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For All Nails #18: A New Light

by Johnny Pez

Belgrade, Kingdom of Croatia, Outer German Empire
4 December 1971

Gavril Ducevic stood before a window, glaring down into the street where a company of Croatian troops was goose-stepping past. "Damned Croatian dogs," he muttered to his companion. "No better than the fudge-packing Turks if you ask me!"

Nikola Jelic, still seated at the chess board, looked at the younger man with easy contempt. "Easy enough to curse them from a safe distance. No danger that they'll actually hear you from up here."

Ducevic transferred his glare to Jelic. "I don't hear you speaking up against them."

Jelic shrugged. "What would be the point? The Croats are nothing. If it weren't for the Germans, they wouldn't even be here."

Ducevic slammed his fist against the wall, denting the plaster. "If it weren't for the rat-bastard Germans, the Turks would never have reconquered Serbia in the first place! FN1 We'd still be free!"

Jelic shook his head. "We should have had better sense than to ally ourselves with that fool Fanchon. And would you mind not beating in the walls? My landlady dislikes me enough as it is."

The younger man gestured violently. "After the Germans took over Bosnia, FN2 what choice did we have? It was Fanchon or nothing. And it's easy enough to say he's a fool now, but before the Hundred Day War everyone thought he was the greatest man in Europe."

"Unfortunately for us," Jelic pointed out, "after the war, everyone knew he was a fool. There was nothing to stop the Germans from annexing Bosnia, or the Turks from conquering us. And even then, we could have joined the Confederation ourselves, but King Stupid Bloody Peter wanted to fight the Turks. And it's your move."

Ducevic turned back to the window, but the column of troops had passed by. Sending one last glare at their departing backs, he returned to the table and took his seat. Gazing sightlessly at the pieces, his right fist still clenched, he muttered, "What could Mihajlovic and the others have been thinking? Cozying up to the Germans during the Global War, after what they did to us!"

"Like you said before, what choice did they have?" said Jelic. "Broz tried to fight them, and all he got for his troubles was a hangman's noose. Better to be treated like an ally than an enemy."

"Some ally," Ducevic scoffed. "Kow-tow to the Croats all day long, and beg the Germans for a few bones. The Bulgarians had the right idea, rise up against the Turks and declare independence right at the outset. Now the Germans treat with them as equals." At a snort from Jelic, Ducevic amended, "More equally than the French, at any rate, and a damn sight more equal than us." The younger man glanced back at the window for a moment, as if to make sure that the Croatian troops were still gone. "Why should the Bulgarians have their own state, and the Greeks, and even the Albanians, but not us?"

"Because the Croats couldn't bear to be separated from their Serb brothers, that's why," said Jelic sardonically, "and the Germans chose to indulge them."

"The Croats must have picked up their ideas about brotherly love from the Sultans," Ducevic growled.

"I'll admit," said Jelic, "that things could be better, but they could be a lot worse, too. Since you brought up the Sultans, I'd like to remind you that we could still be living under them. If it hadn't been for the Global War, we would be, too. Then you'd be cursing them from a safe distance, and saying what an awful thing it is to be separated from our Croatian brothers. And it's still your move."

Ducevic absently moved a pawn forward, and Jelic took advantage of the opportunity to fork the younger man's king and one of his rooks. Looking annoyed, Ducevic moved his king out of check, and Jelic claimed his prize.

"There's nothing wrong with being separated from our Croatian brothers," Ducevic observed, "as long as it's our idea."

"Dream on," said Jelic. "The Germans seem quite satisfied with the status quo, and when all is said and done, it's the Germans who decide what will or will not happen in the Balkans."

Ducevic stared long at the older man before finally saying, "Succinctly put, and quite true. Very well, then, we must convince the Germans to grant us our independence."

A worried expression now crossed Jelic's face. "And just what is that supposed to mean?"

"It means that we must show the Germans just how unhappy we are to be under the Croats," said Ducevic. "When it becomes clear to them that there can be no peace in Serbia while the Croats rule us, then they will allow us to be free."

There was a new light in Ducevic's eyes, and Jelic found himself growing fearful at the sight of it.

Forward to FAN #19: A Chingazo.

Forward to 22 Februry 1972: The Apes of Hell.

Forward to Gavril Ducevic: The Next Stage.

Return to For All Nails.