1637 – The Polish Maelstrom – Snippet 21

“Don’t say it! Don’t say it!” exclaimed Judy and Cecilia Renata simultaneously.


The time turned out to be just about what Judy had figured. At this time of year, sunset came around six in the evening. The sun was clearly below the horizon, although they couldn’t see it directly through the narrow window in the tower that rose above the cellars. But it was still twilight.

“We should probably wait till it gets a little darker,” Judy whispered.

Minnie nodded her agreement. They’d have to extend their antenna out of the window in order to send or receive a signal. At this time of day, it was unlikely that anyone would observe the antenna, but it wasn’t impossible. Once darkness fell, no one would spot it.

So, they waited another half hour. Two floors below them, Leopold and his sister watched in case someone came into this detached wing of the palace. Which was just as unlikely, since it was only being used these days for storage–and not storage of anything fancy or expensive. The wall opposite the entrance to the tower that the two young Habsburgs were watching from was covered with suspended saddles. Used, worn saddles. Just barely functional enough not to get pitched.

“Okay,” Judy said, when she judged the time was right.

Slowly, carefully, Minnie extended the antenna. She did so mostly because the antenna wasn’t all that sturdy and they couldn’t afford to take the risk of damaging it.

Finally, she was done. Judy moved back into the narrow staircase leading down to the cellar and lit the candle she’d brought with her. Then, carefully shielding it with her hand so no significant amount of light would escape through the narrow window, she brought it close enough to enable Minnie to operate the radio.

Minnie found the right frequency and began the transmission. It was well-established protocol that the hideaways in the cellars would always initiate radio contact, since they could only come out of hiding on infrequent occasions while the USE army’s operators could maintain their watch twenty-fours a day, every day of the year.

Even using manually transmitted Morse code, she was done soon. The message had been short and simple:


About fifteen minutes later, the answer came back:


Minnie began drawing the antenna back in. “That’s exactly what they said last time,” Judy complained. “Word for word.”

Minnie made no reply. There was nothing to say other than so yet another week of monotony awaits us. Yippee.

Chapter 6

Brno, capital of the Margraviate of Moravia

Kingdom of Bohemia

“I still say it would have been smarter to just buy some of the new rifles Struve-Reardon is making.” His brow creased with disapproval, Paul Santee gazed down at the rifle on the table before them. “This thing is just a copy of a Sharps, like the French Cardinal. A crude one, to boot. Hell, they’ve had it for two years already. In time of war, you know, the pace of gun development–”

“Rises rapidly,” said Morris Roth. “Yes, Paul, I know. You’ve said it about two thousand times already. But what’s involved here is a political issue, not a practical one. I’d have preferred it myself if we’d taken the same money we shoveled into SZB’s coffers and just bought the SR-1s from Struve-Reardon. But the problem is the ‘S’ in SZB. That stand for státní which, since you still don’t speak or read Czech very well–I’m not criticizing, you haven’t been here all that long–means ‘state.’ As in Státní zbrojovka v Brno, ‘state armament works of Brno.’ Guess who has the controlling interest in the company?”

“Wallenstein,” said Paul sourly. “AKA King Venceslas V Adalbertus of Bohemia. Is the man really that greedy?”

Morris shook his head. “Actually, I doubt if Wallenstein made much if any money on the ZB 1636. His motives aren’t pecuniary. They’re political. First, he wants the prestige of Bohemia’s having its own major gun manufacturer. Secondly and more importantly, he thinks that his kingdom’s having its own armaments works will be important in the long run. I have to say I think he’s probably right about that.”

The third man standing in the small show room of the SZB’s armaments plant drew a pistol from a holster and held it up for display. “Besides, Mr. Santee, if you’d been devoting your efforts to designing a new rifle you wouldn’t have had the time or money to develop this marvelous weapon.”

General Franz von Mercy gazed at the pistol admiringly. “The infantry will do well enough with the ZB 1636, as clumsy–no, what’s that word you Americans use? Clanky?”

“Clunky,” Morris provided.

“Yes, that one. As clunky as it may be. It’s the cavalry that truly needs the more advanced weaponry.”

Morris was amused to see the new expression on Santee’s face. Despite the man’s determination to be morose, Paul couldn’t help but enjoy von Mercy’s praise. The weapon the general was holding up was also being made by the State Armament Works of Brno, but unlike the rifle the pistol had been designed by Santee himself. He’d modeled it on a little-known Italian pistol made in the early twentieth century, the Pedersoli Howdah. To modern-day Americans, the gun looked like a double-barreled sawed-off shotgun with a pistol grip. Like a shotgun, the weapon had an unlocking lever which allowed the barrels to be tilted down so the gunhandler could reload by simply sliding in the premade cartridges. Santee had designed the pistol so that it could fire paper cartridges, since that was the most common ammunition, but could be converted to brass cartridges whenever those were finally being made in sufficient quantity.

The original Pedersoli Howdah had been chambered either for a .45 caliber round or a 410-bore shotgun shell. Santee had chosen to design his model for a .58 caliber round. He’d made the barrels a bit longer also–twelve inches to the original ten and a quarter. It was a heavy pistol, by up-time standards, but down-timers accustomed to the wheel-locks of the day found it to be less weighty than they were accustomed to.

Every cavalryman who had been issued one of the pistols adored it. The official designation for the gun was the ZB 2, but the soldiers themselves called it the Santee. So far only five hundred cavalrymen had been provided with ZB-2s, partly because the pistols were time-consuming to make but mostly because every cavalryman wanted at least six of them–two holstered at the waist, two in boot holsters, and two more in saddle holsters. This wasn’t a capricious demand on their part. Reloading such weapons in the middle of a cavalry charge was effectively impossible, so cavalrymen of the era typically carried multiple pistols.

But Morris figured he still had a few weeks before he had to order his army into action. By then, the entire cavalry should be equipped with the new pistols. The reason he’d decided to devote most of their resources to developing pistols instead of rifles was simple. His little army had only four thousand men–which to his way of thinking made it all the more absurd that Wallenstein insisted on calling it the Grand Army of the Sunrise. Fully half of them were cavalry, and they were by far the most experienced half of his army. The core of them were the professional soldiers von Mercy had brought with him when he entered Bohemia’s service, and most of the ones who had joined later were also veterans.

The infantry, on the other hand…

Six hundred of them were Jews, for starters. Having any Jewish soldiers was unheard of in Europe of the seventeenth century. Openly self-identified ones, at any rate. It was not uncommon to have Jews serving in naval forces, but they kept their religious affiliation to themselves. These soldiers, on the other hand, had been recruited mostly from Prague, which was hundreds of miles inland.