The surviving jagers worked through the side streets and alleys of Wentwitz, trading shots with the elusive militia, ever alert to the possibility of ambush.
Since the death of the captain Lieutenant Johann Weissmuller had felt keenly the pressures of leadership upon him. The situation of his unit was not the best. “We want to avoid serious trouble, sergeant,” he said as they neared the approach to the bridge. “I’m acutely aware of our dwindling ammunition supply. It will not permit a sustained fight.”
“I think we will avoid trouble for now, sir,” the Old Man growled. “The town militia seems to be disengaging and we’re closing with the bridge.”
A volley of musketry crashed out not far away. “But those two line companies are still in play,” Weissmuller observed. “Send two men to scout ahead and pinpoint the enemy’s location.”
“Very good, sir,” the Old Man said, saluting. “Kleiner! Träger! At the double..!”
* * *
Fahnjunker Gruber trotted up and saluted. “The militia is ready to comply with your wishes, sir. Their leader says they’re still in contact with those jager but he thinks they’re not going to contest the matter further.” A grin cracked the dirt and sweat on Gruber’s face. “They seem to have had enough, sir!”
‘Haven’t we all, lad!” Brabenachel turned to shout his orders. “Captain Reis, on my command withdraw your company by platoons and head over there,” he said, pointing to the northern suburb. “Captain Vogelmesch, you are to follow when Reis’ company is clear. Lieutenant Walschen, you are to withdraw in time with your parent company and rejoin it once you are clear of the street.” The officers responded. Brabenachel took a kerchief from his pocket and pinned it on the point of his sword. “Cease fire!” he called, stepping forward through the ranks.
The enemy moved forward but stopped on command when their officers saw Brabenachel approach holding aloft a white flag. Their ranks parted and the colonel of the leading regiment stepped forward. “You wish to parlay, sir?” he called.
“I do, sir. I am Colonel Brabenachel, commanding this detachment.”
“Colonel Jertz, commanding the Margraf’s Third Regiment of the Line.”
“Your servant, sir,” Brabenachel said with a bow.
“Yours, sir,” Jertz responded. “Your regiment fought us well at Viehdorf.”
“Thank you, Colonel. You were worthy opponents.”
Each bowed to the exchange of compliments. “What may I do for you, Colonel Brabenachel?”
“My companies will withdraw into this northern suburb and allow you uncontested passage, sir,” Brabenachel said, indicating the direction. “We will ensure the militia follows our movement.”
“I thank you, Colonel.” Jertz smiled. “We could, or course, have made a passage ourselves…”
“Eventually, perhaps,” Brabenachel smiled, “but not without further grievous loss of life. I will add, Colonel, this arrangement will not extend to the riverine navy forces currently awaiting you on the river. They are not under my command.”
Jertz stroked his moustaches thoughtfully. “I see. Your navy has established a certain reputation for effective action.”
“I’m sure they will be delighted to hear it.”
Jertz regarded him. “This matter needs to be addressed by a higher ranking officer than I. For now, shall we agree that we can maintain our positions in this street without further hostilities whilst your companies withdraw?”
“That will be satisfactory.”
“I shall contact you as soon as we have received instructions, Colonel,” Jertz said then bowed. “Your servant, sir!”
* * *
“What’s going on, men?” the Old Man asked as Kleiner and Träger trotted back.
“A lot of bleedin’ bowing and scraping, sergeant, is what.” Kleiner grinned but shut up when Träger nudged him in the ribs. The lieutenant was frowning at their levity.
Träger saluted him. “The ‘Bergers parlayed under a flag of truce, sir; then they and the militia withdrew into the streets the other side of the main drag.”
“Interesting! What are our troops doing?”
“Standing there like lemons, sir!”
Träger nudged Kleiner again and the big man shut up.
“It sounds like they’re allowing us passage, sir,” the Old Man suggested, giving Kleiner a warning look.
“It does, sergeant. There is, however, still the question of crossing the bridge. If the enemy navy can be persuaded to let us pass, all will be well. If not…” His words hung in the air and those who heard them shivered. “Quite.” The lieutenant stiffened then nodded. “Let us make contact with the main column, sergeant. We need guidance from our superiors.”
Kleiner, Träger and the Old Man exchanged glances but there was nothing to be said in the face of a direct order. “Very good, sir,” the Old Man said, saluting. He turned to the waiting jagers. “All right you clowns, move it out!”