The horse bucked as a bullet whizzed past his ear, and his wounded rider slipped from the saddle. The horse whinnied shrilly but did not run. Instead he laid his ears back and stood near the fallen man, waiting for him to mount again. Battle raged all around them. A leaden sky rained down on broken ground, in a forgotten meadow turned battlefield. The struggle between two weary groups of cavalry moved north, taking the clash of saber and the ring of gunfire with them.
As he slid into the cold, sticky mud, the lieutenant had cause to wonder if his wife would ever find out what happened to him. His wife, that faithful woman, who always wrote him letters whenever he had to serve on the Front. The lieutenant wished for a cloth to wipe the cold rain from his face, but the unrelenting drizzle had spared nothing. He listened to the receding hoofbeats and gunfire. Perhaps just a moment, to rest and recover himself. He was fine, he could catch up with them easily.
Dimly he heard his horse nicker, sounding worried. He tried to whisper a reassurance but his tongue didn’t want to move. He tried to rise but a great, cold emptiness filled the lower part of his body and he couldn’t seem to make his legs work. He wondered if his one living son had lasted through the first charge. As he felt the life ebb, his last thoughts were of a pair of dear blue eyes and the taste of an apple, fresh from his home orchard. The lieutenant’s eyes slipped closed and the world faded in his ears.
It was still wet. He was wrapped in something wet, and warm, and he still couldn’t move. He wanted to scream but something filled his mouth. He felt for his sword, or tried to but he couldn’t even get an arm to move more than a bit. Am I wrapped in wet blankets? wondered the lieutenant. And whyever for? At least I’m warm. But it’s dark, I can’t see a thing, and I can’t even breathe. He began to panic. He struggled against the heavy, wet substance, slick and rubbery against his flesh. He became aware that he was naked. He fought harder, kicking, until he felt something squeeze him tighter than he could bear…
And the he was free, and could clear the stuff from his nose and mouth. He felt someone slap his back. He took a lungful of sweet, pure air, then another, and let his frustrations out in a howl… …and startled himself into silence. It had sounded like a baby’s cry. Everything was blurry, something was pulling at his stomach, and he wanted very much to know where he was. Then he heard a voice and paused to listen.
“Congratulations, Mrs. Phelps,” said a cheerful, maternal voice. “It’s a beautiful baby girl.”