1637 – The Polish Maelstrom – Snippet 15

Chapter 2

Breslau (Wroclaw)

Capital of Lower Silesia

In the chamber in Breslau’s town hall that Gretchen Richter used as her headquarters, Josef Wojtowicz was leaning over another map, also spread across a large table. And, by coincidence, was also singing a cheery song. Rather loudly, too.

Sto lat, sto lat,

Niech żyje, żyje nam.”

“Make him stop, Gretchen,” complained Major Eric Krenz. “I can’t think clearly while he’s wailing that–”

He turned his head and half-glared at Lukasz Opalinski, who was standing next to him. Only half-glared, however. Not even someone as insouciant as Krenz wanted to irritate a big Polish hussar who was known–Gretchen herself had been a witness–to have cleaved a head with one stroke of his saber.

“What is he singing?” Eric asked. “An uncouth drinking song, I bet. Hardly suitable for these august premises–and in the presence of the Lady Protector herself!”

Gretchen was on her feet, leaning over the map with her hands planted on the table to provide her with support. She smiled but didn’t look up from her own scrutiny of the map. She’d reached the point in her pregnancy where she economized her movements. Even standing up straight was something of a chore.

“It’s a birthday song,” said Lukasz mildly. “The words mean ‘one hundred years, one hundred years, may she live for us one hundred years’.”

“He started singing it as soon as he got up this morning,” said Denise Beasley, who was sitting in a chair against one of the walls with a book in her hands. The unlikely presence of a teenage up-timer at the meeting was due to Denise’s unofficial status as Gretchen’s unofficial liaison with Francisco Nasi. The Sephardic Jew who had once been Mike Stearns’ chief of intelligence had moved to Prague after Mike lost his position as the USE’s prime minister. Since then, Nasi had been operating what was probably Europe’s premier private intelligence agency.

When Denise looked up, she was scowling even more than Krenz. “On account of my mother. She turned thirty-eight today.”

“Ah,” said Eric. “Well, in that case…” Unlike Denise herself, Eric approved of Jozef’s liaison with Christin George. He’d discussed it with Lukasz recently, and found that Jozef’s close friend since boyhood approved of it also.

“It’s good for Jozef to have a woman who’s almost a decade older than he is and not excessively charmed by his excessive charm. He usually cavorts with young girls whose breasts are considerably more substantial than their brains.”

Gretchen now looked up from the map. “Lukasz, Jozef–whichever one of you knows the answer–how many volunteers have we gotten from the countryside? They’re almost all Poles, yes?”

To Eric’s relief, Jozef broke off from his singing. “As of right now–well, yesterday,” said Wojtowicz, “we had three hundred and sixty-three men in the new infantry units. One of them was Czech, one was Hungarian, and two were German. The rest were all Poles.”

“How good are they?”

“Not too bad,” said Jozef, “although–”

“They stink,” interrupted Opalinski.

“–I wouldn’t want to use them for a while except fighting from defensive positions,” Jozef finished. He gave Lukasz a look of reproof. “Ignore him. He’s a hussar with absurdly lofty notions of what sort of training a soldier needs to fight like a hussar. Which these men will not be doing.”

“Being sensible Polish peasants instead of idiot szlachta,” Eric muttered.

“I heard that,” said Lukasz. He was smiling when he said it, though. The big hussar came from one of Poland’s most prestigious noble families. Did he care what some German ragamuffin thought of his lofty place in the world?

Gretchen had the distracted look on her face that people get when they’re doing calculations in their head. After a few seconds, she said: “Then we add the Third Division regulars–that’s what now, Eric? Two hundred and fifty?”

“More like two hundred and twenty,” said Krenz. “Sickness, desertion, the usual.”

Gretchen nodded. “Add Bravnicar’s cavalry, that’s another one hundred and fifty. I asked him this morning before he left on patrol. Then the Vogtland irregulars add another five hundred–that’s men, I’m not counting the women and children although some of the women can fight–”

“Behind defensive positions,” Eric interjected.

Gretchen made a hand motion as if brushing away insects. “Don’t quibble. That’s mostly what we plan to do anyway. That brings us up to eight hundred and seventy combatants. Then we can add the German town militias that are willing and able to fight in the field. I figure that’s about six hundred more men. For a grand total of just under one thousand, five hundred soldiers.”

She pursed her lips and made a faint whistling noise. “That means that once Jeff arrives–Prince Ulrik arrives–we’ve almost doubled our fighting strength.”

“More like tripled it,” said Eric. “Maybe even quadrupled it. The Hangman Regiment are elite soldiers, Gretchen. Veterans, almost all of them.”

“In this instance, I have to say I agree with him,” said Lukasz. “There’s really no comparison between the soldiers Prince Ulrik is bringing and the forces we already have here in Silesia.” He nodded toward Eric. “With the exception, of course, of the men under Major Krenz’s command, who are detached from the Third Division of the USE army.”

Gretchen ran fingers through her blonde hair. Her still-long blonde hair. She’d been planning to cut it, but once she discovered her husband was coming to Silesia she decided otherwise. The length wasn’t that much of a nuisance and she knew Jeff adored it.

Thoughts of her husband distracted her for a moment. It had been half a year since she’d seen him. She glanced down at her belly, which was now providing full evidence of the condition that last encounter had produced. She was somewhere between seven and eight months’ pregnant, she figured, probably closer to eight. Even for a woman as strong and robust as she was, moving around was getting a bit difficult.

On a bright note, Jeff would be here not long after their child was born.

She turned and took a few steps so she could look out of a window. It was a clear, sunny day, which was not unusual for Poland at this time of year but not something you could count on, either. Even in mid-afternoon, the temperature was cool, though not uncomfortably so. Fifty-five degrees Fahrenheit, according to the thermometer hanging on the wall next to the window.

The Europe of her day had no standard system for measuring temperature–or distances, or weights, or anything else. One of the effects of the Ring of Fire had been the swift adoption of the American system of measurement in many parts of the continent, especially those most heavily influenced by the up-timers. Steadily, if not evenly, universal standards were emerging.

Ironically, the only vociferous opposition to the trend came from Americans themselves, led by the indomitable Melissa Mailey, who advocated adoption of what was called the metric system. Why are we inflicting this idiotic English system of measurement on a whole new world? she would demand. It caused enough headaches in the one we came from. Measuring distance by the length of a king’s thumb, for Pete’s sake!

But she had few followers. Americans were accustomed to their antiquated system–and more to the point, so were most of their tools and instruments. When a down-time craftsman built a thermometer–such as the one hanging on the wall less than three feet from her, which had been made in Dresden–they copied an American design. Which came in sturdy Fahrenheit, thank you very much.

The window overlooked Breslau’s central square, what was called the Market Square. The town hall itself was called either the Stary Ratusz, if the speaker was Polish, or the Rathaus by those who spoke German. Since most of Breslau’s .inhabitants were Germans, as was true of most of the bigger towns in Silesia, the word Rathaus was the one most commonly used.

From the outside, the town hall was an impressive sight. It had been built four centuries earlier, in the Gothic style. More precisely, the construction had started in the thirteenth century. The work had continued off and on for the next three hundred years or so. The building as it now existed had been more-or-less completed by 1560.

Only more-or-less, though. Gretchen could hear the faint sounds of workmen as they installed another modern toilet. The new facility was on this upper floor, not far from her own living quarters, thankfully. In her condition, waddling up and down two flights of stairs to use a toilet in the middle of the night was a nuisance. Gothic grandeur be damned, especially in the winter. As far as Gretchen was concerned, “medieval” was just a synonym for “cold.”