1635: The Eastern Front — Snippet 53
As soon as Georg Kresse saw the cavalry officer trotting out of the gorge, he stood up and cupped his hands around his mouth.
“Hey there!” he shouted. First in German, then in Slovene. His knowledge of that language was limited, but Kresse knew some words in several of the Balkan tongues. Then, for good measure, he shouted the words again in Czech. He was almost as fluent in that language as he was in his native German.
The Slovene officer had stopped his horse and was staring up at Georg. He’d drawn a wheel-lock pistol from a saddle holster and had it at the ready, but he wasn’t pointing it up the slope. At this range, he didn’t have much chance of hitting Kresse anyway and they both knew it.
“Parlay!” shouted Georg, in German and Czech. He didn’t know the word in Slovene, so he used the term for talk instead. Probably not in a grammatically correct manner — he could be saying “talking!” or “to talk!” instead of “let’s talk!” — but he figured the enemy officer would get the point.
After a moment, the officer nodded. He put the pistol back in its holster and then shouted something to the cavalrymen under his command. They were now positioned some fifty yards down the trail and had dismounted and taken up defensive positions. They’d done that fairly well, for cavalrymen.
Not that it would do them much good if fighting resumed. Georg had no doubt at all that he’d win any battle here. But these Slovenes were tough enough and good enough that he’d lose at least half a dozen men and have twice as many wounded. Some of those would die later.
He saw no point to it. The Slovene officer’s behavior made it obvious that he’d found the Elector — his body, rather — and had no further duties here. With John George dead, Kresse wanted to intervene as soon as possible and as effectively as he could in the political situation that would already be unfolding in Dresden. By now, the CoC contingent should have arrived in the city and become active. They’d grow very quickly, too. The Saxon capital already had a large number of people who considered themselves members or sympathizers of the CoCs. They hadn’t had much organizational experience, but the newly arrived cadre from Magdeburg would take care of that soon enough.
Kresse considered the CoC people to be allies. But allies did not necessarily see everything the same way. After the years he and his people had spent fighting the Elector in the mountains of the Vogtland, Georg was determined to have a say in what came next.
To do that, however, he had to get to Dresden, with as many of his people as possible. It would be foolish to delay or suffer casualties in a fracas with Slovene mercenaries with whom he had no real grievance.
He didn’t hold their profession against them. These were hard times for any man. Several of his own relatives — an uncle and three cousins — had gone off to fight in the wars. Only one of them had ever come back, a cousin who was now missing his left arm below the elbow.
Once the Slovene officer was satisfied that his men understood the situation and wouldn’t unsettle anything, he dismounted from his horse and took several steps away from it. Then, spread his hand a bit to show that he held no weapons. All he was now carrying was the saber belted to his waist.
“Come with me,” Georg said to Wilhelm, as he started down the slope. Kuefer followed, just two steps behind.
Once they were on the trail and close enough to see the officer’s features, Kuefer leaned over and murmured: “That’s Bravnicar, sure enough.”
Kresse had never seen the man before, but he took Wilhelm’s word for it. As he came up, he extended his hand and said in Slovene: “You are Captain Lovrenc Bravnicar, I believe.”
This had to be Kresse himself. Lovrenc had gotten descriptions of the man from several people who’d known him.
His Slovene was heavily accented and he didn’t know the tongue as well as he thought he did. What he’d actually said was: “You have been Captain Lovrenc Bravnicar, I have faith.”
Fortunately, Lovrenc was fluent in German as well as Czech. He’d been born and raised in exile, mostly in Bohemia. Being honest, he was more comfortable in either of those tongues than he was in his native one.
“Yes, I am he,” he replied in German. “And I am guessing that you are Georg Kresse.”
This was off to a good start, Lovrenc thought. Well… a start, anyway. But given that he’d thought he and his men were as good as dead ten minutes earlier, any start was good.
It didn’t take them more than five minutes to reach an agreement. The only sticking point — not much of one — had been Bravnicar’s vague sense that perhaps he had some sort of lingering responsibility for the infantrymen being hunted down.
But he didn’t put up a real fight over the issue. Balkan noble honor or not, Bravnicar had seen enough of war to have a very wide practical streak as well. To begin with, those hadn’t actually been “his” men. They’d never been on his company’s payroll. Most of them had been employed by Colonel Kazimir Zajic, a Bohemian mercenary whom Lovrenc had never met and who was not even here.
Secondly, he had no use for them anyway. They were wretched soldiers and even more wretched human beings. The sort of men who straggled at the best of times and deserted immediately when times got bad. And, invariably, stole and murdered and raped as naturally as a vulture eats carrion.
To the devil with them. “Agreed,” he said, and they shook hands on it.
That still left some practical problems. Food and drink, first and foremost. Most of their supplies had been in the wagons, and the wagons had been with the infantry. By now, Kresse’s men would have captured all of them.
Lovrenc would have to beg, as much as he disliked the idea. They simply couldn’t start foraging, not in these mountains and with Kresse’s men all over. In the real world, the antiseptic term “foraging” meant “stealing from the local farmers and villages.” The minute they started, they’d be in a battle — and one they were sure to lose.
His thoughts must have shown on his face. Kresse smiled and said: “I’ll let you have enough provender to get out of the Vogtland.”
Stiffly, Lovrenc nodded. “Thank you.”
Kresse shrugged. “Saves me grief, too.” He cocked his head a little, a curious expression coming to his face.
“Where will you go now?”
Bravnicar took off his helmet and ran figures through his thick hair. Even on a September day that wasn’t particularly hot, a man’s head started to swelter inside a helmet. There was a little breeze, too, which felt very good.
“I don’t know,” he said, seeing no purpose to lying. “Even if we’d reached Bavaria, I wasn’t planning to stay there. Being a Protestant officer in Duke Maximilian’s employ could get risky.”
Kresse grunted. “And now they say he’s gone mad.”
Lovrenc had his doubts about that. From everything he’d heard, Bavaria’s ruler had always been a little mad.
“You could always go to Bohemia,” Kresse said. “I’m sure Wallenstein will be hiring, as tense as things are with the Austrians.”
Lovrenc might have flushed a little. “That would be… ah, problematic. At the beginning of my career, I was with General Piccolomini.”
“So if Wallenstein has read any of the up-time accounts of his life — which you can be sure and certain he has — he’ll know that in the universe the Americans came from Piccolomini was one of the central plotters who had him assassinated.”
“Ah.” Kresse shook his head. “Still, you were not directly involved. Perhaps Wallenstein is not holding a grudge against you.”
“Quite possibly not. But would you gamble on it?”
Kresse laughed. “I see your point. Austria, then.”
This time, Lovrenc was sure he was flushing. “Well… there might be other difficulties in Vienna. A youthful indiscretion…”
That sounded silly even to him, coming as it did from a cavalry captain who was all of twenty-six years old.
Kresse laughed again. Then, said nothing for a few seconds. He had an odd look on his face.
“How much do you need?” he asked abruptly.
“In the way of pay. For you and your company.”
Bravnicar frowned. “It’s complicated. Depends on which realm –”
Kresse waved his hand impatiently. “Never mind. We have little in the way of coin anyway. Will you work for room and board? For… let’s say three months. No, best make in four. Until the end of the year. By then, I may be able to come up with some money to continue your employment. Hard to say. But at least it’d give you a port in the storm for a few months. And I think I could use a good cavalry unit.”
Bravnicar was too dumbfounded to reply. He’d never heard of rebels — farmers, at that — trying to hire professional soldiers.
Kresse’s companion grinned. “It’s just like in the movie.”
The last term was incomprehensible. It didn’t even sound like a German word.
“Like in the… what?”
“Movie. Motion picture. It’s a device the Americans have to turn lots and lots of images into the illusion of an ongoing story. One of the CoCers we met in Magdeburg explained it to me. I got curious so Anna and I went to one of the theaters they’ve set up just to watch the things. Some up-timer and his German partners figured out a way to — Well. Never mind. I don’t really understand it myself. Anyway, we watched a movie the up-timers had made. Not the Americans, but the Japanese. They called it The Seven Samurai. It was about this peasant village in the Japanese islands who hired mercenaries to protect them from bandits.”
Bravnicar was now completely confused. “You’ve got Japanese cavalry too? How did they get here?”