The prince of Orange looked older than a man still short of his fiftieth birthday. As he ushered her to a chair in his private chambers, Rebecca was struck by the haggardness in his face. His drawn expression contrasted sharply with what was obviously the man's normal appearance. Frederik Henrik had an almost archetypical "Dutch" face: rather handsome, if on the fleshy side; pale-complected; brown hair offset by a very gingery goatee and flaring set of mustachios. Only his eyes were a bit exotic. Instead of the normal blue or green or brown, they seemed some off-color combination of slate gray and hazel.
It was a face which, Rebecca suspected, was normally full of ruddy good cheer. But not now.
That was hardly surprising, of course. The double Spanish victories—first the naval triumph at the Battle of Dunkirk, followed by the lightning seizure of Haarlem—had driven his country to its knees in less than two weeks. Panic was sweeping everywhere, with refugees now pouring into Amsterdam. One after another of the frontier fortresses and towns were reportedly surrendering to advancing Spanish troops—and the Counter-Remonstrant towns no less readily than others, once assured that the Spanish would leave their churches alone and refrain from reprisals against the inhabitants.
According to all reports, the United Provinces were coming apart at the seams. The Spanish seizure of Haarlem had cut Holland itself in half. Then, the cardinal-infante—whether from his own acumen or because he was listening to Oquendo—had not made the mistake of the Spanish who had seized Haarlem after a long siege in 1572. On that occasion, the Spanish commander, Don Fadrique de Toledo—the duke of Alva's son, in spirit as well as flesh—had frittered away his strength by attacking northern Holland. The cardinal-infante would leave northern Holland for a later time. Leaving enough of a garrison to hold Haarlem, he was now driving south on Leiden, and everyone Rebecca had talked to seemed to think that city's fall was inevitable.
Most of Zeeland and Utrecht had already fallen, it seemed, as well as the southern half of Gelderland. And the northern provinces of Friesland, Groningen and Drenthe, still largely Catholic and long resentful of the heavy thumb of the Counter-Remonstrants, had erupted in full revolt. The United Provinces, born sixty years earlier in a rebellion against Spain, now found three of its provinces rebelling in favor of Spanish rule.
That left the prince of Orange the effective ruler of one and a half provinces—Overijssel and what was left of Gelderland—along with the city of Amsterdam. But Amsterdam—on this no one seemed to have any doubt—would very soon be completely surrounded and under siege itself.
After taking a seat on a chair a few feet away, Frederik Hendrik gave Rebecca a wan smile. "So, Madame Stearns. We meet at last." His French was fluent and impeccable. "I cannot begin to tell you how many times I have cursed myself for listening to the advisers who urged me to keep a distance from you."
This was no time for smug I-told-you-so's, Rebecca told herself firmly. "It might very well not have made a difference anyway, Prince. Perhaps, yes. But . . . by the time you could have investigated my warnings—admittedly based on sketchy evidence—Richelieu's scheme would already have been underway. Could you have called back Tromp's fleet, in time to save it?"
Frederik Henrik shrugged. "Quite possibly not. But I still would have been better prepared myself. The disaster was not simply a naval one." For a moment, he glowered ferociously. "What in the name of God were those idiots in Haarlem thinking, anyway? A flotilla of Dutch ships—badly battered—arrives in the waterway leading to the Harlemmermeer, and they do nothing more than gawk at them? Cretins! Why would Dutch vessels damaged in battle not have docked at Amsterdam?"
Rebecca hesitated. She did not want to increase the prince's gloom, of course. On the other hand, she thought Mike and Gustav would appreciate better information than she'd been able to provide them so far, based on the fragmentary and rumor-laden reports she'd received.
"What exactly did happen in Haarlem, Prince?" she asked. "I know that the Spanish seized the city, but not really how they managed to do it."
Frederik Hendrik's lips twisted. "They did it by a combination of reckless impetuosity on the part of that young prince of theirs—the 'cardinal-infante,' they call him—combined with Dutch stupidity. Admiral Oquendo, as you may know, was apparently injured in the sea battle. Though not fatally, alas, because he remained in command of the main body of the Spanish fleet. The Spanish prince, Don Fernando, took command of a flotilla made up of a number of captured Dutch vessels. Then, loaded them with Spanish soldiers and sailed into the Zuider Zee, past Amsterdam—in broad daylight, no less!—and landed them on the eastern side of Haarlem. Meanwhile, Oquendo ordered the bulk of his fleet to disembark most of the Spanish troops on the North Sea coast."
The Prince made a little squeezing motion with his hand. "A pincer attack, if you will. Investing the city from east and west simultaneously, avoiding the very strong fortifications on the south." He erupted in what seemed a combination of a cough and a laugh. "Exactly the kind of flashy and dramatic maneuver beloved of dramatic young princes and storytellers! And which—in the real world—almost never works."
Gloomily: "But it worked this time. From what I can determine, the idiots at Haarlem decided that Don Fernando's flotilla was a relief force. So instead of rushing the troops garrisoning the city itself to meet the disembarking Spanish soldiers—who could have been easily hammered as they were trying to come ashore—they rushed them instead to reinforce the soldiers fighting off the main body of Spanish troops on the western side of the city. That left Haarlem's eastern approaches effectively unprotected. The prince led his men ashore and more or less stormed into the city. That, of course, panicked the Dutch troops on the North Sea fortifications. Soon enough, everything was chaos, Oquendo's troops surged forward, and our soldiers either fled or surrendered."
He threw up his hands. "My whole life, spent mastering the genuine art of war! And—now this!A stripling Spanish prince makes a mockery of it all with something that belongs nowhere outside of a troubadour's tale!"
"Was there . . . ah, a massacre thereafter?"
Frederik Hendrik took a deep breath, and then abruptly shook his head.
"No massacre. Neither there nor, so far as I have been able to determine, anywhere the Spanish have overrun us. In fact—"
He gave her a smile which, for the first time, was not simply sardonic. "They've taken Rotterdam and The Hague also. As of three days ago."
Rebecca felt herself grow tense. By far the largest Jewish community in the United Provinces was in Amsterdam. But there had also been, for decades, a small Jewish population in The Hague. And while Rebecca did not consider herself "Jewish" in the sense of that term which was the most common one in the Europe of her day—religiously observant—the ethnic sense of the term was already gaining ground. The Spanish Inquisition had begun that process, with their obsession over "secret Jews" and maintaining the "pure blood" of Christian Castile—limpieza, as the Spanish called it.
"It seems that as soon as the Spanish took the city," the prince continued, "a few Inquisitors took it upon themselves to round up the Jews. From the reports I've gotten, the cardinal-infante immediately ordered them to release their prisoners. And—" Here the smile widened. "When the Inquisitors objected, he promptly had three of them executed."
Rebecca's eyes widened. The Spanish Inquisition, unlike the Papal Inquisition, was officially under the authority of the crown of Spain. In the century and a half since its foundation, however, the Spanish Inquisition had developed a great deal of autonomy. Now, it seemed, a Spanish prince had decided to remind them—in the crudest way possible—that they were subordinate to royalty. Rebecca doubted if the cardinal-infante was any less anti-Semitic than any other Spanish hidalgo. But prejudice was one thing, a challenge to his authority another. And he might even be cunning enough to realize that Protestants, seeing a Spanish prince protect Jews, would be that much more likely to believe his promises of toleration.
Frederik Hendrik's smile faded away, replaced by the drawn and haggard look which had been on his face when Rebecca entered his chambers. "Which speaks well for the prince's humanity, of course. Or his shrewdness, at least. But—I will not lie to you, Rebecca Abrabanel—I almost wish he were another Alva."
He raised a hand abruptly. " 'Almost,' I say. Not . . . quite. But I must now think like a prince myself. And if I am to rally what remains of the Dutch republic, my task would be far easier if I faced another Alva."
Rebecca understood the point, just as she understood the prince's subtlety in using her maiden name. Rebecca might not consider herself "Jewish," but that did not mean that others would agree with her estimate—especially her enemies. Amsterdam would be under siege, soon, along with its three thousand Jewish inhabitants. If the duke of Alva were overseeing that siege . . . every one of those Jews could look forward to death and torture if the Spanish took the city. As great an incentive as possible, in other words, to throw themselves into the fight.
And not just them. Any "heretic." When the duke of Alva had been given the task of suppressing the Dutch Revolt by Philip II, he had followed the most savage policy possible. Even the Mongols, after all, had spared people who surrendered soon enough.
Not Don Fernandez Alvarez de Toledo, third duke of Alva. From the moment he arrived in the Low Countries, in 1567, the duke conducted himself like a beast. An old man when he landed, he had spent sixty years of his life accumulating a full store of religious bigotry, Castilian harshness and hidalgo arrogance. The gout and other bodily ailments which plagued his final years made him more vicious than ever.
Almost immediately, his brutality drew objections from the Spanish authorities on the spot. Archduchess Margaret, the Spanish regent in the Low Countries, resigned in outrage after Alva executed two leading magnates who had remained loyal to the Church—and had been assisting Margaret herself in trying to find a peaceful settlement.
But Alva did not want a peaceful settlement. Alva intended to simply terrorize the Netherlands into submission to the Spanish crown, and he set about it with a vengeance. The Conseil des Troubles was established under his supervision, with a staff of 170 prosecutors, and began the activities for which they soon became notorious. Thousands were investigated and sentenced for treason and heresy, more than one thousand of them executed outright.
In the southern provinces of the Low Countries, Alva's brutality succeeded in squelching the revolt. But in the northerly provinces, where Protestantism had sunk deeper roots, they had exactly the opposite effect. The Dutch rallied in 1568 under the leadership of William the Silent—the father of the man sitting across from Rebecca this moment—and the long war began.
It was a war which, in its early years, was marked by pure savagery. Alva set the pattern and never wavered from it. When the town of Mechelen threw open its gates at the approach of his army, Alva allowed his soldiers to sack the city and massacre its inhabitants. Another massacre followed when he took Zutphen. And, at Naarden, Alva set the seal on his reputation. He ordered the entire population of the city slaughtered—men, women and children alike.
The moral reputation of the Spanish empire would never survive Alva, in the universe which had produced the history books which Rebecca had read in Grantville. She knew that for a certainty. Coming atop the Inquisition and the conquistadores, Alva would ensure that history's memory of the Spanish in their heyday—that much of it written in the English language, at least—was one of simple cruelty, brutality and intolerance.
Which, in truth, was hardly fair. Spain would produce Parma and Spinola, also, just as it produced the line of shrewd and tolerant archduchess regents of the Spanish Netherlands beginning with Margaret and ending now with Isabella, reported to be lying on her deathbed. The same nation which produced Torquemada and Pizarro would also produce Bishop de las Casas and Miguel Cervantes. As a Sephardic Jewess, Rebecca understood the contradictions perfectly. Her own people had been driven out of Iberia by that Castilian darkness—yet still retained the culture of a land which was actually quite sunny. To this day, in private, she and her father Balthazar spoke to each other in Spanish. And why not? It was their tongue also.
But it mattered not. Alva had burned too deeply.
And, in the end, for no purpose. Alva's policy would backfire—and backfire badly. Whether they wanted to or not, the population of the northern provinces really had no choice but to fight a ferocious war of resistance. So, a cruel and vicious old man would create a rebellion which not only defeated him, but would endure for as long as he had lived himself. Sixty years, now.
She and the prince stared at each other. Yes, sixty years—until now. But what would happen next?
"I am still glad of it," she said softly. "The world does not need another Alva, Prince. However greatly that may burden your task."
Frederik Hendrik squared his shoulders. "And I am glad of it also, in the end. I am only a prince to a certain point. Or, it might be better to say, beyond a certain point I need to consider what the very word 'prince' means in the first place."
He tilted his head to one side, eyeing Rebecca shrewdly. "But let us move now to the immediate circumstances. What do you want from me, Madame Stearns? And what do you offer?"
Rebecca's response came instantly. "I can offer you an immediate alliance with the United States. And I am quite certain—although I cannot speak for him—with the king of Sweden."
The prince said nothing, for a moment. Then, bringing his head level, he pursed his lips. "I find myself—quite astonishing, really, for a prince—possessed by an overwhelming urge to speak the truth. Madame Stearns, I will gladly accept your offer. But I must warn you in advance that, in the end, I will almost certainly betray you."
Rebecca nodded. "Of course. You will seek a settlement, not a victory. Which is, in my opinion, exactly what you should do."
Frederik Hendrik hissed in a breath, his eyes widening. "Good God, am I that transparent?" He seemed genuinely aggrieved.
Barely, Rebecca managed to keep herself from emitting a nervous giggle. "Oh . . . not to most people, I think."
"I had heard you were shrewd," the prince murmured. "The reputation does not do you justice."
"Ah . . . I think that is because people underestimate my husband, actually. They see me, and estimate the intelligence of a cosmopolitan Jewess, sired and raised by the philosopher Balthazar Abrabanel. And so they miss the influence—and training—of the man I married."
The prince spread the fingers of his hands, inviting her to continue.
"Insofar as Europe's nobility knows much at all about my husband—insofar as they deign to do so, I should say—what they see is simply a man who is reputed to have once been a leader of unruly workmen." Again, Rebecca suppressed a giggle. Truth be told, Mike's coal miners were a fairly unruly lot. "But that is only part of it, Prince. The American trade unions of his time were not a mob of apprentices in the streets, hurriedly assembled and waving torches about. It was an organized movement—and one which had more than a century of history behind it before he was even born. So he also knows how to negotiate as well as fight; retreat, as well as advance; concede, as well as demand. Most of all, he understands when a settlement is worth making, and when it is not. Or, as he puts it, when a settlement allows for later victory, whatever it costs at the moment."
She fell silent. Frederik Hendrik looked away and studied one of the paintings on the wall of his chamber. It was a Brueghels—the Younger, Rebecca thought, although she was not certain—and depicted a tranquil scene of daily life in a Flemish town.
"Yes," he said softly. "I, too, you know, have gotten my hands on a few of these now-famous history books of yours. Copies of them, rather." His eyes moved back to her. "I am curious. When you read them, did you ever consider what that future history looks like—from the perspective of a Dutchman?"
Rebecca was a little startled by the question. "Ah . . . no. No, Prince, as a matter of fact. I never did."
He nodded ponderously. "Of course not. That is because Holland is a little country, in the world which produced those books. One which enjoyed—would enjoy—a century in the sun. This century, as it happens, the Seventeenth. 'The Golden Era,' they would call it. Thereafter . . . just a little country. Like our neighbors—relatives, really—just south of here. Two little countries, Holland and what will be called Belgium, surrounded by greater powers. Prosperous little countries, to be sure." His lips tightened. "And, about every quarter of a century, from what I can determine, destined to be overrun and plundered by foreign armies."
Now, he was scowling. "I find myself not very thrilled by that prospect. And I find myself also wondering what the world would look like—from a Dutchman's point of view—if Alva's savagery had not forever separated the two halves of the Spanish Netherlands. If, instead, that single country had been able to mature slowly. Still a smallish country, to be sure. But not so small—and also a country which, even divided as it is now, has a population and wealth which is already the envy of Europe."
He waved her down. "Oh, don't be silly, Rebecca!" he snapped. Then, realizing at the same time she did that his unthinking use of the familiar name had allowed a certain genuine warmth into their relationship, gave her a friendly smile. "You know as well as I do that—in almost any world I can imagine—the grandiose and creaking empire built by Charles V is destined to disintegrate sooner or later. It was all Philip II could do to hold onto most of it—and he was quite a capable king, you know. Now . . ." He shook his head. "Spain has grabbed too much; certainly more than it can handle any longer. That was true even beforeyour Americans arrived and stuck a very large spoke in history's wheel."
Rebecca leaned back in her chair, her thoughts leaping ahead, following the prince's. God in Heaven, the man is right. Mike and I never considered this possibility . . .
"An interesting point, Frederik Henrik." The informality was calculated. Might as well find out how friendly he's prepared to be. "A very interesting point. It is in the nature of things that a Spanish viceroy resident in Brussels—especially one who oversees the entire population and wealth of the Low Countries—will soon discover that he has different interests from those of Castile."
"Not an accident, you know," murmured the prince, "that almost every archduchess regent wound up clashing with the king of Spain. Those were genteel ladies, however—and often elderly. So I find myself wondering how a brash young prince—especially one who is now covered with glory from the greatest feat of Spanish arms in a century—is going to react to the admonitions of his older brother. The older brother, perched in Madrid, in that pile of stones they call the Palacio Real; surrounded by Castile and its narrow-minded provincial hidalgos. The younger brother, in Brussels—or perhaps even in Amsterdam." His eyes moved back to the painting. "Surrounded by what is today—I'm boasting, I admit it—perhaps the world's greatest collection of artists—"
"Hardly boasting!" chuckled Rebecca. "Rubens, Van Dyck, not to mention Rembrandt—who's only what, now? Not more than thirty years old, I'm sure."
"Twenty-seven, I believe," said Frederik Hendrik with satisfaction. "With—assuming all goes well—a full lifetime ahead of him."
Again, they exchanged warm smiles. "Yes, indeed," Rebecca said. "It is an interesting thought. Surrounded by artists, philosophers, scientists, cosmopolitan merchants and financiers—not to mention that the populace as a whole is the best-educated in Europe, which is hardly true of Spain's. Craftsmen, artisans, manufacturers, seamen. For that matter, you have the world's most advanced farmers here, also."
The prince was almost grinning. Almost, but . . . not quite. And then the smile closed down abruptly, replaced by a face which was no longer haggard but still grim enough.
"All of it is true, Rebecca. But it is only a possibility.Nothing more than idle speculation, at the moment. It would need to be made true." He drew another deep breath. "And, for that, I will need both time and breathing space. After Dunkirk and Haarlem, the prince of Spain will be too full of himself to listen to anyone. I will need to bloody him a bit. More than a bit, in fact. I—or someone—will need to buckle his knees and smash his head about. Then . . . maybe."
He gave her a level stare. "So. There it is. Are you still prepared to make an alliance with me? Knowing—in advance—that I will someday almost certainly tear it up. And bend my knee to your enemy, the prince of Spain." Softly: "I will have no choice, Rebecca. The disaster is too great. All I can do now is try to force the best settlement possible—which will still be a settlement on Spanish terms."
"Yes, we are." The words came instantly and firmly. Rebecca hesitated a moment. Then, decided that it was worth the risk to be on frank speaking terms with the one ruler in Europe she had encountered thus far—even including Gustav Adolf—who seemed genuinely able to think the unthinkable.
"My husband calls it 'buying time,' Frederik Hendrik. Win what you can, cede what you must; compromise where possible, do not where it isn't. Most of all, never lose sight of what you are striving for in the first place." Her voice hardened. "Which is not the aggrandizement of princes, whether they be noble or common of birth. It is not even 'victory' at all, except insofar as a midwife might use the term when she successfully brings a new life into the world."
She pointed a finger at the painting, depicting Flemish townsfolk about their daily life. "There is victory, Prince of Orange. Nothing else is worthy of the name."
The prince nodded. "My father would have enjoyed meeting your husband, I think. Do you know why they called him 'William the Silent'?"
Rebecca shook her head.
"A bit of a mysterious name, really. My father was as far removed from taciturnity as possible. A most loquacious and voluble man, in fact. So everyone who knew him tells me. I can't remember him myself, of course, since he was assassinated the same year I was born."
Frederik Henrik chuckled. "I think the name was actually coined by his enemies. They called him 'the Silent' because they accused him of never saying what he really thought. But I think, myself, that is simply the surliness of defeat. What my father was, was the most adroit statesman in Europe. Who used his victories on the field of battle to disguise the blade in his left hand, which he wielded at the negotiating table."
He rose to his feet. "Done, then, Madame Stearns. You may tell your husband that the prince of Orange sends a workman his warmest regards. And will pray every night that the day comes when a cardinal of France, thinking he stands astride the world, glances down and discovers he has been disemboweled in the process. And never noticed it at the time, so craftsmanlike was the hand that did the deed."