1635 – The Papal Stakes — Snippet 08

“Will not weather prevent the flying of this blimp?”

“If it is severe enough, yes. Which is why we advertise two or three days per hundred mile journey: that represents a safe average.”

“That is also not much faster than a man on a horse.” Ziegler looked a bit smug.

“True enough, but that is a good day on a horse, and a very bad average for the blimp. But tell me this, Herr Ziegler: when was the last time a man on a horse made thirty-three miles a day over the Alps? And without the slightest vulnerability to bandits? That’s what the blimp assures: absolutely direct travel, completely free of banditry, from city to city — no costly adventures on the road. And it seems that travel through the passes south of here now frequently involve just such adventures.”

Ziegler frowned, but not out of anger. Miro had struck a responsive and very pertinent chord. Travel south from Graubünden was no longer a simple proposition. The once modestly populous valleys were now home to as many recent graves as people: accompanying the wars and purgings that had scourged Grisons in the past fifteen years, the Plague had swept through the region twice. Thriving towns were now shadows of themselves. Many smaller villages stood vacant, ruined by the harsh, battering winters. In this comparatively barren environment, bandits increased, but plied a sparse trade, made especially brutal and indiscriminate by the lack of prey.

But the source of this cycle of misery lay in the fact that all the major passes down to Italy funneled through Chiavenna, which was controlled by Graubünden‘s arch-nemeses: Spain and Milan. Austria had also contributed to the Chur’s woes in the 1620s, but had become steadily less energetic in imposing its will upon Grisons. And, at the start of the decade, the inhabitants had been cheered by rumors of French aid.

But, in this world, Richelieu’s much-vaunted plan to send the duke of Rohan into the Valtelline — thereby seizing the only overland connection linking Spain to her forces in the Low Countries — failed to materialize. Jenatsch, an ardent supporter of Rohan’s campaign and presumed leader of France’ allies in Grisons, had watched these plans evaporate like morning mist once the arrival of the up-timers and their strange town from the future became widely known. The Spanish-French animosity diminished and ultimately transmogrified into the uneasy entente which allowed them to cooperate in the destruction of the Dutch fleet off Ostend in 1633. Like all contracts between thieves, their so-called League of Ostend was certain to unravel — sooner, rather than later. But in the meantime, Grisons continued to suffer under foreign interference or direct control.

So, naturally Georg Jenatsch was interested in any new stratagem for freeing his homeland. And for making himself a national hero in the process. Jenatsch’s monomania in pursuit of those objectives made him capable of changing his alliance, religion, and even his own traits — as the up-time histories attested. But Miro, meeting this man with whom he had cautiously corresponded for months, was satisfied that he had correctly identified the one character-trait of Jenatsch which was as steady as a lodestone and which made negotiations with him relatively predictable: he was far more famous for his decisiveness than for any deep wells of patience. Jenatsch was not mercurial, but he hadn’t the taste for long games or the temperament for waiting upon fickle fate to provide him with a tool to achieve his ends. An active and victorious new international force such as the USE was almost sure to catch and kindle his interest.

And, unsurprisingly, it obviously had. But he was too accomplished a statesman not to stringently critique the deal Miro was proposing. “So let us say that we become a part of your growing network of — do you call them ‘airing-domes’?”

“Aero-dromes,” supplied Miro mildly.

“Yes, ‘aerodromes’. To have such a facility here is clearly advantageous for you: Chur is the most convenient way-point over the Alps. As I understand it, our location is valuable because it is less than 100 miles from Biberach, on the north shore of the Bodensee, and also less than 100 miles from Bergamo, in Venetian Lombardy. And so, perhaps more people of note will visit Chur, spend a bit more money. But how does this benefit us beyond that modest increase in trade?” Jenatsch smiled: he knew the answer, of course, but he wasn’t going to agree to the deal without suitable promises from Miro. And of course, Ziegler still had to have to have it spelled out for him.

Miro pointed to the opened letter before Jenatsch. “President Piazza’s letter outlines the general defense benefits rather comprehensively, I think.”

“I would have preferred a few more specifics, as well.”

“Please understand, Colonel Jenatsch, we must walk a thin line if we are to ensure that our relationship does not bring you more problems than it solves. Yes, Gustav Adolf has approved using Chur to facilitate our current operations into Italy. And yes, President Piazza has indicated that some of our proceeds from establishing your town as a transport hub would allow us to base a dedicated mercenary company — exclusively contracted to us — in Chur to secure it from foreign intrusions. But a more overt, national alliance would call attention to itself, and your most dangerous foes would not miss its significance.”

“That will occur anyhow, as your ability to balloon directly into Italy becomes more clear to the Spanish.”

“It is true that they may become annoyed by that, but not so much to mount an attack on you.”

“Why not?” Ziegler threw his considerable bulk forward aggressively. “Are you suggesting they will sit idly by while this new trade route opens up?”

“Yes, that is exactly what I am suggesting.”

Clearly, this was not the answer Ziegler was expecting: his bulk fell back in surprise. “Why?”

“Because the Spanish — of all the powers of Europe — have shown the least understanding of, or interest in, the new economy that air travel will enable. Their banking methods are hopelessly archaic and filled with exclusions and restrictions that ensure that their nation’s power remains firmly in the hands of the hidalgos, the upper classes. They do not know how to grow wealth — and therefore, will not even understand the value of this new route of exchange. Not until it is too late.”

That brought a grimly satisfied smile even to Ziegler’s face. But this time, it was Jenatsch who held to the prior point like a bulldog: “However, this still means that there will be no direct military alliance between you and us. And, for us, that means no offensive to liberate the communes which are still in Austrian or Spanish hands. So we might be a bit safer, and a bit more wealthy, but still crushed by foreign occupiers in many of our regions.”

Miro smiled. “But for how long?”

Jenatsch looked suspicious. “What do you mean? Do you propose that heaven will deliver us? God alone knows how often and ardently I have prayed for divine deliverance –”