Franz Sylwester, one-time violinist in the chapel of the arch-bishop of Mainz To Friedrich Braun, journeyman instrument crafter for Master Hans Riebeck, in Mainz
On the nineteenth day of January in the year of our Lord 1633
Greetings, my friend,
I am sure by now that you have despaired of hearing from your prodigal, but I promised you that when I found a place I would write to you. By the grace of God I now have that place, and so I keep my word. Before I proceed further, I must confess to you. I am well aware that I was somewhat less than gracious to you and Anna in those dark days after that snake Heydrich smashed my hand. Please mark down the things that I said then to the physical pain of my wound and to the spiritual pain of knowing that I could never play again.
The pen paused as images flashed through his mind: sitting in the tavern that night, arguing with Rupert Heydrich as to who was the better player, goading Rupert and smiling as the rising choleric tide stained the other man's face—the sudden eruption of the fight behind him, being caught in the brawl and knocked to the floor—scrambling to escape the flow of the struggle—the sudden panic as someone stepped on his arm and pinned it to the floor—the explosion of agony as the boot heel smashed into his left hand, and again, and again, and again—the serpent's voice hissing in his ear, taunting him as he curled sobbing around his wounded hand.
"Was there no investigation, no judgment made?" she murmured in his ear.
"No," he said, "it happened in the middle of the brawl, and no one would come forward to support my story."
There was a pause, then came, "Do you miss it?"
"I will always miss it," he said quietly, "but as my friend Isaac says, 'The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. Blessed be the Name of the Lord.' Where God has taken one gift away, he has given several in return."
I am well aware that I am alive solely because of Anna's tending me during the fever, keeping the wound rot from claiming me. I am also well aware that I am alive twice over because of the gift of silver that you and Master Hans added to the pittance the Kappelmeister gave me when he turned me out. That gift kept body and soul together until I arrived at my current place.
I am also very ashamed of my churlish words to you when I shook the dust of Mainz from my feet as I set out on my wanderjahr.
Another pause, another flood of memories: burning with fever and biting his lip bloody to keep from crying out as Anna tended his broken hand; the weak-chinned, slovenly Kappelmeister confronting him in his room—"I have no room for a one-handed violinist. You must leave these quarters by the end of the week. Here are your final wages."—the hand slamming down on the table, and lifting to reveal two silver pieces and eight coppers—Heydrich smirking in the background; bickering with his friends as they tried to restrain him from leaving, finally shaking their hands off his arms and snarling, "I will not stay in the same place as Heydrich, and if you loved me, you would not either! If you will stay, then stay, but leave me go!"
"A little rude, were you?" brought him back to the present.
"Aye . . . and with no cause, for they loved me well. I only hope they still do."
I had not traveled many days until I had repented of them, and I am heartily glad to now apologize and ask your forgiveness.
I had no destination in mind when I left you, and so I drifted aimlessly from place to place. I quickly learned that just as there is no future for a one-handed violinist, there is actually little that a one-handed man can do to earn his bread. No Adel or wealthy burgher will hire a man to tutor his children who was crippled in a tavern brawl. The clerks we used to patronize need two working hands. The mercenary companies will not take a one-handed man. Even the common laborers we used to sneer at require two strong hands to wield mattock and spade.
I took up with a couple of traveling players for a few days, who advised me strongly not to sing, as my voice would make even a crow sound melodious! I seem to remember Anna uttering a similar sentiment once, although she was smiling when she said it. They were not.
They also lifted my ignorance and lowered my arrogance when I attempted to become a drummer by showing me that that art is more complex than it looks—and that even a novice drummer requires two good hands to learn his skills.
As each day passed in succession, the Lord taught me humility, until finally, after weeks of such tutoring I left my pride, my arrogance, lying in the dust of the road. Then it was that the Lord opened a door for me. I was sitting in a low tavern near a crossroads, not even in a town or village, nursing the only beer I could afford to buy. I was trying to stave off the moment when I would go out into the night to find a haystack or barn to sleep in, when I heard a peddler wishing that he could tell his sister in Hamburg that he was well, so she would not worry so. A conversation ensued, with the result that I wrote a letter for him and he bought me another flagon of beer and gave me a copper besides. As days passed, I served as scribe to more people who were unable to write—soldiers, peddlers, laborers—anyone who could buy the paper and ink and would give me a copper or two to put their words into a form that could cross the miles. And I was glad to do so.
It is perhaps an irony that these people that I used to ridicule turned out to be mostly good folk—rough around the edges, often; more than a little crude, absolutely; perhaps not strictly honest by the prince-bishop's laws, but mostly honorable by their lights. And even the biggest rogue that I met was likeable. I certainly never met anyone who compared to Heydrich for malice.
The coppers I earned as a scribe eked out the silver you had given me as I drifted south and west through Thuringia, but the work was erratic and my resources kept dwindling. When I arrived at Grantville, there were few coins in my pocket.
I had heard rumors of Grantville while I was on the road, but I passed them off as typical gossip exaggerations. You have probably heard the same rumors, and knowing you, you are even more skeptical than I was. Believe them. To paraphrase the closing words of The Gospel of Saint John, there are not enough books in the world to contain the wonders of the place.
"Laying it on a bit thick, aren't you?"
"Perhaps." He smiled, still focused on the paper. "Friedrich will shake his head at how credulous I have become, and Anna will be scandalized at the sacrilege."