1635: The Eastern Front — snippet 01

The following was posted by Eric Flint on the Bar.

1635: The Eastern Front — snippet 1

I’m going to start snippeting from 1635: The Eastern Front. FAIR WARNING. This is still a work in progress so the final result may vary from what you see in these snippets. Furthermore, those of you who’ve read the portions of Anaconda Project that were serialized for a time in the Gazette will probably recognize that Chapters 4 and 5 of this book are somewhat rewritten versions of episodes that I’d originally intended for AP but decided I needed to use here instead.

This first snippet will be longer than usual. I wanted to post the whole prologue to kick the thing off.

Eric

1635: THE EASTERN FRONT
by
Eric Flint

PROLOGUE
The Upper Vogtland
June, 1635

“They’ve passed on, Georg,” said Wilhelm Kuefer, as soon as he came down the ladder. “I think those soldiers are just deserters, on their way out of Saxony altogether. Probably see no reason to get ground under the Swede’s boot.”

Georg Kresse nodded. “Probably. If they’re some of Holk’s men, almost certainly. All those thugs were ever good for was savaging unarmed civilians. The last thing they want is to get caught in a real war.”

Neither Kresse nor Kuefer bothered to whisper. This far into the abandoned tin mine that Georg Kresse and his people had taken over as a base of operations, there was no chance that anyone outside the mine could hear him. Kuefer could have shouted and not been noticed by anyone in the open.

That was one of the advantages of using the mine. It offset the many disadvantages, among which darkness and dampness ranked high on Kuefer’s list.

Wilhelm had had no trouble seeing Kresse nodding, though. The problem wasn’t darkness in itself. They had plenty of lamps, donated to them by their supporters and sympathizers in the Vogtland. The problem was that the oil lamps emitted fumes, which, given the poor air circulation in the mine, added to the problems caused by cooking fires. Whenever possible, Kresse’s people did their cooking outside, but that option wasn’t always possible.

They did have one “flashlight,” as the smokeless American lamp was called, but it was no longer operating. The device required “batteries” to operate, and by the time they made that discovery — by exhausting the energies of said batteries — it was too late to do anything about it. Kresse’s agents had made enquiries, to see if the batteries could be replaced. But by now, four years after the Ring of Fire, such batteries had become scarce and extremely expensive. New batteries were being manufactured, they’d learned, using a combination of up-time knowledge and available down-time techniques. They even worked, by all accounts. But they were reportedly much too large and cumbersome to be fit into the slender flashlight.

So, the once-delightful gadget was now useless. It wouldn’t even make a very good club. But they kept it anyway, less as a memento than something in the way of a symbol for the future.

That more or less summarized their general attitude toward Americans. For Georg Kresse and his followers in the Vogtland, as for rebels throughout the Germanies — throughout all of Europe, for that matter — the real importance of the up-timers was mostly symbolic rather than practical. Like most such rebel groups, they’d had no significant direct contact with the Americans.

That was hardly surprising. There had only been three and a half thousand Americans to begin with, right after the Ring of Fire had transported their town of Grantville through time back into the seventeenth century. By now, five hundred or so of those had died. Some of the deaths had been casualties of war, and others had resulted from epidemics. For the most part, though, the deaths had been a simple product of human realities. The population of Grantville had been disproportionately elderly, and many of those old people had relied on up-time medicines to stay alive. Most of those medicines had vanished after the Ring of Fire. Now perched in the middle of what the up-timers called the Thirty Years War, the death rate among those of them who were elderly or sickly had been severe. From the standpoint of the seventeenth century, they’d been living on borrowed time.

The number of Europeans, or even Germans and Bohemians, who had actual relations with the Americans was comparatively miniscule. True, up-time technology was spreading much more widely and rapidly than the up-timers themselves. But, for most people, that technology was still on a level with Kresse’s flashlight: one or two minor gadgets. Even an up-time rifle was nothing more than a temporarily handy gadget, in the long run, except insofar as it could be at least partially duplicated.

For all of their partiality toward the up-timers, there were some things about the Americans that irritated Kresse and his people. What they’d heard of them, rather. Except for Anna Piesel, none of them had ever met one in person, and Anna’s contact had been brief and incidental. She’d literally bumped into the man as he came out of a tavern she was entering in Saalfeld. He’d said “Excuse me,” in heavily-accented Amideutsch, and gone on his way.

The great gift the up-timers had given rebels throughout the Germanies — indeed, throughout Europe — was simply being living proof that rebellion against the established order was not only possible and justified but even, you might say, ordained by history. The biggest irritant was that the Americans seemed to assume, blithely, ignorantly, and arrogantly, that they needed to bring the word of revolution to the benighted and backward Germans. That was a bit absurd as well as aggravating, given that the Germanies had had more in the way of rebellions and revolts over the past two centuries than the Americans had ever experienced. Just to name one example, their leader Georg Kresse was the descendant of one of the leaders of the Peasant War a century ago.

Nor were those two Kresses unusual. Another relative — Hans Kresse, one of Georg’s cousins — had been one of the leaders in the town of Mehla when they drove out the soldiers who’d been occupying it.

It was a minor irritant, however — and there was always the possibility that the attitudes of the Americans had become distorted in the process of being passed on. Here in the mountains of the Vogtland, in southwestern Saxony, Kresse and his rebels had been isolated from the developments that had swept over Thuringia and the northerly Germanies after the Ring of Fire. To add to the problems, the enemy against whom they were fighting, the Elector of Saxony John George, had been officially an ally of the Americans and the Swedes. True, the alliance hadn’t been a very friendly one, even before John George betrayed Gustav Adolf at the start of the Ostend War. Still, it had apparently been enough for the up-timers to keep a distance from Saxon rebels.

Happily, that situation was now ending. Emperor Gustav Adolf’s long-expected invasion of Saxony and Brandenburg was imminent, and that would transform the entire situation. Kresse and his people had hopes that, thereafter, the more admirable qualities of the up-timers would come to the fore.

But that remained to be seen. In the meantime, Georg Kresse had business to attend to. He turned to Kuefer. “Summon the men, Wilhelm.”

Kuefer didn’t bother to ask why. Given Kresse, the answer was a foregone conclusion. He was a harsh man, when all was said and done. There was no way he would allow a band of deserters from Holk’s army to pass through the Upper Vogtland unpunished.

There were certain obligations involved, as well. Heinrich Holk was one of the worst examples of the sort of condottiere who had risen to prominence during the long wars since the Austrian emperor defeated the Bohemian Protestants at the Battle of the White Mountain in November of 1620. He’d been born into a family of Danish Protestants, but had switched his faith and allegiance to the Habsburgs when that suited his advancement as a professional soldier. He’d switched allegiance again and sided with Wallenstein when he seized power in Bohemia.

Not satisfied with a mere triple-cross, Holk then tried to stab Wallenstein in the back by seizing and plundering Prague when Wallenstein led his army out to confront the Austrians at the second battle at the White Mountain. But he’d been foiled by an alliance of up-timers and the large Jewish community in Prague. Upon hearing that a victorious Wallenstein was on his way back to Prague, Holk had immediately fled north to Saxony, where he’d offered the services of his army to the Saxon Elector, John George.

Demonstrating once again his seemingly bottomless stupidity, John George had accepted the offer and placed Holk in charge of “maintaining order” in the Vogtland. Since then, Holk — a man sometimes described as a one-eyed, drunken mass murderer — had turned the unrest in the Vogtland into outright rebellion with his rapacious brutality.

Holk’s army was notorious for committing atrocities, and there was no reason to believe that deserters from that army would be any less vicious. A large part of Kresse’s success in withstanding the pressure of the Saxon Elector’s forces was that he had the firm support of the farmers and townsmen in the Upper Vogtland. That support, in turn, was contingent upon Kresse’s ability to protect them from the sort of freebooting raids that had become all too common in the course of the long war in the Germanies. Most soldiers were mercenaries and many of those mercenaries were barely more than bandits. Holk’s men were a particular brutal bunch, but they were by no means unique.

****

Harsh he might be, but Georg Kresse was neither careless nor reckless. He spent three days preparing the attack on the band of deserters. Part of the reason for the delay was because he didn’t want anyone associating the attack with the whereabouts of the mine. If need be, Kresse’s people could relocate easily enough. They’d done it several times over the past few years. But the abandoned mine was the best of all the bases they’d had, and Kresse didn’t want to lose it.

Mostly, though, the delay was simply because Kresse was an experienced commander of irregular forces engaged in the sort of combat that the Americans apparently called “guerrilla warfare.” As if a peculiar-sounding Spanish term was needed to depict what was blindingly obvious to any sensible German farmer or townsman! Kresse was always careful to keep his own casualties to a minimum, even when facing a group of undisciplined deserters who didn’t number more than perhaps three dozen all told.

One of the methods he used to keep his casualties low was to maneuver his foes in such a way as to take advantage of the local militias. Almost every town and village of any size in the Germanies maintained a militia force. They were often quite effective, within their limits — and the limit was that they generally fought well on the defensive, especially behind fortifications of some sort, but were inept if they were forced to fight in the open field.

Kresse and his men were quite effective in the open field, on the other hand. Kresse used the fortified villages as so many anvils, and used his own troops as a hammer. Against a large force of regular soldiers, such tactics wouldn’t succeed. But they worked very nicely against smaller units or simple marauders.

Kresse had the Holk deserters under constant observation throughout those three days. His own scouts provided him with some of that intelligence, but more was provided by the villagers in the area through which the enemy was moving. At least half a dozen times a day some young lad from one of the villages would come racing up — “racing,” insofar as the term could be applied to a village plow horse — to report on the latest movements of the mercenary band. The youngsters were far more excited than they were scared. Partly that was because they were teenagers, but mostly it was because over the past few years Kresse and his men had demonstrated their capabilities many times.

Kresse liked to attack at first light. His own people knew the area quite well — certainly better than their enemies — and so moving into position under cover of darkness was not too difficult. Only the most disciplined military units kept proper vigilance through the night. Deserters like these would only maintain a small number of sentries, and those would most likely be careless.

****

Wilhelm Kuefer’s task was harder, in terms of sheer effort, since Kresse had given him the assignment of bolstering the militia forces with one of their handful of cannons. The largest cannon in their possession was a demi-culverin with a four-inch bore, but the gun taken by Kuefer on this occasion was a smaller Spanish-built five-pounder saker. Even the saker weighed almost a ton, despite having a bore not much more than three inches. Hauling it through the mountains was no one’s idea of a pleasant outing.

On the other hand, Wilhelm and his squad had left a day earlier and were taking a more circuitous route to the selected ambush spot. So, unlike Kresse and the rest of their forces, they’d been able to move in daylight. They hadn’t had to worry about moving quietly, either, which was fortunate. The horses didn’t like the saker one little bit, so it required a fair amount of cursing to keep them to the task.

Again, experienced counted. Kresse’s little army of irregulars had captured quite a few cannons over the years. But they’d learned long since to just destroy — or better yet, sell if they could find a neutral buyer — any guns larger than demi-culverins. Even the smallest full culverin weighed two tons. A cannon that large and heavy was just too difficult to maneuver through the rough terrain of the Upper Vogtland, without having the resources of a large professional army.

****

When he arrived, Wilhelm was pleased to see that the militiamen had already constructed an abattis to block the road. The militias from three of the local villages would wait in ambush while Kresse and his men drove the Holk deserters toward them. The road had steep slopes on either side here, as it passed through a crest in the mountains. It would be hard to scramble up those slopes while under fire.

The abattis was a sturdy thing. Not up to the standards of a professional army with a corps of engineers, of course, but it was far more than just a haphazard pile of branches and brambles. The war that had raged in central Europe since the Bohemian incident had been going on for seventeen years. Villagers such as these were experienced by now with jury-rigged fieldworks.

This was a well-chosen spot for an ambush in other respects, too. The ambush site was not right on the crest but thirty or forty yards below it, just after a bend in the road. Holk’s deserters, as they came rushing over the crest, wouldn’t spot the abattis until they were within fifteen yards of it. They’d be coming downhill, so the men in front would have a hard time preventing those behind them from piling up.

A pity, of course, that the abattis had to be half-disassembled in order to make room for the cannon. But the militiamen didn’t grumble at the added work. As usual, the cannon was proving to be a tremendous morale-booster. Only the militias of the larger towns had such guns. Villages in the mountains rarely even saw the weapons. The fact that Kresse’s men possessed several was an important factor in establishing their reputation as a serious military force.

On the positive side, the hand guns owned by the villagers were actually better than those of most soldiers, even regular forces. They were rifles, for the most part, not smoothbore muskets. Far more accurate, especially in the hands of men who’d been hunting all their lives.

Their great limitation on a battlefield was their terribly slow rate of fire compared to smoothbore muskets. That was the reason that professional armies generally used muskets. Wilhelm had heard that the Americans had introduced a method for rapidly rearming front-loading muskets. It involved something called a Minié ball. But he’d never seen one and had no real idea how it was done.

For an ambush like this, however — with Kresse and his men in hot pursuit of the enemy — the villagers didn’t really need to worry much about reloading quickly.

****

Wilhelm Kuefer had participated in many fights under Kresse’s command. He knew Georg would launch a savage assault on the deserter camp just as dawn was breaking. Then, as the panicked band of mercenaries tried to escape, he would harry them relentlessly — always keeping them to the road and not letting them veer off into the countryside.

The road would seem like the safest escape route, anyway. So, they’d follow it for two hours after the initial assault — well over six miles of a mountain “road” that was more in the way of a trail for pasturing cows. By the time they arrived at the ambush site where Kuefer and his cannon and militiamen were waiting, they’d be exhausted as well as terrified.

****

When the first deserters appeared around the bend, the militiamen began shooting them down. But, at Kurfer’s prior orders, only a handful of them were firing, their best marksmen, and they were not firing volleys. Their fire was deadly because of its accuracy, but it wouldn’t seem to the deserters that they were facing a sizeable opponent. Just some mountaineers trying to defend a local village; at worst, a small number of skirmishers from the same partisan group who’d attacked them.

Either way, especially in a panic over the oncoming and relentless pursuit, Kuefer had figured the deserters would try to rush the barricade and simply drive over the presumed handful of men guarding it.

So it proved. At the last moment, one of the deserters spotted the mouth of cannon barrel hidden behind some branches, and tried to call out a warning.

But by then it was too late. “Fire!” Wilhelm shouted. The saker belched a double load of canister. At that point-blank range — the nearest deserter was less than ten feet away — the canister slaughtered every man in its path. It didn’t spread very far, but Kuefer didn’t care. The noise and the carnage would be enough to stun the now-completely-disorganized crowd of deserters. And as soon as he shouted the command to fire, all of the militiamen behind the abattis fired a volley. That took down another dozen men. By now, almost half of the band of deserters had been killed or wounded.

Such horrendous casualties would have routed even a disciplined unit of good soldiers. This rabble immediately tried to flee back up the road. Several of them dropped their weapons along the way.

Three of them tried to scramble up the slope to find safety in the forest beyond. But militiamen had been waiting in the woods also, and gunned them down as soon as they reached the crest.

Then, before the last of the Holk deserters had disappeared around the bend, Kuefer could hear more guns firing. Kresse had arrived, obviously.

It was almost comical, in its own way. Now the deserters came racing back. The cannon wasn’t reloaded yet, but many of the militiamen had been able to reload their rifles. They started firing again. Not in a volley, but it hardly mattered.

By the time Kresse’s men appeared, there weren’t more than five deserters left alive and uninjured. You couldn’t say “left standing,” though, because all five of them were lying on the ground, trying to pretend they were dead.

Wilhelm shook his head. Fat lot of good that would do them.

If it had been left to Kuefer himself, he’d have simply had the men shot right then and there, along with any wounded deserters. But perhaps that was the reason Georg Kresse was in command, rather than him.

Not that Georg was any more merciful. It was just that, unlike Wilhelm, he’d taken into account the problem of disposing of the bodies. You simply couldn’t leave that many corpses lying around, in an area with as many villages as the Upper Vogtland. Leaving aside the problem of the children — some would be terrified and upset at seeing the bodies; still worse, others would be thrilled and begin mutilating them — there was the ever-present danger of disease.

Digging a grave for that many bodies was a lot of work, though. Hard work. Kresse was a popular commander of irregular soldiers not only because he kept their casualties to a minimum but because he kept their labor to a minimum also.

So, he let the wounded live, and had them dragged off to the side of the road. He provided them with no medical care, though. If they died, they died — and, indeed, several did in the time it took the five survivors to dig a mass grave some thirty yards into the woods. Wilhelm knew that the only reason Georg was keeping the wounded alive at all was to give the toiling grave-diggers the hope — the illusion — that they might be allowed to live.

Digging the grave took almost the whole day. By the time all the bodies were hauled to it and dumped in, it was late afternoon. That work was done by the deserters also, of course. Kresse’s men and the militiamen spent a pleasant day lounging in the shade and watching.

By sundown, it was all done, except for shoveling the dirt back over the corpses. Unfortunately, that last bit of work would have to be done by Kresse’s people and the militiamen.

At Kresse’s command, the five survivors were hauled to the edge of the grave. Two of them began shouting protests, but only one made any attempt to resist. He was immediately clubbed senseless and fell into the grave. The other four were shoved roughly to their knees.

“All right,” said Kresse. “Shoot them.”

Three of the four bodies fell into the grave on their own. The last one was sent in with a rough boot.

Kresse pointed to the one still-living Holk soldier, the one who’d been beaten unconscious. “Him too.”

“Bury him alive!” shouted one of the militiamen. That was old Selig Hirsch, the local tanner. Kuefer didn’t blame him. One of his sons had been murdered by soldiers a few years back, along with two of the son’s children.

But Kresse shook his head.”We’re not savages. Shoot him, I said.”

Wilhelm had been expecting that order also, and did the shooting himself. Georg Kresse was as harsh a man as ever lived in these mountains. But only his enemies claimed he was cruel. None of his irregulars would have used that term, not would any of the farmers and townsmen in the Upper Vogtland. He was simply, and fortunately, what the times had produced.

****

By the time they returned to the mine, Kresse had come to a decision. The first person he spoke to was the woman with whom he shared a small cell in the mine constructed from old timbers. That was Anna Piesel, his betrothed.

“Anna, I want you to go to Magdeburg.” He hooked a thumb at Kuefer. “I’ll send some Wilhelm and some other men as an escort until you’re into Thuringia. After that, you should be safe enough. Take Friedrich and Hannelore, also. They could both use some rest in a tavern, and they’re old enough to pass as your parents.”

He smiled, seeing Piesel’s little glare. She was a good woman, but a bit vain about her looks. “I said, ‘old enough.’ I didn’t claim there was any resemblance.” Friedrich was downright ugly, and the best you could say for Hannelore’s appearance was “dumpy.”

“Why do you want me to go to Magdeburg? That’ll take weeks, Georg!”

“At least six, I’m figuring. Quite possibly more. But we’re not going to be doing much here during that time. It’d be idiotic for us to launch any major attacks, when the Swedes and the USE army are going to be spending those same weeks pounding the Saxon army into a pulp. I figure we may as well just sit and wait. The real struggle with come then, not now. What sort of Saxony will emerge, once the Elector’s driven out? You know the Swedes, Anna. Gustav Adolf will set up the same sort of military administration he’s used in other conquered provinces. That is not what we want. We want a republic in Saxony, nothing less.”

Kuefer spoke up. “But, Georg… the Americans…”

“What about them? Be realistic, Wilhelm. Even if they’re inclined themselves toward a republic, it’s not an issue over which they’d risk a rupture with Gustav Adolf.” Kresse shook his head. “‘Prince of Germany,’ the damn fools call Stearns. But I notice that’s never stopped him from making compromises with royalty and nobility every time he turns around.”

“That’s not fair, Georg,” Piesel said mildly.

“Maybe not. But I’m still not relying on the good graces of the up-timers. No, we need to get the Committees of Correspondence involved. And that’s why I’m sending you to Magdeburg. I want Richter, Anna. Tell her we want her to come to Dresden after the Elector’s gone.”

Anna’s eyes got a little wider. “Gretchen Richter herself? Do you think she’d really come?”

He shrugged. “I don’t know. But if nothing else, we’ll test her reputation. We’ll see if she’s as inclined toward half-measures as the Americans are.”

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17 Responses to 1635: The Eastern Front — snippet 01

  1. no_one says:

    Someone really needs a proofreader, and I’ll volunteer.

  2. robert says:

    My Amazon pre-release shipping estimate is Oct. 12th. I am so happy that the snippets have started because when Eric writes the books, they are really fine. I guess this means for those eARCers that late August or early Sept. will be when that is available.

    And from Eric’s note it seems that von Mercy and Piccolomini will be with us along with Morris Roth and Wallenstein, and now we understand the cover art. And the disappearance of the Anaconda Project from the GG’s.

  3. robert says:

    @1 no_one. Ha, ha. Nice try. But you read Eric’s note at the top: “FAIR WARNING. This is still a work in progress so the final result may vary from what you see in these snippets.”

    I took that to mean beware the typos.

  4. Vince says:

    @1, @3 Beware not just typos but plot details may change somewhat. I took the warning to be the book is still in the earlier stages of being written by Eric.

  5. robert says:

    @4 I think he is doing edits and rewrites. He has a manuscript. With an October publication date, no way is the book still being written from scratch. If he were still writing it would not be on the Baen Schedule. The Lee & Miller sequel to Saltation called Ghost Ship is only 20% done and is not on the Schedule. And it won’t be until Toni W. has seen a manuscript.

  6. Daryl says:

    Christmas has come early, thanks for this. One typo that may get missed is “Wilhelm had heard that the Americans had introduced a method for rapidly rearming front-loading muskets.” should be “front-loading rifles”.

  7. jess says:

    What’s “Anaconda Project” ?

  8. Drak Bibliophile says:

    The “Anaconda Project” was a serial in the on-line Grantville Gazette.

    Basically it is about Wallenstein of Bohemia’s plans to expand his territory.

    Not sure how Wallenstein’s plans will affect this story.

  9. robert says:

    Actually, the first Ring of Fire book had the “Wallenstein Gambit” story, which was preceded by a pretty funny GG story whose title I forget, that described how Wallenstein, suffering the effects of Julie Mc’s deadly marksmanship, came to Grantville and made a deal in exchange for medical help. The deal is that he will prevent the great massacre of Jews in Chmielnicki in Lithuania in 1638 if he gets certain help from Grantville. Then Eric’s Anaconda Project serial began in Vol. 12 of the GG. This and with another serial, Butterflies in the Kremlin, about Russian involvement with Grantville and…well it does get a bit complicated and all the events in Eastern Europe are far more complex than what happened in Venice and Rome. But the upshot is that Morris Roth goes to Prague and is a VIP in Wallenstein’s government and in the Jewish community, the Jews are armed and are with Wallenstein and have defended Prague from Holk’s mercenaries while Wallenstein’s army was off on campaign. Stirring and funny stuff. And now we have the book that has the results of all this.

    You must download the first Ring of Fire book and then all the Gazette’s from Webscriptions. Not all at once–you have until September. My advice is to skip the GG stories that are about all the intertwined Grantville family relationships and the ones about sheep and rams. They are hopelessly confusing and less than well-written. Read the ones that are attempts to bring some sort of 20th century tech back and the ones dealing with foreign governments and the performing arts. And, of course, the Anaconda Project and anything else with Eric’s name as author.

  10. Mark L says:

    @9 The ones about about sheep and rams aren’t baah-ah-ah-ad. Although they are peripheral to this novel.

  11. robert says:

    @10 I found them rather baaah-ring. But chac to his own gout, as they say in 16th century France.

  12. robert says:

    Excuse. 17th century France

  13. jess says:

    * à chaque son goût
    * chacun à son goût

    Will that be compiled at some point? (ie. the “Anaconda Project” + “Butterflies in the Kremlin”) Seems like a good selection for “Ring of Fire III” or something.

  14. Drak Bibliophile says:

    I don’t know about “Butterflies in the Kremlin” but Eric is now planning to make the “Anaconda Project” into a novel.

    Currently we have no idea when the novel will come out.

  15. robert says:

    @13 Sorry. I should have written “shaq to his own goo.” That’s Frenglish for what you wrote.

  16. Willem Meijer says:

    I love Franglais.

  17. john braddock says:

    i am so totally addicted to the ring of fire anything.. the postings on the thefifthimperium are just too short.. already pre bought the book and am jones’n bad.. especially find the romantic pairings enjoyable.. keep wondering if eddie and the princess will get a line or two in this next book or the gazette, hoping to for that matter.. i’d like to know if he made it up the wall with that peg leg.

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