1636: The Saxon Uprising — Snippet 53
Noelle Stull tried to ignore the sound of the cannonade. The house she’d rented was large, well-built, and located toward the center of the city. The odds that a cannon ball fired from one of the besiegers’ guns would strike her down at her writing desk were very slight. She’d faced much greater risks any number of times in the past. Although she’d been classified as a statistician, her real duties for the State of Thuringia-Franconia’s innocuously-named Department of Economic Resources had been those of an undercover operative. An investigator, officially, although given the murky realities of power in which she’d moved, she’d been as much a spy as a detective. At one time or another she’d been shot at, imprisoned, shackled, bombed — usually by someone seeking to do her personal harm.
Compared to that, the chance that a haphazardly aimed cannon ball fired from a great distance would come anywhere close to her was not even worth worrying about. Yet, somehow, it was the very random, impersonal vagaries involved that made her nervous.
She tried to concentrate on the letter she was writing to Janos Drugeth. That wasn’t helped any by her knowledge that sending the letter off would be almost as much a matter of chance and happenstance as the trajectory of the cannonballs coming over the walls. Normal postal service was erratic, to say the least.
Amazingly, though, it still existed. The couriers who worked for the Thurn and Taxis service were like rats and cockroaches. Impossible to eradicate and able to squeeze through the tiniest cracks.
But not even such couriers could deliver a letter to an unknown address. Noelle had no idea where Janos was at present, just as she was quite sure he had no idea she was in Dresden. She hadn’t gotten a letter from him in months. With another man, she might have worried that he’d lost interest and simply stopped writing her. But with Janos, somehow, she wasn’t. That spoke well for their possible future, of course.
If they had one. A muted crash had come from not too far away. A cannon ball had caved in a wall somewhere.
“See?” said Denise triumphantly. She pointed to the spot across the square where a Swedish cannonball had punched a large hole in the upper floor of a building. “Give it a few weeks and there’ll be a plenty big enough runway.”
Next to her, Minnie nodded. “Just have to shovel up the wreckage. Some of it’ll make good gravel, too.”
Eddie examined the scene of their optimism. The siege would have to last for several years before the Swedish army’s gunfire removed enough of the buildings fronting the square and lining the main boulevard leading from it to allow for an airplane runway that wasn’t just an elaborate form of suicide.
He did not bother to point that out, however. Denise’s response was a foregone conclusion.
So? A few years are nothing, in a siege! Those Trojan guys lasted… what? Twenty years? They’d still be holding out, too, if the stupid jerks hadn’t fallen for that old wooden shoe trick.
Ernst Wettin turned away from the window. When all was said and done, and unless you happened to have exceptionally bad fortune and fall victim to a stray cannon ball, watching a siege was about as boring as watching ants at work. Not at the very end, of course, if the defense gave way. Then tedium would turn to terror. But until then…
He sat back down at his writing desk. Ernst was the sort of man who believed firmly that all situations provided their own advantages. Since he retained the formal trappings of authority here in Saxony but had had the real power stripped away from him by Richter, he no longer had any tasks to perform that required more than a modicum of attention, for not more than two hours a day. Yet he still had all his comforts and facilities available.
Ernst Wettin came from a very prominent noble family and was himself a very capable official and administrator. Inevitably, therefore, since he’d reached his majority, he’d had very little time to himself.
Now, he did. At last, he had the opportunity he needed to concentrate on what he believed to be his true calling. The development of a systematic and reasoned program of educational reform for the whole of the Germanies.
A faint crash came from the distance. Presumably, a lucky cannon ball had done some significant damage. But the sound barely registered on his consciousness.
What to call the essay? Tentatively, he penned a title.
A Treatise on the Subject of the Education of the German Peoples
There was a knock at the entrance to his suite. “Come in!” he said loudly. He’d sent his servants off in order to have some quiet and the door was a room and a half away.
The title was… suitable, he supposed.
A few seconds later, at a slight coughing noise, he swiveled in his chair. To his surprise, he saw that Gretchen Richter was standing right behind him. He’d been so engrossed he hadn’t heard her approach.
“Ah! I wasn’t expecting you.”
“I’m not planning to stay long. I just wanted to see if there was anything you needed.”
He smiled crookedly. “I don’t suppose you’d accept an answer of ‘my power returned.'”
She smiled, just as crookedly. “No. Well… not now, at any rate. In the future… we’ll see what happens.”
She leaned over to look at the line he’d just written. “I take it this is that major treatise you’ve been talking about wanting to write?”
She shook her head. “The title is awful. I’d call it A Summon to Duty. Or if that’s not militant enough for you, Educational Reform: A Call to Arms.”
The next few minutes passed pleasantly enough, as they always did in Richter’s company. Say what else you would about the young woman, she was invariably gracious in her blunt sort of way.
After she left, Ernst went back to examining the title. Finally, he crumpled the initial sheet and took out another. Again with a crooked smile on his face, he began to write.
Educational Reform: A Summon to Duty