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The Anatomy Lesson

Eric Flint



"I've got a headache," Anne Jefferson announced.

Her fiancé, Adam Olearius, cleared his throat. "It might be better to say, you have at least two of them."

Anne removed the hands rubbing her temples long enough to glare at him. "Oh, very funny. Very, very funny." Then went back to the rubbing.

"I wasn't actually trying to be witty," he said. "It's just my diplomat's reflexes."

"You call piling another headache onto the one I've already got being diplomatic?" she grumbled.

"Not you, dearest. I was speaking of Europe." Olearius leaned back in the chair in Anne's salon, turned his head, and peered out the window.

"How shall I count the ways?" he mused. "It's a headache for the king in the Netherlands; for the prince of Orange; for Duke Ernst Wettin, the USE's regent in the Oberpfalz; and . . ." After a pause, he waggled his hand back and forth. "Probably even a headache for Gustav Adolf himself. Or his prime minister, at least."

"And me," Anne said forcefully. "Especially me."

Her tone was quite surly.

"And you, of course."


"Yes, yes, gentlemen, I know it would be easiest if I simply forbade the girl and her brother to undertake their proposed change of residence to Amsterdam." Not quite glowering at them—almost, but not quite—Fernando I, King in the Netherlands, stared at the five advisers sitting around the large table in his council chamber. "Unfortunately, the situation is delicate."

"The emperor is not likely to go to war over the issue, Your Majesty," pointed out Pieter Paul Rubens.

"No, he isn't. If for no other reason than that it's convenient for Gustav Adolf to have the heirs to the Palatinate officially held captive by the Span—by the Netherlanders. It keeps them out of his hair."

The near slip did cause the king to glower at his advisers. He still hadn't gotten used to referring to himself as "Netherlander" rather than Spanish. Being, as he was, the younger brother of the king of Spain and having considered himself Spanish all his life until very recently.

That was hardly the fault of the advisers, of course. But Fernando figured that being glowered at from time to time was a reasonable part of their duties.

"At the same time," he continued, "the emperor of the USE—who is also, I will remind you, the king of Sweden and the high king of the Kalmar Union—is officially the protector of the dynastic interests of that family. Being, as they are, Protestant and not Catholic. And being, as they are, the family whose claim to the Bohemian throne was made null and void by the Holy Roman Emperor of the time, my now-deceased uncle Ferdinand II of Austria. And while it could be argued that their claim to the Bohemian throne was . . . what's that American expression?"

"Dicey," provided Alessandro Scaglia. "Your Majesty."

Fernando gave him a thin smile. "You needn't toss in the honorific every two minutes, Alessandro. Thin-skinned, I am not."

Scaglia nodded. "Sorry, Your—ah, my apologies. I'm afraid I'm still engrained with Savoyard court custom."

Fernando's smile expanded. The two Savoyard dukes whom Scaglia had served as an adviser, Charles Emmanuel and his son and successor Victor Amadeus, had both been notoriously fussy about protocol. Fernando's private opinion was that their prickly attitude stemmed less from personality than from the objective situation of the Savoy. An independent duchy located between France, Italy and Spain—and which controlled several strategic passes through the Alps—had damn well better be prickly about protocol. Fernando's own relaxed attitude was due in no small part to the security of his situation. Given the size of his army, his demonstrated military skill, and the difficulties which the terrain of the Low Countries posed to any invader, he didn't care that much how anyone addressed him, as long as they were polite.

All the more so given the influence of his new wife. Whatever Maria Anna's upbringing might have been, in the Viennese court, the former archduchess of Austria was almost shockingly informal. Perhaps that was a residue from her adventures during the Bavarian war, when she'd smuggled herself through war-torn regions with the help of commoners.

She exhibited the informality that very moment. Leaning forward over the table and giving Alessandro a rather arch look, she put into words what Fernando himself had left unspoken.

"Well, of course. If I'd had to do the dance the Savoyard dukes had to do to keep from getting swallowed up over the past few years, I'd be insisting you had to throw in every single title I might have a claim to in every other sentence. And pity the poor chambermaids! 'I shall empty the chamber pot now, Your Majesty and formerly Your Highness.' "

She gave her husband a sly smile. "Fine. It's an exaggeration. In the ever-so-modern Netherlands—in the palace, at least—we have actual plumbing."

Fernando chuckled. "And very good plumbing it is, too, since I took on the service of the Van Meter woman. Which, oddly, brings us back to the subject at hand. Because we can now toss that item onto the pile, out of which we seek to extract a coherent position. I'm thinking that it would ill behoove a monarch who chose to hire a woman to design and build the plumbing in his palace—"

"An American woman," Rubens interjected.

Fernando gave him an astringent glance. "—to object if another woman chooses to study medicine."

He now swiveled to face Rubens squarely. "And I'm afraid your point about the Van Meter woman being an American speaks against your advice, Pieter, not for it. The Americans are the first to insist that they are not entitled to any special privileges." He raised his hand. "And spare me a recitation of the many ways in which, in the real world, they do get special treatment. That simply makes them all the more intransigent on the subject."

He leaned back in his chair. "The point being, that if I refuse to let the girl do as she wishes, I will incur the displeasure of the Americans as well as the emperor whom they advise. And, between us, I think I would rather risk Gustav Adolf's ire than theirs. I don't need a Swedish king's advice and assistance. I do need that of many of the Americans."

"That leaves the prince of Orange," said Scaglia.

The king made a face. "Yes, it does. And who knows what schemes Frederik Hendrik has in mind, concerning this?"

It was a rhetorical question, not a real one. Fernando provided the answer himself. "But you can be assured it will be devious."


Had Frederik Hendrik heard that last remark, the Prince of Orange would have laughed sarcastically. He'd have appreciated the general sentiment, but would have filled the king's ear with a detailed explanation—nay, lament—concerning the impossibility of coming up with a devious scheme to take advantage of the blasted girl's stubbornness.

Not that he hadn't tried. Alas, the situation was too hemmed in by other factors to give him any maneuvering room.

You could start with the fact that he was glumly contemplating his options from the vantage point of his library in the House of Orange-Nassau's ancestral estate in Breda, overlooking the gardens. Which, appropriately enough, were rather bleak-looking at this time of year. Instead of being able to contemplate his options from the vantage point of the library in the small palace he maintained in Amsterdam, overlooking the harbor.

True, the harbor was an even bleaker sight, this time of year. But it was—even in mid-winter—a much busier and bustling sort of bleakiness. Vibrant with the energy of the Netherlands' largest and most dynamic city. A city which was now, for all practical purposes, terra non grata for the man who was supposed to be its prince, a figure second only to the king in his stature in the Low Countries.

"Well . . . not that, exactly," Frederik Hendrik muttered to himself, staring at the flat landscape beyond the window. He was exaggerating out of irritation, and knew it. Whenever he visited Amsterdam, which he did quite regularly, the benighted Committee of Correspondence who actually ruled the city were always punctiliously polite. Gretchen Richter, for a marvel, was even cordial and friendly. But velvety as its cover might be, it was still her fist and not his that held the power in Amsterdam. And the woman was not hesitant to remove the glove when she felt it necessary

As had been very forcefully demonstrated to the burgomasters and patricians of the city less than two months earlier, when they tried to resume their previous positions of authority in Amsterdam after returning from their exile during the cardinal-infante's siege. Their self-selected exile, as Richter had bluntly pointed out. She and Amsterdam's commoners had remained in the city throughout the siege, after all. It was thanks to them—not the patricians and burgomasters residing comfortably elsewhere—that Don Fernando had never been able to take the city and had eventually agreed to the current settlement of the war.

"So you can go fuck yourselves," had been her final words, according to the many indignant accounts which Frederik Hendrik had heard from the patricians afterward. "You can have your property, and that's it. Your posts and positions are either gone—and good riddance, since half of them were useless—or someone reliable and worthy now sits in your place."

He'd had little sympathy with the complaints. He'd told them they were fools to think they could march into Amsterdam this soon after the siege and get anything but a boot in the ass. And the fact that the boot was a woman's boot didn't matter in the least. She was a big woman and a strong one, and had the devil's fury to tap when she chose to do so.

"Well, not that, exactly," the prince muttered to himself. As tempting as it was, at times, he didn't really think Richter was Satan's minion. Just someone who had concluded that the near destruction of her family and her own rape and forced concubinage were outrages perpetrated not simply by the immediate parties involved, but by all of Europe's high and mighty. Who would now pay the price, whenever and wherever she could charge it. If nothing else, she owed that much to the young brother who'd been killed in the battle of Wismar.

And . . . 

There really wasn't much anyone could do about it. The one time he'd raised the problem with the king, Fernando hadn't been much less blunt than Richter.

"It's your headache, I'm afraid, not mine. The displeasure and discomfiture of patricians and burgomasters is not much of a burden for me. Certainly not compared to the alternative. You know perfectly well that the Committee of Correspondence in Amsterdam can choose to secede from the Netherlands, if they feel pressed enough."

"They wouldn't dare!" one of Frederik Hendrik's courtiers had exclaimed. One of his soon-to-be-discharged courtiers. The idiot.

"Oh, wouldn't they?" the king had demanded frostily, giving the courtier in question a look that was downright icy. "As I recall, you were nowhere near the siege of Amsterdam at the time. While I, on the other hand, commanded the army besieging the city. For months, with everything I had—and I still couldn't take it. So don't tell me what Gretchen Richter and her people are and are not capable of daring. And, more to the point, doing."

He'd turned away then, and looked out over his own gardens in Brussels. "It wouldn't even be that hard for them. They have enough military strength in Amsterdam to close the city and keep it closed for months. More than they had, in fact, since I caught them off guard and today they are most certainly not. They've made an agreement with me—with us—and they're keeping to it. But Richter, whatever else she is, is very far from a trusting soul. Given her history, it's hard to blame her. So while she's kept the agreement—meticulously, in fact—she's also kept the city militia large and well-trained and has rebuilt and even strengthened the city's fortifications."

He shrugged. "Not forever, of course, if I brought the full weight of my army to bear. But they could certainly withstand a siege for as many months as they've already demonstrated they can—and long before then, they would have reached an accommodation with Gustav Adolf. There is no reason, after all, that Amsterdam couldn't become another province in his empire instead of a city in my kingdom. Not if the matter was pressed to the hilt."

The same courtier seemed to have no limit to his idiocy. "That's not possible! We've signed a treaty with him."

Again, came the icy royal gaze. "So we did. And so what? Treaties can be torn up. And while you may have forgotten that Gustav Adolf has an eye for acquiring new territory, I have not. And while you seem to have missed the sight of Admiral Simpson's ironclads patrolling the Zuider Zee—how did you manage that, by the way? the things are huge—have you even been to Amsterdam since the siege?—I have most certainly not. There is no way, unless you have overwhelming forces—which I do not—that a large port city can be taken by siege if the defenders control the adjoining waters. Only a lunatic would even try."

The courtier finally wilted away and the king turned back to the prince of Orange. "Anyway, you have my sympathies, Frederik Hendrik. But my position as king—by the same terms you not only agreed to, but even insisted upon—give me only limited powers within the provinces, and even more limited authority with regard to the affairs of the towns and cities. And what internal powers I do have in the cities are what you might call negative. I can, by law, prevent a church from being suppressed. I cannot, by law, establish a church."

That was a major fudge, of course. Nothing, by law, prevented the king in the Netherlands from subsidizing and supporting a church—so long as he did it in his private capacity and using his own resources, rather than those of the state of the Netherlands. Given that the king was far and away the richest man in the Low Countries, the distinction was to a considerable degree a formal one.

"The burgomasters are therefore your cross to bear, not mine," the king continued. "And I'm not about to run the risk of another war over an issue like this one. Quite frankly, from everything I can see the Committee of Correspondence does a better job of running Amsterdam than the patricians did. The disease problem is certainly much better."

So, there it was. And while most of Frederik Hendrik's advisers were well-nigh ecstatic at the recent news that Gretchen Richter would soon be leaving Amsterdam to return to her family in the Germanies, the prince himself did not share their sanguine expectations. Richter was, alas, a superb organizer, not simply a firebrand and agitatrix. By now, the Committee she'd forged was very solid and durable. She'd be gone, but it would remain—commanded by lieutenants whom she'd chosen and trained personally. In a generation, things might change. But they wouldn't change any time soon—and then, for all he knew, the changes would be for the worse.

On that, for sure, the king had spoken truly. The committee did run the city better than the patricians had. Even most of the merchants and burghers were now becoming reconciled to its rule, if they weren't highly placed in the patricianate. Business was booming again, and Richter had been very careful not to play favorites.

And if that left the Prince of Orange with the awkwardness of having a country whose provinces were dominated by wealthy and conservative patrician families, and whose principal city was the most radical in Europe except for possibly Magdeburg and Grantville itself, then so be it. He'd just have to scheme and maneuver around the situation, as deviously as he could.

Which brought him back to the problem at hand. He turned away from the window and picked up the letter from the girl's mother.

Written in a very fine hand, on the best paper you could ask for. The hand wouldn't be her own, of course, although the signature was and she'd have dictated the contents. But she'd have employed a secretary who, among other things, had splendid handwriting. In exile or not, officially in the captivity of the Netherlands or not, she was still Elisabeth Stuart. Sister of the king of England, the widow of the Elector of the Palatine and—very briefly—the queen of Bohemia. Among her ancestors she could name another king of England, a king and queen of Scotland, several kings of Denmark and Norway, and the Lord only knew how many dukes and duchesses. Among the latter of whom could be counted the redoubtable Marie de Guise, another woman who'd plagued the counsels of Europe's rulers in her day.

He sighed and dropped the letter back onto the table. Given that she'd written it, there was no longer any point in trying to persuade the mother to dissuade the daughter. She wouldn't have written the letter at all if her daughter hadn't talked her into it. And, that done, the matter would no longer be of concern to Elisabeth. By all accounts, to use one of those picturesque American expressions, Elisabeth Stuart had the maternal instincts of a brick. Children were a burden and, what was worse, they piled still more burdens atop their mothers. This particular burden having been shifted to someone else, she was no more likely to reconsider the decision than a mule.

King Fernando could have forbidden the girl and her brother from making the trip to Amsterdam, of course. He and he alone could even have enforced it easily, since they resided in exile in Brussels, right under his nose and the nose of the many guards he'd placed over the family.

From the opposite end, Frederik Hendrik could—in theory—bar them from entering any of those provinces assigned to the House of Orange to supervise. And—in theory—that would apply to Amsterdam as well, since—in theory—Amsterdam was simply one of many cities in the province of Holland.

Theory, theory, theory. In practice, the moment he did so the Committee of Correspondence would immediately issue an invitation to the pestiferous girl and her brother. Given Richter, they'd do more than just issue an invitation. They'd personally see to smuggling the two youngsters into the city and keeping them guarded against any attempt to get them out.

No, that alternative was just nonsense. Frederik Hendrik disliked the prospect of having two such potentially important figures in European politics rattling around essentially unsupervised in a city like Amsterdam, especially given their ages. The girl was sixteen; the boy fifteen. Both ages at which even the dullest villager could get themselves into trouble.

But . . . all the alternatives were worse. Much worse.

He turned from the window and summoned his secretary, who'd been standing politely by the door some distance away.

"We'll need to write the girl a formal letter of invitation. Her brother also. I leave the wording to you. Just make sure to be polite, if not effusive. I'll sign it when you're done."


Hands clasped over his stomach, Mike Stearns leaned back in his chair and gave Fernando Nasi that placid look that made anyone who knew him rather nervous, unless they knew him very well.

Since Francisco did know the prime minister of the United States of Europe very well, he remained unfazed.

"Explain to me again," Stearns said, drawling the words a bit, "why time needs to be taken from my busy schedule to discuss what we think of the impending visit of two teenage noblefolk to Amsterdam. To put it as bluntly as I can, who gives a damn?"

"Well, first, some corrections needed to be made to your summation. Imprimus, they are not 'visiting' the city, they propose to relocate indefinitely from Brussels to Amsterdam. Secundus, to call them 'noblefolk' is to understate the reality. 'Royalfolk' would be a lot more accurate."

"The girl's not a princess and the boy's not a prince. In fact, I'm not even sure if they have any titles at all."

Francisco shrugged. "Like most Americans, unaccustomed as you are to the fine points of aristocratic etiquette, you're missing the key element. Titles don't really matter, in the end. What matters is blood line. Should they find it to their advantage—not likely at the moment, of course—there is not a royal house in Europe that would hesitate to marry off one of their princes or princesses to either one of those children. They have at least half a dozen kings and queens in their ancestry. It would take overheating my laptop to figure out how many dukes and duchesses."

Mike grimaced. "You're right. I keep forgetting that people in the here and now take that 'blood' nonsense dead seriously. Me, in my crude West Virginia coal miner's way, I figure the title makes the big shot, not the other way around."

Nasi grinned. Whatever his origins, Stearns was about as far removed these days from a rural bumpkin as the Ottoman emperor. He'd driven Europe's very sophisticated political elite half-mad, over the past few years. But he did enjoy putting on the act, from time to time.

He dropped the grin and leaned forward. "Mike, seriously, this is not trivial. Duke Ernst in the Oberpfalz has already written at least one vigorous letter of protest to the emperor concerning the matter."

"Why?" said Mike—who then proceeded to make nonsense of his own pretense at bumpkin ignorance. "The heir to the Oberpfalz is the oldest brother, Karl Ludwig. He's still in Brussels. He's not proposing to budge an inch from under the noses of his Spanish captors-although-we'll-pretend-they're-not. Neither does the mother, who's the official regent. If you look at it her way."

"Nevertheless. Ernst is worried about a precedent being set. He figures the last thing the Oberpfalz needs is to have any of the official heirs show up before he's had time to . . . ah . . ."

"Whip the province into good enough shape that the heir can't meddle with it. How's that? Of which dastardly scheme I approve, by the way. I'd far rather have one of those very capable Wettin brothers running the Oberpfalz than some royal flake. And from what you've told me in the past, Karl Ludwig is flaky even if he probably doesn't qualify as a flake-capital-F. I still don't see why it's any concern of ours what his younger brother and sister do."

Francisco squinted at him. Mike was normally more astute than this. "In other words, you do not think it's something to give any thought to. The fact that two youngsters in line of succession to the throne of England as well as the Palatine—you could even make a case for Bohemia—will be spending the next year or so in close proximity to an American nurse. And probably just as close proximity to the Amsterdam Committee of Correspondence, if I know Gretchen."

"She's leaving Amsterdam soon."

"Her spirit will remain—as you've said to me by now perhaps a hundred times."

Mike scowled. Francisco was heartened and pressed on.

"Not to mention close proximity to Thomas Wentworth, if the former—and very capable—duke of Strafford and chief minister of England can finally pull himself out of the dumps."

Mike glared at him. Then, unclasped his hands and sat up straight. "Well, thank y'all very much, Francisco," he drawled. "I was sorta hoping I might have a light day today."


"At least agree to see the boy, Thomas," said William Laud. The archbishop of Canterbury—or former archbishop, if you listened to his enemies—shook his head at his friend Thomas Wentworth. "And you must cease and desist from this pointless melancholy."

Wentworth looked at him in silence, for a moment, through lowered lids. "He supported my execution, you know."

Laud threw up his hands with exasperation. "And people accuse me of being stubborn! That happened almost seven years from now—"

"Six years and six months." Wentworth smiled sadly. "I don't keep count of the exact number of days. But I never forget the date. It comes to me when I wake up, each and every morning. May 12, 1641. The day I was beheaded."

Laud glared at him. "And in a completely different universe."

"Different, yes. Completely different? That's laughable, William, and you know it."

Before Laud could continue, Wentworth raised a hand. "Just to keep from having you natter at me endlessly, I'll invite the boy for supper. I'll even be polite to the murderous little bastard. But he may very well decline the invitation, you realize. And I'm hoping he does."


"Good Lord!" exclaimed Rupert.

"You shouldn't blaspheme," reproved his older sister Elisabeth.

"But look at this!" The fifteen-year-old boy held up the letter he'd just opened. "Another invitation. And this one's from Wentworth, of all people."

"For someone who insists as mightily as you do that under no circumstances will you allow your former-or-somewhere-else historical fame as a soldier to determine your life in this existence—'nay, nay, I'll be an artist instead'—I can't help but notice that it's the invitations from political figures who excite your interest. Not the invitations from artists. Of which we've received any number, including from Rubens and Rembrandt."

The boy scowled. "Rembrandt's claim to fame comes entirely from that other universe. In this one, he hasn't done anything worth talking about yet. Well, not much."

Elisabeth waited.

"Okay, Rubens is different. I admit."

"And stop using that hideous Americanism."

"Okey-doke." And then he burst into inane teenage laughter.

"I don't for the life of me remember why I asked you to come along."

"Because I'm your closest relative. Your best friend, too."

Elisabeth considered the matter. "True, on both counts. I still can't imagine what possessed me."

Rupert gave her a sly look. "You'll need me, sister. You watch. When you puke your guts after seeing your first operation. I'll be there to console you and point out how ridiculous it was anyway, the idea of a girl like you becoming a doctor."


"You get no special privileges," Anne Jefferson said firmly. "Not a one. You scrub like everybody else."

"Certainly, Madame Jefferson."

And that was another thing! The girl was invariably polite. Even gracious. For all that Anne wanted to work up a quiet and pleasant mad at being placed in this awkward situation, the damn girl wouldn't let her.

Even Elisabeth's appearance drove Anne nuts. Half-consciously, she'd been expecting someone . . . 

Royal-looking. Anne wasn't sure what that meant, exactly—a long nose being looked down was the central image, of course—but whatever it was, it certainly wasn't what had presented itself to her that morning.

Herself, not itself. Very definitely, herself.

For starters, the girl was pretty. Not stunning, not gorgeous, nothing mythical or legendary in the least. Just pretty enough to have gotten elected prom queen any time she ran for it, in any West Virginia high school Anne could think of. The kind of sweet-looking prettiness that attracted boys but didn't make other girls resentful.

But Elisabeth wouldn't have run for prom queen, because she was shy. She didn't look down at people, she looked up at them from a slightly lowered gaze.

What kind of damn princess is shy?

"Don't call me 'Madame.' I think that's only for married women and I'm not married yet."

"Certainly, Mad—. Oh, dear. What appellation would you prefer?"

Anne didn't have it in her. She just didn't.

"How about you call me 'Anne.' And I'll call you 'Elisabeth.' "

Slowly, a shy and gentle smile spread across the girl's face. "Oh, I think that would be splendid."


All the way there, the next day, Rupert was practically bouncing off the walls of the coach.

"Oh, how marvelous! I can't believe the luck! You're to be cutting up Joe Buckley!"

Elisabeth sniffed. "First of all, I shan't be cutting up anyone. Madame Jeff—ah, Anne—will be doing the anatomy lesson, not me. I'll just be one of the people observing. And, secondly, who in the world is Joe Buckley?"

Rupert clasped a hand to his forehead, in the overly histrionic way that a teenage lad will demonstrate shocked disbelief.

"I can't believe you've never heard of Joe Buckley. The rascal's exploits were legendary. In his prime, the most notorious cutpurse in London."

Elisabeth sniffed again. "I can't imagine why I'd be acquainted with the names and doings of a foreign city's criminal element. Or you would be, now that I think about it."

Rupert gave her his girls-don't-understand look. And a splendid one it was, too.

"Just accept it as good coin. The man's a legend."

"The man's dead, now. And how would a London cutpurse wind up the subject of an anatomy lesson in Amsterdam?"

Her brother looked a bit discomfited. "Well. He had to flee London a few years back, since he'd gotten too well known. Then had to flee Paris, after he gained too much notoriety there also. Apparently, he turned up in Amsterdam just a few weeks ago."

"Indeed. And they caught him and hung him, as he so richly deserved." Elisabeth frowned. "Or perhaps they behead them, here in Holland. Although I can't imagine that Anne would choose a corpse without a head for an anatomy lesson.

Rupert looked more discomfited still. "Well. Well. He wasn't either hanged or chopped, it seems. The story is that he got drunk a night or two back and fell into the harbor in a stupor. Drowned, before anyone could fish him out."

Elisabeth burst into laughter. "Some legend!"

Her brother got a sullen look on his face. "So what? He's still Joe Buckley. You watch, sister. He'll be remembered long after you're forgotten by the world."

She turned her head and gave him a serene sort of look. "And you are forgotten also, no doubt. Given your firm resolve to devote your life to the higher pursuits instead of seeking fame and glory on the fields of war."


Before he could come up with a lame remark, Elisabeth peered out the window. "Oh, look! We've arrived."

Rupert got another sly look on his face. He rummaged around in the sack he'd insisted on bringing with him, and came out holding a small bucket. "I brought this for you. To barf in, like you will."

There being no suitable rejoinder that wouldn't be undignified—worse still, might tempt her with blasphemy—Elisabeth just sniffed and prepared to disembark. As short as she was, that was always something of a chore, if modesty was to be preserved.


Fernando chuckled, after reading the letter which had just arrived. "Well, that should relieve our good prince of Orange of a small burden, Pieter."

Rubens cocked an inquisitive head.

"That nurse of yours. Anne Jefferson. The one you used as a model so many times. Apparently, a shrewd woman, and devious in her own way. It seems the prospect of having a royal student didn't appeal to her any more than it did to any of us. So—devious, as I said—she arranged the poor girl's very first introduction to the medical arts to be an anatomy lesson. Imagine it, if you all. Delicate little Elisabeth, having to watch at close hand while a human body is cut up into pieces."

Rubens' eyes widened. "That must be the same anatomy lesson that my young friend Rembrandt will be attending."

"Rembrandt? Why would he . . . ?"

"Oh, not as a doctor—although, like any good painter, he has a keen eye for anatomy." Rubens grinned. "No, this is his way of handling a problem I've had to handle myself."

It was the king's turn to cock an inquisitive head. Rubens elaborated. "He did that painting, in another universe. A very famous one, apparently. The Anatomy Lesson. As you know, I find that having to maintain my art under the suffocating weight of a body of work I'd done elsewhere and elsewhen is difficult."

The king nodded.

"Rembrandt faces the same problem, only for him it's even worse. He's a young man still, which I'm certainly not." The artist shrugged. "So, perhaps for that reason, his solution is different from mine. Where I avoid work I did, he seeks it out. He'll do, in this universe, the same painting that he did, in another—but without trying to copy it. And he'll let posterity decide which of the two is the better."

Fernando chuckled again. "Let's hope he leaves out of it the inevitable climax. When the girl starts vomiting."


Frederik Hendrik's spies and informants in Amsterdam were even more numerous than the king's, and the city was closer. So he'd gotten the news the day before.

"Yes, it'll be happening . . ." He looked at the clock. "Right about now, I estimate," he said to one of his courtiers, sounding cheerful. "Remind me—at a suitable time, perhaps two weeks from now—to send that marvelous Anne Jefferson a short letter of thanks."

The courtier winced. "I hope someone thought to bring a bucket."


"—lobes to the liver, as you can see. This liver is abnormal, however, because of the man's quite obvious alcoholism. If you look closer, you'll be able to detect—"

Elisabeth peered more closely, as instructed. It was absolutely fascinating!

Her brother, known as Rupert of the Rhine in another universe, the royalist hero of the first English civil war, had left the chamber some time back. Looking very pale, and taking the bucket with him.


Three days later, looking philosophical, the king in the Netherlands laid down the letter from Amsterdam which had just arrived, after reading it to Rubens.

"What's that American expression, Pieter?"

"It's Scots, actually. In their own way, the Americans are worse cutpurses than the man on the table. Penned by a poet named Robert Burns who won't be born—wherever that birth happens—until sometime in the next century. 'The best laid schemes o' mice and men, gang aft a-gley.' "

He said the rhyme in English, a language in which he was fluent and the king was now adept.

"Yes. That one."


Frederik Hendrik, of course, had gotten the news much sooner. And was considerably less philosophical about it all.

"Well, there it is, I'm afraid. We'll need to develop a policy, after all. Whether we like it or not."

The courtier he favored least was the first to speak up—which explained a good deal of why he favored him the least. Would the man ever learn to think before he opined?

"The first thing, of course, is to see to it that the girl—and the boy, even more so—is closely supervised."

"In Amsterdam?" The prince of Orange glared at him. "Do I need to remind you again that, in Amsterdam, 'close supervision' is something that Gretchen Richter can do better than anyone. Much, much, much better."

There was silence, for a time. Then the courtier he favored the most said the inevitable. "Best to ask Richter for a meeting, then. We can at least see to it that no harm comes to the two children."

"No physical harm, yes. Richter and her people can certainly see to that."

God only knew what they would do to their minds, of course. But he left that unspoken. Even his dullest courtier understood that much.


"This is shaping up very nicely indeed," said Mike Stearns, almost chortling.

"Yes, not badly at all—for a matter I had to twist your arm originally to get you to pay attention to."

Alas, the needle was pointless, as such needles always were. Stearns simply grinned.

On some petty level, Francisco found that mildly frustrating. But only mildly so. Had he been in the service of the Ottoman emperor, as he'd once planned, he'd have been a lot more frustrated after needling his employer.

As frustrated as the term could possibly mean, in fact. Lying at the bottom of the Sea of Marmara, with a garrote around his neck.

So, all things considered, he did not regret the unexpected course his life had taken.


By the end of the meal, as the servants were clearing away the plates and dining ware, Thomas Wentworth finally realized what an insufferable dolt he'd become. Odd, perhaps, that it took a conversation with a teenage boy to do what none of his closest friends or his wife or his children had been able to do.

But, so it was. And he thought he understood the reason. Those of his friends and associates who'd been famous enough to survive in Grantville's often spotty historical record, were all his age or even older. Here was a boy who'd been more famous than any of them—and he was fifteen, with his life fresh and still uncut.

Wentworth rose and went to the window, clasping his hands behind his back. The day had been clear and frosty, as was often true in Amsterdam this time of year. The moon was new, so the stars were quite clear, even through the window.

"We've not discussed political matters at all," he said brusquely. Without turning his head to look at the boy, he raised a hand. "Nor do I propose to do so, unless you'd care to. I didn't invite you here for that reason."

"Why did you, then?"

"To be honest? Because my friend William Laud insisted. But I'm glad he did, now."

He studied Orion for a moment. It had always been his favorite constellation. "It's difficult, isn't it? Having a life already recorded somewhere. Even more difficult, I imagine, for someone your age than mine."

There was a short pause. Then the boy said: "It's very difficult."

Wentworth nodded. "I imagine, at some point—no, six or seven points—you made yourself the same solemn vow I made to myself. 'No! I shall not read another blasted word of it.' And then, a short time later, found yourself digging through yet another record."

"Another scrap, it'd be better to say. The American records are ghastly poor."

Wentworth shrugged. "You can hardly fault them. It's not as if that town ever expected it would be plunged into this situation either. Their records of their own history are quite good, actually. But what they have concerning Europe—even England—is what you'd expect."

He went back to the table and resumed his seat. "It's like an addiction, isn't it? You swear you won't, and yet you do."

"I've made one vow that I intend to keep, though," said the boy, in that firm and certain way that only teenagers can manage. "I shall not—shall not—allow what I did in that other life to determine what I do in this one."

"An excellent vow. But be aware of the pitfall."

The boy frowned. "Which is . . . ?"

"Don't allow your determination not to follow that same course become what determines the life you have now. Who knows, lad? You may well find a day comes when your duties here require you to be a soldier. Should you shirk that duty, simply because you once followed it in another time and place, you are simply letting that other life guide you still."

"I . . . understand, yes." The boy cleared his throat. "I should say this aloud, I think. In that other universe, I was among those who called for your execution."

Wentworth shook his head. "That's putting it a bit too strongly, I think. I found no record that you called for it. It's true that when others did, you supported them."

The man and the boy studied each other, for a time. Then Wentworth rose from the table and went back to the window.

"You need to understand this. I have decided—just this evening, finally—that I have no choice—in this world—but to seek the overthrow of your uncle, the king of England. I will do my best, assuming I succeed, to avoid having your uncle suffer the same fate he did in that other world. But I can make no promises. Charles . . . is a very difficult man."

The boy's chuckle was far harsher than any chuckle coming from a fifteen year old throat should ever be. "Yes, I know. He parted company with me—or I, with him, the records aren't quite clear—when he refused to do the reasonable thing after our defeat at Naseby and make a settlement with Parliament."

Wentworth grinned, at that point. Like an addiction, for a certainty! He knew, as if he'd been there watching, that—time after time—the boy hadn't been able to keep his promise. Time after time, just as Wentworth had done himself, he'd been drawn back irresistibly to those scraps and pieces of a history that had not happened except in a world that God had sundered from this one. By now, he'd have his other life almost memorized. What was known of it, at least.

But there was still serious business at hand, so the grin was brief. He turned around to face the boy squarely. What had to be said next, could only be said looking him in the eye.

"I can make no promises, except one. Nor can you, except that same one. You may find a day comes, in this universe, when you are supporting my execution. Just as I may find a day comes when I walk to that scaffold. Or stand and watch, while another man of the time—perhaps Charles, perhaps even you—makes the same final walk. But let us never be able to say, either one of us, that we do it 'again.' Because, whatever we do, we will be doing it for the first time, and for those reasons that seem good to us in the universe that God chose to place us in. Not a universe that, for us, no longer exists. For you, at your age, one could almost say never existed."

He waited, to let the boy think. When enough time had passed, he said: "I can make that promise. Today, if not any day until now. Can you make it, Prince Rupert of the Rhine?"

The boy's smile was shy, almost gentle. He looked much like his sister, in that moment.

"I don't know if Prince Rupert of the Rhine could make it. But I'm just Rupert Stuart. And I can."

Thomas sighed. "I stand corrected. Very well, then, Rupert. Will you come to visit again, now that you'll be in Amsterdam for a time? We needn't discuss political matters, if you don't want to. I simply ask because I could use a good friend young enough to keep my own eyes on this world instead of another."

"Oh, I'd like that myself. As long as you don't ask me to attend another anatomy lesson."




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