Eric Flint: Ring of fire II

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Eric Flint Ring of fire II
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    Ring of fire II
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    Альтернативная история / на английском языке
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"It appears they have a cavalry manual so they probably have several histories." Reichard shook his head. "I've read about Sherman's march in different books. There are lots of ideas in those books, especially for fast raids with cavalry. If they have something about General Forrest… that could give them very nasty ideas. As it is, they seem to have obtained flintlock muskets in some numbers."

His huge hands caressed one of the soldier's muskets. A sack at his side contained the uniforms and other items the two dead soldiers had carried. "Not rifled, and they are not using cartridges. This pattern doesn't look like any I've seen in Grantville."

"Might be from Suhl. There've been rumors of Suhl selling flintlocks in great numbers." Christian peered closely at the other musket. "No, none of the marks are from Suhl. There are people in Grantville who should see these."

"Agreed, see them and soon," Wilf stated, puffing on his pipe. "We need to decide what we will do. Grantville and Badenburg must be warned about these fine gentlemen camped in the woods. You two have found your horse thieves; mayhap you should give the warning. Whatever else, we have horses to deliver."

"I think someone needs keep a watch on them and, perhaps, discomfort them somewhat." Reichard's voice had a rough edge. He tossed the musket and sack across the fire to Dieter.

"Aye, watch them indeed," Wilf agreed amiably. "There are too many friends here about for me to find comfort in either these soldiers' presence or the thought of losing sight of them. The odds are poor, though. A hundred against six… best not stir them."

"I'm with Reichard," Dieter said. "The army may not have any troops close enough to get here before these move off. Besides, we all are members of the army. Reservists to be sure, but still…" He examined the musket he now held. "Piss poor flint on this one. Is the other any better?"

Wilf smiled. "And some of us are getting a bit soft with all this fine living we've been doing. I agree, watch them. But watch only. If you do your usual throat cutting, they'll know we are here."

Christian frowned. "This powder is poor. Badly milled." He sniffed at it and touched his tongue lightly to the small pile in his hand. "Bah! I think someone's let sand get into this powder. The other man's powder was better. Do they each supply their own?" Shrugging, Christian dusted his hands.

"Maybe they do have a bigger target in mind. Maybe they are waiting for more companies to join them. Say they broke their regiment up to sneak them in this close." Sam finished cleaning his rifle and began reassembling it. "Damned sneaky, foreign bastards."

"Oh, aye. A warning must get to Grantville. Our horses must be gotten away from here or else they give away our presence. So many gray horses are difficult to hide. Besides, fresh horses might be what the soldiers are awaiting. Their own appear to be in bad shape. Christian, I think it best if you and Jacques go with the horses and the warning."

Wilf pointed his pipe at the sleepy boy leaning against Christian. "Sam and Klaus should go, also. They are family men and should our friends discover us…" Wilf shrugged and smiled grimly. "Dieter, you'll be needed to help with the horses. Your woodcraft is not as good as mine is. Reichard and I will stay and keep watch on the camp."

Christian nodded. "Best we leave before dawn. Reichard, if we take that path you showed us, don't we hit the Badenburg road?"

"Yes, but well enough down it that you should miss any stray patrols. The trail is narrow in spots, only one horse wide, so don't think you can hurry along it. I'll get you started on it come morning."

"Come on, Jacques, you need to get some sleep." Standing, Christian looked around the group. "I will pray for your safety as I will not be there to keep you out of trouble. Do not get too fancy with your plans lest they tangle you up-as usual."

Wilf grinned back at the thin mercenary. It was Christian who usually got tangled up, especially when the wine or beer had been freely flowing.

"I'm staying." The flat statement came from Sam.

"Three men cannot handle all the horses on that trail," came the equally flat reply from Dieter. "The boy is not strong enough if there is trouble."

"Then Wilf should go in my place." Sam's response was forceful and final.

"Why should I go in place of you?" Wilf asked, surprised at Sam's attitude.

There had been trouble with the man the previous spring. A matter of inheritance, or lack of it. In addition, O'Reilly was one of the few up-timers who never seemed comfortable working with down-timers. Sam was often found at Club 250, drinking and cursing all "foreigners." When the final blow up occurred over the disputed inheritance, the man had gotten massively drunk, beaten up his wife and stolen several horses and guns. Quickly caught and as quickly convicted, Sam O'Reilly had served a year of hard labor. After that, he had appeared to calm down. He did his work but he continued to complain if he thought some down-timer was given an easier job.

In short, sneaking around in a wet forest keeping watch on a hundred soldiers was hardly a task Wilf expected Sam O'Reilly to volunteer for.

"Why should you stay?" Dieter asked.

"Because I've got this." Sam slapped his hand against the butt of the.30-06. "And this." He drew a huge pistol; one Wilf thought was a.357 Magnum.

"If things get dicey I can off more foreign bastards faster and from farther away than that little popgun of yours." The light from the fire played across Sam's face, giving his eyes a red and feral glint.

Glancing at Reichard, Wilf caught a thoughtful look and gesture of agreement from the big mercenary. Dieter and Klaus remained silent but had their hands near their own guns. They both remembered Sam's blow-up the previous year.

Sighing, Wilf nodded. "Aye, nearly a cannon that gun is. Should blow great holes in our friends if needed. Agreed. I'll go back with the rest and leave you and Reichard to entertain yourselves watching yon miserable excuses for soldiers sitting in the rain. Give the sack to me, Dieter. I'll see it delivered."

"You should take these fake McClellans back with you, too." Sam spat into the fire. "There are a couple of guys, reenactors, who should see 'em. Look like damn poor imitations to me, but these guys will know. Might be someone in Grantville has been selling old saddles to the enemy. If they have… well, leave it to these guys."

"I think you are right in calling them imitations." Reichard picked up one of the saddles and turned it over. "From the way they are made the saddler had only a picture or sketch. Look here, how narrow the bars are. I've seen Herr Parker's saddle. Its bars are wider and smoother. This leather is thin and soft. See how it has wrinkled here? The real one, it is covered with rawhide."

"Yeah, the tree should be covered in rawhide," Sam replied. "Then the seat gets covered in saddle leather. Damned trees aren't even from side to side and the two saddles don't match, either. Crappy workmanship."

"Hurried, and working without a true model to show how it should be. Still, as you say, the poor workmanship surprises me. Someone wasn't paying proper attention to the work."

Reichard's large hands stroked the underside of the saddle. "Saddlemakers know well enough that the leather must be smooth. Wonder if some saddlemaker isn't too fond of the man buying these saddles."

Dieter shook his head skeptically. "And what happens when that man notices the problem and takes his complaints back to the saddlemaker? Chance there would be one less saddlemaker alive."

Normally silent, Klaus spoke up. "I think it is either a case of bad workmanship or very clever sabotage. See, on this saddle the leather is not wrinkled. The tree is still uneven but the stitching is better. Yet, be the poor work deliberate, the false saddlemaker may live. There are no maker's marks on either saddle. So how is anyone to know which saddlemaker did this work?"

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