APRIL 8, 1865, Battle of Appomattox Station
General Lee’s words echoed in Eric’s mind as he readied his rifle for another shot.
There was no safe on a battlefield.
There was mud from turned-up earth where men had run at each other—hastening to kill each other.
There were battle cries—utilized not just to make the enemy frightened but to make the one yelling a little less frightened.
A little more insane—and disconnected from the killing he was doing.
There were other cries—those from pain.
There were the blasts of guns being fired—eventually enough of them to make a man’s ears ring with them for hours, even after the blasts had ended.
There was the ripping of bullets through the air, bullets aimed to kill and to maim.
There was the thud of men falling because of those bullets.
The sputtering of last breaths being gasped.
The prayers of the men who simply could not fight on—the ones who fell to the ground and rocked back and forth, just waiting for death to be generous enough to save them from hell.
The sounds of begging.
The tastes of splattered blood, gunpowder, smoke.
The sounds of bayonets cleaving through skin and muscle and sinew.
The sight of eyes opened in death, fixed stares that only coins would be able to keep closed.
The feel of the mud between your fingers as you stumbled, but then grasped your gun as if it were the only thing that could save you.
Steel and iron—cool and comforting.
Hands shaking with fear and adrenaline as you reloaded again and again. And then you could no longer load fast enough. And then you had to count on the bayonet—the rusty knife at the end of the rifle—or the saber.
Or the Bowie knife.
Or the fist.
Or the rock.
Even if one’s body could escape with just scratches and the soreness of its exertions, the mind could not escape.
The heart could not escape.
The soul could not escape.
No. There was no safety in a battle.
There was only the will to survive.
The skill brought on by training and drilling.
And by whatever God-given instincts you possessed.
And by luck.
Luck most of all.
But luck could be fickle.
Eric Northman found that out.
It took him a moment to realize that he had been struck from the side by a bayonet.
In fact, it was the sound of the weapon being pulled from his body and not pain that he was first aware of.
And then there was a warmth.
Then a strange coldness.
Eric registered falling to his knees, but he did not register the face of man who had surely killed him.
The Viking slumped to the side.
For a moment his eyes focused on a burning Confederate flag.
“Don’t let her burn,” he whispered, taking a moment to wonder if those would be his last words.
He heard a splash—his cheek landing in a shallow puddle.
Of water? Of blood?
He could not tell.
Sookie’s face flashed before his eyes and he felt something wet on the other side of his face too.
And then he felt nothing.
Luck was a funny thing.
Just when Eric’s seemed to run out, more came his way.
Despite the fact that he had been sliced in the gut—a wound that would have been mortal 99% of the time, several things happened within minutes of his fall: things that anyone would call lucky.
First of all, the sounds of bugles signaling that Lee was retreating filled the air.
Next, Ulysses S. Grant himself happened to catch sight of the distinctive blond hair and tall frame of his favorite Lieutenant Colonel, despite the fact that Eric was in the muck. Grant quickly sent his own personal field surgeon to tend to the young man as he continued to try to cripple the enemy.
Third, another soldier fell dead on top of Eric’s wound, helping to stay the blood until the doctor could get to him.
Fourth, the closest Union field hospital was only seven miles away.
Fifth, Eric Northman was on the first wagon of wounded taken to the hospital, and he was the last man put on that wagon. Thus, he was the first patient seen by Doctor Patricia Ludwig. And Dr. Ludwig did not shy away from difficult cases or gut wounds as almost all of the other surgeons did.
However, the biggest stroke of luck that Eric Northman had that day was that his eyes popped open right before he was given laudanum to put him out for his surgery.
Those eyes focused for but a moment. But they focused on just the sight they needed to see.
“You should sleep,” came Dr. Ludwig’s harsh voice as she took in Nurse Sookie Stackhouse, who was slumped on the floor next to the cot where the tall Union soldier was sleeping in relative peace.
Immediately, Ludwig had been able to tell that Nurse Stackhouse knew the young man who had been hurt so badly that the doctor had almost given up on him so that she could help the other doctors deal with the other patients from the day’s battle. Thankfully, there had not been as many wounded as usual. Otherwise, the choice would have been more difficult.
But Ludwig was not one to give up.
She patched up.
Ludwig came up behind the young woman and noticed that she was clutching the young man’s hand.
“He is the one in the picture that you stare at every chance you get?” the doctor asked.
“Yes,” Sookie said, her voice ragged.
Despite any personal connection the nurse had with the man, Miss Stackhouse had performed her duty admirably that day, a fact that Ludwig respected. Honestly, the doctor did not know what she would do if her son or her brother was suddenly brought into her operating room.
That was one of the reasons why she had been assigned so far north.
Her son was stationed with her brother much further south. In fact, her brother, William Tecumseh Sherman, was the reason why Ludwig had been given her position and post. Hell—it was only after her brother’s successfully-led campaign in Atlanta that Lincoln had garnered enough momentum to be reelected for a second term!
Ludwig scoffed. That coward, ex-General McClellan, had had the audacity to run against Lincoln—as if he would have done any better as president than he had done on the battlefield.
Indeed, Will—as she called her brother—was the only reason why she had finally been allowed to openly practice as a doctor—as opposed to pretending to be a nurse. Her appointment had been Will’s cashed-in favor.
Now the doctor decided to do a favor for the competent nurse before her.
“He will survive,” Ludwig said confidently.
For the first time, Sookie looked up at the doctor. The younger woman’s eyes were bright with unshed tears.
“Are you sure?” she asked, her lisp suddenly missing.
Ludwig smirked. She had always suspected that Sookie’s lisp was hiding a Southern accent—not that she gave a fuck.
“The intestines are a resilient organ. His wound was difficult to repair, but repair it I did,” the doctor responded. She was not being cocky—just factual. “So far, there is no sign of infection, and the sutures are obviously holding. Plus,” she winked, “he has the countenance of a survivor.”
Sookie allowed her lips to turn upward into a gentle smile.
“Does he have something to live for?” Patricia asked.
“Yes,” Sookie responded. “He does.”
With the exception of a few skirmishes that followed due to poor communication between the different theatres of the war, the War Between the States—the Civil War—ended at Appomattox on April 9, 1865.
Approximately 750,000 soldiers had been killed during the war.
Some in battle.
Some from wounds sustained during battle.
Some from disease.
Some from the elements.
Some from suicide.
Some from despair.
Lieutenant Colonel Eric Northman was not one of them.