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Chapter 20

The first one she found was Diego. Gretchen had known the Spaniard was incredibly tough, but even she was impressed. Despite his terrible wounds, Diego had managed to crawl forty yards from the front line where he was struck down.

He was even still conscious. "Give me water," he whispered, when she knelt by his side. He was lying on his back, his arms holding in his intestines.

Diego's eyes opened. They were not much more than narrow slits. "And get me my woman. Where is that stupid bitch?"

Gretchen raised her head and studied the scene around her. The battlefield was littered with bodies, especially where the tercio's front lines had been. Half of them, it seemed, were still alive. Men were moaning, groaning; a few were screaming.

Men, and now a few women, were moving through the field, inspecting the bodies. The men were all garbed in that peculiar mottled clothing which the boy near her was wearing. The women wore white.

Gretchen watched them long enough to make sure she understood their purpose. They were not killing the survivors, she saw. They were apparently trying to save the ones who might still survive. Even now, she could see several small teams of people carrying wounded men away on litters.

That might be good news. If Hans—

She pushed aside, for a moment, her fears and concerns for her brother. There was Diego to deal with, for the moment. And for that, the people around her might pose a problem.

Diego's spoke again, in a hoarse whisper. "Water, you fucking cunt. Are you deaf?"

Gretchen examined the Spaniard's wounds. She did not think that even Diego could survive them. But she was not certain.

Again, she studied the people around her. None of them were very close, except—

She turned her head and looked up at the boy she had asked to accompany her to the field. Almost like a cherub, he seemed, for all his size. The boy was tall, his body was on the heavy side—lots of fat there—and his round face was very earnest. An innocent face, with its plump cheeks and blunt nose. Almost a silly-looking face, with those peculiar spectacles. Gretchen had seen spectacles before, but only on rich old men. Never on a young man—and certainly never on a field of battle.

The boy's eyes, magnified through those lenses, were a very bright green. Healthy eyes. They were the one thing about the boy which did not seem childish in the least. Gretchen remembered the light which had flamed in those eyes, earlier, and the anger with which he had marched to confront the mercenaries.

A courageous boy, then. Perhaps now, also. And if not— Perhaps he was simply an innocent. Stupid, in the way such people are. She could remember, barely, being that stupid herself. Two years ago. A lifetime ago.

"Pliss," she said, mustering what little English she had picked up from some of the mercenaries. "Look—" She hesitated, trying to think of the word. Then, remembered. "Away."

He stared at her. "Look away," she repeated. Pleading: "Pliss."

She sighed. He obviously did not understand. His plump face was simply confused. Innocent, unknowing. Gretchen studied his eyes, and decided she had no choice but to trust them.

"Water!" hissed Diego. "And get me my bitch!"

Gretchen nodded to the wounded Spaniard next to whom she was kneeling. "He hurt—" She groped, trying to think of the future tense. Yes. "He will hurt mein Schwester."

The boy frowned. Clearly, the words meant nothing to him. Again, Gretchen groped for the English term. Not finding it, she tried circumlocution: "Mein—my female Bruder."

His eyes widened. "Your sister?"

That was the word! Gretchen nodded. She drew the knife from her bodice. "Pliss. Look away."

The eyes widened still further. Very green they were. She realized they would be, even without the spectacles. The boy's heavy-lipped mouth opened, as if to speak a protest. Or a command.

But, after a moment, the lips closed. The boy stared at her.

"Water, you fucking cunt," said Diego. He added some words in Spanish, but Gretchen did not understand any of them except puta.

Apparently, the boy did. His face flushed with anger. Or, perhaps, it was simply that he was not so innocent after all.

Suddenly, he came down on one knee, looming over them. He leaned forward. In an instant, Gretchen realized that he was shielding her from the eyes of the other people on the field.

He said something in English, but she didn't understand the words. There was no need. His eyes were enough.

Gretchen had slaughtered animals since she was five years old. Diego took no more time than a chicken. The little knife slit the carotid artery as neatly as a razor. Blood started pumping onto the ground on the opposite side from where she was kneeling. Not a drop spilled on her. She was an experienced animal-slaughterer.

Diego was very tough. So, to be sure, Gretchen also drove the knife all the way into his ear. Then, for three or four seconds, she twisted the three-inch blade back and forth in his brains. Diego was not that tough. Not even the Satan who sired him was that tough.

When she was finished, she took the time to clean the blade on the Spaniard's sleeve before slipping it back into her bodice.

Killing Diego had pleased her immensely. Yet, oddly, she was even more pleased with the boy. He had said nothing, throughout. But his eyes had never looked away. Not once.

Healthy eyes. Very bright, very green. Gretchen decided the spectacles were actually rather charming.

She rose. One necessity accomplished, another remained. Perhaps two.


Only one, as it happened. Ludwig was already dead. Even his huge torso had been torn into shreds by the powerful guns of the strange men in their mottled clothing.

Gretchen stared down at him. She had been half hoping Ludwig would still be alive, so that she could have the pleasure of killing the man who had murdered her father and subjected her to two years of rape. For a moment, she was consumed by pure hatred.

Then she spotted the little arm—a third arm?—protruding from beneath the great gross body of Ludwig, and hatred was driven away by hope. Maybe, for the first and last time in his life, Ludwig had been good for something.

The boy helped her lever Ludwig's body aside. Beneath, like a kitten under a lion, lay her brother Hans. And he was still alive.

Barely alive. But alive.

As she rolled Ludwig off, Gretchen had seen the great wounds in his back. The strangers' gun—whatever that weapon had been with its horrifying dragon's stutter—had been powerful enough to shoot right through Ludwig and his armor and strike her brother standing behind. But apparently the bullets had been deflected enough, and lost enough of their force, that her brother's wounds were not instantly fatal.

Gretchen knelt by Hans and cut the straps holding his cheap cuirass. Then, as gently as she could, she probed his wounds with her fingers. The momentary surge of hope faded as quickly as it had come. At least one of the bullets had penetrated his chest wall. Even if it could be removed—she would try her best, with her little knife—the wound would almost certainly become infected with disease. She knew that disease. Men rarely survived it, even men much stronger than her spindly little brother.

Her eyes filled with tears, remembering Hans and his spindly little life. Remembering how hard he had always tried, cast into a world for which he was not suited in the least. He had been a studious boy, in love with books, and eager to follow his father into the printer's trade. He had often joked with Gretchen, telling her that if there were any rhyme or reason in the world she should have been the one in the family carrying a pike. Big, strong, tough Gretchen.

Through the tears, and the sorrow, and the hopelessness, Gretchen heard the strange boy's voice shouting something. He was not shouting at her, but at someone farther away. Her English was really very poor. The only word she understood was the last one, repeated and repeated. Over and again.

Now! Now! Now! Now!

Moments later, she heard the sound of clumping feet, rushing toward them. She raised her head and wiped away the tears. Two men were coming, followed very closely by a woman in white.

Then her eyes spotted what the men were carrying, and all other thoughts were driven aside. A stretcher. A thing used only, in her experience on many battlefields, to carry away the men who might be saved.

Startled, she looked up at the boy standing beside her. He was staring down at her. His face did not seem so young, anymore. Or perhaps it was simply his eyes. Green, clear, healthy eyes. There was promise in those eyes.


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