Best of the Gazette Winner – 2017
Hartmann escorted the shaken Kirsten to the MP tents, telling her to wait while he went inside. However, things looked to be getting worse.
“Murder?” Hartmann asked in a chilly voice.
“Yes.” Captain Hess from the MP Company told him from his seat at his desk. “You know the way things go in a situation like this. What happened at first glance is one of our camp followers murdered her accomplice, one of the French sutlers now working for the army, in the act of robbing you.”
“Accomplice?” Hartmann demanded.
“Thieves falling out, sergeant. You have seen it before” Hess commented without looking up from the papers on his desk.
Hartmann ground his teeth. “With all due respect, Sir, the girl has been in my tent for almost a week now. If she had wanted to steal from me, she would have done it before.”
“Perhaps you haven’t satisfied her,” Hess said, taken aback at the fury in the sergeant’s eyes.
Hartmann took a deep breath, reining in his fury. “Sir, she is a child stolen from her father. Tortured into compliance, raped and impregnated. The only ‘satisfaction’ she would wish from me was my support, and I gave her that. Anything more would have been adding further insult to her injury.”
Hess stood motioning to the guard behind the sergeant. “We will continue to investigate, sergeant. My men will take her for questioning—” There was a scream from outside, and Hartmann plunged from the tent with the officer running to keep up.
Two of the MPs held Kirsten by her arms. She was pulling against them and screaming as she tried to fight free. The one on her left snarled as one of her feet kicked him in the shin and would have slapped her if Hartmann hadn’t caught his hand.
“Strike her and by God, I will take your arm off at the shoulder!” Then he caught Kirsten’s head between his hands, talking soothingly even as she kicked him several times. Finally, she calmed down, looking at him in terror as she whimpered.
Hess looked at the girl, then at Hartmann. “I am sorry, Sergeant, but she must be placed in our custody until the investigation is complete. We will not harm her.”
“I understand, sir.” Hartmann held the sobbing girl to his chest. “I do not think she does. But I will try to explain.”
Kirsten gasped, then her eyes widened, and she gave a whispered “Oh” as water suddenly fell on the ground between her feet. Hartmann took one look. He had been there when both his sister and younger brother had been born, so he knew what that meant.
“The bitch pissed herself!” One of the MPs commented sarcastically, then landed on his back as Hartmann spun and punched him.
He caught the girl as she started to fall, lifting her in his arms. The other was cocking his rifle but met Hartmann’s cold eyes. “She is giving birth! By God, if you shoot you had best kill me!”
Hartmann ran, the guard running after him as he shouted to clear the way. The medic in the hospital had time to see him coming, “We need the midwife here now!”
Frakes watched the sergeant run to the hospital the girl in his arms. No one in Hartmann’s company would be surprised by his actions. “Right, back to it.” He soaked the barrel brush in the smelly fluid the up-timers said was not the same, but was still called Windex, then took the rifle from Kraus. “You are finished when the brush and cleaning patch come from the barrel clean.” He looked up idly at the cart parked on the edge of the camp. Wasn’t that the one the dead man had parked? “Keep at it.”
The NCO reached the cart just as a sutler came from the other side to climb in. “What do you think you are doing?” The man yelped and ran away. Frakes looked at the load. Odd, it looked like the man had packed to leave camp. No crime in that, though it was standard procedure to escort sutlers who were leaving the army camp permanently. At the rear of the cart was a trunk that had been left unlocked, looking as if it had recently been dug up and he flipped up the lid.
For a long moment, he merely stared at the glass jars before him; then he lifted one from the padding. “Mein Gott . . . Kraus!”
“Wachtmeister?” The soldier was turning the brush as he pulled it from the barrel.
“Run over to the MP compound. Tell them I need an officer and some witnesses.”
“Back when I lived in Frankfurt, I used to work as a scribe and later investigator for the Watch. When a crime scene was very confused, I would draw the scene and record the evidence.” At the man’s blank look, he sighed. “Just tell them I have found evidence of a crime.”
Kirsten was gasping in pain as the midwife worked. Richard had tried to leave, but her hand had locked down like a clamp on his. The medic had taken one look and decided this was not in his job description, so had made himself useful by making sure the midwife had plenty of hot water and clean cloth.
Frau Stein was all business. “You are having the baby early, girl. But a lot of first-time mothers do. Just be calm and we will see it through.” She looked at Hartmann, who looked back at her with an edge of panic in his eyes. “And you, Sergeant, do not just stand there like a statue. Talk to her.”
Hartmann nodded jerkily, then looked back at Kirsten. “It will be all right,” he said, immediately feeling like an idiot.
“Richard, it hurts,” Kirsten screamed when the first contraction hit.
“The up-timers say you must control your breathing, little one. Screaming only frightens you more,” the midwife told her. “Now when the contraction stops, begin breathing deeply. Slow deep breaths. As the next hits, breathe in rapid panting breaths. Like a dog on a hot day. Most of all, find something to concentrate on. Talk to your man, watch his face. Focus everything outside your body on him.”
She looked up at Hartmann. “I am sorry, Richard.”
“Sorry for what?”
“For putting you through this. Your wife died this way, and—”
“You will not think of dying,” he snapped. “You will live, the child will live. I will have it no other way.”
“Still—” She flinched.
“Breathe! Rapid panting, do it!” he ordered.
She began to pant, eyes locked on his face.
The tent flap flew back, and Poirot burst in. “Mon amour, mon cœur! Je suis là pour toi!” He rushed past the midwife, taking the other hand, his whispered endearments continuing.
Hartmann felt her hand loosen, and saw the man wince as the clamp locked on him instead. “Kirsten, tell him what the midwife said about the breathing.” She relaxed from the second contraction and repeated the instructions. Once she had, her face focused on the Frenchman rather than him.
Hartmann stepped back, leaving the tent. Then he found himself praying. “We have not spoken much; I do not even know if you hear me anymore. But please, if you have cursed me, do not kill this girl!” He paused in his walk back toward the MP tent when he heard a disturbance. Half a dozen prisoners were pushing and shoving each other.
Great; he was in the mood to hurt someone. Hartmann stalked toward the fight as the first punch was thrown. He paused, handing his wheel-lock and knives to the guard just standing there and stepped inside the circle of men watching.
He caught the man who had been knocked down, lifted him to his feet, and slammed his head into the man’s face, breaking his nose and dropping him back to the ground. He back-kicked another man in the crotch, and the man who had been throwing a punch at this victim had his fist skate over the wounded man’s head to hit Hartmann in the mouth.
He stood stunned as Hartmann smiled. Then Hartmann caught his arm, pulling the man into him and slamming his other hand up into his armpit hard enough to dislocate it. Then he hit him with the edge of his fist, dislocating his jaw.
The other three backed away, stunned. Hartmann looked at each face. “Becker!” When the man pushed his way in, Hartmann motioned. “Translate!” He stood, ready to fight, catching the eyes of not only the other combatants but the crowd as well. “The next time I see this happening, I will deal with it.”
One of the men mumbled, and Hartmann looked to Becker. “He said there are still three of them and only one of you.”
Hartmann smiled, looking more like a wolf baring his fangs at the man who dropped his fists and backed again. “Three to one? Looks like a fair fight to me. Still interested?”
One of the French spectators caught the man who had spoken. “C’est le sergent fou qui a brisé le Tercio. Si un millier d’hommes ne pouvaient arrêter son charge, quelle chance avez-vous trois?”
The younger man was grinning. “They are reminding these three of what you did on the field, Sergeant. Said ‘if a thousand men couldn’t stop his charge, what chance do just you three have?’ ” He spoke rapidly, and the three men raised their hands as if to say there would be no more problems.
“Good.” Hartmann pointed at the men groaning on the ground. “Take these to the hospital. Becker, have your squad guard them until they have been treated. And I know the rest of you have things to do!” He stormed off.
“What was that last?” Luftmann asked.
“He said the sergeant is a wolverine in human form.”
Luftmann watched the sergeant out of sight. “An animal who does not care what he fights because he intends to win.” He grinned. “We have to tell the men.”
Hartmann glanced at the cart parked in front of the tent beside the MP headquarters, and at the men unpacking it. A couple of pale men were sitting to the side of the tent, with the smell of vomit. He dismissed them from his mind; not his problem. The guard opened the flap for him. “I was told to send you in, Sergeant.”
“—I became curious when I saw the chest looked like it had been unearthed recently.” Frakes was reporting to Hess, who sat at his desk, a large whiskey in his hand.
“Ah, Sergeant. We have been waiting for you,” Hess drained the glass as if it were water and poured another glass, motioning toward Frakes without standing. “Show him.”
The wachtmeister opened the filthy chest, gently lifting out a jar. Hartmann took it. For a long moment, he wasn’t sure what he was seeing. Then he realized it was a woman’s face floating in liquid. By shifting it, he saw it was just the skin of the face and hair peeled from her skull. A label had been pasted then varnished on it; number six. Reverently he set it down and looked again. There were a dozen of the jars. At the front, a polished wooden box had been used to brace them, and Frakes opened it. There were several knives and long thin needles.
Hess pointed at the box. “I asked one of the up-timer medics if he knew what those are. He told me the knives are what are used at autopsies, and the needles are what are called acupuncture needles used in Eastern medicine.” Then he looked to Frakes. “You preserved the evidence very well, wachtmeister.”
“Thank you, Sir.” Frakes began removing the jars from the chest, revealing what looked like a flower press atop some folders. One was a journal, and the young man opened it. “The monster recorded their names and everything he did to them. But this journal refers to another earlier journal, probably still in the chest. He would let the faces sit in the alcohol for a year, then tanned them.” He flipped through the pages. “There are other names, possibly accomplices . . . my God.” He went back to the jars, lifting one that had fluid but nothing else marked number 12. Then he held the book out to Hartmann. The sergeant looked at the page. Nombre de douze KIRSTEN JANSEN.
“Well, you can let the girl know she is not to be charged. This man of yours, I could use him in my unit.”
“How would that be for you, Frakes?” Hartmann asked.
“I did this kind of work before I joined the Army, Sergeant. This does not bother me.” He waved at the jars as he opened a folder with tanned human faces. “I feel right about catching such monsters. Killing people who are only my enemy frightened me more.”
“Have him transferred.”
Frakes stood, putting out his hand. “Thank you, Sergeant.”
He was confused. “Father?”
“The breath of life.” She stiffened, back to the panting breathing. As the midwife told her to push, the girl looked at him. “Please.”
The midwife reached up then her free hand came up with a knife. One deft movement, then she held up the baby girl. “Sergeant?”
Hartmann reached out. The child was so small. Then he lifted the baby to his face. “From those who have come before you, I pass on the breath of life.” Then he breathed gently into the small mouth. The baby coughed, then began to cry.
“Frau Jansen, you have a daughter.” Frau Stein told her.
Hartmann passed the baby to Kirsten, who looked at her with wonder. She looked at Poirot, then at Hartmann. “May I use your wife’s name, Richard?”
“She would be honored.”
Kirsten touched the baby’s face.“You who have been so close to my heart for so long. Welcome to the world, Marta.”
He paced the line of sentries as he always did. After a time, Hartmann had merely stopped correcting all of those who congratulated him on the birth of his daughter. The child was not his; the real father had gotten what he deserved in this world and was surely getting it in the next. Richard paused, pulling out the pouch of tobacco, but it was empty. He had spent his lunch dealing with the MP officer, then his dinner with the girl as the baby had been born, so he had forgotten to get the fresh pouch from his bag. He started to turn, but something caught his eye.
There was someone standing inside the prisoner’s area, watching him. In the fading light, he recognized the cavalryman he had slapped. “Is it now the time?” he asked.
“For us to talk, yes.” Francesco stepped forward. “After this morning, I wanted to face and kill you. But these last hours, I have learned much about you. You struck me not as an insult to me, but because I have injured someone you protect. Your men and the women of your camp followers speak of you as if you were their father, and you treated me as if I were a man hurting your child. You are a brave man who will let no slight pass, and I, I am ashamed that I am nothing like you. I am in the wrong in this. And I cannot call myself a man if I cannot admit that to the one I insulted.”
He bowed deeply. “I ask that you accept my apology. How might I make this right?”
Richard looked at the man, only a few years younger than himself, then replied gently. “You did not have to apologize to me. But Bridget and Maggie deserve one.” He took out the pouch again, then remembered that he had just checked it.
“Permisso.” Francesco held out a small pouch. “Tobacco from the Virginia colony. And if you will, I have a bottle of grappa to drink in honor of the child.”
Hartmann filled his pipe silently. “When you apologize, you do not hold back.” He motioned and paced down to the closest sentry. He passed the wheel-lock on his hip to the man. “Watch this for me, Kraus.”
Bridget looked up from where she was serving the morning porridge. Someone was standing back from the line, not pushing as the others were. Oh, him. “An’ what would ye be wanting, you cur?” She snapped, ladling out the next serving and handing it to the prisoner in front of her.
“To speak to your mother and yourself when you have the time.”
“Ma! He’s back again! An’ wishes to talk this time!”
Maggie looked up, then charged toward the serving line like a destrier. “Off with ye!” She waved as if shooing away a dog. “We’ll have none of ye here!”
The Italian didn’t move. “Please, Signora, I came to speak to you and your daughter. In private if we may.”
She huffed, then turned. “Gerta! Come over and take Bridget’s place!” She turned back, pointing a minatory finger. “An’ this time I have me filleting knife, so be warned.”
She led him back a few feet from the serving line. Then she turned, crossing her arms. “Speak an’ be damned.”
“When I spoke to your sergeant, I gave him such words, but he said I must give them to you. First, I speak to you, Bridget. My words to you were unkind, and throwing the stew in your face was uncalled for. I have no excuse and ask that you forgive my actions.” He motioned to her blistered face. “I do hope you will not be scarred by this. If you are, I pledge that I will pay recompense freely. Such an attractive young woman should not bear scars from the actions of a fool such as myself.
“Signora Maggie, pushing you to the ground was an insult you should not have borne. I ask you also to forgive me. If you cannot, I will accept this.”
Maggie watched him for a long moment. “The words are sweet, and I do accept. I wish to withdraw my comment. Ye’ dinna look like a catamite to me, but I was angry. I will forgive, but never forget. Merely do as a good man might from this point on.”
Bridget took the man by his arm. “Come, you have not yet eaten, this I know.” She went to the line, then down it, returning to him with a bowl of porridge, savories already added, and a slab of meat atop a slice of bread. “Now be off with you! I have work to do!”
He smiled, bowing, then left. Bridget watched him out of sight, then flinched when a horny thumb poked her in the ribs. Her mother was standing there, grinning. “Back to work. He will be back for luncheon an’ dinner!”
Bridget smiled at her mother, but her eyes grew dreamy. He had said she was pretty!
Jean-Claude Crozier shook his head as he awoke. He had far too much to drink the night before. Finally, Roquelaire was dead. The man had been killed three days before by one of the putains de camp allemand. A poetic death considering what he would do to her if they had only known.
The night before he was killed, the Frenchman had come and told him of the Book. That when Crozier had helped him with the one putains de camp during the siege, he had recorded it all. Every cut, every burn.
He regretted it now, more because the Frenchman had added that one day he would need something; money, sanctuary, perhaps a ship to another port? And when Crozier had delivered, the pages would be given to him, with proof there were no more to be burned. What would his brother a minor noble of Loire say? That his younger brother had become aroused at the pain inflicted on some village slut? But nothing had come of the death. Perhaps they had not found the book.
When he had been captured at Nutschel, he had paid for a courier to have his ransom request delivered. As soon as it arrived, he would fly from here, never take service again to anyone where the lunatics of the USE would be fought!
There was a noise outside his tent, then one of the enemy soldiers pulled the flap open. “Jean-Claude Crozier? Come with me please.”
“One moment, please.” His things had been returned, so he opened the trunk getting out a doublet. “What is this about.”
“Brigette Svendsen.” The man replied.
Now the bland face became disgusted. “Honestly, you helped torture an innocent woman to death and did not even bother to find out her name? God in Heaven. Get your ass out here or officer or no, I will have you bound and dragged!”
He would have to work fast, hope they did not send too many to take him into custody. He walked forward, and as he came even with the man, drew the soldier’s bayonet, and thrust it up into the man’s heart. He drew the man’s sword as he fell.
Hartman and his company had been assigned to help one of the up-timers, Allan Lydick. The man was an engineer who had been sent to design the new slips for the Navy the Swedes envisioned. But he had a degree in what they called civil engineering, and as the month waned, he had been sent to see what needed to be done to improve the road to where the prisoners were being kept.
Lydick had been unworried about the prisoners less than a hundred yards away. He had taken his rifle from a scabbard on the saddle, and was letting Hartmann look at it as the men were marking trees to cut down and widen the road.
“It’s an old Remington rolling block my grandfather gave me. They were made right after our Civil War, round eighteen sixty-seven, so it takes black powder cartridges pretty well.” There was a shot in the camp, and Hartmann’s head snapped up.
There had been two more guards, but they must have assumed a gentleman would merely let himself be arrested. Crozier slashed, and the first went down with his throat sliced open. He thrust the second through the heart. He caught up the rifle the first man dropped and picked the closest mounted sentry as his target. The ball punched the man from his horse, and Crozier ran to the horse, mounting as shouting began.
Hartmann heard the shouting. Now more shooting came from the camp, and one man on a horse rode frantically toward the trees over three hundred yards away. His mind raced. If the rider had broken south, he would have had Hartmann’s men to deal with, and even an unloaded rifle could trip a horse. So he had broken instead to the north. Further to run—the nearest city was Keil, and the horse would founder in an hour or so.
But his men had their rifles stacked. He would be out of sight before anyone could load. Hartmann reopened the action. “Cartridge, please, Herr Lydick?”
“What?” The man looked at Hartmann’s open hand for a moment, then stripped a round off his belt. Hartmann looked down, loaded the rifle, then closed the breech.
He was free! If he made the trees. They would need the cavalry to follow, and Crozier was a past master of scouting, so he knew where and how to hide. There was no way they could—
Hartmann aimed. The sights were better than those of the SRGs, but not as good as the twenty-twos he had used to teach his men. He tracked the rider smoothly. The shot came as a surprise, as it should.
For a second, Lydick thought he had missed. But there was suddenly a cloud of red from the rider, and he grabbed his lower back. Then he began to slide to the right, the free hand now pinwheeling as he tried to regain his balance. That ended when his face smacked into one of the first trees, and he was plucked from the saddle to sprawl as the horse raced on.
Hartmann opened the breech, bending to pick up the expended brass. “Hamner!”
“Sergeant?” The man ran over to him.
“Take some men. If he is alive, take him to the hospital. If he is not, bring back the body.”
“Yes, Sergeant.” Hamner looked at the rifle. “That was an amazing shot!” Then he ran shouting for men to come with him.
Hartmann handed it back. “A very accurate weapon.”
Lydick looked at it. He had a good eye and judged the range to be over three hundred yards. “Your man was right, Sergeant. An outstanding shot.”
“Do not tell my men, but I was aiming at the horse.” Hartmann didn’t understand when Lydick first laughed, then began humming the theme from The Magnificent Seven.
As Hartmann assigned men to cut down the trees, Lydick considered. He paced off the distance, and then walked back, looking at the self-deprecating sergeant. Four hundred ten yards.
Kirsten looked up from where Marta was nursing, her smile brightening her face. “Richard!”
She started to stand, but he gently pushed her back down. “She has had no problems yet?”
“I have an entire list of things to watch for in the coming months.” Kirsten looked down, her face softening.
Hartmann motioned toward the tent. The girl had moved in with the Frenchmen, so she had not been around the last few weeks. “Is Monsieur de Gomberville in?”
As he asked the little author stepped out. “Ah, have I not told you more than once to call me Marin, Sergeant?”
“As many times as I have told you to call me Richard,” Hartmann chided.
“And what may I do for you?”
“It is what I may do for you. The general has decided that as someone merely witnessing the battle, you and your man are free to go.” Hartmann drew a folder from his tunic, holding it out. “This is your letter of safe passage throughout the USE.”
“Formidable! And does this extend to that town Grantville? I have in my mind been writing Polyxandre yet again. Instead of nine centuries in the past, almost four hundred years into the future! And I have people from that time who can describe it to me!”
“Anywhere you wish to go.” He paused, then drew out an envelope. “If you do go that way, could you deliver this to Frau Kaufmann of Zum Barmherzigen Samariter in Magdeburg? It is just asking where my wife has been buried so I may visit the grave.”
“It shall be done!” Marin said. Then he took Hartmann’s hand. “I will also send you a copy of my book when it is published. I have added a gentle yet ferocious man to it!”
Hartmann smiled, a gentler smile than was his wont. “What you can do is see how far the railroad has gone. A machine that goes as fast as a horse and tows cars behind it. I know they had started to build it from both ends, so part of the way on either end might be in use.” He then drew out a small pouch. “Kirsten, this is what I was paid for two of my wheel-locks. For Marta.”
“Richard, you did not have to do this!”
“She will need money later in life. I would have done the same if my wife and child had lived.”
Hartmann looked at the new regimental flag. In the upper left-hand corner was the same marking of Third Regiment merely done as if drawn in blood. But now it was covered by an embroidered picture.
A wolverine, crouched, glaring outward. Beneath his bloody snarling mouth and paws was the foreleg of a bear almost twice his size that had been ripped off and below it a motto; Aequo pugna speciem mihi. He tried to work it mentally out. While he spoke enough Latin for Mass, he was unequal to the task. Down the first rank, Becker was giggling. “Becker!”
“Obviously, you know what it says. Perhaps you can enlighten us?”
“The motto is, ‘It looks like a fair fight to me.'”
“I see I am going to have to work on curbing your enthusiasm. Men, you know the drill. Except for Feldwebel Jäger, fall out and assume your posts.” As they ran off, he motioned to the young man. “You are taking Martin’s place, Fritz. Now here begins your sergeant’s education . . .”
Nothing worries an officer or sergeant more than boredom among the troops. The French troops had little or nothing to do, and it led to fights or arguments just about every day., By the end of the first month, a couple of brawls had needed breaking up.
Even the USE troops were beginning to feel it. But then their sergeants cleared a section of the line outside the POW camp and drew white lines in powdered chalk. Now two teams of a dozen men gathered, and someone was throwing a white ball toward a man with an odd glove. There was a cracking sound, and the prisoners looked toward it. “Pass auf!” A USE soldier was pointing up. “Der ball!’
Phillipe Carron looked around, then followed the pointing finger. A round thing was coming toward him, and he stood stunned. Suddenly a hand came between him and the object, and he ducked as the hand swung through where his head had been.
The man who caught it was cursing, throwing the ball into the air, and shaking his hand. Then there was a shout, and several of the men motioned to throw it back. With nothing better to do, several hundred prisoners gathered to watch.
“It looks a bit like rounders,” commented Evan Drake, one of the English mercenaries. He explained the game and the differences; the stakes (called the castles) used in the English game had been replaced with flat pads which one of the opposing teams guarded but were not allowed to impede the runners. The men running to the castles were allowed to return to the castle they had left, instead of being forced to run on, and the opposing team had to touch the man with the ball or pass it to the castle he was headed for instead of hitting him with it, which the man who had caught that one ball commented was a good thing. One of the USE troops who spoke English explained the differences as Drake translated, such as the men running the wrong way according to the Englishman.
“So let me see if this is correct,” Drake said. “Instead of throwing so you can be sure of striking the ball, the thrower—”
“—he is used to hold water or wine? All right, the pitcher throws, attempting to entice the striker—”
“Now he is bread?” Drake shook his head. “The batter swings when he thinks he can strike the ball. But what is this ‘strike, foul, and ball’ that imbecile keeps shouting?”
More explanations followed, along with comments about the man called the ‘umpire,’ not the imbecile, though the guard mentioned a lot of players or fans would disagree.
“So they count any that are inside this so-called ‘strike zone’ that he cannot hit and any swing that misses as a strike, yes? Any that fly outside the two lines,” he motioned toward the foul lines, “as foul, but only two fouls can count as strikes, yes?” The guard nodded. “So what is this ‘ball’ they keep shouting?”
“Ah, so if he gets three of these strikes, he is out, and if he gets four of these balls he gets to walk to the first . . . base, is it?” As he asked, the batter flinched as he was hit by the ball. He screamed furiously, charging onto the field, bat in hand. The pitcher waited only a second before running away. “Ah, and if the pitcher hits the batter, he is allowed to beat him with the bat?”
Yet more explanations.
“And all of you play this . . . baseball?”
“Those who don’t play soccer, yes.”
“What the up-timers sometimes call European football instead. Every battalion has at least one team. Sometimes they have both baseball and soccer teams.”
“European? Have they a different form in their time for the new world? Why do you not play it instead?”
“You have never seen Tom Simpson.” The guard raised his hand to show someone at least a head taller than himself, then spread his arms half again his own shoulder’s width. “He is that big, so I am told, and in their time was not considered big enough to play professionally.”
Carron looked around. “So when can we play?”
“Satan’s fart!” Maggie looked up at the exclamation. Freda, her primary assistant, had just pried open a sealed cask of salt beef, suddenly backpedaled, then fell to her knees, vomiting. The senior camp follower of the Wolverine Regiment ran toward her, then skidded to a stop at the stench. “Claudette!” She shouted at the most recent addition, the other girl who had come with the French. “Get one of the sergeants!”
Hartmann walked close enough to smell it. He’d put up with worse, but only on battlefields where they had too many dead to bury. He walked over to where the camp followers had gathered upwind. Maggie was as pale as milk, but she was also furious. “How can we feed ye with such filth?”
“When did the barrel come in?” Maggie motioned toward Freda. She was just as pale; her face the color of curdled milk.
“From where?” Hartmann asked. She waved to the road east.
Their supplies came from three directions. A lot of it was carried by barges along the Elbe, by the Tacrail line from there to Segeberg, then by wagon to the encampment. There was a lot of supplies coming by wagon from the Stecknitz canal by barge from Lübeck, but the lion’s share came directly from the port town by road. Hartmann nodded. “Check everything that has come in,” he turned on his heel, “and find out who brought and sold it.”
Captain Volker looked up, his mood souring. Sergeant Hartmann was walking toward his tent. He caught up the papers in what the up-timers called an inbox. Maybe if he were busy. “If I might have a word, Sir?”
Volker sighed. “What do you want, Sergeant?”
Hartmann drew a list from his pocket. “We have fifteen tainted casks of supplies— primarily meat, though there are also four that were flour or sauerkraut in the Third Regiment alone. They were sent from Lübeck. We need to discover which suppliers sent them.”
“Ask the sutlers. I do not have time . . .” Volker’s voice died at the look on Hartmann’s face.
“I came to you, Sir, because you are in charge of disbursing the supplies we are sent. This can be done one of two ways,” Hartmann said in a conversational tone. “You can assist me in discovering who is trying to poison the men here. Or I can go to my colonel and report you are unwilling to assist me. In that case, the brigadier will be notified, and his men will have this discussion with you instead of keeping it unofficial.
“Ours was not the only regiment receiving them, and other men like myself are speaking to their supply officers. I would suggest that to save your career, you should help me.”
Hartmann marched toward the tent of his regimental commander. Ludendorf looked up. “Ah, Sergeant. How did your investigation go?”
“Seven sutlers delivered the tainted supplies. Three were still in the camp, and we have talked with them. Only one officer here had signed off on the required inspection, and the MP detachment has taken him into custody. A chandler in Lübeck supplied all of the barrels.”
Ludendorf nodded. “They will deal with him.”
“His brother is one of the city councilors.”
Ludendorf shook his head. “Aren’t they always?”
“Sir, back when we were mercenaries, we would forage. We cannot do that now.”
“I know it. The idea of ‘Hearts and Minds’ the up-timers brought with them has helped appease the local people. But if we are forced to forage to survive . . .”
Both considered the option distastefully. It was the standard procedure of almost all of the armies, and only the fact that the USE and Swedes had not pillaged had convinced the villagers that these soldiers were different. The Emperor’s army was being supplied through Kiel now, so they were unaffected. But almost thirty thousand men are trapped here with tainted food.
“There is no help for it.”
“Sir, we have some villagers shipping their surplus food here rather than to market already. Over half of the horse meat we gave to them has come back smoked and at more than reasonable prices,” Hartmann shrugged, “I for one would rather we did not ruin that feeling of camaraderie.”
Ludendorf gave him a small smile. “You have a suggestion?” Then he waved his hands. “I do not want to know, Sergeant. If I did, I would probably have to report it—meaning, even more paperwork.”
Hartmann saluted. “I knew you would understand, Sir.”
The people of Lübeck had gotten used to having the sutlers assigned to the USE divisions come in to buy goods for the troops and prisoners thirteen miles away.
Oddly enough, there had been no carts or wagons for the last two days, so no one was surprised when they came in a caravan but the company of soldiers escorting them was unusual. The men marched in two lines on either side of the wagons and carts, all of which appeared to be full of barrels. They stopped briefly. The leader went into the rathaus, only to come right back out. A few of the people noticed that almost half of the soldiers appeared to have sergeants’ stripes and none of them were officers. The caravan stopped outside one of the chandlers on the waterfront at the sign KOSTER UND KOSTER.
The man who had marched at the fore of the right-hand column walked around the front of the wagons, looking at the new extension of the building going up to one side. “Sergeant Logan, you know what to do!”
A sergeant stepped out of the middle of the left column, “Right, you know what to do, men!” He and two dozen men broke into squads and went down the alleys on either side of the building.
The leader took out a pocket watch and waited a full minute before putting it away, then marched up and pounded on the office door. A slim, well-dressed man peeked out. “I want to see Herman Koster this very minute, please.”
“I am sorry, Sergeant, Herr Koster went to see his brother, about something.” His tone became smarmy. “You know, the city council member?”
“I had heard,” Hartmann replied. A shout came from behind the building, then the sounds of a scuffle and a scream. Three of the men sent to watch the back came from the rear of the building, dragging a man in rich clothing. “Oh, there he is,” Hartmann commented brightly. Then he gave the man a smile. “Oh, and we know how many bullies he has to ‘discourage’ complaints. I give a fair warning. If one of them so much as steps out of this building, we will kill him. You come with me, now.”
Hartmann walked over to the man who was screaming for the city guard. In fact, two dozen of them had arrived to face leveled rifles with bayonets.
“You filth! I will have your stripes for this!” He looked at the men closer to the center of town. “Guardsmen! Send someone for my brother!”
“Oh be quiet.” The man’s jaw snapped shut. While the words were polite, the look on Hartmann’s face was anything but. “I am going to have my men unload these transports one by one, and your man—” He motioned to the clerk. “—will record what is in it, and he will direct your warehousemen to move them aside. Then he will have barrels fresh from your warehouse brought out to replace them.”
“Where is Colonel Krämer? If he wants to buy new supplies, he should be here!”
“Colonel Krämer has been arrested for sabotaging the war effort and peculation. That means simply that he was taking bribes to accept rotten food from you. If he is very, very lucky, they will only hang him. But if he is unlucky, the officers will turn him over to the men for however long he lives, after they make him eat every ounce from one of these tainted barrels. As for the supplies, did I say we were going to buy these replacements?” Hartmann shook his head. “You, out of the goodness of your heart, are going to accept these tainted barrels and replace them free of charge.”
Koster stiffened, trying to stand alone. “I will do nothing of the sort! The supplies are better than you deserve!”
Hartmann crooked his finger, and one of the barrels on the first wagon was manhandled down, then rolled over in front of the supplier. On the headers and several times along the sides, the barrel was branded CONDEMNED.
“Ah, beef, just what a soldier needs to keep himself healthy.”
Hartmann motioned, and the header was removed. Since they had known what was going to happen, all of the soldiers had taken a deep breath, so the ungodly stench did not affect them. But the wind was fresh from the sea, and a lot of people who had come to watch were driven back.
Koster had caught the full smell and began to vomit involuntarily. Hartmann stepped around, catching the sagging man, clapping his hand over his mouth. The brine that filled the barrel was white with decomposition and the meat above the liquid was host to not some, but a veritable swarm of maggots. Hartmann bent him over the barrel, his eyes an inch from it. “Then perhaps it is good enough for you as well?”
Hartmann removed his hand and shoved the man down face first into the filth. He held the flailing man down for less than a minute, then pulled him up. Koster fell to his knees, vomiting until nothing but bile came up.
Hartmann looked up. Koster’s brother Friedrich had come and brought the city council with him. Every one of them had handkerchiefs against their mouths.
“Bring them all, Sergeant Schindler.” He waved upwind. “But place them there if you please.” He motioned to the barrel. “Seal that up.”
The Council came down the dock, passed the barrel, and stopped, gasping for breath.
“What are you doing, Sergeant?” Freiderich Koster demanded.
“It is what is called an object lesson, Herr Koster. Your brother has seen fit to try to poison the army that is fighting to defend you, and we wished him to understand that we are not pleased with it.”
“Then your officers should have come to complain!”
“This way there will be no misunderstanding.” He waved at the cold-faced soldiers now testing the air before breathing. ”This way the ones most affected by such actions will have their say. I have already informed the Swedes.”
Hartmann turned to the man soaked in rancid brine. “Now, Herr Koster, you will accept this filth back and replace every barrel with the proper contents. As those barrels are brought out, one of my men will personally inspect it, opening the barrel and tasting the contents at need. If your man tries to hand us one more tainted barrel, I will seal you in it. If there are any more complaints, the men who do so will join you.” He turned back to the city council. “Are we all quite clear on this?”
“What is your name?” Councilman Koster demanded. “I want all of their names!”
Hartmann advanced on the councilman, stopping before him. “My name is Sergeant Richard Hartmann of the Wolverine Regiment. These men,” he waved at those behind him, “were not all of us upset with this man’s actions. These merely volunteered to come and witness this ‘discussion.’ If I had brought everyone, counting prisoners who have been affected by this, we would have ten regiments standing here.
” ‘An’ it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ anything you please.’ ” Hartmann leaned close enough for the politician to smell his breath, the last line clear enough for the councilors to hear, ” ’An’ Tommy ain’t a bloomin’ fool—you bet that Tommy sees!” He turned. “Schindler! Begin the exchange!”
Hartmann snapped to attention before the colonel’s desk. “You sent for me, Sir?”
Ludendorf walked around the desk. “The city council of Lübeck has filed a very angry complaint against you with General Torstensson.”
“I understand, Sir.”
“I have been ordered to punish you as he directs.” Hartmann merely stood, still at attention. “Put out your right hand, Sergeant.” Hartmann looked at him curiously, then extended the hand.
Ludendorf slapped it sharply. “Do not do that again. Dismissed.”
Hartmann turned about-face.
“Oh, and Hartmann,” The sergeant stopped. “he added, ‘unless necessary.’ Dismissed.”
As the June heat hit, several factors arrived. They came from the USE itself, Sweden, and allies of the emperor like Essen and Bohemia. Others came from individual USE provinces; Hesse-Kassel premier among them, and they all came for the same reason.
The prisoners were informed that these factors were hiring to fill out their regiments, and any who wished could apply. By month’s end, the men being guarded dropped to only about nine thousand. Over five thousand of whom belonged to regiments raised by surviving French officers.
There was still no word about ransoms to be paid for the officers.
It was rumored that some of the USE regiments would be sent south to the Bavarian border, but there was no definitive word yet.
“Colonel, thank you for joining me.” Colonel Ludendorf said, shaking hands with Colonel Georges Duvalier of the French artillery. They had served together briefly about five years earlier, and since they knew each other, both had been assigned the duty of prisoner relations. Ludendorf’s aide poured the wine, left the bottle on the desk, and withdrew. “We have been having problems with the ransoms to be paid.”
“My family has not the money, as you know.”
“Yes. Every officer and a number of the cavalry who do have a family with money has sent their personal requests home as well. However, as I have said, there have been problems.”
Duvalier sipped his wine. “Enumerate them if you please.”
“All of our generals on the southern borders have had lists sent to them of officers held by us. They have been instructed to notify us when possible if and when a ransom will be paid. However, some of the higher ranking officer’s families have been visited by messengers from either Cardinal Richelieu or Monsieur Gaston. Sometimes by messengers from both. Your government is split on what should be done.”
Duvalier snorted. “Let me guess; Richelieu is willing to allow his favorites to be ransomed, but not those he disfavors. And as for Gaston, he is telling them his agents will allow only those he favors, am I correct?”
“If only it were that simple.” Ludendorf rolled the cup in his hands. “Some of them have been instructed to ransom the officers, but not the men of their regiments.”
Duvalier stared at him in amazement. “Those regiments would be the ones raised by the nobles in question, yes?” He named a couple of names. Ludendorf nodded. “I fought with such a regiment in the Mantuan War. The men who were captured by the Spanish were ransomed by the commander himself!”
“Our command has thought of a reason. Perhaps you might be able to say whether it makes any sense to you. They believe it is to strain the infrastructure of this region by forcing them to feed over nine thousand useless mouths.”
“What of the ones who are not French?”
“With them, we have an option. We cannot merely have them go wherever they wish. They would be unarmed, and obviously enemy troops so that the villagers would deal with them.” Both understood what that meant; an unarmed soldier with little or no money would end up dead. If they were lucky, without being tortured.
“Tell me, Marcus.”
“With about half of the prisoners now gone, we can have the others begin on repairing and upgrading the roads. Here.” Ludendorf stood up, walked to a cabinet, and pulled out a map. He unrolled it, setting a dagger on one corner, his goblet on another. Duvalier did the same with his belt knife and the inkwell. Ludendorf touched the map, pointing out the locations, “Ahrensbök to Lübeck, Ahrensbök to what is now called Narnia, Segeberg, and finally to Hamburg. By improving these roads up to what the up-timers would call partially improved, transport of food can be sped up.”
“That would take a year or more. And what about the villages and towns? I am sure this region has the merchants and the people pay for such work.”
“It will not take that long, in truth. The up-timers have introduced what are called Fresno Scrapers along with specialized equipment such as rollers to tamp and camber the road surfaces, and they assign three hundred men to each of what they call road crews. A well-trained crew can complete a mile a month. If we assign six hundred men to each mile, we believe they can do each mile in less than three weeks. The men will still be guarded of course, but there is something good out of this for them.
“First, any who are willing to work will be paid the wages those villagers would have gotten. They can either save this up, or spend it on other things we have not been able to supply to the enlisted men—wine, stronger alcohol, or tobacco.” Ludendorf’s finger bounced along the lines between the locations mentioned. “As each mile is completed, the crews will be leap-frogged to the next section that has not yet been improved. So six crews between here and Lübeck should be done with that road before the first of September.
“The longest section is here, between Segeberg and Hamburg. Forty miles. Crews that complete the shorter legs will be sent south to that road. Over a third of the men will be assigned to the road to Hamburg, the rest divided between the shorter segments.
“As each road is completed, the crews on it will be given a choice. They can take their pay and return home, or stay and finish the roads that need to be completed. But once they have finished, either way, they are free men with coin in their purse to buy passage home.”
Ludendorf picked up his goblet. “We have already notified the remaining mercenaries of our decision. However, I cannot use that method with your fellow Frenchmen without the approval of your officers.”
“So you wish me to put this to the general. What if they refuse?”
“Any or all of your men may refuse. However, remember all they might wish to buy that we will not supply. Your officers can buy their tobacco and liquor. Some of your sergeants can. But can the lowest pikeman afford it? Plus by being closer to where the food is coming in, their supplies will be dropped off sooner, meaning they will be getting food that is fresher.
“And as you well know, as long as they can not fight, soldiers get bored. This will make sure the devil has as few idle hands as possible.” Ludendorf refilled both goblets. “Just speak with him, Georges. It is all I would ask.”
Ten miles south of Segeberg
Hartmann deployed his men on guard, saluted the officer in charge of the relieved unit, and turned to watch. The biggest problem with building the roads had been the required materials; the entire region between Ahrensbök and the sea had almost no rock at all. Tons of gravel, sand, and rock had to be shipped in, and the only advantage for this section of road had been the TacRail line that had not yet been removed.
The French under Colonel Duvalier worked like demons! They had been completing a mile of road every seventeen days, and as he watched, the trailing crew marched through, bringing their equipment along in the middle of the formation.
He paced along, watching the men working. He saw one face he had not anticipated. “Luftmann, get that man for me.”
The soldier went down to a man using a prybar to jam a boulder into an opening. The man nodded, waved to Hartmann, then as soon as the stone was in the proper position, handed the bar to another to climb up to stand with the sergeant.
“Why, Francesco, I thought noblemen did no work, only languidly waved their hands and said, ‘do it’ to the peasants.”
“I have watched Colonel Duvalier get down into the roadbed often enough, Richard. Can I say I am better because of my birth? And I have seen you do the same often enough.”
“Men follow leaders because they respect them.” Hartmann took out his tobacco pouch and handed it to the Italian, who filled his pipe.
“As I have learned, Richard.” Francesco looked at the package. “Balkan tobacco? A tobacco named as what a sergeant likes best?”
For a long moment, Hartmann merely puffed. “It is a company my late wife started. Since a lot of men in Grantville and the SoTF know me at least by rumor, she felt it would sell well.”
“And has it?”
“I only read the reports they send me every month. Something like ten thousand ounces have been sold, so I am told. And five varieties now, from Macedonian to Virginian.” Hartmann blew a smoke ring.
“Here now, ye will not be lollygagging when there’s work to be done!” They turned to look at Bridget, who had a ladle in one hand and a half empty bucket in the other. “If I see you standing abo’ like a laird again, Franz, I’ll feed you wash water and rags for dinner!”
“Behave woman! I was asked by your sergeant to come up here, and he is the one who let me fill my pipe.”
“None of your sass, youngster!” Maggie came up with her daughter, trading the partial bucket for a full one, “and remember, daughter; ye canna complain of others not working when you waste time flapping your gums at them!”
“Yes, mother.” Bridget gave the two men a woebegone expression before trudging on.
“A hard taskmistress. And I didn’t even get any water!” A moment later the partial bucket of water struck Francesco from behind. He glared at the cackling woman as she walked back to the approaching water bowser.
“One thing, Franz?”
“Oh, I have put in for a commission with the USE. Franz Broglie von Revello-Turin.” He looked each way. “And if I am unlucky enough, that harridan will be my mother-in-law.”
“As if I’d have ye, ye blatherskite!” Bridget shouted.
“Be silent, woman!” Franz shouted back. “I had best get back to work, or I will never hear the end of it.”
Five miles from Hamburg
Early September, 1634
With every other road completed, it had come down to this last stretch. To the sides of the road, men marched toward Hamburg and the ships home. It had become a race, the six hundred men on each crew swollen to over a thousand each. Hartmann watched as the roller moved over the road again. As soon as it was done, it would move to the next section. He heard a horseman coming up and saluted Ludendorf.
Colonel Duvalier rode up on a horse from the direction of Hamburg. He looked upon the road and the crew watching the roller. “We have reached the gate, Marcus. Once this section is done, we can go home.”
“You could have gone weeks ago, Georges.”
Duvalier shook his head. “These are all Frenchmen. My men in everything but name. We promised you good work, and I promised them I would not go home until we were done.”
A horn sounded, then another. The men paused, then began to cheer. It was done. “You are a man of your word, Georges.” Ludendorf moved closer, and the two men clasped hands. “May we never face each other in battle again, my friend.”
“Au revoir, Marcus. Bonne chance.”
“March your men back to camp and tell the battalion officers to meet at my tent. We are going home.”
15 September 1634
The Wolverine Regiment, the last of the First Division to return home from Ahrensbök, marched into camp at dusk. Hartmann dismissed his men, then walked into the growing city. Frau Kaufmann looked up from the soldiers she was serving, signaled her daughter to take over, and walked over to hug him. “Richard, I am so sorry.”
“It was God’s will, Margareta.” His voice was soft, and she looked up. Never had she seen someone so disconsolate. “Where is she buried?”
“Since she was your wife, they allowed her to be buried in the cemetery at the base.”
“In the same grave so that they would go to God together.” Her words meant as comfort caused him to flinch.
“Thank you for all you did for her.” He turned and walked out.
The grave had a simple stone slab with Marta’s name on it, birth and death marked below it with BELOVED WIFE AND SON OF SERGEANT RICHARD HARTMANN. He walked up, touching the stone gently, then knelt beside it to lay his hands on the cold ground. Then began to pray for his honored dead for the first time in years.