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1636: The Saxon Uprising: Chapter Twenty Eight

       Last updated: Wednesday, March 30, 2011 07:03 EDT



Magdeburg, capital of the United States of Europe

    Rebecca Abrabanel was a little amused by her emotional reaction to Gunther Achterhof at the moment. How quickly we adapt! Her Imperial Majesty Rebecca I, annoyed by a stubborn adviser.

    It really was rather amusing. It had only been a short time, after all, since she was elected the president of the recently formed executive committee that served — insofar as any group of people could be said to — as the central leadership of the revolution.

    (Or perhaps it should be the counter-revolution, give that it was Oxenstierna who was trying to make major changes in the USE’s political structure? But applying that term to the people who were in fact trying to overthrow the long-established state of affairs in Europe seemed just plain silly.)

    It was a role Rebecca was unaccustomed to, outside of her own household. However great her prestige might have been, she’d always been a counselor, as it were. One of a number of people who proffered their opinion but made no claims to actually managing anything. And much of that prestige, being honest, stemmed from her relationship to Michael.

    That had become less so, as time went on. Much less so, eventually. Still, she’d been surprised to the point of astonishment to find herself suddenly elevated to her current position.

    That had been Helene Gundelfinger’s doing — which meant the hand of Ed Piazza had also been at work. If there were any two political leaders in the Fourth of July Party better attuned to each other than the president and vice-president of the State of Thuringia-Franconia, they’d have to have been twins joined at the hip.

    Perhaps ironically, given how often they clashed, it had been Gunther Achterhof who first advanced the proposal to form an executive committee to replace the large committee that had been meeting regularly in Rebecca’s townhouse since the crisis began. That committee had grown over time to the point where if the entire body was present, they could barely fit everyone into a single room.

    “We’ve gotten too big to get much practical work done,” Gunther had argued. “Even more importantly, most of the people sitting around this table — table? say better, indoor tennis court — should be getting back home. And as soon as possible. Things are heating up, people. We need to have our leadership out in the field leading, not sitting around here talking to each other.”

    He’d glared around the room, as if daring anyone to disagree with him. But no one had argued the point. Privately, most of them had already come to the same conclusion. The only one who spoke was Werner von Dalberg, and he spoke strongly in favor of the proposal.

    “I need to get back to the Oberpfalz, as fast as possible. The fight against the Bavarians is getting intense, and so is the political spill-off.”

    “What do you propose, then, Gunther?” Liesel Hahn asked.

    “We form an executive committee with authority to make decisions in between meetings of this — this — whatever we call this body, which still has no formal existence. No more than five people, all of them people who either reside here in the capital or can move here for the duration of the crisis. And one of those people will be elected president of the executive committee, so that he can make emergency decisions whenever the executive committee can’t meet.”

    The proposal had been discussed for a while. Eventually, it was adopted — with the proviso that it be expanded to include four members who did not reside in Magdeburg, but who could come to the city on short notice if need be.

    “I don’t want this executive committee to be too Magdeburg-oriented,” Werner von Dalberg had explained. “I realize that it may be necessary at times for the five people in Magdeburg to make decisions before anyone else can get here. That’s fine. They have a quorum. But I would like to formalize the practice of doing everything possible to bring in the viewpoints from the provinces. Most of the USE is not like Magdeburg, not even the SoTF.”

    “Mecklenburg’s getting pretty close,” said Charlotte Kienitz, smiling. “In fact — fair warning, Gunther! — I think it won’t be long before Schwerin supplants Magdeburg as the chief den of iniquity in the reactionaries’ pantheon.”

    That occasioned a chuckle around the room. Having now twice defeated what was perhaps the USE’s most detestable aristocracy in open and savage armed conflict, Mecklenburg had become a magnet for a large number of footloose young radicals, mostly but by no means entirely Germans. Poverty-stricken as it might be, the province’s capital of Schwerin had grown explosively over the past year. Fortunately, enough of those newly-arrived youngsters came from moneyed families to keep the city’s economy afloat on a sort of peculiar radical tourism.



    Melissa Mailey had passed through Schwerin a month earlier, on one of her speaking tours. “I swear, I got homesick,” she’d told James on her return. “It was almost like being back in Haight-Ashbury again, with a hefty dose of Berkeley — except there’s no university in Schwerin.”

    “Send a letter to Morris Roth,” Nichols said. “He’d probably be willing to sponsor a university there. College, anyway. ‘Course, they’d have to agree to let in women and Jews and run it on a secular basis.”

    “Ha! These days, I don’t think you could do anything else in Schwerin. I really enjoyed the place.”

    Schwerin wasn’t really much like Magdeburg, as Melissa’s observations indicated. The USE’s capital was an industrial working class city with a thin veneer of the upper crust. The population was politically radical, but its social attitudes usually remained fairly conservative. Mecklenburg’s capital, on the other hand, had become a sort of radical student hotbed, allowing for the fact that the students were all taking a break from actually studying anything — formal course work, at least — in order to expound theories in the town’s taverns. Those theories were just as likely, on any given evening, to deal with literary or theological issues as political ones — and questioning sexual mores was almost as ubiquitous as alcohol consumption.

    It wasn’t all hot air, though. A lot of those young radicals had formed volunteer detachments to fight the nobility’s armed retainers. They’d acquitted themselves quite respectably on the battlefield too, most of them. Just as they’d done, in another universe, in the international brigades that fought in the Spanish civil war.



    When the vote was taken, the five resident members of the executive committee were Rebecca, Gunther himself, the governor of Magdeburg province, Matthias Strigel; and Helene Gundelfinger and Anselm Keller, both of whom agreed to move to the capital for the duration of the crisis. (Or in the case of Anselm, simply stay there; he hadn’t been back in the Province of the Main for almost two months.)

    The four members from the provinces were the mayor of Hamburg, Albert Bugenhagen; Constantin Ableidinger; Liesel Hahn from Hesse-Kassel and Charlotte Kienitz from Mecklenburg.

    Melissa Mailey would have been elected to the committee, and by a big margin, but she declined.

    “First, I’m too old. The oldest person in this room except for me is Helene, and she’s still on the right side of forty. The average age around this table is thirty, at most. Which is good. Revolution is a young person’s game. You want a few old farts around for advice, but you don’t need them getting underfoot, which they will because their bones are creaky. Second, I haven’t got the temperament for it, anyway. Never did, even in my days as a twenty-year-old student radical. Third and last, let’s be honest — I’m a lot more useful as a roving schoolmarm than I would be as a resident organizer.”

    There was a lot of truth to that, and everyone knew it. Melissa Mailey occupied a unique position in the revolutionary democratic movement. Her pre-existing reputation of being a radical intellectual, that she’d carried with her through the Ring of Fire, had become transmuted over time in the Germanies of the seventeenth century. She was viewed by members of the movement and a large number of people on its periphery as something in the way of an elder statesman and theoretician. Their Wise Old Lady, as it were. She was one of the most popular speakers the Fourth of July Party had, and was constantly in demand in the provinces.

    Which, admittedly, made her protestations about creaking bones somewhat suspect. “Woman’s a dyed-in-the-wool globetrotter, let’s face it,” was James Nichols’ way of putting it.

    Eventually, it was agreed that Melissa would serve as an ex officio member of the committee. She’d attend as many meetings as she could, with voice but no vote.

    That settled, they moved on to electing a president.

    “I nominate Rebecca,” Helene said, as soon as the question was posed.

    “Second the nomination,” said Werner von Dalberg.

    “Move the nominations be closed,” said Constantin Ableidinger.

    That took all of maybe five seconds. Ten, at the most. If anyone except Rebecca had been chairing the meeting, they’d probably have pushed for an immediate vote. Rebecca had been taken completely off guard, though, so she insisted on opening the floor for discussion.

    There wasn’t any. Not even Gunther had any alternate proposal.

    And here she was, less than a month later, bridling a little because Gunther was arguing with her imperial decree. Her husband had always warned her that power was seductive.



    “– still don’t see why we’re going through this rigmarole,” Achterhof grumbled. “We could have them here in a few days, easily — and with a lot less risk than flying in a plane that just got repaired — by who, you have to wonder? that’s the first aircraft anybody in Dresden ever saw, at least on the ground — and is going to be piloted by a down-time amateur. I can name three different ways to do it, right off the top of my head.”

    He held up a thumb. “First –”

    “Oh, stop it, Gunther!” said Anselm Keller. “I can name four ways we could do it, off the top of my head. So what? The issue isn’t a practical one in the first place. It’s a matter of political perceptions.”



    Gunther shrugged. “So everyone tells me. I can’t see it myself. What difference does it make how they get here? Just another damn prince and princess. The world’s full of them.”

    He really couldn’t see what was involved, Rebecca knew. That was a blind spot on Achterhof’s part, although it was certainly one shared by many other people, especially in Magdeburg.

    The underlying issue was central, actually. What sort of government — no, what sort of state — would the USE have? Achterhof, like almost everyone in the CoCs and the great majority of activists for the Fourth of July Party, was a committed republican. From his point of view, the existing situation was annoying at best. Prior to his injury, Gustav Adolf had occupied a position in the USE somewhere between that of a ruling monarch and a purely constitutional one. Analogous, roughly, to the status of the British monarchy in the up-timers’ old universe during the eighteenth and part of the nineteenth centuries.

    Michael Stearns was a republican, too — and Rebecca herself, for that matter. But what Michael understood was that his opinion and that of the CoCs and his own party’s cadre couldn’t be confused with the opinions of the millions of people who inhabited the Germanies.

    “I doubt if even the majority of people who vote for us are really committed to a republic,” he’d told Rebecca. “Never, ever underestimate the strength of tradition. It’s not immovable, certainly. But don’t think it’s a feather in the wind, either. That’s because ‘tradition’ isn’t simply a state of mind, it’s a reality rooted in people’s everyday lives. That’s especially true for people living close to the edge, economically, and people who’ve given up hostages to fortune, so to speak. Footloose young radicals with nothing much to lose except their own lives can be bold as all hell and willing — no, eager — to turn everything upside down. But a man in his thirties or forties who makes just enough to take care of his family — and he’s got a wife and kids to take care of, not just himself — is going to be a lot more cautious. ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’ His wife’s likely to be even more skeptical of abstract theories. Having a king around makes things seem at least a little more stable. As long as the royal bugger’s not doing something screwy, at least. But nobody thinks Gustav II Adolf is a screwball. Not me, not you, not anybody. The truth it, the Vasa dynasty is pretty popular with a lot of people and it’s accepted by most of the others.”

    He hadn’t changed his mind, either, because of recent events. She got letters from him fairly regularly. Actual letters — long ones — not short radio messages. However they did it, Thurn and Taxis couriers got through or around Banér’s army just as easily as they crossed bridges.

    And that was ultimately what was at stake here. Rebecca wasn’t sure herself how critical it was for Kristina and Ulrik’s arrival in Magdeburg to be done publicly and with great fanfare. Maybe she was over-estimating its importance. But she didn’t think so — and she thought that at least some of Gunther’s resistance was because he felt, even if not entirely consciously, that if Kristina and Ulrik played a decisive role in ending the crisis, that alone would effectively seal the fate of republicanism in the USE, for at least several generations.

    Which…it probably would.

    She wished that Michael was here to make this decision. But he wasn’t — and there was no point asking him by radio. He’d refuse. You’re there, I’m not. It’s your call. Make it. That would be his answer.

    But, in a way, she already had his answer. Much of the content of those letters had been ruminations on the dynamic of revolutions. Michael was concerned to keep the damage as limited as possible, because a revolution that emerged from a society in ruins was likely to become distorted very quickly.

    Constantin Ableidinger spoke up. As a member of Parliament from Franconia, he was present in Magdeburg at least half of the time, and regularly attended the executive committee’s meetings.

    “Do they know we know?” he asked. “Their highnesses, I mean. Can you use that word in the plural?”

    “Who cares whether you can or not?” grunted Achterhof. “But I’d like to know the answer to the first question, myself.”

    “I’m not sure, actually,” said Rebecca. “I was sworn to secrecy by Admiral Simpson until just three days ago, when he told me I should broach the matter — these were his words — ‘to those people you think are critical and no one else.’ So far, that’s been the people in this room. I didn’t even tell Francisco Nasi why I was asking him about the availability of his aircraft.”

    “As if he won’t figure it out!” said Helene.

    “I’m sure he has,” Rebecca agreed. “Still, I didn’t tell him, so I didn’t break my promise to the admiral. And Francisco will keep it to himself, we can be sure of that. As for the question itself…”

    She thought about it, for a moment. “I simply don’t know. I’d been assuming they knew Simpson had told us, but now that I consider the matter, I realize that’s just an assumption on my part. Maybe they don’t.”

    Ableidinger nodded. “That’s what I figured. I think before we go any further, we need to find out the answer. And while we’re at it why don’t we ask them which way they’d rather come?” He glanced at Gunther. “I suppose we should make clear that the pilot of the aircraft will not be Jesse Wood.”

    “Oh, pfui!” snapped Gundelfinger. The glance she gave Achterhof was acerbic. “Anybody who knows Eddie Junker knows that he’s as steady as a rock. You think Nasi would have hired him as his personal pilot if he didn’t trust his competence? We don’t have to get into that.”

    “I agree with Helene,” said Rebecca. “We should keep the question as simple as possible.”

    She looked around the room, and then glanced at the window to gauge the time of day. The time of evening, now. “If there’s no further discussion, I will go make the radio call right now. We can take advantage of the window if we move immediately.”



    She was back in less than fifteen minutes. “The answer to your question, Constantin, is: yes, they knew. In fact, it was they who asked the admiral to get in touch with me. The reason I’m back so soon is because they must have been waiting right there in the radio room at the navy base.

    “And the answer is…”

    She held up the note with the radio message. “I will read the entire thing. Essential that our arrival in Magdeburg be done publicly, preferably with fanfare. Personal risk of travel much less important than political risk of appearing furtive. Kristina, Princess of Sweden, the United States of Europe, and the Union of Kalmar. Ulrik, Prince of Denmark.”

    Smiling, she set the message down on the table. “It’s worth noting, I think, that the signature alone constitutes almost half the message.”

    Ableidinger chuckled. “Yes, that’s a lot of what’s involved, isn’t it?”

    It was easy to forget, sometimes, because of the booming voice and the flamboyant personality, that the brain inside the Franconian’s head was one of the most politically astute in the nation. “Let’s all understand right now what we’re committing ourselves to,” said Constantin. “If we bring Kristina here, under these circumstances, we have as good as placed our seal of approval on the Vasa dynasty. And not just our personal seal as individuals, either. Insofar as anyone speaks officially for the democratic movement today, we do. There will be no going back from it. Not so long as she lives, anyway. And she’s only nine — and I looked it up. In that other universe, even without modern medical care, Kristina lived until the year 1689. For those of you who can’t count readily, that’s more than a half a century from now.”

    Gundelfinger grinned. “And she was tough as nails throughout. You’re not the only one who looked her up, Constantin. I was particularly charmed — and appalled — by the story of her celebration of the pope’s birthday, after she abdicated, converted to Catholicism and moved to Rome. She threw a huge party in her villa. The party got too wild for too long, the guests ignored her orders to leave, so she had her household troops open fire on the celebrants. Eight corpses later, they did as she’d bade them. That’s the girl we’re inviting here, comrades — and, as Constantin says, giving our seal of approval. And if you’re not familiar with Prince Ulrik, he’s the young prince who personally almost sank an ironclad.”

    By now, Achterhof was looking alarmed. “Wait a minute! I think we need to consider this a bit more.”

    Rebecca nodded. “By all means. You have the floor, Gunther.”

    There was silence, for perhaps a minute, as Gunther tried to marshal his thoughts. Eventually, though, he threw up his hands.

    “Ah! I suppose if we don’t, we’re just dragging out the misery. I’m not happy at the idea of being under the Vasas the rest of my life, but I really want Oxenstierna brought down. Um. Broken on the rack, actually, and then disemboweled and hanged. But I’ll settle for brought down.”

    “Move to a vote,” said Ableidinger immediately.

    The vote was unanimous. Achterhof was probably tempted to abstain, but he didn’t.

    Rebecca hadn’t thought he would. Gunther could be aggravating sometimes, but the one thing the man never did was dodge issues and evade responsibility.

    “I’ll send the message,” she said.



    She sent two, actually. The second one went to the radio station at the Third Division’s headquarters near C(eské Bude(jovice in Bohemia.

    Less than an hour later, a radio message arrived from Third Division headquarters to the radio station of the Hangman Regiment in Tetschen. It was addressed to the commanding officer, Colonel Jeff Higgins, and consisted of one word:


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