Related collections and offers
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
By Aaron Barnhart
Quindaro PressCopyright © 2015 Quindaro Press, LLC
All rights reserved.
The boy with the long black hair pushed his way through the shouting, jostling mass of students. His school cap was pulled down tight to keep the March wind from blowing it away. His cheeks were flushed, not with cold but with excitement. His thin body seemed to draw energy from the huge crowd, propelling him on toward the front. Finally he reached the steps of Vienna's great stone council hall. He bounded up one step, turned, and looked around.
Where is he?
Suddenly there was a hand on his shoulder.
He turned around to see Heinrech Spitzer standing on the step with him. He had a huge grin on his face.
"Can you believe this is happening, Anschl?" Heinrech said.
"What is happening? I just got here."
"Well, so far, nothing. But look around! Have you ever seen Council Square like this?"
In front of them were hundreds of students. They were squeezed in tight toward the front. The air buzzed with their chatter.
Solitary cries began to ring out across the square.
"Give us an answer!"
"We demand a Constitution!"
"Metternich must go!"
The yelling startled Anschl. He looked around nervously.
"Don't be frightened," Heinrech said. "Every few minutes someone yells out a slogan, and it gives the others some courage. So then they start yelling, and when that's out of their system, they stop." He smirked. "I think they're just doing it to keep warm."
I could use some of that courage, Anschl thought. "But what about the spies?"
Heinrech made a sweeping gesture across the square with one arm.
"Look at all these people!" he said. "What's a spy going to do — go back and tell Prince Metternich that a thousand people said bad things about him?"
He laughed. Anschl forced a smile.
They had grown up as constant companions in the Jewish section of Vienna. Heinrech, one year older, was a little shorter than his friend and about twice as wide. He was also the most good-natured person Anschl Bondi had ever met. When Anschl needed his spirits lifted, he knew where to turn. He almost didn't come to the protest, but Heinrech talked him into it.
"Everyone is going. People want to say that they were at the first protest rally. Who knows? You might be able to tell your grandchildren about it someday. 'Yes, my little ones, I was there at the very moment that the ancien regime collapsed.'
"Besides," Heinrech added, "we'll be making so much noise you won't be able to study anyway."
All that winter, a group of students at the academy had been meeting secretly to talk about revolution. Heinrech had been invited first. He vouched for Anschl. Mostly, the group got together to debate topics like which was better, a violent revolution or a nonviolent one. It was a debate club, really. Nobody in the group was plotting to overthrow the government. But everyone knew what they were doing was dangerous. Prince Metternich had declared all such meetings to be illegal. And Anschl had been taught from an early age to fear Metternich.
"Do not so much as utter his name," his mother had warned him. "He has spies everywhere."
"Including the academy, Mother?" he asked.
"Of course he has spies in the academy. Your classmates go home and talk about their day with their parents. Do you think they don't get asked what their Jewish friends are saying about the prince?"
So when Heinrech invited him to join the secret group at school, Anschl decided not to tell his mother. There was already one Bondi in jail. The thought of her Anschl going to illegal meetings would have her worrying day and night about him — if she wasn't already.
Chants were now ringing nonstop throughout the square. Students kept filing in from the narrow streets. Anschl felt the crowd growing restless. The boys passed the time trying to guess the attendance.
"According to my calculations, the capacity of Council Square is two thousand persons," Anschl said.
"Shaped like you or like me?" Heinrech said. "If they're my size, fifteen hundred, tops."
They looked out at the solid mass of humanity.
Amazing, Anschl thought. From our little group to a revolution, just like that.
It had all happened so quickly. One morning he walked into his mathematics class and found several boys talking excitedly.
"Anschl," one called out, "what do you think about the news from Paris?"
"There's news from Paris?"
"King Louis Phillippe abdicated his throne! And it was because of a student protest!"
The others filled in the details. The French king had sent his army to arrest the students. But the soldiers were stopped by ten-foot-high barricades the students had built out of cobblestones torn from the streets. The king was outraged. He ordered his troops to start shooting the protesters. They refused. And that was the end of Louis Phillippe.
Anschl was speechless — and not just at the news from Paris. Until that moment, no one in his math class had shown the slightest interest in world affairs.
By the end of the day it seemed the whole school knew what had happened to the French king. From there the student protest took on a life of its own. It seemed to organize itself. Word got around that every school in Vienna would be represented at Council Square.
And so they are, thought Anschl. Everyone is here! He began to count all the different school uniforms and caps in the crowd.
Suddenly, he heard the beating of drums in the distance.
"Sounds like they brought the band with them," Heinrech said. He meant it as a joke, but Anschl noticed he wasn't smiling anymore.
The drumbeat grew louder and louder until it became deafening. At that moment a battalion of soldiers appeared. They marched into the square and came to a stop not twenty feet from the boys. The students in front of them were forced back, squeezing in tightly around Anschl and Heinrech.
The soldiers stood at attention in a line. He studied the soldier's bayonets, noticing how they glistened at the end of their muskets.
"They must spend all day polishing those things," he whispered in Heinrech's ear. Heinrech just nodded.
The crowd was silent. Then, far behind him, Anschl heard someone yell: "Constitution!"
Someone else followed that with, "We demand an answer!"
Just then, a ferocious-looking man in a plumed helmet marched in front of the battalion. Anschl felt a chill on the back of his neck. The commander drew his saber and brandished it at the students.
"Do you want your answer?" he shouted. "Here it is, you pack of dogs! Clear the square!"
Anschl scanned the eyes of the soldiers. Not Viennese, he thought. Probably mercenaries. Brought in just to deal with us.
The commander's face was hot with anger, his eyes blazing with hate. Anschl had never seen a face like his before.
"I order you back!" he shouted. "Go back or we fire!" But nobody moved.
Can't he see we're squeezed in here? he thought. Nobody could move if they wanted to.
The commander turned his back to Anschl.
"Take aim!" he ordered his men, and stepped aside.
Anschl heard the click of the flintlocks. He and the students in front were looking down the barrels of twenty muskets.
His brain screamed.
They — wouldn't — DARE!
The commander raised his saber.
The crash of musketry nearly split Anschl's ears. Heinrech fell. Another student dropped, then another. Anschl was dragged down with them.
Lying stunned on the cobblestones, he heard the commander's crazed voice again.
"Fix bayonets! Charge!"
The drums beat wildly, the bugles blew the piercing notes of the attack. Anschl heard the heavy boots of the advancing soldiers. Desperately he tried to raise himself. Before he could move, he felt a bayonet rip into his back. Another soldier struck him on the head and shoulders with a musket butt.
Amid the clouds of smoke hanging over the square, the students struggled against the battalion. As he writhed on the ground, Anschl could hear the screams of the wounded above the rattle of musket fire.
The attack passed over them. Barely aware of his own pain, he yelled for help. Another student came over and the two dragged Heinrech, who was unresponsive, away from the chaos.
They found a side street where they could rest their fallen comrade against a doorstep. Anschl ripped open Heinrech's shirt and saw a gruesome entry wound. At that moment the insanity around him seemed to fall away. Everything was calm again.
A moment later Anschl heard a musket shot in the distance and came to his senses. The other boy had run off. He looked down. His clothes were torn. His face throbbed with pain. He put a hand to his cheek and it stung. When he looked at his hand, there was blood.
Still in shock, Anschl took off his overcoat and draped it over Heinrech's body.
"I'll come back for you," he told the lifeless form.
Then he staggered home.CHAPTER 2
His mother was there when he came through the door. Martha Bondi gasped.
Anschl's sister came running into the room. She screamed.
They helped him to his bed and removed his tattered clothes. Then they began to wash and bandage his wounds. He said nothing as they worked.
Then Chaia asked, "Where is Heinrech?"
He tried to say something, but he began to cry. Martha sat down and took him in her arms. Chaia brought him hot tea and medicine.
That night, Anschl dreamed he was running through the streets of Vienna ... running ... running ... looking for Heinrech. He had left his body somewhere. But where? There were so many side streets off Council Square, more than he remembered there being.
Where are you, Heinrech?
He turned one corner and saw a group of students with clubs. They were being met by squadrons of Hapsburg cavalry. Sparks flew from the horses' hoofs. The heavy sabers of their riders slashed at the boys on the ground. Anschl heard a musket explode, then saw a horse rear up and throw its rider. He kept running.
He spent hours looking.
When he finally awoke, it was mid-afternoon of the next day. There was shouting in the street. His head ached and he could barely move his arms. The noise outside grew louder. He pulled himself out of bed and went to the window. Below he could see students racing toward the university. A bell clanged in one of the towers.
He stood up, took a few minutes to steady himself, then dressed. He dashed out of his room and — before Martha could object — was out the door.
As he approached University Square, he started to pick up fragments of the news. "Metternich is gone!" said one. "The emperor agrees to our demands!" said another. He walked faster.
Was this it? The end of the monarchy?
But when he arrived at school, he found dozens of boys standing in line. They were being issued rifles and ammunition. A Catholic priest appeared before him. The priest's eyes were serious, full of grim purpose.
"We meet here tomorrow morning for drills," the priest said to Anschl.
When he returned home, his mother was waiting.
"Why did you run out? You should be in bed!" she cried.
Then she saw the gun in his hand. "What is this?"
"The students are forming their own militia," he said. "We will be called the Academic Legion. Father Fuester will be our commandant."
"Anschl!" she said. There was terror in her voice. "You will be killed! Then what will I do?"
Anschl's shoulders slumped. His mother's eyes were welling with tears. He looked away. He knew she would be upset at seeing the gun. So he had practiced a little speech he was going to give when he got home. Now, however, he could not find the words. He started to speak, then stopped. He could hear her crying softly.
He stared at the wall and thought of something to say.
Finally he asked her, "Mother, do you think Father would want me to join the fight for freedom?"
The question was a piercing dagger to heart of Martha Bondi. For they both knew the answer.
Two years ago, the authorities had come for Herz Emmanuel, Anschl's father. He had been sitting in a debtor's prison ever since. After the failure of his trading company, he was left with unpaid bills. In the eyes of the law that made him a common criminal. The judges serving Prince Metternich were corrupt to a man. They all accepted bribes — no, they insisted on bribes. Anschl had watched his mother take money from her purse and hand it to the judge overseeing Herz Emmanuel's case. And yet, month after month, the proceedings did not move forward. Further bribes were accepted. Still his father languished in jail.
They bled her dry, Anschl thought. Wanted to see how much money they could get out of a Jewish family.
All their clothing, except what they wore on their backs, went to the pawnbroker. Then, piece by piece, the household goods started disappearing. Martha kept only two things of value, the silver wine cup and the menorah, for their religious ceremonies. Everything else was sold. Their nice dishes were replaced by cheap wooden plates and bowls. And every day the Bondis ate the same meals on them: a few cocoa beans boiled in water for breakfast, black bread and potatoes at night. Meanwhile, his father withered away in a prison cell.
If anyone should be praying for the collapse of this rotten government, it should be you, Mother.
When Herz Emmanuel Bondi was a young man, he had been in the medical corps during Napoleon Bonaparte's campaigns. He greatly admired Napoleon. "That man did more to help the Jews than anyone since Maimonides," he told Anschl. "He treated us as equals."
You know what Father would want. He would want me fighting for freedom.
But Anschl kept his thoughts to himself, and waited on his mother.
After a while her quiet sobbing ceased. Anschl turned to face her. She was still dabbing her eyes with a handkerchief. Then she collected herself and looked bravely into the eyes of her only son.
"May God keep you from harm," Martha Bondi said.CHAPTER 3
Overnight Vienna turned into a city at war. Wherever Anschl went, he saw men and boys marching in formation and taking target practice. Two main militias had sprung up: the National Guard for the adults, and the Academic Legion for the students. Every afternoon Anschl and his comrades reported to University Square. After their drills they sat drinking beer and discussing the latest news and gossip. It was the highlight of his day. He and everyone else had lost interest in their studies. School officials moved up the date for final examinations, just to get them over with.
Two months after the first attack, Anschl heard alarm bells ringing from University Square. He seized his musket and hurried over. The square was already filled with students. He went up to an older cadet named Thomas.
"What's the news?"
"Metternich is sending in all he's got," Thomas replied, looking off in the distance.
"What does that mean?"
"At least twenty thousand men. The scouts say they've hauled in cannon as well."
Anschl absorbed that number. Metternich must have gathered up every mercenary in Europe.
"So what are we doing?" he asked.
"Did you hear me?" Thomas cried. "Vienna does not even have ten thousand people prepared to defend it!"
Anschl looked at the others. They were all standing around talking, waiting nervously for orders.
"So ... we just let them advance on us? Like last time?"
The older cadet whipped his head around at Anschl. "Do you have any better ideas?" he barked.
I might, Anschl thought as he walked away.
He started thinking back to the day Heinrech was killed. The mercenaries didn't care about us. They just shot their way through. How do we keep them from doing that again?
He walked along the cobblestones, pondering this question. Suddenly, he stopped. He looked down. At the cobblestones.
He ran over to the nearest group of students.
"Why can't we build barricades?" he asked them. "Like the students in Paris did?"
"Barricades? With what?" someone said.
Anschl pointed straight down.
"Those?" another said in disbelief.
"Stay where you are," said Anschl, and he hurried away.
Coming to the first house at the edge of the square, he knocked on the door. An old lady appeared.
"Pardon, ma'am," he said. "I'm in need of some tools."
Moments later he appeared back at the center of the square holding a pick, a hammer, and a crowbar.
Excerpted from Firebrand by Aaron Barnhart. Copyright © 2015 Quindaro Press, LLC. Excerpted by permission of Quindaro Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.