OSLO, NORWAY, JANUARY 1941
Hauptsturmführer Ernst Loeb paced nervously in the white-washed hallway of the administrative building. He had several things weighing on his mind; the current visit to Norway of Reichsführer Himmler wasn’t even foremost among them. Loeb had been part of the planning detail for the visit but was then given an alternate task, wired directly from Berlin. The details of this task had come directly from the office of the Führer himself. Loeb had read the order, and momentarily thought the task beneath him “Couldn’t my skills be put to better use sniffing out spies and collaborators, rather than pursuing antique trinkets in frozen fjords?” he asked himself, before assuring himself that he was picked for this errand by the Führer himself—or at least, members of the Führer’s staff. Worse yet, he noticed the name of the SS Officer who would be accompanying Himmler to Norway with the sole purpose of making sure this particular task had been completed adequately. Obersturmbannführer Anton Schwartzknecht was a man of some fearsome reputation, even among the Waffen SS. He had personally killed more Polish, Russian, French, and British soldiers than almost any other officer in either the SS or the Wehrmacht. It was worse than that, considering that Loeb and Schwartzknecht had once come to blows over the attention of a young lady who worked in a grocer’s in Munich several years earlier. Loeb ended up married to the beautiful fräulein, much to Schwartzknecht’s chagrin. Loeb had then wisely chosen a career path that would take him as far away from Schwartzknecht as possible. But now all that careful planning was gone, and the fearsome Obersturmbannführer was now in Loeb’s
territory, and outranked him. Things couldn’t get much worse. He checked his pocket watch again. He’s late.
Apparently, however, he must not have been that late, since a black Mercedes-Benz 170v soon pulled up to the white stone steps outside the administrative building, tires crunching through the snow. The driver ran over to the passenger door, opened it and snapped to attention, as the black-uniformed SS officer climbed out and glanced over the white building. Loeb almost ran down the steps to meet Schwartzknecht. He stopped a couple steps up and saluted. “Heil Hitler,” he announced, to which Schwartzknecht responded.
“Welcome to Norway, Obersturmbannführer. We are honored by your arrival,” Loeb said. Schwartzknecht furrowed his brow.
“Spare me the pleasantries, Hauptsturmführer. The only thing I wish to hear from you right now is that you have the object.”
Loeb cleared his throat. “We are in the process of securing it as we speak. Right now, a detachment of SS, along with Norwegian auxiliaries, is closing in on the location of the object.”
“That is not what I wanted to hear, Hauptsturmführer. That is not what Himmler wants to hear, and that is certainly not what Hitler wants to hear. I had conferred with the Führer himself on this particular project, and it was I who selected you. I shall not allow your incompetence to make me look the fool in the Führer’s eyes.”
“I assure you we do have the location of the object, and it will be in our hands this very evening.”
“You seem certain of this. Please, share with me the source of your confidence.”
“We had the chance to interrogate an informant. A man who, it turns out, is a member of the organization known as ‘Ministry’.”
The mention of Ministry piqued Schwartzknecht’s interest, and his eyes widened. “Ministry, you say? We have had encounters with them before. Officially, they have been
banned by the Third Reich, their resources confiscated, and their surviving members taken to labor camps. And you say that this… Ministry… had possession over the object in question?”
“Yes, and I am certain this information is accurate, as we were very persuasive, and this information has been verified.”
“Good,” Schwartzknecht said, a rare smile cracking his steely face. “So, where is the object being held?”
“In an ancient wooden stave church to the northeast of Trondheim.”
“And you are certain that the operation will proceed as ordered?”
“Absolutely. I advised the men to cleanse the place entirely. No survivors, as ordered.”
Schwartzknecht’s smile widened. “Excellent.” He then proceeded up the steps, heading into the administrative building.
“Excuse me, Obersturmbannführer, may I ask as to the significance of this object? I understand that the Führer is interested in items of great metaphysical and religious significance, but from your description this box of Huginn and Muninn just sounds like a simple wooden box…”
Schwartzknecht turned to face Loeb. “You may ask, of course. But I may not answer. Suffice it to say, it is a matter far above your security clearance.”
“Understood, sir,” Loeb replied. After all, it was a mission directly from the Führer’s office. Who was he to question it?