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1636: The Saxon Uprising: Chapter Fourteen

       Last updated: Friday, January 7, 2011 07:31 EST



    “We are ready, then?” Gretchen looked at Tata.

    Tata looked at Eric Krenz. “Our people are ready. He’ll have to answer for the soldiers.”

    Eric had taken off his hat when he entered the conference room and hung it on a hook by the door. Now, he wished he were still wearing it. He could pull down the brim in order to avoid Gretchen’s gaze without having to look away from her entirely.

    “He hates giving a straight answer to anything, Gretchen,” said Tata. “You know that.”

    “Yes, and normally I accommodate him. But I can’t this time. We need to know. Now.” She turned her head to look at a man sitting at the far end of the long conference table. That was Wilhelm Kuefer, one of the Vogtlanders. Their leader Georg Kresse had appointed him to serve as liaison to Dresden’s Committee of Correspondence.

    “Tell him, Wilhelm,” she said.

    “Banér’s cavalrymen burned three more villages yesterday. The populations of two of them ran off in time, but the people in the third one got caught sleeping. There weren’t any survivors except for — we’re not sure about this, but we couldn’t find any such bodies — perhaps the young women.”

    Gretchen turned back to face Eric, who was sitting across the table from her. “That makes nine villages so far — and these three were right out in the Saxon plain, not in the mountains. There is no way this is happening without Banér’s approval. Tacit approval, maybe, but he’s still responsible.”

    She stopped and waited.

    And waited.

    Eric felt like screaming: I’m just a fucking lieutenant! How am I supposed to know if we can hold the bastards off?

    But he knew what Tata’s response would be. She’d point to herself with a thumb — I’m just a tavern-keeper’s daughter — and then at Gretchen with a forefinger. And her father ran a print shop. So stop whining.

    Gretchen was quite obviously prepared to wait all day for his answer. By mid-afternoon, though, Tata’s sarcasm would become unbearable.

    “Yes,” he said, sighing. “I think. As best I can tell.”

    “Not good enough, Lieutenant Krenz.” Gretchen’s voice was soft but her tone was iron. “I do not ask for guarantees. That would be silly. But I need a more firm response than that. If I order the gates closed and openly forbid Banér from coming into the city, that moment I make myself and every person in Dresden an outlaw. If the Swedes break in, they’ll massacre half the population.”

    “As it is, even if we let them in without a fight, they’ll kill some people,” said Tata. “Me and Gretchen, for sure, if they catch us. Any CoC member — and there’ll be plenty who’ll serve as informers to ferret them out. There are always toadies, anywhere you go.”

    Eric rose, strode to the door, plucked his hat off the hook, jammed it on, and came back to the table.

    “I feel better now. Don’t ask me why the hat makes a difference. It just does. Here’s your answer, Gretchen. It may not be what you want but it’s the only answer I can give you. I don’t honestly know if we can hold off Banér. There are too many unknown variables in the equation. To name what’s probably the biggest, what will von Arnim do? If he adds his ten thousand men to Banér’s fifteen, we’ll be very badly outnumbered.”

    He took a deep breath, to steel his will. “Here’s what I will promise. If you can hold the city’s populace firm, we’ll bleed the bastards till they’re white as sheets. If they do take the city, there won’t be more than half of them left standing.”

    She nodded. “That’s good enough, I think. Those are mercenaries out there. If you bleed them enough, I think they’ll start deserting in droves. And we’re into winter, now. Disease will start ravaging them.”

    “Ravage the city also,” said Friedrich Nagel. His tone was dark — but then, it usually was. Eric’s fellow lieutenant was possibly the most pessimistic man he’d ever met. Odd, really, that they’d become such good friends.

    Gretchen made a face. It wasn’t a grimace; just an expression that conveyed the stoic outlook that was such an inseparable part of the woman. Nagel called it “the Richter Lack of Rue.”

    “Not as badly as they’ll suffer,” she said. “Our patrols maintain sanitation a lot better than Banér will.”

    “Well, that’s true,” said Friedrich. One thing you could always count on with Nagel was that he was a dispassionate pessimist. It wasn’t that he thought his lot in life was particularly hard. Everyone’s was, including his enemies. Eric would have assumed the attitude was that of a stark Calvinist, except that he knew Friedrich was an outright freethinker. What the up-timers called a deist. He didn’t think God had any personal animus against him. He’d simply set the universe in motion and went on His way, indifferent to the details that followed. Does a miller care if an unlucky gnat gets crushed between the stones, so long as the flour gets made?

    Gretchen now looked back at Kuefer. “Have you gotten an answer from Kresse?”

    She didn’t specify the question involved, because she didn’t need to. Everyone at the table knew that she’d proposed that the Vogtlanders unite formally with Dresden instead of simply maintaining a liaison.

    Wilhelm nodded. “Yes. Georg says he’ll agree to it — on one condition. We’re not joining the CoCs. Meaning no offense, but we don’t necessarily agree with you on all issues and we reserve the right to express such disputes openly and publicly.”

    “Understood,” said Gretchen. “We have the same arrangement with the Ram people in Franconia. So does the Fourth of July Party.”

    She looked around the table. The majority of people sitting there were members of the city’s Committee of Correspondence. “Anybody disagree?”



    She waited patiently, long enough to give anyone with doubts a chance to speak up. They would have done so, too. Richter was the dominant figure at that table, but she was not domineering. In fact, she went out of her way to make sure people felt at ease and were not afraid to express their opinions. That was a good part of the reason she was so dominant, of course. Her followers trusted her, they weren’t simply cowed by her.

    “All right, then. We’ll need to form a new committee to take charge of the resistance against the Swedes. Politically neutral, as it were. I propose one-third of the seats will be held by the CoC, one-third will be divided between the soldiers, the militias, and the city council — however they choose to divide them — and the remaining third will be split evenly between the Vogtlanders and representatives of the towns in the plain.

    That was an exceedingly generous gesture on the part of the CoC, especially toward the Vogtlanders. Of course, the generosity was more formal than real, in some ways. The militias and especially the regular soldiers were so heavily influenced by the CoC that they could be relied upon to follow its guidance. Even the city council by now was close to the CoC, since most of its former patrician members had fled the city.

    Still, the formalities were significant, not just empty posturing. The fact that Richter was willing to make such a proposal indicated that she would listen to people outside the CoC also.

    “We’ll need a new name for it, Gretchen,” said Tata.

    “Yes, I know. I propose to call it the Committee of Public Safety.”

    Eric had to stifle a sudden, semi-hysterical laugh. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Friedrich’s lips purse.

    But Nagel didn’t say anything. Looking around the table, Eric realized that he and his fellow lieutenant were the only ones there — leaving aside Gretchen herself, he presumed — who understood the historical allusion.

    “I like it,” grunted Kuefer. “It’s neutral sounding but it ought to send the right message to the Swedes.”



    After the meeting broke up, Eric and Friedrich waited for Gretchen in the corridor outside the conference chamber.

    “What is it?” she asked, when she emerged. “I don’t have much time right now. I need to give Wettin the news myself. I don’t want him hearing it first in the form of rumor.”

    Eric cleared his throat. “Friedrich and I were talking and… ah… that title for the committee you proposed…”

    “That I proposed and everyone agreed to, including you. At least, you raised no objection. What about it?”

    “Well… ah… some people might think we were being provocative…” He trailed off.

    “For God’s sake, Gretchen,” burst out Nagel, “it’s the name Robespierre and his people used!”

    “Leaving aside the metaphysical issue of whether the verb ‘use’ makes sense in the past tense for something that won’t happen for a century and a half in another universe, you’re right. That’s why I chose it.”

    She paused and gave both of them a cold stare. “Since you’ve apparently read the history, I will point out that this same Committee of Public Safety was responsible for defeating every one of the royalist nations who invaded France to restore the king. The reactionary propagandists against Robespierre and Danton don’t like to talk much about that, do they?”

    “But…” Eric felt his face grow pale. “Surely you don’t propose to erect a guillotine in the central square?”

    She frowned. “Why in the world would we do that, when we’ve got plenty of stout German axes at hand? We’re not French sissies.”

    She swept off, down the corridor, headed toward the administrator’s chambers.

    “I… think that was a joke,” ventured Friedrich.

    Eric took off his hat and ran fingers through his hair. Then, jammed it back on. “With Gretchen, who knows? But we’ll take that as our working hypothesis. Anyway, what’s the difference? We’ll probably all be dead in a couple of months anyway, between Banér and typhus.”

    “Don’t forget the plague,” said Friedrich, as they began walking in the other direction. He was more chipper already, now that he had catastrophes to dwell on. “Always a reliable guest in such affairs. And I hear there’s a new disease we’ll be encountering one of these days. They call it ‘cholera.’ It’s quite fascinating. Apparently, your bowels turn to water and you shit and puke yourself to death.”



    After Gretchen Richter left his office, Ernst Wettin rose from his desk and went to the northern window. That provided him with his favorite view of the valley.

    There were settlements over there on the north bank of the Elbe, but the big majority of the city’s populace lived south of the river. He’d been told by a friend who’d gotten a look at an up-time travel guide in Grantville that someday — about half a century from now, during a period they would call “the Baroque” — the city would expand greatly over there. But in this day and age, the walls of the city did not include those north bank settlements. They’d have no protection once a siege began.

    They wouldn’t be there much longer, however. One of the things Richter had told him was that she’d ordered the destruction of all buildings north of the river. Most of the inhabitants had already fled into the city, as news spread of the atrocities being committed by the oncoming Swedish army. Richter would have the ones who remained evacuated also, and then they’d burn everything to the ground.

    She’d sent orders to have every village within ten miles evacuated and burned also. The inhabitants would either come into the city or find refuge with the Vogtlanders in the mountains to the south. Banér and his army would have no choice but to spend the coming winter in camps.

    Technically, the orders would come from this new “Committee of Public Safety.” (Odd title, that. He wondered where they’d gotten it from?) Because of the very visible and prominent place on it given to the Vogtlanders and leaders of some of the important towns in the plain, those orders would probably be obeyed, too.



    She hadn’t said so, but Ernst was quite sure that it had been Richter herself who saw to it that the rural folk had plenty of representation on the new Committee. She’d understood that Dresden had to have the support of the surrounding countryside — all of Saxony, not just the city itself — if it was to withstand a siege by an army the strength of Banér’s. And that same support would be a constant drain on the besiegers.

    Regardless of who sat on the Committee, the driving will was Richter’s. She made even the notoriously harsh Georg Kresse seem soft, once she’d decided on a course of action. The woman had always been polite and pleasant in her dealings with him, but Ernst had not fooled himself. Beneath that attractive surface lay a granite mind; as unyielding as the Alps and as ruthless as an avalanche.

    They had no idea what they were unleashing, those idiots in Berlin. They dreamed of another bloodbath like the one that had drowned the rebellion during the Peasant War, that would once again restore their power and privileges. But even that slaughter had only stemmed the tide for a century.

    What was a century? Nothing, if a man was capable of stepping back and measuring human affairs by a yardstick longer than his own life — and what was a life? Also nothing, if a man was capable of stepping back and measuring his soul against eternity.

    But… they listened to those parsons they chose to listen to. The ones who assured them that the Almighty who created the sun and the moon and the heavens favored the wealthy and powerful — never mind what the Christ said — and would approve of their butchery. The God who filled oceans would gaze with favor upon the men who filled abattoirs.

    Idiots, now; greater idiots still, when they faced judgment.

    For butchery it would have to be. Richter would not yield, and neither would her followers — who now included hundreds of soldiers from the regular army’s Third Division. Whose commander had somehow forgotten them.

    That would be Mike Stearns. The same man whom Ernst’s brother had once described, half-angrily and half-admiringly, with the up-time expression “he’s got a mind like a steel trap.”

    That would be his brother Wilhelm, now one of the idiots in Berlin. What had happened to him? How and when had he lost his judgment and his good sense?

    What did Wilhelm think would happen when those soldiers in Dresden came under fire from a Swedish army? Did he — did that still greater idiot Oxenstierna — think Stearns would remain obediently in Bohemia?

    For a time, maybe. Probably, in fact. In his own way, Stearns was every bit as ruthless as Richter. He was quite capable of biding his time while the defenders of Dresden bled Banér’s army — and von Arnim’s too, if he ventured out of Leipzig.

    But sooner or later, he would be back. Leading the same soldiers who defeated the Poles at Zwenkau and Zielona Góra, and now had their comrades threatened by Banér. Did they think those soldiers would refuse to follow Stearns?

    Were they mad?

    And what did they think Torstensson would do with the rest of the USE army? At best, he would hold them in Poland, out of the fray — because if they joined that fray, they would certainly not join it on behalf of Oxenstierna.

    The whole nation would dissolve into civil war. There was no way of knowing in advance who would win, but if Ernst had been a gambling man — which he most certainly was not — he would not have placed his wager on Berlin.

    There was a blindness that came with power, if the man who wielded it was not careful. One got accustomed to obedience, to having one’s will enforced. The idea that it could be thwarted — certainly by a wretch who’d been no more than a printer’s daughter and a near-prostitute — faded into the shadows. Became unthinkable, even. The practical realities of power transmuted as if by a philosopher’s stone into a self-evident law of nature.

    I am mighty because I am, and therefore always will be.

    He sighed, shook his head, and returned to his desk. Sitting down, he pulled some sheets of paper from a drawer and took out his pen.

    No miserable quill pen, this. He only used those for public display. This was an up-time fountain pen, which he’d purchased in Grantville. The type that could be continually refilled, not the much cheaper kind that had to be thrown away after a while. He’d had it for two years now, and adored the thing. It was worth every dollar — the very many dollars — he’d spent on it.

    Later, he’d write to his brother Wilhelm. That letter would be useless anyway, since Wilhelm had made it quite clear he was no longer listening. Ernst would write it purely out of a sense of family obligation.

    The letter he would write first would be equally useless, of course, if you looked at it solely in terms of its immediate effect. But Ernst was not one of those idiots who confused days with months and years with centuries.

    He would give no legitimacy to this madness. Come what may, to him as well as the city. He also did not confuse a life with eternity.

    He did not bother with the customary salutations. Under the circumstances, flowery prose was just silly.

    General Johan Banér –

    I remind you that I am the administrator of Saxony. The appointment was given to me directly by Gustav II Adolf, Emperor of the United States of Europe, and has not been rescinded by him.

    Dresden is in good order. There is neither cause nor justification for your army to enter the city. I therefore order you to keep a distance of fifteen miles, lest your presence provoke disturbances.

    Ernst Wettin, Administrator of Saxony, Duke of Saxe-Weimar

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