"He who loves not wine, women and song remains a fool his whole life long." Attributed to Martin Luther, 1777 or Johann Heinrich Voss (1751–1826).
Written for the Narnia Fic Exchange for the fabulous lovesrogue36 for the prompt: Peter Pevensie/Female Other Character; American jazz; French wine; war; and mussed bedsheets.
With thanks to Intrikate88 for the beta. Apologies in advance for any mangled French.
Reposted from http://www.fanfiction.net
With gratitude and admiration to the creator of The Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis. I claim no ownership interest whatsoever. Any original content in my derivative fiction is in the public domain and may be used freely and without notice to me or attribution.
"[Wine] contributed to the French race by giving them wit, gaiety, and good taste, qualities which set it profoundly apart from people who drink a lot of beer."
"Great news, Mon colonel, we have found the weak point in the German defenses! Every one is on a vineyard of inferior quality!"
Quoted in D. and P. Kaldstrup, Wine & War: The French, The Nazis & the Battle for France's Greatest Treasure
"Here with a Loaf of Bread beneath the Bough, A Flask of Wine, a Book of Verse - and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness - And Wilderness is Paradise now."
The Rubiyaiyat of Omar Khayyam, translated by Edward Fitzgerald
Fifteen years as they were counted in Narnia, who knew how many more as measured here, and former High King, current Flight Officer, Peter Pevensie was an expert in manure. The scent permeating the back of the truck rattling through Bordeaux – Aslan he hoped it was Bordeaux by now – was unmistakably goat and sheep. Peter shifted inside his sack and tried not to dislodge the potatoes he was buried in. The truck rumbled on in the dark summer night.
They had flown from the base six days ago? Seven? Ten? Peter had lost count. They and their Lanc had been put on loan to the Special Operations Executive to drop weapons and supplies among the French Resistance, the Maquis du Limousin, below what had been the Demarcation Line. The flight down and night drop for the Moyenne-Corrèze cell at Tulle had been a piece of cake. Their bomber had been hit on the return, north of Cognac. Damn, they had not been careless. But suddenly there had been a horrible jolt, and a wing was gone, the engine in flames, and their upper gunner dead. The pilot, Watson, yelled that the control column had jammed and so they had to jump. Even with the parachute, the ground had come up really fast and they met gunshot coming down. He and Fenwick had made it; Watson and the three other crew members had not.
He and Fenwick had shouldered their packs and run for their lives, hoping they would meet someone French before a Nazi patrol. If their savior was with the Resistance, so much the better, as it would save a step of not mutilating, "Take me to the Maquis" from his dog-eared French phrasebook. Whitham had been the only one who spoke decent French and Peter had been picking the man's brains out of his hair since the crash.
Stranded and wandering through Poitou-Charentes, it was a shame they had not landed at the front door of a Cognac distillery. A little farther and they might have made it to the wineries of the Loire Valley. There were an astounding number of small goat and cow farms in Charentes, and it seemed he and Fenwick hopped the fences of all of them.
They had walked through the night and found a goat farm outside of what he had since learned was Cherác. They had frightened the woman of the house out of her mind as she was wrapping tiny rounds of soft cheese in grape leaves. The cheesemaker had hidden them in her unbelievably pungent cellar and disappeared; they thought, hoped, and prayed she was going for the Resistance rather than the Gestapo.
Maquis met them the next day. They burned their uniforms and gave them clothes that worked well enough on Fenwick – the man had dark hair, was barely ten stone sopping wet, and could have been born in a beret. But Peter looked exactly like what he was – a downed member of an RAF bomber crew in borrowed French peasant clothing. So the Maquis split them up with Fenwick going one way, in the front of a wood-burning fueled car. Peter was still hiding in gunny sacks, buried under potatoes and cabbages in the back of trucks that reeked of goat.
The Maquis had been transporting him steadily south, toward Bordeaux. From there, Peter supposed it would be on to the Pyrenees to be smuggled out of France. Allied fliers, Resistance fighters, and Jews were being transported into Spain at Canfranc. Getting instructions was impossible. Each successive maquisard to whom he was handed off spoke no better English than he spoke French, so he was in their hands and Aslan's paws.
Peter had hoped in the same way one wished at wells and on stars that he might see his sister, Susan. But Nazi-occupied France was a big place and he had no idea what Maquis cell she was running in at the moment or even under what name. If he could tune into a Radio London broadcast, and if she knew he was downed and alive, each event concededly more improbable than the last, she might manage a message for him with instructions.
Every time he thought he could nod off in his gunny sack blanket, there would be another jolt or sway of the truck, or they would stop or slow down and Peter would wonder if a patrol had finally caught them. It had been like this for days and nights all run together. Dozing during the day, crossing the countryside at night on foot or in mule carts and trucks with the lights doused. There was a curfew and no one was to be out, doubly so if carrying RAF bomber crews.
He could feel when they turned off a road onto a smaller road, and then a smaller one still. The tires crunched on gravel and sand. The truck slowed and the driver turned off the ignition. They rolled forward and finally stopped. They were not, however, at one of those nervy checkpoints. It was so quiet Peter thought he could hear sounds of artillery. He wondered how far south they were and how much farther it was to the Pyrenees.
Still, Peter waited silently. He could hear his driver get out and walk slowly around the truck. From the way sound was muffled, he thought they were in a wood.
There was a smack on the side of the truck. "Nous sommes arrives!"
With a stifled groan, Peter threw off his concealing sack and pulled himself up. Potatoes and cabbages bounced off of him. He looked around. They had indeed driven into a wood. It smelled of pine and with the lightening sky he thought dawn was about two hours away.
"Merci!" Peter drew his pack out from under the vegetables and vaulted out of the truck. He then helped pick up and toss back in to the truck all the potatoes that had rolled away when he jumped out.
"Bonne chance!" The maquisard pointed to a narrow gravel path. At its end, Peter could just make out a fence and gate. "Allez tout droit."
Peter thought that meant straight ahead. He nodded and repeated, "Merci." He fumbled for words and in his daze, they came out in English. "Where am I?"
The maquisard looked at him hard, mouthing the question so Peter repeated it. A look of understanding appeared in the man's face, which was far older appearing than his actual years. "Château Haut-Brion," he said, and with a wink raised his hand to his lips as if tipping a glass.
So, a winery. "Am I in Bordeaux?"
The maquisard's irritated expression gave Peter the impression he had said something impolite. He shook his head with disgust and grumbled, "Oui!" There was, he thought, some muttered epithet about uncouth, tea-drinking British. Apparently Peter had committed a faux-pas in not knowing that Château Haut-Brion was in Bordeaux.
Peter did not know what else to do except gesture toward the gate and ask, "Who is my contact?" hoping the maquisard would know what he meant.
The man's scowl became a wide grin. "Maenad." Peter got a clout on the back and the maquisard hopped back into his truck. The ignition turned once, twice, three times, and the truck heaved to life. He slowly backed up down the road the way they had come.
Peter wondered what signal the maquisard and his contact, Maenad, had arranged, but the way must be clear or his driver would not have left so casually. It was, for all concerned, better that the maquisard not observe the hand off to another member of the Resistance. If anyone was caught, it meant less information to be extracted from the Gestapo interrogators.
Shouldering the pack, feeling as old as the truck he had traveled in for the last day, and smelling of blood, guts, smoke, fuel oil, goat, cabbage, cheese, and filth, Peter opened the squeaky gate and walked along the stone path. The trees opened up and a small cottage emerged from the gloom. Without any light, he approached, as much by feel as sight, and the sounds issuing from the farmhouse could not have been odder.
I found my thrill, on blueberry hill
On blueberry hill, when I found you
The moon stood still, on blueberry hill
And lingered until, my dreams came true
At the stoop, the front door flew open and light and the strains of Blueberry Hill spilled out. "Hurry!" a woman's voice snapped. "Come inside!" So dulled with fatigue, it took Peter a long moment to realize she was speaking in heavily accented English.
He stumbled across the threshold into the foyer and she slammed the door behind him.
"Bonjour." He mumbled through his greetings, now wishing he had fished out the phrasebook first. "Je m'appelle Flight Officer Peter Pevensie. Comment vous …" Peter trailed off, forgetting in the fog how to even say, "What is your name?"
She ignored the polite introductions and pushed by him into the cottage's sitting room. In the darkness he could make out two chairs, a wireless, and an ancient gramophone on a console. The crooning of Louis Armstrong abruptly cut off.
"English, s'il vous plaît.," she said. "Your French is too painful to hear, Flight Officer."
She stepped back into the entryway and Peter had a closer look at his hostess. Even by the standards of the gaunt and hungry French he had seen, she was very small; her summer frock hung off the shoulders of her thin frame. She pushed blowsy black hair away from her face, and offered a hand, then withdrew it with a disapproving sniff. "Pardon, but I do not think I will shake just yet. You stink, Flight Officer." Her bare arms were as thin as his wrists.
"My apologies. It has been a long few days. You are…" and again he did not finish the sentence. Surely she was his Resistance contact, but…
"Marie-Ginette Rousseau, Maenad of the Maquis."
Hearing the word again, even through the anxiety and crushing exhaustion, Peter could not stop the smile from forming. "A Maenad in a Bordeaux winery? Surely not a coincidence?"
Her dark eyes sharpened with interest. "You know your myths, Flight Officer?"
Know. Such a dangerously ambiguous word. Peter opted for safety. "I know the stories of Bacchus and his followers, the Maenads, yes." And had had the distinct pleasure of extensively confirming those stories personally and in the flesh, so to speak. The sumptuous, lusty carnival in the aftermath of the old Narnians' victory over the Telmarines and his single combat against the usurper, Miraz, was not something Peter would ever forget.
"Très bien," she murmured. Peter noticed she was barefoot. Maenad indeed. "The latest information is that it will be two days before arrangements are ready to take you on to Canfranc. A bath, then, yes? Clean clothes?"
"Thank you, that would be wonderful." Peter had not been clean since leaving the base.
She squinted at the hall clock and it was nearly four. "You will need to be in the cave before sunrise." Turning, she gestured for him to follow.
"Cave?" Peter repeated, hefting his pack and trailing after her into the hall.
"You shall see, Flight Officer." Marie opened a narrow door and there was some awkward jostling as he and his pack tried getting by her into the cramped space of the washroom. With a tilt of her head, she indicated an adjoining door. "In the bureau, bottom drawer, you will find clothes." Her eyes traveled up and down, appraising. She shrugged. "Somethings should do. Wash day is at the end of the week. You can take what you find and leave what you wear for the next man who comes."
Fenwick had gotten the clean clothes that fit; Peter had been left with the dirty ones that did not and that had been before days in the back of manure and vegetable trucks. He refrained from scratching – he thought he might have picked up a flea at some point.
"You are hungry?" she asked as one who has posed the question too many times and did not really expect any different answer than the usual.
"As we all are," Peter admitted for there was no point in denying this fact of existence. He had tried to eat as little as possible of what the French so generously offered for they had nothing to give. The scarcity of food was far worse here than in England. "I have a little in my pack and will be glad to share."
She wrinkled her nose. "The only thing worse than English food is English rations."
"A drink then?" Peter asked. In the last few days, although there had been scarce food, the French had compensated with ample wine.
She smiled, lips drawn over sharp teeth and in the dusky light, barefoot, with blown hair and dress more off than on her slight body, she looked more Narnian Maenad than Maquis. "Wine we have, Flight Officer. Join me in the kitchen when you are clean."
The water was tepid, the soap was a yellow sliver – RAF standard issue – and the bathtub a country, clawed foot arrangement that would have barely held a spaniel comfortably. It was the most heavenly thing Peter had enjoyed in weeks. It was quiet and he did not have to share it with anyone, not a brother and two sisters, not a College of young men, nor a barrack of RAF and USAF crews. Even leaning back on hard porcelain, head almost submerged, and legs and arms splayed every which way, he could have, and would have, fallen asleep. He heard the gramophone, but not Blueberry Hill. Benny Goodman, he thought, but did not recognize the female vocalist.
Somewhere there's music
How faint the tune
Somewhere there's heaven
How high the moon…
"Tac! Tac!" The voice and knock interrupted the pleasant fantasy of never moving again. "Flight Officer, do not fall asleep in there."
"Sorry!" Peter called. "I'll be out in a moment."
The bath towel was softer and kinder than anything that had been on his skin since Narnia. And, indeed, judging from the gold thread monogram, the towel had once been the property of the Hotel Ritz Paris. The Nazis, having an astute eye for the fine things of France, had converted the poshest hotel in Europe into an HQ. As for the towel now in a Bordeaux farmhouse, he had seen evidence of this over and over – things hidden in homes that belonged to France, stolen by Nazi occupiers, and stolen back. Occupation had turned the French into a nation of thieves reclaiming their own heritage.
In the adjacent bedroom, Peter rooted in the drawer and found a full men's wardrobe, in assorted sizes, including undershirts and skivvies from three Allied countries and two branches of service.
On the dresser was the obligatory family picture – mother, father, a younger Marie-Ginette and older brother. Were the family members dead, imprisoned, lost, exiled? As he pulled on a pair of paper thin, patched trousers Peter wondered to whom they had belonged for so many years and washings and where the men were who had worn them. Too big in the waist, too short in the leg, but it was Make Do and Mend as the War Office propaganda preached.
He found an undershirt identical to the stinking one he'd been wearing and pulled it on. It was summer and so he would Make Do, avoid the Mending, and leave the warmer clothes for those who would need them come winter. The gramophone was again crooning Blueberry Hill.
The kitchen was at the back of the cottage and larger than the other rooms combined. Through the open back door, Peter could just make out a rising ridge and, silhouetted against the lightening sky, the trellises supporting the vines of the wine grapes of Bordeaux.
The kitchen was very clean, but not as bare as the others he had seen. Ropes of onions and garlic hung from the ceiling. The earthen bowl on the rough pine table had a bright red tomato and purple plums so ripe they made his mouth water. It was all cheerful yellow paint, stone, and tile.
Marie was staring out the back door and turned to face him. "Eh bien. Better," she said with that queer appraising look, whether as question or comment, he could not tell.
"Very much so, thank you."
"Sit," Marie said, indicating a place at the end of the table already set with a faded, quilted placemat. Snaking a foot around the farmhouse chair, Peter pulled it to the table and slid into the padded seat. From the counter she removed a plate and set it and a fork in front of him. "Tian de legumes. Eat. I'm sorry, but we have no bread."
"No one has bread," Peter said quietly, trying to soothe the bitterness he heard. He had encountered some yellow bread from ground corn, but no wheat bread at all in the farmhouses of western France.
Before him on the blue rimmed plate was a beautiful little stack of vegetables, tomatoes, aubergines, courgettes, all baked together and fragrant of herbs.
They both stared at the plate, oversized for the portion set upon it. Peter finally shook his head. "And if I eat that now, what will you have tomorrow?" He longed for proper food, but it was better to refuse than to take from her mouth something so lovingly prepared.
She shrugged and the dress slid a little from her shoulder. "Something may be found."
"Or it may not. It looks wonderful, but I could not possibly take it from you." He pushed the plate away, as politely as he could manage. "Maybe wine first and perhaps that will satisfy."
His stomach regretted it, but the look of longing Marie awarded the plate as she carefully returned the tian to its baking dish and covered it with threadbare linen confirmed that it was the right decision. Food was precious and he could continue to subsist on his pack ration and wine.
However, Peter was beginning to regret the decision once Marie set the glass tumblers down on the table. Her own drink, which she poured from an ugly brown bottle on the counter, looked to be a full, red wine. His glass she poured from an elegant wine bottle bearing a label, Wehrmachts Marketenderware – Réservé á la Wehrmacht. He found himself frowning as he compared his glass to hers.
"Something wrong, Flight Officer?"
"No," he replied, still wondering. His glass was definitely lighter in color. When they had been younger, he had drunk diluted wine in Narnia. But, in Bordeaux, and even knowing nothing of their wine, that seemed very strange. "You are giving me a claret intended for the Nazis?"
"We must save the very best for our occupiers or it is off to the camps!" Her sarcastic humor was the second warning.
Warily, Peter raised his glass. "Cheers."
Marie raised her own. "Santé."
One sip and it was so awful it set him to a fit of coughing. Peter could not restrain himself and spit the vinegar back into the glass.
There was no mistaking the smugness Marie radiated. She picked up the bottle and gestured grandly. "Why Flight Officer! You do not like the very finest of the vintage of Château Haut-Brion, specially bottled for the noble officers of the Wehrmacht?"
"It's donkey piss," Peter muttered, wiping his mouth.
She laughed. "So, you are an English who knows of Bacchus and Bordeaux wine? How unexpected."
"I don't know Bordeaux wine more than any other, but I know this is terrible."
"Still, your palate is better than most." Marie came around the table and stood next to him. "You tasted what so many of the beer drinkers do not. The Bordeaux neociants are bottling donkey piss and our very worse vintages from the 1930s, putting fancy labels on the plonk, and selling it to the Wehrmacht."
"The Bordelaise are fobbing off their bad wine?" It was yet another form of protest and economic espionage rampant in France, like stealing bath towels and rustling cattle.
"But there is good wine left?" There must be. Her glass looked nothing like this. He had had better than this the last week and he had not even been in Bordeaux.
Marie pushed her own tumbler into his hand; her fingers were brown and her nails were chipped and stubby from hard work with dirt still beneath them. Again, he was reminded of the Maenads of Bacchus.
"Drink," she ordered softly, fingertips cupping his wrist and raising his hand. "Drink."
Feeling his every move scrutinized, Peter did as instructed. It was, he thought wryly, always best to follow a Maenad's instruction. Failure to do so had consequences.
The wine was astounding, rich, earthy, brilliant, an explosion that reminded him of plums and currants. The taste transported him back to the greatest wines of Narnia made at the hands of Bacchus himself. With a shaking hand, he carefully set the glass down on the table and released a deep breath.
"That…" He found that words would not come, even in English. No common speech was adequate for this miracle. But surely a Maenad would understand the power of fine wine upon a man.
Her smile was softer and without the brittleness of early. "Better," she replied.
"Incomparable." He looked hopefully at the medicine bottle on the counter, noting that it was hidden amid the finely labeled bottles intended for the Wehrmacht. "Might I have my own glass? Please?"
She laughed and slid the tumbler back into his hand. "If you will not eat my food, enjoy our wine, Flight Officer." Marie yanked the elegant bottle of piss off the table and clanked it onto the counter with a contemptuous and unceremonious thud; his glass was swept into the basin. With exquisite care, she brought the medicine bottle of ambrosia to the table and another glass. She topped off his glass and filled her own. "It is very rare to find an English who knows of the wine god and his fruits. Santé."
Peter took the tumbler and swirled the wine; fragrant herbs and fruit bloomed from the rim. To you, my lord Bacchus.
The second sip was even more astounding than the first. Peter closed his eyes, settled back in the chair, and savored the most wondrous thing he had enjoyed since being in the company of the wine god.
"Congratulations," Marie said reverently. "You have just experienced a Premier Cru Classé Château Haut-Brion 1938. It is …" and she sniffed deprecatingly, "a little young."
"It was made here?" he asked, still lost in the taste.
She was silent for so long, Peter opened his eyes and saw in her face the same fierce look of disapproval he had seen on the maquisard. The goodwill he had earned was gone as suddenly with his careless speech. "I apologize," he said quickly. "I know this is extraordinary wine, but I do not know why."
Marie looked slightly mollified. "The estate of Château Haut-Brion dates to 1525, though grapes have been cultivated here since the Romans. The wines of the Château were classified in 1855 as premier, first growth, the very finest wines of Bordeaux. Château Haut-Brion is the only first growth estate from the Graves appellation; the other three wines of the Premier Cru Classé are from the Médoc."
Peter took away from all that, for Marie spoke as a mother cooing over her newborn, that these were indeed very fine wines of which the Bordelais were very proud and for which he should pretend familiarity and show profound appreciation. "Thank you for sharing it with me," and he took another reverent sip.
Blueberry Hill had finished on the gramophone and with half a glass down, Peter finally found the words to ask of the incongruities.
"You are the first of the Maquis who has spoken English."
Marie hopped up on to the table's edge; her bare legs did not reach the floor. "Though it hurts the French to say it, Château Haut-Brion was purchased by an American, Clarence Dillon, in 1935."
Peter refrained from joking of so scandalous a thing. The relationship of the French and the English to the Americans was a complicated one, even without the War. But, not for nothing had Peter shared diplomatic duties with Susan and Edmund in Narnia. "Surely Monsieur Dillon had the sense to retain knowledgeable Bordelais to run the winery?"
She nodded seriously. "Oui. And so, as he speaks some French, we have all learned some English."
The American owner explained the jazz recordings as well, he supposed.
"Monsieur Dillon is in America now?" Peter asked after savoring another sip. With the fatigue, anxiety, and lack of food, it was going straight to his head, but he would rather part with his hand than the glass of wine in it.
"Yes. He had to leave, of course. Upon taking France, one of Herr Göring's first tasks was to rape the châteaux of Bordeaux." Her voice turned as hard as nails when speaking of the Nazi Field Marshall. "He tried to confiscate Château Lafite-Rothschild. The bastard has requisitioned the Château here as an officer's billet for his precious Luftwaffe."
Peter set his glass down, alarmed. "Is it safe? For you to have me here?" By which he meant, was it safe for both of them?
She shrugged. "No. But it is no less safe than anywhere else and probably more so."
"Madame Delmas, the wife of our manager, has scolded the commandant into leaving us, mostly, alone. The officers are forbidden to pilfer our garden. But you must not be seen, of course. We are several kilometers from the Château."
Peter nodded, though he did wonder where she was proposing to hide him in the tiny farmhouse and how awful the cave was. Still, it was only two days and he was alive, unlike his dead crew members. He wondered where Fenwick was.
"And what do you do here when not hiding Allied soldiers?" he asked.
"I tend the slopes behind the house," Marie said, with a tilt of her head toward the vineyard outside. "I work for Madame Delmas in the gardens."
She drank the last of her glass; Peter followed her cue. It was time to get settled. As she slid off the table, he stood and found the floor gently spinning. With a concerned look, she offered a steadying hand, but Peter shook her off. "I will be fine, thank you."
He reached for his pack and so reminded, opened it. "Before we go, and regardless of your opinion of English rations, I do have some things that might be helpful besides tooth powder and a phrasebook."
Marie shouldered in eagerly. "I have no use for stockings, but I can trade them."
To be sure, Maenads did not wear stockings, Peter well knew. Or, as Marie was provocatively demonstrating, much of anything else. He handed her his last package received from the American crews stationed at his base. "Do you feel about American rations as you do about British?" He proffered the chocolate bar and it might as well have been a cockroach from the loathsome look on her expressive face.
Peter returned it to his pack. It had been the same with every French to whom he had offered it. They would rather starve than eat American Hershey chocolate.
"Do you have condoms?"
Peter stared at her a moment, then recovered his wits. This bartering was the reality to which they had all been reduced. American soldiers had access to condoms for several reasons and not solely because their Command wanted to prevent disease in the ranks when soldiers found girls willing to trade sex for chocolate and stockings. "Yes," he answered, pleased with his composure.
He had to laugh at that, though she was serious in the question. In this, there was evidently a preference for American manufacture. "As it happens, yes."
She put out her hand and Peter dug the envelopes out of the side pouch of his pack and set them in her waiting palm.
"Do not think ill of me," Marie said, slipping them into her pocket. "These are very valuable in France."
"I understand," Peter said quietly. He found troubling, not the particulars of their exchange, but the unnaturalness of it occurring at all. This was not the way things should be and as difficult as it was in England, the oppression was so much worse here. France had been crushed and her abundance stripped. He deeply admired the ferocity still burning in the people he had met.
The moment passed. "Anything else?" Marie boldly pried the pack open wider for a closer look.
"I received some food from the last places I stayed. I should not be carrying it about."
"French food?" Marie asked, interest piqued.
For answer, Peter carefully removed the cloth wrapped box at the bottom of his pack and heard her gasp in shock.
"May I?" she asked, quivering with eagerness.
As if handling eggs or glass, Marie delicately lifted the box from his hands, set it on the table, and carefully unwrapped it.
"I know this packaging," she said. "Were you in Charentes?"
"The farms?" she said in a reverent whisper. "The goats?" Even more muted, almost strangling, she asked, "Cows? Did you see the cows of Charentes?"
And slogged through their barns and manure, Peter did not say.
"Open it," he urged. He felt he was intruding upon a private and mystical moment, for such was the French bond to her food and wines, lovers too long separated.
With a fingertip still rimmed with the dirt of the vineyards, Marie opened the box and inhaled sharply. Inside the box nestled in a bed of dried grape leaves were a beautiful, creamy slab of butter and four pyramids of soft cheese, covered in what he had learned was an edible ash.
"The farms of Charentes are as famous for their cheese and butter as Bordeaux is for her wine." She lifted the box and inhaled deeply. Her hands were shaking so, the box rattled. Peter gently steadied it.
"It has come this far, best not to drop it?"
She nodded, set the precious jewels back on the table and wrapped them up again. "I must give some thought to the appropriate wine. I might find bread for such an occasion. We shall save them for later…" She paused and a stricken look crossed her face, "Peter? Pardonnez-moi…"
"Please, no apologies. They are yours for your trouble."
Her eyes were shining and the smile too ecstatic to be borne. Peter felt a fresh surge of anger – it seemed grossly wrong for a Maenad, whose whole being was devoted to giving abundantly, to be grateful for a few lumps of cheese and butter.
"Mon Dieu!" she exclaimed suddenly. "We must get you to the cave! It is nearly light!"
Indeed, the sky was pinking and birds were loud.
Peter grabbed his pack and followed her out the back door. In the early morning, he could see that the house was settled in a dell and that the vines grew on the ridge above it; the Garonne river and Gironde estuary would probably be just a few kilometers farther. They went along a path lined with tall flowers, around a shed, and then had to scramble uncomfortably between the rising cliff of the hillside and dense, prickly holly bushes.
The sharp edges scratched his arms; Marie slid through unscathed.
"I am sorry," she said, helping him free the pack from the clutches of the holly. "We built the shed and transplanted these bushes to hide the cave entrance. It will not stop a determined search, but it is not obvious."
Still not wise to her plan, he followed Marie a few more paces to, of all things, a doorway dug into the hillside.
"We have several wine caves at the Château," Marie explained. "They are the ideal temperature and humidity for storing wine."
So not a real cave, but a cellar, of sorts. She removed a key from her pocket, unlocked the door, and stepped inside. The temperature immediately dropped several degrees
She flicked a switch at the doorway and a string of bulbs illuminated a national treasure, stacked floor to ceiling. "Fortunately, Monsieur Dillon installed electricity. Otherwise you would be in the dark." She shut the door behind them and the morning sounds winked out.
Racks of wine bottles lined one wall. On the other side were immense oaken casks, one after another, row upon row.
"How far back does this go?" Peter asked, amazed. It reminded him greatly of Aslan's How.
"Almost to the Château," she said smugly. "It is quite the maze, deliberately so, built around 1870 during the Franco-Prussian War." Following on her heels, they journeyed deeper into the hillside. The construction itself was not that complex, Peter realized, but the racks and barrels created confusing and meandering paths. So tired and lightheaded, Peter knew he would become hopelessly lost without Marie guiding him. She finally turned and stopped in an alcove with a very large wooden wine press taking up the back wall.
"There is a secret entrance here behind the pressoir." Marie pushed the massive wine press and it slid on wheels away from the wall. "Watch your head going in. There is a light switch."
Peter ducked through the passage, fumbled for the light and clicked it on.
More wine, bottles only, stood on one wall. On the other side was a console with a basin, ewer, towel, and a hand cranked gramophone. There was a single chair, and most blessedly, a bed, already made up with crisp, white bedsheets. He wondered if they had Paris Ritz monograms as well. There was a door on the far wall.
He let the pack fall where he stood, feeling as safe as he had in days. With a deep sigh, he let out the accumulated tension. "Thank you, Marie. It is perfect."
"There is no running water, but there is fresh water in the pitcher. The gramophone works and there are records and some books." Pointing, she continued, "We dug a privy two years ago because so many come through here. You'll find it behind the door down the passage."
Peter dragged his pack to the chair, and sank on to the bed. Careless and heedless with fatigue, he pulled his boots off. A bed. A real bed. "Thank you, again. This will be very comfortable."
"I will need to go to the Château shortly," Marie said, digging into her pocket. "I will return this evening."
Peter nodded. "I will see you then. My thanks."
But instead of ducking back into the cave, Marie gingerly withdrew from her pocket a flower he had seen her pluck from the backyard garden during their walk to the cave. She turned toward the wine rack and set the sprig on a shelf built into the wall… Oh by the Lion…
He climbed again to his feet and joined Marie at her makeshift altar. She struck a match and lit a candle that, like dozens of others, had been thrust into an old, empty wine bottle. The melted wax ran down the bottle and on to the shelf like a frozen waterfall.
"My lord Bacchus," Peter murmured to the little statue on the shelf. In this particular rendering, he looked more of Silenus than the exuberant, beautiful youth they had known in Narnia, but the personality was unmistakably the same.
She stared at him, still gingerly holding the burning match. "You truly do know of Bacchus?"
Peter blew the match out for her before it burned too low. "I do." To the statue he said, "Forgive me, my lord, I have nothing to offer you now but myself and my sincere thanks."
"You could give him the Hershey chocolate."
"And anger the wine god?" Peter said. "No, I will not tempt his humor when here in his country. I shall go out in the evening and find something." Clippings from the holly outside the cave would please him, Peter thought. The Hollies had always been indiscriminate in their pollinating, especially if they drank wine. Their fruit and leaves would be a fitting gift to the god. "Until then, I shall ask for his patience."
"Bacchus is not patient!" Marie snapped.
"No," Peter agreed. "But, as I said, the wine god and I are acquainted. I believe he will give me some liberty." If Marie was so offended, he could ask for the return of one of the condoms to place at the god's altar. Peter decided the request was ill-advised. Nor was he certain if the mercurial god would be pleased at the offering, or if he would be offended that the condom was not being put to good use.
Marie pushed the hair away from her face. "His Maenads though? What of them?"
"Very impatient," Peter told her. "But that you already know."
Marie had laughed at his parting comment about Maenads, ducked out of the alcove, and rolled the pressoir back over the doorway. Peter stayed awake long enough to confirm that the sumptuous sheets and the mattress they covered had been the property of the Hotel Paris Ritz.
Peter did not often dream of Narnia but, in the presence of the wine god and in a place so special to him, it was inevitable. He returned to the Bacchanal on the night following their victory over Miraz and the Telmarines. Peter was Aslan's champion and together they had restored Caspian and Old Narnia. Bacchus and the Maenads had called the celebration into being. Where they danced, where their bare feet stomped the good earth, such foods as had not been tasted in an age appeared. The waters ran with wines, cool and fresh, deep and rich, every one blessed by the wine god – his own special vintages created for that raucous, lusty night.
"High King!" Bacchus roared, shoving a wine skin into his hands. "Why do you hang back? Your people wish to pay you homage! My Maenads are on their knees for you!"
Peter grimaced at the crude humor and took a deep drink, burying the pain of the parting he felt in his heart was coming. The wine tasted of a fine Château Haut-Brion. "My time here is ending, lord Bacchus. My mood is not a celebratory one." A Maenad danced by, her hair so tangled it nearly obscured her face; her legs, arms, and one breast were already bared for him and to the firelight. She held out beckoning hands, but Peter remained where he was and she flounced away with a pout on her full lips.
"And so you will disappoint those who would honor you?" Bacchus challenged. The god's face was glowing in the light of the blazing bonfires, his mouth stained red. Peter found himself grabbed by strong hands and kissed very soundly. Peter sputtered and staggered backwards.
"Must you do that, my lord? You know my preference!" Still, protest was absurd, for Bacchus could appear in any form and if taken by the god's wine madness, Peter could as easily be blinded to it.
"You spurn my Maenads and now me as well? You are too difficult to please, High King." The god laughed, but Peter caught the hard edge that turned his blood cold.
"No, my lord," Peter corrected hurriedly. "But, such joys will surely make my farewell harder still."
The god wrapped an arm about his shoulders and Peter had the sensations of vines curling about him. "I do not know the Lion's purposes, High King. But once a King, always a King, and the land from which you come needs those of Kingly manner and ways even more than Narnia."
Bacchus raised his bowl and toasted his wild girls, swaying and writhing to the beating of Dwarf drums and fluting Faun pipes. "The Maenads wish to honor you, High King, for your great service to them and to Narnia. A day will come when you may honor their lonely sister in turn."
"And how can that be when I shall never return here?" Peter asked.
"High King," the wine god chided. "The Lion is in your world. Do you think I am not?"
And so chastened for acting as a sullen child when all were celebrating, and hearing the request of a god and the threat beneath, the next time the Maenad danced around the fire, Peter let her draw him away, deep into the wood and into her eager, grateful arms and those of her sisters.
He woke with a start to fading cries of Maenad passion and aching from the touch of the wild ones who were not there. From this painful awakening, Peter cast an irritated look in the direction of the god's altar.
"Thank you ever so much," he told the god. "Consider your message delivered."
The stone floor was very cool on his feet. It took him only a few moments to explore the space he had been too tired to even see earlier. From his watch, he knew it was near eighteen hundred, and he'd been sleeping for at least twelve hours.
Peter found the records – all jazz and band titles, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, and Ella Fitzgerald. He also found wine and poured himself a generous glass and for good measure, sprinkled drops on the god's altar.
The wine made the half of a hard biscuit ration he ate slightly more palatable, but really, he was coming to see that he was cheapening very good drink with very bad food. He was just going to try to crank up the gramophone when he heard Marie on the other side of the pressoir.
"How are you? Feeling better?" She bustled in and set a basket and a pitcher of water on the table.
"Yes, thank you."
With her so close, and as was surely the god's intent, Peter was reminded strongly of his dream. Marie smelled of the outdoors. She was still barefoot and leaves were tangled in her unkempt hair. As he had with Bacchus' wild girls, he wanted to ease the strap over her slim, browned shoulder, and watch the light frock slide off her body to the ground, a puddle at their feet. There was nothing but her honeyed skin beneath that over-laundered, flimsy dress; it was as translucent as a butterfly wing with the light behind her. The bedsheets of the Paris Ritz were not the green grass of Narnia, but in the cave would feel nearly as cool to their joined heat.
But, she was a Maenad and it was for her to make such desires known. Instead, Peter asked, "If you would permit me?" She smiled her assent and so he plucked the leaves from her hair and placed them at the wine god's feet.
"If you will leave my dreams now, my lord, it would be more restful."
Marie laughed. "His revenge for no offering?"
"So perhaps you do not know him so well?" she taunted.
"Oh, I know the wine god," Peter assured her. "But he and his Maenads will do what they will."
She looked at him thoughtfully and Peter had the sense of a test, the parameters of which became clearer when she suddenly blurted, "Lie down on the bed!" He very willingly complied with her specific and emphatic order, quite cheered at the direction.
He stretched out, propped on his elbows, and watched as Marie set a few berries at the god's feet and again lit the candle. Then, she busied herself at the side table, removing from her basket a towel, a tube of brushless shaving cream and a safety razor.
She studied him again with her appraising stare. "You take orders well, Peter."
"You asked and I certainly am glad to oblige you however I might."
She grinned and from her pocket removed one of the condom packages and set it on the table.
He was very amenable to the invitation, though felt he needed to clarify that this was not a requisite of his stay, even if he felt the utter hypocrite in saying so. Peter did not wish to deny his own warming desire, nor offend the wine god and his Maenad. However, he was also a common English soldier under the protection of the Maquis and simple politeness played a role too.
"Marie," he began.
He should not have worried for a Maenad was bold and she knew her own mind. With no preliminaries or by your leaves, just as her sisters before, Marie pushed him back on to the bed with a protesting squeak of springs. "I shall shave you first, Peter."
"Shave?" he repeated. Rubbing his face, he supposed it was getting wooly there, but shaving was not the prelude he had in mind.
"Yes," Marie affirmed and, to his delight but not surprise, she climbed on to the bed, straddling him at the waist, her strong legs neatly trapping him on either side. It was a preferred position of the Maenad.
"You are too rough. After the shave, I shall decide if you are worthy of a rare condom."
"I see," Peter replied. "I am not sure how I feel about you with a razor at my throat." He did not like the sound of proving his worth either but seeing to the Maenad first was always the more prudent policy. If he did right by her, the rest would follow perforce. Her Narnian sisters had seen to his thorough instruction in that regard and Peter could well imagine the wine god's contempt if he failed the task now.
"So dramatic! I have done this before!"
With a grousing complaint, Marie tugged at the hem of his undershirt. Peter obliged and let her peel it off.
For a few luscious moments, he thought maybe they would skip the shave. Marie became distracted and the tight grip of her legs at his sides slackened as his hands moved over her body. Peter lifted the strap of her frock to relive that fantastical memory as the dress fell off her shoulder.
"You are so beautiful." Like the wine they drank, mere words could not describe her body arcing over him, as glorious as any god-maddened vision. Grasping her wrist, Peter mouthed her arm. She tasted of wine and summer and smelled of grass and rich turned earth. His mistake was trying to pull her down to press her skin to his and a first kiss.
"Non et non!" Marie exclaimed, pulling back . "Shave first!" She pulled her frock back up over her shoulders. That was very disappointing.
"Oh, very well," Peter grumbled, though his protest was half-hearted. This was her whim and he could be patient. He should accept her ministrations as her god would wish him to and so he submitted to the softness of the cream and the burn of the blade in her hands.
As she leaned forward to carefully scrape the razor up his face, his hands, still anxious to participate and move things along, slid up her bare legs to steady her.
The blade paused at his throat. "Go higher," Marie said, shifting to try and edge his waiting hands up between her legs.
"Not with a razor on my neck."
She pouted and tossed her hair. "It is a safety razor."
"But it is my neck." Still, to oblige, his thumbs pressed lightly into the soft skin of her inner thigh. They did not, to her increasing aggravation, move upward.
Marie steadied herself, one hand pushing his shoulder back into the mattress. Hard. "You are teasing," she said, suddenly sounding very angry.
"Never," Peter said fervently. "I would never be such a fool."
She held the razor before his eyes, waving it.
"You know what happens to those who mock the wine god and his Maenads?"
"Torn apart. Driven mad. Murdered their families." Peter slid a hand under her dress, over her back, the long quieting stroke to settle a restless cat. It was neither where she wished such stroking, nor what he desired, but it showed his intent to make good on the promise. "I shall never tease unless you ask. But if you could finish as quickly as possible…"
In her haste to complete his shave, there were some nicks and cuts though with cause due to her increasing distraction with his ever firmer caresses.
She did not last much longer. With a snarl of frustration, Marie capitulated, threw the razor away, and grabbed his hand to demand a first time rough plundering. A single, gentle tug and, at last, her dress fell from her shoulders, tangling her arms to bunch carelessly at her waist; the skirt was shoved high over her hips. Perched above him, head thrown back, lips between her teeth, she was an utterly wanton, perfect likeness of her Maenad sisters, though it was the light of a bulb that reflected off her skin, not the glow of bonfires. With a sudden, shuddering gasp, Marie collapsed against him, murmuring incoherent French. Peter kissed her throat.
For the Maenads he had known, this quick, hard satisfaction would never have sufficed and Peter was wary of the wine god's critique as well. Though it seriously pained him, figuratively and literally, he had not earned the condom yet when there was so much that could still be done for one who had had so much taken from her. He gently turned her, rolling so their positions were reversed. Marie's hair spread out, black on white, her skin golden against the mussed, stolen bedsheets. She was a splendid, sensuous mess.
Grasping her leg, he slowly raised her knee to his waiting lips and planted a kiss there. "Surely that was not enough?"
Peter added a little nip to the kiss, seeking her attention. "That could not have been sufficient to earn the condom."
Her eyes flew open, mouth forming a perfect Oh. "Eh bien, alors!"
Leaning down, he kissed the surprise away from her lips then ran his fingers along her lines, mapping the terrain. His mouth followed his fingers to explore the peaks and valleys that made a Maenad moan. Between the kisses, he observed, "Anything hands might do, the mouth does better." He wished he could take credit for the line, but it had been a Maenad who had demonstrated the principle.
"Ô! Oui!" She giggled and squirmed.
Now there were alternative methods for going about this. The Maenads had been very clear on their preference. As fitting and as her sisters had desired, Peter began at Marie's feet, for where Maenads danced, bounty flowed.
"It is like this," Peter told her, speaking between the lingering kisses he deliberately placed on her legs. "When Bacchus and Silenus and the Maenads meet in the wood, they dance. You know this?"
"Oui," she said breathlessly.
"Their wild dance is not merely for pleasure and beauty."
"No?" Marie whispered. She twisted under his mouth. "For what is their dance then?"
"Where Maenads and the wine god dance, it is a magic dance of plenty. Where their hands touch and where their feet fall, there is a feast."
Her groan traveled down through her body and arced into his own. "Tell me of the feast," she demanded.
And so, in-between the kisses and caresses his roving mouth gifted her, Peter told the Maenad of the feast her sisters had conjured for him so long ago. He whispered of the roasted meats, cakes, and breads, beautiful cheeses and butters, honey and many-coloured sugars and cream as thick as porridge and as smooth as still water, peaches, nectarines, pomegranates, pears, grapes, strawberries, raspberries, pyramids and cataracts of fruit.
Marie's cries were like those of sisters, fierce and frantic. When he had coaxed the last from her, the Maenad was softened, so hot to the touch, even the sheets could not cool, and he was beyond desperate for her.
As a supplicant, he cradled her supple, pliant body in his arms and asked.
And that was how they came to use the first condom.
They drank a bottle of 1934 Chateau Haut-Brion in the farmhouse kitchen and shared the tian de legumes. Peter did not eat the cornbread she offered for he had seen in Charentes the long effort it took to make the grainy yellow bread. Marie spread a shaving of the precious butter on a tiny piece of the cornbread and he might have taken as a personal affront her moans of pleasure over simple bread and butter. But, having witnessed the deprivations of the War and its effect upon the French, he felt pity and anger rather than offense. He kissed the tears of joy away and suppressed, for the moment, the powerful reactions her sighs provoked.
As happened when in the company of a Maenad, Peter found it increasingly difficult to concentrate upon anything other than when they might use the next condom, or, should Marie wish to conserve the precious commodity, some variation of Make Do, just as the War Office exhorted.
After sharing a plum and licking the juices away, they huddled together in the sitting room over the wireless with the blackout shades pulled down. Marie had to reinsert the lead into the electric meter for the radio to work. Otherwise, it would broadcast nothing but static. Should anyone come looking for a member of the Resistance in the tiny farmhouse, they would find bad wine, a non-functioning radio, and a lot of records. She fiddled with the dials, looking for the Radio London broadcast.
"What is your call signal?" Marie asked.
"It depends," Peter told her. "If my sister is sending a message, it will probably be 'sword.' If it is someone from command, it would be 'green hat." My other crew mate is 'blue hat.'"
There were bursts of static and then the voice of the BBC surged out. The news, "real news," Marie whispered, was all about the Allied invasion of Sicily, il Duce's removal, and Operation Husky.
After the news, the string of cryptic action messages began. These were the coded instructions from the War Office and SOE to Resistance fighters and spies all over occupied Europe.
"We will have eggs for breakfast."
"Cut the roses today."
"Go to the store and buy a chair."
The bizarre messages, critically important to him, to Marie, and to the thousands of others just like them secretly bunched around radios listening to the BBC, went on for some minutes. Then, Peter heard, "The blue hat is in the basket." He exhaled his relief. Fenwick had made it out of France and was on his way back to England.
The message he was waiting for came a few lines later, from Susan. "Rat wants the sword to stay sharp at the How." Susan's message to him was then followed by one for Edmund and Lucy who surely had heard he had been downed in occupied France, "Rat says to Crow and Heart that the Sword will return to Narnia."
Peter opened his mouth to speak and Marie, seeming very shocked, swiped down her hand and cut him off. "Chut!"
The broadcast switched to French and her look sharpened further still. Peter heard the word "rat" – the word was the same in French and English – and something about a dance next month.
The programme, still in French, continued, and Marie lowered the volume. "Now it is all patati patata, talk talk talk, we heard before in English."
"Was there a message about me?" Peter asked. "About the plans? My instructions are to stay here and follow your instructions." Peter had to credit Susan – she obviously knew of the purpose to which the wine caves were being put and where he was. She had drawn upon the Narnia experience to compare the wine cave to Aslan's How. Her message to Edmund and Lucy was equally obscure to anyone but a Friend of Narnia – he would be returning to England soon.
Marie's eyes were very large with surprise. "Mon Dieu!" She let out a breath. "The message about you was from Rat! How is it that Rat takes an interest in you?"
"Rat is one of my sister's code names," Peter said. It referred back to the time when she and Edmund had operated the Narnian Intelligence Service.
"Oh! Rat is your sister! And Rat is the code name of Louise in the Maquis! So, your sister is Rat, is Louise?"
"She is," Peter said. He had not thought Susan's activities would have reached to an individual Maquis and her safe house in Bordeaux. But, really, how could he know anything? He only knew of the SOE's activities in planting women agents in France because his sister was one of them, code name, Louise.
Marie slid like a cat from her chair onto his, wrapping her thin arms around his neck. "I must take very good care of you or Louise will send me to Alsace!"
"She would not do that and you are taking very good care of me," he said running his hands along her sides. "And the plans?"
"As before. You will be smuggled out through Canfranc. Morning, day after next," she said.
"Morning? Not the night?"
"For this, morning. It will be well. We have done this many times before and with Louise watching, it must be well."
Peter pulled her sleeve down from one shoulder, reveling in the brazen Maenad in his lap; his hands splayed against her bare back. They were secreted behind the blackout shades and their only light came from the glow of the radio illicitly broadcasting to occupied France of the Italian campaign. Marie's feral, heedless passion inspired in him something very like the madness of the wine god. Her bedroom was only steps away, the floor even closer, he was not going to shave again, and when he had impatiently shoved the skirt up to caress her slim, bare hips, he had felt the condom package in her pocket. Soldiers and Maquis were prepared for any eventuality.
Marie, however, began untangling her limbs and slipped away. She stood and really it took enormous restraint to not pull her back into his lap.
"Allons-y! Come!" the Maenad said, holding out her hand. "I wish to show you my vineyard."
"Shouldn't we be worried about patrols?" Peter asked, looking about over the vines. It was late and the road was on the other side of the field, but with a plan now in place he did not want to risk being caught by the Gestapo within a day of his escape to Spain.
"No," Marie said absently. She was sitting on the ground and manipulating the hand cranked gramophone she had ordered Peter to carry from the cave. "They know the mad girl in the cottage plays music. The officers are at the maison de tolérance tonight. The rest will drink and play cards."
Maison de tolérance – brothel. The Americans at the base knew the word in no fewer than eight languages. Peter glanced down and then had to look away from the riveting view. Marie sat unconcernedly beneath the trellised wine grapes and had hiked her dress very high. It was a vision certain to inspire irrational behavior.
"Voila!" Marie exclaimed as the gramophone wound up. "Now you must play these songs for me." She tugged his trouser leg, bringing him down to the ground next to her.
"And what will you be doing?" Peter asked, settling behind her and wrapping his arms about her waist. A little, gentle effort, some manipulative coaxing, and she might still be dissuaded. He had no objection to saxophone, trumpet, and crooning vocals, but very much desired them in conjunction with using the second condom. Right now.
"I wish to dance for my vines," Marie said, slipping like water through his fingers and bouncing to her feet.
There was, unfortunately, a decent stack of records. He was going to ask whether she really intended to dance through all of them, but reluctantly thought the better of it. A Maenad will do what a Maenad will do. He was here at her pleasure and his pleasure would necessarily flow from hers, with patience, sorely and uncomfortably tested as it was.
So, Peter poured himself a hefty glass from a bottle she had taken from the cave. It was a potent 1938; Marie said it was best to enjoy the strong wine young because this vintage was not cellaring well.
He had heard her play How High The Moon before. In the absence of sinewy Faun melodies, Peter supposed the jazz version of the popular American tune would suffice for a Maenad.
Somewhere there's music
It's where you are
Somewhere there's heaven
How near, how far
The darkest night would shine
If you would come to me soon
Until you will, how still my heart
How high the moon
He lay back on his hands, though the gravely soil stung a little due, Marie had explained, to its silica content. Sheltered under a trellis of tangled, fragrant vines, he watched the Maenad dance under the white moon and yellow stars. Arms free, hair wild, and barefoot, she spun through the rows. The first few times her dress slipped, she pulled it back up, but finally left it loose, as it should be.
The dance was sensual and provocative and even more so because Peter knew it was not performed for him at all. Her effect upon him was profound – how could it not be so – but incidental. Marie danced for her god and her grapes.
If you would come to me soon
She swayed by and Peter reached for her but, with flash of leg and twirling skirt, Marie darted away, laughing. The music stopped and she glared at him, stomping her foot petulantly. With a weary sigh and another deep drink, Peter complied and put the next record on, You Go To My Head.
Surely the mad French girl had selected the recording to taunt him. Just out of reach, she raised her arms in a triumphant and muscle snapping stretch. Peter very nearly surged to his feet to chase her between the rows before his mind caught up with his desire. Exploiting this fatal moment of hesitation, she dashed away. The trellises trembled as she flitted and waltzed between them.
You go to my head,
And you linger like a haunting refrain
And I find you spinning round in my brain
Like the bubbles in a glass of champagne.
Or like a fine Bordeaux. Damn the music and he was helpless to do anything but wait and watch her hands trail lovingly over the vines heavy with plump fruit ripening in the summer heat. In what was truly a new low pleasing only to Bacchus and his Maenad, Peter found he was envious of how she gently fondled the grapes. He took another drink and nearly drained his glass. Like the song on the gramophone, the wine and the dancing Maenad were going straight to his head.
You go to my head
With smile that makes my temperature rise
Like a summer with a thousand Julys
You intoxicate my soul with your eyes ….
He'd had enough of You Go To My Head. Peter abruptly changed the record to Heart and Soul. He was just ready to be truly irritated with that selection as well when Marie burst from a row of vines and tumbled down next to him, breathing hard. A sheen of sweat on her neck beaded down to her bared breast and dampened the wispy tendrils of her hair. Marie grasped him about the face, not gently, and pushed a grape between his lips.
"Taste the grapes of Château Haut-Brion, Peter," Marie murmured, sealing his mouth with an urgent kiss.
He had to bite through the grape's thick skin and flavors of pepper and black currant exploded in his mouth. The same tastes of fruit, wine, mint and grass were on her lips and mingled with his. He was starving for her and slipped his hands down her slicked back to pull her closer.
She slipped another grape into his mouth and, as he again bit down, she shared the trickling juices of the luscious fruit. Her Maenad fervor was still hard edged, so he risked biting teeth and scratching nails. But, it was a trade he welcomed – whatever minor pain was worth the certain pleasure.
Marie shoved him to the ground. She laced his fingers in hers and pulled their joined hands behind and over his head to tangle them in the twining vines.
My life a wreck you're making
My heart is yours for just the taking.
I'll gladly surrender
Myself to you, body and soul!
"Do you know how they would make wine?" Marie whispered, her breath hot on his neck.
"No," he gritted out, his self control scattering like the dried leaves in the breeze.
"The winemakers would crush the grapes with their bare feet and turn them to must. As the wine ferments, there is then the pigeage. Do you know what that is?"
He shook his head, wincing as she worried his ear between her teeth.
"For the pigeage, men strip, hang from chains looped from overhead beams, and plunge their naked bodies into the fermenting must."
Her grip on his hands tightened, her nails pinched. The images she conjured were as mad as any from the wine god himself. Marie stretched her body over his and Peter felt crystalline gravel pricking his arms and back. Splinters from the rough wood of the trellis stabbed his palms.
Her kiss was hard and plundering, and her voice a promise. "Men drowned in the fermenting must, or died from the fumes. Died. To make our wine."
I'll gladly surrender
Myself to you, body and soul!
With desperate need driving everything else away, Peter realized Marie had coaxed those very words from him. He was not truly ensnared in the winding vines and her hands, not really trapped beneath her eager body. But he was under her protection and was falling into the Maenad's thrall. And why not, the little part of reason that still remained to him argued. He could give her nothing but his meager self and how could it possibly be enough when everything had been taken from her? A Maenad was a creature of life and bounty, and it was contrary to her very being to be so bitterly reduced. The only thing of value he could give was what she did not have – control, for a moment, over another.
So, Peter let the wine god take his mind and gave himself over to the Maenad of Bacchus. She was silhouetted against the sky and stars, wearing nothing but moonlight. Cool, sharp edged soil dug into his back; her lips burned his body wherever they touched. She bit and clawed and slowly, too, too slowly, took him apart, piece by awful piece. She teased, tormented, and whispered what she would do. For her, he would surrender everything - self, pride, duty, everything - for such was the power of a Maenad over a desperate man in the throes of the wine god's spells.
He was ensnared in vines and madness. A Maenad delicately lapped at the young, rough wine she dribbled over his body. Brilliant stars wheeled overhead. It might have been Narnia; he might have been the victorious King. But the wails echoing over the hillside were sirens, not the wild calls of Silenus and the frenzied Maenads. The pounding in the earth and his bones was not the beat of Dwarf drum, but Nazi artillery at the Port of Bordeaux.
Near dawn they stumbled back to the cave. Even in his stupor, Peter remembered to lay a sprig of holly at Bacchus' altar before collapsing on the bed. Evidently satisfied with Peter's performance and treatment of his Maenad, the wine god let him sleep in peace. Perhaps Bacchus was sleeping it off as well.
It was dusk when Peter woke again, wishing for a hot drink and aspirin. After the previous night's Bacchanal, he was not quite prepared to break his fast with more wine so soon. He knew better than to ask Marie for coffee – the closest he had seen to coffee in the French farmhouses of the Maquis was roasted barley. He had been saving his tea bags and when the light faded, Peter crept cautiously out of the cave in search of hot water.
Marie had not yet returned from the Château, so he puttered quietly about the farmhouse and enjoyed the running water of the washroom and kitchen. He got the kettle going and indulged himself by letting the tea steep a full ten minutes. It was only the second time he had used this tea bag so while the brew was not as strong as he wished, neither was it weak dishwater. It even softened the hard biscuit from his ration when he dunked it. After the tea and downing two aspirin from his med kit, he was feeling as well as could be expected for a man shot out of the sky, on the run from Nazis, and rubbed raw from an orgiastic romp with a Maenad. He was resolved to not – for the short term at least – drink wine that young, nor to bed a woman on gravel that in feel and composition was akin to ground glass.
Peter found the lead tucked behind a musty edition of Les Misérables and inserted it into the radio. He turned the BBC broadcast to a whisper. The news was about Sicily and when the coded messages began, he heard only the repeat of Susan's message of the night before. He did wonder how they were going to smuggle him out of Bordeaux and into the rugged Pyrenees.
He had just returned the lead to its hiding place when he heard Marie at the back door.
"Peter?" she called softly.
"In here," he replied as quietly and joined her in the kitchen. Marie was carefully removing foods from her string bag and setting them on the table.
There was a tomato, a few apricots, a pot of onion confit, and…
"You found bread!"
"Oui!" She flew around the table and into his arms. This kiss, to the cheek, was enthusiastic, but grateful rather than passionate. "I traded a condom, the stockings, and a bottle of good wine, and now we have real bread!"
A fair trade, Peter knew, and no inconvenience to him whatsoever. As Marie had so devastatingly demonstrated last night in the vineyard, "Make Do" had its own fantastic rewards.
He retrieved the precious butter and cheese from the cool larder as she carefully sliced and artfully arranged their feast.
The bottle from which she poured had no label. She decanted it into a large pitcher and poured generous measures into two tumblers. Peter could tell from the deep colour in the glass and the heady scent that this was to be something extraordinary. She was allowing the claret "to open up" and "breathe."
Marie lifted her tumbler reverently, inhaling, but not tasting. "It is a 1900 Château Haut-Brion. One of the finest vintages ever produced. Herr Göring took every bottle he could find."
He wanted to say that he was not worthy of it, but knew that was not the point. He was just one of hundreds of lost soldiers sneaking through France and what he and Marie shared was a fleeting thing of the War, two bodies enjoying pleasure amid ugliness and death. Marie's bond to the food and wine of her shattered country was something else entirely; it was profound, mystical, and a matter of heart and soul.
"Thank you for sharing it with me," he said.
So they sat and waited at the table.
"I listened to Radio London; my instructions were the same as before."
Marie nodded, more concerned with poking the cheese and swirling the wine in her glass to assure optimal serving temperature.
"It is so. They will be here in the morning." She looked up and he did appreciate the serious and focused attention. "It would be well even if you were not the brother of Louise. She is one of the Maquis and we wish to do this for her."
Finally, Marie was ready and, with shaking hands, dug her fingers into the crusty and golden long loaf and carefully split the baguette down the middle. Every scattered crumb she carefully gathered in a linen. She tore a piece of bread from the loaf, set it on the plate and then Peter saw what she was doing.
Reaching across the table, he gently squeezed her wrist. "Serve yourself first, Marie. Please."
The ecstatic bliss on her face as she spread the butter on the crackling fresh bread and as she bit into the little mound of goat cheese was an expression Peter would always remember.
She finally raised her tumbler and he did the same. "Santé"
This time he said the toast aloud, for it was the only one that was fitting. "To the wine god."
The wine was like nothing he had ever had. Seductive, lush, silky, full of ripe berry and fruit, then nuances of coffee and cream. Glorious, harmonious.
She had spoken his name at least three times. "Are you well?"
Just as she had trembled over the cheese and butter of Charentes, Peter could not imagine anything more perfect than the wine in his hand.
"It is beautiful, yes?"
He managed a nod. With the authority of one who knows for certain, Peter said, "Only Bacchus could make such a wine."
Marie licked a finger and carefully picked up the buttered crumbs of her bread, one by one, on her dampened fingertip. She delicately nibbled on the leavenings, took a sliver of apricot, a slice of tomato, a dab of cheese, a thimbleful of onion. "Tell me what you know of the wine god. I feel you do know him better than I." The appraising, curious look returned in her expression.
Peter swirled the wine in his own glass. The days in the company of Aslan, Bacchus and the awakened Trees had been very, very good ones – vivid, astonishing, and blessed. "Bacchus could turn well water into wine so fine it would cure the dying. The wine was as red as currant jelly, smooth as oil, strong as beef, warming as tea, and as cool as dew."
Marie sipped her own glass. "I wonder what they did then for water. One cannot drink wine all the time!"
Peter leaned back in the chair and savored another transporting sip. "And I have told you already of the feast."
Marie broke off another tiny corner of the cheese and slowly nibbled on it. "Was it as fine as this?"
"More abundant, but not as fine, no." It was the truth and she looked very satisfied with that compromise. Maybe it was its precious rarity, and the degree to which Marie appreciated it, but Peter did not think that even the bounty of Narnia surpassed the butter and cheese of Charentes that melted on his tongue now.
She set her elbow on the table and cupped her chin in her hands. "And the wine god? What of him?"
"In the guise he took for the feast, he looked as a boy, dressed only in a deer skin, with a crown of vine-leaves. He reached out his hands and great wooden cups and bowls and mazers, appeared, all wreathed with ivy. And they filled, again and again, with wines. There were dark wines, so thick, they were almost like mulberry juice, and clear red ones like red jellies."
"But not sweet!" she exclaimed, horrified.
Peter held his glass up to their bare bulb of light. "No, no more than this is, which is to say not at all. They were wonderful. And there were also the yellow wines and green wines and yellow-green and greenish-yellow, as light and refreshing as rain."
They drank the old, dusky bottle that concealed the treasure of a nation and Peter conjured the vision for her of the wine god and her sisterhood of the Maenads. He told of her old, fat Silenus and his donkey and the yodeling cries of euan, euan, eu-oi-oi-oi-oi. He described the grapes they ate, firm and tight on the outside, but bursting into cool sweetness in your mouth when you bit into them. He told her how the vines climbed everywhere and when you pushed your hair back you would be pushing back vines instead. He told her how the donkey had been a mass of greenery and she laughed. He told her of the bonfires, the music, and dancing on green grass.
Then Peter carried the starved and lonely Maenad to her bed and made love to her. It was without the hard edged, urgent desperation of earlier. It was slow, and gentle, sad and sweet, and there was a lingering regret that they had only a night and not the weeks and months that it took to truly learn the language of a partner. It was no longer completely new, but not yet familiar either, and never would be.
Afterwards, they lay on the mussed, stolen bedsheets of the Paris Ritz and watched the patterns of the shadows of the trees on the wall. In his imagination, it was as if the trees moved and swayed as the Dryads had. There was a distant rumble of artillery. Marie shivered and buried her head in crook of his neck. "It is so horrible at the port."
"I know." Eight Royal Marines had died there in December during a raid on Nazi ships docked at Bordeaux.
"All goosestepping, gray Nazis and hobnailed boots and ugly cement U-boat pens in the beautiful waters of the Gironde."
"They are unbelievers," Peter said, wrapping an arm more tightly around her, feeling her every rib under his fingers. "We know what the wine god and his Maenads do to unbelievers."
"Tell me, Peter," Marie whispered and he felt dampness on his shoulder. "Tell me what they would do."
Peter thought on this and found the story easily for he had lived a version of it. "Bacchus and his Maenads, and Silenus and his donkey, all come to Bordeaux and the first place they go is the BETASOM submarine base at the port."
Marie lifted her head; Peter brushed away her tears with a thumb. "And then? What happens?"
"And then the river god of the Gironde rises up out of the water and he has a great wet, bearded head, as large a giant's, and he is crowned with rushes. 'Hail, lord Bacchus,' the river god says. 'Loose my chains.'"
"No!" she exclaimed.
"Yes," Peter told her. "And so the wine god and his wild girls splash into the Gironde estuary and within moments great strong trunks of ivy curl up over the piers of the U-boat pens." His hands slid along her back and sides, mimicking the way the beautiful green might grow. "The ivy spreads quickly, as fast as fire, and wraps around the concrete slabs and splits and breaks them. The pens turn into hedges of hawthorn and holly."
"And then?" Marie breathed into his ear. "Tell me, Peter, what happens?"
"BETASOM is undone by the power of the wine god and the whole base turns to green and collapses with a rush and a rumble into the waters of the Gironde."
With a happy sigh, Marie nuzzled closer. "Encore un, s'il vous plait?"
"Oui! Tell me what happens to the Gestapo when Bacchus comes," Marie asked, stroking his leg with her foot. "Please."
"The Gestapo do not believe in the wine god, either" Peter told her. "They run out to defend BETASOM and are never seen again. Afterwards it is said that there were many very fine little pigs in that part of Bordeaux which had never been there before."
"Des cochons!" She laughed and squirmed about again, finally settling on her back. "What of Herr Hitler and Herr Göring?"
"The King challenges Göring to single combat and breaks the baton of the Reichsmarschall. The very land of France goes to war against Herr Hitler. Her trees and waters, her beasts and birds, all rise up and take back what is theirs."
"And Bacchus turns them to pigs!" She grasped his hand and kissed each knuckle. "It is a very good story, Peter."
"The best stories are true, Marie."
But, a story. He could not challenge Herr Hitler to single combat, could not muster his army against their endless winter or win the battle against Herr Göring by breaking his Reichsmarschall baton. He could do all he could, give her all he had, and it would not be, would never be, enough. The combined might of the Allied forces could not accomplish such things; he alone certainly could not.
And even here, lying with Marie in her stolen bed on her pilfered sheets, with the knobby bones of her back jutting his side, still she had given more than he had. For to her, he was no one but Peter Pevensie. There were no titles, no High Kings, Sires or Majesties, or Rank or Sirs. Unlike her sisters before her, this Maenad's great gift was that she did not do this to honor the High King and his defeat of the tyrant overseer. Marie did this for him alone, a lowly English Flight Officer who had done nothing but parachute from a burning plane into a cow pasture.
At one time he would have railed against the unfairness of it – why had Aslan made him a King with an army to command and then sent him back, a child again, but without the sword, without the army, without his brother and sisters ruling beside him, and without the blessing of the Lion upon their daily rule. To what end, if not cruelty? He knew the answers to those hard questions, understood there were greater purposes at work, but at this moment, feeling helpless and hounded by the Gestapo, with a hungry, oppressed Maenad in his arms, it was sometimes difficult to remember such things.
And so, with a fragrant summer breeze blowing through the window to cool their bodies, Peter dreamed again.
It was morning after the Bacchanal. Aslan had told him and Susan what Peter had sensed from the moment he had seen that his task was to see another boy made King of Narnia. Peter found himself at the Beruna's edge. The water swirled away, lazy and free. The scent of smoldering bonfires and spilled wine lingered. He would soon give his sword and throne to Caspian and leave, never to return.
Peter heard Birds and Squirrels arguing over nuts in the trees and Trees and knew it would not be his duty to mediate. In a few short hours, the door to Narnia would close behind him.
"My lord Bacchus."
Today, in the aftermath of their celebrations, Bacchus looked more like Silenus and less like the pretty youth of the night before. He was, of course, still drinking from an immense wooden bowl. Hair from the dog, the wine god would say, though the Canines resented the adage. Peter supposed Bacchus was looking puffy and bloodshot to show solidarity with the mere mortals who really were feeling the after effects of the drunken, lusty celebration.
"Thank you for being so accommodating of my Maenads."
"They are as persuasive as you are." And aggressive. Peter assumed the Maenads' many marks to his body would disappear when he went back, just as his scars had before.
"True, but you let them thank you and in a gracious way they understood."
"Does this mean you shall not turn me into a pig?"
The god laughed. "No, I shall not. The Lion would be cross with me. He might eat me."
"But you are immortal," Peter replied, smiling in spite of himself.
"I am, but it still hurts to be eaten," Bacchus said, rubbing his jaw feelingly. "Just ask my brother, the Trickster. He gets eaten all the time."
"In the company of one god is quite enough for this humble man."
Again, Bacchus laughed and put his arm about Peter's sagging shoulders. "I thought we might drink a parting cup until we meet again!"
He pushed a glass tumbler into Peter's hands; the god's hands were brown and his nails were chipped from hard work and rimmed with dirt. Peter stared at the glass of deep red wine. Its nose was that of the Château Haut-Brion 1900, the finest vintage the god ever blessed.
"You are very confident of that future meeting, my lord."
"I am, High King. As I said last night, the Lion and I are both in your world. The things you love most of Narnia are there as well, if you but have the eyes to see and the heart to feel."
"But the will to see and to feel as you say? I am not sure I am capable of the challenge Aslan sets before me."
"He does not doubt you, High King; nor do I." The wine god gestured out broadly and it seemed that where his gaze fell and over what his arm swept, the landscape greened and bloomed. "You have, by the Lion's grace, again defeated a tyrant and freed Narnia. You have healed her; you have rebuilt her. Having accomplished so much, surely you are ready to do so, well and again, in your own world? She has great need of you."
"But Narnia is my world!" Peter retorted, resisting the urge to kick a stone like the child to whose body he would be returned.
The god frowned and Peter heard a roll of thunder and a cracking of artillery shells with his disapproval. "Aslan belongs to many worlds, High King, and I as well. If you are able to give your love to only one place, you are not the man I thought."
Aslan would have never spoken to him so bluntly. The wine god, however, was not restrained in word or action. That threat of pigs was a real one.
Chastened, and a little shamed, Peter said, "You and Aslan set a daunting example."
"And you, a mortal, who bears the title Magnificent, have not lived an example to others that is as daunting?" The god leaned in conspiratorially and the whisper and clinging vines were a shade too intimate for comfort. "The Lion will be cross with me, but I shall take the risk to say that you are not returning to your world only to die in a barrel."
"I should hope not," Peter said. He raised his glass, intending to say, "To your health," but that was a foolish thing to say to a god. "To the health of your lands and those who follow you, my lord."
Bacchus kissed his brow and then toasted him with the upraised bowl in return. "To the past that has readied you and the future that awaits you, High King. Until we meet again."
The next morning when the two men from the Resistance arrived with a cart, two mules, and fives casks of wine, one empty, Peter was very glad to recall the wine god's assurance that he would not die in a barrel.
He quickly gathered his things from the cave, kissed the altar of the wine god who so loved and watched this place, and hurried back through the farmhouse. Marie, however, waylaid him on the way out the front door and they ended up using a third condom while the maquisards waited in the drive. The experience demonstrated once again for Peter that sex against a wall was better in concept than actual execution.
He felt a little abashed when he staggered out to meet his contacts, but the maquisards seemed more sympathetic and curious than mocking. One of them tipped his beret and Peter caught the words Louise, Rat, and soeur, or sister.
He nodded and started to say that Louise was his sister and changed it to, "I am the brother of Louise." With the confirmation, Peter sensed he rose even further in the men's estimation.
They set to work peeling off the stays of the barrel and dismantling it. Peter realized the men would then reconstruct the wine barrel around him and seal him inside. He hoped he was not going all the way to Canfranc by mule cart.
Language was a barrier but hammers and screwdrivers were universal invariants. Work on the French side of the divide halted when Marie came out with the box Peter had brought from Charentes. The maquisards became openly admiring when she explained that it was Peter who had brought the lumps of butter and cheese she was now sharing with them.
However, a heated argument broke out among Marie and the two men. To the extent Peter could follow the rapid fire, passionate French, it seemed that the three disagreed on the appropriate wine. One man apparently deeply offended Marie by suggesting that a Château Latour Paulliac would have been better with goat cheese and the other committed the gross heresy of suggesting a white wine of the Loire Valley.
As Peter had neither the language nor the knowledge to participate, he wisely kept out of the angry discussion and continued to pry apart the barrel that was to be his refuge, subterfuge, and mode of transportation.
The rebuilding of the planks and stays around him took less time. As the space became closer and darker, Peter reminded himself that it was really just a very large piece of ill-fitting armor and he could do this and had done it before. He was able to pop his head out of the top to kiss Marie good bye; it was an awkward business that was not the least bit romantic.
"Bon voyage, Peter."
"Thank you, Marie. May the wine god guard your steps and bless your vines."
She reached down into the barrel and he kissed her fingertips. "Adieu." Marie withdrew her hand.
The men set the lid on the barrel and Peter settled in. He wrapped his arms around his knees, rested his cheek against the rough oak, and thought it prudent to remind the wine god, gently and respectfully, of his vow.
"My lord, you did promise I would not die in a barrel."
If Bacchus answered, Peter did not hear it. By the time the cart swayed and creaked on to the main road behind the two plodding mules, Peter was asleep.
"And tonight, on the BBC, we have the following messages for our friends who are listening.
'The green hat is in the basket.'
'Rat tells Heart and Crow that the Sword is aboard the Splendour Hyaline bound for Narnia.'"
Long Research notes:
The tactics of the resistance, the subterfuge the French undertook to protect their wine, and the hardships of the living conditions in occupied France are taken from several sources and specifically, D. and P. Kaldstrup, Wine & War: The French, The Nazis & the Battle for France's Greatest Treasure.
One issue lost in the translation is the effect of Vichy policies on women and what happened to women "collaborators" after the war. Further, I suspect this may be the first Narnia fic with repeated use of the word "condom." On the other hand, I've seen the soldiers' packs myself in World War 2 museums and prevention of STDs was a priority for President Roosevelt when he had been in the U.S. Department of the Navy. The reader "E" quotes from a source that says that condoms, chocolate, and cigarettes were the currency of liberated Europe after the war.
Also implicit but not explained, is the concept of terroir. Unlike the U.S., where wines are predominately classified by grape (merlot, cabernet sauvignon) and by region (Sonoma, Napa), in France, the distinguishing factor is precisely the place – where the grapes were grown. A wine from the Graves region will be different from a wine of the Medoc, and butter from the cows of Charentes will be different from butter elsewhere.
The U-boat pens at the port of Bordeaux were built to withstand Allied aerial bombardment. They remain standing today and have been the settings of numerous films, including Das Boot and Raiders of the Lost Ark.
The railway station in Canfranc was a hub for smuggling Jews, Allied fliers, and Resistance fighters out of occupied France and into Spain.
Peter's descriptions of the bacchanal are again taken nearly verbatim from Prince Caspian.
If you research Hermann Wilhelm Göring, you can see pictures of his Reichsmarschall baton. It bears a startling resemblance to a Wand.
The setting is a true one. Château Haut-Brion is a famous winery of the Bordeaux region; its wine is rated as Premier Cru Classé (First Growth) from the Graves region of Gironde – a designation it has held since 1855. The winery was indeed owned by an American, Clarence Dillon, was managed by Georges Delmas, and Madame Demas did scold the German commander about the soldiers pilfering the vegetable garden when the Luftwaffe occupied the Château. The wines of Château Haut-Brion were hidden from the Nazis behind a refuse pile.
I have, however, shamelessly inserted Marie-Ginette Rousseau, Maenad of the Maquis, into the War and Château Haut-Brion.