1633 David Weber and Eric Flint

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Chapter 24

Momma hadn't wanted her to come.

Kristina wasn't entirely sure why that was. On the other hand, there were a lot of things she didn't understand about Momma. Not that Kristina didn't love her mother. But there were times when Momma seemed just a little . . . odd. She seemed to change her mind a lot. And it was important to her that people appreciated her—and told her so.

Kristina was only seven years old—well, almost eight—but it seemed to her that some of the people who kept telling Momma how much they appreciated her wanted things from her. Usually things Poppa and Chancellor Oxenstierna wouldn't give them . . . or let Momma give them. Which could make things around the palace very uncomfortable.

Things were especially uncomfortable in the palace just now. Everyone seemed very upset and worried about the Danes and the French. Kristina knew where France was, of course. She loved maps. And she knew all about that awful old Richelieu, who ran France instead of the French king. But only a year or so before, Richelieu had been Poppa's friend. Now, he was an enemy.

It was all very confusing. She understood why King Christian was an enemy. Danes were nasty. They wanted to keep Sweden penned up in the Gulf of Finland while they had the Baltic all to themselves. Which was ugly and greedy of them. Especially since the Baltic belonged to Poppa, exactly as it would someday belong to Kristina. So, of course, King Christian was going to do whatever he could to hurt Poppa. But just why Richelieu would help him was something Kristina was still working on figuring out.

It would have helped if someone would explain it to her. People ought to explain things to her. After all, she was the crown princess of Sweden. Someday, she would be queen, too. But except for Poppa, and sometimes her tutors (who were usually so boring about it all), people very seldom explained to her. They didn't care that she was a princess; they just treated her as if she were a baby who couldn't understand anything. Which was really, really unfair of them, because how was she supposed to understand things if no one bothered to explain them to her in the first place?

That was one of the reasons she was so happy that she was going to Magdeburg, whatever Momma thought about it. Poppa had made Magdeburg his new capital, which meant she would finally get to see him sometimes. Poppa was the most wonderful man in the world. Everybody in Stockholm said so, and even if they hadn't, Kristina thought he was the most wonderful man in the world. But he was always so busy, always off fighting the bad people. The Poles, the Russians, the Danes, the Spanish, the Germans—some of them, anyway; the good Germans were on Poppa's side—and now the Danes (and the French) all over again. He beat them all, of course. But because he had to spend so much time doing that, Kristina had never really gotten to spend very much time with him. So she was looking forward to changing that.

On top of that, it was September. It wouldn't be very long before the snow began, and they got a lot of snow in Stockholm. It wasn't that Kristina didn't like snow. It was just that once the snow began, it stayed so long. From what her tutors had told her, Magdeburg wouldn't get snowed on as much as Stockholm did.

But most exciting of all to Kristina, Magdeburg had Americans in it. Real Americans. Americans from the future, not just from Germany. Kristina had heard all sorts of wonderful tales about the Americans and their machines. Some of them, she suspected, were the sort of made-up stories people told to little girls because they expected little girls to believe anything. But it even half of them were true . . .

She stood on the deck of the forty-gun Margaret as the warship glided further into Wismar Harbor. Sailors hurried about the decks and swarmed up the rigging as they furled the sails. The ship slowed even more, barely moving forward at all, and then the anchor splashed into the water and disappeared. The anchor cable streamed out after it, and then, a moment later, Margaret gave a tiny shiver as the cable went taut and snubbed away the last of her movement.

Kristina wanted to dash to the rail and stare curiously at the shore. But she was a princess, and princesses (as Momma had explained to her at great length) didn't go running around gawking at things like some ill-bred peasant. So Kristina made herself stand still on the poop deck beside Lady Ulrike, her governess. Lady Ulrike had a tiresome habit of agreeing with Momma about things like running to see what was happening. Actually, Kristina was pretty sure that that was the reason Momma had wanted Lady Ulrike as her governess, and she wondered if there were some way she could convince Poppa to pick someone else. Momma wouldn't like that, of course, but Poppa was the only person Kristina knew who was perfectly willing to tell Momma to do things his way. Of course, Poppa was very brave. Everyone said so.

Kristina smiled to herself at the thought even as she tucked her hands primly and properly into her fur muff. It was cool enough out here on the water to make her genuinely grateful for the muff's warmth, but mostly she did it to keep Lady Ulrike happy and avoid any words like "hoyden."

The sailors were running around doing all sorts of mysterious sailor things. Some of them were coiling ropes neatly, others were scampering about in the rigging, tying the folded-up sails to the yards. But some of them were also bringing Kristina and Lady Ulrike's baggage up on deck, and Kristina saw a big rowboat coming across the harbor toward Margaret.

It didn't take the boat long to reach Margaret. A man in a leather coat and cavalry boots, with a sword at his side, climbed up the wooden battens fastened to the ship's side. He nodded at Margaret's captain, but he also walked straight across to Kristina.

"Your Highness," he said, bowing gravely to her. "Welcome to Wismar. I am Colonel Ekstrom. Your father, the king, has instructed me to escort you to join him at Magdeburg."

Colonel Ekstrom had a big nose, almost as strong as Poppa's (or Kristina's, for that matter), and a thick, closely trimmed brown beard. And he had nice eyes, Kristina decided. They looked very serious at the moment, but there was a twinkle hiding somewhere down in their gray depths.

"Thank you, Colonel," she told him politely.

"No thanks are necessary, Your Highness," Colonel Ekstrom assured her. "It will be my pleasure. Unfortunately," he looked across at Lady Ulrike, and the twinkle Kristina had thought she'd seen in his eyes disappeared completely, "it will be necessary for us to begin our journey immediately."

Lady Ulrike's face tightened the way it did whenever Kristina did something naughty. She opened her mouth as if she were going to say something, but then she closed it again and simply nodded. Kristina recognized that nod. It was the sort of nod grown-ups used when they didn't want to talk about something in front of children. Usually something interesting.

"If you would see to stowing the princess's baggage in my boat, Captain," Colonel Ekstrom continued, turning back to Margaret's captain, who had followed him across the deck, "we can be on our way now."

Kristina decided that she was in favor of whatever was obviously worrying the adults about her. Well, maybe not actually in favor of it, because it was pretty clear that Colonel Ekstrom and Lady Ulrike were really worried about whatever it was they were carefully not discussing in front of her. But whatever it was, it couldn't be all bad from Kristina's viewpoint, because no one was making her ride in a carriage. Kristina hated carriages. They were stuffy, and uncomfortable. Even on a good road, they bounced and jounced whenever they weren't actively swaying, and most of the time they made Kristina sick to her stomach. And, of course, there were very few good roads. Certainly, the one they were on today was a terrible one. She was pretty sure she would already have been throwing up if they'd made her ride over it in a carriage, but they hadn't. Instead, they had provided her with a horse. A wonderful horse Poppa had captured from the Austrians just for her!

Kristina loved horses, and they liked her. She was just as happy Momma wasn't here to see this one, though. Momma worried. Momma hadn't wanted Kristina to stop riding ponies, and she would have had a fit if she'd seen Kristina perched atop her new horse. Lady Ulrike didn't look especially happy about it herself, but one thing Kristina had to admit about her governess was that Lady Ulrike was one of the best horsewomen in Sweden. In fact, Kristina had heard one of the other court ladies say once that the only reason Poppa had agreed with Momma to make Lady Ulrike Kristina's governess was that he'd seen Lady Ulrike riding on the hunting field. Whether that was true or not, Lady Ulrike never fussed over Kristina's horses . . . although she was as quick to correct a fault in her charge's seat in the saddle as she was to correct any other error in deportment.

Kristina was so happy to be riding the new chestnut mare that it took her a little while to realize that they were riding almost due south. That didn't seem right. She'd sneaked into Poppa's study in the palace when she heard they were going to send her to Magdeburg and spent two cheerful hours with his big maps. Professor Belzoni, her favorite tutor, had started teaching her geography last year, and Kristina had put his instruction to good use as she pored over the maps of Northern Germany. Which was how she knew that Magdeburg was on the Elbe River. And the Elbe River was west of Wismar. So why were they heading south up a muddy dirt road beside a great big ditch full of water?

Colonel Sigvard Ekstrom rode just behind the princess and her companion. Although Ekstrom had become a member of Gustavus Adolphus' personal staff shortly after the Battle of the Alte Veste, he'd never previously met Princess Kristina. But he was himself the father of no fewer than three sons and two daughters of his own, so he'd been prepared to put the king's descriptions of his daughter's intelligence down to the natural pride and fondness of any father for his only child. Now, as he watched Kristina riding as naturally as if she were a part of the chestnut Andalusian mare, he realized that, if anything, the king had understated the blond-haired princess' intelligence. It was already evident to him that Lady Ulrike found herself hard pressed to stay ahead of the girl. It wasn't so much anything Kristina had said. Truth to tell, she hadn't actually said very much at all. A very well-behaved child, Ekstrom thought approvingly, especially compared to some of the highbred brats he had encountered among the ranks of Germany's aristocracy!

Yet the princess' eyes were very like her father's, windows on a sharp, incisive brain that watched everything about her. Unless he was sadly mistaken, she also nourished a healthy sense of mischief and deviltry . . . also very like her father, come to that. If he hadn't known how old she was, he would have guessed her age at closer to twelve than to seven, although she certainly wasn't particularly large for her age. When she actually did approach twelve, he thought, she was probably going to be quite a handful.

"Excuse me, Colonel," she said, turning to look at him almost as if she'd heard him thinking about her, "but are we headed the right way?"

"I beg your pardon, Your Highness?" he asked in some surprise.

"We're going south," she explained, pointing ahead along the muddy road—if calling such a track a "road" wasn't a gross insult to that fine and ancient noun.

"Yes, Your Highness, we are," he acknowledged.

"But we're supposed to be going to Magdeburg," she said reasonably. She gazed up at the sun for a moment, as if orienting herself, and then pointed to the west. "Shouldn't we be heading for the Elbe?" she asked.

Ekstrom felt his eyebrows rise, despite his best effort to suppress his astonishment. He'd known cavalry officers, some of them considerably senior to himself, who wouldn't have realized that, at the moment, they were headed away from the Elbe.

"In a way, Your Highness," he explained, urging his horse a little closer to hers, "we are headed for the Elbe. But not directly. This"—he pointed at the muddy ditch beside the road—"used to be a canal, which connected Lake Schwerin to Wismar. Lake Schwerin connects to the Elde River up ahead of us—" he pointed to the south, "—and another canal connects the Elde to the Elbe up at a town called Dömitz. And Dömitz is quite a bit closer to Magdeburg than Lauenburg, where the canal from Luebeck reaches the Elbe."

He was surprised, as he listened to his own voice, to find himself explaining in such detail to a child. But Princess Kristina listened closely, one hand gently stroking the thick, wavy mane of her horse. Then she nodded, but her expression was pensive.

"So, actually," she said, "it's faster to go this way?"

"Exactly, Your Highness."

"But if it's faster to go this way, why did this canal"—she gestured at the water-filled ditch—"get into such a mess? I mean, wouldn't it be smarter to use it instead of horses? Of course," she added quickly, "I really like horses. But boats can carry more."

"Indeed they can, Your Highness," Ekstrom agreed, doing his level best to keep his fresh surprise at her perceptiveness from showing. "In fact, your father the king thinks the same thing. That's why he's having this canal repaired and rebuilt. When it's finished, we'll be able to ship things straight from Wismar to Magdeburg."

"But why did whoever dug it in the first place let it get all clogged up?"

"Well, Your Highness, that's a bit difficult to explain," Ekstrom said. "I suppose the main reason is that it costs a lot of money to keep a canal like this working properly. The people who dug it ran out of money, so they couldn't maintain the canal and it started silting up. I mean, it started filling up with mud."

"But now Poppa is going to dig it out again," Kristina said with obvious pride, and Ekstrom nodded.

"That's precisely what the king intends to do," he said. Assuming, of course, that Richelieu and Christian between them don't finally manage to bring him down, he added mentally. But that wasn't anything to be sharing with a child. Not even one as frighteningly precocious as this one.

"It's awfully twisty, though," Kristina observed after a moment. "Wouldn't it be better if it was straighter?"

"Yes, it would, Your Highness." Despite himself, Ekstrom looked over his shoulder at Lady Ulrike. The princess' companion gave him an ironic smile, as if welcoming him into her own sometimes exhausting race to stay ahead of her charge's restlessly questing mind. For just a moment, the colonel found himself in complete sympathy with the governess. Like the rest of Gustavus Adolphus' staff, he frequently found himself feeling exhausted trying to keep up with the king. So he supposed there was no real reason he shouldn't experience the same fatigue trying to keep pace with the king's daughter.

"As a matter of fact, Your Highness," he said after a moment, "your father agrees that a straighter canal would be better. In fact, he has a team of engineers with American advisers planning a straighter route a bit west of here. But digging that canal is going to be a long and difficult task, so in the meantime, he's going to repair and improve this one."

"Why? I mean, why is it going to be harder to dig a straight ditch than one that twists and turns all over the place? Wouldn't a nice straight one be easier, since it would be so much shorter?"

"The problem, Your Highness," he explained, "is that the new route is going to require a lot more digging because of the way the land it goes through is shaped. In fact, when they dug the original canal, they followed the easiest path. As you can see, it goes around hills instead of through them or over them, and it stays down in the lowest spots along the way. It may be longer than a straight canal, but they had to do less actual digging this way than we'll have to do with the new route. And staying in the low spots made it easier for them to get the water through it, as well, although even so, they had to use locks. Like that one."

As it happened, they were just passing one of the old locks. It was in very poor repair, as was most of the canalbed, but if one knew what one was looking for, its intended function was fairly obvious. He doubted that the princess had ever seen one before, and he watched her closely, if unobtrusively, wondering if she would grasp its function.

She frowned in obvious thought, then cocked her head as she looked back at the colonel.

"It's like a little lake between two dams, isn't it?" she said, and he nodded.

"That's exactly what it is, Your Highness," he agreed. "They let water in or out through the gate at one end—when it's working, anyway—until the level in the lock is equal to the level that a boat needs to be at to keep going. That's how you get enough water to float a boat uphill."

"That's really clever!" Kristina approved in delight, and he felt himself smiling at her. She grinned back at him, every inch a little girl, then shot an almost guilty look at Lady Ulrike. "Thank you for explaining that to me, Colonel Ekstrom," she said with conscious dignity, and he inclined his head in a graceful seated bow.

"It was my pleasure, Your Highness," he told her, and allowed his horse to drop back beside Lady Ulrike. He glanced at the governess, and then fought down a most unbecoming urge to chuckle as she smiled wryly at him.

He looked away again, and the desire to chuckle faded as his eyes rested once again on the slender, slight child riding so gracefully on the horse which stood almost twice her height at the shoulder. She was as much a little girl as any child he had ever met, and yet, there was something almost frightening about her intelligence.

Perhaps it was because she was a girl, he thought. He'd been exposed to enough up-time Americans since joining the king's personal staff to come to recognize the sheer, frightening capability of many of the American women. Quite a lot of men he knew were uncomfortable around such women. Some of them, in fact, felt considerably more strongly than that, and Ekstrom had heard a few muttered comments about the unnaturalness of it all. Of course, they were careful not to utter such thoughts anywhere around the Americans themselves. Or, probably with even more cause, around the king, who had made it perfectly clear that he was not prepared to tolerate any insults to his uncanny allies. And, come to that, no one but an idiot—and probably a suicidal one, at that—was even going to think about making any such comment where Julie Mackay might hear him!

But the point was that American women, and not just up-timers—he shuddered internally as he considered Gretchen Richter—considered themselves just as capable as any man and acted accordingly. Which might be all very well for them. In fact, the colonel was prepared to admit that however unsettling he might find the concept himself, the Americans were probably onto something. Certainly it didn't make any sense to tell someone who could shoot like Julie Mackay that her place was solely in the kitchen and the nursery! None too safe to try, for that matter.

But Princess Kristina wasn't an American, any more than Gustavus Adolphus was, "Captain Gars" or no. This little girl was going to grow up to become the queen of Sweden. And if her father succeeded in his plans—as he had a habit of doing, Ekstrom reflected with a certain complacency—she would also become empress of the Confederated Principalities of Europe. No doubt brilliance would be very useful to her in that case, but how prepared would her subjects—and especially her aristocracy—be to accept a brilliant queen and empress who'd been . . . contaminated by American modes of thought?

He didn't have an answer for that question. But one thing he did know, even on this short an acquaintance with the princess: the razor-sharp mind behind that child's eyes was not the sort to accept compromises or subterfuges which required it to pretend to be less than it was.

Which could have all sorts of . . . interesting consequences for the future of Europe.

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