1637 – The Polish Maelstrom – Snippet 32

Chapter 12

Breslau (Wroclaw)

Capital of Lower Silesia

“We’re agreed, then?” asked Gretchen. She pointed at Lukasz, who was sitting against one of the walls of the room close to the entrance. “He will head up the diplomatic mission to Vienna and Jakub will go with him. Meanwhile, Krzysztof and Red will return to Galicia.”

“Early tomorrow morning,” Red said. He was sitting against the same wall, along with the two Polish szlachta who had come with him to Breslau. “We’ve got to get back as soon as possible.”

He closed his mouth, opened it, then closed it again. Gretchen knew he’d wanted to argue once again that they really needed Jakub to go back with him and Krzysztof, but he’d already lost that argument the day before. Red Sybolt was a stubborn man, but he wasn’t outright pig-headed. Noelle had insisted that at least one of the three people from Galicia had to accompany the diplomatic mission–the fake diplomatic mission–to the Ottoman court.

“Face facts, Red,” she’d said forcefully. “Sure, Lukasz can head up the mission–but that just means he swaggers around looking very Polishy szlachtish.”

Several people had winced at that expression. They were speaking Amideutsch but even by the mongrel standards of that still-emerging language “Polishy szlachtish” was something of an abomination.

“But he doesn’t really know anything about what’s happened in Galicia over the past year and a half. If the Ottomans question him at all–and they’re almost sure to–he’ll fumble around and they’ll start getting suspicious.”

“We can brief him–“

“Red, cut it out. Aren’t you the one who just got through saying you had to leave immediately? You can’t possibly teach Lukasz everything he has to know in a short time.”

“She’s right,” Krzysztof said. He smiled at Lukasz. “Even if my brother were as smart as me–“

Lukasz smiled back. So might sibling tigers have exchanged toothy yawns.

“–he’d need days–a week at least–to have everything he needed to know fixed in his mind.”

“I agree,” Jakub had chimed in. That had pretty much settled the argument. Red still wasn’t happy about it, but he understood the old saying what’s done is done.

Gretchen’s finger moved to indicate Noelle, who was sitting at the table to her left. “She will go with Lukasz, posing as his wife.”

Red had argued about that, too. What’s the point of bringing another person who doesn’t know squat?

The term “squat” then had to be explained to several of the people present, since it hadn’t yet worked its way into standard Amideutsch. (Insofar as “standard Amideutsch” wasn’t an oxymoron.)

Gretchen had gotten a little exasperated at that point. “Red, how many times do we have to keep trampling over the same ground? Noelle’s going for two reasons. First, she’s probably smarter than any of you. She’s got the advantage of being a woman. So listen to what she tells you.”

Gretchen wasn’t exactly what up-timers meant by a “women’s libber.” She thought a lot of that philosophy was questionable and some of it was downright preposterous.

“She’d have driven second wave feminists nuts,” Melissa Mailey once said to a friend. “Gretchen thinks the differences between men and women are deep and profound. The problem is that people have screwy notions about which gender is really superior. Think of her as a female chauvinist and you won’t go far wrong.”

With a jerk of her head, Gretchen indicated the beautiful teenager sitting to her right “Secondly, Noelle’s going along because in combination with Denise that’s bound to reassure the Ottomans concerning Lukasz’s bona fides. Who but a swollen-headed szlachta would bring his wife and mistress on a diplomatic mission?”

Denise didn’t look very pleased at that depiction of her role in the expedition, but she didn’t say anything. She really wanted to see Minnie again.

“What about bodyguards?” asked Lukasz. “I’m not particularly worried about being attacked by highwaymen, of course.”

So might a crocodile announce that he wasn’t too worried about being attacked by catfish. A couple of the people in the room snorted.

“But if I don’t show up in Vienna with a cavalry escort–at least ten men–the Ottomans will get suspicious. Even the scruffiest Cossack chieftain would be accompanied by some bodyguards. And I can’t take the men who came here with my brother and Red Sybolt because they need them as an escort back to Galicia. Some of that territory they’ll be crossing is lawless and infested with bandits.”

Gretchen had already considered that problem. She’d consulted with Eric Krenz, who’d then discussed it with Lovrenc Bravnicar.

“The Slovenes have agreed to send a detachment,” she explained. “True, they’re not Poles, but…” She shrugged.

Jakub chuckled harshly. “As if Turks are going to worry over the fine distinctions between Slavs.”

Lukasz shook his head. “Don’t forget how many Ottoman officials aren’t Turks themselves. They’re from the Balkans. They’ll know the difference between Slovenes and Poles–and Bulgarians and Albanians–especially if they hear them talk.”

He shrugged. “I’m not worried about that, however, because those same officials won’t care. It won’t strike them as odd. Why should it? The Ottoman Empire itself is a mixed-up jumble of tribes and nations.”

Gretchen waited to see if anyone else had a comment to make. When she was satisfied they didn’t, she looked at Jozef Wojtowicz. The former prisoner was sitting at the same table as she, Noelle, Denise and Eric, but he was opposite Gretchen and had his chair pushed back a foot or so. As if he was not quite part of the discussion.

What was odder was that Christin George was sitting next to him. Not quite, rather. She was sitting forward with her elbows propped on the table and her chin resting on cupped hands. She hadn’t been part of the planning, so her presence was something of a mystery. But just before the meeting Jozef had told Gretchen he wanted Christin to attend and she’d acquiesced readily enough. Denise had frowned at her mother’s presence but had raised no objection either.

Jozef spoke up for the first time since the meeting began. “Meanwhile, I will go to PoznaÅ„ to find out what happened to my uncle. And, if possible, to see if we might find sympathizers among the Polish troops in the city. The Grand Hetman was very highly thought of. And plenty of them know who I am.”

“Won’t anyone be suspicious?” asked Eric.

“Why should they be? If anyone knows of my presence here, they’ll also know I had been captured. How did I escape?” He raised his hands and spread them, in an insouciant gesture. “I am a master spy. Such men make escapes. It is well-known.”

When he lowered his hands, he turned slightly toward Christin. “But to further allay anyone’s suspicions, I have asked Christin to accompany me and she has agreed.”

“Hey!” Denise squawked.

Gretchen ignored her. “Posing as your wife also?” she asked.

For the first time since she’d made Jozef Wojtowicz’s acquaintance, the man seemed somewhat abashed. “Ah… Well. No,” he said.

“That’s what I thought!” Denise rose and pointed a stiff forefinger at Jozef. J’Accuse!

“Mom, he’s just trying to take advantage of you! He’s a lech!”

Without lifting her chin out of her hands, Christin swiveled her head to gaze upon her irate offspring. “Honey, let me get this straight. My seventeen-year-old daughter–“

“Eighteen! Almost nineteen!”

“Only by your New Math. My seventeen-year-old daughter is warning me that my boyfriend is a rotten bastard and I have to stay away from him? Talk about a role reversal.”

Denise looked sulky. “Well… You and Dad did it to me.”

“Ted Hancock was a rotten bastard and you know it. You said so yourself less than a year later. Besides, the real issue was that you were fourteen and he was twenty. That’s why Buster warned him off.”

“That’s what you call it? ‘Warned him off’? Dad threatened to kill him!”

“No, he didn’t. He told Ted that if he came near you again he’d beat him within an inch of his life.” Christin shook her head, still keeping her chin cupped. “Not a murder threat. And to get back to the point, I’m almost ten years older than Jozef. An impartial observer would accuse me of taking advantage of him, not the other way around.”

Lukasz intervened in the family quarrel. “It’s a good idea, I think. It’s true that Jozef has a reputation. If he shows up in PoznaÅ„ with a beautiful woman whom he seems genuinely attached to–especially an older one–people will be too bemused to suspect him of evildoing.” He lifted his chin to point at Denise. “His usual girlfriends are closer to her age. My one concern is that Christin is an up-timer.”