1634: THE BALTIC WAR — snippet 73


1634: THE BALTIC WAR – snippet 73:



            “No, not in there,” said Sir Francis Windebank. “I don’t want Laud in communication with Wentworth. Even on separate floors, I don’t want both of them in the Bloody Tower.”


            Stephen Hamilton, one of the captains of the Yeoman Guards, considered the problem, letting no sign of his fury show on his face. “Well, Sir Francis, that’s a bit difficult—seeing as how you’ll be needing the Lieutenant’s Lodging and Beauchamp Tower for your officers, and you’re wanting Wakefield Tower for yourself and your staff.”


            “And the White Tower for my men, yes, I know. How long will it take to clear that out, by the way?”


            “Can I draw on the soldiers themselves for labor?” asked Hamilton, eyeing the huge central keep of the fortress. “It’s mostly been used for storage for some thirty years, now. The inside’s a jumble.”


            “I can’t see why not,” said Windebank impatiently. “Yes, yes, the soldiers will complain, but that’s a problem for their captains. They either clear it out or they can sleep in the open.”


            They’ll be shitting in the open, either way, thought Hamilton. The White Tower was ancient, dating back to the time of William the Conqueror. Its sanitary facilities were scanty and primitive. Not the least of the reasons Stephen was so angry was that he knew the careful sanitary arrangements that the American nurse Rita Simpson had spent months overseeing were being shat upon along with the Warders. Give it a few weeks, with hundreds of new soldiers crammed into the Tower, and the diseases which had been mercifully almost absent the past months would come back with a vengeance.


            But there was nothing he could do about it. Cork had replaced Strafford, and the earl from Ireland was determined to prove to anyone that his fist was even harder than that of his overthrown predecessor—and he’d not be bothering with gloves, thank you. Not dealing with such as the Yeoman Warders, at any rate, however gracious he might to English noblemen and wealthy merchants.


            “It’ll have to be the Salt Tower, then,” said Hamilton. “It’s not really fit for the Archbishop, what with all the priests that were held there a time back—that many, they left it a mess and we’ve never had the funds to repair the damage—but it’s the only space that remains.” He set his jaw. “Unless you’re prepared to place William Laud in one of the dungeons.”


            Sir Francis winced. For just an instant, the man’s arrogant surface vanished and Hamilton got a glimpse of the fear and uncertainty that lurked beneath. He and Cork and their new ruling party were taking a fearsome gamble, here. That much was obvious to any simpleton urchin in London, much less a captain of the Yeoman Warders. Their authority was even less broadly based than Wentworth’s had been. In the end, it rested on nothing more substantial than the support of King Charles I, who was by all accounts now a cripple, half-out of his mind with grief over the death of his wife—and a monarch who was notorious in any event for being fickle and undependable.


            The only reason their sudden coup had succeeded at all—this much was also evident to a Warder captain, if not to street urchins—was that Wentworth had amassed such a great pile of resentment against him on the part of England’s upper classes. The Earl of Strafford was without doubt a very capable man, but he tended to be oblivious to the personal reactions of people around him. He could and did give offense without even realizing it; often enough, without even meaning to. He was like a good blacksmith who understood every aspect of his trade—except the fact that he was trying to mold people instead of metal. Iron does not resent the strike of a hammer or the rough grip of tongs. People do, deeply.


            “No, no, that’s absurd,” Windebank said hastily. “The Archbishop of Canterbury, in a dungeon? Grotesque.”


            He didn’t add “and most unwise as well,” but that was clearly uppermost in his thinking. As well it should be. Let the king’s favor turn, and Sir Francis Windebank might easily find himself in the Tower—and given the same accommodations his enemies had been given. A prisoner could survive decent lodgings in the Tower for a very long time. Kings had lived here, in times past. Sir Walter Raleigh had lasted in the Bloody Tower for thirteen years—and then had died, not from ill health, but the ax-blade of the headsman. Surviving one of the dungeons was a much different proposition, especially for a sixty-year-old man like Archbishop Laud. Or a man in his early fifties, like Windebank, for that matter.


            “Very well, Sir Francis, I’ll see to the Archbishop’s new quarters.”


            He turned to leave, but Windebank held him back with a hand on the arm. “One last thing, Captain Hamilton. In case I haven’t made it clear enough. Both Wentworth and Laud are to be well kept, and in good comfort. But they’re not to speak to anyone, beyond the guards themselves. Is that understood? No visitors of any kind, nor are they to be allowed onto the grounds.”


            Hamilton nodded. Again, he had to fight down an expression. Not a scowl of anger, this time, but a sneer of contempt. Windebank’s fear of allowing either of the two new prisoners to have any outside contact was itself a sign of the new regime’s fragility. Beyond that, it was a sign of the man’s stupidity.


            No, not outright stupidity, he thought, as he walked away. Just that imitation of it that so many men fell into, when they let their pre-occupation with immediate tasks blind them to the world beyond.


            Hamilton passed through the gate next to the Bloody Tower that connected the Inner and Outer Wards. Then, headed west down the Water Lane toward the group of men alongside Bell Tower, who were guarding the Archbishop. Along the way, he passed by St. Thomas’ Tower, and gave it a glance.


            Sheer stupidity it was, though, whatever it’s provenance. Sir Francis had given orders that no one was to be allowed contact with Wentworth and Laud—but had given no such orders regarding the people held prisoner in St. Thomas’ Tower. Stephen Hamilton smiled, thinly. That was like a man ordering mastiffs muzzled as well as collared—while leaving bare the teeth of wolves.


            And wolves they were, too, no matter how much the Warders might have come to like the beasts. Stephen Hamilton liked the Americans himself, for that matter, insofar as his cold soul had it in him to like anyone who was not of his own family. But he’d never once lost sight of the fact that he had wolves under guard.


            He hadn’t brought the matter to Windebank’s attention, however. And now that he had a bit of time to think, Hamilton had to ask himself why he hadn’t.


            The answer didn’t take long in coming. Nor did it surprise him. He’d given the matter some thought already, from time to time. He’d had no difficulty understanding the nature of those prisoners in St. Thomas’ Tower, for the good and simple reason that he was at least half-wolf himself. Not even that, really, since his wife died. He was simply a wolf who’d chosen to wear a watchdog’s uniform, for the well-being of his family.


            Treat me like a cur, would they?




            After he finished seeing to the Archbishop being placed in the Salt Tower, Hamilton returned to his own quarters. He shared rooms in the Lieutenant’s Lodging with the rest of his family. Quarters which had been quite spacious, until today.


            The first persons he encountered when he entered were Patricia Hayes and Victoria Short. As was true of all the members of Stephen’s family, they were in-laws, not blood relations. The Warder captain had no surviving kin of his own, only those whom his wife Jane had given him before she died in childbirth. The infant had died with her, leaving Hamilton bereft of children as well as spouse.


            Patricia was his wife’s sister. She was a widow, now, her husband having been killed in a horsefall a few years since. Victoria and her older brother Andrew were the children of his wife's long-deceased half brother.


            Both women were carrying bundles of bedding. “They’re driving us out!” Patricia said angrily. “We’re losing two of our rooms!”


            “Better than most, at that,” Stephen said. “Some of the Warders with no officers in the family are being forced out of the Lodging altogether. They’ll have to find a shack out on the grounds against the wall. Or make one, more likely.”


            “What’s happening?” asked Victoria, plaintively.


            Hamilton now had his anger completely under control. Iced down, it would be better to say. “The Earl of Cork feels that leaving his new prisoners in the care of Yeoman Warders might be risky. It seems—this will come as a surprise to everyone, of course, including ghosts—that there might be some questions concerning our loyalties. So he’s brought in three companies of mercenaries to see to the Tower’s security.”


            “That’s idiotic!” snapped Patricia.


            So it was. The Yeoman Warders of the Tower answered to the King of England, whoever he might be and whatever they thought of him. No business of theirs, which ministers came and went at the King’s favor. Lock one up; let another go; theirs was simply to see to it that the locks were sound.


            “As it may be,” was all he said, however. “Victoria, I need to speak to you. In the kitchen, as soon as you’ve put away that bedding.”


            She looked at him, blankly. “Just me?”


            He considered the matter for a moment. “Is Andrew about?”


            “He’s next door, helping the Hardwicks,” said Patricia. “Poor people. They’re being forced into a single room—even losing their kitchen.”


            “Get him too, then.” Hamilton headed for the kitchen, not waiting to see if the women would obey. He had no doubt they would. Although he was no blood relation to anyone in his family, over the years he’d come to be what amounted to their patriarch. Partly because he was the oldest, being now into his forties. Partly because…


            He was who he was. He never bit. He never snarled.


            He never needed to.

About Eric Flint

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