1637 – The Polish Maelstrom – Snippet 17
Wiśniowiecki town house
After the servant poured the wine, Prince Jeremi Wiśniowiecki waved his hand dismissively. The servant, whose name Wiśniowiecki didn’t know–it had never occurred to him to ask the man–quietly took his stance by the door to the salon, ready in case his services were needed further.
Which they would be, judging from the consumption of wine by the two noblemen sitting in front of the fireplace, enjoying the heat produced by it. The fire was not a big one, though. It was autumn, not winter.
“It’s done,” Wiśniowiecki said, after taking a gulp of wine. His voice was full of satisfaction. A hefty portion of smugness, as well–the sort of smugness that comes to rich, powerful and capable young men after they’ve completed a task well. A middle-aged man will invariably have suffered his share of misfortunes and setbacks by the time he’s in his forties. At the age of twenty-six, Wiśniowiecki had known nothing but success.
Of course, he’d started off with many advantages. To begin with, he’d been born into one of the wealthiest families in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. He was an orphan, his parents having both died by the time he was seven. His uncle Konstanty was now the formal head of the family, but Jeremi had taken over control of the family’s huge estates in 1631, after he returned from a sojourn in Western Europe.
The estates were centered on the Ruthenian town of Lubny, about one hundred and twenty miles southeast of Kiev. The estates were so enormous that they were sometimes called the Lubnie state, being larger than most European realms and having a population of almost a quarter of a million people. Wiśniowiecki could field a private army of several thousand men.
But, as was typical of most young men of his lofty rank, he took all that for granted; nothing more than his proper due. The Americans had an expression for his attitude: He was born on third base and thinks he hit a triple.
Wiśniowiecki himself had never heard the expression, though. While still a teenager, he’d spent time in Western Europe; first, attending a Jesuit college and then gaining some military experience in the Netherlands. But he returned to the Commonwealth before the Ring of Fire, which he only heard about many months later. He’d never had any personal contact with the up-timers. That was not surprising. Like almost all Polish and Lithuanian magnates, Wiśniowiecki despised the political notions that the Americans had brought with them. He had no desire to see one of the insolent creatures unless he was hanging from a gibbet.
“You’re sure of that?” asked his companion, Mikołaj Potocki. “There’s been no news from Poznań.”
The self-satisfied expression on Jeremi’s face remained in place. “Not yet, no. But that’s to be expected. Those men know their trade. They’ll make it look like something resulting from natural causes. Food poisoning, most likely. I didn’t want to know the details, of course.”
He took another quaff of wine. “Relax, Bearpaw,” he said, using the nickname that his close associates used for Potocki. Despite their difference in age–Potocki was forty-one, fifteen years older than Wiśniowiecki–the two men were on close terms. They’d both participated in the Battle of Paniowce in 1633, where Grand Hetman Stanislaw Koniecpolski had defeated the Ottoman Turks, and had been friends ever since.
“I’ve used these men before,” he continued. “They were the ones who took care of that would-be upstart Bohdan Chmielnicki for me, two years ago. They’re Lisowczycy.”
“Ah.” The name referred to men who’d fought under Aleksander Józef Lisowski, a Lithuanian military adventurer. After his death in 1616, many of his followers had continued Lisowski’s banditry-in-all-but-name.
The older man took a sip of his own wine. Unusually for a Polish nobleman, Potocki was abstemious with liquor. In truth, he’d only accepted the wine out of politeness. From past experience, he knew that the prince would outdrink him by three or four cups to one.
That same caution was what had led him to allow Wiśniowiecki to be the leader of their cabal, despite being young and inexperienced. If the plot should go sour, Potocki was sure he could still slide out from under whatever repercussions might follow.
“Assuming the ploy works,” he asked, “what do you plan to do then?”
Wiśniowiecki frowned. “That’s become something of a problem. I’d thought we could concentrate our attention on Lower Silesia. Driving out that German bitch with the ridiculous title of Lady Protector–hopefully, we’d kill her in the doing–would do more to enhance our status and gain more adherents to our cause than anything.”
Potocki nodded. “Yes, it would. But you said ‘I’d thought’, implying you’ve changed your mind. Why?”
“It’s those rebels in Galicia. They’re now calling themselves the Galician Democratic Assembly and are claiming they’re a konfederacja.”
“That’s ridiculous!” exclaimed Potocki.
A konfederacja was a unique tradition of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, not found in any other realm in Europe. It amounted to an armed rebellion, but one that had semi-official status; an extraordinary form of direct democracy, you might call it. But it was a custom reserved for noblemen, not something any serf or guttersnipe could adopt.
“Indeed it is,” agreed Wiśniowiecki. “But they can’t be ignored any longer. They’ve brought much of Galicia under their influence–and just recently they’ve seized Lviv.”
“Lviv? You’re joking!”
The prince shook his head. “I wish I were. They’re not–yet–making formal claim to it as their capital, but for all intents and purposes they now control the city. One of the largest in Ruthenia–and which puts them in position to threaten not only my own estates but those of many other magnates as well.”
Potocki said, “Just to name one, Prince Wladyslaw Zaslawski. He’s still very young, though.”
“Only twenty. But there’s also Janusz Lohojski. He’s not a great landowner but he is the voivode of Kiev and the starost of Śniatyń and Żytomierz. He’s both alarmed and enraged by the developments in Galicia, which is not far from him. In fact, he’s the one who sent me this latest news–along with the clear suggestion that he’d be willing to form an alliance.”
That called for a bit of celebration. Potocki drained his cup of wine. From his point of view, what was most important about the prospect of Lohojski joining them was that the voivode of Kiev was also a man in his forties–just a bit older than Potocki himself–who had considerable military experience. He’d participated in the battle of Chocim fifteen years earlier where armies assembled by Polish-Lithuanian magnates had driven off the Ottoman invasion of Moldovia led by Sultan Osman II.
Potocki suppressed a smile. What had worried him the most about his participation in Wiśniowiecki’s plot was that, if–no, it would almost certainly be when–it became necessary to engage in military action, he would be one thrust forward into the limelight. Wiśniowiecki was simply too young to assume command of their forces. Now….
Potocki had no problem with allowing another man to be the official military leader when the time came. No problem at all.
“So we’ll be heading to Galicia, then,” he said. “I can bring an army of three thousand men. Added to yours–”
“We’ll have at least seven thousand men, which is probably enough but I’d like to be stronger.”
“That shouldn’t be a problem. Zaslawski can field three thousand–maybe four–and now that Lubomirski’s thrown in with us that’ll be another two or three thousand. That leaves the voivode of Kiev. I imagine Lohojski’s good for at another two thousand, especially since he’ll be in command.”
Wiśniowiecki smiled thinly. He knew his friend’s cautious manner. “Yes, he will. More wine?”
Without waiting for an answer, he waved a hand to summon the servant. His own cup was empty, whether or not Potocki wanted any more.
“It’s a pity, really,” said Potocki. “He was a great man, in his way.”
The prince shifted his shoulders; a minimalist shrug, you might call it. “Yes, he was. But the Ring of Fire changed everything. You and I both know we can’t continue as before–but he never would have agreed. And as long as he was there, he was like a fallen tree across a road, impeding all forward movement.”
The servant arrived and Potocki held up his own cup. “True,” he said.
After the servant resumed his place, he began pondering the possibilities. The man’s name was Andrzej Kucharski, and despite his humble ancestry–his last name meant “cook”–he had very good hearing. He’d been able to follow the conversation between Wiśniowiecki and Potocki. As was typical of men of their class, they’d simply been oblivious to the servant’s presence in the room.
Kucharski was bolder than most servants, but that didn’t make him very bold. Passing this information on to whoever might wish to buy it was bound to be dangerous.
But dangerous also meant worth a lot and Kucharski was ambitious, insofar as that term could be applied to men of his class. He wanted to get a wife, and for that he needed enough money to set up a household–which would take him another five years on the miserable wages he got paid by Wiśniowiecki. “Prince” or not, the man was a miser when it came to his servants.
The conversation between the two noblemen had drifted over to personal affairs. Kucharski stopped listening. He was too intent on considering his possible market.