"Barnabas Kitchner! Wake up! It's Tuesday morning and you have to buy wood for the bathhouse fire."
The thirty-eight year-old man rolled over in bed and opened one eye. His wife, Margarete Lutsch, was already dressed and standing in the doorway with her hands on her hips.
Tuesday. People bathed on Saturday and Tuesday in this town of a thousand souls. Saturdays were regimented about who bathed and when. Mothers with young children bathed first. Then old women. Then teenage girls and single women. Single and old men, and then married couples. But today was Tuesday and in this town that meant first come, first served, no separation of ages or sexes. Each day had a completely different social atmosphere which served the community.
The early risers wanted a warm bath, no matter what the season. The late bathers, especially in summer, didn't mind cool water as long as it was halfway clean.
And oh, dear God, did they have clean water. The large reservoir for the baths had to be refilled at least three times every Saturday. Trip after trip, hauling water a hundred yards from their river near the Elbe, back and forth. The small consolation was that he didn't have to personally haul it all. The bad news was that his helpers, Lucas and Peter, lived with their parents and had to be lightly shepherded. Everyone in town had some kind of a useful job, including those who were not as smart or clever as others. Bigger towns and cities had pumps but using Lucas and Peter to haul water was far cheaper and gave them regular employment.
"But it's not even daylight yet! Nobody's going to be at the bathhouse." His feeble protest fell on deaf ears. As usual.
"Get up! You know Augustin Ramminger will be there even before the water is hot enough for you to finish filling the bathing tank. Now get moving!"
Yes, he did know. Augustin had been Barnabas' rival for Margarete's hand ten years earlier. Not infrequently Barnabas asked himself what Augustin would have done in his situation and decided that was why he was now Margarete's husband.
Barnabas had been footloose and fancy free sixteen years ago, the third son of a Lutheran pastor who had no inclination to follow in his father's footsteps or scholastic ambitions beyond his city's gymnasium. So he was without regular gainful employment when he arrived in town. Margarete was good-looking and full-bodied, the daughter of the only bathhouse operator in town. When Barnabas was hired by her father to service its water and fires, he thought himself incredibly lucky. Not only would he have regular employment but he would be in contact with the object of his affections on a daily basis.
One thing led to another and her father—being wise enough not to object—agreed to their marriage ten years ago. The only surviving child of Papa Lutsch, Margarete inherited the bathhouse along with the family home three years later. And in arguments never let him forget where the source of his livelihood originated.
Barnabas sat up in the bed, sighed and scratched his head. There was only the slightest hint of light outside their window.
"Good morning, Barnabas. I've already set aside your usual order of wood." Titus Erlingen pointed towards a stacked pile. He gave a sigh. "But I'm going to have to charge you more. Because of all the construction in Magdeburg, prices for wood, even firewood such as I provide, are going sky-high."
"How much higher?" Barnabas twisted a lock of his graying hair. Margarete was going to give him fits if it was much above what it had been last Saturday morning. Her father had taught her how to manage the bathhouse and one of those skills was bookkeeping.
Titus grimaced. "Ten percent higher today than it was the other day. Heaven only knows when the prices will come down again."
"Ten percent! That's robbery, pure and simple! Why don't you just get out your knife and slit my purse?"
The wood-seller raised his eyebrows in innocence and shrugged. "You know I wouldn't charge you that much if I didn't have to. As it is, I'm barely covering my own costs. I'm having to go farther and farther afield to find firewood, so much of it having been burnt or otherwise destroyed by the imperial forces or the Swedish army. Every stick of this firewood had to be purchased from its owner, or from a villages' allocations."
Barnabas had no idea of where Titus acquired his firewood but had his own suspicions. For one thing Titus was here every Tuesday and Saturday morning, which meant he couldn't have gone that far, not out and back with his lone horse pulling the cart. For another, Titus was simply too well-fleshed. Barnabas suspected that Titus knew of an abandoned farming village and just gathered it himself without payment.
That said, in the fifteen years Barnabas had been buying, Titus never charged more than his competition.
He tried not to moan. "Five percent. I have to be able to tell my wife that I didn't pay the price you first quoted."
Titus shook his head. "Nine percent. Because we've been dealing with each other so long."
Barnabas hesitated. He might be able to get Titus down to seven but he doubted it. Titus looked entirely too unhappy even quoting the nine percent.
"Eight percent, all dry wood and you have a deal."
"Done. You can check each piece yourself."
Barnabas always split some of the new wood into kindling after he filled the stone heating tank. It also gave him something to do while he thought about how to tell Margarete about the price increase.
"Will I have to wait long?" Augustin asked, leaning at the open doorway, a towel over his shoulder. The still unmarried Augustin had done well in the past dozen years. He'd gone from being Barnabas' equal, a gymnasium graduate, to something of a dandy, working as the town's bookkeeper. Barnabas didn't envy him his position or money. He didn't hate Augustin either, but there was no love lost, mostly because he still flirted with Margarete. All Barnabas knew was that there'd never been any gossip with real substance.
Barnabas opened the stopcock on the side of the heating tank and tested the water. "Fifteen minutes, no more."
"Quite all right. I'll just go back to the entrance and talk with your lovely wife." He turned gracefully and walked back towards the front of the bathhouse where Margarete would be waiting at the entrance for early bathers. She enjoyed his company entirely too much. Barnabas growled, thinking about it.
Years ago he would have seethed with indignation for an hour, but now he simply returned to his work.
The bathhouse wasn't large as such things go. Not halfway comparable to the one in the city he came from. No, this bathing tank was only a dozen feet across with room for no more than several bathers at the outer rim. On Saturdays there would be a line of waiting bathers, but on Tuesdays most of his hot water didn't go into the bathing tank.