Chapter 16: A Business Trip to Saxony

 

Jena Lokschuppen, Jena, Saxe-Weimar CountyNovember 1634

 

"We don't have enough tin," Wolfgang Hilliger said thoughtfully. "If we really want to build the first section to Weimar with bronze tracks, we need another—and bigger—furnace. And at least one more founder master."

"I know," Marshall Ambler answered. "The first shipload of tin we ordered in Cornwall has left Penzance harbor already, but at the moment I have no idea where it is, or if we'll ever hear anything about it. So I sent one of the duke of Saxe-Altenburg's factors to Zinnwald, but these Erzgebirglers seem to be a stubborn bunch." He grinned at Wolfgang, who was one of this bunch, too.

"They told him their next year's production was already sold to make the cannons Johann Georg of Saxony has ordered from Freiberg. This was new information for the state's government." Both men laughed.

The elector of Saxony had separated himself and his duchy from the CPE at the beginning of the war against the League of Ostend. Recently the rumors were flying that he had contacts with the Polish court to join the Rzeczpospolita, the powerful eastern European empire containing the nations that up-time had been Poland, Lithuania, Belarus and Ukraine, which the Americans called by the acronym of PLC. So everybody could smell the gunsmoke looming for next spring.

"How will that work?" Wolfgang asked, his brows furrowing again. "He doesn't have the money for these cannons. Will he pay the Freibergers—in other words Uncle Zacharias and Uncle Christian—with his worthless paper money?"

Marshall shrugged. "They'll have to take it. Nobody else is offering them any contracts right now, and I heard the harvest was bad in the Ore Mountains this year. They need to buy food for the winter, so they have to take Johann Georg's money."

"Hmmm," Wolfgang said. Then suddenly he smiled. "And there's certainly nobody on this world who has an interest to help them."

"Certainly we haven't," Marshall answered grinning. "That would be tortious interference, if we did that."

"What?" Wolfgang asked. His up-time English had further improved since summer, thanks to closer connections to a certain ESOL teacher. But this was a term he hadn't heard before.

"Nepotism, lobbyism, crony capitalism; our language is full of words describing bribery without naming it."

"Oh," Wolfgang said. "Is that what Nikki calls a 'sweetener'? I like that term."

 On the road to Freiberg, near Oederan, SaxonyDecember 1634

 

"Lift!" Wolfgang shouted, and followed his own command with all the men around. Slowly the ox cart moved a little higher.

"We've got it," Nikki Bourne cried. "Oh my God, we've got it."

She and her mother, Sydney Mase, had managed to put the spare wheel onto the axle. This was not easy in the whirling snow that filled the air and made even seeing the men around the collapsed wagon nearly impossible.

Collapsing was the word of the moment, but Wolfgang was there just in time to get Nikki in his strong arms before the young woman stumbled and fell. They kissed passionately until they heard an "Ahem" from behind.

"I don't want to interrupt young love," Sydney said. "But we are not completely out of the woods. Figuratively and literally." Even her voice was muffled by the falling snow.

She was right, but the rest of the action was a cakewalk. Since Wolfgang was the nominal leader of this expedition, he should lead by example. But the other men were already eagerly putting the heavy bags back on the wagon while the wagon master hammered a splint into the axle.

"This was our last spare wheel," he said to Wolfgang. "I hope we reach Freiberg tomorrow, but if we have another break, we'll lose another day building a new wheel."

They had already lost several days. Under normal weather conditions, the way from Jena to Freiberg could be traveled in five days. But these conditions were not normal. Snowfall before Christmas was unusual in central Germany and snowfall in this amount even more.

Later historians of the old timeline had called the winter 1634/35 one of the most severe in the seventeenth century. The storm that had drowned the North Sea coast in late October was only the first of a whole series between October and December. Of course, none of those historians left their wisdom in any book available in Grantville. So it had seemed a good plan to travel to Freiberg early in December and hopefully return before Christmas.

Fortunately, the experienced teamsters were still certain to be on the right track, although even for Wolfgang, who had grown up not far from here, it seemed that every boulder by the road looked the same.

They forced their way forward through the falling snow in the direction they assumed Freiberg to be. When they reached Oberschöna before dusk, Wolfgang heaved a deep sigh. They were still headed the right way, and this was an area he was familiar with.

 

Near Freiberg

 

The next day the sky was clear, and the air bone-chilling cold. Nikki could see the impressive skyline of Freiberg against the blue sky. The cathedral—she shook her head. A Lutheran cathedral called St. Mary's was the town's largest building with its steep blue roof and two stout massive towers. But St. Petri's on the highest point dominated the town with its three slender towers. "Town" was not really the correct term for the formerly largest and richest city in Saxony. All the hills around were full of silver, which had brought enormous wealth to Freiberg in past centuries. Freiberg—Free Mountain—was nearly five hundred years old. But since the Spaniards started importing cheap American silver into Europe, the glamorous city was going to pot.

When they came closer, Nikki could see many of the houses were derelict. Wolfgang had told her about the devastation the troops of the imperial general, Heinrich Holk, had wrought in 1632 while Wallenstein was defeated in the Battle of the Alte Veste. The plague had entered the city on their heels. Fortunately, the disease had later driven the mercenaries out again, but another full third of the inhabitants had lost their lives. Less than ten thousand of the formerly thirty thousand-plus inhabitants were left now.

This kind of "down-sizing" in a mountain town like Freiberg meant more and more roofs of uninhabited houses—as steep as they were compared to the lowlands—collapsing from the snow masses in winter.

The snow now crunched under their feet and under the wheels of the ox carts entering the city through Peter's Gate. People appeared, peering at the wagon train through the doors of their houses, but closed them quickly to keep the cold out.

 

Petersgasse, House #123

 

Shortly afterward, Wolfgang ordered the convoy to stop, and turned left to an enormous archway of red sandstone. A coat of arms showing a bear holding a drafting compass was painted above the gate.

The gate was closed, and Wolfgang bumped on it with his fist. After a while, a small door opened in the gate and a teenaged boy suspiciously eyed the crowd of people standing there.

"Who—" he started, but then cried, "Wolf! Mama, Bastian, come quickly! Wolf is back!" He jumped in Wolfgang's arms and hugged him.

"Micha, calm down," Wolfgang said. "Come on, we'll open the gate first."

Together they lifted the big bar on the inside of the gate, and the caravan was soon through the archway and into the large yard.

There Nikki saw a middle-aged woman approaching from one side, a young man from the other.

"Wolfgang," the woman said beaming, and opened her arms.

"Mama," Wolfgang said and hugged her. "It's good to see you. And Bastian and Micha, too."

Then he turned, and took Nikki by the hand. "Mama, this is Nikki. Nikki, this is my mother."

"Good morning, Frau Hilligerin," Nikki said.

"Ah, bah," Wolfgang's mother said. "Give me a hug and call me Mama."

****

"I've heard of you 'up-timers,' " Katharina Hilligerin said, while the family—including Nikki and Sydney—sat around the large kitchen table, drinking hot tea. "But I haven't heard about any of you coming to Freiberg."

"I hadn't even heard of Freiberg," Sydney said, "before I met Wolfgang. When they talk about Saxony, they mention only Leipzig or Dresden. It’s like the Thuringians don't even know that Freiberg exists."

"The Saxon electors and their families are buried here in the cathedral and not in Dresden. Under brass panels cast by our family," Sebastian, Wolfgang's brother, added proudly.

"Sydney," Wolfgang said laughing. "You should hire Bastian as your guide for the big city tour. He knows the history of every stone in Freiberg."

"You must see Elector Moritz's monument. It's impressive," Sebastian said eagerly. "And the bells in the cathedral, and the Golden Gate—"

"That's enough for now," his mother stopped him firmly. "I'm sure there are more important things to do than sightseeing. Wolfgang is certainly not just here to show his home town to Nikki and Sydney." She looked questioning at her oldest son.

"You're right, Mama," Wolfgang agreed. "I need to talk with Uncle Zacharias, Uncle Christian, and Uncle Jonas—all of them, if possible, at once. What do you think about inviting them with their families for dinner tonight?"

"Wolf!" This was the first time his mother used his intimate name. "Do you know how little food we have in the town? We can't invite them to a feast."

"Mama," Wolfgang answered smiling. "What do you think we have brought in our wagons? A load of silver ore? I'm sure we've got something better.

"And I must talk to the leader of the Committee of Correspondence here, this guy called 'Der Löwe.' "

"You're talking to her," his mother answered smiling.

Wolfgang's mouth gaped. Then he slapped his forehead. "Oh, my God, I should have known!"

Looking into the puzzled faced of Nikki and Sydney he explained. "It's Mama's maiden name. Katharina Löwe. And since Papa's death in 1629, she has fought for our family like a lion." He smiled.

"Not that Freiberg needs a CoC as badly as the lowland towns. Each and every person in this town was free from the beginning in the twelfth century. You can't really distinguish the nobles from the commoners. In fact our family was ennobled in . . ." He frowned.

". . . 1521," his brother completed. "Great-grandfather Martin. You should know that."

Wolfgang looked embarrassed. "I never was a bookworm."

"Too right!" Nikki added.

Laughter shattered the kitchen.

"But nobody ever used the 'von' in our family," Wolfgang continued after the laughter had died down. "In Freiberg, you make your money with the work of your hands. If you are good at it, you'll become rich. And if you are rich, you become a patrician. No matter if you work in the mountain or above."

"Oh, we do need a CoC," his mother interjected firmly. "Some people here are as filthy as the lowlanders. And we don't want to get the plague again. We have struggles with the guild masters, rather normal for a CoC, as I heard. However, we don't work against the city council. We coordinate our tasks in weekly meetings with Mayor Schönleben."

"Whose family was ennobled in 1494," Sebastian completed.

 

The Hilliger HouseThe same evening

 

"The dinner was delicious," Zacharias Hilliger, the oldest of Wolfgang's three uncles said. "What do you call these strips made from—um—Kartoffeln?"

"The up-timers call them 'French Fries,' " Wolfgang answered. "But the Thuringians have, of course, renamed them 'American Fries.' This year's potato harvest was excellent, and soon they will be on the menu of the Freedom Arches, where they are called 'Freedom Fries.' "

The men had retired to have a beer and a talk in confidence.

"It's one of the reasons," Wolfgang continued, "why I wanted to speak to you all. I've heard how bad the crop harvest was, and potatoes should be a good replacement."

"But it's too late in the year now," Christian Hilliger, the middle of the uncles, a cousin of the other two, interjected.

"Not at all. We have enough of them in Thuringia. I have brought forty Zentner with me and bought an option on four hundred more Zentner. And there's still much more for sale in the cellars. That should ease the fate of Freiberg a little."

"If we manage to get them into town." Jonas Hilliger, the youngest uncle, was Wolfgang's only relative not involved in foundries. He was a very successful merchant.

"That will be your job, Uncle Jonas. I believe the teamsters I hired will not complain about getting pairs of bronze skis under their wagons to turn them into sleighs. It seems this winter will be long and cold, as early as it started.

"Bringing potatoes to Freiberg and taking tin on the way back will give them an enormous profit in the normally sleepy time of the year."

"But we'll need that tin," Gabriel protested. He was just twenty, Wolfgang's cousin, but since his father's death last year the head of his branch of the Hilliger family.

"For what?" Wolfgang asked. "For the cannons that Bierjörge has ordered? Has he paid you yet? Will you get silver or only worthless paper?"

The three founders frowned.

"And how often do you think they will be able to fire with these pieces before Torstensson's artillery beats them to rubble? Based on the stories about Breitenfeld and the Lech, I'd bet on at most two rounds."

The frown deepened. Founders always wanted to be proud of their work, and expecting it getting shattered in the first battle—which was very likely, judged by the Swedish artillery's reputation—was nothing to be taken lightly.

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