THE AUSTRO-HUNGARIAN CONNECTION — snippet 34

 

THE AUSTRO-HUNGARIAN CONNECTION – snippet 34:

 

 

            Unfortunately, Noelle didn’t think to ask about the condition of the radio until they were half an hour into the flight.

            “Well,” said Lannie.

            From the rear seat, Keenan’s hand appeared over her shoulder, clutching a map. “I remembered to bring this, though.”

            Naturally, it was the wrong map.

            “Never mind,” she said, after checking to make sure—you just never knew with these guys—that the plane did have a functioning compass. “Just head south until we reach the Danube. Then follow it.”

            “Which way?”

            Not. To. Be. Thwarted.

            “I’ll figure it out when the time comes.”

****

            She did, too. It wasn’t even hard, since Noelle had a good knowledge of geography and she knew Regensburg was at the crest of a large northerly bend in the Danube. Between that and the compass, she could figure out where they were.

            A bit too far to the east, as it happened. Here, the river was coursing southeast.

            She pointed upstream. “Thataway.”

 

 

Regensburg

The Upper Palatinate, under USE imperial administration

 

            Sure enough, the airfield was in good shape. Lannie brought the plane down as smoothly as you could ask for.

            The military unit guarding the field, of course, were practically jumping up and down with fury.

            No one had informed them! They should have been notified of the flight plan by the radio!

            But at least they weren’t suspicious. Everyone knew that practically every country in Europe had started aircraft projects. But except for a handful of commercial craft operating out of the USE or the Netherlands, all the airplanes in existence were still in the USE’s air force.

            Besides, she’d brought a magic wand.

            Documents. Official Documents. Testifying that she was indeed an official for the State of Thuringia-Franconia and never mind exactly what her powers were and where her jurisdiction began and ended.

            They even let her take one of the unit’s horses to ride into town and summon the garrison to its duty.

****

            “I am afraid that Colonel Kreisler has gone out of the city, checking some new reconnaissance reports. He is not expected to return until tomorrow at the earliest.”

            Lt. Müller clasped his hands behind his back. Allowing for variations, it was the well-known and detestable gesture. As were the capital letters.

            “I Am Afraid There Is Nothing I Can Do.”

****

            Down at the river, on the great bridge that spanned the Danube, she considered whether she might prevail on one of the squads of soldiers below…

            What a laugh.

            Besides, now that she was here and could see it herself, she really couldn’t blame the soldiers for their attitude. The Bavarians were in the area, after all, with sizeable forces. The USE’s troops were concentrating on protecting the bridge and spotting any attempt to ferry large numbers of soldiers across the river.

            True, there was already a small fleet of boats on the river—six of them that she could see, just on this side of the bridge looking upstream—but they weren’t clustered the way landing craft would be. Just some of the many commercial craft that plied one of Europe’s major waterways day in and day out, and had been doing so for centuries.

            She glanced at a small barge just passing below the bridge. This one, for instance, looked to be carrying mostly—

            You son-of-a-bitch!” she screeched.

            She raced over to the downstream side of the bridge, clawing at the flap of her holster. By the time she got the pistol out and steadied her nerves enough to check that the clip was in and the safety was off, the barge had reappeared.

            Janos was standing at the very stern, looking up at her. Wide-eyed, as if in fear or astonishment.

            Well, no. Not fear. Wide-eyed with astonishment.

            Not for long, though. Suddenly he broke into a smile—a genuine grin; the first she’d ever seen on his face—and doffed his battered-looking cap. The sort any boatman might wear, although the flourishing bow that followed had obviously been learned in palaces.

            She pointed the gun right at him, remembering to use the two-handed grip that was her only chance of hitting anything. He replaced the cap on his head, but otherwise just kept standing there, looking at her. His face had no expression, now.

            He was maybe twenty yards away. Well, thirty or forty, allowing for the height of the bridge.

            She’d probably miss. Worse, she might miss him and accidentally hit somebody else. There were kids playing on the river bank. Way off to the side, sure, but she’d heard all the Annie Oakley jokes people made about her. It wasn’t likely, but she might hit one of the kids. Or hit a piece of metal on the barge that caused a ricochet that hit one of the kids.

            She wondered if Janos had heard the jokes. He might very well have, in fact, as smoothly as he could finagle information from people.

            That was probably why he wasn’t making any attempt to take cover.

            Well, no. She knew as surely as she knew anything that even if she’d been as good a shot as the real Annie Oakley, Janos Drugeth would have done exactly what he was doing.

            She even knew why. A Hungarian nobleman’s valor was only part of it. Two days after the encounter in the church, she’d told him about the torturer in Franconia. And the hours she spent in prayer because of it. They understood each other quite well, in some ways.

            There was no way she was going to pull the trigger, and she knew it, and he knew it, and he knew she knew he knew it, and…

            “You are the most exasperating man!”

            She leaned way over the rail of the bridge, clasped the gun tightly in both hands, pointed the barrel straight below her, and emptied the entire clip. She even had enough presence of mind to make sure another barge wasn’t passing through before she did it.

            And she didn’t miss the water, either. Not once. Hit the Danube every time, dead nuts.

            She felt a lot better, then. She even used the gun to give Janos a little salute as the barge made its way down toward Austria. She didn’t stop looking at him until it passed out of sight. And he didn’t stop looking at her.

            Then she giggled. “I guess Denise was right. Maybe I should get a tattoo.”

****

            When the others finally emerged from the shelter they’d taken behind the goods piled on the barge, Allan O’Connor came up to Janos, still standing in the stern.

            “You got balls, I’ll give you that. I told you the woman was crazy.”

            Janos said nothing. If a man couldn’t recognize a sign from God, right in front of his face, what was the point of explaining it to him?

            O’Connor shook his head. “No telling what she’ll do. You ought to warn the emperor about her.”

            “Oh, yes. I most certainly shall.”

About Eric Flint

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