Burials

Who: Morgenstern, Toure, Thomas, Brissac, NPC Chaplain and NPC Sergeant
When: May 12, 2006
Where: Cemetary, Arras
What: Byrd and Pierre are buried.

Cemetery

On the very outskirts of the town, is an enormous war cemetery where the dead of the Great War have been laid to rest. A small quiet chapel is off to one side in a leafy glade, but most of the field is taken up by rows and rows of white crosses, which gleam brightly in the sun, and with a more sombre shade in the light of the moon at night.

Canadian and British war graves dominate the collection, but there are also plenty of French, and even a small plot for the German soldier here.

If Morgenstern did get poisoned from the gas, he doesn't feel it much yet. And nothing would stop him from doing this anyway. He enters the cemetary with shovel in hand, having been directed to the spot to dig, having to walk down the long rows of crosses. At one point, he stops and removes his cap for a moment in front of a few crosses, but it's not for very long.

Similarly, Thomas also looks quite hale, if rather shaken up from the shelling. But that's hardly unusual. He follows after Morgenstern, a shovel tucked under his left arm, and regards the graveyard with quiet resignment. Absently, he comments, "My ears are ringing."

Not letting anything stop him from this duty sounds like a good idea. And so Brissac is here as well, his own shovel kept in his right hand and held slightly in front of him.

Toure has discarded his gas mask on the walk up to the cemetery. Like the others, if he has been hit by the gas, he shows no signs of it yet. Perhaps those will come later. He carries a shovel, like the other men on grave detail. A sergeant is already standing a bare spot of land that's been chosen to house the latest casualties of the war. Wordlessly, the tall African heads in that direction.

Although not the light of day, the fading sun is providing just enough light for the work at hand. Shadows creep long over the grass between the graves, creating twice as many rows of crosses. Morgenstern walks after Toure, silent and serious and contemplative. At the site of the digging, he leans on his shovel for a moment, squinting towards the sunset. "If your ears are ringing, means they still work," he says fatalistically, his words a stark contrast to the serenity of this place.

Thomas nods back at Morgenstern, frowning somewhat. He continues to survey the graveyard for a moment longer - then, after taking a deep breath, begins to dig. The frown on his face suggests that he is utterly disconnected from his surroundings and fully concentrating on the task at hand. Apparently, it's too quiet for his liking.

Brissac nods a little, as he begins digging and keeping quiet at the moment. Just get the work done.

The sergeant issues the digging commands shortly to the men. Only two graves are to be made tonight. Not that that speaks to any ebbing in the tide of dead. So many of the bodies still litter No Man's Land, or are lost in the trenches to the rats. A pair of regulation graves are ordered. Three feet wide, six feet and a half long, and six feet deep. All made to army standard, nothing more or less for either man. The Tommy sergeant snaps at them to get this over with quickly, while there's still light. He hates this duty. Tour has regained his stoic manner and simply begins, thrusting the shovel into the earth. The grass is fresh and green now, and blooming with summer poppies. Those are uprooted in a workmanlike manner, to get down to the dirt.

Morgenstern is the last one to start digging, not out of any want to escape the duty, but rather to savour the moment, to get the right frame of mind. Once he joins in, he does so with an intentness and concentration that suggests he is going to dig the best graves ever. One final, last show of respect for his dead comrades. A well-dug grave. He seems disturbed about each uprooted poppy and initially he lies the uprooted patches of grass and flowers carefully to the side to preserve them, but has to give it up after awhile.

Initially, Thomas just digs without care or regard. He might as well be digging the garden back home or the like. However, once he sees the care that Morgenstern is investing in the process, he opts to do the same, placing the layers of turf in neat little stacks by the graveside. "So. Um," he starts. "What happened to this one?" Presumably, he means the grave's occupant-to-be.

Brissac works carefully on the digging, keeping silent for the moment as he shrugs a bit.

Toure shows the same care and concentration in the task that Morgenstern does, especially when the corporal joins their digging. 'Do not mourn for the flowers,' he says in French to Morgenstern. 'Soon they will rejoin the earth and lie with your comrades. There is no better duty for them to be given for.'

Morgenstern takes a deep breath, filling his lungs with the clean air. Here, it does not stink of rotting corpses; they lie deep in the earth. "They are…" he begins, having listened closely to Toure, "… too pretty for war." His eyes suddenly brims with tears and he blinks rapidly, going back to the digging with furious energy. "We are digging the graves of tankdriver Byrd and for Legionnaire Pierre. Byrd was killed when trying to save another soldier in No Man's Land. Pierre… he was shelled."

Thomas remains quiet for a moment, then concludes, "Oh." There's not much else that he can say, really. He purses his lips, and continues to dig away in silence. "At least they get graves," he eventually mutters. It's a very small consolation.

Brissac nods a little, "May they both rest in peace…" He offers the word rather quietly.

Toure digs with a slow, easy rhythm, either not noticing or ignoring the hard look his speed gets him from the sergeant. He's coming along well enough at this consistent pace, even if he isn't making the soil fly. He bows his head at Brissac's words, murmuring some soft prayer. Whatever he said, it sounds neither English nor French. His shovel never pauses, even when he speaks.

Slowly but inevitably, the graves are dug. Morgenstern works fervently but efficiently and is sure to not fling dirt at any of the other diggers. If it is one thing every front line soldier knows how to do well, it is to dig. "Graves, far from home. But I will write to their families."

Thomas shivers slightly. "It's not -that- far," he insists. "Not when you think about it. It's just across the sea. There are places that're even further away. And sometimes the countryside looks English."

"Far from home, for those two, if I remember right," Brissac nods a little as he says that, before he lowers his voice and says a quiet prayer for those departed ones. He's then unable to hold back a quiet grin. "let's hope they're now able to sit up there with some of Heaven's best wine and finally just enjoy themselves…"

Toure nods very slightly to himself, when Thomas speaks of those places far farther from here than England. The image Brissac conjures up makes him smile. Again, very slightly. He steps back from the grave he was working on, looking it over. It is done. Now, it is time to fill it.

"Byrd was from New Zealand. Pierre… from the cold north. He complained it was too hot here," Morgenstern remembers. With the grave dug, he's suddenly exhausted, shoulders hunched as he steps away from it. "But… they do have graves. Do you think their families will be comforted to know that?"

The sergeant strides briskly away once the graves are dug. He wants to get on with this, get to bed. In a moment, the coffins come. The unpainted wooden boxes roll into the cemetery on a two-wheeled French cart. It is led by an old local priest, and pulled by a patient, sturdy horse who looks to have spent most of his life doing farm work. A Protestant army chaplain accompanies the priest. The sergeant tersely orders the men to unload them. Tour silently strides over, to do just that.

Thomas tries to wrap his head around the distance between France and New Zealand. He's not even that sure where New Zealand -is-. Stepping back, he stabs his shovel in to the ground and leans on it, watching the coffins, then moves to help remove them from the carts. "I guess," the Private mrmurs to Morgenstern. "It must be nicer to know that they're dead and buried somewhere peaceful and Christian, rather than… Out there. With the rats."

Brissac nods a little bit as he hears the words being said. "And who knows, maybe some day in the future their families would want to come and visit their graves…" he adds, a bit quitely.

"I don't even remember everyone that I have known that have died in this war. If it is one thing that truly gets to me, it is that. The fact that I do not remember their names any longer. Or that I remember a name but not a face," Morgenstern says self-loathingly. He walks to the coffins, nodding curtly at the sergeant, hands placed under one of the heavy chests to lift it up.

Toure helps Thomas lift the coffin he's chosen and carry it to the graveside. The chaplain informs them it contains Pierre, so they'll get it in the right place. The other coffin is left for Morgenstern and Brissac to deal with.

Thomas gently sets Pierre's coffin down on the grass next to the waiting grave. "I wonder how many are dead," he says, still speaking quietly. "They won't even be able to count them all. There's too many. It'd be like counting blades of grass." He dusts off his hands, then places them on his hips. "I can't take it all in."

Brissac moves to help with the remaining coffin, expression quite solemn at the moment. At Morgenstern's words, he nods a bit, "I know that feeling. It's so many of them just coming here and getting killed…"

"Like the stars in the sky," Morgenstern murmurs. He nods back at Brissac, and adds; "Don't think on it. Focus on surviving." It's a simple concept and keeps a man sane enough. He brushes some dirt off of the coffin once it's on the ground next to the grave, staring at it with a rather distant expression. Then he nods at the sergeant and chaplain to show that the next phase should begin.

"God knows them all," Toure says simply to Thomas. He sounds completely certain of that. "They are in His hands now." The sergeant listens impatiently to all of this, but the presence of the chaplain and priest keep him from saying anything more than, "Get them in."

Thomas nods solemnly to Toure. "That's true," he says, apparently comforted. He stares in to the yawning mouth of the open grave for a moment, somewhat transfixed by it, then quickly shakes his head and moves to help ease the coffin in to its intended destination.

Brissac nods a little, shrugging for a few moments. He keeps silent for now, though, just doing what he is supposed to be doing, right now.

Morgenstern grimly eases the coffin into the grave, careful to not jostle it. Once it is in, he swipes his cap off and stands with it in his hands, staring down into the graves, also quiet now. He is lost in his own thoughts.

Toure eases the coffin into the ground along with Thomas, but before it's gotten too far down the box sticks in the narrow earthen space. "Oh, Christ," the sergeant mutters, striding impatiently over to jump on it, to get it down. He's done enough of these that he knows how to stuff it in, and isn't squeamish about doing it. The priest almost says something in objection, but the chaplain forestalls him. Toure just stands aside and watches.

Thomas can't help himself. His mouth moves faster than his brain. "Jesus, don't do that! There's a sodding person in it!" he tells the sergeant, near-as-dammit yelling at the man.

Brissac eases the coffin down as well. "Sorry that I wasn't able to help you…" he mutters, meant for the dead person inside the coffin. As he sees the happenings with the sergeant, he just sighs, but remains silent.

Morgenstern almost explodes right there and then, about to fly on the sergeant and pushing him away. Only the fact he'd have to actually jump on to the casket himself keeps him from doing so. "That," he says through gritted teeth, hands forming into fists, "is my friend in there." He gets something wild in those usually calm green eyes.

"If you aren't going to help me, boy, keep quiet," the sergeant says tersely to Thomas. Indelicate as his jumping was, it got the coffin unstuck. The sergeant hastily climbs out as the coffin falls to the bottom of the grave, landing with a solid thump. The chaplain reaches out to put a calming hand on Thomas's shoulder, and shifts a look in Morgenstern's direction as well. Now that the men are in the ground, the ceremony can begin. The priest walks to stand between the graves, waiting until all the men are quiet. Toure, for his part, keeps just standing and watching.

Thomas shuts up, and patiently looks to the chaplain as if seeking some kind of answer. He then crosses his arms and stands back slightly, doing his best to keep quiet.

Morgenstern calms down, breathing deeply a few times. He focuses on the coffins and memories of the men inside of them. He lowers his head respectfully, to let the chaplain take over and lead the ceremony onwards. The sun is now a blood-red sphere behind them, already halfway hidden behind the horizon.
"They deserve better than you getting in trouble with that sergeant for how he acted here, my friend," Brissac mutters in French to Morgenstern, before he simply goes quiet, as the ceremony seems to be starting.

The priest goes through the rites for the bodies, speaking mostly in Latin and a little in French. Toure bows his head as he listens. As does the sergeant, even. He's not as hard-hearted as all that, really. When he's finished, the chaplain gets up to speak in English, ending in a soft, "…may God have mercy on their souls." When he's done, he looks over the men. "Does anyone wish to say anything for these men?"

Thomas shakes his head, not having known either of them that well. He looks between those gathered, still curious despite the sombre occasion.

Brissac shakes his head a little at the mention of saying something for the men. The look he offers in Morgenstern's direction seems to suggest he thinks the Corporal is the best man for doing something like that.

Morgenstern is more in control now and no tears are shed. When this ceremony is over, so will his mourning period be. He'll move on, just like all the other times. He wants to say a few words though, and he steps up, nodding at the priest and clearing his voice. "Felix Byrd was a brave man. Not because he ran out to save someone and dying for it. But because he was scared, he was terrified and he stuck it out and he did the duty he had promised to do when leaving his country to go fight in a war that he didn't have to fight. Rest in peace, Byrdie." He drops a poppy on the casket, then takes a step over to Pierre's grave. "Pierre Travere. Or Peter, which was his real name. Guess it doesn't matter to keep it a secret any longer. Legionnaires are close-mouthed about their pasts. But he was a young man who constantly surprised me with his words. A brave young man who thought fighting in a war was better than toiling away at a farm for the rest of his life. A man who was a brother, a Legionnaire. Rest in peace, Pierre." He drops another poppy into Pierre's grave, then steps back.

Toure has nothing to say, though he listens somberly to Morgenstern's words. As do the men of God. When he is done the chaplain nods somberly, and sprinkles some loose earth over the coffins. All that's left is to cover them completely now. The priest heads back to the chapel, but the chaplain picks up a shovel and assists in this. As does the sergeant.

Thomas retakes his shovel again and begins to replace the earth over Pierre's coffin. He actually looks quite miserable now. "That's that," he mumbles.

"Rest in peace," Brissac mutters quietly, as he helps the others to replace the earth. He works in quiet for now, not sure what he should say.

Morgenstern picks the shovel up and works more slowly now, in no particular hurry to leave this place. He's at peace, having said his farewells. "That's that," he agrees calmly with Thomas. "That's that." He smiles lopsidedly and glances towards the sun which is now almost disappeared. But clouds are flaming red above the horizon and it's a beautiful scene.

Toure gets on with the burying at the same slow and steady rhythm he dug at. Pierre's grave is soon filled, with the aid of the chaplain. The sergeant, for his part, works grimly on Byrd's. The African soldier does pause a moment when he's pounded his last shovel-full, to look up into the sky. He looks over at Morgenstern, a smile on his face as well.

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