1636: The Saxon Uprising — Snippet 68

Nichols nodded. The truth was, they’d said everything that was critical already. He’d tell Melissa when he got back to Magdeburg, as a man will say something to the woman who shares his life and his bed. Knowing full well that she’d pass it on to Rebecca immediately.

Torstensson had to know that as well. Which meant that the tacit agreement he had with his soldiers had just gotten extended to the Fourth of July Party and the Committees of Correspondence across the entire nation. You leave me alone and I’ll leave you alone.

Oxenstierna would have a fit, if he knew. But James had a feeling that the chancellor was slowly but steadily losing his grip on the situation — first and foremost, his grip on his own people.

The tea was quite good, as you’d expect.


Nichols spent the next two days inspecting the sanitary and medical arrangements and facilities that the army had set up in their siege lines around PoznaÅ„. As he’d expected, they were well-designed and in good order. Torstensson and his staff officers had genuinely internalized the critical role that sanitation and proper medical procedures played in fending off the diseases that typically swept through armies at war, especially armies engaged in a siege.

But what was probably even more important was that the rank and file soldiers were equally committed to those practices. So there’d be no dodging and shirking, which was often the Achilles’ heel of sanitation and medical regulations. Quite the opposite, actually. The punishment a soldier who slacked off would get from his mates was likely to be a lot worse than what he’d get if an officer caught him. Even from the standpoint of its commanders, there were advantages sometimes to having an army so influenced by CoC attitudes.


On the morning of the third day, a small delegation of Polish officers came across the lines under a flag of truce. They’d come to bring Grand Hetman Koniecpolski’s answer to the offer Nichols had made the day he arrived to give his advice on medical matters to the Polish army as well.

The leader of the delegation was an officer who seemed very young to be wielding as much authority as he obviously did. But his name was Opalinski — Lukasz Opalinski — which perhaps explained the matter. James had a vague recollection that the Opalinskis were one of the more prominent move-and-shaker families in the upper crust of the Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth’s aristocracy.

Opalinski fit James’ image of a hussar to a T. He was tall, well-built, and handsome in a big-nosed sort of way. His hair was short and blond as was his beard, but his mustache was swept out in very dramatic fashion. The tips of it looked as if they probably blew in the wind as he galloped his horse toward the foe.

He was a very polite young man, as well, although he was obviously struggling not to gape at Nichols. In all likelihood, James was the first black man he’d ever met in his life. Not that Germans had met very many black people either, of course. But James and his daughter Sharon were by now so famous in the Germanies that most people in the USE had at least seen a woodcut likeness of them somewhere. To Lukasz Opalinski, James Nichols was an utterly exotic figure, something out of the ancient tales by Herodotus about foreign lands and their peoples. If he weren’t being polite, James was pretty sure the hussar would lift up his shirt to see if he had another mouth or pair of eyes on his stomach.

“I’m afraid we must refuse,” Opalinski said, in heavily-accented but quite good German. “Please accept the Grand Hetman’s regrets and his sincere thanks for the offer. But — ah — he asked me to explain that if he accepted, there might be trouble about it in the Sejm.”

From the tinge of exasperation in the young hussar’s voice, James was pretty sure Opalinski thought there’d be trouble in the Sejm if Koniecpolski ate porridge for breakfast or put his boots on in the wrong order. But this was all a diplomatic dance, in any event. James had made the offer at Torstensson’s suggestion, but the Swedish general had told him he didn’t think there was much chance the Poles would accept.

With a polite bow, Opalinski took his leave. He managed not to turn around and stare at James more than twice as he and his party rode off.


“Well, you were right,” he said to Torstensson.

The commander of the USE army shrugged. “Thank heaven for the nature of Polish government. If it weren’t the way it is, I hate to think what Koniecpolski could accomplish.”

Knyphausen grunted. Duke George grinned.

One of the air force’s Gustavs landed that afternoon to take James back to Magdeburg. The pilot buzzed the Polish lines on his way out. The Poles fired a volley at the plane in response.

Apparently, that mutually useless display of martial prowess seemed reasonable to both sides. James made no objection, though. He could still remember a time, when he’d been a young man in one of the gangs in Chicago’s south side, when he’d have thought it was perfectly reasonable himself. Now at the age of sixty, he’d concluded that the main difference between gang fights and the wars of dynasties and nations was that the gangs were a lot less pretentious about their violence. Stripped of the long-winded folderol, from what James could see, most formal declarations of war came down to “the motherfuckers dissed us and we’re gonna get ’em for it.”