1634: THE BALTIC WAR – snippet 52:
“He was an excellent ruler, you know,” he said softly. “I’ve pored over the records that we’ve been able to obtain. All of them, twice over and more. And the more I read, the more I found myself wishing that I’d been his chief minister. All that Charles isn’t—nor his father before him, nor any of the Stuarts—Oliver Cromwell was. Firm, steady, decisive. Yet not given to harshness for no purpose. He’d be labeled a tyrant after his death—they even dug up his corpse to decapitate it—but it wasn’t true. Compared to Henry VIII? Or Elizabeth? Any of the Tudors? To say nothing of the Plantagenets. Ridiculous.”
“He was a rebel and a regicide,” Laud said stiffly. “Graciously, I will leave aside that he had the two of us executed, as well.”
“Yes, he did, and so he was. But much more to the point, William, he was a rebel who never found the path to legitimacy. That’s what did him in, in the end. His regime, rather, since”—Wentworth barked a harsh laugh—“no one tried to beard the lion while he was still alive. But after he died, it all fell apart. And there’s really the lesson, I think. If a supremely capable and successful rebel can have his regime undone by a lack of legitimacy, what chance does a legitimate monarch who is not capable and successful at anything beyond petulance and caprice have of not squandering it away?”
He turned from the window to face the archbishop squarely. “That was not a rhetorical question, William. I need an answer to it. Quite desperately.”
It was Laud’s turn to look away. He glanced at the various portraits on the wall—men and women once famous, now half-forgotten—before spending a minute or so staring at a vase. A very attractive vase, and a very fragile one.
“No chance at all,” he said finally, the words almost sighing from his mouth. “No more chance than I have, in the end, in what I had hoped to do. Damned Scotsmen.”
Wentworth laughed again, rather gaily this time. “Oh, please, William! It was hardly just the Scotsmen!”
“They started it,” Laud growled. “But… no, it wasn’t just them.”
He looked up at Wentworth, the expression on his face a half-pleading one. “I’ve been pondering the matter a great deal myself. Always managing to evade the collision, until…”
“Until Tom Simpson and Lady Mailey asked you to appoint a bishop for Grantville.”
There’d been a time when William Laud would have objected to the term “Lady,” applied to a commoner like Melissa Mailey. But, like many things, that time had passed. Seemed very ancient, in fact.
“Yes. A simple and straightforward request, on the face of it. Underneath, something vastly different. If I refuse, I undermine the true church of which I am the primate. But if I accept, I must limit that same church. I must agree—acquiesce, at least—to limits I have never heretofore accepted.”
“And… I don’t know yet, not for sure. But I think I will finally agree. Because, in the end, I don’t believe I really have any choice. Whether I like it or not.”
Wentworth nodded. “No, I don’t believe you do. Any more than I do.”
Silence, again, for another minute. Then Laud asked: “What do you propose to do, then?”
“I have no idea, at the moment. My thoughts have gone everywhere for the past weeks—and come back as if they’d never gone. I even contemplated for a time releasing Oliver from the Tower and helping him overthrow the dynasty.”
Laud’s eyes were practically protruding. “You must be joking.”
“Oh, no. I gave it quite serious thought. But what would be the point? He failed once, why would he succeed now? The goal was unobtainable in the first place, insofar as he ever had a clear goal in mind.”
For a moment, his gaze grew unfocused. “It would be quite fascinating, you know, to be able to speak to that man. Not the man in his early thirties named Oliver Cromwell who sits this moment in a dungeon, but the man he became in that other universe, a quarter of a century from now. The Lord Protector of England, in his late fifties. What had he learned? What did he regret? What would he do otherwise, could it do it over again?”
The gaze came back into focus; a very keen one, in fact. “A fancy, you’ll say. But is it? Are we not—you and I—in a position every bit as fanciful? Two dead men—my head rolling off a block on Tower Hill on May the twelfth of 1641, and yours in the same place on the tenth of January, not four years later—who are even this moment speaking to each other nonetheless. As if two severed heads on a mantelpiece were to be having a conversation.”
“Yes, I know. Fanciful.”
“I was going to say, ‘silly’.”
“That, too, I suppose. But the substance remains. We are not in much different a position than two men who have a chance to relive their lives. What we chose once, we do not need to choose again.”
“Yes, true enough—but it doesn’t make our current choices any easier or less uncertain. And, for me at least, what shakes my resolve is not my knowledge of errors made in another universe, or a life that might have been. What shakes my resolve—all my certainties, except that I believe in Him—is what God did in this world.”
Laud rose from his chair. Almost sprang from it. “It’s none of that, Thomas! It’s the Ring of Fire itself that my brain cannot wrap itself around. Let the papists prattle about ‘God’s hidden purpose’ all they want. Let the Calvinists do the same. The fact remains. For the first time since the Resurrection, the Lord moved His hand so powerfully and so visibly that any man can see it. The first undoubted miracle in sixteen hundred years. Why?”
“I don’t know.”
“Of course you don’t. None of us do. But He did. That, whatever else, can neither be questioned nor denied.”
He fell back into the chair, collapsing as quickly as he came out it. “We ignore the deed at our great peril. I am uncertain of most things, now. But of that, I am not uncertain at all.”
“So. What will you do?” the archbishop asked the minister.
“I don’t know. I simply know that it cannot go on like this.”
Wentworth glanced at the window, and saw that the sun had set. He hadn’t noticed earlier, because of the grayness of the day outside and the light cast by the lamps in Laud’s chamber.
“I must be off. The captain I entrusted with the task is a capable one, but I’d best make sure there any no unforeseen problems.”
Laud nodded heavily, but said nothing.
When he reached the door, a thought came to Wentworth. Half-smiling, he turned back. “You, on the other hand, should have—just now—answered your own question.”
The archbishop looked up. “Eh?”
“The question of the bishop. As you said yourself, God moved His hand. That being so, how can you refuse to send a bishop to that very place He did the deed, when his presence is requested from there?”
For a moment, Laud looked alarmed. Then, smiled—and quite cheerfully. ‘Why, yes. That’s very nicely put, Thomas. My thanks, indeed. It would seem to border on apostasy, wouldn’t it? Can’t have that.”