1635: The Eastern Front — Snippet 11:

Chapter 6
Vienna, Austria

“Yes, I know you’re against it,” Ferdinand said. The young emperor of Austria settled back in his chair and gave Janos Drugeth a look from under lowered brows that fell short of favorable. Quite a ways short, in fact. “What I wonder is how much of your opposition is based on your attachment to the American woman.”

Janos managed not to clench his teeth. For all that he generally approved of Ferdinand III — he even counted himself one of the emperor’s few close friends — there were times the man reminded him of his narrow-minded and pig-headed father. Once the emperor made up his mind about something, he could be very hard to dislodge, no matter how foolish the decision might be.

Still, Janos reminded himself, the emperor was only “very hard” to persuade he was wrong. His predecessor, Ferdinand II, had been impossible.

“To begin with,” he said mildly, “I am not ‘attached’ to Noelle Stull. We have exchanged letters, that’s all.”

“Gifts too.”

Drugeth nodded. “Yes, gifts too. But I will remind you — as you know perfectly well, Ferdinand — that Americans do not see such exchanges the same way we do. Even between a young man and a young woman.”

He was one of the very few people allowed to address the emperor informally, as long as they were speaking in private. Normally, that absence of protocol allowed for considerable ease and warmth in their relationship. On this occasion, Drugeth found himself almost regretting it. In some ways, it was easier to oppose such a friend on an important issue when you could call him what he actually was — “Your Majesty,” the ruler of the land.

Ferdinand grunted. The noise had a vaguely sour tone. It had more than a vaguely childish tone, as well.

But Drugeth managed not to laugh. On most occasions, he would have been at liberty to disparage his good friend Ferdinand. But with a dispute like this between them, such derision would be unwise. It would certainly be counter-productive. Whatever else they were, Habsburg monarchs were self-assured. They had not become Europe’s premier dynasty and held that position for so many centuries because they were given to doubt and uncertainty.

As a rule, that was a good trait. Here, unfortunately, it was not.

Janos was silent for a moment, gauging the emperor’s mood. He decided that it would be pointless to continue the line of argument he’d been pursuing so far this morning — to wit, that getting into a war with the USE over the fate of John George and his Brandenburg counterpart George William would be pointless, foolish and short-sighted.

Pointless, because Drugeth had no doubt whatever that the Electors of Saxony and Brandenburg were doomed to defeat. Their armies were not ranked among the best in Europe and would be hopelessly outclassed by Gustav Adolf’s forces. The contrast in the quality of military leadership was probably just as severe. The Swedish king was recognized as one of the great captains of the world, and his young lieutenant Torstensson — the same man who had crushed the French at Ahrensbök — ranked not much below him. In contrast, the Brandenburg commanders were mediocre. The Saxon general Von Arnim was competent, but some of the Saxon officers — the brute Holk, for instance — had no business being placed in charge of an army.

Foolish, because Austria couldn’t intervene directly, in any event. Bohemia stood in the way, and Bohemia was allied to the USE. So, should Austria leap into the fray on the side of Saxony and Brandenburg, it would have only two options: Send an army against Wallenstein, which would re-open a war that Janos believed — and so did Emperor Ferdinand III himself, in his more honest moments — should be ended. Or, send Austrian forces on a long and roundabout march through Poland. That would require bypassing Silesia, which was now also in Wallenstein’s possession. The end result would be to leave Austria largely defenseless should Wallenstein decide to reopen the war himself. Janos advocated peace with Bohemia, not because he trusted Wallenstein but because he didn’t. A peace settlement would have the great virtue of directing Wallenstein’s ambitions to the east instead of southward.

Such a risky gambit would also leave Austria open to attack from the Turk, which was something Drugeth feared quite a bit more than he feared an attack by Bohemia. The young sultan of the Ottoman Empire, Murad IV, was even more ambitious than Wallenstein. But Murad commanded a far more powerful realm than Bohemia and, unlike Wallenstein, was either insane or vicious or both. The up-time historical accounts sometimes referred to the current emperor of the Turks as “Murad the Mad,” and sometimes as “Murad the Cruel.” Neither monicker was cause for relaxation, if you were Austrian.

Finally, it would be short-sighted. Ferdinand’s desire to intervene in the coming war was nothing more intelligent or sublime than the instinctive reaction of a dynast to the imminent destruction of two dynasties by a nation that bordered on an outright republic. What made Ferdinand’s reaction particularly short-sighted was the fact that one of those dynasties — the Hohenzollerns of Brandenburg — would be the most bitter enemies of the Habsburgs a century hence. That assumed, of course, that the history of this world followed that of the universe the Americans came from, which was now most unlikely.

Janos had spent hours discussing the history of that other universe with the emperor. Grantville’s records concerning the Austrian empire had not been as extensive as their histories of England or even France. Still, the basic outlines were clear enough; certainly the two most salient facts, from the standpoint of a Habsburg:

Fact One. Although Austria would survive, as a small landlocked nation in central Europe, all vestiges of the empire would vanish.

Fact Two. So would the Habsburg dynasty, as a ruling family. That would be true of both branches of the family. Indeed, the Spanish branch would die out at the end of this century.

Again, it was highly unlikely that the course of history in this universe would follow that in the other. It couldn’t, in fact, because in this world a third branch of the Habsburg had already come into existence in the Low Countries, something which had never happened in the universe Grantville came from.

Still, the patterns were clear. Unless the rulers of Austria carried through a profound transformation of their realm, they would not survive. And it was that task which ought to be at the forefront of Ferdinand’s mind, not this atavistic desire to come to the rescue of dynasticism. On some level, Janos was certain that even Ferdinand himself knew as much.

Ah, well. It was probably too much to expect that a scion of the continent’s oldest and most powerful family would not suffer the occasional lapse. The thing to do now was to limit the damage until Ferdinand could come to his senses.

The best way to do that was to use Austria’s oldest and most powerful enemy. “Point with alarm,” was the American phrase, according to Noelle in one of her letters.