1634: THE BAVARIAN CRISIS — snippet 26

 

1634: THE BAVARIAN CRISIS – snippet 26:

 

 

            Marc didn’t like the idea of the families in the wagons being here. Not when two bunches of men, one that had all of them with guns and the other of which had several of them with guns, were looking at one another belligerently. As the group with Durre advanced, Marc managed to move a few feet to the side of the road. With his right hand, which Koler’s oncoming men could not see because it was hanging down at his side, obscured by his body and the saddle, he made urgent scooping motions, as if he were dipping water. One of the drivers got the idea. With the guards away from the boundary stone, it was time to leave for church. What were a few more hoofbeats when a dozen mounted men were riding toward another dozen or so mounted men? The two wagons started to creep slowly forward. Slowly, at least, until they were past the border and onto the Geuder land; then their pace became quite brisk. Not to say expeditious. From the back of one, a boy turned around and waved.

 

            Marc started side-stepping back towards the rest of the group, carefully not looking toward the departing wagons. He didn’t keep a horse of his own, of course. There was no need to, in Nürnberg. This was a rental; an elderly gelding of no particular distinction who now demonstrated that he didn’t like sidling to the left. He tossed his head; snorted; turned his head; tossed his head again. Marc started to control him; then realized that something could be gained from this. He assumed the nervous expression of a city man who put very little trust in even the best of horses. He also slipped his feet almost out of the stirrups, loosened his grip on the reins, and gave the stupid beast a sharp pinch with his right hand.

 

            He landed hard. Koler’s men guffawed. Rubbing his seat dramatically, Marc gestured for permission to go catch his horse. The lead rider, noting that the young idiot from Nürnberg wasn’t carrying anything more threatening than a dirk, waved him on.

 

            The horse, now that nobody was asking him to side-step to the left was just standing there, looking dumb. He was that kind of horse. Marc remounted and requested that he step to the left again. The horse demurred. Marc and the horse fussed at one another.

 

            By this time, everyone was laughing. Except, of course, Jacob Durre and Leopold Cavriani, both of whom were just smiling with considerable satisfaction, since they knew perfectly well that the money that Marc’s father had laid out for expensive riding-masters had not gone to waste. By this time, the wagons were out of sight, around a bend in the road. Marc made a demonstration of getting the nag under control and moved back toward the rest of the group by turning him around to the right and ceremoniously riding him all the way around the back of the others, wearing a chagrined expression as he did it.

 

            Inwardly, he was much relieved that he had gotten away with it. At eighteen, he still had in some ways the mind set of the younger Marc who had gotten his growth spurt considerably later than many of his contemporaries. From thirteen to sixteen, he had found himself obliged to outwit the school bullies rather than outfight them. Oh, he had read stories, just like anyone else, in which the smaller man won the fight. The problem with those stories was that somehow, always, most conveniently, the larger man was a slow, awkward, clumsy, poorly trained oaf, while the smaller man was deft, quick, and much more skilled.

 

            How convenient this arrangement must be for the authors! In the real world of the armsmaster’s studio in which he had learned to fight, he had learned by way of the scientific method that if one man was four inches taller and twenty pounds heavier, while both were more or less equally skilled, the smaller guy would get whomped nine times out of ten. And, based on his observations of the sad example of his classmate Franco Neri, if the smaller guy was the one of the pair who was awkward and slow, he would get whomped ninety-nine times out of a hundred.

 

            Overall, therefore, Marc’s preferred response to oncoming batches of muscle was still to evade them, if possible. He had no illusions. He had received the amount of training in personal arms that any young middle-class merchant would receive—which meant, basically, that he owned, and knew how to use, a sword and pistol as well as the dirk that he usually carried, and could probably take care of the average mugger. That was what the armsmaster had been hired to teach the students at his school, so that was what he taught them. Purveyors of copper wire and undyed fustian were rarely called upon to display more martial skill than that, nor would they have the time to maintain a higher level if they did learn it. Effective swordsmanship took a lot of continuous practice.

 

            Marc knew perfectly well that he could not withstand a professionally trained fighter for any length of time—especially not when the fighter was wearing armor and carrying a gun. Koler’s men were doing both. Marc was wearing his best doublet, suitable for a church service. He had a distinct feeling that this was not the best place to undertake heroic actions, if they could possibly be avoided.

 

****

 

            Marc would have been surprised to learn that the sergeant in command of Koler’s guards brought a rather different perspective to what he had observed. He was feeling rather glad that the kid was such a dolt; otherwise, he could have been a problem, as large and well-built as he was.

 

            Marc wasn’t given to spending much time either at the gym or looking into the mirror; his apprenticeship with Jacob Durre had kept him very busy the past two years. His only real awareness that he had changed quite a bit between sixteen and eighteen was derived from Frau Durre’s constant complaints that he kept outgrowing his clothes. He hadn’t thought about it much.

 

            Not, at least, until he had gotten off his knees outside Herr Durre’s shop last week and discovered that he had to lean down a bit to kiss his father’s cheeks rather than going on tiptoe and reaching up to him.

 

****

 

            Leopold Cavriani looked up the road, behind Koler’s men. He cleared his throat and said, quite politely, “Excuse me, sir.”

 

            The sergeant looked at him. “We have our orders from Ritter Koler. We don’t want trouble. Just turn around and go back to Nürnberg. That would suit us nicely. This is a local problem, between the two knights. No problem of yours. No need for you to get involved.”

 

            “We have recently come through the Catholic sections of Franconia,” Cavriani remarked. “As you may have heard, there is a certain amount of unrest among the peasants, there.”

 

            He might as well have been commenting on the splendid weather.

 

            The sergeant nodded.

 

            “I get the impression,” Cavriani continued casually, “that the unrest may be spreading into this portion of Franconia as well.”

 

            The sergeant knew better than to be tricked into looking away, but he motioned for one of his men to take a glance in the direction in which Cavriani was looking.

 

             “About two hundred men coming, Sir, at a fast guess.”

 

            Cavriani would have estimated fifty. But they did have guns, and a dozen or so were mounted. On clodhopping draft horses, but mounted, which would give them some momentum in a pinch. It wasn’t as if the sergeant and his men were riding the pick of the breed, either.

 

            The sergeant wheeled his horse with a curse.

 

            “Damn. They’re from right around here. I recognize several of them—the ones who are close enough. Odds are, I’ll recognize all of them. Ritter Koler didn’t give us any warning of this.”

 

            Durre motioned his whole party to move to the side. This wasn’t their fight.

 

            The leader of the oncoming peasants announced that they had a petition to present to Ritter Koler in regard to the annoyance that this silly dispute between the Lutheran and the Calvinist lords was causing the residents of the affected villages.

 

            “I have no authority to receive such a petition,” the sergeant replied.

 

            “Don’t expect that you do. Hadn’t really planned to rebel today, anyway.”

 

            Cavriani caught that “today.” He found it very interesting.

 

            The farmer continued. “But the weather’s nice for it. Just take us to Ritter Koler. Take us inside the castle. You can do that. Tell him that we’ve got an honest complaint that he needs to listen to. We’ll give him the petition and go home, if he agrees to look at it and give us an answer next court day.”

 

            “What’s your gripe, this time?”

 

            “You are.” The farmer waved at the riders. “It’s a big nuisance having soldiers on the road. Another bunch have gone up to talk to Geuder’s steward. All we want is for them to use a little common sense. Instead of sticking guards at the boundary stone, the Geuders should let their Lutheran subjects walk to the nearest Lutheran church and Koler should let the Calvinists in his villages go up to the church on Geuder’s land. It’s Sunday, anyway. It’s not as if we would be working if we didn’t go to church.”

 

            He paused.

 

            “They are our lords, but they do not control our consciences.”

 

            Leopold Cavriani smiled cherubically, fingering the toy ram he now carried in the inside pocket of his doublet.

 

****

 

            Marc had the nervous thought that if another group of unhappy farmers was up at the Geuder’s castle, he might not have done the families in the wagons much of a favor by motioning them go on. But no—there they were, coming back down the track, none the worse for wear. The wagons plodded past the boundary unhindered. He looked at his father.

 

            “I think,” Leopold said, “that it might be excusable to skip church today.” As the sergeant and the farmers argued, Durre’s party turned around and followed the wagons back toward Nürnberg.

 

 

 

About Eric Flint

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