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1636: The Saxon Uprising: Chapter Ten

       Last updated: Friday, December 10, 2010 21:21 EST




December, 1635

Unequal laws unto a savage race

Prague, capital of Bohemia

    After he entered the huge salon that served Morris and Judith Roth for what Americans left back up-time would have called a living room on steroids, Mike Stearns spent half a minute or so examining the room. No casual inspection — this was a careful scrutiny that lingered on nothing but didn’t miss any significant detail, either.

    By the time he was finished, his hosts had seated themselves on a luxurious divan located toward the center of the room and the servants had withdrawn at Judith’s signal, giving them some privacy.

    Morris had a pained expression on his face. “Go ahead. Make the wisecracks about the nouveau riche so we can be done with it.”

    Mike gave him a glance and smiled. He took a last few seconds to finish his examination and then took a seat on an armchair across from his hosts.

    “Actually, I was going to compliment you on your judgment,” he said. “God help me for my sins, but I’ve become an expert on gauging ostentation, the proper degree thereof. I’d say” — he raised his hand and made a circular motion with his forefinger — “you’ve hit this just about right. Splendid enough to cement your position with the city’s Jewish population and satisfy any gentile grandee who happens to pop over that you’re a man to be taken seriously, but not so immodest as to stir up the animosity of those same gentiles.”

    Morris grunted. “The second reason’s less important than the first. The only gentile grandee who pops over here on a regular basis is Pappenheim.”

    Judith winced. “Puh-leese don’t use that expression in front of him, either one of you. The man has a sense of humor — pretty good one, in fact, if you allow for the rough edges — but it only extends so far, when it comes to himself. General Gottfried Heinrich Graf zu Pappenheim does not ‘pop over.’ He visits, with grace and style.”

    Morris and Mike both smiled. Then Morris added: “The point being, Pappenheim’s the only important gentile figure in Bohemia who’s ever been over here and most of what’s in these public rooms is stuff that means nothing to him.”

    He pointed to a series of etchings on one of the walls. Morris and Judith were the subjects of three of them, two separately and one as a couple. Mike didn’t recognize any of the other people portrayed, but from subtleties of their costume he thought they were probably other prominent figures in Prague’s very large Jewish community.

    “Those are all by Václav Hollar,” Morris said. “He was born and raised here, but then moved to Cologne. Judith sweet-talked him into coming back with the offer of a number of commissions.”

    Mike shook his head. “Never heard of him.”

    “He became well enough known that there’s a brief mention of him in my records,” Judith said. She was referring to the files on her computer. Before the Ring of Fire, Judith’s interest in her family’s genealogy had led her to compile quite a bit of information from the internet on Prague’s Jewish community during the seventeenth century. Her ancestors had come from here. One of them, in fact, had been the famous rabbi known as the Maharal, Judah Loew ben Bezalel, whom legend said invented the golem.

    “But that happened years from now in our old timeline,” Judith went on, “after he moved to England. In the here and now, he’s too young to be famous. Which is a good part of the reason I wanted him. You’re right that it can be a bit dangerous — might be more than a bit, under some circumstances — for Jews to be too ostentatious.”

    Morris shrugged. “What I was getting at, though, was that we could have commissioned Rubens or Rembrandt to do those portraits and Pappenheim wouldn’t have known the difference.”

    “Rubens and Rembrandt wouldn’t have come anyway,” said Judith, “but if they had you can be sure that Wallenstein would have known about it — and he does know who they are.”

    “Speaking of Wallenstein…” Mike’s expression had no humor left in it now. “He doesn’t look good. At all.”




    Mike had just come from a meeting with Wallenstein. This had been a private meeting, unlike the formal and well-attended affair that had been held a week earlier when the Third Division arrived in the city.

    In the intervening week, Mike had been busy enough seeing to the needs of his soldiers. They’d set up a temporary camp just south of the horse market that would eventually become Wenceslaus Square in another universe. Still, he hadn’t been that busy. He had an excellent staff and most of the work was routine. So he’d expected to be summoned to Wallenstein’s palace within a day or two after the division’s arrival and had been a little surprised by the long delay.

    He’d assumed the delay was just petty maneuvering by the king of Bohemia; the same sort of let-him-cool-his-heels-in-the-anteroom silliness that was such a frequent part of office politics up-time. But when Mike had finally been ushered into Wallenstein’s presence, he’d realized the more likely cause was the king’s health. To use one of his mother’s expressions, Wallenstein looked like death warmed over. They’d met in his bedroom, because the king could barely manage to sit up. His American nurse Edith Wild had him propped up on pillows in his bed and fussed over him the whole time Mike was there except for the quarter of an hour Wallenstein had shooed her away so he could discuss the most delicate matters with his visitor in private.

    Those delicate matters had involved Mike’s somewhat eccentric logistical requests and proposals. “Eccentric” being the discreet way of describing the creation of a string of supply depots that made very little sense for an army that was planning to take up positions near the southern Czech city of C(eské Bude(jovice in order to bolster Bohemia’s position against Austria. Whatever might be the state of his physical health, there was clearly nothing wrong with Wallenstein’s brain. Before his self-elevation to the throne of Bohemia, the man had been one of the premier military contractors of Europe. He understood perfectly well that what Mike was setting up was the necessary supply chain in case he had to leave Bohemia in a hurry in order to take his army back into Saxony.

    It hadn’t taken the king long to make clear that he had no objection. Obviously, Wallenstein understood that the main reason Mike and his Third Division had been sent to Bohemia was to get him out of the USE for political reasons, not to satisfy Wallenstein’s request for military support.

    “Meaning no offense, Michael,” the king had rasped, “but I don’t need foot soldiers — nor did I ask for them. What I could use, and did ask for, was air support so I could keep an eye on Austrian troop movements.”

    He shifted uncomfortably in his bed. “Which I didn’t get, even though I’ve built two of the best airfields in Europe — one right here in Prague, the other in C(eské Bude(jovice. And now I don’t have the use of the Jew’s plane either, since his idiot pilot crashed the thing in Dresden. Your man Nasi tells me it’ll be months before the plane is repaired and able to fly again.”

    Mike saw no point in arguing the matter of whether or not Francisco Nasi was “his man.” In some ways, that description was still accurate, he supposed. His former spymaster was now operating his own independent business as what amounted to a contract espionage agency, but he’d made clear to Mike that he would be glad to provide him whatever assistance he could. Given that Francisco was now residing in Prague himself, Mike had every intention of taking him up on the offer. He’d already met with him twice, in fact, since he arrived the week before.

    “I may be able to assist you there,” he said. “I’m having an airfield built in De(c(ín” — he used the Czech pronunciation for Tetschen — “to provide air support for Colonel Higgins and his regiment, in the event Holk launches a surprise attack.”

    Both he and Wallenstein maintained completely straight faces. Perhaps Mike rushed the next sentence just a little bit.

    “But I see no reason that whatever plane Colonel Wood can free up from the air force to come down here can’t also overfly the Austrian lines.”

    Wallenstein had been satisfied with that, and no further mention was made of Mike’s convoluted logistics. The king had wrung the little bell next to his bed and Edith had practically rushed back into the room. She’d become quite devoted to the man, by all accounts — which included gunning down the assassins who’d tried to murder Wallenstein shortly before he seized power, in addition to tending to his medical needs.



    “Edith thinks he’s dying, Mike,” said Judith. “Wallenstein just won’t listen to her medical advice.”

    “God-damned astrologers were bad enough,” Morris growled. “Now he’s got these new Kirlian aura screwballs whispering in his ear.”

    Mike cocked his head quizzically. “Which screwballs? I can’t keep track of all these seventeenth century superstitions.”

    “I’m afraid this one’s our doing, Mike,” said Judith. “It’s based on Kirlian photography, which was developed up-time. Nobody in Grantville ever took seriously the idea that Kirlian images showed a person’s life force — the ‘aura,’ to use the lingo. Unfortunately, Doctor Gribbleflotz stumbled across some references to it in one of the Grantville libraries and…”

    “The rest was a foregone conclusion,” said Morris.

    Herr Doctor Phillip Theophrastus Gribbleflotz — a great-grandson of Paracelsus, or so he claimed — was an alchemist who had an uncanny knack for reinterpreting up-time science in a down-time framework, and making a bundle of money in the process. He’d made his first fortune with baking soda, which he renamed Sal Aer Fixus. A little later he’d made aspirin, which he dyed blue on the grounds that blue was the color of serenity. Much to Tom Stone’s disgust, Doctor Gribbleflotz’s brand had outsold the straight-forward and cheaper stuff produced by Stone’s pharmaceutical works. Eventually, when his father got distracted by something else, Ron Stone quietly ordered the chemists to start dying their own aspirin blue as well. Sales picked up right away, even though Ron raised the price a bit at the same time.



    “Don’t tell me,” Mike chuckled.

    “Yep,” said Morris. “Before you could say ‘hogwash,’ Gribbleflotz had half the nobility in the Germanies and Bohemia hooked on the notion, seems like. He charges a small fortune to show someone his so-called ‘aura,’ and then… well…”

    He drifted into an uncomfortable silence. His wife gave him a glance and smiled. “What Morris isn’t telling you is that we’re making quite a bit of money from the side-effects.”

    “How so?”

    Morris made a face. “Somehow or other — I didn’t do it, I swear I didn’t, and neither did Tom Stone — people got the idea that once someone knew their Kirlian aura they needed to complement it with the proper costume and jewelry. So all of a sudden there’s a booming demand for exotic dyes and exotic gem-cuts. Tom’s dye works supplies most of the former and my jewelry makers provide most of the latter.”

    Mike didn’t say anything. He didn’t doubt for a moment that neither Morris nor Tom Stone had tried to take advantage of the new superstition. Tom’s middle son Ron, though…

    Ron Stone had become the de facto manager of the Stone chemical and pharmaceutical industries, and had turned out to have an unexpected gift for making money. That talent hadn’t been hurt in the least by his recent marriage to Missy Jenkins, whose father had been one of Grantville’s most successful businessmen before the Ring of Fire. Missy’s own interest was in libraries, but the young woman had a practical streak about as wide as the Mississippi river. Between the two of them, they might very well have come up with the idea of piggy-backing a new line of exotic dyes on the Kirlian craze, and quietly hired someone to do the necessary promotion.

    If they had, Mike didn’t object. Down-time noblemen could find the silliest ways imaginable to waste their money, and this one seemed reasonably harmless.

    True, it wasn’t doing Wallenstein any good. But that was a lost cause, anyway. The king of Bohemia had been proving for years that no matter how shrewd he was in most respects, he was a sucker for superstitious twaddle. That was especially true when it came to anything bearing on his health. Whatever nostrums he was getting from his new obsession with Kirlian auras, Mike figured it couldn’t be any worse than the medical advice he got from his astrologers.

    He said as much, and the Roths both nodded.

    “Edith actually prefers the Kirlian crap,” said Morris. “It mostly just leads to the king loading himself down with jewelry — which he can certainly afford — and overheating himself in bed because of the heavy robes he wears. But at least he’s not bleeding himself under the light of a full moon when Sagittarius is rising in Venus.”

    “I think it’s the other way around,” said Judith.

    Morris sniffed. “Who cares?”

    If Wallenstein really was that ill…

    “What happens if he dies?” Mike asked.

    Morris and Judith looked at each other. “Well…” said Judith. “I don’t think it’ll be too bad.”

    “A year ago, things would have probably gotten pretty hairy,” her husband added. “But Wallenstein’s wife finally bore him a son this past February. Karl Albrecht Eusebius is his name. The kid’s pretty healthy and thankfully his mother ignores Wallenstein and listens to Edith when it comes to his medical care.”

    Mike had known of the boy’s birth, but he hadn’t really considered all the political ramifications. In light of what he now knew about Wallenstein’s health, he started to do so and almost immediately came to the critical issue.

    “How does Pappenheim feel about the kid?”

    The expressions on the faces of his host were identical: relief. Vast relief, you might almost say.

    “Gottfried is devoted to Wallenstein,” Morris said, “and the man really seems to have no political ambitions of his own.”

    “So far as we can tell, anyway,” Judith cautioned.

    Morris shrugged. “You never really know until the time comes, of course. But I really do think Pappenheim will be satisfied with remaining the commander of Bohemia’s army — so long as he thinks there’s no danger to Wallenstein’s legitimate heir.”

    Mike nodded. “So the task becomes making sure a stable regency gets set up right away. How will Isabella Katharina handle that? I’ve met the queen, but I can’t say I know her at all.”

    “Isabella’s not interested in politics herself,” said Judith. “All she’ll really care about is that her son is safe and his inheritance is secure. She’ll be happy as the figurehead of a regency council, as long as we’re getting along with Gottfried and the rest of the council is solid.”

    “I take it she’s not an anti-Semite, then?”

    Morris shook his head. “She tends to be suspicious of most people, but she’s what you might call an equal-opportunity skeptic. Jews aren’t worth much, in her book, but then neither are goyim.”

    “She and I have become a bit close, actually,” said Judith. “And Isabella practically worships the ground under Edith’s feet — and we’re about the only friends Edith has in the whole world.”

    Edith Wild had been friendless most of her life. The big woman was taciturn and had a harsh personality. She was one of the people in Grantville for whom the Ring of Fire had proved to be a blessing. She’d gone from being a factory worker scraping by to living in a palace as a king’s nurse and one of the closest confidants of his queen.

    Mike had taken off his officer’s hat when he entered the Roth’s mansion, and had it perched on his lap. Now he rose and placed it back on his head.

    “I need to get back to the division,” he said. “But I can come back again the day after tomorrow, if you’d like me to.”

    Morris rose to usher him out. “Yes, I would. And I know Gottfried would like to have a private word with you also. Can I tell him you’ll come by his headquarters?”

    “Yes, please do.” Mike had his own reasons for wanting to stay on good terms with Bohemia’s leading general. But those reasons were almost petty compared to the importance of keeping Bohemia stable and friendly to the USE.

    There were enough wars already, he figured.

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