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Chapter 51

"What the hell are they doing, Heinrich?" demanded Tom Simpson. The big American captain was peering over the top of the parapet which had been erected across the road leading into Suhl from the south. The hastily built field fortifications were positioned at the northern edge of a large meadow. The meadow was about two hundred yards long and slightly less than that in width. A small stream ran through the center of it, bisecting the road.

His commanding officer shrugged. A pair of binoculars was slung around Heinrich's neck, but he was not using them. The oncoming mercenary soldiers were already entering the meadow, and in plain view.

Tom raised his own binoculars and scanned the meadow. After a few seconds, he lifted the eyepieces and began slowly studying the woods which covered the hills beyond.

"I don't like it," he muttered.

Next to him, Heinrich smiled. If he had any professional criticism of his inexperienced junior officer, it was that Tom insisted on finding complexity where, more often than not, there was none. "Too much football," he murmured.

Tom lowered the binoculars and peered at him suspiciously. "What is that supposed to mean?"

Heinrich's sly smile widened. "What it means, my friend, is that you keep thinking you are on a playing field. Facing enemies who are working out of a fancy play book."

Except for the English phrases "playing field" and "play book," Heinrich had spoken the last two sentences in German. The language made the English sports terms particularly incongruous—which was exactly what Heinrich had intended.

Tom snorted. "And what do you know about play books? Every time I've tried to explain football, you either fall asleep or order another beer."

Like Heinrich, Tom now also spoke in German. His command of the language had improved faster than that of any adult American in Grantville. It could not be said that Tom was fluent yet—not quite—but he was already able to participate in any conversation.

"That's because it's too intricate," retorted Heinrich. His hands zigzagged back and forth. "This one goes that way, that one goes this way"—his forefinger made a little twirling motion—"the other one runs around in circles to confuse the opponent—ha! It's a wonder you didn't all collapse from dizziness."

Tom grinned. "Not my problem. I didn't go anywhere except straight ahead—right into the guy in front of me."

"Excellent!" cried Heinrich. He slapped Tom on the shoulder with his left hand while he pointed at the meadow with his right. "Then you shouldn't have any difficulty with this. They come straight at us—good soldiers!—and we knock them flat. What is to understand?"

Tom's grin faded, replaced by a scowl. "Dammit, Heinrich, it doesn't make sense! They have got to know by now—"

Heinrich cut him off. "No, they don't! Tom, listen to me. You have no experience with these mercenary armies. Those men"—he jerked his head toward the meadow—"have probably had no contact with Tilly's. And if they did, they would have ignored anything a stupid Bavarian had to say."

He could tell that Tom was not convinced. Heinrich chuckled. Pointing now with his chin, he indicated the woods beyond the meadow. "What? You think there are cavalrymen hidden in the wood? Bringing their clever maneuver to fruition. Waiting to pounce when the time is right?"

Tom hesitated. Heinrich smiled. "Double reverse? Is that what you call it?"

"All right," the American grumbled. "Maybe you're right." He lifted his head over the parapet again. Softly: "We'll know soon enough. They're starting to cross the stream."

Lazily, Heinrich raised his own head and studied the enemy. "Swabians, I think. Sorry ignorant bastards."

Tom's lips twitched. "All of them?"

"Every Swabian ever born," came the firm reply. Then Heinrich's own lips moved. Twitched, perhaps. "I'm from the Upper Palatinate, you know."

"As if you haven't told me enough times. Funny thing, though." Tom's heavy brows lowered. "I was talking to a Westphalian just the other day, and he swears that everybody from the Palatinate—Upper or Lower, the way he tells it—is a natural born—"

"Westphalians!" sniffed Heinrich. "You can't believe a word those people say. They're all goat-fuckers, for a start. Bastards, too, every one of them."

Tom started to make some quip in response, but never spoke the words. For all the relaxed casualness in Heinrich's stance and demeanor, Tom understood the sudden squinting of his eyes. During their badinage, the German veteran had never taken his gaze off the enemy. Tom envied him that relaxed poise. Personally, he felt as tight as a drum.

"Seventy yards," Heinrich murmured. "Good." He raised the whistle hanging around his neck. But before blowing into it, he gave Tom a sly smile.

"How do you say it? Oh, yes—play ball."

The whistle blew. An instant later, three hundred U.S. soldiers rose from behind the parapet and began pumping lead slugs into the Swabians.


Five minutes later, the gunfire ceased. Heinrich swiveled his head. The sly smile was back.

"How do you say it? Oh, yes—blowout, I believe."

Tom made no reply. He appreciated the humor, but couldn't really share it. Unlike Heinrich, Tom Simpson was not a veteran of a dozen battlefields. He kept his eyes firmly focused on the enemy soldiers stumbling in retreat, so that he wouldn't find himself staring at the corpses mounded in an innocent meadow. Or a pleasant stream, suddenly running red.

"Why'd they do it?" he whispered. Again, his eyes ranged the woods beyond. "Shoulda had cavalry. Tried a flanking attack or something."

The reply was a given. "Swabians. What do you expect?"


As it happened, there were horsemen in those woods. But they were not Wallenstein's cavalry. They were Lapps, in service to the king of Sweden. Gustav Adolf believed, quite firmly, that Lapps were the best scouts in Europe.

He was quite possibly right.

The Finn who was in command of the Lapp scouting party reined his horse around. "Interesting," he said. "Come. Captain Gars will want to know."


Captain Gars raised himself off the saddle, standing in the stirrups. His head was cocked, listening for the sound of gunfire coming from the north. But there was none. The gunfire he had heard earlier that day had not lasted for more than a few minutes.

"How many?" he asked gruffly.

The Finnish scout waved his hand back and forth. "The Swabians, maybe two thousand. The other side?" He shrugged. "A few hundred, no more. Hard to say, exactly. They fight like skirmishers."

The last sentence, almost barked in his rural-accented Finnish, was full of approval. The scout, like most Finns and all Lapps, thought the "civilized" method of warfare—blast away, standing straight up, practically eyeball to eyeball—was one of the surest signs that civilization was not all it was cracked up to be.

He finished with a grin: "Smart people, these Americans. Whoever they are."

Captain Gars grunted. "It's all over, then?"

The Finn snorted. "It was a bloodbath. If the Swabians weren't so stupid they'd have run away after a minute."

"No chance they can take Suhl?" The scout's only response was a magnificent sneer.

Captain Gars nodded. "Not our concern, then. But this other—"

He twisted his enormous body in the saddle and looked toward the small group of Lapp scouts sitting on their horses a few feet away.

"Two thousand, you say?" As with the Finn himself, the captain spoke in Finnish. Few Lapps knew any other language beyond their own.

The head Lapp scout grimaced. "We guess, Captain. They follow narrow trail. Way ground chewed, must be two thousand. More. Maybe."

"And you're sure they're Croats?"

Again, the Lapp grimaced. "Guess. But who else? Good horsemen."

Captain Gars peered into the distance, looking slightly east of north. The Thuringenwald was a dense forest in that direction. Largely uninhabited, by the Lapps' accounts. The kind of terrain that good light cavalry can move through unobserved, as long as they carry enough provisions. The Lapps had spotted the trail less than two miles ahead. If their assessment was accurate—and Captain Gars thought Lapps were the best trackers in Europe—a large body of cavalry had broken away from the army marching on Suhl, moving into the forest east of the road.

Croats were good light cavalry. The best in the imperial army. Captain Gars decided that the Lapp was probably correct. Who else would it be?

The captain was not familiar with this particular area of the Thuringenwald. But, even given the roughness of the terrain, he estimated that a cavalry force of that size could pass over the crest of the low mountains within two days. Certainly not more than three. In straight-line distance, the heart of southeast Thuringia was not more than forty miles away.

Or Saalfeld, possibly, if the Croats angled further to the east. But the captain did not think Saalfeld was their target. Saalfeld could be approached far more easily from the opposite direction, following the Saale river. With the king of Sweden's army concentrated in Nürnberg, there was nothing impeding Wallenstein from sending an army directly against Saalfeld.

There was only one logical reason for a large cavalry force to be taking this route.

"They're planning a surprise attack on Grantville," he stated. "A major cavalry raid. Not to conquer, but simply to destroy."

Sitting on his horse next to the captain, Anders Jönsson heaved a sigh. He had already come to the same conclusion. And, what was worse, already knew for a certainty what Captain Gars would decide to do.

"We'll follow them." The words seemed carved in granite.

Anders appealed to reason. "Two thousand, the Lapp says. We've only four hundred."

"We'll follow them," repeated the captain. He glared at Jönsson. "Surely you don't intend to argue with me?"

Anders made no reply. Surely, he didn't.

Captain Gars spurred his horse forward. "And move quickly! The enemy is already half a day's march ahead of us."



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