Summer 1634, Grantville, State of Thuringia-Franconia

“That was the year I broke my nose at the demolition derby.”

Tina Marie Hollister pointed to the knot. She'd never bothered to have it repaired. Never had the money, to tell the truth. Probably wouldn't have bothered even if she'd been rich.

Kitty Chaffin looked across the desk. The personnel office of the State of Thuringia-Franconia would be hard up without Tina Marie. Her oldest son, Ray Lafferty, had married a German girl, Christina Zuehlke, up at Wismar last year. It had turned out that Christina had two unemployed older brothers with Latin school educations who would be willing to work for SoTF personnel in recruiting down-timers. Brothers from up north on the Baltic coast. Brothers who didn't have cousins, godsons, sons of godfathers, or in-laws of cousins all over central Thuringia. All of whom needed government jobs. Or wanted them, at least. If Kitty could have hired subordinates from Madagascar, she would have considered it a good deal.

Even so, sometimes the sheer raucousness of the other woman got on Kitty's nerves. Not that she was that much older than Tina Marie. Maybe twelve years. No more than fifteen. Tina Marie would be fiftyish to Kitty's sixtyish. Maybe not quite fifty. She could look it up in the files here in the office if it was ever important.

Right now, the younger of the two Zuehlke men was looking at Tina Marie a little dubiously. They hadn't objected when Christina had married Ray Lafferty. At that point, up in Pomerania and Mecklenburg, the devastation had been so bad that they'd been happy enough that their sister had just found a husband who could afford to house and feed her.

Of course, that was in Wismar. Before they met Ray's mother.

But now, with regular jobs, their middle-classness was coming through. Kitty thought that it was hard to get much middle-classier than Johann Friedrich and Dietrich Zuehlke.

It was hard to get less middle-class than Tina Marie. She hadn't explained just what a demolition derby was, but Dietrich Zuehlke clearly realized that it wasn't a sedate music recital. He suspected that it was closer to a bear-baiting.

****

“It is not easy, Pastor Kastenmayer.” Dietrich Zuehlke sat uneasily in the minister's study in the rectory of St. Martin in the Fields Lutheran church.

The church itself sat, almost as uneasily, just outside the borders of the Ring of Fire. While wanting to provide religious services to the many refugees of his own faith, Count Ludwig Guenther of Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt had concluded that they were capable of walking far enough to attend sermons delivered on land that was clearly still his own.

“All of us are living in her house,” Zuehlke continued. “Frau Hollister's house. Given the situation with space and rents in Grantville, this is unavoidable.”

“All?” Kastenmayer had seen Zuehlke with a group of other people at services, but there hadn't seemed to be so many of them.

“The house has three sleeping rooms. If, as Frau Hollister points out, you count the one that she made out of a side porch when her sons got to be noisy, rambunctious, teenagers.”

“How many people?”

“Frau Hollister and her youngest daughter Carly Baumgardner in one room. Her daughter April Lafferty and my half-sister, Anna Sartorius, in the other. And on the ”˜porch' there are three sets of beds. My brother and I have one set. Frau Hollister's younger sons Vance Lafferty and Garrett Baumgardner have the second. The third—that depends on who is in town. Sometimes her son Ronnie Baumgardner. Sometimes my half-brother, Jacob Sartorius, when he is not in classes at the university in Jena. Sometimes my stepfather, Lucas Sartorius, since he is in Erfurt on business and comes down to visit us. The only family members who do not live there are Frau Hollister's oldest son Ray Lafferty who married my sister. Her name is Christina. They are up north still, in Wismar.”

Pastor Kastenmayer thought. “These ”˜bunks' are two-level beds, set upon posts?”

Zuehlke nodded. “Frau Hollister sold off her up-time beds with box springs and mattresses, replacing them with down-time made bunks with rope slats and horsehair mattresses. She says that she gained, thereby, spare funds to pay for April's apprenticeship. That is another issue, apprenticing a girl to an artisan's craft. Plus, she has a couple of canvas cots that can be set up if they are needed.”

“Where?”

“There is space for them in the two rooms used by the women. The rest of the house isn't all that big, either. A living room, an eat-in kitchen, and a bathroom. Which is a luxury, certainly. As is the natural gas heating system. Anna says that if we return to Wismar after this summer's campaign is over, presuming that the Swedes win the war, of course, she will greatly miss the natural gas ”˜range' in the kitchen.”

Kastenmayer smiled. “And the refrigerator?”

“Refrigeration isn't a big worry up on the Baltic and North Sea coasts.” Zuehlke's expression was quite serious.

Dietrich Zuehlke was always quite serious. At the age of thirty, he was a responsible sort of person. Responsible in a way for his older brother Johann Friedrich, who tended to lapse into frivolity and facetiousness if someone didn't keep an eye on him. Responsible for his younger half-sister and half-brother.

Jacob, who was just eighteen, was at the university in Jena most of the time, so that was a minor problem. But, Dietrich explained, he worried about the influence of Frau Hollister on his sister Anna, who was just twenty-three. Even more, he worried about the influence of nineteen-year-old April, now Christina's sister-in-law, on Anna.

Above all, he felt responsible because, under his influence and because of his urging, his stepfather, Lucas Sartorius, had come to Grantville for several visits.

“It is my fault,” Dietrich said. “I practically dragged him down to Grantville so that he could see where his stepsons were working now. To show him that, given a reasonably stable interval in this eternal war, we are not wasting the money he spent on our education.”

To Grantville, where he had fallen under the spell of this Jezebel.

Frau Hollister, in whose house Dietrich was necessarily living.

Erfurt, Summer 1634

“When can we expect the shipment to arrive?” Dennis Stull, Grantville's civilian head of procurement at the USE's main supply depot for Thuringia and the rest of the central Germanies, had been impatient for two weeks. He hated evasions. He expected a lot of them this morning.

“Never.” The tall man seated opposite him—Lucas Sartorius was his name—reached across the desk and handed Stull a letter. “This came in yesterday evening from our firm's factor in Luebeck.”

“Never?”

“At the direct orders of Emperor Gustavus Adolphus, all of the grain shipments we are managing to bring out of the Baltic are being diverted to supplying the armies in the north.”

“Just how does he propose to feed the armies in the south? At Ingolstadt? In Swabia?”

Sartorius leaned back. “May I suggest that the king, ah, the emperor, is in the north himself and sees the need there directly.”

“Is this some version of ”˜out of sight, out of mind'?”

“A universal proverb, more or less. In the same category as, ”˜there's no use in crying over spilt milk.'”

“I don't intend to have Baner foraging in Franconia. We have enough problems going in Franconia with the Ram Rebellion. And while I have no doubts at all that Horn has been foraging through Swabia just as ruthlessly as Bernhard of Saxe-Weimar has been foraging through Swabia, I'd really like to try to keep it within reasonable limits.”

“So that, if he prevails, there will be something left in the region for you to govern?”

“Or for Gustavus Adolphus's allies to govern. Parts of the region, such as Wuerttemberg, are Lutheran.”

Sartorius turned from political speculation to business. “You do realize that no firm has a great deal to offer right now. This year's crop of Polish grain is still in the field. It will be months before it can be harvested and transported to the Baltic ports. During my career, I have traveled as far as Koenigsburg regularly. Sometimes farther, up to Finland. Arranging exports and imports, contracts and sales. Every year, my main stop was Gdansk. Danzig, the Germans call it. I am not giving you an excuse. It is a fact. The only thing any factor can hope to find for the rest of this summer is grain that someone has, as you say, ”˜stashed' because he was hoping for a higher price. ”˜Hoarding' is what we call it.”

“Well, then.” Dennis steepled his fingers together, his elbows on the desk. “Found any good hoards lately?”

Grantville, Summer 1634

“ . . . absolutely outrageous,” Dietrich Zuehlke finished.

Lucas Sartorius looked at him rather mildly. “Tina Marie and I merely went out for a pleasant evening at the Thuringian Gardens. Had a few beers with friends.”

“And finished it off in her bed.”

“It's not a bad bed,” Sartorius said judiciously. “A little narrow and involving some hazards with the upper bunk. Overall, though, quite comfortable, and the absence of bedbugs is particularly delightful. I plan to take several containers of this DDT with me when I return north.”

“You should be thoroughly ashamed of yourself. My mother . . . .”

“I was faithful to your mother,” Sartorius said. Well, reasonably. She never knew anything to the contrary. Finland was a long way from Wismar, after all. “But she has been dead for two years.”

“The horrible example she is setting for Anna and April and Carly . . . .”

“None of whom were home. April and Anna were still at the Thuringian Gardens, with their own friends, when Tina Marie and I decided to leave. There is no reason for either of them to come into Tina Marie's bedroom in the middle of the night. Carly was having a ”˜sleepover,' which should—should—have guaranteed us a quite adequate level of privacy. If you had not chosen to follow us home.”

****

“I am not here voluntarily.”

Ludwig Kastenmayer looked at Lucas Sartorius. He'd seen a lot of men like this during his pastoral career. Not bad men, in the sense of being evil. But not precisely well-behaved, either. Men whose commitment to the Ten Commandments left something to be desired and who, although they appeared for church on Sunday, tended to leave for the tavern before the sermon started. “I guessed as much.”

“I'm not, either.” That was the older stepson.

“You do realize, Hans-Fritz,” Sartorius said, “that you may be excused.”

“No you may not.” Dietrich glared at his brother.

Jonas Justus Muselius would probably have smiled if he hadn't been more concerned about certain looming communications problems.

Sartorius, who had apparently decided to be difficult just for the sake of being difficult, or possibly mischievous just for the sake of being mischievous, was speaking Low German—the Plattdeutsch of the northern flatlands and coastal regions.

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