1636: The Saxon Uprising ARC

PROLOGUE

An idle king

November 1635

Berlin

Colonel Erik Haakansson Hand gazed down at the man who was simultaneously King of Sweden, Emperor of the United States of Europe, and High King of the Union of Kalmar. He was Gustav II Adolf, the pre-eminent monarch of Europe as the year 1635 came to a close.

The Habsburgs might dispute the claim. And if that powerful dynastic family could by some magic means recombine their splintered realms into the great empire ruled a century earlier by Charles V, they could probably made the claim stick. But the great Holy Roman Emperor was long gone. Today, it would take genuinely magical methods to reunite Spain and Austria—not to mention the newly emerged third branch of the dynasty in the Netherlands.

France was now weak, too. Gustav Adolf’s general Lennart Torstensson had crushed the French at the battle of Ahrensbök a year and a half ago. Since then, Cardinal Richelieu’s control of France had grown steadily shakier. King Louis XIII’s younger brother Gaston, the duke of Orleans—usually called “Monsieur Gaston”—was and always had been an inveterate schemer who hated Richelieu with a passion. In times past, the cardinal had easily out-maneuvered him. But the disaster to which Richelieu had led France in his ill-fated League of Ostend’s war against the United States of Europe had produced widespread dissatisfaction and unrest, especially among the nobility and the urban patrician class.

In short, Gustav Adolf ought to be basking in the most glorious sunlight of a life which had been filled with a great deal of glory since he was a teenage king. Instead, he was lying on a bed in a palace in one of the most wretched cities in the Germanies with his mind apparently gone.

Gustav Adolf’s blue eyes stared up at Hand. Did he recognize his cousin? It was hard to say.

You certainly couldn’t tell anything from his speech.

“Bandits have knighted almost walrus,” said the king of Sweden. “Is there jewel?”

It was very frustrating. Gustav Adolf didn’t seem addle-pated, exactly. His words made no sense, but they weren’t pure gibberish, either. This last sentence, for instance, had clearly been a question, and beneath all of the meaningless sentences you could detect a still intact grammar.

But what was he saying? It was as if his vocabulary was completely jumbled.

Before he left Magdeburg for Berlin, Colonel Hand had spent several hours with the American Moorish doctor, James Nichols. By now, four and a half years after the Ring of Fire which had brought the Moor into this world along with the other Americans in Grantville, it was the generally accepted opinion throughout Europe that Nichols was the continent’s greatest living doctor. Probably even the world’s.

One might ask, therefore, why Hand had had to interview Nichols in Magdeburg—instead of here in Berlin, at the bedside of Europe’s most powerful ruler and Nichols’ own sovereign. Or, perhaps even more to the point, why it was that Gustav Adolf had not been brought to Magdeburg with its superb medical facilities, instead of being kept in primitive Berlin.

He’d posed those questions directly, in fact. The answers had been…interesting.

“Ask your blessed chancellor,” replied Nichols. His tone was blunt, to the point of being almost hostile. “It was Axel Oxenstierna who insisted on keeping Gustav Adolf in Berlin. Just as it was he who insisted—oh, sure, politely, but he had about a dozen goons with him to enforce the matter—that I leave Berlin and come back here, once I eliminated the risk of peritonitis.”

“What reasons did he give for his decisions?”

“Bullpucky and hogwash.” Hand didn’t know those particular Americanisms, but their general meaning was clear enough.

“The bullpucky was