The Danish Scheme

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Something new is brewing in the 17th century! Fans of the 1632 series have often asked ‘What’s going on in North America?’ Herbert Sakalaucks has set out to let you know in his short novel ‘The Danish Scheme.’ Christian IV, King of Denmark, Sir Thomas Roe, the English Ambassador to Christian’s court, various elements of the extended Nasi/Abrabanel family have arranged an unusually well funded and well led expedition to North America. In addition to a new version of this story, which had previously been published in the Grantville Gazette, Eric Flint has added a short story which provides a view of the same events from Magdeburg. What does the Stearns administration make of all this?

A worthy addition to the 1632 series, the first of a series of new books published under the imprint of the ‘Ring of Fire Press.’ to make available stories and information which there simply isn’t time for in Baen’s publishing schedule. These stories were simply too long to be included in any of the paper anthologies published by Baen Books. At the same time, we felt it would be useful (and hopefully popular) to put them together in unitary volumes so that people who want to re-read them, or read them for the first time, don’t have to hunt for them scattered over a number of separate issues of the magazine.

Late September 1633, Copenhagen

The anteroom for the main audience chamber of Rosenborg Castle was bustling with servants and visitors. Sir Thomas Roe, the English ambassador to the Danish court, stood quietly contemplating a newly hung portrait of Princess Margaret, waiting for his audience with the Danish king. A rather splendid painting of the harbor had previously hung there, and he wondered briefly about the reason for the change. The new painting made the room seem dreary.

He stole a quick glance around. All of the nearby servants were obviously concentrating on appearing invisible. By the sounds coming through the door, that wasn’t a bad strategy. Either the king’s current visitor was being royally reamed, or the king was in his cups again. In either case, the prospects for this audience seemed bleak. To make matters worse, the summons gave no indication as to why his presence was requested. The recent arrival of news on the Dutch defeat off Dunkirk, which had been aided by the French and English fleets, seemed a likely reason for the summons, but the Ambassador had mentioned nothing about that particular tidbit of news.

Sir Thomas sighed in frustration. Since the signing of the treaty that created the League of Ostend, Roe had received no correspondence from court. Nothing like this had happened on his previous assignment to the Moghul’s court. There, he had received regular, monthly guidance. His appointment as plenipotentiary for the Ostend treaty had left him with broad negotiating powers, but the recent lack of instructions left him very concerned about his position at court. Court intrigue had been on the rise even before he left on this assignment. What little English gossip arrived in Copenhagen indicated Charles was becoming increasingly difficult to deal with and Wentworth’s faction appeared to be on the rise. Wentworth had once been a friend, but his recent silence was even more troubling.  Something had to be changing at court. In addition, his requests for royal approval of a New World trading company had also been completely ignored.

A courtier came into the anteroom from a side door. Roe had met him before but couldn’t recall his name.

“The king is ready to see you now, Sir Thomas.” He turned back the way he had come.

Winding through the palace halls, they finally came to a stout, wooden door, guarded by two soldiers armed with swords. They simply nodded to the courtier and opened the door. Inside, Christian was seated with the Danish chancellor, Christen Scheel, while the king’s oldest son, Prince-Elect Christian, stood near the fireplace. The king motioned for Roe to take a seat across the table from the chancellor.

“Sir Thomas, I suspect you are somewhat at a loss for what’s happening in London, seeing as no instructions from your king have arrived in some time.” Sir Thomas started to answer but the king continued, stifling the perfunctory denial. “It seems Charles is more concerned about the future loyalty and trustworthiness of his nobility, based on information he received from ‘Grantville’. This may be a fine time for you to be out of sight and mind.” He smiled sympathetically, but then assumed a look of displeasure. “Cardinal Richelieu seems to be using this fear to reap some valuable advantages. That’s the main reason why I asked for this meeting. The less the French know, the better. I have a matter that needs to be presented personally by you to Charles.”

The king gestured and Chancellor Scheel pushed a document across the table to Sir Thomas. “Since Charles is in such a generous mood with his territories,” Christian continued, “I feel that it is in Denmark’s best interests to redeem its outstanding dowry pledge, before Charles sells those lands to someone else as well.”

Sir Thomas was struck by the brevity of the document. The proposal was very straight forward. It simply stated that Denmark was paying the sixty thousand florins that it still owed on the dowry for Princess Margaret. In exchange for the payment, England would return the Shetland and Orkney Islands to Denmark, which had been the original guarantee for the dowry payment. Since the dowry agreement didn’t have an expiration date, nor interest terms, the sum was the original amount.

Sir Thomas’ eyes widen slightly.  Charles was sure to complain about that! In that regard, he was worse than the London moneylenders. The reason for this personal meeting still was not completely clear. The document was simple and could have been handled by a Danish emissary. He set the document down. “I assume that Your Majesty has some additional points to add. The document itself is very straightforward. I’m just not sure how receptive my king will be to an amount agreed to over one hundred years ago.”

Scheel leaned forward. “His Majesty and I had that very same discussion. As His Majesty rightly pointed out to me, the incomes the English Crown received from the property while they held it would more than satisfy any interest amounts owed. You simply need to present that to Charles, in your usual elegant manner.”

Christian nodded, like a school master confirming the performance of a prize student and then continued the explanation. “I want you to make the presentation, because reports I’ve received seem to indicate that foreign visitors have not been well received by the officials surrounding Charles.” He paused to let those implications sink in. “I realize this trip will involve some personal expense and hardship on your part, Sir Thomas, and I am prepared to provide the necessary funds.”

Scheel reached down, brought up a leather bag that contained a significant amount of coinage, and pushed it across to Sir Thomas. The king continued, “My sources also tell me that you have expended a large sum in promoting a New World exploration company. I hope Captain Foxe’s information is as valuable as he thinks it is.” Without blinking an eye, Sir Thomas managed to digest the fact that Christian was  too well informed and must have a source among his associates. “Unless I‘m mistaken, though, this land sale by Charles to the French is a serious setback to your efforts. When you return with the signed agreement, we will speak further about your expedition. It may be that we have some mutual interests in that area”

The reason for the meeting was now clear. The king wanted his personal ties at court to smooth the transaction. Just how good his current ties were was a question that might involve his personal safety. The implied help for the exploration company outweighed the possible safety issue. With most of his wealth already tied up in the adventure, he needed it to succeed or he would be bankrupt. But could he, emotionally, handle returning to England? Since his wife’s death there last year, he had simply let his affairs there linger, without thought. If he returned, he’d have to face her loss. In the end, he simply nodded his acquiescence.

The chancellor rose and motioned for Sir Thomas to accompany him. The meeting was over. Once they left the room, Scheel proceeded to supply further details on the trip. “I will accompany you on the trip, with two guards for the gold. The funds will be turned over only after the agreement is signed. It’s not that the king doesn’t trust you; he’s concerned what Charles might do to you if the gold were in your possession. The stories we hear about the English court concern us.”

You’re not the only one!” Sir Thomas thought. “I’ll appreciate your company. Hopefully the voyage will be swift and uneventful.” They continued down the hall, discussing details for the voyage.

∞∞∞

As soon as the door shut, Prince-Elect Christian reached for a tankard from a nearby servant and then resumed his earlier argument. “Father, why spend this much money on some worthless islands? And what does Denmark need with barren lands across the seas?”

As soon as he finished, Prince Christian realized he’d overstepped himself. The king took a deep breath but before he could burst out angrily, his son hastened to add: “Did you find something in the books from Grantville, Father? Or is it just something the French let slip?”

That mollified the king. He took a swallow from his flagon and said: “As a matter of fact, both. Undoubtedly, Richelieu has read about the future of France and wants to create a new French Empire, second to none. He needs resources to do that and the Grantville books confirm that the New World can provide those. I foresee nothing but problems if that transpires. What will happen to a Lutheran Denmark if a Catholic France becomes the strongest country in the world after the Swede is finished?”

He slammed a fist on the table. “Our faith and our country would cease to exist! There is a future saying that to stay the same means stagnation and eventual death. We must grow to survive. If we can hold off the Swede and stymie the French plans, the New World offers us an opportunity. I can’t build a large enough army, but a navy may be within our means. The Dutch and Spanish are shattered, and the English are turning inward. We can be a naval power. In the future, the books show that the North Sea will play a vital role. The price I’m paying is a pittance compared to what will come.”

Looking at the map on the wall, the prince saw a pattern and realized what the acquisitions would do. “You’ll make the North Sea a Danish lake! And provide stopping points to the New World. We can expand west, but where will we find the people to settle the land?”

Christian simply smiled. “That’s what I need the Englishman for.” He drained the flagon and held it out to the servant. “Bring me another!”

October 1633, London

Sir Thomas waited, alone, to present the Danish proposal to King Charles. The debate with Scheel had been long and vocal during the voyage, whether he should do it alone or with the Danish Chancellor. They hadn’t resolved the issue until they had arrived at their lodgings in London. A heated discussion in the inn’s taproom between two patrons had convinced Scheel that Charles would not appreciate a foreigner at the meeting. The Chancellor had nearly choked on his drink when the nearby discussion was ended with one patron slamming his tankard down and roaring out, “I don’t care what you think! My cousin’s a guard at Court and I tell you, he’s seen Charles have foreigners thrown out who presume to petition the Crown. The only ones who get a hearing are Englishmen who are in favor with Wentworth or mercenaries with companies for hire!” Once he could speak coherently, Scheel turned to Sir Thomas, “You’re right. If even commoners are privy to such details on the King’s attitude, it must be true. You present it to Charles alone.” Sir Thomas smiled. The two shillings he’d paid the actors had been well spent!

When Sir Thomas and Chancellor Scheel presented the Danish request for a meeting with the King, Thomas Wentworth had demanded that they simply tell him about the proposal and he would make the presentation. Wentworth had once been a friend, but the changes in Court had changed him, for the worse. Rumor said that his relationship with Charles was rocky and other factions were using that to advance themselves. As far as Sir Thomas could tell, Wentworth had been too nice to handle the intrigues of court. Before he could phrase an appropriate reply, Chancellor Scheel had simply stared Wentworth down, informing him that, “King Christian directed that Sir Thomas, and only Sir Thomas, was to present his proposal to Charles. You may attend. It makes no difference to me. But if you try to interfere, I will return to Denmark and Charles will not be pleased when word finally reaches him why I was here!” Wentworth acquiesced, but the look he gave Sir Thomas promised a payback in the future.

Two days later, Sir Thomas waited outside the audience chamber, alone, to present the treaty. The door to the audience chamber opened. Sir Thomas picked up the leather case containing the proposed treaty and was ushered in. As he entered, he was struck by the differences between the Danish and English courts. Where Christian had simply his council present, Charles was surrounded by a host of court favorites. Two small dogs sat at his feet and another was in his lap. Wentworth stood beside the throne, twisting his moustache in boredom, ready to offer advice. Charles looked irritated and waved Sir Thomas to come forward.

The King wasted no time getting to the point. “Sir Thomas, I understand that Christian has sent you here to make a proposal. What does the old drunkard want now?” Two of the nearby courtiers tittered at the implied insult.

Bowing low, Sir Thomas opened the case and withdrew the proposed treaty. “Your Majesty, King Christian requested that I present this proposal to you.” He handed the treaty to the King. “He has been informed by the French of your need for funds and wishes to provide what assistance he can. He proposes to settle a long outstanding debt between our countries.”

Avarice and confusion were both evident on the King’s face. “And what is this debt that he has sent you here to settle? And how much is it?” Avarice had won out.

“Sixty thousand florins, in gold, to settle the dowry for Princess Margaret. His Chancellor accompanied me on my voyage and brought the funds with him. He awaits your Majesty’s direction where to deliver the funds.”

“And what does he expect in return? I know he’s too tight to do this just from the goodness of his heart!” The crowd of courtiers laughed at the King’s jest.

“He wants to redeem the islands that were pledged as earnest for the debt, the Shetland and Orkneys.” Sir Thomas had closely watched the King as he made the presentation. At the mention of gold, Charles had taken the bait. Now he had to seal the deal.

Wentworth whispered a long explanation to the King. Charles scowled at Wentworth like he’d bitten into a lemon. He finally gave a grudging nod of dismissal and turned back to Sir Thomas. “We’re familiar with that agreement. Why should I settle for the same amount as was pledged all those years ago? Surely I deserve interest on the funds pledged!”

Sir Thomas had been waiting for that question. “Your Majesty, you have received interest on those funds. The rents and incomes from those lands have inured to the Crown all these years. That was the reason why the lands were pledged, so that you wouldn’t have to deal with something as degrading as usury while the funds were owed.”

Charles still looked like he’d bitten into something sour, but the thoughts of what an extra sixty thousand florins in gold would buy won out. Wentworth started to say something, but Charles waved him off with his lace handkerchief, his contempt apparent to all in the room. “Very well, I’ll agree.” A page stepped up with a writing table. Charles dipped a quill in an ink stand and signed with an angry flourish. “Just make sure the funds are delivered to the palace today!” The page heated a wax stick over the document and then Charles smashed his ring in the pool of hot wax, sealing the agreement.

Sir Thomas bowed, but remained. “I have one more request, Your Majesty, if I might?” Charles gave a brief wave of the kerchief to indicate he continue. “I have sent a number of requests to court to confirm whether the exploration company I had proposed chartering had been approved. To date I have heard nothing. I had hoped this was due simply to replies being lost between London and Copenhagen.”

Wentworth smiled and leaned forward again to say something to Charles. This time the advice seemed to please Charles. The King smirked and then answered. “Your requests were not misplaced. They were ignored! My treaty with France has placed those lands beyond my authority to give.” From behind the throne, Wentworth beamed. “If you persist in pursuing this effort beyond this date, the Crown will view that as treason and deal with it accordingly!” Throughout the crowd, there was a scattering of feral smiles from those that saw a possible rival squashed before he could even become a remote threat.

Sir Thomas maintained a straight face. He had anticipated the answer. There was no reason to give Wentworth and his faction something more to gloat about. It simply was time to get out of England and return to Denmark. At least there was a possibility there for his plans. Still, returning to his estate in Woodford before the return voyage filled him with pain.

∞∞∞

The ride to Woodford, just outside London, was brief. As the carriage approached the parish church, he rapped on the ceiling to signal the driver to stop. The cold, bitter wind blowing the low clouds across the sky were a perfect reflection of his emotions. It seemed just like yesterday that he’d received word from his attorneys’ that his wife had died from one of the fevers that had swept through London last winter. They had laid Eleanor to rest at St. Mary’s in the family’s plot.

Theirs had been a marriage that had grown through the years. She’d always been there for him in their nearly twenty years of marriage whenever he returned from travels. She’d even gone with him to Constantinople, but this last trip, she’d wanted to stay home. The posting was supposed to have been short and she wanted to have the house ready for him when he returned from this last assignment from the King. Now he had one last duty.

He entered the graveyard next to the church and walked slowly to the family plot. A freshly carved stone immediately caught his eye. “Here lies Lady Eleanor Roe, Much Beloved Wife of Sir Thomas Roe”. An urn, with faded flowers from summer stood nearby. A blank space next to the stone’s inscription was left for his final resting place. As he stood there, Sir Thomas reminisced on all the wonderful times he and Eleanor had shared. Quietly sobbing, he said softly, “Ellie, I have to leave England for a time. I don’t know when I’ll return. Most likely ‘twil be to join you. Forgive me for not being here when you needed me the most. May God keep you in the Grace and Peace you deserve.” After a short, silent prayer, Sir Thomas made his way slowly back to the carriage to finish the trip to his home.

As the carriage pulled up in front of the manor, he noticed that the staff had maintained the house in good order. Michael, the doorman, hurried to open the door. “Welcome home Sir Thomas! We’ve been expecting you. It’s just Matilda and me here now, but if you’re planning to stay, I know how to reach the rest of the staff that’s still in the village.” He noticed Sir Thomas’ red rimmed eyes. “I see you’ve already stopped by the church. I’ve made sure her favorite flowers were there during the summer. I knew you’d want that. We all miss Lady Eleanor deeply.” He bowed his head in sympathy.

“Thank you Thomas, I know Ellie would have welcomed the flowers. As to your other question, I don’t plan on staying. I’ll be closing up the house and moving out of the country. If you and Matilda are willing, I’d like you to accompany me when I return to Copenhagen. There will always be a job for the two of you.”

“We suspected this from the tone of your message, Sir, and we do want to stay with you. There is one thing though that we’re not sure you know about. The letter probably crossed paths with you on your trip here.” He turned toward the front door and motioned, as if calling someone. The door opened, and a slim dark haired young girl stepped out. “This is Agnes Roe, your cousin’s child. She arrived last month. Both of her parents died in the plague and she had nowhere else to go. She’s been a big help since she arrived, and we hoped you might find it in your heart to let her stay.” The look of fear and concern on his face was mirrored by the young girl.

Sir Thomas stared at the young lady he hadn’t seen in years. The last time had been when her parents came for Eleanor’s thirty fifth birthday celebration. All he remembered was a little girl that was fascinated with his books. Now, she was a scared young lady waiting for her fate to be spoken. His heart caught in his throat. He and Eleanor had so wanted children, but what was a widower to do with a nearly grown child? His emotions must have been evident as Agnes’ wan smile seemed to fade.  Well, this surely must be God’s answer to my prayer! He quickly took a deep breath and answered, “Welcome child! I may not have much experience as a parent, but I’m sure you can help me learn!” Extending his hand, he let her lead him into the manor. For a brief moment, the sun broke through the clouds.

November 1633, New Amsterdam Harbor

The two Dutch  fregätten floated quietly, wrapped in a white shroud, waiting for answers. The dense fog that had settled over the New Amsterdam harbor was both a blessing and a curse. It hid them from potential enemies but made navigation hazardous and obscured what was happening onshore. That something was happening was evident to the ships’ captains. The muffled cries and the reflection of flames in the night fog were noticeable, even out in the harbor off Fort Amsterdam. The Friesland and the Rotterdam had used the full moon to approach the coast and then used the cover of the harbor fog to sail unobserved into the anchorage. When the disturbance on shore became evident, they had quietly sent their crews to quarters, with their guns loaded but not run out.

Captain de Groot strained to make some sense out of the lights from shore. Ever since the decision to try and reach New Amsterdam after the defeat at Dunkirk, he’d worried that they might not reach the colony before their enemies. It appeared that the worst had happened. After a hurried discussion with Captain van den Broecke, he used the fog and darkness as cover to send his last remaining boat ashore with his first officer to scout the situation. The boat was now overdue and he was worried.

Visibility was down to ten yards. Every swirl of the fog brought visions of a French or English ship bearing down with guns run out. Finally, he could wait no longer. He picked up a speaking trumpet, and stepped to the railing. He made sure the trumpet was directed at the Rotterdam‘s aftercastle, away from shore and possible foes, and hailed the ship. “Joris, my boat is overdue and I have no others left to send. Can you send one? We must know what’s happening.” He placed the trumpet to his ear to catch the reply. Instead of the expected answer, a laugh could be heard close by on the water. He reversed the trumpet and hailed the Rotterdam again. “Hold off, we’ve heard something.” Slowly a lantern became visible through the fog. It came roughly from the direction the ship’s boat had taken earlier when it headed toward shore.

“Ahoy, the Friesland! Where the hell are you?” The shout was loud enough to carry across the harbor. It was the first officer, Pieter de Beers, and he was obviously drunk.

De Groot raced to the opposite rail, fear for his ship making a cold knot in his gut. A drunken sailor revealing their presence to possible enemies was the last thing he needed. If the French or English had somehow beaten them to New Amsterdam, they could be facing serious opposition. Surprise would be their only hope if they were outnumbered. The boat bumped alongside and he hissed down at it, “Quiet you fool! You’ll give us away. Come aboard and make your report.” Oars creaked loudly as they were shipped and stored. Tjaert silently gnashed his teeth in frustration at the commotion.

De Beers boarded slowly, holding onto a rum bottle. When he reached the deck, he swayed more than the wave motion would account for and there was a broad smile on his face. Tjaert could smell the rum half way across the deck. De Beers gave an exaggerated salute, still holding the bottle. “Everything is fine, sir. The town is just celebrating a successful harvest. The director general extends his greetings . . . ” He raised the rum bottle. ” . . . and an invitation to both crews to join the celebration.” He extended the bottle to his captain.

“Very well, Mr. de Beers.” In his relief at the news, Tjaert reflexively accepted the bottle and took a small taste, and then a longer swallow. The rum sent a warmth to his stomach that drove away the chills of the night fog and his fears. “It seems you’ve already received your share of the invitation. You’ll be staying on board.” He turned to the watch officer by the companionway. “Have the men secure from quarters and pass the word over to the Rotterdam that everything’s fine. Then tell off some men for an anchor watch. Everyone else can go ashore. After what we’ve gone through the past months, they deserve it. We’ll see about fresh provisions and water in the morning.”

Word of the invitation spread quickly and sailors appeared on the deck ready to disembark, as if by magic. They ended up milling about for some time. The battle damage from Dunkirk had left the Friesland with only one usable boat. The captain went ashore in the first trip. It took nearly an hour after he left to finish rowing the remainder of his crew ashore.

De Groot intended to seek out the Director General, Wouter van Twiller, to learn the latest local news and pass on what had happened at Dunkirk. The director general apparently had the same intention and was waiting for him on the dock. Van Twiller was short, stout, and very well off, judging by the cut of his clothing. “Captain de Groot, to what do we owe this pleasure? It isn’t often that two ships of our fleet come to call. I want to assure you our fullest cooperation to make your stay enjoyable. Your men are welcome to join our harvest celebration.” He gestured toward the crowd around the fires. “Your first officer mentioned that you have news, but he said I had best talk to you.”

Other well-wishers started to drift toward the dock. Tjaert took van Twiller aside. “Is there someplace I could speak to you and your other leaders in private?”

The look on Tjaert’s face sobered up von Twiller quickly. “The church is just up the street. I’m sure no one’s there at this time of night.” He grabbed a young man who had been hanging back. “Go and fetch Krol, my uncle, Schuyler, and de Vries. Tell them I said for you to fetch them and don’t take no for an answer. Bring them to the church! Do you understand?”

“Yes, Uncle.” The youth ran off to the partiers by the bonfire.

Wouter asked de Groot quietly, “How bad is the news?”

All voyage-long Tjaert and Joris had debated this very question. The fleet had undoubtedly been defeated at Dunkirk. What remained of it was unknown. They had been in the best position to carry a warning home and had been driven off. Most likely, any survivors had gathered at Batavia or Recife. In any case, what remained of the fleet would need an extensive refit before it could do anything to hinder the Spanish. Tjaert answered, “It’s long and involved and I’d rather go through it just once. Suffice it to say that there won’t be many Dutch ships calling here for some time.” His face took on a nasty scowl. “I can’t say the same about others.”

Van Twiller pulled on his moustache as the words sank in. The colony was in danger of attack! By the time they reached the church, his stomach was twisted up in knots. The company’s money meant for the city’s defenses had gone to other, more profitable, personal ventures. When he had spent those funds, he never dreamed that someday the defenses would actually be necessary.

It took nearly half an hour to locate and bring the leaders to the meeting. Others had also drifted in and Van Twiller had agreed they might be needed, so they too had stayed. As soon as Captain van den Broecke arrived in the company of the last two members, Tjaert started in with his news. “There’s no way to make this easier to hear. Our fleet has suffered a major defeat.”

The New Amsterdam leaders all started to ask questions at once, but Tjaert cut them off with a wave of his hand. “Let me finish first. We met the Spaniards off Dunkirk in September. The action initially began very well for us. “When the French and English fleets arrived, I watched as they passed through our fleet to attack the Spaniards. Without warning, they fired into our fleet instead. It was a slaughter.”

He paused to let that fact sink in, and then continued. “That’s when I noticed that three Englishmen were definitely heading to engage us. I intended to try and head to port and warn our countrymen of the defeat, but the English had the weather gauge and kept forcing us to the north. They kept coming, but their pursuit seemed halfhearted at best. Eventually we were able to lose them in a fog bank, but by then our only choice was to head here.”

Joris van den Broecke stood up with a beer in hand and slapped Tjaert on the back. “He’s too modest. The ploy he used to make our escape was brilliant. As we approached a fog bank, he had a brazier set up in a hatchway and lit off some old, damp gunpowder and rags to smoke like there was a fire below decks. Then he started his men pumping water like they were fighting the fire. As soon as we reached the fog bank, he doused his running lights and launched his long boat with a spar holding decoy lights. The long boat held four casks of old spoiled gunpowder and a slow fuse. When the powder went off, the English must have thought he’d blown up. They broke off the pursuit. I guess they didn’t think my Rotterdam was worth any further effort.”

Tjaert was blushing from the praise but added, “I’m not sure their hearts were in it from the beginning. Their fleet seemed more than willing to let the French have the lead from the brief observation we had before the chase. I just gave them an honorable excuse to break off.” The scowl reappeared on his face as he growled, “We may have escaped, but they kept us from carrying a warning home!”

“But what of our fleet? What happened to it?” Kiliaen van Rensselaer, von Twiller’s uncle, had cut straight to the crux of the matter.

“I don’t know.” Tjaert answered and Joris just shrugged his shoulders in agreement. “The French treachery destroyed or heavily damaged most of the ships not already closely engaged with the Spaniards. We’d been pounding the Spanish, but had gotten almost as much damage in return. I’d guess only a dozen, at best, were still fit enough to try to escape. In any case, the fleet has ceased to exist as a force to hold off the Spanish and their new allies. What advantage the Spanish take from their victory depends on their leadership. The best we can hope for is that they only close off our ports. Or we may have lost the war. In any case, we’re on our own here.”

“But what do we do here in the colony?” Van Twiller had started as a West Indies Company clerk years before and realized the implications from the loss of the fleet. The Spanish were a long-time enemy, but were more concerned with retaking Holland. The English were fierce trade rivals at sea and the French, rivals in the fur trade. Trade and money were powerful motivators. “Without the fleet, we’re at the mercy of any fleet that arrives here. The French and English both have reasons to wish us gone and the means to hurt us here.”

Tjaert paused to ponder his answer. If he phrased it properly, they might follow his lead and he had a vow he wanted to keep. Van Twiller appeared to be a weak leader and might be easily manipulated. “You probably have some time before you have to worry about an attack. We didn’t go down without inflicting heavy losses. They’ll need to refit before anyone can show up here. We need to ourselves. We both suffered damage to our masts and rigging in the fight and on our voyage. Our bottoms need to be careened and shot holes repaired. Do you have a yard that can handle those types of repairs?”

“Only if we do it one ship at a time.” A slender, elderly man in the back answered. From his weathered appearance, he had once served at sea. De Vries owned the local shipyard and understood the tasks involved. “It doesn’t sound like you’ve suffered any damage we can’t handle. Your size may complicate matters. How fast we have to finish will be the biggest concern.”

Tjaert’s spirits rose. “I’d hoped you’d say that. In that case, I’ll keep one ship on patrol. We may have been badly hurt at Dunkirk, but we can still take the fight to our enemies. We plan on trolling the Grand Banks for prizes. I intend to hurt the French and English as much as I can. It may be only a pinprick now, but who knows what the future will bring.” All of the heads seemed to nod in unison. They hadn’t the faintest idea what they were agreeing to, but at least someone was offering a plan they could follow. Tjaert felt a warm glow inside. I can keep my vow! France and England will pay!

Tjaert sat quietly, off to the side, as the meeting slowly wound down. He tried to size up who the real leaders were in the colony. Van Twiller might be the Director General, but his earlier impression was confirmed. He certainly was no leader in a crisis. As long as they didn’t seem to be drifting from where he wanted them to end up, he kept quiet.

During the discussion, De Vries added an extra two weeks to his estimate for repairs when he realized that both ships were fregätten. He announced he would have to extend the slipway to handle the larger size of the ships. In the end, the consensus was that repairs on both ships would last about two months after the slips in the yard were extended.

By the time the meeting had broken up, Tjaert was relieved that at least the local leaders seemed to grasp the severity of the situation. They would do what needed to be done to get his ships battle worthy again. If only the French and English would cooperate. As they left the church, everyone wanted to get them aside for a private talk. Van Rensselaer’s prestige won out.