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Two Hundred and Eleven Years Ago

From The General's Mistress, the beginning of the Battle of Hohenlinden two hundred and eleven years ago. Though overshadowed by later battles in the Wars of Revolution, Hohenlinden was a very important engagement at the time. Fought between Austria and France, it was a literal clash of the old and new, of the armies of the eighteenth century and the powers of traditional absolute monarchy and the new citizen armies of the Republic.

It is also Elza's first major battle, and this is the beginning of a sequence that lasts several chapters. Elza, like Lydias, is left handed. But that's certainly not the only way she resembles Lydias!



The next day was cloudy and cold, with the whisper of snow in the air. It smelled like snow, though not a flake fell.

We were between the first halt and the midday halt when a furor erupted toward the head of the column, a sudden rolling echo of shots loud enough to startle all the roosting birds, which took off out of the fir trees into the sky. It was the first time I had heard firing in volley.

Nestor didn’t even prance when I hauled him up sharply in my surprise.

In the wake of the shots came the yells, one shrill shriek and a great many shouts. Then came sporadic shots in reply.

In the back of the baggage train there was a great deal of swearing as horses shied and teams fouled their reins. Some people started rushing forward and some started rushing back. The only thing I could think was that Michel had been at the head of the column as usual, glittering with braid, an obvious target.

Something ran through me, the same elongation of time, and an utter lack of fear. I had Auguste Thibault’s epeé, and I drew it left handed, the reins in my right hand.

“Come on, Nestor,” I said, and touched my heels to his side.

It wasn’t very far. The 23rd infantry demi-brigade had been thrown back in disarray at the first volley, which had been straight into their flank as they came over the crest of a hill in the forest. The Austrians were in the woods. Now they charged out en masse, bayonets fixed, into the carnage and confusion.

“Shit,” I said, as I saw the one who had marked me. He had very light gray eyes, running over the muddy ground.

And then I was lunging forward, pulling to the right so that at the last moment I passed him on the wrong side, the off side where a cavalryman doesn’t want you, unless he’s left handed. It threw him for a split second. That was the second that mattered. A squeeze and Nestor went halfway up, his weight on the descent adding momentum to the thrust of the epeé, hitting him full in the breastbone with the point. The impact tore the sword out of my hand.

I pulled Nestor round in a hard circle. The man stood there almost stupefied, the epeé protruding from his chest. His hand opened and his musket and bayonet dropped to the ground. I made a grab for the sword and got the hilt, the blood spurting as I pulled it free.

Nestor went up again. To my right an Austrian was trying to get at us with fixed bayonet without getting close enough to Nestor’s hooves. I swung him around, keeping his belly clear. My sword rang against the bayonet’s blade, parrying just as I had been taught. Strike, strike, a double beat with the forte, a disengage to the left faster than anyone could do with something as ungainly as a musket. A thrust that opened a wound down the side of his face and neck, the epeé sliding almost cleanly through flesh.

And then we were past him again, plunging among our infantry. They were rallying into line.

Michel’s voice cut through the din. “Don’t unlimber that gun, you sons of bitches! Get the fuck back! We’re covering your retreat. That gun is worth more than your sorry lives!”

Relief flooded through me. His hat was gone, and Eleazar’s white stockings were splashed with gore. His face was as red as his hair, and his aide and two cavalrymen were trying to keep up. The four of them charged into a knot of Austrians who were reloading, and I charged after.

One of them brought his musket up, half finished, and fired. The ramrod went straight through the cavalryman to the right, standing out from his back a handsbreadth. He swayed and pitched from the saddle.

I took the infantryman, who was looking at his gun in astonishment. He never saw me cut him down.

And then Michel was stirrup to stirrup with me. He grabbed my reins. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”

“What does it look like?” I shouted back, my bloodied epeé in my hand, my glove soaked through with someone else’s blood. “You do your job and trust me!”

Something passed over his face, and he gave me a brisk nod. “I do,” he said, letting go of my reins. He raised his voice. “103rd to the fore! Everybody else, get your butts back out of the way. I want the 23rd in line behind. You there! Get on over there! Any stray cavalry, come with me!” He looked at me. “It’s the main body of the Austrian army to our 9,000 men.”

Michel turned away. “Form up! We’ve got to get those skirmishers out of the wood line. Ruffin, who are those chasseurs? If they’re here, they’re with me.”

There were six of them, one of them the lieutenant with the dapple gray mare, Corbineau.

At the edge of the wood there was a sudden flash of light and smoke, an instant before the crashing sound of the volley. It was fifteen or twenty men, but it sounded like the vast army that was rolling up the road at a marching pace, bayonets fixed. The main body. Sixty thousand men on nine thousand.

A bugler sounded charge, and Nestor leaped forward with the rest, straight into their guns.

But they had already fired. Only one shot sang past me, someone reloading too slow for the volley. I didn’t think it hit anything.

And then we were among them. The dapple mare plunged in front of me, taking down a man with her hooves and teeth, almost dancing. Corbineau’s face was set, his own teeth bared.

I got one of them in the arm, the point straight into the fleshy part of the upper arm, and saw the blood bloom on his coat. He dropped the musket, and then I was past him, ducking under heavy fir branches that tore at my sleeves and hair.

“Turn! Recall!” Michel was shouting, presumably in absence of the bugle signal. I swung about, finding myself once again beside Corbineau as we emerged again from the woods.

Off to our left, the entire Austrian army came on in perfect ranks, regiment upon regiment along the road, bayonets fixed and muskets loaded, every step in drill perfect precision, lined up from here to heaven knows where.

Comments

( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
queen_bellatrix
Dec. 8th, 2011 11:19 pm (UTC)
Let me preface my comment by saying that I love all your works; I began with Hand Of Isis on the recommendation of Melissa Scott in one of her blog posts, and I've been utterly rivetted ever since, waiting with bated breath for the next books in the series.

But this book, this couple, they're something special in a way I can't quite describe. I've felt it more and more the more excerpts you've posted, and I've certainly squeed enough to make it clear *grin* but there was something in this passage:

And then Michel was stirrup to stirrup with me. He grabbed my reins. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”

“What does it look like?” I shouted back, my bloodied epeé in my hand, my glove soaked through with someone else’s blood. “You do your job and trust me!”

Something passed over his face, and he gave me a brisk nod. “I do,” he said, letting go of my reins. He raised his voice. “103rd to the fore! Everybody else, get your butts back out of the way. I want the 23rd in line behind. You there! Get on over there! Any stray cavalry, come with me!” He looked at me. “It’s the main body of the Austrian army to our 9,000 men.”

which resonated in a way I still can't quite explain, even after multiple rereadings; I think it's the respect, perhaps. The fact that he clearly loves her so much (if they're not a couple here, he really needs to hurry up and make a move, because his intentions are blazingly clear), and yet, he won't cage her, or keep her from becoming/doing who/what she needs too.

And there's such a rough honesty in his last statement as though he's saying: "I'm giving it to you as straight as I can; if you want to run, do it now!"

I'm more excited for this romance, and this book (and hopefully, the series) than I have been for anything in a very long while; there were books I knew I'd enjoy, series I wanted to see the conclusions too, but this, this I have a feeling I will absolutely adore, rereading over and over, and taking comfort and joy in.

In fact, reading the excerpts you posted has already gotten me through some fairly bleak moments over the past few months, so thank you, so incredibly much. I may not have commented on them all, but I was reading and enjoying everything.

jo_graham
Dec. 9th, 2011 08:47 pm (UTC)
I've read this about ten times now, and I can't tell you how much I appreciate it. I hope to make people's lives better, and nothing makes me happier than to hear that I've done so.

Yes, he does love her, though neither of them have managed to say it at this point. They've only been together a few weeks, and it's too much of an emotional risk for her. And he knows she wouldn't believe it. If he said it now she would think he was handing her a line. And so he says it with other words instead.

You've put your finger on the key to them -- he won't cage her, or keep her from becoming/doing who/what she needs to. He knows who she is, and she knows who he is. They will never try to stop each other from being who they truly are, even when that grinds them against each other like steel and stone.
margdean56
Dec. 9th, 2011 04:13 am (UTC)
Hate to mention it, but wouldn't 1800 be two hundred and eleven years ago?
jo_graham
Dec. 9th, 2011 01:39 pm (UTC)
Clearly I can't count! Or maybe I think it's 1911. I'm not sure which....
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )