May 1634, 0430 hrs, in the shadow of Hammershus Castle, Island of Bornholm, the Baltic

"Get ready to jump," the man at the rudder called.

Jesper Hansen tugged his cap down tight and slung his duffle bag over his shoulder. There was a gentle bump as the boat brushed the rocks and Jesper leapt for the shore. Safe on land, he waved the fishermen on their way and headed for the castle.

****

He was panting before he reached the top. It was barely a hundred yards from the shore to the castle wall, but it was a climb of nearly two hundred and fifty feet. His destination was the signal line hanging below the guns. When he got to it he jerked it several times, listening for the ringing of the sentry bell.

"Who goes there?"

Jesper squinted at the face looking over the wall. "That you, Jørgen? It's me, Jesper. Drop the ladder. I have an urgent message for the Lensmand. The Swedes are coming."

"The Swedes? Stand clear, I'm letting the ladder down now."

Hammershus Castle, the office of Lord Holger Rosenkrantz of Glimminge, Lensmand of Hammershus Len

Lord Holger Rosenkrantz paused at the door of his office. Two men were looking at a map on the table. One of them was a competent officer he could trust -- a man who had served with the Swede for several years before King Christian decided to join the League of Ostend. He wasn't so sure about the other man. Captain Lord Niels Gyldenstjerne was one of his wife's kin. So far the man hadn't screwed up . . . but then, he hadn't been given much opportunity. Holger didn't have high expectations of anybody from that family and kept a close eye on his every move. "The messenger says the Swedes intend gathering their invasion fleet at the Ertholmene islands. From there they can strike at the Hammershus, Melsted and Svaneke."

Holger shook his head, and pointed at the map. "Then again, they might make for the beaches to the south beyond Nexø." He turned to his wife's kinsman. "Niels, send a messenger to instruct the militia commanders to deploy their companies to protect the beaches at Melsted, Svaneke, and Nexø. They'll have to defend their areas with what they have. We can't spare them anything. The Hammershus is the seat of my power as Lensmand of Hammershus. If I lose the castle, I lose the island." He looked pointedly at Niels. "And more importantly, I lose the income from the tenants."

Holger waited until Niels left before turning to Mads Friis, his artillery officer. "Now Mads, how best can we defend the Hammershus?"

The next day, Christiansø, one of the Ertholmene islands, twelve and a half miles east of Sandvig

Johann Fabricius leaned his rifle against a rock and sat down to eat. All around him men were already engaged in the important task of feeding their faces. He let a chunk of bread soak up some hot gravy while he cast an eye over the anchorage between the islands of Christiansø and Frederiksø. The natural harbor was packed with small boats, transports, and the escorting frigates. "How big did you say the beach at Sandvig was, Matthias?"

"Well, you've got to remember, I wasn't more than eight when I was there, but I guess it must be a couple of hundred yards wide."

Johann turned back to contemplating the flotilla of small sailing smacks and barges. "It's going to be a mess with all those boats trying to find somewhere to land."

"Yeah, a right mess."

"Mind, it's not our problem."

"No, not our problem," Matthias Delp agreed.

"We aren't paid to worry. That's what sergeants are for."

"That's right. Let Sergeant Fels worry."

Johann glared at his friend. "Matthias, I get the feeling you're not taking me seriously."

"Oh, I'm taking you very seriously, Johann. Let the sergeant worry about finding us somewhere to land. We can worry about the fact our boat draws over four feet. That means we'll be jumping into water at least that deep."

"That is something to worry about. How deep will the water be at the back of the boat?"

Matthias shrugged. "I told you I was only eight when I was last at Sandvig. I don't know. It could be anything up to five or six feet."

"Matthias, none of us are tall enough to jump into five or six feet of water with a full war load."

"That's my point. Worry about something you can control. I'm planning on being near the front of the boat."

The next day, 0530 hrs, Hammeren hills, Bornholm

On a good day, through a good telescope, a person on the heights of the Hammeren hills could see the fishing boats sailing in and out of the anchorage at Christiansø. Sergeant Knud Lauridsen watched the Swedish fleet set sail for Bornholm. He watched long enough to get an idea of numbers and their probable heading before securing his telescope. Then he grabbed his rifle and ran down the hill to warn his captain.

1000 hrs, off Sandvig, aboard the Holmsund

Back in basic training Sergeant Major Hudson had said that battle plans never survived contact with the enemy. Right now Johann wasn't sure he wanted to be around when they finally did make contact. First there had been the layover on Christiansø waiting for the forces to gather. That had gone two days over schedule. And now, in spite of the day having started out in bright sunlight, it had started to rain. Worst of all, the wind had moved around to the south. Instead of a relatively straightforward passage of two hours the fleet of shallow draft boats now had been forced to keep changing tack to make headway. The journey to Sandvig was taking forever, and the constant rolling and pitching of the flat-bottomed Holmsund was taking its toll. Johann had joined the USE Marines to get away from the dull tedium of the army. Right now, with his head hung over the side of the boat and loosing what was left of breakfast, he'd love to have to deal with dull tedium. So far the world was staying faithful to another of Sergeant Major Hudson's favorite sayings, "if anything can go wrong, it will."

****

"Fix bayonets. Loosen tampions," Sergeant Fels called.

Johann jerked his body upright. He felt light-headed and sick. Matthias, seated beside him, looked green. It took several repeats of the order from Sergeant Fels before Johann figured out what was happening. He stared landward. Unfortunately, he had an uninterrupted view of Bornholm. The Holmsund was at the front of the flotilla heading for the beach.

He licked the rain dripping down his face and ran his tongue around his suddenly dry mouth. The rain reduced visibility, but not enough that he couldn't see the clouds of white smoke that suggested that people on Bornholm were shooting at him.

He fumbled to fix his bayonet to his rifle and then he loosened the plug that kept rain from running down the barrel. He didn't want to remove the tampion just yet. It was the only thing stopping water getting into the barrel. Loosening it meant it could easily be removed when needed, or in an emergency, shot off.

****

There was a bump and scrape as the boat hit the beach. Johann was into the water before Sergeant Fels finished his call to start the attack. As he sank into the chest deep water he shuddered. It was cold. Holding his rifle high above his head he started for shore.

His first step was painful. He'd stepped into some branches under the water and discovered that they'd been deliberately sharpened. He could feel the men behind crowding him, threatening to push him into the obstacle. "Quit pushing. There's something in the water."

He lifted his right foot high before stepping forward this time. "There're obstacles under the water. You're going to have to step high," he called over his shoulder.

It was slow and painful, but eventually he made it to shore. He glanced behind to check that he wasn't alone. He wasn't, but there were a lot of bodies floating in the sea.

The first objective was the Danish position behind a low stone wall about a hundred yards inland. He removed the tampion, lowered his rifle, and joined everyone else advancing on the Danes.

****

Over to his right Johann could see Swedes fighting to cross the wall. They were opposed by men with pikes and were having trouble. He angled toward them.

Suddenly a dozen armored Danes stood up behind the wall. They were pointing small handguns at the Swedes. In seconds there were clouds of smoke and over a dozen Swedes lay dead in front of the wall.

"My god, revolvers. Where did they get those?"

"The same place everybody else does. Burke's catalog has been selling cap and ball revolvers for nearly two years now," Matthias answered.

"But the Danes are our enemies. You aren't saying Burkes have been selling to the enemy. The up-timers have laws against that kind of thing."

"But the Danes weren't our enemy until late last year. That leaves plenty of time for people to have bought them."

Johann looked back to the Danish lines. The wall was now a mass of Danes all pointing muskets at the approaching Swedes and Marines. "Oh, shit!"

At less than fifty yards the whole Danish front became a cloud of gunsmoke. The Swedes charged. Immediately Captain Finck led the Marines in their own charge.

****

"Fuck." The hole was knee deep and Johan pitched forward, wrenching his knee, while the weight of his pack knocked the breath out of him. For a moment he was stunned. He'd stepped into a pit about two feet square with several sharp wooden stakes sticking out of the bottom as well as some stuck into the sides, point down. "Thank God for Calagna and Bauer!" He could even feel the indentation in the metal insole of the C&B combat boots, but it hadn't penetrated. If it had—Johann dry-retched at the thought—his foot would have been speared right through.

"Hit the deck!" Sergeant Fels yelled.

When a Marine sergeant told you to do something in that tone of voice your body reacted before the mind realized what was happening. Johann was flat on the ground with his hands on his helmet when there was a massive roar from the Danish lines.

****

Johann tipped his helmet back into position and looked around. He could see Marines and Swedes lying on the ground whenever the white gunsmoke swirled away. Some men were obviously injured stepping into the same kind of trap as he had, while others had been torn apart by the explosion. To his front there were Marines kneeling behind the stone wall firing at targets in the field beyond. Even as he watched he saw a Marine shot while reloading his musket.

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