Justus Corneliszoon van Liede's smile was all teeth. Big teeth. Broad teeth. Dazzling teeth. Many men would have wanted to punch in his teeth at first sight. Many women would have been tempted to do the same. Flo Richards was different.
"Have another piece of cake, Herr van Liede." She daydreamed about the cavities that the rich white icing could cause in those brilliant teeth of his.
The Dutch cavalier accepted the cake with a flourish that went well with his flamboyant clothing, from satin doublet to orange breeches and tall red boots.
"Thank you, dear lady. My ride from Amsterdam was well worth the opportunity to enjoy your most wonderful cake."
Flo watched Justus's goatee move back and forth like a metronome as he chewed.
"How long did it take to travel from Amsterdam to Grantville?"
Justus smiled. "Not long at all. A few weeks, dear lady."
Flo didn't trust the smile. "Call me Flo."
"Of course, Flo, dear lady. And you may call me Justus Corneliszoon."
She sighed. Justus was the most difficult person she had ever met. He combined seventeenth-century courtier with twentieth-century used car salesman.
"I'm flattered by the letter you sent: your invitation. I'm impressed by your mastery of written English." Flo paused a moment. She wasn't at all sure whether she wanted to tackle traveling anywhere except maybe Jena. It wasn't like you could just hop in the car and travel a hundred miles in a couple of hours.
"But a few weeks in each direction means that you expect me to be away from my farm for over a month. In autumn. That's harvest time, and I'm pretty busy."
Justus swung his arms wide and his smile grew wider. "But think of the honor, dear lady Flo. To have your portrait painted by Pieter Paul Rubens is a privilege you can tell your children and grandchildren."
"There's a war going on."
"What war? There isn't any war, not in that direction. That was settled last year."
"There are thieves and looters on all the roads."
"You shall have a dedicated escort. I have already arranged to have good men accompany you."
Flo was beginning to feel desperate. "I've never been away from J.D. for over a month."
"You mean your husband? Yes, I know about J.D., and we expect him as well. Dear lady Flo, you and J.D. will love seeing Amsterdam. It is particularly beautiful in the autumn." He smiled.
"Well, maybe." Flo tried to recall the last time that she and J.D. went traveling. They hadn't been anywhere since the Ring of Fire. Before that, all she could recall was their second honeymoon to New Orleans. And that was that. "I'll have to talk it over with J.D. first."
"Of course. I would expect nothing less." Then Justus cleared his throat. "Pieter Paul Rubens made a special request in regard to you."
Flo was on her guard. "Yes?"
"He has a certain technique in regard to his portraits of women."
"I am not—most definitely not—going to pose naked for him. I don't care how many portraits he's done or how many women he's painted. I am not appearing naked for him!"
"No, no, dear lady Flo. Whether you are dressed or undressed is your own decision. Rubens' request is different: He wants to include a few symbols of yourself in the painting, such as your love of coffee. You would bring a pot in which you brew your coffee, as well as a few cups."
Flo settled. "That's okay."
"And he would like you to bring your wonderful ram Brillo."
When J.D. came home later that day, Flo cornered him and took him into their bedroom.
J.D. began undressing. "A little early in the day for this, isn't it?"
"Keep your pants on, J.D. It's not what you think. Have you been drinking?"
J.D. hiccuped. "Gerhart opened a new pub in town. Calls it the Hole in the Wall. It's a small place but quiet. He's studied a variety of cookbooks from the library and is going to serve light meals. But you don't want to try his pizza. He uses Swiss cheese. Some of the other dishes aren't bad, I have to admit. Gerhart is trying hard enough, and right now he's in the middle of decorating. Today, we were sampling some of his brews."
"Smells like you've downed a keg."
He sat on the bed. "Real ale. You used to pay extra for it, but here, it's all they have. No fizz, but it packs quite a punch. I wonder what the alcohol content is?"
"Whatever it is, it's too high. Now listen, J.D. Are you ready?"
"I have a surprise for you. What are you doing?"
J.D. had stretched out on the bed. "I can take surprises better while lying down, dear."
"You'd only fall asleep. Okay. How would you like to take a trip together?"
"Like to Amsterdam?"
Flo became suspicious. "What made you say 'Amsterdam'?"
"It seems as good a place as any. Besides, wouldn't it be good to get away?"
"Who told you about Amsterdam?"
J.D. grinned. "Gerhart, me, and a bunch of us were talking about how good a painting would look over the bar. You know, a naked woman. Every pub should have one. Something by Rubens, since Varga hasn't been born yet. I hear tell that he's pretty good for that sort of thing. So we were talking about who in Grantville would look best naked and who would be most willing to go to Amsterdam. Opinions were hot! It could have become an out-and-out fight, but in the end we made paper ballots and had a vote. Guess who won?"
He patted the bed, and Flo, blushing lightly, sat next to him.
"J.D., you're not telling me that your buddies would prefer me to one of the young lovelies we have in town?"
Hugging Flo, J.D. gave her a kiss. "You'd be surprised the reputation you have. For starters, maybe you should remember to button your blouse more often."
Flo rolled her eyes. "And here I used to wonder what you geezers talked about." Then she looked at him suspiciously. "Just a minute. Would one of your drinking companions be a piece of fluff known as Justus Corneliszoon van Liede?"
J.D. smirked. "Do you mean Corny? He's a right good fella and a fine drinking companion."
"Corny? Not Justus Corneliszoon?"
"It might have been something like that for the first glass or two. Then he let his hair down. He could certainly talk up a streak. And he has to have the brightest teeth in the world. It's like staring at a laser. Funny though. Gerhart wanted to punch Corny's teeth in. For no reason whatsoever. Well, before Gerhart could do anything, out jumps Corny's sword, and four cuts later, Gerhart's shirt is in shreds. Then they were friends, slapping each other's back and laughing. I guess Gerhart was happy to be alive, and Corny is willing to be friends with anyone. Good thing too. A guy that good with a sword has to be someone to have on your side."
"And he told you all about our going to Amsterdam?"
J.D. gave her a hug. "Why not? We've been working around the clock, helping the town settle in, helping the Germans settle in, helping our kids settle in. So why don't we take a vacation?"
"What about Ed Piazza?" Flo asked. "We'll be gone six weeks or more. Can he spare you that long?"
"He'd better. I haven't had a day off since the Ring of Fire, so I'm due. Don't forget Mike Stearns is a long-standing union man. Try talking to the unions about no one having time off anymore, and then you'll see explosions that'll make the Thirty Years' War look like a kid's game."
"Now, J.D. It's a good job. I don't want you to get into any departmental fights and jeopardize everything for the sake of a picture."
"I was going to resign anyway, babe. I don't want to move away from the girls. So I talked to Ed and then talked to the tech school. I'll be back teaching as soon as we return." J.D. grinned. "We're going, and we'll be having fun! And I'd like to get my hands on as many bulbs as I can. Tulips will help brighten our place, and we can sell them too. Not to mention it will be great to have a calendar."
Flo pointed to the calendar hanging on the wall. "What's that, J.D.? We already have calendars."
"But not a Rubens' calendar. Didn't Corny tell you? Sure, part of it is to go to have your portrait painted. But Corny is putting together a calendar of Grantville notables—as painted by Rubens."
"Grantville notables, huh? I suppose that's why he wants Brillo along. Do you think it's going to be easy to get that ram to Amsterdam? He's almost as stubborn as you are."
"Why shouldn't Brillo come along? He can walk part of the way, and Corny said that he was hiring an up-time wagon, should Brillo be his rambunctious self and prefer to ride. Rubens included Anne Jefferson's pom-poms and baton in her painting, so why shouldn't you have Brillo in yours? Not every ram has inspired a rebellion. And a Rubens calendar would be a collector's item. Did you know that Rubens has a whole flock of artists and printmakers working for him? They've been into prints for years, but this will be their first calendar. I wonder whether it is going to be Gregorian or Julian. I hope Gregorian, but you never know. Down-timers never cease to amaze me."
J.D. was going a little too fast for Flo. "I'm going to be in a calendar?"
"Sure, Flo. How does it feel to be Mrs. December, 1636?"
"Get one fact straight, mister. I'm not posing in the nude for anyone. Look at me! I'm a grandma! Who's ever heard of fifty-somethings posing naked?"
J.D. agreed. "Absolutely not. It's totally out of the question."
Flo got off the bed and looked into the mirror. "Totally out of the question? Are you trying to tell me something, J.D.?" She turned right and left and critically inspected herself. "I still have a pretty good figure. Or do you think I'm too heavy?"
"Rubens likes well-rounded women, dear. And so do I. I'm sure you'd look great however you posed. One thing's for certain. The boys would really love to have you naked—over the bar." J.D. grinned.
For a moment Flo was lost in her thoughts. Then she snapped out of it. "Come on. Let's get Johan, Anna, and the rest for a decent dinner. Lord knows what we'll be eating on the road." Naked, she thought. And snorted to herself: That will be the day!
A week later, a procession headed into Flo's yard: a handsomely painted wagon drawn by two horses, with two saddled horses tied to the rear of the wagon. Justus rode a high-stepping black gelding in front.
Flo, J.D., their three daughters, and their partners in running the farm, Johan, Anna, Wilhelm, and Ilsa, soon surrounded the wagon. Justus casually dismounted while giving a nonstop description of all the wonders of his preparation for the vacation to Amsterdam, not least of all the wagon, rented from an up-timer. It had a seat in the front for two drivers, and the wagon had benches on either side that could be dropped down. "Very convenient for sleeping, should you stop between cities or inns." The wagon also had bales of hay for the horses and Brillo.
"And allow me to introduce you to your noble escort. I present my brothers Frederik van Liede and Johan van Liede. They are brave men, wonderful shots, excellent drivers, and will see you through every obstacle anyone could encounter."
The two brothers slouched on the front seat. For each aspect of Justus that said dandy, the two brothers screamed despair. Where Justus had finely groomed hair, wisps of yellow stuck out in random directions from their heads. From his brothers' lifeless clothing to drooping expressions, they looked as if they had been dragged through every puddle from Amsterdam to Grantville.
Flo was shocked. "My God! Whatever happened to them?"
"Ah ha!" Justus declared. "You have noticed! All has not been well with my brothers. They were aboard the good ship Brederode in the battle along the English Channel, for which the English changed sides and attacked the Dutch fleet. The Brederode exploded, killing the entire crew except my brothers, who were thrown into the sea. They were fished up by the Spanish, and I, Justus Corneliszoon van Liede, had to pay ransom to release them. So, dear lady Flo, my brothers are in my debt. And until such day as they can repay it, they are in my service. It should only be another five years before they are free to return to the sea. And perhaps by then, the Netherlands will have another fleet, so that my brothers can be sailors again."