1634: THE BALTIC WAR — snippet 36


1634: THE BALTIC WAR – snippet 36:



            Not far away, in that section of the Tower of London known as the Lieutenant’s House, Thomas Wentworth, the Earl of Strafford, was fending off questions raised by his daughter. No easy task,  that. Nan was precocious, not in the least bit bashful, and had the normal lack of tact possessed by any six year old child.


            “But why don’t you have them standing guard outside the dungeons? A prisoner might escape!”


            “There are guards watching the dungeons, Nan,” her father explained patiently.


            She waved her hand, the gesture accompanied by a derisive noise. “They’re just standing on the wall, here and there. And not too alert, at that. They’re lazy, those Warders. You should have at least four of them outside of every dungeon entrance.”


            He smiled wryly. “I can just imagine how well the Warders would take to that idea.”


            “Just tell them!” his daughter insisted. “You’re the King’s minister! They have to do what you tell them!”


            Wentworth briefly considered trying to explain to the child that formal authority and real power were not synonyms, and that any official who routinely abused his authority would soon find that authority undermined. In practice, at least, if not in theory. In this instance, if he infuriated the Yeoman Warders by constraining them to tasks they considered irksome, pointless and annoying, they would soon retaliate by slacking off at every occasion. Be a man never so powerful, he still only possessed two eyes, neither of them at the back of his head.


            As it was, whatever their sometimes informal manner, the Warders made a superb guard force for the Tower. They were elite soldiers and considered themselves such, and did so with good reason.


            But, after a moment, he discarded the notion. Bright as she no doubt was, Nan was still barely six years old. There’d be time enough, as the years passed, for her to learn that the world was mostly composed of shades of gray, with precious little in the way of black or white.


            So, all he did was pick her up playfully and exclaim to his wife Elizabeth: “I have it! We’ll betroth her to the Tsar of Russia! What a natural match!”


            That was a joke twice over, actually. The current Tsar was no Ivan the Terrible. Russia’s so-called “Time of Troubles” had ended with the ascension to the throne of Mikhail Romanov twenty years earlier, true enough. But the new dynasty’s hold on power was still fragile and depended at least as much on the authority of the new tsar’s father, the Patriarch Filaret, as it did on the tsar himself.


            “What’s a Zar?” Nan demanded. “And who’s Russia?”




            Later, early in the afternoon, Strafford made his farewells to his wife and children.


            “I really wish you would spend more nights here, Thomas,” Elizabeth said wistfully. “I miss you, often.”


            The words pleased the earl. He was under no illusion that his nineteen-year-old wife was really consumed with passion for his forty-year-old self. Theirs had been essentially a marriage of convenience, the year before. He’d needed a mother for his children after the sudden death of his wife Arabella; and Elizabeth—more her father, Sir Godfrey Rhodes, really—had seen in the newly appointed Lord Deputy of Ireland a splendid match for his daughter and a way of advancing his own prospects.


            Still, Thomas had become very fond of his new wife, and he knew the affection was reciprocated. He missed her, too, often enough, in his solitary bed in the royal palace at Whitehall.


            “I simply can’t, dearest, except on rare occasions.” Wentworth hesitated, glancing around to make sure that the children were out of hearing range. Then, quietly: “Things are a bit tense at the palace, Elizabeth. It’s all I can do to persuade His Majesty to remain in London, during this unsettled period, instead of haring off to Oxford as he wants to do. If I slept outside Whitehall myself that often, it would just encourage him in…”


            He left off the rest. Using the word “folly” in reference to the King’s state of mind would be unseemly, even to his wife in private.


            Elizabeth frowned. “Is he still fretting over the danger of epidemic? I thought he’d gotten over that.”


            “He did, for a time. But there is a lot of disease in the city, since we brought over so many mercenary soldiers from the continent. It flares up constantly, you know. And the queen—”


            Again, he left the rest unsaid. And if the King’s a fool, half the time, his wife is an hysteric three-fourths of the time…


            Would be even more unseemly, said aloud. Even to his wife. Even in private. Even given that it was true.


            Elizabeth shook her head. “Why doesn’t His Majesty and the queen come to reside here at the Tower, then? You were quite right, you know, I’ve become convinced of it. Since you allowed the Americans held pris—ah, staying in St. Thomas’ Tower—to oversee the castle’s sanitary and medical affairs, there’s been very little disease of any sort here. And that, almost all children.”


            Wentworth sighed. “I tried, Elizabeth. I pointed out that within a week I could have Wakefield Tower completely refurbished as a royal residence. It was used as such by Henry III, after all. But the King refused. He said it would seem as if he were afraid of the city’s unsteady population.”


            Which he is,  the earl left unsaid also, despite the fact that the new mercenary companies have a firm grip on London.


            Daughter of a country squire she might be, but Elizabeth was not dull-witted. Her mouth twisted into something halfway to a derisive sneer. “And racing off to Oxford wouldn’t?”


            Wentworth rolled his eyes. “Exactly what I said to him. But—ah, come, dearest, let’s not squabble. It’s the way it must be.”


            “Of course, husband. Whatever you say.”

About Eric Flint

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