1624: THE BALTIC WAR – snippet 26:



            The emperor’s real territorial ambitions were toward the east. First, once the war with the Ostenders was over, Mike knew that Gustav was determined to punish the Electors of Brandenburg and Saxony for their treacherous behavior by expropriating their territories outright. He’d do what he’d already done with Mecklenburg and Pomerania, simply add them to the USE as provinces.


            So much, Mike had no quarrel with. In fact, he was for it. Saxony—even Brandenburg in this day and age, which hadn’t yet undergone its metamorphosis into Prussia—were both German lands. But the problem was that any war with Saxony and Brandenburg was almost sure to bring in the Poles, and Gustav would then use that as a pretext to try to conquer Poland. Or a good chunk of it, at least. From his point of view, why not? Poland and Sweden had been fighting for decades, and it wasn’t as if the King of Poland didn’t claim that he should rightfully be the King of Sweden. Serve the bastard right.


            Except, if that happened, Mike knew full well that the USE would simply be tying an albatross to its neck. Giving itself the same grief that, in a different universe, the Russians had done—more than once, and it had never worked.




            Let it slide, just let it slide. That was going to be quite literally a battle royal, when it happened. But it was a problem that wouldn’t arise for about a year—and Mike had the situation in the Low Countries on his plate right now.


            It was better, for the moment, to deal with Gustav’s other objection. Mike was pretty sure he knew what it was going to be—and, if so, he thought he could persuade the emperor to follow his advice.


            “And your second reservation, Your Majesty?”


            Gustav dropped his hand from the mustache and spread both arms wide. “Oh, come, Michael! Surely it’s obvious. The inevitable result of your plotting and scheming—you wife, too! even worse than you!—will be a powerful realm in the Low Countries. More than that. A united Netherlands is bound to sweep into it any number of the small principalities surrounding it. [NOTE: Expand here a bit, maybe.] What you propose is nothing less than the recreation of old Burgundy. And is that—”


            Gustav went right back to his mustache-pulling. A bit enviously, Mike reflected that there were some advantages to being a king. To hell with advisers nattering you about perfectly comfortable habits. L’etat, cest moi—and that includes the damn mustache.


            “Is that really in the interests of the United States of Europe?” Gustav concluded. “Or Sweden, for that matter, especially since—I will brook no arguments on this, Michael—you know I have every intention of recreating the Union of Kalmar. Once I’ve finished pounding that drunken Danish bastard Christian into a pulp.”


            There was no way Mike was going to stick his thumb into that issue. Not now, anyway. Personally, he had major reservations concerning the emperor’s plan to forge the first united Scandinavian realm since the Middle Ages. Maybe it would work, probably it wouldn’t—but, either way, it was not an issue that directly confronted the USE.


            “Look at the problem the other way, Gustav. You read the histories. Half the grief suffered by Europe—the western part, anyway—came from that endless back-and-forth between the Germans and the French over the territory in the middle. In the here and now, and all the way through the next two centuries, mostly as a result of French aggression. Thereafter, usually, because the Germans got strong enough to respond in kind. And to what purpose, in the end?”


            The emperor scowled slightly, but said nothing.


            “No purpose at all—but tens of millions of people lost their lives in the process. So I think it would be wise to do what we can to forestall the mess altogether. And I can think of no better way to do it than to create a nation in the middle which is powerful enough—unlike the Holland and Belgium of my old universe—that both the French and the Germans have to think twice before they decide to pick a fight.


            “Besides that,” he pressed on, “having a commercially prosperous and industrious Netherlands will be to our benefit economically. And they can’t ever pose a real military threat, because even a recreated Burgundy simply can’t have a large enough population to field big armies.”


            “They could certainly become a major naval power,” Ekstrom pointed out. “The Dutch have managed that much on their own, even today.”


            There wasn’t much vehemence to his statement, though. It was more in the way of an observation than an argument.


            Mike didn’t even have to answer that himself, in the event. A bit to his surprise, Gustav Adolf did.


            “I am not much concerned about that, Nils,” he said. “Without Denmark, they can’t bottle us up in the Baltic. And”—here, a heavy shrug—“I do not foresee us having to squabble with them much with regard to the world beyond.”


            He was eyeing Mike by the time he finished, but didn’t add anything. Mike was almost certain that Gustav knew how unyielding Mike intended to be over the slave trade—an issue that would certainly produce clashes with the Dutch, no matter what political entity emerged in the Low Countries. True, the Dutch weren’t involved much in the slave trade yet—but “yet” was the operative term. They almost surely would be, within a decade at the latest. The same powerful commercial dynamics that had led them to become one of the leading nations in the slave trade in Mike’s former universe applied just as fully in this one.


            But, as with the issue of USE citizenship, the slave trade was simply not an issue that a king of Sweden cared much about. Not directly, at least. Neither Sweden nor any of the Scandinavian countries had been significant players in the slave trade, in the world Mike came from, and there was not much likelihood they would be in this one either.


            Like Mike himself, the emperor had enough sense to let issues slide for a time, that didn’t need to be dealt with immediately. His gaze was very keen, now, his eyes seeming to be as blue as blue could get.


            “All right, Michael. Let’s get down to the heart of things. You did not undertake such a flamboyant and somewhat risky venture as flying into Luebeck—I admit, it was splendid for the morale of my soldiers—simply to chat with me. You have something specific in mind. Something you suspect—ha!—I would dismiss out of hand if it came to me in the form of a radio message.”


            “Yes, I do. Here’s what I propose…”


            Gustav didn’t explode, when Mike finished. Not in a temper tantrum, at least. He did, however, erupt into a truly imperial spasm of uproarious laughter.


            “Ha! Ha!” he finally managed to exclaim. “Never since Menelaus has a husband displayed such an obsession for a wife! But that pitiful Greek wench simply launched a thousand ships and destroyed a city, so her husband could bed her again. To do the same to your wife, you propose to launch an entire nation!”


            Mike could have argued that, of course, any which way from Sunday. It was actually not true at all that a crude desire to see his wife again—fine, copulate with his wife again—was the motive impelling him forward.


            Well, not the first one, anyway. Not even the second. The third, he’d grant.


             But he said nothing. Partly because that third motive was pressing so closely on the first two that he wasn’t quite sure he could pull it off with a straight face. And partly because the ribaldry had put Gustav in such a good mood.


            “The cardinal-infante would have to agree to a cease-fire, though,” Ekstrom cautioned. “I don’t see any way you could land the plane in the city itself.”


            Mike nodded. “Well, yes. That would have to be part of the deal—and as good a way as any to test his trustiworthiness.”


            Finally done with his laughing, Gustav peered at Mike. “And you are willing to be the bait? Well, I can see that. She is a very beautiful woman. And not unfaithful, like that wretched Helen. What was Menelaus thinking, the idiot?”