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1636: The Ottoman Onslaught: Chapter Fifteen
Last updated: Saturday, October 15, 2016 06:16 EDT
Magdeburg, capital of the United States of Europe
Gustav II Adolf wasn’t quite squinting at Rebecca Abrabanel with suspicion but someone who didn’t know him as well as she did might think he was. To some degree, that was because the position of the man added so much weight — what her up-time husband Michael called gravitas, stealing from the Latin — to anything he said or did that it was easy to inflate a chuckle into a belly-laugh. Or a slight narrowing of the eyes into a glare of dark suspicion.
King of Sweden, Emperor of the United States of Europe, High King of the Union of Kalmar. It was enough to make even a Habsburg envious.
“Surely you didn’t resign your seat in Parliament just in order to be able to visit your husband,” he said.
Rebecca fluttered her hands. “Oh, no, of course not. Even though I really haven’t seen very much of him since you made him a general.”
His narrow-eyed gaze moved down to her belly. “Seen him often enough, I’d say. You’re pregnant again.”
Rebecca was neither surprised nor taken aback by his bluntness. Her friend Melissa Mailey had told her once of the delicate and discreet customs of up-time monarchs of a later era than this one. Apparently there had been one queen — Victoria, she was called — who became outraged whenever anyone so much as suggested that human beings were not actually ethereal spirits.
Kings and queens in the seventeenth century, though — emperors too — lived much closer to the mud and muck of practicality. Thankfully, while Michael and Rebecca were very prominent political figures of the day, the legitimacy or lack thereof of their offspring was of no great concern to anyone. If she’d been royalty in line of succession, not only would she have had to give birth in the presence of onlookers and witnesses, she’d have had to conceive the child under the same scrutiny.
“Well, yes, I am pregnant again.” She was tempted to add that was thanks to Gustav Adolf himself. After Michael had brought the semi-conscious emperor to Berlin following his terrible injury at the Battle of Lake Bledno, he’d then spent a few days with her in Magdeburg before resuming command of the Third Division in Bohemia. Very pleasant days, those had been; the nights, even more so.
But that would be impolitic. Gustav Adolf had come to terms, more or less, with the ongoing disability that he was subject to periodic seizures. But he didn’t like to be reminded of the episode that had produced that disability. Technically, the Battle of Lake Bledno was one of many victories he could add to his roster of such. But he knew perfectly well — as did his opponent in that battle, Grand Hetman Koniecpolski — that from any strategic point of view the outcome had been entirely to Poland’s advantage. Gustav Adolf had been incapacitated for months, the USE had been plunged into a near-civil war, and Poland had been given a precious half-year to strengthen its defenses. There was no longer any realistic prospect for the USE to win a quick and decisive victory over the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.
“But, no, of course I didn’t resign my seat just to be able to visit Michael. We want Ed Piazza to be the next prime minister if we win the election, and legally that requires him to be a member of the House of Commons. So I gave up my seat in order to provide him with one.”
“I doubt if there is a single burgermeister anywhere in the Germanies who would believe that twaddle, Rebecca. Piazza could have run for special election in any number of districts that are perfectly safe for the FOJs. Dietrich Essert’s seat in Mecklenburg, for instance, or Reineke Bäcker’s in Thuringia. Either one of them would have been perfectly happy to step down for Piazza.”
Rebecca was not surprised by Gustav Adolf’s detailed knowledge of her party’s inner workings. He’d be even better informed concerning the Crown Loyalists. The moderate Hesse-Kassel/Brunswick/Wettin wing, at least, if not the outright reactionaries.
“I see I can’t deceive you,” she said, smiling.
“You’re trying again — right now,” he accused. “You’re about to come up with some other illogical explanation.”
Well yes, she had been.
She’d told Ed this wouldn’t work.
Nothing for it but the truth, then. “The plan is for me to become the new secretary of state. Assuming we win, of course.”
“Ha!” His big hand smacked the armrest with a meaty sound. “I knew it! I knew that had to be the reason! Anything else would have been a waste.”
With a much more genial expression, he leaned back in his chair in the small reception chamber he liked to use for meetings of an intimate and informal nature. “I approve of the scheme. I’ll deny ever saying that — and in a high dudgeon, too! — should it become public. But you’ll make an excellent secretary of state for the nation. Better than Hermann has been, for a certainty.”
He was referring to the existing secretary of state, Landgrave Hermann of Hessen-Rotenburg, the younger brother of the recently-deceased ruler of Hesse-Kassel. Mike Stearns had appointed him secretary of state as a gesture of political goodwill and after he’d been replaced as prime minister by Wilhelm Wettin in the 1635 elections, Wilhelm had kept Hermann in the post. That would probably have been a temporary measure except that the instability which gripped the USE after the emperor’s injury at Bledno pushed the issue to the side.
“Being fair to Hermann,” Rebecca said, “he never wanted the post to begin with.”
“Yes, I know. And I have no great complaint concerning his performance. It’s been adequate. But I won’t be sorry to see someone with real talent at the work taking over the position.”
Rebecca’s eyes narrowed a bit. “I have to admit, Your Majesty, I am surprised by your reaction. I would have thought you’d prefer a Crown Loyalist secretary of state.”
Gustav Adolf chuckled heavily. “I would prefer an actual royal, if I lived in a perfect world. If I could make the decision, I’d appoint Prince Ulrik.”
“He’d be very good.”
The emperor shrugged. “But we have a constitutional monarchy, and while I am prepared and willing — Ha! Watch me! — to gnaw at the edges of it, I have accepted the basic principle. So, a political party must choose the new secretary of state and at the moment ”
He looked aside, his gaze seeming to lose a bit of its focus. “Again, were this an ideal world — one I’d prefer, at least — I’d be more comfortable with people like Amelie Elizabeth running the government. Not herself, of course. She’d have to abdicate as the landgravine and run as a commoner and I’d expect my pagan ancestors’ Fimbulwinter to happen before that does. But people of like mind, I mean.”
His eyes came back to her, now in sharp focus. “But that’s neither here nor there, as your husband likes to say. We live in tumultuous times and at least for the moment the Crown Loyalists are still in great disarray. You and your Fourth of July Party will win the coming election, I am quite sure of it, and” — his massive shoulders heaved another shrug — “it may be just as well. For a time, at least.”
He rose to his feet, signaling an end to the interview. “And now I have other business I must attend to. Please give my best regards to your husband, Rebecca.”
She rose and curtsied. “I shall, Your Majesty.”
When she brought her gaze back up, she saw that Gustav Adolf’s expression seemed a bit surprised.
So did his tone of voice. “I actually mean that, you know.”
Prague, capital of Bohemia
“You’ll have to excuse my longitudinality,” said Wallenstein. “Is that even a word, I wonder?”
He was lying on his back in the big bed he’d had placed in one of the audience chambers in his palace. His head and shoulders were propped up by several pillows so that he could look at the people he was talking to, and he had a small short-legged writing table perched across his middle. The former mercenary general and now ruler of Bohemia was a semi-invalid — more like a three-quarter invalid — but he still kept constantly busy.
His American nurse and sometime bodyguard Edith Wild wasn’t happy about that. But there were limits to how far even her fearsome self could bully Wallenstein.
He was an odd man in many ways, Noelle had come to realize in the days since she and Janos had arrived in Prague. He could be utterly reptilian in his ruthlessness, as he’d demonstrated just a few years earlier when he launched the Croat raid on Grantville and its high school, yet also quite solicitous of the well-being of those around him. His ambitions were great; going far beyond Bohemia itself. Morris and Judith Roth had already told Noelle and Janos of Wallenstein’s longterm plan to ingest as much of Ruthenia as he could manage — that was after taking Silesia. (Or taking it back, as he preferred to put it.) Janos was also certain that he had ambitions on Austria’s Royal Hungary as well, or at least parts of it.
Yet except in formal proclamations it was clear that he preferred the name Wallenstein to that of King Albrecht II. He was invariably courteous to those around him, except on the very rare occasions when his temper rose. And with his closest confidants — Noelle had never witnessed this herself but she had been told about it by Judith — he insisted on being called by his given name Albrecht rather than by any of the many titles he held or appellations he could claim.
There weren’t many people who enjoyed that privilege, of course. His wife, Isabella Katharina von Harrach. The commander of his army, General Gottfried Heinrich Graf zu Pappenheim. And a handful of close advisers, which included Morris Roth.
(Not Judith, though. As she’d said to Noelle, smiling wryly: “You can’t expect miracles from a man born in the last century — by which I mean the sixteenth century. You can’t even call Wallenstein a male chauvinist because he’d be mystified by the term. What does a man have to be ‘chauvinistic’ about? He’d ask. Nature’s way is what it is, that’s all.”)
Without waiting for an answer to his rhetorical question, Wallenstein moved right to the subject on his mind. The man was courteous, yes; but he was not given to casual conversation. His mind was always on his affairs.
“What have we reached agreement on, and what still remains to be settled?” he asked.
The question was posed to Janos. Wallenstein didn’t ignore Noelle in these discussions. He listened to what she had to say — even carefully, so far as she could tell. But whenever the discussion became focused, began to come to a conclusion of some sort, Noelle could tell that Wallenstein was excluding her from his thoughts. It was as if she no longer existed in the room. His attention was entirely on Janos.
She found that annoying, to say the least. But push came to shove, it was just a fact that it was Janos Drugeth and not she who could speak authoritatively for Austria-Hungary. Wallenstein could have been as polite and attentive toward her as possible and it would remain the case that in the end he’d still have to get the answer — or even the question — from Janos.
Before answering, Janos took the time to draw up a chair from the ones against the back wall and sit down close to Wallenstein’s side. Noelle drew up one of the other chairs but she didn’t bother to move it very far from the wall. Wallenstein wouldn’t notice where she sat one way or the other, and this way she could enjoy the breeze coming in through the open window. It was a beautiful spring day.
Edith insisted on keeping that window open all year round except for winter and whenever it rained. That was in direct defiance of the established wisdom of the doctors of the time, of course, but by now Edith had the full and complete confidence of Katherina Isabella. Wallenstein’s wife was a rather quiet and retiring sort of person — except where the health and well-being of her husband and children were concerned. At such times she could turn into a fair imitation of a dragon and send the doctors scurrying off lest their learned beards get burned away.
“What we have reached clear agreement on is the following,” Janos said. “First, Austria will recognize the independence of Bohemia and yourself as its rightful king. Second, no claims for damages will be made by either party, nor will either party sanction or in any way assist any such claims from third parties. That includes –”
Noelle ignored the next stretch of the discussion and just enjoyed the breeze and the sight of the Hradcany rising above the city. Prague Castle, as it was also known, was a sprawling edifice on top of a hill — collection of edifices enclosed by a more-or-less continuous wall, it might be better to say — that dated back to the founding of the city in the ninth century. It had been built up over time, century after century, as one architectural style succeeded another. Noelle’s personal favorite of the many structures in the Hradcany was the Gothic cathedral of St. Vitus, whose spires she could see from where she was now sitting. She’d spent many hours in that cathedral since they arrived; some of them praying; some of them in the confession booth; but, mostly, just enjoying the peace and serenity of the great cathedral’s quiet interior.
Her contemplations were broken when a phrase from Janos made clear that they’d finally moved beyond the — necessary, necessary, yes, certainly, but still incredibly boring — establishment of the limits of post-settlement legal proceedings.
” — regard to military affairs, Bohemia agrees to come to the aid of Austria if” — he might as well have said when, in light of the news report coming from Vienna but Janos was a diplomat, after all — “it comes under attack from the Ottoman Empire. For its part, Austria-Hungary agrees to come to the aid of Bohemia should Bohemia be attacked by the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. For these purposes, ‘attack’ shall include any movement of Polish forces into Upper Silesia but not Lower Silesia.”
They’d spent a full day arguing over that distinction. Having Morris Roth as a close confidant to both sides brought advantages either way. One of the benefits Janos and Noelle had gotten was that they knew from Morris that while Wallenstein laid claim to all of Silesia it was really only Upper Silesia that he cared about. There was the additional problem for him that depending on how the war between the USE and the PLC unfolded, the USE might very well claim Lower Silesia and he had no desire at all to come into conflict with Gustav Adolf.
No, Wallenstein’s ambitions lay to the east, not the north. If he could take Upper Silesia from the Poles — including the city of Katowice — then he could encroach still further on the PLC’s southern lands. He could take — or try, at least — parts of Lesser Poland and Galicia, and if he could hold those then he could move still further into Ruthenia. Starting from his Bohemian and Moravian base, Wallenstein planned to create a new empire in Eastern Europe, most of it in the area her universe had known as Ukraine.
Morris Roth called it “the Anaconda project.” He supported it because it was his hope that in the course of that expansion eastward Wallenstein could undermine the conditions that, in the universe the Americans came from, produced the Cossack rebellion of 1648 led by Bogdan Chmielnicki.
The rebellion had several names in the history books. In those devoted to the history of Judaism it was sometimes called the Chmielnicki Pogroms, and it was probably the worst mass slaughter of Jews between the Roman-Jewish War of the first century and the Nazi Holocaust of the twentieth.
Could Wallenstein do it? Noelle had no idea. But it was not something she or Janos had to deal with right now.
Janos now arrived at today’s bone of contention. “That brings us to the issue of Royal Hungary and Bohemia’s claims to it.”
“To part of it,” Wallenstein countered. “Only those portions of Royal Hungary which would eventually — “:
“In a universe that will now never exist,” interrupted Janos.
“– become part of Slovakia, which properly belongs to Bohemia and Moravia, as is implied in the very name ‘Czechoslovakia’ — ”
“Another country that would exist only in that other universe and even in that universe” — Janos’ voice had a lilt of triumph in it — “would soon cease to exist anyway.”
Wallenstein glared at him. But then, looked away. And then, cleared his throat.
“I would be prepared to pay compensation — some reasonable amount — to whatever Austrian or Hungarian notables might lose some estates as a result.”
Janos grinned at him. “‘Nice try,’ as the Americans would say. Yes, my family’s lands are mostly in and around the town of Homonna which is indeed inconveniently located in that portion of Royal Hungary that you wish to claim as your own.”
His grin went away. “You can’t bribe me, Your Majesty. It may be that Austria-Hungary will eventually cede parts of Royal Hungary to Bohemia — in exchange for other considerations, be sure of it. But one of those considerations will not be paying me and my family what would amount to a bribe.”
Wallenstein might have look a bit abashed, for a moment. A very little bit and a moment that lasted less than a second, to be sure.
He cleared his throat again. “I do not propose to dispossess you or your family, Janos. You would always be welcome to remain as landowners within Bohemia.”
“Yes, I understand. But that would create the sort of problems for me that Prince Karl Eusebius von Liechtenstein has to dance upon, like hot coals. On Monday he’s a taxpayer owing allegiance to you and on Tuesday he owes it to Ferdinand of Austria. Then back to you on Wednesday and Thursday, and back again to Austria for the weekend. Awkward, that is — ten times as much for me, who is one of Ferdinand’s closest advisers and military commanders.”
He glanced out the window to gauge the time of day. Noelle had given him a good watch; not an up-time device but still one that could keep the time accurately within ten minutes each day. But Janos still didn’t really trust the thing.
“We’ve accomplished enough for today, I think.” He rose and looked down at Wallenstein. Then, in a considerably softer voice, he added: “You look tired. Get some sleep. We will continue this on the morrow.”
Wearily, Wallenstein nodded his head — a movement that only covered perhaps an inch or so.
“Tomorrow,” he agreed. His eyes were already closed.
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