1634: THE BALTIC WAR – snippet 57:



            While the skirmisher lowered himself into the interior, Anthony shifted himself a bit and began carefully removing the items that covered the king’s body.


            “Where’s my wife?” Charles asked. He seemed more puzzled than anything else.


            Leebrick decided to ignore the question, for the moment. He had no answer, and that was more likely to panic the king than anything else. He just kept at his labor.


            “Where’s Henrietta Maria? Where is she? Why isn’t she here?”


            Thankfully, it was clear from Charles’ tone of voice that the king was in a daze. He wasn’t really asking a question aimed at a specific person, he was simply uttering a confused query to the world. He sounded more like a child than a grown man.


            Finally, Anthony cleared enough away to see most of the king’s body. By then, he knew the situation was a very bad one. The last blanket he’d removed had been blood-stained.


            Charles’ hip was shattered. Anthony could see a piece of bone sticking up through the flesh and the heavy royal garments.


            He tried to restrain himself from hissing, but couldn’t.


            “What’s wrong?” asked the king. Still in that confused little boy’s voice.


            “Everything’s fine, Your Majesty. It’ll just take us a moment to get you out of there.”


            Leebrick wondered if he even dared move the king at all, until his men had cut away most of the carriage. If Charles’ hip was shattered, there was a good chance he had a broken back also.


            But he decided he didn’t have any choice. If the only problem had been the king, he’d just wait. But even after spending several minutes in the carriage, he’d still seen no sign of the queen. He had to find her, and probably very soon—if it wasn’t too late already. The carriage had landed on her side, not the king’s. If the impact had caused this much damage to Charles, it was likely to have caused worse to her.


            A second skirmisher had made his way into the carriage.


            “All right, lads. Here’s the way we’ll do it. Tell Patrick to have two men—no, it’ll likely take four—to start cutting away the side of the carriage. And tell him, for the love of God, to do it carefully. This carriage is half-shattered already. We just need enough space to lift His Majesty out using a sling of some sort. A big one, that’ll cup his whole body. We can make it out of these blankets and what’s left of the harness. Understood?”


            Gravely, both men nodded.


            “All right, be about it. I’ve got to find out what happened to the queen.”


            The last he said very softly, not to alarm the king. But when he turned back, he saw that his caution had been unnecessary. Charles was no longer conscious.


            Under the circumstances, that was a blessing. Moving as fast as he could in the cramped space, Anthony used a blanket and the aid of one of the skirmishers to shift the king’s body far enough to the side to be able to see what might be lying under him. That took some time, despite the urgency of the situation, because he had to be as careful as he could not to twist the king’s back in the process.


            But, finally, it was done. Feeling like a miner digging through expensive clothing and blanketry—practically tapestries, some of them—Anthony worked his way toward the side of the carriage that now served as its floor.


            The first thing he spotted were the queen’s eyes, staring at him. He couldn’t see the rest of her face, because it was covered by some sort of heavy garment.


            “Your Majesty! Just a moment and I’ll have you out of there.” Hurriedly, he shoved more things aside to clear her shoulders.


            “Your pardon, please.” He took her shoulders and tried to lift her up. But after shifting perhaps two inches, her torso seemed to hit some sort of obstruction. A very sudden one, in fact.


            To his surprise, he realized that the queen still hadn’t said anything to him. Very unusual, for her.


            He looked down at her face and instantly understood the reason. Her eyes were still looking at him, but that was sheer chance. Those weren’t eyes, any longer. They were just pieces of a human body. Henrietta Maria, sister of King Louis XIII of France and wife of Charles I of England, would no longer be saying anything to anybody, in any language, except whatever tongue might be spoken in the afterlife.


            Below, the mouth gaped open. What had once been a torrent of blood was starting to dry on her chin and her neck and what he could see of her chest. Roughly, he shoved the rest of the material down to her waist, trying to spot the obstruction.


            Nothing, oddly. But there was certainly no question the woman was dead. Even if she could have survived that much loss of blood, the fact that there was no further blood coming was proof enough.


            He closed his own eyes, and took the time for a quick prayer for the woman’s soul. Then, moving much more quickly because he needn’t fear any longer the queen’s displeasure at having her body groped, he pried his hand under her back looking for the obstruction.


            It didn’t take him long to find it. Her torso hadn’t been kept from moving by something on top, it had been hooked from beneath. From what he could sense with his fingers, a large piece of the carriage’s frame had been smashed up just as the queen’s body came down. As ragged-edged as a barbed spear, the huge splinter had pierced her heart and jammed somewhere in her ribs, or perhaps against her spine.


            He’d seen very much the same thing happen as a young man, when he’d spent some time serving on a warship. After two naval battles, he’d decided to make his fortune as a soldier rather than a seaman. A soldier had to fear metal in many shapes and varieties, but at least simple pieces of wood weren’t likely to tear him to shreds. For a boy whose father had been a cabinetmaker and for whom wood had been a comfort, that seemed somehow grotesque.


            He heard Patrick’s voice. “We’re ready, Captain.”


            Looking up, Anthony was surprised to see that Welch and his men had already cut away most of the carriage’s side. Roof, now, the way it was lying. He must have spent more time working to find the queen than he’d realized, and he’d been so focused on the task that he hadn’t even heard the noise they’d been making.


            That meant there was also more light coming into the interior, thank God. Looking over, Anthony saw that the king was still unconscious. Thank God, again.


            “All right,” he said, standing up. A bit carefully, because although his footing wasn’t as bad as icy mud, it was still nothing much more than soft rubble. “Let’s get the sling under him and get him out of here.”


            “The queen?”


            Leebrick shook his head. “I found her, but there’s no hurry there. No hurry at all.”


            Patrick winced, understanding. “There’s going to be hell to pay, Anthony.”


            Gloomily, Leebrick nodded. Hell to pay, for sure and certain—and the devil was most likely to present the bill to the officer in charge. Given that he had neither friends in high places nor fortune of his own.




            In fact, when he emerged from the carriage after the king’s body was lifted out, Anthony saw that the devil’s book-keeper had already arrived.


            The Earl of Cork himself, no less.