What did he really care about Madrid’s plans? he was thinking as he settled down inside the cave with the men. What a collection he had! Communists, moderates, leftists, a Catalonian separatist, a couple American college boys from Chicago, an anemic British vegetarian, a Romanian palace honor guardsman who should have stayed home he was no good with a rifle but wanted to fight with a sword--the rag tags of the Loyalist Republican Army, the leaders of which sat safely in Madrid while he and his like did the actual fighting for “Free Spain.”
What did “Free Spain” mean to him when his Basque homeland, Eskual Herria, was oppressed by the Spanish boot, whether Fascist or Loyalist Republican? But the Nazi Germans, he had to admit, were worse than Spanish and Italian Fascisti. General Francisco-Bahamonde Franco and his seasoned Africa army held the Basque provinces in siege, while his powerful allies, the Germans in Berlin under Chancellor Adolf Shickelgruber, sent in bombers and strafers almost daily--Franco didn’t care if he killed every last Basque if he could subdue the Basques and march on, with no one threatening his rear, to crush the government in Madrid. But the Basques would never give up to his likes! They fought on, though the Iron Ring of fortresses in Basque country had been smashed by Shickelgruber’s dreaded Condor Legion, an armada of Heinkel bombers carrying incendiary and high-explosive bombs. At first, hearing the German leader’s name, they had all been mightily amused, but after two years of merciless bombardment and strafing, after the hell of Guernica with 550 pound bombs dropped in a crowded plaza, they had learned to seek out caves in the mountains, rather than stand and shake their fists at incoming attack after attack.
Eugenio, feeling in the dark, found various holes and positions for various men, then ordered them to be quiet, so they could wait and see what to do next.
The “next” was completely out of their hands, as it happened. There was a sound of voices at the cave’s entrance. An object was thrown in, and then everything inside seemed to expand and lift. Dust, rock, tomb, hidden men--everything--it all lifted skywards. But the tomb’s cave ceiling was thick enough, and they could go only so far before they had to drop back down.
Quickly, the heavier debris settled, but the dust was a choking curtain as Fascisti pushed in, guns at the ready for any movement. The sound of a machine gun, and someone was put out of his agony. Then another burst. And another. Eugenio waited, and he thought, “So this is my end--like a wild dog caught by a farmer’s pitchfork in his barn.”
But the men left, after cursing and calling the saint’s mother’s virginity into question. Eugenio spend no more time waiting, he tried to crawl out from the rubble. It was the saint’s tomb that, demolished, had saved his wretched body by covering him.
His groping hand slid over something wet and slimy. Slowly, he realized it was a face, or what had been a face until it was machine-gunned at close range.
“Silvio?” No answer. “Salvadore?” “Pablo? Ignatius? Esperanzo? Sanchez?“ He continued on, but no one answered, or even moaned in response. The Americans too were dead?
He felt each body to make sure. But then, the crashing truth, he was alone, struck. His ears, useless, could tell him nothing, really, if the Fascists had left, or were waiting just outside. He should not have been calling out so soon, he realized. How stupid! He couldn’t think, he was an animal in the dark. Gasping, he gagged on a zephyr infernal, suffocating putrefaction off wounds eliminating rottenous--how quickly in hot lands dead men, bowels discharged in death, decomposed!
Sickened in heart and body, he began to weep. He didn’t weep for the men, whom he really didn’t know, nor for his hurts, nor for the ruined Basque lands--he wept as a man would weep when he knows he is alone, and there is no help against the lions all around. The death angel had passed over him, yet left him a helpless baby.
Frustration, weakness, powerlessness--it made the tears come. He couldn’t even find his rifle. He began moving, and didn’t know he was crawling in the wrong direction at first--it was so dark and his eyes blinded with dust. His hands, groping about, touched objects--this one and that---but what were they? They weren’t things he had ever felt or known before. He took one in his hands for closer inspection.
“What?” he wondered.
He had to find out, but later, he decided. He pulled a shirt off a Communist comrade, stuffed it with some of the things spilled from St. Roderick’s holy tomb, or was it from the out of the broken wall behind? He then scrambled toward the dawning entrance, which he was beginning to see now that his tears had cleaned the grit from his eyes.
At the entrance he peered out, his burst eardrums useless and ringing, but could see no one, and he decided he wasn’t going to die there like that, better die running than lying on the ground like a dog.
He ran! He ran for shelter of the trees on the higher slopes. Once in the trees, he knew he could be safe.
After resting, he waited for the dark, and then he started off for Bilbao, keeping away from roads, villages and towns.
Days after surviving the cave, he walked down the streets of Bilbao, blending with the crowds. Everywhere he saw signs of bombs, but the city was too big for the Germans to level, and they had many other places to drop bombs--not just this one big city. Here he was relatively safe, and he had a little money and he rented a room in a poor quarter inhabited mainly by old widows, disabled miners, and shops that sold second-hand clothes and old shoes.
Once he was behind a locked door he examined the contents of his shirt-bag. He had looked at them many times before, of course, but here he could examine them at his leisure, and not be afraid a raiding party would find him.
A mirror that pictured many wonderful things and splendid cities that outshone Paris and Rome, a scroll covered with an unknown language along with Basque. He had read the Basque portions, but he could not make sense of it, only that various weapons were being described, including a certain kind of bomb. The words were Basque but they were, he decided, very old, and rarely used. It was difficult to read, even if the language was his own. And he knew so little about armaments and military industry. This was something for an expert to decipher, but who? He might have to puzzle it out himself. And that, he knew, would take time.
He needed to report to the army, of course, if he didn’t want to be arrested as a deserter and shot with other deserters by a firing squad. Even though Madrid would mark him down as a casualty with the others, when no reports came in from them, Basques of fighting age were always liable to be stopped by the police.
No, he had had enough of “Free Spain”! Let the Republicans save their country from the Fascists! He was going to fight purely for Eskual Herria his true motherland! But how? He knew he needed a new set of identification papers, and then after that he needed work, or some way to get money.
What about the artifacts from St. Roderick’s tomb? They were his secret treasure. How could they be used, once he discovered their meaning?
Going out only at night, lying low during the days, he looked until he found a man he could trust to do the identification and passport papers. Once he had them, he went to work on the artifacts, decoding the old Basque as best he could. With a few library books he stole, all on the subject of the latest discoveries in physics and rocketry and armament, he applied himself to the translation.
It came to him while he worked, that what he had would unlock the future for his people, if his treasure were used cunningly and not wasted. A single bomb that could vaporize an entire city? Another type of bomb that ate a man’s flesh like a bath of acid but left his goods intact? These were extremely valuable chess pieces to play.
On the gameboard there were only three Great Powers to deal with--Germany, Franco, and Britain--the others were rubbish. Franco would win, he knew. Germany would also win, for a time. But Britain, despite her troubles and weakness, would triumph in the end. He knew it somehow.
What then, given the short-term and the long-term, should he do, not only to keep alive but to promote Basque independence? Even Franco would not live forever, and the Basques had out-lived Rome and the Visigoths and the Moors and the French--the Fascisti were, then, next in line, and he could possibly hasten their end, even if he could not stop their present advance.
The first thing he did was slip over to Portugal. The next thing he did was set up as a wealthy country gentleman, which he soon was, after contacting the Germans. Accepted as an agent ostensibly residing in Britain, he received ample pay for his services.
The rest was only logical, at least to a Basque mind.