Late May, 1634, off the coast of Newfoundland
Captain Luke Foxe sat at the desk in his cabin, staring at the maps and data graphs spread out in apparent, random confusion on the desk and pinned on the walls. A closer examination revealed a method to the madness. The maps contained handwritten notes and symbols on mineral deposits throughout the country that would have someday become known as Canada. He had acquired them during his visit to Grantville, along with the graphs with volume and weights for various crude and refined metals. He gathered up the maps for the Newfoundland and Cape Breton regions and added a chart that was titled "Characteristics of the Ingredients for Steel and Iron." He sat down and held the chart so the candle lamp overhead gave enough light to read it easily. His eyes weren't getting any younger. For a long time, he went back and forth between the charts and maps trying to reach a decision. The Grantville researchers he'd paid to scour the library, offices and private papers for any hints of minerals in Canada had hand written a wealth of information on the maps. What they hadn't done was tell him where he should search. He finally set the papers down and closed his eyes in exhaustion.
"Do I dare try it? The gamble has so many risks." When he opened his eyes, a paper on the corner of the desk caught his attention. It had been part of the package he acquired in Grantville. It was a short article from an encyclopedia on the "Life and Death of Captain Luke Foxe." Supposedly, he was already dead. He smiled at the implied contradiction. "Well, for a dead man I seem to be doing quite well. I've beaten the odds so far."
Many things had happened since he originally read that article. He was now the Hudson's Bay Company's leader for the settlement expedition to North America and had to make the decisions since Sir Thomas Roe appeared to have been lost at sea with the Hamburg. He thought back to his conversations with the Abrabanels on how to conduct the exploration operations once they got to the New World. Reuben had said something that had brought a chuckle at the time but now seemed very apropos. "How did that saying go?" Luke concentrated on the memory, "Ah yes, playing with the house's money!" The iron ore discoveries around Christianburg already promised to pay for their efforts. Anything else, from this point, was found money. If a way to easily convert that ore to pig iron or steel could be developed, the profits would more than double. They could ship refined metals back to Europe, instead of ore. For roughly the same weight, they could triple the value of each load. The only catch was that the French nominally controlled the coal deposits around Cape Breton, even if they didn't know they were there. The sailors he had rescued at Ferryland and was returning to Baie de Mordienne would provide an opportunity if he could just find the right way to use their influence. They had already agreed that they wanted to improve their lot, but the specifics were what needed to be resolved.
They would sight the Cape Breton coast in the next two days and he needed to come up with a workable plan. Too bad Reuben hadn't come on the voyage. He always had a crazy plan to solve a problem, just like that offer of his to give land to the settlers. Sir Thomas had almost had an attack of apoplexy, until Reuben explained that giving away some of the land just made the company's land more valuable. Luke leaned back and closed his eyes. Something was there in that thought, if he could just recognize it. Suddenly, he snapped his fingers. "I've got it!" He picked up a pistol he had been using to hold down a stack of maps and used it to hammer on the nearest cabin partition. He called out to his stepson, "Svend, are you finished studying?"
A muffled reply came back, "Yes, sir!"
"Can you come here, please? I need you to do something for me."
"Right away." A moment later Svend entered. He paused to take in the mass of papers spread around the cabin. "I hope you don't need this straightened in the next five minutes. Mother always said I never was very good at straightening up."
Luke looked perplexed before he realized what Svend was talking about. "The mess can wait. I'll take care of it later. Would you please go and find Mr. Barrow and ask him if he would come, at his earliest convenience, to my cabin. The three of us have some planning to do."
Svend nodded and hurried off to find the first mate. Two minutes later, the pair knocked and then entered. John was tucking his shirt tails into his trousers. "You sent for me, Captain? I was just getting ready to turn in. In case you forgot, I've got the late watch tonight"
"I'm sorry to interrupt your rest, John, but it seems I have some work for you and Svend to do before we sight Cape Breton. Pull up those chairs while I finish clearing a space on the desk. Then let me explain what I need. Hold your questions until I'm done explaining."
Fifteen minutes later Luke finished and then waited for the questions. John rubbed his forehead and chuckled. "Captain, you and I have done some pretty crazy things in our day. That time we killed the polar bear with a pike and a pistol when it tried to climb aboard ship from that iceberg ranks right up there, but this one takes the prize. Do you figure we can just sail into this fishing village, ask them to move, and the French won't care if we start mining the coal? If you can pull that off, the rest of the plan sounds reasonable. But unless you have a pair of frigates hidden somewhere, I don't see how it can be done in the long term. What you're talking about is an act of war!"
Svend saw the slight smile trying to hide on his stepfather's face. "Mr. Barrow, I think there's something that he hasn't told us yet."
"You're right, son. My plan revolves around something Reuben Abrabanel said to Sir Thomas. That land is only worth something if it's developed. We need some French partners to act as our agents to secure the land for us and provide local workers. We'll cut them in for a piece of the profits without their having to risk one sou. If my suspicions are correct, things are probably still in some turmoil from the Kirke brothers' invasion and the Compagnie des Cent-Associes may not have much, if any, presence this far from the mainland. If we can keep a low profile, we may be able to operate a long time before someone in France gets wind of our adventure. By then, who knows? Maybe the French company will have gone broke, the king will have died, or we will have our own fleet of warships!" The last line got a laugh from all three.
"John, here's what I need you to do. During the evening meal, mingle with the French and find out what the situation is around Cape Breton. Be subtle! Their friendship is important and I don't want them to feel we're just using them. Anything at all about how the Compagnie is treating them, how they handle trade, what the situation is on land ownership, is important. Even something as simple as where their leaders are and what defenses are used against smuggling could help our cause. If you need to enlist some help, make sure the men understand what's at stake and can keep their own counsel. Do you think that's possible?"
"I'll sit down with Chaumont and see what he has to say over a bottle. He's pretty smart and seems to know what's going on there. If I run into a blank wall, then I'll see about asking for some help."
"Good. I'll trust your judgment, John."
Luke turned to Svend. "Your job will start after we arrive. I want you drawing and surveying as much as possible. Start with pictures of the village and the people to ease any fears. But, I also want views and maps of the surrounding countryside and views of the seaward approaches. Captain Andersen isn't with us, but we will want his advice on whether the sites are defensible and we'll need pictures to help him plan those defenses. We'll also need you to map out the land for future building and mining work. I'll have Reinhardt accompany you to watch out for any trouble."
"I can take care of myself! I don't need a wet nurse!" Svend looked to be on the verge of rebelling.
"He'll not be there to be a wet nurse. It will be to discourage busybodies. The fewer questions asked, the better for everyone. This won't be your typical village we'll be visiting. This is a fishing village. These are hard men, with few women along. A young man like you could easily get into trouble without even knowing why." The concern on Luke's face defused Svend's response.
"All right, since you put it that way." Svend still didn't seem pleased with the prospect.
John rose from his chair and stretched. "If it's all right with you, Captain, I'll get ready for my part. I'll find Rene and invite him to share our mess tonight." Luke nodded and John left, steering Svend out in front of him.
Luke woke the next morning, tired and nervous. John had not gotten back to him before his watch and he was apprehensive that something had gone wrong. After a cold shave and a quick meal, he dressed and was getting ready for his watch when John knocked on the cabin door and entered.
"You look like something the ship's cat caught and threw away, Captain! Did you have a bad night?" John acted positively cheerful. "I've got the bosun to handle the rest of my watch, so I could fill you in on what I learned." He sat down and stretched his legs, not saying a word. His exhaustion from a long night was evident. He started to nod off.
After a minute, Luke gave up in exasperation and demanded, "Well, what did you find out? I can't read your mind!"
John shook his head in chagrin for nodding off. "You won't believe it, but Rene was wondering why you hadn't asked him these questions when you first discussed possibilities with him at Ferryland! The local situation is just how you explained it to Svend last evening. It's simply an overgrown fishing camp, with crude huts. There are a few families, but mostly single men. He thinks there should be one or two boats left, if the Dutchman didn't get them too. In any case, their situation is tenuous at best. The Compagnie's control doesn't extend beyond the territory immediately around their capital, La Have, on Isle Royale. They used to show up about once a year to collect a 'tax' on whoever was there. Since the Kirkes' freebooting expedition, things have been jumbled. The revenue cutter was sunk and not replaced, as far as he knows. France just got the lands back from England and no one seems to care what happens in the farther reaches. The locals would welcome anyone who could give them trade and security. Rene promised that he would give you his full support, no matter what you planned."
"You didn't tell him of our plans, did you?" Luke asked with alarm.
"Rest easy. I said nothing. He's simply worried for what will happen to his people without their fishing boats to support them. He's like a drowning man, grasping at whatever branch is available. It looks like your plans may be possible after all."
"Excellent. Go and get some rest, you've earned it! I'll relieve the bosun early. When I finish my watch, I'll meet with you and Rene and we'll lay out a plan for our arrival."
"Land ho! Dead ahead"
Captain Foxe took a quick sighting with his telescope, then closed it with a click and turned to his companions. He stood at the port rail of the aftercastle, with John Barrow and Rene Chaumont. Rene shook his head in amazement, "Just as you predicted, Captain. Those new instruments are amazing. I had some doubts about your stories, but this feat of navigation supports your claims." He looked to the sky and then asked, "We still have good weather and some daylight left. Do you still plan on laying over here 'til dawn?"
"These are new waters to me and I'd rather arrive at Mordienne in daylight. Besides, this will give us all a chance to see what the area looks like. The anchorage looks superb. Tell me, Rene, why didn't you use this as your port, rather than Baie de Mordienne?"