1635: The Eastern Front — Snippet 21:

About fifty yards to the rear, and as many to the south — they were following different roads — Captain Jeff Higgins and his own staff were observing their commanding general.

Jeff’s staff was much smaller, of course. It consisted of his adjutant, Lieutenant Eric Krenz, who like Jeff himself was too young and inexperienced for the job. General Schuster had promised Jeff that he’d have experienced and capable company commanders — and so he did. Everyone of the battalion’s captains was up-to-snuff. So, naturally, following the surrealistic logic that Jeff had decided was inherent to the military mind, they’d put two neophytes in charge.

At least Krenz had been in a battle before. A real one, too, not the sort of firefights and commando raids that constituted the entirely of Jeff’s experience. Eric had been part of the flying artillery unit that broke the French cavalry charge at the great battle of Ahrensbök.

“Why don’t you ride a horse as well as Stearns does?” Krenz asked him, a sly smile on his face.

Jeff grunted. “Mike’s a fricking athlete. Used to — voluntarily, mind you — slug it out with professional prizefighters. Won every fight, even. Me? I’m a fricking geek. Until the Ring of Fire planted me in this madhouse, my idea of physical exercise was rolling the dice in a Dungeons and Dragons game.”

He didn’t have to explain the reference. Eric Krenz was a natural-born geek himself, and had quickly acclimatized himself to the quirks of American custom. He and two other officers in the regiment, in fact, we’re planning to launch their own gaming company as soon as their terms of service expired. They intended to plunder Dungeons and Dragons lock, stock, and barrel. Why not? One of the legal principles that had been established by the parliament of the USE was that no copyrights, patents or trademarks for anything brought through the Ring of Fire were still valid except for ones held at the time by residents of Grantville who’d made the passage.

There were a few of those. Seven people were published authors; nothing fancy, just various articles in magazines or journals. Two people held patents for small inventions, Jere Haygood and Diana O’Connor. None of those did them any good, though. O’Connor’s patent was for an esoteric aspect of business software which was irrelevant to anything in the here and now. Haygood’s two patents were for minor gadgets that no one would probably have any use for until the patents expired. On the other hand, Haygood held several patents for devices he’d invented since the Ring of Fire — and the same law had established copyrights and patents for the here and now.

Those might be challenged. Haygood’s new patents fell into the legal gray area that would afflict any up-time inventor. On the one hand, he had created the devices himself since the Ring of Fire. Nobody questioned that. On the other hand, since there had been nothing close to a complete record in Grantville of all patents, trademarks and copyrights granted by the United States of America, who could say? Maybe Haygood had just copied something that he remembered.

Jeff was pretty sure that the courts would rule in Jere’s favor, though, if anyone did challenge him. German jurisprudence was every bit as inclined as the American to see possession as nine-tenths of the law. Unless someone could prove that Haygood had swiped his inventions from something already in existence up-time, his patents would stand.

Jeff was sure enough of that to have been severely tempted when Eric Krenz and his partners had offered to bring him into the business. But, after thinking it over, he’d declined.

The problem was twofold. The first, and lesser problem, was that there might be a conflict of interest involved if the commanding officer of a battalion went into business with some of his subordinates, even if the business wasn’t launched until they’d all left the army.

Jeff wasn’t sure of that. What he was sure of, however, was how Gretchen would react. His wife wasn’t normally given to stuffiness. But he was pretty sure that the recognized central leader of the Committees of Correspondence would cast a cold eye on her husband hustling fantasy games.

Besides, they didn’t really need the money any longer.

Speaking of cold eyes being cast…

Jeff scrutinized Krenz’s none-too-relaxed posture. “And you got a lot of nerve making fun of your battalion’s commander’s horsemanship, lieutenant. Your own equestrian skills would fit right into a Three Stooges movie.”

“What are the three stooges?”

“Ah! An aspect of American high culture you’ve missed, I see. Well, let me be the first to enlighten you. The Three Stooges were a legend, up-time. Three renowned sages, philosophers one and all, whose wisdom –”

“You’re lying to me again, Captain Higgins, aren’t you?”


More than a mile further back in the march, and on yet a different road, Thorsten Engler turned to the man riding next to him and said: “How do you think Eric is getting along in his new post?”

Jason Linn grinned. He was the mechanical repairman who’d replaced Krenz in the flying artillery unit. “He’d have been all right if he’d stayed a grunt. But he went ahead and accepted the commission they offered him. He’s an officer now. Officers ride horses. It’s a given.”

Linn wasn’t all that much of a horseman himself, but the redheaded young Scotsman didn’t have Krenz’s fear of the beasts. And he didn’t need any horsemanship beyond the basic skills. He’d be riding the lead near horse of a battery wagon, just as he was doing at the moment.

Thorsten, on the other hand, was riding a cavalry horse. That was expected of the commander of a volley gun company. Fortunately, he was quite a good horseman.

He’d damn well have to be, riding this horse. He’d been given the stallion as a gift just three days before the march began, by Princess Kristina. He didn’t want to think how much the animal had cost. He was still getting used to the creature. This steed was about as far removed from the plow horses he’d grown up with as a placid steer is from a Spanish fighting bull.

Jason was a good repairman. He was a blacksmith’s son and had gotten some further training in one of Grantville’s machine shops after he arrived in the up-time town. He’d been all of twenty years old at the time and eager for adventure.

“Scotland’s the most boring country on earth,” he insisted. As vigorously as you could ask for, despite having experienced exactly one and half countries — Scotland and parts of the Germanies — not counting three days each spent in London and Hamburg.

Still, Thorsten missed Eric Krenz. And he certainly envied his friend’s position in the march, way up in front with one of the leading infantry units. Where Engler’s flying artillery company was positioned, they were almost choking. An army of twenty-five thousand men, many of them mounted, throws up a lot of dust. As it was, they were lucky they were ahead of the supply train.

“Think it’ll rain?” asked Jason, his tone half-hoping and half-dreading.

Thorsten felt pretty much the same way about the prospect. On the one hand, rain would eliminate the dust. On the other hand, everything would become a soggy mess and if the rain went on long enough they’d be marching through mud.

“War sucks,” he pronounced, using one of the American expressions beloved by every soldier in the army.


It wasn’t until an hour later that it occurred to him that he was denouncing war because of the prospect of moderate discomfort. Not death; not mutilation; not madness brought on by horror. Just the possibility of being wet and muddy. As a farm boy, he’d taken getting wet and muddy as a matter of course — but would have been aghast at the carnage of a battlefield.

Thorsten wondered what had happened to that farm boy. Was he still there, beneath the Count of Narnia riding a warhorse given to him by a future empress and betrothed to a woman from a land of fable?

He hoped so.