Essen Defiant

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Whether it was a blessed miracle or a disastrous catastrophe, the arrival of Grantville in Europe in the year 1631 created changes that are long-lasting and spreading wider and wider as time passes. In 1634, Louis DeGeer, statesman, merchant, and player of the game of princes, having extracted as much information and technology as he could out of Grantville, makes his move to establish a new state in the Rhineland, a republic that would draw on much of the political philosophy brought back through the Ring of Fire by Grantville.

There are those in the westlands of Germany and the Rhine Valley who aren’t happy about that. Louis’ enemies draw on all the forces of the status quo to oppose his efforts. Louis discovers that it will take strength and determination coupled with careful preparation and planning to face them. And the ultimate confrontations leave things up for grabs until the final moments.

Grantville
February, 1632

Oliver Edgerton rested his head on his hands. It had not been a good day.

First, Ardelle had had to go home sick because her Parkinson’s was acting up. Sarah Cochran, their boarder and fellow social studies teacher, had ridden home with her. Oliver had worried about his wife until Sarah stuck her head in his class at the beginning of fourth period.

“We made it fine, Ollie. I left her on the couch covered with a blanket. She’ll be okay until you get home.”

Oliver had nodded his thanks.

“You coming home tonight or staying in town?” Sarah had been seeing a lot of Landon Reardon lately.

Sarah smiled. “Staying in town again.”

Then his seventh period class, those he thought of as “the afternoon’s demon children,” had started acting up again and he’d had to send three to the principal’s office.

I’m sixty-seven years old, he thought, too old to have to put up with bullshit from teenagers.

And then there were the ongoing questions about the relevance of what he was teaching. How do you motivate kids to learn about a nation that wasn’t even in the same universe anymore? Who cares if Teddy Roosevelt became president because McKinley was assassinated? What relevance do the “Roaring Twenties” have to a place like Grantville stuck in seventeenth century Germany?

Now the Civil War, that was something the kids could get into. Since that had been his own passion for decades, he spent as much time as he could on it in the first semester. But eventually he’d exhausted what he thought the kids could absorb and had to move on.

There was a knock on his door.

He stifled a groan and raised his head …

Please, don’t let it be another parent, please.

The man standing in the doorway was dressed in what Oliver still thought of as seventeenth century period clothing. Baggy pants, jacket, cape, and serviceable brown boots. The belt at his waist held both sword and dagger. The man had taken off his rather large hat and shaken out his shoulder length hair. He had both a short goatee and a mustache.

“Can I help you?” Oliver asked, in some relief. Even with many of the recent down-timer move-ins, this was probably not a parent.

The man smiled. “My name is Jan de Vries, Mr. Edgerton,” he said in very understandable-but-oddly inflected English. “I have accompanied a friend and colleague, Louis de Geer, to Grantville. While he is about his business, I visited your wonderful library. I am told that you might have knowledge of the American Civil War, and I would like to talk to you about it.”

“Why?” Oliver said bluntly.

“I served in the Dutch army for ten years as an engineer and artillery officer. I want to, how do you phrase it, compare notes?”

Well, thought Oliver, well, well. Maybe someone at last he could really talk to.

The Edgerton home had been on the very edge of the Ring of Fire. It was a nice home on ten acres with a basement and a corral for the two horses they kept. But both Oliver and Ardelle had seldom traveled to Grantville, preferring instead to go into Fairmont where Oliver worked and Ardelle had her social circle of clubs and activities. The Ring of Fire had cut them off from their friends and acquaintances, and they had made few new friends their age in Grantville. Without means of transportation it was just too far to walk for most older folks. Thank God they had the horses.

Oliver wanted to get home to see his wife, so he invited Jan out to the house.

“Ardelle, we have a visitor!” Oliver called out, after stabling his gelding Bart. “How are you doing, dear?” he asked as he walked into the living room.”

As Sarah had reported, Ardelle was on the couch with a blanket covering her and a pillow behind her back. She put down the book she was reading. “Much better, Ollie.”

She seems peppier than this morning, Oliver thought. Thank God.

“And who’s this?”

Oliver smiled. “This is Jan De Vries. He’s a Dutchman. Served in their army as an engineer and artillery officer.”

Jan swept his hat in a circle and bowed. “A pleasure to meet you, madam.”

Ardelle smiled. “He’s got good manners, Ollie, maybe you can learn something from him.” Her eyes twinkled. “Is he staying for dinner?”

Ollie looked at De Vries, who nodded. “If it is not an imposition, I would be glad to stay. I have not been here long and know only a few people.”

That resonated with Oliver.

Join the club, he thought.

Over dinner Jan regaled them with tales of his time in the Dutch army and travels to various cities across Europe. It was the best dinner Ollie had had since the Ring of Fire.

∞∞∞

For seven weeks’ worth of evenings and weekends, Ollie and Jan talked about the Civil War. Tactics, weapons, artillery, carriages, logistics, field fortifications, battles. Ollie had maps of most of the major battle sites and photographs he’d taken of many of them.

Jan was of course very interested in the replica weapons that Ollie had acquired over the years as part of the reenactment groups he’d participated in. The swords and sabers got cursory looks, but to a man who wore a sword every day, they were nothing to be impressed about. He was intrigued by the cap and ball revolver. But what really made his eyes light up was when Ollie brought out the long guns.

It was the third week of their conversations when Ollie opened a narrow cabinet and brought out a couple of rifles. He handed the first to Jan.

“That,” Ollie said with some pride, “was the single most widely used rifle in the war, the Springfield Model 1861 .58-calibre Rifled Musket. Muzzle loading, rifled, percussion cap lock firing system, firing the .58 calibre Minié ball. Mainstay of the Union Army.”

Jan’s eyes devoured the rifle. He turned to face an outer wall and brought the gun up to his shoulder. “Not as heavy as I expected,” he said as he lowered it. “Much lighter than a matchlock.”

“A good gun,” Ollie said. “Very serviceable, and it played an important part in the war. But this,” he said with a big smile as he took back the Springfield and placed the other weapon in Jan’s hands, “this was the best rifle of the war.”

Jan took the rifle, admiring its sleek lethality.

“You remember I told you about the Berdan Sharpshooters?”

Jan nodded.

“Well, this is a working replica of the rifle they used, fifty-two caliber Sharps breech-loader. Uses linen cartridges and percussion caps.” Jan and Ollie had discussed the ammunition of the Civil War on several occasions. Jan had even discovered in one of Ollie’s books a fairly accurate description of how mercury fulminate was used in copper percussion caps. Apparently, glass had been used as a dampener to make the mercury fulminate more stable. The difficulty down-time of course, Ollie had argued, would be in making the machines to make the millions of caps necessary for an army.

They spent quite a bit of time discussing the Sharps, and what it would take to “clone” it, as Ollie said. Jan appreciated the word, once Ollie explained it.

Jan couldn’t help noticing the shadow of a third gun in the cabinet, and eventually he walked over and pulled it out into the light. “And what of this one?” he asked as he turned it over in his hands.

“That?” There was a note of disdain in Ollie’s voice. “That’s not so much of a gun. British India Pattern smooth bore musket, flintlock firing system, usually used a .69 calibre ball. The Brits used it or similar designs for a hundred years, but it was definitely obsolete by the 1850s and had been pretty much withdrawn from service. The Brits dumped a bunch of them on the Confederacy early in the war, supposedly helping them.” He shook his head. “Not much help, when all was said and done. But old Brown Bess was the queen of the battlefield for a long time.”

“Brown Bess?” Jan looked up from his intense examination of the musket.

“That’s what they called it,” Ollie said. “Never did figure out why. Only reason I’ve got this one is a reenactor friend of mine who played the role of a Rebel militia man came on some hard times and had to raise some money by selling his rig. I gave him $100 for the gun and told him I’d hold it until he could afford to buy it back.” Ollie shrugged. “No use to me then, definitely no use to me now.”

∞∞∞

Often Ollie would arrange a bed of blankets in the basement so Jan could stay the night and continue his reading into the early morning hours. Jan was careful not to let Ollie see all the notes he was keeping, but even if he had, he doubted Ollie would have minded. And always in the back of his mind was the matter of guns. A surprising amount of his copious notes dealt with guns.

Eventually, the seven weeks came to an end. On the day before his departure from Grantville with Louis de Geer, Jan rode out to the Edgertons’ house for the last time.

“Time for you to go, Jan?” Ollie said.

There was a roughness in Ollie’s voice. Jan nodded. He and Ollie had become close friends.

“Well, wait a sec, got something for you. Come on down to the basement.”

So they trooped down the stairs one last time, and there on a table, laying atop a couple of up-time style rifle bags, were the Springfield and Sharps rifles.

“I want you to have these,” Ollie said. “You haven’t said much about what your real purpose here is, but I suspect you might have a use for these. I know I don’t anymore, and there’s no sense in letting them rot and rust down here. You take them.”

“I can’t do that, Ollie.” De Vries was touched. “These are your pride and joy.”

“They were, once upon a time,” Ollie admitted. “But not now. Now I want them to go to someone who understands their true worth, someone who will value them for the game changers they can be. I want you to take them.”

De Vries stared at the two guns, then opened the narrow cabinet again, replaced the Springfield and pulled out the Brown Bess and laid it on the table instead.

“What are you doing?”

The Dutchman put a finger on the Sharps replica. “Ollie, you’re right, I am gathering information to help friends win their freedom. And the Sharps gun is the long-term answer to their military needs. But we can’t make this gun yet. We have to learn to make machines to make machines to make this gun and the caps. That will take a few years, and we need something now.”

De Vries laid his other hand on the Brown Bess. “This our gunsmiths and craftsmen can make now, with this as a model. And this will be miles ahead of what our enemies can field against us. Brown Bess will save us now, and Sharps will keep us safe in the future.”

“But … ”

“Keep your Springfield, Ollie,” de Vries said, “and enjoy the memories it holds. These will suffice.”

“Well, okay,” Ollie said in a confused tone. “If you insist.”

“I do.”

The two of them bagged the guns. Ollie provided a couple of green metal cans with bullets for both guns and caps for the Sharps, and they carried that all back upstairs and out the front door, where de Vries tied everything to his saddle.

Taking his reins in one hand, de Vries offered the other to his friend.

“Thank you, Ollie, I will treasure this time and these gifts.”

“I know you will son,” Ollie smiled while strongly gripping the offered hand. “I know you will.”

Amsterdam
September, 1633

Louis de Geer looked out the window of his third-floor office in the direction of his warehouses near Amsterdam’s Texel quay. A late summer rainstorm was scudding in from the North Sea and large drops were beginning to strike the pedestrians in the street below.

A storm is coming, de Geer thought. And more than just one of nature.

He turned and looked at the two of the other members of the action committee of the Essen Steel Company’s board of directors. They were awaiting Hans van Loon, but while they waited Conrad Coymans and Sara Hinlopen were deep in conversation. Sara represented what de Geer thought of as “the widow’s group” of investors in Essen Steel. She had proxies to act not only for her nephews, but also the widows of Cornelius van Lockhurst and Marcus de Vogelear. Conrad Coymans was the son of Caspar Coymans and the nephew of Balthasar Coymans, one of the richest merchant bankers in Amsterdam. Like De Geer’s father, Balthasar Coymans had migrated from the southern provinces after the seizure of Antwerp in the 1580’s. A number of the sons and daughters of both Caspar and Balthasar Coymans had married into prominent Amsterdam merchant and regent families.

Louis considered the pending meeting. The difficult part was going to be how much to tell them. If he told them too little, they might not take the necessary precautions for the company. But if he told them too much…

Definitely nothing about the League of Ostend.

Not only would they probably disbelieve him, they would demand to know his sources, and that could get rather … uncomfortable, given his plans for Essen.

At that moment there was a diffident knock on the office door, which then opened to reveal Hans Van Loon removing a dripping coat.

“Hans, glad you could come,” de Geer said, motioning to the table where Conrad and Sara were seated. “Looks like you got wet.”

“Just a bit,” Van Loon said, handing the coat to de Geer’s secretary, who closed the door behind him. Van Loon shook his head, then sat down next to Coymans. “Conrad, Sara, good to see you again.”

Van Loon turned to de Geer. “Now what’s this about, Louis? The regular board meeting isn’t for another three weeks.”

De Geer nodded. “True, but some things have come to my attention that I wanted you and the others to know. Before I get into those issues, however, let me go over the latest news from Essen.”

When Essen Steel had first been formed, the board of directors, at de Geer’s insistence, had set up an action committee that could meet in emergency session, if necessary, to make decisions. Those decisions would have to be ratified at the next regular board meeting, but the ability to act quickly would give Essen Steel more flexibility in reacting to changes in markets and political events. All decisions made by the action committee had to be unanimous and given that the members held proxies that represented nearly eighty-five percent of the shares in Essen Steel, it was unlikely that their decisions would be rejected.

“According to my cousin Mathieu,” de Geer said, “the locks at Mülheim, Kettwig, and Werden on the Ruhr are complete. We can now ship steel, coal, and iron from Steele directly.” When the city council of Essen had baulked at allowing the iron and steel complex in their city limits, de Geer had turned to the small community of Steele on the Ruhr two miles away. The city council of Steele had offered many concessions including use of several dams and water wheels used by mills nearby.

He smiled. “The Essen city council is gnashing its teeth over our choice of Steele for the industrial complex, but I assured them that many economic benefits would be coming their way soon.”

Sara Hinlopen laughed. “Perhaps next time they will be less inclined to haggle over minutiae.”

De Geer nodded agreement and continued. “The bar-top railway between Steele and the dock at Styrum is nearing completion. The crucible steel plant has been producing forty tons of steel a month since June, and we have sold several tons to the VOC as well as to merchants involved with the Baltic, Levant, and Archangel trade. Since it can travel as ballast, if a market can be established then we should see a large increase in orders.”

“How are the … discussions … going with the other cities?” Sara asked after a moment.

Louis appreciated her care in approaching a delicate subject. “Well,” he said. “Better than I was expecting, anyway.”

There was a momentary pause as de Geer let them consider that news.

“Now,” de Geer finally continued, “have you heard about Rebecca Stearns?”

Conrad Coymans shrugged. “I have. She seems to be attempting to stir up problems with the government ministers. Alarmist views about the French, from what I hear.”

Cautiously now, Louis, cautiously. “Perhaps not so alarmist, Conrad,” de Geer said. “I have not told you what I discovered regarding the English. Apparently the French are financing Charles I. I was curious about why Burlamachi was suddenly so flush with silver when in the winter he was on the verge of bankruptcy. I sent one of my agents to Paris. In exchange for money, the English have ceded their rights in North America to France.”

All three of the other action committee members straightened. De Geer could see wheels turning and attitudes shifting as they thought through the potential ramifications.

“All right,” Hans said, “but why should that concern us? While it will affect your Maryland expedition, I assume you have already begun negotiations with the French for mineral rights.”

De Geer nodded. “Yes, I have. But what has bothered me for some months now is the fact that both royal courts have managed to keep the change a secret.”

Not sufficient, Louis, they’ll need more. De Geer took a deep breath. “It seems that the French are not only financing Charles I. According to my sources in the Danish court, they are also financing Denmark. And the only true target for Danish forces is Gustavus Adolphus.” He smiled thinly. “And the only navy that could possibly support the Swedes is … ”

“Ours,” Conrad Coymans said suddenly. He looked at Sara Hinlopen. “Now it makes sense.”

Hans van Loon looked over at Sara Hinlopen. “What makes sense?”

“Before you arrived, Hans,” Sara said, “Conrad confided to me that Balthasar Coymans had been approached about establishing a version of the Wisselbank in Antwerp. As you know, Balthasar has a lot of Spanish connections, and he trades with the peninsula despite the restrictions by offloading cargoes from English to Dutch ships near Dover. But it was who he was approached by that is important.”

Hans looked puzzled. “Why?”

Sara smiled. “Because it was Alfonse Lopez.”

Now that I didn’t know, de Geer thought. That will do it.

Van Loon frowned. “But Lopez is one of Richelieu’s purchasing agents. If he is also working for the Spanish…” he grunted, working through the implications quickly. “The French and Spanish are working together? That is bad…very bad.”

Louis nodded. “True. But it is just a supposition at this point. We have no hard evidence to take to the States General.” At least, no hard evidence I want to take to the States General.

“Lopez might indeed be acting on his own without Richelieu’s knowledge, he continued. “But combined with the other evidence of French backing of the English and the Danes, we have to assume that Richelieu may have decided to back the Spanish in attacking the United Provinces.”

De Geer gave them another moment to consider that thought. Serious expressions settled on all the faces around the table.

“As far as Essen Steel and ourselves are concerned, however,” de Geer said at length, “I think it best we consider what precautions we need to take to protect our assets.”

Over the next two hours, the four members of the action committee of the Essen Steel Company discussed their various concerns and finally agreed upon a prudent course of action. Conrad Coymans read off the action items that they would vote on.

“Item one,” Conrad said, “we agree to move sixty percent of the Essen Steel Wisselbank account, split equally, to both Hamburg and Grantville through bills of exchange. All in favor?”

All four members raised their hands.

“Item two, twenty percent to remain in the Wisselbank and another twenty percent to be moved as bullion under guard to our bank at Broich castle in Mülheim. All in favor?”

Again, the vote was unanimous.

“I have to say, however,” Hans Van Loon said, “that I’m still a bit nervous about that. Is it really that secure?”

“Hermann Otto thinks so,” de Geer said. “He’s rebuilt the parts destroyed by the Spanish in 1598 and improved the defenses. He’s also purchased steel to provide a vault for the bank. He’s even more committed to Essen Steel than we are.”

Sara smiled. “Visions of a glorious future for Styrum.”

“Let us all hope so,” Conrad said. “At least my brother Johan is bank manager.” Johan Coymans was an up and coming member of the Coymans clan and had spent four months in Grantville learning American banking methods.

“Anything else?” Conrad was obviously eager to discuss the latest news with his father and uncle.

De Geer shook his head. As the three other members of the action committee rose to leave, he motioned for Hans van Loon to stay behind.

“How are the gunpowder mills coming, Hans?”

For almost twenty years Hans van Loon had supplied war material and gunpowder for Louis de Geer. When de Geer had secured the land grants and mineral rights in the Essen area, he and Van Loon had sent mill experts to Grantville to learn improved techniques for the manufacture of gunpowder.

“The Hoorn mill is in production. We can produce about a ton a day. As for the Emscher mill…” van Loon shrugged. “Until the nitrates are producing saltpeter, maybe next spring, it’s just a useless shell.”

De Geer nodded. “Perhaps not as useless as you think. I have twenty tons of saltpeter in my warehouses. I’ll start moving it to Mülheim tomorrow. In addition, I think it wise to take payment in kind for some of the saltpeter I provide you…say, sixteen tons? Split equally between cannon and rifle powder?”

“Certainly,” said van Loon. “Give me a week. Delivery to your warehouses here?”

De Geer shook his head. “No, ship it to Henry Beekman, the superintendent of magazines in Wesel. If the French really are aiding the Spanish, Wesel will be critical, and we can easily move gunpowder between Wesel and Essen if we need to. Is the new gunpowder as good as we thought?”

Van Loon nodded enthusiastically. “At least thirty to forty percent more powerful. The States General was very impressed with it.”

After van Loon had left, de Geer returned to the window.

Grantville, he thought, it always comes back to Grantville.

Without Grantville, Gustavus Adolphus would have died at L¨utzen in November of 1632. And he, Louis de Geer, would probably be in Sweden living the life of a nobleman. The ripples of Grantville’s arrival had seemingly altered every corner of the world, every life.

Well, perhaps not every life, he thought wryly. I am sure there are a few savages in the Antipodes or the Americas who are not affected. But for Europe, at the epicenter of the event, it was surely true that few people were unaffected.

He sighed and straightened. It was time. “In for a penny, in for a pound,” he said softly. Wasn’t that the quote he had heard his nephew-in-law use? Time to make his own personal commitment to Essen. In his warehouses was enough war material to supply an army.

His army.

The Army of Essen.

But that army would need plenty of help. Neither he nor the new republic he was planning could afford an army of the size their potential enemies could muster. They would have to make or obtain all the new technology they could. And the more they knew about their potential enemies, the better.

A new knock came at the door and de Geer’s Secretary, Constantin Francot, leaned in. “General de Vries and Director Borral have returned from the warehouses, Monsieur de Geer.”

De Geer nodded enthusiastically. “Excellent, send them in.”

De Vries was the taller of the two men who entered while Claude Borral reminded de Geer of the Walloons he had hired for his blast furnaces in Sweden; short, dark, intense.

“So, your first meeting went well?” de Vries asked. “Your secretary said they had only been gone a few minutes when we arrived.”

“As well as could be expected, given that I told them nothing about the League of Ostend.”

“The League of Ostend.” Claude Borral seated himself in front of de Geer’s desk. “I still find it hard to believe that Richelieu would ally himself with the Spanish. Or they with him.”

De Geer’s smile was thin. “Richelieu is peering through the looking glass of the future wrought by Grantville’s history books. He thinks he can do better for France.”

De Vries shook his head. “Insane. No man can predict the future. He’s unleashing changes that could destroy France.”

“But remember, Jan,” de Geer said, “it’s not just the League of Ostend; it’s also his goal of dominating North America and all its resources. Still, I think and hope he’s underestimated Gustavus Adolphus and the Americans.”

Borral smiled thinly. “If the Americans can get those ironclad ships they are building at Magdeburg into the North Sea, any French fleet they meet will be nothing but splinters.”

“True,” de Geer said, “but that won’t necessarily help us. I don’t know what is going to happen over the next few months, but we must assume that Essen is going to be on its own through at least the spring and early summer. Perhaps longer if Gustavus Adolphus isn’t able to send us aid.”

“Well, the near-term enemy for this new republic you’re planning is likely to be the Archbishop of Cologne and the Duke of Jülich-Berg, Wolfgang Wilhelm,” de Vries said. “The French and Spanish will probably be occupied with the United Provinces and the CPE.”

“The problem is, we don’t have the money for a large force,” de Geer said. “No more than 7,000 regulars to supplement the city militias—8,000 at the most.”

De Vries smiled. “Well, given our potential technological edge, that should be sufficient. Peace through superior firepower, as the Americans would say.”

Claude Borral laughed. “And superior intelligence capabilities. I was able to recruit a number of good agents here in Amsterdam. By this winter we should know when the Archbishop farts in his sleep.”

De Geer laughed himself and then reached into his desk. “Which reminds me, Claude. After you get your brother in Brussels, stop off in Stolberg with this.” De Geer shoved a sealed document packet at Borral. “An old friend and business partner of mine, Bernard Schott, is in charge of my brass works and foundries there. He has family connections throughout the Rhineland and especially in the Archbishopric. He should be able to help in your recruitment. You still intend to establish your brother as your Cologne field agent?”

Borral nodded. “He will be an assistant for your representative there, Adam Vossberg. Vossberg thinks his connections with Peter von Hardenrat will be useful.”

De Vries grunted. “Undoubtedly. Hardenrat’s father was in the city’s executive committee for over forty years.”

De Geer smiled. “Well, if you do meet Hardenrat, give him my regards. We met briefly this past spring to discuss his potential investment in Essen Steel. He seemed determined to bring Cologne into the CPE if he could.”

After Jan de Vries and Claude Borral had left, Louis de Geer returned to his window.

Time. All they needed was time. Time to recruit an army. Time to train the army. Time to arm the army with the weapons that Essen Steel’s works were creating. Would they be given that time?

He shrugged. That was the reason he had hired Claude Borral to be director of the Essen Intelligence Service. To give them the time they would need to prepare.

The storm outside increased in intensity.

War is coming, the clouds seemed to shout.

De Geer nodded. So be it.

 

Düsseldorf

General Johann von Merode stared out of the window of the Duke’s residence and tried his utmost to maintain the look of benign interest on his face as Severin Binius and his employer, Wolfgang Wilhelm, Duke of Jülich-Berg, discussed the Rubens painting that the French had sent.

I should have gone to work for the Spanish.

Ah, hindsight. But after helping the city of Cologne enhance its fortifications to resist the Swedes in early 1632, he had allowed himself to be swayed by Binius to seek employment with Wolfgang Wilhelm.

True, the compensation was good. The duke had found patrons not only with his ex-brother-in-law, Maximilian, ruler of Bavaria, but also with the French. The Spanish, too, had sent funds to help with the raising of troops. The only question now was where to find them, given the competition for manpower by all the other armies in the field and hiring this fall.

Binius stepped back from the painting, and Johann stifled a sneeze. Binius not only looked like a frog with his bulging eyes and fat, wet lips. He also smelled like one. The rumor was that the smell came from potions a Cologne herbalist made up for Binius from the roots of various swamp plants to enhance his virility.

True I suppose, if you are trying to attract female frogs.

Johann smiled.

Binius saw his smile. “So, you agree, General? Rubens is clearly celebrating the triumph of natural impulse over conventional inhibition.”

Johann cleared his throat and stared up at the painting again to give himself more time to respond. Rape of the Daughters of Leucippus. Definitely not something he wanted in his own house. What had the Duke mentioned about this painting? Ah!

“Perhaps, Your Honor, but I tend to agree with His Grace that since this painting was done for the French, it is more likely to represent an affirmation of a ruler’s sovereignty. The French royalty love to have rape imagery in their paintings. Goes back at least to Charles IX, isn’t that true, Your Grace?”

“Much earlier, I think, General,” said Wolfgang, straightening the lace across his shoulders. “And you’re right; it does represent the affirmation of a ruler’s sovereignty, both in the public realm and in the private. But Richelieu is clearly sending another message as well. As Machiavelli said, ‘Fortune is a woman and if you wish to keep her under it is necessary to beat and ill-use her.’ Time is clearly of the essence for the French if they are to defeat the bastard Swede.” He smiled. “Which means we will be able to negotiate even better terms for transit across my lands.”

Wolfgang looked over at Binius and waved his hand. “But enough of pleasantries, Binius. I assume you are here because you have found us a witch commissioner to do our biding. Did you get Dr. Herman von Schultheiss, as I requested?”

Binius shook his head. “I’m afraid not, Your Grace. Nor did the Archbishop think that Dr. Buirmann was appropriate given his recent difficulties with the criminal court over the Rheinbach episode. Instead, the Archbishop is recommending Witch Commissioner Kaspar Reinhard.”

Johann grimaced. “Wonderful; the Butcher of Balve.”

Binius laughed. “The residents of Balve deserved what they got, General. Reinhard was fortunate indeed to escape the assassination attempt with only a crippled arm.”

“And the incident merely reinforced his zealousness, it is said,” Wolfgang mused. He waved his hand. “Fine, fine. Reinhard it is. I assume he is amenable to our plans?”

“Indeed,” Binius said. He slid several papers across the table towards Wolfgang. “Reinhard feels he will need at least a dozen warrants to start with Your Grace.”

Wolfgang looked up in surprise after scanning the documents. “No names? Blank warrants? That seems a bit irregular.”

Binius shrugged. “Reinhard says he will have to move quickly, Your Grace, to implement the plan to put pressure on De Geer’s associates and business partners in the Rhineland. He may need to arrest people for heresy rather than witchcraft.”

Wolfgang waved his hand again and began signing and imprinting his seal on the documents. “Fine, fine. Whatever it takes. The ends justify the means in this case.”

Inside, Johann grimaced.

I definitely should have gone to work for the Spanish.

“So, has Reinhard picked his first target yet?” Wolfgang asked.

Binius nodded. “An old friend of De Geer’s who is also a manager of calamine mines and brass works in Jülich. Bernard Schott.”

****

Liege

Paul was thirty yards from the Inn of the Black Swan, on the outskirts of Liege, when he stepped into the alley. He didn’t know exactly why he ducked into the alley. But after nearly twenty years as a courier, spy, and assassin, he had learned to follow his instincts, even if those instincts seemed nonsensical.

He watched the front of the inn, waiting. Something had triggered him. But his years of life in the shadows had also given him something else—patience.

It took five minutes before he figured out what was wrong.

The drunks in front of the inn were not drunk. Oh, they put on a good act, stumbling here and there, carousing, singing, pretending to drink. But over time the glaring deficiencies of their acting stuck out like a turd in a bowl of soup.

There were five of them, and all of them, he realized, were focused on the front door of the inn. They, too, were waiting.

It didn’t take long to determine who they were waiting for.

The front door of the inn opened and the men he was supposed to meet emerged.

Pierre de Cardenet was not drunk, but he was obviously angry. Normally Paul was always punctual, but tonight he had been delayed by one of those damned Catholic processions at the Pont D’avroy. It was amazing to him how Catholics could get anything done when a third of their time seemed to be spent on holiday. But tonight, that seemed to have worked in his favor.

Paul held where he was, watching.

Cardenet was joined by Sebastian Laruelle, Bürgermeister of Liege, and they conversed for a time in the doorway. The drunks still looked like drunks to the casual eye, but from a distance he could tell that they had begun to circle like wolves. Clearly, Cardenet and Laruelle were their targets.

Paul did nothing to warn them. What, after all, were they to him? Cardenet was Richelieu’s creature, yet both he and Laruelle were in the pay of the Habsburgs, feeding information to the Spanish about the grignoux and French plans to end Liege’s traditional neutrality.

And Paul was their paymaster. Or the agent of the paymaster, more precisely.

He watched the ‘drunks’ closely. It would not be long.

The attack was swift, brutal and merciless. While one of the drunks blocked the view from the inn doorway the other four attacked with clubs, stunning Laruelle and Cardenet into unconsciousness. The clubs continued to rise and fall for another dozen strokes until it was clear to the assassins that life had been driven from the bodies of their victims. Three of the men began to run while the fourth took a pair of torn white breeches from his shirt and stuffed them into the lifeless hand of Cardenet. It was a clever stratagem. The clothing worn by the chiroux, those who backed the Prince-Bishop, were white breeches and black dress on top. The attack was also typical of the chiroux, who rarely used bladed weapons.

The last two attackers ran from the inn, and the one who seemed to be the leader passed close enough for Paul to smell the stink of his sweat, pungent on the air.

Paul followed him.

And thus the hunter becomes the hunted, he thought. His employer would not blame Paul for Cardenet’s and Laruelle’s deaths. But Paul knew he would pay extra to know who had ordered them.

The man ahead slowed down and glanced back but did not see him in the darkness. Paul smiled. This was going to be fun.

Brussels

Every afternoon at practically the same time, Vittorio Giacinto left his sumptuously furnished home in Brussels for his afternoon carriage ride. While in England, Giacinto had been given the nickname “The Abate”, since the English translation of his title, “commendatory abbot” was deemed too unwieldy, and he had carried that name with him ever since.

Giacinto’s carriage rides were an ostentatious display of vanity. No matter how many or how few companions he had with him, he always took all four coaches. Each coach was drawn by six horses and accompanied by two servants dressed in the blackest of livery.

As the coach with the Abate approached, the driver recognized Paul and slowed just enough so he could mount into the coach safely.

“Paul,” said the Abate.

Paul nodded his head in deference. “Abate.”

“News?”

Paul smiled. One of the most pleasant aspects of working for the Abate was his lack of desire for pleasantries with his agents. Vittorio Giacinto was known to be one of the best spymasters in Europe. Unfortunately, he had fallen out of favor with his patron, the Duke of Savoy, because of his support for French Protestants and the Queen Mother rather than Richelieu and Louis XIII.

“Yes. Cardenet and Laruelle are dead. It was made to look like an attack by the chiroux, but it was not.”

“How do you know?”

“I was there, Abate. I know.”

“Do you know who did this?”

“Yes. Richelieu ordered it.”

That made the Abate sit back. “You confirmed this?”

Paul smiled again. Normally the Abate did not question his information, but Paul knew he had been startled. “Yes, confirmed. I questioned one of the participants with some rigor. He described his paymaster exquisitely. A perfect match for one of Richelieu’s intendants, Cazet de Vautorte, whom we have met before during your time in Paris.”

“And this…participant?”

Paul made a plunging motion with his hand. “An unfortunate accident on a bridge, alas.”

The Abate nodded. “Excellent. Your analysis?”

Now this was unusual. Normally the Abate did not ask his opinion in such matters.

Paul shrugged. “Richelieu is sending a message, Abate. Clearly he knew that Cardenet and Laruelle were passing information to someone in the pay of the Habsburgs. But the fact that he had them killed suggests it was meant as a warning. He could just as easily have simply used them to pass along false information. Perhaps he wants Olivares to know that the Ostend agreement only extends so far.”

The Abate grunted.

They rode in silence for twenty minutes. It was a companionable silence instead of an oppressive one. Paul had been with the Abate long enough to know when he needed time to think. Time to make a decision. Paul’s own mind drifted back. Back to the beginning.

∞∞∞

The sizzle.

‘Til the end of his days, that sound would be seared into his memories.

And his nightmares.

He was born Paul Borral into a small Huguenot family that made their home along the western outskirts of Rouen in Normandy. His older brother Claude was his constant companion, and they got along well with few of the jealousies typical of most siblings. His mother was a seamstress and his father an apothecary, and both were proficient enough to draw clients both high-born and low- from among Rouen’s citizens. The first fifteen years of his life were a golden age, though he knew it not.

Then came the wedding in early June 1615 at the Rouen parish church of Sainte-Croix-des-Pelletiers.

His parents attended the wedding of the younger sister of one of their Catholic friends and imbibed too much of the fine ciders during the afternoon. As a jest they pretended to perform the famous impotence spell, the ligature (“a noue l’esquillette“), upon the groom. The Catholic noblewomen in attendance were not amused and demanded that the priest use the traditional Norman medieval right of clameur de haro, citizen’s arrest, to take his parents into custody for witchcraft. The priest was a weak man, and accepted the demands. From there events moved swiftly.

Under torture and interrogation, the plumitif, Paul’s parents confessed to sortilege, diabolic magic. At the trial twelve men, three priests and thirty women (ten of them Catholic nobles), testified against his parents. It did not help matters that a search of his father’s shop had yielded his father’s notebook with strange symbols and two live toads that he had been studying. In Normandy the most feared spells were those involving toad venom.

By the time of their appeal Paul and his brother had lost all hope because the Catholic nobility had decided to use their parents’ trial as political leverage against Protestants.

Paul did not go to see the death of his mother, but Claude said it had been merciful, a quick hanging followed by the burning of her corpse.

Paul should not have gone to see the death of his father. But one last time he had to see him, one last time he had to let his father know that he loved him.

Three times they burned his father’s face with fire. Then they pulled out his tongue and pierced it with a red-hot iron which sizzled as it passed through, his father writhing in agony in the arms of his executioners.

Only then did they hang him.

∞∞∞

“Paul.”

Paul returned to the present and his eyes focused on the Abate.

“Richelieu is not the only one who can send messages,” said the Abate. “Pick someone. Someone that Richelieu is using. Someone close.”

Paul smiled. For years the Abate had despised Richelieu, blaming him for his exile to the Spanish Netherlands. He would use any excuse to make Richelieu’s life more complicated.

“In Gaston’s household or the Queen Mother’s?”

“Gaston’s. And be creative. If we can convince Gaston that Richelieu is responsible, that could prove useful and help bring the Queen Mother and Gaston closer together.”

Paul nodded. “In that case, the best choice would be Antoine de Puylaurens. Puylaurens is Gaston’s chief confidante and representative. In addition, he is the man that Richelieu is using to act as the go-between in an attempt to reconcile Gaston and Louis XIII. If we kill him, we will set back that reconciliation for months, perhaps years, especially if we can point the finger at Richelieu for the murder. Gaston will be livid and become further estranged from his brother.” He smiled. “And no one will cry for Puylaurens except Gaston. He has alienated everyone in the French and Lorraine exile community with his jealousies and his pettiness.”

“Excellent,” said the Abate. “See to it. You have my authorization for this.”

The Abate knocked three times on the roof of the coach. As it slowed turning a corner, Paul made his exit. As usual, he was less than four blocks from home.

 

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