The sound of their footsteps resounded off the stone walls. An invading army in hobnailed boots marching down the streets where she had once danced on soft-soled slippers. She twitched the curtains slightly, barely daring to look as the soldiers marched through the streets, flooding the side streets and alleyways, leaving no means of escape. Across the way she saw the Fournier children peer nervously out the window before their father pulled them away to safety behind the flimsy lace curtains.
The sun was beginning to set, the army rolling over the last of the defenders and taking the city completely. It was almost time. Almost ready.
A pounding on the door, the echoes of other hands striking doors throughout the city. She straightened her dress and patted at her hair. Fastening on a smile, she opened the door.
“Miss.” The young soldier at her door smiled uncomfortably, touching the brim of his hat. Did these soldiers have souls? Did they feel guilt for what they did? Or was he simply shy when seeing a pretty face?
“Yes?” She smiled back as if he were a new neighbor come calling.
“The Captain sends his regards and asks that all women of the town be escorted to the central plaza.” He smiled nervously. He obviously thought the order was silly. She raised an eyebrow in surprise; perhaps this Captain was smarter than the others to make such an order. It wasn’t often that the women were taken first.
“Of course.” She smiled. “Let me just get my hat.”
The soldier nodded politely and waited at the door while she turned and gathered her hat and purse from the side table. She took her time, settling her hat just so on her head, watching him in the mirror on the wall next to the entryway. He worried at the shoulder strap that leashed his Mauser, the barrel of the rifle glimmering blue in the last rays of the sun.
Tucking her purse under her arm, she smiled as he offered his arm. She took his arm in hers and together they walked down the street, his boots heavy on the cobbled stone, her shoes soft whispers as the evening turned to dusk.
Behind and in front of them similar pairs walked and she assiduously kept herself from looking at her fellow villagers. The other women likewise avoided meeting gazes. It was all too likely they would burst into giggles like naughty schoolgirls. Armies were always so much fun.
The plaza was already crowded when her soldier escorted her to the group of women. Nearly four fifths of the village’s women were here, excepting the girls younger than twelve. Surreptitiously, the women linked hands, waiting, waiting for their number to be complete. No woman would hide in the cellar here, all of them would come to the plaza.
When all the women were assembled, they joined hands, forming a link between all of them. As the Captain ordered his men on the roofs and in the alleyways to ready, the women squeezed hands and burst into song. She joined her voice to the song, a familiar tune, yet one that they only sang in this plaza, at times like this.
The soldiers began to scream, dropping their weapons as they did so. Even the Captain, whose face had been resolutely stern, fell to his knees. The song ended, and they began again, turning it into a round, increasing the intensity. Inside the houses, their men and children would be humming along, the counterpart protecting them from the magic, keeping everyone inside safe. Outside, the streets resonated with the song, echoing through the entire village.
As the moon rose, the round slowly came to an end. The women unlinked hands. Her neighbor, Mrs. Desmarais hugged her and smiled wanly. It was never a pleasant song to sing. But as the night wind began to ease its way through the town, it blew away the piles of ash that remained of the soldiers. Among the piles, the Mausers gleamed in the moonlight.