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1634: The Bavarian Crisis: Chapter Forty Three

       Last updated: Monday, September 19, 2005 19:08 EDT



Bavaria, south of Ingolstadt

    “This,” Marc Cavriani proclaimed, “is completely insane.”

    For the past three days, he and Susanna had spent more time in the fields, sitting or lying concealed behind or under bushes, than they had spent walking. They had spent one entire afternoon in a pear orchard, up in one of the trees, avoiding soldiers. At the moment, they were lying in a drainage ditch, about a half mile outside Hohenkammer. There were three or four inches of water at the very bottom from the recent rains; in the spring, it probably ran full, eighteen inches or two feet before the water would spill over into the low-lying portion of the planted fields and drown the young crops.

    Marc’s impression was that every soldier in Bavaria must be moving in the direction of Ingolstadt. That had to be wrong, of course. Duke Maximilian might be pulling men from the eastern border, against Austria. Out of the garrisons, even though that would be risky, considering how strongly the local administrative districts had been objecting to quartering and contributions during the past year. Bavaria was poised on the edge of a peasant revolt; the demands of the military were more than its people could meet. Surely, however, he was not pulling away the ones who were looking west, toward Swabia?

    In any case, wherever they came from, Marc certainly did not wish to join them. The last thing that he wanted to be was a Bavarian soldier. Which he was likely to become, being a young man and able-bodied, if any of these units saw him; he did not have much confidence that an Italian passport would save him. That was the last thing he wanted, not just because of personal distaste, but because he was responsible for Susanna.

    Susanna. If they were taken by a military company, there was no possibility that she could disguise the fact that she was a girl for long. When that happened....

    No. It was plain and simple. They simply had to keep out of sight. It would be nice to be invisible. He thought wistfully of the stories of the ancient Tarnhelm. More prosaically, they were constantly hiding.

    That was easier than it usually would have been. The villages were basically deserted and unpopulated; the fields untended. It would have been a good harvest, after the miserable one of the preceding year, but the soldiers were carelessly riding or tramping the grain down as they passed. Another grievance for the peasants. The region between Munich and Ingolstadt would be very restless once this autumn campaign was over and the armies had to go into winter quarters.

    They hadn’t gone into the villages; soldiers were in all of them, looking for food and loot. They had stayed on the outskirts; even better, in the hay meadows. The cattle were all gone from the grazing lands, either driven off by their owners or confiscated by the army. Any hay that was to be made this year had already been made and was in the barns. A bit of stubble was left; there was not much new growth coming up through it this late in the season, not in this heat. There was little in the hay meadows to interest troops of passing soldiers. Marc hoped that the soldiers would continue to graze their horses on the pasture land that had not been put to hay this season.

    The unit passing now was unusual. It had to be the retinue of some extremely important officer, with his staff. The duke was sending someone very significant to confront the Swedes south of Ingolstadt. Who? He thought. From what he had heard of the Bavarian army in this year of 1634, the only commander who would rate that kind of retinue, short of Maximilian himself, was Franz von Mercy.

    A troop of riders made a lot of noise, but he could hear a dog, probably one of the half-starved ones left behind in a nearby village, over the hoofbeats and rattles. It was baying. By the sound of it, the cursed mutt was running across the field directly toward them.



    A shadow fell over him from behind. “A couple of deserters, Captain,” somebody said.

    Marc rolled; stood up. Susanna rolled, sat up.

    Two men. One an officer.

    Definitely the wrong officer to see him here.

    “My,” the captain said, “Not deserters, I think, Sergeant. If it isn’t our supposedly Italian repairer of bridges? Lying here beneath a bush, spying perhaps? With an apprentice spy to help him. A runner perhaps, who takes the information he gathers to his paymaster? Both unarmed, as it would appear. Secure them.”

    It was a drainage ditch, after all. For generations, the farmers of the village had been tossing rocks into it, to slow the loss of soil caused by the flow of the water after the rains. Susanna’s left hand closed on a fine, solid, rock. She threw it into the face of the sergeant’s horse, followed by a right-hand throw of a rock in the general direction of the captain’s horse.

    The horses were trained, but this was not a battle. They were not expecting this. The sergeant was half-dismounted when the rock hit; his horse spooked and headed in the direction its horsy brain thought might be home, at a flat out run. This required it to jump the drainage ditch. The sergeant was lucky, in a way; he managed to pull his foot out of the stirrup; he was not being dragged across the countryside by one leg. He was unlucky in another. The landing on the rocky lower bank smashed his left wrist to a pulp. The right one was broken, but cleanly. He moaned in pain. Susanna wobbled out of the ditch, her footing uncertain on the loose, rough dirt of the upper bank, a rock in each hand.



    All Marc could think was that the captain must not be allowed to get a shot off. A shot would bring a dozen men, at least. The captain was drawing his sword; Marc thanked God for the training that the man’s tutors had drilled into him from childhood. A noble. His first response to danger was to go for his sword, even when a pistol would be more effective.

    The captain had been wrong in his assessment. Marc was not completely unarmed; he had his dirk on his belt, hidden under his loose shirt. He leaped forward, slashing at the thongs that attached the rider’s saddle-bags, pistols, helmet, any thong he could reach. He was hoping for the saddle girth, but missed.

    The captain started to bring his sword down. Susanna threw another rock. Missed the horse. She was aiming at the horse; horses were big. Hit the man. The down-slash of the sword missed Marc and went against the side of the horse. With the flat, not the blade. He was good at this; he had managed to turn it at the last instant. The man raised the sword again. Marc was jumping back, trying to get out of its reach. Susanna threw her last rock. Without waiting to see where it went, she scrambled back into the ditch to get more.

    Marc slashed another thong. The captain’s elaborately inlaid and engraved steel helmet rolled under his horse as it landed; it bounced once. One of the horse’s hooves came down on it, caught it a glancing blow, shot it to the side. It came to rest by the ditch.

    Marc ran around the horse’s head, dirk out; came in on the other side before the rider could turn; plunged it into the horse’s neck, where it stuck. He couldn’t get it back out. The horse faltered; Marc backed off again. The captain jumped clear, dropping his sword to get it out of his own way. Susanna threw another rock, hitting him in the back. He stumbled forward a half step rather than bending to pick up the sword. Marc grabbed him around the neck, pulling him away from the sword. Marc would far rather wrestle an unarmed man than face an armed, skilled, swordsman. Any day. Especially today.



    Marc was down. Underneath. That had to be bad. Susanna looked around. The helmet. Grasping it by the chin strap, she ran toward the two struggling wrestlers; brought it down against the back of the head of its owner just as hard as she could, with an overhead swing, a two-handed grip.

    His hold on Marc faltered a little. She swung it again, just as he turned his head. Her swing connected with his temple.

    Marc was unconscious. The man had been strangling him. But he was breathing.

    Susanna looked down. She could not be sure how long the captain would be out. She looked at his sword. She was not sure that she had the strength to kill him with it. Even cutting up a tough old hen with a butcher knife took a lot of strength. She knew; she had done it.

    But he was right on the edge of the ditch. The bank sloped down. She wouldn’t have to lift his weight. She pulled him down to the bottom and held his face in the water.

    Maximilian Adam, the elder of the two surviving sons of the landgrave of Leuchtenberg-now himself, for a few brief weeks, the landgrave of Leuchtenberg-drowned in a drainage ditch south of Hohenkammer.



    Susanna looked at her hands and let out a little sob.

    “Are you hurt,” Marc asked.

    “No. But my hands are ruined. So rough, so callused; the fingernails and cuticles are all snagged. When I do get back to the archduchess, it will be weeks and weeks before I can work on delicate fabrics. Hands like this would ruin silks, satins, and velvets. Not to mention chiffons and fine lace. I will have to soak them in olive oil and keep them inside kid gloves for a long, long, time. Buff them, smooth them. I hope that she will keep me in her Hofstaat that long, while I can’t work. Her allowance is very limited, you know. She can’t afford to pay many supernumeraries.



    Susanna considered it more prudent not to tell Marc that she had drowned the captain deliberately. He might worry about it. After she was sure that the captain was dead, she just climbed out of the ditch and shook him until he woke up. Then they just left everything there-well, except that Marc took the weapons and ammunition-the ones he would be able to carry on foot, in his pack, without anyone’s seeing them. The horse with his own dirk in its neck had run away. They also took the food that was in the captain’s saddle bag-the one that Marc had cut off-and came back to the herdsman’s shelter at the side of the hay meadow.

    Marc looked at her with concern. She was so cute, like a kitten. Not a fluffy one; a skinny orange and cream tabby that needed to drink more milk. So little and defenseless. Sitting here, in the middle of a war, worrying about her hands. He had to take care of her.

    They had both lost interest in watching more soldiers ride past, for today, at least. They ate the captain’s food. It had been meant for today; it wouldn’t keep.



    The official record, written up after the body was found, stated that the young landgrave had been killed in action while participating in the siege of Ingolstadt. The sergeant died that night, of shock, during a field amputation of his left arm. Searchers from Leuchtenberg’s unit had not found them until evening, well after dusk; by then, the sergeant was not coherent. In any case, he could not have explained exactly what had happened. He had been lying face-down in the ditch since he fell.




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