1636 The Devil’s Opera – Snippet 03

“And if that is so?” Alemann shook his head again. “It is a dying reputation, Otto. What use is it to talk of it?”

“Ah, Jacob. Perhaps the wine has affected more than your foot,” Otto said with a small smile. “Your position and authority as jurists has never been recalled or revoked. And Magdeburg the city needs you. I need you.”

“Say on,” Alemann replied.

“You want work to do. I can give you that work.”

Otto watched his father-in-law rock back in his chair with a bit of a stunned look. He rallied quickly, however. “Oh, come now, Otto. We are in no position of authority.”

“You may not now be, perhaps,” Otto conceded, “but you do occupy a position of undoubted moral authority. And I can give you proper legal standing.”

“How will you accomplish that?” Alemann looked at Otto in some surprise.

“Magdeburg is an imperial city in the USE, you know that. We are independent of the province of Magdeburg, yes?” Otto spoke incisively. “That means we should have an independent magistracy and judiciary as well. I’ve been making do, but we need the Schöffenstuhl to resume, to serve as the senior judiciary for the city, including as what the up-timers call an appellate court. Some of the matters that are coming before me and the other magistrates,” he shook his own head, “should be coming to you. So take on this work as the reconvened Schöffenstuhl, and I will then empanel you as part of the city governance. You will have good work to do, and it will take a fair amount of work off my shoulders.”

“And paper out of your office, no doubt,” Alemann retorted, looking at the files stacked on various tables and cabinets.

“A side benefit,” Otto waved a hand airily.

“And you have this authority?”

Alemann was sounding interested, Otto thought to himself. That was a good sign. He chuckled, then held up a hand as his father-in-law frowned at him.

“I think you will find, Jacob, that within the boundaries of Magdeburg, Imperial Province and Free City of the United States of Europe, my authority is limited only by the will of the emperor himself. He never got around to giving the new city a charter or giving me a job description before his injury, other than ‘Clean up the mess and build me a capitol city I can be proud of.’ And until he or his heir or Parliament does . . .” Otto shrugged.

Before Alemann could respond to that thought, there came an interruption. Albrecht opened the door from the outer office and stuck his head in.

“Excuse me, Herr Gericke, but your step-father is here and wishes to see you.”

“By all means, let him in, Albrecht.” Otto stood hurriedly and moved out from behind his desk just in time to embrace the man who almost charged past the secretary. “Papa Christoff, it is good to see you!”

“And you as well, son.”

Christoff Schultze was a lean man who was active beyond his years, as the thump he gave to Otto’s shoulder bore witness. He had married Otto’s mother after the death of her second husband, and had never treated Otto with anything other than care and consideration. Love may not have come into play between them, but certainly affection had, and it showed in their greetings.

“Please, be seated.”

Otto gestured to the other chair in front of his desk, and returned to the sideboard to quickly pour another glass of wine for his step-father.

“Aah,” Schultze sighed after taking his first sip. “I do like a glass of good wine. I only wish I had time to properly savor this one”

“Then I take it you are here on some official matter?” Otto asked.

“Indeed,” Schultze replied. “Ludwig sent me.”

That would be Fürst Ludwig von Anhalt-Cöthen, Otto thought to himself, Gustav Adolph’s appointed administrator for the archbishopric’s properties, owned by the Erzstift of Magdeburg, which in turn was now owned by Gustavus Adolphus.

“And how is Fürst Ludwig these days?” Otto asked, wondering just what errand could have forced the good Fürst to send his chief lieutenant.

Schultze’s response was very sober. “Concerned. Very concerned.”

“And who isn’t?” Alemann responded dryly. “The news from Berlin is not good, and Chancellor Oxenstierna’s actions do little to inspire one to confidence.” Otto nodded in agreement.

A darker tone entered Schultze’s voice. “Indeed. You know of Gustav Adolph’s condition.” Schultze was not asking a question — it was well-known that the emperor’s head injury received in battle with the Poles and the resulting wandering wits that Dr. Nichols called aphasia had for all intents and purposes rendered him non compos mentis. “I assume you also know of what Oxenstierna is attempting.”

Both Otto and Alemann started to reply. Otto waved his hand at his father-in-law, who nodded and said, “Every child above the age of three in Magdeburg understands what the Swedish chancellor is attempting. He desires to roll back, make null, the many changes that Gustavus has made in the governance of the USE, or at least the ones that changed the social order and the religious tolerance — or should I say, lack of tolerance?”

The older man looked over to Otto, who picked up the thread. “He and his allies have some kind of hold on Prime Minister Wettin, what the up-timers would call leverage, and between that and Oxenstierna’s position as chancellor of Sweden, they look to control the government of the USE. I believe they have misread the tenor of the times, but I am deathly afraid that we will all pay for their mistakes before they go down.”