1636: The Saxon Uprising — Snippet 21:

Chapter 6

Stockholm, capital of Sweden

“It’s a tub,” pronounced Kristina. The Swedish princess made the statement with a royal assurance that sat oddly on her slender eight-year-old shoulders.

Nine-year-old shoulders, she would have insisted herself, and never mind that her birthday was still a month away. Kristina tended to view facts with disdain, if they conflicted with her axioms.

Being fair, Prince Ulrik was pretty sure he’d had the same attitude toward facts when he’d been eight years old. Or nine, for that matter.

“I know the Union of Kalmar is unpleasant to travel on,” he said patiently. “But it’s the only ship that can get us across the Baltic without fear of being intercepted.”

“If it gets across the Baltic at all,” she countered. Triumphantly: “You said yourself the thing was not really suited for the open sea! I heard you! And that wasn’t more than four months ago!”

So, he had. Not for the first time, Ulrik reminded himself to be careful what he said in front of Kristina. The girl had a phenomenal memory to go with her ferocious intelligence. He could only hope that she would not prove to be a grudge-holder as she aged, or their marriage would be a tense one.

But that possible problem was still a considerable number of years in the future. Right now, he had to squelch the girl’s developing tantrum over the issue at hand.

“Risks are relative,” he said. “No, the Union of Kalmar is not the best vessel in which to venture on the open sea. It’s a shallow draft ironclad, designed for bombarding shoreside fortifications and destroying ships in sheltered waters. On the other hand, it is — by far — the best vessel to be in should we encounter a Swedish warship on our way across the Baltic. By now, Chancellor Oxenstierna may well have drawn the right conclusions from your silence, and have sent vessels to prevent our passage across the Baltic.”

“I’m mad at him, anyway!” Kristina had a furious expression on her face, most of which Ulrik thought was play-acting. “He was rude in the last two letters!”

The pretense of fury vanished, replaced by another triumphant look. “So that’s the reason I haven’t answered his letters. Well, it’s not really the reason, of course. We had already agreed that it would be smarter to say nothing. But he might think that. So he wouldn’t send ships out.”

Baldur Norddahl chuckled. “The key word is ‘might,’ girl.” The burly Norwegian sat up straighter in his chair, glanced at the salon’s window, and looked back at her. “But he might not think that, either. In which case there we are, in the middle of the Baltic, in our comfortable staterooms on a proper seagoing vessel — and fat lot of good it does us, with our plump merchantman under the guns of a Swedish warship. The captain wouldn’t even think of putting up a fight. Certainly not against a Swedish ship going about the chancellor’s business.”

“Whereas the captain of the Union of Kalmar is a Dane,” Ulrik added quickly, “and will certainly do whatever we tell him. Especially since his ship can destroy any warship in the Baltic –”

“Except one of the other ironclads!”

“Yes, that’s true. But the other two ironclads are under the command of Admiral Simpson in Luebeck. Who is an American, not a Swede.”

Kristina started to say something but Ulrik drove over her. “Yes, I know that he’s formally under the authority of Prime Minister Wettin, who is doing Oxenstierna’s bidding nowadays and might well order us intercepted as well. But whether Simpson would actually obey such a command is doubtful, in my opinion.”

“Why? You told me yourself once he was given to formalities. So why wouldn’t he do what his lawful superior ordered him to do?”

Keep — his — mouth — shut. Speak only of recipes in front of the girl.

He made that vow, knowing full well he wouldn’t be able to keep it. The problem was that Kristina was both too smart and too important to his developing plans. There was no way he could manage this situation without her cooperation, and she was quite capable of withholding that cooperation if he didn’t involve her fully in the project.

“Yes, I know I said that, Kristina. But…”

How to explain?

“Most people are complicated,” he said. “Simpson certainly is. Under most circumstances, I am sure he would be the very Platonic ideal of a politically neutral military officer obeying lawful orders. But the thing is…”

“He’s also very intelligent,” said Baldur. “And politically sophisticated. Simpson will know full well that if he’s ordered by Wettin to take into custody the lawful heir of three crowns — only one of which answers to Oxenstierna and only one of which answers to Wettin –”

“Might answer to Wettin,” interjected Ulrik. “It’s actually not at all clear if the prime minister has the right to act as regent for the crown in the event the monarch is incapacitated and his successor is not of age.” He waved his hand. “The whole area is completely gray, in legal terms.”

Thankfully, that piqued Kristina’s interest. “Really? I thought…”

Ulrik shook his head. “The prime minister of the USE isn’t equivalent to the Swedish chancellor. Perhaps more to the point, when it comes to dynastic issues the USE’s parliament is not equivalent to Oxenstierna’s council. Swedish law is fairly clear that the council has the right to appoint a regent for the crown under these circumstances. There is no such clarity in the USE’s constitution.”

Baldur chuckled. “And Stearns, bless the man’s crafty soul, insisted on a formal constitution. So the lawyers can’t just do a quick shuffle of the rules. They’ll need to get an official legal ruling by the supreme court. Which is not known for the celerity of its deliberations.”

Ulrik spoke. “That means, in effect, that the whole issue will be Simpson’s to decide, at least for two months or so. And that’s probably all the time we need.”

Kristina made a last, valiant stand. “You don’t know that!”

Ulrik nodded. “No, I don’t. But we can find out by tomorrow, with the radio.”

The princess chewed on her lower lip for a few seconds. “Okay,” she finally said. “I guess if Simpson agrees, we’ll take the stupid ironclad across the sea. And hope we don’t sink.”