Johanna of Anhalt stopped with one foot on the lowest step of the main staircase and turned her head to see a lay sister in the regulation black dress, white cap, and apron offering her a large folded sheet of good quality paper sealed with red wax.
“A letter for me?” Johanna took it. “Thank you, sister.” The woman flashed her a smile and disappeared. Johanna continued thoughtfully upstairs to the Old Cloister and her own room, a stark, whitewashed cell furnished with two upright chairs and a narrow bed. There was a small, curtainless window in the outer wall with a candlestick on the sill, and the inner wall opposite the bed was painted with a verse from Scripture.
Johanna sat cross-legged on her bed with her skirts tucked well in and regarded her letter with something less than enthusiasm. The arms impressed on the seal told her that it had come from the former Princess of Anhalt-Dessau. She was reluctant to open it; the long-suffering wife of Johanna’s least favorite cousin was unlikely to be writing good news, especially in the wake of the Crown Loyalist victory. Nerving herself Johanna broke the seal and started to read. The first half of the letter was pretty much what she’d expected but the second half was a surprise. Johanna’s face flushed with excitement as she read.
She refolded the letter, shoving it under her pillow, then climbed off the bed to get her writing case out from underneath it. She put a sheet of paper and the writing slope on the bed, then pulled up one of her two straight-backed chairs and, bent nearly double, began to write in rapid strokes with the up-time ballpoint Mikayla had sent her.
I have received a letter from my cousin Agnes of Anhalt-Dessau containing a proposal for us both. Do you remember writing that girls like to read stories about other girls? Well, Agnes believes it is important for girls to read such books for role models, but American books like Nancy Drew do not serve our purposes at all.
Nancy would have to become a German girl living in a small town here in the USE, but I think we should make her friends Bess and George Americanesses because you are part of our world now, too. German attorneys deal with the same sort of cases as Mr. Drew—disputes over land and inheritance are eternal. But we really must give him an armed retainer or bodyguard; he certainly needs one!
Such a project will need American girls to provide the books and explain details and customs that are unclear to us Germans. It will be our job to create the proper German backgrounds and adapt the plots as necessary to our circumstances and customs. I do not anticipate it being that difficult. Nancy must be a German girl but she must not lose her American adventurousness, although I think we must tone down her recklessness a least a little!
Will you do it? My Uncle Ludwig says he will publish the first book as a favor to Agnes and more if it sells well.
Written March 31, 1635, Quedlinburg
Your Pen-Pal, Johanna
“Mom, Mom, look at this!” Mikayla burst into the master bedroom where Margot Barnes was working at her desk computer and shoved her latest letter from Johanna under her mother’s nose.
Margot took the letter out of Mikayla’s hand and held at a comfortable distance for reading. “Hmmm, interesting idea. I take it you want to do it, Mikayla?”
“Sure! The others will be all excited. We’re going to be published, Mom!”
“You’ll have to write the book first,” Margot warned. “You’ll have to work at it, and stick to it.”
“We will, we will,” Mikayla promised with typical teenaged enthusiasm, “What should we name our German Nancy?”
April 11, 1635
What a great idea! Yes, of course we’ll do it. We’re all real excited about it here.
First off we have to decide what our Nancy’s name is going to be. Mom says Nancy is a nickname for ‘Anne’ so a German nickname for Anna would be good. I looked some up in Mom’s Baby Name book. I like Anika, do you? What about the Drew? I got no ideas there.
Should we pick a real German town or make one up? ‘River Heights’ was not a real place. Well, I guess there were towns called that but none of them were Nancy’s town.
The Hidden Staircase should work really well translated to the USE. I know there are all kinds of little old ladies of the adel living in their ancient family schlosses and I bet a lot of people trying to steal their land out from under them, too. But of course they will have to have servants, because such ladies do here in the seventeenth century. And Nancy—I mean Anika’s—father would have servants, too. What about Hannah? Do Germans have housekeepers like her?
Helen will have to be a German, too, if she’s going to have land-owning relations near Anika’s town. Would a girl of the adel and a lawyer’s daughter be friends? On the other hand seeing how German towns seem to work, an important lawyer’s daughter should have a lot of pull. Nancy’s in with the cops in River Heights wasn’t all that realistic but the books are written for kids who wouldn’t know that. I guess that means we can fudge some things if we have to to make the story work.
You think you have problems with the new government? My Dad’s lost his job. Well not officially, but he knows it’s coming. Oh, it’s okay—he’s got a new job on President Piazza’s staff, but he can’t commute all the way to Bamberg so we’re all moving down there with him. Mom figures up-time-style schools will be coming with us, along with electricity and plumbing. We’re going to take our summer vacation in Bamberg and look for a house.
A lot of people, including me, were unhappy about the change of capital but Daddy says that Grantville is just too small which is true. The town’s gotten horribly crowded and we can’t spread out because of the hills. And besides with Franconia added on to Thuringia, the capital needs to be more central.
We’ve been in the seventeenth century for four years now. I guess it’s time I got out of Grantville and started really living in it.
Johanna hurried down the graveled paths of the abbey garden heading for the sheltered brick arbor on the edge of the terrace. After-dinner recreation lasted only an hour, barely enough time to make a start. She ducked under the hanging vine curtaining the entrance and came to a full stop in dismay.
There were just three girls seated on the wooden benches in the dappled shade—her cousins Elisabeth of Anhalt-Zerbst and Julia Felicitas of Württemburg-Weiltingen, and Anna Sophia of Zweibrücken–Birkenfeld.
“Where is everybody?” Johanna demanded after getting her breath back.
“How should we know?” Anna Sophia asked.
“Not here,” Elisabeth, known as Lies, said even more bluntly.
“Reading American books is one thing, trying to adapt them to our Germany quite another,” Julia said opening the well-worn up-timer book in her hand. “This is going to be a lot of work, Johanna. Everything was different in America. To start with Nancy doesn’t seem to have any domestic duties or responsibilities, and Mr. Drew lets her run around exactly as she pleases.”
“I’ve noticed that,” Johanna agreed ruefully, taking a seat. Not even princesses were as untrammeled as Nancy Drew. Especially not princesses. “We’ll have to change all that.”
“I don’t know how we’re going to deal with this up-time courtship ritual they call ‘dating’,” said Anna Sophia, shuffling through her manuscript translation.
“Oh, that’s not a problem,” Julia answered. “We’ll just make Ned her betrothed.”
“They’re both awfully young to be contracted,” Lies objected.
Julia nodded agreement. “It will have to be a family arrangement of some kind, perhaps to settle an inheritance.”
“And then there’s Hannah,” said Johanna. “She doesn’t behave at all like a German servant. Should we make her Nancy’s stepmother instead?”
Niederadel and upper burghers mix socially all the time. Their children go to the same schools, and they even intermarry. I think an imaginary town would be best, don’t you? That way we can arrange the council, the important families, and the geography as suits our stories. Somewhere on the Saale I think, between Grantville and Magdeburg. We could call it Hochstadt-on-the-Saale. Anika is not a German name. Anke is German—will that do? Do you like the name Treuer for Anke and her father? It’s a good name for a respectable burgess family, and I think Anke Treuer sounds well. Her father can be Conrad Treuer, respected attorney of Hochstadt-on-the-Saale.
I have been thinking hard about Hannah. She is a problem. Normally a young widower like Herr Treuer would remarry but I don’t think making Hannah a stepmother would work. A stepmother or even a proper servant would never let Anke run around and get involved in adventures the way Nancy does. I think the best solution is to make Hanna Gruen (a good German name that) Herr Treuer’s widowed sister who keeps house for him and indulges Anke as he does. In addition to Herr Treuer’s manservant and bodyguard they will need at least two women servants, maybe three.
As you say there are many elderly ladies of the adel who own land that others would like to steal from them so Frau Flora and Tante Rosamaria pose no difficulties. We will give them an elderly couple as servants with a husky son who can take the role of the police guard.
We could keep a railroad as the reason the villain wants the land but a road, one of your good American roads, would do just as well. Presumably he is anticipating profiting from tolls. I know the Emperor’s new laws would not allow that but why should the villain care? And Herr Treuer can be ambushed by the villain’s men on his way to Grantville to consult with the authorities.
I hope you will enjoy living in our time. I know you will miss your electricity and American plumbing. I have become quite addicted to both since the Princess Abbess had them installed. Truly being able to soak in a really good tub of really hot water is a great improvement over standing in a basin and sponging oneself with lukewarm water in a chilly bedroom! And reading no longer gives me headaches now that I have one of your electric lamps.
Are you worried about living in Franconia with the Ram so active?
The new college buildings are all but complete and will open this fall. I hope to be one of the students. I do not need to become a Stiftsdame to be a scholar and teacher now. Quedlinburg will be Germany’s first women’s college but it will not be the last. Why not one in Anhalt? Or even two or three? I am becoming very ambitious, am I not?
Written April 26, 1635, Quedlinburg
Your Pen-Pal, Johanna
The farewell party for Princess Kristina was Caroline Platzer’s idea but the ‘Lieutenant General’s’ friends ran with it. Kristina had learned how to work and play with others during her months in Grantville and would actually be missed by a good many children and adults, too—unlikely as that had seemed when she’d first arrived.
Mikayla hid with the other guests in Cair Paravel’s darkened parlors. They heard the front door open, then Ms. Platzer’s voice and Kristina’s. The hall door opened, Lady Ulrike hit the light switch, and everybody jumped out yelling “Surprise!”
Kristina’s Vasa blue eyes moved from the familiar, smiling faces to the blue and yellow streamers and balloons and finally to the big chocolate frosted cake and they filled with tears. But she was grinning ear to ear too. Being liked, not merely tolerated because of her rank, was still a new experience for her.
Later Mikayla wandered around the ground floor of Cair Paravel with a plate of chocolate eight-layer cake in one hand and a cup of soda in the other looking for a place to sit. She spotted her kid brother Davy sharing a love seat with Kristina and an empty hassock in front of them. She plopped down on it putting her cup carefully on the floor beside her.
“Kris is going to be gone for months,” Davy complained. “She’ll miss the whole season!” He was talking about Little League. Baseball was huge with down-timers. Of course Kristina had wanted to play—she wanted to do everything. Unlike other things she’d insisted on trying, she was good at baseball.
“She’s going to see her mother. That’s more important,” said Mikayla, who was not a sports fan.
Davy gave his sister a disgusted look and took a big bite of cake.
Kristina just looked at hers. “I do want to see Mama,” she said less than convincingly. “I hope she will like Ulrik.”
The kid looked really worried. Mikayla tried to cheer her up. “I’m sure she will. From what I hear practically everybody does.” She remembered various dinner party conversations. “And everybody says it’s a very good match for you politically. Your mother has to like that.”
Kristina nodded but she didn’t look happy or convinced. Impulsively Mikayla went on; “Kristina, you’ve read Nancy Drew, right?”
The princess seemed to welcome the change of subject. “Yes, I have,” she smiled. “I would like to solve crimes like Nancy.”
God forbid. Mikayla had a sneaking feeling she was going to regret this but darn it the kid looked so miserable, and this was supposed to be her party. “Some of us are working on a German version of Nancy Drew. We’re going to call her Anke Treuer, and she’s going to solve mysteries here and now, not in up-time America. Prince Ludwig of Anhalt-Kothen is going to publish it for us.”
“That is very a good idea!” the eight-year-old princess had clearly forgotten all about her mother and her fiancé. “I want a copy, the first copy. Oh, and you may dedicate it to me,” she added remembering to be gracious.
The others are gonna kill me. “Thanks, Kristina. The very first book, hot off the press, is yours. That’s a promise.”
May 10, 1635
Oops, sorry about the ‘Anika’. ‘Anke Treuer Mysteries’ sounds good, don’t you think? All the names you’ve come up with are fine by us. I guess the next step is to start writing. How about your group in Quedlinburg writes one version and mine here in Granville writes another and then we trade, criticize, and finally put the best bits of both together?
Maybe we should hire a special messenger—the postage is going to be murder, and it could be cheaper in the long run and maybe faster than the regular mail. What do you think?
Our future Empress is off to Magdeburg to spend time with her Dad before he rides out to war again—meaning Grantville has gotten awfully quiet all of a sudden. Kristina said she may not be back for a while as she’s supposed to go to Sweden to introduce her new fiancé to her mother next. I don’t think she wants to go. She acts like she’s sort of afraid of her mother which is sad. She’s worried about her mom liking her fiancé which is a totally weird problem for an eight-year-old to have. At least Kristina seems to like the guy. Let’s hope she keeps on liking him.
Johanna, I’ve done something that might make you kind of mad at me. I told her royal lieutenantness about our book. Being Kristina, she got all excited about it. I promised her the first copy and she wants us to dedicate it to her. That kid never forgets anything so now we’ve got royal pressure on us.
I’m sorry, I’m really sorry, but if you’d seen that poor little kid’s gloomy face at her farewell party you’d have said anything you could think of to cheer her up, too.
We had Mr. Piazza to dinner last night, and from what he said Bamberg is going to need a lot of work before it’s comfortable for us finicky up-timers—and any down-timers who’ve spent enough time in Grantville to be spoiled. How we’re going to squeeze an electric plant, not to mention a sewage works, inside the town walls nobody knows. Someday the USE will be so safe that towns don’t need walls, but not yet—not for a long time maybe.
How about we do the first four chapters of The Hidden Staircase then exchange? Do you think we should change the title?
“Mikayla suggests we change the title,” Johanna said the next time her little circle of writers met in their arbor. “I think it is a good idea. We don’t want our book confused with translations of Nancy Drew.”
Julie, Sofie, and Lies all nodded agreement, but none of them said anything.
“Any suggestions?” Johanna prompted a little testily.
The special messenger will cost us nothing as he, or rather they, will be supplied by my uncle Ludwig who keeps a whole stable of riders because he prefers not to entrust his authors’ works to the regular mails. You may expect our four chapters a few days after you receive this letter. We are putting on the finishing touches now. Yes, I think it would be a good idea to change the title. You will find our suggestions in the same packet as our chapters.
Princess Kristina probably is afraid of her mother or at least afraid of upsetting her. Maria Eleonore is a Hohenzollern, sister to our treacherous Duke of Brandenburg, and they are famously difficult to live with as well as untrustworthy politically.
I am not angry with you for telling the princess about our book. Yes, it does put more pressure on us but imperial patronage will be good for sales. I know Uncle Ludwig will be very pleased about it.
I think writing chapters separately then exchanging is a fine idea.
Written June 2, 1635, Quedlinburg
Your Pen-Pal, Johanna
The Grantville girls’ reading club had almost all bailed when faced with the hard work of actually writing Anke Treuer: Ghosts of the Blauschloss. So it was just Mikayla herself and her two best friends who met in Mikayla’s bedroom to read over the German princesses’ chapters and write their own.
Mikayla sat at her faux-French Provincial desk pencil in hand and a blank sheet of paper in front of her.
Jessie Samuels sprawled on her stomach on the flowered spread under the lace canopy of the bed. Her feet were in the air and a dog-eared copy of The Hidden Staircase was open in her hands. “You know, I never realized how totally lame this plot was until we started taking it apart.” Mikayla had to agree. “Yeah, when you start thinking about it a lot of it doesn’t make much sense.”
“Hey, it’s a book for little kids. What do you expect?” Sherri Hinshaw, the third member of their writing group, was stretched out on the little loveseat under the double window. “I guess we’re going for older readers?”
“I guess,” Mikayla shrugged. “The princesses are all older than us you know.”
“I like their first chapter better than ours,” said Sherri.
“Yeah, me too, but what are we going to do about the attempted murder?” Mikayla chewed her pencil. “It’s got to look like an accident.”
“And we can’t use a truck,” Sherri finished for her.
“The princesses are right—that is a tough one.” Jessie closed her book, putting it down on the chest of drawers at the foot of the bed and picking up the German draft lying next to it. “I don’t know about this runaway horse idea of theirs . . . .”
All three girls cogitated. “What about a runaway carriage?” Sherri said slowly. “No, make it a wagon filled with sand or rock or something for the road surface.”
“Yeah, yeah that’ll work. The horses break free, and everybody chases them not noticing that the wagon is careening down the hill towards Conrad and Anke!” Mikayla began to write.
June 22, 1635
Here I am in beautiful Bamberg. It really is a very pretty town, nice and hilly to remind me of home with all these old churches and gingerbread houses. I hope we don’t ruin the place with a lot of hulking concrete like our up-time cities.
Sherri is coming to live here, too, as her Dad works for the President like mine. But Jessie is staying in Grantville. I told the messenger and he said it wouldn’t be a problem. It seems Prince Ludwig’s already got a lot of authors working in Bamberg on memoirs of the Ram Rebellion. Good thing we got those special messengers, isn’t it? Can you imagine how long it would take us to finish Ghosts of the Blauschloss using the regular post? We’ve drifted pretty far from the original, haven’t we? Maybe I’m prejudiced, but I like our book better.
I’m not at all worried about living in Ram country. If you ask me they are a lot less scary than the CoCs with none of the ‘class enemy’ garbage Gretchen Higgins’ people are always spouting. Daddy says either she hasn’t read enough history to know how those revolutions turned out or maybe she thinks she can make it come out different.
Speaking of the CoCs, what do you think about Operation Krystalnacht? I say it serves those anti-Semitic witch-hunting bastards right, especially after what they did to Mayor Dreeson and Reverend Wiley! Daddy’s less happy about it. Not that he’s going to miss those hateful people, either, but he worries about ‘precedent’ meaning he’s afraid they’ll do it again to people who don’t so totally deserve it. Mom says we can worry about that when and if it happens. In the meantime with the organized anti-Semites and witch-burners gone we have one less thing to worry about now.
Did you know they have about a hundred breweries here in Bamberg? The place is like the beer capital of Franconia. If the folks in Grantville knew that more of them would be moving here! The cathedral is pretty cool with some medieval emperor and his wife buried in it and a pope, too. And there’s this famous statue of a guy on a horse—famous because nobody knows who he’s supposed to be. But the coolest thing in the whole town has got to be the old Council House which is on a sort of island in the middle of the river.
I think I’m going to like living here, but we’ve got to find a house. Mom and I are the ones doing the looking because Daddy’s busy setting up his office, and Davy would just be a nuisance. So far I’m loving the outsides, but the insides not so much. German houses have these teensy-eensy windows making them dark as anything, and lots of rooms don’t have any windows at all. We are so going to need electric lights.
Brace yourselves, chapters five through ten are heading your way.
Johanna scratched on her best friend’s door and walked in without waiting for a response. Julia was sitting on her bed with a thick book balanced on her knees as a writing block. Johanna sat down in the bedside chair.
“How far have you gotten?”
“To the dressing up scene,” Julia answered. She shook her head, “I don’t think it’s going to work. It just doesn’t seem like a thing Germans would do.”
“I agree,” said Johanna, “besides I think Helena dressing up in men’s clothes might offend some girls.”
“More likely their parents or their ministers,” said Julia.
“What if the old ladies decide to make Anke a gift of clothes to thank her for her help?” Johanna suggested. “They can be looking through the trunks and trying things on when Franzel calls them down.”
“That will work.” Julia started to write, stopped and looked at her friend. “That wasn’t why you came in here, was it?”
“No.” Johanna took out her pen-pal’s latest letter. “Things are getting complicated. Mikayla will be in Bamberg for the next month at least. Eventually Sherri will join her there, but Jessie is staying in Grantville. That is bad enough but with Princess Abbess closing down the school until fall Lies and I will be in Dessau and Sofie in Birkenfeld—”
“No, she won’t,” Julia interrupted, “There’s plague in the Rhineland, remember? The Count wants his girls to stay here in Quedlinburg where it’s safe.”
“Of course he does,” Johanna shook her head as if to clear it. “What about you? There’s a lot of unrest in Württemburg, isn’t there?”
“Now there’s an understatement for you!” Julia gestured with her quill scattering ink droplets. “Bother Cousin Eberhard! God rest his soul but he’s left us all with a huge mess and probably on purpose. Mama is pressing Papa’s claims, of course.”
Johanna nodded. It was Duchess Anna Sabina’s plain duty as a wife and mother to look out for her family’s dynastic interests. The Duke himself was with the Army in Saxony. “So she might not mind if you don’t come home?”
“She’d probably prefer it. What do you have in mind?”
“That we all go to Dessau, and invite our little Americaness friends to join us. It would be much easier to work face to face and since all of us are on vacation for at least the next month . . .”
“A fine idea,” Julia said. “Do you think the American girls will come?”
As you can see I am no longer at Quedlinburg but at home in Anhalt, and I got here by way of a genuine American automobile, truly! My wise, level-headed, princely father went and bought himself one of your up-timer horseless carriages. I would never have thought it of him.
It is a very elegant vehicle, low and very long and partially made of wood with two seats facing forward and two more facing each other over a chess board. Among the controls on the dashboard is a ‘cassette tape deck’—did I spell that right?—so that one may beguile one’s journey with music. I was not so fortunate. Instead of Johnny Cash or Glen Campbell I was forced to listen to my young cousin Johann, Lies’ brother who used to be Prince of Anhalt-Zerbst before the consolidation, tell me far more than I ever wanted to know about the inner workings of automobiles. And judging from the expressions I saw on the face of Papa’s driver, Johann got most of it wrong.
Mama had a great deal to say about the automobile; how much it had cost and how expensive it was to run. Papa defended his toy manfully, and to be fair he made several good points; Anhalt is not a large principality but it isn’t one of the ridiculously small ones, either. The car is large enough to carry Papa and several advisors and speedy enough to reach any part of Anhalt in an hour or two. The improved roads linking the five main towns are a benefit to the entire principality and an encouragement to trade. And it must be admitted that the possession of an up-time automobile is not only prestigious for Papa but also reflects credit on the entire principality.
I said I am ‘at home’ but that isn’t quite true. Home for me is the Schloss Plötzkau but Papa and Mama now live in the Dessau Residenz and we have to share it with my Crown Loyalist cousin the former Prince of Anhalt-Dessau. Johann Casimir continues to be a problem. He has given up trying to replace Papa as head of state but now he wants to take his brother George Aribert’s seat in the Reichstag which is every bit as impossible. Johann neither ran for representative nor was elected, and anyway he would have to give up his title to serve—which is about as likely to happen as Duke Maximillian converting to Calvinism and petitioning to join the USE. I truly think my poor Papa is beginning to despair.
Georg renounced his title some years ago to marry below his rank. Papa said now Georg was a commoner he could make himself useful by running for the Reichstag. At first he was reluctant but all that changed during the campaign. Fortunately for them he and wife are in Magdeburg; it is we in Dessau who must suffer. One hundred rooms are not enough when they must be shared with the likes of Johann Casimir.
Papa did not stop at an automobile. I find myself surrounded by up-time technology. We have no less than three radio receivers scattered around the living quarters, a Trommler in the music room, and electric lights everywhere. Also up-time plumbing of course! And every morning I am awakened by the roar of the chamber staff’s two vacuum cleaners.
Lamps line the street to the Residenz, and at night you can see bright electric lights shining in what seems like an extraordinary number of windows. There is a new sewage works on the river and mills and factories everywhere you look—or so it seems. Papa has great plans. He wants a theatre and opera house, art galleries, and concert halls like the Up-time Dessau. And schools—many, many schools meaning my ambitions for myself coincide perfectly with Papa’s hopes and intentions.
Mikayla, I have an idea. My writing group is scattered too—I have Lies here in Dessau with me, but Sofie and Julia are still at Quedlinburg. Since we are all on vacation why should we not meet here in Anhalt to finish Ghosts of the Blauschloss? We could go to Schloss Plötzkau and work uninterrupted for however long it takes to make our book ready for publication. Do you think your parents, and Jessie and Sherri’s would agree to that?
Written July 7, 1635, Dessau
Your Pen-Pal, Johanna
July 28, 1635
What a great idea! I’d love to come and so would Sherri and Jessie. Mom and Dad are fine with it, and they’ve got the Hinshaws’ and the Samuels’ okay, too. Just set the date and we’ll be there.
I can’t believe your Dad was the German prince who bought Grandpa Lester’s 1975 Ford wagon! What are the odds? Your Mom is right—the Ford is a fuel hog, and I would never call it elegant but it’s good and sturdy and it surely does carry a crowd. Grandpa used to pack eight or ten grandchildren inside, the littler ones sitting on the bigger one’s laps, of course.
Johanna, you have just got to sit down and draw me a family tree or something. You seem to have as many cousins and connections as I do but a lot more widespread.
It will be a lot easier to finish Ghosts of the Blauschloss face to face, faster, too, without all the travel time. And after more than a year of writing each other I’d really like to meet you—and the other princesses. One of the cool things about living in seventeenth-century Germany is we’ve got real live princesses, not just the Disney kind. Americans may not like kings and nobles but American girls love princesses.
See you soon!