1635: THE DREESON INCIDENT – snippet 27:



Frankfurt am Main


            “Michel has gone mad,” Mathurin Brillard said, almost snarling the words. “Stark, raving mad. Assassinate Stearns?”

            Guillaume Locquifier glared at him. But not even Locquifier, with his near-adulation of Ducos, was prepared to argue the matter straight out. Instead, all he said was: “We will have to give Michel’s orders some thought. Hard thought.”

            Those thoughts came to a consensus without much difficulty. It didn’t take long, either. Two bottles of wine, at most.

            Nobody said out loud that Michel Ducos really must have already heard about the group of Yeoman Warders whom the now-fabled Captain Lefferts had brought with him out of England—and who now served the USE’s Prime Minister as a bodyguard. Or that, if not, he really should have. Ducos should have realized that Stearns would be almost impossible to assassinate, at least with the resources at their disposal.

            True, the Pope’s guards had been as ferocious—but there, they’d had the advantage of surprise. Nobody had really expected anyone to make a serious assassination attempt on the Pope. Whereas no one in Europe, down to village idiots, had any difficulty imagining the multitude of enemies who might wish to assassinate Michael Stearns.

            No, it was simply out of the question to assassinate the USE’s prime minister and his wife. Or his wife, for that matter. The protection of the Yeomen Warders extended to her also.

            Robert Ouvrard shook his head. “Security is too tight around Gustavus Adolphus and Princess Kristina, too. The Swedes and Finns who guard them really mean business. If it comes to dying for them, those men will do so.”

            Locquifier chewed his upper lip. “Who does that leave, then? Wettin?”

            Ouvrard shook his head. “Wettin doesn’t have Yeoman Warders, but he does have bodyguards who take their jobs really seriously. Almost the only place we could reach him would be when he attends church. I am afraid that we all still have unfortunate memories of the last time Michel tried an assassination in a church.”

            “And what would be the point, even if we could kill him?” asked Brillard. “There is at least a logic to Michel’s proposal to assassinate Wettin along with the USE’s emperor and prime minister. But without them, simply killing Wettin will accomplish nothing. Let us not forget that the purpose of all this is to prevent the signing of a peace treaty—on any terms—between France and the USE. How does killing Wettin by himself advance that goal by so much as one step?”

            Carefully, he did not refer openly to the significance of what was actually the single most important word in his statement. The term proposal, as applied to Ducos’ instructions.

            Not to his surprise, no one in the room chose to challenge the term. Not one of them, not even Locquifier, was as enthusiastic about martyrdom for the cause as Michel and Antoine were. Michel in practice; Antoine in theory.

            “Do we inform Michel that we can’t do it, then?” Ouvrard asked.

            Locquifier shook his head. “Ah, no. Not a good idea.”

            They looked at one another. It was always a possibility that some member of the group held secret instructions to exert a very final sort of discipline against any others who appeared to be wavering.

            It was even possible, theoretically, that the one of them who held such instructions might also act as a provocateur, expressing dissenting opinions to see if anyone else was prepared to agree with them. Even Jesus Christ had his Judas.

            Locquifier leaned back. “Instead, let suggest some softer targets. Chose someone for whom the security level is not so high.”

            Ouvrard nodded. “Ableidinger? That would certainly sow confusion in Franconia. And he’s a Lutheran, so it would be plausible to blame it on Richelieu.”

            Locquifier was still chewing his lip. “No ‘lackeys,’ remember? Michel is adamant about that. The Richter woman? The one they call Gretchen?”

            Ouvrard shook his head. “She’s hardly a ‘softer target.’ She has Committee of Correspondence security coming out of her big tits.”

            “The up-time admiral and his wife?”

            “Possibly,” Brillard said, “if we could get close to them while they are in the Netherlands. In Magdeburg, Achterhof and his men have them, also, under a very tight watch.”

            Locquifier frowned. “But Michel’s instructions say that the assassinations must occur in Magdeburg. Just as the death of the pope had to occur in Rome. A country villa somewhere, when Urban VIII was on vacation, would not have done at all. Because of the symbolism. Antoine also emphasizes that it must be Magdeburg. Because it is the new imperial capital. All on the same day. To demonstrate how weak these ‘leaders’ really are.”

            “And does Antoine suggest how we should persuade these several people to gather together for us in a convenient group?” Brillard’s tone was sarcastic. “Just as one would scarcely expect Stearns’ Jewish wife to attend church with William Wettin, I truly do not expect to see all of our possible ‘soft targets’ in one place at one time, either. Not to mention another small problem.”

            Locquifier raised his eyebrows.

            “Of all of us whom he left behind in Frankfurt,” said Mathurin, “I am the only one with enough skill with a rifle to carry out an actual assassination. From any distance, at least. I suppose that either of you, or Gui or Fortunat once they are back with us, might have the same luck with a knife as the man who killed Henri IV. I don’t see how we could get that close. Certainly not to the whole group at a public event, which is the only time they are all likely to appear together. Not that I have any qualms about the action itself. I served as a sniper long enough. As a practical matter, having only one competent shot places limits on the grandiosity of our ambitions. Something which Michel and Antoine seem to have forgotten about.”


            “That’s what I managed to overhear,” Isaac de Ron finished. He glanced out the window. “I had best be going, my lord. I have been here, supposedly in your cellars talking to the butler, for much longer than I would need to stay for even the most complex delivery of fine wines. Someone might notice.”

            “I suppose you would not want me to ruin your reputation by having the butler complain in public that you delivered inferior goods and he was rebuking you?”

            Benjamin de Rohan, duke of Soubise, was trying to be jocular, but de Ron jerked his head up. “Never!”

            “Very well then. I will let my brother know of your fears that Ducos is planning additional assassinations.” Soubise stood up.

            De Ron withdrew. He recognized permission to depart when he saw it.