1636: The Saxon Uprising — Snippet 02

But the doctor made no further reference to the matter. His smile vanished, and he continued with his medical assessment.

“What you will discover when you come into your cousin’s presence is that he speaks — quite easily, in fact — but his speech makes no sense. It’s as if the mechanism which translates thoughts into words has been broken. The technical medical term for the condition is ‘aphasia.’ Beyond that…”

He leaned back in the chair in his office. “He’s apparently still not recognizing anyone. The temporal lobes are involved in handling visual content, too. He’s apparently had no seizures yet, but he might have them in the future. And he’s apparently suffering from occasional onsets of blind fury.” Sourly, he added: “You’ll have to forgive my excessive use of the term ‘apparently.’ I’m no longer on the scene and the few reports I’ve gotten since I left are skimpy at best.”

“Will he recover?”

“He might, yes. But there’s no way to know yet, Colonel—nor, even if he does recover, do we know how long it might take.”

“Your best estimate, please.”

Nichols shrugged. “Assuming he recovers at all, and given that it’s now been several weeks since the injury, I don’t see much chance of any major improvement until a few months have gone by. I could easily be proven wrong, you understand.”

“Could it take years?”

“Possibly. But…” Nichols made a little face. “Look, here’s how it is with brain traumas. Strokes, too. There are some outliers, true enough. There have even been a few cases where people recovered after almost twenty years in a coma. But the general rule of thumb is that once what you might call the normal recovery period has passed, the odds that the patient will recover start dropping pretty quickly. So my gut feeling is that if Gustav Adolf doesn’t recover — mostly, anyway — within a year, then he’s not going to recover at all.”

Hand nodded. “Thank you. That’s quite helpful, I think.”


Now that he was on the scene in Berlin, Hand could see that the doctor’s assessment had been quite helpful. It gave him what he most needed as a guide to action: a time frame.

Six months, Hand decided. That would be his framework.

Chancellor Oxenstierna had escorted the colonel into the room in the former Elector’s palace where Gustav Adolf was kept. He’d been silent since, allowing the king’s cousin to interact as best he could without distraction.

Now, finally, he spoke. “As you can see, Erik, he does not have his wits about him any longer.”

Hand thought it would be better to say that the king’s wits were wandering somewhere inside his brain, trying to find a way out. But under the circumstances, the less he said to Oxenstierna, the better.

So he simply uttered a noncommittal sound. A hum, you might call it.

Oxenstierna turned to face him. “Will your current assignment…?”

Hand raised his hand a few inches. “Please, Axel. Despite my cousin’s current condition, I feel obliged to maintain his confidentiality.”

“Yes, of course.”

Hand hesitated for a moment, to give the chancellor the impression that he was thinking through the complexities involved in his current assignment, whatever that assignment might be.

“I will be traveling quite a bit over the next few months, Axel. I can say that much, I think.”

“I see. Can you give me any indication as to where?”

The colonel shrugged. “Hard to know. Here. Magdeburg. Grantville, perhaps. Possibly Bohemia. Poland… not likely, I think.”

The chancellor seemed on the verge of saying something — a protest, probably, by the expression on his face — but after a few seconds satisfied himself with an equally non-committal grunt.

He then gave Hand a polite little bow. More in the way of an exaggerated nod, really. “And now I’m afraid I must be off. Urgent affairs of the realm, as you can imagine.”

Hand returned the not-quite-a-bow. That was slightly rude, on his part. King’s cousin or not, Oxenstierna still ranked him in Sweden’s hierarchy. But Hand couldn’t afford to give any impression, especially to Oxenstierna, that he was in the least bit intimidated by Gustav Adolf’s predicament.

After the chancellor left, Hand glanced at the one other person in the room. That was Gustav Adolf’s personal bodyguard Erling Ljungberg, who was perched on a stool in a corner.

Ljungberg was new to the assignment. Silently, Erik cursed the fates on that evil battlefield that had not only stuck down the king but slain his bodyguard as well. That had been Anders Jönsson, a man whom Hand had known very well indeed. Had Anders still been alive…

But, he wasn’t. And Erik simply didn’t know Ljungberg well enough yet — he’d correct that as soon as possible, of course — to speak freely to him.

He was moving in perilous waters now, which the ancient Roman poet Ovid had described very well indeed. If treason prospers, none dare call it treason.

So, he did no more than give Ljungberg the same not-quite-a-bow, and then left the room. As he was passing through the door, he heard Gustav Adolf call out behind him.

“Weather not a wagon! Be drunken blue! Can empty trolls whisper crow?”

A protest? A question?

Probably both, Erik thought. What else would be coming from a king trapped in the chaos of his own mind, while those in power around him plotted treason?

For treason, it surely was. Hand was certain he knew what Oxenstierna and his cohorts were planning — and it was no accident that none of them would have dared propose those same plans to their sovereign while he still had his senses.

Six months. By then, one of them would be publicly given the label of traitor.

That might very well be Erik Haakansson Hand himself, of course, but he’d always enjoyed a challenge. No assignment his cousin had ever given him was as challenging as the one that he hadn’t because he could no longer speak.

Six months, then.