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1636: The Ottoman Onslaught: Chapter Twenty Nine
Last updated: Sunday, December 25, 2016 08:03 EST
Magdeburg, capital of the United States of Europe
When Noelle entered the small audience chamber in the royal palace with Janos Drugeth, she was surprised to see the other people already there: Rebecca Abrabanel, Ed Piazza, Wilhelm Wettin and the Landgravine of Hesse-Kassel, Amalie Elisabeth. The four of them were seated in a semi-circle facing Gustav Adolf. The two still-empty chairs in the center of that semi-circle made it clear where she and Janos were supposed to sit.
Glancing around, she saw that there were no servants in the room except the one who had ushered them into it — and he was already leaving, closing the door behind him. Clearly, as had Wallenstein, the emperor of the USE had taken to heart the up-time cautions on the subject of letting servants be within earshot whenever critical matters of state were being discussed. So far, Janos had had only partial success in persuading his own emperor to follow suit. Old habits die hard with anyone; harder still, with aristocracy; hardest of all, with royalty.
Gustav Adolf gestured toward the two empty chairs. “Please, sit down. Wilhelm and Amelie, I do not believe you have met Janos Drugeth before now. He is here as an Austrian Reichsgraf and Ferdinand III’s envoy.”
Reichsgraf, was it? Janos had enough titles he could attach to his name that you’d need a team of horses to drag them around. “Reichsgraf” — the term could be translated as “imperial count” — was a rank that went back into the Middle Ages, and originally denoted someone who held a county in fief directly from the Holy Roman Emperor himself, rather than from one of the emperor’s vassals. As time passed, the real content of the title shifted and became detached from land-holding. Some Reichsgrafen held land as such, others didn’t. Janos was one of the ones who didn’t, although he retained a great deal of land in Hungary deriving from his other positions and ranks in the empire.
The significance of the title as used in this context by Gustav Adolf was subtle but unmistakable. As Reichsgraf Drugeth, Janos was here as Emperor Ferdinand III’s direct emissary and was presumed to be empowered not only to speak on his behalf but to make treaties. That also explained the presence of the four central leaders of the two major parties — at least, those parties which were well-enough organized to seriously contest the current election. There were a lot of reactionaries in the USE, some of them with real power and influence. But they’d been so demoralized by the outcome of the Dresden Crisis that they spent most of their time and energy these days bickering among themselves. For the moment, they were a minor factor in the political equation.
With emperor of the USE and the four central political leaders present, Janos could not only make proposals but could expect them to be agreed to and signed.
Or not. But at least the possibility existed.
Prague, capital of Bohemia
To Denise’s surprise, when Eddie landed the plane at Prague’s airstrip, her mother, Christin George, was there to greet her. So far as Denise had been aware, her mother was still living in Grantville.
“Hi, Mom!” she said, rushing up to give her a hug. “When did you get to Prague? And what’s the reason for the visit? I hope you didn’t come all the way here just to see me. ‘Cause once I talk to Don Francisco so he can set Minnie and this doofus straight” — the thumb of accusation pointed over her shoulder at Eddie Junker, who was now getting out of the plane — “I’m heading straight back to Vienna. Where everything’s happening.”
Christin George took her time with returning the hug. Her daughter had reacted to her father’s murder during the Dreeson Incident the way Denise usually reacted to things — vigorously. She’d thrown herself into working for Francisco Nasi with the same energy that she’d thrown into becoming Eddie Junker’s girlfriend.
Christin approved of the boyfriend. Eddie was a solid guy and she thought he was a good influence on Denise. She wasn’t sure about the new boss, which was one of the reasons she’d come to Prague.
The main reason, though, was as simple as it got — she and Denise were the only close family each of them had left and Christin wanted them together again. As much as possible, at least. Having Denise for a daughter was a lot like herding a very big and hyperactive cat.
“I have talked to Don Francisco, Denise. That’s one of the reasons he told you to come back here. I asked him to.”
By that evening, Denise had settled down a lot. First, because the meeting she’d had with her employer — she’d demanded it, of course, right off, and a bit to her surprise had gotten it — had not gone the way she wanted.
“No. You should spend time with your mother. Minnie is quite capable of taking care of herself — better than you are, being honest about it. I don’t need two of you in Vienna and I’ve got another assignment in mind for you.”
“Which is what? Uh, boss.”
“Spending time with your mother. So off you go. Now, Denise.”
But there were other reasons, too, for her more settled state of mind. First and foremost, just being back in her mother’s company after a separation of several months. Denise’s father Buster Beasley had generally encouraged her free spirits. Her mother hadn’t dampened them, exactly — women who marry bikers in the face of fierce family disapproval are not given to caution themselves — but she had provided Denise with a certain maternal circumference. Denise had always known that she was free to roam a lot, but there were limits, mostly set by her mother.
For a kid, that knowledge could be a comfort as well as, occasionally, a source of frustration. Right now, she was finding that maternal presence a great comfort.
Despite her own disapproval of her mother’s wayward recklessness.
“You sold the business? Sold it outright? Not leased it to somebody else to run it for you? What were you thinking, Mom? Yeah, sure, you can live on that for a while but what are you going to do when it runs out? In — what — maybe three or four months. How much did you get, anyway?”
Christin answered the last question first. Denise reacted pretty much the same way her mother had reacted in times past to Denise’s explanations of cause-and-effect issues such as why she hadn’t come home until three o’clock in the morning.
“Oh, bullshit! Nobody’s going to pay that much — that’s a fucking fortune — for a weld shop and a storage rental facility.”
Eddie came back into the hotel room carrying two glasses of wine just in time to hear Denise’s outburst. He handed one of the glasses to Christin and offered the other to Denise.
She shook her head but gave him a smile. There was a fine protocol involved here. If he hadn’t offered her the wine she’d have bridled that he was treating her as a child. But, so long as he did, she almost always declined. Denise wasn’t a teetotaler, exactly, certainly not as a matter of principle. But the truth was that she didn’t much like the taste of alcohol.
She never had. Whatever other concerns her mother and father had had about the possible consequences of Denise’s sometimes reckless behavior, they’d never worried she’d do something because she got drunk. Because she got pissed off, yes; rebellious, yes; just to prove to some jerk that he was in fact a jerk, yes. Drunk, no.
Having fulfilled his necessary part in the protocol, Eddie — who did like wine; and beer; and most spirits, thank you very much — settled down in another chair in the front room of the hotel suite.
For “suite” it was — and in one of the two finest hostelries in Prague.
“You’re shooting from the hip again, Denise,” said Eddie. “The weld shop and the rental storage facility? Pfft.” That last noise exuded insouciance. “Whoever bought the property from your mother probably auctioned off all the welding equipment and supplies and tore down the storage facilities.”
“Auctioned them off, actually,” corrected Christin. She smiled and shook her head. “Didn’t get a lot for them, of course. They were basically just sheds with delusions of grandeur. But Buster’s stuff sold well.”
“Mom! You sold Dad’s stuff?”
Christin’s expression was exasperated. “For fuck’s sake, Denise” — Christin George belonged to the Rita Simpson (née Stearns) school of Proper Appalachian Patois — “what was I supposed to do? Keep your father’s arc welders and oxy-acetylene cylinders at my bed side?”
“Well ” Denise couldn’t really contest the point, but she had a stubborn expression on her face. “Still. Even his stuff couldn’t have brought in that much.”
“Real estate,” said Eddie. “The real value would have been in the storage rental property — because of what it sat on. The buildings may have been sheds with delusions of grandeur but they were still buildings and they spread out over a lot of area.” He looked to Christin. “How much land did you own?”
“About half an acre.”
He turned back to face Denise. “You have any idea how much half an acre is worth these days inside the Ring of Fire?”
“No.” Denise’s expression got more stubborn. “Neither do you.”
He chuckled. “Not precisely, but it doesn’t matter. What I do know is that your mother walked away from the sale with enough to set herself up — in style, mind you — almost anywhere outside of the Ring of Fire.”
A look of sudden understanding came to his face. ̶#8220;That’s the other reason you’re here, isn’t it? This isn’t really a visit.”
Christin shook her head. “Don’t know for sure yet, but probably not. I do want to be closer to my daughter and” — her face became a little drawn — “Grantville’s just got too many memories of Buster. I don’t want to forget any of them but I don’t need to be reminded of them every day, either.”
She shook her head slightly, as if to clear those thoughts away. “I wrote to Judith Roth and she talked to Morris and they told me that if I came out here they’d help me get set up with something. Don’t know what it might be yet. There are several possibilities we’re looking at.”
Once Denise set her mind to being stubborn, she had a lot of what might be called psychic inertia. “If the Roths are being so friendly to you,” she demanded, “why aren’t you staying with them instead of” — she looked around, clearly preferring to end the sentence with this dump except even when she was in full stubborn mode Denise didn’t lose her mind.
“This place,” she concluded.
Eddie and Christin exchanged a pitying glance. “She’s usually much brighter than this,” Eddie insisted.
“Yeah, I know, I raised her,” was Christin’s response. She placed her half-full glass of wine on a side table and leaned forward, looking at her daughter. “Denise, what happens if word gets out in Prague that I’m on cozy terms with Morris and Judith Roth? That is to say, the richest Jews in the city and probably among the half dozen or so richest people of any creed?”
Denise crossed her arms over her chest.
“Come on, sweetie,” Christin crooned, as if she were trying to coax a kitten out of hiding. “I know you can answer the question.”
“Everybody you deal with will try to double the price.”
“More like triple it,” grunted Eddie. His glass now being empty, he used it to wave around as a pointer. “This suite is plush, which signals to anybody that Christin’s not a piker. But you don’t need to be in Roth financial territory to be able to afford it, even for quite a few weeks.”
Denise was silent, for a moment. Then, she sighed and uncrossed her arms. “Okay. I really am glad to see you, Mom. And I’d like it if you moved here, I really would.”
Her eyes got moist. “I just miss Dad awful, sometimes. Really awful.”
Her mother’s eyes weren’t dry, either. “So do I, sweetheart. But life goes on, whether you want it to or not.”
“He used to say that a lot.”
“Yeah, he did. He was a wise man, in his own way. I didn’t marry him because of the bikes and the tattoos, you know.”
She grinned, suddenly, and in that moment the resemblance between her and her daughter was almost startling. “I admit they helped. I was a rambunctious kid just like you were. You should have seen the look on my fucking parents’ face the first time they saw Buster! Straddling his bike in his cut-off leather jacket with me perched right behind him.”
Denise grinned also. “Welcome home, Mom.”
Magdeburg, capital of the United States of Europe
Gustav Adolf rose abruptly from his chair and began striding about the room in front of his assembled audience. Who numbered only six, but the emperor was clearly in a declamatory mood.
“I will summarize it as follows, then,” he said. “Wallenstein — do I need to start calling him King Albrecht?” — ignoring his own question, he went on — “and Ferdinand will make peace. Indeed, they will go further and form an alliance within certain limits.”
He stopped and peered down at Janos. “Correct me if I oversimplify, but the gist of it is that Wallenstein will come to Austria’s aid against the Turks — within limits, of course, he still has Poland to deal with — in exchange for which Ferdinand will back Bohemia against Poland.”
Janos nodded. #8220;In essence, yes. The qualifications –”
Gustav Adolf waved his hand. “Yes, yes, they’re clear. Also obvious. Austria’s commitment does not extend to any actions on the part of Wallenstein — somehow it seems slightly ridiculous to call him Albrecht II — whose purpose is to increase his territory at the expense of Poland. Likewise, Bohemia is under no obligation to support Austria in the event the Ottoman invasion is driven back and Austria seeks to expand further into the Balkans. What is most important to me in all this, however –”
He stopped and glowered down at the Austrian envoy. “Is that I am expected to serve as the guarantor of all these agreements. If I agree to this, then I will be enjoined to come to the aid of whichever party has been wronged by the other’s failure to live up to its agreement.”
A bit daringly, Noelle interjected: “But only in your person as the emperor of the United States of Europe. No commitment is implied on the part of either Sweden or the Union of Kalmar.”
She settled back in her seat, bracing herself for an imperial explosion at her impertinence in saying anything at all. Noelle had no official status at this meeting. But the very fact that she’d been invited suggested that the intricacies of seventeenth century political affairs were at play. Much of what was done in the here and now was based on personal ties, not formal positions. She was betrothed to Janos Drugeth, one of Austria-Hungary’s most powerful noblemen, a close confidant of Ferdinand III, and his personal envoy to the USE. Plus — you could never rule out this factor, although its exact importance was always hard to calculate — she was an American. Plus — this was a bit easier to calculate — someone who had in the past served as one of Ed Piazza’s informal agents and Piazza was likely to be the next prime minister and thus someone the emperor was going to be dealing with constantly.
As it turned out, she’d parsed the matter accurately. Gustav Adolf transferred the glower onto her, but only for a moment. Then, he chuckled. “Europe will just have to hope that you and the Reichsgraf don’t produce too many children, lest the rest of us be overwhelmed with little Machiavellis.”
He resumed his pacing. “What both Austria and Bohemia want from the United States of Europe in return, in addition to our serving as the guarantor of the terms of their own treaties, is for us to support them — with military force, mind you — in their struggles with the Poles and the Ottomans.”
Again, he waved his hand. “The Polish issue is moot, since we are already at war with the swine Wladyslaw and his minions. But we are not — as of yet — at war with the Ottoman Empire. Agreeing to this treaty — set of treaties, rather — would commit me to undertake a war on two fronts, against what is quite possibly the most powerful realm in the world.
“But what do I get in return?” he demanded. He stopped his pacing and went back to hands-on-hips-stooping-over-and-glowering mode. “Very little, it would seem!”
Before anyone could interject he added: “Yes, yes, trade agreements, that sort of thing. The merchants and moneylenders will be happy. But that seems like precious little, nonetheless.”
Noelle was tempted to speak again but refrained. There were limits to how far she could put herself forward.
It proved to be unnecessary anyway, because Rebecca spoke up. “Your Majesty, you are pretending to reduce this to a matter of arithmetic when it is actually an algebraic calculation.”
Gustav Adolf puffed out his cheeks indignantly. “Pretending! Pretending!”
But Noelle noticed that his complexion hadn’t changed any. The emperor was, in this regard, very much a Swede — his skin was pale, except when he’d been campaigning in the field for days. Even then, she’d been told, he just got sunburned, not tanned.
Noelle had never seen Gustav Adolf in one of his famous furies, but she’d had them described to her. One of the invariable symptoms was that the emperor’s cheeks didn’t just swell out, his entire face became as white as a ghost’s.
But here, now those puffed-out infuriated heavy jowls had their usual color. Pale, yes, but no more than they always were.
“Outrageous!” he went on.
Rebecca’s response was the serene smile for which she was quite well-known by now. “Please, Your Majesty. I am simply saying bluntly what everyone here — certainly yourself — understands to be true. Regardless of the details, the essence of this set of agreements — what I would call the algebraic equation — is not this or that specific item but the recognition that the United States of Europe has become the central — I do not say ‘dominant,’ simply central — power in the continent. Once these agreements are signed, we will have formed what amounts to a Triple Alliance at the very heart of Europe. And if we defeat the Turks, which I have every confidence we will, then our alliance becomes the rightful successor to the Holy Roman Empire.”
“She’s right, Your Majesty,” said Amelie Elisabeth, speaking for the first time since the meeting began. Next to her, Wilhelm Wettin nodded his head. Whatever differences might exist between the Fourth of July Party and what was left of the Crown Loyalists, on this point they were in full agreement — better the United States of Europe should be the pivot of European politics than any other realm. For centuries, the Germanies had been so many toys batted back and forth between Habsburgs — Spanish and Austrian both — and the Valois and Bourbon dynasties of France. That era was now at an end.
A bit worriedly, Noelle glanced at Janos. The Hungarian’s jaws were tight — he hadn’t enjoyed hearing that, not one bit — but he was obviously not going to argue the point, for the good and simple reason that he couldn’t. The price Austria-Hungary was going to have to pay to ensure its survival against the Ottoman onslaught was a tacit recognition that it was no longer the axis of power in central Europe.
Gustav Adolf glanced at Janos also. He understood perfectly well that Drugeth’s silence in response to Rebecca’s statement was in its own way the most emphatic acquiescence he could make.
The puffed-out cheeks resumed their normal form. He did not smile but he did nod his head.
“If we’re going to be a triple alliance of the sort you describe,#8221; he said, “we should have a name. Even if it’s only an informal one.” He smiled slyly. “I would suggest ‘the Axis’ but the up-timers would probably never stop complaining.”
Piazza laughed. “That would have awkward connotations. In another universe, granted, but our history books are everywhere now.”
He looked around. “Well, we could swipe from that other history a different way. Call it the Central European Treaty Organization.”
Noelle began rolling the acronym around, and did so out loud. In Amideutsch, since that’s what they’d all been speaking.
“Mitteleuropäischevertragsorganization. Mepo? No, I guess it would be ‘Mevo’.”
Everyone in the room mouthed the acronym.
“I like it!” said Gustav Adolf.
That pretty much settled the question, although Ed Piazza was heard to mutter, “I can hear it already. Beware the Mevonian menace. Beware of Mevonians bearing gifts. Beware ”
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