The light enters softly through his window, illuminating the small room with hints of dust along with it. It hits Thomas’ right eye, and he’s forced to shift to another position in his bed to ignore it. There’s a grunt when he’s not successful. He’s suddenly awoken by a sound, a sort of clatter against the wall.
He grumbles, mainly because it doesn’t stop. It takes an effort for him to realise it’s coming from outside. Getting up from his bed, he leans over to find Holger on the street.
“What on earth?” He mumbles, as he moves the window open.
Holger seems impatient, and waves too quickly. “They’re here! Father and the others!” Thomas’ eyes widen in realisation of what Holger means. He automatically jumps in his worn out shoes and rushes downstairs. He doesn’t forget his flat cap as he closes the door behind him.
The train station is busier than usual, even though it’s never truly filled with people. Weilheim barely had habitants as it was. With the war in Europe, the place felt without life even more than ever. Thomas feels as if they were living in a ghost town nowadays. 1915. The war that was supposed to end before Christmas had now gone on. The French, the British and even the Russians were now their enemies. Thomas remembers Kingsley, who lived down the street. He had orders to return to France in the summer of last year. A shame, really, Thomas and Holger used to join him and play football sometimes.
It wasn't much better for his sister's husband: Laurent had to go back to France to join his own army. She had gone by months now without news from him.
Glancing to his right, he spots Holger and his father. It must be hard for him, to have his only family taken by war from him. Holger’s mother died in a fire when they were younger, and from that day, it was only him and his father. They were always incredibly kind to Thomas however, no matter how grim the situation got. He finally spots Simon behind a couple, and almost knocks him out when he jumps to hug him.
“You’re doing well.” Thomas lets out, and Simon nods, accepting the obvious. He helps him with his bags, and they’re both ready to walk home.
“Brother!” Klaudia lets out, once the pair are inside the house. She hugs him tight, “Mother! Simon is home!”
They have a great dinner, filled with laughter and for the first time in a long while, Thomas doesn’t get the feeling of living amongst ghosts. His sister, his mother and brother are all sitting at the table in front of him and well.
“Where did you get that?” Klaudia asks, pointing at the cross shaped on Simon’s chest. The older man chuckles, and shakes his head.
“They gave it to me for saving an Oberleutnant, back in September.”
Thomas takes a better look at it, and the realisation that his brother was actually out there hits him, with guns and shells, fighting his life away. Klaudia hesitates, she seems a bit sad and Simon gives in and hugs her.
"Laurent is probably fine. There's so many of us, don't worry."
When the girls have gone to bed, Simon joins Thomas outside, in front of the horse’s fence. The Müller farm has always been known for their quality milk, alongside with the well brought up horses.
“How long are you staying?” He asks, without taking his stare off the animals in front of them. The moonlight is hitting them softly, and Simon sighs.
“Not long enough.”
“How is it-- out there?”
There’s so much truth in Thomas’ question, he wants to know. They’ve heard rumors about the front, from soldiers who've come home, from letters. The death toll and injured men keep rising. It's a contrast to what the government says, insisting everything is well and that they're really fighting to make a better world. Thomas can't help but worry about his brother. There’s a silence between them, before his brother finally decides to respond.
“You’re only 21 Thomas, I wouldn’t want you to understand what it’s like out there. Here it’s-- so peaceful. I’m-- I miss it here. There’s so much you don’t need to know.”
That's where he's wrong. There’s a silence between them, and Thomas figures Simon is doing what he always does: protect him. He can’t hide anything from his brother: he knows him so well. It shouldn’t be a surprise when Simon playfully pushes him.
“What is it? You’re usually ballistic about the horses, I have to be the one to shut you up about them.”
“I’ve been asked to enlist.” He lets out, almost ashamed.
“What?” Simon might have been expecting almost anything but the fact his baby brother had to join him in his faith. He shakes his head, a clear denial of what he just heard.
“Holger and I, and other men. It’s the Wehrpflicht, or conscription. There’s no way out of it. We’re old enough to fight. We need to report to München before August ends.” A long pause, he takes a deep breath. “I’m scared Simon.”
Simon takes a moment too, and shakes his head even further. Thomas knows what is going through exactly his mind. It isn’t fair, ever since their father passed away, Simon had taken care of them, of Klaudia, of their mother.
His father had been a great man. He had taught both of his boys to shoot a gun, which had helped him to enlist when war came to them. Simon’s priority when it was announced, was to make sure Thomas wouldn’t ever need to go to war. The order was that one men per household should enlist to defend the fatherland. It was decided that Simon would go, leaving Thomas behind to take care of Klaudia and their mother.
“It shouldn’t be you” Simon finally replies, completely taken back. “München, you say?”
Thomas nods, and his brother sighs once more. “You might not be taken to the front right away, does mother know?”
It doesn’t really make him feel better, and Thomas shakes his head. He hasn’t found the right time to tell her or Klaudia about it. Simon nods, understanding exactly the reaction to face. He’s always been his role model, and Thomas finds himself wishing he could be more like him.
“I wish I was brave like you, but I’m not. I’m terrified.”
“You will find your courage. You’re way tougher than you think, Thomas. I’ve always known that. Father knew it too.”
The words echo in his mind, and Thomas nods, understanding closely each one of them. Simon then, breaks into a smile. There’s teasing on the dim mood between them. Thomas knows it’s very unlike him to be so serious, so he gives in. After all he’s still at his farm, with his brother, his family on his side.
“We’re going to be fine. This war won’t last forever, mark my words.”
The recruitment office isn’t quite what he expects, then again, he doesn’t even know what to expect. München is far bigger than he had imagined, filled with men from all around the area. He can hear singing from the groups, Thomas can recognize Die Wacht am Rhein, having heard it much in his youth from his father’s old piano.
Lieb Vaterland, magst ruhig sein,
Fest steht und treu die Wacht, die Wacht am Rhein!
Holger gives him a gentle pat on the back, indicating that they ought to move forward. Inside, he can spot different areas, there’s lines of men checking in their papers, others waiting uniforms, and even medical checkups. They’re stopped by a blond man in front of them, looking superior.
“Name.” He orders, and they both reply automatically.
Thomas moves to the fourth line, while Holger is forced to the first one. Alphabetical order separates them temporarily. He checks the place out, until he stops to notice on the platform two men supervising the entire operation. The taller man looks a bit distracted, Thomas finds. He runs his hands through his hair repeatedly, looking around not specifically at anything.
“That’s Oberstleutnant Lahm and Hauptmann Klose.” A voice comes from behind him.
He turns to the man, and raises an eyebrow. “What?”
The man has bright blue eyes, and is far taller than Thomas. The giant type who could kick his ass. He shrugs, and repeats the information. “The guys you were staring at. They’re the big bosses around here. Watch out for them.“
“Who’s the tall one?” Thomas randomly asks, out of curiosity. The guy clearly knows his facts around. “Hauptmann Klose. The one wearing an Iron Cross.”
Thomas recognises it from the one Simon has. “My brother has one too, don’t they give those out of bravery?”
“Apparently he saved some important lives on the front. That deed got him the promotion.”
"Impressive." Thomas adds, before realizing it's his turn in the line. After they give the officers their documents, he decides it’s time to find Holger. The man offers his hand and smiles.
“I’m Manuel Neuer,”
“Thomas Müller” He replies, and they share a handshake. He can almost hear Simon’s voice behind him telling him to make lots of friends in the army. Not that it had never been a problem for him. Being able to come up with any subject of conversation out of anything was his hidden talent.
“Here are the list of the new Soldaten.” Philipp drops a bunch of files on his table, and Miroslav looks up, a bit defeated. “Come on-- Paperwork is better than the front.” He reminds him. He doesn’t reply, and instead starts opening the first file. Philipp watches him, and when he doesn’t move, Miroslav turns to him.
“Anything else, Oberstleutnant?”
Philipp shakes his head, but hesitates. “Miroslav-- We’ve been friends for a long time.”
“Yes?” He raises an eyebrow, not sure where this is going. He’s amused, however, because he knew a side of Philipp Lahm not many others had the privilege to. Their friendship has flourished since the Academy. Philipp had always been cunning and ambitious; it doesn’t surprise him that he’s already so high up in command.
“How are you?” His question is fast and practical, cutting directly to the point. Then again, he doesn’t have to say more for the pair to know exactly what they’re talking about. Miroslav knew this conversation would happen eventually, even so, the subject makes him uncomfortable enough to stir from the files on the table.
“I’m fine.” He means it, but that’s not enough for his friend. He tries again. “You were there, Fips, you heard what the doctor said. I’m not sick.”
“He didn’t say that, he said there was nothing wrong with your body.”
Miroslav sighs, quoting the words. “Yeah, It’s all in my head. I’m fine-- really.”
“You’re fine now, but what happens when we go back?”
A fair flash of the bombs and shells fly through his head, the stench and the bodies. Miroslav turns back to his files and opens the next one.
“We fight, we defend the Fatherland, like we’ve always had. That's what happens.”
Philipp knows when a battle is lost, it’s his main duty in the army, so he gives in and nods. “We’ll be back by December from what I gather, take the time to rest until then.”
Ever before his promotion, Miroslav has always understood his duty, to his country. He also knows it’s not that long until they go back to the trenches, to the mud and the canon shells. The thought is enough to pull him back from the first files of the new recruits.
He rests his hand on his temple, and decides he needs a break. Perhaps a walk outside would clear his mind. The sun is shining right above the city. He squints for a moment at the intensity of the sun, not letting him fully see his path. It’s unusually warm for an evening in September.
There’s a park near the building, and he finds a comfortable place on the grass. It must be a funny image, he figures, an army officer lying on the grass, but he can’t bring himself to worry over it. He thanks destiny to be friends with Philipp. This kind of shore leave has been far more relaxing than the others, even if he hasn’t been home in a while. His mind wanders to Opole, far in the east from here. Without much effort, he drifts to sleep under the wind blowing in the trees above him.
By the time he wakes up, he realises it must be past dinner, and a couple of people must be wondering where he is. He quickly combs his hair and turns to the path. He’s almost there when he feels an unexpected force against his right shoulder.
He turns to find a young recruit; he can’t be more than 22 he guesses. He needs a moment to balance himself back on his feet, and there’s a silence between them, as if he wasn’t sure what to say. Thankfully, the young recruit does eventually find words.
“Forgive me, Hauptmann. I-- I was late and I wasn’t looking where I went.”
Miroslav nods, acknowledging the incident. “Dismissed.” He replies, and the young man nods back. They stand in front of each other for another moment. He thinks the young Soldat wants to say something more, but doesn’t.
The trumpets sound from the camp interrupts them, and the Soldat excuses himself to rush inside. If he were completely honest, Miroslav knows that he wasn’t exactly paying attention to where he was going either. Perks of being a Hauptmann, he figures.
“Remember to aim higher, or you’ll never hit the target.” Thomas exclaims behind Holger, while he’s aiming at the haystack. He obeys, and hits it perfectly. It’s a satisfying feeling, to find his friend finally progressing with guns.
“Come on, let’s go.”
The chill air of the beginning of November is starting to gather strength, it’s enough to carry around a winter jacket. Manuel finds the pair and waves at them, there’s supposed to be a speech coming up. They follow him up to the main courtyard, and stand behind Benedikt and Mats, the five of them having become friends over the past two months.
Thomas has gotten news from his sister, Simon is doing well, on the eastern front of the war, against the Russians. He’s now a Leutnant, in command of his own Platoon. He wonders when they’ll both have shore leave again, and be able to visit each other.
The man they first met when they entered the recruitment office, Leutnant Schweinsteiger, takes a few steps on the podium.
“Brothers, you’ve been training under the great Fatherland for the greater good, it is now time to defend what is ours-- to--“
Thomas glances around him, and finds Hauptmann Klose standing his hands behind his back. He can’t forget that one night where he was out and came back rushing late and crashed into the Hauptmann. How embarrassing.
The Hauptmann moves his focus ending up staring right back at his part of the crowd. Thomas blinks, he couldn’t possibly be looking at him. He tries to act as casually as he can, as if he hadn’t been staring at him earlier. As long as Mats doesn’t find out, everything is good. With the last incident, Mats had insisted that he would get court-martialed for crashing into an officer, but thankfully not a word from the incident had been heard.
Actually, now that he thinks about it, Hauptmann Klose seemed like a pretty decent guy.
Manuel sighs next to him, the clapping and applause bring Thomas’ attention back on Schweinsteiger. He’s missed the important part of the speech, and shakes his head.
At dinner, he’s tempered to ask Holger about it.
“We’re leaving to support the troops up north; they seem to think we can handle it.”
Thomas swallows. Already? He feels like he’s barely gotten here from Weilheim, and now they’re already sending them to the real war. He thinks of Simon, and remembers he has to be brave like him. Manuel joins them, he looks a bit nervous, and Thomas doesn’t ever remember seeing him like this.
“I’ve been promoted.” He lets out, “Gefreiter.”
“That’s awesome!” Holger congratulates, but Manu shakes his head, and Thomas recognizes the expression.
“You’ll do great, Gefreiter. They don’t pick those randomly. I’m sure the Oberstleutnant saw something in you.” He smiles, and Holger gets what he’s trying to do. He nods and agrees. Manuel does relax, though.
On the night before they leave, Thomas decides on sending a letter back to Weilheim, to his family. It’s already dark, by the time he gets to the post section of their camp. He drops the letter in the little box when a voice beside him calls him out.
“Correspondence at this time of night?” Thomas turns to Leutnant Schweinsteiger. It’s not even late, so he partially shrugs, as much as the respect-rank allows him.
“A letter for my family, about two hours from here, sir. Just letting them know where we’re headed.”
Schweinsteiger nods, and drops a letter of his own in the box as well. It’s probably for the same purpose as Thomas’. He offers the way back with his arm, and the Soldat obeys.
“I’ve seen you shooting at practice, you’ve got a nice touch Soldat -- um,”
“Soldat Müller, so, tell me, where did you learn to shoot?”
He can’t help it; Thomas grins at the compliment. “My father taught me and my brother from an early age. We have a farm in my hometown, which meant a lot of terrain undisturbed.”
“Your brother is also enlisted?”
His superior seems impressed, not exactly expecting a family tale about it. That night, Thomas finds out that he’s not the only one with a brother at war. Maybe they’re not so different after all, and he starts to understand what Simon once told him about making friends.
He closes his eyes in bed, but he's unable to go to sleep. It's the calm before the storm, and Thomas can't help thinking about the tempest that awaits him, and his comrades.