1636: The Saxon Uprising — Snippet 40
She waited patiently, long enough to give anyone with doubts a chance to speak up. They would have done so, too. Richter was the dominant figure at that table, but she was not domineering. In fact, she went out of her way to make sure people felt at ease and were not afraid to express their opinions. That was a good part of the reason she was so dominant, of course. Her followers trusted her, they weren’t simply cowed by her.
“All right, then. We’ll need to form a new committee to take charge of the resistance against the Swedes. Politically neutral, as it were. I propose one-third of the seats will be held by the CoC, one-third will be divided between the soldiers, the militias, and the city council — however they choose to divide them — and the remaining third will be split evenly between the Vogtlanders and representatives of the towns in the plain.
That was an exceedingly generous gesture on the part of the CoC, especially toward the Vogtlanders. Of course, the generosity was more formal than real, in some ways. The militias and especially the regular soldiers were so heavily influenced by the CoC that they could be relied upon to follow its guidance. Even the city council by now was close to the CoC, since most of its former patrician members had fled the city.
Still, the formalities were significant, not just empty posturing. The fact that Richter was willing to make such a proposal indicated that she would listen to people outside the CoC also.
“We’ll need a new name for it, Gretchen,” said Tata.
“Yes, I know. I propose to call it the Committee of Public Safety.”
Eric had to stifle a sudden, semi-hysterical laugh. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Friedrich’s lips purse.
But Nagel didn’t say anything. Looking around the table, Eric realized that he and his fellow lieutenant were the only ones there — leaving aside Gretchen herself, he presumed — who understood the historical allusion.
“I like it,” grunted Kuefer. “It’s neutral sounding but it ought to send the right message to the Swedes.”
After the meeting broke up, Eric and Friedrich waited for Gretchen in the corridor outside the conference chamber.
“What is it?” she asked, when she emerged. “I don’t have much time right now. I need to give Wettin the news myself. I don’t want him hearing it first in the form of rumor.”
Eric cleared his throat. “Friedrich and I were talking and… ah… that title for the committee you proposed…”
“That I proposed and everyone agreed to, including you. At least, you raised no objection. What about it?”
“Well… ah… some people might think we were being provocative…” He trailed off.
“For God’s sake, Gretchen,” burst out Nagel, “it’s the name Robespierre and his people used!”
“Leaving aside the metaphysical issue of whether the verb ‘use’ makes sense in the past tense for something that won’t happen for a century and a half in another universe, you’re right. That’s why I chose it.”
She paused and gave both of them a cold stare. “Since you’ve apparently read the history, I will point out that this same Committee of Public Safety was responsible for defeating every one of the royalist nations who invaded France to restore the king. The reactionary propagandists against Robespierre and Danton don’t like to talk much about that, do they?”
“But…” Eric felt his face grow pale. “Surely you don’t propose to erect a guillotine in the central square?”
She frowned. “Why in the world would we do that, when we’ve got plenty of stout German axes at hand? We’re not French sissies.”
She swept off, down the corridor, headed toward the administrator’s chambers.
“I… think that was a joke,” ventured Friedrich.
Eric took off his hat and ran fingers through his hair. Then, jammed it back on. “With Gretchen, who knows? But we’ll take that as our working hypothesis. Anyway, what’s the difference? We’ll probably all be dead in a couple of months anyway, between Banér and typhus.”
“Don’t forget the plague,” said Friedrich, as they began walking in the other direction. He was more chipper already, now that he had catastrophes to dwell on. “Always a reliable guest in such affairs. And I hear there’s a new disease we’ll be encountering one of these days. They call it ‘cholera.’ It’s quite fascinating. Apparently, your bowels turn to water and you shit and puke yourself to death.”
After Gretchen Richter left his office, Ernst Wettin rose from his desk and went to the northern window. That provided him with his favorite view of the valley.
There were settlements over there on the north bank of the Elbe, but the big majority of the city’s populace lived south of the river. He’d been told by a friend who’d gotten a look at an up-time travel guide in Grantville that someday — about half a century from now, during a period they would call “the Baroque” — the city would expand greatly over there. But in this day and age, the walls of the city did not include those north bank settlements. They’d have no protection once a siege began.
They wouldn’t be there much longer, however. One of the things Richter had told him was that she’d ordered the destruction of all buildings north of the river. Most of the inhabitants had already fled into the city, as news spread of the atrocities being committed by the oncoming Swedish army. Richter would have the ones who remained evacuated also, and then they’d burn everything to the ground.
She’d sent orders to have every village within ten miles evacuated and burned also. The inhabitants would either come into the city or find refuge with the Vogtlanders in the mountains to the south. Banér and his army would have no choice but to spend the coming winter in camps.
Technically, the orders would come from this new “Committee of Public Safety.” (Odd title, that. He wondered where they’d gotten it from?) Because of the very visible and prominent place on it given to the Vogtlanders and leaders of some of the important towns in the plain, those orders would probably be obeyed, too.