1635: The Eastern Front — Snippet 47

Chapter 22

Chemnitz, in southwestern Saxony

John George’s face was almost literally red. The Elector of Saxony’s eyes were bulging, too. Half in disbelief, half in fury.


That was the third time he’d said that since Captain Lovrenc Bravnicar had returned and given his report. The young Slovene officer had been told the Saxon ruler could be difficult, but this was his first personal experience dealing him.

“What?” He shrieked the word this time. All traces of disbelief had vanished. The Elector’s mood was now one of pure rage.

Bravnicar would have had some sympathy for him, under most circumstances. Treachery was indeed a just cause for anger. But what did John George expect if he employed a mercenary like General Heinrich Holk?

What had happened was now clear. The captain had pieced the story together from many sources. As soon as word reached the Vogtland and the Erzbebirge of the Saxon defeat at Zwenkau, Heinrich Holk had mobilized his army and marched to the northeast. The presumption was that he intended to skirt Bohemia and enter Poland, and then offer his services to King Wladyslaw.

Why should anyone be surprised? As a military leader, Heinrich Holk had only two skills: Recognizing a lost cause immediately, and changing sides faster than a snake could molt its skin.

John George’s wife stuck her head out of the carriage. “What is wrong?”

“Holk has betrayed us,” her husband snarled.

Clearly, she didn’t understand the implications. She just shook her head and said: “I never liked that man anyway. When can we get out of this wretched carriage?”

Their son Moritz stuck his head out alongside hers. “Yes, Papa, please. Horses would be so much better.”

John George looked back at Bravnicar. For a fleeting moment, the captain wished he had a talent for treason himself. Without Holk’s troops, escorting the Elector through the Vogtland was going to be dangerous. All Bravnicar had at his disposal were a little over a hundred Slovene cavalrymen, a handful of Croat scouts, less than a hundred and fifty infantry soldiers — and those mostly dregs taken from other units — and exactly one artillery piece and a crew of gunners to service it. A splendid thing, in its own way. A nicely made Italian heavy culverin, which could fire five-inch balls or twenty pounds of canister.

It also weighed two and half tons and, with the forces at his disposal, was impossible to move through this mountainous terrain.

“Perhaps… Sir, I strongly recommend that you make peace with the king of Sweden. As best you can. If we try to pass through the Vogtland without Holk’s troops as an escort…”

It was no use. The Elector of Saxony spent the new few minutes berating the Slovene captain for presumption, stupidity, ignorance, insubordination, bumptiousness, insolence, effrontery and, most of all, cowardice. By the time he finished, Captain Bravnicar’s face was very pale and the knuckles of the hand gripping his sword were prominent and bone-white.

That was quite foolish behavior on the part of the Elector. There were any number of mercenary captains who’d have cut him down on the spot and tried to sell his head to Gustav Adolf. Their troops certainly wouldn’t object. Mercenary soldiers were loyal to whoever paid them, and only rarely did their pay come directly from their employer. Usually it was passed through the mercenary commanders, and it was those officers to whom the soldiery gave whatever loyalty they had.

Fortunately for John George, the young captain he’d so thoroughly offended was a scion of one of the many noble families in the Balkans who took personal honor very seriously. Often stupidly, too; but always seriously.

So, he simply gave the Elector a stiff little bow and said: “As you wish. I do recommend you follow the advice of your wife and son. From here south, carriages are impossible.”

They left Chemnitz two hours later, early in the afternoon. They should be able to reach Zwickau by nightfall, now that they’d shed the carriage. After that, it was only fifty miles or so to Hof. Three or four days travel, given the nature of their party and assuming the weather held.

They’d have to bypass Hof in order to avoid possible USE patrols. And, throughout, they’d just have to hope that Gustav Adolf kept all his airplanes in the north carrying out reconnaissance missions against the Poles and Brandenburgers. But once they got into the Bohemian Forest, they should be able to stay hidden within its dense woods until they reached Bavarian territory.

The real problem, however, was that first fifty mile stretch between Zwickau and Hof. That took them right through the heart of the Upper Vogtland.

The region was controlled by Kresse and his bandits, except when large army patrols passed through the area. At such times, Kresse would withdraw into hiding until the patrol passed.

In all, Captain Bravnicar had about two hundred and fifty men. Kresse wouldn’t normally attack a force that large. But these were not normal circumstances. Kresse had excellent intelligence. Everyone knew the Saxons had been defeated by the USE and thanks to his tirade, plenty of people in Zwickau now knew that John George was here. Kresse would have no trouble figuring out that the middling-large combined cavalry and infantry force passing through the Upper Vogtland had John George in its midst.

Would he attack then? Two years ago, probably not. Today, after the depredations committed by Holk’s mercenaries in these mountains…

Almost certainly.