Alexei Panshin's The Abyss of Wonder
father met Ahmed again at the moment
that he most needed to. This was in the Caucasus Mountains
the Civil War, years after they'd last seen each other. Their
would be wholly unexpected, and a great relief to Dad.
He had just turned nineteen then. As a straggling soldier in the White Army, he'd agreed to join a prospective battle on no more than the hopeful promise that he would be able to find some weapon for himself after he got there. Instead, he'd jumped from the moving wagon that was taking him to the fight at the sight of mounted men bearing down on them with raised sabres, and sought refuge in an unharvested field of corn.
Now he was running from the Red Army once more with no idea of what to do next beyond somehow finding his way back to the monastery where he'd been in hiding. He and Kyril, his companion, had spent a cold night in the woods, not daring to light a fire, with nothing more to eat than a few sour wild cherries they'd found.
They were walking along a mountain road when a voice called out for them to halt. Two men approached them from the brush with drawn guns. Dad was afraid they'd fallen into the hands of the Communists.
But these men were wearing traditional mountain garb. What's more, the taller of the two looked strangely familiar.
It was Ahmed! And even though my father was no longer the same boy that he'd once permitted to ride along with him, Ahmed knew him, as well.
"Alyosha!" he said. "We meet again. Where is your horse, and what are you doing here, so far from home?"
Exactly what Dad was doing there at that moment can't have been completely clear to him--which is what made meeting this way so utterly incredible.
When the White Army took
Voronezh, there had been
nothing to keep Dad at home any longer.
Dad enlisted in the White Army with the
of becoming a cavalryman and riding on in triumph to Moscow.
But that wouldn't happen.
The offensive that took Voronezh and then stuck there was not the stuff of which triumphs are made. Rather it was a last desperate act that had run out of breath and come up short of its goal.
Now the army was overextended. After less than a month the Reds counterattacked to cut its lines of supply and isolate the occupiers of the city.
My father's platoon and the other that made up his company were thrown into the initial resistance. They were pulled from the training ground, placed in horse-drawn carts, and taken to the battlefield where they assumed positions on one side of a river. They managed to hold in place for three days. Then artillery was brought to bear on them and they were forced to fall back.
Instead of moving on to Moscow, Dad went in exactly the opposite direction. And he wasn't riding a horse. He walked.
My father's fighting
career was short, futile and
ugly. It only lasted for a period of two months. It
in its entirety of defeat and retreat.
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