1636: The Saxon Uprising — Snippet 73

Chapter 27

Magdeburg, capital of the United States of Europe

Rebecca Abrabanel tried to think of any other possibility she hadn’t explored, when it came to available aircraft. The exercise was more in the way of a formality, though — the sort of final double-check a careful person will do just to remind themselves to be careful — than anything she expected to produce results. There simply weren’t all that many aircraft in existence in January of 1636. Most of those were military, furthermore — and Jesse Wood had made clear that he wasn’t lending any of the air force’s planes to this purpose.

He’d told Rebecca that himself, when he came to pass along the message from Luebeck.

“Sorry, Becky, but I talked it over with the admiral and John’s adamant on the subject. I think he’s probably right, and it’s not something I’m going to buck him on. We’ve kept the navy and the air force out of this ain’t-quite-a-civil-war. Formally, anyway. It’s true we’ve bent the rules into a pretzel, but we haven’t broken any. But if we did this…”

She hadn’t argued the point. She thought Admiral Simpson was right herself.

Of the civilian aircraft, the possibilities were very limited. She didn’t trust most of them — not with the lives of these two people. Of the ones that had demonstrated they were reliable, almost all were ruled out either by mechanical, operational or political concerns. January was not a good time to be flying in the Germanies, so most of the planes were undergoing major maintenance.

The ones based in the Netherlands would need to have at least the tacit approval of the king — for something like this, anyway — and that was a can of worms Rebecca didn’t want to open. At a minimum, Fernando would insist on concessions, and he was already being a pain in the neck. He’d been careful not to cross a line when it came to taking advantage of the internal turmoil in the USE, the line being anything that might provide a clear and obvious casus belli at a future date when his larger neighbor was stable again. But he’d come right up to that line, every time and place he could.

Besides, in order to get his approval, she’d have no choice but to explain the purpose of using one of the Netherlands’ aircraft. And that she wanted to avoid. If this secret got out…

She shook her head. As it was, she was more than a little amazed that it hadn’t. She’d only found out herself a few days ago, when Simpson finally confided in her using the intermediary of Jesse Wood. From what Jesse had told her, it was obvious that Simpson had known for some time that Luebeck was simply a staging point for Kristina and Ulrik. Not, as Rebecca and just about everyone else had assumed, merely a safe area that the prince and princess had settled on because they didn’t want to be a pawn for anybody in the conflict.

Oxenstierna had certainly made that assumption. Rebecca had been in fairly regular touch with John Chandler Simpson, either through Jesse or through the admiral’s wife Mary. She knew that the Swedish chancellor had initially bombarded Kristina with messages demanding that the headstrong girl obey her Uncle Axel; bombarded Ulrik with threats of dire consequences for Denmark if he didn’t stop aiding and abetting the child’s monstrous willfulness; and Simpson himself for not doing what was clearly his duty and expelling the two from Luebeck. From the naval base, at least. Simpson didn’t actually have any formal control over what the city’s officials did. Apparently Oxenstierna assumed he could bring enough pressure to bear on Luebeck to get them to do the same.

After that initial flurry of demands and threats, though, Oxenstierna had said nothing. Rebecca suspected he’d come to the conclusion that since he couldn’t force the issue right now, he’d be wiser to just let sleeping dogs lie. The way things stood, if he forced Ulrik and Kristina out of Luebeck they’d most likely go to Copenhagen — which was even worse, from his standpoint.

So, for all practical purposes, the pair of royals had been ignored for the past weeks. But Rebecca was quite sure that if Oxenstierna found out what they were really planning to do — had been planning all along, in fact — he would do everything possible to prevent them from carrying the project through.

And he could do quite a bit. He had no control over Magdeburg, of course. So far, in fact, he’d not even made any threatening troop movements toward the city. He’d kept that large army he had under his direct control in Berlin. But if he needed to, he could get that army moving — and there was no force in the Germanies that would be able to stop it. He couldn’t take Magdeburg without a siege, and that siege would last at least as long as the siege of Dresden was lasting. But he could interdict the territory between Luebeck and Magdeburg. Most of it, at least.

Even if Simpson was willing to bring the ironclads back out of the Baltic and move them up the Elbe, it wouldn’t do any good. The warships were immensely powerful but they had vulnerabilities also. There were too many ways an ironclad could be ambushed on a river unless it had a powerful land force running interference for it — and there was no land force at Simpson’s disposal that Oxenstierna’s mercenaries couldn’t disperse. For that matter, the Swedes wouldn’t even have to lay an ambush. They could simply wreck some of the locks that made the river passable for the big ironclads.

No, once the secret was out, the only practical way to get Kristina and Ulrik to Magdeburg was to fly them in. Given, of course, the over-riding political imperatives involved.

USE naval base

“No, no, no, no.” Ulrik matched Kristina’s glare with his own. “We’ve been over this already.”

Driven into a corner, Kristina fought back the way any cornered child will do — with the truth instead of the folderol.

“But it’d be fun!”

Out of the side of his eye, Ulrik could see Baldur grinning.

“Not a word, Norddahl,” he said through clenched teeth.

The Norwegian shrugged. “She’s right, you know. We could have a dandy little adventure, disguising ourselves and dashing all about the land as we make our cunning way toward –”

“Shut up! You’re not helping!”

Once the prince was sure that he’d silenced his servant — using the term “servant” so very, very loosely — he went back to the princess.

“Kristina, if we sneak into Magdeburg like thieves in the night, we undercut everything we’re trying to accomplish. This is all about legitimacy. Everything! All of it! Why else have we stayed here in Luebeck for so long? Why didn’t we go to Magdeburg immediately?”

Kristina wiped her nose with the back of her hand. Ulrik was relieved to see the gesture. The girl didn’t have a runny nose, that was just a nervous reflex she had when she was beginning to back down from a tempestuous fight.

It was…unsettling, to think how well he’d gotten to know Kristina. And she’d gotten to know him, he didn’t doubt. Over the centuries, royals separated by almost two decades in age had become betrothed any number of times. Nor had it been unusual if one of those royals was still a child when the betrothal was made. But normally, the formalities done — often by proxy, not even in person — the future married couple didn’t see each other for years. When the time finally came to consummate the marriage, the husband and wife who climbed into the nuptial bed were almost complete strangers. Awkward, of course, in some ways. But one could still trust nature to take its course.

When the time finally came for him and Kristina, on the other hand…

It would either be hideous or very, very good. It wouldn’t be anything in between, for a certainty.

He gave his head a little shake, to clear the stray thought. That problem was still a decade away. Well, eight or nine years. Seven, at the very least. Six, if you really stretched every…

He shook his head again. No little shake this time, either. “You haven’t answered me.”

He was careful — he was always careful — not to give her a direct command. A father could tell his daughter, “Answer me!” An older brother, even, could do the same. But he was not her father. He was her betrothed, forced to act in many ways as if he were her father or older brother, but never forgetting that he wasn’t.

With a different girl, that might not have mattered. A timid, uncertain, shy — just thinking about it was enough to make one laugh. Kristina would remember each and every transgression; squirrel it away like a rodent hoarding food — no, like a commander saving ammunition — and when the time came she would bring them all forth to exact retribution.

One had to be philosophical about these things, if you were a prince in line of succession. Ulrik could — and did, and would until the day he died — console himself with the knowledge that, whatever else, life with Kristina would never, ever, be dull.

She wiped her nose. “Because — this is what you said — we needed to give Uncle Axel time to look foolish.”

She wiped her nose again. “Well, the admiral said it too.”

Kristina had become quite attached to Simpson. In an odd sort of way, he and his wife Mary had become something like grandparents to her.