Author's Note: What? Did you think I was gone forever? No, I've just been really, really, REALLY busy. Ever since I graduated university, I've been in the long, slow and tiring process of looking for a job. This has involved not just applications and interviews, but also grueling tests for everything you could imagine, especially foreign languages (full disclosure: I'm looking to work in the intel community, so they need people with a background in foreign language and area specialists. Having studied Russia and the former USSR, I fit the bill). I've tried to get my American Now Departed (AND) series on here published, but no dice yet. I've had to go back and do some editing, and if I uploaded it again here, it would read differently.
But in what little downtime I have had in between job interviews, tests, and filling out forms, I've still been writing off and on. In my last chapter of the AND series, I hinted that I was thinking of writing another historical story, and this is it. Another fictionpress user by the name of Mark Hawkens approached me with a chance to co-author this, so I happily took him up. He and I are still writing as we speak, but I've held onto this for a while, and we are about halfway through finishing it, so it seemed like the right moment to post. I've been kind of anxious to come back here and do what I do best.
So, we have a historical novel set in the Spanish Civil War. The war itself really interested me since it is often characterized as a prelude to World War II, and many of the belligerents of that war tested their weaponry and tactics in Spain. It was influenced by many of the same ideologies that guided the war to come, but it also had a fair share of complexities that make it completely different. So, I thought it natural to write about that, since it means more chances to write battles.
Don't expect this to be a multi-volume, 20+ chapter affair, though. As much as I loved writing AND, it was a grueling process that I would rather not repeat any time soon. So this is a standalone story, and shorter in length. Considering how short the war itself lasted, it seemed better like that.
If you want romance, war, and some history, read on and enjoy. I'll try my best to upload these once every couple weeks, depending on what is happening in my life.
In 1936, a cloud of authoritarianism hangs over Europe. Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party has been in power in Germany for three years. Benito Mussolini's Fascist Party has ruled Italy since 1922. In the Soviet Union, Josef Stalin has begun the show trials and purges of his enemies. Liberalism and democracy are on the defensive, and another war appears to be looming.
Spain, which has recently thrown off the age-old monarchy and declared a republic, is now a battleground for the ideologies of this time. A military coup against the republic turns into a full-fledged rebellion, and the country plunges into civil war.
The western democracies are hesitant to give the Spanish Republic the foreign and military aid it so desperately needs. But while governments are slow to move, tens of thousands of ordinary people are quick to flock to the republic's defense. These men and women formed the famous International Brigades.
What is it All For?
Historyman101 and Mark Hawkens
Chapter One: Free Men, To Arms!
West Texas, USA
The town of Silverbarrow could be surprisingly cold in the winter. However, the town itself was much warmer than the outskirts, where David Hughes' family and ranch stood. When David needed a distraction, a good time, or just had to run errands, Silverbarrow provided everything he needed. It was where he went to school, learned how to read, write, walk, talk, and pray. Where he learned about what it meant to be a citizen of Texas. What it meant to be an American. What it meant to love liberty, and to defend it.
It was when he was walking to the town hall at the local community center when he noticed an inordinately large amount of people outside the doors. Some bore red armbands on their coat sleeves, and others red scarves around their necks. Was red in vogue for the month?
David stuck out like a sore thumb among the sea of people, who only wore a deep blue scarf around his neck and grey gloves on his hands to protect him from the cold. Upon entering the community center, his earth brown eyes noticed an inordinately large amount of people in the room. He knew that mid-term elections were right around the corner, but he could not remember if his Congressmen or Senators were up for reelection. Regardless, he waltzed in and found a seat near the end. There was nothing else to do, anyway, and he didn't have to go back home just yet.
Why not waste time with pleasant politics?
As David sat down and removed his coat, a well-dressed clean-shaven man mounted the podium and spoke, somewhat hesitantly into the microphone.
"If Mr. Fredericks is done, the next order of business is a short presentation on the ongoing Spanish civil war. The presenter is Rodrigo Jimenez, from Juarez, Mexico. Mr. Jimenez, if you please."
Living so close to the southern border, Mexicans were a common sight for David. He had some Mexican blood in him from his mother, whose family sided with the Texans in the 1836 war of independence. However, he did not think it was customary for foreign nationals to speak on local matters.
A man with tanned skin and wild black hair mounted the podium. Rodrigo Jimenez was smartly dressed for a Mexican national, wearing an all-black business suit with a white dress shirt underneath. Behind him a large projection screen stood, and without him saying a word, the lights in the community center dimmed. David's coal black hair swished as he looked behind him to see a film projector at the very back of the room. The slow whir indicated a film as part of his presentation.
"Gracias, senor. Mis amigos, I just returned from Spain, where General Franco's Nationalist Army tried and failed to take the capital of Madrid."
There were errant cheers from the back of the room, and David looked to the right of the film projector to see some of the armband-toting men assembled in a tight cluster. One of them held his right arm upright with a clenched fist. His stony face gave the impression of a scarred veteran, as if he himself had been on those streets defending against the Nationalist onslaught.
David returned to Jimenez on the stage, and saw the film showed the battle for the same city. The camera panned up and revealed a banner hung across the main drag, bearing words in Spanish. Jimenez explained the meaning of the sign, but David, knowing enough Spanish from his mother, read it faster than Jimenez could translate.
They Shall Not Pass! Madrid will be the tomb of fascism!
People were rushing about in the city, and several loads of trucks sped through the boulevard carrying armed men and women to a distant, unknown front. Some of the trucks had letters painted on the bodies, indicating their militia or political party. Jimenez pointed to them, and explained how all factions, trade unions, and organizations had given themselves to the cause.
"That is the CNT-FAI," Jimenez said, pointing to one truck bearing the acronym in white letters. "The anarchist union from Catalonia. They arrived in Madrid by train, and were sent straight to the frontlines. And that is the railway workers' union. These people came from across Spain, many of them fleeing the fascists, to defend Madrid."
The film cut to a shot of bombers overhead, bearing the German straight cross of the Luftwaffe. A small array of boos and hisses emanated from behind David. Those red scarf-wearing fellows were too noisy for his liking. A soft glare at them was enough to get a few to quiet down as Jimenez continued.
"The Nationalists are receiving support from Germany and Italy. With their help, the fascists hoped to bomb Madrid into submission. But when they entered the city, and hoped to take it by storm, they did not count on the help of…"
Just then, the film again cut to at least two thousand men lined up in several blocs outside what looked to be a train station.
"…the International Brigades."
The various formations held up unit flags as well as some national flags, some of which David recognized. Poland. France. Belgium. Surprisingly, Germans and Italians were among them as well, as Jimenez explained.
"Exiled Germans came to Spain and formed the Thälmann Battalion of the XI International Brigade. Likewise, Italians make up the Garibaldi Battalion. These men were sent straight into action immediately after their arrival."
Another cut, this time to action on the streets of Madrid. The men of the International Brigade, carrying the flag of the Spanish Republic with a three-pointed star in the center, rushed forward and straight into the awaiting arms of the Nationalist army. An explosion almost rocked the camera as the view shifted to the charging horde of the International Brigade. One German, wearing a Stahlhelm with a hammer and sickle painted on the side, as the first to exchange fire with the Nationalists. He received a quick and merciful death not two seconds thereafter: a bullet to the head. Another tossed a grenade forward at some unseen foe, only to have it detonate in a cloud of smoke and dust. When the flag bearers charged through the smoke, they were only cut down with a sheet of bullets that ripped through their torsos like a hot knife through butter.
Some of the viewers turned away in shock at such horror being caught on film. To David, it was surreal to watch. Not just for how violent and brutal the combat was, but how it seemed to hearken back to days when his grandparents and great grandparents fought with similar valor and disregard for their own lives. For some reason undiscernible to him, he felt common cause with these men.
The battle ended as quickly as it began, but the fate of the International Brigade was left unknown. Instead, all were greeted with a clique of men in dark military uniforms, much fancier and well-maintained than the ragtag army of the Republic.
"These are the fascists," Jimenez said with a note of contempt. "They are the defenders of privilege and tyranny."
A closeup of one officer caught David's attention. A small mustache hugged his upper lip, and bushy eyebrows were raised jovially as the officer laughed. The tassel on his garrison cover swung from side to side whenever he turned his head. Underneath the garrison cover was a head of slightly receding, greying hair.
"That is Generalissimo Franco. The leader of the fascists."
Another spatter of boos and hisses arose from the back. But unlike before, David was not as concerned with the men wearing red scarves and armbands. Instead he only wondered what truly was happening in Spain.
Finally, the film cut to the aftermath of battle, but not in Madrid. Instead it was on an unknown field in rural Spain. Dead, rotting bodies formed a macabre display on the dusty earth, with the most horrific wounds imaginable. Throats cut. Heads caved in. Eyes gouged out. One woman screamed in terror at the sight of it, and David looked away, his stomach turning. Jimenez only stoically looked on at the grisly scene, and explained.
"This is what they are doing to us. This is what the International Brigades are fighting against."
A montage of crying mothers, daughters and sisters followed. A woman wept in the crowd, and a soft, angry murmur rippled from the back through to the front. When it reached David, several questions held his mind in a vice grip.
Who were these devils?
How could the Spanish Republic hold on in the face of that cruelty?
Who were these brave soldiers of the International Brigades?
What could they do to help?
The film ended, and the lights came back up as Jimenez was greeted with a smatter of applause from the community center. Jimenez sensed they needed more convincing, and gave as rousing a speech as William Travis could have given at the Alamo.
"Mis amigos, regardless of what your politics are, I think we can all agree that fascism is a cancer on the world. Every defeat for the Spanish Republic is a defeat for you. Every step closer to power Franco takes is another step closer to power for fascists here and around the world. If Franco wins, it will be a morale boost for fascists everywhere, and before long, they will drag all liberty-loving people towards barbarism and war. Whether we are Spanish, American, British, or German, we all want the same thing: we all want a free and fair world."
Some murmur of agreement rumbled among the men of red scarves and armbands, and David could not help but nod his head in agreement. These men, these selfless volunteers were no different than his ancestors who fought in wars past. They were the valiant martyrs of the Alamo. They were the noble soldiers of the Confederate Army. They were the brave warriors who faced down Germany in the Argonne Forest.
"I ask you sincerely, mis amigos, to join us in defending democracy. My country has already sent arms to the Republic. Your government may not give aid, so consider giving yourselves when your politicians cannot. Volunteer in any way you can to help us aid our Spanish comrades in the fight for freedom. Make Spain's fight your fight. Join with us, and take up our slogan: No pasaran! They shall not pass!"
The murmur became cheers and cheers gave way to a thunderous applause that nearly shook the community center from beneath David's feet. He too was caught up in the frenzy of the room, and stood up. When his hands became raw from incessant clapping, he only chanted the same two words.
"NO PASARAN! NO PASARAN!"
Why did this fight matter to him so? What was it to him if Spain was wracked by civil war, and a cabal of generals schemed to overthrow a young, fragile democracy? How did it affect his day-to-day life? Those were questions he could not answer, and perhaps did not want to answer. Instead, in that moment, all he wanted to know was:
What can I do to help?
When he told the story of a Spanish Republic in the throes of chaos and war, few of his family or friends paid attention. For David, it was the paramount battle of their time, the latest in the worldwide age-old struggle for liberty. For everyone else, like his little sister Cassie, it was a distant, almost otherworldly matter.
A cow's moo in slight hesitance echoed in the walls of the barn as Cassie slowly squeezed its udder. The cow's trepidation perfectly mirrored the space between David and his sister.
"So, when are you plannin' on going?" she said, a pang of censure in her voice.
"Before January," David replied, leaning on a support beam. "There's a group that's gonna leave for New York next month."
The support beam creaked from his weight, and seemed to fill him with slight apprehension. Whether that was from questioning or hesitance was uncertain. Cassie looked back at her brother, her azure eyes quivering like troubled waters.
"Dave, you can't be serious 'bout all of this. Every time you hear something bein' talked about at a town hall, you get all fiery. Hell, remember when you thought a' joinin' the Conservation Corps two years ago?"
"…that was different. It's not like I was going far away. It was just to work in some a' the local parks."
"But I don't need you workin' at the parks, and I don't need you goin' off to fight in some war that ain't our business. Neither do Ma and Pa. We need you here, to look after the ranch." David sighed tiredly and kicked an errant horseshoe out of the way.
"There are people in Spain dying for their freedom and all you can think about is this stupid ranch!"
"Our lives are here, not on the other side of the world, Dave."
David stepped closer and stroked the cow's side, calming her as Cassie kept working. The sound of milk squirting into a tin pail seemed to heighten their divide. All his life, the only things he knew were Silverbarrow, the livestock, the chickens, and the ranch. There had to be more beyond this little border town.
"There's a big world out there, Cassie. And what happens out there can have an effect on us at home. And if Franco wins in Spain—"
"If Franco or whatever his name is wins in Spain, it ain't my damn business, and it sure as hell ain't yours!"
Cassie stood up in a huff, flicking her brown hair to one side. She stared at her reckless brother with a mixture of fire and worry in her eyes.
"You're my brother, Davey. What happens if you go? What if you don't come back? You could die!"
"No, I won't. We'll be trained like soldiers in any other war."
"Trainin' won't do a damn thing. Remember what Pa taught us? About his time in France in the Great War? All the training in the world can't save a fellow in the wrong place at the wrong time."
Of course, David remembered. Stories about squalor in the trenches of France, waiting and wondering if the next shell would be for him. Stories about bloody and brutal battles against a merciless foe. Stories of nightmares that remained for years afterward, until his father met his mother and had them.
But he also remembered uplifting stories. Stories of fire-forged friends and never giving up. Stories about bravery and courage in the face of unbelievable horror. As much as he detested war, there was still something worth fighting for…wasn't there?
"And Pa also said that his friends and comrades had his back in that war, and it helped him survive."
"But you won't. You say you believe in what they're fightin' for, and that's all well and good. Pa said the fight wasn't as clear-cut as he thought it was, it's the same here."
"What do you mean, Cassie? Don't tell me you actually like the fascists…?"
"I don't give a damn about Hitler or Mussolini one way or the other. But this ain't like the last war. It's a bunch of communists and rabble-rousers fightin' against fascists. Do you want to be mixed up in a fight like that? I don't."
David crossed his arms and looked down at his dirty work boots. It was not the first time he heard the accusation of the war being a front for leftists at home to garner some political capital. Those armband-wearing men in the town hall were certainly not the most agreeable lot, and their pamphlets had strange ideas, to be sure. But in a fight with the devil, it takes all kinds to beat him back, doesn't it?
"Cassie, the Spanish wouldn't know communism from rheumatism. They're just fightin' for what little freedom they've ever known. They threw out a king and are fightin' people that want to put one back in! Sounds to me like the kind of war our ancestors fought. The kind of cause those men at the Alamo died for. Is it so bad to fight for freedom?"
His sister sighed heavily and sat back down, stroking the cow's side and soothing its anxiety.
"It's always noble to fight for liberty. It's what our great grandparents fought for. But I just don't know if it's as simple as all that. And even if what you're tellin' me is all true, we still have lives of our own to lead. Why do you feel it so necessary to go and fight?"
Why, indeed? His sister was not wrong. He had a home and a ranch to look after, once his parents passed. He had friends of his own in the town of Silverbarrow. Europe and the threat of fascism was thousands of miles away. His country undoubtedly had problems of its own. Unemployment. Bread lines. Economic depression. But no man is an island, entire of itself; he is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.
"Someone's gotta stand up for what's right, Cassie. This fight is much bigger than just Spain. You may not think that it matters, but there will come a day when Hitler and his buddies threaten everyone. People will be askin' each other: why didn't we do somethin' sooner?"
Sensing that she was still unconvinced, David circled around the cow, which mooed as he petted its head. He squatted down, until he was at eye-level with her. Cassie's eyes seemed to speak to him, begging him to reconsider this crazy crusade and stay home. For some reason, some strange, unexplainable reason, he felt compelled to go.
"Sis, someone's gotta fight. Hell, people like you and me had this same conversation back in history, when we fought against the Mexicans, or against the British. I'm not just doing this for those people. I'm doing it for you, for Ma, and Pa too."
His callused hand cupped Cassie's face, and his fingers gently rubbed her smooth skin. A living porcelain doll, the kind that anyone would want to hold tightly.
"I'm fightin' for everything that we have here. Someday, there will be people who will want to take all we have away from us. The ranch, the cows, the car, hell, even you and me from Ma and Pa. I gotta do this. I don't know how else to explain it, but someone's gotta take a stand and fight."
A small tear shone in her eye, a sparkle of the sea on a moonlit night. She grasped his hand with hers, and left the cow staring at the two of them with a quizzical look. The bovine could not comprehend the crisis between two human siblings. A crisis of character, of principle.
"If you think you really gotta do this, Davey, I can't stop you."
"I don't think. I know."
"Regardless, just do one thing for me. If things get tough, or if you think you can't take anymore, don't feel ashamed in comin' back. You're all volunteers, anyway, aren't ya? Just be sure to come back in one piece."
"I will, Cassie. I promise."
The two siblings embraced each other gently. What possessed him to go off to some country halfway around the world? What compelled him to fight for a people that he never knew and could never hope to know? What moved him to leave his family behind to fight for this cause?
He could not say. In truth, Cassie was not all wrong: he liked to do things on whims, but this whim was different. Something moved him more than simply joining volunteers to clean up parks, or to build new roads and bridges. This was a battle as old as time. The fight for freedom against tyranny. At least, that was how David wanted to see it.
Was it as simple as all that?
David Hughes could barely sit down and struggled to keep a balance as the train rocked from side to side. In the passenger car were many chatting Americans and foreigners travelling towards Spain, all of them of the same mind as him. Astonishing to David was the many different peoples from all over the world who to aid the Republican cause. These truly were international brigades.
From Great Britain to Yugoslavia, from Cuba to Panama, men poured from all over the world to join the fight, moved by the stirring stories of the young republic staving off a fascist takeover. It was the stuff that would make the most apathetic man stand up. How could people not be moved by these plucky people, fighting for what little freedom they've ever known?
Unsurprisingly, David's mother and father were not convinced by such lofty tales. For them, the world outside of the ranch might as well have been ether, nebulous and abstract. Perhaps they were right, and David's latest folly was just a product of having his head in the clouds. But did it even matter? To David, a world still existed outside that ranch in Texas. The world was still worth fighting for, wasn't it?
The misgivings of his parents and his sister were not enough to dissuade David, however. He worked enough money to get a ticket to New York, where likeminded volunteers gathered, and went through rudimentary "training." From there, they all boarded a ship under false pretenses, to avoid the ire of customs agents. Some said they were visiting family in France. Others said they were going hiking in the French Alps. David said he was on a cross-continental hiking tour. If such a thing even existed.
The train gave a sudden jolt and a loud steam whistle screeched, breaking David's musings and he looked out the window. They had arrived in the station, where hundreds of people dashed to and from other trains. How many of them were volunteers like David and the others? How many volunteers had come to Spain, for that matter?
A Spanish voice called from the platforms:
"All volunteers, disembark!"
He was almost shoved out by others who moved towards the passenger car vestibules. They reminded him of panicked ants stampeding for the opening of the anthill. Just how many fellow Americans had come to Spain for this cause?
Upon hitting the station platform, the men were greeted by the suspicious, icy glances of Spanish citizens, and a few cameramen recording the proceedings. David had to wonder what the Spanish would be so despondent about; weren't he and the International Brigades a source of hope for them? People from all over the world came to help them!
He had no chance to pay them any mind, or ask a citizen why. The line almost immediately started moving towards the inner concourse of the train station. As they passed the cameras, one man raised his right hand in a fist, his young face bearing the teeth of determination and grit. David followed in kind, along with the others in his band. A raised fist of solidarity with the Spanish people and the fledgling republic. One British man called out in his shaky Spanish,
"Viva la Republica!" (A/N: Spanish for "Long live the Republic!")
That earned a cry from the passengers of "VIVA!" and a Spanish voice answered,
"Muerte al fascismo!" (A/N: "Death to fascism!")
At that, David joined the volunteers in a unified shout of "MUERTE!" That lifted the mood somewhat, although he could see some Spanish citizens snickering at the level of enthusiasm. It sent a small ripple of doubt through him, but it was not enough to capsize his boat of determination. He came here to help, whether these people realized it or not. As they entered the concourse of the station, David looked back and saw something that caught his eye.
Bobbing up and down amidst the sea of volunteers was a single officer, who did not appear to be with the Spanish Army at first glance. The man was rather short for a soldier, and his brown hair melded perfectly with his peaked cap and military overcoat. Eyes as blue as Cassie's scanned over the line of volunteers in the concourse, and seemed to mark each of them. For what purpose, David could not say. The cockades of his peaked cap betrayed his origins: a red star with a gold hammer and sickle superimposed in the center. The same kind of symbol David had seen on the pamphlets of those men with red armbands. A symbol of a country that heralded suspicion and fear. The Soviet Union.
Cassie had warned David about people like this officer. Naysayers often told him that this fight for the republic was simply a cover for communists and leftist agitators. David paid them no heed, thinking that they would only make up one faction, or at least, they wouldn't dominate the fight for the republic entirely.
Then again, the Soviet Union was the only country actively providing aid to the republic, so it was hardly surprising to see him. Surely there were likeminded people who simply wanted freedom for Spain, from tyranny of any kind.
Outside the station, the volunteers lined up in and formed small blocs according to nationality. Americans formed one battalion, the British formed another, French and Belgians formed another and so on. Other officers wearing Soviet uniforms greeted the men outside, but the officer that followed David's group stayed closely with them, and addressed them curtly.
"Comrades," he said in a thick Slavic accent, "Welcome to Spain. You are about to embark on the greatest adventure of your lives. Countless others like you from all over the world have journeyed to Spain to share in the struggle of the Spanish people. The odds against us are great, for the Nationalist Army regularly receives aid from fascist Germany and Italy. You are here because your countries did not heed Spain's call for aid. With luck and with a stout heart, we shall show your countries that while governments may fail, the will of ordinary people can never be broken."
As he spoke, an officer wearing a khaki uniform of the Republican army came by, handing out what looked to be military-issue breeches. David was taken slightly aback, but did not pay it much mind; he'd rather get a uniform sooner than later. The Russian officer continued his monologue as he struggled to put the breeches on. It was a hard thing to accomplish with his Ked shoes still on.
"You Americans joined because you believe in the cause of Spanish democracy. You stepped forward to offer aid when your government refused. For this, you are to be commended. It takes great courage to stand up when no one else will. Comrades, be prepared for a long struggle. This war has already gone on for half a year. However, no cause worth fighting for wins the day easily. Spain will ask much of you in the coming months, but if you are brave enough, you will go down in history as the men who saved Spain from fascism."
A spatter of cheers and raucous shouts from the crowd made David stifle a laugh. With this level of enthusiasm and motivation, the war should not be that difficult. As he tied the breeches around his waist, the Russian sprang on them a strange request.
"Because you may be here for a while, I and others in the Republican Army want to make your stay as worry-free as possible. You can hand over your passports to me and the other commissars for safekeeping."
A slight murmur of suspicion wafted through the bloc, and David likewise was puzzled. He saw no reason to give away a passport, and it was never a good idea to leave personal documents in the hands of strangers. Even if this commissar claimed to be looking out for them, he would rather trust himself.
Some men were coaxed, but others gave their passports and travelling papers willingly to the officers. There was an air of saccharine appreciation among them, smiling and squeezing their shoulders with congratulation. They had not even entered battle, and already they were treated as heroes.
When a lieutenant came to David, he outstretched his hand, palm open in expectance. David knew enough Spanish to get by, and said calmly,
"It's okay. I'd like to hold onto my passport."
The lieutenant's cloying smile receded, and one finger twitched at David's refusal. He leaned in closer, and smelled of cheap wine.
"Comrade," he said with a Spanish accent, somewhat annoyed, "it would be much better for you and for the rest of us if you left it with us for safekeeping."
"I can look after it fine. I'd rather keep it close to me than in some unknown place."
"You'll be able to get it back whenever you want. Just leave it with us for now."
"I'm fine, really," David pressed, growing more doubtful. "I can look after it myself."
At that moment, the commissar came around, sensing trouble within the ranks.
"What's going on, here?"
"He won't hand over his passport, comrade commissar."
"Is that so? And why is that?"
"I'd rather hold onto it," David repeated, growing tired of explaining himself. "No offense to you, sir, but I don't feel comfortable leaving my passport with a stranger." The commissar laughed quietly, a thin veneer for his increasing agitation.
"You can trust us, comrade," he assured him. "We're just trying to look after you."
At this point, one volunteer with sandy blonde hair behind David pushed his way through and intervened.
"Hey, lay off, pal!" he said defensively. "You told us we could give our passports if we wanted! He doesn't want to do it!"
"Yeah," another interjected, "who's he hurtin' by holdin' onto it?"
"Just let him keep it if he wants!"
"I don't wanna give up my passport either!"
The clamor and pushback grew louder and more vigorous, and the commissar's brow shined with sweat. The last thing the republic needed was foreign volunteers mutinying before their first battle. With a heavy and reluctant sigh, the Russian officer relented.
"Very well, comrade. Suit yourself. But should you change your mind, you can give it to me later."
The commissar and lieutenant moved on, with the junior officer shooting a disapproving glare back at David as he passed. More new garments were handed out to the volunteers, namely headgear. They had their fair share of choices, although some had brought their own. For David, he chose a drab green garrison cover with a gold tassel on the front. For the sandy blonde-haired recruit behind him, it was an olive Adrian helmet, like the kind worn by the French in the Great War some 20 years prior.
After switching into what passed for "uniforms," the battalion of Americans were directed to follow the commissars to some transportation that would take them to the training grounds. In the march through Albacete, David found a friend in the blonde volunteer.
"Hey, thanks for helping me back there."
"No problem," the blonde said, squeezing David's shoulder. "Us Yanks gotta stick together, yeah? We may not get out of this place without those passports."
"Yeah. No way in hell was I gonna give it over to some stranger."
"If my brother found out I had lost it, he'd have my head!"
The two young men laughed, somehow only hearing each other amidst the chatter of other volunteers. David offered his hand in friendship.
"My name's David Hughes, by the way." The blonde smiled and took his hand with a strong grip.
"Carter. Jacob Carter. Though everyone calls me Jake. So, what brought you out here to Spain?"
"To help the Republic, of course. To stand up for democracy. What about you?"
"Well, that, obviously. Although…"
Jacob trailed off, and looked ahead into the sea of recruits, his face flagged with some indiscernible doubt.
"…I was kinda bored at home, to be honest. There was not much for me there. Plus, it's kinda hard to work a farm when all the crops are dust."
"Confidentially," David said quietly, "same here. I come from a no-name town out in Texas."
"Texas?!" one volunteer said with surprise. "Then you're a long way from home, cowboy!"
A loud roar of laughter burst from the ranks like a volcano, with some imitating a cowboy's battle cry of "yippee ki-yay" and others shouting clichés of "happy trails" and "home on the range." David sighed quietly in embarrassment. Most of these volunteers came from the eastern half of the country, so to hear a Southern drawl and a life of ranching and cow-herding must have been like an alien language for them. Jacob, however, wasn't so taken aback.
"I'm from Kansas, myself. Town called Lindsborg. Didn't really have much there for me, so I figured why not, you know?"
"Depression hit you too, huh?"
"It's hit everyone, Dave. Gotta find some way to make a living in times like these."
"Yeah, I'd really like that. Outside my family's ranch, there was nothin' for me."
The two young volunteers continued conversing, as if they were old friends, and David felt more at ease. On the trucks that took them to the training grounds, David found a new friend in Jacob. One he could trust. Throughout his journey to Spain, he did not make connections like with this Kansan. Many were too wrapped up in communist slogans and extolling the virtues of a "proletarian paradise" to pay much attention to someone like David. To finally hear someone not ask whether he had read Marx and Engels from front to back was refreshing. At least he could be honest with Jacob. Hopefully this friendship could steel him for the battles to come.
If they ever got into battle, that is.