As he watched the archer bringing his horse around again for another run at the target, Lukasz Opalinski leaned toward the man standing next to him. “So, tell me, Jozef. Is Grantville as exotic as its reputation?”
Jozef Wojtowicz didn't answer immediately. He was pre-occupied with watching the mounted archer.
“I think he's still the best horseman I've ever seen,” he said quietly.
“He's probably the best in Poland, anyway,” said Opalinski. “For sure and certain, he's the best archer.” The words were spoken in a tone that had more of derision in it than admiration—albeit friendly derision. Then, in the sure tones of man who was still no older than twenty-two: “The archery's a complete waste of time and effort. The horsemanship . . . Well, not so much. But this is still—”
He waved at the man on horseback, now racing past the target and drawing the bow. With his size and splendid costume, he was a magnificent figure.
“Completely ridiculous. We are not Mongols, after all, nor will we be fighting such. Even the Tatars have outgrown this foolishness, for the most part.”
The arrow pierced the target, almost right in the center.
Wojtowicz didn't argue the point. But it was still a mesmerizing sight to watch.
“Grantville,” nudged his companion.
Jozef shook his head. “It's complicated, Lukasz. In some ways, it's incredibly exotic. Yes, they can talk with each other at long distance—miles, many miles—using little machines. Yes, they can make moving pictures on glass. Yes, they have flying machines. I watched them many times. Yes, yes, yes—just about every such tale you've heard is either true or is simply an exaggeration of something that is true.”
The mounted archer came back around again, still at a full gallop. Jozef, who was an accomplished horseman himself, knew how much skill was required simply to manage that much. The rider's hands, of course, were completely pre-occupied with the bow. Add onto that the skill of the archery—again, the arrow hit the target's center—and add onto that the preposterous pull of the bow being used. Jozef had no idea what it was, precisely, but he was quite sure that he'd have to struggle to draw the bow even standing flat-footed. And while Jozef was not an especially large man, or a tall man, he was quite strong.
He'd broken off his account, watching. Lukasz nudged him again. “Grantville, Grantville. Let's keep our mind on the future, Jozef, not”—he waved again at the mounted archer, with a dismissive gesture—“this flamboyantly absurd display of prehistoric martial skills.”
Jozef smiled. “In other respects, no. Leaving aside the machines and marvelous mechanism, Grantville seems much like any other town. People going about their business, that's all.”
He was fudging here, but he didn't see any alternative. Not, at least, any alternative suitable for a conversation held under these circumstances. The months that Jozef had spent in Grantville had also made clear to him the more subtle—but in some ways, even more exotic—differences in social custom that lay beneath the surface of the fantastic machines. He'd also come to understand that those subtleties in social custom were inextricably tied to the mechanical skills that were so much more outwardly evident.
It was not complicated, really, if a man was willing to look at things with clear eyes. If you wanted your serfs to build and operate complex equipment for you, in order to enhance your wealth and power, then . . .
Sooner or later, you'd have to be willing to end their serfdom. The American technology presumed a level of intellect and education even in their so-called “unskilled” laborers that no Polish or Lithuanian or Ruthenian serf could possibly match. And simply instructing them wouldn't work. In the nature of things, education can only be narrowed so far or it becomes useless. And given the necessary breadth, how could a sane man expect an educated serf to keep from being discontented—and, now, far better equipped to struggle against the source of his discontent?