1634: THE BALTIC WAR — snippet 81

 

1634: THE BALTIC WAR – snippet 81:

 

 

            And now, it was time for the charge—and Thorsten was hesitating again.

 

            Fortunately—or not—Caroline emerged from the door. Smiling the way only she could.

 

            “You haven’t done this in ages! What’s the matter, Thorsten?”

 

            Before he could think of an answer, there was some sort of commotion behind her. Caroline turned her head.

 

            “Oh, God, she’s impossible sometimes!” She began to hurry back in, but paused quickly to wave an invitation at Thorsten to follow.

 

            A bit hesitantly, he followed—and found himself, once he entered the big outer room of the settlement house, looking at a small girl in very expensive clothing standing at bay, surrounded by four women in clothing that was just barely less expensive. Put together, at a guess, there was enough valuable finery there to set up a butcher shop.

 

            Caroline was in the midst of it, looking like a plain sparrow among peacocks—except she was taller than any of them and, leaving aside her utilitarian working clothes, much better looking.

 

            Much better for Thorsten, at least. But even an observer as judiciously impartial as Solomon would have allowed him half of that. Three-quarters, more likely, since Solomon had been male himself with a reputation for having an eye for women.

 

            “Kristina, you can’t, it’s as simple as that.” Unlike the others, who were trying to use the advantage of their height to overawe the child, Caroline had squatted—she did that so easily, with her athletic figure, and the end result had the usual effect on Thorsten—to bring her eyes level with the girl. “Your father would have a fit if he found out.”

 

            “So don’t tell him. He’s in Luebeck. And he does it himself! All the time!”

 

             One of the other women—all down-timers, Thorsten now recognized—tried to intervene.

 

            “Be still, girl! Your father is the king, and you are not. And there’s an end to it.”

 

            Thorsten had none of Caroline’s psychological expertise, much less Maureen Grady’s, but no villager he knew—certainly no village woman—would be so obtuse as to think that such an obviously headstrong child could be reined in with a mere admonition. In a situation like this, you either reasoned with a child or simply beat them into obedience.

 

            In a village, of course, the second option would already be in play by now, nine times out of ten. Thorsten wasn’t sure, however, if the same rules applied to royalty. He’d had even less contact with such than he’d had with Americans.

 

            The girl’s reply led him to believe the rules were otherwise.

 

            “Will be someday!” came her very spirited response. She seemed as unabashed as a small wolf being chastised by large lambs. She even—Thorsten almost laughed—shook her finger in the face of the woman who had admonished her. As high up as she could reach, at least. She wasn’t more than seven years old, eight at the most. The finger was actually being shaken at the woman’s midriff.

 

            “And you watch what happens to you then! I’ve got a good memory!”

 

            The woman seemed to flinch, a bit. But Caroline’s response was quite different. She took the girl’s finger-shaking hand and brought it down. Then, spoke to her quietly but very sternly.

 

            “That is enough, Kristina. And don’t you ever let me hear you threaten someone again.” When the girl—by now, Thorsten had deduced this must be the famous daughter of Gustav Adolf—avoided Caroline’s eyes, the Americaness seized her cheeks with her other hand and forced her to look at her.

 

            “Look at me. You can’t do that, Kristina. It’s not fair, it’s not right—and it’s bad for you too. You know it is, and you know why. We’ve talked about it, plenty of times. Haven’t we?”

 

            Kristina was trying to glare at Caroline now. Not… very successfully.

 

            “Haven’t we?”

 

            By now, Caroline’s grip on the girl’s face had loosened into something closer to a caress than the initial vise.

 

            “Yes,” said the princess, in the half-whine of a child agreeing—very grudgingly—to an adult’s wisdom.

 

            “And why is that?”

 

            Thorsten glanced at the four up-time women. Noblewomen, he assumed, assigned to watch over the princess. Fortunately, this time, they seemed far more inclined to let the much younger American woman handle the situation. In fact, they seemed downright relieved. There were also two soldiers standing against the very far wall. The princess’ bodyguards, those would be. From the expressions on their faces, it was quite obvious they intended to continue their splendid imitation of wooden soldiers, too.

 

            He looked back at Caroline and the princess. The girl was looking away again, trying evade the question. But Caroline didn’t repeat the stern cheek-grabbing maneuver. Instead, she lowered her hand from the girl’s face altogether, and shifted it to her left shoulder. That was definitely a caress, now.

 

            “And why is that?” she repeated. Softly, gently, not in the same stern tone she’d used earlier.

 

            Kristina wiped her nose. “Because all the studies show that kids”—the English term slid easily, in and out of the German—“who are mean to animals grow up to be nasty people. Monsters, some of them.”

 

            “And?”

 

            The nose got wiped again, more vigorously. “And it’s much too easy for a kid whose father has a lot of power, and will herself someday, to start thinking of people as animals. Which is even worse.”

 

            That seemed to open the flood-gates. Every trace of the royal fled from Kristina’s face, leaving only the greatly-distressed child. She flung herself into Caroline’s arms, sobbing in the unrestrained and chaotic way that a seven-year-old will.

 

            “But I’m such a good rider, Caroline! I can do it! I know I can!”

 

            “Yes, dear, I know. You’re a wonderful horsewoman. Everyone says that, and I don’t doubt it. Even if—”

 

            Sudden shrieks of laughter burst through the sobs. “You! You can’t hardly tell a horse from a cow!”

 

            They were both laughing, now. Thorsten, on the other hand, almost felt like crying from despair. The biggest apple he’d ever seen in his life had just gotten so big he could barely see the edges. He’d wondered, often, what sort of mother she would make.

 

            To his surprise, Caroline suddenly turned her head and gave him a strange look. A very considering one, it seemed, as it she were gauging something.

 

            What? His clothes? But he was just wearing the same uniform he always wore. He managed to keep himself from raising his hand to stroke his own cheeks. Silly, that. He knew he’d shaved this morning. He’d checked several times. Eric had made jokes about that too.

 

            Caroline looked back at the noblewomen, giving them a subtle but unmistakable glance. Leave, please. I’ll handle this.

 

            Not being fools, they obeyed, sidling quickly toward a distant corner of the room.

 

            Caroline rose and took the princess by the hand. “Come here, Kristina. I want you to meet a… good friend of mine. He can explain to you better than I can. He’s a sergeant in the new volley gun batteries. Almost a cavalryman himself.”

 

             That perked up the girl’s interest immediately. Thorsten had the sense of a very bright child who was interested in a great many things. No dullard, for sure. Hardly surprising, of course, given her sire.

 

            Before Thorsten quite understood what was happening, Caroline had ushered him and the princess into the office nearby that she used for consultations. She even closed the door behind her, which she’d never done the times Thorsten had visited her alone.

 

            “Please sit, Thorsten. You too, Kristina.” Both obeyed, and Caroline went around behind her desk and took her own seat. “Thorsten, the princess—”

 

            “What’s that big package you’ve got?” Kristina demanded, staring at the large cloth-wrapped bundle Thorsten had awkwardly perched on his knees.

 

            “Ah….”

 

            “Kristina!” Caroline half-barked, half-laughed. “Can’t you keep your attention focused on one thing for one minute?”

 

            The girl looked at her a bit guiltily. With that inimitable smile on her face, Caroline shook her head and pointed to the closed door. “Wasn’t but a minute ago you were throwing a fit, remember? Forget Thorsten’s package, whatever it is. Ask him to tell you why you can’t participate in the army’s field maneuvers.”

 

            Lightning-quick, all thoughts of anything else left the girl’s mind. She looked at Thorsten, with a half-pleading and half-eager expression on her face.

 

            “I can really ride a horse! Really, really, really. Ask anybody!”

About Eric Flint

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Comments

2 Responses to 1634: THE BALTIC WAR — snippet 81

  1. Robert Krawitz says:

    “Thorsten glanced at the four up-time women” — should be “down-time”.

  2. Laura Gallagher says:

    “looking at a small girl in very expensive clothing standing at bay, surrounded by four women in clothing that was just barely less expensive. Put together, at a guess, there was enough valuable finery there to set up a butcher shop.”

    A butcher shop??

    I’m confused…

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