1636: Commander Cantrell in the West Indies – Snippet 02 

“And the difference is –?”

“The difference is huge. Her Mom — her dad’s second wife — was nobility, but not high enough for anyone to consider her kids potential inheritors of the throne. It’s called a morganatic marriage.”

“Thank you, I still read trashy historical romances, so I’m familiar with the term.”

“Oh. Sorry. But princess or not, she’s one of the brightest apples of her father’s eye. He loves all his kids — he’s a really good guy, that way — but he’s especially fond of Anne Cathrine and her younger sister, Leonora.”

“Another blonde, buxom beauty, I’m assuming?”

Eddie decided not to point out that Anne Cathrine’s hair was decidedly red-blonde. “Uh, no, not at all. Leonora is a brunette. And…well, she’ll probably be a pretty attractive woman. But she’s already sharp as a tack. Not pushy, but has a real sense of her self, of what’s right. And doesn’t like having her Dad determine her future.”

One of Jessica’s eyebrows elevated slightly. “She sounds like a handful for King Daddy. Good for her. And good for the Princess Anne Cathrine that she chose you.”

Eddie shrugged. No reason to add the somewhat embarrassing footnote that Anne Cathrine and he had been surreptitiously ‘pushed together’ by King Daddy, who despite some of his lunatic schemes, understood full well just how advantageous it was to have his daughter married to one of the up-time wizards who had been instrumental in shattering his naval attack on Wismar last year. Happily, Anne Cathrine’s heart had already been moving precipitously in Eddie’s direction, so King Daddy’s stratagems had been, practically speaking, more of an emphatic imprimatur than an imperial order.

Jessica leaned back, arms crossed. “So if she wanted to stay in Grantville for a few weeks or months, instead of three days last fall, why shouldn’t you and she have done so?”

“Because of how it would have looked, Jessica. I was the king’s hostage after Lübeck, and his convalescent patient.” He gestured down toward his leg. “But instead of ending up as a diplomatic football, I became part of the whole war’s diplomatic solution.”

“How’s that?”

“Well, you know the old story: how ‘young lovers’ from two sides of a conflict become the basis of peace between enemies. Funny how a little intangible ‘feel good’ stuff like that can go a long way to easing tensions, making things a little smoother at the truce, and then the treaty tables. Which rolled right on into the deals that led to Denmark’s entry into a restored Union of Kalmar with Sweden.”

“Okay, but all that was finished even before you got married. So why not come back sooner?”

“Well, that whole ‘young love’ angle could also have lost a lot of its fairy-tale glow unless we got married pretty quickly, since, er . . . since — “

“Since there was no way of knowing how long it would be before the young wife might become a young mother. And how it might embarrass King Daddy if there were fewer than eight months between bridal bed and birthing bed.”

“Uh…yeah. Pretty much.” Eddie hated that he still — still — blushed so easily. “And once I was officially part of the family, I needed to get introduced all around Denmark. And any noble that did not get to host us for a short stay or a party or some other damned meet-and-greet event was sure to get their nose out of joint. And of course, the order in which we went to all these dinners and dances was how King Christian demonstrated this year’s pecking order amongst his aristocracy.”

“And he got to show off his own prize-stud, up-timer wizard, bought fair and square at the territorial negotiation table last summer.”

“Yup.” Although, truth be told, Eddie had found the whole circus of his semi-celebrity more than a bit of an ego-boost. Who would have ever guessed that his marginal nerdiness would one day make him a star? Back up-time, in the twentieth century, his identity as gamer, military-history nut, and educated layman on all the related technologies had made him one of the boys that the hot-looking high school girls had looked straight through — unless they needed help with their homework. But here in the seventeenth century, those same qualities, along with his service and wounding in the recent Baltic War, had made him the veritable crown prince of geek chic.

Of course, the down-timers didn’t see the geekiness at all. To them, he was simply a young Renaissance Man, a creature all at once unique, and brave, and furnished with powerful reservoirs of knowledge that were surprisingly deep and unthinkably wide. And Anne Cathrine was his first and most ardently smitten admirer. Which suited him just fine since, reciprocally, he was her biggest fan, as well.

“And so as soon as King Christian was done with you, your prior master, Admiral Simpson, snatched you back to Lübeck?”

“Well, Admiral Simpson never stopped being my C.O., even when I was a prisoner of war. Afterward, too. So when you get right down to it, all the gallivanting I did in Denmark was really an ‘extended leave to complete diplomatic initiatives’.” Eddie swayed into motion, put his right hand out, used the cane in his left to steady himself. “Jessica, thanks so much. The prosthesis — the leg — feels so natural, I know it’s going to make a huge difference in my life.”

Jessica smiled. “Well, that was the objective. And you’ve got a lot going on in that life. Seems, in some ways, that the Ring of Fire has been a good change for you.” She glanced down; her smile dimmed. “I mean, I’m not saying that it was worth losing a leg over, but — “

“I know what you mean, Jessica. Without the Ring of Fire, I’d probably have been working a nowhere job now, trying to figure out a way to pay for college as the weeks and months mounted up, and I had less and less in the bank to show for them. Sure, I’d have both legs — “

“But you wouldn’t be so alive, wouldn’t have so much to look forward to?” Jessica’s eyes were still not as receptive as they had been before, but they were engaged again, trying to understand.

“Yeah, I think that’s it. Up-time, I just might be surviving day after dull day in my parents’ basement, but here, I’m living life. For real. And so is she.”

Jessica frowned, not understanding. “‘She’? Who? The princess?”

Eddie nodded, released Jessica’s hand, started moving — surprisingly swiftly and surely — for the door. “Yup.”

Jessica held him with her wondering voice. “How did the Ring of Fire make her — well, more alive?”

Eddie turned. “It didn’t make her more alive, Jessica. It kept her alive. In the old history, Anne Cathrine died on August 20, 1633. But for some reason, when we arrived here in 1631, our actions sent out waves of change that radiated into her life, as well. Who knows? Maybe a ship carrying plague didn’t make it to Copenhagen, or she missed a dance where she was exposed to typhus, or any one of another million possible rendezvous with death that she was prevented from making. All I know is that she’s here now, and very alive. But back up-time, where she was part of what we called ‘history,’ she was dead ten days after her fifteenth birthday.”

Jessica’s mouth was slightly open. She seemed to be searching for something to say. And was failing.

Eddie nodded. “Thanks again, Jessica,” he said. “Say hello to your folks for me.” He swung around the door jamb, tugging the door closed behind him.