1635: The Eastern Front — Snippet 17

Chapter 9

After Jeff left, Gretchen didn’t spend more than half an hour moping around and feeling sorry for herself. She’d inherited her grandmother’s stoic disposition and hard-headed attitude toward life’s travails.

Besides, there were the children to be settled down. There weren’t as many as Gretchen had handled when she was a camp follower. Baldy and Martha had stayed behind in Grantville, which left only four of her foster children in addition to her own two sons Willi and Joseph. But all four of them were now entering their teen years and were almost the same age — Karl Blume, the oldest, was fourteen; Christian Georg, the youngest, was twelve. The other two, both born in 1622, were thirteen.

So, they were rambunctious. On the other hand, Gretchen was Gretchen. It didn’t take her more than half an hour to set them all about various household chores, obediently if not exactly happily.

The problems would come later, once the little devils figured out that the apartment building was as much in the way of a CoC headquarters — national headquarters, at that, with Gretchen in residence — as it was a private dwelling. They’d handle that knowledge each according to his or her own temperament. Otto and Maria Susanna, charmers both, would sweet-talk the various residents into taking on at least some of their tasks; Karl, the oldest and most independent, would be ingenious in evading his responsibilities; the very youngest, Christian Georg, would sulk long and mightily.

Gretchen would have none of it, though, sweet-talk and scheme and sulk though they might. She’d never heard the old saw “idle hands are the devil’s workshop.” That was an English saying that probably originated from Chaucer. Many Americans knew it, of course, especially the more religious ones. But none of them happened to have used the expression in front of her.

Had she heard it, though, she would have agreed immediately and vigorously.

Which brought her to the next problem at hand. The children now dispatched for the moment, Gretchen turned and gazed upon that problem.

Who, for her part, gazed back at Gretchen from her seat on one of the benches scattered about the side walls of the vestibule. The young woman was modestly dressed — enough, even, to minimize a bosom almost as impressive as Gretchen’s own — and had her hands clasped demurely in her lap. She was the very picture of an unassuming person. From the style of shoes she was wearing, a town-dweller rather than someone from rural parts. But clearly a commoner, nonetheless.

The last part was true. The girl, who went by the nickname of Tata, was indeed a town-dweller. Her father owned a tavern in Mainz.

Everything else was illusory. Or would be soon enough. Gretchen would see to it herself, if need be.

But she didn’t think she’d need to do anything. Tata’s story was already spreading through the ranks of the CoCs, all across the Germanies, even though the critical events involved had happened less than two months earlier.

Such is the power of a splendid legend. The CoCs had found their Esther.

A legend it was, too, if Tata herself was to be believed.

“Eberhard came up with the idea all by himself,” she insisted. “Not that I didn’t think it was a clever move for something so spur-of-the moment, when he told me. But there wasn’t time for a lot of deep discussion. He was going to die. Not in minutes, but certainly within hours.”

The “he” in question had been Duke Eberhard, the young ruler of Württemberg, who’d been killed in Schorndorf while driving out the Bavarian mercenaries who’d occupied the city.

That was the bare bones of the tale. It got quite a bit less heroic when you added the meat to the bones. The mercenaries had not been driven out in the course of a valiantly fought siege, but by pure luck. An accident in a cook shop had started a fire during high winds which soon spread the flames through the whole town. The duke had been mortally injured in the course of helping a stubborn pastor trying to save valuables from his burning church.

But none of those pedestrian details mattered, because of what had come next. Duke Eberhard’s two brothers had already died in the war, so he’d been the sole heir — and, on his deathbed, he’d bequeathed the duchy to its entire population.

Noblemen had relinquished their titles before, to be sure. The new prime minister of the USE, Wilhelm Wettin, was one of them. He’d given up his title as one of the dukes of Saxe-Weimar in order to make himself eligible to serve as prime minister. But Eberhard had been the first and so far the only nobleman who’d relinquished his entire realm — and given it to the people who’d previously been his subjects, to boot.

It hadn’t taken the story more than two weeks to spread all across the USE. So was born the legend of the Good Duke — or, often, the Three Good Dukes, giving credit to Eberhard’s younger brothers who had also died in the struggle. So too was born the legend of the young tavern-keeper’s daughter whom the duke had loved, that selfsame love presumed to be the motive for his righteous deed.

The fact that the girl’s father happened to be the head of the Mainz CoC didn’t hurt, of course.

And never mind that the legend was mostly nonsense. So much was obvious to Gretchen just from listening to Tata’s version. The relationship the girl had had with the duke had fallen quite a ways short of the legend. There was nothing tawdry about it, if you had reasonable standards concerning such things. It was hardly the first time a charming young nobleman and an attractive town girl had had an affair, after all. Tata had been genuinely fond of Eberhard; and he, of her. But most likely they’d have drifted apart, had he lived.

As for the duke’s motives, Tata insisted that they had nothing to do with her.

“He was just pissed off, the way the Swedes kept jerking him back and forth. You know how they get with their German subordinates, if they’re noblemen. So he got even by dumping a mess in their laps.”

A mess it was, too. The prime minister’s bureaucrats and emperor’s lawyers were already trying to get the duke’s will invalidated. The lawyers working for the July Fourth Party were pushing back just as hard. And no matter which way the legal tussles went, the CoCs in Württemberg were having a field day. For once, they could claim to be the party of legitimacy. Their popular support in the western province was growing rapidly.

Here, though, Gretchen thought Tata was actually being too modest. She didn’t doubt that the driving force behind Duke Eberhard’s decision had been his irritation with the often high-handed methods of Gustav Adolf and his officials. Many German noblemen allied to the Swedish king chafed under his rule.

But, without Tata and the CoC to which she belonged, would his deathbed revenge have taken the form that it did?

Gretchen thought not. For all her hostility toward the aristocracy in general, she thought that the dying Eberhard had been moved, at the end, by a genuinely noble impulse. One that Tata could at least claim to have watered, if not seeded.

If even Gretchen was that well-disposed toward the memory of the young duke, she knew full well how the masses of the Germanies would react. Tata could say whatever she wanted. The CoC legend would roll right over it.

Maybe Esther had acne, too. Who cared?

So. Gretchen had a legend on her hands. The question was, what to do with her?

The answer was obvious. The best way to solve a problem is to apply it to another problem.

She waggled her hand in a rising motion. “Come, Tata. I want to introduce you to someone.”

Obediently, the girl rose.