1637 – The Polish Maelstrom – Snippet 09

Morris was practically ogling Fedorovych. The fact was, for all his belligerent talk on the subject, the Jewish jeweler had been born and raised in America. Melissa didn’t think he’d ever actually met a Cossack in his life.

“Oh, my,” said Judith. She indicated the many empty chairs surrounding the huge table in the dining room. “Please, gentlemen, have a seat.”

Morris keep staring at Fedorovych. Wondering, apparently, if the savage Cossack even knew what a chair was in the first place. Melissa almost laughed.

As it happened, despite the rather outlandish outfit–she thought it was probably derived from Tatar or Mongol apparel–Fedorovych took his seat quite gracefully.

“And to what do we owe the pleasure of this visit?” Melissa asked them.

“What do you think?” said Red. “Word’s out that Wallenstein appointed Morris to grab half of Eastern Europe for him–”

Already?” demanded Morris. “Dammit, who blabbed?”

“Could have been Wallenstein himself,” said Red. “It’s a tossup whether he’s shrewder than he is vainglorious. Relax, willya? When I said ‘the word was out’, I only meant in selected circles. Mostly Jewish circles. The most likely culprit for the leak is you, actually. Or rather, the servants who overheard you talking about it. They’d have passed the word into the Prague ghetto and from there…”

He smiled. “In case you hadn’t figured it out already, what with you being the Prince of the Jews, all the Jewish settlements in the towns of eastern Europe are connected to each other. The point being, the word’s out, and these gents want to dicker with you.”

He turned toward the handsome young Pole named Krzysztof Opalinski. “You can start the dickering with these two. The reason they know about it is because I’d already gotten to know them while engaged in that business we don’t need to discuss, and I told them myself.”

“We don’t care about Wallenstein’s aims on the Ruthenian lands,” said Opalinski. He gestured to his partner. “Jakub even less than I do, being as he is from the area himself.”

Jakub Zaborowsky had a twisted smile on his face. “My family is szlachta like Krzysztof’s. But his family is prominent and well-off and we are dirt-poor, as Red would put it.” The term “dirt-poor” came in English, easily blended into the German they were all speaking. “I think we’d do better off back in Poland, if the situation was changed. The only ones who do well in Lesser Poland are the magnates, even if most of the szlachta there try to console themselves with the sure knowledge that they are of noble blood while they spend their days dealing with hogs and money-lenders like any peasant does.”

Opalinski spoke again. “So we will not contest that issue with you. Indeed, you will have our blessing, even to a degree our active support. Strip away their Ruthenian estates, and half the magnates who have Poland and Lithuania under their yoke will lose most of their wealth and influence.”

For the first time, he came into focus in Melissa’s mind. The easy and effortless way he said “under their yoke” was the tip-off. In Melissa’s experience–which had been quite extensive in her youth–the only people who could whip out phrases like that as naturally as most people talked of the weather were dyed-in-the-wool radicals.

“And who, exactly, is ‘you’?” she asked.

The blond young Pole sat erect, looking stiffly proud. “We are members of the newly-formed Spartacus League of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.”

His partner Jakub, who seemed either less full of himself or simply blessed with a good sense of humor, smiled ironically. “We took the name from Rosa Luxemburg’s revolutionary organization. She was a Pole, you know, and a Jewess. Even if the history books mostly talk about her in Germany.”

James Nichols rubbed his face. “I swear, no virus or bacillus which ever lived is as contagious a vector as those fricking books in Grantville.”

Melissa smiled back at Zaborowsky. “Out of idle curiosity, which unlikely tomes did you find in Grantville that said anything about Rosa Luxemburg and the Spartacus League? I wouldn’t have thought the public library–much less the high school’s!–would have carried any such books.”

Both Poles looked at Red. For his part–very unusual, this was–the UMWA man looked almost embarrassed.


After a moment, Melissa’s jaw sagged. “You swiped them! From my library.”

“Oh, jeez, Melissa, I don’t think loaded terms like ‘swiped’ are called for here. What the hell, you were locked up in the Tower of London for a whole year. Not as if you’d miss them any, until I got them copied and put them back.”

Melissa glared at him. Then, glared at Nichols.

“Ease up, dear,” he said mildly. “I didn’t give him permission to come into our house and take the books. First I even knew about it.”

The gaze he gave Red was every bit as mild as his tone of voice. “Odd, though. I never imagined you had second-story burglar skills.”

“Me? Oh, hell no.” Red was back to his normal cheery self, the momentary embarrassment having vanished like the dew. “But I know some guys who do.”

To Melissa, he said: “And since you asked, the three books in question were a biography of Luxemburg, a collection of her writings, and a history of the German Social Democratic party.” He coughed into his fist. “Among others, of course. I gotta tell you, for someone like me, you got far and away the most useful library in Grantville. Anywhere in this here world.”

“You could have asked!”

“You were locked up in the Tower, like I said,” he replied reasonably. He gave James a glance. “And since I figured he was likely to get stubborn about it, you not being around to say yes or no for yourself, and since he wasn’t hardly ever in the house anyway what with spending every waking hour at the hospital, I figured it was just simpler all the way around to borrow them for a while until I could get copies made.”

Melissa didn’t know whether to swear at him or laugh. In the end, she did both. “You lousy fucking commie!” she exclaimed, gurgling a little.

He shrugged. “I prefer the term ‘revolutionary socialist,’ myself, although I certainly won’t squawk at ‘Bolshie.’ But fair’s fair. From now on, Melissa, you can borrow anything of mine without so much as a by-your-leave. What’s mine is yours, as they say.”

“You don’t own anything, Red,” said James, in that same mild tone of voice. “Except the clothes on your back, which wouldn’t fit Melissa anyway.”

“Well, of course not. What kind of agitator goes around hauling lots of trunks and suitcases with him? I got exactly what fits into a reasonable sized valise. Still. The principle’s the same.”

Melissa had never found it possible to stay mad at Red Sybolt for more than a few seconds. First, because he was such an incorrigible sprite. Second, because she was something of a kindred spirit. She’d admit it was a little silly for her to be denouncing Sybolt as a commie, seeing as how she could remember the label being applied to her often enough.

“And what’s Mr. Fedorovych’s angle in all this?” she asked.

“Well, it’s complicated,” said Red. “And we’ll have to have Jakub do the translating for us. Dmytro’s German is lousy and my Ruthenian–which is actually about a jillion dialects–is even worse.”

Everyone looked at the Poles. Zaborowsky began speaking to Fedorovych. After a while, the Cossack started speaking.

The first sentences translated were:

“He says he thinks–so do many people he’s spoken to among the Zaporozhian Host–that they’d do better if they shifted their allegiance to Wallenstein. They’re fed up with the Lithuanian and Polish boyars, and they don’t trust the Russians at all. But first, he says, Mr. Roth has to agree to do something about the Jews.”

“I knew it,” hissed Morris. He scowled at the Cossack. “I suppose he expects me–God knows how I’d do it even if I were so inclined–to make all the Jews living in Eastern Europe just somehow vanish. Stuff somewhere around a quarter of a million kikes into my kike pocket, I guess.”

Zaborowsky translated. Frowning–he seemed more puzzled than anything else, from what Melissa could tell–Fedorovych shook his head and spoke. The translation came back: