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1636: The Saxon Uprising: Chapter Nineteen

       Last updated: Wednesday, February 9, 2011 07:33 EST




    “For pity’s sake, we’re about to launch our great campaign!” It was all Oxenstierna could not to snarl openly. “Your Grace,” he added, in an attempt to remain polite.

    A pointless attempt. “I remind you again that I’m no longer a duke,” said Wilhelm Wettin stiffly. “And as for the other, I think a plot to commit treason in collusion with a hostile foreign power needs to take precedence over our domestic concerns.”

    The Swedish chancellor stared down at the smaller man. For a moment, he was disoriented by a clutter of disconnected thoughts. He hadn’t foreseen this development.

    We’re dealing with a matter of internal treason, you idiot, which is far more dangerous than anything else.

    Maximilian is playing over his head, anyway. We can get the Oberpfalz back soon enough, once order is established.

    One of the first things we’ll do once we’ve consolidated power is get rid of that “house of commons” nonsense. Can there be anything more absurd than a duke having to give up his title in order to rule?

    How in God’s name did he find out?

    The answer to the last question was probably the simplest. The problem with working through men like Johann Ludwig was that they were… well, men like Johann Ludwig. The count of Nassau-Hadamar had none of the great virtues, so why should it be surprising that he lacked the lesser ones as well? Such as being able to keep his mouth shut and refrain from bragging.

    No matter. Johann Ludwig was playing over his head too. Oxenstierna had been careful not to deal with the man directly. When the time came, and Duke Maximilian of Bavaria needed to be humbled again, the count of Nassau-Hadamar’s treasonous role could be exposed and the man sent to the executioner’s block.

    For the moment, there was this much greater problem of Wettin to deal with. The USE’s prime minister had been balking more and more at the necessary measures to be taken, as time went by. He’d become a nuisance to everyone, especially Oxenstierna.

    Perhaps more to the point, he’d also by now thoroughly aggravated most of his own followers. The staunch ones, by his vacillations; those even more inclined toward compromise, such as the landgravine of Hesse-Kassel, by his accommodations.

    So, perhaps not such a great problem after all.

    He placed a hand on Wettin’s shoulder. “There’s someone you need to speak to, who is intimately familiar with the Bavarian situation. The information you’ve received, from whatever source that might be” — which you’ve refused to tell me, but he left that unsaid — “has grossly misrepresented the true state of affairs.”

    Again, the prime minister nodded stiffly. “I assure you, Chancellor, that no one would be happier to be proven wrong than myself, with regard to this matter.”

    “Please wait here, then, while I fetch the person. If won’t take but a moment.”

    Wettin’s head inclined toward the sound of the crowd in the nearby assembly hall. No one was orating or shouting slogans, at the moment, since they were all waiting for Oxenstierna and Wettin to appear. But that large a crowd makes a lot of noise just standing around and talking to each other.

    Understanding the gesture, Oxenstierna gave the prime minister’s shoulder a friendly little squeeze. “The mob can wait, Wilhelm. Reassuring you regarding this Bavarian business is more important.” And with that, he left.



    As he’d promised the prime minister, he returned very quickly. Within less than a minute, in fact. For weeks, the chancellor had made sure that the Swedish soldiers who served Wettin as bodyguards were completely reliable. The two he found currently on duty just outside the prime minister’s quarters would do as well as any.

    “I’m afraid I have to put you under arrest, Your Grace,” Oxenstierna announced, quietly and coldly.

    Wettin stared at the two guards approaching him. At the last minute, he tried to draw the sword scabbarded to his waist. It was a valiant if pointless gesture. The sword was a ceremonial blade; capable of killing a man, to be sure, but not really well-suited to the task. The soldiers, in contrast, were armed with halberds and pistols.

    They were also quite a bit larger than the prime minister and in much better physical condition. Wettin was a fairly young man, still, not even forty years of age. But he’d spent the past few years in sedentary pursuits, where these men were in their twenties and had remained physically active. It was the work of but a few seconds to subdue him.

    Wettin began shouting. Curses at Oxenstierna, at the moment, but it wouldn’t be long before he began calling for help.

    In all likelihood, none would come. But there was no point taking the risk.

    “Gag him,” Oxenstierna commanded. “Place him for the moment in my chambers. Keep him gagged and under close watch until I return.”

    That wouldn’t be for some hours, which would be most unpleasant for Wettin. Having a cloth gag in one’s mouth was a nuisance for a short time; uncomfortable, for an hour; and the cause of bleeding sores after several. But the man had made his choice, so let him live with it.

    On his way to the assembly hall, Oxenstierna pondered the prime minister’s — no, the former prime minister’s — final disposition.

    Executing him would be unwise. That would stiffen the resistance of such people as Amalie Elizabeth of Hesse-Kassel and Duke George of Brunswick, not to mention the man’s two brothers still in the USE. Ernst Wettin had to be replaced in Saxony anyway, of course, since he’d also proven unreliable. But he and Albrecht would remain influential in some circles regardless of the positions they currently held.

    There was no way of knowing what reaction Wilhelm’s execution would elicit from his youngest brother Bernhard. But for the moment, that was another pot that Oxenstierna would just as soon leave unstirred.

    And there was no need for such drastic action, anyway. Oxenstierna was not given to killing people for the sake of it. Exiling Wettin to one of the more isolated castles in Sweden — even better, Finland — would serve the chancellor’s purposes perfectly well. The former prime minister really had worn out his welcome even with his own followers. A popular pretender kept in exile always posed a potential threat. Wilhelm Wettin would not.



    Oxenstierna’s assessment proved quite accurate. He began the assembly by making the announcement that Wilhelm Wettin had been discovered plotting with seditious elements and been placed under arrest. Following the laws of the USE, his successor would be whatever person was chosen by the party in power, the Crown Loyalists. The Swedish chancellor elided over the fact that he had no authority in the USE to be arresting anyone and that he was planning to discard those same laws as soon as possible.

    “If you will allow me to offer my advice, I would recommend that you choose Johann Wilhelm Neumair von Ramsla.” He pointed to an elderly man seated in the front row.

    Von Ramsla stared back at him, his mouth agape. The chancellor’s proposal came as a complete surprise to the man. He’d played no part in the dealings with Bavaria, of course. Johann Wilhelm was a political theorist, full to the brim with axiomatic principles — hardly the sort of man you wanted to use for such gray purposes. However, he’d be splendid as the new prime minister. The combination of his age — he was in his mid-sixties — and his ineffectual temperament would make him a pliant tool for the eventual destruction of his own office.

    There was silence in the room for a few seconds. Then, a few more seconds in which the room was filled with quiet hubbub, as people hastily consulted with each other in whispers. Then, not more than ten seconds after the Swedish chancellor stopped speaking, a man toward the back of the huge chamber climbed onto his chair and shouted:

    “Hurrah for the new prime minister! I vote for Johann Wilhelm!”

    That was Johann Schweikhard, Freiherr von Sickingen. As a nobleman, he had no business casting a vote for the leader of the Crown Loyalists in the House of Commons, but no one in that chamber cared very much about such legal niceties any more. At least a third of the crowd were also noblemen, after all.

    Not more than two seconds later, a roar of approval erupted. If not from the entire crowd, certainly from its majority.

    Given that he was ignoring all rules anyway, Oxenstierna decided he could safely accept that roar as a vote of approval by acclamation. He stepped down onto the floor of the assembly hall, took Johann Wilhelm by the arm, and hauled him onto the dais. Von Ramsla made no resistance, even if he was not exactly active in his so-very-rapid rise to power.

    Oxenstierna saw no point in giving the old man the speaker’s podium, however. Von Ramsla was a fig leaf, and the sooner he learned that fig leaves were mute, the better.

    “And now, my friends, let us move on to the purpose of this assembly. The first order of business is to adopt our new Charter of Rights and Duties.” He swept the crowd with his forefinger. “You’ve all had time to read the Charter, by now, so I will move to a vote by acclamation of each point in order.”

    He paused just long enough to allow everyone to take their copy of the charter in hand, if they didn’t have it in hand already.

    “Point One. The capital and seat of government of the United States of Europe is henceforth to be located in Berlin.”

    Huge roar of approval.

    “Point Two. For purposes of determining citizenship –”



    Colonel Erik Haakansson Hand found out about Wilhelm Wettin’s arrest at the same time everyone else did, from Oxenstierna’s announcement at the assembly. (The “convention,” they were calling it — and never mind that the event was more in the nature of a staged political rally than anything you could reasonably call a deliberative undertaking.) He wasn’t quite as surprised as most people present, because the tensions between the USE prime minister and the Swedish chancellor had become quite obvious to him. Still; Erik certainly hadn’t expected the development.

    Why? he wondered. Oxenstierna’s terse explanation didn’t make a lot of sense to him. “Plotting with seditious elements.” Which elements, and what was the nature of the plot?

    A thought suddenly occurred to him. He left the assembly hall and made his way hurriedly to the nearest of the city’s gates. Fortunately, the sky was clear and there was still at least an hour of daylight left.

    Nothing. The guards said no one of any significance had left the city within the past few days.

    He then made his way to the southwestern gate, the Leipziger Thor.

    Again, nothing. And the same at Cöpenicker Thor.

    By now, evening had come. He was about to give up the project but decided to make one last effort at the southeastern gate, the Stralower Thor.

    Finally, success. A result, at least. Whether it was significant or not was still to be determined.

    “Yesterday, around this time,” the guard said, nodding firmly. “I remember them because they were unpleasant. Both of them.”

    “Hard to pick between the two,” chimed in one of the other guards. “Baron Shithead and Ritter Asshole.”

    Erik chuckled. “I know the type. But do you remember their actual names?”

    “It’ll be in the record book,” said a third soldier, standing in the entrance to the guardhouse. “I’ll go check.”

    He was back with the names in short order. Hand knew both of the men, although not particularly well. One of them was a baron, in point of fact, a Freiherr from the Province of the Main. His companion was not a nobleman at all, on the other hand. He was a guildmaster and one of the leaders of the Crown Loyalist party in Frankfurt.

    The Freiherr had certainly not been close to Wettin. He’d been one of the prime minister’s more vociferous critics, in fact. Erik didn’t know about the guildmaster, but what he did know was that the Crown Loyalists of Frankfort were a particularly reactionary bunch. That was probably a reaction to the city’s very influential and prominent Committee of Correspondence.

    The point being that neither man was likely to have feared repercussions if Wettin was arrested — and they’d left the city a day earlier, in any event.

    Was there any connection between these two men and the prime minister’s fall from power? Or was their departure simply a coincidence?

    But if it was a coincidence, why did they leave Berlin now — literally, on the eve of their triumph? Hand would double-check with his many contacts and agents, but he was almost certain that both men had been members of the faction which had been most critical of Wettin.

    Slowly, thinking as he walked, the colonel made his way back to the palace. While serving with Duke Ernst in the Oberpfalz, Erik had come to know an American officer named Jake Ebeling. The two had become something in the way of friends. When Ebeling learned that Hand could read English, he lent him a copy of what he said was one of his three favorite books. Alice in Wonderland, by a certain Lewis Carroll.

    Colonel Hand had found the book quite charming and remembered a bit of it.

    “Curiouser and curiouser,” he murmured. “Curiouser and curiouser.”

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