To The Lonely Seas And The Sky -- Part 7c
This is the final "subsection" of Part 7. Please ensure that you're reading this story from the beginning! All characters are fictional, though the period of history described here is accurate to the best of the author's knowledge, travels and research.Every day, the number of soldiers in the field dwindled. The layers of bodies thinned as the attendants removed the dead and carried the injured upstairs to face the surgeons. As days passed by, the focus shifted from retrieving those few who remained alive in the fields to burying the dead and tending to the survivors who dwelled in and around the farmhouse.
In increasing numbers, Ellie had observed strangers in the fields, on the property and in the house. Women, their noses buried in handkerchiefs, came to pick through the bodies, searching in desperation for their sons, their husbands, their nephews, their fathers. Ellie watched and wondered if she had been like them once--bent at the waist, sick from the smell and the flies, disturbed to their souls at the horrific scenes around them. She seemed to remember that at one time she had been, but those days seemed like years ago. Now, she tended her duties automatically, barely fazed by the smell and presence of death.
Soldiers came and went from the house, the sheer number of those who died on the property too staggering to count. But somehow, Ellie could remember every face she had tended, every mouth that had sipped water from her canteen, every pair of eyes that thanked her, often wordlessly, as Thomas and the other attendants carried the body away.
And the soldiers knew Ellie, too. Some knew her by name. Others knew her simply as the girl with the water. Her presence was always welcomed, her assistance always thanked. Some of them, she saw time and time again, day after day. A few of them were claimed, their family members finding them amidst the myriad of faces in the house, in the yard or in the field. Some of them died with their hands grasping hers.
A few times, a family member had approached Ellie, seeking a particular man. Often, Ellie could offer them no assistance, knowing their soldier may be long dead and buried by now. But every now and then, with a description and a name, Ellie had been able to lead them to where he lay in the field. Despite the devastation inherent in such a reunion, it was an event that Ellie herself longed for--just to know her father had survived would have been a blessing. And each time a woman collapsed at a soldier's side in grateful tears, Ellie wondered if somewhere in the endless distance, her father lay among them.
While Ellie knew she could never remember all of the soldiers she had tended, she began to look upon her countless charges not as horrified, mutilated bodies, but as men--men much like her father. Men much like Solomon. And it was in that mindset that she tended them from sunrise to sunset.
One afternoon, Ellie sat with Solomon on the porch, the two of them silent in the midday heat. The days preceding had also been unusually hot, causing many of the men to sleep the hours away.
"I suppose it's time I go to the spring." Ellie said, reaching for her canteen.
Solomon nodded, flushed from the heat. "It seems a good afternoon to sleep." He surmised, his fatigue evident in his posture and his expression.
Ellie smiled at his plans for the remainder of the day. "You said that yesterday, too. You oughtn't sleep too much. Perhaps one of the attendants can help you to your feet and you can learn to walk with a crutch." She suggested.
Solomon smiled, his eyes tired. "That would be nice." He replied.
Ellie wiped his forehead with the damp hem of her skirt. Solomon exhaled, lowering himself to the porch floor and resting his head on the blue uniform jacket Ellie had folded into a pillow.
"Sleep well, Solomon." Ellie said, placing her hand over hers.
Solomon nodded, beads of sweat reforming on his forehead in the humid heat.
Ellie pushed off the ground, rising to her feet.
"Ellie," Solomon asked quietly from below.
Ellie sat back down at his side immediately. "Yes, Solomon?"
A smile tugged at the side of his mouth. "I just..." He began, then stopped. "Would you sing to me?" He asked as Ellie wiped the sweat from his forehead again. "I sleep so much better after you sing."
Ellie nodded, clasping his hand and gazing through the railing of the porch into the side yard. "Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord..." She began, looking back to Solomon.
Solomon's eyes flittered, a smile on his face. "He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored." He sang with her.
"He hath loosed the fateful lightning of his terrible, quick sword. His truth is marching on." Ellie sang, Solomon's eyes closing, heavy with sleep. "Glory, glory hallelujah! Glory, glory hallelujah. Glory, glory hallelujah! His truth is marching on." Ellie whispered, Solomon relaxed into slumber.
Ellie hesitated, glancing once to her left, once to her right, and seeing no sign of the gray-haired woman, she rose to her knees to kiss Solomon's forehead. "Sleep well, Solomon. Til dinnertime."
Ellie slipped her hand from his and picked up her canteen, moving down the steps to the field.
A long, hot day under the sun passed by. Ellie spent most of her time down near the spring, bringing water to the men who remained in the field. Attendants were on the fields great number that day, desperately trying to save the impossible few--the soldiers who, after seven days of laying injured and exposed, had refused to die. Ellie could only shake her head in wonder as the men picked up bodies that ought to have been long dead and brought them to the safety of the farmhouse, delivering them into the waiting hands of the surgeons and nurses.
Most of the day, as Ellie held the canteen to parched, grateful lips, she wondered after her father. In a week's time, her mother had failed to find him among the mangled bodies in the fields. That gave Ellie the only hope she had. Father must be long gone from this horrible place, she told herself. The certainty that her Father was off somewhere else safe and alive lifted her spirits and she seemed to flit about the field, bringing water to all who called for her.
Finally, at evening, she returned to the farmhouse, her stomach growling for salted pork and hard tack. How hungry must I be that such "food" sounds appealing? Ellie shook her head in spite of herself as she ascended the back stairs.
But as Ellie's gaze fell over the porch, she stopped, frozen on the steps. Solomon was not there.
Perhaps they had brought him inside! Ellie ran up the steps and into the house, going from room to room in search of those beautiful eyes.
"Solomon?" She asked quietly, looking about the parlor.
A soldier, his beard matted with blood, shook his head. "No one here by that name, lass." He replied, his voice thick with a brogue.
Ellie searched room by room, face by face through the front porch, front lawn, side lawns, and back lawn until she ended up once again on the back porch steps, lost in confusion.
Oh, I have fretted for naught! One of the attendants must have stood up him with a crutch up as I suggested! Ellie realized in a moment of excitement, a familiar silhouette with curly gray hair moving toward her from within the house.
"And now do you feel like the fool that you are? I told you--I warned you what would happen." The old woman rasped as she stepped onto the porch, her eyes glancing toward the place where Solomon had lay.
Ellie looked up in surprise. "What do you mean?" She asked, a tall figure behind the woman in the doorway.
"Your soldier is dead." She spat, turning on her heel and disappearing into the house.
Ellie couldn't move, dumbstruck. Thomas stood in the doorway, moving slightly to one side as the gray-haired woman brushed past him and into the house.
"Dead...?" Ellie looked up at Thomas.
The pain in Thomas's eyes told her a truth she couldn't begin to believe.
Ellie shook her head, tears stinging her eyes. "No, Thomas. No."
"Miss Ellie, please..." He said, taking a step toward her.
"No!" Ellie screamed. "No!"
She fled down the steps, blinded by her own tears as she ran into the back field. She didn't know where she was going, but she had to escape. She had to get away from that place. She had to get out.
Ellie choked on her grief, barely able to breathe as she ran. She caught glimpses of grass, of torn, fly-infested bodies, the scenes of death closing in around her. Not Solomon. Not Solomon! Disbelief pushed her deeper into the field.
When Ellie finally stopped running, she collapsed in a patch of trees, finally finding a location that offered some semblance of privacy. Her cries came in heaving, shaking sobs.
Ellie's back shot up straight, her ears astute. Her heart raced, not daring to believe her senses. She had heard him. She had heard Solomon's voice clearly. She looked to her left. A path led through the trees and back into the field of rotting bodies.
Solomon is there, she thought, trembling as she rose on unsteady feet. "Solomon?" She called. "Solomon, where are you?"
She wandered out of the trees and back onto a path, searching in vain while angrily wiping away her tears. She urged her feet to run again, scouring the blackened bodies for her soldier in blue pants and a torn white shirt.
Mine eyes have seen the glory...
Ellie's tears came anew. In her grief, she began to mumble. "How...Solomon...how could you leave me? How could you leave me? What will your Mama and Papa say when you don't come home? How could you leave your sister and brother? And your pond and your tavern and the storm during sunset..." She fell to her knees, catching herself with her hands, her body refusing to carry her any further. "Father, wo bist du? I want my father. I want my father!" She screamed into the dirt.
But no one answered her. Not her father, not Solomon--nothing. She closed her eyes and rested her forehead in the dirt, her tears mixing into the soil. The dead silence was overwhelming, threatening her very sanity, pushing her to the edge until in a moment of what Ellie thought must have been hallucination she heard--
Ellie sucked in a stunned breath, her eyes snapping up and looking straight ahead from where she lay in the grass.
There, amidst the dried, darkened corpses, lay her father. Grass was stuck to the blood on his forehead. He lay on his back, his legs twisted at an angle that contradicted the lay of his chest. His lips, dried and chapped, bled down his cheek. His face was pale and drawn, but Ellie knew without a doubt whose eyes she met from a few feet away.
Hysterical, disbelieving laughter rose from her chest as she scrambled to her feet. Ellie ran to him, maneuvering through the decaying bodies and collapsed at his side, unable to understand her own words as she moved fluently between English, Spanish and German. In an instant, she remembered that she had the canteen on a sling over her shoulder.
With shaking hands, she opened it, lifted it to her father's lips and watched as he emptied the canteen in ten great gulps.
Ellie looked back toward the farmhouse, then to the trees, marking in her mind where her father lay. "Wait, father. Do not let anyone move you. I will come back with help; I promise."
Her father, too weak to talk, nodded. With the movement of his head, Ellie took off for the house.
She ran like she had never run before. Back through the trees and down the path of bodies, Ellie sprinted toward the structure, screaming for someone--anyone--to help her as she arrived in the backyard.
Thomas was the first to appear from within the house, his eyes wide in surprise at the sight of the disheveled, half-crazed girl.
"Thomas, please, find another man! My father--he's alive! He's alive in the field! Please, help me!" She rushed up to Thomas and took his hand, pulling him toward the field.
"What is this noise!" The gray-haired woman appeared in the door, her face stern and her lips set in a thin, bloodless line.
"There is no time! We must bring him back! He's been out there for a week. He hasn't much time! We must make haste!" Ellie exclaimed in desperation, her eyes returning to the field lest she lose her sense of where she had last seen him.
"Nonsense, child. You're in shock." The woman scoffed, motioning for Thomas. "Tom, come back this instant. I will not have you fueling this little girl's insanity."
But at that moment, Carina von Erich appeared behind the gray haired woman. She pushed the woman to the side as she ran onto the back porch, her mouth agape at the sight of her daughter.
"Mama, oh Mama, hurry! I can show you where he is! Please, I keep telling you, we must hurry!" Ellie begged frantically, tears welling in her eyes.
"Carina, you can't believe her. She's hallucinating. The soldier she made her pet died this afternoon and she's gone completely mad." The gray haired woman edged her way back into the conversation.
Carina lurched at the woman, her eyes ablaze with rage. Spanish words Ellie had only heard perhaps once or twice in her lifetime fell off her mother's lips in a vulgar, uninterrupted stream. Though no one understood precisely what Carina had said, her fiery eyes and sharp, shouted rant were enough to convey the message to all listeners, Spanish-speaking or not.
The gray-haired woman drew back as if she had been slapped, gazing up in shock. Carina rose up to her full height, rage burning in her eyes as she switched back to English. "You vile, miserable filth! If there is even a chance she has found him, I will go! Thomas, come! Andrew, make haste!" Carina moved swiftly down the steps and to her daughter's side. She fell to her knees before the astonished Ellie, her eyes alive with a nonsensical hope. "Child, bring us to him. Bring us to your father."
Ellie needed no more encouragement. She turned on her heel and sprinted into the field, Thomas, Andrew, Carina and the gray-haired woman close behind.
Back through the bodies, back between the trees, to the left where Solomon had called her name, and at the place she had fell in the dirt, leaving a mark in the soft earth--
Ellie stopped at the mark, looking up and directly ahead to where her father lay.
Carina followed her daughter's gaze, her half-overjoyed, half-agonized scream echoing across the field as she found herself staring into the eyes of her husband.
From there on, Ellie's memory was a whirlwind of motion, arms and legs hoisting her father's form into the air and carrying him back to the house. They rushed him upstairs, Carina fiercely at his side, to where the surgeons waited.
Ellie stopped at the steps, paused for a moment, then turned back to the porch. Overwhelming joy and crushing grief gripped her simultaneously, and Ellie could not determine which to heed and which to ignore. Father is safe--he's alive! But Solomon, oh, my Solomon...
She wandered without seeing to the back porch and stood before the place where Solomon had lay, the numbness wearing off and the agony of loss returning in a sickening wave. She tried to wipe the tears away, but she couldn't keep up with the streams of salty liquid that defiantly escaped her eyes as she gazed at the blood that still stained the porch floor.
"Now, now, don' you cry, girl."
A voice like thunder rumbled behind Ellie. She jumped and turned to see Thomas slowly ascending the porch steps.
Ellie shook her head, her nose running along with her tears. "He's gone, Thomas. Why is he gone? He was doing so much better. Why?" She sobbed.
Thomas knelt before Ellie, his fingers wiping her tears away as they came. "Now den, chile, don' you cry. Solomon know he was dyin'. Him not have the strengt to live much longer, but him live as long as he can for you. He know you need him wit you, and him need you, too. You was wit him when he die, an' dat was all he want."
Ellie stopped crying, looking at Thomas in disbelief. "I was ...I was with him? When he died?" She croaked, her chin trembling.
Thomas nodded, tears forming in his own eyes. "My girl, you sat dere an' hold him hand an' sang him a song. You sang him of God comin' to eart, Him glory shinin' on de world. When Solomon close him eyes, de last ting he hear was you singing of de Lord. An' when he open him eyes again, he see him Lord. He see Him glory dat you sang."
When I sang to him this afternoon...he hadn't fallen asleep. He died right in front of me. Ellie burst into tears, collapsing onto Thomas. How had she not seen it? All week long, she had tended the dying, waiting with them for death to come. How had she not noticed when Solomon's final moments had come?
Thomas's arms held her as she sobbed, and eventually he sat down in the place where Solomon had lay, Ellie still crying into his shirt. He remained there with her until the sun set, Ellie's petite body cradled in his arms. And when she slept and tears fell no more, Thomas took her upstairs, lay her in her bed and pulled the covers over her shoulders.
Lightning over the formless lake snapped Ellie out of memories long-forgotten and back to present consciousness. Within the lens, the lamp burned steadily, the winds that blew outside the tower powerless to extinguish the light within. A light rain had returned, falling in a steadily increasing cadence against the storm panes.
Ellie wiped her cheeks and eyes, smoothed back her hair, dusted off her skirt and moved swiftly down the steps into the service room. She paused in the hatch, took one more look at the light above, and decisively turned toward the stairs, descending into the dense, familiar darkness.Last edit by Joe V on Oct 29, '13
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