When Jozef finished with his presentation, the immediate reaction of his two listeners was about what he'd expected.

Silence. Total, complete silence.

After a few seconds, Lukasz Opalinski sighed faintly and leaned back a little further in his heavily-upholstered armchair. He gave the big hetman sitting to his left a glance that was just short of apprehensive.

For his part, Koniecpolski's expression might have been that of a statue. Josef could not detect a trace of whatever thoughts or emotions might be stirring within that large and imposing head. The hetman simply gazed at him, almost serenely.

And . . . said nothing. Nothing at all.

Eventually, Jozef realized that Koniecpolski didn't plan to say anything, either. The hetman wasn't going to agree, nor was he going to argue.

Instead . . .

“These are matters for the king and the Sejm to decide,” the hetman said heavily. “So there is no point in discussing them further here.”

Matters for the king and the Sejm to decide.

Given the current king and the Sejm as it existed, that amounted to saying that nothing would be done. The Vasa dynasty that had come to rule the Commonwealth of Poland and Lithuania after the Jagiellonian dynasty died out—insofar as any monarch could be said to “rule” that land dominated by noblemen—was a branch of the same dynasty that ruled Sweden. Wladislaw IV, like his father Zygmunt III, was obsessed with gaining the Swedish crown to which he felt he was entitled. He viewed the land he actually ruled as nothing much more than a footstool to reach the land he wished to rule. He'd even said in public that he disliked Poland.

In person, it was true—so Jozef had been told, anyway—the new king was a charming fellow. In that regard, quite unlike his sour and gloomy father. But what difference did that make? Where the Jagiellonian dynasty that had previously ruled the Commonwealth had taken care to ally with the middling classes against the great noblemen—much as the Swedish Vasas had done—the Polish branch of the Vasa family showered favors and largesse on those same magnates. The end result, after Zygmunt's long reign of forty-five years, was that the Commonwealth was now completely under the thumb of the great landowning families. In the real world, once you stripped away the pretensions of the szlachta, it was the magnates who dominated the Sejm.

How likely was it, then, that such a Sejm and such a king would agree to begin dismantling serfdom?

The Americans had a clever saying that applied. A snowball's chance in hell.

But, in truth, Jozef couldn't say he was disappointed. He hadn't really expected the Grand Hetman of the Commonwealth to react any differently. For all of Stanislaw Koniecpolski's undoubted virtues, the man was very much the product of his class. Nor was he a man whose temperament inclined him toward questioning his background and upbringing, or his own attitudes. He was a brilliant soldier, certainly; an upstanding and—by his lights—honest man, just as certainly. But a reflective man? Someone capable of analyzing his own biases objectively?

Not in the least. No more so than a lion. Or a brick wall, for that matter.

So be it. At some point, Jozef would probably have to start making difficult decisions of his own. For the moment, however, his personal loyalty to Koniecpolski remained. The world was an imperfect place, after all.

“Now, another matter,” said Koniecpolski. He gave Jozef something in the way of a smile. “Hopefully, a more cheerful one. I keep hearing rumors that the Americans are well-disposed toward Poland, whatever the damn Swede thinks. Is that true, nephew?”

Jozef made a face, and started scratching his head. “Well . . . It's complicated. On the one hand, yes. They tend to have a favorable attitude toward Poles. Quite favorable, actually.”

“Why?” asked Lukasz.

“Two reasons. The first and simplest is that the country they came from was a country created by immigrants. Many of those immigrants were Polish.”

The hetman grunted. “So I've heard. But I would assume many of them were Swedes also.”

“There were immigrants from Sweden, yes, and other Scandinavian countries. But not so many as there were Poles.”

He had to restrain himself from adding: That's because the Scandinavian lands were by and large well-managed, so they did not produce a flood of unhappy emigrants. Which Poland most certainly did, because of the disastrous policies pursued by Poland's rulers in earlier centuries.

Instead, he simply said: “And most of the Scandinavian immigrants settled elsewhere in America. Places called Minnesota and Wisconsin. There were many more Poles in the area from which Grantville came.”

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- The Grantville Gazette Staff