1636: The Ottoman Onslaught – Snippet 29

Jozef felt a fierce surge, almost one of exultation. His fury had been building for days and he’d finally have someone to unleash it upon.

But first, he had to take some care of the children.

“Tekla, Pawel, I’m going to stop very soon and you both have to get off the horse.” He nodded toward some brush off to the right a short distance away. “Go hide in there. Keep your heads down.”

“What are you going to do, Uncle?” Pawel asked nervously. In the three days of their travels, Wojtowicz had undergone a transition from scary stranger to nice man to uncle Jozef.

“Make these bad men go away. Far away.”

Oh, so very very far away.

He brought the horse to a halt. “Now, children. Off you go — and on the right side of the horse, where they can’t see you well.”

Pawel was on the ground in less than two seconds. He reached up to catch his little sister as Josef lowered her with one hand.

His right hand, unfortunately. But he didn’t think it was really going to matter because with his left hand he was already drawing out one of the two pistols he carried at his waist.

He thought the world of those weapons. Even with the money provided him by Grand Hetman Koniecpolski, Josef hadn’t been able to afford actual up-time pistols. But these were close to the next best thing: Blumroder .58 caliber over-and-under double-barreled caplock pistols. He’d opted for the longer eight-inch barrels despite the extra weight and somewhat more awkward handling because he wanted to be able to fire from horseback — while moving, at a canter if not a gallop — with a good chance of hitting his target.

He’d been able to practice a fair amount with them, too, before he left Dresden. After his participation in the sortie that marked the height of the battle between the besieged forces and Báner’s men trying to get back into the trenches, he no longer bothered hiding the fact that he’d trained as a hussar.

He watched while the children scurried off into the shrubbery, without so much as glancing at the wooded rise where the ambushers were waiting. He didn’t need to. Part of the training he’d gotten — which had been reinforced by his later experience as a spy — had been to quickly scan and memorize terrain and whatever forces might be located there.

There were three beech trees crowning the rise, all of them mature with thick trunks and plenty of room for horsemen beneath the lower branches. It was the sort of place careless and lazy soldiers would pick for an ambush. They’d have done better to use one of the groves of fir trees that dotted the terrain.

As soon as the children were out of sight he spurred his horse and charged the rise, angling to the right in order to take as much advantage of the road as he could before the final moments.

Part of his mind registered the squawks of surprise — there was some fear there, too — coming from the men half-hidden among the trees. But he paid little attention to that. His concentration was now visual, keeping everything in sight, in his mind’s eyes — where everyone was, how they were moving — how many were there?

Three, he thought at first. But then a fourth man came out of hiding and began running away on foot. Clearly, the fellow hadn’t been expecting this reaction from a lone traveler with two small children — and wanted no part of it.

He was a dead man, but Josef ignored him for the moment. He’d already shifted the pistol from his left hand to the right and taken the reins in his left. He now guided his horse off the road and straight up the rise into the trees.

The pistol came up — the range was less than ten yards now — and he fired.

His target jerked and yelled something. Now six yards away. He fired again and the target went down.

He shoved the empty pistol into a saddle holster — quickly, the range was down to three yards and one of the men was aiming his own pistol — and drew the one on his right hip.

Then, rolled his upper body down next to his horse’s flank. The enemy’s shot went somewhere over his head. The fool should have tried to shoot the horse.

He was back up again. Visualizing everything. One enemy was clambering onto a horse — and not doing a good job of it. He must be rattled. A second was fumbling with his pistol — probably the one he’d just fired, proving himself a fool twice over.

Josef drove his horse over him, trampling him under. Distantly he heard the man scream but he was now concentrated on the one getting onto his horse.

He ducked under a branch and came up right next to him. Fired. Fired. The man slid out of the saddle, smearing blood all over. The horse panicked and raced off, dragging him from one stirrup. If he wasn’t dead already he would be soon, being dragged like that.

Jozef wheeled his horse around. The man he’d just trampled was moaning and clutching his belly. Something in his body had been ruptured, probably. He’d keep for a while.

The first man he’d shot was lying on his back, staring up at the sky with lifeless eyes. The second shot had passed through his throat and probably severed his spine.

Josef wheeled his horse back around and set off after the man trying to run away. By now, he was perhaps thirty yards distant.

The fleeing soldier didn’t stop and try to stand his ground, the way he should have. He just kept running — as if he could possibly outpace a warhorse. Lukasz had told Josef that routed infantry usually behaved this way but he hadn’t quite believed him.

Stupid. Jozef’s saber was in his hand. It rose and fell. The fleeing soldier’s head stayed on his body but not by much. Blood gushed from his neck like a fountain.

On the way back, Josef stopped at the rise, got off the horse and finished the business with the trampled one. He used the man’s uniform — such as it was — to clean the saber blade.

Then he walked his horse back to the bushes where the children were hiding.

The boy stood up before he got there. “Were those the men who killed my father and the others?” he asked.

Jozef shook his head. “Probably not, Pawel. But they belonged to the same army. Holk’s men.”

“I’m glad you killed them, then.”

“So am I.” He tried — probably failed, though — to keep the ferocity out of his voice.

Tekla came out of the bushes and rushed up to him. He held her for a while, until she stopped crying.

“Come now, children,” he said finally. “We want to reach Wroclaw by nightfall.”