London

When George Goring entered the study, his father-in-law was seated behind his desk and focused on the paperwork in front of him.

George waited a few seconds and then cleared his throat.

Richard Boyle, Earl of Cork, and now the King's chief Minister in all but name, looked up and smiled at him.

"George, so good of you to come on such short notice. How is Lettice?"

George cleared his throat again. Damn it, stop being nervous. Yes, Richard Boyle has power now to go along with his riches. But you've treated Lettice well. Mostly. "As well as can be expected, Your Lordship, given her health. She is off to Bath again with her cousin, Joan Gwyn."

"Ah," Boyle said. "And Grey Brown?"

George winced. In 1631, he had become bored with life on the Boyle estates in Ireland and had borrowed two thousand pounds. Then ridden off to seek adventure in Scotland and England, leaving his new wife in her father's care. The choice grey gelding he left with had been called Grey Brown.

"Very well, Your Lordship. I have him quartered here in London."

"Excellent!"

Boyle's look turned speculative.

"You know, George, my new secretary, Edward Hyde, speaks very highly of you."

"He does?"

Boyle smiled. "Oh yes. He says you have wit, courage, understanding . . . and ambition uncontrolled by fear of God or man." Boyle picked up the letter opener on his desk and began to twirl it on his fingers. "He also thinks you excel in dissimulation."

"I assure you, My Lord . . . "

Boyle sliced the letter opener through the air.

George's throat constricted.

Boyle laughed. "Relax, George. I didn't ask you here to make an example of you. Instead, I have a proposition for you." Boyle motioned Goring to sit.

George sat down heavily. "A proposition, your Lordship?"

"Indeed," Boyle said. "You've met Arthur Jones, the new Viscount Ranelagh?"

George nodded. "Of course, sir."

Arthur Jones, Viscount Ranelagh since his father's death by the outbreak of plague that had struck the city of London in 1633, was the husband of Boyle's fifth daughter, Katherine. Jones had become the butt of many jokes when his wife had gone on an extended trip to Grantville in 1632 with friends she had made among the Acontian society in London.

Without him, and without his permission.

Few blamed Katherine herself. As John Leek had told George, Jones was considered one of the foulest churls in Christendom whose best point for Katherine would have been that he was dead drunk every night and thus not awake to beat or abuse her.

"I've met him, Your Lordship, but we do not, uh, move in the same circles."

"Tactfully put, George. Tactfully put." Boyle considered George for a moment, then sat back in his chair. "George, have you ever read Fenton's translation of Guicciardini's History of Italy?"

"No, sir, I can't say that I have."

"You should, George. You should. He makes some very astute observations about political conditions that are relevant to England. For example, Fortune is a very fickle goddess, George. But men of virtue, such as myself, can always find ways to turn her intervention to advantage."

George shook his head. Where was Boyle going with this?

"Arthur, Viscount Ranelagh, has decided to attempt a reconciliation with Katherine."

"Really, Your Lordship? Arthur is going to Grantville?"

Boyle shook his head. "Not Grantville, Brussels. That is where my Katy is now. Assisting the Secretary of State of the Republic of Essen in negotiating a treaty with Fernando's Netherlands." Boyle begin playing with the letter opener again. "Katy and I have been in contact for some time. In fact, my youngest son, Robert, is visiting her right now. Although I believe he is still in Essen at the moment."

"Brussels," George said. "I have a number of contacts in Brussels."

Boyle smiled. "Exactly!"

"You want me to accompany Arthur to Brussels? Assist him in his attempt to reconcile with Katherine?"

Boyle's smile broadened. "Indeed. And I would be grateful, George. Are you still interested in one of Lord Tilbury's regiments? I think I can get you a troop of horse cavalry. Should be worth at least three thousand pounds a year."

George nodded. "That is very generous, Your Lordship."

"Worth it to me, George, especially if you can act as a mediator between Katy and Arthur. Not that I hold out that much hope for a reconciliation, you understand. Kate seems happy with her position, and Arthur seemed somewhat rigid in his own thoughts on the matter."

"I understand, sir. I will do my best to persuade Katherine to return to England with Arthur."

Boyle's smile turned grim, and he shook his head. "Oh no, George, that would not do, not at all."

George cocked his head. "Sir?"

"England, George, think of England. Kate has made many excellent contacts in Essen. She knows the governor general, Louis de Geer, who is a personal friend of the emperor, Gustavus Adolphus. Her closest friend, the up-timer Nicki Jo Prickett, is the principal research scientist for the Essen chemical company. And the Prickett woman has taken an interest in educating my son, Robert."

"Why is that, sir?"

"Apparently, in the other universe from which God delivered Grantville, Robert was the most well-known of any of my children. In fact, he was considered the father of modern chemistry there."

"So what do you want me to do in Brussels, Your Lordship?"

"Try to keep Arthur from making an ass of himself—and a fool of me—if you can. If Arthur agrees to join Katy in Essen, that would be best. But in the end, if necessary, it would be much better if Katy were a widow." Boyle looked into Goring's face. "Don't you agree?"

George nodded. Now the light was finally dawning. "Of course, sir. I agree completely."

Coudenberg Palace, Brussels

It was only after their second bout of lovemaking that Fernando and Maria Anna began their usual pillow talk.

"I missed you," Maria Anna said.

"And I missed you, my love," Fernando said. "But it was only eight days, after all."

"Only eight . . . " Maria Anna's head came off Fernando's chest. "Why, I'll . . . "

Fernando laughed. "Just kidding, my dear, just kidding."

"You better be," Maria Anna said. She pinched him and Fernando yelped.

"So tell me about your trip," she said, settling her head back down on Fernando's chest. "Were the Portuguese bankers in Antwerp more accommodating this time?"

"Oh, yes, much more accommodating," Fernando said. "They also seemed interested in sounding out our position on Brazil. A number of the merchants want to start mining gold in the Minas Gerais area."

"Gold? In Brazil? I thought rubber and sugar were the most important products in Brazil."

"They probably are," Fernando said. " But once again, it's information from Grantville that is driving up interest. The merchants in Antwerp have discovered that a thousand tons of gold were taken out of Brazil in the late seventeenth and on into the eighteenth century in the up-time universe. Many of them want us to mount an expedition as soon as possible."

"Wonderful." Maria Anna sighed.

"And you?" Fernando said. "What did you do while I was away?"

"Meetings, meetings and more meetings," Maria Anna said. "At least the treaty with the Republic of Essen seems almost complete. Hainhofer's assistant for technical matters, Katherine Boyle, has been very helpful. We've actually become quite close. I'm looking forward to meeting her friend."

"Friend?"

Maria Anna nodded. "Nicki Jo Prickett. An American. She's more our own age, unlike the women I was with on my trip across Germany. It will be interesting to see how her perspective differs from theirs. She's also bringing some up-time tennis racquets and tennis balls. I've had the court in the Warande garden redone to the same measurements as an up-time court." She smiled. "It's been fun to see how the sport evolved."

Fernando laughed. "You've been practicing, haven't you?"

"As well as I can. But the cork balls we use just don't give the same bounce as an up-time ball, according to Katherine. And you don't use the walls at all. But another reason I want to talk to Prickett is the company that she and Katherine want to establish in Brussels, with my help."

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