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Four Days on the Danube: Chapter Four
Last updated: Friday, June 17, 2011 21:34 EDT
As he got close to the barracks, Tom was relieved to find that his artillery unit was apparently still intact and, nudging from the noise, fighting back with considerable spirit. The unit was officially a company — a “battery,” in the artillery’s parlance — but it was way oversized because the men assigned to Ingolstadt’s defensive guns had been incorporated into it. Instead of two hundred men, Tom had almost four hundred under his command. That was more than a third of the total strength of the Danube Regiment.
Not all of them would have been at the barracks when the fighting broke out. But he probably still had close to three hundred soldiers available in his artillery unit, and he’d picked up a couple of infantry companies on his way to the barracks. The companies belonged to the 2nd Battalion, whose commanding officer had been murdered in his sleep also. The two captains in charge of them had no idea where the rest of the battalion was, nor what had happened to the 1st Battalion.
Tom didn’t know the answer to that question either. But he was pretty sure the 1st Battalion had defected to the Bavarians. That would explain how the enemy had managed to pour into Ingolstadt the way they had. Units from that battalion had been in charge of several of the city’s gates. They would have let in assassination teams first, to target the regiment’s still-loyal officers, and then opened the gates for the Bavarian forces who were camped nearby.
Tom and Colonel Engels had both been worried about the reliability of the soldiers in that battalion, but there hadn’t been much they could do about it given the political situation. Reliable units in the regular army — meaning volunteers, in this context, not mercenaries — were now mostly in Poland or Bohemia. And with a new prime minister, the few such units which were still stationed in the USE itself were not likely to be assigned to the Danube Regiment.
The officers and enlisted men in the 1st Battalion were Italian mercenaries, almost to a man. Italy provided a large percentage of Europe’s professional soldiers. They were valued for their courage and skills — nobody made wisecracks about Italian armies in the seventeenth century — but were notoriously prone to switching sides if presented with the right inducement.
Tom stopped while still just out of sight of the barracks. Behind him, he could hear the sounds of a hundred and fifty men coming to a ragged halt. More ragged than usual. The companies were missing at least a fourth of their men and officers.
The two company commanders came up to join him. “What do you want to do, sir?” asked Captain Conrad Fischer.
Tom had been pondering the problem. With a firefight going on, they couldn’t go directly to the barracks. Even with a moon out, the visibility wasn’t good enough for the men in the barracks to distinguish easily between friend and foe at a distance. In this dim lighting, the field-gray uniforms of the USE regulars would be hard to tell apart from the more nondescript clothing and gear worn by the Bavarians — even leaving aside the problem that, if Tom was right, a fair number of the enemy were USE defectors wearing the same uniform.
If the artillerymen saw a mass of soldiers charging toward them, they’d assume they were enemies and open fire. And that fire would be pretty devastating. By now, forted up in their barracks and the arsenal which directly adjoined it, the regiment’s artillery units would have their cannons in position and loaded with canister. The somewhat desultory gunfire Tom could hear was not the noise produced by a frontal charge. The Bavarians would have tried that once, been driven off, and were now settling down to what amounted to a siege.
It couldn’t last forever, of course. Eventually, they’d bring up their own artillery. But at least until dawn, the Bavarians were stymied.
“Nothing for it,” he muttered.
“What was that, sir?” asked Erhard Geipel, the other captain.
Tom shook his head. “Just talking to myself. We don’t have any choice. We’ll have to attack the enemy from the rear — well, more likely the flank — and drive them off. Until and unless we do that, there’s no way we can join the artillerymen.”
“They’ll just fire on us,” agreed Fischer. “But we may be outnumbered, sir.”
“We almost certainly are,” Tom said grimly. “The Bavarians would have sent at least a battalion to seize the artillery barracks.”
He was using “battalion” in a generic sense, not the precise meaning that the term had in the USE army. Like most armies of the day, the Bavarian forces were composed largely of mercenaries. A good number of them would be Italians, and not more than a third would have come from Bavaria itself. Mercenaries were organized into companies — another generic term — which were of whatever size their commanders could put together, ranking from less than a hundred to close to a thousand.
Tom was convinced that part of the reason many seventeenth century armies liked crude formations like tercios was because the rigidity of the formation compensated to some extent for the irregularities of the units that actually made them up. But in a free-for-all melee like this sort of street fighting after a successful assault on a city, he knew the Bavarian commander, whoever he was, would have simply dispatched one of his larger “companies” to take the artillery barracks.
That meant Tom and his two understrength companies were going to be attacking a force that was at least twice as large as they were.
So be it. They didn’t have any other option, so far as he could see. Hopefully, the much-ballyhooed “advantage of surprise” would turn out to be all it was cracked up to be.
Seeing motion in the shadows of the street ahead of them, Rita pressed herself against the wall of a building and gestured with her hand to tell the people following her to stop. She could hear the slight scuffling of their feet but didn’t think anyone else could if they weren’t within ten yards. The motion she’d spotted had been at least twice that far away, just past an intersection.
She tried to figure out what to do. They were now close to the gate that led out of the city toward the airfield. That made it very tempting to just charge ahead, and deal with whatever they ran across. But the shadows were very dark. There was only one street lamp in sight and that was next to a door twenty yards or so down a cross street. Rita couldn’t really see anything now. The motion she’d spotted had stopped. For all she knew, a whole squad of Bavarian soldiers was waiting in ambush.
Behind her, Mary whispered something. Rita couldn’t make out the words but she was pretty sure Mary had asked one of the other women what was holding everything up — as if any of them knew either!
For a moment, she considered firing a shot into the shadows. Just to see what happened, basically. It was quite possible that the motion she’d seen had been nothing more than a street mongrel scurrying for cover.
But that would be insane. The motion could also have been caused by a frightened child.
“Oh, fuck it,” she muttered. Rita turned and handed her shotgun to Maydene, who’d been following right behind her. “If anybody shoots me, kill him, will you?”
She turned back around and strode out into the street. In for a penny, in for a pound. She might as well make herself as visible as possible.
In the same spirit, not knowing what else to say, she shouted: “Hey, you!”
A second or so later, she got a response..
“Rita, is that you?”
That had to be Dina Merrifield. Nobody else she knew could manage to speak Amideutsch with that much of a twang. Dina was from southern West Virginia, where people’s speech had a much more Appalachian accent than they did in Grantville.
“Oh, thank God!” another woman explained. Rita thought that was probably Bonnie Weaver.
A woman came into the light cast by the distant street lamp. As she’d guessed, it was Bonnie.
“Boy, are you the proverbial sight for sore eyes,” Weaver said. “We heard you coming but didn’t know who you were. We ran across a Bavarian patrol a few minutes ago, but we managed to hide from them. At least, I think they were Bavarian even though their uniforms looked like ours. I don’t know who else would be attacking Ingolstadt.”
They were probably traitors rather than Bavarians, Rita thought. But this was not the time and place to share her suspicions and guesses on that subject.
“Who else is with you?” she asked Bonnie. “And where’s the Pelican?”
Bonnie gestured behind her. “It’s at the airfield. Stefano should have it ready to fly by now, even working on his own. All we’ve got to do is get there — but we’ve got a problem. Hank was hurt pretty badly.”
“Can he walk?”
“Hell, Rita, he’s not even conscious. We’ve got him in a wheelbarrow we found, but we’re not making much progress any longer. We’re pretty well worn out.”
Given Siers’ size, Rita wasn’t surprised. “Well, we can spell you on that chore.”
By now, all of her people had come out into the street. So had Amanda Boyd and — sure enough — Dina Merrifield.
Böcler came forward. “I will handle the wheelbarrow. I am not doing anything else and I am not much use with firearms.”
Uncertainly, Rita stared at him. The secretary wasn’t even five and half feet tall. He had pretty wide shoulders for a man his size, but a good part of his bulk looked to be fat rather than muscle.
Bonnie had obviously been thinking along the same lines. “Ah Hank Siers is awfully heavy.”
Böcler shrugged. “So I will be very tired by the time we reach the Pelican. But I will be able to rest then. I am not much use with airships either.”
The gunfire that Rita could hear had become rather desultory and all of it was now coming from the direction of the artillery barracks. She was pretty sure that her husband’s unit was the only one still putting up a fight. They were probably well-fortified and the Bavarians had stopped trying to take the barracks with a frontal assault. They’d be settling in for a siege and waiting until they could bring up some cannons.
Suddenly the sounds of intermittent gunshots was replaced by a cacophony. That was the sound of hundreds of guns being fired mixed in with the sound of men shouting. Here and there she could hear the clap of grenades, too.
She felt a surge of hope. That might be Tom, leading a charge to relieve the siege of the barracks.
The hope was short-lived, of course. Tom could easily get killed in the next few minutes.
But that thunderclap of battle also gave them their best opportunity to get out of the city. Any enemy patrols would be drawn toward the sound.
“Let’s go,” she said. Böcler left immediately, heading toward the shadows where the wheelbarrow was located. Rita turned to Weaver. “Bonnie, stay on top of Johann Heinrich, will you? I think he’s over-estimating his strength and endurance. And you know what men are like in front of a bunch of women.”
Bonnie grinned. “Yeah, he’ll refuse to admit he can’t handle it until he collapses and we’ve got to carry two of the silly bastards. Neither one of whom would ever grace the covers of GQ or Esquire.”
Rita chuckled. “God, can you remember a world where they published magazines like that? Do you miss it much?”
“Not the magazines. I sure as hell miss the plumbing, though, any time I venture out of Grantville. Wait’ll you see what passes for toilet facilities on a seventeenth century airship.”
“You did bring your own toilet paper, I hope. No? Boy, are you in for a treat.”
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