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1636: The Saxon Uprising: Chapter Twenty Three

       Last updated: Friday, March 4, 2011 07:33 EST



Paris, capital of France

   After he finished reading Servien’s précis of the latest reports from France’s agents in the United States of Europe, Cardinal Richelieu rose from his desk and went over to one of the window in his palace. The Palais-Cardinal had been completed five years earlier. It faced directly onto the Louvre and his office gave him a marvelous view of the royal palace from which, ultimately, derived the cardinal’s own power.

   Behind him, the intendant Servien studied his master with considerable sympathy. It couldn’t be pleasant for him to contemplate the state of affairs in the USE. France’s chief minister was in much the same position as a tethered hawk, forced to watch squabbling doves heedless of his presence. The tether, in his case, being France’s own very tense internal political situation. What reliable troops the cardinal still had in his possession needed to be kept close at hand.

   Feeling the need to say something, Servien cleared his throat. “It’s a great pity, isn’t it? To have to sit here and do nothing.”

   The cardinal lifted his shoulders slightly, as if he’d begun a shrug and found it too much effort. “Just another reminder, Servien, if we needed it. God created the world. We did not.”

   Was there a trace of reproach in his tone? A suggestion that the Almighty had fallen down on the job, here and there?

   Probably not. Unlike a hawk, Armand Jean du Plessis de Richelieu was philosophically inclined by nature. Not what any sane person would call a contemplative man — certainly not any one of the cardinal’s many enemies. Or, if you could summon their ghosts, the even larger number of enemies he’d put in the grave. Still, he had a capacity to accept the trials and tribulations of fate in a calm and stoic manner.

   He’d needed it, these past few years.



Madrid, capital of Spain

   The chief minister of the Spanish crown, Gaspar de Guzmán, Count-Duke of Olivares, was far less inclined toward philosophy than Cardinal Richelieu — and his master the king of Spain less inclined still.

   “You’re saying we can’t do anything?”

   Olivares kept his eyes from meeting the king’s gaze directly. Philip IV’s tone of voice had a shrill quality that indicated his temper was badly frayed. He was normally not a bad master to serve — indeed, he could often be quite a pleasant one. But he was also a devotee of bull-fighting, and in times like this was prone to act as if he was a torero in the arena himself. With, alas, one or another of his ministers designated as the bull.


   “Nothing?” Angrily, the king slammed his palm down on the table that served him for a desk in his private audience chamber, on those occasions when he felt like dealing with affairs of state directly. Infrequent occasions, fortunately.

   “Your Majesty…”

   “Why am I paying for my tercios, then?”

   Olivares decided this was not the time to point out that the king’s payment of his soldiers was erratic. That was traditionally true for Spanish armies, but the situation had gotten even worse than usual of late.

   “Answer me!”

   There’d be no way to divert the king, obviously. Not today, after he’d just finished reading the latest reports on the turmoil that had enveloped the United States of Europe.

   “We simply can’t do anything, Your Majesty. Between the unrest in Portugal and Catalonia –”

   “Why were those seditious books not banned?”

   “They were banned, Your Majesty, but…”

   It was hard to explain such things to a man who’d been born, raised and spent his entire life in the cloistered surroundings of Spanish royalty. Banning unpleasant items from the Real Alcazar was one thing; banning them from Spain, quite another. Spain was one of Europe’s largest countries and more than nine-tenths of its borders were seacoast — more than three thousand miles of seacoast. Not all the tercios in the world could police it effectively, assuming Spain could afford the payroll — which it certainly couldn’t.

   Smuggling was even more of a national pastime for Spaniards than bull-fighting. How did the king imagine that it would be possible to keep out copies of Grantville’s texts on Spanish and Portuguese history, when smugglers routinely handled livestock? All the more so because there weren’t that many of those texts, and most of them were just a few pages excerpted from encyclopedias.

   A few pages, alas, were more than enough to encourage Portuguese and Catalan rebels to persist in their nefarious activity. In that cursed world the Americans came from, Portugal and Catalonia had rebelled in 1640 — not more than five years from now. And while the Catalan revolt failed in its purpose, it had been a very close thing. As it was, Spain lost much of the province to France.

   Not surprisingly, the Catalan malcontents in this universe were simply being encouraged to try harder.

   Fortunately, the king was distracted by other thoughts. Blessedly, by angry thoughts toward someone other than his chief minister. “It’s because of that fucking Borja, isn’t it?”

   This was not safe terrain, certainly, but it was safer than the terrain they’d been treading on. “Yes, Your Majesty, I’m afraid so. Cardinal Borja’s…ah, papal adventure –”

   “His adventure? Say better, his lunacy — no, his rampant vanity — better still, his plunge into Satanic pride!”

   “Yes, Your Majesty. Well said! Whatever we call it, though, his actions have stirred up a great deal of unrest through Italy, including in our own possessions.”

   “Indeed.” The king’s glare was still ferocious, but at least it now had a different focus. “Explain to me again, Gaspar, why I can’t have the bastard assassinated?”

   “Ah, well… That would just compound the damage, I’m afraid. As I said before, Your Majesty, Borja’s precipitate action has simply left us with few options, and none of them very good. If we kill him — if anyone kills him — then there’s little doubt that Urban will take back the papacy. And he’s…ah…”

   “Now bitterly hostile to us on the picayune grounds that we overthrew him and murdered several dozen of his bishops and cardinals, including his nephew Francesco.”

   “Well. Yes.”

   The king spent the next minute or so calling down a variety of divine ills and misfortunes on the person of Cardinal Gaspare de Borja y de Velasco. The tirade spilled over into outright blasphemy — not that even the boldest of Spain’s inquisitors would have said a word on the subject, with the king in his current mood. It was notable also that at no time did Philip IV refer to Borja by any title other than profane and profoundly vulgar ones. He certainly never used the man’s newly-minted title of “pope.”

   When he finally wound down, most of his fury seemed to have been spent. It was replaced by a sort of sullen resignation that was not pleasant to deal with, but no longer really dangerous.

   “The essence of the matter is that we have no resources to do anything significant about the heretics. The USE crumbles — the same swine who — ah! Never mind! It’s too aggravating to even think about! We just have to sit here, on our hands, and do nothing.”

   Olivares decided to interpret that as the king’s summation rather than a question. That way he could avoid, once again, having to say “Yes, we can’t” where the king wanted to hear “No, we can.”



Brussels, capital of the Netherlands

    The king in the Netherlands — Fernando I, as he now titled himself, being the founder of his new dynasty — looked around the conference table at his closest advisers.

    “We’re all agreed, then? We will take no advantage of the current civil conflict in the USE. Beyond, of course, using it to apply more leverage in existing negotiations over trade matters and minor border disputes.”

    They’d decided on that term toward the beginning of the conference. “Civil conflict,” as opposed to “civil war.” There were important connotations involved.

    The advisers, in turn, all looked around the table, gauging each other’s expressions.

    Rubens provided the summary. “Yes, Your Majesty, we’re agreed. The benefits involved simply aren’t worth the risks.”

    “Small benefits,” said Alessandro Scaglia, “with very great risks.”

    One of the advisers wiggled his fingers. “I don’t disagree with the decision, but I don’t honestly think the risks are that great.”

    “No?” said Miguel de Manrique. The soldier’s expression was grim. “Stearns might come back to power, you know. He’s bad enough, but what’s worse is that he’d only do so if Richter holds Dresden. How would you like it if she came back here, with a grudge to settle?”

    Archduchess Isabella’s hand flew to her throat. “Oh, dear God. Nephew, listen to Manrique! None of your headstrong ways, you hear? King or not, I won’t have it. I want some peace and quiet in these last few months before I slip into the grave.”



Poznan', Poland

    “The king is adamant, and the Sejm still more so. That’s just the way it is, young Opalinski. They’ll have no talk of a peace settlement.”

    Stanislaw Koniecpolski shifted his shoulders under the heavy bearskin coat. Even for January, the day was cold, but the grand hetman wouldn’t be seen shivering in public. It was hard not to, though.

    Lukasz Opalinski wasn’t even trying. He had his hands tucked into his armpits and was making a veritable stage drama out of shivering.

    “Dear God, it’s cold!” he hissed. Then, tight-faced: “And I suppose they insisted once again that we had to sally from the gates and smite the invaders. Applying the brilliant tactic of a hussar charge through deep snow against rifled muskets firing from well-built fieldworks.”

    Koniecpolski chuckled. “They did indeed. But there, I’m afraid, they are trespassing onto my rightful territory, and I am not legally obliged to listen to the silly beggars. No, rest easy, young man. There’ll be no idiotic sallies out of the gates of Poznan'. We’ll stay behind these walls in comfort — using the term loosely, I admit — while the German shits freeze out there.”

    He did another shift of his shoulders. A rapid succession of shifts, actually. Not an outright shiver, but certainly a close cousin. “Besides, there’s a bright side to continuing the war.”

    Koniecpolski had his own hands tucked into opposing sleeves of his coat. Not wanting to expose them to the elements, he used a gesture of his head to point to the compound behind them. From their height atop one of the bastions, they had a good view of the now-largely-dismantled APC that Lukasz had captured from the enemy.

    “You can be damn sure that one of Gustav Adolf’s demands — he’ll be inflexible about it too — will be the return of that APC. I’d much rather keep it for a while. Walenty tells me they’re making great progress.”

    Opalinski smiled. “He’s not bragging, either. I’d say he was, except every day that goes by, Ellis gets more unhappy.”

    Walenty Tarnowski was the young nobleman who was bound and determined to establish what he called “advanced mechanics” in the commonwealth of Poland and Lithuania. Unusually for a scholar, he was quite willing to get his hands dirty, too. Koniecpolski had given him the assignment of studying the captured war machine to see if he could duplicate it — or, since that wasn’t likely, see if he could design a simpler and more primitive version of the device.

    Mark Ellis was the American soldier they’d captured when they seized the APC. Under questioning, he’d claimed that he knew very little about the machine, being a civil as opposed to mechanical engineer. He’d also claimed he would refuse to talk under torture.

    The latter claim was dubious, to say the least. The number of men in the world who would refuse to talk under torture was minute. The problem was rather that their talk was usually babble, and Koniecpolski saw no reason to think the up-timer would be any different. Besides, he had no desire to stir up American animosity toward Poland by mistreating one of their people. Sooner or later, after all, Poland would need to negotiate a peace treaty.

    So, Tarnowski toiled on, day after day, with no help from Ellis. But he really was quite adept at this “advanced mechanics” of his. So who could say? The time might come — and much sooner than people thought — when Polish hussars would ride into battle on iron horses instead of fleshy ones.



    Gloomily, Mark Ellis listened to Walenty Tarnowski’s depiction of today’s results. This morning’s results, rather. The nobleman had all afternoon to ferret out still more knowledge.

    They’d gotten in the habit of eating lunch together. Perhaps oddly, given the way they’d started, the two men had gotten to be on very cordial terms. You could even say they’d become friends, in a way.

    Mark still insisted he would say nothing, nothing, nothing — subject him to what agony they would! To which Walenty replied that he was a student of advanced mechanics, not a torturer. And besides, Mark had nothing to say anyway, being a mere civil engineer. The ritual insults exchanged and mutual honor upheld, they’d then proceed to have the sort of pleasant chats that young men will have when they’re in relaxed and convivial company. Walenty, being a Polish nobleman, called it “intelligent conversation.” Mark, who fancied himself a West Virginia hillbilly, called it “shooting the shit.”

    In truth, Mark Ellis was very far from being a hillbilly, unless you chose to slap the label on any and all West Virginians — which would certainly be objected to by at least three-fourths of the state’s population. He had three years of college, just for starters, where any self-respecting hillbilly would only grudgingly admit to having graduated from high school. The one and only characteristic he shared with hillbillies was, ironically, the one he insisted to his Polish captors not to possess — he was, in fact, a very good auto mechanic.

    So he knew, better than most people would, just how much progress Walenty was making. It was pretty astonishing, actually. Mark still thought there wasn’t much chance the Poles could produce a functioning armored fighting vehicle of their own, not for a number of years to come. There were just too many technological obstacles to overcome — many of them ones which not even the USE could handle yet.

    But that would be the only reason they couldn’t, not lack of knowledge. Walenty Tarnowski already knew why an automobile or truck worked, front to back, and he’d soon be able to teach anyone with mechanical aptitude all of the basic principles involved in creating a damn tank.

    Luckily for the USE, which had started this stupid war thanks to that idiot Gustav Adolf’s medieval dynastic fetishes, the Poles simply didn’t have the industrial base to make a tank, regardless of how much knowledge they had.

    But how long would that remained true?

    “So much for dumb Polacks,” he muttered, after Walenty left to go back to work on the APC.

    Mark got up and went to the window that gave him a view to the west. “Come on, guys. Quit screwing around and sign a damn peace treaty, will you?”

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