1634: THE BALTIC WAR – snippet 66:



            “You’re sure, Pieter?” asked Alessandro Scaglia.


            Rubens swiveled his head and examined the man, for a moment. Privately, Pieter still had doubts about the former Savoyard diplomat. He thought Isabella had been incautious to draw him into her very closest circle. The problem wasn’t that he disliked Scaglia—he’d quite enjoyed his company, actually, the few times he’d spent with the man—it was simply that the Savoyard’s history was almost too cosmopolitan. Could a man who had served so many courts really be depended upon, in the end, to serve only one? Most of all, why had he left Savoy’s service in the first place? Rubens had never gotten a very satisfactory explanation of that.


            But, mentally, he shrugged. It was done now, for better or worse. Scaglia already knew enough, if he changed his allegiance, to have all of them executed for treason except the archduchess herself. Because of her royal blood, she’d more likely be walled up in her beloved convent of the Discalced Carmelites attached to the palace—with Spanish guards at the door of her cell, instead of nuns.


            Besides, there was something downright preposterous about Pieter Paul Rubens faulting another man for an excess of cosmopolitanism. That stray thought almost made him laugh out loud.


            “Yes, I’m sure, Alessandro. Partly from my own observations—alas, I’ve become far better educated on military affairs than I really ever wanted to be—and partly from various remarks made to me by the cardinal-infante himself. Most important of all, however—my opinion, at least—is that I’ve watched carefully which officers Don Fernando has made his closest subordinates, as the siege went on.”


            Scaglia lifted an eyebrow. “Ha. I wouldn’t have thought to look there. But I don’t really know any of them all that well to begin with.”


            “I do, by now,” said Rubens. “Here is where it stands.”


            He lifted his forearms from the table and began counting on his fingers.


            “His closest military confidant—no question about this—is Miguel de Manrique.”


            “Ah,” said Scaglia. “That is… significant. I agree.”


            Bartolomé de los Rios y Alarcon looked from one to the other. “I’m a priest, not really a diplomat and certainly not a soldier of any kind. Please explain.”


            “Manrique commanded the Spanish army that surrendered to the Americans at the Wartburg,” said Scaglia. He held up his hand, with thumb and forefinger almost touching. “He came this close to being executed for it, after his return to Spain. It was the worst disaster for Spanish arms in a century, at least.”


            “It was Don Fernando who got him out of the clutches of the Inquisition and brought him to the Low Countries,” Rubens elaborated.


            “The point to all this,” Scaglia continued, “being that if there is any captain of Spain least likely to underestimate the enemy, it is Manrique—and from what Pieter tells us, he is closer to the cardinal-infante’s ear than any other of his officers.”


            “I see. And the others?”


            Rubens went back to his finger-counting. “Not one is a Spaniard, to begin with. Two Italian officers—in the Spinola mold, if you understand what I mean—and the Irishman, Owen Roe O’Neill.”


            Isabella frowned. “I know the two Italian officers you’re referring to—and, yes, I agree. They think of themselves more as professional soldiers of a Netherlands army than agents of the King of Spain. But while I’ve met O’Neill—twice, briefly—I don’t understand why you think he’s important.”


            Rubens lowered his hands and smiled. “I think in some ways he may be the most important of all, at least in the long run. Whatever else, he’ll not want to see Don Fernando embroiled in wars on the continent. O’Neill has a cause of his own, you see. He’s what you’d find called an ‘Irish nationalist’ in the up-time books.”


            The priest frowned. “Since when is Ireland a ‘nation’? It’s just an island, full of half-savages who quarrel even worse than Italians. Even worse than Catalans, if that’s possible.”


            That brought another little round of laughter.


            “True, true—today. But O’Neill already detested England—and any English ally—even before he got his hands on copies of Grantville’s books.”


            Isabella gave the arms of her chair an exasperated little slap. “Does anyone in the world not wind up reading those things? It’s absurd!”


            Rubens tilted his head and gave her a sly smile. “Well, you did, after all.”


            She half-scowled at him. “I’m rich. Those books—copies, not even the originals—emptied half my treasury. Well. A tenth, at least.”


            Scaglia chuckled. “Your Grace, you either got cheated or you insisted on very fine copies.” He, also, tilted his head. “Or perhaps it was simply that you got the very first editions.”


            She sniffed. “Well, of course I got the very first copies. The ink was barely dry on them. I’m the daughter of Philip II of the Spanish empire, an Austrian archduchess, and the sovereign of the Netherlands in my own right. I should wait?”


            Now, both Rubens and Scaglia chuckled. “Your Grace, I hate to tell you this,” Pieter said, “but the production of replicas of up-time books has become a staple of the printers’ trade everywhere in Europe. They’re not quite out-selling the Bible yet, in most places, but I was told—just last month—by the biggest printer in Brussels, that he expects they will within a year. And I know from speaking to printers in Amsterdam that they did so there within a month after the siege began. Even in Counter-Remonstrant households, it seems.”


            Isabella rolled her eyes. “Marvelous. Pedro the shepherd and Hans the sausage-maker will be trying to direct their little farms and shops based on their attempts to read their fortunes. I predict disaster.”


            “You don’t have to predict it,” Rubens said solemnly. “It’s already happened, right in front of our eyes—and on the scale of kings and princes, not shepherds and sausage-makers. What else was Richelieu’s Ostend scheme but an attempt to read the future and force a different outcome? And”—he held up his hand, forestalling a comment from De Los Rios—“let us not wax too indignant on the subject. For we, too, are attempting the same, are we not?”


            He rose out of his chair, leaned over, and planted his forefinger on the papers in the middle of the table. “What else is all this, after all? But an attempt on our part to circumvent—‘short-circuit,’ the Americans would call it, and don’t ask me to explain the precise details of what that means because I asked Anne Jefferson and she couldn’t tell me—three and half centuries of blood-letting and misery, most of which served no purpose whatsoever. Not even, in the end, the purposes of the blood-letters.”


            There was no trace, any longer, of the genial humor which usually tinged Rubens voice when he spoke. For once, the artist and diplomat was speaking in dead earnest.


            “Richelieu is a madman if he thinks he can circumvent the single most obvious and over-riding reality of that future world. And that is this.” He half-turned and half-bowed to Isabella. “Meaning no personal offense, Your Grace, for you are indeed—I make no jest here—beloved by most of your people. Today, all nations are ruled by kings and princes. Beginning less than two centuries from now, all that will be swept aside and the common folk will come into their own. For good or ill, they will. You—we—anyone—has as much chance of preventing that as the legendary King Canute had of ordering back the tides. Be sure of it.”