It was supposed to be a gently timed walk to Mannheim. She didn't care, really. Ever since they had informed her that Matt had been killed, some accident they said, her life no longer had a schedule.
She and Matt had been childhood friends, he enlisted when he was seventeen and before he went off to war, had asked her to marry him. She was only sixteen but her parents agreed to it.
Matt had three days and she was so in pain after their first night, that their marriage was consummated only on their wedding night. Matt and Trudy never got more time together. He had stepped on a land mine just two weeks after being sent to that awful place. He had taken out the maximum in insurances and since he died in combat, the amount had been doubled.
Trudy never even thought of anything but that her husband, her reason to live, was dead. At sixteen, her whole life, which should have yet to begin, was now over for her.
It was her father that met with the powers to be to complete any forms and paperwork required and, after getting some sympathy from the military, handled the estate paperwork for Matt also.
Trudy was by all intents and purposes now a very wealthy girl. In addition to the insurances, Matt's parents had left him some stocks, bonds, cash and the house in Bremen. Trudy would be in a position to start over again whenever she wanted. It was that numbness however, that would take some time to go away, if ever.
People would say that at that age things like death should be easily gotten over. Trudy and Matt had been together for more than a dozen years. There had never been anyone else for either of them. That kind of love was quite rare and not readily replaced.
Trudy, after several weeks of help, finally just wanted to get away. Away from the pain, the memories, her parents and yes, the constant reminders of what might have been. Her one extravagance was in treating herself to a walking tour, and, oh yes, buying a companion/protector, a rather large and fierce looking dog named 'Ranger'.
'Ranger' had flunked his 'K-9' evaluation for service. Too aggressive, they had said. Trudy found him, or rather, he had found her at the breeder. While walking about she had tripped and fallen. From out of nowhere, this huge ball of fur ran out to her, stood guard and would let no one even near her to help her get up. From that moment, Trudy knew that she and 'Ranger' had been fated to be together. It was like she had not only a companion and protector for her walkabout, but that somehow Matt was looking out for her through 'Ranger'.
The tour was a combination of bus, walking and camping out. In one or two places there was a option for a lodge or cabin, but unless 'Ranger' was allowed in she refused such accommodations. She and 'Ranger' had bonded instantly. It was funny too, no words or gestures were much needed for her needs and wants to be understood. She and 'Ranger' seemed to communicate easily. She merely thought of the desired action and 'Ranger' followed through with it.
Her parents were dubious to let a sixteen year old traipse about with only a brand new dog as a companion, but after watching how devoted they were to each other, any reticence became a mute point, she after all was already a widow.
It was to be thirty to forty-five days, depending on weather and side tours taken. They would stay in Germany and parts of Austria and the Czech Republic. It was a wilderness area mostly, partly virgin forests and rustic lake sites. The tour was well funded, had base camps, radios, medical and pre-positioned supply camps situated three or four days, at the most, from any point on the route. Camps were made every night also and messages and mail were arranged by couriers for the entire route.
The cost was three times what a budget tour would cost, but money and expense was not an important consideration for Trudy. She had paid much more for 'Ranger' than anyone could imagine. The breeder had been reluctant to sell him. The training, instinct and fierceness of the animal had been seen as relegating him if not as a 'K-9', then as a future security animal.
Trudy had first made an impassioned plea for 'Ranger', when that failed, her logic, that the dog was going to be sold anyway and her offer of several thousand Marks brought the breeder around to her way of thinking.
The tour started out on the border of Bavaria and the Black Forest. It was a beginning where 'Ranger' would leave no doubt in anyone's mind as to his courage and devotion to his mistress. He would prove that he had even more to sacrifice later on.
It happened when the hostel, where most of the trekkers were staying that first night, would not allow animals in the rooms, unless they were guide dogs for the blind. Even then, special permission and notification were required in advance. True to her words, Trudy stayed with 'Ranger', something she would do most every stop on the trip.
After pitching her tent, with very few others around her, she ate her meal that someone had gotten inside the hostel for her and shared the food with her best friend, for that was how she thought of the dog now. In a few moments that feeling would be tested and the bond grown much stronger even.
Three drunken locals saw the singular tent. It was light blue and illuminated by the light of the moon. The three, thinking they would have some fun, maybe get lucky if it was a girl or a young couple and stole to the tent.
They never got any closer than a stones throw away. That big black ball of fur pounced in front of the three men. Not a sound was heard, no snarls, growls or barking threats. 'Ranger' had been well trained. Fear or the differences in odds made no differences to him. These humans had invaded his mistresses domain, he would stop them or die trying. The raised muzzle and bared teeth left no question that if required no quarter would be asked or given. It would now be a fight to the death, they had been warned he thought.
One of the men was very foolish and very drunk, he pulled a knife and began to toy with the dog. 'Ranger' never hesitated, never faltered, he knocked the man down with his huge size and bulk, lunged at his exposed throat and in one bite tore it open. Blood spewed everywhere from the torn jugular vein.
It was over in a few seconds, the body and knife lay on the ground at the dog's feet. The other two men started yelling, dancing around backing away from the fallen man whenever they tried to approach their fallen comrade. It seemed from the noise they were making the men were trying to 'raise the dead', they did not succeed with Willis, the man lying on the ground.
Trudy was the first to come over. "Ranger' left his kill and positioned himself between her and the two men. Several people from the camp and the hostel arrived. The two men started yelling how they were merely walking when the big dog attacked Willis and ripped open his throat.
The director of the hostel walked over, extended his hand to 'Ranger' and pat his head saying, "good boy", you protected yours.
The man a former 'K-9' handler saw the dog as just that, a protector. He had been willing to touch the vicious animal to prove a point. The dog would not harm anything or anyone without reason. He moved the lantern over the dead body and pointed out the knife. "I suppose your walk took you near the young girl by accident and that knife just happened to be in his hand?"
The fact that Trudy was clutching her nightdress about her and the tent was several hundred feet from any path was obvious to anyone that the dog was a hero not some vicious animal. The Inn keep confirmed that the three had been drinking heavily and been asked to leave after several waitresses and two female patrons complained about the men's groping and lewd suggestions. It was a very small village and it was not long before the two men admitted their intention towards whoever was in the tent and the attack on the dog with the knife, by Willis. The desire to preserve the reputation of the tour also provided incentive to put an end to any further inquiry. Trudy and 'Ranger' were asked to take a room at the Inn. The start of the tour would be delayed when the official report and turn over of the two culprits was completed the next day. The one had already 'paid the price' for his attack, in blood.
The hearing the next day was short and left no doubt as to 'Ranger' just protecting his mistress. What it did, however, was to give notice to the 60 or so trekkers that no actions against Trudy or 'Ranger' would be tolerated.
As far as Trudy was concerned, whatever she had spent to 'buy' 'Ranger' was irrelevant now. He was her companion, protector and her friend, it was as though Matt was still looking out for her, through the dog. There was never a question in her mind to cancel the tour, even the generous offer to refund her fees and to tour at another time got no consideration. Several offers were also made to buy 'Ranger' from her. One was double what she had paid, it had come from the ex 'K-9' officer. What price could one put on a friend she asked him. He merely shook his head in agreement.
Besides the caution her fellow tour members had, only the admonition to chain or collar her pet was voiced. In a day or two with him, even the fiercest critic would come to Trudy saying how safe they felt having 'Ranger' around.
Word of mouth seems to travel further and faster than one might expect it to. Each stop she made, the inhabitants there held curious looks at both Trudy and 'Ranger'. It put each hostel, village and camp site on notice to be on their best behavior though.
"Ranger' had become somewhat of a celebrity by now.