1636: The Saxon Uprising — Snippet 09

Thorsten Engler looked around the room and whistled softly. “Well, it’s certainly an improvement over the tent, Colonel. The men might start calling you ‘Sultan,’ though.”

“Very funny.” Jeff Higgins waved at one of the unoccupied seats in the salon. He’d appropriated the largest such room in the castle to serve as his headquarters. Conveniently, it had a bedroom attached. But Jeff had the door closed. Truth be told, the bedroom was even more luxurious than the salon. He hadn’t chosen these rooms for that reason, but protestations of innocence would be received with the skepticism usually bestowed upon such claims.

The real reason Jeff had selected these quarters was visible in the salon itself. Every single officer of the regiment was present at this meeting, from company level up. That meant fitting into the room one colonel, two majors, ten captains and two first lieutenants. The lieutenants served Jeff as adjutants, which was polite military-speak for gofers.

They all had places to sit, too. Comfortable ones.

“Okay, guys,” Jeff began, with his usual lack of formality. He ran the regiment in a manner that bore as much resemblance to his days as the dungeon master of role-playing games as it did to anything a traditional military man would have considered proper behavior for a commanding officer. The reason he got away with it was because his subordinates had complete confidence in him. Jeff would have been surprised, in fact, had he known just how deep that confidence ran. Not much of it was due to his status as Gretchen Richter’s husband, either, although that certainly didn’t hurt in a regiment as CoC-heavy as the Hangman.

No, it was Jeff himself. Or rather, the Colonel Higgins who had emerged from the battles at Zwenkau and Zielona Góra. Jeff was only vaguely aware of it, but he was one of those people who became calm and unflappable under stress. There was probably no other quality a commanding officer could have that produced more confidence in his soldiers. It was nice, of course, if the commander gave exceedingly intelligent and shrewd orders as well. But all he really needed to do, when a subordinate turned to him for commands, was to be able to give them as naturally and easily as a man orders a meal in a restaurant. Unless the orders were disastrously wrong, their precise nature didn’t matter that much.

Battles are not very complicated, when you get right down to it. Go there. Stay here. Shoot those people over there. Go around that hill and try to shoot them in the back. Blow up this bridge. Burn down this house. Don’t burn down this house, you idiot, we need it to sleep in after we win the battle.

Leaving aside a few euphemisms and technical terms, the vocabulary involved was entirely within reach of a ten-year-old child. The key was that it all had to be done while other people were doing their level best to go around hills and shoot you in the back. That was the stark reality that no child could possibly handle — and not all that many full-grown men could handle well, if they were in a command position.

Jeff Higgins could, and by now his men knew it. So his relaxed, almost collegial style of command helped foster an esprit de corps in the regiment instead of undermining his authority with its officers. The truth was, even if they’d been able to see into the bedroom, the officers and men of the regiment wouldn’t have done more than make wisecracks about sleeping on a bed so big you needed a map to find your way out of it in the morning. Some of the soldiers would have been tempted to sneak in and swipe the canopy, no doubt. But they probably wouldn’t have actually done it. Not the colonel’s canopy.

When he had everyone’s attention, Jeff used a pointer he’d had made for him by one of the regiment’s carpenters to indicate their position on a large map he had hanging on an easel. The map was new, having just been finished by the same artist who’d done the portrait on the beckies.

“You see this stretch of the Elbe, from here north to Königstein?” He waggled the tip of the pointer back and forth across the border. “That’s why we’re really here, gentlemen. I hope I don’t have any officers in this regiment who are so dim-witted that they really think General Stearns left us here to protect Bohemia against that jackass Heinrich Holk.”

A little sigh swept the room. They’d wondered, of course.

“The general left you with special orders,” ventured Major Eisenhauer.

Jeff shook his head. “No, he didn’t say a word to me. He didn’t need to.”

He turned to face his officers. “Here’s how it is, and if there’s anyone here who thinks he’ll have trouble with what might be coming, you’d better come talk to me in private after this meeting.”

His tone of voice was harsh, which was unusual for Colonel Higgins.

Another little sigh swept the room. They’d wondered about that, too.

“Let me start by making one thing clear. Mike Stearns believes in the rule of law just as much as I do. So if nobody breaks the rules, then you and me and every soldier in this regiment is just going to spend some chilly but probably pleasant enough months twiddling our thumbs here. But if rules do start getting broken…”

He shook his head again. “And being, honest, I’m pretty sure they will. The thing is, I know Mike Stearns — but I don’t think those other people really do. I don’t think they understand just how much they’re playing with fire here.”

Major Fruehauf spoke up. “So our real task here is to make sure that if the Third Division needs to return to the USE — quickly — that there won’t be anything in the way.”

Jeff nodded. “The key will be the fortress at Königstein.” He tapped the map again with the pointer. “I only got a look at it from a distance as we marched past, but it looked plenty tough and by all accounts it is.”

One of the infantry captains spoke up. “I have been there, sir. And, yes, it’s still quite formidable even if the structure was built four hundred years ago.”

“What I figured. We’ll maintain some cavalry patrols up and down the Elbe to keep an eye on whatever might be developing at the fortress. But mostly, I figure we’ll rely on the air force. The one definite instruction the general gave me was to build an airfield here. By happy coincidence, any plane coming in and out of Tetschen from the USE is just going to naturally overfly the fortress at Königstein.”

He turned away from the map and paused for a few seconds. “I will repeat what I said. If any of you have problems with any of this, come talk to me afterward.”

The officers glanced around at each other. Then Thorsten Engler said:

“I don’t think so, Colonel. I think I can speak for every man here. If they play by the rules, we play by the rules. But if they break the rules, then we’ll show them why we’re called the Hangman.”