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1637: No Peace Beyond the Line: Chapter Twenty

       Last updated: Sunday, October 25, 2020 09:39 EDT



Oranjestad, St. Eustatia

    Eddie turned, discovered the source of the tongue-in-cheek comments: Joost Banckert. The vice admiral had finally made his way up the dock to them, but the man who’d been walking with him earlier was still on the dock, haggling with a ship’s master over an untapped tun of wine.

    “I have a similar reaction to Jan’s ‘careful planning,’ Joost,” Tromp said mildly. “Welcome home.”

    “Good to be here,” Banckert replied, glancing over their heads at Oranjestad’s roofs. “Eight weeks and I hardly recognize this place. And barely enough room in the bay to fit my ships back in.”

    Van Walbeeck nodded down the dock, toward the man who’d debarked with him. “Did he come aboard your ship or –?”

    “No, but he sailed along with us, though. And on the biggest Bermudan sloop I’ve ever seen. When I told them about this market day, everyone in Somers Isles started falling over each other, trying to get their cargos taken on consignment. Fish in Bahamian salt, cedar, pitch, and pork — both smoked and live. Those pigs made an unholy mess and stink when we had to take them below decks during the high weather just past.” He glanced back at his guest. “He’s a good fellow, but shrewd. Hard-nosed. If it wasn’t for that thick accent of his, he could have been a Dutchman.”

    “Oh, and where’s he from?”


    Eddie almost laughed out loud. If any other group was in a position to teach the Dutch about being hard-nosed and shrewd businessmen, it was probably the Scots.

    Banckert was studying the Dutch hulls in the anchorage. “So I am wondering why the standards of each ship’s province no longer have the pride of place at the stern. And they’re not flying the Company’s pennant at all. On the other hand, I see more of the ‘national’ colors. A great deal more.” He smiled, but it was not all mirth. “So, are we all sailing under your flag now, eh, Maarten?”

    Tromp shook his head slightly. “Never mine. The banner of Hendrik of the Netherlands.”

    Banckert smiled. “I see. So has he even bought up the husk of the Companies, then? Has so much changed since I sailed to the Somers Isles?”

    Van Walbeeck smiled, but shook his head more vigorously than Tromp had. “You will not bait us with your grinning nonsense, Joost — though it is good to see you, regardless of your so-called sense of humor. In answer: to the best of my knowledge, the Prince of Orange has not changed his position in regard to the Companies. But they are broken, my friend, not just in the Caribbean and the East Indies. Almost all their possessions, at least here in the West Indies — we’ve had no news from the East Indies in quite some time — are in Spanish or native hands, now. So whose flag should we fly? Ours is better than Spain’s, ja?”

    Banckert smiled back. “Now, Jan: if I couldn’t bait my colleagues, where would be the joy in this life? In the main I agree with what I’ve heard of the changes. But how do we make profit now, hey? Our way has always been to fight for shares, with our own ships and crews, and full freedom in how we went about our missions. Now, we have become like the Spanish, all saluting one flag, all taking orders from one man.”

    Tromp had less patience for the friendly jousting than van Walbeeck. “Joost, you know perfectly well that the Companies always acted with oversight from the government.”

    “Some, yes, but they always had a great deal of freedom. They — and we — did better when both the Raad and the Stadtholder watched from afar and interfered infrequently.”

    The Bermudan, his negotiations over, had approached as Banckert completed his riposte. Tromp held up a hand to pause the discussion, turned to the newcomer, led the others in that fusion of bow and shallow nod that was the common greeting among those making a first acquaintance. “Sir, do I have the honor of addressing Councilor Patrick Coapland of the Somers Isles?”

    The Bermudan returned the gesture, did a fair job at masking surprise. “I am he, but you have me at a disadvantage, sir. How is that you know who I am?”

    “Well, there is a radio aboard my ship,” Banckert said with a smile.

    “Your ship has one of these devices? And you did not tell me?” Coapland’s aggrieved tone was only half playacting.

    Banckert’s smile widened. “You did not ask.”

    Van Walbeeck reached out to shake the Bermudan’s hand. “I am Governor van Walbeeck, Councilor Coapland. It is my pleasure to welcome you to Orangestad and to insist that you address me as Jan.” He turned to Banckert. “And as far our arrangements with home are concerned, Joost, well, at an earlier time, that would have made for an interesting debate. But now, the matter is already settled. Prince Hendrik remains the Stadtholder. And, as a wise ruler, he well understands that commerce succeeds most when government intrudes least. But right now, we are at war.”

    “With whom?” Banckert shot back. “With the Spanish dandy who now calls himself King in the Lowlands and to whom we have agreed to bow? I presume not.” He smiled wolfishly. “Or has civil war been declared while I was gone?”

    Tromp sighed, folded his hands. “Joost, let us put this to rest. The Netherlands is now reunited, but Fredrik Hendrik and the Dutch provinces have full autonomy over their internal affairs. King Fernando controls foreign policy but, just like the Stadtholder, he is given to allow commercial enterprises here in the New World to run themselves as they see fit. So no state of war exists between the Netherlands and Spain. However, this island is far beyond the Tordesillas meridian which Pope Julius II affirmed as the starting point of Spain’s New World dominion. And as Madrid has asserted, there is no peace beyond that line. Ever.

    “But whereas ten years ago, our business in the New World was mostly as raiders and opportunistic colonizers, we have become a decided presence, along with allies” — he glanced at Eddie — “who share the enmity of Spain. So yes, there is a war on, here. And there will be for some time. And if we were to remain a loose rabble of raiders, we would surely be swept away.”

    “Perhaps that is only because we have become a permanent and growing irritant to the Spanish,” Banckert countered.

    Before Eddie could stop himself, he shook his head.

    Coapland’s eyes cut in his direction. “You believe differently, sir?” His gaze travelled over Eddie’s clothes, then studied the boot over his prosthetic. “Ah! As I surmised. You are the young up-time admiral, then!” He bowed.

    “Merely a commodore,” Eddie corrected.

    The Bermudan, whose Scots burr seemed to deepen, smiled. “Come, come. We all know whose ships have brought such changes to the balance of power in the New World, and whose presence has emboldened men such as Admiral Tromp to engage the Spanish head on. And so, have made them the permanent irritant that Admiral Banckert just mentioned.”

    Eddie nodded. “Yes, that would be me. But my ships are not what caused the changes in the New World. In point of fact, they are simply the result of changes that were already occurring.”

    Coapland cocked his head. “Your words are clear but their meaning is not, I fear.”

    Eddie kept himself from looking at Tromp and van Walbeeck; technically, this was about the Dutch, not the USE, and so, not his debate. On the other hand, the conversation was moving into the realm of global implications, so . . . “Councilor Coapland, the changes occurring in the New World are not a product of Grantville’s technology, but its knowledge. Specifically, that which is contained in its library.”

    Banckert made to interrupt but Eddie pressed on. “No one in this time foresaw that the New World would be the root cause of the power shifts that would occur during the coming centuries. That’s because they failed to realize that the real wealth was not in gold and silver, but in resources and land.

    “But this time, there’s a big difference. In my world, explorers and prospectors first had to find that wealth. That took centuries. But in this world, we have maps that give us a pretty good idea of where all the major mineral deposits are. We know where the fishing is best. Which soils and regions are best for which crops. Which areas are joined by what rivers.”

    He swept an arm from the north, through the west, and ending on the south. “Kings and queens didn’t — couldn’t — know how much they should invest in all those unknown places because they didn’t know what they’d ultimately be worth. Well, now they have the answers to both those mysteries. And we’re lucky that the Spanish have been so stuck in their notions of short-term conquest and wealth extraction at gunpoint that they haven’t acted upon that new information yet. But they will. Every nation’s scholars spend days and weeks in our library. If we hadn’t arrived in the middle of what our historians called the Thirty Years’ War, I’m pretty sure there would be a lot more national flags flying from topgallants in this part of the world, by now.



    “So our choice was between standing around while the knowledge from Grantville’s library drives a radically new history, or to have a hand in shaping it. And these islands are among the places where those changes will come the fastest and the hardest.”

    Joost Banckert’s frown was no longer impatient but somber. “There is much to think about in what you have said, Eddie. But none of it shines a light on how mariners such as us, bred to pursue profit individually and aggressively, can make money when we are all part of one navy with many restrictive rules.”

    Eddie smiled. “You really think there’s a short answer to that question?”

    Joost’s frown lessened. “I know you cannot show me the whole tapestry of that new reality, Commodore Cantrell, but a quick sketch of the general design would suffice. For now.”

    Eddie shrugged, drew in a deep breath. “Okay. So, there will still be profits in taking ships, and there will still be crew shares, just like now. The difference is that the total value will be set by a prize court which will operate under the auspices of . . . “



    Eddie Cantrell was, somehow, still standing as the last sliver of the sun sank down toward the almost purple sea. He distinctly remembered hitting the head (such as it was) once, maybe twice. He was pretty sure he’d eaten an extremely crumbly cassava roll with bacon specks baked into it. He remembered watching all the goods get trundled past, either on their way to being sold or out to the wharf and a waiting lighter and thence to a buyer’s ship.

    The biggest draw of the day were the down-time manufactured steam engines. To his eye, they were heavy, inefficient, and over-engineered, but on the other hand they were rugged and designed for ease of adaptation to a variety of purposes: for wheels or propellers, for electricity generation, for grinding. The stall right next to that one seemed to specialize in saws of all types, including several which had cranks. And — surprise, surprise! — they just happened that their rotary mechanism was the right size and shape to facilitate easy connection to the steam engines, once the crank was removed. Where the fuel for the engines would come from was another issue. St. Eustatia was not densely wooded, and shipping it from other islands simply to burn it would an expense that would increase as a function of distance from the source. But upon studying the firebox, Eddie discovered that it too was modular insofar as it was clearly designed to be swapped out. He’d thought a moment, wandered over, and asked the self-styled “engineer” peddling the engines if they could be modified to burn bitumen. He had to back away less than thirty seconds, so eager and emphatic was the sales pitch with which the purveyor of engines assaulted him.

    Sometime in the late afternoon, various important passengers debarked from the Dutch frigates: the general and former governor of Recife, Diederik van Waerdenburgh, was received with as much ceremony and pomp as van Walbeeck and Tromp could muster. Following soon after, they toasted the arrival of two military commanders who’d distinguished themselves under him: Major Berstedt and the legendary Hermann Gottfried van Stein-Callenfels. It added a bit of official solemnity to complement the last ferocious commercial surges of the day.

    Svantner, delivering a list of engineering issues that had been detected on the two new destroyers during their Atlantic crossing, watched as the martial luminaries passed into the fort for a combination inspection/reception that Eddie would soon have to attend. “Why?” he’d asked when the stout doors had closed behind them.

    “Why what?”

    “Well, you have pointed out that officers in a combat…er, zone, should never cluster together, even if they believe themselves to be in a friendly place. They make too easy and tempting a target. So why have them disembark and arrive as a group?”

    Eddie had smiled. “To give the Spanish spies something to look at and get excited about.”

    Svantner’s frown deepened. “Is that wise?”

    “It is if we want them to believe that, having seen the arrival of those commanders, they’ve seen everything that’s worth seeing.”

    Svantner’s mouth made a soundless, “Ah!” He showed enough perspicacity not to inquire after those items or matters from which they were meant to distract Spanish attention.

    Actually, of all the new arrivals, Eddie’s main interest had been in the father and son mapmaking duo, Willem and Joan Blaeu, who had been charged to make highly detailed maps of key locations that the up-time charts only showed in broad outlines. But ask as he would, he had not been able to learn their whereabouts.

    Shortly after, he’d trudged into the fort, so tired that his Dutch was beginning to fail him as he met and attempted to converse with the new warships’ post-captains, several of whom spoke almost no English. Those two hours felt more like two weeks, and when he finally emerged into the street, it was everything he could do not to limp on his prosthesis. It was far more comfortable than the old one, and much more rugged, but the fact remained that when he was on his feet — well, foot — for an entire day, the amputation site and proximal muscles began aching and spasming. He steadied himself on the wall for a few moments, and then made his way home, resolved not to appear weak in front of his energetic bride who had every reason to expect that he would have been home at least two hours earlier.



    Eddie crept up to the bedroom door, leaned his ear against it. No sound. He sighed. On the one hand, even when he was dog-tired, returning to Anne Cathrine was one of the best parts of his day. Even if it was just to collapse into sleep beside her. Seeing her smile, touching her face, smelling her scent were — well, it made his senses and his heart silently affirm, home. Not merely that he had “come home”; she herself was home, to him.

    He released another sigh, longer but no less controlled and quiet, and with it he exhaled the tension and non-stop activity of the day. He turned the latch and slipped in.

    Anne Cathrine was on the bed. Not in it: on it. Bolt upright. She was on her knees, but Eddie had never seen a less coy or submissive posture in his life. Her eyes were bright. “So. You’ve come home.” Her voice was not reproachful, but it was — tense?

    Eddie nodded, rushed to the end of the bed, tried not to limp but failed. He took her two hands in his. “I’m sorry, Cat” — only he used that name for her, and only when they were alone — “but it was exactly the kind of day we expected. I thought you might be asleep, already.” Like the rest of the denizens of the seventeenth century, Eddie had gradually come to live in accord with the sun, rising and setting when it did. Well, mostly: the predawn rising crap was still a pain in the —

    Anne Cathrine squeezed his hands gently. She was wearing a nightgown — or robe, or something — that left very, very little to his always-active imagination. “I knew you would be late. I waited.”

    Eddie nodded, kept from frowning at her unusual demeanor and almost distracted tone of voice, almost as if she was speaking in her sleep. Which she never did. “Are you okay, love?”

    “I am very well. And I am very glad you are home.”

    For a moment, Eddie wondered if he should send for Dr. Brandão. Anne Cathrine speaking in short, simple sentences that declared the obvious? With barely a hint of animation? Was this the onset of some unusual tropical disease?

    She slipped her hands out of his, reached up toward him. “I love you, Eddie.”

    He smiled, moved in to give her a hug, knowing, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that he was absolutely the luckiest man in the —

    Anne Cathrine grabbed him: hard. Her mouth was on his faster and even harder. She was already breathing like she’d just finished a marathon. All of which he noticed as, with her hands firmly on his shoulders, she twisted sharply at the hip.

    Eddie, exhausted and leaning over into what he had expected would be a gentle embrace, fell, her arms guiding and turning him as he did. He landed on his back, too surprised to react, at first.

    But Anne Cathrine was not waiting for his response. She turned with his fall, wound up straddling him. He had a fleeting thought that he sure was glad she loved him, because given the expression on her face, her only other possible intent would have been to kill him.

    In fact, her hands and arms moved with the speed, force, and focus of an assassin’s. She pushed him down with one hand, grabbed the front of his shirt with the other. She pulled: not merely hard, but savagely. Buttons sprang loose with dramatic snaps and pops, the force of which sent them flying.

    They sprayed in all directions, rolling under doors, down between planks, never to be seen again.

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