fair. Anne-Katrine had sprained a finger in a beer keg-throwing contest and Lydia had been an apprentice nurse. They both had a supposedly dark secret of not harboring any attraction to men though they were expected to, but there was no need for secrets when they were together. For months, they could only meet under shady pretenses, but their hidden romance blossomed.

Anne-Katrine knew that village gossip would be the death of their relationship, so she did everything she could to keep it all under lock and key. The charade they had needed to perform the night they slept together for the first time had been worthy of an acting award. But when such a medical crisis arose, how could she not call Doctor Meincke and the charming nurse Petersen?

She smiled and pulled up her coarse workpants so she could kneel down next to Lydia. She put a hand on the nurse's back and enjoyed the quiet sigh the young woman let out at the touch. "How is my brother, Nurse Petersen?" she said formally. While she spoke, she rubbed her callused thumb across Lydia's back in a far more tender gesture.

"In a bad state, I'm afraid," Lydia said in her characteristic rich voice that sounded like it should come from a larger, older woman. "He's in terrible pain and the morphine Doctor Meincke injected earlier doesn't seem to help much."

"Damn," Anne-Katrine said and rubbed her mouth. It was clear by the strained look on her brother's face that he wouldn't be able to add his two cents' worth to the conversation. "Does the Doctor know what's wrong?"

"Appendicitis," Lydia said with a wistful smile.

"Damn. Such rotten timing… Arthur has always excelled at that."

In the hallway, the word 'appendicitis' was repeated into the telephone. "Yes, that's right, Sergeant Mehlborg," the doctor said, "I'm afraid Arthur Jensen is of no more value to you right now than a bent coin. Yes. No, that's out of the question, Sergeant, war or no war."

Anne-Katrine and Lydia gave each other worried looks. They were too young to remember the Great War, but they had both read newspaper reports and seen weekly newsreels on the horrors and atrocities that had been committed in the Spanish Civil War, not to mention the blitzkrieg against Poland in September of 1939.

"What do you think will happen when the Germans come?" Lydia asked quietly.

Anne-Katrine sighed deeply and once again put her hand on Lydia's back. "I don't know, dearest. Not too much, I hope. Arthur was in Flensburg just south of the border in January, and he said everything was… well, he said it was just like always though there was a strong military presence."

Right on cue, Arthur began to moan, and Lydia tended to him by putting a cool, damp cloth across his forehead.

Once she was done, she leaned back and let out a short sigh. "Of course, some say the Germans will come as our protectors against the warmonger Churchill and the Bolsheviks from the east. I've heard several people in town say that."

"Lydia, please tell me you don't believe that nonsense!" Anne-Katrine said darkly. "If we are invaded, I'll guarantee you that… that the Huns will show their true face within a few months. Like we saw in the newsreel from Poland… remember that?  An entire village razed to make a statement."

"I believe you… and I never listen to the town gossip, Anne-Katrine," Lydia said and put a calming hand on her partner's thigh.

In the hallway, Doctor Meincke finished the call and hung up. "Well," he said, moving into the doorway. As he did so, Lydia pulled her hand back in a flash. "The good Sergeant Mehlborg wasn't particularly pleased with the situation, but I told him that it had been our Lord's decision, and that He outranked him. The Sergeant didn't seem particularly pleased with that, either." The doctor let out a rumbling chuckle that made his whiskers move around.

"I'm afraid that Sergeant Mehlborg doesn't possess a sense of humor, Doctor," Anne-Katrine said, thinking back to the only time she had met the dour soldier. He had visited the farm for a box of eggs and some fine, white meat from a chicken, but had left behind a poor impression.

"Oh, and the Sergeant said his unit would use the side road just outside to travel south, so they will be by at some point in case your brother's health improves…"

"There's not much chance of that," Anne-Katrine said quietly, looking at Arthur's drawn face.

"No. May I slip past you, please?" the doctor said and moved into the narrow bedroom. After moving past Anne-Katrine and Lydia, he sat down on a chair that had been put next to the top end of the bed so he was close to the patient. "There isn't much we can do until the ambulance arrives. It should only be another fifteen minutes or so. Miss Jensen, could I persuade you to make a pot of good, strong coffee while we wait?  I could certainly use some."

"I'm afraid we're all out, Doctor Meincke," Anne-Katrine said and rose from her spot. She dusted off her hands on her pants and offered the doctor an apologetic shrug. "I was supposed to go into town today to pick up some more, but…"

"Oh!  Oh, drat," Doctor Meincke said and shuffled around on the chair with a disappointed look on his face. "Well, all right. Next time, eh?"

"Certainly, Doctor Meincke. Would you like a dram instead?"

"It's tempting, but I better not." Looking at his patient, Doctor Meincke grunted and rolled down his shirtsleeves. "Nurse Petersen, I don't need you at the moment. Why don't you go into the sitting room and share some gossip with Miss Jensen?  I'm sure you ladies can find a topic worthy of your time. It will also spare my ears."

"Yes, Doctor Meincke," Lydia said with a brief curtsey. Turning around, she smiled broadly at Anne-Katrine and put a hand around the older woman's waist to guide her out of the cramped bedroom.


Anne-Katrine took the kerosene lamp and walked down the short hallway to the sitting room. Opening the door, she reached inside and flicked the light switch to exploit all the electricity she could before the Germans had a chance to take down the power lines. A dim bulb came alive in the ceiling in an old, converted kerosene lamp similar to the one she carried.

She put the lamp on a sideboard and closed the door behind Lydia. The nurse had barely stepped into the room before she was swept up in Anne-Katrine's strong arms and held impossibly tight. "You are so pretty today, dearest," Anne-Katrine whispered, leaning down to place a soft kiss on her partner's forehead.

"Thank you… but I know it's not true," Lydia whispered back. "I didn't even have time to brush my hair when your call came. Doctor Meincke and I just burst out of bed, jumped into our clothes and ran out to his Ford A."

Anne-Katrine smiled and kissed the shorter woman's forehead again. "Hopefully you didn't burst out of the same bed…?"

Lydia returned the smile and wrapped her hands around Anne-Katrine's strong, shirt-clad waist. They stood like that for a short while until the question was burning in the air between them. "My entire life, I've only shared a bed with two people. My sister when we were small… and you. Does that answer your question?"

"It does," Anne-Katrine said and ran a callused thumb across Lydia's delicate eyebrows. The touch made both women smile and move closer to one another.

Lydia cast a glance at the door before she continued in a deeper register. "Sometimes at night… when I'm all alone, I pretend you're with me. I pretend that we make love like the first time. I pretend that we could be open about our love and stroll arm in arm along the stores on the square… I know the latter will never happen. The first two… the first two will happen again, or my name isn't Lydia Petersen."

"I'll do my part too," Anne-Katrine said with a chuckle.

"Please kiss me before it's too late."

The plea was too heartfelt to ignore, so Anne-Katrine leaned down and claimed her partner's lips in a strong, loving kiss. Because they couldn't kiss often, she was always stunned at how wonderful it felt to share such sweetness with the woman who held the key to her heart. The silky softness of Lydia's lips was matched by a faint moan that escaped her throat. The bliss was only challenged by the tip of a cheeky tongue that tried to crash the party.

Lydia grinned at the surprised look on her lover's face, but the smile faded when they broke off the sweet contact at the thought that no one could predict when they would have another chance to kiss. Sighing, she leaned her forehead against Anne-Katrine's chest. "Thank you… that was beautiful. I love you."

"You're welcome… and I love you too," Anne-Katrine said and led Lydia over to one of the two dark-brown chairs that were standing around a circular smoking table near the cast iron stove.

Lydia folded her uniform and sat down with her legs closed and crooked to the side like any lady should.

The sitting room wasn't large, but it was cozy and just right for everyday use. The stately dining room - which was beyond a closed door at the other end of the smaller room - was only used for Sunday dinners and special events.

The half-timbered farmhouse hadn't changed much since it had been built in 1879, so the floor and the ceiling of the small room were made of shaved planks. The walls were raw bricks padded with a thick layer of bright white plaster to keep out the cold. Faded pictures of the family going back to the mid-1860s adorned the walls in wooden, utilitarian frames next to a newer portrait of King Christian the Tenth.

The single window in the sitting room was still covered by the lacy curtains Anne-Katrine's mother had put up when she had moved in after getting married. Anne-Katrine wasn't much for girly business like sewing, keeping flowers or collecting knick-knacks so all she had done to the living room was to tie the curtains together so they wouldn't be at risk when she and her brother sat at the smoking table with their cards or dice.

Time had passed the room by, except for the electrical lamp in the ceiling, a tick-tocking grandfather clock at the far wall, and a newfangled radio in a shiny mahogany cabinet that stood proudly on a lacy place mat on a sideboard.

Anne-Katrine put her hands on her hips and let out a long, deep sigh. "Dearest Lydia, I haven't shed blood, sweat and tears from dawn to dusk only to let the Germans come and take or destroy everything. I want to defend my home… my country. You."

"Oh, Anne-Katrine, I wish you wouldn't speak like that," Lydia said and sat up straight. "We talked about it when the war broke out last fall, remember?  Wars should be fought by men. Apart from the sterling work done by the nurses of the Red Cross, there is simply no room for a woman at the front. Firing weapons, killing people… ghastly. And the risk of paying the ultimate price is far too great."

"I understand that's how you feel. I hope you understand why I feel differently," Anne-Katrine said in a softer voice. "I know I can shoot just as well as my brother, if not better. I can ride a motorcycle, I can drive a team of horses or oxen…. and cars and trucks… if only I could do a little thing to help the soldiers, I would be a happy woman. Perhaps somewhere in the supply lines… oh, it's no use, I know."

Anne-Katrine sighed and reached for a pack of Bristol Favorites cigarettes and an old-fashioned lighter. She lit up and blew out a cloud of pale gray smoke with a pensive look on her face.

Lydia opened her mouth to reply, but she was cut off by Doctor Meincke knocking on the door. "Are you ladies still gossiping?" he said, peeking around the door.

"It's safe to come in, Doctor. Nurse Petersen and I were discussing the state of the world. I have a light if you wish to smoke a pipe while we wait for the ambulance," Anne-Katrine said and held up the lighter.

"Oh!  I could certainly use a pipe, but I'm afraid I don't have time for a proper round of tobacco. Perhaps you could offer me a cigarette instead?" the doctor said and stepped into the sitting room. Lydia had already relinquished her chair, but Doctor Meincke waved at her and sat down on the second chair.

"By all means, Doctor Meincke," Anne-Katrine said and held out the pack of Bristols for the older man. When the doctor took one, she offered him a light. Soon, two clouds of pale gray smoke rose to the low ceiling. Lydia was offered a cigarette as well, but she declined politely.

Anne-Katrine needed the soothing qualities of the cigarette to quell the storm that brewed inside her. The Sergeant's words had sent her stomach into an incessant churning, and she shuffled over to the window to glance outside. It was still too dark to see anything, but she sensed there was an unnatural calm in the air.

Clearing his throat, Doctor Meincke moved around to face his two companions. He held the cigarette in a humorous, old-fashioned way between his index and middle finger. "If the Germans really have broken the non-aggression treaty set up by Foreign Secretary Munk and the German emissary Ribbentrop only last year, they must have a really good reason. Perhaps they were secretly invited?"

"Invited?" Anne-Katrine said darkly. "Hardly, Doctor. They're here to invade us."

"Miss Jensen, I do not share your pessimistic view of the situation," the doctor said and knocked off some ash into a metal tray on the smoking table. "In any case, I have a feeling we shall all remember this date. April 9th, 1940."

"If we do, let's hope it'll be for something humorous and positive," Lydia said with a smile. Even as she said it, she realized from the dark looks on the faces of the people around her that her wish was perhaps a bit too naïve. She quickly looked down and folded her hands in her lap.

When a pained moan was suddenly heard from down the hallway, Doctor Meincke rose and stubbed out his cigarette in a hurry. "Please excuse me, ladies," he said and left the sitting room.

Anne-Katrine sighed once more and walked over to the smoking table. She sat down at the chair vacated by the doctor and reached out in the hope that Lydia would take her hand. The two women briefly looked at each other before Lydia did reach out and gave the offered hand a strong squeeze.

"Thank you for not scoffing at me before, sweetheart. It was a childish wish, I realize that now," Lydia said quietly.

"I'd never do that. Never." Nothing more needed to be said, and Anne-Katrine didn't.


A short fifteen minutes later, the shrill ringing of the ambulance's brass bell could be heard from kilometers away. The ringing came closer and closer until it finally arrived at the Jensen farm - once there, the driver's assistant mercifully switched off the electrical clapper.

While Anne-Katrine opened the front door and stepped out onto the courtyard with a kerosene lamp to add some light to the proceedings, the driver turned the huge, unwieldy Packard ambulance around and reversed in through the narrow gate that had been built for horse-driven, not horse-less carriages.

The uneven cobblestones in the courtyard made the ambulance sway and creak, and the driver decided that enough was enough and pulled it to a halt - he and his assistant would have to carry the stretcher the rest of the way.

The two men who both wore the characteristic black uniforms of the Zone Ambulance Services - caps with shiny peaks, double-breasted shirts, riding breeches and long-shafted boots - stepped out and opened the Packard's rear hatch. "This better be the Jensen farm," the driver said in a broad accent that revealed he wasn't a local. He was a square-built man in his mid-thirties, but his assistant was several years younger; a lanky youngling with a long face and an Adam's apple that bobbed up and down even as he breathed.

"It is," Anne-Katrine said, making way for the men who carried the stretcher. "In here… to the right. Can it fit?"

A loud whack-thump! proved that it couldn't, but the woodwork at the doorjamb wasn't any worse for wear. The two men inched their way through the door and down the short hallway. The stretcher couldn't enter the narrow bedroom, but Lydia and the doctor had Arthur on his feet, and they were slowly moving out into the hallway.

"Here we go… here we go… just another step, Arthur," Lydia said with a firm grip on her dazed patient's left arm so she wouldn't add pressure to the abdomen. The morphine had kicked in at the worst possible moment, and Anne-Katrine's brother was so far gone he couldn't even moan. "Just another step and you're there… here we are… yes, sit down… you can sit down on the stretcher now, Arthur."

Doctor Meincke took the patient's other hand and guided the woozy man the last of the way onto the stretcher. "All right, gentlemen," he said and dusted off his hands once Arthur was lying down. "It's acute appendicitis. He needs to undergo urgent surgery so you must to drive him to the municipal hospital. Any questions?"

"Are you coming with us, Doctor Meincke?" the driver of the ambulance said.

"No. Nurse Petersen and I shall follow in my car."

"Very well, Doctor Meincke." The driver nodded at his assistant who leaned down and took the foot end of the stretcher. Together, they fumbled back out into the courtyard where Anne-Katrine held the door open so it wouldn't be thumped into again.

She walked beside the stretcher over to the ambulance while she held up the kerosene lamp to aid the two men in their task. The look of her deathly pale brother who was so foggy he didn't show any signs of recognizing her caused a dark mask of worry to form on her face. Narrowing her eyes, she tried to imprint every part of her brother's features into her memory in case fate swung its scythe before she could get a chance to see him again.

As the ambulance driver and his assistant wheeled in the stretcher and shut the rear hatch, a warm hand snaked its way around Anne-Katrine's shirt-clad waist. She held the kerosene lamp away so the gate fell into shadows. She didn't need the light to know who it was, and she didn't want to show the two men the true nature of the relationship she shared with Lydia.

Protected by the shadows in the dark gate, the nurse nudged her body up against that of the taller woman to show her support. She gave the firm waist another squeeze and leaned in to briefly rest her head on a soft shoulder. "It'll be all right," she whispered for Anne-Katrine's ears only. "Doctor Meincke is a good man and a clever doctor. Arthur will be all right."

"By God, I hope so," Anne-Katrine replied in a matching whisper.

The driver started the Packard and drove back out of the narrow gate and onto the road. There, the assistant made the brass bell ring two short stabs to let everyone know an ambulance was about to join the traffic - of course, they were the only traffic for kilometers in every direction. It didn't take long for the black van to disappear into the early morning mist.

Behind Anne-Katrine and Lydia, Doctor Meincke started his Ford A and drove around the courtyard to get to the gate. The old car with its old-fashioned suspension was able to navigate the cobblestones far better than the newer ambulance, but the engine ran rough because of the chilly temperatures. "Hop in, Nurse Petersen," the doctor said through the opened window.

Lydia gave Anne-Katrine's waist another squeeze before she curtseyed at the farmer like any nurse would. She hurried around the Ford and opened the door. Climbing up into the uncomfortable seat that she had to share with the doctor's bag, she closed the rattling door behind her and offered Anne-Katrine a little wave that was responded to in kind.

"Miss Jensen, I promise I'll call you as soon as your brother has come out of surgery," the doctor said as he fished for a gear. "I can't say exactly when it'll be, but my best guess is around lunch or so. Perhaps sooner. Perhaps later."

"I'll be grateful for any news, Doctor Meincke," Anne-Katrine said and ran a hand through her short, dark hair. She grunted and shuffled over to the Ford to shake the doctor's hand. "Thank you for coming all the way out here. And you, Nurse Petersen."

"Goodbye for now, Miss Jensen," Lydia said and waved again.

"Goodbye, Miss Jensen," the doctor said. After finding a gear, he drove off and left behind a cloud of steam and exhaust fumes. The rough engine echoed through the narrow gate, and Anne-Katrine could continue to hear it for several minutes as it went along the road back towards town.

A modicum of peace returned to the Jensen farm. Anne-Katrine let out a deep sigh and shuffled back to the farmhouse to clean up the mess her brother had made, and get started on the day's chores and other regular business.


Back inside the hallway, she put down the kerosene lamp on the sideboard and took the old-fashioned horn off the telephone. She couldn't remember the number for their hired help, so she had to pull out a drawer to look at the single-page list of telephone numbers for the entire region.

"Atlas zero one four," she mumbled, closing the drawer. "Hello operator?" she said loudly into the horn.

'The operator is ready. Good morning,' a young female voice said at the other end of the line.

"Good morning, Birthe. Will you please connect me to Atlas zero one four?"

'Atlas zero one four… it's ringing. Please wait. Anne-Katrine, is that you? Oh, have you heard the latest?  The Germans have broken through in four different places!  The border stations at Padborg, Kruså, Rens and Sæd have been overrun!'

"I've heard. Is it still ringing?"

'Still ringing. Oh, Anne-Katrine, what do you think will happen?  There was a really, really loud alarm earlier at the garrison. Soldiers have been swarming out all morning… the post office is right next to it so I've literally been hanging out the window to get a good look at it all. Bicycles, motorcycles, trucks, everything. Some should come past you soon. Have you seen any Germans yet?  Have you heard any airplanes yet where you are?'

"I haven't a clue what'll happen, and I haven't heard anything. Birthe-"

'It's still ringing. I'm really worried, Anne-Katrine… what if they'll bomb us like they did in Warsaw?'

"There's nothing to bomb out here in the countryside and I doubt they'll want to waste their expensive bombs on our little town, garrison or not… please calm down. Do you have a radio there?"

'Yes, but it's turned off.'

"I would imagine King Christian or the Prime Minister will broadcast an update at some point."

'Oh… good thinking, Anne-Katrine!  I better turn it on at once…'

"Wait, Birthe… is it still-"

'Yes, it's still ringing. Oh… here Poul is now. Go ahead, Poul. Bye-bye, Anne-Katrine!'

"Goodbye, Birthe… Poul?"

The tired, inarticulate grunts that came out of the hired hand's mouth proved he had been sleeping like most citizens would at five to five in the morning. A wide yawn broke through the telephone line that he didn't even try to hide. 'Uh… pardon me. Good morning. Is… is something wrong, Miss Jensen?'

"I'm afraid so," Anne-Katrine said and turned around so she could lean her rear against the sideboard. "My brother has been taken to hospital with acute appendicitis. I need you to come out here sooner than agreed upon today. At once, actually. When can you be here?"

'Oh, forty minutes or so, Miss Jensen.'

"All right. I'll see you then. Goodbye, Poul."

'Goodbye, Miss Jensen.'

"And goodbye to you too, Birthe… I know you've been listening in," Anne-Katrine said and put the horn back on the hook. She just had time to hear a girlish snicker before the connection was cut off. The news of her brother's illness would reach even the farthest outskirts of their little town within half an hour, but there was nothing she could do about that. If nothing else, it simply underlined the dangers of being too open with regards to Lydia.

Sighing, she took the kerosene lamp and moved into the sitting room where she clicked off the light before she walked down to her brother's bedroom to change the sheets.


Later, she donned her clog-boots and her flat cap and ventured back out into the early morning chill carrying a small crate padded with straw. Her mission was to retrieve the freshly laid eggs from the chicken coop, but she couldn't help but look up at the sky that was still dark but growing brighter by the minute. There weren't yet any signs of enemy airplanes, but the day continued to have an eerie calm about it that reminded her of the quiet before a storm.

She had barely reached the chicken coop before a sound akin to a heavy breeze reached her ears. It came from the road, and she hurriedly put down the crate for the eggs and ran across the cobblestones; not an easy task in clogs. She ran through the gate and onto the road where she just caught the tail end of a small unit of Danish soldiers on bicycles rushing south.

"Must be my brother's company," Anne-Katrine mumbled. "Sergeant Mehlborg's unit. He said they would be by. Dammit, I… I wish I could go with them." Putting her hands on her hips, she looked up and down the road to see if further bicycle platoons would come past, but it appeared Sergeant Mehlborg's would be the only one.

She sighed and turned around to go back into the courtyard. Above the gate, a row of brass letters spelled out that the farm had been built in 1879, at a time when the entire surrounding land had been under Prussian rule following the Danish defeat in the bloody war of 1864. It hadn't even been a generation since the Germans had been forced to give up the land in 1920 following their own defeat in the Great War. "And I'll be damned if Adolf thinks I'm just going to let him have it again without a fight!" she growled, clenching her fists.

The eggs beckoned, and she stomped back through the gate and into the courtyard to resume her duties.


The numerous things that needed to be done on a daily basis on any farm had very little respect for the political aspects of the world - thus, Anne-Katrine donned a leather apron and walked into the cowshed to milk the twelve cows she owned with her brother. When their parents had been alive, they'd had a larger herd but the crisis years following the Great Depression had gradually put an end to large, privately owned farms. They had already been at twelve cows by the time of the fatal accident, and Anne-Katrine and Arthur had agreed to stay at that number.

They kept their cows well. In the summer, the animals roamed freely on the grassy meadows around the farmhouse, and in the winter, they stayed in a sturdy cowshed with plenty of hay on the floor. The results came in the shape of the many full buckets of steaming, off-white milk that were produced every morning and evening. The cow Anne-Katrine worked on moo'ed joyfully at being milked, and she chuckled as she worked the teats with her skilled hands.

Soon, she was able to move another full bucket over to the wall so it was out of harms' way. On her way back, she took an empty bucket and her footstool and moved down to the next cow in the line.

'Miss Jensen?' a male voice said from outside in the courtyard.

"In the cowshed, Poul!" Anne-Katrine said loudly, squeezing the contents of a teat into the bucket. The cow she was working on moo'ed in surprise at hearing the loud noise right next to it, but Anne-Katrine patted the large, dark red flank to keep it calm.

Her hired help, the forty-four year old Poul Nedergaard, hobbled past the sliding door and into the cowshed. As always, the man with the club foot and the scruffy appearance was wearing orthopedic boots, dark blue workpants and a sturdy jacket over a tan shirt. He took off his flat cap as he entered the stables to reveal his thinning hair. "Good morning, Miss Jensen. I'm really sorry to hear about your brother's illness," he said in his typically strong local dialect.

"Thank you, Poul," Anne-Katrine said between squeezing the teats. "Yes, that was an ugly surprise. We had gone to bed at nine as always, but his pitiful cries woke me up just after three. Nasty business. Fortunately Doctor Meincke was able to come at once. Which reminds me, thank you for coming so much earlier."

"Oh, don't mention it. The missus made me a quick breakfast so I'm all right. Have you had any yet, Miss Jensen?"

"No, and we're all out of coffee, too. I was planning on driving to town to get some, but with all this hubbub, I don't think I'll ever get around to it."

"Have you heard anything about the Germans?  Have they really invaded us?"

"Well, I spoke to Sergeant Mehlborg earlier and he said so. Beyond that, I don't know anything apart from what Birthe told me," Anne-Katrine said as she squeezed a teat. "I suspect she told you the same."

"Yes… I hope it's merely an evil rumor. My grandfather was fifteen during the war of 1864, and the stories he told me when I was a young boy… no, they're too gruesome for a woman to hear."

Anne-Katrine raised an eyebrow at the words, but decided to let it slide. "Tell you what, Poul," she said and moved the next full bucket of milk over to the wall, "why don't you carry on here while I pour the first buckets into the milk churns. When we're done, I'll call the dairy plant and ask them to send over the truck a little early today. We wouldn't want to let the good milk go to waste… and we need the money. We can sweep the courtyard while we wait for the truck to arrive."

"Yes, Miss Jensen. I'll get on it right away," Poul Nedergaard said and hobbled over to the wall of the cowshed to get the second apron. Before he made it there, he stopped and cocked his head like he was listening for something.

Anne-Katrine was about to ask what he was doing when she heard it too - an odd drone that seemed to come from the air. Even the moo'ing of the cow she had just finished milking couldn't drown out the continuous noise from the outside.

Poul moved open the sliding door and hobbled out into the courtyard. Two seconds later, his panicky voice rang loud and clear through the cowshed: 'Anne-Katrine!  Come quick!  Airplanes… dozens of airplanes!'

"Bloody hell!" Anne-Katrine barked and hurried out of the cowshed. Outside, the metallic drone was far louder, and a look at the skies revealed why.

High above them, countless military aircraft flew north and north-east; the white-and-black crosses on the underside of the wings proved they were German. Some had two engines, others had three. Those that had three were slower and seemed less dangerous.

"Heinkel One-Elevens," Poul said and pointed up at the faster, twin-engined aircraft. "They're bombers. I remember that shape from the newsreels. They were used in Spain and Poland as well."

"Dammit… bombers?  They're headed north-east… perhaps Odense or Copenhagen?" Anne-Katrine said, scouting the heavens while she spoke. As far as her eyes would allow her to see, more aircraft followed those that had already gone past. Now and then, nimbler fighters zoomed between the heavier planes to provide close air support in case the Royal Danish Air Force would scramble to intercept them.

"Could be… the others are Junkers Fifty-twos. Transport planes. Perhaps troop carriers?  In any case, they're headed north… perhaps to Kolding or Vejle… or maybe Aarhus or Aalborg?  There's a large military airfield up there."

Anne-Katrine sighed deeply and took off the apron. The sight and sound of the aircraft high above whipped her blood into a frenzy and she responded by throwing the leather apron onto the dusty courtyard. "Bloody hell!" she growled, clenching her fists.

An idea suddenly came to her with such clarity she was amazed she hadn't thought of it before. Her brother had been home on leave, but he had worn his full uniform when he had arrived. He had stored everything with military precision in his closet in the bedroom, right down to the battle helmet and the spare frames of live ammunition they had been issued in view of the political situation.

Anne-Katrine became lightheaded just thinking about it, but she knew it was the right decision for her. She simply could not stand idly by and go on with her daily business while her country was overrun by the Huns. Her brother couldn't defend the country from the advancing Germans, so she had to. She had to go to war.

"Poul," she said, but her voice broke and she had to start over after clearing her throat. "Poul, I'm about to tell you something you won't like to hear. I'm… I'm going to take my brother's place in his unit. I cannot pretend that we should go on as normal. Nothing will be normal from now on, not with… with those rotten bastards up there." She made an angry gesture at the aircraft to underline her words. "I want you to finish taking care of the cows while I get dressed. Call the dairy plant and your wife if you can get through. Then I want you to stay here for the rest of the day until I return. Perhaps I won't return. In that case my brother will contact you. That's my final decision, Poul. Don't try to talk me out of it."

Poul Nedergaard wasn't in a state to make objections - all he could do was to stand all agape and stare at his employer. "But you're a woman!" he finally croaked, lifting his flat cap to rub his thinning hair.

"Frankly, that's irrelevant," Anne-Katrine said and spun around on her heel.

Without waiting for an answer, she stomped through the courtyard and into the farmhouse. She turned right and followed the hallway until she came to Arthur's bedroom. There, she strode over to the closet and swooshed the doors open. Like she had predicted, her brother's entire khaki uniform was lined up on the shelves in orderly fashion. His greatcoat was suspended from a coat hanger, and his dull brown, tall marching boots were at the foot of the closet. The standard issue M1889 rifle was leaning against the outside of the closet next to the leather backpack.

She pulled every clothing item down with little regard to the military code and carried the untidy pile into her own bedroom further down the hallway.

Once she had slammed the door shut with her heel, she shed her clogs, her pants and her shirt until she was standing in socks, bloomers and the special cloth she always had wrapped around her chest to support her breasts. Proper brassieres were too expensive and too uncomfortable to wear while working in the field or inside the stables, so she had come up with the perfect solution herself.

The first item she put on was the coarse, brass-button shirt. Though she and her brother were more or less the same size, his arms were revealed to be two centimeters longer than hers so she had to fluff the sleeves to make the cuffs fit. The high-waisted pants came next. She had a hard time screwing her wider hips into the slender cut, but she was able to close the five buttons - three in the fly, two on the waist - in good order. The suspenders were soon in place on her shapely shoulders before she reached for the tall marching boots that were mercifully her size.

Not long after, she stuck her arms down the sleeves of the double-breasted, eight-button greatcoat and closed every one of them. The leather belt with the bayonet and two pouches for ammunition and miscellany came next. The foot-long bayonet which went on the belt through a leather loop was heavy and cumbersome, and she considered leaving it behind. Weighing her options, she came to the conclusion that she would rather bring it and not need it than vice versa.

The backpack came next. She hadn't learned the special trick needed to get it in place by herself, but she managed to put her arms through the leather straps after uttering a series of mumbled and increasingly inventive cusswords.

Fully equipped, she stomped back to Arthur's bedroom and took the battle helmet and the gloves. The heavy steel helmet felt like a ton of lead on her dark locks and would take some getting used to, but she didn't have time for little things like that, so she tightened the chin strap and carried on. The rifle was next.

Reaching down next to the closet, she took the standard issue rifle with the one hundred and thirty-three centimeters long barrel. She checked the bolt action. It was ready, and so was she. She put the rifle over her shoulders with the weapon in front like she had seen her brother do many times. Once everything was in place, she took the bag with the spare frames and put it over her other shoulder.

She came to a halt and stared into the mirror that happened to hang on the wall opposite her. A fully armed and operational soldier looked back at her; a soldier who had her eyes and her features.

The insanity of the situation caught up with her and she had to take a few deep breaths before she could carry on. Her national pride gave her enough impetus to continue with her task though there was a grave risk she wouldn't come back from the front. Looking away from the mirror, Anne-Katrine stepped out into the hallway and closed the door softly behind her.

Instead of going out into the courtyard, she slipped into the sitting room and took a pack of Bristol Favorites and a matchbook that she put in her pouch for miscellany. She was about to leave when she reconsidered and found a piece of writing paper and a fountain pen. Furrowing her brow, she jotted down a few thoughts for her brother and Lydia - just in case.


She found Arthur's standard issue bicycle next to the woodshed. He had spent a great deal of time polishing it and oiling the chain the day before so it would be ready in case he had to leave in a hurry, and thus, it moved without a squeak.

The cobblestones in the courtyard didn't offer a suitable terrain for bicycling, so she pulled the dull khaki bike through the gate and out onto the road before she swung her leg over the frame and got ready to leave her birthplace.

The activity meant that Paul Nedergaard came back out from the cowshed, but the deeply concerned look on his face didn't need many words of explanation.

"Goodbye for now, Poul," Anne-Katrine said as she adjusted the heavy steel helmet so it was on just right. "I hope we shall meet again… but if we don't, I want to tell you that you've been a good, solid man to have at the farm. You needn't worry about finding work if you wish to move on. I've written a letter of recommendation that's in the top drawer underneath the radio. Anyway, I'm sure my brother will continue to employ you once he returns from the hospital."

"Thank you, Miss Jensen… please be safe," Poul said and wrung his flat cap between his fingers.

Anne-Katrine chuckled darkly and started treading the pedals to get up to speed. "I'll try, Poul," she said over her shoulder. Soon, she was on her way, going in the same direction that she had seen Sergeant Mehlborg's unit take earlier.



Twenty past five, Anne-Katrine worked the pedals hard to catch up with her brother's unit. The heavy, cumbersome uniform bothered her, and she sweated like a pig underneath the warm greatcoat. The rifle she carried across her chest interfered with her arms, and she couldn't help but wonder if the person ordering it to rest there had spent as much as a minute on a bicycle.

The trip was undertaken in an eerie silence apart from the monotonous singing from the bicycle's wheels as they drove along the road. The enemy aircraft had long since left her area behind, and it seemed like she was the only living being for kilometers. Looking over the misty fields surrounding her that were all painted in shades of gray with only the faintest traces of paler colors, she found it hard to believe the country was really under threat from an advancing army - the sights, the sounds and even the smells of wet soil and distant farms were like they had always been.

She drove in the middle of the road for most of the time except when she crested small hills. The terrain she was going through wasn't undulating as such, but even the smallest hill seemed like a mountain to her due to the heavy load she had to carry, and she needed to tread the pedals extra-hard to keep a steady pace.

Free-wheeling down the far side of one of those hills, she could hear a well-tuned engine of some kind moving up behind her. She grunted and waved her arm while she swerved to the side of the road to make way.

When nothing happened, she looked over her shoulder at the fair stretch of empty road that lay behind her with no traffic whatsoever. "What the blazes?" she mumbled, once again looking ahead to keep an eye on the gently winding road.

Two minutes later, the incident was repeated as she went up another small hill, but this time she knew exactly what was going on. A short kilometer to the east of her, a twin-engined German fighter with a long, sleek fuselage rushed towards her at tree-top altitude.

"Oh, sweet mother of Jesus!" she cried and aimed for the ditch on the right-hand side of the road. Her feet fumbled with the pedals and she nearly took a tumble on the hard asphalt. She finally came to a stop and threw the bike and herself into the ditch where she buried her face in the dirt and tried to become one with the ground.

Moments later, the fighter screamed past seemingly only meters above her head. She hugged her battle helmet and let out a surprised cry at how loud such a fighter plane actually was at that close distance. Looking up once it had flown past, she saw the enemy aircraft going a kilometer or so towards the west before it gained altitude and began to swing north.

She whipped off her rifle and worked the action. At that distance, it would obviously be impossible for her to hit anything, but she moved the rifle up to her shoulder and tried to aim at the fighter in case it returned.

Anne-Katrine stayed in her ditch for what she felt was half a lifetime - in fact, only four minutes went by. The fighter was gone, but she knew it could return all too quickly if the pilot had spotted her and had recognized the silhouette of a soldier.

Letting out a nervous burst of air, she moved up to sit on her knees and put the stock of the rifle down on the ground. She craned her neck in all directions for another minute before she came to the conclusion that she really was alone. "Anne-Katrine Jensen, was this such a good idea?" she mumbled as she put the rifle around her neck, dusted off the greatcoat and began to climb back up onto the road with the bicycle.

She pulled it up to the crest of the hill before she swung her leg over the frame and exploited the slope to get back up to speed. She was soon under way, but the incident had made her jittery and she couldn't stop checking the horizon for other enemy airplanes.

Ten minutes later, a new group of the heavy three-engined transport airplanes appeared above her, but she knew they were flying too high to be able to see her. She counted twenty-four aircraft before the group left her behind. This time, they hadn't been protected by fighters. "Is that a good or a bad sign?" she mumbled as she worked the pedals hard to maintain a good speed. "Maybe the fighters are tied up with the RDAF… or maybe they've already wiped them out and there's no need for air support… dammit, if I could only find Sergeant Mehlborg's unit…"

The adrenaline that had rushed through her following the incident with the low-flying fighter gradually faded away and left her legs sore from the unusual workout. She was used to being on her feet from dawn to dusk seven days a week, but she definitely wasn't used to using her thigh muscles like that - nor her neck muscles that were already complaining from wearing the heavy battle helmet.

"Oh, I'm bound to run across Mehlborg's men sooner or later," she mumbled and forced herself to tread the pedals even harder. "When the road signs say 'Berlin, two kilometers', I've gone too far…" The odd humor made her chuckle out loud and add a few more coals to the fire.


On and on she went, past countless brown, bare fields that all looked exactly the same. The winter had been a rough one with plenty of snow and icy winds, but most farmers had sowed winter crops and there were green sprouts on most of the fields. A few of them were equipped with wooden or concrete troughs, and Anne-Katrine's experienced eye told her they were used for livestock rather than crops.

The fields disappeared behind her but were soon replaced by new ones that looked just like them. The repetitive landscape continued as far as the eye could see, although her line of sight was broken by the frequent small hills.

As she crested one of those hills, she spotted a new group of enemy aircraft high in the sky above her to the south. Unlike the group she had witnessed most recently, these were the twin-engined airplanes that Poul Nedergaard had identified as bombers. They were flying at a higher altitude than most of the others, and she couldn't help but wonder if they were perhaps headed for Norway some four hundred and fifty kilometers to the north of where she was.

"Twenty… twenty-one… twenty-two…" she counted, keeping one eye on the road ahead and one eye on the planes high above. "Twenty-five… twenty-six… huh… twenty-eight. Twenty-eight bombers. Goodness me, twenty-eight bombers would be enough to wipe out even a major city." She shook her head and carried on in a darker mood than before.


A few hundred yards off the road and to the left, two men in farmers' clothing were busy cleaning a trough. When they noticed her, they put down their rakes and spades and waved at the lone soldier on the road. One of them even took off his flat cap and waved it high in the air.

Anne-Katrine waved back and trod extra-hard in the pedals to show the two men she wasn't a baby. She thought she had recognized one of them, but she wasn't sure, and she wasn't about to reveal her identity until she met up with Sergeant Mehlborg's unit - whenever that would be.


A kilometer or two further down the road, she realized she was indeed a big baby as the long ride and the heavy load had sapped her of her energy. She was able to free-wheel down a long slope, but she couldn't get her legs to co-operate for long enough to get back up the next hill.

Grunting in frustration, she slowed down and eventually came to a halt. Instead of taking a much-needed break, she continued up the hill in a slow walk. Somewhere in the middle distance, she could hear the well-tuned purr of a fighter plane's engine, but she couldn't see anything despite craning her neck in all directions.

The morning mist had lifted from the fields, but it had turned to fog and was hanging low in the air instead. Above the mass of clouds, the early morning sun was trying to poke through, but her experienced eye told her it would take a while - not the best conditions for someone who was on the lookout for enemy aircraft.

When the engine sounds came closer, she decided to take the break after all and headed for the nearest ditch. The first she found was filled with water and soggy leaves, so she shuffled further along the road until she came across a dry spot.

Anne-Katrine dragged the bicycle down the embankment and sat on a well-placed rock. She kept vigilant, but the fighter she was still able to hear didn't seem to get any closer to her.

The lack of her regular breakfast of hot coffee and sweet oatmeal was at the forefront of her mind as her stomach growled repeatedly. Her throat was as dry as sandpaper, but she hadn't thought of bringing a canteen. What she had brought was a pack of her beloved Bristol Favorites. Taking a cigarette, she struck a match and took a deep puff in the hope the nicotine would calm her churning stomach.

Sighing, she loosened the chinstrap and took off the heavy battle helmet to get some fresh air to her head and damp hair. The muscles in her neck thanked her for it, and she reached up to give herself a brief rub-down.

After a few minutes, she realized she had to make a decision: "Should I carry on and try to accomplish what I set out to do… or should I limp home with my tail between my legs like a pitiful coward…?" Mumbling, she made the cigarette bob up and down in her mouth. She picked up a stick and toyed with it, but it was only funny for a little while.

The sound of the fighter plane's engine could still be heard in her general area, but the fog made it difficult to pinpoint the exact location. At one point, it sounded like it was getting closer to her, but moments later, it went away again.

She took the cigarette out of her mouth and knocked off some ash into the ditch. 'The coward's way is the safe way,' she thought, looking at the gray landscape surrounding her, 'but if a real war happens, it will find me no matter what I do. No one will be safe under German rule… no. I set out to defend my country, and defend my country I will.'

Nodding to herself, she took a final puff on the Bristol cigarette before she stubbed it out on a rock. She got up, put the battle helmet back on and tightened the chinstrap. Since the surrounding area was quiet, she dragged the bicycle back up onto the road. Sighing, she swung her leg over the frame and began to work the pedals to carry on traveling south.


Cresting yet another hill, Anne-Katrine let out a deep sigh of relief. Some three hundred meters ahead of her, she spotted the familiar khaki colors of Danish soldiers who had set up a defensive position at a fork in the road. The narrow side road she had been using joined a wider one with better asphalt and proper white lines, and thus offered a good spot for an ambush.

The small unit had taken cover behind a pile of excavated dirt from a recent road works at the base of the fork and had set up a machine gun nest that had a perfect view towards the south across the larger road. Two men were manning that, and the rest were already in position on the ground with their rifles up and ready.

She could see the easily identifiable figure of the dour Sergeant Ernst Viggo Mehlborg standing on the right-hand side of the pile of dirt next to the riflemen. Gesticulating, he was no doubt chewing out one of the poor Privates.

The realization that it was about to get real made her heart thump faster in her chest, and she upped the bicycle's pace to get down there quicker. When she free-wheeled down the final slope, the Sergeant noticed her and waved his arm.

She got ready to get off the bicycle even while it was still running. She had barely put her boots on the ground before the Sergeant stormed over to her with a dark look on his face.

At the best of times, the thirty-three year old Sergeant was a man one shouldn't expect would understand the finer points of any kind of humor. Perpetually po-faced, Ernst Viggo Mehlborg had the disposition of a raging bull and was never afraid to show it through an impressive barrage of swearing.

He wasn't overly tall, but his broad shoulders - presently accentuated by his greatcoat - made him look like a square piece of wood with a head attached randomly on top of it. He had sharp, drawn features, and a pair of steel gray eyes that nobody wanted to look into for any length of time.

"Jensen!" he barked before he got close enough to see the truth. "You took your bloody time in gettin' here!  I knew that nonsense about the doctor was a cock-and-bull story!  Mark my words, Jensen, this will go into my report!"

Two steps later, the Sergeant came to an abrupt halt and simply stared at the soldier in front of him with a jaw that grew increasingly slack. "Anne-Katrine…?" he croaked hoarsely.

"Private Jensen reporting for duty, Sergeant Mehlborg," Anne-Katrine said and tried to perform a proper salute that she didn't quite have the hang of.

"What… in… the… seventh… layer… of hell!?" Mehlborg roared directly in Anne-Katrine's face. The outburst had been loud enough for the rest of the unit to turn around and stare.

Before Anne-Katrine had time to respond, the Sergeant grabbed her around the arm and dragged her away from the other soldiers with no regard for her well-being. When they were well out of earshot of the others, he pointed at a spot on the ground and roared "Stand to Attention!"


"Silence when I speak!  Anne-Katrine Jensen, you must be a drooling retard!  Don't you understand what we're doing here?!  Any minute, the whole bloody German army could be driving up that bloody road!" - Mehlborg pointed at the larger road they were covering - "And we have a bloody girl here playing bloody pretend!  In a stolen uniform!  That alone is a violation of the bloody military code!  It's a bloody disgrace is what it is!"


"Silence, Jensen!  Get your ass back on that bicycle and drive home!  This is about to be a real war, not some bloody ladies' tea-and-muffin party at the bloody vicarage!" Growling out loud, Mehlborg grabbed Anne-Katrine by the arm again and dragged her over to the bicycle.

By now, Anne-Katrine had lost what little patience she had and yanked her arm free of Mehlborg's grip before he could push her onto the bicycle. "Sergeant Mehlborg, I am here to defend my country!  What does it matter if I'm a man or a woman if I'm willing to go up against the enemy?"

"Jensen, I am trying to save your ass here," Mehlborg said in a darker, quieter tone. "When the Germans arrive… and mark my words, they will come up that road with an armored column a kilometer long… do you think they'll spare your life if they catch you in the crosshairs and see a woman?  If you're taken prisoner, what do you think will happen to you when they find out you're a woman?  Use your bloody head and come to your senses, Jensen!"

"I'm willing to take that risk, Sergeant!"

"You're bloody insane… a woman who wears pants and thinks she's a man. Well, you're not a man, Jensen!  And women have no place on the battlefield."

"Sergeant Mehlborg, listen to me… I can shoot just as well as my brother. Isn't that what we're here for?  I've shot crows in flight, I've shot rabbits and tiny squirrels at two hundred paces…"

"Oh!  Squirrels!?" the Sergeant said and for once looked like he had found the humor in something. "Bloody well done, Jensen, you've killed a bloomin' squirrel. Let me tell you something… these squirrels we're about to face will shoot back!  With burning hot lead that doesn't give a damn about who it kills. You have no training, no experience… nothing. You are a liability to the men here who won't have time to hold your hand and wipe your bloody tears away when the lead starts flying. Do you understand what I'm saying to you, Anne-Katrine?  Go home. Get on your bloody bicycle and go home before it's too late. And that's an order!"

The Sergeant finished his speech by grabbing the bicycle and thumping it up against Anne-Katrine's stomach. Huffing, he stomped off back to the rest of the unit who quickly turned around and looked at the road they were there to cover.

Seething didn't begin to describe the emotions that tore around inside Anne-Katrine. She clenched her jaw and ground her teeth hard so she wouldn't let out the explosive burst of vitriol that was burning at the back of her tongue.

Everything inside her demanded that she told the Sergeant a few truths about what women could really do, especially a woman who had worked as hard as any man since she had been ten years old. Common sense engaged in a fierce wrestling match with her pride, and although the tide of war swept back and forth for a while, her pride eventually won out.

Growling out loud, she stomped after the Sergeant and intercepted him at the makeshift ambush site. "Sergeant Mehlborg," she said, straining her voice so it wouldn't turn too aggressive.

The Sergeant turned around and faced her with a look that said it had better be good or else. Around them, the men snickered but kept their eyes pointed at the road.

"Sergeant, there isn't anything my brother has done at the farm that I haven't done just as well or better. I can shoot, I can drive cars and motorcycles, I have worked straight through from dawn to dusk a hundred times managing the fields and the livestock, I can grind knives and plowshares, I'm a better mechanic than everybody I know, I can dress wounds-"

"I'll bet you can sew, too!" one of the men said, earning himself a round of laughter from his comrades.

Anne-Katrine scrunched up her face and shot a fiery glare at the soldier who had scored a cheap point at her expense. It was one of her old adversaries from the region, Ole Thor Didriksen. At twenty-three, the round-faced Didriksen still lived with his mother when he wasn't in the service, and he wasn't known to be the bravest of the lot.

"Yes I can, dammit!  We all know your mama still has to do it for you!"

Now the joke was on the other shoe, and Ole Thor blushed cherry red while his comrades laughed at him. He looked straight ahead and mumbled something about women in general and Anne-Katrine Jensen in particular.

Sergeant Mehlborg watched the exchange with great interest before he held up his hands to cut off Anne-Katrine. "An impressive sales pitch, Miss Jensen. One that would have worked wonders at the Harvest Fair… but not here. The front is no place for women. Go back to your farm like I ordered you to. Now."

Anne-Katrine's jaw worked hard as she digested the Sergeant's words, but she eventually let out a sigh and nodded at Mehlborg. She would just have to find another way to fight the enemy. Before she could turn around in defeat, the familiar sounds of two Nimbus motorcycles reached their ears.

"Look sharp, men," Sergeant Mehlborg barked, looking over Anne-Katrine's shoulder at the reinforcements that crested the hill on the small side road. "It's the Senior Lieutenant. Suck in your gut, Didriksen!  And Jensen… impersonating a soldier is a punishable offense. Keep quiet and try to act like you know what you're doing!" Grunting, Mehlborg cast a hard glare at Anne-Katrine before he stomped away from her to intercept the two motorcycles.

Anne-Katrine furrowed her brow, unsure of what the arrival of an officer would mean for her. The three men on the motorcycles were in full combat uniform with additional goggles and leather gloves with cuffs that reached halfway up their arms. Both motorcycles had sidecars, but only the second one was of a regular type. The first one had been converted to a gun carriage and carried a 20mm Madsen cannon.

The Senior Lieutenant drove the motorcycle with the cannon and came to a halt next to Sergeant Mehlborg. The two men saluted each other before Mehlborg pointed at his unit - and Anne-Katrine.

The woman in the firing line gulped and scrunched up her face. She didn't know what to do with her hands, so she held them passively down her sides to make it appear she had done it all a thousand times before.

The Senior Lieutenant nodded and drove the motorcycle further down the hill towards the ambush site. He parked and got off without paying attention to Anne-Katrine at all apart from a quick salute that she tried to respond to in kind.

Sergeant Mehlborg ran next to the second motorcycle that was eventually parked behind the wall of dirt so it would be out of sight from the road. Mehlborg stomped straight past Anne-Katrine as well and went up behind the line of riflemen. "Attention!  Remain in your firing position!" he barked, turning to shoot Anne-Katrine a dark glare.

Anne-Katrine only knew vaguely what to do, but she stood up straight and kept her arms passive. She assumed a distant stare so she wouldn't appear too interested.

"Listen up, men," the officer said as he took off his goggles and gloves and put them on the motorcycle's seat. "I'm Senior Lieutenant Rudolf Preiss of the 2nd Infantry Battalion, 4th Company. I am usually not attached to your unit, but the high command is in a shambles at present so the regular detail structure has taken a hit. I am hereby assuming command over the unit until further notice."

Anne-Katrine could hear the men groaning under their breaths at the Senior Lieutenant's words and his upper-crust Copenhagen accent that clashed severely with the broader, rural dialect spoken in South Jutland. She wondered if she hadn't just gone from the frying pan and into the fire. The Senior Lieutenant was a dapper man in his early thirties with slick hair and a pencil-thin mustache that he promptly smoothed down once his hands were free. His narrow face didn't reveal too many emotions, but his eyes were alive and appeared interested in his surroundings.

"As you can see," the officer continued, "we have brought a 20mm Madsen that should be set up to cover the road. Andreasen, Larsen… see to it."

The two men who had come with the Lieutenant saluted him and began at once to roll the motorcycle with the gun carriage closer to the large pile of dirt. Two of Sergeant Mehlborg's riflemen needed to shift their position to the left to get everything to fit.

Unbuttoning his greatcoat, Senior Lieutenant Preiss produced a rolled-up wad of maps that he held up in the air. It was clear by the look on his face that it wasn't a satisfactory solution, so he moved over to the other motorcycle and spread the maps out across the wide saddle. "Sergeant Mehlborg," he said, holding his finger at the map so it wouldn't blow away.

"Sir," Mehlborg said and strode over there. Anne-Katrine kept standing where she was although she knew full well it would look peculiar and perhaps even suspicious. She glanced to her left at the soldiers, but they didn't offer much help. Ole Thor Didriksen huffed and deliberately looked away from her, but there were other faces she knew from the towns in the region that were friendlier.

"Jensen!  What are you standing there for, man?  Get into position!" Mehlborg suddenly barked, pointing angrily at the rear side of the pile of dirt.

Anne-Katrine saluted him the best she could and spun around on her heel. She strode over to the large pile of dirt and crouched down next to two other soldiers from the unit. She took off her rifle and held it ready without working the bolt action. Processing what the Sergeant had actually said to her, she came to the conclusion that Mehlborg could have sold her out, but hadn't. He had said 'man' to protect her, and she narrowed her eyes and tried to pay back the favor by looking like a consummate professional.

"Very well, Sergeant," Preiss continued, unaware that the unit he had assumed control over had a unique soldier in its midst. "Latest intelligence reports say the Germans have indeed crossed the border in four zones. Padborg, Kruså, Rens and Sæd, here, here, here and here." While he spoke, he pressed an index finger down onto the map to illustrate his words.

Sergeant Mehlborg scrunched up his face and gave his superior officer a long, dark look. Unlike the dapper Senior Lieutenant, Ernst Viggo Mehlborg was a local who had spent his entire life in the region - he didn't need someone from clear across the country to tell him where those four border stations were.

The Senior Lieutenant didn't see the look and continued: "You have chosen a good spot to set up the ambush, Sergeant Mehlborg. The field of view is excellent and the pile of dirt will give us some protection. Our orders are to stall the German progress for as long as possible. Reinforcements cannot be expected. When the situation gets too hot, we're to withdraw to the garrison where we'll make a last stand. If we're unable to make it back to the garrison, we're to find a suitable site somewhere along the way and once again engage the advancing forces."

"Yes, Sir," Mehlborg said, scrunching up his face as he looked at his meager unit that didn't have the best of reputations. The men had been called up for service in September 1939, but since then, they'd had no less than four different Company commanders who had all had different ideas as to the running of the units. The working conditions had been muddled at best, downright impossible at worst. Grunting, the Sergeant looked back at the officer. "What kind of German forces should we expect, Senior Lieutenant?"

"We can expect to face units from the Germans' 170th Division, possibly the 391st or 399th Infantry Regiments. They will most likely have armored support in the shape of light reconnaissance vehicles model Triple Two. That's where the 20mm Madsen comes in. Also, we have heard unconfirmed reports that their 11th Motorized Regiment is still south of the border moving towards Tønder in the west. Why they're late, I have no idea. Perhaps they have been held back in reserve in case the resistance will be stronger than expected. In any case, they're moving away from us so they shouldn't be a threat here."

"Light reconnaissance vehicles are manageable, Sir. Do you have any intelligence on enemy tanks?" Mehlborg said, looking from the map and down the main road that led south.

Senior Lieutenant Preiss folded up the map and stuck it inside his greatcoat. "Not concrete intelligence, Sergeant. But from what we know, several Panzer groups have formed just across the border near Flensburg in the last couple of days. Panzer mark I."

"The 20mm Madsen can't do a thing about the armor on the mark I's, Lieutenant."

"I'm aware of that fact, Sergeant Mehlborg. Let's hope they won't deploy them here," Preiss said and buttoned his greatcoat. He saluted the Sergeant and walked over to supervise his own men who were setting up the cannon.

Anne-Katrine had heard all that. She had heard it, but she didn't like it a bit. A metallic taste grew in her mouth that she knew stemmed from worry or even fear. The battle helmet suddenly weighed a ton on her head, but taking it off would be even worse as it would only draw unwanted attention to herself.

"Jensen, over here," Sergeant Mehlborg said and pointed at a spot some distance away from where the Senior Lieutenant watched his men work.

Anne-Katrine furrowed her brow and moved away from her position. She just heard Ole Thor Didriksen give her a mumbled parting shot, but she had weightier things on her mind than playing his silly games. She went over to the Sergeant and attempted to salute him.

"Stand at Attention when you're being spoken to, Jensen," Mehlborg said with a dour expression on his face. When Anne-Katrine tried the best she knew, the dour expression only grew deeper and more resigned. "Never mind… bloody civilians."

The Sergeant briefly glanced at the officer before he leaned in towards Anne-Katrine and spoke in a quieter tone. "Much as I would still like to send you packing, I can't do it now with the Senior Lieutenant here. You got what you wanted. I hope you won't choke on it. Mark my words, Anne-Katrine, I will be watching your every move. If you get hysterical and do anything that will endanger the lives of the men I'm responsible for, God help you. Do you understand what I'm saying?"

"Noted, Sergeant. It won't happen."

"That's easy for you to say now, Jensen. You'll sing a different song once the lead is flying, I'll guarantee it. I don't think you understand the gravity of the situation here… look around!  We are eight men. Eight thousand men may come marching up that bloody road in a little while!  So don't you dare say you won't soil your pants, because I know you will!"


"Keep your trap shut unless I ask you a question, Jensen!  When will you bloody learn to do as I tell you?!  When the fighting starts, I'm ordering you to keep far, far away from the dangers. The deepest ditch is the safest place for you. Do you understand me?"

"Yes, Sergeant."

"Good. Now get back to the unit. Don't let the Senior Lieutenant find out you're a woman. He'll take it out on me… and then I'll take it out on you."

Anne-Katrine sighed and nodded at the angry man. "Yes, Sergeant. I understand." She didn't even bother saluting the irate Mehlborg who stomped back to his unit. After a few seconds, she shuffled after him with a pit of fire burning in her stomach from the harsh treatment.

The soldiers that had arrived with the Senior Lieutenant - Karl-Bertel Andreasen and August Larsen; the cannon operator and loader, respectively - toiled away at setting up the heavy, cumbersome cannon. When it was finally in place, they found rocks and large sticks and jammed them behind the wheels of the Nimbus to prevent it from rolling backwards when it was exposed to the cannon's recoil.

The operation was completed by August Larsen running over to the second Nimbus to pick up several boxes of armor-piercing shells from the sidecar. Once he had loaded the first shell into the chamber, he and Andreasen moved behind the cannon and awaited further orders.

On the opposite side of the large pile of dirt, the machine gun - complete with a curved thirty-round magazine on top - was ready for action as well. The gun covered the same stretch of the road as the 20mm cannon but was far more mobile and could easily move from side to side as well as up and down if necessary.

Sergeant Mehlborg personally verified the machine gun and the man behind the trigger. The pile of spare magazines was given a thorough check as well, as was the soldier responsible for keeping the magazines coming during the fire fight. Satisfied, the Sergeant crawled into place behind the pile of dirt and found a pair of binoculars in his backpack. He offered Anne-Katrine a quick glare before his attention was put back on the road.

As the dour Sergeant put his arms on top of the pile of dirt and moved the binoculars slowly across the road they were monitoring, Anne-Katrine gulped heavily and clutched her rifle. She didn't have a watch with her - she had left the pocket watch she had inherited from her father at home for safe-keeping - but her gut told her the hands of time were creeping towards six o'clock.

The air still held the odd, unnatural calm that had persisted throughout the entire morning, even Anne-Katrine could feel that. The site for the planned ambush was so quiet she could hear the calm breathing of the other soldiers and the occasional, faint metallic clang when their weapons were moved. Something would be going down before too long, she was certain of that.

The distant sound of a heavy, motorized vehicle approaching slowly made her clench her jaw and await the inevitable shooting. She counted the seconds while it got closer, but she had to admit it didn't exactly sound like a modern engine like those the Germans would be expected to use. It was closer to an old, rattling truck engine - like the one that was in the flatbed truck from the dairy plant.

Soon, it was revealed she had been right. The old, lumbering truck came rumbling over the crest of the hill and down the side road behind them with a full load of milk churns. The driver activated the turning arrow and intended to turn left, towards the south. Anne-Katrine recognized the truck driver and promptly looked away so he wouldn't call her name - and her bluff - if he saw her.

Sergeant Mehlborg got up and ran over to the truck. He jumped up onto the step below the door and poked his head in through the open window. Gesticulating towards the south, he spoke to the driver for a few seconds before he jumped off and moved away. Soon, the driver of the flatbed truck drove around the unit of soldiers and turned right onto the main road instead of going south like he had wanted.

Although some dust was kicked up by the truck's tires, Anne-Katrine let out a sigh of relief. Unfortunately, her relief was short-lived as Mehlborg came back to her position and shot her a dark glare that told her in no uncertain terms that he would rather wring her neck than allow her to fight.


Several minutes later, the Sergeant grew impatient and lowered the binoculars. Grunting, he moved away from the pile of dirt and ran hunched-over to the Senior Lieutenant. He whispered something into the officer's ear that made the Lieutenant nod - which in turn made Mehlborg run back to the men.

"Everybody, stand down… but stay quiet and vigilant," he said in a calmer tone than usual.

The men - and Anne-Katrine - let out the breath they had been holding and relaxed just a little bit. Everybody continued to keep their rifles ready in case the calm was as deceptive as they expected it to be. Anne-Katrine briefly poked her head above the pile of dirt to take a look at the main road that ran past it.

From their vantage point, they had a clear view of the road for nearly a kilometer until it went out of sight over one of the numerous gentle hills that riddled the area. The vegetation along the road was scarce and consisted mostly of poorly maintained shrubbery and low bushes. There was a two-foot wide strip of grass on either side of the asphalt, but it was closer to brown than green with all the rain the area had received in the weeks leading up to the fateful day.

The road itself was wide and smooth, Anne-Katrine knew that from driving on it in a borrowed truck filled with livestock on their way to the cattle show the year before. If it was wide enough for a cattle truck, it would be wide enough for a truck carrying soldiers.

Sighing, she lowered her head and looked at the men around her. She recognized some, but not all of them. The first time her brother had been home on leave to work at the farm, he had told her that almost all of the companies at the garrison were made up of young men from all over the country - except his own unit, the 1st, which was exclusively local boys for historical reasons.

The members of the small unit were all young men in their early twenties with smooth, carefree faces that hadn't yet been marked by time or the horrors seen in combat. The chubby Didriksen she already knew, although being in the service had shaved a good number of kilograms off his gut. The next soldier, the one manning the machine gun, was a real charmer with sparkling eyes and pale brown eyebrows. The final one on the left was more boorish, with coarse features and a heavy brow. At the other side of the pile of dirt, the final man of the amputated unit had delicate features and fine, slender fingers that looked out of place holding a rifle.

Senior Lieutenant Preiss, the cannon operator Andreasen and the loader Larsen were several years older than the rest and seemed curiously misplaced in the company of the younger men.

The man behind the machine gun felt Anne-Katrine's eyes on him, and he smiled at her and reached out to offer a handshake. "Hello, Miss Jensen," he said quietly in a pleasant voice that held a moderate local dialect. "I'm Vilhelm Solbjerg-Hansen. You probably don't remember, but we met last year at the midsummer fair. I was one of the judges at the horseshoe contest that you won."

Anne-Katrine smiled and shook the soldier's hand. Winning the horseshoe-throwing competition was a fond memory for her because she had beaten a field of drunken, bragging men who had all claimed to be far better at the game than the sole 'girl.' "I'm sorry, I don't remember you… but I certainly remember the contest. Hello, Vilhelm."

Vilhelm grinned and nudged the man on his left who was responsible for loading the magazines on the machine gun. "This is Knud-Erik Kristensen… say hello to Miss Jensen, Knud-Erik."

"Hello, Miss Jensen," the boorish man said in a dialect that was appropriately heavy and slow.

Anne-Katrine smiled and reached over to shake Knud-Erik's hand as well.

"Didde-riksen you've already spoken to," Vilhelm continued, poking Ole Thor in the side which earned himself an angry grunt. "Yes Sir, our Didde-riksen certainly knows how to charm the ladies… don't you?"

The man in question rolled halfway over so he could look at Solbjerg-Hansen and Anne-Katrine. The way he furrowed his brow and broke out in an ungainly grimace when he looked the female volunteer in the eye left very little doubt as to his opinion about her and about women's place in society in general. "Shut up, Vilhelm," he growled. "I can't believe there's a girl here. Girls aren't strong enough to go to war."

"Mmmm, I don't know," Vilhelm said, winking at Anne-Katrine whose lips had moved back in a grimace matching that displayed by Didriksen, "you should have seen her at the arm wrestling contest…"

"That's not what I meant!" Didriksen said hoarsely to keep his voice down. "I mean girls aren't mentally strong enough. It's been scientifically proven that the female brain is inferior to the male brain, especially when it comes to crises and conflicts."

Now Anne-Katrine's jaw really started working. She was about to offer the little pipsqueak a large piece of her mind when she happened to cast a sideways glance at Sergeant Mehlborg who was looking back at them. She thought better of addressing the issue directly, but an evil plan did form in her mind. "I need to write that down, Didriksen…" she said with a fair amount of sugar in her voice. " 'Scientifically proven.' How do you spell that?"

"S-a-i-e-n…" Ole Thor Didriksen started, but soon discovered he didn't know how to spell it properly. "Oh, go to hell!" he growled and turned back to the road.

Vilhelm and Knud-Erik both offered Anne-Katrine a broad smile that made her feel better. Moments later, all thought of fun and games went by the wayside when they all heard an engine coming towards them from somewhere south on the main road.

"Heads down, rifles up!" Mehlborg ordered, prompting everybody to work the bolts on their rifles. "Hold your fire until my command. Let's see what's going on first."

Anne-Katrine pressed herself into the pile of dirt and slammed her eyes shut. She too held the rifle ready, but kept herself well out of sight. The engine noise came closer and closer but suddenly stopped some distance from the site of the ambush. The engine continued to idle, and Anne-Katrine thought she recognized the characteristic clattering of a two-cylinder motorcycle engine. It certainly wasn't a car, a truck or a heavier vehicle.

The tension that hung in the air between the soldiers could be cut with a knife, and Anne-Katrine began to chew on her lips. She realized the mounting tension had made her forget all about breathing, so she took in a lungful and let it out as quietly as she could.

Next to her, Sergeant Mehlborg crept up and peeked over the edge of the pile of dirt. "That's a German, all right," he whispered under his breath.

Anne-Katrine knew he was just talking to himself, but the news that the enemy had found them manifested itself like a punch in the gut. Licking her lips, she looked up at the Sergeant who was still peeking over the edge only a few feet away from her.

Out on the main road, the German revved the engine once, then a second time which made Anne-Katrine suspect he was trying to find a gear. Her theory was proven correct when the engine note changed and eventually grew more distant.

"He's going back. He never got within firing range. It was a reconnaissance patrol," Mehlborg said and slid down behind the pile of dirt. He adjusted his helmet and looked at his soldiers who all shifted around to release some of the tension while they could. "Men, I don't think he spotted us. If he had, he would have left faster. All right. That means they're coming."

Hearing that, Anne-Katrine's heart performed a thumping double-beat and she had to put a hand on her chest to get it back under control. She had been eager to defend her country - now it looked she was about to get her chance.

The Sergeant continued: "Senior Lieutenant Preiss, may I have a word?"

While Sergeant Mehlborg hurried over to the officer to discuss the details of their operation, Anne-Katrine pushed back her battle helmet and wiped her damp forehead. A cold shiver ran down her back that spread to the rest of her body until it pooled in her gut as a block of ice that slowly turned hot.

Gulping, she stared at the borrowed uniform she was wearing, at their weapons, at the motorcycles and finally at the men she shared the situation with. It finally dawned on her she was about to gain firsthand knowledge of what it was like to be in a shooting war.



When the clock hit nine minutes to six exactly, the ground started to tremble and the eerie calm was finally broken by a mounting din of metallic noise that approached from the south. The noise had a direct influence on them all, not least Anne-Katrine who clutched her rifle until her knuckles turned white. Like she had been ordered to, she pressed herself even further into the pile of dirt to be out of the firing line.

Sergeant Mehlborg and Senior Lieutenant Preiss pulled out their binoculars and studied the main road near the small hill. The fog had lifted enough for the binoculars to be effective, but the enemy hadn't yet crested the hill and come out in the open.

The engine noises were so close it was possible to discern several different vehicles. The truck engines in the group seemed to run in a low gear up the hill, but there were others that ran freer. Anne-Katrine thought she could smell the exhaust fumes, but she shook her head to get rid of the foolish notion.

"Men," the Sergeant said in a quiet but insistent tone, "they're here. Remain vigilant. Watch for air support. Jensen…"

Anne-Katrine looked at him with wide open eyes.

"That's your job. Watch the skies for enemy aircraft. Call out if you see any fighters," the Sergeant continued before he put away his binoculars and got his rifle ready.

"Yes, Sergeant Mehlborg," Anne-Katrine mumbled, clutching her own rifle.

At the 20mm cannon, Senior Lieutenant Preiss patted the shoulder of the cannon operator Andreasen and inched away from the gun so he wouldn't be impacted by the recoil when the firing would commence. The officer moved his binoculars back up and scouted the terrain and their opponents.

It wasn't long before an oddly shaped, dark-gray armored vehicle crested the hill and came their way. The first vehicle was joined by an identical one, then a few motorcycles with machine guns mounted on the sidecars, then a long line of open trucks carrying troops in the familiar gray uniforms.

"We have spotted the enemy," Preiss said to the unit. "Nine hundred meters and closing. 170th Division… 391st Regiment as predicted," he continued, studying the regimental banners and pennants flying from the two vehicles up front. "Two armored cars at the point. Reconnaissance vehicles model Triple Two. Motorcycles… then trucks. No tracked vehicles that I can see."

Down behind the pile of dirt, Anne-Katrine's heart thumped so hard in her chest that she was sure the rest of the unit would be able to hear it. If nothing else, Sergeant Mehlborg would notice and chew her out like he had threatened to do if she ever got hysterical. She glanced over at the Sergeant, but the dour man was too busy following the events out on the road to notice. The other soldiers were tense but calm, except for Ole Thor Didriksen who couldn't lie still behind his rifle.

"Get ready, everybody. Hold your fire until the enemy is within range," Senior Lieutenant Preiss continued.

The response from Sergeant Mehlborg was a grumbled "But of course!" that made his men shift around nervously - Anne-Katrine included.

The Senior Lieutenant hadn't noticed the small jab at him and leaned down towards the cannon operator of the 20mm Madsen cannon. "Andreasen… single shots only to save ammunition. Armor-piercing shells. Make them count."

"Yes, Sir," Karl-Bertel Andreasen said, moving even closer behind the large, circular fore sight. Behind him, the loader August Larsen was already holding the next shell.

Just when Anne-Katrine thought it couldn't get any more dangerous, her shoulder was squeezed by the dapper Senior Lieutenant who leaned down towards her. "I can see you're afraid, son. Don't be ashamed, we're all nervous. It's God's way of telling us to be ready for the fight," he said in a fatherly tone.

"Uh… yes, Sir. Thank you, Sir," Anne-Katrine replied. She tried to speak in a deep, manly register, but her voice trembled too much. Preiss just smiled at her and gave her shoulder another squeeze before he moved back over to the right-hand side of the pile of dirt.

Anne-Katrine rolled her eyes and let out a sigh of relief. She continued to scan the skies like the Sergeant had ordered her to, but the fog had turned into a low cloud cover that obscured most of the view.


"Three hundred meters and closing," Senior Lieutenant Preiss said but didn't add the expected order to fire.

Anne-Katrine's breath came in short, shallow bursts. She forced herself to close her mouth and breathe through her nose so she wouldn't look like a panting, terrified little lap dog. Her heart hadn't let up its forced cadence and was trying to beat its way out of her chest. Every muscle inside her was clenched, and she could almost feel how a projectile would drill its way through her flesh and bones. She looked around at the others to see how they were coping and saw to her great surprise that the men were still calm, if tense.

"Andreasen," the officer continued in a quiet, insistent voice, "commence firing."

"Sir," the cannon operator said and aimed the cannon at the first of the two armored reconnaissance vehicles.

The world seemed to come to a standstill for Anne-Katrine in the seconds before Andreasen executed the order. When the 20mm Madsen cannon fired, it did so with a vicious, growling bark that was far louder than she had anticipated - as a result, she jerked to the side and nearly lost her grip on her rifle. It didn't do anything for her heart, and neither did the dark look on Sergeant Mehlborg's face when she bumped into him by accident.

On the road, the shell screamed towards the first of the two armored vehicles. It impacted on the front just beneath the turret-like structure at the top and exploded in a shower of white sparks and orange flames. A split second later, the armor-piercing shell had penetrated the vehicle's sturdy skin and exploded inside with a hollow boom. Control was lost at once, and the vehicle swerved off the road and went head-first into the ditch on the far side.

At once, orders were barked from up and down the enemy column. Scores of infantrymen jumped off the trucks and spread out along the road. The second armored vehicle drove around the wreck and fired its protected machine gun at the bushes opposite the Danish soldiers in the belief the shot had come from that direction.

The surprise attack on the advancing force had been a success, but there was no time to celebrate. Within five seconds of the initial impact, Sergeant Mehlborg raised his arm in the air and let out a resounding cry of "Open fire!" that sent the small unit into their first taste of combat.

The men behind the rifles and the machine gun opened fire on the enemy with devastating effect. Several German soldiers fell before they could get into position in the ditch or behind the vehicles, but it didn't take them long to regroup and return fire.

Burning hot led flew in both directions, thumping into the pile of dirt Anne-Katrine was hiding behind, or zinging through the air with a faintly melodic tone. She clenched her jaw hard and ducked her head as far down as she could. Clumps of dirt and little pebbles were kicked up on the ground behind them when the bullets impacted on the soil.

Vilhelm Solbjerg-Hansen kept firing short bursts of three or four rounds at a time from the machine gun, and the noises it created were nothing short of deafening. The others in the unit fired their rifles again and again, but the bolt action weapons were far slower and far less effective than the machine gun. Spent brass casings piled up next to each of them, and the stench of cordite tore through the nostrils of everyone there.

At one point, the machine gun stopped its infernal rattling, and Anne-Katrine whipped her head around to see if anything had happened to the young man behind the trigger. She needn't have worried, because Vilhelm resumed firing the customary short bursts as soon as Knud-Erik had clicked a new magazine in place on top of the instrument of death.

In the meantime, their opponents had regrouped and had turned the last remaining armored vehicle around. The machine gun that was mounted in the turret was located higher than those on their motorcycles and could shoot over the top of the pile of dirt, so it was a far larger threat than the other weapons.

The threat manifested itself at once as a row of bullet hits tore across the top of the pile, sending clumps of dirt raining down onto Anne-Katrine and the men in the vicinity. A second row of bullet hits came at once, causing even more chaos and prompting Sergeant Mehlborg to throw himself down onto his stomach and crawl over to the 20mm cannon. "Andreasen, take out that bloody Triple Two!" he barked, grabbing the cannon operator's shoulder.

The Senior Lieutenant nodded his acceptance, and Andreasen and Larsen put down their rifles and hustled back to move the Nimbus with the gun carriage into a new firing position. Before it could swing around to get the armored vehicle into its sights, a third row of bullet hits smashed into the pile of dirt underlining the severe threat.

"Fire at will, Andreasen!" Mehlborg barked, ducking to find cover. Larsen loaded a second armor-piercing shell and patted the cannon operator's shoulder. Moments later, a new, but just as vicious, bark came from the cannon which sent the shell screaming across the road on a perfect trajectory towards the armored vehicle.

The stationary reconnaissance vehicle was nearly thrown backwards by the impact that resulted in a shower of white sparks and orange flames like in the first strike. Barely a heartbeat later, the roof hatch blew out as a fireball erupted from the vehicle and created a mushroom cloud that billowed upwards. The fireball was followed by black smoke that rose from the destroyed machine.

Anne-Katrine shook her head to get her ears to work again after the second shot from the cannon. Out on the road, their opponents seemed to regroup again, as the intense pressure on the ambush site grew less.

One of the German motorcycles tried to bypass the defensive position to get a better angle for the machine gun mounted on its sidecar, but Vilhelm paid attention to the proceedings and cut down the two soldiers manning it with a longer than usual burst from his own machine gun. Riderless, the motorcycle went straight into the ditch where it turned over.

Anne-Katrine could hear the German officers barking commands to their men, and it resulted in a brief pause in the firing. She could hear the characteristic sound of nobnailed boots running across asphalt, proving they were regrouping once more. Her breath still came in shallow bursts, but with the destruction of the second armored vehicle, the direct threat to the pile of dirt she was hiding behind had grown less.

"Ease off the MG to save ammo!" Sergeant Mehlborg barked, and Vilhelm stopped firing at once though he kept vigilant. The riflemen around him kept up their fire, and Didriksen - of all people - was able to gun down a German officer who had tried to peek over the edge of a truck.

The chubby soldier could barely believe his luck, and he took his finger off the trigger and thumped his fist into the ground several times while he let out a series of joyful whoops.

"Didriksen!" Mehlborg hissed, emphasizing every syllable in the soldier's name. "Save the cheering for later, you imbecile!  And keep the rifle ready!"

Didriksen didn't hear the Sergeant's command at first due to his celebration, and Mehlborg moved left to make the chubby soldier aware that he had been spoken to.

Mehlborg moving and the brief lull in the fighting meant that Anne-Katrine had room to see what went on at the other side of the road. Gulping down her fear, she held the rifle ready and crept up the rear side of the pile of dirt. She knew her battle helmet would be exposed, but she had to look to get an impression of what had gone down so far.

She only moved her eyes a centimeter or two above the upper edge of the pile of dirt, but it was enough to get a clear picture of the battleground. The wrecks of the two armored vehicles that had been taken out by the cannon were fifty meters apart and were effectively blocking the road. Both were well-ablaze. The wheels on the motorcycle that Vilhelm had knocked out were still spinning down in the ditch but were going slower by the second.

On the left towards the south, another motorcycle with a sidecar was kept waiting in front of a long line of trucks stretching all the way out to the small hill a short kilometer away.

Anne-Katrine moved her rifle up and tried to aim at the only enemy she could see clearly, the rider on the remaining motorcycle. He was too far away for the shot to be effective, so she lowered the rifle with a disappointed grunt.

In the following second, three things happened at once. First, she heard one of the men yelling "Enemy contact dead ahead!" at the top of his lungs; then she saw a host of odd, little blinking lights from the ditch across the road, and finally, the world around her came alive with hot lead zinging through the air and clumps of dirt being kicked up from all around her precarious position.

A pebble or something similar thumped into her battle helmet and knocked the heavy accessory askew. She flinched but didn't scream. Instead, her finger instinctively squeezed the trigger which sent a potshot across the road, but she had no idea if she hit anything.

Another second later, she felt a pair of strong hands around her waist pulling her down while the machine gun and all the rifles they had sent a barrage of lead onto the unit of Germans who had popped up out of nowhere. She slid down the rear side of the pile of dirt and stared directly into Sergeant Mehlborg's angry, gray eyes. For once, she felt it most prudent to apologize to the dour man for her stupidity, but he moved away before she could do so.

The odd, little blinking lights she had seen had been muzzle flashes, and she had been within a centimeter of becoming the unit's first casualty in battle. Gulping down the sour taste that had formed in her mouth, she reached up to adjust her battle helmet.

Lead screamed through the air from the Danish soldiers and the Germans involved in the surprise counter-assault. Further down the road, the officers in the armored column took advantage of the new flank and sent a few dozen infantrymen closer to the ambush site. Hunched over, they ran on the grassy verges of the road carrying rifles and the feared rapid-fire machine gun, the Spandau.

Mehlborg noticed and cursed out loud in a crude language that would have made most ladies faint on the spot. "Left flank!  MG, pay attention to your left!" he barked, aiming and taking shots at the approaching infantrymen with his rifle.

Vilhelm Solbjerg-Hansen cursed as well and moved the machine gun around and to the left. He fired longer bursts than usual and was able to get at least five Germans before the others dove head-first into the ditches to avoid the lead.

Anne-Katrine sat with her back to the action, and she followed the developing combat to her right with clenched teeth. A terrified scream close to her made her jerk around and stare to her left. Johannes Ancher, the man with the delicate looks and slender fingers, cried out as blood spewed from a wound on his neck. He dropped his rifle and curled himself up into a ball.

"Oh hell!" Anne-Katrine croaked, quickly sweeping her own rifle around her shoulders to get it out of the way. Though she was forced to stick her head out into the storm of lead, she was at Ancher's side in an instant and wrapped her strong hands around the young man's slender waist.

Grunting out loud because of the bad angle she had to work in, she dragged him backwards and into safety behind the pile of dirt. The gap he left behind in the firing line was filled by August Larsen who left the cannon behind momentarily.

It was clear to Anne-Katrine that Johannes Ancher had suffered a severe shock from taking the hit. Crying like a little boy, he tried to swat away her hands when she wanted to check the wound on his neck that bled profusely and tainted the collar of his greatcoat crimson.

Without hesitation, she tore open Johannes' backpack and found the medical kit they all carried. The few bandages and the swabs of cotton wouldn't do much good, but she knelt down next to him and pressed the cotton against his neck to soak up as much of the blood as she could.

The Germans at the other side of the road seemed to mind that she was trying to save a life as they soon laid down an intense blanket of fire right at the spot on the pile of dirt she was crouching down behind.

Baring her teeth in a worried grimace at the constant clatter of bullet hits on the soil - not to mention the occasional ricochet that screamed through the air - she ducked down as far as she could and waited for Vilhelm to convince the Germans to look elsewhere.

When the air was less polluted with lead, she resumed working on the injured man. She obviously wasn't a qualified doctor, but she had dressed enough wounds at the farm where incidents and accidents were inevitable to know what she was doing. Though Johannes resisted her to the last, the cotton swabs were effective in soaking up the blood. Once the flow slowed, she used the last remaining swab to clean the wound so she could see how badly injured the young man was.

It turned out the gunshot injury was a flesh wound, and not even a deep one at that. The projectile nicking Johannes Ancher had most likely been deflected off the inside of his battle helmet as an angry red stripe presented itself down across the temple and cheek on his left side. When it had met resistance at the base of the neck, it had grazed the fleshy part but hadn't dug in at all before it had left him behind. "You lucky, lucky boy," Anne-Katrine said, squeezing the wounded man's shoulder.

Johannes didn't appear to think he had been quite that lucky, because he was still crying his eyes out. The news that he was basically all right made him calm down, but he kept on sniffling. "Th- thank you," he croaked, reaching up to wipe his eyes with slender, trembling fingers.

"You're welcome," Anne-Katrine said, wrapping the clean bandage around his neck and securing it with two safety clamps. After checking that it was on properly, she handed Johannes his rifle so he could defend himself. The young man initially seemed reluctant to carry the weapon, but it only lasted for a few seconds.

Sergeant Mehlborg came over to check up on the injury. He gave Anne-Katrine's handiwork a quick once-over before he nodded at her as a silent sign of approval. Before Anne-Katrine had time to respond, he slapped a new five-round frame into his rifle and crawled on to fill the gap in the firing line so August Larsen could concentrate on operating the 20mm cannon.

"And you're welcome too, Sergeant," Anne-Katrine mumbled under her breath as she squeezed Johannes' shoulder again. The young man seemed calmer, so she crawled the other way to be nearer Vilhelm and Knud-Erik, and further away from the cannon in case it sent out another one of those vicious, ear-splitting barks.

Not a minute later, the first blood that had been spilled paled into insignificance compared to the rest of the problems that suddenly befell the unit. The group of German soldiers who were entrenched at the other side of the road whipped up such a storm of lead that Mehlborg's men - and woman - had to keep their heads well down to be out of harms' way.

Two German soldiers took advantage of the counterstrike by commandeering a motorcycle where they mounted the Spandau rapid-fire machine gun onto the appropriate brackets on the sidecar. As the firing from the team in the ditch increased to provide cover, the two men accelerated towards the group and let the machine gun spew an endless stream of burning hot death.

Sergeant Mehlborg saw the danger, but before he could warn Solbjerg-Hansen at their own machine gun, he got a bullet in the arm that made him spin around like a top. For a heartbeat, he just stood there with a poor grip on his rifle, but then he fell down. First on his knees, then on the side that had been shot.

Anne-Katrine opened her mouth to cry out the Sergeant's name, but the frenetic sound of the German machine gun - commonly referred to as the Spandau because of the district in Berlin where it was produced - drowned her out. Bullets zinged past right above her head, and she was pinned down so effectively she couldn't even breathe without tasting the danger.

Right in front of her, Vilhelm Solbjerg-Hansen let out a brief cry and jerked backwards. A squirt of blood that tainted everything in its path briefly shot out from the bottom of the battle helmet like a morbid crimson fountain. The machine gun fell out of his limp hand and became silent. A wisp of smoke rose from the barrel that suddenly pointed skyward when the stock didn't have a shoulder to lean on.

"Keep that MG firing!" Senior Lieutenant Preiss cried from the other side of the pile of dirt. "Andreasen!  Aim at that motorcycle!  Shoot, man!  Shoot!"

Larsen quickly loaded a high-explosive shell into the 20mm Madsen cannon, but when Andreasen pulled the trigger, the weapon just clicked. A panicked cry of "Misfire!" was heard from the cannon operator, and Larsen immediately went to work trying to un-jam the cannon by rocking the loading mechanism back and forth.

It was a gift to the two Germans on the motorcycle who came closer and closer with their Spandau machine gun still spewing fire and death. Small flames escaped the perforated barrel as it released its deadly load to give it a demonic quality.

Anne-Katrine aimed her rifle at the man controlling the Spandau and tried to take a potshot, but it went wide. She frantically worked the bolt and shot again. The second shot was at least closer, but it ricocheted off the motorcycle without causing any harm to anyone - all it did was to leave a dent in a fender. A moment later, the Spandau was aimed at her and she had to bury her face in the dirt so she wouldn't suffer the same fate as Vilhelm.

"Didn't you hear me?!" the Senior Lieutenant cried in a voice that grew increasingly frenetic. "Keep that damn MG firing!  That's an order!"

The least likely man in the squad, Ole Thor Didriksen, tried to shove Vilhelm's body aside and grab the machine gun, but he was in a poor angle to take the instrument of death. Knud-Erik put aside the next magazine and tried to shove the dead body away as well, but it wasn't until Anne-Katrine helped them by grabbing Vilhelm's boots and legs and pulling him backwards on his stomach that they were able to get him moved. The two men took the machine gun, but Didriksen had barely put it to his shoulder before the German Spandau was turned his way and grazed him in the upper back.

The chubby soldier cried out in pain and let go of the machine gun like it had been the reason for his wound. He rolled to the side and tried to stay out of the firing line. Almost at once, a red rose of blood blossomed through a blackened hole in his greatcoat.

Anne-Katrine stared in wide-eyed panic at the death and destruction all around her. Vilhelm, the friendly young man who had been her judge at the horseshoe contest, had taken a bullet in the face that had caused such a horrific wound she had to push him back over onto his stomach so she couldn't see the injury.

Gulping down a foul taste of vomit, she aimed her rifle at the motorcycle and tried to take a few potshots, but her hands trembled too much for it to do any good. Movement to her left made her look that way, but she could hardly believe her eyes when she spotted Sergeant Mehlborg trying to crawl across unprotected ground to get to the machine gun. His khaki greatcoat made him stand out against the grayish-brown ground like a sore thumb, but he was determined to get there or die trying.

They locked eyes for the briefest of moments, but it was enough to convince Anne-Katrine that she should at least try to provide him with cover. She tried to aim more carefully at the soldiers who threatened them, but when she squeezed the trigger, her rifle just clicked - she had forgotten to insert a new frame. Pressing her lips together in a growing panic, she ducked down behind the pile of dirt and reached into her backpack to grab the next batch of cartridges.

Once the rifle was ready to fire, she took another shot at the motorcycle that came close enough to make the rider perform a sharp turn to get away. She shot again, then again, but her rate of success was dropping rapidly. This time, she counted the shots, so when she had fired twice more at the soldiers across the road who remained passive while the Spandau on the motorcycle distributed death, she reached into her backpack and found a fresh frame at once.

It wasn't enough and she knew it. It would never be enough unless someone manned the machine gun. Mehlborg couldn't do it, Didriksen wouldn't do it, Kristensen couldn't operate it on his own - it all came down to her. Swallowing a hard lump that had formed in her throat, she realized it was time for her to prove her words that women did have a place on the battlefield.

While Andreasen and Larsen continued to work at the cannon to clear the misfire so they could stop the men on the motorcycle, Anne-Katrine braved the lead storm and inched her way up to the vacant machine gun. She wrapped her fingers around the wooden handle and lifted it back off the ground. She found the weapon to be heavier than she had expected, but it fit perfectly onto her shoulder which eased the burden.

Burning hot lead zinged right past her battle helmet. Some shots thumped into the pile of dirt next to her, others hit the ground directly in front of her, but she hardly sensed it. With a growing numbness that swept through her body, she turned the machine gun around and aimed at the men on the motorcycle. Sergeant Mehlborg shouted something she couldn't understand, and when she squeezed the trigger, the infernal noise created by the weapon drowned out everything else.

As she fired off the first salvo against the motorcycle, the machine gun created such a violent racket directly into her ear that she nearly dropped it again simply out of shock and surprise. Clenching her teeth, she defied the violent noise and the storm of lead that zinged past her to swing the barrel around.

The foul stench of cordite tore through her nostrils as she squeezed the trigger, but she was determined to end the threat. It was difficult for her to limit her index finger to only fire the short, three or four-round bursts needed, but she got the hang of it before too long.

Aiming for the man controlling the Spandau machine gun, she squeezed the trigger and watched how the line of tracers escaped the barrel of her gun and ran directly towards her opponent.

This time, her aim was spot on. Aided by the unstoppable firepower of the machine gun, a whole slate of bullets hit the German soldier across the chest and nearly cut him in half. The Spandau machine gun fell from the dead man's hand as the body flopped around grotesquely under the influence of the lead that struck him.

Anne-Katrine stopped breathing. She stared with wide open eyes at the horrific sight of the dead man in the sidecar. Blood spewed from the row of gaping wounds in the man's chest, and it was clear he was long since dead. She had killed a man - her actions had taken a life. Out of nowhere, she could feel tears stinging the back of her eyes, but she blinked them away angrily so she wouldn't confirm the negative stereotypes some of the men had about women.

The next second, she received a hefty thump on the helmet by Knud-Erik Kristensen who screamed at her to resume firing. She did. She put the machine gun back to her shoulder and delivered one short burst after the other at the rider of the motorcycle who tried to escape. When he moved out of her field of fire, she concentrated on the soldiers in the ditch at the other side of the road.

Another short second later, the 20mm cannon to her right sent out one of its vicious, growling barks to prove Andreasen and Larsen had been able to cure the misfire. The high-explosive shell screamed down the road until it hit the fleeing motorcycle. The impact was as violent as those against the armored vehicles, and the rider and the man Anne-Katrine had already shot dead disappeared in an orange fireball.

Anne-Katrine almost lost her grip on sanity when she saw the two men on the motorcycle being flung through the air like a pair of burning puppets. One landed in the middle of the road, the other disappeared into the ditch. Her entire body shook and trembled as she turned her attention back to the dangers at hand.

When the magazine clicked, she waited for Knud-Erik to attach a new one, but she discovered she had to press a button on the gun's frame to release the spent magazine. Knud-Erik roared into her left ear that it was right next to her thumb. She ran her finger around on the metal and found the button easily enough - with the next magazine in place, she worked the action and resumed the short bursts that held the soldiers on the opposite side of the road pinned down. All she could see were the occasional muzzle flash and a line of dark-gray battle helmets, but she aimed for them nonetheless.

Movement from a different section across the road made her try to zoom in on the soldiers there, but it was difficult with the gunsmoke that drifted down the road and the opposing fire that seemed to grow stronger once again. She suddenly realized they were moving a unit back to the trucks but keeping another in place as firing cover.

From one moment to the next, the line of dark-gray battle helmets she had been aiming for disappeared. She was certain she hadn't hit them all which had to mean they were regrouping. She rattled off another two short bursts over their heads before she released the trigger and let the weapon cool off.

An eerie silence once again fell over the battleground. For some reason, both sides had decided simultaneously to hold their fire. The three conflagrations on the road crackled and popped, and there was a grotesque stench in the air of burning rubber, metal, leather and flesh. Licking orange-white flames and fat columns of black smoke rose from the two destroyed armored vehicles and the thoroughly devastated motorcycle that had been taken out by the high-explosive shell.

Anne-Katrine wetted her lips and kept a firm grip on the handle of her machine gun. Her wide eyes darted back and forth across the road to find a target. The trucks that were stationary some three hundred meters further south didn't appear to want to move ahead. The gray battle helmets in the ditch opposite her hadn't reappeared. Two groups of enemy soldiers had formed up on the grassy verges of the road by the trucks, but they were out of effective range and didn't pose an immediate threat.

Gasping, she released the breath she had been holding. Her heart was still going at full speed in her chest, and her muscles ached from the stress and tension she was under. Even that was nothing compared to the thoughts of death and destruction that slowly began to return to her mind in the absence of an external danger. It didn't take her long to realize the eerie silence and the anticipation of the next attack were worse than the actual firing. She panted and rubbed her mouth while she glanced at the road. She could feel the blood draining from her face, but she was determined not to get into a bout of hysteria - or worse, faint.

"Keep that MG going!" Senior Lieutenant Preiss cried from his position at the Madsen cannon, but just as Anne-Katrine put the hot, stinking machine gun back on her shoulder to carry out the orders, she heard a familiar, gruff voice in her ear.

"Disregard that order, Jensen. Hold your fire to save ammo," Sergeant Mehlborg said quietly, putting a hand on her shoulder. The dour man had a pained expression on his face, and his chin and left cheek were splattered with his own blood, but at least he was alive. He pulled back slightly and let out a "Hold your fire!" loud enough for all to hear.

He squeezed Anne-Katrine's shoulder again before he crawled away from her and over towards the Senior Lieutenant to explain his counter-order.

Anne-Katrine let out a sigh of relief over Sergeant Mehlborg's reappearance. Though he was a dour, hard man at the best of times, she had come to respect him for his leadership and his skills in combat. He was battered and bloodied after his gunshot wound, but he hadn't even flinched - in fact, she thought that he may have smiled at her when he touched her shoulder for a second time.

A curious feeling in her hands make her look down. Every one of her fingers trembled uncontrollably, and it soon spread to the rest of her body. The block of ice that she'd had in her gut for the entire fight melted and turned into a stream of lava that rolled through her body. It produced a hot flash that made her break out in an uncomfortable sweat that soaked her shirt in a matter of seconds.

An image of the man she had killed entered her mind's eye in a wave of blood-drenched hideousness, but she shook her head to make it go away. Another image of the two dead soldiers flung through the air on fire was even worse, but she tried to deal with it in the same way. A heavy blanket of fatigue fell over her that threatened to sink her into a deep swamp. She let out a gasp and shook her head again to get the unpleasant feeling to go away. It did so eventually - and reluctantly - but she needed to concentrate hard on the main road and the dangers at hand or else she knew she'd fall into a state of complete apathy.

After nearly thirty seconds of no enemy activity whatsoever, Knud-Erik Kristensen nudged Anne-Katrine's side and leaned in towards her ear. "What the hell are they doing?  Why have they stopped their attack?" he whispered in his heavy, rural accent.

"I don't know, Knud-Erik…" Anne-Katrine whispered back, rubbing her mouth.

"I think they're moving back towards the trucks… look, over there at the other ditch," he continued, pointing the barrel of his rifle at the opposite side of the road where one of the low bushes was being shaken in a way that could only be produced by someone crawling past it.

"Yes… I see it," Anne-Katrine said and raised the machine gun to find a target. There wasn't any to be found, so she lowered it again. A persistent whimper to her right made her lick her bone-dry lips and look at Ole Thor Didriksen whose bloody greatcoat proved that his injury was seemingly worse than a mere flesh wound.

"Kristensen, can you crawl around and help Didriksen?  He's in a bad state," she whispered, but Knud-Erik shook his head.

"No, Anne-Katrine… I need to be here at the magazines in case you need to resume firing. Maybe Ancher or-"

"No, Ancher is wounded as well."

"Damn. And the Sergeant is as well," Knud-Erik said and craned his neck to look at the poorly Didriksen beyond Anne-Katrine's back. "All right. I'll try."

"Can you see what's going on with the Sergeant?" Anne-Katrine asked, shuffling to the side so the loader could crawl around her boots.

Knud-Erik crawled the long way around and came up to Anne-Katrine's right side so he was between her and Didriksen. "It looks like Sergeant Mehlborg and the Senior Lieutenant are discussing the strategy… maybe they wants us to pull back before it gets any worse?"

"Maybe," Anne-Katrine said with a sigh. Hunkering down, she put the machine gun to her shoulder and swept the barrel across the road a couple of times to search for a target. There was still plenty of activity at the trucks, but the soldiers there didn't seem to be getting any closer. The bushes in the ditch opposite her position had stopped shaking, indicating the unit that had tried to outflank them had gone away.

To her right, Ole Thor Didriksen whimpered and moaned as Knud-Erik worked hard to pull him back to safety so the wound could be addressed. Sitting up straight when he was safe behind the pile of dirt, the chubby soldier stripped off the greatcoat to allow Knud-Erik to examine the source of the bleeding.

A surprised grunt followed by a muted curse escaped Knud-Erik's lips when he yanked a large piece of twisted shrapnel out of the greatcoat. It had left a fair-sized hole in the shirt and Ole Thor's skin, but it hadn't dug in deeper than a thorn from a rose would have.

He stared at it like he couldn't believe that Ole Thor Didriksen of all people would have had the good fortune to only be grazed by the shrapnel - especially when a better soldier like Vilhelm Solbjerg-Hansen was lying dead next to them with a three-centimeter-wide crater in his forehead.

"Ole Thor, you damned, miserable, whimpering son of a bitch," he growled in a voice that developed such a thick dialect it was almost incomprehensible. "Look at this, you little shit!  It's no worse than pricking yourself with a needle!  It's time for you to act like a man and shut the hell up!"

"What are you talking about?  I was shot in the back!" Ole Thor hissed through clenched teeth. His face had gained a ruddy complexion and was covered in sweat. He cut himself off mid-stream when he happened to glance in Anne-Katrine's direction with eyes that were round and glassy. "And you!  I saw you shaking before… you are scared… scared like a little baby girl!  Didn't I say that would happen?  Do you want me to hold your hand, little girl?"

"Didriksen!" Sergeant Mehlborg barked from the other side of the pile of dirt. "Pipe down or you'll regret it!"

Ole Thor did pipe down, but his jaw kept on working and he continued to cast dark, evil glances at Anne-Katrine.

Knud-Erik Kristensen let out a constant stream of grumbles and growls as he wiped the blood off Didriksen's ruined shirt. Once the wound was clean, he placed a bandage under the fabric and pinned it to the shirt using safety clamps. "There. You're fixed. Now shut up!" he growled before he crawled back to Anne-Katrine's left side and assumed his position at the spare magazines.

A scant thirty seconds later, it finally dawned on Anne-Katrine and the others what the Germans had been waiting for. The whining engines of several fighter planes sounded overhead and seemed to come straight for them.

"Oh hell," Anne-Katrine croaked under her breath as she saw three airplanes appear as silhouettes against the gray sky to the south of her position. The sight of a new, and far more dangerous, enemy, kick started her heart and sent a jolt of trembling nervousness through her body.

Next to her, Ole Thor let out a squeal that reached the highest registers. "Airplanes!  Fighters!  Sergeant Mehlborg!  Fighters!" he cried, frantically pointing his rifle at their attackers.

The aircraft were three Henschel 126 ground-support fighters that were equipped with two machine guns each. They dropped down to tree-top altitude when they spotted the hostile position at the fork in the road; soon, the planes split up and came at the Danish soldiers from two sides at once with their engines roaring wildly.

Before long, muzzle flashes could be seen from the fixed machine gun mounted behind the radial engine on the lead plane. It wasn't long before a row of bullet hits tore open the ground on the rear side of the entrenchment near the 20mm cannon. As the airplane climbed and turned to the north with an echoing roar, the rear gunner who was sitting in a basket-like open cockpit with his back to the pilot turned the second, mobile machine gun around and opened fire on the people down on the ground.

"Take cover!  Take cover!" Mehlborg roared, gesticulating wildly with his good arm to let everybody know they should dig down and watch out for the strafing airplanes.

The second fighter came in for a pass that displayed better aim. Burning hot lead zinged through the air and sent pebbles and clumps of dirt flying everywhere. The second salvo carved up the ground immediately beyond the boots of Anne-Katrine and her comrades causing everybody to pull in their legs at once.

"They're gettin' better!" someone shouted, but Anne-Katrine had more than enough to do with protecting her head and the rest of her to notice who it had been. She had forgotten all about her own machine gun in the melee, but the sound of hobnailed boots running towards the ambush site made her roll back over onto her stomach and pick up the heavy weapon.

A squad of German soldiers with bayonets fixed on their rifles had taken advantage of the confusion to stage an assault, but Anne-Katrine opened fire when they were still at sixty paces. The violent noise once again assaulted her eardrum, but she didn't flinch even once. She held down the trigger and cut down the entire group of seven men in a long burst that emptied the magazine. She stared wide-eyed at the blood-soaked devastation she had caused, but she pushed the moral aspects aside and kicked Knud-Erik's shin. "Magazine!  I need a new magazine, Knud-Erik!" she cried in a voice that had turned frantic and screechy.

Before he could come to her rescue, the third plane came in for a roaring strafing run and he had to duck and roll away from the row of bullet hits that came straight at him. He made it to the machine gun in one piece and clicked on a new magazine. Reaching over, he thumped Anne-Katrine's shoulder. "It's ready!" he cried in a voice that was just as screechy as Anne-Katrine's had been before.

As the third plane went into a climb, the rear gunner released a long salvo that came so close to Anne-Katrine that her face was dirtied by clumps of soil that were thrown up by the projectiles.

The rear gunner continued his salvo as the plane banked left, and eventually found a target: Senior Lieutenant Preiss moved the wrong way and was cut down. His limp body flopped across the 20mm cannon before it fell to the ground.

Spurred on by the success, the third plane came around in a steep, banking turn that allowed the rear gunner to continue to pepper the ground. The cannon operator Karl-Bertel Andreasen was in the wrong place at the wrong time and received two hits to his body that threw him down on the ground next to the cannon.

Anne-Katrine held onto the machine gun like it was the only thing that kept her alive. She stared with wide open eyes at the road in case the Germans would try another sneak attack. Nothing happened; they seemed to rely on the strafing runs. She considered turning the machine gun at the aircraft, but she knew she would only waste their precious ammunition - it wasn't quite the same as shooting crows in flight with a hunting rifle after all.

A few seconds later, the decision was made for her. The three planes combined into a group and headed south, seemingly satisfied with their attack. Not two heartbeats later, Mehlborg took full advantage of the lull in the one-sided affair by jumping up and waving his good arm in the air. "Fall back!  Fall back!" he roared. When he had everyone's undivided attention, he pointed at the side road behind them that they had used to get there.


Part 2

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