1636: Commander Cantrell in the West Indies – Snippet 24

Eddie shrugged. “Sir, your gamble to wait and get us more goodies may not have panned out, but that’s in the nature of gambling, wouldn’t you agree? If you had been right, we’d be leaving here with more combat power, and a mission which would have represented a much more complete test of the ships and systems you’re planning to shift into standard production. And if the rotary drill had been ready, the cash back on the venture — and the need to rapidly expand our maritime capacity to capitalize on it — would have given you all the clout you needed for what you want. All the clout and more, I should say.”

Simpson looked at Eddie squarely. The younger man wondered if that calm gaze was what the admiral’s version of gratitude looked like. “You have a generous and forgiving spirit, Commander. I’m not sure I’d be so magnanimous, in your place. After all, it’s not just you who now has less combat power, less time before the heavy weather sets in, and more official requirements added on while your departure was delayed. Your wife is now subject to the same vulnerabilities, too.”

Eddie nodded. “And don’t I know it, sir.”

Simpson actually released a small smile. “You sound less than overjoyed to have your wife along for the ride, Commander. Not SOP for a newlywed.”

“Sir, with all due respect, none of this is SOP for a newlywed. Am I glad that I won’t spend a whole half year away from my beautiful wife? You bet. Does it make me crazy anxious that she, and her quasi-entourage, are heading into danger along with me? You bet. The latter kind of diminishes the, uh . . . hormonal happiness caused by the former.”

Simpson chuckled. “You are developing a true gift for words, Commander. If I could spare you from the field, I’d make you our chief diplomatic liaison.”

“Sir! It’s unbecoming a senior officer to threaten his subordinates. I’ll take cannon fire over cocktail parties any day!”

Simpson glanced down toward Eddie’s false foot. “And this from a man who should know better.”

“Sir! I do know better. I’ve experienced both, and I’ll take the cannons.”

“Why?”

“Permission to speak freely?”

“Granted.”

“Because, sir, battles are short and all business, and cocktail parties are long and all bullshit.”

Simpson seemed as surprised by his answering guffaw as Eddie was. “I take it, Commander, that you are not enamored of the, er, ‘social consequences’ of being accompanied by your wife?”

“Sir, I would be more enamored of taking a bath with a barracuda. Even though Anne Cathrine isn’t a genuine princess, Daddy is sure acting like she is. I now have my very own traveling rump court. Well, it’s not my court. I’m just a part of it. An increasingly lowly part of it.”

Simpson frowned. “Yes, and from what I understand, Christian IV has saddled you with another senior naval officer, which bumps you yet another place down the chain of command.”

“Oh, that’s not even the worst part.” Eddie tried to succumb to the urge to whine, which was attempting to scale the none-too-high walls of his Manly Reserve.

“Oh?” Simpson now seemed more amused that sympathetic.

“Admiral, you haven’t heard the latest roster of my fellow-travelers. Essentially, Anne Cathrine, not being a genuine princess, doesn’t warrant genuine ladies in waiting. So we get a collection of other problematic persons from, or associated with, the Danish court, plus naval wives who have been given land grants in the New World.”

One of Simpson’s eyebrows elevated slightly. “But Christian IV doesn’t have any New World land to grant.”

“Not yet.”

Simpson frowned. “I see. So I’m guessing that, along with the not-quite royal contingent, we have a just barely official entourage of courtesans, councilors, and huscarles? Some of whom enjoy special appointments by, and are probably assigned to carry out undisclosed missions for, His Royal Danish Majesty?”

“Yep, pretty much, sir.”

Simpson nodded. “Yes, leave it to him to sneak in something like this in exchange for the ships he’s committing to the expedition. Given the condition in which we received those hulls, I’m not so sure he isn’t getting the better end of the deal.” Simpson fixed Eddie with a suddenly intent stare. “Has he either intimated or overtly instructed you to take any orders directly from him?”

“No, sir. Why?”

Simpson rubbed his chin. “Well, because technically he could try to work that angle.”

“I’m not sure I follow, sir.”

Simpson steepled his fingers. “In recognition of your marriage and service, Gustav made you Imperial Count of Wismar. That made you imperial nobility of the USE. Technically. And that made it easy — well, easier — for Christian to get the nobles of his Riksradet to accept your creation as a Danish noble, too.”

Eddie blinked. “Sir, I’m not a Danish noble. Not really.”

“No? If I’m not mistaken, one of Christian’s wedding gifts to you was land, wasn’t it?”

“Yes, sir. Some miserable little island in the Faroes. I think it has a whopping population of ten. That includes the goats.”

Simpson did not smile. “And since your received the land as part of a royal patent, you were made a herremand, weren’t you?”

“Uh — yes, sir. Something like that. I didn’t pay too much attention.”

“Well, you should have, Commander. You became Danish nobility when you accepted that land. And therefore, a direct vassal of King Christian IV. Who, unless I’m much mistaken, has bigger things in mind for you. In the meantime, we’d better inform the task force’s captains that, in place of all that pipe they were going to be hauling, they’re going to be billeting more troops. A lot more troops.”

Eddie was relieved. The mission was no longer purely reconnaissance, although that was not common knowledge. Not even among all the members of the ER Department. “How many more sir, and where from?”

“Just under four hundred, Commander. And all from the Lowlands.”

“So they’re Dutch.”

Simpson shook his head. “No. They’re from the Brabant.”

Eddie stared. “From the Spanish Lowlands?”

Simpson simply nodded.

“Sir — we’re taking Spanish soldiers to fight for us in the Spanish-held New World?”

“Commander, here’s what I know currently. The troops are being provided by the Archduchess Infanta Isabella. As I understand it, these troops will have sworn loyalty to her nephew Fernando the King in the Low Countries, but not her older nephew, Philip the king of Spain.”

“But Fernando is Philip’s younger brother, his vassal — “

“Precisely. And that’s why we’re going to stop our speculations right there, Commander. The story behind Fernando sending troops with us to assist Dutch colonial interests in the New World is one that is well above your pay grade at this early point in the process. I know that because it’s above my pay grade. I am not yet on the political ‘need to know’ list. And I suspect the mystery will remain right up until the Infanta’s troops are being berthed aboard your flotilla. Which probably won’t happen until the very last possible day.”

Eddie shook his head. “Every day, this ‘little reconnaissance mission’ not only gets bigger and more complicated, it gets increasingly surreal.” Eddie glanced at the map of the Caribbean that Simpson had produced from his own folders. “Hell, we can’t even be sure that there are any remaining Dutch colonies for us to help. And vice versa.”

Simpson spread his hands on his desk. “Well, we know that once the Dutch West India Company got their hands on the histories in Grantville, they got a two-year head start on their colonization of St. Eustatia in the Leeward Islands. By their own report, they redirected some of their best administrators there last year. Notably, Jan van Walbeeck, whom history tells us was very effective in improving the situation down in Recife.”

Eddie shrugged. “And who returned to the Provinces from there just a week before Admiral Tromp arrived in Recife with the remains of the fleet that was shattered at the Battle of Dunkirk. Pity Tromp and Walbeeck couldn’t have overlapped even a few days in Recife. If they had, we’d know a lot more about how the situation in the New World may be changing.”

“Quite true. But at least we know that Tromp arrived in Recife, and was making plans to relocate, since the colonies in that part of South America were untenable after the destruction of the Dutch fleet at Dunkirk.”

“Yes, sir, but relocate to where? The two or three friendly ships that have come from the New World since the middle of last year can’t tell us. Even the jacht that Tromp himself sent last March only confirmed that he expected to commence relocating in April, but not where.”

Simpson scoffed. “And can you blame him for not being specific? Imagine if the Spanish had stumbled across that ship, seized it, interrogated the captain. Then they’d know where to find him. From an operational perspective, every day that Tromp can work without Spanish detection is a found treasure. He will have to ferry a sizable population — well, ‘contingent’ — from Recife to whatever new site he’s selected, house those people, find a reliable source of indigenous supplies, establish a patrol perimeter, fortifications. All without any help from back home. He has his work cut out for him, Commander.”

“Agreed, sir. But the flip side is that while we’re coming with the help he almost surely needs, we don’t know where to deliver it to him.”

“No, but we know the best places to look. Right now, there are three noteworthy Dutch colonies in the Caribbean and the northern littoral of South America. We know they’ve sent people and supplies to St. Eustatia. We know there’s a small settlement on Tobago, just northeast of Trinidad. And we know that they sent an expedition under Marten Thijssen last year to take Curaçao.”

“And that assumes Thijssen’s mission was a success.”