1634: THE BALTIC WAR — snippet 62

 

1634: THE BALTIC WAR – snippet 62:

 

 

            “Yes, it’s true. A terrible accident on Tyburn Hill Road. My companions and I happened upon the scene shortly afterward. His Majesty is badly injured and I’m afraid the queen is dead. The children are fine, fortunately, since their carriage was not involved. Where’s Strafford?”

 

            Babbled explanations came.

 

            “What’s he doing haring off to Chiswick? It’s a miserable little fishing village. The royal party wasn’t within miles of there. And he shouldn’t have left the palace himself, even if he had managed to get the right location. What was he thinking? With the city on the edge of revolt?”

 

            After heaving an exasperated sigh and composing his features into firm and steady resolve, Cork continued. “Well, we can’t wait for him to return, whenever he got himself off to. The situation is far too perilous. There was clearly treason involved. There’s no way Trained Bands would have known the king’s route fast enough to have laid that ambush without forewarning from right here in the palace.”

 

            More official babblement.

 

            “Oh, yes, be sure of it. Treason, I say. Get moving, all of you! I’m having His Majesty brought here to Whitehall, under military escort, along with the heirs. And Her Majesty’s body, lest rumors begin to fly about. Get moving, I say! Find the king’s doctors and make sure they’re here when he arrives. Shouldn’t be more than an hour, at most. And have the companies mustered and summon their captains here as well. We must keep the mob from even thinking of rebellion. Until Strafford returns, I’ll take charge of things.”

 

            He had absolutely no authority to do so, and some of the officials and ministers were a bit taken aback. But instantly, it seemed, there were well-placed and prestigious figures supporting Cork’s course of action. And not just Sir Paul Pindar and Sir Endymion Porter, either, who’d accompanied him. Men like the secretary of state, Sir Francis Windebank, threw their support to Cork also.

 

            The flock of ministers charged off, leaving Boyle alone for the moment with Pindar and Porter.

 

            “Very nicely done, Paul,” he murmured. “My apologies for doubting you.”

 

            “I thought it would work. Wentworth’s headstrong, and not good at delegating authority. I was almost certain he’d race off himself if I had word sent ahead.”

 

            Porter smiled thinly. “And sent him off the wrong way, to boot. Masterful, Sir Paul.”

 

             The elderly merchant made a face. “Let’s not get over-confident. Cork, you have perhaps three hours to seize the reins before Wentworth gets back. Might be as little as two. And if the man is headstrong, don’t forget that’s a compound term—and the second word is ‘strong.’ He knows how to command men also.”

 

            The earl just smiled. “So he does—but who’ll listen to a traitor? Endymion, I believe it’s time to bring our dear captain into play. See to it, would you?”

 

            “Yes, Milord. Shouldn’t take me more than an hour to get back with his testimony. Leebrick’s nothing but a mercenary, so he’ll see reason soon enough. And your mansion is just down the street.”

 

            “Remember, I want no loose ends.”

 

            After Porter left, Cork started rubbing his hands. It wasn’t actually the gesture of glee it appeared to be. His hands were simply still cold.

 

            “I think it’s going quite well, myself. Amazingly well, in fact, given that we had to put it all together on the fly.”

 

            Pindar, on the other hand, was starting to get overheated in the palace. He looked around for a servant to help him with his heavy coat. “That’s actually what works most in our favor, Richard. It was always hard to get a plot going against Strafford, because he maintains so many spies and informers. He really is quite a competent man.”

 

            Seeing his imperious gesture, one of the servants standing nervously some distance away came over and got the heavy coat off. Then, took it away to be hung up to dry somewhere. “Unfortunately for him,” Pindar continued, “Wentworth confuses efficiency with results. He’s like a horseman who thinks he’s getting to his destination because his mount is trotting along smartly. And he’s never understood—not well enough—the difference between having subordinates and friends. He’s feared at court, but not liked at all. Not by any of the factions, since he’s run roughshod over all of them.”

 

            Cork scowled. His faction included. The truth was, he’d come to purely detest Wentworth. “There’s Laud,” he pointed out.

 

            “Yes, we’ll have to do something about him. A pity, really. Laud’s a good enough man and his theology suits me. But…” Pindar shrugged. “His well-known ties to Wentworth make him a easy target, under these circumstances, and he’s too stubborn to know when to give way.”

 

            “True. But the Tower’s a big place. Plenty of room for him, too.” Now the earl’s hand-rubbing was definitely gleeful. “And whether you think well of him or not, Paul, I detest the man.”

 

            Cork was good at detesting people. Almost as good as he was at hiding the fact, when he needed to, until it was too late for his prey.

 

****

 

            “So that’s how it’ll be, Captain.” Endymion Porter tapped the sheet of paper he’d set down on the small table in the salon where the three officers had been imprisoned. “Your signature here—all three of your signatures—and you’re on your way.” The same finger flicked the small but heavy bag he’d set down on the table alongside the document. “As you’ve seen, there’s enough silver here to get you to the continent quickly and set you up—all three of you—for some time. More money than you’d have made in His Majesty’s service in several years, and nothing to do for it beyond the few seconds it takes to sign this sheet of paper.”

 

            Anthony ignored him, still studying the document. The testimony, rather.

 

            It didn’t take much time, and most of that was simply due to the poor penmanship. The testimony wasn’t long, covering less than a single page. He was quite certain Porter had scrawled it hurriedly himself, just minutes ago.

 

            It didn’t need to be long, because it was very cleverly done. Porter—and Cork and Pindar, of course, since the plot was now obvious—hadn’t made the mistake of trying for anything too elaborate. The document simply testified that the Earl of Strafford had instructed Captain Leebrick, in the event there was any sign of interference by Trained Bands in the king’s progress out of the city, to return the royal party at once to Whitehall. Over the king’s objections, if need be.

 

            Nothing more. Leebrick wasn’t being asked to confess to any treason himself. He’d simply been obeying orders.

 

            He no longer wondered at the manner the Trained Bands had appeared on the roads, coming from two directions. Cork himself—his agents, more likely—must have had them in readiness. Not to produce the end result that had occurred, to be sure. That had been a completely unforeseen accident, brought on by the king’s own folly. Cork had simply wanted to embarrass Wentworth and undermine his position at court. Aside from being more clever than most, it was just the sort of petty political maneuver that Leebrick had seen dozens of times on the continent. One nobleman trying to jostle aside another, that’s all.

 

            But once the accident did occur, with its catastrophic consequences, Cork and his people were moving quickly to take full advantage of the situation. They’d match Leebrick’s signed testimony against something similar they’d extract from whichever leaders of the Trained Bands had taken their money. Again, nothing that implicated those leaders directly in any treason—but did implicate Wentworth.

 

            Looked at from one angle, the hastily conceived plot was completely ramshackle. Any judicious eye would start picking it apart, soon enough, and with a bit of patience could unravel the thing completely.

 

            But it would be no patient set of eyes that looked at these documents. It would be the eyes of England’s king, his body wracked with agony and his spirit wracked still worse by the death of his wife. Even if that king had been of the caliber of Henry II, he might be taken in, under these circumstances. Given that Charles I wasn’t fit to shine the great Plantagenet’s boots, England’s current monarch would swallow it whole.

 

            So much, Anthony was almost sure of. What he was completely certain about, was that he and Patrick and Richard wouldn’t survive putting down their signatures for more than a day. Probably not more than the few hours it took to get them out of London.

 

            “And, as I said,” Porter went on smoothly, gesturing at the officer standing behind him, “Captain Doncaster and his men will escort you out of the city and see you safely onto a ship at Dover.”

 

            Anthony glanced at Doncaster, and then at the two soldiers standing behind him, not far from the open door. He didn’t know Doncaster personally, having only met him briefly and casually on a few occasions. But the flat look in his eyes was enough. If it hadn’t been, the sight of two common soldiers armed with wheel-locks would have done the trick. Those pistols were far more expensive than anything men in the ranks would be carrying. They must have been loaned by some of Doncaster’s officers, or perhaps they were even his. They were an officer’s or a cavalryman’s weapon—and Doncaster’s was an infantry company.

 

            The great advantage of wheel-locks, of course, was that they could be carried with the wheel’s spring already under tension and the weapon ready to be fired. There was no need to fiddle around with matches, as there was with a matchlock. Just flip down the lever holding the pyrite—that was called either the cock or the doghead—against the wheel, and then pull the trigger. That was a great advantage to a cavalryman. Or an assassin.

 

            But Anthony’s glance had mainly been for the purpose of assessing the tactical situation. So far as he could determine, Porter must have ordered the two guards who’d been at the door earlier to leave. They’d be part of the mansion’s regular guard force, and not privy to anything beyond their normal duties.

 

            More importantly, Richard had slowly edged his way into position. And Patrick was scratching the back of his neck, the way a man pondering a difficult decision might do.

 

            “Very well, I’ll sign it.” Anthony took the quill pen and dipped it into the ink well, taking a moment to gauge the modest thing. It was a sturdy pen, and recently sharpened. He leaned over to sign the testimony—which also brought him closer to Porter. “I’m sure Richard will sign also.”

 

            He paused just before signing and grimaced. “Mind you, I make no guarantee about Welch. He’s a damned Irishman and like any Paddy—”

 

 

 

About Eric Flint

Author and Editor
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One Response to 1634: THE BALTIC WAR — snippet 62

  1. Jane DeBano says:

    This is so good! I can’t wait for each new snippet.

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