Note: this an excerpt from an alternate WW1 story I am currently working on. WW1 with fantasy creatures in it, because that way I don’t have to do any research. Take that nitpickers.
The captain was well and truly dead. His blood seeped out of him as a trio of twisting streams, mixing with the thick mud of the trench. Hawkings clutched his rifle and peered down the line. The remainder of the squad hunkered down looking more bewildered than frightened.
‘What’s the plan then?’ asked Raf patting himself down for his cigarettes.
‘I’d say the plan died with the captain. Who’s in charge now? Said Twemly.
‘Erm… well, of who happens to be left, that’d be Second Lieutenant Davies,’ said Grubbins, his long curved ears poking out the top of his tin helmet. Hawkins noticed Davies’ chest puff out. Even now, under fire and facing certain death, the man could feel pride. Davies forced a stiff smile did his best to face all of them.
‘Very well lads, the burden of command falls on me,’ he said, doing his cringe inducingly best to sound common and rising to a sort of half crouch. ‘I’ll take this responsibility seriously, and I will personally guarantee seeing you all home by –‘
Unfortunately, Hawkings didn’t hear when he’d get to go home as Davies hit the floor, a sharp crack echoing around them. Hawkings wasn’t too sure what had just happened but could see Davies, who usually had two eyes, now only had one.
‘Well, bugger. I suppose that puts Sergeant Mather in charge,’ said Grubbins.
‘Alright then, first order: no one stand up,’ Sergeant Mather grunted. Raf’s search for his cigarettes ended with him pulling out a crumpled packet from within his mud-spattered jacket. Thus, began the search for his lighter.
‘And how long are we to not stand up for?’ he asked.
‘That’s “how long are we to not stand up for sir!”’ Mather barked.
‘Ok, same question, but with sir on the end,’ said Raf.
‘I’ve no idea. Grubbins, how’s your communication… things doing?’
‘Oh, very well sir,’ said Grubbins, a polite yellow grin spreading across his grey face.
‘Good, call back to command and see if we can get a few more rounds of shells our way.’
‘Oh, can’t be done sir,’ said Grubbins.
‘And why not?’
‘My equipment is back at command; they said it was too valuable to risk losing.’ The goblin scratched his grimy chin. A long bead of moisture seemed to be dangling rom the end of his hooked nose.
‘Us soldiers are of little consequence then I suppose,’ Mather sighed.
‘Yes, I believe that was their thinking sir.’
Raf retrieved his lighter and in under three attempts had his cigarette lit, which must have been a record. The rich smell of fullow leaf filled the dank trench, along with a wisp of purple smoke.
‘How many of them you got?’ asked Twemly.
‘You can’t have one,’ said Raf.
‘Don’t want one necessarily, just thinking, if you had enough could put down a smoke screen.’
‘Twemly, I want you to know before we die, that you are an idiot.’ Said Mather.
‘Noted sir.’ Twemly rolled his shoulders. He was an unremarkable man in almost every respect. He was not broad, not tall, not strong, not fast, rather plain looking and lacking in grace. However, a few months previously Roodles happened to mention Twemly was born under Fortune’s Lance. Hawkings had never put much stock in the stars, partially because it was said he was born under the Merchant, and he spent his last four shillings the week before on a bottle of wine. He thought it a sound investment until he offered some to the captain who said he’d been over charged by three shillings. Not only that, seeing as all the stars were up and everyone was, logically speaking, down, everyone was born under every star. Still, there had to be some explanation as to how Twemly was still alive and kicking whereas Roodles got trampled to death by a startled horse.
‘Sir?’ Hawkings asked, looking to the east.
‘Are we expecting air support?’
‘It looks like we’re getting some.’ Hawkings replied. A winged horse was always a sight to behold. Five of them flying in formation was something else. Set against the thick grey cloud above, they cut gracefully through the air, swooping lower over No Man’s Land. There was a crackle of gun fire from the German lines, to which the flyers responded in kind. They also appeared to be dropping grenades as the rhythmic exchange of rifle shot was punctuated by the abrupt thuds of explosions. Hawkings could just about hear the whistles from other trenches, followed by the wild calls of other soldiers just like him.
‘Well, let’s go then!’ Mather commanded. Hawkings felt the familiar ice touch of fear threaten to consume him. With a sharp intake of breath, he vaulted over the top of the trench and ran.