III. Matter of Importance
Georg had trouble sleeping that night. His adrenaline high with thoughts of the new family entwined with the rush of giving a sermon in front of a garrison full of soldiers. He felt as though he was under a microscope, a very politically inclined microscope whose lens had been burning into him ever since he had dropped the Kellers off and shuffled back across town to where he resided. Every black car was SS and every felt hat was GeStaPo ready to spring on him. Throat dry, he had been unable to keep it wet, his own paranoia lodged in his throat like the pieces of apple cake that he had tried to eat with out any drink.
The morning after, his hands felt as though they had been carved out of wood. Dressing took several attempts as his buttons never seemed to end up in the correct line like they were supposed to. It was almost enough to infuriate the small seminarian but he refrained from any show of anger for that would have given away that something was not right. He may have often been fidgety but never angry. The day that his grey eyes clouded over and his brows furrowed was a rare day indeed. He had yet to have one while he was serving his Externitas. Adjusting his glasses upon his face, he bit his lip and forced himself to go about his usual routine rather then break under the ever growing threat of anxiety that clung to his back.
To occupy his time he busied himself with menial tasks. Some of the communal buildings at the 10th Infantrie Division Regensburg's training grounds had needed sweeping. Although no one charged him with doing it, he thought that it might be a nice gesture to the men that he helped minister to.
Some of them were the same age as him, if not younger, though they seemed so far removed. Most would be more concerned with pleasing their officers and NCOs, rarely would many bother to hold a conversation with him that was not strained or was not a confession. They seemed nice, but it was a far gap between them having someone who was their equal professing of God and heaven to them. Georg missed the seminary a little more every day, even though it was just across town.
Some of the soldiers took their religion very seriously and others seemed not to care at all. The seminarian knew of several within the unit who had never known what was in the bible, some not even what the bible was. There was one sergeant that even berated Georg for being too liberal with his interpretation of one passage of Romans after a sermon. Georg did not believe him wrong in doing such; it just left a sad distaste in the back of his mouth when he was the one who was supposed to be the priest and the other man was a soldier.
The collected dust and the crumbs of bread he formed into little piles on the floor as he swept. He took extra care of getting underneath each bench of the long tables spread across the rectangular room. Despite being in the middle of the day the room was vacant and quite, the buildings in the base deserted as the distant sound of firing blanks and empty shells wafted through the open windows. The distant sounds of some grand training exercise were nothing more than faint echoes that barely reached into the room. Out on the field they might have been thunder on earth, but within the safety of the structure it was a no more than a faint rattle that flitted against the walls before dissipating.
The little seminarian licked his lips as his eyes wandered to the window. The heat of the fields should have called to him like it did his cousins, father, his uncle, his grandfather, and most of his lineage, however nothing stirred within his chest upon hearing the explosions. By all accounts, the sound of battle should be appealing to him, however, even from this distance and even with the knowledge that their training was only make believe, it still solidified a fear within him. Nothing awakened upon feeling the weight of a gun in his hand like the weight of some steel lover that would never argue but never keep a man warm at night.
He had always been told he was some odd, misfortunate concoction within a family of militant men. Georg had ended up some unbalanced mix of his mother's anxious timidity and his father's fear. What little his father did fear seemed to magnify itself tenfold within the tiny frame of his only son, the only remaining son of the Falkenrath and Acker family union.
The doors of the building were flung open with a rush of wind and a flurry of Feldgrau uniforms. The clatter of boots against the wood floor had brought Georg's thoughts from the noise. Three infantry men had walked in, one holding a hastily bundled package under his arm, the others clapping him on the shoulder in jest and friendly notions.
"H-hello?" the little seminarian spoke.
The three froze in their spots when they noticed that they were not alone in the building, three pairs of eyes coming to rest upon the small frame of the garrison priest's aide. Georg blinked back at them as his grey ones met theirs.
He spoke gently as he raised himself, trying not to let the hurt of banging his knee show by leaning against the boom. "Wh-what are you d-doing here?" Georg ventured to ask.
"We're just walking, priest." The one carrying the package said, the edge of distrust apparent in his voice as he tried to act natural and not like he was partaking in any sort of potential trouble.
Georg's eyebrows raised, "A-aren't you s-supposed t-to be out a-at the training f-field, s-sirs? I-I th-thought that today's training was s-supposed t-to be for the whole unit." He spoke timidly towards these men as the head of the group, a burly fellow of about twenty three with brown hair and a vicious brow broken by a misshapen gap on his left side, kept taking steps towards him as the little seminarian spoke. As he grew closer, Georg's voice grew quieter. "I-I th-thought th-that w-was what the order said." He did not like the way that the three were coming towards him, vultures circling in on its prey of dead flesh.
"Is that so?"
Soon enough, the seminarian was looking straight up at the leader. "Y-Yes," he squeaked out.
The leader looked back at his friends, "Did you hear that? All of us were supposed to be at training."
"D-Didn't your officers t-tell-" Georg didn't have time to finish before he was slammed over the table, his cheek pressed roughly into the wood. The leader held him down by his sheer weight alone and the seminarian did not struggle for fear of repercussion. The broom he has been holding clattered to the ground. His muscles felt as though they had suddenly been formed of solid rock and refused to move when he told them too.
The Schutze shook his head as he leaned down to hiss in Georg's ear. The smell of cheap alcohol was overpowering on his breath, "Now, don't go mentioning officers. Don't go mentioning us to officers, priest. We don't want trouble, you don't want trouble, they don't want it either..." he paused as a smirk graced his lips, "And I'm sure that God doesn't want any trouble either."
Georg opened his mouth to speak, "I-I can't say for G-God..."
"That's real funny, priest."
The two sidemen, although they looked frightful, snickered at the potential beating that the spectacled small seminarian could potentially be receiving. Only now, did the seminarian's body realize it was in danger, finally listening to his brain's frantic pleas. One arm was caught beneath him, the other flailed madly. Every so often it would hit something, the scratchy wool of the others uniforms sliding under his fingernails in his fruitless attempts to escape.
As soon as he started struggling, he was pressed more into the table. The arms of his glasses pressed grooves into his cheek.
"Now you listen." The leader spoke with authority as he pushed Georg even more against the table, "You had best not speak of word of this to anyone, that clear?"
Georg sputtered like a fish out of water. Perhaps slowly squeezing the air out of him would rip the words from his lips faster. The answer was simple, he coughed and nodded frantically, the sound of his own body scraping against the table echoed within his ears. The panic had set in with a dangerous fervor, sickening him. He tried to calm his speeding heart and swallow it back down into its proper place, he did not want to fight with these men. Georg had just gotten his new glasses frames in and he did not want them to be broken by a fist.
Georg shuddered and then finally was able to talk, "I-I promise... I-I ... pr-promise! I-I... w-won't t-t-talk!" he shrieked out at his assailants.
The leader shook Georg, "That doesn't sound very convincing, priest." He looked to his friends and then nodded, "How about you? Does that sound very convincing?" the head man smirked as he was greeted by a round of dull laughter from his wingmen.
Georg cried out once more, "I-I promise! I PROMISE!" His voice faltered and almost slipped into a whimper. He was scared and he felt himself shaking as he tried to get his feet back on the ground so he was not slowly suffocating under the weight of the other man.
Finally he was free.
The leader let him go and he slumped against the table, knees creaking as his legs jolted from the shocks of adrenaline. Slowly he raised himself, the other three still stood frozen; glowering at him and instantly his middle went cold under their eyes. He tried not to make any sudden movements as not to provoke them, like a sudden movement that would provoke a rabid dog to attack. He did not put his hands over his head or try to move to pick up his fallen broom, he simply stayed their frozen with wide rabbit-eyes. The burly leader just looked at Georg, he watched him shiver. The little seminarian almost willed them to get it over with. The swift kick and the pain to his sides and shoulders he could take, he could even taken them turning around and leaving him in the dirt, but just them standing over him like they were was terrifying to.
Waiting. What were they waiting for? He had promised them he would not tell, and that was true. There was no way in heaven that he would tell on these men. He wanted to keep both eyes normal and not black and blue. He withered under their gaze. Finally it came bubbling up, the sound that he had been trying to keep down eventually clawed its way to his mouth up from his belly and broke through his mouth. He whimpered with a squeaky breath before he tried to press himself as flat as he possibly could into the table he was resting on.
The sound that came from the little seminarian seemed to please the three soldiers on looking. The leader finally stepped back, and he nodded to the two other soldiers. "That's good, the priest knows better." He then turned on his heel and put his back to Georg, "Now, where the devil is my package?" His hands came out towards his friend who still had it cradled in his arms like an infant. With no less babble, the three were walking out of the building like nothing had happened and they were still victorious from whatever drunken escapades they had traded for training time.
In an instant, the three of them had disappeared and Georg was left alone in a little frightened mass. He instantly snapped back up, his hands adjusting the glasses on his face as he sucked in breath and exhaled it slowly. The sick feeling was still in his throat as he carefully watched his chest rise and fall. Finally the clammy palms of his hands start to dry and cage of released butterflies in his stomach started to recede. Perhaps he was just luck this time, but he was certain that those men had worse intentions for him. The little seminarian reached to pick up his broom. A promise was a promise, he would never tell a soul. He would never tell a soul because he wanted to keep his face in order.
He was grave the rest of the day as he continued serving menial tasks on the base until the sound of gunfire faded and the participating troops filtered back to their beds after being released from debriefing. Georg was tempted to slip away from the base early today and return back to the rectory. Even though where he resided was across town, he would be willing to run all the way there if it meant not having to run into the three drunken soldiers again. He knew that he would be welcomed happily amongst the three other men of the cloth who lived there. There was Father Wechsler and Father Urner who were both elderly and very quiet gentlemen, and for the most part they were nice to Georg, though Father Urner made him wonder sometimes if the niceties were only a front for his real thoughts towards the stuttering, short little seminarian that had been assigned to their church for his Externitas. Lastly there was Father Röder who always took particular pains to make space in his busy schedule for when the seminarian need to talk to someone. Georg would be looking for him if he ran back home.
That's when Georg thought of the questions that might come up should he suddenly show up before dark. If he said anything about what happened, he'd be breaking his promise. Röder knew every soldier of the garrison by first and last name, how old they where and where they hailed from. As soon as Georg would say anything, the man would probably know who exactly the soldiers in question and just might have the spine to turn them in for misconduct. Not for misconduct in skipping out on their training practices, but for misconduct in attacking a priest.
Especially now, perhaps roughing up someone like him would not hold the same sting as it would have in Röder's generation. He had seen the churches in Munich targeted occasionally by wayward, roaming groups of Brown Shirts and had seen them get their beautiful stained glass knocked in by drunken Stahlhelm men. He had heard stories of Allgemeine groups raiding rectories for their own amusement yet charging no one with disturbing the state, and yet there were other times the raids turned violent. The stories scared Georg then and they still scared him now. They frightened him more because he knew what he had wrapped himself up in with Bill, Aksel and Dürr was the type of subversion they were looking for.
Despite everything that he had heard, every conflicting order and every horror story, Georg still felt the call to the priesthood stronger then just about anything that he had ever experienced in his life. He was supposed to have been a bar tender to take over the family business when his father retired or passed away. That would not have worked so well for Georg, even when his growth spurt had stopped and his bones settled into their final length, could barely see over the top of the bar. His father had never let him live that down, the little seminarian would forever be reminded that instead of being tall like his father was, he stayed low to the ground in height like his mother.
Bill was the only person who would say anything about his height, or about his stutter or about his too big ears or his scrunched up face that could say anything and get away with it. Fynn sometimes joked about the height but Georg did not mind. Fynn had his own problem with height. Instead of being far too small, Fynn was far too big and Georg had felt that camaraderie of the unusual when they had roomed together their first year at the Seminary. In the end, Georg chose against running home, but he constantly kept checking the clock throughout the day trying to will it faster.
Tomorrow was his turn to run confessions. Röder had given up his favorite task just so Georg would have something more meaningful to do then serve at his side at masses. At first, the little seminarian had been reluctant to take away that time that he liked so much, but Röder had insisted that it would be good practice.
When the evening came, Georg started his long shuffle back to the church from the training ground buildings. The glowing lights of the town that were still alit, glittered softly in the cold of the night, purple cloth on strains of incense burner gold. The pale moonlight danced off the soft blanket of snow. The light glistened off the slick cobblestones and cast bobbing shadows in the puddles of dirty water and snow. Careful of where he stepped he pulled the jacket around him tighter with a gloved hand before reaching down for the cigarettes in his pocket.
He was not a smoker by habit; he was a smoker by nerves and indeed today had been frazzling. As he shoved the end of the cigarette in his mouth, his teeth bit down upon it and he let the taste of tobacco slip onto his tongue. The little seminarian chewed it for a bit before he tilted his head out and spat the mess into the street gutter. Only then did he light the other end and watch the flames dance around the tip like the forsaken fallen angels. He inhaled deeply and held his breath, despite his lungs trying to get him to force the foreign air back out. Grimacing he held his breath for as long as he could before he succumbed to his coughing reflex.
When he finally let the air our, he immediately almost doubled over as he tried to muscle through a dry heave. His nerves were lulled by the smoke, but his body rejected itself. It took him a few moments to get himself under control and even then he went right back to sucking on the lit cigarette.
"Back at smoking again, eh, Georg?" a smooth voice came from one of the alley ways that the spasm had caused Georg to hover by.
The little seminarian jolted and looked around frantically, his eyes trying to pierce the darkness. "Wh-who..." he started to squeak out but before the movement of a shadowy figure came towards him. "B-Bill!" Georg exclaimed, "D-don't scare me l-like that."
The taller seminarian's signature smile cracked his features that were partially hidden behind a scarf and a ridiculous looking winter hat. "What did you think I was?" He scrunched his shoulders down and lifted up his hands to wiggle his fingers at his friend, "A Ghost?"
"Wh-what were you d-doing d-down there a-anyway?" Georg asked, holding the smoldering cigarette still in his hand.
Bill shrugged, "It looked like a short cut and well, I slipped through. I was looking for you and, by God's good graces, look who I run into while running through the short cut!" He crossed his arms in front of him. "I am so very lucky today."
Georg tilted his head, "Wh-what do you need me f-f-for?" He mumbled, tilting his head as he put the cigarette to his mouth and inhaled once again. This time he did not hold his breath.
"Bah!" Bill made a sound of disdain, "I was told by the Praying Mantis in passing that he wanted to talk to us. He didn't look happy at all and it sounds important."
The small seminarian's eyes widened, "Wh-what did you do?"
"Oh my gosh!" Bill shouted, his hands flying out from their crossed position on his chest out into the open, "Why is it that whenever Dürr wants to talk to us its always 'what did you do, Bill'?" He questioned, the loose ends of his pomade tight hair straying out once again and falling into his face. "Don't question it. Just come, it's important."
"S-sorry..." Georg pouted slightly.
"Oh... you...Never mind." He rolled his eyes.
"Wh-what t-time does he want t-to meet?"
"He said after the classes he teaches tomorrow at four. Can you come? Actually, I shouldn't even be asking if you can come, more when will you show up, because you know how Dürr is." Bill smirked as his own wit, though he looked at Georg with almost empathy.
Georg felt his stomach curl up, "B-But... I-I'm supposed to run confessions for the tr-troops at that time."
"Bad luck, anyway you can get out of it?" Bill's smile fell a bit.
The little seminarian shrugged, "I-I don't know. I-I... I-I was given that job t-to do." he frowned; it was almost as though asking for another time on another day would be betraying the man's trust.
The tall seminarian's mouth pulled into a moue. "Alright, alright, I get where this is going. Ill tell the Praying Mantis that you might not be able to come. I don't know what he'll say to me, but I'm sure that whatever happens to me because you can't come, I can take it."
There Bill went again with the guilt-inducing. He knew that Dürr had a vicious temper, but he had never known him to really take it out on his students. However, there was always a first for everything. Maybe Bill would have crossed the Praying Mantis one too many times and Bill would get walloped. "F-Fine..." Georg finally squeaked out, "I-I'll ask Father Röder for a d-different d-day..."
"That's wonderful!" Bill seemed completely oblivious to the predicament that he had put Georg in. "I'll see you tomorrow, and don't be late, okay?"
The little seminarian just nodded, looking up at his friend with wide eyes as the cigarette dangled from the corner of his mouth.
"What?" Bill asked.
"N-Nothing, I-I was just thinking."
"Oh! That lovely thing..." He let his eyes roll over the small man standing in front of him, "Hey," he finally spoke again, "I'm starved, lets go get something eat."
Georg coughed as he took the cigarette from his mouth, carefully letting it drop to the ground as he stamped out the burning end of it with the toe of his shoe, "B-But I just ate..."
"So what, you can fit more, let's go get something." Before Georg could even argue anymore, he felt Bill wrap his hand around his upper arm and then drag him along. Wherever they were going to go, he could not help but banish the feeling of doom that started to creep into his shoulders at what exactly was so urgent that Dürr had to send Bill out to find him.