1634: THE BALTIC WAR – snippet 55:



            “Well, that seems to be it,” said Boyne, looking down from the hill at the company commander of the royal escort making his way back to the front. The Earl of Cork peered for a moment at the larger of the Trained Bands that was positioned across the Tyburn Hill Road. There were at most a hundred and fifty of them. They didn’t even outnumber the soldiers Leebrick had under his command, and there was no comparison in terms of fighting ability. Even from the distance, it was obvious that the Trained Bandsmen were edgy. The ones in the front rank still seemed steady, but there was already a small trickle of Bandsmen in the rear ranks who were starting to sidle away.


            One charge—not even that; just a lowering of pikes and a steady advance—would send them all packing. In the first few weeks after Wentworth brought over the mercenary companies, some of the Bands had made a serious effort to fight in the streets. But they’d soon learned, at bloody cost, that they were no match for professional soldiers who were veterans of the great war that had been raging across much of the continent since the Battle of the White Mountain fifteen years earlier.


            “Enough,” said Boyne, drawing his coat around him tightly. “I’m freezing. Let’s be off, gentlemen.”


            He turned—carefully, because of the icy ground—and began walking down the hill. His steps were almost mincing ones. Endymion Porter came with him. Paul Pindar stayed atop the hill for a few seconds longer, and then started to follow.


            “Wait!” he suddenly cried out.




            “All right, Richard,” said Leebrick, after he rejoined his lieutenant. Towson already had the front ranks of the company drawn up, ready to begin a pike charge. A pike advance, rather, since “charging” was quite out of the question in the condition the road was in today. “Before we do anything, I’m going to cross over there myself and see if I can speak to the lads. Explain to them that today’s no day for tomfoolery, and if they bloody well aren’t out of my sight in three minutes there will be—”


            A sudden ruckus brought his head around, looking to the rear. Shouts and the sounds of gear clattering. The royal carriage was being turned around to head back into London. The second carriage holding the royal children was preparing to do the same. For a moment, Leebrick could only gape at the sight. By the time he clamped his mouth shut, the first carriage was already on its way—and moving far more rapidly than any sane driver would push any sort of vehicle on the road today, much less a carriage as big and heavy and ungainly as the one carrying the royal couple.


            “What are they doing?” demanded Towson.


            Leebrick had no idea himself. Until a moment ago, the king and queen had been in no danger at all. Nothing worse than perhaps a ten minute delay in making their way to Oxford. Now, not only had they left their military escort behind and were completely unprotected, but—far, far worse—they ran the serious risk of having a bad accident.


            The queen’s panic must have finally unsettled the king, was all he could imagine. A king, unfortunately, who was none too steady himself.


            “God only knows,” he said, between gritted teeth. “Richard, clear this bloody damned road. If they won’t give way, then kill all of the bastards if you have to. I’ll see to the king.”


            He sent his horse after the fleeing carriage, moving as rapidly as he dared. He didn’t take him long to overtake the carriage holding the children, which had just completed the turn-around. The driver of that carriage, clearly unhappy at the situation, was keeping his team to a slow pace. But to Anthony’s growing horror, he saw that the carriage holding the king and queen was actually outdistancing him. There was no way in Heaven that an experienced and capable driver—which that carriage certainly had—would be pushing his mounts like that, under these conditions. It didn’t matter how many threats the king shouted at him. That meant the driver was already losing control of the team. He could see the coachman riding the near lead horse staring back at the driver. Even at the distance, Anthony could sense the panic in the man’s expression.


            “After me!” he shouted at Patrick and his men, when he reached the side road. “To perdition with those lads!”


            He didn’t care any longer about the small Trained Band on the side road. If need be, Towson would handle them also. Anthony and Patrick and his skirmishers needed to catch up with the king’s carriage. It wouldn’t even take Patrick that much longer than it took Anthony himself. Welch was the only one with a horse, but with this sort of footing a man could move as fast as a horse anyway. Faster, if the horse wasn’t being pushed beyond its natural inclination.


            So, alone for the moment, Leebrick continued his pursuit of the carriage. By now, it had passed around a bend in the road and he couldn’t see it any longer. All he could hope was that the driver could bring the team under control again.




            “Oh, marvelous!” exclaimed the Earl of Cork, who was now back on top of the hill. He watched the royal carriage disappear around the same bend in the road. “Wentworth may even be dismissed, on account of this affair!”


            He turned eagerly to his horse. After taking two steps, one foot flew out from under him and he landed on his buttocks. Then, slid down the slope for a good fifteen feet before he stopped. The fact that he slid that far on a gentle slope was a sharp reminder of just how bad the footing was. Sleet mixed with the mud from a long thaw made for truly treacherous ground.


            His two companions hurried to reach him, as best they could, and help him to his feet. By the time they got there, Richard Boyne was grinning cheerfully. “I’m fine, I’m fine. Just a moment’s embarrassment. Oh, what a splendid day! Is there a patron saint for sleet?”


            Saints weren’t exactly frowned on by the Church of England, although they weren’t anywhere nearly as prominent as they were for the Catholic church. But neither of the earl’s companions was surprised by the remark. For all his Protestant Irish harshness toward Catholics, the Earl of Cork didn’t feel himself bound personally by any fussy doctrinal obligations.


            “I’m not sure, Your Lordship,” said Pindar, helping him to his feet and brushing off the mud from the earl’s coat.


            “Well, if there isn’t, by God, there damn well should be! And I’ll see to it!”