“They were all dead, to begin with,” Schweiner thought, glancing at the ever growing rank of bloodied corpses. “The poor fellows just didn’t know it”.
Returning his attention to the job at hand, he squinted at the bloody ruin that had once been a leg. “Apply the tourniquet.. here.. please, lad”, he said gesturing precisely, his voice raised to be heard above the desperate wailings of their patient and the muffled sounds of battle outside. He indicated an area just above the left knee, and Albrecht moved to apply the crude mechanical device.
The barber wiped his hands on his blood streaked apron, and after a moments consideration reached for the medium bone-saw.
The patient’s eyes widened in terror at the sight of the gore stained implement, and he began to thrash against the heavy leather restraints, his wailing becoming a series of ragged screams.
“Albrecht, if you would be so kind?”, Schweiner asked calmly.
With the tourniquet now screwed firmly in place, the young soldier removed a small length of rope from his belt and forced it between their struggling patient’s teeth, stifling the cries.
“Bite down hard,” the boy growled. “This will hurt… a lot” he added with a grim smile.
Suddenly, the cramped tent was rocked by the concussive blast of an explosion close by, followed by the heavy spatter of earth showering the canvas walls. A number of surgical tools clattered onto the muddy floor, and ice cold water rained down from the shadowy darkness above, dousing the fire and filling the air with filthy ash and hissing steam. The Halfling and his former apprentice continued their grisly work without flinching.
“I see their aim is finally improving” Berthold remarked. He was leant again a tent pole with an open book held casually before him. “They should probably be able to hit us by next Mitterfruhl”.
“That’s what happens when you get bloody engineers involved,” Albrecht agreed over the gruesome sounds of cracking bone and tearing flesh. He looked down at the now motionless man on the table before him. “At least Fritz here’s had the sense to pass out. Shame we’d run out of Shlaf, he’s an alright sort”.
The grey wizard lowered his book to peer over the halfling’s shoulder. “Ah, one of Dietrich’s boys. I thought he looked familiar. I say.. should it really be oozing like that Herr Doktor?”.
“It’s festering alright,” Schweiner agreed. He set down the heavy saw and fished a smaller, but equally barbaric looking knife out of the mud. “The lad’s probably been lying on the front line for a day or so. We might need to get him some Graveroot but I’ve treated worse”. The barber wiped the blade on his smock, and after handing the remnants of the recently severed limb to Albrecht, he set to work cutting the scraps of flesh with which to cover the exposed and bloody stump.
“What is it that you’re so engrossed in anyway?” the Halfling asked as he continued his careful work.
“It’s a copy of Detlef Sierck’s latest play. A tragedy, very popular in Altdorf at the moment by all accounts.” Berthold replied, opening the book once more.
“What’s so good about it?,” Albrecht asked, mopping the flood of fresh blood from the table with a filthy rag.
“Well, it would seem that the esteemed playwright has finally discovered satire. It’s a tale of family feuding between a noble house of our fair Stirland and our neighbouring Talabecland. Sound familiar?”. Albrecht spat noisily into the mud at the mere mention of the rival province.
Schweiner shook his head incredulously.
“It’s a bit risqué, even for Sierck,” Berthold continued. “This little war of ours is proving rather embarrassing for the Grand Duke, and this ‘masterpiece’ is drawing unwanted attention to his inability to bring about an end to it. But, at least it means we’re famous”.
“So some foppish bastard is getting rich, while we’re up to our armpits in blood and shit and freezing our bollocks off?” Albrecht asked hotly.
“Undoubtedly, my lad, undoubtedly,” Schweiner said, putting the knife down and drawing a large needle and thread from his belt. “This little feud was in full flow long before even your great-grandfather’s days, and how many purses do you think it’s filled since then, eh?”.
“A bloody pox on the lot of them. I’ve never liked Marburg anyway” Albrecht cursed as the Halfling returned to his work.
“Don’t let the Baron hear you say that, or we’ll all be out of a job” Berthold said with a grin.
The sounds of battle outside intensified, drawing the silent Caibre to the tent flap.
“Ulric’s teeth, you gave me a fright, I’d forgotten you were there” Berthold said with a start. The chill autumn air and a swirl of the early snows blew into the tent as the wood elf lifted the flap with a bandaged hand and stared out upon the hellish battlescape below, his keen eyesight penetrating the dismal fog of war.
“Von Schirach cavalry pressing on the right flank,” he called over his shoulder gruffly “The Captain is there with the Clan Chief. I’d say it could go either way”. A series of distant blasts followed his words as more rockets landed amid the swirling melee. “Footmen joining the centre.. they look like more of your mercenaries,” he continued, turning back into the tent, dropping the flap. “An eagle on a green field”.
“Bugger,” Albrecht swore, tossing the leg into a corner. “That’s Holtzmann’s company. They’re professionals and no mistake. Bet our bloody Lord Krebs hasn’t the coin for the likes of them.”
“Aye, he’s stuck with the likes of us instead, lad” Schweiner said with an ironic chuckle. “Now, get the pokers back on the fire and get it going again. Young Fritz here will certainly never dance again but we might just save him yet.”
A sudden and all too familiar cry from outside the tent caused the Halfling to freeze. “Butcher!”, the cry came again, drawing closer. Moments later the tent flap was hastily pushed aside, and a young man staggered in gasping for breath. The youth’s once polished Tilean armour was now dented and spattered with mud, and the coloured birds feather adornment on his helmet was now ragged and torn. Albrecht recognised him as one of the Marienburgers that had joined the company on the last campaign after their captain had been slain. He was now serving as one of the Captain’s runners. Meunchbek, that was his name.
“Butcher? “ the young man repeated through gasps for air. He glanced urgently around the tent as his eyes adjusted to the gloom, before fixing his attention on Schweiner. “Butcher.. Cap’n wants you… up to the front. It’s Lord Krebs. He’s been hit!”…