1634: THE BALTIC WAR – snippet 32:



            He lowered the hand and clasped the other behind his back. Then, began rocking on his feet a little. “Will you keep our discussions privy, Pieter? I mean, from my brother as well.”


            Rubens nodded. “Yes, Your Highness. I do that with all such discussions, in any event. But in this case…”


            The artist and diplomat gazed at Amsterdam. “In this case, I have been coming to many of the same conclusions myself. And being a Catholic and not a blithering Calvinist, I know that God gave us free will.”


            Now he looked at the prince directly. “And that good works will receive their reward in the afterlife.”


            The prince smiled. “Of course, the trick is defining ‘good works’ in the first place, isn’t it? And then, only being able to hope that the saints and the angels and the Lord Himself will agree with your definition. Which, alas, you won’t discover until it’s too late to correct whatever errors you made.”


            Rubens smiled back. “Yes, indeed. That is the difficulty. Inevitable, of course. Without that uncertainty, ‘free will’ would be meaningless.”


            There was silence, for a time, as the prince and his adviser both went back to their study of Amsterdam’s fortifications. It was a pointless study, really, just a means for the prince to finally steel his will. By this time, he knew every foot of those walls. And knew, as well, just how terrible the cost would be of passing through them. The heady and triumphal glory of the first weeks of the reconquest of the United Provinces had long gone. Ages past, it seemed, even though it had only been a few months.


            “Enough,” he said quietly. “Let my family rot in Spain, as they certainly will so long as they listen to Olivares and his ilk. With my brother and the Count-Duke demanding from me every week more and more treasure from the Low Countries. They insist I must despoil and ruin the Netherlands—and for what? So they can piss it away down a bottomless toilet, as they have done for a century with the New World’s silver? Let my cousins in Austria do the same, as they did in another world. I will start here, anew. My dynasty had six centuries in that other world. In this one…”


            He laughed softly. “What do you think, Pieter? If I claim a full millennium as my goal, would that constitute the sin of pride?”


            “I couldn’t say, Your Highness. I’m not a theologian. But I am an artist, and I can promise you some splendid portraits.”


            He eyed the prince’s costume, which was a purely martial one. “I assume you will not wish to pose in your cardinal’s robes.”


            Don Fernando grinned. “Be a bit awkward, wouldn’t it? Since the most important portraits will be of me and my future wife—whoever she might turn out to be—surrounded by our children. That is, after all, the first thing you need for a successful dynasty.”


            “Indeed.” The diplomat pursed his lips, for a moment, thinking. “Dispensing with the title of cardinal should not be too difficult, I think. The pope is generally quite practical about these things, and I know—I’ve spoken to him—that Urban is none too pleased with the endless war.” [NOTE: Check with Virginia and Andrew how this works. Who has the authority to un-make a cardinal? I have no idea, myself.]


            “I’ve come to the same conclusion,” the prince said. “As God Himself knows, it’s not as if I ever wanted a cardinal’s robes in the first place. My brother and his advisers insisted on it. That leaves…”


            His eyes became slightly unfocused, for a moment. “A wife. It will have to be someone acceptable to the haughtiest monarch or nobleman in Europe. That’s essential.”


            Rubens inclined his head. “Yes, of course. Under the circumstances, a morganatic marriage—anything that even had a whiff of it—would be out of the question.” He went back to pursing his lips. “I can begin some discreet inquiries. There are not really all that many options, you understand?”


            Don Fernando gave him a quick, stoic nod of the head. “Yes, Pieter, I know. Do your best to find someone reasonably pleasant and not too ugly, if you can. But what matters is that she be fertile and young enough to bear a number of children. The rest I can—will have to—just live with.”


            His expression brightened. “But what I am saying? First I have to win this war—or get a good enough settlement, at least. A wife can wait. Must wait, in fact. No suitable bride will be found for a prince who doesn’t have a realm to show for the title. Even the Germans would laugh at such a one.”


            Rubens was a little amused to see the way the prince—a man still in his early twenties—so obviously found the demands of war more congenial than the demands of marriage. Of course, for royalty, that attitude was not so unusual, even in much older men. Very rarely was congeniality, much less affection, a significant factor when it came to choosing spouses. As it would not be in this instance, either.


            Within seconds, after a polite but brief dismissal, Don Fernando was consulting with his officers over the best place to prepare what the Americans called a “landing field.” Before too long, Rubens was sure, the prince would come to the inevitable conclusion that—since neither he nor any of his officers had never so much as seen an airplane—they would need to send an envoy to Amsterdam to discreetly inquire if the up-timers residing in the city could provide them with some advice.


            Rubens himself would probably be the envoy chosen, in fact.