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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Ahead the road bent around a half-rebuilt mill and crossed the mill creek bridge. Something about the scene bothered Reichard and he stopped his horse.

"You wouldn't shoot a friend, would you?" a familiar voice called softly from the rubble.

Reichard chuckled. "No," he replied. "Especially not when that friend is behind a nice big wall and I can't see him. Hold on for a few minutes and you will have some targets you can shoot at with my blessings. It would be nice to discourage them."

Major Stieff stepped out into the open, an up-time rifle cradled in his arms. He gestured toward a pile of downed trees across the road. "We've enough to do that, I hope." He smiled. "Four of us on this side and four more over there. How many are we waiting for?"

"Eight, maybe nine. I think I wounded a couple."

"Ah, so you didn't manage to bring the entire bunch after you. Eight or nine we can handle. There's an army unit headed down from above Badenburg. We'll leave the main body to them. Your horses look like they could use a breather. They can join ours in the trees while we see if we can discourage your pursuers." Stieff faded back to his place behind the mill's walls.

Reichard dismounted and led the horses into the trees. The pile of tree trunks he noticed made a solid, U-shaped wall. Each tree had the nice, clean cuts of a chainsaw. He grinned in approval when he saw that someone had plastered mud over the newly sawn wood. The soldiers chasing him should see a pile of cut trees and not realize it was a freshly made fort. Afterward, the mill owner's lawyers would have something to say about those trees.

One of the figures behind the wooden wall stepped forward and took Travy's lead rope. "Sam did something stupid, didn't he?" Lannie Parker's voice had a disgusted tone.

"Ah, well."

"Was he drinking, again? Forget it. Of course he was drinking. Poor Maggie."

"Fraulein Parker, he's at peace now, however he found it," Reichard said.

Reichard looped Troll's lead around a branch and loosened the cinch on his saddle. Lannie stripped the bridle off Travy, leaving the halter. She gave the horses a quick drink from a canvas bucket before escorting Reichard into the fort.

"Hey, Reichard. How the heck did they miss a target your size?" Rob Clark slapped the big man on the back. "Glad to see you made it this far."

"Of course I made it. I'm too mean to die. What is that saying your aunt had?"

"Heaven won't have me and Satan's afraid I'll take over hell."

"That's me, Rob. That's me. Put your hat on, boy. These men aren't blind, and that red hair of yours is a wonderful target."

Lannie sighed. "Thanks, Reichard. I've been telling him that for that last fifteen minutes. He doesn't listen to me."

"Fraulein, it is ever that way between men and their women." Reichard bowed to Lannie and winked. "A man cannot openly take his woman's advice without feeling that his friends will mock him."

The other men behind the improvised fort were up-timers whose names he didn't remember. The younger up-timer glanced toward Sam's body and gestured up the trail.

"Did you kill him or did they?"

Reichard grunted at the insult. Rob laid a hand on Reichard's arm and Lannie rounded on the man.

"Doggie, you dumbass. You're still the dumbest guy I know. You sure haven't eaten any smart pills since high school."

"Hey, Lannie. Back down. Why're you mad at me? Sam's your cousin, not mine," Doggie whined. "I was just asking. Gotta watch ourselves around these krauts, you know."

Lannie glared at him. "Sam's had a death wish for a long time. He knew Grandpa would shoot him if he raised a hand against Maggie or the girls again. That was if I didn't get to him first."

Reichard smiled down at the red-faced up-timer. "He wasn't shot by me." He tapped his up-time pistol. "Go dig the ball out and see for yourself."

Lannie Parker's defense of Reichard or the offer of an on-the-spot autopsy quieted Doggie. The young man turned back to watch the road. The other man said nothing, only nodding toward the road.

"Didn't hear what you told the major. How many we waiting for?" he asked politely.

"Eight or nine."

"Riding or walking?"

"Riding, the last time I saw them."

"Doggie," the older man addressed the younger, "aim for the middle of the chest."

"Why you telling just me?"

"Because the rest of us have been in a fire fight before. Shut up, Doggie. Or I gotta figure Lannie's got the right take on your brains."

Doggie looked offended but said nothing.

Reichard examined the wooden fort with a critical eye.

He nodded and spoke to Rob and Lannie. "This will do nicely. You've moved fast to block the road and get this ambush set up."

"Yeah." Rob replied. "Jacques had sense enough to come to my place. He knew I'd take his message seriously. I got on the phone to Major Stieff and he sent out the call-up. We were ready soonest and headed up here with the major. Got a couple of regular army units headed this way but it will take time for them to arrive. We're just supposed to slow your 'friends' down if they come this way and then fade back into town."

Lannie added. "Wilf and guys came through late last night. The rest of the militia is mustering in town. Just in case it's another raid."

Reichard shook his head. "I do not think it is a raid on Grantville." He grinned. "If I'm wrong we will treat them rudely and send the remnants running home."

"You and Sam stirred things up." Rob said. He pointed down the road and continued in a whisper. "Here comes your tail. Is that all of them?"

Reichard peered over the logs. "Yes. They've bunched up. The one on the gray seems to be their leader."

Rob pulled out a child's walkie-talkie and conveyed Reichard's words to Major Stieff.

"Wait until the last man passes the dead tree." The major's voice hissed scratchily in return.

Rob pointed out the tree in question and Reichard quickly settled himself. He broke open his pistol to reload and stopped. The only bullets he had were the two left in the gun. Lannie clucked and dug into her fanny pack. "Here. You're using.38's, right?" She dropped a box of bullets into his hands. "Thank God Rob's dad stocked up for Y2K-or was it World War III?"

"Y2K followed by the complete disintegration of civilization," Rob replied, his eyes on the approaching horsemen. "Dad suffered from having been both a Boy Scout and a Marine. 'Be Prepared for Anything' was his motto."

His pistol reloaded, Reichard turned his attention back on the road. The soldiers on the road had stopped. He counted seven of them. He must have hit a couple in that last exchange of shots before reaching the Badenburg road. The soldiers' horses stood still, heads drooping with fatigue while the men argued.

"They've spotted us." Doggie whispered. "Told you they would."

"Shut up, Doggie." Rob whispered back. "They're arguing about tracks. The guy with the corporal's stripes thinks Reichard went the other way. None of them are trackers if they can't pick out Troll's size thirteens."

The argument resolved itself and the soldiers kicked their horses into motion toward the bridge. The last man, the corporal, rode past the dead tree and the ambush was sprung.

Reichard emptied his pistol into the body of men and bent to reload. Beside him Rob's rifle cracked out, followed by Lannie's and the older up-timer's. The major's up-time rifle snapped from the mill along with the bass booms of flintlocks. Reichard straightened up in time to see two of the soldiers turning their horses and trying to flee. Lannie's and Rob's rifles cracked, and the two were down. Over the ringing in his ears, Reichard heard men and horses screaming. Lannie and Rob fired together and the screaming horse was silent.

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