Chapter 20: A New Year
Jagdschloss of the Duke of Sachsen-Eisenach, Marksuhl, ThuringiaThe morning of New Year's Day 1635
"They're coming." Christine, landgravine of Hesse-Kassel, cocked her head and seemed to be listening to something.
"Who is coming? And what are you listening to?" Johann Ernst, hereditary governor of West Thuringia County, couldn't hear anything. But when his wife used the maximum gain of her hearing aid, she could hear even better than him. And it seemed she had, because she flinched, when Johann asked those questions.
He could see that she had reduced the volume. She smiled a very complacent smile. "Our special guests. They're just in time."
Today the christening for Friedrich Alexander and Christine Marie was scheduled. Ten thirty. And, since the weather was still freezing cold—near zero on the up-timer's Fahrenheit thermometer—it would be held here in Marksuhl.
It was better to herd a hundred adult guests through that cruel cold than two newborn babies. The innkeeper of the Golden Angel and the other inns in Marksuhl had nothing against a little extra business in the winter.
Even some journalists of the so-called "yellow press" had shown up, and Christine had forced Johann to attend several of these horrible Peinliche Befragungen they called interviews. It seemed that Johann Ernst, with his history as former Duke of Saxe-Eisenach, had grown in popularity. One of the female reporters had even asked him about his first marriage.
"Your Excellency, did you really marry Elisabeth von Mansfeld in spite of your father's objection?" she demanded.
Johann grinned. The counts of Mansfeld were ancient nobility, but his father had called his prospective father-in-law a servant and hostler. Johann Friedrich the Middle had always been more than a little snooty.
And much too credulous. First, he had believed the impostor who claimed to be Anna von Kleve, the divorced fourth wife of the English king. And then he had fallen into the schemes of the Knight Wilhelm von Grumbach, suffered from an imperial ban, started a small war, of course lost the war and finally was thrown into lifelong imperial arrest in Vienna.
So Johann had taken Elisabeth, traveled to Neustadt, where his mother had joined her husband in his fate, and convinced them to approve the marriage, his father even witnessing their official Beylager.
Certainly a story for the yellow press, even if it had happened over thirty years ago.
But back to the present. Now Johann could hear the strange sound, too. Or rather, it had been strange one week ago. When that thing turned up in Marksuhl for the first time, the whole of the village had left their houses to stare.
Johann knew up-timer cars from his visits in Grantville, but this was a completely different monster. Someone had taken one of the larger pickups, mounted steel chains instead of wheels, and thus converted it into a snowmobile, as they called it. It showed up on Tuesday—only one day after Johann had proudly announced the twins' birth—with several sleighs in tow, filled with newspaper inquisitors from Grantville. Slower than a man on a horse in summer, but through the deep snow in the Thuringian Forest, much faster than an animal-drawn sleigh.
During Johann's musings, Christine donned a heavy cloak and held out another one for Johann in her hands.
The roar grew louder.
When they left the house, the snowmobile just slid around the corner, through the gate into the yard, and came to a full stop. It hadn't any sleighs in tow this time. Johann could see a grinning man sitting behind a steering wheel in a large compartment.
Then the passenger door of the vehicle opened, and some people emerged. Johann couldn't suppress a chuckle; it looked as if they were fleeing from the stomach of the metal monster. Only when they got closer could Johann identify his two nephews and their wives, wearing heavy winter clothes.
When they had met in autumn both had signaled that they would perhaps accept Johann's children, but a long legal marathon would have to precede it. Afterwards some meetings of lawyers had been arranged, but as preoccupied as Johann was with his duty in the parliament and with the Wartburg project, he hadn't had the time to force them to decisions.
And then Max's due date approached, the weather confined them to Marksuhl, and Johann couldn't do more than invite them to the christening, knowing that they most likely wouldn't be able to manage the journey in the short time.
But with this monster . . .
"I love you," Christine said, giving Johann a quick kiss on the cheek.
Johann grinned sheepishly. He had managed to keep his newest carpentry project out of Christine and Max's sight. But when the two started to don their winter clothes for the two-minute walk to St. Hubertus, he only said, "You won't need that."
Then he opened the door in the kitchen, which normally led to a backyard with garbage cans. But now the exterior was dark.
Until he switched on the electric light in the wooden tunnel, he—and, of course, all of Marksuhl's carpenters and a lot of volunteers—had erected the day before.
"Be careful," he said. "The electric wires are naked."
So they could reach the side entrance of St. Hubertus without getting their feet wet, and without needing thick coats.
St. Hubertus, Marksuhl
"Christ, unser Herr, zum Jordan kam
nach seines Vaters Willen,
von Sankt Johann die Taufe nahm,
sein Werk und Amt zu füllen."
"To Jordan came our Lord the Christ,
To do God’s pleasure willing,
And there was by Saint John baptized,
All righteousness fulfilling."
After the parish had sung the official hymn, Johann Wagner, general superintendent of Eisenach, came forward, followed by the dukes of Saxe-Weimar and Saxe-Altenburg, each of them carrying one of the children to be baptized.
Both had told Johann Ernst that this shouldn't be considered "a legally binding statement." On the other hand, the words had been accompanied by a kind of grin that he could only interpret as whimsical. There was certainly something cooking.
Johann Wagner turned around and signaled the parish to sit down. Then he said to the children, "Depart you unclean spirit, and give room to the Holy Spirit."
He signed the boy and the girl with a cross on their foreheads and hearts, and said, "Receive the sign of the holy cross both on your forehead and chest."
Albrecht and Johann Philipp took care of their duty with due serenity. They had been godfathers before, so they could hold the children with practiced dexterity.
But that was only the prelude. The hard part came when both children were undressed to be baptized.
In the meantime, the massively overstuffed church had warmed enough to take the edge off its initial coldness, but Friedrich Alexander had shown to be a little delicate since his birth one week ago. So he immediately started to protest when his christening robe was removed. Hundreds of guests gasped in unison when Duke Albrecht of Saxe-Weimar barely managed to keep the little boy from falling into the font.
Fortunately, Christine Marie showed the stoicism expected from a high noble during an important event and kept quiet.
Back in the Jagdschloss
Sometime later three couples were sitting in the salon and sipping coffee.
"Thank you for coming and serving as godfathers," Johann Ernst said to his nephews and their wives. "You know, it's a matter close to my heart."
Albrecht grinned and pointed to his wife with his thumb. "Thank the women. Dorothea has threatened to visit her sister Dorothea Sophie in Quedlinburg and live in the Damenstift for an indefinite time, if I wouldn't approve it."
"And Elisabeth told me," Johann Philipp continued with a sidelong glance, "she would order an up-time lock for her sleeping room's door."
"Don't believe them," Elisabeth interjected laughing. "I only asked my dear husband if he really wanted to damage our family's reputation in Thuringia after the years of improved cooperation between nobles and commoners. With all the publicity your family has achieved."
Dorothea, sitting next to her husband on the couch, stroked his hand and was silent, smiling.
Albrecht cleared his throat. "Oh yes, there is something we want to tell you. To say it with the unforgotten words of our dear uncle: I'm about to become a father." He seized his wife's hand.
"Yes," Dorothea said. "I've been to Grantville in autumn for something the doctors called a 'minor operation,' and now I'm pregnant. It seems I was pregnant once and didn't even notice it."
"So you can perhaps," Albrecht continued, "leave a little free space in your day planner this July for the next christening in our family."
"There is something else," Johann Philipp said with a look at Albrecht, "we have to confess."
"Ugh," Elisabeth interjected, rising from her seat. "It's business time. I'd rather see the children and chat with Max a little."
"Me too," Dorothea and Christine said in unison.
"I think," Christine said, "neither of you have seen our outhouse yet?"
"Outhouse?" Dorothea asked. "Doesn't that mean . . ."
Christine laughed. "Originally, yes, but ours is a little cleaner. Come on."
"Yes, it's very nice here," Elisabeth admitted. She had already settled in one of the armchairs, taken sleeping Alexander from his cradle and was rocking him in her arms.
"I agree wholeheartedly," Dorothea said. She did the same with little Christine, who was sleepily sucking one of her godmother's fingers.
Max had excused herself after a while. She needed to greet the other guests, she had said. So the three duchesses were alone with the babies.
"You can take your shoes off," Christine offered, while doing the same. "The floor is heated from below by warm water."
Dorothea looked a little envious. "I'd rather preserve appearances. Didn't you say there will be a guest coming?"
"Our sisters," Christine said, "who will arrive shortly. Anyway, we need to get a little more relaxed."
Then she laughed. "And Andreas has seen Max and me naked already. He attends the sauna circle whenever he visits us."
"Ah yes," Dorothea said, looking around. "The famous and notorious 'hotbed of indecency' in the castle. The American newspapers were not amused."
Christine shrugged, trying to interpret the younger woman's facial expression. "Since you're spending the night here, you can join us later and try it out. I can arrange a 'hen party.' "
Dorothea's eyes gleamed.
Elisabeth's face showed no emotion. "And who is this 'Andreas'?" she asked.
Andreas Reyher took a deep breath before knocking at the door. He knew that Duchess Christine had arranged the meeting here in the Outhouse because she knew his problems when he needed to speak to "big shots," as the up-timers called them.
Although the Ernestine Dukes were no longer sovereigns, they all held seats in the upper house of the SoTF state Congress, and as such, their voices had great weight. If the planned reforms of Germany's educational system were to have any chance, a lot of people with money needed to be convinced. Germany's nobles were still the richest segment of society.
Which was the second reason he needed to talk to them. Now. Nobody knew how long the peace in central Europe might hold. There was no more time to waste. After more than a year of preparation . . .
Veste CoburgAugust 1633
"Hoheit." Andreas Reyher bowed. "My—um—deepest condolences on your brother's death."
Johann Ernst von Sachsen-Eisenach, now Sachsen-Coburg-Eisenach again, after Johann Casimir's death, nodded. "Thank you, Andreas." He was standing at a large opening in the wall, overlooking the town of Coburg, his hands clasped on his back.
"What do you think will happen to this fortress?" he said without turning around.
"Veste Coburg, I mean. The fortress my brother invested more money in than he owned. Much more money." He turned around and pointed to a stack of paper on the table. "A penitentiary. A lunatic asylum, the encyclopedia says."
Andreas stepped forward. "May I?" he said extending his hand to the paper.
Johann Ernst nodded. "Go ahead! Read it." Then he continued staring out of the window. For Andreas it seemed as if there was a smirk on the duke's face.
Andreas read the first page. Up-time English was far from his favorite language, but nearly two years in Grantville had made him more or less fluent. Yes. The article titled "Coburg" mentioned the school that Johann Casimir had founded in 1604, a three-year siege on the castle between 1632 and 1635. And the later usages. It seemed castles were no longer useful as fortresses. . . .