Chapter 12: The Lord of the Tracks
"Jakob, what are you doing?"
Opa again. Always the same question.
"Are you doing your homework?"
"I finished it two hours ago."
"So it's one of these stories again? Why can't you get yourself a real job after school? You're fourteen now. Other children of your age are already apprenticing."
"Opa, please! You know I've already sold some of my stories. And the publisher has paid more than a whole year of apprentice wages." Okay, that isn't so difficult, since apprentices in their first years get absolutely no wages. But why mention the obvious?
"And why did he do it? Because they were good, or because of your name?"
Hmmm. Good point. I hope the former. "He said they were good. He said adventures would always sell. And my stories had the air of authenticity."
" 'Authenticity'? Ha! You simply fantasize. You haven't yet experienced any adventures. Didn't you just rewrite some of these romances from Grantville?"
Oops. "I only took the ideas and wrote completely new stories."
"Replacing cars with horses and telephone calls with letters and New York with Magdeburg and so on . . ."
"Opa! You told me you had never read one of my stories."
"Leave an old man some secrets . . ."
But I had an adventure. At least one. Perhaps I should write about that.
The Lord of the Tracks
(Being a description of the life of a strange vagabond named . . .
Hmmm. What pseudonym should I use this time? Let's look at the list. Yes, this one is good.
. . . Melchior Sternfels von Fuchshaim)
I'll write the introduction later . . .
Describes Melchior's origins and upbr
No. Hop into the action.
We left our home. I was dressed in silvery armor and my trusty knave steered a coach drawn by two fiery wild animals. We fought our way against all odds through the mountains and valleys until we reached the home of a greedy robber . . .
On the road to Gotha, near Eisenach, State of Thuringia-FranconiaSummer 1634
Jakob was tired and annoyed. Opa had forced him to travel the whole way from Gelnhausen to Eisenach in only four days. Jakob had to walk and lead the ox team, while Opa was riding on the wagon most of the time.
But perhaps Jakob got the better part of it. The road had been very bad, and walking was certainly better than getting all his bones shook up on the wagon.
Here in Eisenach they unfortunately didn't need another baker. Opa had had great hopes after hearing of the increase in population all over Thuringia. This was the reason he sold his bakery in Gelnhausen, daring the arduous path to Eisenach.
But in Jena, so the people of Eisenach told them, craftsmen were still needed to work for the new "Eisenbahn" company. And yes, even such simple crafts as baker.
And so they traveled on.
Shortly after leaving Eisenach the road changed. The new road was so smooth and level, suddenly the oxen tried to pass Jakob.
And even Opa noticed it. "What's the matter?" he asked.
"They have built a new road. They apparently have broken all rocks and filled the holes with the pieces. See?" Jakob picked up one of the chunks. "The edges are sharp. And it seemed they have leveled the road as well."
But everything comes at a price. Literally.
They reached a toll booth. "Where to?" the toll keeper asked.
"Jena," Jakob answered.
"No." Jakob shook his head. "We want to stay there."
"How much?" Opa shouted. "Do you loot harmless travelers?"
"Nobody forces you to use the rail road. You can turn left and use the old road." He pointed to a dirt road—a very dirty dirt road. "But as far as I know the bridge over the Wutha has not yet been repaired after the spring storm. So you will have to unload your wagon and carry all your load over the creek."
"All their load" would be the furniture they had brought with them and all bowls and boxes and tools from Opa's bakery. That would take half a day.
Opa's face showed the same thought. "That's a trick," he said.
"Try it," the toll keeper shrugged. "If it's a trick, you may come back and blame me."
Opa's gaze met Jakob's. They had no chance to win this game.
Opa shrugged and took the money from his moneybag.
The toll keeper handed Jakob a printed sheet of paper.
"Here are all the inns and distances; so you can always decide if you want to stop or try to reach the next one. When you show this ticket at one of these inns, you'll get a discount of one Pfennig for your stay."
Strange customs. And what a strange sheet with several columns. The first column with the names of the inns, the next with the distances in Hessian Meilen, then West Thuringia Meilen and Saxe-Weimar Meilen. But then the next column had the title "Kilofuß," and much bigger numbers.
"What's a 'Kilofuß'?" Jakob asked, frowning.
"The new unified distance," the toll keeper answered. "It's already officially introduced in all three Saxe counties, and Erfurt. The Schwarzburgs will follow soon. It's one thousand American feet long."
Coming from Hesse, they were familiar with a very long mile; but here in Saxe-Eisenach—or West Thuringia as it was called since last year—the mile was much shorter. So a unit that was the same length everywhere would be very good for travelers to estimate their day's destination. Fortunately, there were more columns that had the estimated times for ox carts, horse carts and riders.
"That's a very helpful piece of paper," Jakob admitted. "May we keep it afterward?"
"No problem. At the last toll booth before Jena they will stamp it."
. . . thus we defeated that notorious brigand, obtaining the most precious possession he had owned: A treasure map leading us on our hunt for glory and honor.
Guided by this map we soon reached our next destination: the lair of a steaming, fire-breathing monster. A new fight was dawning . . .
Jena Lokschuppen, JenaFive days later
"Jena Lokschuppen" was a real big area.
Halls, houses, wooden towers, people everywhere. These people had to be fed, so of course, they needed more bakers. Opa was shown the big bake house; it wasn't comparable to the small bakery in Gelnhausen he had owned.
Three large ovens were continuously producing bread for two shifts of workers. They had "lunch" at noon and at midnight, "breakfast" at six in the morning and six in the afternoon.
"Twenty-four-slash-six," they called it. Only Sunday off, and even then they had some Jewish bakers with their own smaller oven at work.
So Opa jumped into his work again, with four new apprentices.
That left Jakob to his own devices.
Jakob would attend the Lateinschule in Jena, but it was the harvest holidays, and if he got too close to the bakery, Opa would certainly press him into forced labor.
So he felt it was better to bail out and explore the premises. Perhaps there were more boys his age here.
Strolling along the backside of the buildings he reached an open window. Looking inside he saw (Ugh!) a classroom. Only two people inside. An elderly—perhaps not so elderly—man, apparently the teacher, and a young, blond, small schoolgirl.
But this was strange. The man was reading and translating a text.
Modern English, the "up-timer" style Jakob's teacher in the Lateinschule in Gelnhausen had introduced two years ago.
The man was a student!
" 'The steel bronze,' " Jakob heard, " 'of Colonel Franz Uchatius (1811–1881) consisted of copper alloyed with eight percent of tin, the tenacity and hardness being increased by cold-rolling.'
"Only eight percent," the man interrupted himself. "This is more than interesting; we use one part tin on four parts copper for bell bronze. So I should try this 'steel bronze' mixture. But what is 'cold-rolling'?"
"It's rather what the name says," the young girl answered competently, "take two hard cylinders and push the cold softer bronze through. I don't know the exact construction of a rolling mill, but I'm sure we can get a cheat sheet from Grantville."
And she was the teacher. And obviously one of the "up-timers." Her German sounded strange.