Title: Through Forests and Mountains
Author: Margaret Walker
Genre: Historical Fiction/Romance
They were ‘our most beautiful days’ said the women who fought with the Yugoslav Partisans during World War 2, but I’ve sometimes wondered what the men thought about it - or rather, one man in particular.
Anton Marković didn’t believe in a girl with a gun, nor did he agree with Tito’s insistence on the importance of women in the fight against fascism. A mechanical man, he saved his attention for the battlefield, until the day that Mara shot her first fascist and his heart went to war on multiple fronts.
For in her past is an ex-lover so ruthless that he will exploit anything to stay on her trail, even Winston Churchill and the German Enigma machine. Can Anton save her from this single brilliant fascist?
Nowhere was World War 2 as brutal as in Yugoslavia but, from the anguish of a nation, emerged the most successful resistance movement in occupied Europe.
From behind a tree, Miroslav watched apprehensively to see if Mara would touch the angular officer with the mutilated shoulder, in which case he would be forced to kill her, as he had warned. He had become much more obsessively rule-conscious in these rural days, without the city to hold his head together. Sometimes he felt like a wild animal closing in for the kill. Sniffing blood on the wind. But that one finger touching the scars. Was one finger worth death, or just a roughing up, like last time?
Miroslav had long ago summed Mara up: playful, only half-serious around men, a school-girl who would rush in with enthusiasm but fear to go all the way. Spooning over any man who interested her, teasing him, falling into his arms, rejecting him. A cascade of methods all bent on control. She was leading this one a merry dance and Miroslav almost felt sorry for the man. Mara had got what she wanted, but had in no way registered the effect she’d had on her quarry, and the officer looked like just the sort of guy who would have trouble with women anyway—absolutely woeful at playing feminine games. Miroslav could bet, watching the way Mara engaged his interest only to lose her own a moment later and dump him, that he’d fallen for a lot of women over the years, who had treated him in exactly the same way. She’d had her little tantrum and stormed off and, even at this distance, the guy couldn’t keep the disappointment from his face.
Why hadn’t he leaped up and followed her? Now that’s what I would have done; prove to her who’s boss. Well, he was lonely, or in Miroslav’s parlance, marooned. He couldn’t get off his own island. Miroslav wagged his head at the officer in frustration. He pulled a face and stuck out his tongue. Run after her, you moron! Slam her up against a tree and ravish her. Tell her you’re a prince. Promise her diamonds. Lie to her. Exploit some of that officer’s authority. Don’t just give up.
Something has conditioned him to react in this way, Miroslav reasoned, and he would bet it was those half a dozen or so previous and depressingly similar relationships. Mara and her antics would be the last straw; he’d end up completely pissed off with the other half of the human race and announce that he’d given up women for Lent. Go home and have it off with his car. What Mara really needed was for someone to tell her what a tease she was.
She simply couldn’t keep her hands off men—that much was clear to Miroslav—and the world would be a better place without her. If it wasn’t one man, it was another. First that suave British spy, now this wooden petrol-head. She had finally succeeded in making him laugh, and Miroslav was amazed that his face hadn’t cracked under the strain. Seriously, what did she see in him? His features, tanned by days out of doors, were a montage of rugged and wary, lined in ways Miroslav would not have expected in a man probably—how old would he be?—early thirties? Nice skin but creased beside his mouth and between his eyes, like someone who couldn’t bear something, but had been unable to escape it. The officer’s hair was brushed back over his forehead, grey at the temples, black elsewhere. How had Miroslav guessed he was an officer? Well, clearly the guy was used to giving commands without explanation. One sentence finished and the next one started. No more words than were necessary.
Miroslav watched him carefully. How much was he attracted to Mara? All the signs seemed to point that way. But what did he have to offer her? Or, what did he think he had? That was more to the point, particularly if his memories stemmed from when he had last looked in the mirror. Like all the Partisans Miroslav had observed since the German staff car had dropped him off a week ago out of Foča, he had the guarded appearance of the hungry wolf. A sharply defined jawline, narrow wrists and, by comparison, broad hands and bony fingers. Evidently, he had driven extra holes into his belt as he lost weight, for Miroslav could see the end flapping uselessly to one side where once it would have fitted snugly. He seemed clean enough, but his trousers were fraying at the hems, he was wearing the same heavy hand-knitted socks that the peasants wore, and his boots were grey at the toes through constant wear. Miroslav tried to imagine him with an extra twenty kilos. Then he might even exude the type of raw sexuality typical of a man to whom a capable grasp of unfolding events had given reflection to his words. That talent would be something of a mystery to a girl who talked as much as Mara.
The girls had resumed their foraging. The tall officer, apparently aware that a single glance from one of them would evoke more avid female speculation, had prized himself from the long grass, picked at a couple of the ubiquitous nettles and was wandering away by himself. At a hail from two other men, he left the girls to join them, and the three diminished into the distance, leaving the girls alone. Miroslav counted them. Five—and only one of him. In the long dusk shadows, the three men had assumed the insignificance of figures in an oil painting; but they were still within shouting distance.
Not yet the right time to act. Patience. Patience.
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Just look at the reviews!
‘A heroic story, reflecting superb understanding of the history’ - Reedsy Discovery UK.
‘Margaret Walker has a unique gift for setting, allowing readers a feel of WWII’ - Reader’s Favorite USA.
‘Mara … is thrilled when she is allowed to fight back with a weapon. When she meets Anton, she’s not sure what to make of his scowl. He’s got a bullet wound in the head, but maybe it is more than that?’ - N. N. Light’s Book Heaven.
‘Brilliant characterization’ - the Reading Bud.
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Margaret Walker is a teacher. Through Forests and Mountains is her second novel. Her first novel, His Most Italian City, was published by Penmore Press in 2019. Her mother came from the former Yugoslavia.
She has a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Sydney, and diplomas in Education and Professional Communication. Her short stories have been published in Australia and England.
Margaret is a keen historian. She loves research, and has her husband to thank for an interest in modern languages.
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