1636: The Saxon Uprising — Snippet 50
Simpson stared at him. “You’re right, you know.” He waved his hand also. “Not about the massacring business, about all of it. Americans have no magic powers. We simply… How to put it? Ignited something that would have erupted on its own anyway. You could put every American in a box and it wouldn’t matter, in the long run.”
“Not… exactly.” Ulrik paused, while he tried to sort out his thoughts. “I think what Mike Stearns has been aiming for all along — from things he let drop in conversations; mostly from watching him — is to produce a Europe much less maimed and distorted than the one that came to be in your world. If so, with respect to his goal if not necessarily his methods, I have no dispute with him. Indeed, I’d be glad to lend a hand. And in that process, I think it’s actually rather important that as many Americans as possible be kept out of boxes.”
He and the admiral suddenly grinned at each other.
“Well!” said Simpson, rubbing his hands. “On that, we see eye-to-eye.”
He leaned back in his chair and looked at the window again, for a few seconds. “All right, Ulrik. I will provide you and the princess with a refuge here. If Oxenstierna snarls at me, I will simply snarl back, point out that the laws involved are completely murky — and that if he pushes me too far, I can make his life a lot more miserable still.”
Ulrik nodded. “Thank you. I take it you’re trying to keep the navy as neutral as possible in the conflict?”
“Yes. Colonel Wood has agreed to do the same with the air force.”
“Quite wise, I think. In any event, you won’t be in this awkward position for more than a few days. Just long enough for us to make suitable arrangements to get to Magdeburg.”
“Ah… Ulrik, I’d make a suggestion.”
“Stay here for a while. A few weeks, possibly even a month or two.”
The prince’s eyes widened. “Why?”
“Hard to explain. Now, I’m the one operating on instinct — and in a situation that doesn’t come naturally to me, to make things worse.” Simpson rose and went over to the window. “Back home, I was very far removed from a radical firebrand. Although I do think the charges of being a hidebound dinosaur leveled at me on occasion were quite unfair. Well, somewhat unfair.”
For a few seconds, his hands clasped behind his back, he stared out the window. “I think you should let the situation unfold on its own, for a while. It’s going to anyway, Ulrik. Even if you pop up in Magdeburg tomorrow, you can’t stop Banér from attacking Dresden and you can’t stop Richter and her people from fighting back. You can’t stop Oxenstierna and Wettin from issuing whatever decrees they plan to issue from Berlin. One of which, by the way, I expect to be a decree that Berlin is henceforth the new capital.”
“Yes, that’s almost certain. Go on.”
“Once those decrees come out, there’ll be eruptions all over the Germanies — and counter-attacks, in many places. The whole nation is soon going to be drowned in chaos and hubbub. Anything you and Kristina try to say will just get lost in the ruckus.”
Ulrik thought about it. The admiral… had a point.
“In a month or so, though, the situation will be a lot clearer. At that point, moving to Magdeburg would have a tremendous impact. Probably not enough it itself to tip the scales. But…”
Simpson scratched his chin. “There’s one other variable we haven’t talked about. That’s Mike Stearns, sitting in Bohemia with a whole division at hand. And I happen to know — old boys’ network, if you will — that he’s made sure he can get back to Saxony very quickly, if and when the time comes.”
Ulrik felt his face grow a bit pale. A bit paler, rather. He was a Danish prince whom no one would ever mistake for an Italian.
“Dear Lord,” he whispered. “That would…”
He shook his head abruptly. “But do you think he’d do it?”
“Mike?” Simpson’s tone was steely again. “Of all the stupid things Oxenstierna is doing, that’s the stupidest. He’d do better to ask Lennart Torstensson instead of listening to his cronies.”
Ulrik didn’t understand the reference to Torstensson. His puzzlement must have shown.
“Sorry, you weren’t there. I was standing next to Torstensson when the Magdeburg Crisis blew up. Me, Lennart and Mike Stearns. I’ve forgotten Mike’s exact words, but they were something like this.” His voice got that slight singsong that people slide into when they recite something from memory. “‘I’ll compromise, if possible, but don’t make the mistake of thinking I don’t know whose side I’m on.’
“He then pointed to a man standing nearby, in the crowd watching us. I don’t know if the name will mean anything to you, but the man he pointed to was Gunther Achterhof.”
Ulrik shook his head. “No, I’m afraid it doesn’t.”
“Gunther Achterhof is one of the central leaders of the CoC in Magdeburg, which is without a doubt the most radically-inclined CoC in the Germanies. And even in that crowd, he’s considered implacable.”
“Lennart believed him. Then, and I imagine still now. I’m pretty sure, in fact, that’s why he’s been content to stay in Poznán, rather than intervene in what’s taking place in Berlin. For somewhat different reasons, he’s probably just as concerned as I am to keep the armed forces neutral and out of the direct fighting. Because he knows that sooner or later, a demon prince is going to come boiling out of Bohemia.”
“Uh… when, would you think?”
The admiral’s smile was now almost seraphic. “Oh, don’t ever mistake Mike Stearns for a hothead. That man knows how to bide his time with the best of them.”
“Ah. I see.” After a while, the smile that came to Ulrik’s face could almost be described as seraphic itself.