1637 – The Polish Maelstrom – Snippet 39

What Morris did remember clearly and vividly was his surprise at hearing von Mercy and his other top officers project that it would take the Grand Army of the Sunrise–God, what a silly title!–ten days to reach Ostrava. And that was assuming good weather.

Ten days? To go just a little over one hundred miles?

Assuming you only marched for eight hours each day, that was an average speed of less than a mile and a half per hour. An old lady using a walker could move that fast!

Well… not for eight hours, no. And certainly not if she also had to carry a backpack weighing sixty pounds or more.

Still. It had seemed kind of ridiculous to him.

Now, watching the “evolution” happening before his eyes, Morris was beginning to wonder if von Mercy hadn’t been wildly optimistic.

Assuming the Grand Army of the Sunrise could make it to Ostrava on schedule, and assuming the Silesians could live up to their end of the deal, they’d then have to march to Bytom. That was another seventy miles. Almost two weeks, all told, even assuming the weather didn’t turn sour and they had to wait in Ostrava for it to clear up.

What worried him even more was what would happen when–if, rather; whether it happened or not mostly depended on the Silesians–they launched the attack on Krakow.

Krakow was sixty miles from Bytom. When von Mercy first explained the plan to Morris, after he’d talked to the Silesians over the radio, Morris had thought the notion of launching an assault on Krakow from Bytom seemed quite reasonable.

Sixty miles. In blitzkrieg days, they could get there in a few hours.

Abstractly, Morris had known that blitzkrieg was three centuries away. But his reptilian hindbrain still thought in twentieth century terms when it came to warfare. Only now, watching the sluggish way a seventeenth century army actually moved, did it finally register on him that the “assault” on Krakow was going to require at least two days and probably three–maybe even four–before the Grand Army of the Sunrise even got to Krakow.

God, what a silly title. It’d have been better to call it the Grand Army of Perpetual Dawn, as slowly as the sun comes up in Here-and-Now Military Time.

Three or four days to get from Bytom to Krakow–possibly five. Even the most sluggish garrison in the world could come alert in that period of time and get their defenses ready.

But von Mercy and his officers didn’t seem very concerned about that. Hopefully, they understood something that Morris didn’t.

Which… they might. As he’d told Wallenstein time and time again, Morris was not–not not not–a general, whatever title they gave him. So maybe Wallenstein also understood something he didn’t.

It was possible. The man who was now king of Bohemia did have an impressive military record, which suggested he was canny and knowledgeable about such things.

On the other hand, he’d also insisted on calling Morris’ army the Grand Army of the Sunrise, which indicated he was a loon.

“I assure you, General Roth, it’s going quite well,” von Mercy repeated.

But all Morris could think of was the line by Groucho Marx. Who are you going to believe, me or your own eyes?

Breslau (Wroclaw)

Capital of Lower Silesia

The departure of the diplomatic mission to Vienna was a more elaborate affair than Jozef and Christin’s leave-taking. For one thing, there were a lot more people involved.

Riding in the carriage were Lukasz Opalinski, the supposed ambassador; Noelle Stull, the supposed wife; Denise Beasley, the supposed concubine; and Jakub Zaborowsky, the supposed chief adviser to the supposed ambassador.

Although he was assigned to the carriage, Jakub didn’t plan to ride in it very often until they had almost reached Vienna. No fool, he. Riding on a horse would be a lot less bone-rattling than riding in a carriage on the roads they’d be traveling.

Neither Lukasz nor the two women were at all happy at the arrangement, since all of them were familiar with what the seventeenth century called “roads.” But, unlike Jakub, it had been decided that they needed to maintain the pretense throughout the entire journey. It was possible–not likely, but possible–that the Ottomans would have spies watching them before they got very far.

The carriage would also have two men driving it. As rough as the roads would be in places, the teamsters would need to spell each other.

Riding in the escort was a detachment of Slovene cavalry, twelve men in all. They were commanded by one of Lovrenc Bravnicar’s lieutenants, a fellow by the name of Cvetko Horvat.

But the main reason the mission didn’t set out at the same time as Jozef and Christin left for PoznaÅ„ was the carriage itself. Here, problems had emerged.

First, there was no suitable carriage anywhere in the city. Few carriages existed at all, because most inhabitants of the city very sensibly chose to ride in litters carried by two horses rather than having their teeth rattled by hard wheels passing over harder cobblestones. Just as with blitzkrieg, “shock absorbers” and “suspension systems” lived mostly in the imagination.

Of the few carriages that did exist, none of them had been designed for long journeys over country roads, nor were they big enough for the purpose they would be used for.

So, back to the drawing board. A large and sturdy wagon would have to be used. Such vehicles did exist in Breslau–quite a few of them, if you included the farms in the surrounding countryside. The problem with them, however, was that they had clearly been designed for the purpose of hauling foodstuffs and other such lowly items.

What sort of “ambassadorial mission” to the Ottoman court would arrive in Vienna riding a farm wagon? At best, they’d be met with coarse jokes about cabbages and sent packing by the city’s guards.

So, the vehicle had to be… not disguised, exactly, since there was really no way to disguise such a crude and simple vehicle. But it did have to be dressed up and decorated. A cabin had to be constructed and fixed to the wagon bed. Then, suitably painted. Then, suitably furnished.

And, last but not least, the cabin’s design had to be much more intricate than it appeared to be, because four people were going to have to be smuggled out in it. So, cabinet makers had to be employed as well as carpenters.

The final delay–this cost them a full day, because the girl’s mother had already left the city and was not there to squelch her–was caused by Denise.

Up until the last stretch before their departure, Denise had been disgruntled by her assigned role in the mission. Concubine. Courtesan. Mistress. Pick whatever fancy name you wanted, you were still talking about a whore.

But Denise was not given to pouting for all that long. She’d been making silk purses out of sow’s ears since she was old enough to wheedle, which she learned to do as soon as she could talk. So, a few days before the mission was to set out, she charged all over Breslau looking for a seamstress who had the skills (and background, which was trickier to find) to design and make Denise some suitable garments for a Polish nobleman’s concubine.

Her “whore outfits,” she called them cheerily.

She got them made, too. Just not quite in time.

They might have forced her to leave without the costumes, but Lukasz intervened on her behalf. “It’s not a bad idea, actually. She’s right that it will make her disguise more credible.”


Jakub Zaborowsky, on the other hand, knew Lukasz was misreading the situation. Jakub had more experience dealing with Muslims than Lukasz did. Not from encounters with Ottoman Turks, of which he’d had few, but from encounters with Crimean Tatars, of which he’d had a fair number.

Yes, the Ottomans wouldn’t be surprised that a Polish nobleman brought a beautiful concubine with him on such a mission. But they’d be astonished–and immediately suspicious–if he allowed any other men to see her. As a wife, Noelle would be able to move about on occasion so long as she was suitably clothed and veiled. But a concubine would not.