1634: THE BAVARIAN CRISIS — snippet 32

 

1634: THE BAVARIAN CRISIS – snippet 32

 

 

Chapter 17

 

Honoris Causa

 

 

 

 

 

General Banér’s siege lines, outside Ingolstadt

 

 

 

            Dane Kitt and Mark Ellis understood one another very well. They had started kindergarten together and graduated from high school together. Both of them were solid students, but not brilliant. Both came from the kind of family in which reasonably good behavior and reasonably good grades were not regarded as negotiable. Both of them had decided to live at home and commute to Fairmont State to save money. Dane had majored in mechanical engineering and Mark in civil engineering. They were both third year students when the Ring of Fire hit. They had even talked, sometimes, of starting their own firm some day—one that would specialize in projects for rural areas and small towns, the kind of things that the big boys turned up their noses at.

 

            Neither of them wanted to be here, attached to Banér. All the more so since the Swedish commander of Gustav Adolf’s military forces in the Upper Palatinate had recently decided to bring most of his army out of their billets in order to besiege the Bavarian fortified town of Ingolstadt. Boring and unpleasant garrison duty might be, but at least it was reasonably safe. This probably wouldn’t be, as time went on.

 

            No high-flying heroics for them, thank you; no dramatic romances with down-time women. The previous year, Dane had married Jailyn Wyatt, one of the WVU girls who had been at Rita Stearns’ wedding. Mark was engaged to Stephanie Elias, the younger daughter of Grantville’s second dentist. What they really, really, wanted was for Gustav Adolf to win this stupid war, so they could go back home and live a normal life.

 

            For which reason they were throwing themselves heart and soul into the winning of it. Mark just had more trouble getting the down-time military types to pay attention to him. Terry Johnson, his mother, had been ingesting all sorts of things that she shouldn’t while she was producing him and his twin sister Mackenzie out of wedlock. No one knew for sure if that was the reason, but in spite of everything that his Aunt Amanda and her husband Price Ellis had done after they adopted them, the twins had ended up being pretty unimpressive physically.

 

            Dane’s folks, on the other hand, had chosen his name because he looked like a Viking when he was born. He still looked like a Viking—a sort of thin and weedy one, not a Hagar the Horrible type. Dane had played basketball. So, people around the camp paid more attention to him than they did to Mark. Even if General Banér had once remarked, “Why did they have to name you fucking Dane? Why not Swede?”

 

            Hearing some sort of ruckus outside their tent, Dane unwound himself from where he was sitting, which was a gray metal folding chair with thin yellow vinyl cushions on the seat and back and a matching card table with a yellow vinyl top. He had liberated both from his late Grandma Sadie’s bridge club supplies, packed them into his baggage when he was sent to Amberg, brought them along to Ingolstadt, and insisted that he couldn’t possibly fight this war without them.

 

            Given the kind of fighting that he did most of the time, he might have been right. Back home in Grantville, his parents were working frantically on aviation and associated things, sort of but not exactly parallel to what Jesse Wood and Hal Smith were doing. He was supposed to figure out whether anything they had developed so far might give Banér just that little edge that he needed to bring this siege off successfully.

 

            To this point, the answer was “no.” By seventeenth century standards, Ingolstadt’s fortifications were quite impressive. Any reasonably sized fleet of World War II era bombers could have reduced it to rubble in half an hour. For that matter, if Admiral Simpson’s ironclads could somehow be brought down to the Danube, he could have done much the same in the course of a single day’s bombardment, with those absurdly powerful ten-inch guns. Dane and Mark had once reduced themselves to a fit of semi-hysterical laughter conjuring up ways that might be done. The least implausible scheme had involved using giant fleets of dirigibles to hoist the ironclads out of the Elbe and drop them into the Danube. Some of the same dirigibles could then be used to keep the ironclads from running aground in the Danube.

 

            Remembering that conversation, Dane muttered to himself. “Blue Danube, my ass.” He’d never seen the Danube, back up-time—he’d never traveled anywhere outside the United States—but whatever state of pristine blue riverness it had enjoyed in the late twentieth century, it enjoyed none of it in the here and now.

 

            It wasn’t really even “a” river, to begin with. At least in this stretch of its course, the Danube was usually divided into several branches. It meandered across southern Germany like a watery braid, not a single well-defined stream. Each and every one of which braids—tributaries, branches, whatever they were called—was muddy brown.

 

            “What was that?” asked Mark, getting up from his own folding chair. He’d brought one also, of course.

 

            Dane was moving toward the tent entrance. “Blue Danube, my ass,” he repeated. “We ought to be doing something useful, like re-inventing the Army Corps of Engineers.”

 

            Mark smiled. “Isn’t that the truth? A lot of American rivers were just as messed up, originally. So much for the glories of pristine nature, huh?”

 

            Dane had now reached the entrance and was moving the flap aside. “What’s the commotion out there?” he wondered.

 

            Mark came up to join him. The sound of General Banér’s unlovely voice raised in anger was clearly audible. Clearly recognizable, too. They’d both gotten very familiar with that sound.

 

            Outside, in the distance, they could see the walls of Ingolstadt. In the foreground, standing in front of some sort of bizarre apparatus, they could see Banér hollering at Duke Ernst and waving his arms about.

 

            If the Swedish general’s normal state of mind was choleric, that of the German administrator of the Upper Palatinate was serene. He was responding to Banér’s protest with his usual expression of imperturbability.

 

            Well… “serene” wasn’t quite the right word. It just had the advantage of brevity. Dane and Mark had both gotten to know Duke Ernst rather well since they’d arrived. This particular one of the four Wettin brothers who had once been the rulers of Thuringia was almost diametrically the opposite of the youngest brother Bernhard, by all accounts they’d heard, so far as his personality and view of life were concerned. Where Bernhard was driven by personal ambition, Ernst was driven by duty. Where Bernhard’s ego required constant personal gratification, Ernst’s seem to require nothing beyond his sense that God approved of his actions. Where Bernhard did not suffer fools gladly and suffered personal insult not at all,  Ernst seemed oblivious to such issues.

 

            Not exactly “serene,” but awfully close. And the word was a lot handier to use than calm and unruffled in the face of adversity, certain that he was doing his duty both in the eyes of Lawful Authority and the Creator.

 

            “What the hell…” Mark was giving most of his attention to the weird contraption, not the two men quarreling. “Jesus, Dane, that’s a catapult.

 

            Dane looked. Sure enough, that very moment, the contraption went into operation. What he’d taken at first glance for an earth-moving scoop turned out to be the propulsive arm—whatever that was called—of the artillery device. A moment later, the arm whanged into a restraining crossbar and a small crate of some sort was flung over the walls of Ingolstadt.

 

            “Damned impressive range,” Mark murmured. “Hey, Mike and his guys used something like this to toss napalm onto the Wartburg. D’you think…”

 

            Dane frowned, considering the idea. “Well… I don’t know. The Wartburg was a real castle. Lots of stuff in it that could catch fire.” He gestured with his chin toward Ingolstadt. “I suppose we could burn the town itself down, but I can’t see where napalm would do much good against stone and earth berms. And the duke wants the town kept as intact as possible. So does Banér, for that matter. He wants to be able to station his troops in Ingolstadt, when and if he takes it. Can’t do that if the place is all in cinders. Still…”

 

            He and Mark looked back at the Swedish general. Banér was still in full protest mode. Arm-waving, red faced, voluble, the works.

 

            Such an unlovely sight. Not to mention sound.

 

            Dane shrugged. “Let’s think about it some. Beats getting in the middle of that.

 

            He led the way back inside the tent.

About Eric Flint

Author and Editor
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