View Full Version : Gravedigger

11-30-2009, 12:44 AM
There was a jostle as heavily armed men pushed past each other in the tight earth and wood walkways of Trench 21. They were soldiers. Disciplined, uniformed and they were all in a hurry. Five men carrying kegs of blasting powder were running in one direction, followed by another few men with guns drawn. There was the sound of fighting coming from the direction they were running and they all looked tense and grim. Two men were running in the other direction, the chain reinforcement under their armour jingling and jangling. Between them they were holding an assortment of papers, letters and small parcels. A number of shots from beyond the trench plugged into the woodwork near them but they kept on running, ducking lower. Armour was all well and good. The men knew that theirs could stop a variety of projectiles. This did not make them any more eager to test their luck.

A mortar whistled overhead and the two men ducked and dived instinctively. It hit some way away and dirt shook loose from the surrounding earthworks and dusted over both men's heavy greatcoats and the haversacks they wore across their backs. They both pushed themselves off the ground, their leg guards and knee plates leaving deep indentations in the muck as they rose. Once they had shaken the dispatches free of the dirt they continued dashing through the network of trenches as fast as they could.

They were bent over a little as they ran, which was a good habit to have in the trenches. They had gotten to the point where movement in this mode no longer hindered their speed. They knew their armour, they knew their bodies. They had some idea of the muddy trench floors laid with broken wooden planks, barely enough to give their feet purchase. Both men picked up speed as they heard a new round of firing and some screams from behind. They were cutting the delivery schedule fine since the order they were pre-empting had come late, been executed early and was suffering stiff and uncompromising resistance.

More shots were fired nearby, closer this time. Private Edward Thurston, Engineer, 98th Trencher Company drew a large bore military pistol, the letters previously occupying his hand tucked neatly up into his helmet. His companion fumbled with letter laden hands for a smoke grenade. Another shot was fired. This time the shot was unmistakeably from a blunderbuss, the standard weapon for Khadoran Winterguard. It came from around a bend that led back towards Melchett street. The two soldiers looked at each other nervously. There was foreign shouting and then a blunderbuss fired again. The engineer made a number of hand signals that both of the men had learned by rote back in Camp Cathmore.

I'll cover with Pistol. You low dash to opposite corner. Break cover. Pop smoke. Shoot anybody leaving smoke.

Private Owen Racconne, 98th Trencher Company, now had his own sidearm in one hand and a smoke grenade in the other. He was shaking a little. There was mail tucked all over his person. His hands were sweating and had he still been holding the dispatches, they would be crumpled and moist by now. Private Thurston was hiding his fear better, but it was still there. Unlike the younger trooper, Thurston had shot a man before and was prepared to do it again. As they broke into action, their fear had perfectly synchronised. There was no need for signals anymore because they either did it correctly or something horrid would happen which careful handsignals would not save them from. More than a mere aphorism, the notion that a plan never survives contact with the enemy had been drilled into the Trenchers as hard as the care for their rifle, the use of their shovel or the importance of not removing their helmet.

Thurston leaned round the corner and sighted his pistol at a Winterguard. Raconne dashed across the gap and took up position leaning across the opposite corner wall. Thudding to a stop, he felt his back against the reassuring solidness of the trench just as Thurston fired the first round. The Winterguard did a little jig as a round plugged into his lower back but as he tried to right himself his legs fell out from under him and he collapsed onto the wooden planking between two of his comrades. They swivelled round with cries of alarm and surprise and one fired a blunderbuss towards the two Cygnaran troopers. When Cygnaran infantry see Khadoran blunderbusses fire, there is always a secret hope that one of them would explode and take its owner with it. Reports, even those intercepted from the Khadoran army itself, suggested that this happened more often than they would like.

No such luck today. Lead pellets, nails and rock salt blasted the trench corner Thurston was hiding behind. One nail, refusing to stop against the muddy wall like the others, sliced through the earthworks and caught Thurston across the cheek just as he was reloading. The silken charge in his hand fell to the ground below into a small puddle. He bit back a tirade of swearing. Round was useless now. He started from the beginning, the sting of the cut reminding him what he had to look forward to if he were to fail. Raconne saw this and delayed his throw for a few seconds even though his nerves were screaming. As Thurston's breach clicked shut Raconne leaned round the corner and lobbed the smoke grenade with an over arm throw. He was greeted by another blunderbuss shot but it hit him full in the breastplate, and knocked him back a few feet, prone in the mud. He fumbled for his pistol but it lay by the corner wall, far out of reach.

The smoke quickly billowed out of the grenade, enshrouding the dead man on the ground first and then the cloud slowly grew larger and thicker until both Khadorans were completely obscured. Thurston was used to the smoke. It was hard to reload a forgelock when surrounded by the unyielding smoggy greyness, reloading a blunderbuss would be impossible. He waited. Seemed like forever, but he was keeping count. On four the first Khadoran ran out swinging an axe. He saw Raconne on the ground and charged.

Thurston shot him in the back of the head where the spine met the skull. The force of the shot knocked him to the side. He smacked into the trench wall and slid down it, leaving a grubby red smear across the moist wood. The other Khadoran was apparently smarter because he had taken the dead man?s blunderbuss. The thought of scrounging around on the trench floor amidst mud and blood and a corpse sickened Thurston but not as much as the fact that there was a gun pointed at him and he hadn't reloaded.

Raconne was squirming on the floor trying to get up and wasn't going to be much help. Nobody else had come along to investigate the gunshots. The Khadoran smiled grimly and fired. The gun didn't explode. That would be too much to hope for. But it didn't fire. There was a tiny trickle of watery mud leaking from the barrel that the Khadoran hadn't seen in the smoke. Powder was wet.

Private Thurston's bayonet knife was tucked in his leg holster quite tightly after losing one in particularly high mud. He couldn't reload before the Khadoran got his axe out. So he pulled his entrenchment tool from its hanger on his haversack, a small shovel the length of a mans forearm. The Khadoran dropped the useless gun, so much dead wood, and went for the axe on his belt loop. The shovel hit him square in the side of the head and he stumbled backwards holding his ear and yelling. Raconne had scuttled out of the way and drawn his own bayonet knife which he held so tightly in his hands that his knuckles were going white. The Khadoran stood warily between them now, his axe drawn in one hand, the other pressed against his ear, which had clearly burst. He was dizzy and leaned slightly against the trench wall for support. Both Raconne and Thurston leapt forward now. Thurston hit first and the blow knocked him to one side, stumbling over the dead Khadoran leaning against the earthworks, falling backwards into a pool of blood.

Raconne landed on him heavily and started stabbing, wildly, hitting armour or flailing limbs as often as anything important. The fit only lasted a few seconds but the Khadoran had lost so much blood by the end of it that he was turning quickly pale, exsanguinated
Private Thurston extended a hand and pulled Raconne up. The two of them took a minute to recuperate, their breathing frantic and ragged. There was no more sound except the dying Khadoran's foreign mumblings. The two could pick up the names of familiar ascendants but his last words otherwise remained a mystery to them.

"Owen, get your gun. They'll be demolishing this whole area to keep Ivan out and I'd like to keep my head above ground level if you know what I mean."

"They say being buried alive is the worst way to go. Worse'n drowning."

"Then that?s all the more reason to hurry it along then."

The two of them started to jog down the soggy expanse of trench work again, picking up speed, slowly ducking into their low run.

A few papers flew out of one of the Raconne's hands as he put his pistol away. He doubled back to get it just as the whistling overhead warned of approaching Khadoran mortar shells. The other trenchers they were to rendezvous with rounded the corner in front of them from 'Haymaker Street' and Private Thurston shouted to them with a smile on his face.

"Glad you could make it McMalley. A finer sight we'll never see, eh Raconne?"

Unaware that Private Raconne had fallen behind he dashed forward towards Corporal McMalley's small detail, at which point he disappeared in a spray of mud, blood and smoke as a mortar shell landed in the dirt behind him.

11-30-2009, 12:49 AM
As the ringing in their ears died away and they pulled their hands from their faces, they were met with a thoroughly unpleasant sight. Private Thurston was covered with dirt, mud, and blood. His leg was missing, severed roughly across the thigh, the wound clogged with debris and shrapnel. Corporal Liam McMalley, 98th Trencher Company, leaned over him inspecting the wound as he wiped dirt and blood out of his own face.

"Where?s Ashworth?" The three other soldiers shrugged, shoulder plates shifting as they did. McMalley grimaced, frustrated, exhausted and very concerned about the remaining three quarters of Private Thurston. "Medic!" he shouted, loud as he could against the din of the engagement.

Engagement. Such a carefully chosen word. It almost seems fair. The soldiers huddling in the trench around him were all feeling the same inescapable dread. This engagement was anything but fair.
Private Vaughn Ashworth, 98th Trencher Company Medical Corps and another soldier approached, trying to run while still keeping crouched. It would have been easier if they weren't trudging through freshly moved earth, never sure whether they were going to lose a foot to shrapnel beneath the surface, or feel their skin brush against the face of some dead comrade buried when the mortar hit the trench lip.

Ashworth had already taken stock of the situation before he was completely on his knees, and quickly unstopped a small clay jar full of a thick white paste. With one hand, he raked the wound with his fingers and nails, drawing out as much of the shrapnel as he could and with the other he dipped his fingers into the cream.

"You'll need to hold him, and get him to bite down on something. This is going to hurt, probably more than anything he has ever felt before."

As Ashworth spoke, McMalley realized that Thurston had been screaming at the top of his lungs the entire time, not responding to any of the soldiers now crowding around him. "Boyer, Matheson. Hold him. Graves, Finley, dash back down the line and find some junk to bodge a stretcher out of." They all moved to obey.

As Privates Boyer and Matheson both applied their bulk to hold and stabilize the screaming and thrashing Thurston, McMalley punched the wounded trencher in the face. A light tap, coming from McMalley, but still enough to get anybody's attention.

"Private. Less you want a right hook too, you?re gonna quit yer screaming and have a chew of this biscuit."

Private Thurston blubbered a bit, but did not have the capacity to answer him.

"How long have you had that biscuit?" Ashworth asked. Whether this was medical concern regarding its suitability for human consumption, or a regret that he had not known about a biscuit earlier was unclear.

"We ran out of biscuits three months prior!"

"I know. Nice 'an solid. Means he's not gonna bite through it."

The stale biscuit was placed into Thurston's unresisting mouth. The wounded soldier still did not grasp the idea that more pain, worse pain, was forthcoming. Ashworth began applying the cream. At first, there was no response from the patient and both Boyer and Matheson seemed to think that their part was going to be easy. But after the first coat had been thoroughly applied, Thurston's eyes rolled back into his head and he began to squirm, first in discomfiture as if some insects were stinging his leg, and then shortly afterwards he began to shake and convulse.

His flailing stirred up dirt and threw Matheson onto his arse. All the men involved had pained looks in their eyes as they watched his body come to the conclusion that his leg was really gone, at which point he thrust his head forward as his scream died in his throat and fainted.

Ashworth breathed out and fell backwards slightly into the loose dirt. He wiped his hands on his greatcoat and let his head tilt back so it rested against the trench wall. Matheson sat up, grimacing and shaking the soil from his hair. McMalley looked up and down the trench and when he was certain that they had no incoming enemies he placed his long rifle on the ground and started to pat Private Thurston down, looking for something.

He removed a bundle of papers from inside the unconscious trencher's coat, only to find that a number of them had been bloodied to all inferno. He rummaged in the dirt around his comrade and found another two sets of papers, covered with dirt and slightly singed. He shook his head even though he knew the Lieutenant had managed to decipher dispatches in worse condition than this and leaned back against the collapsed trench wall. Then, noticing what he was looking for, he picked up Thurston's helmet and took some documents from it.

They had survived the mud, fire and blood and looked quite passable despite the smell of unwashed hair and sweat. Even if it took hours to figure out the rest, or if they had to be passed along to someone who could magic the paper back to good health, there would be some clear, immediate news to be going on with.

Graves and Finley returned with a roughly bodged together stretcher. Maybe the medical corps had actual stretchers once, but these days you threw one together out of whatever junk was lying around. They laid it down by Thurston's side and looked him over.

"That's rutting awful, that is." Finley said, his farmstead drawl tempered with a little sorrow and maybe a little anger.

Graves did not say anything, he just unbuckled the downed man's shoulder pads and breast plate so that he would be easier to lift onto the bloodied wood and linen contraption that would take him to a field hospital.

"What?s gonna happen to him?" Matheson was standing again, looking at the wound and biting his lip.

"I'd say it warranted a ticket home. He could get a wooden leg, but his effectiveness as a soldier would be significantly decreased. He could look into mechanical prosthesis... but that?s not only costly, but a time-consuming and painful procedure." Ashworth made sure that Thurston was secure on the stretcher and lifted one end. Graves looked surprised, but this was his first time watching Ashworth in the field.

McMalley picked up the other end of the stretcher, and now in silence they made their way down the line as other Trencher's began to pour past them. They were rushing to reinforce the final defence of Melchett Street, the trench work they were preparing to fill in and abandon. The looks on their faces showed that these men had no illusions of an easy victory, or of making it out of Trench 21 alive.

12-06-2009, 06:34 PM
Melchet Street? Baaaaaaa.
Woof. Sorry lads, I've trod in a Khard and I can't get rid of the whiff!
Good read.

12-06-2009, 06:50 PM
I'm not sure I understood half of that, but thank you. I think.

04-28-2010, 02:37 PM
I love it!