“Do you mind moving?” Hans asked without taking his eye away from the surveyor’s transit. The lenses for the transit were hand ground to precise specification in a shop in Amsterdam. The brass fittings were made by an artisan who was otherwise hand-cutting clock gears. The precision arcs and screws came from a Grantville machine shop. The whole thing, plumb bob, brass-inlaid hardwood tripod, transit, bubble levels, screws and everything else was assembled into a shiny thing of beauty. Up-time it would have been on display in a glass case in the home office, not out in the field getting dirty.
It looked expensive, as well it should.
The horse did not move but neither did Hans’ head. “Sir, I can’t see the target with your horse there.”
There was no answer or movement. Finally Hans looked up at whoever was keeping him from his work and started to unleash the colorful American vocabulary he learned along with the new civil engineering program at the university in Magdeburg. “What the . . . ” The abusive words died in his throat.
Oops . . .
Love at first sight might well be a cliché. But lust at first sight certainly isn’t, as Hans suddenly discovered. He stared back at the young woman who sat atop the horse in question.
She was not the most beautiful he had ever seen, still more of a girl than a woman. Maybe it was chemistry, maybe it was perspective, and maybe it was fate, karma, destiny, or the hands of the old pagan gods. Maybe it was the fact that he hadn’t had the time or energy to notice any women other than his uncle’s chambermaid and Oma, the old kitchen drudge, for months on end while he was cooped up in the loft, studying.
For whatever reason, desire boiled his blood and stopped his tongue.
“What are you doing on our land?” she demanded sharply.
Hans stood there, struck dumb as a pole-axed ox and feeling like one, as he felt her eyes evaluating him. Her eyes crinkled slightly as if reacting to amusement or expressing distaste. From somewhere he got a clear impression that she was well aware of the effect she had on young men. The look of disdain which followed the crinkling of her eyes clearly seemed to say, “Keep it to yourself mister. I don’t flirt with commoners. I know what that can lead to. I have no interest in marrying beneath my station, especially with the likes of you.”
Hans gestured towards Hambühren. “Your land? The headman in the village said it was okay for us to survey across it.”
“The village leases the rights to farm it. The land itself still belongs to my family. So I want to know what you are doing on our land.” She glanced at the rifle with his equipment and the pistol on his belt. “Are you hunting?” she asked. “I think you are. The village had no right to give you leave to hunt.”
Hans finally retrieved his wits from somewhere around his waist.
He signaled his two assistants to rest easy. “I’m not hunting, I’m surveying.”
“You don’t need a hunting rifle to survey.”
“Lady . . . ” Hans looked at the transit. ” . . . do you know what a bandit could get for some of this stuff? Duke Georg expects me to keep it safe.”
When he mentioned the duke, the girl’s face turned to stone. “I think you had better come to the manor and talk to my father right this minute.”
“Look, I’m busy. Can you read?” Hans was beginning to become impatient.
“Don’t be insulting.”
“I have a letter of authority from Duke Georg, he wants a road surveyed from Wietze to Celle, so . . . “
The girl interrupted. “There already is one! In fact it’s right over there.”
“It’s a set of dirt ruts and mud holes. It jinks around from house to house, and twists like a drunken snake at every little patch of wheat or rye. It’s only five miles from here to the edge of Celle, and the existing road is already nine miles long! That’s wasteful!
“He wants a Grantville-style road, straight and hard-surfaced. Don’t you want to see it?”
“A new road? Of course not!”
“I meant the letter of authority.”
Exasperated and confused, he blurted; “What’s your name?”
The look of disdain return to her face, overlaid with sullen suspicion. She asked, “Why?”
“Well, I am going to have to ask you to move your horse and I would like to be polite about it.”
She burst out laughing.
That might be when Hans fell in love. Or it might only have been when his lust cranked up another notch.
“Dorotee von Harenberg,” she answered. “My father, Otto von Harenberg, is the lord here.” But in the process of answering his question she moved her horse to the side.
“Thank you. Will I be seeing you again?”
“If you are going to try building a new road across our land, without our leave, then you will most likely be seeing far more of us than you want.”
“We’re surveying, not building!”
She turned her horse toward the old road with an expert flick of her shapely wrist. “If you won’t come to speak with my father, then needs must, my father will come speak with you . . . albeit with more force.”
She twitched the reins, set the horse to a brisk walk, and glared back over her shoulder. “Good day to you, sir.”
As the words she spoke slowly sank into his head, Hans realized what they might mean. “Uh oh . . . ”
When her horse disappeared over the next rise, Hans shook himself to free his mind from the haze of befuddlement, then returned his attention to the transit, took the sighting, and recorded the results in his survey journal. He then signaled the crew to pound in the marker stake and return with the survey pole. He began to disassemble the transit and place it carefully in its carrying case, and began to ponder his next move.
On one hand, he had the duke’s express permission to survey through this area, and no single lord, no matter how powerful, was going to be able to prevent the eventual construction of the road if the duke decided to force the issue.
But that wasn’t his primary concern.
While the letter, in theory, protected him from prosecution, it wouldn’t prevent the lord from making the decision to punish the messenger, and without Hans’ mercenary escort, there was really no one to keep the lord from doing just that. There was little chance of the lord coming to any grief about it either.
It had clearly been a mistake to tell his escort—after having erroneously determined from the headman in the village that no protest would be made about the survey—to stay in the village and procure supplies for the next leg of the journey and then catch up, while Hans continued to work.
Since noon he had finished surveying another mile past the edge of the village. They were making good time, barring a few false starts.
But his bodyguards were overdue . . . .
He and his assistants had two revolvers and a rifle between them, but he hoped the escort would arrive before the girl brought her father. A couple more people on his side of the ledger would make him feel better.
Besides, he was not comfortable with the idea of getting into a shooting match unless he had no other choice, especially with the local authorities.
He was still standing there, contemplating the new situation as his two assistants, Chaim and Andrew, trudged up next to him.
When he didn’t seem to notice them standing there, they smirked at each other.
“Ahem?” Chaim finally cleared his throat.
Hans didn’t bother looking at the two foreign adventurers when he replied to the verbal nudge. “Andrew, go see if you can find Ebert and his partner. They should have been here by now. Chaim, we might have a problem. If we end up with company before the others get back, just take what equipment you’ve got strapped to the horse and head for the village. Keep your head down and stay out of trouble.”
From what little he had learned of his assistant’s past, Chaim was good at keeping his head down. According to Andrew, Chaim hadn’t even revealed his true name until well after arriving in Grantville.
They went back to work, but Hans’ mind kept wandering and wondering.
The church bells in the village rang sechs just as the focus of his mind rode toward him. Three armed men on horseback, followed by a pack of dogs straining at the leads held by two more men accompanied her. Hans glanced toward the village, hoping to see Andrew and his returning escort.
The men and the girl slowed to a halt.
The three men carried wheel-lock pistols and hunting muskets. They were well-dressed, with tall riding boots and buff coats. The quality of their clothing varied somewhat, and one of them had the air of hand-me-downs that comes with clothes which are not quite the right size for the person wearing them but would have been a perfect fit for the person wearing the newest outfit.
The best dressed of the lot said to Dorotee, “Child, he doesn’t look like a poacher.”
“Father, he’s on our land, with a hunting rifle, without your leave. I suggested he come to the manor and he refused. Sounds like a likely poacher to me.”
“You said he claims to have a letter from Duke Georg?”
“That’s what he claimed. I never saw it.”
Hans wondered when they were going to stop talking about him like he wasn’t there.
“You, boy! You say Duke Georg gave you a letter of authorization?”
Dorotee’s father rode close enough that he could boot Hans in the face if he so desired. “That is ‘yes, mein Herr‘ from the likes of you! Give it here!”
The older man looked at the seals and then slowly read the letter. “Humph! It says here that you are surveying for a new road for the duke. Young man, this is a blatant forgery. The duke would never presume to do such a thing without first informing me and my peers of his intent. I think my daughter is right.
“Regardless, he is not due at Parliament till next month, so you can be sure I will investigate these claims of yours with him personally before he departs.
“Hermann, lock this fellow up until I get to the bottom of this.”
Hans felt a sinking feeling in his stomach. It seemed his escort would not be arriving in time after all.
He started as the lord’s men dismounted and moved towards his precious transit. “Hey, what are you doing? That’s . . . “
A final thought passed through his mind as he watched the butt of Hermann’s musket, in slow motion, travel inexorably toward his head.
This is going to hurt . . .
It sounded like Duke Georg was headed for the parlor with every intention of ripping the door off.
“What have you done now?” His voice trailed off as he realized his wife was not alone.
Anna rose to greet him. Her companion rose as well. “Georg, you remember Margarete von Harenberg, don’t you? She is the wife of Otto von Harenberg, with whom I believe you have been speaking.”
“Speaking is not the term I would have used. Shouting, growling perhaps . . . “
Margarete stepped forward. “I must apologize for my husband’s rudeness. I can hardly take him anywhere anymore.”
Georg’s eyebrows shot up.
Anna explained. “We’ve been discussing the reason they came to meet with us, dear. I’m sure that after Margarete and her husband have a moment to discuss the relevant details, things will settle down quite nicely.”
Georg looked almost punch-drunk, so Anna took the opening. “Margarete, why don’t you go explain the details of our discussion to your husband. We’ll be along shortly.”
“What is it that you have done now?” Georg whispered when Margarete left the room.
“Why, nothing harmful dear. I simply did some advance planning, is all. I merely asked the company involved in paving the docks and the manor roads to survey a new road between here and Wietze, and it happened to pass through their lands south of Hambühren. I was sure that no one of note would have objected, you see. It’s only a survey party after all.”
“Only a survey party?” Georg began to pace. “Why, Otto spoke as if we had sent an invading army of hunters and horses bent on trampling his holder’s crops. Not a survey party.
“I can’t deal with this right now, Anna! I am due at Parliament in only three weeks!” Georg continued to pace, a nervous habit gained at his residence in Magdeberg. “This could turn into a fiasco!”
Anna answered quietly, “It was only five men, dear. A surveyor, his assistants and two guards is not what I’d call an invading army.”
“Two of those men were found drunk in the tavern waving pistols around! They had half the village terrified! And why were guards needed?” Georg waved his arms. “You sent heavily armed men skulking around his hunting preserve. He’s calling it an invasion! And I’m not sure I blame him.
“Why were they so heavily armed if that is all they were? Every one of them had a gun or two. They had breech-loading rifles and revolvers, for goodness sake. They could have taken on a score of men and walked away unharmed!”
He glanced at the door, where Margarete had gone. “And why do you suddenly think everything is solved anyway?”
He paused, and jerked back to pacing across the room. “And how much is that survey costing?”
“You men and your bull heads! Why must everything be a fight? It’s costing us very little, only one team of surveyors and their equipment.
“And don’t quote me your gaggle of so called ‘advisors’ about ‘bogs’ and ‘cost.’ If they can’t see that the future of our city balances upon its roads, then they are as pigheaded as you are! Which they are, considering it was you who put them in position as your advisors in the first place!
“I highly doubt that Herr Stearns would have objections to it, and he is more intelligent than your ‘advisors’ by a quite a fair margin.”
Georg’s face grew red at the comparison. Realizing she had perhaps stepped on a nerve with her last comment, Anna skillfully redirected his attention back to the survey party. “As to the surveyors being armed, one would think you would want them to protect the equipment from bandits. I realize that Hambühren is only three hours ride away, but considering what happened, I’m actually glad I provided those guns. With what it cost us to outfit them with modern surveying equipment, modern firearms from Suhl seemed like a very reasonable addition.”
“Oh?” His forehead crinkled in thought.
“We don’t want to lose the equipment, do we? Not to mention the skilled men using it.”
“Well, I suppose . . . Wait a minute! You said you hired a company to do this but you keep talking like they’re our men and our equipment.”
“Well, yes. It is my company after all. We can do that now. The emperor’s government in Magdeburg has ruled that Adel can work without losing status.”
Georg put a hand to his forehead and slowly drew it down his face as hard as he could.
“Don’t worry, dear. It will all work out. You’ll see.”
Georg gave his wife a suspicious look as she smiled a beatific smile. At a time like this there was only one thing really that a man could say. “Yes, dear.”
Dorotee rose as the door opened for her parents. The manor had felt a bit empty without them, especially since her sister had gone to visit at their aunt’s house while wedding plans were made for her cousin.
Her sister was, of course, decidedly giddy at the opportunity to assist in planning the event. Eager and willing hands begging for the chance to help seemed to pour out of the woodwork whenever a wedding was mentioned. And the experience would do her good at her own wedding whenever they managed to finish the dowry negotiations with Gottfried’s family.
Her half-brother had taken to hiding at his friend Gottfried’s house to avoid the sideways looks his step-mother gave him every time the word “wedding” was mentioned.
“Welcome home, Father.” She strode forward to greet them as the servant took their coats.
Her father said nothing and refused to meet her gaze.
“Hello, darling,” her mother said, as a servant passed by to deliver their bags to the living quarters.
Her father stomped off toward the office kept in the back of the manor.
“What happened, Mother? I take it father was not able to prevent the duke’s invasion plans.”
“Oh dear, is that what you thought it was? That explains why your father was growling the entire way there. How is that boy? I hope he is not too badly hurt?”
Dorotee deliberately ignored the question. “What do you mean? There were five of them and they left bits of wood stuck in the ground all over the place. It’s like they are planning a city, not a road.”
“Well dear, it was just a ‘survey team.’ Apparently they were asked to look at the possibility of a road, and that is the new method of marking surveys. This particular team was led by that young man out of Grantville who went to their ‘civil engineering’ school.”
Dorotee bristled. “He was incredibly rude!”
“And in what way was he rude, may I ask?”
“He . . . he . . . ” Dorotee’s voice trailed off. In fact, she felt responsible for the young man’s injury. After her parents had left, she had scampered into the carriage house to bandage the oozing gash on the back of his scalp. She had wanted to apologize but he had not woken.
“I hope that your feelings about him did not prevent you from seeing he was cared for?” Her mother’s stern tone cautioned her that she was treading dangerously close to trouble. “Regardless of his transgression, he does not deserve any further mistreatment at our hands.”
“Of course not, Mother. I had the kitchen send food for him as well as bandages for his wounds. I had Hermann deliver them to him.” Her hands twitched at the small mistruth.
“Very well. That is enough, I hope. Though one wonders why your father had him beaten unconscious. I can’t believe he was that much of a threat. There was just him after all. His companions deserted him at the very beginning, from what I hear.”
Dorotee flinched guiltily as she recalled the meaty sound made when the butt stock of Hermann’s musket had struck the man’s head. “Hermann only struck him once, but I do wish he hadn’t hit him quite so hard.”
She considered again the sequence of events that led to the injury, wondering if she had truly done the right thing.
“How badly was he hurt? Your father was in such a rush to set out for the ducal palace that I had hardly a moment to assure myself that he would not bleed to death.”
“Mother, I supervised the dressings myself. It was not as bad as it seemed. The wounded from the French raid at Wietze were worse.”
Three years previously, she had insisted on helping when a panicked woodsman who had been shot by French troops turned up. Later, when more wounded were brought through because there was no room for them in Wietze, she had again been allowed to help.
She saw her mother looking at a spot of blood on her sleeve from bandaging the man’s head. She tried to hide it. She did not want to reveal just how closely she had supervised his treatment.
“Well, all this traveling has made me hungry.”
Dorotee knew well that her mother was changing the subject.
“And where is your brother? Off at Gottfried’s again I presume? Will that boy never settle down?
“I wish your father would settle on a wife for him, but every time I suggest someone he just huffs and won’t talk about it. Well, he’s not my son, as your father has pointed out often enough; the Good Lord knows I’ve done the best I can by the boy. If your father won’t let me help, there is nothing I can do about it.” She swept up her skirts in one hand and waved at the waiting servant. “Bring some light refreshments, and fetch Dorotee’s books to the parlor.”
Dorotee used the distraction to slip into her room, where she quickly changed her blouse and made sure that there were no more traces of blood anywhere else.
After her mother changed out of her traveling clothes, and with the snacks and small beer delivered, it was time for Dorotee’s lessons.
The servant placed her books on the small table as her mother began to question her knowledge of last week’s lessons covering Latin, art, and music composition. The quizzing also included some of the up-time English literature that Grantville was publishing so much of and she and her mother were reading together.
“There is something new I want you to look at this week, Dorotee.” Her mother placed a new book on the pile. It was written in English, but for some reason had Greek symbols etched upon the front.
“This is a mathematics textbook, dear.”
Dorotee’s eyebrows rose slightly. “Mathematics?”
“It’s printed in Magdeburg and Jena. They have new schools there these days that even take women students.”
“What kind of school?” Dorotee asked, picking up the proffered textbook. Her mother had instilled in her a desire to learn. Her curiosity was seemingly insatiable, and her studies were expanding her worldview well beyond that of a normal teenage girl in the northern Germanies. There was nothing in her current life that she did not want to learn more about.
Except boys. Those she felt she knew all too well.
“I want you to read from that textbook, Dorotee. I talked with one of the women on a survey team in Wietze. I want you to at least know what it is they teach girls in the day and age these Grantvillers come from.”
“Yes, Mother.” Dorotee was already lost in the sea of knowledge placed in her hands.
“Why I agreed to this I will never understand,” Otto grumped as Margarete entered his office. “There is no reason I should, in fact. That man is trying to infringe upon my property rights! I should be shouting this base violation from the rooftops, so tell me again, why I am not doing exactly that!”
He glared at the subject of his ire. “Maybe this time it will make sense.”
She glared right back. “You’ve been complaining for three years now. Everybody else is making money off Wietze but you. Here is your chance to collect a bit of the profit and all you want to do is complain about the cost and insist that they stop.”
“What profit? He’s cutting a swath right through the middle of some of our prime fields. You say he wants this road to be a full thirty feet across! That’s ridiculous! No road needs to be any wider than a wagon.”
“No one has cut anything yet. It’s a survey to see if they can! And, husband, if you really feel that way about it, then I suppose we should turn down the honor of being the main resupply point for all the commerce that will soon be headed down that road.
“Have you even considered just what the implications of an up-time road going through our land are?
“Right now, you collect rents from farmers, half-farmers and small-holders. There is no way to increase the rents until the leases are up.”
“Which is why losing some of it to a thirty-foot-wide road is ridiculous!” Otto said.
His wife ignored the outburst. “What if you could collect rents on an entire city’s worth of merchants and innkeepers? Don’t you realize what the road would mean? We own both sides of the road for a stretch of nearly a mile! Everything needed by the merchants traveling the road can be sold here. Think of it! Sutlers, wheelwrights, coopers, blacksmiths, sundries. It could all be here!
“There is no more land suitable for farming. But a mercantile village doesn’t need land for farming. Some of the village half-farmers and quarter-farmers would happily be innkeepers and full time crafters in a heartbeat if they could make a living at it.”
“A lot of their food would have to be brought in!” he protested.
“That won’t be a problem with the new road. You know what their roads are like. We saw it in Grantville. It’s practically as smooth as a river. You’ve seen the route they have staked out.
“We can lease out the land on the east side of the hunting preserve. You don’t hunt there very much anyway, and when you do you always complain that there isn’t any game since it’s too close to the village.”
Otto demanded, “And who would pay for the buildings, Margarete? Not us, for certain! I can barely raise a dowry for our first daughter, let alone our second. I have no additional monies to undertake such a building project.”
“This is why we need more income. Where else are we going to get it? And don’t be ridiculous. It doesn’t cost us anything when they build in the village. Sometimes they even have to pay for extra timbers. All we have to do is lure the right merchants here with promises of low rent! They will build their own buildings.”
“What about establishing drainage. Georg’s father wanted to improve the road in his time as well, and was told by his own architect that the cost would be prohibitive. I can’t see what may have changed between now and twenty years ago,” Otto objected.
“They have new tools now,” his wife pointed out. “Clearly with the rents from this ‘way station,’ as the up-timers call such places, even reduced a bit to entice the merchants, we would be making far more than we are now. And I imagine we’d even lure some business away from elsewhere. Wietze is running out of suitable land to expand on. The higher ground around the proposed road will require less drainage and will still be close enough to travel between both Celle and Wietze!
“With a good road, an artisan can work here and with the lower rent still make a profit after he carts his work to Celle, or even better, carts it to Wietze. They don’t have guild restrictions in Wietze on who can sell what there. With an asphalt road they would be close enough to make it worthwhile.” With that, she crossed her arms and stared at her husband.
He grew uncomfortable under her gaze. He busied himself with some papers on his desk, but her stare was relentless. Finally, he tossed his papers in a drawer and sighed. “Very well, he can build his damn road. But I want it nowhere near the manor!”
“Of course not, dear.” She rose from her chair, and turned to leave. “Send Hermann along, as I’ll be seeing to the poor young man you had knocked about. That was not the wisest of things you could have done, Otto.”
Hans was miserable.
Not only did his head hurt, but he was probably going to be fired.
He had lost the transit and all the other equipment, not to mention the firearms.
He was doomed.
After three years of constant sleep deprivation, cramming and anxiety at the University of Leiden and another year at the new imperial college in Magdeburg, all of the schooling in civil engineering, not to mention the additional classes on surveying done in Grantville, he began to question his choices of the last five years.
The time and effort that he had invested in learning a new up-time trade, the months and months of study, scrimping and saving his meager funds, was seemingly all for naught.
There was no way that anyone would hire a man who had lost his equipment within ten miles of his starting point.
He thought of his brother and his wife, who owned a bakery back home. He remembered going further up the mountain to the new monastery to buy beer.
And what beer!
He’d missed having it while staying with his uncle in Leiden.
Ah, those had been good days.
Of course they were also over.
Even if he lived through what the duke had in store for him, he would have to slink back home, hat in hand, and beg for any work his brother might have for him. Or go up the mountain and seek a vocation. At least the beer would be good.
That was assuming he could get out of this pickle he’d found himself in.
He was so engrossed in his self-pity he did not noticed the visitor who peeked through the boards of his makeshift cell, a disused storage room in the manor’s stable.
The cat was a scrawny thing, almost all fur and bones. The size of the opening was no bar to her, and she wiggled and squeezed her way though.
Not until the cat jumped to his shoulder to sniff at his head wound did Hans notice that he was no longer alone.
He started, at which the cat plopped down and maneuvered her way around under his arm. She placed her paws against his chest and sniffed at his hair. Her fur, a pale cream nearly the color of moonlight, was silky-smooth, and well kept.
He held still for a minute, letting her explore as she wished, and sighed when she curled up in his lap. Hans smiled and scratched behind her ears. She rewarded him with a loud purr as she settled down for some real petting.
Every time he stopped, she would focus on his hand, until he brought it down again as she bumped her head into his fingers.
“Well, at least someone likes me here,” he groused. “One would think strangers weren’t welcome, what with the way they treat poor little surveyors like me.”
The cat looked up at his voice, then deciding she’d had enough petting, curled up and went to sleep.
“Now, you’re comfortable, but what about me?” He gently picked her up and repositioned her so he could lean back against the bench that represented his cot.
She was boneless in the way of cats everywhere when they don’t want to be moved, but after he got her in position, she settled down with barely a nudge.
The cat’s arrival prompted him to take stock of his situation in a more realistic manner.
He knew in truth he would not be in major trouble for losing the transit, although he cringed and the amount of debt that might be incurred for its loss. Its manufacture cost more than he made in a year.
He also wondered what was happening in the manor. He had been locked up for nearly two days now, and although his captors had fed him and given him clean bandages for his scalp, they had done nothing else beyond giving him an old horse blanket to sleep on.
He could see the side of the manor through the cracks in the walls. If he really wanted out of the room, he could probably kick his way out through the walls.
But he also knew how much noise he would make, and having already suffered enough under the ministrations of the infamous Hermann, he had decided that meek was wiser than mighty.
His jailer came to check on his condition at least once an hour, and had given short shrift to his requests for information.
“Well there, little one, it looks as though we’re stuck here for a while.”
The cat’s ears twitched in response to his voice.
She was a patient listener.
He glanced down at his lap warmer and smiled. “You wouldn’t happen to have any influence with the ladies of the house, would you?”
There was no response except the cats’ eyes grew from tiny slits to larger slits.
“Ah well, it was worth asking. She’s beautiful isn’t she? Ha, listen to me, I’m starting to sound like Andrew, aren’t I? And here I am, carrying on a conversation with a cat! Well, at least you’re a good listener!
“What do you think, little one?” He glanced down at his discussion partner. “I could do well to meet someone like her. But then, there’s no way she’d give the time of day to the likes of me. I’ll bet she’s got dozens of suitors already, just lined up at her father’s door. I wonder what she’s doing right now. Probably reading up on how to make poor surveyors shrivel up and cry.”
His audience decided it was time to eat, and she slinked over to the plate holding what was left of his latest meal.
She sniffed about and settled on picking up a small piece of gristle that he had decided was too tough to eat and began licking it with her rasp-like tongue.
“Ha, I see what you really want from me, you little sneak!” Hans chuckled at the sight of the cat’s self-assurance.
As there was nothing else to do, he settled back onto his makeshift cot and decided to follow his guest’s example by taking a cat-nap.
His breathing had slowed to a gentle rise and fall.
As soon as the cat finished the meat he had provided, she hopped up onto the cot, curled up into the crook of his arm and was soon sleeping as well.
He was a picture of serenity, his face a pose of angelic innocence, with Luna, the Princess of the Stables curled beneath his arm.
She paused for a moment, allowing the picture to imprint itself indelibly into her mind. She had a feeling that it was significant, a harbinger of things to come.
Luna raised her head at the opening of the door, and seeing her mistress, began to squirm out from under Hans’ arm. Purring with pleasure, she spoke her welcome in her own unique fashion.
The noise had a wakeful effect on the young man on the bench, and he lurched upright, nearly upsetting the cat from her precarious perch.
“Well, I see you’ve made a friend! Hello, Luna, and how is the Princess of the Stables today?”
The Princess purred even louder, expressing her royal favor of the attention. The young surveyor seemed to relax a bit at the sound of her voice.
Undoubtedly he wondered at his fate.
“Oh, is that her name? She’s been good company today.”
He rose to take the tray from Margarete’s hands. “I thank you, gnaedige Frau. Would you perchance know when I might be able to contact my employer? I’m sure he will vouch for me, even if he will be quite vexed I’m sure.”
“Don’t worry about that. You will be released shortly.” She pulled a folded parchment from a pocket hidden in the sleeves of her dress. “We have already spoken with the duke and duchess. Here, this is for you.”
His hands shook as he received a folded and sealed missive. She could tell he recognized the wax seal as being the duke’s. It was identical to the one that had sealed the letter of authorization he had given to her husband.
“These are instructions to plan and survey a resupply station alongside your duke’s road while you are here. I believe your letter includes the number and type buildings we will require. Once these plans are finished, we will, as negotiated, allow you to continue with your survey of the duke’s road across our lands.”
“Yes, gnaedige Frau,” he said.
Margarete hid a smirk. He seemed ecstatic to have escaped further incarceration. She suspected his finding out that only his skills in survey and civil engineering were being requested must seem to him a siren song of joy, especially since it appeared to have the blessing of the duke and duchess.
“The rest of your party should be at the inn in Hambühren by now. Tomorrow you will be met after breakfast and shown where we think the station should go. If your master has other ideas you can have him discuss them with my husband.”
“No need, miss. That is well within the scope of my authority. If the land you chose is not suitable I will tell you so when we are shown the proposed site tomorrow, although I will only be able to provide you with a basic template for the buildings themselves.”
“But, surely whoever is in charge of the survey party should be consulted?” Margarete asked, with a show of trepidation.
“I am the master of the survey party. I report directly to the duchess.”
“Truly? You seem young for one saddled with that level of responsibility. I would have expected someone with experience to be entrusted with such a large undertaking. Would you care to explain?”
“While I admit to very little experience, I am a proud graduate of both the University of Leiden and the Technical College in Magdeburg. I graduated near the top of my class, and so was recommended to the position by the dean when a request for a surveyor was forwarded to them from Her Grace, the Duchess Anna. I had recently begun my own company when the opportunity presented itself.
“I have been honored to provide the duchess with several surveys within the city of Celle, but I will admit this is my first cross-country attempt, which I am embarrassed to acknowledge has turned into quite a mess.” His face grow red in the telling.
“Very well, it appears that while you are young yet, you seem to have a good head on your shoulders.” Magarete heard her daughter’s stifled groan at the perceived pun, and inwardly smirked. “You have handled your responsibility well so far, regardless of certain people’s initial impressions. Definitely not rude after all . . . “
With a significant glance, Lady Margarete motioned to her daughter, who immediately blushed scarlet and, with obvious reluctance, stepped forward.
With a visible effort she spoke her carefully rehearsed speech. “I must apologize for my actions before. I did not intend that you be injured.”
She looked pleadingly at her mother, who just cocked her head to the side and stared back. “I also apologize for being rude. It was uncalled for. You were just doing your job, and I interfered without considering the consequences.”
Margarete was pleased to note that Hans did not miss the hidden meaning from her previous statements. He clearly realized why the young girl had reacted so badly to him initially.
“Please, miss! I meant no disrespect to you at all. It is I who should be apologizing to you! I would not have you think badly of me for anything in the world.” His eyes pleaded for her forgiveness.
Dorotee fled from the stables, running back to the manor.
Her mother shook her head, and turned to Hans. “Well, I guess that’s the best we’ll get out of her today. Truly, you have my apologies. My husband is, of course, understandably busy, and so it falls to me to make sure you are compensated for your trouble.”
“No compensation needed, ma’am! Although . . . “
“Your equipment and personal things have been preserved, young man. You need not worry on that account.” Lady Margarete smiled at his obvious relief.
“I thank you kindly, and I will be sure to trouble you no longer.”
“Make sure to pass my regards to the duchess when you next meet with her.”
“I will most certainly carry your message to the duchess, ma’am.”
“That will be fine. Good day to you, young man.”
As she gave instructions to the servant, she recounted the conversation in her mind. Worries over her daughter’s virtue flared as she remembered seeing a spot of red on the underside of Dorotee’s sleeve, which she now deduced the origin of.
But looking back at the young man, seeing him stare at the side of the manor, where Dorotee had fled, she recalled her own youth, knowing that if the boy, no, the young man, had entertained unhealthy designs upon her daughter, he would not likely be standing like a man entranced, gazing out into nothingness.
Margarete smiled with relief.
She considered; in some ways, this situation might have advantages. He was an up-time trained graduate, nothing to sneer at these days, regardless of his other origins, which she was certain were rather plebian. And also, there were many a high magistrate or burgher whose relationships did not include a direct business contract with a duke or duchess.
If those august personages were acceptable as husbands for second and third daughters of families like hers, what would be the worth of this one? She had seen the look in her daughter’s eye and had a small inkling of a possibility of a dream.
She would have to see how he handled himself with his employees, of course, and it would all have to be handled very carefully.
Very carefully . . .
When Hans got to the inn he was greeted enthusiastically by Andrew and Chaim. The assistants, acting like little brothers, hurried to get him a warm meal and a cool beer as they began to pry his story from him.
He considered the two young men as he sat down at the proffered table. He had never asked where the inseparable pair had come from, and they had never volunteered the information, but with their accents, he guessed they might be from England. Regardless of their origins, even if that country was now an enemy, he had never encountered a better pair of workers, or friends.
He related his tale slowly at first, gaining speed and animation as he became absorbed in the telling.
The questions grew more pointed at one juncture, and his ears grew warm after describing Lady Margarete and her beautiful daughter.
Chaim and Andrew teased him mercilessly over Dorotee when they realized where his interest lay.
Finally he was able to recover a scrap of dignity when he realized his bodyguards were missing. “Where is Ebert and what’s his name? They have a lot of explaining to do!”
Andrew lit up with excitement as he realized that they had as much news to deliver as their wayward boss. “The duchess fired them. Oy, she must have been mad. They’d been getting drunk and waving guns around here in town and scaring everybody when they were supposed to be keeping us safe. Someone said that she had them jailed for breach of contract and public endangerment!
“Of course, we heard all this second hand. By the time I got back here looking for the brutes, they had already been scooped up by the lord’s magistrate.
“Then Chaim came buzzing in saying you’d been killed and that they were going to be coming after us next. I knew better of course!”
Andrew jerked suddenly as Chaim elbowed him in the ribs. “I did not come buzzing in, I walked calmly to your table, sat down and told you that we were doomed. And you are! That silly little grin of yours is going to get you killed yet! And me with you, just you watch!”
Andrew snorted into his beer. “Chaim here wouldn’t budge his nose out of the room till these two showed up.”
He indicated a pair of solidly built men in livery sitting at a nearby table. “They came back with that lord’s riding party. They say they’re the replacements for Ebert and Yuri, and I guess they are, as they have a letter with the duke’s seal. These ones aren’t mercenaries. They’re part of the duke’s regular guards.
“Hans? What is going on? I no more than got a message to the duke when they showed up and told us to wait here.”
“We’ll be here a bit. We’ve got to lay out a sort of a town before we move on. Well, a resupply station at least. The details are in here.” Hans flashed the sealed missive under his coat, while glancing at his new travel companions.
“A town? What are you going to call it may I ask, O Great Civil Engineer?”
Andrew’s teasing grew bolder. “Doroteestadt? Doroteeville? Dorotee City?”
His smirk turned to a good-natured grin as he watched his friend and master’s face grow redder by the minute.
“No, Andrew.” Hans’ eyes grew distant. “I was thinking more like ‘City of Angels.'”
Andrew and Chaim looked at each other in dismay.
“Chaim, I think our friend here has lost all sense of perspective and sanity. Something will have to be done!”
Chain nodded solemnly.
Hans’ face warmed to an interesting shade of magenta.
“Yes, Mother. I understand that someone has to show them where we want to put the buildings, but I don’t see why Hermann can’t do that without me.” Dorotee tumbled her books onto the table in a jumbled heap.
“Dorotee, it needs to be someone with the family’s authority. Your half-brother is nowhere to be found and your sister is still at your aunt’s estate. I certainly don’t have the time and surely you don’t want your father to do it? He’d as likely have the boy shot by the end of the day as not. Think it penitence, if you wish, but do it.”
“Now, about your lessons. You said you were having trouble with the new mathematics?”
“I just don’t understand them, they don’t use real numbers all the time and the ones they do use make no sense at all!”
Dorotee flounced down into a nearby chair. “I’m beginning to think that those people from the future didn’t have numbers, just these marks and symbols from some Greek play!”
“I will not have you giving up that easily, Dorotee. If you do not understand the book, then you simply need more time studying it.” Lady Margarete gracefully lifted the book from its precarious perch on top of the stack and held it out to her daughter.
Dorotee sighed and accepted the book from her mother, feeling a bit like she thought she would upon receiving an arrest warrant. It wasn’t easy but she accepted it with a bit more grace than she had placed it on the table.
“You will take it with you tomorrow, and any time you are not busy guiding Master Surveyor Blum and his party, I expect you to be studying it. Marie will be accompanying you tomorrow and has instructions to inform me if you do not.”
Dorotee felt her mother’s eyes bore relentlessly into her soul.
“Is that clear?” Lady Margarete’s last statement came in a voice like steel.
Dorotee was positive that her mother would enforce that edict if she had to stand over her every hour of the day. Knowing she was defeated in all her attempts to avoid the inevitable, she meekly gathered up her skirts and left the room.
After her daughter left, Lady Margarete gave over to a series of pensive thoughts, hoping that her actions would result in a positive outcome.
There was still time to turn back, she supposed, if the reports she got from Marie about the young man’s actions proved him unsuitable, but that remained to be seen.
In the back of her mind, a premonition yammered insistently that the young man was exactly as he seemed.
A private letter to the duchess, sent earlier in the day, would also help determine her future actions.
In the meantime, she gathered herself together, and strode calmly to her room.
Time would tell.
Margarete sat in her upholstered chair and looked out the window at the enclosed greenhouse that was home to a delicate rose garden.
The vines branched about the trellis in exquisite curls.
The Blood-Rose, a beautiful and rare flowering vine, revealed its splendor as the soft rays of the afternoon light filtered through the wavy panes of glass.
The nearly unique flower was her second-biggest pride and joy.
Her biggest was, of course, her children.
As she watched the dappled sun play upon the prized blood-red petals, she prayed that a certain Master Surveyor might survey more than just a simple road.
And a wayward daughter might see the path of the future beneath her feet.