While we sat at the table at Starbucks I took a tape recorderout of my backpack. The Old Man said, "So you are really serious about this?"
"Very well", he said, "My name is, as you know, Magnar Pyrekski. My story begins on a rainy day at our estate a few miles outside Warsaw".
I replied, "You know that sounds like such a grimly ironic name in English, considering the city's history."
Magnar noded,"Yes, 'War-Saw' indeed. It certainly saw a lot of it."
Then he continued, "I had just left the academy and had come to visit my family before setting out to take my commission as 'Podporucznik Pyreski-that would be roughly second lieutenant-of the 105 Uhlans."
"Just a momment, sorry to inturrupt you", I said,"I know what a Uhlan is but those who read this might not".
Magnar grinned indulgently, "Very well. An Uhlan is a lancer. And we had real lances and real horses, not like today when cavalry ride in Helicoptors or APCs."
"I never did understand that", I asked, "I know if you are lucky or skilled enough you can get among the enemy; and given that it's a chance to destroy a whole unit in a few minutes it might actually be worth it. But lances? Weren't they more bother then they were worth?"
Magnar said,"I wondered about that myself at the time. But to be fair, people had been prophesying the death of cavalry since your Civil War and indeed I remember watching on the news, your Green Berets conquering the Talibani in alliance with tribesmen on horseback. Brings back a whole lot of memories. But yes lances were really over the top. Give us some credit though, none of us really thought you could get a lance through a Panzer's armor. We just assumed that Panzer's couldn't be everywhere. And we were right-just not right enough."
Magnar continued, "In any case this was my last days leave. I and my father were sitting by the fire, engaged in a conversation that many were engaged in in different houses all over Europe. A conversation that had been heard before many times."
He said more,"I opened by saying 'How serious is it?'"
"My father replied, 'As serious as can be. It's going to happen again, just like last time. At least that's what the gossip is in the city.'"
There was a pause.
Then my father went and opened a chest.
'My son', he said,"This sword has been passed from father to son by the Pyerskis for generations. I pray, by a miracle that you may never have to use it. But if you must, do not disgrace it."
"We talked on through the night. It was like I said, a conversation heard many times, in many houses of high status and low. Once my father said something I'll always remember, 'I wish your mother was here to comfort me. But maybe it is better that she is at peace and does not have to go through this twice.'"
Magnar went on with his story,"At that I dared to inturrupt,'Is it not to much that someone should have to do so once?'
At which my father said,'So it is, but that is the way the world works. Go with God, and come back safe'"
The story continued,"The rest of the night was business. I packed my stuff into a duffle, carefully deciding what to carry and what to leave behind. The next day I headed for the train station to my new post as Podporuczik of the 105 Uhlans."
Magnar turned to me,"Tis been a long day, I'm glad you aren't wearied by an old man's tales."
"No", I said,"But the tape is."
Magnar mused, "That's the funny thing about machines. Always impatient. While, like I said, it's been a long day."
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