1634: THE BALTIC WAR — snippet 24


1634: THE BALTIC WAR – snippet 24:



Chapter 8



            Mike found Gustav Adolf waiting for him [NOTE: I’ll fill all this stuff in after I get more details about Luebeck.] He had only one aide with him, Colonel Nils Ekstrom. That was a signal, in itself, that the emperor wanted to be able to speak freely—which, with Gustav, usually meant bluntly. If he’d had his usual coterie of officers, he’d be quite a bit more discreet. But Ekstrom was his closest adviser in Luebeck, and Mike knew the emperor had complete faith in him.


            Mike had to struggle a little to keep his expression solemn. There was something about the bearing of the emperor and the colonel—perhaps they were breathing a bit too heavily, it was hard to know exactly—that made it clear to Mike that they’d just gotten here themselves. Having walked there very quickly, so they wouldn’t have to admit to Mike that they’d actually been standing on the city walls watching his plane land instead of awaiting his presence in royal serenity, just as if they were one of the city’s bumpkins.


            As was his way, Gustav went right past the usual formalities.


            “So!” he half-bellowed. “Deny it if you will! It was you who gave the order to pass our medical secrets to the damned Spaniards outside Amsterdam.” The sneer that followed was a royal as you could ask for. “Or will you try to claim—I believe you scheming up-timers call it ‘plausible deniability’—that the fault was entirely that of the nurse. Anne—Anne—”


            He cocked an eye at Ekstrom.


            “Anne Jefferson,” the colonel supplied. “Although it might be Anne Olearius, now. She married that Holstein diplomat recently, I’m told, and she may have insisted on that peculiar American custom of women changing their last names to their husband’s.” [NOTE: Double-check the chronology here with whatever I established in the three Anne Jefferson stories in the Gazettes. Unless I goofed, though, I should have left the timeframe in those stories vague enough to make this work.]


            “It’s actually an English custom in its origins, I believe,” Mike said mildly. “As for the other, Your Majesty, the answer is yes. Of course I’m the one who gave the order. Leaving aside the fact that she’s no more careless than any good nurse, why would Anne have been carrying the formula with her in the first place—when she was simply posing for Rubens?”


            “Ha! You admit it, then!”


            That was…


            About a three-quarter bellow. Between the volume, the tone, and various subtleties in the emperor’s expression lurking under the bull walrus ferocity on the surface, Mike decided Gustav Adolf was in negotiating mode. He did have a temper, and he was perfectly capable of throwing a genuine royal tantrum at whatever subordinate had roused his ire. But he was very shrewd, too, and knew that his famous temper could also serve as a useful bargaining ploy.


            It was all old hat, for Mike. In times past, when he’d been the president of his mine workers local having a confrontation with management, Quentin Underwood had used exactly the same tactic. Granted, Gustav was much better at it—not to mention having the status of an emperor instead of a mere mine manager, to give weight to the thing. But a bargaining tactic is a tactic, no matter how different the circumstances of the negotiation.


            So, he responded with his usual riposte. Calm, forebearing reason. Not quite suggesting that the emperor was a five-year-old having a childish fit, but bordering on it.


            “’Admit’ is hardly the correct term, Your Majesty. The ploy was obviously to our benefit and could not possibly do us any harm.”


            “Do us no harm! You may well have saved the lives of thousands of enemy soldiers—the same ones baying at our allies in Amsterdam like a great pack of wolves.”


            “Oh, hardly that, Your Majesty. To begin with, chloramphenicol is so hard to make in any quantities—even for us, much less the Spaniards—that providing them with the formula was almost entirely a symbolic gesture. I doubt if more than a dozen Spanish soldiers will benefit from it, over the next year—and they will be entirely top officers, not the men who would be storming the ramparts. As for the rest—”


            He shrugged. “My wife tells me that after the first week, the Spanish have not been pressing the siege. And pressed it even less, after we passed them the formula. They’re behaving like watch dogs, not wolves. Which makes perfect sense, since the cardinal-infante is really aiming at a settlement, and would far rather keep Amsterdam and its productive population intact that see it all destroyed in a sack.”


            Gustav glowered at him, for a moment. “Still. Michael, you are trying to maneuver me. Do not deny it!”


            Mike decided it was time to show a little of the bull walrus himself. So he almost sneered. Not quite. “Oh, for the love of—”


            Now, a sigh, almost histrionic. Not quite.


            “Gustav II Adolf, you’ve been a king for almost twenty years—and a smart one, to boot. You know perfectly well that every adviser you have is trying to ‘maneuver’ you—if you insist on that term—practically every time they talk to you.”


            “Not me,” said Ekstrom mildly.


            . Mike glanced at the colonel, and gave him an acknowledging nod. “No, Nils, not you. Not directly, at least. But—don’t deny it, since we seem to be demanding that all cards be placed up on the table—your whole stance toward the emperor is a maneuver, in one sense. Yes, I know you simply try to help him determine what his own wishes really are. That’s part of what a monarch needs.”


            He smiled. “Fine. Let’s say that the emperor is using you as a tool to maneuver himself, if you prefer.”


            Ekstrom smiled back. “Yes, I would prefer it. And it’s not a bad description of my duties”—he glanced apologetically at the emperor—“if Your Majesty will allow me the liberty of saying so.”


            Gustav puffed out his thick blond mustache. “And why not? Since my Prime Minister takes far greater liberties.”


            He began pacing a little, half-stomping in the heavy cavalry boots he favored. That was a familiar sign to Mike—to Nils also, judging from the slight look of relief on the colonel’s face. It meant the sumo wrestler preliminaries were over, for the most part, and the serious negotiations were about to begin.


            “And you think we should do everything in our power to move that along,” the emperor said. Almost growling the words, but not quite.


            “Yes, Your Majesty, I do.”


            “Why? Michael, I am quite certain that when I launch our counter-offensive in the spring that I will crush the Danes and beat the French bloody. That stinking traitor Bernhard also, if he lets his arrogance rule him instead of his brain, and gets in my way. The Spaniards too, if they come out into the field.”


            “But they won’t,” said Mike firmly. “I don’t care what they promised the French. The Spanish shed most of the blood in the naval war, and they are in no mood to do the same on land. When the fighting starts in the spring, Don Fernando will send what amounts to a token force into the field. He’ll only move his main forces out just far enough to make sure he can get back behind his fortifications if your offensive succeeds.”


            He gauged that the time was right to adopt informality. “Gustav, on that subject we have—being blunt, the Committee of Correspondence in Amsterdam has—superb intelligence. Partly, by the way, as a side effect of the medical assistance we’ve been providing the army outside the walls of the city. Gretchen’s made sure that at least half of those medical advisers are CoC members.”


            That roused the emperor’s temper again, as Mike had know it would. But since it would happen in any event, best to get it out of the way now.


            “That damned Richter! All we need in the mix is that she-devil in Amsterdam! And that was your doing, too! Deny it!”


            “Well, in this instance, I will deny it,” said Mike patiently. “None of us had any idea the NUS embassy to the Netherlands would wind up getting trapped in a siege in Amsterdam. Or”—he arched an eyebrow—“are you now suggesting I somehow manipulated Richelieu and Christian IV and Charles I and Philip IV into forming the League of Ostend and launching a sneak attack on the Dutch? If so, that makes me the devil himself.”


            Gustav waved a meaty hand impatiently. “Fine, fine. You did not plot and scheme to plant Richter in Amsterdam. She’s still there, stirring up trouble.”


            Mike maintained the same patient tone. “By all accounts the city’s population is not restive at all. Gretchen’s people are actually helping to maintain morale and discipline. Becky tells me that Fredrik Hendrik has now had three meetings with her, all of which went quite cordially.”


            Gustav stopped his pacing and frowned. “Is that true?”


            “Yes, it is. Even Gretchen is now willing to admit that a good settlement in the Low Countries would be preferable to a deepening of the conflict. So Becky tells me, anyway.” Mike smiled. “Mind you, Gretchen’s definition of a ‘good settlement’ is pretty astringent.”


            “Ha! I can imagine! Not only complete freedom of religion but sheer anarchy of expression and belief!” The emperor’s mustache was practically quivering.


            Mike responded a bit stiffly. “I simply think of it as freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and the freedom to assemble. We have the same principles encoded in the constitution of Thuringia, as you well know, and—as you well know, also—I am doing my level best to incorporate them in the new constitution of the USE. I probably won’t be able to pull it off—yet—because I think Wilhelm will win the election. But those are my beliefs, and I will not waver from them.”

About Eric Flint

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