1634: THE BALTIC WAR – snippet 67:



            He sat down heavily. “The difference between us and Richelieu—us and the king of Spain—is that we are not looking to block the outcome. Simply to…” He smiled. “The Americans have another term for it. I swear, they produce the things with even greater profligacy than they produce gadgetry.”


            “If anyone at this table uses the word ‘okay’ I shall have them executed,” Isabella stated firmly. She waggled her finger. “I’m serious!”


            There was a burst of laughter, in which the archduchess did not participate, although she seemed to be struggling against a smile.


            “I’m serious,” she repeated, still wagging the finger. “The gloves will come off!”


            “Ah!” Rubens exclaimed. “That’s one of my favorite American expressions.”


            That brought uproarious laughter; from Isabella, also. When the humor faded, Scaglia asked: “And what is the term, Pieter?”


            “Well… it would mean a great deal more to you if you had seen one of their airplanes come down from the sky onto the ground. I watched myself, when Stearns came to Amsterdam. For the entire last part, I was holding my breath. The term is ‘soft landing.’ I thinks it’s a very good description of what we are attempting here. A soft landing for the future. Foolish to stand against that future, yes. But I see no reason we need to submissively accept every particular in it. No reason, to name just one matter, that we need French and German troops—English, too—marching back and forth across our Low Countries once every generation, it seems.”


            He smiled again. “We are not, after all, Calvinists with idiotic and heretical notions concerning predestination.”


            That brought a round of chuckles. Rubens continued. “Neither, by the way—he sees the matter from a very different viewpoint, of course—does Michael Stearns himself. From a political standpoint, I think that was the single most important thing I learned about the man from his visit. If we are willing to compromise, he will at least begin with that stance also. There will of course be many disputes.”


            De Los Rios looked skeptical. “Him, maybe. But what about that Richter creature of his?”


            Rubens stifled some irritation. For all the priest’s undoubted kindliness, he still had much in him of Spanish insularity if not Castilian arrogance. “She is not a ‘creature’ to begin with, Bartolomé—and she’s certainly no creature of his.”


            “She carries a pistol at all times, they say! What sort of woman—”


            “A woman who was gang-raped at the age of sixteen by mercenaries, saw her mother abducted, her father murdered before her eyes, and spent two years as the concubine of one of her rapists in order to keep what remained of her family alive,” Scaglia said bluntly; indeed, almost coldly. “I’ve learned her history, Father De Los Rios, which I suspect you haven’t.”


            “Oh, how ghastly.” Isabella had her hand pressed to her throat. “I had no idea.”


            Rubens was too astonished by Scaglia’s statement to speak, for a moment. He’d known Richter’s history himself, but had had no idea Scaglia did. That was…


            Very telling, he thought. He could sense a transformation—sea-change, an American term which ironically came from an Englishman already dead—happening in his attitude toward the Savoyard.


            But, for the moment, he simply cleared his throat and added: “Yes, what Alessandro says is quite true. I learned of it from her husband, as it happens. Quite a nice young fellow, by the way, in my estimate. But what’s perhaps more to the point is that he also told me she’s never used the pistol except on a practice range since she participated in fending off the Croat raid on Grantville that Wallenstein launched. That was well over a year ago.”


            He turned toward the priest. “Do not underestimate that woman, Bartolomé. Whatever else, do not. She could teach Richelieu himself the meaning of ruthlessness—but she’s no hothead. In fact”—he was able to smile again—“Don Fernando was quite taken by her, when they finally met last month.”


            “He did?” Isabella was back to her throat-clutching. “That reckless boy! What was he thinking? I hope—please tell me this much—that he did not permit her to bring that horrid pistol into his presence.”


            Rubens grinned; he couldn’t help himself. “Quite the contrary. He made that stipulation in his request that she come into his camp for a visit—and invited her husband along also, with his shotgun. A weapon, I might add, that is considerably more ferocious and one which, in his case, is almost as famous as hers. He’s quite an impressive fellow, actually, in his own much quieter way.”


            Isabella was practically gaping. “My nephew is a prince of Spain!”


            “Your Grace, he did not dispense with his own bodyguards,” Rubens said, in a more serious tone. “Please—you must stop thinking of these people as simple, unlettered rabble-rousers. To be as blunt as I can, they could also teach Europe’s kings and princes and counselors”—his eyes swept the table—“I do not exempt us, either, the meaning of organization and leadership.”


            He leaned back in his chair. “Besides, the cardinal-infante had no real choice. By that point in his negotiations with Fredrik Hendryk, everything had been settled. But he had not reached a settlement with Rebecca Abrabanel over the issue of whether the Dutch right to retain their councils and deliberative bodies would be extended in full across the entire Netherlands, in the event the nation was re-united. Not one that she was satisfied with, at least—more precisely, one that she said would satisfy Richter and her Committee of Correspondence. So, Don Fernando decided to talk to Richter himself.”


            Isabella shook her head, chuckling. “Dear me. I had no idea my rambunctious great-nephew was thinking that far ahead.”


            “I told you, Isabella. He’s a very young fox—young enough that he can’t accept the inevitable without at least one clash of arms—but he’s a genuine fox, nonetheless. Fredrik Hendryk once told me, rather ruefully, that Don Fernando reminds him in some ways of his father, William the Silent.”


            That brought a moment’s respectful silence. Given the source—any knowledgeable source, really—that was high praise indeed.


            “And what was the outcome of the meeting?” Scaglia asked.


            “Oh, Don Fernando agreed, in the end. Richter’s bargaining argument was so simple, he told me afterward, that he saw no way to refuse.”


            “And this argument was… what?”


            “She told him—very pleasantly, apparently, no shouting involved at all—that she was ultimately indifferent to the matter. Don Fernando could give her the extension of democratic representation across the Netherlands that she wanted. Or she would take it. The difference, she estimated, was not more than two years. Four, at the outside.”


            Isabella stared at him, wide-eyed, her hand back at her throat. “She bullied a Spanish prince?”


            “Oh, hardly that. No, no, Your Grace, you don’t understand. It wasn’t any implied threat that persuaded Don Fernando. It was simply that—so he told me, afterward—it was quite apparent that Richter was indifferent to the matter. Completely indifferent. He said it was like negotiating with a glacier whether it will reach the sea.”


            Isabella lowered her hand. “I must meet this woman. Can it be arranged, Pieter?” Impatiently, she waved her hand. “Fine, fine. She can bring the pistol, if she insists. Her husband, too, with his—whatever you call it.”


            Pieter was taken by surprise again. “I… don’t know. I shall enquire, when I return to Amsterdam. Which, by the way, I must do on the morrow. Is there anything further we need to discuss? I will need most of the afternoon and evening to make preparations for the journey.”


            Isabella and her advisers looked at each other. Finally, seeing that no one seemed to feel any urge to speak, she said: “It seems we are finished, for the moment. Nothing more we can do, really. Everything is ready from our side for the transition, once—if, but let us pray it is simply ‘once’—my great-nephew finally decides.”