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Chapter 47

The king was convinced of one thing within five minutes. Try as hard as he might—and he did, for he was a conscientious man as well as a pious one—Gustav II Adolf simply could not imagine the girl named Julie Sims as a witch.

"Impossible," he muttered under his breath. His eyes moved away from Julie and settled on the other two women sitting at the table. Even in the light thrown out by oil lamps and candles, their features were quite visible. The abandoned farmhouse had been set up as a temporary headquarters, and the modest interior was very well lit. Gustav normally satisfied himself with nothing more than was needed to read and write dispatches—and perhaps his beloved Grotius and Xenophon, if there was time. But when he heard that the American delegation had arrived at his camp, he had hurriedly requisitioned as much lighting as was available.

He wanted to see these people.

After his eyes left Julie, he squinted at the slender blond woman sitting next to her. The leader's sister, they said. But he did not spend much time on that examination. Cut from the same cloth as the youngest, obviously. Also pretty, also—not a witch.

His eyes lingered for a moment on her husband, standing next to her. The man was not sitting for the simple reason that none of the rickety chairs in the farmhouse could be trusted to support his incredible bulk.

Precious little of it fat, either, came the thought. For one of the few times in his life, Gustav had met a man who was obviously bigger and stronger than himself. He was finding the experience a bit disconcerting. Also a bit comical. The king's reaction to the man named Thomas Simpson, once he recognized it, almost made him laugh. Much as he imagined a male seal might react, encountering a male walrus for the first time.

He suppressed the thought firmly. They were not beasts, this was not rutting season—and the man, in any event, was being a model of decorum. His eyes moved to the other man sitting at the table. The other American, that is. Alexander Mackay was also sitting at the table, as was a man named Heinrich. But those two were familiar to Gustav. Mackay in person, Heinrich by type.

It did not take the king more than a few seconds to assess the American. His name was Ed Piazza, and he was a type of man quite familiar to Gustav also. High-placed adviser, counselor, factotum. Cut from the same cloth as Axel, Gustav imagined—whatever the difference in origin.

Finally, his eyes came to rest on the central figure in the American delegation. And that she was the central figure, the king did not doubt for a moment. Gustav II Adolf was as experienced a diplomat and politician as he was a general. At the invitation of his father, Charles IX, he had sat in meetings of state since the age of eleven. He had long ago learned to read the subtle signs which indicated power and preeminence.

He was fascinated by her. Part of his interest, of course, was due to the woman's sheer beauty. But only a small part. Gustav was by no means immune to such things. His illegitimate son, product of a passion for a Dutch lady during his rambunctious youth, was serving as an officer in this very camp. But—certainly by the royal standards of his day—Gustav II Adolf was not given to lechery.

Partly, his fascination was due to the fact that the woman was obviously a Jewess. Gustav was familiar with Jews, to a degree, though they were rare in Sweden. But his interest was not so much in her faith as in her position. A Jewish adviser, yes—though court Jews of that sort were invariably male. But a Jewish co-ruler?

Now, that was interesting! Mackay had explained this to him, once, in a letter. But Gustav's mind had not really encompassed the reality until this moment. Freedom of religion . . . 

"I am skeptical," he pronounced. "I am opposed to the Inquisition and all its works, mind. Nor have I placed any burdens on Catholics in areas I have conquered—beyond squeezing the coffers of the bishops. Or Jews, for that matter. But I do not believe a realm can remain stable without an established Church."

The woman named Rebecca Stearns replied. "Experiment with it then, Your Majesty. Use us as your laboratory. We will accept any religious minorities you find troublesome."

Seeing the surprise in the king's face, Rebecca smiled. "The American approach is the opposite, Your Majesty. We believe stability is found in fluid motion. Which lasts longer—the mountains or the sea?"

He stared at her. Abruptly: "You consider yourself an American? You were not born there, I am quite certain. England or Holland, judging from the accent."

Rebecca nodded. They had been speaking in German, since the king's spoken English was poor. "Both," she replied. "I was born in London but spent much of my girlhood in Amsterdam."

She gestured at her companions. "I only encountered this folk a year ago, when they—when my husband—rescued my father and me, yes. I consider myself an American now."


A smile came to her lips. "In most things, at least. Not all." The smile widened. "But, then, that is true of most Americans—the majority of whom are now people who were born and raised in this time and place."

"Ah." Mackay had told him this, also. And—again—the king had not quite believed. But now, seeing the ease of a Sephardic woman in her new identity, Gustav realized that his Scots officer had spoken the simple truth.

Can it be done? he wondered. He mused, for a moment, on the woman's earlier words. Which lasts longer—the mountains or the sea?

Gustav was a man of Scandinavia. He knew the answer.

Now, his eyes went to Mackay himself. The Scots officer had taken a chair next to the open-faced, pretty girl named Julie Sims. The king did not miss the subtle proprietary hints in the postures of both young people, and found himself smiling broadly.

"And you also, I see, Alexander."

There was perhaps a slight flush in the Scotsman's freckled face, but the officer's eyes remained steady.

"I am sworn to your service, Gustav II Adolf of Sweden." The words were spoken in a clipped, almost hostile manner. No, not hostile—simply challenging. The king understood the concept of honor which lay beneath. Quite well. Perfectly, in fact.

He raised a hand in a gesture which was not so much placatory as reassuring. "I am pleased to hear it, Alexander. Not that I doubted, mind you." He ran the hand over his short-cropped blond hair. "But, over time, loyalties can change. All I ask, if you find that happening, is that you give me your resignation. Until then, I ask no questions."

Mackay nodded stiffly.

The next few minutes were taken up by a discussion of the Ring of Fire. Gustav had already gotten a description of it from Mackay—in more than one letter—but he wanted to question the Americans themselves. So, with Rebecca acting as his interpreter, he asked many questions. And he listened very carefully to the responses.

The questions were firm, the responses were not—and it was that, more than anything else, which finally convinced the king. Within a very short time, Gustav was certain that the Americans, for all their mechanical wizardry, were as mystified by their situation as anyone else.

He was immensely relieved. All his deepest fears vanished. And began to be replaced with the first calculations for the future.

No witchcraft. Mackay was right. As for the rest—

Gustav swiveled in his chair and glanced at the two men standing toward the rear of the farmhouse. They had remained there at his request. Gustav had wanted to make a private assessment of the Americans, before pursuing anything else. But the matter had taken much less time than he expected, and he was satisfied that he could press onward. What he had thought would be a mystery, had proven otherwise. Or, rather, had proven to be the familiar mystery of divine providence.

With a little wave of the hand, he summoned the two men forward. As for the rest—

Who are we to question God's will? And who else could create such a Ring of Fire?

Which was quite as it should be. Gustav felt a rush of warmth for the Americans sitting across the table from him. They too—even this most outlandish folk he had ever heard of—were God's creatures, after all. Able to marvel at His handiwork, but not to understand it.

"As it should be . . ." he murmured.

The two men arrived at the table. "Sit," he commanded. With a pointing finger, he introduced them. "Wilhelm of Saxe-Weimar, the eldest duke. And Lennart Torstensson, my artillery commander."

Torstensson was obviously on the verge of bursting into speech, but Gustav restrained him with a sharp glance. First things first.

"You have created a difficult situation for me in Thuringia," the king said abruptly, speaking to the Americans. "Wilhelm here is one of my few reliable German allies, and you seem to have expropriated his duchy out from under him. This is—very awkward."

The Jewess cast a quick glance at Saxe-Weimar. Then, squaring her shoulders, she began to speak. But Wilhelm interrupted her before she was able to utter more than a few words.

"Please! I do not wish to add to the king of Sweden's problems." Wilhelm gestured with his head toward the door of the farmhouse. "Tilly's army is encamped less than two miles away, on the opposite bank of the Lech. The king intends to force the crossing tomorrow. This is not the time for political wrangling among his allies."

The last sentence produced a sudden stillness. Silence. Then, within seconds, it brought a pronounced easing of tensions at the table. The duke of Saxe-Weimar had now stated openly what had heretofore not been addressed. The fact that no one—not the king, not the Americans—had challenged the statement proved its truth. The new American regime was now accepted—in word as well as in deed—as an ally of Gustav Adolf. The nature of that alliance, of course, had yet to be determined.

Wilhelm continued. "May I suggest that we therefore leave aside, for the time being, any discussion of the future status of the province." He squared his own slender shoulders and looked directly at Rebecca. "I ask two things only. The first—"

He stumbled to a halt. For an instant, his features seemed to twist slightly. Chagrin? No—shame.

"I have been told that there was no starvation in the province, during the past winter. This is true?"

After Rebecca translated, the middle-aged American male cleared his throat. He began to speak, in halting German. The Jewess aided him past the rough spots. "No one has starved. Actually—by our best estimate, which is admittedly very crude—we think the population of southern Thuringia has quadrupled. Since we arrived a year ago."

The statement was met by blank, wide-eyed stares from Wilhelm and the two Swedes at the table. Quadrupled? In central Germany? During this war?

Hastily, almost apologetically, Piazza added: "Not natural increase, of course! Well, some. But there were so many refugees from elsewhere."

Wilhelm's shoulders slumped. He wiped his lowered face. "Thank God," he whispered. "That much is not on my soul, at least."

He raised his head. "That is my first request, then. Please do your best to continue providing that shelter and comfort. As for the second—"

He managed a smile. A thin smile, true, but a genuine one nonetheless. "I would appreciate it if you would do nothing—take no public stance—which forces me to make public defense of my rights. As the king says, that would be—awkward."

The Americans exchanged glances. It was obvious to Gustav that they were groping for a response. And equally obvious—this took not more than five seconds—to whom they turned for leadership. Soon enough, they were all staring at Rebecca, waiting for her to speak.

Gustav found a certain satisfaction in seeing, once again, that his keen political eye had not failed him. But he found a much greater satisfaction—a reassurance, in truth—in the fact that it was a person in their delegation who was not born an American to whom they turned. Mechanical wizards, yes. Wizards, no.

Rebecca spoke softly. "I cannot say anything specific, Duke. Not here, and not now. I do not have the authority. But this much I can say: the legal documents which guide the United States—we call them the Constitution and the Bill of Rights—are not . . ." She hesitated; then: "Let me put it this way. They are concerned with the positive, not the negative. They establish rights and responsibilities, rather than take them away. If you see what I mean."

Simultaneously, Wilhelm and Gustav smiled.

"How diplomatic," murmured the king happily. "Such a nice turn of phrase."

He cocked his head at Saxe-Weimar. "Wilhelm?"

The duke made a little gesture with his hand, wriggling fingers, to accompany the wry twist of his lips. The combination was subtly comical. "As you say, Your Majesty. A nice turn of phrase, indeed. I imagine we can spend quite a bit of time parsing that phrase."

He glanced at the door. "More than long enough, I should think, to see Tilly and Wallenstein done for." He brought his eyes back to Rebecca. "Afterward . . ."

"Is afterward," said the king firmly. "Good enough!"

He turned now to Torstensson. "All right, Lennart," he growled. "Spit it out."

Lennart was speaking before the king even finished. Unlike Gustav, he was fluent in English.

"How did you manage it?" he demanded. "Those bores are perfectly identical!" Scowling: "It's impossible! Absurd, even—I don't have cannonballs to match that precision."

Piazza smiled and leaned over. Rummaging in a bag at his feet, he brought out some sort of peculiar instrument.

"Ollie thought you might ask." He extended the instrument to Torstensson. The thing, for all the evident precision of its manufacture, vaguely resembled a sort of clamp. Hesitantly, the artillery general took it in his hand.

"It's called a micrometer," said Rebecca. Quickly, drawing on her own briefing from Ollie, she explained the basic workings of the gadget. "Precision screw—each turn of the barrel records precisely one-fortieth of an inch—point-oh-two-five inches, as machinists prefer to say—each little mark—see here? how it matches against this other?—measures exactly one-thousandth of an inch—"

"One thousandth?" choked Torstensson. He rotated the barrel back and forth, staring at the matching lines. "How can you make something this precise?"

"We can't," replied Rebecca. "Not easily, at least—although our experts think we could, over time, make something equivalent."

Now it was her turn to grope for words. "To do so would require machines which we do not have. And machines to make those machines—which we also do not have. The Ring of Fire brought only what was available in the town of Grantville. Sooner or later, many of our machines and instruments will wear out. They cannot be replaced, not directly. The computers, for instance, presuppose an entire electronics industry—"

She broke off, realizing that she was using meaningless terms, and went directly to the point. "We call it gearing down." She pointed to the micrometer in Torstenson's hands. "With that—which will last a very long time, if it is not abused—we can make simple cannons which are far more precise and accurate than guns made anywhere else. And there are other items we can make."

Tom Simpson interrupted. His German, though not up to Rebecca's fluent standards, was much better than Piazza's. "Rifled muskets, for instance, using Minié balls. Possibly some simple breechloaders." He chuckled. "There's quite a wrangle going on, among the gun buffs. Some want a Ferguson, some a—"

He broke off, seeing the renewed looks of incomprehension. Those terms, also, were meaningless. "Never mind," he said. "The gist of it is this. We can't recreate the world we left behind. But we can make things which are far in advance of anything here and now."

Smoothly, Rebecca took over. "That's part of it, Your Majesty." Half-apologetically: "Not to speak ill of your own munitions industry in Sweden, of course, but we can provide you with a much closer supply of good ordnance. Better ordnance, in all truth."

All traces of apology vanished. "And money."

Those words—truly magic!—brought dead silence to the room. Money was the essential blood of warfare, far more than pikes, horses, guns and powder—or even soldiers. For the Swedes, especially, the perennial shortage of cash was their biggest handicap.

"How?" demanded the king. He cocked his head skeptically. "I assume you are not offering a direct subsidy?"

Rebecca laughed softly. "Please, Your Majesty! Do I look like Richelieu?"

"Not in the least," muttered Torstensson. The young artillery officer was having a harder time than his monarch keeping his attention focused on Rebecca's mind.

Rebecca ignored the admiring remark. She pressed on: "A subsidy, no. But we can serve you in two other ways. First, southern Thuringia is rapidly becoming an economic center for Germany. Very rapidly, given the chaos in most of the Holy Roman Empire. Construction, manufacturing, commerce—all these are growing by leaps and bounds. The end result, among other things, is that we can provide your army with most of the supplies you need—"

"Food, too?" asked Torstensson. "And what about horses and oxen?" The professional soldier's mind had come back in focus.

Rebecca nodded. "Both. I might mention that American seed and livestock is better than the German, and they have begun a careful breeding program to preserve the strains. And we can offer you much better prices than you could get anywhere else—especially for the ordnance."

She gestured at the micrometer, still in Torstenson's hand. "Our metal-working methods are not simply more precise, they are also much faster and more efficient than anything you could find anywhere else in Europe. Or anywhere in the world, for that matter."

She hesitated for an instant, thinking. Then: "Gunpowder itself, for the moment, we cannot supply directly. Nor textiles, in any quantity. But because of the stability we have brought to the area"—she gave a quick, half-stubborn/half-apologetic glance at Wilhelm—"merchants and traders are pouring in. We cannot supply gunpowder or textiles, but we can definitely serve as a conduit for them. And, again, at a better price than you would find elsewhere."

Gustav rubbed his nose. "What you are proposing, in essence, is that Thuringia—your part of it, at least—can become my supply center and depot. Sweden's arsenal in central Germany."

"Yes," stated Rebecca firmly. The king gave her a shrewd look. She shrugged. "We understand that this will probably bring the wrath of the Habsburgs down on our heads."

Tom Simpson chuckled. "They'll be in for a surprise, if they try to hammer us under."

Mackay frowned. "It's not that simple, Tom. A cavalry raid can do a lot of destruction, even if it does no more than pass through the area. And it's a lot harder to stop."

The huge American got a mulish look on his face. Mackay tightened his jaws a bit. "Listen to me, Tom! If I were your opponent, I assure you I would be a lot harder to counter than one of Tilly's clumsy tercios."

Rebecca interrupted the developing quarrel with a sharp gesture. Gustav, watching, was impressed at the instant obedience the gesture produced. There was more to the woman's authority, he realized, than simply the fact she was the wife of the American commandant. Much more, he judged.

The king spoke again. "You mentioned a second form of financial assistance."

Rebecca's head swiveled back to him. For a moment, she stared with dark eyes. Gustav realized that the woman was judging him now.

When she spoke, her words were clipped, abrupt. "Are you familiar with the Abrabanel family?"

Gustav nodded. "Quite familiar. My assistant, Sir James Spens, has had any number of dealings with them in the past."

"Sir James?" exclaimed Rebecca. "I know him! Not well, myself. But my father thinks quite highly of him."

Gustav's eyes widened. "Your father?" Belatedly, he realized that he had not inquired as to the woman's maiden name.

"Abrabanel. My father is Balthazar Abrabanel."

The king laughed and clapped his thick hands. "Well—no wonder you're such a marvel! Balthazar for a father, and Uriel for an uncle." He grinned at her. "What was it like, being raised in such an atmosphere of cunning and intrigue?"

She grinned back. "Very nice, actually, Your Majesty. You know my father and uncle?"

Gustav shook his head. "Not personally. Only by reputation." He eyed her with renewed respect—and understanding.

"Am I to understand that the entire Abrabanel family has decided to throw its lot in with the Americans?"

Rebecca nodded. "Even the Turks. Especially the Turks, actually. Don Francisco Nasi has been residing in Grantville—our capital—for a number of weeks now. He has announced he plans to stay permanently."

Again, silence filled the farmhouse, while that news was absorbed. The Europeans in the room—Swede, German and Scot alike—understood the implications immediately. They were not peasants, for all that they might share some of the general prejudice against Jews. Those men, especially the king, were familiar enough with banking to know what Abrabanel allegiance to the United States provided. Put bluntly, the finest financial network in the world.

"Loans," mused Gustav. His gaze sharpened. "Interest?"

Rebecca's response came with a smile so broad it was almost a grin. "Five percent, annual interest. For a war loan. Four percent for anything else."

The king almost choked. "Five percent?" His pale blue eyes were practically bulging. "Annually?"

Rebecca shrugged. "The Americans—" She broke off; then, with a little laugh: "We Americans, I should say, have convinced the Abrabanels that a large and steady business is preferable to the occasional windfall." She repeated, very firmly: "Five percent. For you, that is. For Gustav II Adolf. Others will find the rate higher."

She looked away, brushing her thick hair with light fingers. Demurely: "Quite a bit higher, I imagine."

Suddenly, the king was roaring with laughter. "Five percent!" he hallooed, rising, almost lunging, to his feet; shaking his great fist at the heavens.

"That for Richelieu!"

Gustav lowered his fist. His own grin was matched by Torstensson's and Mackay's. Even Wilhelm, he saw, was smiling widely. The king of Sweden took a moment to admire the man's spirit as well as his brains. For all intents and purposes, the duke of Saxe-Weimar had just heard a death sentence passed on his hereditary claim to Thuringia—and he was quite intelligent enough to realize it. Once let a Thuringian republic establish its financial and commercial dominance, and the province's nobility would be lucky if they managed to maintain as much power as the Dutch. Even the mighty Spanish Habsburgs had broken on that rock, for well-nigh a century. Yet the man was spirited enough not to quail at the prospect.

And why should he? Wilhelm of Saxe-Weimar was also sworn to the service of the king of Sweden. A monarch who was not known to be miserly toward his trusted subordinates—and a monarch whose prospects had just received a mighty boost.

Gustav swiveled his head toward Torstensson, as if to bring the artillery commander under a gun himself.

"Corpus Evangelicorum," the king stated boldly. "What say you now, skeptic Lennart?"


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