Federico Ballarino stopped his mule, and studied the guards at the roadblock. They were too well uniformed to be brigands, but it wasn't unheard of for a local lord to decide to boost his income by imposing a toll. Or even robbing travelers outright. Indeed, it was out of concern of being robbed that he was dressed rather below his rank.
Uh, oh. He was definitely being watched. One of the guardsmen waved him to come forward. He reconciled himself to the inevitable, and urged his mount into a trot. Hopefully this wouldn't be too expensive. He prudently had his main purse well concealed.
"An' who might ye be, an' wha' be the reason for ye takin' the road to Grantville this fine day," said the apparent leader of the contingent.
It was an accent that Federico had heard before, but he had not expected to hear it in Thuringia.
"You're a Scot!"
"Indeed I am, o' one o' his Swedish Majesty's Scots Regiments, on detail t' the SOTF. But what is more t' the point is, who are ye?"
"I am Federico Ballarino."
"From one of the Italies?"
"I was born in Venice. But I have traveled widely in England, France and Germany."
"A Papist, no doubt," the Scotsman grumbled. "And wha' is your business?"
"I am here at the invitation of Axel Oxenstierna, his Majesty's Chancellor."
The Scotsman looked Federico over, and apparently was not impressed. "And I am the Queen of Sheba."
Federico frowned. "I realize that I am not dressed like a gentleman. The Germanies are not, as well you know, a good place for a traveler to look wealthy. But I have credentials. If you will permit me—." He reached slowly into his jacket, and pulled out an envelope.
The trooper took it reluctantly, opened it, and shook his head. "I don't read Latin. What does it say?"
"I have been invited to be the dancing instructor for the Princess Kristina. I was advised that she is presently residing in Grantville."
"Hmmph. It looks like the Chancellor's seal, but . . . no one has told us to expect ye . . . " He called over another guard.
"Wha' think ye o' this?" He handed over the document.
"I dinna' know," said his companion. "Seems t' me that the Princess is a wee bit too young to have a dancin' teacher."
Federico drew himself up stiffly. "I am sure you are very familiar with the customs of the Swedish court," he said drily, "but I beg to differ. She is quite old enough, from what I hear, to start lessons. She's already seven years of age."
The two guards looked at each other. "I know," chortled one, "we'll let him prove himself!" They called over their fellow guardsmen, who formed a circle around Federico. "Hey, now, we are about to have ourselves a royal performance."
They turned to Federico. "What will ye do, to show us thy mettle?"
He stared at them. "Would a Scottish Sword Dance suit you?" Now that took them by surprise. He could see that they were wondering, What have we got ourselves into? Which, Federico thought, was no better than they deserved.
But they realized that they were committed. "Aye, that'll do."
"Then lay down the crossed swords." Federico leaped onto the first quadrant, capered in place, and then moved onto the next. He traversed all four squares without looking down, and without disturbing either blade. Then he jumped away, into a final pose. "Satisfied?" he asked.
They nodded vigorously. "Sorry, sir, we meant no harm. An' who'd have thought a Venetian Papist would know one of the great Scottish dances? Would some wine and food help make us even?" Federico was agreeable. Just as well they don't know that the Scots got that dance from the French, he mused.
Federico raised his mug, saluting his new friends, then took a swig. "Ahhh . . . So why are Scotsmen standing sentry duty on the road to Grantville?"
"Just two Scotsmen actually," said the guard commander. "I'm Brian, and this big oaf is Niall. I think it would be easier for the horse to ride him than for him to ride the horse."
"Easier for the horse, perhaps," said Niall.
"Our comrades are German," continued Brian. "The Americans had a bit of trouble with Croat raiders last year. We're training the local militiamen."
"And ogling the local cheerleaders," Niall added.
"What are cheerleaders?" asked Federico.
"If you visit the high school, you'll find out. But I warn ye, I have my eyes on the tall brunette."
"You're lucky you came here when you did," confided Niall.
"The princess doesn't actually live in Grantville. She just visits, now and then. Has an official residence set aside for her use, when she comes."
Federico's eyebrows arched upward. "Then where is she dwelling? Not in Stockholm, I hope. I don't know if I can survive a Swedish winter. Italian blood, you know."
"No? Then 'tis a good thing you didn't visit Scotland in February. " Niall chuckled. "No, the princess spends most of her time in Magdeburg."
After they finished carousing, Niall offered to escort him not only into town, but directly to the princess' Grantville lodging.
"That would be very kind of you," said Federico. "But give me a few moments to change into more gentlemanly dress, so I don't give pause to anyone else we meet."
Federico studied Princess Kristina. The princess was not what he expected of a girl who was destined to be, upon the death of Gustav II Adolf, the Queen of the Swedes, Goths and Vandals, Great Princess of Finland, Duchess of Esthonia and Carelia, Lady of Ingria, Empress of the United States of Europe, and Captain-General of the State of Thuringia-Franconia. Her hair was untidy, with a piece of ribbon slipped into it, looking like red flotsam on a storm-tossed sea. Her blouse and skirt were simple, and marred with scholarly ink stains. Her shoes had low heels, like those of a man.
Somewhat uneasily, he realized that he was under equally close scrutiny. He decided it best to begin the lesson. "Principessa, I am privileged to have the opportunity to instruct you. May I ask what instruction you have received already?"
"My governess has taught me a few steps. But Lady Ulrike is not an enthusiastic dancer, she just does the minimum required for social acceptability." Lady Ulrike, at that moment, was sitting in the corner, knitting, and pretending to ignore the conversation.
Perhaps feeling that she had been too critical, Kristina added, "But she is a wonderful rider and an excellent riding instructor. I ride a few hours each day, and I owe much to her tutelage."
Federico pondered this intelligence. It was vital that he make a good first impression on the princess. He doubted that he would do so by spending an hour having her practice her reverences, or a stately pavane. And it appeared likely, given her equestrian activity, that she was in robust condition. Her skirt would not restrict her leg movements much, and she probably chose it for that very reason.
"Perhaps we can spend a little time on the cinque passe first, Your Highness. It was a great favorite of the young Queen Elizabeth of England. And, for that matter, of the old Queen Elizabeth. It is the basic step of the galliard, or as the Italians say, the gagliarda.
"Let us begin in the posture gauche, like so. Yes, the left foot in front, but weight evenly divided." It was in-between the third and fourth positions of twentieth century ballet. "We begin with a pied en l'air droit." He had leaped onto the left foot, extending the right leg low and forward. "Now we reverse." She copied him. "We repeat this pair of movements."
"Now the difficult part, the cadenza. We will make a little jump, so both feet are in the air, and bring the left foot behind, landing in the opposite pose, with right in front. Like so." He demonstrated what he meant.
"A few points. First, the timing. The music is in six counts, but there are only five steps. They are syncopated; one two three four, and five. Also, note how I complete the cadence. I land on the foot behind an instant before I bring down the one in front. If you land on both feet simultaneously, it looks as if you are a sack of grain which has been dumped on the ground. That is not considered courtly.
"So, now it is your turn."
He returned the next day. It was evident, as soon as he saw her, that she was anxious to tell him something. "Have you seen the American ballet?" she asked. "Bad, Bad Brillo? Or The Nutcracker?"
"No, Principessa, I have not. Where do they hold these ballets?"
"Different places. At the high school. Or at one of the castles. But I can show you Bad, Bad Brillo. I have it on video." She turned to Lady Ulrike. "Please, may I show Signor Ballarino my video?"
Lady Ulrike sighed. She had seen it many times already. But she knew where her duty lay. "Yes, of course. But I will expect you to be prepared to discuss the dancing, not just watch it for pleasure. This is a lesson, you know."
The governess took a black object out of a locked cabinet. It was the size of a sextodecimo, a book made of sheets folded in half four times, then cut. Lady Ulrike inserted it into the flapped slot of a strange, cubelike metal and glass device, and pressed a button.
Much to Federico's amazement, the words "Bad, Bad Brillo" filled the screen, and then, "Performed by the Grantville Ballet Company." The letters faded away and were replaced by a "moving picture." It told the story of the ram Brillo and his four ewes.
Federico quickly put aside his curiosity regarding the technology, and concentrated on the dancing.
When it was over, he said slowly, "Thank you very much for sharing that with me, Principessa."
"You liked it? I knew you would," she bubbled.
"This is the ballet of the twentieth century?" She nodded. "It is both like, and unlike, the ballet of our own day." He took a moment to decide how best to express his reactions.
"The performers were all quite young. So I suppose it must be classified as a ballet de college, that is, of the secondary schools. In France, each year, the students of rhetoric learn their parts from their dancing masters and, in August, they perform in the courtyard of their college. Thousands of people may come to watch the show." He smiled. "When I was in Paris, I was an assistant dancing master at the College de Clermont. I gave lessons, and I performed the most difficult role."
"And do they do anything like Bad, Bad Brillo?"
"It is difficult to generalize, but if a ram appeared in a ballet de college, he would not truly represent a ram. The ram would be but a metaphor for youth. Or the spirit of spring, perhaps." Kristina digested this.
"Brillo's no metaphor," she insisted. "I've seen him."
"I accept your imperial word on the subject," he said solemnly, and bowed. "But let us continue our analysis of the dance. Did you like the lifts?"
"Oh, yes, they were so graceful."
"Before the coming of the Americans, the only instance I can think of in which a man lifted a woman in a dance was in la volta. Have you heard of it?" Kristina shook her head.
"It was the English Queen Elizabeth's favorite dance. She jumped, and rode the man's knee as they turned about." Lady Ulrike frowned, but didn't say anything.
"Then there is the way the dancers walked on tip-toe."
"Frau Bitty Matowski calls it en pointe," Kristina explained. "She is the director of the ballet company."
Federico said hesitantly, "I must confess that it is not entirely clear to me how they can hold so unnatural a position."
"I asked Frau Matowski about that. She said that the dancers wear special shoes, and that it takes years of conditioning before the feet can stay en pointe, even with their help."
"Another aspect. The turn-out of the feet."
"Yes," said Kristina. "In the galliard, you had only a little."
"I teach what is a compromise between the French and Italian styles. The Italians do not use turn-out, the French favor some. But neither use the extreme form that we saw on the 'videotape.' I wonder how and when that style developed."
"You must talk to Frau Matowski. Look for her at the high school."
"I will do that, Principessa. But please note, it was not entirely foreign. Here and there were steps that looked somewhat familiar. Steps taken from a court dance here, or a folk dance there. I will show you.
"But now, it is time for you to do some dancing." He taught her a few of those steps, as well as the second most popular step of the galliard, the campanella, or little bell. After the lesson, he asked one of the guards for directions to the high school, and started walking. Frau Bitty Matowski, he wondered. A woman dancing master? How curious.
Bitty Matowski was indeed at the school, teaching a "Dance for Fitness" class. The class had already started, and Federico started to turn away. She pointed at him, and shouted, "New here? First class is free! Get in line!" He found an empty spot on the floor, and joined in. Some of the participants were clearly having trouble keeping up with the pace. It wasn't a problem for him.
The teacher kept eyeing him. He hoped he wasn't doing something wrong. The class came to an end.
Bitty didn't waste any words on small talk. "Are you a professional dancer?"
"Yes, Frau Matowski,. I am the dancing master Federico Ballarino, of Venice."
"Please, call me Bitty. Or Frau Bitty, if you must be formal. You are going to meet quite a few Matowskis if you are a dancer in Grantville. Your name sounds familiar—wait, you are Princess Kristina's dance teacher."
"Yes . . . " That was all he got to say.
"Boy, do we need to talk. Which nights do you have free? Have you seen any of our ballets? I know Kristina has the videotapes. Can you teach our group any of the down-time dances?"
Federico wondered if he would ever get a word in. In desperation, Federico raised both hands, palms toward her, in what he hoped was the universal signal for, "Stop! I can't answer any of your questions if you don't give me time to speak!"
Bitty stopped talking and smiled sheepishly. "Did you want to say something?"
"You are very kind to ask, Frau Bitty. Yes, I have seen Bad, Bad Brillo. It was quite enjoyable. I do hope you will let me see some more videotapes. And perhaps you have some books on the dances of your time, that I might borrow?
"As for teaching your group, I am not sure . . . . My first responsibility is to see to the needs of the princess, and I understand that she will be spending most of her time in Magdeburg. And I will be living there, too.
"That said, I am not one of the princess' main tutors. I only teach her a few hours a week. It is a great honor, of course, and I am given my maintenance, and a small stipend, but I could use some additional income.
"I had hoped that once I had made her acquaintance, I might put myself forward to tutor her in another subject. But she seems to be amply supplied with instructors in every other discipline.
"So yes, I would like to teach others. And clearly, I want to come to Grantville to study the videotapes you mentioned. But isn't Grantville many miles away from Magdeburg?"
Bitty shook her head. "Almost 160 miles, but don't worry about that. You can ride post, or take the motor ferry, from Magdeburg to Halle. That's seventy miles, and you can do it in a day."
"And then you can ride the railroad the rest of the way to Grantville. That's even faster."
"You've seen our cars? They have engines inside that turn their wheels. Well, imagine a special car with a very powerful engine, pulling several unpowered cars along metal topped rails. The rails are like a slick dance floor; they're easy to move over. You can travel from Halle to Grantville in a few hours."
"Amazing . . . . Well, after a week or two, I will have a better idea of how often I will be meeting with the princess, and then I can consider other commitments.
"But is there enough demand for dance instruction here in Grantville to make it worthwhile to bring me here on a regular basis? If not, it would probably be better for me to find another patron in Magdeburg."