1636: The Ottoman Onslaught – Snippet 18

Chapter 9

The Scots cavalryman came racing toward Jeff Higgins at a speed which he considered utterly reckless given that the horseman was galloping across an open field rather than a well-groomed racetrack. He’d ascribe the man’s deranged behavior to his Celtic genes; these were the same people, after all, who saw no problem in walking through wild vegetation in kilts and thought bagpipes were an instrument of musical entertainment. But Jeff had seen plenty of German, Spanish and French cavalrymen do the same thing — and Polish hussars would do it wearing heavy armor, which made them certifiably insane.

The Scotsman arrived at Jeff’s side, pulled up his horse, pointed in the direction from which he’d come and said something which Jeff interpreted — more or less — as: “the bastards are over there! Bavarian cavalry! A mile away!” Linguists would probably insist that the man was speaking a dialect of English, whereas Jeff considered it the equivalent of a foreign tongue altogether. By now, though, he’d had enough experience with Mackay’s troops to be able to make some sense out of it.

“Which way are they headed?” he asked.

The Highlander understood real English much better than Jeff understood his language — his “dialect,” rather. He rattled off something in reply which Jeff interpreted as the cowardly bastards are running away from us.

Translating that derisive remark into coherent military tactics meant that the enemy scouts were probably doing what they were supposed to do once they made contact with the enemy, which was to report back to their commanders. Just as this Highlander had done himself, no doubt ordered to do so by Alex Mackay.

Jeff turned toward one of the two men riding just behind him who served as his couriers. The man was close enough to have heard the Scotsman’s words himself, but Jeff wasn’t sure how well he’d have understood them. “Report to General Stearns that Colonel Mackay has encountered Bavarian cavalry. They’re apparently engaged in reconnaissance since they retreated as soon as contact was made.”

The man raced off — galloping his horse just about as recklessly as the Scotsman had done. And yet he seemed to all appearances to be a sober and level-headed Westphalian. Jeff sometimes wondered if there was an unknown characteristic of horses — a parasite, perhaps, or maybe a virus — that infected people who spent too much time in close proximity and caused them to lose their minds. He determined — again — to spend as little time on horseback as he could manage.

In a civilized historical period, he’d have been able to send a report to his commanding general using a radio while seated in a natural form of transport like a Humvee — hell, he’d settle for a World War II era Jeep, for that matter. In this day and age, though, officers were expected to ride horses. And while the army did have radios at its disposal, there still weren’t enough yet — or enough qualified radio operators, which was often more of a problem — to make them a widespread form of communication. Every infantry Jeff’s Hangman regiment did have its own radio operators, as did every regiment and artillery battery. Unfortunately, the operator Jeff regularly used, Jimmy Andersen, was somewhere a few hundred yards back — where he’d been ordered to stay so as not to risk the regiment’s one and only headquarters radio. Jeff would have had to send a courier to the radio operator in order to relay the message, and if the courier had any trouble finding Jimmy — which he almost certainly would since an army of more than ten thousand men on a march through a seventeenth century countryside on seventeenth century so-called “roads” was anything but neat and orderly — it would take the message longer to get to General Stearns than just having the courier do the whole thing himself.

Such were the realities of “combined technology” as the basis for military operations. Sometimes it worked. More often than not, it was a muddle. Sometimes, a sorry joke.

As he did whenever he found himself sliding into what he called early modern angst, Jeff pulled himself out with a memory of Gretchen. In this instance — o happy remembrance — with an image of the way she’d looked the morning after they re-encountered each other when the Third Division relieved the siege of Dresden. She was smiling up at him while lying in their bed wearing absolutely nothing, which — o happy coincidence — was exactly the costume he’d been wearing himself at the time.

They’d been a little reckless the night before. Gretchen was normally as disciplined as a Prussian martinet when it came to maintaining the rhythm method of so-called birth control. But… It wasn’t every day, after all, that husband and wife were reunited right after escaping death and destruction, which they’d both faced the day before.

Another memory came to him now, of the way Gretchen had looked just a few weeks ago on the morning he’d left with the Third Division to march to Regensburg. Looking at him — fully clothed, this time — with a smile on her face that was a perhaps a tad rueful but mostly just what Jeff thought of as Gretchen Richter taking life as it comes.

“I think I’m pregnant again,” she’d said. “Won’t be sure for a while, but I think so.”

By now, she’d probably know one way or the other. But how she’d get the word to him while he was on campaign was uncertain.

Jeff could remember a time — though it was a bit vaguely, now, because it was back up-time — when the possibility that a wife might have another child would be a source of either great joy and anticipation or anxiety and doubt. Leaving aside the pack of children whom Gretchen had adopted, she and Jeff already had two kids of their own. Jeff wasn’t the natural father of the older boy, Wilhelm. But he’d been an infant, less than a year old, when Jeff and Gretchen had gotten married so the issue was irrelevant. Jeff was the only father Willi had ever known.

But in this as in so many ways, the attitude of people born and raised in the seventeenth century was rather different. In an era of haphazard birth control methods and high infant mortality, people had a much more pragmatic attitude toward bearing and raising children. It could sometimes seem downright cold-blooded to up-timers.

Down-timers were less reliant on the nuclear family than up-timers were accustomed to. It was taken for granted that children would spend much of their time growing up with other relatives and even, for well-to-do people, with nursemaids, governesses and tutors. In some of the more extreme cases, parents might see very little of a child of theirs from the time it was weaned until it finished his or her education.