Monday, February 18, 2013
The Legend of Spyri and Gympi (3)
The Legend of Spyri and Gympi (Part 3)
It wasn’t long before the boy was back at the school with loads of washing in front of him again, singing about his wrinkly fingers again, trying to ignore the pain in his leg. The soldiers laughed to see him swinging about on his crutches while somehow hanging up washing and fondly named him, Gympi. Almost every night, they would call him to come and tell them a story or sing them a few songs. He solemnly told them stories about what would be happening in their homes, animals in the wild, nonsense stories like an argument between soap bubbles and sang songs about anything and everything. He reminded the soldiers of their families far away in their own country.
He was there when the Commander in Chief arrived to inspect what was going on, although he didn’t realise when he had driven in. The Commander in Chief had not been deterred from coming to see the font lines for himself, despite the unstable position. All the soldiers in the school were standing at attention when they heard a clear voice singing about three frogs in a well.
“Are there any soldiers here missing?” The Commander in Chief demanded.
“Then who, may I ask, is that singing?”
“It must be our washer boy, sir!” Major Peneer answered.
“Your washer boy?” the Commander in Chief said incredulously. “Why do you need a washer boy? Don’t your soldiers have their own hands to wash with?”
“He washes the soldiers’ clothes, sir and kills all the confounded lice for us.”
“I see. Why is he here?”
“Hello sir,” the boy had come up behind the Commander in Chief silently, startling him.
“Hello sir, I’m Gympi, the washer boy and former runner in the front lines. I stowed away on a truck to get here and have been helping out ever since. The place seemed rather quiet, so I came to see what was going on. Nice to meet you, sir,”
Gympi stuck out his hand and the Commander in Chief shook it firmly, despite his surprised frown.
“I see. How long have you been helping out?”
“Almost 3 months, sir.”
“You had your crutches before then?”
“Oh no, sir. I only just got the crutches three days ago, after I woke up in hospital.”
“And how did you get into hospital?”
“I was acting as a runner while the communication lines were down, sir.”
“He saved my life from a lucky artillery shot, sir,” Major Peneer put in.
The Commander in Chief drew his breath in sharply through his teeth. “You saved the Major’s life? Did you stow away on a truck from over the old border? Are you one of our own boys?”
“No sir. Sorry, but definitely not. I stowed away at Heckler Camp. I think I grew up near Herrick.”
“Then what’s your real name?”
Gympi shrugged. “I don’t know.”
“How old are you?”
“I think I’m 12.”
The Commander in Chief turned abruptly on the Major.
“What were you doing, using such a young boy as a runner? An enemy boy even! He might have sabotaged something. War is no place for a boy.”
“I wouldn’t do that sir,” Gympi interrupted. “Much as I don’t like war, I reckon that helping out is better than starving. Perhaps I could even remind people of home and help to stop the war. Help make peace, you know. I don’t understand what the war’s about, but I’m sure that you’d all rather be safely at home than here.”
“True enough, Gympi. You can go and finish your washing now.”
“I’ve finished it already, sir.”
“Then run along, I haven’t finished inspecting the men.”
Gympi pivoted about on his crutches, about to leave and do some sewing that needed doing. He stopped a moment, with strange look on his face.
“Sorry sir. I can’t run and I won’t be able to when they get here in a few hours. They’re coming to take the school back. I suggest you leave right now, if you value your life.”
“What’s that you say?” the Commander in Chief asked sharply.
“I knew you were a spy,” Captain Isenskowl snarled, drawing his gun.
“Ears are very useful things,” Gympi replied holding up his hand. It was a gesture of authority one didn’t normally see in a child, “if you use them properly. Listen.”
It was quiet, but for the rustling of the wind in trees and the tramping of feet.
“They picked a good day to make an advance.”
A watchman sounded the alarm. The alarm sounded louder than usual in the stillness of the day. The enemy had been sighted.
“You should get out now, while you still can, sir!”
The Commander in Chief looked out at his men and shook his head. “I should have listened to the Martial. Never mind, I have been on the back lines for a long time. No good leader leads from behind. It’s about time I showed these men that I can still fight. Fetch me an ordinary soldier’s uniform.”
“Yes sir!” Gympi swung off.
“Men,” the Commander in Chief said. “Today I will be fighting as one of you, and we will hold this post or die fighting. I’m not running off and leaving you to die for me. I’ll not be remembered as a coward. Remember why we are here, who we are and what we are fighting for. Now let’s get ready to meet our enemy!”
Gympi brought back a uniform and the Commander in Chief changed out of his medalled dress uniform into the simple private’s clothes in one of the portable classrooms.
“Gympi. You stay in these portables until the fighting is over. It will be safer in here.”
“You are a very bold and brave boy, Gympi.”
“Thank you sir, I hope you will survive this battle.”
“Thank you Gympi. I hope we will soon have peace again. Perhaps this war was all a big mistake.”
Not long later, the fighting began. Gympi sat hunched up in the most solid corner of the portable he could find, hoping that no stray bullets would find its way in here. How long he had huddled in that corner, he did not know. His mind was off with his imagination, trying to forget the terrifying situation that he was in.
Later that day or was it the next day? Gympi wasn’t sure, that the fighting stopped. He presumed that his countrymen had won this fight, from the sound of banging doors and shouts as if people were searching all the classrooms.
The door to his portable was suddenly flung open.
“There’s a boy in here!” came the shout and Gympi was pulled roughly from his corner.
“It’s a lame kid with crutches.”
“I’ve got a broken leg,” Gympi corrected.
“Did I ask you?” the soldier snarled.
“What are you doing here in the enemy’s camp?” the soldier demanded.
“What have you found?” came a shout from outside.
“A boy with a broken leg!”
Another soldier came in.
“Let me see him, Coombs.”
“What’s your name, kid?”
What kind of name is that for a kid?”
“They just called me Boy, before I broke my leg.”
“How old are you?”
“How did you get here?”
“I came with the enemy, I stowed away on their truck.”
“I wanted to see whether we were winning or not. We couldn’t tell, down in Herrick.”
“You came from Herrick.?”
“Yes sir. I got caught and have been working for the enemy as washer boy and was a runner before I broke my leg.”
“How did you break your leg?”
“I fell into a trench during the bombing.”
“Tell me the messages they had you send.”
“There was nothing important. Just things like when the communication was down or fetching something or needing to get something fixed.”
“A traitor. That’s what this boy is. A traitor,” Coombs sneered.
“I’m not a traitor,” Gympi replied stoutly.
“That’s what you say,” Coombs laughed. It wasn’t a pleasant laugh.
“Leave him alone, Coombs,” the Lieutenant said. “He’s just a boy.”
“Did he fight for us? Did he sabotage anything while he had the chance? Ha, boy?”
“No. I didn’t think of it.”
“Of course not. He’d only have thought of his own skin.”
“Stop it Coombs! Leave him alone. If there is no one else in these rooms, let’s go see to the prisoners.”
“Yes sir,” Coombs said sullenly, casting a yellow eye over Gympi.
“Can I come, sir?” Gympi piped up.
“Well if you want to. It’s not a pretty sight out there. Not a sight for one as young as you.”
“I’ve seen plenty like that before, sir,” Gympi replied.
“Very well then, if you want to.”
“How many prisoners were taken?” Gympi asked as he swung after the Lieutenant and Coombs.
“Only about 15 men.”
“Is that all? Of all the 900 men stationed here, you only managed to capture 15 of them?”
“We killed all the rest of them, didn’t we?” Coombs laughed, making Gympi wince.
“So there were 900 men stationed here. Must’ve been pretty cramped,” the Lieutenant wrinkled his nose.
“It was pretty cramped,” Gympi affirmed, taking care to look only at the ground, not wanting to see any more of the dead and bloodied bodies lying around than he needed to.
The 15 prisoners were only slightly wounded, and looked up when the Lieutenant, Coombs and Gympi came into the room.
“So you’re all right then, are you Gympi?” the Commander in Chief asked. He, the Major, Albert and a few other men had survived.
“Yes sir. I’m fine.”
“Who’s this?” a commanding officer asked.
“A boy we found hiding in the classrooms, Colonel, sir!” the lieutenant replied.
“Well these men did express some concern for a boy that was hiding in the portables. You must be Gympi. The Major here says that you were a washer and messenger boy for them and that you saved his life.”
“Yes sir. That’s right. I’d have done the same for you.”
“I don’t like all this killing.”
“I can understand why.”
Later that night, Gympi was lying awake in the classroom next to the one containing the prisoners, listening to his countrymen celebrating their victory, when he heard someone stumbling into the prisoner’s room, cursing and kicking. Gympi knew that all the prisoners were unable to defend themselves.
Gympi got up and swinging out of his room, rushing into the room next door.
“Stop it! Stop it!” he shouted. “Isn’t it enough that they are your prisoners? Would you want to be in their position? Stop it!”
Somebody with breath reeking of alcohol, grabbed Gympi, and thrust his face in Gympi’s.
“If it isn’t the little traitor,” Coombs slurred. “Well, if you don’t want them to be hurt, then you certainly will, you little sneak. Hey mates, here’s one turned bad. He helped the enemy, so he’s got to be one of them right?”
“Right!” came the hoarse voices of other men.
Somebody snatched the crutches from Gympi’s hands. Another punched him in the stomach. Gympi fell down. Boots kicked and crunched. The other prisoners tried to stop them, but were just thrown off, kicked severely and told to stay put. Somebody had taken up his crutches and was hitting him with them. Snap! Something broke.
Gympi groaned. His eyes felt painfully dry and everything hurt. He could hear moans around him and a few screams. Sounds like the hospital, he thought. He tried to open his eyes, but it was as if a great weight had been placed on them and it was a great effort to even try. He gave up and drifted back into oblivion.
Gympi opened his eyes and struggled to sit up. He screamed in pain and fell back down on the bed.
“Hello,” said a cheerful voice. “How are you feeling?”
“Water,” Gympi croaked.
“Here you go, dear.”
Someone handed him a glass of warm water and helped him sit up carefully.
“Thanks,” Gympi was about to gulp it down when a hand stayed him.
“Wait. You have to drink slowly or you’ll make yourself sick.”
“Aren’t I already sick?” Gympi whispered, taking the sip allowed him by the hand.
“I’m Alison. Do you remember me?”
“Maybe not? You were here last time when you broke your leg. Since then, this hospital’s been taken back by your own countrymen.”
“Ah. The hero’s awake now, is he?” Doctor Stonehed came bustling up, trying to find the end of a roll of bandages he had somehow tangled up.
“Here sir, I’ll do that,” Alison smiled, taking the bandages from the doctor’s fumbling attempts, quickly untangling it and rolling it back up neatly.
“Never seem to be able to get it right,” he mumbled to himself. “Thank you Alison.”
The doctor leaned in closer so that Gympi could hear his soft words, “Between us, the Commander in Chief and Major Peneer thank you for stopping your soldiers from killing them that night. You’ve become a real hero in our country. I would like to thank you too, for saving their lives.”
Doctor Stonehed smiled.
“Your father would be very proud if he knew you were so brave, Gympi.”
“My father…? Do you know him?”
“No, but I would be very proud of you if I were your father. Also the Commander in Chief and Major Peneer managed to escape back across the border a few days ago, while you were out of it. They got lucky. Apparently there was an accident in Danwick, but they managed to escape with minimal injuries.”
“You’re tired. You’ve been ill this past week. Go back to sleep. You’ll feel better when you wake up.”
“Close your eyes.”
Gympi obeyed. The doctor was a good man.
Gympi’s stomach growled. It growled very loudly.
“Good morning, Gympi. That’s your name now isn’t it?” Alison said cheerfully. “I brought you some breakfast.”
Alison helped Gympi to sit up carefully and gave him some breakfast.
“You eat slowly now, ok kid? I’ll be back later to collect your dishes. I’ve got to feed the other men too,” Alison wheeled a trolley between beds, handing out breakfast to the men that could not get up and walk to the kitchen themselves.
Gympi looked around as he ate. His room contained more beds than it was originally made for. Most of the other patients in his room were other soldiers with various injuries. Some were groaning in pain, some were quiet and still. Still others, like him were awake and thoughtful, munching on the buns they’d been given for breakfast. There was also a smell of dirt and infected wounds, smells that a hospital seldom had before the war had begun.
“Finished?” Alison had come back and was loading trays and dishes back onto the trolley.
“Yes. Thanks,” Gympi replied. His stomach growled aloud thankfully.
“The doctor will be along soon, to check on everyone in this room. So sit tight a little longer. You’re not in too much pain?”
Gympi shook his head and winced.
Alison nodded understanding, “The doctor will see to it.”
She trundled off, talking cheerfully to other patients.
Doctor Stonehed entered the room and inspected his patients. Followed by another man and a nurse, he directed changes of bandages or helped patients to sit up in bed. Eventually he came to Gympi.
“Good morning, Gympi. How are you feeling?”
Gympi shrugged. “Sore. It hurts to move.”
Doctor Stonehed nodded to the nurse, who gave Gympi a tablet and a glass of water.
“Unfortunately we don’t have many painkillers, but we’ll let you have this one. I’m sure you understand that we can’t give everyone much pain relief, but this should last you a little while. Now, let’s see how all your injuries are going.”
Doctor Stonehed prodded and poked Gympi gently. Changing a bandage here and there.
“Luckily for you,” he said as he made sure that the plaster on both of Gympi’s legs was not too tight, “that we had just got a new batch of plaster when you came in. You were pretty well broken up, so it might all take a little while to heal.”
After he had finished, Doctor Stonehed smiled, though there was a shadow of uncertainty about it this time.
“You’ll be fine. As I told you last time, young people like you always spring back to shape quite quickly. Now, try to sit up for the rest of the day if you can manage it, ok? Well, I must be off now. See you later Gympi.”
The doctor, his assistant and nurse went to the next bed, leaving Gympi alone.
Gympi slowly swung his heavy legs over the edge of the bed and let them dangle. They throbbed and he pulled them back up with effort. He wished he could remember who he was and where he came from. He wished he wasn’t in the hospital and that the war had never started. He wished he was back at home, but where was home? He wanted his mother, but all he could remember of her was a warm presence.