1636: Commander Cantrell in the West Indies – Snippet 26

1636: Commander Cantrell in the West Indies – Snippet 26

Chapter 13

Brussels, The Spanish Lowlands

“So the Spanish tried to kill the Pope? And did kill John O’Neill in Rome?”

Thomas Preston, oldest officer among the Irish Wild Geese who served in the Lowlands, and Maestro-de-campo of the eponymous Preston Tercio, stared back at the group which had summoned him and delivered this shocking news. Seated at the center was Fernando, King in the Low Countries and brother of Philip IV of Spain. To his right was Maria Anna of the House of Hapsburg, Fernando’s wife and sister of Emperor Ferdinand of Austria. And sitting to one side, but in the largest, most magnificent chair of all of them, was the grand dame of European politics herself, the Archduchess Infanta Isabella, still an authority in the Lowlands and aunt of both Fernando and Philip. And therefore, Preston’s employer for the last twenty years. Oh, and then there was Rubens, the artist and intelligencer, sitting far to one side of the power-holding troika that ruled here in Brussels.

Maria Anna leaned forward slightly. “Colonel Preston, I assure you, my husband would not tell you such things unless they were true.”

“Your Highness, I apologize. I did not intend that response as a sign of doubt, but of disbelief. It is shocking news, to say the least.”

Fernando nodded. “To us, also, Colonel. And that is why we asked you to meet us alone. It may cause, er, unrest in the Irish tercios, if it comes to them as rumor. Coming from you, however, we might hope for a different reception.”

Thomas Preston shifted in his suddenly-uncomfortable seat. “Your Highness, the reception might be somewhat different — but not as different as if it came from one of the Old Irish colonels.”

Maria Anna’s eyebrows raised in curiosity. “‘Old’ Irish?”

“Yes, Your Highness. My family name, as you are probably aware, is not an Irish name at all, but English. That makes us Prestons ‘New’ Irish, associated with the old, pre-Reformation landlords who eventually married into the Irish families. We are often wealthier than our Old Irish neighbors — which makes us suspect to begin with, I fear — but no amount of money will ever equate to having ancient Gaelic roots, to being one of the families whose names are routinely associated with the High Kingship’s tanists –“

“The tanists?” Maria Anna echoed.

It was Isabella herself who answered. “The royal families of Ireland designate one of their number as chief among them. And it is usually from among these that, in elder times, the current king’s successor — the tanist — was chosen.”

“Ah,” breathed Rubens, “so this is why Hugh O’Neill the Elder was known as ‘The O’Neill’. He was the chieftain of that dynasty and all those subordinate to it.”

“That is my understanding, but I suspect that Colonel Preston would add details I have missed or misunderstood. Most pertinent to our concerns, though, is that there are — or were — only two scions of the royal houses remaining free, outside Ireland, who had clear entitlement to becoming tanists of the vacant throne: the recently deceased John O’Neill, the Earl of Tyrone, and Hugh O’Donnell, the Earl of Tyrconnell.”

Attainted Earls, my grace,” added Rubens.

“Yes, yes,” she replied testily, “so the English have it. The same English who just happened to steal Ireland from its own people, and whose attainting of its few remaining nobles is merely the conclusive legalistic coda to their campaign of usurpation and rapine. It is not as if any legitimate monarch on the Continent, Catholic or Protestant, cares a whit for the juridical rationalizations of England’s theft of a whole nation. But let us return to Colonel Preston’s point. The Old Irish will, unfortunately, not hear this news as well from him as they would from one of the survivors of their royal families. But there is nothing to be done about that. The last O’Neill, who is not directly in the line of titular inheritance, is Owen Roe, and he now commands the Pope’s new bodyguard. The last O’Donnell is my godson, Hugh Albert, and he is — ” She paused, either catching her breath or mastering a quaver in her voice: Preston could not determine which. ” — is engaged in other matters and unable to return at present.”

Preston sat straighter. Whereas John O’Neill had been insufferable, and Owen Roe tolerable, Hugh O’Donnell had been a good fellow: clever, a shrewd soldier, well-educated, well-spoken, and without regal airs. So why the hell wasn’t he here? He’d disappeared in April, and now, when he was needed most —

“Colonel Preston,” Fernando articulated carefully, as if aware that he would have to reacquire the mercenary’s attention before continuing.

“Yes, Your Highness?”

“I should add that news of the Earl of Tyrone’s death, and the attempt on the Pope’s life, are only precursors to the primary reason I asked you to join us today.”

“Precursors, Your Highness?”

“Yes. Firstly, I welcome you to share your opinion on how your men will receive the news. This is material to the next matter we must discuss.”

“Well, Your Majesty, I am not one to make predictions, especially not in regard to my own somewhat mercurial countrymen. But I feel sure of this: ever since news came that Urban had been forcibly removed — rather, ‘chased out’ — of the Holy See, and was being actively pursued by Borja’s own cardinal-killing Spaniards, every one of my senior officers has expressed their support for Urban. When they learn that Borja and his Spanish army tried to murder the Pope and killed John O’Neill while he was trying to rescue an up-timer and his pregnant wife . . . Well, let’s say my biggest concern will be to make sure that they don’t start picking fights with our ‘comrades’ in your own Spanish tercios.”

Fernando raised a finger. “You happen to have used an interesting turn of phrase, Colonel Preston. In fact, those Spanish tercios are not mine, they are my brother’s. They are on Spanish payroll, direct from Madrid.”

Preston heard Fernando’s tone shift, heard it move from the full-voiced, natural cadences of a frank conversation into one laced with slower, quieter insinuations. Careful, now, Thomas. When a well-manicured Spanish gentleman starts addressing his topics on the slant, you can be sure there’s a snake in the grass somewhere nearby. “Yes, Your Highness,” Preston agreed carefully, “the Spanish are paid directly from Spanish coffers. Unlike us.”

Fernando smiled. “Precisely. Unlike you.” And then he looked down the table at Rubens.

Which told Thomas Preston that now he was going to hear the real dirt, the snaky facts of real politick that Fernando could not afford to utter with his own lips. That way, if later asked to admit or deny having mentioned those facts, he could offer a technically truthful denial. Kings: even the best of them had a bit of viper’s blood running in their veins. Thomas supposed they’d be dead, if they didn’t.

Ruben moved his considerable bulk closer to the broad, gleaming table at which they all sat. “Colonel Preston, given recent events, we are concerned that this year, when the time comes for our hired troops to renew their oaths to Spain, that there may be, er, resistance in your ranks, particularly.”

Preston waved a dismissive hand. “Then let’s skip the renewal of the oath. After all, it has no explicit term limit. The renewal is symbolic.”

“Yes, and it is a most important symbol. So, in order to preserve that symbol and yet also preserve the genuine loyalty of the four tercios of Wild Geese that are the ever-stalwart backbone and defenders of this realm, we have come up with a reasonable expedient: to simply change the oath.”

“Change the oath?”


“In what way?”

“This year, when you take the oath, it will omit the reference to the Archduchess Isabella as being Philip’s vassal. You will take your oath to her as you have for twenty years, but without mentioning King Philip of Spain.” Rubens paused, his eyes sought Preston’s directly. “I presume you see the political practicality of this adjustment?”

Oh, I see it, painter. I see everything you hope I’ll see without your having to say it. On the surface, the change of oath was just to minimize any possibility of disaffection or departure arising from any mention of direct fealty to the increasingly unpopular King of Spain. But, there was an underlying subtlety which, Preston was quite sure, was the real intent of the change of oath. We’ll only be swearing fealty to Isabella. And, unless I’m much mistaken, to her nephew.

Rubens’ next words confirmed his suspicions. “However, as a precaution, we will not point out the fact — which could be easily misconstrued, of course — that, in agreeing to renew your oaths to Her Grace the Infanta, that your service is most likely to be commanded by her nephew, whom she has been pleased to confirm as the senior power in her lands. So, although you now also serve the King in the Low Countries, that additional, extrapolative detail will remain unadvertised. For the moment.”

Yes, for the moment. But Preston had been a pawn on the chessboard where kings played their games for many decades and could see where this political compass was pointing. With the oaths of the Wild Geese transferred directly to Fernando, their obedience and their fates were locked to him, not to Spain. Yes, technically Fernando was still a vassal of Spain, but how long that would continue was debatable. And so, when and if the Lowlands became fully and officially separate from the throne in Madrid, the Irish tercios would follow suit. And they would indeed comprise the loyal core of its army, since Philip’s tercios in the Lowlands would most assuredly not follow the same path. But, problematically, they would still be in the same country. Preston flinched at the thought of his tercio squaring off against their former Spanish counterparts. That would be a bloody, internecine business indeed —  

“Is this change in the oath acceptable to you and your men, Colonel Preston?” Rubens asked. His small eyes did not blink.

“I will have to put it to them. However, given recent events, I think it will not only be acceptable but preferable. However, they will ask a question I cannot answer: how will they be paid? Already, the reales from Spain are few and far between. If it wasn’t for the deal Hugh O’Donnell struck with the Frenchman Turenne, earlier this year, I don’t know what we would have done for food these past three months. But that supply is almost over — and truth be told, I was never comfortable with the arrangement.”

“And why is that?” Maria Anna asked.

“Because, your Highness, until France and Madrid cooperated at the Battle of Dunkirk, the French had been the enemies of this realm, ever threatening the southern borders of the Brabant. I should know; I spent many months in garrison there, over the years. And then suddenly we are at peace — but it’s a peace which is already fraying. So in taking bread from Turenne, we took bread from a past, and very possibly future, adversary of this court. I was not comfortable condoning it, but I was less comfortable seeing my men’s families starve. So when O’Donnell arranged it by serving Turenne along with sixty of the men of his tercio, I had little choice but to accept it. And, I must speak frankly, it brought trouble along with it.”

“Oh?” asked Rubens. “What kind of trouble?”

“French trouble, Your Grace. Their agents have been lurking around our camps, letting it be known that the king of France is hiring mercenaries, and can pay them in hard coin, not cabbages and watered beer.”

Rubens looked at the ruling troika. They just kept watching Preston. None of them blinked, but Maria Anna might have suppressed a small smile.

Rubens rotated one thumb around the other. “And have any of your men left our service for theirs?”

“No, but I worry that they may. I’ve heard rumors — rumors from this court — that some nobles here speak ill of us Wild Geese, say that we should be grateful for the scraps we’re given, and that some of us are already taking service with the French.”


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21 Responses to 1636: Commander Cantrell in the West Indies – Snippet 26

  1. Greg Noel says:

    Ah, a new chapter. Now that the previous chapter is complete, I have some thoughts about the hints up to now.

    In the last chapter, we learned that Simpson is very concerned about the ships’ ability to fight in a littoral environment. Prior chapters had concerns about how accurate the broadside power was on a moving ship. So, Simpson anticipates that the ships might have to fight both a stand-up target (other ships or a land fortification) as well as boarding parties in small boats. In addition, we know that the supposed mission to acquire a source of oil is, at least in part, a cover for some other mission. We also know that part of the mission’s complement are mining engineers who should shortly have a (rotary) drill that will be able to reach 600+ feet (200+ meters).

    In Flint’s “forthcoming” web page[1], we are told that the first book focused on North America will be an anthology similar to The Ram Rebellion and that Flint has contracted for a book with the working title of “1636: Drums Along the Mohawk” (which would be an awesome title, but there’s no way they’d really use it). I don’t think that either one of those books is this one.

    [1] http://www.ericflint.net/index.php/forthcoming/

    Assuming that the covert mission is somehow related to oil, the logical targets are the Gulf Coast and Venezuela.

    On the one hand, the ideal place to control the Gulf Coast would be the mouth of the Mississippi River, which would simultaneously provide a base for covering the Gulf Coast and control access to North America between the Appalachians and the Rockies. Outposts in something like Galveston and the mouth of the Rio Grande (and eventually Saint Louis, Pittsburgh, and Dubuque) would effectively nail down the entire area. There are a lot of people in the tail of the expedition (the Danish court as well as the Lost Geese), but I don’t think that’s enough to establish all those strongpoints. The mouth of the Mississippi is certainly a place where I can imagine an attack by small boats (whether the indigenous population or scouts from other players) and the Gulf Coast might have stand-up targets in the form of ships also trying for a foothold.

    The oil strikes I can find in Texas are mostly over a thousand feet (300+ meters) down. The shallowest appear to be in west Texas (the Permian Shale) at 600+ feet, matching the drill limits, but there’s no transport to move it anywhere (the Rio Grande is “a thousand miles long and two feet deep” so it would be a massive investment, far beyond the resources of any current player, to dredge the river and construct the needed riverboats). It’s possible I missed something, so the Texas scenario isn’t implausible, but I just find it less likely.

    On the other hand, the main oil fields in Venezuela are just north of Rio Orinoco, which is navigable by ocean-going ships all the way to the up-time Cuidad Bolivar (and beyond that by riverboats). The river has a huge delta that ends up near Trinidad, so it’s only a few dozen miles from where they’ll be anyway, making it easy to slip off and do something covert. Only one access point (the mouth of the Rio Orinoco) needs to be controlled, and there are plenty of people to do that. This area would also have littoral combatants as well as stand-up targets.

    The oil deposits are mostly shallow (starting at 150 meters, call it 500 feet), so they ought to be reachable by the rotary drill when it’s available. Grantville would also know that these deposits are larger than the Texas deposits (although they wouldn’t know that they’ve recently been determined to be larger than all the North American and Middle Eastern deposits combined).

    The problem is that the Venezuelan deposits are heavy crude rather than the sweet, light oil found in Texas. Heavy crude is much denser (heavier than water), has the consistency of molasses (so is hard to pump), contains high concentrations of sulfur and various metals that have to be removed during refining, and hence is significantly more difficult (and expensive!) to extract a useable product, and we won’t even mention that it pollutes far more. In our timeline, drilling started before 1910, but these deposits really didn’t start being exploited until World War II; I don’t know if that reflects technological problems that may not be within the grasp of Grantville, or if there was something else that limited production. Either way, it bodes ill.

    But, on the gripping hand, our beloved authors are sneaky enough that the odds are that the covert mission ISN’T about capturing and controlling an oil supply. If that’s the case, I have no clue about where we’re going; we may not have enough facts yet. Whichever, it’s looking like a fun ride.

    • Greg Noel says:

      It’s not good form to follow up to your own comment, but there’s one thread that has me utterly fascinated. That’s the salvation of the Wild Geese.

      I’m very much of a northern European mongrel, with English, Swedish, Scottish, German, and a wee bit of Irish in my blood. That little bit of Irish has a fantasy that the Wild Geese will take control of the Mississippi in the name of Ireland, and then recruit a few hundred thousand Irish to settle in the Great Plains. (That’s probably more people than there are in Ireland, but you get the idea.)

      The Archduchess Infanta Isabella is scheming to provide for the safety of Hugh O’Donnell; what better way than to set him up as the head of a new, resurgent Ireland in North America? The English wouldn’t care all that much; they’re heavily isolationist and would probably be glad to get rid of all those troublesome, rebellious Irish.

      Since the Irish have had all-too-much experience with a repressive tyrannical government in control of them, they are more likely to deal fairly with the indigenous population. They will also have the historical record from Grantville to guide them to negotiate rather than to kill. After some period of mutual assimilation, the result could be a revitalized hybrid with the strengths of both peoples.

      As I said, it’s a fantasy, but one can dream.

      • Peter says:

        Note that at this time the native American population has been severely reduced by disease, and it will fall further – chicken pox, measels, smallpox, etc etc etc are all rippling back and forth across the continent and depopulating whole nations of Amerindians. Many of the northeastern tribes have already been reduced to the point where there are entire confederations that have fewer people remaining than they used to have in their largest village. The result is a _lot_ of abandonned farmland in the agricultural tribes, and resurgent wilderness in the hunter-gatherer tribes. There are plenty of empty niches for Europeans to step into without massacreing anybody.

        • Greg Noel says:

          True, but, historically, even after ninety-plus percent had been wiped out by disease, the remaining few were treated shabbily. Even if there was plenty of room to infill, they were pushed onto reservations; if they objected, they were slaughtered. That’s a wrong that I’d like to see avoided.

          • Matthew says:

            Why would they avoid it? Europeans have read the histories.

            Here is what they saw:

            South America:
            Let the natives live, interbreed = backwards for the next 500 years.

            North America:
            Make it so the natives aren’t around anymore, fill the empty space with European immigrants, = Most powerful country on the planet.

            They’re going to choose the South America route because of morality?

            They were killing fellow Christians 2 years ago for believing that the bible could be written in German, why would they tolerate heathens?

            • Greg Noel says:

              It’s more complicated than that. Part of it is the difference in terrain (triple-canopy jungle v. open plains), another part is the difference in governmental traditions (top-down autocratic v. local town hall), and there are more points I’m not covering.

              Maybe I’m naïve, but I’d like to think that a downtrodden people will recognize the difficulties of a distressed people and join forces rather than trying to subjugate them. After all, I did say it was my fantasy…

    • Vikingted says:

      Greg, Thank you for expanding my English today. Littoral – was new to me. So you think that our good Admiral is concerned his new ships can only fight in calm water. The problem with ships of this time is accuracy, that is one reason they got so close, I imagine. So if the USE navy had to get, say, three to four times the distance from their opponents normal broadside distance, the USE advantage would still hold.

      Thank you for contributing a well thought-out detailed conjecture. I really enjoyed reading about your thoughts

      • Greg Noel says:

        You’re welcome.

        Yes, very calm water. Unreasonably calm water. Simpson and Cantrell earlier spent two chapters (seven and eight, to be precise) demonstrating that they had the range to kill targets at a distance, but not much more accuracy than the smooth-bore cannons in current use, so I’m quite sure it’s a very serious concern of his.

    • Randomiser says:

      As to the target oilfield I suggest you read the publisher’s blurb for the book here

  2. zak ryerson says:

    “YEs, for the moment, but Preston had been a _pawn_ on the chess orad”

    That should be “Knight”
    Peston can only move in a given pattern,
    Preston can move in any directin that is available.
    And Preston can ignore a threat that can attack him and move to where that threat can not attack him.*
    I doubt that Preston needs to worry about Bishops :)

  3. Matthew says:

    I know that the Hapsburgs rule the Low countries through a marriage inheritance, but shouldn’t all of these Spanish monarchs ruling Dutch and French speaking peoples, not see any problem with a foreign dynasty ruling a country not their own?

    Why is the Infanta so indignant about the “theft” of Ireland?

    She’d be the first to say that a dose of “foreign” nobility can sometimes be just what a country needs.

    Her reaction here reads like she’s agreeing with the idea of “Irishness” trumping aristocratic title, which strikes me as silly and not self aware.

    • WhatsTheDeal says:

      There is such a thing as diplomacy, i.e. saying what the other person wants to hear. I’d think that would trump whatever private feelings she may have to make the Irish feel welcome.

      • Matthew says:

        Yeah, but she’s not being diplomatic to Preston. She’s saying that he comes from a family of usurpers in an apologetic way.

        Her tone makes her sound like she’s channeling a 20th century American with Irish heritage and not someone who regularly has to manage competing titles, and restive nobility.

    • Randomiser says:

      In RL the Spanish were upset about Ireland for at least 2 reasons;
      The English were protestants displacing Irish catholics
      They were geopolitical competitors of the English and my enemy’s enemy is my pretext for invasion or subversion.

  4. Cobbler says:

    Troika? Really? Spanish hidalgos borrowing terms of government from Russia?

    At least in English, the first reference to the vehicle style troika was in 1852.

    The first reference to a gang-of-three style troika came in 1945. I don’t know when it the Russians first used troika that way.

    To be sure, this is pedantic. But basic mistakes that throw off the story’s tone hinder suspension of disbelief. Read Poul Anderson’s On Thud and Blunder for a reminder.

    These people must know the classics. What’s wrong with triumvirate?

    • Vikingted says:

      I read the Troika reference as a way the author is trying to tell us what is going on, not that Troika is used by the characters to describe things.

      • Robert H. Woodman says:

        I agree with you up to a point. It was authorial description and, as such, can be shrugged off as such; however, it was authorial description coming from what I took to be the point of view of Preston. Unless Preston is exceptionally well-read in the histories available through Grantville, it doesn’t make sense for him to think of the three as a troika, but rather, as Cobbler suggested, a triumvirate. He might also think of them as a “ruling council” or some such thing. Still, I just let it go; it doesn’t impair my ability to enjoy what is, so far, a pretty good story.

  5. Vikingted says:

    Only about a month (or about twelve or so snippets) to go before the formal publication. I am looking forward to buying my copy at the local bookstore.

  6. Vikingted says:

    Of course I am supposing this book will be released in early June

    • Drak Bibliophile says:

      About fifteen more snippets to go and the book is scheduled to be released on June 3rd. Of course, you may find it in the bookstores by mid May. [Smile]

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