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Chapter 2: Arrival in France
12th October, 1940.
The typewriter clicked away under her fingertips, ink letters compressed onto paper as soon as she pushed the corresponding key- there was no leeway for mistakes. Chickens clucked around her feet, urging her on every time she paused for a reprieve to gather her thoughts.
Hiding out in a barn was not exactly Edith Clerval’s idea of fun. Then again, fun was a word that had no place in her lexicon during an epoch like this. Early morning sunlight flooded in through the doors that were wide open; the animals were free to roam about during the day, although this did make for quite a mess, not that she had an aversion to cleaning.
Edith signed off her letter with an apathetic “A bientot”, removed the paper from the grasp of the typewriter and grabbed her bicycle that leaned against the pig enclosure.
It was time to go into town.
The journey into Lachaise was unhindered, except for the minor obstacle of the cattle grid that made Edith’s thin bicycle frame judder precariously for a few hairy moments.
Edith trundled onwards at a sloth’s pace, her skirt limiting her pedal power severely. Views of lush grass, vibrant flowers and battered market stalls did not seem to fly past her, opting rather to remain stationary. In the end, Edith concluded that the blasted contraption was not worth the effort and continued on foot, holding the piece of metal by the handlebars.
Her first stop was the butchers, where multifarious meats were on selection, bar the usual cuts of sheep and cow. In the end, she bought 3lbs of horsemeat. Second was the postal office, where Edith bought an envelope and a stamp. She wrote upon the envelope an esoteric address, licked the stamp, enclosed the letter and sent it on its way.
Her last stop was the cafe. It was run single handedly by Mme. Lavisse after the demise of her husband. The widow had turned partially bitter, though her caustic comments often brought a smile to Edith- they were unfettered and unfiltered, the opposite to what society demanded- censure, decorum and propriety.
“Bonjour Mme. Lavisse,”
“If it isn’t the little putain Clerval,” The woman drawled in reply, her breath belaying the fag she had not a few minutes previous.
“We both know I’m anything but,” Edith chuckled, looking around for prying ears before ploughing onwards. “Has the package arrived?”
Mme. Lavisse merely chucked her a tarnished bronze key in reply and continued to chew her tasteless gum, lips smacking together loudly whilst she wiped down tables with a filthy, decaying cloth.
Edith went behind the counter and through the kitchens where she paused to smile at Pepinot, a bony boy of 8 who was sitting on the surface, eating his breakfast croissant. He gave a crumb filled grin in reply and a jovial wave to top it off.
Edith came to a long stone corridor. Little daylight filtered in and the yellow flickering light from the bare bulbs strung haphazardly upon the ceiling provided a sense of foreboding for her to bask in. She couldn’t stand appliances that didn’t work, they were unreliable for one and for two, they gave her the heebie jeebies.
Edith grasped at the copper doorknob of the rotting wooden door, the cold metal drawing all heat from her hand. She walked over the threshold, out of the darkness and into the light.
There waiting for her was the package she had been promised.
A man, no older than 27, no younger than 22, sat cross legged on the dusty floor (the room’s current lack of furniture was the sole cause of his state). His eyes did not follow Edith’s path into the room, there was no need to since she was in his peripheral vision. His fingers played with the laces on his hobnail boots, his hunched figure the epitome of boredom.
Edith remained standing, it was improper to sit on the floor in a skirt. Her brogues stopped directly in front of the man, and only then did he look upwards.
Edith decided the man was of an honourable sort within a matter of moments. His sharp, angular features, the brown depths of his eyes- entrusting, the grace and stature with which he held himself, all pointing to a trustworthy nature.
And yet, if he was sent, he was lethal.
“Supremest wisdom...” Edith began, lilting her voice towards the end, indicating the man to continue.
“And primeval love,” His voice was soft, a slight Irish accent defiling his French.
“Bonjwour Maidmwaselle Cler-“
Edith held up a hand.
“I’m half English, I was born in St Mary’s hospital in London and was educated within its locality until I became of age and whence decided to stay with my father’s family for a while to expand the breadth of my knowledge. I think you’ll find my knowledge of the English language quite exemplary and satisfactory to your standards Monsieur,”
“Is that as opposed to my crude French?” Alastor lifted an eyebrow.
“Yes,” Edith retorted, blasé.
The man let out a bark of a laugh, throwing his head back in mirth. Yes, this girl had one hell of a personality.
“I’m Alastor Moody,” He extended his arm outwards. Edith received the callused hand, the hand of a working man, and grasped it firmly in her own.
“Edith Clerval, but since you tried to butcher my surname before, just call me Edith,”
The initial part of the walk back to the house (Edith didn’t take up her bicycle again, leaving it at the annexe to the cafe) was a silent one, not for a lack of conversation topics, but rather due to the fact that the Nazi officers would most likely be suspicious of two supposedly French people talking in fluent English- especially since the Germans barely spoke French, let alone English.
Conversely, when the pair had reached the start of the winding gravel footpath that led to the Clerval farm, the tête-à-tête began to bloom. The dense canopy of the trees overhead created long shadows, but this didn’t instil a sense of foreboding in Edith or Alastor. They were the only two people in the vicinity, whilst the tweets of birds and the croaks of toads disrupted what would have been an ominous silence.
“Why didn’t you stay in Britain?” Alastor clasped his hands behind his back.
“I’ve stayed there my whole life,” Edith stated simply, turning to face her inquisitor. “I wanted to experience French culture for myself and to connect with the side of my family that I don’t nearly get enough opportunities to see,”
Alastor nodded, it was a fair answer, however, it wasn’t one he could empathise with- he wasn’t torn between two countries of origin.
“What’s making you fight?” Unlike all other questions, which Edith had somewhat anticipated, this one had taken her aback.
“I’m not quite sure,” She started hesitantly, unable to string her thoughts and emotions together into coherent sentences. Alastor allowed her the pause that she needed. “It’s part of my patriotic duty, as well as my moral duty I guess. The ethnic cleansing that is sweeping Eastern Europe is so inherently wrong, that I have to try with all my might to stop it. I have the resources required to help and I can’t just watch all that is happening without blinking an eye. My instincts tell me to act, my heart tells me to act and my brain tells me to act, so, I have to.”
Alastor smiled. Edith’s speech was imperfect, ill-phrased, and all the more powerful due to that.
“What makes you patriotic to France and Britain?”
Edith paused, bit her lip and stroked her chin. “Patriotism is a hard emotion to quantify. It’s the city where I grew up, the countryside where I cavorted in the summer... it’s the buildings that make up home,”
Alastor mused over her response. “You must be awfully fond of bricks and fields to put your life on the line for them,” He smirked, hands deep within his pockets.
Edith rolled her eyes, then grinned in anticipation. “Well, I hope you’re ready M.Moody, because the Spanish inquisition’s focus is now you,”
He rubbed his nose with a broad thumb, chuckling with happiness and nerves.
“How old are you Alastor?”
“24,” He fired without a pause.
“What part of Ireland are you from?” ‘Observational’, Alastor thought in approval.
“What job did you have before you came here?”
“Can we stop the interrogation? Your questions are not dissimilar to those that my cousin received by the mother of his bride when he asked for her hand in marriage. You can broach more exciting topics of my life if you wish,” Alastor took his hands out of his pockets and clasped them behind his back.
“Then I shall proceed in such a manner that will accommodate you, you are my guest after all. What made HQ send you?” Edith queried.
“I am adequately trained and of a similar age to you, therefore, should the need ever arise, I can claim to be a suitor of yours, whereas a man twice my age would have trouble claiming the same story,” Alastor winked and Edith laughed, the idea of marriage was absurd, what with the conflict everywhere.
Edith pulled on a metal lion-head door handle and entered her home of two years, Alastor trailing behind her, entering a strange house that belonged to a stranger.
Lucky for him it wasn’t the most dangerous thing that he had done, auror training made sure of that.
“Have you ever worked on a farm?” Edith questioned, as they entered the kitchen.
“My family home in Ireland is a farm, so I’d say I have some experience,”
“Good, because everybody chips in here, everybody does their piece. There is no room for loafers here,”
Alastor’s eyes roamed over the oak panel tops, the stone floor and the wooden beams. In essence, the Clerval farm was not unlike the Moody farm, even with the separation of land and sea, and the culture difference to factor in as well.
The door opened, and a lady, features drooping with age, walked in from the garden, manure covered trowel in hand. A wide brimmed hat was perched atop her head, small tufts of fluffy white hair poking out, whilst the hem of her floral dress floated gently against her knees in the light winds of autumn.
She posed Edith a question, and Edith began to reel off rapid French.
The old woman, her lips stiff with staunch satisfaction, then turned her queries to Alastor.
“Are you a fugitive?”
In Romania, it’s a possibility, Alastor remembered his last mission fondly, though he doubted the lady would take kindly to the tale. “No, ma’am,” He answered.
“Good,” She nodded, resembling Edith to such a large extent that it was slightly eerie. “I will not harbour any criminals in my household. You are most welcome to stay M.Moody,”
“Thank you ma’am,”
Mme. Clerval, for that was the name of the old lady (she was the grandmother of Edith), smiled, softened by her new guest’s clear manners.
“You’ll find your belongings upstairs,” Her fingers fiddled with the golden chain around her neck. “They arrived before you did,”
“Oh, enough of the “thank you”s, too many pleasantries in a short space of time and one might call it impudence,” Mme. Clerval waved a limp hand.
Alastor bowed and took his leave, retreating upstairs and into his new quarters for the foreseeable future. It was a more relaxing fate than many of those his age will have been exposed to but somehow, a more dangerous one. Working on the front line paled in comparison to working within and against the German rule in the fight of intelligence. The small home comforts he shall enjoy, before they soon disappear.
And they will disappear.
He lay down in his bed, braces and shoes still fixed on and let himself be enveloped by the plush sheets that surrounded him. They smelled faintly of French vanilla and clean cotton, the smell of his new home.
He liked it. He liked it all, the farm, the people- Alastor Moody was happy and content.
Alastor fell asleep.
A/N: Lesson time! By the 22nd June 1940, France had surrendered to the German army. The Germans occupied the north and west of France, whilst in the south and east the Nazis formed an alliance with the newly created semi-autonomous state, known as Vichy France. This was led by Marshal Petain. Most people accepted the occupation, instead of opposing it and risking death. Only small groups resisted the German rule and Edith and Alastor fit into that category, though they’re independent of French resistant groups, since they didn’t really accept women.
I invoked my creative license a bit, Lachaise is a made up village of mine (at least I think it is, there might be a Lachaise village somewhere in France, but I haven’t heard of it) and it’s on the outskirts of Paris, to the rural west. Putain means prostitute in French, and that’s the definition in this context, but the more common application of the word is as a replacement for fuck. A bientot is just a way of signing off a letter, I think it means “We’ll talk soon” or something to that effect. The surname Clerval is taken from the character Henry Clerval from Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. The quote that Alastor and Edith use as their password if from Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy.
If you spot anything that is incorrect, don’t hesitate to tell me!