Mary Simpson was relieved to see that Mike Stearns showed up for the soiree in the imperial palace properly dressed. True, he'd promised her he would, but . . .
There was at least a part of Mary Simpson left which was uncertain about the peculiar creature known as Mike Stearns. Who knew when the man might suddenly choose to present himself before Germany's princes dressed as an uncouth barbarian?
She examined him for a moment, as he stood in the archway after having been announced by the stentorian-voiced majordomo. It was not hard to do so, since Mary did not have a milling crowd swirling around to obscure her view of him. The whole room had grown still and silent the moment his entrance was announced.
There were perhaps three hundred people in the great hall. Most of the crowd consisted of the princes who had thrown themselves in with Hesse-Kassel's Crown Loyalists, along with their wives and closest relatives. Perhaps two dozen people from Magdeburg's new class of prominent manufacturers and merchants, looking somewhat uncomfortable and out of place in that glittering noble assemblage. A handful of top officers in Gustav's army, led by General Torstensson, along with the three top officers of the U.S. Armed Forces—her husband the admiral, General Jackson and Colonel Wood. Sharon Nichols and her father James, who had just arrived this morning in Magdeburg. Veronica Dreeson, looking very uncomfortable and out of place.
Fortunately, the abbess of Quedlinburg had taken the old lady under her wing as soon as she arrived, along with keeping an eye on the rambunctious Princess Kristina. The sight of the abbess and her two companions—a young princess and an old commoner—caused Mary to shake her head slightly with bemusement. Of all the strange things in 17th-century Germany, perhaps the strangest for her had been discovering a Lutheran abbess, governing an institute of noble bluestockings who took no religious vows; also governing an independent territory of her own which had given her a seat in the Reichstag and then in the Chamber of Princes; a cousin of the Saxe-Weimar brothers; and fearsomely intelligent and well-educated to boot. Spending some time in the abbess' company, as Mary had done for the past period, had dispelled whatever lingering suspicions she might have had that the people of her new world were inferior to those of her old one. She'd have given her eyeteeth to have had the abbess working with her in Pittsburgh.
There were a few other notables present. The three most important of which were: Ed Piazza, who had arrived in the city with James Nichols; Wilhelm Saxe-Weimar—or Wilhelm Wettin, as he was now calling himself; and Otto Gericke. Gericke was a scientist, engineer and government administrator in his early thirties. One of the few survivors of the slaughter in Magdeburg in 1631, he had been appointed to oversee the city's reconstruction. Mary Simpson had grown very fond of him in the past few days. Gericke had an artistic streak in him as well, and was always receptive to her ideas and proposals.
He looks good, Mary thought, as she inspected Mike. Then, forcing herself to be completely honest: No, he looks superb.
He did, too. The tailor she'd sent him to had managed to combine Stearns' insistence on a certain "plebeian simplicity" with as splendid a fabric and cut as that worn by any of the princes in the room. Mary was quite certain that, soon enough, the style would be copied throughout much of Germany. It was almost bound to be. Style and fashion were always determined, in the end, by the world's most powerful and prestigious people.
Which, today, Mike Stearns was—and looked the part. If the garments he wore had none of the sheer splendor of those being worn by the princes, the lack was more than made up for by the imposing nature of the man who wore them. Stearns was tall, very well built, and had the kind of face which, if not precisely handsome, exuded the manly vigor and self-confidence that made the term "handsome" a moot point.
Princes who look the part are almost always handsome by definition. Taken feature by feature, after all, Gustav II Adolf himself was not a particularly attractive man. One could claim that he had a beak of a nose, was usually overweight, on and on—none of which made any difference at all. Put the king of Sweden in a room, dressed for the occasion, and he would instantly dominate it.
Such were the rules in Mary Simpson's world, at least. And she thought the same rules, perhaps diluted and adjusted, would apply in all worlds. But she gave the matter no more thought. Tonight, she was in her world again. And knew that, at least for some time, she would be able to remain there. The relaxation which that knowledge produced gave her, effortlessly, the ability to project her own proper persona for the occasion.
And so she did, sweeping forward through the crowd. The official hostess for the event, and one who was already starting to be called, here and there, the "Dame of Magdeburg." Her hands outstretched, the supple professional smile firmly in place, and her eyes—without seeming to—quickly doing a last inspection of her troops.
The landgravine's in place. Excellent. Didn't expect any less, of course. Amalie's such a smart woman, thank God. The abbess is keeping Veronica and Kristina sheltered. Good, good. Hesse-Kassel has a huge crowd pinned to the Nichols, père et fille. Splendid.
"Prime Minister Stearns! So delighted you could come!"
She gave not a moment's thought to the title. The majordomo, of course, had presented Mike with his full set of titles: President of the United States, prime minister of the United States of Europe. But that was all much too complicated for the purpose of this evening's soiree. Soon enough, in any event, Mike would be resigning as president and Ed Piazza—having gone in quick succession from secretary of state to vice-president, after Frank Jackson's resignation from that post—would succeed him until new elections could be held.
Everything was in flux anyway, Mary knew. It would take months, no doubt—more likely a year or even more—for all the fine points to be settled. Even the names of the territories would have to be changed. The United States of old—that of which Grantville was the capital—would need to be distinguished from the new federation which had almost the same name. A federation of which it would become a mere province. True enough, the largest and most powerful province in the new nation, and its center of gravity—but still only a province. No longer enjoying semi-sovereignty, although more in the way of provincial power than the American states had retained in another universe. But still, formally at least, distinguished from all the others—except probably, the soon-to-be-created province of Magdeburg—only in the fact that when he entered it, the hereditary king of the United States would do so as the captain general.
Mike had insisted on that small formality. But Mary understood perfectly well that he had done so only to smooth the way for his own government to ratify the agreement he had made with Gustavus Adolphus. "My folks'll get stubborn if they can't keep claiming we're still a by-God republic," he'd told her, smiling crookedly.
She'd had her doubts, true. Personally, she thought the whole thing was a bit silly. The cranky quirks of hill people; almost superstition. But she'd said nothing, simply nodded. That much Mary had learned. She would not again make the mistake of second-guessing the judgment of a man whom she had concluded was Europe's shrewdest politician. Not least of all because, whatever her reservations about this or that detail of the settlement, she approved of the thing as a whole.
Once again, Mike Stearns had turned a stumble into a self-confident stride. Not for him, falling on broken glass. Forward, not down. Always forward.
For all practical purposes, Mike and Gustav had carved out a new and very real nation out of a goodly portion of the Confederated Principalities of Europe. A compromise, on both parts. It would remain a monarchy, whose king ruled as well as reigned—but only within constitutional limits. Being fairly well-versed in history, Mary thought of it as roughly equivalent to the situation in her own world's England in the late 18th century. The Vasa dynasty would rule; but only within the limits set—and continually reshaped—by a new world's versions of Pitt and Burke.
A compromise, yes—but one with room to grow. Already, Wilhelm V had resolved to cast his own fate into that new mold. He would remain landgrave of Hesse-Kassel. But he had already summoned a constituent assembly—membership to be determined over the next few months—whose job it would be to provide the new province of Hesse-Kassel with a constitution. That new province of the United States of Europe would have a different structure than Grantville's province, of course. As would all of them, variations on a tune. But it would be subject to the same national laws, which set sharp limits to the power of princes—and gave major incentives to those princes shrewd enough to turn a sow's ear into a silk purse.
Which Wilhelm V certainly was. So long, at least, as he kept listening to his wife Amalie and his close friend Wilhelm Wettin. He would certainly be shrewd enough to make sure that the coming constituent assembly would be dominated by Hesse-Kassel's productive classes.
George, the duke of Calenburg, was practically licking his chops. His province contained the Wietze oil field—and the Abrabanel interests had already agreed to open a provincial branch of their bank in his capital city of Hannover.
The counts of the Wetterau were both licking their chops and negotiating amongst themselves in something of a frenzy. Their territories would need to be consolidated, to be sure, which would leave some of them holding more than others. But—O happy day—since much of the Wetterau territories lay outside of the CPE, they would be the ones whose provincial power would grow the quickest. Assuming, of course, that Gustav's coming counterblow against the League of Ostend was as devastating as they expected it to be.
There were some losers in the deal, of course. Big ones. The former princes of Pomerania and Mecklenburg, first and foremost. But since they were now sheltering under the wing of Saxony and had followed John George's lead in effectively seceding from the CPE—in fact, if not in name—nobody in that great ballroom in Magdeburg gave a damn. Their territories had been under direct Swedish rule for three years anyway, so the official transformation of them into provinces would mean very little "on the ground." Certainly not to Pomerania and Mecklenburg's commoners! Even by German standards, the princes of those regions had been an exceptionally foul lot.
Today, they huddled in Dresden and Berlin. Tomorrow . . . Or, at least, the year after that . . .
No one in that ballroom had any doubt at all that once Gustav Adolf settled his accounts with the League of Ostend, the Swedish eagle's beak would fix itself on Saxony and Brandenburg and their horde of princely toadies.
The man had a short way with traitors, formalities be damned. For all intents and purposes, the CPE no longer existed. The loyal regions would incorporate into the new United States. The disloyal ones would soon enough seek an alliance with the Austrians and Poles. A "cold" civil war would become hot, before too long.
"So, Mary, what do you think?" Mike asked softly, as she took him by the arm and began parading him through the room.
"It's shaping up perfectly. Wilhelm and Hesse-Kassel have agreed to meet with you privately in one of the smaller rooms, later tonight. Give it about an hour, I'd say. First, I need to introduce you around."
"You're the expert. I take it you don't want me charging into the crowd and glad-handing everybody."
She kept the smile firmly in place. "Are you crazy?" she murmured. "You're not at a campaign rally here, Michael Stearns. The trick at these things is to be approachable, yes—but let them approach you. It's all very civilized, but don't kid yourself. What you're really doing here is establishing dominance, simple as that. Prime Minister. You're just doing it in a way which lets them all save face."
She could see the first little tremors in the crowd, which, so far, had kept a respectful distance. "The youngsters will be the first. Make sure you shower them with approval. Nothing gauche, you understand. Dignity, dignity. That's what princelings need, who've thrown themselves into the fire in a burst of enthusiasm and announced their voluntary abdications."
Mike made a little grunting sound. "That happened early in the French Revolution too, if I remember right. Good. I've got high hopes we can manage to avoid the guillotine and whiff of grapeshot side of the business. Most of it, anyway. I'll talk to Frank and Lennart about the possibility of offering them commissions in the new army. It'd have to be staff positions, of course, at least at first. The volunteer regiments are going to be pretty woolly in these early days."
She started to respond but saw the first wave coming. Very quickly, too. She never really had time to finish the introductions before Mike began showering seven ex-noblemen, five of them still teenagers, with a display of reserved-but-sincere approval which she thought would have met even George Washington's standards.
Dignitas. That's the trick.
He managed it effortlessly throughout that first critical hour. Adjusting his dignitas properly, from one person to the next. Shading it with gravity for the solemn, ardor for the ardent; exuding confidence for the nervous, relaxation and wit for those willing to chance it. Best of all, he managed to keep a serene expression when dealing with the babbling witless idiots who constituted perhaps half the crowd.
About the same as Pittsburgh, Mary estimated. Subtract ten percent for the abbess. God, I love it.
"So, Michael. How soon do you foresee the first nationwide election?"
"Hard to say, Wilhelm. I'm guessing about one year, but . . . It'll depend on a number of variables. The press of the war, obviously. Things will be quiet there through most of the winter. Just siege warfare, really. Come spring . . ."
Mike shifted in his seat a little. "Then, on the other end, there's the simple mechanical problems involved. Establishing election boards which are trusted to be reasonably honest and efficient. Procedures for counting the votes. On and on. Just printing the ballots will be something of a challenge." He smiled cheerfully. "I foresee a rapid expansion of the printing industry in Magdeburg."
Wettin chuckled. "Do you ever miss a chance to scheme on two levels? Just what Magdeburg needs! More printers! The most radical artisans in Europe."
Mike shrugged easily. "Don't complain, Wilhelm. Yes, Magdeburg province will be a bastion for me. In some ways, even more so than—ah—"
Hesse-Kassel's smile was very wide. "What are you going to call it, have you decided? The 'United States' province of the 'United States of Europe' just won't do. Too confusing."
"Personally," said Mike, scratching the back of his neck thoughtfully, "I'm rather partial to Gustav's suggestion. 'East Virginia' has a nice little sound to it—and it would certainly be a none-too-subtle poke in Richelieu's eye. Seeing as how the good cardinal has chosen to rename Virginia and call it Louisiana. I can't wait to see what he decides to call Louisiana itself, when they get around to grabbing it."
"Cardinalia," snorted Ludwig Guenther, the count of Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt. "You watch."
"It won't be that," demurred Mike. "Richelieu's much too smooth, and he's always careful not to make the fact that he really runs France become so obvious that it would embarrass Louis XIII. But, to get back to Wilhelm's question, I don't know if the people living there will much care for 'East Virginia.' The name will probably rub a lot of up-timers the wrong way, and it just won't mean that much to the rest of them. However—"
He shrugged. "I'm going to stay out of it. As of tomorrow, when my resignation takes effect, Ed Piazza is the new President of the United States. I'm not about to stick my thumb in his pot of soup. He'll handle it, just like he'll handle anything else he has to. I have great confidence in the man. Truth is, he'll be a lot better administrator than I ever was."
An odd sort of silence fell over the small room. Mike was pretty sure it was what authors liked to call a "pregnant silence."
Delayed pregnancy, apparently. Mike chuckled again. "Come on, Wilhelm, spit it out. You're trying to figure out how soon you should launch your new party and start running in opposition to me. My advice? As fast as you can."
Wilhelm cocked his head. "You are that confident in winning, once the emergency period is over and your post becomes elective?"
"Don't be silly. You'll win in a landslide. Not in—ah—East Virginia, of course, or Magdeburg. But when all the votes are counted, all over the new United States, I figure I'll be doing well to get a third of the votes. That's what I'll be shooting for, anyway."
"The prospect does not seem to bother you," commented Ludwig.
"Why should it? People need to settle down some, now. Start relaxing a bit. Get accustomed to their new set of political clothes. Start growing into them at a pace they feel comfortable with. I make too many people nervous, Ludwig. You know it, I know it—everybody here knows it. Up to a point, that's fine. But I think we've probably reached that point."
He leaned forward in his chair and gave the eight former princes a display of dignitas that would have had George Washington hollering with approval. For their part, the eight men listened with as much rapt attention as pupils listening to a world-famous sage. Eight princes-that-were, now leaders-not-sure-what-they-are. Later on, Mike knew, he would be laughing about it all.
Later, not now.
"Lesson number one, gentlemen. Not the least of the reasons a democracy is more stable than any other kind of regime is because it has a self-correcting mechanism. Right or wrong doesn't even enter into it, really, at this level. You can only stretch a people so far, before they snap. Or you snap. And don't think you can't, I don't care how powerful you are. So . . . we'll find out, when the election happens, but I think the people of Germany within our borders would prefer Wilhelm. For a while, at least. They need a bit of a rest."
He gave out a rueful little laugh. "For that matter, I could use one myself. Once Becky gets out of Amsterdam, I'd really like to spend some time with my family. Especially now that I seem to have acquired a boy also. A famous miniature philosopher, no less. That's three hours a day right there, just making sure the kid doesn't grow up squirrelly. First thing I'm doing—Becky can squawk all she wants—is teach him how to fish."
"What will you do, if you lose?" asked one of the Wetterau counts. Mike wasn't sure of his name.
Which didn't matter, really, since his reply was addressed to all of them. Coming with a grin that would have earned a tiger's approval.
"I'll be keeping an eye on you, that's what. Have no fear, gentlemen. You'll probably have your moment of relaxation. But you won't be able to relax that much."
He leaned back in his chair, planted his hands firmly on the armrests, and allowed the grin to fade away. The rest would be dignitas.
"In general, the principle is called 'balance of power.' It's usually applied to political structure, but it applies across the board. Do not forget—not for a minute—that although I probably won't get reelected prime minister, Ed Piazza will carry East Virginia in a landslide. And so will whoever we decide to run in Magdeburg. Do not forget—not for a second—that while the armed forces will now be directly under Gustav Adolf's authority, with Torstensson in command, that: first, neither the Navy nor the Air Force can do anything without the willing cooperation of my people; and that, second, Torstensson's new army will be made up primarily of volunteer regiments. Most of whom, as I'm sure you know, will be organized and recruited by the Committees of Correspondence."
He allowed a little silence, so they could absorb the point. The eight former princes did not actually swallow. But they did look very thoughtful.
"Then," he continued, "there's the economic and financial side of the balance of power. Do not—"
He broke off, hearing a little sound behind him. When he turned in his chair, he saw Admiral Simpson standing in the doorway. His face was very pale, and he was clutching a sheet of paper in his hands. Mike recognized it as the form used by the radio operators.
"Excuse me, gentlemen, I need to attend to something." He rose, in as unhurried a manner as he could manage, and strode to the door. Then, taking Simpson by the arm, drew him into the hallway.
"What's wrong, John?"
Simpson shook his head. The gesture had a strange, brittle quality, as if the man were afraid he might break.
"Nothing," he whispered. "We just got a message from Luebeck. A courier brought it over here immediately. Gustav Adolf got a message himself, earlier today. From King Christian of Denmark. The Danes—it seems—oh, Jesus—"
Tears were starting to leak from Simpson's eyes. Mike was astonished. He hadn't thought the man could cry.
"He's alive, Mike," Simpson whispered. "He—" Now he broke down, in the complete manner that a man will, who has no idea how to do it. Mike had his arms around him, holding him up.
From the other end of the hallway, leading into the main ballroom, Mike could hear a rising swell of sound. Suddenly, he realized that was the sound of a crowd breaking into celebration. A wild hope came to him.
"Eddie," Simpson choked out. "Lieutenant Cantrell, I mean." Then, taking shaky control of himself, lifted his head and gazed at the opposite wall. "God knows how, but he must have gotten off the boat before it hit. The Danes were all over the area, picking up their own, and they fished him out too. He was badly hurt—lost a leg, they say, or part of it—but he came through it. He's conscious again."
He swallowed, visibly trying to regain his composure. "Hypothermia would have been a blessing to him, actually. Kept the blood loss to a minimum. How in hell he survived the impact on the water, though—at that speed . . ."
Despite his own swelling heart, Mike forced himself to think. Coldly and clearly.
"John . . . Look, I hate to raise this. But is there any chance—"
"A Danish subterfuge? A trick?" Suddenly, Simpson started laughing. The laughter, like the earlier weeping, had a semi-hysterical quality to it. Again, as if the man who laughed had no real experience at it. Or, at least, none for many years.
"Not a chance!" he cried, holding up the message slip. "No, it's Eddie all right. Can't possibly be a Danish ploy. He's already pissed off the king of Denmark. Apparently he lectured Christian on something called the Geneva Convention and refused to tell him anything except his name, rank, and serial number."
Mike started laughing himself. Truth be told, perhaps even semi-hysterically.
"It gets better!" whooped Simpson. "Christian is most disgruntled. He tells us—no fool, that man, he's already figured out he'd better not burn any more bridges behind him—he's willing to go along with whatever this Geneva Convention business means but—"
Now, the admiral was almost dancing a little jig.
"—but not unless we quit cheating."
Weakly, still shaking with laughter, Simpson handed the sheet to Mike. "See for yourself."
Mike's eyes ranged down the page until he came to the end.
—CANTRELL CLAIMS FORGOT SERIAL NUMBER. WE ARE MOST SUSPICIOUS. WILL KEEP HIM AS PRISONER, FOLLOWING WHAT HE CLAIMS ARE YOUR RULES. BUT MUST INSIST HIS SERIAL NUMBER BE GIVEN TO US. ABSOLUTELY INSIST.
CHRISTIAN IV, KING OF DENMARK
"Of course," chuckled Simpson, "he's just covering the Old Bastard's ass. Navy takes care of its own. He didn't forget his serial number. I never thought to provide people with any."
Mike stared at him. Simpson shrugged. "What can I say? I screwed up. Guess we'll have to figure out a serial number system. Can't use social security numbers, of course, the way the old Navy wound up doing."
"To hell with a 'system,' " proclaimed Mike. "Later for that. Right now, we'll just have to wing it. Eddie needs a number right away."
The cheering crowd in the ballroom was starting to spill into the hallway. Mike knew he'd be surrounded by well-wishers in seconds, burying him.
He did. But—
Is Eddie bright enough? Stupid question.
Will he get reckless? That's the real problem. Ah, what the hell. He's lost a leg, what can he do?
Um. Eddie? Stupid question.
Piss on it, Mike. Go with the ones who got you here.
Just do it.
Pulling his ever-present notepad and pen from the inside pocket of his fancy clothing—another reason he'd insisted on his own modifications—Mike hastily scrawled a message. He just had time to hand it to Simpson before the mob swept him back into the ballroom. Dignitas be damned. Let's have a party!
Simpson didn't read the message for perhaps half a minute, until he was sure he had himself back under control. When he did read the message, however, he promptly burst into laughter again.
LT CANTRELL DECORATED NAVY CROSS. CONGRATULATIONS. LT CANTRELL REPRIMANDED FORGETTING SERIAL NUMBER. INSIST REPRIMAND BE GIVEN HIM. WITH SERIAL NUMBER. THUS NO EXCUSE REPETITION OF INCIDENT.