1634: THE BALTIC WAR – snippet 58:



            But, to his astonishment, Richard Boyne was both friendly and considerate.


            “Yes, yes, Captain—Leebrick, is it?—I understand completely,” said Boyne, waving down Anthony’s attempt at an explanation. The earl jabbed a thumb at his two companions. Anthony recognized them also, although he couldn’t say he really knew either of them. Sir Paul Pindar and Endymion Porter, both prominent figures in court. In his few encounters with the men, he’d found Porter to be something of a aloof non-entity but Pindar to be a civil enough fellow. Perhaps that was because Pindar’s influence was due to the wealth he’d amassed as a major figure in the Levant Company and a moneylender to the crown, rather than pure and simple favoritism from the high and mighty.


            Porter was considerably younger than the other two men, being in his late forties where the earl and Sir Pindar were well into their sixties.


            “We happened by chance to be in the vicinity and saw the whole thing unfold,” the earl continued. “No fault of yours or your men, it was obvious. The king—”


            Boyne shook his head lugubriously. “Well, who’s to say what motivated him? Most unfortunate. Had he simply stayed in place, the whole affair would have ended with no trouble. A splendid company you have, by the way.”


            Endymion Porter was frowning at the carriage. “The queen…?”


            “She perished in the accident, I am most aggrieved to report. Must have died instantly, however, so she didn’t suffer.”


            The earl’s head-shaking speeded up. “How terrible. His Majesty will be beside himself.”


            So he would—and beside himself did not bode well for one Anthony Leebrick, captain of the royal escort.


            As much as he disliked asking for favors, Anthony saw no choice. He cleared his throat. “Begging your pardon, My Lord, but…”


            The head-shake turning into a nod faster than anything Leebrick would have imagined. “Oh, yes, certainly. You needn’t fear, Captain, I shall be glad to give the same testimony to the king himself.” He looked a bit startled. “Well…”


            “The king won’t want to hear it, Richard,” said Pindar quietly. “You know he won’t, whether it’s true or not. Not from you, not from anyone.”


            The merchant looked at Leebrick. “If you’ll take my advice, Captain, I strongly recommend that you”—he glanced at Welch—“as well as your lieutenants, make yourselves hard to find for a few days. Once he recovers consciousness and discovers his wife is dead, I’m afraid His Majesty is likely to simply lash out at the most obvious and convenient target.”


            That was exactly what Anthony figured himself. “Yes, Mr. Pindar. But if I do that, I’m just likely to bring further suspicion on myself.”


            Boyne went back to head-shaking. “Only if you do it the wrong way, Captain. Go into hiding somewhere unknown… then, yes, certainly you’d draw suspicion.”


            The head-shake came to an abrupt stop, and a big smile appeared on the earl’s face.


            “But not if you place yourself in the custody of a respected public figure, and await His Majesty’s pleasure at a well-known location. I’d recommend, in fact—”


            “Richard!” said Porter.


            The earl waved his hand impatiently. “Be done with your constant caution, Endymion. Be done, I say!  Captain Leebrick, I recommend that you simply return with me to London—you and your lieutenants; Paul’s quite right about that—and plan on spending a week or so at my residence there.”


            Anthony stared at him. The offer made him suspicious, simply because Richard Boyne, the Earl of Cork, had no reputation at all for being a man given to goodwill toward his lesser fellows. Quite the opposite, in fact.


            Apparently sensing the hesitation, the earl’s smile became something vaguely predatory. “Oh, please, Captain. Surely it’s no secret to you—is it to anyone in England, other than village idiots?—that I’m on no friendly terms with Thomas Wentworth.” His mouth pursed, as if he’d tasted a lemon. “The Earl of Strafford, as he likes to call himself now—but he’s only an earl due to the king’s favor. Which I daresay—”


            There was nothing at all vague about the predation in that smile, now. “—is about to be abruptly removed. Indeed, I shall do my very best to see that it is.”


            Put that way…


            Anthony felt his suspicions ebbing. At the same time as he felt his distaste for the Earl of Cork rising, to be sure. Given a choice, he’d far rather serve a man like Thomas Wentworth than Richard Boyne.


            But he probably didn’t have a choice, any longer. And when it came down to it, although he’d found Wentworth a good master, he was hardly what you’d call a personal friend of the man. It was likely true that the kingdom was about to be swept by another royal storm, and that Boyne would surge to the fore as Wentworth was cast out. Better to be in Boyne’s good graces, then, than stranded as he now was with no friends at all in court.


            He glanced at Patrick, who’d overheard the whole discussion. The Irishman gave him a slight nod. He’d come to the same conclusion, obviously. So would Richard, most likely, had he been present.


            “Very well, My Lord. I accept your offer, and with thanks. I’d need to bring Patrick here with me, and one other man.” He pointed up the road. “That’s Richard Towson, the lieutenant I left in charge—”


            “Oh, yes. Splendid man. He sent those Trained Band louts scampering smartly. I saw a bit of it before I raced off to see what had become of His Majesty.”


            That very moment, Anthony heard the sound of a military force approaching. A few seconds later, the first ranks of his company appeared around the bend. At the fore was Richard himself, on his horse. Still better, the carriage holding the children came right after him, with soldiers helping the driver and coachmen to steady its team. Whatever else had happened, at least the heirs to the throne were still safe.


            “I’ll need to see to my men first,” Anthony said.


            “Don’t tarry, Captain,” said Porter. “Haven’t you a good sergeant or two, who can take charge of the rest of this business and then get your company back to their quarters?” He pointed at the carriage. “We still need to extract the queen’s corpse, you know. And get the king himself back to the palace where he can get proper medical attention.”


            Before Anthony could say anything, Pindar spoke up. “Yes, Captain, that will also stir Wentworth into motion—and he’s a man who can move quite well, under most circumstances. But not these. I’m afraid the so-called Earl of Strafford is about to discover that turning most of the court into enemies is a tactic that only works so long as you have the royal favor.”


            The merchant glanced at the king. Charles was now resting in the same sling that had gotten him out of the carriage, but two poles had been added to create a litter held by four of Patrick’s skirmishers. Welch must have ordered that done. Wisely, he’d decided that on the road today, a litter would be safer carried by men than horses.


            “A royal favor which is not conscious at the moment,” Pindar continued, “and will almost certainly vanish when consciousness is regained. Time presses, Captain. If you intend to take up the Earl of Cork on his gracious offer, you’d best do it very quickly. We weren’t the only witnesses, be sure of that. It won’t be long before word of the disaster reaches Whitehall. By mid-afternoon, if you and your lieutenants aren’t in the earl’s custody, Wentworth will have you arrested. He’ll have no choice, you understand.”


            No, he wouldn’t. Somebody would have to take the blame for this. Were there any justice, the blame would be accepted by the man actually responsible, who was the man lying unconscious in the litter. But there was less chance of Charles I doing that than there was of the sun stopping in its tracks.


            For a moment, Anthony found himself desperately wishing he’d joined his friend Christopher Fey and enlisted in the new regiments that Gustavus Adolphus was forming in the Germanies. True, Kit complained bitterly in the letters he occasionally sent Leebrick about the riotous conditions in the ranks of those regiments. But Kit was a complaining man at all times—and the one complaint that had been noticeably absent in those letters were any complaints about the monarch he served. The Swede wouldn’t have panicked in the first place, at the sight of a ragged militia. And, if he had, would have taken the responsibility for whatever happened on his own shoulders.


            But, Leebrick had turned down the offer. The money Wentworth had offered was better, first of all. Even more important was that Liz was in London, not Magdeburg. Ten years ago, that wouldn’t have weighed much with Anthony. But once the age of forty was nearer than the age of thirty, he’d found the pleasures of a purely bachelor mercenary’s life were waning. Rather quickly, in fact. There was a lot to be said for the regular company of a woman he liked and trusted, even if her history wasn’t much different from those of any camp follower. It wasn’t as if Anthony Leebrick came from the sort of family that had to worry about such matters.


            “Yes, you’re right,” he said. He gave Richard Boyne a little bow. “If you’ll just give me a moment or two to speak to the sergeants.”


            “Of course, Captain. There’s not that much of a hurry, never mind what Paul says.”


            The smile hadn’t left the man’s face, although it wasn’t that of a predator any longer. Not, at least, a predator in pursuit of prey. It was simply confident. As a lion’s might be, after a meal.


            “I am the Earl of Cork, after all. Hardly likely that anyone—including Wentworth—is going to pester me when I’m about my lawful affairs, now is it?”