When you returned to the part of the camp where Ludwig had left you to talk to your fellow soldiers, it was already quite late in the evening. The sun had gone down only a few minutes ago and the evening sky coloured a bright red, streaked with purple and threatened by the approaching dark. The silence in the camp made you feel a bit uncomfortable – you could even call it ‘unheimlich’. This place was bursting with life only a few hours ago and now there was not a living soul to be seen. Was it past curfew already? Were you even allowed to be out at this hour? You weren’t sure. If only you knew where Ludwig was hanging out…he would be able to tell you.
You scratched the back of your head and sighed. The boy probably forgot that he didn’t tell you where you were staying. That was troublesome. Because really…what were you supposed to do now? You couldn’t sleep outside, could you?
You walked ahead, hoping that you would somehow bump into Ludwig along the way. Strangely enough, that was exactly what happened. It happened when you passed by a tent that was still flooded with light. As you wondered who was still awake at this hour of the day, Ludwig’s head suddenly appeared from in between the canvases.
“Ah, there you are,______________,” he said, his voice a bit irritated. He reached forward, grabbed your arm and pulled you inside without much difficulty.
“I’ve been waiting for hours,” he said, with an annoyed tug at your sleeve.
“Yeah, I would have returned a bit earlier if you hadn’t forgotten to tell me where we were staying.”
A huge blush appeared on his cheeks when he was confronted with his mistake. “All right…I see…my apologies for that.”
“No problem. I thought you would find me, and you did. So everything is fine.”
Ludwig sat down at his desk and leaned his head on his hand. “Yes, I suppose it is,” he said as he drew an imaginary circle on the desktop. “Now…mind telling me what you were doing at the officer’s quarters?”
You had to admit it…that totally caught you off guard. You hadn’t expected a question like that. How did he even know that…
“How do you…”
“I went to visit my brother and as I walked up the path where he’s stationed, I saw you running away in the direction of the soldier’s quarters. You looked rather upset. So my best guess is that you went to spy on my brother and had an emotional breakdown. Women often have those, you know. Gretchen told me that and she’s a specialist in everything emotional or sentimental.”
You were bewildered for a moment and were not able to utter anything even remotely coherent. The only thing you could do was stare at the boy. And trying to get your head around how it was even possible for him to have such a knowledge of your behavior in general. It was just plain scary.
You regained your speech a few seconds later.
“I was not spying on your brother! Yeez, you make it sound as if I’m a creepy stalker.”
“So you didn’t watch him…without him noticing anything of it?”
“Yeah, well,” you mumbled as you looked away in shame. “Perhaps I did spy on him. It wasn’t as if I planned to seek him out…it just…kind of happened.” You fiddled with your fingers, not knowing what else to say.
“If I remember it well,” Ludwig said while pinching the bridge of his nose, “you told me not to tell him of your presence here. Really…are you trying to ruin your own plans?”
“I just told you. I didn’t mean to search for him. I just couldn’t help myself. I guess it’s just my unconsciousness pulling me towards him…I…I miss him.”
Ludwig’s eyes softened a bit when he heard that. His blue orbs, which usually contained an unspoken seriousness, now shone with understanding. “I guess it’s hard to be separated from the person you love. I can understand that much.” He paused a second and then said: “You know…when I visited him this afternoon, the first thing he asked was ‘How’s ____________’.” He shook his head, laughing as he thought of it. “Believe me…he misses you just as much as you miss him. I know my brother.”
You walked towards him and fondly ruffled his head, smiling down on him. “Thanks, Luddy. Somehow, that’s just what I needed to hear.”
“Yeah, don’t mention it,” he said with a blush.
You smiled and went to sit down on one of the beds that stood in the farthest corner of the tent.
“This day really ate away all of my energy. Don’t want to know how many kilometers I’ve walked…hardly could keep up with Uwe,” you said as you lay down.
“Yes, Uwe…,” Ludwig mused silently. “Ah, now that I think of it. You missed dinner. I was able to grab you something though. Here, catch.” Out of nowhere he threw an apple in your direction. It nearly hit you in the head.
“Thanks,” you said. You hadn’t thought about food at all, but seeing the apple did make your stomach growl. You put an arm behind your arm and took a bit of the fruit.
“Gott, even your posture has become that of a boy,” Ludwig said with a grin.
“Don’t laugh. It’s the only time I can lie like this without it being unlady-like. Really, my mom would scold every time she saw me like this. ________, that is not very lady-like, is it?” You laughed at the memory, but soon stopped when you felt your heart ache at the thought of your mother. You were not going to see her again…not ever. The sudden realization made you want to cry, but you bit back the tears and tried to remain calm. You closed your eyes and after some deep breaths you regained your inner-peace. Ludwig hadn’t noticed anything – he seemed to think that you had fallen asleep and was now busying himself with some important looking letters and papers. You decided not to disturb him and closed your eyes again. It didn’t take long before sleep found you and took you with him, towards a place of peace and quiet.
The next day you were woken up by Ludwig…or at least that’s what he tried to do.
He shook you lightly, as if he regretted having to wake you up in the first place. “__________, are you awake? It’s half past eight. I have to go to a meeting.”
You turned around, ignoring the shaking and muttering something along the line of ‘five more minutes’.
You heard Ludwig sigh. “Well…I guess it doesn’t really matter whether you're awake or not. I just wanted to let you know that I’ll be gone for some time. If you go out, make sure you’re back around noon. I don’t want to have to worry about you.”
In your shallow dream you could see Ludwig shake his head. It looked so realistic that you weren’t sure whether you were dreaming it or whether you had somehow managed to crake open an eye to witness the scene. Oh well…didn’t matter that much, right?
*very small timeskip*
When you woke up a few houses later, you felt more alive than you had felt in a long time. A bit of sleep had certainly helped you to regain some of the energy you had lost before. You stood up and stretched, then went to sit down again to put on your boots and eventually stood up once more. Ludwig had told you to be back when he returned – that much you remembered. You peeked outside and asked the first soldier that passed by: “Do you happen to know how late it is?” “Somewhere past eleven, I guess.” “I see, thanks!” you said, after which you ran in the opposite direction the man was walking in. There was still some time to walk around.
You wondered what Uwe was doing right now. He should be around somewhere, you thought.
And indeed, the man was sitting in the same spot as yesterday, greeting everyone who passed by.
“Ah, ____________, have you heard the news?”
“What news?” you asked a bit weary.
“The army is to be mobilized tomorrow. The Hannovers are coming our direction.”
“Austria’s allies,” Uwe clarified.
“Ah, you mean the kingdom…sorry…not that big on politics…or geography…or anything that has to do with that in general,” you said with a sheepish laugh.
Uwe sent you a small smile, but it didn’t reach his eyes. It was that very moment you realized that something was off.
“What do you plan on doing then? I bet the commander is going to be at his brother’s side. Where will that leave you?”
“At the battlefield, of course,” you replied matter-of-factly.
Uwe’s smile faded away and made place for a look filled with horror.
“You’re not being serious.”
“Of course I am. Remember the talk we had yesterday? About dying and stuff? Why talk about something like that when…”
“Yeah, but I didn’t actually think that you would fight. I mean…”
“What do you mean? You didn’t understand what had gotten into him all of a sudden, but it scared the hell out of you.
He stood up, grabbed your arm and dragged you towards a remote part of the camp. When he was sure no one else could hear the two of you, he spoke up. “Between you and me…you’re not a normal soldier, are you?”
His eyes were serious, a dark shine covering their brightness. If you hadn’t panicked already, you certainly felt like doing it now.
“I…what do you mean?” you asked, trying to stop your voice from shaking.
“In order to be a soldier, you have to be a man. And you are not a man, right?”
You stared at him, all the while listening to your inner voice that was screaming at you. How does he know that! What are we going to do, __________? He’s going to betray us!
“How do you…”
“When I met you yesterday, I couldn’t stop thinking that something was off about you. And then, suddenly, it hit me. You look too much like my little sisters.”
You frowned a bit, not understanding what he meant.
“I’ve lived with girls all of my life. I recognize one when I see one.”
“Okay, fine. You got me,” you said while raising your hands in defense. “I’m a girl. So what?”
Uwe’s eyes softened and filled with worry. “What are you doing here, ___________. This is no place for a girl.”
That really made you angry. You walked up to him and poked him in the chest. “Don’t be such a sexist, Uwe. I have my reasons to be here and believe me, I can handle things just fine.”
“Yeah, the commander mentioned something like that,” he said while scratching the back of his neck.
“What? You talked to Ludwig? Without me knowing it? Do you know what you’ve done? I’m lucky that Ludwig knows about this, otherwise I would have been sent home, or worse…I could have been arrested! For God’s sake, Uwe! You would have ruined everything I’ve worked for.”
“Well, at least you would not have been killed in some useless war. Sorry for thinking your life to be more important than whatever it is you are doing here!”
“Gott, this is ridiculous,” you muttered, while pinching the bridge of your nose.
“Is it?” Uwe said, his voice soft. “Is it ridiculous to worry about someone? I saw your face when we were talking about death…you looked really scared. Are you sure you want to risk your life? You don’t have to be here. You don’t have to do this.” His voice was pleading...begging you not to do it.
You shook your head, clenching your fists. “You’re wrong. I do have to do this…for reasons that you wouldn’t understand. Please, do not ruin this for me. I have to. I....” You couldn’t take it anymore and ran. You ran back to your tent and threw yourself on your bed, your face in your arms.
Why did everything have to be against you? Why couldn’t you do anything without it getting problematic?
Your thoughts were blazing and you were so lost in the chaos they were creating, that you were totally unaware of Ludwig entering the tent. It was no surprise that you were startled when you felt a hand on your shoulder.
“Are you okay?” he asked. You turned to look at him and saw that his eyes were filled with blue worry.
“Yeah, I’m fine…more or less,” you replied softly.
“No, you’re not. Do you feel like telling me what’s wrong?”
“Uwe…why didn’t you tell me that you talked to him?”
Ludwig sat down at the edge of the bed and said: “To avoid situations like this, I guess. Nothing special was said anyway.”
“Except for the fact that that he managed to find out that I’m a girl, which is…I think…quite important.” You felt agitated at his lack of interest in the problem.
“Yes, well, about that. I just told him not to put his nose in other people’s business. I think he got the message.”
“I don’t think so…he seemed quite upset when I told him that I would be going to the battlefield.”
“Of course he’s upset,” Ludwig said while staring ahead of him. “Men don’t like it when women seek out danger, because they want them to be safe. I mean…it’s not as if I’m thrilled to let you go and kill yourself.”
You raised your head, pushed yourself up and then hugged him.
“It’s sweet that you guys are worried, but I know what I’m doing…really…I do.”
“So I told Uwe. Don’t turn my sayings into a lie, okay?” he said, his face a mix of seriousness and genuine worry.
“I’ll try my best,” you said as you felt a tug at your heart. That was another lie. Just how many more lies would you have to tell him?