THE AUSTRO-HUNGARIAN CONNECTION — snippet 2

 

THE AUSTRO-HUNGARIAN CONNECTION – snippet 2:

 

 

Chapter 2. The Emperor

 

 

            A few hours later, in one of the emperor’s private salons, Janos felt a similar terror. A greater one than he’d felt on the racetrack, in truth, albeit not one that was immediately perilous.

            In the long run, though, what the new emperor was contemplating was likely to be far riskier than what he’d been doing a few hours earlier at the controls of an up-time vehicle.

            “Driving,” Janos recalled, was the term Ferdinand III and his American mechanics used to refer to that activity. They did not use the English term, just a derivative from the stout German equivalent verb fahren. In both languages, the verb had the additional connotation of half-forcing, half-cajoling someone or some animal to go somewhere they would not otherwise go.

            In the afternoon, a young, portly, physically quite unprepossessing monarch had driven an automobile with flair. Tonight, he was proposing to drive an empire with the same flair. Indeed, in the full scope of his half-made plans, perhaps a fourth of an entire continent.

            Slowly, Janos lowered the letter the emperor had asked him to read. The letter was a long one, and had been jointly signed by Ferdinand’s oldest sister Maria Anna and her new husband. Don Fernando, that was—had been, rather, since he seemed to have dropped the honorific “Don” along with his former title of Cardinal-Infante. He was the younger brother of the King of Spain and a member of the Spanish branch of the far-flung and powerful Habsburg family.

            Fernando I, King in the Netherlands, as he now styled himself, judging from the signature on the letter.

            “Are you seriously considering this, Your Majesty?” Drugeth asked quietly. He resisted the temptation to glance at the two other men in the room. Whatever else, Janos knew, he had to be able to react to his monarch in this situation without being influenced by the attitude of others.

            “Quite seriously, Janos. Be assured of that. Not that I feel bound by any of my sister and new brother-in-law’s specific suggestions. They face a very different situation than I do, over there in the Low Countries. And while my sister is an exceptionally well-educated and intelligent woman, and was raised here, in the nature of things her knowledge of the Austrian empire was limited in many respects. Quite limited, in some. She has no close knowledge of military affairs, for instance.” The new emperor chuckled, a bit heavily. “Of course, the same cannot be said of her new husband, who could legitimately lay claim to being the most accomplished military leader produced by the family in generations.”

            All that was true enough. Janos had encountered Maria Anna, and had been quite impressed by her forceful personality, as much the product of an acute mind as the self-confidence of a princess. What was even more true was that the situation in Austria and its possessions was quite different—radically different—from the one she now dealt with in her new domain.

            There were but two or three languages in her new kingdom, for instance, and not too distantly related at that. Whereas in the Austrian empire, how many languages were spoken? And not by a handful of foreign émigrés or small groups in isolated pockets, either, but by entire regions and by powerful persons?

            Janos didn’t actually know, for sure. German and Italian, of course. Hungarian. A veritable host of Slavic dialects. Three very different groups of languages, with little similarities at all.

            Maria Anna and her new husband only had to deal with a few religious strains, to name another difference. Catholicism and two brands of Calvinism. Some Jews, a few Anabaptists. Almost no Lutherans. Whereas in the Austrian empire, although they’d been largely driven underground by the harsh policies of Ferdinand’s rigidly Catholic father, there still lurked every variety of Protestantism, Christians who adhered to the Greek church, as many if not more Jews as there were in Holland—and, should the full scope of the successor’s plans come to fruition, a great number of Muslims as well.

            All of the Balkans?” he asked, managing to keep any trace of quaver from his voice.

            “Constantinople, too,” said the emperor flatly. “The Turks have had it long enough.”

            Privately, Janos made a note to himself to try to limit the emperor’s ambitions in that regard. He could see no real advantage to seizing the southern Balkans, beyond seizing territory for the sake of it. Especially given that the rest of the proposal was already so ambitious.

            “Insanely” ambitious, one could almost say. Ferdinand proposed to overturn centuries of Austrian custom, social institutions and policies at the same time as he expanded Austrian power.

            The older one of the other two men in the room cleared his throat. “I have read many of those same up-time history books, Your Majesty. I feel constrained to point out that, in essence, what you propose to do here in Austria is what another monarch in Russia would try to do at the end of this century.”

            “Yes. Peter the Great.”

            The man—that was Johann Jakob Khiesel, Count von Gottschee, who had served the Austrian dynasty as its principal spymaster for decades—cleared his throat again. “He failed, you know. In the long run, if not in his own time. His Romanov dynasty would be destroyed in two centuries—and, in great part, by the same forces he set loose.”

            The emperor nodded. “I’m aware of that. But simply because he failed does not mean that we shall. We have many advantages he did not possess. And please show me any alternative, Jakob? Given that those same histories make quite clear the fate of our own Habsburg dynasty. We were also destroyed, in that same conflagration they call the First World War.”

            Somewhere in Janos Drugeth’s mind—perhaps his soul—he could feel the decision tipping. Pulled toward the emperor by Ferdinand’s unthinking use of the pronoun “we,” in a manner that made quite clear he was using it in the common form of a collective pronoun, rather than the royal We.

            Although he’d only read some of the up-time accounts of the future history of Russia—which were fairly sparse, in any event—Janos was quite sure that Peter the Great had never done any such thing. The Russian Tsar had tried to transform his realm without ever once contemplating the need to transform himself and his dynasty.

            That… might be enough.

            Even if it weren’t, Janos could not gainsay the emperor’s other point. Drugeth had studied exhaustively every American account he could find—Austria had many spies in Grantville, and good ones, so he was sure they’d found most of them—and the accounts of the fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and its likely causes, were clear enough. Insofar as anything was ever clear when it came to history.

            If they continued as they had been, they were surely doomed. Not in their own lifetimes, probably, but so what? If a man had no greater ambition than to go through his life satisfying his personal wants and desires, ignoring what might happen to his descendants, Janos thought him to be a sorry sort of man. Not to mention a Catholic in name only.

About Eric Flint

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