Friday, October 19, 2007

Aftermath

Norris’ horse picked its way warily through the debris and bodies, while the rider watched for any movement among the corpses. Nearby, some women from the local village were already stripping the valuables from a pile of fallen Imperial soldiers.

The wind blew through the Königstor and left the battlefield clear and sharp to the eye. Norris was able to spot the group of officers gathered along the road and once clear of the former firing line, he urged the tired horse to a canter. Nearing the group he was overtaken by the sound of a galloping horse coming up the road from behind him, from the direction of Fedora. A hussar mounted on a lathered horse thundered past with a barely heard, “By your leave, sir!” and the messenger sawed at his reins to halt near the party. As the hussar reported to a dismounted infantry captain, Norris drew up to the group.

The captain led the hussar to several officers standing near a makeshift litter made from what looked to once have been white Imperial coats. Now they were red with blood. On the litter, a pale-faced young lieutenant gasped ragged breaths. Landgraf Bogart leaned down next to the dying man, holding one of the officer’s hands in both of his own.

The captain addressed the Landgraf. “Your Excellency, we have urgent news from the capital!”

“In a moment, Captain.” Bogart never turned his face from the lieutenant. “Go on, von Bellem.”

Lieutenant von Bellem tried to smile, but the pain was obviously too much. “You were right, Your Excellency! I am proud to be a soldier. I will remember…”

A short, sharp intake of breath cut off what the lieutenant wanted to remember, and when it was gone, so was he.

The captain looked at Norris, puzzled. “Remember what, Herr Major?”

The Landgraf answered instead. “I promised him he would remember this day.” Bogart stood up straight, and faced the hussar. “For the rest of his life. And you, trooper, what do you have to say?”

“Your Excellency, General von Larrabee has sent me with this dispatch,” he said, holding out a small envelope to the Landgraf. “I was instructed to deliver it to you immediately, and to let no one delay its delivery.”

“Very well. Captain, take this man and his horse and get them some water. Norris? Do you have anything to report?”

“Nothing new, Your Excellency,” replied Norris, saluting smartly despite his fatigue. “The Imperials are withdrawing across the border.”

“Running, more likely!” snorted General von Blaine.

“That’s enough, General,” Bogart said mildly, looking up from the note. “We have another problem. Major, how many troops do we have on the northern border?”

“Just one battalion, sir, along with a squadron of hussars and the third company of the jägers.” Norris knew that the Landgraf knew as well as he where the troops were, but Norris also realized when to play along to his commander.

“It would appear that our neighbor has decided to try and take a little piece of Fedora while we were occupied with the guests from Homburg. The Prince of Snibor-Renraw has moved soldiers into Harweiss and Ballaswein.

“It will take some time to reorganize the army that fought today. Major Norris, you are hereby promoted. Major General Norris, you are directed to proceed immediately to Arlesburg. That’s to where Larrabee reports the northern garrison has retired. When you reach Fedora, you have authority to order the first battalion of the Leib, and the Garde du Corps to accompany you.

“Stop the Snibor-Renrawians from coming any further. If they appear weak, push them back. Keep me informed. Dismissed.”

General Norris, who still rode his tired horse, saluted again. “It shall be done, Your Excellency.”

As the new general rode off over the pass, Landgraf Bogart turned to the officers and glanced down at von Bellem’s body. “Another memory for the rest of his life.”

Fedora: Two Generals Meet

“General, there is an…officer…to see you.”

Generalleutnant Linus von Larrabee, Deputy Minister of War, Quartermaster General of the Army, and Commander of the District of Oberfedora, placed the edges of both fists on the edge of the paper-strewn desk and pushed back. His broad forehead creased as he scowled at the clerk’s head peering around his office door.

“And which ‘officer’ would that be, Werner?”

“He introduced himself as a general, Herr General, but he is wearing a rather soiled jäger officer’s uniform.”

“Werner, did the officer state he was on the Landgraf’s business?”

“Yes, Herr General.”

“Then show him in.”

The clerk’s head hurriedly withdrew, and then Werner pushed open the door and announced, “Um, General Norris to see you on the Landgraf’s business, Herr General.”

Norris strode through the door, his face betraying nothing. He was indeed still wearing his major’s rank. And his uniform was sweat-stained and smelled of saddle leather. But he strode to the center of the room and cracked a salute that made Werner scurry to retreat, shutting the door behind.

“Major General Norris reporting at His Excellency’s order, General von Larrabee!”

Linus still sat with his fists on the desk and looked Norris in the eye. There were not many men in the Landgraviate who could do so without flinching. Norris’ answering gaze was not challenging, but it was penetrating and powerful. There was force behind those eyes, and force could be dangerous if it was not properly controlled.

Linus returned the salute without rising. “Sit down, General.” Raising his voice, Linus cast his words at the door, “Werner! Bring the schnapps. The good schnapps!”

“Immediately, Herr General!”

“We should toast your promotion, Norris. Judging from your appearance, I doubt you have had time to do so yet.”

“No, Herr General. I rode direct from the battlefield. Königstor is held, but at a high price. When His Excellency received your message about the north, he gave me the command of the border and ordered me to report to you en route to the area.”

Werner knocked discreetly at the door and entered bearing a silver platter. A fine crystal decanter with two glasses already poured indiscreetly full rocked as Werner approached the desk.

“Werner, His Excellency has promoted Herr Norris to the rank of Major General. So recently, in fact, that the good general has not had time to equip himself with the proper regulation blue general’s coat. I do not believe we have time to determine the proper cut of the coat for a general of jägers, but please prepare a commission with that rank for my signature.”

“Yes, Herr General. Is there anything else?”

“No. Dismissed.”

As the door again closed on Werner’s bowed back, Norris said, “Thank you for that, Herr General. It will be useful up north.”

“Not as useful as some real intelligence, Norris, much less some real forces. Did our Landgraf acquaint you with the situation?”

Norris, who despite his appearance was extremely aware of rank and privilege, noted the use of his name without the honorific normally used even between two generals. “Landgraf Bogey told me that Snibor-Renraw has sent troops across the border and occupied Harweiss and Ballaswein. I was ordered to report to Arlesburg to take command of the units ordered there by you, and to take the first Leib battalion and the Garde du Corps with me. I am to prevent further incursion, and if the situation warrants, to push them off Fedoran soil.”

“That might be more difficult than you realize. Snibor-Renraw is being quite underhanded. The troops who crossed the border are not actually Renrawians. They made the push with their brigade of Dutch mercenaries. There are at least two and possibly three battalions of Dutch, along with some cavalry and guns. I’m not sure what the Stadtholder will think of this, but in the meantime those Dutch are your problem now.”

“And besides the Leib and Garde du Corps, just with what tools do I have to work?”

Standing, Linus turned to the wall behind him. An oversize copy of the flag of the Leib regiment hung there, obscuring a large portion of the wall. Linus reached to the side and pulled a cord, drawing up the flag to reveal a large map of the Landgraviate with slips of paper pinned across it. Most of the slips were clustered around the Königstor, with just a few others around the map.

As Norris rose and walked around the desk, Linus gestured at the slips pinned on the map near Arlesburg. “You will have the second battalion of von Blaine, the third squadron of the hussars, von Blaine’s regimental artillery, and your third company of jägers. All under strength, of course. The last returns came before the Dutch crossed.

“I have two reports since the incursion. The first reported the loss of Ballaswein, the second reported the fall of Harweiss. Some of the Dutch even crossed over the river at Harweiss and hold a bridgehead on the south side. Lieutenant Colonel von Wilmer, commanding the battalion there, withdrew without contact, but lost a few score men to desertion. He ordered the jägers and hussars to join him, but I have no confirmation that they did so.”

Norris traced his ordered route along the map. “From Fedora, to Arlesburg, to Harweiss forms a triangle. If I could cut straight across here,” pointing to the hills northwest of Fedora, I would be there in half the time.”

“You know as well as I do, there’s no road across that ridge. What looks like a gentle slope on the map is much steeper, relatively unpopulated, and completely impassable to artillery. I doubt the troopers and horses of the Garde du Corps would be very happy, either.”

Norris pressed his point. “I have taken this route myself, with the jägers. In fact, I would not be surprised in the captain of the 3rd company ‘misinterpreted’ his orders from von Wilmer and withdrew up onto the slopes to keep an eye on the Dutch. If I cross here, close to the lake, I will save 35 miles at least.”

Linus turned square to the newly minted general. “And what exactly will you do when you get there, Norris?”

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