By the time Mike and Torstensson got to the big square before the palace, the area was already packed with the crowd. Fortunately, Achterhof and his militants were able to clear a path for them. The task became easier as they passed through the mob, and word of Mike's arrival began to spread. Toward the end, nearing the steps of the palace itself, the biggest problem was clearing aside people who were pressing in to cheer them.
Well . . . cheer Mike, at least. There were precious few cheers coming Torstensson's way, which Mike was quite sure the general had noticed.
Good. Get the picture, Lennart? Make sure you pass it along to Gustav.
Still, Mike was relieved not to hear any calls for Swedish blood, either. Fury and rage were obviously roiling through the thousands of people gathered there. But, so far at least, it seemed aimed at Germany's princes and not the Swedish prince who—in theory—ruled them all.
By now, partly under Becky and Melissa's tutelage and partly from his own disciplined reading program, Mike knew enough history to recognize the phenomenon. It was a common pattern, repeated many times. The crowd was still—just barely—willing to give the emperor a pass. If he did the right thing and got rid of his evil and wicked advisers.
The emperor seemed a goodly enough fellow, after all. He'd beaten down the Habsburgs, hadn't he—something no German prince could claim. And he slept with his own troops in the field, didn't he—lying on the cold ground right next to them. And, perhaps most important of all, he had greeted the United States with . . .
Well. "Open arms" was a bit much. Still, he had greeted them. Which no one could say for German princes.
Except one, who had chosen to give up his princedom.
When Mike saw Wilhelm of Saxe-Weimar already standing on the steps of the palace, not far from Spartacus and—like the young German leader of the CoC—trying desperately to calm down the mob, he gave him a silent nod of respect. And, simultaneously, felt a deep sense of relief and satisfaction.
If I can head off this civil war—contain it, rather—maybe we won't have to fight the next one at all.
"Thank God you're here!" hissed Spartacus. "What do we do? I've been trying to reason with them, but . . ."
Mike clapped him cheerfully on the shoulder. Then, as Wilhelm scurried up, did the same for him. Both gestures were purely histrionic. Mike Stearns was on stage now, and the common folk of his new times did not appreciate method acting. They wanted dramatic gestures. On this day, they would demand them.
Now with one arm around the shoulders of each man, half-dragging them forward with him, Mike stepped up to meet the crowd. To greet the crowd.
His people, always. For better or worse. In sickness and in health.
"Welcome, people of Germany! Rejoice in this day of triumph! Victory is ours! Today—and tomorrow!"
By the time Simpson's men arrived with the equipment to set up the loudspeakers, Mike was almost hoarse with shouting. But he'd settled things down enough to avert any immediate clash. Torstensson had indeed withdrawn all Swedish troops from the area, except a bodyguard remaining inside the palace for Princess Kristina. Who was herself leaning out of a window, smiling and waving cheerfully at the crowd. Many people in the crowd were now waving back.
God bless smart little girls. And I think that one's a genius.
The Saxon troops John George had summoned to the city were also nowhere in evidence. Torstensson had taken most of his Swedish troops out to meet them beyond the city's limits, and explain the facts of life. Given Torstensson, Mike could just imagine the terse manner in which he'd do it.
Fact one. We whipped Emperor Ferdinand at Breitenfeld.
Fact two. You ran like dogs.
Fact three. You've got ten minutes to get out of here. Five, if I don't see your tails between your legs. Now.
When the loudspeakers went into operation, Mike shoved Wilhelm toward the microphone.
"I need a break. You're on, buddy."
Wilhelm stared at the microphone much like a rabbit staring at a serpent. "What do I say? I don't know—I've never—"
"Piece of cake, Wilhelm. Just give a campaign speech. But, ah, one word of advice."
"Yes." Wilhelm stared at him. Mike grinned.
"Don't run against me. Not today. You can save that for the election. Today, you're campaigning against the princes."
Still staring. "What election?"
"The one I'm going to swap a horse with the emperor for. I'll have it by the end of the day tomorrow, I think. Maybe sooner. Gustav's a decisive man, and I do believe the cardinal and the princes, between them, have really and seriously and genuinely pissed him off. The stupid bastards."
Still staring. But Mike's grin never faded. It wouldn't have, even if he weren't on Europe's greatest stage.
"I think it's time the CPE had an actual government. Don't you, Wilhelm?" He jerked a thumb at the palace behind them. "Instead of this silly playpen for princes."
Wilhelm's eyes closed. A little smile came to his lips. "Ah. Yes, actually." His eyes reopened, and this time did not seem confused and uncertain at all. "Yes, indeed."
It took the former duke a bit of time to learn how to speak into a microphone. But not much, really, given his unfamiliarity with the device. And once he began talking, the words themselves flowed easily enough. By the time he was done, in fact, he was bordering on Mike's own brand of full-bore rhetoric.
Only bordering on it, to be sure. But it was a border, now, not a frontier.
Mary Simpson never spoke at all, that day. Mike, seeing the sheer terror that held her almost paralyzed, did not press the issue. It was enough, really, that she was standing there on the steps in full view of the crowd. The American Lady. Wife of the Admiral, who commands the ironclads. Our ironclads.
And, of course, managing that superb professional smile. Mike suspected that Mary Simpson, if condemned to Hell itself, could greet Satan with it.
Besides, Gramma Richter could hold the fort. Which she did, in her own splendid tough-old-biddy manner. By the time Veronica was finished speaking, the crowd had settled down completely. They wouldn't have dared do otherwise.
She was done shortly after noon. Mike took another stint at the microphone. By now, he estimated the size of the crowd at somewhere in the vicinity of forty thousand people. Between thirty and fifty thousand, at any rate. The entire population of Magdeburg, for all practical purposes—along with, by that time of the day, a number of people pouring in from the nearby countryside.
But it was really impossible to get a very accurate count, even though Mike knew the rule-of-thumb methods for doing so. He'd organized rallies himself, in times past, not simply been a participant in them. The problem was twofold.
First, the crowd was simply too large to fit into the square. It spilled down all three of the major avenues, as well, as far as Mike could see.
Second—this he saw with pure relief—the crowd was beginning to circulate. People were leaving as well as coming in. And almost all of them going in one direction—toward the naval yard.
He recognized that phenomenon, also. He'd seen it often enough, in another universe. Working men with families—and Magdeburg was by now the most plebeian city in all of Germany, even including Grantville—do not come to large political rallies very often. Quite unlike students and footloose young people, in that respect. And, when they do, they often bring their families.
To see the capital of their country, as much as to petition for a redress of grievances. Because that was how they saw it, however much or little that image might correspond to reality. Their capital, of their country; which they had built—and they had died for.
So, often enough at mass rallies in Washington, D.C., Mike had seen men and women and children go wandering off after a time from the speeches and the waving banners. Just to go, as a family, and admire the Washington monument or the Lincoln Memorial or the Smithsonian.
Magdeburg had no such things, except the palace of a still-alien emperor and . . . the U.S. Navy yard.
"No. But . . . just two days ago, the landgravine—Amalie, I mean, Hesse-Kassel's wife—was telling me—"
"Never mind the details. Find a good one, Mary. We need a great big monument right smack in the middle of this square. Something like . . . I dunno, maybe—"
"Nelson's column? In Trafalgar Square?"
"Sounds good to me. I saw a picture of it once, on a postcard. And then get a good sculptor to do a bronze statue of Hans Richter for the top of it. A big statue."
Mary's smile had some actual life in it now. Mike himself was grinning widely, as he had been all day. Professional expressions, the both of them. But still heartfelt.
"Yup," said Mike. "Can't have a Hans Richter Square without a Hans Richter monument."
Mary's eyes widened. "I think they already named it Vasa Square. I know for sure the biggest avenue is named Gustavstrasse."
"Not by tomorrow. Day after at the latest. Gustav can keep the street. I'm not greedy. Gustavstrasse it is. But the square doesn't belong to him. Not anymore."
Mary's eyes widened still further. "Do you really think you can take it from him?"
"Me? Hell, no. But Hans Richter can. You watch."
Then, in mid-afternoon, Mike heard the sound that announced victory. Victory for this battle, at least. Victory sure and certain.
Within a few seconds, no one in the crowd was looking at the palace or the speakers standing on the steps before it. All heads were turned up, craning to see the sky. By the time the Belle II passed over the square, the giant crowd had erupted in sheer, frenzied enthusiasm. All traces of fury vanished in that ear-smashing wave of sound. Bitterness washed away by the tide of victory; vengeance dissolved by triumph in full flood.
Not gone. Simply . . . dissolved. Diluted enough, now, not to be toxic. And leaving behind a salted ocean of human will and energy, surging with glorious strength.
Come nightfall, Mike would begin using that strength to reap the fruits of this new victory. But at that moment, in the mid-afternoon sun, he bent his head for the first time that day. The grin disappeared for a time, and he closed his eyes. Even allowed a few tears to come, remembering young men he had once known and would always treasure.
The blood of heroes which had made it all possible. A boy who had learned to fly—and, once again this day, had been the steel angel protecting his people.
The seal was placed on the victory less than an hour later, when Sharon and Jesse finally arrived in the square. There was no need for the small squad of Marines who accompanied them, in flashy dress uniform, to clear a path. The crowd parted before them, as if directed by a single will.
Mike was amused, at first. Moses couldn't have done it better. But then, hearing the new chants going up from the crowd as Jesse and Sharon moved through it, he understood the truth. This was no prophet, using God's power to part the sea. This was the will of the crowd itself, greeting its own new nobility. An informal aristocracy they had chosen.
That title Mike was familiar with. The other, he was not.
He understood what the term meant. But—
"Why are they calling Sharon Nichols a princess?" Mary Simpson asked, puzzled.
Mike knew the answer before she'd even finished the question. And knew, as well, that another victory had been won. The beginning of it, at least.
"She's black, Mary. None of them have ever seen a black person before. Not more than a handful, anyway. And we're still a lot closer to the Renaissance, when it comes to the way people see race, than we are to later times. The slave trade's only in its infancy. There hasn't been time yet for that raw racism to take root. So . . ."
Whatever else might confuse Mary Simpson about her new world, she did know the world's great literature. Backwards and forwards, in fact.
"Othello, you're saying. The Moor. Exotic, mysterious, powerful. Even majestic. Dangerous too, perhaps, but not inferior. Except the sexes are switched, and it ended in a different kind of tragedy. God knows, a much cleaner one."
"Yeah, exactly. And what people do know is that her father is some kind of medical wizard from a foreign and fabled land. Almost a sorcerer, maybe. And—" He took a deep breath, as much to savor the man's memory as to control his grief that it was a memory. "And she was betrothed to Hans Richter. Who elsewould have been suitable as a bride for Germany's great new folk hero, except a princess? All the better if she's foreign and mysterious and exotic."
For the first time that day, Mike heard a little laugh coming from Mary Simpson. Thinking about it, he realized it was the first time he'd ever heard her laugh. It was a brittle kind of laugh, perhaps. But that, too, he could live with.
"Did anybody ever tell Hans?" she choked out.
Mike's grin was back, and in full measure. "Which Hans? The one we knew—or the one his own people will choose to remember? Not that it makes any difference, really."
He watched, for a moment, as the young woman walking alongside Jesse slowly approached the steps which formed an impromptu speaking platform. Slowly was the word, too. Sharon was not smiling at the crowd, nor responding to their waves with a waving hand of her own. She was in mourning, after all, and no pretense involved in it at all. Still, she was moving in a stately, regal sort of way, nodding her head to acknowledge the crowd. There was a great dignity to the procession, in fact. No queen of Europe could have done it better.
Thinking of queens of Europe reminded Mike that there was one final stone he could place that day. Possibly even a capstone.
He turned his head and looked up at the window of the palace from which, all day, Kristina had watched a near-rebellion turn into a rally and a celebration. As he had hoped, and half-expected, the girl was watching him. Mike suspected she'd been keeping an eye on him all day. Seven years old she might be, but she was also—in fact and not simply in fancy—a princess born and raised. Very likely, someday, to be the empress of Europe's most powerful realm.
And sharp as a tack, to boot. Oh, yes. Interesting years, we've got ahead of us. Let's start finding out just how interesting.
The look he gave her was that of an eagle. And, with a subtle but forceful gesture of his finger pointing at the ground by his feet, gave Princess Kristina a mute but unmistakable command.
Kristina's face vanished from the window. Even over the noise of the crowd, Mike thought he could hear the shrill tones of a seven-year-old princess issuing commands.
He turned back, chuckling. Mike had no doubt at all the guards would be protesting vigorously. He also had no doubt at all that the daughter of Gustavus Adolphus would go through them like tenpins.
Sure enough. Just as Sharon started up the steps, Kristina came charging through the great front doors of the palace. She even managed to restrain her headlong seven-year-old charge by the time she reached the steps to greet Sharon with a hug—instead of bowling her right back down.
"And the crowd goes wild," said Mike to himself, grinning wider than ever. Quite loudly, in fact. He couldn't have heard himself otherwise.
The crowd had, indeed, gone wild.
"If I didn't know better," Mary said—speaking very loudly herself, or she couldn't have been heard either—"I'd swear you staged this."
Jesse came up just in time to hear the remark. "He did," the Air Force colonel snorted. "Impromptu theater, of course. Mike's specialty."
He gave Mike a look that was half-amused and half . . .
"Torstensson's at the base, by the way. I think he's been on the radio to Gustav Adolf for at least two hours. They've already had to switch operators, to give the first one's fingers some rest. So. What next, O great stage magician?"
Mike was watching the princess. Both of them, it might be better to say. They were still hugging.
"The education of royalty, I think. That's got to be put into the right hands."
Mary gasped. "Michael Stearns! You can't take a little girl hostage."
"Why the hell not?" he replied, almost snarling. "When Europe's royalty has taken millions of poor girls hostage? Watch me, dammit."
Seeing the look on her face, he sighed. "Forget the Three Rivers, Mary Simpson. Welcome to the Thirty Years War. Gustav Adolf won't blink at the idea, trust me. First, because he knows she'll be treated right. Second, because he'll get his own back for it. Don't think he won't. Royal blood be damned. That man could swap horses with anyone in the hills. Matter of fact, I think he'd have made a champion horse thief."