1635: The Wars For The Rhine – Snippet 29
Bonn, the river wall
September 21, 1634
Charlotte shifted the musket below her cloak, and wiped away the raindrop under her nose with the back of her hand. Despite the situation she smiled a little: whoever would have thought this?
Once she had recovered from her breakdown on her first training session, she had actually become quite good at shooting, but had still felt that for a woman to shoot a gun was somehow indecent. But standing by her baby’s cradle on the morning of the Hessian attack, watching him make small suckling movements in his sleep, Charlotte had completely changed her mind. She had spent a good deal of time helping to make the infirmary ready for the siege, but otherwise she had taken to spending every moment she could on practicing with whatever group of militias was on the walls, even talking the instructors into letting her train with the men, and finally taking regular watches. And it felt good! For once in her life she had the feeling of actually being able to defend herself against an enemy wanting to hurt her and her son. For once she wasn’t completely helpless and could only rely on the goodwill of others.
It was probably just an illusion. The Hessian army had completely surrounded Bonn, preventing anyone except those able to travel the Rhine at night from entering or leaving the town, and the militias took turn spelling the town guard manning those sections of the walls — such as the river wall — not likely to be targeted for a direct attack. Still, Charlotte felt safer than at any time since her marriage, and not a single nightmare about Gruyard had plagued her since she had first picked up a gun and taken her place on the walls.
“Alles in Ordnung?” Charlotte turned her head at the question and looked at the officer coming along the wall. The hood covered most of his face, but judging from the rain-dripping reddish goatee it was General Melchior von Hatzfeldt, who had been given the command of the town.
“Yes, Herr General. Nothing has been seen moving on the river all morning.”
“Your accent sounds southern. Have you been in Bonn for long?” Melchior von Hatzfeldt put his foot up on the cannon wheel beside Charlotte and rested his arms on his knee.
“Just a few months.”
“And already you are willing to fight for this town?”
“I have a baby son here, Herr General, and I am most certainly willing to fight. Fighting is good.” Charlotte patted the gun she was leaning against her leg to keep it out of the rain.
“I see.” Charlotte could hear the amusement in the man’s voice and frowned at him as he continued. “After having spent more than half my life as a soldier, I’d rather say fighting is sometimes necessary. I’d also say that it should not be necessary for a young mother to risk her life standing behind a gun on a parapet.” A bit of steel crept into the general’s voice. “I will not order you to leave the militias, but I cannot approve of this new American fashion for female soldiers.”
“No.” Charlotte looked across the grey rain-dotted river towards Berg, which — God willing — her son would someday rule. “I refuse to hide behind my own skirts. Fighting might get your body killed, but not being allowed to fight may destroy your mind and soul. And as for female soldiers?” She turned her head, and smiled bitterly at the handsome man beside her. “With all respect, Herr General, get used to it. A gun is more effective than a frying pan, and the Americans have proved that with training women can fight just as well as a man.”
“Hmhf!” General von Hatzfeldt pushed back his hat, and smiled back at her. “Certainly, some of the most competent people I know are women.” He hesitated a moment. “You seem quite passionate about this. Were you caught in a battle yourself?”
“Sort of. Just not one where guns were the main weapons. I think I’ll prefer guns.”
“You think so? I find myself hating them more and more.”
“But . . . But you’re a general! A famous one!” Charlotte nearly dropped her gun.
General von Hatzfeldt shrugged and looked across the river. “A general might do less actual combat himself, but it’s still the same. The blood and the gore. Seeing men’s brains splattered all over from a bullet hitting their head. I suppose that’s why I so much dislike seeing a woman holding a gun. I’d like to believe there exists something clean and perfumed, and untouched by the gore.”
“Untouched!” Charlotte spun on her heel to face the man beside her. “Untouched! A pawn. Moved by anybody’s will but her own. Bended, broken, used in other peoples schemes and deals.” She stopped with a gasp, frightened by her sudden loss of control, and feeling the hot tears mingling with the cold rain on her face.
“I see.” The general reached out to touch Charlotte’s chin with a finger, his wet leather glove only smearing the moisture. “I’m sorry for your pain, My Lady, but while a gun might seem to me an odd bandage for your wounds, I do wish you ease from it.” He smiled sadly, bowed and left to continue along the wall, while Charlotte spent the rest of her watch staring across the river and into the past.