Stratton lay flat on his back, unmoving. Something in him knew that he should get to his feet, get to shelter. But all he wanted to do was stay here, looking up at the grey sky. Yes, there was a little cold seeping in, but at least he wasn’t in pain.
It had been a particularly harsh battle. The French knew they were on the defensive, and that made them fight all the more fiercely. The field was already littered with bodies when the arrow had struck his horse. It had reared, jolting him loose from the stirrups, and then bucked, sending him tumbling to the ground. Before he’d regained his senses, it had run off, leaving him with no option but to draw his sword and try to hack his way to safer ground. He’d fought valiantly and killed at least five men, wounding half-a-dozen others, but then his sword had broken against someone’s armor. As he’d been looking for another sword, something—the hilt of a sword, someone’s helmet, perhaps just a stray fist—had collided hard with the back of his head. Still dazed from the fall off his horse, the blow had proven too much for him, and he had collapsed, blacking out into darkness. Which is how he had come to be in this situation.
Overhead, he could see white flecks dotting the grey clouds. Stratton watched them idly, admiring their beauty. A part of his mind, the rational part, reminded him that it was snow. The rest of his body, however, had no intention of moving. It was as if his rationality had been detatched from his body with the blow, and was merely hovering over him, offering suggestions that he didn’t have to take.
The snowflakes drifted closer, and he reached towards them, watching them slide through his fingers. He noted dimly the lack of pain as he moved his arm, but couldn’t register much more than that. Lying here was much easier, much more preferable. There was nothing to do here but watch the snow and rest. No duties, no fighting. No pain.
But gradually, more sensations started to register with him. The faint cold at his back was spreading over the rest of his body. The back of his head started to throb. And the snow was now sprinkled over his armor and face, adding to the cold.
As he took a careful breath, he inhaled several snowflakes. That might not have done much on its own, but combined with the cold air and the general chill surrounding him, it was enough to make his nose prickle. Stratton just wrinkled his nose and tried to will the itch away. But that did no good, and a few moments later, the itch flooded his entire nose, until there was only one way to get rid of it. “Ah…Kashhh!”
The force of the sneeze jerked his head upwards, causing a bolt of real pain to shoot through him. More than that, though, it caused his rational thoughts to rejoin the rest of his body. With a new clarity, he was able to take stock of his situation. The battle was over, he was injured, if not mortally so, and if he didn’t hurry, he would freeze out here. With a wince, he put his hands to the ground and pushed himself upwards. He quickly slid his hands over his body, but found no wounds—they must have assumed he was dead when he collapsed. That was one bit of good luck, at least.
Not bothering to look for his helmet, shield, or replacement sword, Stratton staggered in the direction of his camp. The wind blew more snowflakes into his face, and he shivered for the first time. One more reason to get back to camp; much more of this and he would fall ill, for certain. Then again, a sneeze had saved his life. If a week of illness was the price to pay for his life, then it was a sacrifice he would gladly make.