1634: THE BALTIC WAR — snippet 48


1634: THE BALTIC WAR – snippet 48:



Chapter 16



            When he emerged from the workshop, Prince Ulrik discovered that the overcast skies of the morning had turned into an afternoon’s snowfall. He was just as glad, though. First, because the really bitter cold days in January were the days with clear skies; secondly, because he liked snow anyway. When he was a boy, he and his brothers had greeted a heavy snowfall with great enthusiasm. It meant days of marvelous play in the castle gardens, digging tunnels through the snow and erecting what they were pleased to call fortresses.


            The big workshop the king had had built for Baldur Norddahl was on the southernmost of the three islands in the lake that Frederiksborg Castle was built upon. It was located almost adjacent to the two round towers erected by the castle’s original founder, Ulrik’s grandfather Frederik II. Giving those familiar sights a mere glance, the prince headed for the S-bridge that would take him to the middle island.


            He took a shortcut through the royal stables. That was quicker, warmer—and he liked horses even more than he did snow. As he passed through, he exchanged greetings with the stablehands he encountered, but did not, as he usually would, take the time to chat with them. He was pre-occupied today, lost in thoughts that were dark and foreboding.


            Once across the S-bridge and onto the middle island, Ulrik stopped in the square to gaze at the Neptune Fountain.


            There’d been snowball fights also, of course, many of them in this very square. Lots of those. Ulrik liked to fancy that he first learned military tactics in those melees.


            Melees they’d been, too. One of the advantages of being a boy prince—perhaps simply one of the realities, advantageous or not—was that you always had a coterie of other boys around you. Sons of courtiers or sons of stablehands, either way or both. At that age, people did not make the fine distinctions they would grow into as time passed. That was one of the things about his childhood that Ulrik found himself missing a great deal, especially after he visited Grantville and came to realize how very differently the up-timers calculated rank and station in life.


            Sadly, the main lesson Ulrik had learned from those mass snowball fights was that the surest of all military tactics was simply to outnumber the foe. “Sadly,” because his illustrious father, for all his erratic but undoubted brilliance, seemed to be unable or unwilling to accept that reality and everything that flowed from it.


            Slowly, ignoring the snowfall that was covering his hat and the shoulders of his heavy coat, Ulrik walked most of the way around the Neptune Fountain in the middle of the square. Examining, as he passed, the edifices around him.


            His father had ordered this castle built, transforming Frederik II’s rather modest hunting manor into one of the great royal palaces of Europe. No idle boast, that, either. Ulrik had traveled enough to have seen many of them. Christian IV had had Frederiksborg designed in the Dutch Renaissance style, with its copper-covered roofs and spires, sweeping gables, sandstone decorations. The end result, completed in 1615, was quite magnificent.


            Having completed his round of the fountain, the prince continued to the north, to the island that held the royal palace and his own quarters.


            Easy to forget, when you lived in such a palace, that the kingdom which had been wealthy enough to afford it was still a small kingdom. Easy to forget, when you woke up every morning in a bedroom as magnificent as that of any monarch in Europe, that great bedrooms and halls and gardens and fountains did not translate into great armies and navies.


            Easy to forget, staring up at ceilings as splendid as any in the world, that they were still ceilings and not endless open skies. Easy to forget the most important lesson that Ulrik thought any king or prince had to learn down to the marrow of his bones.


            For all beings except the Almighty, there were limits. No matter who you were, there were limits. And you had to develop as keen an eye for them—as acute a taste, if you would—as you did for good architecture and fine paintings and music. Or you would soon enough find that you had lost everything within those limits. A great deal, at least.


            Ulrik himself had always been good at seeing limits. Perhaps that was because he was an average-sized man, in all respects, where his father was not at all. Christian IV was tall, immense in girth, and possessed a capacity for procreation that was only exceeded by his imagination and his capacity for drink. Had he not possessed a reasonably kind disposition—certainly by royal standards—he would have been a veritable ogre.


             This war was madness. Ulrik’s father had been well-nigh insane to believe that by allying himself with the two of the three great Catholic powers in Europe he could somehow displace the Swede as the pre-eminent monarch in the Protestant lands. Even that wretched King Charles of England had been thinking more clearly. Richelieu and the Spaniards would use Denmark like a man squeezes all the juice out of an orange, and then cast the husk aside. And it would be that husk—not France; not Spain; certainly not England—upon which the full fury of the Germans fell.


            And it was their fury that Ulrik feared, not that of the Swedes. Sweden was not so big a kingdom itself, when all was said and done. Larger in size but smaller in population than Denmark. It was that reality that always grated on his father. Why Sweden, and not Denmark?


            They were all idiots. In the end, Ulrik thought, Gustav Adolf as much as Christian IV. Unable to see that the role played by Sweden and Denmark over the past century or two was solely due to the fact that the Germanies had been disunited and, to make the blessing of Scandinavia complete, ruled by as sorry a lot of squabbling and incompetent princes as you could ask for.


            Ulrik was now passing over the second bridge, and into a crosswind. He shivered, from the sudden cold.


            So he tried to tell himself, knowing that was an excuse. With these thoughts running through his head, he would have shivered on the warmest day of summer.


            He could remember shivering exactly so, in fact, on a warm summer day in Magdeburg.


            Grantville had been exhilarating. Magdeburg had been…


            Terrifying. All the energy and ingenuity brought by the up-timers through the Ring of Fire, that Ulrik had seen in Grantville also. But Grantville was a place of limits. Tightly circumscribed, first, by its surrounding hills; even more, circumscribed as well by the customs and traditions of its inhabitants.


            By and large, Ulrik had discovered that he liked most of the Americans. Not all, of course. But they were a decent and unassuming folk, for all their mechanical wizardry.


            Magdeburg seemed limitless. A new city arising like a phoenix from the ashes and ruins that Tilly and his butchers had left behind, on a vast and open plain. But now, with that same American ingenuity coupled to a people who outnumbered all other people in Europe and had a great rage coiled within their souls.


            And who could blame them—when, for fifteen years, every other land of Europe had used theirs for a battlefield? Taking advantage of Germany’s disunity and the fecklessness of its princes to turn Europe’s center into a wasteland. Destroying their towns and cities and villages, slaughtering their men, ravishing their women, starving their children and old folk.


            And for what? So this prince over here could claim a bit more land than he had before, and that king over there could add a new title to a list that was already preposterously long.


            Well, it was over, whether or not those bickering kings and princes were able or willing to recognize it. The Germanies had become Germany—call it whatever you will—and it had produced a prince like no other before him. And this one cared not in the least for the trappings of royalty. He cared only for the substance of the power those titles claimed to embody—and did so, to make it worse for the princes with the fancy titles, on behalf of the commoners who had suffered the most from the war.


            Ulrik had met him, twice. Very briefly, on both occasions. He certainly couldn’t claim to know him, but he didn’t need to. He’d spent considerable time in Magdeburg just walking through the new industrial districts, drinking in the taverns of the men who worked there, and idling many hours in the Freedom Arches which dotted most of the city. And, everywhere he went in that most plebeian of all great cities in Europe, hearing over and over the term Prince of Germany. The prince who would, they all seemed as certain as the tides, lead them to victory come winter’s end.


            The phrase was a shell, depicting a man. The confidence and determination that his people poured into that term, no shell at all. Any monarch or chancellor in Europe who believed so was either blind or mad or both.


            The Swedish king, to give him credit, had held off the alliance Richelieu formed to destroy him. The alliance Ulrik’s father had been fool enough to join. Whatever delusions Christian IV might still have, buttressed by the flattery of a pack of worthless courtiers, Ulrik had spoken to enough Danish officers to know that no one seriously expected to be able to take Luebeck this winter.


            By summer, they’d say. But that summer would never arrive, because spring would come before it. The spring of the year of our lord 1634, when the fury of Germany finally fell upon its torturers. Ulrik could only hope—and he’d do what he could for the purpose—that Denmark itself might survive that storm.


            He’d reached the northern island, and the royal palace. By now, his mood was far darker than the leaden skies.




            He was finally able to laugh, a bit. So he’d do what he’d found himself doing quite often, these past three months.


            Go visit an American, what else?

About Eric Flint

Author and Editor
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