1636: The Saxon Uprising — Snippet 48
The naval enlisted man returned shortly with a tray bearing the various refreshments ordered. The admiral himself, like Platzer, had ordered coffee. Simpson waited politely until everyone else had sipped from their cups, and then took a sip from his own.
From the slight grimace, he found the coffee still too hot. He set down the cup and said: “I need to ask — my apologies, but this is an awkward position you’ve put me in — what your intentions are.”
Ulrik had expected the question, and had given careful consideration to the right answer. He thought he’d come up with one that would be suitably vague without being transparently vacuous.
Kristina made it all a moot point, however. “We’re going to Magdeburg!” she exclaimed cheerfully.
Simpson stared at her for a moment. Then, at Ulrik. Then, at Platzer. He gave Baldur no more than a glance.
That wasn’t an indication of anyone’s status in the admiral’s eyes, just his judgment of who was immediately critical. Quite good judgment, it turned out.
“Your Highness” — this was said directly to Kristina — “with your permission, I would like to speak privately to Prince Ulrik.”
She frowned. “Well…”
“Of course, Admiral,” said Platzer. She rose and extended her hand to the princess. “Come on, Kristina.” Seeing the girl’s stubborn expression, Caroline added gently: “It’s a perfectly reasonable request on the admiral’s part.”
Kristina was still looking stubborn.
The girl pouted, but rose. After giving Ulrik a sharp glance — you’d better not try to keep any secrets from me! — she took Caroline’s hand and followed her out of the room. Baldur came right behind them.
After the door closed, Simpson smiled. “I have to say I am deeply impressed.”
Ulrik shook his head. The gesture was simultaneously admiring and rueful. “No one else can do it. I certainly can’t. Caroline’s come to be something close to the mother Kristina never had. Well… more like a very respected governess crossed with a favorite aunt. We’re quite fortunate to have found her.”
“Yes, I think you are.” Simpson leaned forward and picked up his cup. This time, he took a full drink from it.
“I need to know your intentions, Your Highness. Frankly, and in full. This is not a situation into which I can afford to steam blindly.”
Ulrik had been thinking quickly ever since Kristina blurted out the truth. More precisely, he’d been trying to discipline his will after figuring out what to do. That much had taken no more than ten seconds, since he really had no alternatives.
Unfortunately — or not; it could be argued either way — speaking frankly and in full came as unnaturally to a prince as dancing to a bear. Not… impossible, as it would have been for a fish. Just difficult to do, much less to do well.
Where to start?
“I’d like to avert a civil war, if possible.”
Simpson shook his head. “So would I — but I think that time has passed.”
Yes, difficult to do well. Ulrik had exactly the same opinion as the admiral, so why had he wasted their time with pious platitudes?
“Well, yes, I agree. I should have said that I hope to limit the damages produced by the coming civil war.”
“Limit them, how? I’m sorry, Your Highness –”
“I think you’d better call me Ulrik,” the prince interrupted brusquely. Informality came no easier than speaking frankly or fully. But under these circumstances, he needed to adopt — accept, at least — another up-time custom.
Simpson paused, then nodded. “Probably a good idea, given what we face. And please call me John.”
“Not ‘John Chandler’?”
The admiral smiled — quite widely, this time. “Not unless you’re announcing me to a crowd of rich people whom my wife is planning to fleece for one of her charities. Or you’re my mother about to give me a scolding.”
Ulrik laughed. So the fearsome admiral had a sense of humor? Who would have guessed? He’d sooner expected to see a dancing fish.
“To be honest, John, I’m feeling my way here. Operating by instinct, as I once heard an American say. If that’s too vague for you, my apologies. But it’s the simple truth.”
“I can accept that. I’ve done the same myself, at times. Still, you must have a sense of the parameters within which your instincts are operating.”
“Oh, yes. There are three such parameters, I think. The first is that Oxenstierna’s goal, regardless of its intrinsic merits — I’m simply not interested in that issue any longer — is impossible. For good or ill, monarchical rule and aristocratic privilege is crumbling. ‘Privilege,’ at least, insofar as it pertains to wielding political influence.”
The admiral nodded. “That’s the critical issue. We still had plenty of noblemen in the world I came from, and a high percentage of them were still wealthy. But you were far more likely to find them gambling in the casinos in Monaco than playing for stakes on the fields of power. Go on.”
“The second parameter is military. Neither side has a clear advantage there. The provincial armies are fairly evenly matched. I think that of the SoTF is probably better than any of the others, even the highly-regarded forces of Hesse-Kassel. But the provinces that will naturally lean toward Oxenstierna and Wettin can place more soldiers on the field.”
“So it will come down to the Swedish mercenaries against whatever forces the democratic movement can muster.”
“You’re overlooking the city and town militias,” said Simpson. “They’ll mostly side with Oxenstierna. Well, Wettin — they’re no fans of the chancellor. But Wettin is giving the Swedes the needed cover.”
“That… depends a great deal on how the Fourth of July Party and the CoCs conduct themselves, John. If they’re belligerent and provocative, then yes, certainly. By and large the town militias are instruments of the patricianate, who are even less fond of the CoCs than they are of the Swedes. But if Oxenstierna is seen as the aggressor, then I think you might be surprised at how many militias will choose to stand aside. There’s a great deal of resentment toward the Swedes, although the dynasty itself is rather popular.”