The Danish Scheme

by Herbert Sakalucks, Eric Flint

Book Cover: The Danish Scheme

Something new is brewing in the 17th century! Fans of the 1632 series have often asked "What's going on in North America?" Herbert Sakalauks has set out to let you know in his short novel "The Danish Scheme." Christian IV, King of Denmark, Sir Thomas Roe, the English Ambassador to Christian's court, various elements of the extended Nasi/Abrabanel family have arranged an unusually well funded and well led expedition to North America. In addition to a new version of this story, which had previously been published in the Grantville Gazette, Eric Flint has added a short story which provides a view of the same events from Magdeburg.
What does the Stearns administration make of all this? A worthy addition to the 1632 series, the first of a series of new books published under the imprint of the "Ring of Fire Press." to make available stories and information which there simply isn't time for in Baen's publishing schedule. These stories were simply too long to be included in any of the paper anthologies published by Baen Books. At the same time, we felt it would be useful (and hopefully popular) to put them together in unitary volumes so that people who want to re-read them, or read them for the first time, don't have to hunt for them scattered over a number of separate issues of the magazine.

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Prologue

November 1632, Grantville Public Library

The Grantville Public Library was doing a land office business. Ever since the library had been opened to outside researchers all sorts of interesting individuals had shown up, with even more interesting results.

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Today was no exception. Closing time had been half an hour ago and the researchers were  supposed to all be out. Cecelia Calafano, the head librarian, heard the outside door close and glanced up to make sure someone wasn’t trying to sneak in after hours. The researcher’s most common excuse was that it was a matter of life or death, usually their’s at their employer’s hands. This time it was a late departure. She heaved a sigh of relief, until she noticed her assistant holding a book in her hand, staring at the door and pale as a sheet. “Nancy, are you alright? You look like you’ve just seen a ghost!”

Nancy shook her head and turned around. “Maybe I have. Do you recall the name of the gentleman that just left? He’s had me digging into all sorts of topics the past few weeks. He started on sailing and coastal maps and then moved on to farming and then mining earlier this week. Today he finished with investment prospectuses and North American history.”

Cecelia paused for a moment, trying to recall the visitor. “I believe he said his name was Foxe. Luke Foxe, if my memory serves me correctly. Or at least that’s what the letter of introduction from the Abrabanel’s said it was. Why?”

“That’s what I thought too.” Nancy held up the last book the visitor had read. “Well, it says here he’s going to die soon.” She showed the book to Cecelia. It was a simple children’s book on early North American explorers. It said that Captain Luke Foxe died in 1635, after a brief illness. “The last thing he asked for, before he left, was this book. He read the entry and went white, but then started to laugh. I was curious and checked to see what was so funny. I almost wish I hadn’t.”

Cecelia gave a brief shrug. “Well, we’ve seen this before and probably should be prepared for it to happen again. You remember those Russians a while back? They were worried when they saw the dates on the czar. I must say though, it’s the first time someone’s laughed at their own death notice. We brought a lot of changes through the Ring; people change too. Maybe he’ll find a way to beat his fate.” They both turned as a late arriving customer rang for their attention, the incident quickly forgotten.

Meanwhile, the object of their attention was outside, tying down a trunk on his two wheel cart. It contained a wealth of coastal maps, synopses on nutrition and medical treatments, drawings of nautical and farming gear, and notes on mineral deposits throughout North America. Even without seeing the materials, the casual observer would have known Luke Foxe was a sailor. From his salt stained boots and his boat cape smelling slightly of distant shores, to his stance and walk, the years at sea had molded the man.

He finished tying the knots on the trunk and then shook his head in amazement as he thought again about the article. It wasn’t often that one got to read their own obituary. The doctor he’d seen when he first came to Grantville had told him he needed to change his diet to help his stomach. Otherwise, the pain he’d been feeling would become a full blown ulcer and eventually kill him. The doctor evidently knew what he was talking about! He’d definitely have to follow the diet he’d prescribed. Maybe now the story would be different. He’d sure try to prove it wrong!

His luck seemed to be changing. He looked again at the old sailor’s trunk, picturing the dreams it contained. One final expedition to the New World! He sighed. It would have to wait until he finished the sailing charter for the Spaniard. He wasn’t looking forward to that voyage now. He’d been contacted by them right after he had returned from his last exploration voyage. His usual patrons had been unavailable . King Charles had refused to see him and Sir Thomas had been sent out of the country and couldn’t be reached. That had left him short of funds and starving. Otherwise he would have refused the Spaniard’s commission. But a man had to eat, so he’d signed on and accepted his pay.

A week later, a letter from his patron, Sir Thomas Roe, had arrived from Copenhagen, with funds. It asked that Luke to go to Grantville and do some research for an enterprise for which Sir Thomas was trying to raise funds. The Spaniard had also asked him to go to Grantville to research sailing maps. Two payments for the same work finally put some weight in his money belt and food in his stomach. Hopefully, things should work out. The Spanish charter shouldn’t take too long. After that, maybe Sir Thomas would make his dreams possible. He swung up on the cart with a practiced ease from climbing ship’s rigging his entire life. He reached for a whip from under the seat and headed the horse and cart west.

September 1633, the Dutch and Spanish fleets off Dunkirk

“Fire as your guns bear, Mister Huetjens! I want each shot to count.” Captain de Groot was determined to follow Admiral Tromp’s order to engage the Spanish closely. The  Friesland rocked to a steady beat as the gunners mate walked down the deck training and firing each gun individually.

It was less than an hour since the opening shots between the fleets. Cloud banks of gun smoke wreathed the ships and cut visibility to a few yards. Beyond sight in the smoke, the Dutch  fregatte Rotterdam added her fire to the action. The  Friesland had cut off the straggling Spanish galleon as soon as the fleets had met and the  Rotterdam had joined her. The Spaniard was now paying for his poor seamanship. His main and mizzen masts were gone and only a stump of the foremast up to the foresail yard remained. Why he didn’t surrender was a mystery. From the aftercastle, de Groot surveyed what little damage his ship had taken. The Spaniard’s aim had been miserable, only a dozen or so shots through his canvas and two spars shot away. Tjaert called to his First Lieutenant, who was stationed near the tiller. “If this is the best the Spanish have, I’m not sure we’ll need our allies.”

Pieter de Beers smiled back. “Speaking of our allies, I wonder where they are?”

Tjaert shook his head in disgust, “Late as usual. The French commanders never can get started on time and I’m not sure if our English allies really have their heart in this fight. You’d think that they couldn’t wait to finish off the Spanish threat. All these years we’ve been fighting and finally a chance to end the Spanish menace once and for all. They’ll probably get lost in the smoke and end up shooting each other.” He motioned toward the mastheads hidden in the smoke, “I’ve sent lookouts aloft to watch them and call out when they’re close.” He stopped before he added on his real fear. There was no need to worry the crewmen nearby, standing at their guns.  I just hope they don’t blunder in and shoot us instead of the Spanish! This battle has all the signs that could happen. 

During a lull between broadsides, the  Friesland’s mainmast lookout hailed the deck, “Many ships to starboard!” De Groot waved his broad brimmed hat to signal that he had heard the call. He turned to de Beers at the tiller, “Bring her up into the wind Pieter, clear of the gun smoke. I want to see what our allies have brought to the fight and make sure they know we’re here.” As the light sea breeze slowly cleared the deck of smoke, a mass of spray stained sails was clearly visible stretching across the horizon to starboard. The ragged formation of the combined French and English fleets had  finally arrived.

The vanguard of the fleet was just about in cannon shot range of the fighting. The French were in some semblance of order, while the English were spread throughout the fleet, like a gaggle of geese going to market. In the slow motion action typical of fleet actions, the French columns spread out to sail into the ongoing battle. Stripped down to fighting sails, they were lucky if they were making three knots. Their strategy seemed to be to wait on firing and engage the entire Spanish fleet simultaneously. De Groot climbed into the lower shrouds to get a better view of the impending Spanish defeat. The Spanish fleet seemed oblivious to the approaching doom.

The reinforcements held their fire until they were well into the engagement area.  So they do plan to hold fire until they can deliver a decisive broadside! Maybe they do have someone in command that can fight.A fluke wind cleared the smoke from the nearest English ship. Through his telescope Tjaert could even see its captain raise his arm and point out a target for his gunners. He tried to focus the glass in better. Somehow the direction he’d pointed didn’t seem right. The captain snapped his arm down and a coordinated broadside was fired. A heartbeat later, the entire French fleet opened fire; into their  Dutch allies.

Cloudbanks of gunpowder smoke mercifully hid the shattered Dutch fleet from view. Captain Tjaert de Groot stood in the shrouds, dumbfounded, as the combined French and English fleets fired a second broadside into their former allies. He was helpless to intervene. Chasing down the Spanish straggler had taken them over a mile away from the main engagement. Only that quirk of fate had saved them from the disaster developing off their starboard quarter.

As the rumble of the second broadside subsided, de Groot shouted down to his officers near the tiller, “It’s no mistake! The bastards have betrayed us!” A huge flash of light wrenched his attention back to the battle. An expanding cloud of debris was all that remained of Admiral de With’s flagship. The entire ship’s magazine had gone up at once. Ten seconds later, the concussion from the blast nearly shook Tjaert loose from the shrouds.

After he regained a firm grip on the tarred rigging, he again scanned the oncoming combined fleets. That simple action gave him time to think. Why the Spaniard he’d caught had been shooting high was clear now. They just needed to hold the Dutch fleet until the French and English could stab their former allies in the back. What wasn’t clear was why, after all the years of support against the Spanish, they would choose the exact moment when a Spanish defeat was within their grasp to turn against the Dutch. A movement at the rear of the English fleet caught his attention. Three English ships had broken off from their ragged formation, shaken out their topsails, and appeared to be heading in the direction of the Friesland. De Groot swung down to the deck and casually walked aft to the group of officers at the tiller. Any appearance of concern could start a panic in the nearby gun crews. “ Mijnheer, I believe it’s time to break off and retire. Bring her about Mr. de Beers! I’ll have one more broadside into the Spaniard’s stern. Then we’ll hail the  Rotterdam and decide on a course home. The Prince will need to know about this betrayal.” The nearby gun crews raised a ragged cheer.

The short respite from fighting had allowed the light breeze to clear most of the smoke bank away. The Spanish ship, the  San Pedro de la Fortuna, was now visibly settling by the bow, but still firing back with her few remaining guns. As the  Friesland prepared to fire a final broadside, de Groot shouted to the gunners, “Make it count men! This may be our last chance at a Spaniard for a long time!” As the broadside struck home, the Spanish ship visibly staggered. A lone shot from a stern chaser answered in reply. De Groot followed the shot as it sailed high. In a stroke of bad luck, it struck the  Friesland’s fore topsail yard and shattered it. Pieces of the mast, yard, sail, and rigging came down in a tangled mass over the starboard side. It acted like an anchor and slowed the ship down instantly. Even before the sail had settled over the side, Tjaert was shouting orders to clear the mess. Idlers on deck seized axes and immediately started to chop away at the tangled lines.

Meanwhile, off the port quarter, the  Rotterdam’s captain seemed to have divined Tjaert’s original intent and was bringing his ship within hailing distance . 

A corpulent figure appeared at the railing of her aftercastle with a speaking trumpet. Captain Joris van den Broecke hailed the  Friesland. “Captain de Groot, do you need assistance?”

De Groot snatched up a nearby trumpet from the side rail and answered. “Joris, the day I need help from you will be the day you stop drinking schnapps!” He pointed to the English ships that were now definitely heading in their direction. “I think it’s time to head for home.” A final thud from an axe and the whip snap of parted cordage signaled that the wreckage over the side was cleared. “Let’s head nor’east and try to lose the pursuit. If we can’t, just follow my lead.” Van den Broecke waived an acknowledgement and turned to pass orders to his crew. Tjaert set the trumpet down and walked to the opposite rail, where Lieutenant de Beers joined him to stare at the shattered Dutch fleet. “Remember this day well Pieter! Someday you can tell your grandchildren you were there when our country died.” He paused and wiped a solitary tear away. If anyone had been brave enough to ask, he would have insisted it was from the gun smoke. His face went grim from a silent vow.  Those bastards will pay for this treachery, if it’s the last thing I do! In the meantime, he had three enemy ships to out sail! He started shouting orders across the deck to bring them to a nor’east heading, away from the English, and hopefully, home with a warning.

Chapter 1

Late September 1633, Copenhagen 

The anteroom for the main audience chamber of Rosenborg Castle was bustling with servants and visitors. Sir Thomas Roe, the English ambassador to the Danish court, stood quietly contemplating a newly hung portrait of Princess Margaret, waiting for his audience with the Danish king. A rather splendid painting of the harbor had previously hung there and he wondered briefly about the reason for the change. The new painting made the room seem dreary.

He stole a quick glance around. All of the nearby servants were obviously concentrating on appearing invisible. By the sounds coming through the door, that wasn’t a bad strategy. Either the king’s current visitor was being royally reamed or the king was in his cups again. In either case, the prospects for this audience seemed bleak. To make matters worse, the summons gave no indication as to why his presence was requested. The recent arrival of news on the Dutch defeat off Dunkirk, which had been aided by the French and English fleets, seemed a likely reason for the summons, but the Ambassador had mentioned nothing about that particular tidbit of news.

Sir Thomas sighed in frustration. Since the signing of the treaty that created the League of Ostend, Roe had received no correspondence from court. Nothing like this had happened on his previous assignment to the Moghul’s court. There, he had received regular, monthly guidance. His appointment as plenipotentiary for the Ostend treaty had left him with broad negotiating powers, but the recent lack of instructions left him very concerned about his position at court. Court intrigue had been on the rise even before he left on this assignment. What little English gossip arrived in Copenhagen indicated Charles was becoming increasingly difficult to deal with and Wentworth’s faction appeared to be on the rise. Wentworth had once been a friend, but his recent silence was even more troubling.  Something had to be changing at court. In addition, his requests for royal approval of a New World trading company had also been completely ignored.

A courtier came into the anteroom from a side door. Roe had met him before but couldn’t recall his name.

“The king is ready to see you now, Sir Thomas.” He turned back the way he had come.

Winding through the palace halls, they finally came to a stout, wooden door, guarded by two soldiers armed with swords. They simply nodded to the courtier and opened the door. Inside, Christian was seated with the Danish chancellor, Christen Scheel, while the king’s oldest son, Prince-Elect Christian, stood near the fireplace. The king motioned for Roe to take a seat across the table from the chancellor.

“Sir Thomas, I suspect you are somewhat at a loss for what’s happening in London, seeing as no instructions from your king have arrived in some time.” Sir Thomas started to answer but the king continued, stifling the perfunctory denial. “It seems Charles is more concerned about the future loyalty and trustworthiness of his nobility, based on information he received from ‘Grantville’. This may be a fine time for you to be out of sight and mind.” He smiled sympathetically, but then assumed a look of displeasure. “Cardinal Richelieu seems to be using this fear to reap some valuable advantages. That’s the main reason why I asked for this meeting. The less the French know, the better. I have a matter that needs to be presented personally by you to Charles.”

The king gestured and Chancellor Scheel pushed a document across the table to Sir Thomas. “Since Charles is in such a generous mood with his territories,” Christian continued, “I feel that it is in Denmark’s best interests to redeem its outstanding dowry pledge, before Charles sells those lands to someone else as well.”

Sir Thomas was struck by the brevity of the document. The proposal was very straight forward. It simply stated that Denmark was paying the sixty thousand florins that it still owed on the dowry for Princess Margaret. In exchange for the payment, England would return the Shetland and Orkney Islands to Denmark, which had been the original guarantee for the dowry payment. Since the dowry agreement didn’t have an expiration date, nor interest terms, the sum was the original amount.

Sir Thomas’ eyes widen slightly.  Charles was sure to complain about that! In that regard, he was worse than the London moneylenders. The reason for this personal meeting still was not completely clear. The document was simple and could have been handled by a Danish emissary. He set the document down. “I assume that Your Majesty has some additional points to add. The document itself is very straightforward. I’m just not sure how receptive my king will be to an amount agreed to over one hundred years ago.”

Scheel leaned forward. “His Majesty and I had that very same discussion. As His Majesty rightly pointed out to me, the incomes the English Crown received from the property while they held it would more than satisfy any interest amounts owed. You simply need to present that to Charles, in your usual elegant manner.”

Christian nodded, like a school master confirming the performance of a prize student and then continued the explanation. “I want you to make the presentation, because reports I’ve received seem to indicate that foreign visitors have not been well received by the officials surrounding Charles.” He paused to let those implications sink in. “I realize this trip will involve some personal expense and hardship on your part, Sir Thomas, and I am prepared to provide the necessary funds.”

Scheel reached down, brought up a leather bag that contained a significant amount of coinage, and pushed it across to Sir Thomas. The king continued, “My sources also tell me that you have expended a large sum in promoting a New World exploration company. I hope Captain Foxe’s information is as valuable as he thinks it is.” Without blinking an eye, Sir Thomas managed to digest the fact that Christian was  too well informed and must have a source among his associates. “Unless I‘m mistaken, though, this land sale by Charles to the French is a serious setback to your efforts. When you return with the signed agreement, we will speak further about your expedition. It may be that we have some mutual interests in that area”

The reason for the meeting was now clear. The king wanted his personal ties at court to smooth the transaction. Just how good his current ties were was a question that might involve his personal safety. The implied help for the exploration company outweighed the possible safety issue. With most of his wealth already tied up in the adventure, he needed it to succeed or he would be bankrupt. But could he, emotionally, handle returning to England? Since his wife’s death there last year, he had simply let his affairs there linger, without thought. If he returned, he’d have to face her loss. In the end, he simply nodded his acquiescence.

The chancellor rose and motioned for Sir Thomas to accompany him. The meeting was over. Once they left the room, Scheel proceeded to supply further details on the trip. “I will accompany you on the trip, with two guards for the gold. The funds will be turned over only after the agreement is signed. It’s not that the king doesn’t trust you; he’s concerned what Charles might do to you if the gold were in your possession. The stories we hear about the English court concern us.”

You’re not the only one!’ Sir Thomas thought. “I’ll appreciate your company. Hopefully the voyage will be swift and uneventful.” They continued down the hall, discussing details for the voyage.

* * *

As soon as the door shut, Prince-Elect Christian reached for a tankard from a nearby servant and then resumed his earlier argument. “Father, why spend this much money on some worthless islands? And what does Denmark need with barren lands across the seas?”

As soon as he finished, Prince Christian realized he’d overstepped himself. The king took a deep breath but before he could burst out angrily, his son hastened to add: “Did you find something in the books from Grantville, Father? Or is it just something the French let slip?”

That mollified the king. He took a swallow from his flagon and said: “As a matter of fact, both. Undoubtedly, Richelieu has read about the future of France and wants to create a new French Empire, second to none. He needs resources to do that and the Grantville books confirm that the New World can provide those. I foresee nothing but problems if that transpires. What will happen to a Lutheran Denmark if a Catholic France becomes the strongest country in the world after the Swede is finished?”

He slammed a fist on the table. “Our faith and our country would cease to exist! There is a future saying that to stay the same means stagnation and eventual death. We must grow to survive. If we can hold off the Swede and stymie the French plans, the New World offers us an opportunity. I can’t build a large enough army, but a navy may be within our means. The Dutch and Spanish are shattered and the English are turning inward. We can be a naval power. In the future, the books show that the North Sea will play a vital role. The price I’m paying is a pittance compared to what will come.”

Looking at the map on the wall, the prince saw a pattern and realized what the acquisitions would do. “You’ll make the North Sea a Danish lake! And provide stopping points to the New World. We can expand west, but where will we find the people to settle the land?”

Christian simply smiled. “That’s what I need the Englishman for.” He drained the flagon and held it out to the servant. “Bring me another!”

COLLAPSE

About the Authors

Herbert Sakalucks

Herb Sakalaucks is an American Science Fiction and Alternate History writer. Born at Ft. Benning, GA in 1954, he currently resides with his wife, Beverly, on 18 acres in the western Wisconsin hill country. He works for the Forest Service and, in his spare time, he also works at the Colfax Railroad Museum as the museum's chairman and chief woodworker.

His first novel, The Danish Scheme, is a major rework of a serialized story, Northwest Passage, that appeared in the Grantvlle Gazette. He has had other short stories also published in the Grantville Gazette.


Eric Flint

Eric Flint is the co-author of three New York Times best sellers in his Ring of Fire alternate history series. His first novel for Baen, Mother of Demons, was picked by Science Fiction Chronicle as a best novel of the year. His 1632, which launched the Ring of Fire series, won widespread critical praise, as from Publishers Weekly, which called him an SF author of particular note, one who can entertain and edify in equal, and major, measure. A longtime labor union activist with a Masters Degree in history, he currently resides in northwest Indiana with his wife Lucille.