1635: The Eastern Front — Snippet 62

Chapter 31

For a moment, Mademann was paralyzed by the arresting sight of the procession coming out of the palace. Two of the palace guards had an upended table in their hands and were holding it above their heads. They came into Slottsbacken and started moving toward the Church of St. Nicholas.

Then he realized that the Swedish princess and the Danish prince were underneath the table, being sheltered from the rain. Ulrik was in front, with Kristina just behind him. Behind her came the prince’s burly Norwegian aide.

At last! They’d at least be able to take down two of their three targets.

He turned his head and hissed, getting the attention of the five men hiding farther back in the alley. Charles was the lookout at the corner and the only one of them who’d seen the royal party emerge from the palace.

“They’re coming,” he said. “Kristina and Ulrik, with the Norwegian. Two palace guards also.”

In his excitement, he forgot to mention the table.

The five Huguenots moved forward until they were all gathered near the alley’s entrance. Mademann was still the only one who could see the royal party, though. That was as it should be. Even in the pouring rain there was a chance they could be spotted lurking in the alley. One person there might be ignored. Half a dozen would cause alarm.

The soldiers were almost trotting, obviously eager to get out of the rain. The party would come abreast of the alley’s entrance within seconds.

Mademann gauged the situation. Tactically, given the downpour, there seemed to be only one sensible strategy. Just rush their targets and shoot them down.

“Get ready,” he hissed.

Mathurin Brillard was watching the scene from the other end of Slottsbacken. He was farther away but had a better view because he was looking through a window on the upper floor of a tailor shop. Half an hour earlier, when he’d come into the shop, he’d forced the elderly tailor to close the shop and come with him upstairs. Once in the bedroom above, he’d clubbed him senseless.

Judging from the evidence of the bedroom, there should be a wife somewhere. Wherever she was, though, she wasn’t in the shop or in the living quarters above. Perhaps she was running an errand or visiting relatives. It was also possible the tailor was a widower but hadn’t been able to bear getting rid of his dead wife’s belongings.

Whichever the case, all the woman had to do was stay away for a few more hours and it would all be over, one way or the other.

He saw the party coming out of the palace and stiffened. That was the princess and the prince. Not his targets, technically, since he was supposed to take care of the queen. But the queen would probably never make an appearance, anyway, so Mathurin raised his rifle. If his comrades’ attack on Ulrik and Kristina ran into difficulties, Brillard would come to their aid.

In good weather, he’d have positioned himself farther back in the room in order to avoid being spotted in the window by a passerby. In this downpour, though, he didn’t think that was a problem, and the direction of the wind was keeping the rain from coming into the room. He was standing close enough to the window that when he took aim, most of the rifle’s barrel would extend outside. It would get wet, but that wasn’t a problem with a breech-loading rifle like this one. Mathurin had fired the gun several times on the tavern’s island, to get accustomed to the thing. It was very accurate. A truly delightful weapon in every respect except that it was quite heavy. This was a full-sized rifle intended for infantrymen, not the carbine version of the Cardinal. Brillard didn’t envy any soldier who had to carry the gun on a long march.

That was not something an assassin had to deal with, thankfully.

Behind him, the tailor let out a soft moan. He was lying on the floor near the bed.

Mathurin must not have hit him as hard as he thought he had. Now that the rifle was loaded, he didn’t want to use the gun butt again. So he went over and stamped on the man’s head. Once, twice, thrice. That should do it.

Quickly, he returned to the window. The royal party was coming abreast of an alley where Brillard thought Mademann and the others were probably hiding. The fight should start any moment.

“Now!” shouted Mademann. He rushed out of the alley toward the prince and princess.

A shot rang out almost immediately. Then, another.

The shots had come from behind him. Which idiot –?

To his consternation, Charles saw that at least one of the two shots had struck the soldier holding up the front end of the table. The man was already collapsing. Much worse, so was the table.

And God damn all quick-thinking princes!

Ulrik caught the edge of the table and tipped it so the table would fall on its side and provide them with a barricade.

Tried to, rather. The soldier holding up the rear end was too confused to understand what the prince was trying to do. He was still trying to hold the table up.

Baldur kicked him out from under it. The soldier was flung onto his back, his head hitting the street hard enough to be knocked unconscious. Baldur caught his end of the table. He realized what Ulrik was trying to do and followed suit with his own end. A moment later the table was lying on its side with its heavy top facing their assailants. Ulrik and Baldur crouched down behind it. The princess did so herself, without needing to be told.

What a mess. Still, the situation favored them. Locquifier — another idiot! — fired a shot from his percussion cap pistol at the table top. The wood splintered, but it was thick enough that the bullet didn’t penetrate.

That left Locquifier effectively disarmed, of course, because his percussion cap pistol only had one barrel. No way to reload in this downpour.

The first idiot had been Ancelin. At least he’d had the sense to discard his pistol now that he’d fired both barrels. He drew a knife and ran toward the right end of the table.

That was now the only sensible tactic. Get around the ends of the table so they had access to their targets.

Mademann made to follow Ancelin. His foot slipped on one of the wet cobblestones and he fell, dropping his pistol. The weapon skittered off across the cobblestones, coming to rest ten feet away.

“Merde alors!”

By October of the year 1635, the Ring of Fire was four and half years in the past. Over that period of time, even though they numbered in the thousands, up-time firearms had come to be worth a prince’s ransom.

Fortunately, Ulrik of Denmark was a prince.

He owned three of the weapons, in fact: a bolt-action Browning .308 rifle, a Smith & Wesson .40 automatic pistol with a ten-round magazine, and a Colt Detective Special .38 caliber snub-nose revolver.

He was carrying the revolver today, as he normally did in everyday matters. The little gun was easy to conceal in regular clothing, which the automatic wasn’t. Ulrik had been quite sure the queen would have objected had she realized he was coming into her presence armed. The revolver had a six-round cylinder, but Ulrik only had five of the chambers loaded. He disliked carrying the weapon with a loaded chamber under the hammer, even if the man who’d sold him the gun insisted it was quite safe.

So. Five shots, and he had no way to reload since he wasn’t carrying any spare ammunition. He didn’t have that much anyway. The ammunition for up-time guns was also very expensive. By now, they were all handmade reloads.

He was pretty sure there were at least six assailants, from what he’d seen before the table came down.

The Americans called it Murphy’s Law.

Mademann scrambled after his pistol. On hands and knees because when he’d tried to stand up he’d just slipped again.

Out of the corner of his eye he saw that Ancelin was close to the table. André Tourneau was very close also, at the other end. He had his pistol at the ready.

Suddenly, a figure rose from behind the table. The prince, from the hat, although it was hard to be sure. Hats got rather shapeless in this sort of downpour.

Tourneau immediately fired a shot. He’d rushed it, Charles thought.


So he had. The shot struck the very edge of the table and caromed off somewhere in the distance. The only damage it did was to send a little spray of splinters flying.

One of the splinters struck Ulrik just below the eye. He’d already fired at the gun flash already. Now, startled, he pulled the trigger again.

Two shots gone! He had only three bullets left.

The prince’s first shot struck Tourneau in the arm, just above the wrist. Howling, he jerked around, dropping the gun — and moved right into the path of the second bullet. It was that one, despite being completely unaimed, that killed him instantly. The bullet entered his left temple and destroyed much of his brain before coming to a stop against the occipital bone.

It was already obvious things were going badly. Mathurin took aim at the figure standing up above the table rim. He, also, thought it was probably the prince, although this cursed rain degraded visibility in the most terrible manner. It would not be an easy shot under these conditions, but he thought he could make it. If he missed, he would have time for a second shot.

A sudden noise to the right drew his attention.

The queen was coming out of the palace! Brillard hadn’t expected that. She was trailed by half a dozen palace guards.

All of them had now stopped. They were just within the entrance, still out of the rain. The queen was staring at the bizarre tableau in Slottsbacken, her mouth wide open.

The guards wouldn’t be much use. They were armed with ceremonial halberds, not firearms. The weapons could still do a lot of damage even if those great blades probably weren’t keep very sharp. But it would take them a while to reach the prince and princess.

Mademann would have to manage without his help. Brillard’s assigned target was Maria Eleonora.

He brought the rifle around. The queen still hadn’t moved. She seemed completely paralyzed with shock.

This was much closer range. Even in the rain, he could hardly miss.