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Part Six

When the stars threw down their spears,
And water'd heaven with their tears
 


Chapter 49

Cardinal Richelieu set the letter down on the bench in his garden. For several minutes, sitting next to it, he stared down at the detested thing.


Since he had been appointed head of the Royal Council on August 13, 1624, the cardinal had pursued a consistent policy in foreign affairs. Officially, of course, he had expressed his full support for the Counter-Reformation and the assault on Protestantism. Such was necessary, if nothing else, to retain the allegiance of the Catholic fanatics led by the Capucin Father Joseph and those organized in the secret society called the Company of the Holy Sacrament. But, underlying that pious surface, was Richelieu's true aim: strengthen France. And that meant, first and foremost, humble the Habsburgs—especially the Spanish branch of the family, who ruled the greatest military power in Europe.


All in ruins . . . 


Without lifting his head, he asked the man standing nearby: "It is true, Etienne?"


Etienne Servien nodded. He was one of the cardinal's intendants, the special agents who maintained Richelieu's iron rule over France. Officially, the intendants were nothing but minor functionaries, appointed directly by the crown. In reality, they were the cardinal's private army of enforcers, spies, dictators by proxy. Servien had just returned from a protracted mission. First, to Vienna; then to Brussels; and along the way—


"Yes it is," he said. "I spent a week in Thuringia myself, Cardinal. Most of it in Grantville. It's all true."


"Witchcraft?"


Servien shrugged. "My opinion? No. Not, at least, in minor things. I spoke to many of the German residents, and none of them believed the American arts were more than those of superb mechanics. Several of the ones I spoke to have begun learning those arts themselves, in fact. As to the thing in large? Who knows? They call it the Ring of Fire, but no one seems to understand what it was. Divine intervention is the accepted explanation."


The cardinal's eyes moved to a bed of flowers. Beautiful things. For a moment, he pondered the Lord's handiwork.


But not for long. Richelieu believed in few things, beyond France and its glory. Establishing French supremacy was his lifelong ambition, and his beliefs were yoked to that purpose. Absolute monarchy, of course, was necessary to that end; as was religious conformity. Beyond that—


The Lord's handiwork is what I say it is.


"Witchcraft," he stated. "Sorcery, pure and simple. Satan's hand clutches Thuringia today."


Servien bowed. "As you say, Cardinal."


Richelieu patted the letter with his fingertips. He was tempted to crumple the thing in his fist, but the cardinal was not a man to ignore reality. No matter how detestable.


"Very well," he said. He rose to his feet, adjusting the great robes of office. "We will accede to the Spanish request."


Demand, he thought sourly.


"Take the silver to Bernard of Saxe-Weimar, Etienne. Make sure he understands the conditions of his new service."


Servien's face twisted into a grimace. "He's a hothead, Cardinal. Unruly."


Richelieu waved his hand impatiently. "We can deal with Saxe-Weimar's undisciplined nature on a later occasion. For now, I simply need him to move his forces aside so that the Spanish troops have a clear line of march on Thuringia. He can manage that easily enough, even with Oxenstierna in the vicinity. There is so much chaos in Germany today that Bernard can justify his movements a hundred different ways."


The cardinal began pacing slowly through his garden. Servien walked by his side.


"There will still be no way to keep the tercios hidden," remarked the intendant. "Not marching all the way from the Spanish Netherlands."


Richelieu shrugged. "That hardly matters. From the reports, I suspect the Spanish will be defeated in any event. Probably all the better, if their approach is foreseen. It will distract attention from the real blow."


Servien's eyes widened. "Wallenstein has agreed?"


"Yes. I received his letter three days ago. He expects to be locked with the Swedes very soon now. Probably at Nürnberg. A siege will last for months. More than enough time to use his Croats for this purpose."


The grimace returned to the intendant's face. "Cardinal, I've seen those works. The thing they call a 'power plant,' in particular, is built like a castle. There's no way a cavalry force will be able to reduce them. Not significantly—not in a raid, for sure."


Richelieu smiled faintly. "I am not concerned with that." Shaking his head: "You worry too much about the mechanics of war. A paltry business, that. Money, Etienne—that's the key. I could tolerate the king of Sweden, armed with his fancy new weapons. I could even tolerate a rich new republic—a little republic—in central Germany. We've managed to live with the Dutch, after all. Given time, given that they remain small, I expect we'll consume them soon enough."


He walked on a few paces before continuing. "What I cannot tolerate is Swedish power dominating central Europe, standing on financial bedrock. A poor Sweden will never be dangerous. Obnoxious, yes; dangerous, no. A rich Sweden—rich from its new connection with this bizarre United States—is a different matter altogether. Better a powerful Habsburg dynasty than that. Whatever else, the Habsburgs can always be counted on for disunity."


He stopped abruptly, and scowled at an inoffensive rose bush. "I cannot touch the Abrabanels in Turkey. Not even—as you know—in Vienna."


Servien nodded. That had been part of his recent mission. To convince Ferdinand II to dispense with his court Jews, and execute the Abrabanels in particular. But in that purpose, the intendant had failed.


There had been no condemnation of Servien in the cardinal's words, however. Richelieu had not expected a Habsburg emperor to destroy his court Jews in the middle of a war—certainly not at the urgings of his French enemy.


The cardinal continued: "I may be able to have the Italian branch eliminated. Hard to say, especially dealing with Venetians. But they are the least important, in any event. The key is destroying them in Thuringia."


The intendant began to speak again—another demurral, judging from his expression—but the cardinal waved him silent. "Yes, yes—I know the Croats won't be able to kill all of them. Not in the time they'll have. It doesn't matter. They will savage the place so thoroughly that whatever Abrabanels survive will soon enough take their business elsewhere." His thin lips grew thinner: "Jews, you understand."


Servien nodded. "Half the greedy Germans will pack up also. Half, at the least." His own lips grew thin: "Merchants. Manufacturers. Rats in a granary set on fire."


"Yes." Richelieu leaned over and sniffed the roses. "Exactly."


"That still leaves us a mess with the Spaniards," muttered Servien. "We'll have let them into Germany."


"Please, Etienne!" The Cardinal continued his sniffing. "Give me a moment to enjoy God's handiwork, before you spoil the rest of my day."


 


Several weeks later, in his fortified camp outside Nürnberg, Wallenstein did crumple a letter.


"Idiot," he hissed. He tossed the message into the fire. The roaring flames in that great fireplace—as ever, Wallenstein had appropriated the largest mansion in the area—consumed the paper in an instant.


The imperial army's top commanders were standing as far away from the fireplace as possible, while staying within speaking range of Wallenstein. In the heat of a July evening, they found the flames oppressive. Absurd, even. But Wallenstein always insisted on a fire, no matter the time of year.


"Idiot!" repeated Wallenstein. He clasped his hands behind his back and stared at his officers. His next words were spoken in savage, sing-song mimicry: "'Kill all the Jews in the town.'"


Piccolomini barked a laugh. "Ha! Easy to say—for a cardinal! What does that shithead think we're dealing with? Unarmed civilians in the Inquisitor's chambers?"


Next to him, General Sparre sneered. "And how in God's name are the Croats supposed to find them?" he demanded. "Especially in that grotesque place! Read the street signs? The ignorant bastards are illiterate."


"Wouldn't matter even if they weren't," muttered General Gallas. He lifted his heavy shoulders. The gesture was not so much a shrug as a twitching off of insects. "Does Richelieu seriously think you can order Croat cavalry to kill selectively?" He snorted. "They might spare the dogs. Probably not. Jews are dogs, after all—ask any Croat."


The salon echoed with coarse laughter. The huge portraits on the walls, mediocre for all their size and splendiferous frames, stared down with disapproval. The disapproval was odd, perhaps. The obscure line of petty barons who had—involuntarily—given up their ancestral mansion for Wallenstein, had been noted for little beyond coarseness. But such men, when they pose for a provincial artist's work, almost invariably frown. An attempt at grandeur, perhaps; or simply holding in their bladder.


Wallenstein strode over to the table at the center of the salon. The table was quite out of place in the room's furniture. It was a great, heavy kitchen table, wrestled into the salon by soldiers on the day Wallenstein took possession of the mansion. The chairs and couches which had already been there were fragile and fancy things, imported from Vienna. They were even more fragile now, but no longer very fancy—not after Wallenstein's officers had spent the past days inflicting spurs and spilled wine upon them.


The table, on the other hand, was more than sturdy enough to support cavalry boots and flagons, as well as the huge map which covered most of its surface.


When he reached the table, Wallenstein spread his hands and leaned over the map. His officers gathered around him. After a minute or so, Wallenstein stretched out a long, bony finger and pointed to a spot.


"There? A demonstration."


That would be Piccolomini's task. The Italian general leaned over and studied the area indicated.


"If it's just to be a demonstration, yes. Anything more—"


Wallenstein shook his head. "Please. I am not a cardinal, who thinks war can simply be counted in coins. He may choose to shrug off the accounts, but I do not. Every army which has gone straight at the Americans has been broken like a rotten twig. And those accounts come from Tilly's veterans, not a pack of stinking monks and priests." He resumed his study of the map. "I do not expect you to actually take Suhl. This is just a feint, to draw off some of their forces."


The generals around the table relaxed. Not the least of the reasons Wallenstein had become the greatest military figure in the Holy Roman Empire was that he commanded the allegiance of his own men. If for no other reason, because he did not ask mercenaries to attempt the impossible. All of those officers had personally heard the reports. Impenetrable steel vehicles, without even horses to be slain; a preposterous rate of fire; rifles which could kill unerringly across a third of a mile; even some kind of gun which could pour out bullets like a rainspout.


"Simply a demonstration," Wallenstein repeated. He gave Piccolomini a sharp glance. "A genuine demonstration, you understand? They'll get suspicious if there's no contact at all. There must be a reasonable number of casualties."


Piccolomini shrugged. "I can spare a few hundred. I'll use those Swabian fucks. They've been nothing but a pain in the ass since they got here, anyway. Do them good to be bled."


Wallenstein nodded. Keeping his right forefinger on Suhl, his left forefinger moved across the map to the west, coming to rest on the spot marked "Eisenach."


"The Spaniards should manage to take Eisenach. If they fail, they can retreat into the Wartburg."


General Gallas sniffed. "I still can't believe the Americans haven't stationed a garrison in the place. Old as it is, the Wartburg's still the strongest castle in Thuringia. Idiots."


Wallenstein shook his head. "I do not share your attitude, I'm afraid. If the United States is not stationing a garrison there—so obvious!—there must be a reason for it. And I think it would be foolish to assume the reason is simple incompetence."


"Short of troops, probably," mused Piccolomini. "Every spy we've sent into the area reports that they maintain only a small permanent army." He sniffed himself, now. "Merchants and bankers—and, God help us, manufacturers. That's what they are, nothing more. I don't care how fancy their weapons are, they don't think like soldiers."


Wallenstein rose to his full height. He was a tall man, very thin. Now at the age of forty-eight, his dark hair had receded to form a widow's peak. A long and prominent nose was offset by high cheekbones and, beneath a slender mustachio and above a goatee, a mouth whose lower lip was so thick and out-jutting that it suggested Habsburg bastardy. It was a forbidding face, cold and unexpressive. The face, combined with the stature, gave Wallenstein more than a passing resemblance to the popular image of Mephistopheles.


"I don't think like a soldier either," he said. His dark eyes scanned the officers around him. Coldly: "That's why you work for me, not I for you."


The officers did not bridle at that cutting remark. Partly, because it was the simple truth. Mostly, because bridling at Wallenstein was dangerous. The Bohemian general—military contractor was a better term—would tolerate discussion, argument, even quarrel. He gave short shrift to officers who couldn't learn to accept his authority. And when it came to "short shrift"—there, too, Wallenstein did not think like a soldier. The man had the soul of an assassin, not a duelist.


"It doesn't matter," he stated forcefully. "Whatever the reason—whether it's incompetence, lack of men, or, as I suspect, because the Americans know something we don't—it'll be the Spaniards who make the discovery. Not us."


His officers nodded in unison. The collective gesture exuded all the satisfaction of mercenaries who expect to collect their pay while others do the dying.


Wallenstein leaned back over the table. Again, his two forefingers spread wide. "The Spaniards, in force, at Eisenach. Piccolomini, you here—in a solid demonstration at Suhl. That should be enough to draw aside all significant opposition. Then—"


He removed his finger and slashed up the map with the edge of his right hand. "The Croats—right through the heart of the forest. The hunters we hired assure me there is a good trail, passing through uninhabited terrain. The Croats should get within striking distance before they're even spotted. Nothing to oppose them but the town's constabulary."


He leaned over the table and reached for a smaller map. Grasping it between thumb and fingers, he drew the map to cover the larger one.


"Here," he said, pointing. He cocked his head at Gallas, under whom the Croat light cavalry served. "Make sure the Croats understand. The main blow is to fall here."


Gallas studied the place indicated on the map. It was a very good, very detailed map of the town—small city, now—called Grantville. Dozens of spy reports had gone into its making, over the past few weeks.


Gallas' face was creased with a slight frown. "Not the town itself?"


Wallenstein shook his head. "No. Oh, certainly—make sure a sizeable force of cavalry ravages the town, as best they can." He chuckled harshly. "If they can butcher a few Jews, so much the better. But the main blow must come here."


He leaned back and, once again, stood erect. "Cardinal Richelieu can prate about money and bankers and Jewish financial wizards all he wants. That place is the heart of the United States. I have studied all the reports and come to that conclusion. That is where this new serpent lairs, and that is where it hatches its offspring."


Again, he stooped; and, again, pointed with a devil's finger.


"There. Raze it to the ground. Kill everyone. Even the dogs, if they find any."


His own laugh, when it came, was as coarse as that of any of his officers. "Who knows? Might be a Jew in disguise."


 


 


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