1635: The Eastern Front, snippet 44:


September, 1635

The light of setting suns

Chapter 21

Berlin, Capital of Brandenburg

Mike Stearns had never visited Berlin, up-time. But he had a distinct memory of a collection of photographs he’d once seen of the city, especially the Brandenburg Gate and the magnificent tree-lined boulevard Unter den Linden.

Neither was here, now. The Brandenburg Gate didn’t exist at all. And where Unter den Linden would be in a future world, in this one there was nothing more than a bridle path that led to the Elector’s hunting ground in the Tiergarten.

There was really no part of Berlin in the year 1635 to attract sightseers, beyond a couple of churches built during the later middle ages. Those were the Marienkirche near the fortified city gate called the Spandauer Thor, and the Nikolaikirche near the Spree river. The Spree divided the two parts of Berlin, the city proper — what Mike thought was called the Mitte — and its adjoining sister city of Colln.

Both churches were impressive enough, by the standards of the north German plain. But they didn’t really compare with such Gothic masterpieces as Notre Dame or the cathedral at Chartres. Of the two, Mike favored the Marienkirche because of its warm brick construction — which was just as well, since that was where Gustav Adolf had chosen to hold his war council.

Mike found the situation a little amusing, given the religious fervor of the seventeenth century. He’d noticed before that the self-professed profound devotion of people of the time — princes and kings, certainly — never stopped them from trampling their very profane boots over holy ground whenever they found it convenient.

Mike wasn’t really complaining, though. The only alternative venue for such a large war council would have been to hold it in the Elector’s palace. But that had been turned into a gutted shell by a huge fire that swept through it the night before Gustav Adolf marched into the city. The fire hadn’t been caused by the Swedes, though. Apparently it was the product of arson committed by persons unknown, but presumed to be acting on the instructions of the Brandenburg Elector himself.

In the end, George William hadn’t tried to match Gustav Adolf on the battlefield. He’d stayed in his capital until the last minute, and then left with his entourage and his army to seek refuge in Poland.

Mike had found that out the day before he arrived in Berlin. Immediately, he’d understood the implications. There would now be no possibility whatsoever of persuading Gustav Adolf to refrain from launching a war on Poland. There hadn’t been much chance of it anyway, of course. Torstensson had made quite clear to Mike that the emperor was determined to do so, even if he had no better pretext than the presence of a small contingent of Polish hussars fighting with the Saxons at Zwenkau.

Now, Gustav Adolf had the sort of pretext that almost anyone would accept — at least, if they thought the way rulers did in this day and age. Being fair about it, probably any day and age. If Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee had somehow managed to take their government and army into Mexico in 1865, wouldn’t Lincoln have sent Grant and Sherman in pursuit? And if that meant war with Mexico, so much the worse for Mexico.

When Mike entered the vestibule of the church, he found Gustav Adolf there. Waiting for him in order to have a private conversation, clearly enough. None of the Swedish king’s subordinates were standing nearby. He was giving Mike the sort of look an eagle might give a hawk who ventured into its territory.

There was no point beating around the bush. Mike was a skilled and experienced negotiator and had learned long ago that beating a dead horse accomplished nothing but sullying the reputation of the carcass-whacker. He went up to the king and said: “I still think it’s a bad idea, but I won’t dispute the point any further. George William pretty much pulled the rug out from under me.”

Gustav Adolf frowned. “Pulled the rug –? Ah. I understand.”

The frown was replaced by stiff nod. “Thank you, Michael. I would like to be able to concentrate on our military plans at this meeting and not get diverted by quarreling over political issues which are” — he cleared his throat — “no longer matters for debate.”

Now, Gustav Adolf smiled. A very friendly smile, too. “Lennart tells me you accounted for yourself extremely well at Zwenkau. My congratulations. I will tell you that I was not surprised, however.”

“The soldiers did all the work. Mostly, I just sat on a horse and did what my staff suggested I do. And tried to look suitably generallish.”

“Do not make light of it, Michael.” The emperor shook his head. “I have some skills at this myself, you know. Being a good general is much harder than it looks.”

He took Mike by the arm and gestured toward the door leading into the nave. “But let us look to the future. We will face Koniecpolski now. I’ve fought him before. He’s no commander to take lightly.”