Letter 02: Echoes of the Past

It has been over a year and a half since I created my two best friends and put them in the nineteenth century settings. Over the span of two months I kept rewriting my first three stories into English, when I felt like doing so. Enjoy, if you can.

Don’t copy it anywhere, as it is my original work, written for my own entertainment. It’s also factually off, consisting of many mistakes, errors and bad grammar, not mentioning poor wording as English is foreign language to me and my brain cell is very slow in processing stuff. Yet I enjoyed it tremendously, especially when I could sit outside on the balcony for a small portion. I will be probably editing and tinkering the text from time to time. My peripherals don’t work very well lately.

This is second episode from the series and it consists of prequel and flashbacks.

Words cca 13,430.

Episodes

Chapters

Scotland

My days in deep and old forests were filled with endless studying of volumes imported from London. I devoted my spare time to new methods and researches in the medical field, which caught new breath at the dusk of the century. I also went through numerous books about archaeology and works of art. Science-fiction genre, fueled by progressive engineering and new technologies, was the chef’s kiss and held a special place in my extensive library.

I also kept up with advancing surgical knowledge as I used to be a field surgeon. At the time of my youth I craved heroic adventure in the war ambulance, so I joined the medical ranks as military assistant surgeon. I obtained the best education possible and was a free man.

We didn’t leave the wounded behind, timely medical attention significantly improved the survival rate of the injured. I did everything I could to help the soldier to win his battle, so he could make it home and live with his family long after the war ended. It was the least I could do to lessen the overall harm being done.

I didn’t have to do that. I didn’t have to risk my hide and with bloodied hands fight for men’s lives, but I wanted to give my life a purpose.

My own future was secured. I was privileged thanks to my origin. Yet I chose to work my way up in the field, which wasn’t very well accepted by my close family. Instead of going into argument I moved to London as a very young lad.

I met my best friend William during the first year of my service. As a dutiful man of honour and same interests he easily became my friend and ally.

In the war one never knows what happens next and has to be in possession of one’s wits to stay calm and act promptly. Losing anyone and anything at any given time becomes a very common occurrence, but I somehow sensed that our relationship would survive the horrors of the conflict in foreign country.

Courage dwelled in his young heart and he saved many lives, including my own. I took advantage of my father’s name and got William transferred to my medical unit. He possessed some knowledge and learnt a lot more by helping me manage everything. We suffered the professional staff shortage back in the days.

Just like then I’m now following my desire and a lead to something breathtaking. Some time ago I found an interesting story in the local chronicle. How unusual for my area.

I often go out and search for archaeologically interesting sites. There’s one particular I’m about to discover soon. I know there are old merchant roads in the woods. Battered tracks, swallowed by the forest. After all, I don’t waste all my precious time locked in my library with my nose buried in dusty volumes or in my laboratory below it, made in a former dining room. I also tend to explore the natural attractions of my private property and beyond if I feel like it. I simply don’t want to be one of those, who found oneself lost in their own backyard.

I plan to set out tomorrow morning to discover another part of the old route so I can complete my map. I would very much like to invite my friend William to a specific thing. We haven’t seen each other for two years and I missed him and also our expeditions.

Sometimes it gets to me. I attend meetings with my business partners or travel to the city to indulge in theatre or opera, spending quality time among other fellow humans, yet being with someone, who understands me even without saying a word, is a lot more appealing and Will is the right person, a little wild perhaps, but best. Experiencing an adventure in the process is an added value. I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s expedition and hopefully even revealing new facts.

With that in mind I put aside a map of the region I was working on and turned off the kerosene lamp, sitting at the gallery of my mahogany carved writing bureau under a tall broken-arched window. I closed the fall decorated with beautiful carved lift up frieze and picked up brass chamber-stick with a lit candle. I left for my bedroom, located at the end of a balustraded balcony, which encircled the three sides of the house and opened to the main hall with a central point of interest, which is the large ornate hearth, filled with lightly glowing timbers, painting the interior slightly orange.

I enjoyed making the fire in the fireplace. The chimney is well built and no smoke is coming inside the manor. I turned away from the railing and entered my bedroom. A beautifully carved wooden tester bed stood on the left, wardrobe on the right and another bureau right across the room under one of the tall windows.

My night stand was heavily misused as a weapon rack for my reliable Remington revolver and some other necessities. I prefer not to clutter the place of rest much, but keep a good gun close, loaded with .45 Long Colt ammunition. It grants me peace, since I live in a secluded mansion at the lake shore alone. If I come to harm, the crossroad’s inn groom will be the first one to find out. The lad occasionally helps me around the house and horse, bringing supplies I need for survival. He’ll find the house in dead silence.

Now, it’s some dark thinking, I have to stop. I’d like to sleep peacefully. I hushed the vortex of dark thoughts, forming in my head. The sun will rise again tomorrow and light the day. I removed my banyan, blew out the candle and lay down in my bed, tracing the details on the wood, once my eyes adjusted to the darkness.

I admire good craftsmanship and the aesthetics of living nature, carved in the wood. All the floral ornaments and leaves. The poles of the bed looked like intertwined wine trunks. It felt unfitting to sleep in such a piece of art sometimes. The wood panelling of the walls and the wallpaper in darker shades above it made the room look dim, yet I somehow enjoyed the mood, especially during the evenings when the sun was setting down.

Another room very similar to my own was situated on the other side of the house, right across the hall. I could see its open door facing me in the moonlight. There were other doors on this storey, to my library and attic. The spare bedroom I was referring to become a guest room, mostly occupied by a friend. The most adventurous one.

Finally my brain gave up and I fell asleep soundly. I’ve dreamed. About the night sky in the desert, dotted with bright stars, about voices in the shadows, about old times.

to the top^

Morning

I had the feeling that I hardly closed my eyes and the morning already knocked at the door. It was still dark though, and my small pocket silver watch showed six AM. The cold air in the house wasn’t very encouraging and it only gets worse in the upcoming winter. I put on my babouche and black banyan, decorated with silver ornamental embroidery details on the cuffs and the collar. I prefer little details here and there. The coat will keep me warm till I get to the modern bathroom at the ground floor and light the fire to heat up the water in the reservoir. I’ve updated all the important facilities since I moved in eight years ago. Anyone could enjoy nature, music, or anything of importance and feel comfortable.

The bones of my little château were hundreds of years old. I fell in love with the place and swept away a few minor annoyances. It was quite educational. I learnt a thing or two and I’m almost an independent craftsman myself.

The steaming water misted the tall mirror. My sharp features were veiled by tiny dew droplets. I smudged the water with white linen towel, so I could see myself. I brushed through my blond curled shoulder-length hair with wetted fingers and tried to tame the wild morning locks, managing to gather most of it into a ponytail, securing it with black velvet ribbon. I washed my face in the basin, critically measuring the stubble on my chin. My iceberg-blue eyes were staring at me from the mirror for a moment and then I decided to shave my face, just to feel better.

Little rituals shape a day and clothes do make the man. I dressed up myself in white cotton shirt with wide cravat, black trousers with braces, a waistcoat and well tailored jacket, covering my broader shoulders and slim waist like a glove.

Once back in the room I finished my morning routine with a thigh gun holster and cowboy-style single-breasted leather coat. Gloves and boots were downstairs in the entrance part of the main hall under the stained glass window.

Will would disappear in this type of coat. My dark-haired friend is three inches shorter than me, but it doesn’t undermine his character. I know I’ll think about him often. I was ready for some action. I also knew I should probably wait, but I want to hand him something interesting, something worth the four hundred miles of travel to the northern wilderness.

I missed his untrammelled mind and nature. Stepping into his shoes I decided to seek out the answers to the unknown on my own. I have left a secret message in the colluded spot, containing information about my whereabouts and I also left the stables open so my horse won’t be restrained if I meet some misfortune. We had this agreement between us. No one actually mentions any precautions that have to be done. I live a very secluded life and this is bare minimum.

I packed a felt-flask and a candle, I also picked some food and put it into my haversack. I left the house and entered the old forest, growing right at the border of my overgrown garden, surrounding the driveway. Huge hundreds years old trees grew in the woods, untouched. Old rotting wood, covered in moss and mushrooms, lay on the ground. Clusters of greyish lichen hung from the tree branches, touching the rocky forest floor.

The terrain passed in only one direction, upward. There was a clearing on the top, still way too far from the destination coordinates, but I can rest there. I didn’t hesitate since I already knew the area very well. I recognized the elder trees, marking the old merchant road and in less synoptical places I followed my marks. The sunrise shone upon my journey and I crossed the stretch in no time.

A map in the chronicle, very vaguely describing the area and its peculiarities, gave me some clues. Since I located a few places it became a lot easier to read it. And I kept my good old army compass close.

With approaching noon I entered the main merchant road, overgrown by forest. I noticed an old border stone, peeking out of the soil. It gave me new hope and poured new energy into my body. The stone resembles a sign of civilisation and a defunct estate. I followed a hardly recognizable path, huge trees grew alongside it, set apart regularly from each other. Firstly the path disappeared under young saplings from which only the strongest survived and the rest perished in the shadows. Untrained eye could not tell I was walking on the old road.

That’s why I love my excursions to places unknown. I learn to distinguish less obvious details in the terrain and I can tell apart a natural shape from the one made by a man a long time ago. As simple discovery as the border stone made me excited and I took the time to note it in my own map. I’ll snack a little too. I don’t want to tire myself.

I ate a slice of bread and an air dried meat I obtained from a good innkeeper, living in the last civilised spot far from my estate. Studying the map carefully I saw I have to follow the path some quarter a mile to get to another important place. It’s easy to follow the lines on the paper and distances seem somewhat shorter too. Anyway I shouldn’t miss it.

The autumn sun caressed my cold cheeks. Colourful leaves fluttered in the wind as gently as butterfly’s wings and birds were singing in the woods. I enjoyed the peaceful moment and then once more set out to the last stretch of the trail to the destination. It took me to a little clearing surrounded by trees adjoining a mild slope.

First thing that struck me by surprise was a lonely tall hand carved memorial, slightly crooked sideways, covered in blackberry shrubs. I put my haversack down and removed the spiky briars, uncovering old carvings in the blackened surface. The letters were unreadable, but I already knew it meant to warn the travellers.

„It’s surreal.“ I whispered, excited. I pulled off my gloves and with slightly shaking fingers brushed over the hard surface, following the lines, encircling the shapes, removing the excessive needle-leaves from nearby larches.

I made a few notes in my notebook. The size, the condition of the stone and everything of importance, including several raw sketches. This very spot has been mentioned in the chronicle and gave me a hope I might discover the rest. I’ll take a good look around.

The woods were impassable and seemed very old. The slope above the memorial, on the other hand, looked very promising. I followed the moss and grass covered slope, ascending to a place with a huge fallen oak tree, defeated by storm. The tree trunk had to fall recently. Its roots were reaching for the sky.

The two feet deep bowl-shaped pit underneath it looked very dark at the bottom. As I came closer I recognised a gaping hole. What was even more interesting was the fact that the torn-out stones were of very angular shape, made by a man and belonged to the tunnel beneath. I have discovered a basement entrance of unknown origin, which simply means that I’m at the very site of quite ancient and mournful events.

I tested the curved ceiling statics before I lay my feet on it. It didn’t move a bit and remained sturdy. Fast check and I could see the floor covered by the pile of rubble. I once more scribbled a few notes to my exploration journal, keeping a record of my investigation.

Removing my long coat I climbed through the hole and the debris. Once down I lit the little candle I brought with me and examined very closely all the stone block walls. I didn’t want to overlook any important details. Nothing was out of ordinary so I proceeded into the darker part of the tunnel. I felt a very cold draft, coming from the place, where my little light didn’t reach. My breath was misting and dust particles filled the air.

I left the peaceful daylight behind and approached the wall in front of me. There were old wooden doors, reinforced with iron plating. The wood was rotten and the iron eaten by rust. The lock was already gone and the handle missing. There was but one thought running through my mind.

„What’s behind the door?“ But before I managed to touch it I saw in a glimpse of an eye a small symbol of the dragon, carved in the support pillar next to it.

„Another clue, that’s interesting.“ I whispered into the dark. As my senses were sharpened by excitement, my own voice sounded way too loud to me. I calmed myself down to be able to distinguish anything unusual beyond the air seeping through the cracks. I felt the draft tickle my face.

I didn’t hear anything odd, nor any animal behind the gate. I was considering breaching the threshold or returning home to contact William and bring better tools. As I hesitated before making the final decision, the underground made one for me and the blast of wind blew off my candle flame. So we made a silent agreement that I’ll return later with my good friend.

With hands on the sides of the hole I drew myself up until my knee rested upon the edge and I got out. I filled several other facts in my journal, resting on the tree trunk, already composing a letter to Will…

‚Dear friend,

it’s getting dark and I’m writing this letter by the light of a kerosene lamp…‘

I was sitting in my library that evening over the message, the blue-purple ink drying on a sheet of high quality paper. The silver moonlight highlighted my bureau and surroundings, painting the stretched window shapes over the floor. The night was very chilly. The lake waters glistened in the night. Fog creeped from the woods, covered the path and swallowed the trees under the library windows. I felt strangely restless and uneasy. Not because of the full moon coming. I couldn’t stop thinking about the reinforced doors and what may lay behind. I was hopeful to discover huge cellars, belonging to the former mansion as there were no other traces of existence on the surface itself.

The wind, hitting the windows, sounded almost like the draft flowing through the underground, bringing indistinct distant whispers, a single voice, speaking to me, or am I dreaming already? The fairytale was getting under my skin apparently. Anyway, I’ll send the letter the next morning.

I didn’t take any chances and rode to the post-office myself to be sure the addressee received the message. If anything happens to it, I can still use the wire. I returned in the afternoon. The day was almost gone and I prepared stuff for the next day.

to the top^

Point of no return

I put a multi-tool crowbar, an axe, a cooking pot and a felt flask in my backpack. I wrapped the lamp in a blanket, to protect its glass and I gathered a few more things I needed in case of an overnighter; a first aid kit and a handgun cleaning kit.

I took good care of my Remington and checked the ammunition in the drum chambers. I preferred the accuracy and very strong argument. The gun itself is single-action, the ammo slightly slower, but when the bullet reaches the intended target, it hardly gets a second chance. It never failed me.

I already decided about my return to the excavation site for further research. Yes, I know, I wished to wait for him, but something was stronger and I want to prove to myself I can do that alone.

I woke up very early the next morning. In fact I couldn’t sleep and so I got up a lot earlier than usual. Replenishing the provisions I picked my journal and long before the sunrise lit the horizon I already advanced over the well known trail through the woods. The morning fog set in the forest. I kept marching through the cloud until the sun rose above the hill and scattered the remaining rags of mist. The moment the two worlds collided, the beautiful volumetric rays of white light shone through the trees, enriching my artistic imagination. I would like to reify the image in an oil painting one day. I stored that wish in my inner database and enjoyed the magnificent morning some more.

Reaching the very place of my interest I removed my backpack and placed it under the uprooted oak tree. I left my coat there and took the crowbar and the lamp. I have worked carefully through the pile of rubble as I didn’t want to overlook any small artefact or anything unusual, but it looked like I’m not about to find anything.

The stones were heavy and I worked hard to clear the entrance, securing the area. I’ve worked only in my shirt with rolled up sleeves at that moment. Once the entry hole was cleared and the rubble removed I left the crowbar in the tunnel and got outside to refresh myself and rest for a while. My pulse was racing and fresh sweat beads covered my chest, salty drops trickled down over my skin. I dressed fully to protect my health.

I lit the lamp and jumped down, picking the crowbar. The lamp emitted enough light to brighten the small tunnel. I inserted it in a small alcove next to the rotten door and before I started anything illegal like breaching through the gate I listened very carefully to the utter silence, sensing the tension in the air. I was probably just projecting my own feelings about the whole thing. Once I’ve started I had to finish the task I set myself on.

I stuck the crowbar between the reinforced doors and the framing. An intruding sense of place desecration arose in my mind even over the fact that it’s closely connected with the dark past. I pulled the lever despite it and the door gave in quickly, so I had to restore my balance as I was taken by surprise. I broke in in one swift move, ripping the remaining pieces down. The tunnel filled with dust but I was already through.

The corridor felt wider and plaster covered its walls. It must be really well isolated. The space continued to the darkness and the gaping hole emitted freezing cold air, small chambers were to be found on both sides of the corridor and indicated a large house above the cellar. The size of the mansion can be estimated by the underground parts complexion.

I would like to be an old era witness, to be able to see the estate in its golden age, swarmed with life and not at all destroyed by fire, in ruins, forgotten by everybody. I enjoyed the explorative part itself, thinking about the past life. We’ve been living in modern and advanced days, but wasn’t life simpler back then? Harder, yes, but simpler in some ways. I understood that romanticising the old times ain’t a very scientific and exact method as uncovering the bare facts. But it helped to give life to long unused objects and also to these rooms. Imagination is a great tool.

I took a deep breath and followed the only path available, passing the dark and empty cells. I clutched the crowbar unwittingly as it resembled some saint shield, protecting me against the all-devouring darkness. I recalled the adventures with William, his fierce soul and bravery, letting the idea intoxicate me and empower me to proceed in my quest.

I checked the side chambers only slightly with a corner of my eye. It is not a very pleasant feeling having those dark rooms opening on both my sides so I made sure nothing is going to surprise me. Not a single animal, not even bats, who often take, what’s available, for their home. The ceilings were clear, only mineral sediments painted dark flowers on them once rainwater seeped through all the rubble and soil above. The pressure had to be immense, the structure remained very sturdy and seemed intact. We could learn a thing or two from the old builders.

Crossing the last threshold I entered the great hall. The ceiling was at least twice as high as in the adjacent corridor, wide enough for three carriages and the other end nowhere to be seen. I imagined the structure as a three-dimensional model very clearly and took some virtual notes about it. A lot of supplies could be stored in such a place, making the inhabitants self-sufficient for a very long time. I didn’t notice anything of that sort. Not a single keg or a nail, nothing. The hall remained empty except the singular object in the farther end of the room, which shape I started recognising as I approached closer.

„What is that?“ The cold air took my words away. The object of interest looked like a grave. A stone carved grave on a pedestal, eight feet long, three tall and wide. The monolithic lid had no handles, no carvings, no names.

„A nameless grave.“ An alarm ringed in my mind loudly. Maybe I shouldn’t even touch it. Putting the lamp on the lid I brushed over the edge with my right hand’s fingers.

„Who are you?“ I found the tiniest crack between the lid and the rest, inserting the sharp end of the crowbar into it. Maybe I shouldn’t do that either. Somewhere very deep in my mind a doubt bloomed, judging my actions, accompanied by my conscience, questioning every single step since I knocked at the front doors.

I mobilised all my strengths I could in an attempt to move the lid aside. The tool vibrated dangerously as I put all my weight onto it in hope it’s enough of leverage. The sound of moving stone assured me about my own strengths not being bad at all. The only bad thing followed. I asked for it.

A blast of air burst from below the lid. I couldn’t say if I heard a harsh draft or a voice as it sounded very unnatural. I fell back instinctively, dropping my crowbar. With a tinkling sound of a falling tool I drew the revolver from the thigh holster. The light went out and I found myself in pitch darkness. My senses heightened and the hope left me.

The rattling sound of the moving stone lid of a centuries old grave, buried in a forgotten cellar under the rubble of a fire-destroyed mansion, promised death. My future just dissolved in the blackness of primitive fear clenching my heart.

„Oh, God, what have I done?“ I stepped back to the exit, aiming blindly at the space in front of me.

„Whatever happens, I won’t give up, I don’t give up.“ Modulated whisper gained volume and  something moved towards me fast.

My right index finger gently pulled the trigger and held it pressed, the gun fired and the flame lighted the tall posture in fluttering garments. With an edge of my left hands‘ little finger I cocked the gun and it exploded with another flame. I lost accuracy, but it didn’t make any difference on short distances.

Any other chance to shoot was taken from me. He hit me in a full blow and before my slow brain noticed what’s going on with the body, I landed on the floor some yards away, head first, losing my gun at the impact.

The ear-ringing eased, being replaced with sharp pain in my lower back, pulsing from one spot, opening gates of agony. I hurt the scruff of my neck and the blood trickled to the floor.

I could live with such injury, but I couldn’t live with the loss of sense in my legs. I didn’t feel anything below my waist. I lay flat, unable to move, having my gun so close, yet outside my reach. A black fire burned in my back and sheer fear clouded my mind. I sensed him looming over me. The darkness and pain veiled my eyesight completely.

„You’ll forget…“

I was heavily breathing, fighting the pain, trying to gather the shattered self together. And I begged him and it was humiliating.

„Please, don’t kill me.“ Was all I could put together in a situation like this.

„Why would I do that?“ A cold, haggard hand encircled my neck, the other locked my wrist in an iron grip and pinned it to the floor. I knew instantly what was coming.

„Dear God, no!“ I cried out, desperate, fighting him. The other hand aimlessly clutched his arm. He squeezed the sides of my throat, obscuring the blood flow to my brain. My last defiant attempt watered my eyes. There was no space for discussion left.

‚Forgive me, Will.‘ The only thought addressed to my friend lingered in my tortured mind.

‚You’ll forget.‘ I’ve heard a voice of a man in my head. I didn’t understand why he was prolonging my suffering.

„Forget what?“ I cried in a thin voice, losing my senses slowly.

He picked me up from the floor and the pain in my back exploded. My scream filled the air and shattered the walls. The blast of agony almost tore my lungs apart, the black fire devoured my mind. He sunk his two sharp fangs in my neck and the vein underneath my skin immediately after. I gasped helplessly as he was taking my life fast. I was dying within the grasp of a four hundred years old vampire, I foolishly woke up from his eternal sleep. My mind spiralled down to the places I had forgotten for a long time…

to the top^

The war

„Charles, we have got another one!“ I raised my head from the bloodied work under my hands and glanced at the ambulance tent entrance. They brought the last wounded man some time ago. I’ve heard sporadic gunshots and cries of injured soldiers of British-Indian army.

„André, stitch this up.“ I’ve tasked the other surgeon with an open fracture and arterial bleeding in a soldier’s thigh. The horse hurt him as the animal fell under the Afghan attack. Very common injury and in many cases very fatal. The chance of survival used to be low. But we’ve been using modern methods and systematic approaches to the wounded. I tried to implement all I’ve learnt during those seven years of my specialised education.

André took over the pean forceps I held in my hand carefully and proceeded with the repairs of the wound. I checked both tourniquets above and below the injury and then sanitised my hands thoroughly.

A young dark-haired British soldier, wearing a very dusty khaki uniform, partially dragged, partially carried another lad of yellow hair and very pale skin. They were both hurt on their faces hit by a blast of some sharp debris, but it didn’t look serious.

I helped him with his burden. I supported the wounded guy under his right shoulder, noticing the sweaty cold skin as the blood circulation centralised in the core from a shock or injury.

„Help me get him over there, onto the empty cot.“ I nodded towards the makeshift bed, dirty with a blood pool of a less fortunate man. „What is your name?“ I asked the brunette.

„Will, sir.“ He checked the bed and without a blink of an eye dragged his friend to it.

„William, I’ll need you here, all right?“ I held eye contact with the boy to help him handle the emotions. The fear subsided and a tension dissolved.

„I’ll do whatever is needed, sir.“ He told me. His voice was shaking. I could tell he was scared. He looked way too young to be here, but strong and wilful, which is good.

He kneeled behind his friends‘ head, holding it gently he tilted the head back, chin up, checking on the airway. The injured trembled feverishly, losing his senses. The risk of suffocation was imminent.

„You’re doing well, William. Tell me something about him.“ I asked my new assistant in a low and calming voice to keep him occupied.

„We joined the ranks three months ago, Oliver and I. He’s the youngest of… oh, we… we’ve lost everyone.“ His own voice faltered.

I checked Oliver’s fast pacing pulse. The torn jacket and the uniform shirt veiled the view so I pushed it aside to make sure my presumption is correct. His body jerked as the cloth brushed over the affected area.

„Will, support his legs with anything, please. We need to raise them above his heart.“ I touched Will’s shoulder, so he was aware I referred to him. He wasn’t quite out of the shock woods yet. Taking his haversack he did what I’ve told him. He noticed the big blue bruise spread over half the abdomen and asked.

„Internal bleeding?“ He was visibly pained by the discovery.

„I’m sorry, probably.“ We have to move him to the field hospital at once. A team of surgeons is going to perform very complicated surgery. I could try to do it here, but his chance of survival would drop significantly as there are just two of us doing everything.

The boy’s chest stopped moving, he wasn’t breathing. I gave up looking for the pulse immediately and asked Will to help me, while I dragged the kid down to a firm surface.

„Will, can you help me to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation? Do you know how? He really needs you now. Two shallow breath-ins, very carefully, when I say, can you do that?“ His hazel eyes radiated fear and his green shades shone over the brown and golden ones, but he nodded his head, moving to the other side of his friend’s chest.

With outstretched arms I leaned against Oliver’s breastbone, placing my hand on top of the other. I pushed straight down hard and quick. I let the heart fill with blood after every compress, pumping it to his system artificially.

„On my mark.“ I whispered, winded. „Get ready.“ A droplet of sweat encircled my right temple, cheekbone and stopped at the tip of my nose, tickling. I managed to go for the first 30 compressions, but I knew it won’t be enough in the next series as our hearts tend to beat faster than that. I have been working non-stop for way too long and it showed.

Halting I wiped down the sweat and William did the rest. Brave kid. His technique was precise and I didn’t have to explain a thing. I would like to know where an ordinary soldier acquired such skills. I’ll ask him in better times. I watched Oliver’s chest rise, which was good, actually.

Leaning again against his sternum I’ve started a second round of heart compress. I wasn’t giving up. Young kids shouldn’t be dying in a war in foreign country, but this is not a place for despair. He needs me. I have no idea for how long he was in such condition but I’ve been thinking about the present moment and the things happening under my arms, things I can do something about. I’ll exhaust myself soon. Someone will have to take the turn.

„André!“ I’ve prepared myself for another round, meditating for a second.

„Suturing. The bleeding is under control, I cannot leave now.“ He answered, bent over his new patient.

I inhaled deeply, gathered my strengths and resumed the resuscitation. The veins in my temples swollen under the pressure. Oliver dwelled in a dark place and wasn’t returning into this realm and I felt very exhausted and my hands were shaking. I pushed myself far and wore myself thin.

Being it someone I knew I would be desperate to save him at all cost and I already paid as much. It was just me and André here at the moment. The flying ambulance guys weren’t real doctors. I’ve started losing my hope and if I manage to, by some miracle, save him, one of us will have to go to the hospital with Oliver as he quickly becomes a priority and needs the attention of medical personnel. We were about ten miles afar.

We finished the third and started the fourth series of compressions. Third minute without any oxygen in his brain.

„Oliver, kid, come back.“ I tried to persuade the body under my hands, like it could help him to find the way back to Earth. And maybe it can.

A peace settled in his face.

„Will, get ready.“ I exhaled, tired to the core. He nodded in understanding. I drew back to give him space, resting my hands onto my knees. I was yet again preparing myself to face another exhausting attempt to bring Oliver back. William touched my hands once I bent over the kid.

„I’ll do it.“ He said and took over from me. William was tired out by battle horrors, but he wasn’t giving up on his friend, his spirit stood strong and only that was important. We don’t belong in this war at all. He looked completely out of his place, whatever it could be. Maybe the ranks were his only choice in his short life. He became a soldier, bleeding for some foolish reasons of our sovereigns.

I chose a surgeon’s path for several reasons. One of them is actually saving lives in the place of conflict, lessen the evil being done.

Will managed to perform three full sessions until the exhaustion showed its signs. I realised that the blood on his uniform was his own, but I couldn’t do anything about it in the present.

And then, all of the sudden, Oliver gasped for breath unexpectedly and swung his hands feebly to avoid further damage being done to his chest.

„Well done, kid, welcome back.“ I checked for the pulse on his neck. „Excellent.“ His heart was beating again. I squeezed Will’s shoulder, smiling. We moved Oliver back to the army cot and I reached for the blanket, covering the boy from tip to toe.

„Will, keep an eye on him, talk to him, keep him warm. We have to transfer Oliver to the field hospital, away from here. André?“ I looked back at my colleague.

Tall, lean and raven haired surgeon glanced at me. I saw endless fatigue in his brilliantly blue eyes.

„One minute and I’ll arrange the transport with one of our trustworthy guys, who’ll keep him alive.“ André was a good surgeon. He worked quickly, precisely, no complaints. If I can do something for him I can give him a recommendation and he can rise in the world of Harley Street’s medical specialists. I can use my name for doing good things and not be ashamed of that.

I crossed the distance between us, disinfecting my hands once more, helping him finish his task. We are going to transfer the more seriously injured to the hospital in light wagon on easy springs we use for transportation. It’s a four wheeler, drawn by four horses. It can accommodate at least four soldiers. I picked the other two, who needed extended care and surgery and decided to send the second surgeon with them. It won’t be easy and even less comfortable, but it will do.

„André, you should go with them.“ I suggested in such a manner he could hardly refuse. „Stay there and take some rest. I’ll give you the document.“

„Only if you can handle this.“ He smiled, gesturing around himself.

„Of course.“ I nodded.

I cleaned my hands again, as not to give anyone an infection. Specific very stiffly settled circles in medical fields weren’t fond of taking bacteria in account. People were dying all the time and it wasn’t clicking in their rusted little brains at all. With new discoveries the surgery performed by younger doctors tends to be more successful as they seek progress incorporating new methods and knowledge in their practise. None of the former were prosecuted for the ignorance and lack of empathy, killing men and women, because sanitising hands and tools was too progressive. Meanwhile surgeons in Spain knew hygiene was highly important a century earlier. Not mentioning other nations. I understood that science cannot be locked in a cage. How do we want to advance if we ignore everything? Some people shouldn’t be allowed to practise in the field, gate-keeping the young blood. So here I am. The change has to be made via action and good example.

I accompanied both soldiers. Oliver’s eyes were shut and his breath regular and strong enough. I had hoped he could make it after all. William was bent over his friend, caressing his head. „Ollie, you’re going to the hospital to see the girls and then home, I promise.“ He whispered to his ear. „Thank you.“ He raised his eyes to me.

„Charles de Romanet.“ I introduced myself.

„Thank you, Charles. I promised him I’ll take care of him.“

„You fulfilled your promise a thousand times. I’ll scribble down some important notes, I’ll be back in a minute. The boys are taking the injured to the field hospital and my good colleague will take care of them and keep them safe. He’ll make sure Oliver is going to receive the needed attention.“ I smiled.

He nodded and straightened. He rubbed his shoulder with a sight of tiredness, closing his eyes in  the sudden surge of pain, coming from under the touch. A fresh crimson stain coloured his military jacket, spreading in all directions.

I took his hand, pressed to the shoulder, and opened his jacket. Once white shirt blossomed with bloody splashes and stains, growing under my eyes into an abstract picture.

„The shards are inside you for how long?“ I asked him in my calm tone. I didn’t want to scare him or his sleeping friend. I wasn’t sure if he could hear us.

„For a few hours. It happened when I lost my friend in a cloud of smoke. I… I don’t know, sir.“

„Will, just call me Charles. I’m OK with that. I am only a doctor and don’t worry I’ll put you together, give me just one more second.“ I pressed his palm back against the largest wound and raised to grab a piece of paper, a fountain pen and scribbled down a note to commandment, signing it with my full name shamelessly so the message is correctly interpreted. I called for André right after.

He emerged from a private quarters in our tent, holding his leather medical bag, taking my bloodied note.

„André, set this thing in motion. I’m counting on you and sent us at least one nurse of Miss Nightingale’s school. Go on, don’t wait. These men need you more than mothers or General Elphinstone.“ I turned back to the surgery tent and got back to Will.

André put the letter in his uniform pocket and ran away to urge the staff on. They carried out three seriously wounded soldiers, including Oliver and moved them on the stretchers to the wagon. André is going to make sure the kid gets much needed medical care and a higher chance for survival.

„Goodbye my friend.“ He bid me goodbye and disappeared behind the tent wall.

„Goodbye and good luck.“ I answered the tent wall.

William stood up carefully, pulling his jacket closer to his body.

„I need you on the operating table. There’s better light. Let me help you.“ I reached my hand out to steady him.

„Yes.“ He whispered, shivering a little.

I led him to the table. The buckets by the table foot, full of bloodied rags, used gauze with all kinds of stuff, made the place look like a crime scene. Not very welcoming when entered voluntarily. A smell of disinfectant filled the air and also the blood scent lingered in all the tools of my craft. The dry desert air flew through vents and lifted the canvas slightly. I got used to it but a walking patient, entering the operation room on his own will could be easily discouraged by the image, even shocked.

Pulling the dirty cloth off the table I cleared the surface with carbolic acid solution. I managed to do that without unnecessary cauterization, covering it with clean cloth. We used the tall brass lamps to light the area better. I helped Will to sit up and take off his jacket and shirt. He had no visible injury in his back. The explosion hit the left shoulder and upper half of the chest, shards missed the arteries, otherwise he would be goner. The debris pierced the muscles, impairing less important vessels. I can repair such damage in field conditions. I gestured to him to lay down.

„Are they deep?“ He felt vulnerable. Fresh beads of sweat raised on his forehead as he was looking for the answer in my face. The wounds ooze blood. The edges were clear as cut, reopened while he was resuscitating poor Oliver.

„They moved. I’ll get it all out under local anaesthesia. Since my colleague left for vacation with lovely nurses, I don’t want to put you under any drug.“ I smiled over the fact that André left merely for the girls.

William critically checked his wounds, still spilling little crimson trails over his chest, and then glanced at me. „Do whatever needs to be done, doctor.“ His features relaxed. Brave kid, indeed.

I picked the glassy syringe with a brass piston and silver hypodermic needle. I injected the numbing agent into the affected areas. He turned his head away, observing my desk as if it represented the greatest exhibition piece in the world. His right hand gripped the side of the table on its own will.

„Tell me about anything happening; if it feels painful or making you dizzy, any kind of discomfort. I’m going to remove the big one here in your shoulder, then I clean the wound, stop the bleeding and stitch it together. It will take no time and you’ll be as good as new.“ I spoke to him kindly.

„I trust you. I’ve noticed your devotion. I’m not afraid and it ain’t gonna upset me as the events before. I could hardly prepare myself for such things happening to us.“ He said, content.

„Do you wish to tell me about it?“ I asked him while I was working on him.

„Yes.“ He exhaled, narrowing his eyes into slits as he recalled the past experience.

„We’ve been standing side by side on the battlefield and then separated from each other in an instant by the explosion of the enemy’s grenade. The little thing erased us from the face of the world. Everything… is destroyed, whom we were, our desires, dreams, our lives since that first breath. We are nothing in the end and it is the worst moment of it all. We are paying the ultimate price in someone else’s chess game. History is going to forget us. Pawns, that’s what we are.“ He felt utterly depressed. I understood the kid is rather a philosopher in his heart and such thoughts might destroy him in the end.

„I’m trying to reverse or at least lessen the harm being done by endlessly cruel human nature with what I am doing here.“ I’ve shared my point of view briefly, focusing on slim surgical forceps and the shard in the wound.

I pulled the piece of metal out very slowly and put a compress gauze in the place to stop the blood from spilling everywhere. It washed out any alien matter and I cleaned the rest, stitching it neatly together. The scar will be very thin and almost invisible. We have been blessed with modern materials with antiseptics and also a wide range of useful tools. The staff shortage on the other hand was beyond my comprehension. I could only help as much.

„How are you doing?“ I asked him because he remained silent during the procedure, even forgot to breathe in anticipation. „Please, breathe.“

„I’m trying… I do.“ He whispered.

„It was the worst one, it’s finally out.“ The thing clinked in one of the buckets. „I’m going to stitch it together, you won’t feel anything, I promise.“ I picked up the surgical needle with a thread.

„I’m not afraid.“ He said. I think he did it to encourage himself.

When I finished the task I had to take several seconds to regroup before proceeding. I’ve been working for sixteen hours at least and I don’t want to make any mistakes.

„Will, are you with me?“ I asked him, recovering the tools.

„Hmm, hmm.“ He mumbled, still clutching the table as he tried to put himself together.

„So, what’s your plan once this thing is over?“ I’ve touched the skin near another wound to test his sensitivity. He didn’t notice it so I could proceed with the operation.

„I’d like to enjoy a bottle of good scotch.“

„It can be arranged. And what next?“ I had to smile for myself again as I love good scotch too. He was not surprised in any way and carried on with his narrative. Meanwhile I managed to capture the sharp end of another fragment. This one might be trickier than the other.

„I would like to teach the unbiased and unaltered history. People shouldn’t forget. I love history, books, art, old things. The beauty created by talented artists, all the music, paintings, worth of the world’s greatest exhibition halls… and then the art turns into ashes and the very hand which gave it life lay there and bleeds to death… oh… dear… I felt that one.“ He clenched his fingers as a moan escaped his mouth. The small piece of metal was distorted and the hooks upset his waking nerves.

„It’s out. I give you another dose…“

„Don’t.“

„Are you sure?“

„I am.“ He turned his head to his left shoulder and his eyes rested on me.

„All right.“ I cleaned and sutured it and picked the forceps again.

„About the history…“ checking the remaining wounds, I went for it. He was very decisive and determined to face the situation. „I know a few good people back in London. They are of very progressive and enlightened minds. I can introduce you if you wish. I myself am a benefactor of arts, history and science. It goes hand in hand and shouldn’t be separated one from another. I’m also interested in unusual things and fields as archaeology or folklore as I find it interesting. There is a hidden truth in every fairytale. The roots of it I like to seek for, hence the wide range of hobbies and it’s great to know another open mind. One day I would like to leave the capital city. I count on that, but before I do so I very much desire to see the world and investigate a few clues…“ I could keep going on forever. I bet I needed to talk to someone too.

„It sounds like a great dream. I see now why you’re called Teàrlach.“ He expressed some knowledge of Scottish Gaelic. „You truly are a free soul.“ He half smiled.

„I’m doing my best with my time and the privilege I’ve been blessed with.“ I removed the last piece of metal from his chest.

„This is the last one.“ I told him, cleaning the wound before I stitch it.

„Charles, are you serious about London?“ He asked me in the end.

„Of course.“ I assured him.

„I’m accepting your generous offer then.“

„I’ll arrange everything once I rest a little. I keep my promises and if anything happens to me, you’ll have the papers ready.“ I gave him a hand to help him sit up. I covered his wounds with fresh dressing. He’ll need a new shirt. I think we have some spare medical uniforms in storage.

„Thank you for everything.“ He touched my arm and I helped him climb down from the table.

„It’s my job after all.“

„And I’m just an ordinary soldier in a Queen Victoria’s service. One of many.“

„You are not ordinary, Will. You also inherited your friend’s army cot. I have to attend to sick quarters and check on patients, take care of their needs. I hope for a few peaceful hours of sleep if possible. You should take some rest too. I can only advise it as your surgeon.“ I washed my hands and gave him a spare blanket. He accepted it, but hesitated, watching me with his piercing intelligent eyes.

„I can give you a hand, help you with your task. I’m not able to sleep at the moment. I have some experience from East End hospital and home care.“

I was thinking, but only for a little while as the hard work already depleted most of my powers.

„Maybe you can. Disinfect yourself and take the white coat, it’s on the hanger. I’ll show you around.“ And why not? He possessed some skills and might prove useful to us.

My eyelids were heavy. An hour later I’ve been slipping into limbo in my spartan tent. William was taking care of the wounded, oblivious to his own injuries. I understood. His friend’s life is at stake and the greatest battle lies before him. No one wants to be alone with such thoughts. But I crashed to my bed, exhausted and my body simply shut down. Dreamless sleep enfolded me merrily.

to the top^

Questions

I gasped for breath as I awoke and my confused mind emerged from a living memory. At first I didn’t realise where I was. My eyes adjusted to darkness quickly and I recognized the stonework in the arched ceiling above me, the entrance I passed through and the grave I opened. And then… what happened then? Was I gas poisoned? Did I hit my head and lost my senses?

I turned from my back and rested the elbow onto the ground. I looked around and noticed my Remington near the wall. I stretched myself, picking it up. Two cartridges were empty. Yes I was shooting in the underground hall, deafening myself for a second or two. It was more than that of course.

I sat up, taking off my gloves, burying my face in my hands, thinking hard. I’ve found myself in a pitch black room or I remembered I could not see a thing when my lamp light died away, because I made a dreadful mistake. But now I can see very clearly as in daylight the contents of the cellar and the structure of the walls. Even the silence felt different and I could recognise the indistinctive noises in the soil above my head.

„I should be dead.“ I announced to anyone particular, carefully mapping the throat with my shaking fingertips. Hair locks were glued together by dried blood and dust, scratching my fingers. The skin underneath it, though, felt soft and intact.

„Dear God.“ A dawn settled in my mind. I slowly recalled the previous events. I did not forget.  I didn’t forget anything he did to me. Jumping up from the floor, revolver in hands I turned the muzzle towards the grave. My heart raced but my senses told as much as I’ll find the grave empty. I had to make sure so I approached the structure, vigilant. And truly. No one was home. I had no idea what I had been expecting. I’ll have to believe in my new instincts. I couldn’t reason out why he would dwell in such an inhospitable and pitiable place.

I holstered the gun, picked my stuff and turned to leave. The sun rays streamed through the aperture, lighting the exit. How long have I been out of my senses? A day? A week?

I approached the beam with caution. „What if…“ I outstretched my gloveless arm before me and the gleaming light warmed the palm of my hand. The autumnal sun was as pleasant as always and I’ve perceived the shivering blue and golden aura, emanating from my fingers. I’ve been fascinated by it and swinging up through the hole I faced the sun absolutely mesmerized. My pupils adapted to the sharp daylight in an instant and the surrounding world exploded with vivid colours of shades beyond shades. A symphony of sounds from near and far filled my ears and the trees around me emanated with silver aura. I looked up to the tree canopy and I was able to see the stars beyond the sunlight. I felt and sensed all the life surrounding me in the middle of a fairytale forest. When focused I could suppress or enhance the way I saw everything and it was beautiful.

I went through hell to see how magnificent everything is. But why? Why? Was I the only person touching his very grave after so many years in darkness? Is that the reason he let me live in the end? A thousand questions blossomed in my mind as I tried to understand any of it.

I could remain in the woods, startled and lost in my thoughts or pack myself up and get back home, postpone further analysis for later. I decided for later.  There was nothing I could do to prevent him from whatever he was doing and where.

Once William arrives and if he’ll be willing to listen to me, we might come up with some plan. But to be frank I didn’t think he’d be safe anywhere near me.

I left the place of the last rest of my former self far behind and returned to my château. My horse was munching on the old rose-hip leaves, noticing me at the gate to the stables. Snorting loud he measured me with knowing eyes.

In many ways I could be a threat to him. His animal instincts may command him to run for his life and I won’t be able to catch him again. So, instead of approaching the stallion I leaned against the gate, embodied innocence, waiting for his first step. It didn’t take very long as he simply put any doubts aside and decided to find out what is going on.

It was me, the old Charles, but not quite. Also do I have something tasty in my pockets? His dark brown fur glistened in the sun, healthy and shiny, his aura emanated silver-ish light as the woods around us. I wondered what I would see once I lay my eyes on Will.

I raised my hand with my open palm and he gently touched it with his soft muzzle, snorting again, looking at me with his clear eyes. I caressed his head gently, whispering to him.

„I’m back, don’t be afraid.“ And he didn’t bolt away.

„I’ll take care of you.“ As a small experiment I entered the stables first, picking up his brushes and he, to my big surprise, followed me inside. From now on we had a silent agreement, reinforcing mutual trust.

Once I was done with dirty work in the stables, it was my turn and I headed to the lake behind the manor. A stripe of forest grew between my home and the pebble lake shore. The wind was howling in the trees.

I stripped to my undergarments and entered the chilling cold waters. I felt no pain, nor the chilliness as I proceeded deeper. The water raised to my hips, my chest and to the shoulders. I tilted my head back until I felt the water sublime through my hair, dissolving the blood crust, covering my neck.

I took a deep breath and submerged, spreading my hands, surrendering my weight to the currents. The blood and dirt coloured crystal clear waters, swirling up to the surface. Sun rays pierced the darkening depths to the rocky bottom, glittering on my pale skin.

I indulged in swimming in almost zero gravity, enfolded by cold waters and burning sunshine. An immortal being, dwelling between two elements.

My own condition is enigma. My heart is beating, but I didn’t feel the urge to breathe, letting the air bubbles escape my lungs. I closed my eyes, imagining how death itself would feel like. Probably nothing like this. It shouldn’t be working but it did, somehow. In his blood I found the ultimate gift, endless possibilities and also a thousand questions.

Emerging from the lake I gathered my loose hair and in one smooth move squeezed out the excess water. I was sitting on the stone bench upon the beach until I dried a little. All the scars I collected during my career were non-existent and my skin turned shade paler than usual. The quick regeneration is a real thing. It was clear enough, that the price is paid in the most precious blood. Somebody else’s blood.

„I don’t want to hurt anyone.“ Whispering to myself, my eyes followed the horizon line as I was thinking hard. My dark vampiric nature is there somewhere, waiting for an opportunity to show teeth. I’ll have to resolve the problem soon. To hunger I can find the solution at any stockyards, at butcher’s or go hunting. What is going to happen to my profession I could only guess. I have been a surgeon in the old days and later I helped a good friend in his practice in London for a short period of time. I’m retired from the army service but I keep up with everything new occurring in my field.

And guessing doesn’t work for me. I’d rather preferred solid data than wrongful theories.

Deep within my mind a silent voice told me there is no future for me, everything was a mistake and the one who made me, shows up to remove this petty error. Yes, it’s a possibility. I’ve got no idea what his intentions are, if he has any. To stay sane I decided to ignore that strange voice, silencing it eventually.

My gears were shifting till night time. As a ghost I collected my garments and returned home to clean myself thoroughly and repair what needs to be repaired. I lit the fire in the main ornate fireplace. I love evening fire burning in the hearth. It’s my link to a human past and my anchor in the present. I’ll light the fire every evening from now on until my good friend Will shows up and then I shall explain everything to him in small doses. I don’t want to lose him by scaring him off.

I’m afraid I’ll also have to resolve the immortal menace or die in an attempt.

Observing the flames I drifted away slowly and dived into the dreamworld, hypnotised by the flickering light. I’ve smelled the night time desert sand and felt the cold draft, flowing through my tent.

to the top^

Dreams

I didn’t understand anything they yelled at us. The rifles aimed at our heads on the other hands, told us very clearly this is our last hour and our destinies are sealed.

Before they towed me out of the hospital tent, I managed to hide my revolver under sleeping William, who has been suffering with fever for several days. Everything went south in the moment when scattered Afghan fighters regrouped and with the idea to ambush our field ambulance they attacked us, killing several good men. We have been protected but a few. Their job was to secure the camp, protect the medical staff and move severely wounded soldiers away. We have been trying hard to save lives here.

I couldn’t save myself nor protect the nurse Amelia in the end. Foreign soldiers were known for their merciless murders of the injured.

We kneeled in the dust of the rocky desert with hands behind our heads. Amelia pinned her sight to a ground absently, she didn’t show any sign of fear though. I’ve been kneeling three feet to her right, staring into harsh tanned faces of desert-steeled men. There were five of them. Fully armed and determined to execute any foreigner invading their homeland.

They watched us closely, despising us. Our medical uniforms weren’t any protection. I was worried for Amelia, hoping I’ll be able to neutralise at least one of them before they kill me.

Two of the men dragged one of our guards. His head bled from a cut above his left eye. He fought them fiercely, but they knocked him down, ready to stab him with their dirty bayonets. The self-proclaimed leader ordered them to kill him. It would be painful and slow and we would be forced to watch his suffering. They demonstrated their superiority, proving our work meaningless. We were no more than dust at their feet.

I couldn’t bear it. I couldn’t let it happen. They just wanted to butcher a helpless man. I think my anger took charge and I yelled at them to stop it. I threw myself over him in a very foolish effort to protect him from the inevitable attack. My desperate gesture provoked a counter-attack.

Afghan soldier hit me in the head with the butt of his rifle, connecting with my right temple. For a moment I saw only stars. I rolled aside and a gunshot deafened us and the kinetic power of the bullet turned me to my back as it hit me in my collarbone, going through my muscles, scraping the bone. A light red blood pulsed from the wound in unison with my heartbeat.

I tried hard not to elicit a single sound. I turned my head to Amelia, ignoring the arguing bunch of enemies. Her brown eyes were watered with tears. She pressed her hand against my arterial wound, putting her finger directly to the site as it was the only possible way to keep me alive a little longer.

I was only afraid they’d attack her too.

„Amelia.“ I gasped, locking my eyes with hers. „Be brave, girl.“ At the edge of my field of view the men were yelling at each other about the recent development. As a man of medicine I could be useful to them, but they obviously weren’t as clever as that. I hoped I’d diverted their attention from killing people.

Two loud gunshots reached my ears and a thump sounds of falling bodies followed. I recognised the blows perfectly. It was my Remington, loaded with .45 Long Colt ammo. A lethal weapon for my self-defence. Will is a good shot.

The remaining enemies were thunderstruck at first, but fled in all directions after. The chaos was silenced by another gunshot, putting the leader to forever sleep. The last heroes beeline for the shelter in the ends unknown.

I noticed Will kneeling next to me so I faced him. Reading a fear in his face I tried to say something, but my voice was failing me fast.

„Will… transfusion… stop… stop…“ My head was spinning and I was losing my senses.

They need to remove the bullet still in me, stitch the artery together, such a task is challenging even for experienced surgeons.

I’ve felt his hands picking me up from the ground. The fear gave him strength to do that.

„I’ll take you inside. Amelia, keep your hand in there, help me!“ William took charge. The bullet near the bone moved, inducing a wave of pain. My eyes turned to my head.

„I know, I know, Charles, I’m sorry.“ He apologized for no reason. The time was at the premium. They’ll have to act quickly or I’ll die of exsanguination. The third pair of hands supported my legs and all together transferred my limp body to the medical tent and onto the operating table.

„I’ll take care of the wound, I have to open him, remove the thing and attempt the end-to-end anastomosis. There will be some damage. You’ll have to keep the blood flowing after I prepare the site, Will, put your finger here and press.“ Amelia’s soft voice. A hint of worry lingered in it. My carcass weakened with every beat of my heart.

„I’m ready to prepare him for the transfusion.“ I overheard Will some time and some tools jingling later.

A third voice, belonging to the soldier called Joseph, asked what he is supposed to do.

„We need your blood. Are you healthy?“ Will’s voice.

„Of course I am.“ Joseph confirmed.

„Bring a chair and roll up the sleeve on your left hand. Don’t be afraid. You’ll help to save the best surgeon’s life. We won’t leave him behind.“ The last sentence was addressed to me as Will touched my pale face gently. I felt a burning pain spreading over my shoulder and in my other arm a pinch of a needle perhaps. I’ll enjoy this ride.

„His vitals?“ Amelia. I’ve seen a picture of her soft and happy face, her piercing eyes watched me dreamily and her full lips smiled at me, the loose locks of her long wavy brown hair framed her face, tickling me as she was leaning over me… or am I dreaming?

Something clingy somewhere.

„His pulse is threading, the breath shallow and clear, senses weak, pupils still reacting to stimulus. Body temperature… low.“ It was Will. He had a fever.

„The bullet is out. It is about time to switch.“ Her sweet voice. Darkness.

„Stay with us, Charles, please, stay. How big the risk is, Amelia?“ William. I wished to tell him that part of me is still alive.

„You’ll save his life.“ She stated.

My body may reject it, but there is no other way around.

„Joseph, I’m taking a turn, he needs more, please stay right behind his head and monitor his breathing, temperature and put two fingers here and follow his pulse at all cost.“

„Yes, sir.“ Two fingers on my neck and a hand on my forehead. I felt so cold.

William touched my palm, giving me his life. I couldn’t bear it any longer and drifted away.

When I woke up some time later I noticed three worried faces, surrounding my hospital bed. Will and Joseph on the left and Amelia, checking my wound, on the right.

„You were worried about me…“ I whispered.

„Charles, welcome back.“ Amelia hugged me carefully, moved. Will patted my healthy shoulder and Joseph was smiling like sunshine.

„They’ll transfer us all today. We are leaving the front line. You and Will are going to enjoy the stay in the hospital and I bet you’ll be repatriated and sent home to England.“ The light haired, blue eyed soldier brought us the news. His courage didn’t betray him and he was credited with the rescue of a field surgeon and I was lucky enough, because my body didn’t reject their blood donations to my cause.

„Yes, but I would like to continue my work here. I’m afraid my convalescence is going to take some time“ I turned my head to check on my wound. The site of injury was swollen, I’ve recognized the stitches, holding the entry wound together, playing by all the colours bruises can produce. I tried to move my fingers. Everything seemed to be functioning so I won’t lose my job after all. A huge stone dropped from my heart.

Miss Amelia stroked my cheek gently.

„I’ll clean it and redress it. Joseph is going to guard the perimeter.“ She smiled at me, taking care of me. She seemed pretty content, no signs of post-effects caused by the latest adventure. Not to mention her medical skills, overshadowing many practising surgeons.

„I’m going. Rest well.“ Said Joseph and rose to leave.

„Joseph, thank you.“ My throat felt dry, but he heard me.

„It’s okay, sir I’ll never forget you defended me there.“ Our gazes met in mutual understanding. I nodded my head slightly.

Meanwhile William prepared something to drink. He used an Indian rubber tube as a straw substitute and brought it to my bed.

„Amelia?“ He asked her.

„Yes. The wound-healing process is progressing well. I don’t have to open it and he needs fluids.“ She answered him.

He put a straw to my lips and I made the drink disappear quickly. It wasn’t plain water, but also lemon juice, a little bit of salt and sugar. It will help me rebuild my strengths.

„He’ll also bring you some chapati bread and fruits, right, Will?“ Amelia is a tough gal, she had no problem handing out assignments to people around her. And Will did everything she asked for, to keep things going. I would like to have them in my team permanently. But I knew it wouldn’t be possible.

„Anything.“ He said and left the tent to fetch me some food. He saved us all. I made the decision and I’m going to tell them… In the war we never know what happens next.

Once he returned with a few flatbreads in paper and a half an orange, Amelia was done with treating my wound and I was covered in fresh gauze. It hurts but I stood my ground and remained calm. She knew it, yet made no remark.

„Here you go. Five-star breakfast from our supplies.“ He put a piece of chapati bread in my hand.

„Will, Amelia.“ I addressed them, horizontal on a narrow army cot, holding a piece of food in my hand, with a bare chest, wrapped in gauze. What a moment for a speech. They somehow knew what I was about to say.

„I want to… no, no. I thank you for saving my life, you are both very brave. I didn’t have to risk my life, but there was no other way out of that situation. If it was up to me I would like to have you both in my team. It’s an honour to serve at your side for a higher purpose. Will, you work hard and learn quickly, you are also a good shot if I may and you, Amelia, would make a great surgeon.“ I watched them. William’s ears flushed red or a desert sun was involved and Amelia… she only smiled in the warmest way possible.

„I would like to be one.“ She said wishfully.

„Yes, I know and you want to do it yourself. Luckily, everything is changing. That’s why we are here.“

„Thank you, Charles.“ She kissed my cheek, suddenly also flushing red. I could smell a delicate vanilla perfume with an admixture of oriental spices.

„I accepted your offer the very moment we met. I’ll be honoured to help you and, please, forgive me as I’m not going to kiss you. I can only help you pack your humble medical stuff. Our mission is coming to an end.“ His gaze wandered into distance. „They’ll take care of us in the hospital.“ He was thinking about his friend Oliver. News didn’t reach us and who would deal with the fate of ordinary soldiers in the turmoil of war, when further action had to be planned. Another certainly meaningful battle, another bloodshed.

„Will, Oliver had a chance, at the hospital all the more, don’t lose hope.“ I tried to cheer him up.

„Yes, I know. Please, eat. I’ll take care of our belongings.“ Will left, letting me eat my generous breakfast.

I knew he’s sad every now and then, in the moments of rest, fearing for losing his only ally he knew from back home. I believed in hope. I’ll see André once we get there and he’ll tell us everything happening since his departure.

„Everyone had lost someone, even if we knew each other for a brief moment. War will either bring people together or divide them forever.“ Amelia knew Will’s story. I told her everything so she could count on him over his youth and lack of specialised schools. He was too young even to be a soldier, he shouldn’t be here in the first place, but it happened and I liked him very much. She also knew he was more of a philosopher than a fighter, but he proved himself in the battle thousands of times.

Random nameless heroes are the ones who deserve to be honoured with Queen Victoria’s Purple Cross for example.

„Amelia.“ I addressed her once I finished my ration.

„You should not get up so soon.“ She turned to me from cleaning the stuff she used to treat me with.

„I just cannot do nothing.“ I smiled at her, reaching for her.

„I noticed.“ She helped me sit up anyway.

„I’ll fix your hand, hold on.“

I tried to straighten the affected hand. As I stretched the forearm, my collarbone sent a sharp warning signal to my brain. I clenched my chin and gave up. I should let it rest in a scarf, tied around my neck. I also got a shirt and a military jacket with a folded sleeve, so it wouldn’t get in the way. With that done I could clear out my temporary table. Once Will showed up with my bag, he wasn’t surprised by what he saw.

„He didn’t want to be my patient.“ She remarked, watching me closely.

„I wonder why, Charles.“ He was amused as she hooked her arm through his, pursing her lips. A bead of perspiration raised on my forehead as I felt suddenly hot.

„He would certainly like to have this back, Amelia.“ He handed her my leather belt with a thigh holster. The gun was in it. Heavy. Of course. I can’t use both my hands and there’s two of them against me.

„I’ll leave you alone. I’ll help the others.“ He smiled secretively and left us to attend to others.

Amelia took the opportunity to take care of me again and stepped closer to fasten the wide belt around my hips. She tied a knot on the string to secure the holster in place on my thigh. She inadvertently touched me a few times, certainly by accident. My heart rate jumped up. She was so close, so close. The scent of vanilla, intelligent brown eyes, fine features, slim hands…

To preserve the decorum or at least the pretence of it I let her do the first step. It cost me a lot of willpower and some blood pressure. She raised her eyes to me, her palm resting on my chest. I felt the warmth of her touch.

„Charles.“ She whispered so softly I could barely hear her. I caressed her cheek gently and brushed the untamed strand of hair aside. Something inside me was tearing me into pieces.

„We won’t see each other again any time soon.“ Her small hand reached my neck, smoothing over my skin.

„I know.“ Her lips tempted me to do it. I bent down to her and embraced her waist with my good hand. She didn’t move away, on the contrary, she clung to me and our lips connected in a kiss. Gentle one, slow one and in another, passionate one. I held her as close as I could, drowning in something as beautiful as a tender human feeling and touch.

When she pulled away, she told me: „I was afraid, but I’m not afraid any more. I will pursue my dream. Your courage and dedication will be my inspiration and I’ll think about you wherever I go.“ Her fingertips strayed to my lips and then she kissed me again.

„Goodbye, little girl. Be brave.“ I whispered in her ear, my face touched her silky hair. The torn pieces inside me slowly drifted down and faded.

„I’ll leave with the next carriage. They’ll need me in Kabul.“ She squeezed my hand in an encouraging gesture, but I felt a stinging pain in my heart instead.

I watched her as she accompanied the stretcher with the sleeping soldier. They’ll be in good hands.

„Charles, come with me. It’s our turn.“ He addressed me, as my mind was wandering in places unknown. Regaining my senses I followed him outside. He carried our stuff. My bag and his small haversack. He had only a little possessions as he lost some in the battle and got some from us.

Out of nostalgia I glanced back at the military tent, the very place, where I had saved the lives of dozens, and walked away with Will to the chariot. I fell asleep immediately after we departed, with my head resting on Will’s lap. I felt hollow inside and endlessly tired. His warm hand held my head, shielding me from any damage, caused by rattling four wheeler’s movement. It was just the two of us back there and Joseph took a place in the coachman’s seat. He requested he’ll take us to the hospital. I trusted him and I was sleeping all the way there.

William remained by my side since then and became a good friend of mine. Oliver underwent several surgical procedures and was eventually repatriated and sent safely home to England. Joseph served in the ambulance to give his life the same meaning as I did then. André opened a private practice in London’s Harley Street, where I occasionally helped him some time later. Miss Amelia joined professional nurse ranks of the Red Cross and continued to serve on missions. Our careers never overlapped and I haven’t met her since.

I can see it clearly in my dreams, the deep ones, when I decide to close my eyes and sleep. I remember everything and I wish to be my own chronicler from now on. Once my good friend Will arrives, we’ll be able to recall some of his own insights in our adventures and we can fill blank spots together.