Two days later, as the mountains began to cast shadows on the village, Vasili and Maria sat on the fence outside of their shed.
“I am scared,” said Maria as she looked at the ground. “Will I ever return do you think? Will we ever see Father again?”
“I do not have the answers you are looking for. I will miss our family and our friends. But I know that when we make enough money, we can maybe return and help Father and the family. And I am a little scared myself,” said Vasili reassuringly.
Vasili leaned over and hugged his little sister, gently kissed her on her head, and whispered, “I will always watch over you dear one. Always.”
Maria smiled, wiped away the tear that had trickled down her cheek, and said, “We need to get ready.”
Vasili’s brother Havel and his sister Nadya were still finishing up their chores. Inside they found Mikhal sitting at the table, staring into the crackling fire. Mikhal did not acknowledge their presence until Vasili spoke up. Mikhal turned his face and it was then that they could see the lines from his tears running down his cheeks.
“We know this is very hard for you,” whispered Vasili. He was the eldest son, so the hurt was more painful.
Maria stepped across the room and hugged her father from the back, her arms squeezing around his shoulders and across his chest.
“Father, we love you, but this is our chance to help more than if we stayed here and tended the farm.”
The firelight was sparkling in her green eyes, reminding Mikhal so much of her mother Anna.
“You are my bright one, Maria. You are my joy, and your mother would be proud of you. Now you two get your bags and go meet Alexey. The train will never wait for you.”
Vasili and Maria hugged Mikhal one last time, and as they separated, Mikhal pressed money into Vasili’s hand and pressed a rosary into Maria’s hand. “This rosary belonged to your mother. I want you to have it to remember where you have come from.”
“I could never forget my home, and I am sure that Mother’s spirit will protect me and keep me safe.”
Mikahly recited the blessing three times as was the custom, “I bless you both in the name of our Savior, Jesus Christ.”
Vasili and Maria hugged Havel and Nadya, all four of them wishing each other love, and all four wondering if they would see each other again.
The three conspirators met on the road out of Circ a few hours later. There were no houses there, and no snooping eyes watching in the dark.
“Just follow my lead,” whispered Alexey. “There is a policeman at the station, but I think we can get around him. Petra always leaves a door open on the opposite side of the train for me.”
As the three of them approached the station, Vasili spotted a policeman looking towards them. They turned down the road away from the station, then cut into the woods when they were out of sight. Vasili peered through the brush, but the policeman seemed to have more interest in getting his pipe lit in the windy night. When they emerged from the woods on the opposite side of the train from the station, they ran to the train and climbed into the last passenger car available. The train began to move, giving the three of them a feeling of relief. Alexey seemed joyous as he smiled broadly at Vasili and Maria and said, “Well my friends, we have done well this night.”
The train came to a sudden halt, and they could hear voices outside. Petra appeared in their car. He looked at Alexey, and without speaking, shifting his eyes in a way to indicate something was wrong behind him. The police must be coming through. Alexey told Vasili and Maria to hide behind the last seats and he would take care of it.
From the car in front of theirs, they could hear the policeman shouting, “I will need to see your passports.”
Before the policeman could make it into their car, Alexey whispered to Vasili and Maria, “stay hidden behind the seat, you will make it my friends.”
Vasili wanted to shout, but knew he could not.
Alexey stood up, strode to the next car and yelled “I do not have a passport.”
The policeman eyed him suspiciously, but he knew that if he pulled in even one of these young men tonight, his lieutenant would be happy. He grabbed Alexey’s arm without looking farther into the car and pulled him forward in the train.
When he had gone, Petra came back to Vasili and Maria. “You can come out. He will not bother you now, he has done his day’s work.”
“But what will happen to Alexey?” sobbed Maria. “We cannot let him get arrested for us!”
“You have no choice. He knew what would happen. He must love you two dearly. When they find out his name and age, they will place him in the army after they make him sorry for crossing them.”
The train started back up, and they could see Alexey being pulled into the station. But as he looked their way he smiled a broad smile, in spite of the blood that had already stained his teeth. Maria opened her hand and realized she had been gripping her rosary so hard that she could see the impression of the three-barred cross in her palm. She looked up and when her eyes met Vasili’s, she could see that he understood.
They fell asleep as the train rounded the bend, following the Poprad through the mountains, then into the northern reaches of the Empire. It was late in the year, but the snows that often blocked the rails had not yet started to fall.
When they awoke, hazy sunlight was just starting to flow down the mountains to bathe the valley in golden hues. The trees were turning various shades of yellow and red. For Vasili and Maria it felt like it was the first time that they felt the beauty of their home mountains. Vasili had always loved the mountains. When he hunted, he had enjoyed the mountain air and the smell of the tall pines that grew up higher on the ridge. But those times were short-lived; something always needed tending at the farm.
He looked at Maria with a large smile and said, “Do you remember when we wandered off into the mountains. Mother was frantic.”
Maria smiled wistfully. “And you got the switch for taking me with you!”
“It was worth it. We explored the forests like we were in Tale of the Disobedient Children.”
“I was afraid Berstuk would grab me at any moment,” Maria laughed as she mentioned the old god of the forest.
They were so intent on their happy memories that they did not notice the train had stopped in Krakow.
Maria’s smile turned to anguish as two agents dressed in the gray uniforms of Hungarian police appeared in their car.