Thursday, 30 April 2009

Promotions and promises.

“For Heaven’s sake, Ursula, you can’t get married in those clothes!” Mary said. “Shirt and britches are all very well for an adventure but hardly good enough for a bride to wear. Didn’t you bring a dress of any kind with you?”

“I didn’t exactly have time to pack, Mary A,” Ursula replied, flopping into a chair and looking down at her attire. “I had to do a moonlight flit.”

“Not for the first time. Perhaps there’s a dress to be had in the village.”

Ursula sighed. “Viehdorf isn’t exactly heaving with high couture, Mary A.”

Her friend smiled patiently. “No, but most country folk make their clothes. Perhaps we should ask around.” She glanced out the window. “Oh, Horatio’s coming down the road with Captain Creighton.”

Ursula leapt to her feet and rushed outside. Her father was conversing with the captain of his escort but his head turned to regard the two naval officers as they approached. They drew up short when they saw the prelate standing outside the humble cottage and affected their bows.

“Good morning, gentlemen,” the Archbishop responded. “I’m glad to see you.” He turned his attention to Horatio and Ursula saw her intended’s face turn pink with embarrassment. But he drew himself up and looked the Archbishop in the eye. Good for you! She thought.

“I have some business to conduct with you, young man,” her father said in a severe tone. “Certain things were not done properly.”

“I will not ask your forgiveness in spiriting Ursula away from the palace, Your Grace,” Horatio replied evenly. “We love each other. It was necessary.”

“So it seems.” Her father glanced at her. “However, I have been persuaded to overlook your elopement. If you intend to marry my daughter I will not stand in your way, Commander.”

Horatio frowned, opened and shut his mouth, thought for a moment then gave the Archbishop a quizzical look. “I collect Your Grace is fully aware of my rank?”

“Your former rank, yes.” He smiled. “I cannot have my daughter marrying a mere lieutenant, however valorous. No, as from this moment you now have a commission as Master and Commander in the Riverine Navy.”

Horatio’s eyes widened but the Archbishop was not finished. He drew a flat black velvet-covered box from his coat pocket and opened it. An ornate silver star with a fine purple enamel center twinkled in the light. “This is the Order of the Goblet, awarded to you by the Reich Duke of Beerstein in recognition of your recent heroic actions. I prevailed upon the Beerstein ambassador to allow me to present it to you. When he learned there was a romance attached to your name he was perfectly agreeable. He extends his compliments and regrets his duties with the Grand Duke prevent him from meeting you at present.”

The Archbishop draped the ribbon of the Order around Horatio’s neck, and Ursula grinned at the stunned expression upon he beloved’s face. Captain Creighton applauded then shook Horatio’s hand. “Promotion is well overdue in your case, young fellow!” he said in his execrable German. “And the rank of Master and Commander will lead to automatic promotion to Captain within three years – if you behave yourself!”

“Thank you sir!” Horatio replied, still reeling.

Ursula rushed into his arms and hugged him. “Promotion to Commander, a prestigious award, and above all, you get to marry me! It’s a hard life you lead, Horatio Horngebläse!”

Captain Creighton coughed. “I’m afraid your ceremony will have to wait for a few days, Your Excellency.” He turned to the Archbishop. “Your Grace, we are under orders to take a number of soldiers aboard and sail for Wentwitz within the hour. The enemy must be prevented from crossing the river there.”

The Archbishop nodded. “I understand. When you return from your mission I request that you release Commander Horngebläse for marriage duties for as long as he may be spared.”

“I shall do so with pleasure, Your Grace. Now, if you’ll excuse us, we must be away to our commands.”

Ursula kissed Horatio soundly then watched with a glow in her heart as we walked away. “There goes a fine young man,” her father said by her side.

“I’m glad you agree, father.”

He rested his hand upon her shoulder. “We shall return to Kimmelsbrücke. You’ll have a wider scope to make preparations for your coming nuptials there.”

Ursula frowned. “I don’t want those wretched women fussing around me, father!”

His lips twitched. “I suppose they can be kept on the leash. Two of them in particular will be bound for foreign shores. But as it happens your uncle also wishes to see you. Apparently you’re still an accredited agent of the Intelligence Service. With poor Herr Beckenbaur recovering from his wounds, you’re the only agent we posses with a detailed knowledge of the Randstadt defenses.” He turned to Mary Amadeus. “And you, er, lieutenant, also have knowledge of value to your country, both regarding Randstadt and your prowess with explosives.”

Mary came to attention and saluted. “I shall be happy to serve in whatever capacity I may, Your Grace!”

The Archbishop blinked and Ursula grinned. “Then you can start by reporting for duty as my chief – and only! – bridesmaid!”

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Karl disposes, Wolfram proposes.

Another matter drew Grand Duke Karl’s attention as the soldiery began to march through the streets of Kimmelsbrücke. He gave orders and waited with Count Ostenberg in the garden of a townhouse loaned for an hour by its patriotic owner. Soon a rattle of carriage wheels sounded on the sweep of the drive. Karl was studying the beautiful pink blossom on an ornamental cherry tree and commenting on its scent when a party of his guardsmen appeared, escorting Barons Zögernsie and Bummeln-Störrisch.

“Neither man looks especially happy to be here,” Ostenberg commented quietly.

“With good cause!” Karl sneered as they waited for the men to approach.

“Your Grace,” they murmured, making their bows. He responded with a cool nod. Bummeln-Störrisch in particular seemed to have a sheen of perspiration on his glabrous face in spite of the cool breeze that stirred.

“Gentlemen. I’m glad to see you.” He consulted his fob watch and snapped the cover closed. The Barons followed his movements with watchful eyes, knowing they were in disgrace and wondering when the axe would fall – perhaps literally. “The hour presses and I have an invasion to supervise.” He smiled and they seemed to relax slightly. I’ll allow them a brief moment. Now

He glared at them. “You are guilty of treasonous correspondence with the enemy, namely the Margraf and Dowager Margrafin of Dunkeldorf-Pfuhl.” When they made to protest he held up his hand. “Be silent! I think you were of the opinion that you were serving our country best by doing so, perhaps out of a sense of misguided patriotism.”

“We exist only to serve, Your Grace!” Bummeln-Störrisch expostulated. His sweating was growing worse.

“Good. That’s very good.” Karl paced slowly up and down before them, his head bowed, hands behind his back. Count Ostenberg stood quietly, watching. It’s all theatrics, Karl thought. He’d made up his mind what to do the day before.

“It occurs to me that Hetzenberg has failed to stretch your activities and talents to their full capacities. You felt bored, and inclined to make mischief.”

“Your Grace -!”

Karl held up his hand. “Quiet! Idle hands make the Devil’s work, so they say. I shall ensure you are both kept very busy serving our nation in a useful capacity.”

“We exist only to serve, Your Grace!” Zögernsie cried, echoing his companion. Karl knew in the close questioning that had followed their arrest Zögernsie had proved the weaker of the two conspirators. Ostenberg hadn’t needed to apply much pressure there.

Karl gestured and his aide brought forward a Bible. “Barons Zögernsie and Bummeln-Störrisch,” Karl intoned, “you will lay your hand upon the Bible in turn and swear fealty to myself, my family and Hetzenberg, for as long as you do live. If either of you refuse or recant you can expect no clemency, I do assure you.”

Gray-faced and sweating, Bummeln-Störrisch laid his hand upon the Book and swore his oath. Baron Zögernsie followed suit with pathetic eagerness. The aide bowed to Karl and withdrew. “Good. Now that has been settled it remains for me to assign you duties suitable to your rank. Of course, sadly, your positions in my Grand Council are now forfeit; but I have something in mind which will be commensurate with those.”

Ostenberg stepped forward, bearing two rolls of vellum. Karl took them and studied the attached wafers and handed one roll to each man. “These are your Ambassadorial credentials.

They gaped. Karl hid a smile. “Baron Bummeln-Störrisch, I wish you to take up the position of Ambassador to the Principality of Morea so recently and tragically vacated by the late Baron Tapfer.”

Bummeln-Störrisch turned a distinct shade of green. “Cheer up!” Karl said, clapping him on the shoulder. “It’s a fine, civilized country. Of course, there has been a great deal of troublesome, indeed murderous banditry in the region, not to mention piracy on the high seas. I’m sure you’ll make a full and close investigation and report accordingly.”

“Your Grace is too kind!” Bummeln-Störrisch muttered.

“Baron Zögernsie, a nice position in the Holy Mormoan Kingdom of New South Wales awaits you. It’s true the country can only be reached by a long and arduous sea journey, but again, they are a fine, civilized nation.

“Both of you will serve your country well, and in five years perhaps, we shall see about reinstating you here at home.” Both men looked dumbstruck but Karl ignored their expressions and continued. “You will of course bear the awards and honors which I have bestowed upon my fellow sovereigns and behave yourselves as befits the representatives of our realm. You will be granted twenty-four hours in which to set your affairs in order and then you will leave. That is all. Good day to you, gentlemen.”

They bowed and departed, again under guard. “Was I too kind to them, do you think?” Karl murmured.

Ostenberg rubbed his jaw. “I think not, Your Grace. For all the reputed charms of its sovereign, Morea is no sinecure, and New South Wales is very far away. A good distance between those two fellows and our realm can only be to our advantage too.”

“I’m glad you agree. You’ll have someone within their staffs keeping an eye on their activities?”

“Of course.” Ostenberg’s smile would not have looked out of place on a shark’s face.

Karl rubbed his hands. “Then I shall take horse and lead my army on to more pleasurable activities.” As they walked out of the garden Karl looked up at the clearing skies. “I wonder how my brother is faring?”
* * *
Ursula bowed as her father rode up. “Father.”

“Daughter.” He reined in and sat on his horse for a moment, looking down at her. He’s always been fit for his age. No carriage for him if he can avoid it. She eyed him carefully, trying to gauge just how much trouble she was in.

The Archbishop dismounted and one of his troopers took the reins. “Is this where you’re staying?” he asked, looking at the cottage.

“I share it with Mary Amadeus, father.”

“Then we shall go inside.”
Mary was sitting at a desk, sucking the end of her quill and studying a sheet of paper. “…and three gallons of prussic acid, to be conveyed in one gallon carboys.” She looked up and sprang to her feet as the Archbishop followed Ursula into the room. “Oh!”

He held up a hand. “Pray do not get up, Sis – er…” He frowned at her appearance. “Lieutenant. As Ursula’s friend what I have to say to her will be of interest to you.”

“Your Grace,” Mary A muttered, looking sidelong at Ursula.

He shed his riding cloak and stood before the hearth, looking at them from beneath lowering brows. “You decided to vote with your feet and elope, child. Is that not so?”

“I did, father,” Ursula replied, her chin coming up in what Mary recognized as her fighting mode.

“Is your intended nearby?”

“He went to attend upon his captain. Father -”

“You wish to marry this Lieutenant?”

“I do!” Her cheeks colored. “We were thinking of asking Captain Creighton to perform a ceremony aboard the Acheron. As captain of a vessel he has that right.”

Her father stared at her for a long moment then rubbed his nose. “Actually, he doesn’t. The traditional right of captains to perform marriages extends only to ocean-going vessels.”

Ursula looked crestfallen but still defiant. “I won’t marry anyone else!” she said fiercely.

Suddenly the Archbishop smiled. “I wouldn’t ask it of you, child.”

Ursula blinked. “What?”

He shook his head in wonder. “Since you came of age your exploits have never ceased to amaze me. If I tried to tie you to some foreign prince you’d set the whole of Urope ablaze in an effort to have your own way. No, if you choose to marry Lieutenant Horngebläse I’ll not stand in your way. In fact, although the captain cannot marry the pair of you, I can – and, with your consent, shall.”

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Between tides.

The headquarters party was gathered beneath the spreading limbs of a fine old oak tree, sheltering from a fine drizzle that drifted on the cool morning breeze. The boughs above their heads stirred and dripped, droplets depending from the fresh green buds to fall on the maps spread on a folding table below. An aide was kept employed sponging the water away before the paper got too wet. Not far away the occasional pop and crack of a musket told them they were still at war and in pursuit of the retreating army of the Margraf.

Captain Creighton heard General Rauppen-Schlepper’s proposal with polite interest, but when the General had outlined his plan Creighton shook his head. “I’m afraid it won’t be possible for my flotilla to convey many troops, General. We can take perhaps two companies, distributed among our three boats. They would serve very well in a Marine capacity, but more than that and it would interfere with the operation of the vessels.”

“So small a number?” General Rauppen-Schlepper was disappointed.

“I’m afraid so. Had we more civilian barges to commandeer it would not be difficult to conduct an operation such as you propose, but otherwise,” Creighton shook his head again, “It will not answer.”

“Hmm.” Rauppen-Schlepper studied the map again, and traced the course of the river with his fingertip. It came to rest on the small town of Wentwitz. “Perhaps two companies would serve to secure the bridge at Wentwitz before the Gravies arrive. Backed by the guns of your flotilla our fellows will be a tough proposition for the enemy to tackle. That would force the Gravies to either attempt to seize the bridge by coup de main and risk heavy casualties, or perforce head for the next crossing, the ferry at Dizzendorf.”

“We can certainly give them a pounding if they approach within range of the river,” Creighton said with enthusiasm. “And we can secure the ferry long before they arrive if they move further downriver.”

Rauppen-Schlepper pursed his lips. “No,” he said softly. “If they move there, I would prefer them to leave our soil unmolested. It never serves to give an enemy absolutely no escape. It breeds desperation, and I would rather not have a desperate and well-armed enemy loose in Hetzenberg.” He bent over the map again. “His Grace will be marching into the Margravate at the head of his army within a day or so, bound for Randstadt. My aim is to delay the Margraf’s army here by at least another two days. That will prevent them from crossing the river and coming onto His Grace’s left flank before it can be secured.”

“Orders, sir?” Captain Scharfe asked quietly.

Rauppen-Schlepper nodded. “Orders to Colonel Brabenachel. I require you to detach the two most intact companies of your command under a capable officer, they to report aboard the Riverine Flotilla for temporary marine duties. Their mission is to secure and hold the bridge at Wentwitz against the Margraf’s army, such defense to be supported by the flotilla. They are to hold the position for as long as possible but not to the point of destruction. Fieldworks may be constructed if time permits.”

Scharfe wrote the last words and gestured to a galloper. As the man sped away Captain Creighton saluted Rauppen-Schlepper. “With your permission, General, I shall see to the preparations aboard my command. I shall await the infantry at a point on the shore adjacent to the army. That way it’ll speed the process of boarding.”

“Thank you, Captain. I do appreciate your co-operation.”

“A pleasure, sir, I do assure you.”

Creighton walked away, rubbing his hands with the eager anticipation of placing his command in the path of danger once more. Behind him another crackle of musketry sounded, and the army moved forward a little more.
Horatio met the Captain halfway along the road to the headquarters party. Creighton seemed in a good mood and clapped him on the shoulder. “We have good work ahead of us, my boy!” he grinned.

“I’m glad to hear it, sir!” Horatio grinned back, relieved that Creighton was not going to raise awkward questions about his tardiness. “Where, and when?”

Creigthon wrinkled his nose as Horatio fell into step alongside him on the road back to Viehdorf. They had to travel to one side to allow passage for the many troops and supply wagons that passed on their way to the front. “Wentwitz. We shall be taking a brace of companies aboard from Brabenachel’s Regiment in order to secure the bridge. The General wants us to prevent the Gravies from crossing there. If they attack, we shall serve ‘em out like we did last week. If they move on to the ferry at Dizzendorf, well, we’re not to interfere.”

“That would give his Grace time to march on Randstadt and secure his lines of communication, sir.”

“Just so. Once we reach the flotilla we shall get to work.” He cocked an eye at Horatio. “I’m afraid we will be rather pressed for space, so Her Excellency will have to remain behind for this trip.”

Horatio felt his face grow warm with embarrassment. Creighton’s eyes twinkled but he said no more.
To Mary Amadeus, Ursula’s breezy confession to a liaison with Horatio was not unexpected but it was also rather disturbing. It raised questions about her own relationship with Graf Philip. She sat in a commandeered cottage and worked steadily at the paperwork the new battery would require, but her mind strayed ever and anon to her situation. Not that Philip would advocate anything so… intimate as Ursula and Horatio’s relationship. And I’m not sure how I’d react if he did! Would he be permitted anything more than a warm friendship with me, anyway? I know the Kings of Gallia have their Official Mistresses, but I’m sure I wouldn’t want such a tawdry arrangement with Philip.

Happy little thoughts of marriage to Philip had tried to dance a quadrille in her mind for days, only to be tripped up and squashed by sudden moments of doubt. She sighed and bent to her work.
Ursula kept herself gainfully employed in helping the wounded to board the barges. The skills picked up in the Order’s infirmary in Randstadt and her recent ministrations of Konrad Beckenbaur made her more qualified than most to tend to their needs. It was with a sense of real accomplishment that she stood upon the levee and waved as the last of the barges slipped its moorings and headed out into the flow, bound for Kimmelsbrücke. The river was rising high with meltwater coming off the mountains of the south, and the waters were lapping close to the foot of the pilings that protected the houses from severe floods. Ursula walked along the riverside and wondered how Konrad was doing, hoping he too would make the river journey to the spa at Bolschen soon. If any man had suffered in his country’s service, it was he.

Her stomach rumbled and she rubbed it. I’d better go find Mary A and some lunch; it’s been hours since I last ate.

She turned and walked up the main street of the village, thinking of food, Horatio, Mary A, Horatio, marriage, Horatio…

A party of the Bishop’s Horse appeared on the road leading up to the village just as she neared the cottage where Mary A was working. She shaded her eyes, noting in an instant that these troopers looked fresher than the weary fellows who had filled the makeshift infirmaries so recently. And in their midst rode her father. His eyes were fixed upon her and his expression was thunderous. He’d obviously penetrated her guise in spite of the mannish clothes she still wore. “Ah, crap..!” she sighed, and braced herself.
“What is the situation to the east of town?” Grand Duke Karl inquired. “Have the enemy made any attempts upon the defenses?”

“None, beyond a few feints and skirmishes, Your Grace,” Colonel Kranke replied. “All of which were repulsed easily.”

They stood upon the hill before the great palace, looking out over the river and the valley. Kranke pointed to a distant huddle of buildings that marked the nearest village in Margravate territory. “That is the hamlet of Kuntsheim. It was cleared of civilian inhabitants soon after the Gravies arrived.”

“The Gravies..?”

Kranke coughed. “A colloquialism coined by our troops for the Margravate army, Your Grace.”

Karl smiled. “Ah, I see. Thank you. Pray do continue, Colonel.”

“The enemy threw up an outwork to provide protection to a battery of light guns before Kuntsheim, Your Grace. They were careful to locate it out of range of our own guns in the battery built by Colonel Schmutzgraber. They patrol regularly every day, mostly infantry but we have seen their gendarmerie on occasion.” He sniffed. “From reports given by refugees that have crossed here, those fellows are only good for browbeating the peasantry.”

Karl frowned. “It’s a brutish regime that requires such treatment to cow its own people. We shall rectify that, at least, once we have secured the valley for Hetzenberg.”

“God send that day will come soon, Your Grace.”

Karl clapped him on the shoulder. “It will come, Colonel. We shall march at dawn, take that village and permit its denizens to return to their homes within the week.” His handsome visage took on a ferocious mien. “Then we shall see about Randstadt!”

Friday, 24 April 2009

Another hoop...

I'm back, and thanks for the kind wishes. Yes, there's one more hoop to jump through. The visa interview process is well organized and painless. I wish I could say the same for the Embassy website, as it's full of contradictions and some requirements aren't raised or are buried in a wealth of BS. It turns out my fiancée has to mail me yet one more form, which I have to send to the US Embassy before they issue the visa. Oh well, these things are sent to try us...

I hope to write the next chapter of the Chronicles this weekend. The Gravies have yet to be escorted off the premises and there's the upcoming siege of Randstadt to cover.

In the meantime I have a batch of late 80's vintage wargames magazines up on eBay for those who may be interested, including issues of Practical Wargamer and one Battle for Wargamers Manual. Jeff has just pointed out that the link isn't quite right. I've modified it so now they can be found here. I'll give a discount on postage to any of my readers who wish to bid.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Wish me luck...

Everything Hetzenberg-related is on hold for a while now. Sorry guys, I have just too much on my plate at the moment. I'm off to London today for an overnight stay, as I have my visa interview tomorrow at the US Embassy. I will hear sometime next week whether my application has been successful.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

The Hetzenberg Chronicles Overview

Thanks for your kind comments gentlemen! I think it only fair to my regular readers if I give some indication as to where events will lead next.

The first volume of the Chronicle story rightly concluded when Ursula and Mary Amadeus reached Kimmelsbrucke. This second volume will cover the war between Hetzenberg and Dunkeldorf-Pfuhl, including the Battle of Viehdorf and the upcoming siege of Randstadt (in which our heroines will play their due part). I intend to use the rules in the Emperor's Press Warfare in the Age of Reason 2nd edition to run a paper game of this. Everything falls within an overall story arc concluding in the third volume. I do have plots and plans in mind but, as always when writing fiction the characters will often do things that take even me by surprise. And yes, Mary A - I am talking about you!

My beloved fiancée is working on copyediting the first volume as and when her schedule permits. I am adding new material to firm-up the begining, throwing some light on the days of Mary Amadeus and Ursula in the convent before life came calling with a vengeance, and fleshing-out other scenes and events during the course of the storyline. It's our intention to publish the whole in paperback and .pdf format at a later date - emigration matters permitting!

For now, I will be busy over the next couple of days, but I'll try and write the next chapter this afternoon. =)


Monday, 13 April 2009

Gathering at the river.

Hetzenberg gunboat Acheron, from a drawing
Lieutenant Mary Amadeus, circa 1750.
“Baron Tapfer was a good man, brave and competent,” Count Ostenberg said. “He had something of a reputation with the ladies, I believe; but as he was widowed some years ago no one minded his ways. It’s of a piece with his bravery that he should save the life of Despotissa Theofilia at the cost of his own.”

Grand Duke Karl nodded. “Yes, all credit to him for that. Does he have any surviving family?”

“Yes, there’s a son in the Foot Guards, and another studying in Paris I think.”

Karl turned to his secretary, who was taking the minutes of the meeting. “Please see that a suitable letter of condolence is drafted for them in my name, and I’ll append my signature and seal.”

The secretary nodded and made a note of the order. Karl turned back to the table. “Of course, we shall require clarification of the situation that led to his death before we can formulate a suitable response to the outrage.”

Ostenberg nodded. “Yes, Your Grace, although it will take time. Communications between here and Morea are slow at best. Judging from the Baron’s last report it’s all of a piece with the instability in the region. Messengers are waylaid and even quite strong bodies of troops attacked by bandits. Vessels sailing those waters are always at risk from piracy and roving letters of marque. Even so, it is still quite a shock to learn of a direct attack on the person of the Despotissa.” He grimaced. “Her arm wound is said to be severe. It may be that she has already passed away from the shock. If not, she will bear a grave injury, perhaps even lose the limb: A horrid thing for a woman to contemplate.”

“What do you suggest, Count?”

Ostenberg pursed his lips. “We shall have to replace Tapfer with a new representative who will report on the state of affairs in Morea. I confess I’ve been keeping a watching brief on the Mediterranean ever since the Letter from Vienna arrived. Any major eruption of hostilities in the theater will necessarily impinge upon us here in time. A set of eyes and ears in Morea will give us advance warning.”

“Quite so.” Karl thought. “At the moment we have too much close at hand to command our attention to spare much more thought for the situation there. Please select a number of names to put forward for the position of ambassador to the Principality of Morea and we shall discuss their capabilities at a later date. In the meantime I shall grant Baron Tapfer a posthumous award of the Order of High Distinction. Perhaps his son will accept it on his father’s behalf.”

Ostenberg nodded. “I’ll make arrangements, Your Grace.”

“Good. Now; to other matters…”
* * *
General Rauppen-Schlepper’s staff watched as he bent over the map showing the Eisenwasser Valley. The headquarters pavilion was silent as all present concentrated on their chief. Rauppen-Schlepper pursed his lips. “The Gravies may attempt a delaying action here.” He placed a finger on a point where the Wohl Hills came within two miles of the river. “The highway between Wohl and Wentwitz runs through there, and it’s an ideal spot for them to fight a delaying action. If the Gravies can gain that road within the next two days they’ll move faster and in better order than we can. By delaying us for long enough they can take Wentwitz and cross the river to safety.” He looked up at them from beneath beetling brows. “We cannot permit that to happen, gentlemen.”

“We have the advantage of the river, sir,” Captain Scharfe pointed out, peering down at the map. “It may be possible to convey troops by means of the riverine flotilla to that point before the Gravies can reach it. Even a regiment or two supported by the guns of the flotilla would disrupt any attempt they make to block our advance.”

“Can those boats carry enough men in time?”

“I confess I don’t know, sir. I’d suggest speaking to Captain Creighton about that.”

General Rauppen-Schlepper nodded. “Take a message. To Captain Creighton, commanding the gunboat flotilla. Sir, I would be most obliged if you would attend upon my headquarters at your earliest convenience to discuss a plan of co-operation between army and navy. Your humble servant, etc. etc.”

A staccato rattle of musketry sounded in the distance. General Rauppen-Schlepper looked up then glanced at his fob watch. “Ah, that’ll be the picket lines. Punctual as ever.” He gave his staff a wintry smile. “A new day begins, gentlemen! Let us be about our business.”
* * *
Ursula woke up to full morning in Horatio’s cot, feeling warm and drowsy and so very content. Rolling over she yawned, stretched then winced as a certain soreness made itself felt. What a night that was! She thought, lying there, gazing up at the deck overhead. Feet clumped around up there and the little gimbaled chronometer and compass mounted on the bulwark nearby told her it was nine of the clock and that they were sailing north-westward. She yawned again as she looked up at the stern-lights above her head and tried to judge whereabouts Acheron was on the river. She gave it up as a bad job just as Horatio appeared bearing a mug of coffee.

“Good morning, lover!” he said softly, coming to the cot side.

“Good morning yourself!” she purred, sitting up and wrapping her arms around his neck. Pulling him close she kissed him long and deep as he set aside the mug and began to caress her body. Horatio’s touch sparked new feelings and she pulled him down onto the cot and slid her arms under his coat. He allowed her to play for a few moments then groaned and drew away. “Oh, I wish I could stay in bed with you all day and night but duty calls.”

She gave him a sad smile. “I know. It was naughty of me to tempt you.”

“You can be as naughty as you like later,” he whispered, squashing the tip of her nose with his finger.

“Promise?” she said brightly, picking up the heavenly-scented mug of coffee.

“Oh yes!”

She sipped. “Mmm! What with this delightful bedside service and your promise, I think I’ll keep you around.”

Horatio chuckled. “Thank you for that!” He glanced out of the stern-lights. “We’re drawing nigh to Viehdorf, darling. The lookout sighted the barges tied up on the shore and taking on the wounded. We should reach the village in an hour.”

“And what shall we do then?” she asked, handing him the mug so he could take a sip.

He drank and handed it back. “I’m not sure. No doubt I’ll be in trouble with Captain Creighton for disobeying a direct order.”

“Only if he finds out, Horatio.”

“I suppose so.”

She reached up and stroked his cheek. “I won’t make trouble for you, my love. Maybe I can slip ashore and join Mary Amadeus without the good Captain seeing me. Just tell him you were delayed by someone updating you on the situation in Kimmelsbrücke. It won’t be far from the truth. If Creighton sees me around after that there’s no way he’ll be able to say how I arrived there.”

“Good idea.” A hail up on deck attracted his attention. “I’d better go.”

She grabbed his lapels. “One more kiss before you do!”

“Oh, very well…” he winked and kissed her.
* * *
Being at a loose end Mary Amadeus had turned her attention to the wounded in and around Viehdorf. It was an effort to bear the painful cries and groans that filled the air but she persevered all day and long into the night, tending to the wounded, comforting the dying and writing last letters full of heartbreak for a life cut short. When the barges from Kimmelsbrücke arrived at dawn she and Philip were up early to meet them. Their combined skills had fashioned a kind of bosun’s chair arrangement by which the stretchers bearing the more seriously wounded could be swayed aboard with the least pain and discomfort to the men.

They were working still when Acheron appeared upriver. Philip touched her arm. “Take a break, my dear,” he said softly. “You’ve earned it.”

She wiped her face with her hands. “Yes, I think I shall. I have a hunch Ursula will be aboard. It’ll be good to see her again.”

Acheron sailed toward Viehdorf, a lovely sight with her lateen rig swelling full in the morning breeze. Struck by the beauty of the moment Mary fetched a sheet of paper and a pen from her pack and sat on the bank, sketching Acheron as she drew into the roadstead. It was a complete change from her most recent activity and she could feel the tension leaving her mind. Mary’s keen eyes could pick out Horatio on Acheron’s quarterdeck but there was no sign of Ursula. She waved and Horatio waved back.

The gunboat swung into the bank and lost way, kissing up onto the muddy flat alongside her fellows with barely a shudder. Horatio walked forward to the foredeck as the brow was run out onto the shore, and Mary put her sketch away and went to meet him.

They embraced and kissed each other on the cheek. “It’s good to see you!” she said.

“And it’s good to see you.” He smiled at her fondly. “But you look tired. Have you been up all night?”

She glanced up at the village. “Yes. You look as tired as I feel. Have you been up all night too?”

“In a manner of speaking,” he said and coughed.

“Is Ursula aboard?” Mary asked, craning to peer up at the deck.

“She is, but she can’t come out if Captain Creighton’s around. Have you seen him?”

Mary looked at him askance. “Yes, he went up to the General’s headquarters half an hour ago.”

“Good!” Horatio turned and nodded to the tall Midshipman who was watching from the deck. He in turn nodded to the bosun who disappeared below. A few seconds later Ursula appeared, hurrying along the deck clad in the same clothes she’d worn when escaping the Margraf’s clutches. She bounced down the brow with a broad grin and swept Mary up in a fierce embrace. “It’s good to see you safe and sound, dear!” she cried.

“And you!” Mary said. “How’s Konrad?”

“Alive and getting better.”


“Indeed. I’d better go report to the Captain,” Horatio said. He saluted, gave Ursula a broad wink, and walked away up the levee.

Mary looked from Horatio to Ursula, who was watching him go with an expression of deep affection. “What have you been up to?” she demanded.

Ursula’s cheesy grin was answer enough.

Sunday, 12 April 2009

Passion, plans and a death.

Horatio departed the palace through the main gate, the sentries coming to attention as he passed. His buckled shoes clacked on the cobblestones, waking small echoes from moonlit streets that had quieted at last after the victory celebrations of the evening. Soon, the statue of St. Ungulant appeared ahead. The twice life-size effigy was posed on a great round pedestal overlooking the river, the saint’s crosier clutched in his hands in a way that reminded Horatio of a particularly belligerent petty officer he’d known. Ursula was sitting on the pedestal, swinging her legs and grinning as he came up. He felt his heart glow as bright as the full moon and he smiled warmly. “You made it intact, then!”

“Oh yes!” she said, hopping down and walking up to him. “I had worse trouble climbing over the convent wall.”

“Why did you – ” He stopped. “Do I really want to know?”

“Not really.” She took him in her arms and kissed him. “I may tell you someday, but for now, we have a boat to catch.”

They walked hand-in-hand down to the quayside and drew an odd look from the sentry guarding the brow as he came to attention. The crew was ready and waiting and their commander’s companion excited a number of nudges and knowing winks among them. “I’ll lay schillings to a slice of stollen that someone’s running a book on you coming aboard,” Horatio whispered.

Ursula winked. Her eyes glowed and she seemed in suppressed high spirits. “No doubt.”

“Good morning, sir,” Midshipman Steiner said, coming forward, his eyes fixed on Ursula. “Is all well?”

“Very well indeed, Steiner.” Horatio slipped his arm around Ursula’s waist. “The Grafin will accompany us on our voyage back to Viehdorf. Are the men rested?”

Steiner’s face was wooden. “Rested and fed, sir.”

“Very good. We will get under way.”

“Aye aye, sir.”

“Let go forward!” Horatio called. Up forward the harbor watch slipped the hawsers. “Let go aft!” A splash announced the stern hawser was free. Men boomed off from the quayside and the oars emerged from their ports as Acheron moved out into the flow. “Helm, steer for the arch and take us downriver. Mr. Steiner, you have the deck. The Grafin and I are going below.”
Ursula led the way below, her heart beginning to beat with anticipation, each pulse strong and hard in her breast. She knew the way to Horatio’s cabin and they went there now, hand in hand, silent. She opened the door, entered. Moonlight came through the stern windows and flooded the small, plain cabin with silver and deep shadows. She looked at his cot, set athwart ships under the stern-lights, and her head swam with expectancy. My first time!

He closed the door behind him and stood there, leaning on it as he gazed at her. “You could sleep alone in here, you know,” he said quietly. “I can take Steiner’s cabin. It would preserve your reputation.”

“So formal!” She gave him a sad smile. “My dear, I don’t think I have much of a reputation left…” Slipping into his embrace she kissed him then held him close, feeling his warmth, his heart beating as hard as her own. “I burnt my bridges the moment I defied my father’s authority.” She shook her head. “I love him, but what he plans is not for me.”

He stroked her hair, which was growing wild now she had escaped the attention of the maids for more than a few hours. She looked up at him, and they kissed, slowly at first then with passion. “I love you!” she murmured, drawing back for a moment.
His gaze was intense. “And I love you!”

“Oh, my dear --!”

He cast off his uniform coat and sword belt, the expensive sword of honor clattering to the deck. Ursula began to unbutton his shirt, giggling at the novelty, the way her fingers slipped and fumbled in her excitement. Pulling it open she ran her hands over his broad chest, feeling the dark hair brushing her palms, the sheer warmth of his skin. And then he was undoing her buttons, his long sensitive fingers popping them open from top to bottom. She stood trembling, head tilted back, eyes closed, her hands resting lightly on his hips until she felt the last button give way. Her senses were hyper-attuned, every little motion and movement her lover made flared brightly in her mind. A sudden coolness flowed over her skin as her shirt fell away then Horatio was caressing and kissing her where no man had ever kissed or caressed. She cradled his head, stroking his curly brown hair, sighing and murmuring sweet nonsense words as his lips and tongue stoked her fires higher and higher.

Of one accord they moved to the cot, laid down, undressed. With the moonlight streaming down and water chuckling beneath Acheron’s hull, Ursula and Horatio made love long into the night.
* * *
It seemed all Kimmelsbrücke had turned out to greet His Grace Duke Karl of Hetzenberg. They raised the echoes with their cheers as he rode his fine thoroughbred stallion Achilles through the Wohl Gate at the head of a body of courtiers and ambassadors from foreign realms. The guards from Infantry Regiment Krancke and the militia struggled to hold the crowd back as Karl rode through the streets with head held high, acknowledging their open delight, feeling a deep glow of pure happiness. A tidy victory, the enemy on the run, awards and honors to be bestowed – and the prospect of meeting this mysterious niece of mine for the first time! This is a day to cherish!

A sizable delegation was gathered to greet him in the courtyard of the Bishop’s Palace, Chancellor Count Ostenberg and his brother Wolfram to the fore. “Well met, Your Grace!” Ostenberg cried as Karl dismounted and a groom hurried forward to take charge of Achilles. He and Ostenberg exchanged bows. “Give you joy of the victory, sire!”

“I thank you most warmly, Chancellor,” Karl said and turned to his brother.

"Give you joy also, Your Grace,” Wolfram murmured as they embraced.

“Thank you.” Karl held him at arms’ length and gazed at him. “Something is amiss with you, brother? Don’t deny it; I know you too well.”

“Ursula has eloped.”

Karl blinked. “With whom?”

“He is a young naval officer who earned distinction in rescuing her.” Wolfram looked gloomy. “It appears he quite turned her head!”

"How shocking!" Karl hid a smile behind an expression of deep gravity. “That is unfortunate indeed! I collect the young man’s name is Lieutenant Horatio Horngebläse?”

“The same.” Wolfram boiled with suppressed fury and Karl had to look away or burst out laughing. Now, isn’t that all of a pattern with what I know of the young hellcat?

“It may mollify you to know the Reich Duke of Beerstein has awarded the young hothead the Order of the Goblet, a most prestigious award for someone so young.”


“The Reich Duke’s ambassador is here to present it, along with the Order of the Crown to our most excellent General Rauppen-Schlepper for his recent victory.” He gestured to his breast, where hung an ornate and heavy honor. “Not only that but I have received the Grand Star of the Order of Neues Sudland.” He clapped his brother on the shoulder and steered him toward the doors of the palace. “Be of good cheer if you can, Wolfram. This is a day for celebration!”

“What do you intend to do?” Wolfram asked with a gallows smile as they walked inside.

“I shall ride north and join the army. The Reich Duke’s ambassador will award Rupert with his Order then we’ll chase the Gravies off our land.”

Wolfram looked at Karl askance. “Gravies, brother? Surely you too have not fallen into using the vernacular?”

Karl smiled. “It’s an easy term to remember.” They came to the chamber set aside for their deliberations. Karl waited until the Chancellor and his closest advisors had entered and shut the door before getting to the meat of the matter.

“Gentlemen, we shall squeeze the juice out of what’s left of the Margraf’s army then carry the war onto his soil. The rest of the army is a day’s march behind me. It includes the Guard and the siege train. They should arrive here by nightfall tomorrow. I intend to invade the Margravate and lay siege to Randstadt. With most of his army battered and chased away far to the north, the Margraf will be hard-pressed to defend it for long.”

“With Randstadt in our possession we can push the border east to a more secure and defensible line,” Wolfram murmured, thinking it through.

“Precisely.” Karl smiled. “The Eisenwasser Valley shall be ours!”

A knock on the door heralded a messenger. Uttering a quick explanation he thrust a piece of paper in Count Ostenberg’s hand. The Count dismissed the man and glanced at the paper. He frowned. “What news, Chancellor?” Karl asked.

Ostenberg handed him the paper. “It seems our ambassador to the Principality of Morea has been murdered...

Saturday, 11 April 2009

Clearing house.

If I may crave the indulgence of my readers for a moment...

I'm in the process of clearing house prior to emigrating and I came across a stash of Military Modelling magazines from 1981 amidst the heap of stuff from 30+ years of wargaming.

These are in very good condition, include useful articles by some of the foremost names in our hobby, and feature uniforms and battle accounts. The August 1981 issue shown above includes an article on Schleiswig-Holstein troops in Russian service during the SYW. They're posted on eBay at the moment, so if anyone would care to take a look they may be found here...

...just below the Dragon magazines on the page. Mailing costs are to UK but I'll throw it open to anyone who is interested if they make themselves known to me via eBay.

Best, A J

Friday, 10 April 2009

The best laid plans of mice and Archbishops...

Ursula woke in the late evening with a headache thumping between her eyes. She got out of bed feeling groggy, a feeling not helped by her attendants, who came rushing as soon as they heard her moving about. The maids assigned to her were fractious, as angry with her as they dared to be for staying away about her own mysterious business instead of being dutiful and attending upon her father’s court. She sent them scurrying with burning ears by using a few choice phrases and finished dressing herself in an increasingly vile temper.

One maid dared her wrath by reappearing with a message from the Archbishop, left there earlier in the day while she was absent. Ursula snatched it from the woman and slit open the seal. The note was terse.

“My dear daughter, you will oblige me by attending upon my offices as soon as you read this note, no matter what the hour. There is news of great import to your future welfare that I wish to convey to you. As an aside I do not like to be kept waiting. With love, Your Father.”

She tapped it on the palm of her hand for a while then went in search of her maids. “Would the Archbishop still be awake at this hour?” she asked, glancing at the clock.

“Yes, Mistress,” one replied. “The news of the victory set everyone astir, and the Archbishop is working on the ramifications even now. It’s said we can expect a visit from the Grand Duke himself at any time!”

“Really?” Ursula had never met her uncle, although she was charitable enough to hope Philip’s good nature sprung from his father. “I suppose I’d better go find my father.” She thought of the labyrinthine complexity of the palace. “And one of you had better show me the way!”
Ten minutes of steady walking later and Ursula arrived at the office used by her father. All the time his phrase there is news of great import to your future welfare that I wish to convey to you ran through her mind. I don’t like the sound of that!

As the center of an important diocese the palace kept late hours as a matter of course, but this night saw a greater bustle with a strong undercurrent of satisfaction. Her father greeted her with a warm smile when he saw her and she curtseyed to him, her spirits lifting slightly.

“It’s good to see you, child!” he said, embracing her.

“I came as soon as I could, father. My friend was wounded and near to death, so I attended upon him. I’m glad to say he’s recovering now.”

“That was a generous and Christian act, my girl.”

She shrugged. “It was the least I could do. Without him, I’d still be a prisoner of the Margaf.”

“Indeed.” The Archbishop was dressed in the informal garb of a cleric of his stature, although it had an air of genteel shabbiness as if it had been well-worn for years. He picked up a paper, glanced at it with a distracted air, and set it down. “It has occurred to me that your unwed status remains a source of potential trouble within the realm and a point of contention with our neighbor. My brother, the Grand Duke shall be here tomorrow. He will be accompanied by a number of ambassadors from friendly states. I intend to consult with him on taking the opportunity of their presence to seek out a suitable match for you.”

Ursula’s heart gave a lurch. “What?

A crease appeared between her father’s brows, a phenomenon that she herself shared when vexed. “Ursula, you must realize your days of gallivanting around playing secret agent are over! You are of an age where most of your contemporaries of rank have long since been married.”

“Do my feelings not come into this? I just happen to love Horatio Horngebläse!”

“Oh, don’t be ridiculous!” he snapped. “You, wed to a mere lieutenant?” He waved a hand in dismissal. “Yes, he’s covered himself in distinction; but he really cannot be contemplated as a suitable match for you!” He shook his head. “No, you shall be married to a prince of another realm, and that marriage shall cement relations between our two states. Thus it has always been, and so it shall always be!”

“I really must object, father!” She stormed, her headache pounding harder by the minute. “This is the Age of Reason! Marrying me off to some fat foreign potentate with horrible manners is positively mediaeval!”

He raised his eyes to heaven, as if seeking divine guidance. “Ursula, the needs of the state far outweighs even our needs. Most nations require a steady line of succession. You must’ve gained knowledge of international affairs through your recent work. You’ve surely witnessed the way nations come into conflict because an inheritance has come into dispute.” He took a deep breath. “Please, child, do your duty to our nation. Marry whomever your uncle and I select for you and go in peace. If Lieutenant Horngebläse is so important to you, it may be that we can have him assigned as naval attaché to the realm you marry into. As long as you do your duty to your husband and produce an heir, you can conduct an affair with your young man. Most husbands of our rank will tolerate such providing you are both discreet.”

Ursula gaped at him. “I don’t believe I’m hearing this! You, a leader of the Church, would condone an affair?”

“Oh, grow up, Ursula!” he shouted. “It has always been the way! I keep trying to get the concept of duty to the state into your addled brain and yet you still refuse to grasp what I’m saying. It behooves us all to do things for the greater good. Some of those things we find distasteful, but that’s the way it is. Now, I’ve quite had enough of your willfulness tonight. I resent being forced to raise my voice. Please return to your chambers and we shall hear no more about this until your Uncle arrives.”

Ursula curtseyed in a slow and deliberate manner, turned on her heel and left the room with a sweep of her skirts. We’ll see about that!
* * *
It was close to midnight by the time Acheron reached Kimmelsbrücke. With the threat of enemy action removed Horatio was able to catch some sleep in his cabin during the voyage. He was therefore quite awake as they swung into their berth. Midshipman Steiner from the late Styx had taken Kurt’s place. Horatio ordered him to let the men rest while he himself went to find suitable barges to recover the wounded from Viehdorf.

The barge captains were surly to begin with, resentful at being kept waiting for valuable cargoes while the river was cleared; but they soon understood the import of Horatio’s request and got to work with a will. The mention of compensation guaranteed by the state worked as a sweetener. As he negotiated, ever and anon Horatio’s thoughts strayed to the great palace on the hill and the special person within. As he watched the barges swing out into the stream on the start of their journey downriver he mulled over the order not to tarry in town given him by Captain Creighton. “I’ve never disobeyed an order yet, but by God, this night I shall!” he said to the now-silent quayside. Tapping his tricorn firmly on his head, he set off up the street to the palace.

He was not too surprised to see the great building still abuzz with the excitement of victory. He was greeted by the officer of the watch, who shook his hand. “You and the flotilla played a great part in the victory, my friend!” the man said expansively. “Had it not been for you old General Rauppen-Schlepper would’ve faced a much greater task. Now the enemy’s beaten all he has to do is follow them up and see them off the premises.”

“I’m sure you exaggerate our deserts,” Horatio replied with a distracted smile.

“Nonsense, old chap! Come, have a glass of wine with me.”

Horatio held up his hand. “Alas, I must decline, for I am on the wing. I’m here to deliver a message then I must return to the flotilla.”

“Of course; of course. Do you know where to go in this infernal maze?”

“I’ve been here before. I think I can find my way.”

“Good luck to you then, my friend, and God send the navy more victories!”

Conscious of the time Horatio walked swiftly through the maze of passageways, rooms and corridors, and reached Ursula’s suite at the same time she herself appeared. He looked at her with surprise and delight, mixed with concern at her heightened color and furious expression. “Hello!”

“Hello yourself!” The angry she-bear managed a smile instead of a snarl. “I’m surprised to see you, but delighted all the same.”

“What’s amiss?” he asked, glancing at the maid who accompanied her.

She took his arm and kissed him on the cheek. “I’ll tell you inside. Come!”

The maids were waiting up for her return. “Shoo!” she snapped. “I need a word with the Lieutenant in private!”

“But Mistress, you need a chaperone!” one protested.

“And you’ll get my boot up your backside if you don’t get out!” she retorted.

The women fled and Ursula collapsed onto a chaise-longue with an explosive sigh of relief. “Dear God! Horatio, dearest, I’m sorry to appear such a brute but I feel as if I’ve thrust my head into a hornets’ nest, what with all these ninnies buzzing around. My father really hasn’t helped matters.” She rubbed her forehead. “I’ve such a headache, too!”

Horatio looked at her with concern then poured a glass of wine from a carafe on a side table and silently handed it to her. He half expected her to swill it down in one gulp but she sipped it. He looked around and spotted a large bottle of eau de cologne and a cloth left on a bureau. Soaking the cloth in the ice-cold perfume he took it over to Ursula, knelt by her side and applied it to her forehead.

“Ooh! Bliss!” she sighed and cocked an eye at him. “Where did you ever learn to be so attentive on a woman?”

“Do you really want to know?” he grinned.

She shook her head. “You don’t fool me. You’re no ladies’ man!”

“True, alas!”

“But not for want of trying?” She waved a hand. “Never mind; I’m glad.” She took the cloth away long enough to pull his head down and kiss him. “I’m really glad to see you safe and well, my dear.”

“I’m all too glad to be here with you again.”

“You’re not needed downriver?”

“Not until morning. I came up to fetch some barges to convey the wounded safely to town.” He glanced at the clock. “I’m taking a liberty by being here with you at all. Captain Creighton was most specific about my not tarrying.”

“Ah.” She kissed him again, a much longer, lingering kiss. “It’s so good to see you, and just when I need comforting.”

“What’s happened to make you so furious?” She explained, the color rising in her cheeks once more. “Good God!” he said.

“Yes. I need to get away from here!”

He hesitated, thinking fast. “Acheron is moored at the quay…”

Ursula grinned. “Really!”

“Yes. How soon can you pack?”

She snorted. “I’m quite ready now!”

“You can’t leave by the main entrance or your father will hear and you’ll be fetched back.”

“There’s no other way out – or is there?”

She moved him aside gently, got up and walked to the tall windows that let onto a balcony. He followed her outside and they looked down. “I can climb down that,” she said, pointing at the stonework. “There are plenty of foot and handholds. You can head out the main doors; I’ll go out that side gate we used before and meet you at the statue to St. Ungulant on the road down to the quay.”

“You’ll have trouble doing anything so bold in those skirts,” he said, looking at her attire.

“Then the skirts will have to go.”

Ursula went back inside and disappeared into the adjoining room, which Horatio saw was a bedroom. He heard the sound of doors and drawers being pulled open. “I’ve got something here somewhere, if those wretched maids haven’t thrown it away – ah!”

She emerged bearing a pile of clothing which looked familiar to Horatio. “Isn’t that the man’s garb you were wearing when we rescued you?” he asked.

“Yes. At least the maids had these cleaned and pressed. They seem to like having things cleaned and pressed.”

To Horatio’s astonishment she began to undress, pulling at the rich cloth with uncaring haste. He hurriedly turned his back but realized he could see her reflected quite well in the window glass, with the dark night beyond. Oh well. I did try to be a gentleman, he thought, watching proceedings with interest. Ursula undressed, casting the dress and undergarments aside and seeming not to care whether he watched or not. “Men’s clothing is so much more practical!” she complained as she pulled the britches up her long legs and tucked the shirt into the waistband. “Why the hell do we women put up with skirts and corsets?”

“It’s an unjust world,” he said faintly.

“Isn’t it? I should be able to just walk away from all this without let or hindrance, but no…”

“Quite so.”

He watched her reflection as she pulled on her outdoor boots and stood up. “There, finished!”

He turned and grinned. Ursula grinned back as she sauntered up to him. “Can you imagine how dull life would be if we did what we were told all the time?” she asked, hugging him.

“Life with you will never be dull!” He said, gazing at her fondly.

She pulled his head down and gave him a long kiss. “I aim to make sure of that! Now,” she said, releasing her clasp and heading for the window, “I’ll make tracks. Throw those clothes into my room and shut the door. When you leave, tell those pests outside I’ve gone to bed and am not to be disturbed. See you by the Saint!”

With that, she clambered over the stone balustrade and disappeared from sight. Horatio gathered up her discarded clothes, grinning broadly. There may be trouble ahead, but with Ursula by my side I just don’t care!

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

After the battle.

General Rauppen-Schlepper at work.

General Rauppen-Schlepper was not displeased with the efforts his troops made to pursue the enemy, although they were without exception tired after the long day. His main concern was the lack of fresh cavalry. Rumtopft’s Dragoons had covered themselves in glory and had earned their new battle honor of Viehdorf, but they were almost spent as a military force. Their surviving troops had been converged into two full-strength squadrons, and Rauppen-Schlepper could see them ahead where they were probing the retreating Gravies in a slow and desultory fashion. Their colonel had been taken to Viehdorf where his wounds could be tended, and that brave gentleman’s welfare was of much concern to his men.
The Bishop’s Horse were not in much better shape, although their colonel was full of vigor and ready to lead his men into the fray once more. At the moment they were acting as reserve, close to hand and ready to respond to Rauppen-Schlepper’s orders.

From what he could see of the Gravies’ cavalry their hussar regiment posed the biggest danger. Their colonel was on his way back to Kimmelsbrücke under escort, but his capture and whatever losses they’d suffered on the field hadn’t affected them much. They were still numerous and well-handled, showing the potential of their type in slowing pursuit, probing flanks and harassing stragglers. If their infantry had not been so battered the hussars would no doubt be looking for trouble. The Seinfeld cuirassiers were acting as reserve, standing until the Hetzenberg army had followed up to within long musket shot before turning their mounts and riding away perhaps a quarter mile to the next position. Occasionally they would threaten a charge, and of course he would have to respond, even though he knew it to be a bluff. It will not do to be careless now, when these poor men have achieved so much.

Some two hundred yards behind the dragoons Wohl and Brabenachel’s regiments were acting as the main body, with his headquarters party riding at walking pace between the two. They too had fought well, though not with such distinction as to earn battle honors. The infantrymen were as tired as the cavalry troopers and after an earlier attempt to follow the retreat in line had resorted to marching in column, it being much easier to maintain cohesion. A couple of platoons had been deployed to either flank to help sweep up the stragglers from the Dunkeldorf-Pfuhl army, and a good many exhausted Gravies were being sent to the rear under escort. It had to be done, but it meant a slow erosion of the infantry’s remaining fighting capabilities.

Behind him marched Sleibnitz’s regiment, largely untouched by the battle. They were deployed in line and were easily keeping up with the more battle-weary regiments ahead. Rauppen-Schlepper had treated Colonel Sleibnitz with cool reserve when giving his orders for the pursuit. I’ll deal with him later, and don’t I wish him joy of the encounter! Sleibnitz’s connections with the Ducal family had stood him in good stead until now; but Rauppen-Schlepper had his own power, and the victory would give him an ascendancy that would outstrip any Sleibnitz could muster. Once this campaign is over a nice posting on the frontier, well away from civilization, will suit that fellow.

The baggage train was following at its own speed but the artillery had been left in Viehdorf, along with Graf Philip and his protégé Lieutenant Mary Amadeus. Rauppen-Schlepper smiled in recollection. They had taken possession of the Margraf’s guns with a glee that was positively unnerving. I can see interesting times ahead for those two.

And now dusk was falling. Rauppen-Schlepper looked around then consulted his watch. “Captain Scharfe, I will issue orders,” he called and his chief of staff rode up. “Direct this to Major Kirchner, commanding Rumtopft’s Dragoons. The pursuit will be terminated for today upon receipt of this order. Maintain your position until the infantry comes up then encamp. To the colonels of Brabenachel and Wohl, they are to move up to the cavalry position and encamp, sentries to be posted.”

Scharfe scribbled the orders then paused and looked up. “And Sleibnitz, sir?”

“Sleibnitz,” Rauppen-Schlepper drawled. “Yes, they are to encamp in the same location and will provide sentries and vedettes for the entire army.”

Scharfe hid a grin as he wrote this. “Very good sir.” He turned and called. “Gallopers!”

The messengers took their copies of the orders and sped away. Before long bugle and trumpet calls sounded. A collective sigh of relief seemed to float into the air as the men realized the long, long day was over at last. Ahead, the nearest enemy hussar squadron heard the calls and understood their day was nearly over too. As Rauppen-Schlepper watched, the captain of the squadron rode forwards a ways and saluted the Rumtopft Dragoons, and the courtesy was matched by the dragoon commander. Just as it should be, Rauppen-Schlepper thought. War can be a beastly business if the proprieties are not observed.
* * *
The flotilla had swung at their moorings a quarter mile from Viehdorf for a long and frustrating day. Every man aboard Acheron, Cocytus and Phlegethon had watched the battle from whatever vantage points they could find, but the height of the levee hid most of it. Although Horatio knew the mortars the three gunboats carried could easily pound the mercenaries in the village up on the bund, it was still the home of Hetzenberg people and therefore out of bounds. He was glad to see the infantry sweep the enemy from its streets, and once Captain Creighton was assured the village was clear, he gave orders for the flotilla to close with the shore.

Acheron, Cocytus and Phlegethon were drawn up bows-on to the shore, with brows run onto the bank. The streets of Viehdorf were busy with detachments tending to the wounded from both sides that had been assembled there. Cottages had been commandeered for hospitals and operating theaters and the moans and screams of wounded men seemed all-pervading. As Creighton walked grim-faced across the brow to the shore Horatio followed, and they were met by an officer of the medical corps who saluted them. “Good morning, gentlemen. I’m Captain Hecht, commanding the medical detachment here.”

“Good morning, Captain,” Creighton replied, and introduced himself and Horatio. “I give you joy of the victory.” He looked around. “You have plenty of poor wounded fellows here, it seems. I trust the butcher’s bill was not too high?”

Hecht sighed. “High enough, I fear. Brabenachel and Wohl’s regiments suffered greatly, as did the Rumtopft Dragoons. We have their colonel here. He was wounded but should live, with the blessing.”

“I’m glad to hear that,” Creighton said gravely. “My command is staying ashore for the night. Is there anything we can do to aid you here?”

“If you have men aboard with knowledge of medicine I would appreciate their services, sir.”

“You shall have them, sir.” Creighton rubbed his jaw. “Captain, it occurs to me that we could commandeer a barge or two and transport the wounded in them to Kimmelsbrücke. Traveling by water would be much kinder on them than a jolting progress over rutted country lanes for hours upon end.”

Hecht had to follow Creighton’s speech with close attention, for the Captain’s German was not quite adequate for such a discourse, but he readily grasped the meaning and beamed. “That would be wonderful! I do confess that, careful as we are, such prolonged jolting carries away many a poor fellow and agonizes those who do survive.”

“The river traffic is being held in Kimmelsbrücke, sir,” Horatio said to Creighton. “With your permission, once my men have rested a while, I’ll take Acheron back upriver and shake a couple of barges loose. It shouldn’t take more than four hours before they arrive here.”

“Pray do so, Lieutenant.” Creighton cocked an eye at him. “And in spite of the…attractions in town, don’t tarry ashore, do ye hear?”

Horatio knew the Captain alluded to Ursula and felt his face grow warm. “The thought didn’t enter my mind, sir!”

Creighton gave him an arch look. “I’m sure it didn’t. Away with you now, for these fellows need our help.”

Creighton headed off into the village to inspect the scene of the action and make arrangements for the wounded to be moved when the barges arrived.

As Horatio was about to head back up the brow he heard someone calling his name. Looking back he saw Mary Amadeus walking toward him and smiled with delight, even as he goggled slightly at the sight of her in uniform. “Mary!”

Mary Amadeus came up and hugged him, drawing more than one grin from those nearby. “I saw the flotilla come in and had to see you.”

“It’s good to see you too.” He gave her a fond smile. “You reek of gunpowder!”

“I do.” She shrugged. “It’s par for the course with me, but I’d welcome a bath before another day is out.”

“You took part in the battle?”

“I did. Philip and I managed to acquire some guns from the Gravies, and he’s back there now attending to the matter.”

“You make it sound like an ordinary purchase at a store!”

She grimaced. “It was bought at the cost of a lot of blood on the enemy’s part, but serves ‘em right for invading us.”

“You bloodthirsty wench!” he grinned. “You’re beginning to sound like Ursula.”

“The she-bear is still back in Kimmelsbrücke I think,” Mary said. “She intended to make sure Konrad was cared-for.”

“It was good of her to do so. I’m heading that way now. If you’d like to come along you’d be welcome.”

“Ah.” Mary looked uncertain. “I’d love to, Horatio, but I have a number of commitments here. Give my love to Ursula when you see her.”

Horatio could guess the shape of her commitment and smiled inwardly. “I’ll surely do that.”
* * *
The she-bear was exhausted, but Ursula knew her own tiredness was as nothing compared to Konrad’s. She’d tended to him with care and compassion, seeing to his needs no matter how base and squalid. He’d passed through the night and come into the morning light alive but weak. The fever had broken at the same time as news had arrived of victory over Dunkeldorf-Pfuhl. Now he slept, and she sat in the chair by the window wondering in a fuzzy way how Mary and Horatio and Cousin Philip were doing.

A knock sounded at the door and she looked up as it opened. A woman stood on the threshold, looking pale and anxious. She was some considerable age older than Ursula and she wrung her hands as her gaze swung from her to the bed where Konrad lay. “Forgive my abrupt appearance, Excellency,” the woman said, advancing into the room and dropping into a curtsey. “I am Elizabeth Beckenbaur, Konrad’s wife. I came as soon as I heard he was ill.”

Ursula rose and to Elizabeth’s surprise gave her a warm and kindly hug. “You’ve no need to apologize, Elizabeth; and please, call me Ursula.” Taking Elizabeth’s hand she led her to the chair by the bedside. “Your husband is alive and recovering now.”

“You’ve been here all night?” Elizabeth took Konrad’s hand and he smiled in his sleep and clasped it tight.

“Yes.” Ursula wiped her hands over her face. “I admit I’m pretty much exhausted.”

Elizabeth took her hand and squeezed it with tears in her eyes. “How can I ever thank you for tending to my husband?”

“There’s no need. It was the least I could do for my friend and mentor.” Ursula’s head swam and she blinked away the fatigue. “Now, if you are sure you’ll be fine here, I shall take my leave. I hear the siren song of my bed.” A thought popped into her head as she headed for the door. “Oh, and when he’s fit enough to travel, I’ll pay for you both to take the waters at Bolschen. I hear they’re a sovereign remedy for all kinds of ills. You’ll be able to travel by barge all the way there. It’ll be much kinder on an invalid’s bones than a coach.”

“You’re too generous, Excellency!”

“Ursula. I’m off now before I fall over, but I’ll pop in later today.”

Ursula left with the warm glow of a deed well done. The barracks adjutant fell over himself ordering a carriage to take her back to the palace, and she waited in his office for it to arrive, feeling pleasantly tired and listening to the joyful bells of celebration ringing out across the town. Sometimes things do go right.
* * * * *
My apologies to all those who follow this blog. I've been rather busy of late, and with my visa interview confirmed I'll be busier still preparing for that these next few weeks. I'll be able to wrap up the current edition of the Chronicles but it'll be as-and-when.