"Nature's cycles means she rarely lets up on her demands".
Callused fingers indicated a knotted wood chair to the military man. The soldier sat down with an elongated crinkling of his leather tunic. The farmer imagined that the man had to pour himself in and out of the uniform like straining yogurt. The officer removed his peaked cap and ran his hand through slicked hair.
"We can hardly accuse mother earth of being a tyrant surely? Not when she provides so beneficently? Feasts for the eye as well as the gustation".
"Please, help yourself to some chevres there".
"Thank you, I will. In truth Monsieur Leger, it's that which I have come to see you about. Umm, this is an undoubted treat for the palate. So fortunate to be stationed here in the French countryside. Rather than slogging through the baked mud of the Russian steppes".
The farmer looked at the man expressionlessly.
"Of course, so far from any front here, you may not have any notion of what I'm referring to. You merely have to concern yourself with keeping the armies of the Reich fed and nourished for them to march on full stomachs to victory".
The farmer gave a tight nod and continued fixing the soldier in his steely gaze.
"Yes, entirely cut off from any action here. Yet I notice your farm's output offered up to the glorious war effort seems to have declined in recent months. Why is that I wonder? Have your herds got trenchfoot and mouth? Your hens developed shellshock? If you shut your eyes, one could imagine a swarm of bees to sound like a squadron of die Stukas. Perhaps swine fever has broken out inside the ground staked out by your fence posts? Maybe we have to quarantine off the area?"
"My pigs are perfectly sound".
"Truffle hunters rather than cannibals I bet? Steadfastly refusing to eat of their own. Since the swine I was referring to, are of the two legged, non-piquant smelling variety, though they spend most of their miserable lives crouched down low on all fours in fear. Ears, snouts, everything to the ground, listening for the approach of the leather boot."
The soldier put his ear to the table as if to plumb for its tiny wood-boring denizens. He snaked his arm out deliberately for the cheese and pushed his thumb into its soft heart. Granules cascaded down until he prompted a full avalanche of cheese fragments.
"Tell me, since you're the man who necessarily concerns himself with observing herd activity. What happens to the runt of any litter? Or the weakest member of a pack? It is shunned by its fellows is it not? Put in virtual quarantine until it dies and in such a way so not act as a drag upon its fellow creatures. Nature is wise in how she has resolved such dilemmas".
The farmer shrugged his shoulders, then readjusted the sit of his jerkin.
"If there is a parasitic infestation, then do you not remove those afflicted to preserve the common weal?"
"The tendency has been that in order to cut out the infection, the whole herd is slaughtered and the farmer is expected to start again with a new breeding stock. Malheureusement, such action actually leaves the poor farmer unable to afford to restock and he too dies, albeit a far slower death from starvation".
"Ah again, you are a victim of your remoteness here. German chemical science can now provide you with a means of targeting just the infection itself, leaving all around who are in pure health untouched and untainted. See, up until now this has been the historical problem of all empires. Where people amass in close quarters such as the cities, authority and hygiene may be maintained. But in the far flung countryside, control is harder to maintain. Just look at the history of the Church. Devout, humble attendance in city churches. Goodness alone knows what pagan practices were meanwhile occurring out in the forests".
"I thought your race venerated Richard Wagner? Did he not extol the pagan for you all?"
"So this man of the soil is not so unworldly after all? You surprise me Monsieur. That a man of such attentiveness to wider affairs, should not notice that his own domestic rations seem to have increased somewhat. That even though you are a widower, there seems to be some new mouths to feed within this farmstead".
"My three daughters are all growing into adulthood. They toil hard for me in the fields. They require greater sustenance."
"Ah yes your three fragrant, fresh-faced girls. So proper of you to request them to go outside while we talk of such unsavoury matters. Are they conversing with my not so fresh-faced boys? Tilling their plough-coarsened fingers over my men's battle creased faces?"
"They are good girls".
"But my boys, good warrior pagans all, they are so far from their home cities. From any useful control as we discussed. I can keep them in line, but how they miss their sweethearts. Boys expect their fathers to provide for them. Just as girls expect their fathers to protect them from ill..."
"If your men have their evil way with my girls, then they will know why."
"Oh really? Have they consented for this to happen? If you don't have to ask them, then why should my troops?"
The farmer folded his arms and tipped back on his chair perfectly poised in mid-air.
"Maybe I have this the wrong way round. Maybe I should put a gun to your head and march you outside and ask them for consent to pull the trigger?"
The farmer shrugged and smiled. "All along we have made reckonings. Initially we thought and prayed we were sheltered by distance. But then the war came knocking in the form of some Jews on the run. Our basic humanity was to feed and help them. But we did pause to weigh the risk to ourselves. The selfish calculation for one's own skin and the skin of loved ones. But the calculation quickly became what sort of world would it be for those loved ones to grow up in, where we not only fearfully shunned one's fellow man, but condemned them to death in doing so? So we took them in and just like before they arrived, we sat tight, counting off the calendar days we passed off unscathed. Until so many follow in a row, you believe you are safe from any predation at all. Hope turns into complacency. If you kill and rape us, it is only what you are doing to the rest of Europe. What makes us believe we would be immune to that? Go ahead, slaughter the entire herd. Your breeding stock will be all the poorer. And somewhere out in the margins of your new empire, new warrior pagans will rise to throw off your shackles".
The soldier rose, replaced his cap on his head and clicked his fingers to those stood outside the door.
The prompt for this came from a surprising source even to me. The Quentin Tarantino movie "Inglourious Basterds". It is essentially a comic book film, a fantasy plot to kill top Nazis by a mixture of Hogan's Heroes meets the Dirty Dozen played for maximum laughs. Yet the film opens with a very long scene of a Nazi hunter visiting a French farmhouse and conversing with the farmer who seems to be a loyal anti-Semite, but gradually the german peels away his true feelings and the fact that he has hidden some refugee Jews under the floorboards. The scene is anything but cartoony and knockabout. To my mind it is in the wrong film, given what follows. The scene introduces us to the character of the Nazi hunter and to the sole survivor of the Jewish family who manages to escape while her family perish. But it was the character of the farmer I was intrigued by. He doesn't reappear in the film. It's not clear whether he is executed on the spot or not. I just wanted to write a version of it if it was the opening to a serious film on the subject and "Hunting For Truffles" was the result.