The Ardennes


He was shivering with cold. December in the Ardennes isn’t a place to be without the right equipment, but he didn’t have a choice. He had jumped into France in June with his unit, the 2nd Ranger Battalion and had fought since. They were now in the Ardennes forest. They had been bivouacked in a grove of trees when the Germans hit them. It was in the early morning hours of the 19th of December and most of the company had been asleep.

The attack had come as a surprise. A battalion-sized unit of Germans had crept up on his company, taken out the sentries and killed many of his company before they even got out of their tents. He had been lucky. His tent was tucked into some bushes on the side opposite from where the fighting began. He made it out of his tent with his boots, rifle and rucksack but had to leave his coat, sleeping bag and gloves behind.

He ran into the trees and hid in a small hollow as he put on his boots. He stashed his rucksack, then headed back to the company area to join the fight. By the time he made it to the edge of the camp, the German Infantry had either killed or captured the majority of his unit.

He didn’t want to surrender, so he decided to slip away and try to find another unit. Unfortunately, his map and compass were in his coat pocket, which was in his flattened tent. From memory, he dredged up a picture of his map and thought the closest Allied units were west of his position. He decided the best thing was to head in that direction and try to find them.

He trudged through the dark forest all that day. He had put on all his extra clothes but was still cold. Heavy, dark, snow-laden clouds covered the sky keeping the forest floor in twilight-like conditions. There were no roads in the direction he traveled. Because of that lack, after a while he realized he was lost. He had no idea if he was still going in the right direction. That night he made an emergency shelter out of branches. He didn’t build a fire for fear of giving away his position to the enemy, so he spent a miserable night balled up under the pile of limbs shivering, trying to stay warm.

The next morning at first light he ate the only can of C-rations he had cold, then started moving again, hoping it was West. He was in a very heavily forested area without a road or path to be seen except for game trails cutting through the dark gloom under the trees. As he walked he tried to be very quiet so as to hear if anyone was close. It was gloomy and silent in the forest, eerily so. By noon the only thing he had heard, other than the crunch of his own steps on the frozen white carpet, was the ‘plop’ of snow falling from the trees or an occasional branch breaking from the weight of the snow.

He saw a lighter area ahead between the trees and approached it cautiously, not wanting to blunder into a German encampment. He saw that it was a clearing and crept to the edge to scout it out. 50 yards to his left a stone cottage sat at the edge of the trees. A ramshackle wooden barn was close by as well as the distinctive round casement of a well. A few feet on the other side of the house was another stone building and at the edge of the trees he could see the small distinctive silhouette of what he was sure was an outhouse. As he stood looking over the idyllic scene the cottage door slammed open and a figure stumbled out, falling to the ground after a few steps.

A moment later a figure in a German uniform stepped from the door. He kicked the figure on the ground hard, then said something in French. Jack’s interest peaked as he heard the words. He had spent what little spare time he had since landing working at learning the French language. He wasn’t greatly proficient at it yet, but he could make out what was said, most of the time, as well as get across what he wanted to say, most of the time. The German soldier had asked the man on the ground where his money was and that he knew they had some because all zigeuner (a word Jack didn’t recognize) had money hidden.

Jack heard the man on the ground reply in French, “Just because we are Romani does not mean we have gold.”

Jack had to think about that and it came to him; he had heard the word Romani used before, it referred to gypsies. The man on the ground said something that Jack couldn’t make out.

The German’s lips lifted in a cold menacing smile as he said ominously, “I know how to get the answer from you.”

He turned and motioned at the door. A moment later another soldier stepped out dragging a young woman with him.

The first German soldier told the man on the ground, “If you don’t tell where you hid your gold, we will rape your woman in front of you and then make you watch us kill her before we kill you.”

The man on the ground said something else Jack couldn’t make out, but which seemed to anger the German. He nodded at his companion, who stepped over, grabbed the top of the young woman’s dress, jerked at it, tearing the front of her blouse open. For an instant Jack took note of the young woman’s firm breasts, her nipples crinkled and standing up in the cold air.

That lasted Escort Ankara only a second before the first German soldier said something in German to the one next to the girl. He nodded, grabbed her arm and began to drag her back into the cottage as the other one pulled the man to his feet, then began to drag him toward the cottage.

Over his time in the war Jack had discovered that when things got bad he was good at blocking out fear, for a short time anyway. He would go into an emotionally devoid state. He could see and hear what was going on. He could analyze it, then take actions that would be hard for him in any normal circumstance. Before the war the thought of killing people, even when they were trying to kill him would have sent him into a deep funk. Now though, after what he had seen and done, it only caused him to switch off his emotions and do what he needed to do.

Jack knew he couldn’t just hide and let the two Germans ravage the woman and kill her and the man. He didn’t stop to think as he raised his M1 Garand, resting it against the tree he was hiding behind. At a little over 50 yards it was a comparatively easy shot. He knew he was going to have to kill both of them quickly, so he placed the sights on the chest of the one holding the girl, took a breath and squeezed off the shot. As soon as he felt the recoil he swung his rifle to the second soldier and fired. The two shots came within a second of each other. The two Germans never knew what hit them.

Jack stepped out from behind the tree and walked over to the cottage. As he stopped next to one of the Germans the two Gypsies looked at him shocked. He nudged first one then the other with his foot. His mind told him they were dead. His experience said not to trust it. He pulled out the .45 pistol he carried and with a dead calm fired a 230-grain slug into each of them.

He holstered his pistol, then turned to the couple. The man appeared to be old, in his late sixties or seventies, the woman was much younger, in her early twenties. Both looked terrified as they stared back at him.

“American.” He said pointing at himself.

The couple looked confused and very frightened so Jack tried some of his not so good French and stumbled through an explanation, telling them that he wasn’t going to hurt them, that he was an American fighting the Germans and got separated from his unit. His explanation appeared to calm the couple, at least a bit. He then asked why these two were asking for gold. The man had gotten up off the ground and was standing holding his ribs as he replied that the Germans hated the Romani and thought all of them had much gold.

Jack dragged the German bodies to the edge of the woods and then returned. He told the couple he was very cold and asked if he could warm himself in their cottage before he continued on to find his unit.

The man smiled and replied, “You have saved us. Please be welcome in our house.”.

The woman helped the man into the house and Jack followed. He propped his rifle against the wall next to the door, dropped his rucksack next to it, then walked over and stood close to the fireplace where a small fire was burning. As he warmed himself he noticed that the woman had disappeared into another room. Jack checked tp make sure the flap on the holster for his .45 was unsnapped, just in case. She returned in a few moments after changing her torn blouse.

She began to take the man’s shirt off. When she had it off Jack could see the dark purple bruises where the soldier had kicked him. As Jack watched the man breathe he suspected he had one or two broken ribs from the beating. The woman touched the man’s side, which caused him to wince and grunt in pain. When he saw that Jack was sure the ribs were broken.

He walked to his rucksack and rummaged around until he found his first aid kit. He pulled out a roll of heavy medical tape, turned and in his rudimentary French told the woman that the man had some broken ribs and they were going to have to tape his chest tightly to allow them to heal. The woman looked cautious but allowed Jack to tape the man’s chest. When he was done the woman helped the man put on his shirt.

She turned to Jack and for the first time he took full stock of her. She stood slightly over 5″ tall with black hair falling to the middle of her back. Her eyes were large and brown and filled with defiance. Her face was beautiful in a dark exotic way.

“You have been good to us.” She said in French, “You saved us from the soldiers and now have fixed Vano’s injuries. If you will stay for a while I will make you some food and something to drink.”

“Thank you I would be honored,” Jack said in his terrible French which brought an unexpected smile from her.

She said in heavily French-accented English, “You do not need to use our language. We both speak your language.”

“Thank you. I’m not yet very good with French yet.”

Jack turned to the man as he said, “My name is Jack. I am an American.”

“We do not get much news here. We are isolated but I know that the Americans are fighting Ankara Escort to push the Germans out of this country. I am honored to have one of their soldiers in my home. My name is Vano Vandlo and that is my daughter-in-law Talitha. We call her Tala. I would be honored to know your full name so I may tell other Romani what you have done for us.”

“I am happy to meet you Vano. My full name is Jackson Gabriel Benton. My mom was very religious and insisted on that middle name.”

Vano’s eyes widened and Jack heard Tala gasp than Vano whispered, “The archangel of new beginnings.”

Jack wondered at their reaction but had a different question he wanted to ask.

“Tala is your son’s wife? May I ask where your son is?”

Jack could see pain fill the man’s eyes as he said, “A German soldier killed him trying to get him to tell where our nonexistent gold is hidden.”

“Everyone seems to think you have money,” Jack said.

“Yes everyone thinks the Romani amass gold and jewels. If I had that kind of riches, we would not be hiding in a dark forest!”

A moment later Tala handed a plate to each of them.

“Thank you.” Jack said, “And I am very sorry to hear about your husband.”

Tala stopped and stared at him with a hard, almost angry look on her face.

Jack thought for a moment she was going to scream, then her face softened and she said, “Thank you. We were chosen for each other. We were not married long. We didn’t even have a chance to conceive a child.”

That reply surprised Jack but he didn’t say anything more and began to eat. When he took the first bite Jack realized how hungry he was. He devoured every crumb on the plate. When he was done Tala asked if he wanted more. Jack was about to say yes when he realized that they may not have a lot of food so he replied that if they had enough and wouldn’t be a drain on them he would like a second helping. He didn’t know why but both of his hosts grinned and told him they had plenty to eat.

Jack had two more servings before he stopped. As he sat staring into the fire he couldn’t remember the last time he had been full of food, warm and relaxed. He found himself nodding off. A half-hour later he jerked awake, jumped to his feet disoriented, fumbling to pull out his pistol.

“Please, you are safe,” Tala said in a soft soothing voice.

He looked in her direction and finally remembered where he was.

“Sorry.” He said, “An automatic reaction.”

“How long have you fought?” she asked.

“I landed on Sicily in ’43 with my unit. I fought there for a few months, then we were sent to southern France to invade some islands. They finally disbanded my unit and I was assigned to this one, the 2nd Ranger Battalion. I parachuted into France before the invasion and we’ve been fighting ever since. “

“This is your second unit?” She asked touching the shoulder patch on his jacket.

“Yea.” Jack said as he touched a second patch sewed to his pocket and said,” This was my first unit, the 1st Special Forces. We were trained for and did a lot of covert night work. We were feared by the Germans. Because of the shoe polish we used on our faces they called us the black Devils.” Jack replied with a grin, “We were known as the Devil’s Brigade.”

Talitha’s eyes widened and she said, “Papa! Did you hear?”

Vano replied with only a nod.

“You have fought for a very long time.” she said, “You must be tired.”

“Yes, but we have a long way to go to get to Berlin.” He said, then added, “If I make it.”

Tala stepped closer and used both her hands to cup his cheeks, then closed her eyes. She began to hum, a soft sweet sound and he wondered what she was doing, but the touch of her soft hands felt so good he didn’t want to ask and make her stop. She hummed for a bit, then a gasp and a moan of pain came from her. That lasted several seconds then she again began to hum. A moment more she opened her eyes and smiled at him.

“You will be in Germany. You will see the end of this war. You will go home and you will have children to carry on.” She said in a soft voice.

“I hope so.” He replied.

“You will.” she replied, then turned her head to Vano and said, “He has the fire in him. He will have sons. “

Vano’s smiled and nodded. Jack had no idea what that exchange was about but he figured it was time for him to leave and see if he could find a unit to join.

“Thank you for the food and the fire, but I think I’d best get going. It will be dark in an hour or two and I need to see if I can find an Allied unit.”

“There is none close to here.” Vano said,” We came to this place because few come this way, no one but deserters and the lost that is.”

“So how far away do you think they could be?” Jack asked.

“North maybe two days walk. South the same. East you will find only Germans. West you will find your friends in maybe a day.”

“You are out here in nowhere!” Jack said.

“Yes, we try to stay out of everyone’s way. Romani are not viewed well, especially by the Germans.”

“Ok, I guess I’ll set out in the Ankara Escort Bayan morning. Would you mind if I used your barn to sleep in?”

“You will not!” Talitha said, “You saved us. The least we can do is show you hospitality. I will make a pallet here in front of the fire. You will sleep in my bed.”

Jack opened his mouth to protest but her look told him it was futile. He closed his mouth and nodded, which brought a grin from Vano.

“She is strong-willed that one.” He said, amusement filling his voice as he lit his pipe.

“I do not wish to offend you, but I must ask that you bath before you stay,” she said.

Of a sudden Jack was conscious of the fact that he hadn’t had a bath in weeks. He had grown used to his smell, but he imagined how it must be to these folks.

“I’m sorry. I haven’t had a bath for a long time. I didn’t mean to offend you with my stench.” He said.

Talitha smiled and replied, “That is alright. We know that you do not smell this way on purpose. Relax, talk with Papa while I get your bath ready.”

“I can do that if you show me how,” Jack replied.

Tala looked at him as if he had two heads as she replied, “You will not! You are a guest!”

As she left Vano chuckled and said, “Yes a very strong-willed one. She also has the sight.”

“The sight?” Jack asked.

“Yes. Sometimes she can see what will happen, like when she said you would see Germany and home again. She saw that in your future.”

Jack looked dubious and thought that the older man must have a screw loose, but said nothing. Vano grinned and said nothing more. Talitha returned a half-hour later and beaconed Jack to follow her. As he trailed after her out the door his eyes fell on the two German bodies laying at the edge of the woods.

“We can’t leave those there.” He said pointing at the bodies, “If you have a shovel I’ll bury them.”

She nodded and disappeared into the barn. She returned a few moments later with a shovel. She motioned Jack to follow and lead him a short way into the woods.

When she stopped she said, “Here. Bury them here.”

She turned and walked back toward the house. Jack watched her go, admiring the sway of her hips. The sight of her reminded him he hadn’t touched a woman since leaving England. As he watched her go a feeling of want, of desire sparked in him. Until now he had been able to keep that feeling buried under the sharper more immediate and ever-present feelings of pain, homesickness and fear, but the simple sight of her walking away woke a hunger for the soft touch of a woman.

When she was out of sight he sighed and set to work. The ground was soft loam and easy digging. Within an hour he had a 4′ deep hole dug. He went back, drug the bodies to the hole, dumped them in and covered them. When he was done he walked back, put the shovel in the barn then headed for the house.

Tala came out of the small stone building he had seen and beaconed to him. Jack could see smoke curling up out of a small chimney at the back as they walked to it. When she opened the door, as they entered Jack found they were in a kind of combination bath/laundry house. There was a large stone fireplace with a huge iron kettle steaming over the fire, two stone sinks on one side, a copper bathtub close to the wall on the other side. The tub was full of hot, steaming water.

“Bathe then put these on.” she handed him a set of baggy pants along with a puffy-sleeved shirt, “I will wash your uniform and put it next to the fireplace to dry.”

She nodded and turned to leave. As she did, as he watched her walk away, again that hunger for the touch of a woman filled him, but this time it was stronger, much stronger. If he had been another type of man, the strength of that want would have prompted him to grab her, to force himself on her. But he knew, no matter how much he desired it, he couldn’t, wouldn’t do such a thing. It wasn’t who he was.

Jack slowly undressed, trying to force the unbidden sexual thoughts away. By the time he was naked, he had succeeded. He climbed slowly into the steaming water of the tub. As he steeled in, it felt wonderful. He hadn’t had a bath or shower since he left England in June. He scrubbed himself, enjoying the feel of the warmth of the water. A moment later he heard the door open, looked up to find Tala entering. He glanced down and found the water to be bellybutton deep and opaque from the soap he had been using, concealing his manhood beneath.

“I will help you bathe.” She said matter of factly as she removed her jacket and rolled up the sleeves of her blouse.

“You don’t have to do…” He began but was cut off by her taking the soap and washcloth from his hand.

She began to scrub his back and shoulders. As she did, as her soft hand touched him, that flaming hot desire for a woman returned. He gritted his teeth as his manhood swelled to hardness under the concealing cover of the soap laden water. She gently scrubbed his back, shoulders and arms, then poured water over his head as she gently washed his hair. With each touch, with each second Jack could feel the flame of desire, the throbbing sexual want of her building. As she used fresh, warm water to rinse his hair he knew he couldn’t let her do more, knew if he did he would lose control. When she was done rinsing his hair she put her hand on his shoulder.