“Georg! What are you doing in a closet? When I saw the cobbler’s sign out front I was sure I had the wrong place.” Georg knew the cramped shelves lining most of the space made it obvious storage was the small room’s original purpose.
“It sounds like the start of a bad joke, doesn’t it? The wealthy cobbler and the pauper shoemaker.” Georg took a moment to stretch out as he stood. In the last months since becoming a master the breaks had been few and far between, and Hans Hochhaus was an old friend and a steady customer.
“One of the journeymen next door is a friend and was able to convince his master to lease me this space. Welcome to my humble shop. I’m glad you found me. To what do I owe the pleasure?”
Hans held up a pair of boots. “These are the best pair of boots I’ve ever had, but they’ve had a mishap. I wanted to commission a new pair. I’m sure you can come up with something new to make me the talk of the season.”
Georg did not bother inventorying the contents of the shelves to know that was not possible. “I wish I could, but with how sudden this has been I don’t have the tools or materials yet. But here, let me take a look at that pair.”
“When Meister Kallenbach found out he was sick, he made sure the guild pushed through the mastership of his two senior journeymen—his son-in-law to take over the shop and me so I didn’t get stuck there. Unfortunately I hadn’t saved as much as I really needed. Look, I can make a new heel for this boot and they should work for you until I get the lasts and the quality of leather this project deserves.”
“Won’t that get you in trouble with the cobblers’ guild?”
“No, no. I’ll make the heel out of new leather and take it next door for one of the apprentices to attach. I’ll send them to you tomorrow. Thank you for your patience. Until I get a bigger space and some help it’ll take longer for me to fill orders.”
“Well, Georg. I appreciate you fixing these, but I do need something this season. At least, if you’re not making boots for anyone else this season, I’ll just have to settle for second best.”
Georg sighed. “I understand. I hope you’ll come back next season.”
Otto Gericke was on his feet glaring at the latest projections when Johann Spitzler—one of his troubleshooters—entered. Johann stopped when that glare transferred with full force to him.
“How can we already be a week behind schedule?” Despite the eyes, Otto’s voice was level.
“Today it was Wilhelm Hirtz. He wouldn’t let the work crew anywhere near his old home. Seems he’s a bit upset there’s a street running through the front half of his property. The work crew was more in danger from their laughter than Hirtz, but we still lost almost the entire morning.”
“Did he accept the new location?”
“Not at first, but when he realized the new lot was a third again as big as his old one he wanted the deed before we could fix our ‘mistake.’ I’m worried though. Even if we are only shifting a few properties, it’s going to get expensive.”
“Maybe.” Otto felt a plan start to form. “People would be more receptive if we came to them.”
Hannover, about eighty-six miles from Magdeburg
The storm was past, but Georg was grateful the snowfall had been heavy enough to discourage traffic. He had a month’s backlog of work and still no space for any help.
That explained the sigh when the door opened. But the fine cut of clothes of the man who stepped in made the interruption more welcome.
He paused halfway to his feet when two more men—obviously mercenaries—crowded in behind. Of course anyone who needed—and could afford—bodyguards had even more money.
“Are you Georg Baumbach?”
“Yes. Welcome. How may the finest shoe maker in Hannover serve you?” He matched those words to a flourishing bow. The bow gave him a chance to examine the shoes of a prospective client. All three pairs in front of him were quality riding boots—one pair with a tooling and two plain.
The man glanced at some papers in his hand. “Are you the second cousin of Hans Stein?”
“Yes?” Georg could not help the rising note of the word. The last time he had seen any of the Stein branch of the family was a trip to Magdeburg as an apprentice to see the tanneries’ products and the only thing he could remember about Hans was a braying laugh.
“I’m Andreas von Wachtel. I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but your cousin Hans and his entire family perished during the Siege of Magdeburg.”
“We hadn’t held much hope.” Georg was not surprised by the news as much as the source of the confirmation. “Is that why you are here?”
“Only in part. According to our research you are his closest living relative, which means his remaining property belongs to you. Like most of the city the building, including all of his personal and business property, burned to the ground.”
“It was a tragedy.” Curious, Georg took the proffered title. “They have been in our prayers.” The size matched his memory of the building, but the address on Gustavstrasse meant nothing to him.
“You have thirty days from the acceptance of the deed to challenge any of the details contained therein.”
“What . . .” He jerked his eyes up, but before he could protest further von Wachtel continued as relentless as the past storm.
“As part of the rebuilding we are installing the infrastructure for running fresh water and for sewage removal. The first installment of that fee is due when construction starts in February.”
“Given the lot size you’ll owe twenty-five thaler then, with three more installments depending on when you rebuild.” Von Wachtel had the tone of someone who has more than memorized a speech. “Any questions or modifications of the payments may be discussed with the Tax Assessor’s Office in Magdeburg.”
“Am I supposed to travel in that?” Incredulously, Georg pointed at the snow drifts on the street.
“Of course, first, the wreckage will need to be cleared. The emperor has generously loaned part of the garrison to help with the cleanup that began at the beginning of the year. That fee will be another twenty-five thaler.”
“Outrageous!” Georg boomed.
“To handle the higher traffic load of the capital, the city is now requiring that the streets are paved. Shipping in those materials has proven difficult. so that fee will be fifty thaler.”
“I will not stand for this.” Georg’s anger and frustration from the past months finally had a focus on which to crystallize and his posture shifted to something more aggressive—until he noticed the flat look in three sets of eyes, and the nonchalant confidence in their bodies.
Von Wachtel continued once Georg settled back on his heels. “And then there is the matter of my fee. Three percent of the value of the property payable in the next two days, or at the beginning of the year at my office in Magdeburg.”
The bluster drained from him as Georg slumped onto a stool he used for fittings. His mind was running in circles, too many numbers had flown by and all he could see was the walls full of shoes it would take to pay for all of that. “I will never get free of this closet.”
Andreas remembered going into a similar slump when he heard about the sack. His brother’s family had lived in the city and they were not among the lucky few survivors. He had already avenged them on the battlefield when he was approached with this task. He knew ensuring Magdeburg was rebuilt the right way was the best legacy for them now. As always he said a silent prayer for their souls.
Of course the man in front of him was not worried for his family, but for himself, so Andreas did not feel too guilty using some up-time marketing techniques on him.
“I’m sorry. I’m just the messenger. But . . .” He placed a hand on Georg’s shoulder to lift him up. “. . . I may be able to help. A group of the survivors have banded together to see that the city is rebuilt better than before and the Reclaiming the Maiden Fund is interested in purchasing land in the old city.”
It took Georg several moments before he could give a nod of understanding.
“No one can predict what the land in the city will be worth now that it is the new capital, so the fund is offering to pay what the property was worth prior to the sack, rather than the ashes it is now, and, of course, if the fund buys the land it is responsible for all of the fees. The land may be worth more, so the fund was set up to donate half of the profits directly to the rebuilding effort. That’s all we want, a beautiful city to honor the fallen.”
“I think Hans would like that too, but . . . you didn’t mention how much you could offer.”
“The Fund is offering a thousand thaler for this plot. Of course if you travel to Magdeburg yourself and try to sell directly you can probably make more, but—if you accept the offer—the funds will come to you.”
Georg had gone slack-jawed at the number. “I could afford to move into a new shop, hire some journeyman. Stop making workmen’s shoes and take commissions again. Do you have the contract with you?”
“I can return with it tomorrow. Take some time to think on it, I’ll be back tomorrow afternoon.” Andreas knew marketing techniques were not the only up-time concepts applied to this task. Spitzer had been very clear when explaining what “claw back” meant in terms of commissions.
“Sleep well, Georg.”
Georg did and his dreams alternated between a new shop and fanciful designs. He woke with no doubt as to what he would do.
Johann riffled through a small stack of papers as he came into Otto’s office.
“Here are the latest deeds for the Fund. The Weavers’ Guild will be happy. We finally got an answer about the lot adjacent to their old hall. They’ll be able to expand.”
“We’ve found the owners for over half the city. If the council’s agents keep up this pace, we should be nearly done by mid-year.” Johann handed the deeds to Otto as he continued. “More importantly there are only a few of the really critical street front properties left. The extra bounty on those seems to have provided the proper motivation.”
“And now that the weavers are happy, we should be able to get the ’eminent domain’ provisions approved by the council.” Otto could feel at least a little tension lifting.
“I’m starting to think we won’t need them after all. There have only been a handful of challenges and about half of the new owners have accepted the offer from Reclaiming the Maiden. You should take a look at that second deed. Property Seventeen, Alter Markt. Great view of the Imperial Palace’s foundation. Two lots down from the one that caused that bidding war last week.”
“Who won that anyway?” Otto had been too busy to really follow all the details.
“An imperial knight from Württemberg, of all things. If this one sells for even half as much, the fund will have earned back the initial investments.”
Otto smiled. “Sometimes asking the right question can make it clear what’s really important. Now that we have just the people who want to be here we can really get to work.”