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The Masque

Eric Flint


Anne Jefferson studied herself in the mirror; then, turned sideways and spent a few more seconds with the examination.

“The colors are pretty drab,” she announced. “Comfortable, though, I’ll give it that—way more so than modern-day Dutch women’s apparel. At least it doesn’t have a ruff. I hate those things.”

She giggled. “I can’t believe I just heard myself say ‘modern-day’ to refer to the year 1635.”

Her husband Adam Olearius smiled at her reflection in the mirror. “I was born in this century so I can’t say that I find the expression peculiar. Although people didn’t use it much until you Americans came barging into the world. Changes came a lot more slowly before you arrived, so the distinction between past and present wasn’t as great.”

He studied her garments for a few seconds. “With the exception of fashion, of course. That’s always changed rapidly.”

Still looking at the outfit in the mirror, Anne shook her head. “I’ll tell you what’s odd to me, though. In the world I came from, women’s fashions changed all the time. But men’s clothing changed slowly, and it was even more drab than this dress I’m wearing. Suits, suits, suits. The colors were black, gray, navy blue and one or another shade of white. If you were really daring, you wore a light brown suit. Whereas here! Men’s clothing changes every bit as fast as women’s and it’s even more flamboyant.”

Olearius curled his lip theatrically. “One of the great drawbacks of your democratic system! In our sane seventeenth century, male fashion is determined by princes—who are not about to bury their effulgent glory under dismal colors and sober designs. In your world, on the other hand, male fashion was dictated by businessmen. Merchants, that is to say, a class of people whose adventurousness is entirely restricted to pecuniary endeavors.”

Anne chuckled but didn’t argue the point. Leaving aside her husband’s analysis of the causes involved, she didn’t disagree with him on the substance of the matter. She thought male costuming in the here-and-now was a marked improvement over that of the world she’d come from. Thankfully, the codpieces prevalent in the last century had fallen out of fashion. That would have been...a bit much to take, for someone who still had a lot of West Virginia attitudes.

She turned away from the mirror altogether. “Talk about princes! I still can’t believe Ben Jonson is taking a personal hand in this masque.”

“Do not get your hopes too high. I’ve heard he’s declined a great deal from his glory days twenty years ago. That’s the real reason he left England, I suspect, whatever he claims himself about the enmity of Inigo Jones and the Earl of Cork.”

Anne smiled. “It probably doesn’t help that he’s bound and determined to base the masque on that crate of stuff he got from Grantville. ‘Memorabilia,’ he calls it. ‘Odds and ends,’ is more like it.”

“Or ‘junk,’ ” added Olearius, perhaps uncharitably. He went to the door and opened it for her. “And now, my dear, we should go have an early dinner before making our appearance at the rehearsal. Even though”—his tone of voice was now definitely uncharitable—“I will be astonished if the esteemed poet has made much progress by the time we get there.”


Ben Jonson studied the bizarre object in his right hand, his head propped up by the left. “Perhaps a token of esteem from the tritons...” he mused.

Standing behind him where the poet and dramatist couldn’t see her, the young Countess Palatine Elizabeth rolled her eyes. It was obvious that Jonson was bound and determined to copy as much as he could of the masque he’d done thirty years earlier for King James, the famous Masque of Blackness. She thought the project was ill-conceived, herself. If for no other reason because the success of The Masque of Blackness had been due in no small part to the architectural genius of Jonson’s partner Inigo Jones. His stage settings had been magnificent.

Jonson’s then partner, alas. The rupture between the two men had been deep; it was now deep and bitter, since Jones had won the favor of Richard Boyle, the Earl of Cork. So now Jonson was in self-imposed exile in Amsterdam and the Dutch architects and artisans at his disposal were not really up to the challenge of designing the monumental stage settings he insisted upon.

It would help, of course, if he’d actually finish the blasted thing instead of dithering. There was another rehearsal scheduled for that evening, for which both she and her brother Rupert had donned their costumes. It would probably wind up being a disjointed semi-disaster like the two previous rehearsals.

Rupert was leaning over Jonson’s shoulder. He had his chin cupped in his hand in what he presumably hoped would be seen as a gesture of thoughtfulness—but Elizabeth was quite sure her brother just wanted to stroke his beard. Still shy of his sixteenth birthday, Rupert was inordinately proud of his whiskers.

In truth, he had some right to be. He was already six feet tall and was showing that extraordinary musculature that would make him a military legend in another universe. Prince Rupert of the Rhine, they’d called him. Rupert had vowed he would not pursue the soldier’s career he’d followed in that up-time world. But Elizabeth had noted that her brother maintained a rigorous regimen when it came to his exercises in the salle d’armes run by his Dutch swordmaster. Such vows were easy to make; not so easy to keep.

“I think you should rather make it a token of esteem from Oceanus,” Rupert said. He pointed to the object in the poet’s hand. “You could think of it as a symbol of the engirdling oceans in all their many hues.”

Ben Jonson stroked his own beard. “Hm. Interesting idea, I agree.”

In Elizabeth’s opinion, the idea was idiotic—because any attempt to make the Rubik’s Cube the center of a masque was idiotic. The ridiculous up-time contrivance was far too small to play that role. They’d do better to use the statue of the elf or even the club. What did Americans call the thing? A “baseball bat,” if she remembered correctly.

The name was as idiotic as the Rubik’s Cube. There’d been bats in two of the houses she’d lived in during her family’s peripatetic existence following the expulsion of her father, the Elector of the Palatine Frederick V, from the throne he’d briefly held as King of Bohemia. The American club bore no resemblance to the creatures at all.


“George Monck’s been executed,” John Hampden announced, closing the door to the salon behind him. He came over to the big table in the center of the room around which a number of other men were seated and laid a radio message on the surface. “The news just came in. Thomas Fairfax, John Lambert and Thomas Horton were executed along with him. Horton was drawn and quartered first.”

Bastards,” hissed Arthur Haselrig. “What about Denzil Holles? And Fairfax’s son Ferdinando?”

Hampden pulled out a chair. “Still alive, I suppose. For how long remains to be seen.” He sat down. “So far, the Earl of Manchester is the only one who seems to have wormed his way into Cork’s good graces.”

“ ‘Wormed’ is the right word, too,” said young Henry Ireton. “Unfair to worms, I suppose, but since ‘swined’ or ‘toaded’ aren’t verbs it’ll have to do.”

There was real anger lurking under the humor. Still only twenty-four years old, Ireton was too young to have known any of the men executed by the Earl of Cork. But like all of the men in the room, he’d studied the up-time accounts of the civil war that had begun in England—would have begun, rather, in another England in another universe—in the year 1642.

The history of that conflict weighed heavily on all of them, for all its insubstantial nature. Perhaps on none more than the man sitting at the head of the long table, Thomas Wentworth—who’d stopped calling himself the Earl of Strafford because of it.

Wentworth studied young Ireton for a moment. In this world, the man was a lawyer—as he had been in that other. But so far he was only a lawyer, not the accomplished military officer he would become—would have become, had become, could have become—the grammar was maddening—in the up-timers’ universe.

Wentworth suppressed a smile. And how must the youngster feel about having been Oliver Cromwell’s son-in-law in that world? He’d never even met the Bridget Cromwell he would marry there. It would do him little good to do so in this one anyway, at least for the moment. The girl was still only...

Wentworth tried to remember the ages of Cromwell’s children. Bridget was ten or eleven years old, he thought. Certainly no more than twelve.

If she was still alive at all. There’d been very little news of Cromwell since the escape from the Tower of London.

The men who’d recently been executed had played prominent roles in that civil war, as had the Earl of Manchester. Would have played, it might be better to say. The reason Horton had been drawn and quartered was because, it that other universe, he’d been one of the commissioners of the High Court of Justice in 1649 and among those who’d signed the warrant for the execution of King Charles I of England.

In that universe, Horton had died of natural causes—disease, presumably; the American records were not specific—while serving in Ireland under Cromwell. In this universe, King Charles was still on the throne and his chief minister Richard Boyle, the Earl of Cork, had seen fit to cut the matter short—along with the man himself.

In the universe the Americans came from, Horton’s heirs had been deprived of their estate during the Restoration in the 1660s. Wentworth didn’t doubt for a moment that they’d already been stripped of the estate in this one. Among his other charming characteristics, Richard Boyle was ravenously greedy. By all accounts, the king was mired in melancholia and paid no attention to the affairs of his realm. The Earl of Cork had become for all practical purposes the military dictator of England and he saw to it that all property seized from “traitors” wound up either in his own hands or those of his close associates and followers.

“Why execute Monck at all?” asked Henry Vane plaintively. “Or Fairfax, for that matter? Both of them helped the Restoration in the end.”

Wentworth exchanged glances with the man sitting at the other end of the table. That was Robert Devereux, the Earl of Essex. He and Thomas Wentworth were more-or-less the two recognized leaders of the group. “More or less,” because as yet the group itself was only more or less a group. It was still an association of like-minded individuals rather than the formally-constituted revolutionary organization that both Wentworth and Devereux were striving to establish.

Robert understood the meaning of that glance. There was a great deal of personal friction between Thomas and Henry Vane, which stemmed from the fact that Vane had discovered in the course of perusing the American history texts that in that other universe he had disliked Wentworth for reasons having to do with the complex politics of the time. The cretin had chosen to adopt the same hostile stance in this universe—and never mind that none of the events which produced the hostility had happened in this world or ever would.

But it would be best to leave those embers unstirred. So Robert took it upon himself to answer Vane’s question—and did so a lot more diplomatically than Thomas would have himself. It was a cretin’s question, after all.

“Boyle’s got his own ambitions, Henry, that’s why. He doesn’t want anyone at the court who could make a claim to the king’s confidence, besides himself. Given the king’s nature—even on his best days, which these aren’t—that’s not unlikely. Charles is petulant. Sooner or later, the Earl of Cork is bound to annoy him. When that time comes, Boyle doesn’t want anyone like Monck or Fairfax around whom the king might decide would make a suitable replacement for him.”

Thomas Harrison grunted sarcastically. “Not all that likely, Robert! You’re presuming that His Royal Idiocy has actually studied the up-time histories.” He gave Wentworth a look that was not entirely friendly. “What actually happened is that he learned of the basic fact that concerned him—they cut my head off!—and then left it to Strafford here to learn the details and act accordingly.”

Wentworth’s jaws tightened, but he made no protest. It would be hard to do so, of course, since Harrison’s account was fairly accurate. As for the harshness of the man’s attitude...

Again, the weight of history. In this world, Harrison had had the good sense to flee England as soon as he heard of Pym’s arrest. At the time, he hadn’t read any of the up-time texts himself, but he’d sensed what was coming.

There was no guesswork involved any longer. In that other universe—and by now Harrison had read the texts—he’d been executed at the Restoration.

“There’s no point in digging all that up,” Devereux said mildly. “Thomas did as the king bade him do, which is the task of any minister. But he didn’t go any farther than that, and he certainly didn’t oversee the sort of wholesale slaughter that Boyle’s been responsible for.”

After a moment, Harrison nodded stiffly. “True enough. If I’ve caused any offense, Thomas, my apologies.”

“None needed.” Wentworth smiled ruefully. “It’s not as if anything you said isn’t true.”

John Bradshaw had been silent, up till now. “I want to change the subject,” he said. “What are we going to do about this other unpleasant news?”

Silence came over the room, as the men sitting around the table exchanged glances with each other.

The other unpleasant news were the tidings that had arrived just this morning. Karl Ludwig, the oldest surviving son of the Elector Palatine, had assumed his father’s title when Frederick V died less than three years earlier. Along with his mother Elizabeth, who was the daughter of King James and the current English king’s older sister, he’d been residing in Brussels for years in what amounted to Spanish captivity. Very pleasant and genteel captivity, to be sure, but captivity nonetheless.

And now, it seemed, the eighteen-year-old Karl Ludwig had converted to Catholicism—taking with that conversion the best option the English exiles had to replace King Charles. No matter how unpopular Charles and his chief minister Richard Boyle might have become, there was no way the English populace would accept a Catholic monarch.

Harrison grunted again. Not sarcastically this time, though. The sound had an almost pleased quality to it.

“I never thought much of Karl Ludwig anyway,” he said. “With him sworn over to the damn papists, that puts Rupert next in line—and I’ll be the first to say I’d far rather have Rupert on the throne of England.”

Wentworth sighed, and ran fingers through his hair. “So would I, Thomas, so would I. But Rupert will refuse if we raise the idea with him.”

“Are you certain of that?”

“I’m afraid so. As most of you know, I’ve become rather close to the boy over the past months. I’ve never raised the possibility directly, of course—that would have been most inappropriate, with his older brother still in possible line of succession—but I know him well enough to know that he wouldn’t accept. He’s bound and determined to avoid the same career he had in the other world. He says he intends to become an inventor instead. Or possibly an artist. Or both.”

“An inventor!” exclaimed Henry Vane. “That’s absurd!”

Wentworth felt obliged to come to Rupert’s defense. “Actually, later in his life—after the Restoration, I mean—Rupert became quite an accomplished inventor. And artist as well.”

“It’s still absurd,” insisted Vane. “And he wasn’t king in that world, anyway, so I fail to see the problem.”

You wouldn’t, thought Thomas. But he left it unsaid. Whatever else had or might change, the dictates of diplomacy had not, did not and would not.

Devereux pulled out a timepiece. “We need to go, gentlemen. It’s almost five o’clock.”

Wentworth rose from the table along with him. So did Hampden.

“Where are you off to now?” asked Bradshaw.

The Earl of Essex made a face. “It’s another of Jonson’s masque rehearsals.” His eyes widened. “But it occurs to me that since we’ll be wearing masks anyway—incredibly elaborate ones, to boot—that you could go in my place.”

Bradshaw shook his head, smiling. “What? So I could stand around being bored while that decrepit old poet tries to remember what he’s about? No, thank you.” He waved an airy hand at Devereux, Hampden and Wentworth. “You three splendid—no, resplendent!—fellows are more than enough to attend to the needs of protocol.”

“Have fun,” said Harrison, chuckling.

Henry Vane looked envious. Certain proof, if any were needed, that the man was a cretin.


“Wentworth, Essex and Hampden,” said Robert Clifford. He spoke softly, with his head canted slightly forward to bring his mouth closer to the three men listening to him. “Remember. Those are the key targets.”

“And if we succeed with all three and have time to spare?” asked Matthew Bromley.

The corner of Clifford’s lips twisted in the manner he had when thinking. After a moment he said: “It doesn’t really matter that much. Laud, of course. But the reason I didn’t place him with the first three is because he never attends these affairs.”

While he’d been speaking, Bryan Neville had been keeping an eye on the windows of the large house in whose shrubbery they’d hidden, although nothing beyond shadows could be seen through the curtains. Now, he chuckled slightly. “God forbid the once-and-still-imagines-he-is archbishop of Canterbury should participate in such frivolous pastimes.”

Bromley frowned. He was quite devout and disapproved of using the Lord’s name in vain. But he made no open protest. The other three men present were not devout at all—their leader Clifford fell just short of being an outright freethinker—and they were quick to ridicule.

“How soon do we move?” asked the fourth man. That was George Wilchon, who’d once been a bookbinder’s apprentice in Norwich before his uneven temperament had caused him to be dismissed. A week later he’d stabbed his former master to death in an alley by way of revenge and discovered his current trade.

Clifford glanced at the sky and then at the windows. At Amsterdam’s latitude, twilight was a protracted affair. They’d crept into the bushes after sunset but had had to wait a considerable time before it was dark enough for their business. By now, though, night had fallen and since they were just three days past a new moon there wasn’t much light in the streets.

All of their targets had arrived and judging from what Clifford could tell the rehearsal had finally gotten underway. He’d wanted to wait for that to begin just as much as he’d wanted to wait for full darkness. The demands of the rehearsal would keep everyone pre-occupied while he and his men made their entry into the house.

“No reason to wait any longer,” he said. He eased his way out of the shrubbery, heading for the narrow pathway that led around to the back. The house wasn’t quite big enough to qualify for the term “mansion” but it came very close. Happily for their project, the kitchen was in an isolated extension of the house and there was a rear service entrance. They should be able to get inside without much in the way of noise or fuss, and they’d only counted two cooks.

The cooks were both men, and would of course be very familiar with knives. But Clifford foresaw no great difficulty. Skill at cutting meat was by no means the same thing as skill at cutting men.


“No, no, no!” exclaimed Ben Jonson. The old playwright limped toward the center of the room. “You!” he said, pointing at Rupert. Despite the mask he was wearing, the young prince’s height made him quite recognizable. “You’re supposed to be still, not capering about! Go sit down until you think you’ve mastered the meager skill.”

Rupert restrained his temper easily enough. He wanted to sit down anyway. Jonson couldn’t seem to make up his mind about what he wanted and Rupert’s feet were getting sore.

He strode over to the wall where his sister was sitting and flung himself into the chair next to her.

“I was not ‘capering about,’ ” he hissed. “Just...”

“Moving a lot,” said Elizabeth. Rupert couldn’t see her face because, like him, she was wearing a full mask. But he was darkly certain she was smiling.

* * *

His sister was smiling, in fact. It was not an expression of derision, though, but one of sympathy. Elizabeth had had quite enough of Ben Jonson. The famous poet and playwright was irascible, bad-tempered—and worst of all, she didn’t think he had all his wits about him any longer. He would yell at someone for not doing something Jonson had forgotten to tell them to do; and then yell at someone else for doing something he had told them to do but had since forgotten he’d done so.

She called it “senile” or “being in his dotage.” Her instructor Anne Jefferson insisted that such terms were imprecise and unscientific and that Jonson suffered instead from one or another form of dementia brought on by his advanced years. Most likely something called “Alzheimer’s disease.”

Americans could be a bit tiresome. Had there ever existed a people more prone to making pointless distinctions?

Naturally, they had expressions for that too. Splitting hairs. Crossing the t’s and dotting the i’s. Fussing over the fine points.

“No, no, no!” Jonson yelled again, this time at a woman. Elizabeth wasn’t sure because of the mask, but she thought that was Mrs. Hampden. She extended her unspoken sympathies still further with another smile.


As Clifford had foreseen, the cooks proved to be no problem. But there was a servant boy they hadn’t expected, nine or ten years old and quick on his feet. Luckily, his shrill peal of alarm was drowned out by a shouting voice coming from the salon and Bromley caught him before he could call out again or flee the kitchen.

His little corpse joined those of the two cooks in the root cellar.

“Quietly now,” Clifford said. He entered the dim hallway leading into the rear quarters of the house.


As one of the servants guided Anne and Olearius through the house, Anne could hear Jonson’s hollering while they were still twenty feet from the door leading to the main salon. That was a solid, heavy door, too.

She sighed with exasperation. “I am really getting sick of that man.”

Her husband smiled and drew back one side of his coat. Anne could now see a pistol tucked into his belt. “Have no fear, dearest. Should the old reprobate misbehave again, I shall—what’s that charming American phrase?—plug him full of holes. Well. One hole, anyway. It’s just a single-shot flintlock.”

Anne’s eyes widened with alarm. Well. Some alarm. Her husband wasn’t a hot-tempered man. “Oh, please! That old lecher? I assure you that I can handle him quite easily myself—as I did when he made his advances, remember? You really didn’t need to bring that on his account.”

They’d reached the door to the salon and the servant began to draw it open. Adam’s smiled widened. “I was only joking. I didn’t bring the pistol because of Jonson. I just don’t trust Amsterdam’s streets at night.”

They came into the salon. Jonson turned and glared at them. “You’re late! And why aren’t you wearing your masks?”


Now,” said Clifford. Neville, the biggest of them, kicked in the door to the salon leading from the back chambers. Clifford piled through, followed by Wilchon and Bromley.

The salon was packed with people. And most of them were wearing masks!

Clifford hadn’t expected that. He and Wilchon had learned from casual questioning of one of the servants in a nearby tavern that their targets were among a crowd of people rehearsing a masque. But neither Clifford nor any of his companions had ever observed a masque in person, those being generally entertainments of the upper classes. Without thinking much about it, he’d simply assumed they weren’t much different from the plays he’d seen performed.

One man sitting nearby was not wearing a mask and Clifford recognized him from woodcuts he’d been shown. That was the Earl of Essex, Robert Devereux, one of their main targets. He aimed his pistol and fired. The bullet struck the earl in the chest. He threw back his arms, the chair tipped over, and he fell to the floor.

There’d be no time to reload and Clifford didn’t want to use up his other pistol for such a target. Essex might already be dying anyway. Springing forward, he reached the earl, seized him by the hair and drew him up to a half-sitting position. Cutting his throat took but an instant.

Behind him, he heard his companions firing their pistols. He could only hope they hadn’t wasted the shots by firing at random.


* * *

Adam Olearius was a diplomat, not a soldier. He didn’t lack courage but he did lack an experienced combatant’s trained reflexes. So he was paralyzed for a couple of seconds before he thought to sweep his wife behind him with his left hand while he drew his pistol with the right.

That delay probably saved his life. The assassins were trained and experienced in these matters, so they ignored him. He seemed to pose no threat and they didn’t recognize him as one of the men they sought.

Two of the assassins fired at the same man, a tall fellow wearing a rather flamboyant multi-colored cloak. He slumped instantly to the floor. The third fired at a man standing perhaps eight feet away. From the long, dark and curly hair spilling out from behind his mask, Adam thought that was probably John Hampden.

The shot missed. Partly missed, rather. The man with the long curly hair cried out and clutched his left shoulder. Blood oozed from between his fingers.

His assailant threw down the pistol, drew another, and took aim again. It was all very quick—but by the time he could fire, a woman had arrived and was trying to pull the wounded man to the ground. The shot struck her instead, right in the middle of her back. She coughed. Blood burst from her mouth and splattered over the mask of the man she’d tried to protect.

That was Hampden. Adam recognized the costume of the woman who’d been shot while trying to save him as that of his wife.

Finally, he drew out his pistol. And, in his excitement and nervousness, dropped it onto the floor. But the man who’d shot Mrs. Hampden had ducked when he saw the pistol coming out, stumbled over someone who’d thrown themselves down in fear, and now stumbled onto his knees himself.

Both assassins who’d fired at the cloaked man had drawn new pistols and were advancing on Hampden. There was another assassin rising up behind them, too.

* * *

Rupert had no experience at all with this sort of bloody, brutal melee, and he was still only fifteen years old.

On the other hand, he’d been training with weapons for years and he was already immensely strong.

So he rose, turned, seized his chair and hurled it across the room. A great, solid oaken brute of a chair, as you’d expect to find in the salon of such a fine house.

The chair sailed across the room and struck the first of the two men about to shoot Hampden. He was knocked right off his feet and into the arms of his companion—who couldn’t stop himself from pulling the trigger of his own pistol.

The bullet cut through the fleshy hip of his dazed partner, was deflected, and flew across the room to strike Rupert’s sister Elizabeth in the head.

A glancing shot, luckily, and much of the bullet’s force had already been spent. Still, it was a bloody horrible sight. She clutched her head, blood spurted through her fingers, and she fell out of her chair.

Rupert roared with fury, seized Elizabeth’s chair—which had not quite tipped over when the girl spilled out of it—and sent that one hurtling after the other.

This second chair struck the two assassins, who were still tangled together with one of them holding up his partner. Both of them were knocked flat.

There was a third chair nearby. Rupert seized it and smashed it against the wall. A heavy oaken wall, as you’d expect in such a house. The force of the impact was enough to shatter the chair. The prince came away from the wall with a chair leg in each hand.

* * *

Dear God, that bastard’s strong! Clifford aimed at the tall figure striding toward him and squeezed the—

Damnation! Some old fool stumbled in the way and the bullet took the top of his head off.

No time to reload. Clifford hurled the pistol at his opponent and drew his dirk.

* * *

Thomas Wentworth hadn’t come armed to the rehearsal. But the man who’d murdered poor Elizabeth Hampden had fallen to the floor and was now trying to rise not more than six feet away. Wentworth balled his fist, strode over, and struck the man behind the ear. Once, again, again, and yet again.

Wentworth was a large man, quite well-built, and he was in a fury. The blows knocked the killer senseless.

* * *

Rupert’s training finally took over. He recognized the stance and knife-grip of the man facing him as that of an experienced bladesman. There was a straightforward way to handle such an opponent, when you had a sword—which the prince didn’t, but a stout chair leg would substitute quite nicely.

Especially because he had two of them. He hurled the one in his right hand at the assassin’s head.

The man ducked, and when he came up with the knife leading the way as it should, Rupert smashed his hand with the oak table-leg. The assassin cried out and clutched the shattered hand with his other. Rupert now smashed both hands.

The training left him. Rupert’s opponent was helpless, the prince was very young, and the swine had foully murdered his sister. He drew back the club and brought it down with all the power of an arm that had just turned two oak chairs into splinters.

“Rupert, no!”

That was Wentworth. But he barely heard the voice. The club crushed the assassin’s skull like an egg. About the only difference was that a ruptured brain came out instead of a ruptured yolk.

* * *

Adam Olearius finally brought up his pistol, ready to fire. But it was all over.

One man was obviously dead, another had been beaten unconscious by Wentworth, and the two whom Rupert had knocked off their feet with the chairs he’d thrown were now being...

Olearius winced. Beaten to a pulp, it seemed, by just about every man in the room and a fair number of the women.

His wife Anne raced over, trying with the instincts of a nurse to halt the carnage.

Being honest, Adam couldn’t wish her much luck in the project. It was all he could do not to race over himself and shoot one of the bastards.

Instead, he turned to help Elizabeth Stuart. Anne had glanced at her young protégé before running over to the mob in the center of the salon. With her experienced eye she’d immediately seen that while the girl’s head wound was gory it wasn’t really dangerous.

Once he reached her, Adam discovered that Elizabeth had come that realization herself. “Just get me a cloth of some sort,” she said, continuing to press her hand onto the wound. Her lips were tight but she seemed otherwise quite composed. “Preferably sterile, although I don’t know where you’ll find a sterile cloth in this chaos and confusion. Is my brother all right?”


There came a now-familiar roar from the center of the room. The tall figure of Rupert rose up from the mob assailing the two killers. He held one of the men above his head.

Another roar, and the man was sent flying across the room to smash into the wall and slide to the floor, bringing a large portrait of a prosperous burgher down with him.

The boy’s strength was really quite astonishing.

“Well. Yes. I’d say he’s in good health.” After a moment he added: “I’m afraid Ben Jonson was killed, though.”

The princess nodded; a bit gingerly. “I’m sorry to hear it.”

“Perhaps it’s just as well. His reputation won’t be ruined now, the way it seemed it might be.”

“Yes. And I didn’t like him. But I’m still sorry.”

For someone born of such royal lineage, Elizabeth Stuart was really quite a nice young woman. So Adam’s wife had told him and he saw no reason to disagree.

There came another roar. Adam looked over. Rupert was rising up again, with the other assassin in his hands.

Another wall shook, and another portrait came down.

So was her brother, for that matter. Allowing for the occasional—quite justified, Adam thought—insensate fury.

Give him a few more years, and the prince would be a frightful enemy for those who drew down his ire.


“But Hampden himself is all right, yes? That’s what matters.”

Wentworth tightened his jaws, restraining his temper. Henry Vane could be trying.

To put it mildly. The term “ass” came to mind also. For that matter, so did “asshole.”

The look that Thomas Harrison was giving Vane made it obvious that he was entertaining similar thoughts.

“I would strongly urge you not to say that in front of Hampden himself,” Harrison said. “John’s likely to take his rage out on you. He was close to his wife, you know.”

Vane looked vaguely alarmed. But then, Vane often looked vaguely alarmed about many things.

Ireton leaned back in his chair. “It’s too bad we couldn’t get any useful information from the surviving assassins.” He slapped the table with exasperation. “You’d think among the three of them that at least one would know something.

“Two of them, it’d be more accurate to say,” grunted Bradshaw. “One of the swine the prince used to decorate the wall came out of the experience with his mentis pretty much compost.”

Wentworth shrugged. “He probably didn’t know any more than his fellows. It’s clear enough that the one Rupert killed was the leader of the gang. These are just criminals, when all is said and done. Cut-purses and murderers-for-hire. Boyle hired them, obviously, but he would have worked through intermediaries. I doubt if even the ringleader knew who his ultimate employer was.”

“Too bad.” Ireton slapped the table again. “If we could just prove...”

Wentworth finally managed a smile. The first one, he thought, since those horrid events three days before. “I don’t think it matters. The only person whose opinion is truly critical is the prince, and he’s sure and certain—as only a teenage boy can be—that the Earl of Cork was behind it all. Not to mention—”

Wentworth cleared his throat. This was perhaps a bit embarrassing. “Rupert, ah, also believes that he and his sister were among the assassins’ targets. And he is purely furious about the assault on Elizabeth. Which he considers dastardly, unchivalrous, wicked, beyond all forgiveness—his terms, mind you—and for which he holds his uncle ultimately responsible.”

Everyone at the table stared at him. Bradshaw cleared his throat. “I think it’s almost certain that the assassins had no intention of harming the Stuart children. Probably didn’t even know they’d be there.”

“Supposition, supposition,” stated Wentworth. “Who’s to say?”

Ireton grinned at him. “And you’re not about to suggest to the prince that his suspicions are unwarranted.”

“No, I’m not. I believe Prince Rupert’s thoughts are now running down an excellent channel and I see no reason to risk diverting that flow.”

There was silence for perhaps a minute. Then Ireton grinned again. “It occurs to me that there never was a King Rupert of England in that up-time universe. Proving once again that predestination is as slippery as an eel.”

Henry Vane frowned. He was clearly of the suspicion that theological error lurked somewhere in that statement by Ireton. Thankfully, he was not smart enough to figure out how or why.


“It’s too bad about Wentworth and Hampden,” commiserated Paul Pindar. “Would have been nice to get Laud too.”

The Earl of Cork shook his head. “The truth is, the scheme worked better than I thought it would. Essex alone is worth the cost.”

The man who was England’s ruler in fact if not in name rose and went to the window. From his vantage point in the royal palace at Whitehall he had a good view of Westminster as well as the City of London. He clasped his hands behind his back and spent a couple of minutes surveying his domain. The expression on his face was one of satisfaction.

“These sort of assassinations are always a toss of the dice,” he said finally. “But even if they only partially succeed—or fail altogether, for that matter—there’s no harm in trying.”

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