1636: The Saxon Uprising — Snippet 37

Whatever his thinking had been, the end result was that several hundred combat veterans — almost all of them no older than their twenties — were in a city about to undergo a siege, and they had allied themselves with Dresden’s inhabitants. And this was no grudging alliance, either. Jozef had seen for himself that tactical command of the city’s defenses had been taken over by the dozen or so USE army lieutenants present. The one named Krenz seemed to be in overall charge.

Could Stearns have foreseen that?

He… might. By all accounts, he was a canny bastard. And a labor organizer, in his background, not a military man. That meant he was accustomed to fluid relations of command and obedience, where a man’s authority derived almost entirely from his ability to gain and retain the confidence of the men around him. To use an up-time expression, he had to have very finely honed “people skills.”

It was all quite fascinating.

“I’m warning you,” said a voice from behind him, “there’s no point trying to seduce her.”

Turning around — and feeling quite stupid; had he really been ogling the woman that openly? — he saw one of the men he’d met the night before in the Rathaus. The basement tavern of the city hall had been taken over by the CoC, for all practical purposes.

Another Pole, as it happened. Tadeusz Szklenski, a Silesian from a town near Krakow.

The only thing Jozef remembered about him from the previous evening was that the man’s Amideutsch was pretty decent if heavily accented and he insisted on being called by the up-time nickname of “Ted.”

The grin he had on his face was just friendly, so Jozef decided to return it with a grin of his own.

“And why would you think I’d have that in mind to begin with? I should be offended!”

“Three reasons,” came the immediate answer. “The first is that Gretchen Richter’s very good-looking. The second and the third are named Ilse and Ursula.”

Jozef couldn’t stop himself from wincing. Ilse and Ursula were waitresses in the Rathaus tavern. He’d slept with both of them in the course of the past week. Once again, and for perhaps the hundredth time, he cautioned himself that his attraction to women was foolish for a spy.

The problem was partly that Jozef himself was very good-looking, a quality that most men might prize but was a nuisance for someone working in espionage. The other part of the problem was that he had a personality that many women seemed to find irresistibly charming — and, alas, the reverse was also true, if the women were bright and had a sense of humor.

“I hadn’t realized anyone was monitoring my personal habits,” he said stiffly.

Szklenski shrugged. “The fellows came to me about it. They wanted to make sure you were okay. We’re both Poles, you see.”

He seemed to think all of that was self-explanatory. But Jozef found it all very murky.

Who were “the fellows?” Why would they come to Szklenski? What did “okay” mean in this context? And what difference did it make that they were both Poles?

His puzzlement must have been evident. “CoC guys,” Szklenski explained. “They’re always looking out for spies. They figured I could sniff you out if you were, since we’re both Polish.” He shrugged. “I don’t think that last part makes a lot of sense, myself, but that’s how they felt about it.”

“They thought I was a spy?” Jozef tried to put as much in the way of outraged innocence into the term as he could — while keeping in mind the danger of over-acting given that he was, in point of fact, a spy.

“Silly notion, isn’t it? — and I told them so right off. What kind of idiot spy would screw two girls in one week who both worked in the same tavern?”

An excellent question, Jozef thought grimly. Perhaps he should start flagellating himself to drive out these evil urges. Or wear a hair shirt.

“You’d better stay out of Ursula’s sight for a while, by the way. Ilse is easy-going but Ursula’s not at all.”

He glanced over to where Richter had stopped to talk to another group of people. Shop-keepers, from the look of them. “And you can forget about her altogether. Not even the reactionaries try to spread rumors about her. They say she dotes on that up-time husband of hers, even if he is fat and ugly. Well, plain-looking.”

Jozef hadn’t even been thinking about Richter in those terms. He’d admit to being stupid when it came to attractive women, but he wasn’t insane. And right now, he was much more concerned about people suspecting him of being a spy. Especially CoC-type people, who were notorious for being prone to summary justice.

“Why would anyone think Poland would send a spy here? We’re not really very close to where the war is going on.”

Szklenski stared at him, frowning. “What’s Poland got to do with anything? The guys were worried you might be a spy for the Swedes.”

Jozef shook his head. The gesture was not one of negation; just an attempt to clear his head.

“And the logic of thinking a Swedish general would hire a Pole to spy on Saxons is… what, exactly?”

Szklenski’s grin was back. “Don’t ask me. I told you I thought it was silly — and I told them so as well. But just to calm them down, I said I’d talk to you. There aren’t that many Polish CoCers in Dresden, so I figure we need to look out for each other.”

Jozef cleared his throat. “And… ah… why, exactly, would you assume I was a member of the CoCs myself?”

Szklenski got a sly look on his face. “Don’t want to talk about it, huh? That’s okay — but don’t think you’re fooling anybody. Why else would a Pole be in Dresden right now, unless he was a lunatic?”

Another excellent question.