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1636: The Saxon Uprising: Chapter Eight

       Last updated: Saturday, November 27, 2010 09:08 EST



Stockholm, capital of Sweden

    “It’s a tub,” pronounced Kristina. The Swedish princess made the statement with a royal assurance that sat oddly on her slender eight-year-old shoulders.

    Nine-year-old shoulders, she would have insisted herself, and never mind that her birthday was still a month away. Kristina tended to view facts with disdain, if they conflicted with her axioms.

    Being fair, Prince Ulrik was pretty sure he’d had the same attitude toward facts when he’d been eight years old. Or nine, for that matter.

    “I know the Union of Kalmar is unpleasant to travel on,” he said patiently. “But it’s the only ship that can get us across the Baltic without fear of being intercepted.”

    “If it gets across the Baltic at all,” she countered. Triumphantly: “You said yourself the thing was not really suited for the open sea! I heard you! And that wasn’t more than four months ago!”

    So, he had. Not for the first time, Ulrik reminded himself to be careful what he said in front of Kristina. The girl had a phenomenal memory to go with her ferocious intelligence. He could only hope that she would not prove to be a grudge-holder as she aged, or their marriage would be a tense one.

    But that possible problem was still a considerable number of years in the future. Right now, he had to squelch the girl’s developing tantrum over the issue at hand.

    “Risks are relative,” he said. “No, the Union of Kalmar is not the best vessel in which to venture on the open sea. It’s a shallow draft ironclad, designed for bombarding shoreside fortifications and destroying ships in sheltered waters. On the other hand, it is — by far — the best vessel to be in should we encounter a Swedish warship on our way across the Baltic. By now, Chancellor Oxenstierna may well have drawn the right conclusions from your silence, and have sent vessels to prevent our passage across the Baltic.”

    “I’m mad at him, anyway!” Kristina had a furious expression on her face, most of which Ulrik thought was play-acting. “He was rude in the last two letters!”

    The pretense of fury vanished, replaced by another triumphant look. “So that’s the reason I haven’t answered his letters. Well, it’s not really the reason, of course. We had already agreed that it would be smarter to say nothing. But he might think that. So he wouldn’t send ships out.”

    Baldur Norddahl chuckled. “The key word is ‘might,’ girl.” The burly Norwegian sat up straighter in his chair, glanced at the salon’s window, and looked back at her. “But he might not think that, either. In which case there we are, in the middle of the Baltic, in our comfortable staterooms on a proper seagoing vessel — and fat lot of good it does us, with our plump merchantman under the guns of a Swedish warship. The captain wouldn’t even think of putting up a fight. Certainly not against a Swedish ship going about the chancellor’s business.”

    “Whereas the captain of the Union of Kalmar is a Dane,” Ulrik added quickly, “and will certainly do whatever we tell him. Especially since his ship can destroy any warship in the Baltic –”

    “Except one of the other ironclads!”

    “Yes, that’s true. But the other two ironclads are under the command of Admiral Simpson in Luebeck. Who is an American, not a Swede.”

    Kristina started to say something but Ulrik drove over her. “Yes, I know that he’s formally under the authority of Prime Minister Wettin, who is doing Oxenstierna’s bidding nowadays and might well order us intercepted as well. But whether Simpson would actually obey such a command is doubtful, in my opinion.”

    “Why? You told me yourself once he was given to formalities. So why wouldn’t he do what his lawful superior ordered him to do?”

    Keep — his — mouth — shut. Speak only of recipes in front of the girl.

    He made that vow, knowing full well he wouldn’t be able to keep it. The problem was that Kristina was both too smart and too important to his developing plans. There was no way he could manage this situation without her cooperation, and she was quite capable of withholding that cooperation if he didn’t involve her fully in the project.

    “Yes, I know I said that, Kristina. But…”

    How to explain?

    “Most people are complicated,” he said. “Simpson certainly is. Under most circumstances, I am sure he would be the very Platonic ideal of a politically neutral military officer obeying lawful orders. But the thing is…”

    “He’s also very intelligent,” said Baldur. “And politically sophisticated. Simpson will know full well that if he’s ordered by Wettin to take into custody the lawful heir of three crowns — only one of which answers to Oxenstierna and only one of which answers to Wettin –”

    “Might answer to Wettin,” interjected Ulrik. “It’s actually not at all clear if the prime minister has the right to act as regent for the crown in the event the monarch is incapacitated and his successor is not of age.” He waved his hand. “The whole area is completely gray, in legal terms.”

    Thankfully, that piqued Kristina’s interest. “Really? I thought…”

    Ulrik shook his head. “The prime minister of the USE isn’t equivalent to the Swedish chancellor. Perhaps more to the point, when it comes to dynastic issues the USE’s parliament is not equivalent to Oxenstierna’s council. Swedish law is fairly clear that the council has the right to appoint a regent for the crown under these circumstances. There is no such clarity in the USE’s constitution.”

    Baldur chuckled. “And Stearns, bless the man’s crafty soul, insisted on a formal constitution. So the lawyers can’t just do a quick shuffle of the rules. They’ll need to get an official legal ruling by the supreme court. Which is not known for the celerity of its deliberations.”

    Ulrik spoke. “That means, in effect, that the whole issue will be Simpson’s to decide, at least for two months or so. And that’s probably all the time we need.”

    Kristina made a last, valiant stand. “You don’t know that!”

    Ulrik nodded. “No, I don’t. But we can find out by tomorrow, with the radio.”

    The princess chewed on her lower lip for a few seconds. “Okay,” she finally said. “I guess if Simpson agrees, we’ll take the stupid ironclad across the sea. And hope we don’t sink.”




USE naval base

    Colonel Jesse Wood hung his flight jacket on a peg near the door and then took a seat in a chair against the wall in Admiral Simpson’s office.

    “So what’s up, John? Why did you insist I fly out here at the crack of dawn?”

    With the passage of time and some shared heartaches, relations between Jesse Wood and John Chandler Simpson had gotten a lot more relaxed than they’d been in earlier days. The two men still weren’t what you’d call friends, but there was a lot of mutual respect between them.

    A lot of trust, too, which is what the admiral thought was most critical at the moment. He half-rose, leaned over his desk and handed Jesse a radio message. “This came in yesterday evening.”

    The air force commander cocked an eyebrow and started reading the message. It wasn’t very long. By the time he got to the end, his relaxed half-slouch had vanished and he was sitting up straight on the edge of his chair.

    “Jesus. H. Christ.” He looked up at Simpson. “I assume there’s no chance this is a fake?”

    The admiral shook his head. “The prince had his own codes, which he used. I can’t see how anyone else could have gotten them, since I happen to know — he told me — that he was committing them to memory so there’d be no written copy anywhere except in our records. And who would want to fake such a message anyway? The only people I can think of who’d want to meddle in this would hardly be sending that message.”

    Jesse looked back down at the little sheet and then handed it back to the admiral. “True enough. But… What the hell is she playing at?”

    “I think you’re using the wrong pronoun, for starters. I’d be very surprised if the guiding mind behind this isn’t Prince Ulrik’s.” Before Jesse could say anything, Simpson made a dismissive gesture with his hand. “Oh, don’t get me wrong. I’m sure he’s not coercing the girl in any way. He wouldn’t need to. He’s very persuasive and by now she’s probably got a lot of faith in him.”

    The colonel grunted. “Not to mention that she’s what they call ’spirited’ herself.” He ran fingers through his short hair, which was starting to thin quite a bit in front. It was getting gray, too — and would probably be a lot grayer before this was all finished, Simpson thought. His own hair was turning white.

    “What do you think he’s up to, then?”

    Simpson looked out the window. His office was on the third floor of the navy’s headquarters building, so he had a good view of the city’s port. It was not what anyone would call a scenic vista, but the harbor was always busy and there was usually something of interest to watch. For the few seconds it usually took him to get his thoughts in order, anyway.

    “I spent a fair amount of time in discussions with that young man during the Congress of Copenhagen, Jesse. He plays it very close to the chest, but I’m pretty sure he’s following the general line of reasoning that Scaglia’s been developing in the Netherlands.”


    “Scalia. Alessandro Scaglia. He’s a former Savoyard diplomat who’s now in Brussels working for Archduchess Isabella. He advocates a political policy he calls ‘the soft landing.’ His argument is that the Ring of Fire proves that some sort of democratic political system is inevitable in Europe’s nations, and so fighting to preserve monarchical rule and aristocratic privilege is pointless as well as wrong-headed. At the same time, given the existing realities and what he sees as the excesses that democracy led to in our universe — he’s not very fond of the Committees of Correspondence in this one, either — he thinks a transition period is necessary, during which time ruling monarchs gradually cede their power to democratic institutions of one kind or another. To put it another way, he advocates constitutional monarchy, with the emphasis shifting over time from ‘monarchy’ to ‘constitutional.’”

    “Is he really that important? I’ve never heard of the guy.”

    Simpson tried to figure out how to respond. It would be rude to point out that Colonel Wood rarely read any political treatises, and none at all written by contemporary down-timers. The admiral, on the other hand, had compiled quite an extensive library of such writings. His wife Mary was an even more assiduous student of the subject.

    “Well, he keeps a low public profile. But he has the ear of the king in the Netherlands, I’m sure of that, as well as the queen. And since Maria Anna is the sister of Emperor Ferdinand III of Austria and Hungary — they’re reported to be quite close, too — I’d be surprised if Scaglia isn’t getting a hearing from that branch of the Habsburgs as well.”

    He picked up the radio message and gave it a little shake. “The point being that this request — proposal, whatever you want to call it — has all the earmarks of a maneuver in that direction. A very bold maneuver, and if Ulrik pulls it off probably a brilliant one.”



    Jesse frowned. “John, I’m a thick-headed flyboy. You’re leaving me behind in the dust.”

    Simpson chuckled. “Jesse, you know and I know that the USE is on the brink of a constitutional crisis.”

    “That’s putting it mildly. The term ‘civil war’ comes to mind also.”

    The admiral grimaced. “Let’s hope we can avoid that. But whether we can or not, there’s no question the domestic situation is going to erupt. What then happens if Princess Kristina — who is the heir to the USE throne, even if she is only eight years old — decides to side with the… what to call them? Plebeians, let’s say.”

    The air force colonel shook his head. “I’m still in a cloud of dust. How does coming here to Luebeck put her on the side of the lower classes? I presume that’s what you mean by ‘plebeians.’”

    “Oh, I doubt very much if she — or Ulrik, more to the point — plans to stay in Luebeck. The city is just a way station, where they can get themselves out of reach of Chancellor Oxenstierna while they figure out their next move. Which, if I’m guessing right, would be as dramatic as you could ask for. If things blow wide open, they’ll go to Magdeburg.”

    “Magdeburg? John, if things blow wide open — your phrase, I remind you — then I’d think Magdeburg would be the last place they’d go. For Christ’s sake, the city is a CoC stronghold.”

    Simpson just gave him a level stare. After a few seconds, Jesse’s face got a little pale. “Jesus,” he whispered. “Do you really think Ulrik is that much of a daredevil?”

    The admiral shrugged. “It’s not actually as risky as it seems. First of all, because the girl is quite popular in Magdeburg. She’s sided with the Magdeburg masses twice already — that’s how it looked to everyone, anyway. Once during the crisis right after the battle of Wismar, and again during Operation Kristallnacht. And while she was living in the city she not only visited the Freedom Arches regularly but on at least one occasion I know about she went into the kitchen and helped with the cooking.” He smiled. “Of course, I doubt the cooks themselves found her that helpful, but you couldn’t ask for better symbolism.”

    Again, Jesse ran fingers through his fingers. “Okay, I can see that. You said ‘first of all.’ That implies a second reason. What is it?”

    “Rebecca Abrabanel. That young woman has a spine of steel, don’t ever think otherwise. If Kristina and Ulrik show up in Magdeburg, Rebecca will make damn good and sure no harm comes to them. Not to mention milking the situation for all it’s worth, politically.”

    Jesse cocked his head a little. “That sounds almost admiring, John. None of my business, but I’d have thought you’d be more inclined toward this guy Scaglia’s viewpoint than Becky and Mike’s.”

    “In some ways, I am. Back home, I was a rock-ribbed Republican, although I didn’t have much use for the so-called ‘values’ crowd. I certainly didn’t have much use for the fundamentalists.”

    Jesse grinned. “Being, as you are, the closest thing Americans have to a High Church Anglican.”

    Simpson nodded. “Episcopalian, through and through. And Mary’s a Unitarian, so you can just imagine her opinion of the Bible-thumpers. Still, I’m a conservative, by temperament as well as conviction. I admit I screwed up badly when we first came here, and since then I’ve generally sided with Mike Stearns. But he still often makes me uncomfortable and there’s a lot I agree with in Scaglia’s approach. On the other hand…”

    He trailed off into silence.

    Jesse cocked his head still further. “Yes?”

    The admiral sighed. “I don’t always trust Mike to do the right thing, but I do trust him to do something. And in the situation we’re coming into, I think that willingness on his part to act may be the most critical factor. Whereas I don’t see how Scaglia’s gradualism is going to be much of guide in the days ahead.”

    “To put it my crude terms, you’ll side with Mike.”

    “Not… exactly. I think what’s going to happen is that Prime Minister Wettin is going to start breaking the law — the spirit of it, for damn sure — and then Mike will toss the rules overboard himself. Depending on the circumstances, I don’t know that I’d take Mike’s side. What I’m sure and certain of, though” — his face got stiff — “is that I damned if I’ll do Oxenstierna’s dirty work for him. And Oxenstierna’s the one who driving all this, it’s not Wettin.”

    Jesse looked at the radio message lying on the table. “So you’ll tell her to come here.”

    “Yes. And I’ll guarantee her safe passage — she’ll be taking the Union of Kalmar across, so there’s no way the Swedish navy could intercept her — and I’ll guarantee her the protection of the USE Navy while she’s in Luebeck.” His face got stiffer yet. “I’ve had my legal staff look into the matter, and while there are a lot of gray areas involved, the one thing that’s clear enough is that Wettin has no authority over the heir apparent and Oxenstierna’s regency — I’m assuming that’s just a matter of time — only has authority over her on Swedish soil.”

    Jesse smiled. “It occurs to me that Luebeck is not Swedish soil.”

    “No, it is not.”

    “It also occurs to me that if the navy wants to, it can pretty much hold Luebeck against all comers. For a few months, anyway.”

    “My own estimate is that we could hold it for at least a year, actually. It’s hard to take a well-defended port city when you don’t control the sea it fronts on. Not impossible, of course, but very difficult. It would help, though…”

    Again, he trailed off into silence. Jesse’s smile widened.

    “It would help if you had air support. If you needed it. God forbid.”

    The admiral nodded solemnly. “God forbid.”

    “Well, God doesn’t actually run the air force. I do. And I agree with you that our eight-year-old princess has the right to visit her own domains-to-be whenever she wants to, without interference from busybodies.”

    There was silence in the room. After a while, Simpson said: “The Ring of Fire seems like a long time ago, doesn’t it?”

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