Four Days On The Danube – Snippet 03
Tom found his commanding officer dead in his quarters, just a block away. The door to the apartment had been blown in by the same sort of explosion that had destroyed Tom’s own. Colonel Friedrich Engels’ body was sprawled across the floor of his living room, half-dressed, with at least two gunshot wounds that Tom could see at a glance. The floor was covered with drying blood. A pistol was lying near the colonel’s body that Tom recognized as belonging to Engels. It was a wheel-lock and the mechanism hadn’t been engaged. Obviously, the attack had come so quickly that Engels had been roused from sleep but hadn’t had time to arm the weapon.
Reluctantly, partly because he didn’t much like the idea of getting his boots soaked in his commander’s blood but mostly because he was pretty sure what he was going to find, Tom stepped over Engels’ body and went into the bedroom. As he’d expected, Engels’ wife Hilde was dead too. Her body was sprawled across the bed. Her neck had a deep gash in it and the bedding was blood-soaked.
Their year-old daughter, who slept in a cradle against the wall, had also been murdered. Also with a sword, at a guess.
Doing his best to control his fury, Tom hurried out of the apartment. He was now certain that the enemy — whoever it was, but it almost had to be the Bavarians — had launched a well-planned and coordinated assault on the city. There was no way they could have managed something like this without the aid of traitors, including traitors in the military.
Tom and Engels had worried about that, but there hadn’t seemed to be much they could do about it at the moment. Tom’s artillery unit was the only one made up entirely of volunteers, mostly recruited by the CoCs in Magdeburg and the State of Thuringia-Franconia. The rest of the soldiers in the regiment were the men left behind by the Swedish general Báner when he left for Saxony with most of his army. Those soldiers were all mercenaries except for the Jaegers and boatmen — the River Rats, as they were called — recruited by Ernst Wettin while he’d been the administrator of the Oberpfalz. Clearly enough, a number of them had been persuaded to switch their allegiance to Duke Maximilian.
Once he was back out on the street, he could hear the sounds of fighting all over the city. He was sorely tempted to return to his quarters and help Rita make her escape, but he had duties of his own. With Engels dead, Tom was now the commanding officer of the regiment — or whatever portions of it, at least, had not defected to the Bavarians.
The one unit he was sure of were his own artillerymen. He’d have to start there. He set off at a run toward their barracks against Ingolstadt’s eastern wall.
“What do we do now?” asked Estelle McIntire, once she’d finished sewing up Rita’s wound and had sterilized it once again. “Sit tight here? Go somewhere? If so, where?”
“And if we do decide to go somewhere,” added Maydene Utt, “everybody better be really well-dressed. We’re in January, not June. January in the Little Ice Age, mind you. Right now, at a guess, the temperature isn’t any higher than fifteen degrees out there — Fahrenheit, I don’t hold with that Centigrade crap.”
Everyone looked at each other, gauging their mutual willingness and ability to brave the conditions of a January night in the middle of Germany. In the Little Ice Age, as Maydene had so kindly pointed out.
They’d almost certainly have to venture out into the countryside, too. Rita had no idea what the military situation looked like, but she was pretty sure it was dire. Tom had told her of his and Friedrich’s worries over the loyalty of many of the garrison troops. It looked as if the worst of those fears had come true, and if so she didn’t think there was much chance Colonel Engels and her husband could hold the city.
She said as much, ending with: “I don’t think we have a lot of choice. I think if we try to hole up here we’ll just wind up getting captured. After that… well, it’s likely to get awfully ugly.”
She didn’t see any reason to dwell on the details. She and Mary Tanner Barancek were young women. Both of them were good-looking, too, to make things worse — but that probably didn’t make much difference if Ingolstadt was sacked. Troops running amok were anything but discriminate. All five of the women were likely to be assaulted. The one man among them, Johann Heinrich Böcler, would get slaughtered out of hand.
Their one chance was the fact that all of them were up-timers except Böcler. Most down-time rulers and military commanders were leery of infuriating Americans for no good purpose, which the brutalization of five American women would certainly do. All the more so since one of them was Mike Stearns’ sister.
First of all, the commanders of this attack probably wouldn’t even learn what was happening to the women until it was too late to stop it. Troops sacking a city were no more discriminate about getting official permission to commit atrocities than they were to commit them in the first place.
And secondly, Maximilian of Bavaria was one of the exceptions. The duke had made quite clear in times past that he held up-timers in no high regard, to put it mildly.
“I really don’t think there’s any choice,” she repeated. “We’ve got to get out of the city.”
Estelle and Willa grimaced. Maydene, stoic as ever, shrugged her shoulders. “I don’t disagree. But we’ll need some horses, or at least a wagon. There’s no way we can manage for very long on foot once we get into the countryside. We’re still hours from dawn. At that, we’re lucky there’s a moon out.”
“What about the Pelican?” said Mary.
Everyone turned to look at her.
“Is it still here?” asked Willa uncertainly.
“And even if it is,” added Estelle, “would it carry all of us?”
Mary nodded vigorously. “It’d carry all of us — easy. And, uh, yeah. It’s still here.” She paused, seeming to avoid her Aunt Willa’s gaze. “Well. At least, it was this morning.”
Fodor glared at her. “I told you to stay away from him!”
Even under the circumstances, as dire as they were, Rita couldn’t help but choke out a laugh. Fodor shifted the glare onto her.
“Give it up, Willa,” Rita said, shaking her head. “Trying to keep nineteen-year-old girls from chasing after boys has been a lost cause since the Stone Age.”
“He’s not a boy! He’s at least ten years older than she is.”
“He is not!” countered Mary hotly. “Stefano’s only twenty-six.”
“Seven years is still too much! Especially when he’s Latin.”
Maydene looked exasperated. “Is that ‘Latin’ as in Eye-talian, Willa? Like a lot of the population of Grantville? In fact, if I recall correctly, wasn’t your high school boyfriend Matt Difabri?”
“He was Italian-American,” Fodor said, defensively. “That Franchetti guy is Italian-Italian. It’s not the same thing.”
“Can we please concentrate on what’s important?” said Estelle. “Worry about Mary’s love life later. If that contraption can get us all out of here, I’m for using it.”
“Me too,” said Rita forcefully. “And there’s no time to lose. By now, Stefano is bound to be trying to get up in the air. We’ve got to catch him before he does.”