1634: THE BALTIC WAR — snippet 59

 

1634: THE BALTIC WAR – snippet 59:

 

 

Chapter 20

 

Amsterdam, Holland

 

February, 1634

 

 

            “He was only here for a few days, woman,” Gretchen Richter said accusingly. “Less than a week!”

 

            Rebecca Abrabanel looked serene.

 

            Sitting on a divan in the USE embassy’s salon next to her fiancé Adam Olearius, Anne Jefferson laughed softly. “God, she does that better than anyone I’ve ever known.”

 

            Rebecca looked toward her. “Are you referring to me? Does what?”

 

            Anne laughed again, louder. “Oh, sure, play the innocent. That Mona Lisa look. Serene. Inscrutable.”

 

            “What nonsense,” said Rebecca. “I am simply not given to pointless passions”—she stuck a finger at Gretchen—“like this one here.”

 

            Gretchen’s eyes widened, her expression going from accusatory to outraged. “Pointless passions? Pointless passions? You—you—have the nerve to accuse me of such?”

 

            She clapped a hand on the broad shoulder of her husband Jeff, sitting next to her on another divan. “I remind you that he and I have shared the same bed here for months now—and used it to good purpose, rest assured! But you do not see me”—here she slapped her midriff, which was surprisingly slim given her impressive bust and hips—“pregnant again, do you? Whereas—you! He was here less than a week!”

 

            Rebecca shrugged, somehow managing to do it without losing a trace of the serene expression on her face. “You are more disciplined than I am, Gretchen. Besides, fine for you to preach the virtues of the rhythm method, rigorously and ruthlessly applied as only you could manage the miserable business. But I remind you—as you pointed out yourself—that you have had your husband available the remaining three weeks of every month. I did not. I had six days in three seasons. I was supposed to tell him, poor fellow, that he chose the wrong time of the month to fly into Amsterdam? Ha.”

 

            She looked out the window at the snow-covered streets. “I say it again. Ha. Besides, what does it matter? I enjoy having children. If it had not been for Baruch I think I might have gone mad here, so much do I miss my little Sepharad.”

 

            Jeff Higgins glanced over into a corner of the salon, where Baby Spinoza—as everyone called him except his adoptive mother—was sleeping in a crib. “He’s a cute kid, Becky, I’ll give him that. Even if he is a genius.”

 

            But Gretchen was not to be so easily diverted. “All kids are cute, it’s in the nature of the creatures,” she said dismissively. “How else could they survive? But two are quite enough for any reasonable woman, if she plans to spend her life engaged in worthwhile work beyond using her tits. I leave aside the small matter that this irresponsible vixen chose to get herself pregnant in the middle of a bitter siege.”

 

            Rebecca looked at her.

 

            “Fine. Not-so-bitter siege. It’s still a siege. And who knows how long it will last? If your new baby is not born in rubble, so he—worse yet, she—will be born into starvation and disease.”

 

            Rebecca was still looking at her. Gretchen threw up her hands.

 

            “Damn Mona Lisa! Fine, Becky. Tell us how long the siege will last.”

 

            Rebecca’s serene smile returned. “Do not be silly, Gretchen. How could I possibly do that? But what I can say, based on my meeting with the Prince of Orange yesterday, is that—”

 

            “Hold it, hold it, hold it!” Anne Jefferson rose to her feet and extended her hand to Adam. “I think it’s time for us to be out of here. Seeing as how my fiancé is officially the agent of a foreign and possibly hostile power. Which for some damn reason y’all seem to keep forgetting.”

 

            “Hardly that, dearest,” Adam said, rising. “The hostile part, I mean. I will allow a foreign power, but it’s absurd to think my employer is going to be engaging in hostilities with anyone. Alas for him, the duke of Holstein-Gottorp is in the position of a mouse surrounded by cats. Hungry cats, to make it worse. His strategy these days is entirely that of the sensible small rodent caught in the open. Hold completely still and pray no predator notices you.”

 

            Jeff waved his hand. “Oh, hell, Adam, sit down. By this time”—he glanced around the room—“I don’t think any of us is worried that you’ll spill our beans on anybody’s else plate. And if you did, who cares? Who would you tell? The cardinal-infante already knows what the beans look like.”

 

            “Not the point,” replied Adam, shaking his head. “You may not care, but I do. Much as I’d personally prefer making my living as a mathematician, I do not live—neither do you, any longer—in that magical up-time world where great universities paid people simply to teach and research mathematics. No, alas, here I need a job. And since my existing credentials are as a diplomat, I think it best that I not—how would you say it?—tarnish my resumé, I believe.”

 

            Jeff squinted at him. “I’m not following you.”

 

            “Jeff, of one thing you may be completely assured. If Rebecca’s scheme works even remotely the way she plans—yes, of course, I know what it is even if no one ever told me in so many words—then this episode will go down in the long annals of European diplomacy as one of the art’s true masterpieces. Which means, in turn, that the deeds of everyone involved—and that includes me, as mouse-like as my role may have been—will be subjected to long and careful scrutiny, by a very large number of minds. Some of which are exceedingly acute—and would be my most likely future employers. Now do you understand?”

 

            “Oh.”

 

            “Yes. Oh. Whatever other lines may exist on an unemployed diplomat’s resumé, the one that absolutely cannot be there is: ‘not to be trusted; plays both sides of the fence.’”

 

            He went over to the rack besides the door and removed his coat as well as Anne’s. “And now, we shall be off.”

 

****

 

            Once they were outside, Anne tucked her hand into his elbow. “Is that going to be that bad? ‘Unemployed,’ I mean.”

 

            Olearius pursed his lips. “Mostly likely, I’m afraid. No matter what happens, I can see very few alternatives that would produce a still-independent duchy of Holstein-Gottorp at the end of it. Neither can my employer. My instructions from Duke Frederik are no longer to strive to maintain his independence. Simply to get him the best possible deal when he gives it up.”

 

            Anne nodded, sighing. “Well, I was afraid of that, not that I’m really surprised. It means we’ll have to move around a lot, I suppose. Damn it all. I like Amsterdam, and now I’ve got a practice of my own. I was hoping we could stay.”

 

            “I… wouldn’t be so sure of that, Anne.” Olearius stopped at a corner, gently disengaged her hand from his elbow, and turned to face her squarely. “Perhaps it is best for me to say this as bluntly as possible. Lay all the cards on the table, as you might put it.”

 

             Anne looked up at him, tucking her hands into her pockets. “Okay.”

 

            “It’s not complicated. We both want children, and children require a good income. No matter what  employer I wind up with, however, it will almost surely be the case that your income as a medical practitioner—let’s call it doctor, rather, since neither one of us is a guild idiot—will exceed my own.”

 

            He smiled, a little ruefully. “By a great margin, most likely. Much as it grieves my proper seventeenth century masculine spirit to say it.”

 

            Anne chuckled. “Honey, relax. You do one hell of a lot better job of keeping the testosterone to a reasonable level that most up-time men I ever knew. Sure as hell West Virginia hillbillies. I’m not complaining.”

 

            He gave her a little appreciative bow. “Well, then. It seems quite obvious. By all means, let us stay in Amsterdam. Within a year—two, at the outside—you will have a medical practice here that dwarfs that of all other so-called doctors in the city. And since your clientele—your extremely loyal, even devoted—I will not say fanatical clientele, although I could—consists mostly of CoC members, it’s not as if you’ll have any worries that the medical or apothecary guilds will be able to shut you down. Much less threaten you with physical reprisals.”

 

            Anne chuckled again, quite a bit more loudly. “Ah… no. That’s not likely. As in snowball’s chance of hell likely.” She cocked her head slightly. “Do they really do that in most places?”

 

            “Oh, yes,” Adam said solemnly. “Believe it that they do, dearest. The guilds will not tolerate even a man who officially and publicly practices medicine or dispenses medications without their license. A woman, except as a midwife? Unheard of.”

 

            “Jesus.” Anne looked around, as if finding reassurance from the familiar sights of Amsterdam. Which, in fact, she did. After months of the siege—more to the point, months of Gretchen Richter—the largest Dutch city was a CoC stronghold. Not even the Prince of Orange tried to pretend otherwise, any longer. Not after, a few weeks since, the CoC had simply disbanded the former city council—most of whose patrician members were in exile to begin with, having been wealthy enough to flee the city before the Spanish army invested it—and replaced it with a new one of their own creation. To which eight out of ten members elected had run openly on a CoC platform.

 

            Two days later, they’d done the same to the city’s militia, most of whose officers had also fled into exile. Nine out of ten of the officers who’d replaced them had been CoC members. To be sure—Gretchen Richter had gotten far more sophisticated, with experience—they’d been quite careful to elect the Prince of Orange’s seven-year-old son William as the official commander of the city’s military forces. Not that anyone except possibly the boy himself was fooled by the formality; certainly not Fredrik Hendrik. Still, it allowed the Prince of Orange to maintain the necessary public image.

 

            Gretchen would be gone some day, of course. Probably, Anne thought, with as many regrets as Anne would feel, if she had to leave. Amsterdam was the place where Gretchen Richter had finally come into her own. The place where she’d learned to make herself and her skills match her reputation; where she went from a famous but uncertain firebrand and orator to a superbly capable organizer and revolutionary political leader.

 

            Which meant, in turn, that it wouldn’t really matter to Anne whether Gretchen was still here in the flesh or not. Firebrands are very visible, but they leave few traces behind. Gretchen’s footprints would stamp Amsterdam for at least two generations, and probably forever. Deep enough, certainly, that if any guild doctor or apothecary returning from exile was foolish enough to protest Anne’s medical practice, he’d be lucky if he just got out of it with his shop turned into a wreck. The journeymen and apprentices who were the backbone of the city’s CoC were in no mood to tolerate any presumptions by returning guildmasters. Not any longer; not after they withstood the might of Spain, while their former masters fled into exile.

About Eric Flint

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