1636: The Saxon Uprising — Snippet 30

Chapter 11


The applause of the crowd gathered in the assembly hall could be heard all the way across the palace. Colonel Erik Haakansson Hand paused at the entrance to the emperor’s rooms in order to listen for a moment.

He couldn’t quite make out the slogans being chanted by the mob, but he didn’t need to. He’d heard enough — more than enough — from the noblemen and urban patricians who’d been pouring into Berlin for the past month to know their complaints, grievances and proposed remedies. Stripped of the curlicues, they were simple enough:

Restore the upper classes to their rightful places in the Germanies.

Abase the pretensions to citizenship of the low orders.

Discipline the common citizenry.

Restore religious stability. (The exact prescriptions involved varied between Lutherans and Calvinists and Catholics, but they all wanted an end to chaos.)

Above all, crush the Committees of Correspondence.

Notably absent from the list were any anti-Semitic proposals. The hammer blows delivered on organized anti-Semitism by the CoCs during Operation Kristallnacht had effectively destroyed that variety of reaction. Sooner or later it would come back, of course; if for no other reason, because of the prominence of Mike Stearns’ Jewish wife in the political affairs of the United States of Europe. But for the moment, the Jew-baiters were silent.

Taking each proposition on its own merits, Hand was sympathetic to some of them. As a member of Sweden’s Vasa dynasty — a bastard member, but a member nonetheless; even one in good standing — he was hardly an ally of Gretchen Richter and her cohorts. But taking the program as a whole, as Oxenstierna was driving it forward, the colonel thought it bordered on lunacy.

Whether it did or not, however, he was sure of one thing: if Gustav Adolf still had his wits about him, none of this would be happening. The king of Sweden had his differences with Mike Stearns, and even larger differences with the Committees of Correspondence. But Erik had spoken with Gustav Adolf at length in times past and knew that his cousin viewed the compromises he’d made to become emperor of the USE as necessary parts of the bargain — a bargain that had made him the most powerful ruler in Europe.

What could Oxenstierna possibly hope to gain that would be worth the cost? Even if he triumphed in the civil war he was instigating, the USE that emerged would be far weaker than the one that currently existed. If for no other reason, because his triumph would necessitate abasing the Americans as well as the CoCs — and what did the damn fool chancellor think would happen then? Any American with any skills at all could get himself — herself, even — employed almost anywhere in Europe. The technical wizardry and mechanical ingenuity that had heretofore bolstered the position of the Vasa dynasty would soon become buttresses for the Habsburgs, the Bourbons, and most of the continent’s lesser houses as well.

The colonel opened the door, entered the emperor’s suite and passed through the outer rooms until he reached the bedroom. But Oxenstierna simply didn’t care, Hand had concluded. The man was so obsessed with restoring aristocratic dominance that he ignored the inevitable consequences if he succeeded.

The same was not true, however, of Hand himself — much less the man lying on the bed before him.

Gustav Adolf raised his head and looked up when he entered. The king’s blue eyes seemed perhaps a bit clearer today.

“Where is Kristina?” he asked.

Startled, Hand glanced at Erling Ljungberg. The big bodyguard shrugged. “Don’t know if it means anything,” he said. “But starting yesterday he began saying stuff that makes sense, now and then. Doesn’t last more than a sentence or two, though.”

Erik looked back down at his cousin. Gustav Adolf was still watching him.

“Why is my daughter rowing violets?” The king’s brows were furrowed.

Puzzled? Angry? It was impossible to tell.

“Under a kitchen some antlers jumped,” he continued. Clearly, the moment of coherence — if that’s what it had been at all — was over.

“Your tailor went thatch and flung,” said Gustav Adolf. Then he closed his eyes and seemed to fall asleep.

Erik placed a hand on the king’s shoulder. The thick muscle was still there, at least. Physically, his cousin had largely recovered from his injuries at the battle of Lake Bledno. If only his mind…

He gave his head a little shake. No point in dwelling on that.

A particularly loud roar from the distant assembly hall penetrated the room. Ljungberg glanced in that direction and scowled slightly.

“Assholes,” he muttered.

That was the first indication Hand had ever gotten that the king’s new bodyguard wasn’t entirely pleased with the new dispensation. Ljungberg was normally as taciturn as a doorpost.

He decided to risk pursuing the matter. “Your loyalty is entirely to the king, I take it?”

The bodyguard gave him a look from under lowered brows. “The Vasas always sided with the common folk,” Ljungberg said. He nodded toward Gustav Adolf. “Him too, even if he did give the chancellor and his people most of what they wanted.”

Gustav Adolf’s father had died when he was only seventeen — too young, legally, to inherit the throne without a regent. Axel Oxenstierna, the leader of Sweden’s noblemen, had supported Gustav Adolf’s ascension to the throne in exchange for concessions that restored much of the nobility’s power taken away by the new king’s grandfather, who had founded the Vasa dynasty.

“So they did,” said Hand. “And will again, if my cousin recovers.”

For a moment, the two men stared at each other. Then Ljungberg looked away. “I’m the king’s man. No other.”

“And I as well,” said Erik.

A good day’s work, he thought. Best to leave things as they were, though, rather than rushing matters. Nothing could be done anyway unless Gustav Adolf regained his senses.