Leibstandarte Barracks, Berlin
Greater German Reich
December 20th, 1939
ne of the duties of a commanding officer that Otto Skorzeny would never learn to appreciate was drill instruction. During the officer training he had taken at Bad Tölz, he had learnt and understood why it was necessary and how it helped foster discipline and obedience in a unit, but he still felt like a complete idiot every time he stood on the court outside the III Bataillon barracks shouting ‘Left… left… left, right, left!’
The victorious end of the war and the advent of Christmas, a Christmas few in Germany had dared hope would be one occurring during a time of peace, had brought most of the Reich, including the constituents of her armed forces into a most un-martial mood. Thus on this dark winter morning, when great snow flakes drifted down from a tranquil sky to form a soft, sound-muffling blanket on the courtyard cobbles Skorzeny had felt particularly reluctant to take his men out for the daily drill. Atheist or not, his recent experiences made him look forward to this Christmas with a warm feeling he hadn’t had since he was one third of his current height.
The men seemed more at ease with the drill than their commander though, and esprit de corps made the Leibstandarte soldiers march through the half-melted slop as no other unit in the Waffen SS, or indeed the whole Wehrmacht could. Hitler’s Praetorians, all muscular, blond and of the same towering height looked magnificent on parade. Their fanatic dedication to the Reich and to national socialism actually made them a very easy unit to command, Skorzeny thought as they stomped by in perfect step.
Some instinct made the Austrian SS officer turn his head and he saw two men approaching across the wide open space that was the courtyard of the Leibstandarte barracks, where white-washed Panzer III’s stood lined up against the outer wall. One of them was clad in SS black while the other, a short man with a huge grey beard wore a plain civilian coat. He was looking about nervously. Despite the distance, it didn’t take Otto many seconds to realize the SS man was Günther Duhrn. He had no idea who the civilian might be though.
‘3rd batallion… HALT!’ Their final step splendidly thunderous, the Leibstandarte demi-gods came to a halt in perfect formation.
‘Men! We have a visitor from Allgemeine SS – Sturmbannführer Duhrn! Men! Let’s show him how the real soldiers
of the SS handle themselves!’
Even their answering shout was in harmonious unison. Sometimes, just sometimes, the whole SS soldier thing slightly sickened him, Skorzeny though. His only comfort was that the Heer was even worse stickers for protocol and discipline. Compared to them, the Waffen SS was almost relaxed.
Duhrn and the civilian came closer and Skorzeny ordered a spotlessly executed about face, so that the Bataillon came to stand facing Skorzeny and Duhrn.
‘Sturmbannführer, so good to you to come to visit us!’ he fairly much shouted. ‘The men stand ready to be inspected!’
‘Eh… thank, you, Sturmbannführer, that won’t be necessary.’ the white-haired sorcerer answered loudly, and then in a low half-whisper: ‘Can we have a word in private?’
‘Sure thing, old boy, just talk like a normal person would and nobody will hear a word you say. Here at the barracks, we only communicate by virtue of shouting,’ Otto answered in a normal conversational tone of voice. ‘ISN’T THAT SO, MEN?’ he added with a resounding bellow.
‘Jawohl, Sturmbannführer!’ the men, who hadn’t heard a word of the exchange, replied in mighty chorus.
‘Very cute, Otto.’ Duhrn said dryly. ‘Look, I have a job for you, and between you and me, I have been given exceptional powers by the Reichsführer-SS for this special project of mine, you know, the one we went scouting for a few days back.’
‘The Dreamland offensive? What do you need from me?’
‘Well, the logistics of moving a Wehrmacht army across the Plateu of Leng are not trivial. As you know there are certain limitations to machinery, so we’re going to have to drag and tow all our vehicles and artillery pieces using only animal power and simple mechanics. That means building a railway through the portal across the Plateu to the Dreamgate into Central Asia…’
‘Why not put up the portal flush with the Dreamgate?’ Skorzeny wondered.
‘As far as I’ve understood, there’s some kind of limit to how close two two-way openings can be, although I might be mistaken. I know very little of these things, truth be told. Once I get Xaltotun’s mummy up and running, he might be able to correct me, but in the mean time, we better plan for the worst case, don’t you agree?’
‘Yes, that makes sense. So what am I supposed to do?’
‘Building the railway and amassing a proper supply dump means we’ll have to have a long-term presence in the Dreamland. The work teams from Organization Todt will have to be protected from the locals – which by the way are not to be trifled with…’
‘I remember those frescoes, Durhn. Vividly.’
‘Well then you know what I’m talking about. You’ll also remember that any soldiers we send into the Dreamland will be able to fight only with their bayonets and rifle butts, since modern technology doesn’t work in the Dreamland. I want to do something about that.’
‘Are you saying what I think you are?’
‘Yes. I want you to train your men to fight with low-tech weapons, like swords, and spears and bows I guess. I’ll leave the details up to you, being a fencer and all. You can order anything you like in the way of equipment, but time is an issue here, so don’t go too exotic on me. I’ve already taken the liberty of placing an order for eight hundred swords from the firm that make our Rune Swords, although we won’t be enchanting these, of course. I guess you should think about some kind or body armour too. Devise conversions if you can, to save time, you know.’
‘You’re shitting me!’
‘Would I do that?’ Durhn said, feigning a hurt look. ‘I’ve even brought you a little gift to help you out. Master Lichtenauer, come forward please!’
The civilian, a man in his fifties with an enormous grey beard protruding over his felt coat, cast one fearful glance at Duhrn and complied, coming to stand next to him. Only now did Skorzeny notice that he did seem to suffer from some kind of skin disorder, since his complexion seemed too coarse, almost grainy.
‘Master Lichtenauer, this is Sturmbannführer Otto Skorzeny, an officer of the armed forces of the German Reich. Otto, this is Master Johannes Lichtenauer, founder of the German School of Swordmanship and the single greatest teacher of the art of longsword fencing in history!’
Skorzeny stared. ‘Are you more than usually insane, Günther? Johannes Lichtenauer lived in the 14th century, and the art of longsword fencing has been dead for the last two hundred years!’
‘Dead?’ the man presented as Lichtenauer whispered, looking grief-struck. ‘I beg thee, Herr Offizer, I doth be Johannes Lichtenauer recast in this impious travesty of flesh by thyne aquintance, Herr Duhrn. A pagan and a necromancer doth he be, having roused me from my mortal remains to serve him in this Hellish realm, that he claimeth to be Germany. If thou art in truth a soldier, I beg thee: free me from him, take me into thyne service, and in return thou and thyne men shalt be instructed in the noble art of the sword! It pains me to think that mine art doth have perished in the long centuries passed since my demise. And once thou have learnt well, then as payment shalt thou return me, after confession and last rites, once more to my eternal sleep, so that I might violate the Laws of God no more!’
Skorzney stared with open mouth at the famous fencing master, five centuries dead.
‘See?’ Duhrn said with a sardonic smile on his thin lips. ‘I told you so!’