1634: THE BAVARIAN CRISIS – snippet 54:
Mary and Veronica were thinking about having lunch in a pretty clearing by a big creek. At least, Mary thought it was a creek. It would have been a creek, up-time.
Veronica said that it was a river. The tiny stream that ran by Grafenwöhr itself was a brook, but they had followed the road about three miles south from the town and now they were looking at the river.
Just downstream, there was sawing and hammering.
“That’s Wilhelm Bastl’s barge-yard. His first wife was Johann Stephan’s niece. Just below it is Karl Hanf’s cooperage. That’s where I’m staying, at his house. He makes ore barrels. Or made them, exclusively, back when iron production was higher. Now he’ll make any kind of keg that anybody wants. Business is really off for both of them since mining collapsed.”
Veronica turned around. “That’s why there’s a clearing here. They build the shallow-draft barges and rafts here, upstream, to float ore and pig iron downstream. They don’t bother to bring them back—just sell them when they get to Regensburg or wherever they are headed. It was far busier when I was a girl.” She pointed at the creek. “Look, you can see for yourself. The water is running practically clear. When I was a child, it was red-orange with the rust from the mines and slag piles.”
“I really would not have imagined,” Mary said, “that a creek this small could be used for navigation.”
“This is the river,” Veronica answered stubbornly. “There is an elaborate system of locks and dams, all the way down the river. There had to be, since the water was also used to power the trip-hammers, which meant that the barges had to navigate past the mill wheels and mill ponds. If you don’t want to stop and eat right now, we can go further down, below the cooperage, I can show you the first lock that takes the barges over the rapids. It must still be working, since they’re still building barges here.”
It had been a lot easier for a child of ten or eleven years old to get out to the lock than it was for a woman of fifty-nine. It wasn’t the fairly well prepared path that the workmen used. It was the back way that kids had used when she was growing up. Veronica was starting to wonder if this had been a good idea. After all, they would have to climb back up.
They did make it down, at which time they decided by consensus to sit with their feet dangling over the water and eat lunch before they climbed back up. Alas, they weren’t as young as they used to be.
The lock was filling up, gradually. A barge loaded with full barrels was tied up at the side of the stream, ready to go. Next to it, waiting for cargo, was an empty one. Thirty or forty years ago, Veronica said, the lock would have been crowded. They wouldn’t have even bothered to open the gates for one barge.
They couldn’t stay to watch the gates open, though. Veronica suggested rather firmly that when the lock got filled to three fourths, they should start to climb back up. Men would be coming down to untie the barge and punt it out. She remembered very well from her childhood that people at the barge-yard got really mad if they caught unauthorized people sitting down here dangling their feet over the water on a fine summer day. It would be rather embarrassing for the wife of Admiral Simpson and the wife of Mayor Dreeson to be hauled into court for trespassing on private property.
Johann Rothwild could hardly believe his luck. Because of the hammering and sawing upstream, the two old women were out of sight and out of hearing of anyone else. The one old lady had actually put her walking stick down while she ate. That had been the only thing that either of the fool women might have used as a weapon.
So. Knife them. Take anything valuable. Toss the bodies into the lock. Everybody would put it down to beggars or vagabonds or unemployed mercenaries, which amounted to pretty much the same thing.
Motioning his henchman and Hermann Richter to follow him, he started down the back way to the lock, which turned out to be just as awkward for them as it had been for Mary and Veronica. It was, after all, just a deer path. One of the branches that he had grasped to keep his balance broke with a crack and he slipped a couple of feet.
Mary heard the men first, but by the time she turned, they were already down to the bottom of the path. With their knives out. Running. She got off two shots. Both missed. Aiming at running men with a short-barreled revolver was a chancy thing.
Rothwild cursed. Those shots would have been heard, even with all the sawing and hammering upstream. Someone was bound to come and investigate. They had to get this over and get out of here fast. Damn Uncle Kilian!
Veronica, contrary to masses of good advice and lectures delivered by Henry, Gretchen, Dan Frost, and a wide variety of other people, did not carry a gun. By this time, though, she was on foot with the walking stick in her hands. It was a long one, a shepherd’s crook. Her grip was not scientific—two hands desperately grabbing the straight end. Against someone trained to fight with a cudgel, she wouldn’t have delivered a single blow. It did, however, have a considerably longer range than knives. She got in one hard thwap against the shoulder of one of the men attacking them
Unfortunately, it was the man’s left shoulder; and he was obviously a brawler, used to taking blows. He didn’t drop his knife. The weight of walking stick, held out awkwardly as it was, slid it from his shoulder down to the ground. As she struggled to bring it back up, entirely by accident, she caught one of the other men’s legs with it—she recognized him suddenly; it was Hermann: what on earth was Hermann doing here?—and dumped him into the lock.
The third man kept coming. With a shock, she recognized him also. Sara’s boy; Rothwild. The one who had gone to the bad. He had apparently stayed there, once he arrived. That was her last thought for the time being.
Mary scrambled to her feet and looked over. The biggest man, with his left hand, grabbed the walking stick about a third of the way down, pulled it from Veronica’s grip and knocked her out.
After those first two shots, Mary had stopped herself from shooting again. No point in wasting the bullets. At closer range, she had better luck. Not, however, good enough luck. The first two of the four remaining bullets still seemed to have missed. She accidentally bloodied one man’s hand; the bullet went on to scratch the side of his neck. The last one landed in his upper arm, breaking it just below where Veronica had smacked him on the shoulder. He stopped, bent over, looking nauseated.
The other man kept coming. She threw her gun into his face. He lost his balance, slipping on the slick grass, and fell forward heavily against her. He was tall; his knife went over her shoulder. Both fell. Mary, closer to the edge, went over into the lock, striking her head on a piling on the way down.
Forst and Becker, since they were supposed to float Bastl’s barge full of barrels out, had already been half-way down the good path when the shooting started. They started to run. They saw the end of the picnic and panicked. Three attackers, counting the one who was now floundering his way over toward the edge of the lock. Only one really appeared to be out of the fight. They were unarmed themselves.
And the women. Foreign women.
Their own connections with the landgrave of Leuchtenberg would show up if there was an investigation. What if someone had intercepted Arndt’s reports to the landgrave? They were Leuchtenberger. If they were caught at the scene, the Swedes would blame their lord for this assault on the two women. It would give the Swedes a chance to defame his character. And he hadn’t had a thing to do with it. Neither had they. It wasn’t their fault.
They didn’t stop to talk. Becker disposed of the big man who had fallen on his face after knocking the one woman into the water, using the man’s own knife. Just a simple stab through the neck while he was still half-stunned from the collision. Forst frantically wrestled two empty barrels from the waiting barge to the loaded one. Becker fished Mary out of the lock and dropped her into one of the barrels, bunging on the lid. Forst picked up Veronica, dropped her into the other barrel, and did the same.
They untied the barge and punted it out into the middle of the lock, waiting for the gate.
By the time the men from the cooperage got there, they were standing on the barge, not precisely calmly, but looking no more excited than men should who had just witnessed a fight. They waved urgently, motioning toward the two men on the bank and the one in the water.
“Fight,” they yelled. “There was a fight.”
At the far end of the lock, the gates opened.