The sudden crackle of musketry from the town caught the occupants of the church by surprise. “What the devil?” Colonel Brabenachel exclaimed, crossing to the east-facing window of the tower. Captain Reis had just arrived in the tower room to report his company had deployed. Together they peered out over the rooftops and saw the first clouds of dun smoke rising on the breeze from the direction of the river. “Has the militia engaged the enemy or are they shooting at crows for sport?” Brabenachel demanded.
“I’ll send a runner to find out, sir,” Reis said heading for the stairs. Brabenachel continued his watch, anxiety for his flanks rising in his mind. The heavy concussive boom of a gun shook dust from the rafters. That settles it. Creighton wouldn’t fire his heavy ordinance for nothing.
A fresh volley of musketry sounded from much nearer and Brabenachel crossed swiftly to the west window. As he feared the Tuhellenbach hussars were moving forward in skirmish order, using the available cover well. Damnation! He thought, and felt guilty at even thinking such a word in a church. Caught between two fires! “It seems the enemy wants to play at last,” he said aloud, keeping his expression cheerful for the sake of his staff. “We shall oblige him, gentlemen.”
With his half-dozen strong staff on his heels he clattered down the tower stairs to take direct control of the situation. Bursting out into the sunshine of the churchyard he saw Captain Reis had his company lined up and ready to tackle the hussars on the road beyond the town. Even as they leveled their firelocks on the churchyard wall a new threat presented itself.
Hooves clattered on the road up through the town. Brabenachel turned to see a troop of enemy hussars riding up the street at the trot, pelisses flapping. They dismounted at long pistol shot and deployed, the horse holders heading to the rear. “To arms, gentlemen!” he snapped and his staff drew pistols and swords. The enemy opened fire. Carbine bullets sang through the air and smacked into the ancient church. Chips of pale stone sprayed the area leaving ugly scars on the wall. Somewhere a window shattered. “Captain Reis, a platoon over here if you can spare ‘em!” Brabenachel called, drawing his own pistol and heading for the gate that opened onto the street.
He was just in time. With a rousing shout the hussars charged the light wicket gate. Soon Brabenachel was fighting for his life.
* * *
Crouching to peer through the gun-port Horatio sensed the return fire from the jagers was slackening. Even so, they’ve done their job. Those hussars got into the town. Where the hell is the militia?
* * *
The Wentwitz militia had been caught by surprise but their outrage at being attacked in their own town, even their own houses, swung the balance between flight and fight. They gritted their teeth and took the fight to the enemy.
The jager were experienced hill and woodsmen from the country around Sobelsburg in the Margravate but their knowledge of urban warfare was not the best. Although they pushed the militia back far enough to create a gap through which their hussar supports could ride, they soon found themselves under pressure. Matters were not helped by the discovery their reserve ammunition had been inadvertently soaked during the river crossing upstream the night before.
‘Whose bright idea was it to use rafts, anyway?” one grumbled then swore as a fresh salvo from the gunboats brought tiles smashing into the street.
“What did you want, the Margraf’s own pleasure barge?” his comrade retorted then pointed quickly. “There! That doorway!”
The grumbler saw the flash of an enemy uniform and took a snapshot. He grunted with satisfaction as the man cried out and dropped in a heap into the street.
“You two! Fall back!” their sergeant shouted.
“Yes, sergeant,” they said obediently and covering each other behind wall and midden heap, the jagers began to withdraw, leaving Major Eisen coughing out his life where he fell.
* * *
Colonel Brabenachel’s arm ached like fury from a deep cut but he fought on, holding the gate against all comers. Then the platoon from Reis’ company ran up and he was elbowed aside without ceremony. Bayonets flashed as the infantry pitched into the hussars who soon saw sabers alone were no use against such a determined foe. As one they fell back then ran to their mounts, leaving a half-dozen dead and pursued by bullets from unengaged soldiers in the merchant’s house across the road. But as Colonel Brabenachel wiped the blood from his blade he saw the hussars had done their duty.
Away up the road out of town banners flew over the leading regiments of the enemy’s main force. The nearest was no more than a couple of hundred yards away and coming on with a regular tread. In the town itself the hussars retreated into the cover afforded by a side street, but they were soon back and trying the range with their carbines.
A pretty mess! Oh, well... “Captain Reis! Vogelmesch!” he shouted. “Prepare to fall back on my command, if you please!”