1637 – The Polish Maelstrom – Snippet 45
She also now understood why neither he nor Krenz nor Bravnicar–the veteran officers of that polyglot army–were very worried about the final assault on Krakow. Gretchen had been disquieted when she realized that they expected it would take at least three days, probably four and possibly five, to make the march from Bytom to Krakow. By that time, she’d wondered, surely the Polish garrison would be alert and ready to defend the city.
When she’d raised that with Jeff in private, he’d reassured her that she was overly anxious.
“First off, that garrison’s probably not Polish. Not mostly, anyway. Krakow’s been out of the line of fire for years now. The PLC government’s had more pressing places to put their better troops. The men guarding Krakow will be… well, not the dregs of the earth. But they certainly won’t be what you’d call an elite unit.
“Secondly, they have no aircraft; no planes, no airships. That means they have to use cavalry to do reconnaissance and tell them what’s headed their way. Either that or get a warning from the local residents. Third, it’s winter and whatever cavalry they have is going to be reluctant to go out on patrol and will almost certainly shirk their duty when they do go out. See point one about sub-standard troops in the garrison. The cavalry won’t be any different from the foot soldiers, so far as that goes.”
“But what about–?”
He held up his hand to cut her off. “A warning brought by patriotic local residents? Fourth, it’s winter and sensible peasants are going to be even less willing to venture out in the cold than Krakow’s cavalry. Most of the time, the reason local residents bring warnings to cities about to be besieged is because they’ve been driven out of their homes or terrified into running because the approaching invaders have been committing atrocities.”
For just a moment, Jeff’s face had seemed twenty years older and fifty degrees colder. “That will not happen with this army. Not when the Hangmen are here. Finally, we will have our cavalry out on patrol ahead of the rest of the army and they won’t be shirking their duty. So if an unlikely Polish cavalry patrol does show up–or a handful of fleeing civilians, who’ll be on foot–Bravnicar and his men will deal with them.”
He shrugged. “Nothing’s guaranteed, not in life and even less in war. But I figure the odds are working way over in our favor.”
She had a brief image of a mob of odds–they looked like squirrels, oddly enough–racing over to pile up on one side of a scale. She had to shake her head to get rid of it. “All right, I see that. But…”
That was the moment when it finally came into focus for her. All the while, she realized, she’d been thinking of Jeff as the eighteen-year-old boy she’d fallen in love with.
But he wasn’t eighteen any longer, just as she was no longer the young woman she’d been then. Already tough and brave–she knew that for sure–but still unsure of herself in so many ways. Since…
The early work to create and build the Committees of Correspondence, culminating in Operation Kristallnacht. The Croat raid on the high school, which she’d played a leading role in driving off. The siege of Amsterdam. The siege of Dresden. She’d grown so much since the Battle of the Crapper outside of Badenburg. Not just grown–expanded. Why should not the same be true of her husband?
“You’ve expanded,” she said, taking his head in her hands and bringing it down so she could kiss him. “I hadn’t realized how much.”
After she broke off the kiss and he straightened up, Jeff glanced down at his midriff. Looking a bit aggrieved, he said: “Hey, I think I’ve lost some weight.”
The first elements of Morris Roth’s Grand Army of the Sunrise showed up three days after Ulrik’s army arrived in Bytom.
“My apologies for being delayed,” General von Mercy said to the prince and Jeff, after getting off his horse. They had waited for him a short distance from the town. Looking around at the countryside, von Mercy added: “Judging by the snowfall, the storm was worse–quite a bit worse–on the route we took.”
That wasn’t surprising. The Bohemian army had had a shorter distance to march–Bytom was only sixty-five miles from Ostrava, whereas the Silesian forces had come almost twice that far. But the Silesians had an easy march down a well-established trade route in comparatively flat country. Von Mercy’s forces had come across the Sudetes Mountains.
“No matter,” said Prince Ulrik. “In some ways, it’s an advantage since”–he spread his hands apologetically–“the town is so crowded there are no billets left and your men will have to camp in the open.”
Von Mercy smiled. “Which, after a few days, would lead to grumbling and complaint. But as it is, we won’t be staying here very long.”
He cocked an eye at Colonel Higgins. Not Ulrik, which was perhaps undiplomatic, but von Mercy understood quite well who was really commanding the Silesian army. “How soon?” he asked.
“As soon as the air force arrives.”
Higgins turned to his left and pointed into the distance at something too far away for von Mercy to make it out clearly. It looked like an open field with a few newly-built huts off to one side. “There’s the airfield. We just finished it last night. Eddie Junker should be arriving by mid-afternoon.”
He lowered his hand. “It’s about as primitive an airfield as you could ask for, but it should do the trick.”
Do the trick. Von Mercy groped at the meaning. He was in the process of learning Amideutsch, and was finding the experience to be contradictory. The language–German dialect, call it whatever you wanted–was quite easy to learn in some respects. He appreciated the practically non-existent declensions and simplified conjugations. But it was difficult in others. The mix of Low German words among the base Middle German was random and the horde of American loan words posed a challenge, especially the slang.
The young American officer must have sensed his uncertainty. “It’s good enough for the job at hand,” he explained.
“Ah.” Von Mercy nodded. “So we will have superb reconnaissance throughout the assault.”
“Best you could ask for.” Higgins held up a cautioning finger. “As long as the weather’s fair. The planes we have can’t handle bad weather or bad visibility. ‘Flying by instruments’ amounts to the pilot wetting his finger and sticking it out of the window.”
The meaning of the last sentence was also unclear to von Mercy, but he thought he grasped the gist of it.
“In any event,” Higgins continued, “we think it would be best if we only used the airplane on the last day. If we have it buzzing over Krakow for several days, that might alert the garrison that something’s up.”
Buzzing. Something’s up. But, again, von Mercy thought he grasped the essence.
“That makes sense,” he said. “But I ask again: how soon will we begin the march on Krakow?”
Higgins exchanged a glance with the prince. With a slight nod of his head, Ulrik indicated he should answer the question.
“You’ll need to rest your troops,” said Higgins. “For how long?”
“A day should be sufficient.” Von Mercy looked around again. “Staying here longer than that, in these primitive conditions, will grow tiring quickly. Best we get to Krakow as soon as possible.”
“Day after tomorrow, then. Bright and early.”
Bright and early. Was it impossible for Americans to speak plainly?
Gretchen was in a very passionate mood that night, so the army’s commander got less rest than most of his soldiers. He did not complain, however.
The next morning, he rose before she did to brew them some tea. When he came back into their bedroom he was carrying two cups. They had a separate room, unlike almost anyone else in Bytom. Gretchen had insisted on that, not in order to exalt her status but because she had foreseen the events of the night before. More precisely, she’d planned them herself.
He handed her one of the cups. “I’d better get out there and see how everything’s coming along.”
It was still dark outside. “That’s not true. You have good subordinate officers. They can handle things for a while yet. Take off your clothes and get back into bed.”
He smiled, set his cup down, and began carrying out the Lady Protector’s commands. “Yes, dear,” he said.