The fourth man in the room put the thought to words. “I think we have no choice, father. Like you, I can see all of the pitfalls and perils in the Netherlanders’ proposal. But what choice do we have? And I will point out that if we have advantages that our counterparts in another universe did not have, we also have disadvantages.” A thin smile came to the face of Georg Bartholomaeus Zwickl, the count’s stepson and official heir. “They did not have to face Michael Stearns.”

            Stearns. Mentally, Janos rolled the harsh-sounding English name on his tongue. A former coal miner, now grown into a force that had struck Europe like Attila and the Huns a thousand years earlier. In his impact, at least, if not in his methods.

            Janos had seen him, once, although only at a distance on the streets of Grantville. The man had been laughing at some remark made by his companion, the president of the USE’s State of Thuringia-Franconia. That was Ed Piazza, whom Janos had met briefly and in person in the course of a casual social affair.

            He’d liked Piazza’s friendly and unassuming manner.  Just as he’d liked the look on Stearns’ face when he laughed, for that matter. Being fair, it was hard to imagine such a laugh ever issuing from the mouth of Attila.


            He filed that possibility away. For the moment, and for the foreseeable future, Austria and the USE were enemies.

            While silence filled the room for a time, Drugeth went back to scrutinizing the letter.

            Very shrewd, many of those suggestions. Janos wondered who had actually originated them? For all their undoubted intelligence, he didn’t think Maria Anna and Fernando would have thought of some of them. Being born and raised in royal families also created limits. They had—must have—at least one adviser who was capable of seeing beyond those limits.

            “You have my full support, Your Majesty,” he said. For the first time since he’d begun reading the letter, he looked directly at von Gottschee. The old man looked tired, more than anything else. As well he might, given that he’d served Austria’s dynasty faithfully and well for so long—and now, almost at the age of seventy, he was being asked to undo much of what he had done.

            Privately, Janos made another note. It was unrealistic to expect the count to do more than maintain Austria’s spy network. Indeed, it might even be dangerous to try to force him to do more. Fortunately, Count von Gottschee had long been grooming his stepson to take his place. Janos got along quite well with Georg Bartholomaeus, who was in his late thirties.

            Granted, their background and temperaments were quite different. For all his aptitude at the covert tasks Ferdinand had set him lately, Janos was still a Hungarian cavalry officer in the way he approached things. A soldier, not a spy, where Zwickl took to his step-father’s trade as if he’d been born to it. Still, he and Zwickl should manage to work together easily enough.

            It might even be best to retire the count formally. Janos would raise that possibility with the emperor in private, at some later time. It would have to be done carefully, making sure that Johann Jakob was genuinely willing and did not resent being forced into retirement. Given the situation, there was probably no single individual who could do more damage to the dynasty, should his allegiances sour. Khiesel knew… almost everything.

            Having made his decision, however, Janos was immediately confronted by his major and immediate quarrel with the proposal.

            “So,” Ferdinand III stated, clapping his hands together. “We’re agreed on the basic points, then? First—which I’ve already had done—repudiate the Edict of Restitution, to as to restore peace in our relations with our Protestant subjects. Second, retake Bohemia. Third—simultaneously, I should say—press forward with the technology transfer from the USE so we can begin the modernization of our economy and our army. Fourth, prepare for an inevitable war with the Turks. Finally, and most important of all, begin the process of drawing all of our peoples and classes into support for our cause. That will necessarily require the introduction of a great deal of popular participation in the empire’s political affairs, although we will strive to keep it under control.”

            That was at least one too many tasks, Janos thought. And he knew, for a certainty, the one that he thought should be eliminated.

            For a moment, he hesitated. Then, bracing himself, spoke it aloud. “Your Majesty, I strongly advise you to seek peace with Wallenstein and a stabilization of the northern frontier, rather than trying to retake Bohemia. I believe Wallenstein has no further designs on our remaining territory, and would agree to such an offer.”

            He was fudging a little, there. Janos was fairly certain that Wallenstein’s ambitions lay to the east, not the south, true enough. But those same ambitions would almost require obtaining at least a part of Royal Hungary, or Wallenstein would have no way to reach the east. Not unless he was prepared to launch a war of conquest on the Polish heartland, at any rate, which Drugeth thought unlikely.

            He was willing to make the fudge, nonetheless, if he could keep the emperor from such a rash and unwise policy. The truth was, so long as Wallenstein satisfied himself with seizing only the northern portions of Royal Hungary, Janos didn’t care. Those lands were mostly inhabited by Slavs, not Hungarians. From a military standpoint, they were more of a nuisance than anything else.

            True, there was an awkward personal matter involved. His own family’s estates were mostly located in that very area. It would be a pity to lose the lovely Renaissance-style residence that his father had build in Hommona. It was only twenty-five years old and had all the modern conveniences a man could wish for. But ceding a small portion of Austria’s northernmost lands, even ones that included Hommona, was a small price to pay to get a stabilization of the northern borders.

            The emperor would most likely find a way to compensate the Drugeth family, for the loss, and what one architect had built another could build as well. But even if the emperor didn’t, Janos would still argue in favor of ceding the northern portions of Royal Hungary. Being of the aristocracy, the way Janos viewed human relations, bound a man to his duties far more than to his privileges. What over-rode all other considerations, certainly mere personal ones, was that fighting the immensely powerful Ottoman Empire over control of the Balkans was going to be a mighty challenge in itself. The last thing Austria needed was to be embroiled simultaneously in a war with Bohemia. Especially since Bohemia was allied to the USE, and they needed to make peace with the Swede also.

            A heavy frown had formed on the emperor’s brow. “Surely you’re not serious, Janos? Wallenstein is a usurper and a traitor, whose claims to Bohemia are specious. Preposterous, rather!”

            “Yes, they are, Your Majesty. But I feel compelled to point out that any war with the Turks will strain us to the utmost. I think it most unwise to get entangled with Bohemia also.”

            “Oh, that’s nonsense, Janos. I don’t propose to fight the Turks any time soon. We need Bohemia’s resources. Surely, we can have it back in our hands within a year or two.”

            Surely we can’t, Janos felt like snarling. He hadn’t been present himself at the second battle of the White Mountain, since he’d been assigned to the Turkish border at the time. But he’d heard many accounts of it from his fellow officers who had been present. Granted, they were junior officers, who, as usual, were quick to criticize the failings of the top commanders in that battle. But the fact remained that while Austria might have won the battle with more capable commanders, it would still have been a savage affair. Nobody in their right mind dismissed Pappenheim lightly—not to mention that Wallenstein had proved himself to be one of Europe’s most capable organizers of armies over a period of years. Any war with Bohemia, even a victorious war that resulted in a reconquest, would surely bleed Austria’s armies badly. And that was the last thing they needed, if they intended to confront the Ottomans.