"It's not as bad as it sounds, Rita," said Melissa, looking around the room the officer and the escort had led them to. Rita's face had been tight with apprehension since being told of their destination.
"Being 'tossed into the Tower' isn't actually the same thing as being tossed into a dungeon. Mind you, there are some real dungeons in this place—plenty of them—but, for the most part, the Tower is where the British monarchs keep important people they want to more or less 'lock up' in comfort."
She made a little motion with her hand, indicating their surroundings. "I mean—look at it. Sure, the underlying construction is medieval, and the less we think about the toilet situation the better. But, other than that, these rooms and their furnishings are fit for a king. Quite literally, as a matter of fact. This is St. Thomas' Tower, where at least one medieval king of England actually lived. One of the Edwards, if I remember right."
Melissa moved over to one of the windows on the side opposite the Thames. The glass, she noticed, was almost as clear as modern glass would have been. Below, a narrow cobblestoned street separated the outer wall of the Tower, of which St. Thomas' Tower was a part, from the inner wall of the fortress. She pointed at the mass of stone buildings which formed most of the construction of the inner wall in this portion of the Tower of London.
"That's where they kept Sir Walter Raleigh, you know, for some twelve years—and not all that long ago. In considerable comfort."
She decided, under the circumstances, that there was no need to mention that the nickname for Raleigh's tower was "the Bloody Tower." That was legend, anyway. Who really knew if Richard III had murdered his nephews in the first place—much less done it there? She also decided there was no reason to mention the open plot of ground somewhere on the other side of the Bloody Tower—you couldn't see it, from their vantage point—where Henry VIII had had Anne Boleyn's head chopped off.
Rita seemed to relax a little. "So what you're saying, in a nutshell, is that we're under 'house arrest.' And they've provided us with the nicest house they have for the purpose."
Melissa nodded. She was about to elaborate when Darryl McCarthy appeared through a door on the far end of the connected rooms they'd been led into—what Melissa was already thinking of as "the ambassadorial suite." The young coal-miner-turned-soldier was shaking his head, but the gesture was more one of bemusement than disapproval.
"Fancy digs, that's for sure, except for the—ah—I guess we can call it a 'toilet.' But—" He gestured over his shoulder with a thumb. "They've got guards posted at a walkway that leads over to the other side of the street, and they made real clear that I wasn't allowed to go across. Said we had to wait until some muckety-muck—I didn't catch the name—showed up."
From the idle way he rubbed his chest, Melissa suspected that "real clear" had involved the point of a partisan when Darryl tried to push the issue. Probably two or three partisans, held in the hands of a squad. Like his friend Harry Lefferts, Darryl was brash and bold. The sort of Appalachian lad who had, throughout American history, provided a disproportionate share of its gunslingers and desperadoes—and, for that matter, test pilots.
Melissa had often found that hillbilly machismo rather aggravating. But . . .
Different times, different places. God, I'm glad Darryl's here. Worse comes to worst, at least we won't go gently into that good night. I even miss Harry Lefferts. Well . . . sorta. I can probably keep Darryl from doing anything really nuts. But if Harry were here with him . . . Eek.
She smiled, remembering times past—before the Ring of Fire—when, as a schoolteacher, she'd often enough been ready to throttle two rambunctious teenagers. When Harry and Darryl finally graduated from high school and went to work in the mines, Ed Piazza, the principal of the high school, had invited Melissa and several other teachers into his private office for a surreptitious drink from a half pint of Jack Daniels he had stashed away in a drawer of his desk.
"Now that those two are gone," he'd said, examining the empty bottle—it had been emptied very quickly—"maybe I can start following my own rules about no alcoholic beverages on the premises."
"I doubt it," grunted Greg Ferrara, the science teacher. He eyed the empty bottle regretfully. "Don't forget we've still got—"
"Shuddup," growled Piazza. "Just shuddup."
Different times, different places.
Hearing the clump of feet coming up the staircase which led to St. Thomas' Tower, Melissa turned away from the window. From some subtlety in the noise, she knew that whoever was coming up was no mere guard. The footsteps had that vaguely ponderous feel to them—dignity rather than simple force—which signified the arrival of a "man of substance."
And, sure enough, the man who came through the entry into the suite was very finely dressed. He was quite an imposing man, besides, even leaving aside the garments. Tall, lean, strong-featured if not handsome; thick dark hair and brown eyes contrasting rather sharply with the pale complexion. His expression was grave and solemn. Melissa had the impression this was more because of practiced habit than natural temperament. The quick flashing smile which suddenly appeared, quite at odds with the formal dignity of his stance, lent support to that suspicion.
"May I bid you all greetings," the man said. "On my behalf, as well as that of King Charles. I am Sir Thomas Wentworth—"
He broke off, briefly, an odd look coming over his face. It was a subtle thing. Half-surprise; half-delight—the look of a man who has suddenly remembered a recent and very unexpected stroke of good fortune.
"The earl of Strafford, actually. The king saw fit to bestow the title upon me recently." He cleared his throat. "I'm afraid the king himself is indisposed at the moment. The queen is quite ill, and between his concern for her and the press of state affairs, His Majesty asked me to greet you on his behalf. He also asked me"—another clearing of the throat; louder, this one—"to extend his apologies for not providing you with lodgings at Whitehall. Alas, the queen's illness is shared by many of the courtiers and servants, and the king fears for your safety should you be installed in what has, sadly, become a palace rife with disease."
He got that out quite nicely, thought Melissa, given that she was almost certain it was a straight-up lie. Strafford bestowed that quick smile upon them again. It was quite a striking expression—as much due to its brevity as its gleam. As if the man who made it distrusted his own tendency toward warmth.
"To be perfectly honest—I've stayed in Whitehall myself, at times—you'll be more comfortable here anyway. The royal palace is a madhouse, half the time, and so crowded we'd have been forced to cram you all into one or two tiny rooms. Whereas here—"
His hand, in a slow-moving regal gesture, indicated the charms of their surroundings. "Separate rooms—good quarters for the servants, even—one of the finest fireplaces in all England, and quite possibly the best beds this side of the queen's chambers in Whitehall. Much better."
That much was probably true, Melissa suspected. She'd barely recognized St. Thomas' Tower when they'd been led into it. From the outside, it looked not too different from the way it had looked when she'd visited the Tower in the late 20th century. But the inside, on her tours, had been barren. More than that, really, because the people who managed the Tower had deliberately left some of the old architecture exposed so that tourists could see the way in which the Tower had been constructed in layers, century after century. Today, she was seeing the place the way it would have actually been used in those long-gone centuries. Carpets, rich tapestries, linens on the beds and the fine upholstery of the furniture looking as if it had been used recently. Most impressive of all, to her, was the great fireplace which dominated the suite. She remembered the thing, from her visits as a tourist. But there was a great difference between the cold if majestic structure she remembered, and this fireplace warm with ashes and half-burned logs.
Of course, I could have done without the authentic smell.
But even that was something wafted in through the open windows on the Thames side of the suite. Most of it came from the still waters of the moat, which was, for all intents and purposes, an open-air sewer. The rooms in St. Thomas' Tower themselves were immaculately clean.
Melissa was about to say something when Rita spoke. "I thank you, Lord Strafford. And please convey my appreciation to His Majesty. But when, may I ask, will we be able to meet the king himself?"
Strafford clasped his hands behind his back and leaned forward a bit. "I'm afraid I can't say. The press of affairs really is frightful at the moment—and was, even before the queen took ill. And with that coming on top of it all . . ."
Strafford's expression was a diplomatic marvel. Melissa almost laughed. It conveyed the subtleties of a man who, moved by bonhomie and good will, would impart a confidence to strangers in whom he had taken a sudden trust and liking. False to the core, but—well done. Oh, very well done indeed.
"If I may say so, the king perhaps dotes a bit too much on the queen. Personally, I think the accusations that he is besotted with her are quite false—even slanderous. But there's no doubt the man treasures her deeply. When she's ill . . . it's difficult to tear him away from her side, and then only for the most immediate and urgent matters."
Melissa decided Rita was handling the situation well, and let her continue. However nervous the young woman might be at the role she had been called upon to play, it was a role she would have to learn. No way to do that, after all, other than to just do it.
"I see. Well, let's hope for Her Majesty's quick recovery, then. In the meantime . . ." Rita glanced toward the window overlooking the rest of the Tower of London. The aplomb she'd managed to retain thus far seemed to desert her a bit.
Perhaps sensing the awkwardness, Strafford intervened smoothly. "Your servants, of course, will be quite free to move about the Tower in order to obtain whatever you need." He gave Darryl a quick, skeptical glance, but left it at that. "They will not, however, be able to leave the Tower itself. And I'm afraid I must ask you, Lady Stearns, as well as your husband and—ah—"
He was looking at Melissa. Like Rita herself, Melissa had not quite been able to force herself to wear the plumage of a noblewoman of the times. But, also like Rita, she was clothed in garments which were considerably finer than those worn by the Bruchs or Darryl and Gayle.
"Melissa Mailey," she announced.
Strafford frowned slightly, as if searching his memory. Melissa was struck by how rapidly the frown vanished. "Ah, yes. You are one of the members of—what's the term?—yes, 'the cabinet,' I believe, of your government." He nodded graciously, extending a personal welcome. "And yourself as well, then. Please do remain in your quarters."
Rita seemed unable to think of the right words with which to register a protest. Neither could Melissa, for the simple reason that she was in something of a state of shock.
Not at the restriction to quarters—she'd been expecting that; it was standard practice for important "guests" in the Tower—but at the simple fact that Strafford knew who she was.
God in Heaven, the man can't have arrived in London but recently. And he's already learned this much about us?
As suavely as ever, Strafford glided on. "The restriction is for your own safety, do please understand that." He turned his head, scowling at the river visible beyond the southern windows. "I'm afraid there's been some turbulence in the kingdom recently. No way to know how much of the sedition may have spread into the Tower itself, and who knows what madmen might think to do?"
He straightened a bit, bowed. The gesture—very well done, as everything the man did—conveyed, simultaneously, regrets and cordiality and firm resolve and . . . I've done what I had to do and I'm getting out of here. Adios, amigos—and don't even think of messing with me.
A few murmured words of polite departure, and he was off. Moving more quickly than he had arrived, perhaps, but still with that same, solid, dignified tread.
When he was gone, and clearly beyond hearing, Melissa blew out a breath and stifled a curse.
More or less. "Damnation. Wentworth! And they've already made him an earl!"
Shit-shit-shit. But she kept that vulgarity to herself, from the lifelong habits of a schoolteacher.
Everyone was staring at her. Melissa turned to Gayle. "Can anyone hear us?"
The stocky woman shook her head. "Nope. While Darryl was busy playing macho-man with the guards, I checked everything. So did Friedrich. There's no place for hidey-holes or listening posts, and the guards outside can't possibly hear anything in here short of a shout or a scream. Or a gunshot."
Melissa nodded. "All right, then." She moved over to a nearby armchair and plopped herself into it. Very plush and comfortable, it was. "Gather round, folks. Let me explain the situation—as near as I can figure it out, anyway."
When they were clustered about, Rita and Tom perched together on a small couch and the rest standing, Melissa pointed a finger at the entryway through which Wentworth had departed.
"That man is probably the most dangerous man in England. For us, anyway. Sir Thomas Wentworth, later to become the earl of Strafford. Except in our universe, the king didn't make him an earl until . . ." She groped in her memory. "I can't remember the exact year, but it sure as hell wasn't as early as 1633. He's supposed to be on his way to Ireland right now. Just recently appointed Lord Deputy of the island."
The name finally registered on Darryl McCarthy. Melissa had been wondering when it would. For all that Darryl had the typical Appalachian working-class boy's indifference to history, there was one subject on which he didn't. Darryl's father Michael had been a long-time supporter of NORAID, the Irish Northern Aid Committee, and the whole McCarthy clan were rabid Irish-American nationalists.
"Black Tom Tyrant!" he snarled. "The fucking bastard! He's the one who killed the Men of '98!"
Melissa sighed. And, as usual, he had his history all jumbled up. She could remember a test question, years before, which Darryl had answered: "George III, first president of the United States."
"He's forty years old, Darryl!" she snapped. "So he'd have been five years old when he 'killed the Men of '98'—assuming, of course, that those had been the men of fifteen ninety-eight instead of 1798, which is when the rebellion actually happened. You're almost two centuries off."
Darryl was glowering. Not at the reproof—water off his back, that; always had been—but with the glower of a man who knew what he knew, dammit, and don't confuse him with the facts.
Melissa rubbed her face, reminding herself that she was a diplomat these days, not a schoolteacher. No point in trying to correct Darryl's grasp of history. For whatever reason the young man detested Strafford, the detestation was probably good enough. She wasn't certainyet, but all the signs pointed to an England which was already lost to them. She'd come here looking for peace—even, possibly, an alliance—but with Strafford now an earl, and all the rest she'd seen . . .
"The point's this, people. Wentworth was always—by far—the best adviser and official King Charles ever had. But, in the world we came from, Charles never much cared for the man. Basically, because Wentworth was too smart and too capable and too efficient."
"Didn't trust him, huh?" grunted Tom.
Melissa shook her head. "No, it wasn't that. Wentworth—Strafford—was loyal to the bone. When the time finally came, oh, when was it? In 1641, I think, give or take a year. When the time came when the English revolution demanded Strafford's head, King Charles let them have him—even though he'd sworn to Strafford that he would stand by him no matter what."
Melissa, unlike Darryl, had a sense for the grayness of history. Heroes were rarely simply heroes, nor villains always "villainous." Strafford, like Richelieu—like Wallenstein, even—was a man of many parts. Some of which could only be admired, however much the men themselves might be enemies of what she stood for now, in this time and place.
"Strafford's quite a guy, actually," she said softly. "He sent—would send, years from now, in that other universe—a letter to the king absolving him of his vow. And by all accounts, even those of his enemies, went to his death with great courage and dignity—and not a murmur of complaint about his—"
There was no reason to be diplomatic. "His worthless, treacherous, useless, incompetent, feckless, shithead of a king."
There! I feel better.
Darryl was grinning at her use of the vulgar term. Miz Mailey!
Everyone in the room chuckled. Melissa grinned herself.
"King Charles the First was—is—one of the dumbest kings the English ever saddled themselves with. Well . . . 'dumb' isn't exactly the right word. Frankly, that's giving him too much credit. He was—is—probably smart enough. So he doesn't even have that excuse. But he's got the temperament of a child. He sulks, he pouts, he always wants to have his cake and eat it too. For years he neglected his French Catholic wife, in favor of his infatuation with his favorite courtier, the duke of Buckingham—who was an even bigger jackass than he is. Buckingham was assassinated in 1628. That's happened in this universe too, because it was before the Ring of Fire. Since then, Charles has been doting on his wife. And—never fails!—Henrietta Maria is another royal twit. She's Louis XIII's sister, and she's pretty much cut from the same cloth as her brother. If Louis didn't have Richelieu running France for him—at least he's smart enough to know talent when he sees it—he'd be in a mess."
Tom chuckled heavily. "Are there any kings or queens who can tie their own shoes, in this day and age? Outside of Gustav Adolf, of course."
"Several, as a matter of fact. King Christian of Denmark is quite an impressive monarch. The biggest problem he always had was trying to bite off more than he could chew. But—capable, no doubt about it, even if he is drunk half the time. And if the current rulers of Spain and Austria aren't anything to write home about, their younger relatives are something else. Don Fernando of Spain—they'll already be calling him the 'cardinal-infante,' I imagine—is just about to start his impressive military career. That's the Spanish Habsburgs. On the Austrian side of the family, Emperor Ferdinand's son the King of Hungary is also on the eve of coming into his own."
She twirled her fingers in the air, trying to depict the confused workings of space and time. "In the universe that was—would have been; hell, probably is somewhere else—the cardinal-infante and the king of Hungary would lead the Habsburg armies that defeated the Swedes at Nordlingen in 1634. Of course," she added, comforting herself, "they didn't have to face Gustav Adolf himself, since he died at Lützen."
Tom Simpson, if nothing else, knew his military history. "November of last year, that would have been." His thick chest rumbled a little laugh. "Not in this universe, though. We pretty well put the kibosh on that at the Alte Veste."
Rita shushed him with a hand on his arm. "Keep talking, Melissa."
"The point is this," she repeated. "The reason Charles didn't like Wentworth—and his queen Henrietta Maria disliked him even more—is because the man pestered him. 'Do this, do that.' The fact that he was unquestionably loyal and his advice was generally good didn't matter to Charles. He just found the man tiresome, that's all. Wentworth distracted him—tried to, anyway—from his beloved round of masques and the flattery of that pack of toadying courtiers he and the queen always had around them."
She snorted. "Earl of Strafford! Wentworth didn't come from the nobility, he came from the gentry. Like any capable and ambitious man of his time—this time—he wanted honors and recognition. For years, hard years in which he served the king ably and even brilliantly, he petitioned Charles to make him an earl. And, naturally, Charles—God, what a sorry man he was—is—rewarded him with indifference. He showered earldoms on every twit of a courtier who gained his or Henrietta Maria's favor, but nothing for Wentworth. Nothing except another assignment. Not until almost the very end, when England started to blow up under his feet, did Charles finally make Wentworth the earl of Strafford. Years from now, that should have happened. Right now, Wentworth is supposed to have just arrived in Ireland—where he'd spend years hammering that place into shape for the English."
Darryl scowled but, thankfully, kept quiet.
"Do you see what I'm getting at, people?" She pointed again at the entryway. "In this time and place, Charles has already made him the earl of Strafford. And you can be sure it isn't because Charles is any brighter or less of a jerk. So what does that tell us?"
"They know what's going to happen," said Tom immediately. "Of course, we were already pretty sure of that, once Rebecca found out that Doctor Harvey took some copies of pages from that history book he ran into while he was visiting Grantville. But knowing is one thing, figuring stuff out is another."
He rose, and went to the window overlooking the street between St. Thomas' Tower and the inner wall of the Tower of London. "The shit's hitting the fan, isn't it? That's what you're telling us, Melissa."
"Well, I wouldn't put it quite like that," she said primly—until the laugh which swept the room reminded her that she'd use the vulgar term herself, not minutes past. Then, smiling a bit sheepishly, she continued:
"But, yes, that's the gist of it. Charles obviously knows there's a revolution coming and the 'historical agenda' has him scheduled for the chopping block. It's like Samuel Johnson said: 'Depend upon it, sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.' Not even Charles is silly enough to let his petty irritation with Wentworth stand in the way of staying alive and staying in power. So he must have called him back from Ireland and given the task of stopping the revolution before it even starts into his very capable hands."
She nodded toward the window overlooking the Thames. "We all noticed that the shipping pattern in the Channel was odd."
Then, nodded toward Bruch. "To be precise, Friedrich told us it was." In years gone by, Friedrich had served as a sailor on one of the Hanseatic League's ships. "And then, how busy the river traffic on the Thames seemed to be. Remember that most so-called 'warships' in this day and age are just armed merchantmen. At a guess, I'd say the English are preparing some kind of naval expedition."
"What for?" asked Rita, her face creased with a frown. "I'd think that if Charles was worried about revolution at home, that he'd be keeping his attention on that. Not playing games with military adventures somewhere else."
"I don't know myself, Rita. But . . ." Melissa tried to figure out a quick and simple way to explain the complexities.
"Look, we've been hearing about the new Spanish expedition against Holland for months now. And about France's reaction to it. Well, the English aren't all that fond of the Dutch themselves at the moment. In our own history, Charles and the court actually favored the Spaniards over the Dutch, despite all the English pride in having defeated the Armada. Of course, our Spain didn't get around to launching its 'Second Armada' until several years from now in our history, so the fact that they're planning one now seems to indicate that they've been doing a little future research of their own.
"But my point is that even though 'official England' favored Spain then, there's no way Charles would have actually helped the Spaniards. However much he disliked Holland, he recognized a certain commonality of interest with them. And he knew Richelieu's policy was always directed at defeating Habsburg power, so siding with Spain against the Dutch would have made him France's enemy, as well. That's why he stayed neutral in this particular little conflict in our own past.
"But if he's preparing a naval expedition now, then that suggests he doesn't plan on sitting this one out this time around. I can't believe he'd openly support Spain—not with the potential for pissing off Richelieu, and especially not in light of the fact that there's nothing in particular Spain could give him to make it worth his while. But if not Spain, then he has to be planning on siding with the Dutch, instead, and that doesn't make any sense either. Unless Richelieu is involved somehow."
"But why would he want to help Richelieu?" Rita asked with a frown.
"It all comes down to money, in the end," Melissa replied. "Charles hasn't summoned a Parliament in years, now—not since the Parliament of 1628 which infuriated him. But without a Parliament, his means of raising funds are pretty limited. That was always what hamstrung the English monarchy, you know. It's the reason that England has a much smaller army than most countries of this day and age. The crown doesn't have much of a war chest without getting Parliament's approval. And summoning a new Parliament is the onething Charles is not going to do, for sure. The last one had already become a hotbed of Puritan dissent."
Not to her surprise, Tom's mind was already ranging ahead. If the huge soldier didn't have his father's temperament, he had inherited the man's brains. "He needs money to crush revolution at home, so he's getting it from abroad. Why not France? His wife's the French king's sister, after all. But wherever he gets it, he'll have to pay a price for it. So, yeah, that could be by supporting somebody else's military adventures—like Richelieu's bid to stop the Spanish Habsburgs from regaining control of Holland."
He cocked his head away from the window, looking at Melissa. "Makes sense, I suppose. But it also seems a bit fancy, though—far-thinking, let's call it—for a king as goofy as you've described Charles."
"It is. But Wentworth's capable of thinking that far ahead. And, as I said, he's been made the earl of Strafford . . ."
"Way ahead of schedule," Tom concluded, turning back to the window. A moment later, he seemed to stiffen.
"And here's something else." He pointed down at the street below. "Dunno what it means, Melissa, but they're hauling somebody else into this joint. And I'd say, going by the chains they've got all over him, that he's not going to be getting the 'royal treatment' we are."
Melissa rose hurriedly and came to the window. Looking out and down, she saw a man being frog-marched past on the street below. Each of his arms was firmly held by a guard, with more guards marching ahead and behind. The precautions seemed a bit ludicrous. As Tom said, the man's wrists and ankles were manacled, with chains connecting to a heavy leather belt cinched around his waist.
For a moment, his eye perhaps caught by the motion in the window, the man looked up at her. There was no expression on his face, beyond stolidity. It was the face of a man who was determined to show neither fear nor favor to fortune. Come what may, 'tis all God's will. I am who I am.
Then he looked away, giving her a view of his profile.
"Oh, Jesus," she whispered. The face was younger, of course. But she recognized it easily enough. It was a distinctive face. The same one she'd seen on portraits, in every book in Grantville which discussed the English Revolution of 1640.
Darryl was at another window, by now, and he recognized the face almost as quickly as she did.
"That son-of-a-bitch!" he snarled. Then, almost shouting through the heavy panes of the window: "I hope they draw and quarter you, you stinking—"
Melissa spun away from her own window. "I've had quite enough from you, young man!"
That was the True Voice. The schoolmarm in full fury. Darryl fell silent as instantly as he had in years gone by. He even cringed a bit.
She glared at him. Then, looking at Tom, pointed a stiff finger at McCarthy. "You will maintain discipline with your subordinate. You will see to it that the lout—the cretin—the wet-behind-the-ears—"
Tom grinned. "Not to worry, ma'am." Then, flexed his shoulders. Even Darryl, clearly enough, found that intimidating. He cringed still further.
Melissa smiled thinly. "Excellent." She bestowed a look upon McCarthy which did not bode any better for his future than that same look, in times past, had boded for his grades and chances for advancement.
"I will save the history lesson for another time, young man. But for the moment, we have business to deal with. And you will obey me."
Darryl almost gulped. He did nod hastily.
"Splendid." She turned now to Friedrich and Nelly. Like everyone in the party, the Bruchs were now standing at one of the windows which overlooked the street. "You'll be able to move around more easily than any of us, and you don't have Gayle's odd accent. So you'll be our spies."
She glanced out the window. The man being marched under guard was now being taken through a doorway farther down. The kind of doorway which practically shrieked: This way to the dungeons!
"Will you be able to recognize him again?" The Bruchs nodded.
"Try to find out exactly where they've taken him and, if you can, what they plan to do with him."
Nelly opened her mouth to say something, but Melissa was driving on. "Tom—you too, Darryl—we need to start planning an escape. Nothing immediate, and I hope it won't come to that. But we need to be ready, if necessary."
That statement immediately brought back Darryl's usual insouciance. As Tom started scrutinizing the rooms, calculating the possibilities, Darryl was opening one of the great trunks they'd brought with them. It didn't take him more than a few seconds to work his way under the mass of clothing and start retrieving the items secreted there. Over Melissa's objections, Mike Stearns had insisted they bring those items. Just in case, as he'd put it.
"I can't believe they were dumb enough not to search us," Darryl said gaily. Thump, thump. Two automatic pistols materialized on the low table next to him. Thump. A box of ammunition.
"That would have been most undiplomatic," said Melissa. "I was almost certain they wouldn't."
Thump, thump, thump. Three sticks of dynamite. Clink. Melissa recognized some blasting caps.
Thrump. She was pretty sure that was what they called "primacord." Not positive, of course—she knew very little about explosives, beyond the primitive incendiary bombs an anarchist boyfriend of hers had once fiddled with in his attic, in the long ago and heady days of the 60s. But she hadn't stayed with him very long. Even in her radical youth, Melissa had frowned on violence.
THUMP. A battery, that was. She could imagine its purpose.
She sighed, remembering those innocent days.
"Besides," she added, "people in this day and age think of firearms as big and clumsy things, which take forever to reload."
"Yup," said Darryl cheerfully. "Betcha we can find plenty of places to hide these little-bitty eeny-weeny itsy-bitsy Smith and Wessons." He glanced up at one of the heavy shelves along a wall. "And the dynamite's a gimme. Just smear a little dust on 'em and hide them up there with all the rest of the candles. Just like Harry and me once—"
He broke off, glancing guiltily at Melissa, and busied himself with something heavier at the bottom of the trunk. Then, heaving:
"Jesus, Darryl!" chuckled Rita. "We're not going to be climbing a mountain."
Darryl shook his head firmly. "You can't ever have too much rope. And this is nylon, too. We've got enough—ha! I remember that time Harry and me almost got caught, because—"
Again, his eyes avoided Melissa's, and he went back to his rummaging. "Well, never mind. Dammit, where's the smoke bombs?"
Melissa didn't know whether to laugh or scream. Well, at least this time the rascal is on my side. I hope.
Nelly came up to her.
"Oh, sorry, I think I interrupted you earlier. You were going to ask me something?"
Nelly nodded; then, transferred the nod toward the distant doorway where the prisoner had been taken.
"What's his name?"
Before Melissa could answer, Darryl did it for her. "Oliver Cromwell. The rotten bastard, may he burn in eternal hellfire." But he said it quietly, and kept his eyes away from Melissa while he continued his rummaging. Not, of course, without adding: "The butcher of Ireland. The tyrant—" The rest trailed off into a murmur.
Melissa tighten her lips. "On some other occasion, Darryl McCarthy, I will explain—attempt, I should say—the complexities of the matter. But, for the moment . . ."
Her eyes swept the room, taking in everyone.
"For the moment, here is what matters. In this day and age, that man is simply country gentry. A man in his mid-thirties; a relatively unknown member of Parliament. In his own district, however—in East Anglia, near Cambridge—he's rather famous."
She gave Darryl's back a sharp look. " 'The Lord of the Fens,' they call him. That's because, for a few years now, he's been the leader of the poor farmers in East Anglia trying to resist the encroachment upon their lands of their rich neighbors."
Darryl's shoulders twitched and his head popped up. He gave Melissa a puzzled look. "I didn't know that."
Melissa almost laughed. Whatever his Irish-American attitudes on other subjects, Darryl was also a fervent union man. Like all members of the United Mine Workers of America, he tended to divide the world into simple class categories: hard-working stiff, good; rich gouger, bad. And now he found himself caught in one of history's multitude of contradictions.
"There are a great many things you don't know, young man," snapped Melissa. "As I recall saying to you—quite often—in times past."
Tom finished the history lesson for the day. "I didn't know that, either. But I do know what he became later." He seemed to have little, if any, of Darryl's ambivalence. Even though, as the scion of a family which traced its own roots back to English nobility, the name of Oliver Cromwell could hardly have been passed on with favor.
" 'Old Ironsides' himself," said Tom, seeming to relish the words. "In the flesh, by God. The man who created the New Model Army which overthrew the English crown. Except for Gustav Adolf, and maybe that young Turenne fellow who's just getting started in France, the best general of the era. Lord Protector of England, eventually."
He grinned down at McCarthy. "Of course, that came a bit later. After he separated King Charles from his head. Which, from what I hear, was no great loss."
Darryl stared up at him. Outside of Irish history, what Darryl knew of any other could easily be inscribed on the head of a pin. "I didn't know that."
"Yup," said Tom cheerfully. The edge of a huge hand slammed into the palm of another. "Chop. Cut the sucker right off. Oliver Cromwell. One serious hard-ass, even by hillbilly standards."