Dinner with the Doge
Stagnation vs. Directional Change
“It’s time, Hal,” said the disembodied voice, seemingly uttered from nowhere. Yet it was familiar, and this was somehow comforting. Then, the formerly sleeping man opened his eyes, suddenly remembering who he was.
“Already?” he asked, still prone but now blinking a few times in vain hopes of focusing on something tangible in the dim room, which was currently lit only by a small corner fireplace and a few strategically dispersed candles.
“Look, you oaf, it’s not yet sunrise,” Hal then observed, casting a glance through the darkened window. Always grumpy after awakening, he next added, “I see no one here. Have they come to attend us, are they outside?”
“No,” calmly answered the other, while holding forth a large tankard of steaming, heavily spiced wine. “But soon enough. The uncooperative wind has finally arrived.”
This got the attention of the man in the bed. He tried to sit up a few times, but these were only hasty and futile attempts. Being quite corpulent, he extended his beefy arm, wishing assistance.
“To our advantage, or theirs?” he next inquired.
“Theirs, I’m afraid,” uttered the standing man. And then, he added, “You know what you must do, Hal. It must be done quickly, and you know this, also.”
The sitting man was busy downing his tankard while these words were being spoken. This day he would need his wits about him and the warm wine would surely help. Plus, he always loved warmed, spicy wine in the morning.
“Delightful,” he said, while wiping his mouth with his sleeve. Next, holding out the empty cup, he sighed and belched. The man before him, using a deep ladle, then dutifully refilled it from a large copper vessel hanging in the fireplace.
“I will not make peace with the French,” suddenly barked the seated man, who still disheveled was nevertheless the current King of England. “They are in my waters uninvited, and I won’t have it. I must deal with them, and will.”
The standing man, who now held the pissing pot, also sighed.
“And they call me a fool,” he said.
Once the King was well toileted and suitably attired, which took some time to accomplish, footsteps were heard approaching in the hall. It was now well past dawn. The two occupants of the starkly furnished, yet best available room in the small fortress, were now standing abreast, awaiting.
Three loud knocks on the door followed, whereupon the royal sentry stationed outside opened it to reveal half a dozen well dressed gentlemen standing in the corridor.
“My Liege,” said the Constable of Southsea Castle, bowing with great deference. The men surrounding him quickly did likewise. “I trust Your Majesty slept well even given our crude accommodations.”
The King, by chance visiting nearby Portsmouth when informed of the newly arrived French fleet, had the day before invested the diminutive outpost, one of many fortifications built to protect the large northern estuary off the Isle of Wight. The small castle’s crenulated wall would give a spectacular, unobstructed view of events and Henry, after decades of spending good money on his ever expanding navy, wanted to see the result of this royal largesse. He therefore anticipated a good show.
“My Lords,” he decreed, “I shall savor sweet sleep only when England is safe. Tell me of the wind. It now favors the enemy?”
“It does, Your Majesty,” answered the realm’s Secretary of State, William Paget, who stood beside the castle’s Constable. “The Lord High Admiral Russel, now observing from the wall above, has already dispatched some number of rowbarges, the only craft we currently possess that will advance without sail, to meet several French galleys that are currently probing our line. And yet, my Lord Admiral believes the wind may soon turn to our advantage, or so he says.”
To this declaration, the unimpressed King only grunted. Then he stepped forward, toward the men who all stepped back at his advance. But at the doorway he turned, once more looking to his Royal Jester, William Sommers.
“And what will you do today, Billy?” he asked the very tall man.
“I shall travel to Venice, Hal,” calmly answered his hardworking fool, “twenty-five years hence, to sup with the Doge.”
The men in the hallway all laughed at this response, but His Majesty did not. He knew this unique person as no one else did. King Henry was well aware that if the tall man truly wished to undertake such a sojourn he certainly could.
This seemingly simple servant, the Sovereign well understood, was in reality a time traveler.
“You still have an option,” added the determined jester, his thin face completely devoid of emotion.
Henry’s vividly dark, pinched and beady eyes met those of his devoted companion, looking deeply into them, searching but not finding any further meaning hidden there.
“You are a fool,” then answered the King, but smiling as he spoke.
The day, bright and beautiful, turned long with little real action attached, at first. The wind, ever changing was always slight, and neither side did more than maneuver at some distance from one another. The rowbarges, never coming close enough, did not engage the enemy, who lacking propulsion simply failed to arrive.
Upon the parapet, the King and his advisors spent the opportunity eating and drinking, and talking of the coming confrontation. Considering the unique nature of the still unfolding situation, the royal functionaries had been kept to a minimum but those on hand milled about ready for service, if need be. Many livered attendants were of course near by, as they were always present in abundant numbers about the King’s person.
There was much speculation by everyone as to what would occur once the fleets engaged, for the indecisive wind often increased but always departed, and this left plenty of idle interval to while away whilst discussing the subject.
The King’s still nascent navy was tiny, much smaller than the mighty French fleet, but being from an island nation his seamen, unlike hers, were real sailors. Other major European powers such as France or Spain used their fleets mainly for transporting troops and equipment to fight on land, but England’s ships fought at sea, and well understood its advantages. And, the navy’s two principal warships were now present in the Solent, the expansive waterway betwixt the Isle of Wight and England’s southern coast.
Portsea Island stood midway in the vast estuary, and Southsea Castle was located at its point. The sweeping vantage presented between the fort’s crenels was indeed panoramic. By noon, the stagnated wind again picked up.
“How many French ships?” demanded the King, sensing at last a change in the stalemated status quo. He stood leaning at the wall, squinting in the distance. “More than me, that’s easy to see,” he added, in a regal but sour tone.
“At least two hundred, Your Majesty,” answered Henry’s Lord High Admiral, who was standing nearby at the nearest break in the masonry. “We have but eighty or so. Several of yours, however, are more massive,” he quickly added.
This statement referred to England’s two largest ocean-going craft, both of them interesting ships, and for several reasons.
First, they were designed and constructed specifically for warfare at sea, a unique circumstance given the times. Other ships of war, in England and elsewhere were always converted merchantmen, or were built by altering the well-established designs of ocean-going commercial vessels. Yet, by intention these two were far superior craft, being not merely transporters of men and arms, but huge, coordinated and highly mobile, total weapon systems in themselves.
Second, after seeing long years of heavy action in two separate and brutal wars against two different but equally stubborn French kings, both ships had been successfully and painstakingly retrofitted with the latest technological innovations. These included sealing gunports amid multiple decks that employed bronze and iron cannon and demi-cannon of various sizes. Most heavy guns were now also breech-loaded, and this inventive time saving advancement granted much inherent strategic advantage.
These novel arrangements currently permitted for the first time in nautical history the use of the broadside, a practice whereby all arms a ship possessed, port or starboard, or even both if need be, could be fired simultaneously.
This new, striking development would quite alter standard naval tactics, by setting in place unfolding changes in maritime strategy becoming preeminent for hundreds of years.
The larger of the two great ships, the Mary Rose, was literally bristling with guns, for a new complement of cannon had been installed amidships upon an added tier between the castles, which were the higher decks on either end of the carrack-style vessel. These opposing rows of artillery naturally made the gigantic boat much heavier and so increased her displacement, which meant that she sat lower in the sea. In fact, now fully manned and abundantly provisioned, her first line of gunports rode only three feet above the waterline, a detail of some importance.
“What’s happening?” barked the impatient King.
His chief functionaries, who were scattered about the edge of the parapet, had no suitable response to this royal inquiry. None of them knew. Still, the King could not be kept waiting, so the Lord Admiral was soon compelled to answer.
“It appears, Your Majesty,” he admitted, “the unimpressive winds have once more ceased to blow.”
“Blast it,” screamed Henry, “blast it to Hades.”
He turned to retake his appointed seat, a heavy chair in the near distance placed under a colorful canopy, beside an equally heavy table that bore much food and libation, but midway there the now overly agitated King changed his mind.
Exercising the royal prerogative, he instead stomped off, gruffly announcing over his shoulder, “My Lords, I’m to my accommodations to rest my infernal leg. Send word once something definite occurs. Until then, I’m not to be disturbed.”
“Majesty,” and “Sire,” and such were uttered by all present. Each of them bowed toward the retreating regal presence. Two gentlemen, the Constable and his Lieutenant, followed the King in order to assure his safe transit.
The hard working fool was dutifully waiting to tend his Sovereign’s acute affliction, something he’d done many times before. The King of England had a large, pungent ulcer on his upper thigh, which for years, despite constant attempts, had stubbornly refused to mend. The ever-oozing wound was washed and redressed several times daily, a protocol of long standing that thus far had failed to achieve any suitable, permanent solution.
“Well, Billy boy, how was your visit?” asked the Monarch, once his enormous leg, newly exposed, was propped across a crude wooden stool. “Have a good dinner out of your excursion, did you? Something tasty I trust, for all of your trouble.”
“It was a dismal failure,” the jester replied flatly, “the Doge is as hardheaded as you, I fear. But, I’ve another invitation a week hence that will, from my point of view, take place later today, just after we’re done here. Of course, from your reference, this won’t happen for another twenty-five years.”
He was dabbing thick green pus from Henry’s thigh as he spoke. This ministration, as those that would follow was deliberate, yet slowly and gently delivered. Still, the time traveler knew such action was useless in the long term.
The royal lesion would never heal.
“What do you wish from him?” inquired the King, referring to the Doge. After all, international intrigue was Henry’s life’s blood. He was highly interested, for His Majesty always relished political machinations and stratagem of any kind.
“He has to stop warring with the Sultan,” answered the nursing man, “as you must with the French. The time is ripe, and Europe should now turn its eyes westward, as I’ve told you. Your beautiful sailing ships, and those of other European powers will permit this occurrence, but only when peace comes.”
“Why grant accommodation when I can win?” asked the King.
“But will you win?” countered the fool. “The French are more numerous, and the uncooperative weather remains fickle. Yet, you still have time to alter things.”
“How so?” inquired Henry.
The patient jester then began to wash the King’s open wound, a gaping and most grisly one. The unforgiving ulcer was deeply buried within the noble but flabby flesh. Periodically, the upper layer of skin did mostly recover but, in each instance, it was only a matter of time before the gash once more violently erupted, and ever with a nasty, highly odiferous, pus dripping vengeance.
“My Lord Brandon, as we speak, is being rowed ashore,” explained his fool. “He’s been conferring with Admiral Dudley aboard his flagship, the Great Harry. The finalized order of attack has now been dispersed to the fleet, but the languid wind still gives you leave to countermand this proposed action.”
Charles Brandon, the first Duke of Suffolk, was Henry’s oldest friend, his closest advisor, and his former brother-in-law. Years ago, he had married the King’s now dead sister, Mary Tudor. The great Mary Rose was named for her.
John Dudley, currently Viscount Lisle, was in command of the fleet. One day in the not too distant future, Lord Dudley would be invested the first Duke of Northumberland. On another day further still, Henry’s oldest daughter, who was also named Mary, would execute him, after he’d tried but failed to install as Queen his son’s docile young wife, the very plain and overly pitiful Lady Jane Grey.
Without hesitation Henry firmly decreed, “No, I will see this through, my dear Billy. I’ve no other course open to me. I cannot make peace at such a disadvantage.”
The nurse began to rewrap the wound but Henry waved him off. Again His Majesty was most agitated. True, this was his normal demeanor, but now more so.
“Leave it,” he mumbled in a distracted fashion, and then in a louder voice he commanded, “Let it breathe for a while.”
The jester then leaned back and sat on the floor before the King. For a moment neither man spoke. Then Henry, always wishing answers, continued his scrutiny.
“Tell me of the Doge,” he requested. “Why does he not comply with your wishes? What stops him from making peace?”
The tall man rearranged himself, by wrapping his long arms around his longer legs, after pulling his knees up under his chin.
“Venice will lose Cyprus in the treaty, her last Mediterranean island, a heavy price for such a proud people,” answered the sitting man. “Yet the Doge must accept this difficult condition, and will. As you do, he just needs persuading.”
The King of England laughed aloud at this proclamation. No one ever told him what to do, or lasted long after such a brazen affront. No one but his fool, that is.
“And how will you change him?” then asked Henry.
“I shall take a different dinner guest with me,” was the answer. “The one I took this morning was unimpressive, as I’ve said. Still, given that the groundwork is now sufficiently laid, my new companion should nicely do the trick.”
Henry, adjusting his great bulk in the chair, then grunted.
“Whom did you take?” he wondered.
“I thought the Doge needed a framework,” was the reply, “a tangible yet palatable argument for making peace with the dreaded Turk, the horrid infidel. For this reason, I took the much revered fourth century Bishop of Hippo, for he has swayed millions having such concerns. Yet, the Doge was unmoved.”
“What’s that you say?” demanded the now startled King, with his earlier malaise quite vanished. “Are you telling me that you personally conveyed Saint Augustine to dinner with the Doge of Venice? You accompanied Saint Augustine himself?”
“The very same,” was the response, “as the good bishop was expert at supplying cogent rationale for unlikely circumstance.”
Henry had a great belly laugh at this, cackling, “What a rogue you are, Billy. You never cease to amaze me. Tell me everything.”
The jester stood, now understanding this would take some time. He fetched the King a flagon of wine and a hard roll, handing them over. Then, again, he sat.
“You must know the context,” he lectured. “Augustine was more than a mere theologian. The principles he espoused have since framed your society, establishing the basic rules of civilization for the last twelve hundred years.”
At this, the King grunted once more, for usually he didn’t like theologians of any stripe. English ones were bad enough, and the current Pope was in league with his sworn enemy, the French. The Spanish, while also loathing them were Catholic, so an alliance with Spain was not a viable option.
“Bishop Augustine lived,” the lecture continued, “while Rome’s imperial power crumbled, the set decrees falling away. By this time, the growing population was Christian but barely so, and any fresh rules were yet to be firmly recognized. But now, in every locale new Christian princes wished to war with other Christian princes, a troubling obstacle if you’re a diligent churchman busy building a religion based on peace and love.”
“I see it,” announced the marveling King. “You speak of the Doctrine of Just War, the moral reasoning behind why Christians may fight. Honor, and so forth.”
“Yes, but even more,” countered the fool. “Having such new stipulations gave Europe the time it needed to coalesce, to rebuild intuitions, to set things in place. Now, after more than a thousand years this has slowly happened, and the time has come to move on, as I’ve explained to you before, Hal.”
“I am no Doge,” snapped Henry, disliking the implication. “I’m a King, not some mere functionary of a committee of state. I am my country, Billy, I am England.”
This pompous pronouncement caused the fool to laugh aloud.
“You?” he replied. “Why Hal, you’re just a single link in the long chain of history, and a very lengthy procession that is, too. You may control this petty kingdom but not events in general, that’s quite beyond your allotted purview.”
“What’s that?” screamed the King, instantly livid. “You push your limits, man. This line is not humorous in the least, and you overstep your bounds at your own peril.”
The jester, leaning back, didn’t answer this outburst. He knew the raging tempest would soon pass. He knew this stubborn man very well, much better than did even the first Duke of Suffolk, the King’s oldest friend, Charles Brandon.
“See the bigger picture, Hal,” he finally said. “There have been Doges in Venice for over eight hundred years, with many more yet to come. Your esteemed family, ever-glorious now, has ruled England for barely two generations.”
After this stiff truism, Henry threw his roll to the floor, but then he thought the better of it. Tantrums solved nothing. He knew this to be factual, for he employed them often and they never worked.
And also, he was hungry again.
“My point,” emphasized the fool, “is the rigid framework set by Augustine is now no longer sufficient. Another direction is needed, a new way of looking at things, for knowledge has been sanctioned, only dictated from above. But, no more.”
“What does that mean?” grumbled Henry, not following.
“Twelve hundred years ago,” said the jester, “Augustine stated knowledge of any kind was a thing given only by God. Ergo, to know anything at all was a gift from God. Knowledge gained without God’s grace then became heretical.”
This comment made His Majesty smile. Generally, the King favored a good heretic. After all, he was the biggest one yet.
“This long accepted arrangement, while providing local stability had its limits,” added his fool, “for people are ever curious and naturally inquisitive, and any such restriction is always stifling. So, to ease these well-placed concerns, three hundred years ago the enlightened Thomas Aquinas decreed that God-given knowledge really comes in two forms. These are understandings which you can discover on your own, by God’s grace, and that which is known only to Him, granted through divine revelation.”
“Yes,” declared Henry, “and what’s wrong with that? It makes good sense. The Darker Ages are long in the past, and we have much current knowledge now, as my fearsome ships will soon demonstrate to the invading French fleet.”
“But are they truly over?” asked the jester, trying once more to make the elusive connection. “How, when knowledge still remains tangible in itself, a real thing at which you may chisel away as some sculptor would, slowly dribbling off random pieces, as it were? No, Hal, adherence to such a stilted outlook has inherent disadvantages that are no longer acceptable.”
“But what other way is there?” asked the baffled ruler.
The patient time traveler began to rewrap Henry’s leg.
“Make peace with the French,” was his answer, “and find out.”
It was now late afternoon, and the wind came up in earnest. The Sovereign was duly informed. Presently he was upon the rampart.
“What news, My Lords?” the King, now wearing clean leggings, asked of his retinue, after making his slow but regal transition to the wall above the broad estuary.
“The wind is up, Henry,” answered the newly arrived Duke of Suffolk, who then affectionately embraced his oldest friend. This particular personage solely possessed such a uniquely granted privilege, and so he often shunned the standard convention of great deference to the royal station and regularly addressed the King by name. “Soon, Vice Admiral Carew will advance with his flagship, the Mary Rose,” the nobleman added, thinking of his long dead wife, the King’s once beautiful sister.
“She moves, Your Majesty,” announced Lord Admiral Russel, who was, as his title indicated, head of the entire English navy.
“Magnificent,” declared the Constable of Southsea Castle.
Everyone looked to the huge ship floating gracefully in the near distance, her sails already fully deployed and gently filling with air.
“And what will happen now?” asked the eager Monarch.
“She will soon turn and lead the line of attack,” answered Suffolk, as if it were only a foregone conclusion, which it was.
Aboard the Mary Rose, the very command was being given.
“Prepare to bring her about,” the Vice Admiral calmly said to an aide, and quickly the order was shouted to runners who would disperse it throughout the crew. “Close all starboard gunports,” he added next. This most critical instruction was passed on as well, yet it somehow failed to reach the two lowest decks, and that salient fact had both immediate and dire consequences.
Soon the giant ship began to slowly turn. Next, a robust gust of wind swept across the vessel, snapping taunt her full complement of sail. Then the impressive Mary Rose, the very pinnacle of current nautical innovation and design, was herself broadsided.
Already riding deeply in the water, she soon listed just enough for the sea to rush in through the still open gunports along her lower tier of starboard artillery. This swiftly pulled her further down, which naturally shifted everything stowed aboard towards the rapidly increasing tilt of the ship. The lashing ropes that bound the heavy guns stationed opposite soon gave way under the tremendous strain and ripped apart, sending the cannon, and their great weight crashing across the distance and into the now flooding compartments above the great vessel’s main hold.
This cavity was vast, the deepest section of the Mary Rose, an immense storage chamber, now breeched and filling with water.
The second tier of open gunports was swamped in less than a minute, and the same unabated process then repeated, sharply increasing the ever-growing angle of list.
Onboard was complete chaos. The massive ship was quickly, totally overwhelmed and sucked under. Because the enemy still used the older tactics of boarding a vessel for hand-to-hand combat, heavy webbing had been strung across all decks to repel such an onslaught, and the hapless sailors and soldiers stationed on these levels were all trapped within the substantial ropes, like fish in a net.
“My God,” gasped the Lord High Admiral. It was all that needed to be said. Everyone else was too stunned to speak.
Henry simply stood with his royal mouth hanging open.
Soon, all that could be seen of the once impressive ship was her topmost sails, tilted at a sixty-degree angle for, hitting bottom, the doomed vessel had settled into the deep mud, hidden but just awaiting beneath the murky water. All manner of items were now floating about, somehow escaping the netting. Only the men clinging to the upper rigging survived the calamity, less than forty of well over four hundred total aboard.
Most of the casualties occurred below. Many died there before the boat sank, crushed by items loosened in the dramatic shifting involved, but to a man, the others were swallowed alive. Those on the upper decks, all ensnared by the nets, each drowned while viewing the elusive surface in the near distance above them.
Then the feckless wind, the last of the waning day also died, bringing to an end the so-called Battle of the Solent. The French, thinking better of the entire campaign, soon withdrew their fleet. Needless to say, the engagement was inconclusive.
Henry also withdrew, and without comment to anyone moved to his room where the fool was awaiting him. No one present spoke as the King exited, being prompted by a quickly raised hand of the Duke of Suffolk, an action that silenced them. But they all deeply bowed as His Majesty slowly made his passage.
“Well, Billy boy, you’ve taught me an unkind lesson today,” hissed the proud but now outmaneuvered Monarch. “Yes, you’ve done me harshly this time. Why?”
King Henry stood defiantly before the taller man, jutting his noble jaw and holding his much-recognized stiffened stance, portrayed so well in many an official portrait.
“The choice was yours,” calmly countered the fool, “I caused no change. You failed to alter something, and that had consequences. Now you must carry on, Hal.”
Henry could not speak. He tried, but he only sputtered, his usual pale completion currently a flaming red. At last, giving up the effort, he resolutely turned and sat.
For a moment, nothing happened. The fool waited, as he always did. The King brooded, as he often did.
Henry was defeated, and he knew it. He also knew he didn’t like being beaten. But Billy was right, of course, he always was.
The King of England would have to move on.
“Yes,” he said at last, “you did warn me, that is true enough.”
The jester next offered food and wine, but Henry, still most distracted, didn’t notice the effort.
“Well,” he finally said, almost spitting the words, “at least tell me of your trip to the Doge. Were you successful? Has he now also agreed to do your damn bidding?”
“He has, Hal,” was the answer, given while ignoring the royal sarcasm. “My latest dinner guest convinced him, as I’d hoped he would. Now, at long last a new enlightenment will begin, a totally different way of looking at things.”
Henry grunted. Given the day’s drastic action, His Majesty would see to it that certain things were soon looked into, that’s for sure. Yes, change was coming, and in more ways that one.
He began to formulate a plan, but almost immediately gave it up. He had people for that. He’d wait and rule on what they suggested, employing his standard procedure.
“Tell me of your newest encounter with the Doge,” he instead demanded, wishing to speak of other matters. “Who did you convey this time? Why was he effective?”
“I took an Englishman, actually,” the time traveler replied. “He won’t be born for another sixteen years, but he was middle aged when we arrived. A most interesting gentleman, for his bold ideas indeed changed everything.”
“I see,” stated Henry, “but how so?”
“It’s all a matter of perception,” the fool calmly explained. “How does anyone judge what truly is? Must they blindly follow what’s come before, believing something only because others previous have, or do they instead think in another way, a better way, with new eyes that can see new things?”
“Speak plainly,” advised the weary King, “what do you mean?”
“In the old scheme of things, all truth was known but hidden,” he related. “That will now change. Soon, nothing will be taken for granted, and all knowledge will thus be built only by what is shown to be factual, a great distinction.”
“I don’t follow,” said Henry, “what matters this distinction?”
The jester again offered food and drink, and this time Henry, now much calmer, accepted.
“Again, it’s perception,” the fool continued. “Knowledge is not a given thing that’s dispersed, but an unknown thing that’s discovered. And this new outlook, this simple difference in view will lead to all kinds of changes in the future.”
Here he paused, to give the King time to absorb this input.
“An Englishman, you say?” asked Henry, after his absorption was completed. “Who is he, or rather, who shall he be? Is he a philosopher of some description?”
“Not exactly,” was the answer, “he’s a lawyer, or will be one.”
“Oh dear,” mused the King. He despised all lawyers. In his regal opinion, they were as bad as churchmen, maybe worse.
“His friends will be the philosophers, natural philosophers they will soon label themselves,” informed the fool. “Yet these thinkers will have no firm foundation, no standard set of rules agreed to by all. He changes this, by supplying them a method of inquiry, a universally acceptable system to be known as Science.”
“This Science,” reasoned the King, “this system of simple distinction, is so important? Why? What exactly will it do?”
“Humans now have ocean-going craft,” the other man pointed out, “and the world will soon be cracked open by them. This widely opened world will also have Science, as well. Great change is therefore inevitable, Hal, but it’s only possible now because the time is right and the proper conditions are finally present.”
After a moment, having made the connection, Henry said, “I understand now,” then quickly he asked, “Who is this Englishman that changes everything so?”
“His name is Bacon,” was the answer, “Francis Bacon.”
Henry roared at this, his bilious body jiggling with laughter.
“Wonderful,” he cried, “I’ve always loved pork.”
“You’ve always loved everything, Hal, that’s your problem,” countered the jester, as he refilled Henry’s cup of wine.
“So tell me,” urged the King, “what will happen hence?”
“Europe will turn now westward, as I’ve said, begetting worldwide influence,” the all-knowing man revealed. “In a hundred years, an Irishman named Boyle will decipher mysteries from the very air we breathe, and in two hundred a man from the new world named Franklin will pull power from lightning. A hundred years after that, a Frenchman named Pasteur will prove beyond all doubt that things too small to be seen can affect life itself, a tremendous discovery leading to much change.”
“And what of England?” next asked Henry.
“Because of you,” said Billy, “England will be strong. Her navy will become preeminent. It shall rule the waves for hundreds of years.”
This pleasant news pleased Henry greatly, but only because he’d at last made the bigger connection involved. The future was his to command. He wouldn’t let it down.
He stood and crossed to the door, then jerked it open.
The crowded hallway was full of his startled functionaries and favorites. Some men were standing, while others were sitting on heavy benches against either wall. No matter their placement, all were awaiting the King’s pleasure.
“Charles,” he barked, and the Duke of Suffolk dutifully stood. “I shall have peace with France,” Henry announced. Suffolk only nodded, and then sat as before.
“Your Majesty,” interjected Lord Paget, who’d jumped up at the King’s sudden appearance. As England’s Secretary of State, this lofty bureaucrat would have to negotiate any treaty with the French invaders, and he didn’t relish doing so under the current tactical conditions. Yet Henry was unconcerned with that aspect.
“I will have my peace with France,” screamed the monarch, and Paget also nodded and sat.
Then Henry, ever intent on hasty retreat, began to turn from the room’s threshold, but instead exercising his royal prerogative, he first commanded, “And, bring pork for dinner.”
Then he slammed the door.
His fool now held the washbasin, a towel draped over his arm.
Sleep came late that night for the eighth English King crowned Henry. He was abed, but thinking. His Majesty was leaving on the morrow, to continue his recent, interrupted progress through the south of his realm, but he was troubled and his active mind refused to cease its unrelenting rambling.
“Billy,” he called out softly.
“Yes, Hal,” came the answer from the darkness, “I’m here.”
“When the world is new,” began the royal pondering, “will they know what I did? Will anyone care that I made peace with the French? Will they even remember me at all?”
This whispered inquiry caused the jester to laugh aloud.
“And they call me a fool,” the time traveler said.
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