It was late August, 1632, when Georg Bauer climbed out of the ditch he'd been digging for Jena's new sewer line. Sweat was still pouring off him when he first heard about Grantville.
Almost twenty-two, with dark hair and a strong build, Georg was the fourth son of a farmer who threw him out after he beat one of his brothers senseless. His older brother had been an overbearing bully and Georg knew his father would never willingly let him leave the farm without a major cause. So he gave him one. Georg soon found a small town and was a tough for a year until it was destroyed by one of the passing armies. Escaping unhurt, he joined another army as a mercenary. After almost dying of camp fever three months later, Georg decided any place an army wasn't in Germany would be healthier. So one night while he was supposed to be on guard duty, he slipped away, ending up in Jena ten days ago.
Georg poured cup after cup of water down his throat during his break. "Hans, who's the big blond with the short hair talking with the boss?" he asked one of his fellow ditchdiggers.
"That's Herr Chip Jenkins," Hans answered, taking a quick glance. "He works with the Jena Committee of Correspondence. He drops by here every now and then. He also does some administrative work for this project. I hear he's also the son of a rich landowner in Grantville. Came here less than a year ago. After the Americans captured that small mercenary army."
"Grantville? Doesn't sound German."
"You're right. I hear some witchcraft dropped the entire town west of Rudolstadt. They call themselves Americans and say they're from across the Atlantic Ocean. Some say that no one has to work hard there, there's as much light at night as there is in daytime and they have carriages that don't need horses. Bunch of crap, I say. You want to find out about it, ask Herr Jenkins. Break's over," Hans said when the bell rang again. He picked up his shovel and jumped down into the ditch.
That evening at the crowded Crazy Fox tavern, Georg was hesitant about walking up to Herr Jenkins and asking anything. The Crazy Fox had a different feel. It took several moments to figure out why. Then it came to him. It was the women! Granted this wasn't a low tavern but somehow the atmosphere was different from the usual respectable neighborhood tavern as well. There was more . . . vibrancy. Here, while there were barmaids and a few women who looked like they might be prostitutes, there were many other women—maids, laundresses, common working women, wives of working men, older and younger women. In fact, he didn't take a count but there seemed to be far more women in the room than men and they seemed to be in anticipation.
Herr Jenkins was standing near a table with a small mug of beer in his hand. For one with such a position, he seemed remarkably accessible. He was joking with the men and women, occasionally winking humorously. He was not slim but Georg could distinguish a muscular body under his clothing. Tall, inches taller than Georg, Herr Jenkins didn't act at all like a wealthy landowner's son. Certainly not the one whose father owned the land Georg's father and brothers farmed. Arrogant snot. Perhaps like Georg, Herr Jenkins had been thrown off the land.
Then what looked like a rough customer carrying a short quarterstaff walked in. He tapped on Herr Jenkins' shoulder, said something into his ear and Herr Jenkins followed the man out the door. Since two or three other young men, all dressed like the local students followed, Georg did too.
Out on the dark street, a young man who'd obviously had too much to drink was singing loudly and off-key. He wasn't dressed like most of the local workmen but rather like one of the university students. Herr Jenkins walked over to the young man. Facing him, he put his hands on the student's shoulders. He softly talked for a short while before hugging the student to his chest and then putting his arm around the student's shoulders. The two young men walked away towards the city gate.
"What was that all about?" Georg asked the student next to him.
"One of Chip's old students just found out today that he's come into his inheritance," the young man said blandly. "Kurt was happy to be his own master but on the other hand, he didn't want his father to die. Besides, this means he'll have to leave the university and go home to manage his late father's estate. So he was very drunk."
"Oh . . . I didn't know Herr Jenkins was a professor."
"He's not. He's a docent, a teacher at the university, but all of his students are close to him," the other man said and turned to go back to the tavern.
Half an hour later, the same young man stood up at the end of the tavern. "We're going to start a meeting of the sanitation subcommittee shortly, so those of you who don't want to learn about why you should keep flies off your food may leave." Georg looked around him as several workmen grimaced and finished their meals quickly before leaving. Most of the women on the other hand, took places at the tables nearest the young man.
Just as Georg stepped into the street behind the departing workmen, Herr Jenkins approached the tavern. "Uh, Herr Jenkins?" Georg asked, taking off his hat, holding it nervously between his hands.
"Uh, Herr Jenkins, I, uh, was wondering. I mean, my name is Georg Bauer and I, uh, just started working here in Jena, uh, digging the ditch for the sewer . . . "
"Uh, Herr Jenkins, I, uh, wanted to know about Grantville. Is it true what they say?" he blurted out. "I mean, witch . . . no, uh, by some means and uh, lights that . . . "
"Probably," Chip answered humorously. "No streets of silver, though. It would be easier for you to just go there for a few days than for you to believe what I'd tell you. Not everyone who goes there wants to stay because of our different customs. It is very different from Jena. If you want to work and are prepared to change, there are jobs that will pay much more than what you're making now."
"Uh, thank you, Herr Jenkins," Georg answered quickly. "Uh, I hate to ask but, uh . . . "
"If you want to leave the work here to go to Grantville, I can probably persuade your boss to hire you back on. In fact, come on inside and I'll write you a note of recommendation to someone I know."
Georg couldn't believe his luck. Herr Jenkins was going to recommend him? After just meeting him? Fantastic!
Chip got a piece of paper from Jan, the tavern keeper and scrawled a quick note. He folded and was about to seal it when he looked at Georg. "I assume you don't read or speak English. This is a note to the head man at one of the businesses my father owns. It gives your name and says you've been working here as a ditchdigger." Chip used the wax from a candle to seal the note. "Follow the Saale down to Rudolstadt. When the river bends to the south, follow the road that goes west. Ask anyone on that road where Grantville is. When you get to Grantville, ask anyone where the Laughing Laundress Company is. Do you have all that?"
"Oh, yes, sir. Thank you, Herr Jenkins." Georg tucked the note in his pouch. "Thank you. Thank you," he repeated and practically ran out the door.
"Who was that?" Jan asked.
"One of the ditchdiggers." Chip sighed. "Give you two to one odds that he'll be back in Jena in less than a week."
"I don't make sucker bets," Jan said, chuckling.
As soon as Georg saw the macadam road, he knew Grantville was definitely different. He tried to imagine how many men it must have taken to build such a wide, flat, smooth road and shook his head. He also had no idea what was the purpose of the double yellow stripe in the middle of the road. Guards had stopped him shortly after he'd turned west. After answering a few questions and having a medic look at him, he was free to proceed to Grantville.
An old man with a donkey pulling a small cart loaded with produce was passed through while Georg was being questioned and inspected. Georg quickly overtook him. The man seemed happy for some company.
"That's the school over there where the older students go," the old man said, waving at a large brick building above them on the hillside a short while later. "Few weeks ago, Gustavus Adolphus himself rode in with his cavalry. Killed a bunch of Croat cavalry who had come to slaughter the children in the school. One was my Martha. She's sixteen now. But between the men, even some women of Grantville and Gustavus Adolphus' men, they killed lots of those bastards."
"You mean, you let your girl that old go to school rather than making her work at home or somewhere else to earn money? How can you afford it?" Georg asked, surprised.
"Why not?" the man asked with a twisted smile. "Don't cost me nothing and girls are just as smart as boys. Well, I don't know that for a fact but my Martha's smarter than her two older brothers. Speaks English now and is talking about becoming a bookkeeper, too. I was farming here and we were visiting my brother in Rudolstadt when what they call the Ring of Fire happened. Practically everyone our family knew was gone and this place was here instead. Some call it witchcraft but I don't know. I didn't know of any witches living anywhere near us. There aren't any here in Grantville as far as I can tell."