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1636: The Ottoman Onslaught: Chapter Eleven

       Last updated: Sunday, September 25, 2016 10:14 EDT



Royal Palace
Magdeburg, capital of the United States of Europe

    This time, when Gretchen was ushered into the presence of the emperor, two things were different. The chamber was much smaller, almost intimate in its dimensions, albeit as lavishly furnished as youR#8217;d expect in a royal palace. And they were quite alone. There were not even any servants in the room; just a small bell resting on a side table next to Gustav Adolf’s chair with which he could summon one if desired.

    To Gretchen’s surprise, the emperor rose to greet her when she came into the chamber. She was no connoisseur of imperial protocol, but she was quite sure that was unusual. Don Fernando — even when he had simply been the Cardinal-Infante, not the King in the Netherlands — had never risen to greet her when she came into his presence. Neither had his wife Maria Anna, nor the Archduchess Isabella, nor Fredrik Hendrik, the Prince of Orange.

    Gustav Adolf was smiling a bit ruefully when he resumed his seat. “I am training myself, you see. Well… being honest, I am letting my daughter’s governess train me. That’s the up-timer, Caroline Platzer. Have you met her?”

    Gretchen shook her head. “Not so far as I can recall.”

    “She is what they call a ‘social worker.'”

    Gretchen tried to make sense of the term. “She works at… managing social affairs?”

    “Not exactly. The way Caroline describes the profession herself — I assure you the crudity is hers, not mine! — is that social workers are the grease that helps a society’s axles turn more easily.” He shrugged. “I’d think she was at least half-mad except that she can work magic with my daughter where no one else has ever been able to. The princess’ ladies-in-waiting are well-nigh hysterical over Caroline’s methods, but… they work. And none of their methods ever did anything but make my intelligent and headstrong daughter a veritable terror.”

    The emperor turned his head a bit to the side, in order to give Gretchen a sideways look. “Are you aware of Kristina’s history — her future history, I mean, as recorded in the American books?”

    “Yes, in broad outline. She succeeded you, it did not go well, and eventually she abdicated, converted to Catholicism and went to live in Rome.” Gretchen tried to keep a smile from showing, but failed. “There was this, too. Apparently her headstrong manner never changed. There’s a story in one of those books — so I’m told; I did not read it myself — that when the guests at a celebration she held in her villa in Rome refused to leave when ordered –”

    “Ha!” Gustav Adolf clapped his big hands on his knees. “Yes, I read it! She ordered her household guards to fire on the unruly lot. Slew several of them, before the rest obeyed and left.”

    He chuckled softly, and shook his head. It was an oddly fond gesture, given that it was that of a father reminiscing #8212; using the term very, very crookedly — on his daughter’s murderous temper. “Caroline is good for her. And so is her betrothed, Prince Ulrik. I am very much in favor of that.”

    Again, he gave her that sideways look. “Are you?”

    Gretchen hadn’t been expecting that question. Her initial reaction was to issue some sort of meaningless inanity — of course I am in favor of anything that puts the princess at ease, that sort of twaddle — but she decided that would be a mistake. Instead, she took a few seconds — more like ten — to really think on the matter.

    “Yes,” she said finally. “When we — by ‘we’ I mean the Committees of Correspondence — decided to welcome Kristina and Prince Ulrik when they came to Magdeburg during the Dresden Crisis, we understood what it meant. For all intents and purposes, the CoCs were giving their consent to the United States of Europe’s remaining a monarchy. I was in Dresden myself and did not participate in the discussion, but I agreed with the decision.”

    She took a slow, deep breath. “That decision is now essentially irrevocable, given that Your Majesty has lived up to your end of the… what to call it?”

    “I rather like Ernst Wettin’s term. Modus vivendi. And you’re quite right. The CoCs, at least tacitly, have agreed that the USE will remain a monarchy. And the monarch in question” — he poked his chest with a thumb — “has agreed — also tacitly! nothing has been admitted openly! — that the imperial rule will be bound and circumscribed by constitutional principles.”

    He now bestowed an outright grin on her — and quite a cheerful one. “Of course, that leaves both of us with plenty of room — everyone else, too! the FOJs, the Crown Loyalists, the reactionaries, oh, everyone — in which to maneuver and bargain and quarrel.”

    He planted his hands on his knees again. “So. Which will we be doing today, Gretchen? Bargaining or quarreling?”

    “Bargaining, I hope.”

    He extended an open hand, with the palm turned up. The gesture invited her to lay out her proposals.

    She took another deep breath, but not a slow one. She was determined to do this straightforwardly and firmly.

    “First, I agree to run for the top executive position in Saxony. We will be advocating a parliamentary republican structure for the province, I should add.”

    The emperor nodded. “In that case, you will need to be representing a specific political party. That would be…”

    “I joined the Fourth of July Party this morning. I was — well, there’s no actual ‘swearing in’ — accepted in the presence of Rebecca Abrabanel, Ed Piazza and Matthias Strigel.”

    “As authoritative a group as anyone could ask for.” Gustav Adolf shifted his hands from his knees to the armrests of his chair and looked to the side for a moment. “You are being wise, I think. Please go on.”

    “Second, on the issue of citizenship. Since the coup attempt by Chancellor Oxenstierna failed and the assembly in Berlin has been declared — by you yourself — as having no legal authority, the provisional citizenship standards established by Prime Minister Stearns remain in place. Those will be the standards that apply in the special elections in Saxony, Mecklenburg, Württemberg and the Oberpfalz.”

    She paused, cocking an eye at the emperor to see if he wanted to argue the point. But all Gustav Adolf did was nod his head and make another little gesture with his hand. Not a problem, please go on.

    Now, they came to what she was almost certain was going to be the proverbial bone of contention.

    “On the issue of the established church. We propose the following. The Oberpfalz — assuming the populace agrees, of course — will have full freedom of religion. Complete separation of church and state.”

    Again, she paused, and looked at the emperor.

    “Agreed,” he said. Then, making a face: “I don’t care for it, but the Oberpfalz has been such a mess for so long due to cuius regio, eius religio — one ruler after another changing the region’s official denomination — that trying to establish a church now is probably hopeless. Please continue.”

    “Mecklenburg and Württemberg” — she had to keep her lips from tightening here — “will have Lutheranism as the established church.”

    Gustav Adolf’s eyes widened a bit. She didn’t think he’d foreseen that concession from the Committees of Correspondence. Then, of course, his eyes narrowed considerably. In negotiations of this sort, what one hand gives the other will promptly try to take back.

    “And Saxony?” he asked.

    She sat up a bit straighter. “We propose a compromise. What you might call a semi-established church. Lutheranism will be recognized as the province’s official church and will therefore be entitled to financial support from the provincial government. But all other religions — that includes Judaism as well as all varieties of Christianity — will not be penalized in any way.”

    The emperor’s eyes were now fairly close to being outright slits. “I fail to see the point. We have already banned all forms of religious persecution anywhere in the United States of Europe.”

    Gretchen had grown so relaxed in the presence of Gustav Adolf that she had to restrain herself from snapping: don’t play the fool! As if she were arguing with one of her own comrades.

    Which the emperor, as cordial as he might be, was decidedly not.

    “Your Majesty, I’m not simply speaking of persecution as such. There are other ways in which non-official denominations can be penalized. In Hesse-Kassel and Pomerania, for instance, only the established churches can have churches on the street. Other Protestant denominations have to maintain their churches inside courtyards, with no visible sign of their existence. And Catholics and Jews are required to maintain their places of worship on the upper floors, not on the street level. We want none of that in Saxony. The Lutherans can have their tax support. But that is all. That is the only additional benefit they would enjoy.”



    She stopped and waited for what she expected to be a royal outburst. Gustav Adolf had quite a famous temper, when he unleashed it.

    And, indeed, the emperor was glaring at her. His big hands gripped the ends of the armrests, the knuckles standing out prominently.

    To her surprise, he took a deep breath and exhaled it slowly. Then, still more to her surprise, he got a peculiar expression. It was almost…

    Foxlike? Yes — insofar as the term was not absurd, applied to such a heavy face.

    “I will agree on one condition,” he said abruptly.


    “If you win the election and become the governor of Saxony — or whatever term you choose for the post — we will face the awkward situation of having the chief of state of a province with an established church who does not belong to that church — in fact, belongs to no church at all.”

    His expression now became self-righteous; so much so that Gretchen suspected he was putting on an act. “That’s quite unacceptable! So my condition is this — you must cease this unseemly quasi-agnosticism and join a church. The Lutheran church would be ideal, of course. But I will settle for any other –”

    She interrupted, trying her best not to seem too foxlike herself. “But — Your Majesty! — as you perhaps may not know, I was raised — ”

    “Except the Catholic church!” he boomed. “I’ve got too many blasted Catholics in the USE as it is!”

    He leaned back in his chair. “That is the condition, Gretchen. Pick a Protestant church — and not one that is too disreputable, like the Anabaptists. A Reformed church is acceptable. We have that already in Hesse-Kassel and Brandenburg.”

    She considered outright rebellion, but…

    It was not an outrageous condition, given what the emperor was prepared to allow in exchange. And, besides, did it really matter that much any more?


    Yes. Some stubborn root at the very heart of Gretchen Richter was choking on the idea. Not because she cared about doctrinal issues — which she never had, even when she’d been a young Catholic girl — but simply because she was being forced.

    She was about to refuse when a very foxlike thought came to her. What if…?

    Yes. That would do.

    “Very well,” she said. “I accept. But I will need a bit of time to make my choice.”

    Gustav Adolf waved his hand expansively, magnanimously. “By all means! So long as you have made your choice before you take office.”

    He rose to his feet. “That assumes, of course, that you win the election. Which I most certainly hope you do not, since you are a notorious agitator and the fellow running against you, Ernst Wettin, is a far more sensible sort.”

    He was smiling when he said it, though.



    She spent that evening giving a full report to a large assemblage in Rebecca Abrabanel’s town house. Several of Magdeburg’s CoC leaders were present along with the people from the Fourth of July Party.

    The idea she was considering with respect to the church she’d wind up joining herself, however, she discussed with no one except Rebecca.

    Who thought the idea was both charming and shrewd. As she put it: “It’s a way to goose the emperor without his being able to take umbrage.”

    She then had to explain the bizarre way Americans had turned a goose into a verb.



    The next morning, Eddie Junker showed up at the townhouse.

    “Where are we flying to now?” he asked. “Back to Dresden?”

    “Later. First we go to Grantville.”



    Once they were in the air, heading south, Eddie asked Gretchen: “How long will you be in Grantville?”

    She didn’t answer immediately because they’d encountered some turbulence. Her left hand was clutching the side of her seat. Her right hand had been clutching the door handle but she’d snatched it away when she realized that if she had a sudden spasm caused by — whatever — she might inadvertently fling open the door — never mind that the wind pressure would be working entirely against that possibility — and then fling herself out of the airplane for no good reason known to man, God or beast.

    All her knuckles were bone white. Her jaw was clenched. Her eyes were wide but fixed straight ahead as if she were gazing into the maw of hell.

    “Oh, relax,” said Eddie. “Turbulence in the air is nothing to worry about. Look at it this way. If you were on a ship at sea you’d expect to be riding up and down with the waves, wouldn’t you? In fact, if you weren’t you’d be in trouble.”

    He waved a hand, indicating the atmosphere through which they were flying. “That’s all this is, too. We’re just riding waves in the air instead of in water. It only seems dangerous because you can’t see these waves.”

    “It’s not the same at all,” Gretchen said, through still-clenched teeth. “If a boat comes apart and drops me into the water, I know how to swim. If this airplane falls apart and drops me into the air, I don’t know how to fly.”



    After the turbulence had died down and Gretchen had relaxed a bit, Eddie repeated the question.

    “I’m not sure,” she said.

    “An hour? Two hours? A day? Two days? A week?”

    “At least a day. Maybe two. I don’t think it should be longer than that.”

    Eddie nodded. “Fine. I need to fly Noelle and Janos Drugeth from Vienna to Prague as soon as possible. I got the message from the radio operator at the Magdeburg airfield just before we left. So after I drop you off in Grantville, I’ll take care of that business before I return. It shouldn’t take more than a day.”

    Gretchen said nothing. They’d run into turbulence again.



Grantville, State of Thuringia-Franconia

    The door was opened by a woman whom Gretchen knew to be in her early eighties but who didn’t look it to her down-time eyes. Gretchen’s grandmother Veronica was only sixty-one, which many Americans still considered to be “middle-aged,” but she looked older than the woman standing in the doorway.

    They’d encountered each other any number of times when Gretchen was living in Grantville after her marriage to Jeff, but she couldn’t recall that they’d ever spoken directly. As always, Gretchen was struck by the old woman’s hair. Snow-white but still full, and extremely curly. It was not hard to understand why she’d been the inspiration for Ewegenia, symbol of the Franconian League of Women Voters during the Ram Rebellion.

    “Veleda Riddle?” she asked by way of a formal greeting. “I am Gretchen –”

    “I know who you are, dear.” Veleda smiled. “The whole world probably does — well, Europe, anyway — at least by reputation.”

    Holding the door open, she moved aside and gestured for Gretchen to enter.

    “Come in. Would you care for some coffee? Tea? Broth?”

    Gretchen was about to refuse politely when she realized she actually did have a desire — a craving, more like — for a cup of coffee. Her nerves were still a little unsettled from the flight.

    And if anyone in Grantville was likely to have good coffee, it would be Veleda Riddle. She was one of the handful of “grand old ladies” among the up-timers. Her son, Chuck Riddle, was the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the State of Thuringia-Franconia and while she was now a widow, her husband had been one of Grantville’s few practicing lawyers and had made a better living than most residents of the town before the Ring of Fire.

    “Yes, please. Some coffee would be nice.”

    After she’d taken a seat in the living room and Veleda returned from preparing the coffee in the kitchen, Gretchen said: “I was sorry to hear of the recent passing of your husband, Mrs. Riddle.”

    Veleda handed her a cup of coffee and sat down on the couch positioned at a ninety-degree angle from Gretchen. She had a cup for herself, from which she took a sip before responding.

    “I miss him, I surely do. But we all have to pass someday and Tom made it to eighty-four before he died.” She smiled, in fond reminiscence. “On his eightieth birthday I remember him telling me, ‘Okay, hon, I made it as far as anyone can ask from the Lord. I figure whatever’s left is gravy.'”

    She took another sip of coffee and set the cup down on the aptly-named coffee table.

    “And now, what can I do for you, Gretchen Richter?”



    Once Gretchen had explained the purpose of her visit, Veleda drained her cup of coffee.

    “Oh, my,” she said, cradling the cup in her lap.

    She stared out the window for a time.

    “Oh, my,” she said again.

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