1637 – The Polish Maelstrom – Snippet 57

Chapter 24


Poznań Voivodeship

Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth

By now, after hours of negotiations spread out over several weeks, Jozef had come to recognize Walenty Tarnowski’s little tics–“tells,” to use the American idiom. The young man might be a brilliant mechanical engineer, but he’d make a terrible poker player.

“All right,” Walenty said, rubbing his jaw. That mannerism indicated that he’d come to a decision and the vigorous way he was doing it suggesting it was a big decision. Jozef hoped so. Tarnowski didn’t dither, exactly. He just insisted on taking days to ponder every issue they’d taken up. Negotiating with him was like being in a version of Hamlet where the prince of Denmark’s inability to make up his mind was not so much due to indecision as it was to the need to decide sloooooooowly.

Thankfully, it was now at an end, as the next words made clear. “All right,” he said, “we’ll do it. But!”

He held up a cautioning finger. “I want your assurance that you will do everything in your power to see to it that Jagiellon University creates a department of Advanced Mechanics–with full accreditation, mind–and that I am put in charge of it.”

Jozef nodded, trying his best to make the gesture sage rather than irritated. “Yes, we’ve already agreed to that.” About a dozen times. At least.

Tarnowski had started by trying to get Jozef to guarantee such a department would be created and Tarnowski put in charge of it, but Jozef had flatly refused. “I don’t have that authority,” he’d told him. “And you must know it yourself. What I can guarantee is that I will push strenuously for it and my opinion carries considerable weight with the people who will decide.”

Tarnowski’s expression had been skeptical. “Meaning no offense, Jozef, but I doubt if any member of the university’s faculty has even heard of you.”

“I’m quite sure they haven’t,” Jozef had said, smiling wolfishly. “So what? They won’t be able to resist the decision if the new secular authorities make it, which they will be very inclined toward anyway. Our cause will be outnumbered for quite some time. We need to gain a technological advantage and retain it.”

Again, he smiled wolfishly. (So he hoped, at least–but he was an accomplished smiler, as you’d expect of a spy.) “And how better to do that than creating a center for advanced mechanics in our new capital–and in Poland’s premier university, to boot.”

Now, Tarnowski got that mulish expression on his face that he did so well. “I will raise again the issue of who should be the driver–“

No,” said Jozef. He was echoed by Mark Ellis. Christin’s contribution was to roll her eyes–but the violation of diplomacy went unnoticed by its target because Tarnowski wasn’t looking at her.

“No,” Jozef repeated.

“Walenty, be reasonable,” said Mark. “You have no experience with either driving a motor vehicle or using a manual transmission. And this will be no time to learn on the job.”

Tarnowski started to say something, but Ellis rode over him. “And please don’t tell us again how you’ve driven the truck on occasion. That was inside the city’s very constrained limits, and you never got it out of the low gears. Whereas we’ll be driving at the highest speed we can manage, much of it off-road. I’ll do the driving, thank you. As you know, I have quite a bit of experience driving multi-axle trucks.”

Tarnowski glowered at him. For the first months of his captivity, Mark had pretended he knew nothing about automotive matters, being a civil engineer. Merely a civil engineer, he’d put it, playing into Walenty’s existing prejudices. Only after their relationship grew close had Mark explained to the Pole that in point of fact he knew a great deal about cars and trucks. His father had owned a garage in which he’d worked off and on since he was twelve years old. He’d also spent three summers driving a three-axle flatbed while putting himself through Fairmont State University.

But the Polish engineer didn’t pursue the matter any further. He just said: “How soon?”

It was all Jozef could do not to rub his hands. Finally! They’d be dealing with operational matters now. On such subjects, Tarnowski was an asset rather than a pain in the ass.


Eric Krenz would never know it–and Gretchen saw no reason to tell him, since the man tended to get swell-headed enough all on his own–but his actions on the morning they seized the barbican paved the way for the decision made over the succeeding weeks by a large portion of Krakow’s garrison to switch sides and join the growing army of the Democratic Assembly.

Kozlowski was key to the process. The sergeant was well-known and liked in the garrison, and his word carried quite a bit of weight, even among the officers. And he’d have all winter to spread the tale in the taverns of an officer who was simultaneously capable, good-humored and kind. Unlike so many of the bastards.

But Eric didn’t know any of that. All he knew was that his commanding officer, Colonel Higgins, released him temporarily from the Hangman Regiment to concentrate on recruiting and training a unit from the surrendered garrison.

“But I don’t speak Polish!” Eric protested.

“So? Learn. Give me a break, Eric. One third of Krakow’s garrison is German, and of the rest, plenty of them come from all over Europe. You can get by in German well enough, while you learn to speak Polish.”

At that point Jeff swelled out his chest. “I’ve been learning Polish myself.”

“Ha! You, an American? Learning another language? You people are as bad at that as I am at riding a horse.”

“Not really. You’ve got to make allowances, Eric. Our nation had a population of two hundred and eighty-some-odd million people. For most of us our borders were hundreds–even thousands–of miles away, and the people on the other side of one of those borders spoke English anyway.” He shrugged. “People don’t usually learn something until and unless they need to”–here he bestowed a look of stern reproof on Major Krenz–“as you of all people should know. Since the Ring of Fire, most of us Americans have been pretty good at picking up other languages.”

Seeing his friend’s highly skeptical–you might almost say, derisive–expression, Jeff smiled. “Well, not bad at it, anyway.” The expression didn’t flicker. “Not too bad. Better’n you can ride a horse, that’s for sure.”

Military training camp

Just outside Magdeburg

United States of Europe

Thorsten Engler was startled at who he saw coming into his office. Initially, until he knew who it was, he was startled that his receptionist had given him no warning. Given who his visitor was, however, the lack of warning was not surprising. Very few if any receptionists in the world are inclined to tell their monarch that he’d have to cool his heels while she went to see if the commanding officer had time to see him.

He rose immediately to his feet. “Your Majesty. I wasn’t expecting you.”

Papa!” Gustav Adolf’s daughter Kristina jumped to her feet, raced over and gave the emperor a hug. Given that she was a smallish girl and he was a large man, the end result was a bit comical.

The princess’ governess, Thorsten’s wife Caroline, rose to her feet and curtsied. She’d gotten quite good at that. She used the form of the curtsy that was standard in the seventeenth century, being just an outward bending of one knee while sweeping the other foot behind her. It was very similar to a male’s bow, from which it had derived, and had none of the elaborate flourish of the later Victorian era, where the woman also held her skirt out as well.

Which would have a neat trick, since Caroline was wearing pants. Doing so was considered questionable for a woman, but the habit had been catching on since the up-timers arrived.

“Your Majesty,” she repeated. “To what do we owe the pleasure?”

“Papa wanted to see me!” Kristina provided.

That explanation of the emperor’s presence was… dubious. First, because he’d had no way of knowing that his daughter was in Thorsten’s office, given that Caroline and Kristina’s visit had been impromptu. Secondly, because while Gustav Adolf was a doting father he wasn’t a particularly attentive one. As was the custom of the day, especially among society’s upper crust, fussing over children was considered unnecessary–even a bit absurd. That was what governesses and servants were for.