Monday, 30 March 2009
Saturday, 28 March 2009
General Rauppen-Schlepper rode forward slowly, accompanied by his staff. All across the front the enemy was retiring or fleeing, and his fine regiments were following up. “It seems we have a victory, gentlemen,” he said with a quiet smile.
“Thanks be to God!” Captain Scharfe said.
“Amen! And thanks be also to these stalwart fellows!” the General said heartily, encompassing the Hetzenberg army with a sweep of his arm.
Scharfe nodded. “Indeed sir.” He peered through his telescope. “The main body of the Gravies appears to be withdrawing in some disorder, but that mercenary regiment is approaching from the right. They and their cavalry will help shield them.”
“I wonder why our guns do not fire upon them. It would hasten their retreat.”
Scharfe swung his telescope over to the right. “It appears a company of Brabenachel’s regiment has advanced into the field of fire.”
“Colonel Sechs-Meilen-Scharfschütze is a gentleman. He won’t open fire with our own troops in the way.”
“I think he’s addressing the situation now, sir,” Scharfe grinned, his eye pressed to the instrument.
The Captain assessed the situation and bowed. “Forgive me, sir, I see we are sorely amiss in crossing into your path. I shall withdraw my company. Would fifty yards be sufficient for your purposes?”
The Colonel smiled. “It will be perfectly adequate, I do assure you.”
“Then fifty yards it shall be. Your servant, sir,” said the Captain with a bow.
“Much obliged, sir,” said the Colonel, responding in kind.
“I would be delighted, sir!” she grinned.
Wiping her hands on the seat of her britches she followed the colonel to the gun line. The gunners stood waiting, teeth shining white in their black-powder stained faces.
Mary took a deep breath and moved to the first gun. Stooping, she peered along the length of the barrel. Calculations began to flow through her mind like a silver river of light. “Right, fifteen inches; elevation another eleven degrees…”
“May I ask what’s happening, Captain?” he asked of Captain Scharfe.
“It appears Lieutenant Mary Amadeus is going to direct the last salvo of the day!” Scharfe grinned, lowering his telescope to look at him for a moment.
Klopfer blinked, astounded. “So it’s true! You do have a woman officer in your ranks!”
“Oh yes. She’s a new appointment, courtesy of Graf Philip. Now we’ll see what she can do.”
But Klopfer was already mounting up. Setting heels to flanks he spurred his mount across the field. I hope I’m in time! I’ve got to see this!
Everyone seemed to be holding their breath, although there seemed to be an underlying air of hilarity Klopfer had seldom experienced on a battlefield. He watched the young woman wearing the claret-colored uniform coat with bated breath.
Mary stepped back, away from the guns and took one last glance along the length of the battery. “Make ready!” she shouted. Linstocks hovered, poised to sweep down at her command. “Fire!”
The battery roared. Immediately heads turned to follow the line of shot. The cannonballs themselves appeared as short streaks of black as if a giant pencil had drawn lines in the air. And then after a heart-stopping pause they fell directly upon the enemy battery.
A collective sigh went up. Every shot had struck home. The surviving enemy gunners fled, abandoning the guns. The battery was no more.
Heads turned as everyone regarded the plump young woman with awe. She gave a little shrug, as if to say What did you expect? and walked back to where Graf Philip stood.
Philip’s heart glowed with pride. Abandoning propriety to the four winds he hugged Mary and swept her up and whirled her around. She laughed and clung to him as she swung through the air then as he set her down she smiled up at him. “I think you’d better walk over and take possession of those enemy guns, dear,” she told him. “It’ll save having to buy guns for our own battery!”
“To Your Excellency, greetings. God has sent us victory this day upon the field of Viehdorf. The enemy is withdrawing northwestward in some disorder, screened by their surviving cavalry and some steady infantry. I intend to pursue for as long as daylight lasts. Casualty lists to follow. Please oblige me by forwarding this dispatch to His Grace. I remain your devoted servant, etc, etc.”
Rudi wrote the last words, Rauppen-Schlepper applied his seal to the folded paper, and a keen young aide rode away to spread the good news. Rauppen-Schlepper looked around. “Maybe I’m not too old for this scheiße after all.”
Friday, 27 March 2009
Kuchler nodded. “Yes, and if we can hold on here there’s a chance of victory.”
“Just so.” Kaffe-Klatch thought deeply then drew up straight in the saddle. “We shall continue to fight. The day has not gone well but all is not lost.”
Close by the two infantry regiments had completed their maneuver. The shaken first company of Storschen’s command formed a second battle line behind the front companies while the fourth company of Jertz’ regiment adjoined the flank of the grenadiers. Together they presented the oncoming Hetzenbergers with a united front in some depth.
His men cheered; their voices sounded tinny in his ears. They labored with a will to redirect their pieces. The gun captains checked alignment, elevation, loads, and stood clear. “Fire!” he shouted and the linstocks swept down onto touch-holes.
Across the field the gunners of Dunkeldorf-Pfuhl were laboring at their own pieces when the storm of shot arrived. Solid timber carriages shattered, barrels weighing a quarter of a ton hurtled into the air along with fragments of men and equipment. When the storm ceased half the battery had been wiped out and the survivors too shocked to do their duty.
Colonel Jertz felt two bullets pluck at his coat and hat. One caromed off his sword scabbard with a diminuendo whine. All around his men fell, struck down by enemy fire, yet he was untouched.
Babbington took the proffered message and scanned it. “Thank you. This is clear and I shall comply immediately,” he said courteously.
The aide saluted and galloped away. Babbington glanced around. Even the clod-hopping McGill seemed to have sobered up somewhat. “Companies form up!” Babbington shouted. “Ah, Captain Tobermory!” he said as the officer came up for orders. He clapped a hand on his shoulder. “Take Fourth company and form our rearguard. Those ‘Bergers look inclined to close.”
Tobermory responded with a calm salute and strode away, bellowing for his sergeants. Babbington took one last look around then called for his horse. A nice interlude. What a pity there wasn’t much loot here.
The officers barked their commands, the first company drummer beat his skins, and soon the men were charging into the attack.
In the village the mercenary company calmly awaited the onslaught. They waited until the Hetzenberg company had closed to a mere fifty yards before unleashing a volley that stopped it cold.
The Grenadier Company of Wohl’s Regiment shuddered under the blast of canister. Fully a third of its men fell dead or wounded. Over on the other flank Jertz’s Regiment served up a telling volley upon the nearest company of Brabenachel’s regiment. Colonel Jertz danced with the excitement of it all. “Hit ‘em again!” he yelled, waving his hat. His cries of delight turned into a wide-eyed stare of dismay as the Hetzenberg infantry leveled their muskets and charged.
Jertz’s left-most company gave way immediately, their flight to the rear bursting through the supporting company from Storschen’s regiment. The Grenadier company moved to block the advance of the Hetzenberg troops and a mass skirmish broke out.
His rallying cry worked. Gradually the enemy was forced back until they broke contact and retired with some speed. Hot and sweating with exertion Jertz leaned on his sword and looked around. This is not a good situation. We beat them back but they’ll come on again.
The aide saluted, his face grave, and trotted off about his duty.
Werner nodded and pointed. “And it appears their infantry is withdrawing too, sir. I caught a glimpse of a rearward movement when the smoke cleared a little.”
Kuster began to breathe easier. “God send that it’s a victory at last. Too many of these poor fellows died this day.”
“And they did their duty to the last, sir.”
“They did. We shall remain here for a while longer, and allow the troopers to regain their breath and their wits.” He smiled. “I can see a time not too far hence when we’ll be required to press upon the enemy’s retreat.”
His men cheered. Sleibnitz felt the thrill of battle come upon him. “Fix bayonets!” he cried and the men drew the vicious blades and set them in place. The regiment suddenly took on a more vicious guise. Sleibnitz looked around, ensured all was ready, keeping his back deliberately toward the enemy, daring them to shoot him in the back. The men looked to him now, awaiting the word. He gave it to them.
Sword in hand he turned his horse and charged forward, his men following. The mercenary company leveled their firelocks and the red-coated ranks almost disappeared behind a gust of dun-colored smoke. Bullets zipped and sang past Sleibnitz. A man running alongside him jerked and disappeared with a gasp but then they were amongst the enemy ranks and he was cutting and thrusting, his habitual coolness coming to the fore again. Bayonets were plied, men hacked, slashed and swore in two languages before the mercenaries began to turn and flee.
Thursday, 26 March 2009
At least the squadrons were starting to regain some cohesion after the fury of battle. One man was riding to the rear bearing the guidon of the beaten hussar regiment, to the acclaim of all. “Well done, lad!” Rumtopft called. “But there’s no time to spare. Charge those tin-bellies, boys!” His voice cracked. “At ‘em, by God!”
And his men, his poor tiring men responded magnificently. The horses were close to blown but they raised sufficient momentum to crash into the oncoming heavy cavalry. The dreadful sounds of battle rose once more. Rumtopf regained control of his passion and rode back to join the third squadron. I hate to let the men fight without me, but we’ll need reinforcements. He was glad to see the steady advance of the Bishop’s Horse. Good, I think we’ll need ‘em.
Behind him the fight was swift and brutal. The first squadron of heavy cavalry troopers gave as good as they got against the second squadron of dragoons but the fight turned against them elsewhere. The men of the dragoon’s first squadron broke their opponents, sending them whirling to the rear. But even as they leaned on their saddlebows, exhausted almost beyond measure, they saw the third squadron of cuirassiers calmly open their ranks to allow their beaten fellows through – before coming on at the trot. When contact came it was too much. The dragoons broke and fled.
But something else distracted him then. Hooves pounded the turf and around the Windmühlen-Hügel came a cloud of colorful cavalrymen, all riding hell for leather toward the rear of the Dunkeldorf-Pfuhl lines. For one heart stopping moment Jertz thought they were enemy cavalry before remembering that there were no Hetzenberg hussar regiments in the vicinity. Even as he thought this his foot plunged into a void and he fell flat on his face.
What the hell do you think I’ve been trying to do? Storschen wanted to say. Instead he came to attention and saluted. “Yes, sir,” he replied meekly.
The third squadron began slowly to coalesce out of the chaos, shamefaced but willing to restore order and perhaps some honor from the situation.
Not far away the routed cuirassier squadrons rallied on their guidons, the men savoring the brief moment of relative quiet as they recovered their wind. Closer to the enemy Colonel Seinfeld sat upon his horse alongside the color party of the first squadron and assessed the situation around him. We’ve broken those dragoons, but they’re not broken enough. That reserve squadron still looks full of fight. He cast a glance back over his shoulder. The wretched hussars had disappeared around a shoulder of the low hill but he could hear their trumpets sounding the rally in the distance. They don’t need our protection then, he thought facing front. That means we can concentrate on those gentlemen over there…
“The squadron will advance!” he snapped, and the trumpet sounded. A few hundred yards away the enemy dragoons flowed into motion too, mirroring the actions of the cuirassiers.
General Kaffe-Klatch studied the overall situation and sucked his teeth thoughtfully. The mess which the supposed-elite Regiment Storschen had fallen into was not encouraging. Regiment Jertz had slowed its pace to allow the now recovered First Regiment to catch up. That’s commendable action on Jertz’s part; it shows he has a grasp of his part in the battle, but again, not encouraging to the overall situation. The cavalry are holding their own, which is not quite as I hoped, either. I must get the infantry working for its pay.
“Message!” he snapped. An aide sprang forward, pencil poised over his pad. “To Colonel Babbington, immediate effect. I require you to withdraw your regiment from the village and join the main force in the center. Take up position on the left of Regiment Storschen and support same.”
The aide sped away and Kaffe-Klatch looked over to the right, where the cavalry melee continued with shrewd blows traded by both sides. But now the situation seemed to be altering…
Colonel Rumtopft gritted his teeth and led his own reserve squadron forward at the gallop, grimly determined to stop the rot. The clash came with the all too familiar screams and cries. Pistols banged and flashed, men yelled and cut or were cut down. All too soon the tide turned against the dragoons. “Withdraw and rally!” Rumtopft shouted, standing in his saddle. A cuirassier appeared from nowhere and lunged, his long heavy cavalry sword piercing Rumtopft’s coat and the flesh beneath.
A weak cheer rose but it was some time before the officers and NCOs restored order. Oh well, Jertz thought. It’ll give those sluggards of Storschen’s time to catch up.
He called to his aides. “Take a message to the squadron commanders. First and third squadrons are to follow me against those cuirassiers, the second squadron is to attack that nearest infantry regiment.”
The aides sped off. It would be ideal if I could tie down the enemy cavalry with one squadron whilst the others direct their attention to those fellows over there. And yet, needs must. He glowered at the oncoming foe. They shall not pass!
Once he was sure the messages had been received Schenk called for the canter to be sounded. Second squadron peeled off, heading to the east of the Windmühlen-Hügel. Grasping his sword in his right hand, his Bible and reins in his left, Schenk waved his sword above his head to attract the troopers’ attention then thrust it forward. “Charge!”
The trumpet sang its clarion call and the black horses began to stretch out. Ahead of them one of the cuirassier squadrons responded in kind; the other took one look at the advancing Horse and rode away in a panic. Schenk smiled quietly as the ground flowed beneath the hooves of his mount. One down, one to go…
Colonel Brabenachel looked up with a frown as the enemy artillery fired directly at his regiment. Or directly at me. There’s something so personal about being under artillery fire. Thankfully the salvo went wild. He nodded thoughtfully. Quite a relief, that.
And one-sided too, it seems. As he watched the Hetzenberg artillery made good practice among the ranks of the right-most enemy foot, and a company of grenadiers broke and ran. His excitement was stoked higher still when he saw a squadron of the dour Bishop’s Horse cantering toward the left-most infantry regiment, which was still in some disorder. Or is it..?
“Grenadier company! One step forward, march!” The grenadiers stepped out smartly, coming to attention again with a stamp-crash! of boots. Jertz walked out of the line of fire and watched the enemy cavalry come on. “Present your firelocks!” The weapons were held out, almost as if they were being offered to the oncoming horse. “Shoulder your firelocks!” The muskets came up, an almost unwavering line of wood and steel. Three, two, one… “Fire!”
The first infantry volley of the engagement roared out. Through the smoke Jertz could see enemy saddles emptied, stray horses running, others falling. They’re hurt – but are they hurt enough? Ah! A black-clad cavalry officer saluted him with his sword. Jertz responded, and the enemy turned and retired out of range.
The two sides met in a clash and clang of sword and popping of pistols. The Horse were shaken by the impact and Seinfeld took advantage to press home the attack. Soon the black-clad troopers were breaking off and heading to the rear, their colonel falling back with them, his shouts of encouragement heard even above the battle’s roar. This won’t do, Seinfeld thought and pressed his men to continue the melee. The Horse finally broke, but an urgent shout directed Seinfeld’s attention to the left. Damn!
The squadron of enemy Horse which had been detached was now moving back into view, directly upon his flank. He dimly recalled the sounds of musketry coming from that direction. They attacked, were repelled – and now they’re menacing us!
* * *
Mary Amadeus heard the cheers ring from the battery. There was too much smoke in the way to see much now but she guessed they’d pulled off some remarkable shooting. It’s hard to think that men are dying out there, thanks in part to my efforts, she thought as she filled cartridges. But those same men knew the score when they enlisted, and no one invited them to invade my country! Something in the air told her there’d been a slight change in the weather. Good, perhaps the breeze will get up and clear some of this smoke away.
General Rauppen-Schlepper drummed his fingers on the head of his cane and considered the situation. A brief glance through the telescope was sufficient to tell him Colonel Sleibnitz was not obeying orders. We’ll see about that! He fumed. “Orders!” An aide sprang forward. “To Colonel Sleibnitz. I demand your immediate compliance with my previous order to join and support Regiment Wohl.”
The aide rode off and Rauppen-Schlepper turned his attention back to the situation on the left. There at least the situation had stabilized. The cavalry had administered a thorough check on their counterparts and he could see General Kuster riding back and forth, busily rallying the dragoons. And yet some of the Horse has broken too. He rubbed his jaw. The crisis is getting close, if it’s not here already. He called for his horse.
* * *
Colonel Seinfeld realized his situation was now perilous in the extreme. Although he’d broken one squadron of Horse he now had two others menacing him, one on either flank. “Sound retreat!” he yelled and set an example by hauling his mount’s head around by main force and setting spurs to its flanks.
General Bellev watched the retreat out of the jaws of the trap and pounded his saddlebow in exasperation. We nearly had victory there! The third squadron of cuirassiers was still heading back to their own lines at speed, although their second was beginning to rally, along with the third squadron of hussars. It’s not entirely lost, although I’d hesitate to lead these men forward now.
This place is a haven of calm compared to that, Colonel Babbington thought, munching a fried chicken leg as he sat and gazed at the distant battle. The smoke; the smell of powder, the sight of broken and rallying troops! Ah, but war is exciting. He turned his attention at the small figure of a mounted aide, who was drawing closer to the levee at the gallop. His men in turn were watching the slowly advancing column of Hetzenberg infantry but the enemy didn’t seem inclined to close with the village. This situation will soon change when that messenger arrives.
In the center General Kuchler managed to rally the shaken and routed companies of Regiment Storschen by a combination of brute force, bad language and terrible threats. Colonel Storschen sensed the disapproving gaze of General Kaffe-Klatch upon him and felt thoroughly dispirited. I wonder if Uncle Theodore will let me join his export business. A nice posting to some remote factory would suit me down to the ground just now.
“Don’t stand there daydreaming sir!” a stentorian voice thundered and Storschen flinched and saw General Kuchler riding up, his face like an angry god. Storschen came to attention in the face of his wrath. “I have restored your regiment to you,” the general growled. “Now it’s up to you to redeem its honor!”
“Deploy into line with your right companies adjacent to Jertz’ regiment. And don’t balls this up!”
The general rode away, muttering. Storschen had only just begun to shout commands when another salvo from the enemy artillery howled out of the sky. The execution was terrible. Entire companies writhed under the onslaught and Storschen flinched away, thinking his end had come.
And yet…and yet the regiment survived. Perhaps it was fear of another tongue-lashing from the irascible general that did it, but they held their ground and reformed. Storschen gathered his wits and barked his orders. A factory really far, far away…
* * *
With Generals Rauppen-Schlepper and Kuster rallying the men both cavalry regiments began to reform. Colonel Rumtopft had been carried to the rear, a sword thrust having pierced his side. With the blessing he would survive but his work this day was done. Lieutenant Klopfer had also survived, and was walking his horse away from the scene of the skirmish, patting the animal's neck affectionately.
Satisfied that his valuable left flank was stable once more, Rauppen-Schlepper left the final work to Kuster and rode back to supervise the coming infantry conflict. He was not a moment too soon. Under the steady direction of General Schmaltz the Hetzenberg infantry closed with the invaders. The Margraf’s men opened fire first, a brisk musketry rippling down the line but with little effect.
Colonel Wohl strode forward, his sword held out by his side to keep the line straight. He felt calm, even resigned now. A sudden blast and flare of light and smoke came from his right and the air filled with shrieking metal. All around him men jerked, twisted, fell and the colors twitched and shook as if pulled at by invisible fingers. And yet he still stood, unharmed. Muttering a quick prayer of thanks he directed the efforts to restore order.
“Close up! Close up!”
General Kuchler continued to fume, even as he worked hard to steady the men. The two broken cuirassier squadrons were rallying now. But are we in time to do any good?
Wednesday, 25 March 2009
The aide sped off, clods of damp soil flying up from the hooves of his mount. Rauppen-Schlepper looked to the right, watching the deployment of his other two infantry regiments. All was going according to plan. Regiment Wohl remained in column, but Regiment Brabenachel was beginning to deploy into line. The artillery moved into the space between the two and came into battery. Good, good, he thought. Nice smart practice there. We shall begin to pepper them within minutes. To the south the Hetzenberg cavalry deployed into a two-up one-back formation of squadrons. The Bishop’s Horse was closest to his position, and he remembered the deep, resonant psalms that had sounded from their camp before dark the previous evening. They were experienced troopers – but experienced mainly in escort and patrol duties. We shall see if the Lord watches over them today.
As he gazed in their direction a solitary horseman came into view, rounding a corner of the wood and heading toward the headquarters party. His gaudy pink and purple hussar uniform made a bright splash of color against the greens and browns of the plain. As Rauppen-Shlepper watched the horseman stood in his stirrups, looked intently in his direction, gave a cheery wave then sat back in the saddle and put spurs to his horse. “Who the devil is that?” he inquired of Captain Scharfe.
Scharfe raised his telescope. His time with the intelligence service had exercised his already formidable eidetic memory. “I would say it’s a hussar officer from the Principality of Hesse-Engleburg, sir: Their Garde du Corps Hussars, Prinzessin Gertrude.”
The Hussar galloped up and reined in his mount in a way that combined flamboyance with a care not to spray mud everywhere. He fired off a sharp salute. “Do I have the honor of addressing His Excellency General Rauppen-Schlepper?” he cried.
“You do, sir,” Rauppen-Schlepper replied in guarded tones as he eyed the man. His horse is very fine. He must’ve ridden hard, yet it looks fit for another twenty miles. They breed a good light horse in Hesse-Engleburg. But that uniform! It can only have been designed by a woman.
The hussar fished in his sabretache and produced a document which he proffered. “I’m Lieutenant Klaus Klopfer, Garde du Corps Hussars, Prinzessin Gertrude Regiment of Hesse-Engleburg, sir. My credentials, if you please.”
Rauppen-Schlepper took the document and scanned it. “This is in order. What do you here, Lieutenant?”
Klopfer gestured to their surroundings, his rich purple dolman flapping with the movement. “If you’d permit, General, I would like to observe the coming battle on behalf of Their Graces the Fürst and Fürstin.”
“You’re very welcome to observe, young man,” Rauppen-Schlepper replied, noting the mad gleam in the fellow’s eye. “You may attach yourself to my headquarters, or roam at will, as you please. But understand that you do so entirely at your own risk.”
“I do sir!” Klopfer replied cheerfully. “Anyone mad enough to ride across Urope dressed like me is quite at home with risk!”
Rauppen-Schlepper stared at him then gave a bark of laughter as his staff grinned. “Just so, and well said, Lieutenant!”
“Sir!” Scharfe exclaimed just then. “The enemy cavalry is on the move.”
“My compliments to Lieutenant Tobermory and he is to curb the depredations of his men forthwith. We have a battle to fight ere long.”
Bruce spun on his heel and strode away. Further up the street Private McGill stumbled and fell on his face, the chamber pot shattering when it met the ground. Babbington looked then closed his eyes. The idiot didn’t even empty the thing first…
“With your permission, sir!” Klopfer cried, saluting.
“Indulge yourself young man,” Rauppen-Schlepper replied, his thoughts already turning elsewhere.
The bold hussar galloped off toward the cavalry, his natural habitat.
He watched wide-eyed as men were flung apart, like marionettes under the touch of a mad puppeteer. The shot plowed through the ranks, striking deep into the grenadier company and rebounding into the hat company directly behind. Screams and cries filled the air.
“Close up! Close up!” the sergeants and ensigns began to shout. After an animalistic shudder the regiment obeyed, men closing the bloody gaps in their ranks and files and marching onward once more. The colors flew; the drummer boy pushed his little bearskin back on top of his head and picked up the beat once more. Colonel Storschen gave the boy an approving nod. We’ll get through this!
But confusion still reigned amid the ranks of the hat company. “Halt!” he roared, pushing through the grenadiers to address the problem. Swearing rose on all sides as officers beat at the men with the flats of their swords in an uphill struggle to restore order. Behind the battered company the other hat companies had come to a halt. Even as Storschen began to push and pull men back into the ranks another salvo came howling out of the sky.
“Oh, that oaf! Oh that bloody oaf!” General Bellev fumed as the Tuhellenbach Hussars increased their pace, aiming directly at the enemy cavalry across the plain. His thought that a swift attack would send the enemy flying was proving erroneous. The ‘Bergers heavy Horse regiment had taken a hit but was reforming. The Dragoons were untouched, waiting quietly for their moment. Even as he watched the Heavy Horse took another hit from the artillery. Again they closed ranks and waited, under superb discipline. Bellev shook his head as he cantered forward. If Kramer thinks he can take them all on by himself he’s got a nasty shock coming!
Sleibnitz took the missive, wincing as the movement tugged at the scab forming over the sword cut on his right forearm. “Regiment, halt!” he snapped, unfolding the paper and reading. To Colonel Sleibnitz, effective immediately. I desire you to ignore the village directly in front of you in favor of supporting an attack by Infantry Regiment Wohl upon your left.
“Support..?” His lip curled even more and he thought quickly. “Acknowledged.” The aide saluted, swung his horse around and clapped his heels to its flanks. Sleibnitz ignored him. “The regiment will advance!” he snapped. Just then the opening salvo of the battle sounded away to his left. He glanced over from the advantage of the height and saw smoke blossom from the muzzles of the artillery battery positioned between the other regiments of the brigade. Let the cannon-cockers support that upstart bourgeoisie, he thought. I know where my duty lies.
A full throated roar came from his men. As one they broke into a full gallop, their horses stretching out, the trumpet casting silver notes into the heavens.
Colonel Rumtopft watched the hussars come on. “The silly buggers,” he growled, and set his tricorn square upon his head with a sharp tap. “Right, my lads,” he called to his men, “we’ve a score to settle with these popinjays. Let’s finish this!” He drew his sword, held it high. “The regiment will advance.”
The trumpet pealed and the men spurred their horses forward. Rumtopft became aware of hooves galloping up to his headquarters troop and yet another hussar was suddenly riding alongside. He stared at the exotic creature with surprise. “Do you have room for a little one, Colonel?” the man cried cheerfully.
“Who the hell are you?”
“Lieutenant Klaus Klopfer, Garde du Corps Hussars, Prinzessin Gertrude Regiment of Hesse-Engleburg, sir!”
Rumtopft shook his head with perplexity as he glanced to see to the dressing of the trotting lines of horsemen. “I’ve no time to inquire how or why you come to be here, sir, but if you must fight alongside us, be my guest. To the canter, gentlemen!”
The trumpet call sounded and they rode forward. Klopfer drew his saber, a gleaming sliver of light. Rumtopft eyed the oncoming hussars. Any second… Now! “Charge!”
The trumpet pealed again with urgent, strident notes. The ground shuddered as over six hundred hooves pounded the turf. A great shout rose from the throats of the regiment as they closed with their enemy at a full gallop, the colors snapping in the wind.
The regiments met with a crash, clang and a roar that pounded the senses. Men and horses fell, overturned by sheer impact. Within a second the scene dissolved into a whirling melee of blue and crimson and gray. Swords rose, plunged, hacked and slashed. Pistols banged and cracked, and screams and foul incoherent oaths sundered the air. Rumtopft brought his sword across to open the face of a hussar ensign and the youth dropped away without a sound. A pistol flared and the muzzle blast scorched his face. Faces appeared before his blurred vision and he fought them, cutting and thrusting with mad abandon as his blood rage rose to fever pitch.
The man fell and suddenly the scene opened up. Klopfer saw the color party of the enemy regiment directly ahead. Their colonel was fighting like a fury but as Klopfer closed the man was unhorsed. Somehow he managed to kick his foot clear of the stirrup and roll away from the flashing hooves as his maddened mount bucked and fought to escape the melee. As Klopfer watched a big dragoon sergeant dismounted and walked over to the hussar colonel. The man struggled to his feet but the sergeant plucked off his fur busby and with a beatific smile brought a gauntleted fist down square upon his head. It made a sound like a mallet striking a beefsteak. The colonel’s eyes crossed and he fell over like a pole-axed calf. Klopfer laughed out loud at the sight, even as a small part of him sympathized with the fallen hussar.
As the hussars fled the dragoons heard their leader’s call and pressed onward, pursuing their beaten foe to their own lines. One of the hussar support squadrons, beset and disordered by their fleeing comrades and faced with an oncoming foe broke and joined the rout. The other held for a while and Rumtopft and his men plunged in amongst them, the battle rage still flowing strong in his veins until they too broke and ran.
Colonel Schenk of the Bishop of Guggenheim’s Regiment of Horse patted his horse’s neck to soothe the beast after the artillery fire. “We will advance,” he said to his command party. “Those stalwart fellows will need our support ere long I dare say, and I like not the play of the enemy guns upon our regiment.”
His pronouncement was greeted by grave nods. Schenk frowned at the dressing of the regiment and found it serviceable, although he lamented the deaths of so many of his men. “Advance!” he called. The trumpet pealed and the black horses of the regiment began to move forward at a stately walk...
Tuesday, 24 March 2009
Sunday, 22 March 2009
All around she could hear the sounds of life beginning to stir as the men of the artillery battery woke to the new day – a day that would see battle and perhaps the death of some or many of those now waking. Mary sat up and rubbed her face. Such morbid thoughts so early in the morning! But it had been difficult to get to sleep last night in spite of the tiring ride. Those same morbid thoughts had been haunting her mind. Army life didn’t seem such an adventure with the prospect of violent action now at hand.
A trumpet began to peal; the notes of the reveille rang loud and clear. Somewhere a dog began barking furiously. A man laughed. Another cursed. Mary had heard worse words uttered by Ursula when she was feeling out of sorts. She smiled at the memory and wondered where her friend was now.
A polite cough sounded beyond the canvas flap. “Are you awake, Lieutenant?”
Rolling out of bed she pulled on her new uniform coat, shivering at the cold touch of morning air. She’d slept in her clothes last night. It had been too cold to sleep with just a couple of blankets over her. As she pulled a brush through her hair she noticed how long it had grown; the nuns’ crop was all but gone now. “You’re in the army now, you’ve left behind your vows…” she sang softly. Satisfied that she was at least presentable, she called “come in!”
Someone untied the door tapes and a camp servant entered, carrying a pewter tray before her as the sentry held the flaps open for her to pass. A sentry: That was another thing, Mary thought. Colonel Sechs-Meilen-Scharfschütze had ensured that any woman guest would not be molested while in his care. Not all soldiers were gentlemen.
“I’ve brought you a mug of coffee, Ma’am, compliments of His Excellency. He desires you to join him for breakfast at your convenience.”
“Thank you,” she said to the woman as the heavenly scent of fresh coffee filled the tent. Mary could feel her brain beginning to fire on all cylinders thanks to the scent alone. “Do thank him for me,” Mary said, reaching eagerly for the steaming mug. The servant curtseyed again and departed. So Philip couldn’t sleep well either, Mary thought as she sipped and listened to the camp coming to life. I can’t blame him. That action on the river after our rescue happened so quickly we didn’t really have time to think. Is it the anticipation of battle that drags at the spirits so?
“What is that village?” he inquired.
Captain Scharfe, his chief of staff consulted a map. “Viehdorf, sir. Our scouts report it to be occupied by the enemy.”
“Hmm.” He directed his telescope upon the village. The huddle of buildings appeared in the roundel, their thatched roofs lit by the rising sun. Someone was stirring there. He saw flashes of red coats among the cottages. “Quite correct. It is occupied by Babbington’s Legion.”
Scharfe made a note of this. Rauppen-Schlepper swept the field with the telescope, pausing here and there to scan other points of interest until he settled upon the distant tents of the Margraf’s camp, the counterpart to his own army’s. The Dunkeldorf-Pfuhlians were stirring and he could see enemy cavalry pickets replacing their infantry counterparts now daylight was growing fast. They would guard against a surprise attack: Not that I will oblige them there…
Closing the tubes of the instrument with a decisive snap he turned to face his commanders. “Gentlemen, we shall fight here this day. The Gravies are in a bind. Their line of communication across the river has been cut, thanks to those stalwart fellows of the riverine flotilla. They must either attack us or follow the river to the bridge at Wentwitz, which is some thirty miles north of here as the crow flies. Should they do so, they will be forced to fight a continual rearguard action, for we shall harass them all the way.
“I propose, therefore, to fight a defensive battle along this line.” He gestured to a small field to the left that lay a short distance south of the mill then across an area encompassing a wood, another field and thence to the river bank. “We shall anchor our battle line on the river. Infantry Regiment Sleibnitz shall hold the place of honor, as is its right. I shall require all our cavalry to assemble on our left.”
Rauppen-Schlepper gave him a keen look. “Are they still willing to fight?”
“Very willing, sir.” Küster smiled, showing stained teeth. “They have a real desire to kick the Gravies out of our lands.”
“Excellent. That’s the spirit. Rumtopft and the Bishop’s Horse shall take post between that field and the wood. Infantry regiments Wohl and Brabenachel shall occupy the ground north of the wood and south of that other field, with the artillery between them. I think a slow advance coupled with a peppering from our guns shall convince the Gravies they’ve found a fight. Our cavalry will guard our left flank and deter any moves by the enemy cavalry to outflank us.”
“Do you think they’ll attempt that, sir?” Brigadier-General Schmaltz asked.
“I think they will.” Rauppen-Schlepper surveyed the terrain. “This is excellent cavalry country. I hear good things about their cuirassiers but that new-fangled hussar regiment is an unknown quantity.”
“We shall try their mettle,” Küster growled.
Rauppen-Schlepper smiled. “If anyone can do that, it’s you, my dear fellow.” As the assembled officers grinned at the sentiment he cocked an eye at Scharfe. “Is that all clear?”
Scharfe read back the battle plan verbatim, and Rauppen-Schlepper signed his approval. Scharfe disappeared in the direction of the headquarters pavilion to copy and distribute orders, and the general regarded his commanders. He pointed at the distant river. “Consider our situation analogous to that levee. If a leak were to appear there it would be vital to plug it at once before the levee gives way and the whole plain is flooded. So is it vital that we must plug this breach and prevent the Margraf from taking our whole country. We shall beat the Gravies here, gentlemen, or die trying.”
“Thank you,” she said, feeling shy at his obvious fervor.
“Do sit and take a morsel of food.”
“A good day for battle,” she said, not meeting his eye. Even my appetite seems to wane a little at that prospect, she thought.
“Yes. Let us not dwell upon that just yet, my dear,” he said softly.
Colonel Sechs-Meilen-Scharfschütze came up, and doffed his hat to Philip. “I trust I see you well, Excellency, Lieutenant?”
“You do indeed, Colonel,” Philip said cheerfully. “Won’t you join us?”
Mary and Philip exchanged glances. “I appreciate your candor, Colonel,” Philip said. “As we are not part of your command, we shall reluctantly bow to your wishes.”
“May I at least help with the ammunition?” Mary asked, trying to keep a plaintive note out of her voice. “I have the expertise. I know it may seem silly for a mere woman to wish to fight in this battle, but it’s my country too. I was there when it all began and I wish to see it through.”
Sechs-Meilen-Scharfschütze considered the matter then nodded. “I’ll agree to at least that much, Lieutenant. It’s a responsible task and I’d rather have competent souls in charge of it.”
Mary smiled. “Thank you.”
Just then an aide came galloping into the artillery camp and the three became aware of the sound of trumpets stirring the air. “Here we go,” the Colonel said, rising to greet the aide.
Friday, 20 March 2009
Tuesday, 17 March 2009
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?”
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!
Wednesday, 11 March 2009
One pleasant surprise was discovering my lead mountain is a lot smaller than I thought. I have the remnants of a large batch of ACW figures, a box full of Plains Wars figures for both natives and US cavalry/settlers, and another full of French Napoléonic. A less pleasant surprise was the sheer number of unmade kits I found. I lack the time and patience to construct and paint these, so I reckon on offering them to my group of gamers. If they don't want them, I'm open to suggestions on how to dispose of them.
Sunday, 8 March 2009
He was in a heavy fever now, moaning with delirium. As much as she hated seeing her old friend like this, tending to his needs served to distract her thoughts for minutes at a time. There were few other distractions. The barracks was quiet now the regiments had marched. She supposed Mary Amadeus was with Philip, both of them officers without a command. Ursula smiled. No doubt Mary A will get involved somewhere, to the betterment of all she meets.
The doctor entered the room and came to the bedside. He took Konrad's wrist and timed his pulse by a fat fob watch, making soft tching sounds under his breath. "What's the verdict, doctor?" Ursula asked.
The doctor tucked Konrad's arm under the blanket and looked thoughtful. "The crisis draws near, Excellency. He's a strong man, healthy too. With luck and the blessing he should pull through, but the next few ours are critical. Continue as you are doing. It's all anyone can do now." He sketched a bow to her. "For myself I must leave. I'm attached to the army and must hasten to catch up with it before battle is joined. I cannot tarry, Excellency."
"No, Konrad is but one man. If you can help many others hurt in battle then please do your duty. Thank you and good luck."
Ursula turned back to Konrad and mopped his brow. She heard the door close quietly behind her. "It's just you and I now, old friend," she said.
The dull thudding of distant gunfire sounded again and the windows rattled.
"It's best that you do so, dear Mary," Philip said, trying unsuccessfully to hide a grin. "The roads north of here are not really suitable for carriages."
"I've only just recovered from the last mad ride I had to make," she grumbled, giving him a scathing look before stepping up onto the mounting block. "My body won't forgive me this, I'm sure."
"We only have to ride some ten miles," Philip replied, mounting his own steed, a snapping black stallion.
"Only, he says!" Mary sighed and straddled the horse, thankful she was wearing britches. He attire had drawn more than one scandalized stare but she quickly grew used to them. With all the grace of a bale of hay she took control of the docile little mare and they rode out together.
Their escort was provided by the Bishop of Guggenheim's Regiment of Horse, the troopers falling back into their customary duty with apparent relief. The town was alive with people thronging the streets, of companies of green-clad militia marching hither and yon. Philip and Mary were cheered as they passed by, and Mary smiled and waved.
"Do we know where the Gravies are yet?" she asked.
"According to the latest intelligence they have but three regiments of foot across the river, with perhaps two squadrons of hussars and a gun battery." He smiled grimly. "Apparently our friend in the riverine flotilla has succeeded in striking the Gravies' line of communication. They will receive no further reinforcement, so they must do or die from where they are."
"And what shall we do when we reach the army?"
"I have no regiment to command as yet, but I'll be hanged if I stay safe at headquarters!" Philip shook his head. "No, I'll attach myself to our guns. It's where I'm happiest."
He grinned and reached over to squeeze her arm. "War can be a grim business, but with you alongside me I'm sure it'll go well."
They passed through the town gates and headed out on the road to battle. Mary rode alongside Philip, her heart soaring at the prospect of striking back at those who'd captured her.
The river was full of debris. Bodies and the shattered hulks of pontoons drifted with the current or lay grounded in the shallows. Ashore a line of tents had been shredded and were burning merrily. Distant pops and crackles showed where ammunition was cooking off in discarded cartridge pouches. Occasionally some brave soul took a potshot at the surviving gunboats of the flotilla. The range was long, the bullets all but spent if they struck the boats, but it was only a matter of time before someone took a hit.
"Our job is done here," Horatio said. "Bosun, we shall retire upriver and recover the survivors from Styx. Once that's done I think we can spare a boat to run dispatches back to town. Hail Cocytus and have her standing by to do so. The rest of us will maintain our post there until nightfall. If the Gravies try to cross again, we shall drop down and interfere with their plans."
"Aye aye, sir," the bosun said, touching his cap.
Horatio thought he looked stunned at the scale of destruction they'd wrought this morning. I know how he feels, he thought.
The flotilla came about and the oars beat the water into foam as the gunboats headed upriver. A plume of smoke was rising from a spot amidst the trees on the west bank. I wonder what that is. We didn't engage any targets that side. They drew closer to the wreck of the Styx, her mast poking above the water. When this is over we shall have to do what we can to salvage her, Horatio thought. If nothing else we should save her guns.
A distant shout attracted his attention. He looked up and saw figures waving from the west bank. A glimpse through the telescope was enough. "There are our shipmates," he said, pointing. "Helm, four points to starboard. Oars, easy ahead both."
They closed with the bank and Horatio saw a large bonfire was burning there, with figures huddled around it. The weather was sunny but still cold. Most were sailors from the Styx but there were others who wore army uniforms. Captain Creighton was waiting on the shore, his uniform crumpled and stained, but an expression of fierce satisfaction lit his face.
"Well done, Lieutenant!" he exclaimed as Acheron's bows kissed the little strand. "Well done, indeed! Those beggars took a hard blow."
His German is improving! Horatio thought, as the gangplank was run out. He saluted the Captain. "Thank you, sir. I'm glad to see you safe."
Creighton waved his arm at the men huddled around the fire. "We lost a good few fellows when poor Styx went down. What was your butcher's bill?"
Horatio walked down the gangplank and shook the Captain's proffered hand. "The flotilla lost ten all told, sir, including Midshipman Kurt."
"The poor little fellow!" Creighton shook his head. "Such is war."
"Yes, sir. I have Cocytus standing by to take dispatches back to town whenever you're ready."
"If you can give me pen and paper I shall make out my report presently, Lieutenant. For now. We shall take our ease for a while. There's a fellow I'd like you to meet."
He led the way to the bonfire. A man stood up from the fire and came around to meet them. Creighton introduced them. "May I present Lieutenant Derigueur, of the Rumtopft Dragoons?"
Horatio exchanged salutes and shook hands with the soldier, noting his powder-stained face and torn clothing. "I'm pleased to meet you, lieutenant. You look as if you've had a hard fight."
"We have, sir," Derigueur said as they took a seat by the fire. Although nominally both lieutenants, Horatio as commander of a naval vessel was the equivalent of an army major and so outranked Derigueur. He accepted a mug of coffee produced by some miracle by the survivors and listened to Derigueur's tale. The man spoke German with a soft French lilt, and Horatio guessed he hailed from one of Gallia's Rheinish provinces.
"We were bivouacked for the night when we got word the Gravies were trying to cross. Our captain got us down to the shore in time to see them launch pontoons loaded with men. Of course we opened up on them with our carbines as soon as they came within range but we were bounced by a company of light infantry." Derigueur scowled. "They must've got across by small boats earlier in the night, and drove us away from the shore. After that we could only mount up and keep what contact and pressure could on the Gravies, but it was galling to see them come ashore in such numbers."
"What have they managed to get across?" Horatio asked.
"Three regiments of foot, including Babbington's Legion, a gun battery and a couple squadrons of hussars. I think they were trying to get more guns and horse across but your action put paid to that."
Horatio gestured at their surroundings with his mug. "So how do you come to be here?"
"The light infantry moved inland with the rest of the army and we slipped through the gap, hoping to get across their lines of communication." Derigueur held up his mug in toast. "Thankfully our pitiful efforts weren't required. We've established a picket line some hundred yards out. If the enemy comes this way again we shall have warning." Derigueur smiled. "For now, we can enjoy our librated coffee and take our ease."
"I'm glad to hear it," Horatio smiled back, liking the Frenchman's capacity for relaxing in the midst of war. "And where are the Gravies now?"
"They're just to the south and west of us, perhaps five miles off."
"Then they shall engage our army tomorrow," Horatio said, meeting Creighton's eye. The Captain nodded. "What are your orders, sir?"
"You have everything in hand, Lieutenant. For now, as the lieutenant says, we can take our ease." He sipped his coffee then smiled. "No doubt our services will be needed again soon."