1635: THE CANNON LAW — snippet 101

 

1635: THE CANNON LAW – snippet 101:

 

 

            "Frank! Frank! Wake up!" He felt Benito's hand on his arm, shaking him. He came wide awake with an electric jolt that left him feeling weak and rubbery as he half-slid, half-fell off the bar and stood rubber-legged looking around.

 

            "What's up? What's going on?" he managed, realizing that the thing that had fallen to the floor was his hat. He bent to pick it up, grunting slightly as his back unstiffened. "How long was I asleep?"

 

            "Since this morning. It's just after noon."

 

            Frank blinked to clear his eyes and looked around to get a better idea of what was going on. Everyone in the room was up close to the windows, peering through. He looked at Benito, letting his expression ask the question.

 

            "The Spaniards are here," Benito said, in what Frank realized was the loudest whisper he'd heard in a while.

 

            His senses began catching up with what was going on. Somewhere, guns were being fired. A lot of guns. The rattling coughs of arquebuses and other small arms, and occasionally the boom of cannon.  There was a general background that sounded like a crowd roar and some yelling. There was fighting in the city, pretty close by. It didn't sound like it was happening right out in the street, though.

 

            "Here?" Frank asked, "Or right here?"

 

            "Right here," Benito said, tugging at Frank's sleeve, "out in the street."

 

            Frank cricked his neck a little. Sleeping on the bar, whatever it might have done for morale, had left him more than a bit stiff. He’s likely start aching in a moment, when he managed to wake all the way up. He started to shuffle over to the front, then stopped himself. Best not to look like he was half-dead. He hitched up his pants a little and managed a slightly more purposeful walk.

 

            He found a vacant spot next to Dino, and peered out. After the cool dimness of the bar-room, the street was eye-wateringly bright to his just-awakened eyes. He blinked a couple of times to clear them, and looked again. The other side of the street had five, no, six soldiers within his field of view. Four with muskets, leaning against the wall opposite with their weapons grounded, one guy with one of those broad-bladed spear things with the spikes on either side of the blades and one with a sword, who looked like an officer type. They were all looking right across the street at Frank's place, from maybe seven or eight yards away.

 

            Frank looked away a moment, to murmur "How long?" to Dino.

 

            "A few minutes. Benito went straight to wake you up."

 

            "Right." Frank looked back. The guy with the spear had moved away. Swiveling his eye around and looking at as much of the street as he could, Frank counted fifteen soldiers. That was along maybe twenty yards of street. This close to the front, the sounds of nearby fighting were a lot louder. If there were other guys moving around out there, Frank realized, no way was he going to track them by the sound of their boots.

 

            And then a couple more guys with guns appeared and joined the ones across the street. They were more of the same, with the almost-in-uniform look to them that the few regular soldiers of the 17th century had when they weren't quite elite enough to be wearing some kind of special livery. Frank realized, and it wasn't a comfortable thought, that this meant someone had picked them out for special attention. They weren’t just a random group of soldiers looking for easy pickings, a head start on the looting. Mercenaries after stuff to steal wouldn't come in this neighborhood at all, unless they were on the way somewhere else, and this bunch looked like they were here for a purpose. Frank didn't have too think to hard to figure out what that purpose was.

 

            "Benito!" he hissed.

 

            "Frank?" Benito was behind him.

 

            "Get a couple of other guys and check what's going on where our back entrances come out, yeah? And be careful. If they're as smart as they look they might have the whole block covered. Don't get spotted."

 

            "Right." Benito scuttled off.

 

            It took Benito ten minutes and when he came back it wasn't good news, either way. The number of soldiers out front had doubled, at least, and guesses about how many there were ranged up to two hundred. Benito was panting slightly and his eyes were shining. "You were right, Frank, they have the whole block covered. We won't be able to get out by daylight."

 

            Damn right they wouldn't. Even if they figured out a way to sneak out before the shooting started.

 

            Frank figured it was only a matter of time, certainly before dusk, before they had enough soldiers to rush the place. And he had four pregnant women—including Giovanna! his little mental voice shrieked at him—and six disabled to think about. Only three of those were bedridden, but the others had at least some trouble getting around. In one case, only one leg. Frank had little doubt that anyone captured would get the Inquisition's idea of due process. The Spanish Inquisition, to boot, which had a far worse reputation than the Papal variety.

 

            And no-one coming to help, either. They were going to have to hold the place until nightfall at least and then scope out a way to get out.

 

            A thud from in back nearly made Frank jump out of his skin and everyone at the front wall look around. "Steady," he called out softly. A rattle and the sound of someone climbing down the ladder settled everyone. Sure enough, Giovanna appeared in the doorway behind the bar.

 

            She came over. "I counted eighteen of the bastards out front." She looked furious. "As soon as the shooting starts, we have bottles of oil to ready to throw. Unless you have a better plan?"

 

            "Can't think of anything," he said, shrugging and fighting the urge to turn back to the slit he'd been looking through. "I figure we hold on until it's dark enough to get out. Leave the ladder down unless you have to pull it up. Benito? Which exit looks easiest to get out of?"

 

            "The cellar one. I figure they might expect us to get out by going through the back wall." There was a hole there now that led in to a tenement house, the ground floor of which had been abandoned when news of the invasion came. “They have a whole bunch of guys out there. Same for the houses either side. The cellars, we can go up the street a little and there's that alley opposite, the one that cuts through to—"

 

            "That'll do," Frank said. "Giovanna, we can't fight this. We're outnumbered and surrounded and ain't no-one coming to help. We have to get out if we can, if only to tell people."

 

            "Fuck," someone said from the other end of the front wall.

 

            Frank looked, and saw that the musketeers were blowing on the matchcords of their locks, getting them to glow nice and bright. "Giovanna," he said, putting as much urgency into his voice as he could, "back upstairs now and get everyone ready."

 

            When he didn't hear her move at once, heard her take a breath to ask or say something, he barked: "Now!"

 

            Louder than he'd intended.

 

            In a room full of nervous guys with guns.

 

            And so the Committee of Correspondence fired the first shots at their attackers.

 

 

 

About Eric Flint

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