"There's no way we can get in to talk to him, Melissa," said Tom. "Not a chance, according to Nelly. The cell they've got him in can only be reached through a single entrance, and there are always no fewer than three guards there. Yeoman Warders, at that, not run-of-the-mill goons."
Melissa nodded. One of the things which had become obvious in the weeks since they'd arrived in the Tower of London was that the Yeoman Warders of thisera were not the friendly, relaxed, tour-guides-in-all-but-name of the "Beefeaters" she'd encountered as a tourist in the late 20th century. These were elite soldiers, well-disciplined and organized. And they considered themselves very much "the king's men," not mercenaries simply passing through. It mightbe possible to bribe one of them, but not a squad of three or more. Unless—
Tom cut that idea off immediately. "And before you ask, no, they rotate the personnel constantly. It's never the same three or four men, more than a couple of days in a row. Apparently that's an order direct from Strafford himself. He's not taking any chances with Cromwell."
"Because he knows, probably even better than we do," sighed Melissa, "that almost every escape from the Tower depended on subverting people on the inside." She planted her hands on knees, and levered herself upright. "Damn, I'm too old for this. At my age—planning a jailbreak!"
Tom gave her a sly look. "I'd have thought—years ago, you know—that you must have spent hours planning jailbreaks."
"Please," sniffed Melissa. "I was a protester, not a common criminal. Much less a foreign adventuress. I was trying to get arrested, to make a point. It would have undercut the whole gesture terribly to have then taken it on the lam." Another sniff. "I mean, that would have implied that I was guilty of something. Instead of being, as I was—and remain, dammit!—an advocate of civilized common sense."
Darryl McCarthy had been listening in on the conversation, lounging against a nearby wall. As always when the subject of Oliver Cromwell was being discussed, his young face was tight with disapproval. Now, disapproval was replaced by alarm. He thrust himself erect.
"Hey, Melissa—I mean . . . Come on. That 'civil disobedience' crap—uh, idea—I mean, it ain't gonna work in the here and now. No way!" A bit wildly, his eyes ranged toward the far door leading to the main complex of the Tower where, although they couldn't be seen, he knew Yeoman Warders were standing guard on the U.S. delegation. "Jeez, you try chaining yourself to a gate here . . . They ain't gonna bother with getting a blacksmith. They'll just whack your hands off at the wrist. Laugh while you bleed to death. Mop up the blood for sausage. I mean—"
"Oh—cease and desist!" Melissa tried to accompany the admonition with a fierce frown, but failed miserably. The word "desist" was followed immediately by a laugh.
"Whazza matter, Darryl?" she demanded. "I think you'd look cute marching into Whitehall and sitting at the lunch counter next to the king and queen. Make your mark on history."
Darryl glared at her. Unlike Melissa, Gayle Mason didn't intimidate him. Well, not much. Gayle was combative enough to intimidate any man who really tried to push her around, true. But she was in her mid-thirties, not nearing sixty—and, more to the point, she'd never been Darryl's schoolteacher. So his relationship with her was more that of a younger brother to an older sister.
"Very funny!" he snapped.
Melissa waved a hand weakly. "Enough, you two. Darryl, I'm not stupid. I am quite well aware that anyone trying to emulate Mahatma Gandhi or the Reverend Martin Luther King in this day and age is guaranteed a short life." She grimaced. "Short and painfullife. Drawn and quartered first, the rack, God knows what else."
She moved over to the nearest window and studied the Thames. For a moment, she felt awash in a sadness as broad as the river. "Civilized common sense," she murmured softly to herself. "But what does that mean, in a 'civilization' which thinks thumbscrews are a source of justice?"
Rita came over to stand next to her. The young woman seemed to understand her mood. "It's not your fault, Melissa. I mean, really it's not."
The concern evident in Rita's tone caused Melissa to smile. And, with the smile, her vague sorrow faded away. There was much to console her in this callous new world, after all. In the old one, as "civilized" as it might have been, Melissa Mailey had been alone. Respected, yes; even admired, by many. But alone. She'd often thought, sometimes, that her identity began and ended with schoolmarm; radical—and, increasingly, behind her back if not to her face: spinster; no children of her own, that's why she's such a pissant.
Now . . . she had a lover, a husband in all but name. And, in all but name, a multitude of children.
She turned to face Rita. Especially daughters.
That thought cheered her immensely. She turned now to Gayle. "Do you think you've made contact with Julie and Alex yet?"
Gayle shrugged. "No way to be sure, of course, since they're only set up to receive. But I doubt it. Until they reach Scotland, Julie won't really be able to set up her radio very well. It's just an off-the-shelf Radio Shack DX-398. Hell of a nice radio, mind you, for what it is, but—" Her voice swelled with a touch of pride. "It's nothing like the special rig I brought, or that Becky has. Even then, I'm pretty sure we're going to have to relay to Scotland through Holland."
Melissa nodded. Gayle was one of Grantville's three "Amateur Extra class" hams, and had played a major role in designing the radio equipment all the diplomatic missions had taken with them. She was the specialist in their party on radio, just as Jimmy Andersen—a "General class" ham—was for Rebecca's. "And nothing from Becky either. To be honest, I'm getting a little worried about that."
"It's too complicated to figure out, Melissa, without knowing enough facts." Gayle glanced at the trunk where the radio was kept out of sight. "With this equipment, we'll be able to reach Jimmy once he gets set up in Holland, no sweat. But until he does . . ."
She shrugged. "It's that freakin' Maunder Minimum. From a ham's point of view, we came to Europe at just the wrong time. Officially, it doesn't start until 1645, but in the real world it's more complicated than that. The sunspot count is already plunging—"
"Dammit, Gayle," growled Darryl, "I don't want to hear it again. Bad enough I gotta listen to history lectures from Melissa every day, without you gettin' in on the act. Especially the history of sunspot cycles and how they screw up—or don't, I can't remember—radio transmission!" Sullenly: "I mean, Jesus. I had a hard enough time keeping the Roosevelts straight."
A little chuckle went through the room. Melissa's was more prolonged than anyone's. "You didn't, as a matter of fact." She gave Darryl a smile that was a lot friendlier than the scowl she'd given him at the time. "Oh, yes, I can still remember it. I'll say this, Darryl McCarthy—your answers to test questions were always, ah, unique."
Her voice slid into a slight singsong. " 'Teddy Roosevelt. Led the Rough Riders against the Japanese at Pearl Harbor.' "
Tom burst out laughing. "He didn't—really?" Darryl flushed.
Melissa nodded cheerfully. "Oh, yes. Then there was 'George III, first President of the United States.' "
Rita joined her husband's laughter. So did Gayle. Darryl's face was now bright pink.
Melissa decided to relent. Or, at least, slide off. "But I will say, in Darryl's defense, that Harry Lefferts could always top him. I remember one test question which Harry answered: 'Abraham Lincoln. Invented the Continental for George Washington.' And then there was the little essay he wrote explaining how the ancient Greeks conquered the Romans because they were mad at the Romans for giving them all lead poisoning when Mount St. Helens erupted."
Tom was laughing so hard now that he had to sit down before he collapsed. Gayle wasn't doing much better; neither was Rita.
Darryl, on the other hand, apparently decided he'd gone so far beyond "embarrassment" that he might as well join the fun. So he, too, started laughing.
"Hey, ease up. Me and Harry were too busy rebuilding cars to worry about history. I mean, whaddaya really need to know beyond the fact that President Ford invented the automobile?" He frowned. "I mean, the first President Ford, of course. Not the guy who couldn't cut it in football."
Tom fell off the chair.
* * *
Outside, standing on the walkway which led from St. Thomas' Tower to the inner complex, the two Yeoman Warders on guard listened to the riotous laughter. Then, looked at each other.
"Jolly lot, I'll say that."
His comrade nodded, smiling. "Aye. I think the earl is worrying himself too much." He jerked his head a little, indicating the unseen occupants. "Hardly the sound of a new Gunpowder Plot in the making, eh?"
Silence followed, for a minute or so. Then, after glancing around, one Warder spoke in a lower tone. " 'Tis said they're rich."
"Said truly too. I've seen the silver meself."
Again, a period of silence. Longer, this time. Finally, the one who'd seen the silver spoke again in a half-whisper. "Can't see any harm in it, Andrew. Not to the king, not to us, not to anyone."
His comrade, nodding, slid into the status of partner. "Aye. Even split then, Will? Whichever of us is on duty?"
"Done. All the woman wants, she says—the one who showed me the silver—is to have packages brought and delivered."
Andrew frowned. "Small packages only." For a moment, leaning the partisan against a shoulder, his hands made quick motions indicating the acceptable size.
"Oh, to be sure. Anything else's too risky." Will shrugged. "But I think that's all they want anyway. Just luxuries, you know."
"No harm in that."
* * *
"—see the harm in His Majesty's, ah, foible," concluded Laud. The bishop of London shifted in his seat. "So leave it alone, Thomas, it's not worth irritating the king over any longer. If it pleases Charles to think of Oliver Cromwell rotting in his dungeon instead of a grave, what of it?"
Strafford started to argue the point; then, pressed his lips shut and satisfied himself with glaring down at London from the vantage point of his chambers in Whitehall Palace.
"I suppose," he growled, after a few seconds of silence. "With Pym now dead—God, what possessed the man, anyway? Fighting off soldiers, at his age! What was he, fifty?"
Laud's face seemed to tighten, as if he'd bitten into a lemon. The earl had to restrain himself from laughing aloud. For the bishop, clearly enough, knowing the age of a rebellious parliamentarian was as foreign to his nature as knowing the inside of an Ottoman harem.
The momentary amusement lifted his annoyance at the king's stubbornness. "Well, perhaps you're right. True, Hampden slipped through our fingers. But he's certainly off the island by now, and I can't really see what harm he can do us from the Continent. Oliver was—would have been—the soldier amongst them."
Strafford's smile was not quite a sneer. "Ah, yes. The estimable George Monck. There's a piece of work."
"You've spoken to him, then?"
"Two days ago. I sat him down, showed him the relevant portions of the history, and brought him to the light of reason in less than half an hour. What's the point of it all, I asked him? He'd start as a Royalist, switch sides halfway through—and then, in the end, wind up putting the Prince of Wales on the throne after Cromwell's death. So why not eliminate all the mess and confusion?"
Laud looked slightly alarmed. "I trust you didn't—"
"Certainly not!" Strafford laughed. "I took the book from him before he could turn the page and see that Charles the Secondwould reward him with a dukedom. That man is quite ambitious enough, thank you!"
Strafford's face, for a moment, looked as lemon-sour as Laud's had done. He had no chance at a dukedom, he knew full well. When all was said and done, the king depended on Strafford . . . but didn't like him, and never would.
" 'Duke of Albemarle,' " muttered the earl. "Granted a large pension and made Master of the Horse, to boot. Died of old age, rich as Croesus, in his bed. While I went to the block. So did you, not long after."
Silence fell on the room. Both the earl and the bishop had studied the history books brought to England by Richelieu's agent, as well as the copies of pages from another brought back by the king's physician. William Harvey, that was, who had been given something of a hero's welcome when he visited the Americans at their capital in Grantville the year before. It seemed he would become famous also, in the future.
The bitterness in that silence was almost palpable. In that history, the king had handed the faithful earl over to his enemies. Then, after doing the same with the archbishop, Charles had pronounced that Laud's execution at the hands of Parliament would be viewed by God as the king's atonement for betraying Strafford.
The logic was . . . something only a man like Charles I could follow.
Strafford shifted his shoulders, and clasped hands behind his back. "No . . . you're right, of course. But that doesn't require me to like the man." It was unclear, even to himself, which man he was talking about—the future duke of Albemarle, or the present king of England.
He decided that was a thought best left unpursued. Turning his head a bit, he added: "In any event, I saw no reason for George Monck, son of a minor landowner in Devonshire, to become a duke in this . . . what would you call it, William? History? World? Universe?"
Laud shrugged, somewhat uncomfortably. "That's for God alone to understand. Fully, at least. I simply think of it—" He made a little gesture with his hand, indicating everything around him. "This world, that is, as the true one. That other, as God's image to us of falseness."
Strafford barked a laugh. "Easy for you to say! You aren't the one who meets with Lady Mailey and tries to explain to her exactly how their stay in the Tower is a 'courtesy.' I assure you, William, if the lady herself is false, her brains certainly aren't."
"She's not a 'lady!' " snapped Laud. "Nothing but a commoner." The little bishop's face, habitually red to begin with, was flushed brighter than usual. Like many people born to common stock—Laud's father had been a draper—he tended to be even more sensitive than noblemen on the subject of "good breeding."
Strafford started to make a retort, but held it back. They were now verging on a subject which was one of the few—perhaps the only one—that Thomas Wentworth could not discuss with William Laud, for all that they were good friends. William, and Bishop Laud, were one and the same man. The earl of Strafford, and Thomas Wentworth, were . . . not quite.
No, William—she is a 'lady.' If that name means anything beyond a mere title. I've met her; you haven't. She has a poise, a self-confidence, a sureness of self, that would be the envy of any duchess.
The image of Queen Henrietta Maria came to him, a giddy Frenchwoman married to an English king who, in his own way, was perhaps even giddier. Or a queen, for that matter. And the young sister of her ruler who came with her bids fair to do the same, if I don't miss my guess.
"How do they do it?" he murmured.
"What was that?"
Strafford shook his head. "Nothing, William. Just talking to myself."
The bishop chuckled. "Bad habit, that. Best you rein in it before it takes you over."
"Aye." Wentworth—no, the earl of Strafford—tightened his clasped hands. "Aye. Our course is clear."
He turned away from the window then. But not before, in a last flash of imagery, seeing the figure of Oliver Cromwell huddled in a cell. And remembering something else he'd read in those books. A line from a letter which would have once been written by that same prisoner, appealing to his opponents.
I beseech you in the bowels of Christ—think it possible you may be mistaken.
* * *
"You made a mistake!" squealed Nan, clapping her hands. "Look, everyone—Papa made a mistake! He played the wrong card!"
"Hush, child," scolded Wentworth's wife Elizabeth. "Your father's just preoccupied with affairs of state, that's why he made the mistake." The young woman—at nineteen, barely more than a girl—smiled shyly at her new forty-year-old husband. "He's a very important man, you know."
Strafford returned the smile. And genuinely, not simply as a matter of courtesy. He was pleased to see that his daughter Nan had accepted the reproof in good spirits. Indeed, she was smiling fondly at her stepmother. Elizabeth, as he had hoped, was proving to be very good with the children.
That thought brought sadness, for a moment. He was fond of his new wife, true enough. But he knew she would never be able to replace Arabella in his affections. His former wife had been . . . special.
A flash of memory came to him. That horrible time in York, less than two years ago, when Arabella had died. They'd gone there to escape the plague which had been ravaging England in the summer of 1631. He could still remember—he thought he'd never be able to forget—the moment when it all happened.
Arabella, pregnant with their fifth child, rising to greet him with a smile as he came in from the garden . . . brushing an insect off her clothing . . . the creature suddenly spreading its wings and flying in her face . . . she tripped, fell, he couldn't reach her in time . . .
She'd died soon after. October 5, 1631, a date he would always hate with a passion.
He forced the melancholy into a corner of his mind, and bestowed a reassuring smile upon his family gathered about the table. More for Elizabeth's sake, really, than his daughter's. Nan had been too young to really remember her mother—not more than four, when she died. Will, not much older.
His young wife Elizabeth, on the other hand, was painfully aware that she was trying to take the place of a woman for whom Thomas Wentworth, now earl of Strafford, had felt a deep and passionate love. And however much Strafford sometimes found Arabella's memory overwhelming, he was determined not to inflict that grief upon Elizabeth. True, the girl had little of Arabella's gaiety and quick intelligence. Elizabeth was, in every respect, a typical daughter of a country squire, with little of his former wife's sophistication. But he'd married her so soon after Arabella's death for the sake of the children, and Elizabeth had proven as good a stepmother as he could have asked for. He owed her kindness and consideration, at the very least.
"It's as your mother said," he explained. "I'm just a bit distracted by . . . problems of government." The last three words were accompanied by a vague wave of the hand.
"You should just do the right thing," his five-year-old daughter stated firmly. Nan, as always, made her proclamations with the surety of an empress. "Then you won't be sad, no matter what else. That's what you always say to me."
Strafford chuckled. "Oh, and aren't you the little tyrant? I can remember how you used to drive the workmen half-mad, marching up and down the planks while they were adding the new wing to the house. 'Do this, do that.' Four years old, you were."
Nan looked as dignified as a girl still short of her sixth birthday could possibly manage. "They were slacking off, now and then," she proclaimed. "People should do the right thing."
* * *
Later that evening, after the children had been taken to bed, Elizabeth rose from the table. Somewhat timidly, she asked: "Are you retiring for the night, husband?"
Abruptly, Strafford shook his head. "No, dearest. I was planning to, but . . . there's a matter I must attend to. Now. It'll keep me awake through the night if I don't."
He rose, then hesitated. "Don't wait up for me. I won't be back for hours. It's a ways to the Tower."
* * *
"Have the cell cleaned thoroughly. Provide him with some decent bedding. Good rations. Exercise, once a day. Keep him chained and manacled whenever he's outside the cell, but remove the fetters while he's in it."
The Yeoman Warder in charge of the detail nodded. "Aye, sir."
Strafford gave him a stony look. "No slacking off, mind. I want him guarded more closely than ever."
"Leave, then. I want a moment alone with the prisoner."
"Aye, sir." The Yeoman Warder bowed and backed out of the cell. Strafford turned toward the dark shape in the corner and lifted his taper. A strong nose came into the light.
"I did my best to convince His Majesty to have you beheaded," he said abruptly. "But he declines, for whatever reason. I'll press the matter no further."
There came a little rasping laugh. "Hunger and disease'll do the trick too, Thomas. Why not just wait and let winter take care of the chore?"
Strafford's lips tightened. "That's an injustice to me, Oliver."
A moment's silence. The nose faded from view, as if the half-seen head were lowered for a moment. Then: "True enough. My apologies."
"I'll kill a man, if I think it needed. But I'll kill him as a man, not a dog or a rat."
Strafford cleared his throat. "I did try to find out what happened to your children, Oliver. But they seem to have vanished."
The nose returned. "Oh, I'm not surprised. You know the fen people, Thomas. Someone will have taken them in, kept them hidden. No soldiers blundering about will find them."
Strafford nodded. He did not have Cromwell's intimate knowledge of the great fens of Norfolk, but he knew the realities of fen life well enough. When he'd been appointed Lord President of the North, at the end of the year 1628, the traditionally overbearing great landowners of northern England had been shocked by the newly powerful Thomas Wentworth's actions in frequently supporting the poor of the region against them. He'd forced the powerful and influential Dutchman Vermuyden, brought over from Holland to drain the fens of Hatfield Chase, to give up large shares of land he'd taken away—and pay for repairing the damage he'd done to poor villages in the area.
The same Vermuyden, disgruntled, had then moved his operations to Norfolk. Where, with a more powerful band of shareholders supporting him—and without having to face fenmen championed by Wentworth—he'd had a free rein. Only a handful of local squires, led by Oliver Cromwell, had tried to oppose him.
The former Lord President of the North and the former "Lord of the Fens" stared at each other, for a moment. Now, the one was the most powerful man in England except for the king himself, and the other was his prisoner. Two men who had once been something in the way of allies.
"What do you think of predestination?" Strafford suddenly asked. "Truly, I mean."
Cromwell's chuckle was a raspy thing. Strafford couldn't see him well, in the darkness of the cell, but he had no doubt the man was feeling the effects of several weeks' imprisonment in a dungeon. He made a silent decision to instruct the Yeoman Warders to have a physician look at him.
"I was never much of a theologian, Thomas. But it always seemed to me that the heart of the matter involved the nature of a man's soul, not his history—past, present, or future." Dryly: "No doubt your Arminian friend Bishop Laud would disagree."
Strafford was silent, for a moment. Then, almost in a whisper: "It's all gotten . . . very complicated. It's these Americans."
"They're real, then? I wasn't sure. It didn't seem like your methods, but . . . I thought the whole business might just be a ploy. Though why the king should want me imprisoned remained a mystery, I admit." The harsh, rasping chuckle filled the cell again. "It's not as if that grand-sounding 'Lord of the Fens' meant anything outside Norfolk."
Strafford's eyes widened. "Real?" he choked. His head swiveled. "For God's sake, Oliver, they're here. A delegation of the creatures, sitting right there in St. Thomas' Tower. Ambassadors. The sister of their ruler is the head of it."
Abruptly, he shook his head. Why am I discussing this with a prisoner?
The reality of the present returned, pushing aside all thoughts of other pasts and futures. "Pym's dead," he said coldly. "Hampden's gone into exile. Monck's given his allegiance to the crown. And you are here in the Tower. So there's an end to it."
Cromwell's form shifted, as if he'd made a shrug. "I don't know any of those men, Thomas, other than by sight. Not even that, with whoever 'Monck' is. I recall exchanging a pleasantry, once, with Hampden. At the last parliament, that was."
There seemed nothing to say. Strafford turned to leave. Cromwell's low voice stopped him.
"When the news came to the fens, Thomas, I was deeply grieved to hear it. About Arabella, I mean. I never met the lady, but I knew you were most attached to her. You spoke of her, you may recall. You were a man I much admired, once, and even if you weren't, I'd not wish that ill on any man."
The raw sound of a grieving widower lurked under the words. Strafford stared at the dark figure crouched in the cell.
That, too, we have in common.
But he said nothing in response. Simply turned, and left.
And what of it? King's deputy. Prisoner in the Tower. So it is.