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1636: The Saxon Uprising: Chapter Twenty Seven

       Last updated: Friday, March 25, 2011 23:48 EDT



Magdeburg, capital of the United States of Europe

    Rebecca Abrabanel tried to think of any other possibility she hadn’t explored, when it came to available aircraft. The exercise was more in the way of a formality, though — the sort of final double-check a careful person will do just to remind themselves to be careful — than anything she expected to produce results. There simply weren’t all that many aircraft in existence in January of 1636. Most of those were military, furthermore — and Jesse Wood had made clear that he wasn’t lending any of the air force’s planes to this purpose.

    He’d told Rebecca that himself, when he came to pass along the message from Luebeck.

    “Sorry, Becky, but I talked it over with the admiral and John’s adamant on the subject. I think he’s probably right, and it’s not something I’m going to buck him on. We’ve kept the navy and the air force out of this ain’t-quite-a-civil-war. Formally, anyway. It’s true we’ve bent the rules into a pretzel, but we haven’t broken any. But if we did this…”

    She hadn’t argued the point. She thought Admiral Simpson was right herself.

    Of the civilian aircraft, the possibilities were very limited. She didn’t trust most of them — not with the lives of these two people. Of the ones that had demonstrated they were reliable, almost all were ruled out either by mechanical, operational or political concerns. January was not a good time to be flying in the Germanies, so most of the planes were undergoing major maintenance.

    The ones based in the Netherlands would need to have at least the tacit approval of the king — for something like this, anyway — and that was a can of worms Rebecca didn’t want to open. At a minimum, Fernando would insist on concessions, and he was already being a pain in the neck. He’d been careful not to cross a line when it came to taking advantage of the internal turmoil in the USE, the line being anything that might provide a clear and obvious casus belli at a future date when his larger neighbor was stable again. But he’d come right up to that line, every time and place he could.

    Besides, in order to get his approval, she’d have no choice but to explain the purpose of using one of the Netherlands’ aircraft. And that she wanted to avoid. If this secret got out…

    She shook her head. As it was, she was more than a little amazed that it hadn’t. She’d only found out herself a few days ago, when Simpson finally confided in her using the intermediary of Jesse Wood. From what Jesse had told her, it was obvious that Simpson had known for some time that Luebeck was simply a staging point for Kristina and Ulrik. Not, as Rebecca and just about everyone else had assumed, merely a safe area that the prince and princess had settled on because they didn’t want to be a pawn for anybody in the conflict.

    Oxenstierna had certainly made that assumption. Rebecca had been in fairly regular touch with John Chandler Simpson, either through Jesse or through the admiral’s wife Mary. She knew that the Swedish chancellor had initially bombarded Kristina with messages demanding that the headstrong girl obey her Uncle Axel; bombarded Ulrik with threats of dire consequences for Denmark if he didn’t stop aiding and abetting the child’s monstrous willfulness; and Simpson himself for not doing what was clearly his duty and expelling the two from Luebeck. From the naval base, at least. Simpson didn’t actually have any formal control over what the city’s officials did. Apparently Oxenstierna assumed he could bring enough pressure to bear on Luebeck to get them to do the same.

    After that initial flurry of demands and threats, though, Oxenstierna had said nothing. Rebecca suspected he’d come to the conclusion that since he couldn’t force the issue right now, he’d be wiser to just let sleeping dogs lie. The way things stood, if he forced Ulrik and Kristina out of Luebeck they’d most likely go to Copenhagen — which was even worse, from his standpoint.

    So, for all practical purposes, the pair of royals had been ignored for the past weeks. But Rebecca was quite sure that if Oxenstierna found out what they were really planning to do — had been planning all along, in fact — he would do everything possible to prevent them from carrying the project through.

    And he could do quite a bit. He had no control over Magdeburg, of course. So far, in fact, he’d not even made any threatening troop movements toward the city. He’d kept that large army he had under his direct control in Berlin. But if he needed to, he could get that army moving — and there was no force in the Germanies that would be able to stop it. He couldn’t take Magdeburg without a siege, and that siege would last at least as long as the siege of Dresden was lasting. But he could interdict the territory between Luebeck and Magdeburg. Most of it, at least.

    Even if Simpson was willing to bring the ironclads back out of the Baltic and move them up the Elbe, it wouldn’t do any good. The warships were immensely powerful but they had vulnerabilities also. There were too many ways an ironclad could be ambushed on a river unless it had a powerful land force running interference for it — and there was no land force at Simpson’s disposal that Oxenstierna’s mercenaries couldn’t disperse. For that matter, the Swedes wouldn’t even have to lay an ambush. They could simply wreck some of the locks that made the river passable for the big ironclads.

    No, once the secret was out, the only practical way to get Kristina and Ulrik to Magdeburg was to fly them in. Given, of course, the over-riding political imperatives involved.



USE naval base

    “No, no, no, no.” Ulrik matched Kristina’s glare with his own. “We’ve been over this already.”

    Driven into a corner, Kristina fought back the way any cornered child will do — with the truth instead of the folderol.

    “But it’d be fun!”

    Out of the side of his eye, Ulrik could see Baldur grinning.

    “Not a word, Norddahl,” he said through clenched teeth.

    The Norwegian shrugged. “She’s right, you know. We could have a dandy little adventure, disguising ourselves and dashing all about the land as we make our cunning way toward –”

    “Shut up! You’re not helping!”

    Once the prince was sure that he’d silenced his servant — using the term “servant” so very, very loosely — he went back to the princess.

    “Kristina, if we sneak into Magdeburg like thieves in the night, we undercut everything we’re trying to accomplish. This is all about legitimacy. Everything! All of it! Why else have we stayed here in Luebeck for so long? Why didn’t we go to Magdeburg immediately?”

    Kristina wiped her nose with the back of her hand. Ulrik was relieved to see the gesture. The girl didn’t have a runny nose, that was just a nervous reflex she had when she was beginning to back down from a tempestuous fight.

    It was…unsettling, to think how well he’d gotten to know Kristina. And she’d gotten to know him, he didn’t doubt. Over the centuries, royals separated by almost two decades in age had become betrothed any number of times. Nor had it been unusual if one of those royals was still a child when the betrothal was made. But normally, the formalities done — often by proxy, not even in person — the future married couple didn’t see each other for years. When the time finally came to consummate the marriage, the husband and wife who climbed into the nuptial bed were almost complete strangers. Awkward, of course, in some ways. But one could still trust nature to take its course.

    When the time finally came for him and Kristina, on the other hand…

    It would either be hideous or very, very good. It wouldn’t be anything in between, for a certainty.

    He gave his head a little shake, to clear the stray thought. That problem was still a decade away. Well, eight or nine years. Seven, at the very least. Six, if you really stretched every…

    He shook his head again. No little shake this time, either. “You haven’t answered me.”

    He was careful — he was always careful — not to give her a direct command. A father could tell his daughter, “Answer me!” An older brother, even, could do the same. But he was not her father. He was her betrothed, forced to act in many ways as if he were her father or older brother, but never forgetting that he wasn’t.

    With a different girl, that might not have mattered. A timid, uncertain, shy — just thinking about it was enough to make one laugh. Kristina would remember each and every transgression; squirrel it away like a rodent hoarding food — no, like a commander saving ammunition — and when the time came she would bring them all forth to exact retribution.

    One had to be philosophical about these things, if you were a prince in line of succession. Ulrik could — and did, and would until the day he died — console himself with the knowledge that, whatever else, life with Kristina would never, ever, be dull.

    She wiped her nose. “Because — this is what you said — we needed to give Uncle Axel time to look foolish.”

    She wiped her nose again. “Well, the admiral said it too.”

    Kristina had become quite attached to Simpson. In an odd sort of way, he and his wife Mary had become something like grandparents to her.



    ” ‘Foolish’ isn’t exactly the right word,” Ulrik said. “A ruler can seem foolish to his subjects and still have legitimacy, because he had it to begin with. But the day Chancellor Oxenstierna started breaking the laws — which he did when he unilaterally moved the capital to Berlin; when he summoned a convention that had no legal authority to act; most of all, when he arrested Prime Minister Wettin — then he placed himself in a position where he had to establish his legitimacy.”

    The prince shrugged. “Not an impossible project, by any means. Every usurper in history has faced the same problem — and history is full of successful usurpers. Still, it has to be done. It’s not something that can be allowed to drift. And that’s exactly what Oxenstierna has let happen. He’s drifted. Been set adrift, rather, by the shrewd tactics of his opponents. By now, many people — including many of those who followed him initially, and especially those who followed Wettin — are beginning to doubt him. That means they’ll be relieved to see someone re-establish legitimacy, since the usurper apparently can’t.”

    By now, the princess had gotten interested — always the best way, of course, to get Kristina off a tantrum. “Isn’t there anything Uncle Axel can do?”

    “Oh, certainly. But it would have to be something very dramatic — even more so once you arrive in Magdeburg.”

    “Like what?”

    Ulrik didn’t have to think about it. He lay awake at nights worrying — about all things, and he a prince! — that the continent’s most notorious agitator would fail of her purpose.

    “Dresden. He has to take Dresden, Kristina. Has to, now — and soon. Dresden has become the symbol of his weakness. Every day that Dresden defies him, he loses legitimacy.”

    The girl’s expression got very intent. Eager. “Maybe we should –”

    “No! We are not going to Dresden.”

    “But it’d be fun!”



Magdeburg, capital of the United States of Europe

    There was never any question, Rebecca knew, where they would stay once they got here. It would have to be the royal palace. To stay anywhere else would work at cross-purposes.

    That was a pity, in some ways. The palace was still not finished, for one thing. But enough of it was to serve the purpose. An entire wing already had plumbing and electricity. The bigger problem was security. The palace, as you’d expect of a structure designed for Gustav II Adolf, was immense. It had always been assumed, of course, that plenty of troops would be available to guard it. Most likely, given the Swedish king’s nature, different units would be rotated through the assignment. An army base was being constructed very near the palace that would be large enough to accommodate up to an entire battalion, although it would be crowded.

    Usually they’d be units from the USE army, but Rebecca was fairly sure that Gustav Adolf had planned to occasionally rotate Swedish and even Danish units into the prestigious assignment.

    But none of that could be done now. There were no USE soldiers left in the city, beyond a skeleton cadre at the large training base outside the city. Using Swedish troops was out of the question, of course. Using Danish troops…might be possible, but it would be political unwise.

    Rebecca looked around at the very large foyer of her house. It was really too bad they couldn’t just move Ulrik and Kristina here. This townhouse had been designed with security in mind. For all practical purposes, it was a small fortress. And she already had a superb security staff in place, the clan of former Yeoman Warders whom her husband had brought back from England.

    But that would be just as politically unwise as using Danish troops for security. Two things were critical, above all.

    First, everything possible had to be done to enforce the legitimacy of the pair of royals. That was the whole reason, of course, they couldn’t just smuggle Kristina and Ulrik into the city. As a technical exercise, that would be extremely easy to do and almost entirely risk-free. But legitimate heirs do not skulk about. Their arrival into the capital — their capital — had to be public. Indeed, it had to be turned into a public spectacle.

    Second, they had to appear as impartial as possible. In one sense, of course, the mere fact of their coming here would throw impartiality to the winds. They were choosing sides, quite obviously. But choosing sides was one side; favoring factions, something else entirely.

    By coming here, Kristina and Ulrik would place their stamp of legitimacy on the existing capital. They would be thumbing their nose at Oxenstierna’s bastard capital in Berlin — and, by implication at least, everything Oxenstierna had done.

    But it was still essential that they be seen by most citizens as not being the tools of the Committees of Correspondence. In the end, this peculiar civil war — this half-civil-war, as she often thought of it — would be won because large numbers of the people who voted for the Crown Loyalists in the election would withdraw their support. Some of them would then be willing to give their support to the Fourth of July Party.

    Not all. Not even most, in her estimation. But they would be willing to give their support to the dynasty, which would appear to them to be the only thing stable that still remained. Their willingness to do so, however, would depend on the dynasty not looking as if it were anybody’s puppet.

    Which meant — once again she was back to squaring the circle — they couldn’t be too closely associated with the Fourth of July Party, much less the Committees of Correspondence.

    Who, unfortunately, were the only people in Magdeburg who could provide reliable security for Ulrik and Kristina. Certainly if they moved into that huge palace.

    Her daughter Sepharad came charging in, followed by her brother Baruch. “Mommy, Barry and I want to go to the navy yards!”

    Rebecca frowned. “Why? The big ironclads are all gone. There’s really not much to see there anymore.”

    “Not true,” pronounced Baruch. Despite just having celebrated his third birthday, he spoke with the same surety — so she hoped, at any rate — with which he would someday speak on the most profound questions of metaphysics and ethics. “The Marines change the guard every day at noon. It’s not noon yet.”

    Maria Susanna came into the room, smiling. “I can take them, Frau Abrabanel. It’s very nice out today, for January. Sunny and not too cold.”

    Maria Susanna was one of the children whom Gretchen Richter had informally adopted in her days as an army camp follower. Once it had become clear that Gretchen was going to be stuck in Dresden for months, the children’s great-grandmother had come to Rebecca.

    “I’m not doing it again,” Veronica Richter said firmly. “Enough! I took care of those children the last time my grand-daughter went gallivanting about Europe tossing over apple carts. I’m not doing it again.”

    She’d then given Rebecca that stern look that no one could do as well as Veronica. “I think you should do it, this time. Because it’s your fault, ultimately. Well, your husband’s. But he’s off gallivanting around too.”

    The logic involved had been circuitous at best. But Rebecca saw no reason to argue the matter. There was enough room in the townhouse to fit four more children into it. The three boys could share a single room, and there was a small room on the top floor that would be suitable for Maria Susanna.

    None of them were so young as to require constant supervision. They ranged in ages from twelve to fifteen or so. A very rambunctious age, to be sure, but Rebecca wasn’t concerned about that problem. Not with all the Yeoman Warders and their womenfolk living in the mansion, and their matriarch Patricia Hayes managing the household’s daily affairs.

    Then, as it turned out, Maria Susanna made an excellent companion for the younger children. Partly, an older sibling; partly a governess. She had the right temperament for the task.

    “Please, Momma!” said Baruch. “I really like to watch the Marines marching around. They’ve got the best uniforms of anybody!”

    The Marines…

    Out of the mouths of babes, indeed.

    “Yes, fine,” Rebecca said, nodding. “Maria Susanna, please have them back no later than two o’clock.”

    As soon as the children left, she headed for the radio room upstairs.

    Admiral, can we have the use of your Marines here in Magdeburg? I would need as many as possible.

    She didn’t need to specify the purpose. Simpson would understand. The political logic would be as clear to him as it was to her.

    The navy needed to stay neutral. But the Marines…weren’t exactly the navy. And if he were pressed, Simpson could fall back on his own traditions. In the world he’d come from, Rebecca knew, the Marines had been used for such purposes.

    The answer came back almost immediately.

    Yes. Will instruct navy yards commander to place all Marines there at your disposal. Will send more from the units I have here in Luebeck, and the entire units from Wismar and Hamburg. And anywhere else I can scrape them up.

    They’ll need their dress uniforms, which many of them don’t have. You’ll have to bear that cost.

    She thought about that for a moment. How far could she push the admiral…?

    It was worth a try.

    I can have new uniforms designed for the purpose. Very dressy.

    Again, the answer came back quickly.

    Grudgingly agree. But no tricorns. Silly damn things.

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