Sunday, June 26, 2011

Achtung, Baby! Part 2.

I met Ciara at the Stuttgart Hauptbahnhof as planned. As luck would have it, my connecting train from Strassbourg arrived into Stuttgart on track one, so that when I stepped off the train, Ciara was there waiting for me.

I gave her a polite greeting in Gaelic, which she responded to in kind.

"It could be challenging to find this place...", she began.

"I think this might help.", I said, pulling out the map; "Dad gave it to me for this mission," I continued, handing it over to Ciara to inspect.

I motioned Ciara to follow me to a rail map of Germany posted as a traveler's reference guide by the Deutsche Bahn.

"So, cross referencing these two maps...", I said, then ran my finger down the regional train schedules, "it looks as though the closest we can get by rail is here", I pressed a finger on the rail map, "...and from there, we'll need to rent a car to make it the rest of the way. As you can see, it's a bit off the beaten path."

Ciara agreed, and we bought open ended return regional rail tickets and boarded one of the smaller regional trains at the other end of the station. Once safely aboard, Ciara briefed in Gaelic about the vision she had received from her mother, going into more detail than she had been able to squeeze into her text message. The Germans around us raised their eyebrows a bit at the strange language we were speaking. Not every day that one hears Irish spoken outside of Ireland. For the non-mission-sensitive smalltalk, we stuck to English. This reassured our fellow passengers, who, even for the ones who didn't know it fluently, at least recognized the familiar sounds of English, even of my Irish brogue. A few of them even put 2 + 2 together and I could hear whispers of Die zwei da kommen aus Irland!

We could've spoken German, but we would be doing plenty of that soon enough. Ciara tactfully avoided bringing up the topic of Aisling or that I was no longer in possession of her carrying case.

I certainly wasn't going to bring up Laurel's reception...I'm sure Ciara wouldn't tell me anything Aisling said in confidence; I'm just grateful Ciara wasn't berating me about it now. There's a joke that women have a network that rivals the CIA. It's no joke, it's real...doubly so for scions, I think. Ciara wasn't frosty towards me, just more even keeled and strictly business. I could handle that just fine.

We reached the end of the rail line at a quaint but still sizable German small city. Luckily we were able to find a car rental agency catering to tourists wanting to explore the Black Forest. With a full tank of petrol, we headed out onto the open road. As we proceeded, the woods continued to grow more thick and dark. Even though it was a clear day with few clouds in the sky, the canopy overhead became so thick I instinctively switched on the lights.

At the appropriate spot on Dad's map, I turned off down onto an unimproved gravel road, leading deeper into the forest. As Ciara and I passed a seemingly arbitrary line on Dad's map, we both felt a chill and a shudder come over us. For me at least, it was a familiar feeling from the mission in southern California. I don't know if Ciara had ever felt such a thing before, but the way she shuddered involuntarily, I knew she felt this one same as I had.

We kept driving.

Soon, we could see the hamlet...Dörfchen as the Germans would say, beginning to come into view further up the road. Given the extreme unlikelihood of finding decent parking within the city limits, we parked on the edge of town behind an abandoned pick-up truck. Ciara investigated the truck, and noticed some tracks leading away from the truck. She found the keys to the truck and started the engine. Satisfied, she turned it off again. I got out to stretch and pointed out that one of the truck tires was...well, not precisely flat, but very low in pressure relative to the others.

I also scrutinized the tracks more closely. While I recognized the footprints of ordinary mortals, there was something not quite right about what Ciara had identified as "children's" footprints. No, given the angle of the toes, relative to the adult footprints...this was more like a most reminded me of Pondscum's tracks in the California Terra Incognita. I pointed this out to Ciara, who speculated we could very well be looking at Goblin tracks. We followed them a ways to a clearing in the forest, where we found what in the mortal world are commonly referred to as faerie mounds, a ring of toad-stools growing together. Something mere mortals would dismiss as superstition and folklore; We as Scions knew better, though. I made a notation on Dad's map, marking the spot.

Ciara and I decided to go ahead and proceed into town, on the main road. The first thing we noticed was the odd clothing of many individuals. While many were dressed in modern dress, including jeans and t-shirts, many others were dressed in far older clothes. One would almost think of Rothenburg-ob-der-Tauber, or other well-preserved medieval towns, where some locals dress in ancient garb to ply the tourist trade...but I got the odd feeling this simply wasn't the case. It looked too genuine, and the people thusly dressed were far too unselfaware. They were not, however, unaware of us. Ciara and I were definitely noticed as foreigners in their midst and definitely an object of curiosity. More disturbingly, I noticed men on duty in German military uniforms, carrying M-16A2 assault rifles. Because of the American make of the weapons, I assumed them to be ordinary Bundeswehr soldiers at first.

But something didn't seem quite right. After 1945, the Bundeswehr had quite self-consciously distanced its uniform design from more "classic" German uniform patterns of the past. These uniforms were more in line with the "classic" type and at variance with what I knew about standard Bundeswehr uniforms. It had been some time since I'd last served with German soldiers on joint United Nations operations, but...

Without drawing attention to myself, I scrutinized the uniforms more closely. They were standard Feldgrau combat uniforms reminiscent of the WW2 era. Wehrmacht?, I thought? Then I saw the telltale Armvogel, the small runic double S's on the collars...Schutzstaffel. Feckin' SS!

...only, these weren't military surplus from the 1940s. These were...must have been...replica uniforms. They looked far too new, freshly made. If I were a mere mortal and not a Scion inside a Terra Incognita, I would think "Movie?", but no, I had a very bad feeling about this. Very bad indeed. I pointed out this detail to Ciara, whispering it to her in English.

She pulled away in surprise and looked at me. "Well that's disturbing...", she said.

About that time I noticed a strange statue in the middle of the was a figure of a man, perhaps in his 50s, pointing upward at the sky...the figure was encased in a triple arch superstructure that met at a single point over his head and from which a single spire rose high into the heavens. The figure was composed of one sort of metal, while the superstructure was of another kind of metal, one darker than the other. Definitely an odd objet d'art, but beyond that I didn't know what to make of it, really, other than it looked a little too modernistic and out of place in a quaint hamlet such as this.

Ciara headed off to the library to do some research, so I decided to hit the local tavern. I hadn't noticed any churches yet in this village so I decided to inquire if the barman knew if any of the locals were into worshiping pagan gods...perhaps Celtic gods? The Celts, of which the Milesians of Ireland had been but a clan, had once peopled nearly all of Europe, with settlements stretching as far afield as Bulgaria...later wiped out or interbred with the invading Germanic hordes which these people around us were mostly descended. Even the Celtic Gauls of France had seen the name of their country, Gaul, transformed to the name France, taken from the Frankish tribe of the German invaders. Those Franks interbred with the Gauls and adapted Latin Roman language and culture, producing France as we knew it today. The Romans of Hispania (Spain), too, were overrun by blond Visigoth overlords who similarly embraced Latin Roman culture and language and made it their own.

The barkeep snorted, poured me a dark local brew, and asked me how, as a complete stranger, I could ask such a patently offensive and deeply personal question...I asked if perhaps he had any Guinness on tap but he looked mystified and said no. I took a polite sip of the dark brew---actually quite good (I really do appreciate German beermaking and don't just restrict myself to Celtic suds). I apologized, explaining that I was a foreigner from Ireland and very ignorant of local customs.

The barman nodded and said that yes, indeed, there were some locals who still worshiped the old pagan gods but that that was a matter of freedom of conscience and he didn't make it his business to interrogate his neighbors about such deeply personal things.

I tried a different tac. I asked what the Statistisches Bundesamt had found during the last census taken in 1987 with respect to religion in their region. The man looked at me this time as if I were speaking Martian, or Gaelic. I knew that 1991 general census had been abandoned in the wake of German reunification, and that a nationwide census had not been conducted since that time, but perhaps there were regional reports? But it seemed the very agency name, Statistisches Bundesamt, completely baffled this man.

Keine Ahnung was das sein soll.

"I have no idea what it is you are speaking of."

"Nevermind,", I said dismissively with a wave of my hand, paid for the beer, and left, headed to the Library. Turns out Ciara had uncovered some interesting things while over there.


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