Previous Page Next Page

UTC:       Local:

Home Page Index Page

1636: The Saxon Uprising: Chapter Seven

       Last updated: Friday, November 19, 2010 07:15 EST



Dresden, capital of Saxony

    Eric Krenz propped his elbows on the tower’s stone railing and gazed out at the Elbe. The river that bisected Dresden was more than a hundred yards wide, and about that far away from his vantage point on the Residenzschloss. The height of the tower provided a magnificent view of the Elbe valley.

    He wasn’t really studying the scenery at the moment, though. He was just using the appearance of doing so as an excuse to stall giving Tata an answer to her question.

    As she well knew. The woman was infernally shrewd.

    “How long are you going to procrastinate?” she asked, planting her hands on ample hips. “I’m not pushing you, I just want to know. If it’ll be a while, I’ll go get some lunch.”

    Not for the first time, Eric wondered what madness had possessed him to get attracted to this creature.

    “Attracted”? Better to say “obsessed,” he thought gloomily.

    Being fair, when it came to Tata, most of the time his thoughts were quite cheerful. But the woman had an unnerving capacity to seemingly read his mind — and an even more unnerving relentlessness when she wanted Eric to do something.

    “I’m not really an expert on this business,” he said. “I have no experience with sieges.”

    “Stop whining. I know that. Gretchen knows that. It doesn’t matter right now. Somebody among the soldiers here must have some experience, and you’re good at cajoling people into doing things.”

    “‘Things,’” he muttered darkly. “Would that be ‘things’ as in mutiny and treason?”

    She just gave him a level look through dark blue eyes and said nothing.

    But he was still just stalling, and he knew it. If that bastard Báner brought his army to Dresden and tried to force his way into the city—and there was every indication he would — then Eric knew perfectly well that a massacre would ensue. It might not be as bad as the sack of Magdeburg at the hands of Tilly’s soldiers a few years back, but it would be bad enough.

    Eric was far from being the only soldier in Dresden who’d formed attachments with the local folk by now. Even his morose and generally peculiar friend Lt. Friedrich Nagel had managed to get the attention of a young woman. A guildmaster’s daughter, even, by the name of Hannalore Brockhaus.

    There was no way the USE soldiers who were in Dresden would stand aside in the event Báner attacked the city. That being the case, it simply made sense to plan and prepare their defenses ahead of time, rather than having to jury-rig something at the last minute.

    Eric being Eric, of course, he couldn’t resist a last complaint. Even a litany of them.

    “Some of the men are still too badly injured to do much of anything. And some of the others have recovered enough that they’ll certainly be called back to service soon.”

    “I said, stop whining. And you really ought to be looking at that last whine from the other end of the telescope.”

    He frowned. “What does that mean?”

    “It’s obvious. By now, most of you have recovered from your wounds. You certainly have, judging from the way you keep trying to get me in bed.”

    That ranked among the most cheerful of his thoughts about Tata. He was pretty sure it wouldn’t be long before “trying” became “succeeding.” Most of Tata’s remaining resistance was just the ingrained reflex of a pretty woman who’d been a tavern-keeper’s daughter and had been fending off lustful males since she was thirteen.

    Tata pressed on. “So what you ought to be asking yourself is why haven’t you been called back to service by General Stearns?”

    That was a good question, actually. Tata was quite right that most of the soldiers from the Third Division who’d been sent to Dresden to recuperate had already done so. Well enough, anyway, to go back to active service. Yet no word had come from the general to join him in Bohemia. To all appearances, he’d forgotten about them.

    Yet that was impossible. It was true that small numbers of soldiers got overlooked, from time to time. Eric knew of a volley gun crew that had remained behind in Hamburg after the city was seized during the Ostend War in order to repair badly damaged equipment. Then the commander of their unit had been injured shortly after leaving the city and had forgotten to mention them to the subordinate officer who’d replaced him. The battle of Ahrensbök had taken place a few weeks later and right afterward the subordinate in question had been reassigned. The end result was that the volley gun crew had wound up spending nine months carousing in Hamburg with not a care until someone finally remembered them.

    But that was just three men. There were over four hundred soldiers from the Third Division now residing in Dresden. That represented almost five percent of the division’s strength and was enough men to form an entire battalion. There was no chance at all that Stearns had simply forgotten about them.

    And even if Stearns had forgotten them, Eric was quite certain that Colonel Higgins had not — for the good and simple reason that he got letters from Jeff every week or so. There was a good and reliable courier service between Dresden and Bohemia.

    So what was going on?

    Tata put his own guess into words. “General Stearns wants you to stay here. And he’s got a good enough excuse for doing so if anyone asks. ‘Recuperating from wounds inflicted in valiant combat with the foe’ is the sort of explanation that most people, even shithead Swedes, will hesitate before calling into doubt. And there’s only one reason he’d want you to be here.”



    Eric could figure out the rest for himself. He already knew from filling in fairly obvious blanks in Jeff’s letters that the Hangman Regiment had been left behind in Tetschen so that Stearns could bring his whole division back into Saxony in a hurry, if need be. The most likely cause of such a maneuver would be an impending battle in or around Dresden.

    A battle with whom?

    Eric smiled. General Stearns was nothing if not canny. If anyone ever pressed him on that matter, he’d have a ready-made explanation there also.

    After being defeated at Zwenkau in August, the Saxon general von Arnim had withdrawn what was left of his army into Leipzig. There, he’d prepared for a siege while he began negotiating surrender terms with the Swedes. But the negotiations had dragged on for weeks, since Gustav Adolf had been pre-occupied with driving forward his offensive into Poland. The Elector of Saxony was killed in September, and thereafter Gustav Adolf wasn’t particularly concerned with the situation in Leipzig. Von Arnim and his soldiers were mercenaries. With no patron left, von Arnim certainly wasn’t going to launch any campaigns, even after Gustav Adolf took almost all of his forces out of Saxony.

    And then the king of Sweden had been severely injured at Lake Bledno, in October, and was now out of the political picture altogether — with von Arnim and ten thousand or so mercenaries still camped in Leipzig. So, if pressed, Stearns could always claim that he was seeing to it that in the event von Arnim resumed hostilities he could bring his Third Division back into Saxony in a hurry.

    The CoC had gotten word in Dresden from their compatriots in Leipzig that the Swedes had resumed negotiations with von Arnim. But while no one in the CoCs was privy to those discussion, no one thought any longer that the Swedes were simply seeking von Arnim’s surrender. They were almost sure that Oxenstierna was trying to hire von Arnim himself — not to fight the Poles, but to serve the Swedish chancellor as another repressive force inside the USE. He couldn’t rely on the USE army still besieging Poznán to serve that purpose. In fact, everyone thought that he’d insisted on continuing the war with Poland precisely for the purpose of keeping the USE’s army out of the country. He’d use mercenaries in the pay of Sweden instead. He already had Báner and his fifteen thousand men marching into Saxony. If Oxenstierna could add von Arnim and the ten thousand men he had in Leipzig, he probably figured he could overawe or if need be crush any opposition in Saxony.

    “Interesting times,” he murmured, thinking of the Chinese curse Jeff had once mentioned to him.

    “Is that a ‘yes’?” Tata asked.

    Eric made a face. “I guess.”

    He started moving around the tower, which was built like a large turret, with Tata trailing in his wake. When he got to the other side, he leaned over the railing and began studying the walls which protected Dresden on the south. Most of the city was on the southern bank of the Elbe.

    “We’re not going to be able to protect all of it,” he said. “Have to let the northern part go. Even then, it’s going to be a lot of work to build up those walls.”

    “And you said you didn’t know anything about sieges,” Tata said. She wasn’t arguing the point, just doing her usual best to squash any further protests on his part.

    “Just common sense,” he grumbled. “I’m still not an engineer.”

    She came close and slid an arm around his waist. “You’ll do,” she said.

    That statement had a very expansive flavor to it. Eric felt full of good cheer again.



    Eddie Junker studied the boulevard to the south. Then, swiveled and studied it to the north.

    Boulevard, he told himself firmly. That sounded so much less suicidal.

    An uncharitable soul might have called the thoroughfare a “street.” A particularly surly specimen might have added “crooked” to the bargain.

    In truth, the thoroughfare wasn’t really crooked. It just… jiggled around a bit.

    Standing next to him, Denise Beasley stretched out her hand and made a slow, swooping motion. “You oughta be able to pull it off, Eddie. It’s a pretty straight street. Ah, avenue.”

    “The lack of straightness by itself isn’t the problem.” He stretched out his arms, pointing simultaneously to the buildings on either side of the street. “What would you say the width is?”

    Denise looked back and forth. Her friend Minnie Hugelmair, always given to direct methods, walked over to the building on the left side of the street. Then she paced off the distance.

    “Thirty-five feet,” she announced.

    Eddie nodded. “About what I figured.” He gave Denise a fish-eyed look. “And what is the wingspan of the plane?”

    Denise waggled her head. “I’m not sure. Twenty-five feet?”

    “Ha. Thirty-two feet. Leaving me three feet of clearance in the street — the very-not-straight street — if I have to come down into it.”

    “But you’re not planning to,” protested Denise. “Exactly.”

    “‘Exactly,’” Eddie mimicked. “No, I would simply be following it toward the square while — not quite — coming below the surface of the roofs. That would — hopefully — allow me to come into the landing area with a lower altitude than if I had to hop over the big buildings surrounding it. But if anything goes wrong…”



    He looked down and scuffed his boot across the surface of the road. “Then there’s this little problem. You did notice these are cobblestones?”

    She looked down. “Um. Yeah.”

    “And exactly how many cobblestoned airstrips have you ever seen?”

    “Um. None.”

    “There’s a reason for that.” He lifted his own, much thicker hand, and shook it up and down sharply. “Cobblestones are contraindicated for landing gear.”

    The two CoC craftsmen standing next to them looked at each other. Their expressions were dubious.

    “Hard to pull up all these cobblestones and lay new ones,” said the taller of the two.

    “And then they wouldn’t be as solidly set,” added his companion.

    Eddie had already figured that much out for himself. “How about paving it?”

    The two craftsmen looked at each other again.

    “We don’t have enough asphalt,” said the one on the left. His name was Wilbart Voss.

    “Not nearly enough,” said his partner, Dolph Knebel.

    Eddie shook his head. “I don’t really need a regular landing strip. The cobblestones would made a solid foundation if we could just fill it in with gravel to even out the surface. Then, level it with a roller.”

    The craftsmen exchanged glances again. That seemed to be a necessary ritual before their brains engaged.

    “How wide?” asked Voss.

    Eddie started walking slowly toward the big square to the north. “I’d want a minimum of forty feet. I’d be a lot happier with sixty.”

    Knebel made a face. “That’s… about three hundred tons of gravel.”

    His partner was more sanguine, however. “Not so bad,” said Wilbart. “There’s plenty of gravel in the area and with everyone coming into the city for shelter from Báner we’ve got a lot of wagons and manpower. A strong wind might blow some of it away, though.”

    Eddie had already considered that problem. “If need be, I figured we can coat it with pine tar. But I don’t think it’ll be necessary. Between building the strip and repairing the plane, there’s no chance we’d be able to use it until January or February. By then, there’ll be snow holding the gravel in place. Just have to pack down the snow. Really well.”

    Denise chimed in. “Hey, I just thought of something, Eddie. You could land and take off on skis instead of wheels.”

    Junker’s jaws tightened a little. His girlfriend had a great deal of confidence in his ability to do most anything. As a rule, this was a pleasant state of affairs. There were times when it was awkward, however.

    “There is no way I am using skis. I have been flying for only a few months, and I have no experience — none at all — with skis. On a plane, I mean. I know how to ski myself, of course.”

    “You don’t have any skis for the plane anyway, do you?” asked Minnie.


    “Can’t be hard to make,” said Denise, reluctant as always to give up one of her pet schemes.

    “I am not using skis. If we can’t do it the usual way, then we simply won’t do it at all.” Eddie shrugged. “Which we probably won’t, anyway, if we lose the airstrip outside the city. This whole idea of flying in and out of the city’s square borders on lunacy to begin with.”

    Denise didn’t argue the point. It’d be pretty hard for her to do so, given that her first reaction upon hearing that the CoC was thinking of building an airstrip inside the city walls was pungent, explosive, and consisted mostly of the Amideutsch variant of every four-letter Anglo-Saxon term known to man and girl.

    “It might all be a moot point,” said Minnie. “They probably can’t fix the plane anyway.”

    Eddie had crashed the plane when he landed it on the jury-rigged strip outside the city a few weeks earlier. He’d blamed the condition of the soil. More precisely, he’d blamed the girls for having assured him the soil was suitable. They had their own opinion, of course.

    The most serious damage had been to the propeller, which had been completely destroyed. There was no way to replace it with the tools and equipment available in Dresden, so Eddie’s employer Francisco Nasi was having a new propeller shipped in from Grantville.

    Smuggled in would be a better way to put it. The Swedish general Johan Báner had already announced a blockade on any goods coming into Dresden. His army was still too far away to enforce the blockade systematically, but he had a number of cavalry patrols searching for contraband. Given their relative few numbers, the cavalrymen weren’t trying to interdict all goods, just those that had military uses. Presumably, Nasi had had the propeller hidden some way or another. Still, it was taking time to get it into Dresden.

    In the meantime, a number of the city’s artisans had started working on repairing the damage to the plane’s structure. That was slow-going, partly from lack of the right tools and supplies, but mostly because none of them had any good idea what they were doing.

    Neither did Eddie, really. He was on the radio almost every night talking to Bob Kelly, the plane’s designer. At the rate they were going, he didn’t expect to have the plane ready to fly again until mid-winter.

    By then, the way things were looking, Báner would have Dresden under siege and the airfield outside the city’s walls might as well be on the moon.

    So, this project had been launched to jury-rig an airstrip in the central square. It was a project that Eddie considered just barely this side of insane. The only reason he’d agreed to it — a reason he kept entirely to himself — was that if worse came to worst and Báner’s army breached the walls and began sacking the city, Eddie would try to fly himself, Denise, Minnie and Noelle Murphy out of Dresden. If they crashed and died, as they most likely would, the women would still be better off than they would in the hands of the Swedish general’s mercenaries in the midst of a rampage. At least it’d be quick.

    “You’re looking awfully solemn,” Denise said, in a teasing tone of voice.

    “He thinks we’re probably all going to die,” piped up Minnie, “but it’s sort of okay because this way it’ll be over fast. He’s a pretty stoic guy.”

Home Page Index Page




Previous Page Next Page

Page Counter Image