Tuesday, 17 March 2009

On the eve of battle.

The Hetzenberg army marched north over the flood plain of the Eisenwasser, screened by the surviving squadrons of the Rumtopft Dragoons. The regiment had fought a strong defensive action and had retired from direct contact with the enemy only when night fell the previous day. Now they were heading into harm’s way again, probing ahead for the foe.

Infantry Regiment Number One Sleibnitz led the main column. The Colonel rode at the head of the men, his wounded arm tucked into his coat. The injury had hurt less than his wounded pride but the events of the duel were fading into the past as he anticipated the glories to be won in the coming battle. I’ll show that puffed-up bourgeoisie Wohl how a real soldier fights! He thought.

Colonel Wohl himself rode at the head of his regiment, behind that of Sleibnitz. He felt less than his normal calm as he anticipated the coming fight. Am I afraid? He wondered. No, not as much as I expected. He raised his eyes heavenward and murmured a brief prayer. “I commend my future to you, Oh Lord, and pray let me acquit myself well on the morrow.”

General Rauppen-Schlepper rode with his staff and Brigadier-General Schmaltz. Conversation revolved around the charms of Senorita Carmina Intaglio, lead soprano of the National Opera and her coming performance in Herr Wömfondlach’s Der grüne Ritter.

Behind them came Infantry Regiment Brabenachel, with its Colonel striding along at their head with the colors. Joachim Brabenachel had seen action before in service with other armies. Although young he was far from foolish, and was looking forward to the coming battle with a keen anticipation.

And behind them trundled the artillery battery with its train and the army’s baggage. Colonel Wilhelm Sechs-Meilen-Scharfschütze was entertaining Graf Philip and that extraordinary young woman Lieutenant Mary Amadeus. At first he had reacted to her with a degree of stiffness in spite of the Graf’s exalted rank. A woman fighting openly as a soldier? The very idea! The Colonel had thought. It was true more than one woman had fought in disguise. There was a ribald song about the phenomena, titled Woher versteckten Sie Ihre Tits? But within a few minutes of beginning a conversation with her and the Graf, the Colonel’s antipathy had melted away in the face of her charm and their combined erudition on all matters explosive. Indeed, he began to feel a warm glow of anticipation. Can it be we cannon-cockers will gain the recognition we deserve after so long? He wondered. The coming battle will be a chance to show what we can do!

Bringing up the rear was the Bishop of Guggenheim’s Regiment of Horse. With sober black coats and sober officers and men, the regiment reminded more than one observer of the English General Cromwell’s Ironsides. Indeed, Colonel Schenk was said to ride into action with his heavy cavalry sword in one hand and his Bible in the other. Of all the soldiers marching north in the closing hours of the day, he and his stern troopers were the most experienced.

As the daylight began to fade in the west trails of smoke could be seen rising into the air from numerous camp fires, the smoke rising and drifting north on the breeze. To the right, near the river, more smoke rose from a small village. Some distance from this a solitary windmill could be seen, the sails still, locked in place until the next harvest. A number of bright splashes of color amid the natural greens and browns of the countryside denoted the existence of enemy cavalry scouts. They seemed to be aware of the Hetzenberger's approach, but in no mind to contest their advance.

General Rauppen-Schlepper reined in his horse and looked at the scene, using all his long years of experience to judge the ground. “Gentlemen, it appears we have found our enemy and our battlefield.”

General Schmaltz nodded thoughtfully. “I concur.”

Rauppen-Schlepper ordered an aide to ride ahead and order the lead regiments to make camp. As the other regiments came up Schmaltz directed them to their places. All colonels were under standing orders to report to the headquarters tent as soon as their men had been settled. “I shall address a few words to you all,” Rauppen-Schlepper told Schmaltz. “It’s as well to remind everyone what they shall fight for.”

He rode off the trail to allow the artillery and baggage to pass, puffing on his pipe and casting a keen eye over everyone and everything. Graf Philip rode up with his – what, protégé? Even lover? in tow. Rauppen-Schlepper mentally shook his head at the sight of the young woman wearing a gunnery officer’s uniform. What is the world coming to?

“So here we are, Rupert!” Philip said cheerily, as Lieutenant Mary Amadeus saluted him.

“Yes, here we are,” he replied equably, returning the young woman’s salute. “And where do you propose to see the coming action, young lad – ah, Lieutenant?”

“Wherever I’m directed, sir!” she said crisply.

“Colonel Sechs-Meilen-Scharfschütze has offered us both the chance to join him for the action, Rupert. I think we shall avail ourselves of his kind invitation, my dear?”

“Oh yes!”

Her grin was infectious and Rauppen-Schlepper mentally shook his head again, although he was now feeling mellow toward the odd young woman. “Just remember one thing, Lieutenant. On the battlefield incoming missiles have right of way!”

“Yes, sir!” she said, blinking.

“Good. Take post wherever you wish tomorrow; and God go with you both.”

Graf Philip shook his hand. “Thank you, Rupert. Take care yourself. You’re too valuable a man to lose.”

Rauppen-Schlepper inspected his pipe and gave him a quiet smile. “I’m an old soldier, my boy. We never die; we just fade away.”

“Don’t fade too soon!” Philip said cheerily, and rode away with Lieutenant Amadeus riding alongside in obvious discomfort.

Rauppen-Schlepper watched them go. I wonder what warfare will be like when those two young scamps reach my age? Then he sighed. It’s useless to speculate on such things. I have enough to think about in this day and age!
* * * * *
Only a short excerpt today as I'm still busy. Will has returned from holiday and has kindly agreed to fight the coming action soon. Expect a battle report in the next two weeks...


Bluebear Jeff said...

"TWO WEEKS" ?!?!?

Come on, Will, get that battle fought ASAP!

-- Jeff

Martin said...

Hi A.J.,

That was a very vivid word-picture sequence that played in the theater of my mind from your descriptions. I do admire your ability to balance the elements of character conversations, internal dialogues, and plot.

I could almost see the column trudging forward along the roadway. The only thing that was missing was a dog barking in the far off distance. (In all the classic Westerns just before the final shoot-out, there's always a dog yapping its head off.)

Keep up the good work, and I'll try to ENDURE the TWO WEEK CLIFFHANGER!


Fitz-Badger said...

Excellent and evocative, as ever!
Thanks! :D

Capt Bill said...

I have really enjoyed the story line. Keep up the great work!