1633 David Weber and Eric Flint



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Chapter 21


When Melissa entered the suite of rooms in St. Thomas' Tower, Rita and Tom Simpson trailing behind her, she saw Gayle Mason and Darryl McCarthy crouched over the lid of the trunk where the radio equipment was kept hidden except when it was in use. Night had fallen and the lighting provided by the tapers was too poor to see exactly what they were doing, but Melissa was quite sure they were in the process of extracting the radio. Gayle and Darryl would have heard the sound of the escort accompanying Melissa and the Simpsons back to the Tower of London—the more so since, this time, the escort had been much larger than usual. They'd have assumed that Melissa would want to send off a radio message reporting on today's meeting with the earl of Strafford.

"Don't bother," she said. "We're going to have to wait as long as we can tonight. We may not be able to send a radio message at all."

Feeling all of her years, Melissa moved over to the window overlooking the moat and the Thames beyond. That was the window they normally used to set up the antenna. Gazing down, she saw that there were English troops patrolling the wharf. Half a dozen, that she could see in the moonlight, with at least one officer on horseback overseeing them.

Not Yeoman Warders, either. Melissa wasn't positive, but she thought this was a detachment from the new mercenary companies whose soldiers she and the Simpsons had seen patrolling London on their way to Whitehall Palace and back.

She'd expected to see them. Normally, at night, the English did not bother patrolling the wharf. Nor did she think that Strafford had any particular suspicions concerning the United States' diplomatic delegation. The earl had given no indication, thus far, that he had any conception of American capabilities with radio. For all she knew, in fact, he still didn't even know what "radio" was in the first place.

"And why didn't Richelieu warn them?" she asked herself, in a murmur. "I'm damn sure he knows about radio."

Tom Simpson had come up to stand next to her—although, in his usual courteous manner, keeping just far enough away to not crowd Melissa aside. As big as he was, "sharing" a window with Tom Simpson pressed up close would be like sharing a window with a bear. But he was close enough to overhear her murmured words.

"Yes and no, Melissa. I'm sure Richelieu 'knows' about radio. But knowing about it in the abstract and really understanding the implications . . . that's two different things. He's a cardinal, after all, not a technocrat. And I think Mike's scheme with the big radio towers in Grantville and Magdeburg is probably paying off."

Melissa pursed her lips. The issue of whether or not to build those radio towers had been the subject of an argument at the time between her and Mike Stearns. One of the many little contretemps that she, as a cabinet member, had had with the President who had appointed her. Cabinet meetings, under the Stearns regime, were not infrequently raucous affairs. Mike was one of those rare people who, despite being very strong-minded, had no difficulty listening to people disagree with him. That was one of the many things about the man which, despite their differences, Melissa had come to cherish deeply.

The argument over the radio towers had been typical of the disputes she usually had with Mike. To Melissa, devoting the major resources necessary to build huge stone-construction towers—taller than most cathedrals, fer chrissake!—when there were still plenty of people in the United States living in shacks, had been absurd. The more so since the towers were mainly "prestige projects." They were designed to enable the U.S. and the CPE to broadcast throughout central Europe, bringing news of the day to hordes of citizens listening on their crystal set radios—of which there were not more than a handful in existence. A fancy and expensive "Voice of America" which . . . had nobody to listen to it.

Her lips quirked, in a little smile of remembrance. Melissa had been her usual acerbic self in the dispute. Oh, great! We can be one of those damn banana republics which build palaces while their people are scrabbling for food!

She could also remember Mike grinning at her, completely unfazed by the heat of her remarks. We'll have the crystal sets one of these days, Melissa. Sooner'n you think, unless I miss my guess. And in the meantime, whatever else, it'll be what the Russkies call maskirovka—a masking; deception. When our enemies see us putting up towers hundreds of feet tall, built like cathedrals—it'll take months to do it, with hundreds of men working on the construction—maybe they won't realize that you don't need anything like that for military radio. It'll confuse them, at least. Nor forever, but maybe for long enough. And isn't that what we're doing everywhere? Buying time?

"Well, maybe I was wrong," she muttered. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see Tom smiling faintly. Tom, like all officers Melissa knew personally in the little army of the United States, was a "Stearns loyalist." Heinrich Schmidt was almost scary on the subject. Melissa knew full well that if Mike were so inclined, he'd have no trouble getting his army to carry out a coup d'état on his behalf.

But . . . Mike Stearns was not so inclined. Whatever her differences with the man, on that subject at least Melissa slept easily at night. A strong-willed leader, yes; a dictator in the making, no.

"Maybe I was wrong," she repeated, pushing herself away from the window. She turned back into the room and looked toward Gayle and Darryl.

"If at all possible, I'll want to send a message tonight. But it may not be." A thumb over her shoulder indicated the soldiers on the wharf. "They'll be watching us closely, for a bit, and we can't afford to have them spot the radio antenna."

Rita chimed in. "The velvet glove is off, folks. That's why Strafford summoned us to the palace today. The king has announced the imposition of a state of emergency in England. New 'Royal Regiments' have been brought into London—from what we can tell, they've got 'em in most of the other bigger cities in the country too. And, yup, we're at war. It's official. The 'League of Ostend,' they're calling themselves. England and France and Spain and Denmark."

She made a face. " 'Forced to unite,' you understand, in order to resist Swedish aggression."

Her husband's expression was equally sarcastic. "Exactly why 'resisting Swedish aggression' requires them to start by attacking the Dutch remains a little mysterious. Strafford got pretty fuzzy when he got to that part of the business."

" 'Fuzzy!' " snorted Melissa. "That man could give lessons to the old Greek sophists."

Wearily, she lowered herself onto the nearest couch. "But it doesn't really matter, does it? We're at war, whether we like it or not. And while Strafford was polite as could be about the whole thing, he made it very clear that we—" Her head made a little sweeping motion, indicating everyone in the room; which included the entire delegation, now, since Friedrich and Nelly Bruch had entered from their own little alcove in the suite. "Like Rita says, the gloves are off. There's no more pretense that we're being kept here to protect us from disease. We're prisoners. Hostages, when you get right down to it, although the earl was too couth to use the term outright."

Darryl looked a bit alarmed, and glanced at the trunk where the radio was kept. Gayle had already lowered the lid and was sitting on it, half-protectively.

"Relax, Darryl," chuckled Tom. "I doubt very much if we'll be having any surprise inspections. 'Couth,' like Melissa says. Strafford's doing his best to keep the thing as civilized as possible. He assured us that our stay here would remain as comfortable as ever. They'll be watching us more closely, I imagine, but I'm pretty sure—so are Melissa and Rita; we talked about it on the way back—that Strafford will continue to respect our personal privacy."

Darryl muttered something under his breath. Melissa wasn't positive, but she thought it was "Oh, sure—Black Tom Tyrant!"

For a moment, her exasperation with the whole situation flared up. "For God's sake! Darryl—just once—can you stop thinking in clichés? Thomas Wentworth, the earl of Strafford, is not a villain out of a comic book. The truth is, I think he's basically a rather decent sort of man. Just one who takes his responsibilities and duties seriously, according to his own lights. He'll do what he thinks he has to do, in the interests of his king and country—as he sees it—but he's not going to start pulling wings off of flies."

Darryl's face settled into mulish stubbornness. It was an expression Melissa well remembered, from the days he had been one of her students. I knows what I knows; don't confuse me with the facts.

The memory lightened her mood, oddly enough. Her next words came with a chuckle. "Oh, never mind. Hopeless! But I wonder, sometimes, how you and Harry Lefferts managed to rebuild so many cars. I'm sure the manual sometimes disagreed with your preconceptions."

A bit guiltily, Melissa remembered that one of those cars had been her own. On a teacher's salary, she hadn't been able to afford a new car, and the repair bill estimate the garage had given her had caused her to blanch. Until the next day, much to her surprise, the two most obstreperous and unruly students in her class had offered to do it for her. Free of charge, as long as she paid for the parts.

And . . . the jalopy had run as smooth as silk, afterward.

"It's not the same thing," Darryl protested. "Engines ain't people. They don't have bad hair days and they're never on the rag." Gayle smacked him. "Uh, sorry 'bout that last. No offense intended."

Gayle was smiling; so was Melissa, for that matter. No offense intended—and, the truth was, he meant it. Darryl could no more help being uncouth than a leopard could change its spots. And, now that she thought about it, Melissa was just as glad. The day might come when her own life depended on an uncouth young leopard's ability to deal with suave and aristocratic lions. Looking at him, Melissa suspected that she'd picked the right sort of champion for the fray.

Yeah, it was a jalopy—but it did run smooth as silk after Darryl and Harry were done.

"We'll wait," she announced, returning to the subject at hand. "Whatever else, we can't afford to have them spot the antenna. That's the one thing that might make Strafford change his mind about inspecting our quarters."

"Wait, for how long?" asked Gayle.

"As long as we have to. We're in for the long haul, now, so the one thing we can't afford is to arouse anyone's suspicions." Melissa glanced out the window. "Still too much of a moon, unless it gets overcast, which it doesn't look like it's going to do tonight."

Decisively, she planted her hands on knees and levered herself upright. "Tomorrow night, or the next day, whatever. In the meantime, we'd better figure we're going to be wintering over in the Tower this year. That means we can't fool around with the risk of disease." She glanced at a different trunk, which held their medical and preventive supplies. "Good thing we brought that stuff, I guess."

She heard Tom chuckle, and couldn't help smiling ruefully herself. "That stuff" referred to several pounds of the DDT which the fledgling American chemical industry was starting to produce. Mike Stearns had insisted the diplomatic delegations take what was available—over Melissa's objections, needless to say.

Firmly, however, Melissa squelched all feelings of self-doubt. She was going to need her well-honed Schoolmarm Authority to enforce her next command.

"And we'll set Operation Ironsides under way," she pronounced.

Immediately, Darryl scowled. "The guy's a monster, Melissa! Let him rot in hell for eternity!"

"You will obey orders, soldier," growled Tom.

Darryl looked mulish and stubborn. " 'Orders' got nothin' to do with it. I didn't say I wouldn't do it. I just think it's nuts. Really really nuts."

He looked to Melissa, and spread his hands in a gesture of appeal. "Come on, Melissa. I'm begging you! Just consider—just think about it!—that maybe you're making a big mistake here."

Melissa burst into laughter. So did Tom—who, like Melissa herself, had spent the months leading up to the departure of the diplomatic mission studying everything he could find on the history of 17th-century England. And Tom, furthermore—being a soldier himself—with a particular concentration on all of the famous military figures of the day.

"What's so damn funny?" demanded Darryl.

"You are," came Tom's immediate reply. "You don't know it, of course, but you just quoted the monster himself."

"Huh?"

" 'I beseech you in the bowels of Christ—think it possible you may be mistaken.' " Melissa grinned. "It's a rather famous little saying. Made by Oliver Cromwell addressing the Church of Scotland."

That same night, in Paris, a young French general named Turenne examined the eight officers assembled in the salon of the house which Richelieu had provided for him. Most of the officers were as young as Turenne himself, and all were known to him personally. He had handpicked them to be the staff of the new army the cardinal had ordered him to create. An army which, in private and to himself, Turenne had given the whimsical title New Model Army.

Turenne gestured toward a long sidetable positioned next to a wall. There were eight little manuscripts resting atop the piece of furniture.

"One for each of you. The cardinal had some monks copy the books he obtained. I have been through them all and summarized what seemed to me the key points." There was another and larger manuscript atop a small table in the corner. But Turenne did not mention it. That was for later, and only for one of them.

"I will expect you to have the manuscript studied thoroughly within a week, at which time we will have another staff meeting. For the moment, just read it. In the months to come, I have no doubt we'll all be arguing the fine points." The smile he gave them was both friendly and . . . self-confident. Already, Turenne had begun to establish what he thought was a good rapport with his immediate lieutenants. He did not want slavish obedience. At the same time, he would insist that his leadership be respected. From what he could determine thus far, he seemed to be maintaining that needed balance.

One of the officers, Henri Laporte, cocked his head. "Is there any point in particular which seems to you of special importance?"

Turenne shrugged. "Hard to say, of course, without some experience. But I suspect the most useful—immediately, at least—will be my summary account of the American Civil War. Pay particular attention to the depiction of cavalry tactics used by such officers as"—he fumbled a bit over the pronunciation of the names; Turenne's English was not fluent—"Forrest, Morgan, Sheridan . . . a number of others." Again, he shrugged. "You will understand that I was forced to interpret a great deal. The histories which Richelieu obtained were more often than not rather vague on precise matters of tactics . . . when they addressed them at all. Still, one thing seems clear enough."

Most of the officers assembled in the room were cavalrymen. Turenne gave them a long, sweeping—and very cold—stare. "Whatever romantic medieval notions of cavalry warfare you may still possess, I strongly urge you to abandon them now. Or I will have you dismissed, soon enough. This war we are entering now will be a war like no other. The cardinal—"

He hesitated. Turenne owed his unexpected elevation and influence entirely to Richelieu's favor. He was hardly inclined to criticize the man openly. Still, he was convinced that success would depend, as much as anything else, on the extent to which his newly formed officer staff could absorb the lessons of the future.

He cleared his throat. "Cardinal Richelieu, as you all know, is an extremely astute and wise leader. But he is not a soldier—"

Again, he broke off. That wasn't quite fair, after all. The cardinal had overseen several military campaigns, and from a close distance.

"Even if he were," he added a bit hastily, "he'd be likely to misgauge the situation." Again, he gestured toward the manuscripts. "You'll find a pithy little saying somewhere in those pages, which I was so taken by that I adopted it for my own. 'Generals always plan to fight the last war.' " A soft little chuckle went up from several of the officers.

"In any event, it is my belief that the cardinal is underestimating the effect which the new technology of the Americans is going to have on the tactics and methods used by Gustavus Adolphus." Harshly: "For certain, judging from my one brief meeting with him, Bernhard of Saxe-Weimar will make that mistake."

Most of the officers were now either scowling or wincing, or both. Bernhard of Saxe-Weimar led the mercenary army which controlled Alsace, on the payroll of the French crown. His reputation for arrogance and rudeness had become something of a byword among the officers of the French army, especially the ones who were young or not of noble birth.

"Bernhard, full of vainglory, will go straight at the Swede," predicted Turenne. "And—have no doubt of it—the Swede will crush him. And would crush us as well, did we make the same mistake." Again, the little gesture toward the manuscripts. "The weakness in the Swede will be his logistics. And that is where we will strike, gentlemen. So forget any fancies you might have about dramatic cavalry charges. Dragoons, we'll be, more often than not. Raiding, where we can, not fighting; and, when we must fight, doing so on the defensive as much as possible. If any of you finds that beneath your dignity, best you let me know at once. There will be no dramatic wheeling caracoles in our tactics, and precious few if any thundering charges."

He paused, waiting. Not to his surprise, none of the officers indicated any discomfort at his words. Turenne had handpicked them carefully.

"Good," he said, nodding. "Robert, would you be so kind as to remain behind?"

It was a clear dismissal. The officers moved over to the sidetable, each taking up one of the manuscripts, and quickly left the room. When they were gone, only Robert du Barry's stack remained.

Turenne gave the stack a glance. "You should read them also, of course. But I have something more important for you immediately." He led the way toward the little table in a corner where rested a larger manuscript.

"This is more technical in nature, Robert. I put it together as best I could from the material I had available." Quickly, Turenne sketched out the assignment he had in mind. When he was finished, du Barry's already florid face was almost brick red with suppressed anger.

"I have given you no reason—neither you nor the crown nor the cardinal—to doubt my loyalty. Furthermore—"

"Oh, do be quiet!" snapped Turenne. "Robert, I have never once inquired as to your religious beliefs. Neither has the cardinal. The fact that you—like me—come from a long line of Huguenots is irrelevant." A long and notorious line, he could have added. Robert du Barry's ancestor Jean de la Vacquerie had been the central figure in the so-called "conspiracy of Amboise" in the previous century.

" 'Irrelevant,' I say—except in one respect. Which does not reflect badly upon you in the least." Turenne placed a hand on the manuscripts. "It's all here, Robert," he said softly. "Everything we need—most of it, anyway, I'm convinced—to meet the Swedish king and his American wizards on level ground. Not immediately, no; hopefully, though, soon enough. But the books give us precious few specifics. In almost every case, they tell us only what the weapons could do, not how they actually did it. Perhaps that's because their readers already knew those things, while we do not. But the mere fact that we know what can be done will guide us in determining how to do it, of that I am confident. Yet it will take a large number of the best mechanics and gunsmiths in the world to carry this out—and they won't be able to do it unless they are properly organized and led. By a man who understands them and has the skill to manage them."

Du Barry's face was still flushed, but the color was beginning to fade a bit. "Can't do it without Protestants," he gruffed. "Does the cardinal understand that?"

Turenne smiled, a bit savagely. "I think he does more than simply 'understand' it, Robert. He is counting on it." He jerked his head toward the northern wall of the room. "Where will all those fine Dutch artisans go, once the Spanish bootheel is back on their necks? Eh?"

Turenne's thumb rifled idly through the first few pages of manuscript. "To Germany, some, to be sure. Looking for work from the Swede. But our spies tell us the Dutch are already resentful of the growing American reputation for being the world's best craftsmen. So . . ."

A slow smile spread across du Barry's face. "So the cardinal will offer them exile, will he?"

"Exile—and work. And at good wages." Turenne smiled himself. "When you think about it, the ports and manufacturing towns of northern France are much closer to Holland than central Germany, after all. And there will be no overweening and cocksure Americans to tell stout Dutch master gunsmiths and metalworkers that they are novices at their own trade. Just the firm leadership of a French officer who understands Protestants and can gently lead them to the light of a newer day."

"Ha!" By now, du Barry's flush was back to normal. He only made one last token protest.

"I should not like anyone to think I am flinching from the field of battle."

"Please, Robert! With your reputation?" Du Barry had been one of the only two officers in the room who was well into his thirties. He had quite an impressive record in the various French campaigns since the beginning of the war.

"And, besides," added Turenne smoothly, "I will explain to everyone that I was able to prevail upon you to undertake the assignment solely by dint of much pleading and begging."

He and du Barry shared a little laugh. Given the warmth of the moment, Turenne saw no reason to add what he could have added. And, if I'd had to, I would have used the secret information the cardinal gave me to blackmail you into it. There's no doubt about your loyalty, true enough. But your brother could be sent to the executioner tomorrow.

But he left the words unsaid. Turenne would have found saying them distasteful in the extreme, for one thing. For another, like Cardinal Richelieu himself, Turenne did not really care much about a man's private conscience—so long as he was faithful, in his public activities, to his duty to crown and country.

"Ha!" repeated du Barry. Turenne had chosen him for the assignment because Robert, unlike most officers, was familiar with the world of manufacture. As Turenne had suspected—and planned—he was finding the challenge an interesting one.

Du Barry picked up a sheaf of pages and began leafing through them. "Any suggestions for where to start?"

Turenne, as it happened—and much to his own surprise—had become quite fascinated with the challenge himself. "I can tell you where not to start," he growled. "You'll be working closely with Yves Thibault—you know him, I believe?"

Robert nodded.

"Well, don't let the old man convince you to devote much effort to"—again, Turenne stumbled over the pronunciation—"these 'breechloaders' he's become a fanatic about. Oh, to be sure, he's a master gunsmith—so let him fiddle around with a few. Who knows? We might even find he can make enough to be of use. But keep his nose to the wheel, Robert. Simplicity. Learn from the Americans themselves—you'll find more than a few spy reports in that stack also. 'Gearing down,' they call it. Make what you can now, in large enough quantities to affect the world in time."

Du Barry nodded, but Turenne could see that he was already becoming engrossed in what he was reading.

Good enough. What I need.

"Percussion caps, Robert. I can't tell, from the materials I had, exactly how they were made. But from the hints, we should be able to find out. And rifled muskets—not much different from today's hunting pieces. But with a clever American adaptation which enables quick loading on the battlefield. Again, I don't know exactly how it works. Richelieu's books weren't detailed enough. So find out—try different things. But it can be done, Robert. Huge armies, larger than any in Europe today, fought pitched battles with rifled muskets—muzzleloaders, not breechloaders—with which they could somehow maintain a fantastic rate of fire. Three shots a minute—and accurate to several hundred yards."

Du Barry's eyes widened. Turenne grinned.

"The best of it all, however . . . They called it a 'Minié ball.' Which—ha!—they got from a Frenchman in the first place."

Du Barry's eyed widened. Turenne barked another laugh.

"Oh, yes! Welcome to the new world, Robert—and who is to say it can't be a French one?"


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