O for a muse of fire, that would ascendThe brightest heaven of invention! —Shakespeare, Henry V

Andreas Gryphius, born Greif, waited outside the door to Amber Higham's office. He knew he hadn't done anything wrong, knew that that was not why the high school's drama teacher wanted to talk to him, but Andreas always felt a kind of nervousness when he had to deal with authority. He was also nervous because he was hoping for a teaching position at the high school, and was afraid that he was about to find out whether he'd gotten one.

The door opened and Markus Schneider strode out, nodding a greeting as he left. Behind Markus, and lingering ever so slightly when she saw Andreas, was Antje Becker. Markus was Andreas's age, eighteen, Antje a year younger, and they all knew each other through the high school's RTT—radio, television and theater—program. It didn't take long after the Ring of Fire for Janice Ambler and Amber Higham to realize how vital television and radio would be for information and entertainment. It wasn't enough to have performers and presenters. There would always be a surplus of people who wanted to perform. But any production, be it for radio, stage or television, would need camera operators, electricians, sound technicians, grips and more. Janice and Amber decided to start a joint radio-television-theater program that focused on giving interested students practical experience in the technical side of production. The result was a program for both the radio and television stations, Beyond Our Control, a sketch comedy series produced and performed almost entirely by students. Andreas had become the head writer, Markus the chief director of photography and Antje was in charge of sound.

Andreas was starting to branch out. Writing comedy sketches had become less satisfying over the last few months, especially after he'd written a radio play based on an up-time movie, My Man Godfrey, which cast a mix of local professionals and members of the high school drama club. Keeping the movie's basic romantic comedy and farce intact, Andreas came up with Unser Herr Gottfried, which he considered more suitable for a mass audience beyond the Ring of Fire. It proved quite popular, and Andreas hoped he could parlay his success into the teaching career he longed for, a secure position that would allow him to continue writing his plays and poems and hopefully attract a wealthy patron.

Amber stuck her head out into the hall. "Come on in."

Andreas made himself comfortable in the chair in front of the teacher's desk, but his nervousness must have shown. "Relax," Amber said. "I'm not sending you to detention."

"I had not thought so, Frau Higham. Do you have an answer for me?"

"I do. And I'm hoping you'll see the answer as a positive thing."

Andreas's heart dropped into his stomach. Amber confirmed his dread: He was not going to be hired to teach.

"Andreas, you're better off writing full-time. Teaching's wonderful, so's tutoring, but I know you. You won't be happy doing either of those things because they'll get in the way of your true passion. You'll resent the demands a teaching career will make on you, and you'll take that out on your students, your family and yourself. I've seen too many friends go down that road to want that for you."

"You teach, Frau Higham. And you seem quite happy."

"I do, and I am," Amber said. "But I acted for a long time first. I fed that passion, and over time it became a passion to teach others the craft. But you're not in that place, Andreas."

This was little comfort. "But there's my family's position to think of," Andreas said while trying to hold back tears of disappointment. "My stepfather has never objected to my writing, but he thinks I must find a respectable position to support myself and a future family if I wish to have one. He is not wrong in this."

Amber smiled, a little sadly. "I know we up-timers seem way too eager to flout tradition. But trust me on this one, Andreas. You will be nothing to no one if you go through life miserable and unfulfilled. I don't care what century you grew up in."

"Yes, Frau Higham. I will give thought to your words."

"I know it's scary, but it's time to spread your wings. And I promise I'll do anything I can to help you."

Andreas felt numb as he walked home. Orphaned by the war, he'd traveled west from his native Silesia, sent by his stepfather, Pastor Michael Eder. Andreas found himself in the mysterious new town of Grantville around the time of the Croat raid, traveling there with a group of young nobles and their tutor on a grand tour. The idea was not only for Andreas to get a life education, but also to learn from the tutor, one of the most respected in Danzig. At the tutor's suggestion and with his stepfather's blessing, Andreas stayed in Grantville to take advantage of the high school and its near-university level of education while his traveling companions moved on to Austria and Italy.

Except for one traveling companion. Andreas opened the door to his tiny efficiency apartment. He found his roommate, Paddy, tamping a fresh batch of marijuana into his long-stemmed clay pipe.

Paddy was an orphan too, though unlike Andreas, Paddy had never known his parents. Before Paddy came to Grantville, he didn't even have so much as a last name—he adopted "Antrim" (after the Irish county of his birth) when he arrived—but he did have a quick wit and a likable nature. He also had a beautiful voice, which he could use to imitate nearly anyone after hearing them speak for just a few moments, and when telling his stories, he created different voices for each character. And though he couldn't read ("Never got the knack," he was fond of saying), Paddy could memorize entire stretches of text if someone read passages to him just once or twice. Andreas was often quite surprised to hear his friend spout back scenes he himself had muttered half-aloud while writing.

As Paddy liked to say, all of those gifts were God's attempt to make up for the fact that he'd been born a dwarf and spectacularly ugly. He'd spent his early years in an Irish orphanage. When he was little more than a boy, Paddy was sold to a petty French nobleman who'd wanted a court dwarf. Paddy fully expected to remain in France the rest of his life, but he found himself being traded from court to court, finally landing in Danzig. One of the young noblemen in Andreas's party had brought Paddy along to provide amusement.

The dwarf decided he was staying in Grantville with Andreas and was pleasantly surprised when the local authorities agreed he had a right to do so. Pastor Eder sent his stepson enough for a small room, and Andreas had insisted Paddy move in with him. As Andreas pointed out, it wasn't as if Paddy took up a great deal of space. The money Paddy brought in as a storyteller at the Thuringen Gardens and other places around Grantville helped with the rent and food. Telling stories to the children at St. Veronica's paid for the marijuana that treated Paddy's chronic pain.

The dwarf looked up when Andreas closed the door. "Laddie, you look like someone spit in your porridge."

Andreas watched his friend light his pipe and inhale deeply. "Is the pain bad today, Paddy?"

"Not for much longer. I got to the Medical Exchange early enough to get some Stone Free. 'The stickiest of the icky.'" Paddy said the last phrase in a dead-on impersonation of Tom Stone. Others had started growing the "wonder weed" to keep up with demand for a reliable painkiller that was cheaper than Dr. Phil's Little Blue Pills, but everyone acknowledged that the best stuff came from Tom Stone's greenhouses at Lothlorien Farbenwerke, for which the dyer would take no money.

Paddy exhaled and gave Andreas a stern look. "I'm touched by your concern, lad, but you're changing the subject."

"I'm not going to be teaching this fall. Frau Higham told me I need to keep writing. She said I wouldn't be happy otherwise."

"Frau Higham is a wise woman. You should listen to her."

"But how can I write without a patron? And how can I get a patron without a reputation? If I'd been accepted to teach writing or drama I could have built that, but now . . . "

"Lad." Paddy said the word this time as a command. "You have a reputation. Your work has already reached more people than most established playwrights. What about your work with the school's television company? Or your radio play?" Paddy slid off his chair and drew himself up to his full height—all four feet of it. "I'll not abide you giving in to pity. The opportunities are there if you'll see them."

****

Joost van den Vondel sat in the Inn of the Maddened Queen, lost in thought. Anyone looking at the chessboard would see at once that those thoughts had absolutely nothing to do with the game Joost was supposed to be playing. He moved his bishop. His opponent, a thin woman his own age, shook her head before he could take his hand off the piece.

Reconsidering, Joost moved his rook instead. Another head shake. When moving his king brought no head shake, he settled on that move. One of the advantages of playing his wife in chess was that she was a pretty lenient opponent, at least with him.

Mayken De Wolff, Frau van den Vondel, studied her next move. She'd never played maddened queen chess before coming to Grantville not quite a year ago, but she was a natural. Joost, on the other hand, was an atrocious player, no matter what rules he was playing under. He only played because he enjoyed spending time with his wife.

Mayken would never be the picture of health, Joost knew. She was a thin young woman when they met, and giving birth to four children had not been the best thing for her. When they fled Amsterdam just ahead of the Spanish siege, he was sure he was going to lose her. He'd hated being apart from her, spending most of his time in Krefeld with their two surviving children, minding the business, while Mayken lived in Grantville and took advantage of the miraculous medical cures the up-timers had brought with them. Mayken's skill at chess was proof of her ability to look ahead and consider the consequences of many different actions. Joost had missed that, but having her with him wasn't worth her life.

In the end, Mayken's generosity bought Joost three more moves. When she called "checkmate," one of the spectators called out a number. He'd taken bets on how many moves Frau van den Vondel would need to checkmate Herr van den Vondel. Vince Masaniello shouted in triumph.

"You see?" he said to a young German named Felix who was getting chess tutoring. "That's how not to play. If Frau van den Vondel would permit me, I'd like to give her a real challenge."

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- The Grantville Gazette Staff