1634: THE BALTIC WAR — snippet 37


1634: THE BALTIC WAR – snippet 37:



            Once outside the Lieutenant’s House, Thomas headed for the gate next to Wakefield Tower that gave onto the Outer Ward and, from there, the gate at Byward Tower that allowed egress from the fortress entirely. But he paused, for a time, catching a glimpse of the small doors leading to the dungeons between Lanthorn Tower and Salt Tower. He could just see them, over the mass of wooden dwellings and shops that piled up against the Inner Ward.


            He hadn’t spoken to Oliver Cromwell in weeks, he realized. Had rarely even thought about him, in fact. As the months passed with no incidents since Oliver’s arrest, Thomas had come to the conclusion that while he still thought it would be wiser to have Oliver executed, there was really no pressing need to do so. And…


            He liked the man, when all was said and done.


            “Oh, why not?” he murmured to himself. Even in London in mid-winter, he still had plenty of daylight left to reach Whitehall. And it was an unseasonably warm and sunny day, to begin with.




            There were Warders standing guard at this door, of course. The only door to the dungeons of which that was true, in the whole castle.


            Only two of them, however, not four. Oliver Cromwell was not an ogre, after all. Even if, in another universe, he’d overthrown the English monarchy, executed the king, and set himself as what amounted to a dictator under the benign title “Lord Protector.”


            Not a particularly brutal or capricious dictator, granted, judging from the up-timers’ history books. But a dictator nonetheless; certainly a regicide.


            After the Warders unlocked the bolts and chains and let him in—which they had to do twice; once at the entrance and once at the actual dungeon—Thomas found himself in the same small cell he remembered from his early visits. But it was much cleaner, and while it was still definitely a dungeon it was no longer a place of sheer misery and squalor.


            Oliver even had a small table now, with a chair, along with his sleeping pallet. Unwise, that, looked at from a certain viewpoint. A desperate prisoner could provide himself with a club by dismantling either piece of furniture. Quite easily, in fact, as rickety as they looked to be.




            Wentworth decided the judgment of the Warders was sound enough, in this case. Oliver was rather well-built, true enough, but he was no giant. Against two trained Warders equipped with real weapons, he’d have no chance at all armed with a mere club.


            Probably more important was simply the man’s temperament. There was an innate sureness to Oliver Cromwell—the term “dignity” came to Thomas, and he couldn’t deny it—which would not allow him to ever descend that far into despair. Did the worst come, and he be summoned to lose his head, Oliver would not put up a pointless and futile struggle, like a common criminal might do. He’d simply march to the execution ground with no resistance. He’d sneer when the sentence was pronounced, spit on the ground at the king’s name, kneel calmly to lay his neck upon the block—and tell the headsman, jokingly, not to fumble the business.


            Cromwell had set aside the book he was reading before Thomas entered. He’d heard them coming, of course, for well over a minute.


            It was the Bible, Wentworth saw. “Which book?” he asked.


            “The Lamentations of Jeremiah, at the moment. You’re looking well, Thomas. But you’ve aged, I think.”


            Thomas smiled thinly. “What man doesn’t, as each day passes? But, yes, I suppose I’ve aged more than I might have otherwise.”


            “He must be a horror of a king to serve. Craven and stupid in big things; petty, spiteful and stubborn in small ones. No, you needn’t respond to that. I hope your wife and children are well.”


            “Yes, quite well.” Wentworth nodded toward the west. “They’re living here now, in fact. There’s disease in the city—not quite an epidemic, but too close for my comfort—and I thought they’d be safest here.”


            Cromwell’s smile was thin, but not unkind. “You too, eh? Well, you’re right. I have an American visit me from time to time, cleansing my cell of pests. ‘Fumigating,’ he calls it, which seems to be the word they use for killing pests you can’t see.”


            He glanced at the pallet. “Barely an occasional bedbug, any more. Mind you, it’s a bit of a mixed blessing, since the same man who sees to my bodily health hates me with a passion, and spends all his time here leveling curses upon me.”


            Wentworth frowned. “Why?”


            “He’s of Irish stock. And it seems—in that other universe, you know—that I butchered half the world’s Irishmen. So he says, at any rate. I can’t really see why I’d bother, myself.”


            “Neither can I. Beat them about a bit—which is not hard, since you can always find one Irish clan chief who’ll beat another for you, at a small price—and they’re manageable enough.”


            Now that he thought upon the matter, Wentworth did remember that among the many things he’d read about Cromwell in the American books that had made their way to England—copies of them, usually—he’d read something about Cromwell’s ferocious reputation among the Irish. But he couldn’t remember the details, since he hadn’t cared about that.


            A thought came to him. “Does he speak of me, at all? If I recall correctly, in that other universe I served for years as the Lord Deputy of Ireland, instead of being summoned back almost immediately to  London.”


            Oliver’s smile wasn’t thin at all, now. “Oh, yes. ‘Bloody Tom Tyrant,’ you are. Or were, I suppose I should say. The grammar’s tricky, dealing with that business. Quite a notorious fellow, it seems, in the Irish scheme of things.”


            Wentworth returned the smile. “Well. That’s a cheery thought.”


            Cromwell cocked his head slightly. “Why did you come, Thomas?”


            Wentworth had his dignity also. He’d lie, readily enough, for purposes of state. But not here, not to this man. “I don’t really know, Oliver, to be honest. I just felt an urge to see you again.”


            There was silence for a moment, as both men remembered a time years earlier when they’d serve together as young members of Parliament. They’d been on quite good terms, then.


            “But there’s really nothing much to say, is there?” said Oliver Cromwell.


            Thomas Wentworth—the Earl of Strafford, now—canted his head in agreement. “No. There really isn’t. Goodbye, Oliver.”


            He left, and Cromwell went back to his perusal of the Bible.




            “Fucking bastard,” muttered Darryl McCarthy, as he watched the Earl of Strafford passing below the windows in St. Thomas’ Tower, on his way to the outer gate of the fortress. “Bloody Tom Tyrant.”


            But there wasn’t any heat to the words. In fact, Tom Simpson could barely hear them at all, even standing at the window right next to Darryl. They didn’t really sound so much like a curse, as a simple mantra a stalwart Irish-American lad might speak aloud. As he steeled himself for a moment of great spiritual crisis and peril.


            “Yeah, there it is, Tom. I’ve thought about it until my brain’s just spinning in circles. No way around it. I am well and truly screwed, blued and royally tattooed.”


            “That bad, huh?”


            “Yeah. Maybe if Harry Lefferts was here—bracing me, so to speak—but—”


            “It’s not really the end of the world, y’know? Hell, I did it myself.”


            Darryl gave him a glance that was none too friendly. “Yeah. So? You ain’t no hillbilly.”


            “Oh, come off it, Darryl. Even hillbillies do it, more often than not. Can’t be more than twenty percent of you that are outright bastards. Legally speaking, I mean. Figuratively, of course, the percentage rises a lot.”


            “Fucking rich kid.”


            Tom chuckled. “Poor old Doug MacArthur’s got to be spinning in his grave, right now.”


            “Huh? What’s that supposed to mean?”


            “Never mind. You sure about this?”


            “Well.” Darryl took a deep breath. “Well.” Another deep breath. “Yeah.”


            “I mean, really sure? As in: steps will now be taken. You’ve been making people kind of nervous, you know.”


            That required perhaps half a dozen deep breaths. But, eventually, Darryl said: “Yeah. I’m sure.”


            “Okay, then.” Tom turned his head, looking toward his wife and Melissa and Gayle Mason, who were politely sitting some distance away. Thereby, of course, allowing The Guys to conduct their affairs in the necessary privacy.


            But Tom didn’t give those three women more than a glance. All up-timers, all Americans, they’d have only the barest knowledge of how to handle the situation.


            No, he needed Friedrich Bruch’s wife, Nelly. She was not only a down-timer, but she’d been born and raised in London.


            He was about to call out her name when he saw her emerge from the small room she shared with Friedrich.


            “Nelly! Just the person I was looking for.” He hooked a thumb at Darryl. “Our young swain here wants to know how a fellow goes about proposing to a girl, in the here and now.”


            Nelly smiled. Rita and Gayle grinned. Melissa looked to the heavens.


            “Well, praise the Lord,” she said.


            Darryl scowled at her. “Melissa, you’re a damn atheist.”


            Still looking at the ceiling, Melissa wagged her head back and forth. “True, been one since I was twelve. But maybe I should reconsider. Seeing as how I think I’m witnessing an act of divine intervention.”

About Eric Flint

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