1636: The Ottoman Onslaught – Snippet 15
“So what does Wallenstein want — besides keeping his head?” Ferdinand III, in that moment, reminded Janos Drugeth more of his pig-headed father than himself. His tone was sour; the expression on his face more sour still.
Janos glanced at Noelle. He was pleased to see that she was withstanding imperial disfavor without any seeming effort. Her own expression was polite, attentive — and in some indefinable way that was much too subtle to warrant taking any offense, it was also distant. So might a taxonomist study an interesting new insect to see how best it might be classified.
“Keeping his head suggests that he’s also keeping his throne,” she said evenly.
Ferdinand waved his hand. “Yes, yes, of course.”
Janos decided it was time for him to intervene. Perhaps he’d be able to nudge the imperial foul mood in a more useful direction.
“I think it might be better if we considered what we might want from Wallenstein.” Seeing the still-mulish look on his monarch’s face, his tone roughened a bit and, for the first time since the audience began, he transgressed protocol by using the emperor’s given name. He normally only did that when he and Ferdinand were alone.
“Ferdinand, the Turks are coming. There is no doubt about it any longer. They haven’t begun the march from Belgrade yet but that’s just because they’re waiting for the spring grass to grow a bit more. And by all accounts of our spies, that army Sultan Murad has assembled in Belgrade is enormous. It’s probably as big as the one Suleiman brought against us a century ago.”
Ferdinand now looked weary rather than petulant. He wiped his face with his hand.
“Do you really think it’s that big?”
Janos shrugged, the motion constrained both by the chair he was sitting in as well as his cumbersome dress uniform. “Who really knows? The number in the chronicles of Suleiman’s siege ranged from one hundred and twenty thousand men to three hundred thousand. All I can say for sure is that we’re somewhere in that same range today. If you press me — yes, I know you are — I’d guess at the lower end of the range. Spies almost always overestimate an enemy’s numbers.”
He sat up straighter and leaned forward, his hands planted on his knees. “But it doesn’t matter, Ferdinand. Even if he only has one hundred thousand — even ninety or eighty thousand — we’re badly outnumbered. In 1529, the Spanish emperor Charles V sent pikemen and musketeers to support us, and when the Turks attacked in 1683 — would attack, did attack, however you put something that happens in another universe — the kingdom of Poland came to our aid. Today? Whether they admit it publicly or not, the Poles and the Spanish will be supporting the Turks. So will the Russians, most likely.”
Ferdinand head came up. “The Russians also? Do you really think so?”
Janos waggled his hand back and forth. “Define who you mean by ‘the Russians.’ I don’t doubt the Tsar would support us. But Mikhail’s off in Ufa trying to hold together some sort of government in exile. Sheremetev holds the real power in Moscow and he favors the Poles and they’ll favor the Turks. The point is, we’re only going to have two possible allies in this coming war.”
Ferdinand’s expression went back to being mulish.
Janos threw up his hands. “Face it, will you? We need the United States of Europe — and we need Bohemia.”
Noelle was simultaneously appalled, apprehensive — and, being honest, a bit thrilled. She’d known Janos was close to the Austrian emperor but she hadn’t realized just how close that relationship really was. There were rulers in Europe — there’d certainly been rulers in Austria! — who’d have ordered Janos arrested for the way he was talking to his monarch. Some of the harsher and more intemperate of those rulers would have had him beheaded as well.
And… this was the fellow she intended to marry. Not simply marry, either, since it wasn’t as if either of them planned to settle down for a quiet life in some out-of-the-way province, raising children and chickens. (Her mind veered aside for a moment. Did they raise chickens in Austria? She realized she wasn’t sure.)
No, they planned to remain right here in the capital of Austria-Hungary, and continue to be engaged in High Matters of State. The one time she’d used that expression in front of Denise and Minnie — “High Matters of State” — their response had been immediate:
“That translates as ‘chopping block’ in English.” That came from Denise.
Minnie’s contribution was: “Yeah, but I think they let your family bury the head with your body afterward. Better than what usually happens to common criminals.”
Janos turned to Noelle. “Help me out here. Explain to Ferdinand what the USE is likely to offer — and want in return.”
Appalled, apprehensive — and a bit thrilled.
Prague, capital of Bohemia
“Yes, I’m comfortable here, Don Francisco. Quite comfortable — as you’d expect of a suite in Wallenstein’s own palace. But it’s still a prison and you know it perfectly well.”
Duke Albrecht of Bavaria turned away from the window and gave Francisco Nasi a look that was more exasperated than angry. That same exasperation had been subtly indicated by his use of the name “Wallenstein” rather than the new title: “Albrecht II, King of Bohemia.”
He transferred the same look to the third man in the room. “I also appreciate the amenities that you and your wife Judith provide me with, Mr. Roth. If you might someday include a key that would let me out of here at will, I’d appreciate it even more.”
Morris Roth, seated on a chair not far from Nasi’s, smiled but said nothing. Since there was really nothing to say in response to that remark.
Albrecht sighed and turned back to the window. With his hands clasped behind his back, he looked down at the very impressive gardens that formed the centerpiece of the palace Wallenstein had had built in the previous decade. “What am I more concerned about, however, is the fate of my two sons. Who are also being held in captivity — and in their case, Mr. Roth, by your people, not the Bohemians.”
Roth cleared his throat. “Ah… Actually, Your Grace, my wife and I are now both citizens of the Kingdom of Bohemia. That’s been true for some time, in fact.”
“Please. I’m not taken in by that any more than Wallenstein himself is. He knows and I know and you know — Don Francisco certainly knows! — and probably every butcher and brewer in the city knows that you did that as matter of diplomatic courtesy. In the name of all that’s holy, Morris” — for a moment, he lapsed into the friendly informality that usually characterized their exchanges when Roth visited — “you were born in the future. In what you yourself believe to have been a different universe altogether. You were, are still, and always will be an American, regardless of what nationality you adopt for official purposes.”
Morris said nothing in response to that, either. Instead, he tried to shift the discussion back to the duke’s children.
“I assure you, Albrecht, that the commitment of the United States of Europe to religious freedom is unwavering.”
“Really?” The younger brother of Bavaria’s ruler turned his head and gave Roth a skeptical glance. “Then perhaps you can explain why Michael Stearns — with the agreement of that party he established, the Fourth of July group — has conceded to Gustavus Adolphus’ demand that every province of the USE be allowed to create an established church.”
It was Morris’ turn to look exasperated. “Mike did that for practical reasons — and it’s irrelevant to your two boys anyway. They’re being held — ah, are guests — in Bamberg. Which, I remind you, is the capital of the State of Thuringia-Franconia, a province which does not have an established church.”
“Until the next election.”
Roth made an impatient gesture. “Your Grace, please stop playing the naïf! You’re an astute observer of political affairs and you know perfectly well the Fourth of July Party will be returned to office in the SoTF — probably with an even bigger majority than they enjoy right now. If you want to call your sons prisoners — or hostages, whatever term you prefer — so be it. But they are still in the care of their tutor, Johannes Vervaux — who is a Jesuit, as you well know. No one is or will be interfering in their education. No one is or will be making any attempt to coerce them into abandoning Catholicism. For Pete’s sake, Albrecht! The president of the SoTF — and the likely next prime minister of the USE — is Ed Piazza. Who is a Catholic himself.”
Without looking away from the window, Albrecht raised his hand in a placating gesture. “Yes, yes, I know. I am not trying to be offensive, Morris. I am simply concerned.”
“Sure. They’re your kids and you miss them. Frankly, if it was up to me I’d have them sent here, along with their tutor. But…”
There wasn’t anything further he could really say, other than: But Gustav Adolf is calling the shots here and he was born in this century and this universe and he doesn’t have any qualms about using two kids as hostages.
Which… wouldn’t help the situation. And which was something the Bavarian nobleman knew perfectly well already.
Nasi now cleared his throat. “Albrecht, we came here today for a reason.”
The duke turned away from the window again, hesitated for a moment, and then moved over to take a seat in a chair facing Nasi directly and Roth at something of an angle.
“Let me guess,” he said. “You want to begin a discussion — completely tentative, with no formal or official sanction whatsoever from anyone in position of authority — on the question of whether I might be willing to agree to supplant my brother on the throne of Bavaria. Assuming you can remove him from that throne, either by force or by his agreement to abdicate.”
The man who’d once been Mike Stearns’ spymaster and now ran a private espionage service that was probably the best in Europe shook his head. “That assumption is a given, Albrecht. One way or another, Maximilian is going to go. If it has to be done by force…”
Nasi shrugged. Morris Roth picked up the train of thought. “If your brother’s forced off the throne — whether he lives or dies, and under those circumstances I wouldn’t place great odds on his survival — then Bavaria will come under the direct administration of either the USE or Sweden. That’ll be something of an argument, I think. From Gustav Adolf’s point of view, Bavaria is almost as much of a problem as a conquered territory as a still-independent one.”
Albrecht smiled, without much humor. “Yes. Even as greedy as he is for absorbing new territory, does he really want to ingest that big a population of Catholics?”
Nasi and Roth both nodded. “Exactly,” said Nasi. He nodded toward Morris. “The situation is a bit the same as always exists with us Jews. For an enlightened ruler, having some of us around is an asset. Having too many…”
“Can be a problem,” his fellow Jew completed. “I think you’re probably right that Gustav Adolf feels the same way about Catholics. He already has a lot of Catholics in the USE, but they’re still a distinct minority — even in Thuringia-Franconia. Add in Bavaria…”
He shrugged. “Catholics would still be a minority in the nation as a whole, but they’d now have a province that was almost entirely Catholic. That wouldn’t bother me or any up-timer, but the emperor’s Lutheran tolerance only stretches so far.”
There was silence in the room, for a few seconds. Then Albrecht said, in a voice as cold as the expression on his face: “My brother murdered my wife with his own hand and caused the murder of my oldest son. You can boil him in oil for all I care. Let us begin from there.”