Back | Next
Contents


Chapter 48

Rebecca and Ed Piazza remained in the farmhouse the next day, while Gustav Adolf prepared to move against Tilly. They would spend the entire day, and the next, working with the king's quartermasters to organize the new Swedish logistical base.


The rest of the delegation went with the Swedish army. Tom and Rita and Heinrich, who had spent the previous weeks working with the machine shops to get the cannons ready, went with Torstensson. Insofar as the new United States had anything resembling an "artillery officer corps," those three were it. Mike and Frank had urged them to take whatever opportunity they might find to get acquainted with the artillery practices of the current day—the best of which, by universal acknowledgment, was embodied in Torstensson's Swedes.


"The key is the hostlers as much as the artillerymen," Torstensson informed them, as they watched the Swedish guns being brought into position. "My horses and wagons are owned by the artillery stable."


The information meant nothing to Tom and Julie, but Heinrich started. Unlike the two Americans, he was quite familiar with the practices of the day. "You mean—?" He pointed to the hostlers guiding the horses forward and unhitching the cannons.


Torstensson nodded. "Army men. Mine—all of them, to a man." His lip curled in a magnificent sneer. "Not a single one of them is a misbegotten wretched coin-counting—" The rest trailed off into muttered obscenities.


Heinrich chuckled. He turned to Tom and Julie and explained.


"Every other army I know uses civilian contractors to handle the horses and wagons in the artillery train."


Tom's eyes widened. "That's crazy!" he grunted.


As always in the field, whenever possible, Tom spoke in German. Torstensson, hearing the words, grinned. But his humor vanished at once, seeing the American guns being brought up to the earthworks. A moment later, he was bellowing new orders, seeing to it that the new cannons were properly placed. Right in the center of the line, under his watchful eye.


Torstensson intended to test those guns today. He had had his men selecting cannonballs since daybreak. He wanted to take advantage of those perfect bores by using the best cannonballs in his arsenal, the ones which were the roundest and made the best fit.


"Half again the range, I'll wager," he said softly, staring at the enemy entrenchments across the river.


 


Gustav Adolf was studying the same entrenchments, from a position further up the river. Trying to, at least. His myopia made the exercise a bit pointless.


His bodyguard, Anders Jönsson, was standing to his right. One of Anders' unofficial jobs was to serve as his king's eyes. He leaned over and whispered: "Tilly's got all his men in those woods beyond the marsh, just as you expected. I can't see a one by the riverbank itself."


Gustav nodded. The gesture was more one of frustration than agreement, however. He wished he could see for himself.


He heard a feminine sound. The American girl—Julie Sims—was clearing her throat.


"Uh, sir—uh, I mean, Your Majesty—uh—"


He turned and peered down at her. She and Mackay were standing to his left. The girl herself was right at his elbow.


"Yes?"


Again, she cleared her throat. Then, in halting German: "Why don't you wear spectacles, sir? I mean, Your Majesty?"


Anders hissed. A few feet behind, the Scottish bodyguards stiffened.


There was going to be a royal explosion!


For an instant, the king felt his hot vanity surging to the fore. But there was something about the innocent, open, pretty face which disarmed the fury. Gustav restrained himself.


"Impossible!" he barked. "I tried, once. The spectacles flew off my nose at the first clash of the sabers."


Julie tried to speak again. But she had apparently reached the limit of her German. She whispered hurriedly to her fiancé. His face a bit pale—like all of Gustav's soldiers, Mackay was well aware of the king's sensitivity on this subject—the Scotsman translated.


"She says that she didn't mean normal spectacles, Your Majesty. She was referring to the kind of sports spectacles that—" Here, Mackay stumbled himself. How to explain a basketball game?


He managed, more or less, and in the process described to the king of Sweden the special goggle-style spectacles which young American athletes wore.


Gustav's eyes widened. "Impossible!" he repeated. "Absurd!"


His temper was rising, now. He glared at the impudent girl. The glare transferred itself to the peculiar firearm in her hands—then, to the telescope mounted upon it. Despite his irritation, the king recognized the superb craftsmanship embodied in both the firearm and the optical piece.


The girl seemed quite properly abashed by now. Perhaps in an attempt to mollify the royal outrage, she held up the weapon. "Would you like to look?" she asked.


Scowling, Gustav took the weapon and held it up for inspection. Despite the peculiarities of the thing, its use was clear enough. A moment later, he had the butt nestled against his shoulder and was peering through the telescope.


His annoyance vanished at once. "Marvelous!" he exclaimed. The clarity of the image was far better than anything he had ever seen through a telescope. He spent perhaps a minute, gaily swinging the rifle back and forth, before settling to serious business.


The next few minutes were devoted to a careful inspection of his opponent's position. The Swedish and the Bavarian armies were located on opposite banks of the Lech, just south of the small river's confluence with the Danube. Here, the river passed through a low, marshy plain, flanked by higher land on either side. Tilly had marshaled his forces in the elevated woods beyond the marsh. Clearly enough, the old Catholic general was confident that the boggy terrain on the river banks would impede any Swedish advance badly enough to prevent a crossing. His flanks were well anchored by fortifications, and he had his own batteries drawn up in the center. It was, to all appearances, a well-nigh impregnable position.


But—


The king smiled grimly, as he studied a particular stretch of the river through the telescope. Directly opposite the high ground where Torstensson was positioning his seventy-two guns, the Lech made a wide loop. The river's meandering course had left a spit of land projecting toward the Swedes on the opposite bank. If a strong force could be moved across the water, onto that spit, under the cover of the Swedish guns, the king would have his bridgehead.


The king lowered the rifle. "Just as the Finns reported," he murmured to Anders with satisfaction. He turned to Julie and handed back the weapon.


"Splendid telescope," he said. "Though I found that peculiar flaw a bit distracting."


Mackay translated. Julie frowned—insult her scope!—and demanded an explanation. Mackay translated. The king explained:


Those two black lines meeting right in the center of the eyepiece.


Mackay translated. Julie—royal temper be damned—growled her response. Mackay translated.


The king erupted anew. "Nonsense!" he bellowed. Waving a great hand angrily: "That's five hundred yards!"


Imperiously, he pointed to Mackay and spoke to Julie. "Give this braggart that gun!" To Mackay: "Now—sir. Make good your boast!"


Mackay swallowed. Then, explained. The king's eyes bulged. Her?


Mackay nodded. The stare was transferred to—to—this—this impudent female!


Julie had had enough. She hefted the rifle. "Tell that fathead to pick his target," she snarled.


Mackay translated, more or less. He did not include the term "fathead." Gustav II Adolf glared at the enemy across the river, selecting his target. He couldn't see well enough, alas, so the king was forced to rely on Jönsson.


"There's a very fine-looking officer near that one grove, Your Majesty. Dramatic fellow, judging from his posture."


Mackay began to translate, but Julie's German was good enough to understand the gist. The rifle was into her shoulder, her eye at the scope.


The king, watching, began to hiss. For all his indignation, Gustav was far too experienced a soldier not to recognize the casual expertise with which the girl—


Crack! The flat, unfamiliar sound startled the king. His head swiveled to Anders. The bodyguard's face seemed a bit pale.


"Well?" demanded Gustav.


"Dead on, Your Majesty. Right through the heart, I think. Hard to tell, at that distance. But he's down for good, that's certain."


"Nonsense! Luck! Another!"


Anders called out another target. A few seconds went by. Crack.


"Another!"


Crack.


"Another!"


Crack.


"Ano—" Gustav fell silent. The silence lasted for well over a minute. At the end, he heaved a sigh. Then, suddenly, he broke into a smile.


"Ah, Mackay—" The Scotsman, face very pale, stared at his sovereign. The king, for his part, was staring at Julie. Still smiling.


Julie was not smiling. She was glaring at Gustav with grotesque disregard for all proper etiquette in the presence of royalty.


"I believe I have offended your fiancée," he said. "Under the circumstances, it might be best if you explained to her the provisions of the dueling code. Can't challenge a ruling monarch. Simply isn't done. Besides—"


He chuckled. "Explain to her that as the challenged party I would have the choice of weapons. Sabers, for a certainty!"


When Mackay translated, Julie's ill humor evaporated instantly. For a moment, she and the king of Sweden exchanged grins. Watching, Anders thought of a chipmunk and a bear beaming in mutual approval.


But he kept the thought to himself. He even managed not to smile at his king's next muttered words.


"Witchcraft—nonsense! What woman needs to be a witch, when she can shoot like that?"


A moment later, Torstensson's guns began to fire, and his amusement vanished. Anders knew the king's plan for the coming battle. No one had asked his opinion, of course—he was merely a bodyguard—but the veteran had a firm one nonetheless.


Gustav II Adolf proposed to force a river in the face of a powerful fortified enemy, in defiance of all established military wisdom of the day.


Madman!


 


"Too high!" bellowed Torstensson. "Still too high, damn you!"


The gunners at the American cannons swore angrily. Again, they fumbled at the—cursed newfangled!—things which the Americans called elevating screws. They were accustomed to adjusting the tangent elevation by simply levering up the breech and inserting quoins. Admittedly, the new system was quicker, and certainly much easier. Probably more accurate, too. But the gunners did not have the hang of it yet, and they kept overshooting. Some of that inaccuracy, of course, was due to the simple fact that the American guns, with their tight-fitting balls in perfect bores, had a greater range than they were accustomed to. As was the custom of the day, "aiming" was simply a matter of gauging the distance and the angle of the barrel.


Tom turned to Heinrich and whispered, "Remember, when we get back, to talk to Ollie about setting up some kind of sights and elevation lines."


Heinrich nodded. He did not need an explanation of the terms. The German mercenary—former mercenary; like Tom, he now held the rank of captain in the regular U.S. army—had spent much of the past winter in the machine shop. He had become quite familiar, even comfortable, with American notions of precision and accuracy.


Finally, the gunners got it right. The next salvo of cannonballs hammered straight into the earthworks sheltering Tilly's batteries. Those earthworks had already taken a beating from the traditional guns. Now, with the flat and powerful trajectories of the new cannonballs adding their own force to the bombardment, the enemy fortifications were beginning to come apart.


"Take a while, still, to smash them up," stated Torstensson. He smiled grimly. "But they won't be doing any shooting themselves, that's for sure."


He turned, cupped his hands around his mouth, and shouted to the orderly waiting on the slope above. An instant later, the man was spurring his horse toward the king's position upstream.


Torstensson went back to overseeing his guns. "Up to the Finns, now," he said. Cheerfully: "But those sullen savages won't be able to whine about their covering fire. Not today!"


He bestowed a look of approval on Tom and Heinrich. "Splendid pieces!" His eyes then moved to the very attractive American woman standing at their side. A similar thought crossed his mind, but he left it unspoken. Lennart Torstensson had already come to the same conclusion as Tom Simpson's own mates. Not a good idea, irritating a man who could probably lift one of those marvelous cannons.


An idle question came. He leaned over and murmured to Tom: "I'm curious. What would be your weapon of choice? In a duel, I mean."


The very attractive woman's husband replied instantly.


"Ten-pound sledgehammers."


Not a good idea.


 


"Now, now!" bellowed the king. On the marshy ground below, Swedish engineers led hundreds of soldiers in a rush to the river bank. The "rush," needless to say, was a slow and sodden kind of thing. The terrain was bad enough, even if the soldiers hadn't been hauling a multitude of freshly cut logs.


Despite the marshy ground, the engineers were soon throwing a crude bridge across the water. The work was not suicidal, due to the heavy covering fire of Torstensson's guns, but it was still dangerous. Within five minutes, several of the engineers had been wounded or killed. Gustav scowled unhappily. Tilly's men were simply sticking their arquebuses over the ramparts and firing blindly. But an occasional round, he supposed, was bound to find a target.


The king heard the American girl whisper something to Mackay. The Scotsman passed the remark along.


"Your Majesty, Julie says that most of the damage is being done by some skirmishers in the woods."


Gustav squinted at the line of trees. The term "sniper" was unknown in that day, but all armies had contingents of lightly armored skirmishers using hunting pieces. Those weapons, since they were not part of the line and were not concerned with rate of fire, were rifled. Their accuracy was still not great, but it was not laughable either.


"She is certain?"


Mackay nodded. Then, after a moment's hesitation, he added: "She is also offering to—ah, the expression she favors is 'take them out.' "


The king smiled thinly. "You are afraid I will be offended by such an offer? My royal dignity insulted?"


Mackay pursed his lips. The king's smile widened.


Then, disappeared entirely—replaced by a ferocious scowl. "Well, I am—and it is!" He shook himself like very large dog. Still scowling: "But not half as much as seeing my engineers struck down."


The scowl faded. With royal dignity, Gustav turned to Julie and gave her a small bow. "If you would, Miss Sims. I would be much obliged."


Julie stooped, dug into the backpack she had brought with her, and hauled out the spotting scope and the binoculars. A moment later, Mackay was festooned with the optical equipment.


"Call 'em out, Alex," Julie commanded. She brought the rifle up.


As he watched the ensuing slaughter, the king of Sweden was not sure which disturbed him the most. Seeing the casual ease with which a young American girl from the future struck down men at a third of a mile—or the casual ease with which her Scots fiancé of the time assisted her in the task. The first introduced a very bizarre and rather frightening new world. The latter opened the entire book.


Crack!


"Left fifty paces! By the tree! Red feathered hat!"


Crack!


Like steel pages turning.


 


As evening fell, the Finns surged onto the nearly completed bridge. There were three hundred of them, volunteering in eager anticipation of the ten rix dollars promised as bonus. Each man carried a bundle of damp straw which, set alight, soon covered the end of the bridge and the opposite riverbank with thick smoke. Under that concealment, the work of finishing the bridge was done and the Finns charged onto the opposite bank. Hastily, they began erecting new earthworks, turning the spit of land into a fortress.


 


Tilly ordered his guns to begin a desperate attempt to destroy the new bastion. Desperate, because after hours under Torstensson's counterbattery fire, there was not much left of the Catholic artillery.


"Damn those Swedish guns!" he roared. "They're even worse than they were at Breitenfeld!"


 


Through the night, under cover of darkness, smoke and Torstensson's batteries, the king led his army across the bridge onto the spit.


From there, through the course of the day—April 16—the Swedes used their numbers to establish a solid position along the entire bank. Gustav Adolf had successfully forced the river. There remained only two choices for Tilly: retreat, again—or launch a final assault.


He chose the latter, and led it himself. Late in the afternoon, atop his white charger, Tilly thundered down the slope. Thousands of cavalrymen and infantry came in his wake.


The struggle which followed, for all its brevity, was no mean affair. Gustav led his own cavalry in a countercharge and the Swedish infantry, at many points along the line, clashed head-on with their Bavarian counterparts. Had the battle been restricted to those forces, Tilly might still have won.


But, it wasn't. Throughout, from their position on the opposite bank, Torstensson's guns kept up their deadly fire. Now exposed on open ground, Tilly's men were being butchered.


"Damn those Swedish guns!" snarled Tilly again. And so, too, came a bitter self-reproach: I should have listened to Wallenstein.


It was the old general's last thought. One of Torstensson's cannonballs shattered his thigh. His valiant charger staggered under the blow but kept its feet. Slowly, unconscious from shock, Tilly toppled from the saddle. In the years to come, men who saw would say it was like watching a tree fall. A great, gnarled oak, finally come to the end.


 


As Tilly's men carried him to the rear, Aldringer took command. But Aldringer fell within minutes, wounded in the head. By now, the imperial forces had suffered four thousand casualties, and the men lost heart. Night was falling, and they took advantage of the darkness to retreat back into their fortified camp near the Danube. The next day, under the command of the elector himself, Tilly's army retreated to Ingolstadt. Maximillian of Bavaria had had enough of Gustav II Adolf.


"Let Wallenstein try to handle him," he snarled. "Let bastard Bohemian deal with bastard Swede!"


 


When Gustav heard the news of Tilly, he sent his own body-surgeon into the enemy camp. "Do what you can for the old man," he commanded.


"Won't be much," grumbled the surgeon. "Not from the description of the wound." But he obeyed.


Torstensson was not entirely pleased. "Let the butcher of Magdeburg bleed to death," he growled. The savage expressions on the faces of the other Swedish officers surrounding Gustav made clear their agreement.


The king said simply: "Last of a line. A great line, for all its sins." Then, as if struck by a thought, he turned to the young girl standing a few feet away.


"And what do you think?" he demanded. The girl responded with a shy smile.


"I think you're a nice man," came her reply.


Gustav II Adolf was quite taken aback. "Nice man," he muttered, as he walked away. He shook his head. "Nice man. What kind of thing is that to say—to a king?"


 


Tilly died two weeks later.


The last of a line was gone, and another line was stepping forward to challenge the King of Sweden.


Wallenstein, now. Wallenstein and his wolves.


 


 


Back | Next
Framed