1636 The Viennese Waltz – Snippet 16
This time Karl checked into his hotel and sent a note to Sarah asking when she could see him. Then he cooled his heels for a while and occupied himself with paper work.
It was the next day at noon when he met Sarah at the American Cafe. “So what’s so important?” Sarah asked, before they had even ordered.
“Let’s put in our orders first,” Karl said. It wasn’t like they were going to wait long for service. He was Prince Karl Eusebius von Liechtenstein and she was the daughter of the Secretary of the Treasury. Their waitress was there before they sat down. And they knew the menu.
“Burger and fries,” Karl said. “What about Sprite?”
The waitress gave him a sad look and shook her head.
“Doctor Pepper then.”
“I’ll have the same, but make mine a wine cooler,” Sarah said.
The waitress went off to inform the chef, a German who had spent two years in Grantville learning to make hamburgers and other “fast” foods.
“Well, we’ve ordered. What’s so important?”
“The latest note from King Albrecht. I’m not going to be able to put it off much longer.”
“This is so unfair,” Sarah said. “Everyone gets to go off and have adventures in the world and I am stuck in an office, calculating the mean income distribution for the USE. And developing a standard market basket when the stuff that goes into it is changing faster than it did up-time.”
Karl looked at her in surprise that turned rapidly into shock. Sarah meant it. She was really angry and he didn’t have a clue why. Not knowing what to say, he opened his mouth and blurted the first thing that came to mind. “Come with me, then.”
It was the right thing to say. Or, at the very least, it wasn’t a totally wrong thing to say. Sarah had stopped her litany of complaint and her mouth was hanging open. Then it snapped shut. “I can’t!”
Never one to lose an advantage, Karl shot back, “Why not? It’s not like you actually need the job at the Fed.” Then, seeing her expression, he backpedaled fast. “I’m sure we can come up with a good reason for you to go. Certainly good enough so they won’t fire you for it. You can go to study economic trends in Bohemia. They have a market basket too and they probably have even less of a clue what goes in it than you do here.”
Sarah’s expression had gone thoughtful and Karl heaved a very well-hidden sigh of relief. A mine field had been crossed, and he hadn’t even known it was there.
“I’ll think about it. In the meantime, why does King Al want you to sign on the dotted line now?” Sarah asked, then dipped a cottage fry into something that claimed to be ketchup, but wasn’t. They had discussed the very polite and vague letters that Karl and the king of Bohemia had exchanged before.
Karl’s relations with King Al, as Judy the Younger had christened him, had been by mail. Before Wallenstein had become King Albrecht, Karl had made a whirlwind trip to take the oaths of his people. That gave Karl quite a lot of legitimacy and made it difficult for King Al to go all Capone on him unless Karl did something serious.
In spite of the fact that several people thought he had bent the knee, Karl hadn’t quite done so. He paid his taxes on time, while his uncles were paying the same taxes to Ferdinand II. “I don’t know. It may be that the railroad makes him nervous.”
“Your American Civil War probably,” Karl told her. “They were used quite extensively to move troops and supplies.”
Sarah nodded. She wasn’t, Karl knew, all that conversant in military history.
“Well, the railroad will help your lands a lot,” Sarah said. “How bad is it going to be?”
“I don’t know.” Karl shook his head. “I know that the up-timers, and the USE in general, don’t have any great affection for the Holy Roman Empire, but it’s Christianity’s shield against Islam and has been for centuries. It’s my country. My father and my uncles fought and bled for it and I expected to do the same when my time came. Now it’s disappearing before my eyes. There is no way that Prince Ferdinand will get the votes to become emperor, and less chance that someone else would get those votes.”
“I know,” Sarah said. “I wonder how I would feel if I had to watch the up-time United States slowly disintegrating before my eyes.”
Karl looked at her, and felt himself starting to smile. As he’d said, Sarah Wendell wasn’t overly fond of the H.R.E. Nor did she have a lot of reason to be. But it was very . . . encouraging . . . the way she was trying to see things from his point of view. Even if the situations weren’t quite parallel.
His smile died as he thought about the reality of the situation. The H.R.E. had indeed been the shield of Christianity for over eight hundred years. Protecting Christian ideals from Islam while Europe grew strong and wealthy . . . was that enough to justify the Edict of Restitution? Well, maybe, at least in that other time-line. But the shield was coming apart, whatever he thought about it, and there was nothing — nothing at all — that he could do to prevent it.
Besides, Karl wanted that railroad. It was necessary to the improvement of his lands. That had to be his first priority.
“So how long is it going to take?” Sarah asked.
“A small troop with good horses, but bad roads,” Karl thought allowed. “Avoiding Saxony. I don’t want to be John George’s ransom to bring the H.R.E. in on his side. Figure twenty-five miles a day on average. A week to Prague. And while I’m at it, I should visit Aunt Beth. So that’s another week. Plus whatever time . . .” Karl paused not at all sure whether to say “I spend” or “we spend” and settled on “. . . it takes to negotiate with King Al and my aunt. So at least a month, probably a month and a half.”
Now Sarah was looking distressed. “I’ll have to talk to my boss. That’s a long time to be gone.”
Wendell House, Magdeburg
“Are you nuts!” Fletcher Wendell didn’t quite bellow. Not quite. “Karl, you at least, ought to know better. Two hundred plus miles over rough country, with either one of you a bandit’s dream come true. What’s your ransom value, Karl? Half of Silesia? And you, Sarah? Half a million shares of OPM? You would have to take a flipping army with you just to fight off the bandits.”
“I’m not insensitive to the situation, and the newspapers make it much harder to get where you’re going before the bandits know about the trip,” Karl agreed. “On the other hand, King Albrecht is insistent that I go.”
“And my daughter? Is King Albrecht insisting that Sarah go with you?”
“No. But I’d rather tell King Albrecht no than tell Sarah that. If you don’t want her to go, then you get to try and convince her she can’t.” Karl couldn’t keep just a touch of smugness out of his voice as he said that and it clearly didn’t please Herr Wendell.