1635: The Eastern Front — Snippet 06:

Chapter 3

Caroline Platzer rolled her eyes. “She’s still insisting that I have to come with her. I swear, that kid is more stubborn than any mule who ever lived.”

Her boss, Maureen Grady, didn’t seem noticeably sympathetic. “What do you expect? Not too many mules are in line to inherit a throne — and Kristina’s in line to inherit three. Queen of Sweden, Empress of the United States of Europe, and — hum. I wonder what the female equivalent would be for High King of the Union of Kalmar? High Queen? Sounds silly.”

“It’s not funny, Maureen! She’s been pestering Thorsten too, and now he’s starting to make noises that I should go.”

“Then why don’t you? For Pete’s sake, Caroline, it’s just a trip across the Baltic to Stockholm. Even in this day and age, that’s not considered an adventure. At least, not when you’ve got royal resources to draw on.”

Caroline felt stubborn herself. She had an uneasy feeling she probably looked stubborn, too — in that child-mulish sort of way that drove her crazy when Kristina did it to her. “Because.”

Now, Maureen rolled her eyes. “Oh, how adult! Caroline, you just don’t want to go because you’re afraid Thorsten’ll get killed when the war starts and you think you ought to be here in case that happens for reasons that defy comprehension, since it’s not as if you could do anything about it. Hell, you couldn’t even gloom around in widow’s weeds since you wouldn’t legally be a widow. Unless you marry him just before he ships off which would be pointless romanticism, seeing as how there isn’t any Social Security for spouses in this day and age on account of there’s no Social Security for anybody.”

Even more astringently, she added: “I suppose you might qualify for a regimental pension, but probably not. Since we administer those funds — that means me, kiddo — and I’m damned if I see why a healthy young woman like you would need to be supported when there are plenty of Deserving Widows around.”

Somehow, she verbalized the capital letters. Caroline had never been able to figure out how Maureen managed that.

Still not knowing what to say — beyond another “because,” which would just subject her to more ridicule — she satisfied herself with glaring at Maureen. Which brought down more ridicule anyway.

“Oh, stop trying to glare at me. You look like another eight year old — except Kristina’s one hell of a lot better at it. Which you’d expect, given that she’s a genu-ine princess.”

There really wasn’t much point in trying to out-glare or out-ridicule or out-anything Maureen Grady. Caroline’s boss was a very experienced and successful middle-aged psychiatric social worker, which meant she had the hide of a rhinoceros. It didn’t help that she was married to a cop.

“He might get killed!” she half-wailed.

“Yeah, he might,” Maureen responded. “He’s an officer in command of a flying artillery unit. Maybe in another life Thorsten will choose to do something safer, like being a skydiver or a demolitions expert or a NASCAR driver. But in the here and now — damn fool got himself promoted again, too — he chose to do this instead. My husband chose to be a cop. Did I tell you he turned down an offer to become the manager of the auto parts store he was working in, before he enrolled in the police academy? So there’s another damn fool.”

Caroline got up and went to the window in Maureen’s office. Then, she pushed the curtain aside so she could have the pleasure of gazing out onto Magdeburg from the vantage point of the third floor window.

As visual pleasures went, this was akin to sight-seeing Pittsburgh — not the modern and quite attractive city that Caroline had known in the late twentieth century, but Pittsburgh as it had been a century earlier in its industrial heyday. Granted, the steel mills and foundries lining the Elbe weren’t as huge as the ones that had lined the Monongahela. Not yet. But they were getting there. There were a lot of good things about living in a city which was the center of booming industry as well as the new capital of a new nation. Jobs were plentiful, and they generally paid well. But “looks pretty” was not one of them, and “smells nice” even less so.

Still, staring at Magdeburg’s factories was better than dwelling morosely on what might happen to her fiancé, once the war started. Or resumed, depending on how you looked at it. Thorsten’s friend Eric Krenz had told her that the historians at the new college he’d been taking classes at were already arguing about it. Should Emperor Gustav Adolf’s soon-to-be-launched campaign against Brandenburg and Saxony be considered a new war? And if so, what to call it? The “Eastern War” was advocated by some, but most seem to feel that was excessively expansive. The “East” was a large place, after all, and nobody thought this would be the last war thereabouts.

Still others, Eric said, argued that the looming hostilities should simply be considered another campaign in the Ostend League War — as some called it; other historians preferred “the Baltic War” and there was at least one diehard who was holding out for “the Richelieu War” — seeing as how the cause of it was the emperor’s fury that Brandenburg and Saxony had betrayed him after the League of Ostend launched its attack.

Caroline didn’t give a damn what they called it. What difference did it make? No matter what name was given to the upcoming war, Thorsten would be doing the same thing — either leading a charge against well-armed enemies or holding off a charge of theirs. To make things still worse, the “flying” part of “flying artillery” meant Thorsten would be mounted. She couldn’t think of anything dumber or more dangerous than perching a man on top of a horse on a battlefield, with about fifty gazillion chunks of metal flying every which away.

“So you think I should go,” she said.

“Yes. I do. For one thing — if you can tear yourself away from your personal situation for a moment — you’ll help keep the trip from becoming a minor disaster. I’m sure and certain Prince Ulrik will jump for joy. Kristina’s a handful at the best of times, and visiting her mother will not be one of them. By all accounts I’ve heard, the woman’s a loon.”

Caroline couldn’t help but smile. “I don’t think ‘loon’ is one of the approved terms in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Maureen.”

“No, it isn’t. Not even in DSM-IV. Who cares? That damn thing was only good for hustling medical insurance companies — and there aren’t any of them in the here and now, either. By all accounts, the queen of Sweden is a loon. Or if you prefer, a nut case.”

Caroline wasn’t inclined to argue the point. She knew that a good part of the reason the young princess was so determined to get Caroline to accompany her to Stockholm was because her mother always upset her. That would be even more true this time, Kristina said, because she’d be introducing a future husband in the bargain.

Interestingly, Kristina now seemed more worried that her mother wouldn’t approve of Ulrik, rather than being worried about what Ulrik might do. In the short time since she’d been introduced to her spouse-to-be, the girl had taken a liking to him. What was perhaps even more important — given the cold realities of royal marriages — was that she was starting to trust Ulrik as well.

That was fine with Caroline. She thought Ulrik was quite trustworthy herself. And that certainly boded well for the future. Unhappy royal marriages usually produced grief that extended far beyond palaces. One of them had even caused the most famous war in history, assuming Homer hadn’t made the whole thing up.

“Okay. You said, ‘for one thing.’ That implies a second reason. What is it?”

Maureen shook her head. “I can’t believe how dense you are, sometimes. Caroline, we’re trying to introduce modern and enlightened attitudes toward mental problems and diseases into a century where they still burn witches. Has it occurred to you that having the future — take your pick, or pick all three — queen of Sweden, empress of the USE and high queen or whatever the hell they call her of the Union of Kalmar being someone friendly to us and to our endeavors might be just a tad helpful?”

“Oh.” She thought about that, for a while. “All right,” she said eventually. “I’ll go.”