1636: The Ottoman Onslaught – Snippet 21
Vienna, capital of Austria-Hungary
“So we are in agreement, then?” Janos nodded toward Noelle. “She and I will serve as your envoys to –” He hesitated, but only for a second. However much Ferdinand might detest the necessity, Wallenstein’s new status now had to be formally acknowledged.
“To King Albrecht of Bohemia,” he continued. “I, as your official envoy to the Bohemian monarch; Noelle, as your unofficial envoy to elements in his court.”
That was a roundabout way of saying to the very rich American Jewish couple Morris and Judith Roth, who have a lot of influence over that bastard Wallenstein and — perhaps more to the point — largely determine the way Americans everywhere look on the bastard at the present time.
There was a valuable reminder there, if — no, when; the emperor was a very intelligent man when he wasn’t in a surly mood — Ferdinand had the sense to consider it. Whatever grievances he or Austria had against Wallenstein were miniscule compared to the grudge Americans could hold against him if they chose to do so. The bastard had once tried to slaughter all of their children, after all — yet the Americans had had the wisdom and forbearance to make peace with Wallenstein later, when the circumstances changed.
Ferdinand had been holding his breath long enough that his face was starting to turn red. Now, he exhaled mightily.
“Ah! I almost choke on the thought!”
Janos smiled. “If it eases your soul, Ferdinand, I will be glad to keep calling him Wallenstein when we’re speaking privately.”
“Please do.” The young emperor’s hands tightened on the armrest of his chair. “‘The bastard’ will do nicely, as well. So will –” He gave Noelle a somewhat wary glance.
She grinned at him. “The asshole, perhaps?” They were speaking in German, not Amideutsch, so the term she used was Das Arschloch. “Or perhaps I might introduce Your Majesty to one of our American expressions” — here she slipped into Amideutsch — “the dirty rotten motherfucker.”
Ferdinand burst into laughter. Like most members of the Habsburg dynasty he had an earthy sense of humor. That was something which often surprised Americans who’d never had personal contact with Habsburgs. They tended to view Europe’s premier dynasty as a pack of inbred and sickly hyper-aristocrats — as if such a feeble family could have dominated the continent’s politics for so many centuries, since Rudolf of Habsburg became Rudolf I, King of Germany, in 1273.
Janos was very pleased by the emperor’s reaction — and learning, yet again, that his American betrothed’s somewhat prim physical appearance disguised a spirit that was bold and decisive. This was a woman who had once slain a torturer who was threatening the life of her partner by shoving her pistol barrel under his jaw and blowing his brains out. She’d done that, not because she was bloodthirsty but because she was a terrible shot with any sort of firearm and hadn’t wanted to risk missing.
What had struck Janos the most, when she’d told him that story not long after they’d first met, was the incredible presence of mind that had taken — for anyone, much less a woman with little experience with violence. Drugeth knew many veteran soldiers who, placed in that same situation, would have blasted away wildly.
Of course, none of them would have been as terrible a marksman as Noelle. Her inability to hit anything more than two feet away with a pistol was quite remarkable.
After the emperor’s laughter died away, Ferdinand gave Noelle a very approving look and said: “I like that. So, yes, in private — just among the three of us — I’d enjoy calling Wallenstein the asshole or the motherfucker. Better still! The motherfucking asshole.”
He looked back at Janos. “Are you still sure it’s wise to fly to Prague?”
“The danger is minimal, Your Majesty,” Noelle said. “I’ve flown with Eddie a number of times. He’s a very good pilot and his plane is well-built and — by now — quite well tested. It even survived a crash in Dresden with no harm done to anyone.”
Ferdinand waved his hand dismissively. “I’m not concerned about the physical danger. I’m thinking of the diplomatic risk. Herr Junker is Francisco Nasi’s pilot, and while Don Francisco is not formally connected with the asshole’s court, he is — second only to Don Morris — the most prominent Jew in Prague. Which is the most prominent Jewish city in Europe. The world, for that matter. And everyone knows that the Jews and Wallenstein are closely allied.”
Noelle had a frown on her face. Ferdinand would see in that frown nothing more than thoughtful concern. By now, though, Janos knew her well enough to understand that the expression was disapproving as well. Like most Americans he’d met, she had firm opinions on what they called “anti-Semitism” and she was interpreting the emperor’s remarks as an expression of that attitude, at least in part.
Andâ€¦ At least in part, it probably was. Dealing with Noelle had forced Janos to consider his own attitude toward Judaism. Eventually, he’d concluded that some of his views of the religion and its practitioners were no better than unthinking prejudices. Leaving moral issues aside, Drugeth disapproved of prejudice of any kind for practical reasons. A prejudiced man was likely to behave stupidly.
He understood, however, something that Noelle didn’t. Her grasp of the complexities of European diplomacy was still largely that of a novice, at least at this royal level. What Ferdinand was really expressing was not a bias against Jews but a distaste for appearing dependent in any way on someone whom most people would perceive as a close ally of Wallenstein.
“I don’t think it’s really a problem, Ferdinand,” he said. “Or, if it is a problem, it’s one that speaks to our relationship to the USE. Regardless of who owns the airplane and who flies it, almost anyone in Europe who looks up and sees an airplane passing overhead immediately and automatically thinks: Americans. That is just as true of Bohemians as anyone else, and the fact that when the plane lands one of the disembarking passengers” — he nodded toward Noelle — “is an American will reinforce the impression.”
Noelle issued a peculiar sound, something of a cross between a choke and a laugh.
In response to the emperor’s quizzically cocked eyebrow, she said: “I don’t believe you’ve ever seen the airplane in question, Your Majesty.”
He shook his head. “In the sky, once — at least, I believe it was that particular aircraft. But not up close, no.”
“Well, you will soon, after Eddie gets done with his current shuttle diplomacy with the — ah — Saxons and Gustav Adolf.” Janos was amused to see the deft way she avoided mentioning the specific Saxon being shuttled about. For the emperor of Austria as for most members of the continent’s royalty, the name “Gretchen Richter” was what Noelle called a scandal and a hissing. Best to leave it unspoken in their presence.
“Anyway, when you do,” Noelle went on, “you’ll see that another American is very prominently portrayed on the plane itself. It’s what we call ‘nose art’ because the painting is placed somewhere on the nose of the aircraft. There’s often — usually, in fact — a title that goes with it.”
“Ah.” Ferdinand leaned forward in his chair. “There’s something here you find amusing. I can tell — I’m learning to interpret your expressions. You’ll make quite a good diplomat, by the way. So what is this portrait and this title?”
“The title is Steady Girl — that’s an expression that refers to a sort of betrothal — and the portrait is of Denise Beasley. She is one of my junior associates and Eddie Junker’s betrothed. Wellâ€¦ ‘steady girl,’ I suppose I should say. They’re not betrothed — yet — in the legal German sense of the term.”
The emperor’s head was slightly cocked, and he had a half-smile on his face. “You’re still not telling me everything. Why is this so amusing? Ah, I have it! This portrait is not what you’d call a formal one.”
“Uhâ€¦ no.” Noelle fluttered her hands. “Nothing like — like… ahâ€¦”
Janos had never seen the aircraft up close himself, but he had enough sense of what Noelle was groping for to provide some assistance.
“Nothing like Titian’s Venus of Urbino or Cranach’s Judgment of Paris,” he provided.
“Oh, no, nothing like that! Just, ahâ€¦ well. Denise is very beautiful and, ahâ€¦ the American expression is ‘leggy’. We’d call the portrait an example of pin-up art. That refers toâ€¦ ahâ€¦”
She was floundering again. Ferdinand smiled and made another dismissive gesture with his hand. “Never mind the details. What you’re saying, I take it, is that no Bohemian — or anyone else — who sees that plane landing at Prague’s airfield is going to associate the craft with an alliance between cunning Wallenstein and even more cunning Jews.”
“Ahâ€¦ No. They won’t. Between me and the picture of Denise — mostly the portrait — they’ll be thinking ‘Americans.’ Well, Americanesses.”
Ferdinand leaned back, his expression now thoughtful. “That will be good enough, I think. I simply cannot afford to look as if I am in any way relying on Wallen — the motherfucking asshole — for anything.”
Magdeburg, capital of the United States of Europe
“I think you should do it,” said Gunther Achterhof. Seeing the look of surprise on Gretchen’s face, he smiled. Thinly, but it was a genuine smile.
“Yes, I know,” he said. “Shocking, to see Gunther Achterhof agree to something. But I’m just stubborn, I’m not stupid. I have understood for some time now that the situation we have in the nation is unstable and can’t last. If I had any doubts on the matter, the business with Schardius and Burckardt settled them.”
The names meant nothing to Gretchen, and her expression must have shown that. Galiena Kirsch, one of the other CoC leaders present in the room, leaned over and said: “You’d left for Dresden by then. It was a big murder case that caught the attention of the whole city. We almost got involved directly — and did, at the very end — but we mostly left it to the new police force to handle.”
“You can only be the informal power for so long,” Gunther went on. “If you push it too far, you wear out the public patience. People like stability and order, especially over an extended period of time.”
Most of the other CoC leaders were frowning. One of them — Hubert Amsel — spoke sharply. “What are you suggesting, Gunther? That we disband our organization?”
“No, of course not. What I’m saying is simply that we have to understand the limits within which we must operate. As a political movement, we continue to have a great deal of respect among our people and a very large following. But we now run the risk of seeing that erode if we try to extend our moral authority too far, if we try to assume the content of legal authority without accepting the form of it as well.”