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About the Author
Author Piers Anthony (born Piers Anthony Dillingham Jacob) is an English-American author of science fiction and fantasy books. He is best known for his long-running novel series set in the fictional realm of Xanth. In addition to the 40 books in the Xanth series (with two more forthcoming), he has written numerous other science fiction and fantasy series, such as Incarnations of Immortality, and dozens of standalone novels.
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By Piers Anthony
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1996 Piers Anthony
All rights reserved.
The drive between Boston and New York was never much fun, and this rainy June night it was worse than usual. A disproportionate number of oncoming vehicles maintained their beams adamantly on high, not caring about anyone's vision but their own. Lane Dowling began to mutter with irritation, then to swear.
"Lane ..." the girl murmured.
He flicked his glance across to her. Even in the gloom of the car, she was comely, her brow and nose and mouth finely chiseled in silhouette. "Sorry, Quality," he said. She was a Quaker girl, and she really did object to bad language. That was part of her allure, for him; her informed innocence. Quality Smith was far from ignorant—she was an honors student—but her background was extremely straight-laced. If anyone in this world, he thought, was pure in body and spirit, it was Quality. Therefore she was a treasure, like a hoard of gold: after remaining sequestered for years, the beauty and value were undiminished. She was smart, pretty and chaste.
Another high-beam cowboy loomed. Lane gritted his teeth. It would be so satisfying to let fly one pungent cussword!
"Perhaps I should take a turn," his friend said from the back seat. "I do have an American driving license, and since you are kind enough to convey me—"
"Forget it, Ernst," Lane said. "You don't know these roads the way I do."
"True," Ernst agreed, chuckling. "Neither do I have your experience flying, as shows in the velocity of your machine. Yet I would not have you tire yourself unduly because of me." The German accent was almost imperceptible, but he still tended to speak formally and not too rapidly in English. "It is a very great favor that you do for me."
"If I were in Germany without a car," Lane said, gratified by his friend's expressed appreciation, "and had to make it in a hurry from Berlin to—" He paused, unable to think of a suitable city. The geography of Germany was not as clear to him as that of New York State.
"From Berlin to Hamburg," Ernst filled in obligingly. "Yes, friend, I would drive you there." He smiled in the dark, highlights from passing headlights reflected in his even teeth. "But I do not think you have business in the Fatherland at this time."
"Not while the Nazi's are there, for sure!" Lane agreed. "How you can go along with the fascists—"
"Please," Quality said.
"Oh, don't worry, girl. We're not going to fight. Ernst and I are friends, though I can't say the same for our countries." He shrugged, then directed a remark at the back seat. "What the hell do you see in Hitler?"
"Please," Ernst said this time. "I am prepared to defend the government of my country, but this distresses the lady." Quality made a murmur of agreement.
"Look, Quality," Lane said. "You always get tight about politics, but they're part of today's reality. The thing to do is not to take them seriously. Not between friends. Ernst just happens to be the single solitary Nazi fascist in the world that I can get along with, and we both damn well know—"
"Lane!" she protested, a really sharp note in her voice.
"Nazi, yes. Fascist, no," Ernst corrected him. "The distinction—"
"And if war comes we'll be on opposite sides," Lane continued. "We both know that too. It's like the Civil War, where brother fought against brother—"
"The Spanish Civil War?" Ernst asked. "That is not—"
"The American Civil War, idiot! Or as the text puts it, the War of the Rebellion. But this is peace, and we are friends—and even war isn't going to change that."
"Can't we drop the subject?" Quality pleaded.
"No," Lane said, made ornery by the strain of night driving. The drizzly, dirty rain had quickened after a tantalizing intermittence, fouling the windshield and making the road surface treacherous. That was all he needed! "We have to have this out sometime."
"Friend, it should be let go," Ernst said. "I comprehend her feeling."
But now Quality, despite her best intention, was angry. "How can a Nazi comprehend the feeling of a pacifist?"
"Approximately," Ernst said with a half-twisted smile. "You abhor me as I would abhor a Jew."
"I don't abhor Jews!" she exclaimed indignantly.
"Of course not," Ernst agreed, with another unseen smile. "You are extremely tolerant of lesser races."
"There are no lesser—"
"You do not share our concept of the Master Race."
"I certainly don't! How anyone can believe that trash—"
"Quality," Lane murmured with a smile of his own, in the same tone she had used on him. "He's teasing you. Ernst doesn't hate Jews. That's just part of what he has to say to keep out of trouble with his government. There's a Jew on our team, and Ernst was assigned to work with him, and taught him how to—"
"Ach, swine, you betray me!" Ernst muttered, chuckling. This time he pronounced the W with the sound of a V, in the German manner. Lane had picked up a number of interesting sidelights in the course of his association with Ernst, and remained intrigued by them. Most fun was the fact that the word "folk," to which the Germans attached a special meaning, was spelled with a V and capitalized: Volk. So the German W was pronounced V, and the V was pronounced
F. Lane hadn't figured out how the F was pronounced. Quality was stricken. "Oh, I'm doing it! I'm making foolish assumptions, letting my temper run away with me, and using pejorative language." She inhaled deeply, exhaled, then turned to face the German. "Ernst, I apologize—"
"Accepted," Ernst said immediately. "We have mutually exclusive views, but there need be no rancor."
"Yes," she agreed faintly.
"But I believe I do understand. The mention of the war in Spain reminded me. One of my companions in the Hitler Youth, which is an organization that parallels your Boy Scouts but is more thorough, was older than I and went on to become a flyer like Lane. He was not listed as such, for political reasons, but he served in the Kondor Legion—you might spell it with a C—in Spain last year. He flew an experimental aircraft called a dive-bomber, and it crashed. When I learned of his death, I cursed the futility of war."
"Spain ..." she echoed.
"I lived in Spain, in my youth; my father was stationed there for a time. I learned to speak the language there. It is a nice country, almost as pretty as Germany. Now that memory of Iberia is spoiled, for the blood of my friend seeped into that soil. Yet all would have been well, but for the idiocy of war."
"Another pacifist!" Lane said in mock wonder. But he found himself touched. He had not known about Ernst's loss of a flying friend. Ernst had always refused to be taken for a ride in a small plane, and now the reason was coming clear.
"I, too, lost a friend in Spain," Quality whispered. "I never met her, but I knew her well. A woman who lived in a Basque village."
"Ah, the territory of the Basques!" Ernst said. "That was the Republican stronghold where—"
"I know that was where!" she cried, her voice shrill again. "That awful Condor Legion bombed her town!"
"Ah, no! You do not suppose—?"
"They could have met?" she said acidly. "You think he said 'Here, my dear Spanish lady, is ein gift from der Führer,' as he dropped his bomb on her head?"
"Gift in German means poison," Ernst said. "But I take your meaning. Yet if he crashed, he might not have bombed anyone. He had no animosity to others; he did not mean to hurt. He merely liked to fly, and the experience of diving out of the sky in seeming suicide, to pull out only a few feet from the ground—"
"That I can understand," Lane murmured. "The exhilaration of falling through space, like parachuting—"
"It is not for me," Ernst said somewhat abruptly. "His name was—"
"No! No names!" Quality cried. "How terrible, if—"
"Yes, it is terrible," Ernst agreed soberly. "If I could wave a magic wand and abolish the Spanish war, then and now—for the slaughter continues there to this day—and save the lives of your friend and mine, I would certainly do so."
"The war continues." Now Quality faced straight forward, her face set. "No wish of yours or mine can change it. But I confess you have some basis to understand my feeling."
"I'm glad that's settled," Lane said. He was driving more slowly now, for the rain had continued to intensify, and the edge of the road was getting flooded. "I thought for a moment we were going to re-enact the war here in this car. Let's let the sword be a plowshare, and a gift not be poison. I want you two to get along."
"Why?" Ernst inquired after a pause. "The lady has reason to avoid me, and this I understand. Had her friend been a pilot bombing my friend's town, I would feel the same."
"No, it's not that," Quality said. "We are not our brothers' keepers in quite that sense. But as long as you support the brutal Nazi regime—"
"The American regime is far from gentle," Ernst said. "One has but to look at history, at the way your country caused Panama to revolt from Colombia, and sent her gunship to balk the Colombian troops, so that a separate deal could be made on the Canal Zone America wanted—"
"Touché!" Lane exclaimed.
"And my country's dealings with Mexico, no more savory," Quality said. "I support none of this. Yet—"
"There is evil enough to go around," Lane cut in, surprised at both Ernst's and Quality's conversance with the skeletons in America's closet. No gunship had appeared in his own history text. "We know that. And each person must support his country, his system, even if it isn't perfect. No one respects a traitor. You two should be able to tolerate each other's governments for a day."
Now it was Quality who asked "Why?"
"Because I want Ernst to be the Best Man when you and I get married."
Quality gasped. Ernst made a guttural snort of derision.
"No, I'm serious," Lane insisted. "You're the best man I know, Ernst."
After a moment the German recovered enough to protest. "Nevertheless, in the circumstances—"
The car jerked and slowed. The left front wheel had hit a pothole concealed by filling water. For a moment the vehicle veered toward the opposing traffic.
Quality made a little shriek. Ernst grunted and jumped forward. Then Lane wrestled the wheels back to the right. The scare was over.
"What?" Quality asked, startled. For Ernst's muscular left forearm was across her front, pressing her back into the seat.
"Apology," the German muttered, drawing quickly away.
"That proves it," Lane said, pulling the car into a lighted roadside area. "You want to know what he was doing, Quality? I'll tell you what he was doing. He was throwing his arm around you to prevent you going head-first through the windshield if I cracked us up. Because he has the mass and muscle and reaction-speed you don't, and he knows how to hang on during a fall. He couldn't help me, because I was driving, and anyway I'm pretty tough myself. But you're something else."
Quality considered. "I fear I misjudged thee, Ernst," she said faintly.
"Because politics don't matter in the crunch," Lane continued. "There was no time for thought, only reaction. As in wrestling or self defense. Ernst did what was needed to be done, instantly, without even thinking. He could have saved your life, Quality, if I had messed up."
"Yes," she agreed. "I apologize to thee again, Ernst."
"A natural misunderstanding—" the German demurred, embarrassed.
"So as I said: Ernst is the best man I know," Lane said. "All the rest is dross." He turned to his friend. "When she says 'thee' she really means it. It's called the plain talk; she uses it at home." He turned back to Quality. "About his being—"
"I withdraw my objection," she said contritely. "Thee knows best. He shall be Best Man when we wed."
"Now let's go find something to eat," Lane said briskly. He did not try to kiss her, though he wanted to, because Quality did not do such things in public.
But the rain was still coming down. They waited in silence a few more minutes for it to diminish. Lane glanced at his face in the rear-view mirror; there was just light enough, here, because of the neon illumination of signs. He fished out his comb to straighten his tousled hair and restore the natural curl. He was what he called a bleach-blond, like Ernst: his hair was brown, quite dark when wet, but dryness and the sun made it shades lighter. On those occasions in the past when he had worn it longer, the ends turned quite fair. His mother always thought of him as blond; he had at one time taken that as evidence that she was color-blind. Now he knew better; she merely remembered him as a tow-head baby.
He leaned forward to peer at his left cheek. The scars hardly showed, but he remained conscious of them. Others had assured him that he was handsome, and that the scars might be regarded as a beauty mark. Certainly Quality wasn't bothered; she judged by other things than appearance. But he would be happier with clear skin. Maybe surgery, some day, though the notion of going under the knife did not appeal.
"If thee is quite through—" Quality said, nudging him gently. She teased him sometimes about his vanity. She never seemed to touch up her own face, yet she always looked prim. Perhaps it came with inner goodness.
The rain had finally eased. They got out of the car, emerging into a drizzle becoming too fine to heed; only the irregular puddles impeded progress. They walked toward a garishly illuminated establishment a block distant.
"That will not do," Quality said as they drew close enough to make out the neon lettering.
"Oh—beer, ale" Lane said. "You don't drink." He said that for Ernst's benefit. Germany was famous for beer, and Lane did not want there to seem to be any obscure affront.
"Sensible people do not," Ernst said tactfully. "Perhaps there is a more suitable place beyond."
They resumed walking. At that point the door to the bar burst open and four men staggered out in an ambiance of alcohol. The first almost collided with Quality. "Look at that!" he exclaimed, his beer-breath surrounding her.
Quality averted her gaze, and Lane took her by the elbow and guided her around the stranger. At this moment she reminded him of a Christian Temperance lady, and it bothered him to have her sensitivities bruised by these oafs.
"Hey!" the man cried, lurching about, reaching for Quality. The reek of his breath intensified. But Ernst's forearm intercepted him.
"Please let us pass in peace," Ernst said, gently setting the man back.
But the drunkard swung his fist instead. Ernst blocked the blow and shoved the man back again, so that he collided with his fellows. "Please let us pass," he repeated without emphasis.
The man should have taken warning, because Ernst's physical competence was readily apparent. But he had the belligerence of befuddlement. "What are you, a Communist?" he demanded.
"I am a Nazi." Ernst turned stiffly to follow Lane and Quality. If there was one thing a Nazi hated, it was Communism, Lane knew. Ernst hardly showed it, but he had been deeply insulted.
"A Nazi!" Now all four men were pressing forward aggressively, discovering the opportunity to convert their drunken ire into patriotism. It was all right to beat up a Nazi.
"That wasn't diplomatic, friend," Lane said, turning quickly around.
"No fighting!" Quality protested. But it was too late. The four drunks were wading in.
"Stand clear, girl," Lane said. "This is a job for us warmongers." She skipped back hastily.
Lane and Ernst made contact with the first two men almost simultaneously. Suddenly the two drunks were hoisted in the air, whirled about, and half-shoved, half-hurled into the remaining two. All four collapsed in a heap.
"Compliments of the two leading members of the collegiate wrestling team," Lane said, dusting himself off and clapping his friend on the shoulder. It was hard to conceal his satisfaction, but Quality's stern gaze assisted him.
The fight was gone from the drunks. Lane and Ernst turned around again and rejoined Quality.
"That would not have been a fair match even had they not been intoxicated," she reproved them. But her sympathy for brawling drunks was quite limited, and she knew the four men had not been hurt. It occurred to Lane that even a pacifist like her could appreciate certain advantages in associating with nonpacifists like him. What would she have done if she had encountered the drunks alone? But he knew the answer: she would never have gone near a bar alone.
Excerpted from Volk by Piers Anthony. Copyright © 1996 Piers Anthony. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
If you can't already tell, I really love Piers Anthony's books... another one FINALLY comes to NOOK! This one takes a taboo subject - an American and a Nazi in a relationship during WWII and winds down the path of romance and social complexity. A must read for all the Piers Anthony fans!