1636: The Ottoman Onslaught – Snippet 28
The children seemed paralyzed with fear, still. Jozef knelt down and gave the girl’s face a gentle caress. “I won’t hurt you, I promise. But you can’t stay here forever. Come with me and I’ll take you someplace safe.”
He had no idea where that might be, but he couldn’t simply ride off and leave them here. They were too young to survive for very long on their own. The boy might, but the girl would surely die.
“Why does God seem to have such a grudge against poor Poland?” he muttered. Jozef had an insouciant temperament and was generally good-humored. But by now the contrast between Poland’s feckless rulers and the people he’d come to know in Dresden was becoming downright grotesque. Were he not a son of Poland and quite attached to his homeland, he’d have instantly traded King Wladyslaw and the whole miserable worthless Sejm for a printer’s daughter named Gretchen, a former tavern maid named Tata, and a one-time gunmaker become quite a good officer named Eric Krenz.
The children were still frozen in place, like two little statues. Josef got back on his feet, leaned over, and picked the girl up in his arms. She did not try to resist, nor did she make any sound.
“Don’t hurt Tekla!” the boy cried out, reaching out his hand. “Please don’t!”
His Polish had a heavy rural accent, but was obviously his native tongue.
Jozef cradled the girl in one arm and reached down with his other hand. “I won’t hurt her. Or you. Now come, boy. We have to leave here. What’s your name?”
Hesitantly, the boy reached up, took Jozef’s proffered hand and levered himself upright.
“I’m Pawel. Pawel Nowak.”
“Where is your family, Pawel?”
The boy looked distressed. His eyes moved toward one of the wrecked buildings and then shied away. “Gone. All of them except me and Tekla. They killed my father and uncle. My older brother Fabek also. My mother… I don’t know what happened to her. The soldiers took her away. I think she was hurt.”
By the end he was starting to weep. So was the girl. Jozef put an arm around Pawel’s shoulders and drew him close, while cradling Tekla more tightly.
So he remained for a while, until the children were cried out.
“Come on, now,” he said. “We have to get moving.”
“Where are we going?”
“We’ll spend tonight in Boleslawiec.” Since the children were Polish, he used the Polish name for the town. “After that… I have to get to Wroclaw.”
Pawel’s eyes widened. “But that’s so far away!”
The distance from Boleslawiec to Wroclaw wasn’t actually that great. Perhaps eighty miles — certainly not more than a hundred. A few days on horseback, no more. But for a Silesian village boy, it would have seemed almost as far away as Russia or France. If he even knew where those countries were located, which he probably didn’t.
After some experimentation, Josef found that the best way for the three of them to ride was with Pawel sitting behind him holding on and Tekla perched on his lap. It was awkward and it was going to be uncomfortable for all them, especially the poor horse. But at least today they didn’t have very far to go.
Tomorrow and the days thereafter… were tomorrow and the days thereafter. There were advantages to having Jozef’s temperament. He wasn’t given to worrying overmuch about what the future might hold.
He found a fairly decent tavern in Boleslawiec that had a room to rent. The food was mediocre but edible. The biggest drawback to the situation was that the tavern’s barmaids seemed quite friendly but with two children in tow he found himself unable to proceed as he normally would.
So, he retired for the night sooner than usual. When he got back to the room he’d rented, he found that Pawel and Tekla were already sound asleep. They were cuddled together so tightly that he’d have more space on the bed than he’d expected.
He’d already placed the batteries in the radio before he’d left Dresden. So all he had to do was place the antenna out of the window. Then, patiently, he began spelling out the Morse code.
“You wanted me, Grand Hetman?” Lukasz Opalinski didn’t quite come to attention — Polish military protocol was fairly relaxed about such things — but his tone was respectful and alert. Koniecpolski was not in the habit of summoning one of his junior officers on a passing whim. Something important must be brewing.
The top commander of the army of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth looked up from a piece of paper in his hand. Silently, he extended the hand to give the paper to Lukasz.
In radio contact again. In Bunzlau. Need to meet with someone in Wroclaw. Have two children need care. Nephew.
“Two children?” Lukasz couldn’t keep from laughing out loud. “I wouldn’t have thought even Jozef could have sired two bastards in the time he’s been gone.”
Koniecpolski smiled. “I don’t understand about the children either. But if he says he needs to meet with someone, we must see to it. My nephew is brash but he’s no fool.”
Lukasz had already thought ahead. “I’m free at the moment — not much for a hussar to do in this sort of siege — and I’ve been to Wroclaw. I wouldn’t say I know the city well, but I do know it.”
Koniecpolski nodded. “Off you go, then. It’s about a hundred miles or so. If he’s in Boleslawiec with two children you’ll get to Wroclaw about the same time he does.” The Grand Hetman frowned slightly. “I don’t know why he used the German name for it.”
Lukasz shrugged. “They’re a rude and abrupt folk, so their names are usually shorter. That matters when you’re using Morse.”
“Ah. I hadn’t considered that.” Koniecpolski was aware that there was some sort of code usually involved in radio transmission, but he’d probably never actually heard it used. He would have simply been given already-translated messages.
Lukasz was in very good spirits on his way out. Sieges were boring.
Lower Silesia, between Legnica and Wroclaw
“There’s someone up on the hill,” Tekla said. Her tone was anxious. “In the trees. I think they’re trying to hide.”
“I see them,” said Jozef. He’d actually spotted the men before the girl had, half a minute earlier. The “hill” she referred to was more of a slight elevation just a few yards off to the left side of the narrow road they were following. The landscape was mostly flat, as was generally the case in the basin formed by the Oder river. They were quite a ways north of the Sudetes Mountains which formed most of the southern border of Silesia.
But there were occasional rises in the terrain, often wooded, and at least three men were on the one just ahead of them. They were indeed trying to hide — none too adroitly — and it was quite obvious the reason they were doing so was because this clumsy effort was their idea of an ambush.