1636: The Saxon Uprising — Snippet 49
“All right. What’s the third parameter, as you see it?”
“Legitimacy. Here again, both sides are about equally matched. It might be more accurate to say, equally mismatched.”
The admiral grunted softly. “Both bastards, you’re saying? On one side, a bunch of scruffy lowborn radicals. On the other, a bunch of arrogant noblemen, at least some of whom are Swedish puppets.”
“Yes, precisely. That is the reason, of course, that if Gustav Adolf still had his wits about him, none of this would be happening. He does have legitimacy, and it’s recognized by everyone. Not even the CoCs have ever challenged the dynasty; not openly, at any rate, however much they may mutter in their cups of an evening.”
Again, there was a pause. Simpson left off his scrutiny of the prince to look out one of the windows.
“She’s only nine years old, Ulrik,” the admiral said softly.
“I understand that. But she’s all the nation has left, John, unless the emperor recovers. And after two months, my hopes for that happening are fading rapidly.”
Simpson sighed. “Yes, mine too. Strokes are things people usually recover from quickly or they never recover at all. I’m not as familiar with this sort of brain injury, but I think it’s not too different.”
His eyes came back to Ulrik. “Even if you go to Magdeburg — even if you proclaim Kristina the new empress from the steps of the royal palace — you won’t be able to stop the war. There’s too much momentum behind it now. Oxenstierna is too committed, for one thing. For another — I don’t know if you’ve heard yet — BanÃ©r has reached Dresden and his troops have been committing atrocities since they entered Saxony. The city has closed its gates to him. Gretchen Richter is now ruling Dresden — and she’s taken off all the gloves and stripped away whatever fig leaves she still had on. I don’t know if this will mean anything to you, but she’s calling the city’s new governing council the Committee of Public Safety.”
Ulrik scowled. “Does that woman always have to sow the earth with salt?”
“In this case, I have to say I think she’s doing the right thing. BanÃ©r has made it crystal clear that he’ll be following no rules except those of the blade. And Oxenstierna is obviously making no effort to restrain him. Under those circumstances, what do you expect Richter to do, Ulrik? Try to play nice? That would not only be pointless, it’d sap the morale of her own people. The way it is, she’s matching an ax to the Swedish sword.” His lips twisted a little. “Or a guillotine, soon enough.”
Ulrik pursed his lips, as if he’d bitten into a lemon. “I suppose. But to get back to where we were, I don’t expect to stop the civil war, John. As I said earlier, I hope to limit the damages. And there is only one way I can see to do that. With this civil war, at any rate.”
“End it as quickly as possible, by helping one or the other side to win. But do so in a way that precludes — limits, at least — any wreaking of vengeance in the aftermath.”
Slowly, Simpson picked up his cup again and drained it. Just as slowly, he set it down. “You’re a nobleman, yourself. As highly ranked as it gets, in fact.” He said that in a flat, even tone. Neutral, as it were; simply a statement of fact.
Ulrik shrugged, irritably. “Yes, I know. And I won’t claim that the course of action I propose to takes is one I find very comfortable. But reality is what it is, John, whether I like or not. Whether that imbecile Oxenstierna likes it or not.”
The admiral chuckled. “Not often you hear those two words put together. ‘Oxenstierna’ and ‘imbecile.’ The chancellor’s actually a very intelligent man.”
“There’s no evidence of it right now. Just the instinctive behavior of an aristocrat, as brainless as a bull in rutting season.” Ulrik waved his hand, in another irritable gesture. “In the long run, the victor in this contest is inevitable — and Oxenstierna should be able to see that for himself. All he will accomplish is to prolong the process, at the cost of great agony — and the risk of producing a Germany as distorted as the one in the universe you came from. Which is the last thing anyone needs.”
The prince looked down at his own cup. He’d barely touched the broth, and found he had no more desire to do so now. Nothing wrong with it; the beverage was quite tasty. But when Ulrik was on edge, he lost all his appetite. It was hard to explain what he was groping for, exactly.
“What I hope, John — it’s a gamble, I’ll be the first to agree, and probably one at long odds — is that the legitimacy Kristina can give the democratic movement if she moves to Magdeburg will tip the scale in the civil war. And because of the way she tipped it, will restrain the victors from inflicting excessive punishment on the losers.” He grimaced. “Whereas you can be sure that if they win, Oxenstierna and that pack of curs following him will drown the nation in a bloodbath even worse than the one which closed the Peasant War.”
“Not in the SoTF, they won’t,” Simpson said, in a steely tone. “Make no mistake about this, Ulrik. I am trying to obey the law. So is Jesse Wood. So is Mike Stearns, for that matter. But if Oxenstierna starts massacring Americans, all bets are off.”
The prince shook his head. “He won’t do that. And if someone else starts, he’ll put a stop to it. If for no other reason, no one wants to lose the Americans’ skills. He doesn’t need to destroy you Americans, John. He simply needs to hamstring your political influence. If he crushes the Committees of Correspondence and drives the Fourth of July Party under — to the fringes of power, at least — he will have accomplished that.”