Verboten. Verboten. If there wasn't any other word of German he could recognize, it was one that he'd heard too often. Forbidden. It was posted on notices on every corner that Matthew Williams-Bonnefoy somberly wheeled his bicycle past, and he was hard pressed to remember what Bussy had been like before the occupation had begun. The windows of most houses were still tightly fastened behind shutters and thick curtains, though it had been almost a full year since the Armistice had been signed and the city overrun with German soldiers. Verbotenunder penalty of death.
Matthew leaned heavily against his handlebars as he stopped on the road, allowing a gaggle of soldiers to pass. Their boots and belts caught the sun, shining brightly in the warming April morning. The dusty almond green of their crisp uniforms mirrored the greenery of newly awakened grass covered in dew. But Matthew couldn't help but see these men as monsters, glinting cold and metallic and moving as machinery. Even relaxed and laughing, the fact that they were here in his townin his homeonly drove home that they were here as conquerors. Watching them pass caused the young boy to thoughtfully chew at his lip, a worried habit his father, a celebrated hero from the first war, had been trying to work out of him for years.
Thinking of his father was a painfully touchy subject. Francis Bonnefoy had fought bravely in the last war and returned home a decorated hero at the age of nineteen, lean and handsome and drunk with stories of his spreading fame. He'd settled into his birthright as head of the Bonnefoy estate and presided over the small number of tenant farmers in the quiet town basking in peace while all of France celebrated her victory. He had taken a wife, a pretty young thing from Tours, a quiet dreamy creature with large doe-like eyes. Matthew had inherited those eyes and gentle features while also taking her life during a long and complicated childbirth. The marriage of ten years of trying for a child was cut short by the production of one. Monsieur Bonnefoy was devastated, but dutifully raised his son, grooming him for the day he would take over as head of the family.
Then, with the coming of the new war, he had been called away. Though he was in a privileged position, the obligations of the past war and expectations of the villagers gave him little choice. He took up his arms to once again defend his country, and left his son in the care of Marthe, the household cook of twenty-seven years. She became a surrogate mother for young Matthew, now about to break seventeen (too young to take up arms, but certainly no longer a child), and he'd given his solemn pledge to his father that he would keep the estate in running order until his return from the war.
Monsieur Bonnefoy left in '39. The letter informing Matthew that he was a prisoner of war came in the spring of '40. France signed the armistice in June. And then, on July first, 1940, Matthew Williams-Bonnefoy turned eighteen. Too little, too late.
Cycling on, drinking in the sight of a bright spring morning (and there, another bright red flag boldly emblazoned with the black swastika, another notice marked Verboten), Matthew was on his way to drop in on the tenant farmers under his family's name. Aside from the regular reminders of the warsoldiers marching here and there, boarded windows of houses, empty shops that had long since run out of useful wares to sellit was difficult to place this spring morning as different from any of the others he had seen in his childhood.
From all accounts, Bussy had been spared from the worst of everything. Birds still chirped on the roadside, and the flowers covered the hillsides. From all around, one could hear the lazy humming of fat, golden bumblebees and smell the freshly turned earth where women and children and the elderly still tended their farms with the help of the sons lucky enough to have returned home. Life continued on in their home. It could not stop on account of a change in masters.
Not counting the current occupation, there had been little else to stir the village since the flood of refugees from Paris had trickled further out to the countryside, or the travel-weary Parisians had turned back, more hopeful of what they would find left of the city than of facing further horrors on the road.
Matthew had heard of the shortages of food, and even in this farming community things were becoming scarce. Petrol was gone. Wheat was rationed carefully, and fresh meat was an unheard of commodity in the village. Even the things he had carefully stored with the help of Marthe; the salted butter, the dried pork, the coffee, and the last of the chocolate and matches, were starting to run out to their last. If not for the help of the soldier who was billeted in his home
His tyres squealed as Matthew braked suddenly, flyaway wisps of blonde clouding his vision as inertia enacted and he nearly lost his spectacles.
They were all around town, the people mandated to open their doors to the victorious young men. The Louise-Mullers, the Angelliers, the Langelets, even the Craquants and Péricands along with every farm in the valley. And his estate was no exception. By this time, they had become a fixture, taking on the surnames of the families that housed them. It was no abnormal thing by now to hear one referred to as The Michauds' Jan or The Beaumonts' Niklas.
His soldier was a lieutenant, the Bonnefoy estate matching in grandeur to his status as an officer. And Matthew had never seen anyone quite like him. The man was lean, all muscle, with a young, chiseled face, cheekbones high and softly pronounced, and a sharp chin. The officer's hands were large, fingers long and tapered. His hair was fair, thin blonde wisps that appeared to hold no color of their own, looking almost silver in whatever light he was in.
But perhaps most remarkable were his eyes. Matthew had seen the color in a rabbit once, and in some mice. A sort of inhuman bloody red, interrupted only by the black of a pupil and bordered with the same whiteness that made up the rest of his color.
Matthew felt color rising to his face as he realized just how much he had been looking at the man, drinking in his details, and tried to brush it off as a study of the enemy. As it was, the man had been boarding for several months, and they had yet to have a proper conversation. The fault being Matthew's. Every time the other had tried to start one up, asking a simple question or trying to tell a bit of a joke (his French was quite good, while Matthew's own German was made up of about five wordsnot many of them nice), he had received a curt reply. Marthe grudgingly dealt with him most of the time, but it did not stop the officer from trying everything in his power to worm a reaction from Matthew.
There had been the various gifts of fruitreal, fresh oranges as well as other commodities and the politenesses extended with that lopsided smile. Nice weather today, Monsieur Bonnefoy. Ohexcuse me for using your father's name. Why don't you give me something better to call you by? Every encounter was dealt with in as short a way as the boy knew how. He was a proper Frenchman, after all, and no matter how captivating the enemy might appear, he would not bend his patriotism, would not betray his father and his country by befriending the officer who stayed in his guest room. No matter how charming he was.
Clearing the thoughts from his head, Matthew kicked his cycle off down the road again, intent on getting back to work. He had to make sure he became someone his father could be proud of when he returned from the camps.