1636: The Saxon Uprising — Snippet 18:

Chapter 7

Dresden, capital of Saxony

Eric Krenz propped his elbows on the tower’s stone railing and gazed out at the Elbe. The river that bisected Dresden was more than a hundred yards wide, and about that far away from his vantage point on the Residenzschloss. The height of the tower provided a magnificent view of the Elbe valley.

He wasn’t really studying the scenery at the moment, though. He was just using the appearance of doing so as an excuse to stall giving Tata an answer to her question.

As she well knew. The woman was infernally shrewd.

“How long are you going to procrastinate?” she asked, planting her hands on ample hips. “I’m not pushing you, I just want to know. If it’ll be a while, I’ll go get some lunch.”

Not for the first time, Eric wondered what madness had possessed him to get attracted to this creature.

“Attracted”? Better to say “obsessed,” he thought gloomily.

Being fair, when it came to Tata, most of the time his thoughts were quite cheerful. But the woman had an unnerving capacity to seemingly read his mind — and an even more unnerving relentlessness when she wanted Eric to do something.

“I’m not really an expert on this business,” he said. “I have no experience with sieges.”

“Stop whining. I know that. Gretchen knows that. It doesn’t matter right now. Somebody among the soldiers here must have some experience, and you’re good at cajoling people into doing things.”

“‘Things,'” he muttered darkly. “Would that be ‘things’ as in mutiny and treason?”

She just gave him a level look through dark blue eyes and said nothing.

But he was still just stalling, and he knew it. If that bastard Báner brought his army to Dresden and tried to force his way into the city—and there was every indication he would — then Eric knew perfectly well that a massacre would ensue. It might not be as bad as the sack of Magdeburg at the hands of Tilly’s soldiers a few years back, but it would be bad enough.

Eric was far from being the only soldier in Dresden who’d formed attachments with the local folk by now. Even his morose and generally peculiar friend Lt. Friedrich Nagel had managed to get the attention of a young woman. A guildmaster’s daughter, even, by the name of Hannalore Brockhaus.

There was no way the USE soldiers who were in Dresden would stand aside in the event Báner attacked the city. That being the case, it simply made sense to plan and prepare their defenses ahead of time, rather than having to jury-rig something at the last minute.

Eric being Eric, of course, he couldn’t resist a last complaint. Even a litany of them.

“Some of the men are still too badly injured to do much of anything. And some of the others have recovered enough that they’ll certainly be called back to service soon.”

“I said, stop whining. And you really ought to be looking at that last whine from the other end of the telescope.”

He frowned. “What does that mean?”

“It’s obvious. By now, most of you have recovered from your wounds. You certainly have, judging from the way you keep trying to get me in bed.”

That ranked among the most cheerful of his thoughts about Tata. He was pretty sure it wouldn’t be long before “trying” became “succeeding.” Most of Tata’s remaining resistance was just the ingrained reflex of a pretty woman who’d been a tavern-keeper’s daughter and had been fending off lustful males since she was thirteen.

Tata pressed on. “So what you ought to be asking yourself is why haven’t you been called back to service by General Stearns?”

That was a good question, actually. Tata was quite right that most of the soldiers from the Third Division who’d been sent to Dresden to recuperate had already done so. Well enough, anyway, to go back to active service. Yet no word had come from the general to join him in Bohemia. To all appearances, he’d forgotten about them.

Yet that was impossible. It was true that small numbers of soldiers got overlooked, from time to time. Eric knew of a volley gun crew that had remained behind in Hamburg after the city was seized during the Ostend War in order to repair badly damaged equipment. Then the commander of their unit had been injured shortly after leaving the city and had forgotten to mention them to the subordinate officer who’d replaced him. The battle of Ahrensbök had taken place a few weeks later and right afterward the subordinate in question had been reassigned. The end result was that the volley gun crew had wound up spending nine months carousing in Hamburg with not a care until someone finally remembered them.

But that was just three men. There were over four hundred soldiers from the Third Division now residing in Dresden. That represented almost five percent of the division’s strength and was enough men to form an entire battalion. There was no chance at all that Stearns had simply forgotten about them.

And even if Stearns had forgotten them, Eric was quite certain that Colonel Higgins had not — for the good and simple reason that he got letters from Jeff every week or so. There was a good and reliable courier service between Dresden and Bohemia.

So what was going on?

Tata put his own guess into words. “General Stearns wants you to stay here. And he’s got a good enough excuse for doing so if anyone asks. ‘Recuperating from wounds inflicted in valiant combat with the foe’ is the sort of explanation that most people, even shithead Swedes, will hesitate before calling into doubt. And there’s only one reason he’d want you to be here.”