It was difficult to imagine that only two days ago they were tasked with delivering the order to stop the attack that could save the lives of sixteen hundred men. He could swear it was longer, with everything that was going on, but then again, he hit his head pretty hard. After stopping the attack and informing the older Blake about his younger brother’s uncertain condition, the exhaustion settled in and he passed out, the trunk of the lone tree supporting him.
When he woke up, he was in a medical tent, the older Blake by his side. Apparently, Joe went to check on him later and ask him whose men he left his brother with, but since he was completely unresponsive, Joe had the doctor to tend to his wounds.
“Thought we lost you there for a second, with how still you were,” Joe told him, trying to lighten the mood. He really was like Tom, just older. “Tomorrow morning they’ll send you to the hospital to make sure your hand and head will be alright.” Silence spread around them before Joe spoke again, voice filled with emotion. “You must’ve come through hell and back to get here. Both of you… Say, whose men did you leave my brother with? I’ll try to find out if he- “his throat closed, unable to finish his sentence.
“They were captain Smith’s men. They told me they would get him to an aid post as soon as possible.” I just hope they were fast enough went unsaid. Schofield really hoped the stab wound wasn’t fatal. But Blake was so pale and there was so much blood and he doesn’t know what he would do if he lost the only person close to him.
“Alright, I doubt the communication guys will be any help today, since it’s already pretty late, but first thing tomorrow morning I’ll go there and find out. I’ll send a word to you. Now get some more rest, you must be still tired,” Joe said as he pushed himself up. Giving Schofield one last nod, he left the tent.
Schofield watched as Joe’s silhouette slowly disappeared into the setting sun. Despite the wounded men all around him – just because he was too slow, only if he was faster – he felt alone. Blake’s presence had been – has been, don’t give up yet Will, he reminded himself – constant in the never ending current of war. Others came and went, but those blue eyes were still there. With hope that he will see those blue eyes again, Schofield fell asleep.
Schofield woke up to someone shaking his shoulder. “Hey mate, were here to get you to the hospital. We’re going to put you on a stretcher, alright?” There were two soldiers, one hovering above Schofield’s head, the other one at his feet. “On three. One, two, three,” the soldier counted down and both of them lifted him and put him on the stretcher on the ground.
Lifting the stretcher, they headed to where Schofield assumed lorries were. He saw one more man get carried outside along with him and passing another pair of stretch bearers headed back to the tent. The sun was barely up and he felt the gentle blow of crisp morning breeze. The camp was slowly filling with soldiers about to start their day.
Schofield doesn’t know what prompted him, but he turned his head to the side. Among the slowly increasing sea of soldiers, he noticed Joe watching him. When Joe was sure Schofield had noticed him too, he raised his hand in greeting. Schofield tried to raise his left hand to return the gesture since his left side was facing Joe, but his hand felt strange. He knew the doctor cleaned the wound on his hand since there were clean bandages. The infection must have settled in anyway and honestly, he wasn’t even surprised. He settled for his right hand.
Joe nodded in acknowledgement and resumed walking. Will assumed he went to the communications to find out if Tom is alive. From what he could see, Joe didn’t get much sleep last night. He must’ve been worried sick about his brother. Hell, Will would have spent the whole night worrying if he wasn’t still so tired and his head didn’t hurt. The uncertainty is the worst.
They finally reached the lorries. One lorry was already leaving. They loaded the other man in another one, securing the stretcher in place. One of the stretcher bearers jumped in while the other one slapped the cabin twice, telling the driver: “You can go.” The lorry rumbled to life and slowly pulled sped away.
“Alright, up you go,” they lifted him up and secured him too. The one talking to him stayed inside while the other one wished the driver good trip. The lorry roared to life as well and moved with a jerk. Schofield noticed there was still free space. As if the stretcher bearer sensed his unvoiced question, he began speaking. “We will be stopping by some aid post to pick some other folks. Just a small detour, probably will take us extra half an hour.”
Will nodded, scanning the faces of two other wounded men. One of them looked familiar for some reason, but he couldn’t place where he saw him. The traitorous thoughts from yesterday returned, whispering that it was his fault they’re hurt, that none of that would’ve happened if he was faster. He shoved them away, knowing that people die all the time in war. Just like Mackenzie said, next week they could get an order to attack and the result would be the same for them, or worse.
“You’re not from here, are you? I’ve never seen your face around before,” the stretch bearer initiated another conversation. He seemed genuinely curious to know more about Schofield. Or it was the fact that he was the only one conscious.
“No, I’m from the 8th. We were sent here to deliver the order to stop yesterday’s attack. It was a trap and the telephone lines were cut.” It was really strange to talk about it, like it was lifetime ago, yet it was only a few days.
“Ah, so that was your doing. Thanks, we would definitely have more work if the attack proceeded… or, well, we would be all dead. But judging from your state, you had a pretty rough journey. You said ‘we’. Where are the others?”
Will was kind of surprised how lightheartedly he said that. But then again, this man was a stretcher bearer. He was probably used to people dying right in front of him while he tried to carry them to safety, while Will just shot and shot, mind numb. Captain Smith’s words rang clear in his mind. If something happens to him, it’s best not to dwell on it. “There was just one. I don’t even know if he’s alive.”
The stretcher bearer’s face dropped. “Oh, sorry. Didn’t know that. I just assumed he was somewhere nearby, resting.”
“It’s alright,” Will lied smoothly and let the silence fill the truck. The conversation left him strangely tired. He blamed the concussion and let his eyes slide shut, the ride lulling him to sleep.
Will was still half asleep when he heard shuffling movements. He realized the lorry wasn’t moving. They must have stopped at that aid post. He couldn’t bring himself to care at the moment, he was just so tired. Turning his face to face the wall of the lorry, he tried to block the sounds and fall back asleep. For at least a few more minutes.
Wait, he knew that voice. But no, that couldn’t be… The concussion must be playing tricks on him. “That was the last one, you can go,” he heard someone call from the outside. The lorry roared back to life and started to move again.
“Sorry, the ride won’t be that smooth from here on,” the stretcher bearer said. “But once you’ll get to the hospital, they’ll fix you right up!” Will was starting to get curious who the man was talking to.
“I hope so. Hurts like hell.”
Now Schofield definitely needed to know if his mind was playing awful tricks on him or if it was real. There could be someone that had similar enough voice, but what were the odds. Slowly, he turned his head to the voices. What he saw left him breathless. He knew those brown curls. There was no mistaking it. This was real.
The movement caught the young man’s – barely a man – attention. Those familiar blue eyes widened in shock and surprise. “Scho?” he asked quietly. “Scho,” he said louder, “is – is that really you?” There was hope in his voice. Hope that it was real.
“Blake,” he said, relief filling his voice. “Yes, it’s really me. I’m here.” Tears threatened to fill his eyes. Not sure if they would be the tears of relief of happiness, he fought them back. “You’re alive,” he said as if to reassure himself with that statement.
“Yes, I am.” He could see that Blake was fighting back tears too. it was so surreal for both of them. The stress, fear and uncertainty from the past days washed off them in one wave. Their happy moment was interrupted when the truck hit a hole on an uneven road, jostling everyone inside. Several groans and silent or quickly cut off screams filled the whole lorry. “Sorry,” they heard the driver apologize.
Schofield noticed that Blake was trying to breathe through the pain. His eyes were tightly shut and he gripped the sides of his stretcher as if his life depended on it. Schofield took a good look at his face. His expression was clear indicator that he was in a lot of pain. His skin was still pale, but not deathly pale like back at the farmhouse. That was a relief.
Blake’s breathing eventually returned to normal. He let out one final exhale, eyes closing with relief. Just when Schofield thought that Blake fell asleep, his eyes shot open. “Wait, Scho. The mission! Did you-? The orders… Joe…” He was starting to panic.
“Blake. Blake!” Schofield raised his voice to get Blake’s attention, “Everything’s alright. I finished the mission, delivered the orders and the attack was called off. Your brother is alright as well. Worried about you, but he wasn’t hurt.”
All of the tension left Blake’s body. “Good. Good,” he exhaled. “Hold on a moment, why are you here then? What happened to you?” he asked, as if only now registering the bandages around Schofield’s head.
The stretcher bearer saw this as a good opportunity to chime in again. “Wait, this is the lad you were send with?” he asked as he looked between the two.
“Ah, that’s nice reunion then,” the stretcher bearer’s face lit up with happiness. “It all ended well.”
But Blake didn’t let the other man interrupt him for long. “Scho, what the hell did you do? I know about that hand of yours, with that barbed wire and the corpse. But what happened after I passed out? Why do you have bandages around your head?” he asked.
Schofield didn’t really want to talk about it now, with a crowd of awake men around that listened to their every word and in fear that Blake would just get more distressed. “I’ll tell you later, I promise.” He hoped that later won’t come for a really long time. Which wasn’t granted to him at all.
“I might not give you all of the information you would like,” one of the men that left the camp with Schofield spoke, “but he ran atop of active trench. We were getting over the top already, shells falling everywhere and this mad man just kept running. And he was soaking wet for some reason,” the man finished.
Schofield now recognized the man speaking. He was the second one he collided with while he ran. Well, there went his chance of avoiding this conversation. “Scho!” Blake raised his voice, horrified. “Are you mad? You could have been killed!”
For some reason, the accusation in Blake’s last sentence hurt. “There was no time,” he defended himself. “The attack was about to start, and I wouldn’t have made it sooner if I’d made my way through the trench. It was the only option.”
“But… that doesn’t make any sense. There was plenty of time to get there, we would have gotten there by dark. You tell me what the hell happened. Now!” Blake said, leaving no room for argument. And even if Schofield wanted to avoid it, every single head in the back of the truck was now watching him, curious about his journey. He had no choice but to comply.
“After you… you know, passed out, a convoy was passing through. They had to move the tree from the road and some men found us. There was captain Smith, he offered help, said that they were passing through Ecoust and would get you to an aid post. But when we got there the bridge was down and the next one was six miles away, so I got out.” Schofield took a pause, knowing that everything he’s about to say from now on will be unpleasant.
“There was a sniper. He started to shoot at me while I was climbing the railing to get to the other side. I returned the fire and when he stopped shooting, I went to check to make sure he was dead. In the house I slowly opened the door. He was still alive and we both shot at the same time. The bullet hit my helmet and I fell down the stairs. That’s how I got these,” he said, pointing to his head.
“It was night when I woke up, my head in a pool of blood. The sniper was dead, but it turned out that there were more of them. They were firing magnesium flares but noticed me only when I was passing the burning church. They fired at me, I ran and hid in a basement. There was a girl with a baby. She – she asked where are the others, begged me to stay, but the bells signaled morning and I knew I didn’t have much time.”
Schofield noticed that everyone listened with held breath, not daring to interrupt him. “They spotted me again, this time more of them. I knew I couldn’t outrun them, but there was a bridge with river bellow so I jumped, then fell down the waterfall.” He decided they didn’t need to know that he almost gave up, or how the cherry petals reminded him why he had to keep going.
“I got out thanks to a fallen tree, but there were other bodies – soldiers, civilians… even children,” his voice cracked a bit. “Eventually, I heard singing, so I followed the voice and found the Devons, but they were the second wave and about to enter the trench. I tried to get through. You know the rest.” He felt as he got even more tired, noticing that sweat started to slowly appear on his skin.
“Scho…” Blake said, voice heavily laced with emotion. “Oh Scho. I’m so sorry.” Schofield gave him small tired smile, letting him know it was alright. It took barely a few seconds before others joined in.
“You’ve really had a rough day, huh?”
“I should probably tell the higherups about those Germans in Ecoust. It was supposed to be abandoned, and with how close it is we can’t risk anything,” the stretcher bearer said. Schofield saw as he gave him a look full of sympathy and pity. He could only nod.
The rumbling of the lorry stopped, accompanied with “we’re here”. The stretch bearer got up, off to find some people to help him. he returned with three other soldiers and got to work. once it was only Blake and Schofield in the lorry, Blake spoke up again.
“I really am sorry. If I wouldn’t be stupid and got stabbed, none of that would have happened.” Schofield heard the deep regret in his voice.
“Don’t apologize. And besides, you don’t know that. Even if you were right, something else might have gotten wrong. So, no more apologizing. The important thing is that all ended well. No arguments,” he added quickly when he noticed Tom opening his mouth. Blake let out an exhale, then agreed. “Alright.”
The stretcher bearer returned. “Alright mates, you are the last ones.” He instructed others to be extra careful with Blake while he and another man carried Schofield. The sun blinded him for a moment, but then taking in their surroundings. The hospital was a repurposed school, which was still intact and big enough to house the larger amount of soldiers.
“Put them in the room at the end of the hallway over there,” he heard someone say. Probably a nurse. They entered a small room with four beds, two empty, but two obviously occupied, their residents missing. Once placed on the beds, the three men left the room, leaving only the stretcher bearer from second Devons.
“Well lads, I wish you swift recovery. I’ll let the higherups know about Ecoust once I’m back. Bye.” He turned around and started to walk away.
“Wait!” Schofield called. The man stopped, turning to face him. “Once you’re there, could you please find lieutenant Blake and tell him that his brother is alive?” The man seemed to make a connection now, looking at the other Blake.
“So that’s why your face looked so familiar. Don’t worry, I’ll let him know.”
“Thank you,” both Schofield and Blake said in union. The man just nodded with a smile and left. “So, what now?” Blake asked.
“I guess we wait for the doctor to come see us,” Schofield replied.
“I’m curious about our roommates. I hope they don’t snore.” Schofield snorted. It was nice to have that cheerful energy by his side again. As if on cue, they heard the sound of crutches approach. “Well, I guess your question will be answered soon.” The door opened, revealing two men, each leaning on crutches. The one that opened the door looked at them.