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Chapter 10

Alexander Mackay was a Scotsman and, as such, a Calvinist born and bred. Even if he had lapsed a bit—more than a bit, in truth—from the faith of his fathers, he had not lost the ingrained habits of his upbringing. Thus, staring down at the newest batch of corpses, he did not blaspheme. But he had no qualms about using other terms, so long as the Lord's name was not taken in vain. Perched on the saddle of his great warhorse, the young nobleman cast a wide net of incredibly vulgar terms across the Thuringian landscape in general, and a certain unit of Protestant mercenaries in particular. "Whoreson craven jackals" was perhaps the least obscene.

His second-in-command, a half-bald, mustachioed veteran in his forties, waited patiently until the cavalry commander was finished. Then, spitting casually onto the ground, Andrew Lennox simply shrugged and said: "What d'ye expect, lad? Most o' t'men guarding Badenburg"—the word guarding was accompanied by a magnificent sneer—"ae deserters from Mansfeld's old army. T'most wort'less soldiers in t'world e'en 'fore Mansfeld died."

"Then why did the town fathers hire the bastards?" Mackay demanded hotly. His eyes, still studying the scene of carnage, fell on the corpse of a small boy, perhaps six years of age. The child's body had been charred by the collapsing roof of the burned farmhouse in which he had spent his short life, but not so badly that Mackay couldn't see his entrails stretching across the dirt of the farmyard. The end of his intestines had been pinned to the ground by a kitchen knife, several feet from the body itself. The grotesque display of torture was entirely typical of the way some of Tilly's mercenaries amused themselves.

For all that Mackay had become inured to such scenes in the year since his arrival in Germany, he was glad that the bodies of the farm's womenfolk had been in the house itself. The corpses had been burnt to skeletons in that inferno, so there was no way to determine the exact manner of their deaths. Mackay didn't want to know. At the age of twenty-two, he had learned enough of cruelty and bestiality to last him a lifetime. Even the lifetime of a Scotsman, a breed not noted for their squeamishness.

Lennox did not bother to answer Mackay's question. The question had been purely rhetorical. Young, Mackay might be, but he was not foolish. The cavalry commander knew as well as anyone why Badenburg's notables had "agreed" to hire Ernst Hoffman's small army of mercenaries. They had been given precious little choice. Let them plunder the town all at once, or let them plunder it a bit at a time. Like many other towns in war-ravaged Germany, Badenburg had taken the second option. By now, several years later, most of its citizens had come to regret the choice. Hoffman's men claimed to be "Protestant," but that had proven to be no boon for Protestant Badenburg. With individual exceptions here and there, Hoffman and his thugs could no longer even be considered "soldiers," in any meaningful sense of the term. They were simply a gang of extortionists. Criminals, in all but name.

Mackay's anger faded away, replaced by a weariness of soul which, by right and reason, belonged to a much older man. When it had become clear that Hoffman had no intention of sallying from the shelter of Badenburg's walls to stop the depredations of Tilly's mercenaries, Mackay had led his own soldiers forth to do what he could to protect the farmers in the area.

It was a pointless gesture, in all truth. Mackay and his Scots cavalrymen, employed by the king of Sweden, had arrived in Badenburg less than three months ago. Gustav Adolf had stationed them there as part of his far-flung effort to stabilize his control of Germany's Baltic provinces. But the king was strapped for men—badly strapped. The Protestant princes who had promised him such abundant aid upon his arrival in Germany had, with a few exceptions, proven to be misers with both men and gold. So Mackay had been given not more than a few hundred men to carry out his task. His main task, which was not to attempt the absurdity of guarding an entire province with a small cavalry force.

Memory of that task jarred him out of his bitter mood. He turned to Lennox. "Still no sign of the courier?"

Lennox shook his head. "Nae a trace. Tha' might be good news." The veteran swept his florid mustachios about, as if using the waxed tips as pointers. "Y'can see how little Tilly's swine care 'bout coverin' they crimes. They'll nae ha' buried a ransacked carriage. 'Tis possible t'courier is simply hiding out some'eres." Lennox pointed to the heavily forested hills a few miles to the south. "B'now, tha' must be thousands o' people hidin' in yon hills."

Mackay scanned the Thuringenwald, as that forest was called. He frowned suddenly. "That's odd," he mused. He pointed to a portion of the hills. "I don't remember seeing that before. That stretch there. Looks different."

Lennox squinted, then shrugged. "Sorry, lad. My eyes are nae what they were. I canna make out what ye're pointin' to."

Mackay pursed his lips, trying to think of how to describe that peculiar part of the landscape. Then, spotting movement, he thrust the problem aside. One of his soldiers was coming—at a gallop.

"Something's up!" he exclaimed. As ever, the prospect of action brought immediate cheer. Alexander Mackay was the illegitimate son of a minor Scots nobleman. Destined—doomed, most would say—to a life of penury and peril. But even if he'd been pampered royalty, Mackay would have been a high-spirited adventurer.

"Come on!" he commanded, spurring his horse to meet the oncoming rider. A moment later, Lennox followed. The veteran's mustachios twitched, covering his smile. Lennox approved of Mackay, which was unusual in itself. As a rule, the former peasant viewed nobility with as much enthusiasm as he did manure. Less, really. At least dung didn't give orders. But Mackay possessed little of a nobleman's haughtiness, and almost none of the stupidity. The rambunctious eagerness which remained was relatively harmless—and, in its own way, quite charming. Even for a skeptic like Andrew Lennox.

By the time Lennox came abreast of Mackay, the captain had already encountered the scout. The man was turned halfway around in his saddle, pointing back in the direction from which he had come.

"—bess sey fer youself, sar. Tis varra strange. Ever't'in' 'bout th'place."

Mackay was frowning. He stared at the distant farmhouse to which the scout was pointing. The fact that the farmhouse was still unburnt was odd enough. Tilly's men were ingrained arsonists, even when burning buildings was not in their own interests.

"But no bodies, you say?"

The scout rocked his head back and forth. The gesture was not a negative headshake; more in the way of an expression of uncertainty. "They's nae bodies ey cou'd see, sar. Boot they's ae fresh doog mound—biggun—'minds mey o' ae grafe."

Mackay reared his head back, frowning. "A grave?"

Lennox snorted. "Since when do Tilly's men boory they victims?" he demanded.

The scout shrugged. "Ey dinna say it made sense. Boot shar 'n' sairtain looks leyk ae grafe to mey. Wit' moor th'n one body buried in't. Somebey e'en planted ae headstone." The scout's face scrunched with puzzlement. "Leas', ey think 'tis ae headstone. Boot they's nae crucifix. An' somebey wrote somet'in' all o'er it."

Mackay did not bother asking the scout what the writing said. Many of the soldiers in Mackay's cavalry unit could read—and read well—from their habit of studying the Bible. But the scout's thick Erse accent was the telltale sign of an illiterate Highlander. He would certainly be illiterate in German. To the best of his knowledge, Mackay was the only Scotsman in the area who could read German as well as speak it.

"Let's take a look, then." Again, Mackay spurred his horse into motion. The scout led the way. Lennox followed, after checking to make sure that the cavalrymen behind him were maintaining skirmishers on the flanks. Lennox wasn't really expecting to encounter any of Tilly's men. The butchery they had seen since they left Badenburg this morning was several days old and had all the signs of undisciplined marauders, being too lovingly thorough for men operating under command. Still, things were often not as they seemed in war, and the stakes were very high.

By the time he finally caught up with Mackay, they were entering the farmyard. The house was still standing, but Lennox had only to glance at the door and the outer walls to recognize that murder had been done here. Done and done well, from the look of the bloodstains. Big splotches, now brown and black. Even the flies were sparse. He had also spotted old bloodstains on the dirt road near the house.

"Four days ago," he stated. Mackay nodded. But the gesture was only half-conscious. Mackay was far too preoccupied staring at the fresh mound of earth piled up in the center of the farmyard. And the large "tombstone" planted on its center.

A mass grave, sure enough. But the "tombstone" was no tombstone at all. It was a placard.

Mackay's eyes were practically bulging. He pointed a finger at the placard and turned to Lennox. "What in the world . . . ?"

Lennox shrugged. Then, slowly and warily, he gave the woods nearby a very close scrutiny. Whoever had written the warning on that placard was no one he was eager to encounter. Especially since he had no doubt whatever what was buried beneath the soil. He would have known even if it hadn't been for the placard.

Seeing no signs of life or motion, he brought his eyes back to the placard and read the words again.

Simple words. Puzzling words. Deadly words.


We don't know who these murdering raping bastards
are that we put here. Don't much care either. If there
are any more of you out there, be warned. This area is now under the protection of the UMWA. If you try to harm
or rob anybody we will kill you. There will be no further warning. We will not negotiate. We will not arrest you.
You will simply be dead.

We guarantee it.

Go ahead. Try us.


Mackay ran fingers through his short beard. "And just exactly who is this—the Umwa?" His face was a study in confusion. "Sounds Polish. Is there a Polish baron somewhere in this area?"

"Nae tha' I ken," responded Lennox. "And I canna say I e'er heard tha' title before." He mouthed the words. "The Umwa." Grunted. "He's nae bashful, whoe'er t'man be."

The rest of the cavalry unit was gathered around by now. Mackay pointed to the mound of earth. "See if there are any shovels around. I want that—whatever it is—dug up." Some of the men winced, but none of them uttered a protest. Mackay was an easy-going officer, as a rule, but when he gave a direct order he expected it to be obeyed.

The soldiers found digging tools quickly enough. And it didn't take them all that long to excavate the mound. Whoever he was, the Umwa had apparently not felt under any obligation to bury the bodies deeply.

They found over a dozen corpses before Mackay told them to stop. The bodies were decomposing, of course, but the causes of death were obvious enough.

Lennox straightened, as much to get away from the smell as anything else. "Well, so much for tha'. This Umwa fellow is nae one to make empty boasts."

Mackay was still peering intently at the corpses. "Those are the oddest gunshot wounds I ever saw," he mused. He pointed an accusing finger to the wound on the chest of one of the corpses. "That hole's no bigger than my finger!" Then, in a tone which brooked no opposition: "Turn him over!"

The soldier next to the corpse grimaced as he obeyed. When the body was rolled over, exposing the back, a little gasp went up from the soldiers standing around the shallow grave.

One of them even lapsed into blasphemy. "God in His Heaven," the man whispered, "fro' this side 't luiks like a three-pounder blew 'm apart."

Mackay straightened, shaking his head. "Never seen anything like it. Have you, Andrew?"

But Lennox gave no reply. He was too busy cursing himself silently. He had become so preoccupied with the excavation that he had forgotten to keep an eye on the woods.

When he did speak, his voice was not loud. But the manner in which he projected that half-whisper had all the experience of a battlefield veteran behind it. Every man in the unit heard him very clearly.

"Do nae move. Do nae touch ae weapon. There are men in those woods."

Slowly, Mackay turned his head. He couldn't see anything until—

Motion. A man—no, two, three men—stepping out of the trees. They were wearing utterly bizarre costumes. For all his puzzlement, a part of Mackay's mind realized how perfectly those garments were dyed to keep the men almost invisible in the trees. Grotesque rippling patterns of grays and greens and browns, blending with the foliage.

All three men were carrying strange-looking weapons in their hands. Arquebuses of some kind, but like none Mackay had ever seen.

Lennox answered the unspoken question. "I've nae seen guns like tha' ayther, lad. Nor such costumes." Half-admiringly: "Clever devils."

He even managed a bit of humor. "An' how is y'r Polish, Alexander Mackay? I do believe we are about to meet th'Umwa, an' I hope there'll be nae misunderstandings." He saw the men, almost simultaneously, do something peculiar to the rear stocks of their weapons. Their quick hand motions produced faint, metallic clicks. Lennox had no idea, precisely, what they had done. But he had not a doubt in the world that those bizarre weapons were now loaded, primed, and ready to fire. Arquebuses which made finger holes going in, and cannon holes going out. "I really hope there'll be nae miscommunication."

Mackay's face was sour. "I don't speak a word of Polish, Lennox."

The veteran sighed. "Tha's what I was afraid of."


As it happened, Polish was unneeded. The strange men in their strange costumes, carrying their strange weapons, proved to speak the most familiar language of all. English!

Well. Sort of.

"Worst accent I e'er heard," complained Lennox. But the complaint was not heartfelt. Rather the opposite, actually, especially after a dozen more of the strangers came out of the woods and joined in the conversation. All of them were armed, and all of them were clearly ready to kill. And most of them—God bless my soul!—claimed Scots ancestry. Within a few minutes, Andrew Lennox knew he would live to see another day. The encounter between Scots cavalryman and—Americans, they called themselves—was turning into something much like a family reunion.

Within a few hours, he was beginning to wonder. Not whether he would live, but what that day would bring. Anything, he thought.

A young woman from Sepharad had found her legends here. So, now, did a man from Scotland. And if his Highland legends lacked the sheer poetry of Sepharad, they had their own attractions. Faeries, indeed, had come to life in the world. Some grim, obscure, pagan part of Andrew Lennox's Calvinist soul took pleasure in the fact. Took pleasure, not so much that faeries existed, but that they were every bit as dangerous as the ancient tales had sworn.



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