Historical Fiction Fantasy Drama

The fruity and somewhat tart smell of raspberry tea had filled the kitchen. It was pleasant and sad at the same time, because the memories associated with such a smell were both pleasant and sad. It was a smell associated with home and happiness and comfort, but the last week or so had been a whirlwind of emotions for Private Liebermann, so much so that there was a part of him that wanted nothing more than to go numb.

He had never expected being a guard at a prisoner-of-war camp would be rife with excitement. He was told it would be incredibly boring. For his first assignment, it was. Upon being moved to Stalag V C, suddenly things became more interesting. Nothing was typical, and he liked that.

But it wasn’t always fun. After last week, he found himself wishing for a day where nothing happened, where he didn’t feel anything.

It started with feeling someone else’s pain, an injured British paratrooper found outside the camp’s perimeter, and it continued with being unable to understand how or why. Everyone told him that a lot of things happen that are and will always be unexplainable. That didn’t mean what occurred stopped bothering him. There was a part of him that accepted it now, but now he found himself preoccupied with how the paratrooper was doing. He didn’t want that night to have been all for nothing.

As the tea steeped, Liebermann looked out the window at the camp yard. January and February were the worst months here. It was bitterly cold, everyone was bored, and it felt like everything had come to a standstill. The war was still going on elsewhere. Last Liebermann had heard, the Allies were still making their way up through Italy. But, it felt like the camp was in a pocket where time had slowed down significantly.

The tea had now turned a rich, dark-red color. Liebermann began searching the kitchen for the sugar. He had made food for himself in the mess hall before, but it was always weird looking for large metal containers instead of small ceramic or glass containers. He understood serving so many people required a much more industrial setup, but it was a lot less cozy compared to a typical kitchen. At the same time, the kitchen was the only place Liebermann could find some peace and quiet, especially after last night.

The day before, Major Kersting had come by the camp with a present—big boxes of tea. Of course, the British prisoners were thrilled, but Liebermann had forgotten how seriously they took their tea. Arguments led to fights, and he wound up getting punched in the face. Now a large bruise had formed under his right eye, and much of the right side of his face was still sore. Liebermann understood things got heated, but he was still stunned he had been the one getting punched. Even though Corporal Fossey had apologized, there was a part of Liebermann that didn’t accept it.

As he set the large container of sugar on the counter, Liebermann looked up to see Major Kersting entering the mess hall, talking to himself. A second later, Kersting spotted Liebermann, and gave him a big smile. “Hello, Fritz.”

“Hello, Major,” Liebermann replied. “Do you need something? I’m not on kitchen duty, but I’ve been . . . getting quite familiar with it.”

“I wanted to see if there were any leftover chocolate muffins.”

“Westheimer will kill you if he finds out you’re in here looking for extra helpings. I’m sure you know he’s still fuming that you ate all the Christmas gingersnaps.”

“Well, I did try to tell him that it was a compliment to his wife’s impeccable baking skills, but he still nearly bashed my skull in with his cane.” Kersting dragged a chair over to the counter. “I smell tea. Is that what you’re making?”

Liebermann nodded. “It’s for Private Tretheway. Wenzel said he’s a little more alert today, and I offered to make a cup of tea for him.”

“That’s very nice of you.” Kersting studied his face for a moment. “I would think that would make you happy. I know Ludger told me that you’ve been anxious since Tretheway arrived, but you seem sad on top of that.”

“I just don’t understand why it happened the way it did. I know everyone’s told me that some things just can’t be explained, but why do I want to know what happened so badly?”

“I wish I could help you, but I agree with everyone else. There are a lot of things that happen to us that don’t make any sense by any stretch of the imagination. That’s how life has always been. A lot of things have happened to me that don’t make any sense, and I’m sure other things have happened to you that don’t make any sense.”

“Being sent here certainly didn’t make any sense,” Liebermann said. “I mean, this isn’t paradise, but I’d rather be here than anywhere else right now.” He scooped a tiny bit of sugar in the tea, stirring it gently. “That’s not the only reason I’m sad. I’m tired of being anxious. I’m homesick. I’m still mad that I was punched last night. It’s so fucking cold out, and . . . I just want to feel nothing right now.”

Kersting gave Liebermann a sympathetic look. “I don’t think you mean that.”

“Then what do I mean?”

“I think you’re frustrated with feeling so many negative things at once. You don’t want to feel absolutely nothing; you just want to feel something other than sad and angry and anxious.”

“I guess you’re right.”

Kersting smirked a little. “I’m the one who pulled Ludger out of his slump when he ran away from home so many years ago, and he was much worse than you.”

“I’ve noticed Westheimer always seems to be in a battle with himself.”

Kersting nodded. “He is, and I don’t think that’s something that will change until the war is over. At the same time, he’s better off than when he was prior to World War I. I don’t want to see you go through the same thing.”

Liebermann looked down at the tea, realizing he had been stirring it absentmindedly. “I should probably go give this to Tretheway before it gets cold.”

“That would be a good idea. Do you feel any better?”

“A little. I guess I needed someone to listen.”

“We all need that sometimes. You have a great group of people here that you can lean on if you need it.”


Liebermann’s nerves returned when he left the mess hall. He gripped the cup of tea tightly, not wanting it to freeze in the stinging January air. There really was something dismal about winter about Christmas—it was no longer whimsical and magical. It was nothing but cold, bitter, lonely, and hostile. An endless drag where everyone just sat around and waited for the first signs of spring.

Entering the hospital, Liebermann found Wenzel organizing his supplies, and quietly approached him. “Corporal? I brought the tea. Is Tretheway still awake?”

“I believe so,” Wenzel replied. “You made sure there’s no caffeine?”


“Good.” Wenzel watched Liebermann head to the recovery ward, then said, “Hey, if you want, I can ask Westheimer to put you on medical duty for a bit. That way you can keep a closer eye on Tretheway.”

“You think that would be a good idea?”

“I think it would be a good experience for you. You were infantry before being moved to the POW camps, right?”

Liebermann nodded. “I have minimal first-aid training.”

“No worries. I can teach you more.”

“Why are you interested?”

“Because I’ve been thinking; your high emotional sensitivity could be useful in this setting. You seem to know and understand what someone wants even if they don’t say anything to you.”

“I don’t know. I don’t want to be feeling pain all the time.”

“Give it some though, alright? Maybe give it a try for a day?”

“I’ll think about it.” Liebermann entered the recovery ward, thankful the tea was still warm. He cursed to himself when he saw Tretheway’s eyes were closed. I guess he went back to sleep. I’ll just leave the tea with him. As quietly as he could, Liebermann set the mug on the stand next to the bed.

Tretheway’s eyes opened. The bed squeaked as he tried frantically to move away, but stopped as a twisted look of pain crossed his face.

“It’s alright. I’m not going to hurt you,” Liebermann said.

“Give me one good reason why I should trust you,” Tretheway said. “Where even am I?”

“You’re in a prisoner-of-war camp, Stalag Five C. Several kilometers north of the city of Augsburg, in Germany.”

“What . . . What day is it?”

“January sixteenth, 1944.”

“I’m long overdue back from my mission.”

“What was your mission?”

Tretheway glared at him. “You have no reason to know. Honestly, I’m shocked I’m in a POW camp. I’d have thought I would be executed by now.”

“You don’t remember what happened?”

“I have . . . very vague memories. I remember getting blown off-target, and landing near a farm. I landed on a fencepost. After that . . . everything is blurry mass of pain and blood.”

“You’re lucky to be alive. You were found just outside the boundaries of the camp. That’s why you’re here.”

“Yes. I remember an old man and . . . you, actually, finding me.”

“Captain Westheimer would be the old man. He’s the camp commandant. I’m Private Liebermann.”

“I am surprised you had the kindness to take me in. I was told I would be executed if I was captured.”

Liebermann put the puzzle pieces together. “You’re a commando, aren’t you?”

“I was, yes.”

“Westheimer doesn’t execute prisoners. Doesn’t matter what their job was. He tries to be as fair as he possibly can.” Liebermann bit his tongue, unsure if he should tell Tretheway the truth about the camp.

“I really should consider myself lucky, then.” Tretheway glanced at his table. “Tea?”

“Yes. Raspberry. I was told not to give you anything with caffeine.”

“I haven’t had a fruit tea in years. Not my preference, but I’m not going to be picky in this situation.”

“There’s really not much we can give you at the moment. The camp doctor says your intestines were ruptured, and we’ve been using—” Liebermann suddenly realized what he was saying, “. . . potions.”    

“Excuse me? Did I hear you say ‘potions?’”

Liebermann looked at the floor. “You did.”

Tretheway gave him a confused look. “What kind of camp is this?”

“One where the commandant and at least half the guards are warlocks.”

“You’re bloody joking.”

“I’m not.” Liebermann took his wand out of his belt. He noticed one of the beds was unmade, and with a flick of his wand, the sheets and pillows flew up, and fell neatly back into place.

Tretheway’s jaw dropped. “I knew you were real, but I never thought I’d be meeting one for myself, nor did I ever think I’d have magic used on me.”

“Westheimer’s been giving you healing potions. Nothing else.”

“I had always thought magic was instantaneous.”

Liebermann shook his head. “In the case of healing potions, no. The majority of them take several doses to work properly. They’re very potent. To give you a massive dose would kill you.”

“I see.” Tretheway shifted to get comfortable. “How long until I can walk?”

“I’m not sure. You’d have to ask Wenzel next time he comes to check on you.”

“Alright, then. You said your name is Liebermann, right?”

“Yes. You can call me Fritz, though.”

“We call every German Fritz.”

“Well, in this case, that’s actually my name.”

“That makes it easy to remember, then.” Tretheway nodded a little. “You’re not bad, Fritz.”

“Thank you. I . . . try.” Liebermann’s train of thought was interrupted when Wenzel entered the room.

“Ah, good to see you’re awake, Private,” Wenzel said.

“I’m just glad I know what’s going on now,” Tretheway replied, “and that I’m not going to be executed.”

Wenzel shook his head. “Not here, you’re not. How are you feeling?”

“Very sore. Sometimes I have a dull, throbbing ache where the bandages are. Part of me feels like I can stand up, and another part of me feels like that wouldn’t be a good idea.”

“It wouldn’t. You’ll be bedridden for some time, unfortunately. That wound will take a long time to heal. Westheimer is hoping to shorten it with the aid of healing and regeneration potions.” Wenzel offered a small smile. “I can promise you won’t be bored, though. We might even take you outside in a wheelchair once in a great while.”

“Thank you. I must ask, is my family aware of all this? My parents, sister, girlfriend—”

“Westheimer contacted the Red Cross the day after you arrived. Everything’s been taken care of.” Wenzel’s look turned sober. “As much as I wish we could send you home, you’re not fit to travel. You’ll be stuck here for a little while.”

Tretheway nodded. “I understand.”

“Have hope, my friend. You’ll be home soon enough.”

Tretheway switched his gaze to Liebermann. “There’s no spell that can speed this up?”

Liebermann shook his head. “No. It doesn’t exist.”

Giving another nod, Tretheway said, “Alright. I can be patient.”

“I hate to interrupt,” Wenzel said. “I have to change Tretheway’s bandage. Would you mind stepping out for a few minutes, Liebermann?”

Nodding, Liebermann stood up, and faced Tretheway. “It was nice to finally talk to you.”

“And to you as well,” Tretheway replied. “We’ll see each other soon.”


In the early hours of the evening, Liebermann and the rest of the camp’s population headed into the mess hall for dinner. Without thinking much about it, Liebermann asked for a cup of hot water and a bag of raspberry tea, then he took his tray and mug and nervously walked over to where Westheimer and Kersting were sitting. “Sirs? May I speak to you a moment?” Liebermann asked.

“Of course. What do you need?” Westheimer replied.

“Did Wenzel talk to you about putting me on duty in the hospital?”

“He did, and he mentioned he was letting you think about it.”

“I . . . I think I’ll give it a try. Maybe it will be a good choice for me.”

“Alright, then. I will add you to the roster next week.” Westheimer looked at Kersting. “If he is happy in medical, I will need a new guard to take Liebermann’s place.”

“Let’s give it some time,” Kersting said. “First off—” he looked at Liebermann, “Congratulations.”

Liebermann looked down at his tea. “I don’t even know if I’m going to like it. Wenzel said my . . . emotional sensitivity will help me figure out what patients need.”

“That can be a big help or a big detriment,” Westheimer said. “It is not something you can allow to overwhelm you.”

“Is that something you can help me with?”

Westheimer shook his head. “This is your gift, son. You have to learn to control it for yourself.”

“That’s not to say we won’t give you advice,” Kersting added. “And not just us. I’m sure Plundell or Jahn or someone else here can try to help you if you need it.”

“What I am trying to say is that no one can control your gift for you.”

Liebermann nodded. “I understand, sir.” He took a sip of his tea. “Do you think this was the right choice for me?”

“Only you can know that. I think this will be a good opportunity for you to find your place, but that is not up to me or Kersting or Wenzel or anyone to decide.”

“Technically, you can put him wherever you want him as commandant,” Kersting said, grinning a little.

“I know, but I choose not to.” Westheimer looked back at Liebermann. “Just be prepared for your schedule to look a little different next week.”

“Alright, sir. Thank you.” Looking out the window at the camp hospital, Liebermann found himself excited and afraid. It would only be a test period, lasting only a week. The only thing he could be certain of was that it would tell him a lot about himself.

January 11, 2022 01:41

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