1637 – The Polish Maelstrom – Snippet 18

1637 – The Polish Maelstrom – Snippet 18

Chapter 4

Breslau (Wroclaw)

Capital of Lower Silesia

By the time the guard got the door to his room open, Jozef Wojtowicz had moved from the bed to the armchair. He’d placed it in the corner that got the most light so he could read easily. Once seated, he considered picking up the book from the side table next to the armchair and opening it just to show his captors that he was nonchalant about his situation. While he’d been staying in Grantville he’d run across a couple of appropriate American slang expressions, one of which they’d stolen from the French.

Sang-froid. Calm, cool and collected.

But he decided not to. There would be something a bit rude about it, he thought.

He’d always considered rudeness to be a display of anxiety–inferiority disguised as arrogance; a sheep in wolf’s clothing. He’d gotten that attitude from watching his uncle Stanislaw Koniecpolski. The Grand Hetman of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, one of the continent’s half-dozen most prestigious military commanders, was never rude to anyone, from the king of Poland to his own servants and the peasants on his estates. To behave so would be beneath his dignity.

Jozef had plenty of time to make the decision, since it took the guard a ridiculous amount of time to get the door unlocked.

Unlocked? Say better, unlocked, unbarred, unbolted, unlatched, all padlocks removed–there might even be a barricade on the other side of that door which had to be manhandled aside.

His arrest had been… comical.

Gretchen had ordered that he be placed in one of the many rooms set aside for visitors in the town hall, rather than in the dank and cramped cells in the basement set aside for common criminals.

But he’s a traitor! Eric Krenz had argued hotly.

He can’t be a foreign spy and a traitor at the same time, Gretchen had pointed out. Make up your mind.

He’s a foreign spy, then. Spies are hanged! Or stood up against a wall and shot!

Do I need to remind you that this evil spy once saved my life? And also led the sortie against General Banér at the siege of Dresden.

That had shut Krenz up for… maybe three seconds.

Fine. That’s the one thing–okay, two things–that saves him from being summarily executed like he deserves.

Gretchen’s tone of voice had remained mild. Actually, there’s a third thing that keeps Jozef from being summarily executed.

What’s that?

The fact that I’m the Lady Protector of Lower Silesia and you’re not.

That shut Krenz up quite nicely.

When the emperor bestowed that silly title on me, I insisted he had to specify what my powers were as well as my duties. He did so promptly and in considerable detail. It’s a bit fascinating, really–as well as being another example of the need for a democratic republic. Talk about arbitrary and capricious powers! Do you know that as Lady Protector I can have anyone summarily executed? Even for such a trivial offense as quarreling with me. It’s true–I’ll show you the emperor’s letter.

Later. For now, Eric, take Jozef to one of the guest rooms.

Krenz had managed a final rally.

At least the door has to be locked! And barred!

Oh, certainly. Whatever you think is needed.

****

What had been needed, in Eric Krenz’s opinion, were enough devices to have sunk a good sized rowboat. It had taken the detachment of soldiers who’d accompanied Krenz and Jozef more than an hour to fix in place all the ways Krenz could think up to keep Jozef from escaping. Apparently he was not just a spy, but a Super Spy.

When the guard finally came through the door he had his pistol firmly in hand and pointed right at Jozef. On his heels came…

Jozef hadn’t been expecting this. “I didn’t think you’d visit me,” he said. Then, gestured at a small divan next to his armchair. “Please, have a seat.”

Christin George did so. She had a twisted smile on her face, but didn’t say anything until the guard left and finished the process of locking the door. Then she said: “You think this is the first time I’ve had to visit my man in jail? Hell, I had to bail Buster out more times than I can remember.”

She cocked her head a little, examining him as if he was some sort of peculiar animal in a zoo.

“I’ll say this much, though. You’ve definitely got style. Buster was mostly just locked up for bar-room brawling. Not you! ‘High crimes and misdemeanors,’ no less.” She issued a whistle. “I gotta admit that’s a new one for me.”

She cocked her head the other way. “So. Did you do it?”

“Do what? Spy or commit treason? Some people seem to be having a hard time deciding which it is.”

She chuckled. “Oh, I don’t figure you’re a traitor, seeing how you didn’t betray your own country. Which is Poland, the last I heard. How about the spy business, though? Is it really true that you’re Poland’s head spy in the USE? ‘Chief of spy operations,’ I think Denise called it. She’s really pissed at you, by the way. But I think the real reason’s not that you screwed our nation but that she still hasn’t gotten over the fact that you’re screwing me. She really adored her father, you know.”

Jozef heaved a sigh. “Yes, I know she did. ‘Head spy’ is a muddled term. More often than not I hired someone to do the spying. I was ‘chief of espionage operations.’ But I worked for my uncle, not King Wladislaw–be damned to him–and certainly not the stinking Sejm. Leave that aside. It was your country that invaded mine, not the other way around. So you can’t accuse me of aggression, the way I look at it. Just righteous self-defense.”

Christin’s eyes widened. “It’s really true then? You’re Grand Hetman Koniecpolski’s nephew?”

“Bastard nephew. He acknowledged me as his brother Przedbor’s son, but I was never a legitimate member of the family.”

“Did that hurt?” she asked.

He didn’t answer for a few seconds. “Yes. It did.”

Christin nodded. “Okay. So now what happens?”

He shrugged. “I have no idea. If Gretchen keeps me here in Silesia–or Saxony–I’ll probably stay alive. If she turns me over to the emperor or the prime minister of the USE… Maybe not. I don’t know either man well enough to guess what they might do.”

“Oh, you’ll be staying in Breslau. Gretchen was inclined that way anyhow, and when I told her I wanted you here that clinched the deal.”

“Why?” he asked. “I’m pleased to hear the news, of course, but it doesn’t make a lot of sense. Gretchen Richter is hardly what you’d call a sentimentalist.”

“Not hardly,” Christin agreed. “What she is, though, when it comes to her enemies, is one cold-hearted, ruthless bitch. All I had to do was point out that I’m her Number One Premier Bombardier–got a proven track record, which nobody else does around here–and it’d be a real shame if on my next combat sortie I dropped the bomb into a river instead of on top of the evil-doers. On account of I couldn’t see well, my eyes being all teared up with grief.”

It was his turn to cock his head quizzically. “And would they be? Teared up, I mean.”

She didn’t answer for a bit. Then said quietly: “Some, yes. I don’t know how much yet.”

“Yet?”

For the first time since she’d come into the room, a big smile came to her face. That dazzling smile was something Christin and her daughter had in common. There was more than a hint of challenge in it, to go with the friendliness.

“I’m not what you’d call a casual person, Jozef. I hadn’t come to a decision about you, but I did know that I wanted to keep working at it.” She shrugged. “If you’d been guilty of treason, it’d be a different story. But I got no real beef with someone who’s loyal to his own.”

Again, the smile came. “Might have to shoot you some day, of course. But in the meantime…”

She eyed the bed. “I checked with Gretchen before I came over. She’s okay with conjugal visits, as long as I don’t help you escape.”

That was an English term he’d never heard before. “What kind of visit is a conju–oh.”

****

In another comfortable room on the same floor of the town hall–a considerably bigger room, though–Gretchen Richter leaned back in her own armchair and gazed approvingly at the three men sitting across from her, two on a couch and one on another armchair.

“I didn’t think you’d accomplish so much in so short a time, Red,” she said to the up-timer sitting on one end of the couch. “I’m impressed.”

Using a thumb for the purpose, Red Sybolt pointed to the man next to him. “It’s mostly thanks to Jakub, being honest about it.”

She shifted her gaze to the down-timer on the couch. There was nothing particularly striking about him to the eye. He was an averaged-sized man with a rather dark complexion for a Pole. The skin color went well with the black hair and was in marked contrast to his bright blue eyes. The fellow went by the name of Jakub Zaborowsky, and hadn’t said very much since the arrival of the delegation from Galicia the day before.

“Tell me,” she said.

Zaborowsky frowned. “Tell you what?”

“Don’t play the innocent. No one just stumbles into a situation and conjures up a popular rebellion in less than two years unless they knew they could hit the ground running.”

From the puzzled expression on his face, she realized her last phrase had been a spill-over from Amideutsch that Jakub wasn’t familiar with. They’d been speaking standard German in deference to Zaborowsky and Opalinski–insofar as term standard German meant anything in the seventeenth century. It would be more accurate to call it the Saxon dialect.

Before she could do so, Red translated. “‘Hit the ground running’ means you could start right off without having to get oriented.”

“Ah.” Now it was Zaborowsky who leaned back. “I had not thought of it that way, but I suppose you’re right. I spent much of my childhood in Galicia and I have many family members there to this day. Every one of them down to the mewling babes is a hardened revolutionist except great-aunt Klara. Hopefully we won’t have to shoot her.”

Gretchen couldn’t tell if the last bit was a joke. It probably was, but… Maybe not. There was a hard edge to Zaborowsky that she didn’t detect in Opalinski or Sybolt.

 

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