1636: The Saxon Uprising — Snippet 65
Brussels, capital of the Netherlands
The king in the Netherlands — Fernando I, as he now titled himself, being the founder of his new dynasty — looked around the conference table at his closest advisers.
“We’re all agreed, then? We will take no advantage of the current civil conflict in the USE. Beyond, of course, using it to apply more leverage in existing negotiations over trade matters and minor border disputes.”
They’d decided on that term toward the beginning of the conference. “Civil conflict,” as opposed to “civil war.” There were important connotations involved.
The advisers, in turn, all looked around the table, gauging each other’s expressions.
Rubens provided the summary. “Yes, Your Majesty, we’re agreed. The benefits involved simply aren’t worth the risks.”
“Small benefits,” said Alessandro Scaglia, “with very great risks.”
One of the advisers wiggled his fingers. “I don’t disagree with the decision, but I don’t honestly think the risks are that great.”
“No?” said Miguel de Manrique. The soldier’s expression was grim. “Stearns might come back to power, you know. He’s bad enough, but what’s worse is that he’d only do so if Richter holds Dresden. How would you like it if she came back here, with a grudge to settle?”
Archduchess Isabella’s hand flew to her throat. “Oh, dear God. Nephew, listen to Manrique! None of your headstrong ways, you hear? King or not, I won’t have it. I want some peace and quiet in these last few months before I slip into the grave.”
“The king is adamant, and the Sejm still more so. That’s just the way it is, young Opalinski. They’ll have no talk of a peace settlement.”
Stanislaw Koniecpolski shifted his shoulders under the heavy bearskin coat. Even for January, the day was cold, but the grand hetman wouldn’t be seen shivering in public. It was hard not to, though.
Lukasz Opalinski wasn’t even trying. He had his hands tucked into his armpits and was making a veritable stage drama out of shivering.
“Dear God, it’s cold!” he hissed. Then, tight-faced: “And I suppose they insisted once again that we had to sally from the gates and smite the invaders. Applying the brilliant tactic of a hussar charge through deep snow against rifled muskets firing from well-built fieldworks.”
Koniecpolski chuckled. “They did indeed. But there, I’m afraid, they are trespassing onto my rightful territory, and I am not legally obliged to listen to the silly beggars. No, rest easy, young man. There’ll be no idiotic sallies out of the gates of Poznań. We’ll stay behind these walls in comfort — using the term loosely, I admit — while the German shits freeze out there.”
He did another shift of his shoulders. A rapid succession of shifts, actually. Not an outright shiver, but certainly a close cousin. “Besides, there’s a bright side to continuing the war.”
Koniecpolski had his own hands tucked into opposing sleeves of his coat. Not wanting to expose them to the elements, he used a gesture of his head to point to the compound behind them. From their height atop one of the bastions, they had a good view of the now-largely-dismantled APC that Lukasz had captured from the enemy.
“You can be damn sure that one of Gustav Adolf’s demands — he’ll be inflexible about it too — will be the return of that APC. I’d much rather keep it for a while. Walenty tells me they’re making great progress.”
Opalinski smiled. “He’s not bragging, either. I’d say he was, except every day that goes by, Ellis gets more unhappy.”
Walenty Tarnowski was the young nobleman who was bound and determined to establish what he called “advanced mechanics” in the commonwealth of Poland and Lithuania. Unusually for a scholar, he was quite willing to get his hands dirty, too. Koniecpolski had given him the assignment of studying the captured war machine to see if he could duplicate it — or, since that wasn’t likely, see if he could design a simpler and more primitive version of the device.
Mark Ellis was the American soldier they’d captured when they seized the APC. Under questioning, he’d claimed that he knew very little about the machine, being a civil as opposed to mechanical engineer. He’d also claimed he would refuse to talk under torture.
The latter claim was dubious, to say the least. The number of men in the world who would refuse to talk under torture was minute. The problem was rather that their talk was usually babble, and Koniecpolski saw no reason to think the up-timer would be any different. Besides, he had no desire to stir up American animosity toward Poland by mistreating one of their people. Sooner or later, after all, Poland would need to negotiate a peace treaty.
So, Tarnowski toiled on, day after day, with no help from Ellis. But he really was quite adept at this “advanced mechanics” of his. So who could say? The time might come — and much sooner than people thought — when Polish hussars would ride into battle on iron horses instead of fleshy ones.
Gloomily, Mark Ellis listened to Walenty Tarnowski’s depiction of today’s results. This morning’s results, rather. The nobleman had all afternoon to ferret out still more knowledge.
They’d gotten in the habit of eating lunch together. Perhaps oddly, given the way they’d started, the two men had gotten to be on very cordial terms. You could even say they’d become friends, in a way.
Mark still insisted he would say nothing, nothing, nothing — subject him to what agony they would! To which Walenty replied that he was a student of advanced mechanics, not a torturer. And besides, Mark had nothing to say anyway, being a mere civil engineer. The ritual insults exchanged and mutual honor upheld, they’d then proceed to have the sort of pleasant chats that young men will have when they’re in relaxed and convivial company. Walenty, being a Polish nobleman, called it “intelligent conversation.” Mark, who fancied himself a West Virginia hillbilly, called it “shooting the shit.”
In truth, Mark Ellis was very far from being a hillbilly, unless you chose to slap the label on any and all West Virginians — which would certainly be objected to by at least three-fourths of the state’s population. He had three years of college, just for starters, where any self-respecting hillbilly would only grudgingly admit to having graduated from high school. The one and only characteristic he shared with hillbillies was, ironically, the one he insisted to his Polish captors not to possess — he was, in fact, a very good auto mechanic.
So he knew, better than most people would, just how much progress Walenty was making. It was pretty astonishing, actually. Mark still thought there wasn’t much chance the Poles could produce a functioning armored fighting vehicle of their own, not for a number of years to come. There were just too many technological obstacles to overcome — many of them ones which not even the USE could handle yet.
But that would be the only reason they couldn’t, not lack of knowledge. Walenty Tarnowski already knew why an automobile or truck worked, front to back, and he’d soon be able to teach anyone with mechanical aptitude all of the basic principles involved in creating a damn tank.
Luckily for the USE, which had started this stupid war thanks to that idiot Gustav Adolf’s medieval dynastic fetishes, the Poles simply didn’t have the industrial base to make a tank, regardless of how much knowledge they had.
But how long would that remained true?
“So much for dumb Polacks,” he muttered, after Walenty left to go back to work on the APC.
Mark got up and went to the window that gave him a view to the west. “Come on, guys. Quit screwing around and sign a damn peace treaty, will you?”