August 1633

Dolf was the first in his farming village to notice the stranger. Not that strangers walking or riding past on their way to or from Aschersleben were unusual. He was ten, old enough to have finished his formal schooling, or so his father said. "Got your letters and your ciphering, lad. That's all any farmer needs. Knowing more won't help till the fields or harvest the crops."

It was taking forever to get the growth Mama kept saying was coming and the top of his head still only came up to the middle of Papa's chest. Like Mama, he was dark-haired and stocky. Like Papa, he had a broad nose. They both agreed he'd be strong as an ox someday. His little sister teased him, saying his mind was already like an ox. Dolf held himself aloof from such comments made by his trivial sibling. Mostly.

Dolf spent some of his time playing with his friends in the village or the city and still helped his mother regularly in the garden and with the laundry. But most of the time he helped his father in the fields or herding the village's livestock. He was years away from considering that being ten years old and not having to go to school the next year was the best age—too young and small to be considered strong enough to work in the fields regularly and too old to be watched.

Last spring the family had gone to the city to sell their garden produce. Gretchen Richter had been speaking in the town square and he'd never seen a woman speak so powerfully. Men, even his father, paid attention. On the way home his father told him, "Wonderful to listen to, lad. But silver in the hand weighs heavier than words in the ear. Remember that."

Two months later, again entering the city, two men wearing blue sashes stopped them. "Name and village?" the man holding the open book asked.

"It's five pfennigs to sell in the market," the second man explained. "By order of the city council, the Aschersleben Committee of Correspondence now provides services and maintains order there. Pay now or pay after you sell your goods. Leave without paying and you won't be allowed back in without paying double."

Dolf looked up and saw Papa clench his jaw. "That's almost twice what it was the last time we were here. What ever happened to the regular city watchmen collecting the fee?"

The CoC watchman gave a smirking smile. "Some of us watched what was going on when they collected the money. Most of it stayed in their pockets. Several backs were bloodied after a rigorous questioning, and only the Committee watchmen are authorized to collect market fees. The city council certainly doesn't mind receiving far more than they used to."

Dolf thought for a moment Papa would refuse to pay the higher fee, but he relaxed and shook his head, his mouth still tight. They paid the fee and set up their small stall in the central marketplace.

"Don't know why the city council thinks they have to have watchmen at all to maintain order in the market," his father grumbled as they set out their produce. "Never had an incident before, not even when Tilly was staying here a couple years ago. Well, except for the occasional scuffle, but that's never anything."

"I don't know," Mama answered. "But what we saw of the city coming in did look neater."

Later the family looked around the market. In one stall was a young woman with a pleasant smile and several unfamiliar items lying in front of her. "What are these?" Mama asked, bending down to touch a rectangular object.

"Hi. I'm Gertrude Fischel and that is a Laughing Laundress washboard. The one with the rollers is called a wringer. Let me demonstrate what each can do for you." The blonde woman drew a linen shirt from the wash bucket and began scrubbing it on the washboard.

When Mama felt the freshly washed and nearly dry linen shirt only moments later, her mouth hung open. "The time I've spent . . . How much for just the wringer?" The dickering began with Mama occasionally looking up at Papa. He finally shook his head. No deal.

****

Aschersleben was only two miles away, so Dolf and his friends from the village frequently ran to the city when not needed in the fields or by their parents. It was a familiar place, since they'd gone to school there. And, sometimes, they snuck away when they were needed. But not often. Their fathers had given them reason enough to know the difference.

That particular day, Dolf tired after only an hour of playing kickball. It was too far to go home so he found a far corner of an empty tavern whose door had been left open. He was almost asleep when four men wearing blue sashes walked in.

The jolly-looking bar owner came out of the back room. He took a quick glance at the empty tables and welcomed the men with a warm and cheerful smile. "How much, Hans?"

"Forty pfennigs that's on the books. Two Groschen." The young man with a scanty mustache spilled the contents of his leather bag on a table. "How about you guys?"

The other three called out their numbers. The bar owner gave a slow, satisfied look as he totaled the count of the fees that had been written onto their books. Next he deliberately separated the coins into two piles, one with over twice the number of the other. He shook his head as if in sadness and gave a slow sigh. "You would think that such a busy market would bring in more money. Only one hundred eighty-five pfennigs on the books. Shameful. Perhaps they slipped by our diligent CoC sentries both coming and going." Dolf didn't understand why he gave a rough laugh and the other four joined in.

The owner scraped the larger pile into a leather bag. "Richard, you take this bag to our highly esteemed leader along with my tally. After sending on the city council's portion, I'm certain he will use the rest for the benefit of the entire city, especially the poor, oppressed proletarian masses." From the remaining pile he made five separate piles of coins, one significantly larger than the others. He pushed that one into his pouch.

"Hey, how come you get a larger pile, Heinrich?" Hans demanded.

Heinrich gave Hans a glance and without warning, backhanded the smaller man, knocking him down. A moment later, the point of Heinrich's knife was scant inches from Hans' eye. "Because I'm bigger, badder and meaner than any two of you." He then stood up straight, lifted his eyebrows and gave a knowing smile. "Besides, it was my idea to investigate the old city watchmen. I convinced Jan Wagner and he convinced the city council. Any questions?" He gazed around at the others. No questions.

No longer looking jolly to Dolf, the large man slipped his knife back into its sheath. "All right then. Each of you take a pile. Richard, you get that bag to Jan Wagner. Don't think about taking out so much as a pfennig. You saw me count out how much was written on your books and I put it all in there. I'll check with him. After all . . . " Heinrich put his hands together as if in prayer and lifted his eyes towards the ceiling. " . . . the money we collect is for the good of the people."

After they left and Heinrich had gone into the storage room, Dolf crept out of the tavern. He wasn't sleepy any more.

Heinrich scared Dolf down to his bones. He'd never seen such casual, possibly murderous, violence coming from someone who looked so friendly. He didn't dare mention it to his father for at least two reasons. First, Papa might be angry with him going to town when work could be done and then for going into a tavern to sleep. Second, Papa might become very angry and denounce Heinrich and his sentries to the other farmers. Anyone who was that ready to use a knife, well, Dolf thought that would be a bad idea.

Likewise, Dolf didn't want to go directly to the Aschersleben CoC leader. He didn't know who he was and might mention something to a friend of Heinrich's by mistake. In fact, he knew only one member by sight—Gertrude, the woman selling the wash boards, who'd mentioned she was a member. She looked too nice to fight against Heinrich. Besides, why would they take the word of someone his age seriously? He didn't know what to do.

A week later he came across a torn pamphlet lying in an alley. Dolf had trouble with the meaning of the words Spartacus had written, but he finally understood. It was like hearing Gretchen Richter again. But different, very different. Where Gretchen denounced the tyranny of the powerful and their subjugation of the people, Spartacus seemed to apply reason. Why tyranny always fails in the long run and that the people are the ones who ultimately decide what kind of leadership they should have.

Dolf noticed that the pamphlet was printed in Magdeburg, not that far from Aschersleben. Now he knew who to tell about Heinrich. Spartacus wouldn't know how old he was. He wrote a letter describing what he had seen and sent it off.

****

The horse was tired. Dolf could tell that by the way it shambled along the road in the heat of a late-August day. Its rider, now walking beside it, seemed to be equally weary.

He was using a long walking stick and turned off the main road towards Dolf's village. He seemed old to Dolf, somewhere about twenty. The only unusual thing about the tall stranger was that he wore narrow-legged boots that came to mid-calf. "That Aschersleben?"

"Yes, sir."

The man gave a relieved sigh. He took off his hat, wiping his brow with his sleeve. "Some water for my horse, please."

"Slowly, there, boy," he said a short while later as the horse dipped its muzzle into the bucket Dolf was holding. After a couple of huge gulps, the man motioned Dolf to pull the bucket away from the unwilling horse. He roughly stroked its neck. "Give yourself a bellyache if you gulp it all down at once. Can I put him up here for the night? I can pay."

"I'll have to ask Papa but I suppose so."

The man was brushing down his horse when Dolf returned with Papa who carried a small pitcher of beer. "Hello. I'm Daniel Bauers. This is my son Adolphus. We call him Dolf."

"Carl Johantgens." He shook Daniel's hand and then took the filled mug from Dolf. After draining it in three quick gulps, Carl gave a contented sigh. He resumed brushing his horse. "Could I leave my horse here in the village? I don't want to pay city rates and I won't need him for a few days."

Papa nodded. "Don't see why not. What brings you here?"

The man gave a wry smile. "Several wrong turns." He pointed towards a long, vaguely triangular box covered with leather by his saddle. "Actually, I'm a fiddler, going from city to city trying to make a living." He grimaced. "Sometimes I find myself working in villages during harvest."

"We don't have much but you can join us for a bite of supper if you'd like," Papa offered.

"Thank you, but Dolf's a growing boy. I can wait until I go into the city tomorrow."

"Nonsense." The conversation went on a bit longer. Dolf finally realized that Carl must have seen a good many hungry farmers as he traveled between towns. But his village really did have enough, having been able to squirrel away seed inside a house in the city when the imperials were besieging Magdeburg and later when the Swedes came through.

That evening, Carl tucked his fiddle below his collarbone and played several tunes. The village families who crowded into Dolf's home watched and joined in on familiar songs. When Carl took a break he was plied with questions about what was happening in Magdeburg and around the country.

****

Carl was about to leave his horse's stall the next morning when his shirt caught on a splinter, tearing a huge three-cornered hole. He was wearing a severe frown when Dolf came into the barn a second later. "Who's a tailor in town?"

Dolf shrugged. "Mama does all our sewing."

Carl shook his head. "No, I'm sure your mother is too busy. A tailor, in town?"

"There's Herr Oehlschlegel." He looked up at Carl, his eyes dancing. "A market woman, you'd really like her, Gertrude, um, I forget her last name, says he's good. He gave her wringer his, uh, recommendation," he blurted, remembering the long word.

Carl gave him a jaundiced eye and cocked his head. "So what's the matter with her? Cross-eyed? Wide as a wine tun?"

"Oh, no, no, no! Just a nice lady. She's a member of the Aschersleben Committee. Sells the Laughing Laundress wringers and wash boards."

"Huh. Aren't you a little young to be making matches?" Carl grinned and tousled Dolf's hair. "Met too many CoC women already. Even Gretchen Richter." He gave a shiver. "The stories I've heard about her."

"What stories?"

"Never mind." He pointed to the south. "I need to head for Aschersleben."

"I'll take you."

"I don't think your mother, or father, would appreciate your taking off this early in the morning. In fact, as I recall, it's the best time to weed a garden."

Dolf winced. It was the best time because weeds could be pulled from the dew-softened soil. A few minutes later he watched Carl head towards the city, his straight hiking stick in one hand and his fiddle box over a shoulder.

****

Dolf ran into town as soon as his morning chores were done. He recognized Carl as he entered a shop on a side street. He got to the door just before it closed and entered the shop.

Carl glanced back at the noise of the door bell. "Oh, hello, Dolf."

The proprietor, a short, heavy-set middle-aged man with a small mustache, emerged from the rear of the shop. "Ja, mein Herr? I am Adam Oehlschlegel. How may I serve you?"

The younger man gave a rueful smile. "My name is Carl Johantgens. I had a slight accident this morning." He pulled back the right side of his jacket, displaying the large tear in his shirt.

"Ach. Would you like it mended? My wife is an expert seamstress. Or perhaps a new shirt to replace it?"

"I'd like to say a new shirt but my purse says I'd better get it mended."

"What is this?" the tailor's wife, Maria Prost, asked a short while later. She lifted the shirt to expose its interior sewing. The stitching connecting the front and back of the seams puzzled her. "How did they ever make these stitches?" Dolf looked and noted the stitching. Much neater and closer than Mama ever did.

Carl shrugged. "I purchased the shirt in Jena. The tailor had a sewing machine from Grantville."

"A sewing machine?" Adam was indignant. "Taking away the livelihood of honest tailors."

Carl lifted a diffident hand. "The real tailoring, the cloth cutting and the fitting remains the same. It's the drudgery of stitching that's been removed. That's how it seems to me, anyway."

Adam glared at him and Dolf giggled. Maria spoke up. "Well, I for one, will not be unhappy to be relieved of the drudgery, Herr Johantgens. The seams still have to be sewn and I sincerely doubt that stitching such as this to repair your shirt will ever disappear." She began picking up the linen threads of his shirt with her needle at one corner of the tear and began stitching.

The bell on the door began to ring again. Two men wearing blue sashes walked in. "Herr Oehlschlegel? We're here to collect our weekly fee," said the young one Dolf recognized as Hans. The rough-looking other man leaned against the wall by the door with his arms crossed.

"I still don't see why I have to pay." The older man was gruff. "I've never had a problem with any ruffians."

"It's not just ruffians, Herr Oehlschlegel." The young man raised his hands to placate the tailor. "The Committee not only maintains order in the market and repairs the stalls but it also provides a low-cost laundry, health education and other services."

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