1636: The Saxon Uprising — Snippet 70

She went back to studying him again. “Tell me the truth,” she said abruptly. “Don’t exaggerate anything — but don’t minimize anything, either. How much military training and experience do you have?”

He hesitated. Then, decided that lying to this woman was likely to be a risky proposition. “Training, quite a bit. Actual combat experience, none at all. Well, leaving aside two duels. Assuming the term ‘duel’ can be applied to affairs that were impromptu, unstructured, and…ah…”

“Drunken brawls where you could barely stand up and neither of you could see straight.”

“Well. Yes.”

“The training should be enough. Come here.” She motioned him toward her with a little wave of the hand. Her eyes were already back on the maps, though, not watching to see if he’d obey. She took that for granted, in the way people will who are accustomed to command.

When Jozef came around the table and stood next to her, he saw that she was studying a map of Dresden. More in the way of a diagram, actually, that concentrated entirely on the city’s fortifications.

She placed a finger on one of the bastions that anchored the defenses along the river. “Our officers tell me that once Banér is certain the ice covering the river is solid enough that he may attempt an assault across it. The fortifications here are not as strong as they are around the southern perimeter of the city.”

Jozef studied the diagram. The military training he’d gotten had been fairly extensive, as you’d expect for a member of the Koniecpolski family. But, as was usual for men of that class, it had not concentrated much on siege warfare. Still, he’d picked up quite a bit of knowledge by osmosis, as it were. Some of his instructors had been szlachta from modest families or commoners who did have experience fighting in the infantry and artillery.

“It makes sense to me. It’ll depend mostly on how much of a chance Banér is willing to take. An assault like that is likely to result in heavy casualties. It’s true that the defenses along the river are weaker, but there’s a reason for that. The assumption is that the river itself bolsters the defense. Which it does, even in winter when the ice makes it possible to cross.” He placed his finger on the river. “There is absolutely no cover at all there, and the soldiers have to cross well over a hundred yards of ice. Which may be solid but is hardly good footing. Personally, I think he’d be foolish to take the risk.”

“He may not have much choice,” said Richter. “We think Oxenstierna is getting anxious, from reports we’ve gotten.”

Jozef frowned. “Why?”

Richter’s thin, humorless smile came back. “Because he expected a lot more fighting across the nation than he’s getting. Which makes Dresden all the more central. This is really the only place except Mecklenburg — and that’s over by now, and not to Oxenstierna’s liking — where you can use the term ‘civil war’ without snickering.”

Jozef hadn’t known that. Second only to the misery of hauling rocks every hour of daylight had been the frustration of a spy who didn’t have access to any information.

Belatedly, it occurred to him that for the first time since he’d arrived in Dresden, he could actually do some real spying. Risky, of course, to spy on such as Richter and her cohorts.

“So…” Maybe he could draw her out.

“So time is not on the Swede’s side. People don’t like things unsettled. They start getting angry at the people they think are responsible for it, unless they can see that real progress is being made to implement whatever program is being advocated. You can’t ever forget that most people don’t really have very strong political convictions. They just want to get about their lives. They will be naturally drawn to leaders who project confidence and seem to be getting things accomplished, and they will be naturally repelled by leaders who seem to stir up trouble but can’t get anything done.”

Jozef hadn’t ever thought about political conflict in those terms, but it did make sense. It was certainly true that a great deal of the confidence people felt in a leader came from the leader’s own self-confidence. That was probably even more true of military leadership. Having a record of winning battles helped a great deal, of course. But the truth was that even great captains like Koniecpolski and Gustav Adolf had lost their share of battles and sieges. Yet they never lost the confidence of their followers, as much as anything because they went into each new battle as if they were certain to win.

Much the same way, he realized, that the woman standing next to him somehow exuded confidence that she would be triumphant in her struggles. As if victory were a given and all that remained to be determined was the specific manner in which it would be achieved.

“Leaders such as our blessed Swedish chancellor,” she went on. “Look at what’s happened. He summoned a convention of reactionaries in Berlin to launch a great counter-revolution. Well, Wettin did, officially, but everyone knew that was a formality even before Oxenstierna eliminated the pretense and threw him in prison. And, sure enough, they’d barely closed the lock on Wettin’s cell when they proclaimed their so-called Charter of Rights and Duties. And…”

She grinned, now, and there was some actual humor in it. “Ha! Nothing! Within two weeks all of the moderate provincial leaders had pulled away, like proper ladies drawing up their skirts to avoid getting them muddied. The only big clash was in Mecklenburg, where they got routed again. Elsewhere, people can look around and see that the supposedly seditious rebels are keeping peace and order — in many instances, by intimidating the reactionaries who would like to start fighting. Except for Dresden, the only real fighting going on anywhere is in the Oberpfalz. But that’s caused by a Bavarian invasion, which everyone knows — even an idiot can see this much — is entirely Oxenstierna’s responsibility. Duke Maximilian wouldn’t have dared to attack the Oberpfalz again if Oxenstierna hadn’t started all this trouble. All of which means that it’s more important than ever that the Swedes crush the Saxon rebellion. Their failure to take Dresden makes Oxenstierna look more hapless and incapable as every day goes by.”

“Bavaria invaded the Oberpfalz?” That was the first Jozef had heard of that development. For a supposed spy, he felt like he was doing a good imitation of a burrowing little animal. Sees nothing, hears nothing, knows nothing. Except the dirt in front of him.

Richter was frowning at him. “Where have you been?”

“Hauling rocks,” he said.

She shook her head. “Well, not anymore.” Again, her finger came down on the bastion by the river. “I want you to organize your Poles to support the unit of soldiers we already have there. You’ll be coordinating with Lt. Nagel, who’s in charge of that stretch of the fortifications. He’ll provide you with weapons, too.”

No more rocks. And he could spy again. While rubbing his hands to ward off the chill, there being nothing else to do.