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1636: The Saxon Uprising: Chapter Eighteen

       Last updated: Friday, February 4, 2011 07:31 EST




January, 1636

A rugged people


    The first thing Eric Krenz sensed of the dawn was Tata’s snoring. It wasn’t a loud sound, just a soft and quite feminine snuffling. He found it rather attractive, actually. Granted, his viewpoint was heavily biased by his second sensation, which was the feel of her nude body plastered to his own under the heavy blankets.

    Oh, what a splendid night had just passed! He opened his eyes and gave the ceiling no more than a glance. The window, likewise. The sun was starting to rise. He’d seen a lot of sunrises. Nothing of any great interest there. Not when…

    He muzzled the back of Tata’s neck. His hands began exploring. More precisely, returned to places already explored. Quite thoroughly, in fact.

    Tata began stirring in response. Oh, what a splendid morning had just begun!

    The sound of cannon fire erupted in the distance.

    Tata sat up, as abruptly as a jack-in-the-box popping out. “It’s started!”

    She turned and gave Eric a shove. “Up! Up! You have to get out there!”

    Eric groaned.

    “Now!” Alas, Tata was in full dominatrix mode. The Tavern Keeper’s Daughter Rampant.

    Or the Barmaid On Steroids, as Friedrich Nagel liked to call her. He’d had to explain the up-time reference to Krenz. As it turned out, the lieutenant was planning to become a pharmacist after the war. He’d had to explain that term to Eric, as well. There was no such thing as a “pharmacist” in the year 1635, outside of a handful of Americans. A lot of apothecaries, to be sure, but apothecaries were usually hostile to the new methods and concepts emanating from Grantville.

    “Get up, Eric! This is no time for dawdling! The Swedes are attacking!”

    “They’re just starting a barrage,” he grumbled. His hands clutched the bedding in a last-ditch effort to stay in paradise. “This’ll go on for weeks. Weeks, Tata.”

    “Up! Up! Up!” She swiveled in the bed, planted her feet on Eric’s back and buttocks, and thrust mightily. Tata was short, but quite strong. Eric flew out of the bed onto the floor.

    Paradise lost.



    He was in a cheerier mood a few minutes later, though. As she bustled him out the door, Tata said: “You may as well move your things in here as soon as you get a chance. That’ll give Friedrich some privacy.”

    She made those statements with the same assertiveness that Tata made most statements. The woman was bossy, there was no doubt about it. On the other hand, Eric didn’t really mind being bossed around by Tata; not, at least, when he considered the side benefits. She was just as assertive in bed and very affectionate.

    So. If all went well and the damn Swedes didn’t get overly rambunctious, tonight would be paradise regained.



    Tata lived in one of the many small apartments in the Residenzschloss that had formerly been used by servants. At the end of the corridor leading from her apartment, Eric turned right as he usually did to get to the tower that gave the best view of the city. But before he could take more than two steps, Tata had him by the scruff of the neck and was dragging him the other way.

    “No, you don’t! No sightseeing today! You have to get out on the battlements!”

    “Why?” he demanded. “I can see what’s happening better from the tower.”

    “The troops need to see you on the battlements. It’s important, Eric. You’re one of the commanding officers.”

    He shrugged off her clutching hand but didn’t try to alter their course. “Don’t call them ‘battlements,’” he said. “The term’s silly. This isn’t a medieval castle with arrow slits.”

    “Fine, fine. Fortified things. Whatever makes you happy. As long as you move faster.”

    She picked up the pace, forcing him to do likewise.

    “The only thing the walls of a star fort have in common with ancient battlements is that they’re both freezing in January,” he grumbled. “Whereas the tower — which gives a commanding officer a far better view of the field — has a fireplace inside.”

    “Stop whining. The men have to be cold, don’t they? You have to share their trials.”

    “Not my fault they’re unambitious slackers.”

    “Ha!” She gave him a glance that was half-irritated and half-affectionate. Eric got a lot of those looks from her. “I don’t think I’ve ever met a man with less ambition than you have. You just stumble into things.”

    That was true enough, Eric admitted to himself. He’d certainly never planned to become an officer!

    He retraced the steps of his life, as they moved through the huge palace toward the entrance. He’d started as a gunsmith’s apprentice after he finished his schooling, simply because that was the family trade. He’d found the work quite fascinating, though; not so much because he had any particular interest in guns but because he enjoyed the intricate craftsmanship involved.

    He liked mechanical things. He’d found the same interest in the equipment he’d maintained once he joined the army. At first, anyway, when he’d been an enlisted man in the artillery. He’d had many fewer opportunities to do mechanical work once he became an officer.

    And why had he done that? He tried to remember.

    They reached the entrance and went outside. Immediately, the cold clamped down.

    “January!” Eric hissed. “The ugliest word in the language.”

    “Stop whining.”

    They started slogging through the snow toward the fortifications. Well, “slogging” was mostly Eric’s disgruntled mood at work. In truth, there was less than two inches of snow on the ground, hardly enough to impede their progress to any noticeable degree.

    Oh, yes. As an officer, Eric had found it possible to enroll in the new college the army had set up. That had been the factor that tipped his decision to accept a commission. With his own resources, Krenz couldn’t have afford to attend a college or university.

    Eventually, he’d heard from one of the college’s instructors, Torstensson planned to turn it into a full-fledged military academy — the first such created in the world. Their world, at least. It would be patterned after institutions in the world the Americans came from. Places with names like West Point, Sandhurst and Saint-Cyr.

    In the meantime, though, it had been a fairly modest sort of school. For one thing, it only gave two years of instruction. Jeff Higgins had told him it was the equivalent of what up-timers called a “junior” or “community” college. But it was better than any other educational option available at the time.



    His course of study had been general, with no particular focus. Had intended to be general, it would be better to say. He’d barely finished one semester when Gustav Adolf started this new war. (What was it about Swedes, anyway? Did the milk they drank as youngsters come from a special breed of belligerent cows?) Eric still had no clear idea of what he wanted to do with the rest of his life, assuming he survived the war. Something involving mechanics, most likely. But beyond that, he had no idea.

    Blessedly, Tata did not press him on the matter. She was odd, that way. Most young women of a bossy temperament never stopped pestering their men about their goals and ambitions. But Tata never did. She seemed content with modifying Eric’s daily behavior to suit her liking, and was willing to let him figure out what he’d be doing in the months and years to come.

    Maybe that was because she’d been a nobleman’s leman before she got involved with Eric. Tata’s way of describing that relationship — quite typical of her — was to refer to Duke Eberhard as her “boyfriend,” an up-time loan word that Eric found particularly grotesque. Despite the silly term, though, not even Tata had thought to inquire as to the duke of Württemberg’s ambitions and goals. Perhaps she was just carrying the habit over to her relationship with Krenz.

    Eric felt occasional twinges of jealousy when he thought of that former involvement, but they were only twinges and they only came once in a while. For a start, the man was dead. Hard to feel much venom toward a corpse, after all. What possible further ill could you wish upon the fellow? But leaving that aside, Krenz was not much given to jealousy anyway. Or spite, or envy. He’d admit himself that he had faults, but they were generally the faults of a cheerful man perhaps a bit too fond of his immediate pleasures.

    He heard a shrill, piercing call from ahead. A shriek, almost.

    He couldn’t make out the word, but he didn’t need to. He’d heard that same call before, more than once. Incoming.

    Fortunately, they’d reached a corner. He lunged forward, seized Tata around the waist, and hauled her behind the shelter of a tall building.

    “What are you –!” But she didn’t resist. She didn’t even finish the sentence. Tata was very far from dimwitted.

    A moment later, they heard a loud crashing sound. No explosion, though. Either the Swedes had fired a round shot into the city or the exploding shell had been a dud. Judging from the sound — bricks shattering; a lot of them — Eric was pretty sure it was round shot. Something awfully heavy had to have done that.

    “We’ll have to move carefully from here on,” he said. “Stay under cover as much as we can.”



    When they reached the fortifications, Eric saw that Gretchen Richter was already there. She was walking slowly down the line of soldiers manning the bastions and curtain wall, talking with each gun crew as she came to them. Doing what Eric was planning to do himself, and what other officers would be doing in other bastions and along other curtain walls. The words they’d be speaking were not really that important, taken by themselves. What mattered was an officer’s relaxed and calm demeanor.

    No officer could do that better than Gretchen, though. The woman had a knack for projecting confidence that, given her youth — she was only twenty-six years old — was uncanny. Friedrich Nagel was of the opinion that she’d either sold her soul to the devil or to Saint Jude Thaddeus, the patron saint of lost causes and desperate situations.

    Whatever the source of her poise, Krenz was glad to see her. Gretchen steadied his nerves the same way she did everyone else’s.

    The cannon fire from the Swedish lines started picking up. This would go on for weeks, in all likelihood. The army camped outside Dresden’s walls numbered about fifteen thousand men. The city itself had a population of somewhere between thirty and forty thousand, but that had been greatly expanded by refugees pouring in from the countryside over the past weeks. Dresden’s defenders could put three thousand able-bodied men on the walls, with at least that many available as a reserve in case Banér ordered a major frontal assault.

    To make things still more difficult for Banér, he didn’t have enough soldiers to really seal off the city. Especially not in wintertime, when his men would shirk their responsibility to maintain patrols at night and loads could be moved into the city by sleigh without needing to use roads. Dresden’s population would be on short rations, but they wouldn’t be in any danger of starving for at least a year.

    Probably longer, in fact. Gretchen Richter and the CoC had clamped down their control of Dresden. The fact that Richter used a velvet glove whenever she could didn’t change the fact that the grip itself was one of iron. Whatever anyone thought of the political program and policies of the CoC, one thing was indisputable: they greatly strengthened a city under siege, if they were in charge. Rations would be evenly and fairly apportioned; sanitation and medical measures would be rigorously applied and enforced; spies and traitors would be watched for vigilantly.

    Those measures directly addressed the most common reasons a city fell — hunger, disease and treachery. The risks weren’t eliminated, but they were significantly reduced. At a guess, Eric thought any city run by Gretchen Richter could withstand a siege half again as long as it would otherwise. Maybe even twice as long. She was one of those rare people of great notoriety whose reputations weren’t overblown at all.

    Odd, really, to think that she was the wife of his good friend Jeff Higgins.

    “Stop daydreaming!” scolded Tata, giving his shoulder a little nudge. “Shouldn’t you be ordering the men to fire a cannon or something?”



    Noelle Stull tried to ignore the sound of the cannonade. The house she’d rented was large, well-built, and located toward the center of the city. The odds that a cannon ball fired from one of the besiegers’ guns would strike her down at her writing desk were very slight. She’d faced much greater risks any number of times in the past. Although she’d been classified as a statistician, her real duties for the State of Thuringia-Franconia’s innocuously-named Department of Economic Resources had been those of an undercover operative. An investigator, officially, although given the murky realities of power in which she’d moved, she’d been as much a spy as a detective. At one time or another she’d been shot at, imprisoned, shackled, bombed — usually by someone seeking to do her personal harm.

    Compared to that, the chance that a haphazardly aimed cannon ball fired from a great distance would come anywhere close to her was not even worth worrying about. Yet, somehow, it was the very random, impersonal vagaries involved that made her nervous.

    She tried to concentrate on the letter she was writing to Janos Drugeth. That wasn’t helped any by her knowledge that sending the letter off would be almost as much a matter of chance and happenstance as the trajectory of the cannonballs coming over the walls. Normal postal service was erratic, to say the least.

    Amazingly, though, it still existed. The couriers who worked for the Thurn and Taxis service were like rats and cockroaches. Impossible to eradicate and able to squeeze through the tiniest cracks.

    But not even such couriers could deliver a letter to an unknown address. Noelle had no idea where Janos was at present, just as she was quite sure he had no idea she was in Dresden. She hadn’t gotten a letter from him in months. With another man, she might have worried that he’d lost interest and simply stopped writing her. But with Janos, somehow, she wasn’t. That spoke well for their possible future, of course.

    If they had one. A muted crash had come from not too far away. A cannon ball had caved in a wall somewhere.



    “See?” said Denise triumphantly. She pointed to the spot across the square where a Swedish cannonball had punched a large hole in the upper floor of a building. “Give it a few weeks and there’ll be a plenty big enough runway.”

    Next to her, Minnie nodded. “Just have to shovel up the wreckage. Some of it’ll make good gravel, too.”

    Eddie examined the scene of their optimism. The siege would have to last for several years before the Swedish army’s gunfire removed enough of the buildings fronting the square and lining the main boulevard leading from it to allow for an airplane runway that wasn’t just an elaborate form of suicide.

    He did not bother to point that out, however. Denise’s response was a foregone conclusion.

    So? A few years are nothing, in a siege! Those Trojan guys lasted… what? Twenty years? They’d still be holding out, too, if the stupid jerks hadn’t fallen for that old wooden shoe trick.



    Ernst Wettin turned away from the window. When all was said and done, and unless you happened to have exceptionally bad fortune and fall victim to a stray cannon ball, watching a siege was about as boring as watching ants at work. Not at the very end, of course, if the defense gave way. Then tedium would turn to terror. But until then…

    He sat back down at his writing desk. Ernst was the sort of man who believed firmly that all situations provided their own advantages. Since he retained the formal trappings of authority here in Saxony but had had the real power stripped away from him by Richter, he no longer had any tasks to perform that required more than a modicum of attention, for not more than two hours a day. Yet he still had all his comforts and facilities available.

    Ernst Wettin came from a very prominent noble family and was himself a very capable official and administrator. Inevitably, therefore, since he’d reached his majority, he’d had very little time to himself.

    Now, he did. At last, he had the opportunity he needed to concentrate on what he believed to be his true calling. The development of a systematic and reasoned program of educational reform for the whole of the Germanies.

    A faint crash came from the distance. Presumably, a lucky cannon ball had done some significant damage. But the sound barely registered on his consciousness.

    What to call the essay? Tentatively, he penned a title.

    A Treatise on the Subject of the Education of the German Peoples

    There was a knock at the entrance to his suite. “Come in!” he said loudly. He’d sent his servants off in order to have some quiet and the door was a room and a half away.

    The title was… suitable, he supposed.

    A few seconds later, at a slight coughing noise, he swiveled in his chair. To his surprise, he saw that Gretchen Richter was standing right behind him. He’d been so engrossed he hadn’t heard her approach.

    “Ah! I wasn’t expecting you.”

    “I’m not planning to stay long. I just wanted to see if there was anything you needed.”

    He smiled crookedly. “I don’t suppose you’d accept an answer of ‘my power returned.’”

    She smiled, just as crookedly. “No. Well… not now, at any rate. In the future… we’ll see what happens.”

    She leaned over to look at the line he’d just written. “I take it this is that major treatise you’ve been talking about wanting to write?”


    She shook her head. “The title is awful. I’d call it A Summon to Duty. Or if that’s not militant enough for you, Educational Reform: A Call to Arms.”



    The next few minutes passed pleasantly enough, as they always did in Richter’s company. Say what else you would about the young woman, she was invariably gracious in her blunt sort of way.

    After she left, Ernst went back to examining the title. Finally, he crumpled the initial sheet and took out another. Again with a crooked smile on his face, he began to write.

    Educational Reform: A Summon to Duty

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