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Thread: Swords Made of Letters

  1. #141
    Basileos Leandros I's Avatar Writing is an art
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    Default Re: Swords Made of Letters

    Chapter XLIII - Ciphers, Rotors, Jumbled & Foreign

    28th of December 1938
    15:15 PM
    Deuxieme Bureau
    Paris
    France


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

    It was dusty, a dry air with a pungent smell of paper mixed with the uneasy smell of paint, a smell you could almost taste as a metallic mixture on your lips, tongue and the back of your mouth.

    Hidden in a corner of the Bureau headquarters, the clang of typewriters resonated every millisecond, the clicks of rotors being twisted rasping through the air. Codebreakers were perched over tables in small teams, analysing assiduously all of the codebooks and ciphers that spelled out the enemy intelligence reports. A flurry of activity erupted in these offices in the past three days, since Elbe's escape and the close shave for Reythier, but nothing ever surprising for the tactical teams of the Bureau. Constant connections with their English and Polish collaborators made this area of the Bureau a Babel's tower of sorts, mixing multiple languages to decipher the reports in another foreign language.

    Perched over a table in one of the darker corners, Reythier and Klaus stood beside Horace as they waited for Colonel Raymond to join them. They stood silent, their eyes observant on the scurrying of the intelligience officers between the cipher teams and the secretaries typing furiously to relay the orders to the army. The colonel joined them as they rather ogled at an officer trying to talk up a secretary, only to have his advances rebuffed rather rapidly before one of his superiors dragged him by the arm back to the decipher job. Raymond, stern and with a buzz cut underneath his cap, saluted and took his cap off in a ceremonious manner.

    "Gentlemen." Raymond saluted again. "Monsieur Reythier, I've heard of your exploits. I am glad you are with us."

    Reythier smiled, his shoulder still in a sling. "Always ready to serve our France."

    "Good to hear that. Please, come this way, we need to show you some information."

    Raymond dragged them to a table in the midst of the sea of analysts' tables, a table flanked by two young officers who seemed to be twin brothers. They saluted and gave Raymond a stack of small sheets. Raymond held them up and dropped them, rather unceremoniously, on the table. Reythier stood rather behind, but Klaus and Horace stood by the edge of the table, expectant.

    "Gentlemen, what you have here is our codebreaking expertise. We have been furiously trying to find, intercept and analyse all of the information that the Germans have been relaying to their teams. Army, intelligence, police, whatever goes we need it." Raymond drew his breath, his speaking pace rather rapid even for him. "We try to analyse what is being output from a machine called the Enigma. It's the way of the army to encrypt and jumble their transmissions, but our friends from Poland have been helping us to decipher it. More than that, one of our double agents, Agent Axel, has supplied us with a lot of valuable information and first hand documents, plus components."

    Reythier looked at Klaus. "I presume Agent Axel is German?"

    "Correct. He provided us with a whole stack of Enigma operating books, ciphers and we managed to even get some components such as rotors."

    "How do we stand then?" asked Reythier.

    "Relatively good. We can intercept about seventy to eighty percent of the Army communications. It's not enough but more than doable for what we need."

    "Do you have a full machine?"

    "Unfortunately we don't. Neither do the Poles. Neither do the English."

    Klaus shifted on his feet. "How did you decipher it then?"

    "Using the codebooks and ciphers provided. Based on the transmissions, jumbled as they are, we managed to understand most of their communications and how the system works. For the most part, it's a relatively simple substitution cypher. It means they substitute some letters with others from the alphabet, and we know how they do it. Most of the time."

    "What about when they don't use that?"

    "Well, this is where it gets complicated. As I said, most of the information is available to us, and we have some commercial versions of the Enigma machine. But those are different from the military versions." Raymond paused. "And, to be frank, the High Command uses a different machine or a different set, we do not know yet."

    "So you can't break that code?"

    "Not yet. The British have something up their sleeve to solve that."

    Klaus and Reythier glanced at Horace. Raymond nodded to him.

    "The Special Operations has a mission planned out to usher the Polish codebreakers out of Poland. We know that an invasion is planned, and the divisions are massing, but we need to get them out to help us in our codebreaking otherwise we have no chance of knowing what the German army will plan any time soon."

    Reythier looked at the analytical reports. "But you know what the military does, no?"

    "The brass. The local batallions. Brigades. Soldiers. Not the generals."

    "And what will this take?"

    "Save the codebreakers, get them out, and have them sent through Romania and then to us or to England. We need their expertise." Raymond paused again. "Apparently, they have more components as well and they know more of the system than we do. Since 1932."

    Klaus frowned. "You're saying we're behind."

    "Not behind, but not ahead either."

    Reythier turned to Horace. "I guess you know now why they agreed to send you back, my friend."
    Last edited by Basileos Leandros I; June 29, 2020 at 02:12 PM.
    Ja mata, TosaInu. Forever remembered.

    Swords Made of Letters - 1938. The war is looming - and Alexandre Reythier does not have much time left to protect his country.

    Visit ROMANIA! A land of beauty and culture!

  2. #142
    Basileos Leandros I's Avatar Writing is an art
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    Default Re: Swords Made of Letters

    A small historical note from my side - the Enigma machine, cryptanalysis (ciphers / rotors / cryptography) and Alan Turing's contribution to cracking the code.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enigma_machine

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crypta..._of_the_Enigma

    https://www.iwm.org.uk/history/how-a...he-enigma-code

    Ja mata, TosaInu. Forever remembered.

    Swords Made of Letters - 1938. The war is looming - and Alexandre Reythier does not have much time left to protect his country.

    Visit ROMANIA! A land of beauty and culture!

  3. #143
    Alwyn's Avatar Frothy Goodness
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    Default Re: Swords Made of Letters

    The tension contines to build, the Special Operations mission sounds vitally important. I like the way that you build immersion with the sounds and smells of the place we're in and the way that you're integrating the historical challenge of breaking what was designed to be an unbreakable code.

  4. #144
    Basileos Leandros I's Avatar Writing is an art
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    Default Re: Swords Made of Letters

    Indeed, Alwyn, cryptanalysis and ciphers were such a crucial component of the war, they played a key role not only in intelligence gathering but also significantly helped the frontline units on all sides. Hence why I wanted to shine a light on them as well, plus add some historical notes.

    And thank you very much, I am glad you enjoy my writing.
    Ja mata, TosaInu. Forever remembered.

    Swords Made of Letters - 1938. The war is looming - and Alexandre Reythier does not have much time left to protect his country.

    Visit ROMANIA! A land of beauty and culture!

  5. #145
    Basileos Leandros I's Avatar Writing is an art
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    Default Re: Swords Made of Letters

    Chapter XLIV - Foreshadowing

    30th of December 1938
    8:46 PM
    Chiefs of Staff HQ
    Paris
    France

    -----

    "Gentlemen, they are waiting for you. Join us, please."

    Stern, with economical movements to mirror his expression, the staff aide ushered them inside a large, well-adorned room with expansive paintings in golden frames, the former French generals depicted in the canvas towering over the table and the gathering of current French Army generals. Silent, with only the creaking of the wood parquet and the wooden chairs stifling the heavy air, they sat down at the table in the eyes of the commanders, moustaches and all aimed directly at them. Just as economical as he was with them, the aide scurried over to the general at the top of the table, presumably the chairman of this meeting

    "Gentlemen, welcome to our headquarters. I trust you have been briefed on why we are expecting you so insistently, so I will spare the diplomacy and ask that we get on to it right away." The general, a dark haired, eagle nosed soldier with enough tresses and medals to adorn an entire room, rose his hands towards the rest of the table. "I believe you know the rest of the commanders, at least by name if not in person. Some of us do know you, so we can skip over the pleasantries. Time is ticking and we have no time to waste."

    Reythier shifted in his seat. Horace and Poitou took up the seats on the other side of the table, in front of him, along with one other officer, while to his right stood Klaus and one of the cryptanalysts from the Deuxieme Bureau's basement team. He signaled to the general's aide who then produced eighteen copies of the intelligence dossier that was shared with him and the team earlier.

    "Gentlemen, I trust some of you know me, and us, by now. Through the channels of the Deuxieme Bureau we requested this meeting because we felt it is our national duty to warn you of the difficulties that we are facing right now when combating the efforts of our enemy on our own soil. This is not new, this is not news to anyone. But the recent increase in the efforts sustained by the Reich has culminated in an all out assault on me, some of my team members and some other military officers last week during an event in Strasbourg."

    "We have heard of that. Carry on, Reythier."

    Reythier nodded. "Indeed, Marechal Devin. What is not surprising is the increase. What is surprising is the brazenness on how it was done." Reythier opened the dossier. "As we have seen in the dossier, collated by the teams of cipher analysts, working in tandem with our colleagues from Bletchley Park and our partners in Poland, we have managed to identify some of the implications of these actions."

    "Which are?"

    "Page four, Marechal. Unfortunately for us, this increased intelligence activity correlates with some troop movements we have intercepted and observed on land in the Reich. Our consulates have been hard at work over this."

    "Suggesting?"

    "A preparation of an invasion of some sorts." Reythier paused, glancing at the chief of the Army who noticed Reythier stopped. "Messieurs, we have significant evidence to indicate that sooner or later, an invasion will occur in the East. This will impact directly on our alliance with Poland and the United Kingdom."

    Marshal Devin stood back in his chair. "East?"

    Reythier hesitated. "Well, if you analyse the entire dossier, well, we have some other suspicions. We expect an attack on French soil. Again."

    As expected, a heavy silence blanketed the table, the eyes of the generals firmly set upon Reythier's own glancing. The chief of staff, Marshal Devin, looked from beneath his thick eyebrows.

    "An attack on us, Reythier?"

    "Yes. We expect that to happen."

    "Do you realise what that means?"

    "Yes, we do."

    "When do you expect that to happen?"

    Reythier glanced at Klaus instead. "Page fourteen of the dossier." The generals, more out of curiosity than belief, turned to page fourteen where the collated work of the Polish and British cryptanalysts deciphered multiple Oberkommando messages sent from Berlin to Aachen. "Once the campaign in the East is done, and we've seen that Sudetenland is only the beginning, they will follow here."

    "Nonsense. Intelligence rubbish as usual, just like in '14," retorted one of the generals, his grizzled grey hair and blue eyes casting a rather spiteful glance to Reythier and his team.

    "Sir, we are confident that this will be the case."

    "Rubbish, Monsieur Reythier. Absolute rubbish."

    "Sir, allow us to disagree. And to explain."

    The heavy handed general put his elbows on the table. "Go ahead. Through were? Belgium again? We know that trick. South? Maginot is there and no one is crossing it."

    Klaus raised a hand, the gesture almost schoolboy like in nature.

    "Allow me gentlemen to take up the mantle here. We've captured a number of intelligence officers, or pawns as we call them, prancing about and sniffing around the Maginot line. We don't know for how long they've been there, but they were there, and it was not a good sight. They were captured, interrogated, but as you know our incident in Colmar destroyed most of what we learned. Point is, the Maginot line will not be attacked."

    "How can you be so sure?" retorted the general.

    "They know, and we know, the effort will be far too high."

    "So that leaves Belgium then."

    Klaus glanced at Horace. "Well, not really. There's also the Ardennes."

    Some of the generals smirked, a faint laughter echoing from the other side of the table. Marshal Devin drew closer, his elbows now on the table as well.

    "Ardennes, Klaus? Ardennes? Really?"

    Klaus nodded. "Back in 1936, our French consulates in the Basque region reported flash attacks and bombing runs done by the German airforce on the Republican army positions, often fully entrenched. Their efforts were very well welcomed and we've seen that military theorists are planning to put this to good use in the upcoming operations. Adding to that, there's been a significant upshift in using tank brigades and battalions to pierce through infantry rather than having them as support units."

    "And how will tanks go through heavily forested areas, Klaus?"

    "Most of them can fell smaller trees, so that's no problem. Building some roads and heavy infantry support through the forest will make them unbeatable, Marechal. We have no counter to that right now, as far as our own intelligence sources go with regards to the equipment of the French army."

    Silence fell again over the table, the eyes of the former generals casting a wary, uneasy presence on Reythier's psyche.

    "How, well, how sure of this are you, gentlemen? The accusations are beyond grave."

    Reythier intervened. "A close 80 to 90 percent trust in the collation of this intelligence, Marechal Devin."

    "How can you make it 100%?"

    "We have one more critical operation to undertake, with the help of our friends from Special Operations in England. Polish cipher teams have decoded the Enigma machine way before we managed to do it, and we need their help. We can decode only about fifty to sixty percent of Army communications but they can go even up to eighty or ninety percent. Their expertise is extremely important so we need to act on it right away."

    "What do you plan to do?"

    "Extraction from Poland, Sir."

    Devin looked aghast. "And how are you going to bring them here? Through Germany? Norway? The whole of Europe is swarming with enemy intelligence eyes."

    "Through Romania, Sir. Extraction through the common border point in nothern Romania, then by boat through Turkey and from there to Marseille."

    "How long?"

    "Probably next month. End of January."

    "Too slow. Faster, Reythier. We can't lose time."

    Reythier nodded. "Understood."

    Devin glanced at his generals. "As for your dossier, gentlemen, we will analyse it. But until we get to that 100% our actions of defence around Maginot will remain the same. So if it is as you say, get those men out and get on to it."

    -----

    Ja mata, TosaInu. Forever remembered.

    Swords Made of Letters - 1938. The war is looming - and Alexandre Reythier does not have much time left to protect his country.

    Visit ROMANIA! A land of beauty and culture!

  6. #146
    Basileos Leandros I's Avatar Writing is an art
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    Default Re: Swords Made of Letters

    A little note from my side - with about 3 chapters remaining, I will add a detailed historical note to serve as a background for the whole period, highlighting the huge impact the of the intelligence community. One final Reythier chapter to follow and one final Horace chapter.

    And one special Epilogue.

    Ja mata, TosaInu. Forever remembered.

    Swords Made of Letters - 1938. The war is looming - and Alexandre Reythier does not have much time left to protect his country.

    Visit ROMANIA! A land of beauty and culture!

  7. #147
    Alwyn's Avatar Frothy Goodness
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    Default Re: Swords Made of Letters

    Great chapter! It's interesting to see them thinking through how warfare then would be different from the First World War, and the lessons from Germany's intervention in Spain. I'm looking forward to the historical note, and to seeing what will happen in Reythier's extraction mission, I imagine the need for haste will make it more dangerous.

  8. #148
    Basileos Leandros I's Avatar Writing is an art
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    Default Re: Swords Made of Letters

    I am very glad you liked it, Alwyn. (also I noticed you mentioned Great chapter, so this is an improvement )

    Last "main" chapter coming right up, it has been finished.

    Ja mata, TosaInu. Forever remembered.

    Swords Made of Letters - 1938. The war is looming - and Alexandre Reythier does not have much time left to protect his country.

    Visit ROMANIA! A land of beauty and culture!

  9. #149
    Basileos Leandros I's Avatar Writing is an art
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    Default Re: Swords Made of Letters

    Chapter XLV - Pensive on a New Year

    1st of January 1939
    2:45 AM
    Villa on the outskirts of Strasbourg
    Strasbourg
    France


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

    Laughter echoed from inside the estate villa, the booming voices jolting outside into the dark, cold January morning. It was New Year's Eve, a welcome reprieve from the edge of the older year of 1938.

    A voice sounded right behind him.

    "Thoughtful? At a party for New Year's?"

    Reythier glanced to his right. His friend Klaus came up to him, champagne glass in hand, dressed in overcoat and tophat to shield himself from the biting freeze. Reythier stood by the edge of the outer lower balcony, his left hip against the small stone railing, his own champagne glass on top of it.

    "We party, Klaus, but it's not out partying. We laugh but it's not our laugh. We know, some of them know, but it doesn't make it any better even if we know or don't know."

    Klaus sighed. "Where are you getting, Alexandre?"

    "You've seen the disdain and the distrust. I don't think we'll get anywhere to where we need to be, and fact of the matter is, neither is the army getting the required importance it deserves. Sooner or later war will come to us and we won't be prepared enough."

    "You're not giving them enough credit, Alexandre. The army knows and will act on it."

    Reythier laughed, drawing a rather irate glance from his friend and collaborator. "Apologies, Klaus. But you know very well that this won't happen. We've got a parting shot with our friend Horace leaving for Romania in about a week's time, preparing the extraction of our Polish friends who know more about the plans of the Germans. That's all I am betting on right now. We need more intelligence, more information, we need more of everything really and we're only getting small, insufficient resources." He took a swig out of the glass. "At least the champagne is up to our standards."

    "Chandon. From Champagne. The owner of the villa and the estate is a good friend of our intelligence boys." Klaus took a sip from his own glass. "He was there at the ball too."

    Reythier glanced at him, his eyebrow slightly raised. "What am I supposed to do with that information?"

    Klaus glanced behind him, taking a step sideways to Reythier. "Our man is a double agent. Feeds information to the Germans on what we give him, and what they give him he forwards to us. For the moment his position is strong but I'm not sure how long this will go on." Klaus took another sip. "Watch your tongue while we're in this place, we don't know all of it. At least yet."

    Reythier turned from Klaus, watching the light snow drizzle over the top of the immense estate that surrounded the villa. Built in the 18th century, the estate was mainly forested but had enough plots of land for agriculture, grazing of crops and raising animals. Above all, the sprawling estate was meant to highlight the power of the owner and the villa was made not for raising herds but for throwing lavish parties for the high society that flocked between medieval Strasbourg and fashionable Paris. Snow blanketed most of what they could see from the lower balcony, creating a superb white spectacle that was perfect for deep, calm thoughts. Because of the snow the night light reflected from it, creating a crepuscular setting even when sunrise seemed hours away. Seeing Reythier rather lost in the mirage of snowflakes, Klaus smiled more to himself, patted his friend on the back and re-entered the villa to rejoin the party.

    With himself all alone in the mist of snowflakes, Reythier took out a crumpled piece of paper from his overcoat pocket and analysed it in the light of the balcony lamp.

    There was much to be done, outlined the small piece, but the plans were aligned carefully. With Horace now in Romania, and soon to be in Poland for the extraction, they were left with identifying the intelligence cells and neutralising them. In other words, find the spies and make sure they have nothing to report. There was enough information gleaned over from some of the spies they already apprehended but it was not enough. They needed more. They needed it now, not tomorrow, not after a week. Reythier drank again, emptying the glass. That was the sixth glass of the night, the alcohol slowly poisoning his mind. He placed the paper back into his pocket and stared into the distance, the snowflakes dashing around his eyes like in a dance of crystal white flurries.

    War was coming. There was nothing to prevent it, but they still had time to change the outcome.

    -------



    This has been essentially the last "main" chapter of Swords Made of Letters. Three years later, the project has been finished. There are still 2 more chapters, 2 Epilogues, one focused on Horace and one focused again on Reythier and Klaus, but those are a bit more different and you will see soon why.

    I cannot thank enough all of those who have read the project, I thank you enormously for the reading. I hope you enjoyed it and keep close to read the last 2 parts! Thank you!
    Ja mata, TosaInu. Forever remembered.

    Swords Made of Letters - 1938. The war is looming - and Alexandre Reythier does not have much time left to protect his country.

    Visit ROMANIA! A land of beauty and culture!

  10. #150
    Basileos Leandros I's Avatar Writing is an art
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    Default Re: Swords Made of Letters

    A small, historical note from my side. I would encourage you all to watch The Imitation Game, a powerful movie created in honour of the cryptographer Alan Turing, starring Benedict Cumberbatch.

    Turing's work on cryptography, building upon the work done by his colleagues at Bletchley and also the French & Polish cryptographer teams, was a significant boost in World War 2.

    Ja mata, TosaInu. Forever remembered.

    Swords Made of Letters - 1938. The war is looming - and Alexandre Reythier does not have much time left to protect his country.

    Visit ROMANIA! A land of beauty and culture!

  11. #151
    Flinn's Avatar Hasta el Bunga Bunga siempre!
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    Default Re: Swords Made of Letters

    Well that was the last movie I went to see with my father before he actually became terminal because of his brain cancer

    needless to say I won't be able to see it again, but I definitely liked it much.. I also suggest to read about Turing's life since we can all learn a lot from how he withstood adversity with dignity.
    Under the patronage of Finlander, patron of Lugotorix & Lifthrasir & joerock22 & Socrates1984 & Kilo11 & Vladyvid & Dick Cheney of the Imperial House of Hader

  12. #152
    Basileos Leandros I's Avatar Writing is an art
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    Default Re: Swords Made of Letters

    Flinn, a hearty hug.

    How does an Enigma machine work? How do the rotors and ciphers spin to create unbreakable code?

    Last edited by Basileos Leandros I; August 01, 2020 at 08:52 AM.
    Ja mata, TosaInu. Forever remembered.

    Swords Made of Letters - 1938. The war is looming - and Alexandre Reythier does not have much time left to protect his country.

    Visit ROMANIA! A land of beauty and culture!

  13. #153
    Alwyn's Avatar Frothy Goodness
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    Default Re: Swords Made of Letters

    Congratulations on finishing the last main chapter! I enjoyed this and look forward to the remaining chapters and the epilogues. In the last main chapter, you present vivid, memorable images (such as Reythier examining the crumpled piece of paper in the light of the balcony lamp and maintain the drama, the tension and the urgency of the situation.

  14. #154
    Basileos Leandros I's Avatar Writing is an art
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    Default Re: Swords Made of Letters

    Thank you Alwyn for your kind feedback - SMoL was intended more of a writing project, to hone my craft, but the story developed in such a way that I consider it a full fledged project now. Thank you once more.

    I will do a small roadmap for the future, with an important part for the next months:

    - Epilogue I (September)
    - Epilogue II (October)
    - Historical Note (November)
    - Final edits & full PDF download (December)

    I will compile, edit, arrange & construct a whole book for those who wish to read it and download it on their e-readers, computers, phones...
    Ja mata, TosaInu. Forever remembered.

    Swords Made of Letters - 1938. The war is looming - and Alexandre Reythier does not have much time left to protect his country.

    Visit ROMANIA! A land of beauty and culture!

  15. #155
    Turkafinwë's Avatar The Sick Man of TWC
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    Default Re: Swords Made of Letters

    Congrats! Really an impressive project!

    Chapter XXVII: The Choice
    #JusticeForAkar #JusticeForCal #JusticeForCookie #JusticeForAthelchan



  16. #156
    Basileos Leandros I's Avatar Writing is an art
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    Default Re: Swords Made of Letters

    Thank thee Turkafinwe

    This project is almost complete but another one, even bigger, more imposing than this, will soon follow. Stay tuned!
    Ja mata, TosaInu. Forever remembered.

    Swords Made of Letters - 1938. The war is looming - and Alexandre Reythier does not have much time left to protect his country.

    Visit ROMANIA! A land of beauty and culture!

  17. #157
    Basileos Leandros I's Avatar Writing is an art
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    Default Re: Swords Made of Letters

    Gentlemen & esteemed ladies,

    Should you be reading this work and have some time, I would definitely appreciate some feedback and impressions. Even a couple of words saying that you loved it!

    Ja mata, TosaInu. Forever remembered.

    Swords Made of Letters - 1938. The war is looming - and Alexandre Reythier does not have much time left to protect his country.

    Visit ROMANIA! A land of beauty and culture!

  18. #158
    Alwyn's Avatar Frothy Goodness
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    Default Re: Swords Made of Letters

    I love it! I enjoyed the period atmosphere, the perspectives from characters on both sides, and the sense of the gathering storm. It's interesting that you set this story before the outbreak of the war, where the reader knows what happened which adds an extra frisson when the characters talk about what they think will happen. It's interesting that you stopped this story when you did - before the main characters could see whether the reality will be what they expected. I wonder if you're tempted to write a sequel?

  19. #159
    Basileos Leandros I's Avatar Writing is an art
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    Default Re: Swords Made of Letters

    Alwyn, thank you so much for your kind words.

    To be honest, I did contemplate it, but my focus was mostly on the turbulent period right before the whole disaster happened. It adds a certain layer of mystery, with everyone doing their preparations. Still it is something to consider. I will do full edits and release the whole book as a downloadable PDF.

    However... I do have a surprise which will come out in the next months.

    I have a full novel, which I have written some years ago, set in the turbulent period of the Templar Knights. 14th century medieval drama. Historical fiction of course, using some very interesting sources as well - I knew of one of the sources when I wrote it and by absolute chance, I read portions of the text in a medieval Spanish monastery in Toledo last year. It's going to be very very enticing!

    Ja mata, TosaInu. Forever remembered.

    Swords Made of Letters - 1938. The war is looming - and Alexandre Reythier does not have much time left to protect his country.

    Visit ROMANIA! A land of beauty and culture!

  20. #160
    Basileos Leandros I's Avatar Writing is an art
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    Default Re: Swords Made of Letters

    Epilogue I - Rescue

    24th of January 1939
    7:45 PM
    Poland - Romania border post
    Lower Ruthenia / Northern Bukovina
    Poland / Romania

    -------

    Steam fluttered through the air, or was it smoke from the exhaust, they couldn't tell.

    Their car stopped at the border post in no man's land, ushered through by the Polish border guards after a routine check of their papers, the headlights unmasking a thin red and white barrier that blocked their way. It was in fact a double barrier, illuminated by a small floodlight attached to the door of a small border post, one on each side of the border to prevent any ramming or intentional border crossings without a proper check. Horace stopped the car just before the first barrier, glancing at the border post for a couple of moments until a border guard in a dark blue navy uniform stepped outside, pulled his cap on and drew closer to the car. Horace saluted, his Polish interpretor sitting on the passenger's seat in front saluting the guard in formal Romanian. The guard saluted back and asked for the passports, which Horace was happy to oblige.

    Rather surprised, the guard backed away for a moment when he felt four passports inside his hand. His eyes darted from Horace and his interpreter to the two men sitting on the backseat couch.

    "Four of you?" asked the guard.

    The Polish interpreter chimed in before Horace. "Yes, four of us. We have all of the necessary stamps from the Romanian consulate in Warszaw."

    "Let me see about that."

    The guard made an odd double-check of the passports with his fingers, glanced one last time at the car and returned to his border post. Horace watched as the man nearly collapsed to the ground, between the two barriers, seeming rather drunk and out of shape for a border guard. He stopped the engine fully and motioned to his interpreter to lower his window, despite the chilling cold, wanting to touch on every single sound he could hear out of the secluded cabin that made the border post. They had the stamps, of course, but they also had a significant luggage with them. Two Polish codebreakers were on the backseat, experienced minds in cryptography, each of them ordered by the French and British services to leave the dangers of Poland and establish themselves somewhere safer. And safer meant above the English Channel, in the south of England. Horace was tasked with extracting them, and they got all of the approvals but they had one last issue to take care of. Getting to the port of Constanta to catch the freighter bound for England. And that was due to leave in nine hours, which he was not sure they had.

    The interpreter cleared his throat, giving Horace a thin smile and a worried glance.

    "You think there might be an issue?" asked the interpreter in English.

    "Your guys waved us through. Not sure what his issue is. Should not take this long."

    Horace glanced at his watch. Five minutes. Another ten passed, with only muffled sounds reverberating in the utter silence at the border of Poland and Romania. The area around them was rather mountainous, at the edge of the Carpathians, a slight fog descending over the smaller cities and villages in the past four days, sprinkling them with light snow showers every other night. Sure, it was rather majestic to see it so crisp and beautiful but it would make their road so much slower.

    Fifteen minutes. Still no sign of the border guard. Jittery, Horace got out of the car, closing the door ever so slightly to not make too loud of a noise to distract them.

    Twenty minutes. Silence.

    And the first sprinkles of snow now on the road, and on the car.

    Thirty minutes. The interpreter got out as well, looking behind the car towards the Polish side. Silence.

    Utter silence. No cars, no guards, just slight fog and snow.

    Fifty five minutes. The border post door creaked, revealing a rather tall and thin intelligence colonel who saluted Horace with a curt military salute. He drew up to him and handed him the passports, all of them stamped with the right duties including for the port in Constanta.

    "Mister Horace?" the colonel asked in English.

    "Yes?"

    "Apologies for my colleague. He's rather off duty tonight." He paused for a moment to glance at the interpreter. "We've received word from the consulate and from our intelligence post in Bucharest. Apologies for the confusion, we knew of the mission but we had no idea when you would come. All of the stamps and duties have been approved, even for the port in Constanta. Freighter time to departure has been extended by an hour so you should have still about nine hours left to get there. It's a bit of a stretch but you should do it. Take the best of care and don't forget the mission. Have a good evening, gentlemen."

    Horace glanced at the man, grabbed the passports and got back into the car. The two men behind him glanced at him, expectant, hopeful, their hopes turning to relief as he showed the stamped passports. He winked to the interpreter and keyed the engine, the hum of the engine resounding in the silence. Snow by now had fallen a couple of good inches on the road so this was a treacherous journey by now.

    Eight hours later, they were on the freighter. Horace had made it.

    ----



    First epilogue, the final chapter and epilogue coming next month.
    Ja mata, TosaInu. Forever remembered.

    Swords Made of Letters - 1938. The war is looming - and Alexandre Reythier does not have much time left to protect his country.

    Visit ROMANIA! A land of beauty and culture!

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