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1636: The Saxon Uprising: Chapter Thirteen

       Last updated: Friday, December 31, 2010 01:06 EST



Dresden, capital of Saxony

    Jozef Wojtowicz watched workmen laying gravel onto the cobblestones of the huge city square. What madness possessed me, he wondered, to come to Dresden?

    He was still possessed by the same madness, to make things worse. He had more than enough money to have gotten out of the city any time he wanted. His employer was his uncle Stanislaw Koniecpolski, the grand hetman of Poland and Lithuania and one of the Commonwealth’s half-dozen richest men. He was no miser, either. Jozef had never lacked for the financial resources he needed.

    Yes, here he still was. And if he didn’t leave by tomorrow — the day after, at the outside — he probably wouldn’t be able to leave at all. Báner’s army was already setting up camp just south and west of Dresden’s walls. It wouldn’t take the Swedish general very long to have regular cavalry patrols surrounding the city.

    Jozef might still be able to pass through, if the cavalrymen were susceptible to bribery. Mercenaries usually were. It would be risky, though. There were already reports that Báner’s troops had committed atrocities in some of the villages northeast of Chemnitz, in their march through southern Saxony. Báner was known for his temper and his brutality, and commanders usually transmitted their attitudes to their soldiers. A cavalry patrol that Jozef encountered might decide to murder him and take all his money rather than settle for a bribe.


    He couldn’t bring himself to leave. Dresden was just too interesting, too exciting, right now. When he’d lived in Grantville, Jozef had come across the up-time term “adrenalin junkie” and realized that it described him quite well. Since he was a boy he’d enjoyed dangerous sports — he was an avid rock-climber, among other things — and part of the reason he’d agreed to become his uncle’s spy in the USE was because of the near-constant tension involved. Whenever he contemplated his notion of Hell it didn’t involve any of the tortures depicted in Dante’s Inferno; rather, it was to be locked in a room for eternity with nothing to do. Jozef had a very high pain threshold, but an equally low boredom threshold.

    Besides, he could always justify the risk on the grounds that staying in Dresden gave him an unparalleled opportunity to study the Committees of Correspondence in action. Gretchen Richter herself was in charge here! What better opportunity could you ask for?

    That very moment, as it happened, he saw her entering the square from the direction of the Residenzschloss, surrounded by a dozen or so people. She and her CoC cohorts had effectively taken over the palace of the former Elector of Saxony, John George, as their own headquarters.

    You had to add that term “effectively” because Richter still maintained the pretense that the Residenzschloss was primarily being used as a hospital for wounded soldiers. She’d also been heard to point out that the province’s official administrator — that was Ernst Wettin, the USE prime minister’s younger brother — also had his offices and quarters in the Residenzschloss. The fanciest ones available, in fact, the chambers and rooms that had been used by John George and his family before they fled the city.

    Both claims were thread-bare. True enough, Richter was reportedly always polite to the provincial administrator and made sure his stay in the palace was a pleasant one. She even provided him with a security detail, since Wettin had no soldiers of his own. But that fact alone made it clear who really wielded power in the city.

    As for the soldiers who’d been sent to Dresden to recuperate from their wounds, by now most of them had regained their health. They still lived in the section of the Residenzschloss that had been designated as the hospital, but that was simply because there were no barracks available and Richter had decreed that no soldiers would be billeted on the city’s inhabitants. Nor had any of the few officers made any objection, although the woman had absolutely no authority to be making any decisions concerning soldiers in the USE army.

    And there was another thing Jozef found interesting about the situation. All of the USE officers here were very junior. There was not so much as a single captain among them, much less any majors or colonels. They were all lieutenants — and newly-minted ones, at that, for the most part.

    How was that possible? How could an army division fight as many battles as the Third Division had fought during the summer and fall without any of its company commanders or field grade officers being wounded?

    Had they all been killed? The odds against that happening were astronomical.

    And they had to have been engaged in the fighting. No army could possibly win battles if the only officers who placed themselves in harm’s way were lieutenants.

    There was only one possible answer, from what Jozef could see. For whatever reason, the commanding general of the Third Division had deliberately sent only his most junior officers and enlisted men to Dresden. Those of higher rank who’d been wounded he must have sent elsewhere.

    Jena, probably. The USE had a big new hospital there, already reputed to be one of the very best in the world. General Stearns could have sent the more senior officers there on the grounds that there was only limited space in Jena so he was making a priority of giving them the best treatment available.



    Whatever his thinking had been, the end result was that several hundred combat veterans — almost all of them no older than their twenties — were in a city about to undergo a siege, and they had allied themselves with Dresden’s inhabitants. And this was no grudging alliance, either. Jozef had seen for himself that tactical command of the city’s defenses had been taken over by the dozen or so USE army lieutenants present. The one named Krenz seemed to be in overall charge.

    Could Stearns have foreseen that?

    He… might. By all accounts, he was a canny bastard. And a labor organizer, in his background, not a military man. That meant he was accustomed to fluid relations of command and obedience, where a man’s authority derived almost entirely from his ability to gain and retain the confidence of the men around him. To use an up-time expression, he had to have very finely honed “people skills.”

    It was all quite fascinating.

    “I’m warning you,” said a voice from behind him, “there’s no point trying to seduce her.”

    Turning around — and feeling quite stupid; had he really been ogling the woman that openly? — he saw one of the men he’d met the night before in the Rathaus. The basement tavern of the city hall had been taken over by the CoC, for all practical purposes.

    Another Pole, as it happened. Tadeusz Szklenski, a Silesian from a town near Krakow.

    The only thing Jozef remembered about him from the previous evening was that the man’s Amideutsch was pretty decent if heavily accented and he insisted on being called by the up-time nickname of “Ted.”

    The grin he had on his face was just friendly, so Jozef decided to return it with a grin of his own.

    “And why would you think I’d have that in mind to begin with? I should be offended!”

    “Three reasons,” came the immediate answer. “The first is that Gretchen Richter’s very good-looking. The second and the third are named Ilse and Ursula.”

    Jozef couldn’t stop himself from wincing. Ilse and Ursula were waitresses in the Rathaus tavern. He’d slept with both of them in the course of the past week. Once again, and for perhaps the hundredth time, he cautioned himself that his attraction to women was foolish for a spy.

    The problem was partly that Jozef himself was very good-looking, a quality that most men might prize but was a nuisance for someone working in espionage. The other part of the problem was that he had a personality that many women seemed to find irresistibly charming — and, alas, the reverse was also true, if the women were bright and had a sense of humor.

    “I hadn’t realized anyone was monitoring my personal habits,” he said stiffly.

    Szklenski shrugged. “The fellows came to me about it. They wanted to make sure you were okay. We’re both Poles, you see.”

    He seemed to think all of that was self-explanatory. But Jozef found it all very murky.

    Who were “the fellows?” Why would they come to Szklenski? What did “okay” mean in this context? And what difference did it make that they were both Poles?

    His puzzlement must have been evident. “CoC guys,” Szklenski explained. “They’re always looking out for spies. They figured I could sniff you out if you were, since we’re both Polish.” He shrugged. “I don’t think that last part makes a lot of sense, myself, but that’s how they felt about it.”

    “They thought I was a spy?” Jozef tried to put as much in the way of outraged innocence into the term as he could — while keeping in mind the danger of over-acting given that he was, in point of fact, a spy.

    “Silly notion, isn’t it? — and I told them so right off. What kind of idiot spy would screw two girls in one week who both worked in the same tavern?”

    An excellent question, Jozef thought grimly. Perhaps he should start flagellating himself to drive out these evil urges. Or wear a hair shirt.

    “You’d better stay out of Ursula’s sight for a while, by the way. Ilse is easy-going but Ursula’s not at all.”

    He glanced over to where Richter had stopped to talk to another group of people. Shop-keepers, from the look of them. “And you can forget about her altogether. Not even the reactionaries try to spread rumors about her. They say she dotes on that up-time husband of hers, even if he is fat and ugly. Well, plain-looking.”

    Jozef hadn’t even been thinking about Richter in those terms. He’d admit to being stupid when it came to attractive women, but he wasn’t insane. And right now, he was much more concerned about people suspecting him of being a spy. Especially CoC-type people, who were notorious for being prone to summary justice.

    “Why would anyone think Poland would send a spy here? We’re not really very close to where the war is going on.”

    Szklenski stared at him, frowning. “What’s Poland got to do with anything? The guys were worried you might be a spy for the Swedes.”

    Jozef shook his head. The gesture was not one of negation; just an attempt to clear his head.

    “And the logic of thinking a Swedish general would hire a Pole to spy on Saxons is… what, exactly?”

    Szklenski’s grin was back. “Don’t ask me. I told you I thought it was silly — and I told them so as well. But just to calm them down, I said I’d talk to you. There aren’t that many Polish CoCers in Dresden, so I figure we need to look out for each other.”

    Jozef cleared his throat. “And… ah… why, exactly, would you assume I was a member of the CoCs myself?”

    Szklenski got a sly look on his face. “Don’t want to talk about it, huh? That’s okay — but don’t think you’re fooling anybody. Why else would a Pole be in Dresden right now, unless he was a lunatic?”

    Another excellent question.



    That evening, Jozef decided it would be wise to follow Szklenski’s advice and spend his time at a different tavern. Where the now-revealed-to-be-not-entirely-good-humored Ursula did not work.

    Szklenski himself escorted him there. “It’s where most of us Poles go,” he explained.



    So it proved.

    “You led me into a trap,” Jozef said. Accusingly, but not angrily. He wasn’t hot-tempered to begin with, and even if he had been he would have restrained himself. Being hot-tempered when you’re surrounded at a corner table in a dark tavern by eight men at least two of whom were armed with knives would be even more stupid than seducing two waitresses in one week who worked at the same establishment.

    Szklenski shrugged, looking a bit embarrassed. Only a bit, though.

    “Sorry, but we really do have to make sure,” he said. “We’ve got a good reputation with the USE guys here and we can’t afford to let it get damaged.”

    Jozef looked around. “I take it all of you are in the CoCs?”

    “We’re asking the questions, not you,” said one of them. That was Bogumil — no last name provided — whom Jozef had already pegged as the surliest of the lot. He didn’t think it was an act, either.

    “Give us some names,” said the man to Bogumil’s left. That was Waclaw, who had also failed to provide a last name. “Something.”

    Jozef thought about it, for a moment. Acting as if he were an innocent Pole not involved with politics who just happened to wander into Dresden right now was probably pointless. The question then became, what did he claim to be?

    In for a penny, in for a pound, as the up-timers said. “Krzysztof Opalinski.”

    “What about him?” That came from a third man at the table, who had provided no name at all. He was quite short, but very thick-shouldered and dangerous-looking.

    “Nothing about him,” said Jozef, sounding bored. “I hope you’re not expecting me to provide you with details of what we’re doing? How do I know you’re not spies?”

    “Who would we be spying for?” said Bogumil, jeeringly.

    Jozef shrugged. “I can think of at least half a dozen great magnates who might be employing spies in the Germanies. So can you, so let’s stop playing.”

    Bogumil started to say something but Waclaw held up his hand. “He’s right. But I want to make sure you really know him.” He stood up and help his hand, palm down, a few inches above his own head. “He’s about this tall, well-built, brown hair, blue eyes, and he favors a tight-cut beard?”

    Jozef leaned back in his chair and smiled. “That’s a pretty fair description of his younger brother Lukasz. But Krzysztof’s about two inches taller, to begin with. He’s got broad shoulders and he’s certainly in good shape, but nothing like Lukasz, who’s a hussar and bloody damn good at it. They both have brown hair and blue eyes, but Krzysztof’s hair is a bit lighter and his eyes shade into green. What else do you want to know?”

    He stood up himself — slowly, though, so as not to alarm anyone — lifted his shirt and pointed to a spot on his side just above the hip. “Krzysztof’s got a birth mark here, shaped like a crooked hourglass. His brother — as you’d expect with a hussar — has several scars. You want to know where they are and what they look like?”

    Bogumil glared up at him. “How do you know what his body looks like? You a faggot?”

    “We bathe, how else? Try it sometime.”

    Bogumil spluttered and started to get up, but Waclaw placed a hand on his shoulder and drove him back down on the bench they shared. “You started the insults, so don’t complain.”

    He studied Jozef for a few seconds, and then looked at his companions. “I think he’s probably okay. He obviously knows Krzysztof.”

    The short, muscular fellow still looked a bit dubious. “Yes, but he could have known him from something else. By his accent, he’s szlachta himself.”

    “So is one Pole in ten,” said a fellow sitting in the very corner. He was thin, sharp-featured, and called himself Kazimierz. “Including two of us at this table. Means nothing.”

    Jozef pursed his lips. “All right. The up-timer, Red Sybolt.”

    Eight pair of eyes got a bit wider. “You know Sybolt?” asked the short one.

    Jozef shook his head. “I wouldn’t say I ‘know’ him. We’ve met only twice. But that’s the business I’ve been engaged in and that’s all I’m going to say about it. The truth is, I don’t know myself where Red is right now. Or Krzysztof.”

    He said that with relaxed confidence, since for the most part it was perfectly true. He had no idea where either Red Sybolt or Krzysztof Opalinski was located at the moment. Or last month, or last year. Somewhere in the Ruthenian lands — which covered an area larger than France or Spain.

    He was fudging with the business of having met Sybolt twice. He’d never met him at all. But he had seen two photographs of the man; good enough ones that he could describe him fairly well if necessary.

    God help him, of course, if either Sybolt or Krzysztof showed up in Dresden.

    “Good enough,” said Waclaw, sitting back down. He glanced at Bogumil, who still looked angry, and slapped him playfully on the head. “Come on, you started it! Say hello to our new comrade.”

    “Hello, comrade,” Bogumil said. “And fuck both of you.”

    Szklenski laughed. “You’ll get used to him, Joe.”

    Jozef managed not to sigh. He’d gotten through months living in Grantville without getting saddled with one of those asinine American nicknames. One week in Dresden — from a fellow Pole, to boot! — and he was saddled with Joe.

    Probably a punishment visited on him by the patron saint of spies for sleeping with two women in the same week who both worked in the same tavern.

    Who was the patron saint for spies, anyway? He thought it was Joshua, but he wasn’t sure.

    He couldn’t very well ask his tablemates, under the circumstances.

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