The Stallion and His Peculiar Boy - Based On the Life of the Famous Arabian Stallion Witez II

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"The Stallion and His Peculiar Boy" blends the suspense of a World War II military rescue operation with the subsequent challenges of resettlement in a new land.
First 10 Pages

As the misty dawn broke over the meadows at Janow, Poland on April 1, 1938, a beautiful Arabian mare named Federacja foaled a bay colt by Ofir. The eagerly anticipated colt was one of fifteen due in 1938 sired by the brightest star in the Polish directory of Arabian stallions.

The Poles had been breeding Arabians since the sixteenth century, and Ofir had been the product of a desert-bred stallion brought to Poland to continue the improvement of the breed. Now, a new colt would carry on the line and prove the rule: “Breed the best to the best, and you can’t go wrong.”

He was given the name Witez II, but called simply Witez (pronounced VEE-tez,) meaning chieftain and knight, prince and hero, all rolled into one.

But a dark cloud was looming on the horizon, a cloud that would change the life of Witez forever.

Chapter 1

Hostau, Czechoslovakia, September 1943

The man’s fist came down on the table with a bang that shook the dishes and rattled the silverware. “Look at me when I speak to you, boy!” The father, large and muscular, glared across the table at his son.

An eleven-year-old lad with curly brown hair continued to stare down at his hands with his large brown eyes. His fingers fiddled with the napkin in his lap. His upper body started rocking—forward and back, forward and back.

Turning to his wife, the man spoke through clenched teeth. “Get him out of my sight.”

The small, frail woman pushed her chair back and stood. Her plain facial features hid the fear she kept bottled inside. She hurried to the end of the table and placed a hand gently on the boy’s shoulder. “Teodor, come with me.” Looking at her son, her features softened. The boy was thin and small for his age, and her heart went out to him as he displayed obvious distress, his facial features contorting, his rocking continuing.

She slid her hand down his arm and lifted him by the elbow. As Teodor stood, his napkin fell to the floor. He let out a guttural groan, jerked away from his mother, and bent down to pick it up. Carefully, he folded the cloth and placed it next to his plate, lining up the bottom edge with that of the table.

Back in his room, Teodor sat upon the window seat and lined up his colored blocks in a perfect pattern . . . red, black, yellow, green, red, black, yellow, green . . . along the windowsill.

He listened as his father’s harsh Czech rant wafted up the narrow staircase.

“I swear, you must be the worst mother in the world to have raised such an insolent, ignorant, and stupid boy,” the man said with a snarl. “Why, he doesn’t even talk. He just grunts like a pig.”

The woman, her body bent over, the tears burning the backs of her eyes, struggled with her whispered response. “Teodor isn’t stupid, and I have done my best to be a good mother.”

“Well, it hasn’t been good enough,” the man snapped as he rose from his chair and stomped around the table. Stopping in front of her, he added, “Then, you tell me what’s the matter with him.” He pressed his abnormally large fists into his sides.

The woman dropped her chin and shook her head. “I don’t know. But I know he isn’t stupid . . . he’s just . . . peculiar.”

“Peculiar!” the man shouted. “That’s a good one. Ha! He’s so peculiar, the school won’t let him attend.”

“They just don’t understand him.”

“And you do?”

“No. But I’m willing to try to help him.”

The man sneered. “And how have you helped him? He won’t talk even when spoken to. He won’t look me in the eye. I’ve tried to be a good husband and father, but I’m at my wit’s end. I can’t take any more of this, Agata.”

Startled, the woman looked up. The darkness in her husband’s face frightened her. “What are you saying?’

“I am going to join the resistance fighters.”

“You’re going to leave Czechoslovakia?”

“Where have you been, stupid woman? Czechoslovakia has ceased to exist since the Nazis invaded us in March of 1939. I am going to fight to get it back.”

A moan of anguish rose from deep within her soul as she collapsed to the ground, grasping her husband around his knees. “Oh, husband, I fear if you do this, we will never see you again. I have heard terrible stories about the fate of the resistance fighters.”

Unmoved by her tears, the man folded his arms across his chest. “Well, I can’t stand idly by as our country is destroyed.”

“But all is well in Hostau. The Nazis here have not caused us any trouble. We are protected by the mountains and thick forests that surround us. We’re too far away from the fighting.”

“Have you not seen what is going on at the Stud? The Nazis are shipping in hundreds of horses.”

“But very few soldiers.”

“For now. But I’m not foolish enough to think that will last. I’m going to join the resistance, and that is the end of it.” He pulled away from her. “I will be leaving in the morning.”

The sun was just coming over the eastern forest, causing shadows to move up the main street of the little village of Hostau. Located fifteen miles from the southeastern Bavarian border and separated from the capital of Prague by hundreds of miles of forest and mountains, Hostau was home to a little more than one thousand residents. The pretty, German-style Tudor houses stood proudly side by side along the steep, narrow street leading up to the small plaza. Beside the plaza stood St. Jakobus Church with its yellow plaster sides and red-tiled roof. Perched proudly on top was its pointed steeple. The church was the home to the Catholic parish which had been established in 1384. It provided the spiritual home for the faithful in Hostau and the care of the cemetery at the southern end of town.

Just beyond the church was a handsome castle, once the home of the Prince of Trauttmansdorff but now the German Army’s headquarters. Most of the members of the army unit were sent there to work the horse breeding operation at the Hostau Stud. The castle looked more like a French château than a fortress. It was built in an “L” shape and painted white. The building bordered the formal courtyard and gardens.

Opposite the castle was the Stud. A horse breeding farm, the Stud was founded in 1914. During World War I, the facility was expropriated by the state and converted to a military stud farm. When the Nazis invaded Czechoslovakia in 1939, the German Army took over the Stud. In 1942, Hitler’s forces began moving hundreds of broodmares and select stallions to the Hostau Stud. Mechanization had not yet fully replaced the horse in the German army. The finest horses had been taken from their homes all over western Europe: Austria, Yugoslavia, Italy, and Poland, to name a few. Hitler appointed Gustav Rau with the task of overseeing all the Studs in German-occupied lands. The well-known horseman was responsible for providing the army with the 6,000 fresh horses it needed every month to keep the war effort going. Rau was also charged with using what knowledge of horse husbandry was available at the time to breed the perfect warhorse.

Teodor sat on the window seat in front of the wavy-glassed windowpanes kept clean by his devoted mother. He watched the people on the street below emerge from their houses that lined the all-too-familiar narrow road. He had been born in this house, as had his mother, his grandfather, and his great-grandfather. His family carried with them a great deal of pride at being what they called “True Czechs” as opposed to the “Sudeten-Germans.”

From his perch, Teodor watched the tiny world go by, a world into which he had been born but had experienced very little. He neither desired, nor was given the opportunity, to interact with it. He left his home only on the rare occasion that his mother took him to Mass or to the village shops. Taking him away from the comfort of his room usually resulted in temper tantrums, though these had become fewer and farther between as he had gotten older. Still, his father and mother were shamed by his behavior and preferred to just keep him at home. While his father lacked the ability to offer him any affection, his mother doubled her efforts to smother him with both love and patience. Each day she strove to teach him his numbers and letters while trying to find a way inside his mind. Teodor offered her little reward for her efforts.

On this day, as he was staring out the window, he saw his father step out of their house and onto the stoop. The man was dressed in a warm wool overcoat and his favorite black fedora with a silver pin attached to the felt brim. In his left hand, he clutched a weathered, leather satchel. He paused before stepping onto the main street. Turning, he looked up at Teodor’s window. He took his hat from his head, removed the silver pin bearing the family crest, lifted it toward Teodor’s window then bent down and set it on the top step. He replaced his hat and offered his son a brief salute by touching the brim. Teodor did not acknowledge his father’s gesture, neither through eye contact nor facial response. His father shrugged his shoulders, turned, and walked toward the cemetery, leaving the pin to sparkle in the new morning sun.

Chapter 2

Janów Podlaski, Poland, May 1944

The beautiful stud farm located in Janów Podlaski, established in 1817, was the oldest state stud farm in Poland and also the most elegant. Its clock tower stood proudly over the tidy and well-cared-for barns in a classic, Old-World way.

Home to the beloved Polish Arabians, the farm was located just a few miles from the Soviet border, site of many of the ferocious and deadly battles between the Red Army and the Nazis in this years-long war. This put the horses in a dangerous position. Rau feared for their safety, especially the ones he wanted for his breeding program. So, in early May of 1944, he sent orders to the Stud to have nine of the most magnificent stallions sent by train to Hostau, Czechoslovakia. Overseeing all the breeding farms now under German control, Rau designated the Hostau Stud as the site for his experiments in line breeding. Line breeding was the practice of breeding father to daughter or other close relatives, intending to pass along and accentuate the finest qualities in both.

One of the horses he selected to be moved away from Poland was a beautiful, fifteen-hand Bay named Witez II. Witez was the most valuable of all the stallions, being a son of the famous stud, Ofir. The horse was a true gentleman, unlike many of his companions. As he was led to the ramp leading into the dark train car that would carry him away from the only home he had ever known, Witez did little more than prick his ears, arch his shapely neck, and obediently follow his groom up the wooden ramp and into the stall that had been prepared for the journey.

The horses traveled for nine days – almost 600 miles. It is unlikely that they appreciated the sights as they traveled through Warsaw, Lodz, and south toward Prague. They were tired and irritable when they finally reached Hostau.

There, they were greeted by the stud master, Lieutenant Colonel Hubert Rudofsky, and a young veterinarian by the name of Rudolf Lessing. Both men were horse lovers and very knowledgeable about horse care. The stallions were soon bedded down comfortably in the stallion barn with fresh water and plenty of good quality hay.

The nine stallions had not been moved any too soon. A few days after their departure, a German bomb dropped on the farm at Janów, partially destroying one of the stallion barns. Fortunately, the stallions who remained at the Stud were out to pasture at the time.

The horsemen in Janów feared greatly for the safety of their beloved horses. Their beautiful Arabians, the pride of Poland, had been developed over the span of hundreds of years. Now, all their careful work was in danger of being destroyed. As the Soviet Army advanced, it either stole the horses it came upon, or killed and ate them.

By late June, all the horses yet remaining in Janów were evacuated to a farm in a small German town several hundred miles to the west. While their living conditions were not as luxurious as those in Janów, they were, at least for the time being, in a safer place.

But the Polish people feared they might never see their beloved Arabians again.