1637 – The Polish Maelstrom – Snippet 01
1637: THE POLISH MAELSTROM
By Eric Flint
PROLOGUE: The Anaconda Project
Prague, capital of Bohemia
“This is absurd,” said Morris Roth, as forcefully as he could. He had a bad feeling that wasn’t very forceful at all, given that he was wearing an absurd costume–he thought it was absurd, anyway, although it was just standard seventeenth-century courtier’s clothing. The entire situation was absurd.
A bit desperately, he repeated the statement. “This is absurd.” After a couple of seconds, he remembered to add: “Your Majesty.”
Fortunately, Wallenstein seemed to be in one of his whimsical moods, where the same possible slight that might have angered him at another time merely seemed to be a source of amusement. General Pappenheim–damn his black soul to whatever hideous afterlife there might be even if Morris didn’t actually believe in hell–was grinning outright.
“Ah, Morris. So modest!” Pappenheim’s scarred face was distorted still further as the grin widened. “How can you claim such a complete absence of heroic qualities? You! The Don at the Bridge!”
Morris glared at him. “It was just a job that needed doing, that’s all. So I did it. But what sort of lunat–ah…”
Calling the king of Bohemia a “lunatic” to his face was probably not wise. Morris was nimble-witted enough even under the circumstances to veer in midstream.
“–misadvised person would confuse me with a blasted general? Your Majesty, General Pappenheim, I am a jeweler.”
“What sort of person?” asked Wallenstein, chuckling softly. “A lunatic, perhaps. The same sort of lunatic who recently proclaimed himself King of Bohemia despite–yes, I will say it myself–a claim to the throne that is so threadbare it would shame a pauper. But who cares? Since I am also the same lunatic who won the second battle of the White Mountain.”
They were in the small salon in the palace that Wallenstein favored for intimate meetings. He planted his hands on the armrest of his rather modest chair and levered himself erect.
“Levered” was the correct term, too. Wallenstein’s health, always delicate, had been getting worse of late. Morris knew from private remarks by Wallenstein’s up-time nurse Edith Wild that she was increasingly worried about it. Some of the new king of Bohemia’s frailty was due to the rigors of his past military life. But most of it wasn’t. Wallenstein, unfortunately, was superstitious and still placed great faith in the advice of his new astrologers–including their advice on his diet. Morris had once heard Edith mutter that she was this close–a thumb and fingertip indicated perhaps an eighth of an inch–to getting her revolver and gunning down the astrologers.
It was not an inconceivable thought. Edith was quite ferocious, as she’d proved when she shot dead the assassination team sent to murder Wallenstein a few months earlier. The reason Wallenstein had new astrologers was because they’d replaced some of the old ones who’d been implicated in the plot.
“A jeweler,” Morris repeated. Even to his ears, the words sounded like a whine.
Pappenheim waved his hand airily. “And what of it? Every great general began his life as something else. Even a baker, perhaps.”
Morris glared at him again. “‘Began his life.’ I am in my fifties, for the love of God.”
“Don Morris, enough,” said Wallenstein firmly. “Your reluctance to assume the post of general in my army simply reinforces my conviction that I have made the right decision.”
“Why, Your Majesty?” demanded Morris, just as firmly. One of Wallenstein’s saving graces was that the man didn’t object to subordinates challenging him, up to a point, provided they were polite about it. “My military experience is limited to that of an enlisted soldier in the American army of another universe. What we called a ‘grunt’–with exactly the connotations you’d expect from the term. I wasn’t even in a combat unit. I was essentially a quartermaster’s clerk, that’s all, keeping military supply records.”
Smiling, Wallenstein looked at Pappenheim. For his part, Bohemia’s top general still had the same wolf-like grin on his face.
“Limited to that? Oh, surely not, Don Morris,” said Pappenheim cheerily. “You forget the Battle of the Bridge. Which you led–not even you will deny that much–and which has since entered the legends of the Jews all across Eastern Europe.”
Morris grit his teeth. “I said. It was just a job that needed to be done, and–”
“Enough, Morris,” repeated Wallenstein.
Morris fell silent. The fact that the king of Bohemia had dropped the honorific “Don”–which was an informal term, but significant nonetheless–made it clear that he considered the argument at an end. Whether Morris liked it or not, his new post as a general in the Bohemian army was a done deal.
“Follow me,” said Wallenstein, heading toward one of the doors in the small chamber. Even though Wallenstein was only fifty years old, he moved like a man twenty years older. It was rather painful to watch.
After following Wallenstein and Pappenheim through the door, Morris found himself in a chamber in the palace he’d never been in before. The chamber, also a small one, was completely dominated by a large table in the center of the room. The table itself was dominated by huge maps that covered its entire surface.
Once Morris was close enough to see the map on the very top of the pile, he had to restrain himself from hissing.
So. Here it was. He’d heard rumors of the thing, but never seen it.
The map had no legend, but the title of it was plain enough even if invisible. The Future Empire of Wallenstein the Great, would do quite nicely.
Wallenstein and Pappenheim said nothing, for a while, giving Morris time to study the map.
His first impression never changed. The map could also have been titled How Little Bohemia Became an Anaconda.
Indeed, the “Bohemia” that the top map projected into the future did look like a constrictor, albeit a fat one. On the west, serving for the serpent’s head, lay Bohemia, Moravia and Upper Silesia. Then, came a neck to the east, in the form of a new province that Wallenstein had labeled “Slovakia.” Presumably, he’d picked the name from one of the future history books he’d acquired. Which was all fine and dandy, except that in the here and now there was no country called “Slovakia.” What there was in its place was the northern part of the region of the Austrian empire known as Royal Hungary, the rump of Hungary that had been left to it by the Ottoman Turks after their victory over the kingdom of Hungary at the Battle of Mohács in 1526.
So. War with Austria. Check.
Of course, that was pretty much a given, with Wallenstein not only a rebel from Austria but allied to the USE. Hostilities between the USE and Austria had died down lately, since Gustav Adolf was pre-occupied with his war against the League of Ostend. But nobody much doubted that they would flare up again, unless he lost the war against the alliance of France, Spain, England and Denmark. Assuming he won, everyone with any political knowledge and sense at all knew that Gustav Adolf would turn his attention to Saxony and Brandenburg, and the Austrians were likely to weigh in on the opposite side.
Still, rebelling against Austria and establishing an independent Bohemia was one thing. Continuing on to seize territory which had never been part of Bohemia from the Austrians was something else again.
It got worse. Or better, Morris supposed, depending on how you looked at it. He had to remind himself that, after all, this was the ultimate reason he’d come to Prague and decided to throw in with Wallenstein. The worst massacre that would ever fall upon Europe’s Jewish population prior to the Holocaust was “due to happen” in fifteen years, in the Chmielnicki Pogrom of 1648, unless something was done to upset the applecart.
Morris had finally decided that the best chance for upsetting that applecart–a very intractable applecart, given the social and economic factors involved–was to ally with Wallenstein and rely on him to be the battering ram.
He still thought that was the best alternative. What he hadn’t figured on was that Wallenstein would return him the favor and propose to make Morris the battering ram.
But he’d leave that aside, for the moment. He went back to studying the map.