In 1936, the commune of Maquiatauro found itself on the front lines of the Spanish Civil War. Both the Republicans and the Nationalists coveted the town’s strategic location, but the citizenry threw in their lot with the anarcho-syndicalists of the Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (CNT).

Opposed to both the Nationalist rebels and the Republican government but nominally allied with the latter, the CNT redistributed land, founded agricultural communes, and perhaps most importantly for Maquiatauro’s traditional culture, reopened the Plaza del Toros bullring for the traditional sport of bullfighting under the ownership and management of the matadors, picadors, and the communal farms which had taken over the traditional estates and provided the bulls for the ring. The Republican authorities were uneasy about this, as many of them saw bullfighting as a cruel and backward sport with no place in modern Spain, but they were in no position to act on these feelings.

In 1938, the front lines shifted dramatically around Maquiatauro in response to the great Nationalist drive at the Battle of Teruel and the Republican counterattack in the Battle of the Ebro. The CNT anarcho-syndicalists refused to allow Republican troops in the city but with a crack Nationalist unit massing nearby, the Republic feared that the town’s militia would be unable to mount an effective defense. As a result, both Republican and Nationalist troops moved on the city almost simultaneously.

This led to one of the most bizarre episodes of the war. The Plaza del Toros had been prepared for a major bullfight when the shooting started, and the Maquiatauro anarchist militia melted away between the two invading forces. The front lines soon reached the bullring. Incensed at the interruption and fearing reprisals no matter which side won, the bullfighters released all of their bulls into the arena and opened all its doors.

The ensuing panic among battle-hardened Republican and Nationalist troops in Maquiatauro, including instances of bulls charging and overrunning machine gun nests and bitter enemies joining together to battle the rampaging beasts with bullet and bayonet, would be remembered for years as the Gunning of the Bulls.

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That was it. With the manual crank shot away there was no question of a soft landing, and the dogfight had burned through the 450 rounds in each of Ryov’s ShKAS machine guns. The Messerschmitt was still on him even though the Nationalist bombers had been driven away, and still firing–apparently the Nationalists and their fascist backers were more generous with heavy machine gun ammunition than the VVS or the Spanish Republicans pulling Ryov’s strings.

Ryov was willing to bet, though, when it came down to steel on steel, the rugged mule of his Polikarpov I-16 would beat out the fascist’s dilettante Messerschmitt. Maybe he’d also get an idea of whether Pushkin’s stories about downing a Mitsubishi in Mongolia were true.

“CM-260 damaged beyond repair. Attempting to bail out.”

The Polikarpov could turn like a beast; Ryov pulled out of a shallow dive into a steep leftward bank. The fascist pilot clearly hadn’t expected a maneuver like that, since it set the tubby mule on a direct collision course. Ryov saw a pair of frightened blue eyes in the opposite cockpit; he responded with a grin and a salute before bailing.

Once his chute deployed, Ryov was able to see that his fighter had slammed into the Messerschmitt, and the two craft definitely were not living to see 1938. Locked in a fiery embrace, they were plummeting toward the Catalonian countryside. To his annoyance, though, Ryov saw another chute in the distance–the fascist had bailed too.

“No problem,” Ryov muttered to himself as he tumbled to a stop on a dusty dirt road. He cut his chute loose and unstrapped the Tokarev pistol from his side. The fascist hadn’t landed far away, perhaps five hundred meters or so.

“I see you over there!” Ryov cried in Spanish, figuring that was his best chance of being understood. “Put up your hands!”

Cresting a small rise revealed the other pilot, clearly a German, walking toward Ryov with an unholstered Luger. “Put up your own damn hands!” he replied in heavily accented Spanish.

Ryov was content to stare his enemy down for a moment, then smiled. “See those people running toward us across the field?” he said. “They’re Catalans. Unless you put yourself under my protection, they’ll tear your baby-bombing ass to shreds.”

The German glanced back and forth a few times between Ryov and the approaching Catalans before sullenly tossing his pistol to the ground. “Thank you,” Ryov said, scooping it up. “Welcome, friends!” he added to the approaching peasants. “Lt. Ryov of the Spanish Republican Air Force requires your assistance!”

His smile lasted until the peasant nearest him struck him over the head with a club. By the time he and the German had been bound up and flung into the back of a wagon, it was a dour scowl.

In the center of the nearby small town, the wagon passed a makeshift gibbet with two corpses hanging from it; one wore a placard reading FASCIST and the other a sign with COMMUNIST in bold red. Nailed above them both was a bold notice: THE IBERIAN ANARCHIST FEDERATION KEEPS WORKERS AND FARMERS SAFE FROM EXPLOITERS OF ALL SHADES.

“I think we may be in trouble,” murmured the German in his accented Spanish.

“I think you may be right.”

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Manuel Exposito had risen from extremely humble origins to become one of the preeminent sculptors in the cultural flowering of 1920s and early 1930s Spain, a movement that was inextricable from the turmoil of Alfonso XIII’s late reign and the Second Republic. While he had trained under Gonzalez and inherited the latter’s love of traditionally unorthodox materials and designs, Exposito also worked extensively with stone and was willing to partake in traditional sculpted forms that many of his Cubist and avant-garde contemporaries shunned. Hence he worked without irony on the Our Lady of the Ebro marble statue at the same time as the wrought iron and quartz Howl of the Liberation. His pieces tended to include bits of classical sculpture emerging from cubist or art deco conglomorations of lines, shapes, and figures.

When the Civil War broke out, Exposito offered his services to the Republic. Wary of sending a sculptor of some international renown to the front lines, Exposito was instead commissioned to make a morale-boosting sculpture in Madrid from non-strategic materials. With the city flooded by left-leaning talent from all over the world, Exposito was able to gather his materials of choice, quartz and glass, and employ several models and fellow sculptors to speed the process. The overall design was of three crystalline female figures emerging from a jumbled chaos of lines and angles representing the war, to be cast in quartz with glass as a structural support.

In the process of completing the sculpture, Exposito apparently fell in love with one of the models: Karin Sandström, a Swedish anarchist who had come to Madrid with her father and brother (the famous Karl and Erik Sandström) to support the Republic. To this day the exact details of the relationship are unclear, but two love letters from Exposito to Sandström survive, the “crystalline muse” letters, so named after their dedication. Small Expositio studies and figures also turned up in the effects of Karl and Erik when they were shipped back to Sweden after their deaths in the Battle of the Ebro.

Karin Sandström died of disease during the death agony of the Republic in early 1939 (sources differ on whether it was dysentery or typhus), while the completed portions of Exposito’s sculpture were destroyed during Casado’s coup and the resulting street fighting between communists and socialists. Devastated, Exposito had to be bodily carried from the city by his assistants to evacuation in Cartagena, and thence to exile in Mexico.

The artist never completed another sculpture; instead, he immersed himself in amateur geology. In particular, he became a noted authority on quartz crystals and would pay handsomely for specimens sent to him by admirers and correspondents. To anyone who suggested he begin sculpting again, Exposito would only laugh. He declined rehabilitation at the hands of the Francoists, declined to return to Spain after Franco’s death in 1975, and would offer only boilerplate prepared remarks when asked to speak or be interviewed. He also adamantly refused to allow anyone into his studio, insisting that it was only being used for storage.

Upon Manuel Exposito’s death in 1996, at age 98, authorities in Veracruz opened the studio, intending to auction the contents to pay years of rock-hunting debts run up by the sculptor. Inside, they found a massive final sculpture made out of highly polished quartz crystals.

It was a portrait of Karin Sandström, and each crystal was a brushstroke capturing her as she had been in those far-off and dangerous days in Madrid.

Inspired by this image.

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Toms had been a trade-union organizer in Luton when the war broke out, and he chartered the first ship to Spain he could find once news reached him: a tramp steamer from Southampton to Bilbao. On arrival, he found that the advancing Nationalists had cut Bilbao and the Basque Country off from the rest of the Spanish Republic. Denied the ability to join up with the International Brigades, Toms fought and organized as best he could.

As a trained surveyor and architect, Toms was given a position building the Iron Ring–fortifications intended to protect Bilbao from Nationalist assault until Republican troops could break through and link up with the isolated Basque Country. He did this with gusto, developing the laborers under his leadership into an effective and politically active unit known as “los topos de Tomás”–Toms’ Moles.

The local Republican commanders eventually became unsure of Iron Ring architect Alejandro Goicoechea’s loyalty. They therefore contacted Toms and had his men construct a bunker separate from the rest of the fortifications, into which the precious metal holdings of the local Bank of Spain and other valuables were placed to protect them from bombardment.

When, as feared, Goicoechea defected to the Nationalists with the complete blueprints of the fortifications, Toms and his men sealed their vault with explosives. None of them survived the retreat from Bilbao or disastrous Battle of Santander.

The bunker? It remains sealed until today, its exact location a mystery taken to Toms’ grave.

Or is it?