1634: THE BALTIC WAR – snippet 49:



            Eddie Cantrell stared up at the canopy over his bed, feeling like an idiot.


            Four times over, to make everything perfect.


            To start with the smallest idiocy, what was a country boy from a small town in West Virginia doing in a bed—no, a whole bedroom—that he didn’t think the fanciest up-time hotel in the world could boast?


            Just look at it, fer chrissake.


            Okay, the bed was a bed. Big, sure, but not actually as big as a king-sized bed you could have bought up-time for a few hundred dollars. In that small respect, at least, there was still a trace of sanity in the world.


            From there, all reason fled. The bed coverings would have cost a small fortune, and God only knows what you’d have had to pay for the four poster bed frame and the canopy hanging from it. The thing was a no-fooling fricking tapestry. Eddie was dead certain that its like back up-time could be found only in museums.


            His eyes dropped from the canopy to scan the bedroom. Of course, why not?—since the whole damn room belonged in a museum. There wasn’t a square inch of the ceiling that wasn’t decorated; not a square foot of the walls that didn’t have a painting or some sort of art work on it. Any of which, Eddie was just as certain, museum curators and art thieves back up-time would have drooled over. Nor was there a square yard of the floor—a beautiful parquet floor, naturally, that would have probably bankrupted your average American millionaire back home—that didn’t have a piece of furniture on it, or statuary, or just huge vases, any one of which would probably have bankrupted your average uptime multi-millionaire.


            Eddie’s eyes went to the big window across the room from the bed. Not to mention, of course, that if he hauled his sorry ass out of bed and hobbled over to the window, he’d be looking out at a vista that these crazy Danish royals chose to call “gardens” but didn’t look like any gardens Eddie had ever seen. Sure as hell not the vegetable gardens his mother or any of their neighbors had had. Even leaving aside the fact that they were bigger than several football fields put together.


            And that was only the smallest of the idiocies.


            Move on to the next. What was a proper West Virginia country boy doing in bed in the first place, now that it was afternoon? Lolling about like that crazy French writer he’d read about once, who not only spent half his life in bed but wrote books—famous books, even—about a man who spent most of his life in bed.


            Eddie didn’t even have the excuse of being bored. How could he be bored, when he was a captive of a medieval king who had dungeons to spare and torturers on his payroll?


            Fine. “Early Modern Era” king, if that’d make the scholars happy.


            Swell. What that meant in the real world, as far as Eddie was concerned, was that he was in transition from brutal illiterate kings whose powers were actually limited in practice to the Brave New World of absolute monarchies, whose torturers and executioners were literate so they could stay up on the latest innovations. Thank you very much.


            No, he was just in a funk. The sort of funk that might be respectable enough somewhere in Greenwich Village or the lower east side of Manhattan, but any solid hillbilly would sneer at. Go fix the suspension on your car or something, you dummy.


            And why was he in a funk? Oh, let’s move on to Idiocy Number Three.


            Secret Agent Man. James Bond, 007. Mike Stearns had entrusted him with the task, in captivity, of ferreting out the secrets of the enemy and foiling their plans with fiendishly clever counter-moves. Like fucking Houdini.


            Right. That made Mike Stearns an even bigger idiot than Eddie, sure, but Stearns wasn’t sleeping three floors over a dungeon.


            Well, maybe he was, actually—given that Gustav Adolf had insisted on having his architects draw up the plans for Hans Richter Palace and oversee its construction. The Good Old Swedes, in this day and age, weren’t exactly what you’d call good ole boys. A lot closer to their troll roots, still, than they were to Ingrid Bergman.


            But so what? They were Mike’s dungeons, whose tongs and pincers and God knows what else he didn’t have to worry about.


            Well. At least not until he lost the election. After that—this day and age being what it was—who could say?


            Big deal. The election Mike had to worry about was at least a year away. Eddie could lose his election any time that damn drunken Danish king who kept him up half the nights till the wee hours drinking along with him chose to punch his ticket.


            Did I mention I have absolute power? No? Well, not to worry—here’s the proof of it. Lads, take this fellow downstairs and pluck off another part of his body.


            Eddie heard the door opening. All thought of the Three Lesser Idiocies were swept from his mind. The Great One had arrived.


            “Still in bed! Eddie, you should be ashamed of yourself! And don’t pretend you have a hangover because my father let you go long before the carousing was over last night. I know, Ulrik told me. Oh, he’s here, too.”


            Eddie sat up to look. Sure enough, the youngest of the king’s three sons in the royal line was coming in right behind.


            Perfect. The outrigger, so to speak, to the Greatest of All Idiocies.


            On the other hand—they had bestsellers in this day and age, too, he’d discovered—maybe if Eddie survived it all he could write a book and become rich and famous. Okay, rich and the laughingstock of an entire continent, but what the hell.


            The Life of a Secret Agent. No, that’d be fudging. The Secrets of a Secret Agent; or, How to Turn 007 Into a Seven Percent Solution.


            Chapter One. Get captured in a naval battle. Make sure you lose a foot  while you’re at it.


            Chapter Two. Get some moron of a president to make you his secret agent while in captivity.


            Chapter Three. Ingratiate yourself to an alcoholic enemy king by drinking as much as you possibly can in his company, when you don’t like liquor to begin with and the stuff scares you to death because your dad was a souse.


            Chapter Four. Feed him a pack of silly lies and just hope that he’s not sober enough to catch you at it.


            Chapter Five. Make friends with his son the prince.


            Chapter Six. Fall in love with his daughter the princess. Fine. The “king’s daughter”—as if that’s going to make any difference when they figure it out, seeing as how James Bondaged .07 was clever enough to pick a girl who’s jail-bait back up-time and dungeon-bait in this one, so it wouldn’t matter if she was a butcher’s daughter.


            Chapter Seven….


            But Eddie flinched from that still-unwritten one. He couldn’t only hope the red-hot tongs would cauterize the wound at the same time they rendered him unconscious from agony, when they removed the offending body part in question. Sometimes he found himself wondering if, in this day and age, they made wooden peg-dicks to match wooden peg-legs.


            The scariest thing was, they probably did.


            “Why are you staring at me like that?” Anne Cathrine demanded. “You’d think I was a ghost or something.”


            Ulrik pulled up a chair next to the bed, blithely ignoring the cost of the chair or whatever damage it might do to the floor. Eddie was afraid to sit in most of the furniture, himself, and whenever he couldn’t walk barefoot on the floor he practically tip-toed.


            Of course, Ulrik could confidently expect to inherit the dungeons and the tongs and the what-not. He had a chance of it, at least. Danes still had the custom that the nobility got to elect the king, choosing from whoever was eligible in the royal family. They’d already elected the oldest prince Christian as the successor, but if he died before his father did, Ulrik might still wind up on the throne even though he was the youngest of the three princes. Even if he didn’t, he’d surely come out of it with a dungeon or two, along with a reasonable share of the torturers and tongs and pincers and what-not.


            “It can’t be you, sister,” said Ulrik cheerfully. “Look! He’s giving me the same stare.”


            Anne Cathrine planted her hands on her hips. Very shapely hips. She was fully past puberty now, but still had a completely teenage female figure. Fifteen going on Eddie if you ever lay a finger on her your ass is grass.


            Fortunately, he’d managed—so far—to avoid that one and only idiocy. But unless Admiral Simpson steamed into the Øresund with an icebreaker before the winter was over, Eddie wasn’t sure how long he could hold out.


            The problem was that Anne Cathrine wasn’t exuding any of the well-known signals from Eddie’s past that informed him in no uncertain terms that this girl ain’t interested, buddy, so forget it. If she had, his course would have been easy. Miserable, sure, and pining away with unrequited love—but he was used to that. His high school experience had been four almost solid years of pining away after girls whose titles might as well have been You-Gotta-Be-Kidding or In-Your-Dreams, Buster.


            What he wasn’t used to was a princess—fine, “king’s daughter”—who planted those same very shapely hips on the bed right next to him, leaned over, spilling her gorgeous red-gold hair, took his cheeks in her hands and gave them a little shake. “Stop looking at me like that, I tell you.”


            Ulrik laughed. “Sister, you’re being forward. If I tell father, he’ll scold you.”


            “No, he won’t,” she said serenely.


            “Yes, Princess,” Eddie said, not serenely at all.


            That got him another cheek-shaking. “How many times must I tell you! ‘King’s daughter.’ Not ‘princess.’ My mother’s marriage to my father was morganatic.”. She twitched her head toward her half-brother. “Ulrik is a prince because he is in the royal line. I am not. Just a ‘king’s daughter.’”


            Eddie nodded, simply thankful that he’d escaped disaster. He’d almost said “Yes, dear.”


             He wondered what might have resulted from that. Would they just satisfy themselves by removing his cheeks with hot tongs, or would they add all his teeth into the bargain?


            Ulrik laughed again. “Eddie, you always cheer me up. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s because you can do melancholy better than any Dane.”


            “Well, sure. I read the book. I don’t know if it’s been translated into Danish yet.”


            “What book?” the king’s daughter asked.


            “It’s the one I told you about,” her half-brother explained. “I read it in English. The one that Englishman wrote about a Danish prince in Helsingor—he called it ‘Elsinore’—who finds out his father was murdered and can’t decide what to do.”


            “Oh, that one.” She released Eddie’s cheeks and waved a dismissive hand. “I don’t want to read it, even when my English gets better. What a silly fantasy. Any Danish prince—princess, too, even a king’s daughter—who found out that someone had committed such a crime would have his head by the morning.”


            Chapter Eight. Did I mention the jailbait will inherit the jail? Well, at least one or two cells in it. With a share of the tongs and the pincers and the what-not.