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1636: The Saxon Uprising: Chapter Seventeen

       Last updated: Friday, January 28, 2011 07:27 EST



Luebeck, USE naval base

    “Please, have a seat.” Admiral Simpson gestured toward a comfortable looking divan with four equally-comfortable-looking chairs clustered around a low table. The ensemble was located in one half of what Ulrik took to be the admiral’s office. Part of his suite, rather. He could see other rooms connected to it, in one of which he spotted an up-time computer perched on a long desk.

    The walls were decorated with paintings, but they were seascapes rather than the usual portraits. Three of them were representations of sailing vessels underway.

    The variation from custom in the decor was a subtle reminder of the differences between the American and down-timers. At least, down-timers who could afford to commission art work in the first place. For such down-timers, the art’s purpose was in large part to remind anyone who looked — perhaps themselves, first and foremost — of their lineage. To a very large degree, though not always and not entirely, it was that ancestry which explained and justified their present status.

    Americans also cherished their ancestry, Ulrik had discovered, but the logic behind that esteem was often peculiar from a down-timer’s standpoint. He’d been struck, for instance, by the fact that several Americans with whom he’d discussed the matter claimed — with great obvious pride — to number a “Cherokee” among their ancestors. In one case, a “Choctaw.” Curious, Ulrik had looked up the references and discovered the Cherokees and Choctaws were barbarian tribes who’d been conquered by the white settlers of North America. Conquered, and then driven entirely off their land into the wilderness.

    All Americans who could do so — which many couldn’t, since they were the product of recent immigration — boasted of their polyglot lineage. Father’s side is mostly Polish, but with some Irish mixed in there. Mother’s side is part-Italian, part-Pennsylvania Dutch — those were actually Germans, not Dutch — and part Scots-Irish.

    Something along those lines was what you generally heard, where a European nobleman would stress the narrowness of his line. Its purity, to look at it another way.

    Not royal families, of course. There simply weren’t enough of them to avoid constant marriages across national lines. But that simply reinforced the status of royal blood as a special category of its own.

    For the up-timers, the pride they took in their lineage had very little to do with their present status. That was defined almost entirely by their occupation. Indeed, it was considered a mark of honor for a man to have achieved a high position without the benefit of family patronage, although such patronage was certainly common and not derided.

    So, John Chandler Simpson’s walls had paintings of ships and the sea on them. As well he might, given the ships in question. Ulrik had enjoyed this second crossing of the Baltic in an ironclad even less than the first. The warships were tolerable enough in calm waters, if you could ignore their acrid stench. But any sort of rough seas — and it didn’t take much, for a sea to be rough for an ironclad — made them thoroughly unpleasant. On two occasions, Ulrik had begun to worry that they might sink.

    The one thing he hadn’t been worried about, however, was Chancellor Oxenstierna. Had a Swedish warship crossed their path and tried to prevent the Union of Kalmar from taking its royal passengers to their destination…

    But its commander never would have tried in the first place. No more would a mouse try to impede a bull crossing a pasture. The ironclads completely dominated any patch of the seas they passed through.

    Simpson’s ironclads — and, as the diagrams and designs on some of the walls in the anteroom showed, the same man was now creating a new line of warships. Sailing ships, these, but Ulrik didn’t doubt they would overshadow any sailing ships that currently existed in any navy in the world.

    Once they were seated, Simpson asked: “Would you care for any refreshments?” He looked at Caroline Platzer. “I have some real coffee, I might mention.”

    Platzer’s hand flew to her throat, her expression one of histrionic relief and pleasure. “Oh, thank Go — gosh. Yes, admiral, please. A bit of cream, if you have it.”

    “Sugar? I have some actual sugar, too, it’s not the usual honey.”

    “Really? Then, yes, I’d appreciate some sugar also.”

    The admiral turned to the down-timers. “Your Highnesses? Mister… ah…”

    “Baldur Norddahl,” said Ulrik. “He is my… ah…”

    The admiral smiled thinly. “I’m familiar with Mr. Norddahl, at least by reputation.”

    Baldur looked a bit alarmed. Perhaps for that reason, he asked for nothing. Ulrik and Kristina both settled on broth.

    The admiral rang a small bell that had been sitting on a side table. A moment later, a servant appeared. A naval enlisted man, judging from the uniform, not a house servant.

    And there was another variation in custom. Americans used servants — indeed, ones who’d been wealthy like Simpson were quite accustomed to doing so — but they used them differently. Even a man as powerful and prestigious as Simpson did not think twice about asking his guests for their preferences, as if he were a mere waiter in a restaurant. The orders taken, he would then summon a servant to do the actual work — but he would have to summon them. Usually, with a bell of some sort. He couldn’t simply crook his finger at one of the servants already in the room. There weren’t any.

    This was an American custom that Ulrik had already adopted for his own, and had every intention of expanding into imperial practice once he and Kristina were married. He would gladly exchange the trivial chore of having to ring a bell for the great advantage of having some privacy — the one commodity that was in shortest supply for a royal family.

    There were two other advantages to the custom, as well, both of them cold-bloodedly practical. The first was that it made it more difficult for enemies to spy on you. They couldn’t just suborn one of the servants. The second was that it would add a bit to the patina of egalitarianism that Ulrik intended to slather all over the new dynasty.

    In truth, Ulrik was not burdened with any high regard for egalitarianism. But that sentiment was already burgeoning in this new world and he knew it would only continue to swell. Establishing the new dynasty’s friendliness toward the sentiment — perhaps no more than a tip of the hat, here and there, but polite formalities were important — was just part of the surfing process.



    The naval enlisted man returned shortly with a tray bearing the various refreshments ordered. The admiral himself, like Platzer, had ordered coffee. Simpson waited politely until everyone else had sipped from their cups, and then took a sip from his own.

    From the slight grimace, he found the coffee still too hot. He set down the cup and said: “I need to ask — my apologies, but this is an awkward position you’ve put me in — what your intentions are.”

    Ulrik had expected the question, and had given careful consideration to the right answer. He thought he’d come up with one that would be suitably vague without being transparently vacuous.

    Kristina made it all a moot point, however. “We’re going to Magdeburg!” she exclaimed cheerfully.

    Simpson stared at her for a moment. Then, at Ulrik. Then, at Platzer. He gave Baldur no more than a glance.

    That wasn’t an indication of anyone’s status in the admiral’s eyes, just his judgment of who was immediately critical. Quite good judgment, it turned out.

    “Your Highness” — this was said directly to Kristina — “with your permission, I would like to speak privately to Prince Ulrik.”

    She frowned. “Well…”

    “Of course, Admiral,” said Platzer. She rose and extended her hand to the princess. “Come on, Kristina.” Seeing the girl’s stubborn expression, Caroline added gently: “It’s a perfectly reasonable request on the admiral’s part.”

    Kristina was still looking stubborn.

    “Now, Kristina.”

    The girl pouted, but rose. After giving Ulrik a sharp glance — you’d better not try to keep any secrets from me! — she took Caroline’s hand and followed her out of the room. Baldur came right behind them.

    After the door closed, Simpson smiled. “I have to say I am deeply impressed.”

    Ulrik shook his head. The gesture was simultaneously admiring and rueful. “No one else can do it. I certainly can’t. Caroline’s come to be something close to the mother Kristina never had. Well… more like a very respected governess crossed with a favorite aunt. We’re quite fortunate to have found her.”

    “Yes, I think you are.” Simpson leaned forward and picked up his cup. This time, he took a full drink from it.

    “I need to know your intentions, Your Highness. Frankly, and in full. This is not a situation into which I can afford to steam blindly.”

    Ulrik had been thinking quickly ever since Kristina blurted out the truth. More precisely, he’d been trying to discipline his will after figuring out what to do. That much had taken no more than ten seconds, since he really had no alternatives.

    Unfortunately — or not; it could be argued either way — speaking frankly and in full came as unnaturally to a prince as dancing to a bear. Not… impossible, as it would have been for a fish. Just difficult to do, much less to do well.

    Where to start?

    “I’d like to avert a civil war, if possible.”

    Simpson shook his head. “So would I — but I think that time has passed.”

    Yes, difficult to do well. Ulrik had exactly the same opinion as the admiral, so why had he wasted their time with pious platitudes?

    “Well, yes, I agree. I should have said that I hope to limit the damages produced by the coming civil war.”

    “Limit them, how? I’m sorry, Your Highness –”

    “I think you’d better call me Ulrik,” the prince interrupted brusquely. Informality came no easier than speaking frankly or fully. But under these circumstances, he needed to adopt — accept, at least — another up-time custom.

    Simpson paused, then nodded. “Probably a good idea, given what we face. And please call me John.”

    “Not ‘John Chandler’?”

    The admiral smiled — quite widely, this time. “Not unless you’re announcing me to a crowd of rich people whom my wife is planning to fleece for one of her charities. Or you’re my mother about to give me a scolding.”

    Ulrik laughed. So the fearsome admiral had a sense of humor? Who would have guessed? He’d sooner expected to see a dancing fish.

    “To be honest, John, I’m feeling my way here. Operating by instinct, as I once heard an American say. If that’s too vague for you, my apologies. But it’s the simple truth.”

    “I can accept that. I’ve done the same myself, at times. Still, you must have a sense of the parameters within which your instincts are operating.”

    “Oh, yes. There are three such parameters, I think. The first is that Oxenstierna’s goal, regardless of its intrinsic merits — I’m simply not interested in that issue any longer — is impossible. For good or ill, monarchical rule and aristocratic privilege is crumbling. ‘Privilege,’ at least, insofar as it pertains to wielding political influence.”

    The admiral nodded. “That’s the critical issue. We still had plenty of noblemen in the world I came from, and a high percentage of them were still wealthy. But you were far more likely to find them gambling in the casinos in Monaco than playing for stakes on the fields of power. Go on.”

    “The second parameter is military. Neither side has a clear advantage there. The provincial armies are fairly evenly matched. I think that of the SoTF is probably better than any of the others, even the highly-regarded forces of Hesse-Kassel. But the provinces that will naturally lean toward Oxenstierna and Wettin can place more soldiers on the field.”


    “So it will come down to the Swedish mercenaries against whatever forces the democratic movement can muster.”

    “You’re overlooking the city and town militias,” said Simpson. “They’ll mostly side with Oxenstierna. Well, Wettin — they’re no fans of the chancellor. But Wettin is giving the Swedes the needed cover.”

    “That… depends a great deal on how the Fourth of July Party and the CoCs conduct themselves, John. If they’re belligerent and provocative, then yes, certainly. By and large the town militias are instruments of the patricianate, who are even less fond of the CoCs than they are of the Swedes. But if Oxenstierna is seen as the aggressor, then I think you might be surprised at how many militias will choose to stand aside. There’s a great deal of resentment toward the Swedes, although the dynasty itself is rather popular.”



    “All right. What’s the third parameter, as you see it?”

    “Legitimacy. Here again, both sides are about equally matched. It might be more accurate to say, equally mismatched.”

    The admiral grunted softly. “Both bastards, you’re saying? On one side, a bunch of scruffy lowborn radicals. On the other, a bunch of arrogant noblemen, at least some of whom are Swedish puppets.”

    “Yes, precisely. That is the reason, of course, that if Gustav Adolf still had his wits about him, none of this would be happening. He does have legitimacy, and it’s recognized by everyone. Not even the CoCs have ever challenged the dynasty; not openly, at any rate, however much they may mutter in their cups of an evening.”

    Again, there was a pause. Simpson left off his scrutiny of the prince to look out one of the windows.

    “She’s only nine years old, Ulrik,” the admiral said softly.

    “I understand that. But she’s all the nation has left, John, unless the emperor recovers. And after two months, my hopes for that happening are fading rapidly.”

    Simpson sighed. “Yes, mine too. Strokes are things people usually recover from quickly or they never recover at all. I’m not as familiar with this sort of brain injury, but I think it’s not too different.”

    His eyes came back to Ulrik. “Even if you go to Magdeburg — even if you proclaim Kristina the new empress from the steps of the royal palace — you won’t be able to stop the war. There’s too much momentum behind it now. Oxenstierna is too committed, for one thing. For another — I don’t know if you’ve heard yet — Banér has reached Dresden and his troops have been committing atrocities since they entered Saxony. The city has closed its gates to him. Gretchen Richter is now ruling Dresden — and she’s taken off all the gloves and stripped away whatever fig leaves she still had on. I don’t know if this will mean anything to you, but she’s calling the city’s new governing council the Committee of Public Safety.”

    Ulrik scowled. “Does that woman always have to sow the earth with salt?”

    “In this case, I have to say I think she’s doing the right thing. Banér has made it crystal clear that he’ll be following no rules except those of the blade. And Oxenstierna is obviously making no effort to restrain him. Under those circumstances, what do you expect Richter to do, Ulrik? Try to play nice? That would not only be pointless, it’d sap the morale of her own people. The way it is, she’s matching an ax to the Swedish sword.” His lips twisted a little. “Or a guillotine, soon enough.”

    Ulrik pursed his lips, as if he’d bitten into a lemon. “I suppose. But to get back to where we were, I don’t expect to stop the civil war, John. As I said earlier, I hope to limit the damages. And there is only one way I can see to do that. With this civil war, at any rate.”


    “End it as quickly as possible, by helping one or the other side to win. But do so in a way that precludes — limits, at least — any wreaking of vengeance in the aftermath.”

    Slowly, Simpson picked up his cup again and drained it. Just as slowly, he set it down. “You’re a nobleman, yourself. As highly ranked as it gets, in fact.” He said that in a flat, even tone. Neutral, as it were; simply a statement of fact.

    Ulrik shrugged, irritably. “Yes, I know. And I won’t claim that the course of action I propose to takes is one I find very comfortable. But reality is what it is, John, whether I like or not. Whether that imbecile Oxenstierna likes it or not.”

    The admiral chuckled. “Not often you hear those two words put together. ‘Oxenstierna’ and ‘imbecile.’ The chancellor’s actually a very intelligent man.”

    “There’s no evidence of it right now. Just the instinctive behavior of an aristocrat, as brainless as a bull in rutting season.” Ulrik waved his hand, in another irritable gesture. “In the long run, the victor in this contest is inevitable — and Oxenstierna should be able to see that for himself. All he will accomplish is to prolong the process, at the cost of great agony — and the risk of producing a Germany as distorted as the one in the universe you came from. Which is the last thing anyone needs.”

    The prince looked down at his own cup. He’d barely touched the broth, and found he had no more desire to do so now. Nothing wrong with it; the beverage was quite tasty. But when Ulrik was on edge, he lost all his appetite. It was hard to explain what he was groping for, exactly.

    “What I hope, John — it’s a gamble, I’ll be the first to agree, and probably one at long odds — is that the legitimacy Kristina can give the democratic movement if she moves to Magdeburg will tip the scale in the civil war. And because of the way she tipped it, will restrain the victors from inflicting excessive punishment on the losers.” He grimaced. “Whereas you can be sure that if they win, Oxenstierna and that pack of curs following him will drown the nation in a bloodbath even worse than the one which closed the Peasant War.”

    “Not in the SoTF, they won’t,” Simpson said, in a steely tone. “Make no mistake about this, Ulrik. I am trying to obey the law. So is Jesse Wood. So is Mike Stearns, for that matter. But if Oxenstierna starts massacring Americans, all bets are off.”

    The prince shook his head. “He won’t do that. And if someone else starts, he’ll put a stop to it. If for no other reason, no one wants to lose the Americans’ skills. He doesn’t need to destroy you Americans, John. He simply needs to hamstring your political influence. If he crushes the Committees of Correspondence and drives the Fourth of July Party under — to the fringes of power, at least — he will have accomplished that.”



    Simpson stared at him. “You’re right, you know.” He waved his hand also. “Not about the massacring business, about all of it. Americans have no magic powers. We simply… How to put it? Ignited something that would have erupted on its own anyway. You could put every American in a box and it wouldn’t matter, in the long run.”

    “Not… exactly.” Ulrik paused, while he tried to sort out his thoughts. “I think what Mike Stearns has been aiming for all along — from things he let drop in conversations; mostly from watching him — is to produce a Europe much less maimed and distorted than the one that came to be in your world. If so, with respect to his goal if not necessarily his methods, I have no dispute with him. Indeed, I’d be glad to lend a hand. And in that process, I think it’s actually rather important that as many Americans as possible be kept out of boxes.”

    He and the admiral suddenly grinned at each other.

    “Well!” said Simpson, rubbing his hands. “On that, we see eye-to-eye.”

    He leaned back in his chair and looked at the window again, for a few seconds. “All right, Ulrik. I will provide you and the princess with a refuge here. If Oxenstierna snarls at me, I will simply snarl back, point out that the laws involved are completely murky — and that if he pushes me too far, I can make his life a lot more miserable still.”

    Ulrik nodded. “Thank you. I take it you’re trying to keep the navy as neutral as possible in the conflict?”

    “Yes. Colonel Wood has agreed to do the same with the air force.”

    “Quite wise, I think. In any event, you won’t be in this awkward position for more than a few days. Just long enough for us to make suitable arrangements to get to Magdeburg.”

    “Ah… Ulrik, I’d make a suggestion.”


    “Stay here for a while. A few weeks, possibly even a month or two.”

    The prince’s eyes widened. “Why?”

    “Hard to explain. Now, I’m the one operating on instinct — and in a situation that doesn’t come naturally to me, to make things worse.” Simpson rose and went over to the window. “Back home, I was very far removed from a radical firebrand. Although I do think the charges of being a hidebound dinosaur leveled at me on occasion were quite unfair. Well, somewhat unfair.”

    For a few seconds, his hands clasped behind his back, he stared out the window. “I think you should let the situation unfold on its own, for a while. It’s going to anyway, Ulrik. Even if you pop up in Magdeburg tomorrow, you can’t stop Banér from attacking Dresden and you can’t stop Richter and her people from fighting back. You can’t stop Oxenstierna and Wettin from issuing whatever decrees they plan to issue from Berlin. One of which, by the way, I expect to be a decree that Berlin is henceforth the new capital.”

    “Yes, that’s almost certain. Go on.”

    “Once those decrees come out, there’ll be eruptions all over the Germanies — and counter-attacks, in many places. The whole nation is soon going to be drowned in chaos and hubbub. Anything you and Kristina try to say will just get lost in the ruckus.”

    Ulrik thought about it. The admiral… had a point.

    “In a month or so, though, the situation will be a lot clearer. At that point, moving to Magdeburg would have a tremendous impact. Probably not enough it itself to tip the scales. But…”

    “But… what?”

    Simpson scratched his chin. “There’s one other variable we haven’t talked about. That’s Mike Stearns, sitting in Bohemia with a whole division at hand. And I happen to know — old boys’ network, if you will — that he’s made sure he can get back to Saxony very quickly, if and when the time comes.”

    Ulrik felt his face grow a bit pale. A bit paler, rather. He was a Danish prince whom no one would ever mistake for an Italian.

    “Dear Lord,” he whispered. “That would…”

    He shook his head abruptly. “But do you think he’d do it?”

    “Mike?” Simpson’s tone was steely again. “Of all the stupid things Oxenstierna is doing, that’s the stupidest. He’d do better to ask Lennart Torstensson instead of listening to his cronies.”

    Ulrik didn’t understand the reference to Torstensson. His puzzlement must have shown.

    “Sorry, you weren’t there. I was standing next to Torstensson when the Magdeburg Crisis blew up. Me, Lennart and Mike Stearns. I’ve forgotten Mike’s exact words, but they were something like this.” His voice got that slight singsong that people slide into when they recite something from memory. “‘I’ll compromise, if possible, but don’t make the mistake of thinking I don’t know whose side I’m on.’

    “He then pointed to a man standing nearby, in the crowd watching us. I don’t know if the name will mean anything to you, but the man he pointed to was Gunther Achterhof.”

    Ulrik shook his head. “No, I’m afraid it doesn’t.”

    “Gunther Achterhof is one of the central leaders of the CoC in Magdeburg, which is without a doubt the most radically-inclined CoC in the Germanies. And even in that crowd, he’s considered implacable.”


    “Lennart believed him. Then, and I imagine still now. I’m pretty sure, in fact, that’s why he’s been content to stay in Poznán, rather than intervene in what’s taking place in Berlin. For somewhat different reasons, he’s probably just as concerned as I am to keep the armed forces neutral and out of the direct fighting. Because he knows that sooner or later, a demon prince is going to come boiling out of Bohemia.”

    “Uh… when, would you think?”

    The admiral’s smile was now almost seraphic. “Oh, don’t ever mistake Mike Stearns for a hothead. That man knows how to bide his time with the best of them.”

    “Ah. I see.” After a while, the smile that came to Ulrik’s face could almost be described as seraphic itself.

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