"Oh, for the love of God, husband!" exclaimed Amalie Elizabeth. The wife of the landgrave of Hesse-Kassel rose from her chair and stalked over to a nearby desk. Angrily pulling open a drawer, she withdrew a thick sheaf of letters and waved it in his direction.
"How much longer will you nurse these foolish dreams of yours? Do you really think these—" Here she shook the letters fiercely. "These posturers! These cretins! These petty—"
She broke off, slapping the letters down on the table and taking several deep breaths. Her pretty face was flushed with anger.
Wilhelm V of Hesse-Kassel grimaced. Seated next to him on the luxurious couch in the salon, Wilhelm of Saxe-Weimar tried to keep himself from smiling.
"Those are, ah . . ."
Amalie gave him a sour glance. "You know perfectly well what they are, Wilhelm, even if you've never seen them. My husband here—" She jiggled the letters in the direction of the landgrave. "—has been trying for a year now to get the nobility of the Confederated Principalities of Europe to form a common bloc. The smaller princes and nobles, that is. Squeezed the way we are between the king of Sweden, the princes of Saxony and Brandenburg—now, most of all, by the Americans—"
She broke off, sighing. "I told him from the beginning it was pointless. May as well try to herd cats. Particularly vain and lazy and stupidcats, to boot."
The landgrave avoided her stony gaze. "And to what end?" she demanded. "Would you like to know, Wilhelm? Here, I'll read some of them to you! You're an old and close friend of the family, so why not?"
Hesse-Kassel scowled, but did quite dare to object. The landgravine picked up the top letter from the pile and began reading.
"This one is from—well, never mind—but it's a report of a conversation at a dinner table, shortly after my husband's first circular letter went out. Sophia von Markenfeld is reported to have said to her husband: 'Albrecht, I wouldn't trust this for a moment. The count of Sommersburg is certain to be allied to Hesse-Kassel. And do you remember how Sommersburg cheated me out of great-aunt Leopoldine's garnet-and-pearl necklace that she always said that I should have, but he put it into the probate and his daughter Louisa ended up with it?'
"Then, needless to say, Georg von Gluecksburg jumped in—oh, yes, Wilhelm, of course he was there—do you think he wouldn't have been—"
It was Saxe-Weimar's turn to grimace. Von Gluecksburg bore a remarkable physical resemblance to a piglet. The resemblance was by no means superficial.
"—said to his brother, 'Ernst, I wouldn't go along with this if I were you. The Sommersburgs were also very unhelpful in the matter of the border between Craichsbach and Altfelden. With a new administration, we can refile the litigation and request a rehearing.' "
Hesse-Kassel sighed. Wilhelm heard him mutter something about incest. It was true enough—certainly on a political level. The nobility of Thuringia, Saxony, northern Franconia, and eastern Hessia consisted of families which had intermarried so many times that the resultant feuds were as rancorous and never-ending as they were picayune.
Amalie had picked up another letter. "This one is too long to quote, but the gist of it is that there was a meeting at Herzfeld to discuss my husband's circular, but only about half of those invited came. The many Heinrichs of the Reuss lines, as you know, mostly hold land east of Jena and so they were more concerned with what was happening in Albertine Saxony. The two lines of Schwarzburgs apparently decided to maintain a position of neutrality for the time being, while the Ernestine Wettins—they were led by you, of course, Wilhelm—sent a message announcing they were thinking of throwing in their lot with King Gustavus Adolphus and the new United States. So none of them bothered to show up at all. Good for you."
She scanned down more of the letter. "Of the ones that came, the wife of the count von Morsburg and her sister-in-law, who are also cousins, revisited—for what is it, now? the fortieth time?—the long-discussed issue of which one had brought the more valuable dowry to her marriage." She barked a sarcastic laugh. "And—it failed only this!—Johann von Rechberg and Margrave Christoph von Thuen continued the tension that has marked their relationship since the unfortunate incident in 1614 of the expensive prostitute in Leiden when both were on their grand tour."
She let the letter slide from her fingers. "In the end, the only decision of the self-proclaimed 'Herzfeld Conference' was to have another meeting the next year."
Again, she took several deep breaths. "I have read, myself, several of the pamphlets written by that Spartacus fellow. Even—God save my soul—a pamphlet written by Gretchen Richter. I would be lying to both of you if I did not confess that I agree with half of what they say." A bit hastily: "If not, certainly, the other half."
She drew out the chair from the desk and sat in it. Then, folding her hands atop the stack of letters, gave the landgrave of Hesse-Kassel and the former duke of Saxe-Weimar a level stare.
"But this much is true, O ye noblemen. With, of course, some exceptions, the aristocracy of Germany has become a plague upon the land. Parasites, nothing else. And while I do not include our own family in this—nor yours, Wilhelm, save that swine Bernhard—nor a number of others—if we insist on sticking together we will all go down together. Do not doubt it for an instant."
The words were, on the surface, addressed to both men on the couch. But, in reality, they were aimed entirely at her husband. The mere fact that the Saxe-Weimar who had appeared that evening at the Hesse-Kassel quarters in Magdeburg did so as a commoner, no longer as a duke, made clear to everyone where Wilhelm stood in the matter. Even if, thus far in his visit, he had said very little about it directly.
Saxe-Weimar decided to rise, a bit, to Hesse-Kassel's defense. "In fairness, Amalie, it is quite a bit more difficult a decision for your husband than it was for me." With a rueful chuckle: "Since, for all practical purposes, my 'duchy' had been slid out from under me anyway."
But Amalie was not so easily mollified. "Nonsense! No one is suggesting that the landgrave should abdicate. No such bold measure as you took is needed from him. All my husband has to do is give up this hopeless scurrying after petty noblemen most of whom aren't fit to serve as his valet." She paused, her eyes almost crossing. "Now that I think about it, I would not wish any of them on my husband's valet himself. I'm rather fond of Dieter."
Hesse-Kassel spread his hands and then slapped them on his thighs. It was a forceful gesture. . . .
Not very forcefully done. "What would you have me do, wife?" he grumbled. Casting a somewhat unfriendly glance at the man seated next to him: "Fine for Wilhelm to be so cozy with the Americans. If I did the same—"
Now, Wilhelm decided, it was time to be direct. "There is no need to be 'cozy,' as you put it, with the Americans. But what you must do—and no 'cozy' about it—is weld yourself to the emperor. Weld yourself, Landgrave! Gustavus Adolphus now faces what is probably the greatest crisis of his life. You know the man. Do you think they call him the Lion of the North—even, in Italy, the Golden King—for no reason?"
Saxe-Weimar felt too strongly about the matter to remain seated. He rose and began pacing about, using short and abrupt gestures. "He will not cave in, Landgrave. Never think it. He will do whatever he must to defeat his enemies. And if that means—as it surely will, given continued aristocratic foot-dragging—that he has no choice but to weld himself to the Americans, he will do so. Yes, he will hesitate. But not for very long. Not when he has the enemy at the gates. And then—"
Saxe-Weimar ceased his pacing, almost spinning around to face Hesse-Kassel. "Have you considered what will happen then?"
He pointed a stiff finger at the eastern wall of the salon. Somewhere beyond that wall lay the still-unfinished imperial palace where the Chamber of Princes would resume their meeting the next day. The salon wall was covered with a tapestry, to disguise the rough wall of the new and still-unfinished building which Hesse-Kassel had rented for his own quarters during his stay in Magdeburg. Crude, rough, unfinished—like everything in Magdeburg. But only a fool—or an aristocrat lost in reverie—could fail to sense the new strength coiling beneath the surface.
"Those peacocks! They are assuming, all of them—John George of Saxony most of all—that Richelieu and his Ostenders will hammer the Swede into a pulp. Leaving just enough of a 'Confederated Principalities' for Saxony and Brandenburg and their pack of carrion-eaters to pick over the remains and recreate things to their liking."
He paused, a bit dramatically. "But what if they don't, Landgrave? What if—not for the first time in his life!—the Swede leaves his enemies bleeding and broken on the battlefield. What then?When his victory came entirely from his own strength and the stalwart allegiance of the Americans—and the Committees of Correspondence which you can now find springing up all over Germany? You have noticed, I trust, that the recruiting stations for these so-called 'volunteer brigades' have begun operating here in Magdeburg, not just in the United States."
"There's at least one in Leipzig too," commented Amalie. "I heard about it yesterday. Also in Nürnberg and Frankfurt, it's said."
"Meanwhile," Saxe-Weimar continued remorselessly, "Gustav Adolf finds that the back of his legs and his heels are bruised black-and-blue from the blows landed on them from behind by the 'princes' who also swore allegiance to him, but betrayed him—in fact if not in name—in his darkest hour. What then, Landgrave?"
The landgrave looked away, studying yet another tapestry. That one, as it happened, depicted a lion devouring a deer. Hesse-Kassel grimaced.
"Oh, indeed!" half-laughed his wife. "Oh, indeed!"
"What do you propose, Wilhelm?" asked the landgrave softly. "Concretely, mind you." He smiled thinly. "Your rhetoric is excellent. But rhetoric is not policy."
Saxe-Weimar had prepared for this moment. The words came flowing quickly and easily.
"You must announce that you are forming a new political league. Other than Saxony and Brandenburg, Hesse-Kassel is the largest and most powerful of the principalities within Gustav's Confederation. Many—not all, not even most—but many of the small princes will follow you." He nodded toward Amalie. "Sommersburg for a certainty, and I can guarantee all of the Ernestine Wettins. A number of the free cities, the Reichsstaedte, will certainly do the same. I can guarantee that Nürnburg and Frankfurt will. I've been in touch with their notables."
"Regensburg too, of course," chimed in Amalie quickly. "All reports are agreed that when Gustav's General Banér drove Maximilian's troops out of the city—just last month—the populace went wild with jubilation. Right on the border with Bavaria and Austria, as they are, the Regensburgers will certainly want to cement themselves to the Swedes." She fluffed her hair. "And they're saying also that Gustav Adolf will appoint Wilhelm's brother Ernst as the administrator for the entire Oberpfalz. Consider what that might mean."
Hesse-Kassel glanced at Wilhelm for confirmation. Saxe-Weimar nodded. "That's what Ernst tells me, anyway. I got a letter from him recently. He was with Banér, you know, when they entered Regensburg. With Frederick V now dead, and his widow Elizabeth and their children almost certainly in Spanish captivity, the whole question of the Upper Palatinate is back up in the air."
"Just what it needed," muttered Hesse-Kassel, sighing. The Thirty Years War had been triggered off in the first place when Elector Frederick V of the Palatine had chosen to accept the offer of the Bohemians to be their new king. Since that would have upset the balance of power in the Holy Roman Empire, Ferdinand II of Austria and Maximilian of Bavaria had invaded Bohemia. At the Battle of the White Mountain in 1618, Tilly's Catholic army had smashed the Protestant forces. Then, for good measure, the imperials and the Bavarians had invaded the Palatinate and seized that from Frederick as well.
"The Winter King," he'd been called thereafter, for the only season he'd enjoyed his crown, as he and his wife Elizabeth—sister of King Charles of England—had been forced to flee from one court of exile to another in the years which followed. Frederick had finally died of disease in 1632, but the status of the Palatinate was still one of the most hotly contested issues of European politics.
Today, of course, most of the area was back in Protestant hands. To be precise, in Swedish hands. But . . .
The official heir, Karl Ludwig V, was only fifteen years old—and now, at least according to rumor, held by the Spanish after they overran the Netherlands where Elizabeth had been in current exile. So how would Gustav Adolf choose to resolve the situation?
The landgrave glanced again at the man sitting next to him. Wilhelm of Saxe-Weimar. A duke deprived of his duchy who had decided to abdicate in order to strive for power as a commoner in a new republic. But still a man who was very close to the emperor, and now one whose younger brother seemed likely to become the administrator of one of the most important regions in the CPE. The Oberpfalz portion of it, at least—which, perhaps not by coincidence, happened to be one of the great centers of German mining and manufacture.
A commoner now, yes. Out of power? With no influence?
"Until the rightful heir returns, no doubt," grumbled Hesse-Kassel. "But by the time that happens—if it happens—what might have been transformed in the meanwhile? And transformed permanently."
Saxe-Weimar shrugged. "So it is, Wilhelm. Whether we like it or not, it is a new world."
The landgrave grunted. "And the policies of this new league?"
"Everything the emperor has asked for. Every last thing. And not simply the emergency measures he proposed yesterday, but everything else he and Oxenstierna have advanced since the Confederation was formed last autumn. Free navigation of all waters, drastic reduction in tolls, elimination of all medieval vestiges of forced labor—every shred of serfdom gone—a commission empowered to begin implementing a rationalization of all these idiotic little local practices which interfere with commerce . . ." He hesitated.
"And the currency reform, too, I suppose?" Hesse-Kassel asked glumly. "Wilhelm, you know what that will end up with, not too many years from now. An 'imperial' currency which is for all practical purposes an American currency. Damn them and their Jewish bankers, anyway."
Saxe-Weimar shrugged. "It's not really the Jews, Wilhelm, and you know it perfectly well. Yes, the Abrabanels and their allies have provided the immediate liquid currency. But the real reason the American dollar is the hardest currency in the land—even though it's really only paper and everybody knows it—is because it is backed by the wealth being produced in the principality which issues it."
Again, he shrugged. "There is no reason that production cannot be extended quickly in Hesse-Kassel also." He heard Amalie mutter a word or two of agreement. "And . . . I am fairly certain I can manage an arrangement myself, with the Abrabanels. There is also no reason, when you think about it, that a branch of their bank—issuing a new imperial currency—cannot be opened in your principality also."
The landgrave cocked a skeptical eyebrow. Saxe-Weimar shook his head. "They are financiers, after all. Not ideologues, no matter how many of them may have close political and personal ties to the Americans. Don't forget, too, that the Abrabanels are not so much a family as an extended clan. There will be any number of them who care little enough for the Americans and their more extreme political views." A bit sternly: "You would, of course, have to guarantee their safety from pogroms and the right to practice their faith, at least in private."
Hesse-Kassel shrugged. "Not a problem, that. For all I care, they could open a synagogue. Most of my subjects are as tired of the zealots as I am. As for the ones who aren't . . ."
He straightened up in the couch. "That's why I have soldiers, after all."
"Well said!" exclaimed his wife. "Besides, look on the bright side. Remember what happened when the count of Schaumburg allowed universal free worship in his village of Altona?"
Her husband did seem to be cheered up, a bit. The episode—scandalous at the time—was well known. Very quickly, Altona found itself well-nigh flooded with every unpopular religious group: Mennonites, Anabaptists, Jews. The count was thought to be crazy—until his coffers began filling up. Whatever else they were, these outcast religious groups tended to be thrifty and industrious.
"And finally—" said Wilhelm.
Hesse-Kassel threw hands. "Yes! Yes! The precious tax reform. The symbol of it all. End, once and for all, the nobility's exemption from taxation."
His wife spoke softly, but firmly. "It is the most important thing, husband. Whatever else they disagree about, there is not a commoner in Germany—Lutheran, Calvinist, Catholic, it matters not—who does not hate and resent that noble privilege. That exemption is a burr under the saddle of Gustav's growing empire—and don't think the Americans will hesitate to ride it, if we do not help the emperor to remove it. Better to lose some income, than to lose it all. When peace comes, don't forget, the taxes from those noble lands will be part of the revenues of those territorial rulers who have ridden the coming storm instead of being drowned by it."
There was silence in the salon, for a moment. Then the landgrave nodded his head. "Done. Do you have a proposal as well for the name of this new political league?"
Saxe-Weimar smiled. "Something simple and to the point, I think. 'Crown Loyalists' should do nicely."
Later that evening, over dinner, Amalie turned to Saxe-Weimar. "And what of you, yourself? Do you intend to form a 'Crown Loyalist' league in the United States?"
Wilhelm laughed. "Not exactly."
He held up a thumb. "First, because it would be redundant. We are at war now, and I can assure you that whatever political quarrels the Americans have with Gustav Adolf, they will back him militarily to the hilt. And they, unlike me, can give that backing real steel and fire. So it would be a bit like a small boy marching around with men claiming to be the captain."
Amalie laughed. The landgrave smiled. Wilhelm held up his forefinger alongside the thumb.
"Two. It would hardly gain me any friends in the United States itself. The Americans—and, increasingly, more and more of their new German citizens—are uneasy at the very notion of monarchy. Diehard republicans, you know, all of them, whatever internal disputes they may have."
Another finger came up. "But, mostly, the answer is no because what is needed in the United States is not a league of noblemen—that will do, for the moment at least, in the Confederation—but a genuine political party as the Americans themselves understand the term. Something with deep roots in the broad populace."
The landgrave and his wife stared at him. Wilhelm, formerly the duke of Saxe-Weimar, smiled serenely. "Oh, yes. My program itself will be based on the best thinking of our German cameralists, with a heavy leaven from the Americans' own political traditions. So far as tactics go, however, I intend to steal many pages from the book of Michael Stearns. I have been studying the man very closely, this past year."
"What do you really think of him?" asked Amalie. The tone of the question was simply curious.
"On a personal level, I admire him a great deal. I would go further. Whatever my political differences, as great as they undoubtedly are, I do not in the end really consider him as an 'enemy.' An opponent, certainly. But not an 'enemy.' The distinction is quite critical, I think—and so do the Americans. They have a name for it, as a matter of fact. They call it a 'loyal opposition.' "
The stares of the landgrave and the landgravine were now skeptical. "Seems to me he has all the makings of a tyrant," gruffed Hesse-Kassel.
"Like the old Greek tyrants?" Saxe-Weimar shrugged. "The makings of one, yes. Even quite a terrifying one. And I also think that, if he felt he had no choice, he would take that road. But not willingly, Wilhelm."
He paused, thinking. "He was a professional pugilist once, you know, as a younger man."
The landgrave and the landgravine grimaced. Pugilism for pay was not unknown in their era, but it was a savage and bloody business. On a par with cockfighting and bearbaiting. Its practitioners were considered to be sheer brutes.
Wilhelm smiled. "You misunderstand, I think. In his world, it was a sport. Brutal enough, to be sure. Oh, yes! Never make the mistake of thinking that Michael Stearns will refrain from bloodshed. But it was highly organized, you see. They called it 'boxing,' and it was surrounded by rules and regulations. Many things were ruled out, such as what they called 'low blows.' Indeed, a man could lose a match by violating those rules."
He lowered his hand and opened it, palm up, on the table. "I believe that, to pursue the thought, Michael Stearns wants to teach the world how to box, in the political arena. So, in the end, I think it is my responsibility—perhaps the greatest of my responsibilities—to see to it that he never faces the necessity, as he might see it, to become a tyrant. Because he trusts his opponent to box rather than to fight like an animal. So if he loses a match, it is simply a match, not his life. And he might win the next, after all. Because I and—" His eyes flitted back and forth between the two other people at the table. "—others provided him with an acceptable alternative to the stark choice between tyranny and destruction."
Silence fell over the table. After a time, Amalie rose. "Well, I think that's enough for one night. It's late and I'm tired." She smiled down at the two men. Not quite serenely, but surprisingly close. "Though I have no doubt we will be having many such nights, in the years to come."
"It's not as bad as war," observed Saxe-Weimar. "Especially a civil war."
"Certainly isn't," agreed the landgrave, draining his wine glass. "I've seen a real war. Been watching a civil war, in fact, for fifteen years now. It's filthy."
* * *
Wilhelm spent the night in a guest room in Hesse-Kassel's quarters. Late the next morning, they left to attend the session of the Chamber of Princes scheduled to begin in the early afternoon. On their way out, the doorman handed Wilhelm a letter, saying it had been left for him by a courier who arrived shortly after dawn. Saxe-Weimar broke the seal, opened the letter, and scrutinized it. Then, folded it up and tucked it away.
Since it was a very pleasant day and they had plenty of time—no session of Germany's princelings began punctually—they chose to walk. The imperial palace was no great distance in any event.
As they neared the palace, a strange noise was heard in the sky. Like everyone else on the street, they stopped and looked up. Above, sailing directly over the palace, came the most bizarre-looking contraption anyone had ever seen.
"Yes, Landgrave. That is what they call an 'airplane.' President Stearns informed me, in the letter I was handed as we left, that he would be flying back to Grantville this morning."
Hesse-Kassel's head craned, as he gawked at the Las Vegas Belle passing overhead. So did everyone on the street except Saxe-Weimar, who took the time to draw out the letter and read it again.
Only after the aircraft had passed out of sight did Hesse-Kassel lower his head. He frowned, and pointed to the south. "But I don't understand. Thuringia is that way. So why is he going—?"
Saxe-Weimar sighed. He still had a long way to go, before Germany's princelings—to use an American expression—got the picture.
"Why is he flying north? Well, if you ask him—or the head of his little flying military force who is probably the one at the controls of the machine—he will claim it was due to the necessities of wind direction, or whatever. A technical explanation which you will not be able to follow very well."
The same peculiar droning sound began to fill the sky again, coming now from the north. Like a giant wasp, perhaps.
"The real reason, of course—" Wilhelm fell silent, waiting for the noise to subside. Coming back, Mike Stearns' aircraft was flying very low. As it passed directly over the imperial palace and then above the thoroughfare where Saxe-Weimar and Hesse-Kassel were standing, Wilhelm realized that this was the first time he had ever stood directly under the flying machine.
"I believe they call this 'buzzing'!" he half-shouted.
The aircraft, and the noise, faded away.
"As I was saying, the real reason he did it was to remind everyone who is attending the session today—none too subtly—" Saxe-Weimar poked a finger toward the imperial palace. "—that we can either reach an accommodation with Gustavus Adolphus or—" He jerked his thumb over his shoulder, pointing to the now-vanished aircraft. "—we will someday have to try reaching an accommodation with him."
Hesse-Kassel grunted. "Indeed. The Swede looks better all the time."
"Does he not?"
They took a few more steps and then Wilhelm handed Hesse-Kassel the letter.
"Most of this is really for you, I think, even though it's addressed to me. It's all very polite. But the gist of it is that the President of the United States feels that—with war now here—it would be a good gesture—show our enemies that we stand united—if the American admiral residing here in Magdeburg—and his wife—were to be invited to some of the social functions which surround this gathering of so many of Germany's princes. And since you're the most important of them, Wilhelm—we'll leave aside Saxony and Brandenburg, no chance of them doing it—I think you should take the lead. Besides, Amalie always has the best soirees anyway."
Hesse-Kassel's face looked as sour as a pickle. But, as his eyes came toward the end of the message, the expression began to lighten.
"Huh," he grunted. "I thought this Simpson fellow was some sort of semi-barbarian. You told me—"
Saxe-Weimar looked slightly embarrassed. He'd had no good words to say himself, about the campaign which Simpson had run against Mike Stearns the year earlier. Simpson himself could claim, as he had once to Wilhelm in private, when Wilhelm had raised objections to him, that he had no personal prejudice against Germans. Saxe-Weimar was even inclined to believe him. But Simpson's followers had certainly not been so meticulous in their distinctions. Saxe-Weimar could still remember the sign which had adorned at least one tavern in Grantville: No dogs or Germans allowed.
"An injustice to the man," he said firmly. "I'm quite convinced of it now. Yes, he certainly made some mistakes. Bad ones too, in my opinion. But—" He gave Hesse-Kassel a glance. "Which of us can say he has not, eh?"
They'd reached the steps to the palace. Hesse-Kassel lowered the letter for a moment, to negotiate the steps. Glancing up at the still-unfinished but massive edifice, he grunted again. "Not Germany's princes, that's sure and certain."
He tapped the letter with his thumb. "And I will say this last part certainly seems promising. Impressive, even, though of course I don't recognize any of the names."
Wilhelm didn't need to look at the letter again to know what Hesse-Kassel was talking about. Mike Stearns had ended the letter with a list of the various organizations Mary Simpson had once belonged to—in some cases, been the leader of.
"Yes, it is. Especially for Amalie, I think, given her patronage of the arts and sciences."
Hesse-Kassel grunted agreement again, walking up the steps and still reading the letter.
"What do you think this means? 'Board of Directors'?Sounds impressive, whatever it is."
Up in the sky, now many miles south of Magdeburg, Jesse gave Mike a somewhat sarcastic smile.
"Well? Do you feel better now, Mr. President? After wasting all that valuable fuel, I mean."
Mike's responding smile was serene. "I'd rather waste gas and ink than waste blood, Jesse."