1635: The Eastern Front — Snippet 07:
When he got the news that Caroline Platzer would be accompanying them on their voyage to Stockholm, Ulrik did jump for joy. Not very high, true; and he didn’t even think of clicking his heels. But jump he did, grinning from ear to ear.
“Baldur,” he announced, “a hopeless task just became a merely difficult one.”
The Danish prince’s sidekick, technical expert and close friend Baldur Norddahl — take your pick or pick all three — was less sanguine. “The girl’s still who and what she is, and the mother’s still no more than half-sane. And that’s a long way to go, and the Baltic can be treacherous. And I don’t like Stockholm to begin with. Never did.”
Ulrik’s grin stayed in place. “That’s because you were accused of crimes there. Falsely, you say.”
“The charges were preposterous in every particular,” Baldur said stoutly. “Either I was confused for another — the charitable explanation — or the authorities harbored animosity toward me.” He cleared his throat. “For reasons unknown.”
“Ha! But have no fear. I will vouch for you myself. Perhaps more to the point, so will the princess. She’s taken a liking to you, I think.”
Norddahl thought the same himself. He was not sure, though, whether being Kristina’s friend or her foe carried more in the way of risk and excitement.
Thorsten Engler reacted to the news very calmly. Equanimity was something the young German ex-farmer did very well. Normally, that was one of her fiancé’s traits that Caroline cherished. But less so, of late, once it dawned on her that he probably exhibited that same equanimity in the middle of a battle. She’d be a lot happier if he shared more of his friend Eric’s healthy respect for peril. No one would ever accuse Eric Krenz of being a coward, certainly. But the young German ex-gunsmith was the first to say that war was a silly way to settle disputes and that his own happiness and serenity improved in direct measure as he distanced himself from mayhem.
On the other hand, he’d managed somehow to get himself promoted too, so apparently he had some share of damn-foolness as well. What was it about men, Caroline wondered grumpily, that made them so resistant to common sense? With their skills and personality traits — they were both quite charming men, each in his own way — Thorsten and Eric could easily manage to get themselves transferred to much safer assignments, without leaving themselves open to charges of pusillanimity.
They wouldn’t even have to leave the army. Caroline was no expert on military matters, but even she knew that most soldiers never got very close to combat. Any army had a bigger tail than it did teeth, as they put it. For every damn fool leading a flying artillery charge, there were at least three soldiers way back in the rear hauling up the wherewithal that allowed him to be a damn fool in the first place.
“Better to haul a wagon than be hauled away in a hearse,” she muttered.
“What was that, dearest?” asked Thorsten.
Krenz, whose hearing bordered on the supernatural, grinned widely and leaned back in his chair at the table in Caroline’s kitchen. “She fears your imminent demise, on account of your recklessness at the front. Always waving a saber where I — an intelligent man — wield a shovel. That’s why she’s sniffling, too.”
“I’m sniffling because I’m cutting onions,” Caroline said. Wondering if it were true.
Thorsten and Eric left the next morning. General Torstensson had summoned all officers to their posts. The emperor was arriving with his Swedish forces and the USE army was mobilizing to join him. The war against Brandenburg and Saxony was imminent, and everyone expected the Austrians and the Poles to come to their aid. That would turn what might otherwise be labeled a mere suppression of rebellion into an all-out war.
To Thorsten’s surprise, Princess Kristina came to see him off too. He knew she was fond of him — the “Count of Narnia” title bestowed upon him after the battle of Ahrensbök had been at her insistence — but he hadn’t thought she’d go to the trouble. One doesn’t expect headstrong eight-year-old princesses to think of such things.
“Caroline must have put her up to it,” Krenz insisted, after they rode. “It never ceases to amaze me, the way that woman dotes on you.”
Engler smiled. “When are you going to get your own woman, Eric, so you can stop fussing at me about mine?”