1636: The Ottoman Onslaught – Snippet 34

Chapter 16

Dresden, capital of Saxony province

“We are all here, I think.” Gretchen’s eyes scanned the room, looking to see who might be missing from what, borrowing from her husband Jeff’s American lexicon, she thought of as a “summit meeting.”

She wasn’t using the phrase properly, but she liked it anyway. In the universe the up-timers came from, a summit meeting had been an encounter between bitter enemies who were still determined to keep their hostility from erupting into violence. Violence on the scale of direct and outright war between them, at least. From what Jeff had described to her, there had been plenty of wars-by-proxy all over the globe. In some ways, that universe and her own seemed much alike.

This meeting she had called in the Residenzschloss the day after her return to Dresden was something quite different, a meeting between allies rather than a meeting between enemies. Granted, there was some antagonism among the various elements in the alliance, but it was on a fairly modest level. Most of it derived from the prickliness of the Vogtlanders, who had what Jeff would have called a chip on their shoulder. That was especially true of their central leader, Georg Kresse.

Gretchen found their attitude irritating, because it was based entirely on unthinking resentments and suspicions — essentially, the ingrained distrust of country folk for what her husband called “city slickers.” Gretchen found the term simultaneously amusing and annoying. Amusing because it was, well, amusing. Annoying because the city slicker upon whose person the Vogtlanders’ misgivings were primarily focused was herself. That was to say, a printer’s daughter who had been born and raised in the small town of Grafenwoehr in the Oberpfalz.

True, some of her comrades and close advisers could lay claim to urban upbringing. Tata was born and raised in Mainz, and Eric Krenz in Leipzig, both of which were definitely cities and one of which — Leipzig — even had two famous universities. But their personal origins were hardly patrician: Tata’s father was a tavern-keeper and Eric had been born into a gun-maker’s family.

The Vogtlanders had no real grievances of a specific nature, whatever their vague unease about dealing with urbanites might be. Gretchen had made it a point to lean over backward to accommodate them. She’d done so from the very beginning, once Kresse brought his Vogtland irregulars down from the mountains to join the fight against the Swedish general Báner. She’d given the Vogtlanders — all the farmers and village folk living around Dresden — disproportionate representation on the Committee of Public Safety, the emergency council she’d created to organize the city’s defense against Báner and his army.

Kresse was one of the people in the room, along with his chief lieutenant Wilhelm Kuefer. Anna Piesel was with them as well. She was Kresse’s betrothed but also a leader of the Vogtlanders in her own right.

“So what was the outcome of your audience with the emperor?” asked Kresse. The question was stated abruptly, but that was simply his manner. The tone of his voice had carried no hostility and not more than a faint trace of skepticism.

Gretchen reached down into a small valise she’d brought into the room with her and pulled out a sheaf of papers. The sheaf was divided into four-page reports held together by staples. When she’d visited Veleda Riddle in Grantville she’d mentioned how much she admired the up-time stapling devices and the old lady gave her one along with a box of staples. A welcoming gift, she’d called it, to the world’s most recent convert to the Episcopal Church.

Gretchen had been amused, because it was apparent from Riddle’s demeanor that she thought Gretchen might have wanted a different sort of gift. A machine gun, perhaps — no, better still: a guillotine! At one point, Riddle had made some cautioning noises about the perhaps-inappropriate title Gretchen had chosen for her emergency organization in Dresden. Most Americans, in Gretchen’s experience — her own husband being no exception — had an abysmal grasp of history. But that did not seem to be true of Veleda Riddle. She knew French history, certainly.

Gretchen handed the sheaf to Tata, who was sitting next to her. “Start passing these around, please.” More loudly, so everyone could hear, she added: “This is a full report on what came out of the meeting.”

Kresse could refer to her session with Gustav Adolf as an audience, if he chose, but so far as Gretchen was concerned it had been a meeting between equals. Equals in the eyes of God and equals by the rights for all people she intended to spread across the Germanies, and then Europe, and then — although she probably wouldn’t live that long — across the entire world.

Not, admittedly, a meeting between equals in terms of immediate power and influence. But that was a matter of fact, not principle — and facts could be changed.

Eric Krenz was staring down at the sheaf in his hand with a look of distaste. The Saxon had an almost comical abhorrence of reading anything beyond technical manuals. “Can’t you just summarize what’s in it?” he asked.

“Quit whining,” said Tata, who was already starting to read the second page of the report. In sharp contrast to the man who shared her bed every night, the tavern-keeper’s daughter adored reading. She spent any spare money she had in one of the city’s two bookstores. Eric never complained about the habit, however. Whatever his own attitude toward reading might be, he was a firm adherent to that ancient piece of male wisdom: happy wife, happy life.

True, he and Tata were not married. But Eric would be the first to tell anyone that the principle had wide application. And Gretchen thought it was just a matter of time before he started pestering Tata to bring their relationship into greater alignment with the customs of men and the prescriptions of the Lord. For all their badinage and squabbling, the two of them did seem to get along well.

Tata flipped the page over and started on the next. “So far, it’s pretty straightforward and amazingly clear for an imperial decision. Point one. Saxony is recognized as a self-governing province of the United States of Europe. Direct imperial administration will remain in the hands of Ernst Wettin but only until the election is held and the results are tallied. Point Two. The structure of the province of Saxony shall be that of a parliamentary republic. The executive office of chancellor will be filled by whichever party or coalition of parties wins a majority of the vote. Point Three. The province of Saxony shall have a Lutheran established church supported by provincial revenues, with the understanding that all other denominations including Catholics and Jews may practice their faith openly with no penalties or restrictions and — oh, now this is fascinating! — if the chancellor of the province is of a different denomination than Lutheran then for the period the chancellor is in office that denomination will also be considered an established church and may share in the province’s revenues in proportion to its share of the population of the province.”

She looked at Gretchen. “Where did that come from? It’s sort of an upside down version of cuius regio, eius religio.

Kresse was frowning, as he studied the page. “I don’t really see the point to it. We’re all Lutherans here.”

Anna Piesel gave him an elbow in the ribs. Startled, Kresse looked up.

“Oh,” he said. He gave Gretchen a slightly guilty look. “I forgot that…”

The frown returned. “But I thought you’d left the Catholic Church. Surely you’re not thinking –”

Gretchen’s temper was rising a bit. Sometimes Kresse really got on her nerves. “Let me make something absolutely clear to you, Georg” — her eyes swept the room with a hard gaze — “and anyone else who has any doubts about it. If I choose to return to the Catholic Church I will do so and if anyone thinks they can infringe upon my rights –” Her voice was starting to rise.

Gui-llo-tine, gui-llo-tine,” Eric said, in a singsong voice, with a grin on his face.

Gretchen glared at him. He shrugged. “Just saying.”

Her swelling anger began to subside. She gave it a couple of seconds and then turned back to Kresse.

“No, Georg, I am not planning to return to the Catholic Church. I have every right to do so, mind you. But…”

She ran fingers through her long, blonde hair. The sensation reminded her again of her vow to get it braided so as to keep it from getting in her way. The vow was only semi-serious, though. Jeff loved her hair the way it was, and while Gretchen wouldn’t go so far as to adopt the motto happy husband, happy life, she’d allow that there was quite a bit of truth to it.