1635: The Eastern Front — Snippet 10:

Chapter 5

After Jozef finished presenting his case for staying out of the coming war between the USE and the Saxon-Brandenburgers, Koniecpolski leaned back in his chair. It was a very large and comfortable chair in a very large and comfortable chamber in his manor. Americans would have called it a living room on steroids.

For a few seconds, he stroked his large and prominent nose. Then, as Jozef had expected he would, the hetman sidestepped the issue. “I keep hearing rumors that the Americans are well-disposed toward Poland, whatever the damn Swede thinks,” he said. “Is that true, nephew?”

“Well… It’s complicated. On the one hand, yes. They tend to have a favorable attitude toward Poles. Quite favorable, actually.”

“Why?” asked Lukasz.

“Two reasons. The first and simplest is that the country they came from was a country created by immigrants. Many of those immigrants were Polish.”

The hetman grunted, and hefted a wine cup. “So I’ve heard. But I would assume many of them were Swedes also.”

“There were immigrants from Sweden, yes, and other Scandinavian countries. But most of the Scandinavian immigrants settled elsewhere in America. Places called Minnesota and Wisconsin. There were many more Poles in the area from which Grantville came.”

He made a little wagging gesture with his hand. “But that’s only one reason, and perhaps not the most important. Some Poles — even noblemen! — helped the Americans in their war of independence with England. And, in much more recent times — ‘recent,’ at least, as Americans see it — their principal antagonist was Russia. And since Poland was under Russian control –”

He has to restrain himself from adding: because of idiots like those who control the throne and Sejm.

“– and Poles chafed at the situation, the Americans were favorably disposed toward us.”

Koniecpolski finished drinking from his cup. “And on the other hand?” he asked.

Jozef shrugged. “Despite their reputation for fanciful notions — what they themselves call ‘romanticism’—the Americans are every bit as inclined toward being practical and hard-headed as anyone else. The fact is, whether they are favorably disposed to us or not, they have formed an alliance with the king of Sweden. There are some aspects to that alliance which do not particularly please them, true. Still, by and large, most Americans think their bargain with Gustav Adolf has worked quite well for them. They are not about to jeopardize it because of some favorable sentiments toward us — which, when you come right down to it, are rather vague and nebulous sentiments in the first place.”

Koniecpolski nodded again. His eyes never left Jozef’s face, though. “And there’s something else.”

Jozef took a deep breath. “Yes, there is. Whatever favorable sentiments may exist among the Americans toward we Poles as a people, there are no favorable sentiments — not in their leadership, at any rate — toward the Commonwealth as it exists today. I have heard some of their speeches, uncle, and read a great many more of their writings. That includes, for instance, a speech given by Michael Stearns in which he specified that the two great evils which loom before the world today are chattel slavery in the New World and the second serfdom in eastern Europe. Both of which must be destroyed.”

“His term?” asked Koniecpolski. “Destroyed?”

“One of his terms. Others were ‘eradicated,’ ‘crushed,’ and ‘scrubbed from existence.’ He is quite serious about it, uncle. He believes the great evils which afflicted the world he came from were caused, in great part, by the ever-widening divergence between the western and eastern parts of Europe. This, he claims, is what underlay the two great world wars that were fought in the century from which he came, in the course of which tens of millions of people died. And he lays the blame for that divergence upon the fact that, where serfdom vanished in western Europe, it had a resurgence in the eastern lands.”

“He’s no longer the prime minister of the USE, however,” pointed out Lukasz.

“Yes — but that’s beside the point. We were talking about the Americans, not the USE. Whether Mike Stearns is the prime minister or not, he still retains the personal allegiance of the big majority of Americans. That even includes Admiral Simpson now, who was once his most prominent opponent among the up-timers.” Jozef finished his own cup of wine and set it down on a side table. “Besides, while he no longer prime minister, he is now one of the three divisional commanders in Torstensson’s army. The same army, I remind you, that crushed the French at Ahrensbök. So it’s hardly the case that he’s vanished from the scene.”

The hetman shifted his massive shoulders. The gesture was not quite a shrug. “I may not even disagree with you, Jozef. But it doesn’t matter. I am the Grand Hetman of Poland, not its king. Nor, perhaps more importantly, am I the Sejm. They will make the decision, not me — but I must tell you that King Wladyslaw is strongly inclined to intervene.”

Lukasz sniffed. “Of course he is. He’s a Vasa himself and thinks he’s the rightful king of Sweden, not Gustav Adolf.” A bit angrily, he added: “Which is the reason he’s constantly embroiling Poland and Lithuania in things we should be staying out of.”

Again, Koniecpolski shifted his shoulders. “I may not disagree with you, either, young Opalinski. But — again — I am simply the Grand Hetman. Whatever decision the Sejm and the king make, I will obey.”

Jozef knew there was no point in pursuing the matter. It was odd, in a way. When it came to martial matters, Stanislaw Koniecpolski had a supple and flexible mind. For all the man’s personal devotion to ancient methods of warfare — he probably was the greatest archer in Poland; certainly the greatest mounted archer — he’d proven quite capable all his life of adapting to new realities. He knew how to use modern infantry, artillery and fortifications; the so-called “Dutch style” of warfare. He had proven to be skilled at combining land and naval operations, too, although he was not a naval commander himself. Yet that same adaptability ended abruptly whenever Koniecpolski confronted a problem of a social or political rather than strictly military nature.

Koniecpolski now looked to Lukasz. “I could very much use some more up-to-date and accurate military information. My iconoclastic young nephew here has proven to be a superb spymaster. Alas, his knowledge of purely military matters is not what it could be. You, on the other hand — as one might expect from an Opalinski — have already made a reputation for yourself as a hussar.”

Lukasz made humble noises. Jozef was rather amused. In point of simple fact, despite his youth, Lukasz was a noted hussar. A good thing, too. The Opalinski family produced a high number of free-thinkers and heretics. Lukasz’s younger brother Krzysztof, for instance, was already a notorious radical, who was accused of advocating the overthrow of serfdom and the monarchy — even the nobility to which he himself belonged. The accusation was probably true.

Fortunately, Opalinskis also tended to be skilled at arms. Certainly, Lukasz was.

“How may I be of service?” he asked.

“I do not expect Poland will be fielding any sizeable forces in the opening stages of the coming war, even assuming the Sejm decides to intervene. You know how it is.”

Lukasz nodded, wincing a little. Jozef was wincing himself.

You know how it is. In the long and often inglorious annals of the human race, Jozef thought the Polish Sejm was probably the worst example at any place or any time of all the vices of parliaments and none of their virtues. It was more riddled with factionalism than the ancient Greek city-states — and then added to the mix the absurdity of the individual veto, which even the cantankerous Greeks had had enough sense to eschew. The famous — notorious — Polish Sejm’s liberum veto required a unanimous decision before anything could be done. The result was that making any decision, even a minor one much less a decision to go to war, invariably required weeks of wrangling. Often enough, months of wrangling.

That situation would only get worse, too, as time went on. The Americans hadn’t brought very much in the way of Poland history with them. Most of what Jozef had been able to discover he’d put together piecemeal, usually from encyclopedia entries. But the liberum veto would become so notorious that it had made the passage through the Ring of Fire — more than four centuries after the absurd practice was instituted. In that other universe, by the middle of the next century, it would completely paralyze the Polish state.

The hetman continued. “But I do have the authority, I feel, to send a small unit to fight alongside the Saxons and Brandenburgers. They will be pleased by the gesture, especially with an Opalinski in command.” He wagged a large, thick finger. “But don’t do anything reckless! From my viewpoint, yours will be simply a scouting mission. I’ve fought the Swedes before. I’ve even fought Gustav Adolf himself. But I’ve never encountered these Americans, and their mechanical marvels. I’ve heard tales of their war machines, but I’d like to get your firsthand impression.”

Lukasz nodded. “I understand.”

“I’ll put a force of mercenaries at your disposal, in addition to your own retainers. The Englishman Christopher Long is their commanding officer. I believe you’ve met him?”

“Yes. He seems a capable fellow.”

“He is indeed. More to the point, he was in Spanish service when they were defeated by the Americans near Eisenach and was one of the survivors of the disaster at the Wartburg. So he’s come face to face with them, and their infernal devices.”

The hetman rose. “And now, I must leave to deal with some other business. Unlike you youngsters, who have the luxury of obsessing over single matters, we men of maturity and substance must deal with many.”

Jozef smiled. “Ah, yes. What the Americans call ‘multi-tasking.’ But they say only women are really good at it. So perhaps women should be put in charge of the Commonwealth’s affairs.”

For the first time that day, a trace of alarm came to the hetman’s face. “What a dreadful idea!”