Alchemical Marriage, Prologue
Tuesday, October 21, 2008 - 4:12 PM
Both sides had retreated from the battlefield, leaving both torn bodies and torn earth behind them. Once, a few pleasant groves of trees had decorated the swells and valleys of the field, but only burnt and tattered stumps remained.
It was Wistan's rather poetic impression that such a place always seemed overcast, as if the sun didn't want to look at what had happened. This day bore him out; the sky was lead gray with sheets of cloud, and a light fog was coming down from the highland woods to the east. Though this suited his aesthetics, it did not suit his comfort.
Rain was coming, and he was on watch.
Sitting under a simple lean-to, Wisten kept his eyes on the field, particularly where the tattered remains of the enemy bunker had been. The wind picked up to spite him, cold as it was, and with it came the plaintive sounds of rain hitting the top of his shelter. He sighed to himself, and then focused immediately on a small group of gray-clad figures, drifting across the field. He peered closely at them for a moment, and then looked away.
A few moments later, the dull thud of footsteps announced Dieder. “Oi, Wistan, any .... hey, what's amiss?”
Wistan glanced back at the younger man, staring out at the field, peering at the figures with the wide-brimmed hats and long smocks. “What're they doing out there?”
“Just let it be,” said Wistan. “It's the crebath, is all. Keep an eye out, but nobody's going to be out there when they are.”
Dieder's face went white. “Crebath? Then... Wistan, we can't let...”
“Let it go,” said Wistan. “The dead are dead. By the time we can go out there and get them, they'll be a right mess anyway. If a piece or two are missing, it's not going to matter.”
“It's just not right.” The younger man frowned tightly at the gloom, watching the figures as they moved carefully through the field, occasionally pausing. Two carried a large tarp between them. Another wore something like a chest of drawers on its back.
“War ain't right either,” said Wistan, and then marking the hard look in Dieder's eyes, added a bit more in a stern, smooth tone. “Just give it a rest. They'll be gone soon.”
Dieder subsided, looking away abruptly. “Didn't one take your finger? Bastards, all of them.”
“Not all of them,” replied Wistan, amiably sipping at the hot tea Dieder had brought. “Finest doctors and surgeons you'll ever know. One might even save your life one day.” But yes, he thought, one did take my finger, and he was a bastard to be sure. A polite bastard, yes, but a bastard nonetheless, and all for a ring finger he thought was 'perfect'. 'My apologies, but you have something I need,' he'd said.
“It's true, some of them are bastards,” Wistan amended.
Crouching nearby, scanning the field, Dieder glanced at the older man a moment. “...I heard they make more crebath using corpses.”
Wistan grimaced. “Truth, sometimes. They... most of them... pay well for parts. And even the ones who take, they're polite about it, even while cutting on you. Around here, you'll see them on the field after battle, scavenging.”
“But how... I mean, how do they do it?”
“Nobody knows, lad. Nobody knows. I figure I don't want to.”
Sipping at his tea, feeling his body cling to the warmth, Wistan watched as the figures rolled something up in the tarp, and shortly thereafter shuffled off into the growing darkness.