The Battle of Ahrensbök
Early May, 1634
From where the French command group stood, what had been a glorious struggle became tragedy. With the cavalry along with their commanding general in flight, Charles de la Porte threw his men into the attack hoping they could at least break through. The armies closed together, and to the right of the center, an enemy infantry charge started. It began with a single company, then another, and another, until an entire regiment was advancing. At the head ran one man with a pistol in one hand and a sword in the other.
“Incroyable.” Marin Le Roy de Gomberville whispered as that single man vanished from sight. No doubt one afflicted with désir de mort; a death wish, who would die in the grand fashion. Marin was here by purest chance, but there was nowhere else he would rather be at this moment.
Marin had been devastated while writing his latest version of Polexandre early in 1631. It had seemed a wonderful jest; send the characters back nine centuries! But that spring God played his own jest. A town had actually appeared from the future! He wanted to continue the work, but the words would not flow from his pen.
The author had been asked to come to the siege by one of the Duke of Angoulême’s aides to witness the death of the Swedish king’s hubris, and the end of Grantville. The young officer was a fan of his previous works, and when they drank to excess one evening, had told him of Richelieu’s plan to deal with Grantville once and for all.
Which was how he and Poirot, his manservant, had ended up on a ship bound for Lübeck and now were watching the French army sent to fight alongside the Danes going down in defeat, trapped.
“Poirot, go to the luggage. Make sure those who flee do not take our things.”
“But monsieur! The battle is not yet over.”
“My dear Henri, it is all over but the surrender.” Marin opined as he saw the smoke of guns not in front of the now shattered tercio, but from its rear as the men who had broken it fired both right and left into the as yet steady formations. Almost a thousand men had poured into the hole created, and many French soldiers were already fleeing for their lives. “Do go and guard our things.”
Kirsten Jansen stood stolidly as Rolf filled the sack she held. Her life had been hell for months, and it seemed that wasn’t going to change except for the worse.
She had been among the French camp followers, watching the armies face each other. She didn’t know the name of the town they had just passed, only that the enemy had cut off the retreat. Then the firing, the screaming, the dying.
Either she would be dragged along by Rolf until she couldn’t keep up, or one of the men of that army would use her instead. It didn’t matter to her who won.
Rolf was one of the first to flee. He had dropped his musket, and when he reached the wagons he threw aside helmet and armor, stripped down to just shirt and pants. In fact, he looked like one of the sutlers. Then he dragged Kirsten to a wagon, grabbed out a pair of sacks, and began looting. Something told her things were not going well for this side.
Rolf ignored the wagons of his fellow soldiers. Instead, he went to the wagons of the officers. He began pawing through the trunks of those men, throwing aside anything not light and valuable enough to carry. When his bag was full, he began on hers.
A man shouted in French. It was Poirot, who had been nice to her. Rolf snarled at him in the same language.
Someone else shouted, this time in German, and Rolf grabbed her shoulders. “Keep your mouth shut, bitch. They will think we are just camp followers grabbing things before we flee.” Then he turned from her. “Please, monsieur, we are . . .” His voice slowed then stopped.
There was silence except for the sound of men walking forward. She didn’t know what was wrong. But it still didn’t matter.
“Well, if it isn’t Rolf.” The voice was a purr, and something about it made her slowly turn to face them. The men approaching were in gray; the enemy. The closer of the two had the eyes of a wolf, and his smile looked dangerous. “I remember seeing your picture last time I was in Grantville. Wanted dead.” The man drew a wheel-lock from his belt.
“Hartmann, this is not Grantville or that damned American territory. Why not just let me go, and you can have half.” Rolf said in a wheedling tone. He pulled off his pack, opening it.
“Twelve.” Hartmann tapped the wheel-lock against his hand, then opened the pan to assure the powder had filled it. He pulled out a ring of keys, using one to test the spring.
“The ‘woman’ you dragged out of Magdeburg during the sack. Twelve years old,” he lowered the dog with finality. “The woman, no, the child you used who escaped that night while you were passed out. But she did not escape. Her mother slipped in among our camp followers the same day and rescued her, But too late to save her life.”
The worst to Kirsten’s mind was the bantering conversational tone. As if they were two men that had met in a tavern talking about the latest harvest, nothing more important. “I was on guard duty that night and heard a keening sound. My men found her, clutching her child, rocking and shushing the corpse as if the screams of sorrow were the girl and not her. At first, she must not have seen the blood from you using the child for hours; she thought her daughter had just been quiet as she bid her. But the girl bled out before they could go very far.
“When she saw me, she drew a knife and before she plunged it into her own heart, spoke. ‘Elizabeth is so frightened of the dark. I must guide her to God.’ ” Now he looked up. The wolf was there in his eyes, prepared to leap. “I buried them together, mother holding child just as they went to God. If there is anyone who deserved to go to heaven; committing suicide just to guide her daughter to the Throne, it would have been her.” Hartmann looked at Kirsten, her thin form, her grossly swollen belly. “I see you still like them young. But this one is a bit old for you.”
Rolf’s voice was now begging, his hand reaching into the bag he held. “Hell, take the girl! I have her trained just right. Richard, take this—” He dropped the bag, a flintlock pistol coming into view as he raised it trying to cock it as he did. Hartmann aimed his pistol and shot him in the chest. Rolf flopped backward gasping, his weapon discharging into the ground. Blood trickled from his mouth as he tried to sit up. He tried to speak, but no words came. Kirsten watched his eyes begin to fade. But then they widened, as if he saw something, one hand coming up as if to fend it off, then falling to lie still, a look of terror on his face.
Hartmann lifted his pistol, blowing into the pan to clear the smoke from the barrel. “I always knew Satan would come to collect you personally, you bastard.” He began idly reloading it. “Luftman.”
“Find the lieutenant. Ask him to bring the company up here. From what I can see in that pack, this is a looter’s heaven. Have someone report to the colonel. We will need some cavalry to collect the ones who left with the horses.”
“Yes, Sergeant.” The man with him trotted back toward the battlefield. The Frenchman still stood there as if he had been frozen.
Kirsten was trembling. Anyone who killed that easily would not think twice of killing the baby—and her with it.
Hartmann looked at her, then took her arm gently. “Sit down before you fall.” Kirsten dropped as if she were a puppet with the strings cut. The man started to take his canteen from his belt but instead took an ornate silver flask from the pack before her. He sniffed, then handed it to her. “Take a sip of this. Then another,” he ordered gruffly. Poirot started to protest, but his words faded under Hartmann’s glare.
Kirsten did, coughing and gasping at the bite of the neat spirit. But the second went down almost as if it were water. As she drank the second time, Hartmann looked at Rolf’s body, then stood and walked over. “Well look at you, my beauty.” He bent down, picking up the weapon.
She had seen just about every kind of weapon in the last months, but this one was odd. A pistol of some kind, but instead of a wheel-lock mechanism, it had an arm with a piece of flint above a cylinder behind a single barrel. The sergeant lifted it up, pulling back one of the small brass pan covers, then closed it. “And loaded. Now, what idiot left you behind?”
“Stand fast!” Kirsten flinched at the harsh tone, but Hartmann just turned his head.
A pair of men on horseback stood there. One had drawn a wheel-lock to aim at Hartmann. The other just sat with his hands on the pommel of his saddle. “Just like any mercenary. Come to get the best before it is cataloged?”
“Investigating what a looter was taking, Captain.” Hartmann moved a hand to point at Rolf.
“Of course,” the officer purred. “No doubt you saw that and decided to add it to the others you have stolen here.” The captain’s hand waved toward Hartmann’s belt. “We will see what a court-martial has to say about it.”
The cavalryman beside the officer lifted his left hand to support the barrel of his weapon. Something about the sergeant’s eyes made him nervous. “Captain, these,” Hartmann waved toward his belt. “are mine. This was in his hand when I shot him.”
“Stop lying, soldier. Thieves falling out is an old story.”
“What is this?” Another horseman was coming toward them. Colonel Ludendorf.
“Caught a soldier, a sergeant of all things, looting, Colonel,” the captain replied.
The colonel looked at the tableau. “Let me see it, sergeant.” Hartmann stood and walked over to hand the pistol up, butt first. Ludendorf looked it over and opened then closed a pan. Then he hefted it, aiming. “Hans Stopler’s shop in Nürnberg, I see. Not much good for a cavalryman. Too heavy to aim well when on the charge. But if the horse is standing, in a caracole, or on foot, a fine weapon. Some Frenchman obviously thought very well of himself.” He passed it back the same way. “Back to your duties, Sergeant.”
“Duty? Colonel, with all due respect, I am about to arrest him!”
“For what? Finding that?”
“Look at him!” The Captain pointed at the wheel-locks on his belt. “He has already stolen four guns today!”
“With all due respect, Captain, as I told you before, these are my guns.” Hartmann repeated.
“And again, I am calling you a liar, Sergeant. I saw your kind often enough back home. Drinking and whoring all night, hiding in the rear of the formations until the battle was over, then first for the loot! The colonel no doubt knows what I am speaking of.”
When he looked to the Colonel, his sneer slipped. Ludendorf was smiling—if you thought a predator snarling was a smile. The colonel leaned forward in his saddle. “Oh, I know it well, having been a mercenary for most of your piddling life, Captain. We always slept in, never did a lick of work, just showed off our prowess at drinking, whoring, and looting. And when some little pissant like you protested, we just killed them! After all, dead men tell no tales.”
He looked at Hartmann. “Sergeant, I know they were yours before this battle, but indulge me; give him the provenance of your wheel-locks.”
“Yes, Sir.” Hartmann handed the new weapon to Kirsten. Then he drew the one he had used to shoot Rolf. “This one I took off the body of a cavalry lieutenant in Magdeburg I caught raping a woman. Using it today was fitting.” He drew the one behind his right hip. “This one I took in the same city. A young ensign of the lieutenant.” The one on the left front. “This one was from an infantry sergeant at Jena after the up-timer Julie Sims shot him. She thought it was . . . I think the term is ‘passé,’ ” The last. “This one from an officer at the Crapper.”
There was the sound of jogging, and seventy men along with a lieutenant on horseback came to a halt. “Oh, Colonel, I had sent one of the men to find you.” He reported as he saluted.
“Very good, Lieutenant Reicher. And who, by chance, asked for these men to come here?”
The lieutenant looked a little confused. “Sergeant Hartmann did, Sir. To guard the train until it can be inventoried after he shot a looter. Did he not tell you?”
“No.” The colonel looked at the now very upset captain. “We were too busy discussing the horror of looting with Captain . . . Oh, you never gave your name or unit, Captain.”
“Volker, sir.” The voice was now almost squeaky. “Quartermaster Corps. I was sent to begin the inventory of the enemy baggage.”
“So, Sergeant, give your orders.”
Hartmann turned to the men. “I want a cordon around these wagons to make sure no one else decides to fill his pockets. Collect the camp followers or sutlers and send them here. Becker, put these two packs, and this weapon, in that wagon, and detail someone to guard them personally.” He pointed at Rolf. “I knew that man, and if he stole anything, he would have stolen the best. Lieutenant, if you would, I think we might need another company up here for that cordon. Colonel, I had sent Luftman to find you as well. If we could, I would request some cavalry to track the sutlers that escaped on horseback, and bring them back.”
Ludendorf nodded. “Well thought. Lieutenant Reicher, I agree. See it done. The rest of you, you have your orders.” The men moved out. Once they were alone again, the colonel looked at the captain. “Anything further, Captain Volker?” Ludendorf asked mildly.
“Then I believe you owe the sergeant an apology.”
“You called the senior sergeant of my entire regiment a thief. When he told you those guns were his, you gave him the lie direct. Twice from your own words. If he were an officer, he could have challenged you for impugning his honor.”
“But he is not an officer!”
“Only because he refused the field promotion to lieutenant I offered him in January. And if he were to duel, having been a soldier before you entered ritterschule, you would be dead. Apologize!”
Volker glared at the sergeant. He spoke as if the words were glass shards. “My words were harsh and improper, Sergeant. I ask that you forgive my intemperate remarks.”
Hartmann’s gaze was as cold. “I accept your apology, Sir. And with your permission, I will get back to my duty.”
“Yes. Someone here needs to go back to what they should be doing.” Ludendorf looked at the captain. Volker signaled angrily, and the man with him followed toward the opposite end of the train of wagons.
“But it’s ‘Thin red line of ‘eroes’ when the drums begin to roll,” Ludendorf finished.
“Pardon?” Hartmann glared at the Frenchman as he spoke again. He continued to talk, and the sergeant shook his head. Nonplussed, the Frenchman spoke again, this time in Danish.
“He is asking that the wagon of his master be spared the sack.”
Hartmann looked down at Kirsten. She had been so silent he had forgotten she was there. She lifted the flask she still held, then pointed at the wagon behind her. “This was taken from his master’s wagon, mein Herr.”
“I am not Herren. I am just a soldier.” He looked around, “Schmidt. Move those bags you are guarding to this wagon. If you would, Frau, tell this man we will assure his goods are not counted among the spoils.”
There was a cough, and the sergeant looked up at the colonel. “I am sorry, Sir. Was there something else?”
“The brigadier witnessed that charge of yours. When he found out you were still alive and hale, he told me that he was going to speak to General Torstensson and put you in for a rittertum.” Everyone was shocked when Hartmann snorted, grasped his sides, and fell backward. For a moment, Kirsten thought the man was having a seizure of some kind, but then Hartmann roared with laughter, rolling back and forth, slapping the ground.
After a time, Hartmann sat up, leaning forward, still chuckling. “Oh, I could just see it, Sir!” He looked up. “The regiment is having a grand party, and all the adel just have to be invited! And the majordomo announces, ‘Sergeant, Ritter Richard Hartmann, and his lovely . . .” His humor faded. “. . .wife, Marta.”
“I am sorry for reminding you.” But Hartmann waved off the apology.
“No, it is fine, Sir. It is a far better image than thinking of how she must have looked when she died. Please, Sir, speak with the brigadier. Ask him to reconsider. I am a bluff and plain-spoken sergeant. If someone were to shout ‘Lieutenant’ or ‘Herr Richard’ around me, I would be busy looking for that man. And I do not know of a single man given such an honor who is still an enlisted man.” He stood. “With your permission, Sir, I must get back to work.”
As the colonel rode off, the sergeant looked at Kirsten. “Stay here.”
Hartmann walked a short distance away, looking around at the gathering men and women of the French camp. “Now how the hell do I tell all of these idiots, some of whom no doubt do not even speak German, what to do?” he muttered. “Schmidt!”
“Where has Becker gotten off to? No, just point in his direction.” When he could see him, Hartmann bellowed, and signaled the wachtmeister. When the subordinate arrived, he clasped his hands behind his back, rocking back and forth heel to toe. “Now my lad, here is a bit of sergeant’s education for you. Among all of these, we no doubt have some who do not speak German well, meaning more headaches for your dear sergeant. So, who in the company speaks Danish and French?”
Becker blushed. “I used to work with the Council of Nürnberg as a clerk before I went to Magdeburg and joined the CoC, Sergeant. I speak and read Latin, Danish, French, Italian, Spanish, and Dutch.” At Hartmann’s cocked eyebrow he added, “I have a flair for languages.”
Hartmann grinned. “Well I know it, lad. Anyone who can quote Seneca, Machiavelli, and Montaigne in his arguments must speak Latin, Italian, and French at least. You have to assume your sergeant is not completely stupid.” He motioned. “So you get to stand here and act as my translator while I tell these odds and ends what they must do.”
He climbed into one of the wagons so they could see him clearly. “Translate into French and other languages as needed, Becker.” He raised his voice to a shout. “All of you, come here, please! First, does anyone speak only French? Danish? Italian? Spanish?” As Becker also shouted the question again in all the languages he spoke, they raised their hands; each group was signaled into a cluster in the center. Not too many, thank God. “Your attention, please! Any of you women who were forced to be camp followers are free to go. Before you go, if your men are dead on the field, I will see about getting you their effects as compensation. If they are not, we will take it from those who stole you from your homes.
“If you wish to remain with the army or your men, you will have to register. It is a requirement in the USE, so we do not have half of the people of the region we are in deciding they have been our camp followers all along for free meals. In a short while, some of my men will take you to our camp, and speak to our sergeants, who will list you for approval. You sutlers and men who were working for the French, once you have been searched for loot, you will be free to go or hire on.”
Hartmann climbed down, going to Rolf’s body and taking his purse. It was bulging. No surprise. He then went to the bags Rolf had packed and took out another silver flask. He walked back over to Kirsten and pressed them into her hands. “You are free. Take this and go home.”
Kirsten watched him walk away. For a long time, she just knelt there, eyes blank. She had heard what the sergeant had said, but how did it apply to her? Even with the money and loot he had pressed upon her, what was she to do?
“Frau?” She looked up into an earnest young face. “We need to get you to our camp. Follow us, please?”
She walked in the crowd still deep in her morbid thoughts. Her old life was as dead as the bastard that had used her body and left her like this. She could not go home.
“Any camp followers who are remaining come over here, please!” A spare little man who looked more like a clerk than a soldier had set up a table and stool. With nowhere else to go, she got into the line, waiting vacantly.
“Name?” She looked up. The man looked at the women behind her impatiently. “Frau, your name?” She gave it. “And who are you with?” At her still blank expression, he added gently. “Who has responsibility for you?”
She suddenly saw her chance. A chance for a life. “Sergeant Richard Hartmann.”
Hartmann had his men assisting Volker and the company from the Quartermaster Corps once the cordon was set. Each wagon was checked, the baggage carts unpacked, and spoils cataloged after being moved into the USE train where it would be divided up as necessary. But some of the wagons had food, and that had to be inventoried now. Mainly it was pickled meat and fish, sauerkraut and pickled vegetables and flour, all in barrels. Then hams, sausage, and cheese, both rounds and wheels. Finally, fresh fruit and root vegetables in bags, and more bags of grain, and hardtack bread. Everything an army needed on a campaign. But with a practiced eye, he knew not enough to feed the prisoners for very long.
He knew from bitter experience that one reason armies foraged was that the supplies were usually so poor. After months in the casks, the meat would be so tough that it had to be boiled just to make it edible. The hardtack bread would live up to the name, hard enough to loosen your teeth when chewed, or would no doubt be moldy or infested with weevils and maggots. In one unit he had been with, the officers had confiscated living chickens, dragging them around in a wagon fitted with cages to contain them, and used the insects to supplement their feed of scraps. Of course, the officers were the ones who ate the eggs and chickens—and the lion’s share of the fresh foods.
Even the fresh foods would spoil until the up-timer designed canning industry got into full career, and again, in most armies, it would be the officers who received that first. The men would probably still eat the same garbage, maybe one meal a day worth eating unless they took fresh food from villagers.
Most armies also had problems with the men’s health. He knew from his time with the up-timers that scurvy was caused by a vitamin deficiency, though exactly what a vitamin was still escaped him. The primary thing the up-timers had done for the men in the army was a more varied diet and one that supplied as much of those ‘vitamins’ as possible.
Tonight they would feast, however. The dead horses would be dressed out over the next days, the skins and bones along with the inedible offal would be packed into wagons and would be sent to the tanners, gluemakers, and to feed pets or swine in Lübeck and Hamburg. At least that would make some money to help pay for the campaign. And a good meal after a hard day for perhaps four days.
There had also been orders to send riders to the neighboring villages to have them come and collect some of that meat for themselves, and the villagers had replied with shock. An invading army feeding them?
“I think a shrew.” One of the men suggested to his companion as Hartmann strode past. “Small but fierce.”
“No, a weasel. Something that kills for pleasure.” His compatriot replied.
“Or that bunny with a knife,” he made a motion as if holding something, ‘Ka-click!”
Hartmann snarled. “Bachmann, Wien, if you have enough breath to debate, you have enough to do some real work.”
“Yes, sergeant,” they replied, moving baggage back into the cart.
Again with the battle standard! Honestly, why waste breath deciding on a symbol when you should be working? They had been at it since they had marched from Magdeburg. Some were desolated when they had seen the lion on another standard. It had been the front runner up until then.
Since his men were busy, and his feldwebel well-trained, he wandered the camp where the Third Regiment tents were. Everything was as he would want, and the women were already putting another full side of meat on a spit to cook for the men. Maggie, the woman in charge of the regimental camp followers, put three lazing men on each end of the spit, and they lifted the almost four hundred pounds of meat to cook over a blazing fire before attaching a handle to turn it. Some women saw him and waved or called to him. They also giggled and spoke in hushed voices. Mentally he shrugged. Women always did that. A couple were from the French army camp, including the pregnant girl he’d seen who was kneading bread dough to put in pans to rise; now in the burgundy of the Third’s camp followers.
He wondered who had chosen her? Someone desperate for a son? But that was a question for later. There were still things to do. He decided to check with the senior sergeants of the other regiments of both divisions. He agreed with the up-timer logic that communication was the key to proper order. And he had other things to do. Dietrich had given his all saving Hartmann’s life. He deserved having someone sit with him for these last hours.
Several hours later, in the gathering darkness, he returned to the battalion area, getting some meat, boiled potatoes, and sauerkraut with fresh, hot bread. Guards had already been set, his feldwebel doing their jobs. Even the other senior sergeants of those units that surrounded them had little that needed a sergeant’s hand to deal with. He lit his pipe, leaning back. For a soldier, it was as good as life in the field got.
“Ah sergeant, there you are!” He looked up, good mood souring. He had as little to do with Sergeant Diefenbaker, who handled regimental personnel, as he could. Frankly, he was a lackluster squad leader and would have been a rifleman in Hartmann’s company. What did the little idiot want now? “You have to sign the authorization.” He held out a pencil and a clipboard.
“Yes, Hartmann, Authorization. When someone adds a camp follower, they have to give their name and who is responsible for their inclusion. You know that.”
One reason he loathed the man was that Diefenbaker would automatically assume the person he was talking with was ignorant of the regulations in the USE Army. But this one Hartmann did know since he had to approve it when one of his men added one. “All right. Who added a camp follower?”
Hartmann looked at the idiot. “I did what?”
“She gave her name, and said you were responsible.” Diefenbaker looked at the form Hartmann had not touched. “Kirsten Jansen, camp follower of Sergeant Richard Hartmann.”
Hartmann snatched the clipboard away, looked at the form, then leaped to his feet and took off at a fast walk. Diefenbaker squealed like a stuck pig, then followed after, bleating about his lost clipboard. His tent was right there, and he flipped the flap aside, ready to bellow in fury.
Kirsten had curled up on his bedding. Obviously, she had been tired from her long day, and sleep had overcome her. Part of him wanted to snatch her up and fling her from the tent with choice words about hubris. But the comments died. When he had seen her before, he had judged her age to be around seventeen. But looking at her now peaceful sleeping face, he decided closer to fifteen. Some poor child stolen from her home, raped, impregnated, and forced to work for someone that terrified her. His gentle manner had probably been the kindest thing she experienced during the entire campaign.
“Hartmann really—” Diefenbaker fell silent as Hartmann turned back to him.
Hartmann dashed out his signature, then shoved the clipboard back into his hands. “Go. Away.” He went back into the tent and sat, looking at her sleeping. As much as losing Marta hurt, he couldn’t just throw this girl aside. She had already been through horrors he could very well imagine, and his denial of her would no doubt be the stone that crushed what spirit she had left. Tomorrow would be soon enough; he would talk with her, find where her family lived, and then arrange her return.
When he awakened right before dawn as he always did, the first thing he noticed was that someone was spooned up to his front. He could feel the bulge of a pregnant woman under his hand, and for a moment, he thought he was still dreaming of Marta. But he could feel the greatcoat he had rolled up in last night; could see the edge of his woolen blanket he had wrapped her in and the red hair of the girl. Sometime during the night she must have awakened, and moved it to cover them both.
Trying to be careful not to awaken her, he moved his arm and started to sit up. But at his movement, he heard her breathing catch, then she rolled away, hand up protectively before her face. For a long moment, she sprawled there, eyes closed, gasping in terror. When she had awakened during the night, she had undressed, and now lay there in only her chemise. When nothing happened, she slowly opened her brilliant hazel eyes.
Hartmann had stopped moving when she reacted and still lay with one arm raised as if entreating. Once he was sure she remembered where she was, he slowly sat up, crossing his legs. “I think I deserve an explanation.”
“Rolf was always demanding in the mornings,” she whispered.
“No, before that.”
“When I sleep, my back hurts if I lay flat on my back, and I cannot lay on my stomach. Unless I have something to lean against it also hurts if I curl up on my side. When I woke up during the night, I moved over to lay with you so I had something to rest against.”
He sighed. “Let us go back to yesterday, and how I suddenly gained a camp follower.”
“You were kind to me.”
“Why did you not go home?”
She looked away, her voice dropping to a whisper, her hand touching her stomach. “I tried almost three months ago. But my father is a very religious man. He believed this was proof that I must have enjoyed the time I was being used rather than fighting until they killed me.” She looked up defiant, tears in her eyes. “He was not there to see Rolf and his friend Simon break me like a newly whipped hound. Or being bred like a prize bitch. The village near our home has been raided so often by the army that they could not support a girl in this condition, and a bastard child as well. They would not let me stay.” She looked down. “Where else could I go? I was found by a cavalry patrol and taken back to the camp.
“When I returned Rolf told me as long as I was willing to satisfy him with my hand or—” She motioned toward her rear. “—until the child was born, he was willing to protect me, though he was upset that I would try to bite him if he was to. . .” she hung her head, pointing at her mouth. “Except for that, as long as I was compliant and worked, I was left alone.” She looked up, then down in her misery. “If I must, I will satisfy you with my mouth.”
Hartmann noted her abject surrender, his fury absent from his face. “When is the baby due?”
“I do not know. If I were a pig, it would have happened months ago.” Her gaze sharpened as he chuckled. “Now I am amusing?”
“With pigs, it is only four months or so. With humans, it is much longer. Had your mother not told you this?”
“My mother died when I was young. My father is a forester and only went to the village to sell the trees he cut, and I would go along. I never saw a pregnancy from start to finish.” She shrugged. “Except for our pigs.”
“Oh, life is so good,” he muttered sarcastically. He stood up, careful to stay far from her, and went through his pack, getting out a clean uniform. “Come on.”
She looked at him with terror in her eyes. “You are going to cast me aside?”
“I have to take you over to our field hospital to find out when you are due. Then I will see what I can do.”
The midwife knelt, then turned. “Herr Mediziner?” she motioned for the medic to come over. Kirsten blushed, covering her face as the man leaned to look closer.
“Odd. What are these?” The girl flinched at his gentle touch. “They look like needles were stuck into her thighs over and over.” He stood back, so he was no longer looking at her bare body. “I have seen some the women who joined our camp followers with such injuries. Frau Jansen, can you tell me what caused these marks?”
Kirsten refused to meet his eye. “Rolf was friends with a sutler he always called ma petite Simon. When I refused at first what Rolf wished to do, Simon would take needles, and . . .” She mimed sticking a needle into her chest with her forefinger, then flicked it with the other forefinger.
“Monster,” the medic commented. “Continue, Frau Stein.”
It had been difficult figuring it out without an expert’s opinion, so the midwife of the regiment, Frau Stein had been called in. The first Kirsten had known of her pregnancy was when her belly had started to swell which, the midwife explained, usually happens in the third or fourth month, and after patient questioning had estimated the time and did the examination, the medic merely making the notes.
“Seven—almost eight months, Sergeant,” the medic told him as Kirsten adjusted her clothing after the examination. “And as a first-time mother, there may be complications.”
“I know that,” Hartmann replied.
“If she stays here, it could be a problem. If the baby comes early, it might not survive. It would be better to send her to Magdeburg or Grantville.”
“I know that as well.”
“And she is very young; this could be—” He stopped talking when Hartmann grabbed his chin and turned his face up to look at him.
“My wife died in childbed less than a week ago. Stop telling me what I already know.” Then he released the man’s face.
The medic shook his head, rubbing his jaw. “There is the possibility of pox, but there are no obvious signs of it, so far. The tests will take some time, so don’t . . .” the admonition died at the look of Hartmann’s face. “She is healthy except for being malnourished, so make sure she eats and rests when necessary. She can help some with the laundry, cleaning, and cooking, but nothing more strenuous than that.”
“Thank you.” He motioned, and Kirsten followed him. “You know Maggie and Freida, correct?” He looked at her, and she was nodding. “Tell them what the medic said and help out. But if you get tired, rest or hungry, eat.” She nodded again. He sighed, stopping. “Girl . . . Kirsten.” She looked up. “I will not hit you or use you as others have for any reason. So just do what needs to be done and speak if you feel the need.” She nodded again. Just wonderful.
He led her to the other camp followers, made sure she had a bowl of porridge and some bread, and then set out for the assembly area. He wanted to ask God what else could go wrong with his life, but he didn’t want to give Him any ideas. The company was already in formation, and he sighed inwardly at the grins far too many had. “There is a woman in my tent for the foreseeable future. If I hear any talk about it, I will find who has spread it, and they will not enjoy the conversation I will have with them.
“Now, the battalion is going to split the companies into four watches of four hours each, so the evenings are going to rotate in sequence. During the day you will keep a close guard and while speaking to the prisoners is usually prohibited, getting you lot to shut up would be something I would have to ask God to deal with.” There was laughter from the lines. “So you may spread the CoC’s gospel to whom you will.
“But do not start gesturing like actors, sit down, or stop paying attention even for a moment. Remember that these are soldiers who will wish to escape. If anyone tries, or tries to take your rifle, kill them. One shout to halt; since there are two of you at each post, a single warning shot if necessary, no more. The feldwebel will walk the line to make sure, and if they see you doing something foolish, they have the authority to punish you as necessary. Prepare for inspection!”
He trooped the line. Everyone was turned out neatly. Well, almost everyone. Frakes looked like he hadn’t slept the night before, his usually cheerful face set in a grimace, and when Hartmann looked into his face, the eyes shifted away. But he didn’t comment. He marched them to their section of the cordon and had the feldwebel arrange them.
Across the camp, a number of units were preparing to move out. Except for about five hundred, the cavalry was getting ready, and only the indigenous artillery of the regiments remaining to guard the French. The only five pike regiments of the USE would be following in a few hours to join the Emperor’s army, about a quarter of the USE army all told.
The prisoners had been put to work burying the bodies of the fallen; others were forming wooden crosses as markers. The butchers, with no distinction between USE or French, were still at work on the horses, and barrels of brine had been brought from Lübeck to convert the dead animals to rations. More had been sent from Hamburg up the Stecknitz canal then down the Trave to the small village of Nutschel where a lot more horses had been slain. Almost two thousand had died or been put down after the battle.
Not that it mattered to those remaining. They merely had to stand guard and wait for the prisoners to be repatriated.
Simon Roquelaure was not at all happy. Oh, he still had a job, just for the USE instead of the L’armée française de la ligue combinée d’Ostende, or Les forces navales de la Mer Baltique, the French army assigned to the League of Ostend and the navy respectively. But he had noted most of the women who had remained with this army were there willingly, rather than being forced. He had a skill of sorts, something he enjoyed, convincing camp followers to obey, and a thriving business with it among the French, who had merely taken any woman they fancied on this campaign rather than ship them from home. After all the government wasn’t going to pay for that, true?
For those who resisted in word or deed, they had Roquelaure. While the word ‘sadist’ would not be coined until the nineteenth century in the up-timers’ world, anyone in the French army would have pointed at Simon Roquelaure once it was defined. Their experience had taught that men of that kind were always there; especially among soldiers. If you were at their mercy, you learned the phrase sans pitié et sans retenue, without pity or restraint.
Then the verdamme Swedes had broken the blockade and defeated the army! The orders given by the USE had been that all women forced to serve them would be allowed to return home! So his skills would go unused. A dangerous thing, since when he had no such outlet, he had been forced to flee so many towns and cities when the beast within him rose, usually right ahead of the local gendarmerie. Before the battle, he had buried his treasure box. If they had found that . . .
He climbed to the seat of his wagon. Thanks to the damn Swedes he would have to travel further now, not just to the shore, but from Ahrensbök to Lübeck, which would cost him more, as the port was also being used by Gustav’s army. That would drive prices up, and there would be no chance to indulge himself as he had during the siege.
He looked toward the camp followers busy making breakfast for their men. Burgundy clothing; almost like their own uniforms, though the women who worked for other units had their own colors. The girl who was washing dishes turned, and he reined in. She set the bowls she had just washed and dried to one side, then turned to gather more.
“Le cochon crisser,” he whispered to himself. The squealing piglet. The one Rolf had taken in the first weeks after they had landed. She had resisted, fought back, but Rolf didn’t want to harm her looks, so he had turned to Simon. She was exquisite, so sensitive to pain, but always trying to defy him even in her agony. She had been at Simon’s mercy several times those first months, right up until the breaking of the siege, unlike the others who had broken so readily.
He slapped the reins, setting the horses back in motion. If she was dressed as a camp follower, then she was with that unit. He could find out who she was with now. Then?
Then he would indulge himself; and this time, with no restraint.
When the men came off guard duty, Hartmann had them help load the barrels of freshly packed meat on the wagons to follow the army marching north. A lot of it was staying. After all, with the horses slaughtered on both battle sites, there was almost eight hundred tons of it.
Hartmann watched, putting his shoulder in to help when needed. He paused, wiping his brow, then turned as someone coughed politely behind him. It was the Frenchman he had met the previous day, beside a more robust man in very good clothes. The one he knew spoke rapidly, gesturing toward Hartmann, and the other stepped forward. “You are Sergeant Hartmann, I believe?” Hartmann nodded, and the man grinned. “So you are the one! The sergent féroce who broke Le Tercio Cœur Féroce de Gascon! I think the idea that one man would charge ahead making his men run to keep up broke their spirit!” He stuck out his hand, and after a moment, Hartmann took it.
“You have me at a disadvantage, mein Herr.”
“Oh, I am sorry, Sergeant. I am Marin Le Roy de Gomberville, an author from France. I was standing with the general watching!” He motioned toward the small ridge where the French command had been the day before.
Hartmann was relieved that the man could speak without exclaiming. “How did you find me? And why?”
“I asked the officers of your army until I found which unit held that portion of the line, then asked the officers of your First Division until one mentioned your name. I have never seen a battle before, and your heroic charge inspired me!”
Hartmann shook his head. “It was not heroism, Herr de Gomberville—”
“Please, Sergeant, my friends call me Marin, and I hope you shall be my friend. But was not what you did heroic?”
“In some eyes, perhaps. But it was my way of releasing my pain and sorrow, hoping I would die.” At the confused look, he went on, “My wife died mere days before the battle. I had heard the evening before we broke camp to march here, and in my pain, I charged when ordered, and my actions caused my men to follow. But that stupidity cost the lives of some of my men, and the injury of others that could have been avoided.” He looked to see if the writer understood.
“But you survived!”
“Many of my men did not, Herr Marin. Far too many. All because I was not thinking. As for surviving, I remember the title of a poem the up-timers brought back, ‘Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night’. A man named Dylan Thomas wrote it in their past just before his father died, and my late wife, who adored his work, read it to me the night before we left Magdeburg. The poem rages against death. Like the poem, I would have been willing to die. But I was not going without a fight.”
Marin looked at him silently for a moment. “Then after the battle, you killed a man for something he did at Magdeburg. Raping a child?”
“Yes.” Hartmann’s eyes were bleak. “If I had not been injured at what the up-timers called the Battle of the Crapper, he would not have been alive to brutalize yet another girl.” He sighed again. “Please, mein Herr, I have work to do. Perhaps we can speak when I am not so busy?”
“Of course. And I am sorry to hear about your loss. Perhaps later this evening? Henri is an outstanding cook, and I would love to hear your side of the battle.”
“Of course. Though I will not drink much, my men have the late evening watch tonight.”
“Excellent!” Marin turned and spoke rapidly to Henri, who replied, but spoke for longer than just yea or nay. “Henri asks that you bring the young woman you rescued yesterday? If you can find her.”
Hartmann snorted. “Find her. Try getting rid of her.” He turned and walked away.
Marin watched him walk back to the wagon. “Such a sad man, Henri.” He looked aside at the servant. “And why were you so interested in the girl?” Henri blushed but didn’t meet his master’s glance. Marin chuckled. “Ah, young love.”
Once the men were relieved from moving the barrels, Hartmann had them working on their gear. He knew keeping them busy would stop them from getting into trouble—
“You idiot!” He turned. Frakes was standing over one of his men, holding his rifle. “You call this barrel clean, Kraus? Would you think so when the bullet jams?” He flung it back at the man. He pointed at the firkin-sized barrel of what the up-timers called Windex. “Windex! A barrel brush applied with a will! Make sure the brush and cleaning patches comes out clean before you oil it! When I come back, it will be clean, or I will find you something any fool can do!”
Hartmann walked over as Frakes stormed away. “Martin?”
“What—” Frakes visibly took control of his anger. “I am sorry, Sergeant. What can I do for you?”
“Walk with me.” Hartmann looked. A few dozen yards away was a small area of quiet. He paced toward it, Frakes following. Once there, Hartmann took off his cap, wiping his forehead as he spoke softly. “You are having problems sleeping. You are short-tempered and have problems focusing on what needs to be done.”
“What have they told you, Sergeant?” Frakes demanded.
“No one needed to tell me anything.” Hartmann replied. “I have been fighting in battles since you were learning your letters for the first time. While you were studying in Latin school, I was fighting. I have seen it before. Having seen it for the first time, you are terrified of battle.”
Frakes looked away. “Maybe I am just a coward.”
“Some of those you would think the bravest men fall apart after they have seen battle for real that first time. High-born, low-born, even men who have done it for years will break, so that is not true. If you were a coward, Martin, you would have run before the battle began. You see, the up-timers have a saying about even this; to stand and possibly die is insane. Yet we do it anyway. You just found you fear death, and forcing yourself to keep trying could be insane.”
“But you are so brave! How could I stand there shivering at the thought of battle with you calmly sharpening your sword ready for it!” He gestured, “And to stand when everyone else charged after you?”
Hartman chuckled sadly. “Do you know what the definition of a hero is? I know what we might say, but the up-timers say it is a man trying to stay alive when things go wrong. Do you honestly think I was not afraid yesterday? I have been afraid on every battlefield. I have pissed myself waiting for a battle to start, shat myself during, and vomited in relief afterward on more battlefields that you can name. I have grown used to it, but part of me is always relieved when it is over, and dreads it happening again.
“But to do it for years as I have, you have to become used to it. And one thing I can say is not every man can do that.” He waited until the younger man looked at him. “A true coward would have run, or when he finds it is too shameful to obey his instincts, try to keep going.”
He waited until Frakes nodded reluctantly. “There are places in the army where you do not face that every day, Martin. I can talk with the colonel, get you reassigned.” He gave a small grin, “it is either that or get you drunk enough to throw up tonight and every night after every battle we see. Your choice.”
Martin chuckled. “Let me see. Spend my pay on enough beer or whiskey to face it again, or get reassigned to hump barrels or inventory them—where I have to worry about paper cuts, savage rebukes for my spelling, drinking heavily in fear of an inspector general or having to tell another soldier he cannot have what he wants from supply. Decisions, decisions.”
Hartmann laughed with him. “Let me know what you decide. But know you do have a choice. Now back to work.”
Hartmann walked toward the French officer’s compound alongside Kirsten, who was staring at the ground. “Kirsten, you do not have to do this.” He looked at her. “Say something, Kirsten.” When she was still silent, he stopped. The girl continued on a couple of more steps, then stopped, looking back. “What is wrong?”
“Nothing, Sergeant,” she whispered.
He sighed. “You have not said a word since I told you that this Frenchman wanted to meet you as well. So we are not going another step until you explain why this is upsetting you.”
“It is Poirot.”
“He upsets you? Then it is settled—I will go and tell them you will not attend.”
“No, it is not that.” She looked down. “When I with Rolf, Poirot was the only bright thing in my life. Sometimes he would hire me to help when he needed assistance, and a lot of times, I think it was because he felt sorry for me. I feel embarrassed that all I did after Rolf died was attach myself to yet another soldier. You are a good man, a kind man, Sergeant—”
“Yet you distance yourself with your words. I have a name, Kirsten.”
She sighed. “But you do not want me as a woman, Ser— Richard. You spoke of a wife who died just a week or so ago when we were at the hospital, and I seem to be a chore you have assigned yourself.” Her look was bleak.
Hartmann looked at her for a long moment. “I admit you are a bit of a chore, Kirsten. But you misunderstand my motives. My loss is too soon and too deep for me to want to leap into yet another wife.” He looked at the sky, the stars twinkling. “We met after what they called the Battle of the Crapper. I was being released from the hospital when she arrived after weeks of looking for somewhere safe. She was such a small delicate woman, and at that moment, she looked like a kitten huddling in a place out of the rain. But she had a strong will, and she was still defying the world. I grew to know her, and when I returned from the Battle of Jena, she was there to greet me, because she had focused on the one thing she felt was solid in her world, as you have.
“So in a way she was a chore for me at first. But it does not mean I did not have feelings for her—or for you. But you are still too young. You should not have to be bearing a child at your age. So I am doing what your father should have. I am supplying the support you need until you are well enough in spirit to go on.” He smiled. “Even if I am just something comfortable to sleep against.”
Days passed. Those enemy soldiers who had been badly wounded enough to be defined as invalid would be sent home once they were well with no ransom. The severely wounded had been sent to Lübeck if they were not expected to recover quickly. The rest had been sent to Magdeburg. The last of the fresh food was gone, and the armies had to go back to their hard rations. Oh, some fresh food was still coming in, but not enough for just under thirty thousand men who had nothing to do.
Over sixteen thousand of the men were the prisoners, and they chafed under their restriction. The officers would eventually be paroled, along with most of the cavalrymen, since they usually had enough money to pay for their ransoms. Arrangements were being made to send them home as soon as the money was delivered. That still would leave about fourteen thousand.
“You look tired, little one,” Maggie commented.
Kirsten looked up from where she was kneading the dough for the bread. “I am fine, Maggie.”
The older woman tsked. “Dinna tell me what you are feeling, lassie. I have borne three children in my time, and I was more stubborn than you when it was my first. I almost lost her because I wouldna stop working.” She waved her hand. “Get yourself some water and take a break. If nothing else, go to your man’s tent and get his clothes so they can wash them.”
“I know, I know. But listen ta someone who knows better this once. Have you eaten?”
Kirsten stood, rubbing her back. “I have an urge to eat well-sweetened fried sauerkraut.”
Maggie grinned. “Better than I was with my second. I had the urge to eat Yorkshire pudding with smoked fish and drank unsweetened lemon juice.” She motioned again. “Take the clothes to Liesel. Then sit down and after I make it, eat your sauerkraut. Do as I say.”
Kirsten had to admit, taking a break was what she wanted to do. And her cravings had gone from sublime to ridiculous. Honestly, just thinking about sauerkraut fried in lard with three spoons of honey made her mouth water. She trudged across the USE encampment, reaching Richard’s tent. She was glad she had chosen the man; he had no interest in her as a woman as yet, at least when he’d found out everything about her he had done nothing. Even considering the first they had even spoken to each other was when he discovered her sleeping against his chest. She had expected . . . She shivered. After Simon, then Rolf, she had expected the worst. But he was a gentle man.
She gathered up his clothes, opening the bag looking for any more that needed cleaning. But she stopped when she saw the guns set on top. She took one of the heavy pistols out. A sleek well-inlaid piece of machinery. The dog had been latched back, and when she opened the pan as she had seen him do, her eyes widened. It was loaded! Hastily, she put it back and closed the bag. She would ask him tonight if there was more that needed washing.
“Kirsten?” She flinched away at the gentle voice.
“I was told to get your washing. I was going to check the bag, but thought I should wait to ask.” She was terrified he would beat her, even after all this time.
“That is all.” He pointed at the wool tunic trousers and shirt that lay on her knees. “But you should not exert yourself.”
“Maggie said Liesel would do them for you.”
“Be sure to thank her for me.”
“I will.” She started to stand, and he was there, taking her arms and lifting her.
“I will. Thank you for your gentle pains.”
“It is nothing.”
Simon snarled as he saw the pregnant little sow walk from the tent, followed by the sergeant. He remembered the man from the previous week, dividing up the camp followers and sutlers, and especially the four wheel-lock pistols he had been carrying. Wheel-locks were expensive; a well-made one cost half again what you might pay for a musket. Fifteen florins each. Almost twenty-six livres. Over a hundred livres there for the taking.
So once he had sold his stock of beer and liquor, he would make his move.
And he would have a chance to indulge himself one last time.
Margaret Rourke, better known as Maggie, was in her element. While there were no ranks, all of the women who worked for the men of the Third Regiment thought of her as their commanding officer. Not bad for a girl who had followed her lover when he had gone to fight for Spain as one of the Wild Geese all those years ago. She had lost him in Flanders that first year, but like that now-dead man, she had not gone home, because she had found contentment in what she did.
She had been at the battle of Suhl, where the Swabian feint had been shattered, losing her second husband that day. But she still had two of the three children she had borne with him. The eldest, Bridget, was stirring one of the stew kettles. Johnnie was going to school in Grantville, and would graduate this year. Poor Michael had not even lived to see five. Perhaps if the Ring of Fire had happened a year earlier, he might have, because she had been told that the smallpox he had died from was well-known in their time and almost eradicated.
She seasoned the kettle she was at, then tasted it. Not right yet. She added some more herbs, tasted again. Better. “Keep at it, Gerta.” She walked toward the next. She paused at an angry voice.
Francesco Maria Broglia di Chieri, count of Revello, didn’t understand why he had to deal with this. Of course, he had met Giulio Raimondo Mazarini during the Mantuan war, but he had never understood why he was suddenly important to the French! Mazarini, or how he now styled himself Mazarin, had sent him a letter from Paris asking him to come. That first meeting with the dread Cardinal Richelieu had been even more astounding. He would become a Field Marshal of France after this battle?
It was if God had told David at birth he would be king!
But not yet. The Duke of Angoulême refused to accept a foreign child as someone equal to him. Nor would Charles de la Porte. They had instead assigned him as a junior officer of a tercio.
But he had been made of sterner stuff than Le Duc or the cavalry. When the senior officer fled with the others, Francesco had rallied his tercio, put some spine into them, and charged as de la Porte had commanded, a brave act that had cost him his favorite horse to a stray musket ball. He was still pinned when one of the tedeschi dannati had caught him trying to move his Ercole off his leg!
He had told them; ask for a ransom and be damned! But instead of killing him they had moved the dead horse and moved him to the encampment where all of the Idiot Francese had been put.
So he found himself in the ‘chow line.’
“Stew again? This is what you fools consider proper food?” It was one of the cavalrymen; a third or fourth son of some Italian laird from his accent, no doubt. But he was shouting at her Bridget, and no one did that without retribution. If they had brought their own women instead of just stealing them away, this wouldn’t even be happening.
“We cannot feed you roasted meat every night,” Bridget answered patiently. “We may have a lot of meat now, but it would spoil if it were not salted, so we have to make do with what supplies we have.”
“Supplies!” Francesco raged, “That crauti the common Germans eat? Potatoes, carrots, turnips? It is bad enough eating something I would feed to my hounds in the first days, but you make swill for pigs today?”
Bridget stood tall, matching him glare for glare, though her voice was still polite. “We only have what was brought by the armies until the next supply wagons get here tomorrow. Besides, I doubt you have tasted a proper Irish stew in your life.” The young woman lifted her ladle. “You remind me of my younger brother, God rest his soul. You have to be convinced to try anything new.” She extended it toward him.
“I do not need to taste the slops for my hogs to know what they are!” Broglia snatched it from her hand, and she barely got her hand up to stop the hot liquid from splashing into her eyes.
“Here now!” Maggie stormed forward. “Martha, see to Bridget.” She shoved him away. “Ye may be some rich man’s byblow, but you will not treat ma girls like this! You will eat what we have, monsieur catamite, or you can eat nothing!”
Ignoring the shouting behind him, Broglia slapped Maggie hard enough to knock her off her feet, then pulled back his leg to kick her when something clipped his knees from behind, dropping him to the ground. Then a boot slammed into his chest, holding him bent over, his legs beneath him, and the point of a bayonet stopped mere inches from his nose.
“Halt!” The Italian stared at the point as Hartmann came up. “Kreiger, let him up. Maggie, are you injured?”
Maggie was already getting up, and from the fountain of curses in several languages, not that badly hurt. “He threw stew in me bairn’s face! He’s got the divvel’s own luck I didnae have me carving knife!”
Hartmann glared at the man as he stood, then stepped forward, caught him by the collar and slapped him. “You struck me! No one—” he yelped in pain as Hartmann backhanded him. “Do you know who I am?” He screamed.
Hartmann pulled the man forward until they were nose to nose. “I do not know, nor care where you were whelped, or what manner of dog sired you, bengel.” He snarled. “you will not touch one of our women again. Not and keep your hand. Is that quite clear?”
Broglia looked him up and down scornfully. “If you had a social rank, I would meet you for this!”
Hartmann merely smiled, then slapped him again. “I will make it good how you will, when you will, and with what you will, junge. And your body will be put in a cask like that animal you lost fighting us to return home. Though I will try to keep you in one piece.” He shoved hard enough to throw the man to the ground. “Maggie!”
“How is Bridget?”
“Her face is burned, but not badly.”
“Take her to the hospital. Then since our friend here does not like the good German food we are sharing with him, from this point on you will feed him only from remains of the French stores. It will take months before we can arrange to send all of those who can pay ransom home, perhaps he will enjoy his proper French bread and weevils with plain water instead. See to it.” Then he raised his voice.
“As for the rest of you, if I hear one more word of complaint from you, I will see about having you cook your own food!”
Hartmann bent to look down at the man. “The one person a smart soldier never makes angry is the cook.”
His head jerked around at a shot. He was running toward it, drawing the one wheel lock he normally carried as a second shot went off.
Kirsten pulled down the clothing, folding them before walking back toward the tents. She had wanted to do them herself, but less than a minute into beating the shirt on the rocks of the stream had caused her back to flare up.
She was happy for the first time in longer than she remembered. She had a man who thought of her as something to protect rather than use. But everything balanced out. Again she felt the urge to run to the latrines. Honestly, she didn’t know what was worse—a baby who thought sitting on her bladder was fun, one who thought it was fun to kick her internal organs when she tried to sleep, or making her want to mix the fried sauerkraut with stewed apples.
A hand landed on her shoulder. It was not as it had been before, someone touching her didn’t mean—
She looked up, then felt terror override every instinct. “Simon.”
“Miss me?” He had that smile that meant she would be hurt. She wanted to scream, but her voice caught in her throat. “Be silent. We are going to rob your new love, then we will leave. Is that not perfect?”
Her heart froze. Simon had only one use for anything human; something to bleed, beg, and when he grew bored, die. She had heard enough from the other girls, of those who vanished those first few months. If she did not fight, she would die, the baby would die, and Richard would remember her as nothing but a thief. “No.”
“No?” Simon asked, his smile broadening. “Do you think you can fight me little piglet?” He turned her face back to the front. “We will walk so politely to your sergeant’s tent; then we will leave.”
She knew it. But inside she quailed from that thought, hoping someone would rescue her. Her traitorous feet were moving forward, the tent closer. Then she was at the flap, Simon shoving it aside. “Where does he keep them?”
“Keep—” her cheek exploded in agony as he slapped her.
“The guns, you stupid sow. The more than a hundred livres I want!”
She shook her head. There was blood in her mouth, and she wanted to spit it out. But Simon would only enjoy it. “I will show you.” She turned, kneeling. The bag was right there, and she loosened the strings, reaching inside.
He shoved her aside with a glad cry, snatching up two of them. “Only two? Where the hell are—” He turned.
She remembered what Richard had done, opening the pan, snapping the dog against the wheel. She hoped to God the spring was already wound as she pointed it at the stunned face and pulled the trigger.
Becker snapped around at the shot, and like his leader was running. He snatched a rifle from one of the surprised sentries, grabbing his own bayonet to fix. Hartmann’s tent was right ahead, and he saw the spray of blood on the roof from a shot from inside it. He pulled open the flap, then dived as a second shot went through where he had been moments before. He could hear an animal wail of fear and rolled as a third shot tore into the sod.
He looked around as Hartmann charged up and wanted to warn him, but the sergeant dove into the tent.
Hartmann landed on his knees. He only looked at the man to assure he was dead. No worries there; you need a head to be dangerous. Then looked into Kirsten’s terrified eyes. She looked back down the barrel, the empty pistol in her hand, her finger trying to pull the trigger over and over. He reached out, the barrel burning his hand as he gently pushed it down. He wanted to tell her to calm down, but she screamed in terror and flung herself into his arms. He held her, wordlessly stroking her hair, making just soft comforting sounds until she stopped crying.