William R. Forstchen
First Printing, May, 1990
Copyright © William R. Forstchen, 1990
About the Author
Lost Regiment Series
For Kathy and Carl Livollen, who deserved their own book so long ago.
For Christine Poole, with a special thanks for her help and wonderful friendship.
And finally a bit of a sentimental dedication as well—for all those boys from Maine, for after all most of them were only boys, who gave their lives more than a century ago to preserve the Union, and to end the scourge of slavery. May we never forget their dreams for this country, as we reach for the stars.
A special thanks to Mr. John Keane, great-grandnephew of Andrew Lawrence Keane, and president of the 35th Maine Historical Society, who first shared with me the interesting story of that famed regiment's history over a decade ago. Through his tireless help I was able to contact a number of descendants of members of the regiment and examine a wide variety of documents related to its illustrious history, which helped so much in the creation of this story.
For the interested traveler, a monument to the 35th is located in the small hamlet of Keane, Maine, a short drive down coast from Freeport, Maine. It's a simple affair, so typical of Maine. A bronze plaque bears the names of the six hundred and thirteen men who set voyage on that fateful trip, and above the plaque the statue of a Union soldier looks out to sea.
Good luck finding it!
City Point , Virginia (major supply and shipment center supporting the Union Army besieging Petersburg and Richmond)
The thunder of artillery rumbled across the storm-lashed midnight sky. Turning in his saddle, Andrew Lawrence Keane looked back, as if the distant flashes were a siren song, whispering for him to return into the caldron of flame.
"Not our fight anymore, colonel."
"It feels strange to be leaving it, Hans," Andrew said softly, and even as he spoke he continued to look back, watching as the silhouette of Petersburg was revealed by the bursting shells.
"Strange to be leaving, is it? Damn glad, I am," Hans snapped. "We've been in the trenches before that damn rebel city for the last six months. It'll be good to stretch our legs and see something else for a while, even if it does mean we've got to take one of them damn boats to get there."
Pulling out a plug of tobacco, Hans bit off an end, and then offered a chew to his colonel.
Andrew smiled and waved his hand, declining the offer. For two years Hans had been offering him a chew and for two years he'd always turned him down. Shifting his gaze away from the gunfire, Andrew looked down at his sergeant major. The man's face was dark, like weathered canvas, and careworn and thin, wreathed in a beard flecked with streaks of gray. The lines about his eyes were deeply engraved from the years out on the prairie, watching across its shimmering heat and snow-covered vastness. The scar on his cheek from the Comanche arrow was a souvenir of twenty-one years' service in the army. It wasn't the only scar, and as the sergeant continued to walk by Andrew's side, a slight limp was noticeable, a gift from a reb sniper before Cold Harbor.
Looking down at his friend, Andrew remembered the first time the offer for a chew had been made, and a smile lit his features, even though the memory still embarrassed him.
Antietam was their first fight together. He had been a green and frightened lieutenant, and Sergeant Major Hans Schuder was the only veteran with the newly recruited 35th Maine. With five thousand men of the first corps, they had crossed the forty-acre cornfield, trampling down the ripened stalks on that September morning in '62. Forever afterward one simply had to say "the Cornfield" and any veteran of either the Union or Confederate side knew what it meant. In crossing that field, they stepped through the gate to hell.
The rebs had hit them from three sides. One moment all had been quiet; he could even remember the cries of the startled birds above them as they left the field and crashed into the woods beyond. In a moment the silence of that morning was washed away in fire and smoke, and the roaring scream of ten thousand rebs smashed into them.
He had stood transfixed, terrified, his company captain screaming out commands to him. An instant later the captain lay spread-eagled upon the ground, his unseeing eyes staring up at Andrew, a puddle of blood and brains beneath him.
All he could think of was getting behind the nearest tree, so another such bullet would not find him as well. Dammit, his terrified mind had screamed out, you're a professor of history! What in hell are you doing here?
And then that soft, gravelly voice had whispered to him.
"Son, would you care for a chew?"
Old Hans was standing beside him, offering a plug of tobacco. He barely came to Andrew's shoulder, his five-and-a-half-foot frame contrasting to Andrew's slender, almost fragile six feet and several inches of height. At that moment Andrew still remembered Hans as if he were a giant towering above him, cold gray eyes staring into his.
"Lieutenant, the regiment's shot to hell and pulling back. I think you'd better help lead the boys out of here." He spoke as if advising a lad momentarily confused by the rules of a strange new game.
And in that moment Andrew started on the path of becoming a soldier, for what else could he do, with those eyes upon him.
That evening Colonel Estes had come to Andrew and promoted him to captain for displaying such cool-headed courage on the field. The men of his company had patted him on the back, calling him a stout fellow who knew how to lead. He knew that before the battle Estes had had his doubts, and openly mumbled about having a bespectacled, bookish college teacher in his command. But that night Andrew knew that at last he'd been accepted.
The curious thing about it, Andrew thought, was that he could not remember what he had done. All he could recall was how, throughout the day, Hans had stood by him, just standing, watching, and occasionally offering advice.
"Son, I saw you," Hans said to him that evening, "I saw you and knew you'd be a soldier, once you learned how. You'll do well in this war, if you don't get kilt first."
That was the last time Hans had ever called him "son." From then on it was Captain Andrew Lawrence Keane, and Hans spoke the words with pride, as if he had somehow molded them.
After Fredricksburg it was Major Keane, and Hans, who knew all the workings of the army, patiently tutored him, with a thousand anecdotes and tales, on how to be an officer who could lead.
And then there was Gettysburg.
On the afternoon of the first day they stood under a hot July sun. The smell of crushed hay rose from beneath their feet as they waited for the storm approaching from the west.
It was as if an ocean of butternut and gray were sweeping toward them, twenty thousand rebs pouring down off Mc-Pherson's Ridge, a chorus of fifty cannons heralding their approach.
It was there that Andrew truly felt the strange, thrilling joy of it all. Red flash blossoms of death crashed about them, while the long thin line of blue waited like a stone wall to break the approaching wave.
The reb gunners quickly found their range, and the regiment was bracketed by a dozen thunderclap bursts. In that fraction of a moment Colonel Estes no longer existed and Andrew stood alone, in command of the 35th.
The line wavered, for all the men had seen their beloved colonel fall.
But this time there was no need for Hans to whisper to him. Unsheathing his sword, Andrew stepped before the ranks and, turning, faced what was now his regiment.
"Hell's gonna freeze over before they take this hill," he roared, and his men shouted back their defiance to the enemy.
The storm broke upon them and they held, trading volley for volley at fifty paces.
All through that hot afternoon of hell they stood, the heavy double line melting beneath the sun and flame into a thin ragged knot of men who would not run. His heart had swelled to bursting and tears of pride would blind him as he paced the volley line, shouting encouragement, stopping occasionally to pick up a fallen musket and fire, while Hans strode beside him, never saying a word.
There was, however, that one numbing moment when he turned to Hans to somehow find consolation. Going down to the left of the regiment, to check on whether the 80th New York were still holding their flank, he stopped for a moment with Company A.
His younger brother, Johnnie, had joined the regiment but the week before. He wanted to send the boy to a safe job in the rear, but pride had prevented him from showing favorites.
That damn foolish pride.
John, what was left of him, was lying as if asleep beneath the shade of an ancient maple tree.
Andrew gazed upon the fragile broken body, and then to Hans. But the old sergeant was silent, grim-faced, as if telling him that now was not the time to mourn. Kneeling down, Andrew kissed his only brother, and then rose blindly, to return to the fight.
In the end the division finally gave way, and within minutes the entire army was streaming back to the safety of the hills on the other side of Gettysburg.
But his regiment did not run. Knowing someone would have to slow the reb advance in order to buy time, Andrew understood his duty—if need be, to sacrifice his command.
Step by step they gave ground slowly, firing a volley, retreating a dozen paces, and firing again. The rebs lapped over around the flanks, but could not press on till this final barrier was removed. But the 35th refused to break.
Pulling back to the edge of town, they blocked the streets, and the time was bought. Two-thirds of his men were gone, paying the price for a precious fifteen minutes that might decide who would finally win.
Raising his sword, Andrew started to shout the command to pull back to Cemetery Hill, and then the blinding lash of fire swept over him. The last thing he could ever recall of Gettysburg was the falling away into a great gentle dark-ness, which he thought was the coming of death.
As if from a great distance a voice called, and Andrew stirred from his reverie.
"Did you say something, sergeant?"
"Just asked if your wound troubled you, sir," Hans said, looking at him with concern.
"No, not at all, Hans, not at all," and as he spoke he realized that he had been absently rubbing the stump of his left arm with his right hand.
Hans watched him for a moment, like a mother gazing upon her injured child. He grumbled as if to himself, and spat out a stream of tobacco juice. They rode on in silence until finally they crested a low hill, where the military depot and anchorage of City Point lay spread out before them.
"There's the boat, sir," and Hans pointed down the road to where a single transport rested, tied off to the dock.
"Never did like those damn things," Hans growled. "When I came over here in '44 thought I was like to die."
As he spoke of the memory the German accent returned.
Andrew always thought it a bit of a paradox. Here Hans had deserted the Prussian army to escape the brutality, and the first thing he did when reaching the States was enlist to go fight on the plains.
"35th Maine!" a voice shouted from out of the shadows. "Is this the 35th?"
"Over here," Hans snapped, and a portly man came lumbering up from the dock.
"You're late—we've already missed the damn tide!"
Hans bristled at the man's tone.
"And who the hell are you?" the sergeant snapped.
The dark shadowy form looked at the sergeant and without comment turned away.
"Where the hell is this Keane fellow?"
Andrew held out his hand to stop Hans.
"I'm the one you're looking for," Andrew said softly,
bringing his horse up till it brushed against the rotund man, forcing him to step back a pace.
"And whom do I have the honor of addressing?" he continued slowly, in a tone that Hans knew was deceptive, since Andrew usually became almost deferentially quiet before he exploded.
"Ship's Captain Tobias Cromwell of the transport Ogunquit. Damn it all, colonel, you were supposed to be here yesterday morning. The rest of the fleet sailed yesterday afternoon. Everyone else is aboard and waiting for your command, so we can get the hell out of here!"
"We were delayed," Andrew replied, still holding his temper in check. "Seems the rebs had a little farewell entertainment planned and my brigadier needed to hold us in reserve till the party was over."
"Damn poor planning, I say," Tobias snapped. "Now get those men of yours aboard so we can get out of here. I don't like it one damn bit that my ship is the last one to sail. And remember this, colonel—aboard my ship you and your men answer to me."
Without waiting for a response the captain turned and stormed away toward the dock, shouting imprecations at any who stood in his way.
"Well, I'll be damned," Hans growled softly.
"Let's hope not," and dismounting, Andrew ordered Hans to see to the boarding of the men.
"Well, I'll be damned. ..." The thought whispered through him. It'd been a vague premonition that had hung over him ever since Gettysburg.
Three nightmare months he had spent in the hospital, his shattered arm gone, tortured by fear-tossed dreams that fate was now toying with him, sweeping him on a tide he could no longer swim against. The nights were filled with the screams of dying men, filled with the haunted eyes of boys who had seen too much, and the mute faces of the dead looking at him from the shadows of a distant land. But worst of all was the one dream that still brought him up screaming and thrashing in the sweat-soaked sheets.
For three months he had healed, at least outwardly. In spite of his premonition of fear, his pulse quickened at the thought of returning to the madness. With his wound, and the Congressional Medal of Honor that Lincoln had pinned to his pillow, he could have gone back to Maine in honored retirement. Instead he had rushed back to the front, as if racing to a lover's embrace.
He loved the fury and the pageantry, the power war pumped into his veins even as it tried to kill him. When the thunder boiled over in the distance, and the popcorn rattle of musketry called from up the road, his heart would again race madly, and he would be filled with a fierce, all-consuming joy once more. It somehow transported him, sweeping him up and causing him to forget himself, his former life, and the memories of the woman who had wounded his soul.
How could he return to the quiet of Bowdoin College, now that he had tasted of the blood-filled chalice?
So he had returned to command the 35th. It was now a shattered regiment, yet a regiment of men who somehow felt a perverse pride for the killing he had done to them.
It was a regiment that he led through the Wilderness, and finally into the scorching trenches before Petersburg. And all the time the nightmare voice had whispered to him that they were all damned. That the fighting would go on until finally they were all dead. Dead by his shouted commands, until only he alone would be left, blood-dripping sword in hand.
And, God help him, somehow he loved it so. For here, thin and bespectacled, a slender, frail slip of a man with a body near shattered, he felt himself truly alive.
Through the rain-swept shadows his boys, boys of eighteen and twenty years with the eyes of old men, passed before him and filed aboard the ship that would take them to yet another battlefield somewhere down on the North Carolina coast. To a battlefield yet unnamed where he would be forced to feed more boys like John into the furnace. Boys whom he had come to love. Their dark smiling faces, forever changing to be replaced by new faces, yet always the same, looking to him and him alone, for he was, after all, the hero of Gettysburg.
Reining his mount off to the side of the road, he sat in silence and watched his men march past, boarding the ship to whatever destiny the fates had laid out before them.
"Say, Hawthorne, there's the ship."
Vincent Hawthorne raised his eyes from the back of the man in front of him and saw the shadow of his commander and the ship awaiting them.
"Wonder how many of us bloody Keane will kill this time."
"Come on, Hinsen, he ain't that bad," Vincent replied.
"All officers are bastards," Jim Hinsen snarled. "Look what he did to us at Gettysburg, and in the Wilderness for that matter—plugged us right in the middle of the fight, the bastard did."
"Shut up, you little cuss, you damn whining cur!" Sergeant Barry snapped in his high staccato voice, coming up beside them. "You two weren't even there! You're nothing but fresh fish, damned draftees and bounty boys, so don't say 'us' when you speak of this regiment, until you've seen the elephant and earned the right."
"I didn't say anything against him," Vincent replied softly.
"Well, I'd better not hear it," Barry responded, "and if I were you I'd stay away from Hinsen here."
Without another word Barry pushed forward to help guide the men onto the ship.
"Bastards, they're all bastards," Hinsen mumbled, his voice barely heard.
Shamed, Vincent didn't respond. It was true that he was a fresh fish, joining the regiment only within the last month. But how could he explain that as a Quaker, he had joined only after a long moral fight within as to the evil of killing versus the need to end slavery? And besides that, he could not help that he was only seventeen and had had to commit the sin of lying about his age in order to get in.
He stole a sidelong glance at Hinsen, who was still cursing beneath his breath. He shut out the curses, and silently thanked God that at least the twenty-mile march was over, and he had survived it without the shame of collapsing from the exhaustion that in the last mile he thought would come near to killing him.
"Some of them don't sound too happy."
Andrew nodded as Emil Weiss, the regimental surgeon, came to stand by Andrew's side. Andrew looked down at the bald pate of the doctor, barely able to see the ruddy face, wreathed in a flowing white beard, that was usually lit up from a little too much medicinal brandy.
Andrew swung down off his mount. He handed the horse over to a staff orderly, who took Mercury off for loading.
"If they weren't complaining I'd start to worry," Andrew said philosophically. "I'm just glad Hans didn't hear that bttle exchange Barry got into or there would have been hell lo pay."
"Mother Hans, clucking over his killer chicks," Weiss chuckled.
"All your medical supplies in order?" Andrew asked.
"Never enough," Weiss grumbled. "Dammit, son, never enough bandages, and that tincture of lime, can never seem to get an adequate supply."
Weiss had joined the regiment shortly before Gettysburg, a fact which Andrew was forever thankful for. In spite of what the other surgeons said about the 35th's "crazy Jew doctor," Andrew and the men swore by him, a rare thing in an army served more often than not by half-trained country physicians and butchers.
Weiss had studied in Budapest and talked incessantly about an unknown doctor named Simmelweiss who had figured out something called antisepsis back in the late '40s. Andrew had listened to some of the debates Emil had, his fellow surgeons calling laudable pus a good thing, and saying infection was simply a fact of wounds. Emil would always wind up roaring that they were medieval butchers, and infection could be stopped by boiling the instruments and bandages along with hand-washing between operations with tincture of lime.
Whatever it was the doctor knew and used, the men of the 35th were found to have nearly twice the chance of surviving a wound as men from the other regiments.
Andrew again touched the stump of his arm and felt he could claim loyalty to Weiss from very personal experience. Since Gettysburg he didn't even bother to correct Weiss for calling him "son." After all, the man was twice his age, and for that matter every man in the regiment, including the much-feared Hans, was addressed that way by Weiss, even when the old doctor was in one of his typical bad tempers.
"The last of the men are aboard, sir," Hans reported, strolling up to join the two officers who stood by the edge of the dock.
"How are the piles, sergeant major?" Weiss asked, as if inquiring about the gravest of injuries.
Hans deftly shot a stream of tobacco juice that barely missed the old surgeon.
"Perhaps our good colonel here should order you in for surgery—I could clear them up for you in a jiffy."
"With all due respect—like hell, sir," Hans grumbled.
For the first time in days Andrew threw back his head and laughed at the embarrassed discomfort of his sergeant and friend.
"Well, gentlemen, shall we get aboard? I think it'd be best not to keep our good captain waiting."
Not looking forward to what he knew would be life with an unpleasant ship's captain, Andrew strode up the plank, following the last of his men. Besides that, there was the other problem as well, for like Hans he suffered violently from seasickness, and the thought of it made him shudder.
A young naval officer stood upon the deck of the steamer waiting for him.
Andrew nodded in reply as the sailor saluted.
"I'm Mr. Bullfinch, sir. Captain Cromwell awaits you and his officers in the ship's wardroom. I believe, sir, the rest of your officers are already there."
"Well, gentlemen, we must not keep the captain waiting," Andrew said evenly, and they followed the young ensign aft.
"Ah, so the good colonel has at last deigned to join us," Cromwell growled as Bullfinch led the three into the narrow confines of the officers' mess.
Andrew looked about the room. His company officers were all present, but his second in command, the regimental quartermaster, and the rest of his headquarters staff were not there.
"Your staff have already left with General Terry."
Andrew recognized the remaining men of the 44th New York Light Artillery and nodded a greeting to Major O'Donald, their burly red-bearded commander, who with mock severity raised a glass of wine in his direction.
"Into their cups already," Weiss whispered.
The reputation of the 44th was well known. Recruited from the Five Points district of New York, they were considered some of the hardest drinkers and brawlers in the army. Their only saving grace was that no matter how hard they brawled among themselves and with anyone who wandered near them, they were ten times harder on the rebs.
"I'm going to make this short. I still have to see to the rest of our delayed loading," Cromwell said, looking
accusingly at Andrew, who stared back evenly at this man who seemed to be going out of his way to make an enemy.
"Aboard this ship, I rule and you follow. Your men are to stay out of our way. Any problems between your men and mine, I handle it."
"The 35th takes care of their own," Andrew said softly.
"Aye, lad, and the same for the 44th," said O'Donald.
Tobias looked from one commander to the other.
"I know the regulations, captain," Andrew said, his voice pitched so low that those in the far corner of the room could barely hear him. "But I will not surrender authority of my command over to you. I acknowledge your right to run this ship. I would not consider interfering, but likewise I shall not accept your interfering in my command. If there is a problem between your people and mine we shall both look into it according to military law."
"Like I already said," O'Donald retorted, coming around the table to stand by Andrew's side.
Tobias looked from one to the other, aware of the barely suppressed grins from the other infantry and artillery officers, who, unlike Tobias, knew what could happen if their respective commanders were aroused.
Tobias started to speak and then fell silent.
"If there is a problem," he finally replied, "then it'll be your responsibility, for I plan to put your statements into my report."
"By all means do so," Andrew stated. "We must, of course, follow the proper procedures. As I likewise shall do."
There was an icy silence that held for what seemed like hours but in fact was only a matter of seconds.
"Well, we understand each other then," Tobias replied, suddenly changing to a display of bluff comradely spirit.
"Before sailing, General Terry left you written orders which I believe you are already aware of."
Andrew merely nodded.
"There's a nurse from the Christian Sanitation Commission aboard this ship. She missed her transport, which left earlier," and as he spoke he gave an obvious grimace of disdain. "I don't like women aboard this ship—it's nothing but trouble. I've quartered her in my cabin, where a guard has been posted. I think we're in agreement that her quarters are strictly off-limits to both enlisted and commissioned personnel."
"I am sure we can trust that all here will observe the necessary proprieties," Andrew replied sharply, "as I am sure your men will as well."
Tobias stared at Andrew coldly.
"We sail within the hour then," Tobias continued. "Weather being good, we should make the passage down the James River and into the Chesapeake before tomorrow evening. Out into the Atlantic it'll be another twenty-four hours to our rendezvous point off Beaufort, North Carolina, and from there we proceed to our station off Fort Fisher.
"As you know, the men of the 24th Corps are already trained in amphibious operations and will take the beach and piers where your people will be unloaded. From there on you're no more concern of mine."
"A situation I'm sure we are all looking forward to," O'Donald replied.
"Yes, I am sure of that," Tobias replied icily.
Without another word Tobias turned and left the wardroom, his officers falling in behind him.
"Well, lads," O'Donald laughed as the door slammed shut, "I'd say it's time for another round," and with a roar of approval his officers and some of Andrew's people gathered around the towering red-headed artilleryman.
Going to the far corner of the room, Andrew pulled off his rubber poncho and stretched out on a narrow sofa. Leaning back, he was soon lost to sleep, in spite of the uproar around him.
There was a blinding flash of light, another, and then yet another. But strangely there was no report as the white puffs of bursting rounds exploded around him.
Clouds of smoke swirled past, obscuring everything, blanketing him like a fog rolling in from sea. There was a shadow in the fog which gradually took form.
"Johnnie!" he cried, rushing through the white mist.
"Andrew, I'm afraid," and his brother came up to him, his eyes wide with fear, arms outstretched like a small boy looking for comfort.
Andrew couldn't reply. Reaching out, he took his brother's hand and started walking back in the direction John had come from. Through his hand (strange, it was his left hand) be could feel John trembling.
The sulfurous smoke parted, and there before him was a blood-covered field, filled with a carpet of dead that stretched to the far horizon, blue- and butternut-clad bodies mingled together for as far as the eye could see.
"Andrew, I'm afraid," his brother whispered.
"I know, boy. I know."
"Make me go home to Ma," and now the voice was that of a little boy.
He could feel himself shaking, the field strangely out of focus as he came around behind his brother, placing both hands on John's shoulders.
He pushed the boy forward.
As if he were sliding down an icy slope, Johnnie slipped into the bloody field, even as he desperately tried to kick back away.
The blue uniform started to peel off his body, and as it did the flesh melted away, like ice disappearing beneath a July sun.
And then he turned to look back, but now it was only a skeleton, and, merciful God, it was a skeleton that still had eyes.
"Andrew, I want to go home!" the fleshless skull screamed, and then he fell away, his bones falling apart to mingle with the thousands of bloated bodies that now as one turned, and with ten thousand eyes gazed upon him.
It's all right, it's all right."
"Johnnie, for God's sake! Johnnie!" Andrew sat bolt ■ plight, the room now coming back into focus.
"John," he whispered, as gentle hands reached about him, rocking him slowly.
"It's all right, colonel."
Colonel. Someone was with him, a woman. In an instant he felt the rigid control return, and looking straight ahead he stood up and the arms about him drew away.
"Just a bad dream, that's all," she whispered.
He turned and looked back down at the woman. Her eyes, dark-green eyes, were locked on him. She seemed to be about his age, in her late twenties or early thirties, with pale skin and high cheekbones. Her hair was drawn up under the bonnet of a Sanitation Commission nurse, but a thin strand hung down over her forehead, revealing a pleasing reddish-blond tint.
She stood up beside him, coming just to his shoulder.
"I was walking the deck and I thought I heard someone in here, so I came in and found you," she whispered, almost apologetically.
"It was nothing," Andrew said in a quiet, distant voice.
"Of course," and she reached out and patted his hand in a friendly fashion. "Don't be embarrassed, colonel. I've been a nurse since the beginning of this war. I understand."
There was a moment of awkward silence.
For the first time he noticed the room was empty, except for the two of them.
"Where is everybody?"
"Oh, things ended here several hours ago. I heard your doctor telling everyone to leave you alone, that you needed your sleep. It's just another hour to dawn."
Andrew rubbed the sleep from his eyes, and with his right hand tugged his jacket to try to get out some of the wrinkles.
"I'd better get to work," Andrew said woodenly. "I shouldn't have slept like that without checking my men first. Anyhow, it's time for morning roll."
"Let the men sleep a bit longer, Colonel Keane. This is their first night out of the trenches in months."
Andrew looked again at her and smiled. She had made her comment gently enough, but there was a slight note of command to it as well.
He wanted to say something back as a retort, but her smile completely disarmed him.
"All right, then, for your sake, Miss ..."
"Kathleen O'Reilly," and she extended her hand, "and I already know that I have the honor of addressing Colonel Andrew Keane of the 35th."
Rather at a loss, Andrew awkwardly took her hand and then quickly let go.
"Well, now that we've been introduced," she continued, "shall we take a walk upon the deck? I know if my old supervisor were here, she would not consider this proper for us to be unchaperoned and alone in a room."
"I think, Miss O'Reilly, you can take care of yourself quite well."
"I most certainly can, colonel," and he noticed a slight edge to her voice.
Picking up his poncho and helping Kathleen with her wrap, Andrew led the way out onto the main deck. The sky was dark and threatening, with intermittent spits of rain and sleet lashing across the deck. Andrew took a deep breath, the chilled air clearing his head.
"Actually, it's kind of lovely," he said softly. "Reminds me of home back in Brunswick, Maine."
She was silent, leaning over the railing and watching the dark edge of the riverbank slip past.
"And where are you from, Miss O'Reilly?"
"Boston. I can remember a night like this—walking home from church ..." With Jason, she continued to herself.
Suddenly curious, Andrew leaned against the railing beside her.
"A happy memory, I take it."
"Once," she replied softly. She dropped her head to hide her eyes.
"Care to talk about it?"
"No more than you do about John."
There was no rebuke in her voice, only an infinite sadness.
For long silent minutes they stood together, watching the lights along the shore drift by.
"We were engaged," she said softly. "He was killed at First Bull Run."
"I'm so sorry."
"Yes, and so am I," she replied evenly. "So that's how I became a nurse instead of a wife, my good colonel. And your John?"
"My younger brother," and he fell silent again and finally broke it with a single word.
"So we both have our sorrow from this war," she stated in nearly a whisper. "Any other brothers?"
"So at least you will not have that pain again. And believe me, colonel, I shall never bear the pain of losing a loved one again, at least that much I have learned."
She looked up at him, and in the first faint light of dawn he could see the hard set to her features.
"I'd best be going now, colonel. I do have my duties to attend to. Good morning to you, sir."
"And to you," Andrew replied softly, extending his hand to hers.
Barely touching his hand in response, she nodded primly and, turning, walked back toward the stern of the ship.
Alone, Andrew continued to lean against the rail, watching the white wake of the ship plowing out as it slowly made its way down the river, cautiously running between the channel markers.
The rain started to lash down harder, cutting into him with icy needles. Having lived along the coast of Maine his entire life, he felt he knew something of the weather, and a chilly feeling inside told him that before the day was out there'd most likely be a real blow rolling up from the south. He could only hope their damn headstrong captain would be smart enough to anchor in the shelter of Norfolk and wait it out, schedule or no schedule.
January 6, 1865
Four hundred miles southwest of Bermuda
For the first time in three days, Andrew realized, the seasickness had left him. He paused for a moment in wonder; was there nothing left in him to get sick with, or was it the simple stark terror of what was happening?
Tobias, insisting that the growing storm would not interfere with his schedule, had passed out of the Chesapeake and on into the Atlantic, even as the wind gust picked up to thirty knots. From there it had simply gotten worse, and by the end of the day they were racing before a southwesterly gale of near-hurricane proportions. The boilers had long since been damped down, and now they were running bare-poled before the wind.
Hanging on to a railing next to the wheel, Andrew watched as Tobias struggled to keep them afloat.
"Here comes another!" came the cry from the stern lookout.
Wide-eyed, Tobias turned to look aft.
"Merciful God!" he cried.
Andrew followed his gaze. It seemed as if a mountain of water was rushing toward them. A wave towered thirty or more feet above the deck.
"A couple of points to starboard!" Tobias roared.
Mesmerized, Andrew watched as the mountain rushed down upon them and the stern rose up at a terrifying angle. Looking forward, he felt that somehow the ship could never recover, that it would simply be driven like an arrow straight to the bottom.
The wall of water crashed over them, and desperately he clung to the rope which kept him lashed to the mizzenmast. The ship yawed violently, broaching into the wind. As the wave passed over them, he saw both wheelmen had been swept off their feet, one of them lying unconscious with an ugly gash to the head, the wheel spinning madly above them.
Tobias and several sailors leaped to the wheel, desperate to bring the ship back around.
"Here comes another!"
Rising off the starboard beam, Andrew saw another wave towering above them.
"Pull, goddammit, pull!" Tobias roared.
Ever so slowly the ship started to respond, but Andrew could see that they would not come about in time. For the first time in years he found himself praying. The premonition that had held for him and the regiment, that they were damned, was most likely true after all, even if the end did not come on a battlefield.
The wave was directly above him, its top cresting in a wild explosion of foam. The mountain crashed down.
He thought surely the rope about his waist would cut him in two. For one wild moment it appeared as if the ship was rolling completely over. His lungs felt afire as they were pushed beyond the bursting point. But still he hung on, not yet ready to give in and take the breath of liquid death.
The wave passed, and Andrew, gasping for air, popped to the surface. They had foundered, the vessel now resting on its portside railing. Helpless at the end of the rope, he looked about, cursing that his fate was in the hands of a captain who had killed them all for the sake of his foolish pride.
"Damn you!" Andrew roared. "Damn you, you've killed us all!"
Tobias looked over at Andrew, wide-eyed with fear, unable to respond.
Tobias's gaze suddenly shifted, and with an inarticulate cry he raised his hand and pointed.
Andrew turned to look and saw that yet another mountain was rushing toward them, this one even higher than the last, the final strike to finish their doom.
But there was something else. Ahead of the wave a blinding maelstrom of light that appeared almost liquid in form was spreading out atop the wave like a shimmering cloud of white-hot heat.
The cloud swirled and boiled, coiling in upon itself, then bursting out to twice its size. It coiled in for a moment, then doubled yet again.
"What in the name of heaven--?" Andrew whispered, awestruck by the apparition. The intensity of the light was now so dazzling that he held up his hand to shield his eyes from the glare.
There seemed to be an unearthly calm, as if all sound, all wind and rain, were being drained off and they were now lost in a vacuum.
But still the wave continued to rise behind it, and then, to Andrew's amazement and terror, the wave simply disappeared as if it had fallen off the edge of the world. Where a million tons of water had been but seconds before, now there was nothing but a gaping hole, filled by the strange pulsing light.
Suddenly the light started to coil in yet again, then in a blinding explosion it burst back out, washing over the ship.
The deck gave way beneath Andrew's feet, and there was nothing but the falling, a falling away into the core of light as if they were being cast down from the highest summit.
There was no wind, no sound, only the falling and the pulsebeat of the light about them. As his thoughts slipped away, he could only wonder if this was death after all.
He awoke to the glare of the sun in his eyes. Groaning from the bruises that covered his body, Andrew sat up and looked around.
Were they dead? Was this the afterworld? Or had they somehow survived? He came to his feet, and from the way the protest of bruised muscles coursed to his brain, he somehow felt he must be alive after all.
But how? Was the light a dream, the falling a wild hallucination? All he could recall was that endless falling, the light pulsing and flaring. He struggled with the memory. He seemed to recall awakening at some point, and still they were falling in silence, the light about them shaped like a funnel, spiraling downward and dragging the ship with it.
Improbable, he thought. The wave must have knocked him unconscious and somehow that damned captain had managed to save them after all.
The deck of the ship was a shambles. All three masts were down, with rigging, spars, and canvas littering the deck from stem to stern. In more than one place Andrew could see a lifeless form tangled in the wreckage. He'd have to get the men moving to start cleaning this up and disposing of the dead.
But where were they? He raised his eyes. They were aground, the shore a scant fifty yards away. The sandy beach before them quickly gave way to brush and low trees, and beyond he could see a series of low-lying hills.
Fumbling with his one hand, he managed to untie the rope about his waist.
It was hot, nearly summerlike, and he could feel the beads of sweat coursing down his back, trapped by the still-damp wool of his salt-encrusted uniform jacket.
Rubbing the back of his neck, which felt sunburned, he turned and saw a dull red orb already halfway up the sky. It didn't look quite right, he thought, somehow bigger. Not thinking any more of it, he turned away.
They were alive, but where? Had they run all the way to Bermuda, or were they now wrecked somewhere along the coast? It had to be somewhere in the south. It could never be this warm in the north at this time of year.
Could it be the Carolinas? But no, he remembered that the hills didn't come this close to the sea. Perhaps he was mistaken, but best not to take any chances—they'd have to assume they were in rebel territory till it was proved different.
"Colonel, you all right?"
Hans popped his head up from an open hatchway, and for the first time in memory, Andrew could see that his old sergeant had a look of total bewilderment on his face.
"All right, Hans. Yourself?"
"Damned if I know, sir," and the sergeant pulled himself up onto the deck. "I thought we'd gone under, and then there was this light. For a moment there I thought, Hans, old boy, it's the light of heaven and those damned stupid angels have made a mistake. And the next thing I know I wake up still alive."
"What's it like below?" Andrew asked.
"Six hundred men puking their guts out. Ain't very pleasant, sir. Couple of the boys got killed from the battering, a number of broken limbs, and everyone with bruises. They're just starting to come to now."
"Well, go below and start getting them up on deck. There's work to be done."
"Right sir," and the sergeant disappeared back down the ladder.
"So you finally decided to get up."
Andrew groaned. He knew he shouldn't think it, but he found himself wishing that Tobias had been swept overboard.
"Where the hell are we?" Andrew asked, turning to face the captain, who was strolling down the deck toward him.
"South Carolina, I reckon. I'll shoot an angle on the sun and soon have it figured out."
"How did we get here?" Andrew asked, unable to hide his bewilderment.
Tobias hesitated for only a second.
"Good piloting, that's all," he replied, but Andrew could sense the doubt in his voice.
"And that strange light?"
"St. Elmo's fire, but I reckon a landlubber like you never heard of it."
"That wasn't St. Elmo's, Captain Tobias. It knocked all of us out and we woke up here, and I daresay you can't explain it any more than I can."
Tobias looked at him, trying to keep up the front, then turned away with a mumbled curse.
"We've been hulled. I'm going below to check the damage. I suggest we get started straightening this ship out, and I expect your men to help where need be."
Without waiting for a response, Tobias headed for the nearest hatchway and disappeared below.
Within minutes the deck was aswarm with men staggering up from below, most of them looking rather the worse for wear. As quickly as they came up, the various company commanders tried to sort them out and run a roll. Spotting
Kathleen coming out from the captain's cabin, he hurried to her side.
"You all right, Miss O'Reilly?"
She looked up at him and smiled bleakly.
"Long as I live I'll never set foot on a ship again." The two of them laughed softly.
"Sergeant Schuder told me there've been some casualties. I'd deeply appreciate it if you would find Dr. Weiss and give him your assistance."
He continued to look at her closely, not wanting to admit that he had been concerned for her.
Andrew looked up to a private standing atop the ship's railing and pointing off to shore. He came up to his side and looked at the boy, trying to remember his name. The boy was nothing more than a mere slip of a lad, standing several inches below five and a half feet in height. His red hair, freckled face, and cheerful open expression gave him an innocent, almost childlike look. Andrew fished for his name, wondering how this lad had ever gotten past the recruiting sergeant. Then again, army recruiters were simply interested in warm bodies, nothing more. Suddenly the name came back to him.
"What is it, Hawthorne?"
Vincent looked at him for a moment, swelling a little with the fact that the colonel knew his name. That was another thing learned from Hans—always know their names, even though too often the knowing in the end would cause pain.
The boy was silent, still looking at him.
"Go on, son. What is it?"
"Oh, yes, sir. Sir, look over there, near that cut in the dunes a couple of hundred yards up the beach. Seems like a cavalryman."
Andrew shaded his eyes and looked to where the boy was pointing.
Damn big horse. Looked to be a Clydesdale.
"Strange thing, colonel—it seems he's carrying a lance or spear."
Andrew looked around for Tobias, hoping he could get a | spyglass, but the captain had yet to reappear.
"Son, do you know where my quarters are?"
"I think so, sir."
"Well, run quick—there's a single chest there. My name's on the top. Inside you'll find my field glasses. My sword's there as well. Now fetch them quick, lad."
Obviously impressed with the responsibility given to him, Vincent jumped off the railing and raced below.
Andrew leaned over, still shading his eyes, and tried to get a better look at the lone horseman.
"Stay where you are, dammit," Andrew whispered. "Just don't move."
"Got something, colonel?"
Andrew turned to see Pat O'Donald coming up to join him.
He pointed to where the lone cavalryman sat, half concealed.
"How'd your men take the storm?" Andrew ventured, while waiting for Vincent to return.
"It's not the man, it's the horses," O'Donald said sadly. "We brought along enough for two guns and a caisson—the rest went on another ship. Most of them will have to be destroyed, or are already dead. I checked your horse, sir—he made it through all right."
The tearful remorse in the major's voice was rather a strange paradox coming from a man with his reputation.
"Your field glasses, sir," Hawthorne cried, near breathless as he raced up to Andrew's side.
Andrew brought them up and focused.
"Well, that is the damnedest," he whispered softly.
If this was reb cavalry, then they sure as hell were scraping the bottom. The man wore a beard that came near to his waist, with long shaggy hair curling down past his shoulders, and which, even more curious, was topped by what appeared to be a conical iron helmet. His dirty white tunic, which looked as if it had a high clerical collar to it, was buttoned off to one side.
The man didn't even have boots; his lower legs were covered with rags, wrapped cross-hatched with strips of leather. And Hawthorne was right—the man was indeed carrying a spear.
In front of Petersburg he saw deserters coming in almost daily, but at least they still were carrying guns and had a semblance of a uniform.
Andrew handed the field glasses to O'Donald, who started to laugh.
"Faith and upon my soul! So there is the vaunted reb cavalry."
As if realizing he was being watched, the lone horseman turned his horse about, and kicking it into a trot he disappeared from view.
"Old men and children in the trenches, and now cavalry carrying spears on draft horses. Won't those poor sots ever give up?"
Still laughing, he handed the field glasses back.
"He might look comical, major, but this could prove serious."
"And how so?"
"Those low hills there. Whatever it was you were laughing at could be going to get help right now. If they have a single section of artillery handy, all they need do is position themselves up there and shell us into surrender."
O'Donald fell silent and turned to look back down the deck.
"Too much of a cant here to deploy my guns to respond."
"Exactly," Andrew replied. "We'd better get my men ashore immediately and dig in. Get your men moving and bring those Napoleon field pieces of yours topside. That lifeboat there should be enough to ferry them ashore."
Andrew looked back to where Vincent still stood.
"Son, you'd better help me on with that sword," he said softly.
"Colonel, with the captain's compliments he wants you back aboard ship."
"Damn it all, what now?" Andrew turned on the messenger and saw that it was Bullfinch, the young ensign who had first led him aboard ship.
"I'm sorry, sir, but the captain did not confide that in me," the boy said meekly.
"All right. Just give me a minute."
Andrew quickly surveyed the ground around him. One thing could certainly be said for the men of his regiment— six months of siege work in front of Petersburg had taught them how to dig. A triangular outworks forming a perimeter a hundred yards across at the base was already laid out in the dark loamy soil. It was already several feet deep on the two sides facing inland. O'Donald's men were finished with the first gun emplacement, commanding the apex of the line, and were now turning their attention to flanking position. One twelve-pound Napoleon had already been ferried out and emplaced. Looking back to the ship, he could see that the second weapon was being lowered over the side.
It must have been one hell of a wave that pushed them this far in, Andrew thought, as he looked at the damaged hull resting in less than ten feet of water. Even as a nonsailor Andrew had realized another curious fact about the place they had come to rest: there was no tide.
And there was the question of the sun. His timepiece was useless after the soaking the storm had given it, but somehow the day had seemed awfully damn short. Besides that, from the ship's compass the shoreline ran due east to west, and he could recall no such coastline south of New York.
"Keep the boys at it, Hans," Andrew shouted, and following the ensign, he waded into the near-tropical warmth of the ocean and accepted the helping hands of two sailors aboard the ship's launch. Seconds later they were alongside the Ogunquit, and with the help of a sling, Andrew was deposited back on deck.
There was a look of anxiety on Tobias's face, something that Andrew actually found to be pleasing.
"What is it, captain?" Andrew asked coolly.
"Colonel, can you climb the rigging?" And so saying he pointed up to where the shrouds to the mainmast still clung to the shattered maintop, thirty feet above the deck.
"Lead the way."
This was something he would never have worried about once, but since the loss of his arm, Andrew found the prospect somewhat frightening—though he'd never admit it in front of this man.
Tobias scrambled up ahead of Andrew, almost as if taunting him. But all thought of insult died as he finally reached the shattered platform.
. "One of my men spotted the first contingent. I thought you should take a look."
Fumbling for his field glasses, Andrew looked off to the distant horizon.
Through a gap in the hills it seemed as if an ocean of men were swarming toward them.
"There must be thousands of them," Tobias whispered.
At the head of the column rode a contingent of several hundred horsemen, followed by what appeared to be an undisciplined horde, which, after clearing the gap, spilled out in every direction.
"My glass has more power than your field glasses," Tobias offered.
It took a moment for Andrew to brace himself and focus the awkward telescope. He trained it upon the head of the column, and a gasp of amazement escaped him.
It looked like an army out of a distant dream. At the head of the column rode half a dozen men carrying square banners mounted upon crosspoles. The lead banner portrayed crossed swords of red on a white background, looking vaguely like a Confederate battle standard; the next was of a horseman with a double-bladed ax above him. The others had the appearance of stylized icons, being the portraits of men in what Andrew felt was a near-Byzantine style.
The horsemen, most looking like the scout they had seen earlier on the beach, carried spears. Some had shields slung over their shoulders, and most of them were wearing conical helmets, festooned here and there with fluttering ribbons. A number of horsemen in the column looked as if they were wearing rough plate armor. The heavily armored warriors rode in a tightly clustered group around a portly, bearded man in gold-embossed armor, who rode beneath the horse-and-ax standard.
Andrew swung the glass around to the swarms of infantry. They looked like true medieval levies armed with an insane assortment of spears, swords, clubs, and pitchforks.
Andrew looked over to Tobias, who wordlessly returned his gaze.
"Captain—just where in God's earth are we?" Andrew whispered.
"... I don't know," Tobias finally admitted.
"Well, dammit, man, you'd better figure it out, because we sure as hell haven't landed in South Carolina!"
Andrew started back down from the maintop and jumped to the deck, Tobias following him.
"Get Dr. Weiss up here!" Andrew Shouted, heading for the rail.
"What are you going to do, colonel?" Tobias asked.
Andrew turned on the captain, but found himself completely at a loss for words.
"Can you get this ship afloat again?" he finally asked.
"Where's the tide?" Tobias asked in a whisper, drawing closer. "If we had beached at low tide there might have been a chance—but where's the bloody tide? And besides, there's a hole down belowdecks big enough to ride a horse through."
"Then figure something out, because we sure as hell don't want to stay here!"
"Wherever here is," Emil retorted, coming up to join Andrew.
Together the two went into the lifeboat. Before it had even reached shore, Andrew leaped out, Emil puffing to keep up:
"What is it, colonel?"
"I want you to see what's coming," Andrew said. "Tell me if it looks like anything you've ever seen."
He already had a strange suspicion, but immediately pushed the thought aside; it was simply too absurd.
Racing ahead, all dignity forgotten for the moment, Andrew rushed to the entryway of the fortified position.
"Hans! Sound assembly!" Andrew roared.
The clarion notes of the bugle and the long roll of the drum sounded. With the first note, Andrew felt a shiver run down his back. Suddenly the racing panic in his heart stilled; a crystal clarity of vision came over him.
The encampment exploded into action. Men raced to pull on their jackets, snatch up muskets, and sling on cartridge boxes.
Following the lead of the infantry, O'Donald called for the two pieces already ashore to be wheeled into their emplacement. Then he led his command to fall in by the men of the 35th.
Within seconds the old ritual, which they had acted out hundreds of times before, was played out: the ranks forming, muskets being grounded, the men dressing the line. Then when all were in place each company snapped to attention, their company commanders turning and coming to attention when all was in order.
A hush spread across the field, and in the silence, they all heard for the first time a distant sound which every veteran knew: the sound of an army advancing in their direction.
Andrew surveyed the line of five hundred men who were his, and the eighty men of O'Donald's command behind them. Every other time, it had been easy enough to explain what they were about to face; orders from above would tell him where the rebs were, and whether he was to hold or attack. There'd be a couple of comments about the honor of the regiment and the pride of being from Maine, and then they would move in.
But this was different. Heaven help them all, what could he say? He paused, trying to collect his thoughts. The men started to look uneasily at each other, while in the distance the rumble of the approaching host grew louder and louder.
There was no brigadier above him now, nor regiments falling in to either flank. This time he was alone, just as at Gettysburg, and the decision was his.
"Uncase the colors!" Andrew roared.
A stir went down the line as the standard-bearers lowered their staffs. Men to either side rushed out to pull off the flag casings. In the faint afternoon breeze the blue flag of Maine snapped out. It was followed seconds later by the shot-torn national standard; emblazoned upon its stripes in gold lettering were the names of a dozen hard-fought actions which the regiment had survived with honor.
The men looked to each other, some eagerly, others pale with nervousness; uncasing the colors usually meant action was in front of them.
"Look to those colors, boys!" Andrew shouted, and as one each man's gaze turned to the standards they had followed across countless fields of action.
Andrew knew it was a rhetorical flourish, but he had to start somewhere, and for the men of his regiment—of any regiment— the shot-torn flags were symbols of pride and honor.
"There is a lot I cannot explain to you now," Andrew continued. "You'll see things you might not believe or understand at first. All I ask is that you obey my commands. Just trust me, lads, as you have on every field of action. Follow my orders, and I'll see all of us through this."
He fell silent. This wasn't the typical flag, Maine, and the Union speech. He sensed their uneasiness, but there wasn't time to explain further.
"Companies C through F, deploy to the east wall. H through K, to the west wall. I want A and B, with the colors, in reserve in the center. Major O'Donald! To me, please! Now fall into position, boys!"
The encampment became a wild explosion of movement as the formation broke and men ran to their positions.
"What is it, colonel?" Pat said, coming up to join him.
"Look, Pat, I can't explain the situation now—I still don't understand it myself. We'll just have to wait and see. Let's go up to your emplacement and watch the show."
The two commanders, trying to appear outwardly calm, strode across the encampment area. They reached the battery where O'Donald's twelve-pound brass Napoleons were deployed.
"They're getting closer," Pat whispered. "God, it sounds like thousands of them."
"Here they come!" came a shout from an excited private down the line.
A lone horseman, bearing the crossed-sword standard, crested the hill a half mile away. Within seconds he seemed to be engulfed in a human tide as thousands of infantry poured over the hill around him. Farther to the left, the advancing column of horsemen appeared.
"Worst damn reb infantry I've ever seen," O'Donald sniffed. "No lines at all—must be local militia."
O'Donald turned to his men.
"Load case shot, four-second fuse!"
"Wait on that," Andrew said softly.
O'Donald turned back to Andrew.
"Now look, colonel, darling—my boys here know their business."
"Pat," Andrew said evenly, "I am the senior officer on the field. Trust my judgment on this. You'll see for yourself once they get closer."
Andrew forced the slightest of smiles, not wishing to appear an autocratic commander. The artilleryman paused for a brief moment, and then called for his men to hold.
"Colonel, if they're militia, we can break them up real quick before they get into musket range."
"They don't have muskets," Andrew said quietly.
The host continued to swarm forward, the cavalry keeping pace with the infantry. Gradually, out of the swarming mass, individual forms started to take shape.
"What in the devil are they?" Pat gasped.
"Damned if I know," Andrew said, still trying to smile.
A loud murmur started to break out in the ranks, men crying out in confusion at the sight before them.
"You're the history professor," Emil said, coming up to join the two commanders, "so please help me retain my sanity and tell me what they are."
"I was hoping you would know," Andrew replied. "We couldn't have been blown all the way to Arabia, and they look European, not black or eastern."
"Well, what they're carrying looks straight out of the Middle Ages to me," Emil replied. "Damn it all, look at those weapons and armor! Those things are museum pieces!"
"I know, doctor," Andrew murmured, "I know."
Just what in hell was he facing? He still couldn't figure it out. For all the world he felt as if he were facing a host straight out of the tenth or eleventh century.
"Over there on the crest of the hill! Are my eyes deceiving me?" Pat exclaimed.
Several teams of horses came into view.
Andrew found himself breaking out into a nervous laugh.
"It's their artillery, Pat. Catapults—they're bringing up catapults."
The three officers looked at each other in dumbfounded amazement.
"I guess whoever they are, they mean business," Emil replied.
"He's right, colonel. That isn't any friendly town council coming out to greet us."
Andrew merely nodded, watching as the host continued to deploy. There was no real order to it. From out of the cavalry column half a dozen horsemen broke away and started to canter across the field in front of the peasant mob. Distant shouts echoed up, and, still several hundred yards out, the enemy army came to a halt.
A loud chant suddenly went up, drifting on the late-afternoon breeze.
From out of a high-wheeled cart traveling with the cavalry there appeared several men, dressed in long flowing robes of gold and silver. Each carried a smoldering pot on the end of a length of chain. Swinging the pots over their heads, they started to walk down the length of the line. As one, the thousands of men fell to their knees.
"They're blessing themselves," Pat whispered, and even as he spoke he made the sign of the cross, most of the men in his command following suit.
Raising his field glasses, O'Donald scanned the line.
"Looks like they're doing it backward, though," he mumbled as if to himself.
"We'd better do something, colonel, darling," Pat said, looking over to Andrew, "for as sure as I'm damned to hell, I think those beggars will charge once the blessing gets done."
"All right, then," Andrew said softly. "Load solid shot and set to maximum elevation."
"Why, that will put it clear over the hill."
"Just do as I say, but have that canister ready in case I'm wrong."
Without waiting for a response, Andrew turned and strode back to the center of the encampment.
"35th Maine, fix bayonets!"
The old sound that was the prelude to battle rattled out as five hundred bayonets were snapped out of their scabbards and locked into place.
"Companies C through K, prime and load!"
Hundreds of rammers were now pulled. Charges were bitten open, and powder and shot slammed in.
"Companies A and B, load blank charges only and deploy behind the artillery!"
Nervously the men looked to their commander, wondering what he was planning.
"C through K, you will fire only on my command! I want all weapons at shoulder arms. I'll personally shoot any man that levels a rifle before my command!"
The regiment was silent, almost numbed by the bizarre spectacle before them.
Andrew faced the double rank of the two companies that moved up behind the field pieces.
"I don't think they understand who we are," he said evenly. "If we can give them a good scare without bloodshed, we might be able to talk later. It'll be up to them, so when I give the command, aim high, and fire off a damned good volley. Then we'll see what happens."
"One of them coming up, sir," Hans said, now standing beside Andrew, which he always did when there was the scent of battle in the air.
A lone horseman carrying the crossed-sword standard started to gallop toward their line.
"Hans, just cock that carbine of yours and keep an eye on him."
Andrew climbed atop the gun emplacement and slid down the other side. The horseman drew closer. This was like something straight out of a Sir Walter Scott novel, he thought, complete to the armored knight coming to demand submission. But the man approaching him looked more like a ragged beggar than a knight. His armor was nothing more than a dozen heavy plates stitched onto a leather tunic. A sword was belted about his waist, and the heavy lance he carried glinted wickedly in the reddish light of the sun.
Andrew spared a quick glance again to the sun. What was wrong with that thing? It looked much too big. He focused his attention back to the rider, who reined in a dozen paces away.
The rider stood in his stirrups and scanned the encampment. Then he called to Andrew:
"K kakomu boyaru vy podchinyaetes?" (What boyar do you serve?)
Confused, Andrew could only shake his head.
"Nemedlenno mne otvechayte! Boyary Ivor-i-Boros trebuyut bashey nemedlennoy sdachi." (Answer me at once! Boyars Ivor and Boros demand your immediate surrender!)
Andrew extended his right hand outward.
"I am Colonel Keane of the 35th Maine Volunteers, of the United States Army."
The rider reined his horse back several paces.
"Vy yazychnik, vy ne govorite po hashemv yazyku. Zavaytes!" (You are heathen—you do not speak our tongue. Surrender now!)
In the man's tone Andrew heard a note of fear. There was something strangely familiar about the language and the uniform. Everything was like an object barely discernible in a deep and shifting pool.
Suddenly he recognized a word from the man's speech. Somehow he had to reach this man.
"O'Donald, get out here!"
The men saw the towering redheaded Irishman clambering out of the gun emplacement, and reined his horse back several more paces.
"You said you saw them making the sign of the cross?"
"That I did, colonel."
"Then do likewise."
A look of solemn concentration came over O'Donald, and raising his right hand he made the sign of the Catholic faith.
"Vy nad nami nasheetivayes!" (You mock us!) the horseman roared. Leaning forward, he spat on the ground, and swinging his horse about, he galloped back toward the waiting host.
"I think we'd better get inside!" O'Donald roared, and grabbing hold of Andrew by the shoulder, he drew him back into the lines.
"You made a mistake!" Emil shouted, trying to be heard above the roaring host.
"Tell you later!" And shaking his head he went back to the medical tent.
Andrew wanted to hurl a curse at him, but there was no time for it now. Suddenly he realized what the mistake was, and silently cursed himself for it.
"Here they come, colonel," Hans shouted.
By the thousands the infantry started to swarm forward, the cavalry breaking into a canter and swinging wide toward the beach.
"When I tell you, Pat!" Andrew shouted. "Companies A and B, present!"
A hundred rifles came to the shoulder, aiming high into the air.
Andrew looked toward the host. They were less than two hundred yards away. Just a few seconds more and . . .
A sheet of flame and smoke snapped out, the thundering volley echoing across the field.
The wild advance slowed, nearly halting.
"Now, Pat! Let's scare the devil out of 'em!"
Shouldering the gunner aside, O'Donald grabbed the lanyard and pulled.
The Napoleon cannon leaped back, belching a tongue of fire and billowing smoke. The thundercap report echoed out across the field.
The thick smoke cloud hung above them, so Andrew scrambled up the embankment for a better view. Cheering started to break out from the Union soldiers deployed down the line. A gentle breeze stirred across the field, lifting the curtain of smoke.
By the thousands the peasant host were streaming to the rear, many in their panic throwing aside their pitchforks, clubs, and spears. It was a total and complete rout!
Grinning, Andrew looked down at O'Donald.
"Told you it'd work!"
"Aye, a grand sight it is!" O'Donald laughed.
Andrew let the men cheer themselves hoarse, as he strode down the line, complimenting them on their steadfastness. Even better than a victory was a victory won with no bloodshed on either side.
"Well, let's leave the next move up to them," Andrew said philosophically, walking back to the artillery emplacement.
"I think they have already decided their next move," Hans said coldly. He pointed off toward the left flank. The three wagons with the catapults atop them were being pushed forward. The rest of the peasant host had finally stopped running at the crest of the hills a half mile away, where they waited.
Fascinated, Andrew watched as the firing arm of the first catapult was cranked back. The arm snapped up, the crack of the weapon echoing across the field. Seconds later the other two machines discharged as well. Large stones soared upward, tumbling end over end until they seemed to hover nearly motionless in the sky.
It was like watching the mortar shells back in the trenches, Andrew thought, and he could see that all three rounds were going off to his left.
The three projectiles reached the apex of their flight and, tumbling end over end, smashed into the Ogunquit.
Dammit, they were going to smash up the ship!
"All right, Pat," Andrew said dejectedly. "Looks like they won't stay scared. Take their artillery out."
"What I've been waiting to hear!" Pat shouted. "Load solid shot!"
His gunners set to with a will, ramming home the cartridges and twelve-pound balls, while the gun-layers swung the two artillery pieces around.
Pat stepped behind each of the two pieces, sighting down the barrels and giving quick commands to raise or lower, and to move the weapon to one side or the other.
"Fire on my command!" he roared. "Number one, fire!"
The gun seemed to literally leap into the air, kicking back several paces.
"Number two, fire!"
The shots screamed downrange. One struck the cart hold-nig the first catapult, splitting it right down the middle, and the weapon flipped off the back. The second machine suddenly collapsed on itself in an explosion of splinters and coiling rope.
There was a moment of stunned silence, pierced only by a distant shriek of agony. All resolve vanished, and the entire host melted away in a wild stampede of terror.
"Well, that should be the last of them," O'Donald pronounced proudly, patting the hot barrel of his gun.
"I don't think so," Andrew replied grimly, as he turned and walked away.
Just who the hell are these people? he wondered. Though reluctant to admit it, he did recognize one word the envoy had spoken, and that had aroused in him a terrible, impossible suspicion.
The man had said "Boyar." And he realized that Emil had noticed O'Donald's mistake, that to these people the big Irishman had made the sign of the cross backward. Could he somehow be in medieval Russia?
He turned and looked back. Where were they, and just who in hell were these people?
"Patriarch Rasnar, I did not ask for a religious interpretation. I want answers, not doctrine! Could this be like the Primary Chronicles? Yet more men coming from the tunnel of light?"
With a snort of disgust, Boyar Ivor came to his feet, kicking the coals of the fire so that a shower of sparks rose heavenward. Turning away with an angry curse, he stormed off into the darkness.
"But this is a religious matter—it has nothing to do with the Chronicles," Rasnar roared, his flowing robe of gold and silver embroidery swirling out about him as he followed after his boyar.
Boyar Ivor turned to face the man. How he hated him. For fourteen years, since the death of his father, he had been locked in a never-ending struggle of power with this so-called holy man. Rasnar's thin ascetic face, wrapped in a bushy black beard that matched his dark-circled eyes, drew closer.
His father had stripped the church of its temporal powers, but the balance was a precarious one, for the rule of steel was constantly offset by Rasnar's manipulation by fear of destruction and damnation. Yet each needed the other to maintain control over the peasants. Steel and fear to keep them in line for when the dread from the west came again.
He knew his knights and landholders were watching this confrontation, and in the fine balance of power between the boyars and the church, he could not lose, on even the most minor of points.
"How else can you explain them?" Rasnar whispered darkly. "This is not as we came from the blessed land. They have appeared to us with the weapons of Dabog. You smelled the smoke—it was the smoke of the fire that torments the fallen. They have been sent by Dabog, the evil one, to destroy us, unless we destroy them first."
Ivor could hear the mumbling of his knights. They were still terrified by what had happened. He knew Rasnar sensed it as well, and would press on that. If he conceded, and did not find another answer, Rasnar's priests could use it to their advantage, perhaps even turning the knights against the boyars, blaming them for what had happened.
Already one of his spies reported hearing several priests say that the blue devils had been sent to punish the rulers for having seized the power of choosing and taxing from the church.
"So what do you propose?" Ivor whispered, so that none would hear his question.
"The proper prayers must be read, the men must be blessed, and you must send forward with the rising of Perm's light at dawn."
"They'll be slaughtered. And besides, why should I send them forward?"
"The church has no power to do such a thing. Remember, it was you boyars who took that away from its rightful control," Rasnar replied sharply. "And once destroyed," Rasnar added smoothly, "their devilish devices must be taken by the church for safekeeping."
Ivor gave a snort of disdain.
"Oh, so it is all that simple. And what do you propose then to do with these devices, which you have now openly called unholy?"
"Why, destroy them, of course," Rasnar replied sanctimoniously.
Ivor threw his head back and laughed.
"Do you hear that?" he roared so his knights would hear. "The church will take the devices and destroy them. Of course, I should fully trust you in this, your holiness?"
Rasnar did not reply, his gaze fixed darkly on his hated rival.
"But you are forgetting one thing," Rasnar whispered, putting his hand on Ivor's shoulder and leading him farther into the darkness.
"And that is what, your holiness?" Ivor asked, still grinning.
Ivor whirled about and faced the priest.
"What of the Tugars?" Even he found it difficult to control the fear in his voice.
"I am trying to save you from yourself and your grasping designs," Rasnar whispered. "I saw your face when the thunder weapons fired. You were afraid, yet already your thoughts were turning. You imagined what such things could do against Boros of Novrod, or Ivan of Vazima. You wish to take these things and use them in your own mad dream for control of all the Rus."
Ivor was silent as the priest repeated what he had been thinking.
"You could succeed with these things," Rasnar whispered, "but what then of the Tugars? What will they say when they come and see what you have done? The last time a single boyar united the Rus without their permission, they broke his body and sent him to the pit. What will they say with you having these devices?"
"I would give them to the Qar Qarth as a sign of my loyalty," Ivor replied nervously.
Now it was Rasnar's turn to grin as he shook his head.
"The Tugars appointed boyar and church to rule together," Rasnar said quickly, "and I will not allow you to seize then-devices and will denounce you to the Qar Qarth as having plotted against their rule. What is to stop you from using such things to throw down my church?"
"You bastard," Ivor hissed. "I will not allow you to seize such things and use them against me."
"Remember as well," Rasnar continued, ignoring the insult, "if we do not eliminate these demons, the Tugars will find them and we might be blamed."
"How?" Ivor asked nervously.
"Because if they can do what they did to us, and if they are still here, perhaps they will try it on the Tugars as well. And we both know who the Tugars will blame."
Ivor's eyes grew wide with fear.
Rasnar saw that he had hit the right point.
"Kill them now, lord boyar, turn the weapons over to the church for safekeeping," Rasnar whispered.
"But the Tugars are still four winters away," Ivor replied, trying to temporize.
"Yet is it not said the ears of the Tugars encompass the world?" Rasnar replied softly.
Rasnar smiled and put his hand on Ivor's shoulder in a conciliatory gesture.
Ivor, known as Weak Eyes, squinted and looked toward the encampment of the strangers, which appeared as hazy blotches of firelight on the other side of the field. Who were these men? Were they demons after all? Could they be a threat to the balance between his Suzdalians and the Tugars?
But what power? he thought. First I could unite all the Rus under my banner and then without any havens and rival boyars for him to rush to I could bring down Rasnar and place my puppet in his place. Surely the Tugars would not object to that. And besides, the Tugars are four winters away, but the Novrodians are only a day's march to the east.
If he destroyed them now, there would be the struggle for the weapons, for surely Rasnar would strike fear into everyone's heart with his shoutings from the pulpit of the cathedral. If he let them live and used them, there would be a problem as well, but they could be used, and mastered. Perhaps they could even be turned against the church, making it appear as if they were demons who had simply gotten out of control. When the time finally came, they could then be disposed of. Thinking about something as terrifying as the Tugars required too much effort, and he pushed the thought of them away.
Ivor looked back at Rasnar and grinned. Brushing aside Rasnar's hand, Ivor started back to the campfire, where his arms men waited expectantly. Damn fools, he thought. In spite of today's display, they were most likely still eager to charge the blue warriors yet again.
He had to act quickly, for most likely word had already reached Novrod of this strange occurrence. It was not wise to leave his city for too long with his mounted border watchers.
Returning to the flickering circle of light, Ivor settled down on his camp stool and looked about at the nervous stares that greeted him.
"Send for that damned bard of mine," Ivor snapped.
Grabbing hold of a wooden mug, Ivor leaned over and scooped out a tankard of stale beer from the small barrel by his side. Draining the drink off, he scooped out another round and looked up to see the peasant he had sent for.
"Where in the name of Kesus have you been?" he roared.
The rotund peasant looked at him wide-eyed.
"Composing a new ballad in honor of my lord," he said nervously.
"Kalencka, I know damned well you were hiding. I saw you not with my household when we advanced. I grant you the scraps of my feasting table, and dammit, I expect payment of loyalty in return," Ivor roared.
"But my lord, I needed a vantage point to observe your heroic actions so I could record them later in the Chronicles."
Ivor looked at the man with a jaundiced eye.
Damned peasants, they were all alike. Lying, murderous scum, loud to complain, first to run away, and always ready to blame their betters for every ill. There were times he thought he or the Tugars should simply murder the entire lot so he wouldn't have to put up with their stench.
"You seem to be able to talk your way out of anything," Ivor replied coldly, "so I've decided you can be of some use to me rather than stealing from my table for nothing but badly worded verse in reply."
"Whatever you wish, my lord," Kalencka replied, bowing low so that his right hand swept the ground.
"Go to the camp of the blue ones."
Kalencka looked up at Boyar Ivor, his eyes growing wide with fear.
"But my lord," he said softly, "I am a ballad maker, a chronicler, not a warrior."
"That is why you are to go," Ivor retorted, the tone in his voice making it clear that any argument could have the most unpleasant results.
Ivor looked around at his men and then to Rasnar.
"There is no rush in these things," he said evenly. "First let us see who they are. Perhaps we can learn their secrets as well and then use such things against them."
Without a word, Rasnar turned away and stormed off into the darkness. Ivor followed him with his gaze. There would be trouble over this. Perhaps he could lure him out of the cathedral and across the square to the palace for a very special meal if things got too difficult. Even as the thought crossed his mind he decided that until this thing was settled it would be best to receive the holy bread from a hand other than the patriarch's.
Ivor looked back at Kalencka, who was still before him, his nasty peasant eyes staring at him.
"Get out of my sight," Ivor roared. "Go to their camp now. Tell them they are on my land and I demand an explanation. When you have mastered something of their language I want their leader brought to my presence for a meeting. I want information from you as well, and don't return until you've found something of interest for me. I am leaving my half brother Mikhail in command here and will take my border riders back to the city." As he spoke he pointed to a towering bearlike warrior standing to one side of the fire.
Ivor smiled and looked over at his brother. If something did go wrong, he thought craftily, Mikhail could take the burden. Besides, Rasnar would most likely return to Suzdal tonight, and it would not be wise to leave him alone in the city. More than one boyar had left his town only to return days later to find the gates locked to him.
"Now get out of my sight and do something, you stinking scum," Ivor roared.
Bowing repeatedly, Kalencka retreated from the wrath of his lord. Once out of the circle he finally straightened up and looked about.
"Well, this is the mouse leaping into the mouth of the fox," Kalencka mumbled to himself, "and the wolf stands by to watch his two meals dance."
Kalencka looked over toward the blue warriors' camp. He couldn't simply walk up to them in the dark. If they were demons it wouldn't matter, but if they were men, they might think he was trying to sneak up.
Taking a torch from one of the guards that surrounded Ivor's camp, he started out alone across the open field, hoping that the flickering light would dispel any suspicions.
From over in the blue warrior camp he heard a rising chorus of shouts. Perhaps they were preparing to attack. But there was no getting around it now. He knew one of Ivor's guards would be following at a distance to put an arrow through him if he turned back. The wolf was definitely at his back, so it was to the fox then.
But even a mouse can talk, he thought to himself, so that the wolf and the fox will not see him but only each other.
Try as he could, Vincent Hawthorne could not stop himself from shaking. Hinsen wasn't helping the matter at all.
In his sheltered life growing up in a Quaker community, Vincent had never met a man like Hinsen.
His world had been one of farm work, meeting for worship, and the Oak Grove School of Vassalboro. Even a trip to Waterville, six miles away, was something usually only done with his mother or father, who openly stated that the mill town was a place of sin which should be seen only when absolutely necessary. His life had in no way prepared him for his first day in the army.
He had heard dozens of new words, put together in all sorts of combinations that he had never imagined before. For the first time in his life he had witnessed cardplaying, dice-throwing, and the drinking of intoxicating liquids, and, to his stunned dismay, had actually seen soiled doves, which the men called hookers, after the hard-fighting General Hooker, who, legend had it, traveled with such ladies of the evening in his camp.
The steady stream of obscenities from Hinsen he had learned to ignore, but to now hear the man desperately praying out loud was totally unexpected and thus unnerving.
Yet he could understand. He looked off to what he assumed must be east and touched the Bible in his breast pocket.
There were two moons in the sky.
As darkness fell the stars had come out, and that had been bad enough, for nothing in the heavens was right. The gentle splash of what should have been the Milky Way was now a brilliant shimmering band shaped like a wheel, which filled half the sky with such a glow that it was almost possible to read his Bible from the light.
When the stars first came out, Sergeant Barry had come along and said they must be south of the equator. Vincent heard a couple of former sailors over in Company B scoff at that, but he clung to what Barry had said.
And then the moon had appeared. But it was too small, far too small, and did not look right at all. To the left of it another moon appeared scant minutes later, and now all about him was in an uproar.
Some like Hinsen were openly on their knees, praying at the top of their lungs. Others, some of whom he knew to be battle-hardened veterans, were weeping, calling for home or loved ones, while here and there a voice was shouting for Colonel Keane to get them out and take them home.
Vincent looked over to the beached ship, and though he had come to dispel the man, he was glad that Captain Cromwell was still aboard, for more than one man was blaming the situation on him, and calling for a lynching.
There was nothing to be done, Vincent realized. If Keane knew the answer, he would be out and around telling them, but over in officer country he saw the colonel and the other officers talking, raising their heads to look about the encampment, and then in bewilderment to the twin moons that were moving rapidly into the sky.
"Thou shall not be afraid of the terror by night," Vincent whispered, touching his Bible. He turned back toward the circle of fires around the camp.
Shocked, he cocked his rifle and brought it up. There was a light moving toward him. In all the confusion no one had noticed it, and it was coming straight at him.
"Sergeant of the guard!"
His voice could be barely heard above the confusion.
"Sergeant of the guard!" Vincent looked over his shoulder, desperate for some help, but all around him was confusion.
The light was drawing closer.
By the starlight he could see a lone man bearing a torch, standing rigidly before him, not twenty yards away.
"Sergeant Barry!" Vincent cried.
Still no response. He had to do something. He was supposed to be on sentry duty, and Barry had roared at him more than once about staying exactly where he was put. He just couldn't run back to one of the officers; they might think he was running away.
He had to do something.
Taking a deep breath, he clambered up over the breastworks. Lowering his rifle to the advance position, he started out across the field toward the solitary figure.
Could he shoot this man? Vincent wondered. Since the start of the war he had wrestled with that. To kill was the greatest sin, the elders had taught him. But to him the enslavement of fellow men was just as heinous. For that reason he had finally resolved to run away and join the army, hoping nevertheless that in the confusion of a battle he would never see a reb that he would be forced to aim at.
But as far as he could tell, these men weren't rebs. What now? Even as he advanced he decided that come what may he would not shoot, but nevertheless, as if in spite of himself, he kept his gun cocked and pointed.
Gradually the silhouette took on features. The man was short and rotund. He was dressed in a simple pullover shirt that fell to his knees and had a wide flowing black beard that cascaded down nearly to his waist.
Vincent stopped, his leveled bayonet pointed squarely at the man's oversized stomach.
"Identify yourself, friend or foe," Vincent squeaked out.
The man before him started to break into a grin, and held his two arms out to either side, still smiling.
"Go on, tell me who you are," Vincent whispered.
Ever so slowly the man thumped his chest with his right hand.
Vincent let the point of his bayonet drop. How could he stick this man? The fellow was grinning at him.
"Who the hell is out there?"
"It's me, Sergeant Barry!"
"Damn you, soldier, who the hell is me!"
"Private Hawthorne. I've got one of them out here."
"Well, goddammit, private, bring the prisoner in!"
"You heard him," Vincent said softly. "You've got to come in with me," and motioning with his rifle he indicated that the stranger should lead the way.
"I guess that's his name," Emil said softly.
Andrew nodded and sat down on his camp chair. Exhausted, he tried to focus his attention. It seemed that all discipline in the regiment was near to breaking. He could hear Schuder roaring out commands, but still there was the shouting. Damn it all, he was terrified himself. There could only be one explanation to all of this, but his mind recoiled at the enormity of it all.
Somehow they were no longer on earth. What other explanation was possible at this point? But each time he tried to come to grips with the thought, he felt as if he wanted to crawl away, fall asleep, and pray that when he awoke he would either be dead from the storm or somehow back in the world he knew and could understand.
The crack of a carbine snapped his thoughts back. The camp fell silent.
"All right, you ignorant, whining, lazy bastards!" Schuder roared. "You're nothing but fresh fish, the whole damned lot of you. And I thought the 35th had men in it. You're crying like green boys being led to see the elephant. Now goddammit, act like men, or so help me I'll thrash the next man who so much as peeps, mit god I'll do it!"
Andrew held his breath. The sergeant major was the most feared man in the regiment, and he could only hope the fear of Schuder would be greater than the unknown that confronted them.
There were a couple of low murmurs.
"I heard you, Fredricks, you little milksop, you whinny coward."
There was a loud snap and a grunt of pain, and Andrew winced. He hoped his officers all had the good sense not to be looking; otherwise there'd be hell to pay for Schuder.
"All right then, you bastards, we understand each other. Now back to your posts."
Seconds later the tent flap opened and Schuder strode in and saluted.
"The camp is back in order, sir."
"I could hear that, Hans," Andrew said, suddenly realizing that Hans's little display had braced him back up as well.
"All right, then." Andrew turned his attention back to the man who called himself Kalencka.
"Kalencka is your name?"
The man nodded and tapped himself on the chest. Smiling, he stepped forward and touched Andrew, his eyebrows raised in an exaggerated quizzical manner.
Kalencka looked at him and smiled.
"Close enough," Andrew laughed.
"Doctor, what do you think?"
"It's too uncanny, son," Weiss replied. "Some years ago I went to Lodz to visit my uncle and his family."
"In Russia, isn't it?" Hans asked.
Kalencka turned to face Hans.
Emil looked at Kalencka and nodded eagerly.
Kal grinned at him.
"Da, Rus," and with a broad sweep of his arms he turned around.
"Suzdal, Rus," Kalencka said.
"Da, da." Standing up, Emil reached into his haversack and pulled out a bottle, uncorked it, and held it out.
"Vodka," Emil said.
Kalencka grinned broadly, even as he gingerly took the bottle and peered at it cautiously. Understanding, Emil took it back, put the bottle to his lips, and took a healthy slug. Smiling, he offered it back, and the peasant followed suit, took a couple of gulps, and a quizzical expression formed on his face as Emil took the bottle back.
"Gin," Emil said, pointing to the bottle, "and not your rotgut variety either."
"Major darling, I've been feeling a bit of a chill meself," O'Donald said hopefully.
"We all need a shot or two," Andrew said, and with a look of remorse, Emil gazed fondly at the bottle and handed it over to the artilleryman.
"Gin," Kalencka said with a broad grin.
Grabbing the bottle back from O'Donald, while it was still at the major's lips, Emil passed it back to Kalencka.
"Don't ask me to explain how," Emil said softly. "As I was saying, when I went to Lodz some years back I saw thousands of peasants dressed almost like this one. And damn my eyes, Andrew, this man's speaking Russian or something awful close to it."
"And you can speak it too?" Andrew asked hopefully.
"A couple of words, that's all. Enough to talk my way past the goyim."
Emil shook his head and grinned. "Ah, you Americans. Never mind."
Emil looked up at Kalencka, who was starting to get a little bleary-eyed.
"Da, da. Gin."
"Well, colonel, I guess we'd better start the language lessons."
Kal looked about at the men and smiled. These were the best damned spirits he'd ever had, and for the first time in his life he thanked Ivor Weak Eyes. Perhaps these foxes weren't so bad after all.
"Beautiful morning, isn't it, son?"
Andrew turned to see Emil emerging from the shadows.
"Quiet. It's just so peaceful and quiet," Andrew replied. He looked about and smiled softly. In the trenches this was always his favorite time. It'd still be dark enough so you could climb out, stretch your legs, and just listen to the gentle quiet before dawn. At those moments it'd seemed as if the war were a million miles away.
"Maybe it's the same right now on another world," Emil replied evenly.
"Just where in heaven are we?" Andrew asked.
The doctor smiled sadly and shook his head, while looking up to the sky.
"I don't know how or why," he replied, his voice carrying a slight sense of awe. "But I think wherever our war is, it's somewhere out there. We're not on earth, that's for certain. The sky alone proves that."
"But those people," Andrew started, pointing to the camp-fires that shimmered in a glowing arc around them.
"God alone knows the answer, colonel. But we've had that Kal with us for three days now. The language is Russian, or a form of it at least. You know that and so do I."
"Seems like something out of the tenth, maybe eleventh century, I'd venture," Andrew said, as if to himself. "But how, dammit? How? From what little I've been able to learn from Kal, he talks about a Primary Chronicle that tells of his people crossing here in a river of light. Now, I remember that the Primary Chronicle is a history of the early Russians. But we aren't in Russia. The sky and that strange red sun prove that. So tell me, Emil, where are we?"
Emil reached up and laid his hand on Andrew's shoulder.
"That is not your concern, if I might be so bold," Emil said sharply.
"And what does that mean?" Andrew replied, feeling somewhat irritated by the doctor's tone.
"Andrew, you're pondering an impossible. Chances are we'll never know the how of it, or the why. Even if we did, chances are we still couldn't change it. Your job now is to lead. To find a way for us to survive on this world. If an answer ever comes, we'll cross that then. But we can't stay here surrounded forever. For the time being we must find a place to live."
Emil stopped for a moment, and with a smile reached into his tunic and pulled out a flask and offered it.
Without comment Andrew uncorked it and took a long pull.
"Somehow we've got to make an accommodation with those people out there. You no longer command a regiment— you're the general in charge, and a diplomat now as well."
"So you're telling me to stop worrying and do my job, is that it?" Andrew said coldly.
"Just that you historian types want to know all the answers," Emil responded with a chuckle.
Andrew turned away for a moment. He knew the old doctor was right. For three days the regiment had been here, dug in and terrified. And the terror had been in him as well. Only iron discipline had kept him going, following the mechanical routines of running a regiment. In the evening he sat with Kal, trying to master the language. But when he was alone the cold terror would start to creep in.
Just what was he going to do?
"Worry about keeping us alive," Emil said softly as if reading his thoughts. "Let me spend my time figuring out the hows and whys of it all."
Andrew turned back to the doctor and smiled.
"Where the hell is that Hans? Time for the men to get up. After roll, let's you and me sit down with Kal," and capping the bottle he tossed it back to the doctor.
"Boyar, I Keane see your boyar."
At least that's what Kal thought he heard. Cursed strange how they tried to speak the mother tongue. He looked at Andrew and smiled.
"You Cane, see Ivor, talk friendship. I go back to Ivor and talk peace for you," Kal ventured back in English.
Andrew smiled and nodded in an exaggerated manner. Kal could not help but chuckle inwardly. In three days he'd learned far more of their language than he was willing to let on. Of all the Suzdalians, in fact of all the Rus, he alone could communicate with them. Ivor would really need him now.
For years he'd lived at the edge of Ivor's table, making up bad verse for the scraps of comfort offered to him. And, more than once he'd feared that Ivor might think him just a little too smart for a peasant and have him garroted. It'd been a dangerous game he played, all with one final hope. That when the Tugars came, he and his family would be exempt from the sacrifice, as were the rest of the nobility.
Continue to play dumb, he thought. Just play dumb and learn quietly from these bluecoats. Already he'd seen enough to leave him filled with terror. One of the young bluecoats, the one called Vincent, had shown him how his metal rod could kill an enemy many paces away. Ivor in his fear might try to destroy them and take the metal rods. But if that happened, Kal realized, he'd be out of a job as translator. No, peace would be essential, for him to serve as the go-between and thus secure himself in Ivor's court.
He looked about the tent and smiled his best stupid grin.
"Da, da, yes, friend, bluecoats and Rus, good. Kal talk peace for Rus, for bluecoats."
"Well then, let's get started," Andrew announced, and standing up he beckoned for Kal to follow.
"Kal, take this," Emil said, extending his hand.
Kal took the strange object which he had seen on the faces of Cane, Emil, and a number of other bluecoats.
"For Ivor," Emil said.
"He called the man Weak Eyes," Emil said, looking over at Andrew. "I've got a couple of extra pairs of glasses. Most likely nothing near what the man needs, but it might sway him a bit."
Emil took the glasses from Kal's hands and showed him how to put them on. Kal gasped with amazement, peering around curiously, and then took them off.
"Make Ivor's eyes better," Emil said. "Gift from Cane and me."
The peasant looked at the glasses in awe and nodded.
Stepping out into the reddish light of the noonday sun, the three walked toward the battlement walls. Three days had made the position impregnable, Kal could easily see that. The triangular fort was ringed by an earthen wall, as high as a man could reach, with an eight-foot-deep ditch in front. Even now the men were still working, building platforms for the monstrous metal tubes, one for each corner, and the fourth now mounted on an earthen mound in the center of the camp. Even if these men did not have the smoke killers, they'd be near impossible to destroy, Kal thought, looking about the encampment.
For above even their weapons Kal could not help but notice how the boyar Cane so easily controlled his men. There was something strange here. Cane would chat with even the youngest, tike Vincent, who behaved as if he were a noble. But with merely a soft-spoken word from Cane, all would rush to form their strange lines, standing as straight as their metal tubes.
Another word spoken and five hundred knives would flash out and be attached to the tubes. Another word and all the tubes would be pointed a certain way. Here was a strange power, Kal realized, but a power that strangely did not come from the lash, as he had always assumed power must.
This was not as the world should be. Peasants are to be driven by the lash and fear. Nobles defer to the boyar, but among themselves fight and brawl for prestige and position. And the priests—there were no priests here. No gold robes that all but the boyar must bow to as they spoke the words of submission to Perm, his son Kesus, and the sacrifice of the Tugars.
Still pondering these questions, Kal struggled up to the top of the parapet, Keane at his side.
Kal turned to look back to the colonel.
In Andrew's hand was a small metal flask, which he offered to the peasant.
"Boyar Ivor?" Kal asked.
"Nyet. For Kal," Andrew said, smiling.
Cheerfully the peasant took the flask, and with a wink tucked it into his tunic. With a sweeping gesture, he bent over, his right hand touching the ground. Straightening back up, he slid down the embankment and started back to the Suzdalian camp.
He looked back once more to the one armed boyar in the blue coat. He could not help but like the man.
"Father, the guards report that Kalencka has just come through the south gate. Mikhail has come back with him as well."
Ivor stood up, and tossing a half-eaten pheasant aside he wiped his greasy hands on the front of his tunic.
"It's about time that idiot showed up," and he slapped his son on the shoulder.
"Andrei, that peasant better have their secrets, and some sort of an agreement," Ivor growled.
"Perhaps they could be of some service after all," Andrei ventured.
"If we know their magic, why keep them?"
Ivor didn't venture anything beyond that, even to his son. The threat of the church was only all too real. The church was supposedly neutral in the eternal bickerings between the dozen kingdoms of Rus. Already he was starting to regret his confrontation of the other night. Push the patriarch Rasnar too far and the church might weigh in on the side of his rivals, declaring him heretic. Most likely some of the boyars would not turn on him because of the church and it would still leave him with many of his own landholders feeling nervous. Rasnar had been strangely quiet since their return, and that was cause enough for worry right there.
Walking over to the narrow window of his feasting room, Ivor looked across the great square to the cathedral of the Blessed Light of Perm. Most likely that bastard was looking over here at him, pondering the same questions, he thought darkly.
This problem with the bluecoats had to be settled. He could already sense they were near impossible to destroy, and that was part of the reason Rasnar was pushing him on to try it. Many of his warriors, knights, and peasant levies would die in the attempt, leaving him the weaker. As the most powerful of the boyars, he would suffer, leaving him vulnerable against the others, and still there would be no guarantee that he would know their secrets.
There was the other problem as well. Thousands of peasants and many of his nobility were still out there, watching the bluecoat camp, leaving his marches with Novrod the weaker. And finally there was the simple question of his prestige. If he did not come out of this looking as if he had won, more than one noble would be willing to ally with Rasnar in a bid for power.
Picking up a half-filled tankard, he drained off the contents, then, leaning back, emitted a long sonorous belch.
"Ah, that's better, damn me. Now let's hear what this peasant has to say. Bring him to me."
Kalencka was ushered into the room, with Mikhail at his side.
"Oh mighty Ivor, I come back with important news," Kalencka said, bowing low.
"Have you learned their magic, then?" Ivor ventured.
"That I have done, most noble one," Kalencka replied.
"It is a magic they alone can wield," the peasant replied, keeping his features in a grim countenance. "They have a secret powder that they only can use. If anyone else dares to touch it, he is burned, if he has not permission."
Ivor pulled on his beard.
"But they are in awe of your power as well, my lord Ivor," Kalencka continued, looking straight at his lord with unblinking eyes. "They wish an alliance under your power, to serve you in return for the right to live here and acknowledge you as their boyar."
Kal still held Ivor with his gaze.
"Perhaps we could lull them and then surprise and annihilate them," Mikhail ventured.
"A laudable plan, my worthy noble," Kal said evenly, "but there is still the powder."
Mikhail looked at Kalencka darkly.
"It is a good plan," Ivor said out loud, wishing to show his warlike spirit.
"A good plan, of course," Kal agreed, "but, my lord Ivor, they could add to your power against the Novrodians. Already they've indicated a desire to help you in such matters."
"Will they do this?" Ivor asked.
"Of course, my lord. But it'll take some time, my lord. They are weak from their great journey and desire first to build homes for themselves, and then they will serve."
"Weak, eh?" Ivor mumbled.
"But even weak they still have the magic powder."
Ivor turned away. Damn it all, this required too much thinking. Why couldn't these blue devils simply be armed like other men? Then he could charge in with lance and ax, smash some heads, and give his nobles a good time. Instead there'd have to be thinking done on this one, and Ivor dreaded the prospect.
"Tell their boyar to come to Suzdal to meet with me. In the city he will be more awed by my power." And perhaps I can take him prisoner alone, Ivor thought, a smile lighting his features.
"My lord, their boyar, Cane, has already expressed that desire, but said he wishes to bring the guards that his honor demands."
"Oh, all right then, damn him," Ivor replied.
"As a token of their friendship their healer sent this present," and approaching Ivor, Kal reached into his tunic and pulled out the pair of glasses.
Ivor took the spectacles and gazed at them with open curiosity.
"What devilry is this?" Ivor whispered.
"Their leader, Cane, and the healer both wear them. It confirms power on the user, and gives strength to one's eyes."
Ivor looked darkly at Kal. It was Rasnar who had placed upon him the name Weak Eyes, and though bad eyesight afflicted many, Ivor was highly sensitive about the matter, feeling it was a sign that he was not as noble and manly as others.
"May I?" Kal asked, taking the spectacles from Ivor's hands and extending the ear pieces. Nervously he held the glasses and slipped them onto Ivor's face.
The boyar stepped back with a startled cry. He looked about the room, peering first at Kal and then to the tapestries on the wall.
A grin of delight crossed his usually grumpy features, and he rushed to the window to look out over the square.
Gasping, he looked back at Mikhail.
"It is magic!" Ivor shouted. "Rasnar with all bis healing prayers could never do this. I can see everything!"
Excitedly, Ivor looked back at Kal.
"Such things are dangerous," Mikhail growled darkly.
Ivor turned to his half brother and gave a snort of disdain.
"And you have the weak eyes too, as did our father," Ivor chortled sarcastically. "But I no longer do."
"May I gaze through them?" Mikhail asked, his curiosity gaining the upper hand.
"No! Such things are only for a boyar," Ivor replied triumphantly.
Mikhail said nothing, but Kal could see that his boyar had made a mistake. Ivor could show a fair degree of cunning when need be, Kal thought, but when it came to Mikhail he did not fully realize just how much his bastard half brother held him in secret contempt. The peasant remained silent, not wishing to draw notice by even daring a glance in Mikhail's direction.
Ivor's display of joy lasted for some minutes, until finally the rotund boyar settled back into his audience chair.
"Extend my thanks to this Cane when you go back to his camp," Ivor said. "And look about you sharply to see what other such gifts they might give unto me."
"Of course I am already doing what you command," Kal replied. "But to learn all such things and to serve you best, may I offer a humble suggestion?"
"Go on—what is it?"
"It would be best for you if this humble servant, in the service of the lord, be allowed to live permanently among the bluecoats. Then I could watch them for you throughout the day and night. It was I who first suggested the gift of the glass objects wishing to help my lord. My presence there will mean you will have a loyal spy, who might be able to bring other such things as well, and perhaps learn the secret of their powder.
"I am nothing but a stupid ignorant peasant, so they will trust me more readily. Far better I perhaps than one of your nobles or household who would perhaps arouse their suspicion."
He heard a sharp intake of breath from Mikhail, who stepped forward to speak.
"It is I who should do this instead," Mikhail said rapidly. "This stench-dripping fool is too ignorant for such a task. Better a noble of breeding and intelligence, my brother."
Ivor looked from one to the other and smiled softly.
"The idiot is right," Ivor said evenly. "One who looks as stupid as he will not arouse their mistrust. I therefore decree that only he alone shall be allowed to learn then-speech for now."
And besides, Ivor thought, he is my man, and would not dare to use such knowledge against me.
Kal breathed an inner sigh of relief.
"Their language—is it difficult?" Andrei asked curiously.
"Most difficult indeed," Kalencka replied, rolling his eyes. "A speech not fit for the tongue of any noble Rus."
"Then learn it yourself, damn you," Ivor retorted, " and learn it well."
"Only to serve my lord," Kalencka replied, bowing low.
"You answer only to me," Ivor replied. "If I hear that you are within a hundred paces of Rasnar at any time I will have you flayed alive, and your daughter and wife held for the coming of the Tugars."
Kal could not hide his trembling at the threat, and Ivor chuckled darkly.
What frightened him even more, though, was the look of open hatred Mikhail gave to him. He had guessed right on that one, sensing the noble's plan when he had insisted personally on riding with him back to the city, pumping him for information all the way.
"A good plan, yes, a good plan," Ivor mumbled, looking curiously at his brother and then back to the trembling peasant.
"And mark this well," Ivor said darkly. "Say but one word of the Tugars to them and I'll not kill you on the spot but will save you and your family instead for their festival of the moon passing."
"Never would I do such a thing," Kal whispered.
"Let it be known to all others as well," Ivor said sharply, looking to his speaker of decrees who stood in the corner. "Let it be known by all that whoever attempts to tell the bluecoats of the Tugars will be saved for the festival as well."
Ivor leaned back in his chair. Perhaps Rasnar was right about how the Tugars would feel regarding these bluecoats. He could use them for more miracles like the glasses he held in his hands, but in the end they would go to the pits, thus granting exemptions to others that would beg him for such things when the time came.
"Bring their Cane before me tomorrow morning," Ivor growled. "Now leave me."
And standing up he put the glasses back on and strode from the room, peering about and gasping with amazement.
As Kal withdrew, still bowing, he spared a quick glance to Mikhail, who was looking straight at him.
Do not growl at the wolf so loud that he might hear, Kal thought nervously, for he will never forget the challenge.
"All right then, boys, look sharp now, the colonel's expecting you to act like the soldiers you are. You men of Companies A and B have been selected for this honor—now live up to it."
Vincent tried to push his narrow chest out even farther as Sergeant Schuder stopped in front of him, gazed for a moment, and then with a snort of disgust continued down the line.
Vincent breathed a sigh of relief. For. some reason the colonel no longer terrified him—in many ways he looked on his one-armed commander as a father—but Schuder was more like the old schoolmaster at Oak Grove, ready to explode with Old Testament wrath at the slightest provocation.
From the corner of his eye Vincent saw Keane approaching, with Dr. Weiss riding alongside and Major O'Donald and Kal walking in front of them.
Keane reined his mount up in front of the company and looked the ranks over.
"All right then, lads," Keane said softly, as if addressing a group of friends about to embark on an afternoon stroll.
"Kal here," and he pointed to the peasant standing beside him, "indicates we can make a peaceful arrangement with these people. I'm trusting all of you to do your duty. I want those people out there to see the type of soldiers we are. But one mistake and it could go badly for the lot of us. I expect this to go smoothly, and it's important we don't show the slightest trace of fear. So look and act like soldiers, no matter what you see. If things should turn ugly, you are to fire only on my command, or Sergeant Schuder's. Any questions?"
"Colonel, just where in hell are we?" Vincent could tell by the defiant tone that it was Hinsen.
Keane reined his mount around and came up to stand directly in front of Hinsen. With a cold look, the colonel stared down at the private.
"That is what we are going to find out, private," he said sharply. "Let me worry about that. You're new to this regiment, private, so I'll let it pass this time. But the veterans among you know that the 35th has always seen its way through, no matter what was put in front of us.
"Now, are there any other questions?"
The men were silent.
"All right, then. Major O'Donald is senior in command until I return." As he spoke he looked over to where Captain Cromwell and his crew stood. Vincent instantly sensed that there was some conflict brewing there, the way the two men looked at each other.
"Sergeant Major Schuder, get the men moving."
Hans stalked down the length of the line, sparing a cold glance for Hinsen, to the head of the column.
"Uncase the colors," Schuder roared, in his best parade-ground voice.
The staffs were lowered for a moment and then raised up again, revealing the shot-torn national standard, and alongside it the dark-blue flag of Maine, snapping in the morning breeze, the blue turned almost lavender by the reddish light of the sun.
"Company, right face! Forward, march!"
As one the hundred soldiers turned and started for the sally port. Andrew galloped down the length of the line, to fall in the lead, while a single caisson and field piece clattered into position at the end of the column.
"Sergeant Dunlevy, if there's trouble," O'Donald roared, "give 'em a whiff of double canister," and the artillerymen shouted lustily as they passed before their commander.
The tiny column passed through the sally port, and over a wooden bridge spanning the moat.
Vincent looked around nervously at the open field ahead. Thousands of peasants stood upon the far hills, while ranging out to either side came several hundred horsemen. Schuder had already told them that if there was trouble, they'd simply form a square and fight their way back. But they were only a hundred strong, with a single field piece, while whatever it was they were facing numbered in the thousands. He knew that somehow the colonel was putting on a show of bravado, but it didn't do anything to make him feel any less nervous.
"Musicians, give us a song. 'Marching Through Georgia.' "
The single drummer rolled a flourish, and the fifer started the tune.
"All right, you men, sing, damn you," Hans shouted. "At the top of your lungs now."
"Ring the old bugle, boys, we'll sing another song."
Vincent fell into the step of the tune, a new favorite with the troops, even though it was about Billy Sherman's boys, and the column's step fell into a rhythmic swing.
"Hurrah, hurrah, we bring the jubilee—hurrah, hurrah, the flag that makes men free."
The tiny column crossed the open field of waist-high grass, and cresting the top of the hill, they stepped out onto a rutted road that wove along the side of the ridge.
For Vincent the view beyond was breathtaking, and filled him with a deep longing for home and the woods of Maine. The valley before him was covered with towering stands of birch, mingled with what looked like spruce, stately white pines, and an occasional maple. From the vantage point of the crest, Vincent looked back out toward the sea, and to the west he could see distant hills beyond. The middle of the valley before him was cut by a broad meandering river that curved and wove through the valley, emptying into the freshwater sea a dozen or so miles farther up the shore.
The column pushed on, "Marching Through Georgia" being replaced by "The Girl I Left Behind Me," and then for good measure "The Battle Hymn of the Republic."
The men sang with a will, as much to brace up their own courage as to impress the horsemen around them.
As the minutes passed and the trail turned down toward the river, the open fields gave way to stands of towering timber.
The march was soon into its second hour without a break, and the sweat coursed down Vincent's back. But the colonel would not call a halt, as if to show the watching columns weaving along on either side the toughness of his men.
A lush open field opened up on the left, spreading down from the road to the broad muddy river swirling by. To their right a tumbling stream cascaded down from the hills, and at a rickety wooden bridge over the narrow waterway Keane finally called a ten-minute halt in ranks.
Taking off his hat, Vincent looked around, admiring the view. It was a lovely peaceful spot, with cattle grazing in the field, herded by wide-eyed peasants who stood motionless, staring at the strange procession.
The stream passed by with a merry, soothing sound of dancing lightness, its waters reflecting the curious reddish light of the sun, twinkling and sparkling like liquid rubies.
The brief rest passed all too quickly, and the column pushed on, leaving the tranquil spot behind. The road continued northward, past yet more open fields and stands of heavy timber. A village appeared on the road ahead, and marching through, Vincent was appalled by the disgusting squalor of the place, so unlike the neat, whitewashed villages of Maine. Filthy barefoot children stood in the doorways of the log huts; women who he felt might be only twenty-five or thirty, but looking as if they were fifty, stood silent at their passage.
A single large structure of logs, two stories high and covered with ornate carvings, dominated the rude square in the center of the town, and from its windows a number of women dressed in colorful robes watched as the column passed.
"The local grandee," Bill Webster said. Vincent looked over at the nearly bald private, whom Vincent found to be an intelligent pleasant fellow.
"Everyone in squalor except for the nobles," Vincent replied coldly.
"My pop's a banker," Webster replied, "but he did it on his own, same way I plan to. It don't look like that applies around here."
Vincent was silent, not wishing to pass judgment, but as they left the village behind, he could not help but feel uncomfortable with what he had seen.
The road continued on, until straight ahead the woods rose up in what appeared to be a solid wall of massive pines, the road through them the slenderest of ribbons. A number of horsemen galloped ahead, cutting in front of the column.
"If there's gonna be trouble," Schuder shouted out, "this is as good a place as any. So look lively, boys."
The horsemen, who had kept their distance at the start, had seemed to take nerve. While most held back, here and there a mounted warrior pressed down to within a dozen yards of the column, expression openly hostile. Occasional shouts, which were obviously threats, were hurled in their direction, but with Schuder constantly pacing and repacing the length of the line, no one dared to respond.
From the corner of his eye, Vincent saw one warrior, far bigger than the rest, who kept arguing with the men about him, and then looking back to the column.
His mount alone was enough to give Vincent the shakes. The horse was bigger than a Clydesdale, and with each toss of its head, it revealed twin rows of yellowed teeth that seemed designed for nothing more than biting somebody's arm off.
The warrior was a huge barrel-chested man with a glistening blue-black beard that spilled over his chain-mail shirt and reached nearly to his waist. As if he knew Vincent was watching him, the warrior raised up his right arm and waved a double-headed ax in the young Quaker's direction.
Vincent quickly looked away, and there was a round of hoarse laughter. The axman started to angle his mount in toward the column.
The woods closed in on either side, and through the trees Vincent could see the man tailing him not half a dozen paces off. He knew there was going to be trouble, as sure as if he were back home and turning the corner he had suddenly spied the Pellegrino brothers waiting to beat on "the Quaker sissy."
The woods opened back out again, revealing the river off to their left. Ahead, just to the side of the road, Vincent could see a knot of horsemen, looking toward the black-bearded warrior who galloped up to join them.
Vincent watched the group warily as he marched past, and it felt as if all of them were gazing in his direction and talking darkly. The lone horseman broke away and trotted straight toward Vincent.
The horseman reined up, brushing his mount against the frightened private, forcing him to step back. A gruff laugh erupted from the other horsemen, who started to trot down toward their comrade. Suddenly it seemed as if dozens of mounted riders were streaming out of the treeline to join the knot of men moving toward the column.
Vincent pushed grimly forward, trying to conceal his trembling.
"Ty Ostanovis pered vashim nachal' stvom." (You there, stop for your betters,) the axman roared, cutting his horse directly in front of Vincent, who came to a stop and looked up at the towering form above him. Behind him the rest of the column cluttered to a halt.
"Care for a little hunting?" a gruff voice called.
For the first time since he joined the regiment, Vincent was glad to see Sergeant Schuder, who pushed to the front of the crowd. The horseman remained immovable, looking down at the men with disdain. Vincent could see that Keane, the color bearers, and the musicians had come to a halt. Keane sat motionless, Dr. Weiss by his side, neither one bothering to turn around and watch, as if such a display were beneath their dignity.
With a dramatic flourish, Schuder cocked his Sharps carbine and scanned the sky with such a determined expression that the bearded axman paused and looked up to the sky.
Several raucous crows passed overhead, cawing loudly. In one fluid motion Schuder snapped the weapon to his shoulder. The gun exploded.
End over end, a broken body tumbled from the sky to land on the side of the road, a dozen yards away. The black-bearded warrior gave a shout of terror, his horse rearing up wildly. For a second Vincent thought that both rider and mount would tumble over onto him. The warrior swung his mount around and galloped back to his comrades.
Schuder eyed him meditatively as he cocked his piece and slid in another round.
"Prettiest shot I ever made," Schuder mumbled, after spitting a stream of tobacco juice toward the discomforted warrior.
"All right, damn you, close up," Schuder roared. "We ain't got all day."
Kal came up to stand by Schuder's side.
"Mikhail your enemy," Kal whispered.
"Yeah, well, any time he wants," Schuder retorted, and fixing Mikhail with his gaze, he spat another stream of juice. Turning, he started back up the road.
"Thanks, sergeant," Vincent said as Schuder passed him.
Schuder turned and gazed at the private for a moment.
"You did well, lad," Schuder mumbled, and then, double-timing, he ran ahead to report to Keane, who throughout the affair had not once bothered to look back.
The horsemen gave the column a wide berth, but still continued to ride parallel. Vincent could not help but shoot a quick glance toward Mikhail, who glowered back darkly.
Vincent swallowed hard, and bracing his shoulders he doggedly marched on, joining in as Schuder called for another round of "Marching Through Georgia."
The trail continued to weave its way around low tree-clad hills and gloomy dales thick with the scent of pine, to rise up to pass through an open field that was covered shoulder-high with sunflowers in full bloom.
After yet another bend, the road curved sharply down again toward the river, running along the edge of a sharp ridge. Keane reined his mount in and paused.
Vincent breathed a sigh of relief. They'd been marching hard, and the sweat-soaked wool trousers of his uniform were chafing his legs raw. Perhaps Keane would give them a brief halt again.
The colonel urged his horse forward after a moment, and wearily Vincent stepped forward, but after a dozen paces he saw why the colonel had stopped.
It was something straight out of a fairy tale, and in spite of the discipline the men could not help but voice their amazement.
Kal, falling back through the ranks, pointed forward.
The wooden walls of the city rested on a series of hills reaching down to the very edge of the river in a great arc that finally swung back up over the hills and away from view.
Great log structures three and four stories high crowded in one upon the other in what appeared to be a mad jumble. As the tiny column drew closer, Vincent could not help but exclaim over the wood carvings adorning all the buildings and walls.
Dragons carved out of entire logs and painted with every color of the rainbow twisted and swirled atop the battlements, wrestling with giant bears ten feet tall. Dwarflike creatures seemed to have popped out of the ground like toadstools, their wooden eyes gazing unblinkingly at the tiny column of blue. Other carved creatures like giant totems now lined the road, and Vincent had to suppress a shudder of fear. They stood eight to ten feet high. They appeared to be great hairy creatures, with open leering mouths and fangs that to Vincent's eyes almost seemed to be dripping with blood.
He noticed Kal gazing at the men closely, a sudden look of worry on his face. Something was bothering Kal. He managed to catch the man's gaze. The peasant, noticing him, broke into a smile and came up alongside.
"Suzdal beautiful," Vincent remarked, grinning broadly.
"Da, da, beautiful, yes," Kal responded eagerly.
Vincent looked at the man closely. The others might think him a dumb peasant, but Vincent sensed there was an intelligence to this man that no one had yet to pick up on.
A pealing of bells echoed out across the countryside, the most beautiful sound Vincent had ever heard. This was not the monotone tolling of the single bell in the Methodist church tower back in East Vassalboro. The bells here seemed to cover every note across several octaves, so that it seemed as if a virtual symphony filled the air.
As they approached the main gate of the city the barrier was thrown back, and before him Vincent saw a broad avenue that led into a square. The streets were lined with thousands, all of them silent.
As they crossed under the rounded stone gate, Vincent felt a moment of fear at the sight of the thousands waiting for them. But he quickly saw that his fear was a counterpoint to the fear of those awaiting him. The citizens of Suzdal, though eager to see the strangers, drew back at the approach of the column. Many lowered their gaze, raising their hands in symbols to ward off the evil eye. The column pushed forward into the broad open square several hundred yards across. Vincent looked with amazement at the single stone structure that dominated the center of the city. It was obviously a church of some sort, for the walls facing the square were covered with iconlike paintings that soared fifty feet or more up to the very eaves. To the left of the main door was a towering figure that appeared ghostlike, wrapped in black robes.
Vincent pointed at the figure and looked at Kal.
"Perm. Father God."
To the right of the door was another figure, this one in white with a golden beard. To Vincent's amazement a cross was behind the man.
"Jesus?" Vincent asked tentatively.
"Da, da, Kesus."
Surprised, Vincent looked around to his comrades, who had noticed the massive icon as well.
"Well, I'll be damned," Hinsen ventured, and the others looked at him with disdain. Somehow maybe they were on earth after all, Vincent thought hopefully.
To either side of the two were dark figures, looking almost demonlike in visage, with long hairy bodies, pointed ears, slanted eyes, and sharp glistening teeth. They immediately reminded Vincent of the wooden statues lining the road. Gathered about their feet, smaller figures of men and women stood about them with heads lowered.
"And those?" Vincent asked tentatively.
Kal seemed to hesitate for a moment.
"What are they?" Vincent asked, somewhat more insistently.
Kal shook his head and then turned away.
What were they? Vincent wondered. He could see that the rotund peasant was fearful to speak further on the subject.
Could they be demons? Whatever they were, the images upon the church wall gazed upon them with lust-filled eyes, and he could see a fear in Kal as well at the mere sight of them.
The column crossed the open square. Several knights had pulled in front of Keane and were beckoning him to follow. A massive log structure faced the cathedral from the other side of the square, more ornately carved than any building Vincent had seen so far. A portly man wearing a flowing robe of burgundy came out of the building to stand atop the flight of wooden stairs. To his amazement, Vincent saw that the man was wearing glasses. The low murmur of the crowd in the square dropped away to a whisper, and by the thousands the Suzdalians bowed low, brushing the ground with their extended right hands.
Schuder stepped out from the ranks.
"Company, attenshun! Present arms!"
Vincent snapped to attention and brought his weapon to the present.
The square was silent. Keane swung down from his mount, Dr. Weiss following his lead. Dusting himself off, Keane looked back at the ranks.
"Sergeant Schuder, detail twelve men with Sergeant Barry to go in with me. Unlimber the Napoleon and the rest to form square about it, at parade rest. You're in charge out here, Schuder. Handle any problem as you see fit."
Schuder looked at the men. "First three ranks, fall in behind the colonel, the rest form open square. Now step lively, men."
Vincent realized that he had been detailed to go forward.
"Shoulder arms," Sergeant Barry snapped, and with Vincent in the lead the twelve men stepped forward to come up behind Keane.
Without looking back, the colonel mounted the steps, his men falling in behind. Reaching the top of the steps, Keane drew up before Ivor, snapped to attention, and saluted.
"Colonel Keane of the 35th Maine," he said evenly, which Kal quickly translated.
Ivor looked at him appraisingly, putting on a show of bravado for the thousands in the square. With a snort of disdain he turned about and strode into the building. Sergeant Barry growled softly at the slight to their commander, but a quick look back from the colonel stilled any comment.
Following their commander, the escort marched into the broad dark halls.
Flanking either side of the entryway were two more images like die ones painted on the church wall.
Just what were they? Vincent wondered, for the mere sight of them gave him an uneasy feeling of dread.
Muzta, Qar Qarth of the Tugar horde, rode quietly through the night. This was the time he always loved the most, the gentle settling of the darkness, the march of the day completed. From seventy thousand yurts came the murmuring of his people, the laughter of the children, the voices of his warriors, the singsong chants of the shamans and legend speakers who wove the tales and memories of the Tugar people. Yet as he looked out across the horde he could also sense their fear.
Campfires were springing up, flickering flames to cast back the shadows dotting the steppe from horizon to horizon. Gaining a low crest, he paused for a moment, speaking softly to Bura, his old cherished mount. The horse snickered in reply. Bura had been given to him upon the day he was proclaimed Qar Qarth, King of Kings, ruler of all the clans of the Tugar realm.
"How long has it been, old friend?" he whispered softly.
Over a circling, at least. Curious with the thought, he let his mind drift backward. It was before the cattle city of Constan that his first father had passed. Constan was now four seasons passed yet again.
A hot place, Constan. The cattle there had gained in wealth, sailing their white vessels across the landlocked sea.
It was there as well he had fought his last battle, against the Merki horde, sending them reeling back, leaving the great northern steppes to the Tugar horde.
Now that had been a fight. Three days and nights, the great northern clan of two hundred thousand warriors, to face the half million of the south. Twenty blood clans against fifty, and he, Muzta, leading the final charge, with the great Qubata praising him afterward for his valor.
How they had slain before the inland sea, until the waters ran red with blood. What joy he had felt, the greatest moment of his life. His father dying as only a Tugar should die, leading his host in the great charge.
And since then? He had given his people a complete turning, a total circling of the world, in peace. They had ridden the great northern steppe completely around the world, and none had dared to poach upon their path.
"A quiet evening, is it not, my Qarth?"
Muzta turned and barked a soft laugh of greeting.
"Qubata, old comrade, don't tell me it is already time."
Qubata, first of all the generals of the Tugar horde, edged his mount up alongside his lord and bowed low in the saddle, an action which still caused embarrassment for Muzta.
He could remember sitting upon Qubata's knee, the warrior singing to him the chant of Hugala, how the legendary warrior had been first to ride about the world, proving that the great northern steppe was one.
Even then he was the first of the generals of the clan. But he was Qar Qarth, and so the ritual must be observed. To do otherwise meant death for the offender, for such was the law of the people.
Qubata remained silent, turning his head upward to observe the glowing splendor of the Great Wheel.
"The kuraltai awaits, my lord," Qubata whispered softly.
"Let them wait awhile longer," Muzta replied evenly.
"It is not good, my lord," Qubata prodded. "Tula is again speaking, and there are those who listen."
"I'll remember their names," Muzta replied, looking at his general with a cold smile. "I am still the Qarth."
"And Tula's clan is the strongest in our confederation, my lord."
"I know, curse him, I know."
He found himself half wishing that the Merki horde would return. That at least would divert them from this crisis and allow his people to vent their fear upon a common foe. That was an enemy to be understood, almost loved in a way. Sword could be matched against sword. Of the harvesting of cattle there was no joy for the warrior, only the taking of food. The enemy he faced now was beyond that type of understanding, and it filled him with a quiet dread.
He could not hide out here, for in his heart he knew that was what he was doing. Cursing softly, he kicked Bura into a gallop and started back for the heart of the camp.
As he passed through the encampment of his elite guard, shouts of warning ranged before him announcing the approach of the Qar Qarth. He crested a low hill, and the great yurt came into view. A hundred paces across, its barrel-thick center pole reached to the height of ten; from atop it the horsetail standard fluttered fitfully with the evening breeze. Bringing Bura up to the edge of the platform, Muzta leaped from his mount, and striding past the ceremonial fires of cleansing, he entered into where the clan heads awaited him.
"So, Tula," he said coldly, "I leave to think upon what was said and you fall back into your old position."
The assembly fell quiet. Muzta gazed about the room, fixing each in turn with his gaze. There was no reply.
"It is the right of the clan leaders to speak what is in their heart, my Qarth. Though you are appointed above us, still the Tugar people are free to speak."
Tula came to his feet, stretching his towering ten-foot frame. Rubbing the shaggy growth of coarse brown hair on his arms, he strode to the center of the tent to face Muzta.
The room was silent, expectant. Only a member of the golden clan could be the Qar Qarth, and thus Muzta's position could not be challenged. But it was the right of a clan leader to leave the Tugar horde if he so desired. Such an event could only mean one thing—a bitter civil war, for control of the northern steppe.
"And what is it that you wish to say?" Muzta said coldly.
"The snows of winter have passed, and we have come near to starving. You have decreed that the feeding must be of the old form—only those who spawned may be taken, and those of high birth are to be spared, except at the moon festivals.
"We starve, my Qarth, because of that."
"You think only of your belly for today," Muzta growled.
"If we did otherwise there would be no feeding when we had ridden about the world once again, for the cattle would be gone. We must leave the breeding stock to replenish the fields."
"But if there are no Tugars left because they starve, then what is the purpose? I say let us harvest all the cattle—let us worry about what we eat in the future when the future comes."
Muzta turned away with a snort of disdain.
"He is right, my Qarth." It was Suba, leader of the Merkat clan.
Muzta looked back over his shoulder. So you have turned too, he thought quietly.
"Before we always followed the dictates of our forefathers, who spread the cattle that came to us throughout the world," Suba said softly, rising up to stand by Tula. "We harvested the cattle that had spawned, and those who were not of prime stock. When we rode about the world and returned there would be another generation of food. But that was before the spotted sickness struck the cattle.
"For all we know, the spotted sickness might slay them all. It is a pestilence of fear, my lord. Since first we saw it at Constan, it has swept into a fire, slaying the cattle by the tens of thousands. And since they die, my lord, we starve."
"So slaughter them all, eat now, and then starve later, is that it?" Muzta barked.
"At least then we'll have a chance. We can worry about finding more cattle when we ride back this way again, or sweep into Merki lands and take their cattle."
"And if I say no?" Muzta said coldly.
The room was silent. If there was to be a breaking of the clan it would be now. He already had his plan, had formed it days ago, but he wanted to see what Tula and any of his followers would do.
"Do you want war, then?" Muzta said coldly, fixing each in turn with his gaze.
It was a delicate balance, and he spared a quick glance to Qubata, and could see the concern in the old warrior's eyes.
"If our confederation should break," Qubata said quietly, "know that word shall fly to the Merki horde. For remember what Jemugta, father of Muzta, taught us. If we are but single reeds, scattered to the winds, we shall each be broken, but together we are strength," and as he spoke he pointed to the ceremonial bundle of reeds tied by Jemugta's own hands and lashed to the center post.
"A starving bundle," Tula growled.
"But hear first what it is my lord wishes before you vote," Qubata interjected. And walking to the far side of the tent, he pulled open the sacred scroll, the great map first forged by Hugala.
"We are here, encamped east of Mempus," Qubata stated. "Normally we pass at our leisure to where the cattle of Ninva await us. It is the wish of Muzta that we not stop there for the winter. Rather we shall march quickly, sparing not our mounts, sweeping up to Maya by the end of the season. From the western kingdom of the Maya we move the following spring to their eastern realm of Tultac and then winter the following year here."
And he stabbed at the map with his finger.
"The realm of the Rus."
"But that is four seasons' march in two," Tula retorted.
"Exactly," Qubata replied.
"Our old ones, our young, cannot make that," Suba protested.
"They will have to. Perhaps in doing that we can outrace this spotted sickness and feed to our fill once it is left behind."
"And it will also place us two seasons' march ahead of the Merki to the south," Muzta said softly, his features alighting with a smile as he moved to Qubata's side. "If needs be we can dip southward and grab something extra for our larders."
A number of chieftains smiled at that part of the plan.
The room was silent. He was asking for two tough seasons ahead, four years' ride compressed into two. But if it succeeded they could feed, and yet still preserve the cattle of the northern steppe for when next they rode through here again in twenty seasons.
Muzta looked back at Tula, a smile still lighting his features. His rival was silent. So the trap had worked. He had lured out a clan leader whom he had suspected of wishing to break the confederation, and the information that Suba was behind him was of even greater value. Jemugta had taught him well how to ferret out possible challenges to the golden clan of the Tugars.
"Is there even a need for a vote now?" Qubata said evenly.
The old general watched the interplay. No one could refuse the plan, but he could see the silent rage in Tula and Suba as well. They would need to be watched.
A murmur of approval swept through the tent praising the wisdom of the Qar Qarth, and as Tula returned to his seat, those about him edged away.
Muzta smiled softly.
"Then let us feast!"
From out of the corner Alem, the soothsayer and chooser of cattle, rose up on spindly legs. The old Tugar went to the entry of the tent, which was swept open.
Smiling Alem led two cattle in chains into the tent.
"For the approval of my lords," Alem said softly. There were barks of delight from the assembly. These were prime cattle, not yet of breeding age and obviously of the highest caste.
"Their livers shall be baked in wine sauce," Alem announced. "Crust had already been rolled for the kidney pies, and as a special treat we shall cook their brains inside their skulls."
Alem looked back at his trembling meal and poked them tentatively with his long sharp finger.
The two clung to each other, terror in their eyes.
Muzta surveyed them with disdain.
"Drain their blood well—I want some soup with my meal," Muzta said softly.
Alem with a gleam in his eyes beckoned for the guards to drag the two humans out to the slaughter pit.
At least we shall eat well for tonight, Muzta thought to himself.
Munching absently on the cracked marrow from a cattle bone, he considered the Rus people in their wooden cities and felt a thrill of anticipation. He was partial to their meat, far better than the cattle they would pass by in reaching there. They seemed to have a finer grain to their flesh. With a smile he settled down upon his throne as servants brought in cuts of roasted cattle limbs for an opening snack while the high piercing shrieks of the main course, about to be slaughtered, rent the air.
Attempting to suppress a yawn, Andrew looked about the room. It had been a night without sleep, compounded now by a hangover that made his temples feel as if they were about to explode.
He had expected that there would be a simple straightforward meeting with Ivor, an agreement struck, and then a return back to the encampment. That was mistake number one.
A grand feast had to be presented first. The meal had not been all that bad—most anything was better than the food at the regimental mess—but it had dragged on for hours, so that he felt as if he were being subjected to an endurance test.
The meal had started with baked fish and eels, then progressed to cuts of pork, roast mutton, and what looked like pheasant. But that was only for starters. With great pageantry and fanfare an entire roasted bear was paraded into the feasting hall, still wrapped in its fur, its grimacing bead mounted atop the carcass on a silver pole. That had been a hard one to take, for he had always felt a soft spot for bears, and though raised in the woods of Maine had never found it in his heart to hunt for bear or any other creature.
There had been an underlying level of tension throughout, the fifty-odd nobles about the table eyeing him with outright suspicion, while Kal with his limited ability attempted to explain what was being said.
But the second mistake had been their vodka. Drink after drink was raised, which Kal insisted he must reply to as well, or the nobles would not think him a man.
Somehow he wished he could have put Schuder in his place. The old sergeant would have drunk all of them under the table. He was finally reduced to simply sipping as each toast was raised, and the nobles openly chuckled at his distress.
Emil, however, had pulled it all off in grand style, matching them glass for glass, finally raising a number of toasts himself until the assembly had collapsed into drunken squalor.
Now if only the good doctor could give him a miracle cure for this damned hangover, he thought glumly as he stood up and stretched.
Emil at least could sleep, and he looked across to his friend sprawled out on the cot opposite him. But the luxury of sleep was something he would not allow himself. All of this could still be a trap. He had insisted that Schuder and the men be moved into the courtyard outside his window, where throughout the night the men had stood at arms, half of them asleep, the other half awake. For himself he had sat things out till dawn, revolver in hand.
It could be possible that Ivor was waiting for a lowering of his guard. But even more than Ivor it was the black-bearded warrior Mikhail and the one Kal said was the priest Rasnar, who had briefly appeared at the feast, that worried him the most. Perhaps he could work out something with the boyar, but there were other pieces on the board as well that would have to be played against if they were going to survive here.
A low groan echoed out from under the pile of blankets in the corner.
"My hand to God, I'll never drink again."
A sallow face appeared, bloodshot eyes blinking in what appeared to be a vain attempt at focusing.
"Where the hell are we?" Emil gasped, swinging his legs from the pallet. With a moan he tried to stand up, and then collapsed again, cradling his head in his hands.
"Where are we?" Andrew laughed, shaking his head. "Damned if I know."
"Oh yes, that," Emil replied. He smacked his lips, giving a grimace of disgust at the foul taste in his mouth. Groaning, he made a second attempt at standing, barely succeeding.
Emil fumbled around for his glasses, put them on, and looked about the room.
"If these people aren't descendants of medieval Russians, then I'm a blind man," Emil said, speaking as if every word emitted were a source of pain. "Look at that city out there," and he pointed out the window to the splendor of Suzdal now awash with the golden light of dawn.
Groaning, Emil walked over to the window, and Andrew stood up to join him.
"When I traveled in Russia to visit my family I saw places like this. And that damned drinking ritual, that's Russian, believe me. One good thing, though—wherever we are it's not the Russia of earth. Just curious, I drew a star of David for Kal, and didn't get the slightest response. So my people aren't here, and thus that good old Russian pastime of pogroms isn't one of their hobbies.
"Before I did that I'd been thinking a wild one that somehow we've crossed time, but that's definitely not the case."
"It's not earth," Andrew replied, "yet these people here seem to be from earth. So we still have a mystery."
The two friends paused for a moment, turning their attention to the view out the window. The palace was situated on the highest hill of the city, so all of Suzdal was stretched out before them. All the structures, except for the limestone churches, were built of logs. But these were not the rough cabins Andrew was used to seeing in the backwoods of Maine. Most of the buildings were three, even four or five stories in height. The entire city seemed to be a wood carver's fantasy, the creative talents of the people let loose in elaborate carvings that adorned even the most modest of structures.
Dragons appeared to be leaping from rooftops, angels looked heavenward, bears cavorted, cornices were inter-twinings of warriors in battle, and dwarfs stood as guards before doorways. The buildings were not just the dark color of aged wood, but instead were painted with swirling displays of flowers, trees, geometric patterns, and symbols of various trades, all in a riot of color to make a rainbow look dull by comparison.
Already the streets were aswarm with early risers. Merchants were pulling back the shutters to their shops, some of them already crying out with singsong voices, beckoning for customers to examine their wares. A wreath of smoke hung over the city from thousands of cooking fires, and the savory scent of cooking drifted on the morning breeze.
The air hummed with the voices of tradesmen, shoppers, and laughing children. From the church came the distant sound of a rich and wonderful plainchant, heavy with basses and offset by the high notes of tenors, all of which was counterpointed by the pealing of the multitoned church bells that seemed to give the air a crystalline lightness.
Down by the river the wharves were bustling with activity. The ships lining the shore and dotting the river were a pure delight to the historian in Andrew. They looked like clinker-built long boats straight out of the Viking age. The vessels were somewhat heavier and beamier than the graceful long boats of old, with high sweeping bows and stern-posts, the sides of which were adorned with red and blue paint, drawn yet again in the delightful patterns so prevalent in the city. Many of the vessels were adorned with dragon heads, and he could not help but smile at the sight of them, remembering his childhood fantasies of Viking explorers sailing through the misty seas of Maine.
"Quite a trade system they have, for that many vessels," Andrew said softly. "Must be a number of cities on this river and out across the sea where we wrecked."
"I heard several mentions of a place called Novrod," Emil replied.
"Novrod," Andrew said softly, and his features brightened. "Damn me, Novgorod! It was a major trade city of early medieval Russia. One of their most famous princes, Alexander Nevsky, ruled that city during the Mongol invasion."
EmiPs advice from earlier came back to him. Let others worry about where they were now, even though the curiosity of it all was at times near overwhelming.
"Sergeant Schuder, everything in order?" Andrew asked, leaning out of the window.
Turning from the task of chewing out a private, Schuder strolled over and saluted.
"Still quiet, sir, but some of the men are grumbling because they aren't allowed to eat the food here and are stuck with hardtack and salt pork."
"Can't be helped," Emil replied, loud enough so that the men could hear. "Until we're sure of these people, a little poisoning could eliminate us rather easily."
And besides, Emil thought to himself, grimacing with the memory of last night's meal, the way they serve their food was enough to turn his stomach. He'd given up kosher when he'd come to America, but that was the least of his worries now. The wooden troughs the meals were served in were caked with an accumulation of grease that nauseated him. Sanitary conditions around here were positively medieval, just like the rest of the city, and they could get poisoned anyhow, even if it was unintentional. The hypochondriac in him was already exploring inwardly, wondering when the first effects of that bear meat would hit.
As he looked at the city he shuddered inwardly. He could see people drawing water from the river, even as sailors emptied slop buckets over the sides of their vessels not a dozen feet away. The place had a fetid smell of unwashed bodies, raw sewage, and filth that had most likely been accumulating for generations. Even as he looked across the square he saw a rat scurry out from an alleyway, followed an instant later by several ragged children waving sticks.
An upper window opened on a building across from the palace and a cascade of liquid poured out, its nature all too obvious. He could barely suppress a retch at the sight of it.
Many of the people he watched passing by seemed ill-nourished, with pasty complexions, the poorer folk dressed in little more than rags. The mere contemplation of trying to help solve all the problems of sanitation, nourishment, and health left him feeling helpless. Undoubtedly their surgeons still cut and slashed on victims tied to the table, probing with filthy hands and gore-encrusted instruments. They'd most likely hang him for even trying to suggest any change, for undoubtedly any new ideas would be regarded as witchcraft.
"It looks strangely beautiful," Andrew whispered, looking back at Emil.
Before the doctor could reply, a knock on the door interrupted them. Andrew nodded to the doctor, who went over and unbolted the latch.
It was Kal.
"Sleep well, yes?" the peasant asked, stepping into the room with a bright cheery smile.
Andrew nodded in reply. Kal looked closely at Emil, and his broad peasant features crinkled up, his eyes showing the merriment that a drinker feels at the sight of a hungover comrade.
With exaggerated gestures Kal placed his hands to his temples and groaned.
"Shut the hell up," Emil snapped, turning away.
Kal stepped back through the door, beckoned, and then reentered the room. Behind him a young girl of sixteen or seventeen stepped into the room carrying a tray laden with cups and a steaming pot-of tea. She was dressed in a simple peasant dress of white, embroidered around the high collar and hem with blue thread. The dress was bound tightly at the waist, showing off a slim girlish figure. Her strawberry-blond hair peeked out from under a plain white scarf. Smiling nervously, she stepped into the room, her eyes the same pale blue as Kal's, her high cheekbones, full lips, and smiling features so identical to Kal's that Andrew realized immediately that it was the translator's daughter.
Smiling, Andrew gave a bow of acknowledgment that caused the girl to blush and lower her eyes.
Andrew pointed to Kal, still smiling, and then to the young girl.
"Da, uh, yes, Cane. Daughter, Tanya."
Emil stepped forward and bowed formally as well, to Kal's evident delight and Tanya's confused embarrassment. Coming back up, his face contorted in a grimace, he groaned and rubbed his temples.
With a conspiratorial wink Kal patted Emil on the shoulder. Reaching into his tunic, he pulled out a ceramic flask, uncorked it, and poured some of the contents into one of the cups of tea.
"Hair of the dog, is it?" Emil said, taking the cup. Sipping the scalding hot drink, Emil mumbled to himself and then quickly drained off the cup.
Kal watched him expectantly. Suddenly the doctor's features started to lighten.
"Well, I'll be damned," Emil exclaimed. "There was a touch of the juice in that, to be sure, but there was something else as well, and by heavens it's cleared the cobwebs away."
Andrew tried a cup, and to his amazement the slightly minty drink worked the same effect, and within minutes he felt refreshed.
"Look better," Kal said, still grinning, "See Ivor, talk peace now."
"Let's get this over with," Andrew replied. "We've been away from the regiment too long already. I want to get back today—otherwise Pat might bring all the boys up here thundering for our release."
Buckling on his sword, with Kal's help, Andrew went over to the window.
"Sergeant Schuder, we're going in for the meeting now."
"Be careful, sir," Hans said, lowering his voice. "If it starts to look like trouble, just fire off a shot, and the boys and I will be in after you."
"We'll be all right, Hans."
This was a different type of combat, and he could see that Hans was uneasy about it, wishing to be alongside his colonel, carbine ready, rather than standing outside worrying.
"Nothing but a little bluff work now, Hans. The weapons have them half scared already. Just relax and I'll be out shortly."
"Take care, colonel," Hans said, and to Andrew's surprise the sergeant reached up and patted him lightly on the arm.
Andrew could not help but smile at this momentary break with formality, something he had not seen since Hans found him in the hospital at Gettysburg and the old soldier had burst into tears at the sight of him.
"All right, Kal, let's get this over with."
He bowed again to Tanya, and as he did so he could not help but notice the beauty of the girl, and the proud look of her father that Andrew had shown such formality to one of his class.
"They're in there meeting with him right now," Mikhail said coldly, the disgust in his voice obvious.
"Ah, my son, so that disturbs you."
"It is an evil," Mikhail replied, looking straight into the prelate's eyes.
"But of course," and as he spoke Rasnar beckoned to his personal secretary to pour some tea.
"Well done, Casmar," Rasnar said, waving for the priest to withdraw.
"It is good to know that there are loyal members to the holy church such as yourself, Mikhail," and as he spoke he made a sign of blessing over the bearlike warrior and beckoned for him to take a seat.
"It is good you came and talked to me over these last several days," Rasnar continued smoothly, sitting down beside Mikhail. "I can see why you are distressed by this foolish decision of your brother to make a peaceful agreement with the blue devils."
"There are others who feel as I," Mikhail growled. "My brother is a madman. Even if the devils are humans, they are foreigners, and thus suspect. They even make the holy sign of blessing backward and thus mock you and our holy church, yet still Ivor will deal with them."
"Abomination," Rasnar replied smoothly.
"Since Ivor received that demonic gift to cure his weak eyes he has been bewitched by them."
"Perhaps he has been driven mad by the gift," Rasnar said softly.
Rasnar fixed the warrior with his gaze. Of course, he knew that each of them was playing a game with the other. As an illegitimate brother to Ivor, Mikhail had no direct hope to the throne of the arch boyar—as long as his brother lived, that is. And of course the appearances in his chambers over the last several days were an open bid for support.
"You realize," Rasnar said quietly, "that I have often wished that things had been somewhat different."
"And how is that?" Mikhail asked cautiously.
"Just that I have always wished that your father had brought your mother to the altar rather than Ivor's," the prelate said evenly.
"My brother should be the bastard," Mikhail growled darkly. "That fat damned weak-eyed fool. I should be the boyar of Suzdal, dammit—I should be the one!" As he spoke he pounded the table with his fists.
"Exactly as I've often thought and wished," Rasnar replied.
And of course you would be far more pliable, the priest thought, still smiling in an understanding way.
"You know, of course," Rasnar said, "that holy church would view a change with the utmost understanding and would speak well of it from the pulpit. If the bluecoat leader should fall, I daresay his fellow demons would quickly be defeated, then their weapons would be properly stored away in the hands of the church where they rightfully belong."
Mikhail looked darkly at Rasnar.
"But the church would be willing to give several such devices to its most loyal servants," Rasnar added dryly, and Mikhail smiled.
"It is time for my morning prayers," and the tone of his voice was one of dismissal. "But know, my friend, that your loyalty to holy church will bring you blessings."
With a bow Mikhail turned and started for the door.
"I will remember your name in my mass this morning, but act quickly, my friend, for such a chance to have then-leader away from protection might not come again," Rasnar said, and the warrior turned, looking back at the prelate with a crafty smile.
The door closed, Rasnar could not help but chuckle. So the brother was willing to knife brother over this issue. He had none of the guile of Ivor. Most likely his pride had been wounded by the encounter on the road and the incident over the glasses, and now it could only be salvaged through destruction. He had planted the suggestion of Mikhail being the translator, but that damned peasant had ruined that idea as well. Mikhail never was one to understand diplomacy; he could well imagine what he and his confederates were planning to do at this very moment.
The father of Mikhail and Ivor had led the boyars revolt against the church power, stripping its direct right to the tithe of the peasants and declaring that the boyar of Suzdal was the supreme ruler of the church.
It was time to wrestle that control back, and perhaps the bluecoats could be the catalyst. Mikhail would be most pliable indeed, and when there was no longer a need an accident could be arranged and then the church would rule and nobles would answer, as it had once been.
The door opened and the young priest entered, bowing low.
"Order up a mount and courier. I might have orders to go out to the prelates of the other cities within the hour."
"I want them to swear full allegiance to me alone," Ivor said evenly, "to serve as my guard in time of war, to enforce my rules in time of peace. Tell them that."
Kal turned away from his lord and looked across at Andrew.
"Ivor says, peace between you and him. You help him and he help you in return."
Andrew nodded sagely, putting on a display of profound thinking. In spite of the rifles and artillery he knew the Suzdalians had the advantage. If need be they could simply starve them out, or just swarm over them, using their thousands of peasants in wave attacks. They needed time to repair the ship and gain their bearings. If at a later date things got too uncomfortable, they could always pack up and leave for some other place. He had to come to some sort of an agreement, even if it meant serving this nobleman for now.
"It sounds as if it might be acceptable, but there must be guarantees."
Kal looked back at Ivor.
"He begs to accept."
Ivor grunted an assertion.
Andrew leaned over to Emit, and regardless of the issue of politeness he started to whisper.
"Do you somehow sense this Kal isn't quite translating straight?"
"Son, he's had only six days to learn what he has—don't push the man."
"Still," Andrew said, "I think that peasant is smarter than the entire lot of them, maybe sharper than all of us as well. I wouldn't be surprised if for every word he acknowledges knowing he's picked up ten on the side."
"What is it that those two are whispering about?" Ivor asked, looking at his two guests with a jaundiced eye.
"My lord wishes to know if you will accept his offer as stated," Kal said, looking back at Andrew.
Andrew sat silent, fixing Ivor with his gaze.
"We shall want our own land, on the river, between the sea and this city. If we wish to leave, we must be free to do so."
Kal listened carefully to what was being said. He thought he understood correctly the part about the land. How was he going to get past this one? So far he'd played it off successfully, letting each side hear what he wanted, speaking in a gray area and making each think that the other was eager for an understanding.
But the land issue would be tough. No one demanded land of a boyar, it was given. He knew as well that the bluecoats wished to stay together and to live alone while Ivor wanted them separated and scattered.
Kal looked over at Ivor.
"They are eager to be your vassals."
He hoped that Ivor would make some concession for that.
"Then tell them that they will be broken into small groups and assigned to serve under my border watchers."
Kal gulped, for there was no way he could get around this arrangement.
In the background, Kal heard a muffled shout, and the unmistakable sound of steel striking steel.
Ivor, ever the warrior, reacted in an instant. Kicking back from the table, he swung out his two-handed sword and raced for the door.
Barely had he reached it when the low rounded portal smashed in on its hinges. Kal, knowing what was coming, dived under the table and scurried for the far corner of the room.
Dance with the wolves and get bitten if the music stops, he thought ruefully.
"Mikhail, you bastard!" Ivor roared.
Ivor fought desperately to hold the door but gave back before the crush. As Mikhail cleared the doorway, swinging his two-handed ax low, other warriors piled in after him.
There was a thunderous explosion. Startled, Kal looked up to see Andrew holding a short metal tube, with smoke powering out.
There was a moment of stunned silence as all turned to face Andrew. The man next to Mikhail crumpled to the ground, blood pouring from his mouth.
"Those who die killing demons go to paradise," Mikhail roared.
With a wild shout his cohorts poured into the room after him.
"Ivor, to me!" Andrew shouted. The boyar, still trading blows with his brother, looked back to the bluecoat. Realizing that he was about to be surrounded by men pressing in to either side, Ivor broke off and rushed back to the far corner of the room, where Andrew and Emil stood back to back.
There was another roar, and another, and two more warriors were pitched to the ground, the one next to Mikhail spraying those about him with a shower of blood and brains.
"Emil, take the gun!" And tossing the revolver to the doctor, Andrew unsheathed his blade and pressed up to Ivor's side. A warrior, nerving himself, rushed in on Andrew, battle-ax raised high. Turning, Andrew jumped aside, and with raised point drove his weapons into his opponent's throat. The pistol barked again, knocking another man over.
"Two rounds! Hold them!" Andrew shouted.
"For what, damn it?" Emil cried, and the pistol barked again, bowling over a man coming straight at him with lowered spear.
Screaming with rage, Ivor cut at his brother, who warily kept to the side of the room, putting Emil between himself and his attacker.
The pistol exploded again, bowling over a man who had leaped atop the table with a crossbow. The weapon snapped off as he pitched over, driving the dart into the ceiling.
"Goddammit!" Emil roared, hurling the now empty revolver at the next warrior approaching him. The warrior went down, a chair shattering across his back. Kal stood up, holding the broken back of the chair, and reached down and scooped up the empty revolver.
Closing his eyes, he squeezed the trigger as another warrior closed in. The weapon clicked on an empty chamber, but the warrior it was pointed at stopped dead in his tracks anyhow, his face pale with fear.
"The magic is gone!" Mikhail shouted. "Finish them!"
There was a moment of silence as if both sides were somehow taking measure of the other. Warily, another warrior closed in on Andrew, who, not waiting for the attack, leaped forward, catching the man in the face, driving his blade through bone and muscle. His victim fell back, screaming.
Suddenly there was an echo of gunfire from out in the hallway.
"Hans, in here!" Andrew roared.
A volley of musketry tore down the hallway. There was a wild explosion of action as the warriors still pressing into the room turned to face their new foe.
"Present, fire!" Another volley echoed out, and the attackers, with wild shouts of panic, broke and poured out of the room. Mikhail, shouting with rage, made one last blow toward Ivor and, turning, fled from the room, Ivor storming after him.
Andrew, running after the boyar, slammed him up against the wall.
"My men will shoot you!" Andrew screamed.
Ivor, his face contorted with rage, started to turn on Andrew, but Kal rushed forward, shouting an explanation.
"In here, Hans."
Pointing his carbine at chest level, Hans pushed his way into the room. When he saw Andrew a slight smile crossed his lips.
"A little fun in here, I see," he said grimly, poking one of the bodies with the toe of his boot.
Hans stuck his head back out the door.
"Well done, boys. Let the others chase the dogs down." He came back into the room.
Andrew patted the sergeant on the shoulder.
"Saw about thirty of these heathens stroll into the palace looking rather grim, so I thought it'd be best for me and some of the boys to kind of follow behind just to make sure everything was all right," Hans said softly, looking about the smoke-filled room.
The palace was now in an uproar as Ivor's guards, rousing themselves at last, came pouring into the corridor.
Kal came up to stand by Andrew's side. Nervously he extended the pistol, handle first.
Smiling, Andrew took the weapon and holstered it, and then looked over to Ivor. Andrew could not help but notice the shocked look in Ivor's eyes at the sight of Kal holding the weapon.
"Tell your Ivor we want land, and a place to live, or we'll take our services elsewhere," Andrew said quietly.
"And Kal, make sure you translate correctly," he added, smiling.
The peasant forced a weak smile and turning to Ivor started to speak rapidly.
"From the looks of things," Andrew said evenly, looking back over to Emil, "he's going to need us as much as we need him."
"Here it comes, colonel!"
Smiling at Private Hawthorne's excitement, Andrew stepped out of his cabin and started down toward the river, keeping a stately pace, his new orderly, barely able to contain his schoolboy enthusiasm, walking beside him. He could feel the excitement of the moment as well, but dignity demanded that he show an outward calm. As he walked through the encampment he felt a quiet sense of pride at all that had been accomplished.
It had been four weeks since the fateful meeting with Ivor. Mikhail, in his attempt to kill Ivor, if anything guaranteed the existence of the regiment, for at least the time being. Andrew had left the palace with a grant of land, which they might choose, along with a steady supply of food, in return for protection against Mikhail, who had fled to Novrod, where Boyar Boros had offered him protection.
With O'Donald and Emil they had picked their site out with care. Emil had insisted that a fresh stream, emitting from a spring, was essential for their water. O'Donald wanted a clear field of fire for the artillery, Tobias a deep anchorage for the Ogunquit. Then there was the question of wood supply for the cabins, and firewood. They had to be close enough to Suzdal for trade, but far enough away so that if Ivor plotted a move against them there'd be enough warning.
It had taken several long hard days of riding back and forth across the countryside to pick the site, which in the end was the place where they had paused for a rest on that first march toward the city. Andrew looked about him and smiled inwardly. He had selected well.
Fort Lincoln, as they had named their new home, was positioned on a low bluff looking out over the Neiper River . They had laid out a square perimeter a hundred and fifty yards on a side. The men, who had practiced such work for survival before Petersburg , had set to the digging with a will. A ditch fifteen feet across and eight feet deep had been excavated the length of the perimeter, the earth piled up to form a parapet topped with sentry posts. Firing platforms for the infantry, which were flanked on the four corners by massive salients for artillery, were set so that all approaches could be swept by a deadly hail of fire.
Singling out the men who had been lumberjacks back in Maine, he had sent them into the high stands of pines to start harvesting the thousands of logs needed for the town, while the rest of the men started in with the digging.
Once the fortification was completed the men had turned their attention to living quarters, using the stacks of logs that had been snaked down from the woods above the new town. Company streets were laid out in the standard checkerboard pattern. As if looking for a sense of home in a foreign land the men insisted that there be a town square, a request which Andrew readily agreed to.
The Presbyterians in the company had already erected a small log church on the north side of the square, while the Methodists under Captain Bob Fletcher of Company B were already talking of building a sawmill so they could build a proper clapboard church on some ground staked out to the south of the square.
Andrew had designated the east side of the square as the living area for officers, staff, Kal and his family, and Miss O'Reilly and for the infirmary. Her cabin had been one of the first to go up, and the men of Fletcher's company, who had volunteered to build it, had lavished the simple structure with loving detail, managing to somehow trade for some panes of glass so she could have a real window. Kal's wife, Ludmilla, was soon a regular guest there, and curtains had been added to the window, with a plot of transplanted flowers lining the snake rail fence the men had put up around her new home.
Across the square on the west side, volunteers were already laying out the foundation for a regular town meeting hall, to go up alongside the planned armory, their efforts yet another attempt to recreate home in this strange and distant land.
Almost all the soldiers' cabins had been finished, and homey touches were starting to crop up. Street signs had come first, with all the old traditional names—Maple, Oak, Church, and Main. The martial names were there as well, Grant, Sherman, Antietam, and for the main north-south thoroughfare the honored name of Gettysburg, where the regiment had known its finest hour.
In the free time Andrew granted after a day of labor on fortifications, cutting lumber, and the myriad of tasks needed to settle in, the men had started to show their creative skills.
Several had turned their attention to woodcarving, as if inspired by the Suzdalians' exotic carvings. American eagles were popular as adornments over the doors of the small soldiers' huts, as were carvings of women, ships, and even a map of Maine.
Nearly every day a delegation of men came to Andrew looking for his approval for a project. To his delight, Jacobsen and Gates, both from Company C, had come to him only that morning. Jacobsen pointed out that he knew how to make paper, while Gates suggested that he might be able to carve out a set of type and thus start a newspaper. Andrew readily gave both of them permission to try their hand at it and exempted them from all duties except the daily drill.
Outside Fort Lincoln, another town had started to spring up as well. Unlike the encampment, this was a haphazard affair that Andrew was coming to realize was the typical approach of the Suzdalians.
Merchants had quickly set up shops, first under nothing more than tattered awnings, which over the weeks were converted into rough-hewn cabins. Now there were several hundred living in the informal village, their shops and homes lining the path which had been cut up to the main road to Suzdal.
Fortunately for the regiment, the rate of exchange was excellent. Most of the men had some coins on them, or greenbacks, which the Suzdalians honored with enthusiasm, if for no other reason than their value as ornaments and curiosities coming from the hands of the men who were now known as Yankees.
Gold and silver were already part of the Suzdalian economy, and a man lucky enough to have a handful of silver dollars or a gold twenty-dollar piece was considered to be fabulously wealthy. Beyond money, most anything the men owned was highly sought after. An issue of Harper's Illustrated Weekly had almost triggered a riot when a private had pulled it out of his haversack and offered it in trade for a bearskin. With that revelation the men had taken of late to cutting out pictures and even the newsprint for trade.
Andrew had been forced almost immediately to issue the strictest of orders against any trade involving powder, bullets, even the percussion caps for the muskets, which the Suzdalians looked upon with superstitious wonder.
The issue of powder had really worried him, since several merchants had appeared one night, offering significant sums in gold for nothing but a single cartridge. Fortunately they had approached Sergeant Barry, who had spurned the offer and reported the incident. Knowing that the mystery of powder was important to their survival, he had paraded the entire regiment immediately and placed down a law that any man caught in such a trade would receive six months in the yet-to-be-constructed guardhouse for such an action.
Fortunately the men had taken the warning to heart, knowing it was in their best interest. But as an additional precaution all men were to turn in their loose rounds and were issued two ten-round sealed packages for immediate use, which were to be checked daily by their company officers.
He had attempted to place injunctions against another form of trade as well, especially after seeing a woman sauntering outside the north gate wearing an infantryman's kepi hat.
Emil had dragged the entire regiment out on parade that night and given them a bone-chilling lecture about what might be caught, spiced with dire warnings about the ultimate effects. Andrew knew that it was useless. Several men in the regiment were down with a social disease and still under treatment with mercury by Emil. He had called them in for a special talk and made it quite clear that if a single Suzdalian contracted anything he'd have them whipped about the camp and would consider turning them over to Ivor for justice. The threat was empty in that respect, but the last thing they needed was to start an epidemic which could be traced directly back to the regiment in short order.
Emil had already been in a boil about that and disease in general, so horrified was he by the medieval conditions of the Suzdalians. Nothing had happned yet, and he could only hope that Emil's precautions would spare them.
The water coming down from the hill and running near the north wall was crystalline pure. At Emil's insistent demands the Suzdalians who had set up camp outside the gate were forbidden to wash in the stream, and only to draw water where the rest of the regiment drew theirs.
Emil had run around frantic in the first couple of weeks, personally overseeing the location of the regimental sinks, shouting about proper sanitation, inspecting the men for lice, and demanding weekly baths in the Neiper River. The men bore his orders with good-natured grumbling, having realized after two years' experience that somehow this physician's requirements had spared them the dreadful disease rate of the rest of the Union Army.
So far the men had been as healthy as any regiment could expect to be. One man had died, injured when a falling tree had backlashed, crushing him to the ground.
He was the first to rest on what they now called Cemetery Hill, and Andrew had noticed the impact it had on the Suzdalians to see that a Yankee could bleed and die the same way they could. It seemed that after his death the Suzdalians who came to gaze at the camp were not so filled with superstitious fear.
A high-pitched shriek rent the air and roused Andrew from his thoughts. Falling in with the other soldiers rushing by, he climbed the riverside parapet and looked out over the flowing Neiper.
From around the bend in the river the Ogunquit was now in view. The ship moved briskly against the current, smoke pouring from its single stack.
Hundreds of Suzdalians lined the riverbank shouting with wonder at the sight of a ship moving against the current, without oars, its masts bare-poled.
Kal, wide-eyed with wonder, came up to Emil.
"How do you do this?" he exclaimed.
"Ah, it's not magic, my friend, just a machine, like the other machines I told you about."
"You Yankees and your machines," Kal mumbled in awe.
A jet of steam escaped from the ship, and a second later the sound of the high-pitched whistle echoed past the camp yet again.
"Go ahead, my lads, give 'em a salute!" O'Donald roared, and in response to his command one of the Napoleons on the encampment wall kicked back with a thunderous roar that mingled with the triumphant shouts of the men from the 35th.
"Tobias will be insufferable now," Emil said, coming up to Andrew's side.
Tobias had argued vehemently in favor of locating the camp right where the ship had come to rest, but even he was finally forced to admit that the site Andrew had selected for their encampment was far more hospitable than the windswept dunes that had been their first landfall in this new world.
Anything that could be moved had first been stripped from the vessel. Tons of equipment for the North Carolina campaign had been stored belowdecks, and as the ship's manifest had been brought ashore Andrew found himself breathing an inner sigh of relief.
There were rations enough for six months, along with half a million rounds of rifle ammunition and two thousand rounds for the field pieces. There were thousands of yards of rope, hundreds of uniforms and shoes, lamps, coal oil, tents, shovels, picks, axes, medicine, including ether, and the myriad personal effects of six hundred men and one woman.
With all the burden removed, cables had been run to shore, the ship had finally been keeled over, and the gaping hole near the bow repaired.
Next came the hard part, refloating the ship. Cables were run out through the bow and anchored firmly in deeper water. First the men had tried to pull her off by hooking the cables to the capstan, but even with sixty men on the bar the ship refused to budge.
Finally it had turned into a massive engineering project under Tobias's direction. Pilings were sunk a hundred yards forward of the ship. Once a secure foundation was laid, a massive vertical windlass was secured on shore.
On the appointed day, nearly the entire regiment turned out. Several cables were run out from the ship to the heavy blocks attached to the pilings and then back to shore. Straining at the bars, joined by the half-dozen surviving mounts and a dozen horses loaned by Ivor, the men had set to. For several long minutes the hundreds of men had strained at the bars, cursing and swearing as the ship seemed glued to Kal took good-naturedly, while his wife looked at him wide-eyed, as if her husband had suddenly gone mad.
With watery eyes, Kal drained off a glass of vodka, and though he gamely kept the cigar alight, the puffs were with little enthusiasm.
"How do you Yankees find pleasure in this?" Kal finally asked, still gasping and looking slightly green for his effort.
"I wonder myself at times," Emil retorted. "Always had my suspicion the filthy habit can kill you."
"You people are such a mystery," Kal said, pulling the cigar out of his mouth and looking at it meditatively, imitating the manner that Andrew used when smoking his pipe.
"And how's that?" Andrew ventured.
"This thing you call the Union, for one. I'm curious. Your Private Hawthorne's told me about Boyar Lincoln. But a boyar he sounds not like at all. A boyar that frees slaves, and a country where free men fight to do the freeing of those chained to the soil?"
"The Union we fought for is our country," Andrew replied, and he looked around the table at his men. "Every man and woman here volunteered to fight to save that country. We believe that all men are created equal."
Slightly incredulous, Kal looked at the colonel, and putting the cigar back in his mouth, he puffed contemplatively.
"As I learn more of your language, and the thoughts it expresses, the more I am confused."
"Why should men of noble birth fight to free those who are born to work the soil and woods?"
"Because it is what our country stands for. In America we have no nobles."
"But Boyar Lincoln who you drink to?"
Andrew laughed softly, shaking his head. He'd heard Lincoln called many things. During the worst days of the war, before Gettysburg, even he had cursed Lincoln for the fool commanders appointed to lead the Army of the Potomac. But it was a soldier's right to curse bis leaders, and he imagined that even Lincoln would understand that. But Lincoln as a boyar was a first.
"Lincoln is not a boyar, not even a noble. He came of the peasants the same as you and I. The home he was born in was the same as the cabin I and my men now live in. He is one of us, Kal. In America there are no nobles, no boyars, no peasants, only free men, all of them equal. There were some in our country who thought otherwise, and in the end we had to fight them to end the evil of slavery."
Leaning back in his chair, Emil cleared his throat, and immediately Andrew realized the mistake he had made. Relations with Ivor were still tense. Neither side had yet to figure out what accommodations were to be made between the two societies. In his heart he knew it would most likely come to a head sooner or later. He preferred later. Given enough time they could at least get organized, and if needs be search out some land to claim their own, beyond the control of Ivor, or the other boyars and find refuge there. Or even better perhaps find a way back home.
But what he had just said was revolutionary for the Suzdalians. He found it strange that a society could exist with absolutely no concept of personal freedom and equality. As a historian he knew the genesis of American freedom was born out of the social order of England. He knew as well that the brutal autocracy of Russia had been created as a means of surviving under the Mongol yoke.
The thought of that started his mind to thinking. For two hundred years the Russians had lived under the threat of total annihilation if they dared to defy their conquerors. The nobles had maintained order for their eastern masters and thus guaranteed life both for themselves and for the peasants. While England was planting the first seeds of representative government, Russia had, and of necessity, been ruled by the lash.
The thoughts started to merge together, but he suppressed the temptation to ask, and instead shifted back to a more immediate concern.
"What I've just said"—is this for your lord Ivor's information, or for your own knowledge?" Andrew asked.
Kal merely smiled.
"And what do you think my lord Ivor would say of this idea you speak of—this Union and boyars who are of the people and not the nobility?"
Still trying to smile, Andrew could only shake his head.
"I don't think he'd like it," Andrew said evenly, looking straight into Kal's eyes. Hell, he could just imagine it. The huge boyar would undoubtedly explode in a wild torrent of curses, in the same way he had when they had met only the day before and Andrew asked for an increase in the allocation of food. That had only been placated when he had promised the nobleman a ride aboard the Ogunquit, which was scheduled for tomorrow.
"I think you are right," Kal replied, chuckling as if they were now sharing a joke.
Andrew breathed an inner sigh of relief. Somehow he trusted this man, and felt that the peasant had thrown in with him.
"You know something, Kal?" Emil said, leaning over the table. "We're all amazed at how fast you've learned our language—your translations have helped us tremendously—-but I've had the feeling that you don't quite translate everything that's said when we meet with Ivor."
Kal showed the most innocent grin possible.
"Just whose side are you on?" Andrew asked, still smiling.
"Why, the people's side," Kal said evenly, and the assembly laughed good-naturedly at the response.
"You'll be a politician yet," O'Donald cried.
"Is that good, this politician thing?" Kal replied.
"Depends on who you speak to," Emil said evenly, patting Kal on the shoulder.
Andrew watched the man closely, the earlier temptation to ask the question coming back again. He felt that bis man was at ease.
"Tell me, Kal," Andrew ventured in an offhand manner. "Those statues we've seen, and the painting on the wall of the church. Just what are those creatures, anyhow?"
For a mere second Kal's features froze, and turning, he looked back at Andrew.
"What statues?" he asked quietly.
"The ones lining the road. Those horrible-looking things nearly twice the height of a man. It's like they're all covered with hair, and what teeth on them!"
"Just old gods," Kal said quickly. "Hell creatures destroyed by Perm and Kesus."
"Strange I see them nearly everywhere," Andrew continued. "I heard a mother say something to a child the other day. I think she called them Tugars."
It was the look in the mother's eyes that had unnerved him. The child had pointed, obviously asking a question, she had said the word "Tugar," and then with obvious fear had quickly turned the child away.
But it was not Kal who reacted. As he said the word, Tugar, Tanya and Ludmilla both looked at him with a start.
Obviously flustered, Kal fumbled for a response.
"They are nothing," he said quickly. "I believe it is time that I go."
Standing, he turned to Andrew and gave the traditional bow, right hand extended so that the fingertips swept the ground as he bent over. Ludmilla and Tanya did likewise.
Rising from the table, Andrew followed them to the door.
Putting his arm around Kal's shoulder, he stepped outside into the starry night.
"Did I upset you by asking of the Tugars?" Andrew asked.
With frightened eyes, Kal looked up at the colonel.
"Before no one, but especially Ivor or Rasnar, say that word. It is dangerous."
"But if they are only banished old gods, like our devil back home, why should you be afraid?"
"This is different," Kal said. "It will not go well if they know that you are aware of such things."
Andrew could see the fear in Kal's eyes, and nodding an agreement he patted the man on the shoulder.
"Tomorrow, then, we shall take Ivor for his ride on the boat?"
Kal merely nodded, and taking the hand of his daughter and his wife, started down the village green to the cabin which Andrew had arranged for them.
Andrew returned to the officers' mess, and he could see that the men were waiting for him.
"So what the hell is this Tugar business?" Tobias growled from the other end of the table.
"Damned if I know," Andrew said, settling back into his chair.
"Scared the bejeebers out of the man," O'Donald replied, drawing on his cigar.
"And the girl as well," Kathleen ventured.
"Well, I think we should ask this Ivor and find out," Tobias announced.
Startled, the assembly fell quiet. Something about his earlier musings and the reaction of Kal was connecting half a thought. What it was Andrew wasn't sure. But he knew it would be dangerous to ask any questions now.
"I'm ordering all of you to forget this conversation. If I hear you or anyone else in this camp say the word Tugar,' I'll haul you up on charges. There's something dangerous about asking, Kal told me that, and I believe him."
"Peasant superstition," Tobias growled. "And besides, what damn charges will you press, colonel, sir? I have a right to freedom of speech."
"You can say what you want, captain, as long as it does not contradict my orders," Andrew said slowly, "but I am in command of this unit until such time as we ever find a way home. And I am ordering every man here never to make reference to these Tugar creatures."
With a snort of disgust, Tobias leaned back in his chair. Andrew waited for a response, but the captain was silent, eyeing him with contempt.
"Now there is other business to attend to. The encampment is basically completed, and the ship has been freed. Therefore, starting tomorrow, I'm granting leave, starting with one company a day, so the men can go into the city."
"You think that wise, Andrew?" Emil asked.
"That place is a pestilence waiting to happen. I don't like the idea of the men going in there. Won't surprise me if there's plague or some such thing just waiting to happen."
Andrew could well understand the argument. He had wrestled with it as well. He wished he could just keep the men within the stockade, limiting contact until such time as they had their bearings and were ready to move on. But they were men. Morale was slipping badly. In the first weeks, mere survival and the building of the camp had kept them busy. But Hans had been keeping tabs, and morale was starting to take a serious shift.
Most were still badly frightened by the experience. Nearly a quarter of the command were married men, and from their ranks had been coming the loudest complaints for a desire to return home. He had to let the men out, to see this new world, to form friendships with the people and to just let off some steam. He could only hope that Emil could keep things under control if something did break out.
"I'm sorry, Emil, I've weighed the risk and it's one we'll have to take. The boys are tough. Just lecture them firmly about the water, and the disease. No one's to go near their churches, and by heavens I'll have any man drunk up for a bucking and gagging on the village green."
"Who. goes first, colonel darling?" O'Donald asked expectantly.
"Take half your battery," Andrew said. "We'll have a gun aboard ship fire a salute when we take Ivor back to the city tomorrow. Then they're free for the day. Company A can go with us as well. Captain," and he looked back at Tobias, "you can order your men as you see fit."
Tobias merely nodded a reply.
"And the ladies?"
Andrew turned in his seat to Kathleen.
"Well, ah, you see . . ."
"Colonel Keane," Kathleen said evenly, "I can take care of myself, thank you, and have no intention of staying prisoner in this camp."
"Mutiny," Emil mumbled, a smile lighting his features.
Flustered, Andrew searched for a reply, finally realizing that Kathleen's features were creased by the slightest of a bemused smile at the consternation of the usually self-assured officer before her.
"If you would allow me to be your escort tomorrow I would be honored," Andrew said quietly.
"I will consider it," Kathleen replied.
"Well, ah," and Andrew nervously cleared his throat, and lapsed into silence, a habit all his friends knew about when in the presence of a woman, and secretively they smiled at each other.
Andrew looked over at Emil, who was sitting beside Kathleen. The doctor left him dangling for long seconds. Finally Hans took pity and, clearing his throat, leaned over toward Andrew.
"If I might remind the colonel," he said evenly, "there is some business we must attend to."
"Yes, of course, sergeant," Andrew said with a sigh of relief, turning away from Kathleen's penetrating gaze. "Thank you for reminding me."
Regaining his composure, he looked down the table to his company and staff officers, who had sat with smiling patience during the exchange.
"Other business then, gentlemen. Let's start with Mr. Houston's idea."
"My boys want to get started on that sawmill, sir," Tracy Houston, the diminutive captain of Company D, said, speaking from the other end of the table. Houston was only nineteen, looking even younger thanks to a shock of unruly blond hair and a cloud of freckles that covered his face. But his features were a stark contradiction to a hardened officer who had won a commission in the field for gallantry during the Wilderness campaign.
"Start them tomorrow right after the ceremony with Ivor. You've got the site?"
"A good one, sir. About a quarter mile east of the encampment. There's a good head of water coming through a narrow gorge, so the dam won't take much work. My man Ferguson is a wonder—he's already laid out the site and figures he can have an overshot wheel with a fifteen-foot drop working inside of a month if the whole company pitches in on it. Privates Ivey and Olsen helped build a mill dam back in Vassalboro. The main problem is that we'll need a forge with some good iron to turn out a blade."
Andrew looked over at O'Donald. Every battery in the army had at least one blacksmith assigned to it who could handle the shoeing of the horses and repairs to the equipment.
"Dunlevy's the man," O'Donald stated. "Now if he could build that forge next to the dam and get some power off it for a bellows, why, you'll have the finest blade in this bloody country inside a month. We need a good smithy works here."
"Agreed, then. I'll get Ferguson to work on a gear system to give power to a forge and sawmill, but it'll mean a bigger wheel, most likely. I'll get one of the boys to figure out what's needed."
"What about power for a grain mill?" Fletcher, the plug-shaped commander of G Company, asked.
"Why's that?" Andrew asked.
"They don't have anything like it here," Fletcher replied. "These poor sods are still doing it by hand. Figure if we put up a grain mill, it'll be business for us, so we ain't relying so much on that boyar fellow for a handout. One of my boys already found a good quarry site, on the other side of the river, for mill stones. Figures he could carve out a good set in a couple of weeks."
Smiling, Andrew leaned back in his chair. He'd been worried about what to keep his men occupied with, but in the worrying he'd forgotten about their character. They were Mainers, and any man of sense knew that when it came to Yankee traders a Mainer could skin a man from Massachusetts or Connecticut coming and going.
Andrew looked over at Ferguson.
"It's your site."
Houston tugged at his thin scanty whiskers for a moment, eyeing Fletcher with suspicion.
"Give me the men of your company to help build our dam first—do that and we'll give you the first boards for yours, plus a couple of squads to help build your dam. You'll get wood as well—that is after the Methodist committee gets theirs for the church. Anyhow, that gorge could support half a dozen mills and dams at the very least."
"Will you throw in Ferguson to help lay out the grain mill?"
"Hold on here," Andrew said chuckling. "What is this?"
"Just a little business dealing, that's all."
For a moment Andrew was ready to object. They were all the same regiment, but instantly he realized that if anything these ventures and the concept of company projects were just the tonic they needed.
"All right then, gentlemen. Trading for labor between companies while on regiment time is all right, but only for approved projects for the good of the regiment. If any profits are made selling services to the locals, half will go to the company which started and is running the affair to spend as they see fit, the rest goes to the regimental coffers."
The various commanders nodded their agreement.
"Speaking of ironworks ..." Mina, commander of E Company, began.
"Go on, then."
"Has anyone given a thought to where we are going to get iron for blades and horseshoes and other such things?"
"And I suppose you have the answer," Andrew replied.
"Just so happens I do," Mina said proudly. "Several of my boys worked the zinc mines up on the edge of the White Mountains. I studied a bit of metallurgy myself at the state university. The boys and I have been wandering about, and we've found a likely site for some ore, about four miles farther up the mill stream. We'll need to cut a trail up there, but it could be producing a good supply of ore. All we'll need is a wheel powering a furnace and a kiln to bake the stuff down, and we'll be hauling iron out of there inside three months."
"And I suppose you'd like your company to get started on this."
"With the colonel's permission, of course."
"But of course," Andrew said, smiling. They'd need iron, and, heaven knew, an endless variety of other things as well.
"While we're at it, why not locate Dunlevy's foundry next to the kiln?" Mina said quickly. "We'll get a regular ironworking shop going, straight from the kiln and into a full-size works."
"A number of my boys would be happy to get into that," O'Donald interjected. "It'll keep 'em out of trouble. I think I can dig up some leatherworkers to turn out some good sets of bellows for the works."
Andrew sat back smiling and nodded his agreement, and the various officers started to talk excitedly among themselves.
"Anything else for right now?" Andrew asked, extending his hand for silence. The officers who had not presented projects looked rather crestfallen, feeling as if their pride had been cut for not coming up with such obvious ventures. Andrew could see the competition was now on. And here he had been worried about morale. Within a week he could expect every company to be venturing into some activity or another.
"All right then, gentlemen. A good evening to you then. Don't let the party end on my account—it's just that I have a long day with Ivor tomorrow."
Standing, he left the table. Emil followed him with his gaze, knowing that most likely the real reason was the headache from Andrew's old wound. But if the man wouldn't come to him there was nothing he could do.
Stepping back out into the fresh evening air, Andrew took a deep breath, the light chill helping to clear his head a bit. The pain had set in earlier in the day, and as usual he had borne it in silence. There was no use complaining anyhow. It was just an old reminder, and absently he rubbed his temples as he walked down the company street. Taps would soon sound, and already the men were settling in for the evening.
The chill was refreshing, a reminder of home. Kal had said there was a winter here with snow, and that harvest time would be upon them in another month. Funny—back home another month would show spring in Virginia. Perhaps the last spring for the war.
The war. How was it going? Strange, something that had been a part of his every waking moment for nearly three years was now an infinite distance away. Gaining the parapet, he climbed up to an empty picket box and looked out over the river, which shimmered silver in the starlight. Overhead the Wheel, as the men had taken to calling the vast spiral above them, shone in all its glory, filling near the entire sky in a swirl of light.
"Think it's up there someplace?"
"Ah, Kathleen," Andrew said softly, extending his hand to help her up the wooden steps.
"A beautiful night, colonel."
"Please, just 'Andrew' is fine when we're alone."
"All right then, Andrew," she replied softly. "Tell me, do you think home is somewhere up there?" As she spoke she looked heavenward.
For a moment he looked at her with a sidelong glance. The starlight played across her features, giving her a soft radiant glow. He felt a tightening in his throat at the sight of her like this. For weeks he'd been so overwhelmed with business that the thought of her presence barely crossed his mind. This evening was the first time he'd truly noticed her again, and the memory of their first conversation had come back. And now she was alone beside him.
"Would you care to venture an opinion, Andrew?"
"I wish I could," Andrew replied awkwardly. "We had a telescope at the college. Dr. Vassar would invite me up on occasion and we'd look at the heavens. He believed the stars had worlds around them, perhaps the same as our own. But as to where home is ..." He trailed off into silence.
"Well, I'd like to think that somewhere up there is home," Kathleen replied, her voice almost a whisper. "Maybe that star right over there," and she pointed vaguely to one of the arms of the wheel.
"And perhaps Vassar is looking here right now," Andrew said softly. "Perhaps looking and wondering what is happening here."
Kathleen looked at him and smiled.
"What empires are being dreamed tonight, beyond the starry heavens?" Andrew whispered.
"A touch of the poet in you, colonel. You surprise me—I thought you more the cold military type."
Andrew looked over at her and smiled, shrugging his shoulders in a self-deprecating manner.
"Just a line I once penned back in my student days."
Kathleen smiled softly and reached out to touch his arm.
"Would you escort me back to my cottage?"
"But of course," and leading the way, Andrew helped her down the steps.
As they started back up the avenue, the sound of taps echoed over the encampment, and the two stopped for a moment and listened.
"Such a sad sound," Kathleen whispered as the last note drifted away with the breeze.
"Why do you think that?"
"Just strange that the army should play it to lull the men to sleep, and when they bury them as well," she replied, as they continued on their way.
"Fitting, perhaps. It always makes me think of Gettysburg. I remember the night before the battle hearing it played for the first time, as we settled down to sleep. And then for weeks after, while I was in the hospital, I heard it played over and over as the boys who died were buried up on the hill outside town. But it's a comfort somehow. It speaks of rest at the end of day, and at the end of the strife, both for a day, and finally for a life."
"Such a melancholy turn to our conversation," Kathleen replied. "Or is it that our war has just marked you and me far too much, and haunts us with its presence?"
"But maybe it isn't our war anymore."
"You mean you think we'll never get back home."
Andrew looked over at her and smiled his thin sad smile.
"Would that upset you so much, Miss Kathleen O'Reilly?"
"No, I don't think it would," she said evenly. "After all, my fiance is gone."
Andrew looked over at her.
"We were engaged shortly before the war. He left for the army in '61, a three-month enlistment," she said softly. "He promised to be back, saying the war would be over before the summer was out and then we'd be married."
"And he never came back," Andrew whispered.
Kathleen nodded and turned away.
Andrew reached out his hand, resting it lightly on her shoulder.
"Oh, I'm all right," she said, looking back and forcing a smile.
"And is that why you became a nurse, because of him?"
"I had to do something, and it seemed somehow fitting. Funny, I often wondered what I'd do when the fighting stopped, for it was a way of losing myself. Now maybe I'll never have to face that question. Perhaps this fate of ours has decided it for me."
Andrew could not help but smile. So she was more like him than he'd thought. The war, which in its horror repulsed him, had at the same time woven a spell about him. A grand undertaking of which he was a part had come at last to sweep him into its tide and carry him away. Try as he could, he had not been able to imagine returning to Bowdoin after the war, to a life as nothing more than a professor of history in a small college town. He had felt the strange grandeur of becoming lost in a vast undertaking, a knowing that he was a part of something beyond himself.
Could she understand that? he wondered.
Reaching the town square, he walked with her to the door of her cabin.
"I lost myself in it, Andrew, and I learned as well that never again would I ever risk the pain of seeing yet another love walk out the door with a promise of return. I've learned that at least," she said, a sad gentle smile lighting her features.
She turned away from him and opened the door. To his own surprise he reached out and took her hand so that she turned back to face him.
"Kathleen, I understand all of that. Perhaps someday I'll tell you of my reasons, my fear, as well. But for right now I would enjoy the honor of your allowing me to escort you into the city tomorrow." His voice tightened up with nervousness.
The slightest of smiles crossed her features.
"I would be honored, Colonel Keane, but I hope you understand what I've told you, and that you'll respect my feelings."
Andrew nodded lamely, his hand dropping away from hers.
With a quick curtsy she turned and stepped into her cabin.
For a long moment Andrew stood outside her door, feeling like a foolish schoolboy. Turning, he started back for his cabin, not even noticing that his headache had disappeared.
"Regiment, present arms!"
As one the men of the 35th snapped muskets to the present position, the dark blue of the state flag snapping in the wind and dipping in salute, while the national colors stayed upright.
Swinging his mount out, Andrew positioned himself in the middle of the open gate. Drawing his sword, he brought the weapon to the salute position while controlling Mercury with his knees.
Proceeded by the sun-and-crossed-swords standard of Suzdal and the bear-head emblem of the house of Ivor, the column of knights came through the gate, with Ivor at the lead. Sheathing his sword, Andrew swung his mount around, coming up to ride by Ivor's side.
Riding next to the massive Clydesdale-like horse, Andrew felt as if he were accompanying a giant. Ivor perched atop his huge mount, looked about with a regal bearing through Emil's spectacles, which were perched upon the end of his round bulbous nose. Andrew watched his companion closely. He had learned already that Ivor was not the type to keep his emotions well hidden. He could see Ivor's surprise at the accomplishments of the last four weeks. Fort Lincoln was well laid out, with spacious streets, the village green as a drill field, surrounded by earthwork fortifications that were truly intimidating.
Somehow Ivor presented a somewhat incongruous appearance, the plate-mail armor, pointed steel helmet, and shield and spear offset by the nineteenth-century technology of glasses, and the carte de visite of Lincoln, presented by Andrew, which Ivor had attached to his shield as if it were a talisman.
"Your health is good?" Ivor asked in Rus.
Not wishing to reveal any knowledge yet of the language, Andrew looked to Kal, who, balanced precariously on Emil's mare, was now riding alongside Andrew.
He knew Kal was aware that Andrew had gained some command of the language—after all, it was Kal and now Tanya who were teaching him. But the peasant revealed nothing and rendered the necessary translation.
"Ask his lordship if he is ready for the boat ride," Andrew asked.
Ivor forced a smile.
"Da, da," but Andrew could see his nervousness, for undoubtedly among the people who had watched the docking yesterday had been some who had gone straight to Ivor with reports. Turning slightly, Andrew noticed that Rasnar was with the company, and from what little he had gained of politics so far, he knew that the priest was most likely a sworn enemy.
As the column passed down Gettysburg Street, the various companies fell in behind the small procession, and with drums rolling the regiment marched smartly on its way. There was a long flourish and roll, and the regiment broke into an old favorite, a slightly obscene version of "Dixie" that made Andrew wince. Of course, Ivor and his companions wouldn't know the words, but it was something he'd give Hans a chewing-out for later.
Approaching the dock, they passed O'Donald's command, three of the field pieces unlimbered in action front along the road, the gunners standing to their position. Pulling out his sword again, Andrew managed a salute, which Pat returned with his usual dramatic flourish, his massive red mutton-chops and walrus mustache drawing more than one envious look from the knights.
Unable to contain himself, Ivor looked back over his shoulder, surveying the cannons and the regiment marching behind him. From the look on his face it was obvious that he was deeply impressed by the precision and discipline of the troops.
Going out the west gate, the procession reached the dock and ramp that led to the deck of the Ogunquit. The vessel was decked out with all its signal flags upon the bare poles of the masts, so that it appeared ready for a festival. Tobias was there, the thirty men of his command turned out in their best dress blues, all of them obviously proud to have their ship back.
Again Andrew was forced to draw sword while mounted, and snapped a salute to the captain, who for once gave a sharp reply. Andrew could not help but notice how the diminutive captain was puffed up because his transport vessel was now the center of all this attention.
Dismounting, Ivor and his companions stood around nervously, all except for Rasnar, who stood to one side, flanked by a single priest, eyeing all that he saw with suspicious disdain.
O'Donald and the half of his command set for a day in town came forward, and after a brief explanation through Kal they finally convinced the knights to relinquish their bridles so that the horses could be led up the ramp and tied on deck.
Once the animals were secured, Tobias came up to Ivor, saluted, and invited him to come aboard.
"My people tell me your ship moves without sails," the boyar said, looking to Kal and Andrew, his anxiety finally showing in spite of the front he had to maintain for those around him.
"Through demon craft," Rasnar growled sharply.
"If such were true, then your presence on the deck would drive the demons away," Andrew replied, looking straight into Rasnar's eyes, "and thus it would not move."
Kal, obviously uncomfortable with the exchange, sounded nervous as he translated.
Rasnar, caught by Andrew's offer, fell silent, staring at Andrew with open hatred.
"My men worship Kesus as well, for is it not true that both your people and mine come from the same place, where Kesus was God?"
"Yet you speak not of Perm," Rasnar ventured, "Father God of all."
"Another name but the same God."
"Kneel and beg the forgiveness of Perm," Rasnar barked, "then perhaps I shall know better what you are."
"In my belief I do not kneel to God," Andrew said quietly, "for that is not my way." And besides, it would mean my acknowledgment of you in front of the others, he realized.
"I and my men would consider it a good act if your holiness would bless the ship," Andrew finally replied, shifting the subject away from the confrontation. "Thus if your suspicions of demons is true, they will flee at once, before the presence of one as holy as you. If demons drive the ship against wind and current, it will not move, and thus you will be proved right and I will then kneel before you for forgiveness."
Rasnar stood silent for a moment, and finally with a muffled comment that Andrew suspected was a curse, the priest pushed his way past the knights who had been watching the harsh exchange of words.
Raising his staff, the priest in a soft voice muttered a prayer, finishing with a wave of his staff in the sign of the cross.
Andrew quickly looked over to O'Donald and his mostly Catholic command. But the men had already been briefed and did not make their sign of the cross when the blessing was finished.
"Captain Tobias, have we your permission to board?" Andrew asked.
Tobias, obviously enjoying the fact that Andrew was now on his territory, merely nodded, and then, broadening to a smile, touched Ivor on the shoulder and invited him to climb the ramp.
Falling in behind Ivor and Tobias, Andrew and Kal mounted the deck. After that prayer he could only hope that Tobias's boilers were in good working order; otherwise there'd be hell to pay with Rasnar.
After the knights came the men of Company A, obviously delighted with their first prospect for a day's pass. Behind them came O'Donald's men, who were shouting back to their forlorn companions about the pleasures that awaited them.
Mounting the quarterdeck, Tobias stepped into the pilot house with Ivor at his side. With a dramatic flourish, Tobias pulled down hard on the whistle, and a high-pitched shriek echoed down the valley.
With shouts of dismay the knights standing on the quarterdeck looked wildly about. Some fell to their knees blessing themselves, while others drew swords, ready for battle against whatever terror was being unleashed upon them. Even Rasnar blanched at the sound, which quickly turned to rage at the bemused looks of the foreigners.
There was a long moment of tension, as Kal ran through a quick round of translations to calm their fears. After several moments, Ivor was finally convinced to pull the rope himself. Another round of shouts greeted his action when he pulled the rope down, and instantly released it as if he had touched a venomous snake. Smiling understandingly, Andrew gestured for him to try again. There was another tentative whistle. Then, nerving himself, the boyar pulled down hard. Craftily Ivor watched his knights' look of terror.
Finally the boyar broke into a rolling gale of laughter and like a schoolchild given permission to raise a racket repeatedly sounded the whistle.
"I want one!" Ivor shouted. "I want scream maker for my palace!"
"It'll take a couple of days," Andrew replied, thinking quickly who in the ranks could fashion a small boiler and steam whistle, "but we would be honored for you to have such a gift."
Ivor was all smiles with this promise.
Andrew turned to see Hawthorne standing by the quarterdeck railing.
"What is it, son?"
Hawthorne stepped forward, pulling his knapsack off from his shoulders. Opening it up, he brought out a small wooden clock, carved by hand.
"Sir, I thought with your permission I could give this to Boyar Ivor as a token of friendship from myself and the enlisted men."
Andrew could not help but smile at the boy's earnestness.
"Does it keep time well?" Andrew asked.
Smiling, Vincent pulled out a small pendulum, attached it beneath the clock, and set it to ticking.
"There's only an hour hand, sir—it made the gearing a lot simpler. I set it to the time on this world, which seems to be twenty-three hours long. But it'll do."
"Well done, lad," and Andrew patted the young Quaker on the shoulder. Kal quickly translated the conversation and following Hawthorne's lead explained the workings of the clock.
Opening up the back panel, Vincent showed Ivor the gears working inside, and the boyar cried aloud with wonder at this new toy, which he accepted with evident delight.
Ivor cuffed Vincent playfully on the shoulder, sending him reeling back, and the knights laughed gruffly at the sight.
"If we could get started?" Tobias finally asked, interrupting the conversation, and with a nod of agreement from Andrew, the ship's captain called for a casting away of lines.
Tobias signaled below to the boiler room, and dark puffs of smoke belched from the smokestack and the lines were cast off. A vibration ran through the vessel, and then ever so slowly, and then with increasing speed, the Ogunquit started on its way.
Forward the leadsmen called out the sounds, keeping a sharp watch for sandbars and snags as the Ogunquit swung out into midstream and then pointed its bow upstream. It was soon making a good ten knots.
Ivor, Rasnar, and the knights stood in stunned silence for several minutes, while Tobias, with Kal's help, worked quickly to explain the nature of what was happening. Finally Tobias simply pointed to a hatchway, and the party went below, Andrew bringing up the rear.
The engine deck was hot, the thunderous pounding of the twin reciprocating cylinders working their steady rhythm.
Tobias tried to explain the workings of the steam engine, pointing to the spinning driveshaft leading aft to the single screw, but it was obvious that this device was completely beyond the assembly. Andrew noticed, though, that the priest standing behind Rasnar, whom he heard addressed as Casmar, seemed filled with an enrapted awe of the thundering heat-shimmering device.
The priest, as if sensing that he was being watched, turned and looked at Andrew. A friendly smile lit his features, which Andrew returned.
Shaking their heads, the party went topside, with Rasnar whispering darkly to several of the knights, who obviously were listening rather intently to what was being said. Andrew and the priest fell in at the end of the group. Casmar pointed to the machine.
"Wonderful," he whispered, looking about nervously as if checking to see if Rasnar had noticed him. And then, lifting the hem of his robes, he went up the ladder.
Returning to the deck, Andrew saw Kathleen and O'Donald deep in conversation, and they beckoned for him to come over.
"So what do they think of the old demon kissing machine?" O'Donald asked merrily.
"Just don't call it that," Andrew said, trying to sound reproachful. "Rasnar might hear you."
"Ah, him. I know the type—most likely thinks our language is demon speech and wouldn't soil his tongue or mind to learn it, now would you, fellow?" And as Pat spoke he looked straight at the prelate, all the time smiling his biggest grin, which showed the blank spot where two front teeth had been knocked out in some now forgotten barroom brawl.
Coldly Rasnar walked past the group and up to the bow of the ship to stand with several knights who had obviously decided to stay near a holy man in this time of supernatural peril.
Ivor and the rest of his knights, however, wandered about the deck, looking at every fixture, pulling on the cables, hefting the belaying pins, and gathering around the single field piece, mounted on chocks amidships.
Word of the voyage had obviously spread about the kingdom. Down from the hills flanking the river came an unending stream of peasants and horse-mounted landholders, their shouts of wonder and dismay echoing across the flowing brown waters of the Neiper as the ship steamed past.
Seeing that he had an audience, Ivor went back to the quarterdeck and ordered his banner to be shown, at the sight of which the crowds lining the river bowed, sweeping the group with their right hands.
He stepped into the pilothouse, repeatedly pulled on the whistle, and then stepped back out again. Taking his standard, Ivor waved it to and fro so that all ashore knew that their lord had control of the scream maker.
Bemused, Andrew settled against the railing and watched as the dark muddy waters of the Neiper flowed by. The landscape was in many ways so like home. Dark heavy pines hugged the shore, giving way to pastures and fields of wheat already ripened and ready for harvest.
The difference, though, was in the farms. There were no homesteads here, the well-ordered holdings of hardworking Mainers that he was so used to. Instead the homes of the peasants were clustered together in small villages, the buildings rough-cut log cabins, adorned with the usual Suzdalian carvings. Each village surrounded a more massive log cabin, sometimes two, even three stories in height, the obvious mansion of the landholder, flanked in turn by a small stone or wooden chapel topped by the lightning bolt of Perm pointing up to the heavens.
"You know, Andrew, it reminds me somehow of the South."
Andrew turned to see Kathleen leaning against the rail, shading her eyes to the morning glare and looking out over the water.
"Strange—the land looks a lot like Maine to me."
"Oh, the land, I think it reminds me more of Indiana, right on the edge of the prairie. I went there once with my father, when he worked for the railroad. Kal told me that only a day's ride west and south of here the terrain opens out into open lands that go on forever.
"But I was thinking more about the farms," Kathleen continued. "Back home every man owned his own plot, no matter how miserable, and usually the pride showed. Here it's like the plantations, one man living in luxury and the rest in grinding poverty."
The thought troubled him. As the boat edged in close to shore, preparing to round the next bend, he saw how most of the peasants were barefoot, or simply had rags tied about their feet, which were laced up with leather thongs. Their clothing was nothing more than a simple oversized shirt that came down to the knees and was held at the waist by a strand of rope. All the men were bearded, the few old men sometimes having beards that reached nearly to the waist. The women were similarly dressed, occasionally offsetting their features with a brightly colored kerchief to cover their hair, while the younger girls would use a bright strip of cloth as a belt, to tighten their loose shifts about their waist.
All of them stood fascinated, shouting with terror as Ivor continued to pull the whistle.
Cries of "Yankee, Yankee," echoed from the shore as the boat drifted past, and Andrew waved good-naturedly, the more daring waving back timidly in response.
As they rounded a bend in the river a shout of delight came up from the men on the deck, and Andrew could hear Kathleen's gasp as the city of Suzdal came into view, its golden church domes shimmering in the reddish light of the early-morning sun.
"Why, it looks like something out of a fairy tale," she cried delightedly, and Andrew found that he could only agree. Though he had now been to the city a half-dozen times it still filled him with wonder, this city so unlike anything he had ever beheld before.
Passing the southside parapets, the Ogunquit raced down the length of the city, the wooden walls looking out over the river lined with thousands of spectators whose shouts nearly drowned out the ever-continuing blasts on the whistle. From battlement walls brightly colored pennants snapped in the wind, matching the bunting of the Ogunquit, giving to the event a holiday air.
For Andrew it seemed especially pleasant this morning, since a rising breeze out of the west was blowing the city's stench in the other direction.
Dozens of wharfs lined the quay, and Tobias steered the Ogunquit toward the longest, which projected fifty yards or more out into the river.
Ropes snaked out and were quickly secured to the massive pilings, and with a rattling crash the anchor dropped free for added insurance. The crew below damped down the boilers and a heavy vent of steam lashed out, sending the Suzdalians on the dock racing backward, while for good measure Ivor continued to give repeated blasts to the whistle.
"I'll be glad when he's finished with that thing," Kathleen mumbled. "Almost drove me mad," and Andrew smiled in agreement.
"I'm required to be his guest for a feast," Andrew said. "Rather than wait for our visit to the rest of the city, would you care to join me?"
Kathleen looked at Andrew and smiled sadly.
"Are you merely asking me to be your escort for a state function, or is there more to it, Colonel Keane?"
Taken aback by her directness, Andrew hesitated. He found himself fascinated by the sad gentle smile lighting her features, and the way the reddish light of the sun tinted her soft wavy hair. There was a tightening to his throat at the sight of her, but in a moment his normal rigidity returned, for he could see the barrier she was again putting up about herself.
"Either way that you wish it," he finally replied.
Next to them the gangplank rattled down, and Ivor strolled down it first, waving to the crowd with a dramatic flourish, to the cries of admiration from his people for his obvious bravery at having ridden upon a Yankee machine.
"Best be going," Andrew said nervously, extending his hand to her. She hesitated for a moment, looking into his eyes as if searching for something.
"Don't get too close to me, Andrew," she whispered. "I can't allow that ever to happen." She took his hand, and together they walked down the gangplank and on into the city.
"Just fascinating," Kathleen exclaimed as they turned another corner and found themselves in a narrow street lined with shops devoted to leatherwork. The cries of the merchants dropped to a curious murmur at the sight of two Yankees approaching. Andrew was starting to realize that his having only one arm was a source of some mystical wonder to them. Several women had come up to him, touched his empty sleeve, and then bowed low, making a blessing sign.
But even more curious for the crowd was the woman by his side, her hoop-skirted dress drawing an unending stream of excited comments. Kathleen had shown a gentle understanding, repeatedly stopping so that curious women could touch the crinoline dress and exclaim over the fabric. Andrew could not help but laugh when one old woman, bent with age, had come up, her curiosity so strong that she had actually lifted the hem of Kathy's dress, pointing and shouting excitedly at the arrangement beneath. The nurse had turned scarlet at the display, as half a dozen women were immediately on their knees, looking under the dress, talking eagerly to each other. Andrew finally had to drag Kathleen out of the circle of women which had gathered around, the old crone and her friends following them for several blocks obviously intent on getting another look. Finally Andrew was forced to offer a copper penny to bribe the woman and her friends into leaving.
The day drifted into midafternoon, and the mere thought that it would soon be over tugged hard at Andrew. The feast at Ivor's palace had started to turn into yet another raucous affair. But fortunately he had an excuse to leave, explaining that he desired to show Miss O'Reilly the sights of the town.
For that matter his own curiosity had been aching as well, for in all his previous visits he had come straight to the palace, taken care of the necessary negotiations, and immediately ridden back to the encampment. For the first time since their arrival in this strange world he felt he was truly having a day off to explore, and to experience the company of a woman as well, something unknown to him since the start of the war.
There had never been time for such a thing before—at least, that had been his excuse before the war. In the company of women he had always found himself tongue-tied. Too self-conscious about his lanky frame, towering height, and decidedly bookish appearance, Andrew had found it near impossible to make such acquaintances. Well-intentioned friends had of course tried to help with introductions, but somehow they had never seemed to develop.
There had only been one woman of importance—Mary. It was the year before the war. Their courtship had been brief but passionate, with an engagement and promise of marriage in the spring of '61. He had believed in her more than anything else in the world, her every word never doubted, her promises of what would happen when they were married a thrill beyond imagining.
Only weeks before the wedding there came a night when he had planned to work on lessons, but unable to stop thinking about her, he had set off instead for a surprise visit to her home. He knew Mary's parents were away, but they trusted him and would not object to his being in the house with her alone. The front door was ajar, and with the mischievous intent of startling her he stepped in.
There came a sound from her bedroom, an all too unmistakable sound, gentle cries that until that moment he dreamed would only be shared with him alone. Though filled with loathing for stepping into that room, still he had to know— and then wished he had never done so, for the sight of her in bed with another still haunted him.
Three years later, in the spring of '64, a colonel from another regiment told him that their division commander had stated, "That book-learning professor from the 35th has ice in his veins and fire in his soul for a damn good fight. Damn me, I think he knows nothing of fear, and pain doesn't scare him."
Andrew smiled inwardly at the memory of that. Perhaps after all it was Mary who had made him such a good soldier, for he could be icy cold with nerve, and yet have a passion to turn to destruction when need be. He had come to learn that a happy man does not rush into a war—it was only the youth filled with naivete and those who had already been hurt beyond caring and wished to somehow escape their sad empty fives that joined with eager intent.
"Why do you look so sad, Andrew?"
"Oh, nothing, Kathleen, nothing at all," he said quietly, trying not to look at her. Could she be touching him after all? he wondered. Could he ever trust another woman after what had happened? In his heart he doubted if he ever would.
"Just look at the beauty of this," she exclaimed, going over and picking up a finely wrought box for jewelry, its lid glowing with enamelwork portraying a warrior bowing to a lady dressed in shimmering robes of blue.
Andrew looked at the merchant and smiled, pointing to the box.
"Please—a little keepsake for giving me such a lovely day."
"I couldn't," she said shyly.
"But it's already been done."
Andrew reached into his pocket and pulled out a silver dollar and flipped it to the merchant, not bothering to haggle.
Excited with such an offer, the merchant bowed back, and reaching beneath the table pulled out a gorgeous scarf of red embroidered with silver thread, indicating that it was a gift for the lady in return.
The merchant then pointed to the box and the figure upon it.
"Ilya Murometz," he said.
"Ilya Murometz?" Andrew replied excitedly.
Smiling, the merchant nodded as he took the box and scarf to wrap up.
"That's a name from old Russian folk legends," Andrew exclaimed, looking at Kathleen. "I remember reading about him in a collection of folk tales. A fabulous character, one of my favorites. So that proves it even more so. These people are medieval Russians, transplanted here the same way we were."
"That's the mystery we've still got to figure out."
The merchant held out the gaily wrapped package to Kathleen, who, smiling, took it, while behind him his entire family and staff of craftsmen bowed low at the honor of the visit, and the incredible sum in silver paid for their work.
"I think you paid too much," Kathleen whispered. "A couple of copper coins would have done just as well."
"I made a friend there. By evening this whole street will know of the purchase and think better of us for it."
"And charge outrageous prices the next time we come shopping here."
"I think of diplomacy, you think of shopping."
"Call it being a practical single girl living on her own."
They continued down the street, followed as usual by a curious crowd, so that Andrew felt as if he had an entourage. As they turned the next corner, two men from Company A strolled by, one of them with a woman, obviously of dubious morals, clinging to his arm. Instantly the men snapped to attention and saluted. Andrew looked at the young soldier with the girl; he nervously turned a deep shade of scarlet at the sight of Kathleen observing him thus.
"Enjoying the town?" Andrew asked.
"Yes sir," the two chorused.
"Well then, carry on, and stay out of trouble. Remember the boat leaves before dusk."
Without another word, Andrew strolled on, feeling slightly embarrassed for Kathleen. But he was surprised to hear her chuckle.
"I was tempted to ask the youngster if his mother would approve of his company, but I thought it'd be simply too cruel."
A bit shocked, Andrew looked over at her and was about to reply when a shout echoed down the street.
Looking up, Andrew saw Hawthorne running toward him. Out of breath, the boy stopped and saluted.
"There's trouble, sir. Major O'Donald and some of his boys got into a tavern brawl. A couple of our boys got busted up pretty bad, but one of theirs is dead, sir."
"It's looking ugly, sir. The boys have barricaded themselves in the tavern. It's just down the street from the palace on the main square. There's a regular mob growing outside. Soon as I heard what happened, I came looking for you, sir."
"Good work," Andrew replied. "A couple of the boys just went up the street. Tell them to catch up with me—I'm going back to take care of this. Rouse up anyone else you see and send them packing to me. Now move!"
Andrew grabbed hold of Kathleen's hand and at the run started back into the center of town. Within several blocks he started to hear the angry murmur of the crowd, until finally turning a corner into the square he was confronted by the sight of several hundred Suzdalians milling about.
"You stay here," Andrew commanded, looking at Kathleen.
"I'm going with you," she said defiantly. "Some of O'Donald's boys are hurt."
"I'm not taking you into that crowd."
"Stop being such a gentleman, Andrew Keane. Now let's go."
Andrew could not help but smile. Nearly a dozen men of Company A came filtering over to him from the edge of the square along with a group of O'Donald's command, obviously drunk and cast out from some other tavern in town.
"I want no shooting," Andrew snapped. "You artillerymen, keep those pistols holstered, and by God if one of you speaks a word I'll bust all of you straight into a month in the brig. Now let's go."
Near running to keep up, Kathleen followed Andrew across the square. She now saw him transformed, cold, determined, and yet somehow relishing the prospect of this challenge.
At the group's approach, the crowd gave back sullenly.
Even from the outside of the building Andrew could see that the tavern was a wreck. The heavy wooden door was torn right off its hinges, lying in the street. Stepping into the gloomy interior, he saw O'Donald and half a dozen of his men standing in a cluster in the corner of the room. O'Donald had his sword out, and all the men stood with pistols drawn. Ivor and a dozen armed guards stood in the middle of the room, the rest of the tavern packed behind them with angry onlookers.
"All right, what the hell is going on here?" Andrew snapped sharply, stepping between the two groups.
As one, near every man in the tavern started shouting at once.
"Goddammit, everyone shut the hell up!" Andrew roared. His command seemed to need no translation, and the room fell silent.
Andrew looked at Kal, who nervously stood by Ivor's side.
"Kal, tell me what happened."
"Keane. There was a fight. A man of Suzdal is dead," and he pointed to the bar, where a corpse was laid out, the side of his head bashed in, with blood still oozing slowly from his shattered nose and his ears.
"He smashed up James," O'Donald growled. "That man started it."
"Later, Q'Donald," Andrew snapped, not bothering to look back at the major.
Kal pointed to half a dozen Suzdalians standing at the bar, one of them holding an obviously broken arm. A member of the group gestured toward O'Donald's men and started shouting.
"He claims O'Donald and his companions started a fight for no reason," Kal stated. "The Yankee lying on the floor then hit Boris, the dead man, with a broken chair leg."
Ivor and the assembly growled darkly as the man spoke.
Andrew looked back at O'Donald.
"Well, what's your side?" he asked, a note of disgust edging his voice.
"It's a lie, colonel darling. We was having a nice sociable drink. I even stood those blackguards a round, I did. Then one of them tried to pick Jamie boy's pocket, and that after we'd stood 'em a drink! So Jamie punched him one. A beautiful blow it was, right to the jaw. Then that Boris fellow was on him with a knife. Well, we all set to, trying to pull that thieving bastard back. Jamie got stuck, but by the saints he still had the strength to pick up a chair leg and send that devil sprawling. Well, we cleaned them out of here, and before you could shake a stick this mob starts to form outside crying for blood."
Dammit, Andrew thought darkly. O'Donald was a regular lightning rod for trouble. He knew the major most likely wouldn't try to lie to him, but his reputation for trouble had been known in the division long before they had embarked.
"Well, it's a hell of a mess now," Andrew snarled, and walking over to their side he knelt down by James. Kathleen was working feverishly on him, trying to stanch the blood flowing from an ugly knife wound in his side. A froth of blood gurgled from the man's lips.
"How is he?"
Kathleen looked up at him.
"They punctured his lung. I can't tell how bad the bleeding is inside. We've got to get him back to Dr. Weiss."
"All right, make a stretcher from one of those busted tables. Let's get him out of here."
Ivor started shouting darkly at Kal.
"Ivor says that a man of Suzdal died by your men. The man who did it must die now!"
Andrew turned and looked straight at Ivor. He had to handle this one carefully. Seeing a back room, he pointed to it. Ivor and Kal following, the three went into the room and closed the door.
Andrew turned to Ivor and extended his hand in a gesture of exasperation.
"Seems like your people started it," Andrew said, going at once to the attack.
"Not as I see it," Ivor snapped.
"Come now. You saw those men. They're gutter sweepings. I know a band of cutthroats when I see them. One of your people tried to rob one of mine, then mine was knifed while defending himself. I should be seeking damages from you."
"Never!" Ivor roared. "I want your man for justice and blood money for the poor victim's family."
"I will not leave my man here," Andrew said coldly. "He needs our doctor now if there's any chance for him to live.
"I'll agree to this," Andrew continued. "If he lives my man will stand trial. Since this is your kingdom but involves one of my soldiers, we'll have two judges, you and me."
"I stand as sole judge for Suzdal," Ivor said darkly. "You will whisk your man back to your fortress and hide him there."
"That would be madness on my part," Andrew replied quickly. "I want your friendship, not your animosity. I acknowledge you as lord of Suzdal, and I am your guard and vassal. But my people are different from yours and I am responsible for them."
"And blood money?"
"I will pay that now," Andrew said, "since your man is dead. If mine should die, though, then the balance is even, for they killed each other, and the matter is settled."
"Ridiculous!" Ivor snapped. "He must face my justice right now!"
Andrew was silent, staring into Ivor's eyes. The boyar did not give this time. Andrew knew the man was in a corner; the crowd outside wanted blood for blood. If Ivor should back down, word would fly that the Yankees had more power than their own boyar. In a way Andrew could almost feel sorry for him. But if he gave his men over to Suzdalian justice and a precedent was set, there could be no end to legal entanglements, his command subject to execution on the most arbitrary of laws. The sight upon his last visit of several rotting corpses hanging from the south wall had made him aware of that. It was something he could never permit happening to his own men.
"Will you agree if I promise this?" Andrew said, trying to find an out. "My man shall be taken back tonight for treatment. I will stay here as a hostage, guaranteeing that as soon as he is well enough to be moved, he will be returned to your palace. There a trial shall be held, but we must judge this together."
Wide-eyed Kal could not help but let his admiration show. It was unheard-of for a noble to offer himself as hostage for a peasant. In such affairs a noble would not even care about what happened to one of his people, and more than likely would spear the man on the spot, just to get the argument out of the way so as not to disturb an evening of drinking.
"I do not like this," Ivor growled, trying to hide his amazement at Andrew's offer.
"That is all I can offer," Andrew said evenly, trying to not let his desperation show. He wasn't one for suicidal gestures, but he would be damned if he would allow one of his command to be dragged out, executed, and then impaled on the city wall.
"There is no other way," Ivor said darkly. "I cannot let my people think that you have such influence over me. There is enough trouble with Rasnar as is—he will seize that and use it against me. Perhaps this fight came from his own hand. I have risked too much by having you here already."
Andrew looked at Ivor in shock. He had never expected such candor.
"Then we are stuck, my friend," Andrew said evenly.
A loud shout suddenly echoed from the next room, and before the three could even react the door burst open. A disheveled warrior, sweat streaming from his face, bowed at the sight of Ivor and started speaking, his voice near cracking with excitement.
Bellowing a wild curse, Ivor stormed out of the room.
"What's happening?" Andrew cried, looking at Kal.
"It's the Novrodians! They're raiding a village north of the city!"
Ivor came storming back into the room and looked at Andrew.
"You are my liege man. One of my villages is under attack!"
Both of the men looked at each other with what almost appeared to be relief, for the impasse of the moment could be forgotten.
"How far away?" Andrew asked.
"It's up the river, an hourglass ride away, and a brief ride inland. You can almost see it from here."
The young private appeared in the doorway, the towering artilleryman barging in behind him.
"Vincent, run quick now, back to the Ogunquit, and tell Tobias to get his boilers up at once. O'Donald, leave two men to get James to the palace, grab the rest of your boys, head for the boat, and fire off a blank round. That should bring the rest of our people-tunning. Now move it!"
Andrew looked back to Ivor.
"Get as many of your foot soldiers to my boat as you can, as quickly as possible. We'll go up the river and hit them. The rest of your force can go overland by horse. We'll land north of the village and move in, while you'll move in from the south." Startled, he realized that he had not bothered with Kal but had spoken in Russian.
Ivor suddenly smiled at him, his suspicions confirmed.
He cuffed Andrew on the right shoulder and stormed out of the room, roaring and cursing for his men to follow.
Andrew stepped back into the now-empty tavern. Kathleen was still bent over James, who was moaning weakly, and came to her feet as Andrew approached.
"Fortunate you have a little war to divert everyone's attention from this," she said.
He could not admit to her that it was indeed fortunate.
"Stay with James and help him any way you can."
"We need Dr. Weiss," she replied coldly.
"It can't be helped now—there are more pressing needs."
"There are always more pressing needs than a man's life, isn't that right, Colonel Keane? An innocent man gets knifed by these barbarians, but you rush off to help them anyhow."
"I'm sorry, Kathleen," and he extended his hand to her.
She turned sharply away and knelt back down by the wounded soldier.
Without another word Andrew left the tavern. Racing to the dockside, he did not even notice the two pennants that suddenly broke out from atop the highest spire of the cathedral.
Within seconds the landing boats rattled down and the men started to swarm over the side. The Napoleon field piece, swinging from the end of a winch, was already poised. Working feverishly, the sailors swung the gun out and eased it down to the lifeboat, where planks had already been laid across the gunnels.
Andrew grabbed hold of a sling and was lowered over the side, into a boat already packed with ten men of Tobias's command, who, armed with muskets, had been converted into marines.
Moments later they were on shore. Company A leaped from their boats and with practiced skill spread out into an open skirmish line, while with much heaving and cursing, O'Donald's men lifted the one-ton artillery piece off the boat and pulled it up on the beach. The boats were pushed off and headed back to the Ogunquit to pick up Ivor's troops.
"The village is just on the other side of that ridge, a verst or so away. That trail through the woods leads straight to it," Kal said, pointing to a series of low-lying hills that marched down from the east.
It was obvious to all that something was happening on the other side of the ridge, for the sky was blanketed by a dark roiling cloud of smoke from the burning town.
Andrew took another look at the rough map Kal had sketched for him. Ivor and his knights would be galloping out from the city, coming up the road toward the village. He hoped the Novrodians would be looking in that direction, never expecting a flank attack from the direction of the river. With a little luck they'd hit them hard, driving them back before dark. Chances were it was nothing but a raid anyhow, but it'd be a good opportunity for the residents of another city to see his men in action, and to solidify his position with the Suzdalians as well.
"All right, let's move out!"
Spread in open skirmish line, the fifty men of A Company started into the forest, while O'Donald's men and the converted marines grabbed hold of the traces for the artillery piece and started to pull the Napoleon up the trail. Behind them the first of Ivor's men were now landing, and moved up behind the advance.
Running forward, Andrew reached the front of the skirmish line. The men were grim, silent, back again to the old game they had learned in Virginia of hunting other men. Instinctively they moved from tree to tree, pausing for a moment, and then with a low rush sprinting ahead another ten yards. They weren't facing men armed with rifles, but an arrow could kill just as easily.
A hundred yards was gained, then another hundred. As Andrew kept pace with the line, he saw the trail before him straighten out and the crest of the hill a quarter mile away. So close were they now that the crackling roar of the burning village could be plainly heard, with smoke billowing up on the other side of the crest. He paused and leaned against the trunk of a gnarled oak.
A flutter of breeze snapped past him. It took a moment for what had happened to register. Turning, he looked—the arrow buried in the tree next to him was still vibrating.
"Everybody down!" Andrew roared.
Several things seemed to occur at once, as if in slow motion. A soldier standing in the middle of the trail started to spin around, an arrow quivering in his chest, his eyes looking beseechingly at Andrew. Rifles rattled off to either side, and above the noise the clear clarion call of a horn sounded.
The woods exploded into action. Dozens of warriors seemed to spring up from the ground. Swords drawn, they rushed forward, screaming fierce battle cries.
Andrew felt the hair on the nape of his neck stand out. They were coming on like Confederate infantry, shouting what sounded like the dreaded rebel yell.
Mark your target, mark your target, be kept chanting to himself as he drew careful aim at an ax-wielding beserker. The man went down, shrieking hoarsely.
Another target loomed up on his right. He snapped off a round; the man kept coming, but the second round sent him to the ground.
Turning, Andrew stepped back from the hard-pressed skirmish line and looked about.
It was a trap—they'd walked straight into a goddam trap. Memories of the woods of Antietam washed over him. From the right he could see they'd already been flanked. Forward it looked like hundreds of warriors were closing in.
Clear your thoughts, he told himself. You're not a fresh fish anymore, dammit.
A warrior broke clear through the skirmish line rushing straight at Andrew, sword raised high.
He drew careful aim, dropping the man so close that he had to jump aside as the corpse rolled past.
"Company A, pull back! Pull back to the artillery!"
Blue-clad forms came running out of the battle smoke, and the enemy host roared with delight.
Turning, Andrew started to run down the trail. A soldier beside him stumbled over, an arrow sticking out of his back.
Andrew whirled around, aimed, and dropped the archer. Holstering his gun, he grabbed the boy, dragging him to his feet.
"You've got to run, boy!" Andrew screamed. "Run, dammit!"
Half-dragging, half-pushing the wounded soldier, Andrew turned the bend in the trail. Fifty yards ahead the single field piece was already poised, the gunners ramming a cartridge home. O'Donald and a dozen of his men were running up the trail, pistols drawn.
The roaring charge from the right flank grew louder. Suddenly there was a wild clashing of steel as Ivor's foot soldiers waded into the fight, plugging the hole.
One of O'Donald's men grabbed the wounded soldier from Andrew. Turning, Andrew looked about. The charging host were coming on relentlessly, his boys pulling back in for the trail.
"Back to the gun!" Andrew roared.
His men streamed past as O'Donald's men spread out across the trail. With pistols leveled they delivered six sharp volleys, stemming the attack for the moment and buying precious moments of time.
Andrew stayed with them, knowing that Captain Mina would rally the defense.
"All right, lads, let's run for it!" O'Donald yelled. As one the men turned and started to run, leaving two of their companions dead on the trail.
At the sight of their fleeing, the Novrodians sprang forward with wild shouts. It seemed as if hundreds of them were pouring into the attack.
O'Donald, filled with the fierce joy of combat, turned, produced another pistol from his belt, and snapped off several more rounds, roaring with delight as three more men went down.
Reaching the gun, the group rallied. Andrew looked about quickly. His men were forming up in a V formation to either flank of the gun, rapidly reloading, as Mina grabbed and pushed bodies to create a double volley line, the obviously terrified sailors filling in the gaps, while Ivor's foot soldiers formed a shield wall to either flank. Turning the bend in the trail, the enemy host slowed at the sight of the gun, while through the woods to either side the charge started to press in.
"Hold fire on the gun," Andrew shouted. "Let 'em get close. Company A first rank present! Fire!"
A sharp volley snapped out.
"Reload. Second rank fire!"
Within seconds the woods filled with smoke as volley after volley snapped out, the men drawing their courage back from the old familiar routine.
Ahead the enemy host seemed to be building up for the rush, while on the left archers were gaining position and started to pour in a deadly fire.
Suddenly a single form leaped forward from the mob ahead. It was obviously a priest, his golden robes swirling madly as he shouted and roared, his staff on high. With a wild cry he started forward. In an instant the floodgates opened and the host swept forward.
"Stand clear!" O'Donald roared.
The Napoleon leaped backward, the thunderclap explosion tearing through the woods. Sickened, Andrew turned away as the double load of canister slashed into the enemy ranks. The attack forward had simply disappeared.
There was a moment of silence, as both sides paused to gaze at the carnage. Half a hundred bodies were piled up before the gun. In three years of war, Andrew had never seen such destruction from a single round.
Several of the sailors turned from the ranks, retching at the sight. The rest of the men stood silent. Singly, and then as one, the Novrodians broke and started back up the hill.
"They've learned never to charge guns," O'Donald said coldly.
"Load solid shot—let's give 'em a chaser."
The gun leaped again. The round crashed into the woods, snapping down several trees.
"All right, keep the ranks close," Andrew shouted. "Forward, at the double. O'Donald, hold here, get ready in case we're pushed back again. Somebody give me a pistol."
One of the artillerymen tossed him a loaded revolver, and leading the way, Andrew started up the trail. Trying not to look too closely, he stepped past the bodies. Turning the bend in the trail, he saw a small band of the enemy starting to regroup.
"Volley fire forward," Andrew shouted.
Rifles snapped to position, and a sheet of flame lashed out. Cartridges were torn, steel ramrods slammed fresh rounds home, and weapons were brought back up.
"All right, forward again at the walk!"
With leveled bayonets the company spread out to either side of the trail. Arrows snicked past, and with a grunt of pain another man went down by Andrew's feet. Another bolt shot past, slashing into Andrew's empty sleeve, so that it dangled loosely by his side.
For the first time he realized that he was being singled out as a target, but the realization only gave him a grim determination to drive the enemy back.
Another volley was fired, a twenty-yard advance, and then another volley.
They gained the end of the woods and saw the burning village before them aswarm with several hundred men pulling back, rushing to their horses, which were picketed in a small clearing at the other end of town. Many of them were already mounted, waving their weapons and shouting defiantly.
A high clarion call sounded off to the right. Stepping out into the clearing, Andrew could see Ivor and his men charging out of the woods a quarter mile away, Novrodians fleeing before them.
By the time Ivor was within hailing distance the last of the attackers had already disappeared off toward the east.
"Captain Mina," Andrew said grimly, "take roll, and get our dead and wounded back to the ship."
Andrew stepped out of the woods and started toward Ivor. A wave of light-headed giddiness swept over him, and his knees felt loose and rubbery. For a moment he thought he might vomit, and he had to struggle for control. It was always the same after a fight, the exhilaration giving way to shock at what he had done with such cold joy only moments before. His memory flashed to the bodies swept to the ground as if from the blow of a giant. At least the rebs knew what artillery could do. This felt more like murder than anything else, and he was sickened at the thought.
But it was a trap. That was already obvious. They'd been waiting for him.
Ivor reined his mount in, while signaling for the rest of his command to sweep forward in pursuit of the enemy.
Kal—where was Kal? Andrew wondered, suddenly worried. The peasant had been aboard the boat and landed, and he had not seen him since. But as if by magic the peasant appeared out of the smoking woods to stand by his side.
"Just where the hell were you?" Andrew asked.
"Where else, when nobles fight?" Kal replied honestly, "Hiding."
"Maybe you're even smarter than I thought," Andrew replied, seeing nothing but common sense in the response.
"So you had a good fight," Ivor shouted, reining up by Andrew's side.
"Could call it that," Andrew said laconically. "Would you care to see?"
Turning, he pointed back down the trail, and together the three started back.
Rounding the bend in the trail, Ivor drew his mount up short. Wide-eyed, he looked at the carnage. Dismounting, he stepped gingerly around the bodies, looking first at the ground, and then at the torn and shattered trees to either side of the path.
Turning, he looked Andrew straight in the eye.
"I'm glad after all I decided not to fight you," he said quietly.
"So am I," Andrew replied in Russian.
Ivor walked over to the body of the priest and kicked it over. The face was half gone. With a curse, Ivor spat on the corpse.
"Halna, priest of Novrod. So the church is now against me in the open."
"And someone knew we were in town today, and planned this attack to lure us out, and perhaps defeat me," Andrew replied.
"Who else but Rasnar?" Ivor said darkly. "I know my brother Mikhail fled to Novrod, so that is the plot."
"So what are you going to do?" Andrew asked.
"Nothing, and leave that snake in the middle of your city?"
"He is the arch prelate of all the people of Rus," Ivor replied sharply. "Move directly against him and not only will I face Novrod, but Vazima, Kev, Zagdors, all the cities of Rus. My father wrested temporal power from his father. Because of that I have the support of the nobles of all the cities. They would not support a move to depose me, for it would threaten their position. But not even I would dare to face him directly in this. So I will act as if this were nothing but yet another raid, as we all engage in to keep our neighbors off balance from time to time."
"Madness," Andrew said grimly.
"When you know more of my world, you'll not say that," Ivor said, a sharp tone of admonishment in his voice. "Your men harvested many heads for my wall. My prestige in this little fight will grow, and others will think twice before crossing me. You've caused trouble for me, Keane, but you have your uses as well."
Ivor walked back over to his mount and swung his bulky frame back into the saddle.
"I shall see you back at the city—we'll feast tonight. And yes, our argument of earlier is settled. Your man died just before I left, so now there is no problem between us. Now the people will like you again."
Astounded, Andrew watched as the boyar galloped back up the hill.
Andrew turned and looked at Kal.
"We are all nothing but part of his game," Kal whispered.
"All know that in the end the struggle between the lords and the church will soon be decided. Peasants fear nobles, peasants fear priests as well—whoever wins their argument, it will stay the same for us. As for you and yours, when wolf is done fighting wolf, the victor will devour the new fox."
John Mina and his command came down the trail, carrying half a dozen bodies.
"What's the bill, John?" Andrew asked.
"Not good, sir. Ten men dead, thirteen wounded, but they should pull through all right. Four men were killed when we first got hit, and their bodies were stripped, so they've got muskets and ammunition now."
So that was the most likely cause of it as well, Andrew realized. Get some guns and figure out how to use them.
"There's something else, though," Mina continued.
"Two men missing, sir. No one saw them go down. I think they've been captured."
"Who are they?"
"Brian Sadler was one of them, sir."
"And the other one?"
Terrified, Hawthorne tried not to watch, but driven by some horrible compulsion he couldn't turn away.
The previous night, he'd been slung over the back of a horse like a sack of grain and, tied and blindfolded, carried back to Novrod.
Each breath now felt like fire, and he wondered if some ribs might have been cracked. But for the moment that was the least of his worries.
"Make gun work!"
What was before him seemed straight out of a medieval nightmare. Private Sadler was strapped to a chair, his head encased in a metal cap, with screws over each temple.
"Make gun work!" the priest roared.
"You can kiss my hairy ass!" Sadler screamed.
Smiling, the priest took hold of the screws and turned them another half twist. Sadler arched up in the chair, screaming with pain, and then collapsed.
Sobbing, Hawthorne tried to tear himself free from the ropes that held him to the wall. The priest looked over at him, chuckled softly, and then went back to work.
"Make gun work!"
Sadler spat in the priest's face.
The screws were turned again. Hysterical shrieks rent the air, joined by the begging pleas of Hawthorne to stop the madness.
The priest came up to Vincent and held the musket up before him.
"You make work, I stop."
God in heaven, how could this be happening? Hawthorne wondered. He could stop Sadler's anguish, but then another machine of killing would be in the hands of these men.
"Don't do it!" Sadler sobbed. "They'll use it against our men."
The priest turned back to Sadler. Advancing, he prepared to turn the screws yet again. This time, however, a priest who had stood in the shadows stepped before Sadler and started to argue with the torturer.
The man kept pointing to Sadler and shaking his head. It was obvious to Vincent that the man was worried that Sadler would die if the screws were turned any tighter. Blood was pouring from Sadler's nose, and it appeared as if his eyes were about to burst from their sockets.
Finally the torturer smiled as if in agreement to a suggestion. The screws were loosened, and shuddering Sadler sank down in the chair.
The torturer left the cell. A moment later the door opened again, and Hawthorne's eyes grew wide with terror.
The priest came back into the room carrying a wire basket nearly six feet in length and a foot in diameter.
Inside, a dark-green snake coiled and slithered, hissing menacingly. As it opened its mouth, twin fangs glistened evilly in the torchlight.
"Not that!" Sadler shrieked. "God in heaven, not that! I can't take it!"
Two assistants came into the room and dragged a high table over to Brian, while the master torturer opened one end of the basket and placed it on the table. Untying Sadler's right arm, the two assistants started to push the limb toward the opening.
"God, God save me!" Sadler screamed.
"Stop it!" Hawthorne cried. "I'll show you—just stop it!"
The priest looked over to Hawthorne and smiled, gesturing for Sadler to be spared.
Hawthorne was cut down from the wall, and the priest tossed the musket into his hands.
"Make fire and smoke," he ordered.
Trembling, Hawthorne rested the butt of the Springfield rifle on the floor and motioned for the cartridge and cap box to be brought over.
As he finished, the torturer came up to stand by his side with drawn dagger ready to strike.
Cautiously, Vincent brought the weapon to his shoulder, pointed to the iron-barred window, and squeezed.
Badly frightened, all in the room jumped back.
Vincent handed the weapon back to the priest. Gingerly the man took the weapon. Sniffing the barrel, he exclaimed at the sulfurous smell and gazed darkly at the trembling youth.
Taking the cartridge box, he pulled out a paper-wrapped round, and following Vincent's directions, tore the round open, poured the powder down the barrel, pushed the bullet in, and then rammed the charge home. Cocking the piece, he placed a percussion cap on the nipple.
Hawthorne pointed to the trigger, and gestured to indicate how the weapon should be held.
The priest brought the weapon to his shoulder and pointed it straight at Hawthorne's face.
Please God, let him do it, Hawthorne prayed inwardly. He had already betrayed his beliefs by joining the army, and now had taught someone how to kill. The punishment could only be fitting.
The priest smiled at him darkly.
The man spun around, putting the gun barrel against the side of Sadler's head.
"See you in hell!" Sadler roared.
The priest pulled the trigger. Brains and blood splattered against the far wall.
Leaning over, Hawthorne vomited while his tormentors laughed.
The doorway into his cell opened slowly, and a black-bearded warrior stepped into the room. Vincent gazed warily at the man, recognizing him immediately as the warrior who had confronted him on the road.
The priest tossed the gun to Mikhail, who hefted the weapon and smiled. Motioning for the cartridge box, he pulled out a round, tore it open, and poured the powder into the palm of his hand, then started speaking to the priest, who nodded eagerly.
"You show magic of this," the priest snapped, coming up to face Vincent. "Say no . . ." With a shrug he pointed to the snake in the cage.
"Sleep tonight and think."
"How do you know our language?" Hawthorne asked, curious even through the cloud of dread and pain that engulfed him.
The old priest suddenly seemed to shrivel up into the posture of a cripple.
"Yankee, help me," he whined, holding out his hand.
Horrified, Hawthorne realized that he had seen the man before, but as a beggar outside the gate of Fort Lincoln. He had even given the man a copper coin and spoken to him a number of times, feeling sympathy for someone so wretched.
Cackling, the priest stood back up.
"With this," and he gestured to the gun, "we send man to kill your Keane, or maybe his woman too."
The priest then pointed dramatically at the snake, laughed, and stalked out of the room. Two assistants cut the ropes that had held Sadler and dragged the shattered body feet first out of the room, while another picked up the snake basket, grabbed the single torch, and walked out behind them.
Mikhail was the last to leave. Coming up to Vincent, he grinned and then delivered a smashing blow to the boy's stomach, doubling him over. Laughing, Mikhail left the room and the door slammed shut behind him.
Sobbing, Hawthorne collapsed on the floor, dreading the realization that tomorrow morning he would have to try to die, rather than give the knowledge that could threaten his comrades.
Rasnar gestured for Casmar to withdraw now that the tea had been served.
"Go ahead and drink," the prelate said soothingly, "I promise it isn't poison."
Ivor looked across the table and, smiling, pushed the cup aside.
"You insult my honesty," Rasnar replied softly.
"Then be insulted. I'm not so stupid as to drink something you'd serve."
"Come, come. I am far more diabolical than that. If you visit me, then die of some malady shortly thereafter, the blame would rest squarely on my doorstep. More than one man has been falsely accused after the mere bad luck of having an enemy die after the two had shared a perfectly innocent meal. If I kill you, Ivor, I'll do it far more subtly than that, and be sure at the same time of having another of my enemies blamed instead."
"And so what has stopped you so far, if you are so powerful?"
"Ah, my old rival, perhaps I need you, as you need me."
Ivor leaned back and adjusted his glasses.
"Both of us would be better off if the other were dead. This power struggle between the two of us has been brewing for years. My father did what was needed to strip temporal power from your father. Your church has no business in the affairs of state, and you wish to change that."
"But ah, my friend, a reckoning is coming," Rasnar replied smoothly. "The Tugars liked our little arrangement that your father so foolishly upset. The church ruled the nobles, the nobles ruled the peasants. Through our power, all submitted to the Tugar host, and thus lived because of our preaching of submission to their laws of feeding.
"I shall tell you something else as well. Though the church ruled over all cities, we did not interfere when you and your uncouth brethren would fight in the gutter with each other. It was as the Tugars wished, for the cities were divided, and thus there was never a dream of resistance."
"Nor would we resist now," Ivor said gruffly. "It would be madness. There are not twenty thousand warriors among all the Rus, to stand against the hundreds of thousands of the horde. But we are not here to talk of Tugars, but of your plots against me and my holdings."
"But the topic comes back to the Tugars nevertheless," Rasnar replied. "They so ordered the balance of rule, and so it has always been. To tamper with that, without their permission, is folly. You and those of noble birth have the exemption, and the church sells indulgences from the pit to those not of such birth. Together we controlled the peasants, took the taxes, and prevented any trouble that might result in the slaughter of us all."
"And the great grain houses and silver hoards are already half full in anticipation of their arrival three and a half years hence," Ivor replied. "I shall make sure all is in order for their arrival, so why do you worry such about them?"
"I fear you have plans with these Yankees," Rasnar replied sharply. "I saw it the first night after you witnessed their power when they smashed your catapults. I could see that fire in your eyes, Ivor Weak Eyes."
Ivor bristled at the name. He had been Weak Eyes once, but the Yankee gift had solved that. He preferred now the title of Ivor Yankee Owner, and felt Rasnar's taunt an affront. And yes, he had plans, plans to unite all of Rus under his rule. Not since the time of Ivan near twenty generations ago had one man ruled all the Rus. Even the Tugars respected him, taking one of his sons on their endless migration around the entire world. Upon his return Ivan had given the throne to that son, the legendary Ivan the Great.
If he could unite all the Rus, then he could perhaps negotiate that more of the feeding would be leveled against Novrod, thus making his base of power even stronger after the host had left.
But as it had stood before, only the church was totally exempt from even the taxes of the Tugars. The church still had that vast wealth stored away and could use it as bribes to the Tugars and to turn princes one against the other. He needed and wanted that money. His father had not had the nerve to take it, but with the Yankees on his side, he could perhaps even bring down the church and have all its wealth in his coffers.
"But we are not here to talk of Tugars," Ivor said peevishly. "One of your priests led an attack against my Yankees, and thus against me."
"It is not funny!" Ivor roared, slamming his fist on the table. "Two of the Yankees were taken prisoners as well. What has happened to them? I must tell Keane something."
"Tell him they're dead. They were killed trying to escape."
"I doubt that. They could show you how the Yankee weapons work."
"We could figure that out on our own," and Rasnar waved his hand as if the topic were of no importance.
"If your priests lead another such attack I'll take several monks from the nearest monastery and hang them from the city wall to rot!"
"You wouldn't dare," Rasnar hissed. "The priests, monks, and nuns are mine to rule, not yours. Touch but one of them and I'll close every church in your land and tell the people that the Tugar feeding will be directed against them alone. I'll tell them as well that I will inform the Tugars that the nobles and merchants were conspiring to resist the horde and must be punished. The merchant class will then ally with me, forgetting the taxes the church once imposed on them."
Ivor fell silent. Rasnar's father had in fact decreed just the same thing when the boyars denounced and removed the priests from all secular power in the Suzdalian realm, and shifted the merchant tax to their own coffers. But at that time it was nineteen years to the next feeding. There had been several riots among the peasants, but the nobles finally restored control and Rasnar was forced to remove the threat when he gained the prelate's chair.
"If you do that, I'll kill you," Ivor said evenly, looking across the table.
"And have a peasant revolt on your hands. Though that scum fear and hate us, they fear their hell even more."
Ivor settled back in his chair with a muffled curse.
"Come, come, my old friend, you and I can reach an arrangement."
"Go on then," Ivor said coldly.
"Help me to kill the Yankees and I'll forget our disagreement."
"Absurd. They are useful allies."
"You are playing with fire. I know they aren't demons, they are men like us. The Primary Chronicle tells how our ancestors fell into the light long ago, and thus came to this world. We know that the Maya to the west and the Roum and Carthas to the east and south came here in the same way.
"But your Yankees are different. How will they react when it comes time to give one of five of their numbers to the Tugar feeding?"
Ivor was silent. He already knew that answer. These men did not understand the larger needs, to sacrifice some so that the rest might live. They had weapons as well, weapons far more powerful than the dreaded war bows of the horde. If but one Tugar was slain by a Yankee, a thousand heads would be taken in retaliation, for thus was the law.
He liked Keane; in some ways he could even call him a friend and as such would spare him and those Keane pointed out for special treatment. But already he knew Keane would not tolerate the taking of any of his men. That was obvious from the anguish the one-armed man had shown over the previous day's losses, and the capture of the one called Hawthorne. Keane had demanded a march at once upon Novrod, and was still threatening it, with or without Ivor's agreement.
"By your silence I know what you are thinking," Rasnar replied softly.
"It is still three years away, and by then they shall be trained in our ways," Ivor stated.
"You're a fool," Rasnar snapped. "I saw the danger of them the moment I observed their power. I know why you wanted them—to use their power against the other princes and thus fulfill your foolish dream of being another Ivan. I know as well that you wish to use them against me. But they will bring you down first, or I will do it myself."
"Priest, if you threaten me again I care not for what injunction is placed upon me, I'll burn this church to the ground tonight."
That was the one predictable fault of Ivor, Rasnar realized. He thought himself to be brilliant, and in some ways he was, but he was also a blustering buffoon, like most nobles. Like foolish children they would rage and fight over a sand castle, only knocking the prize down in the process. Ivor was dangerous when blinded by rage, and he would have to be handled carefully now that his blood was up.
"Let me make you an offer," Rasnar said soothingly.
"My people in Novrod have taken your bastard brother in. They help him even now, and he has gained the alliance of Vlad and Boros."
Ivor growled darkly at the revelation.
"I'll tell you now it was Mikhail that organized the little entertainment of the previous day, with the hope of destroying the Yankees and killing Keane, but unfortunately things didn't quite work," and so saying he extended his hands in a gesture of exasperation.
"Why are you telling me this?" Ivor snarled.
"Oh, just to let you know what I can so easily do against you."
"So what is your offer?"
"I can arrange for a little accident with Mikhail, and for all the world it would appear to be the doing of Vlad or Boros. In turn I'll stir the nobles of Novrod against their boyar, revealing that he had allied with me to destroy you. For even though there is no love lost between Novrod and Suzdal, still nobles will unite against one who uses the church to kill another.
"The rest will be easy, You march on Novrod and take it as your own when the nobles there come to your side. Then when the Tugars come, simply shift a greater portion of the taxes and feeding to that city. The result, your enemy will be crippled and Suzdal will emerge as the most powerful state after the Tugars are gone.'*
"And in return I kill the Yankees," Ivor whispered.
"But of course. I have some who know a thing or two about poison in water. Weaken them first, then finish them off."
"You are evil incarnate," Ivor hissed.
"I am practical. Of course, for my help you and I will split the spoils of the Yankees. I will even agree that you keep all the great smoke makers that did such damage in that little disagreement yesterday."
Ivor eyed Rasnar closely, unable to speak.
"You know in the end it is the only way," Rasnar said evenly.
Growling with anger, Ivor stood up.
"We made a mistake before when each prevented the other from acting," Rasnar stated. "Both of us feared that the other would get the secret of the Yankee weapons. Thus they lived, and now threaten you more than you think."
"I can control them, and when need be eliminate them."
"Your tea grows cold," Rasnar said soothingly.
With a sweep of his hand, Ivor knocked the cup from the table and started for the door.
"Such a waste. It was a wonderful brew," Rasnar said calmly. "I know in the end you'll come to an agreement on this, for there's no other way out of your predicament. The Yankees are a two-edged sword, Ivor, and you are now balanced on the blade."
As the door slammed shut, Rasnar could not help but laugh, the first time he had done so since the arrival of the Yankees. He knew Ivor all too well. As a boyar he was better than most. But the man thought too much of his own vanity and dream of power, something which could be so easily maneuvered.
In the end he'd agree. If the Rus were to survive the next visit of the horde, he'd have to agree, and in the process the church would once again gain its power back, for Ivor would be beholden to him before it was finished. And besides, with several hundred of the Yankee weapons, much could be done to spread the church's authority over all the boyars of the realm once Ivor was eliminated.
The report had reached him only this morning that two prisoners had been taken, and with the right persuasion would reveal how the magic powder could be made.
Chuckling, Rasnar stood up, threw the contents of his untouched teacup into the fire, and strode from the room.
The feasting had been good. Muzta Qarth rode slowly past the slaughter pits where the scattered bones of humans had been piled up, according to ritual, skulls in one heap, ribs in another, arm and leg bones in the third.
Yet again, though, the disease had been here before them, killing half the population of the village before the first outriders and choosers of the flesh had arrived. Another quarter of the cattle were still weak and disfigured, and thus unfit to eat.
It took over fifteen hundred cattle a day, along with other foodstuffs, to feed the host. When the two out of ten had been consumed they would move on. The only way to feed now was to take every healthy human, good breeding stock or not, young and old, and place the symbolic halter about his neck.
Muzta paused in his thoughts and looked down the hill at the human village, from which the cries of lamentation of the few survivors rent the evening air.
Their anguish moved him not, as the cries of any beast facing the knife moved not those who must eat. But he knew what they would leave behind, when the yurts pushed on in the morning.
The few weakened survivors would most likely perish come the storms of winter, for they would not have even the strength to bring in the harvest. When he returned here again with the next circling the village would be overgrown ruins. A stopping place for the Tugars for a hundred generations gone forever. He had hoped not to feed here at all, and save this place, but Tula and the other chieftains had demanded fresh meat, having gone for a week without a decent feed. Even Muzta had to admit to himself now that the smell of flesh crackling over the fire pits, the kettles of blood soup, the great pies of kidney, and fresh roasted liver had set his mouth to watering.
The final course of the evening, in commemoration of the moon feast, he had eagerly looked forward to. A healthy female cattle of breeding stock had been brought into his yurt. The moon feast usually was the only time that breeding stock were eaten, and thus he felt no regrets. She had been dragged under the special Table of the Moon and her head pushed up and secured in place. Alem himself had done the honors, and with sure deft movements quickly sawed away at her skull.
The cries of the victim were part of the ceremony, the shaman interpreting them for omens regarding the next month. When the sawing was finished, the victim was still alive and conscious, another good omen. With an audible pop the skull was yanked off, revealing the victim's brain, and those around the table reached in with their golden spoons to scoop out the contents, while the cattle struggled weakly and then died.
But then, to everyone's horror, an ugly red knot of evil-looking flesh the size of a small apple was revealed. Nauseated, Muzta spat out the brains he had been chewing on, while Alem cried out that the auguries were too horrible to voice.
The memory haunted him, and he needed no shaman to interpret what it meant. They must race on, he thought grimly, and somehow outdistance this pestilence of running sores, which left the cattle disfigured with ugly pock marks that could turn the stomach of any who even contemplated eating them.
He looked heavenward. The Great Wheel stood at its zenith directly overhead, the sign of late summer. The plan was still good, he realized, even though the horses of the clans were thinning from the constant march without a day to rest, covering in one season the grounds that normally took two years. When they reached the land of the Maya cattle the Wheel would be low, and the first snows falling. Perhaps then there would be rest.
Meditatively he took another bite from the fresh sausage made by his seventh consort and rode on into the night.
Somehow he had slept. Coming up to his knees, Hawthorne looked about the cell, which was bathed by the silvery light of the Wheel and the twin moons that had risen in the eastern sky.
Groaning, he came to his feet and rested his hands against the wall. With a startled cry he pulled his hands back and held them up.
What had once contained the essence of Sadler's mind dribbled off his fingertips and splashed to the floor. Sobbing, he tried to wipe the gore off, the horrid memories washing through his soul.
Could he stand it in the morning? he wondered feverishly. The snake, and the leering grin of the priest while he screamed in terror—could he stand it? And in his heart there was the nagging fear, an inner voice that told him he would break.
The priest knew his craft well, Hawthorne realized. In the mad terror earlier he might have been able to hold out, but now there was only the long night and the contemplation of what was to come.
He tried to form a prayer, to turn inward, as he had once so easily done during the Meeting for Worship. But that seemed endless lifetimes away. He tried to imagine the gray-shingled church at the base of the Oak Grove hill. Snow drifting down silently outside, the peace within, and even the memory of Bonnie Price sitting in the women's section stealing sidelong glances in his direction.
Why had he ever left? he thought self-pityingly. He could be there now. It was still February back home, maybe even Sunday. Longingly he looked at the Wheel, trying to imagine that somewhere up there was his world, where even now they would be praying, perhaps for him.
And in his soul he knew before the priests were finished he would break, condemning more to death by his weakness.
He slid back down to the floor. What could he do? How he wished the priest had killed him instead, ending this nightmare.
The thought started to form. It was a sin, he realized, a horrible sin, that would condemn him to hell. But perhaps the Lord would understand after all. To do it might spare hundreds more from death.
Yet was he not taught that such an equation was fallacy, that it was a logic the world had always used to justify murder? Kill one to save hundreds—the moment that was done and accepted, then killing was accepted.
But suicide? A sacrifice to save hundreds. Even so, that would be better than living out his last moments with the realization of a worst sin—the possible death of his comrades because of his weakness.
Twisting his hands against their bonds, he realized that Mikhail had done a clumsy job with the knot. Bringing the rope to his teeth he worked feverishly, twisting and turning his wrists till they were chafed raw. Gradually the knot loosened and finally the rope fell away.
Steeling himself, Hawthorne came to his feet, looked about the room, and saw at once the instrument of his deliverance. The coils of rope used to bind Sadler still lay upon the floor.
He had to work fast, for he knew fear would stay his hand if he paused to contemplate the enormity of his actions. Quickly he fashioned a noose. Scanning the room again, he was startled to hear a curse come to his lips.
The ceiling was bare; there was nothing to tie the other end to. Desperately he looked about again and then with a chill realized there was only one chance. He'd have to tie the rope to the window bars, then pull his own feet up and thus dangle until strangulation choked out his life.
But when unconsciousness came, would his legs drop and thus save him? There was only one alternative. He looped the noose through the window bars, then pulled the chair that Brian had sat on over to the window. Kneeling on the chair, he then took another coil of rope. With trembling hands he looped two coils around his ankles, hooked the ropes through his belt, and tied his feet securely to his backside.
"God forgive me this sin," he whispered hoarsely. Balanced on the chair, he placed the noose around his neck, cinched it up tightly, then grabbed the chair with his hands.
The memory of snow washed over him, gentle falling snow outside the window of the chapel, and Bonnie's eyes gazing at him.
The chair clattered out from under him and the rope went taut.
"Dammit, he won't do a goddam thing other than send an envoy. He thinks they're already dead," Andrew roared. "I've wasted a day and a half with him. We could have been near Novrod by now. Let them see what a field battery can do to their walls and I'd get Sadler and Hawthorne back damn quick."
"Have a drink, son," Emil said softly, offering his friend a glass of the now precious brandy.
"Those are two of my boys," Andrew snapped between sips. "I lost ten men out there yesterday, counting O'Donald's two. James was the eleventh. I'll be damned if I'll lose two more."
"And what do you propose?" Emil said softly.
"We go back to Fort Lincoln tomorrow morning, put the regiment in marching order, and head for Novrod, and Ivor be damned. The regiment takes care of its own, it always has, and by God it always will. By heaven, man, we've only lost prisoners twice, at Antietam and Gettysburg, and that was to rebs, who at least obeyed the rules of war. You see how Ivor hangs his enemies and criminals from the wall. Good God, man, he took some of their wounded this morning and hung 'em out there to die. It was enough to turn your stomach."
"Damn right," Hans mumbled in the corner of the room. "Damn barbarians they are."
"If Ivor says no?" Emil replied.
"I owe my loyalty to the regiment first," Andrew snapped. "My men come first, and damn anyone who gets in the way of that."
"You might have a full-scale war on your hands. Ivor's the only ally we've got," Emil cautioned.
"Then I'll give him Novrod when I'm finished as a payoff. That ought to make him happy."
"He's in a power game we're not even sure of," Emil replied. "Attack Novrod and you might upset his cart, and bring everything crashing down on us as well."
"Better that than sinking to their level of justice. I don't want anyone here to think he can take a man from my command to do with as he pleases."
"I think you're wrong," Emil said quietly.
"Then think me wrong. I don't want a word of this until the regiment is formed. You're to load the injured aboard the Ogunquit tonight. At dawn we go back to Fort Lincoln and form up."
Hans stood up and smiled, slapping his thigh.
"It'll be a damn good fight," the old sergeant said, looking proudly at Andrew. Draining his glass, he strode from the room.
Andrew turned away. In his heart he knew this was the wrong move; he'd loose a lot more men before it was done. But the strength of the regiment was in the knowledge that every man, if need be, would fight to save a single comrade in distress. None of them could sit idly by at the thought of Sadler, and especially the bright-eyed Hawthorne, facing possible torture.
The world was spinning, his lungs near bursting. This must be a foretaste of hell, and the terror of it made him want to scream, but that luxury could not be had by a man who was hanging.
In spite of himself he started to jerk and squirm on the end of the rope, fighting the wild urge to grab hold of the line and pull himself up.
Suddenly there was a grating noise and the line jerked down several inches, yanking the noose even tighter about his throat. A trickle of stones rained down around him.
The iron bar holding the rope must have moved! Desperate, he reached up and grabbed hold of the rope. He felt his lungs were near exploding. Bright stars started to flash before his eyes; hot streaks of agony coursed to his brain as every nerve seemed to scream for air.
He tried to pull himself up, but his arms were too weak.
There was another grating sound and the rope jerked down another inch. With a final lunge of despair he pulled himself up by the rope, and his right hand shot out and grabbed a bar.
The world was starting to lose focus, as if he were looking down a long dark tunnel. Hanging now by one hand, he tore frantically at the rope about his neck. For a terrifying moment it wouldn't give.
Suddenly the knot loosened. With a shriek he drew in a lungful of air, and another and another.
Gasping, he worked feebly at the rope, loosening the knot. As he pulled the noose over his head, Vincent let go with his right hand and crashed to the ground.
He wasn't sure if it was a minute or an hour until consciousness returned. His neck felt as if it were wrapped in fiery metal.
With trembling hands he loosened the bonds that held his legs and, weak-kneed, came to his feet. The noose still dangled from the iron bar. Reaching out, he grabbed the barrier and pulled.
The bar didn't move. Sobbing, he pulled again, and still it did not budge. Had he dreamed it in the final moment, and saved himself? Would he now have to face that horror again?
Cursing wildly at his fate, he slammed the bar with his fist, and it gave back easily with a sharp grating noise.
So it had moved! Eagerly the young soldier shook the bar several times. There were several inches of play in it, but a heavy lintel stone prevented it from popping all the way out.
There had to be a way. He'd given up too easily. Had God sent him this sign after all, to use the gift of his mind to find a way out?
Sitting back down, he let his eyes wander about the room looking for some possible way, for he now reasoned his death would not have been stopped if God had not wished him to somehow escape.
An hour later he was ready. It had taken nearly all that time to quietly pry a leg free from the chair Sadler had been bound to. Taking a section of rope he had tied it to the loose bar, and then weaved the rope back and forth several times around a stationary bar and then back to the loose bar again.
Whispering a silent pray he slipped the chair leg in between the ropes and then turn it like a windlass. The ropes started to coil, the slackness going out of them. After a dozen revolutions of the chair leg the ropes were now taut and resistance to his turning motion became harder. Pulling the leg towards his body Hawthorne now needed both hands, and after another revolution be was bracing his feet against the wall, the muscles of his arms knotting and straining.
He felt as if he could not tighten the ropes any further and his prayer changed to a silent curse. A muffled groan escaped his lips, sweat beaded his brow and then ever so slowly he saw the loosened iron bar start to bend in the middle.
"Dear God give me strenth," he whispered.
The bar bent inward, a dusting of mortar drifted down, and then with a grating tear the bar snapped inward, popping out of its mount. With a loud clatter Vincent fell to the floor.
Terrified he snatched up the iron bar and hunched down, staring at the door, waiting for a response from his jailers. For what seemed like an eternity he sat in silence, animal instincts coiling his muscles, ready to spring.
There was no response and gradually he relaxed, stood up and and stuck his head out the window, to see that his cell was a good twenty feet off the ground.
Tucking the bar into his belt, he set to work. A moment later Hawthorne wormed his way through the narrow opening. Grabbing hold of the rope, which was now tied to a well-secured bar, he quickly slid down the line, burning his hands in the process.
Fortunately it was still dark, but in the east there was an ever so faint lightening to the sky. He wouldn't have much time. Looking up and down the narrow alleyway, he realized one direction was as good as another. Pulling the iron bar from his belt, he started out at a run.
For several desperate minutes he feared he was completely lost, and would wander thus until, with the coming of dawn, the alarm would be raised. But turning the next corner, he was confronted by the wooden palisades of the city wall.
For several minutes he peered at it cautiously. It seemed that no one was on the battlement.
He hit the nearest ladder at the run and quickly scaled to the top. Another twenty-foot drop confronted him. Desperate, he looked for some way to get over the side.
Startled, Hawthorne looked up. A guard was approaching him.
The man shouted something, and Hawthorne, desperate, merely shrugged his shoulders.
The guard came right up alongside and started to speak.
Suddenly his eyes grew wide.
"Yankee!" the guard hissed.
As if driven by animal instinct, Hawthorne slashed out with his iron bar, and with a sickening crunch the man's helmet collapsed inward.
With a shriek, the man staggered backward, fell from the battlement, and was still.
Shouts rose up from a watchtower farther down the wall. An arrow hissed past, missing Vincent by inches.
Closing his eyes, he leaped atop the battlement and jumped.
Hitting hard, he rolled away from the wall, and in an instant was up and running wildly toward the river. Another arrow snapped past. Vincent staggered and fell, and was up again, still running madly, a shaft sticking out of his thigh.
He hit the muddy shore, and grabbing hold of a light skiff, pushed it out into the river. Leaping in, he took hold of the oars and started to pull madly. The shoreline dropped away, the faint outline of the city in the early-morning light drifting from sight as a turn in the river pushed him away from view.
For what seemed like hours he rowed without stopping, unmindful of his bleeding hands and the agony of his throat. Finally as the terror subsided, he looked down at the wound. The shaft was buried in the fleshy part of his leg. Nerving himself, he tried to pull it out, but fell backward weeping from the pain.
He spied a rusty fishing knife in the bottom of the skiff and used it to saw the shaft off near the wound, each cut an agony as the vibration fired every nerve in his leg. Taking off his shirt, he tore out a bandage and bound the wound tight, finally stemming the flow of blood. Then, picking up the oars, he started in again, driven by the fear that the hawk-faced priest would appear at any moment, carrying the snake basket and cackling with delight.
The sun rose to its zenith and crossed the sky. Trembling with exhaustion, Hawthorne finally fell over and lay out to rest. But his rest was disturbed when in the distance he heard a thunder which grew ever louder.
With his last ounce of strength, the boy pulled his head up and looked out over the water. The river was moving faster now, coursing between a series of steep hills. He could see a curtain of spray rising ahead . . . rapids. Looking back up the river, he saw a small vessel like a miniature Viking ship round a bend in the river, its oars rising and dropping rhythmically. So they had caught up after all, he thought numbly.
The skiff started to pitch and roll with the current, but Hawthorne was beyond caring. Swooning, he fell back down, and the blackness washed over him.
It had been a near thing, Andrew thought grimly as he walked across the square of the city. He did not even bother to acknowledge the bows of the residents who stopped to watch him pass. Since the fight by the river, word had spread about how the small detachment had met five times their own number and driven them back with great slaughter, and the mood of the city had changed overnight from wariness to outright displays of affection.
Reaching the cathedral, Andrew pushed open the doors and stormed in.
Two hours ago the regiment had been formed, rations issued, eighty rounds of ammunition per man passed out, the one piece of artillery with a full complement of horses limbered and ready.
When he saw Ivor himself galloping down the road he thought that the confrontation would blow then and there, for surely the boyar had come to threaten retaliation for this action. Their stormy session the night before had not gone well for either, but to his surprise the man had not come straight out and ordered him not to march.
But Ivor reined in before him, smiling broadly, and told him the news. Andrew shouted for the regiment to stand down, and swinging his mount about he galloped back to the city, Kal, Ivor, and Emil following him.
After seeing the results of what had been done, no one could now step him in his rage.
He strode down the length of the cathedral, his hobnailed boots clicking loudly on the polished limestone floor.
Approaching the altar, he saw Casmar.
"Where is Rasnar?" Andrew shouted.
Startled, Casmar looked back at him.
"I want Rasnar now!" Andrew barked.
"His holiness is in meditation," Casmar said nervously.
"Get him now," Andrew snarled.
"Keane, be careful," Kal, who had followed him, whispered nervously.
"To the devil with caution," Andrew snapped.
"Don't do this," Casmar said, his voice full of concern.
"If you don't find him, I'll look for him myself!" Andrew barked.
"I will go announce you," Casmar replied, shaking his head, and turning, he started for the side door.
Impatiently Andrew stood waiting for only the briefest moments, and then followed Casmar.
"Keane, don't!" Kal cried.
Without comment Andrew kept on his course. Pushing the door open, he stalked down the long corridor. At the far end he could see Casmar turn and look back, an expression of fear on his face. Andrew kept on relentlessly. He came up to the priest, who stood by an ornately carved door. Pushing the priest aside, Andrew slammed the door open and stepped into the room.
For once he saw the prelate completely taken aback. Rising from behind his desk, Rasnar stood motionless, looking nervously to where Andrew's right hand rested lightly on his holster.
"No, I won't kill you," Andrew snapped. "At least not yet."
"And why the act of mercy?" Rasnar replied, quickly regaining his composure and settling back behind his desk.
"Because as I am a liege to Ivor, he would be blamed, so you are protected for the moment."
"Really, Ivor should learn to keep his dogs on a tighter leash."
"I just got one of my boys back," Andrew said coldly, coming forward to rest his hand on Rasnar's desk.
"Yes, how fortunate for you. Perm has been kind to him."
"He told me how one of your priests tortured him, how your animal hiding in his gold robes blew out my man's brains and tried to force Hawthorne to reveal the secret of gunpowder."
"Delirious ravings," Rasnar said smoothly.
"I'll believe my boy before I'd ever listen to your twisted superstitious lies."
Rasnar did not respond. With a steady hand he reached over to a pot and poured himself another cup of tea.
"I'd offer you some," Rasnar said evenly, "but I think it is time for you to leave."
"I just want you to know that as far as I am concerned, the game between you and me is out in the open. You tortured two of my men, your plottings caused me to lose ten others in battle, and I half suspect that fight in the tavern was triggered by your people as well."
"Of that, at least, I am innocent," Rasnar replied.
"I don't care for your explanations. You have a truce with me for right now—I'll grant you that for the sake of Ivor. But if but one of my men disappears, if there is an accident of any kind, if a roof tile should fall on someone or a man gets knifed in a bar fight, I'll be in front of this church at dawn the next day. I'll blow in the doors of this building and bayonet every man inside. Do I make myself clear?"
"Really, you are quite dramatic," Rasnar said, his composure slipping at the open threat that had been laid.
"Now we both know it's in the open between us. I know you for an enemy and you know me. Outside this building I'll acknowledge your position and keep the peace with my men, who God knows would tear this place apart with their bare hands if the truth got out. I'll acknowledge you and respect your customs, but by heaven, man, you'd better respect mine, and from your pulpit there had better not be another word claiming we are devil spawn, or I'll show you just what hell I can create."
Trembling, Kal looked over to Andrew, horrified by what he had just translated. He had been tempted to soften the words, but Andrew had told him beforehand that if he suspected the altering of a single phrase he would drum him out of the camp.
"Yes, we know each other now," Rasnar replied. "Now get out of my church, you infidel!"
Andrew came to attention and smiled sardonically.
"Good day to you, your holiness. I apologize for interrupting your meditations." Snapping a salute, he turned and walked out of the room. Stopping at the door, he winked at Casmar, who stood wide-eyed at the exchange, and then went on out into the hallway.
"That was madness," Kal hissed, nearly running to keep up with Andrew as they stepped back out into the street.
Stopping, Andrew looked at the man and smiled. Exhaling noisily, he pulled out a handkerchief and wiped his brow.
"You people hide your animosities in maneuverings, and plots within plots. We New Englanders are far more direct. We say it directly and up front, and the devil take the hindmost. It'll keep him off balance for a while. He's not used to dealing with that, and I daresay he will back off for the time being."
"I can only hope so, Keane. His holiness is a dangerous enemy."
"Maybe so," Andrew said quietly. "Now let's go back and see that boy."
The tension released, Andrew actually found himself relaxed. Hawthorne would survive, but the boy had been through a nightmare. It was a miracle he had been spotted clinging to the overturned skiff and fished onto shore.
Thank God he was safe, the only good news to happen after the tragic losses of the last three days. It was too bad about Sadler. He had been a good soldier, joining the regiment along with his brother Chris back in the early days of '62. He'd have to talk to Hawthorne about that, for to tell Chris the truth would most likely drive him to murder the first priest he laid eyes on.
For the good of the regiment he'd have to ask Hawthorne's silence about most of the things that had happened, but he knew the boy would understand.
Climbing the steps of the palace, Andrew returned the bows of the guards with a salute and ventured in. Ivor was there to greet him, smiling with eagerness to hear what had happened. The beefy-faced boyar had actually laughed when Andrew had first told him what he planned to say. Of course, it would help him, Andrew realized, to have a vassal who was an outsider and thus not intimidated by the priests.
Smiling at Ivor, he stepped past the boyar and entered a narrow windowless room.
Wild-eyed, Hawthorne tried to sit up as the door opened.
"It's all right, son," Andrew said softly. "You're perfectly safe now."
Feverish, the boy sank back on to the bed.
"How is he?" Andrew asked nervously, looking at Emil.
"He'll pull through all right." He patted Hawthorne on the shoulder. "The neck will heal nicely, but he'll be dam hoarse for a while. His hands are badly torn, and I think he's even cracked his ankle. We'll get that arrow out shortly. But I want this place scrubbed down first and my instruments boiled."
"Hawthorne, you're in the best of hands with old Doc Weiss here. He'll have you up and around in no time. Just settle back and get well. Kal here said he'd be honored if when you're feeling a bit better you'd stay with them so his wife and that lovely daughter of his can look after you. I want you to start practicing your Russian with them, and that's an order."
Tears filling his eyes, Hawthorne looked beseechingly at Andrew.
Gently Andrew sat down on the side of the bed.
"What is it, son?"
"Colonel . . ."
"Go on, you can tell me. I'm proud of you, boy, and I don't blame you for talking to try to save Brian's life. It was a noble act on your part, and braver still that you chose death rather than risk the lives of your comrades. I'm promoting you here and now to corporal for how you handled yourself."
Hawthorne started to shake his head, the tears coursing down his face.
"No, I can't," he whispered.
"Colonel, I—I killed a man."
Andrew was silent. Why did it have to be this way? He had hoped for the sake of this young Quaker that in battle he would never know if a bullet he fired had actually struck a man. But for his first test Vincent had been forced to do it in the worst possible way—up close, looking into the eyes of the man he cut down.
The memories came back. How many had he killed like that up close? Ten at least since coming here. And then there was that reb boy in the Wilderness. He'd shot him so close that the boy's uniform had been scorched, and then for an hour the enemy fire had been so heavy that he had been forced to lie beside the youth, watching the life slowly ebb out.
God, was that all he was good for now, killing, and leading others in killing? He tried to force the thought away.
"I think God would understand why and forgive you," Andrew said gently, holding Hawthorne's hand.
But would God ever understand my own sins and the passion for battle? he wondered sadly.
Awakening in the hour before dawn, Andrew was surprised to feel the crunch of a light frost on the ground beneath his feet as he stepped out of his cabin.
It was April back home, the fifteenth of the month, he thought as he looked heavenward. As he watched, a fiery meteor crossed the sky, and for a brief moment he thought it must be a portent of some kind, even as he chided himself for such superstition. Was his war still going on back home, or was it over by now, and Lincoln working instead on binding up the wounds of the nation?
Funny, he realized, he was thinking less and less of home in these last two months. They'd been remarkably peaceful, and with that peace the men had turned to their various projects with a will.
The Methodist meeting house across the green was nearly finished; there was even a steeple waiting for the bell, which was the big cause of excitement this morning. The town hall was up as well, and the boys had even concocted a baked-bean-and-ham supper in it the night before, complete with a band, singing, and dancing.
Kathleen had danced the evening away with him, but still there was that wall between them as if both were wary of the possible hurt the other might offer. The Suzdalians had even been drawn into the celebration, and a number of the men had female escorts for the evening.
A sizable community of a hundred or more huts had sprung up outside the earthen walls, housing merchants and twoscore families who had moved down from the city to offer their skills and services to the regiment.
In this quiet time, which Andrew had come to love so much, he walked down Gettysburg Street listening and thinking. The camp was as happy as could be expected. The young single men had seemed to adjust the easiest. Two had already asked for the right to marry, and he now found himself in the uncomfortable role of being something of a father, telling them to wait and let the courtship develop a little longer.
Among the hundred and fifty or so men who were married, some with children back home, it had been far worse. A day did not go by when a grim-faced soldier did not come to him asking if there was any hope of ever seeing Maine again. He had kept up the lie, offering assurances which he doubted would be true, hoping only that in time they would come to accept whatever strange fate it was that had cast them here.
There'd been three suicides, all of them married men, despondent over their fate. Ten others were now confined to the hospital, sitting quietly throughout the day, talking softly to themselves, or to imagined loved ones. Kathleen treated them with loving care, hoping to lure them back, but in his heart Andrew knew there was little hope; they had found a gentle world in their thoughts and would most likely dwell there for the rest of their lives.
He pushed the thoughts aside as reveille echoed in the morning air. From the cabins curses and groans cut through the early-morning chill, and Andrew smiled at the familiar sounds. He'd always found those who could not wake up easily to be a source of amusement, realizing that to such men, a man who could awake instantly, feeling refreshed, was somehow unnatural.
The camp came alive with the morning routines, which he watched and participated in with quiet satisfaction. With morning parade and breakfast soon out of the way, the various companies set off to their appointed tasks. New projects had sprung up almost overnight. A small quarry for limestone, opened by Company B, was now operating on the other side of the river, while H Company was nearly finished with building its first raft for the ferry service to support the operation.
At least Tobias had found a task as well. Two weeks ago he had pulled out and sailed down the river to go explore the freshwater sea and had not been heard from since. Of course, Andrew was worried, but at the same time felt a sense of relief that the quarrelsome captain was out of his hair for a while. Anyhow the showing of the American colors would do no harm.
"Colonel, sir. The men should be ready for you now."
Roused from his thoughts, Andrew looked up to see Captain Mina of E Company standing before him expectantly. He looked especially dapper this morning, his dark thin mustache freshly waxed, his uniform neatly pressed.
"Well then, John, let's go see what you've got."
Together the two strolled out the gate to what was now called the Mill Stream Road and started up the hill. Every time he came up this way Andrew found it amazing how much farther back the forest kept retreating because of the unending harvest of wood. Rounding the first bend in the road they came past a pile of fresh-cut boards, still oozing resin. A loud continual rasping cut the crisp morning air.
Smiling, Andrew paused for a moment to watch the sawmill in operation. If anything could remind him of Maine it was this. The building had yet to be framed, the rough logs of its skeleton still bare to the weather. There was a good head of water this morning coming down the chute and the ten-foot overshoot wheel turned easily. The driveshaft was an oak beam engaged directly to the wheel. From there a leather drive belt provided power to a five-foot circular sawblade, on the main floor of the building.
Logs were snaked into the back of the mill, straight out of the pond which was still growing and spreading out in the narrow gorge behind the mill. Andrew watched as a team of men guided the log onto the cutting table, strapped it into place, and started to push it forward. A shower of sawdust suddenly kicked up as the blade bit in with a rasping whine.
"How goes it this morning, Houston?"
The captain turned around beaming, and as usual his excitement over this pet project was unlimited.
"It's a-growing, sir," Tracy said, beckoning for Andrew to come in and have a look around. "We're rigging up a power winch line off the wheel," and leading the way he started down the ladder to the lower floor. The clatter of the wheel and the shrieking of the blade echoed like thunder as Houston pointed about and shouted.
"One of my boys is almost finished cutting the blocks out now. If we had the right tools I'd have it done by now. But Dunlevy says he's too busy on other projects, and we should be happy about getting the blade, and that's that."
Andrew could see Houston wanted his support to shift the blacksmith back under his command, and smiling, he shook his head.
"Dunlevy gave you your blade—-now he's under John here for a while," and John smiled with good-natured rivalry at his friend.
"All right. Well, at least I can tell the boys I tried," Tracy said with mock dejection. "Anyhow, we'll rig up a winch here off the main driveshaft, and when we need a new log, we hook the cable on, I push down on this lever here, which engages the gears, and in it comes, saving my boys a lot of sweat. The tough one, which won't be finished for a week yet, is mounting the cutting bed to a sprocket. Once that's in, then the boys won't have to feed the log in by hand. The sprocket will simply push the bed, with the log strapped to it, and a nice even plank will be cut out as easy as pie."
"Good work," Andrew said enthusiastically, clapping Houston on the shoulder.
"Now if only I could get all the water I need. It was bad enough when Fletcher got that dam of his done and started to build up a head of water and wouldn't release any down to me. But now you, John," and he pointed an accusing finger at Captain Mina. "That dam of yours is taking forever to fill. "
"Look, do you want my products or not?" John said quickly. "You need me if you want to expand this second-fiddler operation."
"Second fiddler is it!"
"Gentlemen, gentlemen, please," Andrew said, holding up his hand. "We both need each other here, remember. I want John's operation with full water as quickly as possible —we all need what he can produce. Once that's done, you'll have all the water you need. All right?"
"You heard him, John," Tracy replied. "Once that dam of yours is filled, don't hold back on me. We've all got to use the stream."
"All right, all right, but colonel, sir, my men are waiting for you. Besides, Private Ferguson is just dying to show you his new plans."
Refusing a hand, Andrew made his way back up the ladder and leaving the sawmill continued up the hill. A hundred yards farther up they paused for a moment to watch Fletcher's operation. Even as the mill operated a crew of carpenters of his company were busy putting up siding provided by Houston. This was one place that had to be protected from the rain.
The millstones were small ones, less than three feet across. They were temporary affairs until a couple of boys from B Company could turn out full six-foot stones of granite, which would take at least another month.
But for the Suzdalians it was still a wonder. Every day there was a steady stream of people, most on foot, some driving small wagons laden with bags of freshly harvested wheat, lined up outside the mill waiting for their grain to be ground into flour.
By agreement with Andrew and Ivor the rates were simple enough—one-tenth of all grain ground was kept as payment, and as a result the regiment would soon have fresh bread, for one of O'Donald's boys had been a baker and even now was supervising the construction of several ovens to handle the demands of the regiment.
Passing on up the hill, they came out upon the latest addition to the mill stream's industries. The furnace and attached forge were small, with only a ten-foot wheel for now. But Mina was already talking about expanding it over the winter and building a great twenty-foot wheel by spring.
Smoke was billowing out from a brick chimney, and with each turning of the wheel there was a loud rush of sparks as the bellows driven by the waterwheel pumped in a fresh draft of air.
This project had been the most complex to date, requiring in one way or another the labor of half the regiment to get it ready. Nearly a hundred men had been busy felling wood for weeks, and following the lead of several charcoal makers from the north country of Maine had soon cooked up hundreds of bushels of charcoal of at least passable quality.
The men of B Company had worked across the river, cutting limestone with the few tools available, crushing it with hammers to serve as a flux which would draw off the nonmetallic parts of the ore to form a brittle glasslike slag.
Finally there'd been the mining of the ore. A site had been located farther up in the hills, and fifty more men had labored intensively using the few picks available to cut the ore into workable chunks and then haul it back down the hill.
Others had worked at building the dam, which now was nearly twelve