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1637 The Polish Maelstrom: Prologue

       Last updated: Saturday, December 1, 2018 20:56 EST



PROLOGUE: The Anaconda Project

November, 1633
Prague, capital of Bohemia

    “This is absurd,” said Morris Roth, as forcefully as he could. He had a bad feeling that wasn’t very forceful at all, given that he was wearing an absurd costume–he thought it was absurd, anyway, although it was just standard seventeenth-century courtier’s clothing. The entire situation was absurd.

    A bit desperately, he repeated the statement. “This is absurd.” After a couple of seconds, he remembered to add: “Your Majesty.”

    Fortunately, Wallenstein seemed to be in one of his whimsical moods, where the same possible slight that might have angered him at another time merely seemed to be a source of amusement. General Pappenheim–damn his black soul to whatever hideous afterlife there might be even if Morris didn’t actually believe in hell–was grinning outright.

    “Ah, Morris. So modest!” Pappenheim’s scarred face was distorted still further as the grin widened. “How can you claim such a complete absence of heroic qualities? You! The Don at the Bridge!”

    Morris glared at him. “It was just a job that needed doing, that’s all. So I did it. But what sort of lunat–ah…”

    Calling the king of Bohemia a “lunatic” to his face was probably not wise. Morris was nimble-witted enough even under the circumstances to veer in midstream.

    “–misadvised person would confuse me with a blasted general? Your Majesty, General Pappenheim, I am a jeweler.

    “What sort of person?” asked Wallenstein, chuckling softly. “A lunatic, perhaps. The same sort of lunatic who recently proclaimed himself King of Bohemia despite–yes, I will say it myself–a claim to the throne that is so threadbare it would shame a pauper. But who cares? Since I am also the same lunatic who won the second battle of the White Mountain.”

    They were in the small salon in the palace that Wallenstein favored for intimate meetings. He planted his hands on the armrest of his rather modest chair and levered himself erect.

    “Levered” was the correct term, too. Wallenstein’s health, always delicate, had been getting worse of late. Morris knew from private remarks by Wallenstein’s up-time nurse Edith Wild that she was increasingly worried about it. Some of the new king of Bohemia’s frailty was due to the rigors of his past military life. But most of it wasn’t. Wallenstein, unfortunately, was superstitious and still placed great faith in the advice of his new astrologers–including their advice on his diet. Morris had once heard Edith mutter that she was this close–a thumb and fingertip indicated perhaps an eighth of an inch–to getting her revolver and gunning down the astrologers.

    It was not an inconceivable thought. Edith was quite ferocious, as she’d proved when she shot dead the assassination team sent to murder Wallenstein a few months earlier. The reason Wallenstein had new astrologers was because they’d replaced some of the old ones who’d been implicated in the plot.

    “A jeweler,” Morris repeated. Even to his ears, the words sounded like a whine.

    Pappenheim waved his hand airily. “And what of it? Every great general began his life as something else. Even a baker, perhaps.”

    Morris glared at him again. “‘Began his life.’ I am in my fifties, for the love of God.”

    “Don Morris, enough,” said Wallenstein firmly. “Your reluctance to assume the post of general in my army simply reinforces my conviction that I have made the right decision.”

    “Why, Your Majesty?” demanded Morris, just as firmly. One of Wallenstein’s saving graces was that the man didn’t object to subordinates challenging him, up to a point, provided they were polite about it. “My military experience is limited to that of an enlisted soldier in the American army of another universe. What we called a ‘grunt’–with exactly the connotations you’d expect from the term. I wasn’t even in a combat unit. I was essentially a quartermaster’s clerk, that’s all, keeping military supply records.”

    Smiling, Wallenstein looked at Pappenheim. For his part, Bohemia’s top general still had the same wolf-like grin on his face.

    “Limited to that? Oh, surely not, Don Morris,” said Pappenheim cheerily. “You forget the Battle of the Bridge. Which you led–not even you will deny that much–and which has since entered the legends of the Jews all across Eastern Europe.”

    Morris grit his teeth. “I said. It was just a job that needed to be done, and–”

    “Enough, Morris,” repeated Wallenstein.

    Morris fell silent. The fact that the king of Bohemia had dropped the honorific “Don”–which was an informal term, but significant nonetheless–made it clear that he considered the argument at an end. Whether Morris liked it or not, his new post as a general in the Bohemian army was a done deal.

    “Follow me,” said Wallenstein, heading toward one of the doors in the small chamber. Even though Wallenstein was only fifty years old, he moved like a man twenty years older. It was rather painful to watch.

    After following Wallenstein and Pappenheim through the door, Morris found himself in a chamber in the palace he’d never been in before. The chamber, also a small one, was completely dominated by a large table in the center of the room. The table itself was dominated by huge maps that covered its entire surface.

    Once Morris was close enough to see the map on the very top of the pile, he had to restrain himself from hissing.

    So. Here it was. He’d heard rumors of the thing, but never seen it.

    The map had no legend, but the title of it was plain enough even if invisible. The Future Empire of Wallenstein the Great, would do quite nicely.

    Wallenstein and Pappenheim said nothing, for a while, giving Morris time to study the map.

    His first impression never changed. The map could also have been titled How Little Bohemia Became an Anaconda.

    Indeed, the “Bohemia” that the top map projected into the future did look like a constrictor, albeit a fat one. On the west, serving for the serpent’s head, lay Bohemia, Moravia and Upper Silesia. Then, came a neck to the east, in the form of a new province that Wallenstein had labeled “Slovakia.” Presumably, he’d picked the name from one of the future history books he’d acquired. Which was all fine and dandy, except that in the here and now there was no country called “Slovakia.” What there was in its place was the northern part of the region of the Austrian empire known as Royal Hungary, the rump of Hungary that had been left to it by the Ottoman Turks after their victory over the kingdom of Hungary at the Battle of Mohács in 1526.

    So. War with Austria. Check.

    Of course, that was pretty much a given, with Wallenstein not only a rebel from Austria but allied to the USE. Hostilities between the USE and Austria had died down lately, since Gustav Adolf was pre-occupied with his war against the League of Ostend. But nobody much doubted that they would flare up again, unless he lost the war against the alliance of France, Spain, England and Denmark. Assuming he won, everyone with any political knowledge and sense at all knew that Gustav Adolf would turn his attention to Saxony and Brandenburg, and the Austrians were likely to weigh in on the opposite side.

    Still, rebelling against Austria and establishing an independent Bohemia was one thing. Continuing on to seize territory which had never been part of Bohemia from the Austrians was something else again.

    It got worse. Or better, Morris supposed, depending on how you looked at it. He had to remind himself that, after all, this was the ultimate reason he’d come to Prague and decided to throw in with Wallenstein. The worst massacre that would ever fall upon Europe’s Jewish population prior to the Holocaust was “due to happen” in fifteen years, in the Chmielnicki Pogrom of 1648, unless something was done to upset the applecart.

    Morris had finally decided that the best chance for upsetting that applecart–a very intractable applecart, given the social and economic factors involved–was to ally with Wallenstein and rely on him to be the battering ram.

    He still thought that was the best alternative. What he hadn’t figured on was that Wallenstein would return him the favor and propose to make Morris the battering ram.

    But he’d leave that aside, for the moment. He went back to studying the map.



    East of “Slovakia,” the proposed new Greater Bohemia started getting fatter, like an anaconda that had just swallowed a pig. The big new belly of the new empire would consist of the southern part of the region that was often called Lesser Poland, a huge territory which comprised close to half of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. In the future history Morris came from, most of that would eventually become part of Ukraine.

    War with Poland. Check.

    Being honest, Morris knew that was pretty much a given also, if he was to have any hope of forestalling the Chmielnicki Pogrom. The noble magnates who dominated the political life of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth were bound to be hostile to any project which removed the corrosive social tensions in Lesser Poland. Much of their wealth and power came from those tensions.

    From there, the map got rather vague. The northern boundary of Wallenstein’s proposed empire was not clearly defined, running somewhere south of Lviv and Kiev until it reached the Dnieper River, at which point it expanded southward to the Black Sea, gobbling up Moldova, Bessarabia and the city of Odessa. The exact boundary on the southeast was not distinct, either, being indicated by a shaded area rather than clear borders, although it generally seemed to follow the Dniester River. Morris suspected that Wallenstein wanted, if possible, to avoid any outright clashes with the Ottoman Empire. He’d take what he could, but stop short of challenging the Turks directly.

    Marked in faint pencil lines further east was what amounted to a long tail that stretched into the southern regions of what Morris thought of as “Russia,” although in the seventeenth century the area–this was true of much of Lesser Poland, as well–was very much a borderland thinly inhabited by a wide mix of peoples.

    So. War with Russia and the Cossacks. Check. Tatars too, most likely.

    Morris let out a slow breath. Maybe war with the Muscovites and Tatars could be avoided. As for the Cossacks…

    Mentally, he shrugged his shoulders. Morris had as much sympathy for the Cossacks as any late twentieth century Jew with a good knowledge of history.


    Fuck ’em and the horses they rode in on. The same bastards who led the Chmielnicki pogrom–and then served the Tsars as their iron fist in the pogroms at Kiev and Kishinev.

    Wallenstein and Pappenheim still weren’t saying anything. Morris leaned back a little and started scrutinizing the map again, west to east.

    The plan was… shrewd. Very shrewd, the more he studied the map.

    Morris didn’t know exactly where the ethnic and religious lines lay in the here and now. Not everywhere, for sure and certain. But he knew enough to realize that what Wallenstein proposed to do was to gut the soft underbellies of every one of Bohemia’s neighbors.

    Silesia, in this era, was not yet really part of Poland, as it would become in later centuries in the universe Morris had come from. Its population was an ethnic mix, drawn from many sources–most of whom, at least in the big towns and cities, were Protestants, not Catholics.

    Despite the name, “Royal Hungary” in the seventeenth century was mostly a Slavic area, ruled by the Magyars but with no real attachment to Hungary. Morris wouldn’t be at all surprised if most of its inhabitants would view a Bohemian conquest as something in the way of a liberation. They certainly weren’t likely to rally to the side of their Austrian and Hungarian overlords.

    Moving still further east, the same was true again. Parts of “Lesser Poland” had little in the way of a Polish population–and that often consisted mostly of Polish noblemen grinding their Ruthenian serfs under. As for the Ruthenians themselves, the name was not even one that they’d originated, but a Latin label that had been slapped onto them by western European scholars. In a future time, most of them would eventually become Ukrainians. But, in this day and age, they were a mix of mostly Slavic immigrants with a large minority of Jews living here and there among them.

    Most of the Jews lived in the larger towns and were engaged in a wide range of mercantile and manufacturing activities. The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth did not maintain in practice the same tight restrictions on Jewish activity that most realms in Europe did. Unfortunately, a number of them had also moved out into rural areas.

    “Unfortunately,” from Morris’ viewpoint, because these Jews did not spread into the countryside as farmers. Instead, they spread as rent-collectors and overseers of the large landed estates maintained by mostly-absentee Polish and Lithuanian magnates. They were universally hated by the Ruthenian peasantry–who, in the nature of things, did not make any fine distinctions between the small class of Jews who exploited them and the great majority of the Jewish populations in the towns who were simply going about their business.

    Wallenstein’s shrewdness was evident wherever Morris looked on the map. He did not propose to take Krakow, for instance. Looked at from one angle, that was a little silly. At the end of the year 1633, the population of Krakow was also mostly non-Polish. Wallenstein could even advance a threadbare claim to the city, since it had once been under the authority of the kingdom of Bohemia.

    But the Poles had an emotional attachment to Krakow, since it had once served as their capital city–and still was, officially, although the real capital was now Warsaw. Krakow’s Jagiellonian University was still Poland’s most prestigious center of learning. So, Wallenstein would seize everything south of the Vistula but did not propose to cross the river and seize Krakow itself. Thereby, he’d avoid as best he could stirring up Polish nationalism, while establishing a defensible border.

    Sum it all up and what you had was what amounted to Wallenstein’s pre-emptive strike at every existing realm in Eastern Europe. He would seize all the territories that each of them claimed–but for which none of them had really established any mutual allegiance. The end result, if his plans worked, would be a Bohemian Empire that rivaled in territory and population any of the nations in Europe.

    Morris scanned the map again, west to east. With Prague as the capital–it was already one of the great cities of Europe–the rest of Wallenstein’s empire would consist of mostly-rural territory stitched together by a number of cities. Pressburg, and possibly Lviv, Lublin, Kiev–maybe even Pinsk, way to the north, in what would someday become Belarus.

    Morris couldn’t help but chuckle. Pinsk, which already had a large Jewish population and would, by the end of the nineteenth century, have a population that was ninety percent Jewish.

    There weren’t many Jews in Pressburg. But Lviv, Lublin and Kiev were heavily Jewish.

    “You propose to use us as your cannon fodder,” he said. “Jews, I mean.”

    “Yes, of course. It’s either that or serve the Cossacks as mincemeat fifteen years from now. Make your choice.”

    Idly, Morris wondered where he’d gotten the term “mincemeat,” which Wallenstein had said in English. Probably from Edith Wild.

    Make your choice.

    Put that way, it was easy enough.

    “I’ll need the Brethren,” Morris said.

    “Yes, you will. Not a problem.” Wallenstein’s long finger came to rest on Lublin. “There is a very large concentration of the Brethren here, you know. And others, scattered throughout the region.”

    Morris hadn’t known the Brethren had a presence in Lublin. The news caused him to relax a little. If the Brethren could also serve as what amounted to Wallenstein’s social garrisons in the major cities of his proposed empire, that would remove some of the tension on the Jews. They were themselves Christians, after all.

    So… it might work–assuming Morris had any chance of translating his pitiful military experience into something worth a damn on the battlefield.

    It was Pappenheim who crystallized the thought that Morris was groping toward.

    “Stop thinking of being a ‘general’ in narrow terms,” said the man who was perhaps the current world’s best exemplar of a general in narrow terms. Pappenheim was a man of the battlefield, with little interest in anything else. “Think of it in broad terms. You simply have to organize the military effort, while you concentrate on political matters. Let others, better suited for the task, lead the troops on the field.”

    He grinned again in that savage way he had. Then, jabbed a thumb at Wallenstein. “That’s what he does, mostly, you know.”



    Morris stared at Wallenstein. The recently crowned king of Bohemia and proposed usurper of much of Eastern Europe stared right back at him.

    It was true, actually. Wallenstein hadn’t been so much a general as what you might call a military contractor. He put together armies–and then found men like Pappenheim to lead them into battle.

    Put that way…

    It didn’t sound quite so bad. Of course, Morris would still have to find his equivalent of Pappenheim, since he had no doubt that Pappenheim himself would be fully occupied in the next few years fighting Bohemia’s immediate enemies. That’d be the Austrians, mostly.

    Morris looked back at the map, trying to estimate the territory Wallenstein expected him to seize and hold over the next few years. At a rough guess, somewhere around one hundred thousand square miles. About the size of Mexico, he thought. Just what a former army supply clerk-cum-jeweler had always expected he’d wind up doing.

    “Piece of cake,” he said.



October, 1634
Vienna, capital of Austria-Hungary

    “So, what do you think?” asked Piccolomini. The Italian general from Florence who was now in Austrian service raised his cup.

    The man sitting across from him at the round little table in the small but very crowded tavern frowned down at the cup in front of him. He’d only had a few sips of the dark liquid contained therein. He still didn’t know what he thought of the stuff–and he certainly would never have ordered it himself, as expensive as the concoction was.

    His name was Franz von Mercy. He came from a noble family in Lorraine, not Italy, as did his table companion. But in other respects, they were quite similar. Like Piccolomini, von Mercy was a general and a professional soldier. They were long-acquainted, if not quite friends.

    There was one critical difference between them, however, which explained part of von Mercy’s skepticism toward the black substance in his cup. Octavio Piccolomini was gainfully employed by the Habsburg ruler of Austria and von Mercy was not.

    In fact, he was not employed by anyone. Just a short time earlier, he’d been in the service of Duke Maximilian of Bavaria. But after the traitor Cratz von Scharffenstein surrendered the fortress of Ingolstadt to the Swedes, von Mercy had taken his cavalrymen and fled Bavaria. He’d known full well that, despite his own complete innocence in the affair, the murderous duke of Bavaria would blame him for the disaster and have him executed.

    So, he’d come to Vienna, hoping to find employment with the Habsburgs. But he’d been turned down, with only this bizarre new hot drink offered by way of compensation.

    He looked up from the cup to the window. He’d wondered, when they came into the restaurant, why the owners had defaced perfectly good window panes by painting a sign across them. And he’d also wondered why they chose to call their establishment a café instead of a tavern.

    Now he knew the answer to both questions.

    “God-damned Americans,” he muttered.

    Piccolomini winced at the blasphemy, even though he was known to commit the sin himself. Perhaps he felt obliged to put on that public display of disapproval since he was now quite prominent in the Austrian ranks. They were, after all, right in the heart of Vienna–not more than a few minutes’ walk from either St. Stephen’s cathedral or the emperor’s palace.

    “Damned they may well be,” said Piccolomini. Again, he lifted his cup. “But I enjoy this new beverage of theirs.”

    “Coffee,” said von Mercy, still muttering more than talking aloud. “We already had coffee, Octavio.”

    His companion shrugged. “True. But it was the Americans who made it popular. As they have done with so many other things.”

    He set the cup down. “And stop blaming them for your misfortunes. It’s silly and you know it. They had nothing to do with Scharffenstein’s treason–they certainly can’t be blamed for Maximilian’s madness!–and it’s not because of them that the emperor decided not to hire you. That, he did for the same sort of reasons of state that have led rulers to make similar decisions for centuries.” He paused while he picked up the cup and drained it. “I happen to love coffee, myself.”

    He gave his fellow officer a look of sympathy and commiseration. “Tough on you, I know. Tougher still on your men. But look at it from Ferdinand’s perspective, Franz. He’s expecting a resumption of hostilities with the Swede and his Americans by next year. No matter how badly Maximilian has behaved and no matter how much the emperor detests him, do you honestly expect Ferdinand to take the risk of escalating the already-high tensions between Austria and Bavaria by hiring a general who–from Duke Maximilian’s peculiar point of view, I agree, but that’s the viewpoint at issue here–has so recently infuriated Bavaria?”

    He shook his head and placed the cup back on the table. “It’s not going to happen, Franz. I’m sorry, I really am. Not simply because you’re something of a friend of mine, but–being honest–because you’re a good cavalry commander, and I wouldn’t be surprised if I have need of one before long.”

    Glumly, von Mercy nodded. He realized, in retrospect, that he should have foreseen this when he left Bavaria. He knew enough of the continent’s strategic configurations, after all, being by now a man in his mid-forties and a very experienced and highly placed military commander.

    He’d have done better to have accompanied his friend von Werth to seek employment with Bernhard of Saxe-Weimar. Bernhard would certainly not have cared about the attitude of the Bavarians, seeing as he was already infuriating Maximilian by threatening to seize some of his territory. Or so, at least, Maximilian was sure to interpret Bernhard’s actions–but, as Octavio said, it was the Bavarian duke’s viewpoint that mattered here.

    Nothing for it, then. He’d have to head for the Rhine, after all, and see if Saxe-Weimar might still be in the market. Von Mercy could feel his jaws tightening at the prospect of leading a large cavalry force across–around–who knew?–a goodly stretch of Europe already inhabited by large and belligerent armies. Most of whom had no reason to welcome his arrival, and some of whom would actively oppose it.

    Alternatively, he could head for Bohemia and see if Wallenstein might be interested in hiring him. But…

    He managed to keep the wince from showing in his face. That would be certain to infuriate his Austrian hosts, who’d so far been very pleasant even if they’d declined to employ him and his men. He had even less desire to fight his way out of Austria than he did to fight his way to the Rhine.

    He heard Piccolomini chuckle, and glanced up. The Italian general was giving him a look that combined shrewdness with–again–sympathy and commiseration.

    “I have another possible offer of work for you, Franz. And one that is rather close at hand.”

    Von Mercy frowned. “The only possibility I can think of, close at hand, would be Wallenstein. And why would you or anyone in Austrian service be sending me to Wallenstein? Like as not, a year from now, you’d be facing me across a battlefield.”

    A waiter appeared. Piccolomini must have summoned him, and Franz had been too pre-occupied to notice.

    “Another coffee for me,” the Italian general said. He cocked a quizzical eyebrow at von Mercy. “And you? What’s in your cup must already be cold.”

    Franz couldn’t see what particular difference the temperature of the beverage would make. Hot or cold, it would still be extremely bitter. But…

    Piccolomini was obviously in an expansive mood, and under the circumstances Franz felt it prudent to encourage him. “Yes, certainly. And thank you.”

    After the waiter was gone, Piccolomini leaned across the table and spoke softly.

    “Not Wallenstein directly. In fact, part of the agreement would be that you’d have to be willing to give me your oath that–under no circumstances–would you allow yourself or your soldiers to be used directly against Austria. But… yes, in a way you’d be working for Wallenstein. He wouldn’t be the one paying you, though, which–”

    He gave von Mercy a vulpine grin. “–is always the critical issue for we mercenaries, isn’t it? Or ‘professional soldiers,’ if you prefer the circumlocution.”



    Franz felt his shoulders stiffen, and forced himself to relax. He did prefer the circumlocution, in point of fact. If that’s what it was at all, which he didn’t believe for a moment. The difference between a mercenary and a professional soldier might be thin, but it was still real. A mercenary cared only for money. A professional soldier always placed honor first.

    As Piccolomini knew perfectly well, damn the crude Italian bastard–or he wouldn’t have made this offer in the first place. He’d take Franz von Mercy’s oath not to allow himself to be used against Austria as good coin, because it was and he knew it. He’d certainly not do the same for a mere mercenary.

    “Who, then?” he asked.

    Piccolomini seemed to hesitate. Then, abruptly: “How do you feel about Jews?”

    Von Mercy stared at him. His mind was…


    Piccolomini might as well have asked him how he felt about the natives in the antipodes–or, for that matter, the ones that speculation placed on the moon but which Franz had heard the Americans said was impossible.

    What did Jews have to do with military affairs? They were the least martial people of Europe. For any number of obvious reasons, starting with the fact that most realms in the continent forbade them from owning firearms. About the only contact professional soldiers ever had with them involved finances, and that was usually only an indirect connection.

    Belatedly, Franz remembered that he’d also heard some rumors concerning recent developments among the Jewry of Prague. They’d played a prominent role in repulsing the attack of General Holk on the city, apparently. That had allowed Wallenstein to keep most of his army in the field and defeat the Austrians the previous year at the second battle of the White Mountain.

    They were even supposed to have produced a prince of their own, out of the business. An American Jew, if he recalled correctly.

    Throughout the long pause, Piccolomini had been watching von Mercy. Now, he added: “Yes, that’s right. Your employer would be a Jew. An American Jew, to be precise, who is now highly placed in Wallenstein’s service.”

    Franz rummaged through his memory, trying to find the name. He knew he’d heard it, at least once. But, like most such items of information that didn’t seem to have any relevance to him, he’d made no special effort to commit the name to memory.

    Piccolomini provided it. “His name is Roth. Morris Roth.” He smiled, a bit crookedly. “Or Don Morris, as the Jews like to call him. They fancy their own aristocracy, you know. At least, the Sephardim always have, and it seems the Ashkenazim as well.”

    Franz noted–to his surprise; but then, he didn’t really know the man that well–that Octavio knew that much about the inner workings of Jewry. So did Franz himself, from a now-long-past friendship with a Jewish shoemaker. But most Christians didn’t, certainly not most soldiers.

    He realized, then, the purpose of Piccolomini’s probing questions. And, again, was a bit surprised. He wouldn’t have thought the outwardly bluff Italian soldier would have cared about such things.

    “I have no particular animus against Jews, if that’s what you’re wondering.” He smiled crookedly himself. “I admit, I’ve never once contemplated the possibility that one of them might wish to hire me. For what? In the nature of things, Jews don’t have much need for professional soldiers.”

    “Or a need so great that it is too great to be met,” said Piccolomini. “But, yes, in times past you’d have been quite correct. But the times we live in today are ones in which the nature of things is changing. Quite rapidly, sometimes.”

    The waiter returned, bringing two hot cups of coffee. Piccolomini waited until he was gone, and then picked up his cup and leaned back in his chair. Still speaking rather softly, he said: “Well, then. Let’s savor our coffees, and then I’ll take you to meet someone.”


    Piccolomini shook his head. “No, Roth himself is in Prague, so far as I know. The man I’ll be taking you to is one of his agents. Uriel Abrabanel, of the famous clan by that name.” The Italian blew on his coffee. “Famous among Sephardim, anyway.”

    Quite famous, in fact. The Jewish shoemaker whom Franz had known in his youth had once told him, very proudly, that he himself was–admittedly, rather distantly–related to the Abrabanels.

    “Famous to many people, nowadays,” said Franz, “seeing as how the wife of the prime minister of the United States of Europe is an Abrabanel. And has become rather famous herself–or notorious, depending on how you look at it.”

    Piccolomini nodded, and took an appreciative sip of his coffee. “She has, indeed. The redoubtable Rebecca Abrabanel. I’ve been told that Cardinal Richelieu himself remarked upon her shrewdness–which, coming from him, is quite a compliment.”

    “Yes, it is. Although many people might liken it to one devil complimenting another on her horns and cloven hoofs.”

    “Oh, surely not,” chuckled Piccolomini. “The woman is said to be extraordinarily comely, in fact. So I’m told, anyway.”

    He chuckled again, more heavily. “What I know for certain, however, is that she’s the niece of the man you’ll be meeting very soon. So do be alert, Franz. Uriel Abrabanel would be described as ‘comely’ by no one I can think of, not even his now-dead wife. But he’s certainly very shrewd.”

    It was Franz’s turn to hesitate. Then, realizing he simply needed to know, he asked: “At the risk of being excessively blunt, Octavio, I must ask why you are doing me this favor?”

    Again, the Florentine issued that distinctively heavy chuckle. “Good question. You’d really do better to ask Janos Drugeth. Know him? He’s one of the emperor’s closest advisers.”

    Von Mercy shook his head. “The name’s familiar, of course. He’s reputed to be an accomplished cavalry commander and I try to keep track of such. But I’ve never met him and don’t really know much about him.”

    “Well, Janos is also one of Ferdinand’s closest friends, and has been since they were boys. This was his idea, actually, not mine.” Piccolomini made something of a face. “For my taste, the reasoning behind it is a bit too convoluted. Quite a bit, being honest.”

    Franz cocked an eyebrow. “And the reasoning is… Indulge me, if you would.”

    “I suppose there’s no reason you shouldn’t know. Drugeth is not in favor of continuing the hostilities between Austria and Bohemia, and thinks we’d be wiser to let things stand as they are. Personally, I disagree–and so does the emperor, for that matter. But Ferdinand listens carefully to whatever Janos says, even when he’s not persuaded. And Janos suggested this ploy as a way of encouraging Wallenstein to look elsewhere than Austria for any territorial aggrandizement. We know that he’s appointed Morris Roth to expand his realm to the east. But how is Roth supposed to do that without a military force? So, Drugeth thinks we should help provide him with one.”

    Von Mercy nodded. Up to a point, he could follow the reasoning. War had a grim and inexorable logic of its own. Once the Bohemians began a real effort to expand to the east, in all likelihood they would find themselves getting drawn deeper and deeper into the effort. The more they did so, the less of a threat they would pose to Austria to the south.

    There came a point, however, at which the logic began to crumble. Granted, Franz was more familiar with the geography of Western Europe than Central Europe. Still, one thing was obvious.

    “‘Expanding his realm to the east’ will take him directly into Royal Hungary, Octavio.”

    Piccolomini grimaced. “So it will, indeed–and don’t think I didn’t point that out to the emperor and Janos both. I thought that would end the business, since the Drugeth family’s own major estates are in Royal Hungary. But Janos–he’s an odd one, if you ask me–didn’t seem to feel that was much of a problem. In the end, the emperor decided there was enough there to warrant making the connection between you and the Jew in Prague.”

    He gave Franz a stern look. “But I stress that we will want your vow not to take the field against us.”



    “Yes, certainly. But you understand, surely, that if I enter–indirectly or not, it doesn’t matter–the service of Wallenstein, that I will simply be freeing up some other general and his forces to come against you.”

    The Italian shrugged. “True enough. But they’re not likely to have your skills, either. I think what finally convinced the emperor was Drugeth’s point that if we simply let you roam loose as a free agent, since we didn’t want to hire you ourselves, the end result was likely to be worse for us than having you leading Wallenstein”–he waved his hand toward the east–“somewhere out there into the marshes of the Polish and Lithuanian rivers.”

    Once more, that heavy chuckle. “It was hard to dispute that point, at least.”



    After they left the tavern–or “café,” rather–Piccolomini glanced up at the sky, which had grown leaden.

    “Getting cold,” he said, reaching up and drawing his cloak around him more tightly.

    Von Mercy followed suit. The temperature wasn’t too bad, but there was something of a wind that added considerably to the chill. “Where are we headed? Unterer Werd?”

    Piccolomini shook his head. “No. The ghetto would be too far from the center of things for Abrabanel’s purposes. And he’s got plenty of money.” With his chin, he pointed straight ahead down the street. “Just up there a ways. Less than a five-minute walk.”

    Franz was a bit surprised, but only a bit. Although Jews in Vienna usually lived in the ghetto located on the island formed by the Danube and one of its side branches, the city did not enforce the provision strictly if the Jew involved was wealthy enough.

    As they walked, Franz noticed two other taverns sporting the new title of “café.”

    “I swear, it’s a plague,” he muttered.

    Glancing in the direction of von Mercy’s glower, Piccolomini smiled. “If you think it’s bad here, you should see what it’s like in Italy. My younger brother is the archbishop of Siena and he told me there was almost a public riot there a few months ago, because of a dispute involving the rules in a game of soccer.”

    “A game of… what?”

    “Soccer. If you don’t know what it is, be thankful all you have to contend with is the occasional tavern with pretensions. And pray to God that you never have to deal with the intricacies of baseball.”

    “Intricacies of… what?”

    “Never mind. Stick to the cavalry, Franz.”

    A few dozen yards further along, Piccolomini pointed with his chin again. This time, at a small shop they were nearing. There was a sign over the door, reading: Sugar and Things.

    “There’s the real money,” said the Florentine general. “That shop’s owned by a partnership between two local merchants and one of the American mechanics whom the emperor hired recently to keep his two automobiles running. Sanderlin’s his name–although it’s really his wife who’s involved in the business.”

    “They are sugar importers?”

    “Yes–but mostly they process it into something called ‘confectioner’s sugar’ and sell it to the city’s wealthiest residents and most expensive restaurants.” He shook his head. “Sugar is already worth its weight in gold. What they do with it…”

    He shook his head again. “But people are besotted with things American–especially anything they can find involving Vienna in those up-time tourist guides. So, they say Vienna needs its cafés with coffee and pastries–and the best pastries require confectioner’s sugar.”

    “A plague, as I said.”

    “May as well get used to it, Franz,” Piccolomini said heavily. “When Wallenstein’s Croats failed in their raid on Grantville, all of Europe was doomed to this lunacy. Even in Paris, I’m told.”

    He stopped in front of a nondescript doorway. Just one of many along the street, marked in no particular way.

    “And here we are.”



    Uriel Abrabanel proved to be, just as Piccolomini had said, a man whom no one would think to call “comely.” He was saved from outright ugliness only by the fact that an animated and jovial spirit imparted a certain flair to his coarse and pox-marked features. It was hard to believe, though, that the man was closely related–uncle, no less–to Rebecca Abrabanel, reputed to be one of the great beauties of Europe.

    But von Mercy was skeptical of that reputation, anyway. He didn’t doubt the woman was attractive, probably quite attractive. But he was sure that the near-Helenic reputation given to her appearance was mostly the product of the same glamorous aura that surrounded everything American by now, almost four years after the Ring of Fire. An aura that was just as strong–probably stronger, in fact–among the peoples who were the USE’s enemies than those who lived under Stearns’ rule directly or counted themselves as his allies. Unlike the Swedes or the Germans or the Dutch, who had had many occasions to encounter Americans or their Abrabanel associates directly, for most Austrians or French or Italians (outside of Venice)–to say nothing of Spaniards or Poles–they remained mostly a matter of legend and hearsay.

    And if much of the hearsay and many of the legends involved their wicked ways and nefarious schemes, there was no reason those couldn’t be combined with other qualities. So, if Mike Stearns was a relentless savage bent upon destroying all that was fine and sensible about Europe’s social and political arrangements, he was also surely the most cunning and astute barbarian who had stalked the earth since Attila raged out of the east. So also, if his Jewish spymaster Nasi was evil incarnate he was also intellect incarnate–just as Stearns’ Jewish wife combined the appearance of a goddess with a spirit fouled by the demons of the Pit.

    For, indeed, the same aura extended to those closely associated with the Americans, even if they were not American themselves. That was especially true of the Jews, especially the Sephardim of the widely-flung and prominent Abrabanel clan.

    Franz believed none of it. He’d read some of the philosophical and theological speculations concerning the nature and cause of the Ring of Fire. But, in the end, he’d come to the same conclusions that, by all accounts, the Americans had come to themselves. Namely, that they had no idea what had caused the miraculous phenomenon, and they were certainly not miraculous themselves. Just people, that’s all. Granted, people from a distant future possessed of incredible mechanical skills and knowledge. But no more exotic, for all that, than visitors from Cathay.

    Less exotic, in most ways. They spoke a well-known European language, and most of them were Christians. And all of them except a small number of African and Chinese extraction were of European origin. Solid and sturdy origin, at that: English, German, and Italian, for the most part.

    As von Mercy had been ruminating over these matters, Abrabanel had spent his time studying Franz himself. Eventually, he seemed to be satisfied with something he saw, if Franz interpreted his expression correctly.

    “Not a bigot, then,” Abrabanel said softly. “Octavio told me as much”–here he gave the Florentine general a sly glance–“and I was inclined to believe him, even though he is an Italian and thus of duplicitous stock. So unlike we simple and straightforward Hebrews and even simpler and more straightforward Lorrainers.”

    Franz couldn’t help but laugh. Partly, at the jest itself; partly, at the truth lurking within it. For, in point of simple fact, the seemingly-bluff Piccolomini was a consummately political general, as you’d expect of a man from a prominent family in the Florentine aristocracy. He’d spent a good portion of his years as a military officer serving more in the capacity of a diplomat or even–in truth if not in name–as what amounted to a spy.

    Duplicitous, as such, he might not be. But Franz didn’t doubt for a moment that lies could issue from Octavio Piccolomini’s lips as smoothly and evenly as a gentle tide sweeps over a beach.

    He recalled himself to the matter at hand. “No, I am not a bigot. I claim no particular fondness for Jews, mind you. But I bear no hostility against you, either. What I don’t understand, is what any of that has to do with your purpose in asking me here.” He nodded toward Piccolomini. “Nor why you needed to use him as your conduit.”



    “In answer to the second question, I am not actually using Octavio as my conduit to you. It would be more accurate to say that I am using him as my conduit–say better, my liaison-at-a-comfortable-distance–with Emperor Ferdinand.”

    The logic was clear enough, once Franz thought about it. “Ah. You feel that if you employed me directly, the Austrians might fret themselves over the purpose of the employment. And then, out of anxiety–”

    “Oh, that’s far too strong a term, Franz!” protested Piccolomini. “Don’t give yourself airs! We would–at most–be motivated by reasonable caution.”

    He bestowed a fulsome grin upon von Mercy and Abrabanel both.

    Franz returned the grin with a thin smile. “Out of reasonable caution, then”–he looked back at Uriel–“they would take steps that you might find annoying.”

    “Oh, ridiculous!” boomed Piccolomini. “That he might find disastrous to his plans! Utterly destructive to his schemes. Might lay waste his entire project for years to come.” The grin returned. “That sort of thing. Much the better way to put it.”

    “Indeed,” said Uriel, smiling also. “This way, at every stage, the Austrians are kept–to use a handy little American expression–‘in the loop.’ I think that will serve everyone nicely.”

    Piccolomini brought a fist to his mouth and cleared his throat noisily. “Except… well, Wallenstein, perhaps. If he finds out that I’m involved in any way. I assume he’s still holding a grudge?”

    “Well, yes. Of course he is, Octavio. His name is Albrecht von Wallenstein and you did, after all, plot and carry out his murder.”

    Piccolomini waved a meaty hand. “In another world! In this one, it never happened! And that, only according to a detestable play by a German of very dubious reputation. Why, the man hasn’t even been born yet. How can anyone believe a word he says?”

    All three men laughed, now. Friedrich Schiller’s play Wallenstein was now one of the best-known plays in central Europe and very widely published and performed–despite the fact that it wouldn’t have been written until the year 1800 and only one copy of it had existed in Grantville. Partly, because the subject was still alive and now King of Bohemia, a position he’d never achieved in Schiller’s universe. And partly–such was the universally held suspicion–because Wallenstein secretly financed the play’s publication and many of its performances. Although Wallenstein had its criticisms of the man who gave the play its title, the portrait of him was by and large quite favorable.

    When the laughter died away, Uriel shook his head. “But I saw no reason–and see none now–for Wallenstein to know anything of your role in this business. All he will know, if all goes well, is that I met a fortunately-unemployed cavalry commander of excellent reputation in Vienna and hired him on behalf of Don Morris.”

    Piccolomini rubbed his jaw for a moment, and the nodded. “Well. You’re probably right.”

    Uriel turned to von Mercy. “My proposition is simple enough, General. As you may or may not know–and I suspect you do, at least the gist of it–the king of Bohemia has entrusted Don Morris Roth to see to Bohemia’s interests to the east. Among those interests–this is at the center of Don Morris’ own concerns, as well as mine–is included a reasonable and just resolution of the Jewish issues involved.”

    Franz managed not to wince. He could think of several possible resolutions to what Abrabanel was very delicately calling “the Jewish issues involved” in the politics of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and the sprawling lands and peoples of Ruthenia. But neither “reasonable” nor “just” was likely to be part of them.

    But all he said was, “Not so easily done. And if it can be done, it won’t be done by cavalry.”

    Uriel now grinned. “And an honest man, too! No, General, it can’t be done by cavalry. In the end, in fact–such is Don Morris’ opinion, and I share it–the matter can’t be resolved by any sort of military force. But what cavalry can do, as we wrestle with the problem, is keep someone else from imposing their own very unreasonable and unjust solution.”

    “Possibly. Although it will take more than one regiment of cavalry.”

    “Quite a bit more, in fact.” Abrabanel leaned forward in his chair. “But here’s the thing, General. We can train–so we believe, at least–a powerful enough military force out of our own resources.”

    Franz raised an eyebrow. “From Jews? Meaning no offense, but I find that unlikely.”

    Abrabanel shrugged. “It was done in another universe. A very powerful military force, in fact. But it won’t simply be Jews, in any event. The Brethren are with us also, and–”

    “Socinians.” That came from Piccolomini, who, for all his cosmopolitanism and sophistication, had more than a little in the way of straightforward Italian Catholic attitudes. The word was practically sneered. “Heretics who make Lutherans and Calvinists look sane. And I thought they were pacifists, which just proves how mad they are.”

    “No, you have them confused with the Polish Brethren. The Brethren I speak of are the Bohemian Brethren, the ones descended from the Hussites. They’re quite Trinitarian, I assure you.” He made a little fluttering motion with both hands. “But whether they are heretics or not–and as a Jew, I would not presume to judge such Christian matters–I can assure you that they are quite capable of fighting, Octavio. They did very well against Holk’s forces last year.”

    He turned back to von Mercy. “But here’s the thing–as you well know from your own experience. Without the traditions involved, there is no way we can forge a good cavalry force on our own.”

    After a moment, Franz nodded. At least, this Don Morris and his Abrabanel agent were not so wildly impractical as to imagine they could conjure up good cavalry from the ranks of ghetto-dwellers and rustics.

    Infantry… yes. Perhaps even artillery, if not too much was demanded of it in the way of maneuvering. But cavalrymen, like archers, almost had to be born to it. At the very least, they had to have spent years learning all the necessary skills.

    “So. And for that, you seek to hire me. Yes?”


    “And the terms?”

    Abrabanel’s description was short, clear and to the point. When he was done, von Mercy studied him for a few seconds.

    “And all this is going to come from the purse of one man? Who is not even a duke, much less a king. Pardon me, but I find that hard to believe. I’m not a village peasant, who thinks a ‘rich Jew’ is some sort of devil-summoned creature with bottomless coffers.”

    Uriel smiled. “You might be surprised, actually, at how rich some of these up-timers have gotten. The Roth fortune derives largely from cut jewelry, of which at the moment they have an effective monopoly and is a rage sweeping Europe. More than one monarch–and any number of dukes–are opening up their coffers to obtain the new gems. And, at that, Don Morris’ wealth is rather small compared to the fortune being amassed by the Stone family with their pharmaceutical and chemical works. Still–”

    He waggled fingers in a gesture that simultaneously dismissed the problem and cautioned the need for discretion. “Not all of the funds, of course, will come from Don Morris himself. Probably not even most of them. I said that Wallenstein was not directly involved here. I did not say he was not involved at all.”

    Von Mercy leaned back in his chair, and felt the tension caused by the Austrian emperor’s refusal to hire him begin to ease. It seemed he would be able to keep his regiment intact, after all. Some of those men had been with him for years and would have been very difficult to replace quickly if at all.

    In fact, he had heard tales of the wealth of the man Roth in Prague. The intricately-carved new jewelry he and his partners had introduced to Europe was, indeed, all the rage–at least, among those circles who could afford such gems at all. But there were a lot of noblemen in Europe, many of whom were very wealthy themselves–and it seemed as if each and every one of them was bound and determined to acquire one of the dazzling new “Prague jewels,” as they were now being called.

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