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Æ Firestone's Crimea: Chapter 10

 

December 25th, 1854.


It was cold, foggy, and damp from 

the heavy showers from the prior night.


It had rained almost incessantly, and the early morning 

gave no promise of any cessation of the heavy showers. 


As dawn broke, the fog and drifting rain were so thick 

that one could scarcely see two yards. 


At four o'clock A.M., Niko ring the bell at Ireanus' church, 

and so did the churches in Sebastopol. 

Everyone could hear them as the ringing drearily through the cold night air, but the occurrence excited no particular attention.


A civilian Irishmen was walking around 

the camp with his notepad and pen.

He had a long beard and a mustache, 

wore quasi-military clothes, 

and was armed, but did not fight. 


He sat down with the Fusiliers, 

"May I sat with you, gentlemen?"


"Not at all; it's nice to see familiar Irishmen," said Berry.


"Thank you," said Russel.


"So you're that war correspondent?" Temples asked Russel.


"I never liked the term, war corespondent," Russel replied.


Russel lighted his cigar offered some of the boys some.


"I feel sorry for the men from the Light Brigade," said McCoy.


"Yeah, that was a disaster. 

What the bloody hell were they doing?" said Hatman.


"They were probably drunk," said Chips.


"Na, the planning of the battles are so disorganized," said Berry


"Lord Raglan is utterly incompetent to lead an army," said Russel.


Russel offered the boys a bottle of whiskey and asked questions.


As Lord Regaln visited the camp, 

he was in a big tent with other commanders.

They all observed Russel, and one of the commanders asked.


"Who's that fellow?" asked an officer.


"William Howard Russel, a correspondent for the newspaper,

The Times, a vulgar low Irishman, who sings a good song, 

drinks anyone's brandy and water and smokes 

as many cigars as a Jolly Good Fellow. 

He is just the sort of chap to get information, 

particularly out of youngsters.


I want you all to refuse to speak with that reporter. 

He's nothing but trouble, he might reveal sensitive

information potentially useful to the enemy."


Alot of the higher rank men never liked Russel and considered him "nosey".

He was unwelcomed and obstructed by Lord Raglan and his senior officers but neither banned, controlled, or nor censored him.

They just didn't want him around and try to blacklist him in some circles.

Since the war, Russell made friends with junior officers, 

and from them and other ranks, and by observation, 

gained his information for his reporting.


An officer asked Lord Regaln.


"My Lord, have you heard the rumors about 

possible Russian attack on Balaklava?"


"I have, and they've said the Greeks 

were to aid them by setting the town on fire.


I hate to do this to them, but even if the rumor is true

it's too much of a risk, and it's necessary.

With extreme prejudice, I want all the Greek men, women, and children

to leave Balaklava, but do no harm; I want them consoled with clothes."


"Yes, my Lord, what about the Tartars?"


"No, they're low risk. The Tartars never liked the Russians, so leave them be."



When the Ottoman Turks arrived, those men were landed 

without the smallest care for their sustenance, 

except that some Marseilles biscuits that they were only two each.


In the inhospitable and desolated place of Crimea, 

it was difficult to find food and tobacco.

These Turks were seen walking about the British camps, 

looking for fragments of any rejected biscuit.


Even though, the British thought they were strange 

because of Turks' foreign culture and religion, 

they didn't want to see them starve, 

so they fed them, and their sorrows were turned to joy.

They never had Western-style food before, 

and they thought their salt beef might be pork in disguise, 

and they subjected it to strange tests 

because in their religion, it was forbidden to eat any kind of pork.


The stars were overcast on this dreary Christmas eve, 

around 20°, the weather was chilly in the air, 

visited by sleet and snow then it rained 

making a muddy mess and frostbites very prevalent. 


Many men were dying from the cold 

due to the lack of supplies

of winter clothes from the HMS Prince.


Over long periods, the men in many regiments had about three hours' sleep. 

The men were so exhausted that punishments for sleeping on duty could no longer be enforced. 

One man was so tired that he slept in the cold mud.


Vultures and ravens swooped over the camps 

'with their ominous croak-croak', 

a man layed down in the snow 

with a gun in his hand and a bullet in his head.


William Howard Russel was passing through the camp of the 

5th (French){198} Regiment of the line, an officer came out 

and invited him to dismount and take a glass of brandy which had 

been sent out by the French Emperor as a Christmas gift. 

His host, who had passed through his grades in Africa, 

showed Russel with pride the case of good Bordeaux, 

the box of brandy, and the pile of good tobacco sent to him by Napoleon III.


"Le premier ami du soldat." said the Frenchmen.


A similar present had been sent to every officer of the French army, 

and a certain quantity of wine, brandy, and tobacco had been 

forwarded to each company of every regiment in the Crimea. 

That very day there were dolorous complaints that the presents 

sent by the Queen and Prince Albert to the British army had miscarried, 

and that the Guards and Rifles had alone received the royal bounty 

in the very acceptable shape of a ton of Cavendish.


It must not be inferred that the French were all healthy while the British were all sickly. 

They had dysentery, fever, and scurvy, as well as pulmonary complaints, 

but not to the same extent as British, or anything like it in proportion to their numbers.


With moderate exercise, hard ground, good footing, good feeding, warm clothing, and occupation, there was little reason to entertain any apprehension for the troops during the winter.


Berry, Hatman, and Temples were sitting in the trenches 

that was recently dug up from the snow,

walled with stones and covered with everything, 

even skeletons of their own men.


Chips was close by on guard duty,

shaking to death and tired,

his legs and feet were getting numb.

He was struggling to keep his eyes open 

as he was suffering from fatigue.

And as his body couldn't take it any longer, 

Chips collapsed to the ground.


"Boys! boys! Won't you come and relieve the young officer?" said a Sargent.


The boys came to Chips.


"I...I need...some sleep."


Chips was so exhausted, he could barely talk.


Over the whole plain, down in the ravines and along the crests above them, the carcasses of animals lay unburied and putrefying. 

The sweet vineyards turn to graveyards.

Everywhere was miserable, exhausted men could be seen digging graves, 

to the distant accompaniment of French bands playing with remorseless gaiety. 

But for every grave dug there were two corpses to fill it. 

Skeletons were gnawed by dogs and picked clean by birds stuck out of the snow and mud like wrecked and broken hulks.


The tainted air was cloying and constant, 

it was the smell of the battleground, 

a smell of ordure and putrefaction and gun-smoke, 

curiously sweet and horribly distinctive, 

the smoke in the sky made the sun blood red,

which those who have known it will never forget. 


The boys took Chips to Dr. Blake, 

surgeon of the 55th, who was the only doctor available.

They layed Chips on the ground with a blanket inside a filled tent as the beds were almost full.


"His hyperthermia is extreme, and the fatigue was severe. 

I hate to say this but he might not make it."


"How long does he have?"


"A few hours or less. If you want to talk to him, 

it's best to do it now; his hourglass has started."


The doctor left, Temples stated with Chip.

Berry was looking for Hatman 'til he found him sitting 

on a bench looking at his dark blue toe.

It was frostbitten, the cold frozen toe cracked off, 

and he held it in his hand.


He looked at Berry, showing him his toe.


"I didn't feel a thing..."


"...Here, catch!" said Hatman while pitched his toe to Berry.


"Hatman, I don't want your toe!"


"You can use it as a good luck charm."


Berry pitched it back to Hatman.


"Go home, Hatman, your drunk."


"Fine, I'll give to the dogs."



Our boys are dying like rotten sheep that no tongue or pen can describe.



At Selvstapol, 

Niko was with Nicolai at the hospital, and his arm was alot better

as Niko and Nikita have been helping him move it and get it circulated.


"If you keep this up, I think you can get back to the fight."


"Yeah..." 


Nicolia said disappointedly


"...I don't think I want to go back to the fight."


"What makes you say that?" Asked Niko.


Before Nicolia could answer, 

Nikita entered the ward where they were.


"So, how's our boy doing?"


"Boy? I'm a man. A young man."


Nikita replied in a flirty way.


"Well, has our young man doing?"


"My leg has been a little better since the cast came off."


"Good"


"I'm glad Dr. Pirogov got the remaining bullet out of my arm 

when he arrived two weeks ago."


"I'm real thankful he didn't amputate the arm.

He believes the arms and legs can be 

mostly saved from a gunshot wound,

if it's not too severe."


"Yeah, he's the best."


"Yeah, most of the doctors around here are pretty much useless

with all this medical corruption and mismanagement going on.

Dr. Pirogov doesn't like it all."



Dr. Pirogov, a Russian surgeon from Moscow 

was with another doctor and a couple of nurses

operating on a severe patient under anesthesia,

trying to remove the last bullet from the poor soul's chest

using an extractor forceps and some scalpels.


"Almost got it." said the doctor.


The stressed man was sweating, and

slowly and carefully removing the stubborn things.


Finally, he got the bullet out 

and put the bloody object on a metal tray.


"Done, that's our hundredth patient," said Pirogov.


"Excellent work, Doctor." said one of the nurses of Mercy.


"Just saving a poor soul's life." 


"That triage system you introduced saved alot of lives, sir."

said one of the doctors.


"Well, when there are too many patients arriving and not enough personnel, the most severe get treated first.

Now let's clean this boy up." 


Dr. Pirogov was on break, 

'til he seen through the window from the hall

Nikita with Nicolia looking at his shoulder and arm.


He came inside the ward and approached.


"Nicolai, has your right arm doing."


"It's, well..."


Nicolai was moving his arm, 

but something was concerning him.


Then Nikita spoke.


"He's struggling to move his arm, 

it shakes sometimes with he holds an object."


"Oh, that's not good. 

Most likely the shrapnel of the bullet damaged the nerves, 

that connects the rest of his arm in order to function."


He grabbed his arm and moved it slowly,

then gave him a metal cup,

and he was shaking a little bit, struggling to hold it.


The doctor spoke.


"Hmm, this is concerning.

Hopefully, the nerves will take time to heal.

But if it gets worse and continues,

You might have to be honorably discharged."


Nicolia's jaw drooped with a disappointed look.


Nikita's was the same.


"Discharged?" said Niko.


"Yes, boy. 

If he can't probably hold 

and operate a rifle, then he'll have 

to relieved of his duties.

 

He can no longer fight in the war.


That's all I can do."


Dr. Pirogov looked at his pocket watch and said.


"I have to go, excuse me."


Dr. Pirogov finally left the ward.


"They can't discharge you, 

I'm sure your arm will get better soon."


Nicolia looked at his arm and moved it up and down.


"I don't know, Niko, if my arm will ever be better."


Then Niko just remembered something that he was supposed to say.


"In case you've forgotten, you and Nikita are invited to Father Ireanus' dinner tonight. If that's alright with you two."


Nicolia and Nikita both looked at each other and then back to Niko.


Nikita said.


"Well, I can come. I'm off duty tonight anyway."


Then Nicolia said.


"Yeah, I'll come too. I'll rather be with you all than be at this hospital."


"Excellent, Irenaus will be happy to see you both," said Niko.


Pirogov was going about to go to his room 'til he forgot his paperwork

so he went back to his office to get them,

as he passed one of the wards, he stopped to look at his papers 'til

he overheard some dialogue between a patient and his doctor.


A young Russian soldier was in his bed 

being held down by three male surgical assistants

and a doctor with a cutting saw 

that was covered up with dried-up blood.


"Sorry boy, it's life. We're going to have to cut it." 

said the grumpy doctor 


"No, please no!" said the young soldier.


"Sorry boy, it's the only way to save your leg." said the careless doctor.


"Good Lord, what do you think you're doing?." said Pirogov


"What do you want, Dr. Pirogov? We're in a middle of an operation."


Pirogov jerked the saw off the doctor's hand.


"You call this an operation!? 

You didn't pay any attention 

to my humane techniques on amputation."


"Those are your techniques doctor, let us do ours."


"Yours are barbaric. You are a crooked doctor

that wants only a paycheck than actually caring for the patients.

Get out, GET OUT OF MY SIGHT!

You should back to St. Petersburg!


The doctor left the room like a fast rabbit.

His assistance was about to leave 'til Pirogov called to them.


"You three stay here, help me with him."


The young soldier was still frightened.


"Don't be afraid, child. 

I'm the good doctor.

Now let me take a look at that foot."


The boy's foot was severely damaged with great wounds 

and bruises that the boy couldn't move or feel for days since his latest battle.


"Well, I cannot save it beyond repair.

If I leave it, it will get worse. 

Your entire leg will die, and so will the rest of you.

The foot does need to be removed..."


The boy became petrified after hearing 

agonizing screaming from other soldier's amputations.


"...BUT..." Priogov said the word loudly.


"...There's a humane and proper way to remove it, 

and you won't feel a thing. I promise."


"But how?" said the soldier.


"I will put you in anesthesia, 

you will be asleep during the whole operation 

and you will not wake up nor feel a thing."


The young man felt relieved to hear,

moments later with the surgical assistance and apothecary,

Pirgov gave him a drug to make him sleep.

Tired, stressed, and didn't trust others, 

he performed the amputation.




At Blalkava camp,

Hatman and Temples were in a tent.

Temples was trying to write a letter to his parents

but his hand was so numb and shaking so bad 

he couldn't properly write a full sentence.

So, he just gave up, threw the pen 

and bulled up the unfinished letter.


Berry was with Chips in the camp's hospital.

Chips was shaking to death

with some coverings on him, but it wasn't enough.

Berry was beside him, holding his hand.


"Berry." Chips said.


"Yes, Chips."


Chips gave Berry his flute.


"I won't need it anymore. 

It's yours now.

This is my gift to you."


"Don't give me that 'I'm gonna die' nonsense!"


"I....am,

because...of my... stupidity. 

Out...in the...cold.

I can barely...feel my legs.


And no...there's...nothing you can...do.


And Berry...."


"Yeah."


Chips said with a big smile,

and joy to his face.


"Merry Christmas."


Chips heart stoped

made his last breath 

and let go of Berry's hand.


Berry shed tears in his eyes,

they were so cold, 

it made him more uncomfortable.


He closed Berry's eyes

and said calmly.


"Merry Christmas to you.

Goodnight, Chips."




At Iraenus' church,

Iraenus and Niko were serving the food

and took them a few hours prepping for dinner.


"Let's see, we have the Christopsomo, Diples, 

Pork, Honey-glazed Roast Lamb with Potatoes,

Vasilopita Cake, Patates Lemonates,

Veal Stew Garnished with Fruit & Nuts,

Perfect Potato gratin with Feta cheese.


Am I missing anything else, Niko?"


"I don't know, Father."


Niko stared at the food, he never had food like this

it was different from his own people's food.


He missed his family's traditional cooking

he can still imagine it tasting it.


"I'm aware this is not your kind of appetite,

I don't know any Georgian or Russian recipes. 

but be thankful and appreciate the food, Niko.

Not everyone gets to have these kinds of dinners,

there are people hungry in this world who aren't so lucky.


I've also donated my bread and rations to the poor and soldiers out of kindness.

Because I did not want to see them starve

and give them joy and happiness to warm their hearts."


He understood what he said.


"I'm so used to my plate being served to me at home,

I often forget people work themselves 

to death to bring the food to the table.

We do nothing while the serfs work."


"We'll, foods don't come out of no were,

there are grown and made from the fields

or butcher from the livestock."


Niko was still looking at the food.


"I don't know what most this we made is."


Irenaeus showed him.


"This a Lahanodolmades, they're stuffed cabbage 

rolls with juicy mince, rice, and herby filling,

topped with a delicious thick lemony flavored sauce.


This is a Kalitsounia a fresh soft myzithra cheese pie, it's a Christmas tradition on the island of Crete, where I'm from."


Niko looked at the old man and said.


"You're Greek."


Irenaeus smiled and said.


"Smart boy, I am indeed Greek.

That is why I don't know how to make food

from Georgian or Russian recipes."


"I knew you weren't from around here,

the accent and the strange symbols from your letter.

Sorry, I read your letter."


Irenaeus laughed.


"It's alright, I knew you couldn't read it anyway."


Niko looked at a big piece of bread.


"So, tell me what this bread is."


"This is the Christopsomo, a traditional Greek holiday bread 

that is sometimes decorated with whole walnuts, 

sesame seeds and slivered almonds. 

Christopsomo means 'Christ's bread' in my language."


"Speaking of Holiday, today is Christmas for the Westerners?"


"Indeed it is."


"Why do they celebrate on the 25th of December, 

and we celebrate on the 7th of January?"


"Oh, there are a few explanations, we use the Jullien calendar, 

and they use the Gregorian calendar."



At the hospital, Nikita, after a long day of work,

was about to leave 'til she seen Pirogov in the hall, sitting on a bench.


She spoke to him.


"It's my break, sir; I'm leaving for the night."


Pirogv didn't say anything as he was staring down at the floor.


"I saved a young soldier from agony tonight," he said.


"I've heard the operation was successful."


"And that's why I'm here.

I left St. Petersburg Hospital a few years ago

because I couldn't tolerate the ignorance 

of most of the professors at the hospital 

and their lack of sincere interest in patients' health.


I made alot of enemies over there." he said smiling and continued.


"I never took money from any of my patience 

because all I wanted to do was help.

I remember helping a destitute family in Kiev as they were having problems financially and medically.

They could not afford food, 

and their infant was dying of a severe disease.

But I saved that family and became widely known in the city."


"Without you, Doctor Pirogov, 

we wouldn't have turned these hospitals in the right direction."


"Well, you all are lucky. The grand duchess sent me here with her blessings.


Now go home, take your break, and have a goodnight."


"Thank you, sir. Merry Christmas to you. Goodnight"





At Balaclava,

Berry walked back to the small tent 

were Hatman and Temples were

and entered inside.


Hatman and Temples looked up to Berry

and Berry shook his head no.

Meaning, Berry was gone.


"I wonderful Christmas, eh?" said Hatman.


Berry sat down with the two and replied.


"I think so."


"What kind of a cruel world is this?!" 


"The Devil's"


Cote came inside.


"I heard about monsieur Chips, I'm so sorry."


The three boys didn't say anything 

and looked down at the ground still shivering.


"You three are invited to eat with us, copains."


They still didn't say anything.


"Come, it's a special night to praise la Lord, as we have blessed food from him.


Hatman yelled and cried.


"Well there's is no God. 

Where was he when Chips died?!

I hate this place, I hate it so much."


"You need to eat, monsieur."


"There's no way I'm eating your awful French food."


Cote knew some British men, 

especially Englishmen,

detest French food.


"Stubborn fool. Eventually, you'll be hungry."


Hatman's stomach growled for hunger and replied.


"Got any croissants?"


"Oui," Cote replied.


Temples got up, looked at Hatman, and said.


"Come on Hatman."


Then Berry got up and said.


"What to end up like Chips?"


Hatman looked and replied.


"You're trying to make me more hungry..."


He finally got up.


"...fine. Let's go."


They went to the nearby French camp and were inside a tent and partook of a fancy banquet.

Cote called for his Zouv chef.


"Chef de cuisine!"


His chef left the kitchen and approached.


"Oui, monsieur?


"La nourriture est-elle prête ?" 


"Oui"


"Apportez le dîner."


 "Oui, monsieur."


The chef went back to the kitchen.


Cote told the boys, who do not understand French.


"The food is ready."


"Pièce de résistance!" said the chef as he

was holden three plat of food, three for each boy.


"One of the staples of this cuisine 

was a goose I traded for a golden egg," said Cote.


Each plat had a mix of geese, duck, leg of lamb, 

carrots, and mashed potatoes with sauce and spices 

all in French style.

But the lamp was overcooked.


"Now, bring in the pheasant." Said Cote.


"The wawt, zur?"


"Le Pheasant!" 


"Oh, Le Phaseant! 

I forogt! 

j'ai oublié! 

j'ai oublié!"


"I hope you didn't ruin that too!" said Cote.




It was 7:55 PM at Selvstapol.


Nikita and Nicolai came to the church from the front door with their coats on.

Niko was waiting for them just in time.


"Nikita, Nicolia. I'm glad both are here."


Niko hugged both of them.


Nikita replied.


"Thanks, It's freezing out there."


Then Nicolia.


"Yeah, my hands are a little numb."


"Well, we have a stove all warmed up for you. 

Come, the food is almost ready."


Niko with Nicolia, Nikita and Irenus 

at the small kitchen table 

with all the foods from Ireanus' cooking.


Irenaeus dressed in a red clerical garb

holds Niko's left hand,

next, Niko holds Nikita's left hand,

then Nikita holds Nicolia's left hand

and finally, Nicolia holds Irenus' left hand.


Coming to full circle,

they all closed their eyes

and Irenaeus says grace.


"O' Lord, Almighty.


We give thanks for this time when we can all be together. 

We give thanks for this food which is bountiful and delicious. 


The poor shall eat and be satisfied, 

and they who seek the Lord shall praise him; 

their hearts shall live to the ages of ages. 

Glory to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 

now and forever and to the ages of ages.


Amen. "



Cote with the boys also closed their eyes, 

except for Hatman, says grace.


"Dear Lord,

Please bless this food as we are 

thankful to have on our plates.


As tonight is a special night, 

For unto us a Child is born; to us a Son is given.

We give thanks for this joyful holiday when we 

can celebrate our Savior and his love for us.


On this Christmas night 

with joy, we pray, Amen." 


Hatman tried the Zouv's food,

and the first time he tried something new that he actually liked.

It was rich and sweet, and he appreciated and was thankful for the food that he received.


"Thank you, chef. It's really good," said Hatman.


The Zouv didn't understand English,

so Cote translated for him.


"He said, 'Thank you and your food is good."


"You're welcome, monsieur," Hatman replied smiling.


Niko, Nicolai, and Nikita tried Ireanus' Greek style cooking,

even though it was not their usual taste, they all appreciated 

and very thankful for what was on their plate. 


As the two parties celebrated Christmas on two separate days, 

13 days apart, 

they both celebrated that Christmas joy 

with a celebration of the birth of the Lord Christ, our savior.

This is what Christmas is truly about.




To be Continued...




©2021 Æ Firestone

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