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1634: The Galileo Affair: Chapter Four

       Last updated: Friday, November 28, 2003 14:33 EST



PART I: September, 1633

She had
A heart—how shall I say?—too soon made glad,
Too easily impressed; she liked whate’er
She looked on, and her looks went everywhere.

    “Trade, Michael, trade.”

    “I know, Francisco, I know.” It was late, and Mike Stearns’ office in Grantville was as clean and tidy as the presidential staff could keep it after a day measured in the remorseless rhythm of twenty-minute meetings and a two hour radio exchange session. That is, not very. It felt... in need of laundry.

    Opening a window wasn’t an option. The autumn night that Don Francisco Nasi was musing on was a filthy one, slapping its rain and wind against the glass. It was the kind of night on which bad novels began. Real life, however, served up nights like this in their season without regard to melodramatic need or—Mike winced at the thought—a President who had a hundred yard dash through the open to get to his bed. His very empty bed, since his wife Rebecca was hundreds of miles away, trapped in the Spanish siege of Amsterdam.

    “There is still nothing from the vizier,” Francisco sighed. “There will be nothing to come.”

    Mike nodded. Almost a year and a half, from the spring of 1632 onward, of patient and carefully-drafted letters, friendly overtures carried to Istanbul by a dozen or more hands, had dropped into a black hole for all the good they seemed to have done. “I’ll say this for Richelieu. He may be a damned snake but at least he answers his mail. And accepts ambassadors, even if he does try and--”

    Francisco turned and raised an admonitory finger. “Now, we cannot prove that. The English Channel is notoriously thick with pirates.”

    Mike let out a theatrical groan, and leaned forward to knock his head on his desk. “Francisco,” he said, his voice muffled through two inches of paperwork already accumulated for the morrow, “I appreciate you’re head of the secret service, but do you have to be quite so cold-blooded? That was my wife on that ship.”

    “Um.” Nasi smiled thinly. “Your wife, yes... along with Heinrich Schmidt and as tough a selection of soldiers as you could make. Not to mention Gretchen Richter, who causes bowel movements in princes. As I recall the report, the pirates were lucky to survive at all.”

    His head still lying on the desk, Mike chuckled harshly. Whatever sour thoughts he had toward the world in general, on this sour night, Mike approved deeply of some of the people in it. Tough soldiers and young women who caused princes to squat on oubliettes being right at the top of his list.

    Nasi echoed his chuckle. “You would prefer I stormed to Paris and called the cardinal out? Or just offered to meet his gentiluomo on his behalf? At dawn, with coffee and pistols?” Francisco twisted his mouth in the wry smile that, with a glitter of his dark eyes, served him as uproarious laughter did other men. “The talk of Europe, it will be—the Jew and the Cardinal! To the death! We would get the attention of the Grand Vizier’s diwan then, no error. The Sultan, too—he likes a jest, especially if it involves someone getting killed.”

    Mike sat up. “Yeah, what’s the deal there? From your briefings...” He suppressed a little laugh. The corps of Jewish merchants who were Grantville’s coffee lifeline to Istanbul had taken to Powerpoint and overhead projectors in a way that made Mike despair of the soul of early modern capitalism. One thing their reports were not, as a rule, was brief. “He’s mad as they come, according to you, but he seems to be running Istanbul like an effective and dynamic ruler, for a despot. So what is the problem with the Sultan?”

    “What is not?” Francisco shrugged. “He is a drunkard, a bully and a raving lunatic. He counts a day wasted in which he does not have someone strangled, or better yet kill the wretch himself. At the moment he is convinced that purity of Islam will make his empire the equal of Suleiman the Magnificent’s, and so wine and coffee are illegal in Istanbul at last news. Any who disagree, die. He reminds me of a phrase I recently heard Harry Lefferts use: ‘shoot a fellow for lookin’ at me funny.’”

    Mike nodded. Francisco’s impersonation of Harry’s hillbilly tones was good. “Sounds like Harry. One day I’m going to have me a talk with that boy. Assuming he survives Amsterdam and... later ports.”

    “Oh, no—I rather think Harry was warning his men—pack of pirates, rather—off doing that.” Francisco smiled. The friendship that had grown up between the quiet Jewish intellectual and the swaggering—but increasingly suave—hillbilly hardass was notorious in the world of Grantville’s dark-lanternists.

    Mike raised an eyebrow. “You surprise me. Still, it’s of a piece with the way Harry’s—hold on, where were we?”

    Francisco held up a hand. “The digression was my fault. Now, where Harry sees the value in restraining his gorier impulses, the Sultan revels in them. He genuinely will shoot a man for looking at him—looking at all, that is.”

    “So he might take another notion tomorrow?”

    “No. Insane, but rational, is my assessment. Of course, I last saw him when he was still a child and under his mother’s regency, but—no, leave that aside. Where the Sultan’s actions may proceed from insane premises, the conclusions and his resolution are remorselessly rational in their deranged context. Mike, have you read Hume’s work on this subject? It falls to be published in only a few decades.”

    “Francisco, I cherish my bone-dumb hillbilly ignorance. Unless it’s useful, in which case make sure I get a copy. But for the moment, let’s see if I’ve got this right. We figure he’s taken the notion that we’re bad news and won’t shift unless we make him feel he wants to?”

    “Just so. And I think the Hume might be passé in your case, Mike.”

    Mike harumphed noisily. “Whutaiver,” he said, in his best hillbilly drawl. “Don’t be telling Frank Jackson about that, willya? The man’s looking at me like a dangerous intellectual as it is. Anyway, who put the notion in there, then? His own courtiers, religious leaders, who?”

    “Worse. The French.”

    “Why in the hell—and I ask this in a spirit of pure inquiry—is the Sultan taking the word of the French for a single damned thing?” Mike rubbed at eyes grown raw and gritty with a long day’s work. “Forgive me, Francisco, if there is something in what you’ve written that covers this, but...”

    “I know. We are all at a busy time. What with—” He waved a hand that took in everything from Bohemia to the British Isles, Sweden to Spain. “We are all busy. Now, perhaps some coffee? This discussion may be protracted.”



    “Sure,” said Mike, “a last one for the evening while you tell the story.”

    Eventually, coffee in hand, Francisco sat on the sofa that was there for the more informal meetings. He looked at it and barked. “Ha!”

    “What?” Mike frowned over the rim of his mug.

    “Sofa. Kiosk. Divan.” He raised his mug in ironic toast. “Kaveh. Coffee. The amount of your language that comes from the Empire—the real Empire, not this cheap imitation Holy Roman thing—”

    Mike snorted, nearly having an accident with his coffee.

    Francisco continued remorselessly. “All these words in English that started in Turkish. There are probably more, but I have only been here a little less than two years. But I keep hearing little drips of home in a shower of English.”

    And then he sighed, once, and deeply. “They are all that really survive of the Refuge of the World, as we call it, in your twentieth century’s strongest culture. The nation that is there called ‘Turkey’ was only built, I understand, by sweeping away the rotting shell that it had become. But the glory that was, and still is! Mike, for all that Christian kings of this time talk of dividing the world between them, they are a sorry pack of scoundrels at best. Robber barons, if that. Not all put together could they match the Moghul Khan, or the Ming Emperor of far Cathay. And even they are as nothing compared to the Sultan of the Two Seas. It is still the strongest Empire in the world. Hah! What a thing it is, to know the fate of an Empire and mourn the glory it yet has.”

    Mike nodded, said nothing. For all his own experience of the places Don Nasi talked about, they might as well be on Mars.

    Francisco, Don Nasi, man of great affairs in the Confederated Principalities of Europe and the Empire of the House of Osman, sighed again. The weight of four centuries lay heavy on his mind. “Kemal Ataturk and a hundred years of humiliation, Mike. That’s what it took, to rescue even a nation from the wreckage of the Empire. You can see it now, if you are told where to look. A people who call novelty heresy, and—but I am rambling. The pith and marrow of the thing, you see, is that France and Germany and England are the edges. The heart of civilization—the very word, civis, says it—is the City. And the City—the City—is Istanbul that was Constantinople that was Byzantium. Mike, out here beyond the edges of that, we are the barbarians. We are without, and within is civilization with its faction fights and revolts and insanities. Out here we have trinkets to sell, each barbarian coming to set out his stall at the center of civilization. And, as the Sultan sees it, the biggest barbarian of all is the Padishah of the Franks. After all, half of the Empire’s European trade is with France, since the Empire won’t let the Venetians be first in anything.”

    He grinned, then. “And since Richelieu saw us for a threat when first he clapped eyes on us, every message from the French Ambassador has dwelt on our irreligion—no established church, practically atheist!—and dangerous innovations. I need hardly mention the detailed accounts of every sedition and fomentation of unrest practiced by the Committees of Correspondence.”

    Mike grinned at that. “Trust Richelieu to find a way to make capital out of Gretchen! Wait ‘til I tell her! She’ll love it.”

    “Truly, Mike, she will. But it goes this far, and no further. There is to be no ambassador from the CPE or Sweden. There is to be no trading capitulation for us. Any person who enters the Empire claiming to be from another time shall suffer death. But we subjects of the Empire may go forth and buy whatever we wish and bring it back, and any other trade capitulation may sell whatever it wishes also.”

    “So provided we can get a sales rep in there, we’re fine?”

    “Oh, even without a formal representative we can do something. But I think you need to talk more with Messer Il Doge of Venice.”

    Mike chewed on his lip, now thoughtful. The outbreak of war had, in some ways, made his job easier. When there were fewer options, the decisions became clearer and the worry was over what the future would leave open to him when he acted as he was forced to. In some ways, easier than fretting over whether he had made the right choice. In all the important ways, infinitely harder. This one was a doozy. Trade within the CPE was all very well, but they needed much more than that. If nothing else, critical raw materials that simply couldn’t be found within their own borders.

    To the west, England was hostile and most of the Low Countries had recently fallen under the Spanish heel. The rump of the United Provinces had little to offer; aid, rather than trade, was the best the CPE could do there. To the east, Poland and the Russias were hellbent on their precious “second serfdom,” shackling half a continent back into medievalism. Given luck, a following wind, and a Peter the Great not written out of history by the changes Grantville had made, they might be worthwhile trading partners someday—but not soon. To the southeast, the Austrian Empire was implacably hostile. Granted, since Wallenstein’s recent rebellion, Bohemia had become something of a bright spot. But little Bohemia was scarcely going to do more than dent the CPE’s need for foreign trade.

    To the southwest, France. With whom they were at war. To the south, Bavaria, likewise. Switzerland was the only adjacent territory that was not hostile, but it wasn’t worth much as a trading partner. The status of the Swiss as the world’s moneybox remained far in the future, though they would cheerfully take money to let anyone cross their land on the way elsewhere. Fortunately, Gustavus Adolphus held enough of the Rhine as their southwest frontier that there was a clear route to Switzerland.

    From where, southward, one might reach the Venetian Terrefirme, the hinterland of the port that was the home of the Most Serene Republic of Venice. And, until Switzerland invented the cuckoo-clock and no-questions-asked deposit banking, Venice was the only non-hostile trading partner in Europe with money to spend. And, through Venice—if the Doge and the Senate and the great houses of Venice could be persuaded—there was access to the Adriatic, the Mediterranean and the Levant.

    “Who to send, though?” asked Mike of the air around him.

    “Hard. We cannot make the usual consular arrangements there. They don’t like Jews in Venice, even if they tolerate our presence. Oh, they like our money and our trade well enough, and they are a polite people for the most part, but we will not get far without a proper embassy with a Christian in charge of it.” Francisco sat forward, set down his coffee-mug. “You have, as I see it, only two potential ambassadors left who fit the bill and can be spared from other duties.”

    “Who?” asked Mike.

    Francisco told him.

    “Well, I will be damned. You reckon they’ll do it?”

    “Yes. There is the matter of their confidence in their own abilities, but--” He shrugged. “I think they will overcome those qualms if they are convinced it is their duty. One of them is a most conscientious cleric, after all, and the other...”

    Francisco made a vague gesture, groping for the words.

    Mike laughed. “Ha! The phrase you’re looking for is ‘flower child.’ Except that he’s old enough now to be willing to grow the flowers himself.”

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