Wendelin Ernst walked down the dirt lane he had walked as a boy and watched the blackbirds mutter in the lindens that lined his path. The brown fields of rye stretched out across the gentle Franconian landscape, rising and dipping, clustered with trees which had once mastered the land but were now confined by the fields of grass and cereals. Ernst had spent all of his seventeen years in this farmland; he had grown up here, eating the juicy berries of the Brombeersträucher and working in the fields. The land was accustomed to his feet.
The old farmer, Emmerich Vogler, his scythe over his bony shoulder like Godfather Death, met him there. He looked up at Ernst with his large, protruding blue eyes; he had to look upward, for Ernst was tall, whereas no one remembered when Old Emmerich was unbent.
“Model of a soldier,” the farmer said.
“Do you remember Claus Amsel?”
Ernst nodded. “Well.”
Vogler took the scythe from his shoulder and leaned on it. “I need to visit your father again soon. His beer will miss me when I’m gone.”
Ernst smiled. “You won’t die, old man. You will be here as long as the rye grows and the beer flows.”
“Doof Dichtkunst,” Vogler grunted. “The hand that fought for King Ludwig and for the farmer’s stomach grows weary even so. My time in the fields is ending.” He lifted up the scythe slightly and then dropped it down again. The blade bounced from the hard-packed earth of the road. “What is the year? They are all the same to me.”
“My feet desire the feel of grass and my mind the dreams of the birch-trees.” Old Emmerich looked up into the sky, which was overcast. “What do you want?”
Ernst shifted. “The sun.”
Vogler closed his eyes and nodded. “It is right. Where are you bound?”
“Taking a walk,” Ernst said, shrugging. “I leave tomorrow to answer the draft.”
“I’m glad I found you before you left,” the old man said. He reached into the pack at his side and pulled out a revolver. “I picked this up back in ’70 from a battlefield. It’s French, but I think they received more than they gave with it after it came to me. It might come in useful again.”
The young man took it and pressed it into his belt. “Thank you.”
“Enjoy your road,” Vogler said, hefting his instrument once more. “Do not forget us.” He turned and continued on his way down the lane.
Ernst walked on until he came to a hill on which stood a great oak. He stood beneath it for a while, and then sat down and leaned back onto its trunk. The revolver he pulled from his belt, and he looked at it carefully. It was old, smaller and lighter than the Reichsrevolver he had fired once before, made in Belgium.
The sky was growing darker, and the wind rose. There was a storm still far-off; he thought he could catch the sound of thunder. Ernst ran his fingers through the blades of the grass, letting his muscles relax, and looked across the rye fields. He murmured the words of Goethe that sprang to his tongue.
Hush’d on the hill
Is the breeze;
Scarce by the zephyr
Softly are press’d;
The woodbird’s asleep on the bough.
Wait, then, and thou
Soon wilt find rest.
He stared at the revolver, recalling Old Emmerich’s words. He was not ready to carry it; the blackberries still stained his mouth. Perhaps he should sleep, and not remember the prick of the thorns. The cheese and the ryebread left behind, he would dream of them often.
“Not today.” He tossed the weapon to the side. His head fell back and he closed his eyes. As he slept, the blackbirds played over his head.
So, I’ve written exercises about a depressed Bulgarian in exile and a young German soldier before the Great War. Maybe tomorrow I’ll pluck up the courage to try writing one for a female character.