Echoes of Honor Pt. 20
Sophie stepped outside into the cool Spring morning. Birds soared overhead, and she smiled at them. At times, she wished she could be a bird. Fly away from all this war and trouble.
The picket fence that ran near the house was the perfect support for her elbows as she gazed out into the deep German forest. In the year that had passed since finding Wilhelm, Sophie knew she had become an entirely new person.
Wilhelm had told her just last night that her fear seemed to have been had replaced with more confidence. A few weeks ago, she would have disagreed with that. Philippe’s death had pulled the carpet out from under her. If it hadn’t been for Marie and her solid faith and tenacity, Sophie didn’t know what she would have done.
Philippe. She missed him more than she could say. Every day she woke up missing his smile…his hilarious jokes. Philippe had been the one to take hold of life and walk bravely through whatever challenges they faced. Even as he lay dying, the bravery and courage Sophie saw in his eyes proved that he was a real hero.
Sophie pressed her face into the crook of one arm, leaning into the fence. Their group was a shambles. Although Sophie, Marie, and Wilhelm worked hard to keep food on the table and the hideout clean, their leader was practically incapacitated.
Karl was slipping away. He didn’t eat that much, and Sophie knew he wasn’t sleeping. It was as if he had become another David. She tried to talk to him about it, but he always shrugged her off.
Worse, he refused to meet with any of the resistance leaders who came to see him. He locked the door of his room and wouldn’t come out until they left. His eyes held a constant pain and fear.
Wilhelm had wisely advised that they lay low for a while and rest. He had partially taken over meeting with the resistance leaders and had wisely suggested a different group take over operation Echoes of Honor to plan and organize another rescue. Sophie knew he partly blamed himself for the rescue disaster. Better planning could’ve resulted in safety for them all.
So life went on. Marie and Sophie cleaned and made meals, Wilhelm met with the resistance leaders and Karl—he slept a lot.
Things weren’t all bad. Marie, and to Sophie’s greatest shock, Wilhelm, began reading the Bible together. It made them stronger friends.
Stronger friends…Sophie blushed. Wilhelm was paying her more attention these days, bringing her bouquets of spring flowers, taking walks with her, even helping to cook.
Marie was in on his plans to. Just last night she had helped Wilhelm drag the kitchen table outback so Wilhelm and Sophie could have a private dinner.
Sophie wished her brother would pay attention to what was happening. She needed his advice, his help.
“Karl Hoffman you open this bedroom now!” Marie pounded again, her knuckles smarting. She had never met someone so stubborn before. “You better open this door or I’ll—I’ll kick it down!” She proved her words had the possibility of coming true by giving the door a swift kick.
“Let me alone.” The muffled voice came.
“No!” Marie jiggled the doorknob. “You won’t talk to Wilhelm, and you won’t talk to your sister, so you’re going to talk to me!”
The door swung open so suddenly that Marie nearly fell face-forward. She quickly regained her balance and stepped into the dark room.
“I’m not coming into this cave to talk to you.” She put her hands on her hips. “Wilhelm and Sophie are on a walk, and you, Mister, are coming to the kitchen to eat something.”
Karl who was sitting on the bed shook his head. “I’m not hungry.”
Marie scowled. “You’ve said that for the past month.” Walking over to the window, Marie threw the curtains back.
Karl winced, covering his eyes with his hands. “Shut those!”
“No.” Marie instead opened the window, letting a cool breeze penetrate the dank room. “You look terrible, Karl.”
“Thanks.” He mumbled. “Now leave me be.”
Marie shook her head. She couldn’t believe how much weight Karl had lost and how pale he looked. “You’re sick.” She put her hand to his forehead.
Karl pulled away, brushing her hand off. “I’m fine.”
Marie drew back her hand and slapped him across the face. “Now snap out of it Karl Hoffman! You’re losing weight, have a fever, and are sitting here in this dungeon-like room.” She yanked him up by his arms and pulled him into the hallway. “You’re going to eat some of the soup I made, and we’re going to talk.”
Karl let her lead him, a surprised and dazed look in his feverish eyes. “You slapped me.”
“And I’ll do it again unless you listen.” She pushed him into a chair and set a bowl of steaming vegetable soup in front of him.
“I can’t. My stomach is all twisted in knots.” Karl pushed the bowl away.
Marie sat down in front of him. “Just try.” She said, more gently this time.
Karl lifted the spoon to his mouth and took a bite. Marie noticed how much his hand shook. “How long have you had a fever?”
“A few days,” Karl replied sheepishly.
Marie shook her head. “You should have told someone.”
“Where’s Wilhelm and Sophie?” Karl asked, setting the spoon back into his soup.
“Out on a walk through the forest. If you weren’t hiding in your room, you’d notice that your sister is being courted.” Marie folded her arms. “See how much you’ve been missing?”
“It isn’t that much of a surprise. Why didn’t Sophie tell me they were getting serious?”
“How would she do that? You locked yourself into your room.” Marie pushed his bowel closer to him. “Eat.”
“I can’t.” Karl hung his head. “I don’t feel well.”
Marie stood up. “You need a doctor. You’re so pale.”
“I think I’d know if I was sick enough to need a doctor,” Karl said bitterly, standing up on his trembling legs. “I almost became one.”
“You can’t hide away and expect the pain to vanish. It won’t.”
Karl pivoted around, mouth open to retort something, but his eyes seemed to lose focus. His balance wavered and reached out to catch the edge of the table. His hand slipped, and he crashed down onto the floor, hitting his head.
Marie bent down next to him, swallowing a cry of panic. “Karl! Karl wake up!” She knew he was sick, but how seriously? She couldn’t move him back to bed herself. Running to the door, she sprinted into the yard and looked wildly about. Which way had Wilhelm and Sophie gone?
Wilhelm wished things were different. If they were, he’d be taking Sophie to watch movies and get ice cream, not take her wandering through the forest.
He had something very important to share with her today, but he didn’t exactly know how to start the conversation. He didn’t want to scare her off, but he also didn’t want to waste time in a world that was becoming more and more dangerous.
“I’m worried about Karl,” Sophie said, reaching down to pick some flowers to add to the growing bouquet in her hand. “I don’t know what to say to make him feel better.”
“I don’t think you can say anything.” Wilhelm brushed a hand through his hair. “We need to pray that God somehow gets a hold of him.”
“I think Marie has had it with him. Did you see her this morning? She was throwing pots and pans around and mumbling to herself as she cooked. It’s kind of funny.”
“Its been good to have Marie here, hasn’t it?” Wilhelm stopped along the path and faced Sophie. How was he going to start the conversation he wanted to have.
“Yes. I finally have someone to sympathize with me. You boys don’t understand fashion or how to do hair.” Sophie laughed.
“Sophie.” Wilhelm swallowed when she looked up at him. It was too late to back out now. “I need to talk to you.”
“Haven’t you been doing that all along?” She asked, looking somewhat confused.
“No, I mean I need to talk to you about—us.” Wilhelm nervously raked a hand through his hair again. “Our future.”
“Yeah.” Wilhelm cleared his throat and dug into his pocket. “I got you something.” He pulled a little box out and opened it up. “One of the guys found this ring for me.”
Sophie gasped. “It’s beautiful.”
“Will you take it?” He held it out to her.
“No—I mean yes, I mean—why?” Sophie looked down at her bouquet and gently pulled at the petals of one flower. “I mean, what does it mean?”
“That we’re really good friends.” Wilhelm wanted to yell at himself. Good friends? How lame.
“Oh.” Sophie’s face fell. “I suppose I can take it then.” She reached out to take it, but he pulled it away.
“This is ridiculous!” Wilhelm slapped a hand over his face.
Sophie shook his head. “You aren’t making an ounce of sense! First, you give me a ring, and then you take it back? What’s wrong with you? You’ve never acted so nervous before.”
Wilhelm suddenly reached out and grabbed her free hand. “I’m asking you to marry me, Sophie Hoffman.”
All she could do was stare at him, words catching in her throat. Marry him? This was new to her. She knew their relationship had become serious but was this the right time?
“What about, Karl? What did he say?” She asked.
Wilhelm still held the ring out to her. “I asked him about us quite a while ago. He gave me his blessing.”
“Do you think the timing is right? We’re in the midst of a war. Would it be selfish of us?”
“I don’t think so. We could help even more people by being a team. It would make things a lot easier.” Wilhelm tightened his grip on her hand. “So will you marry me?”
“Yes.” Sophie smiled, tears filling her eyes. “I’d love to marry you.”
Wilhelm pulled her into a gentle hug and then pushed her back. “Now we just have to find someone to marry us.”
The sound of running feet behind them broke the silence of the forest. Marie, shoeless and with hair flying out behind her, was coming towards them.
“Sophie, Wilhelm! Thank God I found you.” Coming to a halt, she nearly collapsed. Wilhelm reached out to steady her.
“What’s the matter?” Sophie asked, fear growing inside her. Had the soldiers discovered the hideout?
“Karl—He collapsed.” Marie panted. “I think he’s really sick.”
He could barely open his eyes. Any light made him want to snap them shut, but a man with a bright light kept pulling them open.
A voice broke through the haze for only a moment. “You’re a very sick man Karl.” A hand grasped his shoulder. “Rest now.”
Sophie stood up when the doctor Wilhelm found through the resistance leader’s help came out of the bedroom. She looked to Wilhelm who stood behind him. Her fiancé shook his head.
“What’s wrong with him doctor?” She asked, leaning forward on her chair.
“He’s terribly malnourished. Hasn’t he been eating anything?” The doctor took the chair Marie offered.
“No, sir.” She said softly. “I tried to get him to eat some soup, but—” She nodded towards the half-empty bowl at the center of the table. “He wouldn’t eat it.”
The doctor shook his greying head. “There’s not much I can do for him. He needs rest, food, and cheerful company. I believe his heart is as sick as the rest of him.”
“We had a young friend die earlier this year. Karl blames himself.” Wilhelm said quietly, looking down to hide the moisture in his eyes.
“He’ll need twenty-four-hour attention for quite a while. Are you prepared for the task?”
Sophie nodded. “We’re laying low for awhile anyway. Marie and I can take care of him.”
The doctor nodded, setting a glass bottle on the table. “Give him this medicine everyone morning and evening with a cup of tea. It should bring the fever down.”
“Thank you ever so much doctor.” Sophie walked with him to the door. The man had been so very kind, not even charging anything for the visit.
“The Resistance is performing an incredible work. It is my honor to serve you.” He gave a small bow, and she giggled. “And young man,” he said, turning to Wilhelm. “About your request for a Pastor to marry you both, I, along with the help of your friends was able to locate a young Pastor who lives in the country. If you’d like, I could contact him.”
Wilhelm nodded, reaching down to squeeze Sophie’s hand. “We’d be grateful if you would.”
David rolled back against the cement floor from the impact of the commander’s fist. He didn’t have enough strength to keep himself upright.
“Everything that comes out of your mouth is a lie.” The man hissed, striking his hand against his desk. “I’ve given you chance after chance, but still you refuse to answer my questions!”
While the commander yelled, two other guards pulled David back to his knees and held him there. “I’ve told you everything I know.” David croaked.
“Nothing but lies.” The man muttered, shaking his head. “I don’t understand you,” he snarled. “Everyday you get weaker, but still you refuse to give me the answers about the Resistance that would get you a hot meal and a warm bed.”
“I know it wouldn’t last.” David pressed a hand to his broken ribs. “You’re going to kill me either way.”
“True, but I can make your life even more miserable in the meantime.” With a flick of his hand, the commander motioned for the guards to take David back to his cell. “No food or water for him, again.”
David couldn’t walk, so the guards drug him along the cold corridors toward his dark cell. Days had blurred into weeks and months. Frankly, David didn’t know why he was still alive. Prisoners usually didn’t live more than a week in this place. Why was he so important?
“You’re a fool.” The oldest guards laughed. “Being stubborn isn’t going to get you anything.” He proved his point by slapping David’s already bruised cheek. “Get his hands chained to the wall then come on Luis. We have a party to get to.”
With a wicked grin, the older guard sauntered out of the cell, whistling. The guard Luis took David gently by the arms and drug him to where chains hung down from the wall.
“I’m sorry.” The young man said, taking one of David’s wrists. “You don’t need these chains.”
David looked at him curiously. Out of all the guards sent for him throughout the weeks, this man Luis was the most gentle and considerate. “It’s alright. I deserve them.”
“No man deserves to be treated this way.” From his pocket, Luis pulled out some flattened bread crusts. “Not the best way to transport them, but here, eat these quickly.”
David shoved them into his mouth. He hadn’t eaten for two days. “Thank you.”
“I wish I could bring you more, but—“
“Don’t risk your safety,” David whispered. “I’ve done enough harm.”
“Luis!” A voice bellowed from the end of the corridor. “We don’t have all day. Come on!”
“I must go.” The young man patted David’s shoulder. “Keep up your courage.”
The cell door shut and David was left alone in the dark. Tears filled his eyes. Bitterness and selfishness had led him here. Inside him a cry began. He wished he could go back and make things right with his best friends. He couldn’t. These men would take everything from him, then murder him like the thousands of innocent people they had already. But David wasn’t innocent. He was responsible for the death of one of his friends, and there was nothing he could do to make that right. He’d die here, guilty and alone.
Hope you enjoyed this weekend post. 🙂 Stay tuned for another short story this coming Wednesday, and possibly a cool blog award tag!