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1636: The Saxon Uprising: Chapter Twelve

       Last updated: Friday, December 24, 2010 08:35 EST



Magdeburg, capital of the United States of Europe

    “No,” said Rebecca. “Not yet.”

    Gunther Achterhof wasn’t quite glaring at her, but his look was far from friendly. For that matter, neither were the looks she was getting from many of the people gathered around the big conference table.

    That table wasn’t quite as full as it had been on some occasions in the past, because none of the people from the State of Thuringia-Franconia were present except Kathe Scheiner — and she was purely a CoC organizer, not someone with a position in the provincial government. Ed Piazza and Helene Gundelfinger had planned to attend the meeting, but had decided they had to stay in Bamberg. Tensions with both the Bavarians and General Báner were now very high.

    They were high in Báner’s case because the route his army had to take from the Upper Palatinate to Saxony crossed part of SoTF territory — and, one way or another, the provincial officials had managed to delay his march for at least a week. By the end, he was threatening to seize and burn Hof.

    At that point, Ed Piazza had quietly instructed his subordinates to cease interfering with Báner’s army. The Swedish general now had to march his troops through the Vogtland, and the delay had given Georg Kresse and his irregulars the time they needed to sabotage the roads the Swedish army would have to take through the mountains.

    The sabotage had been carefully done. There was nothing that could be proved to result from human action. Suspected to be, yes; darkly and angrily suspected, in fact. But not proved. Just… bridges somehow washed out by sluggish streams; roads running by other streams mysteriously caved in; other roads blocked by rockfalls and fallen timbers.

    All of the obstacles could be cleared aside and the roads repaired, of course. But a march that should have taken no more than two weeks was taking well over a month. By the time Báner’s army finally entered the Saxon plain and reached Dresden, Gretchen and Tata and their Committee of Correspondence would have had the time to strengthen the city’s already-impressive fortifications, store food and supplies for a siege, and consolidate their political control.

    As jury-rigged operations went, this one had been extremely successful. But time was now running out.

    Báner was within sight of Dresden. And the gathering of reactionaries in Berlin was now public knowledge throughout the Germanies. A major pronouncement by the new prime minister and the chancellor of Sweden was expected at any moment.

    Hence today’s dispute. It had been brewing for days and had now finally erupted.

    “I have to say I agree with Gunther,” said Matthias Strigel.

    Rebecca felt a spike of anxiety. The governor of Magdeburg province was normally one of the more judicious members of the emergency council. But he was under tremendous pressure from his constituents. For all practical purposes, Magdeburg — the whole province, not just the city — was now being governed by the Committees of Correspondence and the Fourth of July Party. That being so, why not acknowledge the fact openly and toss aside the pointless pretense that Wettin’s officials had any authority left?



    The problem was not a new one. It had erupted before, most notably during the so-called “Magdeburg Crisis” that followed the battle of Wismar, when the capital city’s celebration of the victory began transforming itself into an insurrection. Only the quick and shrewd action of Mike Stearns and Spartacus averted a catastrophe, when they managed — just barely — to turn the uprising into a mass rally and celebration.

    Even two years ago, with Torstensson and his troops camped just outside the city, the rebels might very well have managed to seize Magdeburg itself. The whole province would surely then have followed. It was conceivable, though not likely, that Thuringia and Franconia might have followed suit.

    But the rest of the Germanies would not, as Mike had known very well. Soon enough, the traditional elites would have rallied most of the populace behind them — and they’d have the full backing of the Swedish army with Gustav Adolf at their head. He would view such an insurrection as treason and a personal betrayal, and conduct himself accordingly. The end result would have been a crushed rebellion and a monstrous setback for the democratic movement.

    Most of the same factors were still in play two years later, although the variables had all changed. The greatest change of all, of course, was the incapacity of Gustav Adolf. With his heir a girl still just short of nine years old and an unsettled order of succession in two out of the three realms for which Gustav Adolf had a crown, legitimacy and legal authority had murky edges and lots of gray areas.

    But for that very reason, Rebecca thought, the democratic movement had to avoid anything that clearly transgressed legality. Oxenstierna was driving this conflict, with Wilhelm Wettin trailing behind. That meant that it was the Swedish chancellor who, willy-nilly, had to make the first moves that would be clearly revolutionary. It was essential that the blame for upsetting the established order could be clearly and squarely placed on the forces of reaction. Clearly enough and squarely enough, furthermore, that most of the USE’s populace could see and understand what had happened.

    The very worst mistake they could make was to launch their own offensive. As unpleasant and frustrating as it might be, they had to wait until the time was right — and if that meant giving Oxenstierna the first blows, so be it.

    Her husband called it “counter-punching,” and he’d told her many times that the greatest danger an inexperienced boxer faced in the ring was being unable to control himself.

    “You’re nervous, you’re excited, the adrenalin’s pumping — dammit, you came here to fight, not dance around. So you haul off and throw a haymaker, and the next thing you know the referee’s standing over you counting to ten. And it looks like there’s at least two of him, you’re so dizzy.”

    She wished desperately that he was here. Michael could have kept control over the situation. Whether or not she could was still an open question.



    For a moment, she also wished that Ed Piazza were here. But…

    Most likely, he wouldn’t be able to help much. The problem was that the most hardcore CoC leaders like Gunther and many of the people around the table — Gretchen Richter too, although she wasn’t present — were suspicious of Americans.

    Well… “suspicious” wasn’t really the right term. The CoC hardliners didn’t doubt that most Americans had good intentions. But they viewed the up-timers as squeamish, hesitant, and prone to vacillation.

    In a private conversation, Constantin Ableidinger had once said to her: “They led a sheltered life, Rebecca. Study their history. Once they gained their independence, they were only invaded once — and that was two centuries before the Ring of Fire, and it was really just a raid on their coast. In that same stretch of time, at least half a dozen wars and several revolutions were fought on German soil. And that’s not counting everything that came earlier — the Peasant War and all the rest of it.

    “They’re good and decent people, by and large, I’ll be the first to say it. And there’s no question that their arrival in the Ring of Fire is what broke everything open. But you just can’t trust them not to flinch and turn aside when the time comes to settle accounts. They’re like a farm boy who gets upset by the sight of blood trying to butcher a hog. They’ll make a bloody, bungled mess of it.”

    There was enough truth to his viewpoint to make it hard to argue with. All the more so, because in the four and a half years since the Ring of Fire the Americans had mostly been able to sidestep the problem.

    In the first year and a half, to be sure, they’d had to fight off enemies who came right at them — at the Battle of the Crapper, at Jena, at Eisenach and the Wartburg, and the Croat raid on Grantville itself. But those had been simple and straight-forward military clashes, with no political subtleties and complexities involved.

    Thereafter, Mike Stearns had always been able to reach a compromise with the king of Sweden that kept the situation reasonably stable. But that was no longer true, and the new situation was completely unlike anything they’d faced before. Either here in the seventeenth century, or in their own world before the Ring of Fire.

    How would they react, without Mike Stearns to lead them?

    No one really knew.

    Rebecca was surprised, therefore, when Constantin Ableidinger spoke up. Unusually for him, he’d been silent thus far in the meeting.

    “I’m with Rebecca on this, Gunther.” He matched Achterhof’s hard look with one of his own.

    “And stop glaring at me. It’s not my fault you insist on being stupid today. It’s not Rebecca’s fault, either.”

    He spent a moment giving everyone at the table that same hard look.

    “What is wrong with you people? This is not complicated. If we are seen to be responsible for the coming civil war, then we’ve probably lost it before it even starts.” He jabbed a finger at Matthias Strigel. “You! You need to get out of Magdeburg sometime and travel around the country. You live in a hothouse here. Most of you do.”

    Now he jabbed the finger at the Mecklenburger, Charlotte Kienitz. “You too! Spend all your time when you’re not here jabbering with your fellow revolutionaries in the taverns in Schwerin.”

    Charlotte didn’t like alcohol, as it happened. But it was true enough that she habituated the capital of Mecklenburg’s radical gathering places whenever she went back home.

    Ableidinger now swiveled his finger around the table, as if he were a gunner bringing a cannon to bear.

    “That’s the whole trouble!” he boomed. “You spend too much time talking to people who already agree with you and not enough time — no time at all, in the case of some of you! — listening to people out there” — now the finger jabbed at the windows — “who don’t see things the way you do.”

    Looked at from one angle, there was something preposterous about Constantin Ableidinger lecturing other people on talking too much and not listening enough. But Rebecca was not about to chide him for it, under the circumstances.

    The Franconian leader stood up and went to one of the windows that faced to the west. “This is what will happen if you act too soon.” He stared through the glass for a moment. “First, you give Wettin a lever to force the Hessians to support him — where, if we let him launch the attack, the landgravine will have the excuse she so clearly wants to keep Hesse-Kassel neutral.”

    He half-turned, to bestow something very close to a sneer on Achterhof. “You do understand, I hope, why we want Hesse-Kassel to remain neutral, Gunther? We have no chance at all of overthrowing the landgravine — if you don’t believe me, ask her.”

    He pointed to Liesel Hahn, a member of Parliament from Hesse-Kassel. Hahn had been looking distinctly unhappy so far in the meeting. Now she nodded her head several times.

    “The truth is, she’s pretty popular,” she said. “Even more than her husband Wilhelm was.”

    Achterhof looked like he was about to say something, but Constantin drive over him. The Franconian could out-boom just about anybody.

    “The last thing we need is to have one of the most powerful provincial armies in the nation fighting on the side of Oxenstierna and Wettin. But it’s not just Hesse-Kassel that’s at stake! Some of the other western provinces are unsteady, and could go either way.”

    He stepped away from the window and held up his thumb. “Start with Brunswick, which borders on Magdeburg province. Lucky for us, Brunswick’s ruler is off in Poland with Torstensson, besieging Poznán. Let’s make sure he stays there, shall we? If he does what Torstensson is most likely to do — call down a plague on both houses — then Brunswick also remains neutral. That’s good for us, because we have no more chance of taking power in Brunswick than we do in Hesse-Kassel.”

    “What are you talking about?” demanded Albert Bugenhagen. The mayor of Hamburg rose to his own feet and pointed accusingly in the direction of Berlin. “At least half the stinking noblemen — and just about all the hochadel — from Brunswick and Westphalia are in Berlin right now, plotting with Oxenstierna.”

    “And there are just as many from my province and the Upper Rhine,” said Anselm Keller. He was a member of Parliament from the Province of the Main.

    Now, Constantin sneered openly. “Who cares? The danger doesn’t come from that pack of jackals.”

    “Most of them can raise their own armies!” said Bugenhagen.

    Ableidinger’s sneer grew more expansive. “‘Armies’ is a bit grandiose, don’t you think? Even the hochadel among them can’t raise more than a few hundred men — and you don’t want to look too closely at them, either. A fair number of those ‘armed retainers’ are sixty years old and missing an arm or an eye. Admit it, Albert — against such as those, our stout CoC contingents will send them packing. Just as we did in Operation Kristallnacht.”

    That was a bit of an exaggeration, but it was close enough to the mark that Bugenhagen sat down without pursuing the argument. And while Keller’s jaws were tight, he didn’t contest the matter.



    “The real military threat lies elsewhere,” continued Constantin. “First and foremost, in the provincial armies — real armies, those are — that can be raised by the provincial rulers. Stop worrying about Freiherr Feckless and Reichsritter Holes-in-His-Boots. Start worrying about the Landgravine of Hesse-Kassel and the Duke of Brunswick and the Prince of Westphalia, instead.”

    “They never made that Danish bastard a prince,” said Keller sullenly.

    Rebecca wondered how long Constantin could keep that sneer on his face.

    “Who didn’t?” sneered Ableidinger. “They didn’t make him a prince because Gustav Adolf put his foot down. But what do you think are the odds that Oxenstierna won’t hand him the title, if Frederick gets pissed at us and makes friendly noises toward Berlin?”

    There was silence in the room. Ableidinger maintained the sneer right through it.

    “Then there’s the other serious threat,” he went on. “Those are the town militias, especially the ones from the bigger towns. They won’t fight in the countryside, but they’ll keep their towns solid against us –”

    “Not Hamburg!” protested its mayor.

    “No, you’re right. Not Hamburg. Not Luebeck or Frankfurt, either. But they’ll hold Augsburg and Ulm, won’t they? And probably Strassburg, too — and what’s more important, they’ll hold at least three-quarters of the smaller towns in every province except Magdeburg, the SoTF and Mecklenburg. All right, fine. Only two-thirds of the towns in the Oberpfalz. How parochial can you be, Albert? You think the world begins and ends in Hamburg?”

    Rebecca decided to intervene before Ableidinger’s abrasive manner set off a pointless eruption.

    “I think we need to consider Constantin’s points carefully,” she said. “He’s right that if there’s a full-scale civil war most of the official militias will be arrayed against us — and that’s especially true if they believe we are the ones who started the war. If they hold the towns against us and our CoC contingents have to face regular provincial armies in the field, we will lose. It is as simple as that.”

    Achterhof scowled and crossed his arms over his chest. “In effect, you’re saying we’ve lost the war already.”

    “She said a full-scale civil war, Gunther.” That came from Ulbrecht Riemann, who had been silent up until this point. He was a central figure in the Fourth of July Party in Westphalia, although he held no post in government.

    “As opposed to what?” asked Keller.

    Riemann shrugged. “There are lots of different kinds of wars, Anselm. So why shouldn’t there be different types of civil wars? The thing some of you don’t seem to grasp is that Oxenstierna has to win this conflict outright. We don’t. Why? Because we’re winning every day as it is, day in and day out. Week by week, month by month, our cause advances and his cause retreats. That’s why he’s taking this opportunity, for all the risks involved. I don’t know if he realizes it consciously or not, but on some level Oxenstierna — all those reactionary swine — have to sense they’re losing.”

    Achterhof was staring at him, practically cross-eyed. Rebecca had to stifle a smile.

    Riemann was right, though, whether Achterhof understood his point or not. Her husband had said much the same thing to her, many times. He’d used different words, but the gist was the same.

    The aristocracy and the city patricians needed formal power in order to maintain their control over the Germanies. The democratic movement didn’t — although holding such power was certainly helpful. Its influence spread everywhere, every day, down a thousand channels. Schools, unions, insurance associations, all manner of co-operatives and granges. Steadily, if sometimes slowly, the strength of the reactionaries faded.

    Constantin could see it also, probably because he came from Franconia. Achterhof and the other Magdeburg militants suffered from a perhaps inevitable myopia. Say rather, tunnel vision. Everything in the nation’s capital was clear, crisp, sharp. Magdeburg was a place of factories and working-class apartments. Over here were the toiling masses, who constituted the city’s great majority. Over there, in the palaces, were the class enemies.

    There were not many of them, either. So why not just sweep them aside?

    Franconia — still more so, Thuringia — was a very different place. The USE’s most populous province had many political shadings, and well-nigh innumerable layers in its populace. The Americans and their allies had been able to politically dominate it since the Ring of Fire primarily because they had provided stability and security. They had put a stop to mercenary plundering, fostered the economy, built and maintained roads, schools and hospitals.

    Whether or not they agreed with the Fourth of July Party’s program — and a great many of them didn’t — the majority of the population of the State of Thuringia-Franconia kept voting for them, election after election. For some, out of radical conviction. But for just as many, for the opposite reason — a conservative reluctance to upset the applecart. The very full applecart.

    It helped a great deal, too, that the president of the SoTF was Ed Piazza. He was not a flamboyant, exciting, romantic — and rather scary — figure like Mike Stearns. Rather, he exuded steadiness and stability. He governed his province much the same way, as a high school principal, he had governed his teaching staff and his students, with relaxed confidence and equanimity.

    So, despite the many features of Thuringian and Franconian society that resisted the democratic movement, even resented it bitterly, that movement continued to broaden and deepen its influence.

    “Don’t give them a clear target,” Michael had told her. “Let them wear themselves out for a while. They haven’t got the wind for a long fight. As long as you keep them from winning by knockout, you’re staying ahead on points.”

    Her husband was fond of boxing analogies. She decided to share one of them with the group.

    “We’ve been discussing this for hours,” she said. “I think we are ready to take a vote.”

    She looked around the table and was greeted by nods. From Gunther, Anselm and Albert, also. They’d been the most intransigent of her opponents.

    “Very well. All in favor of Gunther’s proposal to seize official power in Magdeburg, raise your hands.”

    The number was clearly short of a majority.

    “Very well. All in favor of my approach — which, following my husband’s guidance, I shall call ‘rope-a-dope’ — raise your hands.”

    The jest was perhaps unwise, since there was an immediate outcry to explain it that delayed the vote. But in the end, her viewpoint was adopted.

    Afterward, Achterhof grunted and leaned back in his chair. “Easy for us to say ‘rope-a-dope.’ But it’ll be Gretchen and her people in Dresden who have to take the punches.”

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