1634: THE BALTIC WAR — snippet 60

 

1634: THE BALTIC WAR – snippet 60:

 

 

            Anne took Adam by the arm again and resumed walking. “But what will you do? Adam, I really don’t like the idea of you leaving for long stretches on diplomatic missions.”

 

            He grimaced. “Neither do I. But I probably won’t have any choice, dearest.”

 

            Anne took a deep breath. “Uh… How’s your testosterone level doing, at the moment?”

 

            He looked down at her, curious. “No worse than ever, I’d say. Why?”

 

            This time it was she who stopped, disengaged her hand, and turned to face him squarely. “Okay, fine. Then let’s cut through all of it. Here’s the truth. If I put my mind to it—yes, even with children—I can turn this half-assed medical practice I started on the side, more to keep from getting bored stiff than anything else, into a serious money-maker. I wouldn’t even have to gouge anybody. I’ve already got such a long line every time I open my door that what I really need to do anyway—I’ll ask Mary Pat if she thinks Beulah MacDonald is up to leaving Jena for a couple of months to come here and walk me through it—is set up a real medical clinic. Eventually, maybe, the city’s first hospital worth calling by the name. You follow my drift?”

 

            He frowned. “I’m not sure I even follow your idiom.”

 

            “Oh. Sorry. I forgot we were speaking English instead of German. Easy for me to lapse into American slang when we do that. What I meant was, do you understand what I’m proposing? We both stay here. You only take diplomatic missions that won’t keep you from home for… what’s reasonable? Two months?”

 

            He shook his head. “You have to allow at least four, Anne, for anything serious. Even if I’m going no farther than a hundred miles.”

 

            She thought about it. “Okay. I can live with four months. Six, tops. But that’s it.”

 

            “That would mean I’d be unemployed most of the time.”

 

            “Don’t be silly. You just do the work you really want to do, anyway. Your mathematics. And—pardon my English—fuck whether or not you’re getting paid for it. Who cares? I’ll make enough for both of us.”

 

            He looked away. “Let me think about it.”

 

            “Sure. How long?”

 

            “Um. Two days?”

 

            “Make it four.”

 

            He laughed, and they went back to walking. After a few minutes of companionable silence, Adam cleared his throat.

 

            “Do you think that was really true? What Rebecca said, I mean, concerning Gretchen’s—ah, what was the phrase?—rigorous and ruthless methods for preventing pregnancy. Granted that Gretchen is the dominant one of the couple, but I wouldn’t have thought she could keep her husband that much under her thumb.” He looked a bit alarmed “I trust that you have no such plans?”

 

            Anne grinned. “You haven’t seen any signs of it so far, have you? Relax. I’m a doctor, remember? Well, nurse—but that makes me one of the few doctors worth calling by the name, in the here and now. I’ve got other ways of handling that little problem. Which I’ve been using since the first time you finagled your way into my bed, not that you’d ever notice. Men. So would Gretchen, if she’d follow my advice. But you know what she’s like. Politics aside, she’s almost a reactionary. The old methods work, so why mess with them?”

 

            Adam had the grace to look a little embarrassed. “I had wondered, actually. But… ah… since you didn’t seem concerned…”

 

            “Ha! Men, like I said. And besides, you’re wrong about the rest of it, anyway. The part about Gretchen and Jeff, that is.”

 

            “How so?”

 

            “She’s the flamboyant one of the two, no doubt about it. And since she also knows what she wants to do with her life and has the determination of a glacier—and Jeff really doesn’t care otherwise and is willing to go along for the ride—you make the mistake of thinking there’s dominance involved. There really isn’t, Adam. I think Gretchen would be quite lost without him. He’s her anchor, you could say.”

 

            “You know them much better than I do, so I shan’t question your judgment. Still, it seems odd. He’s such an unassuming young man.”

 

            Her eyes narrowed. “And this became a problem for women… when, exactly?”

 

            He laughed. “I surrender!”

 

            “Best you do, buddy. Or the next time Rubens asks me to pose for him, I’ll do it in leather and spike-heeled boots.”

 

****

 

            After Rebecca finished her report of the outcome of her last meeting with the Prince of Orange, Gretchen rose and went to the window.

 

            Jeff, from the couch where he’d remained, said: “I don’t get it. Why doesn’t Don Fernando just cut the deal now? I mean, what’s there left to squabble about? Nothing but a bunch of third rate issues that neither he nor Fredrik Hendrik cares that much about anyway.”

 

            His wife shook her head. “You’re thinking like a commoner, husband. A level-headed and unassuming one, at that.”

 

            “Well, sure. Any geek who isn’t a moron learns to do that by the time he’s in tenth grade. Or he’s just a great big bruise. Your average high school jock could give any prince in Europe lessons on being a cocksure, stupid and arrogant bully.”

 

            Gretchen turned her head to look at him, smiled, and then looked into the corner where the arms were kept in a cabinet. Prominent among them, Jeff’s shotgun. “Not any more.”

 

            “Well. No. Not any more. Any of ‘em tried it now, they’d be hamburger. But it’s still the way I think. The only difference, nowadays, is I know how to handle it if I have to.”

 

            Gretchen stifled a sigh. Alas, it was the wrong time of the month. There were times she was tempted to take up Anne’s offer, for sure and certain, as much as she distrusted fancy methods to do what simple methods could. Tonight would certainly be one of them. Jeff had so many ways to trigger her passion. The fact that he almost never realized he was doing so, being perhaps the greatest of them all.

 

            So be it. Discipline!

 

            She turned her back to the window, leaning on the sill with her hands. “His mind is full of wickedness, Jeff. Ancient royal evil pretensions. So he cannot—yet—bring himself to the simple recognition that the good he would do for an entire nation is not outweighed by a medieval sense of honor.”

 

            “To put it another way,” Rebecca added, “for Gretchen is surely right, Don Fernando cannot betray his brother in cold blood. Not matter how sensible doing so would be.”

 

            Jeff frowned. “I still don’t get it. He’s already betrayed the King of Spain. Not that I give a shit, since I can’t think of anybody who deserves it more, except that asshole Charles in England. I mean, what else would you call the secret negotiations he’s been having with the Dutch?”

 

            “No, he has not,” said Rebecca, shaking her head. “Not in his own mind. What he has been doing—never forget that he was born, bred and trained a prince in Europe’s greatest dynasty—is simply preparing an alternative course of action, should the results of the valiant test of arms be unfortunate.”

 

            “Huh?”

 

            Gretchen burst out laughing. “You are my beloved, for sure, but you would make a truly wretched prince.”

 

            “Hey, look, I flunked out of Royalty 101. Didn’t need it for my math and sciences track.”

 

            “You must have been inattentive in the introductory course on royalty, also,” said Rebecca. “Until the war is settled, Jeff, the cardinal-infante of Spain is paralyzed. Not by external reality, but by his inner self. He can make plans, yes; negotiate to see to it that those plans can be set in motion, yes. But act until he can claim he had no choice? No, that he cannot do. You could. I could. Gretchen could. My husband—him!—would have done it last month. But the Habsburg prince cannot.”

 

            Jeff looked over at the gun cabinet. “Fine, then. We’ll do it his way—and you watch Fredrik Hendrik carve another great piece of his flesh, when Mr. Habsburg and his fine Spanish army come tumbling back in rags.”

 

            “Oh, hardly a great piece,” said Rebecca. “He’s a very cunning sort of Habsburg, and they’re a cunning family to begin with. His army won’t come tumbling back in rags. They’ll simply turn around, take two steps, and find themselves right back in their fortifications. But that’ll be enough to save the royal face and salve the royal conscience.”

 

            “Jesus. Stupid fucking kings. Who needs them, anyway?”

 

            “Not I,” said his wife serenely.

 

            Rebecca smiled. “You say that better than anyone I’ve ever known.”

 

About Eric Flint

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