1637 – The Polish Maelstrom – Snippet 58

The emperor was not unkind, however. So his response was to beam down at his daughter and say: “I most certainly did.”

Gently, he pried her loose. “But I also have business with Colonel Engler.”

Kristina had not expected her father to actually dote on her, so she returned readily to her chair.

Gustav Adolf now bestowed an equal beam of approval on Thorsten. “Brigadier Engler, I should say.”

Thorsten felt that hollow feeling in the stomach that invariably accompanies the realization that no good deed goes unpunished.

Pescia, Grand Duchy of Tuscany


“I believe we’re done, then,” said Fakhr-al-Din. “At least for the moment.”

Mike Stearns smiled a bit ruefully. “More than a ‘moment,’ Your Highness. There is a great deal that will have to be done before we can make our landing in Beirut.”

He didn’t have to glance around to see if there were any servants present. By now, two months after he’d arrived in Tuscany, he’d persuaded Fakhr-al-Din that having servants in the room when discussing critical affairs of state was a bad idea. He’d worn him down, at least. Mike was pretty sure the emir thought he was a bit obsessive over the matter.

“You will be leaving, then? We will miss your company, Michael.” That sounded actually sincere, and Mike thought it probably was. On a purely personal level, he and the emir had gotten along quite well, and the same had been true of his wife Khasikiya once she lowered her guard. (Lowered it up to a point. She always kept her veil on in his presence.) “How soon?”

Mike shrugged. “Hard to say. I will send a radio signal to my–ah, to the people I need to–asking them to send an airship to Italy.

The emir looked somewhat alarmed. “Not here, surely? Not to Pescia.”

Mike smiled reassuringly. “Oh, no. That would be a bad diplomatic mistake–not to mention a potential security risk. Those things are very hard to conceal, to put it mildly. No, I will instruct them to send the airship to Venice.”

Fakhr-al-Din frowned. “That’s quite a distance.”

“Not so bad. A little less than two hundred miles, I estimate.”

“In the middle of winter.”

Mike shrugged. “Once I get over the Apennines, that shouldn’t be a problem.”

In point of fact, he had no intention of going all the way to Venice. Before he made this trip, he’d gone over the plans for his extraction at some length with Estuban Miro, who doubled as the new chief of intelligence for the USE as well as being one of the continent’s largest airship operators. As soon as he got the word from Michael, Miro would make plans to send one of his newer hydrogen airships to be on call at Venice. That might take a few days–even a few weeks–depending on where his various airships were. But once Mike heard from Miro that the airship was waiting in Venice, Mike would leave Pescia and they’d make arrangements as he went for the airship to pick him up somewhere in the countryside.

It would have been simpler just to leave from Venice, since a two-hundred-mile trip on horseback really wasn’t that much of a chore. Mike could easily make it in two weeks and be waiting for the airship when it arrived. The problem was that they’d gone to some lengths to disguise the fact that he’d stayed in Italy after Rebecca left, and if he went to Venice there was just too much chance he’d be spotted.

People would certainly spot the airship landing in the Tuscan countryside, of course. But they wouldn’t know to whom who the vessel was giving transport.

All in all, this had been a very productive trip, but Mike was looking forward to getting back to Linz and seeing his wife again.

Assuming she wasn’t off gallivanting about somewhere. The woman had become a veritable globetrotter. But even if she was, sooner or later she’d come back home.

Krakow, official capital of Poland

Actual capital of Lesser Poland

“But… can you find room for all your troops in Kazimierz?” asked Gretchen.

“No, we can’t,” replied Morris Roth. He made a face. “Well… we could, but we’d have to take over the whole city, including the Polish neighborhoods. That would be likely to open a can of worms we’d all prefer to leave sealed.”

Gretchen matched his grimace with one of her own. “True. But how will the Jewish residents react? Most of your troops are gentile.”

“Yes, but six hundred of them are Jews from Prague–and we’ll make sure to mix the Jewish troops up with the rest of them, so that every family that has soldiers billeted in their house will have at least one–usually more–Jews they can go to when they have grievances.”

He didn’t say if they had grievances. Grievances were bound to arise when civilians had thousands of troops sharing their homes. But as long as they could avoid the most severe transgressions–rape and murder, especially–they could get by all right. Happily, Morris’ reputation as the “prince of the Jews” had spread to Krakow, so Kazimierz’s very large Jewish population was already inclined in his favor.

Gretchen moved to a window in the town hall’s tower that faced to the south. The window was closed, it being a particularly cold January day, but the glass was clear enough that she could see Kazimierz in the distance. Morris came to join her.

Although most people considered it a district of Krakow, Kazimierz had been legally an independent city since the fourteenth century. It lay on an island south of Krakow formed by a branch of the Vistula River. The Jewish quarter was formed by a wall separating it from the rest of Kazimierz, and was known as the Oppidium Judaeorum.

From the corner of her eye, Gretchen could see the sour expression on her companion’s face. Morris Roth was what up-timers called a “Reform” Jew, a variant of Judaism that so far as Gretchen could determine was extremely cosmopolitan and relaxed in its religious views. She knew how much Morris detested the still-standing wall that delimited Prague’s Jewish quarter from the rest of the city. What made him detest such walls all the more was that, often enough, they were there at the insistence of the Jews themselves, not because gentiles forced the walls upon them. That had been true here in Kazimierz, and it was still the more conservative elements in Prague’s Jewish community that insisted on keeping the walls up.

“It looks awfully small,” Gretchen commented.

“It is–and the population density in the Oppidium Judaeorum is worse than it is in the rest of Kazimierz.” Morris shrugged. “But as long as we keep the Bohemian forces out of Krakow proper, we can deflect at least some of the chauvinist propaganda that will soon be spewing out of Warsaw. It’s worth avoiding that–minimizing it, at least–to have most of the Grand Army camping outside the city walls. I’ll set up a rotation, of course, so everyone gets some time in the relative comfort of Kazimierz.

“Speaking of which,” he said, seamlessly changing the subject, “it would help–a lot–if the Galicians sent us some of their forces. Right now, we’re relying on Krzysztof and the two Galicians who came with him and the none-too-numerous Polish militiamen from Breslau to be our fig leaf. Very skimpy fig leaf.”

“It’s not a perfect world, Morris,” Gretchen said mildly.

“You’re telling this to a Jew?”

Military training camp

Just outside Magdeburg

United States of Europe

“So that’s the sum of it,” concluded Gustav Adolf. He straightened up from his perusal of the map Thorsten had dredged up and spread across the table in his desk. The map showed all of the USE and its immediate environs. “Oh, my aching back,” complained the emperor, rubbing his spine with a fist. “I’m not as limber as I used to be.”

A bit desperately, Thorsten tried to find some feature in the emperor’s sweeping plans for troop transfers that he could object to. Sadly…