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1634: The Wars for the Rhine: Chapter Nineteen
Last updated: Friday, December 2, 2016 19:22 EST
Linz, Austria, The Scribe
October 1, 1634
“My, my, look what the cat just dragged in.” The lean dark haired man threw the cards he was holding down on the scarred table and picked up his goblet. “Hansi, my dear, stop fondling DannwitzR#8217;s purse and find Lieutenant Peckerbun a mug of hot beer.”
The other card players half-turned in their seats and looked at the mud-splashed young officer standing in the doorway. Despite the table littered with cards, dirty plates, bottles and smoking pipes, the room had suddenly taken on a decidedly businesslike air.
Lieutenant Simon Pettenburg gave a silent sigh, and handed the dispatch to his — hopefully temporarily — commanding officer. Colonel Wolf von Wildenburger-Hatzfeldt was a good combat officer, but off the battlefield, the Wolf tended to spend his time drinking, gambling, wrenching, and setting up elaborate jokes of a kind he really should be too old to find funny. Having his own name repeatedly changed in some ribald way hadn’t really bothered Simon once he realized that the Wolf was always extremely correct and polite towards people he didn’t like, but Simon’s slight build and boyish face already made it difficult to get the respect due an officer, and the nicknames didn’t help.
“Where’s the general?” Captain von Dannwitz reached behind the Wolf to pull a stool around for Simon.
“In Bonn.” Simon sat down and accepted the mug from the barmaid, while trying to ignore the breasts she pressed against his neck when leaning over to remove the empty jugs in the middle of the table. “Duke Wilhelm of Hessen-Kassel is besieging the town, but the general managed to get out letters before the town was closed off. This came through his brother in Mainz.” Simon nodded towards the dispatch, which the Wolf was slitting open.
“And just where were you and Sergeant Mittelfeldt?” Like the other men around the table Colonel Lorentz had known General Melchior von Hatzfeldt since serving with him in Wallenstein’s campaigns several years ago, and hadn’t liked their old friend and commander-in-chief going off with only the sergeant to guard his back and Simon to carry his messages.
“The sergeant took a tumble when his horse slipped. His thigh landed on a wooden spike and the wound festered. We got him to Frankfurt and the general paid for the new American medicine so the leg didn’t rot, but the general ordered me to stay with the sergeant, and only continue when we both could travel.”
Simon drank of the warm, spicy beer, and felt his body starting to thaw. It had been a cold two week’s journey across Bavaria with soaking rain and temperatures close to freezing. He hadn’t quite been able to avoid the fighting along the Danube, and considering the general chaos, he’d kept his armor on even at night. As a result the padded tunic he wore under everything else had never really dried, and he’d never really been warm.
“What’s the situation in Bavaria?” The Wolf looked up from the dispatch with no sign of his previous lazy amusement.
“Bad, Sir.” Simon lifted his mug and looked at the barkeeper to signify that he wanted another serving. “The Protestant armies under Báner have taken Ingolstadt and is said to be in control of everything north of the Danube.”
“Never mind Báner.” Wolf leaned forward and fixed his full attention on Simon. “I want to know if Bavaria is passable or we would have to fight our way across it?”
“Perhaps you better tell us what’s in the dispatch from the general, Wolf.” Old Colonel Dehn met the Wolf’s angry stare with calm. Dehn had been the officer usually given the over-all command when the general had to leave the regiments, and while he had made it clear that he didn’t mind the younger man being put in charge this time, everybody also knew that the Wolf would need his support for anything involving all the regiments.
“Are you challenging my authority, Dehn?” Wolf leaned back in his seat and picked up his goblet with his narrowed eyes still fixed on Dehn.
“Hmpf! Pretty words from somebody, who usually think authority is a town up by the Baltic Sea.” Dehn looked totally undisturbed by what Simon knew could easily lead to a duel. “What I’m saying is that you’re excellent at scouting missions, not bad at tactics, but your big scale strategies stink. So if you plan to take some of my men along on one of your hare-brained escapades without a direct order from either the Emperor or the general, I’ll box your ears, m’boy.”
The Wolf looked somewhat surprised at the words from the usually taciturn Dehn, then he threw back his head and roared with laughter with the other officers joining him only a moment later.
“Very well, old man. You win this one.” Wolf smiled and reached across the table to hand Dehn the dispatch.
“Hm.” Dehn quickly scanned the two handwritten pages. “So the general is cornered, has nothing with which to fight his way out, and will try stalling and negotiating. And the date?” He turned back to the first page. “Almost five weeks since he wrote it. When did you get this, Lieutenant?”
“The dispatch was almost two weeks from Bonn to Frankfurt, probably because it was brought to Mainz by the sergeant’s cousin who had to row up the Rhine while playing hide and seek with the Hessians. After that I was more than a week in reaching Bavaria, as the shortest road is almost destroyed by the heavy rains, and finally another week across Bavaria from Regensburg.” Simon looked around the table. He was the most experienced of the couriers in the six regiments under contract to General Melchior von Hatzfeldt, and while he didn’t have the longstanding relationship with his superior officers that would permit dropping all formality, he also didn’t want the general to lack the backup he needed because Simon wouldn’t open his mouth for fear of overstepping his rank. “There’d be problems getting even a single regiment along the northern roads in time to be of any help for the general, but taking the Bavarian route might take even longer despite the better roads. It’s bad there. Everybody is looking over their shoulders and putting up defenses, but it isn’t Báner they are worried about.”
“A peasant uprising?” Dehn frowned at Simon.
“No. The Ram was mentioned, but only in whispers.” Simon swallowed and tried to gather his thoughts to explain what had bothered him. “Colonel Lorentz, you once told about the inquisition gaining force in your home town, how everybody feared to gather or talk, and was watching their neighbors. It was more like that. My papers were checked several times during a single day rather than just when I wanted to enter a walled town for the night. It was also difficult to buy travel food even in inns, as if everybody were hoarding their stores. No one was really willing to talk to me, and what I managed to overhear indicated that strangers of any kind simply wasn’t welcome.” Simon took a deep breath. “And that the people they were most worried about were those working for Duke Maximillian. The opinion seems to be that he’s gone insane.”
“Well, those rumors made it here as well.” The Wolf looked up into the smoke curling about the blackened beams beneath the roof. “Before starting back towards Cologne in August Melchior told me that he couldn’t take the regiments with him across Bavaria without a direct order from the Emperor, and even then Maximillian might decide to take it as an attack. The old emperor was dying in Vienna, but Archduke Ferdinand gave my cousin plenipotentiary powers in making any deal and taking any action that would keep the middle Rhine in Catholic hands.”
“Was that the exact wording?” Dannwitz pushed away his goblet, and waved away the maid.
“I didn’t read it, but that was how Melchior phrased it.”
“Hm. And no new orders from Vienna since the funeral.” Dehn started rubbing his goblet with a fingertip, a sure sign that he was thinking and didn’t like his own thoughts.
“Exactly.” The Wolf started to grin. “And asking for new orders would add at least another couple of weeks. Any dispatches going on to Vienna, Lieutenant?”
“No, sir. Just the letter for you. Unless somebody else has travelled faster than me, Vienna is unaware of Hesse’s attacking Bonn and Cologne. When the general left us in Frankfurt, he was only concerned with the problems created by Archbishop Ferdinand of Cologne, and Hesse seemed fully occupied with conquering Berg.”
“Legally the general would have the power to bring at least his two personal regiments to Cologne.” Dannwitz, who had studied law before becoming a soldier, was now reading the dispatch. “And this part about stalling until reinforcements can arrive in a dispatch sent to Wolf could be taken as an order for him to get those reinforcements to the general as quickly as possible.”
“I’m pretty certain the general expected Wolf to take this letter to Vienna to speed up the permission to bring the all or most of the regiments to Cologne.” Dehn frowned at the Wolf. “Anything else would be quite contrary to the Melchior’s way of operating.”
“I completely agree.” The Wolf looked at Dehn still grinning. “But my cousin did put me in charge, and that’s not the way I operate. And before you get your dander up, old man, remember that my cousin has known me all my life, and he did not write a direct order for me to do this or that.”
“So,” Wolf looked around the table, “we’re leaving tomorrow morning with three regiments. Dehn, you take over as commander here. I’ll lead Melchior’s old regiment. Lorentz you leave behind the newest recruits and those companies who failed to follow orders in Pisek. There’ll be absolutely no room in this for laggards or those who puts their comfort above getting things done. Dannwitz, your regiment is the smallest at the moment, so see if you can pad it a bit. Dehn might be willing to lend you some of his fastest riders, but Schierstedt and Mettecoven are not around to give permission. See what you can do, it need not be three full regiments, but I want the absolute best. We’ll take no wagons, and only those non-combatants who can ride at least as well as the soldiers. Food and tents must be packed onto the spare horses. I don’t intend for us to do any fighting until we reach the general, but I want us to reach the Rhine in little more than the time it took Pettenburg to get here. Pettenburg,” Wolf stopped and looked at Simon as if measuring the inside of his skull, “I want you to take charge of our recognizance, and that’ll be not just the couriers and scouts, but also our best saboteurs, spies, thieves and forgers. Talk with Allenberg about the permits and papers.”
Simon swallowed and mumbled something he didn’t know for sure if was a “yes, sir” or an oath.
South bank of the Danube between Vichtenstein and Passau, two days later
“And just how are you enjoying your first command?”
At the sound of Wolf’s voice Simon looked up at the grinning man, and wondered how much trouble he would get from giving the answer that first came to his mind. No, he was much too angry to give an honest answer, so instead he jumped to his feet, gave his most elegant bow and stood straight shouting: “Sir! Yes, Sir! Everything as you ordered, Sir!”
Wolf’s jaw literally dropped for a moment, then he laughed out loud and clapped Simon on the shoulder. “As bad as that, boy?”
The two men looked down the hill at the camp being organized on the meadow around the rickety barn. The general’s dispatch had given an estimate of the Hessian cavalry as two or three thousand, and Wolf had brought less than fifteen hundred, but there was just no way to get all the regiments to Bonn in time, and no one expected Wolf to try meeting the Hessians in open battle anyway. The men on the meadow represented the absolute maximum strike force the regiments could field in the least number of bodies. They were all veterans proven and trusted by their officers, all expert riders on well trained horses, and all equipped with the best weapons to be had in the HRE. All — that is — except for half of Simon’s little group of six persons now gathering around a campfire slightly removed from the rest.
Pettenburg’s Specialists — as they were called in the files — had been handpicked by Wolf, and only Marsch, Lenz and Niederthal were to do the work General von Hatzfeldt would normally have assigned them to. They were — like Simon — couriers and scouts supposed to ride very fast horses behind and through enemy lines carrying messages and gathering information about troop movements. Occasionally that also meant fighting — and usually against rather bad odds — so they were also better than average with both sabre and pistols. Of course slender, red-haired Marsch, who was the son of a very well-to-do locksmith, could also open any lock except the American ones, burly, swarthy Lenz, whose father owned a mine, was very good at setting off small precise explosions, and non-descript Niederthal, who never spoke of his background, had a padded crate filled with bottles and packets of American chemicals. Still, they were all three fine fighting men, and Simon would have been proud of being made their leader.
Ferret-like Schaden, on the other hand, usually worked at curing the sick horses in Lorentz’s regiment, and while he was really good at using any kind of knife, he was also well known for being unable to hit a barn with a musket at ten paces, and likely to do more damage to himself than his opponent with a sword. What he could do better than anyone else, was to sneak close to an enemy camp and silently remove any guards or other inconvenient persons. Not a skill often called for in the normal order of things, but being able to get that close to the enemy camps also meant getting really detailed information about their number, equipment and fighting moral.
Allenberg was a relative newcomer to the regiments, and normally the head quartermaster of Melchior von Hatzfeldt’s old regiment. He had joined shortly before the last campaign, and had made no secret of his lack of fighting ability and experience, but he was — in addition to being able to squeeze all kinds of information out of papers and ledgers for the general — also quietly known to be able to produce a most amazing range of papers and permissions. The general presumably didn’t know about Allenberg’s little nebengeschäft, but the Wolf had absolutely no objection to getting over a difficult ground as lightly as possible, and Simon’s talk with Allenberg had resulted in the finest set of forged papers Simon had ever seen. Simon rather liked the calm and solid looking forger, but Allenberg didn’t socialize much, and usually went back to quarters after buying his round at any tavern.
Allenberg’s assistant, “Rosy” Ross, on the other hand was usually the life and soul of any party. He was a fair and rather fragile looking Scot, who had all kind of outrageous stories about his background, but in Simon’s opinion the one about running away from his strict parson father to become an actor, sounded the most likely. Whether he had ever been the foremost player of female roles at the royal theater in London was a different matter, but he could in fact get away with impersonating a woman long enough to gather all kinds of information in a market, and had an almost uncanny ability to gain friends quickly in any tavern. What he could do in a fight no one had ever seen, but judging from the minimal training the general insisted on, it really wouldn’t be much.
“The road north from Passau is no easier than the one you rode from Nurnberg to Regensburg.” Wolf turned to look westward squinting his eyes against the setting sun. “That leaves us with Deggendorf, Ingolstadt, Donauwörth, or Ulm. I want you to enter Passau tomorrow, while the rest of us cross the Inn, and see what information you can gather.”
“Very well, sir. I’ll take Niederthal and Rosy with me. We’ll leave Rosy on his own, and go inquire about permission to set up a recruitment table at the Christmas Fair.” Simon stated calmly.
“Recruiting at Christmas is rare.” Wolf remarked “What’ll be the excuse for not waiting until the hiring fair in spring?”
“Unsettled times. Farmers seeing the harvest cannot last until spring.” Simon shrugged. “I’ll think of something.”
“While looking young, earnest and just a little naïve.” Wolf laughed and slapped the younger man on the shoulder. “Carry on, boy, carry on.”
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