1637 – The Polish Maelstrom – Snippet 06

“In answer to the second question, I am not actually using Octavio as my conduit to you. It would be more accurate to say that I am using him as my conduit–say better, my liaison-at-a-comfortable-distance–with Emperor Ferdinand.”

The logic was clear enough, once Franz thought about it. “Ah. You feel that if you employed me directly, the Austrians might fret themselves over the purpose of the employment. And then, out of anxiety–”

“Oh, that’s far too strong a term, Franz!” protested Piccolomini. “Don’t give yourself airs! We would–at most–be motivated by reasonable caution.”

He bestowed a fulsome grin upon von Mercy and Abrabanel both.

Franz returned the grin with a thin smile. “Out of reasonable caution, then”–he looked back at Uriel–“they would take steps that you might find annoying.”

“Oh, ridiculous!” boomed Piccolomini. “That he might find disastrous to his plans! Utterly destructive to his schemes. Might lay waste his entire project for years to come.” The grin returned. “That sort of thing. Much the better way to put it.”

“Indeed,” said Uriel, smiling also. “This way, at every stage, the Austrians are kept–to use a handy little American expression–‘in the loop.’ I think that will serve everyone nicely.”

Piccolomini brought a fist to his mouth and cleared his throat noisily. “Except… well, Wallenstein, perhaps. If he finds out that I’m involved in any way. I assume he’s still holding a grudge?”

“Well, yes. Of course he is, Octavio. His name is Albrecht von Wallenstein and you did, after all, plot and carry out his murder.”

Piccolomini waved a meaty hand. “In another world! In this one, it never happened! And that, only according to a detestable play by a German of very dubious reputation. Why, the man hasn’t even been born yet. How can anyone believe a word he says?”

All three men laughed, now. Friedrich Schiller’s play Wallenstein was now one of the best-known plays in central Europe and very widely published and performed–despite the fact that it wouldn’t have been written until the year 1800 and only one copy of it had existed in Grantville. Partly, because the subject was still alive and now King of Bohemia, a position he’d never achieved in Schiller’s universe. And partly–such was the universally held suspicion–because Wallenstein secretly financed the play’s publication and many of its performances. Although Wallenstein had its criticisms of the man who gave the play its title, the portrait of him was by and large quite favorable.

When the laughter died away, Uriel shook his head. “But I saw no reason–and see none now–for Wallenstein to know anything of your role in this business. All he will know, if all goes well, is that I met a fortunately-unemployed cavalry commander of excellent reputation in Vienna and hired him on behalf of Don Morris.”

Piccolomini rubbed his jaw for a moment, and the nodded. “Well. You’re probably right.”

Uriel turned to von Mercy. “My proposition is simple enough, General. As you may or may not know–and I suspect you do, at least the gist of it–the king of Bohemia has entrusted Don Morris Roth to see to Bohemia’s interests to the east. Among those interests–this is at the center of Don Morris’ own concerns, as well as mine–is included a reasonable and just resolution of the Jewish issues involved.”

Franz managed not to wince. He could think of several possible resolutions to what Abrabanel was very delicately calling “the Jewish issues involved” in the politics of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and the sprawling lands and peoples of Ruthenia. But neither “reasonable” nor “just” was likely to be part of them.

But all he said was, “Not so easily done. And if it can be done, it won’t be done by cavalry.”

Uriel now grinned. “And an honest man, too! No, General, it can’t be done by cavalry. In the end, in fact–such is Don Morris’ opinion, and I share it–the matter can’t be resolved by any sort of military force. But what cavalry can do, as we wrestle with the problem, is keep someone else from imposing their own very unreasonable and unjust solution.”

“Possibly. Although it will take more than one regiment of cavalry.”

“Quite a bit more, in fact.” Abrabanel leaned forward in his chair. “But here’s the thing, General. We can train–so we believe, at least–a powerful enough military force out of our own resources.”

Franz raised an eyebrow. “From Jews? Meaning no offense, but I find that unlikely.”

Abrabanel shrugged. “It was done in another universe. A very powerful military force, in fact. But it won’t simply be Jews, in any event. The Brethren are with us also, and–”

“Socinians.” That came from Piccolomini, who, for all his cosmopolitanism and sophistication, had more than a little in the way of straightforward Italian Catholic attitudes. The word was practically sneered. “Heretics who make Lutherans and Calvinists look sane. And I thought they were pacifists, which just proves how mad they are.”

“No, you have them confused with the Polish Brethren. The Brethren I speak of are the Bohemian Brethren, the ones descended from the Hussites. They’re quite Trinitarian, I assure you.” He made a little fluttering motion with both hands. “But whether they are heretics or not–and as a Jew, I would not presume to judge such Christian matters–I can assure you that they are quite capable of fighting, Octavio. They did very well against Holk’s forces last year.”

He turned back to von Mercy. “But here’s the thing–as you well know from your own experience. Without the traditions involved, there is no way we can forge a good cavalry force on our own.”

After a moment, Franz nodded. At least, this Don Morris and his Abrabanel agent were not so wildly impractical as to imagine they could conjure up good cavalry from the ranks of ghetto-dwellers and rustics.

Infantry… yes. Perhaps even artillery, if not too much was demanded of it in the way of maneuvering. But cavalrymen, like archers, almost had to be born to it. At the very least, they had to have spent years learning all the necessary skills.

“So. And for that, you seek to hire me. Yes?”


“And the terms?”

Abrabanel’s description was short, clear and to the point. When he was done, von Mercy studied him for a few seconds.

“And all this is going to come from the purse of one man? Who is not even a duke, much less a king. Pardon me, but I find that hard to believe. I’m not a village peasant, who thinks a ‘rich Jew’ is some sort of devil-summoned creature with bottomless coffers.”

Uriel smiled. “You might be surprised, actually, at how rich some of these up-timers have gotten. The Roth fortune derives largely from cut jewelry, of which at the moment they have an effective monopoly and is a rage sweeping Europe. More than one monarch–and any number of dukes–are opening up their coffers to obtain the new gems. And, at that, Don Morris’ wealth is rather small compared to the fortune being amassed by the Stone family with their pharmaceutical and chemical works. Still–”

He waggled fingers in a gesture that simultaneously dismissed the problem and cautioned the need for discretion. “Not all of the funds, of course, will come from Don Morris himself. Probably not even most of them. I said that Wallenstein was not directly involved here. I did not say he was not involved at all.”

Von Mercy leaned back in his chair, and felt the tension caused by the Austrian emperor’s refusal to hire him begin to ease. It seemed he would be able to keep his regiment intact, after all. Some of those men had been with him for years and would have been very difficult to replace quickly if at all.

In fact, he had heard tales of the wealth of the man Roth in Prague. The intricately-carved new jewelry he and his partners had introduced to Europe was, indeed, all the rage–at least, among those circles who could afford such gems at all. But there were a lot of noblemen in Europe, many of whom were very wealthy themselves–and it seemed as if each and every one of them was bound and determined to acquire one of the dazzling new “Prague jewels,” as they were now being called.