1635: The Eastern Front — Snippet 40
Eric Krenz never remembered much of what happened after he collapsed from his wound until he woke up in an army hospital tent. All that remained were inchoate images of being moved on a litter and people staring down at him. The clearest of those images was that of a harried surgeon impatiently saying: “This one’ll live if he doesn’t bleed out. Put him over there.”
He had no idea where “over there” was, but some part of his brain understood that he’d just gotten a reprieve from a death sentence. It was probably that same part of his brain which enabled his eyes to observe a line of wounded men lying in a different part of the surgeon’s tent who quite obviously had not met the surgeon’s criteria for survival. The only attention being paid to them was by a single orderly, and all he was doing was giving them water. Or, more often, giving them cups of a brownish liquid that Eric couldn’t identify but which that more-or-less sentient part of his brain figured was probably laudanum. The mixture of opium and liquor had been around for at least a century. Its only real medical use was to comfort the afflicted and serve as a crude anesthetic during surgery.
But these men, clearly enough, weren’t going to be operated on. They were just going to die.
Some time later, Eric was given some of the liquid himself. In his case, as an anesthetic. The surgeon was replacing the jury rigged bandages the corpsmen had used with stitches.
The process hurt. A lot. As far as Krenz was concerned, if that bad-tasting liquor was laudanum, it had a grossly inflated reputation.
When Eric woke up, he was no longer in the surgeon’s tent. He was still in a tent, but this one was larger and much cleaner. More precisely, since the surgeons in the USE army did use sterilization and kept their tents washed with antiseptic, this tent had a lot less blood and gore. The double line of cots on either side of a central aisle were filled with soldiers who, though most of them were heavily bandaged, seemed in far better condition than the ones Krenz had seen in the surgeon’s care.
Apparently, then, he’d survive. Eric was quite cheered by the thought. He enjoyed life.
He didn’t even lose much of his cheer when Jeff Higgins came to visit and gave him the bad news.
“It’s not a magic wound, buddy. Sorry. You’ll be out for a while, but they’ll have you back in the ranks sooner’n you probably want.”
Eric would have shrugged, but he’d already learned that any movement of his upper body hurt. So he grimaced in such a way as to express the same sentiment.
“Just as well. Don’t listen to the silly fools, Captain Higgins. Just about any so-called ‘magic wound’ is going to be awful. You’ve almost always got to lose some body part you really don’t want to lose. Besides –”
He swelled out his chest and immediately regretted it. “Ow! Besides, the girls like the medals, sure, but they like them a lot better if they’re attached to a fellow who looks like a fellow instead of a side of beef in a butcher shop.”
A dark thought came to him. He gave Higgins a beady-eyed look. “You did put me in for a medal, didn’t you? I will remind you that I did save your life. All right, I tried to save your life. Probably didn’t have much effect on the outcome, but I think intent should count for something.”
Jeff grinned. “As it happens, I didn’t put you up for a decoration — because I didn’t need to. Colonel Straley himself saw your valiant charge and put in for it. He also told me to tell you that only a cretin thinks you can take down a mounted hussar with a sword while you’re on the ground and what the hell happened to your pistol?”
Krenz looked embarrassed, for a moment. “I sold the damn thing. It’s too heavy to carry around all the time.”
Jeff shook his head. “You’re lucky it’s only the good who die young, Eric.” He looked around the inside of the tent. “It’s not as bad as the surgeon’s tent — you want to talk about a place that’ll give you nightmares! — but it still ain’t the Ritz. However, you won’t be here long.”
Krenz got an apprehensive look on his face. “They’re not putting me back in the line, are they? Already? I just got here! And I must have lost at least ten gallons of blood.”
“Nice trick, that’d be. Seeing as how there are only five quarts of blood in a man’s body to begin with. Probably only four, in a skinny shrimp like you. Well, no, five. Your ears alone must take a whole quart.”
Jeff made a little patting motion. “Calm down. That wound you got looks pretty ghastly but it’s actually not that serious. The lance blade sliced open your side as messily as you could ask for but didn’t penetrate the peritoneum or the abdominal cavity. Once it heals you’ll be as good as new — except you’ll have a dandy scar to brag about to your grandchildren some decades down the road and girls in the here and now who have the same size brains.”
Krenz looked around the tent. “Then why aren’t I staying?”
“We’ll be marching into Dresden by the day after tomorrow. Torstensson’s already announced that all of our wounded are to be billeted in the city as soon as possible.”
Eric’s smile was a thing to behold. “I’ll be in a tavern soon! Probably one filled with good-natured barmaids. With, as you say, the mental acuity of my far-in-the-future tiny little grandchildren.”
Jeff grunted. “More likely, you’ll be in a stable. With horses a lot smarter and a whole lot more suspicious.”