1636: The Ottoman Onslaught – Snippet 32

Chapter 15

Royal Palace

Magdeburg, capital of the United States of Europe

Gustav II Adolf wasn’t quite squinting at Rebecca Abrabanel with suspicion but someone who didn’t know him as well as she did might think he was. To some degree, that was because the position of the man added so much weight — what her up-time husband Michael called gravitas, stealing from the Latin — to anything he said or did that it was easy to inflate a chuckle into a belly-laugh. Or a slight narrowing of the eyes into a glare of dark suspicion.

King of Sweden, Emperor of the United States of Europe, High King of the Union of Kalmar. It was enough to make even a Habsburg envious.

“Surely you didn’t resign your seat in Parliament just in order to be able to visit your husband,” he said.

Rebecca fluttered her hands. “Oh, no, of course not. Even though I really haven’t seen very much of him since you made him a general.”

His narrow-eyed gaze moved down to her belly. “Seen him often enough, I’d say. You’re pregnant again.”

Rebecca was neither surprised nor taken aback by his bluntness. Her friend Melissa Mailey had told her once of the delicate and discreet customs of up-time monarchs of a later era than this one. Apparently there had been one queen — Victoria, she was called — who became outraged whenever anyone so much as suggested that human beings were not actually ethereal spirits.

Kings and queens in the seventeenth century, though — emperors too — lived much closer to the mud and muck of practicality. Thankfully, while Michael and Rebecca were very prominent political figures of the day, the legitimacy or lack thereof of their offspring was of no great concern to anyone. If she’d been royalty in line of succession, not only would she have had to give birth in the presence of onlookers and witnesses, she’d have had to conceive the child under the same scrutiny.

“Well, yes, I am pregnant again.” She was tempted to add that was thanks to Gustav Adolf himself. After Michael had brought the semi-conscious emperor to Berlin following his terrible injury at the Battle of Lake Bledno, he’d then spent a few days with her in Magdeburg before resuming command of the Third Division in Bohemia. Very pleasant days, those had been; the nights, even more so.

But that would be impolitic. Gustav Adolf had come to terms, more or less, with the ongoing disability that he was subject to periodic seizures. But he didn’t like to be reminded of the episode that had produced that disability. Technically, the Battle of Lake Bledno was one of many victories he could add to his roster of such. But he knew perfectly well — as did his opponent in that battle, Grand Hetman Koniecpolski — that from any strategic point of view the outcome had been entirely to Poland’s advantage. Gustav Adolf had been incapacitated for months, the USE had been plunged into a near-civil war, and Poland had been given a precious half-year to strengthen its defenses. There was no longer any realistic prospect for the USE to win a quick and decisive victory over the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.

“But, no, of course I didn’t resign my seat just to be able to visit Michael. We want Ed Piazza to be the next prime minister if we win the election, and legally that requires him to be a member of the House of Commons. So I gave up my seat in order to provide him with one.”

“I doubt if there is a single burgermeister anywhere in the Germanies who would believe that twaddle, Rebecca. Piazza could have run for special election in any number of districts that are perfectly safe for the FOJs. Dietrich Essert’s seat in Mecklenburg, for instance, or Reineke Bäcker’s in Thuringia. Either one of them would have been perfectly happy to step down for Piazza.”

Rebecca was not surprised by Gustav Adolf’s detailed knowledge of her party’s inner workings. He’d be even better informed concerning the Crown Loyalists. The moderate Hesse-Kassel/Brunswick/Wettin wing, at least, if not the outright reactionaries.

“I see I can’t deceive you,” she said, smiling.

“You’re trying again — right now,” he accused. “You’re about to come up with some other illogical explanation.”

Well… yes, she had been.

She’d told Ed this wouldn’t work.

Nothing for it but the truth, then. “The plan is for me to become the new secretary of state. Assuming we win, of course.”

“Ha!” His big hand smacked the armrest with a meaty sound. “I knew it! I knew that had to be the reason! Anything else would have been a waste.”

With a much more genial expression, he leaned back in his chair in the small reception chamber he liked to use for meetings of an intimate and informal nature. “I approve of the scheme. I’ll deny ever saying that — and in a high dudgeon, too! — should it become public. But you’ll make an excellent secretary of state for the nation. Better than Hermann has been, for a certainty.”

He was referring to the existing secretary of state, Landgrave Hermann of Hessen-Rotenburg, the younger brother of the recently-deceased ruler of Hesse-Kassel. Mike Stearns had appointed him secretary of state as a gesture of political goodwill and after he’d been replaced as prime minister by Wilhelm Wettin in the 1635 elections, Wilhelm had kept Hermann in the post. That would probably have been a temporary measure except that the instability which gripped the USE after the emperor’s injury at Bledno pushed the issue to the side.

“Being fair to Hermann,” Rebecca said, “he never wanted the post to begin with.”

“Yes, I know. And I have no great complaint concerning his performance. It’s been adequate. But I won’t be sorry to see someone with real talent at the work taking over the position.”

Rebecca’s eyes narrowed a bit. “I have to admit, Your Majesty, I am surprised by your reaction. I would have thought you’d prefer a Crown Loyalist secretary of state.”

Gustav Adolf chuckled heavily. “I would prefer an actual royal, if I lived in a perfect world. If I could make the decision, I’d appoint Prince Ulrik.”

“He’d be very good.”

The emperor shrugged. “But we have a constitutional monarchy, and while I am prepared and willing — Ha! Watch me! — to gnaw at the edges of it, I have accepted the basic principle. So, a political party must choose the new secretary of state and at the moment…”

He looked aside, his gaze seeming to lose a bit of its focus. “Again, were this an ideal world — one I’d prefer, at least — I’d be more comfortable with people like Amelie Elizabeth running the government. Not herself, of course. She’d have to abdicate as the landgravine and run as a commoner and I’d expect my pagan ancestors’ Fimbulwinter to happen before that does. But people of like mind, I mean.”

His eyes came back to her, now in sharp focus. “But that’s neither here nor there, as your husband likes to say. We live in tumultuous times and at least for the moment the Crown Loyalists are still in great disarray. You and your Fourth of July Party will win the coming election, I am quite sure of it, and” — his massive shoulders heaved another shrug — “it may be just as well. For a time, at least.”

He rose to his feet, signaling an end to the interview. “And now I have other business I must attend to. Please give my best regards to your husband, Rebecca.”

She rose and curtsied. “I shall, Your Majesty.”

When she brought her gaze back up, she saw that Gustav Adolf’s expression seemed a bit surprised.

So did his tone of voice. “I actually mean that, you know.”

Wallenstein’s Palace

Prague, capital of Bohemia

“You’ll have to excuse my longitudinality,” said Wallenstein. “Is that even a word, I wonder?”

He was lying on his back in the big bed he’d had placed in one of the audience chambers in his palace. His head and shoulders were propped up by several pillows so that he could look at the people he was talking to, and he had a small short-legged writing table perched across his middle. The former mercenary general and now ruler of Bohemia was a semi-invalid — more like a three-quarter invalid — but he still kept constantly busy.

His American nurse and sometime bodyguard Edith Wild wasn’t happy about that. But there were limits to how far even her fearsome self could bully Wallenstein.

He was an odd man in many ways, Noelle had come to realize in the days since she and Janos had arrived in Prague. He could be utterly reptilian in his ruthlessness, as he’d demonstrated just a few years earlier when he launched the Croat raid on Grantville and its high school, yet also quite solicitous of the well-being of those around him. His ambitions were great; going far beyond Bohemia itself. Morris and Judith Roth had already told Noelle and Janos of Wallenstein’s longterm plan to ingest as much of Ruthenia as he could manage — that was after taking Silesia. (Or taking it back, as he preferred to put it.) Janos was also certain that he had ambitions on Austria’s Royal Hungary as well, or at least parts of it.

Yet except in formal proclamations it was clear that he preferred the name Wallenstein to that of King Albrecht II. He was invariably courteous to those around him, except on the very rare occasions when his temper rose. And with his closest confidants — Noelle had never witnessed this herself but she had been told about it by Judith — he insisted on being called by his given name Albrecht rather than by any of the many titles he held or appellations he could claim.