1635: The Eastern Front — Snippet 43
“That was a truly miserable experience,” said Baldur Norddahl, once they were far enough away from the queen of Sweden’s audience chamber not to be overheard.
Prince Ulrik made a sour little noise. “Exhausting, too.”
“At least now we know why the princess is sometimes given to moods.”
Ulrik made another sour noise, this one not so little. “‘Is sometimes given to moods.’ Is that Norwegian berserk-speak for ‘is sometimes a miniature harridan and others a very short lunatic’?”
“Your words, not mine,” Baldur replied serenely. “And that’s a terrible way to refer to your future bride. ‘Harridan’! ‘Lunatic’!”
They reached one of the great doors that led to Slottsbacken, the street that provided the main entrance to the palace. It was more in the way of a plaza than a street, really. Stockholm’s great church sat on its western edge.
As soon as they stepped through into the sunlight, Ulrik squared his shoulders. The gesture was half a shrug, half an expression of relief at getting outside. Under the cheeriest of monarchs, the Swedish royal palace would have been on the somber side. Under the influence of Queen Maria Eleanore, it was downright gloomy.
“Kristina is a very intelligent harridan and lunatic,” Ulrik said philosophically. “I could do worse. As long as she takes after her father instead of her mother, the marriage should at least be tolerable.”
“I certainly hope she doesn’t inherit her mother’s taste in entertainment.”
Ulrik grimaced. The Swedish queen doted on dwarfs and buffoons. The wretched creatures had half-filled the audience chamber.
“Dear God. Yes, let’s hope so.”
They headed for one of the other wings of the palace, where Ulrik and his entourage had their quarters.
“Look on the bright side, Prince. For at least six more years — no, probably seven or eight or possibly even nine or ten — you won’t have to be sharing a bed with the little lunatic harridan. And by the time you do, she won’t be so little. Which means –”
“And to think it was you, Baldur, who showed Danish royalty how to execute a man by crushing him in a diving suit.”
Baldur smiled; but did not pursue the train of thought further.
Mademann, Locquifier and Brillard watched the prince and his companion from a distance of slightly more than a hundred yards. They were partially hidden in the shade cast by a nearby elm tree.
“Can you do it?” asked Mademann. “I can probably get you one of the new French rifles. I can certainly get you an SRG.”
Brillard made a little dismissive gesture. “At this range, Charles, I could do it with any sort of rifled musket. But I think that would be a mistake.”
“Why?” asked Locquifier. He and Mademann shared, a bit awkwardly, the joint leadership of the project.
“Because the problem is not the prince. Nor the princess, for that matter. Ulrik is quite active and so is she, every chance she gets.”
“Whenever her half-crazed mother lets her roam loose, you mean.”
“Yes. But that happens often enough — and when it does, she invariably seeks out the company of the Dane. Not so?”
His companions both nodded. Brillard went on. “And whenever the two of them are together –”
“Three of them,” Mademann interrupted. “That Norwegian never leaves Ulrik’s side.”
“Two, three, it doesn’t matter. The point I was making is that they do not restrict themselves to the interior of palace. To the contrary. They always leave it to go elsewhere. More often than not, to the Storkyrkan.”
He nodded toward Stockholm’s cathedral. “She probably needs the respite, after being for too long with her mother.”
Mademann looked back and forth from the palace to the church. “Here, you’re saying? Right here in the open?”
“Why not? All of you except me. You can trap them here, and at close range. Between all of you, it should be easy enough.”
He shrugged. “Escape may be difficult. But we always understood that.”
“And you’d deal with the queen? Alone?”
“It’s the only way it can be done anyway. She almost never leaves the palace, and when she does it’s under heavy guard.”
“And then she goes to the cathedral also. So why not –?” Locquifier broke off as he came to the answer himself.
“The princess never goes at the same time she does,” said Mademann. “She waits until the queen has left and is almost back to the palace. Then…”
He whistled softly. “I see your plan now, Mathurin. You position yourself to strike down the queen just as she’s passing through the entrance. It’ll have to be a sunny day, though, when she’s using an open carriage.”
“Has to be a sunny day in any event,” said Brillard. “You can’t risk misfires in the rain.”
Locquifier seemed a bit dubious. “A difficult shot.”
“Not so difficult as all that — especially if Charles can get me a Cardinal breech-loader. An SRG will be a little more accurate, but it won’t give me the chance for a second shot.”
Mademann had been stroking his beard thoughtfully. “So your shot would be the signal. As soon as we hear it, the rest of us come out into the street. We should be able to hide well enough in the alleys. If all goes well, we’ll catch the Dane and the girl before they’ve reached the cathedral. Then we make our separate escapes.”
He, too, now looked a bit dubious. “Tricky timing, though.”
But Locquifier’s doubts had vanished. “It’s the only way,” he said firmly. “The instructions from Michel and Antoine were very precise. We must succeed in the full task. This is the only way to do it.”
Once Guillaume Locquifier came to the conclusion that a given plan was ordained by Michel Ducos, he would be unyielding in his determination to stick to it. Under other circumstances, Mathurin Brillard had often found that annoying. But under these, he didn’t mind at all.
He began giving some thought, for the first time, to methods of escape. It was unlikely he could do so, of course, given the ambitious scope of the project. But perhaps not impossible. Especially since the others would draw most of the attention, as numerous as they were and coming out in the open to fire pistols. He hadn’t come up with the plan for that reason, to be sure. Mathurin was cold-blooded, but not that cold-blooded. Nonetheless, the plan having been agreed to, there was no reason he shouldn’t take advantage of its unfortunate but inevitable results.