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Part Five

And what shoulder, and what art,
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
 


Chapter 45

Striding out of the Schloss, the enormous palace of the Archbishop-Electors of Mainz which he had appropriated for his own use during these past winter months, Gustav II Adolf caught sight of the Rhine. The flow of the river—clear, clean, simple, straightforward—brought a certain relief to his spirit.


He stopped abruptly, to admire the sight. Behind him, his little escort of advisers stumbled to a halt. Fortunately for them, none of the advisers actually collided with the king. There would have been no royal repercussions, of course. Gustav was not that kind of monarch. But as enormous as he was—and the king had gained considerable weight during the months of physical idleness and diplomatic feasting—it would have been somewhat like running into an ox. Startled king; bruised adviser, sitting on his ass. Contemplating the futility of trying to move the king of Sweden when he chose otherwise.


"No, Axel," said Gustav firmly. He did not take his eyes off the Rhine. "Let Wilhelm and Bernard Saxe-Weimar rant and rave all they want. I am not sending an expedition to Thuringia."


"Wilhelm is not 'ranting and raving,' " demurred Oxenstierna. "He is simply expressing concern over the situation in his duchy. You can hardly blame him."


Gustav scowled. "I don't care how polite he's being—which his brother certainly isn't! The answer is still no."


The king rubbed his hands briskly. There was no snow on the ground, but it was still only mid-March. The temperature was chilly. "I've gotten soft and tender," grumbled Gustav. "All this easy living in the south!"


Just as briskly, he turned and faced his advisers. They were all Swedish, except for Sir James Spens.


To Axel: "No, no, no. In this, the dukes of Saxe-Weimar are proving to be as petty as any German noblemen. In their absence—protracted absence, let me remind you—the people of their principality have seen fit to organize themselves to survive the winter and the depredations of the war." Half-angrily: "What were they supposed to do, Axel? Starve quietly, lest the tranquility of the dukes be disturbed?"


Oxenstierna sighed. His long-standing, half-amicable quarrel with the king of Sweden on the subject of aristocracy had intensified over the past year. And the chancellor of Sweden was losing the argument. For a moment, trying not to grit his teeth in frustration, Axel silently cursed his German counterparts. With friends like these, who needs enemies? In truth, the chancellor did not really disagree with his monarch on the specifics of the matter. Axel wouldn't wish the German nobility on a pack of dogs, except as provender. Still—


"Gustav," he said firmly, "the issue is not petty. And it can't be shrugged off as another instance of aristocratic fatuity. For all intents and purposes, power in southern Thuringia—every single report agrees on this, whatever else they are in dispute over—has been seized by a republic." His lips tightened. "They even chose the Dutch United Provinces as the model for their own name. The 'United States,' if you please!"


The king began to speak, but Axel held up his hand. The gesture was not peremptory—there were limits, even with Gustav II Adolf—but firm for all that. The monarch acceded politely to the wishes of his chancellor, and held his own tongue for the moment.


"The issue is a general one," continued Oxenstierna. He snapped his fingers. "I care that for southern Thuringia. But what if the example spreads? Or simply starts to panic the surrounding principalities? We have enough problems with nervous German allies as it is. Let the Protestant princes start fretting over revolution, and the yoke of the Habsburg empire will start seeming more like a shelter than a burden."


Standing a few feet away, Torstensson snorted. "As if the Saxons or the Prussians needed an excuse to be treacherous!"


Oxenstierna cast the artillery general a quick glare, but Torstensson stood his ground. More—he pushed back. The young general snapped his own fingers. "And I care that for the tender pride of the German aristocracy. Any one of those noblemen"—he glared himself—"and I do not except the Saxe-Weimars or Hesse-Cassel—will abandon us quickly enough, given the opportunity."


A small murmur of protest began to arise from the other generals. "That's not fair, Lennart," said Banér. It seemed a day for scowling. A fair example now adorned the face of the field marshal. "Bernard is an arrogant ass, sure enough. But Wilhelm is another story."


The king intervened, before the dispute could get out of hand. Let the personal character of Bernard of Saxe-Weimar assume center stage, and hot tempers would invariably result. For all the undoubted military ability which the young duke had demonstrated over the past year, the Swedish generals found him insufferable as often as not. Arrogant ass was the mildest of the epithets which Gustav had heard his officers use.


"All of that is also beside the point," stated the king. To Banér: "Johann, I share your personal estimate of Wilhelm. I think quite highly of the man, as it happens." Gustav gave Axel a quick, half-humorous glance. "Wilhelm is the one exception to my general condemnation of the German breed. If I didn't know better, I'd swear he was a Swedish nobleman."


A little laugh went up. With the exception of the Scotsman, all of the men standing in that little group near the Rhine were members of the Swedish aristocracy—and proud of it.


It was also, apparently, a day for finger snapping. Now the king added his own thick-fingered version. "That for this whole argument." He glanced again at Oxenstierna—and this time, with no humor at all. "I do care about Thuringia, Axel. For two reasons."


Solidly, stolidly: "First, because I am a Christian before I am anything else. My title, my lineage, my trappings—all these came from the hand of God, and no other. I have not forgotten, even if other monarchs have, that the Lord gave us that power for a purpose. Let others ignore their duty, I shall not. If a king or a prince or a baron cannot see to the needs of his folk, then he is not fit to rule. It is as simple as that. God's punishment on such men is evident in all the pages of history. Where are the Roman emperors now?"


The foregoing words, pious and heartfelt, had been spoken with neither heat nor pride. The next words, Gustav II Adolf spoke fully erect, his pale blue eyes alive with his own lineage. In that moment, peering at his subordinates down a majestic and powerful nose, the immense man was every inch the king.


"Secondly, because I am Vasa." The name of Sweden's ruling dynasty rolled across the flagstones of the terrace. For an instant, it almost seemed as if the Rhine rippled in response.


"Vasa!" he repeated. The name was both a reminder and a challenge. A reminder to himself, a challenge to—


Gustav stared at his underlings. The gaze was not a glare. Not quite—there was too much iciness in the thing. A glacier does not glare; it simply is.


"Do not forget," he said softly.


Under that gaze, his subordinates did not flinch. But they did seem to shrink a little. The Vasas had established their rule over Sweden by many methods. Among those, of course, had been political and military skill. But there had also been—proven time and again—their instant readiness to break the aristocracy to their will.


Gustav Adolf had been named after his grandfather, the great Gustav Vasa who founded the dynasty and created the modern nation called Sweden. His grandfather's contempt for nobility was a matter of historical record—as was the result of that contempt. The Swedish aristocracy had been broken, bridled, disciplined. Accepted back into royal favor only after they demonstrated their willingness to work alongside the new dispensation. In Gustav Vasa's realm, the four estates had all been listened to—the peasants and the citizens of the towns as much as the nobility and the clergy. If anything, Gustav Vasa had favored the rising middle class—and been rewarded, in return, by a state treasury flush with silver, a powerful fleet and army, and Europe's finest, if not largest, munitions industry.


Vasa. Upon his accession to the throne at the technically illegal age of seventeen—made possible by a special dispensation of the riksdag, the Swedish parliament, engineered by Oxenstierna—Gustav II Adolf had agreed to a compromise whereby some of the privileges of the aristocracy were restored. And he had kept his promises. Unlike his grandfather, who favored commoners, Gustav II Adolf generally appointed only noblemen to high office. Yet, beneath the surface, the reality remained the same. The power of the dynasty rested on Sweden's people, not its aristocracy—and the latter knew it as well as the former.


Vasa . . . 


"It is settled," stated the king. "Thuringia will be left in peace, to manage its own affairs. If Wilhelm and—ha!—Bernard can make an accommodation, excellent. But it is their business, not ours. I will not send a single soldier to enforce the will of Saxe-Weimar on the province."


"We already have soldiers on the scene," pointed out Torstensson mildly.


Gustav cocked his eye. "Mackay?" He shrugged. "A few hundred cavalrymen."


Spens began to speak. The king shot him a quick glance, and the Scottish general closed his mouth.


The king's eye moved on to Oxenstierna. Having made his point, Gustav would now sweeten the thing. "I will speak to Wilhelm personally, Axel," he said. "I will give him my assurances that, regardless of what happens in Thuringia, the family of Saxe-Weimar will not be abandoned by me." He chuckled harshly. "Who knows? Wilhelm, unlike his younger brother, is sagacious enough to realize that being the duke of a petty principality is not, all things said and done, the highest goal to which a man might aspire in this new world."


He clapped his hands, announcing a change in subject. The clap turned into another brisk rubbing of the palms. To ward off the cold, of course. But the motion also conveyed a great deal of satisfaction. So does a craftsman gesture, contemplating a new masterwork.


"And now, gentlemen—Tilly! The latest report indicates that the old man is stirring again. He's left Nördlingen and is moving against Horn at Bamberg. Wallenstein, meanwhile, is also back in business."


Torstensson laughed. "Big business! Has ever a mercenary general in history gotten such a contract? Who is emperor and who is lackey now, I wonder?"


His laugh was echoed by the other generals. News had recently arrived of Wallenstein's terms for accepting Emperor Ferdinand's plea for help. After Breitenfeld, the Habsburgs had been desperate, and Wallenstein had driven a devil's bargain. The Bohemian general had the emperor's formal agreement that he was in exclusive command of all military power in imperial lands. Wallenstein had also been granted civil power over all imperial territory in the possession of Ferdinand's enemies—including the right to confiscate lands and do with them as he wished. That meant booty on a gigantic scale, for all his officers. Mercenaries and adventurers could become landed noblemen overnight, in the event of victory—and why not? Hadn't Wallenstein himself set the example, in the early years of the war?


Gustav continued. "All accounts have Wallenstein assembling a huge new army. You can imagine what wolves are gathering around his banner!"


General Tott grunted. "They'll make Tilly's men look like gentle lambs."


The king nodded. "When that army moves, they will ravage everything in their path. But they will not move for weeks yet. I propose to deal with Tilly first."


He began issuing orders, facing each man in turn.


"Axel. I want you to return to Alsatia. We've got enough of a force there to keep the Spanish Habsburgs from getting ambitious. And take Bernard with you." He chuckled, seeing Oxenstierna's grimace of distaste. "Please! He is a very capable military commander, after all. And I'd much rather have him there than stirring up trouble about his precious Thuringia."


"Which he hasn't even bothered to visit in years," muttered Torstensson.


As if his low voice were a cue, the king turned to Torstensson next. "Lennart, you'll be staying with me in this campaign. Tilly will be using the tributaries to block my advance up the Main. I expect we'll see a lot of gun work, to clear the fords."


The young artillery general frowned. "My guns are getting pretty badly worn, Your Majesty." Scowling: "The ordnance facilities in these blessed Rhenish archbishoprics are a joke."


Spens cleared his throat. The king seemed to ignore the sound, except that his next words came in a bit of a rush. "Don't worry about that. I think I've found a new supplier. I expect to have new guns arriving within a month or two. The ones you have should last that long."


Torstensson nodded. The king turned to General Tott next.


"Return to the Weser. Keep an eye on Pappenheim. Our Saxon allies will help you readily enough with that." Another nod. Then, Banér:


"And you, Johann, I want back on the Elbe. That'll keep our Prussian friends half-honest, if nothing else. But I also need you there in case the Poles get ambitious or Wallenstein decides to move directly on Saxony."


The immediate measures taken, the king went back to rubbing his hands. "That's it, then." To Spens: "Stay behind a moment, would you, James?"


The signal was clear enough. Within seconds, the Swedish officers had all left, hurrying to set their new orders into motion.


Gustav examined Sir James Spens silently. The Scotsman occupied a peculiar position in the king's forces. He was, simultaneously, the Swedish ambassador to England as well as the English ambassador to Sweden—and one of Gustav's top military commanders in the bargain. The multiplicity of functions indicated the king's high regard for the man, but of those functions it was Spens' military position which was paramount. In truth, there was not much in the way of diplomatic exchange between Sweden and England. The island, for all its official Protestantism, had maintained an aloof and standoffish attitude toward the war raging on the Continent.


When all was said and done, Sir James Spens was Gustav Adolf's man. Like most of the Scotsmen who figured so prominently in the Swedish service, Spens' allegiance was highly personal. Unlike the Swedish officers, Spens had no ties of family or class to dilute his loyalty to the Swedish crown. For that reason, Gustav often used him in matters which were of a delicate political nature.


"I am concerned about the continuing allegations of witchcraft," stated Gustav forcefully. He waved his hand. "Yes, yes, James, I realize that the reports come from tainted sources. For the most part. But I am still concerned. There are so many reports."


Sir James shrugged. "What would you, Highness? Do you expect Catholic mercenaries thrashed by a handful of Scots and their American allies to praise the military prowess of their opponents? Witchcraft is the easiest thing in the world to shout from the rooftops. And the hardest to disprove."


Gustav stroked his massive nose, thinking. "I'm well aware of that, James. Nevertheless, the thing is odd."


The Scottish general chuckled. "Odd? Say better—fantastic. A colony of Englishmen from a future America find themselves planted in the middle of Thuringia? It's a thing of fable! The tales of Rabelais and Sir Thomas More come to life."


Still stroking his nose, Gustav muttered: "You believe Mackay still, then?"


Spens nodded firmly. "Absolutely. I've known him since he was a lad of five. I took him into my service more from my own high opinion than from the fact his father is an old friend."


He studied the king intently for a moment. Then: "You were there when he gave his report at Würzburg, Your Majesty. Not three months ago. Did he strike you as a liar—or a witling?"


"Neither," came the instant reply. "'A most promising young officer,' I called him last year. Axel was quite sarcastic about it, given my unfamiliarity with the young man. But that was my impression then, and certainly nothing since has predisposed me otherwise."


He sighed heavily. "But I am concerned, James. I have more than enough problems as it is. Treating with mysterious colonists from the future—a fable, as you say!—is a bit much to add to the brew." His voice trailed off into an inaudible mutter.


The Scotsman said nothing. From long experience in Gustav's service, he knew the king was talking to himself now. Gustav II Adolf was no more immune to hesitation and uncertainty than any man. He was simply much better at dealing with it than anyone Spens had ever met.


As always, the process was brief. Within a minute, the king had stopped stroking his nose and was standing erect.


"So be it. God's will, clear enough. Is Satan so powerful he could transplant a colony from the future? I think not!" He went back to rubbing his hands. "Besides, one cannot fixate on the problems. There is also the opportunity."


Spens took the moment to fortify the king's resolve. "Corpus Evangelicorum," he murmured.


Gustav smiled faintly. "You are the only man I know besides myself, James, who manages to say that phrase without lifted eyebrows."


Spens returned the smile with a grin. "And why not? I think a north European Protestant confederation under the leadership of Sweden would be a splendid solution to the war. And much else. Sweden gets its long-sought Baltic supremacy, the Holy Roman Empire gets its peace, and the north Germans—finally—get a chance to build a real nation instead of a princes' playground."


The king cocked a quizzical eye. "You do not share the general presumption that the result would be a Swedish tyranny?"


"What nonsense! Forgive me for saying so, Your Majesty, but there is simply no way in the Lord's green earth that a million and a half Swedes could maintain a genuine tyranny over ten times that many Germans. Not for long, in any event."


He shook his head. "I've lived in Sweden. You're a practical lot, comes to it. I imagine a Swedish-led north European confederation would soon enough resemble Sweden itself. Which is the best-run kingdom in the world, in my humble opinion."


"Mine also!" exclaimed Gustav cheerily. "And not such a humble opinion, either."


He clapped Spens on the shoulder. "Good enough, James. We'll stay the course. Who knows? Thuringia may well be destined to play a role in all this. But send another courier to Mackay immediately. You heard Lennart. We're going to need those new guns more quickly than I'd thought. It'll be interesting to see if Mackay's boasts about the manufacturing talents of his new friends are justified."


Spens nodded. The king continued. "Also make sure to pass along my congratulations to him. The Dutch money is rolling through very nicely. Yet another reason to leave Thuringia in peace, eh?"


"Is it not?" agreed Spens lightly. He cleared his throat. "If I may be so bold, Your Majesty, I think a promotion is in order as well as congratulations. Mackay now has a full thousand cavalrymen under his command, wearing your colors."


"So many?" Gustav shook his head with bemusement. "Well, then—of course. Colonel Mackay, from this moment forth! Nothing less!"


He and Spens shared a small laugh. As they began walking away from the palace, the king added: "And also tell him to escort the new guns to me as soon as possible. In person. I want to talk to him." Gustav hesitated, then shook his head firmly—almost vehemently. "No! I want more." He reached out with his hands, as if groping in the dark. "I want something more tangible than simply a personal report. I want—"


Grope, grope.


"An American?"


"The very thing!" exclaimed the king. "I want to see one of these fabled folk!"


 


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