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1636: The Ottoman Onslaught: Chapter Twenty Seven
Last updated: Sunday, December 25, 2016 07:54 EST
On the Isar River in Bavaria
A few miles north of Munich
Tom Simpson surveyed the Isar River, paying particular attention to the two barges moored to the nearby dock, each of which was carrying a ten-inch naval rifle. The barges were more like big rafts than anything else. The Isar was very shallow in a lot of places. That was part of the reason it had taken them so many days to get the rifles down here.
“Let me see if I can translate my commanding general’s Newspeak into some resemblance of the King’s English,” he said, turning to face Mike Stearns. “After I’ve spent weeks busting my ass — well, okay, I’m an officer; busting my ass busting grunts’ asses — in order to get you the naval rifles the Bavarians spiked and in the case of two of them tried to drown, you want me to figure out ways to slow down our progress with the two still-soggy bastards.”
Tom jerked a thumb at the two rifles on the barges. “Or do you want me to roll these over and dump them into the Isar? That way, we’ll have four soggy bastards.”
Mike Stearns pursed his lips thoughtfully. “I’m sure there’s something in military regulations that prohibits subordinate officers from being excessively sarcastic.”
Tom grunted. “Probably would be, if the USE military had a Uniform Code of Military Justice, which we don’t. So that means down-time rules apply and since I’m your brother-in-law I get to be sarcastic. I’m afraid the major general is just going to have to suck it up.”
“Since you insist on speaking the King’s English, your assessment is pretty much correct.” Mike nodded toward the two guns on the barges. “Those will do fine for starting to beat down Munich’s walls.”
“Go faster with four of ’em.”
“I don’t want it to go faster. We’re not going to be launching any assaults so casualties will be light and almost all of them will be Bavarian because those ten-inch rifles have a much longer range than anything the Bavarians can shoot back with. We can take our time reducing the walls. If we speed it up that just means I have to order a ground assault sooner and I’m still hoping to avoid that altogether.”
Tom didn’t say anything for a few seconds. Then, sighing a little, he took off his hat and ran fingers through his thick hair. “You’re playing a risky game, Mike. If Gustav Adolf figures out that you’re stalling him, there’ll be hell to pay.”
“Not exactly. Or maybe I should say it’s not that simple.” Mike removed his own hat and copied Tom’s fingers-through-the-hair movement. “Gustav Adolf is a very smart man and about as experienced a general as any alive. I’m sure he’s already figured out that I’m slowing everything down. But what he thinks and what he knows — and can prove — are two different things, and the political risks cut both ways. His authority is solid on the surface but it’s still spongy-soft on the inside, because of everything that happened after Lake Bledno. He can’t afford an open clash with me — not for a while, at least — over something that’s so murky he can’t prove that I’m guilty of anything.”
He put the hat back on his head, wishing for a moment that military protocol didn’t insist on the blasted things. In cold weather, hats were splendid. On a warm day in late May, coupled with a uniform that was too heavy for the season to begin with, they were a damn nuisance.
But, customs were customs — for no institutions as rigidly as armies, except maybe some churches. So, the hat went back on his head. Generals had to sweat just like grunts did.
Not as much, of course. They got to ride horses and were exempt from manual labor. But they had to sweat some.
“Besides, I’m not actually that sure just how bound and determined our emperor is to squash Maximilian like a bug,” he added.
Tom’s eyes widened a little. “I thought he was hard as nails on that subject.”
“Officially, yes.” Mike barked a little laugh. “I’ve seen him do his inimitable roar on the subject in front of a room full of officials and courtiers. When he wants to, that man can bellow like nobody’s business.”
“I’ve heard him,” said Tom, wincing. “But you’re saying you think it’s an act?”
Mike shrugged. “With Gustav Adolf, you can’t ever be sure. He’s got intimidation down to a science and he’s usually playing the power game on several levels — simultaneously, mind you, not sequentially.”
“I’m not sure what that means.”
“There was bound to be at least one Bavarian spy in that room, who heard Gustav Adolf swear that he would see Maximilian’s corpse trampled under oxen and the remains scattered to the winds.”
“An actual spy? Really?”
Mike shrugged again. “Define ‘spy.’ I doubt if there’s anyone at court in Magdeburg who’s the Bavarian equivalent of James Bond. But someone who’s willing to let his palm get greased for information, from time to time? By persons whose identity and purpose remains carefully unstated? There’s probably a dozen of those.”
“So Maximilian is sure to know that Gustav Adolf has vowed to have him die a horrible death, which means — maybe — you never know with that bastard either –”
“That he’ll be more willing to cut a deal. Gotcha.” Tom took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Then, grimaced.
“Okay, boss. One slowdown coming up. You do realize I#8217;m going to have to let some of my men in on it? I can’t fake it entirely on my own.”
“Yeah, I figured that. But I think we’ve got at least a month before Gustav Adolf starts making a fuss about it.”
“Oh, yeah. Even without screwing off, it took you this long to get just one of the guns out of the river — and it was the easier of the two.”
Tom’s expression was on the sour side. “Ten-inch guns are heavier than hell and the Danube’s a muddy river. It didn’t take long before they were buried in the river bed — if you want to call that muck a ‘bed’ — and we’re working with seventeenth century technology. What slowed us down the most, though, was that you didn’t leave me more than skeleton crew to do the work.”
“Oh, come on! You had a bigger crew than that. I figure it was closer to a starving-concentration-camp-inmate-sized crew.”
“You did that on purpose,” Tom said accusingly. “I can see it all now.”
“I did have a major campaign on my hands against one of the most redoubtable armies in Europe. I did face a very competent and experienced opposing general. I did need every good artilleryman I could get my hands on.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah — and I’m sure you pointed all that out to the emperor in your reports. At great length.”
“Actually, no. Gustav Adolf knows me too well. If I’d droned on and on about how tough I had it, he would have gotten suspicious right away.”
“Well true. Your style when it comes to stuff like that is more along the lines of ‘piece of cake’ and ‘consider it done.’ My wife — that would be your sister, who’s known you her whole life — thinks you sometimes suffer from overconfidence.”
“So does my wife,” agreed Mike, “except Becky usually leaves off the ‘sometimes’ part.”
After inspecting his wife and daughter’s new quarters — which were his too, technically, but he figured he wouldn’t be there very often on account of the cavalry patrols he’d be leading — Alex Mackay pronounced them adequate but no better, marched to the open door and stood in the doorway glaring at the inhabitants of the town beyond. Best to dishearten the Bavarian swine right off, lest they begin entertaining notions of rebellion against their new rightful masters.
And mistresses — even if the one whose well-being he was particularly concerned with had a lackadaisical attitude.
“Oh, leave off, Alex!” Julie scoffed. “There’s nobody out there for you to scowl at in the first place.”
It was true that none of Freising’s indigenous residents were visible from the doorway, but that could be due to their cunning. Bands of them might be out there lurking in cellars and whatnot, just waiting for nightfall when they would sortie and commit unspeakable depredations —
“Leave off, I said!” Julie now had her hands planted on her hips and was scowling even more fiercely than her husband. “The town’s been swept twice and there aren’t more than twenty people still living here — because they’re all too old to move around much anymore, or they’re immediate family members who had the gumption to stay behind to take care of their old folks and what you ought to be doing is figuring out how they might get a little help.”
Mackay’s shoulders hunched slightly, as if he were bracing himself against a gale. “‘I’m a cavalry officer,” he muttered.
“So what? You can’t engage in Christian charity without losing your spurs or something?”
She pushed into the doorway, forcing Alex to the side. Then, pointed a finger at those portions of Freising which were visible. Which wasn’t all that much, since the domicile the USE army had sequestered for Alex and Julie’s use wasn’t on either of the town’s little squares. All that could be seen was a narrow street — not much more than an alley, really — and some nondescript buildings much like the one they were in. Most of those, as was true of buildings everywhere in Freising, had been seized by the Third Division to provide housing for its officers and men. In the distance beyond, perhaps two hundred yards away, they could see a church spire rising above the roofs.
“There’s a whole family still there one street over — no, two streets, depending on what you call a ‘street’. A husband who’s got some sort of disability, I think from an accident, his wife who’s holding everything together, her mother, who’s so frail I think she’d blow away in a breeze, her mother’s second husband — not her dad, her stepdad — who’s even more frail than Grandma is, and five kids of whom two are orphans she took in. That’s what your” — here she did a fair imitation of Alex’s brogue — “‘desp’rate Bavarian blackguards’ actually look like.”
She lowered the finger. “The oldest kid’s a girl named Mettchen, somewhere around sixteen years old. I already talked to them and Mettchen will be coming over every day to help me out with whatever I need.” The finger of accusation became an open hand, palm up. “For which we are going to pay them, so cough up, buddy.”
“Yes, I insist.”
“Do I need to drag out the Wand of Womanly Persuasion?”
The town’s Rathaus had been one of the very first buildings in Freising seized by the Third Division. Sieges of a major city like Munich were protracted affairs, and the division’s commanding general had seen no reason his troops shouldn’t enjoy their stay in Bavaria as much as possible, within the necessary limits dictated by military discipline.
So, the tavern in the Rathaus’ basement was operating at full capacity, around the clock. There wasn’t much food left, and wouldn’t be until the supply barges coming down the Isar arrived. By now, units of the SoTF National Guard had taken control of the Danube all the way down to Passau, well past the confluence of the Danube with the Isar. That provided the Third Division with an excellent water route down which it could bring all its supplies.
But if the food was low, the beer wasn’t. Since the Hangman Regiment had been established in the first place as the Third Division’s disciplinary unit, it had been placed in charge of the Rathaus. From the point of view of the regiment’s commander, Lt. Colonel Jeff Higgins, that had the up side of providing him with the best quarters in the town. On the down side, it meant he was now in charge of a bunch of drunks.
Would-be drunks, anyway. He’d established a limit of three steins of beer per visit and only two visits a day — with records meticulously kept.
And bribes meticulously taken also, he didn’t doubt. But by now Jeff’s sergeants knew him quite well. The DM didn’t mind soldiers enjoying themselves, but if things got out of hand he’d crack down hard so it was best to make sure everything stayed within reasonable limits.
The sergeants’ task was made easier by the fact that almost all of Freising’s inhabitants had fled and taken refuge inside Munich’s walls. The worst disciplinary problems with soldiers occupying an enemy town or city usually came about when liquor was combined with the presence of young women. But Jeff had had his adjutants check and there was only one family with a teenage girl still in the city — and that family was under the protection of Julie Sims. Jeff saw to it that the word was passed around through the whole division.
Nobody in the USE army was going to annoy Julie Sims, certainly not a unit as heavily made of CoC recruits as the Third Division. Partly, because they knew what an asset she’d been to their cause. Partly also, of course, because they knew that Julie never went anywhere without her Wand of Womanly Persuasion, which no soldier in his right mind — or dead drunk, for that matter — wanted to have applied to him.
All in all, as Lt. Colonel Jeff Higgins relaxed in his quarters on the top floor of the Rathaus, with his feet propped up, a book in one hand and a stein of beer in the other, things were looking good. War still sucked, but some parts of it were a lot less sucky than others.
Magdeburg, capital of the United States of Europe
Gustav II Adolf, Emperor of the United States of Europe, King of Sweden, High King of the Union of Kalmar, contemplated his next title. Should he stick to the existing “emperor,” with a newly-enlarged empire? Rather greatly enlarged, too, since Bavaria was one of the bigger realms in the continent.
Or should he add “King of Bavaria” to the list? But he only spent a short time considering that option before setting it aside. It simply wouldn’t do for a Lutheran king to be ruling a Catholic kingdom. If he was going to exercise direct power over Bavaria, it would be better to have that power filtered through the USE’s provincial structure.
Except that For a moment, he silently cursed the religious compromise he’d made with Mike Stearns. By the terms of that agreement, Bavaria would be able to create its own provincial established church if it chose to do so, and he had no doubt at all the stubborn papists would insist on hanging on to their superstitious creed.
Better than being “King of Bavaria,” certainly, but still not good.
That left What was the term the English usurper had used? The Oliver Cromwell fellow?
The emperor rose from his armchair and went over to one of the bookcases in his library. This one was devoted entirely to down-time copies of up-time texts from Grantville.
He found the volume he was seeking — The Century of Revolution, by someone named Hill — and quickly found the entry he was looking for. As he had many times before, Gustav Adolf silently blessed the American concept of the “index.” Since he still had enormous power as the monarch of his own nation, he’d decreed two years earlier than all books printed in Sweden were required to have indexes. Yes, all of them! There’d be none of this up-time slackness about not requiring indexes in books of fiction.
He mused on the matter as he resumed his seat. Yes, he thought, that would do quite nicely. Lord Protector of Bavaria. The very uncertainty of the term — what exactly is a “lord protector”? — would allow him to sidestep the awkward issue of religion. Let the Bavarian heretics manage their own internal affairs, so long as he controlled the duchy’s foreign relations.
That matter settled in his mind, Gustav Adolf decided to re-read the report he’d received yesterday from General Stearns. He rose and went to look for it. That took a bit more time because he couldn’t remember which trash can he’d thrown it into after he balled up the report, cursed it mightily — nothing silent there — and threw it away.
After he found it, he unwadded the report, flattened it out as best as possible, and read through it again.
Which didn’t take long. Mike Stearns had faults — a great many of them, in the emperor’s current mood — but one thing he was not was pointlessly loquacious.
He read through it again.
“I am not fooled,” he growled. But he knew perfectly well that Stearns didn’t think he was fooled. The man was a sneaking duplicitous maneuvering scoundrel, but he wasn’t disrespectful. The purpose of the report was not to fool Gustav Adolf but to fool anyone else to whom the emperor might show the report as a way of demonstrating that his now-public clash with the so-called “Prince of Germany” — ridiculous title, not to mention a presumptuous one — was entirely justified.
“Perhaps it’s just as well,” he mused. Then, rising again, he went over to the small fireplace that was always active whenever he was in residence and tossed the report into the flames. That wasn’t the sort of thing he wanted to leave lying around.
Lord Protector. It did have a nice ring to it.
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