1635: The Eastern Front — Snippet 20:

Chapter 10

Northeast of Halle, not far from the Saxon border

The countryside between Magdeburg and Saxony reminded Mike Stearns of the American Midwest, except for the absence of corn and soybeans. The crops being grown were different, but the terrain was much the same — flat, and consisting mostly of open farmland but with quite a few wooded areas scattered about. None of the woods could be called forests, though.

There was one other big difference from the Midwest, but that was not peculiar to this area. It was a common feature throughout central Europe, and Mike suspected you’d find it in Western Europe as well. Unlike the twentieth-century American farm countryside he’d known, with its many scattered individual farmhouses, central European farmers in the seventeenth century all lived in small towns and villages. The farmland itself was largely barren of inhabitants, except during the day when people were working in the fields. By and large, the collective methods and village traditions of the middle ages still applied to farm labor in the German countryside.

To the farmers themselves, at any rate, if not necessarily the aristocracy. Seventeenth century Germany was no longer in any real sense of the term a feudal society. Labor relations might have resisted change, but the same was not true of property relations. In the year 1635, a landlord was just as likely to be a burgher or a well-off farmer as a nobleman — and still more likely to be an institution of some kind rather than a person: a corporation, a city council, a trust, whatever. Still, farmers lived in villages, not in separated and isolated farmhouses; and still, in many ways, worked the land in common.

His musings were interrupted by one of his staff officers, Colonel Christopher Long, who came riding up bearing some new dispatches.

“Anything important?” he asked.

The young colonel shook his head. “Nothing that can’t wait until we make camp this evening.”

The English officer was a professional soldier who’d come to Magdeburg to join the USE army — not the Swedish forces directly under Gustav Adolf, as did most mercenaries from the British Isles. The reason, Mike had discovered from a conversation a few days earlier, was that Long had been in Spanish service when the Spaniards invading Thuringia had been defeated by the Americans near Eisenach.

In fact, the Englishman was one of the survivors of the destruction of the Wartburg. His depiction of the nightmare of trying to escape the castle as it was being consumed by napalm bombs was horrific, for all that he recounted the tale in a matter-of-fact manner. He’d come away from the experience convinced that the trade of war was about to undergo a drastic transformation — and thus had placed himself at the service of those who seemed to be the agents of that change.

In the world Mike had come from, Long’s behavior would have bordered on treason. But nationalism and twentieth-century notions of patriotism were just beginning to emerge from dynasticism, in the seventeenth century. Long’s pragmatic attitude was the norm for professional soldiers in this day and age, not the exception. The only thing which made Long unusual was that, unlike most mercenary officers, he was quite willing to accept the rambunctious behavior of the CoC-influenced enlisted soldiers in the USE army, as the price for gaining the experience he wanted.

After handing over the dispatches, Long studied Mike for a moment and then said: “Your horsemanship is very good, General Stearns. I’m surprised. I’d have thought you’d ride like the average American.”

Mike smiled. “Badly, you mean.”

The tall blond officer shook his head. “That would be unfair, I think. I’ve found that most Americans — assuming they ride horses at all, that is — are reasonably competent at the business. But that’s a long ways short of the sort of horsemanship you need to be a cavalryman.”

Mike’s eyes widened with alarm. “Cavalryman? I thought I was a general. Sit on a horse — way back, you understand — and give orders.”

“Alas, no. Even with the radios we have, I’m afraid command methods haven’t changed all that much and probably won’t for some time.” Long’s grin seemed a bit on the evil side. “The casualty rate among officers in this day and age — oh, yes, generals too — is usually no better than it is for infantrymen and artillerymen and considerably worse than it is for cavalrymen.”

That was definitely an evil smile. “The cavalry can run away, you see. Except the generals, who have stand their ground and set a good example.”

Mike had already discovered that Long’s casual joking with his commanding officer was normal in the army. Whether that was due to seventeenth century custom or the egalitarian influence of the rank and file soldiers, he didn’t know. Some of both, he expected.

He wasn’t going to inquire, though, because whatever the source the attitude suited him just fine. Mike had every intention of succeeding — excelling, actually — at his new occupation. He’d done well at everything he’d turned his hand to in his life, and saw no reason to do otherwise here. But he was not a cocksure fool, either. There was no way a man in his late thirties with no training as an officer and whose only military experience had been a three year term as an enlisted man in the peacetime U.S. army — twenty years back, to boot — was going to transform himself overnight into what Mike thought of as “a regular general.”

Instead, he’d do it his way, by leaning heavily on those traits he already had which he thought would serve him in good stead as a military commander.

First, he was courageous. That wasn’t conceit on his part, it was simply a matter-of-fact assessment. He’d faced enough physical threats in his life to know that his immediate reaction to danger was cool-headedness, not panic. He didn’t think he was probably Medal-of-Honor material, but he didn’t need that sort of superlative bravery. Just enough to keep calm in the middle of a battlefield and think clearly.

Second, he was a very capable leader — and leadership, he thought, probably translated well into any field of endeavor.

Third, he was an experienced organizer. That was, in fact, the channel through which his leadership abilities normally ran. He know how to command outright, and would do so when needed. But his preference and natural inclination was to assemble a capable team and work with them and through them. He saw no reason to think he couldn’t do the same with the staff of an army.

One of the things that would require was a certain relaxation in his dealings with his subordinates. And if that sort of casualness would have appalled most of the officers Mike had known in his stint in the up-time army, so be it. He simply wasn’t worried that familiarity would lead to contempt. Why should it? Nobody who’d even gotten to know Mike Stearns in his first almost four decades of life had been contemptuous of him, not even his enemies. The only reason anyone would start now would be if Mike fumbled his new job.

Which, he had no intention of doing. It would be better to say, didn’t even consider.

And that, of course, was Mike’s fourth relevant trait. His wife Becky had once said — not entirely admiringly — “Michael, you have the self-confidence of a bull.”

Well… Yes. He did.

“And yourself, Christopher? I wouldn’t have imagined an Englishman would ride all that well, either. Your island being so small and all.”

Long chuckled. “We’re lazy. Why walk when you can make a dumb beast do most of the work? And then, of course, I was in Spanish service for a time. Your proper hidalgo considers it a point of honor to spend most of his life in a saddle. It’s an infectious attitude, I found.”