Chip and Joachim had just finished working out with quarterstaffs, six-foot-long hardwood sticks, at the von Thierbach estate manor, absorbing a new collection of bruises to join those of the previous two days. Chip wanted to practice techniques he'd previously learned in the army and Joachim simply wanted to gain another weapon in the event they were attacked while on the road. Chip hadn't exactly had quarterstaff training but his close combat training sergeant had taught his company something about using his rifle to block sword strokes. At the same time he'd also said, if they're that close to you, run like hell if you're alone, otherwise block, use your rifle butt, or punch him with your bayonet if you've got it fitted.

Chip didn't have a rifle at Joachim's home in Thierbach where he'd come for the Christmas holiday or in Jena for that matter, but he did have six feet of salvaged galvanized pipe his dad had kept when he replaced their home's plumbing ten years ago. Wrapped in sticky black electrical tape with a dirt covering, it didn't look like metal, didn't resonate like metal. No sword would ever slash through it like Alex Mackay's had destroyed Chip's pool cue on that fateful night at the Thuringen Gardens.

He and Joachim had padded their arms and legs and wore old helmets pulled out of storage from the days his von Thierbach ancestors had worn them into battle. Fortunately or not, with the advent of the crossbow and firearms, armor was on the way out and it wasn't going to be coming back.

"I'm exhausted, sweaty and need a bath," Chip said, pulling off the tight padded metal helmet which showed a number of fresh dents. Sweat was pouring down his face as he stripped off his arm padding and upper clothing to cool down. The horse barn they had been using was dim and cool but out of the wind and snow. "I haven't had a series of workouts like this since I was in the army," Chip said, wiping his upper body with a linen towel.

"What's it like, being in the American Army?" Joachim asked, sitting down next to him, placing his helmet on the bench and stripping off his own padding.

"I don't know," Chip mumbled, as he loosened the padding covering his legs. "A lot of exercise, getting your body into shape, practicing maneuvering into formations so they can be used during battle, close combat training, a lot like this but with and without our rifles. Actually, after we achieve a certain proficiency, we hardly ever shoot our rifles. Then there are all the lectures. Medical, technical, history, battle tactics, what's probably happening now in the world, and of course, patrol duty."

"So that's how you fought Josef with a knife and lived?" Joachim asked.

"Ja, and got the scar to prove it," Chip answered, tapping his scabbed-over healing cheek. "It was good that I was almost sober when we met that night. You were enjoying yourself with Inga at the time."

"Speaking of Inga, don't mention her to Papa, at least in connection with me."

"He doesn't want you to use a prostitute? That's a more up-time position than I would have expected of him."

"Oh, it's not that. He doesn't mind that at all. In fact, he thinks of it as a part of my education. But having a long-term relationship with her, especially with her having someone else's child, never. That should be for wives only."

"Ah," Chip smiled, nodding sagely. "The double standard is alive and well out here in the countryside, I see," he said, redressing himself in his cooled linen shirt. He tucked it into his pants but left the collar string untied. "Boys get to play house but not the girls," he explained.

* * *

"The maid Karla began heating water an hour ago and a bath is waiting for both of you in the usual place with your usual clothing," Frau Thierbach told them as they reentered the manor house. "Four days you've been here and three baths. How can you be so dirty?" she dramatically asked, throwing up her hands.

"Mama, you are so forgiving when it comes to the smell of soured sweat," Chip said affectionately, winking and then kissing her cheek next to her ear. She giggled and gave him a playful swat in return. On the second day after they'd arrived, she'd told him to call her "Mama" and used the familiar "du" with him.

"I don't know how you do it," Joachim sighed as they entered the room where their bath had been set up.

"Do what?"

"How you charmed Mama that way. I've never seen Papa do what you just did."

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- The Grantville Gazette Staff