1634: THE BALTIC WAR – snippet 61:



Chapter 21


London, England



            “Sorry, fellows,” said Captain Anthony Leebrick. His hands clasped behind his back, he was looking out the window in a room on the second floor of the Earl of Cork’s mansion. There was nothing much to see beyond an occasional pedestrian on Pall Mall, slipping and sliding as they made their way. Here in Westminster, it had been a slushy snowfall rather than a sleet. The precipitation had stopped for the moment, although it looked as if it might resume at any moment. Even without precipitation, it was still a very gray day, between the heavy overcast and the approaching sunset.


            “I should have known better,” he added.


            “Or supped with a longer spoon,” said Richard Towson ruefully. “Need a longer one with Richard Boyle than you do with the Devil himself, I suspect.”


            The third man in the room, Patrick Welch, turned away from one of the portraits on the far wall. “Stop flagellating yourself, Anthony. It’s not as if Richard or I made any objections. It seemed the best thing to do, under the circumstances. We all agreed on that.”


            Leebrick’s jaws tightened. “Still. The Earl of Cork. Given his reputation, I should have had more sense.”


            There were no bars on the windows, but aside from that the room they were locked into made as good a gaol as almost any in England. Given the dimensions of the mansion, it was impossible to simply jump down to the street below, from the second floor. Impossible, at any rate, without breaking at least one major bone in the process.


            And that was after you’d smashed the windows, since the earl had seen to it that the room was one that had sealed instead of latched windows. That would be easy enough, yes. A dirk pommel would suffice to smash the windows—or they could simply use any of the heavy pieces of furniture in the room. Unfortunately, these were heavy and well-built windows, with solid glass. No way to do it without alerting the two guards standing in the corridor outside. Who, unlike Anthony and his mates, had guns and swords in their possession.


            They no longer had their swords, because the earl had politely but firmly insisted that they give them up once they came into the mansion. They were technically “in custody,” he explained, even if it was just a formality—but a formality that would be completely threadbare if it was discovered the earl had allowed them to remain armed.


            That had been the first thing to arouse Anthony’s suspicion. Still, the explanation had been plausible enough, and he’d not seen any clear alternative to obeying. It hadn’t been until they heard the door locked behind them that he’d finally realized they were cat’s paws in some game of Richard Boyle’s. Disarming a officer in custody was reasonable enough; locking him into a room was not. Criminals needed bars and locks to keep them in, not gentlemen who’d given their word they’d make no attempt to escape.


            Foolishly, however, the earl had not had them searched. Either out of lingering politeness or simply because, not having any military experience, he hadn’t realized that mercenaries often carried hidden weapons. Anthony and Patrick still had their dirks. Anthony’s in his boot and Patrick’s in a sheath concealed under the back of his coat. Only Richard had carried his in plain sight.


            So, breaking the windows was a simple enough proposition. But then what? Had this been a bedroom, they could have torn up the bedding to make a substitute for a rope. But it was simply a small salon. The one tapestry hanging on a wall wasn’t nearly big enough to suit the purpose, even leaving aside that cutting the thing into strips would be an incredible chore.


            Without a rope of some sort, Anthony didn’t think there was any way for them to lower themselves safely to the street. With the windows locked, he couldn’t actually see the side of the building. But from what he’d seen on their way in, the exterior had been rather plain, with none of the ornamentation some buildings featured that might have given them handholds.


            In short, they were in a trap, and the fact that it was an impromptu one didn’t make it any the less difficult to escape. The truth was, the only way out was to fight their way out—with two armed mercenaries standing guard outside the door, and who knew how many more somewhere in the great building? There could easily be a small company of soldiers. Richard Boyle was not only one of the wealthiest men in England, he had no hesitation when it came to displaying those riches. His mansion was huge. And he certainly had enough money to pay for as many mercenaries as he needed, short of an actual army.


            “What should we do?” asked Patrick.


            “I don’t know,” replied Leebrick. He turned away from the window, tired of staring pointlessly at the street below. “I suppose we’ll simply have to wait to see what the earl has in mind for us.”


            “And if what he had in mind doesn’t suit us?” Towson’s expression was dark. “I mean, really not suit us, Anthony?”


            Leebrick considered the problem, but not for long. Ten years worth of fighting in the Germanies hadn’t left much in the way of timidity in his soul. Precious little charity or mercy, either.


            “We’ll fight our way out. Try to, at any rate.”


            Patrick nodded. “Fine with me,” said Richard. “What signal? It can’t be anything obvious.”


            Anthony paused, considering again. Welch suddenly grinned. “I have it. Just refer to me as ‘Paddy,’ why don’t you? That’ll get my blood up in an instant.”


            Leebrick and Towson chuckled. Patrick was a common first name in Ireland, used by Protestants as well as Catholics. But “Paddy” was a Catholic nickname—and Welch came from a sturdy Presbyterian family, even if he wasn’t much given to piety himself.


            “’Paddy’ it is, then,” said Leebrick.




            Not far away, Whitehall was a scene of confusion. Word had reached the royal palace of the accident, although the details were contradictory. The king was dead; the king was fine but the queen was dead; they were both dead; they were both injured; the queen, three months’ pregnant, had had a miscarriage—who knew?


            Officials and ministers raced about, trying to find the Earl of Strafford to get clear directions. As much as many of them disliked the man, Thomas Wentworth was nothing if not decisive.


            But Wentworth was nowhere to be found. Eventually, several guards were found who explained that he’d left the palace an hour earlier—because he’d been brought an early warning that the king’s carriage had suffered a bad accident on the West Road near Chiswick. The Earl of Strafford had hurried off to see to the matter himself.


            The West Road? Why in world would the king have decided to go that way?


            Fortunately, the Earl of Cork arrived soon thereafter, bringing order into the chaos. Even a measure of calm.