August 31st, 1941
Occupied Bavaria, southeast of the Neckar
“Tormod MacRaghnall, reporting as ordered, sir.”
“At ease, Kaptein.” Tormod ended his salute, but stood at parade rest; the General of the Armies in Germany, who also happened to be King of Scots and heir apparent to the Empire of the North Sea, could order a mere captain to be “at ease” as much as he liked, but he wasn’t likely to get it. Not even from a relative close enough to use the surname MacRaghnall. A third cousin from a collateral line wasn’t going to be called to headquarters for social reasons, even if he had rather distinguished himself; but he’d already gotten the medal, and recovered from his wounds. This was more likely to be that traditional reward for a job well done, another job; so Tormod did not ease the tension in his body, but leaned forward intently as the General got down to business.
“Böblingen airport,” he said, pointing at a spot on one of the maps that covered his desk. If the positions in it were up to date, it indicated that the area was held by the 7th Motorised AA Brigade, a formation with which Tormod was intimately familiar; and that they were deployed so as to keep even the heaviest Norwegian guns out of range of the runways.
“I have reason to believe that von Hentzau intends to make his escape from here. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to infiltrate and prevent him from doing so.”
Tormod nodded, studying the map. “What about the Air Farce?” he asked, more to keep the general talking than because he cared about the answer.
“Yes, well.” The general’s mouth twisted; few officers liked to be reminded that their army was behind the times – and the biplanes of Luftforsvaret were a particularly sore point. “They’ll do their best, to be sure. But I want backup, or rather, I want them to be the backup, not the main attack.”
“All right, but… why do we care whether Hentzau escapes? Let him eat the bitter bread of exile; there’s not many careers open to ex-demagogues. No women, no fast cars, no adoring crowds shouting his name. Bit of a come-down, eh?” Not that Tormod couldn’t see the justice in the death penalty for a man whose decisions had killed tens of thousands; but he wasn’t so gung-ho for it that he was eager to put his own personal body behind the German lines to accomplish it.
“Two reasons. One is that we are the sons of Raghnall.”
“Beg pardon, sir?”
“We are the last dynasty. The only royal family that has kept its power continuously for all of European history.” Tormod opined that this was putting a bit of a gloss on the February Revolution; but, true, the writ of the Copenhagen Commune had not run as far as the African armies, which had continued to take orders from its MacRaghnall commanders. In any case, one of the privileges of generals was to put their own interpretation on history in front of mere captains. “This impostor, this so-called Hentzau, he wants to claim he is a dynast, a medieval survival pulled into the modern world?” The general smiled grimly. “All right, we’ll take him at his word. Our ancestors knew what to do when a vendetta ended; and the infamous dungeons are still there. Museums, now. But I’m told the racks are in good working order.”
“Revenge, sir? Is that all? I would not choose to spend men’s lives” – especially his own, Tormod carefully did not say – “on mere revenge.”
“Not revenge; justice, and also prudence. There’s a revolutionary wind across the Baltic, this decade. It’ll be good to reassert the old reasons why the MacRaghnalls rule; not just bayonets and force, but legitimacy. You can do anything with a bayonet except sit on it; but one of the things you can do is to demonstrate that you’ll protect the people from men worse than you are. Hentzau has done us a favour, in a sense; he’s made rule personal again, made it about blood and dynasty and being divinely anointed. Very well, and we will show the world which Family is the better suited to rule, by bringing justice to the one who abused his gifts.”
Tormod decided not to touch that; it wasn’t worth arguing with a general – at least, not one who had said “should you choose to accept it”, implying that he was asking for volunteers. To be sure, refusing wouldn’t do his career any good, but after all he was a MacRaghnall, if not very close to the center of the dynasty; there would be plenty of options if he survived the war.
“What’s the second reason?” he asked neutrally, noting to himself that if it were of the same quality as the first, the general could find himself another volunteer.
“Why are the Germans still fighting?”
“Damned if I know, sir. Loyalty to the divinely-appointed Hentzau, perhaps?” Tormod was dismayed to find a slight note of sarcasm creeping into his tone; but the general didn’t react.
“Quite so. I have some reason to believe that the Bavarians’ loyalty isn’t an unrepeatable fluke; that Hentzau, for all his ravings, actually does have some technique, some method for reliably making men fight for him. To the end, where he finds it necessary. And I would really quite strongly prefer that he does not escape to use that technique on the armies of Asia.”
That… was different. If true. Tormod thought for a moment about trying to fight across the Sahel, as the army had done when he was too young to leave his bones there to bleach, against the sort of resistance the Germans had shown. The ghazi fanatics Spain had mustered to its final defense had been bad enough, but their resistance had been within the realm of the humanly possible; hit them hard enough and they broke. The Germans – there was something uncanny about the way they held every position to the last bullet. If there was even a chance of that escaping to Asia, to the Great Powers currently flinging millions of men into the Caucasus, then – it was worth a large number of lives to stop it.
“Aye, sir.” Tormod pointed at the map. “A platoon dropped from aircraft here” – the one advantage of biplanes was that they flew low and quiet enough to infiltrate, even through airspace on which the 7th Motorised AA Brigade’s guns were trained – “and set up some heavy machine guns…”
(to be continued)