1635: The Eastern Front — Snippet 54

Chapter 25

Vaxholm Island, in the Stockholm Archipelago

Charles Mademann had a disgusted look on his face when he came into the tavern. “Well, that’s it,” he announced. “The word is that Princess Kristina and Prince Ulrik will be returning to Denmark ten days from now.”

Guillaume Locquifier, seated at the head of the large table in the center of the tavern’s main room, glanced warningly at the door leading to the kitchens. Geerd Bleecker’s voice could be heard talking to his wife, although the words couldn’t be made out. The two of them were the only ones living here, except for customers — and the only customers at the moment were the Huguenots sitting at the table.

Mathurin Brillard looked up from the book he was reading, a French translation of Melanchthon’s Augsburg Confession. Despite the rigor and ferocity of their political views and tactics, the group of Huguenots organized around Antoine Delerue and Michel Ducos were rather relaxed about their religious beliefs. They considered themselves members of the Reformed tradition but lacked the sectarian fervor of many Calvinist groups. Their principal concern was with the political situation in France, not theological doctrine. If one of their members found it interesting to study the views of Lutherans — Brillard even read Catholic and Jewish thinkers on occasion — no one would say anything, not even Ducos. Not when Mathurin was their foremost marksman and had demonstrated for years his loyalty and reliability in the struggle against Cardinal Richelieu and the oppression of France’s Protestants.

“This information is solid?” he asked.

Mademann shrugged. “As solid as any such information can be. There’s no doubt that the royal party is planning to leave at that time. I was told this by servants, porters and stevedores alike, and they all agreed on the date of departure. But who’s to say a princess won’t change her mind at the last minute?”

“Not likely,” grunted Robert Ouvrard. After the many weeks they’d spent watching Princess Kristina, they knew full well how much the heir to the throne disliked being near her mother. If there was any surprise, it was that she had stayed in Stockholm for this long. That was probably the result of strict orders from her father.

Brillard set down his book. “No, it’s not likely. Which means we have not much more than a week to get everything in order and hope we get an opportunity to strike.”

Mademann pulled out a chair and sat down at the table next to Guillaume. As he did so, he nodded toward the kitchen.

“It’s getting more difficult,” he said softly. The full party of Huguenots had been living at the tavern for almost two months. As the time had passed, the tavern-keeper and his wife had begun to wonder what they were really about. Twice, most of them had had to leave for a week or so on a purported business trip just to allay his suspicions — and on one of those occasions, they’d missed the best chance they’d had to complete their mission.

Brillard glanced at Ancelin. The former tailor gave a little nod.

“When the time comes,” said Brillard, “Gui and I will take care of the problem.”

Mademann didn’t doubt they would. There was very little Gui couldn’t do quietly with a blade, especially with Mathurin to help him.

He turned to Locquifier. “The forgeries are ready, yes?”

He got an irritated look in response. “Yes, of course they are. I’ve had them ready since we got here.”

Mademann started to press the matter but desisted. Guillaume would just get belligerent. He’d just have to hope the forgeries were up to date.

The problem with Locquifier was that his adulation of Ducos and Delerue was coupled to a tendency to underestimate their opponents. So, having put together and brought to Sweden the needed forgeries, he would ignore or take too lightly the need to make sure the documents reflected the most recent events. Charles had seen the forgeries. At least one of those documents contained a reference to the state of mobilization of the USE’s army — while still in their camp near Magdeburg. Weeks had passed since then, weeks during which that army had defeated the forces of John George and occupied Saxony. Would it be logical to have no references to those events in documents that purported to be regular instructions from one of Cardinal Richelieu’s top assistants?

Possibly — if none of the documents contained any such references. Perhaps Etienne Servien was a strict taskmaster who saw no need to provide information to his agents. But in that case, why were so many of those forgeries full to the brim of long-winded analyses of contemporary political events — and not just in France but in much of the rest of Europe?

That would have been Antoine Delerue’s doing. The man was a brilliant analyst, no doubt about it. But he had little experience with field work and something of a tendency to show off his talents. Charles was sure he hadn’t been able to resist filling the forgeries with his version of what he thought the cardinal’s minions would think.

It was very frustrating, sometimes. The up-timers had a motto that Mademann wished his own people would maintain: Keep it simple, stupid. Instead, the forgeries were complex and intricate, which was all well and good if their internal logic was maintained. But doing so would require creating new forgeries — here in a backwater tavern on a Swedish island, with few of the resources they’d had in their possession in Edinburgh.

Charles was pretty sure Locquifier had simply never bothered to up-date the forgeries. He probably figured the risk of botching the work was worse than the risk of having their inconsistencies spotted after the fact.

And… he might well be right. The quality of the local constabulary no doubt left much to be desired, these days. Gustav Adolf’s overweening continental ambitions had stripped Sweden — not a populous nation to begin with — of a tremendous number of its more capable people. In all likelihood, the forgeries would be examined by men who would understand far too little of the political and military subtleties involved to see that the forgeries were inconsistent.

That assumed that they succeeded in their task at all, of course. After weeks of being stymied, Mademann was no longer confident of that. Eleven days from now, they might be on their way back to the continent with the forgeries in their luggage, having accomplished nothing. All they’d leave behind for the constabulary to investigate would be a double homicide with no apparent motive.

Robbery perhaps. Mademann considered that, for a moment. If they also plundered the tavern, suspicion might fall on the local fishermen.

But… No. Keep it simple, stupid. They themselves would inevitably be the principal suspects, since they’d stayed here long enough that many people had seen them. In the unlikely event their escape vessel was intercepted, it would be best if there were no evidence on board.

Which, now that he thought about it, meant that they’d have to jettison all the forgeries too, in a weighted sack of some kind.

He’d have to see to that himself. If he raised it with Locquifier, the man would have a fit. We cannot fail Michel and Antoine!

Guillaume could be tiresome.