1637 – The Polish Maelstrom – Snippet 38
Capital of Lower Silesia
In the end, they decided to take the children with them. Pawel would ride behind Christin; Tekla would ride in front of Jozef. Basically, it was the same seating arrangement–perhaps saddle arrangement would be a better term–that Jozef had adopted when he first encountered Pawel and Tekla and rescued them from their destroyed village. Except that now Jozef had Christin to assume half the burden instead of his carrying both children on one saddle.
He wasn’t any happier at the arrangement, though. He’d have much rather left Pawel and his sister in the relative comfort and safety of Breslau. Christin had found a good family who were willing to take the children in until their adoptive parents could return.
Whenever that might be. Possibly never. Jozef and Christin were going to be riding into harm’s way, after all. Leaving aside whatever perils and challenges they would face in Poznań, first they had to get there–across more than one hundred miles of open country in December. So far, the winter had been comparatively mild, but as far as Jozef was concerned the operative term in that phrase was so far. It would take them at least a week to get to Poznań. In a week, the weather could take all sorts of unfortunate turns.
To make things worse, while the territory they’d be passing through couldn’t exactly be called “war torn,” it had certainly been chewed by the war. The sites of two of the Third Division’s major battles, Swiebodzin and Zielona Gora, were only seventy-five miles west of where they’d be passing. Swiebodzin had been the site of the atrocities committed by some units of the Third Division which had sent Mike Stearns into such a rage that he’d had two dozen of the guilty soldiers executed. Zielona Gora had only been taken after the Third Division effectively destroyed the whole town.
Depopulated it, too. Not by killing its inhabitants but simply by forcing them to flee, just as the residents of Swiebodzin had fled in terror.
Similar events had transpired throughout that part of Poland, and almost all the inhabitants had fled to the east–that is to say, into the territory that Jozef and Christin and two young children would now be passing through. More than a year had gone by, but the area would still be unsettled–“unsettled” being the euphemism used by government officials to refer to areas which were either lawless or where law had been only partially restored.
But the decision hadn’t been made by the adults involved. The decision had been made by the two children, who’d raised such an unholy ruckus at the prospect of being separated from Jozef and Christin that they finally capitulated and agreed to take Pawel and Tekla with them.
“Look at it this way,” Christin had said. “If nothing else, they’ll make our cover story sound better. Who’d suspect a man and a woman with two young children in tow to be nefarious characters?”
Unfortunately for his piece of mind, she’d said that as they were loading up their horses for the journey. Jozef had only to turn his head fifteen degrees to see the very lethal-looking and very up-time-looking rifle that Christin had insisted on bringing with her. It was nestled in a saddle holster that she’d had specially made for the weapon by one of the town’s leather-workers.
A Ruger Mini-14, she called it. In the Poland of the year 1636, she might as well have called it a Buck Rogers ray gun. The minute any down-timer got a good look at it they’d know something was badly amiss. Christin was either an American in disguise or–if her German was good enough to pass, which it might be–someone who had way more money than could be explained. An up-time weapon like that would have cost a fortune.
But she insisted on bringing it.
“Relax, will you?” she’d said, adding the indignity of patting him on the cheek. “Whenever we get to a town, I’ll put it away in the baggage. It’s only three feet long and doesn’t weigh more than maybe six pounds. It’s easy enough to hide.”
“What if someone out in the country spots it?”
“‘Someone out in the country’. Give me a break. Who are we most likely to run into ‘out in the country’ besides a pack of robbers? Wannabe robbers, it’d be better to say. I’m a good shot with that thing and I’ve got 30-round magazines.”
American women could be unnerving sometimes, for all that they so often seemed like delicate creatures compared to their down-time counterparts. Jozef had then fallen back on the chancy tactic of arguing on ordnance grounds.
“Seems like an awfully small caliber.”
“Yup,” she said, nodding. “It’s a .223–otherwise known as a 5.56 millimeter. But it’s got a muzzle velocity right around one thousand meters a second. I don’t care how big a highwayman is–hell, I don’t care if he’s a hussar in full armor–the bastard’s going down. If the first shot doesn’t do it, I can fire three rounds a second.”
Again, she gave him that disrespectful pat on the cheek–which wasn’t improved by her next words: “My husband taught me how to shoot.”
It was a bright, clear day when they rode out of Breslau, heading north. Cold, yes, but it was the sort of cold that was bracing rather than bitter.
The children were in a delighted mood. “This is going to be so much fun!” Pawel predicted, with all the enthusiasm of a six-year-old boy setting off on what he regarded as an adventure.
His sister didn’t say anything. Tekla didn’t know her exact age or even her birthday, but she was somewhere around four years old. Her eyes were big as she gazed at everything around her. She was warm and comfortable, riding just in front of her adoptive father and nestled inside his big furry coat. The world was a wondrous place. She paid no attention at all to her brother’s chatter.
Brno, capital of the Margraviate of Moravia
Kingdom of Bohemia
To Morris Roth, it just looked like chaos. But he was sitting on a horse next to Franz von Mercy, and the general in overall command of the army seemed satisfied.
Well enough, at any rate. He wasn’t exactly what you’d call happy.
Why can’t you keep your men in order, Nottheffer?
Von Mercy had the sort of voice that Morris thought would be quite handy in the noise of a battlefield. Being not more than six feet away from him, though, it got a little hard on the ears.
Von Mercy must have sensed Roth’s unease and confusion. “It’s going well, General Roth, I assure you.” Waving his hand at the column of men marching past them, he added: “The start of a march always looks like this, especially with an army made up of elements that aren’t familiar with each other.”
March. From what Morris could remember of his days in the U.S. Army, what was happening here on the outskirts of Brno was hardly what he’d have called a “march.” It reminded him more of demolition derby, using horses and wagons instead of cars.
But he allowed that his memory might be playing tricks on him. Almost all of his experience with marching had come during basic training, in the tightly circumscribed and highly disciplined environment of Fort Ord, the big army base near Monterey, California.
Big at the time, anyway. He’d learned long afterward that the army had closed most of Fort Ord in the mid-90s. That had produced the sort of reaction someone often gets when they discover that a place remembered vividly but not fondly no longer exists. An odd combination of good riddance to bad rubbish and nostalgia.
Morris tried to remember if he’d marched anywhere once he got to Vietnam. Not that he could recall. So maybe his memories of the well-ordered manner in which the up-time U.S army went from Point A to Point B was so much hogwash. Maybe things had been just as chaotic as this seemed to be.
If he recalled correctly, the up-time military would have referred to this as an “evolution.” If so, apparently they were still in the age of Homo Erectus.
Where did you learn the difference between right and left, Betzinger? Hanging upside down in a cave with bats?