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PART ONE

 


August 1634

He with his horrid crew


Chapter 1

 


Frankfurt am Main
Independent imperial city
United States of Europe


"We could do it, you know," Gui Ancelin said. He threw the newspaper down on the table in the private parlor at Isaac de Ron's inn. "The woman, this Dreeson's wife, has turned up in Basel, it says. Logically, to return to the USE, she will shortly be traveling right through Frankfurt. An old woman. How hard could it be to intercept her?"


"We will not violate the trust Michel has placed in us!" Guillaume Locquifier said forcefully. He even went so far as to make a fist at the other man.


Mathurin Brillard blinked. That was not part of Guillaume's usual repertoire of gestures, but he was unusually furious this morning. Possessed by all of the classical furies. Even more immovable and stubborn than usual.


The table was covered with newspapers, and their headlines. Headlines about the new king in the Netherlands and the prospect that Frederik Hendrik, the Calvinist prince of Orange, would betray his Protestant allies by compromising with the Spaniard—formerly the cardinal infante. Headlines about airplanes. Headlines about the archduchess Maria Anna of Austria, who was going to marry that Spanish conqueror after having fled from her intended husband, the duke of Bavaria, on the eve of her wedding.


There were also headlines about the up-time woman, Simpson's wife. Headlines about Admiral Simpson, who apparently had plans to install a major naval facility within the lands surrounded by those that the Spanish conqueror had already occupied.


There were even headlines about the Grantville mayor's wife, Veronica Richter, who had accompanied Simpson's wife and the former Austrian archduchess in their adventures.


Admittedly, it was maddening. So far, Michel Ducos had not given the people he left behind in Frankfurt permission to do anything at all. Brillard sometimes suspected that Michel was trying to hog all the glory for himself.


But Ducos and Antoine Delerue had placed Guillaume Locquifier in charge of the group in Frankfurt—and as far as Locquifier was concerned, Michel Ducos was The Great Leader. A brilliant leader; an inspiring leader. If seeing him that way would not amount to idolatry, almost a semi-divine leader.


Not to mention a somewhat intimidating leader.


In Brillard's personal opinion, Ducos was also a leader who was more than halfway to becoming insane. He never mentioned that to Guillaume, of course.


So, no matter how furious Locquifier became at the news in the papers, he would wait. Which was precisely what he was proclaiming now.


"Michel has never mentioned this woman. We do not have time to get his permission by way of Mauger's commercial contacts before she will have come and gone. She may not be part of his greater plan. We do not know all the details of his greater plan. He has not chosen to impart them to us."


Fortunat Deneau reached over and picked the paper up. "She will have guards around her if she comes on a Rhine boat. There are still so many different jurisdictions along the Rhine that no one would let her travel without guards. If she travels by river at all, of course. Once she reaches Mainz, however, it is all within the USE to Frankfurt. Is she important enough that any of them would be detailed to accompany her to Frankfurt?"


"We cannot initiate anything without Michel's approval," Guillaume insisted. "Nothing. We will do nothing. Absolutement!"


Robert Ouvrard looked a little mutinous. "If and when we know for certain that she will follow this route, are we to sit around all winter, then, doing nothing but talk? Then maybe talk some more?"


"We may watch her," Locquifier conceded. "Once we know that she has left Basel, if she is coming this way, some of us may go down to Mainz. When she arrives there, we can observe her land. See where she stays. Find out how many people are in her party. Surely she will not be traveling entirely without companions for the rest of her trip, though she is unlikely to have bodyguards." He turned to Ancelin. "You and"—he looked around the room—"Deneau. Get on the same boat on which she comes to Frankfurt. Observe her. Hear anything useful that is to be heard. But . . . Do . . . Nothing."


"Why don't we at least write to Michel?" Ancelin picked up the paper again. "Ask for a sort of blanket approval that we can make some decisions here. Get his agreement that we can take out easy targets if and when we identify any, if they fit in with the prospect of destabilizing Richelieu. We wouldn't have to mention this particular woman. Just ask for something general."


"Non!" Ouvrard shook his head. "Tell Michel who this woman is. She makes a good example. Point out what a splendid opportunity we may be missing because of our obedience to his directives." He stood up, waving his hands in the air. "Michel is the leader, Guillaume, but he simply isn't here. Since we don't have, and won't have, one of the almost magical radios, not any time soon, we can't afford to wait for his approval of every single action. Even our Lord Christ, when he sent out the seventy to convert the world, did not reserve unto himself approval of every minor thing they decided to do."


"I will write him," Locquifier said finally. "But I will not do any more than ask. I will not urge. Remember what he told me in Italy. 'Don't be stupid, Guillaume. Do you propose to curse every soldier who stands against us? Divert ourselves at each instant in order to punish lackeys?' I, personally, have no intention of letting him call me 'stupid' again."


Brillard shrugged. It was more than he had expected Ancelin and Ouvrard to accomplish. Michel Ducos was not a man to be pushed. Guillaume Locquifier was not a man to try.


 


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Framed