Chapter Two Thousand Four Hundred Thirty-Eight
29th February 1976
Richthofen Estate, Silesia
Having been born in a leap year it was rare for the date Suse Rosa’s birthday to actually appear on the calendar. That made this year special and Manfred the Younger had pulled out all the stops with the help of his mother to celebrate it this year. The rather wide circle of close friends and family in attendance was certainly a surprise for Suse who had not been expecting it. Suse Rosa was most certainly not the social butterfly that her mother Lagertha von Wolvogle was, and she didn’t like being the center of attention. Manfred the Elder watched with detached amusement. He knew that his oldest grandson was going to have a whole lot of explaining to do once Suse had to stop pretending to be gracious.
Nikolaus, Sabastian, Anna, Gretchen, and Mathilda had all been liberated from their respective schools for the weekend. As Manfred the Elder watched, his teenaged grandchildren had made the most of the opportunity in various ways. Nikolaus and Sabastian had raided the pantry on Friday night, to the consternation of the Housekeeper and the Cook who had needed to send someone into Breslau for more supplies. Nikolaus had been putting in considerable effort to qualify. As Fencing had gotten further out of reach it had been suggested that there was an opening in the team for Modern Pentathlon. Nikolaus was a skilled horseman, knew pistols, and had competed in Fencing. Swimming and Running were something that he had not necessarily been training in. Sabastian was more than happy to help, which in this context was not so thinly veiled sadism.
Manfred had just shrugged when they had complained to him about what the boys had done. They knew full well that he had retired from the day-to-day running of the estate, they were supposed to be talking to Albrecht or Ilse, but old habits died hard. He had told them that the two boys were training hard to compete in Montreal, and he didn’t begrudge them a bit of better food than the bland institutional swill that they were being fed at Wahlstatt. Manfred had then spent a pleasant afternoon in the woods with Mathilda and Ingrid teaching them how to read the weather and look for the tracks left by various animals. Anna and Gretchen were creatures of the city at heart, so they had spent all of Saturday near the house.
As a gift, Manfred had bought Nikolaus’ mount from the Cavalry when the Regiment had returned from Argentina. Despite what the boy had said about the mercurial nature of the horse he had unimaginatively named Zwei after the last numeral of his serial number, it had been his constant companion for the months he had been in South America. Nikolaus had been too surprised to see Zwei to say anything else. As far as Manfred the elder was concerned, Zwei was a worthy addition to the small herd of horses he kept for use around the estate.
There had also been the discovery of Wilhelm “Willi” Schnell, who Manfred the Elder had recognized as being the great-grandson of Werner Voss, who had been in Jasta 2 with him during the First Great World War. He had made a phone call to the General who commanded the Cavalry Regiments of the Heer and had asked about him. Willi was a solid Trooper apparently, much like Werner himself had been.
He had told Georges and Mick about that when the three of them had last met at a bar in Naples a few weeks earlier. The consensus had been that time had gotten away from them. They had been saved from melancholy when the bartender had asked them, “A German, Englishman, and Frenchman walk into a bar, can you tell me the rest of the joke?” While Mick might be blind as a bat these days, there was nothing wrong with his hearing and when he got his blood up he threw a number of threats at the bartender as Manfred had to keep him from hitting the man with his cane. He was Irish Goddammit and he was to be addressed as such. The Bartender had no clue who they were. That the three old men he was poking fun at were retired Air Marshals who had once commanded their respective Service Branches.
Georges had never even left his chair as he had watched with wry amusement. It was a bit bewildering for Manfred, that it seemed like many of his friends these days were former enemies. The three of them had agreed to start meeting at the bar in Naples that catered to the retirees from across Northern Europe who came to Italy during the wintertime as opposed to the funerals that had become a regular occurrence. James McCudden, Oswald Boelcke, and Charles Nungesser had all died within a few weeks of each other. Georges had said that it was staggering that Nungesser had lived long enough to grow old considering how banged up he had had been during the First World War after having crashed on multiple occasions. Manfred knew that Boelcke had had one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel for ages, congestive heart failure that was complicated by having asthma his entire life. Still, he had been the one who had recruited Manfred into Jasta 2 a million years earlier.
Manfred was snapped back into the present as he was watching Manfred the Younger and Suse Rosa talking intently in the hallway, trying to keep the argument quiet. Something about the way she was talking to him suggested that the boy really had overstepped this time.