Morning fog drifted between the trees lining the woodland road. Dawn found an old noble and his retainer meeting with a scruffy band of thieves and cutthroats. The exchange was short and sweet, gold for an object wrapped in a stained cloth, displayed briefly and furtively. The cackling of the gang faded off into the distance. They were running south for Romania. Poland was being invaded by Germany, just now—the blitzkrieg, the lightning war, 1939.
Sergeant Banacek turned to the noble he had served, in uniform and out, for over thirty years. “Sir, is this wise?”
“Probably not, but I’m going to do it anyway, sergeant.” Count Piotr Stanislaw Kerenski said a prayer in Latin, telling his rosary. He had achieved a state of peace and readiness for action known to certain Eastern mystics and his old Confessor. Father Victor was dead many years now, like almost all the rest. Wife, gone, sons, gone; a daughter in England, now, thank the Virgin Mother and all the Saints, married to a barrister and writing children’s books. He knew that she was happy, and what was more, he was glad that she was not here, today. His brother would inherit from him; today, or on some other day known only to the Almighty.
“Sergeant, the lance shaft, please,” Piotr said, the last word added self-consciously. Banacek looked to his master, speechless. The lump in his throat was gratitude, and pride. There was no other place he wanted to be, just now, and neither man had the words to say so. The sergeant lifted the new wooden shaft, chosen as the straightest of the six hand-turned works of carpentry, the most worthy, indeed. Together they fitted the shaft into the socket of the metal relic, and unwrapped it.
Piotr hefted the lance now fitted with a spearhead, and it flashed brightly in the early morning sunlight. The fog was burning off quite nicely. He thought that the head did look like it might have come from a pilum, a Roman Legionnaire’s spear, and might even be the real thing. He had certainly paid enough to buy the ’Heilige Lanze’ thrice over!
The Crucifixion story told of a Roman Centurion who had pierced Christ’s side to see if he still lived. Wine and water had gushed forth. There were other stories and many other relics that were claimed to be the Spear of Longinious, the Spear of Destiny. This one he had by way of the Hapsburg Museum in Vienna, the one the Holy Roman Empire had sworn by. This one was supposed to give the bearer victory, and he’d had it stolen from the minions of the Austrian Corporal.
Piotr laughed. The proof was in the touch—how did that poem go, again? ’To put it to the touch, to win or lose it all!’ This day was surely already lost, unless...
It would take a miracle.
The armored column was loud and coming on fast. Lightning war, indeed. The invader came down the road out of the west, and very soon would be here. Sergeant Banacek spoke up then, as the first panzer passed a cross-roads a half-mile distant. “God damn you for a fool, sir, on a fools’ errand. But you’re a blessed fool, and Poland needs whatever she can muster...”
His master spurred his tired old war horse and they lumbered down the road, snorting and blowing. The old gelding was half-blind and ready for the knackers, but his old heart sped up, his hot blood surged and he was young again. The lance came down and the old man yelled.
“For God and for Poland!”
This had predictable results. The lance shattered against the panzer turret and the gunner mowed both old war-horses down with good German bullets. Then the gunner shot the sergeant as well, and the commander popped up out of the turret hatch to look around. He felt invincible, and why not? Der Fuhrer had given Die Heilige Lanze into his own hands for this endeavor, and so of course they could not fail!
The panzer-driver looked over with pity at the dying sergeant. The Untermenschen’s eyes were full of hate and despair. He thought, “I pray I never know that feeling. For Germany to lie in ruins, while I still live?”
He shuddered, and drove on.