|Previous Page||Next Page|
|Home Page||Index Page|
1636: The Ottoman Onslaught: Chapter Twenty Two
Last updated: Saturday, November 19, 2016 19:12 EST
Bavaria, on the Amper river
Two and a half miles east of Zolling
That evening, after searching for the Hangman Regiment’s commanding officer for half an hour, Mike found Jeff Higgins digging a grave. Part of him was irritated that a colonel was engaged in simple labor that he could have assigned any soldier to do. For that matter, he could have just let the three soldiers he had helping him dig the grave while he went about doing what he was supposed to be doing, which was commanding more than a thousand men. (One thousand, two hundred and seventy-one, to be exact, as of the start of the battle. All of the Third Division’s regiments were over-strength; none more so than the Hangman.)
But Mike said nothing. He didn’t have to remove the tarpaulin covering a corpse next to the grave to know whose body it was. Or had been, he supposed, if you believed in an afterlife. Mike didn’t and he knew Jeff didn’t either, but he wasn’t sure about Jimmy Andersen.
He got off his horse and went to stand by the grave. It was already at least four feet deep.
“Do you have a coffin?” he asked.
Jeff stopped digging and straightened up, leaning the shovel against the side of the grave. “No, and I’m not waiting until we can get one. I doubt if there are any civilians within ten miles of here.” He looked up at his commanding general and made a face. “I’m being self-indulgent already, so I’m not about to tell my men to start playing carpenter — assuming they could find the tools anyway. Besides ”
He waved his hand in a gesture that encompassed everything around them. “There are hundreds of corpses in the area. Most of them are ours, but the Bavarians left some behind too. We can’t make coffins for more than a handful of them, so I don’t see any point in trying to pick and choose.”
Mike looked around. He’d noticed on his way here from Moosburg that there were fewer corpses strewn about than he’d expected to see. “Where ”
Jeff rubbed his forehead with a forearm. That wiped away some of the sweat, at the expense of smearing a little mud on his face. “The Bavarians stacked them up in piles.” He nodded toward the corpse under the tarpaulin. “I found Jimmy in one of them. He was kind of well ”
He shrugged. “He’d been there almost two days and he was getting a little ripe. But at least his body was still intact. Some of the corpses — a fair number of ’em — were in pieces.”
Mike reached down a hand. “Come on out of there. Your men can finish the grave and we need to talk.”
Jeff took his hand and Mike helped lift him out of the pit. Then, he walked away a few steps so the two of them could talk privately.
“I’m sorry, Jeff,” he said. This was not a time for military formalities. “I fucked up pretty bad, and if I hadn’t Jimmy would still be alive.”
Jeff shook his head. “Don’t beat on yourself, Mike. If generalship was easy, everybody and their grandmother would be calling themselves Napoleon and Alexandra the Great. Jimmy’s death was a fluke. The bullet that killed him wasn’t even aimed at him. It just came in out of nowhere at exactly the wrong time and place. The same thing could happen to you or me or anyone on any given day in a combat zone. War sucks, period. It’s just the way it is.”
There wasn’t anything to say in response. Jeff was right, on all counts. Which still didn’t make Mike feel any better.
“Besides,” Jeff continued, “the real problem is the same one it’s been since the USE put its army together. It’s not you, it’s that we don’t have enough cavalry. Half the time we’re stumbling around half-blind, and some of the time we might as well be completely in the dark.”
“Yeah, I know. I’ve put in another request –”
“It ain’t gonna happen, Mike,” Jeff interjected, “and you know it as well as I do. The Third Division’s at the bottom of any stinking nobleman’s list, when it comes to ‘cavalry jobs wanted.’ So I think we need to go outside the box. What we need is our own airplane. Or airship, if we can get our hands on a hydrogen one. These hot air jobs are fine for a lot of things, but they purely suck when it comes to providing us with reliable reconnaissance.”
“I’ve thought about it myself, but I don’t know where we’d find one. I had David check with Kelly Aviation, since everything Hal’s building is already signed up by the air force. But they don’t have anything free, either.”
“What about an airship?”
“There’s nothing suitable being built in the USE, that I know of. There might be something underway in the Netherlands, but King Fernando will have first dibs on whatever gets built.”
Jeff chuckled heavily. The sound had very little humor in it. “So have your wife twist his arm. She is figuring on being the next secretary of state, right? Or am I supposed to believe that silly bullshit that she stepped down for Piazza because nobody else was available?”
Mike chuckled as well. “My lips are sealed. But Next time I see her, I’ll see what I can do.”
The soldiers digging the grave starting climbing out of the pit. “We’re finished, sir,” said one of them. “Six feet, like you said.”
Mike and Jeff went over and looked down. Then, as if they were of one mind, each of them took one end of the tarpaulin-covered figure lying next to the grave and lifted it up.
In the end, Mike wound up lowering Jimmy into the grave himself. He did so by the simple expedient of climbing in and having Jeff and another soldier hand the body down to him. They didn’t have any ropes to lower the corpse and the alternative of just pitching him in wasn’t acceptable to either of them.
After he positioned the body as best he could, Mike climbed back out, hoisted by Jeff and the same soldier. The other two soldiers started shoveling dirt over the body.
“Hold on,” Jeff ordered them, raising his hand. “I want to say a few words.”
“Do you need a Bible?” Mike asked. “That’s one thing about a down-time army. Every other soldier will have one.”
Jeff shook his head. “Jimmy wasn’t religious, Mike. None of us Four Musketeers belonged to a church except Larry Wild. He was raised in the Church of Christ but he didn’t really hold to it any more. There’s a passage from Ecclesiastes that Jimmy always liked, though, and another one from Romans that Larry Wild recited to us once and all four of us agreed we held to it. I recited it after I heard that Larry had been killed and I still have it memorized.”
He moved to the edge of the grave, lowered his head a bit and, with his hand clasped before him, said the following:
“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven. There’s a time to be born, and there’s a time to die. For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself.” He took a breath and added: “Go in peace, my old friend Jimmy Andersen. And if you do find anything over there, try not to screw up, okay?”
He stepped back from the grave and nodded at the two soldiers with shovels. As they went back to filling the grave, Jeff turned to Mike. “What do we do for a headstone? There aren’t any masons left in the area either.”
Mike had been pondering the same problem and had already come up with a solution. “Just remember where this grave is and hammer a stake with Jimmy’s name into it. We’ll replace it with a headstone when we get a chance.”
“What about the rest of the soldiers? We can’t dig individual graves for everybody.”
“No, we’ll have to bury most of them in mass graves. But ”
He was thinking ahead, still. “After the war’s over — this war, anyway — we’ll turn this whole area into a military graveyard. There’ll be headstones lined up in rows for every soldier who died here, even if they’re not right where the man was buried. Like we did at Arlington and Gettysburg and — oh, hell, lots of places — back up-time.”
“The Bavarians might not like that idea.”
Mike’s face had a very hard expression, now. “Ask me if I give a fuck. By the time we finish with them, the Bavarians will damn well do what we tell them to do. We’ll build a graveyard here and they will maintain it thereafter. They’ll pay for the upkeep too, the bastards.”
He went to his horse and got back in the saddle. “Get your men ready, Colonel Higgins. I want to start our march on Munich at first dawn.”
After he’d seen to it that his regiment was fed, and had whatever shelter could be scrounged up — luckily, it didn’t look like it was going to rain that night — Jeff indulged himself one last time. In clear violation of military rules and regulations, he had the regiment’s radio operator send a message to the Residenzschloss in Dresden.
He didn’t bother sending it in code. The Bavarians already knew they’d killed USE soldiers that day, so what difference did it make if they knew the name of one of them?
Jimmy Andersen was killed yesterday.
He didn’t add anything along the lines of “may God have mercy on his soul.” Gretchen was religiously inclined and he wasn’t. They’d known that about each other almost since the day they first met.
It had been what movie producers would have called “meet cute,” assuming they were producing a horror movie. Jeff had helped Gretchen haul her sister and some other girls out of an outhouse where she’d hidden them from rampaging soldiers.
Wannabe rampaging soldiers, rather. Jeff had held them off long enough for Mike Stearns and the APCs to get there. He hadn’t been alone, though. Larry Wild had stood next to him, and so had Jimmy Andersen and Eddie Cantrell.
He and Eddie were the only ones left. He wondered where Eddie was, now. Somewhere in the western hemisphere, the last he’d heard. Eddie had lost a foot in the years since then. On the other hand, like Jeff himself he’d gained a wife so he was still ahead of the game
“Is there any further message, Colonel?”
Jeff thought about it, for a moment. Then, shook his head. “No, that will be all.”
Anything he’d add to that — I miss you; I love you — Gretchen already knew. And while Jeff was willing to violate the rules and regulations when one of his oldest and best friends had gotten killed, he didn’t see any point in trampling the rules and regs and dancing on their grave.
Besides, Duke Maximilian might not know that the commander of one of the regiments that was about to lay siege to his capital was married to the most feared and feted — in some circles, not his — revolutionary in Europe. Maybe that secret would be his undoing, in some manner as yet unforeseen and unforeseeable.
“They don’t call me the DM for nothing,” he muttered.
Gretchen didn’t receive the message until the following morning. When she did, she immediately left the Residenzschloss and went looking for Ursula Gerisch.
It took her a while to find the woman. When she did, Ursula was just coming out of a grocery. The store, like most such in seventeenth century European cities, was on the ground floor of a narrow building pressed up against buildings on either side. The owner and his family would live upstairs.
Ursula was looking very pleased with herself. That meant she’d made another convert — or made significant progress in that direction, at least. Gerisch had made herself quite unpopular with the city’s Lutheran pastors since she arrived. Whether it was in spite of her disreputable past or because of it — Gretchen preferred the latter explanation, herself — Ursula was an extraordinarily good missionary.
Ernst Wettin had privately told Gretchen that several of the pastors had come to him to register their complaints, but he’d shrugged off the matter. First, he’d pointed out to them, the emperor himself had agreed to place unusual restrictions on Lutheran privileges in Saxony. And secondly, the pestiferous Gerisch creature was proselytizing on behalf of a creed which was subscribed to not only by Admiral Simpson — that would be the same admiral whose ironclads had leveled the walls of Hamburg along with a portion of Copenhagen — but by Gretchen Richter as well.
Yes, that Gretchen Richter. You hadn’t heard?
As soon as Ursula came up to her, Gretchen got right to the point. “We need our own church.”
“Yes, I know. But I don’t know of any vacant ones.” Gerisch looked dubious, adding: “I suppose we could take up a collection and see if we could buy one of the existing churches ”
Gretchen shook her head. “None of these Lutheran pastors would sell to us. The problem’s not the money, anyway. I could afford to pay for it myself, if need be.”
That was something of an exaggeration. She and Jeff were quite wealthy now, measured in the way David Bartley and others like him gauged such things. But most of their wealth was tied up in the stock market or the apartment building they’d bought in Magdeburg. They didn’t have much in the way of liquid assets.
It didn’t matter. Gretchen had figured out a solution. All the Lutheran pastors in Dresden would shriek their outrage and Ernst Wettin was bound to wag his finger and express solemn disapproval — for the public record, at least. She didn’t think he’d really care that much, personally.
But the reason none of that mattered was because the only person who could have seriously objected was the Elector of Saxony, John George, who was no longer of this sinful earth.
“There’s a chapel in the Residenzschloss,” she explained. “It’s ours now.”
Gerisch stared at her. “Said who?”
“Says me. Round up as many church members as you can find and let’s well, I suppose we can’t say ‘consecrate’ it because we don’t have a priest yet. But we’ll do our layman best.”
She had no idea if what she was doing was part of accepted custom, tradition or ecclesiastical law according to the Episcopal Church. But she didn’t care very much because the church she now belonged to was not the Church of England but the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America. And since the United States of America did not exist in this universe, Gretchen figured her church would soon enough transmute into the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of Europe — and could say what customs and traditions and ecclesiastical laws that church would eventually adopt?
Dresden customs and traditions, if Gretchen had anything to say about it.
Which, she probably would. She hadn’t leveled any fortified walls or brought down any royal towers, true. But she could lay a reasonable claim to having leveled an entire province. She’d turned a stinking dukedom into a republic, hadn’t she?
There was no service, when they all gathered in the chapel that afternoon, because they had no priest. Gretchen just proposed that all of them there — which was herself, Ursula, and eleven other people, all but three being women — say their own quiet prayers.
She did so herself.
Dear Lord, please care for the soul of Jimmy Andersen.
Gretchen hadn’t been that close to Jimmy herself. He’d been a quiet man, very introspective. But she knew how much he’d meant to Jeff.
And please care for my beloved husband, who is still in harm’s way.
And would be, possibly for a long time to come. But Gretchen felt greatly relieved. She hadn’t prayed in
How many years had it been? Five years since she’d met and married Jeff. Two years before that, since her father had been murdered in front of her and she herself turned into her rapist’s concubine.
Seven years it had taken her, before she was finally able to forgive God. Long years for her; but, of course, not even a moment for Him who moved in such mysterious ways.
Eventually, she’d find a priest who could explain it all to her and put everything in proper theological context. She was quite sure that it was inappropriate for a mortal to forgive God. But those were what her husband would call optional technicalities.
They didn’t call him the DM for nothing.
|Home Page||Index Page|
Comments from the Peanut Gallery:
|Previous Page||Next Page|