1635 – The Papal Stakes — Snippet 17

1635 – The Papal Stakes — Snippet 17

* * *

Franchetti screamed, “Pitch the engines down! Full braking thrust!”

Miro complied, yanking the engine angling bar up sharply: the props rotated into an earth-aimed attitude, slowing the descent. The gondola came to an unsteady halt, a mere four feet off the ground.

Juliet — a short, round woman — looked dubiously at the gap that Lefferts, Gerd, and Sherrilyn had already jumped down.

“C’mon!” hissed Lefferts, before disappearing into the down slope tree line, the Gallegione cataract roiling and crashing on its downward tumult about thirty yards to his right.

George Sutherland hopped to the ground — lightly for a man of his size — and held up his arms for his wife. “Down you come, dear.” He said it as if she were descending from a coach after a ride in the country — which is how she exited the airship.

Franchetti glanced back. “Don Estuban, we should –”

“Yes — yes, Virgilio; take us back to the extraction point.”

As Miro and Franchetti swiveled the engines into a down-draft position again, and throttled the burner up, the dirigible rose and swung away from the small meadow.

In the back of the gondola, the one remaining passenger started praying in Latin.

* * *

Tom let the first tactical probe get within twenty-five yards before he fired four times, quickly. Of the three approaching Spaniards, two fell: one, howling and writhing; the other, silently and limp. Having finally given away his position, Tom ducked, just in time to hear a ragged crackle of musketry from both the hamlet and the upslope trail. Perhaps a dozen balls spattered Tom’s sheltering rock, the rotted log, and the ground nearby. Many more hissed into the white, whirling veils of the cataract and beyond, into the trees.

Tom popped up, saw a thin horizontal line of gun smoke diffusing slowly in his direction. He also saw the last Spaniard advancing on his flank, hunched low, pistol and sword at the ready. Tom fired twice at the skirmisher, turned and jumped into the stream, hopping and struggling his way across. The Spaniard’s pistol, and a more distant musket, discharged behind him: either Tom was not hit, or did not feel it. Either way, he continued his uneven progress across the ford, wondering how long the gun smoke would obscure the vision of the Spanish line, and how long it would take them to reload.

* * *

Harry Lefferts was so focused on finding a way to get closer to the cataract that he was completely surprised by the buff-coated man who rose up in front of him. Jerking to a startled halt, Harry squinted into the near-dark: the man’s weapon was an immediate giveaway as to whose side he was on.

Harry moved the barrel of the down-time box-magazine Winchester away from his belly. “Wondered where you guys were,” Lefferts drawled.

“Waiting for you.”

“Oooo, snappy. I like that. You also just about scared me out of my pants.” He looked the mercenary up and down. “You’re pretty damned good. Wanna work for me?”

The man shrugged. “I like my boss.”

“I pay better.”

“I doubt it. And I’ve got a family. Lieutenant Hasting is just down the slope.”

“No time to find him. How are you deployed?”

“Loose skirmish line from here to the river to cover Captain Simpson’s group as they come up the track.” As if to emphasize the harried approach of that group, a clatter of musketry rose above the dull thunder of the cataract.

“Any force closer to the ford?”

“No: none to spare. We’ve only got two squads.”

“You’re only one squad, here. Where’s the other?”

“Landing zone security and uncommitted reserve.”

Harry scowled a little. Frequently, the word “reserve” translated as the hiding place for cowardly commanders. “I see Colonel North is sitting this one out.”

“That’s not how we see it.”

“Well, we can debate that over a beer some time. We’re going in.”

“In? In where?”

Harry pointed in the direction of the recent fusillade. “In there.”

“You’re going to attack the Spanish?”

Harry smiled, waved for the Wrecking Crew to follow him southwest, angling to follow the upslope limit of the woods. “Not directly.”

* * *

Tom reached the other side of the ford just as the muskets started sporadically barking at him again. However, from the sound of it, most of the Spanish were giving chase, not stopping to reload: in the dark, any gunfights at ranges greater than ten yards were pretty much pointless.

Feeling solid ground under his feet, Tom up and sprinted forward, following the cart-track. The pain of his reopened wound returned sharply, now reaching up into his lower back. When the shooting had started, adrenaline had swept the discomfort away, but that relieving rush was gone: soon, he’d start limping, stumbling —

He heard movement upslope, some yards beyond the trees linking the track.

Impossible. There had been no way to cross the cataract higher up: how could the Spanish have anyone on his northern flank?

Desperate, and experiencing true panic for the first time in many years, Tom Simpson found another surge of strength which sent him dashing forward along the track.

* * *

Lieutenant Hastings watched the man and woman help the little priest stumble past his position, and right behind them, an odd couple indeed: a fit, yet clearly older woman with a useless, dangling foot, being almost dragged along by a fit, but equally aged Moor. And, still further back along the track, another very large silhouette was emerging from the darkness . . .

* * *

Corporal Eugenio Morca de Torres clambered out of the frothing current, cocked his miquelet musket, aimed after the fleeing figure, then lowered his weapon. Coño, the big American was fast, even when wounded. He waved for his men to follow and ran in pursuit.

* * *

Harry skidded to a halt, five yards from where the woods ended at the cart track, saw a figure running down there, heading towards North’s forward skirmish line. A big figure. Tom Simpson. Had to be.

Catching a tree branch to slow himself, George Sutherland readied his up-time shotgun, tracking back along the route of Tom’s retreat. Troop sounds — a platoon or more moving quickly — were growing loud enough to rival the cataract back there.

Harry shook his head. “Not yet.”

* * *

Lieutenant Hastings saw that the approaching figure was the large up-timer, Tom Simpson. He was limping and staggering, now: probably both wounded and exhausted. And behind him, only twenty yards or so, the first of the Spanish were visible. And one, in the lead, was stopping, raising his arms…

…drawing a bead?

Lieutenant Hastings brought up his Winchester and yelled, “Get down, Simpson. Squad, fire at will!”

* * *

Tom heard the British accent, almost sobbed in relief, and dove forward with the same gusto and abandon that had propelled him into Ohio State’s end zone when it had been fourth quarter, two minutes left on the clock, and fourth-down-and-goal-to-go from the three-yard line.

* * *

Corporal Torres felt the men on either side of him go down, discharged his musket in the direction of the small and ominously rapid muzzle flashes. Up-time weapons or copies: no doubt about it. But the range was close, and he had fifty men. And since one of their quarry was obviously a Moor, it seemed only right to cry, “Santiago and at them!” Dropping his spent firearm, Torres sprinted forward. Drawing his sword, he swept it back in readiness . . .

* * *

“Now,” said Harry calmly.

Five yards beyond the upslope trees that lined the cart-track, the nine members of the Wrecking Crew unleashed a near-uniform volley from their trademark pump shotguns. With the center of the ragged enemy column now directly abreast of the Crew, the carnage was startling. More than a dozen Spaniards sprawled, blood black in the early moonlight.

The lethal, hollow-tube sound of the shotguns’ cycling actions — the dull ker-throonk of rounds being fed back and up from under-barrel magazines — offered a faint counterpoint chorus before they roared again. Other sounds of twentieth century slaughter added to the waves of sound, echoing off the rocks of the Val Bregaglia several more times before giving way to absolute silence.


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13 Responses to 1635 – The Papal Stakes — Snippet 17

  1. Peter S says:

    I’m gonna interpret this as meaning that Tom makes it through the fight alive.

    • Robert H. Woodman says:

      He has too, unless that was his ghost we saw in The Saxon Uprising, which happens the following year.

  2. Et1swaw aka Rob says:

    Nice L-ambush. Harry’s been readin’ books or sumpthin’!!

    Two squads of North’s men and Harry’s Wrecking Crew, why do I have the more than vague impression those poor 50 – 100 spaniards are toast?

    • akira.taylor says:

      Well, they are already having a very bad day. Really, given that they are facing ready troops, in the dark, it will rapidly become the course of wisdom to back off. Now, will their orders allow that? Don’t know.

      Now, how North’s men will get out, we don’t know. (They won’t fit on the airship, and will thus have to withdrawal on foot – not a fun prospect in the face of a numerically superior enemy.)

      • Et1swaw aka Rob says:

        From what I gather; only Tom Simpson’s party will be withdrawing by air.

        Both North with his men and Harry with his Wrecking Crew have follow-on missions in the works AFAIK.
        Only a portion of North’s company (two squads) is currently providing cover for the planned extraction (now a rescue) while the remainder is elsewhere.
        The Wrecking Crew will use this as their insertion for their mission towards Frank Stone and his wife.

        Both North’s and Harry’s personnel are armed with a mixture of uptime and state-of-the-art downime weaponry.
        So though they are GREATLY outnumbered, their actual firepower is most likely greater than that of the Spaniards facing them!
        Their accuracy and combat effectiveness will certainly exceed that of those facing them IMO!!

        As for breaking contact and exfilling from the area: IMO ANY survivors of the attacking soldiers after this ambush will be in no mood or shape to pursue!!
        Most of them were having fun chasing down their prey (albeit one with teeth (Tom Simpson’s return fire)) when a good portion are suddenly struck down in the dark by what seems a great number of multishot weapons (or what seems a multitude of people firing at them (one pump shotgun can fire a minimum of four rapid fire shots so Harry’s nine seems like forty or more even before the amplification of fear and North’s squad’s fire is added).
        Unless HIGHLY motivated IMO they are NOT going to stick their ‘unmentioned body part’ back into that meat grinder by continuing pursuit!!!!!!

        And with the sight of the LTA getting away (if noticed) they can escuse themselves by deciding everybody got away on it (even when the slightest thought would determine otherwise)!


    • Bret Hooper says:

      More like mincemeat!

  3. Ron Johnson says:

    Teeny complaint. I thought it was established that Tom was a lineman. If so, the football comment isn’t quite right. Linemen do sprint, and it’s often a desperate play. Things like chasing down a guy on a fumble, or hustling downfield for a critical block or (on the defensive side) chasing down a ball carrier. The actual description reads to me like he was carrying the ball.

    No biggie to be sure.

    • Eric Flint says:

      You’re right — but I caught that while correcting the page proofs. It won’t appear in the book itself.

      • Doug Lampert says:

        If you’re answering questions, did the people disembarking from the blimp hold onto ropes till it was time for it to go? It seems like once one or two are off it should head up fast almost regardless of what the engines are doing.

  4. Xellos-_^ says:

    could someone explain to me why Frank and Gia didn’t leave with Sharon and ther others when Borgia invaded?

  5. Xellos-_^ says:

    I thought they were in their tavern when the invasion begin?

    or knowing a invasion was eminent, why not withdraw to the embassy?

    • Et1swaw aka Rob says:

      They were surrounded and then captured before they could withdraw to the embassy. There was no chance of extraction by the time Sharon’s new hubby got to the area. He withdrew to rejoin the embassy party in their bugout. Though he and Tom did bypass/detour in order to rescue Urban and I believe Urban’s nephew was met along the way.
      As for knowing the invasion was imminent, AFAIK no one knew. Even the embassy’s bugout was rushed and in the midst of Borja’s takeover.
      Frank’s pizzaria/tavern was one of the primary objectives (along with the Cardinals supporting Urban and the USE Embassy (where they arrived too late)) that the forced-marched troops were tasked with. He was a vulnerable uptimer with known ties to the CoCs which made him a prime target!! The Lefferteri?sp? were targeted later for the same reasoning.

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