1637 – The Polish Maelstrom – Snippet 14
“I think the emperor is right, Michael,” said Rebecca. Now it was her turn to lean over the map and plant a forefinger on it. In her case, on the western coast of North Africa, which Europeans called the Barbary Coast. “The Spanish might, however, try to bribe the corsairs to do it. So might the Ottomans, since the corsairs are officially their subjects.”
Officially was the right term, Mike knew. Though most of North Africa was formally under Ottoman control, of necessity the empire’s pashas ruled with a light hand. They had no effective way of controlling the powerful corsair fleets except by persuasion–and bribery, of course.
“Even if Simpson can get into the Med without a fight,” Mike said, “he still can’t provide us with naval protection in the Adriatic until late spring or early summer. Let’s say”–he did a quick calculation–“seven to nine months from now.”
“I agree,” said Gustav Adolf. “Which is why I want to send the Hangman Regiment to Silesia.”
He held up his hand, forestalling Mike’s protest–which, in point of fact, Mike wasn’t inclined to make anyway. It hadn’t taken him long to grasp the logic of Gustav Adolf’s intentions. The Third Division was over-strength to begin with–the only division of the USE’s army of which that was true–and the troops were now settled in for a long siege. Mike didn’t really need all his regiments for that purpose, especially over the winter when Murad was bound to withdraw his forces back to Vienna.
“You do not need all your regiments, Michael,” said Gustav Adolf. “You have too many regiments, anyway! Ten, when you are supposed to have no more than nine.”
He made an attempt to scowl again, but this was a feeble one. The emperor was hardly displeased that one of his divisions was unusually adept at recruiting soldiers. “And the Lady Protector of Silesia just sent me a request to provide her with some troops.”
Mike had to fight down a grin. The “Lady Protector of Silesia” was more commonly known–throughout Europe, not just in the USE–as Gretchen Richter, probably the continent’s most notorious radical agitator and organizer. And just by coincidence, she was married to Jeff Higgins, the commander of the Hangman Regiment.
“Did she specify the Hangman?” asked Rebecca, who was making no attempt to hide her own amusement.
Gustav Adolf waggled his hand. “Not in so many words. But I’m sure that’s the one she most wants.” More seriously, he said to Mike: “I will defer to your judgment in the matter, however, since you know the man better than I do. Higgins is very young to be in command of a regiment, and this will be in many respects an independent command for him, if we send him off to Silesia. Is he ready for such a challenge?”
Mike had already been thinking about that, and it hadn’t taken him long to reach a conclusion. “It’d be good for Jeff, actually. But…”
He glanced at the Danish prince. “I think I now understand why you wanted Ulrik to be present at this meeting.” Mike had wondered about that. Ulrik was exceptionally shrewd, but most of his experience had been political, not military. True, he had a naval exploit under his belt, having badly damaged a USE ironclad during the Baltic War. But he was hardly an expert on such questions as fleet maneuvers, much less commanding large land forces. Why involve him in this discussion, then?
Judging from the expression on Ulrik’s face, he was puzzled as well. Mike had to fight down another grin. It would be interesting to see how loudly Ulrik squawked once the emperor explained his intentions.
“If I’m right,” Mike said, “you plan to put Ulrik in overall command of all Silesian forces. Which means Colonel Higgins has to be able to provide Ulrik with effective advice, as well as commanding his own regiment.”
To his credit, Ulrik didn’t actually squawk. He didn’t even sputter. His eyes grew wide, though. Very wide.
“Me?” he said. “But I–” He seemed to brace himself. “Pardon me, Your Majesty, but I think your proposal–”
“It’s not a proposal, Ulrik,” said Gustav Adolf. “It’s actually a command.”
Ulrik’s mouth clamped shut. If he’d been a lawyer, he might be inclined to argue the matter, since Gustav Adolf’s military authority over him was rather dubious. However, since he was a prince rather than a lawyer he declined to pursue what would be, politically speaking, a monumentally stupid course.
Rebecca came to his rescue, in a manner of speaking. “I am sure the emperor does not expect you to be the one to develop battlefield tactics, and such. If I am not mistaken, he is thinking in political terms, not military ones.”
Ulrik looked at her, frowning. “I don’t understand what you mean.”
“Oh, but it is obvious!” exclaimed Rebecca. Thereby demonstrating again what Mike considered her only major personal flaw. Rebecca was so intelligent–she was smarter than he was, for sure–that her thoughts often raced ahead of others, and she could get a bit impatient over the sluggards’ failure to keep up.
But he’d lived with the flaw for years, now. Quite cheerfully, in fact. And in this instance, his thoughts had caught up very quickly.
“One of these days, Ulrik, you will be effectively the emperor of the USE,” Mike said.
“That’s preposterous!” said Ulrik. “I will be Kristina’s consort.” He made his own hand-waggling motion. “Co-monarch, if you insist.”
“Don’t play the fool,” said the emperor. His tone wasn’t harsh, but there was the suggestion it could become so very quickly. “You know perfectly well that Kristina has neither the inclination, the talent–and certainly not the desire–to be a ruling empress. She will be delighted to leave those chores to you while she races about engaged in whatever whim or folly has engrossed her lately.”
He waved a big, meaty hand. “Whatever. Horse-racing is a given. And just the other day I caught her looking through an American magazine–an article on something called ‘white water rafting’.” He gave Mike a glare. “It’s your fault. You Americans. You should keep such things away from children. Under lock and key!”
Mike spread his hands. “There’s no way to stop it, Your Majesty. You know Kristina will insist on learning how to fly. From there it’s just a short step to the ambition of becoming the first woman–no, first person–to fly around the world. She might even insist on doing it solo.”
“I’m sure I can keep her from doing anything so foolhardy,” said Ulrik. “Well. Quite so foolhardy.”
He looked back at Gustav Adolf. “Assume that I accept your premise, for the moment. I still don’t see where that leads to me being in command of an army.”
“I said, don’t play the fool,” growled the emperor. “You know perfectly well that nothing bolsters a monarch’s prestige so much as being perceived as a capable military commander in his own right.” He thumped his chest with a fist. It was a big chest and a big fist and Gustav Adolf was not holding back. It sounded like a drum. “The ‘Golden King,’ they call me! ‘The Lion of the North!’ You think anyone would call me those things if I hadn’t commanded armies on a battlefield? And won most of my battles!”
“He’s right, Ulrik,” said Mike. “Nobody doubts your courage–not after you led a flotilla of cockleshells against ironclads and almost sank one of them. But that’s not the same thing as being the commander of an army. For that, you need to do what the emperor proposes.”
Ulrik made one last attempt to scuttle the idea. “But everyone will know perfectly well that I am simply following the advice of my advisers who do know what they’re doing. Colonel Higgins, first and foremost.”
“And what do you think I did, when I started this new trade of mine?” demanded Mike. He made a little gesture indicating the uniform he wore. “I didn’t brush my teeth without checking with my aides first.”
There was a brief silence while everyone else in the room gave Mike a very skeptical look. Especially his wife. But no one said anything.
Ulrik sighed. “Fine. When do I leave for Silesia?”
“Weren’t you listening?” said Mike, displaying that famous grin of his. Inimitable, it was, if he said so himself.
“Go see Colonel Higgins. After you explain to him his new assignment, he will tell you when you leave for Silesia. When, where and how.”
“And what to wear,” added Gustav Adolf. “And while I think about it, isn’t it time we promoted Higgins to a real colonel?” He gave Mike a glower, although it didn’t have much heat in it. “Don’t think I didn’t notice that little trick you pulled with giving him the rank of ‘Lt. Colonel’ which doesn’t exist in the USE Army.”
“Well, it should,” Mike replied. He’d learned long since that when dealing with Gustav Adolf, you had to stand your ground. Happily, while the emperor had a very dominant personality he didn’t object to subordinates challenging him as long as they were respectful about it. In fact, he encouraged it–though not publicly, of course.
“Yes, I agree. I’ve instructed the army to add the rank to its–what did you make me call it?–table of operations, something like that.”
“Table of organization,” Mike supplied. “And nobody ‘forced’ you do it, Your Majesty. You thought it was a good idea.”
“Why, yes. So I did.”
In the event, Mike wound up being the one who gave Jeff the news. Ulrik spent his time in a fruitless search for the young American colonel in the regiment’s headquarters, the barracks, the stables–even two of the taverns known to be frequented by the Hangman Regiment. Mike, who knew Jeff much better than the Danish prince did, went to Jeff’s personal quarters.
Where, just as he’d expected, he found Colonel Higgins sitting in a comfortable-looking armchair, with his bootless feet propped up. He was reading a book and had a mug of beer on a side table.
Mike concluded his explanation of Higgins’ new duties by saying: “You do understand, I hope, that Gretchen is the boss in Silesia. Until things change, her relationship to you is that of the Lady Protector of Silesia, not your wife. You’ll be taking her orders.”
By the time he finished, Jeff had his hands clasped behind his head and was laying back as far as he could in the armchair.
“I got no problem taking orders from my wife,” he said. “Excuse me, the Lady Protector of Silesia who’ll just happen to be in bed with me every night.”
His expression grew positively serene. “Especially since I know what her first order will be.” He began singing off-key:
“Happy days are here again,
The skies above are clear again.”
Mike smiled. “Clearly, morale won’t be a problem.”