1634: THE BALTIC WAR — snippet 64

 

1634: THE BALTIC WAR – snippet 64:

 

 

            “Now where?” asked Richard. “Don’t dally about, Anthony. The guards will be here any minute. They’ll search every street.”

 

            Leebrick already had part of the answer—the end goal. What he wasn’t sure of, was how to get there.

 

            “I’m not that familiar with Westminster. Either of you?”

 

            Towson nodded. “I know it quite well. Spent years as a lad, helping my father make deliveries in the area.”

 

            “You lead the way, then.”

 

            “Lead the way, where?”

 

            “Southwark. Liz will hide us.”

 

            Welch and Towson stared at him, their expressions both full of doubts.

 

            Different ones, as it turned out, as were their different temperaments. Richard inclined to the practical, being from Derbyshire; the Irishman, to the acerbic.

 

            Richard expressed his first, as he led them down an alley. “Only way across is either London Bridge or taking a boat at Westminster Stairs, which I don’t advise. It’s the first place they’ll look, and boatmen talk.”

 

            “It’ll have to be the bridge,” said Leebrick. He wasn’t looking forward to a walk of two or three miles on streets in this bad a condition, but he saw no choice. Taking a boat would be madness, unless they could steal one—and finding an unguarded boat in midwinter was a dubious proposition. Any time of year, for that moment. Boats were expensive, too.

 

            “They might close off London Bridge before we can get there,” pointed out Welch.

 

            “Not likely,” said Leebrick. “This wasn’t part of any well-planned conspiracy. Cork is just putting it together as he goes, taking advantage of happenstance. The ink was barely dry on that stinking document of Porter’s. There’s no way Cork has control of the military forces in London yet. Not all of them, for sure—which means not enough of them to seal off every exit.”

 

            “True,” mused Towson. “But London Bridge is a pretty obvious one, I’d think.”

 

            Even while talking, though, he’d been leading them as quickly as the ground allowed in the direction of the Bridge. By now, they had to be far ahead of any pursuit coming from Cork’s mansion.

 

            “No, actually, it isn’t,” said Anthony. “Aside from the two of you, no one knows of my liaison with Elizabeth Lytle. I’ve kept it—”

 

            Seeing the sour expression on Welch’s face, he let that drop for the moment. “The point is, no one has any reason to think we have any connection with Southwark. So why would we try to hide there, instead of leaving the city entirely?”

 

            “Same reason any criminal does,” snorted Welch, his tone sounding as sour as his face looked.

 

            “Not the same thing, Patrick. All a common criminal has to evade are the courts and constables. We’ll be charged with treason—and Cork has enough money to offer a huge reward for us. Southwark’s the worst place in England for someone to hide, if there’s money being waved about to find their whereabouts, unless they can stay completely out of sight. Scratch any criminal and you’ll find an informer.”

 

            Patrick came to a sudden stop, planting his hands on his hips. “Right, so you will. And here’s what else is true, Anthony Leebrick—and I’ll say it straight out even if Richard won’t. Scratch any whore and you’ll find an informer, too.”

 

            So, there it was. Towson drew in a breath, almost hissing.

 

            But Leebrick had seen it coming, and was ready for the matter. “She stopped whoring when she took up with me, Patrick, which not even you will deny.”

 

            He paused, forcing Welch to answer.

 

            The Irishman drew in a sharp breath of his own. “Fine. No, I’ll not deny it. I’ll go further and say that I’ve no particular animus against whores to begin with. On average—and this is based on lots of experience—I’ve found them no more dishonest than most and considerably less than some.”

 

            A quick smile came to his face; Patrick’s saving grace was that he was acerbic about everything, himself not excepted. “Including just about every soldier I ever met, leaving aside thee and me and Richard here. But they’re still no less the mercenaries, themselves, even if they use fleshy instead of iron tools in their trade. So, tell me, Captain Leebrick. Why wouldn’t your precious Liz turn us in for the reward?”

 

            But by the time Patrick had finished—as Anthony had expected would happen—he’d already talked himself out of his position. Halfway, at least. It was obvious just from his expression. And he’d talked Richard completely around.

 

            “Oh, leave off, Patrick,” said Towson, sounding quite acerbic himself. “The woman dotes on our dashing captain, you know it as well as I do. Even whores fall in love, you know.”

 

            Patrick did his best to rally, essaying a sneer.

 

            “Oh, come on!” Towson jerked a thumb at Leebrick. “Why else do you think he keeps her a secret from everybody except us? Most officers brag about their kept women, especially ones as good-looking as Lytle. The reason he doesn’t is because he knows he’d be the laughingstock of the companies if they found out he was keeping one he planned to marry.”

 

            “Against my advice, I remind you,” said Patrick. “I want that registered on the record. This current mad scheme even more than that idiot proposal of marriage.”

 

            From Welch, that was complete capitulation. Towson set off again, leading the way to the bridge.

 

****

 

            They got across London Bridge with no problems at all. So far as Anthony could determine, whatever pursuit had been organized still hadn’t gotten out of Westminster.

 

            “So, here we are in Southwark,” said Patrick, a while later, “about to test an legend. Is there really such a thing as a whore with a heart of gold?”

 

            From anyone else, Anthony would have taken offence. But he and Patrick went back a long way together. So he just chuckled. “And after it’s all over, you’ll insist the test was false, anyway.”

 

            Welch frowned. “Why would I do that?”

 

            “You idiot,” said Towson, chuckling himself. He dug into his coat and pulled out Porter’s bag. “I’ll be glad to set this great heavy thing down finally, I can tell you that. Patrick, you benighted Irishman, there’s enough silver in here to offset any reward of Cork’s. Halfway, at least.”

 

            Welch stopped again, planting hands on hips. “You miserable bastard, Leebrick. You’re cheating!”

 

            “That’s why he’s the captain,” said Towson, “and we but his lowly lieutenants.”

 

****

 

            “Dear God,” said Richard Boyle, his face pale. “Endymion? Murdered?

 

            He looked away, his eyes ranging across the crowd that was now packed into the outer rooms of the palace. Mostly courtiers, standing about and gossiping pointlessly, with some harried officials here and there trying to make their way through the mob. The king had arrived, just minutes earlier, and Cork had had to threaten to have soldiers fire on the crowd to clear a path for the litter. Then, do the same shortly thereafter to clear a way for the royal heirs and the queen’s corpse.

 

            “Dear God,” he repeated. “I can’t believe it. He was alive—right here!—just—just—”

 

            “Cork, pull yourself together,” said Sir Paul Pindar sharply. “I’m as sorry as you are about poor Endymion, but Wentworth will be here any moment. Don’t you understand? Porter’s murder casts the final die—and it’s perfect.

 

            The earl gaped at him. For all his ruthlessness, Cork was a man who’d made his way up using money, not steel. The same could be said of Pindar, of course, but the merchant’s fortune had come from the often steely demands of the Levant trade, not peddling influence and making advantageous marriages.

 

            “He’s right, Richard,” said Sir Francis Windebank. “A signed testimony is one thing. Might be forged, who’s to say? But now there are bodies to point to, corpses anyone can look at. Brutally slain, by men whom everyone can now see must have been skilled and deadly assassins. Appointed to their posts by Strafford himself. Probably working in collusion with a foreign power.”

 

            That was sheer gibberish, from any logical viewpoint. But Boyle was starting to regain his wits. Gibberish, yes, if you pulled it all apart. But if you ran it all together quickly—past a dazed and grief-stricken monarch—and you controlled the ensuing investigation yourself…. and had plenty of money to throw around…

 

            “Yes, you’re right. Poor Endymion—but he’d be the first to tell us to seize the occasion.”

 

            There was a stir at the outer entrance. A moment later, Thomas Wentworth was forcing his way through the crowd.

 

            “Clear a path, damn you!” he shouted angrily. “Make way! I’m the Earl of Strafford!”

 

            He caught sight of Richard. “Cork!” he cried out. “Is there word of His Majesty? I could find no sign of him—”

 

            Before Wentworth got halfway through that last sentence, Boyle had already gauged the crowd in the vicinity. Courtiers, mostly, not actual ministers except the secretary of state standing right beside him. Best of all, the soldiers were the same ones he’d used to bring in the king. And given their captains the promise of a very hefty bonus.

 

            “Arrest that traitor!” he bellowed, pointing at Wentworth.

 

 

 

About Eric Flint

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Comments

3 Responses to 1634: THE BALTIC WAR — snippet 64

  1. Is “casts the final die” period colloquial?

  2. Earl Colby Pottinger says:

    “Whore with a heart of gold”. how old is the original ‘pretty woman’ story?

  3. Mark L says:

    How old? Appulius’s “The Golden Ass” has it as one of the themes. That means it dates to the third century common era.

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