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1636 The Atlantic Encounter: Chapter Nine

       Last updated: Tuesday, June 16, 2020 11:31 EDT

 


 

    They got the Cook’s tour.

    In the two and a half years the Danes had been in Newfoundland, they’d done a great deal, establishing a thriving colony that could keep itself fed while exploiting the mineral resources of the island. The Abrabanel brothers had prepared Roe and his men very well, providing them with up-time maps of mineral resources — iron, nickel, copper, even a few veins of gold in the north at Baie Verte.

    It was just the sort of industrial development that would make Christian of Denmark happy — and once it was possible to ship some of the refined material home, it would make Denmark and the Union of Kalmar very happy indeed.

    “But it’s still vulnerable,” Gordon told Roe. “The French will get up here sooner or later, and miners with shovels won’t do much against infantry.”

    “The French can’t be everywhere at once.”

    “No,” Gordon answered. “They can’t. That’s partly why they’re not here.”

    “So what does the USE want from us?”

    “I don’t speak for the USE. To be honest, I don’t even speak for the State of Thuringia-Franconia, the sponsor of our trade mission. But I do believe that the most desirable outcome is whatever will inconvenience le Cardinal the most: unify his enemies against him. Scattered through North America there are plenty of settlements, and groups, that aren’t at all interested in serving the king of France. They’re even less interested in being told to get off his land, since some of them have no place else to go.

    “Richelieu has a very simple plan: divide and conquer. If he can keep the various settlements and colonies apart, he can attack them in detail without sparing too many resources from Europe.”

    “You want us all to work together.”

    You think? Gordon thought. “I believe that we both believe that to be for the best, sir.”

    “And you will make that happen?”

    “Yes.”

    “Aye, and good luck with that,” Roe said. “The Puritans in Massachusetts Bay have made common cause with the Plymouth settlers, but they don’t really like them. And they’re constantly banishing members of their sect who don’t speak, or dress, or think the right way. If they see any threat at all from the French, I think they’ll expect God’s holy fire to come down and smite all the Papists for miles around. I would not expect much cooperation from them.”

    “At the moment,” Gordon said carefully, “I’m only asking for cooperation from you.”

    “I don’t think just writing them a letter is going to do much good, but I don’t know what else I can do.”

    “Perhaps aâ¦personal envoy?”

    “You mean like an ambassador? There aren’t too many people who I both trust personally and would have confidence⦔

    Roe’s expression was one of concern, but then it brightened.

    “I know just the man.”

    “Oh?”

    “I’ll send Thomas James. He helped organize this colony, and would beâ¦diplomatic enough to deal with the damn Puritans.”

    Gordon paused and looked carefully at Roe. The man was an old salt of sorts — clearly somewhat refined, but still a little rough around the edges. He spoke plainly and forcefully, and from what Gordon had been able to see, was listened to by everyone.

    There was something more to his choice than merely finding the right man for the job.

    “Please tell me more about this Captain James.”

    “He’s my second here at Thomasville,” Roe said. “Heâ¦we both served His Majesty King Charles in the past, exploring in Hudson’s Bay, looking for the Northwest Passage.”

    “Which doesn’t exist.”

    “Well, aye, of course it doesn’t, but this was five or six years ago before you up-timers came and gave us all a hint of our future. Let us speak the truth, Minheer Chehab,” he said. “The world has been changed in ways that have nothing directly to do with the Ring of Fire — by what I have been told, in your time line I shall have been dead more than a year by the year of grace 1636, as should our friend in New France, Captain Champlain. And yet here I am, and there he is.

    “When I was sailing in the northern latitudes years ago, and when James undertook his ‘strange and perilous voyage'” — and here his voice took on something of a sneer — “we thought well that there was a way to get to the South Sea by sailing through there. All we found was ice and rocks and the evidence of those who had been there before us. But it wasn’t until you up-timers came and told us that we were convinced that the passage wasn’t to be found.”

    “You said that Thomas James is your ‘second.’ Iâ¦have the feeling that you don’t think too highly of him.”

    “He’s able enough as an administrator,” Roe said. “He’s been able to keep the ore miners and the sheep herders and the cod fishermen at peace with each other.

    “But he has the habit of putting on airs. An educated man, a man of singular refinements is our Captain James. While I endured privations in the north, those years ago, I could not get just compensation for my expense — while he returned to a hero’s welcome, writing of the perils and dangers that he met at every turn. Yet how many of those dangers were due to his own failings and mistakes? Yet since he was so fair-spoken, his hearing at court was gentle and welcoming.

    “I’ve read of my own death in this other world you come from. It was in penury, sir, while James went on to die comfortably at his own home, his legacy and fame secure.”

    “That was a world where you had not brought about all of this,” Gordon said, sweeping his hand to take in the view from the hill above the town — the smelters, the pastures, the busy docks and the sea beyond. “This is a different world, sir. And a different Sir Thomas Roe.”

    “His Majesty’s choice to give English claims over to the French, to keep his crown and I suppose his head, has made bedfellows of Thomas James and myself.” He shrugged. “It seems clear that each of us has brought his own skills to this venture.

    “He might view a diplomatic mission as a sort of challenge, a matter that would take up his abilities and his ‘refinements’ in the service of our colony and our new royal patron.”

    And, Gordon thought, maybe get him out of your hair. “I’d welcome the chance to meet Captain James,” he said.

     


 

    Roe’s description was an accurate one. James was very much a “strange bedfellow,” and was eager for the chance to travel.

    “I have heard much of your up-time city,” James told Gordon as they sat in the RÃ¥dhus watching the afternoon shadows lengthen. “It is a place of wonders, I have been told, with carriages that move of themselves, and machines that speak at a distance.”

    Gordon nodded; in the four and a half years since the Ring of Fire, he had become accustomed to the wide-eyed amazement of down-timers to the wonderful world of Grantville — the place that he had escaped from up-time, and that Pete had called less than nothing months ago when they sat in the tavern discussing the mission.

    “This ship of yours, the Challengerâ¦is it full of wonders as well?”

    “I wouldn’t say that. We’reâ¦out of touch with Europe, and we’re not transporting anything we can drive. But we have a few tricks up our sleeve.”

    James took a moment to think through the expression, and seemed to understand it. “Sir Thomas has suggested that I might be of use to our settlement if I accompanied you. I must tell you that I am eager to be quit of this place — I am constantly called upon to settle petty disputes, and it is simply not the same as being on the open sea.”

    “I thought you found that somewhatâ¦perilous.”

    “Ah, well. Yes. One wants one’s own adventures to be compelling reading.”

    “So it wasn’t quite as dangerous as you let on.”

    “Oh, it was dangerous: there are islets of ice big enough up there to crush a ship, and waves tall enough to drown it; there are other perils as well. Do you know of the voyage of Jens Munk?”

    “I’m afraid I don’t.”

    “He was sent out by our good king of Denmark fifteen years ago to explore Hudson’s Bay. He took it far less seriously, and what wind and wave didn’t kill, cold and privation didâ¦only three of the expedition made it back home.

    “But that being said, I would be a poor explorer indeed if I had not provided for remedies to the many perils we faced. I was congratulated, and rightly so, for my service to the crown.”

    “I’m sure we’d be glad to have a man of your accomplishments aboard Challenger, Captain James.”

    The well-spoken captain seemed to breathe a quiet sigh of relief when Gordon said this, as if it might have been some sort of test that he’d had to pass.

    “Yes,” he said. “I daresay you would.”

     


 

    In the light of the morning Challenger prepared to weigh anchor; Thomas James was rowed out to the ship and welcomed aboard, and though he seemed less than pleased with his accommodations in a crowded forecabin, he did not trouble Maartens with a complaint.

    Maartens, for his part, did not seem happy when Gordon found him on deck, staring up at the top of the mainmast.

    “Something wrong?”

    “We’re short a topman,” he said. “Brave sod to jump overboard and swim to shore in the dark, in this water.”

    “Someone deserted? Who was it?”

    “The Alsatian. Hoff.”

    “I thought he was still confined to his bed.”

    “So did our doctor,” Maartens said. “She went down to check on her little patient and couldn’t find him in his hammock; Challenger is a fine vessel, but too small to get lost in. We searched her from orlop to topmast and there’s no sign of him.”

    Gordon didn’t know quite what to say, so he waited for Maartens to continue.

    “He’s capable enough to get himself a position — he speaks good German and French and English, and is a very able seaman. Can’t fault the man for his bravery, either.” Maartens let his gaze travel amidships, where a keen eye could see that there’d been some kind of mishap. “But he may find this is a different world. I turned out the watch, and no one’s missing valuables — or I’d take a party ashore and find the little bastard.”

    “One less mouth to feed.”

    “Aye,” Maartens said, spitting overboard. “But you’ve brought another aboard. So I suppose it’s a wash.”

    He turned away from Gordon and walked toward the afterdeck, shouting orders to make sail.

     


 

    The journey across the Ocean Sea had been adventure enough for a lifetime. But it was clear that the ship would be headed south from Thomasville, to other settlements where it might be more difficult to disguise his accent. Stephane had much to report, particularly now that Challenger was no longer able to contact Europe by radio — and if there was a better choice than simply going over the side of the ship while it rode at anchor he would have taken it. But from what he had heard, the Danish town had a good mix of people from various nationalities; the other alternative, to wait until Challenger reached New Amsterdam, meant that Monsieur Servien would almost certainly have written him off.

    Which, he reflected, might have happened already.

    Still, if he could find a way to send a message back home (or, if the Lord God and all the saints were kind, to find a way back home himself), he might continue his mission — and thus continue in the employ of the cardinal’s agent. The best way to do that, he determined, would be to reach New France.

    So, with the moon low on the horizon and most of the ship’s company asleep, he found his way aft. On a place along the rail hidden by a stack of wooden crates, out of sight of the watch, he let himself carefully down into the water.

     


 

    The harbor water was cold.

    Stephane had expected it to be cold, but this was icy. There was something metallic and unpleasant about it, too, reminding him rather of a part of a river in Alsace that was below a dyeworks. The ocean was wide and deep, but that was beyond the immediate harbor: most of whatever was being dumped into the water was remaining close to shore.

    He’d swum in that river, but he was only a child at the time, too young to know when something would make him sick, too young to be bothered with cold or whatever came out of the dyeworks. Now he was older, and he wasn’t sure whether he was still young enough to be not bothered. He swam through the muck as quickly as he could, holding his breath against the smell. He could feel the coldness of the water draining his strength, and wondered if he’d make it to shore at all.

     


 

    But at last he fetched up on the beach, well outside of the town of Thomasville. The night air was chill and there was a faint breeze. It was quiet and peaceful — there were no stone ramparts, no night watch past a few men on the wooden palisade, walking back and forth on the platform — really no more than a formality. It was no old-world city, that was for sure.

    He wondered what they might think of a soaking-wet Alsatian — a Frenchman, they would think — wandering around at night outside their little Danish town. Was he a spy, or a one-man invading army, or just a deserter who decided to go for a swim in the harbor that they were filling with whatever was left over from their smokestacks?

    They wouldn’t think of it, because it would never occur to them to look. They weren’t expecting an attack, even from natives — assuming there were any in residence on this island.

    Thomasville was certainly not Paris.

     


 

    He climbed the palisade as easily as he had gone up the mainmast the first day in Hamburg. There were two guards nearby, one leaning on his polearm, the other filling his pipe. The natives would have had no problem making their way into the settlement.

    They didn’t see or hear him come up, and didn’t notice when he went down the other side. Thomasville slept, its narrow little streets in shadow. There was no watch there: no one noticed when he found a set of clothing hanging on a wash line that fit well enough. He left his sodden sailor’s garments behind: by morning he would be a hod-carrier, a fishmonger, a journeyman carpenter — or whatever other role came to hand.

    But whatever he was to the citizens of Thomasville, he was still Servien’s manâ¦and a spy.

    He smelled fresh-baked bread, which made him hungry, but he’d have to leave that problem for the morning. The smell also brought memories — of Paris, to be sure, but even more of his native Alsace. For the first time since he’d come into the cardinal’s service, Stephane felt a little homesick.


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