I am loving this season. I am loving Hal particularly. This is a homage, and an antidote to other Being Human fic I'm writing, which is filled with discos and geese and boys kissing. Chapter 2 up soon!
When morning wakes with a cold and holy brightness over the field of war, Henrikke stretches the sleep from his body, and pulls on his woollen coat and cap. Hoisting his red shield, polished to a heady shine, he steps out into the camp, a ragged bunch of huts and tents flanked by a stagnant river. It crouches next to a copse of barren trees, marked only by a narrow and uncertain track and invisible from the earthen road just metres away.
Henrikke swings his sword through the chill air, whistling and admiring it's gleam. Out of tents, from pallets, men materialise like some sleeping creature's dreams, rubbing pink eyes and muttering of morning. The sun casts spectral prisms - Henrikke feels strong.
He has no idea that he will be dying today.
Sitting down to breakfast, he receives his meagre bowl of pottage - oats, turnips, parsnips, boiled to a digestible mush. They've had no meat for three weeks now, and have been warned to expect none until spring. Henrikke eats quietly and efficiently; those who don't are liable to lose their meals to opportunists.
The priest intones his morning sermon. At the beginning of the war, they were given in ringing and devout Latin (which bare few of the men understand). Now, however, they are in the common tongue, and have become ... less than devout, trembling, hollow. Henrikke isn't surprised. Like them, the priest is almost emaciated, and worse, has managed to lose two fingers of his left hand to frostbite.
He listens, the ramblings of this half-mad man more interesting than the rote learning of the Bible,
"An era ... perceives in the world ... reverberations of it's own strength, excitement, demonic enjoyment in an unforeseeable future. But at the same time ... its own weaknesses, inability for self abnegation and for life. The era follows and pursues itself, the viper that swallows it's own tale, that kills each new generation as it is born..."
The priest breathes heavily, moved to a restless silence. Henrikke looks round at the pale faces of the men, breakfast forgotten, morosely thinking on the priest's words. Only the camp surgeon looks calm, leaning back against a tree stump, smiling gently. The surgeon's face, Henrikke thinks, is an unrippled pool of dark water.
Henrikke's benchmate turns to him, "The priest'll not survive, he'll die here. Once the mind is gone, it's all gone."
Twisting his mouth, Henrikke shrugs, "We'll all die here, sane or not. Death doesn't care." He stands, dropping his bowl on the bench. Smiles at his shield as he hefts it to arm, "But not today, Dimitar. Today ... we slaughter."
Dimitar shakes his head, eyes wide, "You are too bloodthirsty. It's not normal. You should be called Vlad."
"Yes," Henrikke agrees affably, "Perhaps".
Then the horn is blown, and it is time to march again, perhaps for hours, and join the battle once more.
Henrikke does not love blood, necessarily. He does love living though, and has never felt more alive than when his own life force vanquishes another's. The theatre of war is the apogee of everything that makes his mind sing.
So when the lance comes calling for his heart, a small dark part of him is thrilled. He knows to twist swiftly away, to dance with death but not embrace. He sees the round crimson of the Muscovite's mouth as it bellows a war cry. He laughs delightedly at his speed, not realising that this time, he had not been quick enough.
And then he hears the waterfall of blood within himself, his beloved red shield now shining with wetness. As his eyes roll back they meet the sky, and the last thing he sees is the dark smudge of a crow as it flaps over the trees, a pockmark on skin of the world.
He wakes in a dirty cot, once-white, now dyed with the blood of tens of Poland's soldiers, and his in turn. Twisting his head he realises the ache of the world is inside his own body, sees his shoulder slashed to the bone. Feels the slow, slack blood come wheedling from within him, as if yearning to taste the air.
"So then," the shadows whisper in their regiments against the wall, "this is death, Henrikke."
Those shadows have him by the heart, dragging him to purgatory, while the life in him keeps leaping, trying to leave a too-abused body. With his consciousness fading, darkness trembling on the edge of light, Henrikke hears receding voices in his own language.
"Cannot save the arm - too much - kinder just to let him-"
He knows he will not hear them return.
He sleeps a death-sleep, and dreams he is a babe in arms, rocked in the cradle of hell.
He dreams he hears the missen-thrush of his childhood in Borovsk, choked by blood.
But then ... his fingers wake and scuttle on the bed, his eyes peel open like anemones, with a force of will. His pulse runs like a startled deer, his breath bewilders the air. The painful misery of a grey dawn hangs hard about the tent.
"Henrikke, you wake. So good, I was becoming concerned."
The surgeon, from the shadows. Is it ... is it the shadows or the surgeon who speaks? Or both?
And just like that, Henrikke can't speak, hard as he tries. His tongue is stuck to the roof of his mouth, teeth clenched, lips pursed.
"Good boy. So easy, you humans. Humanity ... is the measure of things. Humane. The human essence."
He moves from the shadows. Henrikke watches him, paralysed by injury and sudden clutching fear. Aside from his apparent lack of fear at the priest's foretelling of doom, Henrikke had never thought to pay the man a second glance. Now, now he does.
Of mid-height, with mid-brown hair curling about his ears. Nothing of note, nothing to distinguish him. Pale, as they all are. But never before has Henrikke seen anything move with such violent grace, with such deathly purpose. He doesn't even know his name.
"Alaric. My name." he smirks lazily, moving closer towards the cot. Henrikke wishes desperately for mobility, he wants to run, recoil. The surgeon pauses at the foot of the cot, his hand resting softly, meaningfully, next to Henrikke's ankle.
"So now, you doknow my name."
His hand creeps closer,
"Strange, is it not, that you are human and thus, in some wayhumane ... yet it is you that goes everyday to rend and disembowel. While I sew these bodies back up. And yet I am ... not."
There is a strange and angry light in his eyes. Which are impossibly black. Then he smiles, suddenly wry,
"Strange business, this being human. It makes no sense to me. I was going to sew you up, and see if gangrene took you. Or bleed you out."
He begins to move again, his eyes fixed on Henrikke's face. No, no, on his neck.
"Instead, brave soldier, you will lead me into the new world." the surgeon's body blocked out the candlelight; Henrikke drowned in darkness, "Don't worry, this won't hurt. Ah no, but that's a lie, of course."
The bite is silent agony, without even the release of a terrified scream. Henrikke's body aches for death, he wishes, prays for death, and doesn't feel the moment when oblivion takes hold.
And he does die. Even though he wakes. Andwhen he wakes, the pain is gone. And all that's left is blood - the need for it. The demand. It is his right.