The Maenad of the Maquis
Chapter 2 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. A huge thanks to Cirolane/CaramelSilver who ran the Fic Exchange!
Heed the rating.
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 enow."
The Rubiyaiyat of Omar Khayyam, translated by Edward Fitzgerald
They drank a bottle of 1934 Chateau Haut-Brion in the farmhouse kitchen and shared the tian de legumes. Peter did not eat the cornbread she offered for he had seen in Charentes the long effort it took to make the grainy yellow bread. Marie spread a shaving of the precious butter on a tiny piece of the cornbread and he might have taken as a personal affront her moans of pleasure over simple bread and butter. But, having witnessed the deprivations of the War and its effect upon the French, he felt pity and anger rather than offense. He kissed the tears of joy away and suppressed, for the moment, the powerful reactions her sighs provoked.
As happened when in the company of a Maenad, Peter found it increasingly difficult to concentrate upon anything other than when they might use the next condom, or, should Marie wish to conserve the precious commodity, some variation of Make Do, just as the War Office exhorted.
After sharing a plum and licking the juices away, they huddled together in the sitting room over the wireless with the blackout shades pulled down. Marie had to reinsert the lead into the electric meter for the radio to work. Otherwise, it would broadcast nothing but static. Should anyone come looking for a member of the Resistance in the tiny farmhouse, they would find bad wine, a non-functioning radio, and a lot of records. She fiddled with the dials, looking for the Radio London broadcast.
"What is your call signal?" Marie asked.
"It depends," Peter told her. "If my sister is sending a message, it will probably be 'sword.' If it is someone from command, it would be 'green hat." My other crew mate is 'blue hat.'"
There were bursts of static and then the voice of the BBC surged out. The news, "real news," Marie whispered, was all about the Allied invasion of Sicily, il Duce's removal, and Operation Husky.
After the news, the string of cryptic action messages began. These were the coded instructions from the War Office and SOE to Resistance fighters and spies all over occupied Europe.
"We will have eggs for breakfast."
"Cut the roses today."
"Go to the store and buy a chair."
The bizarre messages, critically important to him, to Marie, and to the thousands of others just like them secretly bunched around radios listening to the BBC, went on for some minutes. Then, Peter heard, "The blue hat is in the basket." He exhaled his relief. Fenwick had made it out of France and was on his way back to England.
The message he was waiting for came a few lines later, from Susan. "Rat wants the sword to stay sharp at the How." Susan's message to him was then followed by one for Edmund and Lucy who surely had heard he had been downed in occupied France, "Rat says to Crow and Heart that the Sword will return to Narnia."
Peter opened his mouth to speak and Marie, seeming very shocked, swiped down her hand and cut him off. "Chut!"
The broadcast switched to French and her look sharpened further still. Peter heard the word "rat" – the word was the same in French and English – and something about a dance next month.
The programme, still in French, continued, and Marie lowered the volume. "Now it is all patati patata, talk talk talk, we heard before in English."
"Was there a message about me?" Peter asked. "About the plans? My instructions are to stay here and follow your instructions." Peter had to credit Susan – she obviously knew of the purpose to which the wine caves were being put and where he was. She had drawn upon the Narnia experience to compare the wine cave to Aslan's How. Her message to Edmund and Lucy was equally obscure to anyone but a Friend of Narnia – he would be returning to England soon.
Marie's eyes were very large with surprise. "Mon Dieu!" She let out a breath. "The message about you was from Rat! How is it that Rat takes an interest in you?"
"Rat is one of my sister's code names," Peter said. It referred back to the time when she and Edmund had operated the Narnian Intelligence Service.
"Oh! Rat is your sister! And Rat is the code name of Louise in the Maquis! So, your sister is Rat, is Louise?"
"She is," Peter said. He had not thought Susan's activities would have reached to an individual Maquis and her safe house in Bordeaux. But, really, how could he know anything? He only knew of the SOE's activities in planting women agents in France because his sister was one of them, code name, Louise.
Marie slid like a cat from her chair onto his, wrapping her thin arms around his neck. "I must take very good care of you or Louise will send me to Alsace!"
"She would not do that and you are taking very good care of me," he said running his hands along her sides. "And the plans?"
"As before. You will be smuggled out through Canfranc. Morning, day after next," she said.
"Morning? Not the night?"
"For this, morning. It will be well. We have done this many times before and with Louise watching, it must be well."
Peter pulled her sleeve down from one shoulder, reveling in the brazen Maenad in his lap; his hands splayed against her bare back. They were secreted behind the blackout shades and their only light came from the glow of the radio illicitly broadcasting to occupied France of the Italian campaign. Marie's feral, heedless passion inspired in him something very like the madness of the wine god. Her bedroom was only steps away, the floor even closer, he was not going to shave again, and when he had impatiently shoved the skirt up to caress her slim, bare hips, he had felt the condom package in her pocket. Soldiers and Maquis were prepared for any eventuality.
Marie, however, began untangling her limbs and slipped away. She stood and really it took enormous restraint to not pull her back into his lap.
"Allons-y! Come!" the Maenad said, holding out her hand. "I wish to show you my vineyard."
"Shouldn't we be worried about patrols?" Peter asked, looking about over the vines. It was late and the road was on the other side of the field, but with a plan now in place he did not want to risk being caught by the Gestapo within a day of his escape to Spain.
"No," Marie said absently. She was sitting on the ground and manipulating the hand cranked gramophone she had ordered Peter to carry from the cave. "They know the mad girl in the cottage plays music. The officers are at the maison de tolérance tonight. The rest will drink and play cards."
Maison de tolérance – brothel. The Americans at the base knew the word in no fewer than eight languages. Peter glanced down and then had to look away from the riveting view. Marie sat unconcernedly beneath the trellised wine grapes and had hiked her dress very high. It was a vision certain to inspire irrational behavior.
"Voila!" Marie exclaimed as the gramophone wound up. "Now you must play these songs for me." She tugged his trouser leg, bringing him down to the ground next to her.
"And what will you be doing?" Peter asked, settling behind her and wrapping his arms about her waist. A little, gentle effort, some manipulative coaxing, and she might still be dissuaded. He had no objection to saxophone, trumpet, and crooning vocals, but very much desired them in conjunction with using the second condom. Right now.
"I wish to dance for my vines," Marie said, slipping like water through his fingers and bouncing to her feet.
There was, unfortunately, a decent stack of records. He was going to ask whether she really intended to dance through all of them, but reluctantly thought the better of it. A Maenad will do what a Maenad will do. He was here at her pleasure and his pleasure would necessarily flow from hers, with patience, sorely and uncomfortably tested as it was.
So, Peter poured himself a hefty glass from a bottle she had taken from the cave. It was a potent 1938; Marie said it was best to enjoy the strong wine young because this vintage was not cellaring well.
He had heard her play How High The Moon before. In the absence of sinewy Faun melodies, Peter supposed the jazz version of the popular American tune would suffice for a Maenad.
Somewhere there's music
It's where you are
Somewhere there's heaven
How near, how far
The darkest night would shine
If you would come to me soon
Until you will, how still my heart
How high the moon
He lay back on his hands, though the gravely soil stung a little due, Marie had explained, to its silica content. Sheltered under a trellis of tangled, fragrant vines, he watched the Maenad dance under the white moon and yellow stars. Arms free, hair wild, and barefoot, she spun through the rows. The first few times her dress slipped, she pulled it back up, but finally left it loose, as it should be.
The dance was sensual and provocative and even more so because Peter knew it was not performed for him at all. Her effect upon him was profound – how could it not be so – but incidental. Marie danced for her god and her grapes.
If you would come to me soon
She swayed by and Peter reached for her but, with flash of leg and twirling skirt, Marie darted away, laughing. The music stopped and she glared at him, stomping her foot petulantly. With a weary sigh and another deep drink, Peter complied and put the next record on, You Go To My Head.
Surely the mad French girl had selected the recording to taunt him. Just out of reach, she raised her arms in a triumphant and muscle snapping stretch. Peter very nearly surged to his feet to chase her between the rows before his mind caught up with his desire. Exploiting this fatal moment of hesitation, she dashed away. The trellises trembled as she flitted and waltzed between them.
You go to my head,
And you linger like a haunting refrain
And I find you spinning round in my brain
Like the bubbles in a glass of champagne.
Or like a fine Bordeaux. Damn the music and he was helpless to do anything but wait and watch her hands trail lovingly over the vines heavy with plump fruit ripening in the summer heat. In what was truly a new low pleasing only to Bacchus and his Maenad, Peter found he was envious of how she gently fondled the grapes. He took another drink and nearly drained his glass. Like the song on the gramophone, the wine and the dancing Maenad were going straight to his head.
You go to my head
With smile that makes my temperature rise
Like a summer with a thousand Julys
You intoxicate my soul with your eyes ….
He'd had enough of You Go To My Head. Peter abruptly changed the record to Heart and Soul. He was just ready to be truly irritated with that selection as well when Marie burst from a row of vines and tumbled down next to him, breathing hard. A sheen of sweat on her neck beaded down to her bared breast and dampened the wispy tendrils of her hair. Marie grasped him about the face, not gently, and pushed a grape between his lips.
"Taste the grapes of Château Haut-Brion, Peter," Marie murmured, sealing his mouth with an urgent kiss.
He had to bite through the grape's thick skin and flavors of pepper and black currant exploded in his mouth. The same tastes of fruit, wine, mint and grass were on her lips and mingled with his. He was starving for her and slipped his hands down her slicked back to pull her closer.
She slipped another grape into his mouth and, as he again bit down, she shared the trickling juices of the luscious fruit. Her Maenad fervor was still hard edged, so he risked biting teeth and scratching nails. But, it was a trade he welcomed – whatever minor pain was worth the certain pleasure.
Marie shoved him to the ground. She laced his fingers in hers and pulled their joined hands behind and over his head to tangle them in the twining vines.
My life a wreck you're making
My heart is yours for just the taking.
I'll gladly surrender
Myself to you, body and soul!
"Do you know how they would make wine?" Marie whispered, her breath hot on his neck.
"No," he gritted out, his self control scattering like the dried leaves in the breeze.
"The winemakers would crush the grapes with their bare feet and turn them to must. As the wine ferments, there is then the pigeage. Do you know what that is?"
He shook his head, wincing as she worried his ear between her teeth.
"For the pigeage, men strip, hang from chains looped from overhead beams, and plunge their naked bodies into the fermenting must."
Her grip on his hands tightened, her nails pinched. The images she conjured were as mad as any from the wine god himself. Marie stretched her body over his and Peter felt crystalline gravel pricking his arms and back. Splinters from the rough wood of the trellis stabbed his palms.
Her kiss was hard and plundering, and her voice a promise. "Men drowned in the fermenting must, or died from the fumes. Died. To make our wine."
I'll gladly surrender
Myself to you, body and soul!
With desperate need driving everything else away, Peter realized Marie had coaxed those very words from him. He was not truly ensnared in the winding vines and her hands, not really trapped beneath her eager body. But he was under her protection and was falling into the Maenad's thrall. And why not, the little part of reason that still remained to him argued. He could give her nothing but his meager self and how could it possibly be enough when everything had been taken from her? A Maenad was a creature of life and bounty, and it was contrary to her very being to be so bitterly reduced. The only thing of value he could give was what she did not have – control, for a moment, over another.
So, Peter let the wine god take his mind and gave himself over to the Maenad of Bacchus. She was silhouetted against the sky and stars, wearing nothing but moonlight. Cool, sharp edged soil dug into his back; her lips burned his body wherever they touched. She bit and clawed and slowly, too, too slowly, took him apart, piece by awful piece. She teased, tormented, and whispered what she would do. For her, he would surrender everything - self, pride, duty, everything - for such was the power of a Maenad over a desperate man in the throes of the wine god's spells.
He was ensnared in vines and madness. A Maenad delicately lapped at the young, rough wine she dribbled over his body. Brilliant stars wheeled overhead. It might have been Narnia; he might have been the victorious King. But the wails echoing over the hillside were sirens, not the wild calls of Silenus and the frenzied Maenads. The pounding in the earth and his bones was not the beat of Dwarf drum, but Nazi artillery at the Port of Bordeaux.
Near dawn they stumbled back to the cave. Even in his stupor, Peter remembered to lay a sprig of holly at Bacchus' altar before collapsing on the bed. Evidently satisfied with Peter's performance and treatment of his Maenad, the wine god let him sleep in peace. Perhaps Bacchus was sleeping it off as well.
It was dusk when Peter woke again, wishing for a hot drink and aspirin. After the previous night's Bacchanal, he was not quite prepared to break his fast with more wine so soon. He knew better than to ask Marie for coffee – the closest he had seen to coffee in the French farmhouses of the Maquis was roasted barley. He had been saving his tea bags and when the light faded, Peter crept cautiously out of the cave in search of hot water.
Marie had not yet returned from the Château, so he puttered quietly about the farmhouse and enjoyed the running water of the washroom and kitchen. He got the kettle going and indulged himself by letting the tea steep a full ten minutes. It was only the second time he had used this tea bag so while the brew was not as strong as he wished, neither was it weak dishwater. It even softened the hard biscuit from his ration when he dunked it. After the tea and downing two aspirin from his med kit, he was feeling as well as could be expected for a man shot out of the sky, on the run from Nazis, and rubbed raw from an orgiastic romp with a Maenad. He was resolved to not – for the short term at least – drink wine that young, nor to bed a woman on gravel that in feel and composition was akin to ground glass.
Peter found the lead tucked behind a musty edition of Les Misérables and inserted it into the radio. He turned the BBC broadcast to a whisper. The news was about Sicily and when the coded messages began, he heard only the repeat of Susan's message of the night before. He did wonder how they were going to smuggle him out of Bordeaux and into the rugged Pyrenees.
He had just returned the lead to its hiding place when he heard Marie at the back door.
"Peter?" she called softly.
"In here," he replied as quietly and joined her in the kitchen. Marie was carefully removing foods from her string bag and setting them on the table.
There was a tomato, a few apricots, a pot of onion confit, and…
"You found bread!"
"Oui!" She flew around the table and into his arms. This kiss, to the cheek, was enthusiastic, but grateful rather than passionate. "I traded a condom, the stockings, and a bottle of good wine, and now we have real bread!"
A fair trade, Peter knew, and no inconvenience to him whatsoever. As Marie had so devastatingly demonstrated last night in the vineyard, "Make Do" had its own fantastic rewards.
He retrieved the precious butter and cheese from the cool larder as she carefully sliced and artfully arranged their feast.
The bottle from which she poured had no label. She decanted it into a large pitcher and poured generous measures into two tumblers. Peter could tell from the deep colour in the glass and the heady scent that this was to be something extraordinary. She was allowing the claret "to open up" and "breathe."
Marie lifted her tumbler reverently, inhaling, but not tasting. "It is a 1900 Château Haut-Brion. One of the finest vintages ever produced. Herr Göring took every bottle he could find."
He wanted to say that he was not worthy of it, but knew that was not the point. He was just one of hundreds of lost soldiers sneaking through France and what he and Marie shared was a fleeting thing of the War, two bodies enjoying pleasure amid ugliness and death. Marie's bond to the food and wine of her shattered country was something else entirely; it was profound, mystical, and a matter of heart and soul.
"Thank you for sharing it with me," he said.
So they sat and waited at the table.
"I listened to Radio London; my instructions were the same as before."
Marie nodded, more concerned with poking the cheese and swirling the wine in her glass to assure optimal serving temperature.
"It is so. They will be here in the morning." She looked up and he did appreciate the serious and focused attention. "It would be well even if you were not the brother of Louise. She is one of the Maquis and we wish to do this for her."
Finally, Marie was ready and, with shaking hands, dug her fingers into the crusty and golden long loaf and carefully split the baguette down the middle. Every scattered crumb she carefully gathered in a linen. She tore a piece of bread from the loaf, set it on the plate and then Peter saw what she was doing.
Reaching across the table, he gently squeezed her wrist. "Serve yourself first, Marie. Please."
The ecstatic bliss on her face as she spread the butter on the crackling fresh bread and as she bit into the little mound of goat cheese was an expression Peter would always remember.
She finally raised her tumbler and he did the same. "Santé"
This time he said the toast aloud, for it was the only one that was fitting. "To the wine god."
The wine was like nothing he had ever had. Seductive, lush, silky, full of ripe berry and fruit, then nuances of coffee and cream. Glorious, harmonious.
She had spoken his name at least three times. "Are you well?"
Just as she had trembled over the cheese and butter of Charentes, Peter could not imagine anything more perfect than the wine in his hand.
"It is beautiful, yes?"
He managed a nod. With the authority of one who knows for certain, Peter said, "Only Bacchus could make such a wine."
Marie licked a finger and carefully picked up the buttered crumbs of her bread, one by one, on her dampened fingertip. She delicately nibbled on the leavenings, took a sliver of apricot, a slice of tomato, a dab of cheese, a thimbleful of onion. "Tell me what you know of the wine god. I feel you do know him better than I." The appraising, curious look returned in her expression.
Peter swirled the wine in his own glass. The days in the company of Aslan, Bacchus and the awakened Trees had been very, very good ones – vivid, astonishing, and blessed. "Bacchus could turn well water into wine so fine it would cure the dying. The wine was as red as currant jelly, smooth as oil, strong as beef, warming as tea, and as cool as dew."
Marie sipped her own glass. "I wonder what they did then for water. One cannot drink wine all the time!"
Peter leaned back in the chair and savored another transporting sip. "And I have told you already of the feast."
Marie broke off another tiny corner of the cheese and slowly nibbled on it. "Was it as fine as this?"
"More abundant, but not as fine, no." It was the truth and she looked very satisfied with that compromise. Maybe it was its precious rarity, and the degree to which Marie appreciated it, but Peter did not think that even the bounty of Narnia surpassed the butter and cheese of Charentes that melted on his tongue now.
She set her elbow on the table and cupped her chin in her hands. "And the wine god? What of him?"
"In the guise he took for the feast, he looked as a boy, dressed only in a deer skin, with a crown of vine-leaves. He reached out his hands and great wooden cups and bowls and mazers, appeared, all wreathed with ivy. And they filled, again and again, with wines. There were dark wines, so thick, they were almost like mulberry juice, and clear red ones like red jellies."
"But not sweet!" she exclaimed, horrified.
Peter held his glass up to their bare bulb of light. "No, no more than this is, which is to say not at all. They were wonderful. And there were also the yellow wines and green wines and yellow-green and greenish-yellow, as light and refreshing as rain."
They drank the old, dusky bottle that concealed the treasure of a nation and Peter conjured the vision for her of the wine god and her sisterhood of the Maenads. He told of her old, fat Silenus and his donkey and the yodeling cries of euan, euan, eu-oi-oi-oi-oi. He described the grapes they ate, firm and tight on the outside, but bursting into cool sweetness in your mouth when you bit into them. He told her how the vines climbed everywhere and when you pushed your hair back you would be pushing back vines instead. He told her how the donkey had been a mass of greenery and she laughed. He told her of the bonfires, the music, and dancing on green grass.
Then Peter carried the starved and lonely Maenad to her bed and made love to her. It was without the hard edged, urgent desperation of earlier. It was slow, and gentle, sad and sweet, and there was a lingering regret that they had only a night and not the weeks and months that it took to truly learn the language of a partner. It was no longer completely new, but not yet familiar either, and never would be.
Afterwards, they lay on the mussed, stolen bedsheets of the Paris Ritz and watched the patterns of the shadows of the trees on the wall. In his imagination, it was as if the trees moved and swayed as the Dryads had. There was a distant rumble of artillery. Marie shivered and buried her head in crook of his neck. "It is so horrible at the port."
"I know." Eight Royal Marines had died there in December during a raid on Nazi ships docked at Bordeaux.
"All goosestepping, gray Nazis and hobnailed boots and ugly cement U-boat pens in the beautiful waters of the Gironde."
"They are unbelievers," Peter said, wrapping an arm more tightly around her, feeling her every rib under his fingers. "We know what the wine god and his Maenads do to unbelievers."
"Tell me, Peter," Marie whispered and he felt dampness on his shoulder. "Tell me what they would do."
Peter thought on this and found the story easily for he had lived a version of it. "Bacchus and his Maenads, and Silenus and his donkey, all come to Bordeaux and the first place they go is the BETASOM submarine base at the port."
Marie lifted her head; Peter brushed away her tears with a thumb. "And then? What happens?"
"And then the river god of the Gironde rises up out of the water and he has a great wet, bearded head, as large a giant's, and he is crowned with rushes. 'Hail, lord Bacchus,' the river god says. 'Loose my chains.'"
"No!" she exclaimed.
"Yes," Peter told her. "And so the wine god and his wild girls splash into the Gironde estuary and within moments great strong trunks of ivy curl up over the piers of the U-boat pens." His hands slid along her back and sides, mimicking the way the beautiful green might grow. "The ivy spreads quickly, as fast as fire, and wraps around the concrete slabs and splits and breaks them. The pens turn into hedges of hawthorn and holly."
"And then?" Marie breathed into his ear. "Tell me, Peter, what happens?"
"BETASOM is undone by the power of the wine god and the whole base turns to green and collapses with a rush and a rumble into the waters of the Gironde."
With a happy sigh, Marie nuzzled closer. "Encore un, s'il vous plait?"
"Oui! Tell me what happens to the Gestapo when Bacchus comes," Marie asked, stroking his leg with her foot. "Please."
"The Gestapo do not believe in the wine god, either" Peter told her. "They run out to defend BETASOM and are never seen again. Afterwards it is said that there were many very fine little pigs in that part of Bordeaux which had never been there before."
"Des cochons!" She laughed and squirmed about again, finally settling on her back. "What of Herr Hitler and Herr Göring?"
"The King challenges Göring to single combat and breaks the baton of the Reichsmarschall. The very land of France goes to war against Herr Hitler. Her trees and waters, her beasts and birds, all rise up and take back what is theirs."
"And Bacchus turns them to pigs!" She grasped his hand and kissed each knuckle. "It is a very good story, Peter."
"The best stories are true, Marie."
But, a story. He could not challenge Herr Hitler to single combat, could not muster his army against their endless winter or win the battle against Herr Göring by breaking his Reichsmarschall baton. He could do all he could, give her all he had, and it would not be, would never be, enough. The combined might of the Allied forces could not accomplish such things; he alone certainly could not.
And even here, lying with Marie in her stolen bed on her pilfered sheets, with the knobby bones of her back jutting his side, still she had given more than he had. For to her, he was no one but Peter Pevensie. There were no titles, no High Kings, Sires or Majesties, or Rank or Sirs. Unlike her sisters before her, this Maenad's great gift was that she did not do this to honor the High King and his defeat of the tyrant overseer. Marie did this for him alone, a lowly English Flight Officer who had done nothing but parachute from a burning plane into a cow pasture.
At one time he would have railed against the unfairness of it – why had Aslan made him a King with an army to command and then sent him back, a child again, but without the sword, without the army, without his brother and sisters ruling beside him, and without the blessing of the Lion upon their daily rule. To what end, if not cruelty? He knew the answers to those hard questions, understood there were greater purposes at work, but at this moment, feeling helpless and hounded by the Gestapo, with a hungry, oppressed Maenad in his arms, it was sometimes difficult to remember such things.
And so, with a fragrant summer breeze blowing through the window to cool their bodies, Peter dreamed again.
It was morning after the Bacchanal. Aslan had told him and Susan what Peter had sensed from the moment he had seen that his task was to see another boy made King of Narnia. Peter found himself at the Beruna's edge. The water swirled away, lazy and free. The scent of smoldering bonfires and spilled wine lingered. He would soon give his sword and throne to Caspian and leave, never to return.
Peter heard Birds and Squirrels arguing over nuts in the trees and Trees and knew it would not be his duty to mediate. In a few short hours, the door to Narnia would close behind him.
"My lord Bacchus."
Today, in the aftermath of their celebrations, Bacchus looked more like Silenus and less like the pretty youth of the night before. He was, of course, still drinking from an immense wooden bowl. Hair from the dog, the wine god would say, though the Canines resented the adage. Peter supposed Bacchus was looking puffy and bloodshot to show solidarity with the mere mortals who really were feeling the after effects of the drunken, lusty celebration.
"Thank you for being so accommodating of my Maenads."
"They are as persuasive as you are." And aggressive. Peter assumed the Maenads' many marks to his body would disappear when he went back, just as his scars had before.
"True, but you let them thank you and in a gracious way they understood."
"Does this mean you shall not turn me into a pig?"
The god laughed. "No, I shall not. The Lion would be cross with me. He might eat me."
"But you are immortal," Peter replied, smiling in spite of himself.
"I am, but it still hurts to be eaten," Bacchus said, rubbing his jaw feelingly. "Just ask my brother, the Trickster. He gets eaten all the time."
"In the company of one god is quite enough for this humble man."
Again, Bacchus laughed and put his arm about Peter's sagging shoulders. "I thought we might drink a parting cup until we meet again!"
He pushed a glass tumbler into Peter's hands; the god's hands were brown and his nails were chipped from hard work and rimmed with dirt. Peter stared at the glass of deep red wine. Its nose was that of the Château Haut-Brion 1900, the finest vintage the god ever blessed.
"You are very confident of that future meeting, my lord."
"I am, High King. As I said last night, the Lion and I are both in your world. The things you love most of Narnia are there as well, if you but have the eyes to see and the heart to feel."
"But the will to see and to feel as you say? I am not sure I am capable of the challenge Aslan sets before me."
"He does not doubt you, High King; nor do I." The wine god gestured out broadly and it seemed that where his gaze fell and over what his arm swept, the landscape greened and bloomed. "You have, by the Lion's grace, again defeated a tyrant and freed Narnia. You have healed her; you have rebuilt her. Having accomplished so much, surely you are ready to do so, well and again, in your own world? She has great need of you."
"But Narnia is my world!" Peter retorted, resisting the urge to kick a stone like the child to whose body he would be returned.
The god frowned and Peter heard a roll of thunder and a cracking of artillery shells with his disapproval. "Aslan belongs to many worlds, High King, and I as well. If you are able to give your love to only one place, you are not the man I thought."
Aslan would have never spoken to him so bluntly. The wine god, however, was not restrained in word or action. That threat of pigs was a real one.
Chastened, and a little shamed, Peter said, "You and Aslan set a daunting example."
"And you, a mortal, who bears the title Magnificent, have not lived an example to others that is as daunting?" The god leaned in conspiratorially and the whisper and clinging vines were a shade too intimate for comfort. "The Lion will be cross with me, but I shall take the risk to say that you are not returning to your world only to die in a barrel."
"I should hope not," Peter said. He raised his glass, intending to say, "To your health," but that was a foolish thing to say to a god. "To the health of your lands and those who follow you, my lord."
Bacchus kissed his brow and then toasted him with the upraised bowl in return. "To the past that has readied you and the future that awaits you, High King. Until we meet again."
The next morning when the two men from the Resistance arrived with a cart, two mules, and fives casks of wine, one empty, Peter was very glad to recall the wine god's assurance that he would not die in a barrel.
He quickly gathered his things from the cave, kissed the altar of the wine god who so loved and watched this place, and hurried back through the farmhouse. Marie, however, waylaid him on the way out the front door and they ended up using a third condom while the maquisards waited in the drive. The experience demonstrated once again for Peter that sex against a wall was better in concept than actual execution.
He felt a little abashed when he staggered out to meet his contacts, but the maquisards seemed more sympathetic and curious than mocking. One of them tipped his beret and Peter caught the words Louise, Rat, and soeur, or sister.
He nodded and started to say that Louise was his sister and changed it to, "I am the brother of Louise." With the confirmation, Peter sensed he rose even further in the men's estimation.
They set to work peeling off the stays of the barrel and dismantling it. Peter realized the men would then reconstruct the wine barrel around him and seal him inside. He hoped he was not going all the way to Canfranc by mule cart.
Language was a barrier but hammers and screwdrivers were universal invariants. Work on the French side of the divide halted when Marie came out with the box Peter had brought from Charentes. The maquisards became openly admiring when she explained that it was Peter who had brought the lumps of butter and cheese she was now sharing with them.
However, a heated argument broke out among Marie and the two men. To the extent Peter could follow the rapid fire, passionate French, it seemed that the three disagreed on the appropriate wine. One man apparently deeply offended Marie by suggesting that a Château Latour Paulliac would have been better with goat cheese and the other committed the gross heresy of suggesting a white wine of the Loire Valley.
As Peter had neither the language nor the knowledge to participate, he wisely kept out of the angry discussion and continued to pry apart the barrel that was to be his refuge, subterfuge, and mode of transportation.
The rebuilding of the planks and stays around him took less time. As the space became closer and darker, Peter reminded himself that it was really just a very large piece of ill-fitting armor and he could do this and had done it before. He was able to pop his head out of the top to kiss Marie good bye; it was an awkward business that was not the least bit romantic.
"Bon voyage, Peter."
"Thank you, Marie. May the wine god guard your steps and bless your vines."
She reached down into the barrel and he kissed her fingertips. "Adieu." Marie withdrew her hand.
The men set the lid on the barrel and Peter settled in. He wrapped his arms around his knees, rested his cheek against the rough oak, and thought it prudent to remind the wine god, gently and respectfully, of his vow.
"My lord, you did promise I would not die in a barrel."
If Bacchus answered, Peter did not hear it. By the time the cart swayed and creaked on to the main road behind the two plodding mules, Peter was asleep.
"And tonight, on the BBC, we have the following messages for our friends who are listening.
'The green hat is in the basket.'
'Rat tells Heart and Crow that the Sword is aboard the Splendour Hyaline bound for Narnia.'"
Links to the research are in my LJ.
For those who are wondering, this is not strictly compliant with The Stone Gryphon, though obviously I've borrowed from some of that story and stuck it in here.
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.
Reviewers have asked the extent to which these efforts at subterfuge are legitimate. Since I used the Kaldstrup book for my primary inspiration, and it then drove the subsequent research, if the Kaldstrups erred, so did I. I don't know about stealing the sheets and beds from the Hotel Ritz (though it was turned into an HQ), but as the Nazis advanced, the French winemakers frantically attempted to hide their most famous vintages. They bricked up parts of their wine caves and then appeared to age the new masonry with dust from carpets. Children were charged with running around and catching spiders who would then spin cobwebs over the newly bricked over areas. The "fobbing off" is also described in the book. For instance, one set of Resistance fighters stole bottles from a train bound for Germany, only to find that others had beaten them to it and that they had merely stolen bad wine with fancy labels. The book also describes the virtual collapse of the French economy during the final years of the war and that Göring instituted strict caloric intake limits - wine was practically the only thing the French did have to eat.
The winemakers had to be cautious in their deceptions because, while Hitler did not drink alcohol, or at least not wine, many of his commanders did, and had very sophisticated palates. Göring had his eye on the Rothschild vineyard from the moment the Nazis occupied France. They appointed wine Führers for each growing region who were very knowledgeable about the French market.
The Resistance really did smuggle people out of occupied France in wine barrels, though perhaps earlier than the time in which Peter is smuggled out. Further, based upon Nazi orders for champagne and shipping instructions, the Maquis communicated information to British intelligence that permitted the conclusion that invasions of North Africa and Romania were imminent (the Nazis liked to toast their victories with French champagne).
The setting, as mentioned, is also true, though the many details I embellish upon it are invention. Picking the right time and place for this took a huge amount of research. Errors in French, geography, wine, and history are not for lack of trying to get it right.
On a serious note, I began to see figures reflecting that for every one person smuggled out, someone in France died. I seriously thought of paying homage to those sacrifices with gunshot at the end of the story. However, the story is melancholy enough without adding Marie or the driver of the manure and cabbage truck being hauled away, as would have been very likely.
One issue lost in the translation is the effect of Vichy policies on women and what happened to women "collaborators" after the war. Further, I suspect this may be the first Narnia fic with repeated use of the word "condom." On the other hand, I've seen the soldiers' packs myself in World War 2 museums and prevention of STDs was a priority for President Roosevelt when he had been in the U.S. Department of the Navy. The fabulous reader "E" quotes from a source that says that condoms, chocolate, and cigarettes were the currency of liberated Europe after the war. Even 50 years later, when I lived and worked as a volunteer in the former Soviet bloc, that was still true.
Also implicit but not explained is the concept of terroir. Unlike the U.S., where wines are predominately classified by grape (merlot, cabernet sauvignon) and then by region, Sonoma, Napa, in France, the distinguishing factor is precisely the place – where the grapes were grown. A wine from the Graves region will be different from a wine of the Medoc, and butter from the cows of Charentes will be different from butter elsewhere.
The U-boat pens at the port of Bordeaux were built to withstand Allied aerial bombardment. They remain standing today and have been the settings of numerous films, including Das Boot and Raiders of the Lost Ark.
The railway station in Canfranc was a hub for smuggling Jews, Allied fliers, and Resistance fighters out of occupied France and into Spain.
Peter's descriptions of the bacchanal are again taken nearly verbatim from Prince Caspian.
If you research Hermann Wilhelm Göring, you can see pictures of his Reichsmarschall baton. It bears a startling resemblance to a Wand.
Last, if you are still with me after these looong notes, a personal observation. I was hesitant to post this particular story here, so thank you very much for your support. I am very grateful.
And now, back to AW.