1637 – The Polish Maelstrom – Snippet 13


October, 1636

From the east falls, from poison valleys,

A river of knives and swords

“The Seeress’s Prophecy,” The Poetic Edda

Chapter 1

Linz, provisional capital of Austria-Hungary

“Interesting idea,” said Gustav II Adolf. The emperor of the United States of Europe–also the king of Sweden and the High King of the Union of Kalmar–rose up from his study of the map spread across a table in the chamber he used for private meetings. He looked at the two people standing on the opposite side of table.

“Which one of you thought of it?” he asked, smiling a bit slyly.

“Oh, Michael did, of course,” said Rebecca Abrabanel. “I am a diplomat, not someone versed in military–”

“She did,” said Mike Stearns. With a grin on his face, he pointed with a thumb to his wife standing next to him. “The basic political ingredients that are the heart of the scheme, anyway. I just came along afterward and fleshed out the military details.”

“That is not true, Michael,” protested Rebecca. “What you dismissively call ‘the military details’ are in fact the essence of the plan.” She sniffed. “Plan, not a ‘scheme.'”

Mike’s grin never wavered. Gustav Adolf’s smile widened until he was grinning also. “Oh, come, Rebecca. Of course it’s a scheme. Quite a charming one, though. I’m taken by it.”

He turned his head to look at his future son-in-law, Prince Ulrik of Denmark. Looked down, as well. Gustav Adolf was a big man and the prince was no more than average size. “What do you think?”

Ulrik gave his shoulders a little heave; not quite a shrug. “Like Rebecca, I am in no position to gauge the military aspects of the plan–scheme, if you prefer. But I think the political possibilities are… intriguing, certainly.”

He leaned over the map and placed his forefinger on the city of Beirut. He had to lean over quite a bit because Beirut was at the center of the map, and it was a big map which showed all of the eastern Mediterranean and the Near East from the coast to Baghdad.

“Assuming you can hold Beirut–”

“We’d actually be holding most of what we called Lebanon up-time,” interjected Mike. He leaned over and pointed with his finger as well, although he kept the fingertip several inches above the map so it wouldn’t crowd Ulrik’s. “Everything between the sea and Mount Lebanon–including, of course, Mount Lebanon itself. Which is actually a range of mountains, not a single one.”

Ulrik then moved his finger to Egypt. “And you think that will trigger a revolt in Egypt?”

Rebecca fluttered her hands by way of caution. “I would say ‘hope’ rather than ‘think’. There are too many factors involved in Egypt’s relationship to the Ottomans for us to be certain of any outcome. Officially, it is simply one of the empire’s provinces. An eyalet, as they call them. But although the Ottomans seized Egypt from the Mamluks more than a century ago, the Mamluks are still a powerful and influential force there. The truth is that, under the surface, Egypt remains semi-autonomous. If the Egyptians can be persuaded that our stronghold in Beirut shields them–even if only partially–from Ottoman power, they might well decide to revolt.”

Ulrik then pointed with his chin toward the side of the map in front of Rebecca and Mike. “But you say the main target is the Safavids.”

“That’s the gold ring,” said Mike, nodding. “If the Persians see that we’re tying up Murad’s forces in Lebanon as well as Austria, we’re hoping they’ll decide to resume their war with the Ottomans.” He planted his finger on the spot marked Baghdad. “They’ve got to be holding a grudge over Murad’s seizure of Mesopotamia from them, which happened less than a year ago.”

Ulrik made a cautioning motion with his own hand. “Yes, they might. But it’s also possible Shah Safi will view the Ottoman entanglements as an opening for him to finally settle accounts with the Uzbeks instead.”

“Yes, that’s possible,” Mike admitted. “If Shah Abbas were still on the throne…”

Gustav Adolf chuckled. “If Abbas had still been alive, I don’t think the Ottomans would have been able to take Baghdad in the first place.”

He was probably right about that, thought Mike. There hadn’t been much information in Grantville’s libraries or computer records concerning the Safavid dynasty that ruled the Persian Empire in the 16th and 17th centuries. But one thing that seemed clear was that the greatest ruler produced by that dynasty had been Shah Abbas I, whose reign had lasted from 1588 to 1629. His death had come just two years before the Ring of Fire.

The man who had succeeded him, his grandson Shah Safi, did not appear to have the same ability. On the other hand, by all reports that came to Europe the man recently appointed as the Persian Empire’s grand vizier, Saru Taqi, was quite competent.

If Mike succeeded in his plan to open a second front against the Ottomans in the Levant, the Safavids might go any one of three ways. They might simply sit tight. They might renew the war with the Ottomans. Or they might use the preoccupation of the Ottomans to attack the Uzbeks in Central Asia. The great strategic problem faced by the Safavids was that they were caught between two powerful foes, the Ottomans to the west and the Uzbeks to the east.

Mike and Rebecca were hoping for the second outcome. But there was no way to read the future. The same was true with their hopes that the Egyptians might revolt. There were a lot of factors working in favor of that, if the USE established a strong position in Beirut and the surrounding region. But those same factors made for a complex situation. There was no way to know in advance what might result.

The one thing Mike was confident about was his ability to hold Lebanon against the Ottomans, as long as two conditions were met. The first was that Gustav Adolf, the commander of the allied military forces, gave him permission to use his Third Division for the purpose. The second was that he and Rebecca could forge an alliance with the Druze who dominated Mount Lebanon and the Jabal al-Druze (Mountain of the Druze) area in southern Syria.

Forging an alliance with the Druze meant coming to an agreement with the leader of the Druze, Fakhr-al-Din, the emir of Mount Lebanon. And that meant going to Italy. Fakhr-al-Din had recently fallen out of favor with the Ottomans and had been forced to go into exile. Fortunately for him, the Duke of Tuscany, Ferdinando II de’ Medici, who had once before provided Fakhr-al-Din with sanctuary was willing to do it again.

“You will need to go to Florence, of course,” said Ulrik. “What about the Maronite Christians? Is there a chance they might be brought into the alliance?”

Mike looked at Rebecca, who shook her head. It was an indication of uncertainty, though, not negation.

“Very hard to tell,” she said. “On the one hand, by all accounts we’ve received the Maronites chafe under Ottoman rule. On the other hand, insofar as they look to Europe for assistance, they look to France. And France…”

She shrugged. “Who can say what the newly-crowned–and many believe to be a usurper–King Gaston will do? The man is… capricious.”

She looked back down at the map. “We will certainly try to bring them in, of course. Working in our favor is the fact that the Maronites are on cordial terms with the Druze, currently. We will just have to see.”

Ulrik went back to studying the map. “I am no expert on military history,” he said, “but I hope you do not expect your proposed expedition to the Levant to be another–what do you call it?–‘D-Day,’ I think. That coastal invasion during your second world war that enabled you to drive the Germans out of France.”

Mike laughed. “Oh, certainly not! We’re just talking about the Third Division, not the whole USE army. There’s no chance that we could do more than establish what amounts to a beachhead on steroids in Lebanon.”

Ulrik frowned. “What are steroids?”

“Sorry. American slang. It means something larger or more powerful than usual.”

Gustav Adolf chimed in. “The historic parallel Michael is thinking of happened during the Napoleonic Wars. When the English Duke of Wellington turned the area around Lisbon into a bastion against Napoleon. The ‘Lines of Torres Vedras,’ the fortifications were called. The French never did succeed in taking Lisbon.”

Mike wasn’t surprised by the emperor’s detailed knowledge of future military history–more precisely, the history of a future that would now never happen in this universe. In the years since the Ring of Fire, Gustav Adolf had spent a great deal of time studying that history. And, for a wonder, not making the common mistake of so many rulers in the here-and-now of thinking that history could be duplicated.

Gustav Adolf stroked his short, blond beard. It was an unusual gesture for him, and one that Mike had only seen him use when he was seriously pondering something. After a minute or so, the emperor lowered his hand and nodded.

“We will do it,” he announced. “Even if nothing else comes of it, seizing a portion of Murad’s empire will boost morale.” He gave Mike a look from under lowered brows that came close to a scowl. “Assuming that the sometimes reckless–perhaps that’s too strong; let us rather say excessively bold–commander of the Third Division can keep Beirut and Mount Lebanon once he seizes them.”

Mike smiled, as seraphically as he could manage, although he was pretty sure the effort was pathetic. He’d never heard anyone, not even his wife–especially not his wife–describe him as angelic. “I’m sure I can do that, whatever else,” he said stoutly.

Gustav Adolf’s almost-a-scowl didn’t fade at all. “Even without the Hangman Regiment?”

Mike frowned. “Why wouldn’t I have the Hangman?”

“Because I want to send them to Silesia.” Now, the emperor made a stab at assuming a seraphic smile. The result was even more pathetic than Mike’s had been. “Come, Michael! It will take you months to arrange the prerequisites for your expedition to the Levant. Leave aside whatever obstacles you may face persuading Fakhr-al-Din to form an alliance. The only way you could move your Third Division to Beirut would be by sea, and you can’t risk that without having Admiral Simpson bring his Baltic fleet into the eastern Mediterranean. And how long will that take?”

Mike had already given that matter a lot of thought. “Not till next spring, at the earliest. Probably not until summer. There’s a good chance the Spanish will try to block him, for one thing.”

Gustav Adolf shook his head. “I doubt they will, actually. They must realize by now that they can’t stand up to Simpson in a naval battle–not if he brings his entire fleet into the Med. And they have enough trouble as it is, with that maniac Cardinal Borja stirring everything up in Italy.”