1633 David Weber and Eric Flint



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Chapter 8


The cell was dank, and, sunset now past, lit only by the taper in Strafford's hand. The light was just enough to make out the figure of the man squatting against one of the stone walls. The dim light glinted off the manacles on the man's wrists and ankles, but the earl could make out few details of the face beyond that distinctively strong nose.

Strafford resisted the impulse to order the chains and manacles removed from the prisoner. His sudden elevation to royal favor was too recent for Strafford to risk incurring the king's displeasure for such a small matter. And it would be hypocritical anyway, since Strafford was doing his best to convince King Charles to have the man executed outright.

A husky voice came out of the darkness. "You're looking prosperous, Thomas."

The tone in the voice was filled more with harsh, bitter humor than anything in the way of real anger. It had been five years since the earl and the prisoner had last seen each other, but the man's composure did not surprise him. Strafford—Thomas Wentworth, as he'd been then—had spent some time in the private company of his fellow young member of Parliament. The two men had taken something of a liking to each other. Perhaps that was because they came from similar backgrounds, gentry families rather than nobility, striving to gain a place in the sun. Or, perhaps, it was simply a matter of temperament.

"I only found out two days ago, Oliver, when I arrived in London." Strafford cleared his throat. "I am sorry about Elizabeth. The men had no orders to harm your wife."

"Soldiers. What did you expect?" Again, that harsh, bitter humor. "But you were always adept at washing your hands, as I remember."

Any trace of humor left, then. All that was left was raw and bitter pain. "They shot her like a mad dog, Thomas. And she never laid so much as a hand on one of them. Just denounced them for a pack of mongrels. Then shot my son Richard, when he cursed them for it. Killed both of them in front of my eyes, with me already chained and helpless."

Strafford winced. He began to utter harsh words of his own, vowing to see the culprits brought to justice. But the phrases died in his throat. The earl would have neither the time nor the opportunity to see to the punishment of undisciplined soldiers.

And Cromwell knew it. A harsh chuckle came from the corner where he squatted. "Good for you. Whatever else, at least you've not become a liar."

"I've never been a liar," grated Strafford.

"No, you've not. Other things, but not that. So tell me then, honest Tom—why?"

Cromwell thrust his face forward, further into the dim lighting thrown out by the taper. Strafford could now see the man's mouth as well as his nose. He'd forgotten the prominent wart on Cromwell's lower lip.

"Why?"

The sight of the wart froze Strafford for a moment. His thoughts veered aside, remembering a portrait of Cromwell he'd seen in a book which the king had shown him. That had been one of the history books which Richelieu's men had obtained from Grantville, and presented to the king of England as a gift.

There had been a portrait of Oliver Cromwell in it, made when he was much older than the man chained and manacled in the cell. A man in his fifties, not one in his mid-thirties. A portrait of the "Lord Protector of England," regicide and ruler of the island, not a prisoner in the Tower.

Much was different, but the wart had been in the portrait also. That would have been like Cromwell, Strafford knew. Most powerful men ordered their portraits idealized. This man would not have done so.

Strafford took a deep breath and let it out. Had God willed it so, he would have far rather been the minister for King Oliver than King Charles. But . . . things were as they were. Charles, for good or ill, was the legitimate monarch of England. And Oliver Cromwell, however much Strafford might admire and respect the man, was not. He was simply a rebel and a traitor in the making, and Strafford had seen enough of the lunacies of parliaments to know what havoc and ruin rebellion would bring in its train.

"Why?" demanded Cromwell again.

"You didn't know? They didn't tell you?"

Silence.

Strafford sighed. No, they wouldn't have. Just had the soldiers murder his wife and one of his sons and drag him here in chains.

"You've heard of this new place on the continent, in Germany? This town called Grantville, delivered here from the future."

"Wild rumors. The fens are full of superstition."

"No superstition," replied Strafford, shaking his head. "It is true enough, Oliver. Believe it true. They broke the Spanish at Eisenach, and the imperials at the Alte Veste. 'Tis said one of their women shot Wallenstein himself, across a distance of a mile, with one of their fiendish guns."

The prisoner's eyes widened. "So what does that have to do with me?"

The earl stared at him for a moment. "They brought other things than guns with them from the future, Oliver. Histories, for one. The cardinal of France—Richelieu, that is—saw to it that several such books were given to King Charles. In the future—"

He cleared his throat. "The future that would have been, I should say. There would be a revolution here in England. Starting not many years from now. By the end of it, you would rule the country—and have the king's head on a chopping block."

The face drew back, now shadowed again. Only the nose still showed in the candlelight. "You are something of a Puritan yourself, Thomas, as I recall. Predestination, is it?" A wintry chuckle came from the corner of the cell. "Leave it to King Charles to kill a regicide's wife and son, and leave the regicide alive. I advise you to have me executed. For I will do my best, I can assure you, to see that God's will is not thwarted."

Strafford tightened his jaws. Never a liar. "Indeed. I so advised His Majesty yesterday."

Silence again. Then Cromwell asked: "And you, Thomas? In that future world."

"I was executed as well. Before the king." He saw no reason to tell Cromwell of the shameful manner of the king's behavior. Even Charles had had the grace to look away, embarrassed, when Strafford came to that portion of the history in his reading.

Cromwell was not fooled. "Threw you to the wolves, did he? That would be just like the man. And you, Thomas—how did you manage the affair?"

The earl of Strafford straightened a bit. "I died well. Even my enemies said so."

"Oh, I am not surprised. Remember it, Thomas Wentworth." The face withdrew completely into the darkness. "Best you be off, now. The king will have more chores for you. And I have grieving to do."

Laud was waiting for him in Strafford's chambers in Whitehall. The bishop of London was pacing back and forth, obviously agitated.

"What's this nonsense His Majesty's been telling me?" he demanded, as soon as he caught sight of Strafford.

The earl restrained his temper. A part of him wanted nothing so much as to throttle the bishop, but . . . when all was said and done, Laud was a friend of his—and Strafford suspected he had few friends left, these days. Nor did he have any doubt that as soon as the current archbishop of Canterbury died—and Abbot was by all accounts on death's doorstep—Laud would succeed him. So had it happened in "the other world"; so it would happen here. King Charles approved of Laud.

Not throttling the man, however, did not mean being delicate with him. Strafford had been expecting this quarrel, and was ready for it.

"Don't be an imbecile, William. Even you must understand that the new situation requires us to set aside your plans for reforming the church. Plans which, I might add, were the single most prominent cause of the revolution which took place"—his hand groped in midair—"in that other history."

He matched the bishop's glare with one of his own. "Damn all zealots, anyway! You and your meddling with the Scots once you became archbishop—ruin, that's what it brought. Would have brought, but not now. And I so told the king, and told him firmly."

He stalked over to a chair and threw himself into it. "And His Majesty agrees, so there's an end to it. There will be no meddling with the Scots and their Presbyterian obsessions. Leave them alone, William. Leave those thick-headed half-barbarous clansmen to their own quarrels and feuds. Stir them up—as you did, in another time—and they'll become the hammer to the Puritan anvil."

May as well get all of it over with, he told himself firmly. He was expecting a complete rupture with Laud. That would sadden him, personally, but—so what? It had saddened him to see such a man as Oliver Cromwell rotting in a dungeon also. The needs of the state remained.

"And the same for Ireland. Leave the Old English there in peace with their papist idolatries, and Ireland will be a bastion for royalism. Stir them up, and we'll have another rebellion to contend with."

Laud was starting to splutter, but Strafford's strong voice overrode his protests.

"Damnation, William! Is it impossible for you to see your hand in front of your face? Did you read the books?"

"And why should we trust them?" shrilled Laud. "For all we know, those books were created by the Satanists themselves—or they're French forgeries." The bishop's eyes narrowed. "You met the witch yourself, earlier this day. Surely you could smell the stench of abomination."

Strafford burst out laughing. "The 'witch?' Which one, William? The one by the name of Melissa—who, I must tell you, is as fine looking an older woman as any duchess in Europe? Or the young one by the name of Rita? Who is as obviously a prince's young sister, uncertain of her role but determined to carry it out, as any infanta of Spain?"

He sat up straight, shaking his head. "There was no stench, William. Put that aside, man. You don't even believe it yourself—the whole notion smacks of village superstition. Is Satan so powerful he can create a new universe? Nonsense. Wherever these people came from, it was not the Pit. On that issue, if nothing else, I am inclined to agree with Richelieu. They are not personally evil. Indeed, it is that very lack of personal wickedness which drives home all the more strongly God's warning to us: let this madness unfold, and even the best will be encompassed in the ruin."

As always, theological questions were able to distract Laud as nothing else could. The bishop's scowl remained, but it became more one of thought than simple outrage. "You cannot trust a papist cardinal to reason properly, Thomas, never think it. Ours, here in England, is the only true catholic church. Still . . ."

He resumed his pacing. "I will admit that Richelieu's reasoning—in this instance—has substance to it. Still . . ."

He stopped his pacing, spun around, and extended a beseeching hand. "Can't you see what you're doing? For all intents and purposes, you are adopting the policies of—of—them." His lips pursed, as if he'd eaten a lemon. "Religious toleration. Let every fool in the land set himself up as if he were a bishop."

Strafford laughed again. " 'Them?' The colonial Satanists, you mean?"

Laud seemed to have calmed down enough for Strafford to have hopes of preventing a complete rupture. He arose, went over to his old friend, and put an arm around the smaller man's shoulder.

"I did not say we must forever abandon our plans for reform of the church, William. Nor, I can assure you, do I share the foolish belief of these 'Americans' that religious toleration is some kind of principle."

Not, he added sourly to himself, that a heavy dose of it wouldn't be of benefit to the world's statesmen. Idiots!

"But even the Son of God required three days to return from the dead, after all. We can't do everything at once, William. Without a king to serve as the anchor, an established church is impossible—you know that as well as I do. So will you allow me the freedom to do as I must to ensure the survival of the throne? Or—"

His tone hardened, as did the grip of the large hand on the bishop's shoulder. "Or will you enroll yourself in the ranks of my enemies? Choose, William. Choose now. His Majesty has seen fit to bestow the task upon me, and I will not shirk from the duty. Not for anything, including friendship or personal sentiment."

Laud's shoulder stiffened. Then, slumped.

"Oh, not that, Thomas. An 'enemy'? Never that."

"Good." Strafford used the hand on the shoulder to steer Laud into a nearby chair. "That settled, old friend, I could use your advice and guidance. The Lord knows I could use your energy and discipline."

After both men were settled, Strafford pushed the advantage. "Besides, look at all the bright spots. With the money the French are showering on us, I can afford to hire some real soldiers. For once, the king of England will be able to bare some real teeth."

"Not French soldiers," hissed Laud. "Let those swine onto the island . . ."

Strafford laughed. "Was I born yesterday? The cardinal's envoy made the offer, of course—indeed, he even raised the possibility of Spanish troops, if you can believe it."

Laud's face turned bright red. "Spanish troops!" he screeched.

Strafford, still chuckling, waved his hand. "Rest easy, William. There's this much good came out of the madness on the Continent. After fifteen years of warfare, there are thousands—tens of thousands—of experienced English mercenaries, any of whom would be delighted to return to England and serve under their own king's colors."

Laud was not quite done with his glowering. "A scandalous lot. Soldiers-for-hire. Sinners."

Wentworth shrugged. "Frankly, all the better. They'll hardly care about the fine sentiments of Parliament, now will they?"

He rose and went to a window, overlooking the great city. Then, completed his conversion of the bishop.

"They'll certainly not be given to tenderness dealing with the Trained Bands of London."

Mention of the militia of England's capital, that body of artisans and apprentices who had caused so much grief and disturbance over the years to England's monarchs and bishops, brought Laud to his own feet.

"Crush the rabble!"

Strafford clasped his hands behind his back, and straightened his shoulders. Then, gazing serenely down at the dark streets of London:

"Oh, I intend to. Be sure of it, William."

Some time later, over a much more convivial meal, Laud inquired as to the fate of the new prisoner in the Tower.

Strafford's face darkened a bit. "Tomorrow, I shall try again to convince the king to have Cromwell beheaded. Pym, too, once the soldiers bring him to the Tower. And Hampden, if we can catch him. But . . ."

"He's an indecisive man by nature, Thomas."

The king's new prime-minister-in-all-but-name shook his head glumly, thinking about the king he served. "Worse than that, really. Indecisive in big things, stubborn in small ones. I think he has vague notions—probably put there by his wife—of having some sort of grand spectacle of a trial at a later date. When he can haul all of his enemies out of the Tower and put them up for display."

"In front of whom?" demanded Laud. "Not Parliament, surely!"

Strafford shrugged. "That will be up to us, I suppose. Create some suitable body to replace Parliament, I mean. On that, it occurs to me—please take no offense!—there's something to be said for the French system—"

The argument which erupted thereafter was fierce enough, in its own way. But it was the ferocity of an argument between friends, enjoying the dispute, not that of a quarrel between enemies.

And so Thomas Wentworth, the earl of Strafford, was able to end the day on a better note than it began. And was able to carry with him to his bed the memory of a friendship retained, to blunt the sorrow of seeing a man he much admired fester in a dungeon, grieving a murdered wife and son.

Duty, of course, remained.

First thing tomorrow—I'll do my best to convince Charles to remove his head. Oliver is dangerous. If he ever gets out . . .

He drifted off to sleep, comforted by thoughts of the thick walls of the Tower. True, men had escaped from the Tower, in times past. But never men immured in the dungeons.

Strafford would have been less relaxed—considerably less—had he witnessed what a young man named Darryl McCarthy was doing at the very moment he fell asleep. For all his brilliance, the earl of Strafford—like Richelieu—had not fully grasped the nature of the new American technology. He could accept, readily enough, guns which fired across half a mile with uncanny accuracy. But still, he—like Richelieu—had the ingrained habits of men born and bred in the 17th century. An impressive machine or device, they could accept, yes. But, without even thinking about it, they assumed that such a machine or device would look impressive.

A cannon which can destroy a stone wall does, after all. A great, big, brute of a thing.

"That's it," said Darryl softly, turning his head and smiling up at Melissa. "You just give the word, ma'am, that fancy wall is so much rubble and we're outa here. Assuming you can scrounge us up some transportation, of course." He gave a skeptical glance out the window at the moat and the Thames beyond. He couldn't see the water, in the darkness of the night, but he could smell it. "Can't say I much want to swim in that stinking river, much less the moat, even if I could make it across in the first place."

Melissa winced. "I can't quite believe I might destroy . . . I mean, the Tower of London, for God's sake. It's a world historical monument."

"Not here, it isn't," said Tom Simpson. "Here, it's just another damn prison."

Melissa nodded. She eyed the little hole in the wall which Darryl was now disguising with mud smeared over bits of stone. Once the mud dried and a little dust was spread over it, there would be nothing to indicate an explosive charge except a thin wire leading off. The wire would be disguised behind furniture—a heavy couch that Darryl and Tom said would help direct the blast—and, in any event, wasn't something that a 17th-century guard would recognize anyway.

"Doesn't look like much, does it?" chuckled Tom.

"That's what I'm counting on." Melissa turned away firmly. If nothing else, over the past two years, she'd learned to discipline her own "finer sentiments." World historical monument or not, if the time came she would have that wall destroyed. Let the middle ages and its architecture take care of itself. She had living people to answer for.

"How's the radio coming?" she asked.

Gayle looked up from where she was squatting on the floor. "I've got the generator assembled, Friedrich's screwing the pedals down next to the loveseat, and Nelly's stringing the antenna. It's a good thing the guards can't see us or they'd think we're insane."

Melissa made a face. "I'm not sure they wouldn't be right."


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