Authors: Eric Flint,Andrew Dennis
Tags: #Fiction, #Alternative History, #Science Fiction, #Action & Adventure, #General
1635: A Parcel of Rogues - eARC
Advance Reader Copy
When the diplomatic embassy from the United States of Europe was freed from the Tower of London during the Baltic War, most of its members returned to the continent. But some remained behind in Britain: Oliver Cromwell and a few companions, including the sharpshooter Julie Sims, her Scot husband Alex Mackay, and Cromwell’s Irish-American self-appointed watchdog Darryl McCarthy.
Soon, the hunt is on for the most notorious rebel in English history, with King Charles himself demanding Cromwell’s head. The new chief minister Richard Boyle, Earl of Cork, brings over from Ireland a notorious crew of cutthroats led by the man called Finnegan to track down and capture the escapees from the Tower.
The hunt passes through England and into Scotland, where the conflict between Cromwell and his companions and their would-be captors becomes embroiled in Scotland’s politics, which are every bit as savage and ruthless as Finnegan and his men. To make things still more conflicted and confused, the time Darryl McCarthy spends fighting alongside Cromwell forces him against his will to admire and respect—and even like—the man, despite Cromwell’s demonic reputation among all self-respecting Irish nationalist families like Darryl’s own.
It’s a Gordian knot anywhere you look—until Julie Sims brings out her rifle. Now it’s the turn of Scot partisans and English lords and Irish toughs to learn the lesson already learned on the continent:
A safe distance isn’t what you think it is. Not after the American angel of death spreads her wings.
ERIC FLINT’S BESTSELLING
RING OF FIRE SERIES
by Eric Flint
with David Weber
1634: The Baltic War
with David Weber
1634: The Galileo Affair
with Andrew Dennis
1634: The Bavarian Crisis
with Virginia DeMarce
1634: The Ram Rebellion
with Virginia DeMarce et al.
1635: The Cannon Law
with Andrew Dennis
1635: The Dreeson Incident
with Virginia DeMarce
1635: The Eastern Front
1635: The Papal Stakes
with Charles E. Gannon
1636: The Saxon Uprising
1636: The Kremlin Games
with Gorg Huff & Paula Goodlett
1636: The Devil’s Opera
with David Carrico
1636: Commander Cantrell in the West Indies
with Charles E. Gannon
1636: The Viennese Waltz
with Gorg Huff & Paula Goodlett
1636: The Cardinal Virtues
with Walter Hunt
1635: A Parcel of Rogues
with Andrew Dennis
Grantville Gazette I-V,
ed. by Eric Flint
Grantville Gazette VI-VII,
ed. by Eric Flint & Paula Goodlett
Ring of Fire I-III,
ed. by Eric Flint
1635: The Tangled Web
by Virginia DeMarce
1636: Seas of Fortune
by Iver P. Cooper
with Marilyn Kosmatka
For a complete list of Baen Books by Eric Flint,
please go to www.baen.com.
1635: A Parcel of Rogues
This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely coincidental.
Copyright © 2016 by Eric Flint & Andrew Dennis
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form.
A Baen Books Original
Baen Publishing Enterprises
P.O. Box 1403
Riverdale, NY 10471
Cover art by Thomas Kidd
First printing, January 2016
Distributed by Simon & Schuster
1230 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10020
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
Printed in the United States of America
Fareweel to a’ our Scottish fame,
Fareweel our ancient glory;
Fareweel ev’n to the Scottish name,
Sae fam’d in martial story.
“All right, let’s put our backs to it,” said Stephen Hamilton, as the barge carrying the rest of the escapees from the Tower of London began to pull away downriver, Harry Lefferts waving over the stern.
Hamilton waved back, then turned to look north, toward the left bank of the Thames. “We’ve some rowing to do,” he carried on, “and upriver, what’s more. Unlike those lucky sods.”
Darryl McCarthy grabbed one of the oars racked down the center of the boat and swung it overhead to drop into a rowlock. As the boat turned gently in the current, it brought the receding barge into view. “Hallelujah,” he said softly, “I’m finally rid of the Schoolmarm From Hell.”
He heard a mild cough and turned to see Cromwell frowning at him from the other end of the thwart he was sitting on. “What?” he asked.
“Young fellow, if you propose to be my recording angel as I go up and down in the world,” Cromwell said, “I would ask that you not blaspheme like the devil you make me out to be.”
Darryl’s jaw dropped.
“He’s got a point, Darryl,” Gayle Mason called over. She was getting settled by the tiller while Stephen Hamilton was organizing himself on the rearmost thwart alongside Paddy Welch. “You got a potty-mouth on you.”
Darryl bit down on the first retort that came to mind. And the second. Because, he realized, both of them had been pretty ripe. Not four-letter stuff, but then that wasn’t nearly so big a deal nowadays. His mom hadn’t stood for Taking The Name In Vain, and hadn’t stood for it in capital letters with quite a lot of volume. Most folks nowadays set the bar on blasphemy even lower than she did. Some set it even lower still. Lowest of all for, let’s face it, Puritans. Like, for instance, one Oliver Cromwell.
Not so long ago, while maybe being a bit shamefaced if a lady’d called him on it, Darryl wouldn’t have cared two cents what Oliver Cromwell thought. Not Oliver get-you-to-hell-or-to-Connaught Cromwell. Not Oliver butcher-of-Drogheda Cromwell. He could have cared less what the man—demon, rather!—thought of the way a McCarthy spoke.
“All right, sorry. I’ll watch my mouth.”
Goodbye, Schoolmarm From Hell. Hello, Puritan Watchdog
. All the more ironic—a word he’d learned well from that very schoolmarm, who’d been amused by his detestation of the man turning into wary respect—that he’d insisted on following Cromwell to make sure he didn’t get up to the atrocities he’d committed in a future history that was now never to be.
“Backs to it, lads,” Hamilton called. “Mister Lefferts has left us transport at Stratford. Only a couple of miles up the Lee. Mistress Mason knows the way. Master and Mistress Mackay, Vicky, watch forward if you would. Now, ready oars and—stroke!”
The tide was running with them, fortunately, and the day was shaping up to be a cool morning. Darryl dug his oar in and pulled, watching Hamilton for the right way to do it. Damned if he was going to admit not really knowing what he was doing. Besides, how hard could it be? He’d paddled canoes back up-time, once or twice. There were six men rowing—Hamilton and Welch on the thwart astern of him, and Captain Leebrick and Dick Towson at the front. Alex, Julie and Vicky were perched in the bows on top of the load of baggage up there, with Gayle Mason perched on the crate holding her radio at the back.
Gayle certainly looked like she was enjoying the ride, the sea breeze up the Thames ruffling her hair as she scanned the river ahead. Darryl, for his part, began to find that rowing got old very fast. Like, five minutes fast.
“So, Stratford,” he said, timing his words between strokes of the oar, “that the place Shakespeare’s from?”
“Different Stratford,” Towson said from behind him. “Master Will, God rest him, was a Wiltshire lad. My da knew him. I can sort of remember him, a bit, but I was only a nipper when he went home to die.”
“There are a lot of Stratfords,” Cromwell remarked, leaning into his oar. “Three in Buckinghamshire that I can think of.”
. “I used to go fishing at Fenny Stratford, when I was a lad.”
. “We had cousins there. I remember—”
. “It was a long day’s ride with my father.”
“Two in London,” Hamilton remarked. “We’re going to the one on the Lea. Bit of a hole on the Colchester road. Marsh country.”
“Making good time,” Darryl said, after a few minutes, thinking the while that maybe the unit of rowing travel wasn’t the mile, it was the backache. Or maybe that was why they called it knots, on boats. Because you got knots in your damned spine. Not that he could say anything with Vicky right behind him. Admitting pain in front of the ladies was bad enough, but a guy’s intended? He’d laugh while they sawed his leg off, if it came to that.
“Still downriver,” Hamilton said. “We’ll be turning up the Lea in a little while.”
“Get harder then,” Cromwell observed.
“We’re catching up to the barge,” Julie called back. “I reckon you guys should take a breather. Besides, the testosterone is crinkling the paint on this thing.”
“Up oars,” Hamilton called, and swivelled on his thwart. “The what is doing what?”
“Oh, come on,” Julie said, grinning back as all six rowers glared at her, Darryl hardest of all since he’d known what she was talking about. “Nobody wants to be the sissy who doesn’t row as hard as everyone else. Give it up, we’re not being followed and not likely to be for hours.”
“Well, I wasn’t rowing any harder than I learned as a lad,” Towson said, “and Master Hamilton set the stroke. How about you fellows?”
“Me neither,” Hamilton said. “And of course we’re going faster than the barge, they’ve got fifty souls aboard and there’s but the nine of us in this cutter.”
“Isn’t this a wherry?” Welch asked. He was a little flushed in the face, Darryl was pleased to note.
“No, a wherry’s smaller, they’re those little boats the watermen use upriver,” Towson said. “They have to be of a size set by statute to be licensed. This is bigger, I think Master Lefferts bought this one off a ship. Or stole it, if he didn’t like the ship’s master. I reckon it was a ship’s pulling cutter, the kind they use for towing them out of a lee harbor.”
“I didn’t know you knew so much about ships, Richard,” Leebrick remarked.
“Well, I grew up in the busiest port in England, so I picked up a thing or two. Enough to know I was never going to sea for a living. Did enough rowing as a lad to be sick of the sight of water.”
“’Bout quarter-hour, for me,” Darryl said, which provoked a round of chuckles.
“We need some forward motion, or we’re just going to drift on the current,” Gayle called. “Stephen, if you call a slow stroke or something, you boys can save your sweat for going up the Lea.”
“Suits,” Hamilton said, “although we’ll get there slower, I suppose it’s as well to get there with some wind left for trouble. Watch me for a slow stroke, lads, and…”
That made things a little easier, Darryl found. With all six rowers pulling, even not making any great effort, the boat felt like it was traveling along at a good pace. After maybe an hour, and the Thames making no less than three near-hairpin turns, Gayle swung the boat hard left—or was it port? Darryl had no idea and cared less—and called out “River Lea, upstream from here, boys!”
“Not so hard, though,” Hamilton answered. “The Lea’s a marsh river, very slow. We’re not going far, just another mile or so. Less, as the crow flies, but there’s nowhere to tie up the boat this far down.”
Darryl bit down on a groan. And then, on a stream of riper observations. The unit of rowing distance wasn’t the backache, that had settled down once he got warmed up. It was the blister. And he couldn’t say a damn thing. Boat full of hardasses. Even one of the chicks was a hardass, nobody ever said Julie Mackay was soft. Come right to it, Gayle was made of pretty strong stuff and if Vicky was a little less steely, it was only by comparison with the two lady shooters. If Darryl was going to hold up the West Virginia hillbilly end of hardassdom in this boat, he’d have to keep his mouth shut. Even leaving out of account that there were women present, no matter how salty.
“Things are closing in somewhat, too,” Alex Mackay called back from where he was spotting for his wife. “Sharp eyes all round, if you please, we’re in range of even muskets now.”
Made sense, Darryl thought. The banks of the Lea might consist of low green growth that wouldn’t hide a man with a musket, unless he was willing to dig right in, but they were maybe twenty, thirty yards away each side. A musketeer willing to wade—and somehow armored against a boat full of hardasses with up-time weapons, granted—could probably get to ten yards’ range without getting his nuts wet.
“If one of you could stand?” Hamilton suggested. “We’re in flatter water now, it should be less tiring. And it makes sense we should be watching for river-rats and the like. An alert watch will deter them, if there are any about.”
“More a winter thing,” Towson said, easing into the faster, stronger stroke Hamilton had started setting. “This time of year they’re taking laboring work in the fields. Easier than robbing passing boats.”
“Easier’n rowing them, too,” Darryl added. “You know, this is the first time I ever rowed a boat? Paddled a canoe a couple times, but never rowed.” Apart from the sore hands, it was actually getting easier. And he was definitely better warmed up now. It helped that he had Hamilton ahead of him, who seemed to know what he was doing, and he was picking up little tricks as he went along.
“You’re doing fine for a first-timer, then,” Towson said. “The basics are easy enough. Most of the rest is working at it enough to be able to do it all day and every day without killing yourself, such as the watermen do.”
As he spoke, Gayle was putting the tiller hard over to the right, which nearly had Darryl clashing oars with Hamilton—on the inside of the turn, Hamilton was instinctively shortening his stroke and he’d nearly missed the change in rhythm.
“Of course there are some little things to pick up still,” Towson said, chuckling, “which is why you’re on this side between me and Stephen, and Master Cromwell is by you between Patrick and Anthony. Our two worst rowers where they can take stroke first and have a better rower behind them to pick up their mistakes.”
“Aye,” Cromwell added, “it was rowing that convinced me to stay a farmer. Did I run away to sea, I might have to do this more often. For all of me, I think rowing ought be a punishment for a blaspheming tongue.”
“All right, I got the message,” Darryl said, quite amused despite himself at the quiet and dry wit.
“Hard left coming up,” Gayle called.
“That means you take a longer stroke,” Towson said. “Watch Stephen for the right length and pressure.”
Darryl just grunted. All this effort and blisters and he had to think about what he was doing? Yeah, the guys who’d decided to stay on land were as right as right could be. Not a whit of argument from him, no sir.
* * *
“Just leave the boat,” said Anthony Leebrick. “But make sure you tie it up properly, Richard. Adrift, it’s likely to draw attention.”
Towson gave him a look that was not filled with admiration. “Indeed. And what other sage advice do you have, O my Captain? Make sure that I don’t drive the wagon stark naked, shouting in every village we pass through that we’re the ones who just carried out the biggest escape from the Tower of London in English history?”
Leebrick gave him a grin that was somewhat sheepish. “Well…point taken.”
Gayle Mason, meanwhile, had been giving the wagon that Patrick Welch had brought out of the nearby village’s stable a look that was even less admiring. “I thought Harry’s coffers were the envy of Midas. He couldn’t afford anything better than this?”
“Which is exactly why I’m riding one of the horses,” Julie said. “No way I’m trusting my spine to that thing.”
“Swell.” Gayle gave the horses in question an equally sceptical examination. “But as I believe you know, ‘Gayle Mason’ and ‘horseback’ go together about as well as ham and…and…and…whatever. Not eggs. Maybe tofu. Or rutabagas.”
Spotting the smile on Oliver Cromwell’s face, Gayle asked him, “And what’s so funny?” The expression on her face, however, removed the crossness of the words themselves. Now that she and Oliver had been able to spend a little time together in person, the very peculiar quasi-romance that had developed over months of nothing but conversations on walkie-talkies seemed to be…
Coming along quite nicely, she thought. Still very early days, of course.
“Actually, I think your Harry Lefferts is something of a genius at this work.” Cromwell nodded toward the beat-up old wagon and the four nags that drew it. “This won’t draw any attention at all. Not anywhere in the English countryside, and certainly not in the Fens.”
Alex Mackay swung into the saddle of one of the other horses. Gayle thought there was something vaguely comical about the motion. He went into the saddle with all the ease and grace you’d expect from an experienced cavalry officer. Much the way a champion motocross racer might climb onto a tricycle.
Those other horses weren’t quite nags. But she hoped they didn’t pass a glue factory along the way, or the horses would head for it unerringly.
“All right, all right. Oliver—you too, Darryl—give me a hand loading the radio gear into this heap, will you?”
To Gayle’s gratification, “give me a hand” meant that Oliver took one end of the heavy damn thing and Darryl took the other. To her was left the proper chore of giving orders.
“But be careful putting it into the wagon. Be very careful.”
Cromwell grunted as he helped lift the thing up to the wagon’s bed. “Fragile, is it? You wouldn’t think so.”
“I’m not worried about the radio.”
Cromwell smiled. Darryl kept his mouth shut. The blisters had faded to a dull ache over the last half hour of rowing that had brought them to this little village by the ford, but lifting the radio crate up into the wagon had popped everything open. He wandered off, fishing quietly in his pockets for a handkerchief to clean off the gunk. It didn’t look like it’d be worth unpacking everything to get the aid kit out just yet. He could wait until they got to wherever they were stopping for the night. Get some boiled water, too.