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1637: No Peace Beyond the Line: Chapter Twenty Three

       Last updated: Wednesday, November 4, 2020 07:01 EST



Oranjestad, St. Eustatia

    Leonora was grumpy. Yes, she had reason for disappointment, but it went beyond that. First, the seamstress who was to make necessary changes to the one gown she had brought from Denmark was overdue and her services were absolutely required. Leonora was still only fourteen and just six months’ worth of bodily change — much of which was quite welcome! — absolutely required alterations or profound embarrassment might ensue.

    Secondly, after spending half an hour fretting over the tardiness of the seamstress and ineffectually primping, Sophie returned — who announced her arrival with a set of sharp knocks to the door of their shared toilet. Leonora had been deeply involved in her third attempt to adjust her hair and the surprise turned her untrained touch into a brief eruption of startled fingers that ruined her already dubious handiwork.

    And of course, once Sophie had settled in to her own pre-dance preparations, Leonora had to stay calm and casual in her choice of topics while her curiosity — her desire to know how the Earl of Tyrconnell had departed, and how Sophie felt, and what she meant to do — was threatening to burst out of her mouth, as if it were a rabid mink spinning and clawing inside of her. 

    She settled down for another attempt at her hair, this time with the benefit of Sophie’s calm advice. Indeed, Leonora was so set upon her efforts that the end of her tongue protruded from her lips, as if it were an external rite meant to placate the demi-deities of Focus and Determination. But no sooner had she made some appreciable progress, than the door banged open and Anne Cathrine came racing in, the overdue seamstress following just behind. Even more startled by this second interruption, the consequent ruin to Leonora’s hairstyling efforts were still worse and, to add insult to injury, she had nipped the tip of her tongue.

    Anne Cathrine excitedly discoursed about Government House and Tromp and a New Start in the New World and having to make an immense number of decisions about the party that sounded unbearably dull to Leonora. In other words, it was more evidence that the universe did in fact revolve around Anne Cathrine, who punctuated her departure with a hug that ruined yet another of Leonora’s attempts to tame her hair. Despite entreaties that Anne Cathrine very likely did not hear, she did not return to help fix the damage she had wrought.

    Leonora was missing­ — for the fifth time in as many minutes — her older sister’s skill in the arts of efficacious primping and improvised makeup when there was yet another knock on the door. My word, are we to prepare for a party or answer summonses?

    Sophie Rantzau glanced at Leonora. “A reply to a knock is at the discretion of the King’s daughter,” she murmured.

    Well, bother; I suppose that’s true. “Yes?” Leonora called toward the door.

    “It is I, Edel Mund. May I enter briefly?”

    The two young women exchanged glances. Leonora knew what she wanted to do: ignore the Medusa-in-mourning who had inexplicably come to their doorstep at this most unprovidential moment. But instead she said, “Yes, of course, Lady Mund.”

    The door opened, and Edel Mund, more spare and pale than ever, entered and nodded severely at Leonora and Sophie, her eyes questing into the further corners of the room.

    “My sister is not here,” Leonora explained. “She is preparing for attending this evening’s entertainment, I’m afraid.”

    Edel Mund nodded again. “I see. Then I will ask you to be so kind to convey to her the message I share with you here. I extend my apologies, ladies, but I must refrain from attending that affair, despite your sister’s kind solicitation for my presence. It would still be — unseemly for me to do so.”

    “– even if I were disposed to go,” Leonora finished silently for the middle-aged woman. “I hear this news with regret, but fully understand.” What I do not understand is how long you intend to mourn your husband.

    “Also, I would be most grateful if, when next you see Dr. Brandão, you would tell him that I wish to volunteer my services to him, as well. I expect I would be a passably capable nurse.”

    Leonora nodded, quite sure that what Edel lacked in bedside manner and compassion she would make up for in efficiency and reliability. “I am sure Dr. Brandão will be delighted to welcome you into our little hospital.”

    Edel made no response, other than to bow slightly, her black shoulder-wrap hanging slightly. “Ladies, I am sorry to have intruded at so inopportune a moment.” Without any sign of haste, she was nonetheless out the door with remarkable speed.

    Leonora blinked, shrugged, returned to the task of securing an yet another errant wisp of hair in its proper place. “Lady Mund is a most peculiar person,” she observed. “And I can only imagine that her continued mourning intensifies her peculiarities.”

    Sophie Rantzau, whose long, gleaming hair remained infuriatingly perfect without any apparent effort on her part, looked at the closed door with solemn gray eyes. “I suspect we are seeing more than the oddities of her character or the distraction of extended mourning.”

    “What do you mean, Sophie?”

    “I mean that, in the terms of life as she has chosen to live it, volunteering to help with the sick and wounded is a form of penance.”

    “Penance? But for what? Edel Mund is hardly a model of Christian charity or joy, but neither does she seem a great sinner. What could she have done to make her feel compelled to do penance?”

    Sophie Rantzau’s tone suggested she was sharing a secret rather than a comment. “For many of us, penance is owed not for what one has done, but for what one did not do.”

    Leonora looked over cautiously at Sophie. The tall young woman was still staring at the back of the door. “You said that with great conviction. Personal conviction.” Leonora was tempted to say more, but knew that she could not, not unless she wished to chase her silent friend’s own emerging truth — or confession? —  back into whatever deep hiding place it had inhabited before Edel Mund’s odd visit had summoned it forth.

    “My name,” Sophie said softly. “Has it never struck you as strange?”

    Leonora, who had been holding her breath in anticipation of a great revelation, was taken off guard by this strange redirection. If it was, in fact, a redirection. Perhaps it was merely an oblique means of approaching the painful core of whatever truth Sophie kept buried. Because certainly, no one would be as laconic as she unless they were, in fact suppressing something. “I have never thought there is anything strange about your name. Also, I am unsure which name you mean: your Christian name or surname?”



    Sophie smiled. “My surname, of course.”

    Cautiously now, Leonora! “What is strange about it?”

    “That it is still affixed to my person. You know, of course, that I was married.”

    “Y-yes.” It would not do to let Sophie know how very much Leonora knew of this. Her very personal curiosity could easily be misunderstood as mere nosiness. “Your husband died in the Baltic War, did he not?”

    “Yes, he did. So I am familiar with the many ways in which mourning can become a burden more trying than the grief that may underlie it. Or not.”

    Suddenly, Leonora was unsure that she wanted to hear Sophie’s unuttered truth. But she was also aware that there was no way to stop it now. To flinch away from it, to smother it before it could leave Sophie’s lips, would be to show herself a coward, to be unworthy of trust, and so, to be unworthy of further shared revelations. And so Leonora took what she knew to be a fateful step: “I am unsure how best to understand that statement, dear Sophie.”

    Who smiled. “That was well and delicately put, Leonora. I thank you for being so patient with me. This is difficult to speak of. Not the least because I fear it will make you — your sister, too, but particularly you — think ill of me.”

    Leonora did not know what to say: she simply shook her head.

    Sophie drew in a deep breath. “I was married to Laurids Ulfeldt in October of 1631, had our child in June of the following year, and lost that child soon after. But by that time he had been sent to serve under Anders Bille on the island of Osel. Which is where he died, early in 1633, trying to intercept a boat of Swedish couriers. Which only occurred because Gustav did not die at Lützen, which in turn led to your father’s eventual war against him. So, in point of fact, Laurids died when he did because the up-timers arrived and changed history.”

    Sophie turned to face Leonora directly. “You are not the only one to spend much of your life transported to other places and other times in the pages of a book. As is true for so many of us, I became curious about what had happened to me in the up-timers’ world. Last year, I finally had the chance to peruse their collected histories.” She smiled. “It was a humbling thing, to see what little mention there was of me at all, other than that I was a ‘rich heiress’ who had married Laurids Ulfeldt. Who, I discovered, was to have lived much longer. And with whom I was to have had four children.”

    Leonora felt tears rise into her eyes, but did not blink, did not let them escape. At the age of seven, harshly treated by the parental surrogates who had raised her while she was away from her father’s court, she had resolved never to shed tears again.

    Sophie’s eyes widened. She reached out and touched Leonora’s cheek. “No. Do not weep. Not for me. And most of all, not for what you think is my grief.”

    “What?” Leonora croaked.

    “My dear friend, you know what the Ulfeldt family is like. Laurids was the best of them, true, but they are not . . . not warm men. Nor sensitive, nor compassionate. He was more physically vital than most of them, but not what one would call vigorous. He spent most of the few days we had together immersed in his books, pursuing his ‘historical projects,’ as he called them.”

    Sophie laughed, shook her head. “That was to have been the great bond between us, you see: books. Except that he used them as a means of making things smaller, as a way to fit all life — what had come before and what was transpiring around him — into neat compartments and categories, whereas I used them to rove far and wide, to the ends of this earth and beyond.” Her rueful smile faded. “I suppose one could say nothing defined the differences between us so sharply and so sadly as the reasons for which we embraced books. Which was the majority of the embracing that occurred in our marriage.”

    For the first time since Leonora had met Sophie, the young woman averted her eyes. “So you see, Leonora, I know what it is like to mourn and yet not feel grief. I am not saying that this is what is occurring behind the hard facade that Edel Mund shows to the world. Frankly, I think something different afflicts her. But I know what it is like to wear black, and step slowly and heavily because it is what is expected of a mourning wife, but to feel nothing but relief within. And in that relief, feel oneself base and monstrous.”

    “But how? And for what?” Leonora blurted out. “For being rid of a man you did not love, never wished to marry? Because, Sophie, it was no secret that your mother engineered that marriage, in no small part to secure allies who would protect her from my father’s wrath. What would you feel but relief in escaping from such a union? And why, therefore, should you feel such guilt?”

    “Because my guilt does not arise from escaping my marriage to Laurids,” Sophie explained hollowly, “but from dancing away to my freedom upon the ghost bodies of three more little children to whom I never gave birth. And for living past my time.”

    Leonora did not breathe. “What do you mean?”

    Sophie’s eyes rose back to Leonora’s. “One of the other things the histories revealed about me was my date of death: May, 1635. Just as we were preparing to leave for the New World, I had, in that other history, left the world entirely.”

    Leonora went from horrified to confused in the space of a single second. “But then, how did you have four children–?”

    Sophie shook her head. “In that other history, Laurids was only briefly on Osel. With Gustav dead, the Baltic War never occurred, the tensions were brief, and he returned. But here, he never returned from Osel and so, did not father three more children. For which I am unspeakably grateful. And for which I must certainly be damned.”


    “How can I not be, Leonora? I wake every morning and breathe a sigh of relief that I am no longer married to Laurids Ulfeldt. And then I remember, in the next breath, that my freedom comes at the expense of his life and that of three unborn children. How does that not damn one?”



    Leonora forced herself to become calm. “Sophie, you did not act to deprive Laurids of his life. And whatever you may have felt about your marriage, I do not believe you wished him dead, did you?”

    Sophie shook her head mutely.

    “And you only learned of the three other children afterward, so they could not even have been a part of your initial reaction to his death.”

    Sophie looked up. “What point are you driving toward, Leonora?”

    The young woman considered. “You have read much of the up-timer literature?”

    “As much as I can, but it was mostly histories, since that is what fascinated Laurids. Ironically, the copies he commissioned arrived two years after he died.”

    “How much of the up-time ‘psychology’ have you read?”

    “I know the word, and the basic principles, but nothing specific.”

    “I see. Well then, when you have the opportunity, you must come to peruse the complete copies that my father has in his library. And once there, you must look up the term ‘survivor guilt.'”

    And Sophie asked, as Leonora had hoped: “What is survivor guilt?”

    “It means that when, in a group of people, only a few survive, those survivors may feel guilty not to have lost their lives, too. It was often observed when the up-timers’ ships sank or their flying machines crashed. It happens with them much, much more than with us, because so many people of our time are convinced that God chooses, with great purpose, who shall live and who shall die.” And there is a statement that damns me, Sophie: “many people of our time are convinced that God chooses . . .” — but not me. Not anymore.  “There is much more to it than that, of course. And, since I am a wall-flower at these dances and parties, I shall have ample time to explain more of it this evening, if you so wish.”

    Sophie smiled. “I do so wish. And thank you for not insisting on returning to the matter of my surname.”

    Leonora blinked. “To be truthful, I had quite forgotten about it. I take it you were referring, then, to why you are not using the name Ulfeldt?”

    “Yes, that is part of it. Although it wasn’t even my own doing.”

    “I do not understand.”

    “That is because you are not the daughter of my mother. It was she who compelled me to keep my name Rantzau, so that the estates in my father’s name would not be so easily subsumed into the growing treasury of the Ulfeldt family. And also to ensure that my name did not strike the ear of your father with an immediate spark of pain and annoyance.”

    Hearing those words, Leonora felt her very own spark of pain. “Well, that is truly said.”

    Sophie’s hands flew to her mouth. “Oh, Leonora, I am so sorry. I was too deeply involved in my own regrets. I forgot that you, too –“

    “There is nothing to be sorry for. The dissolution of my betrothal to Corfitz Ulfeldt is past and done. Do not trouble yourself with any thoughts of it. I don’t,” Leonora lied.

    Sophie’s eyes remained upon her, gentle but steady. “You are a strong young woman, Leonora, and driven by a quiet but firm will that many might miss. I can even imagine it extends to embrace the idea that one finds in so many of the up-time attitudes, and in their later writings: that a woman need not be defined by any man, not even her spouse or father. A fearsome thing for many of this world. Conversely, it is a refreshing, even life-saving, freedom to a few of us. But I wonder –“

    Leonora heard that last fragment of a sentence for what it was: a baited hook, which, if inquired after, would catch her on a question she might regret. But as ever, her curiosity was greater than her fear: “What is it that you wonder?”

    “Whether any girl, at the age of eleven, has ever been completely indifferent to having a betrothal struck aside by her royal father? And to a powerful man who, I am told, showed as much affection toward you as he ever has toward anyone else.”

    Yes, as much as that was. And would have been more properly avuncular, since he is more than twice my age. “It was a disappointment, yes, but even then, I realized that although father’s first thought was to protect himself and the throne, his nullification of our betrothal was a blessing to my future happiness.” She leaned back, vaguely remembered that if she did not triumph over her annoying, mousy brown hair, she could not countenance going to tonight’s party at all. “I remember quite clearly when my father’s first agents returned from Grantville, just before summer, 1633. Corfitz, who had been his favorite courtier, had not only been a traitor to him in the other world, but the documents revealed that he had already commenced pursuing the earliest of those same treacheries in this one. There was no explaining the future events as a sad set of unfortunate circumstances in which some combination of flawed perception and momentary lapses of integrity had led him down a path that history contrived to paint in unflattering hues. No, his flaws of character were revealed to be many and monstrous. Indeed, in retrospect, much of the wit and charm with which he had captivated my father upon his arrival in court had barely masked a scheming mind overwhelmingly shaped by two principles: ruthlessness and ambition.”

     “I have heard,” Sophie ventured, “that although he has committed no overt crime against the throne, your father’s rejection of him has made him so vituperative and disruptive in the Rigsrad that it might be best if he were to be banned from it. Given that the new trade and cooperative industries with the up-timers is bringing Denmark far more silver than Corfitz’s own fiscal proposals, there are very likely enough sympathetic nobles to make such a dismissal possible.”

    “Yes. I have heard the same things whispered,” Leonora said with a nod. “But I suspect that my father has reservations about doing so.”

    “Your father is, of course, quite politically prudent.”

    Yes, Sophie, he is. But prudence is not why he has foresworn what would amount to a public crucifixion of Corfitz Ulfeldt. The question is, should I share the actual reasons with you? Are they too hurtful? And will the subjectivity of memory — my memory — do them justice?

    As if magically summoned by that final concern, her memory seemed to wipe away her sight, expanding and unfolding until, quite suddenly, she was in that past moment, almost a year ago this very day . . . 

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