Christmas Vacation, 1634

The Reverend Al Green opened the back door into the rectory kitchen, stomped the snow off his boots, shook it off his hat, kissed his wife Claudette, looked around, spotted their adopted children Clemens and Emilia helping the maid accomplish various food-associated chores, and asked, “Where’s Anthony? Isn’t he going to be home for supper?”

Allen, the Greens’ older son, looked up from the book he was reading and called through from the once-upon-a-time television room off the kitchen that was now his bedroom since they’d adopted Emilia, “Hi, Dad. Gone with some of his friends to look at the outdoor manger scene at the Lutheran Church. Back later.”

Grantville’s Baptist minister laughed. “That seems harmless enough.”

****

“We really shouldn’t be doing this,” Anthony Green said. “Not here.”

Carly Baumgardner giggled. “Why not? It’s fun. Not as handy as Mrs. Genucci’s gazebo was when the weather was warmer, but it’s been pretty hard to find any place we can get together this winter. Over Thanksgiving, we didn’t have a chance at all. And we never do when school’s in session full time. Because you’re either doing homework on weekday evenings or at church with your folks on the weekends.”

“Even so.” Anthony looked anxious. “Carly, it’s a manger scene. Right here between St. Martin in the Fields church and Countess Kate school. It’s religious.”

She reached over and tickled him. “But it’s still fun. Or . . . isn’t it still fun, for you?”

“I worry about what could happen.”

“We’ve lucked out so far.”

****

Jonas Justinus Muselius locked the door to the upper-grades schoolroom at Countess Kate and looked across toward the church, thinking he had heard something. What? A girl’s voice? From the manger scene?

Then there were footsteps. “Jonas,” someone called. “I was hoping we could catch you before you left.”

“Oh,” he smiled.

Gerry Stone came around the corner of the church, his friends Denise Beasley and Minnie Hugelmair with him.

“We were wondering . . . “

The four of them moved away, down the slight incline toward the trolley stop.

Ohrdruf, State of Thuringia-Franconia, February 1635

The silent household worship in the small section of Schloss Ehrenstein that the will of the late and last count of Gleichen had assigned to his widow as a residence came to a close. Not that anything had happened. The practice of worship in a faith that rejected both written scriptures and the sacraments tended to be quiet almost always. Direct revelations from the Holy Spirit were, in the nature of things, rare. The countess withdrew to her private chambers, accompanied by her lady-in-waiting, Fräulein Effler. Two maids, sent in the by steward, began to remove the chairs they had gathered in the center of the room to their usual locations, neatly against the walls.

“Her faith is greater than mine,” Ezechiel Meth said to his mother.

Die Stiefelin looked after their patroness. “Her faith is remarkable indeed. Perhaps even greater than that of my late brother Esaias. She still lives in hope that since God brought about such a miracle for Sarah, he will bring about such a miracle for her. Not merely that God can, because of course he can. But that he in fact will.”

****

“I hereby declare that Countess Erdmuthe Juliana of Honstein . . . ” The voice behind the bullhorn continued to boom.

The woman looked out the window of her residence which was, effectively, a townhouse fronting directly upon the street. If she had been living at one of her late husband’s castles, out in the countryside, the demonstrators could never have come so near.

” . . . Dowager Countess of Gleichen . . . “

She laughed, a little bitterly.

“Make that ‘widow of the late Count Johann Ludwig of Gleichen,’ why don’t you?” she said to the window pane. “You need a lesson in heraldry, you insolent little man. It’s impossible to be a dowager when there is no new count. When the county itself has become extinct and the lands have fallen to distant cousins such as Hohenlohe.”

” . . . once again harboring in her household Ezechiel Meth, chymicus, relapsed from his solemn vow to return to the practice of orthodox Lutheranism . . . “

“Does our steward know who is speaking, Lämmerhirt?” The countess addressed these words, more or less, in the direction of an elderly man standing by the other window.

“Pankratz Holz, I believe, My Lady. A Silesian. For several years now, he has been an errand boy for Superintendent Melchior Tilesius in Langensalza. Most recently he has been in Grantville, I understand. I am somewhat surprised to see him here.”

“Not if there is trouble to foment.” The lady-in-waiting, at least as old as the steward, moved away from the fireplace to join him in looking out the window. “Neither of them has any jurisdiction here. Not even if the Erfurt city council gave them permission, as they claim.”

“Who would have jurisdiction?” the countess asked.

Lämmerhirt shook his head. “I have no idea. First the New United States and now the government of the State of Thuringia-Franconia have refused to accept any responsibility for supervising the Lutheran churches of the county of Gleichen as it formerly existed. The peculiar entity that chooses to call itself Vasa County, Thuringia, which embodies all the parts of the former county of Gleichen that West Virginia County—that’s the new name for the Ring of Fire, Grantville and its surroundings—had not already annexed, will, I suppose, set up a superintendency. When it gets sufficiently organized. Until then, the pastors and congregations in the cities are being supervised by the city councils. The villages are appealing to the various neighboring superintendencies for aid and assistance when they encounter any problem above the strictly parish level. Without any kind of authorization, I must add, which is probably why Count Ludwig Guenther has been so reluctant to become involved in the problem, even though he, in Rudolstadt, is as close to Ohrdruf as Tilesius.”

“And why Tilesius has not been reluctant at all.” The countess pressed her face against the window again. “He has been looking to destroy the followers of my prophet for thirty years now. He must see this as an unequaled opportunity.”

A man standing behind Holz—behind the man who was probably Holz—bent over, picked up a stone, and threw it at the window where the countess was standing.

She flinched back. The stone cracked one of the panes several feet above her head and then rattled down the window before it bounced off the sill and landed on the ground next to the front steps.

Fräulein Effler moved across the room and grasped her shoulder. “My Lady, come away.”

The countess shook her head. “Why won’t the SoTF government take charge of this? Deal with this kind of thing?”

“It’s in their constitution,” the steward said. “Separation of church and state, it’s called. That the government has no authority over matters of faith. The up-timers are said to be utter fanatics on the topic, which is why, so far, they have forbidden the city council to arrest us because of our beliefs.”

The countess turned. “So the SoTF will not persecute. Will it protect? That might be too much to expect. But I am sure that this ‘hands-off policy’ shouldn’t extend to permitting actual violence by one religious group against another. Does it? Do we know?” She looked toward the rear of the townhouse. “Has anyone summoned the watch?”

“Ezechiel said that he would send one of the stableboys. But I’m sure that whatever the SoTF believes, the city council of Ohrdruf has no interest in protecting us.” The older woman sighed. “Rather, they are probably looking for a member of Your Ladyship’s household to commit some kind of violence in return. Hoping for it, rather—which would give them an excuse to arrest us. Just as the Erfurt city council arrested us when we were in Gispersleben, at St. Kilian’s. In Solomonsborn. So long ago.”

“Arrest us, when we are the ones being attacked?”

“Who is there to testify to that? Other than we ourselves? Whose testimony the city council will refuse to accept.”

There hadn’t been any more stones. The countess returned to the window.

The man with the bullhorn continued to declaim.

****

“You just can’t let it keep going on. Somebody’s going to get hurt.” Fred Jordan, right at the moment, dealing with the city council of Ohrdruf, was not appreciating his job as liaison between West Virginia County and outside-the-Ring of Fire law enforcement agencies. Which had led him into being, right at the moment, Ed Piazza’s personal emissary to Ohrdruf.

“I don’t believe you quite understand,” the deputy mayor of Ohrdruf answered.

Fred realized that it was a status thing. They—being the deputy mayor and two other guys—were communicating that he wasn’t important enough to deserve a face-to-face with the mayor himself.

“The countess has been residing in Ohrdruf quite voluntarily. She is under no obligation to remain here. Not the slightest. She could always go live somewhere else on the income she receives from her dower lands. Erfurt, for example. There are nice townhouses in Erfurt. Also, I understand, a significant number of your up-timers now live in Erfurt. Perhaps they would wish to take her and her household of extremists under their protection.”

“The point,” Fred said patiently, “is that she and her folks, whatever they believe and no matter how peculiar it is, have a perfect right to live anywhere in the State of Thuringia-Franconia. Undisturbed.”

One of the other guys—the lawyer type, Fred remembered—rustled through a folder of papers. “According to the false prophet Esaias Stiefel,” he said solemnly, “the countess was to be the designated mother of the Messiah at his second coming.”

Fred swallowed. His parents weren’t church members and he’d never gone himself, back when he was growing up. He’d had to take a kind of short course after he proposed to Bitsy. She was Presbyterian and wanted to get married in church. Old Enoch Wiley wouldn’t do the ceremony unless he went through with that. Then, after the kids came along, he’d joined up, because Bitsy said it would be less confusing for them.

Not that he ever actually went, except for the kids’ programs and such. But he was pretty sure that some lady giving birth to the baby Jesus again was not in the curriculum.

Even so. He looked at the lawyer. “If that’s what she wants to think, she’s got a right to. Weird just isn’t a prosecutable offense, Mister.”

“I beg to disagree,” the lawyer type answered. “I have right here–my researcher found it at the state library—a discussion of the limits on freedom of speech under the constitution of the United States of America. One of the justices of your up-time supreme court wrote that the right of free speech did not extend ‘to yelling fire in a crowded theater.’ The beliefs of the countess and her household are the religious equivalent of that kind of provocation.”

“I expect,” Fred answered, “that you’re going to need to talk to one of Ed Piazza’s legal staff to iron this out. I was just a deputy sheriff. But I don’t mind saying that I’m here to tell you that you’ve got to keep a handle on the demonstrations. Holz and his guys can picket and proclaim all they want, but if there are any more rocks, somebody’s going to arrest them. If it isn’t you and your watch, it will be the SoTF. We don’t have a state police yet, but we do have the Mounted Constabulary and he’ll send them in if he has to.”

Grantville

There was a flash of light. April Lafferty put her hands on her hips, looked at the overhead fixture, and said, “Oh shit.”

“April.” A reproachful voice came from the next room.

“The bulb blew out.”

“That doesn’t excuse unladylike language.”

“Sorry, Mildred.”

For the five hundredth time, she wished that her mother’s house had a basement, where she could work in peace. But the rock around Grantville didn’t lend itself to basements. She looked at her work bench again, then up at the light fixture. She’d have to sweet talk Mildred out of another bulb.

She could predict it now. At least one more apology for the bad language. Up to three more apologies. Two serious conversations about keeping a closer eye on Carly. A couple of extra turns at doing the dishes, since Mildred thought Carly was sloppy about them. At least one trip to the Senior Citizens’ Center to play games with the old folks. Mildred didn’t approve of either cards or bingo, so a weekend wouldn’t work. It would mean giving up a Thursday, which was their board games night. Mildred would play Clue or Chinese Checkers or Uno. Scrabble. That sort of thing. Scrabble was her favorite.

Mildred was really stingy with her light bulbs. After it had hit her what the Ring of Fire meant, she’d gone through her and old Horace’s house and taken all but one bulb out of every lamp in every room. Wrapped them up carefully in wadded newspaper and stored them. Brought them along when she moved over to Mom’s.

Which did mean, at least, that they were among the comparatively few families in Grantville that still had a stash of light bulbs.

****

“What do you think, Claudette?” Al Green asked. He relied heavily on his wife. On her common sense. On her good heart. He told her so often. “It’s what Mildred Baumgardner wants. She’s a faithful member of the church. So was Horace, before he died. But her grandson has never testified to his faith . . . “

Claudette frowned. What she wanted to say was that the Baumgardners had been so estranged from their son Zane, and so hostile to the woman he had, eventually, married, several years after Ronnie was born, that they hadn’t made any real effort to give the boy a Christian upbringing back when it might have done some good. But she had to live up to the “good heart” bit, even if sometimes, in private, she thought that her husband was more than a bit unworldly and needed a keeper just about as much as he needed a spouse. Or maybe more than he needed a spouse. Still . . . she supposed she had to talk him through it, to the point that his own good heart would override all the scruples that seminary had instilled in him.

“They don’t want to make a big fuss about the wedding, do they? No gigantic production with white satin and the trimmings? Not so soon after the mine disaster.”

“They couldn’t afford it, even if they did want to. Megan and Mariah both—I have to give credit where it’s due, even if they aren’t from a churchgoing family—have been supporting themselves and pitching right in to help their grandparents ever since the Ring of Fire. Not by themselves, of course. Della Frost and Jennie Lou Burston help with Glenette’s expenses, and Gayleen, Robyn, and Samantha with Sandra’s, ever since John’s been gone. Still . . . except for Della, their aunts all have children of their own who have to be fed and clothed and housed. I’m pretty sure the girls don’t do more than just get by.”

“Megan’s not pregnant, is she?” Claudette thought that if she was, that might be what had Al worried. Part of the marriage counseling materials they used advised strongly against “have to” marriages as not being a good basis for an enduring commitment—too likely to lead to divorce.

“Not as far as I know. It’s not a ‘short notice’ marriage. They’ve been engaged quite a while. Several months, at least. She’s not very feminine, though. Is she likely to make a good wife? A heavy equipment operator for the Streets and Roads Department?”

“So’s Crystal Blocker—Dorrman, now—and you married her to Walt here in the church.”

“She’s actually a member. So’s Walt Dorrman. Megan Collins isn’t. Neither is Ronnie Baumgardner.”

“It doesn’t seem very . . . welcoming . . . to tell them to go to city hall and get it over with.”

“They want Ronnie’s brother and Megan’s sister as the attendants—witnesses. Garrett’s still in high school. Allen says he’s planning to join the army as soon as he graduates. It’s all right legally as far as being a witness is concerned; he’s over eighteen now. As a member of the wedding party, though . . . Neither of them is a member of the church. And Mariah went off to be an actress last summer. My father always thought . . . “

“That actresses are immoral. And I’m sure that some of them are. Anyone who ever stood in a grocery store line reading the tabloid headlines could figure that much out.” Claudette paused. “But that doesn’t mean that Mariah Collins is. I’ve never heard anything against her. Not that she’s wild, I mean.”

“What do you think, then?”

“Does Mildred insist on having it in the church sanctuary? Or would she be satisfied with the fellowship hall? Especially since they won’t be having a lot of guests. Thirty or so people, maybe, including all the kids? That way . . . ” Claudette paused. “You could think of yourself as just being an officiant, not a minister. After all, it’s the state that licenses you to perform marriages, not the church. Well, it’s West Virginia County now, but it will probably be the state again once they get new legislation covering matrimony in place. So . . . “

“Closer to fifty, probably,” he said, picking up on the number of guests expected. “They don’t plan to have a reception, so they won’t need the fellowship hall to set one up.”

“Even fifty people will look a little isolated up in the church. So suggest the fellowship hall. We—the Ladies Aid, I mean—can decorate it for them. Tell them that it will be a friendlier atmosphere downstairs, considering the number of guests they’re inviting. After all, we want ‘friendly.’ Maybe they’ll come back and actually start attending church if they see ‘friendly.’ I’ll talk to Mildred—explain your reasoning.”

“Soft-soap her, you mean.” Al Green smiled. “That will work. We can do it that way.”

****

“I feel really strange being here,” Carly whispered. “In a church, I mean. Thanks for sitting next to me, or I’d have freaked out by now.”

She hoped that the piano would drown out anything she said.

“Good grief, Carly. It’s your brother’s wedding. You’re not in the church, anyway. This is just the basement.”

“Even so, Anthony. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a church before. I’m glad we’re not upstairs. I’d feel even worse. I guess it never sunk in, quite, before, that your father really is a preacher.”

Mildred Baumgardner turned around in her chair. “Hush, you two. Here come Garrett and Mariah. Ronnie and Megan will come in right after them.”

****

“Thanks for everything,” April Lafferty said. The rest of the family had gone. She’d stayed behind to gather up anything that needed to be carried back home. A couple of vases with bittersweet and cattail arrangements in them. A pine cone wreath that she’d put colored candles in. She looked around. She’d done her best, but she hadn’t been able to find a lot of festive stuff in the middle of winter. “I’ll write a note to your Ladies Aid thanking them for bringing the rest of the decorations. Ah, just in case . . . ” She didn’t want to say just in case that Ronnie and Megan didn’t. It wasn’t the sort of thing that was likely to occur to either of them.

“It’s too bad that the rest of Ronnie’s family couldn’t be here.” Claudette Green switched the subject of the conversation tactfully.

“Ray’s in Wismar; so’s Mom. Vance is with the army in Erfurt and couldn’t get away. That’s what he said, at least, and it would have been three days, I guess. One to get here, one for the wedding, and one to go back. Right in the middle of the week. Uh. I meant thanks for everything, Mr. and Mrs. Green. Not just for doing the wedding. For back in January and all. With the mine.”

“You did very well,” Al Green said. “Kept your head. Did everything you could have. Several people said how well you kept your cool.”

“That was on the outside. Not the inside.”

“If you ever feel like you need to talk about it,” Claudette offered, “come and talk to me. Any time you need an ear.”

April looked a little guilty. “I’d hate to use up your ear when I don’t belong here at your church. You know, the three of us Lafferty kids are on the rolls at the Church of Christ. At least, Grandpa Dave put us there when we were little. Maybe Ray got himself taken off—Christina’s a Lutheran and I’m pretty sure he joined that church up there in Wismar so they could get married. But I’ve hardly been to church since Grandpa Dave died, and that’s when I was two years old. Ray was ten, then; Vance was four.”

“Come anyway,” Claudette said. “I don’t care where you’re officially enrolled, so to speak.”

“I might then.” April took a deep breath. “Sometimes, living with Mildred—sometimes I could bend your ear right off, I bet.”

****

Zane Baumgardner opened one eye. “I’m not drunk, y’know,” he said. “Just lazy. Haven’t been drunk for months.”

The down-timer standing next to his bed looked down at him. “Probably because you can’t afford to be. You left your door unlocked again.”

“Oh, damn. Somebody would probably rob me blind if I had anything worth stealing.” He opened the other eye. “You’re back. You’re not going away, are you?”

“Not yet.”

“Who the hell are you? I know, you told me the last time you showed up, but I managed to forget it. Tried real hard. Took a lot of doing, but I managed it.”

“My name is Ludwig Kastenmayer.”

“Don’t mean a fucking thing to me.”

“I am the Lutheran pastor at Saint Martin’s in the Fields.”

“Still don’t mean a fucking thing to me.”

“When did your ancestors cease to be Lutheran?”

Zane groaned, sat up, and threw his legs over the edge of the mattress.

“I don’t know if they ever were. Why ask me? Ask my righteous dad. No, wait, he’s dead.” He rubbed a hand over the stubble on his chin. “Let me shave, will you?”

“Gladly. Shall I heat some water for you? I’m afraid that your electricity has been turned off for non-payment, but the gas stove appears to function still.”

“Natural gas. Direct hookup. No point in paying for bottled gas if you don’t need it.” Zane stood up. “Ask the genealogy club.”

“About what?”

“When my ancestors stopped being Lutheran. If they ever were.”

“I did. They don’t know.”

“Oh, hell. Yeah. My grandpa was from up in Pennsylvania somewhere. Pennsylvania Dutch, they call them. Germans, though.”

“That is obvious from your name.”

“Then go look it up at the library. They probably stopped being Lutheran somewhere between when the Pennsylvania Dutch got to Pennsylvania and when my grandpa came down to West Virginia to work in the mines. And that’s the best I can do for you.” He grabbed for a shaving mug, brush, strop, and straight razor. “I have a safety razor, but I can’t afford the new blades they’re making down-time. This, I can just sharpen. He died when I was three—my grandpa. This is all I have that was his. We weren’t exactly in the family heirloom category.”

****

“I brought cheese sandwiches.”

“You don’t give up, do you? Pastor Klicketyklack or whatever you’re called.”

“Rarely.”

“Why the hell do you care? Talk to Dad’s sisters. Kit Fisher and Ila May Thornton. Maybe they remember something. They’ll remember more than my mom. Ila May married one of those Mormons. She’ll be your best bet. But her husband will try to convert you.”

“I am prepared to do the same to him.”

“Hell. Wish I could see it.” Zane choked and laid his sandwich down. “That’s the first time I’ve laughed for longer than I can remember.”

“Why are you living without electricity? I have become very fond of it. Of the telephone, as well. Which you also no longer have because no one has paid the bill. Would you be interested in selling the telephone set? Or the remaining light bulbs? There are customers for such items, you know.”

“I’m living without electricity and the telephone because Cheryl Ann isn’t around any more to pay the bills. And to tell the truth, no, I don’t really mind doing without them. I’ve rigged up a cistern on the roof, so unless we have a real drought, I’ll still be able to flush. Now, that I would miss. Does that shock you, Pastor Klusterfucker or whatever you call yourself?”

“Not really.”

“About those bills. I’m not going back into the mine. I’d rather live without than go back into the mine.”

“I understand that you have other skills. Another trade.”

“Because of the last few years—hell, it’s getting closer to fifteen years than ten—nobody’s likely to hire me. Chad Jenkins sure won’t and he’s pretty much got the small appliance business here in town cornered. Once he gets the idea that a guy’s unreliable, it’s in his head for good. I’ve been doing some stuff for Ted Moritz—reconditioning, repairing, when he manages to get hold of used stuff to put into his new construction.”

****

“If you’re willing to try to convert old Harold Thornton from being a Mormon, not that you’re having any luck, why aren’t you trying to convert me?” Zane asked.

Ludwig Kastenmayer smiled. “I am a patient man. Also, I was informed before my first visit that you are not the religious type.”

****

“Our family doesn’t really do church,” Mariah explained. “Um, I know you go to Pastor Kastenmayer’s. The one out on the Rudolstadt road. Like Eddie Junker does. April said so. I, uh, well, I asked her. It’s not that I have anything against it, you understand.”

“Aren’t you glad that Pastor Kastenmayer is helping Ronnie’s dad,” Hans-Fritz Zuehlke asked.

Mariah and Megan both looked . . . a little doubtful.

“Zane needed help,” Megan offered. Tentatively. “It’s not that we didn’t know that. Everybody in town knew that. He’s needed it for a long time. It’s just . . . “

“We’re not church ladies,” Mariah said. “Maybe Megan can explain it better than I can.”

“On our mom’s side, the Baxters, our aunts and uncle got converted at some point, at a big revival meeting at the Church of Christ that Aunt Della’s husband went to. Still goes to.”

“Yes.”

“After that, they hassled our mom to get converted, too. Mom didn’t take well to being hassled. So after that, we didn’t see much of them. I was actually surprised that they came to the wedding when Ronnie and me invited them. And the Collinses don’t go to church at all, except for Samantha. She joined Steve Jennings’ church when they got married. That’s Presbyterian, but not the Reverend Wiley’s church. They went to someplace in Fairmont before the Ring of Fire.” Megan giggled. “Actually, there were probably more Collinses in the basement of the Baptist church for our wedding than had been in any church in the last ten years, all put together.”

“So,” Mariah said a little anxiously. “It’s not that we aren’t grateful to Pastor Kastenmayer. I know that Ronnie is—isn’t he, Megan?”

Megan nodded.

“It’s just that it’s all a little strange to us.”

****

“I’m not really sure that I am courting her,” Hans-Fritz said to Jonas Justinus Muselius. “I am escorting her. Which is a fascinating word play in English—escorting, courting. How are they connected? Linguistically, I mean. Perhaps not at all. But if I were courting her. No, that is in the present tense, although subjunctive. If I were to be courting her, at some time in the future . . . ” His voice trailed off.

“Saint Martin’s is delighted to welcome new members. As with the weddings we are preparing to celebrate in April.”

“Yeah, sure. But. As far as I know, from what I’ve heard around town, none of those guys actually resisted being turned into Lutherans.”

“No. They proved to be quite cooperative. Of course, they were all heathen to start with.”

“So is Mariah Collins. But I am not sure that she would be that . . . compliant. That is, I’m not sure that conversion-by-matrimony would work with her.”

“Then, perhaps, she is not the wife you are looking for. If you are just considering that it is time that you get married, which it probably is, it would be simpler for you to fix your attentions on someone who is already a Lutheran. With your advantages, government position, salary—you shouldn’t have any difficulty in attracting an appropriate wife.”

Hans-Fritz picked a pen out of his shirt pocket and started playing with it. Looked down and noticed what he was doing.

“I like many up-time things,” he said abruptly. “Shirt pockets, among them. And a world in which one can keep the things one needs openly available, on the outside of one’s shirt, in view of others, rather than hidden inside one’s doublet.”

Jonas nodded.

“You’re marrying Ronella Koch, aren’t you? An up-timer?”

“Yes.”

“If she hadn’t been a Lutheran already—didn’t want to be one—would you have given up the idea that easily?”

Jonas frowned. “It wasn’t an issue, of course, so I hadn’t really thought about it.”

Hans-Fritz waited.

“I don’t know.” Jonas paused. “That isn’t the truth. No, I would not have been dissuaded. This new world in which we are living can be very complex.”

“So?”

“The first thing, I suppose—you will need to ascertain if Mariah would object to having your children baptized.”

“That’s not the easiest topic to bring up when a man’s not even sure if he’s courting a woman.”

Jonas smiled. “You’re not dumb. You’ll figure something out, if it’s important enough to you. Or when it becomes important enough to you.”

Ohrdruf, early March 1635

“Damn, but these roofs have a steep pitch.” Harley Thomas switched his grip from one rope to another. “I’m too old to be climbing around up here.”

“Snow load.” Fred Jordan shook his head. “You should have seen this place during the winter. It’s a little basin, right at the foot of the Thüringerwald. The weather comes over the mountains and dumps on it.”

“Who’s the guy with the bullhorn today? I thought Pankratz Holz was gone.”

“He is. Back to his little storefront church in Grantville. He just came over here, stirred the pot for a bit, and went back to making his other mischief.”

“Then why isn’t this tapering off?” Harley looked down from his perch on the roof of Countess Erdmuthe Juliana’s section of Schloss Ehrenstein, peering around the false gables.

“Sometimes, once something starts, it just keeps its own momentum.” Fred Jordan looked around. “We’ve got everyone in place. The countess and her ladies are on deposit in the mayor’s house, and I’ve made pretty clear to him that any harm that he lets come to them there . . . Well, the guards I have on duty will let it come to the women in his own family, too. Okay, that’s harsh, but I didn’t see any other way, short of getting them out of town, and I don’t have enough men to manage that. Meth and his men are out in back, in the courtyard. Even the old men, Joachim Rosenbusch and Lämmerhirt, the steward, insisted on staying. I’ve got to say that they’re loyal to her. Fanatical. The windows are boarded up. The building is as secure as we can make it.”

Harley beckoned. “Corporal Rempel, do you have the walkie-talkie?”

“Yes.”

“Then you take my place. Benisch, you take Jordan’s.”

They started creeping across the steep roof with its slick slate shingles toward the ladder. One of Harley’s feet skidded. “This blasted mist isn’t helping.”

“Do you suppose that ‘secure’ is the operative word?” Fred said as he crawled. A wind gust blew the next rope he was supposed to catch just out of his reach. “Damn.”

“What do you mean?”

“These guys . . . ” Fred grabbed onto a slightly projecting shingle with one hand and waved the other in the general direction of the mob gathered in the street. “They’ve had a lot of changes to deal with the past few years. Their job security is all broken down, a lot of them. Tailors, shoemakers, people like that. People talk about all the new opportunities, but how many are there, really, for a man up in his fifties with a family to support and the only job he knows is the trade he learned when he was a teenager. What’s he supposed to do? Go be an unskilled laborer? These are the people who survived the war, weren’t killed off by mercenaries, didn’t die of disease. Now we’re digging the foundations right out from under a lot of them.”

“Which doesn’t mean they can come in here and riot against people because they don’t like their religious ideas. It’s not as if the freaking countess and her oddballs have anything to do with economic changes.”

“They’re familiar,” Fred said. “They’re a familiar enemy. And they’re here. Ohrdruf’s not exactly on the frontier of economic progress. If there was a shoe factory here, they could riot against that. But the factory shoes are coming in from somewhere else. If there was a clothing factory here, they could riot against that. But the sewing machines are in Badenburg and Arnstadt and Rudolstadt. It’s just the clothes that are coming in here. Mostly through the Wish Book. How can you riot against a mail order catalog? All they've got is that hammer mill, the Tobiashammer, and it can't employ them all.” He pushed himself up on his knees to look down at the street again, groping for the rope. “Oh, hell.”

That was when the shingle he was using as his handhold came loose.

****

“I hate doing this,” Preston Richards said. “I really, really, hate it. I did it for Ralph and the others last week. Not that one of the Hansens had anyone to notify. Now I’m doing it again.”

Bitsy Jordan opened the door. Saw that there were two of them. In uniform. “Press? Harley?”

“Can we come in?”

“Sure. We’re back in the music room.”

They followed her. Daniel and Leah, her and Fred's kids, were both sprawled on the floor, doing homework. A man was seated at the piano.

“You know Signor Carissimi. He . . . “

” . . . wrote the song about Hans Richter’s death.” Press reached out his hand. “I haven’t had the pleasure, before. Pleased to meet you. Um . . . ” He looked at the children.

“Whatever it is,” Bitsy said, “they’ll need to know. Bad or the worst?”

“The worst,” Press admitted. “They’re bringing him back.”

She sat down on the end of the piano bench. “What goes around, comes around, I guess. Last week . . . Last week I was actually feeling—sort of good, maybe even a little bit smug—that Fred was over there in Ohrdruf. Safely away from what happened at the hospital and the synagogue. As safe as a man could ever be, in his line of work.”

She gestured vaguely with her hand. “I’ll need to call Jenny Maddox at the funeral home, I guess. To be expecting him. I don’t know who else, really, since Reverend Wiley is dead.”

Carissimi stood up. “Orval McIntire,” he said. “The man who preached the state funeral. Admirable eulogies—the ones he delivered for the mayor and your minister. Stay with Daniel and Leah. I will call them both. That much of the burden, Elizabeth, I can take from your shoulders.”

****

“I have decided,” Countess Erdmuthe Juliana said.

“The household is leaving Ohrdruf?”

“Yes.”

“Perhaps the countess should reconsider. The rural castles are even less safe from attack than we are in town. Think of what the farmers did in Franconia last year, even to strongholds that were in good repair, and defended. Most of the old Gleichen castles are decaying, in poor repair. For decades, there has been no maintenance at all except to the bailiffs’ quarters. No staff except one bailiff in each to collect the dues.” The steward paused.

“We are moving inside the Ring of Fire. To West Virginia County, where the authorities feel obliged to protect our religious rights. As they have now proved to us. Amply—more than amply, by sacrificing one of their own men.”

“Into Grantville?”

“Not into the town itself. Some distance outside of it. The real estate broker to whom their chief of police sent me described it as a ‘big, huge, ugly house, out off the highway.’ The owners did not reside there permanently. They were from a nearby imperial city, I understand, called ‘Washington D.C.’ It escheated to the government after the Ring of Fire. There have been different tenants several times in the last few years, but has not been truly convenient for any of the residents.” She looked at the paper in her hands. “This Mr. Colburn has assurances from one of the officials, a Mrs. Trout, that they will be delighted to sell it. To ‘get it back on the tax rolls,’ he said. Hohenlohe will be delighted to have us out of Schloss Ehrenstein. We’re ruining the value of his real estate with all these unpleasant events. He’s paying me enough to vacate that I can afford to buy the house outright.”

“Is it suitable for Your Ladyship?” her elderly lady-in-waiting asked anxiously.

The countess smiled ironically. “For a time, there was consideration of locating Princess Kristina’s household there if she came to live in Grantville permanently, so I believe it should be adequate for the needs of a widow and her small retinue.”

“Yes.”

“It needs repairs, however. Not the repairs that it would need after decades of neglect, like the Drei Gleichen castles. A few years, only. There will be new requirements. I do not want to rely upon outsiders who are not of my household.” She looked at the only man in the room. “Let our steward find and employ a man who knows how to repair and maintain the up-time ‘appliances’ as the real estate broker calls them.”

April 1635

“The man we need bargained,” Lämmerhirt said. “Bargained very well. Very shrewdly. He has a great deal to offer us and knows it. Not just the necessary training and experience. Also several of these ‘light bulbs’ that are necessary for the lamps. The former tenants stole all the ones that were originally in the house, it appears, if they had not ‘burned out.’ I need to ascertain the meaning of that term. Also, a telephone set that can be fastened into this ‘jack.'” He walked across the room, bent over, and pointed to a small box affixed to the wall near the baseboard.

“So the household has a new majordomo?”

“Assistant steward. I will not live forever. Perhaps, not even for long. Long enough, I hope, to train this Zane Baumgardner in the necessary duties.” The old man paused. “There should be a certain . . . prestige . . . for the countess in having an up-timer in her employ.”

“If he does not start drinking to excess again,” Margaretha Effler said. “Once he is receiving sufficient wages for him to pay for it.”

“Where did you hear that?”

She smiled. “From a friend of a friend who has a cook who knows a cook who works in the household of the pastor of a heterodox church in Grantville.” The old woman smiled. “As heterodox as we are, I am sure, from the perspective of Superintendent Tilesius or Pastor Holz. But much more securely placed.”

“As we hope to be.”

“Baptists,” they call themselves.

“This man, though. He is not one of us. Not a believer. I ascertained that.”

“No,” the lady-in-waiting said. “But his parents were—his mother still is, she is still living—among these ‘Baptists.’ So perhaps he will have some understanding of our problems. Or can learn, if he cares to.” She paused. “What is he like? In person? What does he look like? Short, tall, fat, thin?”

The steward paused. “Tall, like most of the up-timers. Thin. Otherwise? Weathered. Not unattractive, but well-worn.”

****

“The great mistake of Martin Luther,” Ezechiel Meth said, “was his attachment to the literal word of the written scriptures.”

Zane Baumgardner raised an eyebrow. “You folks don’t believe in the Bible? I can sort of see how that would get you in trouble.”

“Not, um, exactly. To some extent, the concepts go back to Karlstadt. De spiritu et littera. Christ lives in everyone—or, at least, in everyone who accepts him. And in the created world, immanently. It is this living spirit of God, not the dead letter of a book that is the true faith. Not any written down scripture. Not even the Bible. Although, of course, there are many useful precepts to be found in it. But those precepts cannot be made into a law. That contradicts the notion of Christian freedom.”

“Which you define just how?”

****

“I’m feeling a little stupid, Reverend. I think I need to read a book. And I haven’t learned to read German, so asking that busybody Pastor Kastorbean out at Saint Martin’s isn’t going to be any help.”

Al Green looked at Zane Baumgardner. Talk about an unexpected visitor.

“Well, from what you say . . . ” He got up and started looking up and down the bookshelves in his study.

“The guy Meth calls himself a chymicus. I don’t think that’s ‘alchemist’ at all. I think it’s an apothecary. The countess’ personal pill peddler, which she takes too many of, if you ask me, not that I’m in a position to criticize. His father was a doctor. Uh, these people aren’t a batch of snake handlers from up in the hollows. His uncle, this Stiefel guy, was a merchant. Fish. Woad, that blue dye stuff. It’s big business up around Erfurt. Wine. They had property. Money. He was supposed to be immortal. You’d think that when he died it would have sort of undermined the whole project, but . . . “

Green was muttering to himself, pulling various books of the shelf and then putting them back. “Anabaptist origins, of course. Probably, here in Thuringia, some early connection with Thomas Müntzer. Um, rebirth from the spirit. From what you say, their teachings seem to have some things in common with the Quakers.”

“That I’ve heard of. William Penn, right? Pennsylvania.”

“But the Quakers don’t exist yet. Not in the sixteen-thirties. I’m bound to have something here that should help, if only I can find it.” He shoved another book back into its place. “Maybe the Schwenkfelders,” Green muttered.

“The who?”

****

“I’m going to have a baby, Anthony.” Carly buried her face in her hands. “I guess the Christmas spirit got to us in that manger. I wasn’t ever morning sick or anything, so I tried to tell myself it wasn’t happening. I didn’t want it to be happening. Oh, god, I’m so sorry.”

“It’s not exactly just your fault. It’s not as if I didn’t notice what we were doing. What we’ve been doing.”

“We can’t tell anybody.” She grabbed his arm. “You understand that, don’t you? April’s really still upset because of—everything, really. The mine explosion, still. What happened last month. And Mildred will put the blame on her, which she doesn’t deserve. Dietrich and Hans-Fritz will preach at me. And Mildred will try to make Mom come home from Wismar and ‘deal with it,’ when she’s actually happy, I think. Not just coping with what life threw at her. Maybe happy for the first time in her life. For the first time since I’m old enough to remember—that much I’m sure of. I won’t let Mildred ruin it for her.”

“It’s not your fault. You’re really still just a kid.”

“I’m old enough to know what I’m doing.

“You’re fifteen. That’s not exactly ancient.”

“Well, you’re sixteen. It’s not that much older.”

They looked at each other.

“We’ve got to tell somebody. Whether you want us to or not. Like you said, it has to be from Christmas vacation.”

She nodded.

“Then pretty soon, people will notice. I know that much.”

Carly shook her head. “We can’t tell anybody.” She grabbed his other arm and started to shake him. “I mean it, Anthony. Your dad will skin you alive.”

“Uh, no. He won’t. He’ll just be ‘deeply and gravely disappointed’ in me. Which is a lot worse, sometimes. But he’s that most of the time. Did you know that when they adopted Clemens and Emilia, they let Allen move downstairs and have the room off the kitchen, but they made me stay upstairs, sharing my old room with Clemens.”

“You’ve mentioned it a time or two.”

“Allen’s just a year and a half older than I am. Clemens is six whole years younger. Which pretty much shows you where they classify me. Still a kid. A kid who’s not reliable enough to trust to sleep in a downstairs bedroom. Still has to stay right under their parental eyes. What do you bet that when Allen moves out, they’ll keep it for him? Not let me get out from under the kid’s toys.”

“That just makes it more important for us not to tell them. Your dad won’t let you go to the university if he finds out, I bet. I won’t do that to you.”

“Do what?”

“Make it so you can’t go to the university. Jena. Like Allen’s going to do as soon as he graduates this spring. And you’re planning to do, after next year. I’m not going to muck that up for you.”

“I could quit school, I guess. Get a job.”

“No.” This time Carly screeched. “Your dad went to college. So did your mom. Your brother’s going to. And you, too.” She socked his shoulder with her fist. “Nobody in my family’s ever gone to college, did you know that? Never at all. I won't ruin it for you. Your folks will go ballistic if they find out. You’re not even allowed to date yet.”

“Uh, yeah.”

“And if you were, your dad wouldn’t want you to date someone like me. Not even if Mildred belongs to his church. Do you think I couldn’t tell how sort of . . . chilly . . . the atmosphere was when Ronnie and Megan got married? Maybe I’m white trash, but I’m not stupid.”

“You’re not . . . ” he started to say. “What about your dad? Will he skin you alive? Your mom’s up in Wismar, but he’s around here, isn’t he?”

“I don’t have the vaguest idea. He walked out when I was three years old—about that, anyway. I hardly know him at all. But he’s not likely to take enough interest to skin me, no.”

“That’s a relief. Would your grandpa have?”

“What?”

“Skinned you?”

“Well, Mom’s father died when she was a baby, so I don’t have the vaguest about him either. Horace would have disapproved just as much as Mildred. He was pretty rigid, from what Mom says, but he wasn’t into skinning, as far as I know. Or beating people up.”

“Why do you call your grandparents by their first names?”

“Well, until Mildred moved in with us, I’d hardly ever seen her.”

“Even though you all lived right here in the same town?”

“Yeah.”

“That’s really odd. Dad’s parents lived in Shinnston. We saw them all the time. Mom’s folks were in Kentucky, but we visited a couple of times a year. They were all left up-time. I’ve missed them a lot.”

“If Mildred finds out, she’ll probably throw me out.”

“How could she? It’s your mom’s house. Mrs. Baumgardner’s the one who moved in. She was in assisted living until your mom came up with that idea.”

“How’d you know that?”

“Mom makes nursing home visits to church members. It’s just, sort of, one of the things that she does. And takes us kids along, sometimes. And the dogs. Not the cat—she’s too cranky.” He stood up and started down the path. “We’ve got to tell somebody.”

Carly followed him, grabbing the back of his jacket. “Hell, no.”

They stared at each other.

****

“What’s the matter with Anthony,” Al Green asked. “He’s seemed sort of distracted the last few days.”

“End of the school year syndrome, I suppose,” Claudette answered. “Some kind of teen-aged angst, maybe. He could be upset about Allen’s going off to college next spring.” She moved a stack of Red Cross handouts off the table. “I’ll try to talk to him one of these days, if I can find the time.”

****

Denise Beasley braked her bike. Minnie Hugelmair, following closely, did the same.

“Boy, if the two of you don’t just look like a little puddle of misery.”

Carly looked up, her face smeared with tears and—upon a closer look—little bits of charcoal gray acrylic fuzz from Anthony’s sweater.

“What the hell is going on?”

****

“I ought to be thinking clearer,” Denise said. “You know I ought to.”

“You’ve got an excuse. You’re still sort of reeling from your dad getting killed last month. Which isn’t an excuse that Carly and Anthony have.” Gerry Stone shook his head.

“They’ve got to do something. It’s not going to go away. Maybe it could have earlier, if Carly hadn’t been too chicken to go to Doc Adams. But she’s left it too long, now. Somebody’s going to have to cope. Why didn’t Anthony have the sense to use something?”

“I’d be surprised if he’d had the birds and bees talk, beyond what we get in health class in school. His dad’s not as practical as mine. Sort of disconnected from the real world.”

“We’ve still got to come up with something. I wish to hell they’d tell someone.”

“We could talk to Dad and Magda. If they were here.”

“Yeah. To Daddy, too, if that goon hadn’t axed him.” Denise stared morosely at her toes. “‘If wishes were horses, then beggars would ride.’ Daddy used to say that. I don’t think Mom would have any sympathy for them, right now. She’s taking things pretty hard, down underneath.”

“The first thing we’ve got to do is figure some way to get Carly out of sight, just as soon as school’s out. It’s still fairly cool. She can wear sweatshirts up till then. She’s got that tall and skinny build, like her mom.”

****

“It’s a temporary fix,” Minnie said. “Sending Carly out to spend the summer in the country with her dad. She says that April’s suspicious that something’s going on.”

“If you ask me, April will be so glad she doesn’t have to spend her whole summer babysitting a teenager that she’ll let it go.”

“What about when she has to start school again in the fall?”

“It’s better than nothing,” Denise said. “Daddy used to tell this story.” She stopped.

“Story,” Gerry prodded. “Your dad.”

“About a guy, a stable hand, I think, back in the middle ages who offended some high muck-a-muck, who was going to chop his head off. Not clean, but with all sorts of fancy and painful tortures associated with the process. But the man said that if they gave him a year, he could teach the caliph’s horse to sing. That was what the muck-a-muck was called, the caliph.”

“Arabian Nights,” Gerry said. “Probably.”

“Dunno. Never heard of them.”

“Probably.”

“Doesn’t make any difference. Anyway, another stable hand asked him what the point was. The guy answered that a year could make a lot of difference. The caliph might die. He might die. ‘Or, who knows, the horse may learn to sing.’ That was Daddy’s point. There are times when a temporary fix is a lot better than no fix at all.”

June 1635

Salome Piscatora bent over and kissed the bald spot on the top of her husband’s head. “Now Ludwig,” she said. “It is not so bad. The man has stopped drinking excessively. He has a responsible job. Admittedly, that is because the countess of Gleichen thought that it would be an ornament to her household to have an up-timer in the position of majordomo. Still, it isn’t as if your efforts have accomplished nothing.”

“But for the wrong reasons.” Pastor Ludwig Kastenmayer continued to stare gloomily into his beer.

“What have you done for the wrong reasons?”

“Nothing. Herr Baumgardner has agreed to be, as Gary Lambert calls it, ‘rehabbed’ for the wrong reasons. Not because he has come to recognize that his body is a temple of the Holy Spirit which should not be abused. He mainly listened to my exhortations to reform, I think, because he otherwise could no longer find a consort to pay his bills and his bar tab.”

****

Carly, on the way from the kitchen to the cottage with a handful of early plums, stopped in the middle of the driveway. In mid-dash. Looked at her stepbrother. Horrified. “What are you doing here?”

Hans-Fritz Zuehlke looked back. At her face, her stomach, then her face again. “The state government is moving to Bamberg.

“Everyone knows that.”

“Including the personnel office, where I was working. I didn’t want to go. For various reasons. So I transferred to the West Virginia County tax office.” He waved a clipboard. “Which sent me out to reassess the Countess of Gleichen’s new property.”

“You’ll tell, won’t you? Mildred and April and Dietrich and . . . everybody.”

He looked at her again. “Not until I have spoken with your father. Who, clearly, since you are with him, already knows about the problem. It’s his responsibility, after all.”

****

“I agree,” Pastor Kastenmayer said. “It is Zane Baumgardner’s responsibility. Clearly, he has accepted it. Which, I must admit, is more than I would have expected of the man, given his . . . past history.” He steepled his fingers together. “The rest of her family do know that she is with him, I assume. They aren’t worried about her.”

“Oh, sure. They were pretty surprised when he invited her. Mildred and April, that is. Ronnie and Megan too, I guess. Surprised, but sort of relieved. She’s not been the easiest person to live with, the past few months.”

Kastenmayer nodded decisively. “It’s her father’s responsibility. Unquestionably. You don’t have any obligation to tell her grandmother anything more than that you saw her and spoke with her.”

****

All three of them leaned against the new fence behind the countess’ stables.

“You teach them to make rail fence?” Gerry asked.

“Naw.” Zane stubbed out his cigarette on one of the posts. “I guess guys from around here brought rail fence making to the good old USA when they came over.”

“Pretty nice-looking horses,” Hans-Fritz said.

“Yep. Ezechiel came along with me to help pick them out. He may be the countess’ personal apothecary, but he’s also a fair horse-doctor. Good at spotting the things that a used-horse salesman would rather you didn’t notice.”

“Meth? The enthusiast? Spiritualist?” Hans-Fritz raised his eyebrows.

“You think that this Meth guy is a religious nut?” Zane asked. “Come to think of it, someone did say that’s why the countess separated from her husband. That would have been about four or five years before the Ring of Fire. Because he went back to being a Lutheran after Ezechiel’s uncle died, but she still had faith in him.”

Gerry Stone frowned. “Meth’s a whole religious fruitcake, all by himself, according to Jonas. And so was his uncle.”

“Heretics,” Hans-Fritz Zuehlke said. “Even heretics think they are heretics. Jakob Böhme has written several pamphlets designed to confute Stiefel’s teachings. Refute them.”

“Böhme? Who’s he?”

“I’m sure that either Pastor Kastenmayer or Paster Rothmaler over at Rudolstadt would be happy to explain it in a lot more detail than I can. He’s from Silesia. Or was. A shoemaker at Görlitz. He’s been dead ten years or so, but he has sons who keep his ideas going. A few years before he died he looked into a reflection in a pewter pitcher and started to see mystical visions.”

Gerry blinked.

“Oh, hell. That’s too oversimplified. These little sects pop up all over the place, all the time. I picked up some of this information while I was over at Danzig. Böhme started out as a Lutheran, just like Stiefel and Meth did. There was a Lutheran preacher at Görlitz who said that religion should be the development of the whole spiritual person rather than what he called ‘blind obedience to empty Church law.’ He started a little semi-secret society called the ‘Conventicle of God’s Real Servants.’ I guess you up-timers would call it a discussion group. It involved quite a few people and not just tradesmen. Members of the local nobility. Gentlemen of the leisure class who had some academic training. Böhme was part of it. The minister made a lot of enemies on several university theology faculties. When he died, the authorities replaced him with a ‘by the book’ kind of Lutheran pastor who tried to wipe out the discussion group and its ideas. Böhme started to write down his visions a few years later and the other guys from the group backed him up. Some of his stuff is still circulating in manuscript form, but a lot of it’s been printed.”

“Visions,” Zane snorted. “Don’t these people come with crap-detectors?”

“How do you mean that?” Gerry asked.

“Like the countess. She’s not bad to work for. But talk about gullible. You could use her to define the word, if you ask me. She got involved with Meth and his uncle, this Stiefel that even Hans-Fritz’s Silesian thinks was out of it, maybe ten or a dozen years ago. About the time she realized that the one thing that a noble’s wife was really supposed to do—have babies—she hadn’t managed to do and wasn’t likely to do. So the counts of Gleichen, who had been around for centuries, were going to go extinct with her husband. Which they did, just a few months before the Ring of Fire happened. Because none of the women married to his brothers or cousins managed to have kids, either. Not boys, at least.” He leaned down and picked up a piece of straw to chew on.

“How old was she?”

“Back then? About thirty-five, I guess. She’s forty-eight, now.”

“A woman of thirty-five is still of child-bearing age,” Hans-Fritz said.

“Yeah, but she’d been married for years and nothing had happened.” Zane leaned back against the fence. “She talks to me a lot. She’s as lonely as hell. Her mom died when she was three and her dad when she was six. She had four brothers and sisters, but they all died as kids. Her stepmother got married again and had another family. She married a man more than twenty years older than she was and, like I said, didn’t have any kids. And wasn’t likely to. I gather that he wasn’t getting it up any more. For that matter, before she got involved with the fruitcake, just about everyone else died.”

“What do you mean by that?”

“Her husband had half-sisters and she’d made friends with them, but they both died. Her mother’s sister died. One of her female cousins on her mom’s side died—the only one close to her age. The kids from her aunt's second marriage are younger. Her dad’s sister died and so did her son, the countess’ cousin. He’d been married twice. His first wife is dead—the second one’s still alive, but they don’t visit, because she lives somewhere over on the other side of Brandenburg. No uncles. One of her stepsisters died—no, not even that close, her stepmother’s stepdaughter by another marriage, or something like that. Her husband’s brother and his wife died. All of them between 1615 and 1622. All she has left are a couple of male cousins. They’re married and have children, but they live over to the west of Hesse. Nowhere around here. I could have all this upside down and backwards, but that's the general idea.”

“Bleak,” Gerry said. “I mean, I’m worried about the way things are going in Italy and I haven’t seen any of them except Ron since last fall, but at least my dad and brothers are still around.”

“I guess it is.” Zane tossed the now-well-chewed straw down. “Used to drive me nuts, having my mom and dad and sisters and then Tina Marie, Cheryl Ann after her, all nagging me. Maybe I shouldn’t have complained.” He picked up another straw. “Now. The reason I asked you two to come talk to me is, really—what’s this Green kid like? The one who knocked Carly up?”

****

“Okay. So this Tilesius guy who caused all the trouble in Ohrdruf, and now Fred Jordan’s dead because of it, is trying to make trouble right here in town. Holz’s little storefront organization, fussing that Kastenmayer baptized Jarvis Beasley’s baby, yelling about the Countess of Gleichen harboring dangerous Anabaptists. Getting the Erfurt city council to send letters to all and sundry. So I figured that I needed to know and you’d be the most likely reliable source. Are Anabaptists dangerous?”

“It depends on how you define the word ‘Anabaptist,'” Al Green said to Preston Richards.

Grantville’s police chief sighed. “I am not following you, Brother Green. I’m a member of your church. So’s Melanie. We come on Sundays—almost every Sunday, not just holidays. We both went to Sunday School. We send our kids to Sunday School. But I’m not a theology student and I’m never likely to be one.” He paused. “Could you dumb it down, please? At least a little bit.”

“Okay.” Green stood up and started pacing. “Maybe I’m too much of a historian to be able to put this to you in black and white terms. Have you ever heard that poem about the six blind men who went to see the elephant? ‘And each was partly in the right, but all were in the wrong.’ Joe Jenkins is partly right. Pankratz Holz is partly right, too. Neither one of them’s seeing the whole picture and I’m not sure, given how prejudiced they are, that either one is capable of seeing the whole picture.”

“Are Anabaptists a threat to the public order?”

“To fix on what you’re probably worrying about, Press—Joe Jenkins’ batch aren’t. Neither are the Mennonites who’ve settled inside the Ring. Their movement evolved out of Anabaptism, too.”

“So far, so good.”

“Then, may I please define the word ‘Anabaptist’ for you?”

“I have a feeling that you’re going to, whether I really want to know or not.”

“What sets our church—modern Baptists—off from most of the rest of the churches, both up-time and down-time?”

Press Richards thought a minute. “Believers’ baptism. We don’t baptize babies, for whatever reason. I’m a little vague on the ‘whatever.'”

Green stopped pacing for a moment, leaned over his desk, and made a note in regard to a clearly necessary sermon, upcoming shortly. “Keep going.”

“So we baptize adults. Or, at least, people the church council thinks have reached the age of reason and know what they’re doing. Sometimes we stretch it a bit, for young teenagers, if their families are good members and we think they’ll keep them pointed in the right direction while they finish growing up.”

Green nodded. “These, our ordinary candidates for baptism, are people who have never been baptized before.”

“So?”

“So, ordinarily, we Baptists are not Anabaptists. The word ‘Anabaptist’ means ‘re-baptizer.’ Tell me what happens if an outside adult wants to join our church—someone who was already baptized as a baby, Catholic, Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian, whatever.”

“Well, he—she if it’s a woman—they have to be baptized as an adult. That’s a requirement.”

“Which is the point at which, technically, Baptists become ‘Anabaptist’ too. When the movement started, a century or so ago, everyone who joined up had already been baptized as a baby. Theologically, the early proponents of adult baptism denied the validity of just about every existing baptism in the world, excepting only a few adult converts from heathendom. Since the Bible states, ‘He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved,’ they implicitly denied the salvation of everyone who had been baptized as an infant for a thousand years and more.”

“Uh, oh. That can’t have been good.”

“It didn’t have the most favorable impact, no.” Green started pacing again. “You do realize that we still teach the same thing?”

Richards dropped his mouth open. “You mean, we think that, uh, Father Mazzare, or, um, Pastor Kastenmayer, is going to hell?”

“We do normally try to phrase it a little more tactfully. But when push comes to shove—yes.”

“I don’t think anybody ever told me that. Not, at least, quite that flat-out.”

“Possibly nobody did.”

“Now that I come to think about it, definitely nobody did.” Richards stood up. “But we’ve got to get back to the question I came in with. Forget about who’s going to hell. As long as they’re nice people otherwise, that’s really not the police department’s problem. If Anabaptists aren’t a threat to the public order, why does Holz think that they are?”

“To go back to the beginning again, or at least to a century or so ago and ignoring various claims to apostolic tradition for the various Baptist churches . . . “

“Dumb it down, please.”

“Should I start with communism or polygamy?”

“Baptists!” Richards sat there, his mouth open.

“And, of course, there’s always eschatology.”

“Dumb it down.”

Green thrust a fist toward the ceiling of his study and proclaimed in a deep, dire, voice, “The end of the world will be here just any minute, so prepare.”

“You mean that cult stuff? Sitting out in an open field wearing white robes and staring at the sky.”

“More or less.”

“Baptists!”

Green nodded. “Yes. Which doesn’t even start to get us into mysticism, visionaries, and the like. Joe Jenkins would like to forget those parts of the Anabaptist heritage. They’re all that Pankratz Holz remembers. Which doesn’t make it easier for those of us who know perfectly well that, historically, it was ‘both/and’ rather than ‘either/or.’ They didn’t get things sorted out, about what was going to be ‘mainstream’ and what wasn’t, until a lot later than the year we’re living in.”

July 1635

“I mean it,” Gerry said. “Like I explained to Zane, it’s not a romantic tragedy. Not like they were Romeo and Juliet or something. They’re not crazy in love with each other.”

“What is it, then?” Mariah asked. “Carly’s pregnant, after all.”

“Proximity,” Hans-Fritz suggested. “Propinquity.”

“Not that, either. Some, I expect, but not quite. They really are friends. They worry about each other. Don’t want to hurt each other. Actually, they try to protect each other. They’re not in love with each other, but . . . It’s more like . . . ” Gerry stopped, floundering for words.

“Look, Anthony’s okay—not like the Partow kid, with a different girl every week and notches on his belt. It’s more like Carly was a stray kitten someone had left out by the side of the road. Anthony’s the kind of person who’ll always pick up a stray. Feed it. Pet it. Tame it. Eventually make sure that he’s found a good home for it. And if the kitten’s actually a girl. Purring, cuddling up, rubbing against that kind hand. For months. And he’s a guy. Oh, I don’t know how to explain it.”

“I think you just did,” Mariah said.

****

Megan snapped her lunch box closed. “So that’s where things are, Crystal. Carly’s out there in the country with her and Ronnie’s dad. Which is, I guess, okay, at least for the summer—he really does seem to have straightened up. But—don’t you think that we ought to tell Anthony’s parents?”

Crystal Blocker, now Dorrman, laid her container of cottage cheese down.

“No. Honestly, Megan. No, I don’t think so. It’s not because I don’t think the world of the Reverend and Mrs. Green, because I do. But.”

“But what?”

“They don’t really see Anthony, either of them.”

“What do you mean—don’t see him.”

“It’s hard to explain. Those boys were, oh, maybe ten and eight when the Greens came to pastor at First Baptist. They’re a lot alike, you know, Allen and Anthony. Not just looking alike, even though they both have that same straight light brown hair and gray eyes. Two stair steps. Faces alike, body build pretty much the same. Perfect for handing clothes down, don’t you know?”

“Uh-huh.”

“I’m not a psychologist. But I’ve been reading some of the stuff that Walt’s dad uses when he does peer counseling. I think . . . well, the boys are so close in age. Both just about equally smart. A lot of the same interests. But . . . everything that Anthony ever did, Allen had already done it. Just a little bit before. Joined the Scouts. Made the team. The whole routine of growing up. They’d been excited when Allen did anything. They’re always busy at the church, of course. By the time Anthony did the same thing, well, ho-hum. Even if he did it just as well.”

She picked the cottage cheese up again and made a face. “I hate this stuff, but I guess I’d better eat it. Whether I want to or not. Calcium, you know. They make it out of milk that’s already gone sour, so it’s not like taking fresh milk away from little kids, or anything.”

“Yeah, me too. Go on.”

“You, too?” Crystal giggled. “Back then, I bet, in the nineteen-eighties, the Greens were thinking, two kids. A boy and a girl. They already had the boy. Then Anthony was another boy. So he’s just sort of bobbed along in Allen’s wake, like a kind of ditto mark. Or reflection in a mirror. The only thing Anthony’s really ever done that Allen didn’t was take drama class in high school. Which didn’t sit too well with his dad. Pastor Green has his doubts about actors and actresses. So. Well, I just don’t think that this is the best way for them to really focus on him for the first time—because he’s gotten a girl pregnant.”

“Maybe I see how you’re thinking. You know the family a lot better than we do.”

“I’d leave it be, Megan.” Crystal nodded her head decisively. “As long as Carly’s okay, and you say that she is, I’d really leave it be, as far as the Greens are concerned.”

Late August 1635

“I’m really glad the two of you are back,” Gerry said.

Denise pulled off her helmet. “Don Francisco’s a nice guy. He knew how we felt about leaving for Prague. Going is fine, but it would have been bad, not to come home first. We brought Benny back to stay. He enjoyed doing the folklife festival, but he’s too feeble to go to Prague with Minnie and me. He’ll stay with his sister Betty. And I didn’t want to go away for who knows how long without seeing my mom again.”

“Carly had her baby two days ago.”

“Boy or girl?” Minnie asked.

“Boy.”

Denise frowned. “Isn’t it early?”

“About a month.” Gerry plopped down on an old bench in the storage yard. “She was still all stressed out, worrying about Anthony—maybe that had something to do with it. He’s fine, though. The baby, I mean. A midwife delivered him, out at her dad’s cottage on the countess’ estate. Down-timer. The midwife, I mean. They didn’t have to go to the hospital. Anthony’s fine, too. He made it out there yesterday afternoon, all worried to pieces, and looked at the kid. He’ll go again today, I expect. His folks are moving his brother into a boarding house in Jena and took the two little kids along. He stayed home on the excuse of feeding the pets—as if they couldn’t have gotten someone else to do it.”

“So why are you so glad we’re back.”

“We’ve got to come up with another fix. And I’m totally out of ideas.”

Denise eyed him. “Out on that hippie commune when you were a kid—did your dad ever read The Grinch Who Stole Christmas to you?”

“Not that I can recall.”

“Have you ever read it?”

“Don’t think so.”

“Well, goddamn.” Denise ran into her mother’s trailer and came back a few minutes later with a book. “Now listen.” She started reading.

“What’s the point?” he asked after she’d finished.

Denise smiled. “Like that cat . . . Listen, Gerry. I have a doozy of a ‘wonderful, awful, idea.'”

****

“We’ll have to talk to Zane. Get him to set it up. He’s Carly’s fucking father,” Denise said. “He ought to take some responsibility for her beyond just housing her for three months in an emergency, which we had to talk him into doing. Dads are supposed to be . . . more than that. A lot more than that.”

“I know what you mean.” Gerry nodded. “Buster was. Mine is.”

“Benny is, too,” Minnie said. “Even if he’s not exactly my dad.”

“Then let’s go.”

****

“If your uncle could come up with divine revelations, you can too.” Zane Baumgardner looked at Ezechiel Meth. “Look, we—Grantville that is—are covering your ass. The countess’ rear end too, for that matter. Making sure that Holz and his people leave you in peace. So pay a little back.”

“But.”

“This is a damned good revelation. I’ve spent days and days riding around these fields two steps behind the countess while she exercises her horse, listening to her talk. She believes it, damn you. She really believes that she’s going to have a miracle child in her old age. Your uncle told her that. Got her to believe it. All you’ve got to do is . . . modify it a bit. She’s lonesome enough that she’ll bite.”

“So I’m supposed to tell her that . . . “

“He was just a bit off. She’s not supposed to be the Messiah’s natural mother. She’s supposed to be his foster mother. Hell, if she could keep believing that your uncle was an immortal prophet after he kicked the bucket, she can believe anything.”

“The advantage is clearly to you, since the child is your grandson.”

“You want her to die without a kid to love? It’s not as if there’s an inheritance involved, or anything like that. Once she dies, all of her dower income escheats to the state anyway.”

Meth looked down the hill.

“By the creek,” he said.

“Yeah. Got to be.”

****

“Mariah, please,” Denise said. “We need one more person. Minnie can’t. She’s just too recognizable. With her scar and the glass eye and stuff. You were actually an actress for a while, so we figure you can memorize.” She looked at Hans-Fritz. “Tell her to do it, will you? Please? We need her, Gerry and me.”

“I’m not a teenager,” Mariah protested. “Ten years ago, yeah, this sort of thing would have made a kind of crooked sense to me. But my mind’s outgrown that. It doesn’t work that way, any more.”

Please.

“How the hell do I get myself into these messes? Who am I supposed to be, again?”

“Moses’ mother. The baby’s mother, anyway, who gets called in to be a nurse. I’m going to be Miriam. Gerry’ll be Aaron.”

“I’m not a nanny. I do silo site surveys.”

“You don’t have to be a nanny. Just agree to be the godmother or something. I’m not sure they have godmothers in that peculiar religion of theirs, but ‘or something’ should do it. Whatever she says. I’d have asked Megan, maybe, since she’s Carly’s sister-in-law, except that she’s already starting to show, so the countess might not believe that she was the mother of a newborn, too. Plus, you went with Master Massinger’s troupe last summer. Please, Mariah. Please.”

“Oh, damn. All right. What are you using for the basket?”

“I don’t know.”

“It has to be waterproof. Just a minute.” Mariah disappeared into the back room of her grandmother Collins’ house and came back with a light blue plastic picnic cooler. Which had been molded to look like a fake basket. “This’ll do. What are you doing for bulrushes?”

“There are cattails in the creek. Carly’s dad found a good spot. A little pool. Right below it, the water runs over gravel, shallow enough that the basket with the baby in it can’t get away from us. Here are your lines. Anthony wrote them, so they’re pretty much straight out of the Bible story. The countess ought to pick up on how the script goes in a hurry. We hope.”

Denise pushed a piece of paper into Mariah’s hands, grabbed the basket, and hurried out the door, afraid that if she waited any longer, Mariah might change her mind.

Mariah, though, just buried her face in Hans-Fritz’s shoulder. “Tell me,” she wailed. “What am I doing here and why am I doing it with these nuts?”

****

“Meth’s going to distract Fräulein Effler,” Zane said. “Keep her and Lämmerhirt occupied with something up in the house. Carly’s promised to stay inside, at the cottage. Can’t risk her going off half-cocked right in the middle of things. The Green kid is with her, holding her hand.”

Gerry took a deep breath. “Denise has the baby and the basket. Okay. Mariah’s behind the willow trees. Go get the countess. I’ll start the screen credits rolling. Or something.”

****

“I’ve got to give Meth credit,” Zane said. “The man has a golden tongue. By the time the countess got up to the house carrying the baby, he had the steward and lady-in-waiting all primed to make delighted cooing noises. Nobody in the whole household asked, ‘What the hell?'” He looked at Mariah. “Uh, they kept the picnic basket. For a bassinet. And then someday a religious relic, I guess.”

“Okay.”

“I can’t believe it worked,” Anthony said.

“I hope he’s all right. He was so little.”

“The baby’s going to be just fine, Carly,” Denise said. “The countess is going to take real good care of him. Herr Rosenbusch is out beating the bushes for a wet nurse this very minute, before he even has a chance to get hungry again. She picked out a really pretty name. Immanuel Renatus.”

“Sort of fancy,” Carly said. “Real down-timey.”

Anthony, who by now had three years of Latin under his belt, just looked dumbstruck.

“She’ll cherish him,” Gerry put in. “Adore him. He’s going to be better taken care of than any kid since Jesus Christ was born, probably.”

Carly nodded.

“Having him early was actually a good thing. You can go back to school next week, when the new semester starts after Labor Day, with the rest of the kids none the wiser. That’s what you wanted for Anthony’s sake, isn’t it? You’ll still be a little sore, maybe, but if you’re creaking around the halls, you can tell people you fell off a horse or something while you were staying out in the country with your dad.”

“I guess.”

“Hell,” Denise said. “We’re going to be around town for another week or so, before we take off for Prague. If you need backup, I’ll even embarrass myself by saying that I skidded and tipped you off my bike.”

****

“If Pastor Kastenmayer ever finds out about this,” Gerry said. “Or Pastor Rothenmaler. Or any other Lutheran pastor. Griep. Or Holz. Or anyone at Jena, I am going to be so totally screwed. My career plans will be totally derailed.”

Minnie Hugelmair patted his shoulder. “Then just be glad that Jonas and Ronella got married and moved away before we finagled it, as Benny would say. That’s a big consolation. He’d have been a lot more likely to catch on than any of the rest of the grown-ups outside of Carly’s family. Except for Denise’s dad, but Buster never would have finked. Hans-Fritz doesn’t really count. He’s family, sort of. Even if he wasn’t, he’d keep his mouth shut because of Mariah. He didn’t even tell his brother Dietrich.”

****

Gerry watched Zane Baumgardner roll a cigarette. With a worried expression.

“Yeah, kid,” Zane said. “I know that they’re saving up-time newspapers like they were worth their weight in gold. But, I figured, who was going to miss the classified ads? So I kept enough out from the old ones Cheryl Ann left behind when she moved out that I can keep on rolling my own until some bright guy in Badenburg reinvents cigarette papers. They’ve done okay on toilet paper, after all.”

“Ah, okay.”

“I keep thinking,” Hans-Fritz Zuehlke said, “that being a promised Messiah could be hard on the child.”

“That won’t happen for a long time,” Gerry said. “Jesus Christ did not start his earthly ministry until he was thirty years old.”

“But—isn’t the countess going to have awfully high expectations while he’s growing up?” Hans-Fritz protested. “It’s hard enough for a child to live up to the expectations of an earthly parent. Dietrich and I sort of felt that way about Lucas, and he was just our stepfather and no saint, either. Or look at how Anthony feels.”

Zane shook his head. “She’ll spoil him sure. But look on the bright side. Maybe the countess will die before he’s old enough for it to bother him. She’s no spring chicken and she was awfully sick a year or so ago—everybody pretty much thought she was going to die right then and there. Hell, given how many kids die young in this day and age, maybe the boy will die before he’s old enough for it to bother him.”

He raised his head and looked through a break in the hills to the still-shiny wall created by the Ring of Fire as it reflected the evening sunlight. “And who knows? Given everything that’s gone on the last few years. The stuff these people talk about.” He looked back at Gerry. “Can you give me an absolute one-hundred-percent guarantee that Carly’s kid isn’t the second coming of the Messiah?”

****