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Chapter 59


The Øresund

SSIM Constitution moved steadily on a north-by-northwest heading. The gray-blue coast of the island of Falster lay to port, floating on the horizon like some distant bank of fog, as she led the rest of Simpson's squadron out of Luebeck Bay and towards Copenhagen. The dark, cold blue water of the Baltic stretched into hazy invisibility to starboard, and Simpson stood gazing out into that blue vastness while he considered what lay just over two hundred air miles north of his present position.

God knew King Christian was a stubborn fellow. He was as renowned for that as he was for his ability to . . . multitask enthusiastically. But surely even someone like Christian should recognize the inevitable when it dropped anchor off the waterfront of his capital city.

Of course, anyone but King Christian would have recognized that aligning himself with Catholic Europe against Protestant Germany and Sweden had not been the most effective possible technique for convincing his fellow Protestants to back his candidacy for their leadership. In which case, he wouldn't have had to worry about what the USE Navy might be about to do to his capital city, now would he?

He's not really an idiot, Simpson reminded himself. He couldn't possibly have accomplished everything he's gotten done if his brain simply didn't work. In fact, his brain has to work better than most people's. But he's certainly managed to figure out how to look like an idiot this time.

The admiral snorted at the thought, more in disgust than amusement.

At least he's a hell of a lot smarter than King Charles of England—not that "smarter than Charles" is any great recommendation of genius. And I suppose part of it is that we all end up comparing him to the other Scandinavian king, which would tend to make anyone look less than lifesize. But I still wish Railleuse had managed to get there before we did. Grosclaud's report would've been a real douche of cold water. Unfortunately—he looked back towards the south, where the squadron had passed the crippled French ship an hour or so earlier—she didn't. But even without that, he grinned thinly, we should still be able to get Christian's attention when we get there. Now if only

"Message from Commander Klein, sir," a voice said respectfully from behind him, and Simpson turned. It was an indication of how lost he'd been in his own thoughts that he hadn't even noticed the bridge signalman's approach until the young rating spoke.

"Thank you, Ebert," he said, accepting the message flimsy. The youngster—he couldn't have been a day over seventeen—smiled as the admiral called him by name. Fortunately, Simpson had always been particularly good at remembering names. And the practice of issuing nameplates for all personnel didn't hurt any, of course, he acknowledged with an inner smile.

He opened the message slip and scanned it quickly, then frowned.

"Give Captain Halberstat my respects and ask him to join me here," he said and young Ebert saluted sharply and scampered into the conning tower. Franz Halberstat appeared on the bridge wing moments later.

"Yes, sir?"

"Message from Klein," Simpson said, holding up the message slip. The paper's edges fluttered with an almost popping sound in the brisk breeze. "He's just carried out an inspection of his deck boat, and it doesn't look good."

"Why not, sir? I was under the impression that Achilles hadn't been hit at all."

"She wasn't. Apparently, it's blast damage from the carronades."

Halberstat grimaced, then nodded in understanding.

Two of the motor boats that had scouted ahead of the squadron on its passage down the Elbe River had been put aboard Achilles and Ajax as deck cargo for the passage from the Elbe River's estuary to Copenhagen. The timberclads had been chosen because they could stow the boats higher, thanks to their taller superstructures. And because they'd been supposed to be committed to action against Overgaard's blockade fleet only after the ironclads, which should have meant they would have been less exposed to hostile fire.

On the other hand, the flag captain reminded himself, from what the admiral had just said, it didn't sound like hostile fire had been responsible for the damage.

"How bad is it, sir?" he asked after a moment.

"From what Klein's saying, the actual damage doesn't sound all that bad. In fact, if it were a wooden hull, his ship's carpenter could probably fix it pretty quickly. Unfortunately, it's a fiberglass hull, since it's one of the up-time boats that came through the Ring of Fire. And someone"—Simpson tapped himself on the chest—"didn't insist on bringing along a patching kit."

"I see, sir." Halberstat carefully didn't point out to the admiral that no one else had thought to suggest that they bring one along, either. "What about Ajax's boat, sir?"

"Mülbers is inspecting it now. But, first, he's got the smaller of the two. And, second, I've always had reservations about using them at Copenhagen at all. They're just too small, Franz. We can't put anywhere near as many men into either of them as the Danes can get aboard their galleys and gunboats. Without the second boat to support Mülbers', I'm even less inclined to risk letting the one of them we'd have get far enough ahead that we can't support it quickly. And if we're not going to let it operate any farther ahead of us than that, I'm afraid the scouting advantage isn't going to be great enough to do us much good."

"I suppose not, sir. Although there are those reports of minefields."

Simpson glanced at the flag captain and smiled very slightly. Halberstat's tone could not have been more respectful, but he'd managed to put exactly the right edge of cautionary question into it. And he had a point. Someone in one of the small, agile fishing boats would have a much better chance of spotting a moored mine than any lookout on Constitution's bridge or mast. And a boat that small would be far less likely to hit a mine in the first place.

The admiral thought about it carefully, for the better part of a full minute, then shrugged.

"All right, Franz. If Mülbers' boat is in good shape, and if weather conditions are no worse than this"—he waved one hand at the relatively moderate swell—"then you can have your mine scouter. But only if the weather cooperates, mind you. Those flat-bottomed bastards are bitches in any sort of seaway, and a load of seasick Marines isn't going to be keeping the best lookout in the world. Besides, if it's too rough, they'll actually be slower than the other side's galleys."

"Of course, sir," Halberstat agreed.


"Your Highness!"

Prince Ulrik held up one hand, interrupting his current conference with Baldur Norddahl, as the messenger half-dashed into the room in Rosenborg Castle that Ulrik had taken over for what amounted to the headquarters of his naval force. In earlier times, the chamber had served his father's second wife Kirsten Munk as a living room.


"Your Highness," the newcomer repeated, sliding to a stop and bending in a hasty, panting bow, "the Americans have arrived!"

"Where? When?" Ulrik demanded rather more sharply.

"They've anchored in the Øresund, Your Highness. About three-quarters of an hour ago."


"Yes, Your Highness. They've raised a white flag, and their Admiral Simpson has requested a truce. According to the messenger he sent ashore, he has messages for your father. The king sent me to tell you that he wants you there when he receives him in the Long Hall."

"Of course. Go back and tell my father I'm on my way. I'll be there immediately."

"Yes, Your Highness!"

The messenger disappeared, and Ulrik turned back to Norddahl.

"I have to go," he said quickly. "But, first, what do you make of it?"

"I don't imagine they'd be here unless they'd already raised the blockade." The piratical-looking Norwegian's expression was grim. "And I don't imagine they'd be wasting time sending in messages if they thought giving us additional time to prepare would make any difference in the end."

"Couldn't you at least suggest the possibility that they're so afraid to attack that they're trying to bluff us into giving up without a fight?" Ulrik demanded with a tight grin, and Norddahl chuckled.

"Well, no, I don't suppose you can," the prince continued, and drew a deep breath. He thought with obvious intensity for several seconds, then nodded briskly and looked back at Norddahl.

"All right. To be perfectly honest, there's nothing I'd like more than to settle this entire affair without anyone getting hurt. I'm afraid that's not going to happen, though. So, while I go find out what Admiral Simpson has to say, I think you need to be passing the word to get ready."

"Of course."

Norddahl nodded back, sharply, and Ulrik turned to hurry off after the vanished messenger.


King Christian was waiting with some impatience by the time Ulrik reached the Long Hall. The huge room had been the last one to be furnished in Rosenborg Castle, only completed in 1624. Its official purpose was to serve as a ballroom, but Ulrik's father often used it as an audience chamber when he was feeling too restless to sit in his own chamber. The floor gave him plenty of room to pace about, and if he did feel the urge to sit down he could select any one of the many silver chairs that lined the walls.

The king looked more like a bear than ever, but his normal ebullience was singularly absent. He seemed completely sober, thankfully, but the look on his face didn't exactly inspire Ulrik with boundless optimism. The prince found himself wishing that his brother Frederik were here to assist him in reining in their father's emotional nature. Unfortunately, Frederik had been with the Danish forces besieging Luebeck, and was now helping to lead the retreat back to the Danewerk.

The oldest of the three princes was absent also, due to illness, but Ulrik didn't miss him. Truth be told, he didn't have a very high opinion of his brother Christian.

Which meant it was all up to Ulrik.

"Took you long enough," the king observed, and Ulrik shrugged very slightly.

"I came as quickly as I could, Father. Norddahl and I had to alert the galleys if we expect them to accomplish anything. And," he pointed out, "I don't see any American messenger waiting for us."

"Of course not! We had to send back our agreement to talk to them."

It was a sign of his father's anxiety, Ulrik thought, that he appeared completely oblivious to the illogic inherent in criticizing his son's "tardiness" when both of them were fully aware that no message could possibly get back to the palace for at least another hour or so.

Not that the king wasn't completely capable of being equally illogical under other circumstances.

"Did they give any indication as to the nature of this 'message' of Simpson's, Father?" the prince asked.

"No, and I wish they had." Christian grimaced, fingers drumming on the hilt of his sword. Ulrik nodded. Simpson obviously had something special—and probably complicated, if not downright devious—in mind. Any simple message could have been delivered at the same time he sent his request for a truce ashore.

"I suppose we'll find out shortly," the prince observed.


Well, there's a message all by itself, Ulrik reflected some ninety minutes later, as Captain Admiral Overgaard followed the immaculately uniformed USE lieutenant into the Long Hall behind the chamberlain.

"Lieutenant Franz-Leo Chomse, Your Majesty, and . . . Captain Admiral Overgaard," the chamberlain announced in the voice of a man who devoutly wished he were elsewhere. Just about any elsewhere, if Ulrik was any judge.

For a long, smoldering moment, Christian simply stared at his two "visitors." Lieutenant Chomse advanced toward the king with a respectful expression and a stride that was rather impressively calm for a young man who—Ulrik was certain—had not a single drop of aristocratic blood in his veins.

"Your Majesty," he murmured, bending his head respectfully. Then he straightened his spine and met the king's eyes. "I have the honor to be Admiral Simpson's flag lieutenant, and on his behalf, I thank you for agreeing to speak with me."

For a few seconds, Ulrik thought his father was going to refuse to respond. Then Christian shook his head slightly, with a bemused belligerence which made him look more like a middle-aged bear than ever.

"Your thanks are scarcely necessary, Lieutenant Chomse," he said in a voice whose self-control surprised Ulrik more than a little. He took no apparent notice of Overgaard, however.

"Just what message did Admiral Simpson entrust to you?" he continued.

"With your permission, Your Majesty," Lieutenant Chomse replied, "the admiral instructed me to request that you allow me to deliver his message after Captain Admiral Overgaard has been able to give you his report on the outcome of the Battle of Luebeck Bay."

Christian's face tightened. His jaw muscles swelled momentarily, and his eyes hardened dangerously. But it appeared that the message inherent in Overgaard's mere presence was one which even Christian realized he could not ignore.

"Very well, Lieutenant," the king said frostily, and swiveled those hard eyes to the commander of his navy. "Captain Admiral?"

To his credit, Overgaard didn't even flinch from the undeniable coldness of Christian's tone. Ulrik wasn't prepared to even guess how much it cost him, but he met the king's gaze levelly.

"Your Majesty," he said, "I deeply regret that I must inform you that the vessels under my command have been decisively defeated. Eleven of them have been sunk or burned. Six more are severely damaged, and our casualties have been heavy. Two French vessels and six English vessels are among those that have been destroyed."

Christian's eyes flickered. For a moment, pure, unadulterated shock peeked out of them as he heard the grim listing of the blockade fleet's losses.

"Despite the bravery of the men you entrusted to my command, we were unable to inflict equivalent damage upon the enemy. In fact—" He looked directly into Christian's eyes. "—to the best of my knowledge, we failed to inflict a single casualty. Under the circumstances, when Admiral Simpson summoned me to surrender to avoid further useless bloodshed, I felt there was no option but to accept his terms rather than see all of the ships under my command destroyed, along with their crews, with no chance of damaging the enemy in return.

"I apologize to you for this failure," Overgaard continued, bowing his head at last. "I also acknowledge that I personally am responsible for it, and that it was in no way the fault of the officers and men with whose command you honored me."

The captain admiral stopped speaking and stood silently before his monarch, and Christian glared at the crown of his bent head. Lieutenant Chomse allowed the silence to linger for several seconds, then cleared his throat discreetly, and Christian's eyes whipped back to the USE officer.

"If I may, Your Majesty," the lieutenant said gravely, "my admiral has instructed me to tell you that Captain Admiral Overgaard and his men fought with the utmost gallantry against insurmountable odds. Their artillery was completely unable to damage our vessels, yet they did not surrender until more than half of their own ships had been disabled or destroyed outright."

"I see," the king said after a moment. "May I ask what the terms of their surrender were?"

"Of course, Your Majesty." Chomse bowed slightly once again. "In light of their courage, and of the losses they suffered, Admiral Simpson permitted Captain Admiral Overgaard's remaining ships and men to sail for Svendborg, with the understanding that they would remain there, at anchor, taking no further part in the current conflict until the conclusion of a general peace or until they have been formally exchanged. At that time, unless the terms of any such general peace preclude it, they will be returned to the service of the Danish crown."

Christian's jaw muscles tightened once again, yet despite his evident anger, it was obvious even he recognized the liberality of Simpson's terms. Which didn't mean he liked them, of course.

"Somehow, Lieutenant," he said after a moment, "I feel certain your admiral didn't send you to my palace just to tell me the terms under which he permitted Captain Admiral Overgaard's surrender."

"You're correct, of course, Your Majesty," Chomse replied. "In fact, Admiral Simpson instructed me to inform you that he is under orders to proceed to the complete reduction of Denmark's ability to continue to wage war against His Imperial Majesty Gustav II Adolf and the United States of Europe. He regrets the fact that those orders require him to bombard and destroy the shipyards and fortifications of Copenhagen. In addition, he is deeply distressed by the potential for the loss of civilian lives when he carries out that bombardment."

Christian seemed to swell to an even larger and somehow denser size as Chomse delivered Simpson's message in a clear, respectful, but firm voice.

"Admiral Simpson would greatly prefer to avoid the necessity for any such bombardment, loss of life, and destruction of property. He therefore urges you, Your Majesty, to seriously consider the possibility of agreeing to withdraw from the so-called 'League of Ostend's' coalition against the United States. Should you agree to do so, the admiral will consider that his instructions from the emperor have been discharged without any further conflict."

"And what of reparations and indemnities?" the king demanded in a rasping voice. "What of reprisals?"

"Your Majesty, Admiral Simpson instructed me to tell you, should you raise that question, that he is unable to comment on those points. He would strongly urge the emperor to press no unreasonable demands upon you, and he believes the emperor would prefer to avoid doing so. However, the admiral also instructed me to reiterate that he is unable to speak for the emperor and has no official instructions on this point."

"Of course not." Christian snorted harshly. "And because he can't, his own conscience will be clear when the Swede dictates his demands!"

Chomse said nothing, but Ulrik felt his own heart sink. Like his father, he knew that Gustav Adolf cherished the design of restoring the Union of Kalmar—only, this time, under the crown of Sweden instead of Denmark. Despite that, the reasonableness—no, call it what it was; the generosity—of Simpson's terms was astonishing. Far better than anything Denmark might have reasonably anticipated out of an emperor fighting for his life against most of the rest of Europe, and now emerging triumphant.

From where Ulrik stood, it was obvious Gustav Adolf wanted to woo Denmark rather than club the kingdom into unwilling, surly submission. No doubt that was the result of cold, political calculation on his part, but did it really matter? Especially when Ulrik had no doubt at all that the emperor would bring out the club if Denmark—which was to say King Christian IV—declined his offer.

His father, he knew, was intelligent enough to understand that at least as well as he did. Unfortunately, his father was also stubborn enough—obstinate enough, one might better put it—to reject that offer anyway.

Now the king glared at Chomse, as if daring the flag lieutenant to disagree with his last statement. The naval officer, however, was clearly too smart to fall into any such trap and simply stood silently, respectfully, obviously awaiting the Danish monarch's formal response to Simpson's terms.

"I am, of course, aware of the . . . generosity of the admiral's offer," Christian said at last, his voice hard and flat. "Denmark is not yet destitute of means by which to defend herself, however. If Admiral Simpson wants to discover exactly what those means are, then by all means, he should attack my capital. But I warn him that if he does, he won't enjoy the experience."

"I see." Lieutenant Chomse gazed at him for several heartbeats, then gave his head an odd little toss. "Should I inform the admiral that you choose not to accept his proposed means of avoiding further destruction and loss of life?"

"You may inform Admiral Simpson that I will decide with whom to ally myself, Lieutenant. No one else will dictate that decision to me, and my capital is prepared to defend itself against any attack," Christian said with a cold, hard control Ulrik found far more disturbing than his father's normal roar of outrage would have been.

"Very well, Your Majesty." Chomse bowed deeply. "In that case, my admiral has instructed me to inform you, regretfully, that hostilities will resume as soon as I've returned aboard the flagship with your response."

"Fine!" Christian half-snapped while Ulrik's heart settled somewhere in the vicinity of his boot tops.

"If that's your final word, Your Majesty, I must beg leave to return to my ship now. Captain Admiral Overgaard has given my admiral his parole and promised to take no part in any fighting until he is exchanged or released from his parole's conditions."

"Of course," Christian agreed coldly, then looked to the chamberlain who had escorted the lieutenant into the throne room.

"See to it that the lieutenant and his boat are returned safely."


Ulrik wasted no time trying to convince his father to see reason. That, he'd known from the outset, would have been difficult, at best. Given the king's hard, controlled tone and the white-hot rage that lay beneath it, it would have been outright futile. So, instead, he took his leave quickly and went jogging off in search of Norddahl.

He found the Norwegian down by the waterfront, where their own response to the probable American attack had been prepared. Norddahl was busy shouting orders to their carefully chosen and trained crews, but he paused and looked over his shoulder, one eyebrow raised, as Ulrik appeared on the wharf behind him.

"Why do I suspect from your expression that Admiral Simpson's message failed to find a favorable reception, Your Highness?" he asked.

"Because you know my father," Ulrik growled, and Norddahl chuckled harshly.

"True," he conceded. "How much time do we have?"

"Not a lot, but long enough to get into position, I think." Ulrik shrugged. "It's going to take Lieutenant Chomse—that's Simpson's aide—another half-hour or so just to get back to the flagship. Then they're going to have to move into position. Call it another hour or so. Probably longer."

"Hmmm." Norddahl rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "At least the wind is out of the north. That's something. And the tide will be on our side, as well. You know,"—he grinned at the prince—"we might just actually accomplish something after all."

"I hope so." Ulrik's tone was enough grimmer that Norddahl looked at him with some surprise. The prince shrugged again. "There was someone else at the meeting, Baldur. Captain Admiral Overgaard."

Norddahl's lips pursed in a silent whistle as he considered the fresh information for a few seconds.

"Well," he said finally, "I suppose that answers any questions about the effectiveness of Simpson's ships. Do you know if Overgaard managed to inflict any damage in return?"

"Yes, I do, and the answer is no."

Norddahl sighed. "I wish I could say that surprised me."

"I feel the same way," Ulrik agreed. "On the other hand," his smile was thin, "unlike Overgaard, we're not going to be trying to batter our way through their armor, are we?"


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