1636: The Saxon Uprising — Snippet 39

Chapter 14

“We are ready, then?” Gretchen looked at Tata.

Tata looked at Eric Krenz. “Our people are ready. He’ll have to answer for the soldiers.”

Eric had taken off his hat when he entered the conference room and hung it on a hook by the door. Now, he wished he were still wearing it. He could pull down the brim in order to avoid Gretchen’s gaze without having to look away from her entirely.

“He hates giving a straight answer to anything, Gretchen,” said Tata. “You know that.”

“Yes, and normally I accommodate him. But I can’t this time. We need to know. Now.” She turned her head to look at a man sitting at the far end of the long conference table. That was Wilhelm Kuefer, one of the Vogtlanders. Their leader Georg Kresse had appointed him to serve as liaison to Dresden’s Committee of Correspondence.

“Tell him, Wilhelm,” she said.

“Banér’s cavalrymen burned three more villages yesterday. The populations of two of them ran off in time, but the people in the third one got caught sleeping. There weren’t any survivors except for — we’re not sure about this, but we couldn’t find any such bodies — perhaps the young women.”

Gretchen turned back to face Eric, who was sitting across the table from her. “That makes nine villages so far — and these three were right out in the Saxon plain, not in the mountains. There is no way this is happening without Banér’s approval. Tacit approval, maybe, but he’s still responsible.”

She stopped and waited.

And waited.

Eric felt like screaming: I’m just a fucking lieutenant! How am I supposed to know if we can hold the bastards off?

But he knew what Tata’s response would be. She’d point to herself with a thumb — I’m just a tavern-keeper’s daughter — and then at Gretchen with a forefinger. And her father ran a print shop. So stop whining.

Gretchen was quite obviously prepared to wait all day for his answer. By mid-afternoon, though, Tata’s sarcasm would become unbearable.

“Yes,” he said, sighing. “I think. As best I can tell.”

“Not good enough, Lieutenant Krenz.” Gretchen’s voice was soft but her tone was iron. “I do not ask for guarantees. That would be silly. But I need a more firm response than that. If I order the gates closed and openly forbid Banér from coming into the city, that moment I make myself and every person in Dresden an outlaw. If the Swedes break in, they’ll massacre half the population.”

“As it is, even if we let them in without a fight, they’ll kill some people,” said Tata. “Me and Gretchen, for sure, if they catch us. Any CoC member — and there’ll be plenty who’ll serve as informers to ferret them out. There are always toadies, anywhere you go.”

Eric rose, strode to the door, plucked his hat off the hook, jammed it on, and came back to the table.

“I feel better now. Don’t ask me why the hat makes a difference. It just does. Here’s your answer, Gretchen. It may not be what you want but it’s the only answer I can give you. I don’t honestly know if we can hold off Banér. There are too many unknown variables in the equation. To name what’s probably the biggest, what will von Arnim do? If he adds his ten thousand men to Banér’s fifteen, we’ll be very badly outnumbered.”

He took a deep breath, to steel his will. “Here’s what I will promise. If you can hold the city’s populace firm, we’ll bleed the bastards till they’re white as sheets. If they do take the city, there won’t be more than half of them left standing.”

She nodded. “That’s good enough, I think. Those are mercenaries out there. If you bleed them enough, I think they’ll start deserting in droves. And we’re into winter, now. Disease will start ravaging them.”

“Ravage the city also,” said Friedrich Nagel. His tone was dark — but then, it usually was. Eric’s fellow lieutenant was possibly the most pessimistic man he’d ever met. Odd, really, that they’d become such good friends.

Gretchen made a face. It wasn’t a grimace; just an expression that conveyed the stoic outlook that was such an inseparable part of the woman. Nagel called it “the Richter Lack of Rue.”

“Not as badly as they’ll suffer,” she said. “Our patrols maintain sanitation a lot better than Banér will.”

“Well, that’s true,” said Friedrich. One thing you could always count on with Nagel was that he was a dispassionate pessimist. It wasn’t that he thought his lot in life was particularly hard. Everyone’s was, including his enemies. Eric would have assumed the attitude was that of a stark Calvinist, except that he knew Friedrich was an outright freethinker. What the up-timers called a deist. He didn’t think God had any personal animus against him. He’d simply set the universe in motion and went on His way, indifferent to the details that followed. Does a miller care if an unlucky gnat gets crushed between the stones, so long as the flour gets made?

Gretchen now looked back at Kuefer. “Have you gotten an answer from Kresse?”

She didn’t specify the question involved, because she didn’t need to. Everyone at the table knew that she’d proposed that the Vogtlanders unite formally with Dresden instead of simply maintaining a liaison.

Wilhelm nodded. “Yes. Georg says he’ll agree to it — on one condition. We’re not joining the CoCs. Meaning no offense, but we don’t necessarily agree with you on all issues and we reserve the right to express such disputes openly and publicly.”

“Understood,” said Gretchen. “We have the same arrangement with the Ram people in Franconia. So does the Fourth of July Party.”

She looked around the table. The majority of people sitting there were members of the city’s Committee of Correspondence. “Anybody disagree?”