1635: The Eastern Front — Snippet 48:
“It’s a trick,” said Achterhof.
Gretchen Richter rolled her eyes. “A trick, Gunther? By whom? Rebecca?”
“And to what purpose?” added Spartacus.
When his paranoid streak was aroused, Gunther Achterhof was as stubborn as the proverbial mule. “No, of course it’s not Rebecca. Just means she’s been tricked herself. By who? That snake of a landgravine, that’s who.”
He swiveled in his seat to face Spartacus, who was perched on a stool in a corner of the large kitchen. “To what purpose? You need to ask? It’s obvious. To lull us into carelessness and relaxation by making us think we face no immediate danger.”
Everyone in the kitchen stared at Achterhof. Not just Gretchen and Spartacus, but the six other CoC leaders present as well. The expressions of all eight people were identical.
After a few seconds, Eduard Gottschalk leaned back against the far wall and said: “Well, of course. How could we not see their scheme? They will trick us into disbanding our militias, dismantling our spy network, and turning all our energies to organizing public festivals.”
“We’ll get rid of all the associations, too,” added Hubert Amsel, who was seated next to Gretchen at the table. He waved his hand. “Insurance co-operatives, sports leagues, the lot — all of them! Into the trash bin. Who needs them, now that we have swooned at the feet of the Hessian lady?”
Achterhof’s jaws tightened. “It’s not funny.”
The young woman standing next to Gottschalk took a step toward the center of the kitchen. “No, but you are. Gunther, this is carrying caution to the point of madness.”
Galiena Kirsch pointed her finger at one of the kitchen windows. It was closed, even in midsummer, at Achterhof’s insistence. To eliminate the risk of eavesdroppers, he said, and never mind that there were over a dozen CoC security people guarding the apartment building on every side. As a result, of course, the kitchen was stiflingly hot. It would be years before up-time air conditioning became a feature of seventeenth century life, outside of perhaps a few palaces — and those, small ones.
“Are you blind?” she demanded. “Or do you think our own intelligence people are tricking us?”
“What are you talking about?”
“You know perfectly well,” said Gretchen. “For days, the Crown Loyalist legislators and lobbyists have been leaving the city. They’d only be doing so for one of two reasons. Either Wilhelm Wettin is a mastermind and his political party even more disciplined than we are –”
That was good for a burst of laughter. Even Achterhof joined in.
“– and so they’re dispersing to all parts of the nation to carry out their fiendish scheme.”
“It’s possible,” said Achterhof, in a surly tone of voice. Gretchen rolled her eyes again. So did half of the other CoC leaders present.
“Or,” she continued, “they’re leaving because the pack of squabbling dogs finally got tired of trying to force their nominal leader to do as they wish, especially now that he’s made clear he refuses to do anything of a major nature until the war situation is resolved. So, their innate selfishness taking over, they are all returning to their manors and mansions. Which is what Rebecca thinks is happening. And so do I.”
She decided to try a less confrontational approach. As aggravating as he could sometimes be, Gunther Achterhof was a critical leader in their movement. If he was convinced of the wisdom of a plan and committed to it, then you could be sure the capital city of the nation would remain solid as a rock. In any crisis, that was worth a very great deal.
“Gunther, please. The only specific issue at stake here is whether or not I should move to Dresden. Eduard and Hubert’s stupid joking aside” — here she bestowed a stern look of reproof upon the miscreants — “no one is proposing to relax any of our stances or precautions. So what is the harm?”
She saw a slight change in Achterhof’s expression. From long experience dealing with the man, she recognized the signs. Gunther was shifting from Absolute Opposition to Resolute Disagreement.
Another half hour, she estimated.
“It’s in your own report!” the Austrian emperor exclaimed. Ferdinand jabbed an accusing — approving? — finger at the sheaf of papers in his hand. “You say it yourself. The Turks are invading Persia.”
Janos Drugeth tried to keep his jaws from tightening. He could not, however, prevent his lips from doing so.
“No, unfortunately they are not attacking Persia. If they were, we could relax in the sure and certain knowledge that the Ottomans and the Safavids would be fighting for another decade, at least. They are simply seeking to retake Baghdad, which is in Mesopotamia. And if the results of this same war in that other universe hold true, they will succeed in doing so — and then make a lasting peace with the Safavids. The point being, that while the Turks pose no threat to us this year, they may very well be a threat in the following one.”
Ferdinand waved his hand. “You’re just guessing. And in the meantime, the Swedish bastard is marching into Poland. After taking Saxony and Brandenburg. It’s obvious that once he conquers Poland we’ll be the next meal on his plate.
Janos took a deep, slow breath. Calm, calm. Always essential, when you were arguing with an emperor.
“Ferdinand, ‘once he conquers Poland’ is far easier said than done. And even if he succeeds, why would he come south? He’d have to break his alliance with Wallenstein to get to us. Far more likely he’d go after Muscovy.”
“Yes, exactly!” The emperor leaned forward in his chair, which was not quite a throne but very close. “He’ll keep the alliance with Wallenstein. They’ll both attack.”
Janos saw his chance. “In that case, Ferdinand, the logical thing to do is send all available forces to guard our border with Bohemia.” He squared his shoulders, in the manner of man valiantly taking on a perilous task. “I offer to lead them myself.”
Ferdinand stared at him suspiciously. The logic of the argument was impeccable, but…
The emperor was very far from being a dull-wit. He understood perfectly well that another effect of Drugeth’s proposal would be to keep Austria from taking any irrevocable steps. Any nation had the right to protect its own borders, after all. Gustav Adolf could hardly use such a mobilization as a pretext for invasion. And it would keep Austria’s army close to Prague — and close enough to the frontier with the Turks, should Drugeth’s fears prove justified.
“I’ll think about it,” said Ferdinand, in a surly tone of voice.