1637 – The Polish Maelstrom – Snippet 19

1637 – The Polish Maelstrom – Snippet 19

Being fair about it, she had a hard edge herself and knew that people often had trouble determining if she was joking or not when she said similar things. Some people, for instance, thought that she’d been joking when she named the revolutionary council in charge of the Dresden uprising the Committee of Public Safety.

Wiser folk knew the truth.

“Without my family–and it’s a big one–it would have taken much longer,” Jakub continued. “It’s the reason I urged Krzysztof and Red to go to Galicia in the first place.”

“And Galicia’s not too far from the Zaporozhian Host where our Cossack comrade Dmytro Fedorovych comes from,” Opalinski added.

By now, from her long hours poring over maps, Gretchen was quite familiar with the geography of Eastern Europe. The big Cossack settlement known as the Zaporozhian Host was located on the lower reaches of the Dnieper River in what would someday be central Ukraine. Whereas Galicia was very far to the west, parts of it in Poland proper.

“That’s hundreds of miles away,” she protested. “How is that ‘close’?”

Red grinned. “About six hundred miles, I figure. But you gotta remember that we’re talking Cossack miles. Those people have a whole different attitude about distance than normal people do.”

Jakub grinned as well. “Cossacks have a different attitude on most subjects than normal people. It’s why I’d just as soon let the Bohemians deal with them.”

Gretchen stared at him. “You are familiar with Wallenstein’s scheme, then.”

“Oh, yes. We”–Zaborowsky gestured to all three men in the room–“visited Morris and Judith Roth in Prague almost two years ago. We found out about the plan from Morris.”

“He calls it the Anaconda Project,” said Opalinski. His countenance was serious, unlike that of his companions. But Gretchen had already deduced that Krzysztof didn’t have much of a sense of humor. Quite different, in that regard, from his younger brother Lukasz.

“It should work out well–if all goes well,” said Jakub. “We’ll keep the westernmost Ruthenian territory in the Commonwealth. Those lands are already heavily Polonized, and they have many settlements of Jews and Bohemian Brethren, with whom we’ve established good relations. Once we get rid of the magnates, everything should be fine.”

“Better, for sure,” chimed in Red.

“Let the Bohemians do what they can in the rest of Ruthenia,” Jakub concluded. “I wish them luck. They’ll need it.”

Again, his sharp edge showed in the derisive way he smiled when he said that last part.

“And you want what, exactly, from us here in Lower Silesia?” Gretchen asked.

The three men glanced back and forth at each other, in silent way of deciding which one of them was going to bell the cat. So to speak.

In some manner Gretchen couldn’t detect, Opalinski got elected. “It’s inevitable that even if King Wladyslaw does nothing–he’s good at that; if for no other reason than he’s always preoccupied with his whores–the great magnates will not long tolerate the situation that’s developed in the south of the Commonwealth. The ‘south’ meaning you here in Lower Silesia and we in Galicia.”

“And the Bohemians, if Roth finally gets his army moving.” That came from Zaborowsky.

“You want a military alliance.”

“Got it in one,” said Red Sybolt.

Gretchen didn’t need a translation of that American idiom. There were advantages to having an up-timer for a husband.

“We accept,” she said.

Zaborowsky’s eyes widened a bit. “Just like that? You don’t need to convene some sort of council?”

“No, I don’t,” said Gretchen. She tried to keep any trace of derisiveness out of her own smile, but was pretty sure she was failing. “There are advantages to having the title ‘Lady Protector.'”

****

“I just gotta face it, Eddie,” said Denise Beasley. Glumly, she stared down at the beer in her mug. Most of it was still there, half an hour after the barmaid had brought it to her. Denise didn’t really like alcohol that much. She just insisted on being served in a tavern as a matter of principle. She was eighteen years old–by her own somewhat idiosyncratic reckoning, anyway–and so she was damn well entitled to drink publicly. Never mind that “eighteen” was only a magic number to up-timers. Any down-time bartender would have been perfectly happy to serve her alcohol if she’d been fourteen. Beer, at least, which seventeenth century Germans–Poles and Czechs, too–considered a soft drink.

“I gotta face it,” she repeated. “My mom’s a slut. Right now–as I speak–she’s probably humping that rotten traitor.”

From across the table, Eddie Junker studied his not-yet-formally-betrothed. He and Denise were what Americans called “going steady.” That had no legal status down-time, but no officials or clergymen in the area were going to object to their relationship. Partly, because Denise had a truly ferocious reputation; partly, because she and Eddie were both suspected to be agents of the notorious Francisco Nasi; mostly, though, because five and a half years after the Ring of Fire most people in central Europe figured there was no point in quarreling with Americans or their down-time associates over matters of proper social protocol. The folk were known to be daft–and quite willing to fight over the issues.

In the world they’d come from, there’d been a saying about “mad dogs and Englishmen.” In the here and now, it was “mad dogs and Americans.”

Eddie wasn’t quite sure how to approach this ticklish situation. His immediate and natural inclination was to say: Oh, don’t be silly. With Denise, though, that would pretty much guarantee a fight.

Appealing to reason was always a better alternative, but it had its own risks. Depending on her mood, Denise could respond by taking offense at being patronized. She was normally in a good mood, at which times she was as rational as anyone and more rational than most. But if her mood was bad–and right now it was sour, sour, sour–she was what Americans called “prickly.”

He decided the best course was to make an implicit criticism of Christin George. That would rouse all of Denise’s protective instincts, which were as deeply rooted and fierce as any she-bear defending her cubs–or, in this case, she-cub defending her mama.

“You can’t call Wojtowicz a traitor, Denise, because he never swore fealty to the USE. Whether you like it or not, he’s actually a Polish patriot.” He drained what was left in his own mug. “If the term ‘traitor’ has any relevance in this situation–which I, for one, don’t believe it does–the only person it could be applied to is your mother. Given that she is–as you said, probably at this very moment–providing aid and comfort to the enemy. Well, comfort, at least.”

What? Hey, buddy, you better watch your mouth! Don’t you dare call my mom a traitor!”

Courage, courage. Never show fear. “How is that any worse than calling her a ‘slut’?”

Are you really that dense?” Denise drained her own mug–almost all of it, not the pitiful amount Eddie had drunk–and then waved furiously at the barmaid, in a summons for another beer. Whether she liked beer or not was irrelevant. She was in a barroom argument now. Principles were involved.

“Being a slut is just a personal peccadillo,” she continued, as she waited for the beer to arrive. “People throw that accusation around like confetti. Hell, I once got called a slut.”

“Really? Why?”

“Stupid bastard was hitting on me and I made clear I wasn’t the least bit interested–and wouldn’t’ve been even if he’d been my age instead of thirty or so. That’s when he called me a slut. I figure he was just engaged in wishful thinking.”

The barmaid arrived and set two more mugs of beer in front of them. Denise immediately lifted hers and drained half of it in one long swallow.

When she finished, she set the mug back down on the table and wiped her mouth with a sleeve. Principles, again, in a tavern argument.

“So what did you do?” Eddie asked.

For the first time that day, a grin came to her face. It was like the first ray of sunshine on a dismal, rainy day. Eddie loved that grin.

“I didn’t do anything. Didn’t need to. I said the guy was stupid, didn’t I? One of the definitions of which is you call a fifteen-year-old girl a slut within hearing range of her biker father.”

Eddie winced. He hadn’t really known Buster Beasley, although he’d occasionally encountered the man on the streets of Grantville before he was killed in the Dreeson Incident. But he’d known his reputation.

Denise came close to giggling, then–which she insisted she never did. “Oh, yeah, he came to repent his wicked ways, he surely did. People think being ‘beaten to a pulp’ is just an expression. Trust me, it isn’t.”

Eddie judged that Denise’s mood had improved enough. “I didn’t tell you why I came here.” He didn’t see any need to add: because you started right in denouncing your mother and never let me get a word in edgewise.

“You flew in,” said Denise. “I just assumed you came to visit and would be leaving again in a day or two.”

Eddie shook his head. “I’m on what you can call a detached assignment with no set time limit. Francisco agreed to Gretchen’s request that he provide her with a private air force.” He slapped his chest. “Which would be me. I could be here for months. Anywhere Gretchen goes–which means anywhere you go, since you’re on detached assignment also.”

Denise clapped her hands. “Wheeeeeeeeeeee!”

****

Later that night–much later–Denise caressed Eddie’s right shoulder while her head was nestled on his left. “I miss Minnie,” she said softly. “I really, really do.”

Minnie Hugelmair was Denise’s best friend. The two of them had been like sisters.

Eddie stroked her hair. “I know.” He tried to think of something more to say, but couldn’t find the right words. The problem was that Minnie–

“I don’t even know if she’s still alive.” Denise did her best to stifle a sob, but her best wasn’t good enough.

Minnie had not been able to get out of Vienna before the Turks took the city. No one had any idea what had happened to her.

“I know,” he said, continuing to stroke her hair. He could do that all night.

 

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