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1636: The Saxon Uprising: Chapter Twenty Five

       Last updated: Thursday, March 17, 2011 07:32 EDT



Dresden, capital of Saxony

    Jozef Wojtowicz had never worked so hard in his life. Thankfully, he’d been blessed with a naturally strong and sturdy frame, so he was able to bear up under the heavy labor long enough to start getting in better condition. But all that really meant was that he was burdened with still more work.

    The city’s defenders maintained and even strengthened the fortifications, despite the relentless Swedish bombardment.

    That was no doubt how the future history books would depict the situation he found himself involved in. His thoughts on the matter were dark, dark, dark. In the pantheon of liars, he ranked historians second only to outright swindlers — without the excuse of honest greed as a motivation.

    Here was the truth behind those innocuous-sounding words, he’d come to discover.

    Truth One. In a siege, able-bodied men fall into two categories — and the definition of “able-bodied” is loose to begin with. There are soldiers, who stand guard on the ramparts vigilantly watching for any sign of enemy action. That is to say, do nothing more strenuous than rub their hands to ward off the chill. And there are civilians, whom said soldiers dragoon into doing all of the work.

    Truth Two. The work involved in “maintaining and even strengthening the fortifications” consists of nine parts staggering under the weight of rocks and other rubble, and one part staggering under the weight of water casks needed to keep said able-bodied civilians from collapsing while carrying out the other nine parts of the labor.

    Truth Three. Rocks come in only two sizes. Too big to carry without great strain, or, if they are on the smallish side, too many to carry without great strain.

    Truth four. Shovels were invented by Moloch.

    Truth five. Picks were invented by Ba’alzebub.

    Truth six. Wheelbarrows were invented by Belial.

    Truth seven. The notion that there would someday be an end to toil and suffering was invented by Satan himself.

    Truth eight. Beware of Polish compatriots –

    “Hey, Joe!”

    Wojtowicz was jolted out of his gloomy mental recitation of the Great Truths. Carefully, so as not to lose his balance under the weight of the basket of stones he was carrying, he turned to see who had shouted at him.

    Ted Szklenski, as he’d thought. “What is it?”

    Szklenski hooked a thumb over his shoulder. “They want to see you in the castle.” The huge form of the Rezidenzschloss loomed behind him.

    Jozef frowned. He did not like the sound of this. So far, he’d managed to remain reasonably inconspicuous — in large part, by staying away from the Rezidenzschloss, which was the center of CoC activity and held their headquarters.

    On the positive side, he had a legitimate excuse to put down the basket.

    That took a few seconds, and would have taken longer if Szklenski hadn’t lent him a hand.

    “Who wants to see me?”

    Szklenski shrugged. “Got no idea. I’m just passing along the message from Waclaw.”

    Waclaw — his last name had turned out to be Walczak — was the leader of the Polish CoC contingent in Dresden, insofar as the term “leader” could be applied to the group at all. Even Polish CoC members tended to have a liberum veto attitude toward the principles of majority rule.

    Under these circumstances, though, Jozef couldn’t just ignore the summons. That would draw more attention than anything else.

    Besides, no one would expect him to carry rocks to the Residenzschloss. At the moment, Jozef was willing to risk outright crucifixion for that blessing.



    He had to wander around the corridors for most of an hour before he finally found Walczak. In the process he got completely lost twice. He’d never been in the huge building before. Like many palaces which dated back hundreds of years, the structure was a composite; haphazard in much of its design and complex to boot. The original castle had been a Romanesque fort built around the year 1200 — over four centuries ago. Toward the end of the fifteenth century, the famous master builder Arnold von Westfalen extended it considerably. A century later, a new addition was constructed, this one in the Renaissance style. At no point along the way did anyone seriously try to remove what already existed. The back-breaking labor involved would have been insane. Only idiot Poles stupid enough to come to Dresden…

    He finally spotted Waclaw.

    Naturally, Waclaw chided him for being late.



    When Walczak ushered Jozef into the large chamber on the top floor facing the river, Wojtowicz’s worst fears were realized.

    Richter herself, looking up from a large table where various maps were spread and studying him intently for several seconds.

    “He’s the one I was telling you about, Gretchen,” said Waclaw.

    Stabbed in the back. Ever the story of poor Poland. Who needed enemies when Poles had themselves?

    “You’re szlachta, yes?” That came from Richter. It was more of a statement than a question.

    Jozef made one last desperate attempt to weasel out of his fate. “Yes, but so what? Two of the other Poles here in Dresden are szlachta also.”

    One stab in the back deserved another. He pointed at Walczak. “He’s one of them.”

    Richter shook her head. “Yes, I know. But Waclaw doesn’t have any military experience. Like most szlachta, his family has four pigs where his lowly commoner neighbors have only three. We Germans would say they’re putting on airs, but what do we know?”

    Waclaw was grinning. Jozef was tempted to grin himself. Richter’s sarcastic depiction of the state of affairs for most of Poland’s so-called nobility was accurate enough. Where most countries had a small aristocracy — that of the Germanies was no more than five percent of the population; that of England, an even smaller three percent — no fewer than one Pole in ten counted themselves part of the szlachta. Inevitably, that formal claim fell afoul of economic reality. Most szlachta families really weren’t much if any wealthier than the peasants among whom they lived.

    But he resisted the temptation, easily enough. There was peril lurking here somewhere, like a leviathan beneath the waves.

    “Neither does the other szlachta, Radzimierz Zawadski,” Richter continued. “But he and Waclaw both think you probably do. They say you’re from a better class, associated with one of the magnates.”

    That was always the problem with running into fellow Poles. From subtleties of dress, carriage, speech — who knew, exactly? — they could deduce things about another Pole that a foreigner would miss entirely.

    There was no point trying to deny it. Jozef decided he’d skirt as close to the truth as he possibly could.

    “Yes, that’s true. The Koniecpolskis, as it happens. But I’m from one of the bastard offshoots of the family.” He shook his head. “I’m no hussar, I can tell you that.”

    Richter continued to study him. Her eyes were a naturally warm color, a sort of light brown that wasn’t quite hazel. But they didn’t seem the least bit warm, at the moment.

    Not cold, either. Just…dispassionate, the way a student of natural history might examine a curious-looking and possibly interesting new insect.

    “I didn’t expect you to be,” she said. “We wouldn’t have any use for a hussar anyway.”

    For the first time, she smiled. It was thin affair, with no more in the way of warmth than her gaze. “We’re likely to have a better use for horses before winter is over than putting a hussar on top of one. And to do what, anyway? Sally out of the gates and smite the foe? All one of him against fifteen thousand? No, better to keep the horses for food, if we need them.”



    She went back to studying him again. “Tell me the truth,” she said abruptly. “Don’t exaggerate anything — but don’t minimize anything, either. How much military training and experience do you have?”

    He hesitated. Then, decided that lying to this woman was likely to be a risky proposition. “Training, quite a bit. Actual combat experience, none at all. Well, leaving aside two duels. Assuming the term ‘duel’ can be applied to affairs that were impromptu, unstructured, and…ah…”

    “Drunken brawls where you could barely stand up and neither of you could see straight.”

    “Well. Yes.”

    “The training should be enough. Come here.” She motioned him toward her with a little wave of the hand. Her eyes were already back on the maps, though, not watching to see if he’d obey. She took that for granted, in the way people will who are accustomed to command.

    When Jozef came around the table and stood next to her, he saw that she was studying a map of Dresden. More in the way of a diagram, actually, that concentrated entirely on the city’s fortifications.

    She placed a finger on one of the bastions that anchored the defenses along the river. “Our officers tell me that once Banér is certain the ice covering the river is solid enough that he may attempt an assault across it. The fortifications here are not as strong as they are around the southern perimeter of the city.”

    Jozef studied the diagram. The military training he’d gotten had been fairly extensive, as you’d expect for a member of the Koniecpolski family. But, as was usual for men of that class, it had not concentrated much on siege warfare. Still, he’d picked up quite a bit of knowledge by osmosis, as it were. Some of his instructors had been szlachta from modest families or commoners who did have experience fighting in the infantry and artillery.

    “It makes sense to me. It’ll depend mostly on how much of a chance Banér is willing to take. An assault like that is likely to result in heavy casualties. It’s true that the defenses along the river are weaker, but there’s a reason for that. The assumption is that the river itself bolsters the defense. Which it does, even in winter when the ice makes it possible to cross.” He placed his finger on the river. “There is absolutely no cover at all there, and the soldiers have to cross well over a hundred yards of ice. Which may be solid but is hardly good footing. Personally, I think he’d be foolish to take the risk.”

    “He may not have much choice,” said Richter. “We think Oxenstierna is getting anxious, from reports we’ve gotten.”

    Jozef frowned. “Why?”

    Richter’s thin, humorless smile came back. “Because he expected a lot more fighting across the nation than he’s getting. Which makes Dresden all the more central. This is really the only place except Mecklenburg — and that’s over by now, and not to Oxenstierna’s liking — where you can use the term ‘civil war’ without snickering.”

    Jozef hadn’t known that. Second only to the misery of hauling rocks every hour of daylight had been the frustration of a spy who didn’t have access to any information.

    Belatedly, it occurred to him that for the first time since he’d arrived in Dresden, he could actually do some real spying. Risky, of course, to spy on such as Richter and her cohorts.

    “So…” Maybe he could draw her out.

    “So time is not on the Swede’s side. People don’t like things unsettled. They start getting angry at the people they think are responsible for it, unless they can see that real progress is being made to implement whatever program is being advocated. You can’t ever forget that most people don’t really have very strong political convictions. They just want to get about their lives. They will be naturally drawn to leaders who project confidence and seem to be getting things accomplished, and they will be naturally repelled by leaders who seem to stir up trouble but can’t get anything done.”

    Jozef hadn’t ever thought about political conflict in those terms, but it did make sense. It was certainly true that a great deal of the confidence people felt in a leader came from the leader’s own self-confidence. That was probably even more true of military leadership. Having a record of winning battles helped a great deal, of course. But the truth was that even great captains like Koniecpolski and Gustav Adolf had lost their share of battles and sieges. Yet they never lost the confidence of their followers, as much as anything because they went into each new battle as if they were certain to win.

    Much the same way, he realized, that the woman standing next to him somehow exuded confidence that she would be triumphant in her struggles. As if victory were a given and all that remained to be determined was the specific manner in which it would be achieved.

    “Leaders such as our blessed Swedish chancellor,” she went on. “Look at what’s happened. He summoned a convention of reactionaries in Berlin to launch a great counter-revolution. Well, Wettin did, officially, but everyone knew that was a formality even before Oxenstierna eliminated the pretense and threw him in prison. And, sure enough, they’d barely closed the lock on Wettin’s cell when they proclaimed their so-called Charter of Rights and Duties. And…”

    She grinned, now, and there was some actual humor in it. “Ha! Nothing! Within two weeks all of the moderate provincial leaders had pulled away, like proper ladies drawing up their skirts to avoid getting them muddied. The only big clash was in Mecklenburg, where they got routed again. Elsewhere, people can look around and see that the supposedly seditious rebels are keeping peace and order — in many instances, by intimidating the reactionaries who would like to start fighting. Except for Dresden, the only real fighting going on anywhere is in the Oberpfalz. But that’s caused by a Bavarian invasion, which everyone knows — even an idiot can see this much — is entirely Oxenstierna’s responsibility. Duke Maximilian wouldn’t have dared to attack the Oberpfalz again if Oxenstierna hadn’t started all this trouble. All of which means that it’s more important than ever that the Swedes crush the Saxon rebellion. Their failure to take Dresden makes Oxenstierna look more hapless and incapable as every day goes by.”

    “Bavaria invaded the Oberpfalz?” That was the first Jozef had heard of that development. For a supposed spy, he felt like he was doing a good imitation of a burrowing little animal. Sees nothing, hears nothing, knows nothing. Except the dirt in front of him.

    Richter was frowning at him. “Where have you been?”

    “Hauling rocks,” he said.

    She shook her head. “Well, not anymore.” Again, her finger came down on the bastion by the river. “I want you to organize your Poles to support the unit of soldiers we already have there. You’ll be coordinating with Lt. Nagel, who’s in charge of that stretch of the fortifications. He’ll provide you with weapons, too.”

    No more rocks. And he could spy again. While rubbing his hands to ward off the chill, there being nothing else to do.

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