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Cheap Cognac

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War brings out the worst in people. I told Stern that, and I still mean it. The war brings out the nasty side of man, the vicious side, the side that would kill without remorse. It reveals the cowardice, and the hunger for power. Through fear, anger and hate, it makes people do things they would never otherwise consider.

But sitting out here, on Goeth's balcony in the alcohol-induced warmth, the war seems a lifetime away. The sounds of the party guests are still filtering up from the gardens, and it feels just like the end of any other party. It feels like being back home, or in any city in Czechoslovakia, or in Germany, or in Austria. Sitting around as the wine mellows your mind and the guests leave. Talking about inconsequential things, about power and justice, and other grand ideas that are too abstract, and matter too little in the daily grind of life, to discuss sober.

I can see what Amon would be like without the war. He would be a man who indulged a little more than was healthy for him. He would be the host who showed everyone a good time, but became sullen and withdrawn as the house emptied and the cheap cognac made his head spin. He would need a friend, or a maid, to put him to bed, but he would probably pass out in his study, and wake with a terrible hangover the next morning.

Amon looks younger when he's drunk. Dark hair slightly damp, loose curls resting on his forehead. Long, fine nose and shapely, slender lips. Pale skin that looks too smooth for a man who has lived in the military for so long. I would never deny that he's a very attractive man, and it's almost enough to make me wish I were back home again, at a discreet party amongst friends, where a meaningful gaze would not be ignored.

The most attractive thing about Amon is his eyes. Such dark eyes that reveal too much, that show where the idealism was lost, and where the realism began. Even sober, his eyes are mesmerising, and I know how he can command such obedience from his men. But when truly inebriated, it's easy to see that Amon does not rest easy at night, regardless of how controlled he appears during the day.

"We have the fucking power to kill, that's why they fear us." Amon half mumbles it into his glass as he drinks more of the foul liquid, and there's a slight slur to the Austrian accent. Even lying across the bench, Amon cannot hold his head up straight, but it doesn't look as if he'll stop drinking any time soon. He blinks slightly glazed eyes, and listens to me as I try to explain the power of mercy to him, and try to tell him how an emperor should wield his power.

Leaning forward, I can smell the cognac on his breath, almost overpowering the faint scent of the wine we started on. He listens carefully, and watches me far too seriously, obviously thinking about my point, or at least thinking as much as he can through the comforting haze of alcohol. As I lean back, he looks slightly suspicious, and I wonder briefly if he's noticed that I leaned too close, that I watch him too intently.

And when he's drunk, it's easy to see that he watches me the same way. Trying to figure out who I am, trying to work out my place in this changing world. Inviting me with easy camaraderie and relaxed confidences. Wanting something that would be forbidden by our political leaders, and would cause us both difficulties with the Gestapo. Offering me friendship instead.

It would only take a question, a comment, to acknowledge it and turn our own countrymen against us, so I stop staring at him, and fill in the tense silence with humour. Raising my eyebrows, and lifting my hands, I ask, "Amon the Good?"

He smiles, and nods. Then he points to me, saying, "I pardon you."

And I wonder if he pardons me for the serious turn of the conversation, for the weak attempt at humour, or for running away from something I don't have the courage, or the will, to face. But he laughs, and there's genuine delight in that deep sound, and I watch as Amon tosses back yet another glass of cheap cognac.