1637 – The Polish Maelstrom – Snippet 44

Chapter 17


Upper Silesia

Now under Bohemian control

By the time the motley army got to Bytom, Gretchen was feeling profoundly disoriented. Prince Ulrik of Denmark, the future consort of the USE’s future empress Katrina, was officially in command. In that respect, it was “Ulrik’s army.” Politically speaking, on the other hand, there was no question in anyone’s mind–including Ulrik’s–that she was the central figure involved.

That was partly because of her longstanding reputation as one of the leaders of the revolutionary movement, partly because she was also–yes, it was incongruous, as she’d be the first to say–the Chancellor of Saxony and Lady Protector of Silesia. But perhaps most of all, in this enterprise, it was because of something that Gretchen herself considered ridiculous. Somehow, some way–did people have no common sense at all?–she’d become this political movement’s version of Joan of Arc.

That was especially true of the German population of Silesia, which dominated the bigger towns and cities in the area. But the Poles in the countryside had become infected also. Why? So far as she could tell it was because her (admittedly vigorous) decrees supporting the rights of the Polish farmers against the overbearing German town councils and guilds had spread her reputation widely. This was still an era when religious and quasi-religious notions usually influenced people more than nascent nationalist sentiment or ethnic identity.

She recognized the phenomenon. It was the same dynamic that led so many Germans to think of Mike Stearns as the “Prince of Germany,” and never mind that he was born across an ocean in another universe in a nation that didn’t even exist in the one they lived in. Abstractly, she could even appreciate the political value that her newly-acquired persona imparted to the revolutionary cause.

It was still ridiculous. She’d even been forced to wear her armor again! All the leaders of the expedition had been united on that issue.

At least they hadn’t made her wear the helmet. In fact, they’d all agreed that it was essential she not wear it so that her face and–most of all–her apparently now-famous long blonde hair was visible to everyone who witnessed the army’s passage.

But that was not what she found disorienting. Truth be told–although she’d deny it vehemently–Gretchen was temperamentally very well suited to the role of a militant and semi-mythological champion.

No, what disoriented her was that people could say the army was Ulrik’s and the great cause was hers, but no one had any doubt at all who was really running the show.

The man they called the Dungeon Master.

Otherwise known as her husband.

Who was this man? She felt she barely knew him any longer. What had happened to the shy, awkward and self-effacing young man she’d met on a battlefield near Badenburg less than six years earlier? Barely more than a boy, he’d been then. But that had also been what drew her to him so powerfully. She’d had enough–more than enough; she despised the breed–of loud and domineering males. Brutes, by and large, and some of them were outright monsters.

Jeff had been none of those things. Hesitant in his manner, yes; but he’d also been more decisive than any man she’d ever met. She knew it was his gentleness and his caring nature that had led him to propose marriage to her the evening of the day they met, not lust or possessiveness.

Where was that man now? Had he gone away?

She’d known for years that her husband didn’t lack courage, physical as well as moral. If there’d been any doubt of that–and she didn’t think she’d ever had any–Jeff had settled the question during the siege of Amsterdam when he’d led an attack by a small boat armed only with a spar torpedo against a Spanish warship. She knew he’d proven it again on several battlefields since then.

But what she was seeing now wasn’t courage, although a reputation for courage was obviously a prerequisite. What she’d been seeing since the army left Breslau was a young man–Jeff was only twenty-five, two years younger than she–who seemed to have the poise and self-confidence of Frederick Barbarossa, the legendary Holy Roman Emperor of the Middle Ages.

There was nothing flamboyant about that poise; not at all. If there was an opposite word for flamboyant–Gretchen wasn’t sure; unassuming, maybe?–Jeff would personify it, just as much when he commanded an army as when he tended one of their children.

But this lack of presumption had nothing in common with diffidence or timidity. He issued orders almost instantly and with great certainty. That kept his subordinates relaxed and confident. She had no trouble understanding how valuable that would be on a battlefield.

Battlefields which, she now realized–for the first time, really–that her husband had passed through and emerged from, each time with added strength and stature. The Hangman Regiment which formed the core of the Silesian army had absolute confidence in him. So did Eric Krenz’s men, who now considered themselves Hangmen as well–yes, that was the term they invariably used to identify themselves.

Bravnicar and his professional cavalrymen had needed more than a few days to come to the same assessment. It was taking the Vogtlanders and the new Silesian recruits a bit longer, but that was only because they had less experience.

By the time they reached Bytom, it was Gretchen who was feeling unsure of herself, hesitant, tentative. She hated it, but she felt herself fumbling as well. How was she to handle this?


Jeff took charge of billeting the army, for which both Ulrik and Gretchen were thankful. Neither of them had much of an idea how to go about finding food and organizing shelter for almost three thousand men in a town that had a population less than a third that size.

Quite a bit less, these days. Two years earlier, Bytom had been ravaged by disease and half the population had either died or fled. The one positive aspect of that was that many of the homes in the town were vacant, so it was not necessary to expropriate anyone.

Jeff did require families to crowd into one room to allow the rest of the space in their homes to be billets for his soldiers–who were packed in more tightly than the civilians they displaced. But he also managed to calm their fears while doing so. Civilians forced to have a lot of soldiers living with them are understandably nervous. But the Hangman Regiment had a tradition, when it came to such matters, and they had no trouble imparting it to the rest of the army.

Gretchen helped, too. At Jeff’s urging, she moved about every day, making herself visible to the population. Usually on horseback; that damned armor was heavy. But she’d also walk about a fair amount, since she was sturdy enough to manage that. She wasn’t going to run any foot races, of course, but neither was anyone else. There was no room for it, anyway, unless you went out into the countryside.

Which no one was inclined to do, even before the first storm of winter struck less than two days after they arrived. There wouldn’t have been room outside the city, anyway, unless you were prepared to travel a fair distance. Not more than half of the army had been able to find billets in Bytom itself. It was really not a very big town. The other half had to camp outside.

Jeff handled that problem just as easily and smoothly as any others he took up. For a start, he set up a rotation system so that all of the soldiers were able to spend at least one or two nights in the relative warmth and comfort of the town’s houses. The rotation was not perfectly fair, but soldiers didn’t expect perfection; certainly not if they were veterans, and the newcomers looked to the veterans for guidance.

Jeff had also organized quite a good supply train for the expedition, so no one went hungry–not even the town’s civilians. He’d put Krenz in charge of that. “Trust Eric to make sure there’s enough food. There’ll be some wine and schnapps, too,” he’d told Gretchen, smiling. “That man does like his creature comforts.”

In the course of the march from Breslau, Gretchen had come to a better understanding of the little saws that Jeff had told her about.

An army marches on its belly. Amateurs study tactics; professionals study logistics. He had a number of them.