1637 – The Polish Maelstrom – Snippet 22

Add to that the fact that the official commander of the Grand Army of the Sunrise was a Jew, which was widely known. Morris wasn’t just “a” Jew, either. A lot of people in Bohemia, gentile and Jewish alike, called him the Prince of the Jews because of the leading role he’d played three years earlier in driving the mercenary army of General Holk out of Prague at the now-famous Battle of the Bridge.

None of the gentile soldiers in the Grand Army of the Sunrise objected openly to serving with Jews, whatever prejudices or anxieties they might mutter among themselves. Still, it was not something that instilled confidence in the army’s infantry–even among the Jewish soldiers, who were well aware that they weren’t veterans.

There were about half as many Bohemian Brethren in the army as there were Jews. Three hundred and eight, to be exact. Most of them actually were veterans, having also fought Holk when he invaded Prague. But their religious views seemed outlandish enough to the other Christian soldiers that their status as veterans was largely irrelevant. It didn’t help that many of the more orthodox soldiers confused the Trinitarian Bohemian Brethren with the Unitarian Polish Brethren–the Socinians, as they were often called, after their founder Faustus Socinus. Who knew what men who denied the Trinity would do when they came under fire? Run? Vanish in smoke?

So, almost half of the infantry was made up of heretics (or possible heretics, to the more broad-minded of their comrades). And not very many in the other half were veterans. Some were idealistic youngsters motivated by excitement at what they sensed to be a new age in Bohemia, but most of them were the same type of men who’d volunteered to serve in mercenary armies since ancient times: paupers, adventurers, criminals hiding from the law, and men hiding from their wives’ families. Until they’d had some real fighting under their belt, not the sort of fellows any sensible man put much confidence in.

As soon as von Mercy had arrived in Brno, Morris had put him in overall command of the army. Despite his formal status as the “commander” of the Grand Army of the Sunrise, Morris had no illusions that he was any kind of general. His military experience up-time as a draftee had consisted of a one-year tour of duty in Vietnam. Officially, he was a “Vietnam war veteran” but the truth was he’d never seen any combat at all while he’d been there because he’d been a supply clerk at the big army base at Long Binh.

“Life is weird,” Morris muttered.

Linz, provisional capital of Austria-Hungary

“So how far is it?” Mike Stearns asked Jeff Higgins. “I’ve been completely preoccupied planning our own–well, never mind; need to know and all that. I didn’t think to look into it myself.”

“You mean from here to Breslau?” Jeff asked. “About three hundred and fifty miles, I figure. A fair amount of it’s even on decent roads, at least by seventeenth-century standards of ‘decent roads.’ I figure we ought to make it in three weeks, thereabouts. Moving a regiment’s nowhere near as complicated as moving a whole division.”

Mike’s Third Division had actually become rather famous in military circles for its ability to move quickly. Some people had even been known to refer to the Third as “foot cavalry,” a term Mike himself considered a particularly idiotic oxymoron. Nothing put him in a foul mood as quickly as the headaches of getting ten thousand or more men to move in one direction fast enough not to be outrun by a tortoise.

Jeff eyed him sideways. “That’s assuming, mind you, that we don’t have to forage.”

Mike shook his head. “You won’t have to worry about that. I’ve been in touch with Wallenstein and he assures me that he’ll have provisions ready for you all the way through Bohemia. After that…”

Jeff grinned. “After that, I’ll be in Silesia and I’ve been in touch with the Lady Protector and she assures me that she’ll have provisions ready by the time we get there.”

The young colonel seemed to turn a little pink. Mike suppressed a grin of his own. He wouldn’t be surprised if the Lady Protector of Silesia had appended Including me to one of her radio messages. Gretchen could be… forward.

Mike slapped Jeff on the shoulder. In the years since the Ring of Fire, those shoulders had become quite solid, in the meaty way that a man running toward fat puts on muscle. Between his belly, which had slimmed down some but had never vanished since Jeff had been a child, and the glasses on his nose, and the sometimes distracted expression on his face, Jeff still had more than a passing resemblance to a geek. But nobody in the Third Division thought of him that way, especially not the men under his command in the Hangman Regiment.

The “DM” they called him. That was because of the calm, unflappable and seemingly all-knowing way he issued orders under fire. The reputation wasn’t diminished at all when a stranger or newcomer asked what the initials stood for.

The Dungeon Master. Let them make of that what they would.

“Good luck, Jeff,” Mike said quietly.

“Same to you, Mike.”

Ottoman siege lines southeast of Linz

About three miles from the confluence of the Danube and Traun rivers

“They’re certain?” demanded Murad IV. “Just one regiment?”

“Yes, My Sultan,” said Süleyman. “Those are good men, too; not ones to confuse a kâfir regiment with a division.”

The young sultan nodded. He had confidence in Süleyman. The man commanded the army’s akinji, irregular light cavalry who also served as scouts and spies.

“One regiment…” Murad mused. “And a big one, they say?”

“Yes, My Sultan. Bigger than the usual.” He ventured to add his own opinion, which Murad would tolerate if he wasn’t in a bad mood. “I believe it to be the one the kâfirs call ‘the Hangman’.”

Murad stroked his beard. It was a full beard but one he kept fairly short. Long, uncut beards were fine for religious leaders, displaying their piety. But a warrior with a long beard was just a fool. “I think you are right. Which means two things, since the Hangman is reputed to be their fiercest infantry. First, the USE’s emperor is confident he can hold Linz, with winter coming upon us too soon for our sappers to undermine their defenses.”

Süleyman nodded. They were well into autumn now, and the defenses of Linz were still too strong to be overwhelmed by sheer force. If Murad waited too long before ordering the army to retreat back to Vienna, where they could winter over safely, he ran the risk of suffering the same disaster that had befallen Suleiman the Magnificent when he tried to seize Vienna the century before. Winter had come early that year, and his army had been caught in the heavy snowfalls. Many of his soldiers died in the retreat and the Ottoman army had to leave much of their baggage train and their artillery behind.

“And the other reason, My Sultan?”

Murad smiled. It was a thin smile, with a hint of savagery in it. “It also means that one kâfir ruler plans to attack another–or add to the attack, I should say. That regiment is headed toward Poland; probably the district they call Silesia, where they already have forces. Between those reinforced units and the large army they have besieging PoznaÅ„, they will have the Poles in a vise.”

“Do you think they can conquer Poland?”

“No,” said the sultan, shaking his head. “They are not strong enough for that, not when they have to devote so much of their army to facing us here in Austria. But they can make the Poles sweat heavily”–here his smile became a grin, and one that was obviously savage–“and a heavily sweating kâfir is a more reasonable kâfir, when–“

He broke off there. Murad trusted Süleyman, but there was no point in telling him things he had no need to know.

When my agents arrive in Warsaw, and explore the possibilities for a hidden alliance. Perhaps with King Wladislaw, but more likely with ambitious magnates. Which Poland produces like they produce wheat.

“Go now,” he said. “I have no further need for you today.”