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1636: The Saxon Uprising: Chapter Three

       Last updated: Monday, October 25, 2010 18:39 EDT



    The miller stared at the piece of paper in Major Fruehauf’s hand. It was about twice the size of a U.S. dollar bill. The central portrait was that of a very attractive young woman holding aloft a torch in her right hand and carrying some sort of tablet in the crook of her left arm. The image was patterned after the up-time Statue of Liberty, although neither the major nor the miller was aware of that fact.

    Nor were they aware of the one big difference with the statue, since neither of them had ever met Rebecca Abrabanel. And while the major had seen some of the scurrilous pamphlets circulated about her by rabid anti-Semites in previous years, the woodcut images of her contained in them had borne no relationship whatever to reality.

    This image, on the other hand, was a pretty fair depiction of Rebecca. The artist who’d designed the woodcut was one of the soldiers attached to the printing press Mike had left behind. The soldier had met the general’s wife on two occasions, and had a good memory of her. That wasn’t surprising. He was a young man and Rebecca was generally acknowledged as one of the most beautiful women in Europe, even by her enemies. In fact, especially by her enemies. Terms like “temptress” and “succubus” were often connected to her. If you didn’t know any better and moved in those circles, you’d be certain that her middle name was Delilah.

    Good-looking female image or not, the miller didn’t care. He’d never heard the expressions “you can’t judge a book by its cover” or “not worth a continental” but it didn’t matter. He was no damn fool.

    “That’s not worth the paper it’s printed on,” he protested.

    Fruehauf shook his head, his expression one of sorrow rather than anger. “How can you claim such a thing? It’s even traded on the currency exchanges in Grantville and Magdeburg. By now, probably in Venice and Amsterdam, too.”

    “Not in Prague,” the miller said stoutly.

    Fruehauf gave him the sort of look normally reserved for village idiots. “And if it were, would you trust it anymore? Correct me if I’m mistaken, but isn’t that exchange — and the stock market too, I hear — owned outright by Wallenstein?”

    The miller looked even more unhappy. The major was slandering Wallenstein, actually. The king of Bohemia was only one of the partners in Prague’s stock exchange and currency exchange. Granted, the majority partner. But he was far too smart not to understand that fiddling with such institutions would, in the long run, simply undermine their value to him. They were run as honestly as the major exchanges in Europe. In fact, the Prague exchange would probably number among them within a year.

    “It’s still just a piece of paper,” the miller complained.

    “Are you really that rustic, Johann? Any kind of money is no better than the authority which backs it.”

    They were speaking in German because the miller, like many of the town’s inhabitants, was of German rather than Czech stock.

    “Not gold and silver!”

    Fruehauf rolled his eyes. “Right. Assuming the king who issues the coin isn’t debasing it. And how often is that true?”

    Johann said nothing. He really wasn’t that rustic. If you searched Europe high and low, you’d certainly find some coins that contained the gold and silver content they were supposed to have. But the big majority wouldn’t.

    Fruehauf shoved the paper at him. “Look, just try it. General Stearns backs the beckies. He’s been accused of a lot of things, but never of being a thief or a swindler.”

    Mike Stearns had something of a mythic reputation, in central Europe — as much so in Czech lands as German ones, given the critical role played by up-timers in Wallenstein’s rebellion against Austria and his subsequent stabilization of an independent Bohemian kingdom. That myth contained many ingredients, that varied widely from person to person. By no means all of them were positive. But the sort of chicanery involved in currency swindles was simply not part of the legendry, any more than it was part of the Arthurian cycles. That was true whether you were speaking of Arthur, Lancelot, Guinevere — or Mordred and Morgan le Fay. Sins and faults aplenty in that crowd, but none of them were petty chiselers.


    The major seized Johann’s wrist and more-or-less forced the becky into his hand. “Just give it a try,” he repeated. “You can either trade it yourself on the exchanges” — from the look on the miller’s face there was no chance of that happening — “or, what I personally recommend, is that you trade it back to the regiment to get whatever goods or services we can provide.”

    “Which would be what?” the miller asked skeptically.

    Fruehauf glanced around the mill house. “Don’t be stupid, Johann. I was born and raised in a village myself. Any mill house needs repair work — and I’ll bet you my good name against that becky in your hand that we’ve got carpenters and blacksmiths in the regiment that are at least as good as any in Tetschen.”

    The carpenters and blacksmiths in the towns wouldn’t be happy to hear that, of course. But that was none of the miller’s concern and Fruehauf saw no reason to explain that the regiment would probably wind up trading the miller’s flour for the services of the area’s carpenters and blacksmiths. Who could say? They might even wind up being used to repair the miller’s equipment.

    The secret of economics was ultimately simple. Just keep people working. The manner in which that was done didn’t really make a big difference. Having a regiment of twelve hundred men living in the area would inevitably stimulate the economy so long as everyone was convinced that peace and stability would be maintained and that the money being circulated was of good value.

    The first had already been established. General Stearns had been shrewd in choosing the Hangman to leave behind. The story of the regiment’s origins and purpose had spread widely by now. Not least of all because the general’s printing presses had seen to it. And Colonel Higgins made sure that his men maintained good behavior in their relations with the townfolk.

    Now, if they could just get the becky accepted…

    “Well, all right,” said the miller. “But just this once! If I’m not satisfied, you won’t get any more flour from me.”

    It was a sign of progress, Fruehauf thought, that the miller obviously wasn’t considering the fact that if it chose to do so, the Hangman Regiment could march into his mill house, seize all his flour — and, for that matter, burn it down and kill him and his family in the bargain. Whatever reservations the local inhabitants still had about Higgins and his soldiers, at least they were no longer considered bandits.



    Thorsten Engler looked around the room and whistled softly. “Well, it’s certainly an improvement over the tent, Colonel. The men might start calling you ‘Sultan,’ though.”

    “Very funny.” Jeff Higgins waved at one of the unoccupied seats in the salon. He’d appropriated the largest such room in the castle to serve as his headquarters. Conveniently, it had a bedroom attached. But Jeff had the door closed. Truth be told, the bedroom was even more luxurious than the salon. He hadn’t chosen these rooms for that reason, but protestations of innocence would be received with the skepticism usually bestowed upon such claims.

    The real reason Jeff had selected these quarters was visible in the salon itself. Every single officer of the regiment was present at this meeting, from company level up. That meant fitting into the room one colonel, two majors, ten captains and two first lieutenants. The lieutenants served Jeff as adjutants, which was polite military-speak for gofers.

    They all had places to sit, too. Comfortable ones.

    “Okay, guys,” Jeff began, with his usual lack of formality. He ran the regiment in a manner that bore as much resemblance to his days as the dungeon master of role-playing games as it did to anything a traditional military man would have considered proper behavior for a commanding officer. The reason he got away with it was because his subordinates had complete confidence in him. Jeff would have been surprised, in fact, had he known just how deep that confidence ran. Not much of it was due to his status as Gretchen Richter’s husband, either, although that certainly didn’t hurt in a regiment as CoC-heavy as the Hangman.

    No, it was Jeff himself. Or rather, the Colonel Higgins who had emerged from the battles at Zwenkau and Zielona Góra. Jeff was only vaguely aware of it, but he was one of those people who became calm and unflappable under stress. There was probably no other quality a commanding officer could have that produced more confidence in his soldiers. It was nice, of course, if the commander gave exceedingly intelligent and shrewd orders as well. But all he really needed to do, when a subordinate turned to him for commands, was to be able to give them as naturally and easily as a man orders a meal in a restaurant. Unless the orders were disastrously wrong, their precise nature didn’t matter that much.

    Battles are not very complicated, when you get right down to it. Go there. Stay here. Shoot those people over there. Go around that hill and try to shoot them in the back. Blow up this bridge. Burn down this house. Don’t burn down this house, you idiot, we need it to sleep in after we win the battle.

    Leaving aside a few euphemisms and technical terms, the vocabulary involved was entirely within reach of a ten-year-old child. The key was that it all had to be done while other people were doing their level best to go around hills and shoot you in the back. That was the stark reality that no child could possibly handle — and not all that many full-grown men could handle well, if they were in a command position.

    Jeff Higgins could, and by now his men knew it. So his relaxed, almost collegial style of command helped foster an esprit de corps in the regiment instead of undermining his authority with its officers. The truth was, even if they’d been able to see into the bedroom, the officers and men of the regiment wouldn’t have done more than make wisecracks about sleeping on a bed so big you needed a map to find your way out of it in the morning. Some of the soldiers would have been tempted to sneak in and swipe the canopy, no doubt. But they probably wouldn’t have actually done it. Not the colonel’s canopy.

    When he had everyone’s attention, Jeff used a pointer he’d had made for him by one of the regiment’s carpenters to indicate their position on a large map he had hanging on an easel. The map was new, having just been finished by the same artist who’d done the portrait on the beckies.

    “You see this stretch of the Elbe, from here north to Königstein?” He waggled the tip of the pointer back and forth across the border. “That’s why we’re really here, gentlemen. I hope I don’t have any officers in this regiment who are so dim-witted that they really think General Stearns left us here to protect Bohemia against that jackass Heinrich Holk.”

    A little sigh swept the room. They’d wondered, of course.

    “The general left you with special orders,” ventured Major Eisenhauer.

    Jeff shook his head. “No, he didn’t say a word to me. He didn’t need to.”

    He turned to face his officers. “Here’s how it is, and if there’s anyone here who thinks he’ll have trouble with what might be coming, you’d better come talk to me in private after this meeting.”

    His tone of voice was harsh, which was unusual for Colonel Higgins.

    Another little sigh swept the room. They’d wondered about that, too.

    “Let me start by making one thing clear. Mike Stearns believes in the rule of law just as much as I do. So if nobody breaks the rules, then you and me and every soldier in this regiment is just going to spend some chilly but probably pleasant enough months twiddling our thumbs here. But if rules do start getting broken…”

    He shook his head again. “And being, honest, I’m pretty sure they will. The thing is, I know Mike Stearns — but I don’t think those other people really do. I don’t think they understand just how much they’re playing with fire here.”

    Major Fruehauf spoke up. “So our real task here is to make sure that if the Third Division needs to return to the USE — quickly — that there won’t be anything in the way.”

    Jeff nodded. “The key will be the fortress at Königstein.” He tapped the map again with the pointer. “I only got a look at it from a distance as we marched past, but it looked plenty tough and by all accounts it is.”

    One of the infantry captains spoke up. “I have been there, sir. And, yes, it’s still quite formidable even if the structure was built four hundred years ago.”

    “What I figured. We’ll maintain some cavalry patrols up and down the Elbe to keep an eye on whatever might be developing at the fortress. But mostly, I figure we’ll rely on the air force. The one definite instruction the general gave me was to build an airfield here. By happy coincidence, any plane coming in and out of Tetschen from the USE is just going to naturally overfly the fortress at Königstein.”

    He turned away from the map and paused for a few seconds. “I will repeat what I said. If any of you have problems with any of this, come talk to me afterward.”

    The officers glanced around at each other. Then Thorsten Engler said:

    “I don’t think so, Colonel. I think I can speak for every man here. If they play by the rules, we play by the rules. But if they break the rules, then we’ll show them why we’re called the Hangman.”

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