1636: The Ottoman Onslaught – Snippet 56
On the Isar River in Bavaria
A few miles north of Munich
Tom Simpson surveyed the Isar River, paying particular attention to the two barges moored to the nearby dock, each of which was carrying a ten-inch naval rifle. The barges were more like big rafts than anything else. The Isar was very shallow in a lot of places. That was part of the reason it had taken them so many days to get the rifles down here.
“Let me see if I can translate my commanding general’s Newspeak into some resemblance of the King’s English,” he said, turning to face Mike Stearns. “After I’ve spent weeks busting my ass — well, okay, I’m an officer; busting my ass busting grunts’ asses — in order to get you the naval rifles the Bavarians spiked and in the case of two of them tried to drown, you want me to figure out ways to slow down our progress with the two still-soggy bastards.”
Tom jerked a thumb at the two rifles on the barges. “Or do you want me to roll these over and dump them into the Isar? That way, we’ll have four soggy bastards.”
Mike Stearns pursed his lips thoughtfully. “I’m sure there’s something in military regulations that prohibits subordinate officers from being excessively sarcastic.”
Tom grunted. “Probably would be, if the USE military had a Uniform Code of Military Justice, which we don’t. So that means down-time rules apply and since I’m your brother-in-law I get to be sarcastic. I’m afraid the major general is just going to have to suck it up.”
“Since you insist on speaking the King’s English, your assessment is pretty much correct.” Mike nodded toward the two guns on the barges. “Those will do fine for starting to beat down Munich’s walls.”
“Go faster with four of ’em.”
“I don’t want it to go faster. We’re not going to be launching any assaults so casualties will be light and almost all of them will be Bavarian because those ten-inch rifles have a much longer range than anything the Bavarians can shoot back with. We can take our time reducing the walls. If we speed it up that just means I have to order a ground assault sooner and I’m still hoping to avoid that altogether.”
Tom didn’t say anything for a few seconds. Then, sighing a little, he took off his hat and ran fingers through his thick hair. “You’re playing a risky game, Mike. If Gustav Adolf figures out that you’re stalling him, there’ll be hell to pay.”
“Not… exactly. Or maybe I should say it’s not that simple.” Mike removed his own hat and copied Tom’s fingers-through-the-hair movement. “Gustav Adolf is a very smart man and about as experienced a general as any alive. I’m sure he’s already figured out that I’m slowing everything down. But what he thinks and what he knows — and can prove — are two different things, and the political risks cut both ways. His authority is solid on the surface but it’s still spongy-soft on the inside, because of everything that happened after Lake Bledno. He can’t afford an open clash with me — not for a while, at least — over something that’s so murky he can’t prove that I’m guilty of anything.”
He put the hat back on his head, wishing for a moment that military protocol didn’t insist on the blasted things. In cold weather, hats were splendid. On a warm day in late May, coupled with a uniform that was too heavy for the season to begin with, they were a damn nuisance.
But, customs were customs — for no institutions as rigidly as armies, except maybe some churches. So, the hat went back on his head. Generals had to sweat just like grunts did.
Not as much, of course. They got to ride horses and were exempt from manual labor. But they had to sweat some.
“Besides, I’m not actually that sure just how bound and determined our emperor is to squash Maximilian like a bug,” he added.
Tom’s eyes widened a little. “I thought he was hard as nails on that subject.”
“Officially, yes.” Mike barked a little laugh. “I’ve seen him do his inimitable roar on the subject in front of a room full of officials and courtiers. When he wants to, that man can bellow like nobody’s business.”
“I’ve heard him,” said Tom, wincing. “But you’re saying you think it’s an act?”
Mike shrugged. “With Gustav Adolf, you can’t ever be sure. He’s got intimidation down to a science and he’s usually playing the power game on several levels — simultaneously, mind you, not sequentially.”
“I’m not sure what that means.”
“There was bound to be at least one Bavarian spy in that room, who heard Gustav Adolf swear that he would see Maximilian’s corpse trampled under oxen and the remains scattered to the winds.”
“An actual spy? Really?”
Mike shrugged again. “Define ‘spy.’ I doubt if there’s anyone at court in Magdeburg who’s the Bavarian equivalent of James Bond. But someone who’s willing to let his palm get greased for information, from time to time? By persons whose identity and purpose remains carefully unstated? There’s probably a dozen of those.”
“So Maximilian is sure to know that Gustav Adolf has vowed to have him die a horrible death, which means — maybe — you never know with that bastard either –”
“That he’ll be more willing to cut a deal. Gotcha.” Tom took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Then, grimaced.
“Okay, boss. One slowdown coming up. You do realize I’m going to have to let some of my men in on it? I can’t fake it entirely on my own.”
“Yeah, I figured that. But I think we’ve got at least a month before Gustav Adolf starts making a fuss about it.”
“Oh, yeah. Even without screwing off, it took you this long to get just one of the guns out of the river — and it was the easier of the two.”
Tom’s expression was on the sour side. “Ten-inch guns are heavier than hell and the Danube’s a muddy river. It didn’t take long before they were buried in the river bed — if you want to call that muck a ‘bed’ — and we’re working with seventeenth century technology. What slowed us down the most, though, was that you didn’t leave me more than skeleton crew to do the work.”
“Oh, come on! You had a bigger crew than that. I figure it was closer to a starving-concentration-camp-inmate-sized crew.”
“You did that on purpose,” Tom said accusingly. “I can see it all now.”
“I did have a major campaign on my hands against one of the most redoubtable armies in Europe. I did face a very competent and experienced opposing general. I did need every good artilleryman I could get my hands on.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah — and I’m sure you pointed all that out to the emperor in your reports. At great length.”
“Actually, no. Gustav Adolf knows me too well. If I’d droned on and on about how tough I had it, he would have gotten suspicious right away.”
“Well… true. Your style when it comes to stuff like that is more along the lines of ‘piece of cake’ and ‘consider it done.’ My wife — that would be your sister, who’s known you her whole life — thinks you sometimes suffer from overconfidence.”
“So does my wife,” agreed Mike, “except Becky usually leaves off the ‘sometimes’ part.”
After inspecting his wife and daughter’s new quarters — which were his too, technically, but he figured he wouldn’t be there very often on account of the cavalry patrols he’d be leading — Alex Mackay pronounced them adequate but no better, marched to the open door and stood in the doorway glaring at the inhabitants of the town beyond. Best to dishearten the Bavarian swine right off, lest they begin entertaining notions of rebellion against their new rightful masters.
And mistresses — even if the one whose well-being he was particularly concerned with had a lackadaisical attitude.
“Oh, leave off, Alex!” Julie scoffed. “There’s nobody out there for you to scowl at in the first place.”
It was true that none of Freising’s indigenous residents were visible from the doorway, but that could be due to their cunning. Bands of them might be out there lurking in cellars and whatnot, just waiting for nightfall when they would sortie and commit unspeakable depredations —
“Leave off, I said!” Julie now had her hands planted on her hips and was scowling even more fiercely than her husband. “The town’s been swept twice and there aren’t more than twenty people still living here — because they’re all too old to move around much anymore, or they’re immediate family members who had the gumption to stay behind to take care of their old folks and what you ought to be doing is figuring out how they might get a little help.”