1636: The Saxon Uprising — Snippet 60
Kassel, capital of the province of Hesse-Kassel
“Poor Wilhelm,” Amalie Elisabeth murmured to herself, as she gazed through the window on the snow-covered ground. That ground would turn into a very cheery and pleasant garden, come the spring. But for now, it just looked cold and bleak.
Her own mood had been cold and bleak, ever since her husband was killed in that stupid, pointless war in Poland. Mike Stearns had been right about that war, as he was right about so many things. The fact just made the landgravine’s mood bleaker, of course. Her differences with Stearns and his party still remained; extraordinarily wide in most places, if nowhere quite as deep as a chasm. Why could her own side in this great political dispute not produce a man to match him?
She’d hoped that Wilhelm Wettin would be that man, once. But for all his undoubted intelligence he’d proven too prone to short-sightedness. And now that short-sightedness had led him into a prison cell. It might yet lead him to the executioner’s block.
In an odd sort of way, though, the news of Wilhelm’s arrest had improved her spirits. Not cheered her up, certainly. But there was a greater ease about her now, a certain lightening of dark airs. Whatever else, Wilhelm had been a good friend for many years. It had pained her greatly — her husband, too — to watch him sink deeper and deeper into the mire.
He was out of it now. Whatever happened, no more blame or fault could be placed upon him. She was glad for that, if nothing else.
But there was something else to be glad about, as it happened. In fact, two things.
First, that foul Swedish chancellor had finally exposed himself as a tyrant as well as an unprincipled schemer. Imprisoning the former duke of Saxe-Weimar on such vague and patently absurd charges had infuriated her — and she knew full well it would infuriate many others in her class. In the Niederadel, as well.
There was an irony there, and she was not blind to it. For all that Stearns had so often bruised — badly bruised — the sentiments and sensibilities of the German aristocracy, not once had he broken his own laws when he’d been in power. Not once had he thrown a nobleman into prison on vague and obviously trumped-up charges. The fact was, whether they liked the man or not, that German noblemen could move about the USE in greater safety and security during the time of the Stearns’ regime than they could now. Amalie Elizabeth herself would be nervous, if she left Hesse-Kassel.
Well…unless it was to visit Brunswick. Duke George was another old friend.
A pity he was off in Poland, commanding one of the army’s divisions. But the man he’d left behind to run Brunswick’s affairs, Loring Schultz, was both competent and pleasant to deal with. Later today, she’d write him a letter, urging that Brunswick should join Hesse-Kassel in declaring strict neutrality in the current political conflict.
But there was another letter she needed to reply to before then. And there lay the second thing to be glad about.
She left the window, moved back to her writing desk, and picked up the letter she’d received the evening before from Rebecca Abrabanel.
Shrewd, shrewd, shrewd. Who would have thought to find such subtlety — such delicacy, even — in a young Sephardic Jewess most of whose life had been cloistered and tightly circumscribed? The sheer naked intelligence involved was almost frightening.
In no other respect were the ways of God quite so mysterious as the way He sometimes divided his favors. To think that He’d provided such a wife for such a man. It seemed grossly unfair, but no doubt He had His reasons.
“I wasn’t expecting you, sir, to put it mildly.” Jeff Higgins motioned to one of the chairs in his headquarters. “Have a seat, please.”
“As long as it’s not an airplane seat.” Mike Stearns eased himself into the offered chair. “The truth is, Jeff — I’ll admit it like a man — flying makes me nervous. Always did, even the fancy airliners we had back home, much less these ramshackle gadgets Jesse has at his disposal and I never said that, you understand. Air force guys have thin skins and tender egos, it’s some kind of law of nature.”
Jeff sat down in another chair and nodded solemnly. “Not a word, sir, I promise. He’ll be at the field for another two hours anyway, fussing over the ramshackle gadget.”
Mike smiled. “For today, let’s keep it to ‘Jeff’ and ‘Mike.’ ”
Jeff pursed his lips. “Why does that make me nervous?”
“Most times, it probably should. But not today. The reason I twisted Jesse’s arm into flying me up here — and twisted it a lot harder to get him to agree to fly me back tomorrow — is because I figured I’d better come talk to you in person.” He paused for a moment, as if he were studying Jeff. “Before you got too twitchy.”
“Twitchy about what, sir? Ah, Mike.”
“Twitchy about the fact that there’s a whole army at your wife’s throat and I’m just keeping you here twiddling your thumbs and keeping myself even further away. Twiddling my thumbs.”
“Oh. That.” Jeff got up and went over to a small stove in a corner. “I’ve got some coffee, if you’d like some. Tea, also.”
“You’ve got coffee? Is it…?”
“The real stuff? Sure is.”
Jeff stirred up the fire, looking over his shoulder with a little grin on his face. “Fact is, Mike, the becky’s become the strongest currency in the whole area. The exchange rate’s terrific. So, yeah, I can afford real coffee. Not often, of course. But I figure this counts as a special occasion.”
He placed a kettle on the stove and went back to his chair. “As for what you’re worried about, relax. I wasn’t actually getting twitchy. Well…a little, I guess, but I’ve applied it to a useful task.”
The young colonel’s tone got noticeably harder. “Which is the moment you tell me to take the fortress at Königstein, it’s toast.”
“Ah. Good.” Mike cocked his head a little. “But I’m a little curious. Why aren’t you twitchy?”
“Hey, I can read.” Jeff motioned toward a table against one of the walls. The table wasn’t exactly piled high with newspapers, but there were a fair number of them. “Between what’s happening in Berlin and what’s not happening in Magdeburg and what I’m damn sure is happening in Dresden — not much news coming out of there, of course — I figure I know what we’re up to.”
“Keep going. I’m fascinated, watching a great detective at work.”
Jeff smiled. “This ain’t hardly Sherlock Holmes territory, Mike. What we’re up to is that we’re just biding our time, on account of we’re frugal. Or maybe just lazy. You’ve got the smartest wife in the world and I’ve got the toughest one, so we’re letting them soften up the opposition for a while.”