1636: The Saxon Uprising — Snippet 44

Mike shook his head. “Actually, no. I want you to keep Colonel Higgins up to date. It’ll be his Hangman regiment that has to deal with Königstein.”

“It’s easy enough for me justify landing here, Mike, or at ÄŒeské BudÄ›jovice when you get the airfield down there finished. But –”

“That’ll be in four days, my engineers tell me. Most of my division’s already there.”

“But landing in Tetschen’s something else. Once or twice, sure. But I don’t see how I can legitimately explain regular landings. And they’re bound to find out.”

“Higgins has a radio. It won’t reach here or Dresden reliably, but it’ll reach a plane flying right overhead, won’t it?”

Jesse pursed his lips. “Yeah, it will. Have to make sure nobody’s listening in, but… that’s easy enough.”

He glanced up at the imposing sight of Prague Castle, atop the Hradčany. The huge palace and the great hill it sat upon dominated the whole city. “What about Wallenstein?”

“What about him?” Mike followed Jesse’s gaze, then pointed toward a palace at the foot of the hill. “He lives in his own palace down here, by the way, not up in the Hradčany. I don’t think he’s been up there in months, since his health…”

He let that sentence die a natural death. “Wallenstein’s not very concerned about the inner workings of the USE, Jesse. Just as long as we back him against the Austrians and don’t get in his way if he nibbles at Ruthenia.”

“If you take the Third Division out of Bohemia, he might squawk.”

“If I have to take the Third Division out of Bohemia, squawks coming from Prague will be the least of my concerns.”

Jesse chuckled. “Well, that’s true.”

Mike shrugged. “He’s not really that worried about the Austrians anyway, I don’t think. They’ve been awfully quiet these past few months, and they certainly won’t launch any attack on Bohemia in the middle of winter.”

Vienna, capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire

Janos Drugeth finished reading the report. For the third time, actually. It hadn’t taken but a few minutes, because the report was only two pages long.

“This wasn’t sent by Schmid,” he said, waggling the sheets. “It’s much too sketchy. It’s got very little detail and no analysis at all.”

The Austrian emperor frowned down on the papers in Drugeth’s hand. “You think the report is a fake? A Turkish scheme of some kind?”

“No. What would be the point? I think it was sent by one of Schmid’s underlings. Which would lead me to believe that he’s gone into hiding. Or he’s dead or in a Turkish prison somewhere.”

He rose from his chair in Ferdinand’s private audience chamber and began pacing about. He didn’t even think of asking permission to do so. Janos and his monarch had been close friends since boyhood.

The emperor just watched him, for a minute or so. Then he said: “Come on, speak up! It won’t irritate me any less if you wait another hour. Or another day.”

Drugeth smiled. “So hard to keep anything from you. But I do hope you aren’t being encouraged to do something rash, Ferdinand.” He was one of the handful of men who could address Austria’s ruler in that manner. Only when they were alone, of course.

The emperor threw up his hands. “Ah! I knew you would say that!” The hands came down and gripped the armrests. Quite fiercely. Ferdinand spent the next minute just glaring. Ten seconds, at Janos; the rest of the time, at one of the portraits on the wall. That of his great-grandmother, Anne of Bohemia — who was quite blameless in the matter. She’d been dead for almost ninety years.

“Ah!” he exclaimed again. “I knew you’d say that!”

“This changes nothing, Ferdinand, that I can see. If anything, it makes the possibility of a threat from the Ottoman Empire even greater. The Persians were the main thing holding them in check. Now that they’ve retaken Baghdad, Murad may well make peace with the Safavids.”

“Who says they’ll agree?”

Janos shrugged. “They did in that other universe, didn’t they? When Murad took Baghdad in 1638 instead of three years earlier, as he did in this one.”

He looked back down at the sheets. “And why did he move so quickly, one has to wonder?”

The emperor grunted. “He reads the history books too. Saw that he’d managed it in another time and place and figured, why wait?”

“Possibly, yes. But here’s what else is possible, if Murad ponders the larger lessons of those history books. In the end, the Ottomans were not brought down by the Persians. They were brought down by Christian powers.”

“Not by us!” Ferdinand said, making a face. “We were allied with them in that miserable war.”

“That doesn’t really matter. The Austria of that other world is not the Austria of this one. The changes have already begun. Murad would understand that, I think. And would sense that, in whatever form, it will always be Europe that truly threatens his empire. In the long run, if not now. But he’s a young man and expects to rule for a long time, I imagine.”

Ferdinand took a deep breath and held it for some time. Then, let it out in a rush.

Again, he threw up his hands. “Fine! Fine! I accept your advice. Reluctantly. Grudgingly. I’m so aggravated, in fact, I’m not inviting you to dinner with the royal family tonight. Nor breakfast tomorrow. Lunch… possibly.”

Drugeth nodded, looking very solemn. “Punishment, indeed.”

The emperor made a snorting noise. “But don’t plan for a long lunch! Since you’ve made such an issue of this, I want you back down in the Balkans, seeing what you can find out. Right away.”

Janos decided not to tell Ferdinand he’d been about to make the same proposal. The emperor’s peevish mood would just get worse.