Eric Flint’s novel 1632 created a wonderful alternate history universe where a cosmic space/time event called the Ring of Fire sucked a little West Virginia town called Grantville from the year 2000 and dropped it in eastern Germany in the year 1631. Hijinks and high adventure ensue as the American Revolution gets kicked off 200 years early. Eric subsequently opened that universe up for other writers to write in. I broke into professional writing by writing stories laid in the Ring of Fire series for The Grantville Gazette e-magazine.
My stories in the Ring of Fire series deal mostly with ordinary people, “the man on the street” you might say, and whether they are up-timer or down-timer, how they were affected by the Ring of Fire. A Pilum for Your Sternum is a case in point. The second part of the story is the story I actually set out to tell, but I realized that I had to create the character of Archie first, which is how the first part of the story came about. Together, the two parts form the origin story of the pair of Archibald Gottesfreund and Master Tiberius Claudius Titus Wulff. I think it’s a fun read, and I hope you enjoy it.
About the author:
David Carrico has been a science fiction reader and fan since 1963, and a professional SF writer since 2004. His stories can be found in the Grantville Gazette and in various anthologies. His latest books are Magdeburg Noir, a collection of stories in the Ring of Fire series, and A Song of Passing, a non-1632 fantasy novel, both published by Ring of Fire Press. Forthcoming books from Ring of Fire Press include Blood’s Call and Blood’s Cost, a fantasy duology. Other books in the Ring of Fire series by David include Letters From Gronow, The Muse of Music, and Essen Defiant.
They say that Scots are crazy. Now, many folk say that, but I have that on the best authority—my own mother. She would say it often, with a laugh or a grin, even though she herself was a Scot, from the Isle of Skye.
Caitrion MacDonald—Ma—had the red hair and blue eyes of the MacDonald clan. “Not just any MacDonald clan, Archie,” she would say, “but the Clan Donald of Sleat. None of your MacDonnells of Glengarry or Clanranald were we. Aye, and even the Irish gallowglasses would walk wary of us in our day!” Oh, she was proud of that heritage, Ma was, and she tried to instill it in me, naming me Archibald, a well-respected name in the clan. And how she ended up marrying a stocky merchant named Gottesfreund from Hamburg was more than ever I understood. But love him she did, and since I came from their union, I’m glad of it.
Ma was upon occasion accused of being a shrew by those who had been on the sharp end of her temper. Now, I wouldn’t go that far myself, but I would allow that when she’d a mind to, she had a well-honed tongue keen enough to be a flensing knife. Even Father would find business elsewhere when that black mood settled on her. But he always returned, and to the end of his days he was faithful to her. Aye, even later in years she was a handsome woman, so I well knew what had drawn Father to her.
To hear Father tell it, his family was barely over the scandal of him marrying a Scot, a Highlander, to boot, and a Papist on top of all of it, when I was born and started the whole fracas over again because I appeared with red hair to match Ma’s. It wasn’t until she converted to Lutheranism after I was born that they mostly calmed down.
Once she transferred her allegiance, Ma was faithful to the Lutheran church and saw to it that I was raised in it. I knew all the catechisms, sang in the boys’ choir, and spent my time assisting the pastors in service. This at times made life interesting for me, as when she would upon occasion pack me off to visit my cousins on the Isle of Skye for a few months during the summer. A braw pack of lads we were, running wild over the hillsides during the long summer days. Being Scots or half-Scots—I wasn’t the only half-breed in the pack—why, it was nothing that we would be testing our strength against each other, and the defending of the true faith amongst that rowdy pack of Papists fell to my lot frequently. So it’s many the black eye and busted lip and bruised knuckle I had from it, but I learned to give as well as I got, I learned to stand up and defend what I thought was right, and I learned how to earn the respect of men who might have differences of opinion with me. I took no great harm from it, and indeed, those lessons have stood me well most of my life.
My father saw to it that I had some education beyond that of the grammar school in Hamburg. I can read and write Latin as well as any prosperous merchant, if not so well as a university docent. Never could grasp Greek, though, so Homer is beyond me, although I quite like Vergil. I can do most arithmetic and calculations well enough to keep a merchant’s books and maybe to build a building, provided it wasn’t a cathedral. I can fumble along on a lute—or I could before I lost the top finger joint of the middle two fingers of my left hand. Like most of Ma’s kin, I can render a tune well enough, although I’d not want to be trying to write one. Most of that I had by my seventeenth year, the year I became a man.
The winter was cold that year. Not that Hamburg wasn’t usually cold in the winter, but it was especially cold that year. Ma was usually the healthiest person in the house, but she caught a croup that year that she just never got over. She would get a bit better, and then would get worse again. Each time she got better, she never got quite as well as the time before, and each time she got worse, she dipped lower than the time before. She grew pale as a ghost, she who already had the milk-white skin of the pure Scots, and she lost weight until she seemed naught but satin skin laying atop her bones. Never gaunt, but thin, so thin, and so almost a wisp.
It was the night of Epiphany that Ma died. We were all in the room with her, watching—Father, me, and my younger brothers and sister. Her breath had been rasping in and out for the whole day, faltering every now and then. We knew her time was close, but we all hoped and prayed it would not be yet. But near to the midnight, she opened her eyes to look up at Father. She raised her hand and laid it alongside his cheek, said something soft, then laid it down, closed her eyes, and breathed out. It took us all a moment to realize that she didn’t breathe in afterward, that she was done.
We all wept, including me, I’m not ashamed to admit. We all felt lost, as Ma had been the fire and the light in our lives forever, and now that hearth was dark. However, we muddled through, as the English might say. But that was the first changing of my life, for a day or two after the funeral when Father said we needed to send word to her family, I said I would do that thing.
Now understand I have no idea to this day why I took that upon myself. I had no real reason to. But I could not face the rooms of the house with Ma gone. I just had the wild urge to be going somewhere else and be doing something else. So I threw a few things in a bag, strapped on my short sword, collected my younger brother Andrew, and went down to the stable to saddle a couple of horses and take the road toward the west.
Now it might be that you know that Hamburg is a port, which might cause the thought to cross your mind to wonder why I just didn’t take passage on a ship and ride the waves at ease rather than ride the back of a horse uphill and downhill along some very nasty roads. To which I reply that if you do think that, you’ve obviously not sailed in the Baltic Sea or the North Sea in January, where winter storms are both frequent and awful, in every sense of that last word.
Rather than face the wind and waves, we rode across Denmark to the village of Ribe, where some of my father’s silver convinced a fisherman to transport me to the Isle of Skye. It took a couple of days waiting for a storm to blow itself out before I could board his leaky tub of a boat and Andrew could take my horse on lead and go home to report to Father that I was on my way.
That old gap-toothed fisherman could give lessons in dourness to any Scot I’ve ever met, and he could bargain well enough to leave even the proverbial Midas feeling skint. I ended up having to not only pay for my ride, but help with the nets as well. And as young and as braw as I was, the old man and his brother and cousin could throw and haul nets until the moon set and leave me lying gasping in the scuppers. Thankfully, I don’t get seasick.
So it was several days later that I arrived in Skye, thankful that we’d not encountered another storm, weary to the bone, stinking of fish. My aunt Margaret sent me to wash before I was allowed to meet with my uncle and cousins. Honestly, I think the meeting would have been shorter if I had been let to speak with them whilst still adorned by fish scales, but then again, my aunt had a sometimes unhealthy obsession with cleanliness. She seemed to consider it to be almost divine in nature.
At any rate, washed from cap-à-piè, adorned in fresh borrowed clothing, and still somewhat damp around the edges, I was finally allowed to enter the family hall where I was able to share the sad message with which I had been sent. There were moans and groans and more than a few tears from the older members of the clan present, and I confess that I shed a few more of my own in company with them. But that experience was cleansing for me, and not because of Aunt Margaret’s bath. By sharing, I was able to discharge my own grief, and while sadness remained, the burden of the grief was done.
I was in no hurry to return home, however, and I knew full well that my father had no expectation of my speedy return, so I entered into the life of the clan. They had a private memorial mass for Ma, but other than that life went on. We did some hunting, and more than a little drinking, but a lot of our days were spent on preparing my cousin Rory for his journey to Europe. He had joined one of the Scottish cavalry regiments serving the French king, so there was more than a bit of stir about as he selected horses and weapons and tried to convince a servant or two to go along with him.
The second changing of my life occurred but a few days before Rory left. The ship he was to sail on was due to arrive any day, and we were standing in the stable as he tried to make his final choice of a battle steed. I was somewhat loath to see him go, and I said something about I wished I was going with him. He slapped me on the shoulder and said, “Then come along. I’m sure and certain that Captain Farquhar would take another braw trooper such as yourself.”
And so I found myself back on a ship, this time a proper Dutch one, headed south to France two days later, having been provided with mount and kit and a fine long rifle by the clan. Perhaps not the wisest decision I could have made at that age, but not one that I regret.
Now, I told you that tale to tell you this one.
It was some fourteen years and a few odd days later that the third changing of my life came to me. It was May of the year 1631, as I recall, with spring well ensconced on the earth south of Antwerp. Rory and I were part of a company patrol south of the Spanish lines when we ran across a group of brigands that were assaulting a merchant and his wagons. It was in a defile in a stretch of woods, and we swept down the road toward them. Most of the brigands had the wisdom to break and run for it. The truly smart ones ran into the trees with the hope of getting lost therein. Some of them went down the road ahead of us, which was folly, as our horses were fresh and would run them down ere long. And, as usual, there were a few that were simple fools and stood their ground.
It was there I lost Rory. One of the fools had an old pistol that oath to God he shouldn’t have been able to hit the side of a fortress with, but on that day he fired at Rory and the shot struck Rory’s gorget and ricocheted up to his neck, where it blew a great hole. He was dead before he started to fall out of his saddle.
I returned the favor, of course, shooting the brigand down with the pistol in my left hand, just before his mate swung a great rusty sword at me. He was on my left and was left-handed as well, so his attack came from an awkward angle. I tried to move my mount out of his reach, but the tip of his blade caught my left hand, sending my empty pistol spinning through the air and incidentally almost severing the tips of the middle fingers of that hand. I cursed at that, dropped my own sword in the dirt and pulled my second pistol from its saddle holster to put a ball in his forehead, sending him to join his mate.
The company chirurgeon finished slicing the finger tips off, which was a fitting ending for the day. I was fortunate to not catch any wound fevers, which may have been due to my bathing them in whisky regularly. A waste of good uisge-beatha, perhaps, but before long my hand had healed . . . all except that the two fingertips I no longer had would itch from time to time.
The wound from losing Rory was much greater. Oh, I was in no danger of dying from excessive grief, mind you, or even feeling as stricken as when Ma died. I had seen too much death in the intervening years. But we had been together for fourteen years, constant companions. And the losing of him brought me to a place where I was suddenly weary with the life of a soldier. So I sold all of his equipment: horses, weapons (except for his sword), and what armor and harness he had. There was none of it that had value to his family or me but his sword. Everything else he had brought with him from Skye had either worn out or broken and been replaced. And truth to tell, I’m not certain why I kept his sword, other than a thought of perhaps returning it to his family one day. It was no Excalibur, after all. Just a serviceable cavalryman’s blade that had seen hard use over the years.
I also sold my rifle and one pair of my horse pistols, using the moneys received to acquire a smaller pair of pistols that would be easier to carry in a town or city. Walking down a street with two feet of horse pistol thrust through your belt or falling out of your boottops can be a bit awkward if you’re not a member of the local garrison.
So it was about two weeks later I collected the last of my pay from Colonel Farquhar, who tried one last time to talk me into staying, offering me a lieutenantship if I would. He bore me no ill will for all that I turned him down and wished me good fortune. So I mounted up after strapping my packs on the back of my second horse, and rode out of camp.
I was not of a mind to return to either Skye or Hamburg—not yet, at any rate. For all that I had fond memories of both places, and for all that I still felt I had roots in both, neither was home any longer. Home had been a saddle and a bedroll for so long that I couldn’t feature any other life. And truth to tell, I had no desire to be a merchant. Father had turned the merchanting over to my next oldest brother Andrew not long before he died, after the sending back and forth of several letters where he tried to convince me to come home and take it up. I’d had the wisdom to turn it down at the time—I could have done the work, but I wouldn’t have enjoyed it nor done it so well as my brother, and that was still truth, so I would not inflict myself upon him.
Instead, I rode vaguely east for some days, not pushing the pace, staying at moderately good inns when I could find them, and sleeping in farmers’ hay barns or out under a tree as the occasion required. The weather was mild . . . or mild in comparison to the previous winter, anyway.
Traveling by myself turned out to be a good thing for me. The first few days it was borne in to me just how weary I had become of soldiering. Fourteen years of camp life, patrols, skirmishes, and the occasional battle had worn on me. Fourteen years of watching fellows in the troop die from wounds and camp diseases, or perhaps even worse, be invalided out and sent off somewhere, maybe home and maybe not, with fewer limbs than they had arrived with. Fourteen years of riding out with Rory, knowing that that might be the day when one or the both of us might not return. Fourteen years, until the day when it happened, and I rode back to camp without him.
The time alone gave me time to grieve for the cousin who had become closer than a brother, the companion that was closer to me than a wife would have been. It gave me time to gradually loosen the hard-edged bands of duty and brotherhood that had bound me for so long. It gave me time to learn to greet the dawn with joy again rather than resolution and resignation. I took my time in the riding, avoiding the larger towns because I needed the time.
The roads eventually led to Jena. As I recall, it was sometime in early July when I approached the city. It was late in the day. Jena is small, as cities go, but I was surprised to find it had no gates on the road I was travelling, and what I could see of the walls were not much more than mounds. But the city watch had set up a turnpike on the main road near where the gate should have been. I don’t know why they bothered . . . about the only person I ever saw them stop was me. That pike spent more time in the air than a doxie’s legs. But stop me they did, and a watchman with gray in his beard and more creases on his face than my boots had walked up to me. He had wisdom enough to approach from the left, the weak side, so I gave him credit for that and touched a finger to my hat brim in greeting.
“Where you from, soldier?” His accent was thick, but I’d heard worse.
“The Low Countries and France most recently.”
“You in service?”
“Nein. Took a wound, and mustered out.” I held my left hand up to display my shorter fingers.
The old man grinned a gap-toothed grin and held his own left hand up, middle finger mostly not there. He dropped the hand, and the grin along with it. “Jena don’t want no trouble, soldier.”
“I’m not looking for trouble,” I said, leaning forward a bit. “I’m looking for a few days of a bed that don’t rock, food that won’t break my teeth, wine that won’t rot my gut, and some rest and grain for my horses. That said, if trouble comes looking for me, I can deal with it.”
He looked me in the eye. “Aye, I expect you can. Just remember, Tilly has been about lately, so folks are a bit skittish, and the magistrates are not in a forgiving mood.”
I tucked that information away. “I will. Thanks for that advice, old man. Now, where’s a reasonable inn?”
He flashed a grin at me again. “Straight down this street, third cross-street, on the north side of the corner, place called The Gray Goose. Tell them Heinrich sent you.”
“Let me guess . . . your brother-in-law?”
His grin grew wider. “Wife’s cousin.” I laughed back at him, and he waved at the men tending the pike. It rose, I touched my hat brim again, and tapped my mount’s flank with my heel to urge him into motion.
I found The Gray Goose Inn where the watchman said it was. It was clean enough, stable and inn alike. I left the horses with the stableman to tend, made my way into the inn, where I indeed mentioned Heinrich by name to make sure he got his cut. I chaffered with the host long enough to make him aware that I wasn’t born at the last new moon, told him I had my own lock for the door when I wasn’t there, then took myself and my bags up the stairs to my room, where I dropped them to the floor and me on the bed, and proceeded to sleep the night through and a good part of the following morning.
Over the next few days, I had my clothes laundered and my cloak fullered. The stable man pointed out that Cortana, my gray gelding, needed his shoes replaced, which I agreed to after looking at them myself. Add to that that the girth straps of both my saddles needed some attention, and my days turned out to be pretty full.
In the evenings, I would wander the streets, finding the local taverns and such. Jena was like every other city of any size I’d been to. There were a couple of places who thought they were God’s gift to the local populace whose prices reflected that belief but whose drinks were certainly, shall we say, earthly. There was one place whose beer tasted as if it was fermented from stable straw, and none too clean straw at that. Most of the rest were between those two posts, with beers accordingly, but one place stood out: Karl’s Martel. Their sign was a hammer, and their beer was good. Their wine was better. Once I found them, I quit looking and spent my nights there.
So it was one evening not long afterward that I was sitting at a table in a very crowded Karl’s Martel, sipping at my second round of beer for the evening, and giving some thought to what I was going to do for the future. I was rested, my gear was refreshed, and Cortana and Mouse, my mounts, were getting restive. Unless I wanted to look for enlistment or employment here, I needed to be moving on soon. The question was where?
While I was ruminating on those thoughts, something caught at my attention. My hand was moving and had snared a man by the wrist before I truly recognized that what I had seen from the corner of my eye was a knife drop from his sleeve into the palm of his hand. Stopped before he could take another step, he turned with a snarl on his face and a rising fist from his other side. He was short enough that I yanked him off balance, reached up and grabbed the back of his neck to pull his head down close to my ear.
“Friend,” I whispered, “I don’t know what you’re about, but I don’t especially want to be caught up in a brawl tonight, so I would appreciate it if you would take your problem and your spleen someplace else.” I squeezed his wrist harder, and he went rigid. “Because if you don’t, the brawl is going to start right here and right now, and I promise you you’ll be picking your nose and scratching your wedding tackle left-handed for quite a while. Now, do we have an understanding?”
That got a definite couple of nods from him. I gave his wrist an extra squeeze, which brought a hiss, then said, “Good, friend. That’s real good. Now, make the knife disappear, and then you disappear with it.”
A moment later there was no one beside me, and he was vanishing through the door. I moved my chair around the table a bit so that I could keep an eye on the door. I wasn’t especially afraid of the runt, but one doesn’t survive fourteen years as a soldier without learning some common sense.
I resumed sipping at both my beer and my thoughts about what to do next. By the time I reached the bottom of the mug again, I still hadn’t decided on what direction to ride. After a moment’s additional thought, I shrugged and stood up. I didn’t have to decide tonight. I still had more than a bit of silver, so another night or two at the inn was not to be a hardship. I nodded to the tavern’s host behind the bar and walked out into the night.
There was a nearly full moon riding high in the night sky. I didn’t have far to walk to The Gray Goose, but I kept my eyes and ears open. Again, fourteen years as a soldier will make you do that. So it was that I saw some shadows merge into an alleyway ahead of me. My sense of warning grew stronger, but so did my sense of curiosity. Curiosity has gotten me into trouble before, I might add, more than once, especially when running with the pack of MacDonald boys during my visits. But it’s also proven to be a good companion to warning at times, especially during my soldiering, so I follow it most of the time. I did that night, slipping over to the building wall that led to the alley. I paused at the corner, listening. I could hear some noises, but they seemed to be a bit removed, so I stuck my head around the corner for a quick glimpse. What I saw made me straighten and step into the mouth of the alley, for four different men were attempting to attack a fifth. I say ‘attempting’ because he was doing a good job of holding them off with what appeared to be a cudgel or stout walking stick from where he had backed into a corner formed by a chimney and the side wall of the building. They weren’t able to get behind him, and so far he’d been able to keep them from swarming him and pulling him down.
The stick man landed a crack on the head of one of his attackers. That was good. Unfortunately, his target fell forward and knocked him back against the walls of his corner. That moment of imbalance was enough to let the other three surge forward and pin him.
“Give it to ‘im, Georg!”
“Hold him down, let me at him!”
“Get the bag!”
They were shouting at one another, and more getting in each other’s way than actually accomplishing anything. I started to step forward, but then a raised knife blade caught the light of the moon. That put an urgency in my next step, but before I could intervene the blade fell, and I heard a shout of pain.
When the knife raised again, I caught the wrist below it and heaved, sending a squalling ruffian into the wall across the alleyway. I caught a collar and sent another after the first, which allowed the object of their ire to regain his balance and belabor the other two with his stick. A stream of invective flew from his lips. I did not recognize the words, but the tone was unmistakable.
The four gathered against the other wall, a step or two farther down the alley. I turned to face them. “You!” one of them snarled. I didn’t recognize the voice, but the glimpse of face I saw was familiar. “I’ll . . .” he took a step forward, knife leading the way, but stopped when I drew my sword.
“Who’s first?” I said softly, holding the blade in the moonlight.
“Come on, man,” one of the others hissed. “We’ve got it.” They all broke and ran down the alley.
Their victim moved to follow, only to run into my outstretched hand. “Friend,” I said, looking down at him, “let it go. Following them will just get you killed.”
“They took my bag!” he snarled.
“And what was in it that is worth risking your life for?”
After a moment, he muttered, “A book.”
That startled a laugh out of me. “A book?”
“A book that cost me two hundred guilders.” His tone was resigned now, and he quit pushing against my hand.
I whistled. “Two hundred guilders? Seriously?” He nodded, and I whistled again. “I see why you want it back. But that’s still less than your life would be worth to you, I’d wager. Either give it up as a bad wager, or figure out a way to get it back. Besides . . .” He shifted position and I got a good look at him. “You’re wounded.”
He touched his hand to his upper left arm, where a blotch stained the sleeve of his coat. “Scratch, I think. Nothing serious. You think you could find the book?”
I chuckled. “Give me ten percent of that two hundred guilders, and I’d make a good try at it.”
“So where would I find you if I want to take you up on that?”
“Tomorrow morning at The Gray Goose.” I realized I was still holding my sword, so I put it back in its sheath. “Are you good to get home, or should I accompany you?”
He hefted his stick. “I don’t live far from here. I’ll make it home.”
“Good night, then.”
The next morning I was munching on a rye roll and washing it down with beer, considering what had happened the night before. I know that rye bread is considered cheap peasant food, but I like the taste, and I don’t mind saving a coin or three along the way. Save enough of them, it pays for the beer.
So I was thinking about the altercation in the previous night and wondering if the other fellow would present himself, when he walked in the door. Mind you, I hadn’t seen him clearly even in the moonlight, but this fellow was about the right height, broad-shouldered to match what I remembered, and carried a stout walking stick. I figured it was him. I didn’t wave at him or anything, just popped the last of my roll into my mouth and chewed it while I looked at him.
I hadn’t been able to judge clothing last night. I don’t care what you say, even the brightest moonlight gives you no details about weave or texture or color other than dark or light. So other than male and dark I couldn’t have judged much from the experience. The following day, what I saw was a man dressed in sober dark clothing—culottes and frock coat in dark blue, and a waistcoat in a rich plum color. His shoes were well-made, clean, and freshly blacked, and his low-crowned hat was likewise clean and fitted him well. He looked like what he probably was, a prosperous burgher, verging on or even part of the patricians of Jena.
He looked around the room once, then walked directly to my table.
“You’re the only man here of a size to be the man who gave me assistance last night. I was remiss in not getting your name. You are . . .?” He arched an eyebrow under the brim of his hat.
“Well, as to that,” I said, “when a man’s been holding off four-to-one odds, he can be excused for not remembering some of the social niceties. I am Archibald Gottesfreund, from Hamburg originally but until late of Colonel Farquhar’s regiment in the service of King Louis.” I said nothing more, but arched an eyebrow of my own and tilted my head slightly.
“Titus Wulff,” he said with a slight bow, “merchant of Jena.” He gestured at the chair across from me. “May I?”
I waved my free hand at it as I lifted my mug with the other. After taking a gulp, I looked over the lip. “Want some?”
Wulff’s lip quirked. “No. I had a dram of wine when I broke my own fast, and that will carry me until the nooning.” He rested both his hands on the head of his walking stick and leaned forward slightly. “You said last night that you thought you could recover my book.”
“I said I’d give it a good try.” I shrugged. “I can’t guarantee anything, of course. If they threw it in the fire or in the river, then no, I can’t do you any good. But if they still have it, then yes, I might well be able to retrieve it.”
“How? You don’t even know who they were.”
I chuckled. “Men are alike all over the land, Master Wulff. Oh, they like to think they’re all different, but in truth, there are only a handful of types of men, and within a type, they tend to be very much alike. I’ve been soldiering since not long after I started shaving, and I well know what type of men these men are. I have a name, I have a description of at least one of them. There won’t be that many fellows of that type in Jena, and Jena isn’t large enough for them to hide for long, so I’ll wager I can find them. Now, whether they will still have your book when I do find them remains to be seen. But I do know the type.”
“You said ten percent of the price of the book?” He sounded skeptical.
I chuckled again. “Just because I’m a soldier, Master Wulff, doesn’t mean I’m either stupid or a brute. My family are noted merchants in Hamburg. So, aye, I know numbers and I knew what I was saying.”
His mouth quirked again. “Sorry,” he said. I waved a hand in dismissal again. He stuck a hand in his pocket, and tossed a purse on the table. It landed with a thump. “Twenty guilders. It’s worth it to me to try to get the book back. There’s as much again if you manage it.”
I let the purse sit. “I haven’t said I’ll take the job, now have I? I might have been just spinning a tale.”
Wulff leaned forward again. “I doubt that, Master Gottesfreund. I’m not so ill a judge of a man as that. You wouldn’t have said anything if you weren’t willing to back your words up. You’re not that kind of man.”
I grinned. “Guilty as charged, for all that I’m no master. I’ll see what I can do. And just for the sake of my curiosity, what were you cursing those fellows with last night? I’m sure you were cursing, for I recognized the tone for all that I didn’t know the words.”
Wulff snorted. “A mixture of Greek and Gypsy. I wasn’t going to use good German on them.”
That got a chuckle out of me, before a thought crossed my mind. “Where do I find you if I need to talk to you?”
“My house is the third north of the Rathaus. I’m there most days.”
“Let me follow my nose around for a day or three, and see what I can find.” I took another swallow of my beer. “Oh, I guess it would be good to know what book I’m looking for.”
Wulff had an expression of chagrin cross his face. “That probably would be helpful, wouldn’t it?”
“Ja. Title? Author? Printer?”
“Oh, it’s not a printed book. It’s a bound codex manuscript of Xenophon’s Hipparchikos. In the original Greek, of course. Bound in golden leather.”
“Xenophon? Greek? Is that the one that translates as De Equitum Magistro?”
Wulff’s eyebrows rose. “To the Cavalry Commander, yes. Have you read it?”
“Colonel Farquhar had a Latin copy printed in Amsterdam. Cost him a pretty sum, but he was willing to let us read it. I can read the Latin, but I wouldn’t know your Greek manuscript from fish wrappings, I’m afraid.”
A smile played on his lips. “So you know the difference between a pilum and a sternum?”
“Aye, and I know which end of the one to jab into the other.” After a chuckle, I said, “The book’s valuable, then?”
“Oh, to me, if not to anyone else. I’ve had a few questions about it for some time, especially about the word proginosko, and when I heard that an unusual variant of the manuscript had been found in a closet in a ruined monastery in Persepolis a few years ago, I bought it for one hundred guilders. It cost me another hundred to get it here. And no sooner do I have it in my hands, but those fools stole it from me.”
Wulff’s face was iron-hard, and he looked like he could have bitten through nails. He took a deep breath and relaxed. “It’s not that I mind the money, although that is more than I would want to throw away. But to be that near to my goal and lose it does stir my ire.”
“Understandable,” I replied. “Now, I don’t read Greek, so could you be writing something down to use to make sure I’ve got the right book?”
Wulff pulled a small notebook from inside his jacket, then pulled a small pencil out of the notebook and carefully wrote on one of the pages. He tore the page out of the book and handed it to me. “That’s the title—pronounced Hipparchikos. It should be at the top of the first page.”
Wulff laughed out loud at that, and shook his head. “You have a wit, Master Gottesfreund. You do, indeed.”
I tucked the page inside my jacket. “Give me two or three days, as I said, and I’ll see what I can do.”
Wulff nodded over his clasped hands. “As you say.” He stood and gave a nod of his head. “I look forward to hearing from you.”
After Wulff left, I emptied my mug and tucked the purse into my coat pocket. It was a nice day for a walk, so I wandered down to Karl’s Martel. I hadn’t been there this early in the day, so it was pleased I was to see their door open. I ducked through the doorway, then walked over to the bar rather than taking a stool at a table. “Beer,” I said to Johann, the host. He turned and filled a mug from the cask behind the bar. I took a swig after he handed it to me, then said, “Mind if I ask you somewhat?”
He wiped the top of the counter with a rag, and shrugged. “Ask. Answers might cost you, though.” He grinned, showing snaggled brown teeth.
I chuckled, then let the grin slip from my face. “There was a fellow in here last night. Lean and hungry look, not very tall, face like a rat, a mite free with a knife. Might be named Georg or run with one with that name.” I cocked an eyebrow at him.
Johann’s face had clouded over by the time I was done speaking, and his mouth worked as if he wanted to spit. “Not Georg. There is one named Georg that does run with him, though. That be Thomas of Aschenhausen. He be not welcome here, and if you see him again, do me the kindness to point him out to me.”
“That I will. Can you tell me where I might find word of him?”
Johann’s eyebrows lowered even further. “Why would you want that?” Suspicion clouded his voice.
“It may be that he or one he knows has somehow, ah, come into possession of something that belongs to someone else. I’ve been asked to help, ah, find it.”
The host’s face cleared. “Oh, aye, I’d believe that right enough. But no, I’ve no idea where he might be found.”
I spun a guilder from the purse on the bar. “For the beer, and for letting me know if you see or hear aught of him.” With that, I drained the mug and left it on the bar as I headed out the door.
I spent the remainder of the day revisiting all the taverns I knew in Jena, and two or three more that I hadn’t found before. In each I asked of this Thomas of Aschenhausen. In a few of the better-class places, they professed not to know him. The places that were lower on the scale, most of those hosts admitted to at least knowing of Thomas, but none would admit to having seen him recently or knowing anything about where he might be.
This did not surprise me, much. When a largish man wearing a buff coat and a broad-brimmed hat that you’ve never seen before and doesn’t talk with the local accent begins asking questions about one of the locals, even upright citizens will mostly likely not speak out. Those who have something to hide will be even more close-mouthed, for if you’re seeking one like Thomas, you might be after them next. As I’d told Master Wulff, I know this type of people.
So I took myself back to The Gray Goose and spent most of the rest of the evening first filling myself with stew and rye bread before I settled myself down to some serious thinking, beer in hand. It wasn’t at all a surprise to me what I had encountered that day. It just meant that I needed to be wilier and tougher and smarter than all of them. Which shouldn’t have been a problem, right? After all, I was a Scot—according to my mother, anyway.
I set down my empty mug just as someone settled into the chair across the table from me. I looked up to see Master Wulff with two mugs of beer, one of which he set in front of me. “You look like you could use this,” he said before lifting his own to his lips and giving it a long pull.
I snorted and nodded my head, taking a swallow of my own.
“How went the hunt today?”
“I did find a name for the one I would recognize,” I said. “I also found a great number of people who either denied knowing the man or said they didn’t know how to find him.” I took another swallow. “A few of them I even believed.” Master Wulff chuckled at that. “I’m thinking my problem may be that while I know the type, I don’t know the town.”
“Jena is not that large,” Master Wulff murmured.
“Aye, I can see that. But it’s too large to learn all the nooks and crannies in a few days that folk of Thomas of Aschenhausen’s ilk would pass through or lair in.”
“Is that his name?”
“I’ve not heard of him before.”
“That surprises me not. These fellows are rats in the gutter, not wolves or jackals. You step on or over them, not face them down.” I took another pull at my mug’s beer, sucking it up slowly. I looked at Master Wulff. “Are the city watch here in Jena knowledgeable? Do they really know the city and its quarters, or do they just watch the missing gates and wear fancy uniforms on feast days?”
Master Wulff ran his finger around the rim of his mug. “They try, for the most part. Some of the older men, anyway.”
I nodded, a thought having come to me. “Then I know what my afternoon tomorrow will be spent doing.” I finished my beer, gave a nod of thanks to Master Wulff, and headed out the door.
It wasn’t long before noon on the next day that I was back out at the gateless gate by which I had entered Jena on that first day. The city watch were still manning the turnpike, and I was glad to see Heinrich among them. I had hopes that he would be at least part of the solution to my problems. They turned to watch me as I walked up.
“Heinrich.” I nodded at him.
“Soldier.” I got a nod in return.
“Got time for a beer? I’m buying.”
A broad grin crossed his face. “Well, now, as I haven’t had my lunch yet, I believe I’ll take you up on that. Got a place in mind?”
“Lead the way,” I said.
“Take over, Hermann.” Heinrich waved at one of the other watchmen, who extended a fist with his fingers in the fig, which caused an uproar of laughter from the others.
For all that Heinrich looked old enough to be my grandfather Angus, he set a brisk pace down the street before he turned in at The Golden Dove. That was one of the “proud of themselves” places that I’d tried a few days ago, but their beer was better than drinkable, for all that they wanted too much coin for it.
“Two of the fish stew and two of the good stuff, Simon,” Heinrich called out as we entered. The man behind the bar waved a hand, and Heinrich led the way to a corner table.
“Another of your wife’s cousins?” I asked as we settled into our chairs.
“Nein. My nephew,” he said with another grin.
I just shook my head.
The beer showed up in a moment. It was as good as I remembered, if not the equal of what I had been getting at Karl’s Martel.
“So what’s your name, soldier?” Heinrich asked after emptying half the beer in his mug and setting it down. “If you’re going to be buying me beer, I feel like I should at least know what to call you?”
“My name’s Archibald,” I said.
“Outlandish name,” he said. “You from the Low Countries? I can’t place your accent.”
“Good guess, but no. Name’s from Scotland, but I was born and raised in Hamburg. Spent the last fourteen years riding in a company of Scot horse troopers, though, and I doubt not that I’ve picked up a bit of their way of speaking.”
“That would explain it.” He nodded. “I thought you might have come out of Grantville.”
“Grantville?” I tilted my head at that. “Who or what is that?”
“You haven’t heard about the doings in Thuringia?”
“No, I rode in from France and the Low Countries, remember?”
“Ah. Well, then . . .” and he proceeded to share some outlandish stories with me about some people supposedly arriving from the future. I wasn’t sure I believed any of it, and said as much. He laughed.
The fish stew arrived, and we pulled our spoons out and set to it. After a couple of mouthsful, I nodded at Heinrich. “Good,” was all I said.
He shrugged. “Not the best beer, but it’s close, and the food is good.”
After a couple more spoon trips from the bowl to the mouth, Heinrich paused. “So, while I appreciate the opportunity to make a new friend, especially one as will buy my lunch and beer, I suspect you are in need of something from me.”
“That would be because you are a man of wisdom and perception. And I do indeed need some help from you.”
“Say on,” he said between gulps of stew.
“In your role as a member of the watch, have you had the dubious pleasure of meeting a man named Thomas of Aschenhausen?” I gave him the short description, ending with, “. . . and he’s handy with a knife.”
He frowned. “Is he dangerous?”
“I suspect he thinks he is. But he’s a rat or a ferret, so if you’ve your wits about you, then most likely not.” I spooned up some more of the soup. Heinrich was right—it was good.
“Ah, one of the lower-class rodents,” Heinrich said. “Aye, I think I know the man you mean. You looking for him?”
“Aye, and three of his friends. They, ah, seem to have acquired something that belongs to Master Wulff. I’m working to get it back.”
Heinrich whistled. “Master Wulff, is it? You are marching in high ranks, soldier. Master Wulff is about as high as it gets in Jena. So, do I want to know what you’re looking for?”
“Probably not. It’s Master Wulff’s personal business.”
“Right. If Master Wulff wants me to know, he’ll tell me.”
We finished scooping the fish stew out of our bowls, licked our spoons clean, and put them back in our pockets.
“So what are you really looking for?”
“Where do the rats and mice and voles and weasels of Jena gather? Where can I find this Thomas fellow?”
“Ah.” Heinrich nodded, took a pull at his mug, and set it down. “Right. Well, there are two places they mostly frequent. Most of the whores and their men, and what beggars we have that manage to evade the watch, gather at The Broken Spike, in the northeast quadrant.”
“I’ve not heard of that one,” I said.
Heinrich shook his head. “You shouldn’t. But have you heard of The Upright Pig?”
“Can’t say as I have.”
“It’s over in the southeast quadrant, near the edge of the city. It’s run by a one-armed one-eyed Swede named Lars, and is patronized by the south-side doxies and those who would think of themselves as hard men. Don’t tell him I sent you, but if anyone can tell you of Thomas or help you find him, it would be Lars.”
I looked at the sunlight coming in the door. “Would he be open now?”
“Oh, aye, by now he’s lifted the night’s earnings from the south-side doxies to help their morning headaches and those with the light fingers have come and gone. Best take your silver with you, but keep a hand on your purse.”
“A broker, is he?”
“Oh, aye. Offer Lars a few pfennigs, and he’ll likely sell you his own mother. He would be willing to be a middle-man, but for a price.”
“I know the type.” I took a final pull at my own mug, draining the last drops.
“I’m sure you do, soldier.”
“Call me Archie.”
“Archie. Just don’t drink that horse piss he calls beer.”
“I am duly warned.” And with that and a tip of my finger to my hat brim, I took my leave.
For all that it was high summer, the day was cool, and I was glad to be wearing my buff coat. The weight of it was familiar and warming, and the fact that its pockets were great enough to be holding my new pistols was comforting as well, given where I seemed to be headed. With my sword on its baldric, I was well and fully dressed for the day and any happenstance.
It was a market day in Jena, and the squares had their ranks of merchants and farmers from the nearby region surrounded by a throng of customers. Wading through the crowds was much like wading through thick mud, but the streets, though busy, weren’t so bad.
As I neared the edge of the city, drawing near to the riverside, I beckoned to a lad who’d been sweeping the cobblestones before a matron. Her servant girl passed him a coin as they left the square. He caught my sign and scurried to bob up and down before me.
“What can I do for you, master? Need your path swept? Keep the dung off your fine boots?”
“Nah, lad. I’m not afraid of honest dung.” He looked disappointed at that, but brightened when I said, “Can you lead me to The Upright Pig?”
“That I can, master, but . . .” he looked me up and down, “begging your pardon, are you sure as that’s where you want to be?”
I flipped him a pfennig. “You let me worry about that, lad. You just lead me there.”
He snatched the pfennig out of the air and it disappeared into his clothes. “Right you are, master. This way, then.” He shouldered his broom like a musket and led off.
A few minutes of a brisk walk around two corners and into the last alley before the river brought us to a very low door with a signboard hanging over it and swinging in the slight breeze. I didn’t have to read the scrawled words on the sign to see that this was The Upright Pig. It wasn’t a half-bad representation of a boar standing rampant on his hind trotters. But that wasn’t the only reason for the name. Whoever had cut and carved the sign had given the boar a phallic member almost as big as the rest of the boar himself, thereby giving two meanings to the upright part of the name. A visual joke in very low humor. I grinned in spite of myself, for I knew that Ma would have laughed until she couldn’t breathe if she had seen it. Ma’s humor was more than a bit on the earthy side of things.
My guide was grinning at me openly, obviously enjoying my take on the sign. I shook my head. “Glad I am that you led me, lad, for I doubtless would not have found this fine establishment without your guiding of me.” He giggled at the sarcasm in my voice. I flipped him another pfennig for the luck of it. “My thanks, lad. Off with you, now. I believe I can handle things here and now.”
I ducked my head low and pushed the door open. The lintel still scraped my head when I stepped through, but fortunately did naught more than loosen my hat on my head. Being familiar with taverns like this, I straightened with some care, as I suspected the ceiling would be a bit lower than I was used to at Karl’s Martel. It turned out I was right.
I looked around. Heinrich was right. The only customers I could see were a few very bedraggled women that had to be doxies. I hurt just looking at their hangovers as their shaking hands lifted mugs of beer or stronger spirits.
That came from the man behind the bar. He was pushing a rag around with his right hand, his left sleeve stopped short with no hand coming out of the end of it, and a black cloth was strapped across his left eye.
“You Lars?” I asked back, using hints of Skye in my tone.
I snorted at that before stepping closer to the bar and leaning toward him. “Someone as who needs some information and is willing to pay for it,” I muttered low enough that the doxies drinking at the back tables wouldn’t hear me.
That caught his attention. “If you got the silver, I’m your man.” He cocked an eyebrow with a knowing grin, and waited.
I slipped a guilder out of my pocket and put it on the bar, keeping a finger firmly planted on top of it. I could almost see his mouth watering at the sight of it.
“What do you want to know?”
“I’m told you know Thomas of Aschenhausen.”
I paused there, and after a moment he responded with, “Might.”
“Well, Thomas and his friend Georg and a couple of others probably found a book two nights ago. I’m acting on behalf of the fellow who lost the book. He’d be willing to pay a finder’s fee to get the book back, assuming that it’s not been damaged or lost again.”
“A . . .finder’s fee.” Lars wiped his hand across a mouth. I think he really was drooling at that thought. “And how much of a fee would that be?”
“Oh, mayhap as much as two guilders for the book. And mayhap another guilder to one who might make the news known to them and bring about the meet.”
Lars’ mouth was standing open. I had to fight to hold my mouth firm and not grin at the sight of him with drool running from the corner of his mouth. He wiped his face again, and said with some eagerness, “I . . . uh . . . I think I might be able to get word to one of them. But I want three guilders for myself.” I frowned and started to slide the guilder on the bar back toward me. “Wait, wait,” he lifted his hand up in a calming gesture. “Two guilders, then.” He was on the verge of pleading.
I slid the guilder back out. “This for getting me a meet with this Thomas fellow. Another if he shows up and we reach an agreement. A third if the deal happens.”
“Done!” he said, staring at the guilder under my finger.
“Can you get him here soon, or do I need to return?”
Lars looked out the door, and thumbed his chin. “Two guilders for the book?” I nodded. “Let me send a couple of runners. Might be able to get him here before long, if he’s where he usually dosses down.”
“I’ll wait an hour, else it will have to happen tomorrow.” I took myself to a nearby table and settled down.
“Wait,” Lars said. “Who are you? Who do I tell him you are?”
“Just tell them I have silver. That will be enough for them, and for you as well.”
Lars called a couple of the doxies up to the bar, gave both of them a small dose of genever, and sent them packing out the door. Not who I would have chosen for messengers, but then, he knew his town and its people better than I did.
In some little while, the bells of St. Michael’s Church tolled the first hour after the noon. I stirred, considering calling an end to the effort and starting over again tomorrow. Lars rushed over, hand upraised, fingers splayed. “Wait, wait. He should be here soon, if he was where I think he was.”
I settled back down. “Well enough. I’ll give him another quarter hour, and then I’m leaving.”
At that moment the door opened again and one of the doxies stepped through, followed by the rat I was seeking.
“See?” Lars said. “See? Here he is. Thomas,”—Lars grabbed him by the arm and dragged him to my table—”you need to talk to this man.” He pushed him down in the chair across the table from me and hovered behind him.
Thomas peered at me, bleary-eyed. “Do I know you?”
“No,” I chuckled, “although we did meet two nights ago.”
He leaned forward, then jolted back. “Scheisse! You’re that swine’s arse that about broke my hand lwo nights ago in the . . . where was it . . .”
“Karl’s Martel,” I said dryly. “And afterward as well.”
He tried to push back from the table. “I’m not talking to you!”
“Wait a minute,” Lars began, leaning his weight against the back of the chair to keep Thomas from moving.
I pulled my hand out of my pocket with two guilders in it and dropped them on the table. The ring of the silver got Thomas’ attention, and he froze, watching the coins spin on the tabletop. His eyes almost seemed to be moving in circles to match those of the coins. Once they settled and were motionless, he licked his lips and looked up at me.
I set my hand over the coins. “Two nights ago you and Georg and your other two friends lifted a satchel bag from a merchant.”
“Not admitting nothing,” he muttered, eyes focused on my hand covering the guilders.
“You don’t have to. I know you did it. You know you did it. Master Wulff knows you did it.”
Thomas’ eyes widened and he looked up at me. He licked his lips again, but didn’t say anything.
“The satchel doesn’t have anything in it except a book. Now it happens that it’s a book that Master Wulff wants back, and I told him I’d try to find it for him. Here’s the deal . . . if you can convince whoever has the book to bring it to me here tonight, I’ll give you two guilders for it.” I lifted my hand to show him the coins, then lowered it again. “No mention to the city watch, no mention to the magistrates. Just a little side deal between some folk. What do you say, Thomas? Interested?”
“Not admitting nothing,” he repeated, “but I might know somewhat about where that book might be. Might be I can talk the folk who has it into bringing it to you. But not for no two guilders.”
“What do you think it will take to get them in the game, then?”
Thomas’ eyes slitted, and you could almost see the millwheel of his mind turning, slow as it was, trying to figure numbers. “Might be . . . eight guilders would do it.” He smiled in triumph, only to lose the smile when I shook my head.
“Don’t get too greedy, Thomas.” I slid the two coins back across the table to me, and tapped on the tabletop with the forefinger of my left hand. “That’s enough coin to make the master decide to talk to the watch and the magistrates after all. Better to take a slice of a smaller pie than to see the whole pie end up on someone else’s table, wouldn’t it be?”
Thomas frowned. “Then what would you offer?”
I pursed my lips, thinking about the whole affair and what I thought would be enough to get them to move. “Umm . . . how about . . . four guilders.”
Thomas licked his lips, and I knew I had him, but he surprised me. “I need something for me. Four guilders for the book, and one for me making it happen.”
I frowned at him, which made him sit back in the chair, clasping the edge of the table in his hands. I let the moment draw on, biting the inside of my cheek to keep from laughing at him. Finally I nodded. “Done. Four for the book, one for you, but only if the book is here and is intact and not damaged. Clear?”
The light in Thomas’ eyes almost lit the room, and his lips skinned back to show badly-stained snaggled teeth that made him look even more rat-like. He shoved a hand across the table, palm up.
I did laugh at that. “Nay, that’s not how that works. Cash on the barrelhead when the book’s in front of me, but naught until then. Now, how soon can you deliver?”
The half hour after the first afternoon hour sounded from the church. “Eight of the clock tonight,” Thomas said, “no, make that nine of the clock tonight.”
“Done,” I said. “Ninth hour tonight, here. Agreed?”
“Agreed,” he nodded several times rapidly.
“Good. Be off with you, then.”
And with that, Thomas disappeared. Lars, on the other hand, was moving toward the table, grinning and holding out his solitary hand. I pitched one of the guilders to him, and he caught it neatly in mid-air.
“Ninth hour tonight,” I said. “If you want your third guilder, make sure they’re here.”
The ninth hour was ringing from St. Michael’s Church when I stopped down the street from The Upright Pig. I pulled one of the new pistols from one of the patch pockets I had added to my buff coat during that time several of the troop had ended up walking patrols around our bivouac, and wound that wheellock, then the other. Once they were back in the pockets and the spanner key was in my waistcoat pocket, I moved around the corner into the alley and stepped into the den of iniquity. At that hour, it was full of the lowest of low life, fully as bad as any I had seen in Antwerp or northern France. As I had told Master Wulff, men of a type are very similar. This lot proved it.
I strode through the room, jostling a back or an elbow here and there. I heard a mutter or two behind me, but nothing more. Lars looked up as I arrived at the bar and pointed at a table at the end of it. “They said they’d be here, but them boys don’t have the best sense of time. Probably didn’t start on their way until they heard the hour sound from the steeple. Sit there. You want wine or beer?”
“Wine.” I took the warning about Lars’ beer seriously. I expected the wine to be bad as well, and it was, but bad wine is a bit easier to deal with than really bad beer. In this case, it was a cheap red that was well on its way to becoming a cheap vinegar, sour and acidic. But I’d had as bad if not worse in northern France, and the mug was small, so if I drank it at all there would be little harm from it except maybe a sour stomach.
When Lars brought the wine to me, I looked up at him from under my hat. “You ever have any trouble with the city watch?”
He snickered, then said, “They don’t come in unless someone’s been killed. Last time was last month.” I nodded, and Lars returned to the bar.
So I sat there holding my mug of cheap wine, every once in a while touching it to my lips but not drinking any of it. People came and went, but no one that Lars pointed my way. It was perhaps half past the hour when the door opened, and my quarry finally stepped into the net, so to speak. Four of the scruffiest, dirtiest, lowest of the low types, one of whom was the knife-happy fool I’d been close to two nights ago. Two of them were holding a smallish leather satchel between them. They moved as a group, almost like one body with eight legs, and approached the bar. When Lars saw them, he threw his rag at the other man behind the bar and stepped out to lead the lumpish misbegotten beast toward my table. They arrived together, Lars standing to one side.
“Here they be, master,” Lars said, holding his hand cupped up at waist level, not quite brash enough to extend it out yet.
“Thomas.” I nodded at the rat-faced one I’d already had my hands on. He looked at me, frowned, but said nothing. His grip on the satchel tightened, however. “Which of you is Georg?” The other one sharing the hold on the satchel raised his free hand about chest high, then dropped it. I pointed at the one to my left. “You are?”
“Johann,” he muttered, wiping his sleeve across his face.
“And you?” I pointed at the last of the four.
“Simon.” That one stood still.
“You can call me Master Silver,” I said. “Now, I believe you have something that belongs to my friend. Put it on the table.”
After a moment, Thomas and Georg put the satchel on the table, and pushed it into the middle. I noted that the strap of the satchel had been cut and then tied in a knot. Well, that explained how they had acquired the satchel two nights ago. I reached to pull it toward me, but Thomas leaned over and put his hand on top of the satchel. “Not until we see some silver.”
I smiled and pulled my purse from my pocket, took out five guilders, and put them on the table. Thomas reached for that, only to see my fist gather them up. “Not until I see the book,” I said. I pointed at Thomas. “You. Back up a step or two.” I pointed at Georg. “You. Take it out of the bag and put it on the table.” After a moment, Thomas took a slow step back, and Georg carefully opened the satchel and took the book out with both hands and gently laid it on the table.
I looked at it. A thinnish book, bound in golden leather, a bit larger than I’d expected. Almost I reached for my purse again, but something didn’t look right. I reached out and opened the book. The cover flapped open and lay flat on the table, and I could see that it didn’t bind the book any longer. I could see cut parchment and threads. I could see the title at the top of the first page as Master Wulff had said: Ἱππαρχικός. It was the right book. I could also see the four idiots swallow.
Lars looked surprised, then angry as he could see the deal disappearing before his eyes. Before he could say anything, I closed the cover and pointed at Georg again. “Put it back in the bag.” Moving even slower than before, Georg did so. I picked up the satchel, and draped the strap over my head as I stood.
I started to turn. “Wait!” Thomas said. “The deal was four guilders for the book and one guilder for me. Now pay up!”
I focused my gaze on him. “No, the deal was for the book to be returned whole and undamaged. This,” I tapped the satchel, “is damaged goods, so the original deal is dead. Here’s the new deal.” I held out my fist and pushed one, two guilders out to ring on the table. “You boys figure out how you’re going to split that.”
“You son of a whore!” Thomas snarled, his knife dropping into his hand as he started to lunge for me, only to lurch to a stop on the tips of his toes as his nose stopped just short of the barrel of the pistol I had pulled out of my pocket as I dropped the coins, and his eyes crossed looking at the bore of it.
“Saw you do that two nights ago, remember?” I grinned a nasty grin at him. “Then I would have just broken your wrist. Mess with me tonight, we’ll see how well you handle a lead pill. Want to try your luck?”
Thomas had gone very pale. He shook his head violently, starting to shake as the acrid smell of piss filled the air.
“Hmm. You may have the sense God gave a sheep after all. Put your knife on the table.” He edged forward and did so. “Back up.” He did that as well, foot splashing in the puddle of piss. I put the last guilder in my pocket, then reached out and took the knife, jamming the point of it into the wood of the tabletop, twisting my wrist to break the knife blade just below the hilt.
“You’re alive. Count that as a blessing.” I took my other pistol out of its pocket as I looked at Lars, who was backed against the bar with face pale, not moving. “If you want to stay alive, I suggest you all just stay where you are and not try to follow me.”
And with that, I walked through the room to the door, pistols held one before and one behind me. A moment later, I was outside in the dark of the night, moving at a fast jog to get out of the alleyway and around a couple of corners before any of that lot mustered enough courage to follow me.
It was after the noon hour had sounded the next day when I finally approached Master Wulff’s door. I knocked on it firmly, and after a moment it opened to reveal a servant wearing better clothes than me.
I dusted off my manners. “Archibald Gottesfreund, to see Master Wulff. I’ve concluded the business we spoke of and need to advise him of the result.”
“Of course, Master Gottesfreund. Master Tiberius did say you would be coming by. If you would come this way, I will let him know you have arrived.”
I was ushered to a small room with a table and a few chairs and left there as the servant went up the main stairs to the upper floors. I looked around. There were a couple of paintings on the wall and a small secretary desk in one corner, but otherwise the room was simply furnished. Nonetheless, it had the air of quality, and it reminded me of home before Ma died. I was glad I’d left my buff coat back at the inn and worn my better clothing.
Feet were on the treads of the stairway, and I turned to face the door. Master Wulff appeared in it a moment later with a smile on his face. “My dear Master Gottesfreund, I hope you have good news for me.”
“I’m no master, Master Wulff,” I said, not wanting to claim what wasn’t mine.
He waved a hand. “Nonsense. You are what I say you are.” His head tilted to one side a bit, and one of his eyebrows rose in an unspoken query.
I took the satchel strap off my shoulder, and offered the bag to him. “The luck was with us. I was able to regain it before they had disposed of it. I have to warn you that it’s a bit worse for its experiences, but I think it is complete.”
Wulff took the satchel to the table, where he opened it and withdrew the book. He tsked at the sight of it, laid it down on the table and opened it. He tsked again, and picked up the pages, leafing through them with care before setting them down again.
He looked at me. I shrugged. “That’s how it was when I got it back. I’d guess they stripped the binding off to try and sell the leather before they got the word I was looking for it.”
“The book appears to be whole, and the pages don’t appear to be much more worn than before. My bookbinder can most likely restore it to its original condition. Neither of those would be true if you had not found and retrieved it, Master Gottesfreund.”
“Archibald, or even Archie, if you please. And it’s glad I am to have been of some help in the matter.”
“Even so, my thanks. And you even managed to retrieve my bag. This was my school bag at university. It has no value to speak of, but it was mine, and I’m glad to see it back as well.” He looked toward the door. “Ephraim!” The servant appeared in the doorway. “Some brandy, Ephraim, to celebrate the rescue of my newest acquisition.”
The servant smiled. “At once, Master Tiberius.”
Wulff turned back to me, and I said, “Tiberius? I thought you said your name is Titus.”
He sighed. “My full name is Tiberius Claudius Titus Wulff. I prefer Titus, but Ephraim insists on using Tiberius.” He shook his head.
“Umm . . .” I wasn’t quite sure what to say to that.
“My father was an antiquarian who was enamored of the Roman emperors,” Wulff continued. “My brother’s name is Augustus Nero Domitian Wulff. I’m not sure which of us got the better. And we won’t even discuss what he named my poor sister.”
“Suddenly my mother’s naming me Archibald doesn’t seem extreme,” I replied. “At least it is Scottish and was a family name for her clan.”
“There is always someone whose lot is worse than yours,” Wulff said with a smile.
Just then Ephraim returned with a tray with two glasses of brandy, which he served to the two of us. I took mine very carefully. It was blown Venetian glass of a striking green color, and may well have been worth more than everything I owned at that moment. Wulff took a sip of his, and I followed his lead.
“Mmm. I’m not an experienced brandy drinker, Master Wulff, but this is smooth.” I took another sip. He lifted his glass in acknowledgment, and took another sip. “So, are you an antiquarian as well? Is that why you bought this old book?
Wulff tilted his head and looked at me for a moment, then said, “Come with me, Archie.” He led the way out of the room and up the stairway, looping around the second floor and led me to the third floor. Once there, he walked down a short hallway to a narrow door.
I followed him into the room and stopped dead. The room was not small, and shelves wrapped all the way around the room. The shelves were filled with books, except for the one area where instead of shelves there were pigeonhole-style openings, some of which had round things sticking out of them.
There was very little space on the shelves. I had never seen so many books in my life.
Wulff walked over to a desk that was in the center of the room and leaned back against it. “This,” he said, “is what I do. I am a merchant, the son of a merchant and brother to an attorney, but this is what I do and who I am. I read Latin, Greek, and Ephraim is teaching me Hebrew. I collect old books and read them, especially old Scriptures and church father writings. The Xenophon was more a bit of a lark.”
“Two hundred guilders for a lark?” I couldn’t help responding.
Wulff shrugged. “I’m a very good merchant, as was my father before me. I can afford things like that when I want them.”
“But . . . why?” I looked around, surprised. “Do you serve the university in some way?” I had learned somewhat of Jena’s university in the last few days.
“No, this is mine, just for me. I spend several hours a day here, reading, comparing books, making notes. Just for my own pleasure.” He sipped his brandy, then set the glass on the desk and walked around behind it and sat in the chair. “That reminds me, I still owe you for recovering the Hipparchikos for me.” He opened a drawer and pulled out a purse. “I told you twenty more guilders upon delivery.” He started counting out coins.
“That’s not necessary, Master Wulff.”
“Call me Titus, and I think it is. You did me a great service, one I couldn’t have done for myself, or at least not in time.” He looked up at me. “And how much did you spend to accomplish that? I doubt they released it for the fineness of your visage and the pleasure of your company? Ah-ah,” he pointed his finger at me as I opened my mouth. “Honesty, Archie. Be honest.”
I sighed. “All right then, three guilders for information and two more to buy the release of the book. But I was just going to consider that the cost of doing business.”
“And so it is,” Wulff said as he counted out a few more coins. “The cost of doing my business.” He dumped the coins into a small bag and brought it around the table. “Here you are,” he said, firmly placing it in my free hand and closing my fingers over it. “Twenty-five guilders, and my thanks for a job most well done.”
I looked down at it, then tucked it inside my doublet with a nod. “As you say, then.”
Wulff returned the nod, picked up his glass and took another sip of the brandy. “So what are you going to do now that this little job is finished?”
I shrugged. “Probably ride on tomorrow or the next day. I’ll find something to do, maybe head for Leipzig and see if the elector needs a soldier or a guard.”
Wulff looked down and pursed his lips for a moment. When he looked back up, he had a bit of a smile on his face. “Archie, I think I could use a man of your unique knowledge, skills, and deportment as part of my household. This is not the first time I have ever needed someone like you, but it’s the first time I’ve been served by someone as accomplished as you. Room, board, and twenty guilders a month. The rooms are clean, the beds are soft, I have an excellent cook, and the coins will be regular, sound, and unclipped.”
I looked around the room. “Let me have reading privileges, and I think you have yourself a man.”
His smile grew wider. “Ephraim!” he called out again. Ephraim appeared in the doorway almost instantly. “More brandy, Ephraim, and one for yourself as well. Master Gottesfreund here has agreed to join our establishment.”
Ephraim’s face creased in a smile. “Very good news, sir. I shall return in a moment with the brandy.”
He was as good as his word, showing up with a third glass and a mostly full decanter of the brandy in not much more than a couple of breaths.
Once the glasses were filled, Titus lifted his. “To Archie Gottesfreund, our newest friend and companion. May we live in interesting times.” And we all took a healthy drink of that fine brandy.
And that, my friend, is how I came to meet Master Tiberius Claudius Titus Wulff. It was our first adventure together. It wasn’t our last.