1635: The Eastern Front — Snippet 08:

Chapter 4

Near Poznan, Poland

As he watched the archer bringing his horse around again for another run at the target, Lukasz Opalinski leaned toward the man standing next to him. “So, tell me, Jozef. Is Grantville as exotic as its reputation?”

Jozef Wojtowicz didn’t answer immediately. He was pre-occupied with watching the mounted archer.

“I think he’s still the best horseman I’ve ever seen,” he said quietly.

“He’s probably the best in Poland, anyway,” said Opalinski. “For sure and certain, he’s the best archer.” The words were spoken in a tone that had more of derision in it than admiration — albeit friendly derision. Then, in the sure tones of man who was still no older than twenty-two: “The archery’s a complete waste of time and effort. The horsemanship… Well, not so much. But this is still –”

He waved at the man on horseback, now racing past the target and drawing the bow. With his size and splendid costume, he was a magnificent figure.

“Completely ridiculous. We are not Mongols, after all, nor will we be fighting such. Even the Tatars have outgrown this foolishness, for the most part.”

The arrow pierced the target, almost right in the center.

Wojtowicz didn’t argue the point. But it was still a mesmerizing sight to watch.

“Grantville,” nudged his companion.

Josef shook his head. “It’s complicated, Lukasz. In some ways, it’s incredibly exotic. Yes, they can talk with each at long distance — miles, many miles — using little machines. Yes, they can make moving pictures on glass. Yes, they have flying machines. I watched them many times. Yes, yes, yes — just about every such tale you’ve heard is either true or is simply an exaggeration of something that is true.”

The mounted archer came back around again, still at a full gallop. Jozef, who was an accomplished horseman himself, knew how much skill was required simply to manage that much. The rider’s hands, of course, were completely pre-occupied with the bow. Add onto that the skill of the archery –again, the arrow hit the target’s center — and add onto that the preposterous pull of the bow being used. Jozef had no idea what it was, precisely, but he was quite sure that he’d have to struggle to draw the bow even standing flat-footed. And while Jozef was not an especially large man, or a tall man, he was quite strong.

He’d broken off his account, watching. Opalinski nudged him again. “Grantville, Grantville. Let’s keep our mind on the future, Jozef, not” — he waved again at the mounted archer, with a dismissive gesture — “this flamboyantly absurd display of prehistoric martial skills.”

Jozef smiled. “In other respects, no. Leaving aside the machines and marvelous mechanism, Grantville seems much like any other town. People going about their business, that’s all.”

He was fudging here, but he didn’t see any alternative. Not, at least, any alternative suitable for a conversation held under these circumstances. The months that Jozef had spent in Grantville had also made clear to him the more subtle — but in some easy, even more exotic — differences in social custom that lay beneath the surface of the fantastic machines. He’d also come to understand that those subtleties in social custom were inextricably tied to the mechanical skills that were so much more outwardly evident.

It was not complicated, really, if a man was willing to look at things with clear eyes. If you wanted your serfs to build and operate complex equipment for you, in order to enhance your wealth and power, then…

Sooner or later, you’d have to be willing to end their serfdom. The American technology presumed a level of intellect and education even in their so-called “unskilled” laborers that no Polish or Lithuanian or Ruthenian serf could possibly match. And simply instructing them wouldn’t work. In the nature of things, education can only be narrowed so far or it becomes useless. And given the necessary breadth, how could a sane man expect an educated serf to keep from being discontented — and, now, far better equipped to struggle against the source of his discontent?

Nor was it simply a matter of education, as such. Another thing had also become clear to Jozef in the time he’d spent in Grantville — and perhaps clearer still, during the months that followed when he’d resided in Magdeburg. The sort of broad-ranging skills that were necessary in a population to create and sustain the technical marvels which the Americans took for granted also presupposed mobility of labor. There was no way around it. Not, certainly, in the long run. The needed skills for that sort of advanced technical society were simply too complex, too inter-connected — most of all, too unpredictable. The demand could only be met by a productive population which was free to move about at will, to learn whatever skills and apply themselves to whatever labor they chose. You could no more regulate it than you could regulate the ocean.

Put it all together, and the conclusion was obvious. Jozef had come to it long before he left Magdeburg. If the Commonwealth of Poland and Lithuania was to have any chance at all of surviving the historical doom so clear and explicit even in Grantville’s sketchy historical records of the future of eastern Europe — the Commonwealth had been the one and only major European power which had simply vanished by the end of the eighteenth century — then serfdom had to be destroyed. And Jozef could see only two options. Either the Poles and Lithuanians destroyed serfdom themselves, or someone else would destroy it for them. And, in that second event, might very well destroy the Commonwealth in the process.

But how to explain that, even to the young man standing next to him — much less the mounted archer putting on this impressive display?

The archer was Stanislaw Koniecpolski, who was not only the Grand Hetman of the Commonwealth but also one of its greatest magnates. The Koniecpolski family was one of the mighty families of the realm, not to mention one of its richest. They owned vast estates in Poland and the Ruthenian lands. The hetman himself owned sixteen districts and had a yearly retinue somewhere in excess of half a million zlotys. He’d even founded a complete new town — Brody, which had manufactories as well as serving as a commercial center. Jozef had heard it said that more than one hundred thousand people lived on Stanislaw Koniecpolski’s estates, most of them Ruthenians. And most of them serfs, of course.

He was immensely powerful, too, not just wealthy. King Wladyslaw allowed Koniecpolski what amounted to the powers of a viceroy in the southwestern area of the Commonwealth. Some foreigners even referred to the hetman as the “vice-king of the Ukraine,” although no such title actually existed in Polish law. But the king trusted him — and for good reason. So, the hetman negotiated directly with the Ottoman Empire, and the Tatars, and even signed treaties in his own name. He also had perhaps the most extensive spy network in the Commonwealth, which penetrated Muscovy as well as the Ottoman and Tatar realms.

And now, penetrated the United States of Europe as well. Insofar, at least, as his young nephew Jozef had been able to create a spy network in that newest realm of the continent over the past year and a half.

It was a rather extensive network, actually, given the short time available — and, in Jozef’s opinion, quite a good one. It turned out, somewhat to his surprise, that he had a genuine gift for such work.