1636: The Ottoman Onslaught – Snippet 24
She stopped and waited for what she expected to be a royal outburst. Gustav Adolf had quite a famous temper, when he unleashed it.
And, indeed, the emperor was glaring at her. His big hands gripped the ends of the armrests, the knuckles standing out prominently.
To her surprise, he took a deep breath and exhaled it slowly. Then, still more to her surprise, he got a peculiar expression. It was almost…
Foxlike? Yes — insofar as the term was not absurd, applied to such a heavy face.
“I will agree on one condition,” he said abruptly.
“If you win the election and become the governor of Saxony — or whatever term you choose for the post — we will face the awkward situation of having the chief of state of a province with an established church who does not belong to that church — in fact, belongs to no church at all.”
His expression now became self-righteous; so much so that Gretchen suspected he was putting on an act. “That’s quite unacceptable! So my condition is this — you must cease this unseemly quasi-agnosticism and join a church. The Lutheran church would be ideal, of course. But I will settle for any other –”
She interrupted, trying her best not to seem too foxlike herself. “But — Your Majesty! — as you perhaps may not know, I was raised — ”
“Except the Catholic church!” he boomed. “I’ve got too many blasted Catholics in the USE as it is!”
He leaned back in his chair. “That is the condition, Gretchen. Pick a Protestant church — and not one that is too disreputable, like the Anabaptists. A Reformed church is acceptable. We have that already in Hesse-Kassel and Brandenburg.”
She considered outright rebellion, but…
It was not an outrageous condition, given what the emperor was prepared to allow in exchange. And, besides, did it really matter that much any more?
Yes. Some stubborn root at the very heart of Gretchen Richter was choking on the idea. Not because she cared about doctrinal issues — which she never had, even when she’d been a young Catholic girl — but simply because she was being forced.
She was about to refuse when a very foxlike thought came to her. What if…?
Yes. That would do.
“Very well,” she said. “I accept. But I will need a bit of time to make my choice.”
Gustav Adolf waved his hand expansively, magnanimously. “By all means! So long as you have made your choice before you take office.”
He rose to his feet. “That assumes, of course, that you win the election. Which I most certainly hope you do not, since you are a notorious agitator and the fellow running against you, Ernst Wettin, is a far more sensible sort.”
He was smiling when he said it, though.
She spent that evening giving a full report to a large assemblage in Rebecca Abrabanel’s town house. Several of Magdeburg’s CoC leaders were present along with the people from the Fourth of July Party.
The idea she was considering with respect to the church she’d wind up joining herself, however, she discussed with no one except Rebecca.
Who thought the idea was both charming and shrewd. As she put it: “It’s a way to goose the emperor without his being able to take umbrage.”
She then had to explain the bizarre way Americans had turned a goose into a verb.
The next morning, Eddie Junker showed up at the townhouse.
“Where are we flying to now?” he asked. “Back to Dresden?”
“Later. First we go to Grantville.”
Once they were in the air, heading south, Eddie asked Gretchen: “How long will you be in Grantville?”
She didn’t answer immediately because they’d encountered some turbulence. Her left hand was clutching the side of her seat. Her right hand had been clutching the door handle but she’d snatched it away when she realized that if she had a sudden spasm caused by — whatever — she might inadvertently fling open the door — never mind that the wind pressure would be working entirely against that possibility — and then fling herself out of the airplane for no good reason known to man, God or beast.
All her knuckles were bone white. Her jaw was clenched. Her eyes were wide but fixed straight ahead as if she were gazing into the maw of hell.
“Oh, relax,” said Eddie. “Turbulence in the air is nothing to worry about. Look at it this way. If you were on a ship at sea you’d expect to be riding up and down with the waves, wouldn’t you? In fact, if you weren’t you’d be in trouble.”
He waved a hand, indicating the atmosphere through which they were flying. “That’s all this is, too. We’re just riding waves in the air instead of in water. It only seems dangerous because you can’t see these waves.”
“It’s not the same at all,” Gretchen said, through still-clenched teeth. “If a boat comes apart and drops me into the water, I know how to swim. If this airplane falls apart and drops me into the air, I don’t know how to fly.”
After the turbulence had died down and Gretchen had relaxed a bit, Eddie repeated the question.
“I’m not sure,” she said.
“An hour? Two hours? A day? Two days? A week?”
“At least a day. Maybe two. I don’t think it should be longer than that.”
Eddie nodded. “Fine. I need to fly Noelle and Janos Drugeth from Vienna to Prague as soon as possible. I got the message from the radio operator at the Magdeburg airfield just before we left. So after I drop you off in Grantville, I’ll take care of that business before I return. It shouldn’t take more than a day.”
Gretchen said nothing. They’d run into turbulence again.
Grantville, State of Thuringia-Franconia
The door was opened by a woman whom Gretchen knew to be in her early eighties but who didn’t look it to her down-time eyes. Gretchen’s grandmother Veronica was only sixty-one, which many Americans still considered to be “middle-aged,” but she looked older than the woman standing in the doorway.
They’d encountered each other any number of times when Gretchen was living in Grantville after her marriage to Jeff, but she couldn’t recall that they’d ever spoken directly. As always, Gretchen was struck by the old woman’s hair. Snow-white but still full, and extremely curly. It was not hard to understand why she’d been the inspiration for Ewegenia, symbol of the Franconian League of Women Voters during the Ram Rebellion.
“Veleda Riddle?” she asked by way of a formal greeting. “I am Gretchen –”
“I know who you are, dear.” Veleda smiled. “The whole world probably does — well, Europe, anyway — at least by reputation.”
Holding the door open, she moved aside and gestured for Gretchen to enter.
“Come in. Would you care for some coffee? Tea? Broth?”
Gretchen was about to refuse politely when she realized she actually did have a desire — a craving, more like — for a cup of coffee. Her nerves were still a little unsettled from the flight.
And if anyone in Grantville was likely to have good coffee, it would be Veleda Riddle. She was one of the handful of “grand old ladies” among the up-timers. Her son, Chuck Riddle, was the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the State of Thuringia-Franconia and while she was now a widow, her husband had been one of Grantville’s few practicing lawyers and had made a better living than most residents of the town before the Ring of Fire.
“Yes, please. Some coffee would be nice.”
After she’d taken a seat in the living room and Veleda returned from preparing the coffee in the kitchen, Gretchen said: “I was sorry to hear of the recent passing of your husband, Mrs. Riddle.”
Veleda handed her a cup of coffee and sat down on the couch positioned at a ninety-degree angle from Gretchen. She had a cup for herself, from which she took a sip before responding.
“I miss him, I surely do. But we all have to pass someday and Tom made it to eighty-four before he died.” She smiled, in fond reminiscence. “On his eightieth birthday I remember him telling me, ‘Okay, hon, I made it as far as anyone can ask from the Lord. I figure whatever’s left is gravy.'”
She took another sip of coffee and set the cup down on the aptly-named coffee table.
“And now, what can I do for you, Gretchen Richter?”
Once Gretchen had explained the purpose of her visit, Veleda drained her cup of coffee.
“Oh, my,” she said, cradling the cup in her lap.
She stared out the window for a time.
“Oh, my,” she said again.