Monday, April 23, 2012

Short Story: Twenty to Two

By Andy Poole

“The worst is not; so long as we can say ‘this is the worst!’” ~ William Shakespeare, King Lear IV.I.27.

In a crowded tavern at Regensburg, Adrian Barrow loosed his sword in its scabbard as he peered around the doorframe and down the crude banister. The auburn-haired English mercenary’s sea-grey eyes watched as the Imperialist officer below engaged in earnest conversation with the innkeeper. He clearly did not have tavern pastimes on his agenda. The room filled with harquebusiers—more lightly equipped cavalry than their heavy cuirassier brethren—and their sword hands were itching for the draw.

“How many, Filip?” Barrow asked his Swedish companion, a shorter and heavier man with wispy blonde hair and mustache.

“I say roughly a score of horse,” said Filip, his complexion paling as his beady eyes surveyed the situation unfolding below.

“Twenty against two. I’ve seen worse.”

“I’ve seen better!”

Barrow slid back into the room and pressed against the wall. “Any chance of you getting the horses while I hold them off up here?”

“No, the soldiers are too many! I’ll never reach the door!”
“Through the window.”

“Adrian, the height—!”

“I’d be more afraid of Solingen steel.”

“Point taken.” Filip peered cautiously through the latticed window, keeping as low a profile as possible. “Four horsemen are waiting outside. We’re trapped!”

Barrow heard the officer below spit out his orders, followed by the thumping of boots on the wooden floor and the creaking of the stairs as men and equipment burdened the tired, sagging banister. “Get the reports, quickly!”

The Swede fumbled for the satchel of the prized documents and gear.

“Forget the food, we travel light.” Barrow drew his long, swept-hilt sword from its scabbard, his forefinger curled over the wide quillon. He peered through the opening in the door. The shadows on the wall spread and darkened. Barrow seized the little stool by the bedside, kicked the door open and hurled the stool at the column of soldiers, darting back around the corner as angry shouts and pistol shots greeted him. Stumbling and curses announced that his effort reaped the desired result.

Barrow waved at Filip and shouted, “To the adjoining room. Hurry!” He kicked an ascending soldier full in the stomach, sending him falling back with a groan onto his companions. “Go!”

Filip scrambled for the door of the next room. Pistol balls and splintered wood followed him. Barrow followed, keeping his front to his opponents, ready for their inevitable attack.

“Vorwärts!” A bearded German veteran charged with a deep-throated roar, his long hair trailing behind him in a billowing blur. Steel clashed on steel. The blades rang dull as attack and parry met. Barrow’s opponent possessed a strong wrist that knew the trade. The blades locked; Barrow drew his dagger from its sheath and plunged the point into the veteran’s thigh. His opponent howled and leaped back. The bloodied dagger glanced aside a thrust as Barrow’s sword point slid between the ribs of a new assailant.

He backed toward the door, desperately warding the ever-increasing blows as the corridor crowded with enraged Germans. He crossed his blades to block a blow and then pushed the attacker back into the crowd. Barrow seized the precious little time he stole and backed into the more easily defendable doorway. A gleam of steel caught his eye. He sidestepped the attack and slammed the door on the swordsman’s fingers. An agonized shout erupted behind the door, the fingers spread wide and throbbing red, and the sword clattered to the floor. The hand escaped between the door and the threshold. Barrow pushed hard on the door, but the mass of soldiers pressed back. He wouldn’t hold for long. He turned, sheathed his weapons and seized the Swede.

“Hey! wha—”

Barrow ran headlong for the window. He crashed through the latticed windowpane and landed on his feet in a shower of glittering glass. The four horsemen outside were still visible, but farther away, just as he had planned. He released his shaken companion, undid his cloak, and waved it before him. Just in time. The harquebusiers before them leveled their carbines. Bursts of fire and smoke discharged from the muzzles, the deafening crack of ignited black powder reverberated off the walls of the town. Lead balls ripped through the cloak screen and whizzed by the fugitives’ ears.
The Swede made to run for the stables, but Barrow seized his arm. “Forget the horses, come on!” Barrow charged at the mounted men with blade drawn. His companion followed, brandishing sword and dagger.

The horsemen charged, bare swords flashing in their hands. Barrow sidestepped an oncoming warhorse and parried the whooshing blow directed at his face. The horse reared as the rider jerked the reigns to halt the momentum of his steed, causing him to miss his second swipe. Barrow lunged at the thigh, piercing through both muscle and horse, sending rider and mount down onto the street. He turned just in time to duck under a vicious, hissing swing, and parry the thrust of another harquebusier. Barrow seized the extended sword arm with a free hand and jerked the rider from the saddle. His knee careened with the man’s nose to stun him as he leapt into the saddle.
The rider closest to Barrow drew his pistol and leveled to fire. The weapon clattered to the street as Barrow’s sword edge slashed the gunman’s wrist. The harquebusier cried out and gripped his bleeding hand, whilst Barrow charged home and rammed the hilt of his sword into the man’s face, knocking him senseless to the ground. Barrow then turned his attention to his companion. Filip had cut down the last rider from his mount.

“Get on!” Barrow shouted.

Filip needed no persuasion. He sprang onto the unburdened horse and both companions dug their heels into the sides of their new steeds just as the harquebusiers from the inn assembled on the street, carbines in hand. The Imperialists issued a thunderous fusillade, but the flying lead passed harmlessly by their quarry. The two riders galloped on, down the streets, past the cursing and shooting sentries at the gate, and out of town.

“You think they will catch up?” Filip asked.

“Not a chance,” said Barrow as he cast a glance back at the Swede. He flashed his teeth in a martial grin through a blur of auburn hair. “What did I tell you? Twenty to two isn’t too bad!”

“Bad enough that I never want to do that again!”

“The greater the odds, the greater the reward,” Barrow retorted.

Filip shook his head. “You Englishmen are mad, eager for impossible fights!”

“Haha!” Barrow boasted. “We English folk have a long tradition of winning ‘impossible fights,’ as the French discovered the hard way at Crecy and Agincourt; and as the Spaniards discovered in the English Channel!”

He turned his attention back to the road. The Swedish army under Bernhard of Saxe-Weimar lay not far ahead, and he and his companion had successfully procured the Regensburg garrison numbers and patrol schedule, and lived to share them. Another mission accomplished, against the odds. Adrian Barrow now felt it safe to predict that the coming siege would go well for the Swedes, quite well indeed.

The End

copyright, 2012 by Andy Poole
Andy's Fan Page on Facebook

Brzezinski, Richard. Lützen 1632. Westport: Praeger, 2005.
Roberts, Keith. Matchlock Musketeer: 1588-1688. Oxford: Osprey Publishing, Ltd., 2002.
Wedgewood, C.V. The Thirty Years War. Garden City: Anchor Books, 1961.
The Thirty Years War. The Heilbronn League, the Fall of Wallenstein and the Battle of
Nördlingen (1632-34). “Saxe-Weimar takes Regensburg.”


Mary C. Findley said...

"I see your point," Master Poole? When speaking of facing a sword? Really? I love all your detail and how you know this stuff. I am Historical "lite," by comparison. Debby, your site just stuns me visually every time I come.

The Gatekeeper said...

Awww, thanks Mary. And I agree with you, Andy is our History Keeper.

precariousyates said...

Andy, your love for history mixed with your masterful imagery make for an amazing story. Debby, thanks for hosting this!