1636: The Ottoman Onslaught – Snippet 19

Jeff and Gretchen had done the same thing — which Jeff, at least, often felt guilty about. Gretchen… not so much, possibly because her bona fides as a surrogate mother were so well established.

For the whole year they’d been out of the country before and during the Baltic War, their children had been taken care of by Gretchen’s grandmother Veronica. Then, after they got back and Veronica made it crystal clear that she was done with babysitting, they still had plenty of caregivers in the big apartment complex they moved into in Magdeburg.

The children were left entirely in the hands of caregivers after Jeff went off to war and Gretchen moved to Dresden. It hadn’t been until the crisis was over — not more than two months ago — that she’d gone back to Magdeburg to fetch their two boys and bring them back to stay with her. The adopted children had remained behind, since they were much older and all of them by now had settled into work or education situations they didn’t want to change. The only one of the original group who would have been young enough to come with her, little Johann, had been joyously reclaimed by his natural family a couple of years earlier.

From here on in, hopefully, things would settle down. Jeff and Gretchen had discussed the matter — along with a number of CoC leaders — and everyone had agreed that Gretchen would stay in Dresden rather than moving back to Magdeburg. Willi and Joe would now be raised mostly by their mother, with their father helping out whenever he wasn’t on active duty.

And now, it seemed, another child might be added to the mix. Gretchen’s reaction to the news hadn’t been quite a relaxed shrug, but pretty close. Jeff was doing his best to take his cue from her. And… having only middling success. There was a part of his brain — he thought of it as the part labeled “raised on too many up-time anxieties and touchie-feelie TV talk shows” — that kept shrilling at him: Bad parent! Bad parent! Your children will grow up to be drug addicts, derelicts, serial murderers and hedge fund managers!

To Jeff’s surprise, the same courier he’d sent out now came racing back. More time must have passed than he’d realized, while he was musing on things gone by and things still to come. Looking around, he saw that the regiment had indeed made a fair amount of forward progress. It was easy to lose track of exactly how far you’d gotten when you were in the middle of an army on the march.

“The general says we will continue toward Ingolstadt,” said the courier.

That was the answer Jeff had expected. There’d been a meeting of the Third Division staff and regimental commanders before the march began, where Stearns had explained that he intended to threaten to close on Ingolstadt from the east along the south bank of the Danube, while General Heinrich Schmidt and the SoTF’s National Guard closed in from the north. Hopefully, the maneuver would force the Bavarians to abandon the city rather than run the risk of being encircled and trapped in a siege. Both Stearns and Schmidt thought there was a good chance of success, since Duke Maximilian had to be mostly concerned now with holding Munich.

The courier reached into his coat and pulled out a letter. It was just a small sheet of paper folded twice and sealed with a blob of wax. General Stearns must have received the letter and given to the courier to bring to Jeff.

Even before he opened it, Jeff was sure it had to be from Gretchen. No military communication would be sent in this manner.

Sure enough. The message was short and to the point.

Yes. If it’s a girl, we name her Veronica. You pick a boy’s name.

Above Ingolstadt

“Head for the nearest hedgehog pit, Stefano,” Tom Simpson ordered, pointing down and a bit to the left. The sky was mostly overcast but there was plenty of light. Those didn’t look like rain clouds; they certainly didn’t indicate a storm front.

Having made two runs over Ingolstadt already, in both of which they’d been fired upon with no serious damage resulting, Stefano was a lot more relaxed than he had been before. He still wasn’t what anyone would call nerveless and steely-eyed, but he managed to keep his twitching to a minimum and he didn’t fudge on the steering — he headed straight for the nearest hedgehog pit.

Which… didn’t fire on them at all. It wasn’t until they passed almost straight overhead that the reason became apparent: the guns were gone. The rails on which the gun carriages would have rested remained in place, and somethingfurniture? logs? — was covered with canvas. But as an active and functioning anti-airship emplacement, the hedgehog had been gutted.

“It worked,” Tom said, his voice full of satisfaction. “They’re pulling out. Stefano, head for the bridge across the Danube.”

As the airship veered to the south, Tom examined the city below them through his binoculars. In particular, he was looking to see what had happened to the four ten-inch naval rifles that he, Eddie Cantrell and Heinrich Schmidt had spent a truly miserable three months hauling across Germany a year and a half earlier. The guns had been removed from the wreck of the ironclad Monitor with the purpose of using them against Maximilian of Bavaria in case a siege of Munich developed. In the event, the Bavarian issue had taken a back seat to more pressing conflicts and the guns had wound up being left in Ingolstadt for later use. They’d been there when Ingolstadt was retaken by Bavaria thanks to the treachery of the 1st Battalion. Tom had been forced to leave them behind when he led the surviving loyal troops out of the city on their four-day march to Regensburg. They hadn’t even had time to salvage the artillery unit’s 12-pounders, much less the enormous naval guns.

But now, it seemed, they were going to get them back — or two of them, at any rate. Tom could see the two rifles that had been positioned on the north wall to face Schmidt’s SoTF forces. But when he looked for the two rifles that the Bavarians had positioned to cover the Danube…

“Gone,” he muttered. “I was afraid of that.”

Captain von Eichelberg was standing right next to him, close enough to hear. “They can’t possibly get those guns down to Munich,” he said, frowning.

Tom lowered the binoculars and shook his head. “No, they wouldn’t have even tried. I’m sure they spiked them and then pitched them — well, rolled them, more likely — into the river. We should be able to salvage them, but it’ll take some time.”

He turned to the radio operator, who was standing a few feet away. “Make contact with General Schmidt. And then I’ll want to speak to General Stearns.”