The two companies of Regiment Brabenachel trotted down the main street of Wentwitz, their Colonel at their head. Civilians gazed with frightened eyes from doorways and windows as they passed. Many soon departed their dwellings and shops carrying what possessions they could gather up at short notice.
“Head north, good people!” Brabenachel called out at intervals. “You’ll find safety there.”
He reasoned that the Gravies would be too intent on crossing the river in the shortest possible time to bother much with the northern suburb of the town or beyond. I’d like to keep this affair as bloodless as possible for the populace, he thought, looking around. God send the Gravies cooperate with my desire.
Toward the end of the street, near the point where it became the high road lay a small church with a walled graveyard. Across the way was a large house, presumably the dwelling of a wealthy merchant. Brabenachel eyed the ground and nodded. “This will do very well,” he said and called the halt and officers to the fore. He addressed them, standing four-square in the middle of the street, his hands behind his back.
“Captain Reis, take your company behind the church wall. Get someone up in the tower to see what the enemy is doing and to snipe if necessary. Captain Vogelmesch, pray take your company into the grounds of that house. I shall accompany you, Reis.”
The officers saluted then barked orders to their subalterns, who in turn barked orders to the sergeants. The latter, good fellows that they were had already got the men in motion. Brabenachel stood for a while as the troops jogged by to their posts. He scanned the countryside beyond the town. A troop of hussars was just visible, perhaps a quarter mile off and almost certainly watching his movements. He doffed his hat in their direction and tailed onto the last section as it filed through the gate into the graveyard. We shall see how they respond, he thought.
* * *
After much deliberation Captain Creighton had decided against using the heavy mortars. “I fear they will cause more damage to the town than to the enemy,” he explained to Horatio. “As it is we shall confine our salvos to grapeshot alone. We want the Gravies to cross the river and batter them as they pass; they can’t do that if we knock the bridge to pieces. The range will ensure the grape spreads wide enough to hurt. Those thick stone parapets should ensure some fellows will survive and cross to the other side.”
Horatio nodded then went forward with Creighton to view the scene. A steady flow of townsfolk were crossing the bridge to the east bank and he guessed they would be reasonably safe long before the firing began. He directed his attention to the lookout. “Masthead, what do you see?”
The man took one last glance through the telescope he’d been entrusted with then called down his report. “The enemy hussars are closing with the town, sir. I make them out perhaps a quarter mile off. Our boys are in the church on the edge of town; I can see men in the tower.”
“What of the Gravies’ main body?” Creighton called.
“Nothing yet, sir, but I fancy I see a cloud of powder smoke beyond the trees three miles to the south-west. The wind’s wrong to hear anything from that direction, sir.”
Creighton nodded and consulted his watch. “I think we have plenty of time to ensure the men are fed, Commander. Even if General Rauppen-Schlepper presses them hard the Gravies won’t be up until mid-afternoon, and I’m sure young Brabenachel can deal with a few hussars now his men are in place.”
“Very good, sir.”
Creighton smiled. “It may be the last meal we shall have at leisure for a while. I think we’ll open a bottle of the champagne your charming bride gifted me on your wedding day and drink a toast to her.”
Horatio grinned, warm memories of Ursula flooding his mind. “With pleasure, sir!”
* * *
“At least this time we have an army around us,” her friend pointed out, gesturing to the marching battalions that filled the road ahead and behind their carriage. The steady tramping of boots and jingling of harness filled the air as the Hetzenberg army marched eastward into the Margravate. “There’ll be no more shenanigans like that blatant kidnapping we went through.”
“And maybe I can get my hands on that wretched governor,” Ursula said, scowling. “I haven’t forgotten what he did to those poor people last year.”
Then the governor is a dead man, Mary thought. May the Lord have mercy on his soul!
The two young women had been formally attached to the Grand Ducal headquarters party, Mary Amadeus for her technical knowledge and Ursula for her specific familiarity with Randstadt and its environs. Ahead rode the Grand Duke, mounted on a splendid gray mare with his staff about him. Ursula had grown to like her uncle a great deal for his affable nature and keen intelligence. She was looking forward to working with him. She was also secretly thankful her father had remained in Hetzenberg. Although they’d had a rapprochement there was still a degree of tension in their dealings and out here with the army she had the delicious sense of freedom from parental control once more.
She nudged Mary. “When do you think Cousin Philip will do the decent thing?” she asked and was gratified to see her friend’s face turn a bright pink.
“I don’t think he will be allowed to marry me,” Mary A replied sadly. “There are too many barriers in our way.”
“But you’re sure he would if he could?”
“Oh yes! We love each other,” Mary said, spreading her hands.
“I guess we’ll have to wait and see,” Ursula mused.
* * *
The hallowed halls of the University of Saxe-Bearstein were as balm to the dry and dusty soul of Doctor Iago Knappenburger, attorney and professor of international law. Classes had just finished for the day after a most satisfying debate over the legal advisability of using the word pillock in describing potentates above the rank of Count. Now he headed back to his chambers for a fortifying beverage and a leisurely dinner with a visiting colleague specializing in maritime law. Dr. Knappenburger had a private wager with himself as to how long it would be before his friend used the words lobscouse and barnacle during the course of their conversation.
A small pile of correspondence had been deposited in the mailbox next his door by the porter. Knappenburger entered his chambers and flipped through the packets, sorting them into the categories of urgent, non-urgent and a complete waste of time. One thin envelope immediately caught his attention. He stared at the black wax bearing the seal imprint of the Archbishop of Hetzenberg and Guggenheim. “What now, I wonder?”
Settling himself into his winged chair by the window overlooking the quadrangle, he poured a glass of beer, drank deep then opened the packet.
‘To Doctor Iago Knappenburger, Professor of Law, greetings from Grafin Ursula von Hetzenberg-Pfalb.”
“Oh my!” he whispered and read on.
‘I have a dear friend who wishes to marry my cousin Graf Philip, heir to the Grand Duchy. Would this be legal? All correspondence will reach me if directed to:- the Grand Ducal Army in the Field, Somewhere inside the Margravate of Dunkeldorf-Pfuhl. Hopeful in your reply being yes, yours sincerely, Ursula von H-P.’
Included was a bankers’ draft for fifteen Reichmarks, bearing the unfamiliar signature of the bold young woman. He held it up and inspected it. More than enough for my fee and mailing costs, but what a question! He took another fortifying slug of beer. At least it’s an interesting one…