1635: The Eastern Front — Snippet 61
Vaxholm Island, in the Stockholm Archipelago
“Wonderful,” muttered Charles Mademann. He stuck his head out of the tavern doorway and looked up at the early morning sky. It was solid gray everywhere you looked. Very dark gray, too. It was going to start raining soon and from the looks of it, the rain would be heavy and go on for quite a while.
And today was their last chance to carry out their mission. Realistically, at any rate. The princess and her entourage wouldn’t leave until tomorrow, but when that happened they’d be under heavy guard and the queen most likely wouldn’t make an appearance. She hadn’t come out to greet her daughter at the docks when she arrived, so why would she accompany her to the docks on her departure? It was now two and a half months since Kristina had come to Stockholm, and relations between her and her mother had reached a nadir.
So they’d been told, anyway. But the information was almost certainly reliable. The Huguenots had developed good relations with several of the palace’s servants, using French livres provided by Michel Ducos. He’d embezzled a small fortune from his former French employer, the comte d’Avaux. As a result, for the past two years all of the projects and missions of the group he led with Antoine Delerue had been well funded.
They’d not changed the livres into a different currency, of course. For the purposes of their mission, it would be all to the good for the Swedish authorities to discover some of the palace servants had been suborned with French money. That would cast still more suspicion on the target of the whole exercise, Cardinal Richelieu. No one else in the world, after all, had greater access to the coinage of the French crown.
Well, there was no help for it. They’d simply have to take their positions, as they had done so many days before, and hope that perhaps this final day things would work out.
Locquifier came to stand next to him. “We should leave now, I think.”
Mademann nodded. There was no reason to stay at the tavern on the island any longer. If nothing happened today, they’d find lodgings for the night in the city. By tomorrow, they’d either be dead or making their escape from Sweden altogether.
He looked over his shoulder. Ancelin and Brillard were sitting at the center table, watching him. They understood the logic of the situation just as well as he did.
He gave them a little nod. Immediately, the two men rose from the table and headed toward the kitchen. The tavern-keeper and his wife would either be there, or — more likely, this time of morning — still asleep in their bed upstairs. Which would be even easier.
“We should plant the forgeries,” said Locquifier, stating the obvious as he was prone to do.
“Yes. Let’s see to it.”
Baldur Norddahl closed the lid of the last trunk. Then, with a little grunt of effort, placed it on top of the stack of trunks piled next to the door that led into the palace suite that he and Prince Ulrik had shared since they arrived.
“That’s it,” he said. “We’re all packed except for the one small valise we’ll use tomorrow morning. Hallelujah, and hosanna as well. We’re finally almost gone. God willing, we’ll never see the witch again.”
Referring to the queen of Sweden as a witch was a gross form of disrespect for royalty. The French called it lÃ¨se majestÃ©, but it was a concept that went all the way back to the Roman emperors. The term itself derived from the Latin laesa maiestas.
For more than a millennium and a half, men had lost their heads for committing the offense. But Prince Ulrik couldn’t find it in his royal self to take umbrage.
Maria Eleonora was a witch, queen of Sweden or not.
In a manner of speaking, at least. Caroline Platzer came into the suite just in time to hear Baldur’s quip. She immediately took it upon herself to issue a technical correction.
“Don’t be silly. Witches don’t exist in the first place. The queen of Sweden probably has what’s called borderline personality disorder. BPD, for short.”
“Probably?” asked Ulrik.
Platzer shrugged. “I’ve been trained mostly by Maureen Grady, and Maureen thinks people throw around the diagnosis of BPD way too readily.”
“It’s the first time I’ve ever heard the term, actually.”
“Well, sure. You’re a prince, not a shrink. For you, a borderline personality is either someone you ignore completely or” — here came a gleaming smile — “a prime candidate for the chopping block. They’re not a lot of fun to be around, especially if you’re family.”
Norddahl was always fascinated by up-time concepts, even if he thought many of them were nonsense. “What exactly is it?” he asked. “This borderline personality disorder, I mean.”
Caroline grimaced. “Well, that’s the problem. It’s a pretty vague diagnosis. Maureen doesn’t like it much because she thinks it’s so sloppy it gets applied too often. But the gist of it is that someone with BPD suffers from instability of moods, unstable personal relationships — chaotic relationships, even — and what we call ‘black and white thinking.’ The technical term is ‘idealization and devaluation.’ You’re either a good daughter or a bad daughter, there’s nothing in between — and your status can flip from one to the other at the drop of a hat.”
She gave Ulrik the gleaming smile. “Or a good future son-in-law or a bad one, with nothing in between.”
Ulrik snorted. “I’ve seen that change in mid-sentence.”
“That’s how it works. People with BPD also tend to have an unstable self-image. In extreme cases, that can even lead to dissociation. That means –”
“She turns into a witch,” interjected Baldur. “Just as I said.”
Kristina came into the suite just in time to hear the last exchange. She looked quite upset. “Do you think I’ll turn into a witch too, when I grow up?”
Caroline put her arm around Kristina’s shoulders and gave the girl a little hug. “Of course not. And why are you listening to the diagnosis of a social throwback, anyway? If Baldur Norddahl had ever taken an MMPI or Rorschach test up-time, they’d have put him in a straightjacket right away.”
Baldur was intrigued. “What is MMPI and who is Rorschach?”
“MMPI stands for Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory. It was one of the most commonly use personality tests up-time by mental health professionals. The Rorschach test was developed –”
“If I took that MMPI, would I pass it?” asked the princess, still agitated.
“Ahâ€¦ Kristina, it’s not the sort of test you pass or fail.”
“That’s just silly,” the girl pronounced, as if she were royalty. Which, of course, she was. She drew herself up like a future empress. Which, of course, she was.
“You must develop a new one of these tests,” she commanded. “Where you either pass or fail.”
Caroline stared at her.
Ulrik laughed. “You’d have done better to leave it at ‘witch,'” he said.
Vaxholm Island, in the Stockholm Archipelago
Rather than hire one of the island’s local fishermen to ferry them, as they usually did, Mademann and his associates appropriated Bleecker’s boat. It was just big enough to get them all to the capital in one trip.
There was no reason not to take the boat. Geerd Bleecker was no longer in a position to complain. Neither was his shrew of a wife.
Eventually, their bodies would be found, but not soon. Most likely, they’d be uncovered in the course of an investigation launched by the local authorities, rather than because their neighbors spotted anything amiss. The tavern’s well-built root cellar would slow the decomposition quite nicely.
Everything was going according to plan — except the weather. The skies had grown darker even as the morning advanced. By mid-day it would probably be raining.
That could be a real problem, if their targets appeared.
The Huguenot zealots had managed over time to acquire a few up-time firearms on the black market. Brillard had used one of them to assassinate Dreeson, but he’d been forced to leave the rifle behind. Of the ones that remained, unfortunately, Ducos had insisted on keeping them in Edinburgh. So all they had in their possession here in Stockholm were down-time guns.
Very good ones, true. Mademann had managed to obtain a Cardinal breech-loading rifle for Mathurin Brillard, their best marksman. He’d gotten percussion cap pistols for himself and Gui Ancelin, which shouldn’t be affected too badly by the rain. But they were single-shot weapons and muzzle-loaders. Reloading them would take some time.
The others were all armed with double-barreled flintlock pistols. The weapons were better than wheel-locks, but they were also susceptible to misfiring in wet weather. It was possible to keep a flintlock’s firing pan covered from rain, so they should be able to count on firing the two shots already loaded. But if they needed more shots than that, they’d be in a very difficult position. Reloading a flintlock in the rain was impossible unless you could find shelter, and who wanted to be worried about that in the middle of a firefight?
That assumed they’d have any chance at carrying out their mission at all, of course. Or even part of it. By now, the plotters had reconciled themselves to killing any one of the appointed targets if the opportunity arose. Ducos had insisted on all three royals being assassinated but Ducos was in Edinburgh. They’d do what they could.
The boat arrived at one of the docks. Mademann and his companions tied it up. If all went well, some of them would be able to use it to make their escape from Stockholm.
Probably not, though. All of them had understood from the beginning that if their mission succeeded, it would probably be at the cost of their own lives. They’d taken care to leave no evidence that would tie them to Delerue or Ducos, and had planted on their persons some faked evidence that would point to Richelieu. That way, even their corpses could do a service for the cause.
The seven Huguenots moved into the streets of Stockholm. They were headed for Slottsbacken, the very broad avenue that connected the royal palace to the Church of St. Nicholas. If there was any chance to complete the mission, it would be there.
The first drops of rain began to fall.
By early afternoon, the dark skies had produced a downpour. As if the weather outside had magical powers over human personalities, the queen’s mood worsened in lock step with the weather.
By mid-afternoon, the rain started to ease off a little, but to make up for it the wind picked up. And, again as if by magic, the queen shifted from being morose to being openly belligerent.
Most of her belligerence was aimed at Ulrik. Maria Eleonora apparently found it useful and necessary to spend her final time with the Danish prince explaining to him in detail.
All of his faults.
All of the reasons he was quite unsuited to be the husband of her only child.
All of the faults of her husband, who had been mad enough to concoct the scheme.
None of it, of course, had any effect on Ulrik. He listened patiently, and outwardly politely, because there was no point in doing anything else. By this time on the morrow, they’d be gone anyway. But he dismissed the criticisms as surely and easily as he would have dismissed reproaches by village idiots, town drunks, and palace courtiers.
Unfortunately, Kristina did not have the Dane’s impervious hide. The princess was sensitive to criticism coming from anybody, and she had very few defenses against her mother.
So, by late in the afternoon, Sweden’s queen and princess were shrieking at each other. And it didn’t take more than five minutes of that before Kristina raced out of the audience chamber.
That gave Ulrik a reasonable pretext to go after her, and thereby get away from the queen. Which he did immediately, of course, with Baldur right on his heels.
They found Kristina half-running toward the palace’s entrance onto Slottsbacken. “I’m going to the church!” she cried.
She often did that when her mother upset her. She found the interior of the old church relaxing. She especially enjoyed looking at the wooden statue of Saint George and the Dragon that was said to have been carved by Bernt Notke. The statue was also supposed to hold relics of several saints, including Saint George himself.
“You’ll get soaked out there,” Baldur warned.
Kristina didn’t slow down at all. “So what? It’s better than my mother pissing all over us.”
She had a point. Besides, there was an alcove near the entrance where the guards took their lunch. The table in it was big enough to shelter all three of them from the rain, if it was turned upside down. Two guards could carry it easily enough.
Of course, the guards would get wet. But theirs was a dull and tedious existence. A little excitement would do them good.
Inside the audience chamber, the little mob of dwarves and buffoons who attended upon Maria Eleonora were struck dumb.
On every prior occasion — there had been plenty of them — the queen had reacted to her daughter’s angry and abrupt departures by pretending nothing had happened. But this time she was in a fury herself.
The weather, obviously. It had driven her out of her wits.
She rose from the throne and strode toward the door, holding up her skirts. “Guards! To me!” Then, she headed for the main entrance of the palace, trailed by a small military retinue.
She was not trailed by dwarves and buffoons, however. This was a new situation and they did not react well to new situations. When in doubt, it was always best to pretend nothing had happened.