Isandlwana. To military historians, this name is one that is synonymous with defeat, for good reason. On the 22nd of January 1879, a British Army expeditionary force of 7,800 men under the command of Frederic Thesiger, Lord of Chelmsford, was routed on the plains of South Africa by the warriors of the Zulu Kingdom. Almost an entire company of 1,300 English and Colonial troops were killed, with only a few escaping the native's wrath. It was the first battle of the seven month long conflict that would come to be known as the Zulu War. Seven months of failure, savagery and bloodshed as the Zulu's were driven back, beaten down and had their power broken. Ultimately the battle that started it all would become recognized as one of the many strategic blunders that litter the history of warfare.
Of course, that's how it is remembered in our world and many of its twins. In some others, it is remembered as an easy victory against a horde of weak and primitive tribesmen. A few remember it as another name in the lengthy list of victories in the Zulu Empire's long and prosperous history. In quite a few dimensions, there was no battle, no war. Instead the British and the Zulu's resolved their conflict through the same politicking that had got them there in the first place.
This is not the story of any of those worlds. This one is rather... unique. This is the story of the Gate, how it appeared and lead to a whole new world. This is the story of two of the greatest empire's of their respective worlds. This is the story of British Army that fought there!
Isandlwana-12:00 PM, 22nd January 1879
Joseph Elliot, Private in Her Majesty's Army. Oh, how it had sounded when he had first thought of joining up. It conjured the usual sort of images young boys dreamt up when they thought of military service: standing tall and proud, rifle in hand, with that legendary scarlet coat around their shoulders, facing down vicious enemies, earning chestfull's of awards and cash.
Of course, not much of this had come to pass yet. Yes, he had the rifle and yes, he had the uniform. The medals and the riches though... well that was proving a bit more difficult to achieve.
He had a vicious enemy though.
"What d'ya think those Zulu's eat then?"
The question snapped Joseph from his thoughts. His green eyes looked up from where they had been transfixed on the rolling brown hills beyond the camp of immaculate white tents and instead turned to the grinning form of Richard Davis. The cockney had undone a few of the shining buttons of his redcoat and now lounged in the dirt. The two of them sat around a spot between a pair of tents, their Martini Henry rifles laying beside them.
Like Joseph, he was rather skinny. In contrast to the blonde curls of his friend though, Davis's hair was a deep brown, often slicked back with pomade. He also sported a pair of moustache, again unlike Joseph who, except for the occasional bit of peach fuzz, was smooth skinned and rather lacking in the facial hair department.
"Sorry?" Joseph responded, brow furrowed.
"I said, what d'ya think that Zulu lot eat?"
At this question, the confusion on the young man's face only increased. "Why do ya care? Think offering them their favourite dinner will stop em trying to kill you?"
Davis, unperturbed by his friends remark, pressed on with a shake of his head. "Nah, just wanna know if they're gonna be eating better than us tonight".
Joseph shrugged. "I really don't know. We saw a few herds of cows when we were marching up here, so probably beef or something".
"Lucky bastards. Cor, what I wouldn't give for a good bit of beef right now. God knows it'll better than the swill the cook'll be serving up tonight".
With a scoff, Joseph gave his fellow soldier a small kick, staining the midnight blue trousers with a mark of dust. "I'd have thought you'd be used to swill by now, workhouse and all".
The cockney soldier gave a very exaggerated and thoroughly fake belly laugh, "Oooh, sorry m'lord. Can't all grow up in high society".
"High society? A house where you could stretch from one wall to the other, with trains constantly passing over our heads? Oh yeah, I lived a privileged life me".
Davis gave his real laugh (a sort of piggish snort) before laying back against the browning grass, closing his eyes to the blue sky and shining sun above.
For a moment, it looked as though the silence would lapse down, as silent as an army camp on the eve of battle could get anyway. That was until a boisterous voice called out, "Oi! Don't doze off just yet!"
Joseph turned his attention to the brawny figure approaching, his eyes having to ascend the rather large frame before focusing in on his face and the smile showing from behind a black mass of beard.
With a wave, Joseph called back. "Alright Bert? How was it up there? "
The large soldier sat himself down on the ground with a sigh, grateful to be off his feet. "Yeah, weren't bad. One of the artillery boys had what I needed". Bert answered, taking a moment to take off his pith helmet before nodding up to the edge of the hill where a pair of cannons were perched. Their crews, in the distinctive dark blue of the Royal Artillery, were taking their time to rest after hauling their pieces up there.
"You got your matches then?" Davis asked without opening his eyes.
"Yep". With a flourish, Bert whipped out said matches from his jacket pocket with one hand and with the other, his pipe. In just a few moments, he had it clenched between his teeth, small wafts of smoke drifting from its end.
With a nudge of his foot, Joseph attracted the older man's attention. "Whilst you were up there... hear anything?"
"What, gossip?" He shook his head. He gave a throaty chuckle at the deadpan look he got in return. "Nay, not a peep about our goat herding friends. Don't think Chelmsford or the rest have heard much neither".
Davis sighed gratefully. "That's a relief. Can't speak for either of you but I'd rather not have my afternoon occupied by some bloke's in loincloths chucking spears at me".
Joseph, unfortunately, didn't share his friends feelings. The whole march here he had been waiting, anticipating an attack at any second. That would be when he would do it, show his worth and valour in battle. Instead they had just kept on marching through this damned country, treading through gushing rivers and over steep hills for hours on end.
Any fighting that had happened had been of the hit and run variety. A small band of Zulu's, chucking a spear or two and then running off when the cavalry came knocking. Sometimes they escaped and sometimes not. But there had never been any of the huge mobs that the older members of the Regiment had told them to expect.
He didn't feel any excitement for the campaign now, no fear either. Just boredom and a wish for something, anything, to happen.
Formal lunches were always a bit of a drag, even with the company found here now. The commanding officers of the British expedition sat around a long table, perched on a hill overlooking the plains, upon which a variety of fresh fruits sat, a starter to wet their appetites for the food to come. Servants moved to and fro, dutifully filling drinks or lighting cigars.
The relatively peaceful scene was juxtaposed with the hustle and bustle of an army camp just a short distance away, where camped along the mountain were the two thousand men of the rest of the British expeditionary force. Whilst half the army was camped at Isandlwana, the rest were here, searching for their elusive native foes.
At the head of the dinner table was the commander of the whole affair. Lord Chelmsford sat looking upon his fellow officers almost regally, simply listening in on the various conversations going on around him and sipping at glass of fine red wine.
"-And so I told Benjamin rather frankly, "If you don't shape up old boy I fear Margaret shall eat you alive". He was fuming, of course, but eventually he-"
"-Yes, Cape Town is often like that. Though I'm not sure what else you expected from such a backwater. I suspect the Dutch left their mark-"
"-Rather good for riding though, you must admit! Nary an obstruction in sight... I say, after we win this I think I'd rather like to build a new homestead out here. Anne and little George would adore it-
"My Lord?" The voice of Henry Crealock broke the old soldier's attention from his thoughts. "If I may be so bold to ask, is there something on your mind?"
Chelmsford gave a small smile to his friend. Despite him being just four years younger, Crealock still looked upon him for guidance, quite a bit more so than the others.
"There is. The scouts sent forward by Durnford... do we have news of them?"
"Not yet I'm afraid Sir. Neither Durnford or any of his riders have reported here or to Isandlwana".
"Hm... Well, ensure the sentries keep their eyes to the horizon. If we do not get a report back within a few hours, send a rider".
Crealock nodded, standing from his table and dutifully heading down to give out his orders. A bellyful chuckle brought Chelmsford's attention back to the table, specifically to the rather wide frame wedged into a chair at his side, with an equally wide smile on his red face. An officer of the Royal Artillery from his uniform, one who's name currently escaped the lord's mind.
"What has you concerned about that Irishman, Lord Chelmsford? I'm sure he and those... what are they? Baseeti? Basumo? Basuro?"
"Basuto". Came the answer from a helpful soul across the table. The Artillery Officer gave a nod of thanks. It was only now that Chelmsford spotted the recently drained glass at the large man's side and the servant that stood diligently behind him, a half-empty bottle of scotch in hand.
"Yes, that was it. Anyway, as I was saying, I'm sure Durnford and his Basuto lot are gallivanting out there now. Too busy hunting for a good beast to sacrifice to whatever primeval God they dreamt up last night to do their duty". He rounded off this oh-so well put theory with a deep and gurgling burp. He at least had the good grace to look embarrassed over that.
There was silence around the table now. The rather boisterously put rant had drowned out the other discussions and now every man looked to the cool exterior of their commander, all of them eager to see his response.
The response in question was not one of approval, nor was it a retort of disgust. Instead, the lord looked over to the stiff form of the Artilleryman's servant and raised one eyebrow. With nary a sound, this servant quickly corked the bottle of amber liquor and swiftly marched away with it.
Just as expected the Artillery Officer spluttered indignantly at the sight of his booze being taken away and he quickly (as quickly as he could manage anyway) clambered to his feet and went thumping off after his traitorous servant.
Watching the rather large form disappear down the hill, Chelmsford turned back to the rest of his follows and gave a dry smile. "Now then, onto more pleasant topics..."
The sound of four hooves thudding on the ground suddenly drowned out all conversation. Chelmsford and the rest of the men sitting around the table all turned to watch the mounted figure that was rapidly approaching. His tan uniform, ease in the saddle and, most distinctly, his dark skin identified him clearly as a Basuto horseman. As his horse neared the officer's tent, he tugged on the reins and at once his mount reared to a halt with a whinny and snort.
He gave a sharp salute to the assembled superiors in front of him. The moment he did, Chelmsford returned the salute, though didn't stand. "At ease. Do you bring news from the scouts?"
The man nodded before answering, voice thick with his native accent. "Yes my lord. I was sent by Colonel Durnford".
"I see. I presume that the Zulu's have been found then?"
All at once chatter began to break out around the table once again, talk of who's troops were going where, at which positions the artillery and Hale rockets would be stationed, who would harry the enemy's advance to thin their numbers. And then, all at once the words collectively died in their throats as the rider answered grimly.
"No, Sir. We have found something else".
The fighting was long over and silence blanketed the entire battlefield. As far as Durnford could see, from atop the hill upon which he and his men had stationed themselves and their mounts, the fields were a sea of blood and bodies. Fallen spears, some darkened with blood, glinted in the sunlight. Cowhide shields, a few peppered with arrows and looking like a hedgehog's back, now laid useless next to their owners. Flashes of white dotted the field, feathered headdresses common among officers.
Zulu's. Hundreds, maybe thousands dead. Perhaps an entire Impi, cut down by... by...
What were they?
"Baba", One of his men suddenly said. "Lord Chelmsford has come".
At the announcement, the Irishman turned his horse around to watch the procession approaching. A collection of the higher ranking officers riding down, with a number of lancers escorting them on either side. Chelmsford was at its head in full uniform, fool hat and all, lead by the rider that had been sent back when they had first found the site of this massacre.
As soon as the retinue were up close, Durnford snapped a quick salute, lowering his hand as it was returned, "Sir". He started, nodding to his commanding officer as the salute was returned, "I take it Amadi informed you of the situation?"
"Amadi?" Chelmsford responded, eyes squinting in confusion.
"Ah, apologies My Lord. The man who brought you here- he informed you of what happened?" Durnford replied, giving a friendly nod to the young and rather sheepish looking Basuto.
The General didn't reply, instead looking past the retinue of cavalrymen to the devastation beyond. As did the rest of the officers, all of whom had a rather appropriate reaction.
"What in the Hell has happened here?"
"The smell! Lord have mercy".
Chelmsford's eyes were just as wide as his fellow officers as he surveyed the battlefield. "When did you come across this, Colonel?"
"About an hour back sir. We were scouting out the enemies positions when one of my men heard shouts. He alerted me to them and so we rode toward it. We crested a hill and that's when we came upon this-" Durnford explained grimly, gesturing to the field of the dead "- and we realised that those shouts were cries for help. I set the boys about trying to find any wounded there may be-".
"And did you find any?" Crealock interrupted impetuously.
"Yes, but only a few I'm afraid. Whoever fought against the Zulus here were not kind to any injured they found. I had a few of my men ride them back to Isandlwana for a proper looking after".
"And... what about those the Zulus were fighting?" Chelmsford asked, concern deep in every line in his face. "Did you find any of their wounded?"
Durnford gave a regretful shake of his head. "No, no wounded. We found a fair few dead though, but they're... well, I had think it best if you saw for yourselves. Chatha, Kanelo, bring up the body!"
At his command, two of the Basuto riders dismounted before quickly running out to where to where a dark shape lay, some kind of black cloak draped over it. As one, they picked it up by its hands and feet before hauling to the front of the cabal of officers. One of the riders looked to his commander, who in turn simply gave a nod.
With a tug of the cloak, the body below was revealed.
All at once, a multitude of gasps and exclamations rippled through the group. Horses reared up in fright at the thing that lay in front of them. All eyes were fixed on the... creature. This monster. Yes, that was what it was, a monster. It had the stature of a man yet its skin was almost a light purple in colour, with a pig like snout and a pair of pointed ears. It's face was frozen in a state of shock, likely the last thing it ever felt, with its maw wide open and revealing two rows of jagged teeth.
It wore nothing but a pair of cotton breeches and a belt with an empty scabbard by its side. There was a deep wound on its bare chest, with blood still seeping from it even now, having left a crimson trail on the ground when it was dragged to its audience.
"What in God's name is it!?" One of the retinue cried lock, eyeballing the monster.
"I've no earthly idea I'm afraid". Durnford answered, looking down on the body, "A few of the boys suggested it was some kind of demon, summoned by the enemy, but I have my doubts".
Crealock spoke up again, "Well, what else could it be? An army of these... monstrosities obviously came here to slaughter and kill! Doesn't matter if they're British or Zulu".
"No, no, I don't think its some sort of hellspawn. You see, we found other bodies. Other monsters, like the one you see in front of you, but also men".
"Men?" Chelmsford asked curiously.
"Yes sir. If you'll follow me, I'll show you what I mean".
Without another word shared between them, Durnford turned and rode down the hill snd onto the battlefield, the party of officers and its lancer protectors following behind.
Now, with their horses cantering over the field, every man could see the results of the battle in gruesome detail. Some of the Zulu's were stabbed. Some were shot full of arrows. Others were quite literally torn in two. Every conceivable way you could bludgeon, stab or otherwise violently kill an enemy was on display here now.
Suddenly came a flash of sun against silver, glaring into the eyes of the riders. With a squint, Durnford urged his horse into a canter, heading to the source of this light.
Laid out, flat on his back, was a knight. Not like some of the higher class men that Durnford occasionally met in Natal, with uniforms loaded down with pointless and flashy decoration. No, the man that the Irishman looked down on now was straight out of a fairytale. Clad in a full suit of shining steel plate, a black cloak around his shoulders and a bright scarlet plume on the top of his helm. The only thing marring this chivalric image were the multiple assegais plunged through his breastplate. His steed, a fine and strong warhorse, had likewise been killed with a spear through its throat. It was collapsed and had obviously pinned its riders legs to the ground, any cavalryman's worst nightmare. He had been an easy target for the Zulu's.
"What the Devil? A knight?" Chelmsford said as he rode up, perplexed.
"Yes sir. There are others as well, not just knights and monsters, but ones dressed head to toe in Roman armour".
"Aye, you can see 'em dotted around. Seems this other army took a might few casualties themselves". This was followed to a nod at the surrounding carnage. Indeed there were other bodies, men in the traditional lorica segmentata of the Roman Empire, as if they had stepped right out of Gaul and onto the South African plains.
"Quite the mix up of forces, isn't it? Romans, knights, monsters..." Muttered Crealock in wonder.
"Indeed. Colonel Durnford, you said you took a Zulu prisoner?" Chelmsford asked.
"Not a prisoner, sir, no. I saw that he was wounded and in need, so I helped".
Chelmsford gave a roll of his eyes before replying, "Whatever he is, you had some of your men take him to Isandlwana?"
"Yes, and told them to not spare their horses", The Colonel confirmed, "I reckon they'll have gotten there by this evening".
"Told you it was gonna be swill", Davis murmured as he stepped away from the cook, mess tin filled with brown broth.
The server of said swill looked up to the cockney with a narrowed gaze, "Oi, if you don't want it then pour it back in". He nodded to the pot of steaming stew in front of him.
"I was only joking, I was only joking". Davis raised a hand defensively and moved off, mess tin in hand. Joseph watched him go, chuckling lightly as his own mess tin was filled with stew before following after his friend.
They walked over one of the many campfires dotting the camp where Bert sat, already scraping out the last of the stew in his tin.
"Blimey, done already Bert?" Davis asked, settling in beside the big man.
"Always first to the queue, he is". Joseph said, sitting down close to the fire to get himself warm. Despite the days being sweltering at times out there in the veldt, the nights could go below freezing.
"I just appreciate a good dinner". Bert said, slurping up the last of his stew and putting his mess tin down on the grass.
There was silence between the three of them for a moment, only the din of the rest of the camp, the crackling of the campfire and spoons scrapping up stew. Then Bert picked up his kitbag, dug around in it and pulled from it a flute. The old instrument was rather battered, with scratched and dulled metal, yet Bert still held it proudly. Joseph wasn't sure where he had got it from, family maybe. Besides that, all he knew was that Bert always kept it close.
"How's about a song, lads?"
Davis grinned, revealing a mouth of crooked teeth. "Yeah, alright". Joseph gave a nod as well.
"Alrighty then". Bert eagerly replied. "Got any requests?"
"How's about some Marie Lloyd?" Came the suggestion from Davis, earning a laugh from Joseph. The young soldier then piped up a suggestion of his own.
"What about... Over the Hills and Far Away?"
"Aha, now there's a good one". The musician said and promptly brought the flute to his lips. In a moment, the trill sound of the flute began, Bert's fingers jumping from hole to hole in a flash. Although there was a mistake here and there, it was still quite good. After a few seconds, Joseph began to sing.
"Hark now the drums beat up again
For all true soldier gentlemen
Then let us list and march, I say,
Over the hills and far away!"
Davis took his turn to sing next, stand up and spreading his arms dramatically, eliciting another laugh from Joseph and Bert nearly loosing the tune as he chuckled.
"Over the hills and o'er the main
To Flanders, Portugal and Spain!
Queen Anne commands and we'll obey!
Over the hills and - Fucking hell!"
The reason for the sudden change in the lyrics was the sudden appearance of a horse galloping up to the fire. Davis staggered back, Bert stopped his playing with a particularly shrill note of his flute and Joseph scrambled to his feet.
The rider, illuminated in the fire's light, stared wide eyed down at the three Englishmen.
"Jesus Christ, it's a bloody Zulu!" Davis shouted out, snatching up his Martini-Henry from where it lay on the ground. With trained speed, he raised the rifle and aimed it at the rider.
"NO!" Joseph screamed out, reaching out to grab the barrel of the weapon and forcibly point to the ground. "Bloody hell, Davis, it's not a Zulu".
Davis looked at the young soldier as if he was mad. "What d'ya mean he's not a Zulu!? Look at him!"
"He's wearing trousers!" Joseph answered back desperately nodding to the black rider, who was indeed wearing a pair of tan trousers.
Squinting, Davis looked over to the rider, his eyes flicking down to his legs. Slowly, he lowered his rifle. "Oh yes... uh, sorry mate... honest mistake, really..."
"Must be one of those natives we've got fighting for us".
"Yes, yes. I Basuto". The rider piped up in heavily accented English. "Zulu is here". He stuck a thumb behind him, to the figure slumped over the back of his horse.
Bert, who had stayed silent during this rather dramatic confrontation, looked over look at what was laying there. "Christ, it is a Zulu... Looks like he's hurt!"
Joseph craned his head around to see that, yes, there was the unmistakable form of a Zulu. His dark skin shined in the firelight and he wearing the distinctive fur loincloth. His torso was wrapped haphazardly in cloth, probably a torn blanket turned into an impromptu bandage, and was dark with blood.
"Jesus, he looks rough". Joseph said grimly.
"Yes, rough". The horseman said. "Where is... uh..." He gestured listlessly with his hand.
"Surgeon?" Joseph asked, realising this new arrivals obvious lack of knowledge when it came to English. "You want to find the surgeon?"
"Yes, surgeon". A grateful smile graced the horseman's face.
"Here, we'll lead you over there". Bert spoke. "Follow us".
With a nod, the rider clicked his heels against his horse's side and spurred it on, following after the tall soldier as he began to lumber off, up the hill towards the surgeons tent. Joseph followed just behind the rider, his rifle slung over his shoulder. Davis walked beside him and gave him a nudge as they approached the rows of white tents that made up the main body of the camp.
"Where d'ya think he got picked up then?" He asked, nodding to the Zulu lying still on the horse.
"Maybe a skirmish? You know there were a few of those when we were heading here". Joseph replied.
Davis snorted derisively. "If you could call them that. A spear or two and then they scarper whenever we come out in force".
"Wouldn't you do the same if you was them?"
The cockney was silent for a moment before grudgingly nodding. "Yeah, probably. Anyway, what you reckon they're gonna do with him once he's all healed up".
Joseph gave a shrug. "Probably beat the piss out of him, try and get some information, just like they did with all the other Zulu's we've caught on the way up here".
"Yes, only thing that gets through to these stupid bastards". Came a bellowing voice, laced with a distinctive Dutch accent.
Stepping out from behind a supply wagon, Peter Achterberg looked every bit the hardy settler. Cotton breeches, worn boots, battered leather coat and wide brimmed hat. The old man looked at the three Brits and the Basuto with a squinted gaze and he idly scratched at his grey bushy beard.
Joseph instantly grimaced as the old settler approached them. Peter was one of the civilians hired on by the top brass to guide the expedition through the wilds of the veldt, and like the majority of the guides he was a Boer. Although he had never heard of the Boers before arriving in South Africa (at first when he had heard the name his mind had immediately gone to the animal) Joseph had learned his first day that they were a rather big part of why South Africa was in the state it was in. Being the descendants of the original Dutch settlers who had first arrived in South Africa, the Boers had staked quite a claim for the country. They had even declared their own republics and Britain had annexedone two years ago. According to the older blokes, it had seemed like war was gonna kick off any minute between the Boers and their new government, before the Zulu had kicked up a fuss of their own. Then the two sides decided to put a halt on kicking the shite out of each other for a moment and focus on taking down their common enemy.
Peter apparently didn't care about politics, only that he was getting paid, but Joseph could see a nasty little glint in his eyes whenever they talked. He was sure the others thought so as well but only went along with him for his knowledge on the terrain.
That nasty glint was practically shining now as Peter looked up at the Basuto rider.
"You lot managed to nab a prisoner, eh?" He asked, leering at him.
The Basuto didn't deem the Boer worthy of a response and so turned his head. All that did was get a laugh out of Peter. "Ah, can't get anything out of these kaffirs. Too stupid".
Joseph scratched at the back of his head before speaking up. "Uh, yeah... Look, we gotta get this Zulu to the surgeon before he croaks".
"Of course! Got to get something out of him first eh? Let me come along, I can speak the language, I'll translate whatever he says".
"That ain't really necessary-" Joseph replied but was silenced by Peter raising one finger.
"I insist! In the interest of British and Boer relations".
Seeing that there was no arguing with the guide, they continued on walking. As they reached the surgeons tent, candlelight glowed through the white walls. The horse came to a stop outside the tent and Bert hauled the Zulu up onto one broad shoulder, carrying him with ease.
The tent flap opened and the surgeon stepped out, a smoking pipe between his lips. Judging by the top button of his tunic being undone and his hatless head, it was obvious they'd caught him at an odd time.
"Can I help - Good God!" He asked, eyebrows shooting up at the figure slung over Bert's shoulder. "Bring him in".
They entered the tent. The furnishings were rather bare, mainly consisting of an operating table in the centre, with a bucket waiting as well as a small trolley with various surgical instruments, chief of which was a large buzzsaw.
Bert hurriedly laid the Zulu down onto the table and the surgeon unwrapped the ad-hoc bandage, revealing the most gristly sight Joseph had ever seen. The Zulu's side had been cut open, leaving a jagged and bloody wound with bits of viscera still hanging from the hole. Every man there, besides the surgeon and Peter, recoiled slightly from the rotten smell wafting from the wound.
As the surgeon peered down to assess the damage, with a sudden gasp the Zulu's eyes opened wide and he sat up. Or tried to at least, as with a pained grunt he fell back against the table. The surgeon fell back in shock as the Zulu began jabbering in his own language, spasming in agony.
"Help me, one of you, help me hold him down!" The surgeon called to the assembled soldiers. Without a word the Basuto sprinted over and grabbed a hold of the Zulu's shoulders, pressing him down onto the table, trying to reassure him with hushed words spoken in Zulu.
As this happened, the surgeon addressed Joseph, Bert, Davis and Peter. "Look, you chaps should get out of here, I'll try and do what I can with him".
"Fine by me". Bert said, turning away from the sight of the Zulu with a queasy look on his face.
"Yeah, good luck Doc". Davis clapped Joseph on the shoulder. "Come on, Joe, lets leave him to his trade".
Joseph nodded and with one last look at the grim sight, turned and head out of the tent.
The sudden hit of cold air felt good in his lungs and Joseph took several big breaths. He felt dizzy and his legs felt as weak as twigs. As he stumbled away from the tent, he almost fell, only being saved from a face full of dirt by Davis catching him.
"Blimey, you alright?" The cockney asked, concerned.
He got a weak nod in response. "Yeah, yeah, I've just... never seen something like that".
"Yeah, nasty business". Davis gave Joseph a pat on the back.
Bert stepped up to them. "I wonder what that Zulu was saying? Seemed quite distressed to me".
"Maybe that had something to do with the chunk of flesh cut out of him?" Davis answered, his voice dripping with sarcasm.
"Monsters". Peters voice suddenly growled out. Sidling up to the three Brits, the old Boer looked at them with wide eyes and he spoke lowly. "Flying monsters, metal men, demons... That is what he spoke of..."
In the glow of the campfires that speckled the camp, Peter looked absolutely mad. It didn't lessen at all when he cracked a smile, showing a mouth of surprisingly white teeth.
"Sounds like a load of bollocks to me". And then off he went, cackling in the night.
"Mad bastard". Davis said as they watched him walk off.
Despite his nod of agreement, Joseph thought there may have been truth in what the Boer had said.