1636: The Saxon Uprising — Snippet 28
Mike had just come from a meeting with Wallenstein. This had been a private meeting, unlike the formal and well-attended affair that had been held a week earlier when the Third Division arrived in the city.
In the intervening week, Mike had been busy enough seeing to the needs of his soldiers. They’d set up a temporary camp just south of the horse market that would eventually become Wenceslaus Square in another universe. Still, he hadn’t been that busy. He had an excellent staff and most of the work was routine. So he’d expected to be summoned to Wallenstein’s palace within a day or two after the division’s arrival and had been a little surprised by the long delay.
He’d assumed the delay was just petty maneuvering by the king of Bohemia; the same sort of let-him-cool-his-heels-in-the-anteroom silliness that was such a frequent part of office politics up-time. But when Mike had finally been ushered into Wallenstein’s presence, he’d realized the more likely cause was the king’s health. To use one of his mother’s expressions, Wallenstein looked like death warmed over. They’d met in his bedroom, because the king could barely manage to sit up. His American nurse Edith Wild had him propped up on pillows in his bed and fussed over him the whole time Mike was there except for the quarter of an hour Wallenstein had shooed her away so he could discuss the most delicate matters with his visitor in private.
Those delicate matters had involved Mike’s somewhat eccentric logistical requests and proposals. “Eccentric” being the discreet way of describing the creation of a string of supply depots that made very little sense for an army that was planning to take up positions near the southern Czech city of České Budějovice in order to bolster Bohemia’s position against Austria. Whatever might be the state of his physical health, there was clearly nothing wrong with Wallenstein’s brain. Before his self-elevation to the throne of Bohemia, the man had been one of the premier military contractors of Europe. He understood perfectly well that what Mike was setting up was the necessary supply chain in case he had to leave Bohemia in a hurry in order to take his army back into Saxony.
It hadn’t taken the king long to make clear that he had no objection. Obviously, Wallenstein understood that the main reason Mike and his Third Division had been sent to Bohemia was to get him out of the USE for political reasons, not to satisfy Wallenstein’s request for military support.
“Meaning no offense, Michael,” the king had rasped, “but I don’t need foot soldiers — nor did I ask for them. What I could use, and did ask for, was air support so I could keep an eye on Austrian troop movements.”
He shifted uncomfortably in his bed. “Which I didn’t get, even though I’ve built two of the best airfields in Europe — one right here in Prague, the other in České Budějovice. And now I don’t have the use of the Jew’s plane either, since his idiot pilot crashed the thing in Dresden. Your man Nasi tells me it’ll be months before the plane is repaired and able to fly again.”
Mike saw no point in arguing the matter of whether or not Francisco Nasi was “his man.” In some ways, that description was still accurate, he supposed. His former spymaster was now operating his own independent business as what amounted to a contract espionage agency, but he’d made clear to Mike that he would be glad to provide him whatever assistance he could. Given that Francisco was now residing in Prague himself, Mike had every intention of taking him up on the offer. He’d already met with him twice, in fact, since he arrived the week before.
“I may be able to assist you there,” he said. “I’m having an airfield built in Děčín” — he used the Czech pronunciation for Tetschen — “to provide air support for Colonel Higgins and his regiment, in the event Holk launches a surprise attack.”
Both he and Wallenstein maintained completely straight faces. Perhaps Mike rushed the next sentence just a little bit.
“But I see no reason that whatever plane Colonel Wood can free up from the air force to come down here can’t also overfly the Austrian lines.”
Wallenstein had been satisfied with that, and no further mention was made of Mike’s convoluted logistics. The king had wrung the little bell next to his bed and Edith had practically rushed back into the room. She’d become quite devoted to the man, by all accounts — which included gunning down the assassins who’d tried to murder Wallenstein shortly before he seized power, in addition to tending to his medical needs.
“Edith thinks he’s dying, Mike,” said Judith. “Wallenstein just won’t listen to her medical advice.”
“God-damned astrologers were bad enough,” Morris growled. “Now he’s got these new Kirlian aura screwballs whispering in his ear.”
Mike cocked his head quizzically. “Which screwballs? I can’t keep track of all these seventeenth century superstitions.”
“I’m afraid this one’s our doing, Mike,” said Judith. “It’s based on Kirlian photography, which was developed up-time. Nobody in Grantville ever took seriously the idea that Kirlian images showed a person’s life force — the ‘aura,’ to use the lingo. Unfortunately, Doctor Gribbleflotz stumbled across some references to it in one of the Grantville libraries and…”
“The rest was a foregone conclusion,” said Morris.
Herr Doctor Phillip Theophrastus Gribbleflotz — a great-grandson of Paracelsus, or so he claimed — was an alchemist who had an uncanny knack for reinterpreting up-time science in a down-time framework, and making a bundle of money in the process. He’d made his first fortune with baking soda, which he renamed Sal Aer Fixus. A little later he’d made aspirin, which he dyed blue on the grounds that blue was the color of serenity. Much to Tom Stone’s disgust, Doctor Gribbleflotz’s brand had outsold the straight-forward and cheaper stuff produced by Stone’s pharmaceutical works. Eventually, when his father got distracted by something else, Ron Stone quietly ordered the chemists to start dying their own aspirin blue as well. Sales picked up right away, even though Ron raised the price a bit at the same time.