1636: The Ottoman Onslaught – Snippet 11
Dresden, capital of Saxony
The look that Gretchen Richter was giving Eddie Junker fell short of friendly. Way short.
“The first and only time I flew in an airplane, you crashed the plane. I barely got out alive.”
In point of fact, she’d been completely unharmed. The plane had landed on soil that was too wet and soft, causing it to upend. But there had been no great speed involved and when things settled down Gretchen and Eddie had simply found themselves suspended upside down in their safety harnesses.
Still, it had beenâ€¦ startling, to say the least.
Eddie scowled. “That wasn’t my fault.” Since his girlfriend wasn’t there to take umbrage, he added: “Denise told me the airfield was suitable. Ha! If you have a quarrel, take it up with her. Besides, it’s irrelevant.”
He rose, went over to the open window and pointed to the southwest. “The new airfield is farther from the river and elevated a bit. Much better constructed, too, even if it hasn’t been macadamized yet.”
Gretchen didn’t bother to get up and look herself. She knew there’d be nothing to see even if she did. The large chamber in the Residenzschloss — also called Dresden Castle — that she’d established as her headquarters had a nice view of the city and the countryside. But the castle was close to the Elbe, not to the city’s walls. From that distance, the most she’d see on a very clear day was the elevated hut that passed for a “control tower” — which controlled nothing; ridiculous name — and possibly the outlines of the landing strip. But if the sky was overcast, as it was today, the airstrip would be indistinguishable from the surrounding farmlands.
“There won’t be any problem taking off, unless it rained very recently. And there will be no problem at all landing at Magdeburg because that field is in excellent condition. A macadamized airstrip — and radio capability, so they can warn us ahead of time if there is any problem with the weather.”
“And if there is?”
Eddie shrugged. “Then we fly back here. Or land somewhere the weather is clear. For Pete’s sake, Gretchen, Magdeburg is only one hundred and twenty miles from here as the crow flies — and we fly the way crows do. In a straight line. We can be there in an hour. No weather patterns change that quickly.”
Gretchen was distracted for a moment by Eddie’s use of the expression “for Pete’s sake.” The American euphemism had become widely adopted because it allowed the speaker to skirt blasphemy.
But only skirt it. A number of theologians claimed that the expression was still inappropriate since the “Pete” in question was clearly a reference to St. Peter. Whether taking the name of a saint in vain qualified as “blasphemy” could be disputed, of course, and there were other theologians who dismissed the argument on the grounds that “Pete’s sake” was clearly a reference to “pity’s sake” and thereforeâ€¦
The distraction lightened her mood. She even smiled, being reminded of her husband. Jeff was known, when a theologian or cleric annoyed him, to refer to the present time as the miserable seventeenth be-damned century and if the preachers don’t like it they can kiss my rosy up-time ass.
Despite being what people called a lapsed Catholic, Gretchen had quite a bit more in the way of religious faith than her husband did. But she didn’t disagree with him very often on the subject of priests and parsons and their defects.
There was no point in her pining for her husband, however. He was off in Bavaria, leading one of the regiments in the Third Division. She had no idea when she’d see him again — leaving aside the possibility that it might be never, since he could get killed in the fighting. So, she forced her mind back to the issue at hand.
And thenâ€¦ forced herself to agree. She had a real dread of flying again, but the issue at stake was too important for her to be guided by fear.
Besides, it was the first time in her life that Gretchen had ever been summoned to an audience with an emperor. Somewhere underneath the hard revolutionary shell she’d constructed around her soul there was still a provincial printer’s daughter. She could remember the excitement in her town in the Oberpfalz — she’d been nine years old at the time — when Archduchess Maria Christina passed through once.
Despite herself, she felt traces of that same excitement now — and cursed herself for it, of course.
But all that was irrelevant. For her to refuse to answer Gustav Adolf’s summons — especially since it had been worded quite politely — would be a serious political mistake. And it would be almost as bad a mistake to delay her response by refusing to accept Francisco Nasi’s offer to provide her with his private airplane to make the trip. If she insisted on traveling overland the journey would take days — maybe even a week or more, depending on the state of the roads.
The prospect of doing so wasn’t attractive anyway. While Gretchen wasn’t afraid of horses she didn’t much like to ride them, either, any more than her husband did.
“Fine,” she said curtly. “We’ll leave tomorrow afternoon.”
“We could leave today, if you wish. There’s still plenty of daylight left and the weather’s good.”
“No. I have business to attend to before I leave.”
Eddie shrugged. “Whatever you say.”
“It may be a trap — a trick,” said Georg Kresse. “When you get there, they will toss you into a dungeon.”
Captain Eric Krenz shook his head. “I doubt if they even have a dungeon in Magdeburg. Most of the city is new, you know, built since the sack. That’s true of the Royal Palace and Government House, for sure.”
“So what?” demanded Kresse, scowling. He and Krenz didn’t get along very well. The leader of the Vogtland rebels found the young officer’s insouciance annoying.
“So what? The construction took place right under the nose of Mike Stearns, that’s what. If they’d tried to include a dungeon he’d have put a stop to it. He could have, too — he was Prime Minister back then.”
Gretchen intervened before the dispute could escalate. “I’m not concerned about its being a trap, Georg. Gustav Adolf would have to be an idiot to do something like that, and whatever other faults he may have he’s not stupid. What concerns me is simply what the purpose of this summons might be. I don’t see what the emperor and I have to talk about.”
Kresse immediately veered from being suspicious of the emperor to being suspicious ofâ€¦ Gretchen herself.
“He plans to suborn you. Turn you traitor to the cause.”
Krenz barked a laugh. “What part of ‘the emperor is not stupid’ are you having trouble with, Georg?”
“It’s not funny!”
“Yes, it is. The next thing you’ll be saying –”
“Enough!” said Tata. She didn’t quite shout, but given Tata that hardly mattered. She was a young woman and short to boot, but had a very forceful personality. “There’s no point to this argument.”
She gave the Vogtlander a fierce look. “Even if Gretchen were to be swayed to treachery by the emperor’s mystical force of will — that would be in between his seizures, I guess — it would take a bit of time. By then she’ll be back and can give us all a report and we can make up our minds whether your worries are well-grounded or –”
“Stupid beyond belief,” Krenz muttered.
Tata glared at him. “I said ‘enough’! I meant it! Don’t try my patience, Eric!”
Krenz seemed suitably abashed. Gretchen doubted if he really was. More likely, he’d just decided that risking Tata’s wrath wasn’t worth the pleasure of baiting the Vogtland leader any further. When all was said and done, after all, Tata was the one in the room in position to expel Eric from her bed. Krenz might not view that possibility as a fate worse than death — not quite — but he’d certainly not be happy about it.