1636: The Saxon Uprising — Snippet 52
His course of study had been general, with no particular focus. Had intended to be general, it would be better to say. He’d barely finished one semester when Gustav Adolf started this new war. (What was it about Swedes, anyway? Did the milk they drank as youngsters come from a special breed of belligerent cows?) Eric still had no clear idea of what he wanted to do with the rest of his life, assuming he survived the war. Something involving mechanics, most likely. But beyond that, he had no idea.
Blessedly, Tata did not press him on the matter. She was odd, that way. Most young women of a bossy temperament never stopped pestering their men about their goals and ambitions. But Tata never did. She seemed content with modifying Eric’s daily behavior to suit her liking, and was willing to let him figure out what he’d be doing in the months and years to come.
Maybe that was because she’d been a nobleman’s leman before she got involved with Eric. Tata’s way of describing that relationship — quite typical of her — was to refer to Duke Eberhard as her “boyfriend,” an up-time loan word that Eric found particularly grotesque. Despite the silly term, though, not even Tata had thought to inquire as to the duke of Württemberg’s ambitions and goals. Perhaps she was just carrying the habit over to her relationship with Krenz.
Eric felt occasional twinges of jealousy when he thought of that former involvement, but they were only twinges and they only came once in a while. For a start, the man was dead. Hard to feel much venom toward a corpse, after all. What possible further ill could you wish upon the fellow? But leaving that aside, Krenz was not much given to jealousy anyway. Or spite, or envy. He’d admit himself that he had faults, but they were generally the faults of a cheerful man perhaps a bit too fond of his immediate pleasures.
He heard a shrill, piercing call from ahead. A shriek, almost.
He couldn’t make out the word, but he didn’t need to. He’d heard that same call before, more than once. Incoming.
Fortunately, they’d reached a corner. He lunged forward, seized Tata around the waist, and hauled her behind the shelter of a tall building.
“What are you –!” But she didn’t resist. She didn’t even finish the sentence. Tata was very far from dimwitted.
A moment later, they heard a loud crashing sound. No explosion, though. Either the Swedes had fired a round shot into the city or the exploding shell had been a dud. Judging from the sound — bricks shattering; a lot of them — Eric was pretty sure it was round shot. Something awfully heavy had to have done that.
“We’ll have to move carefully from here on,” he said. “Stay under cover as much as we can.”
When they reached the fortifications, Eric saw that Gretchen Richter was already there. She was walking slowly down the line of soldiers manning the bastions and curtain wall, talking with each gun crew as she came to them. Doing what Eric was planning to do himself, and what other officers would be doing in other bastions and along other curtain walls. The words they’d be speaking were not really that important, taken by themselves. What mattered was an officer’s relaxed and calm demeanor.
No officer could do that better than Gretchen, though. The woman had a knack for projecting confidence that, given her youth — she was only twenty-six years old — was uncanny. Friedrich Nagel was of the opinion that she’d either sold her soul to the devil or to Saint Jude Thaddeus, the patron saint of lost causes and desperate situations.
Whatever the source of her poise, Krenz was glad to see her. Gretchen steadied his nerves the same way she did everyone else’s.
The cannon fire from the Swedish lines started picking up. This would go on for weeks, in all likelihood. The army camped outside Dresden’s walls numbered about fifteen thousand men. The city itself had a population of somewhere between thirty and forty thousand, but that had been greatly expanded by refugees pouring in from the countryside over the past weeks. Dresden’s defenders could put three thousand able-bodied men on the walls, with at least that many available as a reserve in case Banér ordered a major frontal assault.
To make things still more difficult for Banér, he didn’t have enough soldiers to really seal off the city. Especially not in wintertime, when his men would shirk their responsibility to maintain patrols at night and loads could be moved into the city by sleigh without needing to use roads. Dresden’s population would be on short rations, but they wouldn’t be in any danger of starving for at least a year.
Probably longer, in fact. Gretchen Richter and the CoC had clamped down their control of Dresden. The fact that Richter used a velvet glove whenever she could didn’t change the fact that the grip itself was one of iron. Whatever anyone thought of the political program and policies of the CoC, one thing was indisputable: they greatly strengthened a city under siege, if they were in charge. Rations would be evenly and fairly apportioned; sanitation and medical measures would be rigorously applied and enforced; spies and traitors would be watched for vigilantly.
Those measures directly addressed the most common reasons a city fell — hunger, disease and treachery. The risks weren’t eliminated, but they were significantly reduced. At a guess, Eric thought any city run by Gretchen Richter could withstand a siege half again as long as it would otherwise. Maybe even twice as long. She was one of those rare people of great notoriety whose reputations weren’t overblown at all.
Odd, really, to think that she was the wife of his good friend Jeff Higgins.
“Stop daydreaming!” scolded Tata, giving his shoulder a little nudge. “Shouldn’t you be ordering the men to fire a cannon or something?”