June 1634, Stockholm
“It’s a dump,” Sandra whispered as she looked around the city her lunatic husband had dragged her to. It was only remarkable in its appearance of bland unattractiveness. She could tell its inhabitants were energetically improving it from all the construction going on, but compared to Grantville and Magdeburg, it seemed like a sleepy village. She sighed as she turned to watch her husband dragging a trunk down the dock. Rob, what have you gotten us into?
Robert Aronian, head of the Grantville Credit Union, had been hired as a consultant for the new Swedish Riksbank, with the support of the king no less. The king, along with merchants from Sweden and elsewhere, had drawn investments together and taken out huge loans to hire a slew of foreigners knowledgeable in banking in hopes of benefiting from better financing. Now that the war with the League of Ostend was mostly over, the plans were developing rapidly. Robert was the latest hire. Paid an obscenely large fee and even shares, Robert had uprooted his family from their friends, their community and even their plumbing.
“Don’t worry, honey. I’m sure whatever it is, it’ll only take a couple months, three tops,” he reassured her.
“Herr Aronian!” They turned to see a young man pacing toward them, waving his arms. “We didn’t expect you for another few days.”
“Hans, it’s good to see you. Yeah, the winds were pretty favorable or something, so we’re early.” Hans Hering had worked at the credit union from early on, then had moved to the new Federal Reserve. A brilliant and charming man, the new Swedish bank had hired him months ago.
“That’s good; you can be one of the first to see it.” Taking Robert by the arm, he pulled him toward another ship that was docked beside a large crane. It was lowering a crate into a waiting wagon. With a few feet left, the cable jerked and the crate fell with a loud crack. Hans quickly ran over and inspected the damage.
He leaned in and whispered, “If that thing is broken, you’ll be next to hang from the crane.”
The crane operator turned ghostly pale, “I’m sorry, sir. I’m sorry. It won’t happen again.”
When he returned, Hans smiled. “It’s fine, there’s no damage, I think.”
“What is ‘it’?”
“Our printing press, newest model, the Johnny-4.”
“Wait, they usually use those for money,” Robert blurted, “You’re printing money?”
Hans turned to him with an incredulous face. “No, Herr Aronian. You are.”
They had rented a house in the middle of Stadsholmen, the main island of Stockholm and Hans had been gracious enough to let them use his wagons.
“Printing paper money was the emperor’s idea, though I definitely thought it was a good one. I’m sorry that you didn’t know about it beforehand. Herr Kock will visit soon; he’s the boss so he can fill you in.” He reined in the horses, got down from the wagon and grabbed one of their trunks. “Here’s your place. I have to deliver the goods, so I’ll see you another time.”
They unpacked their things quickly and Sandra attempted to get a fire going to heat some water, but couldn’t figure out how. She sighed. Being a housewife had never been her goal in life and it was evident in her lack of skills around the house. She could barely handle a stove, much less a seventeenth-century open hearth. “We should get a maid,” she told Robert while digging into a box for a lighter.
“I’ll look into that.”
Their conversations of late had been terse and stiff. Sandra was still feeling angry at him for unilaterally deciding they would all go to Stockholm. There was also a bit of guilt, she admitted. As she built up the fire, she heard Robert shuffle off to another room. For reasons she never understood, he always preferred praying alone.
The Ring of Fire had hurt all the Americans, separating them from their family and friends. But few felt the separation that Robert had experienced. He was the last of the Bahá’i, a religion that didn’t even exist yet. For the past few years, he had spent quite a bit of their savings trying to find a small place for Bahá’i to flourish. He had met with limited success and now had a handful of members.
That small start had filled Robert with huge ambition and he had decided to open a small Bahá’i center outside Grantville. The expense would be high and most of their savings had already been invested in other areas. So Robert needed a new source of income. That was why they were sitting in a house in the middle of Stockholm.
When someone knocked on the door, Sandra opened it and saw an older man dressed in clothes that instantly said “filthy rich.”
“Hello. I am Marcus Kock, chairman of the board at the Swedish Riksbank,” he said. “May I come in?”
“Of course. We can wait in the living room. Robert will be down in a moment.”
After they arranged themselves at the table, Robert entered. He immediately got to work and asked, “What’s this I hear about you guys printing paper money?”
“We are not printing yet, but we intend to. Or rather, the king intends to. He has seen how the USE dollars are working in Germany and wants something similar for Sweden. Most of the board members feel the same.” Marcus’s face was stony and Sandra wondered which side of “most” he had been on.
“Anyway, since we don’t really know much about how paper money works, we decided to hire an up-timer who does. You were one of the people who helped create the USE dollars and establish the Federal Reserve. A natural choice.”
“Well, that seems straightforward.”
“You are also expected to aid our distribution of the money and integrate it into the new services the bank is offering.”
Sandra interrupted. “Wait. That sounds like it will take a lot more than a couple months.”
“I’m not sure where you got that idea, Mrs. Aronian. We’re paying a large sum for your husband’s expertise and we expect him to be worth it.” Kock leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms, exuding an aura that simply said “I’m the boss.”
“Sorry, Sandra, but he does speak some sense. They want to milk me for all I’m worth. But don’t worry, I’ll get it done fast and we’ll be back in time for your mom’s Thanksgiving feast.”
Sandra got up, went to the kitchen, and set out some cups as the water had started to boil. Then she picked up the coffee container, wondering how much it would cost here. She liked tea, but Robert practically had coffee for blood.
She came back to Robert and Marcus having a heated discussion about something and left the cups on the table. Quietly, she slipped away to the bedroom, physically and mentally exhausted. I wonder how I’m supposed to keep myself from snapping.
Marcus Kock was nearing fifty and felt more than his share of aches and pains. He hadn’t wanted this job, but because he was from Liege and had done much business with the Wisselbank, the people organizing this new bank had felt he was the best man for it. This new bank hadn’t even opened yet and he was already lost. He was not a banker, and felt like things were getting increasingly out of his control. He now left most of the problems in the hands of his capable bank manager, Hans.
And now this. Kock wasn’t sure what to make of the up-timer, but he was certain it would mean more work. On the other hand, he was hopeful it would mean more profits. Well, it’s not like he could make it worse.
The money situation in Sweden was in a grim state. True, nothing compared to the times of Gustav’s father, but still bad. Officially, it was somewhat simple, the main currency being the riksdaler with smaller coins of varying value: the mark, öre, örtug and penning. However, the reality was that these coins had been severely debased and were a fraction of their official value.
Then in 1624, Gustav Adolf had created the notorious copper money, complicating an already fragile system. Every coin now had both a copper and silver equivalent. It had been, in their view at least, a necessity since Sweden had been short on silver. By now, the Swedes simply did not trust the government with their money.
After a few days of settling in, Robert left for his first day at the bank bright and early. Sandra had about a dozen things happening at once and didn’t get a chance to say goodbye.
“Bobby, get down from there! Dangit, where’s Fruit Loops when you need them? Bobby! Don’t get close to the fire. Now where was that good towel I had? Jesus!” She turned and stared face to face with a young woman. “Who are you? How’d you get in here?”
“I-I-I’m sorry, milady. The door w-was unlocked. I’m Margaret Kilpatrick, and I’d like to be your h-housek-keeper,” she murmured at the floor. Then she held up a scrap of newspaper with an advertisement on it.
She was probably not even eighteen, very pretty, but so tense you could pluck her like a guitar string, Sandra thought. The thought, however, was overcome instantly. I’m saved. She gave Margaret a crushing hug. “Thank God! Can you cook? How about clean? And you speak English! I can’t believe I found an English speaker. I’m terrible at languages; my German accent is still laughed at. Yes, I’m hiring you right away. Please help me with breakfast. Can I call you Marge?”
Each exuberant phrase from Sandra only seemed to intimidate Margaret more. “Um, y-yes milady, I can do all of that. I think. I’m from Scotland, ma’am. If it p-pleases you, you can call me whatever you like.”
“A Scot? Really? Are there more of you here? I should go check it out, maybe I have family here.”
Margaret explained that there were quite a few Scottish immigrants in Stockholm, mostly families of the mercenaries in Gustav Adolf’s service but there were plenty of merchants and peddlers as well. Sandra felt her mood brighten.
Across the island, Robert was in a considerably less joyous mood. He sat at a table in the main hall of the bank. They were waiting for Hans.
“I just got here and you’re already piling more jobs on me. Now I’m a tutor?”
Marcus smirked. “We are wandering into the unknown. None of us on the board know about your American banking. You need to teach us, oh wise and all-knowing up-timer.”
Robert just glared.
“I’ll help you as much as I can.” That was Lars Claesson, Robert’s new assistant. He was a slightly-more-than-half-trained bank teller, but seemed competent enough.
Robert sighed yet again. “Fine, I’ll dig up my old books and we’ll meet up when we can. Maybe I’ll print out a booklet for you guys . . . heck, maybe for everyone. Lars, I’ll need you to get me a few people to help design the money and find suppliers for ink and paper.”
Lars grabbed a pen and began writing down a list of supplies they needed to print their new money.
Robert heard a chuckle behind him.
“You seem like you have a handle on things, Herr Aronian.” Hans smiled. “Come on, I’ll give you the grand tour.” He walked off with Robert and the others trailing after him.
The bank was certainly a substantial edifice. It stood on a corner of the Stortorget, the Great Square, a few blocks from the palace. Slightly bigger than the Grantville bank, it had been converted from an old warehouse. The main floor was dominated by rows of tables for the bank tellers. They were being drilled mercilessly by a couple of Germans. They needed to learn quickly, before the bank opened up. Soon, the bank would be getting deposits, servicing loans, savings accounts and exchanging the silver and copper dalers for new paper dalers.
They walked down to the basement and Robert stared. “That is some bank vault you got there.”
Two guards stood in front of an open metal door, beyond which was a small room. It actually glows. The credit union rarely held silver, even now. The stacks of silver bars, the bags of silver coin were foreign. Robert shivered.
“About 25,000 riksdalers worth of pure silver, that’s . . . almost three million dollars,” Hans whispered. His eyes reflected the bright precious metals. Substantial loans from the USE and selling shares of the bank had given the bank its initial assets.
Lars smiled proudly. “That’s why we have this fancy safe, several inches of concrete, the six-inch-thick iron door and you need that fancy new key to open it.” He pointed at the brass key on a chain around Marcus’s neck.
The upper floors contained the various offices and meeting rooms. Hans opened a door to a small room. “And this is your office. I took the liberty of making it as close to your old office in Grantville as possible. I hope that I remembered everything? Your religion is important to you, naturally, so I want to help you maintain your, ah, worship.” He stared intently at Robert.
The desk and drawers were plain and ordinary and only served to highlight the other items in the room. A small but beautiful prayer rug lay on the floor. A table sat beside it with a water basin on top. Finally, on the shelf were several important Bahá’i texts.
Robert experienced both surprise and fear at once. Surprise at Hans having remembered and gone to the trouble of arranging his office like this and fear of . . . he risked a glance at the other two men who had become eerily quiet.
The agent who had hired Robert had suggested that he keep quiet about his religion. “Swedes are already suspicious of Catholics and Calvinists and they restrict public worship. The king holds the worst of them back, but if they see your . . . practices, I can’t be certain what will happen.”
Marcus cleared his throat and commented, “You can decorate your office all you want, but it’s still smaller than a closet.”
Then Lars chimed in hastily, “Shall we finish the tour? I very much want to inspect the new presses.”
They walked down the hall, with Robert following after a few seconds, never noticing the way Hans just stood there, staring at their backs.
After the tour they arrived at a largish, very well-appointed room with hardwood table and chairs, wall hangings and down-time made Coleman lanterns set in nooks along the walls to provide lighting. Robert would finally meet the board members.
They took their seats and Marcus Kock started the ball rolling. “So, Robert, how do we get people to accept paper money? We are having enough trouble with copper money and at least copper is worth something.”
Robert had heard about the copper coins but had never seen one. “Perhaps you could explain about the copper coins a bit. I understand they are larger than the silver coins of the same value?”
There was a moment of profound silence, as though Robert had said something along the lines of “I understand that oceans have water in them,” and everyone was wondering whether he was joking or just an idiot.
“Ah . . . yes,” Hans said, and it looked like he was trying to hide a smile. “Perhaps we should show Mr. Aronian a few of the copper coins. Lars, would you mind?”
They waited while Lars went out and came back pushing a cart. From the cart he pulled a huge plate of copper. It was roughly rectangular, apparently hand hammered into that shape. It had been stamped in the four corners with crowns and in the center with “eight daler.” The thing—Robert couldn’t think of it as money—must weigh thirty-five or forty pounds.
“This,” Lars said, “is a copper eight-daler coin.”
“That’s not money,” Robert said. “It’s a commodity.” Or a serving platter! Jeez.
“Money is a commodity, is it not?” Markus asked.
“No. Money is a medium of exchange.” A couple of members responded with slow, awkward nods. I guess I really do need to teach them.
“Is that how you get people to take pieces of paper?” asked a member of the board whose name Robert couldn’t remember for the life of him.
“I guess . . . in a way. Mostly they take our money because of what they can buy with it and partly because they have faith in its value.”
“Then we should be able to do the same thing and reserve the silver for foreign trade and certain preferred customers just like we did with the copper.” The man was smiling and Robert had a sudden urge to check and see if his wallet was where it was supposed to be. At the same time, Robert wasn’t in a position to tell a member of the board not to be a crook.
“I honestly don’t think that will work. One of the reasons for the huge loans that have been made to the bank was to provide it with enough silver to restore Swedish currency.”
“But I thought the reason we brought you in was to convince the common folk that the paper money was good,” said Marcus.
In other words, Robert thought, to front for the bank. “As I understood it, sir, I was hired for my experience in banking and finance. Since I have arrived, it has been pointed out that you intend to use paper currency. I was not completely convinced that that was a good idea till I saw that.” Robert pointed at the copper plate on the table. “Paper is certainly better than that.”
Marcus grumbled, “When the idea of the Riksbank was first suggested, I wanted to get rid of the copper and go back to silver, but the majority wanted to use paper money. So I guess we should just start printing it.”
“You can’t use fiat money,” Robert said quickly.
“Money that is money because the government says it is,” Robert explained. “Like we use in Grantville.”
“Why can’t we use fiat money?” asked the guy who made Robert want to check his wallet, proving that he wasn’t stupid even if he was greedy as hell.
“Because it won’t keep its value,” Robert said. “Money is all about confidence, the confidence that your customers have in the bank, and especially in the money itself.” Robert stopped and thought for a moment. “How many copper dalers are there to the silver daler?”
Clearing his throat, Marcus murmured, “Legally, it’s worth the same.”
“A copper daler is worth about two-thirds of a silver daler,” Lars said.
“The market value.” Markus sighed. “I admit copper isn’t worth much compared to silver and they are inconvenient to use.”
Robert nodded, and then braced his arms on the table. “Then I propose that the Riksbank take the copper dalers and all the other copper coins at face value. One copper daler can be exchanged for a paper daler or for a silver daler, and vice versa. Same goes for the marks and öre and all of the others. All will be exchanged at a legal and fixed value.”
Robert just sat there as the room exploded. Words like “idiotic” and “treasonous” were launched like so many verbal grenades at the heresy of giving people good silver for over-priced copper—just because they said they would years ago.
“That’s insane! They’ll exchange the copper for paper, then immediately turn around and exchange that for silver,” Hans declared.
“This is a matter of honor,” Robert said. “It is a matter of the king’s word to his people. Will you make the king of Sweden a liar?”
“But the cost!” howled the smart crook.
“Temporary, I assure you, gentlemen. If handled right, this one act will go a long way toward restoring Sweden ‘s credit. We have to do this if Sweden is to have the sort of booming economy that is found in the USE. If you’re just patient, the rewards you receive will be many times the cost.”
They argued about it for the rest of the day. And off and on for some time afterward. Eventually, Robert had to write Gustav Adolf and Coleman Walker, who apparently also wrote Gustav Adolf. Gustav had to personally intervene, but it was finally settled. The Riksbank would take copper coinage at face value, for now.
Sandra walked excitedly down the street pushing Tommy in his stroller. She had been invited to a private worship meeting by a Scots Presbyter. “So you haven’t been to worship in a long time.”
“Well, I would have liked to, ma’am, but see, I had to take care of my mother.” Marge shifted Bobby in her arms. “First the drinking, then the illness. I never had time for such matters.”
By now, Sandra had gotten to know Margaret very well. Her father had been an officer for the Swedish army, one of the many Scots. He had died in a battle and was buried somewhere in Pomerania. Her mother had become alcoholic and died soon after, leaving Margaret with no family in an unfamiliar city.
“Don’t worry, Marge.” Sandra patted her on the arm, “I’ll take care of you.” She knocked on the door of a large house.
They were greeted by a beaming woman in fancy clothes. “Welcome! You must be the up-timer! It’s so good to see you, come in. I’m afraid it’ll be a bit cramped.”
There were indeed many people in the room. A few of them were Dutch, but most were Scots; young children scrambled between the legs of the adults. “I’m Anna Fife. My husband’s off in Antwerp somewhere, my boy Will is somewhere around here.” She craned her neck to look over the crowd. “Please, make yourselves at home.”
“It’s nice to meet you, Mrs. Fife. I’m Sandra Aronian.” Sandra paused, then asked, “I’m sorry if this is rude, but shouldn’t these kids be in school or something?”
“Sandra, dear, are you mad? Send our boys to the Lutheran schools?” Anna left to chase after a group of young boys, leaving Sandra with her own thoughts.
Months of long, exhausting hours had come to fruition. They had begun exchanging the old silver and copper dalers for the new paper dalers. Robert pulled out a one-daler bill from his pocket and examined it with pride.
It was slightly bigger than the USE dollar and instead of green, it used blue ink. The standard odd shapes and unnecessarily large amounts of the word “one” and “1” scattered on it surrounded a portrait of Gustav Adolf’s head in its regal splendor.
The line of customers stretched quite a bit. While the Stockholmers were still a bit skeptical, they wouldn’t miss an opportunity to rid themselves of the copper dalers.
An old man sat down at a table as two employees lifted the heavy copper coins onto the scale. He eyed the sign in the middle of the room nervously. It listed the fixed prices for the money exchange.
The teller didn’t even glance at Robert anymore. Not at all the same as it had been the first day when—in spite of his reassurances—both tellers and customers were constantly turning to Robert to see if he really meant it, the tellers afraid and customers prepared to be belligerent if he backed down at the last minute. Today she smiled at the man and said, “Well, you have nine dalers in copper, would you like to exchange or deposit?”
Robert was confident in his plan. The Stockholmers would certainly make a run on the bank, grabbing as much silver as they could, but in the end it would only help gain their trust. Only when they saw every transaction being treated fairly and honorably would they gain faith in the bank. They would start using the paper money once it had shown its value. As for the silver, they would hoard it, at least some would for a while, but that wouldn’t hurt anything, not too badly, anyway.
The old man stroked his beard and then pulled his bankbook out of his coat. “I will add four dalers to my account and take the rest, in paper dalers and marks, please.” And that was another change, one that was just starting to happen. The first few days it was copper in and silver out, almost exclusively. But now some of the customers were leaving money in the bank and accepting paper dalers. Partly, that was because they had to have an account before they could even apply for a loan. But Robert knew it was more than that. People knew how the Grantville bank and credit union worked; they knew how the new banks in Magdeburg worked . . . and they were starting to trust the Riksbank.
The teller took the bankbook and flipped her ledger to the correct page. After scribbling some numbers, she stamped the bankbook and returned it to the man and opened a drawer. “You now have seven and a half dalers deposited here.” Then she counted out three paper daler bills and sixteen mark bills and handed them over. “Thank you and have a good day.” No doubt tomorrow the man would return to exchange some paper for silver.
There had been a minor cost to Robert’s dealings. He had wanted them to use a decimal system using cents. Unfortunately, he was fighting tradition here and had to compromise. However, they were able to establish a system of eighths where one riskdaler was eight marks, sixty-four öre and so on. The simple and precise structure was more proof that the bank was here to bring stability and confidence. The dalers and marks would be paper, while smaller denominations were copper coins.
Robert had been surprised at the speed in which the new bills and coins were being made. Later, he had found that the mint that was creating the coins just so happened to be owned by the Kock family . . . with a slice of the profits going back to Marcus. That swindler doesn’t do anything without taking a cut for himself.
A few hours later, Sandra knocked on Robert’s office door. “Looks like you guys are doing well down there.” She had come to visit. She was holding Bobby, while Margaret trailed with Tommy in her arms.
Robert smiled. Sandra’s mood had eased considerably as she became friends with Margaret and other ladies in the city. Robert was grateful for the small community of Scots and Germans she could speak to (literally, her Swedish was still terrible) and befriend.
“Hello Tommy,” he said as he picked his son up. “Yeah, it’s a madhouse down there. People are coming in every day for paper or silver or other business. I feel sorry for the poor tellers. I have to go with Marcus later to check out the new scale we got from Grantville. You headed out again?”
“Mm-hmm. Marge and I are headed over to Anna Fife’s. We’re going out for a day at the spa and some shopping.” Of course, by spa, she meant going to one of the fancier public baths and shopping was going to a seamstress, but you made do.
Tommy started gnawing on a key that hung around Robert’s neck. Sandra cried out, “Tommy, no!”
Robert handed him back to her.
Sandra accepted her son back, then asked, “Of all the people here, why do you have the key to the vault?”
“They probably think I like people kissing my butt.” Everyone now saw that Robert had the full support of the king and were hurrying to get on his good side. Except Marcus, of course. He had offered to take the key off of Robert’s hands. When Robert told him that he thought it was a bad idea, he replied in his snarky way, “I thought you wanted to increase the money supply? I can surely help with that.”
“Well, I have to get back to work. Have fun, Sandra.” He gave her a kiss.
“Goodbye, dear. Don’t overwork yourself. Come on, Marge, or we’re going to be late.” Margaret jumped up and fumbled a goodbye to Hans, who she had been talking to.
The bath had been quite refreshing, but the seamstress was dreadfully dull. Being fitted for clothes was nothing like going to the mall.
“I think Margaret actually smiled,” Anna Fife said as Margaret was being fitted for a dress.
Sandra nodded. “I accomplished that a week ago. I’m trying to get her to say my first name now.” They had made it a quiet mission to get Margaret to open up and each day was a small victory. “I can’t believe, of all things, she wants something like that for her birthday.” Her voice lowered. “It looks like a curtain and a puff ball had a baby.”
“Well, that’s fashion for you,” Anna said as she examined the skirt she was wearing.
“She needs a cocktail dress or something. I mean I’ve never been one for too much skin showing, but I don’t know how you can get a man wearing this. You got to go a bit sexier and . . . ” Sandra stopped as she noticed Margaret’s intense focus.
Anna laughed. “Something you can’t say to the young one?”
“Who knows? Depends on how your sex-ed is here.” That gave way to a lengthy discussion about what sex education was.
“Mistress Aronian, c-can I ask you something?” Margaret sat down, having finally finished.
“What is your Grantville high school like?”
“Hmm, I guess I’d have to say . . . an opportunity. And a fun place. A lot of kids make great memories there. And as a counselor, I always enjoyed watching them graduate and go out into the world.”
“The future sounds like a fascinating place,” said Anna. “My husband doesn’t want our boy in the school here. Says he doesn’t want him turning Lutheran on us. So we home school him.”
“That’s unfortunate. The high school is secular; it has to be to get public funding. All the religious schools are now . . . I mean, will be . . . or would be, dammit, all private.”
“What is private?”
“It just means not paid by the government. The parents usually pay for their kids to go to a place the parents like more.”
Anna looked at her keenly. “So, since the government doesn’t pay for it, they cannot get involved.”
Sandra knew that tone. The gears in Anna’s head were turning. Living in Stockholm, Sandra had been pleasantly surprised that women were not the quiet, homemaker-type she’d expected. That resulted from so many of their husbands and fathers being off to war. Inheritance and legal powers were still a problem, but they could be worked around. Having a woman as the head of a household and controlling a business was not that strange here. Anna took that to a new level. “Huddle up, I have an idea.”
“No, Marcus. N. O. We are not lowering the reserve rate.”
Robert and Marcus’ arguments were commonplace now. The other board members were intimidated by both of them and, knowing that they were out of their depths, wisely remained silent.
Robert was frustrated. The bank’s stock of silver had taken a major hit in the first weeks of operation. Then gradually people had started putting the new minted and milled silver coins back in the bank and accepting paper money or even leaving their money in the bank till they needed it. The bank had steadily improved its standing and popularity. Desiring more profits, Marcus had just demanded—again—that they be allowed to print and loan out more money. As a rule, they did all their business with paper money, but kept a large reserve of silver to exchange.
“We set it at forty percent for a reason. Everything is still unstable and we need a good supply of silver on hand. I won’t support this.”
This effectively ended the debate. The board almost always sided with Robert. The last letter of support from King Gustav had had subtle threats to those who sought to undermine the bank’s efforts.
“Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a bank to run.”
Back in the main hall, he met up with Lars as he was closing up. “Well, that’s the end of that. We’ve managed to survive another week without something blowing up in our face.”
Lars chuckled. “You shouldn’t be so hard-hearted, Mr. Aronian. Everyone’s working overtime and we’re all a bit stressed. Even Mr. Kock is trying his best.”
“Oh, that is definitely true. Marcus always tries his best when there’s money to be made.” Robert walked down to the vault and, with the help of a guard, heaved the heavy door closed. Quickly locking the vault, he met up with Lars at the front door. There, he noticed Hans and several large men lifting copper onto a wagon.
Robert ambled over. “So how are you, Hans?”
Hans looked up. “Terrible, I’m utterly exhausted. I’ll be glad when this is all over.”
“I don’t know why you volunteered for this.”
“If I’m not here to watch, the idiots would screw it all up.”
The money exchanges had resulted in huge amounts of copper just sitting in the bank. So now the bank was in the business of selling copper. Somehow, Marcus had gotten a contract written and approved, making him the dealer for the bank. It was only a coincidence that he also owned extensive copper and brass works.
Hans climbed into the driver’s seat. “So you’ve been here nearly six months. How long do you plan on staying?”
“Once things settle down for the bank; probably no more than a month or two. They don’t really need me when they have guys like you managing things.”
“Ah, good timing then. Past December, they say there’s some chance of the harbors freezing over. Then, you’ll really be stuck here, and you wouldn’t want that would you?”
Lars came up and patted Robert’s shoulder. “Come, Mr. Aronian. You promised me that drink did you not?”
Robert nodded and they headed off down the dimly lit street.
As Hans was preparing to leave, he heard a voice.
“Hans! Hans! I need to talk to you.” It was Marcus, who looked like he was in a foul mood.
“What is it sir?” Hans put up his most appealing smile.
“I received a letter from my copper works manager. He says he isn’t getting the amount of copper that’s reported. There’s some missing.”
Hans frowned. “You think someone’s pinching some copper?” He turned to the laborers, who quickly averted their gaze. “Are you accusing my workers?”
“I accused no one, but they are the ones in the best position to steal.”
Laughing, Hans pointed. “Herr Kock, there’s a room full of silver right there. Who would want to take some cheap copper? But don’t worry; I’ll keep an eye out.” He shook the reins and the cart began a sedate roll away from the bank, leaving Marcus behind.
Gritting his teeth, Hans muttered, “Old bastard.”
As he and Lars sat down in a nearby tavern, Robert asked, “Come to think of it, I’ve barely seen Hans lately. What’s he up to? He seems to go in and out quite a bit.”
Shrugging, Lars replied, “He says some side project. To be honest, I think he’s growing weary of all of this. He doesn’t like you much. In fact, I daresay he hates you.”
“What? He hates me? Why?”
“It’s not too hard to see. You’ve essentially become our new bank manager. We used to go to him to solve problems, but now we go to you. Not to mention, you get paid a lot more than he does. When you’re not looking, he glares at you sometimes.” Lars paused, taking a big gulp of beer. “You don’t think he fixed up your office out of the kindness of his heart, do you? He was trying to embarrass you. He’s jealous of your position.” Lars nodded his head toward Robert’s chest.
“Well that’s just preposterous. I . . . ” Robert felt the weight of the key around his neck. It ought to properly be his. Is he really jealous? “Are you sure?”
“Maybe. I have six brothers and sisters, so I know about jealousy and hate.”
Silence hung between them as Robert stewed in his thoughts.
Lars tipped the rest of his drink and waved the barmaid for another. “So, Mr. Aronian . . . you are still planning to leave?”
“Of course I am. Why wouldn’t I?”
“Mr. Aronian, you don’t have to lie to me or yourself. I know you’re enjoying it here.”
“What?” Is Sandra giving him psychology tips? “I am enjoying it, I guess. In Grantville, the credit union is small and the bank of Grantville gets all the attention. But here, it’s like we’re pioneers. You can just feel the energy coming from the customers. We’re making a difference, Lars, helping ordinary citizens.”
“I like your attitude, sir. It’s much better than Hans’, for sure. Here’s to prosperity . . . for everyone.” Lars lifted his mug in a mock toast and his beer quickly disappeared.
Later that night, Robert and Sandra were sitting and watching while Margaret played with Bobby. He decided to broach the subject.
“Honey, do you . . . like it here?”
“How would you feel about living here . . . permanently?”
Her eyebrows rose slightly. “What are you talking about? Your contract ends pretty soon. What are you going to do for a job?”
“I don’t know. I might just open up my own bank or even a credit union out in the other islands around Stadsholmen. I just feel like I can do a lot more here than I ever did in—” He stopped when Sandra started laughing. “What’s so funny?”
Clearing her throat, she replied, “That’s actually what I wanted to talk to you about. I kind of want to stay as well.”
Now it was Robert’s eyebrows that shot up.
“I’ve been talking with some families here and we want to open up a private school.”
“It’ll be for all the kids who don’t fit into the regular Lutheran schools. Anyone can join with any religious affiliation.” She sidled up close to Robert. “And with my hubby so friendly with the king, I’m sure he could be persuaded to approve it.”
“I . . . see. So, I guess we both want to stay?”
” Stockholm isn’t that bad a place once you get used to it,” she said, leaning on his shoulder.
“Yeah, it really does grow on you.”
Suddenly, Margaret leapt up. “Excuse m-me, milady. I feel a bit ill right now. If it is p-possible, I would like to leave early.”
“Um, sure that’s fine. Go rest up, Marge.” And Margaret hastily left the house.
“I think she has a boyfriend.”
“And how would you know that?”
Two nights later, Robert stumbled back home, shaking the rain off his coat.
“Herr A-Aronian, w-w-welcome h-home,” Margaret said.
“Thanks, Marge.” He handed his coat to her. Is it just me, or is Marge even more jittery than usual?
A few hours later, Sandra and he were lounging by the new Franklin stove they had installed in the living room. After a big dinner and a warm bath, life was good.
Sandra looked over and decided now was a good time to ask. She smiled. “So, did you talk to them about a loan for the school?”
“Yes, and they approved! I have the paperwork in here, so you can sign.” Robert opened his briefcase and ruffled around inside. “Hmm, where is it? Ah dang, I must have left it in my office. We were really busy today and I must have forgotten. You know, I’ll just run back and grab it.”
“You sure? It’s already dark out and the weather is awful. I can just get it tomorrow.”
“No, it’s fine. The weather service said it will get even worse tomorrow. I don’t want you to walk in that mess. Besides, tomorrow’s the twelfth, I’m not working then.” He lit a lantern and walked out into the stormy darkness. “It’s only a short walk, I’ll be back soon.”
When Robert arrived in the square, he passed by several large wagons. Ah, there’s a shipment of copper going out tonight. It’s pouring, though. He entered the open doors into the darkened hallway and heard voices and glints of light from the basement. That’s odd; we don’t have any copper down there. Edging closer, he peered down the stairs. The vault was open. In shock, Robert dropped the lantern with a loud clatter.
Three faces turned toward him. Two were unfamiliar, but they were faces that didn’t seem to invoke friendship.
The last face was Hans. He smiled. “How unfortunate, Herr Aronian. I had hoped this would go quietly.”
Slowly Robert’s eyes adjusted to the scene and another shock hit him.
There were bags of coins at their feet. The silver! “Hans, what the hell are you doing?”
Hans shrugged, his smile never wavering.
And I used to think that was a happy smile.
“Let’s just say it’s a bit of vengeance.” Here, his smile positively gleamed. “Also, I like money.” He jerked his head and his goons (there was really no other way to describe them) began climbing the stairs.
Robert turned to run and saw two other unpleasantly large men behind him. Well, I think they call this a less-than-stellar situation. His eyes darted around for anything to use.
One of them lunged, but Robert grabbed the dropped lamp and swung it at his face. With a loud grunt, the man fell and Robert tossed the lamp at the other man. With the distraction, Robert bolted up the stairs and headed for the door. He yanked it open and ran outside, the pounding rain matching his heartbeat.
Behind him, one man pulled out a wheel-lock and fired. Robert cried out as he felt a stinging heat on his shoulder and tripped, landing painfully on the cobblestones.
“Damn you! Do you want to wake up half the city?” Hans’s voice echoed.
Pure adrenaline shook Robert and he leapt up. Damn, it’s dark. His panic disoriented him, but all he wanted was to get as far away as possible. Then he was tackled from behind. He fell to the ground hard. The last things he heard were thundering shouts and the deafening rainfall.
“He was lucky the night patrol heard the gunshot. They chased those bastards away before they could . . . ” Sandra let out a deep breath. It had been an exhausting night. Robert was still unconscious, but the doctor had done as good a job as could be hoped.
Lars nodded grimly. Indeed, he is lucky the tavern nearby is frequented by many watchmen. The thieves had made off with nearly all of the silver; almost two tons worth. Troops were searching high and low throughout the city for any sign, but they had vanished.
With a knock, Marcus came in followed by Anna. She came and sat at Sandra’s side while Marcus cleared his throat. “Hans was missing today.”
“What? You think he did it?”
“I went to his home and he wasn’t there, either. I have to say that it doesn’t surprise me too much.”
Sandra interrupted, “So are they searching for him? Door-to-door? Where are the police? Where’s the cavalry?” Her eyes burned bright and for a minute the others did not want to speak.
“The robbery . . . it’s a secret, Mrs. Aronian. We have to tell as few as possible, though I’m sure there are plenty of rumors already,” said Lars.
Marcus nodded. “Think about it, Mrs. Aronian. If it gets out that all of the town’s money has been stolen, there will be pandemonium. Everything we have worked for would be ruined. We have a few squads searching ships and patrolling the roads, but that’s all. I’ve instructed the staff to keep quiet, and we still have a bit of silver left. That’s all we can do until we find him or the money.”
Sandra’s ire had swelled with each word, but by the end a strange calmness had settled her. “Okay.” She stood and went to a drawer near her and pulled out a small up-timer pistol. “We’ll just find him ourselves.”
Seeing the shock on all of their faces lifted her mood considerably. “Come on, guys. We’re smart people. We can do this if we work together.” Then quietly, “Please. For Robert’s sake.”
Anna stood up. “I’m with you, Sandra.”
Lars’ grin was predatory. “The game’s afoot.”
Marcus wondered where that strange idiom had come from, then noticed their stares. “Fine. But I want it noted that I am very reluctant. So what is the plan?”
A long pause followed.
“We go to the scene of the crime!” piped Lars.
A short time later, they were at the bank, leaving Margaret at home to watch the kids.
She wouldn’t be much help with stuff like this, Sandra thought. “Well, shit, you idiots tampered with the evidence.” They watched as the last muddy footprints were being mopped away.
Anna ran her hands over the vault door. “My, how did they break this thing open? It looks impenetrable.”
“They didn’t.” With a start, Lars darted forward. “The key is here. Hans had the key, but how?”
Marcus shrugged, “He must have stolen it.” He pulled the key out from the keyhole and examined it.
“Well, none of this helps us. We already suspected Hans. What we need is to find out where he’s hiding.” Sandra was getting frustrated already.
Walking down the hall, they discussed what options they had. Anna’s husband could bribe some of the stevedores to search vessels. They could quietly have the bank guards walk through the neighborhoods.
They all turned to Marcus, but he had his eyes on the large stack of copper plates in a corner. “I just remembered. There was supposed to be a delivery of old copper dalers today. I knew those men seemed suspicious. They must have used the wagons for the silver.”
Tapping two guards, Lars rushed out, followed by Marcus.
“Do you know where they’re going?” Anna inquired.
“Not a clue and I’m not going to wander around in that downpour.” The storm’s ferocity had only increased as the day passed. Sandra pushed down a desire to go home and see Robert. The doctor is there and Margaret too. She rubbed her stomach then stifled a giggle. Five years ago, I was helping kids go to college, now I’m chasing a fugitive in a hurricane.
After an hour, Marcus, Lars and one of the guards returned, drenched from the rain and looking quite dejected. They came and sat beside Sandra and Anna.
“No good. The teamsters have disappeared too. They were probably working for Hans. We have people out looking for the wagons.” Lars shrugged and plopped his head down on the table, exhausted.
Marcus sighed, massaging his neck. “I’m getting too old for this. We can’t let this go on much longer with the little money we have. If they ask for silver and we can’t give it, there goes any trust we had.”
“Don’t worry, sirs. We’re certain they’re still in the city. This storm is keeping the ships from leaving. Any fool who slips out of harbor will be seen right away. All the roads are being watched as well,” said the guard, obviously some naÃ¯ve young fool.
“Mrs. Aronian! Mrs. Aronian!” an older man ran in, shouting.
“Doctor? Is everything okay?” Sandra leapt out of her chair.
“Yes, your husband is awake. He seems fine and . . . ”
But Sandra had already run off.
Robert found himself smothered by his sobbing wife, who apparently had gone swimming, the way she was drenched. Amid wet kisses, she murmured, “I was so worried, Robby.”
When the others came in, they found a much more composed Sandra sitting by Robert’s bed.
“We are glad to see you awake, Mr. Aronian.”
“Thanks, but that’s not important. Have you caught Hans and the silver?”
“No, not yet, but we are doing everything we can . . . ”
As the conversation wore on, Anna noticed Sandra had been ignoring them. No, rather she was staring at a table by the door.
“Sandra? Are you all right?”
“The key, it’s right there.” She had whispered, but shock coursed the whole room.
“I understand it now,” Sandra said, and she explained.
Hans had needed the key to open the safe, but couldn’t steal it outright. He had made a copy. Only one person could have taken it; only one person who was in their home when they were asleep and could slip the key out for a while.
“Yes, milady!” the girl said as she rushed in.
Everyone could see she was visibly shaking, sweat coming down her face.
Looking into Margaret’s eyes, seeing her guilt, Sandra found her own eyes tearing up. “Oh God, why did you do it?”
That broke Margaret immediately and her story came out in a rush. She had been a naÃ¯ve and lonely girl. A month ago, Hans began courting her. Against his wit, charm and handsome features, she hadn’t had a chance. He had taken advantage of her, in more ways than one. He seemed fascinated by her life as a maid and took every chance he could to get to know her. But when she revealed that the Aronians wanted to stay in Stockholm, he had snapped. He had persuaded her, by sweet words and subtle threats, to take a mold of the key one night.
“I-I’m sorry, m-m-milady, I w-was a fool. I never exp-pected him to-to steal from you.” Quivering and sobbing on the ground, she made a pitiful sight.
Lars knelt down and firmly said, “This may be difficult, but we must know where Hans is.”
“I don’t k-know. I’ve only ever been to his home.” At that last statement, her cries became much louder.
“Have you ever seen him write odd plans or speak with anyone strange, anything?”
“I saw him t-talking to a sea-captain once. He k-kept making rude comments at m-me. I think his name was Pills or something like that.”
“Captain Piltz?” Anna said. “Ah, that would make sense. The man has a creaky old boat, hauls pretty much anything for anyone. My husband dealt with him once. He leered at me like some old lecher and my husband got so mad he threw him out the door. A man fit to deal with criminals.”
“Then let us go pay him a visit at his ship. And bring some friends with us.”
Everyone stood up except Robert, who was still not in a condition to run around. As they turned to leave, Margaret tugged on Sandra’s shirt. “He never loved me, did he?”
Sandra embraced her. “No. He didn’t.”
The decrepit-looking ship was not hard to find. Lars and Marcus had brought a dozen or so guards with them. A dirty-looking sailor looked over the railings at them, staring with wide eyes.
Lars stood at the foot of the boarding ramp, looking quite dashing with a gun at his hip. “Halt! Come out with your hands up or we will use force. Surrender or face the consequences, fiends.”
The guard captain rolled his eyes then pulled out his sword. “Let’s go.” Seizing the ship and crew was anticlimactic. The guards were former soldiers and did their business quickly and efficiently. The seven men found on board surrendered; they weren’t stupid.
The guard captain flipped a chest open. “Tear the ship apart. Leave nothing unturned. We must find that silver.”
Lars came out as the captives were being tied up. “Nothing so far. Not many places on-board to hide that much silver.”
“Where is it, Hans?” asked Marcus, but the man just lay there kneeling on the ground, brooding. “The courts may have some mercy on you if you tell us.” Silence. He is a spiteful man; simple as that, I suppose. If he could not spend the money, he would derive satisfaction from knowing its absence would hurt Stockholm.
“Enough!” Sandra ran up to Hans and kicked him in the stomach. He fell to the ground groaning. She yanked him to his knees. “Listen up, you son of a bitch, you hurt my husband. If you don’t start spilling all of your guts right now I will make you hurt a lot more.” She pointed her pistol at him and Marcus’s legs gave a small lurch when he saw the anatomical part it was pointed at.
Anna came up and gave the most devious smile Marcus had ever seen. “Nonsense, Sandra, that small thing won’t work. My husband bought some cannon for his ship recently. I’m sure he will let me test them out.”
A dark stain slowly spread from Hans’s pants and he whimpered, “I’ll talk, I’ll talk.”
Early next morning, Marcus gulped down his coffee as he watched the line on the crane lower. “Was he really that clever if we figured it all out in a day? By the way, remind me never to get you mad.” The diver had surfaced and said something to the crew on the dock.
Sandra smiled. “We were just cleverer than him.”
Lars yawned. “He panicked, maybe. The town watch had raised the alarm and with the storm, he couldn’t escape that night. So he dumped it in the water, hoping to get at it when things cooled down. He probably didn’t think about how cold the water is, even when it’s only twenty or so feet. A man could freeze before he gets the silver up.” He went down to the dock as the net brought up the accumulated wealth of Stockholm.
Sandra looked at the up-timer thermos and fresh coffee in Marcus’s hand. “Where did you get those things?”
He wisely remained silent.
A week later
Everything seems different, yet the same thought Robert. They had now made their move permanent. Robert and Sandra had decided to donate their old home in Grantville as a new Bahá’i community center and his people were probably beginning the remodel. Little Tommy was having his birthday party and it seemed every burgher and person of note in the area had come. In the case of Hans Hering and his ilk, the trial was to commence soon. Robert wasn’t sure what punishment was like here, but he was certain it wouldn’t be pleasant.
As for Margaret . . .
Robert glanced at the corner where she was hiding. The ones who knew the truth had decided that they would keep the secret. She had been coerced, seduced by a cunning wolf, and they all agreed that she deserved a second chance.
Marcus came up and greeted him with that annoying smirk of his. They stood in friendly silence for a bit.
“There’s not enough room in Stockholm for a second bank. Not yet.”
Robert decided to match smirk for smirk. “Scared that I’ll beat you?”
Marcus’ smirk became a full smile now. “Why beat them when you can join them?”
“So you’re offering me a job? The one Hans . . . left.”
“No, I’m giving Lars that job. I’m offering you mine.”
“What?” Robert choked out.
“Mr. Aronian, I may not like you, but I respect you enough to admit you are better at banking than I am. So, please, make this bank something to be proud of.”
Robert sat in a nearby chair, silent for a minute. Then he said, “I hear that you’re trying to open up an investment bank division. With a small cut for yourself.”
Marcus nodded silently.
“I also hear you deposited a thousand silver riksdalers in the bank immediately after the theft.”
He nodded again, letting himself be examined by Robert.
“I’ll give you my answer tomorrow.”
The big smile was back. Marcus got up and began walking away. Then, turning for a parting shot, he stated, “Excellent. I’ll move your personal effects to the new office.”
Soon, Sandra came and sat next to him. “I want you to meet a few people later. They’re backers for our new school. Though it seems you already met one.”
That took a bit to figure out. “Marcus Kock?”
“Yep, he wants his own kids there, too.” She lifted his arm and put it around her shoulder. “By the way, you said yes to his job offer, right?”
“How did you know I had a job offer?” Robert felt his brain was getting slower and slower. “He asked you first?”
She laughed. “I think he’s scared of me. I said I’d help persuade you to say yes if he helped grease the wheels to get the school accepted. But, of course, I knew you’d say yes anyway.”
“You must know Machiavelli or something.”
“Nonsense, he’s dead and I’m Scottish-American, not Italian.”
“Any other devious secrets you want to tell me?” He poked her lightly in the back.
“A few. I got Lars to dance with Margaret. Wait, you never answered. Are you going to accept?”
She laid her head on his shoulder and placed her hands over her belly. “Well, the baby and I are proud of you.”
“What?” Robert choked.
“Robert, I’m pregnant.” She smiled radiantly.
Robert beamed back, and then promptly fainted.
The story presented skims over the problems with currency in Sweden during the seventeenth century. I tried to put as much detail in as I could without overwhelming the reader. Sweden, didn’t have a national currency, rather each region minted its own money with different silver content (the southern regions generally had much lower value). There were also small amounts of gold minted. Overall, it was a very chaotic system.
The official exchange rate in Stockholm of the coins varied over the years. Around the 1630s they were: 1 riskdaler: 6.5 mark: 52 öre: 156 örtug: 1248 penning. The riksdaler was the standard coin for international trade based on the German thaler. It had about 25.6 g of silver. The mark was also silver, but was far below its official weight. In the 1630s, market value was about 15 marks for 1 silver daler, which was still much better than in the 1570s and 1590s when it was around 35 to 1 (thanks to King John III). The debasement of the öre and smaller coins was only slightly better.
In 1624, Gustav Adolf began minting copper coins. They were supposed to be equivalent to the silver daler, but quickly fell to their metal value. Depending on the price of copper, we can estimate the value of the copper daler at around one half the silver daler in the 1630s. The copper dalers today are still famous for being some of the largest coins ever minted. A 10 daler copper coin weighed approximately 20 kilograms.
Marcus Kock (1585-1657)—Originally from Liege, he moved to Sweden in 1626 to help establish Gustav Adolf’s copper coinage. He also established many copper and iron works especially near Avesta and became a Swedish mint master. In 1642, he opened Sweden ‘s largest mint in Avesta. Unlike many Dutch industrialists, he stayed in Sweden permanently and his descendants became ennobled under the name Cronström.
Stockholms Banko—The first bank in Sweden was opened in 1657 by Johan Palmstruch, a Dutch merchant. While similar to other banks like Amsterdam and Hamburg, its major innovation was paper banknotes, the first in Europe. Unfortunately, they began printing too much and the value of the notes plummeted. In 1668, the bank was taken over by the Swedish government, making it the oldest central bank in the world.
Many thanks to the people at Baen’s bar who turned my ideas into a story.