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It was not a Duke nor Earl, nor yet a Viscount—
It was not a big brass General that came;
But a man in khaki kit who could handle men a bit,
With his bedding labelled Sergeant Whatsisname.
Magdeburg, May 20, 1631
The lieutenant had decided to rape the woman first; his ensign was pinning the woman's arms, the sergeant holding the horses by the open door watching. The woman screamed prayers as her abuser fumbled with his clothing, her children wailing.
The sergeant started to turn just as a blade punched through his throat and withdrew. As the body fell, the ensign looked up, but before he could scream, the attacker stepped forward, the weapon reversing, and the butt of an arquebus slammed into his face, shattering his skull.
The lieutenant rolled off the woman, and for a moment all she could see was a figure in the sunlight through the open door like an angel sent to answer her prayers. The huge weapon came down like the hammer of God, and the man beside her was clutching his throat, gasping. Then the musket reversed again, and a reddened blade flashed down. The gasping stopped abruptly.
The killer dragged the three bodies further back into the dark room, then returned. He looked down at the woman who had curled into a protective ball, still screaming. The weapon that had done so much damage was set aside, and he reached down, clamping his hand over her mouth, then rolled her on her back. She struggled, hands beating at the arm.
“Do you want to die?” he hissed. She looked up at him, hands pulling in vain at the arm. “Do you want your girls to die?” She tried to shake her head, and the minor amount of movement she could make against that grip must have been felt. “If you want to live, if you want them to live, be still, and be silent!” She went limp, then whimpered when the knife appeared in her sight again. But the man released her, took two steps, and began sawing at the ropes that held the twin girls.
“Stay where you are!” someone shouted from outside. The man finished cutting the ropes, then stood, moving between the girls and the entrance. Another soldier stood there, aiming his musket into the room.
“What did you say, Müller?”
“Oh, sergeant.” The weapon lifted away. “Getting a little of your own?”
“What I do is no concern of yours. Go find somewhere else to be.” The man looked at the woman. “No, I am not sharing. Now piss off.” The soldier shrugged, wandering away. The sergeant made a motion as if to say stay, pried the blade out of the muzzle of his weapon, then cleaned and sheathed it. He went back to where the bodies lay. A few moments later he came back. The wheel-locks belonging to the lieutenant and aide were thrust into his belt, and he held a bag about the size of his fist. He motioned for them to follow.
The cavalry mounts were standing near the door, and he walked over. When the women reached him, he set the weapon down, then lifted the woman astride one, and both girls onto another. Taking the reins, he lay the musket across his arm, and led the entourage away.
The otherwise beautiful day was filled with screaming and shouting. Smoke rose from so many places, it looked like the entire city was already ablaze. Men stumbled past him, staggering from drink or groaning under loot they had collected. Some looked at the sergeant and his charges, but the look on his face convinced them to seek elsewhere.
He had intended to take them to the cathedral, but that was before the wind had kicked the flames into a holocaust. Instead he moved toward one of the gates that had been opened after Count Tilly's army had come over the wall.
The air outside was cleaner, but there was still wailing as women were dragged from that hell to be raped yet again. He passed them by, moving through the sprawling camp, past the fires where the camp followers tended the wounded soldiers. One of the camp followers was watching him, nursing her child. He had seen her before. Always there when one of the camp followers needed care. No matter. Finally he reached the outside of the camp, past the sentries, into the fields beyond.
He looked up at the woman, then held out the bag. “Ride slowly unless you are spotted. Everyone is too busy with the sack to pay attention. But if you are seen, ride as if the devil himself were on your heels.”
“Why did you save us?” She looked at the bag, at her children.
He handed her the reins so she could ride and lead the second horse. “Maybe I am just a good Samaritan.” He slapped the rump of the horse, and they rode into the drifting smoke. The sergeant turned to return to the camp.
Magdeburg, January, 1634
Sergeant Richard Hartmann strode down the street through a gentle snow. It had been a long trip from the town of Grantville. By train, by sleigh, now on foot. He was cold, tired, and honestly could use a drink. A sign came into view ahead, a gloved hand holding a bulging purse with the name Zum Barmherzigen Samariter.
He opened the door, stamping his feet to clear snow from his boots, then used the scraper to clear the mud from them. Magdeburg might be the new capital of the United States of Europe, but it was still a city that two years before had been sacked and burned. He ought to know; he'd been here when it happened. Last he took off his cap, slapping it against his sleeve before stuffing it in a pocket. His short hair was blonde, and the left side of his head had what might have been a part, but was actually a scar. His beard and mustache was neatly trimmed, and above them blue, almost white, eyes looked at the world like a wolf.
The common room was sparsely occupied, just half a dozen men busy at eating, and a pair of young girls moving the beer and food to the customers. The innkeeper, a large man bustled over. “Good evening, mein Herr! How may I help you tonight?”
“What do you have for dinner?”
“We have stew, or slices from a freshly roasted boar with vegetables.”
“The stew sounds good. Though a slice of the boar would not go amiss. Both, please.” He set down his duffel, opening his greatcoat. “Do you have mulled ale or cider?”
“Then mulled cider with it. And do you have rooms for rent?”
“Yes.” The innkeeper looked at the coat, then his eyes widened at the clothing below it. His uniform was odd to most who saw it, because it wasn't the feldgrau of the army of the newly renamed USE. Rather it was the Union blue uniform of the NUS. “You have business in town—” He looked at the sleeve. “—Sergeant?”
“Reassignment. I have been assigned to one of the new regiments forming. My wife will be joining me in a few days. The room is for her.”
“I am not sure. I will have to check with my wife.”
“Please do.” The sergeant hung the coat by the door, then took a seat at a table near the fire, stretched out his legs, leaning back. A girl came over, setting down a mug, and he nodded, sipping it. After the weather outside, it was heaven. He hadn't eaten yet today, so when the meal arrived, he patiently sliced the bread, spreading butter over the slices, then alternating bites of the stew and bread. He devoured his meal, occasionally diverting to bites of roast pork and the vegetables. Finally he was wiping the bowl, then the trencher. Sipping a second mug. Now just to relax—
The door slammed open, and four men in Army gray came in like a flood. “Beer!” one shouted. The innkeeper waved and began drawing them. The man who had shouted reached out, dragging one of the serving girls onto his lap. She screamed. The plates she had been carrying shattered on the floor as she began to struggle. He just laughed, pawing at her.
As he leaned in to nuzzle her neck, she clawed his face, her screams redoubling. He stood, spilling her to the floor, then bent, one hand catching at her hair, the other pulled back to slap her.
The blow never fell. A hand reached out, catching the arm, then another closed with crushing force on his other hand. Hartmann stood there, smiling gently. “Let her go.”
“Who the—” The assailant gasped as the hand clamping his wrist closed like a vise.
“Let. Her. Go.” Now the hand moved slightly, his forearm screaming in pain. The soldier let her go. Then the hand came up, joining the other still pinned between their faces. “Enough people have been brutalized by soldiers in this place. There will be no more here.” The sergeant pushed and released at the same time, tumbling the soldier over his chair. The man scrambled to his feet, and judging from the flush of his face, was ready to make some trouble.
The sergeant's hand shot out catching him by his tunic, and drove his face down into the table twice. His buddies started to stand, but froze as the sergeant's head turned. While he still had that smile, his eyes asked, You want some of this? They decided not to intervene. The injured man slumped into unconsciousness. The girl had scurried toward the bar, the other girl holding her and glaring at the men. They looked like twins of around fourteen years old, but the sergeant merely noted it.
“Unit,” he snapped. The soldiers looked at him confused. He sighed. Too much time around the up-timers in the NUS army. “What unit do you belong to?”
“Uh, Third Regiment?” one replied.
Hartmann leaned down, face inches from the soldier. “You did not just wake up. Think before you speak. You have to know this—it is where you will go to bed later! Battalion?”
“Now the hard one. Company?”
The sergeant stood back up. “Your answers will always be crisp, clean, and as short as possible. Is that clear?”
He looked at the other two men. “Do you think you are exempted? Is that clear?”
“Yes, Sergeant!” they chorused.
The sergeant looked down at the man on the floor. “Have your drinks and leave. Do not upset anyone else here tonight or we will not have such a polite discussion the next time. Good evening.”
The two girls moved past the bar into the kitchen, and Hartmann returned to his table. Another mug had arrived, and he took a seat and sipped.
The curtain to the kitchen twitched, and he saw one of the girls looking at him oddly. Then the head popped back. Again it twitched, and it was either the same girl or her twin. Then a moment later, another face, an older woman. Then she pushed through, and strode across the room. She was a few years older than he was and looked vaguely familiar.
“It is you,” she whispered.
She smiled softly. “You save our lives and do not even remember us? Almost three years ago, during the sack,” she chided him.
He looked closely. The last time he had seen her, she was bruised, terrified, and being raped. The woman standing before him now was well-dressed, clean, and looked capable. He stood and bowed gently. “You look better.”
She walked slowly forward and then was suddenly hugging him. Behind her the two girls had come out, hand in hand, looking at him in wonder. She moved back, clasping his hand in both of hers, nodding at the girls. “My daughters, Maria and Anna, and my new husband Frederic.” She motioned for the innkeeper to come over. “You did not let us thank you then. Let us thank you now.”
“It was nothing.”
“It was everything to us.” She let go, clasping her arms around Frederic's left arm. “My dear, this is the good Samaritan that saved us that night. The one we named the inn after.”
Magdeburg training camp
Hartmann marched in following the orderly to stand before the desk of Colonel Marcus Ludendorf, commander of the Third Regiment. “Hartmann! Of all I might have wanted, you are the best.” He came around the desk, shaking his hand. “I asked for someone who could deal with my First Company.” He snorted. “Actually we need help with every one of the CoC regiments. Grantville said they were sending you to me instead of an up-timer. The telegram said you have a charm for making riflemen from mud.”
“A quote from an up-time poem by a man named Kipling. The Pharaoh and the Sergeant.” The sergeant shrugged. “I am good at training, Sir.”
“As I know! How are you when dealing with the CoC?”
“I have dealt with them, Sir. Half of the NUS Army are CoC.”
Ludendorf sat. “This is all an experiment, Sergeant. The CoC have volunteered in droves to man nine regiments so far and another nine that formed around Grantville. But we have too many here who think talk is going to do the job. They are undisciplined and tend to talk back or question instead of obeying orders. They think they know more of war than we veterans so they challenge every step in training, and the worst of them are in First Company of my Second Battalion. If they get into line, so will the others.” The colonel stood. “Think you can handle it?”
“I can, Sir.”
Ludendorf leaned back, looking up at the man. “We are short of officers, Hartmann. I intend to promote you to second lieutenant and put you over the one the company has. He is too new for me to trust him.”
“I'd rather you not do that, Sir.” Hartmann's tone was calm, but his face adamant. “Officers only oversee training. The pay would be nice, but no.” He shrugged. “Besides, part of an officer's education is learning from his sergeant, Sir. Where are my men?”
“They are at breakfast at the moment. If you wait?”
“Actually sir, I think I would like to see the men before that. Permission to get some breakfast?”
Ludendorf motioned and went back to his work.
Magdeburg training camp, Second Battalion Mess Line
“I am going to kill him the next time I see him,” Dietrich snarled. His buddies merely shook their heads. They were sitting cross-legged in front of the tent at the end of the company street.
“He was right, Fritz.” Luftman sipped his milk before taking a spoon of porridge. “You should not have grabbed that girl. That is what we of the CoC are supposed to stop!”
“Right or not, how dare he strike me! Me! The elected leader of First Squad!”
“Being squad leader doesn't make you right,” Dorfman commented.
“I do not care. He is no doubt one of those mercenaries who fell all over themselves surrendering to the up-timers at Jena or the Crapper. It does not make him better than us!”
“Fritz, I think you will have your chance,” Becker said. The others followed his gaze across the battalion mess area. A recognizable figure now in gray had joined the company and moved down the mess line past the women camp followers serving the food. He took a bowl of porridge, a mug of broth, and a slab of buttered bread. He turned, scanning, and his eyes locked on the three where they sat. Then he walked across the clearing, chose an empty space, and sat.
“That seat is taken,” Dietrich snarled.
Hartmann, sipped his broth. “Yes, it is. By me.”
“Move, or we will move you.” Dietrich's snarl became a growl.
As the man stood, Hartmann looked up. “After I finish my meal.”
Dietrich looked him over. “We saw you in NUS blue last night. Now you are in feldgrau? How many other uniforms do you have in that bag of yours?” Then he gave him a smirk. “Maybe you just wear them to get free meals.”
Hartmann merely ignored him, eating. He finished, polishing the bowl with his last bite of bread, and stood. “Now, if you really want to push this, let us take it somewhere else.”
“Why? Feeling outnumbered?”