The Maenad of the Maquis
Chapter 1 of 2
"He who loves not wine, women and song remains a fool his whole life long." Attributed to Martin Luther, 1777 or Johann Heinrich Voss (1751–1826).
Written for the Narnia Fic Exchange for the fabulous lovesrogue36 (Selene Antilles on fanfiction dot net; Tenae on NFFR). She requested a fic involving the following: Peter/Female Other Character; American jazz; French wine; war; and mussed bedsheets. This does not involve Peter's adorable children bouncing on the bed while Peter and his wife open a bottle of wine and celebrate a romantic wedding anniversary.
This is R-rated/very strong T rated and contains content not suitable for children.
With thanks to Intrikate88 for the beta. Apologies in advance for any mangled French.
With gratitude and admiration to the creator of The Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis. I claim no ownership interest whatsoever. Any original content in my derivative fiction is in the public domain and may be used freely and without notice to me or attribution.
"[Wine] contributed to the French race by giving them wit, gaiety, and good taste, qualities which set it profoundly apart from people who drink a lot of beer."
"Great news, Mon colonel, we have found the weak point in the German defenses! Every one is on a vineyard of inferior quality!"
Quoted in D. and P. Kaldstrup, Wine & War: The French, The Nazis & the Battle for France's Greatest Treasure
"Here with a Loaf of Bread beneath the Bough, A Flask of Wine, a Book of Verse - and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness - And Wilderness is Paradise now."
The Rubiyaiyat of Omar Khayyam, translated by Edward Fitzgerald
Fifteen years as they were counted in Narnia, who knew how many more as measured here, and former High King, current Flight Officer, Peter Pevensie was an expert in manure. The scent permeating the back of the truck rattling through Bordeaux – Aslan he hoped it was Bordeaux by now – was unmistakably goat and sheep. Peter shifted inside his sack and tried not to dislodge the potatoes he was buried in. The truck rumbled on in the dark summer night.
They had flown from the base six days ago? Seven? Ten? Peter had lost count. They and their Lanc had been put on loan to the Special Operations Executive to drop weapons and supplies among the French Resistance, the Maquis du Limousin, below what had been the Demarcation Line. The flight down and night drop for the Moyenne-Corrèze cell at Tulle had been a piece of cake. Their bomber had been hit on the return, north of Cognac. Damn, they had not been careless. But suddenly there had been a horrible jolt, and a wing was gone, the engine in flames, and their upper gunner dead. The pilot, Watson, yelled that the control column had jammed and so they had to jump. Even with the parachute, the ground had come up really fast and they met gunshot coming down. He and Fenwick had made it; Watson and the three other crew members had not.
He and Fenwick had shouldered their packs and run for their lives, hoping they would meet someone French before a Nazi patrol. If their savior was with the Resistance, so much the better, as it would save a step of not mutilating, "Take me to the Maquis" from his dog-eared French phrasebook. Whitham had been the only one who spoke decent French and Peter had been picking the man's brains out of his hair since the crash.
Stranded and wandering through Poitou-Charentes, it was a shame they had not landed at the front door of a Cognac distillery. A little farther and they might have made it to the wineries of the Loire Valley. There were an astounding number of small goat and cow farms in Charentes, and it seemed he and Fenwick hopped the fences of all of them.
They had walked through the night and found a goat farm outside of what he had since learned was Cherác. They had frightened the woman of the house out of her mind as she was wrapping tiny rounds of soft cheese in grape leaves. The cheesemaker had hidden them in her unbelievably pungent cellar and disappeared; they thought, hoped, and prayed she was going for the Resistance rather than the Gestapo.
Maquis met them the next day. They burned their uniforms and gave them clothes that worked well enough on Fenwick – the man had dark hair, was barely ten stone sopping wet, and could have been born in a beret. But Peter looked exactly like what he was – a downed member of an RAF bomber crew in borrowed French peasant clothing. So the Maquis split them up with Fenwick going one way, in the front of a wood-burning fueled car. Peter was still hiding in gunny sacks, buried under potatoes and cabbages in the back of trucks that reeked of goat.
The Maquis had been transporting him steadily south, toward Bordeaux. From there, Peter supposed it would be on to the Pyrenees to be smuggled out of France. Allied fliers, Resistance fighters, and Jews were being transported into Spain at Canfranc. Getting instructions was impossible. Each successive maquisard to whom he was handed off spoke no better English than he spoke French, so he was in their hands and Aslan's paws.
Peter had hoped in the same way one wished at wells and on stars that he might see his sister, Susan. But Nazi-occupied France was a big place and he had no idea what Maquis cell she was running in at the moment or even under what name. If he could tune into a Radio London broadcast, and if she knew he was downed and alive, each event concededly more improbable than the last, she might manage a message for him with instructions.
Every time he thought he could nod off in his gunny sack blanket, there would be another jolt or sway of the truck, or they would stop or slow down and Peter would wonder if a patrol had finally caught them. It had been like this for days and nights all run together. Dozing during the day, crossing the countryside at night on foot or in mule carts and trucks with the lights doused. There was a curfew and no one was to be out, doubly so if carrying RAF bomber crews.
He could feel when they turned off a road onto a smaller road, and then a smaller one still. The tires crunched on gravel and sand. The truck slowed and the driver turned off the ignition. They rolled forward and finally stopped. They were not, however, at one of those nervy checkpoints. It was so quiet Peter thought he could hear sounds of artillery. He wondered how far south they were and how much farther it was to the Pyrenees.
Still, Peter waited silently. He could hear his driver get out and walk slowly around the truck. From the way sound was muffled, he thought they were in a wood.
There was a smack on the side of the truck. "Nous sommes arrives!"
With a stifled groan, Peter threw off his concealing sack and pulled himself up. Potatoes and cabbages bounced off of him. He looked around. They had indeed driven into a wood. It smelled of pine and with the lightening sky he thought dawn was about two hours away.
"Merci!" Peter drew his pack out from under the vegetables and vaulted out of the truck. He then helped pick up and toss back in to the truck all the potatoes that had rolled away when he jumped out.
"Bonne chance!" The maquisard pointed to a narrow gravel path. At its end, Peter could just make out a fence and gate. "Allez tout droit."
Peter thought that meant straight ahead. He nodded and repeated, "Merci." He fumbled for words and in his daze, they came out in English. "Where am I?"
The maquisard looked at him hard, mouthing the question so Peter repeated it. A look of understanding appeared in the man's face, which was far older appearing than his actual years. "Château Haut-Brion," he said, and with a wink raised his hand to his lips as if tipping a glass.
So, a winery. "Am I in Bordeaux?"
The maquisard's irritated expression gave Peter the impression he had said something impolite. He shook his head with disgust and grumbled, "Oui!" There was, he thought, some muttered epithet about uncouth, tea-drinking British. Apparently Peter had committed a faux-pas in not knowing that Château Haut-Brion was in Bordeaux.
Peter did not know what else to do except gesture toward the gate and ask, "Who is my contact?" hoping the maquisard would know what he meant.
The man's scowl became a wide grin. "Maenad." Peter got a clout on the back and the maquisard hopped back into his truck. The ignition turned once, twice, three times, and the truck heaved to life. He slowly backed up down the road the way they had come.
Peter wondered what signal the maquisard and his contact, Maenad, had arranged, but the way must be clear or his driver would not have left so casually. It was, for all concerned, better that the maquisard not observe the hand off to another member of the Resistance. If anyone was caught, it meant less information to be extracted from the Gestapo interrogators.
Shouldering the pack, feeling as old as the truck he had traveled in for the last day, and smelling of blood, guts, smoke, fuel oil, goat, cabbage, cheese, and filth, Peter opened the squeaky gate and walked along the stone path. The trees opened up and a small cottage emerged from the gloom. Without any light, he approached, as much by feel as sight, and the sounds issuing from the farmhouse could not have been odder.
I found my thrill, on blueberry hill
On blueberry hill, when I found you
The moon stood still, on blueberry hill
And lingered until, my dreams came true
At the stoop, the front door flew open and light and the strains of Blueberry Hill spilled out. "Hurry!" a woman's voice snapped. "Come inside!" So dulled with fatigue, it took Peter a long moment to realize she was speaking in heavily accented English.
He stumbled across the threshold into the foyer and she slammed the door behind him.
"Bonjour." He mumbled through his greetings, now wishing he had fished out the phrasebook first. "Je m'appelle Flight Officer Peter Pevensie. Comment vous …" Peter trailed off, forgetting in the fog how to even say, "What is your name?"
She ignored the polite introductions and pushed by him into the cottage's sitting room. In the darkness he could make out two chairs, a wireless, and an ancient gramophone on a console. The crooning of Louis Armstrong abruptly cut off.
"English, s'il vous plaît.," she said. "Your French is too painful to hear, Flight Officer."
She stepped back into the entryway and Peter had a closer look at his hostess. Even by the standards of the gaunt and hungry French he had seen, she was very small; her summer frock hung off the shoulders of her thin frame. She pushed blowsy black hair away from her face, and offered a hand, then withdrew it with a disapproving sniff. "Pardon, but I do not think I will shake just yet. You stink, Flight Officer." Her bare arms were as thin as his wrists.
"My apologies. It has been a long few days. You are…" and again he did not finish the sentence. Surely she was his Resistance contact, but…
"Marie-Ginette Rousseau, Maenad of the Maquis."
Hearing the word again, even through the anxiety and crushing exhaustion, Peter could not stop the smile from forming. "A Maenad in a Bordeaux winery? Surely not a coincidence?"
Her dark eyes sharpened with interest. "You know your myths, Flight Officer?"
Know. Such a dangerously ambiguous word. Peter opted for safety. "I know the stories of Bacchus and his followers, the Maenads, yes." And had had the distinct pleasure of extensively confirming those stories personally and in the flesh, so to speak. The sumptuous, lusty carnival in the aftermath of the old Narnians' victory over the Telmarines and his single combat against the usurper, Miraz, was not something Peter would ever forget.
"Très bien," she murmured. Peter noticed she was barefoot. Maenad indeed. "The latest information is that it will be two days before arrangements are ready to take you on to Canfranc. A bath, then, yes? Clean clothes?"
"Thank you, that would be wonderful." Peter had not been clean since leaving the base.
She squinted at the hall clock and it was nearly four. "You will need to be in the cave before sunrise." Turning, she gestured for him to follow.
"Cave?" Peter repeated, hefting his pack and trailing after her into the hall.
"You shall see, Flight Officer." Marie opened a narrow door and there was some awkward jostling as he and his pack tried getting by her into the cramped space of the washroom. With a tilt of her head, she indicated an adjoining door. "In the bureau, bottom drawer, you will find clothes." Her eyes traveled up and down, appraising. She shrugged. "Somethings should do. Wash day is at the end of the week. You can take what you find and leave what you wear for the next man who comes."
Fenwick had gotten the clean clothes that fit; Peter had been left with the dirty ones that did not and that had been before days in the back of manure and vegetable trucks. He refrained from scratching – he thought he might have picked up a flea at some point.
"You are hungry?" she asked as one who has posed the question too many times and did not really expect any different answer than the usual.
"As we all are," Peter admitted for there was no point in denying this fact of existence. He had tried to eat as little as possible of what the French so generously offered for they had nothing to give. The scarcity of food was far worse here than in England. "I have a little in my pack and will be glad to share."
She wrinkled her nose. "The only thing worse than English food is English rations."
"A drink then?" Peter asked. In the last few days, although there had been scarce food, the French had compensated with ample wine.
She smiled, lips drawn over sharp teeth and in the dusky light, barefoot, with blown hair and dress more off than on her slight body, she looked more Narnian Maenad than Maquis. "Wine we have, Flight Officer. Join me in the kitchen when you are clean."
The water was tepid, the soap was a yellow sliver – RAF standard issue – and the bathtub a country, clawed foot arrangement that would have barely held a spaniel comfortably. It was the most heavenly thing Peter had enjoyed in weeks. It was quiet and he did not have to share it with anyone, not a brother and two sisters, not a College of young men, nor a barrack of RAF and USAF crews. Even leaning back on hard porcelain, head almost submerged, and legs and arms splayed every which way, he could have, and would have, fallen asleep. He heard the gramophone, but not Blueberry Hill. Benny Goodman, he thought, but did not recognize the female vocalist.
Somewhere there's music
How faint the tune
Somewhere there's heaven
How high the moon…
"Tac! Tac!" The voice and knock interrupted the pleasant fantasy of never moving again. "Flight Officer, do not fall asleep in there."
"Sorry!" Peter called. "I'll be out in a moment."
The bath towel was softer and kinder than anything that had been on his skin since Narnia. And, indeed, judging from the gold thread monogram, the towel had once been the property of the Hotel Ritz Paris. The Nazis, having an astute eye for the fine things of France, had converted the poshest hotel in Europe into an HQ. As for the towel now in a Bordeaux farmhouse, he had seen evidence of this over and over – things hidden in homes that belonged to France, stolen by Nazi occupiers, and stolen back. Occupation had turned the French into a nation of thieves reclaiming their own heritage.
In the adjacent bedroom, Peter rooted in the drawer and found a full men's wardrobe, in assorted sizes, including undershirts and skivvies from three Allied countries and two branches of service.
On the dresser was the obligatory family picture – mother, father, a younger Marie-Ginette and older brother. Were the family members dead, imprisoned, lost, exiled? As he pulled on a pair of paper thin, patched trousers Peter wondered to whom they had belonged for so many years and washings and where the men were who had worn them. Too big in the waist, too short in the leg, but it was Make Do and Mend as the War Office propaganda preached.
He found an undershirt identical to the stinking one he'd been wearing and pulled it on. It was summer and so he would Make Do, avoid the Mending, and leave the warmer clothes for those who would need them come winter. The gramophone was again crooning Blueberry Hill.
The kitchen was at the back of the cottage and larger than the other rooms combined. Through the open back door, Peter could just make out a rising ridge and, silhouetted against the lightening sky, the trellises supporting the vines of the wine grapes of Bordeaux.
The kitchen was very clean, but not as bare as the others he had seen. Ropes of onions and garlic hung from the ceiling. The earthen bowl on the rough pine table had a bright red tomato and purple plums so ripe they made his mouth water. It was all cheerful yellow paint, stone, and tile.
Marie was staring out the back door and turned to face him. "Eh bien. Better," she said with that queer appraising look, whether as question or comment, he could not tell.
"Very much so, thank you."
"Sit," Marie said, indicating a place at the end of the table already set with a faded, quilted placemat. Snaking a foot around the farmhouse chair, Peter pulled it to the table and slid into the padded seat. From the counter she removed a plate and set it and a fork in front of him. "Tian de legumes. Eat. I'm sorry, but we have no bread."
"No one has bread," Peter said quietly, trying to soothe the bitterness he heard. He had encountered some yellow bread from ground corn, but no wheat bread at all in the farmhouses of western France.
Before him on the blue rimmed plate was a beautiful little stack of vegetables, tomatoes, aubergines, courgettes, all baked together and fragrant of herbs.
They both stared at the plate, oversized for the portion set upon it. Peter finally shook his head. "And if I eat that now, what will you have tomorrow?" He longed for proper food, but it was better to refuse than to take from her mouth something so lovingly prepared.
She shrugged and the dress slid a little from her shoulder. "Something may be found."
"Or it may not. It looks wonderful, but I could not possibly take it from you." He pushed the plate away, as politely as he could manage. "Maybe wine first and perhaps that will satisfy."
His stomach regretted it, but the look of longing Marie awarded the plate as she carefully returned the tian to its baking dish and covered it with threadbare linen confirmed that it was the right decision. Food was precious and he could continue to subsist on his pack ration and wine.
However, Peter was beginning to regret the decision once Marie set the glass tumblers down on the table. Her own drink, which she poured from an ugly brown bottle on the counter, looked to be a full, red wine. His glass she poured from an elegant wine bottle bearing a label, Wehrmachts Marketenderware – Réservé á la Wehrmacht. He found himself frowning as he compared his glass to hers.
"Something wrong, Flight Officer?"
"No," he replied, still wondering. His glass was definitely lighter in color. When they had been younger, he had drunk diluted wine in Narnia. But, in Bordeaux, and even knowing nothing of their wine, that seemed very strange. "You are giving me a claret intended for the Nazis?"
"We must save the very best for our occupiers or it is off to the camps!" Her sarcastic humor was the second warning.
Warily, Peter raised his glass. "Cheers."
Marie raised her own. "Santé."
One sip and it was so awful it set him to a fit of coughing. Peter could not restrain himself and spit the vinegar back into the glass.
There was no mistaking the smugness Marie radiated. She picked up the bottle and gestured grandly. "Why Flight Officer! You do not like the very finest of the vintage of Château Haut-Brion, specially bottled for the noble officers of the Wehrmacht?"
"It's donkey piss," Peter muttered, wiping his mouth.
She laughed. "So, you are an English who knows of Bacchus and Bordeaux wine? How unexpected."
"I don't know Bordeaux wine more than any other, but I know this is terrible."
"Still, your palate is better than most." Marie came around the table and stood next to him. "You tasted what so many of the beer drinkers do not. The Bordeaux neociants are bottling donkey piss and our very worse vintages from the 1930s, putting fancy labels on the plonk, and selling it to the Wehrmacht."
"The Bordelaise are fobbing off their bad wine?" It was yet another form of protest and economic espionage rampant in France, like stealing bath towels and rustling cattle.
"But there is good wine left?" There must be. Her glass looked nothing like this. He had had better than this the last week and he had not even been in Bordeaux.
Marie pushed her own tumbler into his hand; her fingers were brown and her nails were chipped and stubby from hard work with dirt still beneath them. Again, he was reminded of the Maenads of Bacchus.
"Drink," she ordered softly, fingertips cupping his wrist and raising his hand. "Drink."
Feeling his every move scrutinized, Peter did as instructed. It was, he thought wryly, always best to follow a Maenad's instruction. Failure to do so had consequences.
The wine was astounding, rich, earthy, brilliant, an explosion that reminded him of plums and currants. The taste transported him back to the greatest wines of Narnia made at the hands of Bacchus himself. With a shaking hand, he carefully set the glass down on the table and released a deep breath.
"That…" He found that words would not come, even in English. No common speech was adequate for this miracle. But surely a Maenad would understand the power of fine wine upon a man.
Her smile was softer and without the brittleness of early. "Better," she replied.
"Incomparable." He looked hopefully at the medicine bottle on the counter, noting that it was hidden amid the finely labeled bottles intended for the Wehrmacht. "Might I have my own glass? Please?"
She laughed and slid the tumbler back into his hand. "If you will not eat my food, enjoy our wine, Flight Officer." Marie yanked the elegant bottle of piss off the table and clanked it onto the counter with a contemptuous and unceremonious thud; his glass was swept into the basin. With exquisite care, she brought the medicine bottle of ambrosia to the table and another glass. She topped off his glass and filled her own. "It is very rare to find an English who knows of the wine god and his fruits. Santé."
Peter took the tumbler and swirled the wine; fragrant herbs and fruit bloomed from the rim. To you, my lord Bacchus.
The second sip was even more astounding than the first. Peter closed his eyes, settled back in the chair, and savored the most wondrous thing he had enjoyed since being in the company of the wine god.
"Congratulations," Marie said reverently. "You have just experienced a Premier Cru Classé Château Haut-Brion 1938. It is …" and she sniffed deprecatingly, "a little young."
"It was made here?" he asked, still lost in the taste.
She was silent for so long, Peter opened his eyes and saw in her face the same fierce look of disapproval he had seen on the maquisard. The goodwill he had earned was gone as suddenly with his careless speech. "I apologize," he said quickly. "I know this is extraordinary wine, but I do not know why."
Marie looked slightly mollified. "The estate of Château Haut-Brion dates to 1525, though grapes have been cultivated here since the Romans. The wines of the Château were classified in 1855 as premier, first growth, the very finest wines of Bordeaux. Château Haut-Brion is the only first growth estate from the Graves appellation; the other three wines of the Premier Cru Classé are from the Médoc."
Peter took away from all that, for Marie spoke as a mother cooing over her newborn, that these were indeed very fine wines of which the Bordelais were very proud and for which he should pretend familiarity and show profound appreciation. "Thank you for sharing it with me," and he took another reverent sip.
Blueberry Hill had finished on the gramophone and with half a glass down, Peter finally found the words to ask of the incongruities.
"You are the first of the Maquis who has spoken English."
Marie hopped up on to the table's edge; her bare legs did not reach the floor. "Though it hurts the French to say it, Château Haut-Brion was purchased by an American, Clarence Dillon, in 1935."
Peter refrained from joking of so scandalous a thing. The relationship of the French and the English to the Americans was a complicated one, even without the War. But, not for nothing had Peter shared diplomatic duties with Susan and Edmund in Narnia. "Surely Monsieur Dillon had the sense to retain knowledgeable Bordelais to run the winery?"
She nodded seriously. "Oui. And so, as he speaks some French, we have all learned some English."
The American owner explained the jazz recordings as well, he supposed.
"Monsieur Dillon is in America now?" Peter asked after savoring another sip. With the fatigue, anxiety, and lack of food, it was going straight to his head, but he would rather part with his hand than the glass of wine in it.
"Yes. He had to leave, of course. Upon taking France, one of Herr Göring's first tasks was to rape the châteaux of Bordeaux." Her voice turned as hard as nails when speaking of the Nazi Field Marshall. "He tried to confiscate Château Lafite-Rothschild. The bastard has requisitioned the Château here as an officer's billet for his precious Luftwaffe."
Peter set his glass down, alarmed. "Is it safe? For you to have me here?" By which he meant, was it safe for both of them?
She shrugged. "No. But it is no less safe than anywhere else and probably more so."
"Madame Delmas, the wife of our manager, has scolded the commandant into leaving us, mostly, alone. The officers are forbidden to pilfer our garden. But you must not be seen, of course. We are several kilometers from the Château."
Peter nodded, though he did wonder where she was proposing to hide him in the tiny farmhouse and how awful the cave was. Still, it was only two days and he was alive, unlike his dead crew members. He wondered where Fenwick was.
"And what do you do here when not hiding Allied soldiers?" he asked.
"I tend the slopes behind the house," Marie said, with a tilt of her head toward the vineyard outside. "I work for Madame Delmas in the gardens."
She drank the last of her glass; Peter followed her cue. It was time to get settled. As she slid off the table, he stood and found the floor gently spinning. With a concerned look, she offered a steadying hand, but Peter shook her off. "I will be fine, thank you."
He reached for his pack and so reminded, opened it. "Before we go, and regardless of your opinion of English rations, I do have some things that might be helpful besides tooth powder and a phrasebook."
Marie shouldered in eagerly. "I have no use for stockings, but I can trade them."
To be sure, Maenads did not wear stockings, Peter well knew. Or, as Marie was provocatively demonstrating, much of anything else. He handed her his last package received from the American crews stationed at his base. "Do you feel about American rations as you do about British?" He proffered the chocolate bar and it might as well have been a cockroach from the loathsome look on her expressive face.
Peter returned it to his pack. It had been the same with every French to whom he had offered it. They would rather starve than eat American Hershey chocolate.
"Do you have condoms?"
Peter stared at her a moment, then recovered his wits. This bartering was the reality to which they had all been reduced. American soldiers had access to condoms for several reasons and not solely because their Command wanted to prevent disease in the ranks when soldiers found girls willing to trade sex for chocolate and stockings. "Yes," he answered, pleased with his composure.
He had to laugh at that, though she was serious in the question. In this, there was evidently a preference for American manufacture. "As it happens, yes."
She put out her hand and Peter dug the envelopes out of the side pouch of his pack and set them in her waiting palm.
"Do not think ill of me," Marie said, slipping them into her pocket. "These are very valuable in France."
"I understand," Peter said quietly. He found troubling, not the particulars of their exchange, but the unnaturalness of it occurring at all. This was not the way things should be and as difficult as it was in England, the oppression was so much worse here. France had been crushed and her abundance stripped. He deeply admired the ferocity still burning in the people he had met.
The moment passed. "Anything else?" Marie boldly pried the pack open wider for a closer look.
"I received some food from the last places I stayed. I should not be carrying it about."
"French food?" Marie asked, interest piqued.
For answer, Peter carefully removed the cloth wrapped box at the bottom of his pack and heard her gasp in shock.
"May I?" she asked, quivering with eagerness.
As if handling eggs or glass, Marie delicately lifted the box from his hands, set it on the table, and carefully unwrapped it.
"I know this packaging," she said. "Were you in Charentes?"
"The farms?" she said in a reverent whisper. "The goats?" Even more muted, almost strangling, she asked, "Cows? Did you see the cows of Charentes?"
And slogged through their barns and manure, Peter did not say.
"Open it," he urged. He felt he was intruding upon a private and mystical moment, for such was the French bond to her food and wines, lovers too long separated.
With a fingertip still rimmed with the dirt of the vineyards, Marie opened the box and inhaled sharply. Inside the box nestled in a bed of dried grape leaves were a beautiful, creamy slab of butter and four pyramids of soft cheese, covered in what he had learned was an edible ash.
"The farms of Charentes are as famous for their cheese and butter as Bordeaux is for her wine." She lifted the box and inhaled deeply. Her hands were shaking so, the box rattled. Peter gently steadied it.
"It has come this far, best not to drop it?"
She nodded, set the precious jewels back on the table and wrapped them up again. "I must give some thought to the appropriate wine. I might find bread for such an occasion. We shall save them for later…" She paused and a stricken look crossed her face, "Peter? Pardonnez-moi…"
"Please, no apologies. They are yours for your trouble."
Her eyes were shining and the smile too ecstatic to be borne. Peter felt a fresh surge of anger – it seemed grossly wrong for a Maenad, whose whole being was devoted to giving abundantly, to be grateful for a few lumps of cheese and butter.
"Mon Dieu!" she exclaimed suddenly. "We must get you to the cave! It is nearly light!"
Indeed, the sky was pinking and birds were loud.
Peter grabbed his pack and followed her out the back door. In the early morning, he could see that the house was settled in a dell and that the vines grew on the ridge above it; the Garonne river and Gironde estuary would probably be just a few kilometers farther. They went along a path lined with tall flowers, around a shed, and then had to scramble uncomfortably between the rising cliff of the hillside and dense, prickly holly bushes.
The sharp edges scratched his arms; Marie slid through unscathed.
"I am sorry," she said, helping him free the pack from the clutches of the holly. "We built the shed and transplanted these bushes to hide the cave entrance. It will not stop a determined search, but it is not obvious."
Still not wise to her plan, he followed Marie a few more paces to, of all things, a doorway dug into the hillside.
"We have several wine caves at the Château," Marie explained. "They are the ideal temperature and humidity for storing wine."
So not a real cave, but a cellar, of sorts. She removed a key from her pocket, unlocked the door, and stepped inside. The temperature immediately dropped several degrees
She flicked a switch at the doorway and a string of bulbs illuminated a national treasure, stacked floor to ceiling. "Fortunately, Monsieur Dillon installed electricity. Otherwise you would be in the dark." She shut the door behind them and the morning sounds winked out.
Racks of wine bottles lined one wall. On the other side were immense oaken casks, one after another, row upon row.
"How far back does this go?" Peter asked, amazed. It reminded him greatly of Aslan's How.
"Almost to the Château," she said smugly. "It is quite the maze, deliberately so, built around 1870 during the Franco-Prussian War." Following on her heels, they journeyed deeper into the hillside. The construction itself was not that complex, Peter realized, but the racks and barrels created confusing and meandering paths. So tired and lightheaded, Peter knew he would become hopelessly lost without Marie guiding him. She finally turned and stopped in an alcove with a very large wooden wine press taking up the back wall.
"There is a secret entrance here behind the pressoir." Marie pushed the massive wine press and it slid on wheels away from the wall. "Watch your head going in. There is a light switch."
Peter ducked through the passage, fumbled for the light and clicked it on.
More wine, bottles only, stood on one wall. On the other side was a console with a basin, ewer, towel, and a hand cranked gramophone. There was a single chair, and most blessedly, a bed, already made up with crisp, white bedsheets. He wondered if they had Paris Ritz monograms as well. There was a door on the far wall.
He let the pack fall where he stood, feeling as safe as he had in days. With a deep sigh, he let out the accumulated tension. "Thank you, Marie. It is perfect."
"There is no running water, but there is fresh water in the pitcher. The gramophone works and there are records and some books." Pointing, she continued, "We dug a privy two years ago because so many come through here. You'll find it behind the door down the passage."
Peter dragged his pack to the chair, and sank on to the bed. Careless and heedless with fatigue, he pulled his boots off. A bed. A real bed. "Thank you, again. This will be very comfortable."
"I will need to go to the Château shortly," Marie said, digging into her pocket. "I will return this evening."
Peter nodded. "I will see you then. My thanks."
But instead of ducking back into the cave, Marie gingerly withdrew from her pocket a flower he had seen her pluck from the backyard garden during their walk to the cave. She turned toward the wine rack and set the sprig on a shelf built into the wall… Oh by the Lion…
He climbed again to his feet and joined Marie at her makeshift altar. She struck a match and lit a candle that, like dozens of others, had been thrust into an old, empty wine bottle. The melted wax ran down the bottle and on to the shelf like a frozen waterfall.
"My lord Bacchus," Peter murmured to the little statue on the shelf. In this particular rendering, he looked more of Silenus than the exuberant, beautiful youth they had known in Narnia, but the personality was unmistakably the same.
She stared at him, still gingerly holding the burning match. "You truly do know of Bacchus?"
Peter blew the match out for her before it burned too low. "I do." To the statue he said, "Forgive me, my lord, I have nothing to offer you now but myself and my sincere thanks."
"You could give him the Hershey chocolate."
"And anger the wine god?" Peter said. "No, I will not tempt his humor when here in his country. I shall go out in the evening and find something." Clippings from the holly outside the cave would please him, Peter thought. The Hollies had always been indiscriminate in their pollinating, especially if they drank wine. Their fruit and leaves would be a fitting gift to the god. "Until then, I shall ask for his patience."
"Bacchus is not patient!" Marie snapped.
"No," Peter agreed. "But, as I said, the wine god and I are acquainted. I believe he will give me some liberty." If Marie was so offended, he could ask for the return of one of the condoms to place at the god's altar. Peter decided the request was ill-advised. Nor was he certain if the mercurial god would be pleased at the offering, or if he would be offended that the condom was not being put to good use.
Marie pushed the hair away from her face. "His Maenads though? What of them?"
"Very impatient," Peter told her. "But that you already know."
Marie had laughed at his parting comment about Maenads, ducked out of the alcove, and rolled the pressoir back over the doorway. Peter stayed awake long enough to confirm that the sumptuous sheets and the mattress they covered had been the property of the Hotel Paris Ritz.
Peter did not often dream of Narnia but, in the presence of the wine god and in a place so special to him, it was inevitable. He returned to the Bacchanal on the night following their victory over Miraz and the Telmarines. Peter was Aslan's champion and together they had restored Caspian and Old Narnia. Bacchus and the Maenads had called the celebration into being. Where they danced, where their bare feet stomped the good earth, such foods as had not been tasted in an age appeared. The waters ran with wines, cool and fresh, deep and rich, every one blessed by the wine god – his own special vintages created for that raucous, lusty night.
"High King!" Bacchus roared, shoving a wine skin into his hands. "Why do you hang back? Your people wish to pay you homage! My Maenads are on their knees for you!"
Peter grimaced at the crude humor and took a deep drink, burying the pain of the parting he felt in his heart was coming. The wine tasted of a fine Château Haut-Brion. "My time here is ending, lord Bacchus. My mood is not a celebratory one." A Maenad danced by, her hair so tangled it nearly obscured her face; her legs, arms, and one breast were already bared for him and to the firelight. She held out beckoning hands, but Peter remained where he was and she flounced away with a pout on her full lips.
"And so you will disappoint those who would honor you?" Bacchus challenged. The god's face was glowing in the light of the blazing bonfires, his mouth stained red. Peter found himself grabbed by strong hands and kissed very soundly. Peter sputtered and staggered backwards.
"Must you do that, my lord? You know my preference!" Still, protest was absurd, for Bacchus could appear in any form and if taken by the god's wine madness, Peter could as easily be blinded to it.
"You spurn my Maenads and now me as well? You are too difficult to please, High King." The god laughed, but Peter caught the hard edge that turned his blood cold.
"No, my lord," Peter corrected hurriedly. "But, such joys will surely make my farewell harder still."
The god wrapped an arm about his shoulders and Peter had the sensations of vines curling about him. "I do not know the Lion's purposes, High King. But once a King, always a King, and the land from which you come needs those of Kingly manner and ways even more than Narnia."
Bacchus raised his bowl and toasted his wild girls, swaying and writhing to the beating of Dwarf drums and fluting Faun pipes. "The Maenads wish to honor you, High King, for your great service to them and to Narnia. A day will come when you may honor their lonely sister in turn."
"And how can that be when I shall never return here?" Peter asked.
"High King," the wine god chided. "The Lion is in your world. Do you think I am not?"
And so chastened for acting as a sullen child when all were celebrating, and hearing the request of a god and the threat beneath, the next time the Maenad danced around the fire, Peter let her draw him away, deep into the wood and into her eager, grateful arms and those of her sisters.
He woke with a start to fading cries of Maenad passion and aching from the touch of the wild ones who were not there. From this painful awakening, Peter cast an irritated look in the direction of the god's altar.
"Thank you ever so much," he told the god. "Consider your message delivered."
The stone floor was very cool on his feet. It took him only a few moments to explore the space he had been too tired to even see earlier. From his watch, he knew it was near eighteen hundred, and he'd been sleeping for at least twelve hours.
Peter found the records – all jazz and band titles, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, and Ella Fitzgerald. He also found wine and poured himself a generous glass and for good measure, sprinkled drops on the god's altar.
The wine made the half of a hard biscuit ration he ate slightly more palatable, but really, he was coming to see that he was cheapening very good drink with very bad food. He was just going to try to crank up the gramophone when he heard Marie on the other side of the pressoir.
"How are you? Feeling better?" She bustled in and set a basket and a pitcher of water on the table.
"Yes, thank you."
With her so close, and as was surely the god's intent, Peter was reminded strongly of his dream. Marie smelled of the outdoors. She was still barefoot and leaves were tangled in her unkempt hair. As he had with Bacchus' wild girls, he wanted to ease the strap over her slim, browned shoulder, and watch the light frock slide off her body to the ground, a puddle at their feet. There was nothing but her honeyed skin beneath that over-laundered, flimsy dress; it was as translucent as a butterfly wing with the light behind her. The bedsheets of the Paris Ritz were not the green grass of Narnia, but in the cave would feel nearly as cool to their joined heat.
But, she was a Maenad and it was for her to make such desires known. Instead, Peter asked, "If you would permit me?" She smiled her assent and so he plucked the leaves from her hair and placed them at the wine god's feet.
"If you will leave my dreams now, my lord, it would be more restful."
Marie laughed. "His revenge for no offering?"
"So perhaps you do not know him so well?" she taunted.
"Oh, I know the wine god," Peter assured her. "But he and his Maenads will do what they will."
She looked at him thoughtfully and Peter had the sense of a test, the parameters of which became clearer when she suddenly blurted, "Lie down on the bed!" He very willingly complied with her specific and emphatic order, quite cheered at the direction.
He stretched out, propped on his elbows, and watched as Marie set a few berries at the god's feet and again lit the candle. Then, she busied herself at the side table, removing from her basket a towel, a tube of brushless shaving cream and a safety razor.
She studied him again with her appraising stare. "You take orders well, Peter."
"You asked and I certainly am glad to oblige you however I might."
She grinned and from her pocket removed one of the condom packages and set it on the table.
He was very amenable to the invitation, though felt he needed to clarify that this was not a requisite of his stay, even if he felt the utter hypocrite in saying so. Peter did not wish to deny his own warming desire, nor offend the wine god and his Maenad. However, he was also a common English soldier under the protection of the Maquis and simple politeness played a role too.
"Marie," he began.
He should not have worried for a Maenad was bold and she knew her own mind. With no preliminaries or by your leaves, just as her sisters before, Marie pushed him back on to the bed with a protesting squeak of springs. "I shall shave you first, Peter."
"Shave?" he repeated. Rubbing his face, he supposed it was getting wooly there, but shaving was not the prelude he had in mind.
"Yes," Marie affirmed and, to his delight but not surprise, she climbed on to the bed, straddling him at the waist, her strong legs neatly trapping him on either side. It was a preferred position of the Maenad.
"You are too rough. After the shave, I shall decide if you are worthy of a rare condom."
"I see," Peter replied. "I am not sure how I feel about you with a razor at my throat." He did not like the sound of proving his worth either but seeing to the Maenad first was always the more prudent policy. If he did right by her, the rest would follow perforce. Her Narnian sisters had seen to his thorough instruction in that regard and Peter could well imagine the wine god's contempt if he failed the task now.
"So dramatic! I have done this before!"
With a grousing complaint, Marie tugged at the hem of his undershirt. Peter obliged and let her peel it off.
For a few luscious moments, he thought maybe they would skip the shave. Marie became distracted and the tight grip of her legs at his sides slackened as his hands moved over her body. Peter lifted the strap of her frock to relive that fantastical memory as the dress fell off her shoulder.
"You are so beautiful." Like the wine they drank, mere words could not describe her body arcing over him, as glorious as any god-maddened vision. Grasping her wrist, Peter mouthed her arm. She tasted of wine and summer and smelled of grass and rich turned earth. His mistake was trying to pull her down to press her skin to his and a first kiss.
"Non et non!" Marie exclaimed, pulling back . "Shave first!" She pulled her frock back up over her shoulders. That was very disappointing.
"Oh, very well," Peter grumbled, though his protest was half-hearted. This was her whim and he could be patient. He should accept her ministrations as her god would wish him to and so he submitted to the softness of the cream and the burn of the blade in her hands.
As she leaned forward to carefully scrape the razor up his face, his hands, still anxious to participate and move things along, slid up her bare legs to steady her.
The blade paused at his throat. "Go higher," Marie said, shifting to try and edge his waiting hands up between her legs.
"Not with a razor on my neck."
She pouted and tossed her hair. "It is a safety razor."
"But it is my neck." Still, to oblige, his thumbs pressed lightly into the soft skin of her inner thigh. They did not, to her increasing aggravation, move upward.
Marie steadied herself, one hand pushing his shoulder back into the mattress. Hard. "You are teasing," she said, suddenly sounding very angry.
"Never," Peter said fervently. "I would never be such a fool."
She held the razor before his eyes, waving it.
"You know what happens to those who mock the wine god and his Maenads?"
"Torn apart. Driven mad. Murdered their families." Peter slid a hand under her dress, over her back, the long quieting stroke to settle a restless cat. It was neither where she wished such stroking, nor what he desired, but it showed his intent to make good on the promise. "I shall never tease unless you ask. But if you could finish as quickly as possible…"
In her haste to complete his shave, there were some nicks and cuts though with cause due to her increasing distraction with his ever firmer caresses.
She did not last much longer. With a snarl of frustration, Marie capitulated, threw the razor away, and grabbed his hand to demand a first time rough plundering. A single, gentle tug and, at last, her dress fell from her shoulders, tangling her arms to bunch carelessly at her waist; the skirt was shoved high over her hips. Perched above him, head thrown back, lips between her teeth, she was an utterly wanton, perfect likeness of her Maenad sisters, though it was the light of a bulb that reflected off her skin, not the glow of bonfires. With a sudden, shuddering gasp, Marie collapsed against him, murmuring incoherent French. Peter kissed her throat.
For the Maenads he had known, this quick, hard satisfaction would never have sufficed and Peter was wary of the wine god's critique as well. Though it seriously pained him, figuratively and literally, he had not earned the condom yet when there was so much that could still be done for one who had had so much taken from her. He gently turned her, rolling so their positions were reversed. Marie's hair spread out, black on white, her skin golden against the mussed, stolen bedsheets. She was a splendid, sensuous mess.
Grasping her leg, he slowly raised her knee to his waiting lips and planted a kiss there. "Surely that was not enough?"
Peter added a little nip to the kiss, seeking her attention. "That could not have been sufficient to earn the condom."
Her eyes flew open, mouth forming a perfect Oh. "Eh bien, alors!"
Leaning down, he kissed the surprise away from her lips then ran his fingers along her lines, mapping the terrain. His mouth followed his fingers to explore the peaks and valleys that made a Maenad moan. Between the kisses, he observed, "Anything hands might do, the mouth does better." He wished he could take credit for the line, but it had been a Maenad who had demonstrated the principle.
"Ô! Oui!" She giggled and squirmed.
Now there were alternative methods for going about this. The Maenads had been very clear on their preference. As fitting and as her sisters had desired, Peter began at Marie's feet, for where Maenads danced, bounty flowed.
"It is like this," Peter told her, speaking between the lingering kisses he deliberately placed on her legs. "When Bacchus and Silenus and the Maenads meet in the wood, they dance. You know this?"
"Oui," she said breathlessly.
"Their wild dance is not merely for pleasure and beauty."
"No?" Marie whispered. She twisted under his mouth. "For what is their dance then?"
"Where Maenads and the wine god dance, it is a magic dance of plenty. Where their hands touch and where their feet fall, there is a feast."
Her groan traveled down through her body and arced into his own. "Tell me of the feast," she demanded.
And so, in-between the kisses and caresses his roving mouth gifted her, Peter told the Maenad of the feast her sisters had conjured for him so long ago. He whispered of the roasted meats, cakes, and breads, beautiful cheeses and butters, honey and many-coloured sugars and cream as thick as porridge and as smooth as still water, peaches, nectarines, pomegranates, pears, grapes, strawberries, raspberries, pyramids and cataracts of fruit.
Marie's cries were like those of sisters, fierce and frantic. When he had coaxed the last from her, the Maenad was softened, so hot to the touch, even the sheets could not cool, and he was beyond desperate for her.
As a supplicant, he cradled her supple, pliant body in his arms and asked.
And that was how they came to use the first condom.
Chapter 2 to follow shortly.
Links to the research will be posted in my LJ.
As with my other Narnia Fic Exchange entry, the Eustace and Jill story, Under Cover, posted a few days ago, this is not strictly compliant with The Stone Gryphon, though I've borrowed from TSG and stuck it in here.
A few notes, with more to follow.
The tactics of the resistance, the subterfuge the French undertook to protect their wine, and the hardships of the living conditions in occupied France are taken from several sources and specifically, D. and P. Kaldstrup, Wine & War: The French, The Nazis & the Battle for France's Greatest Treasure.
The setting is a true one. Château Haut-Brion is a famous winery of the Bordeaux region; its wine is rated as Premier Cru Classé (First Growth) from the Graves region of Gironde – a designation it has held since 1855. The winery was indeed owned by an American, Clarence Dillon, was managed by Georges Delmas, and Madame Demas did scold the German commander about the soldiers pilfering the vegetable garden when the Luftwaffe occupied the Château. The wines of Château Haut-Brion were hidden from the Nazis behind a refuse pile.
I have, however, shamelessly inserted Marie-Ginette Rousseau, Maenad of the Maquis, into the War and Château Haut-Brion.
Peter's lovely descriptions of the feast at the Bacchanal are taken nearly verbatim from Prince Caspian.