1635 – The Papal Stakes — Snippet 07


“So, you see,” said Estuban Miro to the other two men, “the USE in general, and the State of Thuringia-Franconia in particular, is most interested in discussing mutual political and fiscal interests with the powers here in Chur.”

The more animated of the two men leaned forward eagerly, dark hair framing a pale, deceptively soft-featured face, out of which shone two very dark, but very bright, eyes. “And what — specifically what — would those interests be?”

Miro looked into those intense, unblinking eyes and thought: yes, this is the Georg Jenatsch I’ve read about in the Grantville library, the man who killed a political rival with a savage axe-blow and then left the corpse pinned to the floorboards.

Well, Miro amended, it hadn’t been Jenatsch himself who’d swung the axe that killed the night-shirted Pompeius von Planta as he stood, stunned, in his castle’s main bedroom suite. At least, that’s what the later histories of the up-timers claimed. Most of them, that is.

Either way, Miro was fairly sure that anyone foolish enough to ask Jenatsch about it now would get their hair parted in a similar fashion. Jenatsch, despite his charming public persona, sent out an aura of mortal determination which radiated a message best verbalized as: do not toy with me; I shall kill you, if you do. This man might well be a patriot, but he was also a creature of immense ambition and ego: no slights were forgotten, no vengeances left untaken.

“Herr Miro, your expression is — whimsical?” Jenatsch’s prompt was polite and sounded casual. Indeed, a person less versed in the nuances of negotiations and personalities might have attached no special significance to it. But Miro had maintained the secrecy of being a “hidden-Jew” — a xueta from the Balearic island of Mallorca — for ten years while trading with the nobles of Spain and Portugal and around the far rim of the Mediterranean: he did not miss the intent focus behind Jenatsch’s inquiry. The Swiss powerbroker knew that whatever thoughts had flitted through Miro’s mind a moment ago could provide him with valuable insight into his interlocutor.

But Miro had dealt with far more subtle negotiators than Jenatsch, and waved a dismissive hand. “I was distracted for a moment, trying to decide which of our mutual interests I should present first.”

Jenatsch’s smile said he knew that Miro was lying. Miro returned a smile that congratulated Jenatsch on the correctness of his perception, and assured him that no further insights were to be gained from this line of inquiry. The third man in the room stared at them with the stolid, unimaginative detachment of a very capable factotum who had absolutely no imagination, and even less awareness of social subtleties.

This third man, a burgomeister who was also the hand-picked representative for the Bishop of Chur, set two meaty fists squarely upon the table. “I presume these mutual interests have something to do with your — unusual — method of transportation, Herr Miro.”

“Indeed they do, Herr Ziegler. The airship by which my party traveled here is merely the first of many which will be traversing the Alps to facilitate the USE’s business in Venice.”

Ziegler’s brow lowered a bit. “So. Given Venice’s traditional support of Reformists in the Valtelline, this is to be a relationship favoring Protestants? Hardly a surprise, since the Swede is your King.”

Careful, now.

Miro spread his hands. “Firstly, we hope to trade with Tuscany and Rome, as well as Venice. If Rome is difficult to trade with at this moment — well, that is hardly our doing.”

Ziegler almost winced: only arch-Catholics — the kind who daily hungered after any excuse to go abroad at night and string up their Protestant neighbors — found Borja’s recent occupation and sack of Rome to be anything less than ghastly. Ziegler was not of this extreme Papist stripe: indeed, few in the Alps were. But that had not prevented bloody sectarian massacres from creating deep chasms of mistrust in the region, particularly where Miro found himself now: the capital of the Grey Leagues, or Graubünden, of Grisons. Originally a promising social experiment in both democracy and religious tolerance, the last fifteen years had seen the coalition erupt into vicious religious warfare, largely through the machinations of both the Spanish and Austrian Hapsburgs. In the “old history,” the one the Americans’ books depicted, further wars had been fought here, with the French driving out the Spanish this very year. But in this world, with France and Spain ostensibly at peace, that course of events had been derailed. All parties were now in historical and political terra incognita, and deeply suspicious of all the impending possibilities.

Miro continued his soothing explication. “Also, it would be precipitous to dismiss the religious toleration espoused in the USE as merely a façade. It is quite genuine. Yes, Gustav is a Lutheran, but he is also a wise ruler, wise enough to arrive at the same conclusion the peoples of the Graubünden did centuries ago: that a federated state, with religious toleration guaranteed by law, is the only way to end sectarian strife.”

Ziegler did not look fully convinced, but did look at least moderately comforted — enough to go ahead with business, at any rate.

Miro extended another tidbit of polite gratitude. “I would also like to express my thanks for gathering the supplies we requested earlier this month, in anticipation of our visit.”

“The lamp oil and pure spirits — you use these to power your ‘blimp?'”

“Yes, Colonel Jenatsch, that is correct. However, only a small part of the fuel goes to the actual propulsion. Most is used to generate the hot air that causes the vehicle to rise from the ground.”

“So without the fuel –?”

“The vehicle would be useless, immobile.” And Miro and Jenatsch exchanged another significant look, which amounted to Jenatsch indirectly signaling that he understood the vulnerabilities of the blimp and the need for Chur’s cooperation, and Miro affirming that he had no interest in being evasive or withholding information.

“The under-hanging part where you sit — the gondola? — seems to be rather small to make much difference to commerce. When you arrived today, I counted only ten persons, and it was crowded, at that.” Ziegler had removed his fists from the table in order to fold his arms.

Miro nodded. “It is small. And it is useless for cargos that are of great volume or mass. But Herr Ziegler, consider the small items that constitute much of today’s commerce: the ‘new’ commerce as it is being conducted in Amsterdam, and Venice –”

“– and Grantville.” Jenatsch’s smile was feral.

“– yes, and Grantville. It is a commerce in people, documents, bank notes, specie, books, plans, samples, chemicals, medicines, key ingredients. Imagine being able to issue timely market instructions to a factor in Venice in one or two days. Radio, if you have one, will become a possibility in the coming years — but even coded messages are no guarantee of confidentiality. On the other hand, the blimp is available right now and can transport high-value items a hundred miles in three hours, leaving a safe margin for operational error. I already have the first dozen flight manifests completely booked.”