1636: Commander Cantrell in the West Indies – Snippet 30

1636: Commander Cantrell in the West Indies – Snippet 30

Chapter 15

St. Kilda archipelago, North Atlantic

Once they arrived at the rail, Anne Cathrine looked up at Eddie, face serious, but her eyes seemed to twinkle. “Hi,” she said, not bothering to suppress the dimple that this use of Amideutsch quirked into being.

Commander Eddie Cantrell felt the protocol-induced queasiness in his stomach become a mid-air dance of happy butterflies. “Hi,” he said. Or maybe he gushed: he wasn’t really sure. He was never exactly sure of what came out of his mouth when he was around the singularly beautiful and stammer-worthy sex goddess that was his almost seventeen-year-old wife.

But instead of indulging in any more of the small signs of endearment that they had evolved over the past year to communicate in a playful (or, better yet, racy!) secret banter when in somber and dignified social settings, Anne Cathrine bit her lower lip slightly. She looked out to sea, tugging fitfully at her head scarf. What the hell is it with the head coverings, anyhow? It’s nice weather, not really too windy, and —

Anne Cathrine looked up at him again, smiling through a slight frown. “So, how did your find your first conversation with Henrik Bjelke?”

Eddie almost started at her tone: measured, serious, possibly concerned. “Um…fine.”

“I am glad, Eddie. Very glad.”

“You sound as if you were worried.”

“About Bjelke? No, not particularly. I very much doubt you have to worry about him. He is still an outsider at the Danish court, and too young to threaten you. Much.”

“‘Much?'” Eddie echoed. He hoped it hadn’t come out as a surprised squeak.

Anne Cathrine turned very serious now, her very blue eyes upon him. “Dear Eddie, although this is a USE mission, conceived by the leaders of Grantville and given royal imprimatur by Gustav of Sweden, the majority of your commanders are Danish.” She smiled. “Or hadn’t you noticed?”

He grinned back. “Nope. Completely slipped past me. Past Admiral Simpson, too.”

She lifted an eyebrow, curled a lip in a slow smile that Eddie associated with other places, other exchanges — down, Eddie! down, boy! Then she was looking out to sea, again. “Joking aside, Eddie, there are ambitious men in this flotilla, men whose personal interests may not be well-served if you are too successful.”

“Me — successful? Wait a minute, it’s not like I’m in charge of the flotilla. Heck, I’m something like the third rung down on the command ladder. Maybe less. It’s hard to know how rank would play against nobility in this kind of situation. So it’s not as if the success or failure of this mission is mine.”

“Now it is you who must ‘wait a minute,’ Eddie. You may not have the highest rank, but everyone in every ship — and back home — knows this mission to the New World was your idea. Yours. Admiral Simpson was intent on going to the New World, yes. Such plans were already afoot, yes. But it was you put forward the idea of making it a reconnaissance and a ruse all bound into one mission. If this stratagem works, you will receive credit as its architect. At the very least.”

Eddie scratched the back of his head, remembered that gesture probably didn’t radiate a dignified command presence, snatched his hand back down to his side. “Yeah. Well. Okay. So who are all these Danish guys with hidden agendas?”

“Firstly, my love, they might not have hidden agendas. That is the problem with hidden agendas: that they might or might not be there at all. Wouldn’t you agree?”

“Well, sure.”

“Excellent. So now, who first? Well, the commander of the task force, for one.”

“Captain Mund? He seems, um, barely communicative.”

“And so he is, but that does not mean he is without ambition. He is a minor noble, although he does not flaunt his title. Which is probably just as well.”

“Why?”

“Because he was granted a tract on Iceland.” Anne Cathrine shivered. “It is not a very nice place to be a landholding noble.”

“You mean, sort of like the Faroes?”

“Hush, Eddie! You must know that father did not give you that land for any reason other than to furnish you with the highest title he might within the nobility of Denmark. And, I suspect, as an entré to greater things.”

“So I’ve suspected, also.” he crossed his fingers, offered silent thanks to John Chandler Simpson.

She looked at him. “Then you are indeed learning the ways of these times, Eddie. Which is necessary, I am afraid. Now, the person you must be most careful of is Hannibal Sehested.”

“You mean the guy who displaced the captain from his cabin on the Patentia? I met him at court, just this spring. Seems like a nice enough guy. Shrewd, though.”

“He always has been a nice enough fellow in his behavior toward me, too, Eddie. But he is also, as you observe, shrewd, and history showed that he was shrewd enough to advance his fortunes in your up-time history’s Danish government. Even though he made himself an enemy of the man who was to become its most influential member, Corfitz Ulfeldt.”

“The guy who was a traitor, up-time?”

“Yes, the man who was to betray my father. And who would have married my sister Leonora in just over a year.” Again, she looked over her shoulder at the shorter of her two ‘ladies’, but this time the glance was both protective and melancholy. “Corfitz was already betrothed to her, you know. Had been since 1630.”

“But…but she was only nine years old!”

Anne Cathrine nodded gravely. “Eight, actually. And here you see the fate of the daughters of kings who are not also full princesses. We are objects of exchange, no less than we are objects of his genuine love. He arranges marriages that ensure the nation of secure bonds between the king and his nobles, since familial ties to the throne are craved above all things by men of that class. And if, thanks to those ties between crown and Riksradet, we all live in a time of domestic harmony, prosperity, and peace, then would we king’s daughters not be ungrateful if we failed to consider ourselves ‘happy’?”

Eddie mulled that over. “That’s what I call taking one for the team. And doing so for the rest of your life.”

“If by that you mean it is a sacrifice, well — I think so, too. Although many thought me ungrateful for feeling that way.”

“Well, they can go straight to — okay, I know that look: I’ll calm down.” Hmmm: calming down — that reminds me. Eddie turned so his back was to Ove Gjedde. “So, while we’re dragging out the dirt on the Danish upper crust, tell me: what do you know about Captain Gjedde? He’s the one guy that the admiral and I couldn’t find anything useful about. Seems he led the expedition to set up your trade with India, but after that, not much.”

Anne Cathrine frowned. “I am sad to say that I do not know much more of him than that. I do know that father respects him, but — well, Captain Gjedde is not an exciting man. As you have remarked to me several times on our journey thus far. And he is still recovering from wounds he suffered in the Baltic War. From fighting against your Admiral Simpson’s timberclads, if I recall correctly.”

Oh. Well. He must really be a big fan of up-timers, then. Particularly the ones who had a direct hand in blasting his ship to matchsticks…

Evidently, Anne Cathrine could read the expression on his face or was displaying an increasing talent for honest-to-God telepathy. “No, I do not think his reticence is caused by your being an American. He is more mature than that, and has seen his share of war. Like many older military men, he does not confuse the actions of following a king’s order with the will of the men who must carry it out.”

“Yeah, he looks old enough to have achieved that kind of perspective. What is he? Sixty, sixty-five years old?”

Anne Cathrine looked somber. “Forty-one.”

“What?”

“He was always a somber, old-looking man, but his wounds from the Baltic — they drained him. He has not been at court since he suffered them, last year. But then again, he was never much at court. He doesn’t enjoy it. And while father respects his abilities, Captain Gjedde is not the kind of man that he takes a personal interest in. The captain excels at navigation and can predict the weather like a wizard from the old sagas. But he does it all quietly, calmly. Not the type of man to capture father’s often mercurial imagination.”

“Not like young Lord Bjelke.”

“No, indeed. And of course, father’s interest in Bjelke is also self-protective.”

“How do you mean?”

“I mean that Henrik Bjelke was, historically, not always a supporter of my father or his policies. He could yet prove quite dangerous, I suppose.”

“Really? Jeez, Rik seems like a pretty good guy, actually.”

“Yes, father thinks that as well. He just wants to make sure that history does not repeat itself. And so he has involved Lord Bjelke in his plans for the New World.” She looked over her shapely, and surprisingly broad, shoulder to where Henrik was escorting the ladies on what promised to be a quick looping promenade to the taffrail and back to the companionway. “In fact, I think Father put him aboard for a very special purpose.”

“You mean, to watch me.”

Anne Cathrine’s eyes went back up to Eddie’s and he felt wonder, appreciation, and perhaps the tiniest bit of sadness in them. “Ah, you are becoming adept at our down-timer machinations, Eddie — or at least, at perceiving them. Which, as I said, is a positive thing. But still, even so, I hope you will always be — I mean, I hope it won’t make you –”

“Jaded? Subtle? Snake-like in my new and sinister cunning?”

Anne Cathrine tried to keep a straight face but couldn’t. She laughed softly, swayed against his arm for the briefest of contacts. “You — how do you say it? — you ‘keep it real,’ Eddie. For which I am grateful. And which is one of the many reasons I love you so. But let us be serious for one moment more. Young Lord Bjelke’s history and eventual friendship with Corfitz Ulfeldt, in your world, caught my father’s attention. So I believe he wants Henrik indebted to him, and yes, hopes to gain a loyal observer in the fleet, as well. But I think Papa has another purpose, as well.”

“Which is?”

“Marriage.”

“Marriage? Of Bjelke? To whom?”

Anne Cathrine looked over her shoulder again. “To Sophie Rantzau. Or maybe my sister.” She frowned as she watched the two ladies in question finish their circuit of the stern. “I cannot tell.”

“Huh,” Eddie observed eloquently. “Huh. A military mission to the New World as a means of kindling a strategically shrewd shipboard romance? Your Dad sure sees some odd opportunities in some odd places. Why not just play matchmaker at court, where he can meddle with the young lovers personally? Which, let’s be honest, is one of his favorite pass-times.”

Anne Cathrine smiled and swatted him lightly. “For which you should be very grateful, husband. Otherwise, where would we be today, had he not played the part of Cupid?”

“Where would we be? Well, let’s see. I’d still be rotting in the dungeon with a crappy peg leg on my stump, and you’d be married to Lord Dinesen, or some other wealthy noble.”

“Yes, who would no doubt be three times my weight and four times my age. So, I’m not sure which of our two fates would be more grim.”

“Yeah, well, when you put it that way­ –”

“Trust me, dear husband, that would literally have been my fate. The marriage you helped me avoid when you were my father’s prisoner wasn’t simply a staged engagement. My wedding to Dinesen was a very real possibility.”

“No. You father would never have made you marry that –”

 

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Comments

2 Responses to 1636: Commander Cantrell in the West Indies – Snippet 30

  1. John Cowan says:

    “Pastimes”, please, not “pass-times”, though that is the etymology.

  2. Robert H. Woodman says:

    A captain who “can predict the weather like a wizard from the old sagas” is probably going to be necessary in the Caribbean during hurricane season. We’ve had a few foreshadowings of that possibility, I think.

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