Suhl

For once it was quiet in the garage. G.C. Cooper and his mechanics were eating lunch in the living quarters upstairs, and the drivers, with an audience of admiring young boys, were washing the trucks out in the square. Anse Hatfield took advantage of the moment by relaxing. It seemed like the perfect time to read his mail. He quickly leafed through the stack of notes and letters that had been dropped off this morning.

Nothing from Grantville. That wasn’t surprising; just yesterday he had read Hank’s weekly letter. Nothing from Magdeburg; again no surprise. Leonore was busy with the transportation school, and Wili didn’t like to write letters. So, on to the official stuff.

There on the top of the official pile was a thrice-folded sheet with the new wax seal of the Thuringia-Franconia National Guard. Anse muttered, “Shoot, I hear more from Jackson now in a month than I did the whole time I was in TacRail.”

Sure enough he saw the familiar scrawl.

Hatfield

From the reports I’m getting you are doing about as good as could be expected with the trucking service, and a better than good job on the garage. That’s as close as an attaboy as you’re going to get.

I had an interesting conversation yesterday with Rolf Nestmann, currently adviser to the Suhl delegation to the state legislature. He blames you for his problems and wants your head on a platter. You must have done something right to fire up an asshole like that.

I am sending three trucks with trailers in a convoy to Suhl. One of the trailers has parts for you to keep in stock if needed for the APCs. There are no plans at present to base them close to or in Franconia, this is just a precaution.

No, you can’t keep any of the drivers. You’re running a training program; train your own. You can keep one of the trailers. The others and the trucks come back, loaded with army rifles. Someone is making money.

Your request to transfer G.C. Cooper out of Suhl is denied. Look, Hatfield, I know he’s a problem, but he still owes West Virginia county six months of community service and he’s doing it as your chief mechanic in Suhl. The mayor wants him out of Grantville for a while.

On the good side, the city of Suhl is about to receive some new additions to the liaison group. You can’t say I never did you a favor after this.

Got to run. Unlike some people, I’m going east.

Frank Jackson Commanding SoTFNG

Anse read it twice. The business about Nestmann was good to know. He had really had nothing to do with putting a stick in the man’s spokes, but it seemed he had made an enemy. He would have to tell the guys that they were doing a good job and Jackson approved. He noted that he was going to have to find some storage space for the APC parts.

But what was Jackson thinking about with the part about new people being sent to Suhl? Shoot, they had radio operators and some advisers to the city council. What more was needed? And why tell him? And what favor? The man was speaking in tongues.

A noise in the garage told Anse that the mechanics were done with lunch and he would have to think about it later. Now he had to deal with the hard part of the letter.

“G.C., come here., Anse called from the door. “I just got a letter from General Jackson. He refused my request for you to go home. In fact, he wants you to stay six months. Hey, I’m sorry, man, but I tried.”

Cooper looked stunned. “Gee Anse . . . er . . . Boss, I’ve given up on going back to Grantville. Forget about it. I’m getting used to being here. In fact, I’ve been looking for a place to rent so I can send for Connie. Do you think I could stay permanently?”

Anse felt like tearing out his hair. For the past two months he had heard nothing but complaints from Cooper about Suhl. “Let me get this straight. All you’ve done is moan about going home since you got here and now you want to stay?”

“Yeah, I’ve gotten to like living here. I’ve made friends with some of those Jaegers that work for you. Heinrich Emmerling and me are going hunting next week. Besides, I’m helping one of Reardon’s guys build a steam engine in my spare time. Boss, I bet you could fix it with Jackson so I can stay.”

Anse nodded. “I’ll give it a shot, G.C. No promises, but if you can keep the trucks running, I want to keep you.”

Cooper walked off happy, but Anse was amazed. The thought of G.C. Cooper and Heinrich Emmerling hunting, and more importantly, drinking together, drove Jackson’s letter out of his mind.

****

The crew cab pick-up seemed to hit every bump and hole in the road. Leonore von Wilke was sure that the driver was aiming at them. After the train ride from Magdeburg, this reminder of the normal road quality in Thuringia was tiring. Living in Magdeburg had made her soft. But, she reminded herself, the big truck was more comfortable than a coach. Not much faster though, she thought as a party of mounted constabulary trotted past the truck. But this was the third time they had passed today. Horses have to rest, trucks don’t.

The thought of trucks reminded her of Anse, setting up a trucking service in Suhl. Damn the man, he had no right to interfere with my life this way. She had to admit that Anse could have suggested this course of action and she might have agreed. They had talked of marriage and were technically engaged. But it was little more than a comfortable fiction to keep other men away. She smiled. Well, it was a bit more than just a fiction. Damn the man, arranging this transfer to Suhl went beyond suggesting. He could have asked. He’s treating me like baggage.

She had liked being a captain in TacRail. What was this Mechanical Support Division she was being transferred to? Who was going to take over the communications classes at the transportation school? Was she asked? No! It was pack up, and take two of her best radio operators to Suhl. And to add insult, she was not transferred in rank; there were apparently few captains in Mechanical Support. Lieutenant Leonore von Wilke was not happy. Damn Anse for fixing this and damn General Jackson, too.

Lost in her thoughts, Leonore let her hand release the grab handle above the door. At that moment the truck driver decided that the upcoming set of ruts were too big to dodge so chose to drive on through. The predictable result was that Leonore bounced against the hamper in the middle of the back seat, and her leg banged into the cooler on the truck floor. “Damn! Treated like baggage.”

“Ma’am, are you all right?”

Leonore looked across the seat to Gertrude Barth, her fellow backseat passenger, and realized that she had spoken out loud.

“I’m fine, Trudi. The bump just caught me by surprise.” Leonore saw the concern fade from the young radio operator’s face. She questioned herself, was I ever that young? The other radio operator, Jost Fassheber, had turned to look from his seat in the front. Another young one; he couldn’t be more than twenty-eight, and he was the oldest of her people. Even the driver was young; she doubted he had seen nineteen years yet.

The other drivers in this convoy looked even younger. The sergeant commanding looked like he had started shaving last week. The other passengers were also young women and men. Sometimes she felt like she hadn’t joined an army but the “Children’s Crusade.”

And now she was talking to herself; the children would think she was a crazy old woman. Damn that man.

****

Anse was cursing his maimed left arm as he and the Berenger brothers were laying out the next day’s schedule. The damaged muscle meant he had to limit his driving to level ground and good roads. Level ground and good roads were rare around Suhl.

“Okay, Eudo, you’ll take the northern run and Achille, you take the western trip. You’ll both drive Blazers with winches and no trailers. That way you can help anyone who gets into trouble.”

When the brothers nodded in agreement Anse noticed that Stefan Bocker, one of Kirk Franklin’s recruits, had come into the garage and was looking around.

“Yo, Stefan, we’re back here.”

Bocker looked relieved and hurried to join the trio. “Herr Hatfield, you are needed at Herr Franklin’s office immediately.”

Hatfield thought for a second. What could Kirk want with him? Lieutenant Franklin was head of the liaison office to the city council and thus was effectively in command of the National Guard contingent in Suhl, all six men. But he never interfered with the trucking service other than to have Cooper service the old truck assigned to them. In fact, he spent most of his time talking to the council and inspecting weapons orders for the army. Oh well, there was only one way to find out.

“Stefan, run back and tell Lieutenant Franklin I’m on my way.”

****

Kirk Franklin had a relieved look on his face when Anse arrived in front of the building that housed the liaison office. The former garrison barracks was a busy place since it also housed the mounted constabulary office.

The first words out of Kirk’s mouth confirmed Anse’s impression. “Boy, am I glad to see you! I just received written orders from Jackson that you were to be present to meet this convoy. The constabulary patrol reported they were less than two miles out.”

“What’s all this about, Kirk? I have some parts coming in, and one of the trailers is supposed to stay in Suhl, but . . . ”

Franklin shook his head. “I have no idea what’s going on. The orders did say you would want to talk to one of the replacements.”

“Replacements?”

“Yep,” Franklin nodded. “I’m about to lose Ralph Difabri, and Pete Chehab is already gone. There are supposed to be a couple of radio operators to replace Ralph and a junior officer to replace Pete. I’ve been asking for a trained doctor or a couple of EMTs, instead I lose my sergeant and radio operator. To top it off, we’ll probably lose Pete’s wife, Penny, as a nurse. ”

Anse still didn’t see why he was supposed to be here. Jackson obviously wanted him here because of one of the replacements. But who was coming into town? “Got any names on the replacements, Kirk?”

“Not a clue, Anse. I’m not even sure of how many, other than the lieutenant and the radio operators. I’m still hoping for a medic or a nurse.”

****

The first person Leonore recognized when the truck came to a stop in the square was Anse. For once he was not dressed in a coverall, but a rather neat denim jacket worn over a pair of locally-made trousers. He was standing next to a man wearing a tie-dyed camouflage jacket with a lieutenant’s insignia on his shoulder, obviously the commander, Kirk Franklin.

Ignoring Anse, Leonore walked straight to Franklin and saluted. “Leonore von Wilke, reporting with a party of five.” She refused to use her new rank; the man would surely recognize her collar insignia.

Franklin looked at the four men and women who had assumed a line behind her. “I was expecting only you and two radio operators, Lieutenant. Introduce your people. We’ll have to find a place for them to live, Suhl is getting crowded. And relax. We’re not that big on the formalities.”

Leonore used a formal tone as she pointed them out. “On the end is Specialist Jost Fassheber, my senior radio operator. Next to him is his wife, Specialist Hille Bach, a trained EMT and a Suhl native. Next is Specialist Gertrude Barth, my junior radio operator. On the end is Corporal Kurt Hennel, a trained MP, and also a native of Suhl. So, Lieutenant Franklin, you only need to find quarters for myself and Trudi. The others have made arrangements to live with their relatives.”

Franklin looked a bit peeved. “Excellent, Ms. von Wilke. But I did say we were informal here in Suhl, so relax. If we used titles in conversation it would get confusing. Since I’m a lieutenant, you’re a lieutenant and even Anse here is a lieutenant, it can get messy. First names are fine between us. Oh, you remember Anse Hatfield? He is building a trucking service for the city.”

Leonore turned to Anse as if she had just seen him. “Yes, sir, I remember Lieutenant Hatfield. We were at one time engaged to be married. Now if I can dismiss my people, you can show me those quarters.”

****

“Okay, what did I do wrong and how do I fix it?” Anse asked.

Kirk Franklin had wisely walked away from the problem; no one wants to be in a train wreck. He had informed Leonore that Anse would show her to the large house that the liaison group rented close to the city garage.

Now Anse was asking the big question.

“Anderson, I think you have fixed quite enough already.”

Anse knew she was angry. That was the only time she used his full name.

After a few steps Leonore continued, “As to what you did wrong, that is obvious. I am here.”

Anse had to ask. “Just how am I supposed to have arranged this? Frank Jackson is not my best buddy, you know that. And you were in the USE Army not the National Guard. The only pull I have there is with Colonel Pitre, and I doubt she would have listened if I asked her for your transfer. She wouldn’t want to lose her best officer.”

“I don’t doubt that she would listen to you. She did sign the orders transferring me to the Thuringia-Franconia National Guard. You must have started ”˜fixing things’ as soon as you got my last letter. Anderson, I am not helpless nor am I stupid. You are treating me like I was both.”

She walked faster. “We should have discussed this before you started pulling strings. I could have stayed in Magdeburg and you could have joined me there. Instead I am ordered here, and given a make-work job after being demoted in rank.” Leonore gave a sigh. “I am not happy with you right now. You have broken our agreement to treat each other as equals.”

Anse felt like screaming. He hadn’t done anything to deserve this. He hadn’t done anything. Instead, he asked in a quiet voice, “What letter was that? The last letter of yours I got was from two months back. You had just gotten orders to continue your assignment at the OCS and transportation school.”

Leonore stopped walking and turned to face him. “Honestly, no evasions or half truths, you didn’t get my letter from last month?”

“I haven’t gotten a letter from you in two months. I was worried, but I figured you were busy setting up classes. Just what was in this letter that was important enough for me to violate our agreement of equality?”

Leonore smiled and Anse felt a burst of hope. It surprised him some times how much he cared for her.

“Well, Herr Hatfield, our last meeting in Grantville was more productive than you thought. I am schwanger . . . enceinte. What is the English word? Pregnant? Yes, that is the word. I am pregnant. Or as you hillbillies would so crudely but accurately put it, I am knocked up. And you are the knocker.”

“But . . . How . . . ”

“I think you know how, since you were there when it happened.” Leonore chuckled. It wasn’t a happy chuckle.

Anse stepped back. He had never thought about this. Damn, he was fifty-five years old—too old to be starting a new family. He well remembered that last meeting. He had used showing the Berenger brothers the road to Grantville as an excuse to get three days with Leonore, who was between classes. Now he was seeing the results of shirking his duties. But this was not the time to kick himself; it was time to deal with the result. And deal with a seriously pissed off Leonore.

“Besides this letter to me, which I remind you I never received, who else knows?” Anse was finally able to ask.

Leonore thought a moment. “Only the doctor and maybe a couple of nurses. Well, Adriane went to the Medical Center in Grantville with me, so she knows.”

Anse fought to keep his voice calm. “Adriane? You mean Adriane Hall who runs the tram shop?” Adriane was the fixer. After all, it was Adriane who had gotten Leonore and him together on their first date.

“But of course. How many Adrianes do we know?” Leonore had started walking again, but slowly.

Anse stepped out to walk beside her. “Then it’s a good bet that Colonel Beth knows. Adriane exchanges letters with her every week. And the colonel does have a lot of pull with Frank Jackson.”

“Maybe, but I doubt Adriane would betray my confidence. And Colonel Beth would never interfere in my personal life this way.”

Anse smiled. “So you think friends shouldn’t interfere? Back when I was crawling into a hole because of my wounds, who was it that pulled me out and threatened to kick my ass? Who was it that convinced me to come to Suhl in the first place? That was you, my dearest friend. And I thank you every time I wake up in the morning.”

“That was different, you were . . . ” Leonore’s voice trailed off.

“I was making a mess of my life and you saved me from myself. I would bet Adriane and Beth are saying the same thing right now. And you know how Frank Jackson thinks of the colonel. She’s the daughter he never had. Nora, we have been well and truly set up.”

Leonore stopped walking and appeared lost in thought for a long moment. Just when Anse was about to interrupt, she said, “Anse, you may be right. If you didn’t arrange this, and I believe you didn’t, someone did. And Colonel Beth and Adriane are the most likely culprits.”

“That’s water under the bridge, but I’m glad you believe me. The question now is, what do we do? I can start making arrangements and we can have a church wedding within the month. Or we could go back and get Kirk Franklin to tie the knot tomorrow. I think it’s within his power as commander of the liaison group, if you want just a civil wedding.”

Leonore reached out a touched his shoulder. “Stop, you’re fixing again. Besides, you’re forgetting the most important part. You have never asked me to marry you. I know we’ve both assumed it would happen in the future, but this is now.”

Anse recognized a clue when it hit him in the face. He knelt in the muddy street and took Leonore’s hands in his. Much to the amusement of passing pedestrians, he asked, “Leonore von Wilke, dearest lady, love of my heart, will you make my life perfect? May I be your partner in life and love? Will you marry me?”

Leonore smiled and touched his cheek. “Oh, stand up. You don’t have to win my heart. And you’re getting dirty. And your answer is yes. With so many people throwing us together, who am I to resist?”

Two days later

“Let me do most of the talking,” Rudolph Amberger stated as he and Anse walked toward the church. “My brother Paulus is a stickler for details of faith and will be looking for reasons to refuse your request. He dislikes all the changes you Americans have brought us. He has a special dislike for your concept of freedom of choice in religion. But he is a fair man and will listen to reason. You’re lucky that he’s here; our pastors before were very strict and unreasonable. Paulus has been seasoned in the small towns closer to Grantville. We just got him back in town this year.”

Anse had discovered he was supposed to arrange the wedding. Arrange a church wedding, something that he had evaded in his two previous marriages. Leonore had surprised him by preferring a church wedding. But what church? While Anse had attended various churches here in Suhl, mostly the Catholic chapel with Pat and Ursula Johnson, he had no fixed membership. He hadn’t had any church membership since he was sixteen and saw “Uncle Billy” Daniels bitten by the timber rattler he was dancing with at a Oneness Church meeting, and he doubted he should mention that to a Lutheran pastor. Because it had to be a Lutheran church. Leonore was a practicing Lutheran. Of course, she was not a member of any of the congregations in Suhl, but had letters of introduction from pastors in Magdeburg and Grantville.

He didn’t even know any of the Lutheran pastors in Suhl. That was why he enlisted the help of Rudolph Amberger. Amberger was not just a member of the city council, but the member in charge of marriage records. His brother was the pastor of a major Lutheran church in Suhl. Besides, Rudolph had become a friend.

Amberger continued, “If you’re willing to become a Lutheran, he will agree to witness the marriage. You and Lieutenant von Wilke can be married as soon as three months from now.”

Three months? There was no way Leonore wouldn’t be showing in three months. While it wouldn’t bother him, Anse was sure it would embarrass her.

“Uh . . . Rudolph, I’m not sure we want to wait that long. I was hoping for some time this month.”

“Ah, you are anxious for the pleasures of the marriage bed. Anse, it is simply not done that way for a non-Lutheran. There are protocols that Paulus will insist on. And then the intended marriage must be announced and . . . ”

“No, it’s not me that’s anxious.” Anse hunted for a way to say the obvious with out saying it. “In about six months I am not going to be the only Hatfield in Suhl. A little one will be arriving.”

Luckily Amberger was a man of the world. “Oh, you . . . Oh, I see. You should definitely let me talk to Paulus before you make your request.”

****

Pastor Paulus Amberger proved to be quite different from his older brother in appearance, but much like him in efficiency. After Anse presented him with Leonore’s letters and made the request, he asked only a few questions.

The first was the hardest. Luckily, Rudolph had coached him on the way over. “Herr Hatfield, are you willing to renounce all other religions and support the Lutheran church?”

Anse answered honestly. “Yes, as far as duties I owe to the laws of State of Thuringia-Franconia allow. I can’t deny other people the right to worship as they see fit. With that exception, I am willing.”

“I see.” The pastor thought for a moment. “That is not a problem; government is part of God’s natural order. Christians are free to serve in government, and the military, and engage in the business and vocations of the world. Laws are to be followed unless they are commandments to sin.”

Pastor Amberger smiled as he asked the next question. “Are you willing to have any children that you and your intended may produce baptized and raised as Lutherans?”

“Yes.”

“Are you willing to learn the Small Catechism and teach it to those same children?”

“Yes.”

With those points settled the pastor seemed to relax. “Herr Hatfield, do you know the Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments and the Apostle’s Creed? They are all part of the Small Catechism.”

Anse answered with a smile. “I do, but only in English. If I try to put them into German they might not come out exactly right. Besides, I learned the Methodist version. You’ll have to teach me the proper form.”

“Ah, yes, even some of the adults in my congregation have trouble remembering what they were taught in catechism class. Maybe if you attend, some of the worst of them will also attend.”

The pastor turned to his brother. “Rudolph, I expect you to attend. It is shameful what you do with the Apostle’s Creed.”

Then, turning back to Anse he stated, “I see nothing that would prevent me from witnessing the marriage of Leonore von Wilke and yourself. Would three weeks from now, on the south steps of the church, be suitable?”

On the other side of the City Square

With her second day at work behind her, Leonore was finally getting a handle on her new job. It was more than just supervising the radio operators. That was pretty cut and dried. What Lieutenant Franklin and the liaison group really needed was an office manager. Leonore, with her experience in running the communications platoon for TacRail and setting up classes at the transportation school, was a natural fit as an organizer. It helped that she spoke—and, more importantly, read—four languages besides her native German, five if you included her ability to speak German with an Austrian accent. The duties she had inherited from Sergeant Chehab she had quickly passed on to Corporal Hennel. He had the makings of a fine sergeant. Besides, the Suhl merchants would find it easier to deal with a man, even a young man, than with a woman.

“Ma’am, it is time to quit for the day,” Martin Meurer called from the door. Martin had become her messenger shortly after she had discovered him following her just yesterday. When questioned he had revealed that he had been assigned by the CoC for her protection in Suhl. Rather than have him wait for her outside, Leonore had put him to work. Besides, how much protection could a young boy be? She was going to have a long talk with Corporal Hennel’s cousin Jorg, the CoC organizer here in Suhl, about that. But until that discussion Martin was her messenger and—to use that useful up-time title—go-fer.

“Yes, Martin, I think I we’re done for today. It is time for you to escort me to Anse and go to your dinner.” Leonore stopped and studied Martin. He was too thin. “Better yet, you will join us for dinner. That way you can protect us both.”

****

The two had just left the liaison offices when they heard a voice calling, “Leonore! Leonore von Wilke, I need to speak to you.”

Leonore turned and looked at the approaching man. He was the last man she expected to call her name on a street in Suhl. And the last man she wanted to see.

Her voice was cold. “Lothar, when father ordered that no one in the family was to speak to me, my greatest joy was that I would never see your face again. What do you want?”

Before the man could speak Martin stepped between him and Leonore. She noticed that his left hand was under the back of his coat. Obviously Martin was armed.

“Martin, stand aside. This is Lothar von Wilke, my older brother. But stay close. He is not a friend.”

“Ah, dear sister, so cold. I could almost think you were unhappy to see me.” Lothar was careful to stand well away from her. And never took his eyes off Martin.

“The last time I saw you was when you threw my portrait in the fire and declared you had no sister. I repeat, what do you want?”

“But that was at father’s orders. You had refused the marriage he had planned for you and taken up with that mercenary officer. He would have disowned me as well as you if I had not followed his wishes. You were dishonoring the family name.”

“I could almost believe you, but I remember the joy on your face when I was ordered out of the house.” Leonore started to walk away.

Lothar took a step closer and raised his hand. “Wait, I am head of the family now and I am rescinding Father’s order disowning you. I have been searching for you ever since his death.”

Leonore was taken aback. She hadn’t known her father was dead. “Father is dead?”

Lothar seemed pleased to have upset her, or maybe just pleased that she had stopped walking away. “Yes, he died during that madness your former friends in the so called Committees of Correspondence performed. Their ‘Krystalnacht,’ whatever that meant. No, he was not executed. Father was never a witch-burner or Jew hater; he died of apoplexy. The thought that inferior peasants would rise up against their betters that way just killed him. You did well to leave that crowd.”

Leonore turned to face her brother. “I have never left the Committees. And we disagree on timing, not tactics. Be careful what you say, brother, Martin is also a member.” She had noticed that Martin’s left hand was no longer under his coat, but now held a small pistol.

Lothar had also noticed and taken a step back. “Sister, send your servant away. I have no wish to spread our business before the lower orders.”

“Martin is not a servant, he is a friend. But to get this over with quickly . . . ” Leonore drew her revolver from beneath her coat. “Martin, step out of earshot. I am safe and armed. I want to hear what Lothar has to say and he is afraid of you.”

Lothar spoke in a lowered voice. “A friend? Sister, you’re picking up strays again. And this puppy is showing his teeth.” He waved his hand. “No, it’s unimportant. As I said, I have been searching for you since Father’s death. Imagine my surprise to find your upcoming marriage to be the subject of street gossip in a city I was just passing through. I must say, you have a positive talent for picking unsuitable men. First a penniless soldier and now this American wanderer.”

Leonore hissed with exasperation. “Lothar, I’m tiring of this conversation. Get to the point.”

“The point, dear sister, is quite simple. I am offering you a return to the family and will arrange a suitable marriage to a man almost our equal in status.” Lothar was almost glowing with self-satisfaction.

Leonore just stared at him. “And what do you expect in return?”

“You will give up this madness of being a camp follower in the army of the Swede who claims to be our ruler. And you will stop all communications with the Committees. And, of course, you will accept my choice for your future husband.”

“Do you also want me to act like I enjoy being a useless fool?” Leonore laughed in his face. “Lothar, you’re just stating father’s ideas in a new form. You’d marry me off to an old rich Ritter with lands you could add to the family’s holdings, or sell me to a rich merchant to save you from your debts. I will have to decline your offer. I enjoy my life too much as it is; I’m not going to let you run it. Goodbye, Lothar.” Leonore started to walk away.

“Sister, you are assuming you will have a life after your activities in Jena become public. I did say I had been searching for you, and I found out how you lived after your supposed husband, Captain Kasischke, died. I doubt the old man you plan to marry will want a woman with your reputation. And even the Swede’s army might not accept you if your past were to become public knowledge.”

Leonore laughed again. “Lothar, you’ve been listening to street gossip. Next, you’ll mention the ten men I am supposed to have murdered and my house that was supposed to be a brothel. Go ahead. Tell Anderson. He’ll laugh at you . . . if he doesn’t shoot you.” Leonore waved to Martin. “Come, Martin. Let’s go get Anse and go to dinner. We’re wasting our time with this person.”

Ten steps later she turned. “By the way, brother dear, you will be happy to know I intend to follow American custom and take my husband’s last name. So you will be the last von Wilke.”

The Next Day

Anse was getting ready to start the day when Achille Berenger leaned into the office. “Boss, there’s a man outside asking to see you. He says he is Lieutenant von Wilke’s brother.”

Anse hardened his resolve. He would not harm this man. Ever since last night when Leonore had told him of her brother’s demands, he had been attempting to keep his temper under control. “Tell him I’ll be right out. I don’t want him in my office.”

To help him resist temptation, Anse left his pistol belt hanging on the back of his chair when he walked out of the office. Killing your future in-law is not the way to start a marriage, even if the man is a toad.

Outside in the street, a well dressed man greeted him. “Good morning, Herr Hatfield. I am Lothar von Wilke. I understand that my sister is perpetrating a fraud on you and has convinced you to marry her. There are a few things you should know . . . ”

That was as far as Lothar got before Anse totally lost his temper. His work hardened right hand seemed to move of its own volition as he hit Lothar in the face open-handed. Then Anse followed through with a backhand to the other side of Lothar’s face. The sight of the jerk’s bleeding face just made him even angrier. Anse grabbed Lothar’s coat front with his ruined left hand, and rained a steady storm of slaps to the man’s face.

“What’s that?” Slap. “I didn’t hear you.” Slap. “You want to apologize for insulting Leonore?” Slap. “Speak up, I can’t hear you.” Slap. “You’re a toad and an asshole.” Slap. “Threaten me or mine again and I’ll beat you silly.” Slap.

Finally, Anse shoved Lothar away. Lothar’s feet tangled and he ended up sitting in the muddy street, and then he reached to the dagger on his belt.

Anse stood over him. “Pull that pig sticker and see what happens. Go ahead and pull it.” Anse kicked Lothar’s leg. “Or you can crawl away and bleed someplace else.”

Lothar waved his hands. “No more.” When he tried to get to his feet, Anse stepped up and kicked his hand out from under him.

“I said crawl, so crawl like the snake you are.”

Lothar crawled away, crawled to the other side of the street, much to the amusement of the crowd that had gathered. Finally he was pulled to his feet by a man wearing a watchman’s armband.

Lothar clutched the watchman’s arm. “I am Lothar von Wilke, a Pomeranian Ritter. I have just been assaulted.”

The watchman looked across the street to where Anse was still standing. Then he nodded. “I saw and heard the whole thing. You should leave town, Herr von Wilke. Anse Hatfield is a personal friend of the watch commander. And he seems to have developed a slight dislike for you. I would hate to see that man really angry.”

****

“That was well done. It’s unfortunate that you don’t keep dogs. I would have set my dogs on him when he crawled away.” Rudolph Amberger was watching Anse soak his hand and commenting on the street action he had just witnessed.

“I shouldn’t have lost my temper. Where did he go?”

Amberger grinned. “When last seen, he was running like a madman toward the eastern gate. Losing your temper with your in-laws is part of marriage. I think some people even put it in their vows.”

Anse’s mind was pulled back to the up coming wedding. “Vows. Shoot, I have to recite vows at the wedding.”

“But of course. They call the pastor’s duty being a witness for a purpose, you know. But what is there to recite? You just say you take her as your wife and she says the same. Then Paulus registers the marriage. Then he will deliver the morning message. It’s that simple.”

“No. Leonore deserves something special. Something that’s for her alone.”

Three Weeks Later

Anse pulled his jacket straight. “Well, I’m as ready as I’m going to get. Let’s get it over with.” He was surprised to be nervous. Come on, man, you’ve done this before. He joined Pat Johnson and Heinrich Emmerling waiting near the door. Heinrich had shown up two days before, just in time for the bachelor party, which he had pronounced a wonderful custom, and stayed for the wedding.

“Ah, the happy groom. Leonore will not be disappointed,” Heinrich commented as he held out a glass. “Do you need a touch of liquid courage? I find that a touch of schnapps does wonders to settle the nerves.” Heinrich’s touch looked like about six ounces.

“No I . . . ” Anse was interrupted by a knock on the door. When he opened it he saw the smiling face of Rudolph Amberger.

“Good, you’re dressed. I was afraid I was going to have to wake you. You’re late; all your friends are outside to escort you to church.”

“What?”

“Yes. It is the custom for you to have a procession to the church. This is your wedding day, after all.”

“But I was going to go get Leonore. She doesn’t know that many people in Suhl. Who’s going to be with her?”

Pat tapped Anse’s shoulder. “Already taken care of; Ursula is organizing the wives of the liaison group. Plus the CoC is sending a few people; they like Leonore’s pamphlet writing. Then there is the liaison group itself. And every American in Suhl that’s not here in this room. So, I’d bet there are more people with her than with you. Let’s move it. As Rudolph says, we’re late.”

Outside there were at least twenty people. The drivers and mechanics from the trucking service with five Jaegers headed the group. Anse noticed that G.C. had managed to recover from the bachelor party.

Anse turned to Rudolph. “How do I feed all these people after the wedding? I only planned on twenty!”

Rudolph pointed to his house next door. “Already arranged. The Jaegers brought in four deer and seven boars. My people have been cooking for days. It’s not a gift, though. I’ll send you a bill. Now, move! We’re late.”

The walk was interesting. It seemed like half the city was waving and offering well wishes. Anse knew he didn’t have that many friends. He thought, they must be starved for entertainment.

Then they were at the church and Anse had eyes only for Leonore as her party approached. She looked beautiful, and the smile on her face was a wonder to see.

The two of them climbed the steps of the church followed by their witnesses. Pastor Paulus greeted them at the door of the church with a smile. “If you wish to marry, repeat your vows to each other.”

Anse, nervously at first and then with a firm voice stated the vows he and Paulus had agreed on in catechism class. The vows Leonore was hearing for the first time.

“I, Anderson Theodore Hatfield, do take you, Leonore, to be my wedded wife. To honor, respect and to hold your needs before my own. To cherish and keep you as my true love for all of my life. This day I affirm before God and all witnesses my undying loyalty and pledge to forsake all others for you. To uphold you in sickness and health, to be your best friend, sharing in our happiness and sorrow, to always have compassion and love without reservation or reward. Though life may be rich or poor, I will hold to you alone. As you were by my side in my darkest hours, so will I try to be a light in your life. I will lift you up and support you in laughter and in tears. As you cared for me in times of infirmity, I will keep you sheltered when storms arise. I will comfort and console you. I will be the rock that you stand on, the staff that you lean on. Leonore, I can not offer you the summer of my life, but I promise the autumn will be brisk and vibrant. I promise to be a companion worthy of your precious friendship. To you, this day, before God, I pledge this vow.”

Leonore had tears of joy in her eyes as she stated, “I, Leonore, take you, Anderson, to be my husband, and these things I promise you. I will be faithful to you and honest with you. I will respect you. I will trust you. I will help you and care for you. I will share my life with you. As you have inspired me to follow my dreams, so will I strive to help you achieve your goals. I will encourage you in all your endeavors and nourish your spirit as we walk through this life together. As you love me, so will I love you. I will be by your side, a part of one person, but above all else, I will allow you to be you. Anderson, our miracle lies in the path we have chosen together. I enter into this marriage with you knowing that the true magic of love is not to avoid changes, but to navigate them successfully. I vow this until death parts us.”

“You will now accompany me to the church register where your marriage will be registered and your witnesses will sign.” It didn’t seem to matter to the pastor that Pat was officially a Catholic, though he made sure that Rudolph also signed.

Anse sat beside Leonore through the following service. And it was mostly a blur. Only the quotation from the Gospel of Mark was familiar.

The dinner after church was more like a banquet than what Anse had planned. Kirk Franklin gave a speech. Not to be outdone, Rudolph gave a longer speech—as a politician, he had more experience. Neither made much sense to Anse. All he wanted was to be alone with Leonore.

Finally, Leonore and he were able to politely walk next door. They were followed by the sober half of the guests. Their friends called wishes for a happy marriage and earthy advice as Anse carried Leonore into the house for the first time.

When the door closed, he said, “Darling, we’re home.”

And they were.

****