All's Fair in Jokes and War

Submitted into Contest #131 in response to: Write a story that includes (or subverts) the enemies-to-lovers trope.... view prompt

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Historical Fiction Fantasy Romance

Upon hearing that the Brandt farm had requested a work detail from Stalag V C again, Private Jahn didn’t hesitate to storm into Captain Westheimer’s office to say, “If you decide to take the prisoners to the Brandts, I am not coming with you.”

Westheimer raised an eyebrow. “And what makes you think that tone of voice will convince me to let you stay here, son?”

“You know how much I hate Griselda, and she hates me. So much so that she’ll stop at nothing to make our stay a living hell for me.”

“You are both adults. You can be around each other for a few hours without resorting to petty pranks and trickery.” Westheimer took a sip of his coffee.

“I thought you made a point out of respecting our wishes.”

“I do, but I do not appreciate when you attempt to abuse my compassion to get out of duties or acting more mature.”

“How do you expect me to be more mature around Griselda? She’s nineteen, yes, but she acts like she’s nine!”

“And who pulled her pigtails in grammar school and teased her for the littlest reasons?”

Jahn looked at the floor. “I did. I was a boy, sir, I didn’t know better.”

“But you and her continue to heckle each other every single time we take a work detail up to the farm. Surely, you ‘know better’ now.” When Jahn didn’t answer, Westheimer added, “You will be coming with us, and you will do your best to ignore whatever Griselda throws at you.”

“Even if she starts throwing enchanted eggs again?”

“Yes.”

When Westheimer wasn’t looking, Jahn rolled his eyes and cursed under his breath.

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Jahn assisted with selecting a group of prisoners to take to the farm, keeping his head down and trying not to look disappointed. He and Griselda had a history since they were in school together, and their rivalry hadn’t ended since. They both came from witch families, and it seemed like much of their practice came from pranking each other, something neither of their parents were fond of. When Jahn was conscripted at the start of World War II, he thought it would be the end of dealing with Griselda. Upon being moved to Stalag V C, which was incredibly close to the Brandt farm, he quickly realized she was never going to truly leave his life.

He sat in the back of the truck, tightened his helmet chinstrap, and pulled his scarf over his nose and mouth, hoping he would be unrecognizable. From the corner of his eye, he noticed British Private Wraight grinning at him.

“I take it you’re not looking forward to seeing the farmer’s daughter?” he asked.

Jahn didn’t respond, and instead glowered at him.

Wraight turned to face him. “I know I’m not the best at advice on women, but have you ever considered the idea that perhaps she likes you?”

“I doubt it.”

“Well, think about it—do you really, truly, genuinely hate her? I mean, hate her so much you wish you could shoot her?”

Jahn shook his head, and pulled his scarf down. “I dislike her, but I’d never want to hurt her.”

“Why do you dislike her so much?”

Jahn shrugged. “We picked on each other as kids, and it evolved into a bit of a joke war. She pranks me, I prank her. We never do anything that could get the other hurt. It gets a bit heated at times, though.”

“So, it’s more about trying to outdo the other person than about extreme hatred of each other.”

“I guess you could put it that way. Doesn’t make her any less annoying. I’ve never really felt anything for her other than rivalry.”

Private Liebermann smirked and shook his head. “Oh, I can tell you that’s not true.”

Jahn reached over to slap Liebermann’s helmet. “Are you incapable of minding your own business?”

“I can mind my own business, but it’s not hard to see that you do care about Griselda.”

“I care, but not in a romantic way.”

“I’ll believe that when you don’t blush every time you talk about her.”

“I’m with Fritz on this one,” Private Seiden chimed in. “You do blush when you talk about Griselda.”

Jahn sighed. “Why are my problems with Griselda anyone’s business? Are we all that bored that we have to intrude on everyone else’s personal life?”

“We’re not intruding. We just want to help.”

“Well, you’re not helping!” Jahn turned to face outside the truck, watching the snow-covered trees rush by.

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There was hope that Griselda wouldn’t even see them that day as it was bitterly cold. Still, Jahn kept part of his face covered, just in case. He looked out over the vast expanse of the farm. The fields were a blanket of untouched snow, and everything was a very dull, lifeless color. The trees bore no green. The sky was gray. The ground was either covered in snow or brown with dead grass and frozen dirt. Typical January.

Jahn and the other guards simply had to pace and make sure none of the prisoners ran off. Liebermann and Seiden were off talking with other, leaving Jahn alone outside the barn, watching their charges fill the troughs of the pigs and cattle and horses. Some of the animals were delighted to see them again, though Sergeant Plundell didn’t seem thrilled about being tackled by the Brandts’ dog.

Movement in the rafters above caught Jahn’s attention. He looked to see Griselda perched on the beams, bundled in a winter cloak and holding a broom. She was giving him a mischievous look. “Good morning, Jakob,” she said.

“There’s nothing good about a morning where I get to see you,” Jahn replied.

“Oh, you’d rather be back at a boring prisoner-of-war camp, doing nothing exciting?”

“There’s plenty of excitement that goes on.”

“Like what?”

Jahn struggling to think of anything noteworthy that happened over the last several weeks. “Well, we got a new prisoner who bit one of his escorts and tried attacking Westheimer. Major Kersting gave us a few crates of tea, which immediately led to fighting because the British take tea seriously. We accidentally received another prisoner by him parachuting a little too close to us, and . . . we tried making an ice-skating rink in the exercise yard but Seiden twisted his ankle and Westheimer ruined it for everyone else by getting rid of the ice.”

Griselda laughed. “See, wouldn’t you rather come here and have fun?”

“You call getting snow down your back ‘fun?’ You think having magical eggs being thrown at you is fun? Or a blueberry pie rigged to blow up in your face?”

“You’ve done similar things to me and laugh about it.” Griselda sat on the broomstick, floating down to the hay-covered floor of the barn. “You’ve enchanted my braids to knot together. You made jack-o’-lanterns bounce all over the farm and make a horrible mess last Halloween, and I believe that was the same Halloween where you set bats loose in the barn!”

“Admit it—the jack-o’-lanterns were much funnier and more effective than the blueberry pie.”

“The pie was revenge for my braids.”

“And the braids were revenge for the snowman you made come to life and put chunks of snow down my uniform—wipe that grin off your face! I could’ve caught pneumonia after that, and Wenzel would have blamed me for letting my clothes get wet!”

“But you didn’t catch pneumonia, so it was funny.”

“And what if I did? What if I was laid up sick for weeks? Or died? Then you wouldn’t have anyone on your level of cleverness and cunning to prank.”

“That’s silly talk. I could have found someone else as smart and inventive as you.”

Jahn tilted his head. “What did you say?”

“I said, I could have found someone else as smart and inventive as you.”

“Smart and inventive? You really think that?”

“Well, you did say I’m clever and cunning. I figured it was fair to compliment you back.”

“It’s funny because I’ve only ever heard you call me ‘dumb.’”

“I don’t actually think you’re dumb, Jakob. You think outside the box. Sometimes a little too far outside the box.”

“I didn’t realize that was a thing.”

“With you, it can be.”

Jahn managed a grin. “I’ll take that as a compliment.”

Before the conversation could continue, both Jahn and Griselda jumped when they heard a man screaming outside the barn, and turned to see Private Kesby trying outrun a bull that had broken out of his pen. Griselda jogged out, and looked at Jahn. “Do you speak English?”

“I’ve been learning.”

“Tell him to get over the fence.”

Nodding, Jahn cupped his hands around his mouth, shouting, “Kesby! Get over the fence!”

Kesby didn’t even look to see who was talking to him as he vaulted himself over the fence. That did nothing to stop the bull, which charged through the fragile boards of the fence.

“We have to stop that animal before it gores him,” Jahn said.

“Do you know the sleeping spell?”

“It’s been years since I was taught it. I’ve never used it.”

“I’ll give you a quick lesson.” Griselda took Jahn’s hand to pull him along as they ran toward the broken fence. “The neighbors are not going to be happy if that bull gets on their property.”

Drawing their wands, the two sprinted through the groves of trees that separated the two farms. It was easy to follow the tracks of the bull and Kesby through the snow. Hearing Kesby’s panicked screaming made Jahn feel sick. “Westheimer will kill me if something happens to any of the prisoners,” he breathed.

“Oh, stop worrying so much and keep going if you want to save him!” Griselda snapped.

They finally found the bull pacing around a tree. Kesby was holding onto a thick branch, and breathed a sigh of relief when he saw the two approaching. “Bloody hell, I thought I was going to be stuck here awhile.”

“Just don’t move and we’ll get you down,” Jahn ordered.

“Not a problem.”

Jahn glanced at Griselda when the bull faced them. “Alright, show me what to do.”

“Aim your wand, focus on the idea of your target being asleep, and then flick your wand toward your target,” Griselda instructed.

The bull lowered his head, angling his horns at the two. Griselda shouted, “Now!” and a puff of bluish dust flew from the tips of both their wands, scattering around the bull’s head. He looked confused for a moment, then lowered himself to the ground to sleep.

Jahn released his breath. “That could have gone so poorly.”

“But it didn’t.” Griselda smiled at him. “That was pretty good for the first time you’ve done a spell in a long time.”

“Perhaps it was the fact that I was afraid for my life.” Jahn looked up at Kesby. “You can come down now.”

“I don’t know how to thank you,” Kesby said while climbing down.

“Um . . . don’t tell Westheimer?”

“I don’t know if I’ll be able to manage that. Liebermann probably already told him.”

Jahn sighed. “I oughtta glue Liebermann to his bed one day so no one has to deal with his nosiness for awhile.”

“And I’m pretty sure everyone heard me screaming.” Kesby looked at Griselda, then at Jahn again. “Tell her I’m sorry about the fence. If her father wants me to fix it, I’ll do it, and you don’t have to pay me.”

Griselda shook her head after Jahn translated Kesby’s words to German. “Thanks for the offer, but I don’t think my father will order you to fix this.”

Once Kesby headed back up to the farm, Jahn and Griselda stood in silence for a moment, then looked at each other.

“I didn’t think we would be seen dead working together,” Jahn said.

“Imagine what we could accomplish working together, though,” Griselda replied.

“I imagine we could accomplish a load of chaos.”

Griselda’s grin widened. “Exactly. I say we call a truce and begin a partnership.”

Jahn looked around to ensure they were alone. “Just a partnership?”

“What else would you call it?”

“Well . . .” Jahn closed his eyes, sighing. “This is going to sound bizarre, but despite everything you’ve done, I do like you.”

“Is this a joke, Jakob?”

Jahn shook his head. “It’s the truth. I really do like you. If we’re going to be partners now, I hope we can be . . . friends, too.”

Griselda gave him a lopsided smirk. “You don’t want to be friends, Jakob.”

Jahn frowned.

“You want more than that, you silly. Don’t dance around it.”

“I mean, I didn’t know if you felt the same.”

Griselda’s smirk faded. “To tell you the truth, yes, I do feel the same. I’ve liked you ever since I started to understand what my feelings meant.”

“We just never advanced past the stage of teasing, and it escalated.”

She nodded. “It became frustrating. I guess that’s why we never really sat down to talk about it.”

“You’re probably right, and I know it takes a lot for both of us to admit we’re wrong.”

“I don’t think this is a case of us being wrong, rather a case of us being unwilling to set aside our pride.”

Jahn gave a slight nod. “I’ve been told to be mindful of my pride, but not to eliminate altogether.”

“I would say that’s sound advice.” Griselda put her wand back in her belt before putting her arms around Jahn’s neck.

“I just hope the others don’t see this.” Jahn hugged her back. “I’ll never hear the end of it.” Gently, he reached into Griselda’s hood to touch one of her braids, grinning before he said, “They are very soft and pretty.”

Jahn felt as though a massive weight had been lifted from his shoulders. The years of unending torment were finally over. Years of wondering if their rivalry would ever fade. Even though things would change between them, Griselda would always be the person Jahn thought of when he wanted to escape from the world and his duties for a time.

Without thinking much about it, Jahn felt himself leaning in slowly, then Griselda grabbed his helmet, pulling him in for a long and passionate kiss. His entire body trembled as he hugged her tightly. Goosebumps rose on his arms. He wanted nothing more than to stay in that moment. It was blissful. It was peaceful.

It was interrupted by Westheimer shouting, “Jahn! Get over here! Time to go!”

Disappointment abruptly washed over him. “When can I see you again?”

“You’ll see me again soon,” Griselda whispered. “That’s pretty much a guarantee at this point.”

“At least now I’ll look forward to it.”

------------

The ride back to the camp was quiet. Jahn kept glancing at Westheimer, hoping the captain didn’t say anything about what he saw. Everyone’s attention was more focused on Kesby and his adventure with the bull.

When they returned to camp, Jahn found himself wanting to avoid everyone. It would be embarrassing if everyone found out he was now madly in love with someone he had considered his worst enemy, and he wished he could bury himself in the frozen soil when Corporal Viermitz walked over and said Westheimer wanted to see Jahn in his office.

“Am I in trouble?” Jahn asked.

“Considering Westheimer didn’t seem angry, I don’t think so. I think he wants to congratulate you on saving Kesby’s life,” Viermitz replied.

Nodding, Jahn headed to the commandant’s office. A nervous twinge gripped his stomach when he stepped in front of Westheimer’s desk. “You wanted to see me, sir?”

Westheimer was lighting his pipe. “I did,” he said. “I want to commend you for your quick thinking and bravery when handling that bull.”

“You should be commending Griselda. She refreshed me on the sleeping spell.”

“Yes, but you showed maturity in letting her teach you, despite your rivalry.”

Jahn didn’t respond at first. “I guess.”

“You do not need to be ashamed of your feelings for her.”

“I just don’t want the others finding out.”

“Would you jeopardize your relationship for the sake of your status with the other guards?”

“That doesn’t sound like it would be right.”

“Precisely. It may feel strange for awhile considering you and Griselda were at odds for as long as you can remember, but I am happy you and her are turning things around.”

“I take it this is the part where you give me advice?”

“Only if you ask. I trust you will not let your feelings get in the way of your duties.”

Jahn nodded. “I will ask, though . . . if something happened, would you be able to get her into Switzerland?”

“I would do the best I can, and—” Westheimer gave Jahn a small grin, “I can make arrangements for you two to have time with each other. I was once young and in love. I know how you feel. That, and I don’t want you sneaking out of camp.”

“Thanks, sir. You . . . You really don’t have to do that for us.”

“No, but I choose to.”

Jahn finally smiled back. “No wonder you’re the only commanding officer I haven’t played any jokes on.”

“Oh, I still worry I will find chickens in my quarters like you did to your commander in France.”

“As long as Griselda doesn’t suggest making you our target, I can promise that won’t happen.”

Westheimer dismissed Jahn, and started to wonder if it had been best he and Griselda were kept rivals.

January 31, 2022 01:25

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2 comments

Caroline Jenner
11:47 Feb 15, 2022

I did enjoy the story and would like to read more about some of the characters you've created but I felt it had so many strands that I would have liked to see developed more. The war seemed to be important at the beginning but then disappeared till the end and I wasn't sure why a POW would think he might get paid for fixing a fence. I liked the pranks and stopping the bull but I think the story is perhaps trying to be too many things and would have worked just as well with ordinary pranks and stopping the bull in an alternative way and per...

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Kevin Schenk
15:09 Feb 12, 2022

Germans celebrating halloween? Set during World War 2 with magic and Germans but focused on the relationship of, I presume, a warlock and a witch? A very tsundere moment. If not, I could see a possibility there, especially with a witchy name like Griselda. A farmer/guard prison camp/farm romance seems delightful and full of quirky adventures!

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