1636: The Ottoman Onslaught – Snippet 17

As soon as she was seated, the emperor went straight to the point.

“I have a proposal to make,” he said. “Not to you alone — not by any means — but I am starting with you because if you are not willing to accept the proposal the rest will be pointless.”

She braced herself. The most likely proposal she could imagine would be something on the lines of: You, Frau Richter, must go into exile, preferably to someplace in the New World. In exchange, I will make this or that concession to your band of radical malcontents.

“The proposal is this. I will agree to remove imperial administration from Saxony, Mecklenburg, the Oberpfalz and Württemberg. I will also allow Württemberg to form its own province separate from the rest of Swabia. And, finally, I will allow all four provinces to become self-governing with a republican structure of some sort.”

For an instant, a look of exasperation came and went on his face. “One of the reasons I’m agreeing to this is to save myself the grief of trying to referee the claims of far too many Hochadel to these areas. But the main reason is to see if you and I can reach… what to call it? A modus vivendi, let us say.”

Gretchen’s knowledge of Latin ranged from poor to dismal. Some of her uncertainty must have shown because Ernst Wettin spoke up, for the first time. “His Majesty is using the Latin phrase the way the up-timers do. It refers to an arrangement — something of an informal agreement, if you will, but still binding — that enables parties with conflicting interests or goals to nonetheless coexist peacefully and without resort to violence on either side. This arrangement may be temporary — it usually is — but it can also last indefinitely.”

Gretchen looked back at Gustav Adolf. “I see. And what would you want from me in exchange? By ‘me,’ of course, we’re referring to the Committees of Correspondence.”

“Actually, no — or at least, not entirely.” The emperor leaned forward and fixed her with an intent gaze. “Much of this is specific to you. What I want in exchange — will insist upon, in fact — is that you must agree to run for election as the governor of Saxony.”

Of all the things Gretchen had foreseen as possibilities, that one had never occurred to her even once.

Me? Governor?” She almost gasped the words. “But — whatever for?”

Gustav Adolf nodded at Ernst Wettin. “I will let him explain. Since it was his proposal to begin with.” He grinned and barked out a laugh. “Ha! And be sure I was just as astonished then as you are now. What a mad idea!”

He leaned back in his chair, still chuckling. “But… one with great merit, once he explained.”

Gretchen looked back at Wettin.

“It’s quite simple, really. I’ve spent months with you in Saxony now. Me as the official administrator of the province — and you as the person who really wields the power.” Wettin shook his head. “The arrangement is simply untenable, Gretchen. It must be settled — whichever way. The formal power must coincide with the real power, or government itself becomes impossible. Certainly in the long run.”

“But… but… I have been assuming all along, Ernst, that if Saxony became a republic that you yourself would run for governor.”

Ernst nodded. “And so I will. I would say ‘with the emperor’s permission’ but he’s already given it to me.”

“More precisely, I insisted on it.” Gustav Adolf pointed at Wettin with a large forefinger. “Make no mistake about it. Ernst Wettin has my confidence and I will certainly be urging all Saxons to vote for him instead of you.”

He grinned again. “Ernst tells me, though — I find this quite shocking! — that the pigheaded and surly Saxons are likely to ignore me and vote for you instead. If you run, that is.”

“And if you don’t,” said Wettin, now leaning forward himself, “here is what will happen. The Fourth of July Party will certainly run a candidate, but they won’t garner more votes that I will. They don’t have much of an organization in Saxony, as you know. I estimate we would each wind up with about thirty percent of the vote. The rest…”

He shrugged. “The Vogtlanders will probably pick up fifteen percent or so. The reactionaries — assuming they manage to form a common front — could pick up perhaps ten percent. If they run as squabbling individuals, which is more likely, they’d wind up with less.”

Gretchen’s Latin might be wretched but her grasp of arithmetic was excellent. She’d had no trouble following the calculations. “That leaves fifteen to twenty percent.”

“The church, I think. In one form or another.”

She followed that logic also. Saxony had a solidly Lutheran population and the clergy commanded a great deal of respect. Everyone who was uncertain would tend to listen to their pastors — would seek them out for advice, in fact.

“A mess, in other words,” Wettin concluded. “No one would have a majority. I’d probably have a plurality, so if we adopted an American-style governor structure — what they call the presidential system — I’d become the new executive outright. If we adopted the more common German system wherein a republican province’s executive is not separate from the legislature — the parliamentary system, in the up-time lexicon — then I’d have to negotiate with others to form a cabinet.”

He threw up his hands. “And wouldn’t that be a delight! Assuming the Fourth of July Party is the opposition and the Vogtlanders bloc with them — which they generally would — I’d have to form a coalition with pastors and reactionaries. The first of whom tend to be impractical when it comes to world affairs and the others…”

He smiled now, albeit thinly. “There’s an American quip I’m fond of — which they stole from a Frenchman, I think. ‘They have learned nothing and forgotten nothing.’ That summarizes perfectly, I think, the state of mind of the nation’s reactionaries. What would really happen, of course, is that effective power would continue to be in your hands. It’s just not workable, Gretchen. Either I rule or you rule — one or the other. Straightforward and visible to all.”

Gretchen had already seen the flaw in the logic. “Then why not simply ask — insist, if you will — that I leave Saxony altogether?”

She looked away from Wettin to Gustav Adolf. “There’d be a great deal of unrest if you did, but it wouldn’t rise to the level of violence. Not unless I called for it, and I’m not that stupid. That would be –”

She managed to cut herself off before saying: would be playing into your hands.

The emperor nodded, as if with satisfaction. “It’s nice to be negotiating with someone who’s not a fool. You’re right, of course. You could rouse the people to rebellion against a brute like Báner, who was threatening a massacre. But against Ernst? Or even worse, against me? When all we asked was for one person to please leave the province?”

But she’d already left all that behind because she’d finally realized the true nature of the proposal.

She was quite startled. She wouldn’t have thought that an emperor — first among nobles — would be that shrewd and astute.

He probably wouldn’t have come up with the idea on his own, of course. But he’d been shrewd enough and astute enough to be persuaded by Ernst Wettin.

“You don’t want me to leave Saxony,” she said. “You want me to stay.”

She gave Wettin a look that was almost accusatory. “Because you think I’d win the election.”

“In a landslide, if we have a presidential system.” Wettin shrugged. “More complicated, with a parliamentary one, since you’d have to run officially as a member of a party rather than as an individual. But that would just add a minor curlicue. The Fourth of July people would be delighted to have you take up their banner. But if you chose to you could simply run as the candidate of the Gretchen Richter Party.”

She looked back at the emperor. And, for the first time in her life, had a sense of what a wild lion or tiger felt when they confronted a tamer.

Gustav Adolf apparently sensed her thoughts because his expression became quite sympathetic. “Don’t think of it as being housebroken, Frau Richter — or may I call you Gretchen, in private?”

Mutely, she nodded.

“This is something that Michael Stearns has always understood, you know. Eventually, a revolutionary must either” — he looked at Wettin — “what’s that crude but charming expression he likes?”

“Shit or get off the pot.”

“Yes, that one.” He turned back to Gretchen. “Once you become powerful enough — which you are, today, certainly in Saxony — then you must decide. Either try to overthrow the existing power or claim it for your own. But what you cannot do — not for long — is try to straddle those two options.”

“You want me to become respectable.” The word came out like an accusation.

She could see that Gustav Adolf was doing his best to suppress another grin. “Ah… Gretchen. I am told there exists a painting of you done by no less an artist than Rubens that hangs in the royal palace in Brussels. Apparently the King in the Netherlands, as he likes to style himself, thinks it makes a useful cautionary reminder.”

She sniffed. “Yes, I’ve heard about that.”

“And in that painting –”

“My tits are bare. Yes, I know. I remember quite well. It was a cold day and I maintained that pose for hours. What is your point?” A bit belatedly, she remembered to add: “Your Majesty.”

“My point is that I think no matter how long you live you will never have to fear the horrid fate of slumping into dull and undistinguished respectability.”

“I will need to think about this,” she said.

The emperor nodded. “Yes, of course.”

“And I will need to discuss it with other members of the Committees of Correspondence here in Magdeburg. That will include, you understand, Spartacus and Gunther Achterhof.”

“Yes, of course. May I also suggest you discuss it with Rebecca Abrabanel. And Herr Piazza also, if you choose. He’s resident here.”

“Yes, of course,” she said.

The emperor rose. “That’s it, then. When may I expect an answer, Gretchen?”

She came to her feet as well. “Soon.”

He smiled. “Just as I thought.”