1635: The Eastern Front — Snippet 27
“Just as ugly as I remembered,” Baldur Norddahl said to Prince Ulrik, who was standing next to him on the ship coming slowly into Stockholm’s harbor. They were looking up at the Swedish royal palace, known as the Tre Kronor — “Three Crowns” — because of the shape of its central spire.
The palace sat on the island of Stadsholmen, which was the main island of Gamla Stan, the center of Stockholm. In this day and age, there wasn’t much of the city lying outside of Gamla Stan. That would change in the future, Ulrik knew, when Stockholm would expand across many of the islands of the great archipelago situated off Sweden’s eastern coast where Lake Malaren met the Baltic. But at least for now, Sweden’s capital was a relatively small city.
Gamla Stan was dominated by two buildings, the Tre Kronor and the Church of St. Nicholas, most commonly known as The Great Church and sometimes as the Stockholm Cathedral. The church was an imposing brick edifice located close to the palace, with an even more imposing steeple.
“Ugly” wasn’t fair. In its own way, Tre Kronor was quite impressive. But it lacked the grace and style of Frederiksborg Palace in Denmark, in Ulrik’s opinion. Admittedly, he could be accused of bias.
They were nearing the dock now, and a flurry of shouts was exchanged between some sailors on the ship and half a dozen men standing on the dock. Ulrik understood Swedish quite well, but some of the profanity being used was unclear to him. Of Finnish origin, perhaps. He was tempted to ask Baldur, who was fluent in all the northern languages including Russian. But he decided he would be damaging his dignity. There was nothing more sublime involved in the exchange than men coordinating the work of docking a small ship. And he was on an important diplomatic mission, after all.
Even if the critical person in that mission was still back on the ironclad that had carried them across the Baltic, having an eight-year-old temper tantrum that even Caroline Platzer was having a hard time coping with. Once it had become clear that Kristina’s frenzy wasn’t going to fade anytime soon, Ulrik had decided it would be best for him and Baldur to proceed onward in one of the lighters that had arrived to offload the passengers. He didn’t think his presence was helping Platzer any, given that at least part of the reason Kristina was so agitated was her sure and certain knowledge that her mother would disapprove of her betrothed.
Besides, he wanted to get off the ironclad. The damn thing made him nervous. He thought it was sheer folly to use such a vessel for this purpose.
Folly, for at least three reasons. First, the vessel had never been designed as a passenger ship and was very poorly suited for the purpose. Even a regular warship would have been better. It certainly wouldn’t have smelled as bad.
Second, using the thing was pure royal extravagance, as grandiose as it was expensive. With a father like Christian IV, Prince Ulrik had had more than enough such wasteful exhibitions.
Finally, it wasn’t safe. The ironclads didn’t handle open seas well at all, and even the Baltic classified as a sea. Admiral Simpson himself had cautioned against using the Union of Kalmar to transport Princess Kristina and Prince Ulrik to Stockholm.
But Gustav Adolf and Christian IV had both been adamant on the matter. The ironclad had formerly been the SSIM President, in the service of the USE Navy. As part of the elaborate process — delicate dance, might be a better way of putting it — of forging the Union of Kalmar, Gustav Adolf had insisted that one of the ironclads be turned over to the new Union. That would make Christian IV at least technically the co-owner of the great warship, and the Danish king loved modern gadgets, especially military gadgets.
Well, it was over — assuming the Union of Kalmar didn’t sink in the harbor, taking down the royal heiress at the same time. But as much as Kristina sometimes aggravated Ulrik, he certainly didn’t wish that on her. For the most part, in fact, he’d grown rather fond of the girl.
True, she’d be something of a terror as a wife. At times, at least. But that didn’t bother Ulrik very much. He was phlegmatic enough to handle it. His real fear since boyhood when it came to a political marriage — which was inevitable for a prince in line of succession — was that his wife would be dull and boring.
No fear of that, with Kristina.
The ship was now tied up to the dock. A large coterie of Swedish court officials came forward. They were trying to spot Kristina and as it became clear to them that the princess was not aboard, their expressions grew concerned.
“Princess Kristina was ill-disposed for the moment,” Ulrik explained, as he came across the gangway to the dock. Norddahl came behind him, followed by four servants toting their baggage.
Once he set foot on the dock, Ulrik nodded toward the Union of Kalmar. The ironclad was quite visible in the harbor. In fact, it had drawn a large crowd of sightseers to the various docks and piers at the harbor. Except this one, of course, which had been blocked off by a unit of Swedish troops. Probably from the palace guard, Ulrik figured.
“She’s still aboard the ironclad,” he explained. “I imagine she’ll be along fairly soon.”
The fellow who seemed to be in charge of the contingent of officials was looking very glum by now.
“Her Majesty will be most upset,” he said.
“And hence her daughter’s indisposition,” replied Ulrik cheerily.
Clearly, from his expression, the court official hadn’t understood the quip. Just as well. Ulrik’s father had once told him: As a king, you want brave generals, shrewd advisers and diplomats, but — make sure of this, son! — dull-witted court officials. They’re insufferable otherwise.
Judging from the way the court officials were milling around, talking to each other in low-pitched but agitated tones, nothing would be happening until Kristina set foot on the dock. Quite obviously, none of these men wanted to return to the palace and face the queen without the princess in tow.
So be it. Ulrik had no problem standing around on the dock for a time. It was a very pleasant day, sunny and with just a mild breeze. After spending two days cramped on an ironclad and with the prospect ahead of spending weeks in what looked like a rather chilly royal palace — it would be crowded, too; palaces with royalty in residence always were — he didn’t mind at all the pleasures of the moment.
Baldur felt otherwise. “There’s got to be a decent tavern hereabouts,” he said. “Even a not-so-decent tavern would suit me fine.”
Ulrik smiled. “Suit you better, you mean. Unfortunately, this is not the time for carousal. It would look bad.”
“Look bad for you,” Baldur retorted. “They already think the worst of me.”
Actually, from what Ulrik could determine, none of these officials seemed to have any idea of Baldur Norddahl’s identity or of his checkered past in Sweden. Neither had any of the Swedish officials they’d encountered before they sailed — and there’d been a veritable drove of those, during the Council of Copenhagen.
The explanation, of course, was simple — that selfsame dull-wittedness of officials. It simply wouldn’t have occurred to any of them that a Danish prince — any sort of prince, even a Hindoo or Mussulman prince — would associate with ruffians. It helped that Ulrik had seen to it that Baldur’s wardrobe was suitable.
The name wouldn’t matter here. Ulrik had never asked, but he was quite sure that whatever misdeeds Baldur had committed in times past in Sweden, he’d done it under a different name.
There was no reason to press the matter, however, which they’d be doing if they ventured into a disreputable dockside tavern. If there was any place in Stockholm where they might encounter someone who’d known Baldur, it would be there.
A little motion in the distance caught his eye, and he turned to look. Another lighter was coming away from the Union of Kalmar. And it was flying the Swedish royal ensign.
“Too late, anyway,” he said to Baldur. “Kristina’s coming.”
When the princess set foot on the dock, she ignored the gaggle of officials and rushed to Ulrik’s side. She clutched his elbow with both hands and looked up at him with an expression that combined anxiety, determination and relief.
“Caroline says you won’t get upset no matter what happens. Because that’s the way you are, she says. So she says I should take my guidance from you.”
Ulrik looked over at the gangway, where Caroline Platzer was now coming across. Their eyes met. He didn’t know whether he should glare or look thankful.
Instead, he kept his expression neutral. Realizing, at the same time, that the infernally shrewd Platzer woman would have counted on that.
Ah, well. There were advantages to being a phlegmatic prince. Calming the nerves of a younger and very unphlegmatic princess, for one.
He patted her hands. “Everything will be fine.”
A smooth and fluent liar, too. Another virtue for a prince.