RESCHEN VALLEY I:
1920. The southern part of Austrian Tyrol will be annexed by Italy.
Katharina, a Tyrolean, finds a wounded Italian engineer. Their relationship thrusts them into a world of deception and corruption as post-war emotions run high. Both go to great lengths to bury an affair that could cost them everything.
EXTRACT FROM CHAPTER 1
Arlund, former Austiran Tyrol
It seemed a shame to kill on such a fine spring day. As the wind rose from the valley, so came the mix of scents released by the melting snow; of leaves, and grass and wood. The smells of new life rising, resurrecting.
Katharina steadied her aim at the hare and held her breath. Before the Italians confiscate our rifles again, her grandfather had said, go practice your shooting and bring us some meat. The hare turned its head, haunches tensed, ready for flight and Katharina squeezed the trigger. The animal fell but was flailing on the ground.
Her dog sprang up but Katharina checked her with a click of her tongue.
"Leave it be, Hund," she said and checked the safety before picking up the canvas sack.
As she approached, the hare jerked, trying to get on its legs, panic rolling in the whites of its eyes. Her father's knife in hand, Katharina bent over the animal and drew the blade across its throat. Hund sniffed the ground where the work left its mark.
The sun came over Graun's Head and Katharina shaded her eyes to look up the slope. To the right of the outcropping, where their summer hut still lay deep under snow, was the scar from a small avalanche. She slung the bag over her shoulder, Hund looking up, panting next to her. With her back to the mountain mountain, she had a view of the valley dressed in lustrous green and in great contrast to the alpine path where the snow came over the tops of her boots. She was glad she'd traded her smock for Papa's trousers. The villagers might look sideways when she wore them but nobody ever said a word. She reckoned her father's good standing in the community had something to do with that. Or because he had died fighting for them.
Now only Opa and she were left. The whispered predictions about what would happen to the dairy farm when her grandfather should pass were audible enough. It bothered her that people even foresaw a future without Opa in it, indeed expected her to marry soon so that there was at least a man involved when the transaction was necessary. But whom did they expect her to marry? She wanted nothing to do with those who had returned from the war or those who'd been left behind in the first place. Almost all of those boys – men now – had reputations going as far back as to when they were in school together. Too many others, the good ones, were still missing or dead. The Great War, they now called it; the war that had ended all wars. It had ended their country, in either case.
There were other men in the valley, now, too. None of whom promised any of them a happy future. The Italian guards patrolled the new border, keeping Tyrol cut in two while collecting bribes from smugglers. Friends and relatives from the north slipped the contraband in like lovers' notes through prison bars.
On their way back to the main road, Hund, her nose to the ground, loped past and stopped some metres ahead. When Katharina reached the dog, Hund was scratching at something in the snow.
Katharina crouched to get a better look. Blood. It was blood in the snow. She half stood and looked around, her heart galloping. Two sets of boot prints. No animal tracks. Who else was out here?
A gust of wind came up from the valley and she saw a scrap of paper stuck among the branches of a sapling. When it was in her hand, she recognised the symbols and lines of a relief map, similar to the one her father had had before going off to Galicia to fight. This one, however, showed the ridges and curves of her mountains. More paper was swept northwards on the wind. Katharina looked at the kicked-about snow. The branches rattled above her and the back of her neck crawled.
She returned to the tracks. One pair of footprints was much larger than the other. Up the trail, she found where the smaller person had fallen on all fours. More blood had pooled here. The tracks parted, the smaller footprints moving east, into the woods. The second pair of boot prints led north. The border.
No other animal but man, Opa had once said, would hunt down another man and leave him to die.
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