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Chapter 50

"I don't like this," growled Gustav Adolf softly. He gave the letter in his hand a little flick of the fingers. "Not in the least."

He raised his eyes and peered at Torstensson. "Lennart, can you think of any good reason Bernard would be engaging in such maneuvers? That far to the south?"

The young artillery general started to make some sarcastic remark—wanted to admire his reflection in Lake Geneva—but restrained himself. He could sense that the king was genuinely concerned. He nodded toward the letter in Gustav's hand.

"Axel has no suggestions?"

Gustav shook his head. "No. But he's worried, I can tell."

Standing on the walls of the redoubt which the Swedes had built where the river Rednitz entered Nürnberg, Torstensson turned and stared to the northwest. The king copied the movement. Both men were groping in their minds, trying to visualize the terrain in the Rhineland. What could Bernard of Saxe-Weimar be thinking? There was no logical reason for him to have moved his troops as far south as Cologne.


Their eyes passed over, but ignored, the huge complex of fortifications which surrounded the city. Most of those fortifications were crude earthworks, and most of them were new. Like the redoubt itself, they had been erected hastily over the past month.

As soon as he entered the city on July 3, Gustav had used the labor of Nürnberg's inhabitants to build those fieldworks. The citizens had not complained—not in the least. Nürnberg had allied itself to the king of Sweden, and they were well-nigh ecstatic to see him make good on his promise: Nürnberg will not be another Magdeburg.

Gustav Adolf had arrived not a moment too soon. The huge army which Wallenstein had assembled in Bohemia was marching on the city. Sixty thousand strong, that army was—the largest force ever put into the field in the course of the long and brutal war. Tilly's Bavarian troops, now under the direct command of the Elector Maximillian, were marching to join him—perhaps another twenty thousand men. And Pappenheim, whose Black Cuirassiers had spent the spring and early summer in Westphalia, was reported to be coming as well. Pappenheim's route was unclear, but the Swedes assumed he would take advantage of Gustav's withdrawal to Nürnberg to march through Franconia. If so, Nürnberg was threatened from three sides: Wallenstein from the northeast, Maximillian from the south, Pappenheim from the west. An army of one hundred thousand men was about to threaten Nürnberg with the fate suffered by Magdeburg.

While the inhabitants of the city frantically erected their fortifications, under the direction of the Swedish engineer Hans Olaf, Gustav had led his army back into the field. For days, the Swedes had maneuvered against the oncoming enemy forces, slowing their advance and buying time for Nürnberg. But on July 10, at Neumarkt, the Bavarian and imperial armies had finally merged.

Although he was outnumbered four to one, Gustav had continued to challenge Wallenstein to meet him in the open field. Wallenstein had declined. The Bohemian military contractor preferred the surer, if slower, methods of siege warfare. Steadily, surely, inexorably, his enormous army had moved into positions threatening the city. But, by then, the feverish program of fortifications had erected a new wall around Nürnberg, replacing the inner walls of the city. Gustav's line of defense, hastily erected but well designed, was too large for even Wallenstein to surround.

So, the Bohemian had been forced to "besiege" Nürnberg by erecting what amounted to a "counter-city." Through the rest of July, Wallenstein's men had been set to work erecting a gigantic armed camp a few miles to the southwest of the city. Using the Bibert River as a central water supply, Wallenstein had erected fieldworks with a circumference of a dozen miles. The strong point in those fieldworks, directly facing the Swedes, was a wooded hill on the north. That hill was called the Burgstall. It rose some two hundred and fifty feet above the Rednitz river, flowing past its eastern slope. In effect, the Rednitz served as a moat, and the wooded hill was capped by an ancient ruined castle named the Alte Veste. Wallenstein had turned the Alte Veste and the entire Burgstall into a fortress. Palisades and ditches sprouted like mushrooms on the hill, with clear lines of fire for the heavy guns positioned on its slopes.

Then—nothing. Time after time, Gustav had sallied from Nürnberg, challenging Wallenstein to open battle. Wallenstein declined. "There has been enough fighting," he told his generals. "I will show them another method."

Cold-blooded like no man of his time, Wallenstein's method was simple. Hunger and disease, soon enough, would strike both armies. Men would die in the thousands, and then the tens of thousands—and he had a lot more men than the king of Sweden.


"Treason," whispered Gustav. "It can only be treason."

Torstensson frowned. He detested the younger duke of Saxe-Weimar, true. But—treason?

"I can't—" The young general hesitated. "I'm afraid I can't see the logic of that, Your Majesty." He pointed to the west. "It's true that Bernard's left the door open for the Spaniards, if they choose to come through. But even if that's his purpose, what's the point? The Lower Palatinate is still blocked. For a Spanish army to threaten us, they'd have to—" He stumbled to a halt, his eyes widening.

The king nodded. "March through Thuringia," he concluded grimly. "Which, of course, would be an incredibly roundabout way of threatening Nürnberg. But what if they have no intention of coming this far? What if, Lennart, their purpose is not to march through Thuringia, but simply to attack it?"

Torstensson's head swiveled. He was staring north, now, instead of west. "Maybe," he mused. "That, at least, would make Bernard's maneuvers sensible—assuming he is committing treason." Torstensson squinted. "But, even so—what's the point?"

The artillery general's shoulders twitched. The gesture was more an expression of exasperation than a shrug. "I have never seen the Americans in action. But judging from every report we've gotten—and I've heard Mackay myself—they can shatter any army which comes at them directly. Especially those hide-bound Spanish tercios."

The king snorted. "Yes. But ask yourself this, Lennart—has anyone told the Spaniards?"

Now, Torstensson's eyes were very wide. Like all of Sweden's top commanders, Torstensson was privy to the complex and tortuous diplomatic maneuvers which his king had been forced to engage in over the past two years.

"Richelieu," he murmured.

Gustav nodded. "That would be the conduit, sure enough. Richelieu has the money, and the patronage, to offer Bernard an exceptional price for turning his coat. Alsace, probably, to replace his precious Thuringia. Or Lorraine. A word to the Spanish—who have been chafing to get into Germany for years, on any pretext—and there we have it. An open road for a Spanish army from the Low Countries to strike at Thuringia."

"But Richelieu's been trying to keep the Spanish out of Germany since he took office," protested Torstenson. The protest was feeble, however. The quick-witted artillery general was already working through the logic. He began stroking his beard, thinking aloud: "Hostility to Spain has been the keystone of his foreign policy, true enough. But now that your position in central Europe has become so strong, he may be thinking of a counterweight."

"Precisely. And ask yourself—why has my position grown so strong?" Gustav made a little dismissive gesture with his hand. "Not my army. Richelieu is a money man, not a soldier. To him, bullion rules the world."

Torstensson's beard stroking grew vigorous. "Yes. Yes. Thuringia's the key to that, too. As long as the Americans hold it firmly, we have a secure logistics base and a reliable source of cash. It's made us completely independent of any foreign pursemasters." His lips pursed. "Well—it will, I should say. Take a few months before everything settles in. But Richelieu is a man to think ahead, if ever one lived."

He dropped his hand from the beard and turned to face his king squarely. "But I still don't see what Richelieu hopes to accomplish. Unless he simply wants to see a Spanish army battered and bleeding."

Gustav grinned humorlessly. "He certainly wouldn't lose any sleep over that." The king shrugged. "I don't understand the logic myself, Lennart. But I can smell it. Something's up."

He paused for a few seconds. Then, slowly, a wicked smile began spreading across his face. His blue eyes seemed to dance and sparkle.

"The very thing!" he exclaimed. He planted his hands on his hips and, grinning now, said to Torstensson: "I believe we should send a small expedition to Thuringia to investigate. And I know just the man to lead it!"

Torstensson frowned. "Who? One of the Scottish colonels? Or perhaps—" The meaning of that wicked gleam in his king's eye finally registered. Torstensson's own eyes almost bulged. "Not—"

"The very man!" cried the king gaily. "Captain Gars!" He clapped his hands. "He'll be ecstatic at the prospect, too—I can assure you of that. Captain Gars is every bit as sick of this miserable siege as I am. And there's plenty of time for him to go and come back before anything happens."

The king turned his head and glared at the distant Burgstall. "You know as well as I do, Lennart, that Wallenstein has no intention of offering me battle. That spider intends to just sit there—for months, if need be—while everyone dies around him. He counts men like a spendthrift counts coin."

Again, he clapped his hands. "Yes! Plenty of time for Captain Gars to carry out the task. More than enough."

Torstensson was scowling ferociously, now. "Your Majesty," he protested, "you haven't used Captain Gars for anything of that nature in years!"

The king matched the scowl with one of his own, even more ferocious. "What?" he demanded. "Are you saying you have no confidence in the man?"

Torstensson started. "Well—no. Of course not!"

The king's gaiety returned. "Done, then!" He gave Torstensson's shoulder a hearty pat. "Done! Captain Gars it is."

The decision made, Gustav moved at once. He turned to his bodyguard, Anders Jönsson. "You heard?"

Stolidly, Jönsson nodded. The king continued: "Get Captain Gars a cavalry detachment, Anders. A good one. The captain is partial to the Västgöta, as you know. And make sure he has plenty of Finns and some Lapps."

Gustav grinned cheerfully. "And I do believe I'll assign you to the captain as well, Anders." He waved a thick hand in the direction of Nürnberg. "There obviously won't be any danger to me, in the midst of these great fortifications. Will there?"

Stolidly, Jönsson shook his head.

"Excellent," said the king. He began walking away briskly, heading for the stairs leading down from the redoubt. Almost bouncing with enthusiasm, it seemed. Over his shoulder: "Captain Gars will be so delighted!"

When he was gone, Jönsson and Torstenson stared at each other.

"Captain Gars," muttered Jönsson. "Wonderful."

Torstensson's expression was a mix of concern and amusement. "Do take care of him, Anders, will you?"

The response was stolid, stolid. "That madman? Impossible."



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