1635: The Wars For The Rhine – Snippet 35
Linz, Austria, The Scribe
October 1, 1634
“My, my, look what the cat just dragged in.” The lean dark haired man threw the cards he was holding down on the scarred table and picked up his goblet. “Hansi, my dear, stop fondling Dannwitz’s purse and find Lieutenant Peckerbun a mug of hot beer.”
The other card players half-turned in their seats and looked at the mud-splashed young officer standing in the doorway. Despite the table littered with cards, dirty plates, bottles and smoking pipes, the room had suddenly taken on a decidedly businesslike air.
Lieutenant Simon Pettenburg gave a silent sigh, and handed the dispatch to his — hopefully temporarily — commanding officer. Colonel Wolf von Wildenburger-Hatzfeldt was a good combat officer, but off the battlefield, the Wolf tended to spend his time drinking, gambling, wrenching, and setting up elaborate jokes of a kind he really should be too old to find funny. Having his own name repeatedly changed in some ribald way hadn’t really bothered Simon once he realized that the Wolf was always extremely correct and polite towards people he didn’t like, but Simon’s slight build and boyish face already made it difficult to get the respect due an officer, and the nicknames didn’t help.
“Where’s the general?” Captain von Dannwitz reached behind the Wolf to pull a stool around for Simon.
“In Bonn.” Simon sat down and accepted the mug from the barmaid, while trying to ignore the breasts she pressed against his neck when leaning over to remove the empty jugs in the middle of the table. “Duke Wilhelm of Hessen-Kassel is besieging the town, but the general managed to get out letters before the town was closed off. This came through his brother in Mainz.” Simon nodded towards the dispatch, which the Wolf was slitting open.
“And just where were you and Sergeant Mittelfeldt?” Like the other men around the table Colonel Lorentz had known General Melchior von Hatzfeldt since serving with him in Wallenstein’s campaigns several years ago, and hadn’t liked their old friend and commander-in-chief going off with only the sergeant to guard his back and Simon to carry his messages.
“The sergeant took a tumble when his horse slipped. His thigh landed on a wooden spike and the wound festered. We got him to Frankfurt and the general paid for the new American medicine so the leg didn’t rot, but the general ordered me to stay with the sergeant, and only continue when we both could travel.”
Simon drank of the warm, spicy beer, and felt his body starting to thaw. It had been a cold two week’s journey across Bavaria with soaking rain and temperatures close to freezing. He hadn’t quite been able to avoid the fighting along the Danube, and considering the general chaos, he’d kept his armor on even at night. As a result the padded tunic he wore under everything else had never really dried, and he’d never really been warm.
“What’s the situation in Bavaria?” The Wolf looked up from the dispatch with no sign of his previous lazy amusement.
“Bad, Sir.” Simon lifted his mug and looked at the barkeeper to signify that he wanted another serving. “The Protestant armies under Báner have taken Ingolstadt and is said to be in control of everything north of the Danube.”
“Never mind Báner.” Wolf leaned forward and fixed his full attention on Simon. “I want to know if Bavaria is passable or we would have to fight our way across it?”
“Perhaps you better tell us what’s in the dispatch from the general, Wolf.” Old Colonel Dehn met the Wolf’s angry stare with calm. Dehn had been the officer usually given the over-all command when the general had to leave the regiments, and while he had made it clear that he didn’t mind the younger man being put in charge this time, everybody also knew that the Wolf would need his support for anything involving all the regiments.
“Are you challenging my authority, Dehn?” Wolf leaned back in his seat and picked up his goblet with his narrowed eyes still fixed on Dehn.
“Hmpf! Pretty words from somebody, who usually think authority is a town up by the Baltic Sea.” Dehn looked totally undisturbed by what Simon knew could easily lead to a duel. “What I’m saying is that you’re excellent at scouting missions, not bad at tactics, but your big scale strategies stink. So if you plan to take some of my men along on one of your hare-brained escapades without a direct order from either the Emperor or the general, I’ll box your ears, m’boy.”
The Wolf looked somewhat surprised at the words from the usually taciturn Dehn, then he threw back his head and roared with laughter with the other officers joining him only a moment later.
“Very well, old man. You win this one.” Wolf smiled and reached across the table to hand Dehn the dispatch.
“Hm.” Dehn quickly scanned the two handwritten pages. “So the general is cornered, has nothing with which to fight his way out, and will try stalling and negotiating. And the date?” He turned back to the first page. “Almost five weeks since he wrote it. When did you get this, Lieutenant?”
“The dispatch was almost two weeks from Bonn to Frankfurt, probably because it was brought to Mainz by the sergeant’s cousin who had to row up the Rhine while playing hide and seek with the Hessians. After that I was more than a week in reaching Bavaria, as the shortest road is almost destroyed by the heavy rains, and finally another week across Bavaria from Regensburg.” Simon looked around the table. He was the most experienced of the couriers in the six regiments under contract to General Melchior von Hatzfeldt, and while he didn’t have the longstanding relationship with his superior officers that would permit dropping all formality, he also didn’t want the general to lack the backup he needed because Simon wouldn’t open his mouth for fear of overstepping his rank. “There’d be problems getting even a single regiment along the northern roads in time to be of any help for the general, but taking the Bavarian route might take even longer despite the better roads. It’s bad there. Everybody is looking over their shoulders and putting up defenses, but it isn’t Báner they are worried about.”
“A peasant uprising?” Dehn frowned at Simon.
“No. The Ram was mentioned, but only in whispers.” Simon swallowed and tried to gather his thoughts to explain what had bothered him. “Colonel Lorentz, you once told about the inquisition gaining force in your home town, how everybody feared to gather or talk, and was watching their neighbors. It was more like that. My papers were checked several times during a single day rather than just when I wanted to enter a walled town for the night. It was also difficult to buy travel food even in inns, as if everybody were hoarding their stores. No one was really willing to talk to me, and what I managed to overhear indicated that strangers of any kind simply wasn’t welcome.” Simon took a deep breath. “And that the people they were most worried about were those working for Duke Maximillian. The opinion seems to be that he’s gone insane.”
“Well, those rumors made it here as well.” The Wolf looked up into the smoke curling about the blackened beams beneath the roof. “Before starting back towards Cologne in August Melchior told me that he couldn’t take the regiments with him across Bavaria without a direct order from the Emperor, and even then Maximillian might decide to take it as an attack. The old emperor was dying in Vienna, but Archduke Ferdinand gave my cousin plenipotentiary powers in making any deal and taking any action that would keep the middle Rhine in Catholic hands.”
“Was that the exact wording?” Dannwitz pushed away his goblet, and waved away the maid.
“I didn’t read it, but that was how Melchior phrased it.”
“Hm. And no new orders from Vienna since the funeral.” Dehn started rubbing his goblet with a fingertip, a sure sign that he was thinking and didn’t like his own thoughts.
“Exactly.” The Wolf started to grin. “And asking for new orders would add at least another couple of weeks. Any dispatches going on to Vienna, Lieutenant?”
“No, sir. Just the letter for you. Unless somebody else has travelled faster than me, Vienna is unaware of Hesse’s attacking Bonn and Cologne. When the general left us in Frankfurt, he was only concerned with the problems created by Archbishop Ferdinand of Cologne, and Hesse seemed fully occupied with conquering Berg.”